If You Can Keep Your Head When All About You Are Losing Theirs…

2016 is shaping up to be quite the annus horribilis. Quite apart from the passing of such legends as Bowie, Rickman, Cohen, Wogan and Corbet, there has been unprecedented political turmoil, with UK’s vote to leave the EU (“Brexit”) and the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency.

It’s these last two events that have caused all businesses – but particularly start-ups – to face increased uncertainty, difficult markets and most of all, higher levels of risk. Though I think Brexit is likely to affect UK businesses more than Trump’s success (it’s going to be a key topic of discussion at the ‘TechCrunch Disrupt London’ event in December), even sectors such as renewable energies are facing disruption after the election, according to Elon Musk.

“An Entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down” Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn.

So what’s the problem? Entrepreneurs thrive on this risk and uncertainty – without the thrill of riding out the waves of uncertainty there would be little interest in venturing into the world of start-ups to begin with. When uncertainty hits, it’s natural for your brain tell you to panic, but those with entrepreneurial acumen automatically begin thinking rationally – how can they effectively assimilate and deal with this new information? How do you keep your head and continue building your plane?

When I started my last business I had absolutely no money, no staff, no business plan and a sizable amount of unsecured debt to my name – not to mention my wife, Viki, and Ofelia, our six-month-old baby, to support. And it was slap bang in the middle of a recession! Five years later, at the age of 31, I sold my company, E-Tale Marketing Solutions Ltd., in a multi-million-dollar deal; after selling to, and competing with, some of the biggest businesses in the world. Despite the challenges it was something i felt compelled to do. I simply had to do it, and i trusted myself that, whatever the challenge, I could overcome it. The journey was peppered with a huge amount of risk and uncertainty, but it’s how you deal with it that marks you out for success. These are some of the mental strategies that kept me going:

1. Think Positive

During the good times, entrepreneurs can find is easy to forget about focusing their mood, because the smiles come easy. But when the tough times present themselves – and they will – try to find a happy or positive thought to rebalance the panicked reaction. Whether it is a business breakthrough from recent weeks, or a promising event happening soon, remind yourself that good things can (and will) happen and that focusing on negativity will not help you to get through it.

 2. Let Go

As much as the entrepreneurial instinct is to micro-manage everything, there are some things that are simply out of your control – such as the outcome of an election. When these situations arise, you need to be able to accept that, yes, this will affect your business, but no, you cannot prevent it or ignore it. So your job is to ride it out and decide the best course of action to see the other side with minimal damage. Try not to exaggerate the situation to yourself or those around you – acknowledge it with a level head for exactly what it is and plan using the information you have available.

3. Prioritise

Understanding the difference between a make-or-break decision and an inconsequential one is vital for when tumultuous situations arise. The truth is that every decision made during the running of a start-up brings uncertainty, but by using the information available and focusing on the most important decisions first, whilst weighing up a range of possible outcomes will save a lot of your energy and relieve enough stress to allow you to wiz through the small choices later.

4. Trust Yourself

You started the business on your own and sometimes you must trust the same instincts, that used to scream at you that this was a good idea, to carry it forward. Start by listening to your instincts on small matters and learn whether your first impressions are to be relied upon or if you’re the kind of person who needs to research more thoroughly. Many top entrepreneurs know how to settle their brain and focus on the issues – Steve Jobs took walks to make decisions, whilst Einstein went sailing to clear his mental blocks.

5. Stay Agile

I’ve said it before, agility to is the best defence against uncertainty and by adopting an agile, or flexible approach to your business, you gain a competitive advantage. Now is the time to take a progressive view, remain dynamic and revert to Entrepreneur 101: remain agile and look for opportunities.

 

Knowledge is the key, and whilst it is vital to remember that there will be things you cannot possibly know – you can take the information you do have and build upon it to make plans. Whether it’s finding funding, or choosing the people you want to be by your side, plan ahead and never let negativity hold you back.

How do you see it? Is your business facing new challenges as a result of Brexit or Trump? How do you handle uncertainty? – let me know below.

5 Keys To Hiring The Best Talent

Dyson launched a recruitment campaign last week, kick-starting their quest to recruit three thousand engineers over the next four years. They have effectively done away with traditional recruitment techniques in favour of a series of ‘cryptic’ puzzles designed to attract and identify lateral thinkers.

Investing in staff is crucial for the growth of any business; whether start-up, growing SME or mega-corporation, each will face a different landscape when it comes to hiring. Whilst large, well-established corporations can rely on their brand, reputation and large budgets to create intricate recruitment campaigns and cherry-pick from a pool of talent, start-ups face several limitations. However, there are a few key things you can do to improve your chances of hiring the best talent out there.

1. Hire Early to Stay Ahead of The Curve

This does involve hiring more people than you need right now, but I don’t mean that you should hire people unnecessarily – what it does involve is looking to the future. Staff who are able to support customers, fix bugs and hold the fort when the time comes, need to be in place before they are needed. Try not to worry about excess employees sitting around with nothing to do. When it comes to start-ups, there’s always something to do…

2. Your First Hire Should Get Stuff Done.

Early staff within start-ups need to be willing, able and flexible enough to do whatever needs doing. There are often responsibilities from different sectors being undertaken by one person.Hiring staff in advance of their necessity means these ‘extra’ people can help to take the weight off and make sure that the workload is spread evenly. When hiring staff, it is important to make sure that they understand the need for flexibility, new hires must have an adaptable outlook on their role. As Miles Jenner, of Recruiter.com, says:

All companies must now assume the inevitability of change, if not disruption, for which there is no manual. It’s imperative to hire for this challenge, which can only be met with agile, adaptable and flexible minds that are capable of constant learning.

3. Employees like Money – It’s Not Rocket Science.

Knowing that your first few hires will be taking on much more than their specified position entails, it is worth thinking seriously about their pay. According to ‘JobVite,  61% of job seekers see higher pay as a bigger draw toward a job than other factors, including location, flexibility and company mission, especially when they factor in the often heavy workload and instability of the company. Clarity on this last point needs to be addressed directly and as early as possible, reassuring new hires that they will be looked after should the worst happen.

4. Recruit in The Same Way You Work.

The transition from candidate to employee can be fraught, but to make it as seamless as possible, and to avoid giving your chosen candidate a nasty culture shock once they’re through the door. Your recruitment process should match the company culture. For example, if online processes are an integral part of your business, they should be a part of your recruitment strategy. Recruitee.com have some great tips for integrating digital innovations into the recruitment process. Closely matching your recruitment technique to your company’s culture also allows you to see how well candidates will respond to, and integrate with the current working order of things – it may also give you the opportunity to receive feedback and opinions for improvement.

5.  Always be Looking

50% of employees see their current position as a placeholder and job satisfaction is no longer a guarantee of employee loyalty, therefore, it is impossible to know whether your current employees are planning to remain with the company. This does not mean that you should be hiring continuously, rather you should be making connections within your industry, reaching out to potential candidates and keeping them informed about future possibilities, so that they are primed and ready to commit, should the opportunity become available. Bas Kohnke, co-founder at Impraise says:

 “It can take a great deal of time to find the right candidates once you need them, so make sure you start looking for new talent way ahead. Developers especially can be hard to find, so ideally keep a watch list of talent that you can approach later.”

Whilst putting so much thought into a start-up recruitment campaign may seem daunting, these steps are the foundation of the recruitment process which will stay with the company throughout its growth and expansion. Even when you have grown to the point where you can justify an HR department, these guidelines can still be used to hire the best talent for your business.

The Startup Mentor: Product Development and Adaptation

Uncertainty is still a huge issue for small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs, especially in these Brexit times. The economy and the business landscape are very much in the hands of both politicians and the future business leaders. After discussing why now is the best time for business owners and start-ups to make their own mark on post-Brexit Britain, I want to now discuss how exactly to go about doing it. Following last week’s post on the importance of agility in start-ups, this week I want to narrow the focus to product development and how the ability and willingness to flex and adapt to the surroundings of the business are the key to navigating and staying afloat during the uncertain times which lie ahead.

Agile Principles

Lean product development is the application of a process to ensure that the product development cycle is responsive and flexible, so that changes can be made almost on the fly. A flexible approach allows start-ups to modify their products and services quickly to adapt to changing demands and respond to feedback in a sharp, intuitive way. By allowing for small, constant changes, businesses and start-ups eliminate the need for lengthy product development cycles, which can cause frustration to investors and cause them to lose interest in what may eventually become a successful product. An example of how lean development can be applied to digital product cycles has been investigated by PC Quest. 

The key lesson here is in bringing prospective clients into your circle of trust. There is always the option of creating a team of clients who get access to early versions of your product on the basis they give you honest feedback. You could even call this type of thing an ‘innovation committee’. If you have built a good relationship with some of your clients, they will value input on innovation. It gives them a sense of primacy and kudos that you respect their opinions; they will also appreciate having prioritised access to new tools or services that may give them a competitive advantage.

The Lean Methodology Checklist

1. Determine whether the product is interesting.

A common mistake made by start-ups is to rush head-first into designing and creating a product that they think people want, and then approaching investors with a prototype after internal reviews. In reality, talking to prospective investors – the businesses and organisations who really may be interested in the product – before creating anything beyond a brainstorm or an idea, is the best practise.

When I started I was meeting prospective customers before a line of code had even been written! The idea is to position it as a passive request for their opinion and expertise: “I’m planning on building something that would work like this, what do you think? Would this be useful in your space? How can I improve it? How could I make this an easy decision for you”.

 

2. Keep the initial ideas basic

Start-ups don’t need an extensive master plan, the key to being flexible is taking a more laid-back approach to developing products. A rigid, unyielding development strategy offers no flexibility and can be shaken apart by the slightest unforeseen complication.

That is not to say that start-ups should not be looking into all possible eventualities. As we discussed last week, having multiple basic plans to account for a range of possibilities is better than one military-style plan which will not hold up if external factors differ from the expected.

 

3. Experimentation Is more effective than extensive planning

Smaller changes and trying something new is much more effective and adaptable than planning an extensive design without any feedback. Make smaller changes based on first impressions, rather than redesigning the entire product at each stage. Over-engineering causes start-ups to lose sight of the goal – which is creating a product which has an advantage over competitors and piques the interest of investors.

Regarding over-engineering… What is often see is that  businesses load up on features and they think that they will offer so much that people can’t say no. This is generally a fallacy. If this is a new-to-market product it actually makes it harder for people to understand. Look at the iPhone, when it was announced the CEO of Blackberry (RIM) stated that he wasn’t concerned because they didn’t have the features the top of the range Blackberry, specifically a qwerty keyboard:

The most exciting mobile trend is[…]full Qwerty keyboards. I’m sorry, it really is. I’m not making this up. People are running out of their two-year contracts and they’re coming into the stores and they want to be able to do Facebook and they want to be able to do instant messaging and they want to be able to do e-mail and they ask for those features thinking that they’re going to get another flip phone and they’re walking out with a (BlackBerry) Curve or a Pearl because they’re the best devices for doing those kinds of activities. And so what is the defining factor? The keyboard.”

What he demonstrated by saying this was; whilst Blackberry were busy trying to build ‘features’, Apple simply made a product that was easier to use- and therefore easier to choose – and we all know what happened after that…

 

4. Keep it small, keep it simple

Small changes are quicker to make and easier to plan than large changes – the best changes are those which respond to the external feedback without affecting any other factor of the product. As a simple example, a plastic-cased product which receives the feedback ‘This would be more exciting if it were available in metallic silver’; the answer is not to recreate the casing in metal, but to apply a layer of paint or use a different colour of plastic. This keeps all other factors – ones which have not received any complaints – intact.

 

5. Maintain feedback

Little and often is the key to maintaining an adaptable approach to product development, where small, regular changes are the aim, feedback which suggests a lot of changes, but which is only received occasionally will not be practical.  A regular reporting system, and a ‘one feature at a time’ approach is much more useful.

 

Product development is arguably the most important focus when planning a start-up, each improvement leans toward a more successful end product and early interest and input from investors give start-ups the opportunity to create a product that the larger clients will already be familiar with and connected to. If this is a problem that you are facing right now as an entrepreneur, or if you have a totally different take on it, I’d love to hear from you. Please post a comment below, or connect with me on Twitter: @bradindigital