I spend a lot of time with CEOs of startup and early-stage businesses and I’m clear just what a tough gig it is. He or she has the challenge of continuing to define the business model and develop all aspects of the business (and people), whilst at the same time honing their own leadership skills (and managing their personal life). Leading a rapidly scaling operation is one of the toughest roles in business.
Some may take to the role more naturally than others but no one is born a CEO. New skills must be learned and existing ones improved, all at great pace. The transition from founder to well rounded CEO is incredibly tough. As an early-stage CEO explained to me in a coaching session, there are top down pressures coming from investors to build the business fast and hit targets, and at the same time there are bottom up pressures from the team to develop the culture and find and integrate new hires effiently. It’s easy to very quickly feel squeezed. Continue reading
I shared this image on my Facebook feed recently and was taken aback by how much appreciation it got. The mismatch between what we think will happen and reality clearly resonated. The future cannot be known with any great degree of accuracy and, whilst we may laugh about it when it’s pointed out to us so blatantly in an image like this, uncertainty is underscored by a deep sense of unease.
I’m currently reading Philip Tetlock’s book Superforecasting: the Art & Science of Prediction. In an attempt to mitigate uncertainty we try to predict the future, at the individual level through to global affairs (we don’t just do this to make ourselves feel better, of course). But the problem is that we are very bad at it. To use Tetlock’s own words, most people (and even a lot of so called ‘experts’) are as good at predicting future events as a “dart throwing chimp” and he has the evidence to prove it. Continue reading
This week I gave a brief talk at the second Forward Partners meet up for the FP50 mentor network. Mentors were keen to know more about how to kick off a mentoring relationship with the founders of startup and early-stage businesses. I talked about the importance of listening and understanding, with some suggested questions that can be asked to open up the conversation.
I kicked off with a quote from Sal Virani’s recently released book Mentor Impact. Based on over 200 mentor interviews and extensive personal experience of working with accelerator programmes across Europe, he launches the book with a quote from one of the best mentors he interviewed (also a founder who had been through an accelerator). That person’s advice to other mentors: Continue reading
Disillusioned with the corporate world and mesmerised by a whole season living in my campervan in the French Alps, I decided it was time for another change. In September 2013 I resigned from Deloitte Consulting and set up my own business as an entrepreneur coach. After five months spent climbing and skiing consequential lines, my rationale was simple: entrepreneurship was going to push me hard and I might end up penniless, but I’d learn a lot and it couldn’t kill me. On that basis, and with some ideas about how I’d grow my business in mind, the decision was made. Just 18 months into my entrepreneurial journey I was told I had Stage 3 colorectal cancer. That most definitely could kill me and I was petrified.
I don’t want to use my illness to define me but it hit at a very specific time in my life. Given the craziness of the experience, it feels like a missed opportunity not to share it and raise awareness. I didn’t keep a diary, so this is an opportunity for memories and personal reflection. I have also recorded a Podcast with Jerry Colonna and the gang at Reboot, a coaching company that helps people to deal with the internal ups and downs of entrepreneurship.
This is my story of being an entrepreneur with cancer.
CB Insights ran an amusing Tweetstorm yesterday, poking fun at their favorite startup advice cliches. The discipline of advice-giving is a contentious one in the startup ecosystem. Providing effective advice is quite a skill and there’s always scope for improvement. For mentors, coaches and board members who deliver advice, and as Founders and CEOs on the receiving end, I’ve collated some of the best resources that I’ve come across to help us go a little deeper in thinking about this challenge. Continue reading
Nassim Taleb is the author of three highly influential books and quite a character. I’ve heard him be variously described as a former options trader, a psychologist, philosopher and flaneur, whatever the hell one of those is (I’m even writing this post in his style now). I’m reading his third book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder at the moment, so having the chance to hear him talk on the subject of antifragility last week at the Bank of England was exciting.
Drawing strong similarities with nature throughout the book, Taleb explains antifragility thus:
“Some things benefit from shocks, they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better”.
His thinking has two important connotations for entrepreneurs and startups, at the macro and micro level. Continue reading
Wednesday 10th February 2016: I was honoured to deliver a short talk at the launch of the Forward Partners FP50 Mentors Network. It was an inspiring group with whom I shared a few tools, tips and tricks that they could consider using during mentoring conversations. Nic Brisbourne provided excellent follow up advice to mentors by emphasising his key take away; the need for mentors to be helpful, not right.
Some Mentors offer up advice at the at the most directive end of the advisory spectrum. They tell people what to do in a way that implies that they know that their offered solution will work and that they are right: “in order to solve this problem you should do X”. This approach has a number of flaws. Continue reading
The startup world loves a buzzword and now we have a new one. Whilst I understand the sentiment behind it, I’m not sure it’s particularly helpful. At first, recent posts by Caterina Fake and Adam Draper about the Cockroach caught my positive attention, but on reflection I’m perplexed. A Cockroach is supposedly the name given to startup that makes it through current economic challenges. I believe the origin of the term lies within a Paul Graham post written in October 2008. about why to start a startup in a bad economy. Since then we’ve moved on to the Unicorn phenomenon. Mark Suster has written about why he Fucking Hates Unicorns and now I’m going to follow in his giant shadow and say that I’m not a huge fan of the Cockroach. Continue reading
The champagne glasses are now empty after what felt like a few days of celebrating the conclusion of the Centre for Fashion Enterprise Fashion Technology programme. The final pitch event took place last Thursday evening. Pitching to a very experienced panel of industry judges, the startups were hungry for victory and a £5,000 cheque. Everyone deserves enormous praise but there could only be one winner, an accolade that went to the awesome Nancy Tilbury and Benjamin Males from XO. Huge congratulations to you both. Continue reading
I often spend short bursts of time with pre or early revenue stage startups who are still in the process of refining and validating their business model. In the last few months I’ve been doing just that with a wide range of hybrid fashion and technology businesses. I’ve been helping 9 great fashion technology startups that the Centre for Fashion Enterprise are supporting as part of their Front Row Fashion Technology programme. I’ve also spent time with the London College of Fashion’s MA Fashion Entrepreneurship & Innovation students to help them prepare their business pitches and then sitting as a judge on the panel for the final presentations, alongside Chris Spira from the TrueStart accelerator.
In can be hard sometimes to add deep insight during shorter sessions, so I often find myself directing students and founders to excellent articles and resources that I’ve stumbled across instead. Here are my favourite short-read resources for fashion technology startups that I found myself directing them to. Continue reading
If you picked up the June edition of Wired magazine you’ll have found an excellent article entitled “41 lessons from Uber’s success”. Commentators include Clayton Christensen and Richard Branson, but it’s the point made by Josh Elman from Greylock Partners that really hits home. Reflecting on Uber, his advice is to: “Do one thing really well – then figure out what the second leap is”.
Josh notes that, historically, the most successful companies do this. He cites Facebook’s beginnings as a private social network at colleges, before the company realised that the news feed could help propel the site into a massive multi-billion-user, multi-billion-dollar company. Uber, he says, was the same thing: Continue reading
Sam Altman is the President of Y-Combinator, an American seed fund with investments in over 840 companies including Dropbox, Airbnb, Stripe, Reddit, Zenefits, Instacart and Weebly.
Sam sent a Tweet out the other week expressing the view that consultants get paid the most money whilst delivering the least value. Sam is of course entitled to his perspective but I’m not comfortable with it. Continue reading
An inspiring idea and early validation of your business model are just the start of the entrepreneurial journey. When it comes to scaling, there are a thousand and one things that you could do, but you must focus on the one hundred and one things that you can actually do with limited available cash, resources and time. In Tren Griffin’s blog A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Steve Jobs about Business, he references one of my favourite quotes from the great man, and a second that I’ve not heard before.
Startup Boards can be a contentious subject. Do you even need a Board in the early stages? When the time comes to introduce more effective governance arrangements, how do you go about attracting the right Board members and developing a high-performance Board culture? There’s no magic wand that you can wave at your governance challenges, and you will find lots of different answers to the same governance questions.
Here’s my list of 10 articles on the subject of startup Boards that I’d really recommend reading. Continue reading
I picked up my copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey the other day. I remembered that one of Covey’s principles was to begin with the end in mind and I’ve been doing some detailed thinking recently about what my own end is, so to speak. It struck me that there’s some useful lessons in the book about how to grow a business in 2015.
Covey says that beginning with the end in mind is based on the principle that all things are created twice. First a mental creation, then a physical creation. He uses the example of building a house: “you create it in every detail before you ever hammer the first nail in place” he says. Continue reading
If you are an early-stage business that wishes to progress through funding rounds, or you are just seeking to enhance your strategic management capability, then the answer to this question is almost certainly yes. But governance can be tricky topic as it is an area not often taught. Board experience is typically gained on the job, so if you have not found yourself in a governance role before then it can be difficult to know where to start. Continue reading
Any startup that has successfully raised follow on funding (angel and beyond) is going to find itself with external investors to keep happy and to do this effectively requires some form of governance structure to be put in place. Achieving this is not actually that complicated but if you’ve never set up a startup Board before, or put any kind of governance structure in place, then it probably feels like a daunting task. Continue reading
Last week I ran a half day Workshop with the Fashion Executive MBA (EMBA) students at the London College of Fashion. For discussion were the topics of business planning and the skills required to be an effective consultant. We were fortunate to have present Dr Lynne Hammond, Director of Programmes Business & Management at LCF and Acting Course Leader for the Fashion EMBA, and Prof. Dr. Andreas Stockert, formerly an Executive Board Member at Hugo Boss, Senior Vice President at Kühne+Nagel and Partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. It was sure to be a very interesting discussion. Continue reading
I ran a business planning workshop the other month with a group of early-stage businesses, all high flying brands with six figure revenues. I asked the group a simple question: “who here identifies, understands and manages risk within their business?” I was met with laughter. The answer was of course, no one. Startups and early-stage businesses don’t really do risk management. But managing risk within a business is essential because, as the saying goes, “shit happens”.
Here are a few common themes that I have observed about the consideration of risk in startups and early-stage businesses. Continue reading
Last week I had a great Skype conversation with Fred Williams from BreakingBiz. Fred interviews entrepreneurs and marketing experts, so that people can listen and learn from their invaluable experience. The theme of the discussions was whether business planning and strategy for startups and early stage businesses was boring or essential? Continue reading
This post also appears on Medium.
The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, was first published in 2011 and has since become the bible for startup entrepreneurs around the world. But recently I’ve read a good number of articles that question The Lean Startup. Criticising the lean startup approach is misled though. Why? Because that is all it is, an approach, albeit a very good one. The Lean Startup is not a prescribed formula that guarantees business success. Sadly, “management is complicated”, something that Eric Ries makes very clear in this video where he discusses how the principles and processes explained in The Lean Startup can be used to gain competitive advantage. Continue reading
In a previous post I asked whether strategy needed innovating, to raise its profile and relevance in the startup world. Strategy for startups is not sexy (probably because of its corporate connotations), but that doesn’t mean that we should dismiss it. From talking to the leadership teams of startups, it’s the ability to think in a lean strategic way that they readily admit they need help with.
In The Lean Startup, Eric Ries accurately describes a startup as “a portfolio of activities”. He explains that: Continue reading
Googling ‘strategy for startups’ the other day, I found all sorts of results dominated by articles on sales strategy, branding, marketing and advertising strategy, content strategy, IT strategy, exit strategy etc. All are important elements of an overarching business strategy but none of them will alone lead to business success. With further searching, only two articles really stood out on the subject of business strategy for startups. Continue reading
In the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to work as a General Assembly trainer, delivering courses on financial modelling and business models to the second round of startups that are part of the Hub:raum accelerator programme. The second round of the programme (which is backed by Deutsche Telekom and first launched in Berlin in 2012) kicked off a couple of weeks ago, run out of one of Berlin’s coolest co-working spaces, the betahaus. With two trips taken to Berlin it was a great chance to check out the scene. Continue reading
On Tuesday 8th October I made my first return visit to my former employer to attend the launch of the Deloitte Entrepreneurship UK: 2013/2014 report. The report is a must read, pointing to significantly increased business optimism amongst the UK’s entrepreneurs. In this post though I want to capture the insight gained from the panel discussions that took place at the launch event itself. Chaired by Mark Doleman, the Head of Entrepreneurial Business in the Deloitte UK Private Markets team, the panel consisted of entrepreneurs David Spencer-Percival and Theo Paphitis, Keith Willey from London Business School and Ian Stewart who is Deloitte’s Chief Economist. Continue reading
Did you manage to make it to the acclaimed ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London? Bowie is an incredible talent, combining undeniable song writing ability with outstanding creative flair. He is a true innovator, whose fame has real momentum through constant reinvention. Whilst the days of the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane may be over, Bowie is arguably as well known now as he has ever been.
Whilst exploring the exhibition my mind turned to thinking about what business might be able to learn from him. In a world where pop stars increasingly come and go, David Bowie’s (talent based) fame has endured. This post takes a look at why, and what lessons business can learn. Continue reading
In my last post I explored what business could learn from Sir Dave Brailsford’s mastery of strategy in British cycling. This post continues with the cycling theme, exploring other key factors that have made British cycling such a formidable force in the sport and what lessons can be learnt for business success.
There is a very simple answer to this question: Sir Dave Brailsford, Performance Director of British Cycling and principal for Team Sky, understands what real strategy is, how to formulate it and how to execute it. And the results speak volumes. Dave Brailsford has helped British riders achieve a record haul of Olympic medals at three successive Olympic Games, produced a World Champion in Mark Cavendish and two successive Tour de France winners in Sir Bradley Wiggins and now Chris Froome. Continue reading
In a previous post on innovation for high growth businesses I encouraged thinking about how the culture of innovation within a company can be improved, where creative change could be made and what actions could be taken to encourage innovation and arrive at specific new ideas. I have since taken a lot of inspiration from a lecture about innovation that I attended by Costas Markides, a Professor at the London Business School. Here are 5 takeaway points from that lecture. Continue reading
I heard a quote the other day by an experienced business associate. In the context of talking about future business opportunities, they announced that “it’s all about innovation at the moment”. This stopped me in my tracks. Why? Continue reading