It seems very much the rage at the moment for companies to hire Non Executive Directors (NED). I am a big fan of these “outsiders looking inside“. They provide wisdom, guidance, help to raise the bar and introduce more robust systems and processes, help leaders make decisions and support change. In many instances an NED can help to open up new doors to finance and potential customers – help in the transition of growing up. If you are pursuing VC funding or PE finance then having a NED is often part of the deal.
One observation would be that many young companies appoint NEDs too early on in their cycle. They view them as the saving grace and the magic wand with all the answers. The reality is young fast growing companies should initially seek out a mentor or experienced person and trial the relationship before Companies House papers are signed. There are many individuals out there searching for NED trophies, it almost becomes their barometer for success – food for the ego!
My message to young growing companies who are seeking their new best friend, the NED, is be sure they can add value, be clear on where they can take you and most of all dont GIVE AWAY equity, people either buy or earn a stake in your company.
What an absolutely fantastic High Growth Foundation event the other night at the Imperial War Museum. Led by Michael Taylor with his usual charm, wit and insight, we had a great line up of speakers who had fantastic and inspirational stories to tell. Steve Oliver and his Music Magpie venture is a real one to watch in the Region, and success could not be more deserved, a really nice bloke. Steve speaks from the heart and his views on creating a loyal workforce with a culture of graft were well received. Deepak Jayaraman from Goldman Sachs articulated the benefits of mentoring and how the 10,000 small business programme can help in this regard.
Alexis Giles delivered a fantastic key-note and shared with over 200 delegates Google’s rules for building an innovative culture and gosh were they powerful, here they are:
- Ideas come from everywhere – everyone has a place at the table
- Share everything you can – create a culture of sharing new thoughts, no idea is a bad idea
- Hire smart people – they create a challenging culture
- Chase your dreams – create 20% thinking time
- Innovation is not instant perfection – have a go and refine
- Data is apolitical – provide the fact to evidence potential
- Creativity loves constraint – draws out new ideas quick
- Users not money – money follows the eyes
- Don’t kill projects, morph them – iterate till you get it right
Alexis was a real star performer and delivered some real value to businesses with a passion to grow. One of the nuggets I took away was the importance of embedding processes and systems as a company grows. Google are a shining example of how an innovative culture fused with discipline delivers excellence. The lack of processes and systems is what so often stunts growth, innovation on its own is not enough.
Alexis and the Google story was an inspiration for ambitious people – so chuffed she will be hosting our study tour at Google’s Mountain View complex in March 2012 – what an experience that will be. Its not all doom and gloom.
Business incubators have become a common feature of public sector enterprise support in recent years; many of these establishments have proved to be highly effective in nurturing early stage entrepreneurs. They don’t just provide a desk and somewhere to turn up every morning, their added value comprises: a place to network, share ideas and collaborate. The really good ones offer mentoring and coaching, this is often what makes the real difference between success and me too performance. In many UK regions incubators have become a hot bed of exciting new businesses, the potential employers of graduate talent – Autonomy in Cambridge is a fantastic example.
This concept of incubation needs to feature prominently in the culture and mindset of winning businesses – any ambitious entrepreneurial company should have a “department” or function responsible for building a pipeline of new thinking that delivers potential new revenue streams or adds value to existing customer experiences. I don’t mean a department literally – it’s about having an organisational process that brings together thinkers, doers, sellers and controllers, one that not only develops new ideas but also implements the commercially viable nuggets which emerge from the process of discovery. The concept of incubation delivers a major thrust for gaining an edge in the market place.
It is my opinion that creative intelligence is the ultimate source of competitive advantage – high growth companies tend to be disproportionately more innovative than the rest of the SME population. They explore, embrace diversity, live in their customer’s world, experiment with new possibilities and avoid complacency by making creative thought a habit, not something they do once a fortnight on a Friday afternoon. It must form part of an organisations “soul”. My next few blogs will explore some simple yet highly effective ideas for embedding a culture of incubation.
For the past ten years marketing experts and the finance community have stressed the importance and benefit of having an “elevator pitch”. This is the term, originating from the US, used to describe very clearly and concisely your proposition or offering. The elevator pitch is commonly used in selling situations, increasingly it has become one of the key tools entrepreneurs use to raise finance.
The Dragons Den format has dominated investments forums in recent years and it seems to be these events where the elevator pitch has greatest application. Just how effective is this pitching environment? – on TV we have seen many individuals face humiliation in front of millions. Makes great TV (not for me, as I personally can’t stand the programme). These TV styled events have got boring, local entrepreneurs (business angels, devils more like) with ego’s the size of planets, sit there in judgement of nervous individuals struggling to get their message out in three minutes.
Well in my view anyone who can make a financial judgement based on a three-minute elevator pitch must be a genius. The sensible and ethical investors I have come across avoid TV style pitching formats and spend time trying to understand the idea, the proposition, the person, the market, and the numbers. It’s a considered response based on a least a couple of hours of discussion. How many ideas get lost or fail to see the light of day because an individual can’t get their message over within 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Does that make them a bad entrepreneur?
Two serious and successful VC’s I have spoken to (one in the UK and the other from North America) have started to do away with pitching type events – instead they want to get under the skin of the ideas and the people. How refreshing!
The minute a gazelle starts to emerge from the UK, suddenly from nowhere it just seems to get eaten by a foreign gorilla. (42% of high growth companies in the Cambridge cluster were acquired between 1998 and 2008, half the acquirers were foreign) The recent acquisition of Autonomy by Hewlett-Packard of the US is a great example of an home-grown global star of the future getting swallowed up. Not only in IT but we also see this in other technology sectors e.g. bio sciences. When these rising stars put their head above the parapet they are swallowed up by overseas predators. This is great news for the investing VCs and founding teams and stakeholders as it gives them the opportunity to cash in their chips. However from a broader economic perspective do we lose opportunities from the IP ending up somewhere overseas? (as well as the jobs)
Is this stopping the UK from creating the next Twitter or Google? Lots of suggestions over the past few weeks suggesting UK plc needs to take a closer look at this issue.