Startup founder lessons from the Brownlee brothers

The picture of Alistair Brownlee giving up his own chance to win the Triathlon World series in Mexico, and helping his brother Jonny over the line, evoked strong emotions of two brothers in arms.

With the 1500m swim and 40km bike completed, Jonny and Alistair were out on the road on the run in front, battling for gold and silver. Then Jonny uttered one word to his brother – ‘relax’ – and Alistair, who interpreted it as a sign of weakness, attacked to retain his title. Jonny kicked on, and surged back into the lead.

One moment Jonny was striding to victory, the next his legs buckled beneath him as extraordinary effort took its toll. Just as Jonny stumbled like a drunk off the track, elder brother Alistair swooped to the rescue, hooking his arm around his shoulder and helping him to cross the line in second place. Jonny then slumps to the floor, spent from dehydration.

It was a natural human reaction to help his brother, but even so, the display of loyalty was incredible. It was a vital intervention. Jonny’s condition was serious enough for him to be taken to hospital, missing the podium presentation.

In their autobiography, Swim Bike Run, the Brownlee boys are humble on their fantastic achievements in the world of Triathlon. The Triathlon seems an exercise in torture to me. A 1500m swim, a 40km bike ride and a 10km run, all taken without a break. To achieve this at any level is a fearsome task.

Swimming and running in competition as early as nine with cycling vast distances a hobby, their competitive instincts and sibling rivalry were established. Despite this, they raced as a team versus the rest. The detailed account of their drive for success in Swim Bike Run, is extensive and meticulous, describing their development from schoolboys to standing on the Olympic podium. The sacrifices, hard work, intrusions on personal life are all here. It reminds me of the tenacity shown by startup founders.

The Brownlee brothers are incredibly driven, and very smart, particularly in terms of the emotional side of their relationship, and how to think positively in challenging situations. Working collaboratively despite competing with each other, they epitomise the old saying, ‘two heads are better than one’, pushing each other in training and racing.

This collaborative style holds true for those wanting to found a startup – a recent study showed that 80% of all successful startups have more than one founder. Even if you think you can reach your goals on your own, the truth is that you’ll have a much better chance of success with at least one co-founder to help build your business.

Research shows start-ups with co-founders are four times likely to be successful than those going solo – quite a strong case for forming a double act. From Larry Page and Sergey Brin (co-founders of Google, 1998), Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Apple, 1976, and Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard who came together in 1939, these founding duos clicked because they had similar personality types with an insatiable curiosity, and strengths that complimented each other.

It is the shared mind-set and skill-set that captures the essence of what makes entrepreneurial duos work. For example, Francis Jehl was Thomas Edison’s lab assistant, starting work at the Menlo Park research facility as an eighteen year old straight from school. After the completion of Jehl’s first assignment, Edison noticed Jehl’s work ethic and was so impressed that he started to work collaboratively, so much so that Jehl worked on the electric light during the lab stage of development.

During the next two years, Edison regarded him as a partner, entrusting him to take his electric light innovation to Europe and exploit it commercially. Jehl kept a personal diary, detailing some of the exceptional things that he worked on with Edison, captured in his book, Reminiscences of Menlo Park, published fifty years afterwards.

Whilst Edison regarded Jehl as a co-founder, not all entrepreneurs need an ally, but as seen, many successful startups are built by multiple leaders with productive relationships. What made their combined skill-sets a successful collaboration? There is a common trend: the most well-rounded co-founders recognised their individual limitations and respect what the other brings to a partnership. Here are the traits of what makes these co-founder relationships tick.

Focus on what you’re good at Dividing workload based on complimentary yet different skills gives focus and productivity, a focus of effort based on mutual strengths means you’re able to progress the day-to-day work while continuing to evolve many aspects of the business. A co-founder can help complement your skills and fill in the skills gaps in a way you’ll never be able to do on your own.

Double your odds While having a business partner is second best to having a carbon copy of yourself running around, it doubles your odds of being in the right place at the right time. Having someone you can trust with the same level of integrity and passion as yourself is a huge advantage and enables a ‘I’ll work on whatever you’re not working on’ philosophy to getting two things done at once. It simply doubles the bandwidth.

Provide you with a sounding board and companion on the start-up journey Starting a business means a bumpy road may appear on the horizon at any point, and it can be a lot easier to handle those bumps with a co-founder. Advisors and mentors are valuable, but there is nothing like being able to talk to someone who is sharing the experience, facing the same risk, the same problems, and the same potential upside.

Serve as a backstop when you have an off day We all have days when we are just not at the races, having a co-founder provides a backstop for those times, even for the simplest of matters. Sharing both the physical and mental workload with someone you can trust, and is just as invested as you, makes the journey slightly less frantic.

Gain new insights Two heads are better than one, most likely your co-founder will have a different set of experiences and competencies from you. You should be open-minded to share and utilise these experiences for the benefit of the business. It is always advantageous to view your startup from the filter of another because we are often limited by our own perspectives.

Also, by having another perspective we are not blinded by our innate biases. In the kaleidoscopic melee of day-to-day, it’s easy to overlook potentially important details or tasks because our judgment has been clouded by our own worldview, fears or when we give in to complacency.

Spread the risk and improve contingencies Most ‘solopreneurs’ start out with the mindset that they can achieve their goals – until reality sets in and they find themselves stuck in a spiral of masses of work to be done. Having a co-founder allows for discussion of priorities, a change in direction or a new approach, feedback which opens up possibilities in times of turbulence and an extra set of skills to push the enterprise past its limitations of a single decision maker.

Make better decisions Whilst recognising the upsides of a co-founder, there won’t be consensus all the time. In fact, it’s better when you don’t. A certain level of discord and tension means that you’re both championing opposing views. This creates an opportunity to discuss the merits of each viewpoint and ultimately decide which direction is better.

Balance the extremes and point out the blindspots Entrepreneurs just want to get things done, often in a hurry and always moving forward, but it helps to have a balance to caution this enthusiasm at times. We all have blind spots, and having a co-founder that can point out these blind spots so you can improve, opening your eyes to things you might not see, is undoubtedly beneficial.

So having identified the benefits of working with a co-founder, what are the criteria for selecting a partner? There are some fundamental aspects that make this relationship work, and should be clearly shared openly as part of the dialogue when discussing a joining-up of minds.

Collision on vision You wouldn’t marry someone you’d just met, so you should date first to check in on fundamentals that will form the bedrock of the relationship and the business – What is our vision and purpose, what are our personal goals for the startup? 

Though these may change over time, its helpful to get a sense of what each co-founder seeks as success outset, where there is common ground and you are aligned and synchronised, and where there is difference. You need to connect at a values, ambition, trust and philosophy perspectives – chose a co-founder like you would a spouse.

Aligned motives If one founder wants to build a cool product that makes a difference, and the other one wants to make money and be famous as their motive, it won’t work. Pay close attention and unearth true motivations, which are unrevealed, not declared.

If you have one co-founder that wants to build a sustainable business that is spinning off cash and run it forever, and another one wants to shoot for high growth and an exit, it’s better to get that out in the open early and talk it through.

Play a couple rounds of monopoly together, just to see how you both react to opportunity and adversity – and if there is humour in the relationship. There are of course other such ways to gauge this but don’t co-habit without dancing together socially first, doing something outside of work with your potential future partner may be eye-opening.

Intelligence, energy, and integrity It’s not the smart kid you knew at school, it’s not the person you like the most, it’s not the hacker most willing to work for free. It’s someone of high intelligence, energy and integrity you want. You’ll need all three yourself to evaluate your co-founder.

If it doesn’t feel right, keep looking, don’t compromise, keep looking. The founders set a company’s DNA, and its culture is an extension of the founders’ personalities. Make sure there is a tight fit.

One builds, one sells The best builders can prototype and even deliver the entire product, end-to-end. The best sellers can sell to customers, partners, investors, and employees. Looking at the successful duos earlier in the blog, this seems to be the ideal co-founder mix.

The seller doesn’t have to be a salesman, they can be technical, but able to influence. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs aren’t salesmen, but sellers of vision, passion and innovation.

Future skills matter more than present skills It’s impossible to judge the potential skills of a person on day one. So instead, while we don’t predict future skills, avoid giving too much importance to current skills. Startups demand different sets of competencies at various stages in their journey – being a CEO of a startup means being the Chief Everything Officer initially – co-founders need to be fast learners in order to acquire new in-demand skills.

Get personal The underlying question here is Can the founders work closely together for an extended period without killing each other? If one or more of the founders has some ‘tic’ the others don’t like or if there’s some odd feelings there, it might be overlooked in the rush to include people on the team who have a particular skill. Basically, can you spend 24/7 time together and have trust, tolerance, space and stretch when needed?

What it’s like to share the highs and lows, the successes and the failures, and the feeling of having someone alongside you, shoulder-to-shoulder all the while confident they think the same way? That’s what the Brownlee brothers have created with their special bond. Whilst startup founders aren’t racing against each other, they have to be supportive, just like Alastair and Jonny.

Alistair Brownlee’s heroic gesture of giving up the chance to win the World Series Triathlon event in Mexico to help younger brother Jonny over the line was a fantastic piece of teamwork in a very much solo sport. It captures the essence of camaraderie needed between startup founders.

By implicit mutual personal support and rapport, merging their disparate talents and idiosyncrasies, effective co-founders sync when it comes to the course they co-charted. That kind of strategic cohesion is the secret sauce behind many successful startups, so try to create that serendipity in your own startup enterprise with your co-founder.

As a startup, think ‘win-win’ as your negotiation strategy

Detective Constable Endeavour Morse, Scotland Yard’s chief negotiator, picks up the phone. He has established contact with the kidnapper who has barricaded himself and two hostages inside The Old Bookbinder’s Ale House, Oxford.

Morse’s task is simple but challenging: extract the hostages without losing any lives. After a couple of tense phone calls, he knows the protagonist, his motive and his demands. Morse plays it calmly, using a combination of containment, empathy and hostage negotiation tactics.

In face-to-face dialogue over the next two days, Morse articulates to the hostage taker his purpose. He seeks to build rapport and adapts his conversation to the hostage taker’s vocabulary. He’s supportive and encouraging, disarming the hostage taker, He listens, trades concessions, working towards a deadline.

After three intense days of back-and-to negotiations, Morse achieves successful resolution, convincing the hostage taker to come out on his own with as much dignity preserved as possible, hostages unharmed. Crisis over.

You might not think startups have much to learn from Morse and his situation, but there are valuable insights. The stakes are clearly different in startups than in hostage situations, but the techniques researched from the best hostage negotiators will help startups overcome one of their most challenging hurdles – none more so than closing the deal with your first customer.

The negotiation itself is a careful exploration of your position and the other person’s position with the goal of finding a mutually acceptable compromise that gives you both as much of what you want as possible.

Of course, in hostage situations this is often not the case and a standoff arises, whereby one side must give way and compromise if there is to be a resolution. The scale of this can often be regarded as a climb down and a defeat, and the negotiation becomes a confrontation with no goodwill, a battle of attrition often leading to an unpleasant outcome on both sides.

This needn’t be the case In business, a ‘win-win’ position should be sought where ultimately both sides feel comfortable with a solution acceptable to both parties, leaving both feeling that they’ve taken away something positive from the discussion.

So let’s look at three practices from classic hostage negotiations that offer insights and learning for startups – preparation, style & structure, and use of silence.


As with any aspect of business, preparation is always appropriate as it strengthens your position by thinking through the key points before you start negotiating:

Set goals – but see the situation from all angles What do you want out of the negotiation, what do you think the other person wants? Prior to the discussion, make sure you are clear on what you want as well as your ‘walk-away’ point – the minimum outcome you’re willing to accept. Try to understand where the other person is coming from and their objectives.

Set your limits before the negotiation begins. You need to prioritise what items are most critical and what you absolutely need to have to make a deal. Avoid playing split-the-difference on the spot.

Consequences & alternatives If you don’t reach agreement, what alternatives do both parties have? How much does it matter if you do not reach agreement? Does failure to reach agreement cut you out of future opportunities? What are the consequences for both parties? Based on all of the considerations, what possible compromises might there be?

Ask for what you want, but what will you trade? Don’t be afraid to explain your objectives and what you’d like as an outcome, but do so in a non-confrontational tone of voice. What do you and the other person have that you can trade? What are you each comfortable giving away?

Plan ahead to ask the right questions Perhaps most importantly when preparing to negotiate in a hostage situation is asking ‘What do I not know?’ and this applies to business. Effective negotiations are rarely spontaneous. Taking time to analyse the situation, and to think through your strategy is critical to negotiating success.

Ask yourself what you’re most worried about. For example ‘What is the question I really hope they don’t ask?’ and start preparing your potential response.

Think win/win, and remember that there is always tomorrow Don’t have a mindset that one must walk away a winner and the other a loser, be open minded to working together to determine ways to meet the needs of both parties. Envisage what this outcome looks like, and see the discussion from the other side of the table. This is key in getting into a dialogue with a hostage taker.

If the discussion heads in a wrong direction and you get to a cul-de-sac, it’s OK to recommend picking up the discussion on another day, after everyone has an opportunity to take a step back, reflect and rethink. Don’t think you need to force an outcome at the first meeting.

Style & Structure

Your strategy of how you intend to conduct the negotiation process is important, to ensure you have both a style of communication and also a structure to progress towards the outcome you seek.

State your purpose It’s crucial to make the other person feel like you’re working with them, not against them. This is hard to pull off in normal hostage negotiations.

Start the discussion by stating an ideal outcome that you consider to be in both parties’ interests, showing immediately you’re striving for a win-win deal – it’s a transparent opening statement of your thinking.

Be honest, but direct Playing with the truth can quickly backfire. From a practical standpoint, if the hostage-taker feels he’s being patronised or manipulated from the outset, he’s not going to cooperate. Speak with respect, directness, authenticity and integrity.

You should be transparent about compromises you’re offering. Concessions often go unappreciated and unreciprocated, so highlight their value. On the flip side, don’t pretend an easy-to-make compromise will be hard, as it will stop being believable if you make every concession seem huge.

Also, don’t misrepresent your terms or oversell your product. The prospect could easily uncover your lies with a little digging.

Build genuine rapport Creating rapport is essential, after all a prospect is far likelier to become a client if they feel a connection with. You’re going to have a much easier time negotiating with someone who respects and trusts you.

Build rapport the way hostage negotiators do by matching the other person’s way of speaking. That means using the same words and phrases, talking at a similar pace, and echoing their style to create a genuine connection.

Be an active listener You may think good negotiators spend most of the conversation talking, but it’s the opposite, they spend the majority asking questions and listening. Learn to listen. Ask probing questions to reach deeper understanding of the other person’s position. The real art of negotiation is to build trust and rapport, listening means you’re gathering information. Spend more time listening than talking to understand intent.

Be prepared to ask for what you want, but then reciprocate You have to be willing to make the ask for what you want. You have to be first to place value on yourself. You have to go in with your goal, and know where your fall back is going to be and what your alternative strategies might be.

Honesty is how to negotiate everything. It is important to lead with honesty so you can start to figure out what that person wants. Be transparent about what success looks like for you, but then follow this up immediately with a reciprocation that balances with what you see as a positive outcome for the other party. Make them feel comfortable so that they know you are clear in looking out for both parties’ interests.

Develop relationships, not conquests Win-win is the key to longevity of a business relationship. Long-term positive outcomes are achieved when everyone is fully committed to implementing a negotiated agreement so ensure the other party knows two things – firstly, you care about their interests – just as you care about your own, and secondly, you respect them.

Stay calm Hostage takers are usually unstable emotionally, but the negotiator must stay completely calm. Reacting only pushes a hostage-taker further over the edge. The more emotional you become, the more clouded your own thinking will be, and whenever you show emotion, you tell your prospect they’ve struck a nerve.

The person who stays calm and composed usually gets the upper hand, so controlling your physiology is key. If breaking for five minutes to ‘get some air’ isn’t possible, then shift the focus. For instance, if you’re getting frustrated haggling over a specific item, move to a different point and offer to return to it later in the conversation.

Embrace conflict quickly. Often in our discomfort with conflict, we procrastinate talking about divisive issues. In the meantime emotions escalate, making it inevitable that when we finally open up the dialogue it will degenerate into negotiating games rather than collaborative problem solving. You can minimise unnecessary escalation by engaging sooner rather than later.

Using Silence

Perfecting the art of silence in negotiations can give a serious advantage if used wisely. We live in a world of noise where silence has almost ceased to exist to an extent that silence becomes awkward. We also live in a world of growing impatience. We do not pause enough.

Silence is uncomfortable for many people. They expect words from you more than silence. Most people cannot actually resist silence, and so in negotiations it can be a way of putting the other person off their stride.

In some instances, silence pushes the other person to fill in the void, share more information and show their position in greater detail than planned. Against this, silence empowers you, Be silent or let the words be worth more than silence as Pythagoras said. People talking too much may give the impression of justifying themselves. The less you talk, the deeper you look.

Silence gives attention to your words and creates impact, it is important to have pauses to follow your sentences. Silence between sentences gives more clarity to your speech. Silence can also help gain or regain more attention when someone is monopolising the conversation. As Mark Twain once said The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.

Master the art of silence and play this subtle game. Speaking too much and not at the right time can weaken your position. Silence helps you to keep control. In hostage negotiation situations, silence can unnerve the other side such they lose the focus on their strategy.

For me, the bigger picture for a startup negotiating its first customer contract is about building, nurturing and forging valuable relationships. This first opportunity may be right to close, it may not be. Opportunities come and go, so It’s about reaching bona-fide, transparent agreement, finding solutions to tough problems, and learning to get what you want and need for yourself whilst creating value and success for your prospect. Being an effective negotiator helps you find and keep balance – and isn’t that what we all want to be happier and healthier at work?

Using storytelling to position your startup

For thousands of years, storytelling has been an integral part of humanity. Stories play a vibrant role in our daily lives, from the entertainment we consume to the experiences we share with others. Even in our digital age, stories continue to appeal to us just as much as they did to our ancient ancestors sat around the campfire.

Modern-day storytelling is reflected in the popular TED Talks, and its slogan of Ideas Worth Spreading. Analysis of the most popular TED presentations found that stories represented 65% of their content.

Throughout time, storytelling has proven to be a powerful delivery mechanism for sharing insights and ideas in a way that is memorable, persuasive, and engaging, and so storytelling is a great tool for startup businesses seeking to connect with investors, customers and employees.

Stories are powerful in shaping a startup’s messages around their brand, culture, product and future strategy. An inspiring narrative helps people relate and connect to both the founder and the business idea, providing a unique perspective of the founder’s voice. As a result, the best stories take on a conceptual role in creating a company’s core business strategies.

They have more impact with customers than simply listing and highlighting ‘features’ about a particular product or service. Indeed there are two ways to share knowledge with people – you can push information out, or you can pull them in with a story.

For startups, storytelling is key because attracting the spotlight is difficult without a marketing budget, particularly when their product is interesting but they have no brand recognition. Good stories deliver a competitive edge to a startup because it is easier to attract an audience and enable the conversations. It begins with having a real grasp about what they do, why what they’re doing matters, and their target audiences. Once that story comes to life, it is easier for storytelling to happen and be the differentiator.

Your startup is innovative. Is that enough? No, in an age of immediate social media, data and competition, building an innovative technology product isn’t enough. The information age has democratised promotion with social media, so how do you get noticed, offering a comparable experience at a comparable price?

Equally, a world of commoditised tech means that building a great product and putting it in front of users at a good price is not enough to distinguish your startup. When customers can find the same service elsewhere with a few clicks, it is an emotional connection that drives loyalty. Your startup needs to win hearts and minds by telling its story, and that’s all about your position and purpose.

For example, Julie is a socially responsible entrepreneur who has set up a fair trade coffee shop. Why would consumers drop in to Julie’s café and not Starbucks? It’s not because consumers lack for places to go to get caffeinated, it’s because their core purpose is to help consumers build a more equitable world through socially mindful buying.

What are you really selling? Julie isn’t positioned as a coffee shop, she sells compassion. Julie’s customers are proud to support a company that makes life better for those less fortunate. They’re excited for the opportunity to buy coffee grown by farmers who are paid a living wage. They’ll pass a closer Starbucks to buy from Julie’s.

For tech startups, as barriers to entry continue to fall driven by cloud technologies, competition will increase and the startups that reach their target customer bases with the best messaging, building the most effective brands will win.

To thrive, you can’t simply rely on selling a great product, you must sell a vision as well. The future success of your startup depends on its messaging. If you can connect with your buyers, sharing your vision with them and giving them a reason to buy, you will reap loyalty. If you cannot, you’re just selling another startup product easily abandoned.

So you called a cab, but no one’s showing. The only thing the cranky dispatcher will say is He’ll be there in 15. You call back in 15, and he now says Driver’s on the way. Any minute now. Click. It’s cold, it’s getting dark, and you’re already late. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an app that let you tap into an unused supply of empty cabs and cars to get you where you want to go, perhaps with a little style? So goes the legendary inspiration behind Uber, a story now encapsulated in a single tagline: Everyone’s private driver.

So, recognising startup storytelling is a way to help in the positioning, purpose and creation of your value proposition, they have to be good stories and have a purposeful message, here are some considerations for building your own startup story.

Stories spark emotions We have an intuitive, emotional side as well as a deliberate, rational side to our decision making, and for a startup, rather than just trying to connect with people on a rational level, create an emotional engagement about your vision, purpose and journey so far.

Storytelling gives startup founders a way of inspiring in a way that appeals to both sides of our character. A story has a core message, but can be interpreted in different ways, depending on the lens through which it’s being heard.

A startup story is a narrative about your north star Every startup founder has a story in their head about what their work means for them, through which they put their north star into context. Startup leaders able to tell their story create a strategic narrative that can engage people in the wider context of the journey the business is on, giving people a reason to understand them and their business.

Research shows that telling stories helps people understand information you are sharing. A London School of Economics study found that 10% of people retain information when you simply share a statistics, and 30% will retain it if you include a story with your statistic. But if you simply tell a story, 70% will retain the information shared. That’s powerful! In these days of information overload, a good story will always win over a proposition explained just using data.

A story communicates your values What is your brand and startup about? Are you innovative and quirky, fun or just really believe that your products or services are great? Define what makes your company great, work out how you are least like the competition and tell that story. If your story doesn’t divulge something personal or unfamiliar about your brand or business, your story could end up being boring.

Stories help people learn Stories are a great way of learning from others, and can help shape a startup business, internally and externally. Stories give people the space to consider, reflect and discover the implicit meaning of what’s being said, enabling them to learn what they need in context for themselves. However, in your startup story don’t tell them everything, leave gaps to give people time to think and reflect.

Your story reveals who you are Your startup story reveals who you are implicitly, without having to explain your career history or hand out your business plan. Your story creates a timeline of experience, learnings, medals and scars – there is nothing wrong with revealing your emotions. It could be that tough lessons have been learned, but it’s all about communicating who you as a business are, sharing your identity and person. Positioning the founder’s story helps a startup become what it is.

There is beauty in brevity We all understand and appreciate the art of long-form writing, but short attention spans and being overloaded with content and data is part of our everyday lives. If you can make your story descriptive and captivating, yet short and sweet, that will be memorable. Remember, brevity doesn’t just mean short, it means the exact use of words in writing or talking with impact.

Start with a meaningful opening line Unless you’re telling the story of how to land a plane safely or the proper assembly of an IKEA bookshelf, resist the urge to begin at the beginning. Chronology matters much less than having your story follow an interesting arc, as the stuff you need to hook people doesn’t tend to happen early on. Events need to build, one after the other, emotionally rather than sequentially. To have real impact, your story should describe increasing risk and increasing consequences until the final, inevitable conclusion, but not necessarily the one that the audience expects.

Know your audience – keep the customers interest in mind Remember, what’s the problem you are solving? Think about what is interesting to your audience as consumers and work that storyline. What interests you as a founder may not match up with what consumers are interested in. Who is the story for? Tell the story for your audience, and always keep their interests in mind throughout the creative process.

Show, don’t tell A fundamental maxim of storytelling is ‘Show, don’t tell’, rather than talking at your audience, telling them what to do or feel, share the story so that it unfolds naturally and your audience comes to their own conclusions. People don’t just absorb facts and information, they actively listen and make their own inferences.

Describe what’s happening as if the action is unfolding right now in front of you, and as Mark Twain said, help people to answer the question What does this looks like in practice? Founders sculpt the best startup stories by using anecdotes, with a sense for what the outside world might think of as interesting angles.

Make it personal It doesn’t matter if your startup builds smartphone apps, cloud infrastructure or designs medical devices, human beings are still driving the action. Personalise the protagonists and journey of your story. Make her seem real enough so that the audience feels a stake in (and wants to know) what happens to her next. People connect with other people, so make sure you focus on the real-life characters in your story.

Use customer’s stories What could be more personal than a hard drive in the cloud? Practically anything, but it’s all in how you use it. When Dropbox releases a new feature set, they celebrate by launching a site thanking their users while encouraging them to share what Dropbox has enabled them to do. Customer stories bring a whole new dimension to your product.

It’s not always good times Something always goes wrong in start-ups, and these present opportunities by telling a story of recovery and remedy. Engaging stories do not chronicle a straight line to success, it’s the doubt and concern that keeps us engaged. Hone in on your problems or barriers to achieving your goals, what challenges have there been to date, what is standing in your way.

By incorporating moments of vulnerability or doubt, you create empathy and lend credibility to your story. Your story needs to be authentic, few startups proceed in a linear way to success without hiccups along the way, a fake story begs for a backlash. As you sculpt your own story, make sure your tales don’t grow too tall in the process.

Stories are the language of humans, they make connections, create engagement and spark responses on calls to action. People like to hear a story, since sitting around the campfire, or the end of the school day. As a result of a good story, people change their behaviour and the way they think, so use your startup story to create a vision of the art of the possible and take customers, employees and investors with you on your startup journey, creating advocates along the way.

The importance of self-esteem for a startup founder

Starting your own business is one of the most emotional things you will do in your life. The ups and downs can be dramatic, and the emotions involved in startup life can test the self-belief and resolve of even the most confident entrepreneur. Whilst we often think the success of a startup is down to the innovation and the idea, I think it’s as much to do with your self-esteem.

Self-esteem reflects a person’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth, a positive and negative evaluation and judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs – for example, ‘I am competent’ and emotions such as triumph, despair and pride – three feelings I know startup founder experience every day.

Self-esteem is made up primarily of two things: respecting yourself and feeling capable. Every adjustment in your startup business model shouldn’t be viewed as a crisis in self-esteem, nor every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. Adversity, and perseverance and all these things can shape you.

In many ways I view a startup as a completion with yourself. Negative thinking patterns can be immensely deceptive and persuasive, and change is rarely easy, but with patience and persistence, backed up by diligence and research, your startup can fly. Reflection is a way to balance out the emotion.

Research shows that there are four emotional stages that most entrepreneurs pass through on their way to becoming completely comfortable with their new startup life. The four are: the Busy Phase, the Second Thoughts Phase, the Self-Doubt Phase, and the Been There, Done That Phase. Although the phases’ names might seem slightly negative, understand that each stage is associated with a mix of emotions, both negative and positive.

The third stage of emotions research says most entrepreneurs experience during their startup, mirrors the first and second stage in many ways, in that there are both positive and negative moments. There are a number of negative emotions you can expect, but there are also many effective ways to cope with these feelings.

For example, performance anxiety. One of the toughest things about a startup is that it can be difficult to measure your progress. Setting milestones based on your MVP and customer development are fine, but finances are scattered and unpredictable, but with cashflow acting as a real measure of success in terms of survival, this can lead you to wonder about how well you are performing.

To overcome this self-doubt, you should define and measure your success in your own terms, because measuring your startup’s success using finance measures might not be an option at this point, it could be helpful for you to look to other types of milestones, such as those related to projects or personal goals. However, with new ways to measure success, come new ways for you to be disappointed.

Frustration will abound in equal measure with feeling positive. As you become more comfortable with your business, you’re likely to be thrown a curveball or two and some setbacks – anticipated new business not closing, new hires not taking job offers made, or even prototype development not hitting the mark. The good news, however, is that this is all part of the startup learning process.

Look back to those days when you were employed before you launched your startup – and don’t lose sight of the many reason you stepped into the world of entrepreneurship. Remember, you experienced days like this in your previous work life, the only difference now is that you get to decide how to handle the situation rather than relying on your boss. Just keep in mind during these frustrating times that every startup experiences setbacks – and regularly, too.

At this point, you are probably fully invested – emotion, energy, time and cash – into your idea, and so the concept of quitting, even during the toughest and most frustrating of times, is unthinkable. It’s not a remote possibility. During this stage of emotion self-doubt, expect your determination to be renewed. Your business is part of your personal identity now, and your commitment to it as a measure of your personal success is a high driver.

Frustration, performance anxiety, and determination are all emotions you’re likely to experience in your new life as an entrepreneur, and combine into a maelstrom to undermine your self-esteem. We’ve all had those quiet moments when we reflect and doubt ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, there are a raft of positive experiences along the way too, but be realistic, a startup is hard and there are no shortage of unknowns, unexpected challenges and risks.

But let the chips fall on the floor as they may. Simply roll your sleeves up, and strategise. Focus on asking yourself questions on strategy, and do the hard stuff. The insights you’ll gain by answering those questions will help determine if you’re on the right path or perhaps need to pivot or change direction.

As long as you’re honest with yourself and deal with it head-on, there’s nothing to fear from self-doubt. It’s actually a good mechanism for keeping you on the right track.  Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your startup life, but define yourself.

The Six Pillars Of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden demonstrates compellingly why self-esteem is basic to psychological health, achievement, personal happiness, and positive relationships. It was the culmination of a lifetime of clinical practice research and study, and hailed as the most definitive work on the topic.

As with all such ‘psychological analytical’ research, the key is to take the framework and apply it to yourself. There is no ‘right or wrong’ answer, simply an opportunity to frame your own situation and thinking against a useful framework, and ask ‘so what does this say to me?’

Branden introduces the six pillars – in essence six action-based practices for daily living that provide the foundation for self-esteem, and explores the central importance of self-esteem in five areas: the workplace, parenting, education, psychotherapy, and the culture at large.  From a startup and entrepreneurship perspective, it’s an opportunity for self-reflection – but don’t over analyse. It forms a useful ‘conversation with myself’ structure.

One thing that is important to grasp is that self-esteem is an indirect result of what you do. Branden breaks this down into the six practices highlighted below:

Live consciously This requires us to be fully in the present moment. This takes a bit of practice, because many of us are conditioned to disown the here and now, to survive what we have thought that we cannot handle. It’s about being comfortable with yourself, your persona, what you’ve achieved and what you stand for. Respect yourself at all times, what you’ve achieved and where you’re going.

Accept yourself We all have flaws and attributes, but you also have the opportunity to enhance who you are, by accepting everything about yourself. In fact, the only way to enhance who you are is to accept yourself. Don’t try to live in someone else’s skin or adopt their personality, simply be yourself for what you are. Measure your success by your own standards, not others.

Take responsibility for your experiences There’s a piece in the book which says: I have learned to be in conversations where I say to myself, “It comes down to ‘this is where you end, and I begin”. Giving yourself such an affirmation helps you to say what I will and will not experience, and this is quite liberating and fulfilling. Again it’s about asserting yourself to yourself – if you don’t respect you, no one else will.

Assert who you are Like what you think, feel, believe, need, want and value is genuine, and don’t doubt yourself against some alter-ego or artificial model of what you want to be. Your startup is a reflection of you.

Live purposefully Make an agreement with yourself to reach your highest potential, while you maintain balance in your life. You only get one chance, make it happen and realise your potential. Again, don’t covert or envy. Don’t look at the progress other startups are making, simply focus on your own model, execution and growth.

Maintain your integrity Know exactly what your principles and values are, and stick to them, no matter what others think or do. You started with a clear purpose in mind for your startup, don’t lose sight of it – it’s the ‘why I am doing this’ which is a vital reminder when you do hit the brick wall and doubt yourself.

If you are consciously aware of the real conditions of your startup life, accepting of yourself, take responsibility for yourself, assert yourself, have a sense of purpose and are rigorously honest, then self-esteem is the natural result.

High self-esteem, while often confused with cockiness or arrogance, is a trait that should be fostered in entrepreneurs and be sought after when building your team. Self-confident people are often positive and outgoing and those are the types of people you want on your side.

The most beneficial effect of reflecting upon these six pillars of self-esteem is to make you more aware of your own values and what is important to you, and to keep you honest with yourself. That’s the benchmark, not what others think of you, not what you think others think of you, or what you crave as a new model of you in your startup.

It’s when things go wrong that you must not quit. You’re doing it for yourself, so make it matter where it matters most, inside.

All our yesterdays: looking back to the future

I was clambering around in the attic recently and found a dusty box of mementos dating back to my ‘O’ and ‘A’ level years of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It’s always a bit unnerving looking at the visual evidence of your past life through the lenses of today, not least when you don’t know what you might find.

Aged 17, my face looked more like I was a ten year old, it’s shocking how young and thin and geeky I looked, old terylene school blazer and tight, tiny tie knot. I was in my Latin-American-Marxist affiliated with Tony Benn phase – intellectual posturing, because I could be cantankerous, irritable and juvenile back then. I was all about Devolution for the North – ahead of my time.

There were also photos of me outside our touring caravan in Cornwall in the hot summer of ’76 in obscenely tight blue Adidas shorts, and another going to a Joy Division concert trying to look earnest and intense. My mum and dad preferred Abba, to them it was bleak, harsh music. You can almost hear the overcast Manchester skies in their music.

A quick rummage through school exercise books revealed a one-sided view of religion as a CoE Protestant, despite the behaviour of King Henry VIII, who cut off his lovers’ heads, was sexually voracious and destroyed the monasteries. My history books were pretty empty. I only learned about the Spanish inquisition from Monty Python.

Some nice photos of me, mum and dad, and my sister Jane suggested there was a simplicity to life in the ‘70s, perhaps having just three part-time TV channels made family values more prescient. Our suburban existence was very pleasant. Manchester was 45 minutes away on a bus, a very different place than it is today. My only forays were to visit record shops and to buy cool music that wasn’t in the charts.

Another colour photo was of a trip to Blackpool. We used to go every year and drive up and down the Golden Mile looking at the Illuminations from the car. Staggering though it may seem now, it was exciting to see trams covered in light bulbs to look like they were space rockets. We didn’t even get out of the car except to buy fish & chips.

My dad seems to have had the same hair cut for about 40 years looking at the photos. There was a photo of a wedding where the young blokes had long hair and looked like Mungo Jerry. My dad’s short haircut made him look like the men from NASA Ground Control. He always had an air of polite defiance and measured individualism. Meanwhile there was me with an elasticated snake belt – an elongated ‘S’ as a buckle.

I have acquired some of my dad’s wisdom, but none of his practical nous. I remember him telling me in detail how a toilet cistern worked – I don’t recall what he told me and I’m rubbish at plumbing today. I also remember him crawling about under the floorboards laying the central heating system and drawing diagrams of the pipes and connections, saying when it breaks he wouldn’t be here. Suffice to say both are still going strong.

Thinking back, I realise I am part of the television generation, although it was rationed and books were considered to be far more important and outdoors play was always encouraged. I am very nostalgic about the television I watched in my youth, I recall watching Star Trek and Coronation Street with my mum. Of course, you had to watch and listen carefully because there was no recording or playback.

Teletext was part of my education, I was addicted to the smorgasbord of information. I remember my Mum always liking Sean Connery as James Bond and having no time for Roger Moore. My dad never liked Jon Pertwee as Doctor Who. I recorded Fawlty Towers and Ripping Yarns and football matches with microphones balanced on cushions in front of the television on my portable cassette player. I listened back to these cassettes time and again. Sadly, I spent so much time listening to these comedies and commentaries I could repeat them verbatim.

Finally, I came across some old copies of the NME and Sounds, my first crush was Kate Bush, then Siouxsie. Siouxsie is 60 this year. Where has the time gone? Music was tribal at school, we had the Genesis, Roxy and heavy metal lads, then the punks and new wave. My wife Susan’s claim to fame is that she once had a lift in the back of the Buzzcock’s van on a way to a gig. Being so near Manchester was surreal in the years from 1976 to 1983, book-ended by Joy Division and The Smiths.

As you can see, I’ve always been slightly obsessed with how we mark the passing of time, none more so than I have a clear recall being at school at 12.34pm on 5 June 1978. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. I also recall 31 December 1979, the end of the first decade I can remember, and where I was and whom I was with. Mark, Paul, and Nick at The Railway. Funny what sticks in your mind.

Pulp’s song Disco 2000 released in 1995 has always stuck with me, won’t it be strange when we’re all fully-grown. It will. I loved maths at school and was obsessed with the year 2000, I remember writing it down and thinking about the passage of time and the digits, must have been my liking for science fiction from Asimov, Bradbury and Arthur C Clarke. Oh nostalgia, it makes us a bit more human.

Nostalgia, a longing to return home, is a word that comes from Greek –nostos (to return home) and algo (pain or ache), first coined by C17th Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer as a label for the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries in their return from fighting away from home.

I’m sometimes a little wistful, but I see nostalgia as passing history forward – it’s not just reliving the past, but thinking about how events in that past affected where I am today. Nostalgia has a strong social side to it. It engenders feelings of belonging. As a son, husband and dad, I feel closer and happier when sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.

Alas there is no room for nostalgia in today’s business world. In the last few weeks it’s been announced that 120 branches of Austin Reed will close, costing 1,000 jobs, and British Home Stores will close 163 stores with the loss of 11,000 jobs. They join a list of well-known High Street stores that have disappeared over the last 40 years.

It’s 1976 and you’re out shopping. If you want to buy a record or some sweets, try Woolworths. Shoes? Have a look in Freeman, Hardy and Willis. For a shirt, go to C&A. If you need some money, join the queue in the Midland Bank, and for tonight’s tea, pop into Dewhurst for meat and Fine Fare for the rest of the food shop.

So, what happened to these shops whose logos once dominated the High Street?

Woolworths The US-founded store opened in the UK in 1909, selling goods ranging from hardware to pick ‘n’ mix self-service sweets, records to toys, but failed. All 807 stores went, the last in Glasgow’s Argyle Street, closing in January 2009. Around 30,000 people lost their jobs.

C&A The chain of clothing stores, founded in the 1920s by the Dutch brothers Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer, closed in 2000, with the loss of 4,800 jobs. Its 109 shops had come under increasing competition from other mid-market clothing retailers. The last UK store in Bradford, closed in May 2001.

Radio Rentals Set up in Brighton in the 1930s, Radio Rentals catered for a growing demand for radios. The rental model continued through the introduction of televisions and, later, video cassette recorders. But, as consumer electronics became cheaper, more people bought than rented.

Freeman, Hardy and Willis The shoe manufacturer was founded in 1870, and became a familiar presence on hundreds of High Streets. It ceased trading in the mid-1990s.

Comet Founded in 1933 as a business charging radio batteries, Comet opened its first store in Hull in 1968, expanding rapidly. There were 236 stores when it went into administration in November 2012.

Dewhurst The chain of butchers shops was founded on Merseyside in the late C19th, and had 1,400 outlets by 1997 but went into administration in 2006. Its traditional model faced increasing competition, as the supermarkets started packaging meat in plastic containers, so it became commoditised, rather than people wanting to request specific cuts or a certain weight of meat.

Midland Bank With its distinctive griffin logo, Midland was one of the ‘big four’ UK banks in the 1970s, along with Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest. In 1958 it had become the first UK bank to offer unsecured loans and in 1966 the first to provide cheque guarantee cards. Midland, established as the Birmingham and Midland Bank in 1836, was taken over by HSBC in 1992 and its branches were renamed HSBC from 1999.

Nostalgia can add significant value to brands that have the opportunity to tap into the heritage and stay relevant to the customer choice and demands of today – consider the resurgence of the Mini – whilst there are some iconic brands have defined Britain for years, some remain as strong as they were when they were founded – Hovis (1886), Marmite (1902), Brasso (1905), Bisto (1908), to name a few, have all stood the test of time as has Lyle’s Golden Syrup, Britain’s oldest brand, founded in 1885.

But wallowing in nostalgia can create inertia. It took 75 years to connect 50 million telephone users, 13 years for there to be a million TVs in the US, and four years for a million users of the internet. Today, a simple iPhone App can reach that milestone in a matter of days.

The challenge is to focus on the future, and not let nostalgia block innovation. What should your thinking be to keep a forward view on your business horizon?

  • Think relationships not transactions; offer experience not products; listen to customers, don’t sell.
  • Think bigger – past strategies may fail to engage new customers; commit a budget to R&D; create a culture of intrapreneurship
  • Move faster and more purposefully; play multiple bet; don’t just run neck and neck with rivals, look for ways to pull ahead of the pack

The future rewards those that press on. Have a picture of your future self and make decisions on that basis. Life is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future. Control your own future, or somebody else will.


Don’t look in your rear view mirror – look forward with an innovation mindset

In a world where there’s an army of ‘Uber for X’ clones, startups working on high impact and daring ideas need to make their mark. Those ground-breaking companies with sweeping visions and big hairy audacious goals operate under the influence of outsize creative thinking, and employ audacious strategies.

With new startups popping up practically every day, it can be easy to miss the ones that are truly innovative. These young companies are going beyond the basics of selling a product and effecting real change in a variety of industries. The race for technology innovation is shaped by the ambition to achieve a first, a breakthrough, a game-changing advancement.

Entrepreneurs, driven by passion, open mindedness, curiosity and a looking-to-the-horizon approach are fired up by disruptive thinking, yielding bold ideas to make something happen, make their mark and leave a legacy.

For today’s startups, innovation is an imperative, developing a value proposition and business model to provide unique value to customers is the key, but choosing which innovative idea to pursue is often a moment of inspiration, serendipity or an exercise in guess work, One light-bulb moment like Archimedes had relaxing in a bath before discovering his famous principle is all it takes, but accidental innovation is common.

For example, Alexander Graham Bell was working on designing a hearing aid (all his family were deaf) when he accidentally invented the telephone, and Dmitri Mendeleev developed the Periodic Table of elements by playing around with packs of cards looking for number patterns? Both were accidents of discovery, but by being inquisitive and following their impulses, great results emerged from these two great pioneers.

Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist discovered LSD properties by unintentionally ingesting it at his lab, and Alexander Fleming and his discovery of penicillin where he accidentally left a petri dish of Staphylococcus bacteria open. Both took the opportunity to start from somewhere they didn’t expect to be, and just followed their instinct.

But from a startup perspective, there are four dimensions of innovation potential to guide decision-making: Does it solve a problem? Can it deliver more value to customers than existing products? Can it create new market space? Can it be the basis of a sustainable business model?

How do you answer these questions? Besides using Lean Startup principles for developing hypotheses, testing and an MPV for customer development and validated learning, I’ve also applied the Doblin innovation practices, a methodology, which guides you through ten types of innovation thinking and practices to validate your thinking.

The Doblin Ten Types of Innovation emerged from research into more than 2,000 successful innovations and identified the ten meaningful moves typically made and thus provides insight into diagnosing sources and patterns of innovation.

The Doblin research shows that effective innovators take a balanced approach, splitting their investments 70/20/10 between incremental, adjacent and transformational innovations, ensures a focus on playing both the long and the short game. The Ten Types of Innovation framework helps identify and accelerate the most promising ideas, kill those with little potential, and effectively improve the overall return on innovation investment.

Here are Doblin’s ten types of innovation. Which can you identify as offering potential opportunities for your own startup?

Innovation in the Profit Model: How you make money Innovative profit models find a fresh way to convert an offering into cash, and reflect an understanding of what customers value and where new revenue or pricing opportunities might lie. Innovative profit models often challenge an industry’s established assumptions about what to offer, what to charge or how to collect revenues. In most sectors the dominant profit model is tired, old and often goes unquestioned. Apple’s Apps Store is a great example of profit model innovation.

Innovation in Networks: How you connect with others to create value in the connected economy. Collaborative networking enables startups to leverage other companies’ brands, processes, technologies, offerings and channels through strategic partnering. This network innovation means firms can capitalise on their own strengths and share risk, while harnessing the capabilities and assets of others, develop new offers and ventures. CISCO’s strategy and customer offering is based around the ROI of collaborative networks

Innovation in Structure: How you organise and align your talent and assets Structure innovations are focused on organising all of the startups assets in unique ways that create value. Looking across traditional organisation boundaries, such innovations help attract and develop talent by creating productive working environments or fostering a level of performance that competitors can’t match. For example, leverage and unify your technology, design and marketing teams to ensure product development is driven by customer insight and intelligence.

Innovation in Process: How you use processes to do your work differently Process innovations involve the activities and operations that produce an startup’s core offerings. This requires a fresh think around ‘business as usual’ that enables the company to provide a different customer engagement and cost model. Process innovations often form the core competency of an enterprise, are sustainable and become the ‘special sauce’ that competitors simply can’t replicate. shows the power of process innovation.

Innovation in Product Performance: How you develop distinguishing features and functionality Product Performance innovations address the value proposition – the features, benefits, impact, experience and evidence of a startup’s offering. This type of innovation involves both entirely new products and updates to existing products that add substantial customer value. Too often, we mistake product performance for the sum of innovation, when, as Doblin highlights, there are other sources.

It’s often the core of the competitive arena, but it devolves into an expensive arms race and mad dash to parity from competing firms in the market. The mobile phone market is an example of this. Product performance innovation that delivers long-term sustainable competitive advantage are the exception rather than the rule – the Dyson being a great example of this, be it their ‘Hot & Cool’, or their new hair dryer.

Innovation in Product System: How you create complementary products and services Product system innovations are rooted in how individual products and services connect or bundle together to create a scalable system. This is fostered through interoperability, modularity and integration to create valuable connections. Product System innovations help you build ecosystems that captivate and delight customers by providing bundled value – and make it personal. Check out as a example

Innovation in Service: How you support and amplify the value of your offerings Service innovations ensure and enhance the utility, performance and value of an offering. They make a product easier to use and highlight features and functionality customers might otherwise overlook. They also fix problems and smooth rough patches in the customer journey and bad customer experience in the current product. Done well, they elevate products into compelling experiences that customers come back for again and again. Uber is a great example of this

Innovation in Channel: How you deliver your offerings to customers and users Channel innovations encompass all the ways you connect with your customers and users. While e-commerce has emerged as a dominant force, traditional channels such as physical stores are still important in creating immersive experiences.

Skilled innovators find multiple, complementary ways to bring their products and services to customers. Their goal is to ensure that users can buy what they want, when and how they want it, with minimal friction and maximum delight. Apple’s Genius Bar is a great complimentary Channel Innovation

Innovation in Brand: How you represent your offerings and business Brand innovations help to ensure that customers and users recognise, remember and prefer your offerings to those of competitors or substitutes. Great ones distil a brand promise that attracts buyers and conveys a distinct identity, the result of carefully crafted strategies that are implemented across many touchpoints between your company and your customers, including digital communications, advertising, service interactions and employee conduct. For me, although never personally remotely interested in motorbikes, Harley Davidson defines brand innovation

Innovation in Customer Engagement: How you foster compelling interactions Customer Engagement innovations are all about understanding the deep-seated aspirations of customers and using those insights to develop meaningful connections between them and your company. Great Customer Engagement innovations provide opportunities to foster customer loyalty and help people find ways to make parts of their lives more memorable. Airbnb executes this brilliantly

The Ten Types of Innovation research provides a thoughtful and structured framework for startups to build breakthroughs built around ten distinct types of innovation into your business model that need to be orchestrated.

However, you also need the mindset, determination and curiosity of an entrepreneur. When we all think alike, nobody is thinking. Capital isn’t so important in business, neither is experience, you can get both these things, what is important is new ideas.

Soon, software will know how you feel, and will use that data to sell you things. The gig economy will go global, but it’s not Uber-take-all. AI will achieve something like common sense, and it will be open source too. But that future won’t build itself. Actual people (at least for now) have to make these things happen, and the Doblin framework is useful to guide your thinking.

You need to see what everybody has seen and think what nobody has thought, and don’t live your life in the rear view mirror – it tells you where you’ve been, not where you can go looking forward.











The rise of the digital business model in the on-demand economy, and the demise of The Independent newspaper

The final print edition of The Independent newspaper went on sale Saturday, ending its 30-year appearance on British newsstands. A poignant wrap-around front page carried the words “STOP PRESS” in red lettering on a white background, followed by the words Read all about it in this, our final print edition – 1986- 2016.

Journalists earlier posted footage online of the team ‘banging ourselves out’ – an old tradition of banging the desks to mark the departure of a colleague. Today the presses have stopped, the ink is dry and the paper will soon crinkle no more it said.

The Independent is to become the first national newspaper to move to a digital-only publication. The move will capitalise on its position as the fastest growing UK quality newspaper website, its monthly audience has grown 33.3% in the last 12 months to nearly 70m global unique users. The site is profitable and is expected to see revenue growth of 50% this year.

The Indy was launched 7 October 1986 by Andreas Whittam Smith, Stephen Glover and Matthew Symonds. Reaching a circulation of 400,000 in 1989, it has been characterised by a number of innovations introduced by a succession of talented editors, which have included Andrew Marr and Simon Kellner:

  • Originally published as a broadsheet in a series of celebrated designs, from September 2003 it was produced in both broadsheet and tabloid versions. The tabloid edition was termed ‘compact’ to distance itself from the sensationalist reporting style usually associated with tabloid newspapers in the UK.
  • In 2010, a new format featured smaller headlines and a new pullout Viewspaper section. October saw the i launched, for 20p, and The Independent printed on slightly thicker paper, ceasing to be full-colour throughout.
  • The Independent became known for its unorthodox and campaigning front pages, which frequently relied on images, graphics or lists rather than traditional headlines and written news content. For example, following the publication of the Hutton Report into the death of British government scientist David Kelly, its front page simply carried the word Whitewash?

At the peak of its popularity, it had a circulation of 450,000, but this slumped to 40,000. It had suffered from dramatic changes to the advertising market, notably the shift to social media sites. Great newspapers, which have survived for centuries, find their business models challenged as never before. It becomes the first British daily national to close since 1995, when Today folded.

I’ve been an avid reader of The Indy since 1986, it has often left me feeling uplifted and informed, and with at least one thought-provoking idea itching at my brain from its contents everyday. It may be unfashionable to admit it, but I love my paper based daily newspaper. I know I get the same content on my iPad but for me, nothing quite beats the thrill of sitting down and savouring the experience ahead of me and reading a newspaper.

I now realise that this was down to the talent of the writers, journalists, and editors. Well written paper newspapers are something special, digital is not quite the same as turning the pages and appreciating (albeit subconsciously) the pace of the articles, the alternating weights of the pieces, the contrasting light and depth between stories, the different tone and style of the writers. The paper is paced in such a way as to lead you on, to keep you turning the pages, ever onwards until you reach the end.

I don’t think people realise the very different experience between the product you hold in your hand, tuck into your bag, pull out again to read over tea, tuck away again, and then take out again later for a last read before you go to bed, and the thing you call up on your computer screen for a quick scan.

There’s an entirely different level of engagement. While digital versions enable updates as new stories emerge, most online readers spend probably ten minutes scanning the stories, whereas paper based readers are likely to spend anything up to an hour reading and re-reading the articles – and, if you’re like me, cutting out interesting snippets to keep for future reference.

Social networks now dominate media distribution, but we forget that’s just a return to the way things used to be before newspapers, TV, radio or Internet. News was a social activity. Information spread person-to-person, group-to-group. People chatted in the village square or around a campfire, spreading stories and information to each other. This was word-of-mouth, social distribution. News moved through networks of people – vegetable prices were relayed among farmers – few people could read, so news spread face to face.

All that changed with the newspaper, which first appeared in trading cities in the 1600s. As society learned to read during the 1800s a formula emerged: the information was gathered by professionals, formatted by editors, and distributed to shops or to our door. The resulting information-rich package was far more useful than any fireside gossip.

Today is all about social media, with people sharing stories with their friends and instantly broadcasting them to their followers as latter day town heralds. News spreads person to person, just as it did around the village, back in the day.

In the modern village square of social media, there’s so much stuff that we need social signals like Twitter to navigate, and we trust our friends to pick out relevant stories – plus we can get our friends’ opinions, and generally do all the things people did with news back in the pre-newspaper days of the village square. So we’ve come full circle, social distribution is back.

With the digital and social media distribution for everyone, the major obstacle to the newspaper sector is finding a new economic model. A decade ago newspapers built web sites and offered free access. Thus began the pervasiveness of free online news, whose lasting effect will be that only the very best news organisations will be able to charge meaningful prices for their content.

Tablet devices have changed the face of media, offering publishers both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is that tablets allow them to seamlessly integrate text, video and interactive graphics and create more engaging products, but also via video output gain access to the TV budgets, and do so in a personalised, intelligent way based on a reader’s digital footprint.

The Internet brings news to the consumer faster and in a more visual style than newspapers, which are constrained by their physical form. The competing mediums also offers advertisers the opportunity to use moving images and sound, and to tailor their pitch to readers who have revealed what information they are seeking – an enormous advantage.

Paper is dying, but it’s just a device. Replacing it with pixels is a better experience said Arthur Sulzberger Jnr.,  Chairman and Publisher of  The New York Times. We will stop printing the New York Times sometime in the future. As pixels replace paper, the ‘newspaper’ of the future, may resemble The Huffington Post an online news aggregator. It’s like people still have horses, but it’s not their primary way of travelling, or that we use candles – but for romantic dinners and birthday cakes, not for lighting.

The New York Times has managed to prove many naysayers wrong. In 2011 it introduced a ‘pay meter’ that limited the articles casual readers could access, and successfully convinced people to pay for content. It has two subscription offerings, the more interesting is NYT Now, a mobile app that is free and available to iPhone users and offers readers a more limited selection of articles, all hand-chosen by editors.

Perhaps the analogy is that The New York Times newspaper is a full, sit down meal, and by contrast, NYT Now is more like food-on-the-go, appetising to those hungering for curated news on their mobiles. Users of NYT Now will access news analysis and articles from The New York Times, but editors will also link to their favourite articles from other publications. The strategy is that it will go some way to reducing customers’ reliance on other sites and social networks for news and thus become an online digital aggregator of choice.

I’m always interested in changing business models, new and evolving value propositions, and innovative pricing strategies. Research into other sectors offers insight and can spark innovations in your own thinking, stimulating at a time when you’ve become moribund in how online models are cannibalising your business. It needn’t be so, the lesson is keep a positive mindset, learn and leverage, and be creative. You have to innovate your business to make your own headline news today, or face being in the obituary section tomorrow.

The Internet is an isolating, solitary experience; reading a newspaper is the opposite. While digital may be clever, quick and flashy, for me nothing will ever quite match the imagery and power of the printed word, like the smell and anticipation of an unopened new book.

So that’s the last time I’ll see the paper boy stumbling up our drive with his heaving bag, the last time I hear the newspaper crashing through my letterbox. It will also be the last time I swap a smile, chat and coins with the man in the paper shop in town and walk out having paid the papers. This change has been driven by the readers, so the business model must change. It is estimated that one in five journalists lost their jobs in the first decade of the millennium as a result of the demise of printed newspapers.

New tools, new markets, new business models and new audiences are consuming volumes of information once unimaginable. Digital technology makes reaching them easier than ever.  As a result, The Indy’s journalism reached nearly 500,000 readers in print, and three million readers online – a third in America, over half through social media and also more than half on their mobiles.

The business model for printed general news from Monday to Friday is broken forever. Where the Lebedevs go, others will follow. One future for journalism is specialism, but for providers of general news in a landscape dominated by the BBC, free is the future. The simple fact is, there just aren’t enough people who are prepared to pay for printed news, especially during the week. With circulation and advertising very substantially down, the future of a print edition was inevitably one of managing decline.

Today, journalism, with its integrity, intelligence, courage and wit is reaching more hearts and minds than ever before, as we are hungry for news – but they are reading us digitally, through their mobiles, and via social networks. It is news in a flash, literally.

The online, digital news model offers convenience, speed and cognitive ease for consumers and is part of the on-demand economy. The tech companies competing in this arena have developed new models that are transforming industries which have historically been slow to innovate – taxis, hotel accommodation, grocery, and restaurant industries are prime examples of hyper-growth categories in the on-demand world.

Welcome to the uberification of our service economy. A dramatic increase in the number of smartphone connected consumers, simple and secure purchase flows, and location-based services are a few of the market conditions and technological innovations propelling the explosion in on-demand services.

The always on, always connected smartphone has made convenience, efficiency, and simplicity critical ingredients in purchasing decisions. Everyday purchasing driven through smartphones is creating one of the most transformational shifts in consumption patterns in history — never before has a consumer been able to buy anything they want at anytime with simply the tap of a button. Uber is building a digital mesh — a grid that goes over the cities. Once you have that grid running, in everyone’s pockets, there is a lot of potential for what you can build as a platform.

Uber is in the throws of building a unique platform that will enable instant demand-supply servicing. Fast-followers have quickly capitalised on opportunities in this marketplace by extending to new geographies and through tailored service offerings. Regional clones (Delivery Hero, Just Eat), specialty food providers (Hello Fresh, Sprig), and up-and-coming delivery services (DoorDash, SpoonRocket) are opening up new fronts in the personalised food delivery market.

Aided by the playbook of Uber, and Airbnb, service providers in newer categories are anticipated to reach scale rapidly. Creating a memorable, efficient and frictionless user interface is the focus, addressing consumers’ appetite for greater simplicity and convenience.

The remote controls we use to navigate our daily lives, are transaction engines that never leave our pocket. Never before have consumers had this simple of a way to transact — and never before have businesses been equipped to satisfy this mounting demand, hence the demise of the printed newspaper – I feel like so many existing experiences can be reinvented with the right simple gestures on mobile, and the needs and wants of Generation T (Generation Touch) are going to become the foundation of many massive companies of the future said Josh Elman, partner, Greylock Partners

Hopefully the spirit and quality of The Independent will endure. I know that is of little comfort to folk like me, print readers. I love the rustle and whiff of paper, the thud on the doormat when it arrives, and the geography and serendipity of each edition. However, as Uber and Airbnb illustrate, you need to embrace a digital business model if you are to compete in the on-demand economy.

Be in the business of romancing your customers

Many of the everyday fundamentals of our Western lifestyles owe a debt of gratitude to the Ancient Greeks – democracy, drama, all-action blockbuster war epics, and lying around thinking about stuff in general. All beloved activities in the Eastern Mediterranean 2,500 years ago, and all still popular today in our house – as well as other aspects of their culture including moussaka, retsina, lashings of taramasalata and a big, chunky feta salad.

Greek dancing and plate smashing are optional and mostly accidental at home, but my affection for all-things Greek stems from the fact that I met my future wife as a student whilst on holiday in Corfu. A Greek holiday romance which blossomed to the sun drenched sounds of bouzouki, fuelled by souvlaki and drenched in ouzo. Dôs moi pâ stô, kaì tàn gân kīnā́sō.

And as the sacred festival of St Valentine’s came upon us once again yesterday – with all its promise of new romance, maturing affection or crushing rejection – the Greek influence on our way of life and their pioneering attitudes towards love once again came into my thoughts.

But what is love, that old romantic chestnut? Love came in many forms for the Greeks, perhaps the depth and complexity of their understanding of love was due in part to their selection of eternally, irrepressible deities etched on some hideous pottery?

The Iliad, the smash-hit blockbuster page-turner from celeb epic poet Homer, was a love story, a war provoked by a young man who was unable to keep his passion in his trousers, and an attractive married woman who sacrificed a husband and a perfectly acceptable job as Queen of Sparta for a cheeky bit of nooky with a younger lover. Quite a few of the Greek dramas end with someone having killed a current or former lover in an eruption of vengeful jealousy or spite. However, they also treasured the purity of love, and the spiritual transcendence it could engender.

Eros was the eponymous market-leading Greek god of love, all statues seemingly obliged to have his tackle out on full display, but as the son of Aphrodite, the lascivious love genes ran strongly in the family. While other famous deities such as Zeus, Artemis, and Poseidon have since tumbled down the rankings, Eros remains a prominent presence today.

Can we assume that our love-struck Greek heroes and heroines would have embraced Valentine’s Day as enthusiastically as they embraced each other? Valentine’s Day gestures have always taken many forms – from the cheeky card, to the anonymous light-aircraft banner-trailing fly-past, to the hastily-bought bunch of petrol-station flowers. St Valentine himself was, of course, the patron saint of hackneyed chat-up lines and clumsy passes.

St. Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. Several martyrdom stories were invented for the various Valentines that belonged to February 14, and added to later martyrologies. A popular hagiographical account of Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. According to legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius. An embellishment to this story states that before his execution he wrote her a letter signed ‘Your Valentine’, as a farewell.

Okay, maybe you deserve a little bit more credit, it wasn’t a hasty, last minute arrangement, you actually made your dinner reservations weeks ago, and you had a genuinely heartfelt token of your affection wrapped and ready to go a week before the day too. Great work Casanova, but you’re still forgetting some very special people who are also deserving of your love today.

“Who?” you ask? Your customers, that’s who. Don’t they deserve some attention, too? Luckily, there’s not as much pressure to show your love to customers on Valentine’s Day as there is to show your significant other. That being said, you need to woo them from the charms of the competition – and after customer attraction, it’s all about retention and renewal, as in any other relationship.

According to research, it costs five times more to find a new customer than to retain a current customer. Sometimes, small changes have a big impact on how customers perceive the quality of your relationship and make the difference between loyalty and high churn rates.

Customer retention is an essential part of your business model because existing customers are easier to upsell and more profitable than constantly acquiring new customers while having a high turnover. Customer churn is a key performance indicator firms need to track and control. When churn happens, they’ve lost the romance.

Nurturing relationships with your customers is a crucial part of growing a business. In this age of automation and innovation, caring for your customers has never been more important. At any moment, an unhappy customer can share their opinion with the masses through social media and negatively affect your business. That’s why it’s even more important than ever to create an excellent experience for your customers to help develop your company’s relationship with them into a loving and lasting one.

Walt Disney said it best, Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends. Creating love between your business and your customers can help scale positive word of mouth that’s absolutely priceless. Creating a customer-focused culture should be a priority. Most businesses are failing when it comes to the customer experience, which is your opportunity to swoop in and enchant those same customers into falling for your company.

So what are the lessons from a romantic St. Valentine’s Day for your customer encounters? It’s all about being thoughtful, and having the right mindset. It’s about creating romance, a relationship. It’s not simply about the transaction or price – price is the value of the relationship, it is not the metric for an immediate transaction, so don’t focus on that. The aim is to find, win and keep customers, develop a horizon for future, ongoing work, and not simply an immediate invoice.

It’s romance, not speed dating, think lifetime value, so how do you create a ‘customer romance’ and a long-term relationship generating a sustainable stream of sales revenues? Here are my thoughts, and remember, it’s seduction, not speed dating:

Set the scene Frame the meeting in the first 60 seconds, be a psychologist, shape how the ‘feel-think-feel’ experience happens. This three-stage process happens in the first 60 seconds of a meeting and frames how the client anticipates the meeting will be as an experience.

Be curious, take their agenda, not yours live in your customer’s world, be counter intuitive, your sales agenda will kill the sale. Identify some immediate needs and quick wins you can help them achieve and add value, whilst looking at the bigger picture and longer term.

Don’t come on too strong too soon Join the dots for the client’s thinking – link statements with insights. It’s like jazz, learn the harmony and improvise over the top, give them a feeling of assurance and excitement, the art of the possible from working with you. Wow them!

Always listen Playback their words to create a connection: ‘So, if I’ve heard you correctly…’ – reflect back – shows listening skills, validates where you’re at, and helps you to organise their thinking; understand how they are feeling. Build intimacy and engagement in the conversation.

Have insight Be prepared to directly describe a real problem and your solution from experience, be able to demonstrate the value you bring. Serve as a sounding board, facilitate collaborative discussions by providing an answer that stimulates the conversation. Listen with curiosity and interest to make an authentic connection.

Watch their watch, mind your mindset. Help them simplify, clarify and focus on their issue, help identify the critical factors in their decision. Be a collaborator, focus on being a helpful part of the decision making process, not the decision itself.

Treat your customers like a valued partner Talk about yourself less and your client more, take them on a journey of thinking about what could be. Frame the issue in your client’s language then build a relationship road map, a picture of what success looks like for them from being with you.

Ensure your conversations have energy Be alert, engage sincerely, show interest, make it a dialogue of ideas and insights, show the client you and your thinking. Create empathy – we are in this together, identify the common ground and create win-win scenarios. See yourself sat the client’s side of the conversation – how you see it is how you sell it. Your energy in a meeting can create opportunities.

Build trust Make yourself relevant to the client’s business and personal goals, agenda and aspirations. Be able to have a meaningful dialogue in their industry language, understanding their business and drivers – all client buying decisions relate to this information. Let them see you are investing time in them as a person and the relationship, not just a transaction.

Be a thought leader, create the possibility of something Treat your customers right, genuinely interact. The quality of your thinking reveals your credibility, create dialogue to stimulate your client’s thinking, not a sales opportunity. Success means not closing a sale in the first meeting, the less you sell today, the more you sell in the future.

Understand what is not being said What are they thinking now? Use contrast to change the mindset – what’s the most important message you want to leave? Develop your ‘points of view’ – offer a perspective developed from experience – medals and scars – offer advice, guidance, thoughts – create a personal impact of your credentials.

Consistently make gestures Offer a point of view or some learning, ‘I’d like to see if there’s something we can help you with… ‘….and share the benefits of our experience, and see what success means to us both….’

Be the person your dog wants you to be when you get home Ok, wet noses aside, the unconditional love of a dog is the simplest and most uncomplicated love you’ll ever experience. The greeting you get from your dog when you get home at night is often the highlight of the day. It’s simply about being you, they want the person that is you, so take that ‘you’ to your clients, and simply be yourself.

So the Monday morning after Valentine’s Day. Just think, would you go out on a date with someone who you did not know and called you out of the blue? Of course not, you’d expect a little flirting and romancing first, you’d want to have an idea who’s asking you out, and something about them.

It’s the same for business decision makers, a cold sales call is bound to have less chances of securing that first meeting as opposed to someone who has done a little business flirting and romancing to get to know you before you agree to a first appointment – however enticing their proposition.

With so many of your competitors challenging for your customer’s attention, you need to invest time and creativity engaging and ‘flirting’ with customers, with knowledge, expertise and content to show you can help them and get on their radar.

In the digital age empowering customers, you need more than the data you get from social media, CRM systems and other analytics tools. Your best competitive advantage will be the relationships you build with your customers. Companies who love their customers, get a lot:

A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10%. Source: Leading on the Edge of Chaos, Emmet Murphy & Mark Murphy.

On average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase. Source: White House Office of Consumer Affairs

The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60–70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20%. Source: Marketing Metrics.

Spend time understanding their problems from their perspective, showing the potential value you can bring before you even start to think about selling to them. Remember, it’s seduction not speed dating, you want a relationship not a transaction. You need to ask for that first date and get it, because if you’re not romancing your customers, who is?


Entrepreneurial learning journey: fresh fruit & veg markets of Antigua

For my second entrepreneurial learning journey blog in Antigua, I wandered down to the Saturday morning Farmers’ Market in the capital city St. John’s. The stalls burst with an eye-catching rich assortment of colourful fruits and vegetables, including mangoes, coconuts, okra, papaya, guava, tamarind, breadfruit, sugar cane and the island’s most famous fruit, the black pineapple. The market is a place you must visit when in Antigua.

The market is opposite West Street Bus Station and opens from 5.30am in the morning. The red-roofed new public market complex on Valley Road is the size of a modern supermarket. Inside, it’s a step back to a simpler time where vendors display an enormous array of freshly harvested foods from overflowing stalls. You have your produce weighed on an old-fashioned copper scales too, for that true market experience.

Local vendors from all parts of the island come to sell a wide variety of goods. The market tends to get crowded, so it’s best to arrive early in the day to make the most of the vendor variety. Amid the stands’ bright colours that same bustling energy of the shoppers crowd reflects the vibrant Caribbean lifestyle of the island. You will be astounded at the crowds of local villagers arriving with fruit and vegetables to sell, and empty shopping baskets to fill.

There is also a smaller craft market attached to the main market where you can find locally made arts and crafts, whilst fish is sold across the road in its own market, again the best time to go is Saturday morning (as early as possible). You can purchase local rum, Cavalier, and they also have the regular dark rum, white rum, and rum punch.

I’ve found those manning the market stalls to be almost unfailingly friendly. Some may look at you sleepy-eyed, but most are happy to inform you that the rose-coloured fruit you’re holding is a dragon fruit, or that the label-free bottle filled with roots and rum is actually an island aphrodisiac.

The vendors jostle with good humour for your attention by showing you some of the local fruits and vegetables they’ve brought along. If you don’t recognise them just ask, the vendors are only too willing to explain how to eat and cook the food, so it’s a great way to meet people and learn about Antiguan cooking.

Brightly coloured fruits that look as though they arrived via alien spaceship, bunches of dried herbs guaranteed to cure all ills and a thousand aromas, from the briny tang of fresh-caught sea creatures to the pungent assault of fresh cilantro, fill the air. Wandering through the Antiguan market is full tilt overload for the senses. It’s why experienced travellers always make time for a market visit.

The market is is also a great place to sample the local cuisine, with small food stalls or even full-fledged restaurants providing regional fare for a non-touristy price. While they may not be the most sparkling establishments, they serve up the flavoursome dishes locals grew up on, from scotch bonnet hot callaloo soup to garlic fused sticky dumplings.

For self-starters with a passion for selling and a desire to get back as much as they put into a business, starting a market stall is a serious option. Don’t be mistaken for thinking a market stall is below your entrepreneurial dreams, some of Britain’s greatest entrepreneurs started by staking high and selling cheap in a day-to-day selling activity – Tesco, Matalan, Innocent Drinks and Marks & Spencer are all examples of brands which have grown from simple foundations on the market stall:

  • Tesco was founded in 1919 by Jack Cohen from a market stall in London’s East End, where he began selling surplus groceries. He left the Royal Flying Corp at the end of the Great War and used his demob money to buy the first day’s stock. Cohen made a profit of £1 from sales of £4 on his first day. The Tesco brand appeared five years later when he bought a shipment of tea from a Mr T. E Stockwell. The initials and letters were combined to form TES-CO and in 1929 Cohen opened the flagship Tesco store in Burnt Oak, North London.
  • The son of a Liverpool docker, John Hargreaves left school at 14 and started his retail career selling Marks & Spencer seconds from a market stall. He opened his first Matalan store in 1985, after a visit to the United States convinced him of the huge growth potential for edge-of-town discount sheds.
  • Rich, Adam and Jon, who met at university in the early 1990s, went on a snowboarding holiday, during which they decided to stop talking about starting a business and actually start one. They sell their first smoothies from a stall at a music festival in London. A sign above the stall reads Should we give up our jobs to make these smoothies? and people were asked to throw their empties into bins marked Yes or No. Yes wins. Innocent Drinks is born.
  • A stall at Kirkgate Market in Leeds, saw Michael Marks open his first Penny Bazaar stall in 1884. Today an M&S heritage stall and coffee shop is located right beside the famous M&S clock in the 1904 Kirkgate Market building. It’s amazing what a penny can do. Don’t ask the price, it’s a penny was Michael Marks’ first slogan. It couldn’t be any simpler and both his idea and hard work soon paid off, but it was when Michael went into partnership with Tom Spencer in 1894 that the company we all know really started to take shape.

When it comes to selling on a stall, the day job varies enormously depending on what you’re punting and what your ambitions are. Fishmongers, grocers and florists get up at unholy hours to catch the earliest trade. For others, it’s a lifestyle thing. Some of these will only trade part-time or even just on a Saturday. Observing the Antiguans on their stalls, I noted a few standout skills and talents that any entrepreneur needs, whatever their trading style:

  • A passion for what you are creating and selling
  • In depth knowledge of your goods and industry, and understanding of the competition
  • A snappy sales technique built around good communication skills
  • Ability to rise early and work long hours
  • The all-important ability to haggle without putting off potential buyers

So what are the entrepreneurial learnings I picked up from the food sellers in the Antiguan market?

Live your ambition The early bird catches the worm – get there early, get set up and be prepared. Drill down to your absolute aspirations and lock them in. Then be sure to execute on them flawlessly so that customers learn exactly what you stand for and come to trust that you deliver.

Be creative in your selling Apply creativity in all aspects of your business model. Innovation shouldn’t be limited to new products and offerings. One fruit stall offered different bundles of fruit and veg in a smart selling and pricing strategy, the ‘3 for 2’ type offers we see in the supermarkets at home but in several different combinations.

Stay Fresh Keeping your business model as fresh as your fruit by leading the charge to change the shopping experience. Stalls had ‘offers of the day’, or introduced product as ‘fresh today, picked from the ground at 430am’. Some had the soils around the vegetables or tree branches and leaves with the fruit, creating authenticity, natural and interesting stall displays for their products.

Be smart Take customers on a journey to keep your offering new and different. One stall had full tasting offerings of their product, the classic ‘try before you buy’. Initially I wasn’t buying, but a sample tempted me and created new demand and secured a purchase.

Be quirky Create eye-catching product names. One stall had visually stunning photos, with product descriptions like ‘The half moon, silky and smoky’ and ‘Nature rejoice, chasing childhood memories.’ This leads to a natural curiosity, which draws customers in.

Provide product information One stall had hand-written product notes pasted on the box in front of each product, information about the product, harvest location, ecology and farmer biographies that caught my eye. A simple way of providing customer engagement.

Connect with your customers as people – make it personal– connect, talk to people – tales make sales, find common ground and relate to people; if people want a robot, they will go to a supermarket. The personality, character and friendliness of the stallholders created an experience, we talked and engaged as people, not as suppliers-customers.

The personal one-to-one interaction with the stallholders is as important as the product. I had one fruit seller who took my order, then he spent just two extra minutes doing something special.

He transformed himself into an artist. He drew pictures on the paper bags of the product – not just childlike images, but clever pencil sketches. In those few extra minutes, he became remarkable, and memorable, he made me feel like I was his only customer that morning. It takes 99% of the time you spend just to be average. The remarkable stuff can happen in 1% of your time – in a flash.

Antigua’s market is set around a cobblestone promenade where fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish stalls of every flavour, culture and genre exist side by side as vendor stallholders ply their trade with potential customers as they pass-by. You can stroll, shop, eat, laugh, wander, wonder and explore it all, a hub of creativity and a marketplace, a festival of entrepreneurial life.

Stuart Broad: Citius, Altius, Fortius – how top performers make it happen

Stuart Broad produced another barely-believable spell of bowling on the third afternoon of England’s Second Test versus South Africa last week in Johannesburg to catapult England to a series win.

There are few greater sights in Test cricket than a quick bowler in full flow, and few can claim to have wreaked the type of devastation Broad has proved himself capable of time and time again in a single spell.

This latest spell further furnished that reputation as Broad claimed five wickets in 31 balls for the cost of just one run – and even that was a dropped catch. The timeline of his wickets revealed the extent of the damage in 49 minutes:

  • 1.23pm – Elgar c Bairstow b Broad 15; SA 23/1
  • 1.42pm – Van Zyl c Stokes b Broad 11; SA 28/2
  • 1.50pm – De Villiers c Bairstow b Broad 0; SA 30/3
  • 2.01pm – Amla c Taylor b Broad 5; SA 31/4
  • 2.12pm – Bavuma b Broad 0; SA 35/5

South Africa were 35 for 5 and Broad had the lot. Broad seized the moment in a way that he so often has in a Test career that started a little more than eight years ago when he was 21. It was the seventh time he had taken five or more wickets in a single spell.

He finished with 6 for 17 in 12.1 overs, figures that did not quite match his 8 for 15 at Trent Bridge last August against Australia, but then nothing will ever match that. He is now England’s third all time highest test wicket taker, and his match winning spell has propelled him to the top of the Test bowling rankings as World number one. Since 2012, Broad has taken more test wickets than any other bowler in the world.

Stuart Broad is that rarest thing in English sport, a player who thrives under pressure, he just loves the big stage. He rises to the moment with an inner strength few sportsmen are blessed with. Players like that are excited by the challenge.

There are two ways of looking at pressure. There is the negative mindset of worrying you might fail and could make a mistake in front of thousands of people, and you could cost your team the game. The alternative is, and Broad looks at this positive – he sees the opportunity, sees the crowd and it drives him on to seize the moment and win the match and be a hero.

He has 330 test wickets in 90 Tests, still someway behind England’s all-time record wicket taker, James Anderson on 429, but with Anderson now 33, Broad has the opportunity to aim for that top spot. He should use what Jimmy finishes with as a target to beat.

However, it’s not just the 330 wickets in 90 tests, but his match winning performances. Broad is often the catalyst. As soon as he starts lifting those knees up and running in hard, batsmen are in trouble. He was helped by conditions last week – the clouds hung around, the floodlights were on all day, the new ball was venomous and brutal. But the bowler still has to put the ball in the right place and, in those circumstances, Broad is a formidable man to face.

The spells that Broad bowls – all against Australia – have been a phenomenal statement of a high performer making it happen when it counts: The Oval in 2009 (6 for 91), Chester-le-Street in 2013 (6 for 20 in 45 balls), Trent Bridge in 2015 (a barely believable 8 for 15) and the spell last week, symptomatic of his character. If your team is in a situation where someone needs to stand up and be counted, then Broad wants to be that man, be the match-winner.

There has been a long-running debate about whether Broad is a great bowler or a bowler of great spells, bur he’s now ranked World number one so that debate can go on hold. Broad is just the 19th England bowler to be adjudged World number one since Alfred Shaw first assumed the mantle in 1877.

Close up shots of Broad as he prepared to run into the wicket showed a calmness in his face and a determination in his eyes, an inner belief and resolution. You just knew that he was going to knock those wickets over. Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable. Believe you can and you’re halfway there, as the saying goes.

The worst enemy to Broad on the field would have been his own self-doubt, but I recall an interview once where he said, I do not believe in taking the right decision on my bowling, I take a decision and make the bowl right. So what gives Broad this self-starter attitude and self-belief, what is the framework for his mental toughness and inner confidence?

We all have moments where we have to keep that self-belief. In those moments it’s just about the process. It becomes the norm. It’s a learned skill and self-belief is massive within the psychology and discipline of thinking.

Everyone faces those pinch-point situations when the heat is on – from making a critical decision in-the-moment at a meeting, to keeping a cool head on the cricket field – those times when you need to function correctly under pressure. The reality is that most people fail in extreme situations. They choke, they get stage fright and their astute, high-wire decision-making skills fail them.

We applaud champions, knowing that we would never have been able to do what they have, all attention on the champion Olympic athlete who epitomises the Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius Faster, Higher, Stronger. There is something deeply captivating about exceptional performance in sport. It’s about human dignity as well as human achievement. For me it’s about saluting the person.

Given all the factors that contribute to performing – or choking – in high-pressure circumstances, what lessons can we take from Stuart Broad, what can you do to improve your performance?

Belief in self: First and foremost, Broad simply believes in his abilities and strengths. He believes he can make great things happen. I’ve never met a successful person with low self-esteem. Self-belief is vital, how many things have you not done or tried because you lacked belief in yourself? As Eleanor Roosevelt so deftly put it: Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Belief in beating the odds: To be successful, we have to be open minded, with no sense of what you cannot do. But, bit-by-bit, life starts to teach you to limit yourself. Broad doesn’t hope he can beat the batsman on his run in to the wicket, he believes wholeheartedly that he will.  There is no second-guessing.  As they say, those who say they can and those that say they can’t are both right.  If you don’t believe you can beat the odds – chances are you won’t.

Belief to deal with the inner negative voice: When you start to doubt yourself listen for a moment to that negative inner voice. Whose voice is it really? It’s often a collection of lots of different voices from different times and people from your past that causes self-belief to wane. One thing’s for sure, that inner self-critical voice shouldn’t be yours. It may masquerade as belonging to you now, but it doesn’t really. One of the first steps is to re-examine and discard many of the limiting ideas you have about yourself, ideas that you’ve somehow collected along the way. Get rid of the baggage!

Belief in flipping a weakness into strength: Dumbo, my favourite cartoon character, was humiliated by his outsize ears. He hated them at first. But, through time, he came to use them, to fulfil his destiny, even changing his attitude. Like Dumbo, if we just focus on what is not right about ourselves rather than what is, then we miss opportunities for self-belief. Focusing on perceived weaknesses without either taking steps to improve them or also giving fair focus toward our strengths gets us nowhere. Know that the positive flipside of a weakness, in the right context, can be put to good use.

Belief in perseverance: This is a big attribute of Broad’s down the years. The obstacles that cause many people to quit are minor setbacks for the true champion. Winners persist, losers desist. It is often that simple difference in self-belief that separates the successful person from the frustrated failure.

Belief in the vision: For Broad, his vision was bigger than just the winning his own individual battles with the South African batsmen. It was a vision of being part of a winning England team. It was never about his personal success, but being part of a collective team. His self-belief got him into the team, his self-belief helped him be part of a winning team.

Belief in accountability: High performers realise that only they are responsible for what they accomplish, and that their value to the team will be assessed according to their accomplishments. For this reason, they make sure to give top priority to their own preparation and performance. They take responsibility for themselves and make it happen.

Recent research into top performers and their output, looking across several industries, revealed that the top 5% of the workforce at the researched firms produced 26% of the firm’s total output. The top-performing 5% produced 400% more than you would expect. That means that top performers have an incredibly high ROI because they produce more than four times more.

Just like on the business side of the enterprise where the 80/20 rule prevails (80% of your profit comes from 20% of your products) there should be a similar 80/20 rule covering employee performance. This disproportional impact means that despite the fact that many are enamoured with the practice of treating everyone equally, it turns out that that approach may be well-intentioned but misguided because in business, just like sports, top performers have a significantly higher business impact than the average. Top performers need to be nurtured, developed and prioritised.

Do you have the capability to be a top performer? The capability to constantly get out there and make an effort, to work at what you want, to believe in yourself, to keep going when others have thrown in the towel. The capability to realise that you can achieve your dream, the capability to keep focussed?

Broad undertook the challenge because he was willing to do what he needed to do, to get what he wanted. It’s not about medals of victory, it’s more about the scars of defeat. Champions believe in themselves when no one else does, it means going beyond your comfort zone and learning to win the game your own way. Remember, every champion was once a contender that refused to give up.

Life has a unique perspective. Along the way, various landing pages, trials and tribulations will offer themselves up. It’s self-belief that determines your direction and ultimately success – its not how often you’re knocked over but how many times you get up that makes the difference. As Dr Seuss said, You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, and with self-belief, steer yourself any direction you choose.

It’s down to perseverance – it’s the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did. The words of Dick Fosbury will always resonate with me: When my body got tired, my mind said this where winners are made; when my mind got tired, my heart said this is where champions are made. Make it count and take control when it matters most, inside your own head.