I’ve worked in venture capital, management consulting and design thinking. But nothing prepared me for the intensity of working inside a startup. I’ve been lucky to have gradually absorbed the startup mindset over several years of working in startup incubators and accelerators. This mindset has allowed me to cope with the intensity of startup life. But the mindset needs to be learned.
Some of the things that you need to succeed in a startup are techniques and information, but the bedrock is the “startup mindset”. This mindset takes time to acquire. I enjoy a good TED talk or conference video. But spending a several hours listening to an audiobook written and read by someone who lives the mindset is one of the best ways you can start to think like a startup person.
To grow a business you need a steady stream of customers and investors because cash-flow is the lifeblood of an enterprise. Yet lots of people around the world still feel uncomfortable with business development, marketing and pitching to investors.
In Silicon Valley there is a saying that the perfect combination of skills for a startup is a developer, a designer and a hustler. Often under appreciated, the hustler is responsible for ensuring that the business has a steady and increasing cashflow. The role of the hustler could be taken by someone with training in marketing, sales or finance. The art of the hustle is really just a combination of clear communication and hard work.
New York and London have a lot in common when it comes to finance, fashion and technology startups. The startup cultures in both cities are focussed on building real businesses not just the latest flashy social mobile apps.
Recently I’ve been in New York checking out the startup scene with VentureOut New York and UKTI. Keith Moses from UKTI and Brian Frumberg from VentureOutNY were our hosts. It was a great trip with an exciting group of startups. We had a full programme of events, meetings and visits. We kept a frenzied pace and I learnt a lot about the startup culture in New York.
As part of our work for the Innovation Warehouse, I’m travelling to New York with a cohort of startups from London. UKTI have helped pull together a group of exciting new businesses from London’s Tech City to take to New York for a modern version of a trade mission. The startups are going to pitch for investment and meet new customers.
VentureOutNY is run by Brian Frumberg (and team) to promote New York as a first port of call for overseas startups expanding into the USA and raising capital from American investors. Over the course of the year, they have had events welcoming startups from all over the world and they have dedicated events coming up for startups from Brazil and Portugal.
Minimum Viable Knowledge is the amount of information that you need to know about a subject to operate effectively in that domain. Tim Ferriss is the master of how to achieve the minimum effective knowledge on any topic quickly, easily and elegantly.
Learning how to learn is one of the main things that makes a good business person into a great thinker. All the things that can hold back a natural strategist, become a strength once you can articulate and accelerate the way that you absorb and process information. Being a polymath is often considered a weakness until you become a credible specialist in being a generalist. Tim has created a robust system for something that a good Renaissance Man has always known: how to quickly learn just enough about something to be dangerous.
Converge+UK is evolving fast from a one-off startup event into an enduring programme of evening events, workshops and conferences. The last Converge+UK event of 2012 was held at the Wayra startup incubator. Wayra is a Telefonica backed startup space just off Tottenham Court Road (at very the north end of Soho). The mature creative neighbourhood of Soho has a very different feel to the startup tech scene in Shoreditch where we’ve held our previous Converge+UK events.
Wayra has around nineteen startups involved in their programmes. The space has a mix of open-plan and breakout spaces. It was opened by Boris Johnson and has hosted dozens of exciting events so we were humbled to have access to the space. Ashley and the Wayra London team were great hosts.
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.
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.
The second Converge+UK event was held at the Innovation Warehouse on 3 October 2012. We had over fifty people attend from a mix of design, business and technology backgrounds. The mash-up of backgrounds made for some great debates and discussions.
The Converge+UK team are getting better at dressing the room to create a sense of occasion. Our branding is getting so good that we even had a few attendees try and (jokingly) steal the event posters at the end of the night. We’ll be making PDFs of the posters available on the Converge+UK website.
New ideas happen when old ideas collide. But if you’ve ever been to a networking event then you might have noticed that birds of a feather generally flock together.
While sitting in an East London cafe, Biotech consultant Tim McCready, entrepreneur Klaus Bravenboer and I bemoaned that business culture in the UK had turned out to be no further ahead in terms of innovation, collaboration and access to capital than our native New Zealand. And in some areas such as Angel Capital and start-up incubators, New Zealand was actually ahead of the UK.
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.
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.