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I hear it all the time, company scaling fast, maybe 200 + people on board or even 1000+,  3 or 4 years in. The functional teams are growing and need managing more closely, You are good at your job, getting good reviews and now prime to be given that first non task orientated management role. Even if it is only 2/3 people, maybe some older than you, you were promised training, but what with the growth and pressure of work the company has not managed to get round to that yet. So you are a little lost, a nice person, well liked, maybe even a good communicator, but in reality now really worried about how to handle all this.

Well the first thing is not to stress too much or panic, the company has failed you a little here, even if they have been great in most other areas. Let them know in a professional manner, nothing over the top, that you really could do with a basic principles of management course. Either bought in to be run in-house or which I think is better offsite, with other company’s people so that you can share experiences together. In the interim pick up some of the better known handbooks on management, the difference between task and people management. There is no shortage on-line or off or recommendations, Peter Drucker’s “The Effective Executive” is a good start, this stuff tends not to date.

So what is this PODC in the headline? Something I was taught over (well let’s not say how many) years ago when I was in my first team leader role in a multinational telecoms company. I too was a young sales hotshot, dumped into the role because of my outstanding sales results, not a grounding for management, as I was a killer loner, which is why I usually won. Luckily they did train me, as was the nature of big companies in those days, with some of the best trainers in the business. PODC has stayed with me across the years from managing small or large 100+ teams in big established companies to whole companies as Founder/CEO of entrepreneurial start-ups.

It is a very simple framework for most things that come across your desk when you are moving at speed and juggling balls..

PRIORITISATION: Set out the key things that you want to achieve, the must haves over the next month or quarter that you can hang your hat on as success in relation to how your particular organisation makes up the count.

ORGANISATION: Set up you team’s resources to be able to deal with the priorities you have set. Work with the team to discuss what they are being allocated and your expectations of how they will approach their tasks and allocation of their time.

DIRECTION: Now walk the talk, management is about communication and support of the team to help them exceed their targets and make them feel good about the process. Don’t shy away from conversations if someone is struggling or going off at a tangent, keep talking and inputting.

CONTROL: Measurement and a checking process is a constant to keep moving in the way you want the team to grow and win. Results positive or negative are valuable, so gain ongoing feedback as well as the ultimate scores at the end of this particular set of tasks. Then reflect and do it better next time.

There is a lot more to this as you can imagine and years of experience help, but it is good place to start and hang on to when the whirlwind seems to engulf you, always good to return to base and map it out, your people will thank you for it.

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Surely the most exciting part of building you’re own business is that week spent writing and honing the business plan document, or is that just me? Only kidding, it is hardly the sexy end of the business, cutting the deals, marketing and counting the money more you’re style I am sure. Certainly you are moving at a pace that given every opportunity would give you an excuse to ignore the plan and all the number crunching that goes with it. Anyway your business is scaling so fast it will be practically out of date before you even get it on paper, so why would you bother?

Even if you agree that you need one, it is always next week/month we will get round to it, meanwhile making hay while the sun shines. You know what, that is still the top priority, getting the deals for whatever it is you are selling, but in the end this one is going to bite you so hard it is going to make you’re eyes water. At some point someone somewhere is going to want to see the plan, even if it is only an executive summary. Why do I know this, well just like you in the early days I used to try to avoid this like the plague, putting in a CFO to handle the numbers and cover that side of the business.

Unfortunately you the C team are the business, have the vision, ideas and plans in your head as to how this company is going to develop. If you have a commercially led finance person they can input, but finding that balance of what the company is today and what you want it to be has to be thrashed out.

This is the hub of it, by going through the process and it will take long hours, you will get close to what this business is all about. The messages to the market, the monetisation layers and what it all comes down to in the end what resource, financial and physical is it going to take to execute and win. You need a document that will hold you all to account at board/management meetings, it’s about measurement. Yes the figures won’t necessarily be accurate, forecasts after 12 months rarely are, but it is not set in stone rather something that continually needs to be updated as you gain more feedback from the market and historical numbers to play with.

Yes, Yes I can hear you say, you are right, we must do it ….. I hear it every month from companies that use me as a sounding board  …. so we agree ……  well get on with it then.

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I was at a recent event out in the sticks from London for a change, technology based and all about the future of a particular layer of mobile development. Something that might affect all of us in the future and as I looked round the room I was struck by the fact that 90% + people there were over forty if not fifty years old. It made me think, is it true that when it comes to the big moves in the game the decisions and politics that shape our world at that level are still made by older grey men?

The magazines and blogs would have us believe that the movers and shakers of the technology world at this time are all young men and women reinventing that world and beginning to control the levers of power in that setting. In small numbers that might well be right and hopefully that will continue to grow as it is a healthy platform to build on. But from many years of negotiating deals on a global basis, it has always been clear to me that when the big decisions are to be taken it seems to return to a table with either one powerful older man or a board of older males, very rarely women to make the final sign off.

Now it is not for me in this piece to fight the cause for this to change, rather it is to accept at this point that this might be the status quo and how to deal with it. When I talk to founding teams of growth companies most of the time there is a certain naivety about who or what they are going to have to deal with over the coming years. They want to do deals, partner and expand internationally but seem to be leaving it to trust that the people that they have to engage with will be similar in thought to themselves. Now this might be true for a limited number of cases within that shiny new circle of emerging players, but when you look into who they will have to deal with on a regular basis as they scale that certainly changes.

That optimism and idealistic approach that has galvanised their companies and belief that others across the table are there to help them grow will be shattered at some point. As they continue to underestimate the nature of big business and a set of long-established rules for playing in that pool, increasing numbers will find their ambition blunted. Well we won’t deal with these people or type of companies I hear them say, well good luck with that, given when you trace back the lines of power to the centre how much control of markets these people have.

A better strategy would be to wise up to the reality of global business, learn the rules fast and begin to accept that not everyone has their company’s best interests at heart when working closely with them, internal or external. Numerous up and coming companies over the years blast out major PR announcements about global deals with big names either in direct sales or joint venture plays. Only for me to discover as I do when generally picking up the pieces afterwards, that the majority of the margin created has stayed with and will continue to stay with the big name player involved. This cannot always be avoided, this is real life and the pressures from larger players can be enormous, but it does not need to be the norm if handled with the right knowledge, attitude and experience on board.

There I was in the gym just doing my usual routine. A set number of exercises blending cardiovascular work with strength building over an average of fifty minutes with a warm up and down of a few minutes either end. This routine had built up from experience over many years of in the early days training to play professionally, then in later years just keeping a level so that I would not hurt myself while playing against generally younger opposition. Just a local gym, nothing fancy, the same faces mainly that mostly know why they are there and what they are doing. But the rest, well I wonder when they are going to hurt themselves given the lack of knowledge of how to approach even the simplest of tasks. Now to be fair the majority are perfectly happy, content to be there and that’s good, better than not being there at all.

But there are a few you can see who with a little bit of feedback and thought could be getting a real lift in return on the time spent there. In fact the real gain for them would be reducing the time they need to spend there, concentrating on quality rather than quantity. Well bar the occasional input from me, if they welcome it, I will leave that to the professionals, which in this field I am not. But it did make me think about the age-old question, in the wider context of my years of business management in the technology markets, whether professional experience at the C level will most of the time trump natural talent, enthusiasm, energy and the will to win of young executives in growth companies?

Well if we are to believe the PR in the trade press there are plenty of success stories of young men and women knocking it out of the park. Building and scaling companies with wonderful business cultures that they just have the spark and vision to drive forward. That is good of course celebrating success and inspiring others to do the same, the entrepreneurial world we live in today. But the reality is for every photo shoot or video that is featured there is a massive counter balance of executives at companies where they have soaked up all the research, books, magazines, network meetings on being a player, but are stalled in the process of recreating that dream for themselves, why?

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Now this can be for a myriad of reasons which I am not going to cover in this article, the question for here is if they were trained professionally themselves, or had professional experience around them as a reality check or guidance would more of them be progressing? I meet a lot of entrepreneurs across the TMT markets and through my trusted networks across many other industries. The theme I see is them making basic mistakes time and time again that comparable professionals removed from their business life’s early on. Now it is impossible and maybe not necessarily a good thing to have these young executives be totally insulated from mistakes and it might toughen them to find out the hard way a few times the consequences of their actions. But if you don’t know what you don’t know, how can you learn on the job in a small company?

But it does seem that some of those more basic things which can really put a company at risk could be easily avoided if the support and feedback was readily available. Growth companies move at a pace where all the bases are difficult to cover especially when you are consumed at the bleeding edge of your market. While there will hopefully always be the superstar exceptions, having a blend in a team, the founding team’s natural talents alongside hardened players has got to be a good thing especially when fighting on multiple fronts. It is the balance of instinctive skills and professional experience in a business which will in the end win in most fast growth situations.

Here is a guest post from Mary McKenna founder of LearningPool on her recent move from Northern Ireland to London and the welcome she has received. Mary and I met for the first time at my business club at 8, Northumberland Ave - 200 yds from Nelson’s Column.  A place that seems to be gaining ground as an economic West End base to work from, if you want to connect to the London start up world and the Irish business network in London. IIBN will be hosting their usual new and prospective member informal drinks there on the night of the 23rd of Feb – all with an Irish connection welcome. (If from the start up world and not Irish, I am always glad to connect with you at the Club – just get in touch)  Over to Mary…..

As I’m sure the whole world is by now aware, I’m coming to the end of my first week living back in London.  Everyone I’ve met this past week or asked for help has been extremely welcoming and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited to a few really useful networking events.  Best of all, however, from the perspective of a newly arrived Irish entrepreneur in London has been the Irish International Business Network or IIBN as it’s known.  The link is here for anyone that would like to know more or find out how to join http://www.iibn.com/london I’m lucky enough to have been introduced to the original WildIrishGuy himself, Damon Oldcorn, and it seems that once you know Damon, you don’t really need to know anyone else.  I’ve always found this to be a good strategy.  Bryan Keating was the first business person I met in Northern Ireland, he’s the exact same and it’s never done me any harm.

Thursday night’s IIBN event started with drinks & chat and it was very easy to circulate and get talking to a few people as everyone’s very friendly and open.  Everyone has an Irish connection even though many, like me, don’t have an Irish accent.  Don’t let that fool you! – they all know their Leitrims from their Letterkennys and their Dungloes from their Dingles.  Our diaspora is a beautiful thing.  There were bankers, recruiters, reps from private equity houses, lawyers, entrepreneurs, investors and no doubt many more besides.  If you’re Irish, in business and in London you need to join IIBN. As part of the evening, our speaker was the charming and self-effacing Rosaleen Blair (pictured).  Rosaleen is one of those women who have achieved a helluva lot but doesn’t go around shouting that from the rooftops.  She just gets on with things.  Most of all, I liked the way she described the values her company operates by and I liked her statement of the 3 things she demands from people in her team and recruits against.  I’ve used these a few times already in conversation with others I’ve met this week but having chatted with Rosaleen on the evening, I don’t think she’ll mind.  They are as follows:

  • Trust – the members of a team have to really trust one another; of course this takes a bit of time
  • Collaboration – people need to be able & willing to work on projects with each other and to work hard to make that collaboration work
  • Sharing – Rosaleen hates it when people hold back knowledge & refuse to share it with other members of the team

I also loved what she said about encouraging a culture of “intrapreneurship” within your own organisation as a way of motivating and retaining the people in your team.  If anyone’s unsure what that means, it’s about encouraging positive aspects of entrepreneurial behaviour but within a large organisation.  It’s something we’ve always tried to do at Learning Pool. Rosaleen told us her story about how she arrived in London from Dublin in the 1990s, not knowing a soul but with a background in recruitment and having run a few small businesses in Ireland, believing herself to be fairly unemployable.  She went to work at Alexander Mann Solutions and over the course of time, persuaded her employer to allow her to try something new to fill a gap in the market and co-create adjacent services with clients (the first one being ICL/Fujitsu).  As it happened, she, working along with James Caan, became one of the early pioneers of what these days is known as RPO (Recruitment Process Outsourcing) and the rest is history.  In 2007, Rosaleen led her team through a £100m management buyout with the backing of private equity house Graphite Capital.  These days her company Alexander Mann Solutions employs 2,000 people working in 70 geographies and 42 languages.

Rosaleen also gave us some priceless bits of advice which I hope she won’t mind me passing on here to others:

  • When looking at which private equity house to go with, do some research and talk to some of the companies your main players have divested themselves of
  • As CEO, always keep your bank manager close & don’t give them any surprises; don’t pass that bank relationship off to someone else in your team
  • If your company is going to be working in some way with a private equity house, get yourself a CFO that has previously worked with a PE house, a CFO coming from a big corporate background won’t have the right sort of experience
  • Trust your own instincts and that of your team every day of the week over the advice given to you by external “experts”

Thanks Rosaleen, thanks IIBN and hello London!

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What an opportunity to mix with your investment peers and catch up on the recent topics in the technology and investment world. Are we in a Bubble? US versus European VCs does style matter? Super Angels and inflated valuations? What next for NI? Boy will there be some bites on the night and not just around the food.

Steve Orr Director of NISP Connect and Alan Watts Director of the Halo Angel Network are inviting a select group of Angels and VCs to join them for a Drinks/BBQ/Tapas Bar evening in London. Please do come and share in the informal dialogue and what we are sure given recent experience will be an animated discussion around the common ground for investment for both Northern Ireland and London. A number of VCs and Angels will be travelling from NI/Belfast to join in the evening with new funds and emerging companies to hear feedback.

Venue:         Gordon’s Wine Bar 47 Villiers St, Strand, WC2.

(The back of the Terrace has been reserved)

Location:     http://www.gordonswinebar.com/hwhere.php

Times:         From 5.30pm to 9pm+

Date:           Thurs 18thAugust, 2011

Hosted by:    http://www.nisp.co.uk/Connect/home_4.aspx   

This evening is part of a continuing programme and we are very clear on the objectives, this is not a short term play for Northern Ireland. Rather more about continuity of connection and discussion with the rest of the European Angel and VC community to reap mutually beneficial rewards. Over the coming years from the seed of discussions started here in London we are sure the rewards will come as that entrepreneurial ecosystem in NI continues to grow. As we have seen already not only have the participants from London had a view on NI but very rarely do they leave without having touched on subjects and new connections on the London scene that further helped their own progress.

We are very much looking forward to welcoming you in typical NI style on the evening. Gordon’s (some say the oldest and best wine bar in London) not along our normal Irish inspired venues theme, but  perhaps a more appropriate relaxed outdoor setting given the time of year. If you are an Angel or VC and would like to be invited to this private event or future gatherings please get in touch with me for confirmation details.

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The power of the internet and more recently social media. Francine Hardaway from Phoenix AZ and Half Moon Bay CA has been in London this week. A stalwart of the start up scene for many moons and seed angel investor. We had never met but have known each other since 1998 when I was based in San Jose CA and kept in distant touch through the blogs and now Tweetdeck/Twitter when I was back in Europe. So when she said she was landing…. well I will let her tell you herself as a little guest post below….

@hardaway  Stealthmode Partners 

I may not have seen Big Ben or the London Bridge, but i have seen my type of London, the London of innovation rather than tradition, youth rather than age. Like startups everywhere, London entrepreneurs occupy interesting spaces in low rent neighborhoods. In London, it’s the Old City area on the not-so-posh East Side. That’s where the action seemed to be on my recent visit. and make no mistake, there is plenty of action. Since the end of the dotcom era in the US, the entrepreneurship bug has spread virally around the globe, and while venture capital is still concentrated in Silicon Valley, angel funding and bootstrapped companies are everywhere. In the last two years I feel like I have had a crash course in why America no longer has a lock on innovation.
Between @DamonOldcorn and Thomas Power, I have been treated like visiting royalty here in  London.  Or perhaps more like Dave McClure. Both Thomas, co-founder of ECademy and Damon, serial entrepreneur and founder of PhoneMe.com during the first tech bubble, introduced me to wonderful entrepreneurs and found me the best events to help me discover the London Tech scene. I started off at TechSet startup pitches, where I watched the kind of event I have seen in every country I visit: a group of startups explaining their companies. Rodolfo Rosini, the keynote speaker,  a three-time Italian-born entrepreneur whose last company developed encryption for cell phones, was blindingly honest about the dangers of taking outside money, and also about how to attract it..”If investors have a committed fund you don’t need to be awesome. just better than the rest of their deal flow.”
The coolest part of that event wasn’t the pitches, but the sponsor, Pinsent Masons LLP.  One of their attorneys has started BootLaw a free site with essential law for startups. Bootlaw also holds monthly events.
The next day, a dozen social media types and entrepreneurs convened by Thomas and by Abigail Harrison, a wonderfully well-connect London PR practitioner, regaled me with accomplishments (one woman has written “Business Model Generation” and one young entrepreneur has launched MinuteBox, monetizing the online consulting time of mentors like me) at a cool pub in Chiswick, the Duke of Sussex. That was a first for me: a three hour lunch, at which one of the attendees was my son-in-law Daniel Richard, who is in charge of sales at an Irish startup, Sonru.
At that lunch I also met one of the co-founders of LikeMinds, a city club for entrepreneurs located right off Trafalgar Square. Damon Oldcorn entertained me there and introduced me to the co-founders of Hirematch.me, who (you can’t make this stuff up) already had met with Daniel about an alliance. I have to admit that I detoured for a few hours and caught a matinee of “Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead” at the Haymarket before going on to the TechHub anniversary party back in the Old City part of town. Here I met the founders of Cravify (for finding, renting and sharing London flats) and Ubicabs (like San Francisco’s Uber). The co-founders of TechHub, which is an incubator and collaborative workspace for startups, are ElizabethVarley and Mike Butcher, who is also editor of TechCrunch Europe. They have done a spectacular job of aggregating the startup community if their party was any indication. It’s a great space with a great reputation.
Once again I remind American readers that we hold no lock on entrepreneurship, and that without constant attention to innovation on our own parts, we can be eclipsed easily by just about anywhere.

George Best

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What do Waxy O’Connor’s, Angels, Northern Ireland, The Bible Code Sundays and VCs have in common?  Well on the face of it very little, especially in London and often in a tech investment world that is so wrapped up in itself ….. so cool….. so inner game. But you know what – that is just on the surface, a veneer that belies great people doing wonderful things and very open to new ideas or opportunities. Obviously the Guinness and Irish music helped as usual on the 12th May at the informal gathering at Waxys in London. I had guessed that not only would the group in from Belfast meet interesting people, some they had never heard of before, but my instinct was the London crowd would meet others from London that maybe they had heard of but just never touched on. So it was  all right on the night so to speak, real players in the room from named VCs  and those Angels you hear about doing sweet deals and of course the Northern Irish extending their hospitality to hear thoughts and stories that start a journey for them. It’s a long game as they say and what is lovely about this one is the people involved from NI and London giving so much of themselves on the night and in the future. Entrepreneurship in NI and the links to the wider world will take time and consistency of contact and engagement to help both sides understand the mutual benefits. So if you are an Angel or VC or feel you should be in the loop keep an ear to the ground or make contact for the next London gathering …. a big clue….. almost certain to be an Irish setting in the West End of London, see you there.  (Ironically it might just turnout to be the coolest invite in London)

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Lets assume for the moment that the feeding frenzy particularly on the West coast US is driving the valuations beyond the point that most Angels want to pay. Maybe that wave is even spilling over into London, so what do you do about it as an Angel to access deals that might be as you see it at a more sane level or entry point? Well I don’t have all the answers (honest) but one way might be to switch to areas because of geographical distance. But still within a less than 50 min plane ride that are not as over subscribed at present,  OK I admit it this is leading up to something that I have organised to help Northern Ireland or the “Belfast Bubble” as I like to call it. I want them to break out a little and up their engagement with angels, syndicates and maybe even early stage VCs on a more constant basis in London. On the evening of the 12th of May 2011 in the West End of London a number of players from NI will be here to mix and share experiences with a back drop of typical NI hospitality and maybe even a little Irish music. I know these early informal conversations are just a starting point to encouraging long-term relationships that will build over years, there is no hurry these things take time. Very much like London did from a base with very few role models some 5/6 years ago, when some interesting people started their Web Missions and networking drinks themes that have become common place now as the London scene has matured. So let me assure you given I have been around this world for quite a while, that I would be very surprised if all parties on the evening did not gain something from the experience even if only talking to others on the London scene. If it sounds of interest and you are an active Angel or a VC contact me for a detailed invite. (Oh and if this date does not suit there will be other London/Belfast events throughout the year so contact anyway)

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The Irish International Business Network www.iibn.com that a group of Irish friends founded in 2007 has come a long way from the days of begging for a venue with a few nuts and crisps to take the edge off the evening. A group of some 5000+ people now spread from London where we started to New York, Dublin and Belfast is really starting to drive business. Broad-based  constituencies from banking, finance, property, construction, media, technology and retail make up a fresh diverse mix of influential players. A range of people from start-up entrepreneurs to names with several successful exits under their belts, established Chairmen and CEOs from well-known corporate names to younger up and comers just starting along the corporate career path. What unites them all is their Irish roots some first, second or third generations from the island of Ireland  both north and south. Without direct marketing and through word of mouth the outstanding reputation of how welcoming IIBN can be has spread.  How the keynote events at our diverse sponsors offices will last long in members memories for their open stance and access to decision makers, this buzz is what drives our membership. Speakers and panels made up of names from fashion, publishing, airlines, telecommunications, catering, property, finance and energy have all given their time for free to engage with IIBN. There is no better time for IIBN to make sure that the Irish entrepreneur or business person gets a crack at the deal and helps shape all Ireland’s economic recovery.