A scary post!

I have just been re-reading Risk by Dan Gardner and it seems to me that it says people need to understand the scary bits to make them take notice so I am going to include a few quotes from Marc Cenedella to underline things.

Allen and Young Business Brokerage

Basically he is saying that the world is changing rapidly and that unless you are going to change with it then you will not be required in a year’s time. He is talking on a personal level but the same thing is true of your company. If you do not see the pitfalls ahead of you and gear up for the new world then you might as well just give up and go home.

I have spent 20 odd years of gearing up and trying to create companies and ensuring that they do not need me. I have a ridiculously high success rate amongst those companies where I have been involved in the strategy. Apparently people do not understand statistics and a 95% success rate is meaningless to people’s gut instinct so here is another statistic for you to get your head around:

Newsweek, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post were sold last month for about 5% of what they were worth a decade ago.

Basically you have to ask yourself whether you want to be part of the success rate or part of the value drop.

All skills become commoditized over time. That means what was hard to do yesterday, becomes easy today, and worthless tomorrow.

Destination bankruptcy

Do you want your company to be worthless tomorrow? Are you riding the wave of the future or entrenched in the monolith of yesterday? Your company looks like it is built to last but as Marc points out tens of thousands of kids right out of school are doing the type of lending JP Morgan became America’s most prominent financier by doing. It was hard then but the world has moved on.

He felt this skill was specialized and immortal.

But it wasn’t true. Skills pass from the brains of geniuses, to the efficiency of systems, to the dull routine of forms and process.

If you are not able to manage that process of change then bring in someone who has seen it and done it and is able to help and advise you. There is a good reason for having non-execs and consultants: they can stand far enough back to see the forest as well as the trees.

If you disagree with me, want some help or just fancy a natter over a coffee then get in touch.

Rufus Evison

Below is how I view the forest, a lovely image created by Daniel Case at the English language Wikipedia.

Stand back and see the forest Attribution: Daniel Case at the English language Wikipedia
( amzn.to/1atdfwX for as long as the short code lasts )

Using Marketing to take your business to the next level

A problem common to many technology start-up companies is that while they may be staffed by brilliant experts in their chosen field, when they are ready to expand their business into new sectors they lack the sales and marketing expertise to help them. The entrepreneurial CEO is probably used to taking the main decisions for the Company, and may have ensured that the web site is up and running and optimised for search.  But developing a wider marketing campaign has not been a priority….mainly because there is nobody in-house who has the time, the inclination or the knowledge to take it on.

So how can a fast-growing start-up company embrace Marketing cost effectively?

Overall, Marketing is a co-ordination function: it is responsible for bringing together the Company’s vision, positioning, packaging, pricing and distribution into a coherent proposition and promoting it to the target market(s). So it probably makes sense not to delegate Marketing to the most junior member of the team, even though they may have the best handle on social media conventions and enthuse over the power of the latest mobile platforms.

In the information age, Marketing is an analytical exercise rather than a creative punt.  Companies have access to a vast amount of data on the market environment, size and trends; competitor intelligence; insight into customer needs and attitudes, and behavioural and purchasing data.  Thorough research and objective analysis can identify – and quantify – the best opportunities and predict where the best return on investment can be found.  This usually takes time and thought, unless you have the confidence of a Steve Jobs, Larry Page or Sergey Brin to make major decisions on personal conviction

As small enterprises grow, at some stage they need to introduce a degree of process in order to continue to run smoothly. Marketing provides such a process, without needing too much bureaucracy. The Marketing Strategy is like a roadmap of where the company/brand is now and where it aims to get to over a specified time period, and it considers which of the possible routes to take.  The Marketing Plan details the road turnings, the costs and timing for each part of the route. Just like using SatNav, the earlier in your journey you turn the Marketing process on,the more efficient your route is likely to be.

And having a structured Marketing Strategy and Plan with agreed objectives and measured outcomes enables the CEO to keep control over marketing spend while outsourcing marketing tasks to specialists in their field.

Having decided not to give the marketing role to your latest trainee, you might consider using a full service Marketing Agency to develop and implement both the Marketing Strategy and the Plan.  This has the advantage of providing a single point of contact for all your marketing needs.  The Agency will manage their in-house (or associate) creative and technical personnel in the delivery of specific campaigns, and report results on a regular basis. This should deliver a consistent approach but will incur a management fee over and above the cost of the campaigns.

The alternative is to bring expertise in-house, either in the form of an employee or a part-time consultant, to work on the Marketing Strategy and Plan.  Once the Plan is defined in some detail, the Company can decide whether to brief internal resources to handle some elements of the campaign, or shop around externally for the most cost effective digital agencies, graphic designers, copywriters and content developers, web developers, SEOs, PR agents , event managers etc. to fulfil the specified tasks.  (Don’t be taken in by individuals/small agencies who claim to do be able to do everything themselves: in the digital world the specialists rule).

Measuring the ROI of marketing spend has never been easier and the digital age has brought “metric mania” to many Boardrooms.  So just a final plea from a Marketeer from classical days: remember that not everything should be judged short term by views and clicks and likes and leads and sales.

Marketing also aims to establish intangible attributes around trust and reputation that will build brand value for the long term. Brand integrity and delivering on your promise is key.  As the Olympics draw towards their close, the much pilloried words of the G4S ‘company anthem’ still linger in my head:

“We will never leave our posts until the job is done…”.

Ooops!  Now restoring their image and public confidence does present a marketing challenge!

Judy Davis (Guest blogger and marketing Guru)

Introducing Judy Davis Guest blogger and marketing guru

Many startups d0 n0t understand marketing. It is not the same as sales or as advertising but they all go hand in hand. If you decide to sell your product through channel partners and run an advert in a trade journal read by the partners you are managing to use both advertising and marketing to support sales.

Many people mistake media for the sum t9tal of marketing but it is larget than that. Deciding who to sell to is a marketig decision as is deciding how to approach them and how to handle the sale. How does one do all the specialised bits of this in a low budget startup do it all yourself from home environement? The answer is you can do it badly or get help or pay a lot. I do not know nearly as much about marketing as you should so I am going the route of brining in specialist help.

Judy Davis is an independent marketing consultant who has worked with companies ranging from multi-national B2Cs to local B2B companies. Like me (Rufus), she enjoys a “portfolio career” which means that she is available to consult on anything that looks really interesting, but she cannot afford to do much pro bono work at the moment as there are mouths to feed at home. She has agreed to do a guest article for this blog which will be published on Monday.

Read it it will be worth your while! I have had a sneak preview and feel it is worth putting companies I deal with in touch with her to get them the expertise they need. If you are not sure whether you need her kind of help get in touch and I will introduce you or advise you that I do not think you are at the right stage at the moment.

 

Best of luck,

Rufus

Ice Age Village

My son is 6. When he was five he got interested in playing “Ice Age Village” and, as he does, he asked me to play too. I duly did and became intrigued by the business model behind it. I also wondered about the legality of some of it. As such I feel I have to say something so I will try to encapsulate it here.

The premise is that a disaster has taken place (SEE THE FILM) and so a lot of animals are dispossessed and need somewhere to go. A little island of stability if you will. Animals keep appearing on the island out of thin air and you pay a fee to get them to join you, The fees are all in coins (with acorns on them) or in acorns. Presumably once (as happens a little way into the play) the island has broken away from the mainland the coins will be used to pay to fly the animals in from the mainland; before that who knows what they are paying for.

The game is free to download and free to play. You can buy acorns or coins for real money to “speed up every action in the game”. What that means is that with the tasks you are given you will get the option to “skip for X acorns”. That means that in effect you can pay, in real m0ney, to not play the game! The business model of charging people not to play when they could not play for free is an interesting and very effective one.

Both the acorns and the coins can be purchased in different sized packages costing up to £69.99 which is quite a lot to pay in order not to play a game even if the game has cute Pixar graphics. I can only assume that the game is aimed at older kids rather than the young ones that the simple game play suggests.

This brings us, of course, to the gambling. There  is a delightful little sub-game called “Kung Fu Scrat” where you play Scrat the sabre toothed squirrel and use your huge kung fu skills to fight of marauding piranha. You get prizes which seem to be unrelated to how well you do in the sub game as I got the maximum possible prize with the lowest possible score by dint of not actually playing the sub-game. I started the sub-game and then did not take part and still won big.

These prizes are acorns and coins which clearly have value as people will pay for them. Which prize you get is determined by a “wheel of fortune” style interface that shows you the places it could stop and then picks one to stop at and assigns you a prize. I am not objecting to the sub-game as it seems a better than fair bet (I think) and so even if it should be registered as gambling I do not think anyone could have a worse objection than that it gives kids (who DO play this game) the false impression that gambling is generally a good idea.

That said I doubt anyone looked at the fact that the combination of buying the chips (acorns) and winning prizes with a monetary value probably is regulated under the gambling laws in the UK and USA. People probably just look at the cutesy interface and assume everything is okay. I cannot be bothered to try to persuade the gaming c0mmision to take a look but suspect that they really should.

I do however suggest that you take a look at the business model of charging people for points when points that you can assign them at no cost to yourself. It is a good an interesting one. My son even persuaded some money out of my wife before I explained that bringing coins in from thin air was not only paying not to pay but was akin to cheating in the same way that printing your own Monopoly money would be cheating. He has not been interested in doing it again…

Rufus Evison

An opportunity for a budding entrepreneur…

Leon Crisp, who is in charge of Secure Virtual, is looking for someone to take the weight off his shoulders and free him up. He founded Secure Virtual and has succeeded in growing the business, but Leon is not scalable. We have not yet tried cloning him but even if we could would it be ethical? Thus the success of the company has led to a new role being created.

Leon is in the classic position that every founder or CEO in the world is stuck with. There are things that a CEO has to make the decisions on and things that that as the founder he needs to decide. There are also areas where knowledge of the company is critical. This is why at some big corporates the CEO’s PA runs the company. At the moment Leon needs someone to do ‘stuff’ for him. This is a good stage in the corporate development and is being handled well. As with any small company some of the jobs will not be glamorous but the direction this role is heading is a good one.

When the person starts this role it will not be as a PA but as the new operations officer. When the successful candidate gets up to speed they should be well positioned to become the new COO. Whoever it is will be given whatever training they need by the CEO himself but will be expected to be able to pick things up and run with them. They will have the benefit of a successful entrepreneur to train them in what it is like to run your own company.

Basically this is a great opportunity for someone to practice being an entrepreneur before they go full tilt and launch their own venture. They will be expected to stay long enough to ensure that Secure Virtual expands as it should, and who knows they could make a career there having come in close to the top of a successful company. If they do this right they will have a good contact in Leon and have dealt with some other good people in a way that shows them off in a good light.

Sculpting an elephant

A famous artist once said “sculpting an elephant is easy; you just get a big block of stone and chip away anything that does not look like an elephnt”. I am trying to do this with sculpting a career (and a life).
I have three requirements for a job:

    1. It must pay. I am sad to have to include this one but I tried a year without it and it is not sustainable.
    2. It must be interest

Love your work (NCT)

I do not like work. I, like most people, enjoy helping people out and playing.

Research suggests (as I mentioned earlier) that intrinsic motivators are much m0re effective for anything requiring real thought than extrinsic motivators. That is to say that we are better at playing and helping people out than we are at w0rking. Bearing this in mind I am trying to change my way of working so that I am intrinsically motivated rather than extrinsically. I will write a blog article on that called ‘sculpting an elephant’ shortly.

In the meantime let’s look at what it means.  What is the real difference between play and work? Well we work because we have to, but we play because we can. We play to have fun, to be the best and to show off and we do stuff (that I will call play because it is not work) because we feel it should be done (*). Work is firmly based in the extrinsic motivator of money where play is not.

Artists are sometimes people who have made the switch between work and play. They get paid or they don’t, but pay is not why they do their art. They do it for non-monetary reasons. That is what I want to do; I want to enjoy helping people out and arrange not to have to worry about the monetary side of it. I need the money but that should not be the driving factor or I will not work as well as I might.

I am currently helping out the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). I am hoping to be voted onto the board but that will take time. That does not matter. I do not know if I will be paid or not. That does not matter either. Despite not yet being employed by them I have spoken to Switch Concepts (who I am also helping out just now) and we may be able to arrange that Switch use their realtime decision engine to increase income for the NCT. That would be a good thing for both parties and I have enjoyed pushing it forward. That counts as play not work.

I have two kids (Theo and Talitha). I have a great support network amongst my wonderful friends who help out with them in a myriad of ways. Some of that network came from the NCT classes we took when Theo was on the way. That was a very useful service and I approve of the NCT therefore.  I like to promote things I approve of so that is another intrinsic motivator (Purpose). It is why things for the NCT are moving forward before I have even begun to be on the board.

It is also part of why it is good for you and for your company to do things for charities. It helps you feel better and less stressed (which leads to better work on everything). It helps you to learn new skills through the different and more creatively effective motivation. It adds to the good in the world generally.

If you can think of a way you can help the NCT get in touch.

Another pet project of mine is to find someone to arrange that the child helpline workers who volunteer to answer phones can do it without trogging into town. This is pretty straightforward to do technically. They could even work from home. In order to be effective i understand that they need a support network around them so while home works technically somewhere local with people is better overall. The Samaritans do this and would (I am told) probably be willing to share their offices/call centres with a few helpline volunteers. As the helpline’s major problem at the moment is lack of volunteers willing and able to make the trek to the centre of London this could be an important solution for them. I would probably volunteer myself if I could do it locally.

 

If you are willing to take on the task of trying to make this happen then get in touch.

 

So go out there and play at doing good.

Rufus

(*) These intrinsic drivers are described by Daniel Pink in his Ted talk as Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

 

Patterns

Corelation does not imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there'.

People can pick out patterns from noise surprisingly well. It is an evolutionary thing. If you can spot a tiger lurking in the grass you are more likely to grow up and have kids who can do it too. People are also very good at spotting patterns that are not there for much the same reason. The one who runs from a pattern of light lives longer, on average, than the one who stays to see if it is really a tiger. This in-built ability can be very useful. When the web page asks you to identify the letters it is because you are going to be better at it than a computer.
The ability to spot patterns that are not there sometimes leads us down blind alleys. Friday the 13th is not really the unluckiest day (according to QI that is really Monday the 27th) but people see a pattern from a few unrelated events and then look out for evidence to confirm it. Accidents do not really come in threes but if you are worrying about when the last one is coming you could cause it. Rain dances probably don’t cause rain, you probably cannot whistle up the wind and placating Pan by touching wood probably does not avert bad luck, but we are prone, as a species, to seek a cause and effect pattern even when it does not exist.
As an entrepreneur you can either examine the data to check your gut feel or you can end up believing that vaccines cause autism (*).
As an entrepreneur you can also turn to the dark side and use people’s credulity against them to sell your product. I would be interested in hearing anecdotes about people who have dispelled things with data nearly as much as tales of deception. If you can supply either get in touch either through my contacts page or by emailing my first name at my surname.com and if it is amusing I may even (with your permission) publish it on here.
Many thanks to XKCD.com for their hugely relevant image.
Rufus Evison

(*) They don’t but there is a strong correlation between vacination and the onset of autism. Autism happens at the same age whether you are vaccinated or not. Vaccination is scheduled for the same age regardless of whether you later get autism or not. There is a very strong correlation between the onset of autism and the nearest child the same age getting their vaccinations (even if they live 10 miles away and never meet). No one has yet suggested that the nearest child is to blame for being vaccinated and so causing autism nearby but maybe they will now. It is a pattern and people respond to patterns…

A leap?

I am currently on the brink of a frightening and exciting step (*). For years I have been talking about an end-game of a portfolio career; I now have the opportunity to make that first step off the brink.

I have been discussing things with my current employers and I have agreed to move to a two day a month associate contract. As such I now have a considerable amount of extra time to pursue other opportunities so I thought I would get in touch with my network and see what you were all aware of in the wider world that might be interesting?

My history in a variety of start-ups makes me prime, in terms of experience, for a non-exec role of some sort. In that sort of role I feel I have a few advantages. First and foremost I bring integrity. As an outside observer I can point out the emperor’s lack of clothes and being me I will do it. Second through around 20 start-ups I have learned to spot pitfalls before companies walk into them. This means I have a good sense for the proper strategic direction.

I also have a good network of useful contacts and a wealth of experience in retail and analytics as well as a deep technical understanding of all things web related. This shows itself as an ability to take tough or impossible problems and reframe them so as to make them simple, straightforward and implementable.

Are you aware of any opportunities that might benefit from my time? If so please let me know as I am on the lookout right now; it seems the right time. I am particularly looking for roles in companies where I can add some real value. Long term I would like to be on a 70% cash and 30% equity basis though I will be biased by cash initially I expect.

My CV is at “http://rufus.evison.com”. If it seems useful or you come across anyone who might be interested feel free to use it or pass it on. Naturally I can supply a Word Version if it becomes appropriate.

Regardless of whether you have a role that would work for me it would be good to meet up. Networking only works if you do it and I will now have time to see people again so I should take advantage. Get in touch and we will have a chat over coffee or beer…

Rufus

PS I am sort of interested in the idea of doing due dilligence work for VCs and similar companies if anyone is aware of a role? I have done it before occassionally and it seems a fun and interesting avenue.

(*) okay maybe just exciting then, but frightening sounds good…

Data driven companies

I am looking for data driven companies that EYC can either invest in or acquire. We do big data anlysis on retail data (mainly basket level analysis on loyalty card data). We are looking for data driven companies that might be a good fit to either invest in or acquire. What makes a good fit? Well one of two things really:

  1. A data stream about the customers of our clients. Our clients are brands and big retailers and if we can gather more bulk data about their customers we can help them becomje the product or retailer that people want to buy.
  2. A new channel to the customers of our clients. We have long dealt with direct mail and more recently with email and social media but there are many other channels out there that could have potential when approached with real data. If a company can bring us a channel we are not exploiting yet we can use it to talk to cusomers in the way they prefer.

If you know of a company that might be a good fit then get in touch through the Evison contacts page.

Rufus Evison

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