Archive for the ‘Business Growth’ Category

Cracks In The Nest

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Attached to my Parents loggia at their country home is a retractable sunshade that provides welcome shade to the outside dining area. This winter, a bluetit created a nest in one end of the sunshade, the giveaway was a few cracked shells lieing on the cobbled stones below. This past weekend’s warm weather created the need to open the sunshade and from the nest flew three small bluetits with their Mother hovering nearby. Unfortunately, the cat spotted one of the chicks later in the afternoon and it didn’t make it back to safety.

A huge number of venture businesses are currently incubated in what appear to be “safe” homes for innovation (corporate accelerator, incubator and venture funds), yet the opposite is true. When the overriding “need” arises to focus on the corporate organisation’s key strategic area (sales growth, capital allocation etc.), many of those early-stage venture will be deemed irrelevant, too weak to survive or fall prey to others. Insurance, financial services and the broader “Internet of Things” businesses are particularly vulnerable, yet most people are looking in the exact opposite direction. No one can predict precisely when that might be but history tells us it will happen. What entrepreneurs would be wise to consider is:

  • Why is this the right home for us today, not when we started? (access to capital, talent, innovation, markets, leadership etc.)
  • What changes (foreseen or unforeseen) in the Corporate organisation’s circumstances (balancing short and long-term profitable growth and their investors’ demands) would dramatically change their opinion?
  • Are our preventative (lines of communication) and contingent measures (Plans B and C) sufficiently robust (speed and quality) to safeguard our firm and its’ investors future should our corporate support end at short notice?

Far too many entrepreneurs are so immersed in building their businesses today, they are overlooking the risks attached to “building a home within a corporate home”, at their peril.

© James Berkeley 2017

 

 

Chasing An Entrepreneur’s Dream

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

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I ‘ve had a 40 year passion for the sport of horse racing, in particular national hunt or steeplechase racing. The global heartbeat of the sport lies in Ireland, UK and France. For four days in March, the very best horses and horsemen gather in a natural amphitheatre in the Cotswolds, 100 miles west of London, to compete for 28 races and prize money totalling £5 million. Cheltenham is Glastonbury, Burning Man and the Mid-Autumn Festival wrapped up in a visceral connection with a sport that breaks hearts and delights in equal measure. 260,000 racegoers passed through the gates last week, a great many Irish, to bet, roar approval and dance the night away in the local inns and hostelries until dawn. Male and female, men of the clergy, the soil and the City, grandparents telling tales of old to the young, and the carefree exhibiting their party tricks to any willing audience. Year after year, it is a rite of passage to have “done Cheltenham” from Roscommon to Newbury.

Yet behind this beguiling sport and its’ pinnacle, lies a modern story applicable to any growth business or industry, a tale of a sport where the elite level has created a gargantuan gulf between itself and the rest of the sport (Formula One, America’s Cup). Resilience, separates those who thrive from those who merely survive or throw it in.

Billionaire and multi-millionaire owners, who are willing to satiate their passion “blowing” £10 million a year after-tax in the hope of their horses achieving glory, albeit with zero residual value. Gucci-loafer clad bloodstock agents, trainers, jockeys and vets only too happy to help.

Dramatic scientific and technological improvements (breeding, procurement, nutrition, strength and conditioning) over the past 25 years have enabled the very best trainers to create very powerful systems, backed up by dominant levels of financial capital. Competition at the elite level, will always be sustained because the nature of animals racing against each other and jumping 20 fences is not an exact science. Yet many of those in the “squeezed” middle and the lower rungs of the sport complain that their businesses are near, or at breaking point. The patronage of five powerful men has created a concentration of power and influence in the hands of a very small pool of horsemen. They are paying for glory, the big race winners. Success has bred success and breaking into the chosen clique has become extremely difficult.

Yet there is no shortage of young aspiring horsemen willing to go “all in” chasing their dreams of breeding, selling, training or riding a big race winner. Their passion is such that just like a jobbing Hollywood “runner”, they are willing to embrace the 85 hour working week on a very modest wage, and menial tasks, to work their way up the ladder. Most won’t make it, some will leave the sport with their ego dented and in good health, others won’t be so lucky, retired jockeys with broken bodies, and “burnt out” trainers with deep levels of personal debt. The sport has an incredible level of camaraderie and philanthropy, largely hidden offers of future employment, re-training or housing. It is a sport where attendance at church in the major training centres on a Sunday remains exceedingly high. Thankful for the good life, if not the good luck.

It is a sport like many industries that takes no prisoners, where no one is guaranteed success, billionaire or horse groom. It teaches us that resilience, resilient people and resilient support systems (family, friends and mentors) are key when chasing our passion and ideal career.

The black days, for they will come as certain as the sun will rise over Cheltenham’s Cleave Hill in March 2018. The hopes of many resting precariously on the back of a four-legged animal jig jogging to the start, thousands disappearing into the satchels of on-course bookies pitched in a fierce four-day battle with punters and a great many in the game, acutely aware that fate may deal them a glorious hand or consign them to the “has-been” tray forever. As entrepreneurs, we take many of the same risks and experience similar highs and lows, yet by and large, we are only humbled by defeat if we choose that pathway. Yet, we too must be realistic about the nature of our business, our ideal future and the growth journey we choose. It is great to dream but without resilience, talent and discipline, we won’t get there.  Are you willing to bet sufficiently big on yourself?

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Five Family Office Traits That Throttle Success In Portfolio Companies

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Patient private capital is arguably more in demand today as a source of growth capital than at any time this century. CEO roles in businesses backed by ultra high net worth family offices (Michael Dell’s MSD Capital, Jorge Paolo Lemann’s 3G or Azim Premji’s (founder of Wipro) Premji Investment) are arguably more in demand than at any point in recent history. Free from the demands of quarterly reporting for public stockholders and the constraints of the private equity investing model, why, here is the “perfect” career option surely? All we need to do is focus solely on growing and nurturing the business and its’ brand, take prudent risk and never have to worry about the cost or availability of capital. Wonderful. What am I missing? Actually a huge amount. In an article published today, in the market-leading Family Office media publication, Family Capital, James draws upon his experiences with over a dozen families around the globe. Learn about the Family Office/CEO relationship dynamics and the consequences that are often overlooked by many Family Offices and CEOs until it is too late.

http://www.famcap.com/articles/2017/2/27/insight-five-family-office-traits-that-throttle-success-in-portfolio-companies

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Social Media: The Investors Perspective

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

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I get asked by investors about the role of social media in stimulating the profitable growth of mid-market business-to-consumer and business-to-business targets seeking growth capital. My default response is ‘why does someone want to share their video, tweet, blog? Then, how does it help them (entrepreneur) and you (investor) achieve your goals in the next 12 months?’ If you don’t have a compelling answer to that question, it is probably a waste of time and going to have zero impact on the firm’s growth. Review any YouTube, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook listing of most popular videos, tweets, images or blog posts and there is always that one thing that made people share it. That is the secret sauce. The son of one of my old bosses, Sam Tsui, an American songwriter, has had incredible success attracting 2.5 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. Sam is talented (Yale-educated). He possesses a great voice. He has learned to leverage the medium with great effect (singing duets with himself) in order to create a strong brand.

However, sharing alone is insufficient for Sam and the businesses I describe because there is no taste or noise filter, think of profane rants from soccer fans, product disasters and compromising personal photos, dressed up as “comedy” or black humour.

There needs to be a “gravity” pull for your target audience and a reason to keep returning. That requires volume, value and consistent messaging (“VVM”) to create engagement. Paid promotion works to raise “conscious” awareness of your product or service for a millisecond but it does little to stimulate someone to act (subscribe, make the call, visit the store, buy). So long as you put the marketing investment in the appropriate context, there is little to worry about but you must be willing to be intellectually honest about the results.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Why Should They Care?

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

I hate being “pitched” ideas, it immediately feels like my interests (building a trusting relationship) are being subordinated to advance your interests (line your pockets). Yet we all need to attract ideal customers or investors with a memorable description of our impressive value. How else can they recall when they need your product, service or proposed investment? You need a clear crisp 1 or 2 sentence statement. It needs to embrace:

  • Legitimate immediate value
  • Impressive results from its’ application and use
  • Improved performance, not problem solving
  • Your target audience’s aspirations
  • It needs to be specific, not too general

It is not about your approach, technology or ideas. Nor is it a sales tag line.

“We have created a platform to resolve the shortcomings of wealth managers, who put their interests before their customers” is interesting but it tells me little about what is really in it for me.

Contrast this with “We dramatically improve HNW investors’ performance, security and peace of mind in complex and ambiguous situations”, which begs the immediate question “great, tell me what would you suggest in this situation?” You have given the other party a reason to care about you (their self-interest), to immediately delve into a pragmatic not conceptual discussion and to recommend you to others.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Hot Airbnb

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

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A rocket-propelled growth trajectory creates a “siren call” to investors and garners predictable and less predictable media comment. Executives ride the bandwagon of super valuations (fame, inflated bonuses, celebrity) but all too often the focus on dramatic market expansion and top line growth outpaces risk mitigation initiatives (the boring stuff). Heat melts the shell of the rocket on re-entry and the business becomes highly vulnerable.

This past week, Airbnb came in to sharp focus with me. (1) A European CEO of a “bricks and mortar” global serviced apartment business pointing out that Airbnb is flagrantly allowing its’ hosts in many key European gateway cities to run full-time hospitality businesses (83,000 room listings in Paris) and (2) Personally experiencing their underwhelming response to a cyber hack on my own Airbnb account.

My observation is Airbnb are playing too fast and too loose. They are tripping up on common sense responses to foreseen risks (cyber hacks, hosts flouting local trading rules), not just unforeseen risks. I don’t believe they are alone, there are hundreds of “celebrity” high growth businesses, whose risk mitigation strategies are being lapped by their growth plans.

I am all for disruptive businesses helping raise the levels of customer service. That is capitalism. No business or industry has a “right” to survive. What isn’t acceptable is when a business is acquiescent or adopts approaches (cyber hack) that are so inadequate that trust and integrity is destroyed. Are management asleep while cyber thieves roam freely in their booking system, setting up fake bookings, lifting credit card information, conversing brazenly with hosts and potentially putting “hosts” in physical harm’s way with bogus guests? Are their customers solely responsible for alerting Airbnb to breaches and mitigating the immediate risks (financial theft, loss of personal data, potential physical harm to hosts)? Should  this matter to investors?

Yes, if you are an investor for whom reputational risk is equally as important as financial risk.

There are plenty of disruptive businesses (Ryanair), where executives have assailed their competitors, regulators and their customers for years while the growth trajectory dramatically outpaces the risk mitigation strategies.

The difficulty arises when growth slows, investors ask “why”?

Businesses aren’t in existence to be liked, they are in business to be respected. If you don’t believe that look at Apple, GE, Singapore Airlines and Virgin. When respect is destroyed by leaders failing to prioritise managing risk effectively, customers, shareholders, employees and business partners walk. No one individual or brand is insulated from that certainty.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

FOG

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

 

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Time and again, particularly in growth businesses, I see leaders proudly trumpeting their unplanned but hugely gratifying successes that they have achieved. When I ask about what decisions they will make today about planned future growth, their default is to say that we are in “pause mode”, and recall past stories of investing too early in entirely different businesses, at entirely different stages of growth. “I know it sounds silly, we know that we need to invest first and then enjoy the returns but we are not in that mindset, at present.”

The effects are the “stop-start” impact of growth on the top and bottom line. Sales pipelines that are at one moment overflowing and another running dry, revenues that have a strong couple of quarters followed by leaner quarters and increased volatility in profits. The volatility creates a sense of unease in management’s own thinking and often investor unease in management’s ability to achieve their projected profitable growth targets, as originally agreed. Confidence is a fragile vase, once shattered hard to put back again.

We all know that we must grow our businesses but coming to terms with the consequences of growth is seismic for some entrepreneurs and executives. From an investor’s perspective, management’s fear of growth (“FOG“), is as debilitating a condition for an organisation’s future as the actual consequences of the growth investments made. The consequences of investing too late or not at all, are rarely even considered after the event by management (the great business development hire you never made, the business you could have acquired, the market opportunity you could have secured and so on).

Understanding what are the causes of “FOG”, are fundamental to growing a thriving business. Why is it that management are unable to take prudent risk? Why cannot they put in place appropriate preventative and contingent actions? Why have they stopped trusting their own judgement?

The answers give you a more profound understanding of the management team, the beliefs that govern their actions and the results that in all probability will arise for investors.

There are, of course, rational consolidation moments in periods of high growth, to ensure growth is manageable and healthy or when there are dramatic macro environmental changes taking place in a designated market. What I am suggesting entrepreneurs and executives think about is the irrational moments, management’s self-inflicted fear of growth and the consequences for their key constituents. Are they afraid of the dark or the “monsters” that may appear in the dark?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Interview With Me: Risks Of International Expansion

Monday, October 17th, 2016

In an interview with ChronicleLive reporter Mark Lane, James explains why the risks of expansion are often overlooked as investors and management jump on the bandwagon of international growth, often with disastrous results.

Export Strategies Can Make or Break An Organisation 

http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/business/business-news/first-steps-ladder-success-international-11970237 

Abandoning Growth

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

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I am at a zoo in the English countryside with my daughter, watching rare breeds of monkeys play and eat. Once they have chewed on the best bits of lettuce they flick them off their perch onto the floor so they can make room for new supplies. They don’t hoard or persist in trying to nibble away at food that has passed its’ “sell by” date or they are bored with.

Yet in many expansive mid-market and larger businesses I see huge amounts of time invested and energy deployed in processes and activities that have long ceased to be effective. Managers lack sufficient focus, organisation, and the volition to make “tough calls” on what to abandon.

The consequence is that they are becoming less productive, they are self-limiting their value to their clients and the organisation’s growth potential.

Assuming there is no “spare capacity” in your business, in order to ascend to the next level of growth:

  1. What exactly are you going to stop doing or do less of this month and the month thereafter?
  2. When are going to schedule the time and where are you going to implement that?
  3. How will you measure progress and success?
  4. Who must be held personally accountable to ensure your goal is met?

In my own business, I have consciously made a decision to abandon working for owners of startups and early stage businesses unless they past a stringent “smell test”. I will only offer strategic advice on dramatic growth opportunitiest to investors with substantial means and managers of businesses with upwards of £50M enterprise value from 1st September. I plan to keep a bi-weekly calendar. Account for the time saved (emails not read, calls not scheduled, meetings not set, and follow up not required) in rejecting the offers and the increased productivity earned.

I currently receive 3+ requests a week from entrepreneurs and small business owners, particularly seeking help attracting growth capital. They have an unquenchable appetite for advice but by and large, a poverty mentality in paying for it and investing in their own performance. Sorry I need to better invest my time if I am to be more valuable to clients, who want to go where I want to go.

If monkeys can make that simple determination without fear, why cannot intelligent managers and ambitious organisations?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.


 

 

 

 

RPM II: The Cornerstone Client Walks

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

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In the second in our weekly series of Resilient People & Momentum (“RPM”), James discusses how to lessen the impact of a key client exit on the firm’s profitable growth plans. No seriously, clients aren’t for life!

Situational Overview: The Cornerstone Client Walks – you have done a fabulous job. It is not personal but the buyer has decided that they can live without your product, service and relationship. You have a cashflow problem. You have a potential reputation problem within (direct reports and peers) and outside the firm (customers and business partners). You have a potential employee problem (productivity and morale). You have a potential investor problem (earnings and value). Is your first thought to seek blame or come up with a great response? I’d say in 80% of these situations I have been privy to the former explodes virally.

Resilient People & Momentum Mindset: I subconsciously expect this to happen in a growing business when I least expect it. How I respond is more important than what has happened. I earn others respect by displaying the right mix of skills, behaviour and expertise. I am willing to be intellectually honest about my own performance. I will listen to and respond sensibly to solicited feedback while ignoring unsolicited feedback that is largely for the other party’s benefit.

Resilient People & Momentum Questions:

  1. Cashflow: where can we create more short-term revenue, not where can we take money from?
  2. Reputation: where can we earn more respect (new ideas, reciprocal opportunities, return the favour), not how can I save face or pass the blame?
  3. Employees: where can we more productively deploy and offer more gratifying work to our employees, not who needs to be harangued or worse, fired?
  4. Investors: where can we display and exude greater confidence in our talent and judgement to investors such that a short-term set back, is just that, a blip on a road to riches, not a mind numbing defeat that forces investors to thrown their hands up in the air?
  5. Development: what can I learn from the treasured client’s reasons for the decision to walk away that I can apply for the future benefit of the firm (better client communication), its’ existing clients (prioritising investment) and our prospects (market positioning)?

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.