Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Friends Reunited

Friday, October 6th, 2017

The squirrel in the garden this morning made his usual tour of the more verdant patches of the garden but on his way home, he made a stop at a less verdant area that was once one of his favourite hunting grounds. Turning over a few empty conker nut shells, he found a couple of worms drawn to the surface by the increasing cover of autumn leaves and increasing soil moisture. It reminds me in business, how easy it is to forget the converging value that lies with past friends, past school and university acquaintances, past customers, past investors, past employees, past business partners, past media contacts and so forth, who we have ignored for a good few years. Yet circumstances change in some of theirs and our lives causing our interests to increasingly converge rather than diverge. Yet for most people that is an accidental occurrence. In a world with greater connectivity, there is no real excuse unless you are poorly disciplined. My advice, on a quarterly basis throughout the year, trawl through 2014 and prior email inboxes, client and prospect files, personal photo storage boxes or albums. Write down a list of 40 names. Over a gentle two hours, perform a maximum 3-minute google or social media search, highlighting those that are of “known” and “questionable” converging value. Make a diary note to call the top half of your list (“knowns”), and at a minimum, drop a brief four sentence “re-connecting” email to the rest.

Explain that “I’ve been remiss in keeping in touch but I heard/read/saw something of interest (new job announcement, award, an interview) and thought it might be an opportune time to talk? Recently, I have undertaken ____ assignment/project/deal/experience with ___ (high relevance to the other party)  and it reminded me of our past relationship. I would love to hear your news and what you are priorities are today and share my news.  I am in your neighbourhood visiting clients/friends on dd/mm, would you have 30 minutes or time for coffee/breakfast or lunch?”

If 50% respond, you have 20 people of interest. If you are accurate with 50% in terms of their mutual interest, you have 10 new people of short-term interest. Meet two of them a week, you have 10 valuable relationships to nurture over the next month, where you at a minimum start with some meaningful trust, past affiliation and a discernible interest in how you might be of help.

© 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.

Education Technology To Trump Artificial Intelligence Buzz

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

I have had three separate occurrences this past month for family members needing quick advice for a range of more serious and less serious healthcare conditions. Here in the UK, the National Health Service’s Accident and Emergency Departments have become the repository for all conditions and advice outside of normal UK working hours, irrespective of the urgency or severity of the condition. According to one enthusiastic A&E nurse in a London hospital,  at a minimum 50% of patients don’t have a condition that warrants being there! We have a healthcare customer base that is

  • Increasingly uneducated about the resolution of minor and major health illnesses and injuries
  • Struggling with the increased automation in the healthcare system
  • Rapidly growing and drawn from very diverse backgrounds and cultures
  • Expecting greater access to world-class advice and near real-time resolution of all healthcare problems
  • Expecting free or near-free cost of advice and treatment
  • Reconciled by politicians that fear to speak out about the paucity of mass healthcare education
  • Comforted by a media that is only too keen to promulgate a sense of victim hood for a good headline

The response has been to rejig the supply of healthcare resources, the productivity of those resources and the automated processes. To channel all requests for help, outside of normal UK working hours, to emergency healthcare professionals, to ask them to enforce the prioritisation of all out-of-hours healthcare treatments, to perform to their best and to be on the front line taking the flak from patients and dependants frustrated at average wait times. Who would want to work in A&E?

Surely in this mobile-connected age there is a higher touch higher tech solution to the education, prioritisation, delivery of advice and resolution of illnesses and injuries? We are moving away from the archaic idea that every child gets the same textbook in school and in future embracing “adaptive learning”, where every child has materials updated in real time, customised to what they know and how they learn best. Using software to handle the basics and freeing children and teachers to spend the rest of the day interacting on group projects and personalised instruction. A back to the future revolution, not a dependence on online learning.

We have spent billions building “algorithms” that allow machines to ape human behaviour (artificial intelligence) but a tiny percentage of that on aiding humans to become smarter than the automation suppressing our talents and enthusiasm in the workplace. The NHS is but one example where we need to leverage technology to enhance, not replace us. To invest in human intelligence (customers, managers, employees and payors).

The same applies in almost every business. We suck the energy and life out of our employees and clients, asking them to perform basic activities without regard to the outcomes (onboarding clients, resolving complaints, adhering to redundant policies and procedures etc.). The automation is swamping their abilities to apply common sense, to provide outstanding customer service (speed and quality of response), to create loyal and “permanent” customers and in return obtain fulfilment from their work. How else explain the rising boredom levels in almost every professional workplace?

Yet executives in banks, insurance companies, professional service firms and others respond by deploying huge amounts of capital to harness big data and analytics, to make smarter artificial underwriting, investment and advisory decisions (models, augmented reality, robots and so on).  A tiny slither of that amount on enhancing their own managers, employees and customers intelligence, and when they do, it is on prosaic “one size fits all” training programmes, where they have close to zero understanding of the return on investment. Consequently, huge swathes of the workforce, management and customers are ill prepared for the disruption.

If you are not convinced that education technology from the children’s nursery through the workplace and into senior living represents a huge growth business and investment opportunity, you are sleepwalking through life.

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

The Insurance Corporate Venturing Pulse

Monday, July 18th, 2016

When you introduce two good friends that you know from two completely different walks of life, there is that pregnant pause in which both seek to find a common connection and language to build a relationship. To the introducer, it seems perverse that there would be a delay, you know both people intimately and you have thought long and hard before introducing them. So I liken the insurtech corporate venturing world today.

Inherently it makes sense that entrepreneurial tech businesses have the capability to transform venerable insurance businesses. In most cases there are shared values and a receptiveness to make a relationship work. Yet there is an uncertainty born of speaking different “languages” and the reality that operates in their respective sectors (resisting and embracing change, regulation, corporate bureaucracy and inertia).

Having assisted a number of businesses on both sides of the table, here is my current take:

  1. The quantum of insurance tech money will double in the next 24 months. There will be a greater concentration of capital in the hands of a smaller number of powerful brands (VCs, CVCs and UHNWs), who are able to raise capital faster.
  2. You will rarely hear about the failed insurtech investments but be certain 80% of the so-called strategic investments will never be strategic, in that those technologies are successfully adopted into the insurance corporate venturing unit’s mothership.
  3. Only 50% of an insurance corporate venturing unit’s invested companies today will be their best corporate investments next year in view of internal and external changes.
  4.  A more formal insurtech investment ecosystem will arise with greater concentration in a smaller number of hubs (Silicon Valley, New York, London, Singapore) that foster innovative environments. If you are not “present” locally, as a service provider, you will not be in the game.
  5.  Speed will be as, if not more important a factor than the quality of the capital, for entrepreneurs in the best insurtech opportunities. Bad news, for insurance corporate venturing unitss with long decision-chains or timelines.
  6. Insurance corporate venturing units that create a powerful gravity to their brand will triumph over those who are largely reliant on opportunistic investment ideas landing in their “inbox”. Heightened importance of peer referrals, networking, publishing, speaking, writing and so forth.
  7. With increasing numbers of people in the insurtech ecosystem, there will be a filtering out of people (entrepreneurs, investors and others) who are truly centres of expertise and objects of interest. Having your CEO make blow-hard statements about his visit to Google, facilitating an insurance disruption event or thinking that merely pushing out generic position papers on your own or a third party’s platform will get you there, is a fool’s paradise.
  8. Tech entrepreneurs that live at 35,000 feet and are beholden to the future without regards to the health of today’s insurance industry, today’s realities of marketing an early stage business and today’s decision-making are living in cloud cuckoo land.

Copyright James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

20th or 21st Century Business

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Many executives and managers in financial services, insurance, professional services, private equity and so forth presume that they have to go to great lengths to stand out from the crowd with their clients. I am telling you that isn’t true. Look around at your colleagues, peers, business partners, advisers, competitors and clients behaviour. How many of them regularly exhibit attitudes and behaviour that are informed by 20th Century operating beliefs some fifteen years into the new millennium?

In another breathe they quite casually pull out the latest iPhone, Blackberry or tablet device. By any rational count they are hyper-connected. They simply don’t choose to make their clients or customers THEIR priority. They hide behind the “shared” belief that their lack of responsiveness is reasonable and appropriate.

Pick your favourite:

“Sorry I am travelling I will need to call you when I get back from my trip” (are you telling me you have no access by phone, voicemail or email? Are you really in Mongolia?)

“Can you speak to my Assistant she manages my calendar/diary” (is your Assistant in charge of your life?)

“I am in meetings today, I’ll get back to you” (do you really not have 15 minutes to respond via phone or email?)

“He/She is in a meeting, can you send them details via email” (are you seriously suggesting an alternative that demands both of you accept a significant delay and greater labour intensity to decipher an issue that could be solved in one three minute call today?)

There is a perception in many business advisory sectors that a powerful brand = greater responsiveness. I have recently conducted a straw pole of senior executives in Top 5 global businesses in insurance, private banking, executive search and advertising amongst other sectors suggesting a genuine potential client opportunity.

The least responsive sector quite humorously is the executive search business. The average response is 7.5 working days! Well done Odgers, Korn Ferry, Heidrich and Russell Reynolds, you are joint winners of the “Global Customer Disservice Award” (GCDA). There are a great many other global brands who would be appalled at the behaviour of their senior and key executives.

Next time your colleagues tell you “it is tough to compete with XXX, they have such a powerful brand”, caution them that clients buy from individuals who are highly responsive to their needs.

There is a high probability that you can establish a competitive advantage if you focus on customising your people and systems tightly to your customers’ self-interest. You don’t need to be selling some predictive analytic tool, overly complex technology or big data process. You need common sense and enthusiasm.

Copyright James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.