Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneur’

stick it to the man

Technology Entrepreneurs were mavericks, outside the system, changing the world, disrupting society and most importantly … not part of the Establishment. Well that was the way it was or certainly seemed to be. Now, I am concerned, given the increasing numbers today crossing the line. Taking government sponsored roles, moving to the other side of the table with venture capital firms (some supported by government funds), fronting accelerators, entrepreneurs in residence, angel investing and even some being included on the UK Honours lists. All this far to early for most rather than concentrating on and taking the pain and joy of building out a second and third time.
For any that were wondering, yes the system or establishment has always existed ,the top two percent, whatever term you want to use for it. It has always been self-perpetuating, my goodness if you were taking off the table of its bounty why would you want it to stop. But at certain points in the cycle it has been less impregnable, chinks had appeared, a few ladders had been left over the side to climb up or was that just an illusion. Certainly in the last decade it would appear that the ladders have been drawn up behind people who made it over the parapet in more opportune times. Some of you will know that feeling of confronting it head on, even for some people without actually knowing what system it is they had come up against. For those outsiders it tends to hurt.

The system is glue

Well, if it has always been the case, what’s the problem? Focussing on the emerging technology space, if we want to continue to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem, it needs to be a virtuous cycle of successful or experienced entrepreneurs starting again and building their next disruptive companies. What we must not have is them being seduced, distracted or diverted into other peripheral softer network roles that blunt their entrepreneurial ambition. Which in turn has less impact in growing the knowledge base of how to build start-ups. They need to take the bones of what has been successful and use that to do it better the next time, and teach others internally and externally by example. This is what Silicon Valley (sorry to mention it) has been doing for decades, they don’t even hesitate to start another company and at a speed that we are yet to match in Europe.

It really does not matter that we will always be playing catchup with the Valley, what matters is that we do our own thing, play to our strengths and continue to build out an experienced entrepreneurial network. Over twenty years ago unless you were in the inner circle or were introduced by someone who was, you could not understand how it worked or even get a chance to be funded and play your hand. Now it is more transparent with more market coverage, networks and of course the internet itself has helped with that ability to access knowledge. surferBut there is nothing to beat working for or alongside a founding team that have been through the process before with battle scars that have toughened them. The more successful serial entrepreneurs we have in the network who really love what they do, the more chance we have of inspiring greater numbers to join them in the challenge, changing the system from the outside and in the end sustaining the growth of our technology markets.


I talk to start-up entrepreneurs in the technology world on a weekly basis. They tell me about the day to day tribulations of their worlds, often top of the list is closing out their first proof of concepts in the enterprise field. The theme of the conversation is often all about the twists and turns they have to make as a company just to get in the door of a major brand company to prove their product or service can perform in a professional business environment. Never mind worrying about whether there is a business case in terms of ROI.

So let’s say nine months in they get the target company to agree to a limited trial of whatever they are selling, often cloud based services. Amongst many these range from mobile payments, traffic location beacons, battery charging stations, ticketing and hospitality applications.   Perhaps a limited number of offices, shops or arenas to start with, not all based in London as they had hoped for to get easy and economic access with their limited support resources . But spread out all across the UK the client wanting to test the robustness of the service in different regional settings, sometimes ranging from Glasgow to Plymouth.

But full of the entrepreneurial spirit and confidence in their world class engineers that have refined their products they set off to install their services. Most of the time they get away with it, they turn up and with a bit of fiddling with their platforms and network hardware they have bought in they are able to connect to whatever WiFi network that is already incumbent in the target company. Sometimes they use 4G routers if that is the only option if the internal networks are locked down. So the trial starts, perhaps over ten different sites and they are monitoring their services from dashboards built into their products for that purpose. Checking the traffic data which is so often a key feature of their offerings to justify the service is being used and the data is valuable to the client.

Then the inevitable review meeting with the client to discuss the data and how it is going, maybe 45 days in and that is when a few blips in the data begin to surface. You knew this before the review because you have been more keen than the  client to analyse the data. To cut a long story short it would seem two or maybe three of the sites are only performing intermittently and the potential client is using it as a block before they will discuss any further rollout or progress on the negotiation.

Now you have checked your systems and platform with the engineers back at base (not necessarily UK based) and they are convinced from their end that everything is functioning well. But you are the sales led Founder or VP business development faced with the client at the sharp end who does not want to hear anything but definitive proof as to where the issue is and the proposed solution. Sometimes even that won’t be necessary as often you have one shot at this. That twenty percent failure rate, which if they are talking about a rollout of even 250 sites equals a potential 50 sites not functioning properly, would already kill the opportunity stone dead for you.

So it is here that I must declare an interest, I advise Wireless Design Services International WDSi Group a vendor independent professional services team who are world experts in WiFi and other types of network services. It struck me some time back that their expertise in these network areas could be of immense value and support to growth start-ups. Particularly at that proof of concept stage but also if successful in terms of how to rollout professionally, economically and at speed across the whole estate.

So what are a few of the things we have learned from real live proof of concepts we have ended up supporting over the last year or so. The start-up  lands and the incumbent supplier of WiFi won’t even give them an SSID to link to their network, it is not in their interest to be helpful. Even if they do there is so many other critical services running on limited bandwidth it does not make your solution shine or even work. You try to bypass their network by installing your own hardware, perhaps bought in 4G routers which you have no experience of, which then prompts delays from minor details like where they are to be stored, positioned and powered from. Even if you get them in for some reason the signal seems not to stay constant throughout the day or the router goes down and needs replacing.

Inevitably you end up talking to the internal telecoms team of the client, who are nearly always remote from the marketing teams you are selling to. They generally are protective of their networks and won’t allow access particularly to start-ups with no network experience or credentials. They speak a different language, not from your world of expertise and become another barrier to entry. Even if these layers are breached it requires years of experience in design and consultative challenging environments to get WiFi/4G to function at an acceptable SLA level that will get you over the line with an enterprise client.

There are a myriad of reasons why WiFi/4G/Networks don’t function particularly well in challenging environments (the start-up world) and I would be so bold as to say you don’t really want to become an expert in any of them while trying to build out and scale a growth start-up. Rather you need to “stick to the knitting” as we experienced entrepreneurs say and not divert your attention from executing your business plan.

Sure there is a cost to outsourcing the installation, ongoing monitoring and field maintenance support to experts like WDSi, although they do recognise the need to be and are competitive in the start-up world. At the early stages of the POC point on the curve I would and have seen it myself previously as a start-up Founder allocated as a necessary marketing cost in the business plan. If those early trials do not go well, even if your services are one hundred percent and it is the networks that are at fault, you may never gain sales momentum again.


Don’t ever say I am not in tune with the times after acquiring this elegant fashion item with modern features built in such as air bags for comfort?

Yes you have guessed it … Snapped my Achilles tendon on Fri night at badminton match. Now know what George Best felt like when tackled from behind by Norman Hunter in the 70s. Explosive pain in lower calf then dead foot … Strangely then no pain … Which was something.
So stuck in this contraption with crutches for 8 weeks before any real rehab begins so will be 6 months out before back in big game at least. The good news … no operation needed … This is the way forward. Well I always said I wanted time to write my memoirs … No excuse now.
So as Withnail said “We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!”

CN7PZ9F1M6(Check the date article written to get the context)

Leaked Government documents suggest a new class of company named ELTD for entrepreneurs over 45. Discussions in Government circles have recently centred on how best to give the next generation, which will be the work force of the future the best opportunity to succeed. It has been long thought that older more experienced business people, particularly entrepreneurs in the technology start up world have been soaking up and making better use of resources that could be utilised by Millennials. Some restrictions on over 45s have come to light that will help target these resources more keenly towards the younger groups.

Entrepreneurs over 45 setting up a new company will have to apply for the new ELTD class, there will be severe penalties for hoarding dormant LTD vehicle companies prior to the age of 45. The ELTD class of company will only be allowed to trade in regional/urban areas that do not have the TechCity, Knowledge Transfer Network, Digital Catapult, Innovate, Tech Strategy Board, Incubator, HackDay, Science Park designations. They will only be allowed to invest and develop in traditional technologies such as the desktop, minicomputer and mainframe platforms. This includes Telecommunications barring Internet Telephony and returns the focus to traditional platforms like PSTN, PBX, Facsimile and Telex.  This will leave the Mobile, Cloud and emerging technologies such as AI and Robotics to the next generation.

There will be restrictions on where ELTDs can hire from, highlights include, no overseas engineering resource and only graduates from the lower layers of UK Universities/Ex Polytechnics. This will ensure that the elite layers of computer science graduates from top class Universities will be funnelled to the more needy Millennial led start ups. Any Government funded programmes  such as the UKTI led missions will not be available to ELTDs, this also applies to  UKTI supported marketing events such as UK or overseas conferences or exhibitions.

Any of the startup network events such as the regular technology Meetups on the circuit will still be available but ELTDs will only be able to attend for the first 2 hours, leaving the hospitality, often beer and pizzas to be more evenly spread across the millennial attendees. This will also allow the younger generation the best opportunities to let their hair down and to network without feeling their Dad is in the room.

There was an instant strong negative outcry from the City to this leaked background information on the proposed new ELTD status of company. This was soon  reduced to a whisper, when it was explained to them that the Government had no plans to set up an ELLP class for the professional classes. This status quo would continue to allow the lawyers, accountants, corporate financiers, venture capitalists and head hunters to target growth start ups for fees in the highly professional manner they were used to.

When the Minister for Small Business was contacted for her reaction, allegedly she said, the boys tell me nothing, I suppose they will want me to go on Question Time again looking like a startled rabbit in the headlights to justify whatever it is they have dreamed up.

The Chancellor was allegedly heard to say as he walked from his private car into a conference centre, left, left, right, right, no that’s not it, or maybe u-turn before being flung at force through a revolving door into the lobby. Luckily one of his aides was there to catch him.

The Prime minister had a beaming countenance and the journalist who engaged kept saying yes David, no David, yes David, no David not remembering what had been said. He said afterwards that it was very similar to when they were at school together.

The opposition spokesman confirmed that they were only really concerned with big brand companies from traditional industries that hired tens of thousands quoting the likes of Kodak. Although they did say they had not heard from them recently.

Drug of Choice Pic

Aged nine it did not take a lot of time for boredom to set in when out on a fishing trip on the Lough Mourne with my father. The patience required for the trout to bite alluded me at the time, in what now looking back, was a beautiful wooded setting close to my home town of Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland. I was drawn back to those times recently when out on one of my frequent dog walks. I was watching Briar, my six month old Springer spaniel puppy running free among the woods on the Wiltshire plain set above the beautiful Vale of Pewsey.

I was wondering when was the last time I had felt as energetic and wanting to run at that pace for the sheer joy and hell of it? Then I thought back to those fishing trips where I would disappear away from the water’s edge and head up into the dense woods. Just as Briar the puppy had been doing, inventing games in my head to play on my own. One of them was running full on, as I thought at the time, like Hawkeye in the “Last of the Mohicans”. Full of fun and health, just running and skipping between the trees for the sheer love of it. Lost in a world of my own, seemingly on a different plane, losing contact with the ground at points through the speed and agility of movement.

In my late teens I would feel that lightness and almost floating sensation again when I moved to England to train and play Badminton at a semi- professional International level. That occasional feeling in a game, both of all the long hard hours of training mentally and physically coming together in one sublime set of movement and strokes. That ability to glide across the court, jump to new heights to smash the shuttle with effortless ease, creating an adrenalin buzz that would last many hours and take a long time to come down from.

Fleeting times that these were, I would not have missed them for the world; surely this was a type of drug, not just an endorphin rush, but my own private little narcotic. After sport at that level of fitness as many top class sports people will attest, the drop down after you stop playing at that level can be hard. To substitute that sensation or moment is a challenge and one that most never do replace and have to live with that acceptance. I can see here where the temptation of taking a drug might creep in to sustain that level of feeling and performance for just a little bit longer.

Luckily in my late thirties it came to me again. This time as an entrepreneur, a different type of full on existence, some say 24/7 in the whirl of building a technology start-up in the Dotcom era. Based in Silicon Valley California, seven weeks there and 3 weeks back in the UK for over 2 years, a full on adrenalin spree, pushing what turned out to be a successful company into the global market. Again the theme of competition, but less about fitness and more about resilience of mind and body.  Pushing harder than other killer players to win. When you do, the euphoria engulfs and surrounds you again on a very similar level, that floating feeling comes back.

I say luckily, but as I often say to young entrepreneurs starting out on the start-up path having built five companies myself over 25 years. There is only one certainty, at the end of the run you will be sat in a corner exhausted and in tears. This will be because you have either just sold the company and won the game, or alternatively and more likely have lost the lot. Coming back from both scenarios is equally challenging, just different, surprisingly.

As I enter my sixtieth year, I have returned to the badminton after 22 years retired from playing, never having been on a court in anger in all that time. I was not setting out to recapture that feeling of exhilaration again, that would be foolish. But I had been back to the gym for the best part of two years and strangely as I saw it, was as fit as I probably had been in a decade. I had promised myself I would return to the badminton one day when I could play it socially and not mind losing or at least not mind as much as I used to. I had thought after my sixtieth birthday, having gained my senior railcard would be the considered time. But prompted by my current fitness and also thinking you never know what is round the next corner, I signed up for the winter season.

I was out drinking recently with a friend of mine in London; we were coming up the steep escalator at the Angel Tube station. Now I am giving him ten years but we were both moving at pace and we were chatting away as we do about a range of topical subjects. I enquired about his health, a throwaway line as I make it seem, but I am always keen to know my friends and their families are OK. Especially male friends who as we know rarely visit the doctor until too late and are hesitant about discussing these areas.

Anyway, I think he was surprised, but used the term robust to describe how he felt and I thought yes that is the word, as we get a little further down the track, we need to feel robust and able to deal with the hustle and bustle of today’s fast changing world. Those of us lucky enough to have good health and this does seem to be the luck of the draw, should relish that particular high. I have just been reading “The Triumphs of experience” by George E Vaillant this is the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken. The bottom line there being that our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become even more fulfilling than before.

This of course goes against conventional thinking, that in particular, men get set in their ways “can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. But this ability to reinvent oneself at any age is there and needed given modern demands of innovation and the technological impact on our lives. Those moments of joy, ecstasies, floating whatever way we wish to describe them, are all possible throughout life. I am certainly looking forward to creating more magic, using my own drug of choice on the next stage of life’s adventure.