Startup as a service

If you were the CEO of a large company, who would you turn to for help to recapture your lost mojo? How would you create, test and build new products? Big companies have been steadily getting worse at innovation, whereas startups have begun to eat the world. Small companies can move fast, take risks and attract talent.

Jon Gold at Makeshift
Startups an bring together designers (like Jon Gold, pictured) and developers in much more creative and agile ways. (Photo: Paul Clarke and Makeshift)

The brightest minds of the next generation are spending their weekends building software in hackathons, quitting their jobs to build interesting startups and being investing in by incubators and accelerators. It’s a brave new world, but large companies are still looking for ways to become more agile.

A new trend is emerging where hot studios (that combine design, business and technology skills) are building startups from scratch for large companies. This new approach is reviving the patronage model from Renaissance Florence.

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Value Proposition Canvas Template

A value proposition is where your company’s product offer intersects with your customer’s desires. It’s the magic fit between what you make and why people buy it. Your value proposition is the crunch point between business strategy and brand strategy.

value proposition canvas
The  value proposition canvas includes elements from behavioural psychology and design thinking.

When you’re starting a new project or a new company you need quick and dirty tools to help you focus on executing things faster and better. Good strategy tools exist only to help you focus on getting the right things done. The value proposition canvas is a simple tool that quickly gets you to the ‘minimum viable clarity’ required to start building and testing.

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Management consultants vs. creative agencies

Management consulting firms want to move into design, and creative agencies want to move into management consulting. It seems that everyone wants to swim upstream to the boardroom and consult on innovation, customer experience and design thinking. The widely held theory is that there are good margins in this type of work (and let’s be honest, it’s sexy as hell). But what no one talks about is that the high-end strategy work is actually important because it leads onto the multi-million dollar implementation projects that secretly feed the biggest global agencies

Business Design
Management Consultants and Advertising Agencies are both fighting to move into Digital Innovation Consulting.

Over the years, I’ve worked in several of the grey areas between management consulting and design thinking so I’ve seen some of these macro industry changes first hand. The toughest part of my career has always been finding the chink in a client’s armour that lets us get close enough to the boardroom to ask the really tough questions. It almost doesn’t matter what the starting point is for a project if your goal is to get to the deeper issues inside a business. With all these shifting agency services, it’s hard for clients to know who to turn to these days for advice on big problems.

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Lessons from crowdfunding a bookstore

This is a guest post from my friend Tim Gouw who is a co-founder of the Dutch innovation agency Goweekly. Tim and Maarten have been working with clients on innovation, service design, business design and recently they’ve been helping clients with crowdfunding campaigns.

Dutch crowdfunding

They got started in crowdfunding when they raised 250,000 Euros to help save a a group of local bookstores. I’ve invited Tim to share the things that he learned from the campaign as they’re relevant to equity crowdfunding and also to general community building.

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Creating a new product category

Creating a new category is the aspiration of every enthusiastic entrepreneur. Most business people would love to have a whole category all to themselves. The dream is that if you could be the “only” player in your category, then you could charge whatever you liked and sell an unlimited volume.

In practice, creating a new category is incredibly hard. In fact, it may be the hardest form of branding that any company can undertake. For most companies, it’s hard enough to explain what your product does (and how it’s different to your competitors’). The task of explaining the entire function of a new product category can be too much for many companies to bear.

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Startup event with Barclays and Central Working

Barclays and Central Working recently launched their new Knowledge for Growth event series with an “unconference” event to talk about how startups and blue chips can learn from each other. The Knowledge for Growth events are part of Barclays move to support the startup community in London. The main event was on 7 December at Google Campus in Shoreditch.

Barclays Knowledge for Growth Event
Lots of the team from Barclays pitched in to help out with the event.

Barclays have formed a long-term partnership with Central Working and will be doing lots more to get involved with the startup community. They already have a small team that hangs out at the Shoreditch Central Working venue and they are working on streamlining their products to suit early stage startups (personally I’m hoping for Xero integration).

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Creativity lessons from Noma Restaurant

Noma is a world-famous restaurant in Copenhagen that is leading charge in creativity and innovation. The experience of eating at Noma really blew my mind. Every detail has been considered. The meal leads you on a journey throughout the Scandanavian wilderness. The idea is to use ‘found’ food that had been foraged from nature. There is a child-like wonder to the Noma restaurant that draws you into the story. The passion of the chefs is infectious and they really are on a mission to change the way that we look at creativity and food. Noma was awarded the best restaurant in the world for a couple of years running and there is a lot that we can learn from them about creativity, innovation and company culture.

Creativity in Business
The Noma laboratory and test kitchens create an impressive space for innovation.

We made a special trip to Copenhagen because a friend had managed to refresh the booking page on their website repeatedly until she got a table. A little like buying tickets to an almost sold-out concert. Just before leaving for Copenhagen, a client in the restaurant trade reminded me that that Autumn in Denmark might be a cold time to be foraging and that perhaps the meal would be a bit light. Luckily, the team at Noma are masters at improvising and the Autumn seasonal meal was a masterpiece.

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Gamestorming

Creativity in business matters more than ever before. Luckily, there is a new technique called gamestorming that uses games to encourage creativity in business. The old approaches like workshops, brainstorms, off-sites or hiring a consultant to think for you are no longer enough to create the new ideas that you need. Execution is still vital to bring products to market, but if you don’t have a good idea to start with, then you’re stuffed.

Gamestorming in action
You can use games and play to introduce people, create new ideas and even to prioritise, cull ideas and select the best ones.

I recently gave a presentation on Gamestorming to a group that are advocating for mobile working, digital nomads and creativity called Anywhere Working. The group are facilitated by the team at 33 Digital and David Clare was kind enough to invite me to get involved. I was presenting on behalf of one of the collectives that I’m involved in called Converge+UK. Converge+UK is all about creativity at the intersection of design, business and technology so it was great to share some ideas with the Anywhere Working crew. Rueben Milne had a great take on the ways that creativity can happen in unexpected places and at unexpected times.

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How to write a business book

I have wanted to write a business book ever since I first picked up Tom Peters’ obscure business classic ‘Liberation Management’ as a teenager. I’ve always loved the overlap between business and creativity. Maybe it’s the seductive idea that business (and life) might just be a little bit better if we could get our institutions to act just a little bit more like people.

Tips on writing a business book
It’s important to find a quiet spot to write.

I’ve been working in branding and social media for long enough now to have accumulated some good war stories. I’ve tried out most of the best social media marketing advice and seen what worked (and what didn’t). I’ve known for a while that I had something to say, but I haven’t been quite sure until now that I ‘had a book in me’.

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Brand strategy for startups

Brand strategy is the foundation of all good marketing, advertising and PR. A good brand will help you win customers, raise capital and attract co-founders. You need a minimum viable level of clarity to move fast and adapt your brand as your startup evolves.

Recently I’ve been helping more startups and entrepreneurs with their initial brand creation. What I’ve found is that the challenges that you face starting your own brand are surprisingly similar to the work that I do rebranding multinational companies. A few years back, I put together a new framework for creating a brand strategy. It’s called the Brand Bowtie because it puts together an internal brand architecture pyramid with an external communications pyramid.

Brand strategy for entrepenuers
A fashion entrepreneur faces many of the same branding challenges as a multinational company.

The elements of a successful brand are a vision, values, attributes, tagline, stories and key messages. The internal brand architecture is your little secret, but it will inform everything that you do. The external communications framework is an external tool that you can pick and mix from to build websites, social media and marketing collateral.

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