Category Archives: People & Culture

How every StartUp can be creative.

brand creation exercises
brand creation exercises

5 ways for any team to be creative.

I was with the tech guys of a StartUp recently. They retreated into their shells when I started asking about the brand concept. Once I’d got their confidence, the told me they couldn’t do that stuff – they were not creative, they were programmers, they were rational.

There is a mystique about creativity. The creative industry, myself included, often reinforces this, and why not? It is in its commercial interest to do so. But everyone is creative. Including our programmers.

Part of creativity is about seeing patterns and opportunities, about not being intimidated by the weight of a problem. The more experience you have of problem solving the easier it gets. I’m told that’s why at Harvard Business School they make students work through three case studies every day. Repetition gets the brain to see patterns, which creates efficiency and the illusion of excellence, even genius.

Broadly speaking though, most smart people can gain that experience and whilst some will do it better than other, most can do it.

In my experience, most of the people who are called ‘creative’ use reference points. Sometimes, the more remote that reference point is, the more inspired the idea becomes. It was Picasso who said: Good artists copy, great artists steal.

He also said: All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. Kids don’t self-edit. They just say what’s in there.

Clearly, as well as an excellent drawer and colourer-in, Picasso was a veritable quote machine. What I don’t think he talked about is what we might call the politics of creativity. Let me put that into a quote so I too can get onto Brainquote.com:

Creativity is as much the force of will to convince others to make something, as it is the force of the idea.

It isn’t easy getting an idea made. Good creative people know this. They know the guy on the other side of the table is sometimes intellectually lazy, or worried about his job, or just bitter and will give it two seconds thought before rubbishing the idea. It’s not about the idea, it’s about them. Good creative people have strategies to overcome that. It might be shouting, or belittling, or occasionally patiently explaining, but it always involves being stubborn for weeks and months until the thing is made.

(That doesn’t mean they don’t adapt and listen to other people. Knowing when to listen is key to getting it made, and being able to hear the ideas that will make it better elevates the idea further.)

But the act of coming up with ideas in the first place, I still believe anyone can do.

Our brains are designed to solve problems from birth. I’m involved in a lengthy anthropological study my wife calls fatherhood and anyone who has observed children slowly learn how to solve problems would surely accept the universality of creativity.

The personality traits that drive creativity exist within us all – like curiosity, puzzle solving, being right. They might need fine-tuning and they might need a pat on the back/kick up the arse. But they are there.

Then there are the thinking-structures that come from experience, the ways our brains see patterns. Whoever you are the more your do it, the better you get.

I accept that there will still be degrees of quality. Some people have a better combination of the experience/confidence/conviction thing. But everyone has it to some degree. Given the right framework any team can make a good start to most problems, meaning asking the right questions.

So how can you and your team be creative?

Here are five suggestions to make anyone creative.

1. Do like Picasso and steal. Look for influences and examples you can build on, from anywhere. Business, novels, music, art, science, The Simpsons. The build might not be immediately obvious but if you know why you like that influence you can create parallels that will take you somewhere: they did x so what would our equivalent be? Use anyone or anything that has a distinct way of thinking or doing. What have they done we think is cool? How would they approach our problem? So…how would John Lennon think about sales? As daft as it can sound, it works.

2. Structure. Don’t just dive in. Work out a structure beforehand. Start with the broad, exploratory themes and then get more precise. Get to principals before you get to the detail of execution. Define the headline questions and then figure out which questions need to be answered before you answer the headline ones. Let that shape the conversation.

3. Make sure everyone says something. You want everyone to put it out there. So give everyone space to talk. Get people to write down thoughts so it is not only the loudest voice that gets heard. Or get them to draw it. Whatever makes them comfortable expressing themselves. If some people are not joining in, make them the critics of everyone else’s output to begin with, until they find their positive voice. People find it much easier to criticize than to create so use that to strengthen ideas. Also, have a laugh. People talk more when they are relaxed. Play a game. Get some cookies. People say more with cookies.

4. Time. Spend a decent amount of time on it…and let people know how long you’ll spend doing it. People relax more over time. Be clear they are in there for a while: even the most reticent will say something eventually. If you are running the session, go silent. It’s amazing how others will want to fill that quiet.

5. Figure out how to agree as a group. Any suggestion is a worthwhile suggestion but you’re going to have to come to a precise agreement at some point. Fudging the solution is worse than having no solution at all. So before you start, spend quality time discussing what you are trying to achieve in the session and then agree the judgment criteria. If some criteria are more important than others, weight them. Use this to score ideas 1-5. Many people don’t like scoring ideas but the way it works best is to use that score to prompt a debate, not to give you the answer.

So having said all that, if there’s one take-away for any StartUp it is: if you want to get creative, get some cookies.

A System For Everything

Creating-a-brand-system

Can brand creation be systematized for a StartUp?

In his recent Reith lectures, Atul Gawande’s anecdote rich narrative tells us how failures in health care are more often than not the result of failures in systems. People say it’s the failures between people (partners) that kill StartUps but I suspect it is often the failures in StartUp systems that drive this.

One of the big tech developments in healthcare was the shift at the start of the 20th century from home care to hospital care and, with this, the rise of professional doctors, nurses, operating theatres and so on. Death in childbirth had been common beforehand. Did the shift to all this professionalism and expertise lead to a reduction in deaths in childbirth? No, it did not. The reason being that there was not enough ‘Infection Control Procedures’, like sterlising equipment or a room properly…or even doctors washing their hands properly.

One might think this problem has gone away. It has not. We are told that there are six million infections caught each year by people whilst being cared for in western hospitals. Less than 5% of all health professionals wash their hands properly in Indian hospitals. The spread of Ebola is a failure of a sanitization and protection process, as the virus creeps into those tiny gaps in clothing and finds its host.

Gawande believes that the problem is that we have more knowledge and expertise than we know what to do with. We’ve created a world of over-complexity. We’ve got too smart for our own good.

But the avuncularly cozy and positive Gawande is confident was can improve things.

We cannot leave it to individuals. Individuals cannot cope with such complexity. We need to create a system that connects and manages us.

This is not only about inventing and building the system but also about executing and managing them ruthlessly. He doesn’t say this but in effect he is suggesting we use this uber-system to create a hive mind, in which the individual operates under the collective. Like the Borg. Only collective effort will allow us to deal with over-complexity.

Now are we in a position to do this though. Technology, data, knowledge give us greater tools than ever before. This is the Age of the System, he declares.

Anyone in StartUp will recognize this over-complexity. Gawande’s belief though is that not only can super-charged systems cope with over-complexity, than can accommodate even more pressure. By introducing aggressive systemization, we can do much more than we thought possible.

The specifics seem prosaic. Make behaviours the norm. Create check-lists. Identify defaults. Introduce feedback loops. He also makes two interesting cultural suggestions. One, the participants need to be managed so they have the humility to accept that even the best (the experts & bosses) fail. Two, in one very successful system the checklist was managed by the person with least power, the telephone operator, I assume, so they would not question it (unlike, let’s be honest, gobby senior staffers).
…..
I’d be more skeptical of his specific suggestions if it were not for the fact that across the 8 major hospitals involved in the trial there was an average reduction in complications of 35%, and an average reduction in death of 47%.

So imagine the impact of strong systems in the chaotic, over-stretched, under-experienced environment of a typical StartUp. Imagine getting your UX to work with PM and producers on every type of process and workflow in the business.
…..
Can a creative process be systematized? I’m interested in brand creation…can that be systematized?

A brand is structured. That structure, at its simplest, covers 5 things.
1. As precise a target as possible.
2. A position within the context of a marketplace.
3. The overall purpose that’s going to own that position.
4. The behaviours, personality and identity that going to execute this.
5. The traction plan that will impact the market in the strongest possible way.

(I know, it’s that simple!…Can you believe there’s whole industry based on that…;-))

To populate that structure, a series of strategic issues need to be considered. Or put in plain English, a list of precise questions need answering intelligently. It’s probably quite a long list but it’s not too long.

Answering intelligently clearly depends on the quality of the people who are answering but what matters more is the quality of the hive.

You clearly want people who are smart and, although not necessarily experts, understand and are interested in the basics. They’ve thought about brands, which ones they love, which ones they respect and why. The hive must know how to work together. To discuss. To debate. To conclude. To let it go and move on.

Coding has a system but is also creative. I think we can look at a brand in the same way. We don’t because it undermines our creative egos. But I actually like the intelligence and creativity of the system.

So if you can figure out what the precise questions are and work them through, I think any StartUp can systematize their brand creation and execution.

Or you can pay tens of thousands of dollars/pounds you haven’t got to a brand consultancy…

Every StartUp should start out to alienate someone.

New companies need difference

How Birdman can inspire StartUps

I saw Birdman last night.

It’s fresh. It’s human. It’s believable. It’s also unbelievable. It’s dramatic. And it is inspirational.

It is so distinctive and inventive; I thought there’s got to be some lessons for any ambitious StartUp…

I like to imagine the creative process when I see a film like that. The narrative I create is full of naïve assumptions about how films get made. I assume the director is the leader, the director of a debate and therefore the ‘starter’…or as John Hegarty of BBH used to say of the difference between agency planners and creatives, ‘the first to piss in the pot’. After that, others take their turn.

So a film this good requires everyone to input but also all those who input to agree on the fundamentals, to pull in the same direction, no matter how brave it feels sometimes. The director creates the terms of the debate. Everyone needs to build from that.

Besides the director, in the centre circle there’s the actors, the director of photography, the producers but there are also those with secondary input like the lighting, editing and set design talent, people who can make a big difference to the output and if they get it wrong can undermine the impact.

Which gets you thinking: as it grows, how do you organise a StartUp to maximise everyone’s creative talent? You need to be clear about who is in charge, who is in the centre and who is secondary…but never in a way that blocks creativity. Everyone needs to be free to make sure their bit lives up to the overall ambition. But there does need to be a coherence, an organising theme, a sense of purpose that drives them and leads them all.

The Birdman ensemble agreed to do something different. Often people asks: what do we want the audience to do? But a smarter question sometimes is: what do we want to do to the audience, to the heads, to their hearts?

That subtle shift of emphasis gives you different ideas.

On Birdman, they seemed very clear how they wanted the audience to feel, as opposed to think. In my imaginary fly-on-the-wall documentary, words on the flip chart would include: shock, raw, exhilarate, confound, occasionally lost, amused, thankful, respected.

But the Birdman folk knew not everyone will like this. The knew some people will feel these feelings: annoyed, let-down, condescended, belittled. That’s why on IMBD there are a lot of 10s and a lot of 1s. Most good films are 7/8s.

I believe often better brands come from aiming for the 10 & 1s. A great brand should seek to excite some but also to annoy others. Who and why will people fall into these camps for your brand? Try writing down 20 thoughts on each.

To get to this point of love and alienation, the Birdman ensemble agreed to play with conventions, stretch them, disrupt them. But what I think it interesting is this: the conventions are there. Just played with/stretched/disrupted. They seem to do this knowingly. In that sense, it’s a thought-through, analytical film.

That’s good learning for a StartUp. A great brand concept should be knowing. It should have thought through the conventions and then played with them. It should be very self-aware about what is doing and what it is doing it against.

Another thing that struck me was the immediacy. There was no set-up, no context, no back-story. It’s just there. Like real life.

For example, within the delivery of two or three lines, we completely get Edward Norton’s character. He has a complete sense of his character’s life. When he speaks, we know the personality beneath. He’s distinct. He’s rounded. He’s entirely believable.

That generally only comes because it’s thought through. It’s analysed. It’s constructed.

Immediacy is key to a powerful branded identify. It’s more credible that way. You want a person to get you straight off. It’s more costly to require repeat visits. And people can’t be bothered.

The thing I take away is this. You need something so well thought through that it’s emotional impact is immediate, and in such a way that it forces people apart, so the people who do like you feel they are part of a special club, of like minded people who are just as ……. (insert the most relevant adverb here eg. smart, stylish, savvy, progressive etc) as they are. And the others walk away moaning about you. But it creates a debate. And that makes noise. Which creates fame.

And now you can guess what gets my Oscar vote when then call me.

(Yes, it’s kind of sad that I’m watching great films and thinking about the learning for StartUps. But I’m with friends. You get the all-consuming nature of this.)

The power of the Unexpert.

Brand conviction

If your StartUp is going to do something original, you’ll have to ignore experts.

There’s a wonderful story I heard recently. In 1929, Werner Forssmann, was a medical intern in Germany, interested in heart conditions. Reading a periodical about veterinary medicine, he came across a photograph of a live horse with a tube inserted into its leg and pushed up to its heart.

He wondered if the same could be done in humans to help with cardiac resuscitation. He asked his supervisor, the expert in this story, if he could test his hypothesis with a live experiment. He was refused on the grounds that it would kill the patient.

He did it anyway with some comedy caper shenanigans. He asked help of a nurse, Gerda Ditzen, who declared heroically that she would only do it if she herself were the patient. He agreed but then, with a sleight of hand, tricked her, placing the catheter in his own arm after anesthetizing her. After no doubt much chuckling, they got x-ray proof that he had done it.

And because of this Unexpert, we now have modern cardiology, something up to a third of us will be enormously thankful for at some point in our lives.

Close your eyes and put yourselves in his shoes. You are 25 and that loud and slightly frightening boss you have has told you categorically not to do something. You did believe you were right but now he’s questioned you. What would you do? Imagine how hard it would have been to ignore the expert.

Despite being fired, reinstated, then fired again, and later being a fully paid-up member of the Nazi party, he was right on this one and won the Nobel Prize in 1956.

In advertising agency life, using what we would call Naïve Experts often proved to be invaluable. Someone who was smart but not necessarily an expert in the field we were working in. Someone who would ask questions we would not think of. For example, we interviewed a zoologist about play in the animal kingdom for the launch of the Sony Dreamcast and we looked into the intelligence of co-ordination and tricks for adidas football.

Having someone smart who has not been brain-washed by the orthodoxy – often your own orthodoxy you create within your StartUp team – can help you see possibilities you wouldn’t have seen otherwise…and that can make all the difference.

The story is also of course a reminder of the need to proactively do to prove your case so the naysayers are forced to pay attention. That’s why MVP’s are so popular but there’s so much more to a business than a MVP.

Putting simple versions of ideas into play that add value across all of the business is ultimately the truer test of a business concept than a single product concept, because people may pay for a product but what they are buying is a three-dimensional brand experience.

But ultimately it is the ability to ignore the naysayers and the doubt it your own mind that is the parable of that old Nazi, Werner Forssmann.

What StartUps can learn from idiocy

New York City

How operations and profitability cannot get in the way of humanity.

Dear Mr Dean & Mr DuLuca*

Sometimes I wake up on Writing Day not knowing what I will write about. But then, as if by magic, I stumble upon some sort of business idiocy and I thank the Lord/Vishnu/John Lennon for that.

My wife is 7 months pregnant. And we have a highly energetic 1-year-old son. Going to a café or restaurant can be a little stressful.

I first went to Dean & DeLuca over 20 years ago on an early trip to New York. For a boy from the crumbling post-industrial north of England it represented the New York I had dreamed of. I spent more money than I could afford and told people about my experience for years. I’ve been back several times on my New York trips.

So when we saw one in Singapore, we went in and I told my wife about that distant memory.

Very soon it was obvious that’s all it was, a distant memory.
It lacked that energy and ‘click’ of the New York experience, that professionalism and conviction.
The food was average at best and over-priced, in that way you only get in Asia, when companies come in, see the wealth and cynically inflate prices and/or reduce quality.

My wife asked for a glass of ice-water to compensate for the over-salted eggs.
The waiter said he could not give her ice-water, she would have to buy a bottle.
In Singapore it is standard to offer ice-water. Regardless of that, one would expect an upmarket café to have an instinct for hospitality, rather than obsess about the cross- and up-sale, especially for a pregnant lady.
I tried to encourage the waiter to rethink.
He made it clear that he wasn’t allowed to rethink.
I asked for the manger.
He came and said it was management policy not to give ice-water ie. it was policy to drag every last cent out of the customer.
So as the manager, can’t you change it?
No, I’m not allowed.
But you are the manager, right?
Yes, but not that manger, it’s a different, more senior manger.

So the guys who aren’t on the ground tell the guys on the ground what to do at every turn and do it in such a way that it’s going to lead to annoyed customers on the ground.

Meanwhile my pregnant wife remained unquenched and 1-year-old got more agitated, put his hand in the ketchup the waiter had thoughtlessly put in front of him.

To his credit (or once the embarrassment of what he was doing got too much), the manager eventually brought some ice-water. I worry he’ll get a slapped wrist for that.

I’m sure there are various issues you could cite about corporate structures but I’m not interested in those. I bought into – and spoke in glowing terms of – the good names of Dean & DeLuca, the brand.

I’m going to post this on my blog under the title: How operations and profitability cannot get in the way of humanity. You’d think that was so obvious it didn’t need saying. Isn’t it depressing that it does?

I hope this motivates you to address what is both a structural and a policy issue. Give the guys on the ground a chance to do a good job. You might be surprised.

Otherwise, as unassailable as you might think you currently are, those various smart StartUps who seem irrelevant now are going to catch up quickly.

Best wishes

*Dear reader. This is not a real letter. I’m trying to make a point. But it is a real experience. I was going to email them this but then I thought they’ve’ already proven they can’t really be arsed how I feel – and I normally get paid for this stuff so I’m not going to give it away unless it is deserved. But apparently there was a real Mr. Dean, who was from that most venerable of vocations, the cheese merchant, and Mr. DeLuca, a publishing man. I hope the StartUp lesson is obvious: be human, we don’t need any more corporate idiocy.

What StartUps can learn from REM

motivation for new companies
Why delusional optimism is more powerful than failure for a StartUp

‘That’s me in the corner.’

When I first heard that song way back when, I was about to set off across Europe with a mate and our guitars, the world at our feet. We intended to hitch around Europe and busk to make our bread money. As it turned out, we got as far as Paris, tried to get a ride down south but, after 15 shitty hours at the side of a motorway and a night trying to sleep in the Gare du Nord whilst being threatened by skin heads with mad dogs, we gave up and decided to blow the last of our money on a train to Amsterdam where we’d artfully relax for a time before heading home.

But we changed our plan, pivoted one might say, and stopped to see some people we knew in Bruxelles, who rallied the boho crowd there and within an afternoon we’d been found a whole house and plenty of great Belgian cheese and beer.

That night, we headed out and for the first time sang ‘Losing My Religion’ by REM. It had not yet been a hit in the UK but we soon realised it had already been a massive hit across Europe. What we thought of as an obscure song drew a crowd of dozens and provided us with a hatful of change, enough to send us out drinking until the small hours. We looked at each other and grinned the grin of those who know that everything IS awesome.

So we decided to stay and not return to the UK. We spent the rest of that summer living the young bohemian dream, hanging out all day at our new friends’ houses, reading, talking, eating, drinking wine, enjoying the wonderful weather; then we’d busk for a couple of hours, playing our five songs, one of which was always Losing My Relision, making enough money to go out drinking again and have some fun. Rinse, repeat, everyday. For the rest of the summer. Oh, to be young.

In the StartUp scene, people talk about the power of failure. I’m sure there is power in failure. But I prefer the power of optimism. It is the – often delusional – power in optimism that keeps us going. Failure nearly sent us home that summer. It doesn’t matter if it is delusional, it matters that at that moment we believe in it.

And so I associate that lyric with rampant optimism, something great is going to happen. And in a way that’s what the song is about, albeit focusing on the uncertainty and occasional collapse of belief that goes hand in hand with hope.

I’m reminded of that as I sit in the corner of another café, and the song comes on my iTunes. I’m a very businessy area, not my usual. The suits talk Important Business and that’s me in the corner, looking like I’m on holiday, shorts, baseball cap, beard. I feel I’m being looked down on, just a little. Everyone talks business and looks business and no doubt feel important. They have the validation of a big company and of big deals.

It’s just me and my laptop. I’m just writing down ideas, thinking stuff through, for free. But you know what, I’m the guy in the corner, the odd one out, the who might just be doing something special, creating it from scratch, full of optimism…and occasional doubt. We StartUppers should revel in our corners, in our outsider-ness.

So whenever I hear those words ‘That’s me in the corner’, a shiver goes down my spine – and yes, a mourning for that life -but I do feel rejuvenated, I’m reminded of the joy and the drive of optimism and now I feel it again. And you know what, as I sit here with no income but with a hatful of creative energy and new ideas, I thank the gods for Buck Mills Berry Me.

What StartUps can learn from our Neanderthal cousins.

Strategy for fears, entrepreneur fears, new business fear
How StartUps need to identify and compensate for their fears.

If you haven’t listened to Seth Godin’s podcast from 2012 on Starting Up, you should. He’s not only a smart man, with some great experience and supporting anecdotes, he’s a really engaging teacher. It still leaves some questions unanswered as far as I’m concerned (and I’ll come back to that in a subsequent post) but he covers much of what you’ll face, from the practical, to the strategic, to the emotional and human.

In episode 12, he talks about fear. He tells us: Be clear and precise on what you fear because it’s that fear that will derail you.

Kennedy was wrong when he declared, like a New Age life guru, that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. No. Fear is human. We are hard-wired to be fearful when we embrace opportunity…because back on the savannah (or wherever Neanderthals lived…I’m too busy to check that…), when we went out to find our food, there was always a chance we’d get killed. And that fear, over thousands of years, became part of our hard-wiring. Fear goes hand in hand with opportunity, because opportunity involves risk. The hard-wiring still serves a purpose. Which is good because it won’t go away soon.

It seems to me Seth Godin is not saying rise above fear or challenge fear, or anything as dramatic and heroic as that. He’s way too practical and real for that. He’s saying: plan for fear, have worthwhile insight into yours and deal with it strategically.

For me, a lot of my experience is in pitching to win big pieces of business. You need to be right. You need an answer for everything. In short, it needs to be complete and you need to be the one saying what is and what isn’t. If they disagree, that’s fine, it’s just a difference of opinion but you have to show that at least it’s all been thought through. And I’ve been the so-called expert in the room at my discipline so that puts me at an advantage.

So what I fear is not having the answer, of being seen to be still working on it, of making it up as I go along. But Lean StartUp thinking tells me I have to embrace incompleteness, or at least a recognition that things will need to change and I must get the idea in front of people – generally strangers given I’ve just moved here – for them to pull it apart.

Added to that is the simple truth that as an entrepreneur, you don’t know it all but at this stage you are doing it all. You have to get the best answers you can get despite your ignorance. So you know you’re walking into a conversation with ideas outside of your area of expertise.

I fear incompleteness I guess because somewhere in the back of my mind I think it makes me look ‘less’; less proficient, less likely to succeed, to attract belief, support and so on.

The StartUp lesson – from Seth – is to really be honest about what you’re fearful of, and that includes your own – and your partners if you have them – very human, very real personal fears – and then plan for them and find a way to compensate.

Where does that leave my fear? At the moment, I’m going to attempt to pre-empt the failings of the idea, be clear on everything that’s bad about it, what areas will probably change, what is still being worked on. That’s the plan anyway but it might not be that smart a thing to do. In fact, I might be making that up as I go along.

Starting up is hard to do

StartUp worksspace
Why StartUps need a proper desk

I think it was Neil Sedaka who said starting up is hard to do. Or was that breaking up? I’ll assume for the sake of this post he was talking about a tough StartUp he’d been involved with. Because starting up is hard…but in a good way.

After the coziness of salaried employment I’m sat here at my new (temporary) desk. Kind of alone. But then again, no politics, no power plays, no sulking. Other than my own. And being alone teaches you a hell of lot.

I know it’s obvious but because you’re alone you play all the roles. An old friend of mine started his own thing, just him, all alone. But he’d literally play all the roles. He’d answer the phone and say ‘I’ll see if he’s free’…even the client’s joined in: ‘would you like to take that back to the office and talk it through’. I think they liked him so much they wanted to – subconsciously at least – give him the respect of being a ‘proper’ company.

So I’m on my own and doing everything. It’s not like I’ve never done this before. I’ve been involved in three stand alone attempted StartUps and three within an existing business (still counts in a way). But there was always a team from the off. Now I am the team and there’s loads to do, much of which I’ve never done before.

Now, if you’re not familiar with Comfort Zone Theory, there are three stages as I was taught it:
1. Comfort
2. Stretch
3. Break

A few days ago, I was talking to a guy who has a great little StartUp, already operating, already proven. They’ve done a great job but he is pretty much petrified about visible marketing/PR, the stuff where they have to be seen to say something and even perhaps show a face, rather than SEO etc. SO he keeps putting it off.

In a StartUp you’re constantly being pulled out of your comfort zone, having to learn new stuff, both hard & soft skills. We all have to develop new coping mechanisms to make sure we stay in the Stretch Zone and don’t slip into Break Zone. After we got him to drink more beer I think he began to relax.

Hell, I’m even trying to learn some coding…I thought it was going well until I pressed save and nothing happened. That was at midnight. But at least I got my ‘beta’ site up and running, for now just something that I hope proves to the local authorities that I’m serious about this business and I’m not hear to sponge (on what exactly?! It’s costing me an arm & a leg to stay here with no income!). I’ll talk about the website development in a subsequent post.

Also – and this feels symbolically significant – I took on some pay-as-you-go office space at Collective Works. Having a workspace away from the kitchen table at home is good. But perhaps it’s greater value is the network effect. Normally, in an office, it just happens but not now. The stuff I’m confortable with is the product development, the business plans, the website and the content dev etc. etc…as valuable as these are though, I’m beginning to suspect that the network is going to be at least as important. And guess what, I’ve been rubbish at it. (I’m in good company: check this great piece on this from the excellent James Altucher.)

However, in pay-as-you-go space people don’t really talk to each other. What I’ve come to realise is that I need to get out of my comfort zone and force a network, I need to be proactive and make it happen. Now I’m asking pretty much anyone and everyone out for a coffee/drink. So this is going to be interesting…can I carry it off? So far it’s going OK and I’ve realised that:
1. You need people to bounce stuff off. Two brains are better than one. And other StartUp types love to help out, it’s in their blood.
2. Despite not working together, you, effectively, pool your skills. They teach me about SEO, I teach them about brand development.
3. You are energised by all these other StartUps trying to make it happen. That gives you momentum/ a kick when you need it.
4. Someone always knows someone else you should meet. So within a matter of weeks you have a network you can barely keep up with.

So the lesson for any StartUp is to force a network: get some office space, ask people out for a drink, email people you’ve never met, ask Person A if they can introduce you to Person B, sit in the right bar at the right time. Look it might not be the golden key but it’s got to improve your chances.