A RAMPANT SUCCESS
When she took the helm at Ann Summers, Jacqueline Gold was on a mission: to empower women in the bedroom. She transformed the company’s fortunes in the process: the high street powerhouse now has annual revenues of £145m £4.50
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“I had no intention of staying at Ann Summers” Jacqueline Gold
VOLUME 03 ISSUE 03 / 2014 09 10 12 13 14 82
Editor’s letter Contributors News & events Talking point Book reviews Start-up diaries
16 The Elite interview
How Jacqueline Gold triumphed in a man’s world
21 One to watch
JING is not your average cup of tea
25 Forging the future
Education and entrepreneurship – an essential relationship
32 Automatic transmission
A touch of tech can get funds moving throughout your supply chain
38 Knowing the score
60 Soldiering start-ups
40 A token gesture
64 Rules of engagement
43 The pin has dropped
67 Tech for start-ups
Boosting your company’s credit rating: the essential guide Growth Vouchers are lending support where it’s needed most The Pinterest movement is spiking the attention of UK business
48 Narrative marketing
Stories are an all-important part of a brand’s toolkit
53 Reputation SOS
A pre-prepared action plan can make all the difference in times of crisis
57 Out of office
Digital nomadism might just spell the end of the workplace as we know it
A life in the military is sound preparation for the world of business Giving talent a reason to stay is a nobrainer for your business The latest must-have gadgets, hardware and apps for forwardthinking small businesses
71 The future of work
High-profile author Scott Berkun tells us about his time at WordPress.com
74 Lighting the way
The internet of things and beacons. What do they mean for your business?
77 A break from the norm
Scottish independence – the legal implications uncovered
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EDITOR’S letter VOLUME 03 ISSUE 03 / 2014
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Entrepreneurs have become hot property in recent years. This is largely due to the proliferation of TV programmes such as The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den. But it’s not just their business credentials the tabloids are interested in. Nowadays, it’s not unusual to see contestants discussing their sex lives in the newspaper or canoodling with housemates in the Big Brother house. Of course, in the majority of these cases, the individuals in question actively court the media. They enjoy basking in the limelight. For others, their position means they have little choice but to tolerate its glare. Take Jacqueline Gold, chief executive of Ann Summers as an example. As she grew the business, she encountered resistance from the media but also some members of local government and the business community. In our interview with Gold, she makes the point that once you’re in the media spotlight, there’s no escape. But Gold is magnanimous when it comes to fame. She accepts it’s part and parcel of being at the helm of a high-street retailer. It comes with the territory, she says. Moreover, she’s making good use of the platform she’s been given, launching Twitter competitions to find the rising stars of UK enterprise and offering mentoring days at Ann Summers HQ. But while the Ann Summers CEO plays her part, it’ll take more than one inspiring entrepreneur to give UK enterprise a muchneeded boost. This month’s analysis discusses whether the education system could do with a radical overhaul in order to support and encourage budding entrepreneurs. We at EB think if a new breed of schools could produce even one Jacqueline Gold, Michael Acton Smith, Renaud Visage, or in fact any of the stars to grace our cover, then it’s a more than worthwhile exercise.
HANNAH PREVETT EDITOR
(H)Editor's Letter.indd 1
CONTRIBUTORS Sarah McVittie
We’re rather impressed that McVittie found time to write her piece on sales pipelines this month. To be honest, given fashion start-up Dressipi’s rapid growth, we are regularly left scratching our heads as to how she and co-founder Donna Kelly find time to breathe, let alone pen some top notch editorial. Little did we know that McVittie is also expecting her first child in early April. But whilst pregnancy has prevented her hitting the open road on her motorbike, business definitely isn’t taking a back seat.
The San Siro – home to football giants AC Milan and Inter Milan – was a must-see landmark for Jegede on a recent trip to Milan. This is despite the fact she knows as much about football as she does about milking a cow. Jegede far prefers getting to the crux of a story as she did this month when speaking to Alex Northcott, founder of PR and journo database Gorkana, about being an ex-military entrepreneur. Congratulations are also in order for our faux-football aficionado, who has now been made a permanent signing for Elite Business F.C.
We offer a warm welcome back to Lewis this month who had temporarily handed writing responsibilities to a couple of his ICAEW colleagues. One suspects his addiction to hit BBC Radio 4 show The Archers may have had something to do with it. So avid a listener is Lewis that he spent last year penning a weekly advice piece on what businesses can learn from the countryside drama series. And he still spends every day at the office jingling with anticipation for each new episode.
This month, Simpson, head honcho of HR services firm The Curve Group, reveals everything entrepreneurs need to know about employee engagement. But, like the rest of us, she needs a break from time to time. Here she is relaxing at Cappuccino, her favourite cafe in Valencia, where she has a second home. Simpson doesn’t switch off entirely though and admits to regularly checking emails. This is made easier “when sitting wearing sunglasses in 25 degrees,” she assures us.
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NEWS & EVENTS
Concerns mounted about digital literacy after new research by Tinder Foundation and Go ON found that around 11 million people in Blighty cannot carry out basic actions on the internet such as sending an email, using a search engine, browsing and completing online forms. Both organisations urge the government, private and voluntary sectors to work together in order to create a 100% digitally skilled nation by 2020.
A new branding opportunity has arisen for London-based businesses with the arrival of the .london domain name. A YouGov survey of small businesses in London, conducted on behalf of promotional organisation London & Partners, found that 26% of respondents (equivalent to 218,140 companies) were likely to register for a .london web address with 41% believing that the web address will help customers find them more easily and another 27% hoping to generate more sales. The vitals are pretty good so far: leading brands such as ABP, Museum of London and Society of London Theatre have already given the domain their backing. Could London’s dominance as the second silicon city be under threat? A report from the
WORDS: DARA JEGEDE
Colliers International Media & Technology iQ shows Berlin and Dublin are
hot on the heels of London for the title of Europe’s ‘Silicon Valley’. As the economy rebounds, Dublin looks set to consolidate its climatic position through exposure to large tech players and the data centre industry. But with five new start-ups created every day, Berlin is the bigger threat to London. Craig Satchwell, head of EMEA at Colliers
International said: “London is still going strong and ‘Tech City’ continues to establish its dominance. However, if London is going to remain at the top, landlords and developers need to urgently address the shortage of central, quality stock and increase provision of flexible and innovative space.” Contrary to common perceptions, Europeans spend more time using apps than Americans – meaning that the European user base represents a huge opportunity for companies with a mobile presence. Localytics, an analytics and marketing platform for mobile and web apps, found Europeans spend 130% more time on gaming apps than Americans and an incredible 359% more time on sports apps. They also found that Europeans launched their apps more than their US counterparts in 2013 while the average daily time spent on apps was 18% higher for European users than their peers across the pond.
reduction programme in order to set the balance aright. The news came a month ahead of the Budget, which will be delivered by Osborne on March 19 and follows a period of positive economic news including increased growth forecasts and several UK companies reporting a rise in profits. Helping business and home-owners move on from the damp start to 2014 are the support schemes launched in February by the Prime Minister. Initiatives such as the £10m Business Support Scheme and Business Support Helpline are part of a comprehensive package to help homeowners and businesses in flood-affected areas get back on their feet and make their properties more resilient to flooding in the future. There’s more positive economic news as the number of unemployed people in the UK fell by 125,000 to 2.34 million in the three months to December 2013, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The figures also showed that there are more women in work than ever before as the female employment rate rose to 67.2% with around 14 million women in work.
According to chancellor George Osborne, the UK economy is “not yet secure”. In his speech to business leaders in China, Osborne stressed that exports must increase and the government needs to continue with its debt
Research conducted by Fruyo, the yoghurt manufacturers, claims we can blame our failed new year’s resolution diets on nine-to-five schedules. The study revealed that over a quarter of diets fail because of unhealthy snacking in the workplace. Two-fifths of us snack out of boredom with choice snacks including cookies, chocolate and crisps. At the top of the unhealthy table are marketing professionals with over half (58%) admitting to having one of the four Cs (chocolate, cake, crisps and cookies) every day. Crikey.
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The Nottingham Belfry Hotel Mellors Way, Nottingham NG8 6PY
Business Scene South Coast Connections March 11 The Cumberland Hotel Bournemouth East Overcliff Drive BH1 3AG
ICAEW Breakfast with the Bank of England March 13
Hotel du Vin Birmingham Church Street, Birmingham B3 2NR
Smith & Williamson Budget 2014: Live viewing and lunch March 19 9 Colmore Row Birmingham, B3 2BJ
The Supper Club Linkedin Master Class March 20
The Office Group, 3 Lloyds Avenue, London EC3N 3DS
Portsmouth Business Expo March 20 Portsmouth Guildhall Guildhall Square Portsmouth PO1 2AB
Internet Retailing Expo March 26 – 27 NEC, Birmingham West Midlands, B40 1NT
Business Junction London Business Directory Launch Evening April 2 Mall Galleries, The Mall London, SW1Y 5BD
A full event listing is available on our website: elitebusinessmagazine.co.uk/events
Could the next WhatsApp be built in the UK?
WORDS: ADAM PESCOD
remors are still being felt in the tech world following Facebook’s $19bn acquisition of mobile messaging service WhatsApp. It was the social media giant’s biggest purchase to-date – and by some distance; photo-sharing platform Instagram was snapped up for a comparably paltry $1bn in 2012. Understandably, entrepreneurs and investors have spent the last few weeks trying to make sense of the deal, not least because Facebook suggested it wouldn’t look to introduce advertising to the messaging app. With a WhatsApp subscription free for the first year and less than $1 per annum thereafter, the scepticism appeared well-founded. Yet, whilst many queried how Facebook could hope to see a return on its investment, others claimed it was just marking its territory. Nevertheless, the news has left us folks at Elite Business wondering if the UK will ever have what it takes to spawn a WhatsApp. Although Google may have flexed its financial muscle in the British tech start-up scene recently, it has done so at nowhere near the same level as Zuckerberg and Co. Of course, it would be brave indeed for a fledgling tech start-up to turn down a cool £300m from one of these tech mammoths. But is it beyond the realms of possibility that we could ever see a firm on these shores bought for billions, rather than millions?
(H)Talking point.indd 1
Not this year but maybe in five years’ time There is absolutely no reason why the next WhatsApp shouldn’t be built in the UK. This year alone, the acquisitions of DeepMind and Russ Shaw Natural Motion saw $1bn invested in UK tech founder of Tech start-ups and that is a fraction of the value of London Advocates London’s technology sector. Direct comparisons between the UK and Silicon Valley are not always helpful. This is not an excuse, just a fact. Silicon Valley has been creating technology companies for 75 years and they are very, very good at attracting investment. In the UK, our potential for future investment is just as large, but we are much younger so it will take time. There are technology companies in London right now which could go on to be incredible success stories. But we have some significant obstacles to overcome before the landscape becomes suitable for the sort of rapid growth and innovation that leads to billion pound acquisitions. Getting the right people in the country is crucial. Jan Koum was able to 13 take his skills to the US and we need to ensure the free movement of talent. Education is also crucial – we have to teach people the basic technology skills required to turn ideas into profitable businesses. $19bn will not be invested in a UK tech company this year. But in five years’ time, when our tech sector has gained momentum and confidence, we should all anticipate the moment when Britain creates tech companies that can attract the highest investments.
Honestly speaking, I don’t think it ever will Arguably anyone with a unique concept, brilliantly executed, with a strong unrelenting proposition and determined founders could succeed. But honestly speaking, I don’t think we ever will. James Olden The issue is the lack of support for UK founder of TopTradr start-up culture; investors simply don’t get it. They are still trying to apply bank manager multiples and scream ‘bubble’ because their brains can’t cope with the maths. They would rather buy a commercial building and sell it to a pension firm than invest in a promising start-up. By the time you’ve managed to scrape together some seed capital (you’re unlikely to get help from a bank) and get in front of a VC – at which point you will likely be bleeding from server costs and desperate for money – you will find the door closed, unless you have significant traction and proven concept. Alternatively, if it’s going really well, some big American company will swallow it up like a gas giant, close it down or subsume it into their product mix. The idea a UK start-up will have the guts to hold out when offered anything less than tens of billions is therefore pretty unlikely. Me? I’ll take a few hundred million and a move to San Francisco, thanks. If you ask most founders after two months of solid rain, I think they’d join me.
Stickier marketing – how to win customers in a digital age Grant Leboff
here can be no arguing that the digital revolution hasn’t irrevocably altered the function of marketing in our society. Trying to win the attention of information-saturated consumers has become a colossal battle for traditional marketers, with some struggling to understand how the rules of the game have changed. Fortunately Stickier Marketing – the second edition of Grant Leboff ’s Sticky Marketing – is here to lay down the law. Covering key shifts in marketing trends, such as the movements toward engagement, sharing and content-based strategies, this text explains how to navigate a new marketing reality where the consumer is the one firmly in control. But it is in setting the scene that has led to our modern marketing picture where Leboff really shines: his explanation of the changing picture – as we moved from one-to-many communication methods toward many-to-many – perfectly encompasses the bewilderment many felt, as techniques they assumed were a given became increasingly redundant. All told, Stickier Marketing is a fantastic primer for those wanting to understand digital marketing. The one slight criticism that could be levied at it is that for those already reasonably familiar with newer forms of engagementbased marketing, it’s unlikely to be doing much more than preaching to the converted. But for those who don’t fall under this banner, it should be considered nothing less than gospel. JR
Influence – what it really means and how to make it work for you Jenny Nabben
n this refreshing and perceptive guide to interpersonal relations Nabben breaks down the concept of influence, illuminating its neuroscientific and emotional intelligence core and making it an accessible subject. The author successfully delivers a complex subject matter by taking the reader through the layered and intricately fabricated concept of influence, in an easy, functional and comfortable manner. Weaving together technical aspects involving brain function and real world examples, well constructed and thoughtful ideas are enriched with modern research and day-to-day scenarios. There are practical exercises and tips for both the corporate exec looking to present ideas to a board and the manager seeking to appease employees. Nabben also caters to people looking to top up on their skills of persuasion or those who just fancy learning a bit more about the systems of interpersonal relationships. There may be a temptation to confine this to the self-help section of Waterstones, but in reality what Nabben delivers in this book is a coherent and insightful discourse that aids self introspection, scrutiny and development. DJ
Publisher: Kogan Page Out: March 2014 RRP: £19.99
Publisher: Pearson Out: Now Price: £12.99
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the elite INTERVIEW
Against all odds 16
(H)Elite Interview.indd 1
WORDS: HANNAH PREVETT PHOTOGRAPHY: EMILIE SANDY
Ann Summers' CEO Jacqueline Gold overcame the fiercest of critics in her drive to empower women in the bedroom
t the age of 21, Jacqueline Gold attended a tupperware-style clothes party in an east London council flat. As she sat in the smoke-filled room drawing her husband’s meat and two veg on a piece of paper on top of her head, Gold and her fellow attendees were hit by a bolt of inspiration. “They said to me, ‘why don’t you do Ann Summers parties?’” recalls Gold. At that time, Gold was doing work experience at her father’s company after having tried a plethora of other careers. From designing crosswords for 50p a time at the age of 13, she then tried her hand at hairdressing, bartending, waitressing and finally working in Royal Doulton’s china department. When the latter didn’t work out, she asked if she could do work experience at her father’s company, Ann Summers, a sex toy and lingerie brand with four stores and a small mail-order business. “I had no intention of staying at the company,” says Gold. “It was a really male-dominated company then; the workforce was essentially men, the board was men, the customers were men. It was just a stop-gap.” But once she had the lightbulb moment at the clothes party, she realised she would be sticking around a little longer than she'd originally intended. “The women at the party said ‘we would like to be able to buy sexy underwear’ and they wanted to spice up their sex lives, but needed to be on their terms. They didn’t want to have to go into a sex shop, which was the only place you could buy sexy underwear. On the high street it was all sensible knickers,” she laughs. Gold had a mission: she wanted to empower women in the bedroom. She may have been the boss’s daughter, but there wasn’t so much as a sniff of nepotism. Gold, who was earning £45 a week, was told she’d have to present her idea to the all-male board. “I remember being really nervous and walking up this long corridor towards the
boardroom,” says Gold. “One member turned to me and said, ‘this isn’t going to work, women aren’t even interested in sex,’” she recalls. “I remember thinking ‘that says more about your sex life than it does about my idea’. It was comments like that that just made me more determined because I knew it would definitely be successful – I knew I was on to something.” The board thought she was too, despite a few initial misgivings. They agreed to invest £40,000 to get the idea off the ground, and Gold got to work recruiting party organisers. “I started off advertising in the London Evening Standard once a week. I’d drive to the Strand Palace Hotel in London in my mustard-coloured Mini and walk into a room full of people. I’d tell them about my idea, show them the kit, and then some people would leave the room, some people I’d have to ask to leave the room, and then I’d talk to those who were left,” says Gold. In less than a year, Ann Summers had 500 party planners up and down the country. “It grew so fast I had to stop advertising because we couldn’t keep pace with the teething problems. Then party planning pretty much took over the business.” Indeed, the four existing Ann Summers shops were closed down, as was the mail order side of the business. The thriving party-planning division took centre stage until 1993 when the first new-look store was opened in Queensway, London. Gold says that while women embraced the reincarnation of Ann Summers, men were threatened by it. “Because they couldn’t go to the parties, the old-school men didn’t understand what it was about, and they remembered Ann Summers in the seventies, before my time, and remembered what it was like then. It was incredibly difficult trying to change some of their preconceived ideas.” Gold says she was so focused on the task at hand that she “didn’t take it personally” when she faced criticism. Yet certain adversaries shouted so loudly it was impossible to ignore them. In 1999, there was fierce opposition to a
“I understand once you’re in the media, it’s permanent, and I accept that. But others assume you're fair game"
(H)Elite Interview.indd 2
THE ELITE INTERVIEW
proposed Ann Summers store in Dublin. “I had the Dublin Corporation on my back,” explains Gold. (Dublin City Council was known as the Dublin Corporation until 2002.) “In the end I invited them here because I wanted to demonstrate to them that we are a normal business and there aren’t women in PVC thigh-high boots walking around.” Despite her best attempts, she wasn’t able to win them over. “At the end of the meeting they said: ‘look, we can’t be held responsible for you if you go ahead.’” Weeks later she was sent a bullet through the post. “I’m not saying for one minute that the bullet was anything to do with them, but they were right to warn me." Ann Summers had its fair share of critics in the Irish media too: coverage of the company was scathing. When she was offered the opportunity to go on Ireland’s enduringly popular Late Late Show she jumped at the chance to dispel many of the myths about her company. But when a member of the Dublin Corporation stood up in the audience to “beat his chest” and criticise the risque retailer, Gold didn’t need to defend herself. “Women started standing up in the audience saying, ‘how dare you tell us where we can and can’t shop?’ There was loads of fantastic press the next day, all of the papers changed their opinion.” It was hardly smooth sailing for the Dublin store, with a writ being served on the first day of trading – yet on the same day there were 10,000
“Parties are popular, but you’ve got the internet now, and we’ve got girls doing virtual parties. You’ve got to move with the times” people through the door. Ann Summers subsequently won its court battle to remain open in its current location and the Dublin branch is now a top-three performing store at the company. It’s also on the tourist bus route, a fact that clearly tickles Gold. Whilst Gold’s relationship with the press has been largely supportive since her run-in with the Irish media at the end of the nineties, the constant interest in her life can be exhausting – particularly during times of personal turmoil. “You’re suddenly fair game,” she says. In 2009, Gold and husband Dan Cunningham were delighted when they discovered she was pregnant with twins. Then, 12 weeks into the pregnancy, the couple were struck the devastating blow that one baby wouldn’t survive the birth. “My husband really struggled to console me, it was just horrendous, and it was actually him that said to me, ‘Jac, I think you need to get back to work, you need normality back in your life.’” Gold returned to Ann Summers HQ until her maternity leave. “I needed to be strong for my healthy baby. So I grieved for my little boy, although I didn’t know he was a little boy then. Then three weeks before the birth I was told he was going to be born alive, so that came as a massive shock to me because I’d conditioned myself that that wasn’t going to happen,” says Gold. Alfie tragically died at eight months old.
THE ELITE INTERVIEW
“As soon as I walk in the door I put my mummy hat on” It’s impossible not to admire Gold’s strength and dignity, especially when she was confronted with abhorrent treatment at the hospital. “One of the nurses wrote about my son on Wikipedia,” she explains. “I didn’t know who it was, so I got a court order to track it down and found it was a nurse at the hospital. It’s disgusting. That was very painful. It wasn’t so much the media I found difficult as much as when people take advantage of the situation.” Sadly, it wasn’t only during her son’s illness that Gold found her position as a successful businesswoman exploited. In December 2010, her nanny was charged with trying to poison her. “I understand once you’re in the media, it’s permanent, and I accept that. ut others assume you’re fair game.” Yet, despite having faced the unimaginable, Gold refuses to let her past dictate her future. “Those were certainly difficult challenges, but I’m not a victim. I refuse to be considered a victim,” she says, stoically. “I just deal with it and move on. I’m not somebody that wants to allow that to shape who I am for the future.” It goes without saying that Gold has a very special relationship with her daughter, Scarlett, who turns four in May. Whereas the entrepreneur admits to once working weekends, Saturday and Sunday are now “100% Scarlett time,” smiles Gold. “As soon as I walk in the door I put my mummy hat on and we just do nice stuff together.” And when she’s at the office, Gold’s firmly got her CEO hat on. Under her stewardship, Ann Summers has gone from strength to strength, and now turns over £145m a year – annual revenues were just £83,000 when she joined in 1981. Thanks to its multi-channel strategy (Ann Summers sells via its high street stores, parties and online), the retailer has emerged from the economic downturn relatively unscathed – at a time many of its contemporaries hit the runners. That’s not to say
there weren’t a couple of store closures – the portfolio was 150 at its peak, it’s now 144 – and Gold hints a few more may be on the cards. “Retailers generally are downsizing their portfolios and we may lose one or two more when the leases come up for review,” she says, quickly adding “that is normal – retailers are downsizing their portfolios.” The parties continue, but they are changing with the times too. “Parties are popular, but you’ve got the internet now, and we’ve got girls doing virtual parties. You’ve got to move with the times.” Indeed, keeping up to speed with what customers want is the biggest challenge for a retailer like Ann Summers, and being first off the blocks to capitalise on any market trend is a must in order to gain competitive advantage. When 50 Shades of Grey, the populist erotic fiction, was released in the summer of 2011, Gold and her team had to move quickly. “We totally sold out of handcuffs, jiggle balls and blindfolds,” says Gold. “I’m sure there will be another surge when the film comes out in 2015.” Whilst the success of the book blindsided retailers, publishers and journalists alike, the Ann Summers CEO says entrepreneurs need to remain agile and fleet of foot if they are to take advantage of unexpected market trends. “You’ve got to have a crystal ball,” she says. “And then you need to make sure that you maximise every opportunity as much as you possibly can – because if you don’t, you can be sure somebody else will.” The fact that Ann Summers first got wind of 50 Shades via Twitter comes as no surprise: the company leverages the social network better than some of the biggest of companies. And unlike many CEOs, Gold is a prolific and popular tweeter. “I started using Twitter a few years ago, terrified of doing my first tweet. I was a bit of a voyeur to begin with,” she admits. When she realised she had lots of followers who were fellow female business owners, she set up a weekly competition to find the best women-run businesses in Blighty. At first, entries trickled through, but now each week hundreds of women clamour to be recognised by Gold with winners adding the eye-catching #WOWwinner hashtag to their Twitter profiles. For anyone who has met the amiable yet stoic business woman, it’s not hard to see why she has been elevated to a God-like status in the start-up and entrepreneurial community. Surely few can resist her warmth and openness, nor her grit and determination to succeed in the face of unbelievable adversity. Yet she is modest and graceful in the face of praise. “You don’t wake up one day and say ‘I’m going to be an inspiration for women’ or ‘I’m going to be a role model for women’. They select you.” There can’t be a much better validation of success than that. Jacqueline Gold will be speaking at the Elite Business National Conference and Exhibition on Friday April 11.
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ONE TO WATCH
Steeped in culture The heritage and spirit of tea is something of which many PG Tips-swilling punters may be unaware. New kid on the block JING is helping people connect to the humble tea leaf’s history like never before
WORDS: JOSH RUSSELL
(H)One to watch -JING.indd 1
irst consumed in China at least 3,000 years ago, tea has had an incredibly rich heritage, acting as the focus for ceremony, ritual tribute and the interdependence of microcosmic and macrocosmic phenomena of the universe. By contrast, Britain’s typical approach to hot beverages is distinctly unceremonious, with Rich Tea biscuits considered more integral than ritual. Therefore, one might wonder what led Edward Eisler, founder of JING, importers of high quality teas and ancient tea culture, to look beyond the basic cup of builder’s to its roots. “Tea has been an incredible focus for me because it transcends culture,” he says. After water, it is the second most commonly consumed beverage on Earth, meaning there is something universal about the popular brew. Eisler adds: “The joy of tea has manifested in varied styles in so many different cultures and countries around the world.” His first taste of the ancient traditions that have been an intimate part of the plant’s history actually came at the tender age of 15. “I was in Prague and I went to a wonderful tea house that really gave that experience of traditional tea culture,” he explains. “It was the seeding moment.” Only a couple of years later Eisler took the first of many trips he would make to China. “What I loved about it was the tea culture,” he says. And over the course of the following years, he spent a great deal of time of imbibing
ONE TO WATCH
the country’s traditions. Training under one of the world’s great masters, Eisler eventually became an instructor of the martial art Wing Chun. He also obtained a degree in Chinese medicine, something he feels was invaluable for gauging the tenor of its culture “Chinese medicine gave me a really deep understanding of Chinese thinking,” he explains. “When you can talk to someone on that level and there’s that resonance in the relationship, it really helps understand the deeper levels and inner values that actually had attracted me in the first place.” But, of course, the nucleus of his time in east Asia was focused on its beverages, specifically the traditions sparked by Gongfu tea ceremonies. Gongfu – the root of the less accurately anglicised ‘kung fu’ – is something Eisler would equate to meaning ‘accomplishment through practice and understanding through effort’. He explains: “Gongfu is the work to actually bring an amazing tea experience to yourself and whoever you want to share it with.” Clearly then, any entrepreneur wanting to
(H)One to watch -JING.indd 2
“Our lives are so filled with stuff. We don’t get a moment, a gap”
truly understand tea and the traditions behind it would need to put in some real work, rather than simply relying on some rudimentary research. Fortunately, Eisler wasn’t scared of doing the legwork. “I became a master tea taster,” Eisler says. “I learned about how to make tea, to prepare it very well. I learnt how to design and produce tea-ware that lends itself to really enjoyable use, beauty and fantastic tasting tea.” This pursuit of artistry is something he felt has always been lacking in the British approach to tea, in part influenced by the way we have always seen it more as a commodity than an experience. But this is something that is changing significantly, driven by a reaction to the cluttered lives we now lead. “Our lives are so filled with stuff,” Eisler comments. “We don’t get a moment, a gap. People are crying out for experience.” It’s a contradiction of our modern age that we both constantly crave stimulation and yet feel the need for respite. “Tea is fulfilling that need because of what it has always meant to people,” Eisler says. The beverage is very appropriate for dealing with the fatigue. Chemically it both stimulates and relaxes. “But it’s actually the experience and the process of making it, that ritual, however simple it may be, that actually helps us to focus our minds.” And, in the Gongfu tradition, experience is key to the fundamental essence of tea, something that had a huge influence on the creation of JING. “Jīng means ‘essence’,” he says. “What I wanted to do was go back to the inner values of ancient tea, the jīng of it.” Exporting an entire tradition may have been a rather tall order for someone with less of a handle on the intricacies of the product. “In China, there are at least 10,000 teas and, in certain provinces, you’ve got more than 100 really distinct tastes,” Eisler explains. Variations in how long the tea is withered, the degree of oxidisation it goes through and the stage at which it is fired mean that understanding the nature of the tea you are buying can sometimes be hard to gauge. Eisler
continues: “But when you know about this stuff and you know what you want, you can work with a producer to great effect.” However, in attempting to introduce a more rarified tea drinking culture to a country that has long focused on expedience over experience, JING required some friends in high places. “We needed people that would really value what we were offering, the quality and the meaning of the experience,” Eisler says. Enter Heston Blumenthal. “He asked me to come and create a tea experience for the Fat Duck, which had just won best restaurant in the world a few months before,” Eisler recalls. Creating a tea ceremony in partnership with a high profile eatery known for offering experiences outside the norm meant it wasn’t long before other Michelin-starred restaurants began to follow suit. “Now we work with up to 50 of the top food and beverage leaders in the world.” There was also another sector in which JING would find an audience eager to encounter new things. “We knew top hotels would really care about the experience,” says Eisler. Providing their guests with a much more meditative connection to a familiar relaxing drink fitted effectively with the services these outlets were providing. “It brought it to the individual who was travelling hard but wanted to feel well and have an experience.” Despite this, JING isn’t only an out of home brand. The best way for it to form a direct and long-term relationship with consumers was by bringing its teas and tea-ware right to them. “Tea is such a great online product,” Eisler says. “It’s light, it’s easy to transport, it doesn’t need to be chilled.” This has helped JING bring
“What I wanted to do was go back to the inner values of ancient tea, the jing of it”
the essence of ancient tea traditions to an international audience. But given JING’s global presence, how has its approach been received in the countries where these traditions first began? According to Eisler, very positively. The example he gives is Japan, where it would be very difficult to launch a high-end product without a sincere commitment to quality. “They really appreciate the inner value of things,” he says. This meant as a country it had a very high barrier to entry, particularly given it was an approach to the product with which it was intimately familiar. “But the quality of our tea has been extraordinarily well-received,” he explains. “The feedback we’ve had there has been wonderfully encouraging.”
Yet an overwhelmingly warm reception does not mean JING can afford to rest on its laurels. “The really mass market high-volume tea is really prevalent and growing in emerging markets,” Eisler says. “In a sense, we’re the counter-culture.” Despite this, he hints that there are some significant things in the offing for JING that should prove exciting for those interested in the deeper values of the humble herb. In the meantime, the focus is on spreading the spark that first attracted Eisler to the traditional approach to tea. He concludes: “The vision for us is bringing the Gongfu tea tradition – and all that it promises in terms of taste, quality and experience – to the world.”
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Company CV Name: JING Founded by: Edward Eisler Founded in: 2004 Team: 20
With entrepreneurialism flourishing in the UK, the time has come for education to catch up
Priming the pipeline
ntrepreneurs are the future of the UK economy, haven’t you heard? In his closing speech at the Conservative party conference back in October, David Cameron couldn’t have been much clearer. “To all those people who strike out on their own, who sit there night after night, checking and double checking whether the numbers stack up, I say I have so much respect for you – you are national heroes,” proclaimed the Prime Minister. “Profit, wealth creation, tax cuts, enterprise, these are not dirty, elitist words – they’re not the problem, they really are the solution, because it’s not government that creates jobs, it’s businesses.” Call it the recession if you like, but it is hard not to think there’s something more to the record number of new businesses that sprung to life in 2013. The appeal of entrepreneurialism has gripped Blighty like never before and we must capitalise on this start-up fever.
WORDS: ADAM PESCOD
(H)Priming the pipeline.indd 1
When talk turns to securing a country’s economic future, the spotlight often falls on the business leaders of tomorrow. Are there enough young people with the potential to lift the UK to new heights? With close to a million 16-24-yearolds unemployed, the figures don’t paint the prettiest of pictures. Whilst fingers have been pointed at employers, they have argued that our Anne Marie Morris, MP youngsters aren’t leaving school, college and university with the necessary skills to cut it in the world of business, let alone start and run their own enterprise. This skills gap has not gone unnoticed by the government – but action to revamp the UK’s education system accordingly has been conspicuous by its absence. Until now, that is. A recent report from the All-Party
“Enterprise education is crucially important if the growth agenda is to succeed”
A great leap forward Gazelle Colleges
For Fintan Donohue, chief executive of the Gazelle Colleges Group, embracing entrepreneurship at all levels of education is critical if the UK is to continue to compete on the global stage. “Entrepreneurship is undoubtedly something that needs to be practiced and experienced in order to be learnt,” he says. “We have got to create a curriculum and opportunity that allows many more students and staff to work with entrepreneurs, but more importantly create the circumstances in colleges and in schools that allow young people and adults to do what entrepreneurs do, which is to test out ideas, implement them, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and to try to do it in a safe learning environment.” It is this line of thinking that inspired
(H)Priming the pipeline.indd 2
Donohue in January 2012 to team up with the principals of four other further education (FE) colleges and create Gazelle, which offers an alternative to mainstream college education. “We decided to pool some of our resources and start to look at how, by engaging with entrepreneurs and by building new types of colleges that put commercial learning and experience much more at the
Parliamentary Group for Micro Businesses – An education system fit for an entrepreneur – puts forward some positive recommendations. Among these is a call to make enterprise education a mandatory part of the curriculum for 4- to 18-year-olds and the provision of an introductory module on entrepreneurship for university students of all disciplines. An endorsement of the report by Matthew Hancock, minister of state for skills and enterprise, is the first step. One hopes that he has gone away with the words of the group’s chair Anne Marie Morris MP ringing in his ears. “Enterprise education is crucially important if the growth agenda is to succeed,” she commented at the report’s release. “We need to create enquiring minds open to new ideas and able to spot opportunities. We also need to ensure education in entrepreneurship is available to all, not just those that make it to business school.” Unsurprisingly, Morris has made many allies in the entrepreneurial community. There is an overriding sense that, if the UK is to become the enterprising nation it has set its stall on becoming, the education system is in need of a rethink. “Too many young people are worryingly ill-equipped with the skills they need,” says Oli Barrett, director of Cospa, the social action agency, co-founder and director of StartUp Britain and co-founder of the Tenner scheme, the enterprise challenge for secondary school students. “What we need to develop in them is an ability to go out there and deal with people they have never met before to really make things happen.”
core of the student experience, we could perhaps provide something better for some of our students.” Gazelle now has 22 colleges under its belt, all backed by a select group of entrepreneurs and business leaders including Peter Jones, Doug Richard and Emma Jones. The focus is on providing students with the sort of experiences they will encounter as either a business owner or employee. Community and social enterprise are also firmly engrained in the Gazelle psyche, with joint ventures having been formed with initiatives such as the Pants to Poverty Pi Foundation. Donohue concludes: “Education has no alternative, if it is serve its community properly, but to create people who are more open to creating businesses, who are more confident about coping with uncertainty, who actually have a different experience than simply a diet of teaching.”
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Yet, whilst there is a sense that the the online platform that links teachers with education system is outdated, the ideal local entrepreneurs. “By putting role models solution isn’t necessarily treating enterprise who are founders of tech companies into or entrepreneurship as a standalone subject. classrooms to talk about their entrepreneurial Weaving an entrepreneurial mindset into journey we are finding that this is significantly all parts of the curriculum seems a more increasing students’ interest in studying maths prudent approach. “It’s about matching what and science.” we’re teaching young people with why we are The biggest waves in entrepreneur land at teaching it,” says Rajeeb Day, founder and CEO the moment are undoubtedly being felt in the of Enternships, the platform that connects technology sector. Indeed, anyone reading this students and graduates with ‘entrepreneurial’ is probably still reeling from Facebook’s $19bn work placements at start-ups acquisition of messaging and SMEs. “A ‘businessservice WhatsApp last focused’ curriculum doesn’t month. Tech is big business, necessarily mean doing away and will be for generations to with biology and instead come. Whilst this magazine forcing everyone to learn Microsoft Excel, it simply means opening up the skills they learn with how they can translate those skills to a way Rajeeb Day, Enternships of life.” Barrett adds: “Enterprise education isn’t about saying to the whole class ‘you should go and start a business’, it is about giving them a flavour of what it is like to work in a team.” Of course, there are – and forever will be – stories about entrepreneurs who dropped out of school at 14 and went on to achieve phenomenal success. However, these tales are increasingly becoming the exception rather than the rule, and if the UK’s entrepreneurial stock is to be enhanced going forward, a sea change appears crucial. “As a country, we need to make sure that we have a very strong pipeline for the future and that we inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs,” comments Janet Coyle, managing director of Silicon Valley Comes to the UK, the firm behind Founders4Schools,
“A ‘businessfocused’ curriculum doesn’t necessarily mean doing away with biology”
(H)Priming the pipeline.indd 3
may have explored the subject in depth last year, one can’t conduct a real debate about education and enterprise without discussing technology’s place in that relationship. It is worth noting that some encouraging moves are already being made on this front. The government-backed Year of Code – a notfor-profit campaign to encourage people to get coding – is generally seen as a worthy initiative, although its overriding aim, or lack thereof, has come under scrutiny. Of greater interest is the fact that computer programming will become a mandatory part of the school curriculum from September, with children to learn how to write code from the age of five all the way through to 16. Coyle describes it as “a brilliant step in the right direction”. Others claim that, like the muchtouted enterprise education, there is scope to weave it into all areas of the curriculum. Nevertheless, the wider importance of science, technology, English and maths (STEM), can hardly be overstated. “Increasingly we are looking at a future where STEM is king,” says Michael Hayman, co-founder of Seven Hills, the campaigning PR firm. “Future wealth is going to be created as much by manufacturing and knowledge economy jobs as by anything else. The opportunities that those subjects deliver are absolutely massive and it is the front line of where this all is at the moment.” Where, then, does higher education fit into the equation? Universities in particular have gathered a reputation as melting pots of entrepreneurial thinking and early enterprising endeavours. Many a tech giant has taken its first steps within the walls of a
The stars of tomorrow Young Enterprise
“Every department of the university has an opportunity to identify, support and enable change-makers” Oli Barrett, Cospa
dormitory. Why? Well, university often affords some luxuries that primary or secondary education sometimes doesn’t. “When you look back to those two years of A-Levels, it can be quite intense, but then when students go to university some have more freedom to be creative with ideas. There is also a mix of people from different parts of the world,” comments Coyle. “This diversity encourages innovation and creativity. Students have access to incredible people, incredible mentors and are soon able to form a team around a business idea.” An introductory module on entrepreneurship could be a useful addition to the mix. However, it seems that following the examples of Cambridge and Oxford, where entrepreneurialism is part of the DNA, will also deliver the rewards being sought by government and the country as a whole. “Every department of the university has an opportunity to identify, support and enable change-makers,” says Barrett. “Across the board, I don’t think entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking should be restricted to the business school.” That’s not to say that business schools don’t have a part to play. From Cass to Henley, these centres of enterprise are still as important to the country’s future as ever. However, even within these institutions, change is afoot. “Business schools have traditionally been the home of learning about big business and the way that big business does things,” says Hayman. “But of course, the changes in the market are such that more students are more interested in enterprise and entrepreneurship.
(H)Priming the pipeline.indd 4
That is an interesting shift. A lot of the teaching has been about ‘how do I become an entrepreneur?’ whereas a lot of people are now looking at this in more academic terms such as ‘what creates the entrepreneurial condition?’” The inflated cost of attending university or business school nevertheless presents a significant barrier, so much so that an over-reliance on them to produce the next generation of entrepreneurs would be perhaps misguided. Given the digital age that we now live in, affordable and time-efficient ways of learning are rising in popularity. A failure to recognise this would be an untimely oversight, not least because it serves to provide a link that is so desperately needed between academic thinking and the corporate world. “There is certainly a gap in that too many business schools aren’t reaching a broad enough audience,” says Peter Chadwick, CEO of Ideas for Leaders, a new service from IEDP, the executive learning body, that gives companies access to research from the world’s top 50 business schools. “To an extent through massive online courses, but also through the digital developments that are happening in executive education, there is a big opportunity now to actually do this.” With a new culture of entrepreneurialism engulfing the UK, it is clear that education is yet to catch up. But the necessary steps are being taken, and the more who join the revolution, the better. Barrett concludes: “I am inspired by any teacher who understands that by opening up their classrooms to enable the outside world to come in, they are doing their students a massive favour by showing that business isn’t something to be feared.”
Young Enterprise has been working tirelessly to carve out opportunities for the UK’s under25s for over 50 years. Its mission statement resonates as strongly today as it would have done in 1963: ‘to inspire and equip young people to learn and succeed through enterprise.’ Among those calling for an education system geared towards the realities of business and employment, it is undoubtedly the voice of Young Enterprise that can be heard above the din. “I always find it amazing that when the government tries to widen the curriculum, the likes of sport, drama and debating seem to get there,” says Michael Mercieca, CEO of Young Enterprise. “It is only of late there has been movement towards entrepreneurs speaking in schools.” The charity has struck gold with a pair of schemes that throw the country’s youth into the throes of invention and entrepreneurship. The brainchild of StartUp Britain co-founder Oli Barrett, Tenner has won support from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and an array of established entrepreneurs. It has inspired secondary school pupils across the UK with its simple premise of ‘take £10, create a business and make a profit’. And to the delight of Mercieca and the scheme’s many advocates, the Prime Minister’s enterprise advisor, Lord Young, BIS and Virgin Money have joined Young Enterprise to launch Fiver, a £5 challenge designed purely for primary school students. “It is all about giving young people confidence and belief in themselves,” says Mercieca. “I think we need to invest in the whole pipeline which is why we are very pleased that Lord Young and BIS have launched Fiver with us, because that demonstrates they understand it must start at primary level.”
5 VIEWO VIDENE ONLI
Ensuring a supply chain runs smoothly isn’t just down to smart use of financial instruments; technology has a huge part to play
WORDS: JOSH RUSSELL
(H)Oiling the chain.indd 1
Oiling the chain
any people running their own business will be overwhelmingly familiar with the whiplash sensation of having to slam the brakes on while awaiting the payment of an invoice. Increasingly long payment terms are putting pressure on smaller businesses that are trying to make ends meet. And whilst solutions like factoring can help address the shortfall, they can also eat up a lot of time in the process. Fortunately, there is a solution. The conflict between a small supplier’s need for capital and a larger buyer’s desire for longer payment terms was originally born out of necessity. “It originally started because large companies have a much bigger administrative burden than a smaller company,” explains Christian Lanng, CEO of Tradeshift, the global supply chain platform. In the days of paper-based processes, the sheer time it took to receive and enter paper invoices into an accounts payable system necessitated longer periods to turn around payment. However, as these costs have lessened, the length of payment terms has actually increased. “Due to the tightening up of credit and companies wanting to make their balance sheet look a little bit healthier, we’re seeing an increased trend of larger companies pushing out
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“In the long run, we can hopefully make some or all of this stuff go on much more in the background”
Christian Lanng, Tradeshift
their payment terms,” says Nigel Taylor, director of European business development at Taulia, the e-payments, e-invoicing and supplier finance provider. Whilst 30- and 45-day terms were once standard, most enterprises are also familiar now with terms that can range from 60 to 90, something that causes a far more noticeable gap in their balance sheets. It’s not hard to see how this has a negative impact on SMEs trading with larger partners. “They’re basically giving a loan to the large companies,” says Lanng. “That means they then need to go and cover that hole in their cashflow by going to the bank or factoring.” But this also has a knock-on effect for the large suppliers, one that may be overlooked when trying to present a robust picture of working capital to their shareholders. Lanng says: “Where it’s hurting the large company is that all of the cost incurred for that small supplier will eventually only go to one place: the bill to the large company.” For any SME dealing with a hole in their books, there are a few solutions. A supplier can resort to traditional lending, but these are themselves rather hard to come by in the current climate. One option is obviously factoring, in which
(H)Oiling the chain.indd 2
a company borrows against its outstanding invoices. “Essentially they sell their whole receivables book to a third party,” explains Taylor. The factor will pay a price based upon the combined credit rating of the supplier and of the buyer, allowing the supplier to fill the hole in their balance sheet and recouping from the buyer once the payment terms are up. “But the rate will be affected by the fact that party is taking on a whole set of risks,” he says. “For example: ‘Will the goods be okay? Will there be any disputes? And will it be paid on time?’” Another solution, which mitigates some of this risk, is reverse factoring. The key difference between this and traditional factoring is who initiates the process. “The factor is working directly with the buyer,” Taylor says. On delivery of a product, a buyer interested in reverse factoring will hand pick certain suppliers that they want to offer up to a factor. “The invoice has been approved, meaning it matches to the purchase order and the goods have been delivered in good order,” Taylor comments. Because of this, the factor can offer suppliers a rate based on the larger buyer’s credit rating alone, presenting them a much better rate. This means the supplier closes the hole in their balance sheet, buyers can
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“If you want to get across the whole of the supply chain then you have to have a degree of automation in place” Nigel Taylor, Taulia
spin out their payment terms to a point that suits them and the factor gets a safer return. Obviously this is good news all round and gives everyone what they want. “It’s actually possible for the large company to extend the payment base and the small company to get access to cheap finance,” says Lanng. “You can solve both problems.” Unfortunately, this means that there needs to be certain mechanisms in place to smooth the passage of transactions. He continues: “It requires that both sides collaborate.” And this is, in part, why reverse factoring hasn’t had as much traction as its bigger brother. Whilst reverse factoring is a $275bn industry around the globe, traditional factoring is worth a staggering $2.8tn. The reason its growth has been limited thus far is largely logistical. “If you look at the past, all transactions were more or less paper based and all of the data was locked into these pieces of paper,” Lanng comments. “This made it very hard for anybody to get any transparency or figure out what’s going on.”
(H)Oiling the chain.indd 3
If those in the SME space are to feel the benefit, increasing the accessibility of data and the speed at which it travels is essential, particularly in light of the number of know your customer checks banks are required to conduct when lending these sorts of sums. Taylor says: “If you want to get across the whole of the supply chain and let’s face it get liquidity to the suppliers who really need it – not just the big ones but those mediums and smalls – then you have to have a degree of automation in place.” Fortunately, if there’s anything that we’ve gotten good at in recent years it’s data. Using modern platforms, it’s far easier to serve up required information to third parties and automate the process. This means that supply chain financing has become much more streamlined for all involved. As Taylor explains: “Anybody who wants to step in and finance a purchase order can actually examine all of the crucial supply chain data and make a very detailed analysis as to what risk is involved.” And it’s where these things cross over with other elements such as e-invoicing and cloud accounting that things become really interesting. “The thing that supply chain financing does and that e-invoicing does is they both build up a very detailed audit trail over a period of time,” says Taylor. The data picture this creates can be used to power applications that handle this sort of processing in real time, meaning that, longterm, ensuring liquidity in the supply chain may be a much more hands-off process. “It’s the perfect opportunity to automate the entire supply chain.” The ramifications of this are, potentially, huge, saving founders and execs massive amounts of time and revenue. “In the long run, we can hopefully make some or all of this stuff go on much more in the background,” Lanng says. And this means if less time has to be spent on chasing payments and patching cashflow shortfalls, entrepreneurs can concentrate on securing growth. “We can focus on the things that matter for our business,” he concludes. “But the inner mechanisms of that business should actually be trivial.”
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FIVE-MINUTE MONEY MASTERCLASS
How to boost your credit rating
WORDS: ADAM PESCOD
When seeking a loan or on the verge of striking a deal with a new supplier, a poor credit score can have a detrimental effect on a businessâ€™s fortunes. Whilst the complex calculations are beyond the understanding and control of human beings, a nice solid score is all the more likely if a handful of key boxes are ticked. So, what are these boxes and how can the entrepreneur go about ticking them?
Pay on time
Keep your own house in order As is common with younger enterprises, a business credit rating will to a large extent be based on the owner’s personal circumstances. Therefore, a favourable set of bank accounts and credit card records should stand the entrepreneur in fairly good stead. “Owners of small or newly formed businesses should keep an eye on their own personal finances,” stresses Ade Potts, managing director of SME business at Experian, the credit reference agency. “If financial data on a business is scarce, their personal data may be used to gauge the financial health of the company.” Needless to say, there are a number of things to look out for on this front. “It means no CCJs, paying your bills on time, being on the electoral roll at your home address and having a good income,” comments Aidan Halliday, sales director at 4most Europe, the credit risk consultancy.
“If financial data on a business is scarce, personal data may be used to gauge the financial health of the company”
Transactions between companies don’t generally have a place in the complex systems that calculate credit scores. However, a handful of web-based services have sprung up in recent years that allow companies to report others for late payment and other misdemeanours. As a result, creditors have been granted access to information that has not previously been public but, more importantly, data that can also impact a firm’s chances when it comes to securing credit. “Information that is available now isn’t as exclusively bank-related as it used to be,” says Mike Hartley, head of litigation and insolvency at ACI Legal, the legal services provider. As a result, the implications of not paying invoices on time have become somewhat more serious. Negotiating realistic payment terms is thus pretty crucial. “A deteriorating payment position is often a sign of financial distress,” explains Potts. “You need to make sure that late payment doesn’t affect how you are seen by others.” 39
Ade Potts, managing director of SME business, Experian
Aidan Halliday, sales director, 4most Europe
Mike Hartley, head of litigation and insolvency, ACI Legal
chairman, FD Solutions
Ade Potts, Experian
Protect other interests Regardless of the age or turnover of one’s current venture, the fate of a business owner’s other projects can have a significant effect on credit rating. “If we look at Joe Smith Ltd and the director is Joe Smith, we will also look at whether Joe Smith has directorships of any other companies, past or present,” says Hartley. “If those companies are performing well, then it is going to boost the credit rating of his current company but if he has had historic involvement in liquidated companies, then that information is going to be available to creditors.” Hartley suggests therefore that liquidation should always be the last resort. “If it can be shown that somebody has taken active steps to manage a problem rather than walk away from it, it’s going to boost their credit rating and the credit rating of any companies that they are associated with going forward,” he concludes.
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Hire an FD Whilst it’s probably sound advice for any money-related matter, acquiring the services of a quality finance director is a decent first step to a solid credit rating. Of course, simply having an FD in place won’t necessarily guarantee a high score, but they will at least know how to steady the ship and offer a solid financial picture when it matters most. “I can’t say that Dun & Bradstreet has points in its system that says if there is an FD on board, it is a better business, nor can I say if there is an FD on board, that they don’t take account of it,” says Malcom Durham, chairman of FD Solutions. “What I can say is that a proper FD who is actually worthy of the title will know by looking at the accounts what impression they give to others and will also know how to present the best impression and improve the situation of the business over time.”
Don’t annoy your bank manager Striking up a strong rapport with the person that may have already provided an all-important loan or overdraft isn’t the worst idea in the world – especially if things go awry. After all, a bit of honesty always goes a long way; doesn’t it? “Relationships are absolutely crucial. Rather than fall behind with payments to a bank or finance institution, at the first sign of any problems, you should get in touch with your business manager or relationship manager,” says Hartley. “They are key to protecting your credit rating. They can intervene quickly and prevent adverse information being recorded. Problems occur when people bury their head in the sand and if they are in any doubt whatsoever, they should seek specialist advice.”
A good slice of advice For businesses with an eye on fast growth, the government’s new Growth Vouchers scheme is offering unbridled support, says Clive Lewis, head of enterprise at the ICAEW
mall firms that take advice are more likely to grow, but the current marketplace is failing as firms are often reluctant to pay for a service they haven’t tried. Staggeringly, about half a million small businesses have never taken any advice. Only 45% of SME employers sought external information or advice in the last year, representing a 49% drop since 2010. A large part of the problem is that advice-seeking is often triggered by business problems and crises rather than positive intentions of growth. Indeed, only one in seven SME employers have used strategic advice in the last three years. The Growth Vouchers scheme – launched by the government earlier this year – looks to address this by supporting the creation of a new marketplace so that SMEs can see the value in seeking professional external advice. Under the scheme, some businesses will be randomly chosen as the recipient of a voucher worth up to £2,000 to help finance specialist business support.
How does the Growth Vouchers scheme work?
Businesses in need of advice can apply on the gov.uk website. Eligible businesses must be registered in England, have fewer than 50 employees, been in existence for at least a year and cannot have sought strategic business advice previously. Not all eligible businesses will receive a voucher and those that do will be signposted to the online marketplace where they can search for qualified professional advisers. Businesses that don’t receive a voucher can still access the marketplace to look for an adviser.
What advice is included in the scheme?
Many firms offer advice on accessing finance and cashflow management and this specialism is probably the area where most accountants will be involved. The services covered under this heading include:
“Those firms that seek advice are twice as likely to grow”
A financial healthcheck – a review of the financial health of the business and developing a strategy for growth. This might include trends in revenue and gross margin by product or service, overheads and profitability and working capital management. Financial planning, creditworthiness and investment-readiness – what types of short, medium and long-term finance best suit the business. Developing a strong business plan to aid raising debt or equity finance. Cashflow and credit management – developing a robust cashflow forecasting system and professional credit management processes, including assessing trading terms and the processes for following up on late-paying customers. Assistance with the preparation of a compelling business plan to attract equity investors – this should include the all-important executive
summary, financial forecasts, market and competitor analysis, marketing and sales plans and identifying potential investors. Strategic management accounting – developing a comprehensive management information system to meet the needs of the business, providing timely and relevant information.
Who are the small businesses likely to be?
The businesses will be post start-up businesses who have survived and are now seeking to grow. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 7% of VAT-registered businesses fail in the first year but by year five that figure increases to 55%. So the period from the beginning of year two to the end of year five sees almost half of VAT-registered businesses ceasing. Many of these closures result from inadequate financial management, an area where accountants are well placed to help. You can find out more about the Growth Vouchers scheme by visiting gov.uk/apply-growth-vouchers
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Pinning your hopes Pinterest is attracting the attention of brands at home and abroad. Sarah Bush, the firm’s UK country manager, tells us what makes the digital pinboard such an intriguing prospect for startups on these fair shores Pinterest taps into an entirely different need than the social interaction offered by the afore-mentioned big guns. As is the case with the majority of modern tech start-ups, the idea for the site sprung from a young and intuitive mind. The firm’s co-founder and CEO Ben Silbermann, from Iowa, spent his childhood engrossed in entomology, collecting all sorts of interesting insects. As he grew older, it occurred to him that here was an activity that hadn’t yet found its way into the digital world.
Twin Design / Shutterstock.com
WORDS: ADAM PESCOD
e’ve all heard it in recent years: any business that it isn’t on Facebook or Twitter is doomed. Of course, the opportunity that these social media platforms provide to brands can hardly be ignored. Not only do they offer a direct point of engagement with customers at home and aboard, but more than this, they put the business in front of an audience of billions. However, whilst these two internet giants have attracted the bulk of the business world’s attention of late, another platform has started to receive significant recognition. Founded in San Francisco in 2009, virtual pinboard site
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“You don’t need to be creating as much content as you might do for other social platforms” Sarah Bush, Pinterest
“Ben recognised that a lot of other people enjoyed collecting and that collecting and curating are very natural behaviours, but Sarah Bush, Pinterest there wasn’t really somewhere you can do that online,” explains Sarah Bush, UK country manager for Pinterest. “So in November 2009, he got together with two of his friends and they started working on the website that turned into Pinterest.” Having been valued at $3.8bn last year – and raising $225m from its latest round of fundraising – it’s safe to say that Silbermann was onto something. This is merely reinforced by the fact that the company is yet to monetise itself. It is still in the ‘test stage’. Nevertheless, four years after its birth, Pinterest has now set its sights on Blighty, appointing Bush as country manager in September 2013. Part of her role is to make the service as relevant as possible for British pinners but spiking the interest of brands is also on the agenda. Bush believes there is a lot at stake for businesses with a quality product, engaging content and ultimately, a life of their own. “It is not like other social networks that rely on you having a community of friends on that platform,” says Bush. “Pinterest is about collecting your interests, and brands can play just as big a part in that as individuals.” She is also eager to point out that Pinterest is far more than the photo-sharing service that it is often made out to be. To all intents and purposes, this is how it began, but it has now evolved into a far more compelling proposition. In addition to letting users create ‘boards’ on anything from dream holidays to healthy breakfasts – and ‘pinning’ pages and images from anywhere on the web – it also offers consumers and brands alike an insight into the type of content that is proving popular at any point in time. As Bush explains, “whereas on Google you are seeing pages that have been indexed by technology, on Pinterest you are seeing content that has been indexed by people, and it gives you a totally different way to search and discover, which in turn leads to different ways to plan.” Indeed, the very way in which Pinterest operates brings some tangible benefits to enterprises of all sizes. The ability to re-pin other users’ pins – many of which will be links to products or branded content – means the emphasis is ultimately on quality over quantity. “You don’t necessarily need to have as many followers on the platform to generate good scale and good reach across the community,” says Bush. “The community does the work for you. All you have to do is create generally inspiring and interesting content that will be picked up by the followers that Pinterest’S REPORTED you do have, as well as people who visit VALUE LAST YEAR
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your website, and that will be pinned.” Without a doubt, Pinterest is set up in such a way whereby small firms can prosper. Whilst moves to start charging for the services are rumoured to be in the pipeline, cash-strapped and time-poor start-ups have much to gain from the Pinterest phenomenon. “Content is evergreen. It is never removed,” adds Bush. “You don’t need to be creating as much content as you might do for other social platforms. For a small business that doesn’t have massive resources, that is obviously a great thing.” And despite much of the control being in the hands of users, there is an extent to which brands can have some influence over proceedings. Not only are Promoted Pins being rolled out – this is where money could come into play – but the Rich Pins tool enables brands to include vital information inside a pin, whether that be the price of a product (for product pins), and author or publisher details (for article pins). By signing up to the Pinterest for Business service, brands can add a ‘Pin It’ button on their website and thus put themselves on the radar of pinners in the UK and further afield. Users who have pinned an item can also be notified should it happen to come down in price. The Pinterest movement is still in its infancy on these shores but all the signs are positive. Of particular interest is the impact it is having in the offline world, with Bush citing the case of fashion retailer Topshop – which has added ‘most pinned’ labels to its in-store products – as a prime example. “There is definitely a correlation between pinning and offline behaviour,” she says. One thing’s for sure: it’s an opportunity that business owners can ill-afford to ignore.
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Lifting the mood We Love This
Whilst brands from all sectors have something to gain from Pinterest, it is no coincidence that the creative sector is reaping a fair share of rewards. For Rebecca Marriott, co-founder of event and creative agency We Love This, it was total no-brainer to incorporate Pinterest into the business. “Pinterest is brilliant for us because it is a massive visual pool,” says Marriott. “When I used to do mood boards years ago, the only source of inspiration I could really get was Google, which made life pretty difficult.” Designing and hosting events for the likes of Morrisons certainly takes some planning,
but Pinterest has made the process all the more easier for We Love This. More than this, it has proven a highly-effective brandbuilding tool, offering Pinterest enthusiasts an insight into what We Love This is all about. “Being a creative agency, I think it is so important that you have a presence on Pinterest,” she explains. “When a prospective client is looking at our Pinterest boards, they automatically get an understanding of our style. Because it is not just focused on your work, but on the kind of things that you as an individual and company like, it is a much broader brush. I’d say it is more of a lifestyle, if anything.” Marriott admits that she dabbles in Facebook and Twitter, but believes Pinterest is a much safer bet when it comes to
establishing and maintaining a brand image. “As a small business, people automatically are buying into you as soon as they meet you,” she comments. “The thing that makes me feel nervous about Twitter and Facebook are that people can read different things into comments. You can look at Twitter sometimes and think ‘I can’t believe they’ve written that’ whereas with Pinterest, you are never going to provoke any unrest.” Given her passion for the service, it will come as little surprise to learn that the We Love This website is currently being rebuilt with Pinterest at its core. Marriot explains: “I know already that Pinterest attracts clients just because of the boards that we produce on it, so I wanted it quite prevalent on the website as well.”
“When a prospective client is looking at our Pinterest boards, they automatically get an understanding of our style”
Focus PR – Morrisons Wine Tasting Event 2013
Rebecca Marriott, co-founder, We Love This
Photograph by Rebecca Marriott
Solo, Isle of Wight Festival 2013 – The Hospitality Area, photographed by Sara Lincon
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Understanding how the narratives you tell can bolster your brand is an invaluable lesson for any enterprise
WORDS: JOSH RUSSELL
uman culture has always been driven by stories. It’s not a coincidence that many of the earliest cultural records are riven with creation myths and allegorical narratives. Stories have always provided human beings with a structure to understand and process information about the world around them. And whilst it may not be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing business strategy, storytelling is a powerful tool that no brand can afford to ignore. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise enterprises need to change tack, given that the way we approach information has changed irrevocably in the last couple of decades. “The world has become a lot more complex and connected and media has become a lot more fragmented,” says Kevin Keohane, MD of BrandPie, the creative strategists. Because of the internet, individuals are constantly saturated with information and this has meant that more than ever, they are bombarded with dry information and corporate jargon. He explains: “Story makes it a lot easier for people to see what you’re trying to achieve and why you’re trying to achieve it.” Additionally, information often only plays a small part in decision-making. “When people are making choices we all like to convince ourselves that we make rational choices, that we look at all of the data and based on that data
we choose company A over company B,” comments Vincent Franklin, film and TV actor and creative partner of Quietroom, the communication consultancy. “But we know that actually that’s nonsense.” One need only look at the heated public debate around emotive issues such as climate change or immigration to see that deeply held, emotional beliefs are rarely changed by new information. Franklin says: “What we really make are emotional choices about things and then we justify or rationalise them afterwards.” Inevitably, this has a huge influence when communicating about your brand in the marketplace. “A brand isn’t about the look and feel of what you do,” Franklin says. “It’s about how people feel about you; it’s everything you do.” Perception of a company, both internally and externally, is about far more than just a logo or its quarterly results; instead it’s a matter of identity, who the people are behind the company and what their values are. “And the way we tell people who we are is through the stories we tell.”
“Story makes it a lot easier for people to see what you’re trying to achieve and why you’re trying to achieve it” Kevin Keohane, BrandPie
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This means a story is an excellent way to communicate things about a brand that reach deeper than simple jargon is able to. “Organisations are very clear that a sense of purpose underpins the story that they want to tell,” Keohane comments. Referring to data on 50,000 different brands compiled by Jim Stengel, the former global marketing officer of P&G, the consumer goods company, he explains the 50 identified as ‘purpose-led brands’ had much higher customer loyalty than any of the others. “Story makes things a lot more relevant,” he says. “It makes it easier for people to see what you’re trying to achieve and why you’re trying to achieve it.” But what is it that makes the stories a brand tells have such a strong impact on us? “When we hear a story, all the little bits of our brain that would deal with that information if we were really there are activated,” Franklin explains. When people are told about visual or auditory experiences, the neurons that deal with vision or hearing fire. This means there is a huge overlap between being told about a meaningful experience and experiencing it oneself. “In my head, it’s dealing with a much greater set of experiences than data alone is,” he continues. “It’s engaging with me almost as if I were in the room.” It’s this ability to communicate things on a personal level that make stories such an effective tool. When most companies communicate things about their past, they tend to make use of case studies and often these are very dry and results-focused. “You don’t tend to put in the turning points,” says Franklin. “You don’t tell the point where you thought all was lost.” The beauty of telling the real stories behind your company is that naturally these stories do just that. Inevitably, in the running of any start-up, the stakes rise and fall. There are periods when things seemed destined to come apart, only to be saved by a team member’s quick thinking or gutsy decision. “What we know about stories is that the bits that stick with us are those turning points,” Franklin explains. “To feel honest and truthful, you have to tell people how you’re feeling at this time, what the stakes were.” These stories can also have a huge cohesive power. “One of the things that we say to people
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“What we know about stories is that the bits that stick with us are the turning points” Vincent Franklin, Quietroom
is that everything you say has to be backed up by everything you do,” Keohane says. If a company tries to establish its narrative around making peoples lives simpler, this needs to be reflected in the day-to-day effect of its interactions. It’s fortunate that a brand’s story can therefore assist massively with this, as it enables people within the organisation to connect to its purpose on a more intuitive level. Keohane explains: “The way I look at it is that it gives people a star to steer by.” And if the narrative a company has been telling holds up to scrutiny, it can offer a huge resilience to that company in times public perception would be inclined to turn against it. “If the organisation has actually committed to and proven that they believe in that purpose and actually deliver it, then it acts as an incredible buffer,” Keohane says. “That sort of behaviour builds incredible loyalty so when those organisations do falter, people are a lot more likely to forgive them.”
Vincent Franklin, creative partner, Quietroom
Kevin Keohane, MD, BrandPie
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What crisis? When it comes to crisis management, a company’s reputation is best served by preparing for the worst from the outset
WORDS: ADAM PESCOD
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or some people, a crisis is a train cancellation or lost passport. For others, it is something more serious. However, in business, a crisis can destroy a company’s reputation in the blink of an eye – if it isn’t managed as it should be. Tom Curtin, founder of Curtin & Co, an agency specialising in reputation management and crisis preparation, drums this message into each and every one of his clients. Having previously plied his trade as a business journalist – before going on to work for Thames Water as chief press officer – Curtin knows how it feels to come under fire from all sides. “The company had been under a huge attack because of the privatisation,” says Curtin, reflecting on his time at Thames Water. “People forgot what the company was about: supplying water and sewage services.” With these experiences behind him, Curtin decided in 2009 that the time was nigh to go his own way. Five years later – and with a team of 20 ex-journalists and ex-politicians on board – Curtin & Co is proving a fairly useful resource for firms that are precious about their reputation, of which there are a fair few. The company’s work begins from a simple premise, one that has been touched upon above. “We start by saying ‘when is your reputation as a brand or as a company most at risk?’” says Curtin. “And it is most at risk when you are under attack or in a crisis.” A decent way of preparing anyone for a crisis is by throwing them into one and seeing how they fare, he adds.
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“We do a very realistic crisis simulation for companies where we actually put them under huge stress with microphones stuck at them and Twitter feeds coming through every 15 seconds in real time,” says Curtin. “We have journalists turn up, we have news bulletins and we video and record everything. We then sit down and say ‘what are the chinks in your procedure?’, ‘what has gone wrong?’, ‘how come it took you two hours to get out even a simple statement when Twitter is bleeping away every single second?’” Speed is very much of the essence when it comes to crisis management. Equally though, it is about putting procedures in place far in advance of a sticky situation arising. “In today’s world, your methods for communication need to be superfast,” says Curtin. “You don’t have time to sit around while the lawyers look over a simple three-line statement. You need to prepare these statements in advance and have them on the shelf so that when something hits you, you are ready to say something.” As Curtin stresses, simplicity goes hand-in-hand with a rapid response. “If I see a crisis management manual which is 200 pages long, it is a waste of time,” he says. “You have got to have very simple checklists and templates all ready to go so that you can spring into action at a moment’s notice.” Bracing for the worst is an uncomfortable undertaking for any enterprise, but living in denial is a dangerous game indeed. A failure to accept that disaster could be lurking just around the corner can ultimately prove catastrophic. “I think there is a huge complacency, particularly among more medium-sized companies,” comments Curtin. “There is a certain amount of ‘this could never
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happen to us,’ but it happens every day. You have to be prepared. Sit down with your management team and say ‘what is the worst that could happen to us?’, ‘how are we prepared for it?’ – and then test it.” Curtin also points to a common school of thought among SMEs and start-ups that says ‘we are so small, we will always be under the radar.’ Such a belief seems redundant in an age when the internet has become ubiquitous. If anything, the need for businesses to be on their toes has never been greater. “The problem with cyberspace, and it is a huge problem, is that nothing dies,” says Curtin. “Everything lives forever. You cannot shred cyberspace as you could in the old days, so you have to be very careful with information.” It won’t have escaped most people’s attention that social media has become as much of a graveyard for brands as it has for celebrities in recent years. Each and every tweet or post is shared within seconds, and screenshots are taken if it is controversial enough to be deemed newsworthy. Deleting a comment is, in the majority of cases, too little too late. Thus there is much to be said for taking a step back and considering the impact, or Tom Curtin, Curtin & Co perception, of those 140 characters before sending them into the digital ether. “You are sending out a press release with a tweet so if you are not happy putting the words ‘press release’ on top of a tweet, don’t press send,” says Curtin. “Particularly when your reputation is at stake, you are as good as your last bad tweet.” Sound preparation can therefore help alleviate the possibility of an ill-informed tweet or misplaced USB stick becoming a full-blown crisis. “When you get into crisis mode, it is very hard to get out of it,” Curtin adds. “It is like a boxer on the ropes. Things go wrong. They keep on going wrong. The best thing to do is not to get into that spiral but to get it right from the very start.” Putting in the groundwork from the outset can therefore go a long way to ensuring that one’s reputation is maintained, or even enhanced, in the face of something that could otherwise tarnish it. As Curtin concludes: “You have only got one reputation. Lose it once and you might never get it back.”
“You have to be prepared. Sit down with your management team and say ‘what is the worst that could happen to us?’
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“They’re working on interesting projects and they’re living how they want to live” Matt Cooper, oDesk
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WORDS: JOSH RUSSELL
Deciding to break out of the office may not seem the most obvious way of boosting your productivity but an increasing number of individuals are discovering the benefits of the wandering life
s modern phenomena go, remote working is a thoroughly dissected trend. It’s far from news that technology is allowing us to work from wherever we are and the reciprocal increase in flexible working arrangements we have seen as a result isn’t a significant surprise. However, recent research from oDesk, the international freelance marketplace, is showing this trend goes far deeper than we perhaps previously realised, with 74% of the professionals spoken to reducing their ties to a fixed, physical workplace and almost half giving up a fixed premises altogether. There is a new type of professional on the scene: the digital nomad. Ten years ago completely cutting the ties to a physical workplace may have seemed impractical but there’s no doubting that we’re now living in a very different world. Unsurprisingly, the internet is allowing people to find ways of working that are more appropriate for their lifestyles. “The digital nomad concept is still in the early adopter and innovator phase, to use the business analogy,” comments Matt Cooper, VP of international at oDesk. “But they are testing the limits of what’s possible and how these things can be more flexible and effective.” Part of the growing trend is frustration with the expected professional lifestyle. “If you look at the UK – particularly around London – you’ve got 10% of UK workers that spend three hours or more commuting,” says Cooper. When one compares this to the high-profile case of entrepreneur Sean Ogle quitting his job and building a successful enterprise whilst travelling the world, it can’t help but give a businessperson pause. Certainly it seems nomads are more contented than their desk-bound brethren. An incredible 92% of those polled by oDesk said they were happier once they cut the ties to the traditional office environment. And, given the circumstances, this is hardly surprising. “They’re working on interesting projects and they’re living how they want to live,” Cooper says. “We’ve started to hear all of these really fantastic anecdotes around how people are embracing this lifestyle.”
“The sheer breadth of stuff that I can do is purely because of this lifestyle” Chris Ward, Blue Dot Agency
But should one place rank happiness higher than success? Fortunately, no trade off is needed. One of the most notable findings of the oDesk research is the fact that of those that are shifting to this manner of work, 59% saw a direct increase in their income. Not only was this about saving on commuting or real estate costs – the usual economic arguments made in favour of more flexible working arrangements – but there is a degree of ownership in being able to work from no fixed location that can empower individuals to be far more effective. “It’s a more entrepreneurial mindset,” Cooper comments. “When they are no longer constrained by some of the traditional employment models, ultimately they’re going to be happier and they’re going to be much more productive.” Inevitably, there is a fair degree of crossover between this way of working and the factors that drive someone to form a start-up. Often digital nomads aren’t necessarily looking for the safe option. “When you ask them for what they want, they don’t say security, they don’t say consistency, they don’t say predictability,” explains Cooper. “They say freedom, control and flexibility.” It definitely seems this is more than just a passing trend, with over four-fifths of nomads saying they’ll never allow themselves to be chained to a desk again, something to which most Elite Business readers can probably relate. “It’s a running joke in Silicon Valley that once you’ve been an entrepreneur, you’re basically unemployable,” Cooper comments. “Your expectations make it really hard to go back into a traditional job.” In much the same way, Cooper feels that people who’ve had a taste of this lifestyle are unlikely ever to go back. He makes reference to one oDesk user, Bernard Lucas, who’s making $100 a day from the luxury of a Philippine island. “I can’t imagine someone like that will all of a sudden go back to their office in Manhattan and spend an hour a day on the train,” he laughs. “That’s a tough sell.”
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74% 92% 59% 79% of those surveyed recently made a change to be less tied to a physical workplace
said they’re happier since becoming less tied to a physical workplace
Freewheeling Chris Ward, founder of Blue Dot Agency, the brand communication specialist, is no stranger to digital nomadism. Having earned himself the moniker ‘the boss who works from coffee shops’ and authored Out of Office, a book advocating the benefits of working on the go, there are few better placed to comment on the value of breaking away from the workplace. For Ward, eschewing the office was driven by necessity, rather than any lofty ideas. “I was the boss of a company with 100 staff,” he says. This meant that he was often subject to interruptions that prevented him from really being able to focus on the task at hand. “I started to go to coffee shops to actually do my work,” he explains. “I found I was being really productive.” Part of the bonus of working to your own patterns is your work fits around the the times you are most effective. “I’m a big advocate of flow systems,” says Ward. By this, he means that you work when you’re in a state
of digital nomads saw an increase in income
said they were more productive
of natural productivity rather than trying to artificially force yourself to be productive at the wrong times. Unfortunately, the nature of office working means you are bound to be at a desk, regardless of whether you’re actually in a position to be productive. “When you’re out of the flow in the office, you still have to sit there,” he says. “Whereas I’ll go out and do a six-hour training ride or go to the cinema with my kids.” And being able to work in the way that suits him has allowed Ward to do more than most people dream of. “I’m a born entrepreneur,” he says. “I always want to do different and new things.” Not only does he have a much more natural work-life balance but he has been able to take on a range of projects, from furthering his love of cycling and biking the 100th Tour de France route for charity, to acting as creative director of Comic Relief and working with the BBC and The Nelson Mandela Foundation to engage the public with worthy causes. “The sheer breadth of stuff that I can do is purely because of this lifestyle.”
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Returning to civilian life can present a challenge for ex-military, but some veterans have gone on to achieve notable entrepreneurial success
WORDS: DARA JEGEDE
career in the military is arguably one of the most respected and valued vocations in the UK. Depending on the choice of the individual, it can span between five and 20 years. And as with most careers, there is always an option to switch direction. However, when it comes to civilian life, army leavers face a unique predicament. The prospects of a second career for an individual coming from an exceptional and demanding industry can be both exciting and intimidating. Luckily, there is help available from different avenues to help them explore, and conquer a return to ‘civvy street’. As success stories go nothing hits the spot better than the saga that birthed Gorkana, the internet database for journalists and PR professionals. The company was founded by Alex Northcott in 2003 and named in honour of Sergeant Gorkana, who rescued him from drowning in a swamp in Borneo during their time in the Royal Gurkha Rifles. After leaving the military in 1996, Northcott sought work in the PR industry and after 22 interviews, landed a junior press officer role with JP Morgan, the American bank. “A lot of my colleagues went into banking, accountancy; they went abroad to work with large companies,” he recalls. “But the hard thing about leaving the army and moving into the civilian world is that you’re really behind the curve.” It’s not unusual for ex-military to find themselves in this quandary. Stuart Nicol, ex-military man and founder of Reboot Ventures, a venture capitalist firm that funds businesses founded by ex-servicemen and women, experienced the same. “I think people
didn’t know where to pigeonhole me against my civilian peers,” he says. “It was difficult enough trying to figure out what you were passionate about, but it was much more difficult convincing other people to give you a chance.” Nicol described the transition period as crossing a chasm between the military life and civilian life. “You’re almost like an economic migrant,” he says. “You’ve kind of been in this bubble where everybody speaks a different language and have a different currency and you’ve got to spend about two years coming out of that.” Fortunately, most people in such circumstances will find a wealth of resources available, including transitional programmes and charities, to aid them in the transition. One such institution is the Centre for Enterprise (CFE) based at Manchester Metropolitan University. The centre recently launched its Enterprise for Forces programme, aimed at military leavers with an interest in starting a business or topping up with some official qualifications. The course also addresses language barriers which research found is a key challenge for veterans. Understandably, shifting from daily usage of military language and adapting to the business world and language is no easy conversion but with some favourable attributes already in the bag, adapting should be less problematic. “They’re already quite driven and hardworking and they’ll put the time in,” says Claire Pattison, the programme manager at CFE. “They just need support with some business skills and language skills.” Nicol considers ex-military entrepreneurs to be as competent as their civilian peers in
building their businesses, but believes some other financiers regard them as weaker candidates for funding because they don’t have a track record. This was one of the motives for founding his military-focused VC firm. “Principally, we’re looking at businesses which are already established in some form,” says Nicol. “They’ll have at least quarter of a million turnover and then the key criterion is that somebody in a key area of the business needs to be ex-military.” Whilst financial success is the goal for most entrepreneurs, for Northcott the initial vision for Gorkana was to create a company that breaks even, allowing him to pay himself a salary. Having always had an entrepreneurial streak and undertaking a PR internship at university, he knew this should be his first port of call. “My lightbulb moment was 2003 at Morgan Stanley,” he says. “An idea to create a database full of journalists for all sectors popped into
my head. So I went and did my research. I met with about 30 institutions, including banks, insurance companies and other PRs. I said ‘look, I want to do this,’ and 28 out of 30 turned around and said ‘we need it’. So that bit of research gave me the confidence to go away and build the system.” As with any start-up business, good management of the financials is paramount. Northcott stresses the importance of not over stretching cashflow and other resources, and that finding the right people is most crucial. “Good people who take the initiative can take you to places you never dreamed of going with your business,” he says. “You’ve got to be quite ruthless with hiring the right people.” Dabbling in a familiar sector seems like a reasonable route but for Mark Attwood, founder of Attwood Digital, a digital agency, and PAL Skip Hire, after four years with the RAF, entrepreneurialism was a means for survival. “I had no family back-up, there was
nothing for me to do except do whatever I could to get by,” he recalls. “I set up a publishing company because I saw it as a way of making an income. And I was pretty successful at it.” For Attwood, there are many similarities between carving out successful careers in the military and in business. “Everything you do in the air force is monitored and measured. The pursuit of excellence is something that happens both in the military and in businesses.” There is no doubt that having a military background in the world of business will stand you in good stead to endure. “The foundation [the army] gives you is rigorous,” says Northcott. “It’s about not giving up, it’s about drive. It’s about having a plan and being able to adapt very quickly.” For Northcott, the civilian street and military road are two very different routes but he believes they cross paths in terms of respect. “At JP Morgan you’re a very small pin in a big machine and you’ve got to work with people because it’s a difficult environment, far more so than the army,” he says. “But the Gurkhas are tough and strict. They don’t really care about your background or about who you are. They want to know you’re not gonna get them killed. So you work hard to earn their respect and trust. And the same goes for the business world.” Success in anything is never a straightforward route but armed with superior pressure-withstanding abilities and a multitude of resources, ex-service personnel are in stronger positions to face a different type of foe. Northcott says the first port of call is to be passionate about something. “From there it’s a lot of hard work – and not in the sense of marching 40 miles in the pouring rain and freezing cold. It’s about dedication and drive. It’s not giving up and pursuing every opportunity.” Attwood believes confidence is also key. “Don’t be afraid to just do it, and do it now. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t wait for somebody to give you permission.”
“I think the pursuit of excellence is something that happens in the military and in businesses” Mark Attwood, Attwood Digital
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The trouble with talent is… Keeping it engaged Small business owners must go the extra mile to retain the talent on their books, says Lyndsey Simpson, co-founder of the Curve Group
’m going to make the assumption here that you are an entrepreneur, and a good one at that. This means that you are creating jobs, and thus performing one of the vital roles to society – helping lift us out of recession and back into growth. All good so far. Your size, growth trajectory, industry niche or mere oppositeness to the large corporates will see some of the best and brightest wanting to join your party. However, you often won’t be able to pay them as much as they, or you, would like and because they wear many ‘hats’ in a smaller business, they learn lots of skills and either out-grow your organisation just as they become vital to your business or they are dragged away by a more attractive opportunity offered by a competitor. If we rule out financial incentives from the off, just how do you keep hold of your talent and keep it engaged? If you were a large corporate, at this point you would invest in a talent programme offering coaching, rotations around the company and challenging projects. But for all the things that the big boys with deeper pockets can offer, your ability to get closer to your talent than them and do something personal actually gives you the upper hand.
Don’t assume they are engaged
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Just because you have a cool vibe to your offices and the individual concerned is positive, adding value and seemingly enjoying their work, don’t be fooled. Unless you directly ask them if they are engaged, feeling recognized and feeling sufficiently challenged, they often won’t tell you until it’s too late and they are handing you their resignation. In May 2010, the Harvard Business Review published its study of 20,000 emerging stars across 100 companies globally. These were people having money thrown at them in big corporate talent programmes and yet over 30% suffered from a lack of engagement. They had the
ability and aspiration but were insufficiently committed to the organisation.
Moving on up
Talented individuals often think that they have to jump ship to gain a promotion. Well, the onus is on you to demonstrate that this isn’t the case by promoting from within and developing your home-grown talent. By making internal moves your first port of call rather than bringing in the ‘shock trooper’ who can hit the ground running, you send a strong message to your talent that it can grow and be promoted without leaving the fold.
Don’t delegate talent management to line managers
Unless all of your line managers are as talented as some of the stars reporting into them or are learning and development experts, they won’t be able to provide sufficient stretch to the individual concerned. Keeping talent management restricted in this way also encourages the ‘hoarding’ of talent within certain teams and departments. Moreover, working with the same person every day severely limits the opportunities and breadth of experiences to which talent is exposed. It is far better to bring your talent management and development into a central programme, run by the person in your business who is most passionate about coaching and developing others. Alternatively, make sure that you as the business owner heads it up, thus giving talent the greatest exposure and biggest challenge to aid their development.
Link personal objectives to business objectives
So, you may have identified that your talented individual needs to develop their finance acumen to have more of an impact on the business in the future. However, rather than tying their personal objective to a
“Emerging talent – specifically at a more junior level – needs to be brought on the journey” generic competency, why not make it real and with a clear link to your business objective? Instead of saying ‘you will develop your finance skills by attending course X and be able to write a business plan and model a new investment opportunity by date X’, it is probably better to say ‘by the next budget round in September you will be responsible for writing the 12 month P&L for X division and financially modelling an investment opportunity that could really accelerate the returns in that division by 15% over the next two years.’
can do more and need to be challenged more. Great. Give them exactly what they have asked for. Throw them a project or move them into a new role where they can or must acquire new capabilities to be successful. Not something that is simply a stretch from what they have already proved they can do. Whilst this may seem a little ‘sink or swim’, if you let them get on with it, give them distance and, at most, act as coach for them to bounce ideas off rather than a leader or manager giving them the answers.
Don’t protect them
Emerging talent – specifically that at a more junior level – needs to be brought on the journey. Share your plans for industry or world
So you’ve had the ‘chat’ mentioned in the first point above and they have said they feel they
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Tie them in to your strategy
domination in detail. Help them understand why your company is on that path and what the vision is going forward. At this point, you have piqued their interest. To take it to the next level and really generate engagement, ask them for their input on your strategy. What would they do differently? Have you missed anything? Are the numbers challenging yet achievable? Upon asking those questions, be prepared to listen to their answers and even adapt your strategy accordingly. Lastly, tie them into it and make it personal. Find ways to get their personal involvement and commitment into your strategy and you really will be on to a win-win for them and your business.
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Google Glass frames More a much-anticipated update than a gadget in their own right, the release of frames for Google Glass has certainly made it more attractive to those with traditional specs, as well as those with an eye for fashion. You can grab a set of frames and get them fitted for your prescription at your local optician or pick out a style more in keeping with your personal aesthetic. Regardless of your feeling toward Glass, you can no longer claim it’s lacking in hipster-appropriate style.
Even by normal standards, the last month has been a particularly techy one, thanks to Facebook’s recordbreaking acquisition of mobile messaging service WhatsApp. Netting a whopping $19bn in cash and share options for the founders and employees, the WhatsApp sale has already set tongues a-wagging about where the next big thing in the digital space will come from. Now’s not the time or place for that but we’ll happily give you the lowdown on some of the other top apps and gadgets that have piqued our attention of late
Sony Xperia Z1 Compact
WORDS: JOSH RUSSELL
It was with more than a little sadness last month that we heard Sony was stepping down from the laptop market, after the long life of its excellent Vaio series. But if the Japanese electronics giant continues to produce handsets of the calibre of the Xperia Z1 Compact, we can probably keep the tears at bay. Packaged with a quad-core 2.2GHz processor, a whopping 2GB of RAM, a jaw-droppingly crisp 20.7 megapixel camera and Sony’s now-standard waterproofing, this is a fitting rival to the iPhone and Nexus alike.
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Facebook Paper With many elements of Facebook’s service seeming increasingly old-fashioned, it seemed unlikely an app could deliver the required breath of fresh air. However, it appears Paper may be just what the doctor ordered. Pulling together your feed with a much more pleasing aesthetic and eschewing the clunkier branding of its elder brethren, the app also delivers curated content and recognises Facebook’s value as an aggregator as well as social space. Unfortunately, UK consumers will not be getting their hands on it any time soon, as the tech giant intends to keep it Stateside, at least for the time being.
4.EVER Pininfarina Cambiano Every so often, an invention is announced that just brings out the sceptic in you. An everlasting pen that doesn’t use ink and has no need for refills? Pull the other one. But, as God as our witness, the 4.EVER Pininfarina Cambiano is just that, featuring a nib made from ethergraph, an alloy that marks paper without ever needing to be refinished. It’s also sexy enough to make a Macbook Air look a bit dowdy, bringing the aforementioned gadget‘s aluminium finish a touch of class with a polished wooden inlay. However, the Italian designer isn’t exactly known as a discount supplier so don’t count on being able to sneak this one into your office’s stationary budget.
Safeplug It can’t be denied we’re living in an age where privacy on the internet is a hotly contested battleground. Tor-based solutions, that route your traffic through random locations, provide an option for those who don’t want every detail of their family’s intimate lives easily tracked. However, until now, these have lacked the simplicity to be widely adopted by the consumer. Safeplug addresses this issue, bringing a plug-and-play approach to net privacy, simply sitting between your connection and your router and preventing your home computer from being identified.
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On the shoulders of giants Successful tech enterprises offer no end of lessons for those willing to hear them. We ask Scott Berkun to share his teachings on Automattic and the future of work
WORDS: JOSH RUSSELL
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ou might not necessarily be familiar with Automattic. But, without a shadow of a doubt, you’ll be familiar with its work. As one of the main driving forces behind the open source blogging and CMS tool WordPress – upon which 18.9% of the world’s top 10 million websites are built – Automattic has made a colossal contribution to the tech world. But its culture is perhaps its most significant innovation. There are probably few people better suited to tell us about the lessons that can be learned from the tech giant than someone who’s been there. Renowned business author, speaker and former Microsoft whizzkid Scott Berkun spent a year working at Automattic, writing his book, The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work, based on his experiences. One of the most immediately striking things about Automattic is the fact that employees are spread around the globe, working in tandem without regular meetings and the standard structures that have become mainstays in the running of the average business. Berkun feels this is, at least in part, down to the nature of the talent tech companies work with. “That’s what people who are creators do; they create,” he explains. “If you stay out of their way, they’re going to make stuff. They don’t need a whole lot of meetings or structure to do what they’re trained to do.” But the structure of the organisation was also inevitably influenced by something else: its product. Open-source software, by its very nature, rejects unequal ownership and, if the product cannot be deemed the property of an organisation’s founders, it inevitably influences the way individuals approach their work. “Any open source project is basically a volunteer organisation,” Berkun comments. “That means that people can leave whenever they want; there’s no obligation for them to work and that changes the dynamic for how a manager or a boss treats people.” If the value of the work isn’t held by a few select stakeholders but by every individual who inputs, this makes top-down models of control utterly unfit for purpose. However, the upside is that the level of engagement this provides actually negates the need for rigid control. As Berkun explains: “A lot of the things you hear about Wordpress.com – how passionate people are
about working there, how excited they are about their work and the quality of work that they do – is a result of this different attitude that the managers have.” For some though, business structures that are essentially anarchic in nature can’t help carry connotations of chaos and concerns around oversight are perhaps inevitable. However, there were several factors in Automattic’s case that made this fluid structure more effective. First of all, the company’s work doesn’t constantly need to go through a review process before it is deemed publishable. “There’s so much freedom about launching new work out to the world, people work in small increments,” Berkun says. Whilst this probably isn’t much comfort to those used to having a firm grip on the reins, this means that changes were minor and, if unforeseen problems resulted, they could be easily reviewed and altered. Berkun explains: “People were comfortable working and giving feedback to each other in small increments then making adjustments and improvements at a small scale.” One issue that Automattic did face in the use of a flat structure was one of accountability. Whilst execs Matthew Mullenweg and Toni Schneider weren’t necessarily calling all the shots, they were expected to have oversight over a lot of everyday decisions being made by staff. Things that would have been handled by middle management in a traditional organisation were ending up in front of Mullenweg and Schneider. “The flat structure was starting to become a problem because they were becoming bottlenecks,” Berkun comments. “Every individual employee went to them for whatever feedback or information they needed.” And this is where Berkun came in, with the majority of The Year Without Pants centred on his journey implementing a team structure that acted in harmony with the company’s existing ethic. “With the same cultural values in place that we had as a flat system, the individual programmers, designers and writers still had a lot of power and influence over what they did,” says Berkun. Those leading a workgroup were there to support this process and supply feedback; additional structures like personal credit for the work of teams and higher renumeration were stripped away. As Berkun explains: “Being a team lead is a role, not a job.” But there was a more fundamental factor at play, one that enabled a much greater degree of transparency than one sees in hierarchical
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“The obligation of leaders in a company is to experiment and be willing to try to work differently” Scott Berkun, author and speaker
companies. Given the remoteness of its staff, Automattic needed something that allowed greater trackability and accountability of communication than email. In addition to widely used tools like Skype and instant messaging, there was another tool that lent itself to this purpose: blogging. This had huge benefits in terms of oversight, meaning that anybody in the company was able to offer advice and feedback around plans certain teams were implementing. Berkun explains: “It was possible that someone else in the organisation would be reading our team’s blog and go: ‘Scott, you really shouldn’t do that; we tried the same thing last year and here is what happened.’” To an outsider, this way of working might pose potential issues, damaging the intimacy of the working environment and inviting interference from parties that didn’t have a stake in the work. Berkun admits this was his reaction before his time at Automattic. “But that was never a problem,” he says. “Open tools tend to lead you to a more mature way of communicating.” Many of the qualities executives want for their businesses – collaboration, mutual support and the transference of effective ideas from one area of the company to another – can actually be easily accessed through this more visible manner of communication, and ensured Automattic’s work was as efficient as possible. For those wanting to learn from the best and stand on the shoulders of a giant, The Year Without Pants and the lessons learnt during the creation of WordPress will be a revelation, but Berkun feels the important thing is to follow the message, not the letter. “It’s very popular for business book authors to say ‘do these three things and you’ll be a billion dollar company’,” he remarks. “We all know there’s something empty about these promises.” Instead, the important thing for directors and execs is having the courage to go beyond a template. “The obligation of leaders in a company is to experiment and be willing to try to work differently,” Berkun says. Trialling measures – whether they be remote working, newer communication tools or something even more radical – is the first step on the road to finding more effective working practices. Berkun concludes: “If they continue with that culture of encouraging experimentation and trying to find better ways to work, they’ll pretty quickly approximate a lot of the benefits that they see and admire in a company like WordPress.”
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The future’s bright The so-called ‘internet of things’ has big implications for business, but there is one piece of technology that should be on every firm’s radar. Dan Kirby explains why beacons are set to shake up the world of enterprise
nalysts predicted that something called the ‘internet of things’ (IoT) market will be worth $290bn in 2017. That’s just three years away, and that’s a lot of money. So what are these things? The internet of things is when an object is connected to the internet. As computer power shrinks, billions of everyday gadgets can now communicate, from fridges to parking meters to thermostats. Last month, Google bought a company called Nest – which makes internet-enabled (and beautifully-designed) thermostats and smokealarms – for $3.9bn. Nest’s products are different from much of the competition in that they are connected to the internet as well as to your smartphone. This allows them to send status information and receive instruction remotely as well as communicate with each other to enhance their ability, the best example being that if the smoke detectors pick up carbon monoxide warnings they tell the thermostat to turn off the boiler since that would be the most likely source. This makes it a prime piece of technology to help Google in its quest to understand how people live and create the connected home. At the time of the acquisition, jokes surfaced that you’d know your house was on fire as you’d be getting Google ads for fire extinguishers. Joking aside, the rise of the internet of things creates massive opportunities for business to shape the consumer experience to unprecedented levels.
How will it affect your life?
The internet of things will make the start of your day much smarter. In the home, a connected alarm clock can trigger your coffee machine and lights and then temperature and power will be lowered when your car leaves your driveway. As you’re driving to work, your car will detect your journey based on real-time traffic updates, while finding and reserving a car parking space, paid with your “As computer power smart wallet. Meanwhile, the city’s municipal systems will ensure that you’re being directed to a parking bay that reduces shrinks, billions of congestion in the rush hour and pollution in sensitive areas. everyday gadgets can However, like any new frontier, there are issues which must be addressed before the IoT becomes more widely accepted. now communicate, Data privacy concerns and security problems can make all the from fridges to advantages disappear quickly. Many of the early IoT devices have proven to be rushed technology using off-the-shelf parking meters to software containing security holes or functionality which thermostats.” should have been disabled. The best example of this is a recent survey of spam email which found that spammers have been using fridges and other household items which are connected to the internet to relay their messages since they had email server software built in but no security enabled. All of this sounds very Minority Report and futuristic, and it’s easy to
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see how the likes of Google and Apple could profit from this trend. But what about your business? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to apply these benefits?
We’ve been experimenting with beacons as part of the ongoing R&D activity at my company Techdept. Beacons or iBeacons (as Apple has named their version of the technology) are a piece of location-based technology. The beacon itself is a small piece of hardware, around the size of a matchbox, that’s placed in a specific location. The beacon transmits a signal, the strength of which indicates your distance from it. If your device knows the location of three or more beacons it can ‘micro-locate’ your position within a few centimetres. A signal can be detected from up to 70 metres (200 feet) away. While not strictly an ‘internet of things’
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technology, beacons are widely available today and can be used to allow you to act like a bigger business, profiting from the kind of world I described above. How? By employing interconnected devices which let you create a more personalised experience and which also give you the opportunity for real-time customer insight and feedback. Those with an enabled device (like an Apple iPhone 4s and above, or Samsung Galaxy) don’t need to take any actions to receive instant transmissions when they walk through the door. Beacons are the most direct way for you to enhance the experience for your customer by letting objects talk to each other. This can be in a retail setting, but it can also be used to add depth of information (in an art exhibition), or target content based on geographical locations (for tourists in a city centre). What’s for sure is that the future internet is going to be more and more focused on the things around us.
How could you employ beacons in your business? ‘The Five-Star Coffee Company’ We all love a morning cup, but imagine a new start-up that promises to deliver you only a ‘five-star’ coffee experience. Here’s how beacons could potentially be used to enhance its business. The Five-Star Coffee Company is aiming to deliver on its mission to serve the finest coffee in town by personalising the customer experience. During its launch week, it is offering a free coffee to anyone that has downloaded its app. Those with the app installed will be instantly recognised by the beacon installed above the shop door. This means that the coffee shop owner knows of their arrival and usual preference of coffee. There may even be an ‘app owner’ priority queue or seating area. The app can stamp a virtual loyalty card or offer a promotion. Upon leaving the shop, the beacon is again alerted and triggers a response to the customer asking for feedback, from one to five stars. Anything less than a five-star response would be sent to the shop owner. Specific messages are sent to anyone with a ‘three-star’ experience, inviting them back for a tasting and providing the opportunity to give feedback on how to improve the service. This experience is socialised with the ability to upload a photo of your perfect cup to your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account.
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Rules of separation WORDS: ADAM PESCOD
With the referendum a little over six months away, it’s time for businesses to start considering the consequences of an independent Scotland
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he issue of Scottish independence has dominated the political airwaves of late. With the referendum looming on the horizon, key figures in both camps have been reiterating their stance and taking snipes at the opposition. The war of words over currency between Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister and George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, has certainly got tongues wagging. And the wider debate even weaved its way into the British music industry, with David Bowie expressing his own preference – albeit through Kate Moss – when accepting a Brit Award for Best Male Solo Artist. “Scotland, stay with us,” Bowie proclaimed with the assistance of his supermodel chum. For many, it was a rare highlight of a campaign that is only now shifting into gear. For others, with tongue firmly in cheek, it was a turning-
point for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ voters alike. Suffice to say, things don’t look like cooling off before the fateful day in September and one would suspect that, whatever the outcome, the fallout will rumble on for a number of months. Nevertheless, aside from what the result could mean for citizens north and south of the border, the potential impact of an independent Scotland on British businesses is one that is deserving of attention. Should the result go the way of Salmond and Co, enterprises of all sizes may find themselves with some pesky legal obstacles to overcome, depending on what shape an independent Scotland takes post-referendum.
Walk away from the UK and you walk away from the pound. That was the fairly resounding message delivered from the chancellor to the
Scottish first minister last month. The latter hit back, claiming that by rejecting the possibility of currency union, businesses would face costs totalling hundreds of millions. However, it seems that much will depend on the nature of contractual arrangements struck between parties in different countries. This, in part, is due to the special circumstances that Scotland would find itself in, should it split from the rest of the UK. “When one currency is taken away it is usually replaced by a new currency, but Scotland is going to be slightly different,” says Kathryn Rogers, associate at Cripps Harries Hall, the law firm. “If it gets a new currency, sterling is still going to exist so it will be possible for sterling to still be used under a contract.” Rogers does warn that an independent Scotland could introduce legislation requiring that existing contracts be “There may well redenominated into the new be a greater push currency. Going through contracts with a fine tooth towards having comb should however go some way to alleviating any Scottish law being burdens. “It is going to be a international stage. Nevertheless, independence could the governing law bring a change in the tide. question of applying some legal principles and basically in a contract” “At the moment the two legal systems are quite similar looking at the terms of the but obviously if they become independent, it could be contract,” explains Rogers. “It that over time, the differences between them become more pronounced,” says Rogers. “If Scottish law starts favouring would have to be considered whether the companies considerably more than English law currently does, there parties had referred to sterling in the contract may well be a greater push towards having Scottish law being the because that just happened to be the currency governing law in a contract.” at the time that the contract was made, or they If indepedence became a reality, Scotland would also be a separate said sterling because that is what they had entity on the global stage. And with the EU giving no guarantees when it intended it to be even if there were a different comes to membership, the challenges are fairly predictable. currency available.” “Essentially, if Scotland gets independence, they are going to be treated Companies based in England or Wales would like a foreign country,” says Rogers. “If you are a UK company dealing therefore do well to bear this in mind when with Europe, there are different implications there than there would be looking to enter into a new contract with a if you are just dealing with another company in England. All of those Scottish customer or supplier – and vice versa. issues are then going to arise in relation to contracts that cross the After all, the last thing anybody wants is a England-Scotland border.” costly court case. “Expressly dealing with it in the contract will avoid any disputes in the Close protection future,” says Rogers. She also adds that the A final headache for firms could come in the shape of registration and payment of wages could provide a further trademark procedures. Rogers suggests that an independent Scotland administrative headache in the event of a may establish its own companies register, and Companies Act, which currency changeover, given the prospect of would provide yet another administrative burden for SMEs with offices fluctuating exchange rates and outdated in both countries. “They would have two lots of documents to file each payroll systems. year and two different filing regimes,” she says. Lesson of the law Likewise, with trademarks, separate applications may need to be Since devolution, Scotland has been granted sought. “There is a European-wide trademark registry for community extensive law-making powers to the extent that trademarks and I would assume that if Scotland was going to get contracts can be governed by either Scottish independence, it would still seek to be part of Europe,” says Rogers. law or that of England and Wales. Rogers “People may find that applying for community-wide trademarks explains that companies of Scottish origin becomes something that they want to do.” often tend to make contracts subject to English For now, it’s still all up in the air. However, getting one’s house in order and Welsh law because of its recognition on the wouldn’t be the worst idea – just in case.
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the START-UP DIARies
In the bag
If start-ups are to clinch those all-important first customer deals, they must perfect their sales pipelines Sarah McVittie, co-founder, Dressipi
ome people liken sales to being ‘a funnel’, while others prefer to call it a ‘pipeline’. Whichever metaphor you use to describe the sales process, it is basically the mechanism that businesses use to attract potential clients, get them interested in what they do and ultimately convert them into paying customers. It’s also possibly the hardest thing for a new business to get right. Why is that? Well, not all potential customers or prospects are created equal. The ideal customer is someone who you talk to about your product or service, they love it and want to implement it straight away. In reality, you’re more likely to find that even if a prospect is really interested they may not be able to do anything about it for weeks, months or, in some cases, even years. There are an infinite number of reasons for this; maybe it’s not on their immediate roadmap or priority list, or maybe they have no technical resource for integration work until six months’ time. Whatever those reasons are, it’s your job as an entrepreneur to make sure that you have a supply of customers
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ready to convert now, while lining up others who will sign on the dotted line in three months, six months and so on. Keeping that sales pipeline stocked takes dedication and organisation – and there’s always something else that can be done. The way to keep it manageable is to set clear targets up front. Look at the pricing structure for your product or service, then sit down and work out exactly how many customers you need to bring in to hit your minimum financial targets. Then you have to make a best guess at how many leads you need to bring in to land those customers. It’s also worth keeping an eye on your competitors’ pricing to ensure your own continues to make the most sense for you, as well as for your future clients and partners. There’s no scientific way of calculating this but it’ll become clear as you go along. To use Dressipi as an example, we have a pretty good lead to conversion rate, but even here we know that we need to talk to four companies for every new retailer we bring in. Some of this is because we sell an enterprise product, so we’re selling to
groups of people rather than individuals. Moreover, implementing our fashion fingerprint technology on an ecommerce site involves integrating that into a retailer’s back-end system, which takes time and often requires them to commit time from their own developers. The next lesson to learn when building that pipeline is that it’s not enough to bring in leads. A sales lead is just an expression of interest, it’s not a commitment. This is an easy mistake to make and it’s tempting to go in too fast and do the equivalent of proposing marriage on the first date. The key to making this work is learning to listen and empathise with your client. How interested are they – really? Do they have a problem that you can solve for them? Do they have enough money, time or resources to buy what you’re offering and make use of it? This will enable you to categorise whether they’re somebody you should leave for six months or try to meet straight away. Another lesson we have learnt is that it is really important to make sure you have a real champion within that client business and that this person has committed real time and resource to working with you and promoting your service to ensure its best chance of success. There are often hiccups or teething problems and so it is important to have people who are as invested as you in making the project work. To use us as an example again, we work with fashion retailers by licensing components of our technology to help them offer a more personalised service. Retailers can be notoriously slow-moving partners. They tend to have very full pipelines, many stakeholders to convince and an overly stretched technical resource. As a start-up, where every penny counts, this can be tough to manage alongside your own cash requirements. We’ve learned to counter this by creating a sense of urgency with our prospects. This is partly driven by the fact that we have a small team so we like to schedule our technical builds in a way that manages their time effectively. This also helps to motivate the potential client into committing to a certain timeframe. It certainly isn’t easy but once you start, you will begin to see regular results.
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A Rampant Success: When she took the helm at Ann Summers, Jacqueline Gold was on a mission: to empower women in the bedroom. She transformed...
Published on Mar 2, 2014
A Rampant Success: When she took the helm at Ann Summers, Jacqueline Gold was on a mission: to empower women in the bedroom. She transformed...