Posts Tagged ‘growth’

Equally applicable to Business, Brexit or POTUS.


Roger Fisher and William Ury (Harvard 1981) tell the story of two sisters arguing over an orange. After some discussion they agree to divide the orange in half, an apparently wise and fair solution. One sister then peels her half and eats the fruit, while the other peels her half, throws away the fruit and uses the peel to make a cake. What appeared to be a wise solution – namely a 50-50 division of the orange was certainly fair, but not very wise. If only the sisters had paid less attention to their positions (how much of the orange each was asking for) and more to their interests (why each wanted the orange) they could have reached an agreement which allowed both to obtain everything they wanted.

Instead of analysing negotiation as a confrontation between two adversaries (each of whom is determined to get as much as possible, while surrendering little or nothing on the way), the ‘Principles of Problem solving’ approach calls for greater collaboration. Each side seeks to do as well as possible for itself, but views the other party not as an adversary but as a potential collaborator. The objective is to find ways to advance one’s self-interest while also leaving room for the other side to do the same. This calls for negotiators to move from statements of position to an analysis of underlying interests.

Exponents of this approach to negotiations argue that opportunities for joint gain result when negotiators are able to metaphorically swing their chairs round so that, instead of facing each other, they are side by side, instead of confronting each other, they jointly confront the problem that challenges both. People negotiate with each other all the time – wives with husbands, managers with workers, nations with other nations. Yet despite the fact that it is a path of everyday life, it is only in recent decades that we have begun to study negotiation systematically. To be sure, not all conflicts are amenable to this joint problem solving approach, many are, however.

Others remain better suited to the more traditional concession-making process, alluded to earlier, in which negotiations begin at extreme opening demands, then slowly shift from these in order to reach some sort of mutually acceptable agreement. Although these two methods of thinking about negotiations would appear to rest on different assumptions about the nature of the process, they are actually very much alike in one key aspect. Both points of view are best suited to the kind of negotiation that takes place between parties of equal power. Whether it is two sisters, or two super-powers, as long as neither party has the power to impose agreement on the other, and parties acknowledge their interdependence, there is room and opportunity for negotiation.

But what happens when power is not equally divided between the parties, when one side has far more power than the other, when one side is far less dependent on reaching a negotiated settlement than the other? As Jeff Rubin and Jeswald Salacuse (Harvard 1990) point out, if two nations are engaged in a water rights dispute concerning a river, and one nation sits upstream of the other, why should the upstream party agree to negotiate, rather than simply decide unilaterally to do exactly as it pleases? In turn, what does the party with low relative power do to persuade its upstream counterpart to come to the negotiating table?


It is usually assumed that success in negotiations is merely a matter of power and that the company with less power is always at the mercy of the company with more power. Yet the history of international relations is filled with examples of large states which failed to force small states to do their bidding (eg the US and Vietnam, the USSR and Afghanistan). These examples raise the question of whether results in such negotiations are not just a matter of power, but also of strategies and tactics.

It is said that everyone loves an underdog, that the skilled negotiator should be able to turn this phenomenon to his or her advantage, that often the seemingly weak are far more powerful than they realise, and that the powerful may be far weaker than is commonly supposed. Well no method can guarantee success if all the leverage lies on the other side. The most any method of negotiation can do is to meet the two objectives: to protect you against making an agreement you should reject and to help you to make the most of the assets you do have so that any agreement satisfies your interests as well as possible.

So is there a measure for agreements that will help you to achieve these aims? Yes there is – develop your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement). The relative negotiating power of parties depends primarily upon how attractive to each is the option of not reaching agreement. Generating BATNAs requires three distinct operations.

  • Inventing a list of actions you might conceivably take if no agreement is reached;
  • Improving some of the more promising ideas and constructing them into practical alternatives;
  • Selecting tentatively the one option that seems best;

Having gone through this effort, you now have a BATNA. Judge every offer against it, having a good BATNA can help you negotiate on the merits. Apply knowledge, time, money, people, connections and wits into devising the best solution for you, independent of the other sides assent.




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.


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.