Addicted to change – 3 ways entrepreneurs are weird

My name is Martin and I am an Entrepreneur. It’s been one year since I last started a company.

The anniversary of a new job is always something to celebrate, but for the entrepreneur, the focus is usually on the company rather than the individual anniversary. After all, with 20 % of UK businesses failing before their first anniversary (and a further 50% within the first three years), it’s something of a battle scar to chalk up that tricky first year and get ready to tackle the second.

For me, the anniversary note in my calendar was a prompt to review the year just past and think on the year ahead, and whilst I won’t bore you with all of those details here, it also did cause me to reflect on what makes Entrepreneurs – people like me – do what we do? I first founded a company nearly twenty years ago, and after growing that to a successful acquisition and a very interesting journey into larger companies and various opportunities, I opted – a year ago – to come back and start again in a different industry, with a different business model.

Many of my friends, when I started out first time, asked: “Why do you do it?” with comments like: “it must be great to be your own boss” rather outweighed by comments like “what’s it like being responsible for the livelihood of an entire team?”. This time around, I think going back to startup land has raised even more questions: “really? leaving the security of a big company to start up again from scratch”, just about sums it up!

It’s made me realise that for many of us Entrepreneurs, and certainly for me – being an Entrepreneur isn’t something that I do, it’s something that I am, and as I reflect on the last year, it really comes down to three ways that Entrepreneurs see the world differently from other folks.

Change is the norm.

Let’s take change to start with. A few years back when I had only very limited experience working within large companies, I was very surprised when people said “oh it must be great working in a small team, it’s so easy to change things to adapt the business and make it better” I never had an answer for that because whilst I could see that instinctively change should be easier, for small business – I never felt that I was able to make the small business I worked in respond particularly quickly. Having spent a few years on the other side of the corporate fence, I can now see this from both perspectives, and whilst it is indeed easier to deliver change within a small team, it’s not much easier to change a small business because whilst we think of organisations as being resistant to change, it’s actually people who are resistant to change – we’re comfortable doing the thing we did yesterday – having the same breakfast cereal and sitting in the same chair – and every business has to address that no matter its scale. The difference between large and small businesses, however, is that small businesses must change, and do so more quickly in order to survive and thrive. I started a business because I could see a better way that organisations could use the web to communicate and I wanted to change things, and that same drive is still here today – entrepreneurs not only see the world and need to change it, but successful entrepreneurs drive change all day, every day within their own organisations.

Risk is in the eye of the beholder.

I’ve always been interested in the idea of risk. I mentioned above that people had asked why I’d left the “security” of a bigger company. As an entrepreneur I’m not a thrill-seeking risk taker, I just don’t see the size of the company that I work for as the determining factor in whether it’s a secure position. I’d rather be in a small business that I know is going in the right direction and changing in the right ways, than a big one that’s doing what it did last year or the year before but could leave my career stagnating with an outdated skill set and a struggle to find a great new role when a “restructuring” leaves me a casualty. Entrepreneurs see risk differently from other folks and are comfortable doing the right thing even when it seems risky to others. Successful entrepreneurs are the ones who get it right!

Opportunities to be taken.

Sometimes as an entrepreneur it comes down to whether you’re prepared to make a gut decision – one that’s not easily traceable from a logical sequence – that doesn’t fit the usual way things are done. For me, the move out of my previous life and back into the world of a small business wasn’t about 10 point career plan, it was about an opportunity to move to a new industry, gain a new skill set, work with interesting people across the world, and build something really remarkable. Opportunities like that are never “given” to you, they occur. Entrepreneurs recognise opportunities for what they are. Successful Entrepreneurs take opportunities with both hands, and apart for perhaps a brief review of the year, don’t look back.

Key Performance Metrics for Facial Hair

Having spent some time over the last couple of days at Finovate, I’ve been thinking a lot about metrics and what they tell us. In particular, every product demoed this week came with a lovely looking dashboard with colourful graphs and lines traveling up and to the right. Whilst the majority of the Finovate conference was focussed on assets under management and compound growth rates, however, there was another set of indicators which really caught my eye.

Working as we do in Shoreditch, Ormsby Street is in the heart of London’s start-up tech-city, just a hundred meters or so from Silicon roundabout. Around our office, a quick study of the faces of male pedestrians can be expected to achieve a facial hair index (FHI) of around 80-85%. Particularly noticeable is the presences of really quite striking hipster beards which cause the hipster facial hair index (HFHI) of 25-30% on some streets. I think it’s fair to say that many consider the chin curl factor within a team to be a leading indicator of success. 

Taking this at face value, I attended Finovate with the full expectation that given that is was full of highly successful startups who have achieved significant growth and success, the face fungus quotient would be pushing well over 90% – I was fully prepared for my clean shaven chin to stick out like a sore thumb.

Imagine my surprise then when I saw a striking contrast with Shoreditch, barely two miles south, the FHI was less than 10% and the HFHI was approaching zero. How could this be? I was confused – could it be that being so successful meant that these chaps didn’t have time to attend to their shave anymore? Keen to know more I spoke to a few delegates. After a few conversations, it became clear that there were at least two factors at work reducing the beardiness of the room. First a lot of the delegates were from the banking, rather than the startup community where clean chins (not to mention ties) are the norm. Also, many of the startups involved had specifically targeted the financial sector and so in order to project the image they were looking for, had gone fresh-faced in order to fit in. However, according to my completely unscientific study, even accounting for these there should have been at least a 30% FHI in the room. 

The answer came when I spoke to one of the few bristly bankers that I found. He pulled me to one side and said that he’d thought about going the whole hog, but on reflection had decided that “well, those beards look a bit silly don’t they”. So it seems that it’s not so much the city that’s unusual for the absence of beards, but the startup community that’s out of touch with the clean-shaven types in the rest of the finance industry!

Other interesting indexes and comparison: the Denim Index: Shoreditch 62%, Finovate 28%. And alas the proportion of ladies present hovering between 30-40% in the startup community but dropping below 10% in the FinTech event of the year.

In the spirit of Financial Technology, I could draw some conclusions from all of this, but I thought it’d be more fun to create an infographic.

Key performance metrics for Facial Hair
Key Performance Metric Infographic – Facial Hair

A bit on the side

Giant LUX Sign
Giant Signage welcoming our visitors to the event.

Lots of businesses talk about CSR, not a slightly misspelled crime drama but Corporate Social Responsibility – the work that a corporation does to help the society that it operates in. Well if many years of business and of working alongside the charity sector have taught me anything, it is that business don’t help people – people help people. For every business that has a CSR programme that employees happily contribute time and effort to supporting, there are a dozen more whose employees quietly go off in evenings and weekend to support local clubs, society, help the elderly, the unwell or those in need.

It’s you guys that I want to raise a glass to this evening. (I should probably tell you that it’ll be a glass on something non alcoholic on this particular occasion because I’m volunteering this weekend at a Methodist-run venue in Northampton so it’s grape juice all round until we head to the pub after the event’s all over) Your work to support your friends, your family, your community and those in need around the world makes a real difference and makes the world a better place.

I’m particularly proud this weekend to be celebrating the 20th event in a series that began back in 2004 and which aims to give young people from all backgrounds a chance to spend some time learning about and understanding themselves, their faith and the world around them. Over the years, many many people have contributed their time and effort to making a difference to young peoples lives, we’ve run educational sessions, apprentice programmes, interactive workshops and all sorts of activities which wouldn’t have taken place without ordinary folks getting up one day and giving their time that day over to someone else.

So why am I sharing this with you? Well, I hope that I might just encourage you – even though, like me, you might have had a busy week and want nothing better than to head for home and put your feet up – to instead find an opportunity to help someone else. There are few things more rewarding, and I promise when you do head back to work on Monday, you’ll walk with your head held a little higher.

And if you run a business? What can you do to encourage and support your team to use their skills in support of your community. Your business will benefit directly because your staff will have done something great – or perhaps just share with others what they’re already doing that’s great – and you’ll have made the world a better place.

And you can’t ask for much more than that.


How are the new year’s resolutions going?

Any still in play?

Anything that you want to share?

Of all the ideas and aspirations that I have heard from friends and colleagues this year, there’s been something of a common theme.  When it gets to the things that we really want to achieve in our professional and personal lives, the things which get us up and out of the door in the morning and make us feel like it’s been a good day in the evening, they do seem to involve giving a little of ourselves to something.

I don’t mean that the only worthwhile resolutions are those about charitable giving and service, but rather that the resolutions which stick with us, which work and help us drive forward, are those where we’re doing something that has our name on it, where we’re taking a risk and getting out there.

This could be a charitable gift, of money or service, or could be a sporting event where your success or failure is open for all to see.  It could be music, sport, building a business that focusses on something you really believe in, or actual art.

I can’t remember the last time I did a piece of art just because I wanted to and because I thought it looked good.  My friend Liz recently retrained from a successful career in marketing to become an artist, a very good one as it turns out.  What a change, from producing images and media to do a job, to creating something to bring joy and convey an emotion to your audience.

Whatever your new year resolutions are, or were.  Good luck with them – especially those that really express your art.

Less is More: Breadth Vs Focus

This week, Global Entrepreneur Week, has got me thinking: why is it that entrepreneurs – small businesses – have the reputation of being able to be nimble and steal a march on the big boys?

I think it comes down to one key reason, but that it also comes with a catch!

The reason is focus – we all work best when we have a clear task in front of us.  When we have the one thing that we’re really good at and we can focus on doing that as well as possible and sharing that value with the greatest number of people, then we’ve the best chance possible of making a substantial impact in terms of value and thereby growing a business.

So what about the catch?  Well, it’s not what you might expect, but it’s a biggie.  In order to really live up to “less is more” and really focus on the thing that makes us really different, as entrepreneurs, we have to stop doing stuff – consciously decide that we’re not going to do all the things that we did last week, but deliberately bring some to a stop.

It’s this ability to stop doing stuff which differentiates a small business, an entrepreneur, from a larger established business (and let’s face it, they have enough advantages as it is!).  Big businesses tend to add things rather than take them away – your computer (if you run windows) still does all the things it did five years ago, plus a few more – your next car will probably have more gadgets than your last car.  It’s easy to think that big businesses get trapped into the search for ever greater revenue and therefore become reluctant to stop doing anything even if it’s bringing in less cash before, but I don’t think it’s that simple.  Once you build a thing, you build up the systems to carry on doing it again, supporting it, upgrading it, and removing that activity from your business demands that you change a whole lot more than just a product page on your website – you have to change systems and you have to change people – yourself included.

It’s easier for you – the entrepreneur –  to change your business than it is for the big companies you compete with though, so whilst it’s still tough and takes a lot of work – it’s worthwhile because it’s what makes you a successful entrepreneur.

Next week I’ll be joining out team at The Business Show, and I had to boot something out of my diary to make that happen.  It would be easy to think that those other weekly tasks were more important, but for me, getting to meet entrepreneurs and professionals working in small business and seeing how our product can make their jobs easier is pretty much the most important thing I can be focussing on right now, so it wasn’t a hard choice to make.

I hope you can make it and that we’ll see you at the CreditHQ stand on the day (we’ll make it worth your while), and maybe the thing that you stop doing in order to free up the time to head to the show might be something you should stop doing for good.