High growth anatomy: your startup’s dna

Remember the conversation that Alice had with the Cheshire cat?  Alice didn’t have a clear idea of where she wanted to go, or where she wanted to be, and asked the Cheshire cat Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here? The Cheshire cat responded You’re sure to get somewhere if you walk long enough.

This is often a question startup founders find themselves asking. Seeking to increase customers, they experiment with strategies aiming for straight-up, hockey-stick growth. Few startup ideas are perfect right out of the gate. That’s why it’s important to recognise when you might need a course correction and iteration in your idea, pitch, product or execution, but you need a clear sense of direction as a route map.

From performance metrics and market feedback, to the general mood of the team, there are several signs entrepreneurs should assess when deciding whether to stay the course or head in a new direction.

For many startups, knowing when to pivot can be more important than having the perfect idea from the start. Ideas are cheap, but execution is hard. As you listen to customers and their experience of your product, it’s not uncommon to have to consider that you may not have nailed it on the first go, and be open-minded to a pivot.

Often it’s about standing back. Whilst the customer metrics may be encouraging, the best startups make a distinction by applying a bigger-picture, strategic perspective to the detailed performance metrics they developed on their dashboard, such as unique customers and engagement.

It’s not about having failed to get in front of potential users, it’s often that the value proposition doesn’t resonate enough with the target audience to generate sufficient interest for regular, repeat users.

Understanding your sales cycle is also important to assessing whether you are on the right track. You should know whether the sales cycle for your target customers is four to six months, or whether sales typically come in the form of a quick ‘yes or no’ in four to six weeks. If you’re finding that you’re not getting that within the sector time frames, that’s a pretty good red flag that you’re going to get kicked into the cold water of reality.

However. Amazon was not the first online bookseller. Google was the 21st search engine to launch. eBay was not the first auction site. They just did it better than their predecessors. So if you are in the trough of despondency, maybe there is a re-think as an alternative to simply throwing in the towel.

Having arrived at the check-in desk with bags filled with uncertainty and self-doubt, from Uber to Zoopla, every ambitious startup reaches a point where they have to reflect and figure out what to do next, and in what direction to grow, and which door to storm through. Sustained growth is achieved by not only having a key, but picking the right door to go through.

Even startups equipped with staff with solid experience and track records can come unstuck. Boots on the ground are an imperative, and while the short-term turbulence may seem unappealing, even hazardous, making the right decision now cannot be understated. It’s not an issue of not knowing ‘where to?’ and ‘what’s next?’, it’s knowing how to make the decision and what questions to ask to decide between the choices.

Research highlights that 50% of startups fail, and those that survive typically only realise about 60% of their potential value – because of defects and breakdowns in execution. It’s a fault in their dna, vision without execution is hallucination! Fortunately, unlike biological dna, startup dna can be reengineered by the purposeful rewiring of the genes making up the core of the startup model.

Let’s assume you’ve achieved customer validation and a business model shaped. You’re sure to get somewhere if you walk long enough simply isn’t the answer now. Based on research, intuition and my own experience, you need to build what I call your High Growth Anatomy, a blueprint of your dna. This is what makes you unique, gives a scalable and innovative business model, and provides an effective route map for the direction of growth.

Here’s a list of fourteen ‘dna’ elements you need in your High Growth Anatomy, to give clarity on your future direction, readiness and potential to be a high growth business at the pivot. They are structured as to ‘Go’ and ‘No Go’. Evaluate yourself, what’s your ‘Good To Go’ score?

Foresight or Hallucination?

  • We have clear and articulated goals based on our purpose, of where we want to be in the next 6, 12, 18 and 24 months;
  • We have some thoughts on where we are aiming to be, but it’s more of a wish list than a ‘lets make it happen’ plan.

Front-foot or Back-foot?

  • As a team we are moving forward all of the time;
  • As a team we are fire-fighting most of the time.

Clued-up or Clueless?

  • We are clear about how we make a difference in our market;
  • We are unclear about how to get ahead in our market.

Dexterous or Clumsy?

  • We are agile in our business, we can ‘seize’ the moment with alacrity;
  • We are quite blundering, unable to move quickly.

Leaning-forward or Leaning-back?

  • We are restless thinkers, learning, imaging the future, eager to grow;
  • We are thinking about our future, but focused on today really.

Web-enabled or Webbed-feet?

  • We have a clearly articulated digital strategy in our business model;
  • We use the Internet and social media, but have no digital vision.

Harmonious or Mutinous?

  • We are all wearing the same jersey, pushing together in the same direction, one heart and one voice;
  • We’re a collection of tribes and opinions, connected but not united.

Curious or Cautious?

  • We develop lots of new things, some of them work, some don’t, but we’re always ready to experiment;
  • We generally keep trying things until they don’t work, then think of something new to have a go at.

Heads-up or Head-down?

  • When faced with a threat we respond rapidly and decisively;
  • When faced with a threat, we often step back and wheel-spin.

Fresh thinkers or Copy cats?

  • We are creative and restless, innovation is a core behaviour;
  • We don’t have a point of difference in our business model.

Stickability or Bendability?

  • When something is not going to plan, we reflect, adjust and kick on with renewed enthusiasm;
  • When initiatives do not work, we tend to give up and go back to what we know.

Kinship or Coldfish?

  • We actively pay attention to building our culture, values and spirit;
  • We do not pay attention to our internal culture – it just happens.

Connectivity or Disconnected?

  • We are hot wired, we’re all linked-in and linked-up;
  • Our organisation is not well co-ordinated – we’re disconnected and decoupled.

Insights or Blindspots?

  • We have a very good knowledge of our customers, their customers and our competitors;
  • We have an ad-hoc knowledge of our customers, their customers and our competitors.

High Growth Anatomy is a simple set of questions to ask yourself, share, listen, reflect and learn as a team, about your ‘startup dna’. Startups have to create their futures, things don’t just happen. You’re sure to get somewhere if you walk long enough isn’t the answer. Hope isn’t a strategy. It’s about strategic readiness and agility, clarity, direction and velocity and then execution. Have you got these in your dna?

Twelve High Growth ideas to batter your competition

It’s six years now since I started dna people, having left my CEO’s job with a plc. My defining moment, after 16 years with the company, was my throw back comment to a young City Analyst who belligerently questioned our profitability and growth: you’ve never run a fish & chip shop was my retort in frustration to his repeated monotonous and mechanical questioning solely focused on our numbers, with no regard for the challenges of strategy, innovation or building a great team.

I knew it was time to take my talent, skills and attitude elsewhere. Subsequently reflecting on my comments, I’ve always wanted to run a fish and chip shop rather than simply be a passionate consumer of the product, so I’ve been doing some research and planning into my potential new business:The Plaice to be

Fish and chips are the undisputed National dish of Great Britain, a cultural and culinary symbol of our country, instantly recognised as British the world over. Few can resist the mouth-watering combination – moist white fish in crisp golden batter, served with a generous portion of hot, fluffy chips. Like Morecambe & Wise, fish and chips are a classic double act.

The origins and development of the dish in the mid C19th are closely associated with the industrial revolution and it has maintained huge popularity as the original, affordable and nutritious takeaway ever since. Fish and chips were first served together as a complete dish around 1860 – Joseph Malin of London and John Lee of Mossley, near Manchester both staking claims to be the first ‘chippy’. However, the fried fish and cooked potato trades had existed for many years before this, with fried fish introduced to London by Jewish immigrants from Portugal and Spain in the C17th.

From the 1870′s the fish and chip trade spread rapidly, especially in London and the cotton and woollen manufacturing towns of the Pennines, and soon became a readily accessible hot, nutritious meal for many factory and mill workers. By 1910 there were 25,000 fish and chip shops around the country, peaking at 35,000 by 1927 and between the wars most industrial towns boasted a chippy on almost every street.

Probably the most interesting and patriotic claim is that fish and chips helped win the First World War! Lloyd George’s war cabinet recognised its importance to the Nation’s working classes and ensured supplies were maintained off ration. It helped feed munitions workers and kept the families of the fighting men in good heart. By the inter war years the trade consumed around two-thirds of the British wet fish catch. Again, reprieved from rationing during the Second World War, British soldiers identified each other during the ‘D’ Day landings by calling out fish and the response was chips. Any other response and they would have certainly had their chips.

British consumers eat some 382 million portions of fish and chips every year. That’s six servings for every man, woman and child. Annual spend on fish and chips is a staggering £1.2 billion, and 22% of people visit a chippy every week. The longest serving fish fryer is believed to be Bettina Dawson aged 90 of Moffat’s chippy, in Dumfries, Scotland who has been working in her family chip shop since she was 13 in 1936, that’s 77 years at the fryer!

Fish and chips, although still a great British tradition, has suffered a decline over the last couple of decades. The fast food market has changed rapidly since the 1980s as new types of fast food cafe have opened, giving people a huge amount of choice. Today, there are around 10,500 fish and chip emporiums in the UK, which dramatically outnumber the branded fast food sector, such as McDonalds, with 1,200 outlets. However, it’s the plethora of independent pizza, burger, Chinese and Indian takeaways which threaten too.

With McDonalds celebrating 40 years of UK success in 2014 (and they will celebrate), how do you achieve high growth in a sector that has seen new entrants in the market, your product perceived as old fashioned, and compete simultaneously as an independent against national brands and low-cost local operators, when you’re just small fry(ers)? Here are my ’12 High Growth’ ideas:

Rebound First and foremost, complaining about your competition or lack of customers won’t help. It only makes things worse and demoralises those around you, and yourself. Today’s laurels are tomorrow’s compost, look forward. What are you aiming for? What does success looks like in 12, 24 and 36 months time? There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself, reframe your own future.

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. In order to become the best business you can be, start with a clean sheet of paper. What type of customers would it serve? Why should customers buy from you and not others? People get stuck in their own rut doing business the same way expecting things to change. Don’t be afraid to restart by changing your approach.

Rebalance Do you remember the reason you went into business? The end result of your 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, no one is steering towards business of tomorrow. Specify what you should be doing, working ‘on’ the business, and not simply ‘in’, and rebalance your priorities.

Revisit How can you make money competing against a myriad of other companies based solely on the lowest price? In a tighter economy, the old strategy won’t work. Offering the same things every competitor does provides no advantage. Are your business strategy and business model viable in today’s marketplace? Will it build a winning company that works for you? Identify what markets and products will work in the next 12, 24 and 36 months.

Retool What should your business do to make use of online tools and media, to increase efficiency and deliver growth? Use the menu of social media tools to build a greater awareness of your brand and your offerings. Where can you leverage our online business model to greater impact? Take a look at this: http://ifish4chips.co.uk/

Refinance The best businesses are also the best funded and financed. A strong financial foundation gives business owners the opportunity to innovate, and take advantage of opportunities. Now is the time to take a hard look at your finances, your financial systems, and your cash requirements. Prepare a 12-month cashflow, focus on managing your cash and use this information for strategy and pricing decisions.

Restructure Most companies use the same organisation chart for years without ever changing it. But over time, the old structure doesn’t work as business and customer demands change. Perhaps it is time to restructure and take a look at job roles, responsibilities, and who is in charge of your operations. What does the structure need to be to deliver the success desired?

Refocus What does you offer or do different to attract customers to pay full price for your services? How do you gather new fans of your company? Have you changed your target market or delivery systems to expand your customer base? Trying to convince new customers to hire your company using the same old bid strategy and price methodology won’t get you the growth you want. It is time to refocus your customer strategy and look for new customers in new markets by offering something exciting that gets customers paying you what it’s worth?

Rebuild Take a fresh look at your overall company branding, image, logo, communications, presentations, office, business cards, and website. Do they create any excitement? Do they give out the right professional impression to your customers? Does it make your employees proud to be a part of a winning team? Does it promote technical expertise and value? Rebuild your marketing, almost as a relaunch.

Revamp What business routines do you call over and over, year after year? Have you called any new plays lately? Your management style must be agile in today’s competitive economy, what new ideas and innovations have you introduced to refresh the business and shock customers (in the nicest possible way?) Think inside out, think like a customer, not a supplier.

Refresh How much time do you give your team to training on a regular basis to renew or develop new skills? Identify the training and development needs for each member of staff to get them performing at a higher level and with continuous improvement. Use personal coaching to stimulate and agitate them to get their heads up and seek to perform the best they can be.

Relive Are you living your dream with your business? Why not? Never forget your dream. Write down specifically what you want your business to do for you personally in the next 5 to 10 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.

Chip shops, like other local retailers, be they newsagents, estate agents or bike shops need to change their business model to stimulate growth, primarily due to the impact of new competition. Besides the above thoughts, other factors I’d build into my thinking include:

  • Understand your market On any Friday, one in five takeaways are from the chippy, and more than half the UK adult population visits a fish and chip shop at least once a month, so the demand is there. However, who will buy fish and chips from you? Will it be passing trade? Shoppers? Local office workers? School children? People living on a nearby housing estate? Most of your custom will be repeat business, yet I don’t see many chippies offering customer loyalty schemes, which offer many opportunities for growing your business.
  • Know your competition Remember, your potential market must be large enough to support your business. Don’t forget that the size of your market depends not only on the number of potential customers but also on the number of other chip shops and fast food outlets already supplying locally.
  • Sell the benefits of your product A portion of chips contains less fat that a prawn mayonnaise sandwich. Fish and chips have 595 calories in the average portion – an average pizza has 871; Big Mac meal with fries has 888. Besides it’s value, flavour, and availability, it’s also a healthier food option than most realise.
  • Product awareness Bear in mind that customers have become increasingly environmentally aware, so get your fish supplies from protected or sustainable sources and make this a virtue of your offering.
  • Product range Scampi and calamari feature on many chip shop menus now. In Yorkshire, haddock is the most popular fish, cod is a favourite in Lancashire. Chips with gravy is more popular in northern England than anywhere else in Britain. Provide a variety of products for your target markets.
  • Serve a niche Notting Hill lays claim to Britain’s poshest fish and chip shop. Geales serves roast sea scallops and rocket salad along with the traditional battered fish and chips. http://www.geales.com/notting-hill/welcome

The view that Britain’s favourite takeaway food has had its chips is greatly exaggerated, with some smart thinking the local chippy can batter other local fast food competition. However, in the same way that listening to a ticking clock won’t tell you much about time, only that some has been wasted, living on a diet of nostalgia will only result in a soggy, cold business for which customers have no appetite. You need to think about your menu, tickle your customers’ taste buds and get them licking their lips in anticipation – keep them coming back for more and make it The Plaice to be.

High Growth Anatomy – have you got the success genes?

Remember the conversation that Alice had with the Cheshire cat?  Alice didn’t have a clear idea of where she wanted to go, or where she wanted to be, and asked the Cheshire cat Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here? The Cheshire cat responded You’re sure to get somewhere if you walk long enough.

So far this year, one of the most repeated conversations I’ve had with my clients is around the dna model of High Growth Anatomy – a blueprint for a business strategy and plan to give clarity to your direction and accelerate your business growth. Based on research, intuition and my own experience, it’s a methodology that makes a business model innovative and scalable, yet also simple and as transparent as possible. And in reality, its about adopting the mindset of your customers looking from outside in, because building a ‘great business’ is of little use unless customers notice and respond to that.

The primary focal point is to constantly emphasise the need to be famous for something – why would customers buy from you? – so that a resolute mindset is embedded throughout the organisation with discipline, clarity and focus on being different, if not unique.

When considering the High Growth Anatomy for your organisation, there is a wealth of research about the great and the not-so-great to draw upon. Harvard Research highlights that companies typically only realise about 60% of their strategies’ potential value because of defects and breakdowns in execution. It’s a fault in their dna, vision without execution is hallucination!

The clear benefits of healthy organisational dna and negative consequences of unhealthy dna are evident in many dimensions of organisation performance. Fortunately, unlike biological dna, organisational dna can be reengineered by the purposeful rewiring of the genes making up the core of the business, and reorienting yourself to be future focused and responsive to change and opportunity.

The rewiring of an organisation’s dna requires clear thinking, and the approach we have used successfully in numerous companies involves driving three characteristics that inform the very being of an organisation.

  • The first is to discoverwe hold a series of critical conversations to identify what does success look like? The fundamental secret of success is absolute clarity of your purpose looking ahead, so live out your imagination, not your history.
  • A second vital constituent needed is the ability to nurture. Some people watch things happen, some wonder what happened, some don’t notice what’s happened. The key, of course, is to make things happen and nurture the organisation to build and achieve.
  • The third element is accelerate. Everyone who has taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out, dries off and does something about it that makes a difference, and then goes again and again, building velocity and momentum.

Folks need to realise the importance of getting out of the habit of thinking about the past, and realise that what got you here won’t get you to where you want to be. They need to stimulate themselves to look at their issues from a fresh perspective, and not simply asking themselves the same questions. Take Unilever for example, they organise Raging Curiosity afternoons each Wednesday for their marketing and R&D staff. Staff are encouraged to get out and visit consumers, other businesses – anything that could offer a fresh perspective on their food business – and bring some disruptive thinking to bear.

Innovators do not operate in the world of meetings and reports, they bring their ideas to life early in order to create understanding and excitement in their customers – 20% thinking, 80% doing is their motto. Asda reinforces their customer focus by having a large development kitchen in the centre of their marketing department to remind employees that their core business is food. It also allows them to get their hands dirty and try and test new ideas out quickly.

Innovation needs focus and a sense of momentum to create real energy. At the What If? company they hothouse projects, taking clients off to a cottage somewhere and working day and night on a project. The results shows that they do in three days what it would otherwise take at least one month to do, it’s all about getting velocity – you’ve got to be out there on the lunatic fringe to get ahead of the rest.

So what are the key genetic traits we see in the High Growth Anatomy of thriving and growing organisations? Just as nature’s dna spells out the genome map and linkages to create a unique organism, organisational genes determine the make-up of a business, and how it will develop and grow in its markets. Here’s a list of statements to evaluate your own High Growth Anatomy and potential to be a High Growth business, and ask yourself, how remarkable are you as a business:

Foresight or Hallucination?

  • We have a set of clear and articulated goals of where we want to be in the next 6, 12, 18 and 24 months;
  • We have some thoughts on where we are aiming to be, but it’s more of a wish list than a ‘lets make it happen’ agenda;

Frontfoot or Backfoot?

  • As a business we are moving forward with purpose most of the time;
  • As a business we are fire fighting most of the time;

Clued-up or Clueless?

  • We are very clear about how to make a difference in our market;
  • We have very little knowledge about how to get ahead in our market;

Dextrous or Clumsy?

  • We are agile in our business, we can ‘sieze’ the moment and make opportunities arise;
  • The organisation often stumbles and isn’t able to move quickly;

Leaning Forward or Leaning Back?

  • We are restless thinkers about the future, eager to grow;
  • We are thinking about our future, but focused on today really;

Web Enabled or Webbed Feet?

  • We have a clearly articulated digital marketing strategy;
  • We use the internet and social media, but have no web identity;

Harmonious or Mutinous?

  • We are not plagued by internal politics, we are all on the same side pulling together in the same direction;
  • We’re a collection of tribes and different cliques and opinions;

Curious or Cautious?

  • We develop lots of new things, some of them work, some don’t, but we’re always ready to have a go;
  • We generally do not deviate far from the things which our experience has proven work well;

Heads-up or Head-down?

  • When faced with a threat we respond rapidly and decisively;
  • When faced with a threat, we often step back and respond weakly;

Fresh Thinkers or Copy Cats?

  • We are creative and restless, always on the look out to do new things;
  • We are good at spotting other people’s initiatives and copying them;

Stickability or Bendability?

  • When something is not going to plan, we reflect, adjust and kick on with renewed enthusiasm;
  • When initiatives do not work, we tend to give up and go back to what we know;

Kinship or Coldfish?

  • We actively pay attention to building our culture;
  • We do not pay attention to our internal culture – it just ‘happens';

Connectivity or Disconnected?

  • Our internal communications mean we’re all linked-in and linked-up
  • Our organisation is not well co-ordinated – we’re pretty disconnected in fact;

Insights or Blindspots?

  • We have a very good knowledge of our customers, their customers and our competitors;
  • We have a very poor knowledge of our customers, their customers and our competitors;

So how did you score, how do you feel about that? Surprised, or not? So what are you going to do about it?

High Growth Anatomy is all about mindsets that permeate an organisation and are observable in actions and decisions. Companies have to create their futures, things don’t just happen, and equally it’s the quality of execution that differentiates winners from losers.

Strategic agility determines whether companies successfully ‘cross the chasm’ from one set of challenges to the next, or create new space in their market. High Growth businesses are better at this than other companies, and as can be seen by the list of statements above, they focus more holistically on the strategic drivers of growth across all aspects of an organisation, be they internal or external factors.

But take another look at the list above, and check how many relate to customers – either winning more, doing great stuff for them, standing out from the crowd so they spot you, or simply shocking them in the nicest possible way. The only way to grow is to be remarkable, but remarkable isn’t up to you. Remarkable is in the eye of the customer. If your customer decides something you do is worth remarking on, then by definition it’s remarkable. So, in a field of black and white cows, make yourself a purple cow. And be a Big Moo. Be Remarkable.