Who stole my fruit?

The last decade or so has been paradise for entrepreneurs mainly because as the world shifted more online and on mobile devises there was so much low hanging fruit up for grabs.

Times are now changing. This is not to say that there’s no longer opportunities. There will always be. But now they are shifting to much harder problems to solve.

Much like any new revolution. When industrialization happened, anyone with a conveyor belt a-la Henry Ford’s could churn half-decent products out the door that would sell. Not for very long but they’d sell.

Today to compete in manufacturing you need state of the art equipment, R&D and people. And you probably need to be in China to compete on price.

The same is happening in technology I believe. The name of the game for the past two decades was getting content and inventory online and creating tools to make it discoverable. Starting with the browser, then directories like Yahoo and Craigslist, then search engines like Google, then social networks like Facebook and now Instagram.continue reading »

What Founders should think about before they plunge in

Possibly the worst piece of advice that keeps going round is that  ‘ideas are cheap, its all about execution’. It’s not.

This is not to say that execution isn’t important. But great execution on a mediocre or bad idea will get you nowhere. A great idea that’s radically different will give you room for error and even if you don’t execute perfectly – which you won’t anyway – the business will succeed.

Quite a few entrepreneurs come to me to tell me their idea and get feedback. I always end up saying the same thing. Which is first to be brutally honest with themselves. 99% are not.  They are wrapped up in their own chant. They drink their own coolaid.

Entrepreneurs in general have a knack for making their idea sound great. They can sugarcoat your own shit and sell it back to you without you realizing. They exude passion and get trapped in their own reality distortion field.  And suddenly a crappy product that adds no value to the customer looks like ecstasy. And thats the problem. Most entrepreneurs when starting are not sober (metaphorically speaking). They’re on ecstasy.

So what makes a great idea?continue reading »

Reflections on 2013 and resolutions for 2014

It’s been a good year

2014 has began well. Partly because I was skiing with my family as I usually do in the beautiful alps. The fresh air and the mountain always helps me self-reflect and think more. Without a shadow of doubt that one week skiing may be the most productive of my entire year. And whilst I always push myself to self-reflect that time of year – and this year in particular- is the deepest and most meaningful retrospection of all.

As I reflected on the past year I realized how much had actually happened. We started the year on steroids, the typical ‘go go’ top line investor fuelled growth mode. We operated on vanity metrics instead of sanity metrics.  We were fat and over-bloated. We were management heavy and inefficient. We were shooting for the stars and developed tunnel vision.

And then something painful but retrospectively lucky happened. The investor appetite changed, some of the assumptions, promises and myths came out sour. Some hidden realities came out of the wash. The froth came off the cappuccino.

I’ve said time and time again that the true test in life is what one does when that happens. In our case I’m proud to say that we just picked ourselves up, implemented some drastic changes, got real and elevated sanity above vanity.

It wasn’t easy.  We had to let go of team members, change plans and direction, scrap a lot of things that had emotional equity built in, and especially for the guy at the top who gets the shit from both ends – investors on one and team on other – I can tell you I had more than a few sleepless nights.

But we pulled through. We turned the business into cash-flow positive, we became leaner and meaner, the people staying over being part of the earlier hires who had more dedication and passion about who we are and what we stand for. Who share our sense of purpose.

We made drastic changes like moving from two split locations to one, which meant making our support team in London redundant. We dropped a few balls in the process with some metrics temporarily dipping but overall we came out a winner. Our costs overall halved and our revenue trebled in the year.

For this I am most grateful to the team that’s left over. They are warriors, with heart, passion and dedication. To reward them I doubled the stock pool and allocated a much bigger chunk of equity to the team that stayed for the fight. Some of the more senior management voluntarily took salary cuts in exchange for more stock.

The difference I’ve seen in mindset and perceptions is that from night and day. Its almost a different company now. Before I had employees. Now I have partners. Co-owners. And I push them to look at me more as a peer than a boss.

But good is the enemy of great !

Yet with all of that, I was still troubled at the end of the year. I had a niggling piece of the puzzle missing somewhere. I felt we did good but not great. continue reading »

Ten things that will make you more productive

1. Stop thinking of yourself as the boss. Think of yourself as the customer 

The culture of telling people what to do because you’re the boss is dangerous . First it removes accountability from people taking decisions and creates a safety net to fall back on. Ultimately it came from you so  you can’t really argue withe the ‘you told me so’ argument. If you’re the customer on the other hand, define what really matters to you and its their job to deliver it or step out

2.  Get out of the office

Today I spend a lot more time working out of cowering spaces, hotel lobbies , coffee shops and anywhere else i happen to be. Its the beauty and freedom that cloud computing bestows on us . I find that when im in buzzier more happening and serendipitous surroundings i think better, focus more and get more done while tiring less.

3. Block time in your calendar to think 

Funnily enough things like appointments and meetings get slotted in the calendar for most people but more important things like  thinking about real complex  problems don’t. We subconsciously think to ourselves we will turn to them when we have time, or because there is no physical event we just procrastinate and don’t see the need to slot them in. In the end they keep getting pushed back and never happen. Block time to think about the things that really matter

4. Press the reset button every morning 

I found that backlogs are very contaminating. They contaminate the past present and future. You never clear them out and in  the end you are constantly playing catch up with yourself. I changed this by wiping my backlog clean every day. I wake up with complete amnesia of what i didn’t manage to complete yesterday and i ask myself  ‘whats important today’ . Helps you reset priorities to what matters now not yesterday

5. Have no more than 3 priorities 

Priorities are often confused with to do lists. Your to do list may be endless but your priorities at any point in time should not be more than 3.  if you have trouble selecting exert the stress test: go through the list one by one and ask yourself: if i had to get rid of this item today would the world come to an end? You will find that for most the answer is no. They are not priorities they are nice to have’s continue reading »

Why paid online marketing is like a drug addiction

A lot of entrepreneurs think they can ramp up on marketing to accelerate growth and just see how it goes. They make the mistaken assumption that they can always switch off and go back to the nice organically drive growth they were enjoying before. That’s a mistake. The below example illustrates it in simple math. (and I speak from experience here as we witnessed this at my company PeoplePerHour)

Let’s assume you have a business that’s generating nice continued linear organic growth (defined here as new customers you acquire from word of mouth and referral).

Then one day you start spending – either you raised money or from retained profits.  You do your math and you see that Customer Lifetime Value (LTV) is way in excess of your Cost of Acquisition, so you are acquiring profitably. You get excited and start spending more each month.continue reading »

Frequently asked questions from entrepreneurs

I gave a fireside talk earlier today for London Innovators at Google Campus in London to a group of vibrant entrepreneurs which was most enjoyable. A few of the questions I got asked are questions I  keep getting quite often, so I’d like to share the answers I gave  below

How important is it to differentiate yourself when you start off ?

This is obviously a question that preoccupies entrepreneurs quite a lot. Sometimes too much so. I found myself citing an analogy which I often do.

If you were say BMW in the1920s and pitching the idea of creating a car, most likely the response would be “you’re late. Henry Ford and Mercedes Benz have already done that. Go home”continue reading »

The early days of insanity

This recent Essay by Paul Graham took me back to the beginnings of PeoplePerHour. I read it with nostalgia remembering those early days of insanity, of doing things that don’t scale and make little sense at the time. Yet make all the sense in the world tpday 5 years in.

PPH began as an experiment from an older business I started which was in essence an offline version of what we do today. We were an old fashioned ‘outsourcing shop’. Initially for consumer services and later for business. We’d go to companies (mainly small businesses) and say “give us all the crap you don’t want to do and we’ll do them for you”. We charged £25 per hour. The model was simple: I hired ex-secretaries, and as long as I kept them busy for 70% of their time I covered their costs. The 30% was my profit.

One day, I had an insane idea. I thought  “why am I paying for these people and hiring them out instead of  creating a website for them to hire themselves out directly?”. It was one of those profound ideas where your next thought is “why on earth didn’t I think of this before”.continue reading »