Recently a few of us attended a great conference by the coolest b2b and start up magazine in the UK – Courier. For the first time ever, they arranged their own conference to allow the “movers and shakers of modern business and start up culture” to come together in a kind of SXSW festival of innovation.
Here is a list of the talks we attended and summary of the stuff we learnt:
So you’ve raised money….now what?
This was a fascinating discussion between Alex, Frank and Jeff with the main topic conversation focusing on how it was vital that Start Ups and their VCs to have honest and positive relationships. Both Alex and Frank felt strongly that VCs had to bring much more to the party then just cash. Frank was a relatively early investor in Facebook, Spotify amongst others (and also many early discussions with Start Ups like Twitter) so was able to share many interesting stories and anecdotes.
Many of the conversational themes gravitated around taking the small, nimble, hungry essence of an early stage Start Up, and creating a renewed version of the company fit for scale. Whilst this challenge includes a number of aspects, to which ‘collaboration’ is so often the central glue, there were two facets that really stuck out in this talk: Decision making and culture.
With a particularly venture-centric skew to the discussion, it’s natural that the decision making, as they see it, is centred around the boardroom. At large and growing companies, this quasi-autonomous forum becomes essential to ensure that the leadership and management are setting a course that will drive them ahead in their market, but also staying true to that course (or redirecting if required!). Yet, again, this is all so easy to say. In reality, the people in the boardroom are all busy, high-flying folks with a number of demands to their attention, so the company they sit on the board of might just be one of their interests. Further, they are just human; maybe they’ve woken up late or a little grumpy on the day of the board meeting which will change their vote or mindset at the last moment. This is to say that having great people on the board (or involved in the decision making at any level), doesn’t automatically mean that good decisions will be made — they need to informed, inspired and engaged in order to produce their best judgement. To do this, Frank recommended that, as is the case with Spotify, each member of the board is sent a version of the presentation deck, including key points and metrics, a week ahead of the meeting. This way, they are able to absorb the information in their own time, form their own view, and come to the meeting armed and ready to engage in productive debate. Along with the relevant documentation, each member of the board will be sent a summery discussion points that both will and will not be explored. The latter is particularly crucial to avoid conversation creep, and discussion that veers from the key points at hand. It’s curious to see that, even at the highest level of the largest venture-backed companies, a little basic structure is required to get the best from people.
The second major aspect discussed was the paradox of the founder/s within a small to growing Start Up. Whilst at the very early stages they are fundamental to the drive, passion, direction and ethos of the business, there comes a time when operation grow beyond their direct reach — and, alas, you can’t scale or reproduce an (or a small number of) individual/s. To escape this, a founder must turn this (or their) spirit into a corporate culture that pervades every team in the business. Alex spoke about how he discussed with his founders the notion of “Traits you would take to another planet” — if you went to a place where no other rules apply, how would these values help to form a productive, happy society? Or in our case, business culture? Culture, once seen as one of the ‘softer’ aspects of business has now found its fore as being a heavyweight centrepiece in success or failure — a vibrant, positive and collaborative culture can drive growth, whilst a toxic, cynical and untrusting culture can lead to infighting, confusion and decay. Choose your side carefully.
In Conversation with Bulb’s Hayden Wood
As it happened Hayden Wood was not available, but he had a very reliable stand-in in the form of fellow co-founder and COO of Bulb, Amit Gudka. Bulb is a disruptive British energy company that has grown by 800% in the last 12 months. Amit was a quietly impressive and likeable individual who explained how Bulb had had tried to solve the broken UK energy market by challenging the existing “dinosaurs companies”. Their growth had been achieved by
- a big focus on social media
- a simple pricing structure
- speaking the language of normal people and not using the usual industry corporate speak
- an effective referral scheme
- generally bringing a fresh, youthful approach to a very tired market.
Amit is an impressive chap and Bulb is a very inspiring company.
How To Hustle
It’s easy to work in a company and forget the purpose of it, doing it mechanically every day. Two very inspiring speakers showed us how to hustle.
The secret to success is to identify your passion and then make it happen.
- Book some time for your projects in your calendar (Calendly is a great tool)
- Find the right opportunity – be brave
- Believe your gut more than anything else
- Don’t forget that one of the most underrated skills is the ability to work hard
- Adapt your Social strategy to people’s behaviour (It’s okay to move from a blog to iTunes)
- The line between personal and professional life is blurring – mainly due to Social Media
The New Consumer – What It Means For Brands
Two female entrepreneurs shared their experience and insights about how to approach a specific target audience. They focused on Muslim women and teenage boys discovering beauty.
- If you target a niche audience, it’s important to create a space for them where they can talk in their language and feel represented.
- Beauty has never been more diverse. Beauty among boys is not taboo anymore. Masculinity has a whole new meaning in 2018. These teenage boys are not ashamed of who they are and want to be heard. They want to look for the products, they don’t want brands trying to sell them products.
- When you’re trying to represent a community, they should have a seat at the table, their word to say. This is how we get the best insights.
- Understanding your consumers does not mean Googling them but meeting them. Go and talk to them, go where they are on Social Media, where they shop…Put yourself in their shoes to really understand who they are and what they’re looking for.
- Zebra company rather than a unicorn company for a social impact.
Finding a Business Mentor with Fleur Emery
Fleur gave a personal account on what she had to do to cut through the BS of advice when starting a business, who she could rely on and who she had to block out. Fleur shared an example, where top level investment types would approach her suggesting they invest and mentor her. She found people that have never worked in her industry were the worst. Alternatively, anyone that was successful years ago i.e before digital became a major player, equally were as unhelpful.
You need someone current, working in this time and cutting through making things happen. As well as someone who understands your business at a ground level, (has done the job, put simply). Mirror the habits of people you admire that show the success you want for yourself.
Fleur also suggested the power of networking is key, you will need different people/expertise at various stages to make the dream work.
David Hieatt: My Lessons Learned
David Hieatt is serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Hiut Demim and The Do Lectures.
David is a very engaging and slightly eccentric Welshman who shared his lessons learned on Building Great Teams, which given this track record he has done many times.
- Radical honesty: When you choose your team, you need to establish trust with your team members. Be transparent.
- Kill ego: Think team spirit, not about your individual interests.
- Aim to be better each day – incremental way of thinking.
- Do things that matter: You need to focus on doing things that will make you proud.
- Be the coach, not the boss
- Success is not based on how much money you make but on the community you build. Build a business that people will respect.
- We have to dare saying ‘you had enough of my time’ – Find a good balance, be more productive and use your time in a clever way.
- Have FUN