3 Top tips for Start-ups

I was invited to join  John Darvall on his BBC Radio Bristol show to discuss if this was a good time to start a new business? Of course it is, but then I’m an optimist like most entrepreneurs!

After a bit of banter about starting up a new business, he asked me for 3 Top Tips, we sort of skated over them so I thought I’d repeat them here and extend a bit on the chat on-air.

Talk to someone!

By tychay Terry Chay

There are lots of people out there that want your business to success, more than want it to fail! Locally we’ve got the excellent BRAVE organisation that provide clear, simple advise to anyone thinking of starting their own business. Most cities will have their equivalents.

There are also loads, and loads, of business networkings and networking events. People do business with people (mostly), so get along to a couple and talk to other small business owners and company founders. It’ll help you understand the realities of being your own boss, as well as the perks.

There are also some great online resources like Start-up Donut and of course BusinessLink (though this will soon be a web repository of guidance notes).

You can also track down the many start-up schools, incubator facilities, seed-camps, etc that are all trying to assist you towards a successful business.

Strategic Intent

I’m not sure I quite got the right message over on-air about this. If, after talking to some impartial people, you are still passionate about starting a business, then sit down and work out why you want to be in business.

By Danielle Page

Are you looking to develop a nice little company that will keep you busy for 6 months a year leaving the rest of the time for skiing? Or are you looking to transform your industry? Or are you looking to build sufficient value to exit at £20m in 5 years with a minimum of 50% equity and no earn-out? Or are you looking to build a company that will grow ahead of inflation and still be here in 30 years time?

What is your strategic intent?

The other side to strategic intent is your risk profile. Are you willing to bet everything on one idea, or are you more cautious?

How risky can you afford to be? Work out how much money you have (redundancy payouts, savings, mortgage, etc), then work out how much you need each month to live and how you can minimise this (you don’t need to live in the dark eating value baked beans, but champagne & oysters are probably off the menu), then work out how long your money will last.

That should give you some idea on how risky your position is, and how quickly your business needs to be a success.

Plan your business

This is critical. You don’t need a 200 page, glossy book, but equally you need to be able to describe your business and what you’re trying to achive.

Describe your strategic intent (Mission, Vision, etc). If you don’t know why you’re in business, why should anyone care?

Describe your product / service. This is important but actually, less so than most people think. Is there any unique intellectual property (IP) that can be protected? Do you actually know how your going to make, store, distribute your product to markets? If its a service, what is it and what additional support do you need to deliver it?

Who are you going to sell to and why should they buy from you. Who is your market, where are they, what do they like, what don’t they like, why do you and your idea fill a burning need in their lives or businesses? Market Segmentation, this is good, do it.

Who else is out there? Just about any idea will have some competition. Either directly from other companies offering the same or similar solutions. If you have a one in a million idea, there are around 1,300 people with the same idea in China, 1,200 in India, 500 across the EU, and 300 in the USA. Of course they won’t all be thinking of launching a business, but one of those 3,300 people might.

Cashflow forecasting. Cash flow is king for a small business. You won’t be able to produce a detailed financial model of your business before it’s even trading, but you need to have some idea of the basic cash flow through the business and where your break even point is. What’s your burn rate (monthly cash spend) and runway (how long before you’ve spent all your savings)?

My reply about the Apprentice was wrong, their business plans weren’t rubbish because they didn’t have good advice; they were rubbish because they didn’t listen to that advice!

<Disclosure: I was introduced as being from the University of the West of England iNET (Innovation Networks) which is true, but I’m also on holiday and the original link was via here so link-love all round.>

Management vs Money – which is more important?

John Althouse Cohen, 2005

This is an age old problem for the company starting out (or indeed growing rapidly). Obviously a complete lack of top-notch people or abject poverty are both unlikely to lead to success.

But where should your focus be?

This recent piece from Startup Professionals Musing comes down pretty firmly on the people side of the argument. Even with all the caveats about being a US review of investing, the broad findings are valid here in the UK as anywhere else.

With that in mind what can you do?

Well you should get out and meet people that will either be those high quality people, or know them and can introduce you. Make yourself known to the local University incubator teams, go along to your local Open Coffee such as <shameless self-promotion>Open Coffee Bristol</ss-p>, try searching Google for <your town> entrepreneur / startup / etc.

Or go to one of the events specifically put on to help bring growing companies together with exactly the right kind of people to help the do even better.

One such event is the Angel News ‘Pitching for Management not Money’. <Disclosure; I promised Modwenna I’d help promote the event but there’s no financial return to me, and the tickets for this first event are free anyway!> The first of these events outside London (in partnership with Intramezzo and Boulevard) is taking place on Monday 28 Sept at the Smith & Williamson offices in Bristol. Sponsorship from Burges Salmon and Business Link means the tickets for both businesses and prospective executives are free.

If you’re not already registered with Angel News there are a couple of links below to sign up for this event, hope to see you there.

Fresh coffee & Opportunities

Uploaded on October 23, 2006 by Hamed Saber
Well it’s been quiet externally for jbsh the last couple of months but there’s been plenty going on. This post is a cross-post from Open Coffee Bristol where we welcomed in the New Year this morning.

Well 2010 kicked off in the UK with snow, ice, sub-zero temperatures and general chaos as public services ground to a halt.

But not Open Coffee and the entrepreneurs of Bristol.

Fortified by the best coffee that the Boston Tea Party on Park Street has to offer we gathered on their first floor to catch up after the break and discuss the future. By the end Steve Cayzer (HP Labs, LinkedIn), Rupert Russell (Carmen Data, LinkedIn), Helen Davies (For Effect, website), Sam Machin (Orange, personal website), Nigel Legg (Katugas Social Media, website) and Andy (who surname I’ve unforgivable forgotten, sorry).

Conversation covered the various tax implications of company car ownership, developing new brand images for the new year (and the difficulty finding a good printers these days), online marketing for small tourism companies and the challenge of getting good geo-location data, and that was just at my end of the tables!

The general opinion was that while the weather and economic climate might be a bit inclement (or just down right awful) there was business to be done and opportunities to be exploited. Business cards were swapped and a couple of new collaborations initiated.

So the New Year is off to a great start and looks to get better.

Look forward to seeing you at the next Open Coffee Bristol on Tues, 26 Jan from 8.30am in The Boston Teaparty on Park St.

View Larger Map

Entrepreneur Gardening

This is a re-post from the Open Coffee Bristol blog.

postbear, 16 January 2009
postbear, 16 January 2009

This morning’s Open Coffee Club meeting took place in the very pleasant surroundings of The Boston Tea Party‘s garden. A lovely summer’s morning complemented the positive ideas being discussed in the light of HP Lab’s partial pull out of their Bristol facility.

Stephen Maudsley was first after me but headed up to the first floor before I could catch him, meanwhile Dave Simpson from Engine House Solutions (holding site) arrived and we began chatting while Stephen explored the upper reaches of TBTP. I first met Dave at the Bristol leg of the FOWA tour, where he was launching his web development and software company.

StephenM soon found us and we began talking about the start-up scene and different requirements of growing companies for executive support as well as cash. Around then Steve Cayzer arrived and we began to discuss his ideas for launching a new venture based on some of his research into environmental computing and ways to underpin the low carbon economy.

A quick flurry introduced Brian Dorricott with his newly launched Meteorical, Andrew Wray from Bristol University’s enterprise support team, Andy Seaborne (also thinking about launching an enterprise semantic knowledge application) and Nadya Anscombe (freelance science & technology journalist). Introductions, connections, business opportunities and much coffee ensued.

Thanks to all for a great morning of stimulating discussions and opportunities to be explored.

The next Open Coffee is the Demo Session, Tues 30 June at eOffice, please sign up on Eventbrite (http://opencoffeedemo30june.eventbrite.com) so we’ve some idea on numbers.

If you have a company / product / service that you’ve developed (or are thinking about) and would like constructive comments & ideas, please sign up as a presenter and we’d love to help contribute to your success.

Banks lending again!

Uploaded on May 3, 2007 by reway2007
Uploaded on May 3, 2007 by reway2007

<this is a cross-post from http://www.opencoffeebristol.org/>

That was the experience reported from this morning’s OpenCoffee and another reported positive feedback that more would follow. Of course this is bank lending so low risk, but at least it is funding to underwrite growth and expansion needs. Both reports were of the positive impact that the Enterprise Finance Guarantee is finally having for smaller businesses.

Elsewhere we had a couple of new faces with Brian Dorricott (ByNetWorks) and Ian Grimley (Roxburgh Milkins), well new to me, they came to the last OpenCoffee but I was in Plymouth that week. Along with the regulars we did a pretty good job of taking over the upper section of Starbucks.

Peter mentioned one of his clients was having some challenges with an old website that they’d had a “mate” set up and had since had a falling out. Within minutes Sam had his Macbook out and was sorting through how to change the Nominet & hosting set-up, Ian was providing legal commentary and everyone else was chipping in with business / technical thoughts. I think Peter just about kept up taking notes! 🙂

Nigel and I had a couple of good discussions about business developments and various grant awards that are available.

It was great to catch up with Brian again. After a successful entrepreneurial career of his own, he joined SWAIN for a spell before leaving to return to angel investing in his own right. Ever the entrepreneur we had a good discussion about his venturing experiences and a development idea he’s working on, and a business development / funding project I’m working on.

A great start to the day and lots of buzz around the tables.

The next OpenCoffee Bristol is a company demo session at SETsquared, courtesy of Nick Sturge on Tuesday, 21 April from 8.30am.

Please do book so we have some idea of numbers, and especially if you want to present your business / innovation, what you’re up to & what support / ideas you’re looking for.


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.

Survival planning

My London Tea Towel
Capt Tim with London Tea Towel

On a dark and stormy Tuesday morning, with tales of economic melt down on R4, I wasn’t sure if anyone would turn up to Open Coffee.

I shouldn’t have worried, Bristolians are made of stern stuff. We even had a friendly bank manager type along to see what the excitement was about.

In addition to Andy, we had Peter Weeks from Business Link and two entrepreneurs Dave Cropley and Chris Keegan from newly formed evans & finch (holding website). Joel Hughes was back hoping to show his new social canvassing app, along with Sam, Nigel, Craig, Tom, Melissa, Mark, Janice, and apologies to anyone I’ve missed!

A fresh pot of finest ground coffee and some gluten-free chocolate cake kept everyone talking and mixing until after I had to leave.

From the conversations I flitted between there was a common thread that, while the impending financial apocalypse will hit, for most businesses it’s not here yet. The exception, as Andy admitted, is for those trying to raise or extend bank finance. Survival planning was largely around three themes that also came up at a Bristol Enterprise Network event a couple weeks back (Growth Opportunities in a Recession).

  • watch the cash flow (and reduce it everywhere)
  • provide an excellent customer experience (keeping existing customers is easier than finding new ones)
  • innovate

These last two in particular are being exemplified by 3 Bristol companies. Mark and Tom at The Web People are using their new SWiM service-as-a-service management software to provide excellent customer experience and innovating by licensing it to other web development and management companies. Nigel at Katugas Research Services is providing excellent service through analysis reports and multi-lingual support, and innovating through budgeting approaches that help both their client’s and their own cash flow. Dave and Chris at evans & finch are also planning both consolidation of cash flow through longer term client relationships and a new service that is still under wraps.

It may be grim out there, and things will probably get worse before they get better, but there are still some great business opportunities out there.

Open Coffee 9 Sept

Uploaded on May 12, 2006 by JosephH

Another great Open Coffee despite the weather’s attempts to keep folk away. After gathering downstairs with our chosen caffeine drinks, a number of discussions quickly established.

Nigel Legg came along and we discussed the analysis of those pesky free text boxes on customer surveys. The rest of the form is automated but the free text stuff needs to be transcribed, coded and then analysed using specialist software. But the benefit from those short bursts of direct feedback from customers and clients can be critical, and that’s what Nigel provides. He’s managing a team across the UK and beyond and providing his service to the market research companies as an added value proposition.

Janice Gjertsen Caillet (Founder & CEO, Coaching Circles) also joined us for the first time to find out what happening and interesting in Bristol. As a relatively new citizen to Bristol (after 10 yrs in New York and then 4 in Paris) she’s brought her executive coaching and business mentoring company with her. Lots of great ideas about shaking up the scene and competing on the global stage.

Andy and I also had a bit of a chat about business development and financing growth in the current financial climate. As the Bristol Enterprise Network event tomorrow night will explore, there are growth opportunities in a recession, but its hard(er) work. Having been through the last dotcom boom Andy knows his stuff so it’s reassuring to hear him planning for growth, even though he does touch wood every time he mentions it. I’m hanging on to my desk as I write this. 🙂

Peter Livingston from Clarke Willmott joined us towards the end of the discussion with some thoughts on IP and the value of a good legal brief in tough times. Although neither Andy or I have retained legal counsel there is definite value in the particular focus and discipline that a lawyer’s training brings to business analysis and process refinement. This is probably especially true in a creative business where the ‘normal’ business practice is less logical and articulated and more spontaneous and freeform. Great for creativity and innovation, trickier for compliance and contract management.

All in all another good morning, and apologies to those I only got to say hi to briefly.

Fresh Coffee @ OpenCoffee:Bristol

Uploaded on November 6, 2006 by a href=
Uploaded on November 6, 2006 by Luis Alves

Bit slow off the mark on this post but it’s been a busy couple of days.

We had a really good morning on Tuesday with new faces and new coffee to try. Jack had popped up from the Temple Meads branch of Starbucks to mix some fresh brew for us using their Organic Ethiopian blend together with some cinnamon pastries to bring out the spicy aroma and flavours. We hope to have Jack back with his coffee tasting table.

Over the fresh coffee a couple of new faces joined the familiar ones. A twitter link brought Rick Hurst along for the first time. We also welcomed Jamie Dyer all the way from Plymouth and only just back from Canada, kudos! Just as I was leaving I saw Jamie and Mark Paney deep in discussion and it sounds like there could be another partnership arising from OpenCoffee, great stuff!

It was also good to see Peter Livingston, Tom O’Neil and Nick Sturge along providing the professional business services side of things.

Joel Huges was also along having developed his platform but missed the Seedcamp deadline. Have to see if there is a business development / funding opportunity there, hopefully there’ll be something to demo shortly.

Chris Garrett & Craig Hellen from BexMedia were along as was Rachel Carney; apologies to anyone I missed.

The next OpenCoffee will be on 26 August, from 8.30am at Starbucks on Park St as usual. See you there.