Archive for the ‘Business Events & Gatherings’ Category

UK’s Tech Gem

Friday, July 6th, 2018

I have just finished a week of speaking to Thai and Swiss fintech and insurtech delegations here in London. There is a marvel at the high tech “community” that the UK and in particular, London, has created, built and exploited globally. I am talking about a digital community experience where people interact frequently, are drawn together by the quality of the people “present”, acts as peers, reciprocate and in so doing, help everyone live a more fulfilling life. Entrepreneurs, investors, venture builders, advisers, large corporates and governmental organisations in harmony. It is incredibly difficult to create community, as this week’s visitors readily pointed out. It requires a strong brand, impressive new intellectual property, fearless promotion and new ideas.

Those who bemoan the waning global appeal of the UK in a post-Brexit world, might want to take note of Britain’s singular success.

 

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

 

Lousy Speaker Requests

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

If you are trying to understand the value of public speaking at an industry event, professional association or private gathering, here is some tell-tale signs it is unlikely to be a valuable use of your time:

1. The Event Host is visibly disorganised, requests go unanswered, your contribution is unclear or is constantly being moved.

2. The Event Host is too busy to introduce you to fellow panel members or the moderator pre-event.

3. The Speaker list is overweight in providers and suppliers, who are clearly only there because of their sponsorship.

4. The Moderator slots are predominantly reserved for professional service firms who are sponsors, not because of their moderating skills.

5. The location is visibly “cheap”, located in an underwhelming part of town that operates successfully solely because of the high volume of low margin events.

6. The Event Host is a highly commercial organisation that operates on a constant churn of events each year. If in doubt email me.

7. You don’t recognise any of the keynote speakers as global experts in their particular domain.

8. The commercial event model operates on a free or massively discounted incentive to a particular category of participant, at the expense of professional service firms (a feeding frenzy forms around those few “special guests”).

9. You find little or no significant track record of meaningful media coverage for the event within your industry or in the mainstream business media.

10. You find the same old faces chairing or moderating the event each year. One London Wealth Management event insisted on the media company’s Chairman, Alan, the dullest man in the world, chairing 18 events in a row!

11. Less than 30% of the Agenda is reserved for “new” topics not previously covered in the prior 3 years.

12. Mention is made of “Continuing Assessment” credits for attending the event. Who really needs those other than mid- and lower level employees (rarely buyers of your services).

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

 

Five British Myths

Friday, June 8th, 2018

This past week has been a whirlwind of evening cocktails in London, here is a few reflections:

  • “This is a time to start battening down the hatches with valuations of businesses at unsustainable levels reminiscent of 2006.” Yet talking to over 40 entrepreneurs this week, particularly with strong and dynamic mid-sized and smaller businesses the reality sharply contradicts that statement. Order books are near record levels, access to cheap capital persists and a great many are experiencing double-digit growth in existing and new markets.
  • “Brexit is an uncontrollable mess”. In the company of the chief protagonists, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond on Tuesday night at Lancaster House, yes, the process resembles a tartan-kilted drunk on Edinburgh’s Princes Street staggering home but isn’t it premature to start fretting about the impact, positive or negative, for businesses and families that is many years ahead?
  • “Me Too has changed everything.” Really? Looking across the room at three events, which are highly representative of London as a financial centre, there are still far too few women in influential positions (banking, private equity, real estate, professional services and so forth). Yet those, who have succeeded are treated to the naked eye with absolute respect and dignity.
  • “Cyber warfare is a battle we cannot win.” Talking to Robert Hannigan, the past Head of Britain’s GCHQ, the real battle that is within our power and control, is the attraction and retention of the finest technologists and engineers. It is leaders in government agencies, and businesses, who are able to sustain a visceral connection between the purpose of those organisations, to safeguard people’s lives, and the ability to do the job without the constraints of endless bureaucracy. Leadership is a bigger issue than money but no one talks about that.
  • “Ultra High Net Worths are abandoning London in their droves.” A major New York real estate developer suggested to me 3,000 of them had become resident in Monaco over the past 12 months, Roman Abramovich’s travails are adding weight to the exodus. The facts and strong anecdotal evidence don’t support that view. My daughter’s private school in Central London has record levels of international families including Russians schooling their children in her Senior School. Almost exclusively those wealthy Parents are resident here, working and pursuing career opportunities. Last night in London’s famed, Annabel’s nightclub, it was a hive of lavish spending by London’s superich. Brits are in a minority. You cannot find the same opportunities to spend gargantuan incomes on fun and excitement in Europe, anywhere quite like London, on a balmy Thursday night.

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Natural Conversation

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

 

 

I think of getting to know people in a business social setting (a hosted event or forum), akin to peeling an onion. The enjoyment is asking small considered questions in an arc that encourage others to reveal themselves, listening attentively, and the depth and breadth of my intellectual curiosity that is stirred by their responses. It sounds simple but how many times have you been seated next to someone, who enjoys and excels at that pursuit? There is a name for them, great conversationalists. It is not something that is taught in school or learned staring into a backlit phone screen. It is best learned watching others, who excel in a natural, not staged, conversation and building your own intellectual firepower (reading, watching, experiencing). Individuals, who are comfortable in themselves to the extent that they don’t feel an abject need to impose their thinking on others (agenda hunters, as I think of them) or to consider diametrically opposed viewpoints.

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Calling UK Entrepreneurs

Monday, April 30th, 2018

 

I am a current judge of “The Inflexion Entrepreneur of the Year Award”, one of 16 categories, at the Lloyd’s Bank UK National Business Awards, which was a great success last year. Would you, your clients, your investee companies or acquaintances have a use for participating in one of the categories, and hopefully, winning this year? If so, who should I address this to? The immediate deadline for submissions is 1st June, 2018. I’d be happy to offer some friendly guidance on the submission/judging process and the “value” they might reasonably walk away with.

London: ICE Totally Gaming 2018 Re-cap

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

ICE Totally Gaming likes to style itself asthe only B2B gaming event that truly brings together the international online and offline gaming sectors”, here is some future thinking about the sector fresh from last week’s annual event.

  • The biggest event headline was a pointed article in The Guardian questioning the industry’s evolution in a #MeToo world (overt sexualisation of products). For a sector, whose branding has heavily relied on testosterone-fueled excitement, it is an awkward question with few, if any, obvious answers. When for example, over 50% of Las Vegas revenues arise from non-gaming tourism and events, “what happens in Vegas may no longer stay in Vegas” might need to be the new logo, at least in the corporate events market.
  • Caesar’s Entertainment, arguably the must public US corporate casualty in the 2007/8 financial crisis, is back on the front foot. After 10 difficult years, the Mark Frissora-led business has a spring in its’ step. The ex Hertz and GE executive is exuding confidence, exploring multiple partnerships and projects. Often in ways the Caesar’s brand has never successfully been positioned in adjacent markets internationally.
  • Italy remains a gaming paradox. Wrapped in regulation and taxation issues like many US markets, operators and investors can see ripe apples hanging on the trees but their attempts to grab them are constantly frustrated.
  • US sports betting and the US Supreme Court judgement. Everyone is gearing up to get in on the act, not least the US tribes, who with smaller, more entrepreneurial business models may be ideally-placed to bring the most innovative ideas.
  • UK sports betting is approaching a huge fork in the road, ahead of the Government’s ruling on fixed odds betting terminals or “pokies” to my Australian friends.  Stick with limits of four machines per betting shop and a £100 stake per play, a ferocious political and media wind (Daily Mail front page hardship stories. Restrict stakes to £2 per play (prevalence of social welfare issues), see sports betting “majors” (Ladbrokes Coral, William Hill) and others dependent on their largesse (UK horse racing, UK government tax take) face a seismic change to their business models (30% reduction in gross gaming revenues, closures of 30-40% of their betting shops, 1000 of redundancies). Should we care? That depends on your view as to who is responsible for an individual’s actions. My personal opinion is that I am firmly against any form of gambling where there is not a fair and equitable chance of the punter winning long-term. If you applied my principle, we’d be closing down swathes of automated gaming machines, online card/roulette games and pools betting in casinos, bookies and so forth, where the “house” has a huge advantage (size of take out). We’d have more revenues directed to “equitable gaming and betting”.
  • 2018 is arguably the most profound and volatile year for gaming and betting’s adaption to changing societal mores, regulation and tax.  Yet for the smartest investors and regulators, this might well be the greatest year of opportunity (upturn in incumbents business models and branding, new markets, new value propositions, new ways to attract and retain customers, new ways to adapt to regulation and tax risks).

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

UK National Business Awards 2017 Re-cap

Friday, November 17th, 2017

Brains, beauty and entrepreneurial endeavour were celebrated on a searingly loud night at the Grosvenor House Hotel on London’s Park Lane, a passing resemblance to X Factor.

When “Lords, Ladies and commoners” were asked to take their seats, Sir Mo Farah burst onto the stage and broke the first royal protocol, telling us the private thoughts of The Queen at his knighthood ceremony earlier in the day. “Aren’t you retired?” Well not quite, we might see him on the final day in Tokyo 2020 chasing a marathon gold.

On a day that awards host, UBM, announced impressive half yearly figures, we learned the secret of their success, maximising profit per square foot. PR supremo and philanthropist, Charles Watson, media lawyer Mark Stephens (without his former WikiLeaks client, Julian Assange) and an eclectic crowd including me were squeezed onto a tiny table that resembled the docks at Sassoon Fish Market in Mumbai.

Three personal favourites among the tremendous British entrepreneurial success stories recognised on the night.

Bill Holmes and his business, Radius Payment Solutions, winner of the Inflexion Private Equity Entrepeneur of the Year Award (I was a judge this year). Chislehurst-born Bill has created a gargantuan global fuel card and telematics business – current sales close to £1.5 billion – over 25 years. He has given countless employees life experiences and wealth opportunities beyond their wildest dreams while being a huge benefactor for a multitude of community issues in the firm’s hometown, Crewe, in the UK’s northwest region. To top that he has brought up two wonderful daughters, who are in their early twenties are pursing their own passions with great success and energy.

Children’s food pioneer, Annabel Karmel who is a walking and talking example of taking a life-changing experience and doing something meaningful with it. Not content with being a celebrated author, adviser, marketeer and creator of innovative products, Annabel is set to bring healthy kids food and beverages to the Chinese. Having listened yesterday to Henrietta Lovell revealing the secrets of The Rare Tea Company’s marketing success selling tea to the Chinese – unprecedented trust and integrity – you would be brave to bet against Annabel doing the exact same thing.

At the other stage of entrepreneurial life, two family friends of mine, Sara and Maria Trechman, and their business, Well and Truly were winners of The Duke of York’s New Entrepreneur of The Year Award. Barely 1 year old, their business is creating amazing all natural snacks and is an object of huge interest amongst UK, and I confidently predict, global retailers. Perhaps The Duke had other priorities this week but I bet it won’t be long before he is looking for the glamorous photo opportunity (without the dodgy lighting). Well done too to my Aunt Alice, who had the fortitude to follow her instinct and back them in their first raise!

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Stanford for Start-Ups

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

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“There is nothing special about Stanford, everyone around the Bay Area tech scene has been there”.

Those were the throwaway words from a West Coast adviser, when I first mentioned that I had been asked to speak to this year’s class in Stanford’s Continuing Education program. Of course, those comments were directed to the university students, not the global audience of largely mature students and entrepreneurs enthusiastically engaged in a discussion about capital raising. Here is my findings from a really informative session:

  1. The dynamics of raising money at any stage are largely similar but the consequences vary immensely. When less than 25% of seed-funded startups fail to get to the third funding round (they have died, been acquired or are self-sustaining), many entrepreneurs overlook the importance of building and nurturing really strong personal support systems. Family, friends and wise counsellors, who have your best interests at heart, are willing to provide frank solicited advice and a supportive shoulder, when it doesn’t work out.
  2. The in vogue buzzwords are “agile money”. I prefer to talk about “resilient money.” Finding investors sufficiently agile to adapt to your changing needs is helpful but finding those that are sufficiently resilient in the tough and the good times, is really the gold standard.
  3. More than 80% of the class are positive about tech investment in the next 12 months and don’t believe we are in a tech bubble.
  4. Students often ask tougher questions of themselves than serial entrepreneurs. “How do I give myself the best shot at being a successful entrepreneur?” Perhaps it is the desire not to repeat others mistakes or the willingness to readily invest in improving their own skills, behavioural traits and expertise. Too often the mindset flips for the entrepreneur in the real world, “let’s save every cent”, when investing in their own personal needs (mentor, coach, advisor) is critical to their success.
  5. More than 60% are intrigued by corporate venture capital but certainly not beholden to its’ charms. Great question, “Why are corporate businesses suddenly experts in startup investing?” Many believe that CVCs remain highly susceptible to short-term changes in executive decision-making.
  6. Entrepreneurs learn best when they are willing to be vulnerable. In our case, to jump into the role play seat with little preparation and test their abilities to direct the conversation with an investor towards their desired goal.
  7. Understanding the distinctions between public and private investors such as a traditional VC Fund, a Family Office and a Corporate Venture Capital fund requires thinking about the future, not just the present or the past. What are their highest potential future needs? How are you uniquely qualified to address those needs?
  8. We over estimate geographical differences. A multi-lingual global audience of 75 entrepreneurs drawn from 5 continents, brought together by a singular objective, to learn the shortest quickest route to their desired objectives.
  9. Technology won’t replace “in the classroom” learning but tools such as Zoom, enable an increasingly intimate learning experience that certainly narrows the gap, at a a fraction of the cost for the host, guest lecturer and students.
  10. There is something special about Stanford – its’ global brand power. The ability to charge a premium price for global learning, to attract globally re-known lecturers and a culturally diverse group of students. I learn more than the students at these events and I can highly recommend it to others.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

A Dumb Englishman Abroad

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Rick Stein, the international chef is currently airing an entertaining series on BBC television about long weekends in European cities – the food, the culture and the history. Stein is a great chef, I have eaten in a number of his restaurants and the creator of an impressive brand. He comes across as intellectually curious and a decent man but his mangling of the English and Austrian language in his latest show in Vienna, wouldn’t get him a job in Burger King.

If you want to be taken seriously on a public stage, on camera or at an international gathering or event, the minimum expectation is that you demonstrate a command of your own and your host’s language. If you want to use local terms or words to impress others, make sure you know how to pronounce them properly and in the right context. If you are in doubt about the latter, ask an informed local. Don’t wing it, you’ll look an amateur.

In Stein’s case with an expensive production and abundant researchers, it is just lazy film making or you can blame it on the irritating tendency at the BBC to dumb down programme making to the lowest common denominator. Either way, it makes the speaker look dumb. Why would you do that or allow others to create that impression?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

The Value Creating Agenda In European Private Equity

Monday, April 25th, 2016

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150 of the leading minds in the sector assembled at Private Equity International’s Operating Partner Forum 2016: Europe. Here is an exclusive snapshot of 5 key takeaways from a list of 20 priorities shaping the future:

  • Impact trumping brand. What an Operating Partners does in future is more important than the size or diversity of the PE firm.
  • Little guys on the rise. Substantial “growth” opportunity in the next 12 months for small and boutique consultants and advisors. Tightly customised products and services, absolute credibility (IP), the ability to build a seductive rapport and convert it into increased market share .
  • 6 core value creation themes in 2016 (all businesses). 1. Structural transformation, 2. Operational improvement (often seen as unfashionable but where a lot of hidden value resides), 3. Buy and build platforms, 4. Emerging market growth, 5. Strategic repositioning and 6. Growth acceleration.
  • The Atlantic Divide. Limited Partners (LPs) report increasing geographic distinction between US and European PE  buyouts. In the US, a great frequency  of institutional buyouts (“IBO”), manifest in telling managers “we own your business, you will follow our approach”, consequently, management are more subservient. In Europe, a greater frequency of working with management and a greater propensity for peer-level relationships. Skills, behaviours and expertise needed differ, particularly communication.
  • The Digital PE Value Creation Wheel. Outstanding PE firms are embedding in their portfolio company due diligence 1. Product (capability), 2. Price (transparency), 3. Channel distribution (eCommerce), 4. Marketing (how they do it), 5. Operations (managing the business), 6. People (awareness, skills, behaviour)

Want the other 15 priorities, write to James@elliceconsulting.com  for a free copy of the full listing.

© James Berkeley. All Rights Reserved.