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1and1.co.uk 27/05/2015 19:36
VOLUME 04 ISSUE 06 / 2015
16 REGULARS 07 08 10 13 14 82
Editor’s letter Contributors News & events Talking point Book reviews Start-up diaries
Funding Circle is going globaly
22 One to watch
Laundrapp is hanging the competition out to dry
26 Brooklyn’s breaking ground
What can we learn from New York’s creative tech start-ups?
32 Equal equity
Supporting female investors will benefit start-ups of every stripe
36 The price is right
Choosing the best price is the key to healthy margins
38 New horizons
How businesses can capitalise on the post-election confidence
41 On trend
70 Machines of loving grace
Capitalising on cultural touchpoints helps brands stay relevant
Should we fear the coming of our new robotic overlords?
46 Speak easy
73 Size matters
50 Top gear
77 Wrong side of the law
Acting as a spokeperson can help promote your brand How branding up a bag or biro can be good for business
Small and lean start-ups are best placed to change the world Legal missteps no start-up can afford to make
55 Suite deal
Getting the best out of your c-suite requires careful planning
59 Child’s play
Child-friendly policies are essential in retaining talent
64 Disruption dispatch
An innovative approach is vital for any business
67 The hot list
The latest must-have gadgets, hardware and apps for forwardthinking small businesses
Private healthcare for small and medium businesses
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EDITOR’S letter VOLUME 04 ISSUE 06 / 2015
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The sky’s the limit for British start-ups Our interview with Funding Circle co-founder James Meekings couldn’t have been better timed. In April, the company announced it had raised a further $150m to support its US expansion. This took it to a reported valuation of more than $1bn – a milestone for the company itself but also for the UK’s tech industry. One of the criticisms frequently levelled at UK entrepreneurs and start-ups is that they’re not ambitious enough. They sell too quickly. They reach for the stars but don’t get past the street lights. Every time a UK business hits a billion-dollar valuation it signals to the world that we are an entrepreneurial nation and collectively proves our mettle. I also hope it encourages other entrepreneurs that it can be done. We hear so much about the challenges to starting a company. Britain’s potential exit from the European Union is an issue currently keeping business owners awake at night – will it hamper exports and relationships with investors? (Read more on p13). There’s never been a better time to remind small business owners that anything is possible when you have a good idea and are prepared to work hard. The Funding Circle founders did it – in the middle of a recession, no less – and you can too.
HANNAH PREVETT EDITOR
Circulation/subscription UK £40, EUROPE £60, REST OF WORLD £95 Circulation enquiries: CE Media Limited Elite Business Magazine is published 12 times a year by CE Media Solutions Limited, 4th Floor, Victoria House, Victoria Road, Chelmsford, CM1 1JR Call: 01245 707 516 Copyright 2015. All rights reserved No part of Elite Business may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written consent of the editor. Elite Business magazine will make every effort to return picture material, but this is at the owner’s risk. Due to the nature of the printing process, images can be subject to a variation of up to 15 per cent, therefore CE Media Limited cannot be held responsible for such variation.
Editors letter.indd 1
CONTRIBUTORS Emma Sinclair This month we have a treat for you: a guest columnist who’s brimming with entrepreneurial excellence. Sinclair is co-founder of EnterpriseJungle, which enables the workforce to find content, knowledge, experts, opportunities, people and groups based on what they are working on. Fresh from the UNICEF Innovation Fund’s launch and SAP’s Sapphire conference, she tells us how smaller, agile innovators can make a real difference. Next up for Sinclair is a trip to Los Angeles. Oh to be an international entrepreneur.
Six months into exploring the world of entrepreneurialism, Saunders is discovering more and more about the ins and outs of the start-up community. In this issue she looked at the family-friendly practices that employers are implementing to support working parents. After finally caving to the recommendation from our head-designer to watch the TV show Vikings, she spent most of the month binging on all three seasons. It seems to have rubbed off on Saunders and influenced her anniversary celebrations with beardy boyfriend, Steve.
Emilie Sandy Sandy always has a few tricks up her sleeve and in typical fashion she is doing a spot of top secret work for Channel 5 at the minute. That’s all we can reveal for now but, in other news, this month’s photo shoot with the founders of Funding Circle went very… quickly. In true jet-setter style, the guys had to run off, leaving Sandy with hardly any time to shoot. However, being a hard-working mum she is well used to keeping on her toes.
Ryan McChrystal McChrystal has spent way too much time lately reading interior design blogs and scouring eBay for vintage furniture. All he needs now is a BBQ and a hot tub for the back garden and the new pad in Brentwood is complete. In the magazine this month, he looks at the tech scene in Brooklyn and how the ‘bloodiest borough’ became the second best place in the US to set up and run a tech company. It’s nothing like the bright lights of Brentwood though.
NEWS & EVENTS
Much attention has been paid to the difference in male and female executives’ pay packets but research from Emolument has revealed the real extent of the gender pay gap is shown by their bonuses. An analysis of 49,000 wages found that women who have completed an MBA within the last five years earned 13.9% less than men in the same position, pulling in £74,700 compared to £86,800. But looking at bonuses revealed that these women took home £27,000 in bonuses compared to the men’s £50,000 – a difference of 46%.
Zero hours contracts have proven one of the most contentious topics in the modern labour market, with supporters claiming they enshrine the flexibility upon which the business community depends and detractors lambasting them for offering no guarantee of work. Attempting to prevent the worst abuses of the contracts, the government has finally banned exclusivity clauses – which prevent employees on zero hours contracts from finding additional work with another employer – as a part of the Small
Business confidence is alleged to have soared after the election but it seems start-ups are feeling a little more circumspect than their larger brethren. Research from Liberis has revealed that two-fifths of SMEs feel less confident about their future post-election, compared to just over a quarter who feel more confident. Whilst small businesses identified that elements of the government’s small business manifesto were beneficial to them, 43% of small businesses doubt that these election promises will be kept compared to just 30% who feel the government will deliver. Evidently the Conservatives have their work cut out for them. There’s no denying that being more energy efficient can have benefits beyond just helping the environment and it seems increasing numbers of small businesses are getting on board. New research from the Federation of Small Businesses has found that nine out of ten small businesses are looking to be more energy efficient; 78% said the motivations for this are saving on energy bills, 70% are interested in protecting the environment and a quarter see being green as a great way to draw in customers and promote their brand. Enough to give anyone a warm glow.
Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015. It seems we can
call time on the worst element of zero hours contracts.
Apparently data is the next big thing but can it really be trusted? Research from GBG reveals that two in three Brits admit to telling porkies when supplying companies with personal data; 18- to 24-year-olds are the most economical with the truth, with 81% providing the wrong information, whereas 59% of over-65s never provide false information. Of the reasons given for the deception, 73% of consumers are concerned they will receive unsolicited contact as a result and 83% are worried their details will be sold to other organisations without their permission. It’s always good to see the continued growth of a stalwart of the British start-up scene. Founded by former EB cover star Holly Tucker, notonthehighstreet.com, the marketplace for independent retailers, has netted a £6m loan from Silicon Valley Bank to provide additional liquidity and boost its growth. Given it reportedly turned over £127m last year, it’s hardly surprising it’s aiming big in the next phase of its growth. But that’s not going to stop us wishing Tucker and her team the very best.
WORDS: JOSH RUSSELL
UPCOMING EVENTS Angels Den – Speedfunding June 9 Druces, Salisbury House London Wall, London EC2M 5PS
Smith & Williamson Post-election analysis June 11 3rd Floor, 9 Colmore Row Birmingham B3 2BJ
Business Junction – Networking breakfast June 17 Corrigan’s Mayfair 28 Upper Grosvenor Street London, W1K 7BH
Prelude Group – Scaling through acquisition June 18 South Place Hotel 3 South Place London, EC2M 2AF
Urbano Network – with Brewdog June 11 Barber-Surgeons’ Hall Monkwell Square London, EC2Y 5BL
Interop London June 16 - 18 ExCeL Royal Victoria Dock 1 Western Gateway London, E16 1XL
Business Scene – Networking drinks with Volvo June 17 Chester Road Birmingham, B24 0QY
Company Shortcuts – Foundation in Sales Secrets June 25 154 Fleet Street London, EC4A 2DQ
Introbiz – Networking breakfast June 26 Cote Brasserie, Mill Lane Cardiff, CF10 1FL
A full event listing is available on our website: elitebusinessmagazine. co.uk/events
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mall businesses have a unique opportunity to get one up on larger companies with new search changes that have just come into place. Last month Google changed it’s algorithms and it now checks if a website is mobilefriendly before displaying it in search results. But according to a survey this month by CodeGuard, over half of all websites are still not mobile ready. “Businesses risk losing their spot in search results if they ignore mobile” according to Peter Gunning, chief technology officer of Nettl. Many websites from big companies are still not mobile-friendly and making them comply could cost them tens of thousands of pounds and months of work. “This is great news for small businesses, which tend to be more flexible and nimbler than large enterprises. Nettl can build and deploy a new web shop in days rather than months.” Nettl.com, the new network of web design studios, wants to help small businesses thats are just starting to sell online and are offering up to 1,000 British startups and entrepreneurs a free one-hour consultation and £500 grant towards the cost of a ‘Nettl :commerce’ online web shop. “These days people want to interact with local businesses online. They want to make appointments, book
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tables, check stock or buy something online and collect the item in-store the very same day.” said Gunning. “Making that work isn’t always easy and knowing where to start can often be just as difficult. That’s where we come in. “Most of Nettl’s clients already have a website, although often it was built before mobile was critical and so needs a responsive upgrade. “What’s really interesting is how many British businesses are looking to the future and adding online booking apps and launching fully functional online web shops. “It’s truly inspiring and we love meeting clients, listening to their ideas, then helping turn them into a reality.” If you are a small business, Nettl web studios is offering a free one-hour, no obligation website consultation this summer. TO BOOK:
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the final countdown? The much-anticipated Queen’s speech included an EU Referendum Bill to deliver David Cameron’s promise of a public vote on the UK’s membership by the end of 2017. Does this spell disaster for SMEs?
The issue will soon be put to bed
SMEs have little to worry about over the long term. There’ll be a period of uncertainty in the run up to any referendum but it’s unlikely that we’ll vote ourselves out of the EU. The fact that the government is now in a position to hold a vote means that soon, one way or the other, Alastair this debate will finally be put to bed. Campbell, With businesses big and small lining up to founder, state their preference that our relationship with Company Check Europe continues, it’s likely that we will end up with a stronger position within the EU outlined and agreed in principle before any referendum. Germany wants us to remain a strong partner and so they won’t let us go easily. We have a vested interest in getting ourselves more control over what happens within the trading block. There’ll be plenty of posturing in the months to come but behind the scenes I’m confident a deal will be worked out that means the ‘yes’ vote wins and we can get back to business. Right now, we are concentrating on our work and avoiding being dragged into the debate as a whole or having a view ‘as a business’. I have a view but my business doesn’t – instead it respects the different views of my staff and my customers who may have different views and other companies should bear this in mind. We’re also really conscious to avoid the noise of social media and other discussions, which could potentially alienate customers.
Be afraid, be very afraid
WORDS: Ryan McChrystal
he election has come and gone and many businesses have breathed a sigh of relief that there is at least some certainty in the economy again. However, that solace may be short lived as businesses get a fix on the fact that a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union is looming. As laid out in the Queen’s speech, an EU Referendum Bill means we’ll be going to the polls to decide Britain’s future on the continent by 2017. A lot of people look at opinion polls and try to make predictions but given how badly the pollsters got it wrong in last month’s general election there’s little comfort to be found there. Paddypower’s latest odds for the EU referendum may point to a 73% chance of us remaining in the EU but even that is a cold comfort at this stage. One thing is for sure: an exit from Europe would change the UK dramatically. And while some would welcome this with open arms, others aren’t so sure and are waiting with bated breath. There is much to be concerned about: how would a Brexit impact on investment in the UK? How would it affect recruitment? How will our exports hold up? It’s no wonder Britain’s relationship with Europe is now at the top of the City of London’s political agenda and banks are already fretting about the uncertainty. Are SMEs also on the tenterhooks?
Talking point.indd 1
SMEs shouldn’t just be worried about the impact of leaving the EU, they should be terrified. This referendum is the biggest issue British business faces and the potential prospects are disastrous. Leaving would have Richard Stone, an immediate impact on trade as membership managing director, increases the amount of businesses that British Stone Junction SMEs do with other EU countries. Leaving the EU would mean negotiating to retain those trading benefits, which is a process that could cost substantially more than it saves. The second issue is the impact that leaving the EU will have on our ability to employ non-EU workers. Employing multilingual staff is a key way to differentiate an SME from a larger business with a more conservative recruitment policy. At present, free movement of labour means that British companies can source skilled staff very easily from across Europe. Quite simply, immigration is a boon for the UK. The last issue is the impact that leaving the EU will have on England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s relationship with Scotland. The SNP would be in a very strong position to request a further referendum for Scottish independence if the UK was no longer an EU member because remaining in the EU is one of party’s key objectives. And it’s clear that the business environment in the UK would be a whole lot weaker without Scotland. In the run-up to the referendum, we may also start to feel the effects of an exit as other countries become more nervous about trading with us.
The Glass Closet – Why coming out is good for business John Browne
Does Less, Get More – How to work smart & live life your way Sháá Wasmund
he resignation of John Browne from BP in May 2007 marked the end of an incredibly successful period for the company. Yet it was the circumstances of Browne’s resignation that dominated the headlines. As revealed in the Daily Mail, the company’s chief executive had kept his sexuality to himself for the best part of 40 years and, as he admits in The Glass Closet, it came at a considerable cost to him, both personally and professionally. In his foreword to the second edition, Browne reflects on the positive reaction he has received since the book’s initial publication in May 2014 and the encouraging progress made around LGBT rights in the world of business. However, he also reminds us that, aside from Apple’s Tim Cook, no other FTSE 100 or Fortune 500 chief executive has yet to follow in his footsteps by publicly coming out to their colleagues. As Brown argues, quite rightly, companies need to match their words with actions if their employees are going to feel confident enough to come out. While this will rarely entail the chief executive going public with his or her own sexuality, the more companies that foster a genuine environment of diversity and inclusion, the better the chances of positive change. A very personal read on one hand and a valuable practical guide on the other, the Glass Closet will help frame and drive this incredibly important debate for years to come. AP
It’s remarkable how easy it is in our professional lives to feel like we’re constantly doing and yet rarely achieving. All too often it can feel like you’re in a perpetual whirl of activity and yet are making little, if any, progress toward your goals. This is why, in her latest book, Wasmund makes the case for why we shouldn’t conflate busyness and productivity. From challenging our ingrained habits to learning to box clever with our time, Do Less, Get More offers no end of insight into how we can focus our energies on the areas they will have the most effect. Rather than simply trying to squeeze increasing levels activity into our lives in the hope of reaping more rewards, Wasmund encourages readers to prioritise what matters most. One of the pleasing things about Do Less, Get More is it neither seems dense and turgid nor flighty and poorly focused; containing the perfect balance of prose, recaps, breakdowns and exercises, it’s a light, frothy read that offers plenty of gems on how to invest less time in achieving your goals. It also knows when to poke fun at itself – for example a diagram that places wi-fi at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows that this isn’t a book that takes itself overly seriously. All in all, an intensely practical guide to making your day-to-day efforts count. JR
Publisher: WH Allen Out: June 11 RRP: £8.99
Publisher: Wiley Out: Now RRP: £12.99
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IN 2010, THREE UNIVERSITY FRIENDS STARTED FUNDING CIRCLE TO PROVIDE AN ALTERNATIVE TO BANK LENDING. FIVE YEARS LATER THE POSTER BOY FOR PEER-TOPEER LENDING HAS FACILITATED LOANS OF MORE THAN £650M TO UK SMES – AND IT’S NOW TAKING ON THE US MARKET BY HANNAH PREVETT
g r o
Going for w t h
reaking America is a tough gig. Just ask Tesco, which announced it was withdrawing its chain of Fresh & Easy shops from the US market in 2013. And our biggest grocer is not the only British business to have beaten a hasty retreat: Marks & Spencer, WH Smith and Dixons all failed to realised their American dreams. Still, these cautionary tales fail to dissuade legions of UK companies from attempting the leap across the pond. For many, America really is the land of opportunity, promising fame and fortune if they strike it lucky. For Funding Circle, the peer-to-peer lending platform, it was no different. “The question was: ‘could we live with ourselves if we hadn’t gone and tried the US?’” says James Meekings, co-founder and chief commercial officer of Funding Circle. Business in the UK was booming – the firm has to-date facilitated loans of almost £700m to British SMEs – and Meekings and his co-founders Samir Desai and Andrew Mullinger spotted that the US market was ripe for innovation. “We saw what was happening in the US in terms of consumer marketplaces – things like Prosper and Lending Club – and we thought, ‘OK, what happens if those US marketplaces go into business lending?” explains Meekings. “We knew in those markets there is a huge first-mover advantage, so if we hadn’t gone a year and a bit ago it would’ve been much harder to go later. We never wanted to look back and say, ‘we wish we’d done that’. Also, as the US companies that did it grew, they could come over here and eat our lunch as well. It was a form of attack as well as a form of defence.” Just as they’d had to navigate the complex regulatory landscape in the financial services sector when setting up shop in the UK, it looked likely to be similarly onerous in the US – unless they could find an acquisition target that already had the necessary approvals. “We partnered with a US business, Endurance Lending Network, which was founded by Sam Hodges [who is now considered the fourth cofounder of Funding Circle] and they had about 12 or 13 people when we partnered with them. We had a very similar set of values and vision about what we wanted to achieve.” In the first month of partnership at the end of 2013, $300,000 was lent through the platform. Just 18 months later, the US business is now lending $15m a month – and it’s growing all the time. Lending in the US in the first quarter of this year was seven times larger than lending in the first quarter of 2014. Meekings is the only one of the co-founders who hasn’t spent a substantive period of time over at the US office – in San Francisco, “like all good tech companies”. Desai, the CEO, spends a week a month Stateside and Mullinger has also passed some time on the West Coast. “His [Mullinger’s] role was looking at the credit function but also making sure the cultures synched up. We spent a lot of time when we merged the businesses focused on values work. We were pleased with what we’d achieved in the UK so Andrew’s job was to take those softer things and make sure they went across as well.”
Maintaining the right culture is something fast-growth companies often struggle with as they expand. Meekings says it is key to make sure the building blocks are there from the get-go. “It came naturally from three people who were friends and then became four with the US business but we definitely need to think about it more as we grow. Loads of entrepreneurs have said to me that they’ve been impressed that we’ve kept our culture at the size we are now, with 300 people.” The fact that the business has been built on a solid friendship between Meekings, Desai, Mullinger and now Hodges too has undoubtedly helped foster an inclusive and entrepreneurial culture. The friends met at the University of Oxford where Desai and Meekings were reading economics and management. “We met Andy at the bar,” smiles Meekings. He is full of praise for his co-founders. “Samir is a super smart guy. The relationship with him was almost like my relationship with my sister – you’ve just got to keep up with him. It was a privilege to be at university with and to meet some people who are not only super smart but are also down to earth, with complete humility.” After leaving university in 2004, Meekings went to work for consultancy firm OC&C. “Consultancy is almost like a working MBA for new grads – you get quick exposure to everything but you work really, really hard for it,” he says. Desai also took a consultant job at BCG while Mullinger was working in risk for financial services firms such as EY and Citigroup. The initial idea for Funding Circle came from Desai, who was exploring SME lending options as part of his day job. “One of his tasks was to find out why Northern Rock didn’t have a small business lending arm and whether it should,” explains Meekings. “In that process of researching small business lending, he started to see it was just such an inefficient market that served the customers really poorly.” The three uni friends got together to discuss Samir’s idea of creating a company to challenge the banks and give a better service serves both to and the businesses. Funding Circle would be a peer-to-peer lending site, where businesses could borrow money from private individuals. But it took a year of meetings around the kitchen table before
We never wanted to look back and say, ‘we wish we’d done that’
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they decided to take the leap of faith and quit their day jobs in the summer of 2009. “To be an entrepreneur you need a certain amount of naivety. If you can mix up smartness with naivety and pure ambition, you’re going to go a hell of a long way.” After closing a first round of funding the following autumn, it was all systems go. “We had a while in the kitchen and that wasn’t very productive so we went to serviced offices in Hanover Square and hired a room, just the three of us,” says Meekings. “From there, we expanded and hired our first people and haven’t really looked back since.” With three founders (now four, with the addition of Hodges), was there ever a danger that they may tread on each others’ toes? Meekings says not. “We are quite lucky. When you look at founders – how many there are and what they do – it can be that people start arguing. The most important thing is trust and the fact that you like each other. There’s going to be massive arguments, so you need to like each other and be able to bury the hatchet. Because we were friends for many years before, we were able to argue and come up with better solutions. You can then wake up the next morning and be fine with it.” It helped too that the trio had complementary skill sets. Whilst Meekings’ forte was marketing, Desai looked after strategy, finance and operations and Mullinger was the risk expert. “It just worked. Even when we wrote the business plan that’s how we split the writing and it’s just gone from there.” That’s not to say it was all smooth sailing in those formative months. Funding Circle experienced its fair share of teething problems, explains Meekings. “The first few months of any start-up are difficult for technology reasons because you build stuff and it just doesn’t work. It’s very painful. But you have to overcome it and fix it. It’s better to launch a business with most things working and some things not working than spending all your time developing the software, making it perfect and then launching it only to realise that customers actually wanted something different.” Another challenge was juggling the two user groups. “Because we’re a marketplace, managing borrowers and investors in the first three months was really difficult. We had periods when we had just one loan on the platform. Anyone who’s involved in marketplaces knows that the whole point is building up a portfolio and diversifying, so if you go to a platform that only has one loan, that’s really not very good. If you come to the platform today you can get hundreds of different loans.” The reluctance of many of the banks to lend to small businesses during the downturn helped create the perfect conditions for a platform like Funding Circle to thrive. “Without the credit crunch, it would have been much harder for our founder borrowers to take the plunge with a new service like us because they’d have just gone to the banks.” Is it true that the high-street banks are now open for business, as they proclaim? “It’s quite unclear what the situation is with the banks,” says Meekings. “You listen to business owners and they say the bank doesn’t want to lend to them you listen to the bank and they say they do want to lend to them.” Funding Circle’s relationship with the banks appears to have evolved since 2012, the last time we met. It has partnered with Santander and RBS – a move that would have been unthinkable three years ago. “I think there’s been a growing
up on both sides,” admits Meekings. “We had marketing campaigns that, like any disruptive business, were trying to grab headlines quickly. We had a campaign that said, ‘no thanks, banks’ running across the newspapers and, at the same time, banks were very dismissive about what we were trying to do.” “Both of us didn’t really fully understand how we could work together. It’s still competitive but it’s complementary at the same time.” So is this the beginning of a new era of harmonious relationship between the banks and the peer-to-peer lender? “Yes, with some banks,” smiles Meekings. Getting cosier with some of the high-street banks is clearly doing nothing to halt Funding Circle’s stratospheric growth. It recently completed its series E funding round, taking it to a reported $1bn valuation. Even for a company that makes borrowing easier for small firms, Meekings acknowledges that the fundraising process can take its toll. “It’s all true what people say about raising money. I can speak on behalf of the team who are more actively involved and say that it’s stressful and time-consuming.” But they now have the benefit of experience, having done five official rounds in addition to a seed round. “It’s all about setting a calendar and making sure all the investors know the different stages and time-boxing it. Otherwise it just goes on and on. If you run a tight process and there’s competition from investors to get in, it’s much easier. It also becomes easier over time. The hardest thing we’ve probably ever done is raising our first financing round,” he says. All the hard work has undoubtedly paid off: with its $1bn valuation making headlines, Funding Circle is a British start-up success story. But fame and fortune isn’t what gets Meekings out of bed in the morning. “Success for me is creating something that is meaningful, makes a difference and creates positive change. You hear politicians say they go into politics because they want to make a change to the way the world works but if you do that you’re only playing in the existing world,” he explains. “Entrepreneurs are the true politicians: they are actually changing the world for the better.”
Entr e pr e n e urs are the true politicians: they’re changing the world for the bette r
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UP BY BRINGING A TOUCH OF TECH TO AN OLD INDUSTRY, LAUNDRAPP IS PUTTING A NEW SPIN ON DRY CLEANING AND LAUNDRY
WORDS: JOSH RUSSELL
aundry isn’t exactly the most glamorous of trades. Unlike taxis, music, dating or travel, it’s hardly the sort of industry you’d expect to attract a bunch of tech-savvy entrepreneurs eager to make their mark on the world. And yet, as a sector that has scarcely changed in half a century, it’s hard to argue that dry cleaning and laundry isn’t ripe for disruption. Which is why newcomer Laundrapp is looking to make laundry as easy as pressing a button. When Edward Relf, Laundrapp’s cofounder and CEO, was first approached by Dominic Perks – his future co-founder and Laundrapp’s chairman – with the idea of disrupting of the laundry and dry-cleaning industry, it’s fair to say he had his doubts. “To be blunt, I thought the idea was bonkers,” he says. Having little experience of the sector, he couldn’t be sure how well washing people’s scanties would mesh with cutting-edge tech. But when he took a deeper look at the industry, he saw that it was crying out for a solution that would offer customers a better service. “The opportunity existed to bring in some smart technology and really disrupt the entire space,” he says. And if there was a man up to the job, it would be Relf. As well as having extensive consultancy and mentorship experience, he has worked for one of the biggest British tech start-ups there is: Mind Candy. “I helped build the Moshi Monsters brand, which blew up into an international
ONE TO WATCH
COMPANY CV Name: Laundrapp Founded by: Edward Relf, Antony Pink & Nick Bransby-Williams Founded in: January 2015 Team: 20
kids’ phenomenon,” he says. “By the time I moved on, we had about 80 or 90 million people playing that game across the world.” Laundrapp’s other two co-founders had similarly stellar experience: Antony Pink, the company’s COO, had acted as a strategy consultant for Merrill Lynch and Accenture, whilst CTO Nick Bransby-Williams had previously flexed his developer muscles working in roles for tech start-ups like Badoo and Sooqini. The trio’s experience made it very easy for them to hit the ground running. “Because of my background in digital entrepreneurship, I had a huge network so I was able to mobilise a team very quickly,” Relf says. The fledgling start-up launched its seed investment round, netting around £1m from angel investors that helped it build a prototype for a small-scale beta test. “The reaction was just outstanding,” he says. “People really bought into what we were doing.” Part of the reason why consumers have seized upon Laundrapp’s service is that it’s designed to make laundry and dry cleaning as quick and painless as possible. Users simply open up the app, select the items they want cleaned – whether that’s a bag of laundry or a Dior dress – and then choose when and where they want it collected from and delivered to. “As long as we can get a GPS lock, we can basically collect from anywhere,” says Relf. “We even had an instance a few weeks ago where we collected from somebody who was in the middle of a pub quiz.” And whether you’re getting all your bedding washed or desperately wanting the beer cleaned off your blazer, conscious effort has gone into making the Laundrapp app simple to use. “The consumer-facing part of Laundrapp is beautifully designed; it’s very intuitive and simple to use,” says Relf. However, there is some serious engineering hidden beneath the hood; built into the platform are a whole host of metrics and intelligence tools that keep the service moving. “There’s a lot of sophistication going on behind the scenes,” says Relf.
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Moving thousands of items around London 24/7 in real-time is a huge logistical challenge Part of the reason for this is that logistically Laundrapp is a rather complex business. Whilst the start-up focuses on making things as simple as possible for their users, the reality of washing an entire city’s clobber can be exceedingly complex. “Moving thousands upon thousands of items around London 24/7 in real-time is a huge logistical challenge,” Relf says. To help keep the whole process simple, once the company’s drivers have picked up your clothes they take them to largescale, industrial facilities that clean on Laundrapp’s behalf. “We manage the consumer touchpoint and our handselected partners actually do the processing of the laundry itself,” he says. But even with the best possible infrastructure in place, there are always surprises that can catch you unawares. “You face so many fascinating daily challenges,” Relf says. Just a few months ago, Laundrapp faced some major disruption to its service when an explosive discovery was made in a neighbouring building site. “They uncovered a second world war bomb literally just across the road from one of our facilities,” he says. “You can imagine the logistical challenge of trying to reroute all of those orders.” This isn’t the only challenge however: one of the biggest issues facing Laundrapp is altering consumer behaviour. Whilst it is comparatively easy to get users to adapt to an incremental change, completely throwing out established habits is far harder. “At previous businesses, I’ve always launched something that was an iteration of the thing that preceded it,” says Relf. “But, with Laundrapp, we’re trying to move people away from using their washing machine.” Given that using a washing machine is such an engrained habit, tempting consumers away requires a real sea change in the way they expect to access services.
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Fortunately, this shift is already under way. The sheer quantity of on-demand start-ups entering the market has set a precedent and increasing numbers of consumers are willing to carry out day-to-day activities through their phone. “There’s a whole raft of companies that offer on-demand services via smartphone apps,” says Relf. Whether you’re looking at Airbnb, Uber, Instacart or TaskRabbit, there are no end of successful start-ups offering anything a consumer could require at the press of a button and this has definitely worked in Laundrapp’s favour. “We’ve found this ondemand, sharing economy has really fuelled our business,” he says. It does seem that Laundrapp is currently riding the crest of a wave; the way it has been received by the tech community is evidence of just how much confidence there is in the start-up’s success. It launched on January 16 and scarcely more than two months later it had closed a series A round of £4m; serious vindication for such a young company. “You don’t generate £4m of investment if the business isn’t working or the product isn’t resonating,” Relf says. In addition, word of mouth and promotion on TV is building some serious momentum behind the company; at around 20 weeks old, the start-up is drawing down double-digit week-on-week growth. “People really like what
we’re doing; they like our approach, they like the product,” says Relf. “There’s a chance here to actually build this out into one of the UK’s fastest growing and most exciting start-ups.” Building out its service and capitalising on its position means Laundrapp has some pretty big expansion plans in the offing. Already it has launched in Birmingham and Edinburgh and it has expanded its services to include the whole of Greater London. And whilst Relf doesn’t explicitly mention the next location in the start-up’s sights, it’s clear that it will be looking to add more cities to its network, both at home and abroad. “It’s obvious that at some point in the future rapid international expansion is going to have to be part of the plan,” he says. “But, to be honest, we’ve barely scratched the potential of London. yet” This kind of ambition has fostered comparisons between Laundrapp and Uber, something that Relf is in no rush to contest. “Uber has grown like wildfire,” he says. “It’s absolutely flawlessly executed, it’s a great service and we’re inspired by businesses like that.” Certainly Laundrapp’s trajectory thus far does suggest an almost Uber-esque scaleability; in fact Relf feels the real challenge will be in keeping up with its growth. “It’s a runaway train and we’re holding on for dear life,” he laughs. “But that’s the fun of building start-ups.”
r e o m to e m o h is
hu st l ha er ck s
Brooklyn is bursting at the seams with great tech companies. But how did the big apple’s bloodiest borough become its burgeoning borough?
WORDS: Ryan McChrystal
ocated in the east of one of the most bustling cities in the world, it is home to some of the most exciting names in tech. Since the turn of the century, it has undergone something of a regeneration and is now a trendy nerve centre, popular among young professionals and entrepreneurs. We could be talking about London’s Shoreditch, as we often are, but this month we’re taking a look at Brooklyn, the most populous of New York’s five boroughs, which is giving Silicon Valley a run for its money. Since 2001, billions of dollars have been invested in Downtown Brooklyn, the Navy Yard and Dumbo, collectively known as the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. Over the years it has it has become a mecca for some of the world’s leading up-and-coming tech firms, including MakerBot, the 3D printer maker; Etsy, the online craft shopping site; and Kickstarter, the global crowdfunding platform. Brooklyn
has the talent, a like-minded and supportive community and, being just a short subway ride to Manhattan’s Financial District, easy access to investors with deep pockets. This year, the triangle is estimated to contain around four million square foot of tech and creative businesses. The days of coming second place to Silicon Valley may, in the long run, be numbered if things continue on this trajectory. The big players may be the ones making headlines, but the army of small tech companies are the real lifeblood of the Brooklyn scene. Take WeDidIt, a company that helps non-profits to dramatically improve their fundraising efforts through data mining, set up by Su Sanni and Ben Lamson in 2011. It enables non-profits to take donations online and through a mobile app. Sanni, a Brooklyn native, choose to set up in Bushwick in the north of Brooklyn because of the growing vibe around technology
companies and start-ups. “Bushwick is a place where a lot of creative professionals work and live and, just like Williamsburg and Dumbo, it has become a hub for tech,” says Sanni. The general mentality in Brooklyn is consistent with its grittiness. “This is a tough place where tough people are born and bred; it’s a place where those with drive live and work,” he explains. “That same mentality has rubbed off on the tech start-up scene.” Silicon Valley has its hacker culture but in Brooklyn they take a different approach. “Here, it’s more about being creative and being a hustler; it’s about being hardworking and doing whatever it takes to get to the next stage.” In many ways, this ethos carries with it the values of the American dream: the idea that by putting your shoulder to your wheel, prosperity can follow. A key part of that dream was a lack of barriers to success and, while New York may have high taxes, tax breaks are offered to many thriving tech companies. Sanni has spent quite a bit of time observing the tech scene in San Francisco. Most recently, WeDidIt was part of 2014’s 500 Startups, an early-stage seed fund and accelerator program funded by PayPal and Google alumni. Sanni can say first-hand that while New York’s tech scene is currently a distant second to Silicon Valley in terms of maturity, it is still more than possible to build a successful, viable business in the Big Apple. “The more we have success stories like Etsy and MakerBot – which are raising a lot of money through prominent investors and hiring people Su Sanni, WeDidIt – the closer we’ll be to closing the gap between New York and Silicon Valley.” While New York is a centre of activity for new start-ups and young upstarts, a handful of tech companies have been around for an age and are still going strong. Grado Labs has been doing business in Brooklyn for almost a century, and just like Etsy and MakerBot, it complements the creative, hands-on approach of the borough. For the last 62 years, Grado has been making phonograph hi-fi cartridges for turntables and since the early 1990s it has been hand-making high-end headphones. Jonathan Grado, now 24, has grown up in and around the family business. The company was set up by his great uncle before being handed down to his father. “No one ever told me to get into this, then all of a sudden, I was just like, ‘I want to help the company’,” explains Grado. “And then I got really into it and fell in love with talking to the people online who use our headphones.”
In Brooklyn, it’s about being a hustler
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MICHAEL ACTON SMITH founder of Mind Candy
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WHERE LONDON’S ENTREPRENEURS MEET
Jonathan Grado, Grado Labs
The Brooklyn craze has definitely helped us Jonathan Grado, Grado Labs
The Grado family have stuck with Brooklyn for generations and has seen it change dramatically down the years. “When I was growing up, this was not a good area but luckily it’s turning around now.” The business situation in Brooklyn has also changed significantly. “We used to say we build our handmade headphones in America and then it became more city-centric and that’s gone even further; we now say we make headphones in Brooklyn,” says Grado. “Being here for so long, it’s no big deal to us but we’ve found some people go crazy for it. We are definitely proud of our borough though and the Brooklyn craze has definitely helped us; we don’t even have to advertise.” As a place to live Brooklyn has evolved and is now much more attractive for young creatives, so naturally there’s been a migration of companies to the neighbourhood. They are wooed by the vast public parks with their beautiful scenery and the tourist attractions, not to mention Brooklyn’s major role in shaping various aspects of American culture. People who live and work in Brooklyn can Su Sanni, WeDidIt
enjoy great food, music and entertainment every single day. The ever-shorter commute times and more affordable office space is what kicked off the growth in the community. However, as it grows in popularity, Brooklyn is also unfortunately becoming a little more expensive in recent years. “I went away to college in 2009 and when I came back, everything was ridiculously popular in Brooklyn,” says Grado. “That’s why we see a ton of communal working spaces here. And while being priced out kind of sucks, it’s forcing people to get resourceful and I don’t think things would be possible if they didn’t have to work as hard.” Co-working spaces are everywhere in Brooklyn. DUMBO Start-up Lab is one such space, mostly for early-stage tech companies. “Companies typically use their time here as a stepping stone,” says founder John Coghlan. “They’ll come here when they’re trying to raise seed capital or while applying for accelerator programmes.” Coghlan sees a lot of collaboration among members, which is to be expected in an environment where entrepreneurs can meet by a water cooler and discuss what they’re working on. “Entrepreneurs like having closer access to other people that are working in their field and the opportunities for interaction – whether it’s during work hours, in the coffee shops, in the neighbourhood or after work in the bars – are vast,” he says. The next decade is definitely looking good for the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. The borough is teeming with development sites and the number of tech companies is growing by the week. Where San Francisco is high-tech, Brooklyn is high-creative and the creative industries will continue to flourish in the US over the next ten years. Brooklyn is now recognised as a real tech hub, and with its grit and hustle, long may that continue.
Good things come in small packages Parcel
After moving to New York fresh out of Harvard University, Jesse Kaplan found himself plagued by delivery nightmares. Every week day he would come home to a missed package slip and every weekend would spend hours in a post office queue trying to retrieve his deliveries. Enough was enough. He set about finding a solution for himself and countless New Yorkers, and Parcel was born. The company lets customers ship their packages to a rented mailing address and they are delivered as a time when they’re actually home and it’s all arranged though the quick and easy Parcel website. A $1m fundraise later, CEO and founder Jesse Kaplan now operates a warehouse, a fleet of branded vehicles and a team of trusted drivers. What appeals to Kaplan – and so many other New York founders – about Brooklyn is that tech makes up a very small piece of the overall culture, with so many other industries for them to surround themselves with and learn from. “A lot of Manhattan startups are in the ad tech or fin tech spaces, given their proximity to huge ad agencies and financial firms,” he says. “Many of the better-known Brooklyn startups, like Etsy and Kickstarter, instead facilitate creative endeavours – and there’s certainly no shortage of Brooklyn-based artisans to empower here.” Brooklyn offered the perfect mix of space, affordability, and convenience. Parcel moved there from Manhattan last September and hasen’t looked back. “I can’t imagine leaving New York,” says Kaplan.
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Female Financiers Encouraging more women to get involved in investing is key if the UK is to really harness the potential of the ever-growing start-up community
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common refrain in start-up circles is how important it is to products. Inevitably, as the number of female entrepreneurs achieving increase the number of female entrepreneurs. But far less high-profile successes and major exits increases, reciprocally the attention is paid to how there are still comparatively few number of women ploughing their capital into other start-ups will rise. female investors. Research released by the Centre for Entrepreneurs “As women on the entrepreneur’s side increase, you’ll start to see more in January of this year revealed that 14.1% of angels are female female investors,” she says. compared to the 85.9% who are male. Whilst There is another factor helping to boost gender the proportion of women who are angel parity in investment circles: crowdfunding. “It investing has nearly doubled since 2009, it is has broken down the barriers and put everyone clear there is still a long way to go before we on the same level,” Lang says. In 2013, Crowdcube have any semblance of gender parity. revealed that women represent 25% of investors; a There is certainly a significant value in significant boost compared to the 14.1% of angels attracting more women into becoming that are female. Lang feels that part of the reason investors. One of the benefits of increasing equity crowdfunding has been so successful in the proportion of female investors is it can drawing female investors is it allows them to make it easier for female entrepreneurs to sidestep the perceived boys’ club of investment secure finance. “The start-up world is so circles. “They can have parity with a male high-pressure and fast-paced, you have to counterpart without having to go into the malebe extremely aggressive,” says Hermione dominated environment of an angel-investor Way, the journalist, serial entrepreneur network,” he says. and investor. “If you’re a woman that’s not But whilst getting a chance to dip their toe made of that sort of stuff, it can be very in can certainly help female investors build intimidating.” Increased gender parity confidence, Way believes that given the way the Hermione Way amongst the investment community could old business norms are being disrupted there’s make going head-to-head with a panel of never been a better time to jump in with both investors less daunting for women who feet. “What we’re going through now is more might feel their gender could get in the way. significant than the industrial revolution and the But female investors bring other benefits to female-led start-ups rules of business are really changing,” she says. The start-up sector is in aside from just a more equitable pitching environment. “We’re constant flux and this means that the opportunity for aspiring female seeing female investors getting actively involved as mentors and investors to define their own path has never been stronger. “If there’s any in non-exec director roles,” says Luke Lang, co-founder and women out there on the fence about becoming an investor, they should chief marketing officer at Crowdcube, the equity crowdfunding just go for it,” Way concludes. platform. For female-led start-ups, having access to the experience of investors who might have better insight into the issues they face can add massive value to their business. “The more diverse your investor community, the greater the breadth of experience, skills and knowledge you’ll be able to bring to bear on the business,” Hermione Way is no stranger to how tricky it can be to raise funds as a female explains Lang. entrepreneur. Her latest start-up Vibease, the smart vibrator company, netted So how can the number of female investors in the UK be boosted? a $500,000 seed round and is in the process of trying to secure $5m for its Identifying how we can attract a greater proportion of women into series A funding. Whilst plenty of male investors have leapt at the chance to investing isn’t straightforward but there are certainly practical back the start-up, this doesn’t mean there haven’t been times she’s had to steps we can take. “If we can change the business environment to be fight to be taken seriously. “When I’m going to meetings, not only am I more women-friendly, then we can attract more female investors,” pitching a sex-related start-up but I’m also a woman, which puts some says Way. Though this may be easier said than done. investors off,” says Way. “Unfortunately, men react well to men.” Whilst there are VCs that have a higher proportion of female There’s been a lot of discussion over the years about how hard it is for investors than might be expected, they are still on average falling female entrepreneurs to access investment and Way decided it was time she short. Way references a recent statement from Dave McClure, addressed the issue. “I was like, ‘fuck it; enough talk, more doing’,” says the high-profile Silicon Valley entrepreneur and angel, where he Way. She shared a post with more than 31,000 Facebook followers that she described women as an ‘undervalued asset’. “VC firms that are run and her husband were looking to invest $10,000 in investments of $500 to by males need to hire more female partners,” she says. “That will be $1,000 in female-led start-ups. And the response has been huge. “The post a big first step, so that the face that is going out into the community went viral; it got shared over 140 times and I had over 100 women reach out is female as well as male.” to me,” she says. But it doesn’t all fall to the VCs. There is a sense that as female Way is keen to emphasise that the start-ups she is investing in are far from entrepreneurs continue to gain more prominence within the UK just being throwaway ideas. “They all have minimum viable products, they all start-up ecosystem that this will naturally begin to balance the have customers,” she says. “These are women that take entrepreneurship investment landscape. “The number of female entrepreneurs is very seriously.” Her first investment is Toot, an app created by entrepreneur increasing at a faster pace than ever before,” says Rupa Gunatra, Sophia Parsa that acts as a marketplace to connect tutors and students. “It’s former investment banker, serial angel investor and co-founder a great idea and she’s a great co-founder,” Way says. of Yes-Sir.com, the e-commerce platform for male grooming
If we can change the business environment to be more womenfriendly, then we can attract more female investors
WORDS: JOSH RUSSELL
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Five-minute money masterclass
perfecting your pricing 36
Setting a price for one’s product or service is one of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs. Charge too much and they risk putting off customers; charge too little and they will struggle to make a profit. How, therefore, can an entrepreneur ensure that the price they end up charging is right for their business, as well as for the people they are selling to?
WORDS: ADAM PESCOD
Get to know your customers
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Ultimately, an entrepreneur’s product or service is only worth as much as a customer is willing to pay for it. Doing your homework on potential punters is therefore an essential part of the price-setting process. “Getting your pricing right involves understanding how your customers think and how they perceive value,” says Richard Neale, EMEA marketing director at Birst, the cloud-based business intelligence and analytics provider. “You can’t have a premium price strategy if your customers don’t think your product measures up.” This means there are many options open to an entrepreneur. “Will a customer be more likely to buy if they can pay as they go or would they prefer to pay up front? Is a monthly subscription preferable to an annual contract?” says Nick Zarb, director at Simon-Kucher & Partners, the pricing strategy experts. “There are a myriad of potential options, so think carefully about what your customers might want but what works economically for you too.”
See what works
Testing the water is a key part of establishing what your customers will happily fork out for your goods. If anything, people will welcome the chance to have their say. “You need to find out what customers think of your product’s benefits, how much they value them and how you compare to the competition,” says Zarb. “Identify customer groups that you could create different propositions for, be creative in testing different pricing models with customers and gather evidence to avoid selling yourself short.” Shaz Nawaz, director at AA Accountants, the accountamcy firm, also believes that going out and seeing what works for your business is the best way of tackling things. “You should test and measure your prices until you get to your optimum price,” says Nawaz. “When you’re clear on your ideal customer then you can establish with ease what they’ll pay for your product or service. The beauty is that you won’t need to do too much work to get most of this in place.”
Mix it up
It’s worth considering different pricing levels to ensure your offer is tailored to all customers. While many companies will adopt a cost-plus pricing strategy, which is focused on margins, Neale advocates a value-based pricing strategy. This revolves around how much each customer might be willing to spend, based on the value that they get from the product. “This will help you see where customers might be willing to pay more,” he says. “Equally, if you have customers that only want to pay the lowest price, you can take out elements like speed of delivery or support that they don’t perceive as valuable.” Likewise, Nawaz recommends giving customers a good amount of choice. “Different customers pay different prices for different things. This is usually based on need, perception, ability to pay and a range of other things,” he says. “You need to have at least two different options in your offering. One could be a standard offer and the other a deluxe offer. You’ll find that anywhere up to 20% of your customers will opt for the deluxe model. This will result in higher sales and bigger profits.”
If you can charge a higher price and still have people flocking to buy your wares, you’ve basically won. While it may not be possible at the start, there’s certainly a lot to be said for going in nearer the top end than the bottom. “It’s better to start higher – it is much harder to increase prices if you start too low,” says Rachel Lowe, founder and managing director of Destination Board Games and She Who Dares, the perfume and gifting company. “If you are trying to establish a brand, it is also important to protect your brand equity – so if you are clear on what you want your price to be, try not to be too easily influenced by others.” Essentially, entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid to aim high, even if it sometimes goes against their best intentions. “From my experience most small businesses charge less than they should because they have an aversion to charging more,” says Nawaz. “This is usually based on their personal and past experiences in life. You need to put those aside when setting and reviewing your prices.”
You can’t take a premium price strategy if your customers don’t think your product measures up Richard Neale, Birst
Give a little extra
The value of something encompasses more than just the price on the shelf. Consumers will often buy into the people behind the product too. Promising customers a full refund if they’re not happy can actually instil them with the same level of confidence that the entrepreneur has in their product or service. “Confidence is what drives the marketplace and if your prospective customers see that you’re confident in your offer then they’re more likely to buy,” says Nawaz. “That’s why it’s worth thinking about offering a 100% money-back no quibble guarantee. Even after any potential refunds, you’ll still be better off.” And if this isn’t possible, for whatever reason, there are always alternatives. “If you’re not confident in offering a 100% money-back guarantee then think about offering some other form of guarantee,” Nawaz adds. “This provides a safety net to your customers and many buyers will purchase from you even if you’re more expensive than your competitors. And if you’re not more expensive, even more customers will buy from you. Why wouldn’t they? You’re offering the added benefit of peace of mind.”
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CLIVE LEWIS ICAEW
Changing of the tides Businesses in the UK should be seeking to capitalise on increased certainty to support recovery and profitable growth
issue of finding the right employee a score of two, while 35% gave a score of three. Comparatively, when asked to provide the same rating against access to finance, 31% and 26% scored this as four and five respectively, indicating just how highly FDs and CFOs view obtaining the right employees and skill sets when it comes to business growth opportunities. With the impacts of the credit crunch still felt across all sectors, it’s now critical for organisations to ensure they have the capabilities to navigate themselves through this recovery period successfully, to reach a position of strong growth. Getting the right skills into teams is vital to making this possible. Close Brothers, the SME finance lender, put the spotlight on this further in April, announcing a scheme that will see it paying a proportion of the wages of 60 apprenticeships at small businesses in manufacturing, which are financially unable to take on trainees, over the next three years. This commitment by the
British bank has been made in a bid to support on-the-job learning and, more importantly, prevent a skills shortage across the sector, which could have a serious impact on broader economic recovery. With this period of positive transition comes opportunities for increased foreign investment, accelerating the economic recovery further. If reports are to be believed, Chinese, European and American investors are eagerly looking into British business investment options, highlighting significant benefits to be gained for the UK. But these are only going to be truly maximised if UK organisations are able to provide a rich pool of talent and the skills required to power such developments. The downturn has really magnified just how important skills investment is to the economy. With confidence now on the up and the outlook more positive, organisations must ensure they are focusing on the areas that will continue to drive recovery and profit growth.
ith further reports indicating that financial buoyancy is returning to the UK economy, confidence is certainly on the increase for consumers. Analysts at Deloitte recently claimed that 2015 could in fact be the best year for households since 2005, as consumer finances start to normalise and spending activity accelerates. In fact, Deloitte’s consumer tracker has now climbed to its highest level since it began in 2011. It’ll come as little surprise to hear that businesses will be eager to capitalise on this positive outlook to really ensure they gain the momentum needed to recover and, more importantly, achieve profitable growth. Whilst there is of course a combination of factors behind whether organisations accomplish this or not, a particularly critical aspect is having access to necessary skills, ones that will play a vital role in enabling businesses to bounce back, maintain a significant pace of growth and, from a broader perspective, contribute to the overall recovery of the economy. According to latest findings from the FDs’ Satisfaction Survey, run in association with the ICAEW and the FDs’ Excellence Awards, finding the right skills was highlighted as one of the biggest challenges facing businesses. The results – which were based on a scale of one to five where one indicates “really difficult for your business right now” – stated that 28% of FDs and CFOs rated the
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Staying in tune with cultural trends is essential for all businesses. And for start-ups willing to take a risk, reactive marketing can be a great way to drive brand engagement
WORDS: ADAM PESCOD
ew ad campaigns could have sparked as much controversy as Protein World’s latest effort, which asked female consumers ‘Are you beach body ready?’ as a means of promoting its weight loss supplements. Adorned with an image of a slender, bronzed young woman, the advert caused uproar as people claimed it sent out a false – and deeply offensive – message to women. Following a flurry of complaints, the Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) is now investigating whether the advert breaks harm and offence rules or is socially irresponsible. However, it wasn’t just the general public that reacted strongly to Protein World. Other brands got in on the act too, notably Carlsberg, whose ‘Are you beer body ready?’ posters were soon adorning Tube stations across London. While intended to poke fun at Protein World, the beer company’s adverts were also a brilliant example of reactive marketing. Yes, Protein World may not be a direct competitor but Carlsberg had successfully tapped into a cultural and viral trend, which, ultimately, is what ‘Are you beach body ready?’ has become. Indeed, brands have no choice but to jump on the back of social and cultural phenomena
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in order to stay relevant in this day and age. “If you’re not up to date with what’s going on, your business isn’t current and, if your business isn’t current, you’re not marketing yourself effectively,” says Shaun Roberts, founder and managing director of Creative Catalysts, the online marketing agency that’s devised its own Protein World-inspired campaign, ‘Are you beach party ready?’, to promote a forthcoming event in Wales. Suffice to say, in a world where millions of people are online at any given time, one can’t blame companies for going all-out to get Jamie Matthews, in front of as many Initials Marketing customers as possible. “There’s a 24/7 scramble for eyeballs,” says Rich Leigh, founder of Rich Leigh & Company, the PR agency and PRexamples.com, the stunts and campaigns website. “Companies will do anything to get in front of target audiences and smart reactive marketing allows companies to do
that by inserting themselves into stories [that] people they want to reach are already reading, following and talking about.” Of course, the likes of Carlsberg are blessed with hefty marketing budgets but achieving the same sort of reach isn’t beyond start-ups and SMEs. It just takes some imagination and a sense of adventure. “You have to be very creative and a little more risky to achieve cut-through,” says Jamie Matthews, CEO and managing partner at Initials Marketing. “Anything safe will die. It won’t get the traction that you need.” On the other hand, companies must be careful not to takes things too far. “You have to gauge the temperature of the situation that you are potentially entering your company into and the repercussions of that situation,” explains Roberts. But what appears beyond doubt is that social media has helped level the playing field for
Anything safe will die. It won’t get the traction that you need
SALES & MARKETING
small firms. While the big boys will often fork out for a promoted tweet or post, money needn’t be an obstacle for a start-up that’s devised a smart socialmedia campaign. “The internet cannot distinguish between large corporations and SMEs,” says Phil Foster, founder and CEO of Love Energy Savings, the energy price comparison website. “They are all account holders with their own username and, as such, everyone is given the same opportunity. The public ultimately decides whether or not the content deserves recognition.” Love Energy Savings ran its own reactive marketing campaign in the runup to the general election, conducting a survey of business owners that asked them which party they thought would save them the most on their energy bills. After discovering that the majority of people wanted more information, the company compiled a report on the stance of the parties in time for the leaders’ debates. The campaign was picked up by the press and Foster was invited by various outlets to offer comments on the election, which helped position him and his company as thought leaders in the energy sector. “Our campaign wanted to encourage people to talk about their energy bills and inform people about savings they could make,” says Foster. “By jumping on the back of a cultural trend that aims to inform and encourage debate, it was the perfect vehicle to aid discussion.” Foster naturally believes that SMEs have the capacity to be heard above the corporate giants, if what they’re saying is interesting enough. “I think smaller businesses can have a voice that is just as loud as larger competitors if they have something worthwhile to say,” he adds. “It is ultimately all about supply and demand. If you can provide something that people want, it doesn’t matter about your size.” Some would even argue that start-ups, by their very nature, are better equipped in general. “The main difference between start-ups and ‘the big boys’ is the speed at which an idea can go from thought to action,” says Leigh. “Take the hoopjumping out of the process, which, frustratingly, very often dilutes an idea to the point where it’s not worth doing anyway, and the biggest advantage for SMEs is the chance to move first.”
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Taking a stand BrewDog
BrewDog, the craft brewer and bar operator, is renowned for its bold and brash approach to marketing. Ahead of last year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the company released a beer called Hello My Name Is Vladimir as a protest against anti-LGBT legislation introduced by Russian president Vladimir Putin. It sent a case of the beer to the Kremlin and also left beer at the Russian Consulate in Edinburgh and the Russian Embassy in London. “The beer was a double IPA featuring a Warhol-inspired image of Vladimir Putin wearing make up on the label,” says Sarah Warman, senior marketing projects manager at BrewDog. “We took the protest beer online with the sarcastic hashtag #NotForGays,” she continues. “Through this we drove discussion and awareness around Putin’s legislation and donated a portion of the profits to human rights charities.” Warman believes companies should only engage in reactive marketing if it makes sense for their brand. “You shouldn’t jump on a trend just for the sake of it,” she adds. “The craft beer revolution is about getting people as passionate about craft beer as we are but it’s also about upholding our core values of freedom, integrity and passion, which ensures we always strive to strike fear at the heart of the gatekeepers of establishment. Hello My Name Is Vladimir is a perfect example of this.”
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Putting yourself in front of an audience â€“ be it on TV or a podium â€“ can go a long way to promoting your business
WORDS: Ryan McChrystal
Sell your self
Sell yourself.indd 1
SALES & MARKETING
hen we think about promoting or selling long-term strategy and you have to keep working on it a product, service or brand, our minds and finding new ways to include it,” says Johnson. This typically turn to advertising or social is a little easier for MyFamilyClub. Having established media. What isn’t given enough attention is the role herself as something of an expert on all things family that entrepreneurs can play in marketing their business finance, if a story were to break tomorrow on, say, further by putting themselves in front of an audience. But cuts to school meals, Johnson would be drafted by the whether you’re selling yourself on the soapbox or on the producers and we’d expect to see her face on Daybreak. gogglebox, it’s important to know who it is that you’re And hey presto: more brand coverage. speaking to. Johnson has also been known to get up on a podium Ryan O’Rorke appeared on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den to and share her two cents with a live audience from time to get funding for Flavourly, an online artisan food service time but is aware this is a very different medium to TV. that allows consumers to go on gourmet adventures In this environment your audience isn’t necessarily your and discover everything from bacon jam to craft beers. target consumer. “Speaking at events is much more about He had us at bacon but his story is so much more yourself so I wouldn’t get up there and give advice on intoxicating than this. For many entrepreneurs, the how to afford a family holiday on a budget – that’s what Den is the golden ticket they’ve all been the media is for,” she says. “I waiting for and, in February, O’Rorke might, however, get up and talk was given five offers of investment about how to motivate yourself and even a job opportunity from Kelly back into the job market after Hoppen. He eventually settled on a deal a career break to bring up your with Piers Linney and Peter Jones, who children.” each took 10% in return for £75,000. Also no stranger to the public So why did he then turn around a few speaking circuit is Will King, days later and scrap the deal? After some founder of King of Shaves, who careful consideration he had realised agrees that standing in front of this just wasn’t right for his business. So a live audience is no place to be was his 15 minutes of fame a total waste? selling your product or service, Definitely not. Just a few days later, he especially if that live audience invited the public to be the investors is full of fellow entrepreneurs. and on the back of his reputation as a “It’s not a commercial vehicle ‘dragon slayer’, went on to raise over nor does it have a particularly Will King, King of Shaves £500,000 on Crowdcube, breaking all commercial aesthetic. Instead, equity crowdfunding records when the it’s just a nice way of putting company overfunded within 20 hours. a face to the brand,” King The kind of overnight media success explains. “I’ve never gone out O’Rorke enjoyed overnight is rare and and bought any products based usually can’t be planned for. A strategy on speakers that I’ve listened that involves getting yourself into people’s living rooms to because in those circumstances it’s more about via the television is customarily much more slow and knowledge and learning.” measured but don’t let that put you off. Four years ago, His first speaking gig was around eight or nine years Gemma Johnson founded MyFamilyClub, a company ago at the opening of a nightclub in Norwich. It was that helps families find ways to save money. Very early just King, a microphone and a lot of people who were on she was lucky enough to raise her profile through interested to hear all about his experience, some of whom regular appearances on the news and on talk shows – have since gone on to start businesses of their own. It both on TV and the radio and continues to do so today. is much in the same vein that King has spoken at so By carving out a niche as a family finance spokesperson, many events since: to network, share his story and help she was able to gain a lot of brand exposure. Having entrepreneurs – especially those just starting off – where seen how well this method helped raise the profile of he can. fellow money maestro Martin Lewis, founder of Money While King is select in the conferences he speaks at – Saving Expert, Johnson knew it could work really well for it’s more about quality than quantity – and he doesn’t MyFamilyClub as well. partake for any strategic reasons, over the years there “We wanted to reach a massive audience really have been benefits to his brand. While adding value to quickly and breakfast and daytime TV was a perfect an event, he also put a face and some humanity to King demographic for us because we could appeal directly to of Shaves. our target consumers: mums who are getting the kids So, if you’re thinking of going down the sell yourself ready for school or have just returned from doing so,” she route, it’s important to know your audience. A hard sell explains. “As soon as we were on we noticed the uptake in front of a live audience will only leave you looking and the spikes in traffic, email and social media.” like a cheap infomercial; it’s simply not the place for People are naturally curious and if you touch on it. However, if you strike a balance and find the right something that hits home with your audience – how audience for the right purpose, there’s no reason families can save money in winter, for example – they selling yourself shouldn’t be just as much a part of your will seek you out. Be warned though: you can’t just marketing strategy as updating your Facebook and go on TV and then drop the ball. “It’s much more of a Twitter feeds.
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e s i d n a h c r Me matters 50
Brand merchandise has the potential to turn your customers into brand fans but if you’re out for quick gain you’ll just put people off
WORDS: RYAN MCCHRYSTAL
ow do you go about merchandising a product like Marmite when half the population absolutely loathe it? If anyone was up to the task it was Alastair Whiteley, creative director of Hornall Anderson, branding consultancy. He is the man behind the phenomenally successful Marmite egg cups, toast racks, cycling tops and tea towels. He even won acclaim from the New York Times for his limited edition Marmite jar during the Queen’s jubilee. When everyone else was just slapping union jacks on everything, Whiteley simply changed the spelling on the jar to Ma’amite. “People aren’t opening those jars, it’s a collectors’ jar displayed proudly in their homes,” he explains. Likewise with merchandise, you can’t just logo slap – there needs to be a little more thought put into it. “It’s not an easy thing to do so it’s understandable that some people just put their
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logo on a golf ball or an oversized t-shirt; it’s alright but it’s first thought stuff,” says Whiteley. “If you can get a wry smile or a relevant connection with somebody, that’s the kind of relationship that just lasts.” Most brands are one dimensional and merchandising is a really nice way to create content around that. The key thing with Marmite, for example, is to find different ways to keep the people that love it engaged. “You also have to project yourself forward ten or twenty years because everything you do from day zero makes a difference,” explains Whiteley. So whether you’re a coffee shop in Shoreditch or a tech company in Hull, there are so many touch points where merchandising can leave a little impression. “It’s the attention to detail; whether it’s the spoon, the cup or the pot of sugar, you’ll end up with with brand fans that aren’t just customers or consumers,” says Whiteley. With merchandising, there is a real opportunity for people to start to love these things. “Marmite is now the consumers’ brand as much as it is Unilever’s.” But how does a company build that loyalty? Step one is understanding your customer, which takes more than just common sense. “You’ve really got to know your customers and that comes down to listening,” says Whiteley. As a designer, he has the unique skill of being able to see through other people’s eyes and see things the way they do. “We’re strange people watchers,” he laughs. For most people with a great business idea, this intuition doesn’t come naturally so they have to go that extra mile to observe what their customers buy, pay attention to how they behave and try to tease out some little personal traits. Once you know what your customers Alastair Whiteley, Hornall Anderson want, the process of merchandising becomes a whole lot easier. “Your customers may be the kind of people who like irreverent, charming wit or they could be people who like something a bit more discerning,” says Whiteley. “When you’ve worked that out you can then go about finding something that fits the brand.” Brands are like people in that they need to have a personality and that has to be reflected in merchandise, which means cheap frills will get you nowhere. Likewise, if people feel they’re being sold to you’re likely to fail, says Whiteley. “Consumers today are way more brand savvy and cynical than ever before; they want a brand they can believe in and trust and, if you can do something that’s a little more out there, you’ll be rewarded.” Luckily for SMEs and start-ups, being out there comes a lot easier than it does with larger companies. “The bigger players are already set in motion and are all about the quick return, whereas a new upstart can invest smaller amounts for bigger yields,” says Whiteley. The fact it, smaller companies have greater potential for creative ideas. “Now that Coca-Cola is in full control of Innocent, the merchandising has become much more homogenised, which is a real shame because Innocent used to have a real wit and charm; small companies shouldn’t forget this,” says Whiteley. “It’s about keeping relevance and that’s really tricky in a fast-paced marketplace.”
You’ve really got to know your customers
3 Merchandise matters.indd 2
One sip at a time Sandows London
Sandows is an independent cold brew coffee producer which serves its product on tap at its bar in London and provides it bottled to Selfridges, Whole Foods and other outlets. “With merchandising, we try to take a long-term view that isn’t about quick gain, but about building a brand with prestige and that takes time,” says Hugh Duffie, company co-director. Sandows has tried and tested a few merchandising options and has settled on a select set it know its customers will appreciate. “You really want people to go, ‘wow, that’s amazing’ and recognise that it’s really good quality; we’re not afraid to go for the premium end. Finding the right people to work with is essential and after shopping around Duffie settled on ICON Printing to help create Sandows’ range of merchandise. “ICON were one of the only places where you could get a direct quote online; I just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of waiting for an email back,” says Duffie. “They didn’t just take our money: they actually had input.” Sandows gives away some merchandise for free, but as for its stylish tote bags, for example, it charges. “We’d much rather for them to have paid for it and to be wearing it proudly. I think that’s so much more effective.” And as merchandising can be quite expensive, building a merchandise range up gradually is usually a good option for a smaller company.
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31/10/2014 15:54 19:26 22/04/2014
Assembling the right execs for your C-suite is easier said than done. If you want to make the right choice, there are some fundamental factors you need to consider
WORDS: JOSH RUSSELL
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iring right is important at any level of a start-up. But no hires are going to make quite so big a difference to your trajectory as the people you appoint to your C-suite. Done right, a new C-suite hire will give you a valuable new ally in your mission to create the next big thing. But appointing the wrong person at the wrong time can have a devastating effect on a start-up’s fortunes. One of the most important factors in assembling your C-suite is identifying the right time for a hire. Certainly there is a case to be made for getting key talent in place as soon as you are able. “C-suites are better put in place before the company is too far into its growth curve,” says Jean Martin, talent solutions architect at CEB, the global advisory firm. The reason for this is that certain individuals such as chief finance officer (CFO) or chief technology officer (CTO) will play a key part in establishing the processes that help a company grow, meaning the earlier they come on board the more they can help shape a start-up’s future. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the kind of talent you might attract in the early days isn’t necessarily the kind that will be able to grow with the business. “The kind of execs you really want straight from the start aren’t necessarily the ones you can afford,” says Guy Mucklow, CEO and co-founder of Postcode Anywhere, the provider of address management software and services. Committing too early means you might end up with someone in your C-suite who won’t be able to help you deliver your vision in the long-term.
Filling a post Postcode Anywhere
The kind of execs you really want straight from the start aren’t necessarily the ones you can afford Guy Mucklow, Postcode Anywhere
But finding the right exec at the right time is easier said than done; knowing precisely what to look for extends past merely identifying an area in which you have a leadership gap. “It’s important to choose the right C-suite executive for the stage of growth the company is in,” Martin says. “You will want to pick someone who has proven they can be successful at growing the company from where it is today to the next level.” Knowing what to look for is only half the battle; having an idea of where to look is just as important and many founders will be asking if they should promote talent from within or look outside to find the best the market has to offer. “In my experience, an incredibly high proportion of entrepreneurs will want to hire from within,” says Jane Gomez, MD of The Supper Club, the membership club exclusively for fast-growth founders and CEOs. “They always have a look inside and assess who they can lift.” Sometimes, however, there simply isn’t the right kind of talent available and startups also need to be willing to look outside to find individuals who will be able to take the business to the next level. However, no matter how much time you put
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into finding the right candidate, there are no guarantees that a new C-suite hire will work out. “The cost of a bad hire goes way deeper than just going, ‘well I’ve blown that agency fee’ or, ‘I’ve blown the cost of that job ad’,” says Gomez. Not only are there real practical costs to bad hires but they can negatively impact morale and present a wasted opportunity for growth based on what that exec could have achieved. “But with careful planning and foresight, you can mitigate most of that,” Gomez adds. Once of the most effective ways of minimising the damage caused by a bad hire is having a longer lead-in time for the role – ensuring that a new exec has time to properly align themselves to the start-up’s objectives. “Onboarding a new C-suite executive is essential and can take months off their timeto-full-productivity,” says Martin. Despite this, when push comes to shove businesses shouldn’t shy away from letting a C-suite exec go if they just aren’t working out. “Hire slow and fire quickly,” says Gomez. “If they haven’t shocked you and amazed you within two months then they probably never will.”
Postcode Anywhere wasn’t in a position to hire a full C-suite right from the get-go. “We’re not VC-funded and therefore we’ve had to cut our cloth to suit our circumstances,” says Guy Mucklow, the company’s CEO and co-founder. Whilst Mucklow had a strong CTO in the form of co-founder Jamie Turner, Postcode Anywhere’s organic growth has meant, up until recently, Mucklow has had to wear many hats in lieu of dedicated C-suite execs for each department. Postcode Anywhere has learnt the hard way that hiring for a C-suite role can be a tricky business; before Christmas, it hired a new chief marketing officer to its C-suite at a cost of around £20,000. However, it rapidly became clear he wasn’t going to work out. “The objectives that I’d set for him weren’t tough enough and I didn’t manage him to those objectives tightly enough,” says Mucklow. “I realised fairly quickly that he just wasn’t delivering.” After a period of about five months the start-up made the tough call of letting its CMO go. “We’ve recruited now at actually a lower level,” he says. “It’s probably one of the best things that we’ve done.” But it has had much better luck with other C-suite hires. “In the last six months, we’ve hired a new CFO who’s been through two buyouts, who’s got a lot of really relevant experience,” says Mucklow. The impact Postcode Anywhere’s new CFO has had on the business has been remarkable and emphasises just why it’s important to do the leg work in finding a new C-suite hire. “You just absolutely have to go out and get the best talent that there is,” says Mucklow. “There is no substitute for getting the best people.”
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Going the extra mile With the cost of childcare soaring, how can employers promote family-friendly policies to attract and retain the talent of working parents?
Jonathan Bond, Pinsent Masons
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WORDS: Jade saunders
Being family-friendly isn’t just a worthy approach – it makes good business sense
s Brits currently bear the brunt of the highest childcare costs in the UK and it is estimated that we spend more than 40% of the average wage on looking after our little ones. Even part-time nursery costs are stinging the pay packets of working parents who are having to fork out an average of £115.45 for under twos to spend 25 hours a week in nursery and £109.83 for children aged two and over. The crippling costs of childcare were at the forefront of political agendas during the general election. The Conservative party pledged to double the current allowance of 15 hours free childcare for three-and-four year olds, saving working parents £5000 a year. As the Tories begin to get the ball rolling in their childcare pledge, employers can show their support to working parents by implementing child-friendly policies. Doing so will not only create loyal and grateful staff but a family-friendly employer can be desirable to working parents and those wishing to have
children in the future. Many employers now offer enhanced maternity pay to retain the talent of working women and, as the shared parental leave legislation begins to take force, enhanced pay for parental leave can support both sexes in the workplace to create a more diverse working culture. Supporting working parents can benefit employers greatly because it helps retain talent and when an employer supports its workers, those employees are more than willing to go the extra mile in the future. Returning to work after having a child can be an emotional experience for parents but knowing that their offspring are in safe hands will ease minds and ensure focus is on their day-to-day work. More and more employers are taking care of this by providing workplace nurseries or partnering with a nursery to offer discounted childcare to working parents. Providing childcare vouchers can also greatly support parents by enabling them to sacrifice some of their salary to pay for childcare before tax and National Insurance is deducted. Employers also save on National Insurance contributions by offering workplace nurseries and childcare vouchers. “Being family-friendly isn’t just a worthy approach – it makes good business sense,” says Jonathan Bond, director of human resources at Pinsent Masons, the international law firm. Pinsent Masons actively gets to know the
families of employees by offering Bring Your Child to Work Days throughout the year. “Work can be a source of mystery as ‘that place’ that keeps parents away from home,” says Bond. “The events are offered to all staff; both parents and employees who’d also like to be involved by bringing in other young relatives.” Pinsent Masons works with Employees Matters to run workshops, seminars and webinars to help bridge any gaps between home and work lives. The events enable employees and their families to become involved in team exercises and also allow staff to form a close-knit connection. “We get excellent feedback from the parents involved, all with their own stories of what their children got from the day,” reveals Bond. As a Stonewall Diversity Champion, Pinsent Masons strives to support working parents with family friendly policies and incentives including family film nights across its UK offices and advice sessions on a diverse range of parenting topics. By offering support to staff, it has broken down barriers and created opportunities for parents to accomplish a better work-life balance “Working towards a family-friendly culture has brought significant benefits for the firm,” reveals Bond. “It supports our commitment to responsible business.” Stephen Stott, CEO of Stott and May, an exec search firm, credits the success of his company and loyal staff to the support he shows all of his employees. He is also an advocate of getting to know the families of staff. “I know their partners and the children all know each other,” he says. As a father of three young children himself, Stott has felt the struggle of being a working parent. When starting his own company, he wanted to enable his employees to have a better work-life balance and has invested heavily into the infrastructure to allow staff to work remotely and flexibly. “A lot of the people had been in the business for years, had families and had the ability to work from home if they wanted to,” explains Stott. He reveals that by allowing employees to work remotely when needed, productivity has increased by more than 30%. Many of the incentives in Stott’s company
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I know their partners and the children all know each other Stephen Stott, Stott and May
are centred on the families of staff including child minders at the Christmas party and weekend breaks for the family at Center Parcs. He holds quarterly events that are attended by every member of staff along with their families. Stott feels that, by creating this environment, his company is one big family. Showing an interest in an employee’s life outside of work can go a long way and Stott often extends this further by regularly sending staff with young children home, allowing them to spend quality time with their kids rather than just putting them to bed. Stott is happy to pay for a two-week holiday for employees who have been unable to go away for a few years. His staff are more than willing to spend a week or two working remotely in order to give their family a fortnight of R&R. This shows how personal touches from employers can create a positive working environment for all. Kindhearted employers that go the extra mile to support employees and their individual needs will find themselves with a close-knit unit of staff, and will build a good reputation with those seeking a long-term career with a desirable employer.
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Being disruptive may have gotten you in trouble at school but in the business world it’s actually quite rewarding, says Lyndsey Simpson
t is all too easy to be comfortable with your lot and stand still. But with this approach, you’ll be overtaken by competitors and suddenly your lot won’t seem quite so good. As the American musician and all-round maverick Frank Zappa once said: “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” Progress in business comes from constantly challenging the status quo. The most successful companies and entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to improve upon what’s already out there. If you are not already thinking disruptively, then perhaps you should start. The Curve Group has recently been listed as one of the top 50 most disruptive companies in the UK. Why? Because we are very different to your traditional HR outsourcing or recruitment businesses. We strive to shake things up for the benefit of customers. You’ll have your view on
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recruitment agencies and it’s probably not a particularly positive one. Before I joined the Curve Group, I thought the same and that’s why I so passionately believe in the importance of disruption. For a start, in stark comparison to the industry norm, we do not pay commission and we do not set individual financial activity targets for people to work towards; instead we work to a quest. The Curve way is to create extraordinary people solutions that leave you feeling curved. This creates a culture that we’ve all bought into and means that our offices have a different feel than what you might expect. We work as a team and a creative sharing culture exists where all of our employees are actively encouraged to share their innovative ideas and question the company’s processes and ways of working. We’ve made many friends and some enemies since entering the recruitment process outsource market in 2010. We felt it was unfair to be on the receiving end of monopolistic contracts that didn’t allow us to gain bank funding or have set payment terms from the outset. We didn’t include “pay when paid” or “non-assignment of debt” clauses in our contracts with second tier-partner agencies. This saw us take a big stand in the recruitment outsource industry. Why would we do this when it is in our benefit to keep such clauses in place? Because it’s the right thing to do. It allows smaller companies to supply to larger clients, gain funding and grow.
I have written before about the importance of creating a tribe-like atmosphere within your organisation and this is of utmost importance when striving to be different. If your employees don’t buy into the culture you are trying to create, then you really have no chance at all of being disruptive. I caught up with Ben Rigby, one of our Generation Y employees, to get his take on things. Rigby joined us two years ago on our graduate scheme as a researcher and he is now our marketing manager. I first of all asked him what being disruptive meant to him. “For me, being disruptive is challenging what already exists because you genuinely believe you can do better,” says Rigby. “In a business sense, those who are disruptive are innovative, they are ground-breaking and, perhaps most importantly, they challenge the status quo and move things forward. Growing up, the term disruptive came
the mould We strive to shake things up for the benefit of customers
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with negative connotations and was something you were always taught to avoid being in school.” This is an interesting point to consider and reinforces for me the importance of reiterating to your employees just how they can be disruptive in all the right ways in a working sense and really make a difference. Disruption is not to be avoided in the world of work; instead it should be encouraged. “The beauty of being involved in a disruptive organisation is that it means you don’t have to conform,” Rigby continues. “If you want to try something new or make something better, you just do it. If you believe in it then why not give it a go?” It makes sense when you think about it. I worked for many years in a major corporate, whereas Rigby hasn’t. I was interested to see how he feels about working in a disruptive business and the opportunities it presents. “Working in a disruptive business gives you a sense of personal empowerment; you feel like you can genuinely make a difference and that
opportunities will come to you if you’re willing to work for them.” Rigby is one of many examples of individuals who have grown quickly in our business and through taking risks and giving responsibility to individuals we’ve seen them flourish. For me, this is so pleasing and, as I’ve mentioned before, I find this one of the most rewarding things in business. I was delighted (and slightly relieved) that, when I asked Rigby if the Curve Group is disruptive, he agreed we were. “We’re innovative, passionate and proud of what we do,” he says. “I don’t want to be doing the same things as my peers; I want to be making my own path and a disruptive culture allow this.” By the very nature of disruption you can upset those who benefit from how things currently are and don’t understand why you would want something to change. It isn’t always easy bringing others round to your way of thinking but when you truly believe in what you are doing it really is worth it when you see the positive results. Don’t stand still; make a stand.
WORDS: JOSH RUSSELL
We all know that tech can be used both for good and for evil. Take Marauder’s Map, a new expansion for Google Chrome that allows users to track the movements of contacts that use the Facebook Messenger app. Whilst the cutesy, Harry-Potter-inspired name seems rather beguiling, this certainly makes a rather striking statement about the levels of data we unwittingly give away. Fortunately, we’ve managed to dig up plenty of tech with less sinister applications
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Huawei P8 Huawei has made a name for itself producing premium-feel phones for a mid-range price and with the P8 it has certainly upped its game. Whilst coming with a slightly higher price tag than the Ascend P7, its predecessor, its aluminium chassis gives it a satisfyingly premium feel – and it’s svelter than flagships like the iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S6 at just 6.4mm thick. On the downside, its 424ppi screen is slightly lower resolution, even than the P7, and its Voice Wake Up feature – a nice idea in principle – seems to be rather buggy in practice.
Jawbone UP4 For a while it seemed that Apple had the wearable payments markets all sown up but you no longer have to fork out upwards of £299 to be able to pay for your coffee with your wrist. Fitness tracker Jawbone UP4 will allow users to pay using built-in NFC (near field communication), whilst providing users the activity tracking, sleep monitoring, food logging and heart scanning that comes with the UP3. There is, however, one minor drawback: currently the UP4’s payment features work only with American Express, meaning that you’ll need a credit card to make use of it.
Tesla Powerwall When Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk teased the release of a new product line, speculation abounded, with the smartest bet being that they were taking their battery technology into the home and commercial energy markets. Tesla has since made it official: its latest product, the Powerwall, will harvest the solar energy a household has generated during the day for later use, stores energy during low-rate periods to avoid peak rates and acts as a battery back-up during power cuts. Whilst we’re fairly certain this is going to tick off the energy providers, it certainly seems like a good buy for a cash-strapped start-up.
There’s a time and a place for noise cancelling-headphones; that time and place isn’t when you’re cycling down busy city streets. Sometimes there’s a good case for headphones that actually allow you to hear what’s going on around you. Headbones use bone conduction technology to channel sound to the eardrums through the skull, leaving one’s ears uncovered and able to hear when a car is bearing down on you. Visually they perhaps leave something to be desired but we’re prepared to sacrifice our fashion cred for being able to listen to music without deafening ourselves to the outside world.
Nexpaq We’ve made no bones about our love of Project Ara, the modular phone from Google that allows users to swap out various hardware functions. But for those who are keen to hang on to their existing handset, Nexpaq might prove to be a better option. This modular smartphone case allows users to pick from the twelve modules that are currently available, including a battery module, an amplified speaker, an SD card reader and a breathalyser. Currently Nexpaq is only compatible with the iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and Samsung Galaxy S5 but it will soon be coming to a handset near you.
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e h t f o e s i R
There’s a lot of talk of robots taking our jobs but do workers really need to be worried?
WORDS: Ryan McChrystal
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apoleon Bonaparte famously called Britain “a nation of shopkeepers”. This was a rather astute analysis at the time and it would have held true until quite recently. Some 200 years on from this pithy observation, perhaps the French emperor would have been at a loss for words in the modern era of e-commerce and self-checkouts. In fact, there isn’t a sector in the UK that hasn’t been affected – and perhaps improved – by mechanisation. At the Hannover Messe robotics fair in Germany in April, the UK company Mobey Robotics launched the world’s first robot chef, capable of mimicking the kitchen skills of a human chef and recreating them with extraordinary consistency without breaks, holidays or incentives. There are now even algorithms allowing computers to carry out creative tasks such as writing basic music, creating art and, yes, even writing new articles. Is any profession safe? On the face of it, it might appear as if we’re all in trouble. Last September, researchers at Oxford University released a paper on the vulnerability of jobs in light of modern automation. Their report, The Future of
Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?, is a worrying read. They estimated that about 47% of total US employment is at risk from technologies now operational in laboratories and in the field. But let’s not take hammers to machines in defence of our jobs just yet. According to Jonathan Wilkins, marketing manager of European Automation, which supplies, repairs and services exchange parts for the manufacturing industry, there are several reasons why robots won’t overthrow humanity. “Robots are designed to make human life easier, not to make humans obsolete,” he says. “There will always be a need for humans to oversee machines; they need constant maintenance and repair and, in fact, they’re in more danger of becoming obsolete than humans.” Also, humans are sociable creatures and will always crave company, which robots can’t give us… yet. Even the word ‘robot’ comes from the Czech word robotnik; a term used to refer to slaves. So robots have only ever been made to serve us. The business case for machines has been proven time and time again. Robots mean increased efficiency and quality and a decrease
s e n i h c ma in error and waste. “Essentially this means cheaper products,” says Wilkins. “The benefits for workers are clear also: the less desirable, monotonous jobs would disappear, allowing us to focus on the jobs we really want and that really challenge us.” Increased robotics could even increase human happiness, he adds. French Caldwell, chief evangelist at MetricStream, a company that simplifies governance, risk and compliance for modern and digital enterprises via cloud apps, is another optimist when it comes to robots. “A lot of jobs seem under threat but more jobs will be created than there are jobs displaced, even if that’s difficult to see when you’re in the middle of a technological revolution,” he explains. “It’s tough on workers but the fact is we will need a lot more service technicians.” The fact is, artificial intelligence, robotics and other advanced technologies have a very dramatic and rapid impact on people who have put significant assets into their business, career or education and that causes that a huge public
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policy and political backlash, Caldwell explains. But it doesn’t mean there won’t be more jobs at the end. When we look back ten years from now, we will probably see there was tremendous displacement but at the same time we’ll notice there was a huge number of jobs that emerged as a result. So why is there such a backlash against the rise of the machines? A lot of it comes down to uncertainty but technology adoption is actually much faster now than it’s ever been. “There’s more hope than with earlier generations, which were much less well equipped,” says Caldwell. “The producers of these machines take a lot of the social software that we are familiar with on our smartphones or tablets and adopt it to newer technology so we’re already familiar with the interfaces.” Another factor is the speed of uptake, although this is hampered by the cost of machines, which is still high. While we might be a some way off robots being affordable to the average business – and there’s no shortage of examples where man power is actually cheaper than machine power – this will change over time as well. Shaun Simmons, managing director of Cordant Technical and Engineering, part of Cordant Recruitment, the second-largest privately owned recruitment company in the UK, has seen firsthand how machines have affected recruitment over the last twenty years, and it’s by no means a negative picture; he suspects it will remain that way. “We’ve not necessarily seen a dip in the requirements of people because the more French Caldwell, MetricStream robots there are, the more roles there are in terms of designing them and operating them,” he says. “It’s just a matter of there being new skill sets; while previously a man or woman would build a car with the aid of tools to put all the parts together, there’s now a robot that does it.” Humans are still required for conducting research and development, upgrading the robots and all the innovation behind it. “A robot cannot think of how to solve a problem, so it’s not necessarily that you see a reduction in the number of staff required, you just need different types of people.” So there you have it. Let’s drop this neoluddite fear-mongering and the calls to halt progress and learn to love our new robot overlords.
A lot of jobs seem under threat but more jobs will be created
Small is the new I big
It’s the smaller, more agile, innovators that can make a real difference to the world, argues Emma Sinclair, cofounder of EnterpriseJungle and UNICEF UK business mentor
n my capacity as co-founder of EnterpriseJungle and as a UNICEF UK business mentor, I spend my life immersed in entrepreneurship and, in particular, technology and innovation. Over the last few weeks, I have been exposed to more than my fair share of big, slow, expensive technology solutions as well as small, agile and cost-effective ones. Finally, the wind direction seems to be changing in favour of the latter. Historically, big companies tend to think that a big solution costing big bucks can make a big difference. I am sure the corridors of many businesses on both sides of the Atlantic and corporate HQs are littered with ill-fated projects that were doomed before they were ever deployed. Dan Ward, a thought leader on innovation who specialises in leading high-speed, low-cost technology development programs for the US Air Force, put it perfectly when he said, ‘speaking as a customer, I prefer to work with companies that deliver, preferably in my lifetime.’ His point is why spend millions on a complex, large solution that takes years to build and may never make the starting line, let alone achieve the desired outcome? Consider Lorenzo, the recently abandoned NHS patient record system that cost over £10bn. It was one of the worst and most expensive contracting fiascos in the history of the UK public sector. Or consider the US Air Force’s fighter jet, the F-22. The initial requirement was written in 1981 to develop an air superiority fighter to counter the Soviet air threat. It was declared operational in December of 2005, 24 years later and 14 years after the USSR collapsed. These were unfathomable disasters and proved that big is not always beautiful. My view is that the standout, transformational ideas come from an open-ended starting point. Even those big business solutions probably started from the all-important ‘identification of needs’. Perhaps they evolved a little slower – their pace dictated by scale of investment
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required – but it’s a straightforward premise nonetheless. As a result, we are now asking the same question in different ways. There’s a need to solve child poverty in the case of UNICEF or find out who knows what in a large company in the case of EnterpriseJungle. But how? In the forward to his new book The Simplicity Cycle, Ward hits the nail on the head: “Complexity is often necessary but unnecessary complexity complicates our lives. How we can strike the proper balance?” 74
EnterpriseJungle is an SAP partner. Software giant SAP’s size and our agility leveraging its HCP platform is a win-win for us, them and our respective customers. Think of it like this: we build the cars to get from A to Z – solutions for customers – whilst SAP builds the roads to travel on – the infrastructure and security that makes it possible. It’s a match made in heaven. Need to find an influencer within 100km who speaks French, has an MBA and knows the board of Disney? Use our Who Can Help Me? tool. Want to ask your colleagues for a recommendation for a company that worked on the Rio Olympics, has an office in South Korea and speaks English? Pose the question and get the answer in Enterprise Q&A. These are all living products that allow other people, the end users, to solve their own problems – rather than us or corporate HQ solving them. Topdown problem solving doesn’t always work. The week I met SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott also marked the launch of UNICEFs Innovation Fund in New York. I was amazed to learn that in Rwanda someone can tell you how many pregnant women there are at the touch of a button when no-one could tell you that in the Department of Health in the UK. I learnt how the creative use of the
Raspberry Pi, a tiny computer that costs about £30, is transforming education by teaching Syrian refugee children in an overcrowded Lebanese education system. James Cranel-Ward is a technologist in UNICEF’s innovation section where they use private sector knowledge to assist UNICEF with its projects. Ward had a couple of Raspberry Pis on his desk. One day his boss walked by and asked about them. James gave a demo and a plan was hatched to solve a big problem – and faster, better and cheaper. There’s a long list of very real and practical challenges that UNICEF’s mandate, scale, global presence, reach, inter-governmental position and amazingly talented teams on the ground can solve but partnering with innovators from outside its ecosystem fasttracks solving real problems at a low cost.
Maybe there is an opportunity for a new role within big corporate entities: chief question asker
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It’s not surprising that it can be easier to make change or move faster from the outside. Companies that have been around for a long time likely have a culture that has been around a long time too, and that might be a hindrance to what they are trying to achieve. Someone free of the baggage has a clear run at things without being slowed by unavoidable legacies. Given the speed of change and the shifting sands of the business landscape, large, slow projects risk being doomed from the outset. No longer must we have huge teams of people and huge infrastructure to drive change and efficacy. With the right attitude, needs-based, insight-driven tech from agile innovators can allow even the most institutional of organisations to flourish. In fact, maybe there is an opportunity for a new role within big corporate entities: not CEO but CQA. Chief question asker. Unencumbered by company culture, they are a challenger of the status quo, unaccepting of processes and procedures just because ‘that’s how we’ve always done it.’ It’s a role for the brave; a role for the future.
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Entrepreneurs often lose sight of some of the more important laws governing business ownership – and this can prove incredibly coslty
tarting a business is an exciting undertaking. There can’t be many things that get the juices flowing as much as the prospect of turning one’s big idea into a commercial success. However, many entrepreneurs can lose sight of the important stuff amid their impatience and eagerness to get their venture off the ground. And if there’s one thing that often gets business owners tied up in the knots more than anything else, it’s the law. Suffice to say, the buzz of building a business from scratch can be obliterated if you’re found not to be doing things by the books. Thankfully, we’ve enlisted the help of some tip-top legal minds to lay down the law on where entrepreneurs are most likely to trip up and how they can avoid some nasty headaches.
WORDS: ADAM PESCOD
The right terms
Essentially, business is a series of transactions between a company, its suppliers and its customers. If there isn’t a clear set of terms and conditions governing each and every one of these transactions, a business risks being undone by the law – or lack of it. “Terms and conditions are boring. People do not read them. However, they are important,” says Nigel Jones, founder and owner of NVJ Legal. “If you have simple, clear agreements with your suppliers and your clients, when problems arise, they are solved with the minimum of fuss and without having to get lawyers involved.” Making sure these terms and conditions are tailored to your company, as well as the country it operates in, is also essential. “Terms and conditions taken from a US company would not be governed by English law and therefore would not provide a company with adequate legal protection,” adds Jonathan Snade, corporate law partner at Thomas Eggar. “Further, an ‘off the shelf’ set of terms and conditions may not be suitable or tailored to your specific website, meaning users would not be told exactly what they can and cannot do, such as uploading inappropriate content.”
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LAYING DOWN THE LAW
Sharing the load
For businesses with more than one shareholder or multiple investors, laying down some ground rules at the start should help prevent any tricky situations occuring further down the line. “When entering into business with investors or shareholders, there should always be clear, written agreements set out that highlight each party’s rights and obligations,” says Stephen Attree, managing partner and head of corporate and business services of MLP Law. Of course, this isn’t a concern for sole traders but when going into business with a friend or other associate, it pays to put personal relationships aside and agree on some terms, just in case. “As soon as you have a business partner, of whatever kind, it’s important to document some rules governing that relationship,” says Jonathan Oxley, director at Lupton Fawcett Denison Till. “Key areas include what happens if one partner wants to leave. How much notice do they have to give? Can they set up in competition? Do they get paid for their share of the business and, if so, when? How is their share valued? The time to review these issues is at the start.” Hot property
An entrepreneur’s worst nightmare is seeing another company rip off their idea before going on to make millions. When this does happen, it usually stems from a business owner’s failure to protect their intellectual property (IP). “One of the biggest mistakes that I see entrepreneurs make is failing to protect their idea,” says Attree. “The best way to combat this and ensure that an idea is protected is by putting in place non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements between any third parties that may be involved, such as freelancers. It is best to use a standard agreement that gives you the rights to all of the key and valuable IP such as your website, process and source code.” A company’s name and trademarks are also tied up in its IP so it’s essential these are registered sooner rather than later. The first step is to check nobody else is using them already. “Registering a name with Companies
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Terms and conditions are boring. People do not read them. However, they are important Nigel Jones, NVJ Legal
House does not mean it doesn’t infringe a third party’s intellectual property rights,” says David Bloom, founder and director of SafeguardIP, the IP insurance broker. “A search of the trademark registry and a thorough search of the web is the minimum that needs to be done to ensure no other companies are using the name or anything similar.” Failing to do this can result in a company having to undergo an expensive rebrand, explains Bloom, but there can also be serious legal consequences. “While it can seem like clever marketing to try and play off an existing brand with your name, you can fall foul of intellectual property infringement and this can be costly,” warns Katherine Niccol, solicitor at Slater and Gordon. People issues
An employment tribunal is one thing an entrepreneur would rather avoid. Following proper HR procedures can go
a long way to evading a legal battle with a disgruntled employee – and drawing up a solid employment contract is a good place to start. “If you’re taking on employees, make sure you give each one a proper contract of employment,” says Steve Roberts, partner at Richard Nelson. “It protects both them and you, whatever may arise during your working relationship.” And with the government stepping up its efforts to punish companies paying below the minimum wage, entrepreneurs must be extra vigilant when taking on interns. “If the intention is for the interns not to acquire employment or worker status, it is important that their engagement reflects this in practice,” says Snade. “Accordingly, ensuring that they do not have fixed hours or significant roles in the business is key. Putting an intern agreement in place is also best practice to document the hopes and expectations in respect of the arrangement.”
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the START-UP DIARies
Sarah McVittie, co-founder, Dressipi
Being able to condense your proposition and USP into a short elevator pitch is a vital skill for any business wanting to net investors, prizes or new clients
’m writing this month’s column in a state of nervous excitement. I’m just about to go on stage and pitch Dressipi in front of an audience of industry bigwigs at Fashion Decoded, the fashion and technology event in London. It’s a big deal for us, not just because it’s a very prestigious event attended by lots of high-fashion retailers. In essence, I get just four minutes to sum up who we are, what we do and why Dressipi is the best partner for a leading fashion retailer to work with. When you’re starting out in business, a lot of people go on about the importance of getting your elevator pitch right. At first this can feel a bit reductive. You’ve created an innovative, industry-changing business that solves complex problems and you have just 30 seconds to sum it up? But if the success of your venture depends on getting the attention of time-poor fashion retailers, you’re going to need to learn how to be concise. And there’s nothing that teaches you how to do this like good, old-fashioned practice in front of an audience. At the moment, I’m doing an average of one public-speaking slot a month. These aren’t so much for the good of my health as part of our mission to get in front of as many new customers as possible in 2015. Each one is nerve-wracking but also an important learning experience, for a number of reasons. Firstly, having a fixed time limit, whether that’s four minutes or 40, teaches you to distil what you’re saying down to the essentials. That’s a great way of sharpening up your message. The act of saying something out loud is a brilliant test of whether you’re making a credible or salient point.
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Then, the act of presenting it in front of an audience means you get instant feedback. After the first couple of times, you soon learn to read the audience, gauging from their mood or even body language which of your points and messages hit the mark and which go wide. And of course if there are question and answer sessions afterwards these are excellent practice for how to think on your feet. Treat it like a job interview: beforehand think of likely questions and how you’d respond to them. Nailing a presentation in front of an audience is a matter of preparation triumphing over charisma. The most accomplished public
speakers may look like they’re making no effort at all but hours and hours have gone in to getting their speeches and presentations right. Steve Jobs famously spent days on end getting his keynote speeches right and he was the CEO of a company worth billions. Ultimately, the benefits of learning how to stand up and explain what you do in front of an audience don’t just stay on the speaking platform. These experiences teach you how to pitch for new customers more effectively, get a good sense of what your clients want and understand how important it is to feel the fear and do it anyway.
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