Free Bristol

Andrew McConnochie, 30 March 2008
Andrew McConnochie, 30 March 2008

To a packed (and hot) Rosalind Franklin room in At-Bristol, Chris Anderson (Editor of Wire, Author of Long Tail & now Free) gave a really good overview of the premise of the “Free” economy, Fremium, marginal costs and the impact of Moore’s Law on abundance & scarcity.  That was for around 25mins, he then did a Q&A session for 30 min before retiring to sign copies of his (not free) book.

I was lucky enough to ask a question which went loosely around, in this new economy of free, what is the value of geography (Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Beijing, Bristol)? Chris answered partly by describing two companies he’s just launched. For one the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) came from MIT, for the other the CTO was online and after 6 months Chris discovered that he was a High School drop out with a self-taught knowledge of Arduino in Tijuana. Chris also talked a bit about choosing to live in a place and then finding the best talent for solving a problem, which probably isn’t in your company, City or probably even country.

On stage and in the couple minutes he spent outlining his answer, this made a degree of sense but something wasn’t quite right, and it was only on the walk home that I worked through some thoughts; hence this post (it goes on a bit, sorry).

Whilst the human brain is an undoubted marvel of flexibility and adaptability, in evolutionary terms its design is around 5,800 years old. The last major version change was about 1.5 million years ago when it tripled in size, and the last genetic upgrades were around 37,000 years ago and 5,800 years ago. However, given that the internet isn’t 50 years old yet (and probably under 30), it’s a wonder that our heads don’t just explode trying to cope.

As an aside, I’ve worked for the last few years with a company in Toronto and for a while helping them build a partnership with an organisation in Vancouver; headshifting across 8 time zones is disproportionately harder than just working a 20-hour day. Even funnier is what happens when you try to physically do what the internet allows virtually and travel around the world in 23 hours, as Jeremy Clarkson found out (with a slight cheat on the international dateline – YouTube from 8:05 onwards in particular).

The point is that we’ve evolved to be local, social creatures (see the Dunbar number) and it’s only by a design fluke that we can even begin to cope with the internet. Which brings me back to geography by way of Seth Godin, we like to be in a tribe of similar people. Of course tribes can be online but fundamentally we like to meet people in real life. Its no coincidence that most digital start-ups are around the Silicon Valley area; that’s where all the other digital start-ups are. If you want to be in movies you go to Hollywood; if you want to be in finance you go to London, etc. Of course there are thriving start-up, film and finance industries outside those locations <plug>not least Bristol which has been recognised as one of the most innovative cities globally by McKinsey & the World Economic Forum, over a quarter of the global wildlife film making originate out of Bristol and the finance sector is the largest in the UK outside London</plug>.

And perhaps that’s the value of local. You can build trusted relationships with all the key partners to build a successful business and still compete globally on the ideas & products that are generated.

In my new part-time role as Manager of Science City Bristol, I was talking this morning with Martin Coulthard about the developments of the Bristol Enterprise Network over the next few months. He was making the valid point that Science City Bristol doesn’t have a ‘neat’ strapline or twitter pitch. But I’m not sure it needs one. To get back to Chris again, in the world of free and virtually frictionless transactions, we need to find the added value of being in the Bristol / Bath city region and being into science. That might be (probably is) different for each of the many tribes in and around the area.

For a bit of fun I tried “what is a science city” as a search term; WolframAlpha was completely stumped, Google found most of the UK Science Cities but didn’t really provide an answer, and Bing didn’t really do much better. I can’t promise to develop a complete answer myself, but I do think there is some great added value to be delivered.

Thanks to Andrew Kelly for running this as part of the ongoing Festival of Ideas.

[Clarification: I booked and paid for this Festival of Ideas’s talk as Managing Partner of jbsh LLP, before discussions about being the Manager of Science City Bristol; I just happened to ask a question about geography in the new economy. These are my thoughts on Chris’ response.]

Business Support Simplification – an analysis

Uploaded on November 2, 2006 by Paul Mannix
Uploaded on November 2, 2006 by Paul Mannix

Is it possible for a Government to provide simple support to businesses?

Well the UK Government thinks it is, but recognises that it hasn’t been very good at the simple part. A few years ago some wag pointed out that there were over 3,000 different grants, programmes, schemes, advice networks, etc (nobody really knew the exact number), and that it was something of a mess. In the 2006 Budget the Government promised to reduce this to around 100. The latest plan is to get this down to 30.

As Dan Martin over at businesszone.co.uk more recently pointed out, this simple list of 30 has already become less simple.

As part of an application to the recent SWRDA post for Head of Business Innovation, I thought I’d revisit BSSP from a more strategic perspective. While I have dealt directly with several of the individual ‘products’ (as they’re called) and have been involved in various briefing and discussion around the rest, I’ve not formally reviewed the whole documentation associated with these changes.

Enter Nigel Legg at Katugas Lex. I emailed over three documents: Solutions for business: supporting success, The economic drivers of Government-funded business support: supporting analysis for ‘Solutions for business: supporting success’ and the South West Regional Development Agency’s Regional Economic Strategy. I asked Nigel to see what the key themes and constructs that emerged from within these three documents, but didn’t set any specific boundaries or expectations.

After a couple of days Nigel emailed to say he’d finished and invited me round for a presentation and discussion.

A note on the analysis method before getting into the findings. Each document was broken down and repeating words found, for each document the top 30 to 40 words were included in the supporting excel report. These words were then grouped to identify key themes with around 13 per document. Because of the way the statistics works, you don’t receive an absolute measure of thematic importance. For example, with the Economic Drivers the most connected theme was “business” with “market” being 73% as connected as “business” and “information” being 50% as connected as “business”. So you do get a very good internal feel for the focus and thrust of the document, Nigel also included a combined report of all three documents.

The economic drivers of Government-funded business support
The economic drivers of Government-funded business support

As you’d expect the dominant themes are around business, support, innovation, economics with a heavier weighting towards regional and south west for the SWRDA document. What was more interesting was what wasn’t there.

The market was clearly front and centre in the economic justification. Innovation is clearly linked to productivity and there’s a reasonable focus on benefits (through examples). Unfortunately “profit” or “finance” didn’t make the ranking for any of the documents.

Providing information is clearly seen as a benefit and service to inform the businesses understanding of the market and various support available. As I understand it this is a core function of the Business Links through their IDB (Infomation, Diagnosis & Brokerage).

Despite having a whole chapter on Skills (Chapter 3), they don’t show up as a key theme. The two main ‘products’ here are Train to Gain and the Manufacturing Advisory Service. Hidden away is a very interesting sounding service “Coaching for High Growth”.

The actual semanic map of the BSSP document wasn’t that surprising on its own. The main focus was around businesses and economic achievement, with a sizable grouping around Government Support, the schemes themselves and eligibility.

SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy
SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy
Its worth noting at the outset that the SWRDA Regional Economic Strategy goes much wider than business innovation or government support for businesses. There were quite sizable thematic groupings around people and future communities and their connection to the broad economy of the region. There was also consideration on the challenges and changes associated with growth.

The focus in general has moved away from a historical focus on employment toward productivity (at least as far as business is concerned). Interestingly, important and business are closely linked themes.

Possibly the most noticeable shift between the two maps is the disappearances of “market”, “innovation” and “enterprise” as top level themes.

Some thoughts

  • Personally I would have liked to have seen more evidence of developing market understanding and providing solutions to problems in the market.
  • I’d also have liked to see more emphasis on developing the higher skills for entrepreneurship and innovation (principally team building).
  • The emphasis on innovation & enterprise at the national level is excellent, as is the lack government focus on specific sectors (though this has already changed with the various sector bail-outs).
  • It would have been nice to see more innovation & enterprise focus in the SWRDA RES, but moving from an employment focus to productivity is a start

What’s so Social about Social Enterprise?

I know this is "internal only", I'm waiting for a public version I can replace it with.

I’m increasingly unconvinced by the “social enterprise” label as a distinct business model. Of the legal forms of incorporation only one has distinct “social features” (the CIC) but that’s not suitable for everyone. There are certainly many businesses trading for social improvement or with a strong social ethic running through them, just as there are businesses with strong design ethic, or engineering excellence, or any number of coherent passionate shared values.

As a branding mechanism I can see a value in being recognised as a “social enterprise”. It catches a very strong Zeitgeist and clearly flags your tribe, enabling people to make purchasing decisions.

Anyhow, on with the day. This was part of the ESRC‘s Festival of Science.

Session 1

The first session was with Katie Alcott (Frank Water), a great example of a social enterprise, and based in Bristol. It was refreshing that despite the obvious social aims and largely philanthropic ambitions, Katie had been quite level headed in starting Frank. She’d pulled together a team of 5 to launch the product, identified different legal forms of incorporation and decided that a trading company was the best way to achieve her aims.

Unfortunately there was still a bit of confusion between a Limited Company and Social Enterprise. Katie seemed to be suggesting that they were somehow different, when its actually down to the purpose and operation of the business. There are specific legal forms of incorporation that you can use (such as the CIC which was talked about in the break out session) but Frank are a Ltd with a Charitable arm.

What set them apart was their ethic and business focus. The main alternative Katie and Tom looked at was a charity but felt that this was akin to “begging” for money. Yes everyone got a warm fuzzy feeling at helping the less well off, but it wasn’t as sustainable as a business receiving revenue for a valued product or service.

Having launched the business, Katie has demonstrated very acute business development initative with their 1:200 campaign (something the other bottle water companies are following, always a good sign). They obviously have a good sense of marketing, a great design, a solid and building a tribe of followers, and are increasingly delivering the social change projects Katie wanted to.

Break Out

The break out session was to discuss what a Social Enterprise was. There isn’t a ‘template’ presented to us, we were given some examples from the Ashoka Foundation and asked to consider them. We felt that there had to be a business, rather than a charity or volunteer group, and that the principle purpose had to be some social benefit. But beyond that we struggled to come up with a binding definition, which was a recurring theme.

Session 2

The second sessions tried to ask “How do we know, as consumers & citizens, that we a dealing with a social enterprise?” and was led by June Burrough (Pierian Centre). June was very proud of her Social Enterprise Mark as it represented a line in the sand, a recognition but didn’t require her to change what she was doing. The Pierian Centre provide training & conference space in the middle of St Pauls. When she set up the centre, June was advised to take St Pauls off her address as “no on would go there for training”.

That was just buying into the prevailing social attitudes to the St Pauls area. June stuck to her guns and now has a thriving centre with executive training, homoeopathy and counselling (and a whole load more) all making use of her building. A large part of the social in her enterprise is the use of local providers for catering, training, etc. She also runs a sliding price scale so that those will less resource to pay make a smaller contribution.

The Centre is set up as a CIC so that the assets (the Grade 1 listed building) are returned to the community should the company cease trading.

Break Out

We came up with a long list of things you might want to know about in deciding if the company you were dealing with was a ‘social enteprise’ but were hampered by know really knowing enough about the Social Enterprise Mark. It also became clear that while some companies (like Frank Water) are happy to have their photos on the web and to be very ‘out there’, some other very valid social enterprises were less comfortable with that.

Session 3

Last up was Sam Robinson (eaga) asking about “What might we want to know about the human side of the benefits & changes that social enterprise promises to bring?”. eaga is quite an interesting business story outside any social enterprise context. Set up to disburse Government grants to improve home heating efficiency they quickly grew to be a large business, set up as a partnership (a la John Lewis Partnership) then floated retaining a controlling share within the Partnership Trust. With over 4,000 employees across half a dozen countries they’re not your usual little social.

It might have been Sam’s title (CSR Manager) that struck a slight discord but to me it was the disconnect between the core purpose of eaga, managing grants and installing energy efficiency systems, and the social aspects being discussed which were mainly in the sub-continent and around sanitation and education.

The far stronger story was the simple operation of eaga in efficiently using Government funds to implement energy efficiency and heating insulation in the less well of parts of the UK.

Sam acknowledged that they were using their muscle to encourage their supply chain to be more charitable. He also recognised the challeneges of just being a ‘CSR Ticket’ and integrating social enterprise into ethic of business. Whether you can do that as a plc I’m not sure. Interestingly they floated in June 2007 at a share price of 227.75 and steadily fell to 94.75 almost exactly a year later, they’re now back up around 130-140. There must be a lot of pressure on the senior management team to make up that loss in value.

Wrap up

There wasn’t really a wrap up session or final discussion. This is clearly an ongoing series of discussions and debates.

The evolving Social Enterprise Mark piloted in the South West by RISE seems like a clear encapsulation of “social enterprise” in an easy to present format that most people will agree with. The challenge will be to communicate this quickly enough, to a large enough audience that it gains currency, without exceeding expectations on what social enterprises can do.

OpenCoffee Bristol demo sessions

<This is a cross post from OpenCoffee Bristol, Bristol companies demo to packed room>

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.

Test and Verification Solutions

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).

Of gifts and giving

Uploaded on June 1, 2006 by Poo Bar
Uploaded on June 1, 2006 by Poo Bar

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?

Uploaded on February 3, 2009 by Poo Bar
Uploaded on February 3, 2009 by Poo Bar

And the office block being dismantled in June 2006? Its due to reopen as a Radisson SAS hotel “early” 2009.

Customer delight

In my last post I talked about business process modeling and how it could help understand the activities in a business prior to cost cutting for survival. In this post I’m going to riff on the concept of delighting your customers so they come back.

The hygiene factor in delighting your customers is not pissing them off in the first place. How easy is to buy your product & service? Does your product & service do what your customers want (when was the last time you asked)? How you handle complaints / faults / genuine cock-ups?

The easy sell

It may sound obvious but there’s a good reason why Amazon went to all that hassle over their ‘One Click‘ purchasing system. If folks give up half-way through a transaction not only have you lost a sale, you’ve now got a dissatisfied individual that will quite happily tell everyone how poor your service is.

Some companies actually make it fun to buy their products. Moo have this absolutely nailed. Not only do they get you to do a lot of the (perceived) hard work in designing your business/greeting card/post card/etc, but its a fun and engaging process. Innocent Drinks have a delightful approach to their products that makes choosing which smoothie to buy more fun than just a straight choice between ingredients lists.

Even if you’re in the B2B market, a human somewhere will make the decision to buy your product & service so at least make it a painless decision. Think about their pain points; at this stage in the econoclapse no one wants to sign off a large order over 3 years, perhaps you can get a rolling contract with stage payments. That’ll help both your cash flow positions. Know what the sign-off limit is for your primary contact and sneak under that for each stage payment.

Does exactly what is says on the tin

Uploaded on March 18, 2008 by David Clow - Maryland
Uploaded on March 18, 2008 by David Clow - Maryland

The simplest form of customer feedback is your sales. If people are prepared to hand over cash then whatever you’re doing has real value to them. If you’re giving the stuff away then it’s a time investment that acts as a proxy for cash (people returning to your app/game/etc and using it over an extended time period).

Our tagline is “advancement through integrating knowledge” which is what we do, work with clients to advance their business / organisation / research through bringing together our own multidisciplinary knowledge base and integrating with the client’s knowledge base to solve whatever problem was chosen. But if that was all we did we’d be competing with every other consultancy that ‘works closely with their clients in unique partnership, blah blah blah”.

We integrate through networking and engaging in the local, regional, national and international communities we’re a part of. We share knowledge through this blog and by publishing research papers. We support the advancement of others through OpenCoffee, offering advice and reviewing journal papers, and generally trying to connect interesting people.

What low-cost but high perceived added-value can you provide to differentiate from everyone else?

Oops, mea culpa

We all make mistakes. Some are large, some small, some public some private (though you should assume everything is public these days). How we deal with these will for many define the character and long term relationship between a client and your business. With all the social media tools at our disposal, there’s no excuse for not knowing if someone’s complaining about a poor experience. Google & twitter searches with RSS feeds for your company / product names will quickly highlight opportunities to directly engage with dissatisfied people.

Carsonified recently had a promotion where they gave away some very cool journals as part of FOWA; they proved so popular they were offered for sale. There was a mix up with the orders (it happens) but rather than brush it under the carpet or get all legal, Ryan sorted it quickly, humbly and openly on Twitter.

The internet is full of people reporting poor perceived customer service and business practice, not being part of those conversations is often seen as an admission of guilt. Are you monitoring your brand online? Are you part of the conversation?

Going Above & Beyond

Delighting the customer isn’t about huge extravagant gestures (especially not in this economic climate). Mostly its about treating customers as people and offering them unexpected delights. If your basic products, services and internal processes don’t function then no amount of customer service will compensate in the long term. But in a competitive market it makes the difference between competing on price and competing on value.

To finish first, first you have to finish

Uploaded on November 26, 2006 by Manzabar
Uploaded on November 26, 2006 by Manzabar

With the econoclapse in full effect, most companies are cutting back, trimming the fat, stopping non-essential spend. Which is good, but what if the budget you’re about to slash is the one that’s keeping you alive?

The trouble with businesses is that once they get bigger than a couple guys with laptops in a Starbucks (and sometimes even before then) they get complex. When you have to do lots of things more than once, you tend to set a routine, because this helps save time and money and ensures consistancy.

The trouble with people is that (with a couple of exceptions, I’m not one) they can only cope with 7±2 ideas at a time. Which means lots of fudging and scribbled notes to remember for next time. Unfortunately, decisions get forgotten and when times change, who knows which of those routines are the ones that are critical and which were the nice-to-haves because someone at a masterclass suggested all well run businesses applied a 15 point check list to Quality Assurance…

Setting up automatic routines/reports/etc on Remember the Milk, or Basecamp doesn’t get away from the problem, it just automates it.

Uploaded on November 5, 2006 by vivisquare
Uploaded on November 5, 2006 by vivisquare

What you need is a picture of how your business works. The series of inter-linked activities that between them represent your unique business. Something that’ll allow you to hack’n’slash at your business in theory and diagrammatically before actually making a change that’ll piss of your best customer.

What you need is a business process model.

What you don’t need is a legion of McKinsey consultants. At the most profound level, process models are diagrammatic representations of the systems that make your business function. Boxes and arrows. Easy.

There are two simple things to remember with process maps (OK, there are a couple more but to get started in a blog post…); 1) the ICOM is your friend; 2) decompose where sensible.

Integration Definition for Function Modeling (IDEF0) Box Format
Integration Definition for Function Modeling (IDEF0) Box Format

There are lots of methods for developing business process models, I quite like IDEF0 (its what I used in my research work, it’s simple and robust, which is handy when developing models ‘on the fly’; there aren’t to many things to remember – back to the 7±2). The basic unit of the IDEF0 method is the ICOM; which stands for Inputs, Controls, Outputs & Mechanisms.

This basic unit forms the basis for modeling the business. As always there are two general approaches to generating a model, top-down or bottom-up. Bottom-up generally involves stapling yourself to an order and recording every activity that happens between the customer placing the order and the end of the cycle (either payment or receipt of goods). In larger companies this is how you find out how things actually work, rather than how the ISO9000:2000 manual says they work.

Top-down is often easier to explain how the method works. At the top level, there a 3 things that all businesses do, Manage, Operate and Support the business. You can decompose the Operate Process into Get Order, Fulfill Order, Develop New Product, and Support Product. Then start with Get Order, what does this involve? What controls how you get orders, what outputs are generated to enable you to fulfil those orders, what mechanisms do you use to make all this happen, what triggers the process in the first place?

Keep breaking these actions down until you get to the smallest unit of actionable work. When you get to ‘pour water into teacup’ you’ve gone too far! 🙂

The idea is to be able to remove, combine, move, change an activity and be confident that there are no unexpected impacts that aren’t captured by the diagram.

Uploaded on July 22, 2006 by jodigreen
Uploaded on July 22, 2006 by jodigreen

It doesn’t have to be a long draw-out process, you can sketch quickly with pen and paper and have a reasonably good set of diagrams after a couple hours. You also don’t need to model every..single…process in the business, just the ones you’re looking at.

Providing every box has an output, control and mechanism and that if you’ve decomposed a box the arrows that touch that box are represented in the child diagram; then you’re good to go.

Now if you cut an activity you’ll be able to see the wider impact. You can see which activities to combine and which are obsolete.

You can have a look at other businesses and see how they handle those processes, and copy them (best practice and all that). Rather than just cut’n’paste’n’hope you can figure out how processes fit together.

Plug the savings into your cash flow forecast, see what effect it has, rinse, repeat until you’ve looked at everything.

Whilst you’re plugging through the accounts, check every line against the business model; where does it fit in, which process does it relate to, does it add value or costs?

Models of leadership

song chart memes

One of the great aspects of working alongside Universities, is the breadth and depth of critical thinking that you get exposed to. Wednesday evening I was a guest at the Bristol Business School’s Distinguished Executive Address Series and the speaker was Karen Dunnell. Since her Wikipedia page was last edited the ONS has merged and become the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) with Karen as CEO.

In a wide ranging and refreshingly honest talk, Karen covered many of the organisational and structural challenges that she and the civil servants in her charge have faced over the past few upheavals.

The framework for her talk was the departmental model of leadership around four key factors. There are as many models of leadership as there are leaders, this is a particularly interesting one from a small company and social media perspective as I’ll try and indicate below.

Integrity

As an organisation of knowledge professionals there is a delicate balancing act between “pure” mathematical “truth” and the political need for answers to quite specific questions. In providing leadership for the UKSA, Karen ensures that each individual maintains their integrity and thus the organisation remains true to its purpose. This is encapsulated in their Code of Practice, but we demonstrate our integrity (or otherwise) in everything we say, do and (increasingly) are perceived to be saying & doing.

We’re all judged and evaluated on our integrity, the concept of Social Capital or personal brand is an integral part of a wider corporate integrity. Ultimately your integrity is inextricably tied to authority and people’s willingness to be led by you.

Direction

This is the Vision/Mission/Strategy bit that applies equally for UKSA with over 3,000 staff and a wide ranging statutory and agile reactive environment as for new start ups and growth businesses. Do you know where you’re heading and do you have a plan & the resources to get from here to there. Do you have a contingency plan?

No organisation exists in a vacuum and whether it’s Government ministers or tabloid newspapers screaming for yet another set of stats to justify their hobby horse, or economic disruptors throwing a spanner in the works; a well articulated direction provides the framework and context for the other aspects of this leadership model.

There’s a delicate balance between being an intransigent branch of the civil service and a gadfly chasing policy directives. Karen was balancing some pretty tough negotiations on what the UKSA was about and could do, against having to please political masters that control her budget.

Capability

This was more than just the capability to deliver customer expectations. It also covered organisational capabilities. Getting the best from everyone when everyone’s moving around. Although a large organisation (around 3,000 people) Karen highlighted the incredible changes that have taken place as a result of the relocations that are leading to a need to balance capabilities across staff and plan for the future (link talks about changes to legal profession but I think the challenges are identical for any knowledge/professional based business).

Results

It was very telling that this was the last on the list, yet the one that Karen felt the UKSA was strongest at. As a statistics authority you’d expect lots of measurable results. However, even the UKSA operates against Time-Cost-Quality results metrics. The interesting aspect from a senior executive perspective were the wider results matrix. How to measure the impact of an organisation (especially one that is not a profit centre)?

For Karen this was about raising the profile of the statistics service and educating the public in the role and benefit of stats in providing the evidence to inform decision making. A crucial aspect was the presentation of results in the media, not just the hard statistics but the processes and interpretation of those stats.

So what’s in it for me?

Good leadership means demonstrating integrity in everything you do, articulating a clear direction of travel, identifying and building the capability mix needed to get there, and bringing everyone along in delivering the results that stem from the direction you’re headed. This applies to running a start-up, established company, multi-national or nation.

How Many? Part the Second

Uploaded on April 3, 2008 by BottleLeaf
Uploaded on April 3, 2008 by BottleLeaf

I just posted an example where I’d worked up an Addressable Market calculation based on fairly good data. Of course, this data isn’t usually available; or it’s really expensive.

One of the services that jbsh offer is business consultancy, mainly strategic growth plans and help with the business planning activity. So what’s the addressable market for that?

Well according to the Office for National Statistics there were 2.16 million business enterprises registered for VAT and/or PAYE in March 2008, compared to 2.10 million in March 2007, a 3.0 per cent increase. As an aside, the ONS also report a continued move towards incorporation and away from sole proprietor and partnerships, perhaps reducing personal exposure in the downturn?

VAT is only compulsory when the value of your taxable supplies goes over £67,000 which isn’t that high. The ONS also offer us a cut for businesses between 10 and 50 employees, in fact there are 196,560 such businesses. The number of employees isn’t a great measure of which companies that will engage our services, I’m really more interested in those with a strategic growth challenge, and the revenues to pay our fees.

This information is available in the handy pocket-sized 432 page document that ONS produce on UK Business: Activity, Size & Location 2008 (well I can download the pdf to my phone but I’m not sure I’d want to read it there). On page 172 is the data about geographical regions by turnover.

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Turnover in £000’s 0 – 49 50 – 99 100 – 249 250 – 499 500 – 999 1,000 – 4,999 >5000 TOTAL
UNITED KINGDOM 378,930 543,645 600,325 268,540 168,465 155,145 46,505 2,161,555
ENGLAND AND WALES 334,810 494,765 541,430 240,595 151,270 139,560 42,090 1,944,520

Those businesses turning over less that £250k probably can’t afford us. That still leaves 573,515 which is much more attractive than 196,560 so there must be a lot of businesses with under 10 employees and over £250k turnover.

The next 17 pages detail companies by region, so for my local Unitary Authorities:

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Turnover in £000’s 0 – 49 50 – 99 100 – 249 250 – 499 500 – 999 1,000 – 4,999 >5,000 TOTAL
Bath and North East Somerset 1,295 1,885 2,095 880 530 435 140 7,260
Bristol, City of 2,205 3,380 3,670 1,690 1,125 1,145 285 13,500
North Somerset 1,380 1,915 2,005 900 510 450 105 7,265

Using the same criteria as above there are 8.195 businesses with a turnover >£250k in these three regions of the UK. You can do the same thing for Standard Industry Classification codes (SIC codes) within broad regions (North East, South West, etc). SIC codes don’t work for everyone but we’re not trying to identify specific clients at this point, just gather enough data to be able to say if there is a big enough potential market to sustain the enterprise. If you don’t fit one code exactly, pick a couple that make sense and interpolate.

So it turns out that if you’re selling to businesses, there’s quite a lot of data out there on how big your addressable market is. Of course, that doesn’t mean all 8,195 businesses in this area are looking for a business growth consultant, but if we can make a compelling enough case then they could be.

What markets are you in?

Is there good data?

If you think not, leave a comment and I’ll have a go at finding some sources.

How many? Part the First

Jam at the Floating Market
Uploaded on December 2, 2006 by Stuck in Customs

Something that makes an appearance fairly early in a business plan is the addressable market size. This is usually the point where after some mumbo-jumbo you’d end up with something like “…and thus we only need 1% to secure $100m turnover.”

Mark Davies has a good post on the subject from a VC perspective but I thought I’d add some examples from real life. The first benefits from solid data, the second is more speculative.

An enterprise I’m working with have a new game for the education sector (and several others but for the purposes of this example I’m concentrating on the education sector). Education is great (as are most public sectors) because there’s so much great data out there to use. Tt doesn’t mean they’re any easier to sell into but that’s another post.

So this enterprise happens to be in Canada, and one of their markets is Quebec. Helpfully for me, the Ministère de l’Éducation du Québec has most of the data I need. With a bit of digging (and guess work, some of the better data is in French) you can find the 9 English School Boards, and 17 French School Boards. Between them there are 512,515 students in Secondary education (enrolled for Academic Year 2007/2008). Which is nice and big.

Trouble is, we’re not selling to all those students. We’re actually only interested (at the moment) in two of their 5 years at Secondary School, so we need to divide that number by 2/5 to get a more accurate number (371,739) which is still nice and big.

The next bit needs a bit more knowledge about the fundamental business model. The game is sold to a school, or school board, on a tired license model. The more licenses you buy, the cheaper the per student price. So one addressable market is to sell a single license to the whole of Quebec, ka-ching!

However, more likely is that we’ll sell to each school board separately (or even each school). Again, data is our friend here as we can find the enrolled student numbers for each School Board. Time to fire up Excel.

Quebec English Board Central Québec School Board Eastern Shores School Board Eastern Townships School Board English Montreal School Board Lester B. Pearson School Board
Secondary 1,905 653 2,704 10,978 11,842
SecI & SecV 762 261 1,082 4,391 4,737

And so on…

Now I can apply our tiered pricing model to each School Board and see what our ‘true’ addressable market is for Quebec. Of course these numbers include special schools that might not purchase a license; equally, it doesn’t include the private school sector which hopefully will.

I could drill down to individual schools (I have the list of schools, sizes, locations, who the Principal is and contact info) but we don’t really want to cold call each school and try to sell them each a separate license as we’re in bootstrap mode and the cost-benefit just isn’t there. Early conversations have indicated that School Boards are the most likely point of purchase so that’s enough detail.

This means I can say with high confidence that our addressable market for Public Schools in Quebec is $350,250. Shake rinse and repeat for the other Provinces and Territories in Canada and (for this business model) the Public Sector education market is $3,415,300.

How confident are you of the numbers behind your addressable market forecast?

What do you do if you don’t have those numbers? Stay tuned for my next post.