This is usually the first thing I ask an entrepreneur (or any one else for that matter) even if the words ‘elevator’ and ‘pitch’ aren’t explicitly used. In this context though, I’ve signed up for Darren Rowse’s 31 Day Build a Better Blog challenge and his opener (in true consultant fashion) is to pitch the question back at us.
So what is the elevator pitch for jbsh? Well our tag line (above) is pretty good start; that’s what we help our clients achieve.
Specifically on my side of the partnership I would say:
We work in partnership with our clients to help them structure their business strategy, plan their implementation, and finance their activities. Our core skills are in thinking about opportunities systemically, and finding specialists where needed. We firmly believe in partnership & collaboration, growing the pie for all. In addition to keeping up with the latest thinking on businesses & their development, we actively cultivate the entrepreneurial ecosystem to keep those specialists nearby. This blog provides a window into our thinking and activities that, along with other social media tools, provides a comprehensive insight into the people and philosophy behind the company.
Of course that slightly depends on who I’m talking to! 🙂
Generally I won’t open with a spiel about how great I am, the great companies I’ve worked with, the great successes I’ve had, etc. While past success can be an indicator of future success, its not a guarantee. I’d rather hear about your great business, your great features and your problems so that I can figure out the opportunities and how to maximise them.
Business development is about spotting opportunities and helping people reach them. That means taking the time to listen to an entrepreneur and then frame their idea in a strategic context that means they can see a clear and simple path to success.
Sometimes that means temporarily filling the gaps in their skills & abilities, either by doing some market research, number crunching or putting together a convincing business plan, sometimes that means finding an expert partner that can help you over the longer term. While the basics are usually similar, its the implementation that’s different every time, and that’s whats great about business development.
People are visual, we like to see stuff. Long thesis and manifestos are great for explaining in great detail the nuance and subtly of your plan, but first to have to get people to read that stuff. Everyone’s time is precious so you need to make a fast, powerful case to spend some of that time on your idea.
You’ve got a fantastic idea and want to tell the world about it!
All communication is ultimately all about the message. Before you even pick up a camera there are three key things to think about:
In writing these articles, the first thing I considered was the audience, you. You may be interested in making pots of cash. You probably don’t have pots of cash to start with.
But who are you trying to reach? Are you after the Chief Executive of a global business, Angel investor, a respected academic at University, local government worker, an individual consumer or activist, other people like you? All these audiences will have different requirements and expectations in how to be approached with a great idea. They’ll get their news from different sources and in different forms. Unless you’re only interested in people like you seeing your message, really think about who the audience is.
You might want to try developing persona’s and testing your message against them. Make up an example of your target audience. Give them a name and a back story. How old are they, where do they live, where do they work, did they go to university (which one), do they have a family, what car do they drive, what TV/Radio/Newspapers do they consume? The more detail you can generate the better. If you have time, make up a couple persona and try your story out on all of them.
In setting up OpenCoffee Bristol, I wanted entrepreneurs and the professionals that support them to get together once a fortnight to discuss business development and ideas around building an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bristol. I researched what type of entrepreneurs started up in Bristol and what they were in to. I spoke to as many professionals as I could to learn about them and what they were in to. Before I launched I knew my audience and was able to communicate effectively to them, as evidenced by the successful launch with support from Starbucks and local PR companies and good attendance.
Again, working backwards; what do you want people to do after watching your video? Do you want people to sign up to a service, buy a product, forward the video to their friends / work colleagues, change their behaviour, have a good laugh and move on to the next thing in their day?
Are you a business, charity, volunteer organisation or individual? Are you trying to show how easy it is to use your product / service? Are you explaining how your idea will change the world? What story are you trying to get across?
Whatever you’re trying to do, link each feature to a benefit. We have this feature so you get this benefit. Itty Biz has a great post on this.
If you’re doing a product demo then create a typical journey through your product and explain the features at each stage, along with the benefit to the customer.
A side note on humour; if you can pull it off then use carefully and be mindful of your audience. If you’re not a natural comedian then don’t even try to be funny, just stick to a simple narrative with clear feature-benefit links.
Not everyone is a natural story teller. That’s OK. It’s usually considered a good thing if you can be the outward face of your idea / enterprise and its certainly cheaper than paying an actor! Other good people to tell your story are the people you’re helping, or selling to. Personal perspectives work really well in getting a message across, which is why charities always show an individual and give them a name (even if it’s a dog or cat).
The storyteller doesn’t have to be on screen, narrators can be very powerful. The story teller doesn’t even have to speak, they can reveal the narrative through their actions and images. Remember though that you’re trying to get a message across in a short and compact way, not create avant-garde conceptual art. Large companies with huge budgets can afford to run messages that make no sense for months and then ‘reveal’ the secret product/service that they were talking about; you probably can’t wait that long.
Putting it all together
The end experience should be consistent throughout. If your audience is small businesses, then your message should appeal to small businesses and be presented by someone that a small business owner would be happy to listen to or look at. If your audience is disaffected youth then your story should be in a style they’ll be used to and presented by someone that looks like them.
Here’s an example from IBM. The audience is clear: big business, middle America, white middle-class middle-aged guy. Although this is on YouTube the ads were run on cable TV (I saw it on CNBC), between business news, where their audience would be watching. The story is simple: we’re IBM and if you adopt our technology you’ll save lots of money, and the environment. The story teller is credible, she’s a smart dressed woman that doesn’t look too out of place.
A very different approach is from CommonCraft. The audience is everyone that’s not an uber-geek but geeky enough to be using YouTube and thinking about Twitter. The story is really clear, a very simple way to build real-time informal networks means you can stay in touch with friends, family, work colleagues, anyone without having to do lots of work. The story teller is a narrator but uses plain clear English and cut out paper drawings rather than flashy 3D animation since they’re targeting people that might be wary of technology.
All rules are made to be broken, but you need to know the rules before you break them otherwise you’ll probably end up with a mess that no one will be interested in.
Here’s the classic rule breaker from Apple back in 1984.
I join entrepreneurs with resources to grow the economic ecosystem. I use enthusiasm, inclusive networks & systemic thinking. How about you? (140 characters, gotta love Twitter!)
Spring is in the air, budgets are being reviewed, contracts renewed (or not as the econoclapse might dictate), a good time to move on, upwards (sideways at least), and to think about what it is that we do.
A couple of convergences brought this train of thought into words (apart from the stuff above).
The first step to being able to help someone (entrepreneur, small business, community group, customer), is to understand what they do (or would like to be able to do). So I’m regularly approaching this challenge from both sides, explaining to folks what I do, and helping them explain to others what they do.
This is a variant on the elevator pitch, or the Hollywood pitch (depending on your attention span), and falls loosely under the topic of personal branding.
To a certain extent its a bit of fun, but its also very handy in figuring out which of the options available you should pursue.
So what do you (not your company) do?
It also explains my favourite gadget; my Touch Pro (and I’m looking forward to the Touch Pro 2). It allows me to stay connected to my loose networks (through gmail, twitter, sms), communicate with my direct network (via voice & Skype), helps me remember what’s going on (through GCal, RTM), helps me get to where I’m meant to be (through GMaps & GPS, and you can find me on Latitude), and helps me work away from the laptop (via Word Mobile, Evernote and the camera)!
Change of venue and format brought out the regulars and new faces for this morning’s OpenCoffee Club meeting. Mariama Njie welcomed us all with fresh coffee, tea and chocolate cookies to UWE Ventures’ new business incubation space in Bush House right on the harbourside in Bristol. There was plenty of time for folk to have a good look around and catch up with each other before squeezing into the main Board Room for the company demo’s.
First up was Michael Bartley from Test & Verification Solutions. Michael introduced us to software testing and code validation. His expertise was in providing clients with access to reduced cost and flexible resources at this specific point in their software development cycle. Michael works closely between clients and partners (mainly in India) to build find the right out source partner (rather than a body-shop as Sam Machin described it). The right partner was one that understood the application domain as well as the technology and could provide a high quality of service with good knowledge management.
After software testing, Ed Ross introduced his solution to oversized email attachments and overwhelming spam. Tonsho provides both services in a single subscription. Attachments of up to 100MB are handled through normal SMTP from your email to the Tonsho servers, the recipient receives a friendly email with a link to the file that they download (again through SMTP). Whilst all this is going on, Tonsho also offers a “challenge – response” solution to spam. Email that fails a spam filter triggers a challenge to solve a capatcha, if successful the email is automatically moved to the inbox and the sender added to the users white list. Ed was using Adsense and limited additional marketing, some good write-ups on About.com and word of mouth from existing users to grow the service. Basic accounts are free, added storage and features are available from Pro, and Enterprise accounts. Ed also offers a “Photographers” version that includes a photo gallery with watermarking.
Last up, but certainly not least, was Nigel Legg with a live demo of his latest enterprise Katugas Social Media Monitoring. Building on his experience coding and analysing free text responses on market surveys, Nigel is now delivering detailed analysis of a companies social media profile. Using software from Radian6 in Canada, Nigel pulled up a series of queries for Open Coffee and topics that might be talked about. Turns out the iPhone is very popular with nearly 500k mentions in the last 30 days. The interesting part was when Nigel pulled up individual mentions, and began grading them for sentiment (positive to negative on 5 point scale). He then pulled up the key influencers based on number of articles, comments, links, etc. A really powerful analysis of a business’s online presence and valuable tool for monitoring brand perception. With the ability to report daily, weekly and monthly this is a fantastic addition to Bristol’s business environment.
After the semi-formal presentations folks carried on discussions until gone 10am. Mariama did an excellent job supplying coffee throughout and lots of new connections were started.
Thanks again to the presenters, attendees and UWE Ventures.
The next OpenCoffee Bristol will be on 10 March at Starbucks on Park St. The next demo session will be in a month or two (drop me an email or comment if you’d like to present).
What do you do for a living; do you set out to change everything?
We may all be in sales & marketing now, but I still consider myself an engineer that does business development; so I felt a little out of place at first. I’m also still digesting much of the talk, so this may be a little fragmented.
When Seth began I felt there was something traceable to the work of Richard Dawkins‘ “The Selfish Gene“. Seth puts the meme concept to a very practical application.
Ideas that spread win.
Seth began with a quick history lesson on marketing. He related the story of Josiah Wedgwood and the many business and manufacturing decisions that he took, leading to the greatest marketing success of the era. When Josiah died he was the richest man on the planet. He was also Darwin‘s grandfather and the wealth he passed on allowed Darwin to spend his days exploring and ultimately funded the research that produced “On the Origin of Species“.
Josiah was living through a time of profound change, he succeeded because he transformed a craft activity into an industrial business. That was the first of 3 industrial revolutions and Seth contends that we’re in the middle of a forth. I have to agree with him.
And it fundamentally isn’t about ‘black hat SEO‘ or clever ways to interrupt people.
Seth’s opening stance was that nobody listens to advertising any more. There’s too much clutter; everyone’s buying everything from everywhere, and you can’t interrupt them any more. As soon as you launch a product or feature, there are a hundred competitors and if you’re only competing on how loud your marketing can shout then you’ve already lost.
Seth went on to talk very briefly about the 14 trends, extrapolated from Meatball Sundae. Aligning the whole business, or organisation, around some of these trends would provide the conditions for it to flourish. Wouldn’t guarantee success but would provide the conditions for success.
Direct communication & commerce between consumers & producers
Amplification of the voice of the consumer & indie authority
Need for authenticity as clutter increases
Short attention span due to clutter
Google & the dicing of everything
Infinite channels of communication
Direct communication & commerce between consumers & consumers
Shifts in scarcity & abundance
Triumph of Big Ideas
Shift from “How Many” to “Who”
The wealthy are like us
New Gatekeepers, No Gatekeepers
Which is great to get the message flowing but how do you get the first customer to talk about your product/service if you can’t interrupt them any more? To a certain extent, Seth offered a simplistic solution, make your product/service remarkable. If its worth making a remark about, it stops being spam and becomes one human being talking to another human being. Word of mouth marketing.
There’s an obvious parallel with Hugh’s Global Microbrand concept. Being fantastically good at what you do, and building your business inseparably from new technologies in a way that simply wasn’t possible pre-internet.
An interesting proposition was that, in fact, we all need to be in the fashion business. Fashion is all about getting talked about. And as Oscar Wilde said:
the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about
And on the internet, someone’s talking about you; even if you’re not part of that conversation. And if you’re not being talked about and you can’t interrupt people with advertising any more, you really are in trouble.
Seth wasn’t proposing that we’d all stop buying ‘regular stuff’ just because it wasn’t sexy. But if you want to launch a new product, or grow an existing market, or break into a new territory, the old rules don’t apply any more.
So what did I take away from the 4 hrs?
Well a head ache, which was pretty much what Seth promised. But also a very different approach to thinking about business/market development and the support that jbsh can offer.
Helping companies to identify the key memes that their product/service represents
Helping companies work through the 14 trends and identify the ones most important to them
Building a business model that can generate revenue from those important trends
How are you building your business for the future?
Are you passionately doing something you’re good at?
That was Sir Ken Robinson‘s challenge to us (and everyone really) last night at the Arnolfini. I hadn’t seen his TED2006 presentation, you should, its just there on the right.
First of all, Sir Ken is an exceptional speaker. Very self-depreciating sense of humour, great timing, stage presence, etc. If the message weren’t so profound we might have been in the Comedy Club.
After a pre-amble Sir Ken opened by noting that he hadn’t really followed a planned career, that he’d been opportunistic whilst following his personal true north. But then do any of us follow a planned career these days?
When we write our CV we impose a narrative retrospectively, or as Sir Ken put it:
…thus I moved from being a gardener to helicopter pilot…[pause]
as have so many before me…
He boiled his book down into 2 core principles for being “in your element”:
Doing stuff which for which you have a natural aptitude
and loving what you do
Everyone has many aptitudes, things we’re good at, that we get. The trouble is, because we ‘get it’ we assume that its obvious, that anyone could do it. The trick is to realise that, maybe, it’s not so obvious and actually we are genuinely better at that particular thing than others.
The example Sir Ken used was Terence Tao. At two, Terence taught himself to read, by 3 he was doing double-digit mathematics, by 9 he scored 99% in the Maths SAT, by 20 he had a PhD and by 30 he won the Field Medal for Maths. Terence was good at maths, he ‘got it’.
Not everyone can be as good at maths as Terence, arguably no one is. But there are things we’re good at, that we get, that others find difficult. Those are the things that Sir Ken is suggesting we find, discover and encourage in ourselves and others. In an aside (of which there were a few) the culture of corporate & organisational development was touched upon. A very powerful case was made for thinking of the organisation as an organism, to consider development more akin to gardening than engineering.
A good gardener creates the right conditions for plants to flourish, a good manager should create the right conditions for their people to flourish.
Sir Ken then moved on to the concept of loving what you do. He related a gig he went to many years ago. Afterwards they were having a drink with the band and he remarked to the keyboard player that he’d love to be in a band and playing keyboards. The response was “no you don’t”, after a bit the clarification was that Sir Ken liked the idea of being in a band, whereas the keyboard player loved it, would be doing it even if he wasn’t playing gigs.
When we find something we love doing that plays to our natural aptitudes, then we’re in our element.
Like natural resources, human resources are often buried. They’re not always lying right on the surface to pick up and run with. That should be the role of the education system. In the TED talk Sir Ken makes the point that the education system is designed to produce University Professors. Which is fine for University Professors, but of varying use for everyone else.
Another issue touched upon was that life is not linear but our education system assumes it is. You can’t plan the future of anything (the recent weather has re-taught us that) let alone people. Schooling kids at Primary / Kindergarten to prepare them for University is madness. A 3-year old is not half a 6-year old; a 6-year old is not half a 12-year old.
Unfortunately there wasn’t much on what Sir Ken’s education system would look like or how it would operate. Perhaps that’s in the book. A lot of people are working on similar ideas, most notably in Bristol the Enquiring Minds project with Futurelab and Microsoft but the systemic transformation is some way off.
Name a bizarre gift you received. Who gave it to you? What was the occasion? Did you regift it?
Blogging, twittering, and the immensely low barrier to communications that these technologies provide is the bizarre gift I’d like to mention in this Plinky prompt.
They’ve revolutionised the world of business development. The photo on the right was one of the first that I took with my HTC Universal and blogged from my phone. It was more to see what I could do from a mobile platform than any great social commentary on the redevelopment of Bristol.
Around the same time I mucked about on del.icio.us, flicker and set up a MySpace profile. I was trying to work out how I could use these technologies and how they would inform the business models for innovations in educational technology.
I’d had a website since mid-1997 when I was working on an European funded research project on business process change and we used some clunky (even by late-90’s standards) html to navigate the various options. I merrily coded lots of roll-overs, image maps but did have the good sense to steer clear of animated gif’s. This isn’t a history lesson so I’ll gloss over the rise of the freemium internet, suffice to say it was of interest but not a serious tool I was using.
Fast forward to June 2007 and the formation of jbsh LLP. Having always tried to link people up and join networks from within whichever organisation I worked for at the time, I now had the opportunity to let rip and make that a larger part of what I was about. This blog, LinkedIn and Twitter have been immense gifts to undertaking this as is GReader‘s shared items feature. I haven’t quite leapt into Friendfeed in the same way but might do if it proves valuable to what I do.
So I hope I’ve re-gifted by reaching out and connecting interesting people that want to grow the Bristol entrepreneurial ecosystem. This has partly been through relaunching OpenCoffee Bristol (using Twitter, Upcoming, LinkedIn, Facebook, and most recently it’s own website).
I’m an engineer, I build things. At the moment I’m building businesses, networks and partnerships.
What are you gifting back?
And the office block being dismantled in June 2006? Its due to reopen as a Radisson SAS hotel “early” 2009.
The longer answer is that it got me thinking about navigation and charting a route through choppy water/difficult times.
The backstory is that my sister was working out in the Virgin Islands when she decided to get married. Sam and I were a bit stuck for a gift, since she was already working in what many would consider to be paradise a holiday seemed a bit pointless. They were also living in temporary rented accommodation so house-type stuff was equally pointless. However, they hadn’t really explored the islands since arriving there.
So we chartered a yacht to take them around the islands for few days and to provide a different setting for the actual marriage ceremony. The backstory to the backstory is that my parents met running a yacht charter business in the Virgin Islands so there was a nice symmetry to the whole thing.
Being the height of hurricane season (late Sept) charter prices were cheap, if you could find a yacht still in the water. Fortunately we did, a very tidy Hylas 49. We provided the food & booze, the boat came with diesel & water. I was also expecting navigational charts of the islands. What I got was a 3-fold A4 drawing, pirate style, of the islands. Including several areas that were coloured in red – danger, don’t go near there!
Call me old fashioned but I wasn’t keen on taking a $500k yacht anywhere with what amounted to a novelty drawing of the area.
So I went to the nearest chandlers and bought a set of navigational charts, that now make very attractive wall art. One of the areas that was coloured in red on the novelty chart was the bay where the Soggy Dollar Bar is located. I did the simple calculations, checked our draft, planned an entrance pilotage, knew where the safe water was, and safely navigated in for a wonderful afternoon (and some excellent rum cocktails). Without having good information we’d have never found the place, and if we had, we could have easily run aground since the entrance was a bit tricky and there wasn’t a lot of room.
Are you navigating your business by high quality information or a novelty napkin?
Ok, perhaps one word mangle that’ll never make it into the OED but Twestivals are taking over. At least until 12 Feb.
Organised out of London (who says Brits and Europeans don’t “get” twitter) and with a global network within days, if not hours this is a fantastic demonstration of something that simply couldn’t happen this big, this fast even 2 years ago.
Dan Martin from BusinessZone.co.uk is coordinating the Bristol contribution with very kind support and sponsorship from Sift where Business Zone is one of stable of great online magazines & services.
I helped out in my usual small way with the planning and connecting of people but thought I should also make a more definitive contribution and put my reputation where my mouth is. So I’ve thrown my metaphorical hat in the raffle with a voucher for 1 days consultancy (or 2 half days depending on what is more suitable) from me.
It is kind of exciting, not knowing who will win and what business challenges they’ll have. I just hope I can make a positive contribution.
If you haven’t signed up, please do, Bristwestival looks like being a great evening at the new Lanes Bowling Ally. Lots going on until the wee-small hours and all proceeds are going to charity mate. Actually they’re going to Charity:water so that’s nice also.
What do you get when you fill Olympia Hall, Earls Court with companies trying to sell technology to teachers? The BETT Show is possibly the largest exhibition of it’s sort in the world and certainly Europe.
What don’t you get? You probably don’t get much learning as a delegate.
I attended earlier shows in 2006/07 as part of Futurelab but as with all exhibitions the cost-benefit is sometimes hard to justify. Certainly now, as an independent consultant and working with start-ups, the exhibition is of minimal value. Leaving aside the cost of an actual stand, there’s travel and accommodation and most of a week out of the office. From memory Olympia has poor phone coverage inside (plus concentration breaking levels of noise) and no free WiFi.
I say from memory because I didn’t go to BETT. I did go to BETTr, one of a growing number of unconferences that are springing up alongside their glitzier cousins. The benefits are multiple, being a smaller gathering you actually get to talk to people.
BETTr was mostly developers and smaller companies that supply innovative technologies to schools and universities. I advise growing companies on how best to plan for the future and have a couple of interests in the education sector so that was a perfect match. There was only one teacher, but that in itself was a topic of discussion in a break out session.
I really like the unconference model. In particular we had a detailed discussion on how to engage teachers in the development process far earlier than is currently the case. People shared experiences, ideas, thoughts, barriers, solutions. Challenges included their limited time, curriculum constraints and the usual challenges of getting beyond the early adopters to mainstream. The most popular solution was to take teachers to the pub!
The demands of modern teaching are that for most teachers its more than a 5-day a week 9-5 job, but a way of life. INSET days were commented upon (not just at BETTr but also the twitter backchannel where I was posting along with others in the room and from all over the educational globe).
There wasn’t an action plan or formal report, but it sparked off lots of new ideas, rekindled some old ones, and put a few to rest. It also brought together folks I’ve been reading online so we could meet up, though the Friday night TeachMeetBETT09 was the main event for that.
A big thanks to Jukesie for organising and to all the supporters for making it happen.