Why Brexit Would Destroy UK Tech

 

Two major events are happening in the British tech industry this week – the EU referendum and London Tech Week. Of course, the possibility of Brexit becoming reality has been a hot topic within the opening speeches at London Tech Week, and the statements and statistics put forward have served to strengthen my belief that remaining in the EU is the best option for UK start-ups.

 

The UK is the home of the Unicorn

London Tech Week launched with a keynote speech from Gordon Innes, CEO of London & Partners, in which he stated that “London has become the best city in the world to create and scale tech companies”, and backed this up with figures showing that over $10bn has been invested in London’s tech sector.

London has built a reputation as a global tech hub through innovation and applying the productive benefits of technological advances to other areas of production – such as disability and medical aids, emission reduction and innovative building materials. My concern is that, in leaving the EU, London’s tech start-ups will lose access to many of the factors driving this success.

Currently, Europe is leading the way in producing sustainable start-ups, with European tech companies being valued at 18 times their revenue generation, in stark contrast to the US tech companies, which are valued at an average of 46 times their revenue generation. According to GP Bullhound’s Annual European Unicorns Report, Europe is currently home to 47 billion-dollar digital start-ups – a majority of which (18) are based in London – showing that London truly is the home of the Unicorn Start-up.

 

Brexit would likely destroy London’s ‘Tech Hub’ status.

I am not alone in this opinion, either. Many leading tech businesses have put their names to letters urging the UK to remain a member of the EU. The UK heads of IBM, Microsoft and SAP joined 32 other business leaders in signing an open letter, whilst are among 1,280 business leaders to have signed another and hundreds of tech start-ups and entrepreneurs have signed a separate letter. Former Google Chrome Marketing UK head and founder of the Sup App, Richard Pleeth also shares my sentiments, alongside 87% of Tech London Advocates, as does the highly respected entrepreneur Richard Branson:

 

This does not mean that voting to remain within the EU will mean that there will be no change to the British tech industry, however. Both potential results will trigger change within laws and regulations and tech companies – both start-ups and established businesses alike, will have to make rapid changes in order to keep up. But it is glaringly obvious that a ‘remain’ outcome is less likely to destroy Britain’s technology-driven capital and will mean less disruption for businesses overall.

If Britain was not in the EU, every stage of the process – from Business Development through to invoicing clients – would have been much harder for my business ‘E-tale’. Doing business in Europe and essentially exporting software was easy. We took this for granted until we began working in regions like Russia and Brazil where the level of paperwork and tax info required is out of hand! Brazil have various import taxes that make it really hard for an international supplier to be competitive, whilst Russia is less about the tax and more about the paperwork needed to ever get paid.

The admin costs of just finding out what the trading rules are outside Europe and the US is a cost that most start-ups are unable to bare. However, trading in the European Union was almost exactly like trading in the UK – sharing many of the same regulations and requirements and making understanding the whole process much simpler. In addition to this, having a strong European client base was a huge factor when E-tale was purchased by ChannelAdvisor in 2014.

I am not saying that I would have dismissed the thought of starting a business outside of the European Union, just that it would have been a lot harder, arduous and more expensive to do so. The opportunities for expansion and innovation would have been severely limited by not having access to EU markets and regulations.

For medium to large businesses, the impact of a Brexit result will be damaging, but will not be as devastating as the effects it will have on start-ups and entrepreneurs. New businesses and those still in the planning phase will be left stranded, lost and in need of severe guidance, should Thursday’s result see the UK leave the EU. A Brexit result would severely restrict, and in some cases destroy, those businesses currently starting up in London’s many tech hubs.

Juno -v- Uber: The Rise Of Employee Advocacy

At the recent Techcrunch Disrupt NY conference one of the main topics under discussion was Employee Advocacy. The need for businesses to engage with their staff is not new, but it has come to the fore recently with news that Juno a new rideshare & taxi app is taking on the more established Uber. For Juno their USP is not price or ease of use, or any of the other factors usually associated with these battles. Juno are staking their hope of success on treating their drivers better.

Juno claim that by taking care of their drivers, the drivers will, in turn, treat customers better and offer a richer experience to users. It is this improved experience that Talmon Marco, the Juno founder, believes will help them take a big share of Uber’s lucrative market. In contrast to Uber where the drivers are seen as self-employed service providers, Juno plan to give away half of the equity in their business to their drivers and make them 50:50 partners in the company. 

As they are classified as self-employed Uber drivers are responsible buying and maintaining their own vehicles, they are allowed to choose their own hours of work, but their engagement with Uber is minimal, and often only really occurs when they have difficulties that need resolving. There is no incentive for them to make Uber more successful. 

As partners in the business, with a genuine stake in Juno’s success, Marco hopes that Juno drivers will be more loyal to the company, and will want to offer a higher standard of service, and will achieve better customer retention rates than Uber and their other competitors.

The importance of employee advocacy is not confined to the battle between Uber and Juno. It has implications for businesses in every sector. How engaged employees are affects not just their performance while they are working for a business, and how long they will remain with the company, but also the image others form of that company, based on the information the employees share.

Sharing equity of a business with employees can be highly effective in improving staff loyalty, I am a big fan of the U.K’s EMI scheme that offers a great tax efficient way to give staff access to company shares, but there are also other ways to show staff they are valued, and to offer them value in return.

Employee engagement becomes even more important when the staff are working in a complex tech or startup environment. In this situation losing this member of staff means not only the expense and inconvenience of the hiring process, but also the hassle of training a replacement member of the team. When you add into this equation the fact that many developers have a three-month notice period it becomes clear that there could be a six month gap between one member of staff leaving, and their replacement being fully trained and ready work.

Being understaffed for this length of time could have serious implications for a business. To avoid this it is vital that the business does everything possible to retain qualified staff and to keep them motivated and engaged with the company. How can this be done? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is useful at this point, as Virgin Media have discovered, and can be directly applied to the idea of Employee Engagement.

Measuring Engagement

One of the most effective tools for employee engagement is an employer displaying a genuine concern for their employees professional development and career progression. The majority of your employees will have some desire to advance their careers and to move forward from their present position in the company. If an organisation is keen to retain employees loyalty it is in their interest to do everything possible to harness their employees ambition and desire for progression. The business should provide them with the opportunities they need to meet their self-actualisation needs. If employees are engaged they will give their best efforts to advance the company, and they will be keen to share their positive experience of the company with their friends and those with whom they come into contact. These employees will be highly successful in their tasks, and become a long-term asset to the organisation. They will in effect become ambassadors for the company, as well as being more loyal employees.

Creating Employee Advocates

With employee advocacy is firmly established in the business world, the days of treating staff like workhorses are over. To build a business that will grow in the long-term, happy, engaged staff need to act as advocates for their business and to share positive information about the business through their personal networks. 

Allowing employees the perception that they are trusted to make choices which can affect their working life can have a positive impact on their engagement. They will engage more because they see that what they do really does make a difference to their career. Employers must come to understand that the employer/employee relationship is not a one way street. Employment is a value proposition on both sides, where employers must offer employees reasons to remain engaged while working with you. 

In order to facilitate employees professional growth, businesses will need to work out where they are on the Needs spectrum. An effective way to achieve this is to conduct an employee survey. Doing this will show the way each employee perceives their job, and the way they understand their interaction with the company as a whole. Once each employee has been ranked on the Needs Hierarchy it becomes possible to plot their career path, and to increase their engagement on each step of the journey, from barely surviving, all the way to fully motivated, highly productive employee generating substantial revenue for the company.

Lastly, businesses leaders can help employees to grow by offering them a range of paths for career progression – let them choose between a technical route or a managerial route. They could even tailor a unique career path based on each employees specific skill-set, creating new job roles based on the skills of a particular employee. If an employee feels that they being allowed to use all their skills then they are much less likely to start looking elsewhere for fulfilment, they will remain a positive and vocal advocate for your company. Uber drivers are frequently not engaged with their company, and rarely act as advocates for the business, as they have no stake in the success of Uber.

Ownership in a business does help to foster loyalty, and should help to create the highly motivated, dedicated employees that Juno wants to take on Uber. Marco’s determination to engage with Juno employees is proof that employee engagement is now essential in all areas of the business world.

Rockstar UFC employee Conor McGregor

How To Handle Rockstar Employees

Conor McGregor, the mixed martial artist, has almost single-handedly moved the UFC into the mainstream. For three years the young fighter from Dublin has dazzled crowds with his wit, fighting skills and a striking ability to predict what will happen in the octagon. He has been the biggest star of UFC, but in recent months the relationship has not been a harmonious one. McGregor has struggled under the notoriously tight control of the UFC. The latest stand-off between the two saw McGregor refusing to attend a scheduled press conference and promotional event. The UFC responded by removing McGregor from UFC 200, and for a while McGregor claimed to have retired. While McGregor has withdrawn his threatened retirement, the situation appears far from over. What is clear is that this is a case of egos getting bruised. McGregor is the rockstar of the UFC. He is the one crowds pay to see, and he has started to think that he is bigger than the UFC. This rockstar syndrome isn’t unique to sport. It frequently occurs in companies as well. Rockstar employees can bring in bring fantastic results, but if you don’t handle them right. They can be a nightmare to manage.

OK, firstly I know what it is like being on both sides of the table. I have been the rockstar employee giving my company a hard time, and I have managed rockstars who have given me a hard time. The problem with rockstars is they typically work really hard. Rockstar employees like McGregor can be tempted to think “Why am I the only person who works this hard?”. That’s not all, they usually create huge results for the company. In Conor McGregor’s mind he goes above and beyond the call of duty to promote fights. He does talk shows, radio, TV; he creates buzz on social media and his unique character is a huge draw for the fans. So when the pendulum swings the other way he expects more grace than others, and not every company will do that.

When a rockstar is making huge revenue for your business, everyone is happy, but this can quickly go wrong. If a company is too heavily reliant on one person to deliver results, the company is only as strong as that individual. So if the rockstar disengages and leaves the company, it can greatly reduce the value of your business, or even put the whole business at risk.
The company is always bigger than the egos that work there. This includes the board members, and even the CEO. When clients choose to work with a company it’s not just the rockstar they deal with. They interact with many parts of the business that are equally as important as the initial sale. So when McGregor says that he has made $400m for the UFC, he is ignoring the symbiotic relationship they both have. He can’t afford to forget that there had to be a UFC for him to gain the fame that he has.

Rockstar employees like Conor McGregor can be great for your business, but they are not bigger than your business. As a manager you should want every employee to reach the same performance level as the rockstar, but still to act as part of your team. For that to happen you must create an environment where every employee can perform at their best, feels appreciated, and makes a valuable contribution. You must inspire your employees and give them the tools they need to succeed.

 

Rockstars take risks

Part of being a rockstar is a refusal to play it safe. Rockstars have big egos, they like to push the limits of possibility and aren’t afraid to take risks. They don’t follow best practices, they create best practice. All the time they are getting results that’s great, but what happens when a rockstar employee fails? Failure is a normal part of life. Every employee gets it wrong sometimes, but when it’s a rockstar employee that slips up they will probably get it wrong in a big way. As their manager you have got to allow that to happen, and make sure that your company is not so dependent on one individual that their failure brings down the company. No-one likes failure, but if your employees are too afraid to take risks then your company is never going to be at the forefront of innovation.

If you want to manage rockstars then you have to deal with their egos. You must put in the effort to keep them focused and engaged with your business, so you can reap the rewards without letting them lose sight of the bigger picture. Here are three key ways you can keep your rockstar employees engaged, and working for the benefit of the whole company.

1. Continual Learning

No-one likes repeating the same tasks over and over. The ability to grow, learn more, and develop new skills is essential for employee motivation yet sadly many managers miss this point. More than 90% of employees learn more when they discover solutions themselves, but on 25% of executives believe that employees learn independently. Find ways to make sure they are constantly challenged. If your rockstar isn’t being challenged they are likely to disengage and look for the challenges they need elsewhere.

One of the biggest turn-offs for rockstar employees are managers who dictate the answers to problems, rather than helping employees to discover the solution for themselves. Any attempt to micro-manage a rockstar is likely to end in disaster, this is what sparked McGregor’s rebellion against the UFC promotional machine. The entire standoff could have been avoided if Dana White had presented McGregor with a choice, or even just the perception of choice. Pushing a rockstar into a corner so that they feel pressured to act in a certain way rarely goes well.

2. Strong Communication

Take time for one-on-one meetings with your rockstar employees. Provide regular feedback on their activities, and be specific. Rockstar employees need to know what they are doing well, and where their performance could be improved. Provide them with enough information so that their positive performance can be replicated, and the negative aspects of their performance improved. It’s important that they understand how their task fits into the wider company context. They may be a great employee, but they are not the whole company. They are part of a wider team, and for a company to be successful everyone needs to understand their role, and work together to achieve success. None of us know what may have been said in private, but what played out in public clearly demonstrated that McGregor and the UFC don’t view their respective positions the same way. McGregor understands that he is a huge draw on any fight card, but he also needs to recognise that without the UFC he wouldn’t be the huge draw that he is. He is popular because he is a part of the UFC machine, not independently of it.

3. Praise (Publicly)

When your rockstar does good work don’t be afraid to commend them publicly. Many managers make the mistake of assuming that rewards should be primarily financial. No employee is going to reject a financial reward but for most rockstars that’s not the motivation that drives them. They want to achieve. They want to make a difference, and by publicly recognising their efforts you are more likely to retain them in your company. Both Dana White and the UFC have publicly recognised McGregor’s talent and appeal, but he clearly feels this doesn’t goes far enough. He is refusing back down, and continues to test his position. The UFC will need to find a compromise solution if they want to move forward.
Finally, you have to work on your own performance. Leading an organisation with one or more rockstars isn’t easy. If you want an easy life look for a company with mediocre employees that is prepared to tread-water forever. Rockstar employees encourage those around them to constantly improve their own performance level. That includes their managers. Learning to manage rockstars effectively should keep you at the top of your game, and ready for anything.

5 Must See Movie Scenes for Sales People

The following five movie clips are not simply scenes that I like -they have been watched over and over again, forming part of my own private collection of motivational tools. Each one has a different place in my heart, but they are all absolute gold. Some of the content will not be suitable for kids, so viewer discretion is advised!

1. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) – Alec Baldwin Hosts a Sales Meeting:

The sales meeting is the space in which you either discuss the deals you are working on, or are reminded that you have more work to do. This has to be my favourite movie scene of all time. Alec Baldwin’s character delivers the best ‘get your ass in shape’ message I think the big screen has ever seen. What I love about this scene is the body language of the underperformers – they really are the victims. If you have worked in sales, you will have met guys just like them. What I also love about this scene is that the character that Al Pacino plays isn’t even present. Why? Well, he is out having dinner with a prospective client and closing business. By far the best line in Baldwin’s cameo is: “Put the coffee down! Coffee is for closers only!”

2. The Pursuit of Happiness (2006) – Booking the Meeting:

If you are in sales, then it’s a fair assumption that you have made many, many cold calls. It is hard graft, and you have to stay emotionally strong. This clip demonstrates just how hard you need to work, and how a bit of basic maths can show you how to get ahead. Some people may think that the ‘never put the phone down’ approach is maybe a little ‘old school’ and outdated, but I firmly believe that the only substitute for how good you are is how hard you work. When I watched this movie  for the first time, I actually made an audible cheering sound and looked around to see if others were as happy as me… clearly I was the only sales person in the theatre!

 

3. There Will Be Blood (2007) – I’m an Oil Man:

This is one of my favourite scenes, from one of my favourite movies. This is the scene where Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is introducing himself to a community of people who have oil on their land. He is clear about who he is, and the added value he can bring to his potential customers. What I also admire about this is the way he presents this value as a story, rather than a stuffy list of benefits and features. Of course, the movie reveals that his intentions were not all good, but nevertheless an amazing pitch!

 

4. The Wolf of Wall Street – Sales Motivation:

Everybody has had a terrible boss – and while Jordon Belfort could hardly be described as a scrupulously honest man, he was absolutely stellar at getting his troops ready for battle. This clip is a great one to watch first thing in the morning, to prepare yourself for a day of calls. Leonardo DiCaprio’s widely acclaimed character, Jordan, makes it abundantly clear that they will not be dialling themselves, and that the more effort you put in, the greater results you will see. I am not so sure about throwing a gold Rolex at your team though!

5. Tropic Thunder (2008) – The Tom Cruise Dance:
Okay, so this one is just a bit of fun. If you work in sales, you will undoubtedly know what it is like to get rejected. So on those occasions when things DO go your way, it’s time to celebrate! Tom Cruise is hilarious in this scene and portrays an amazing parody of a corporate head, who only cares about money and … flying in a G5!
It’s a dog eat dog world out there, and I would love to hear about the movie scenes which inspire and motivate you. Please share some golden sales moments from the silver screen below!