There isn't time to do everything and hard work alone is no guarantee of success, so how do you make sure that the efforts you do make have the most impact on your career and personal and professional visibility?
Work smarter not harder, learn fast not perfectly, don't wait for permission and when you fail - as you will - fail fabulously. Just part of the advice to my 22 year old self, after a colourful career as a CEO, entrepreneur and child chimney sweep. (You need to view the slides for that joke to make sense!)
This was recorded at Edinburgh University Business School as part of my talk to #IWScot and #BCSWomen on 30th May 2019.
I am deep in startup CEO mode right now, with my new company Vistalworks. But I do intend to resume the interview format episodes as soon as my schedule allows!
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!"
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.
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.
Entrepreneur Jamie Shankland has taken products to market in 40 countries and has found problems worth solving in sectors including oil & gas, fashion and online events planning. He shares the lessons he has learned about ensuring customer meetings have meaningful outcomes, better business development, finding out what customers really, really want as he advises a founder with only 7 months cash left who is trapped having lots of conversations that have yet to convert into paying customers. "You need to reach out to people as you design and certainly before you finish the product. We're ultimately solving problems, your product is only that thing that solves the problem - it is that underlying customer problem that drives everything. Whenever you speak to a customer, it has to be linked to an outcome."
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.
In a very frank monologue episode, Vicky urges entrepreneurs to pay themselves more and dives into the when, what and how to plan for a salary and the things people don't tell you about startup founders personal finances (or lack of them). Clearly, on a roll, and without pausing for breath, Vicky also covers financing your startup in desperate times, what worked and didn't work for her as her company faced running out of money, and what to do and not to do when there are only a few weeks of cash left in the bank.
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.
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.
Taking a more thoughtful approach to understanding market focus was a major learning for Wendy Lea, when as an experienced CEO of a very hot, very high growth VC backed freemium software startup, her urgency to execute led to mistakes that she now recognizes were avoidable. Answering a question posed by a student startup, she references Steve Blank as someone she learns from every single time they meet and shares her thoughts on why a customer development playbook is a necessary reality check to all the BS talked around product-market fit.
Having delivered business solutions in 30 countries, Wendy brings a worldly point of view to digital innovation and her entrepreneurial pursuits - she's currently CEO of Cintrifuse and on the Board of Techstars. In 2012 and 2013, she was recognized as a Women of Influence in Silicon Valley and in San Francisco.
This mini extra episode is the audio of Vicky Brock's March 2018 TEDx Talk about coping with an involuntary career or life pause. After the shock of overhearing she was about to be put on gardening leave from the company she had founded, Vicky found the old map she'd used to navigate her life no longer applied. This is her story of the process she used to be ready to begin again.
The how, why and what you need to know about flexible and remote working with Dana Denis Smith. After realising her first business could not scale, Dana founded Obelisk Support to keep City lawyers, especially mothers, working flexibly around their personal commitments and to provide clients with quality legal support solution onshore. She now manages 1500 remote working lawyers, with over 1 million hours of capacity, and was named by The Times as one of UK's Top 50 Employers for Women and Outstanding Innovator by Legal Week for getting alternate ways of working accepted. "I don't care to be a sexy business owner, I want a sustainable business for the long-term".