Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneur’

free-wifi

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.

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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.

just-arrived

There are a few, a very few, that keep building start up companies, even when they have either, had their teeth kicked in, a moderate success or a global home run. Most it would seem, fail completely and drift away, which is fine and normal for a very tough game. But a more worrying trend seems to be for people, who have built one reasonably successful start up, defined by profile, impact on market, growth in revenue and people, but no exit on horizon, to not build a second.

Often to be fair to these people they get taken out by their investors as they have not achieved the holy grail of the successful exit or some sort of end point event. But rather than gathering their strength, new found experience and leading another charge into the entrepreneurial trenches they are often seduced by established venture capital companies, incubators, industry/government bodies, anything but doing it again. The choice to do this is often brought on by the syndrome of being able to take money off the table early, even before their start up has played out completely. They have been able to invest in other brighter players as they go along, seen inside the minds of the bankers and I assume get used to a level of lifestyle. That makes it difficult to contemplate betting it all on the next big idea and going back to the world of zero.

This is less of an issue in Silicon Valley, as the numbers play out given the volume of start ups there, here in UK/Ireland the numbers do not stack up. We need every experienced entrepreneur to stay in the game and build again given there are so few capable of doing it. The PR machine does not help, building these people into industry spokespersons, they get invited to attend numerous events globally to tell their war stories and so the guru status builds. Given the nature of the technology business, often still young people at this stage, I can see how easy it would be to lose sight of the reason they built their first start up …. to win.

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I saw this slogan “Youth and talent are no match for age and treachery” on a tee-shirt recently. It prompted me to ponder whether young people coming to London, our fine Capital city would find this to be true of their entrepreneurial experiences. Imagine it you have been to London for a few meetings, on the whole are getting a warm reception to your ideas and are being advised if you want to scale you need to be in London. You are from Newcastle, Cardiff, Belfast, Manchester, Leeds, Dublin and Bristol as examples, big enough places to have a thriving start-up scene where you have made a major impact, but not on the scale of an International city like London. The other point being these cities/towns are small enough for the network to know and have background knowledge about who you are likely to be networking and doing business with.

You land in London, managed to get enough money together to cover the first 6 months rent/deposits and find yourself in the backwoods of London because it is staggeringly expensive, so either a shoebox bed sit or sharing with some other young people who may or may not be from your business world. But it is all very exciting, maybe even slightly scary and adrenalin filled, but you have confidence so you hit the circuit you have read about on-line. So many meet ups, difficult to judge which one or where in the city to spend your time and funds to attend, never realised it was so big. You find some, larger than life on-line but when physically there very lean pickings on numbers of connections, or lots of service companies wanting to sell you something. The good ones you find in the end, as your funds are rapidly diminishing, but here you are one of hundreds of dynamic big play companies that seem to know everyone and have people from all corners supporting them.

How can you make any impact above the noise and you ponder whether you need to raise money for marketing, something you swore you were never going to do. Now as you head is turned a little, the big deals not coming as fast as you would like, cash flow going to be a problem, then they appear. A friendly face, a few drinks maybe that you are grateful for given you can’t believe the prices even in outlying bars, and someone who is taking you seriously at last and really thinks the plan has legs. Perhaps we could meet to discuss this some more, say in a weeks time, come over to my club,  office, boardroom, lunch, my goodness these people seem like players. Maybe even some of their contacts have been on TV or linked to Westminster, perhaps I have got something, I was beginning to have doubts. But surely they have been here for years and would know the good from the bad, nothing to lose in talking to them some more, so you do.

mayfair

It is all very comforting, they think you are great and use terms of corporate business that you have heard once maybe but don’t really understand. They over a few meetings ponder whether it is so strong an idea that you need to raise a lot of money to give it the best chance of succeeding globally. You were thinking low hundreds of thousands they are now talking millions, but again they do this for a living surely they must know the reality of this. You are now in a turmoil , the plan had been to eke out an existence, get a few big name trials under way, and then build on that experience to hone the product. Now this is all much more exciting, less pain, faster progress perhaps off the back of the funding, which they in their smart suits and fancy offices say will be highly probable given the timing of the market.

Your gut is telling you something, a boy/girl from x city just landed in London and they want me, gosh they have already introduced me in passing to the business man who built something major. A name I had never heard of but it all sounded familiar and he was so well dressed, he in turn was impressed with my idea and wished me well. Then they produce contracts, many pages of contracts, clause 29 A etc, and whiz me through it, because whoever reads the detail of contracts and they want me to take it away to ponder it for a week so as not to rush into anything. So you do and having cleared your head the next day from the drinks they supplied the night before you begin to read, lots of detail, commitments, warranties, financial jargon, you begin to get that sinking feeling about how big a deal this all going to be and it is all riding on you.

So you read it again even more slowly, using Google to check the terminology to make it slightly clearer, now you see they want money from you up front to be retained as they put it, to act for you in this fund-raising process. You were sure they said at one point they had the money, a fund surely not looking out for others to invest, and my goodness the amount of money they want per month and a major cut of the money raised. Must be some mistake, the lead guy you have a great relationship with over the last few months must have sent the wrong type of contract, he knows we are a start-up with limited funds. So you ring him to check and after a roundabout conversation about how they have already started the process and had positive feedback from quite a number of interested parties, he while laughing and smiling all the way, says of course they need to be retained that’s how these things work.

They were sure given you are the brightest of the bright and worldly-wise you of course understood that, as they would not have invested so much of their partner’s time in this due diligence process. Which you know does cost money in its self as you will be aware, but we were willing to waive that as you were an outstanding opportunity but he had still to do great work internally to convince the rest of the partnership. So he hoped given all the time and thinking that had gone into this and enhancing your reputation on the circuit it would be only a small step to you signing this off. You are caught cold and don’t want to seem as if you are not part of the big game and a potential player and play for time by offering to come back to them in a few days with a decision which you are sure will be fine.

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And you are shell-shocked, you can’t believe after all this time thinking they were going to fund you and work together as a team to build out the company, that they actually want money from you to fund them. How could you have misunderstood you really like the people and think their experience and contacts would be amazing and the thought of going back to square one again with out that weight and support is so depressing. Maybe you were being naive, maybe this is the way business is done, they have spent a lot of time on you, surely they don’t do that with lots of companies. So the pressure builds and before you know it they have called and you have agreed to meet them to move the process along and you are in the boardroom with two senior partners all smiles and positivity.

The answer to all this is you are not alone, this is the business that this world lives in day-to-day, they are sellers of their services, always there, and as they say “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. Yes they will trawl through dozens of deals, feigning surprise when most of them back off at the mention of retainers and fees because that is the world where it is how they exist. Never mind if and when retained they can actually raise the funds from their network of private wealth clients, angels and small funds. These are the good ones, real offices, partnerships and track records, beware even more the out-and-out con men that have no intention of doing any real work but are there just to fleece you for every penny you have, and they exist wherever there is money on the table. If it seems too good to be true it generally is, all entrepreneurs get desperate at times, the answer is not to give in to that pressure, desperation or conversely positive hype that skews your thinking. Even if you don’t lose money, it is the time spent and opportunity cost that hurts.

There is very little glamour in London, plenty of hangers-on and fair weather friends, it is all about learning the game, hard work and setting priorities, even then very few come out the other end smiling. But it is a learning experience and will ground you for many things by taking on the challenge. So don’t shy away from it, or retreat to the small ponds, rather embrace it with an open mind and get street wise quick. Better still find your own trusted network and home team…. as it is going to be a long game.

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.