The twelve days of Christmas for a tech startup entrepreneur

It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur. If you can get into a position where you sit at the intersection of a sizeable market, build a high-performing team and create a great product, this is your time. This is the age of the startup, the leverage afforded to startup founders today is immeasurably greater than that previous generations due to the internet.

Startups can be global from the outset, addressable markets have multiplied through the reach of direct-to-consumer distribution channels  of app stores and cloud platforms, superceding physical borders and boundaries of time.

Those startups with global ambitions combine scalable, pre-built components from public cloud vendors, API services and the open source community, and deploy them on open platforms. Platform openness means fewer barriers between a startup and its customers and fewer technical dependencies, and thus scaling can be reached earlier – Uber and Airbnb show this.

A rising new generation of global tech firms are now officially the most valuable companies in the world: Apple, Alphabet/Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook. We’re living a staggering rotation of economic value, out with the incumbent companies in financial services, industrial, and consumer products, replaced by companies centered around software, data and technology-enabled services.

Whilst these firms were all Silicon Valley startups, don’t blink, because coming over the horizon from the East are a set of equally formidable tech giants in Tencent, Alibaba, and China Mobile, each of which reached the global top twenty ranks this year. These companies are fast adopting and inventing new bases of value that support lucrative scale, from networks, data, and the interconnection of communities, consumers and businesses.

None of the new tech giants endured gruelling hundred-year-company-building efforts. The median age of the new guard is closer to 15–20 years, versus 75–100 years for the incumbents who ruled the decades before. Joining these ranks just doesn’t require the sort of multi-generational company building we’ve seen before – the internet has created their markets.

The internet creates new opportunities for value creation. With a focus on disciplined and sustainable growth from clear business model leverage, this means thinking early and often about how to architect product and distribution together as a single, efficient offering. ‘Product’ is no longer just the bits of software, it’s also how the software is sold, supported and made successful with future revenue goals and product roadmaps in mind. Currently, the focus is around data-centricity, artificial intelligence, machine learning and intelligent workflow.

Against the backdrop of the march and ubiquity of tech sector growth and its reach into our everyday lives, we have the stark contrast of the humanity and traditions of Christmas. It’s almost a throwback experience to where time has stood still. For me, it’s about mince pies and mulled wine, time spent with family and friends, when people matter more than devices, and social connection means real face-to-face conversation replacing the screen for social media exchanges.

Indeed, throughout December, I’ve heard The Twelve Days of Christmas everywhere from radio commercials and shopping centres, but especially in carol services where it’s live music performance, not digital downloads. Everywhere you go, you can hear about Three French Hens, Seven Swans-a-Swimming and Eleven Pipers Piping. But what does any of this mean? What does a song about doves, hens and geese have to do with Christmas, and relevance to today’s tech driven economy?

The carol has its origins in C18th England, as a memory-and-forfeit game sung by children, whereby children had to remember all of the previous verses and add a new verse at the end. Those unable to remember a verse paid a forfeit, in the form of a kiss or a piece of candy to the others. Today, these verses are what we associate with the days from December 25 to the Epiphany on January 6, as the day when the manifestation of Christ’s glory was realised.

However, my thoughts are that you can enjoy the traditions of Christmas as a tech entrepreneur by using the twelve days of Christmas in a relaxed but constructive way, taking advantage of the holiday to take reflection in a quiet, calm moment to yourself, have a time out for some clear thinking when out for an early morning walk and thoughtful review of your business journey over the previous twelve months without the fear of those unanswered emails lurking in your inbox.

So here are my actions for the ‘Twelve Business Days of Christmas’

Day One: Reframe First and foremost, simply bemoaning your luck for mot achieving what you set out to achieve at the start of the year by complaining about your competition or lack of customers won’t help. Today’s laurels are tomorrow’s compost, you need to reboot and look forward. What are you aiming for? What does success looks like in 12 months time? What are you going to do differently this time that will create a different set of outcomes? There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself, get a grip, reframe your own future.

Day Two: Restart Forget about how you’ve done business in the past, it was good enough then but it won’t give you the results you want in the future. The new order of tech companies show how the balance shifts dramatically is short time frames. In order to become the best business you can be, start with a clean sheet of paper. Who is my ideal customer? What is their persona? Why should customers buy from you and not others?  Don’t get stuck in a rut, press the restart button and don’t be afraid, take a new bold, fresh approach. The same actions as last year will get you the same results – if you’re lucky.

Day Three: Rebalance The end result of your entrepreneurial risk taking should be freedom and fulfilment, not continuous hard work and a feeling of déjà vu. Dedicate time to rebalance your monthly, weekly, daily activities. If it’s all the business of today, who is steering towards the business of tomorrow? Specify what you should be doing, working ‘on’ the business, and not simply ‘in’, and rebalance your priorities. What is your North Star for the next twelve months?

Day Four: Revisit How can you succeed against a myriad of low-cost competitors? Offering the same thing as every competitor provides no advantage, and short-term pricing campaigns offer no sustainable long-term plan, so revisit your business strategy and business model to ensure they are viable and will build a winning business. Identify what markets and products will work in the next 12 months, and develop your value proposition accordingly.

Day Five: Revitalise Is the new year the time to revitalise your product offering in terms of features, benefits and customer experience? Could you layer on new capabilities to enhance stable underlying core processes to improve customer engagement? Analytics are another common area of focus – introducing cognitive techniques to better meet descriptive reporting needs and introduce predictive and prescriptive capabilities could take you forward. Talk to your customers and prospects, have a conversation, don’t sell – what are their unmet needs?

Day Six: Refinance The best businesses are also the best financed. Now is the time to take a hard look at your financial strategy, planning, management and systems, and your cash requirements. Prepare a 12-month cashflow, and use this information for strategy, investment and pricing decisions based around serving customer needs. This will give you a clear focus. Money from customers is the applause, but without adequate working capital, you won’t be able to get in front of them.

Day Seven: Restructure Most businesses use the same organisation chart for years without changing it, but over time, the old structure becomes outdated as customer demands change. Perhaps it’s time to restructure and take a look at job roles, skills needed, and responsibilities. Start with a blank piece of paper, what does the structure need to be to deliver the success desired? What are the key roles you don’t currently have? Where re the skills and people gaps for the next 12 months.

Day Eight: Refocus What do you offer or do differently to attract customers? How do you gather new fans of your product? Have you changed your target market or delivery systems to expand your customer base? Is it time to refocus your customer strategy and look for new customers in new markets? We often develop a myopic, inward facing view on our business, spending too much time focused on product not customer, and ignore our marketing and messaging. What does your brand stand for?

Day Nine: Replace: Introduce new solutions for parts of the internal core that have been unchanged for many years. This may mean adopting new processes – have you considered the benefits of a cloud infrastructure? You should ideally use these pivots to revisit the business’s needs to service its customers better, building new capabilities that reflect how work should get done, not simply replicating how work used to get done on the old systems. Today it’s about the customer experience, engagement and providing convenience – do your systems make you easy to do business with, or are your customer facing systems clunky?

Day Ten: Revamp What business routines do you call over and over? Have you called any new plays lately? Your management style must be agile, what new ideas and innovations have you introduced to refresh the business and keep heads up. Think inside out, think like a customer.

Day Eleven: Replatform Upgrade platforms through technical upgrades, updates to software, and migration to modern operating environments (virtualised environments, cloud platforms). Unfortunately, these efforts are rarely ‘lift and shift’ and require thinking, analysis and tailored handling of each specific workload, but now is the time start with the thinking time available.

Day Twelve: Relive Are you living your dream with your business? Why not? Never forget your dream. Write down what you want your business to do for you personally in the next three to five years. Next decide what you must do to turn your vision into reality. Make it personal, so your business enables you to work to live, not live to work. Do you work for your business, or does your business work for you?

I’ve based My ‘Twelve Business Days of Christmas’ on reflective thinking, seeking to learn from experience, making judgements on what has happened, and develop a questioning attitude and new perspectives. We need to identify areas for change and improvement, respond effectively to new challenges, and apply what we have learned to ensure results improve.

The reflective learning cycle is iterative, it doesn’t stop after one rotation, you apply what you learn, then continue to reflect and develop further. Reflecting, evaluating and analysing your own experience of what you did and how you did it over the past twelve months develops your insight.

There is often no right answer, and some things may remain difficult to interpret. How did your actions affect the situation and how did the situation affect you? How do your observations today fit with the benefit of hindsight? Developing your reflective insights means stepping back and taking an honest critique of your own actions, behaviours and attitudes to consider what might be the results of doing things differently.

So enjoy ‘The Twelve Business Days of Christmas’ – but don’t over think the past twelve months, you can’t change the past but you can shape the future. Words make you think, music makes you feel, a song make you feel a thought. It is after all, a great Christmas carol.

Crossing the Atlantic to live and work in New York

Crossing the Atlantic to live and work in New York. Wow, what a sense of entrepreneurial adventure those ten words create! Grasping an opportunity like this, in pursuit of personal development and new professional experience is just as entrepreneurial as seeking to colonise Mars. The entrepreneurial spirit is the spirit of enterprise, an ambition to succeed, initiative in taking action, alertness to opportunity.

So my son, James, 25, a chip off the old block with the same attitude, spark and finely chiselled features as myself embarks on his own adventure, transplanting himself from Cake Solutions software development team in Manchester to the growing team in Union Square, mid-Manhattan.

There are many definitions of entrepreneurship, but I define it as essentially the act of having the ability to recognise an opportunity, shape a goal, and energise your ambition to make it happen. James has grasped an amazing opportunity to shape and write his own entrepreneurial story in New York.

New York’s skyline. Just the shapes, and the thought that made them, the will of man made visible. New York is a wellspring of inspiration, with action, romance, and fascinating strangers lurking around every corner. Ok, he may start wearing sneakers rather than trainers, develop an appetite for potato chips, and takeouts rather than takeaways and crisps, and talk about garbage instead of rubbish, but living in hipsterville Brooklyn is a great place to be right now. A life without dreaming is a life without meaning.

New York, the hustle bustle of the crowds and the traffic, a metaphor for the wrestling of humanity in all its dimensions, a place as tough, noisy and romantic as his home town of Rawtenstall. The Bowery, the High Line, Dominique Ansel’s Cronuts – a croissant and donut hybrid. Oh, but he’s gone there to work and learn too, on some of the coolest, most advanced software and technology you can have today.

Life is what you make it, and the entrepreneurial spirit is vital if you are to step up from the ordinary. The entrepreneurial mindset, taking responsibility for yourself, dealing with the hot-and-the-cold, the nice-to-have and the have-not moments, in harsh (not virtual) reality.

Entrepreneurs know that opportunity is not a game, it’s a race, a test. Taking full responsibility in action. You have to accept responsibility for whatever happens, and you have to make it happen. As every investment prospectus says, past performance is no guarantee of future returns.

The entrepreneurial spirit of leading a startup – or the startup of me – living on your own wits as a solo artist or striking out like James, is the spirit of individualism, the entrepreneurial self, full ownership and initiator of our own goals and actions. We speak of the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ as a set of character traits possessed by those who perform and live with a clear vision and purpose for themselves. In that sense, the entrepreneurial spirit is something that all of us can and should aspire to, pertaining to the pursuit of goals, self-ownership, and commitment to realising personal ambition.

Those folks holding an entrepreneurial outlook on life are aware that they must not only produce something of uniqueness and value, they also accept, that it carries risk and there is no safety net. Entrepreneurs are aware that economic change and its attendant risks are a fact of life. No one can entirely eliminate risk, but it can mitigated it by continually investing in your own knowledge and skills, making yourself relevant and rooted in the emergent future.

A key element to the entrepreneurial mindset is the need to build and maintain self-esteem, the emotional evaluation of your own worth, a judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self. Self-esteem is made up primarily of two things: respecting yourself and feeling capable. Every adjustment to these states of mind shouldn’t be viewed as a crisis, conscious learning doesn’t require the willingness to see it as suffering self-harm and reducing one’s self-esteem.

Reflection is a way to balance out the emotion. To overcome this self-doubt, you should define and measure your success in your own terms, because measuring success using quantitative measures is one dimensional and provides no insight in future worth or the value of investment put in to date.

At some point, you are probably fully invested – emotion, energy, time – into yourself, and so the concept of quitting, even during the toughest and most frustrating of times, is unthinkable but filling your head like an animated box of frogs. But quitting is not a remote possibility. During this stage of self-doubt, expect your determination to be renewed. Your entrepreneurial self is part of your personal identity now, and your commitment to it as a measure of your personal success is a high driver.

We’ve all had those quiet moments when we doubt ourselves, there are no shortage of black swans, those unknown unknowns.  But let the chips fall on the floor as they may, and do the hard stuff. As long as you’re honest with yourself and deal with it head-on, there’s nothing to fear from self-doubt. Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your entrepreneurial life, but define yourself. Build and hold your self-esteem.

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

Branden introduces the six pillars as 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 workplace ‘startup of me’ 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. Be comfortable with yourself.

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 others 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, 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.

The most beneficial effect of reflecting upon these six pillars of self-esteem is to make you more aware of what is important to you, and to keep honest with yourself. There is nothing irresponsible in choosing another pattern of life that works better. That’s the entrepreneurial spirit. The sense of self-ownership manifests itself in the kind of total autonomy, which involves a sense that the only person one answers to, ultimately, is oneself, to create our own sense of fulfilment and happiness.

In speaking of happiness, I do not mean momentary commercial and monetary success that gives a warm glow of physical pleasure. I mean the kind of satisfaction that comes from achieving the things we value across the whole course of our life. That kind of happiness is not the product of acting by whim or impulse.

I’m sure most of us want to move forward, but by definition, paying attention to the present keeps us where we are. Here’s the key: entrepreneurs spend time building and betting on their future even when there are more important things to do in the present. In other words, and this is the hard part, if you want to be productive in the future, you need to spend time doing things that have no payback in the present.

It’s up to you to go for it and make up your own mind. No one else can think for us, it is our responsibility to choose our own direction by first-hand thought independently. It is only these virtues that can help us navigate through the rolling waters of personal and business life. The entrepreneurial way of life is the human way.  The entrepreneurial spirit is a gift that inspires you to become the best you can be, the best version of yourself.

It’s all about knowing yourself, your capabilities and stretching yourself, being unreasonable with aspirations to achieve, competing against yourself, a trait you see in all entrepreneurs, the restless, relentless pursuit of achievement, stepping outside the comfort zone into the learning zone. I’m minded by Daniel Pink’s book Drive, and the role of intrinsic motivation, the kind that comes from within yourself, and the three elements of the motivation formula he identifies – autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Autonomy Our self-direction is a natural inclination. Pink asserts we’re all built with inner drive, some folks are just in a higher gear than others. James has never been passive and inert, he’s always gone hell-for-leather and go the extra mile as standard. Apparently this is because he has what Pink calls ‘autonomy driven motivation’. He’s curious about what he can achieve as a challenge to himself.

Mastery We want to get better at doing things. It’s why learning a language, new sporting technique or a musical instrument can be so frustrating at first. Mastery is the desire to get better at something that matters. Firstly, it is a mindset, in that we believe we can get better. Second, mastery is a pain, in that it involves not only working harder but working longer at the same thing. Finally, mastery is an asymptote, or a straight line that you may come close to but never reach. Learning is lifelong.

Purpose People who find purpose in their life unlock the highest level of the motivation game. Pink says that it’s connecting to a cause larger than yourself that drives the deepest motivation. Purpose is what gets you out of bed in the morning and into work without groaning and grumbling — something that you just can’t fake.

So, as I look some 3,300 miles to the west, I’m minded by the words of Michael Stipe: It’s easier to leave then to be left behind. James, you’re doing it for yourself, so make it matter where it matters most, inside.

Entrepreneurial learning journey: equal parts flour, eggs, butter, sugar & perspiration

The Great British Bake Off ended last week with a nail-biting final that proved a triumph for Candice Brown. Mel Giedroyc brought the last bake to a halt by announcing: You can do no more ! You’ve finished! However, the climactic Showstopper Challenge failed to feature the one dessert I craved, namely, a custard pie. Being slammed in Paul Hollywood’s face. What a tart.

The GBBO shows all the traits of any great entrepreneurial endeavour – stepping outside of your comfort zone, being tested time and time again, and having to make spontaneous decisions in a challenging environment. Whilst it’s reality television, the situation created in the bake-off tent reveals many parallels to startup life.

There were three challenges: the Signature Challenge was to make a family-sized meringue crown; the Technical Challenge was to make a Victoria Sandwich, which seemed elementary, and the Showstopper Challenge was a picnic hamper consisting of forty-nine items – sausage rolls, quiche, scones, fruit tarts, and a chocolate cake.

The final was close, with all three bakers in contention as they approached the Showstopper. Andrew Smyth was the boyish aerospace engineer from Ireland with ambitious ideas and ambitious shorts; Jane Beedle was the maternal, traditional contestant, a garden designer with two kids and an interesting haystack hairdo, with which I readily identified.

Finally, Candice Brown, famous/notorious for sending more time fixing her appearance than fixing her ingredients, and as Mary Berry put it, ‘liking to do things over the top.’

The bakers had a mammoth five hours to make twelve puff pastry sausage rolls, twelve mini quiches, twelve savoury scones, twelve fruit and custard tarts, and one plain chocolate cake. Mel and Sue shouted Bake! for one last time. Andrew is so nervous he drops his bowl, but it didn’t shatter.

In the Signature Challenge, Jane made three tiers of meringue – a Pavlova with strawberry and raspberry compote, blueberry compote, and white flesh nectarines. Candice went a little further and made two different meringues. The three layers contain Prosecco-soaked strawberries, mango curd, gold-dusted physalis and glittered pistachios. Then there was a fourth tier inspired by the tiny crown of Queen Victoria.

Andrew somehow managed to stick his pecan praline to the wrong side of the baking paper where it became glued solid. His victory in the Technical Challenge meant he was back in the game, but his Signature Challenge did not turn out well thanks to that cursed pecan praline.

Candice’s Queen Victoria Meringue Crown on the other hand was remarkable. Paul bestows upon her the highest accolade: the Hollywood handshake. Candice squeals in the manner of a teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert. Andrew is like the only kid at Christmas not to get a cracker.

The edginess around the Victoria Sandwich was palpable. A Victoria is all about having exactly the same amount of the ingredients – I should know, my wife bakes World Class Victorias every week – but the contestants were given no measurements. Equal parts flour, butter, sugar, eggs and tears today.

It’s 259 grams of everything asserted Jane. Quite precise. For the jam, her ratio of sugar to raspberries is 50-50. Andrew has only half the quantity of sugar and is following his grandma’s recipe from memory. Candice’s ratio was 350 grams to 150. Who knew jam could be so controversial?

Candice over-cooks her sponge cake, which the judges frown is too dark on the top. Her jam hasn’t set and is really a jelly not a jam and the buttercream is quite grainy. Fussy. Apart from that it’s fine.

The Showstopper is a picnic fit for her Majesty. To produce such an (absurd) array of different food Andrew has a spreadsheet detailing what he should be doing in every five-minute block of the whole five hours. The amount of multi-tasking going on here is mind-blowing, remarks Andrew. If I didn’t have a plan I’d be flapping.

As time passes, Andrew starts flapping, skipping round frantically in his alarming shorts and boyish cheeks getting redder and redder. But Candice nails it. I loved her little piglets, her sausage rolls filled with black pudding, which have peppercorn eyes and a curly tail made of crackling. Aside from that, her bravery by putting rhubarb into her custard tarts is the ball-in-the-back-of-the-net moment for Mary and Candice’s ambitious bakes.

Candice could bake, but raised the stakes with a combination of her technical skills, her artistic flair and her strawberries soaked in Prosecco. In the second week, she wowed with a cake model of her parents’ north London pub. It was authentic in every detail, right down to the sticky (gingerbread) carpet. Over the three-months of competition, cockney Candice became the Eliza Doolittle of the GBBO tent, cheeky and spirited, determined and passionate, showing undoubted entrepreneurial flair.

This was the winning spectacle of ordinary people surprising themselves by doing extraordinary things, with a dash of eccentricity thrown into the mix. It was a humdinger of a Showstopper. I’m reliving memories of all the TV cooking shows I watched, from Fanny Craddock to the Galloping Gourmet to Delia, Rick Stein and James Martin.

For me, to win GBBO you have to be resilient and brave. There’s something inspirational about seeing the level of contestants’ effort and passion laid bare and vulnerable. Each contestant struggles with the constant presence of the challenge to their ability and confidence, triggering anxiety.

Under pressure, the dignity of someone utterly wholeheartedly committed to his or her craft is incredible to watch. This is competitive cooking that is hard to imagine, and they produce unbelievable dishes. The effort really gets to me, by committing to their goal, they truly expose themselves. By trying so hard, they leave no room for comfort should they fail.

As always, there are several lessons we can take into our startup business thinking from observing entrepreneurial endeavour in a non-business environment:

Be clear about your vision, the big picture and the end product Contestants visualise the process and their end product. The same applies to business outcomes. We need to use our imagination to create our vision and visualise our goal, to see it, taste it, feel it, smell it and keep it in our heads at all times through the ‘cooking’ process. The Lean Startup advocates holding the vision but pivoting on the detail, which is a good approach to crafting a forty-nine-piece picnic!

Strategise before filling the pans The contestants have to think through each and every small activity from the ingredients they require, to the time allocated and presentation. Little time is given but it has to be quick, effective decision making. Having a clear and agile strategy is also key to a startup founder.

Processes deliver productivity Cooking to a recipe is very much following a process with instructions. In a startup, ambiguity or inaccuracy can lead to wildly varied quality and results. The importance of including detail and clarity in a process so that the same results can be delivered every single time is a key element to successful scaling a business.

Customers have different personalities Mary is kind, wants them to succeed but is firm and professional. Paul is sometimes sarcastic and quick to criticise, but had plenty of heart too. Occasionally lessons come at you in a loud, angry voice, others supportive but still critical. You can focus on the anger or you can hear the lesson.

Keeping it simple can be the best option Sometimes the contestants tried to take it too far, using a particular ingredient just to be different. Occasionally it works, but it’s a risk and the competitor with the simple, well-prepared dish rarely goes home. Experimentation and testing are good startup business principles, but so is the discipline of an MVP.

Have a Plan A and Plan B After strategy, to obtain the desired culinary result, a good plan is needed. Kitchen malfunctions highlight the need for agility, to be able to respond quickly and have a contingency, unplanned events having adverse impact occur. The ability to recognise these risks and to respond with a back-up plan to pivot in an agile way is vital.

Stay cool when the heat is on What happens when the dish doesn’t turn out as expected? Yes, you have a Plan B, but Plan B is now under pressure and there isn’t time to deliver fully. You have to stay calm and present what is completed with conviction, even if failure is on the back of your mind, go with what you have. The build-measure-learn principles of Lean Startup apply here.

Be goal-oriented and time-aware As the saying goes, If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen. In each GBBO episode the challenges have clear goals, but a ridiculously short amount of time to complete. The contestants are motivated to win, but it’s remarkable how much pressure the contestants put themselves under to achieve success.

Leave yourself enough time to test the final product Contestants are often asked Have you tasted it? and often their response is No. Sometimes such trust in their own ability pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a big risk to take in business. Leave yourself enough time to not only put the final product together (plate it up) and make sure it works, but to also test it.

GBBO is a good example of stepping out of your comfort zone as entrepreneurs do everyday. It’s important to push the boundaries. But what is the ‘comfort zone’ exactly? Simply, your comfort zone is a behavioural space where your activities and behaviours fit a routine and pattern that minimise stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security.

The idea goes back to an experiment in 1908, psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort created a steady level of performance. In order to maximise performance, however, we need a state of relative anxiety, a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal but not such that they are destructive.

This space is called Optimal Anxiety, and it’s just outside our comfort zone. Too much anxiety and we’re too stressed to be productive and our performance drops off sharply. The idea of Optimal Anxiety is familiar to the GBBO competitors and anyone who’s pushed themselves to get to the next level to accomplish something. I call this the learning zone.

We all know that when you really challenge yourself, you step up and can deliver amazing results. However, pushing too hard can cause a negative result. I call this the panic zone, where you are unable to think logically with any structure, the box of frogs has opened in your head, your thoughts are jumping everywhere. After this, is the blind panic zone, where you really are uncomfortable, there is no semblance of order, simply a stream of unhelpful random consciousness.

As an entrepreneur, you should operate with optimal anxiety in the learning zone, that place where your mental productivity and performance reach their peak.

So ask yourself:

  • Have you identified what the next level of startup success looks like?
  • How often do you review how you’re performing, examining what’s working and not working? Too often we focus on what is being done as opposed to how it’s being done.
  • When is the next opportunity to learn some new skills?
  • When do you envisage you’ll next get out of your comfort zone to embrace a challenge?
  • Why not create a crisis in your startup to create a learning moment?
  • Are you curious, constantly looking to learn about your customers?

Startup life does occasionally throw eggs at us. We have to be ready with our oil and seasoning, and then hey, the world is our omelette.

Whether you love or loathe GBBO, the tension and the temperamental chaffing of the competitors, there are great personal and business lessons to be gleaned from cooking under pressure in terms of pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone.

Stepping out and becoming comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown, pushing and stretching yourself provides new perspectives by taking risks and making yourself a little scared. I’ll push myself time and again to learn and experience new things. Optimal Anxiety is the only place to be.

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.