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.

Startup founder Sam Pettipher of Ebar joins Vicky Brock to explore the details of his recent equity crowdfund investment and shares his advice for other early stage founders planning a raise.

Joining the podcast just six weeks after his crowd fund campaign beat its target by £100k, injecting a transformational amount of cash into EBar Initiatives, a start-up with a mission to change the way the world is served its beer, Sam shares the learnings, execution process, and highs and lows of his successful crowdfund.

He explains how much planning time is required before the fundraising campaign even begins, and the ongoing time commitment required to market the campaign and respond to questions from potential investors. He details how much money founders already need to have committed by investors before the fund-raise goes live on the crowdfunding platform. And he talks about those heart-stopping moments when the investment moved backwards, away from its target, then picked up last minute momentum to beat its target by £100k.

Sam and Vicky contrast bootstrapping, angel investment and equity crowdfunding as options for startups to consider, and find that despite its many upsides, running a successful crowdfund takes time, planning and effort and is certainly not a "quick fix" route to investment.

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"

It’s been a while! I have been busy getting Vistalworks - my startup number 5 - off the ground and I know you know how all consuming that job is. But we’re 9 months in, the first version of the technology is live, I have an amazing team - and you’re questions keep coming (as do mine!) So it felt like the right time to record another 10 Entrepreneur Agony Aunt episodes, the first of 2019, starting with this one.

Building successful teams, and attracting, rewarding and retaining talent is the most requested topic on this podcast - even more so than funding - and in this episode we explore hiring interns and your first junior staff.

My guest is Joy Lewis, CEO of Adopt An Intern. AAI has just placed their 1500th candidate into paid work and in Scotland is the go-to choice for startups making their first hires. Supporting startups and socially-driven organisations to find the right candidates is in their DNA - I use them for my junior hires and I can’t recommend them and the talent they have helped us find highly enough.

Joy Lewis founded Adopt An Intern in 2009 and ran it as a programme within the Centre for Scottish Public Policy until 2012 when she it spun out to become a not-for-profit company. Since then AAI has widened their message of inclusive employment beyond internships to permanent positions and various social impact projects, including breaking down barriers for disabled graduates, women returners and Scotland’s growing minority ethnic population, promoting equality of opportunity in the UK job market.

In the episode we discuss:

- How to think about and prepare for your first hires
- What a good brief of candidate requirements looks like
- Why pay matters and what fair looks like in a cash strapped startup
- What does diversity and equality of opportunity mean, how do you create it, and why does diversity matter so much in a startup?
- Interviewing inexperienced staff, when you’re not necessarily that experienced yourself
- What next once you've found your intern/hire if you've never managed people before
- Tips to help more experienced founders build productive teams

 

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!"

Multi award-winning fintech startup co-founders, Loral and Eishel Quinn of Sustainably, join the Vicky Brock to discuss fundraising and investment challenges with the Entrepreneur Agony Aunt. We talk frankly from the founder's perspective on finding a lead investor, angels, VCs, corporate venturing, the importance in doing your due diligence on potential investors and the challenges of getting investment over the line in a time frame that that doesn't harm your business, when you're the only ones feeling the urgency.

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.

Rachel Bews founded ALICAS, a startup with social purpose and ambitions to scale globally, and she joins Vicky Brock to discuss the particular factors 'for good' businesses need to think about as they startup and plan their growth. A social media professional, with an extensive background in content marketing, she also advises an entrepreneur struggling to get an impact from their social marketing efforts that perception is reality - founders can't afford to be so busy working on their startups that they delay working on the business and personal brands, as they are the same thing. She provides some tips, tools and organic & paid approaches that will help young businesses get more impact from their social media and social purpose efforts - and announces her new Tags-On clothing appeal, to help women fleeing domestic violence to dress with confidence and dignity.

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.

Vicky reports back on her recent Women Entrepreneur's Challenge to Malawi, organised by Kate Webb and her team at the Responsible Safari Company, including what she learned, and the profound impact this has had on her personally and as an entrepreneur. Tackling a listener question on how to startup when you have no money, they discuss the importance of having a support network of other business people, and why having the right people and expertise around you can be more important than cash. Kate shares her own experience of saying yes to opportunities and no to debt, then working with whatever you have to make it happen. To prove her point - the episode ends with an incredibly exciting request for help! If you are interested in getting involved in helping Kate and Dame Kelly Holmes promote Sport For Purpose or fancy joining them on a challenge in October 2018, check out http://www.orbis-expeditions.com/blog/dame-kelly-holmes-the-orbis-challenge-2018/

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