Tag Archives: start-up

Get real

Reviewing Create Special – a new book on entrepreneurship

Writing a book for would-be entrepreneurs is not easy if you care about the people with the business ideas more than your reputation as a writer.

It’s easy to write a book along the lines of ‘if you care enough and want it enough you’ll get there’ and bookshop shelves show that many do – no doubt reflecting the famous-for-15-minutes-talent-show-con that pervades our TVs (ably assisted by series like The Apprentice)

It’s harder to write a book about the reality of starting a business – with all the pain that can inflict – because you risk putting off the very readers you hope will be inspired by your writing to rise above the barriers, reach for the stars, and be the best they can be (see, I’m getting carried away with that sort of bullshit myself).

Yes – passion and self-belief are important ingredients in any business start-up (why else would you put in the necessary slog to give your enterprise the best chance of success?) but it’s certainly not enough.

I come to be writing this review of Create Special by Jim Duffy though my day-job helping young people explore the world of enterprise and to start their own businesses if that’s the route they chose to take. I should declare an interest here – author Jim Duffy founded Entrepreneurial Spark – a network of business start-up incubators powered by [as they say] NatWest Bank around the UK, and I’m pleased and grateful to have access to one of those incubators, in Milton Keynes, for working with some of the young people who may become business owners of the future.

Ultimately, I feel it’s a disservice to anyone with a business idea to pretend that everyone can be successful if they try hard enough. There are able and less able people out there, and there are certainly good and bad business ideas. Even the best people with the best ideas can fail for very good reasons. For young people who lead complicated lives and have more obstacles than most to achieving business success, it’s dangerous to set them up to fail. Equally it’s also unhelpful to dismiss their abilities, as many authority figures have probably done already in their short lives.

So, in reviewing Create Special, I have a particular interest in assessing how well Jim Duffy has walked that tightrope – to balance inspiration and information – and whether this is a book for young people whom the system has failed and sent to the back of the queue.

I’ve already mentioned business bullshit and I think Jim Duffy scores pretty well on that (by which I mean low). As a lifelong bull-fighter against lazy language, I have my ‘red rag words’ – like ‘engage’ and ‘deliver’ which are meaningless without more detail (that then makes them redundant). Another, newer ‘d’ word I dislike is ‘disruptive’ – I think it’s often used to make something (or someone) sound more interesting than it/he/she is – like ‘new’ and ‘exciting’.

Jim Duffy gets as far as page 9 before using ‘disrupt’. I know lots of disruptive young people but you wouldn’t want them behaving like that in your business incubator! Yes – I’m the first to admit I’m a grumpy old pedant when it comes to language and communication.

Another bugbear of mine is the image surrounding entrepreneurs (particularly social entrepreneurs – about whom I’ve written in earlier blogs).  Awards, and not a few TV programmes with self-promoting, young (and often male) presenters are designed to give entrepreneurship (not quite the oldest profession… but one of them) an edgy and, dare I say it, ‘disruptive’ feel. While this is great for attracting young and young-at-heart entrepreneurs to give it a go, we need to guard against raising those false expectations.

While I think Jim Duffy comes close to presenting entrepreneurs as somehow super-human, he redeems himself by suggesting that creativity can be nurtured as well as being bestowed by nature and Channel 4. Also, that once developed, creative skills can be a real asset for navigating life in general as well as the world of business start-ups. I always say that a failed business start-up and the problem-solving skills it develops, can be a great springboard for later life.

In the world of entrepreneurship, case studies abound with the true tales of people who have overcome all sorts of physical and mental disadvantages to achieve business success (often defined as being wealthy beyond belief). And I’m not knocking them; such stories of success in the face of adversity make good copy and give hope to us all.

But whether you measure achievement in £-s-d or in some other way, I suspect that most successful businesses start from positions of relative privilege –  in university settings, in families where business is in the blood, in households where friends and family support – with contacts if not cash – in the early years.

A generalisation perhaps, but when working with young people who have an overlay of disadvantages such that turning up to a business advice session at an agreed time is itself an achievement, that starting point is important. In a section on focus, Jim Duffy suggests readers  could ‘lock yourself away in a remote cottage’ as one way to avoid distractions. Since even having a quiet space at home in which to write a business plan is on a wish-list for some of the young people I know, I’m delighted that Duffy also suggests you can shut the door to your study [or bedroom, or kitchen?] He also makes the case for having a notebook (and not necessarily one of the Mac variety…)  in which to write the right kind of #GoDo to-do lists; high-tech is not always best.

They say that parents should give their children ‘roots to grow and wings to fly’ and I think that in Create Special Jim Duffy just about gets the right balance between information for growing and inspiration for flying.  I regret that I came to entrepreneurship, and the creativity and problem-solving skills that places like Jim Duffy and NatWest’s Entrepreneurial Spark can unlock, relatively late in life. But it’s never too late to start – go create!

If you order a copy of Create Special online from Hive, you also support high street bookshops… http://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jim-Duffy/Create-Special–Think-and-Act-Like-an-Entrepreneur-to-Change-Your-Life/20820428

On social entrepreneurs  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/slowing-the-spin-about-social-entrepreneurs

Running on fumes – a case for lean business start-up?


Month six of my year-long journey on the Lloyds Bank School for Social Entrepreneurs start-up programme. The creative environment at our monthly group learning sessions in Ipswich at the Eastern Enterprise Hub is always stimulating. Our last gathering got me thinking…

running-on-fumesStarting a new enterprise is always a balance between getting going and doing your homework first. Clearly having a sound plan and a solid funding base before developing a business makes sense, but could the ‘lean start-up’ approach be a quicker route to financial viability?

When I was at primary school, my mother seemed to be driving around on very little petrol much of the time. If I pointed out the petrol gauge was in the red, she would simply speed up – “to get home before it runs out” she’d explain.

Yes, pressure – to get home, to meet a deadline, to get a business up and running – can lead to irrational behaviour. But maybe real entrepreneurship means just that – cutting corners and taking risks (with due regard for health and safety) and doing things differently – however irrational and ill-advised it may seem at the time.

Bedford-based social entrepreneur Lynn Serafinn uses the phrase ‘running on fumes’ in an excellent blog post on social enterprise start-ups in which she passionately argues against letting your heart rule your head when it comes to money. But maybe, just maybe, there are benefits to be had from taking my mum’s approach to overcoming a shortage of fuel for the journey? Four thoughts on this subject:

Motivation: We know that in a dangerous situation, our adrenalin kicks in to enable physical feats – jumping clean over a sofa to avoid a violent confrontation was one such achievement for an unfit friend of mine. More general discomfort can also encourage us to go further, faster. I know a couple who built a house in just less than a year while living in a garden shed that was little bigger than the double bed inside it. Their friends decided to do the same thing – but while living in a nice, comfortable warm house. They were struggling to get their house finished many years later.

Real market testing: In his much-praised 2011 book The Lean Start-up, Eric Ries suggests that it’s a good idea to put a product out into the marketplace before it’s fully developed. Getting a product developed for sale at ‘just beyond pro-type stage’ will get more genuine feedback from purchasers than will more theoretical market research. Also, Reis argues, by launching the unfinished article in which you’ve invested relatively less cash and care, you’re more likely to respond to criticisms positively and adapt your product – which is what innovation is all about.

Less padding, more purpose: Without the luxury of unlimited resources, the new enterprise is forced to hone in on essential spending (assuming you have some objective ways of defining ‘essential’) with a keen focus on purpose; what are we trying to achieve? I’m currently watching a national programme of activity evolve through two broad development routes – top-down (the deluxe model) and bottom-up (the lean machine approach). A few years from now I’ll be intrigued to see which route has been the more sustainable and, ultimately, more successful.

Attracting finance: Even when seeking start-up funding, it may be a good strategy to get your business out there before you have all your proverbial ducks in a row. A social lender recently told me “proof works” when pitching for finance. A shining business plan with figures to impress is just that – a plan and a promise – whereas hard evidence, of demand for new real products and services, counts for a lot.

What do you think – is ‘running on fumes’ the way to go fast, or go bust?

References:

Lynn Serafinn’s blog post http://the7gracesofmarketing.com/2013/10/show-me-the-money-thoughts-on-social-enterprise-start-ups

The Lean Start Up by Eris Ries www.hive.co.uk/book/the-lean-startup-how-constant-innovation-creates-radically-successful-businesses/13291794

Funding your social enterprise with or without money www.theguardian.com/social-enterprise-network/2014/feb/10/how-to-guide-funding-your-social-enterprise