Monthly Archives: September 2012

The one where the seeds grow

So my penchant for new experiences and my enduring fascination with entrepreneurs collided last week as I signed on to a mentor with Seedcamp. In it’s own words Seedcamp is a micro-seed investment fund and mentor program for technology entrepreneurs. The event I took part in was entitled “Growth Day” and it’s part of a week-long party programme for the entrepreneurs to get their businesses to the next phase.

I must confess my earlier excitement at being involved in the day had dissolved to apprehension by the time I walked to the Google sponsored “Campus” just off Finsbury Square in the City. I don’t speak start-up, have never worked in a start-up and the current organisation I work in has got to be about as far from entrepreneurial as it’s possible to get…but I persisted.

As a brief aside the day was launched with an announcement from Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts with warm up from Special Advisor to David Cameron, Rohan Silva regarding changes to regulation at LSE designed to make a London float more attractive to entrepreneurs and prevent the exodus to NASDAQ. Mr Silva is the closest thing I’ve seen to a UK version of Josh Lyman and it was interesting to observe the government doing business with the press at close quarters. I hadn’t realised the efforts that were being made to build London as a destination for entrepreneurs. The comment I most loved from one of the panel (who’s name I didn’t get but who was an investor) was “the best entrepreneurs are missionaries not mercenaries”.

Following the announcement the 18 participating ‘seeds’ had 3 minutes to pitch their businesses to a packed room which was followed by break outs where a group of 4-6 mentors spent around 30 minutes with several of the seeds answering any questions the founders had, sharing any relevant insights or general opinions and provide any possible stimulus to growth. The day ended with the story of Mindcandy told by one of the rock stars of UK tech entrepreneurs Michael Acton-Smith.

As you would expect from a building packed to the rafters with entrepreneurs self belief and determination was NOT in short supply but as the day rolled on I found myself feeling more and more comfortable as I realised that often was they were lacking was a) real world experience b) a consumer or business perspective c) the opinion of someone who had no stake in their future d) someone to tell them straight. Fortunately for them (not so much for me sometimes) I have no issue being direct and hope that some unfettered feedback proved useful.

The thought that has been niggling me ever since is how I believe businesses could be engaging with start-up community not from any sense of altruism but actually to add value to their own organisations. Take a problem you have, you think it can be solved through technology, you don’t have the resources or budget to make it happen but it could be a game changer for your business and others. Find a bright driven entrepreneur who has the intellect and self belief to throw themselves into solving it, let them raise money to fund it, commit to being a customer and provide insight. Hey presto, your problem is solved and there is a thriving start-up business which actually your organisation could have a stake in or choose to buy outright at some point.

Now I know it’s not quite as simple as that but the numbers of the ‘seeds’ who are desperately trying to break into the consumer market. Obviously there’s a sexiness inherent with a big consumer brand but also it’s a high cost of entry/luck market so why are they not working with businesses more? My belief is often they don’t understand the challenges or opportunities that exist so can’t pursue. Maybe think about showing them?

My final thought before cracking on with Friday is that despite my apprehension I really enjoyed the day not just for the impact I hope I had on some of those involved but also the chance to play in a world where agility is core, energy is high and there are no rules – it was a blast. If you get the chance to do something similar I HIGHLY recommend it!

P.S. To any of you who work in recruitment/resourcing/talent – check out one of the seeds. It’s called Traity and I think could prove VERY interesting!!

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The one with the malevolent force

What is the plural of nemesis?

Before I go and look it up let me explain why I’m asking. If you asked me at various points in my career about a nemesis I would usually (with melodrama being directly proportional to alcohol consumption) go on at some length about a particular individual who had it in for me/was trying to stitch me up/was generally being a thorn in my side. As far as I was concerned this person’s singular purpose was to make life difficult for me. And then I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity (it’s too easy a film quote to give points for)…

I’ll come back to the moment of clarity shortly but it involved a realisation that one of my basic parameters is the notion that everyone comes to work with the intention of contributing or performing effectively. People don’t usually decide to under perform (unless they are Chinese badminton players) and actually the real reason you should have that difficult conversation with the person who consistently underperforms is not JUST because as a manager you need to deal with performance issues and you want to be able to demonstrate to your boss how effective you are at it. The real reason is that the underperforming individual KNOWS there is something wrong and just because you’ve never dealt with it doesn’t mean they don’t spend every hour they are at work wondering what it is that isn’t quite right.

Not that over performers don’t have issues and actually I believe one of the key factors in helping high potential individuals achieve that potential is giving them the means to get out of their own way – to understand and manage their own ‘stuff’ (it’s a technical term) and move past it to the oft dangled bigger and better things.

Which brings me back to the moment of clarity and the realisation that those individuals I had put in the nemesis box (I still haven’t googled the plural) weren’t actually out to get me – they were actually out to save themselves. If I reflect on them as a group they share some common characteristics – they were insecure, they were political, they avoided confrontation or giving direct feedback and were usually perceived as being out of their depth despite one or two senior level sponsors. In the process of this realisation I actually found some empathy with these individuals (which helped to deal with their behaviour) in that they weren’t happy, fulfilled or maximising their potential. They were usually living in a perpetual state of anxiety desperately trying to steer their way along the road of self preservation. Poor them!

I take great delight in the fact that I am currently sans nemesis and I’ll be honest I don’t know whether it’s me or the organisation I work in but it does make life a hell of a lot easier!

Now on to POETS day 🙂

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