Archives for posts with tag: Business

When is a product ready? When is a project done? When is the document finished?

It never is of course. Nothing’s perfect in the B2B world. It can always be improved upon. It can always receive another iteration. We can always go round again.

Back in the heady dot com days of the late 1990’s, it was all about ‘ready, fire, aim.’ Look where that got us. In many cases it generated false hopes, over-inflated intentions and a lot of failed businesses.

But there’s still an important philosophical argument to be waged between the ‘it’s ready enough, get it out there and see how it goes’ and the ‘no, it needs more work, let’s put the brakes on and get it out late but better’. This inevitably creates tensions within the business.

The younger and more junior you tend to be in an organisation, the more you favour the former camp. Customers will tell us what they think. It’s time to ask them and then we can iterate accordingly, or so runs the argument. ‘Pick a point and go,’ as I’ve said before. The older and more senior you are, with more at stake, and more experience to back it up, the more you side with the latter camp. It’s not going out like this. I’m not happy. We can do better and we should wait, get it right, and offer customers a better experience, you might say.

Hmm, get it right, versus get it out there. When is a product right?

They say that getting to $10m in revenues is the hardest stage for a B2B company. Why is that?

Well, it’s a combination of factors. In the early days you’re still tinkering with your business model. You’re still figuring out product-market fit. You’re not sure what to concentrate on, to whom, and where. You can’t reap the benefits of scale.

Perhaps most importantly, though, you’re in a real life situation, and subject to the normal pressures of working with other people, both in your company and outside your company. You’re trying to develop something that’s going to have the right appeal to a sufficiently large enough market, yet you probably have a small number of customers who exercise a disproportionately large influence on you, in terms of how they want you to develop your products and services.

You’re torn between giving the paying customers what they want, which is essentially something that’s customised to their requirements, and developing something that does the job for the maximum part of your addressable market, but which doesn’t immediately translate into positive cash-flow. This is especially true in software.

Any company can sell an idea and get funding, possibly running into the millions. Any company that can get from 0 to 10 million – in revenues – and beyond is a different proposition, an animal that has risen above 90% of the other animals and proven itself. It will still have challenges, but it’s done what many have tried and failed to do. It’s a player.

Did you know that the crowd-funding site Kickstarter is now a benefit corporation? I didn’t either, until I got an email explaining what one was and why they decided to become one.

You see, Kickstarter found that being a for-profit corporation went against the ethos of what they were trying to do, namely be a force for social change. They go on to say:

“Companies that believe there are more important goals than maximizing shareholder value have been at odds with the expectation that for-profit companies must exist ultimately for profit above all.

“Benefit Corporations are different. Benefit Corporations are for-profit companies that are obligated to consider the impact of their decisions on society, not only shareholders. Radically, positive impact on society becomes part of a Benefit Corporation’s legally defined goals.”

What a fantastic concept, and an equally noble one at that. Sadly, only 0.01% of US organisations are currently benefit corporations, a statistic I feel will rapidly change.

If you’d like to read more, here’s Kickstarter’s benefit corporation charter. Fair play to them, as the Irish would say.

Founders – you need to prepare to lose the ‘o’.

If you’re the founder of a business, it’s more than likely that you’ll be the funder too.

In other words, to prove you’re serious about your business – and that others should be serious about it too – you’ll need to be funder as well as founder, to get it off the ground, winning and keeping customers.

Once you’ve been a funder, and you’ve proven your product/market fit, you can add the ‘o’ back in and get back to being a founder again.

Opening a bank account in 21st century Ireland is a tortuous exercise. Let me put this another way: starting a relationship where you are trying to be a customer of a financial institution and give them your money so that they can make interest off it in return for a meagre few services is a tortuous exercise.

I know there are money-laundering regulations to be complied with, and processes to go through, but come on, there has to be a better way. I won’t tell you which bank, but they’re all pretty much the same. I was recommended by my accountant to go with a specific one, which I did, but these were some of the hoops you have to go through to become a paying customer. As someone who advises companies on how to work hard to attract companies to you, I’m always boggled by how difficult life is made for someone who wants to become your customer.

I suppose it’s because they’re all as bad as each other, and they’re pretty set in their ways, but if there’s one industry that’s prime for disruption, this is it. Anyway, here are some of the things I find amazing:

– You can’t apply for a business bank account online. The lady I spoke with in the bank said there’s more paper involved these days than there ever was

– You can’t take the application form out of the branch

– You have to make an appointment to apply in person (I’m not making this up)

– If it’s a limited company, all of the directors need to attend in person, to be verified in person for ID and address. For small companies who have maybe two directors, one of which is a spouse working somewhere else, this means they need to take a holiday to get to the bank, for the next reason

– The bank’s opening house are 10am til 12:30pm, and 1:30pm til 4pm. On Mondays they push the boat out and stay open til 5pm

– Once you’ve negotiated the application process, which has to be done in real time, your time, with the bank person, they send it off to head office, where it takes two weeks – yes, two weeks – to process

As the Irish would say, it’s mad isn’t it? Except the Irish simply shrug and get on with things.

As I said, ripe for change, this industry…

 

As we speak, my son is sampling a range of optional subjects for his new secondary level school. They’re all great subjects, but because of the small size of the school and the teaching abilities of the staff, he will have to make 4 ‘either or’ choices.

One of the either / or choices is business or art. Unfortunately it’s not art in the general sense that we should all strive to be artists, but it’s the painting and drawing variety.

I didn’t have the chance to study business at school. The closest I could get was economics at A level, and I eschewed that unknown quantity for languages, which I liked and was relatively good at. As a consequence I wasn’t exposed to business in any great degree until I got my first job as a college graduate. Of course, some people never brush shoulders with business their entire lives, preferring a life devoted to many of the industries in the pubic sector, like teaching, healthcare, academia and the like.

I think business is a really good idea for kids at school, and why not in primary school as well as secondary? For better or worse our lives are pretty well governed by money, so the sooner kids get their heads around the concepts of money, value, the effect of time on both and managing cash and priorities, the better. It also introduces them to the world of entrepreneurs and being enterprising, which – rather than big business – is the future of work for many of us and gives us control, flexibility and choice, which are all vital to a good quality of life.

Richard Branson has written very recently about the benefits of learning about business in schools and Seth Godin has some very well thought out views on what schools should be getting kids to do. So we’re in pretty good company then. It’s my son’s choice what he takes, and of course I and Mrs D will have some influence, but I hope he chooses business, and does it with artistry.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a big fan of packaging, compactness and travel (here and here). The secret to good business travel lies in a combination of these 3 concepts. By good, I mean efficient, effective, optimised travel.

I’ve never really bought into the long haul travel idea of taking a pill and sleeping through the journey, especially the west to east flights which tend to be overnight. For me, even though you might be shattered, you miss one of the main joys of the trip.

Airline meals on long haul flights are a wonder. Compact and bijou, they are breathtakingly well designed pieces of real estate. Everything is compartmentalised, allowing the cabin crew to offer even those of us in cattle class options for our main course and to slot in a heated meal accordingly. The output is tasty, well thought out food combinations, hygienic and with the minimum of packaging, most of which can be recycled.

Aircrafts are all about the trade offs between space, weight and power, and so you can fit maybe 40 meals into a chilled cabinet on wheels that can’t measure much more than 30cm x 100cm x 75cm. Amazing.