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.
Danae Shell and Vicky Brock discuss startup culture, why startup founders have to take responsibility for deliberately creating the culture in their business, and how building balanced, consistent teams can enable startups to thrive in an uncertain, complex environment. Danae explains why setting context is a far more useful employee skill to seek than vision-setting, and why there'll be no room for rockstars or genius a***holes in her new startup.
We cover commercial validation and product market fit and why this time round neither of us will be raising angel or VC investment for our new startups until we're certain that we have it:
"One of the key lessons I have learned so far is... for the love of God do not take scale up money until you are ready to actually scale, and you know in your bones that you are actually ready to scale. Because as soon as that scale up pressure comes, if you are still trying to iterate through anything that comes before scaling, you are just creating an ulcer or worse."
Danae Shell, is a veteran startup employee about to become a founder for the first time. A native Tennessean, she is a programmer-turned-marketer who has been part of the Scottish tech scene for 15 years, working at scale-ups Barrie & Hibbert and FreeAgent before their successful exits. Most recently was Chief Marketing Officer at Care Sourcer, scaling their marketing strategy and teams.
In this episode we discuss the lessons we have both learned across multiple tech startups, and what we will and won't be doing in our latest ventures as a result. We dive into the ways we'll be flexible, keep costs to a minimum, create a very deliberate startup culture, and build teams of consistent "doers" in order to get something in front of users as quickly as possible.
The blog post mentioned is the episode is: "Startup founders. You don't need adult supervision"
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.
Organic farmer and premium food brand producer Endrina Maxwell is one of the most opportunistic and inspiring entrepreneurs to join me on the podcast yet. She explains how she has maximized value and competitive advantage at every stage of the food production process, from innovative fish farming to organic seed, feed and manure production - and in her latest venture the NutriSecret range of healthy, chemical-free food products and cooking oil. We cover brand, differentiation, pricing, benefits not features and how to effectively diversify to reduce risk and pursue market opportunities. She shares her personal tips on finding purpose, focus, and how she uses goals and planning to drive her onward.
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."
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.