Posts Tagged ‘business growth’

Warning Light!

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

 

When an entrepreneur or his/her Adviser overlook or cannot clearly articulate in 3 or 4 sentences, the greatest anticipated weaknesses in their business growth plans (markets, products, technology and relationships) given competitive market trends, you have a plan that won’t survive serious investor scrutiny. To pretend otherwise is to start driving a car where the wheel nuts lie strewn on the ground.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

High Touch Trumping Parking Tech

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

 

High tech is dramatically improving the way we live (transportation, medicine, education and so forth). Yet in some areas particularly related to prevention it is trumping a high touch customer experience for close to zero benefit. Nowhere more so than the indiscriminate use of ANPR technology to record number plates entering and leaving car parks. The technology isn’t smart enough. In a recent example, to inquire about a hotel night stay and meet a fellow guest, it required entering late night through a car park using the technology. For reasons that were out of my control I had to wait for an extended period outside the hotel’s front door. There was close to zero signage visible about the snake pit I had driven into or even awareness of what lay in store until a further two weeks had elapsed when in the mail arrived a £100 penalty notice. Apparently I had stayed longer than permitted even though I wasn’t technically parked and indeed was interacting with the hotel’s front desk. When I sought to appeal you are directed to a cumbersome and legalese riddled process that exclusively treats you like a transgressor.

Thankfully, the common sense intervention of the Hotel’s Deputy General Manager, Jena Smith, was able to right a wrong. When investors look at early-stage tech businesses, the right question to ask is, this business addressing a human need, solving a human problem or kindling the human spirit. Quite clearly, the owners of Parking Eye, Capita, who shelled out £54 million four years ago for Parking Eye, never stopped to consider that simple question. Or if they did, they have come to a warped conclusion that driving away huge volumes of repeat and referral business from the surrounding businesses, generating huge negative media publicity and hiding behind weak boiler-plate defences, is a great advert for the CEO and their Board’s genius.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.

The Perils of Hazy Horizons

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

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One of the senior politicians in the Brexit debate urged voters on British television last night to give serious thought to the type of country and life they want to have in 40 years time. Predicting what will happen in 3 years time, as anyone sitting in the executive office of a global bank in 2004 will attest to is fraught with huge inaccuracies and serious consequences! The pace of change has never been as dramatic (technology, capital, supply of talent, societal changes and so forth).

The art of management is to balance short and long-term profitable growth and make informed decisions about the health and well-being of the organisation. To effect change successfully and bring employees with them, mid-level managers in particular need to understand how they must adjust their own behaviours and actions in highly ambiguous situations.

To make serious predictions about the long-term and to put the risks and benefits and action in the appropriate context anything more than a 5-7 year horizon is really an intellectual not a commercial debate. Even in government funded infrastructure projects and macro inter-governmental policy initiatives (climate change, energy, healthcare, education and so forth). That is why I smile when I see organisations such as Lloyd’s of London’s (2026 Vision) and other global organisations expecting that their best laid plans will be taken seriously by their key constituents. It is a collection of predictions, which the forecasters will never be held accountable for and those asked to implement it struggle to grasp what it really means for them or their colleagues.  Fact.

Let’s get back to pragmatic outcomes, alternatives, assessment of benefits/risks, timing and action within the proposed investment parameters.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Behind The First Meeting: The Activist Investor Within

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

I detest the way the debate about activist investors and their motives has descended into a force for good or evil. It is corporate pantomime. A round of boos please after the activist has said their lines. Cheers and name calling after the “innocent” CEO or Board Chair rebuttal. AIG, Sothebys, P&G, Yahoo, and the list goes on. The myth is that the activist investor has an agenda and management and the Board don’t. Sparks fly at the first meeting because that is what the activist wants to see happen. This is rubbish and not supported by hard evidence in many situations. In a lively debate on CFO.com this week, titled, When The Activists Attack  here is a perspective I shared from my first hand experiences with businesses and management brought to book by activist investors:

When the Activists Attack

Tell The Truth: You Don’t Know Your Clients Well

Monday, February 15th, 2016

We think we know our clients but many of us are kidding ourselves or unwilling to be intellectually honest. If the objective is to profitably grow our business, we can help ourselves by having a finer understanding of the logic and emotion that drives our clients’ decision-making. I am talking about the individuals with the ability to approve, fund, veto or set major strategic initiatives for their organisations and the tactics to implement it.

You don’t accomplish that in a mid or large client organisation by placing yourself in a subservient position to a Risk Manager, an HR Director or a mid level banker. When did they last sit in, and contribute to, the firm’s strategy meeting? How would they be privy to the inner most thoughts of the firm’s top management, the Board and its’ owners? How would they be in a position to influence those individuals’ decisions?

If you must exclusively hang out with these shared service experts or mid-level managers consider the risks. You are placing your future well-being and financial condition at the behest of individuals, who rarely get “air time” with the ultimate decision-maker(s). They have a vague understanding of the competing priorities in the executive office. You are left to sort through the information they wish to share with you, their interpretation of events and their biases. So what is the alternative?

Shoot For The Top.

A senior figure at a Big Four consulting practice admitted to me “I sit across the table from C-level execs all the time but I don’t really know them.” Another, Vice-Chair of a market-leading brokerage and advisory firm, revealed how distant he and his colleagues are from the strategic decision-making process at major European insurance companies, yet they have billion dollar trading relationship. Faced with increased competitive threats, both individuals talked about the increasingly precarious position their organisations are in. In both cases, the businesses haven’t placed sufficient accountability on key people to build relationships with the right people and provide them with immediate and impressive value. Rather they have stayed in the transactional layer of the firm, cultivating relationships with mid level managers, convincing themselves that getting closer to these individuals will enhance their well-being (improved top line revenue, happier clients, stronger brand).

Getting There Fast.

Here is what my best clients do,

  1. Identify who those key people are in Board, ownership and management positions that you ideally need a relationship with to exploit exciting and anticipated needs?
  2. Who do they hang out with? (peers, friends, acquaintances, media and so forth)
  3. Where and with whom do they like to be seen? (professional, personal interests, charity etc.)
  4. Where do they speak, publish and support events?
  5. What are they passionate about? (hobbies, innovation, people and so forth)
  6. How might you meet them and increase your prospects of establishing a peer level relationship? (referral, charitable or professional association boards, shared experiences etc.)
  7. How might you provide immediate value? (a name, an idea, a sponsor, a success practice and so forth)
  8. How might you parlay that into a continuous conversation with reciprocal value? (each time you meet, you both leave with exciting ideas and impressive value, looking ahead to the next social or business gathering)

I find there are a great many people who “get” and studiously study the logic. However they fail due to poor credibility (entry path, lack of substance), an inability to build a rapport (intellect, social skills and chemistry weak) or a lack of trust in themselves (blow up the relationship with their transactional buyer). They can be coached or mentored but many are reluctant or their boss doesn’t see it as a priority. Lo and behold the organisation will forever be at risk to client strategic decisions that it has zero control over and an unwillingness to influence.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

An Investor’s View: Attracting Intelligent Capital to Innovative Ideas

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

I am thrilled to announce that I have been asked to be a contributor to VC-List, the pre-eminent online source for advice on turning innovative ideas into billion dollar businesses from people, who have invested in, led and advised real businesses. Here is a link to the first article “Getting Started in Raising Venture Capital” drawn from my war stories, experiences and insight with over 75 businesses in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia that have successfully attracted funding from corporate venture capital, traditional VCs, HNW investors and so forth at various stages of their journey:

Getting Started in Raising Venture Capital

 

 

Your Contacts Are Running On Empty

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Most of us, particularly those entering into or in the second half of their careers are increasingly in peril because our personal and professional networks are not strong enough or sufficiently relevant for the challenges that lie ahead. If the objective is to transition seamlessly, you dramatically increase the odds by identifying, cultivating and nurturing the right relationships now.  You don’t accomplish this by relying on a burgeoning contacts folder, LinkedIn database or Twitter account made up of people, who have long past their usefulness to you or random names.

Who are the five most influential people in your personal and professional life today? Who are likely to be the five most influential people in your future personal and professional life? What needs to change in how you establish, build and leverage your key relationships?

I ask this question because in profitably growing and expanding a business, our networks and the utility of those relationships are fiercely tested. Whether it is launching successfully into a new market or the speed and quality of an organisation’s reinvention it is heavily dependent on your lists, databases and the warmth of your relationships. Who you know is as important as what you know? How you have been providing immediate value is as important as how you resolve the client’s problem or improve their condition? Time, skills, volition and technology are the key enablers.

  1. Personal Time – how much time in a week is spent renewing relationships and cultivating new ones that discernibly help you with BOTH current and potential future needs? You are all almost certainly spending too much time with people who cannot help you in future. You are doing so because it is easy or safe. You must be concious of the return on your time invested.
  2. Skills Deficit – do you possess the skills, strategically, to decide who you need to cultivate to accomplish your goals and tactically, how to ask for the introduction, how to best present it in their self-interest and how to elicit your desired response? If you don’t get professional help.
  3. Volition – are you maintaining the right mindset? Where do you currently sit on the spectrum, the “Know It All, Know Everyone” (no need to learn new ideas from new people) or the “Intellectually Curious” (drawn to meeting new and impressive people with thoughts on what the future will resemble)? Do you feel comfortable in all social and business settings approaching others, who you may not know and seeking to establish a relationship? Are your best efforts de-railed by “fear” (being made a fool, rejection, in the specific setting)? The latter is a common occurrence even in successful mid-level managers. Conquering it is essential for career progression.
  4. Technology – are your efforts to cultivate new relationships and renew existing relationships with the help of technology having a dramatically positive, negligible or negative impact on both your short and long-term goals? Where is the hard evidence? Where do you need forward-looking help to enhance your personal productivity? To whom are you turning for “qualified” advice? A huge number of executives and managers have allowed their lives to conform to their firm’s technology, in so doing, they are working extreme hours to stay on top of client email, return prospects calls and nurture effective relationships. That doesn’t have to be the case if they are willing collectively to intellectually examine whether there is a better alternative to conform technology to their clients changing needs.

“Your contacts are your lifeblood” one of my first bosses said to me. What I have observed working with some outstanding peers, business partners and clients, is that they need constant attention, cleansing, and good nutrients. If left to their own devices, they will coagulate in ways that are not good for my future health and well-being.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

Corporate Innovation Comedy

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

There are certain fashion or fad trends which when worn by 60 year old men, skinny jeans come to mind, are just plain wrong unless you are Mick Jagger. In all the buzz about innovation, reinvention and disruption it is comedic watching the attempts of some corporate organisations in finance, banking and insurance to embrace it effectively.

The CEO stands up and says

1. “Innovation is the new normal”: err, innovation is not a rheostat with an on/off switch in outstanding innovative companies such as 3M, Merck, Apple etc.

2. “When I was at Google….”: err, you met with a middle manager or silo function (risk management) that is not even situated in the Corporate HQ. Ssh, the guy is an ex employee of ours suffering a mid life crisis but it sounds cool?

3. “We are on the side of the disruptive businesses…”: really, where is the hard evidence? Ah you have put in an order for the Tesla when the lease on the Merc expires.

4. “Let me tell you about our work with [Uber, Airbnb]…..”: your “credentials” are killing me, how are a series of actions unique to one firm now a hot trend?

5. “We took our Leadership Team to Silicon Valley….”: so you flew into San Jose on the Gulfstream, spoke to a few random clients and friends and are now immersed with ground-breaking ideas, really? Ever tried the pilgrimage to Lourdes? Thought not.

6. “I was speaking at a Tech investors event in Silicon Valley…”: you are now on first name terms with Marc Andreesen and Fred Wilson. Keep that one for the next earnings call.

7. “We are passionate about the future. We are announcing a new corporate venturing team with a $100 million of capital”: wow, so third rate entrepreneurs line up outside our headquarters. After all why would a stack of cash and a conservative reputation not appeal to serious tech entrepreneurs? Oh, nevermind.

8. “I am really excited by the power of blockchain as a powerful asset”: half the audience look blankly. The venerable City reinsurance broker or Wall Street banker racks his brain “watch chain?”, as the CEO fumbles like an adolescent boy trying to unhook the girl’s bra, in explaining blockchain’s virtues and his excitement.

9. “I have asked our Divisional Heads to set up an offsite meeting on Innovation and Disruption….”: yay, a chance to invite Wired’s David Rowan to talk to us about 10 transformative technologies. Oh hell, which futurologist should we invite? No giggling or fumbling for the iPhone and that important email when he or she stands up.

10. “It is time for the results of our Annual Report on Megatrends, we spoke to our global community of risk managers…..”: ah, that is the fella situated down the end of the first floor corridor with an actuarial background and a handful of junior direct reports. I don’t remember seeing his face in the Corporate Strategy meeting, perhaps he was at his daughter’s soccer game.

I kid you not, these are all genuine one-liners. Sorry I am bent double admiring the CEO’s shiny white teeth and folksy humour. Nice touch.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

 

7 Life Savers Every Business Can Adopt Tomorrow

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

 

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Endlessly overwhelmed by the demands of profitably growing your business? Want to find quick ways to increase the valuable use of your time and reduce your labour intensity? Here is 7 instant improvements that will give you an 5 extra working days every quarter this year and more impressive results:

  1. XpenseTracker – an all inclusive expense tracking and reporting app for business or personal use
  2. Refresh Letters and Templates – every step of your organisation’s client acquisition process, methodology/technology and delivery process to your clients, can reasonably be broken down into a toolkit. Many people waste endless time unclear in their own mind what to write and how to rapidly elicit the response they really want. Stop it. Whether it is a cold call letter, follow up meeting response, response to a media enquiry, meeting agendas, proposal template, chasing overdue invoices, presenting findings and so forth don’t reinvent the wheel. Constantly replenish your toolkit and use technology (intranet, cloud servers etc) to leverage it.
  3. Reciprocal Promotion: find 5 publications and reporters your ideal buyers read and are quoted in. Follow those reporters on Twitter, Google+ and other social media platforms. Respond to stories they post with thoughtful and provocative responses. Look out for their presence at industry events and introduce yourself in person. From time to time, suggest article or interview ideas or names of others that might be particularly of interest. You’ll find yourself, increasingly short cutting the process of becoming an object of interest to your ideal buyers, irrespective of your firm’s brand, geographic proximity or other credentials.
  4. Hootsuite – so you want to build a social media presence but don’t know how to accomplish that with minimal time. The Hootsuite app is your lifesaver, allowing you to access, schedule and generate fresh and valuable content.
  5. Citymapper – so you are meeting a new client or exploring a new city with the family, yet unsure how to get from where you are standing to your destination, what the alternatives are and your expected time of arrival. Arguably one of the impressive travel apps ever created provides all those answers and more in real time on your smart phone.
  6. Unroll.me – your frustration with junk email and subscriptions that you never knew you had has reached epidemic proportions. Two bright people, Josh Rosenwald and Jojo Hedaya have transformed the way you view email. Allowing you to instantly and permanently unsubscribe, roll up daily emails into a single email for quick scanning and storage of those most pertinent to your life. How good does that feel? Try it now.
  7. Tiny Scanner – you need to quickly scan, save and send a receipt, a meeting handout or tracked changes for a presentation while working away from the office or home. Here is the simple, fast and highly reliable answer, a brilliant app with free and modestly priced paid options for the iPhone.

Pick any of the above and you will conservatively save yourself a minimum 1 hour a day, 5 hours in a normal working week, 65 hours in a quarter. Think about that, I am suggesting every three months, you can create an additional 5 working days, at zero cost to you!

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

No Xpense Spared

Friday, January 29th, 2016

We cannot live without technology but there are times when the interaction is so appalling you just scream “Give me Fred Flinstone!” On the flip side, you have a stellar experience resolving a user problem, often self-inflicted (!) and you want to rave about the service. XpenseTracker is an ingenious iPhone app, created by Silverware Software. If you are user you won’t need me to say it but it is an incredible time saver for anyone, who hates the tedium and time consuming process of collating and processing expense reports. I guarantee that you can create an extra day of working time for a $5 investment!

My settings for reasons I cannot fathom prevented me exporting the finished expense report to my cloud server. I emailed Scott, the app’s author, we are on friendly terms in a virtual way of doing things. He immediately responded in 2 minutes with a brief “here is how to solve the problem” email, succinct and on point. So far, so good until I pressed the wrong button and the screen froze. A quick email to Scott in his Boston office, and within 3 minutes, no blame attached, “this is what you do”. Boom, solved.

I don’t know about your firm or its’ clients standards in resolving clients problems but ask yourself honestly, does our access, response times and success in permanently resolving our clients’ problems match our brand? If you don’t know the answer I suggest you test it immediately. If you do, and you are happy with the results, ask yourself, how can we reinforce those results such that there is a discernible gap between our competitors and us in future?

Today, HSBC’s online banking incurs a cyber attack, zero customer notification beyond a brief badge on their site. A call to Hiscox, a market-leading global insurer, goes unanswered for 7 hours. Telefonica, a leading European telecoms operator, asks me to wait on “hold” for 22 minutes or use their online chat room, which takes a further 19 minutes to get to the heart of my difficulty with someone, who struggles to assemble an audible sentence in English.

Large global brands are being disrupted by smart, small technology firms in almost every product or service line because the latter have better organised themselves to provide a “high touch, high tech” customer experience.  It is not about size or scale, it is about how smart your people are.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.