Fast tracking growth – go and see what great looks like


The impact of business and personal progression is catalysed when entrepreneurs come together to see for real what excellence looks like. This was brought home to me last week when a group of our High Growth Foundation members assembled to discuss the impact their visit to Silicon Valley had had on their business. The outputs can only be describe as transformational, here are just a few of the comments made:

  • A “just try it” culture introduced has resulted in an increase of £2M in gross profit
  • By thinking big I have won more orders
  • Culture eats strategy every time – my competitors can’t copy my culture
  • Tactics now dictate my strategy – I just get on with it, amazing things happen
  • I am catching the next big market wave and driving the business in this direction, it’s working
  • I am spending more time on the business than in it – this makes things happen faster
  • The inspiration I gained has opened many new opportunities to improve and I am not just talking about it, I am getting on and doing it!
  • I have set up new businesses that are global from day one
  • Life has become easier because I now lead the business rather than get involved in the minuscule things that make no difference – more importantly I have worked out how to stand back and empower others
  • Looking after staff and culture comes first – this takes care of customers

The message I have taken from this community exchange is that entrepreneurs learn best when they are in environments that inspire. Management books, learning events, seminars and PowerPoint presentations on how to build a business plan are great….but, there is nothing more effective than experiencing for real, first hand, in the present, amazing business practice. The stories delegates listened to from founders in global companies like LinkedIn, delivered insights way above any management degree or business studies course. As one of the delegates from another trip to the West Coast said, I learned more from three days than I did from two years studying my MBA. Formal training in business and management without doubt helps us to learn the tools and techniques for growing a business. However, nothing takes the place of seeing “great in action”. This is where the learning really happens. (Having a coach or mentor helps to put what you have seen in action as well)

In a sort of related way it does prove the importance of training the next generation of entrepreneurs by getting them to become apprentices to those already running a business. The reality of what building a company feels like can only be fully understood when you are spinning the plates of customers, staff, finances, delivery, HMRC, the bank, suppliers, pipeline, writing quotations……..

So the messages are:

  • If you want to grow your business fast, get close to someone who has done it/doing it – Silicon Valley experience is a great learning journey
  • If you want to set up a business but are in fear of making the leap, go and spend a week with someone doing it
  • If you want to go global, get on a plane and get immersed in the market and the culture

There is nothing more powerful in business than being around other ambitious entrepreneurs just doing great things. These experiences of observing what great looks like helps to nudge the mindset into a new space, one that thinks bigger and one that is more open to innovation and new possibilities. The economy needs more people to think big, with only 32,000 businesses in the UK employing over 50 staff, we have a long way to go.

You can’t manage and grow your business sat at the desk……fast track your performance by being with doers, avoid the talkers like the plague.

Growth Masterclass – another great trip to Silicon Valley


Last week another group of entrepreneurs arrived back from WP’s High Growth Foundation trip to Silicon Valley. The feedback again was absolutely brilliant and we look forward to sharing the insights over the coming weeks. The core themes of creating an ambitious innovative culture, leadership/team excellence, the power of taking action, focus, belief and embracing a no fear mindset came strongly through from the West Coast global brands – inspiring to say the least. Not only did we hear motivational stories of success – more importantly we heard it from the founders themselves.

Here are some of the companies we met:


Keiretsu Forum is an investment community of accredited private equity investors, venture capitalists and corporate/institutional investors. Forum members invest in high-quality, diverse investment opportunities.  They are a worldwide network of capital, resources and deal flow with chapters right across the USA, plus Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris and London.  “Keiretsu” definition Keiretsu is a Japanese term describing a group of affiliated corporations with broad power and reach. Keiretsu Forum is described as a conglomeration of individuals or small companies that are organised around private equity funding for mutual benefit. Keiretsu Forum believes that through a holistic approach that includes interlocking relationships with partners and key resources, they can offer an association that produces the highest quality deal-flow and investment opportunities.


A construction and technical builder company that specialises in highly complex and sustainable projects.  Founded in 1990, it succeeded in attracting business to such an extent that by 1998 it had a turnover of $1.5 billion and now turns over in excess of $2 billion.  With core values of integrity, enjoyment, uniqueness and ever forward it’s no wonder that the best engineers in the world want to work with DPR.


A world leader in 3D design, engineering and entertainment software.  Autodesk turns over in excess of $2.25 billion dollars, has over 7,500 employees worldwide, products are available in 17 languages and over the past 18 years, all winners of the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in film have used Autodesk software.


Founded in 2001 Obscura Digital works with some of the world’s biggest brands and top advertising agencies creating new forms of interactive and digital marketing.  They develop  hardware and software systems needed for this.  Recently they have worked with companies as diverse as BMW, 3M, Google, Hardrock Cafe and Levi Strauss.


Founded in May 2001 to meet the unique and varied needs of small and middle market businesses from across many industries, and at all stages –-from inception to IPO and beyond – with an emphasis on corporate banking and emerging technology companies.  By the end of 2010 Bridge Bank had total assets in excess of  $1.029 billion.


Founded in 1982, Symantec is a Fortune 500 company with a turnover well in excess of $6.5 billion. The company has evolved to become one of the worlds largest software companies, with more than 18,500 employees in over 50 countries.  They provide security, storage and systems management solutions for customers all over the world.


As the 2nd oldest business school in the United States, the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley is one of the world’s leading producers of new ideas and knowledge in all areas of business.  The university has in excess of 2,200 undergraduate and graduate students each year who come from around the world to study in one of its six degree programmes.


Beginning in 1996 Google’s mission is to “Organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.  Since Google was founded in 1998, they’ve grown to serve hundreds of thousands of users and customers around the world.


Originally founded in 1999 and now with a small but highly skilled staff of just 35, Whipsaw has been selected by  Fast Company magazine as one of the worlds’ top 5 most innovative design companies. Founder, Dan Harden is principal and chief designer at Whipsaw whose clients  include, Nike, Dell, Pioneer, Colgate and Intel.


Linkedin is the business orientated social networking site, Founded in 2002 and launched in May 2003 at the end of their first month of operation, Linkedin had a total of 4,500 members in their network.  Linkedin now has over 100 million members in over 200 countries.  A new member joins approximately every second and Executives from all Fortune 500 companies are Linkedin members.  By 2010 revenues had increased to over $250 million.

What we need to do next is get UK enterprise policy makers on this journey – collectively we can learn some tricks on building our own UK giants – a mission that I intend to relentlessly pursue! Forget gazelles I have now moved on to gorilla’s !

Having an ability to put in a long shift


This was the answer the Yorkshire Post Sports editor gave to the BBC journalists question, why have such a large proportion of Team GB medals been won by Yorkshire athletes? This viewpoint seemed to be backed up by many medalists interviewed on TV over the past few weeks. There are no short cuts to success emerged as a strong and reoccurring theme. Natural talent obviously plays an important role in winning; however, it can also dangerously lead to complacency. Putting in the hours and making sacrifices to get what you want out of life seems to be a sound piece of advice. My experience is that ambitious individuals, who chase big goals, make choices not sacrifices, this may seem like a play on words but the former is a more positive way of viewing the world. Thinking that you are giving something up can lead to negative consequences. However, delaying gratification for a bigger purpose can be extremely motivating. This fusion of graft, mindset and talent wrapped up in personal discipline all contribute to the Success Factor.

A great piece over the weekend by BBC presenter Matthew Syed (sportsman and author of a great book, Bounce) explored how the way you think is just as important as training. The short programme looked at the mindset of success and interviewed a number of iconic Olympians. They told their story of how they developed a ruthless fitness routine in parallel with a programme of getting themselves in the right mental state when it came to competition. The difference between winning and losing often lies in the mind, this was a really powerful statement made by one of the contributors. What sat at the heart of this short documentary was the power of self belief – if you don’t believe you can, then your probably right.

Words of wisdom were provided by Sir Steve Redgrave – don’t try and control the things you have no power to control, focus on what you can control. In other words the ability to control your own performance is all that matters – that means fitness, training programme, health and diet and the way you think. Yourself is the only thing you can truly control. Once you have mastery over yourself, then the winning can begin. We can apply this thinking in enterprise – the biggest difference in the world of business is, there are no medals for coming second. You either win or lose an order.

As we say in our office BYC  – Believe you Can. Not a bad way of starting any competition, whether that be sporting or business, pretty much the same.




This was the headline of an advert in yesterday’s Financial Times, it was placed by the Qatar Foundation ( – unlocking human potential). It summed up wonderfully what I have been recommending to ambitious entrepreneurs on a mission to build a business. All too often individuals fail to create space to think, instead they embark on a crusade of activity with no direction – they fail to think it through. This can be extremely dangerous as chasing around like the proverbial headless chicken quite commonly leads to making decisions later regretted. Here is some fantastic wisdom for those of you running a business (its taken directly from the advert – it’s really powerful and very thought-provoking)

Few things possess more Power than a Thought

Because a Thought has the potential to become something significant. To solve something meaningful. And to inspire us to achieve great things.

What makes a Thought so powerful is that it can be created by anybody. At anytime. From anywhere.

That’s why Thinking should be encouraged and nurtured in all its forms. No matter how small. Or how impossibly grand.

Because wherever Thinking happens, Big ideas follow. Minds become enlightened. Knowledge grows. And people discover new ways to unlock their potential.

So start Thinking

Innovation is driven by the power of creative thought, experience shows that it is in those quite moments of contemplation that breakthroughs occur – a new product idea, new market or solution to an existing problem. It worked for Archimedes when he got in the bath (Eureka) and Isaac Newton when he was sitting beneath an apple tree contemplating the universe.

Thinking is the precursor for strategy development and innovation. Balancing thinking with doing can deliver quantum shifts in performance – it also delivers clarity, one that so many entrepreneurs claim they lack for their business.

10 Principles for Growth


I have touched on these before and updated them for individuals who want to build a high growth business – this stuff really does work. The insight has been built on studying what the best do – I have used them myself and supported/encouraged lots of ambitious entrepreneurs to use them. If you are up for it then embrace them and go for it: The 10 principles:

Principle 1 – An ability to climb the growth staircase

Embrace change and commit to personal development, this facilitates smooth transitions along the growth staircase.

Principle 2 – Effective leadership

Highly tuned leadership and management capability lies at the heart of strong profitable growth. An ability to enthuse others, set and execute strategy is paramount. Internal and external leadership must be displayed at all times.

Principle 3 – Be future focused

Shared clarity of vision and strategy is a must have. A practical game plan with clearly devolved roles and responsibilities is paramount –success is based on 20% thinking and 80% doing. Iteration is vital and let tactics dictate strategy.

Principle 4 – Build a great team

Thinkers, sellers, doers and controllers provide the balance needed to gather momentum – create a culture where values and behaviours are aligned to delivering great service both internally and externally

Principle 5 – Disciplined systems and processes

Innovation and entrepreneurial flair must be tempered with the implementation of a robust set of disciplined systems, processes and controls. The appropriate dials on the dashboard (KPIs)will provide a real time picture of the company state of health. Finance, sales, pipeline, customer service – be clear on the crucial dials for your business. (Disciplined Entrepreneurship)

Principle 6 – Gain an edge through innovation and creativity

Drive innovation into the processes and functions of your company and practice alternative thinking. Be clear on your points of difference and embed a culture of freshness. Fusion of ideas to create new ones helps to drive the “innovative edge”. Have a voice in your sector – be seen as the movers and shakers.

Principle 7 – Build differentiated propositions

Differentiated propositions that stand out from the crowd win the day, they must be memorable – demonstrating and evidencing the difference and impact products and services bring to customers is a job well done. Avoid competing on price, as this strategy is not sustainable; compete on difference – IP, brand and quality.

Principle 8 – Live in the “Customers World”

By living in the “Customer’s World” real product and service needs are captured. This fuels a sales approach based on an authentic sense of purpose – it’s selling what you believe in and not just a product or service. Embed effective customer connectivity strategies within the find, reach, win, keep framework.

Principle 9 – A winning mindset

Condition your mindset to one of infinite growth and potential – Clarity, mental toughness, passion, determination, endurance, faith, sense of purpose, resilience, confidence. A BYC mentality – Believe You Can, is vital to gazelle thinkers.

Principle 10 – Have a mentor

Find connectors who can provide answers to the challenges you face – experienced mentors will help to raise the bar of performance. Be part of a like-minded network, this eliminates the feeling of loneliness – they will point you in the right direction.


The Entrepreneurial G-Spot


So what are the ingredients of a high growth business or gazelle as they are commonly referred to? This is a question that I must be asked at least twice a week. As both a founder of several and adviser to loads I am still learning every day. As an obsessive researcher of their behavior, tactics and strategies, one conclusion is gazelles are not just the stereotypical university high technology spin –out, they are also well established organisations from mature sectors  – with fire in their belly.

So how do entrepreneurs unearth the Gazelle spot for their business? This is the point at which rapid growth ensues, new markets open up, customers display a strong desire to buy and value is created for both the founder and stakeholders. For the economy they become job generators and employers of skilled individuals. The challenge is there are only a small proportion of these businesses, nationally and globally – why? because its really hard to grow a business, get the right people on board pointing in the same direction, raise and manage finance….the list goes. This G-spot takes time to find, as one member of the High Growth Foundation® muttered the other night – it has taken me 10 years to become an overnight success – or as Malcolm Gladwell puts it 10,000 hours of effort and practice are needed to become an expert at anything.

Lots of entrepreneurs talk a good game but many fail to cope with the roller coaster ride that so often accompanies growth – the high and the lows can be quite debilitating and at times the problems just “do your head in”. Having a resilient and positive mindset able to cope with uncertainty and unforeseen challenges is an ability too few have. High growth will usually equate to high risk (that’s why banks are scared stiff of high growth entrepreneurs), embracing fear and having the courage to see through immediate and longer term challenges is a skill high growth entrepreneurs have honed.

The Entrepreneurial G-Spot is a complex framework involving an eclectic mix of business, commercial and emotional components. Put very simply it’s the fusion of a sound business model with propositions and service that carry a market place edge – disciplined doers not talkers execute the plan to achieve the vision and everyone knows their role. The active ingredient is brilliant leadership, more specifically a culture of ambition underpinned by mental toughness and an ability to cope. All too often it’s the latter that is missing, so many entrepreneurs fail to truly realise their potential, they run out of steam and to put it frankly cant be bothered with the hassle.

You’re a long time dead, get stuck in, have a go, fail fast move on, get your head in gear and unlock the potential of your business. Only practice and iteration makes perfect!

High Growth Foundation – A trip to Silicon Valley


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.

High Growth, Charles Darwin and Silicon Valley


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.






Coming soon – High Growth Foundation, Silicon Valley


If the UK is going to become the best place to set up and grow a business then we need to look at great practice. The entrepreneurial capital of the world is the West Coast of the US, Silicon Valley. The UK has the expertise, knowledge, skills and talent to match any part of the world, so what’s holding us back? We need to change our mindset, think big and learn from those parts of the globe that just get on and do it. The High Growth Foundation, founded in the North will lead the charge on encouraging ambitious individuals to release their full potential.

Building on success to date, we will be setting up the HGF in Silicon Valley and encouraging best practice exchange, collaboration and business development. The future of the UK economy depends so heavily on high growth businesses, to get more of them we need a catalyst – hopefully the HGF will demonstrate just what is possible ! Watch this space. – this Friday

Cities Provide Energy for Global Starts – 165 University Avenue


165 University Avenue is a small rented office building on the main commercial street in the centre of Palo Alto, California – Silicon Valley. Also known as the “Lucky Building”, over the years it has incubated a number of “gorilla” businesses, names that include, LogitechGooglePayPalDanger, IncMilo.comeye IO and Yummly. Silicon Valley cannot be replicated, its unique, however, I strongly feel that we can learn a lot from this vibrant world-class entrepreneurial region.

Through the High Growth Foundation I am particularly keen to work out what we need to do to create our own blockbuster businesses up North and throughout the rest of the UK.  The Billion Dollar Club in the US acts as a forum for companies with a market capitalization of $1billion, no surprises that Silicon Valley companies are well represented in this list.  In recent years most notable UK companies that would fall into this elite group would be the spin outs from Cambridge University, Autonomy and Biovex from UCL. How many of these have we created in the North West? I just can’t believe we have not got the talent, I think  the environment is wrong.

We have some great incubator units in the Region, but would one in the heart of Manchester help to create a blockbuster as the West Coast of the States has repeatedly done. The external environment is crucial when you are trying to build a business, it supports creative thought and innovation – a place where there is a buzz, somewhere to go for a coffee, a pizza or a beer after work is so important. After all we are human beings and being stuck out on a limb in some Enterprise Zone I don’t think is the answer. Ambitious entrepreneurs want to be surrounded by like-minded high energy people with links to finance and capital. That happens in city centres.

We need a radical rethink about how we help the stars of tomorrow. The UK cities offer a great environment for breeding tomorrows superstars – but still we are keen to push new entrepreneurs out into the sticks where there is little energy and no spark. Maybe time for a rethink on where we encourage our beacons of tomorrow to set up. Do we have the equivalent of 165 University Avenue in Manchester?  It’s not in the City Centre as it is in Palo Alto.