High Growth Foundation – A trip to Silicon Valley

18/05/2012

What delegates found in Silicon Valley was the theme of last night’s High Growth Foundation event – you could actually feel the entrepreneurial spark in the air at Manchester Airport’s Concorde Suite. I don’t think attendees actually realised that Concorde was going to be in the room – over 150 delegates sat under the fuselage and listened to what was a set of fantastic contributors. As always our resident compare Michael Taylor did a great job unlocking interesting stories from the massively enthusiastic Gareth Burton, fun loving Jim Clarke, and the practical go getting Janet Green. (On the side lines Liz Weston, a Winning Pitch friend and Foundation supporter was busily tweeting).

The setting for this event was symbolic of what the Foundation is all about. Our purpose is to support entrepreneurs who have the desire and ambition to move their business forward at supersonic speed but doing it within a framework of disciplined management and focus on key business processes.  Encouraging companies to deliver sustainable growth over a long period of time is what we are about. The session I feel was an effective antidote and reminder of not to take part in the doom and gloom thinking we have seen over the past months.

The event brought together almost one year of social media activity and events whose messages focused on thinking globally and thinking big, a state of mind that is finely tuned into “going for growth”.

One of the most effective ways entrepreneurs learn is by experience sharing:

Viewing what great looks like – strategy, raising finance, sales marketing

Speaking to other entrepreneurs – what went right what went wrong

Studying biographies of success – personal and business journies

Well in March this year 18 entrepreneurs did experience sharing in a big way. They went to Silicon Valley to observe how some of the most successful brands on the planet go about their business.

More to follow on insights from the West Coast!

Our guest speaker Scott Fletcher went down a storm – his messages focused on conditioning yourself to develop a positive mindset, create a great culture and look after staff.   He’s is a living example of an entrepreneur who has embraced the big thinking mindset.  As Chairman of the ANS Group, he has off the scale ambition and grown one of the Region’s finest businesses – one that has rapidly transformed itself from gazelle to gorilla.

Really chuffed great that Pannone supported this event, especially Lisa Conmy their very own passionate ambassador for the entrepreneurial agenda.


Non Executive Directors – Try before you buy!

10/05/2012

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.


Global Entrepreneurship Conference – Get Lucky

14/03/2012

This was probably one of the best events I have been to for a long time. Sometime fantastic speakers, for me Lord Heseltine did the business, what an incredible man. His own entrepreneurial story was highly engaging, it came straight from the heart. He talked about how lucky he had been in his career, one that led to the creation of Haymarket Publishing, a global business with 2,000 employees.

Well on the note of luck, Harvard Business School have done their research and some really interesting findings have emerged. They claim that luck in business can be cultivated, through what they call lucky attitudes and lucky networks. They found that a lot of their entrepreneurs believed in and are extremely open to the power of serendipity – in other words a lucky attitude. They also have a wide network of relationships that at first glance may have little to do with business but somehow later come into great relevance.

Richard Branson’s off the scale mindset of creativity is testament to the power of being different. A common theme around loving what you do was woven throughout the day – passion lies of the heart of success, it keeps you going and is a vital ingredient to mental toughness. The Black Farmer Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, hit the spot as well – going into business or growing a company means you have to overcome your fear, and you only live once, so go for it and be brave.

An amazing job done by Liverpool Vision and the broader Liverpool Community – so many other cities could learn from their ambition and visionary leadership. An example of public sector practicing what they preach.


High Growth, Charles Darwin and Silicon Valley

08/03/2012

Entrepreneurial high growth leaders can extract an enormous amount of insight from the great man himself, Charles Darwin. The ability to embrace change is such a vital ingredient to the recipe for accelerated performance.  Growing a company can sometimes feel like a fight for survival and there is so much evidence to suggest that those who adapt and change come out the other end fitter, stronger and more competitive.

This week I having been ranting on about the importance of nurturing better leadership skills. Companies will grow and create more jobs only when their founders fine tune their ability to build a strong team based ethos. Growing a business requires the essentials of both personal and business change, the former being the precursor to developing a thriving and winning environment. The requirement of the individual to embrace with confidence new situations and challenges is key.

On the theme of developing more ambitious leaders, this week marks a very important landmark for the High Growth Foundation. We are taking 18 entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley to see how businesses such as LinkedIn and Google grew to the size they are – global superstars whose leaders truly embraced the the power of change. My mate and highly distinguished journalist Michael Taylor will be out there with the group – reporting on what he’s observing the best do. Hopefully these insights will help not only the delegates but also other members of the Foundation and our broader community to nudge their bar of ambition to a higher level.

 

 

 

 

 


Businesses with soul and purpose

21/02/2012

I spoke at the Business Conference for Childcare Providers this morning – it was a fantastic group. The audience comprised a mix of private sector, social enterprise and volunteer groups. One thing that struck me was the passion and enthusiasm and giving nature of the people who turned up. They were individuals with a passion for what they do – a soul and purpose which focused on looking after children.

The theme was leadership in a changing economic environment, my messages revolved around the 10 principles of getting it right:

  1. Changing times need a change of mindset
  2. Create the right mental imprints with stakeholders and staff
  3. Be future focused
  4. Performance measurement & monitoring is vital
  5. Build a great team
  6. Put a credo in place
  7. Live in the “customers” world
  8. Gain the edge through innovation & creativity
  9. Great leaders have a mentor
  10. Practice the 4C’s (Condition, Coach, Communicate, Conform)

It confirmed my belief that businesses with a higher purpose have a greater chance of success. Many of us are searching for meaning in life and a sense of belonging. When we translate this quest into a commercial idea and balance it with good business practice then the results are amazing. Moreover, a business with a cause deals with the harder times much easier than those that don’t. Its so easy to pack up when things get tough – I feel that those companies with a soul and purpose have a greater chance of success!

 


Success Factor For High Growth Entrepreneurs

12/02/2012

Success Factor is my second book and it has not been given the attention it deserved over the last 12 months, the main reason being the focus on several major tenders. I am now back onto it, with bags of momentum.

I am a great believer that successful high growth entrepreneurs embrace the right mindset for success, here is the summary:

The ten steps to a winning mindset involve:

1.   Define your personal intentions and align them to the things you love doing. With this sense of purpose and clarity you can then begin the journey to achieving what you desire from your life, business or profession. Remember alignment must be achieved between personal and professional intentions – they cannot work in isolation.

2.   Prepare yourself for the journey by creating the right mental conditions. Resilience and mental toughness are directly related to your sense of purpose. If you give up after the first hurdle then your purpose is not strong enough! It wont be easy! Be careful about what you think about! That’s what you will get.

3.   Personal responsibility for your actions means that you will make choices and not sacrifices. Belief in yourself is a key part of the way to think – if you don’t believe in yourself then no one will! When things go wrong don’t fall to victim mentality as this gives rise to a whole series of self defeating internal discussions – become the master of your own destiny.

4.   Taking action must quickly follow all the thinking. Success is down to 20% thinking and 80% doing. Strategies emerge when we take action – strategy comes alive in the execution – it is this action that creates serendipity – people will often talk about getting lucky! Success Factor believes that luck is the product of intense activity and personal clarity!  We then start to walk the path of our destiny.

5.   Embrace the spirit of cooperation and working with a team ethos. Going it alone can be a tiresome and difficult journey. Caring and working with others can be the catalyst for us reaching our destination. Finding those who can support our shortcomings and plug the gap in our performance, can make things happen smoother and quicker.

6.   Learning to lead ourselves before we lead others is vital. Once self-leadership has been mastered the leadership of other can commence. This means we must foster an environment that create the conditions for success to flourish, we coach those we are supporting, we communicate with impact and we ensure those under our leadership conform to the rules.

7.   Playing by the rules is an essential part of long-term sustainable success – we must observe the value of humility and operating by a set of values that show caring for others and our environment. Practicing the philosophy of giving before we receive warm the hearts of others and is visible representation of the fact that we live a life of integrity – our reputation is often all we have to trade.

8.   Engaging with others and building win – win relationships is a vital step to success. By embracing a mindset that life is truly a pitch we begin to recognise that competition means that we have to sell to get what we want – this could be our skill and expertise, qualifications, talents or products and services. By active listening and marrying carefully our proposition to what others want – we start to build relationships

9.   A creative mindset helps us to truly stand out from the crowd. Creative capital is often viewed as the ultimate source of competitive advantage because it unlocks our imagination – drives innovative thought and delivers remarkable differentiated results. Keeping a fresh mind and outlook enables us to remain ahead of the game and become memorable to those we need to influence.

10.   Going the extra mile by doing things others wont do will get you remembered. Life has become extremely competitive which means there are far more applicants than jobs, more suppliers than contracts, less places on popular courses.  The only way to get the edge is by digging deep and going one step further than others.


Having the edge will drive growth

07/02/2012

The school of thought that assumes all high growth businesses are technology based is wrong. Fast-moving companies display an edge that connects with their customer’s world, one filled with imagination, inspiration and fresh thinking. Their founders and teams have an inherent ability to spot a niche, an unfulfilled need or problem demanding a solution.

Gazelle performance can be achieved by repackaging a traditional idea. The fusion of a diverse range of business models to produce a whole new experience is a skill high growth entrepreneurs have perfected.

Focusing on activities that don’t necessarily bring in revenue can also attain the edge. However, they do position the organisation head and shoulders above the rest. In other words they produce a wow factor. Leading experts in creativity would claim that 95% of a company’s point of difference is achieved by as little as 5% of what it does.

High growth businesses excite their customers by displaying their edge with passion and clarity. Companies must avoid falling into becoming a“me too” market player – this drives down margins, the cheapest wins, a sort of spiral descent very difficult to recover from.

So how do you find the edge? It starts with the mindset of the leader – old world tells us to think outside the box. My recommendation is to get rid of the box because it does not exist – eliminate limiting beliefs, self-imposed boundaries and negative influences that restrict your ability to think. Find a coach or a mentor who will help you fill the pipeline with new possibilities. Find your 5%!


Business Coaching for Growth

31/01/2012

High growth companies will deliver the jobs

The research clearly shows that a small number of ambitious businesses create a large proportion of new jobs. Vibrant economies are built on a foundation of high growth businesses, those set up by individuals with great ideas, passion and a desire to fulfil their full potential – we need more of them because they are the job generators of tomorrow! Also referred to as gazelles because of the speed at which they grow, these companies achieve growth rates of a minimum of 20% per annum over a three-year period. They emerge from both hi technology and mature sectors, can be small or large and they exist in all parts of the country.

Doing things differently is the thread that runs throughout the fabric of high growth businesses; typically they innovate and create new experiences in the market place. They stand out from the crowd and enjoy the enviable position of a differentiated business model not totally dependent on being the cheapest. They focus on the needs of staff, customers and shareholders in this order. Founders and teams are driven by making a personal and professional difference – this is what makes high growth companies so special.

If we are going to create more jobs then energy, effort and resources must be directed into supporting gazelle minded entrepreneurs, this means

  • Providing tailored advice to meet their demanding and specific needs
  • Speaking to them in language they understand, free from jargon and action orientated
  • Fast tracking them to trusted commercial networks, ones that have a direct impact on commercial performance

Getting these conditions right will to allow more entrepreneurs to flourish. More jobs means more high growth businesses. The new Business Coaching for Growth service supported by BIS will play a pivotal role in unearthing and accelerating the performance of ambitious forward thinking companies.

Winning Pitch is delighted to be part of the Consortium leading the support for high growth companies. Along with Grant Thornton, Pera and Oxford Innovation this service we will deliver a step change in business support.


Small business owners ‘ready to give up’ (what?)

24/01/2012

This was the headline finding of a report compiled by Aviva and covered in today’s Daily Mail. It went on to read “a quarter of small business owners say the economic outlook is so bleak they would rather return to being an employee”. Given the job I do I am more than aware of the pressures and challenges entrepreneurs face, but why is the media constantly pushing out such bad news.

Negativity of this nature can condition ambitious people to hang up their boots up, we must balance all of this with celebrating the successes of many entrepreneurs who have decided not to participate in recession.

Headlines like this do nothing for the spirit or culture of enterprise. A brighter way of looking at the future is looking at the great successes of the past:

General Electric – formed by Edison when US economy faced collapse.

IBM – set up in the middle of a US economy slump

General Motors – went buying spree when the Federal Reserve was approaching melt down

Disney – took off smack bang in the middle of the Great Depression

Microsoft – founded in the middle of a phase of stagflation

CNN – started in a “double dip” recession

Apple– thrived just after the dot-com bubble burst!

These are the messages we should be putting out into the market. One of the key ingredients for business success is the mental toughness of the entrepreneurial team – please can we stop with the doom and gloom – we all know things are tough, stop pushing it in our face. To quote Jim Collins (again) great leaders face the brutal facts but they maintain absolute faith and belief in what they set out to achieve.

Well I am sure Aviva did the research with all best intentions, but this is  my advice to those thinking of packing in:

1. Remember the very reason why you set up on your own

2. Get involved with a network/group and speak to other business owners, ask them for their advice

3. Find a mentor – someone to lean on

4. STOP – take a day off and try to rise above your business situation

5. Surround yourself with positive people

6. Stop listening to enterprising assassins

7. Be aware of negative thinking and reframe with positive thoughts

Challenges are all part of the business growth journey, many of us would be lost without the pain. More success and good news stories PLEASE.


The ego – a danger zone for leaders

11/01/2012

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins wrote about the power of humility, personal will and its links to leadership excellence. Not to be confused with being a big softy, my own experience is that effective leaders running successful companies exhibit loads of it! Humility is the inherent quality of treating everyone as an equal, with respect, candour and dignity. Unfortunately for many, success very often breeds ego’s the size of cannon balls – self-interest overshadows the importance of colleagues, friends, customers and very often family. Acquiring a big ego can lead to a danger zone for leaders – a disconnection from the things and people who lie at the heart of success, they become redundant and forgotten. The ego is a critical ingredient to making enemies and switching off the support from those who matter.

Ego’s are an unsavoury element to corporate life as well, pure observation leads me to believe that all too often judgements are made purely in self-interest. Well my advice is, make balanced business decisions ones which consider the impact on staff, shareholders and customers (and family!). Very often the mighty fall as a result of their ego’s drowning out any appreciation of humility. Self awareness is the antidote and as my Mum say’s – never get too big for your boots!