It was fantastically energising to give a talk at TEDx Glasgow Caledonian University yesterday about how I found my purpose again when I found my next startup problem worth solving.
"I’m back with Vistalworks, doing the doing of entrepreneurship, because I have found my next problem worth solving. I have found the people I want to solve it with. And I know how we will recognise when we are making a sufficiently meaningful difference."
Running at 15 minutes, I have shared the talk on the podcast because I think it is relevant. The normal episode type will resume next week.
In this talk I share the 6 questions I ask myself to get from idea to startup, and the quick, cheap validation process I use to de-risk business ideas before I jump in. I bust some common startup myths and talk frankly about how the actual experience of failing, of losing the company I had worked so hard for, was nowhere near as toxic to my mental and physical health as the fear that it might happen.
The script for the talk, first given at TEDx Glasgow Caledonian University, October 12 2019 is at my Entrepreneur Agony Aunt blog - the video will be added to the same page once available.
It’s been a while! I have been busy getting Vistalworks - my startup number 5 - off the ground and I know you know how all consuming that job is. But we’re 9 months in, the first version of the technology is live, I have an amazing team - and you’re questions keep coming (as do mine!) So it felt like the right time to record another 10 Entrepreneur Agony Aunt episodes, the first of 2019, starting with this one.
Building successful teams, and attracting, rewarding and retaining talent is the most requested topic on this podcast - even more so than funding - and in this episode we explore hiring interns and your first junior staff.
My guest is Joy Lewis, CEO of Adopt An Intern. AAI has just placed their 1500th candidate into paid work and in Scotland is the go-to choice for startups making their first hires. Supporting startups and socially-driven organisations to find the right candidates is in their DNA - I use them for my junior hires and I can’t recommend them and the talent they have helped us find highly enough.
Joy Lewis founded Adopt An Intern in 2009 and ran it as a programme within the Centre for Scottish Public Policy until 2012 when she it spun out to become a not-for-profit company. Since then AAI has widened their message of inclusive employment beyond internships to permanent positions and various social impact projects, including breaking down barriers for disabled graduates, women returners and Scotland’s growing minority ethnic population, promoting equality of opportunity in the UK job market.
In the episode we discuss:
- How to think about and prepare for your first hires
- What a good brief of candidate requirements looks like
- Why pay matters and what fair looks like in a cash strapped startup
- What does diversity and equality of opportunity mean, how do you create it, and why does diversity matter so much in a startup?
- Interviewing inexperienced staff, when you’re not necessarily that experienced yourself
- What next once you've found your intern/hire if you've never managed people before
- Tips to help more experienced founders build productive teams
Recorded in front of a live audience of Scottish business owners, Vicky Brock is interviewed by journalist David Ferguson about how and why - after the lowest point of her business career - she is now back with startup number five.
Vicky shares her process on how to start and grow a business, what she has learned across her very different companies and the 9 reasons she has discovered for why your startup may not be growing like you planned.
She explains why the first idea you have almost certainly is not the one that will become your business, why she prefers pain to delight and how her latest startup will achieve more in four months than her previous company achieved in 18 months. Because while it is relatively easy to create a product, and even fairly easy to build a product people will by once, it is actually very, very difficult to create something people will buy again and again. But that is what you need to achieve if you are going to build a business.
"I'm pleased I'm back here doing it all over again - I tried to start a bit too fast last time and we skipped over some important early steps in really finding product and solution fit. I'm not going to make that same mistake again. My whole team are focused on doing the on-paper work that means we test and validate our assumptions up front. And because we're starting in response to very specific challenges laid down by our initial paying customers, I'm starting my this new business with my customer as a full-time lodger, which is great!"
Entrepreneur Pheona Matovu had her family's life turned upside down when a paperwork error meant she was no longer eligible to work in the UK. When, after 5 long years, she and husband were finally able to work again, the couple founded Radiant and Brighter to provide employment pathways and enterprise support for the Black & Ethnic Minority Communities living in Scotland. The company also provides training and education that challenge and inspire groups and individuals to explore perceptions of culture & diversity. For those of you in Scotland, their Bright Futures Women’s Leadership and Enterprise Conference is on Thursday 27th September 2018 at the RBS Headquarters in Gogarburn - there are still free tickets available.
In one of the most inspiring podcast conversations to date, Pheona explains:
"The one thing that connects us is that we are all different. It does not matter what ethnicity or whoever you are, we are all different. Let's not have the tokenism, let's look at the importance of bringing together ethnicity and diversity of culture. Let's have that conversation and create the spaces where we can have that conversation. Because when you open up to a different world you learn so much more."
Read the full episode transcript here
Alex Feechan, founder and CEO of outdoor clothing brand Findra, gives a masterclass on starting your own product or clothing business. From research, market validation, to knowing your customer and shrewd proto-typing of a capsule product range, she gets into the detail of how she spent a year de-risking and building customer and industry validation for her new clothing brand in its "pre-start" phase - all before spending any money. She explains why slowing down was so critical to success, because it let her really understand her customer needs, how she has learned to listen to and trust her gut instincts - and why fours years in and significant growth later, she might just be at the start line.
Alison Grieve, founder and CEO of G-Hold - a multi-purpose ergonomic handhold that can be placed onto any type of tablet or reader - sells her product worldwide through partners like Microsoft Surface, Amazon, Apple and Home Shopping Network. Having successfully cracked delivering sales volume, unit profitability, international IP protection, managing a complex export business and moving back to onshore manufacturing, she joins me to advise a founder looking for advice on how to internationalise their startup business and sales channels.
Building a successful startup and product or service is all about execution, but execution shouldn't be blind. This episode looks at the research and validation questions to ask, customer feedback at the product development stage, how to prioritise features and ideas in or out of scope, and what 'good enough' looks like at the early stage. Guest Stephen Budd has an unusual mix of research, data analytics, and product management skills and has brought software products to market in multiple countries, and led the product management of solutions that have been named eCommerce Innovation of the Year and Best New Product. His customer and market validation work for private and public sector clients has ensured some truly terrible product ideas have gone back to the drawing board, saving heartache and money for all involved, and has helped refine ideas with an inkling of potential into solutions with a robust market opportunity and clear value proposition.
Entrepreneur Dr James McIlroy is founder & CEO of EnteroBiotix, an award-winning and rapidly expanding biotechnology company that he started while at medical school. EnteroBiotix is focused on a whole new field of science and medicine, using the body’s own microorganisms to prevent and treat debilitating infections and diseases. James joins me to discuss practicalities of managing an incredibly busy workload, how he learned to delegate and focus on high yield outcomes - and why he has decided that now is the time to step back as CEO and bring someone in to help him scale the business, while he continues his medical training.
This episode I’m talking about quitting. And I’m talking to myself, because when you have a job, have a company, have investors, have staff - there are some things you just can’t say out loud without major consequences. “I quit” is one of them. So based on my own experiences, and the many conversations had with other founders & CEOs feeling trapped in their startups, here's the if, when, why and how of quitting in your startup.... Quitting your role, quitting the company, exiting a market, project or product - and winding up your startup completely.
Incredibly inspirational "mad scientist", theoretical neuroscientist, AI inventor and entrepreneur Dr Vivienne Ming advises a listener overwhelmed by ideas and possibilities that finding your purpose is more important than forcing yourself to focus and be someone you're not. She talks about the importance of recognising your weaknesses and having a compensatory strategy for overcoming them and why hiring complementary collaborators is essential to entrepreneurial success and to delivering solutions that bring real value to people. As a leader and creative collaborator, she sees her number one job as explaining the why - then to simply be a resource to enable her team to be even more successful.
CEO, Chairman and NXD Kenny Fraser advises a solo founder having an existential crisis about what their role as CEO should be, urges entrepreneurs not to neglect their own personal and professional development - and advises a founder to forget everything they've heard about sales and commissions, in order to ensure their team remains aligned to common goals and a shared compensation structure. Great insights on people, teams, incentives and the growth mindset.
What are the risks and rewards of working in a startup? And what 3 things do startup employees most wish their CEO would learn? I'm joined by Regina Berengolts, my head of data in my last startup, and now leading the data science team at a high growth TV analytics scaleup for the employee perspective on getting the people part of startups right. We talk about the startup mindset we look for in employees, whether a startup job is right for you, CEO transparency and the questions potential hires should be ready to ask of founders. We also get into the importance of knowing what you are hiring for before you bring people in and why you probably don't actually need to hire a data scientist yet.
My three-time co-founder and product lead, Stephen Budd, shares some hard-learned lessons on what non-technical founders need to know in order to successfully lead a technology or software based startup. We talk co-founders, CTOs, product build and outsourcing software development before diving into all things co-founders. When you need a co-founder, where to find them, choosing friends vs strangers, how to set up agreements, who should be CEO and what to do if it is all going horribly wrong with your co-founder.
After being made redundant from her job as a UK Government Minister when she lost her seat in the 2015 General Election, Jo Swinson worried she was unemployable and felt frustrated her business skills were of little interest to recruiters. She reinvented herself as an entrepreneur and author, and was a great advisor to me, before regaining her seat in 2017 and becoming Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats. In this episode we talk unemployment, finances, networking, building a personal brand, repositioning your skills, charging for your time and how to create opportunities that will let even the most accidental entrepreneur thrive eventually.
As businesses grow, they hit key inflection points that mean the old tactics don't work anymore. The interplay of people, structures and process have to be updated as a startup develops and so you have to change how you and your people operate within your company. Mark gives very practical advice on how to recognize and survive these inflection points that increase frustration and reduce productivity. He explains how devolving decision making, growing your own people, encouraging them to look outside for inspiration and setting an expectation of world-class excellence maximizes the chances of surviving the organizational challenges that come with growth.