5 Learnings from business failure

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These are my key learnings from previous business failures that have helped me succeed with the next venture.

In my previous post I asked followers what they thought I should blog about. @captaintj and @unfixable suggested writing about my experience of previous business failures. So, here’s the first post on that subject.

There’s a lot to cover here so I’ve tried to keep this to a brief summary with the intention of going into more detail on each topic in later posts.

Introduction

We tend to view failure as a negative. However, successful people recognise that without failure, you can’t learn, grow and ultimately be successful. So we should view failure as an opportunity to learn and improve for the next time.

Steve Jobs founded NeXT Computer in 1985 after being fired from Apple. NeXT wasn’t very successful and Apple later purchased it and brought Jobs back. Not only was he fired from the company he founded, possibly the most brilliant business mind in recent history started a business that essentially failed.

However, this series of failures didn’t derail Jobs, instead it propelled him to further greatness. He faced the same challenges any business owner faces but he chose to turn them into positives.

Now, I’m certainly no Steve Jobs, but I take encouragement from the fact that he learnt from his failures and ultimately became incredibly successful. Trust me, when you are staring down the barrel of failure you are going to need to draw comfort and inspiration from people like Steve Jobs.

Also, remember that building a successful business is hard, very hard. Your chances of success the first time around are low. 9 out of 10 start-ups fail within the first 5 years. However, it is not meant to be easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it!

My advice would be to understand this likelihood of failure and accept that it will most likely happen to you. However, if it does, it won’t be the end unless you let it be. Learn from the experience and take those learnings into your next venture.

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Here are 5 key learnings form my previous business failures that have helped me with my latest venture.

1. Solve a problem people can’t do without

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My first business was a consultancy business based in Hong Kong. The model centered around advising companies on how to manufacture their products in China (I spent 10 years overseeing production lines in China for major consumer electronics brands). We do everything from initial introductions, reviewing product designs to offering a complete turnkey OEM solution.

Business was great until the 2008 global financial crisis. Then, most of our customers had to cut costs and we were on the nice to have but can’t afford itlist.

DON’T BE ON THAT LIST!

In the end we got through it, but we were working very hard just to pay the bills and we couldn’t see how to scale the business in an economic down turn, so we shut it down (see point 5).

Whatever your business idea is make sure that you solve such a strong pain point for your customers that they can’t live without you, even in hard times.

2. Raise enough money

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This might seem obvious, but it is easier said than done. No matter what type of venture you start, you are going to need capital. Unless you are fortunate enough to already have the money yourself, you are going to have to raise some.

There are many facets to raising money which I will cover in another post. However, the traditional ways of raising early seed capital are listed below.

  • Investment or loans from the ‘3Fs’, Friends, Family and Fools.
  • Bank Loans (I wouldn’t recommend this one!)
  • Angel Investors
  • Project Crowdfunding (e.g. Kickstarter)
  • Equity Crowdfunding (e.g. Snowball Effect)
  • Customer pre-sales or deposits
  • Of course, we now have Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) as well now.

Right, now you have got your seed capital. Great! Now what?

If you have gotten this far then you have probably drafted an initial business plan (perhaps not with the 3Fs!).

Now this next part is important:

Be clear on what your cash requirements are to get to each major milestone and double or triple it. Remember, shit happens, something will most likely go wrong at some point, so you need to plan for contingencies.

Recognize that you probably won’t raise all of the capital your business will need all in one go. It’s also unlikely that you will hit your sales forecasts exactly how you forecast them. Sometimes it will be higher but usually they are lower! Also, product development ALWAYS takes longer than expected.

For my second venture we were developing a new type of sensor technology which of course took longer than expected. We had raised $100k from the 3Fs and managed to secure $500k from Angel Investors in Singapore in tranchesof $100k per defined milestone achieved. Our milestones slipped, and they pulled the last tranche of funding. This was one of the catalysts for the business failing but it wasn’t the only reason (more on that later).

Knowing, now, that you will need to raise capital in stages, plan for it. The 3Fs and Angel Investors can’t take you all the way to business success and riches, but they can help you get there.

As the business grows so does the capital requirements. When looking at Angel Investors ask if they have networks into larger funding pools such as Venture Capital firms that they can access once the business matures. Once you have positive cash flow then go to the bank and see what services they offer such as Trade Loans to cover working capital or invoice factoring. If you are like me and don’t like banks then look at crypto projects such as Salt, or Populous and see what they can offer.

However, you do it make sure you DON’T RUN OUT OF MONEY! When you have no cash flow things grinds to halt real quick. Don’t let that happen to you and don’t get into debt if you get there (see point 5)

3. Build a great team early

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You aren’t an expert at everything. In this highly competitive world, trying to be an expert marketer, web designer, manufacturer, manager, sales associate, and accountant isn’t going to work. You have the vison, the passion and the drive for this venture. You will likely have a particular strength such as sales, marketing, design or finance. Focus on that. Then get others to help you execute on everything else.

Now, it’s hard to build a team early when you have no money. It’s also hard to raise money without a great team. Wait? What? Yes, that’s what we call a Catch-22, life and business are full of them. Get used to it.

The good news is, there are some ways around this. Here are some suggestions:

  • Find some founders that share your vision and passion. You’ll have to give away some equity but now you have more people focused on the business without having to be paid any money, yet.
  • Look for advisors in key areas. If they are experienced in a particular field they will usually agree to advise you on an equity-based rate. They don’t need to be 100% focused on your business so they will have other income streams.
  • Strong founders and advisors with expertise in different areas will be viewed very positively by early stage investors as well as prospective channel partners and customers

This was one of the biggest revelations for me when we started Jupl. I was fortunate that Sir Ray Avery was part of the founding team. His high profile gave us access to investment pools that I couldn’t reach but he and I couldn’t do it all, so we assembled a team of software and hardware developers as well as a commercial advisor and investment guru all on an equity basis. Having a talented team and experienced advisors can get you very far early on.

  • Also, look for investors who can actively add value to the business. This could be anything from governance to business development to providing access to larger pools of money later on.
  • Hire accountants and lawyers on a per hour basis. This might seem counterintuitive if you are focused on developing and selling your first product, but trust me, getting sound legal and financial advice will save you a lot of pain and money down the line. Plus, potential investors will be encouraged that you have thought of it. Some firms offer discounted rates for start-ups so look for those. You might also be able to get government grants to part fund this.
  • Get endorsements or testimonials from potential customers or industry thought leaders. Ask them if a potential investor can speak to them. This will give the investor comfort around the viability of your product and market potential.
  • In your business plan, list out the various team roles and leave them blank if they are not filled yet. At least you’ll demonstrate to investors that you have thought of where the gaps are in your business.

4. Fail Fast

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If your product or business is destined for failure because you have the Customer Value Proposition (CVP) wrong, it’s better to find out earlier rather than later. Fail fast, learn and adjust and rinse and repeat until you get it right.

These days there are many tools and ways to do this which I won’t cover here. Instead I recommend you look into the following books.

The Lean Start Up

Lean UX

These books are great for Business to Consumer (B2C) type businesses. If you are selling Business to Business (B2B), especially to larger businesses then I recommend you read Lean B2B

If you’re interested you can check out my interview with the author, Étienne Garbugli here This covers a lot of the experiences we have had to date with Jupl.

5. Know when to let go.

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I’m not going to lie. Accepting that your business is doomed for failure sucks…for a while. Guess what though? It’s actually not as bad as you imagine it to be, so long as you do it the RIGHT WAY!

If you take anything away from this post make sure it is this point. This will save you a lot of pain and hardship and put you in good stead for the next venture.

If you have to get out, make sure you get out clean.

You passion and drive are everything in business but don’t let it blind you to the fact that you have read the market or opportunity wrong, this time. If things aren’t going to plan and the feedback from the market is that the CVP is not there recognise it and walk away, cleanly!

  • Continually carry out solvency tests of the business. I’d recommend monthly in the early stages but certainly not longer than quarterly.
  • Don’t get in to debt
  • Don’t exceed your cash runway
  • Make sure you pay creditors
  • Manage shareholders expectations. This doesn’t have to be the end of the relationship. Bring them along for the next venture and offer them some free equity. That’s what I did and I still have strong support from some of them.

The easiest way to walk away is to put the business into voluntary liquidation. This is a straightforward process so long as you don’t owe any money to creditors, banks and the government (we all know how they feel about their precious taxes!).

There are many risks and pitfalls in business as well as great rewards. Too much to cover here. We will cover more in later posts, but I hope this was a useful summary.

Take care,

Alan

Alan Brannigan
Husband, Father, CEO, Entrepreneur, Tech-Geek, Crypto Enthusiast, Believer in Freedom and Liberty

Email: nalabra@protonmail.com
All other blogs can be found on Steemit — https://steemit.com/@nalabra

10 Books That Helped Me Most as an Entrepreneur

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Introduction

To be successful at anything, I believe you need to always be learning. Reading or listening to books, blogs, podcasts etc. should be a constant activity in anyone’s personal and professional development in my opinion.

As an entrepreneur there is a myriad of information you need to take in as part of the learning journey. In terms of books one should read, or more specifically, books that helped me, this list could easily have been a 25, 50 or 100 books long.

However, you probably don’t have the time to read such a long blog and I certainly don’t have the time to write it!

Instead, what I have tried to do here is list out books that were essential to my development as an entrepreneur across many aspects of business. Reading any of the books in any order would be beneficial but I have tried to order these in a way that best fits the learning journey of an entrepreneur or at least a way that best fit my journey!

The point of this blog is to steer you in a direction that is hopefully useful to you but that will require you to do your own research as well. This is NOT meant to be an in-depth review of each book. Instead, I provide a brief overview of the book, explain why/how it was useful to me and provide links for you to explore further.

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Before undertaking starting up a business and building it to success, you should ask yourself WHY are you creating the business in the first place. Understanding this will keep you grounded and motivated through the roller coaster ride of entrepreneurship.

This book takes that idea to a whole new level.

According to Sinek, most leaders talk about WHAT they do — the products or services that make them money. Some leaders talk about the HOW — the process they use that sets them apart. Very few leaders talk about (or even know) their WHY — the reason the business exists in the first place.

I’ll be honest, it took us a long time to clearly articulate our ‘Why’ at Jupl but once we had all agreed on this at management and board level it became our compass, helping guide many a strategic decision.

Our ‘Why’ has also seen us through difficult moments and helped retain many staff during those moments because it was our ‘why’ that led them to join the company in the first place.
I would strongly recommend you land on this before going much further down the entrepreneurial path.

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The basic premise of this book is that start-ups tend to be much higher-risk endeavours than they need to be. Entrepreneurs in every setting tend to make the same mistakes. They build elaborate products before daring to test them with consumers. They make decisions based on the wrong information, and they stick with bad ideas long after they should. Their behaviour is supported by the entrepreneurial myths of innovators who persisted through endless rejection eventually to be validated by success. These rare cases, Ries writes, lead many to unnecessary failures.

Ries proposes that entrepreneurs undertake a series of small experiments instead. Entrepreneurs should create a “minimal viable product” as soon as they can and start testing it with consumers. It will be worth a thousand hours of strategising and internal analysis. Then they should keep testing every aspect of their business models.

The techniques described here were useful for us in the early conceptual phases of product design. However, whilst this theory can be applied to most aspects in business, I must admit , we struggled to adapt it to complex hardware development and selling into enterprises.

Given Ries’ software background, the principles set out in the book do lend themselves more to faster software development cycles and direct to consumer, B2C, type models. Hence, why I have listed the next book.

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Lean B2B takes the Lean Startup process apart, fixes what is broken for B2B startups and then puts the parts back together. Etienne says you should treat this book like a map for your B2B startup journey because that is how he has set it all up.

He has carefully researched what successful B2B Entrepreneurs did at every stage of their startup journey, compiled case studies and then derived a lean startup process from it. So the ideal use for this book is to keep it on your desk — and whenever you seem stuck in your B2B startup journey open it and instantly get new ideas and approaches for what you are currently doing.

We have found this more applicable to our company given the complex nature and length of our sales cycles.

I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by Etienne last year. You can read or listen to that interview here.

If you are not planning on selling B2B then this book will probably not be applicable to you. However, I would encourage you to look at the rest of the ‘Lean’ series which you can check out here.

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This is not one of those books you’ll read from cover to cover in a week. It’s more of a textbook, or workbook, for entrepreneurs and their management teams to work through issues involved in scaling up their businesses as they encounter them.

Harnish describes the keys to scaling up as: attracting and keeping the right people; creating a truly differentiated strategy; driving flawless execution; and having plenty of cash to weather the storms. As you would expect, there are sections devoted to each of these topics. Each section has at least three chapters and numerous worksheets to be completed. I think, if you work your way through the book, you’ll be happy you did.

I provided a copy of this to every member of my management team and we refer to it regularly. We also review aspects of the book when setting out our annual plan, milestones and budgets each year as it is a useful map to gauge where your business currently is on the growth curve and where you need to get to next.

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This is by far one of the best and most powerful books I’ve ever read in my life. Not only have I implemented aspects of this book into my personal life but I have recommended it to countless people as well.

I’ve also installed the principles in this book into the fabric of all of our business systems and policies at work. I’ve covered these in my previous post here so I won’t cover old ground here again.

This is a must read and yet another book that I insist the everyone on my management team reads.

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If you’re planning to start a company, read this book. If you’re going to be someone in charge of anything in any kind of a company, read this book.

Horowitz shares many challenges he faced in business and how he dealt with those. He also outlines many other case studies from bosses, mentors and peers. Again, you don’t need to read this one cover to cover, instead it’s one to keep handy for when you’re faced with a difficult challenge and need assistance.

You can think of it as your personal mentor and advisor to have near your desk at all times.

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Up until now I’ve focused on books that address the larger aspects of business and entrepreneurship. The next series of books focus more on the implementation of certain aspects of the business.

When it comes to product development there are many books that are available depending on the nature of your business. However, one of the quintessential books on design is The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman.

This explores the fundamental design principles through human interactions with everyday things such as doors, telephones, light and power switches. As Norman explains: “User error is really a problem of bad design.”

An absolute must read for every designer and I would highly recommend it to any product manager as well.

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This book reveals the surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results and that is focusing on your ONE THING!
I’m a big believer in focus and eliminating distractions. I try to practice this principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule, in all aspects of my life and I believe It’s helped me achieve a lot.

Gary Keller provides a lot of practical tips and strategies to identify your ONE THING and eliminate distraction. We installed this principle into our daily stand up meetings and sprint planning process so that everyone is clear on what the number one priority is at that moment in time.

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How To Be A Productivity Ninja proposes the answer to your time management problems. It is a wide-ranging book looking at loads of different ways to squeeze more out of the day without having to work longer hours.

Allcott talks about using attention management instead of time management. In other words, focusing your attention on the right things, because your attention span is far more limited than the time available in a day. You can’t focus at a high level all day as your attention wanders.

This leads on from The One Thing and is very well laid out and a relatively easy read.

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I debated for a while as to whether this book should be included in my top 10. In the end I think it qualifies because it focuses on finding solutions in any negotiations that benefits all parties. This can be applied to any aspect of your business from sales, supply chain to staff hiring and HR issues.

It also supports one of the main tenants in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which is ‘Think Win Win’

Conclusion

As I said at the beginning, this post is meant as an introduction to help you on a discovery path and I focused on the books that were most influential on me.

We keep copies of all of these books, along with many others, in our office and as I mentioned, there are some here that I got for my management team specifically as well.

There are a number of websites around citing the ‘X’ best books for entrepreneurs and I would argue that all of them are right in that they were the best books for them. They may not be the best books for you. My list above may not be the best list for you. That is for you to determine. The point is to start the learning journey. If you are considering starting your own business then chances are that you are already on that journey.

I hope this post was useful and, as always, I’d appreciate your feedback particularly if there are any books that influenced you the most already.

Take care,

Alan

Alan Brannigan
Husband, Father, CEO, Entrepreneur, Tech-Geek, Crypto Enthusiast, Believer in Freedom and Liberty

Email: nalabra@protonmail.com
All other blogs can be found on Steemit — https://steemit.com/@nalabra

5 Ways to Protect Your Time

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Introduction

This week is shaping up to be a very busy week for me. From camping with the family, to traveling to Brisbane for meetings, finishing off a new business plan, coaching my son’s football team and finally travelling to Los Angeles for, you guessed it, more meetings. If that wasn’t enough, after listening to this post by @jerrybanfield, I’ve committed myself to posting 1 Steemit blog per day!

Admittedly, this is a busier week than most but it is still doable whilst fitting in other aspects of my life such as meditation and training for a marathon in October. The only reason this is possible, or more importantly sustainable, is because I am ruthless with protecting my time.

In the spirit of sharing what I’ve learnt and following on from my last postI figured this would be a good time to write about what I do to protect one of my most precious resources, my time.

There are many aspects to this, many methods and many tools to help us do it. However, I’ve tried to focus here on the 5 main ways I’ve managed to protect my time.

1. Plan and Prioritise Your Time

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This assumes you have already committed yourself to goal setting (a topic I will likely cover at a later point). Once you know what your 5-year, 1-year, quarterly, monthly, weekly and yes, daily goals are, you need to decide how you will prioritise your time in order to achieve those goals.

Having researched this in depth, I have found Stephen Covey’s ‘Time Matrix’ to be the best guide for this. This is covered at length in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Stephen Covey’s Time Matrix. Also known as the Eisenhower Box.

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“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”Dwight Eisenhower

As a rule, I try to stay in Quadrant II as much as possible. I aim for 50% Quadrant II, 30% Quadrant I (shit always comes up!), 10% Quadrant III and 10% Quadrant IV (I am human after all!).

Another aspect I’ve adopted is the concept of The One Thing. The basic premise here is that if you could only complete One Thing today to move you closer to your goals, what would it be? Once you’ve ascertained what that is, you do that until it is completed before you do anything else.

This is covered by Gary Keller in his book, The One Thing

I strive to ensure that my mornings are always free, so that I have time to complete my One Thing before getting distracted by email and meetings etc. By all means, create a broader To-Do list. Just make sure that The One Thing is at the top of that list and that you complete that task before moving onto the next one.

2. Obtain Calendar Anorexia

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I aim to have Calendar Anorexia. A phrase coined by Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle Is The Way.

Remember, be ruthless with your time. It is one of your most precious resources. Keep your calendar free for you. Make sure your calendar is populated mostly with Quadrant II activities that will help you achieve your goals.

We all play many roles in life. For example, I play the role of Husband, Father, Brother, Son, Friend, Colleague, Entrepreneur, Boss etc. etc. My goals are spread across these various roles. Therefore, for example, I place as much importance on coaching my son’s football team as I do on closing the next business deal. Each one of these is classed as a Quadrant II task as it relates to me. Therefore, when it comes to my calendar, my Son’s training sessions and game days are as locked in my calendar and precious as any important business task.

Establish what balance you need/want in life and place the necessary importance on them. Let other things slip such as meeting that ‘friend’ you kind of like for drinks, or that company that wants to discuss ‘possible synergies’. If they are not key to you achieving your goals, drop them and move on. Trust me, you will be better off for doing so.

3. Delegate As Much As You Can

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Don’t do anything that someone else can do better and that you can afford not to do. This could include sales prospecting, lead generation, software programming, general admin tasks, coffee runs, lawn mowing, house cleaning etc.

Again, focus on what is important and key to achieving your goals. Delegate everything else to someone else where possible. For those things that are not possible to delegate, let some of them slip. Your world won’t collapse, trust me. Having longer grass in the back garden is a small price to pay for having closed another deal or spending precious time with my family, in my opinion.

In my current company I have 7 people who report directly to me. Their roles cover various aspects of the business, including managing other employees. I now have it set up that anyone from; a board member, to shareholder, to other employee, to customer, to any other external party, MUST engage with one of those 7 people before reaching me. This acts as a great filter because 9 times out of 10 those 7 people are far better equipped to deal with the issue than I would be! This leaves me to focus on the larger aspects and long- term direction of the business.

As another example, our family subscribes to My Food Bag 3 nights per week even though my wife and I both love to cook. The reason being, it’s impossible to cook nice, healthy food every night with everything else going on, especially with 2 young kids! It’s nice to have someone else do the food planning and ingredient preparation for you sometimes.

P.S. I’m still holding out hope that my 9-year-old son will start cutting the grass soon. It’s time to see a return on that investment!

4. Get Assistance.

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When I started my current company I made the mistake of assuming that the need for an assistant was less of a priority than filling roles such software engineers or UX designers. In fact it wasn’t until our third year that I realised I was looking at this completely the wrong way. I realised that, in the absence of an assistant, the person doing those lower priority tasks was me!

Finally, along came Debbie and it’s fair to say that 2 years on, I can’t imagine how I ever got by without her. Of my 7 direct reports she is by far my best filter and main protector of my time. Even when it comes to managing the other 6 managers ;)

Bear in mind this only works if you fully embrace it. This requires a great deal of trust and personality fit. Debbie sits in on every board and shareholder meeting, she controls my email and social media (work wise) and even liaises with my wife on social events. She basically knows, almost everything I know. That takes trust let me tell you. However, in doing that she now knows how I think and therefore can make a lot of the less critical decisions on my behalf. This takes time to get to that level but it is well worth the investment. It’s now at a stage where I sometimes ask her what I should be doing 

Now, I realise that not everyone can afford the luxury of a full time assistant. However, there are other ways such as contracting virtual assistants for specific tasks or tools and services that could automate some tasks for you are all a step in the right direction.

Tim Ferriss covers this well in his book The 4-Hour Work Week

Again, focus on the important and get assistance for everything else if you can.

5. Avoid the email trap!

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Constantly checking and sending emails is a great way to appear busy. However, I’m not convinced that this actually helps you achieve your most important goals. I’ll re-phrase, I’m absolutely f**king certain it won’t help!!!

Stop constantly checking and sending emails, period. Instead, allocate time slots in the day to do this and do so with efficiency. Now, of course, I have Debbie to do this for me, but prior to that, I used the method below which got me down from reading hundreds of emails per day to less than 10. Yes, less than 10.

First, only check emails twice per day. 12pm and 4pm works best for me but choose what works best for you. This ensures you can complete your most important tasks before the inevitable email distractions. Checking emails at night is just a good way of ensuring no sleep!

When checking your email try following these rules:

  • Remember, email is meant to be exactly that, e-lectronic MAIL. It is not meant to be a real time communication tool. If you require such a conversation then trying talking to the person face to face, calling them by phone or using a chat program such as Slack to communicate.
  • If it would take you more than 5 minutes to respond to an email then follow the steps above.
  • When you open your email browser, hit the ‘from’ tab. Then comb through the senders. Select anyone who isn’t in your ‘important’ category and move them into an archive folder or better yet, the trash folder.
  • Next, select the ‘subject’ or ‘ conversation’ tab and rinse and repeat.
  • Next, look for emails that have you on Cc and quickly scan to see if you need to be aware of that topic and then, rinse and repeat.
  • This should cull about 90% of your emails in minutes, allowing you to focus on the important ones. Don’t worry, if by chance you accidently archive an important email, the person that sent it to you will likely re-send it with an ‘important’ tag or they will call you.

Things will not fall apart on you if you do this. In fact quite the opposite will happen and you will have saved yourself precious time and will power to carry out more important tasks.

As far as social media at work goes, my view is unless you are in advertising or marketing, social media shouldn’t feature in your work day. Allocate a time for that outside of work (or lunchtime) and switch off all notifications.

I personally have no notifications on my phone or desktop. I have no direct office line number and I never answer my mobile phone if I don’t recognise the number. I don’t even check voicemail. If it’s important they will follow my answer phone instruction and text me. Again, so far, my world hasn’t collapsed into ruin since doing this.

As a useful exercise you might want to try using Rescue Time. This tool will tell you exactly how much time you spend on certain websites and applications. The results are usually very sobering!

Conclusion

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Your time belongs to you. It is the most precious commodity in my opinion. You never get it back. (Some people reading this post might think “I will never get that time back” Sorry, I’ve got nothing for you if that’s the case! )

You may choose to give your time to work, friends, TV or whatever but ultimately it is your time and you should choose how to use it.

Focus on what is important to you to achieve your goals and let go of the little things. It’s working for me so far.
I hope this was helpful. Again, there are many aspects and methods to this but I’ve tried to focus on the main things to keep the post as succinct as possible.

I would certainly appreciate your thoughts on this subject. Perhaps you have some better solutions that I have not covered here. If so, please share them. I’m learning like everyone else. None of us are as clever as all of us combined.

Take care,

Alan

Alan Brannigan
Husband, Father, CEO, Entrepreneur, Tech-Geek, Crypto Enthusiast, Believer in Freedom and Liberty

Email: nalabra@protonmail.com
All other blogs can be found on Steemit — https://steemit.com/@nalabra

 

5 Critical Start-up Tips for Attending Trade Shows

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Introduction

Last week a colleague and I attended the ATA2018 conference in Chicago. This was a small segment of our overall trip to the U.S., but it did get me thinking about some of the key factors of attending trade shows. Therefore, I figured I would share my thoughts on this with you.

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Me attending ATA2018 last week in Chicago

Attending trade shows can be costly and time consuming so a business needs to think carefully before it decides to invest in a show. This applies even more so to start-ups where cash flow and key resources are usually scarce.

So — is it really worth it?

According to the Centre for Exhibit Industry Research, nearly all attendees (90%) plan to make a purchase within the next 12 months. In addition to the percentage of prospective customers, the vast majority of attendees (80%) are decision makers or have some influence on the business they represent. In addition to being prospective customers, 30% of trade show attendees have a definite interest in your product or service. Over 75% of trade show attendees are looking for new suppliers and buy 1 or more products. Finally, (26%) of trade show attendees purchase products at exhibitions. These statistics suggest that it can be a worthwhile investment.

With this in mind here are some key tips for attending trade shows from a business development and start-up perspective.

Be clear on the purpose of attending.jpg

Cash flow is king in any business but especially critical for start-ups. Cash is usually generated through investment and revenue from sales. Therefore, in my opinion, you should only be attending trade shows to secure either of these things or both. Leave the ‘fact finding’ and interesting market and technical conferences for a later time when the business has reached sustainable break-even.

I mentioned that attending this trade show was a small segment of our overall business trip. We went simply because it made logistic sense (we were travelling from Salt Lake City to Boston) and 2 of our partners were attending which we needed to meet with anyway. To be blunt, had they not been there and our travel plans been different, we would not have attended.

Get the best Return on Investment (RoI) .jpg

Attending trade shows can be expensive. There’s the cost of attending and/or exhibiting, travel to the event, hotels, food and entertainment etc. Make sure you choose the most cost-effective path. Simply attending as a standard delegate with a targeted approach to meet investors, customers, partners or suppliers can be much more effective than forking out thousands of dollars on exhibitor booths for example. Even then, check the pricing tiers to see what works best for you.

Simply attending ATA2018 could cost as much as $1,375 for the full 2-day attendance and conference pass. We were only interested in meeting our current partners and scoping out some competitors. Therefore, we spent a total of $300 on 2 ‘exhibitor hall only’ passes and lunch.

Set clear goals and define success criteria.jpg

In order to understand your RoI of attending a trade show you need to have clear goals and a target outcome of attending. This can only be measured by assigning clear success criteria.

Given the nature of our attendance at ATA2018 this wasn’t really applicable for us this time. The target outcome was to meet with our partners to move a project forward (achieved!). That could have happened anywhere.

However, as an example, we attended Mobile World Congress last year in partnership with Cisco Jasper. This was a large investment on our part, sending three staff from New Zealand to Spain for a week and attending the Cisco Jasper booth. That kind of investment warrants clear goals and criteria which included:

  • Generate international sales leads (Outside of NZ and Australia)
  • Further enhance our strategic partnerships (Cisco Jasper and Samsung)
  • Create global brand awareness
  • Identify industry trends
  • Look for potential EU distributors
Get speaking slots and press coverage .jpg

Being a guest speaker and getting great media coverage will provide you with a much better RoI than standing in a booth all day.

This is not always easy when you are just starting out, but you could look for a particular ‘Subject Matter Expert’ angle in terms of pitching to speak. It might be that you get assigned the slot of the last hour on the last day of the show where no one attends but it’s a start. You’ll at least get published on the website as a speaker which you can milk for all it’s worth! You may even get a copy of the recorded session which you can publish on your website.

If you can’t get press coverage at the event, come up with your own social media campaign. Get selfies with the keynote speakers, tweet on the assigned hashtags, anything to build you profile at the event.

Here are some examples of what we did at a Milken Institute — Asia Summitand Mobile World Congress last year.

Networking is more important than learning. .jpg

Let’s be clear, learning about a market or a new technology is important. However, as we stated earlier, your main purpose for attending a trade show should be to generate cash.

By all means attend some of the talks and seminars that are on offer. Just don’t spend MOST of your time there. You will ultimately learn more by talking and socialising with people anyway, with the added benefit of forming useful business relationships.

Stay at the hotel of the conference where possible. This may be more expensive, but that’s where most of the trade show delegates will be congregating and socialising afterwards. You’ll also save on commute time!

Try to get invited and/or pay to attend the evening events such as the opening night networking session, awards night or formal dinner. This can be a great way to mingle with the movers and shakers in your industry.

Conclusion

There is a whole plethora of web articles discussing tactical tips for attending trade shows (wear comfortable shoes, bring business cards etc.). I’ve tried to focus here on things that are critical for start-ups to ensure precious cash and resources are put to good use.

I hope this was helpful and, as always, please provide your feedback. I’d love to hear about your experiences at trade shows and what you found worked and didn’t.

Take care,

Alan

Alan Brannigan
Husband, Father, CEO, Entrepreneur, Tech-Geek, Crypto Enthusiast, Believer in Freedom and Liberty

Email: nalabra@protonmail.com
All other blogs can be found on Steemit — https://steemit.com/@nalabra

7 Habits of Highly Effective People — In practice

7 Habits Intro.jpg

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey has been one of the most influential books I have read (and still do). However, reading something inspiring is one thing, putting it into practice is quite another.

In this post I outline a summary of the 7 habits discussed in the book but with examples of how we have put this into practice in our company.

be proactive.jpg

Covey defines proactivity (and the paradigm shift that comes with it) as exercising your freedom to choose self-awareness, imagination, conscience, or independent will, in between stimulus and response. If you’re unhappy, unsuccessful, etc., it’s because you chose to let something make you that way instead of choosing your own response.

This is not just positive thinking; being proactive means understanding the reality of a situation, but understanding the reality of a situation also means understanding the reality that you can choose your response to your circumstance.

A couple of years ago our company was in a crisis situation. Our product was riddled with bugs, we were well behind on schedule and one of our major shareholders was withholding the next tranche of investment because of this. It would have been easy at that time to fold and move on. However, we decided that we needed to proactively take hold of the situation and really nail the main issues with the product and get our shareholder back on side.

My management team and I locked ourselves in a meeting room for a day to hash out solutions to this crisis. This involved ways of prioritising the issues with the product (see habit 3), liaising with our prospective customers around delivery schedules and getting our main customer to meet with our shareholder to assure them that they were still committed to taking the product. This resulted in us eventually getting the product to market and securing the funding we needed to survive.

We coined this our ‘Apollo’ meeting. For those of you familiar with the Tom Hanks movie Apollo 13, there is a scene where a group of engineers are in a room trying to figure out how to recycle the air for the crew on the damaged space craft. They basically locked themselves in that room until they had a solution.

Our company now has a policy that any staff member can call an ‘Apollo’ meeting if they really need to escalate an issue. This triggers the attention of the whole management team. By doing this early, we have avoided a few crises since then.

Begin With The End In Mind.jpg

Beginning with the end in mind means approaching any role you have in life with your values and directions clear. Because we are self-aware, we can realise when we are acting in a role that isn’t in harmony with our values or isn’t a result of our own proactive design.

Covey states: “The personal power that comes from principle-centred living is the power of a self-aware, knowledgeable, proactive individual, unrestricted by the attitudes, behaviours, and actions of others or by many of the circumstances and environmental influences that limit other people.”

The best way to make sure your life is aligned with your principles (and the best way to track when you get off centre) is to write a personal mission statement. This also applies to business. Have a clear mission statement and state the company values. This will act as a great compass for your organisation and guide you on major strategic decisions going forward.

Put First Things First.jpg

Effective management means putting first things first, and doing the things that other people don’t want to do.

Covey describes four levels of time management:

  1. Notes and checklists (reducing your cognitive burden in the present).
  2. Calendars and appointment books (looking ahead to better arrange your future time).
  3. Daily planning, by means of goal-setting and prioritization. Most people never get beyond this level.
  4. Categorization of activities and purposeful focus on and/or exclusion of certain ones.

He suggests that we need to operate at this forth level and borrowed the tool for this categorization from Dwight Eisenhower.

time-matrix.png

An effective time manager spends as much time as possible in quadrant II, doing things that are important before they become urgent: building relationships, long-term planning, preventative maintenance of all types, etc. The more time you spend in this quadrant, the less time you will have to spend in quadrant I. Delegate or otherwise cut out anything in quadrant III or IV

I talked about this in my previous post here

This is possibly the most effective ‘habit’ we have implemented in our company. Along with setting your mission and values, understanding the key objectives and what is most important acts as a great compass and filter for decision making.

We have a large blown version of the above time matrix in every room in our office to remind everyone that they need to have a ‘Quadrant II’ mindset.

Think Win-Win.jpg

This basically boils down to ensuring everyone gets something beneficial out of a deal. There is no point in business reaching an outcome where somebody loses, because ultimately this will have a negative impact on your business, either by directly losing in the deal or indirectly, with a disgruntled employee, contractor, supplier or customer taking action later to make up for their loss.

This could manifest through employees and/or contractors losing motivation, leaving the company or something more malicious such as stealing files or trade secrets. Suppliers could refuse favourable payment terms or perhaps reduce the quality of the product to save costs. Customers could look for other alternatives or refuse to provide references for you for example.

A recent example of this was my Quality Manager leaving New Zealand. For personal reasons she decided to move to Australia. Not ideal for us given her role. However, her experience and cultural fit required us finding a solution that worked for both of us. By going on contract with reduced hours (she had other offers so this worked) and by utilising tools such as Zoom and Slack etc. we were able to keep her on albeit with a slightly different focus to her role. Ultimately this has benefited both parties I think.

Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood.jpg

Covey implies that it is common for most people to listen not with the intent of understanding, but with the intent of replying. From a business perspective I interpret this as people/companies entering discussions with only their own perspective in mind.

We should try to look at things from other people’s perspective. Understand their concerns and desires and then try to figure out how you can address those whilst benefitting you. This will also lend itself to achieving a win-win outcome as highlighted in point #4.

Last year we had a prospective customer who worked off a one off, upfront pricing model. We worked off a monthly subscription model. There was a stand-off but once we all participated in a half-day workshop the solution presented itself. Their issue was that they were working off a Capital Expenditure budget whilst we were pushing for Operational Expenditure.

Eventually, we agreed to charge them a one-off license fee factoring in a 24 month subscription with a 20% discount. The result was they were able to get internal sign off and we pulled forward 24 months of revenue per active user! Had we stood our ground we wouldn’t have recognised a better pricing model for ourselves going forward.

synergise.jpg

Synergistic communication, according to Covey, is “opening your mind and heart to new possibilities, new alternatives, new options.” This applies to the classroom, the business world and wherever you could apply openness and communication. It’s all about building cooperation and trust.

We have captured the essence of this in our company through Agile Sprint Planning sessions, where everyone gets to participate and offer suggestions, solutions and questions. This gives you the benefit of addressing a topic or issue from all perspectives of the business and typically results in a better overall outcome.

Sharpen The Saw.jpg

Covey tells the story of a man who was walking through a forest when he came across a frustrated lumberjack.

The lumberjack was trying to cut down a tree with and was cursing as he laboured in vain.

“What’s the problem?” The man asked.

“My saw’s blunt and won’t cut the tree properly.” The lumberjack responded.

“Why don’t you just sharpen it?”

“Because then I would have to stop sawing.” Said the lumberjack.

“But if you sharpened your saw, you could cut more efficiently and effectively than before.”

“But I don’t have time to stop!” The lumberjack retorted, getting more frustrated.

The man shook his head and kept on walking, leaving the lumberjack to his pointless frustration.

Sometimes you can be working so hard that you forget about re-energising and renewing yourself to sharpen yourself for the tasks in front of you. Some sharpening techniques include studying, reading, planning and resting from your daily work tasks.

This is arguably the second most effective ‘habit’ we have focused on. We addressed this by implementing a ‘Sharpen The Saw’ day at the end of every development sprint followed by a sprint planning day at the beginning of the next sprint. We’ve found this a useful time for everyone to recharge and get a ‘big picture’ view of what we are trying to achieve again.

Conclusion

While it is certainly not a comprehensive framework for personal or business effectiveness, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People gets many things right, and was certainly worth our management implementing policies and processes centred around these ideas.

There are other ideas and philosophies that we have implemented as well with varying degrees of success. I’ll probably discuss these at some point. However, I would very much like to hear from you if you have read this book and implemented some or all of its principles into your personal or business life. It would be great to know what worked for you and what didn’t.

Take Care,

Alan

Alan Brannigan
Husband, Father, CEO, Entrepreneur, Tech-Geek, Crypto Enthusiast, Believer in Freedom and Liberty

Email: nalabra@protonmail.com
All other blogs can be found on Steemit — https://steemit.com/@nalabra