Sunday, May 7, 2017

I normally blog when I'm really frustrated.  Not because I want to use this blog as some form of soapbox.  Not because I want to let off steam.  I'd rather do both of those in person where the audience can see and feel my passion.

I blog when I'm frustrated because that's when my thoughts are clearest.  Just before we get going, frustration is not a bad thing.  Whether you're 3 years old and screaming because you can't articulate your wishes in a way which will make your parents comply, or whether you're nearly 46.

My first blog got lots of attention.  Loads of 'I feel your pain man' and some less positive comments.  A week after I wrote it, I received an unsolicited LinkedIn message from a San Francisco based team we all believe we know.  We believe we know them because we use their 'thing' all over the world.  We use it and forget we are using it because it's that interwoven with our life.  And I say 'team' because the head honcho wrote it, but we know the the head honcho speaks for everyone at her (yes, her!) place.  Her words are the words of everyone because she's built an organisation which created an amazing product by valuing people to the extent that 33% of that organisation is owned by employees.  Not the board, not her SLT.  Everyone but them.  I'm going to write more about 'her place' at the end of this blog.  

The message said;

'Keep being frustrated'

I didn't even think about what to put in my reply.  In less than 10 seconds, I typed a few words and pushed send.  Then cringed when I realised my reply was, quite frankly, rude;

'What?  I don't understand'

She replied;

'You've* designed and built a product from that frustration.  Keep your frustration alive.  Don't let it die'

*You've = your organisation.  She's not big on 1 person taking all the credit

We swapped a few messages since then.  Almost all 1 liners.  All snappy and to the point.  All meaningful in some way.

So back to today and current life.  15 years ago, I loved today.  It was a significant day for a relatively young, UK based guy trying to work out how to land the 'job' of his dreams by working out just which Company he wanted to work for.

I used to pour over every word in a pivotal, annual publication which details (and sometimes guesses) the net worth of the richest people and families in the UK.  It talks about their homes, their lifestyle, the number of divorces, various levels of addiction and their Companies.  The Companies who dominate the market by squeezing out competition and avoiding innovation.  The Companies who love low overheads and high margins.  The Companies to whom CSR is a tick box, who have publicly traded shares and hide employee satisfaction rates.  

The Companies I felt I must target to realise my worth and finally land that dream job.

And this publication? The Sunday Times Rich List.  

And today, it's published again.

Don't get me wrong.  In 15 years some things have changed.  There are some great stories out there and organisations like these guys are pushing for Companies to change.

However, there is a long, long, long way to go.

The day that people buy stuff, organise their lives and enjoy themselves has fundamentally changed in 15 years.  The way we work has changed.  Our expectations and beliefs have changed.  

The technology which used to chain us to a desk is gone.  The way we used to measure productivity is dead.  The winning Organisations have moved to Agile design in every way from the way their people think to the way they design and build software to the way their customers and users are the most central part of their focus.  

So major change in everything right?  No.  No change in the way we view employees.  Disagree?  Let me call my first witness.

The Sunday Times Rich List.  Please take the stand and be sworn in.  (I know, I'm watching too much of Suits).

 I'm not going to go back to school and do complex analysis here.  The truth is that I don't need to.  I'll let journalists do that. The wealth of the majority has been built by individuals who own companies who keep that wealth to themselves.  The wealth is kept to themselves in stock and stock options.  In incredible salaries, bonuses and perks.

What about the challengers?  The block chainers and Big Data munchers (like us - who have achieved amazing things with tiny teams pushing Agile to the limit?  They're different.  And they probably won't ever make the Rich List.

Do you know why?  Because they don't want to.

yboo is a scale up.  We've launched and we're doing ok.  We are pushing Agile to the limit in every single way and we've got more products coming out in the next 90 days.

We share some things in common with other UK scale ups;

1. Our customers/users come first 
2. Our people are next.  They all own significant equity and have a voice which is heard and understood
3. Our Founders set the direction and tone and control risk
4. Our organisation will always solve real problems

They don't want to make the Rich List because point 1 is enabled by point 2, and point 2 means more than making a list.

Diametrically opposed to the lists and Companies of today.

Am I a radical?  No.  The 1- 4 list (above) was written on the back of a meeting agenda in a group discussion with 30 other scale ups.  An uplifting discussion which focussed on listening to your heart and what your heart tells you.  A discussion which confirmed that becoming a zillionaire is not P1 for everyone.  A discussion which I found easy to chair as the room was filled with respect.

And what about profit? Yep, we all need profit.  We all need to make a return for investors.  We all need to invest in significant R and D to enable point 4.  1 - 4 is the path to making profit.  It's the path to growth.

It's the path to obtaining the very best from you and your teams.  It's the path to genuine fulfilment at work.  It's the path to being new and being Agile and flying your whole team, partners and kids out to Ibiza every year.  It might be the path to get on a List but it's probably not.

And finally, 'her place'.  Let me know if you manage to work out where this is;

- The lowest paid employee is a technical support analyst.  That person is part time and earns $28,800 basic plus standard bonuses of 20% based on company performance
- With a 3 year tenure, this person has been allocated shares which have a current (Friday) value of $127,318.00  
- This person is part time because 'her place' is paying for training at a net cost of $32,000 a year

The organisations revenues grew by $22M last quarter.

The organisation is 3 years old.

The organisation has a flexible working policy.  It's deliverables focussed.  It knows where it's going and how to get there.  It doesn't have any of the following;

- A holiday entitlement.  You choose when you want/need leave and just take it
- A 9 - 5 culture
- Forms to fill in

It does have;

- A huge desire to engage with Customers via video chat and in person
- A 'no email after 6pm' culture 
- Vibrancy and equality running right through it

1 - 4 is the way forward.  Watch yboo grow and see the proof.

Friday, March 3, 2017

And why it matters. Really matters.

So loads of feedback from my post yesterday.  A mixed bag of mainly 'go you' with the occasional 'WTF?'.  I'll take that to be fair.  

So why does it matter?  Why do we need to answer the exam question?

Q1.  What does the UK need to do to create Tech giants?

I'm not going to answer that today.  I'm going to focus on why we need to do it.

There are 4 key Groups disadvantaged by the lack of homegrown UK Tech Giants.  4 key Groups disadvantaged hence clearly (massively) advantaged if we change the way we do things.

1.  The UK Population, present and future
2.  HMRC, the UK body responsible for tax policy and collection
3.  Investors from 'Crowdcubers' to Angels to UK based VCs
4.  UK Start Ups - the ones who are aiming for a shot at the title, the chance to become Rocky Balboa and become that Giant which writes it's own place in history and is remembered forever

In terms of expanding why.

For the UK Population, it's obvious.  A chance to learn new skills, do new things, be motivated, change history and obtain a better and more sustainable career.

For HMRC, it's obvious.  A chance to collect fair taxation revenue which can be re-invested in public services or training.  Not war though, please.  NB.  We're talking of hundreds of millions in revenue here.  Every single year.  

For Investors, it's obvious.  The chance to invest more, learn more and make BIGGER profits.  Bigger profits means more appetite for risk.  More appetite for risk means more focus on blockchain and clean energy.

For UK Start Ups, it's obvious.  They get the support network and the cash they need to take a shot at the title.  To become Rocky.  To be great.

So 4 things which are obvious.

Why the f*ck aren't we doing anything about it?

Seriously.  Cars speed near schools.  that's dangerous.  We fix it by putting in speed bumps.

We can fix other things.  Why not this?  Are we really just prepared to sit back and do nothing?

If any Northern City in the UK wants to give me a large building, £3m and two years, I'll give you one (possibly three) Tech giants bringing tens of millions in external investment and thousands of 'new economy' jobs.

Game on.  No fear.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The hibernation of UK innovation..

Today is a crap day.  Not for me or my (little) family or my life.  Not for the thousands of people in my home town (Holmfirth) who are going about their business enjoying the Spring sunshine.  Not for the millions of individuals who are making money as the FTSE100 rises.

Today is a crap day for the UK.

Before I explain why, I'm lucky.  I specialise in what I do (large scale Tech Transformation - People, Process and Technology change) and I'm also capable (and brave) enough to run a Start Up.  I state this for the record to make it clear that I'm not moaning.  This is not a 'woe is me' post.

But the UK is broken.

The UK will never create a LinkedIn.  Nor an Uber.  No Snapchat, Google, Facebook, Tesla, airbnb, Skype, Twitter, Nest, TripAdvisor will ever be born on these shores.  

There will never be News at Ten coverage of the UK Prime Minister, leaving a black Jaguar, flanked by bodyguards, entering the UK HQ of the Tech Giant which significantly changes the lives of Consumers all over the Globe.

Because that Company will never exist.

Instead, the News at Ten will continue to talk about the Tech Giants from elsewhere.  From America and from China.  The Tech Giants who employ our people yet hardly pay any tax.....

UK innovation is going into hibernation, the day after the first day of Spring.  

The path from idea, to prototype, to user testing, to refinement, to commercialisation and testing and then to launch, is just too hard.  There is no effective UK wide support mechanism and quite simply, there's no financial support.

If you're an innovator in the UK, you may as well move to Palo Alto or put your innovation into hibernation.  Seriously, move or let your innovation find a leafy, warm place under a thick hedge like a hedgehog does.  

Tech growth in the UK?  Nah, we don't want that.  New skills for our UK workforce?  Nah, we don't want that.  Employees owning a significant proportion of Start Ups which become giants?  Nah, we don't want that either.

Other places want all that and more.  The UK?  Nah, not so much.

We're lucky.  We've hustled and bootstrapped and we are here;   

I reckon we will give some retailers sleepless nights when we launch on the 20th of March.

And talking of sleepless nights, I've no idea how we will run a Company with no money and reach a turnover of £1m to secure some growth funding.

Other UK innovators have better ideas.  More 'out there' Tech.  Blockchain prototypes which make me want to sell my RBS and Lloyds shares immediately.

And how does the UK help them?  It doesn't.

Innovators either fund themselves from savings, continue working, or sell stuff to get cash.  Angels?  You may as well not bother.  The time, emotional effort and money required to get a relatively small amount of Angel funding outweighs  the benefits.  It's like trying to persuade a room full of 10 year olds that saving pocket money is a good thing do do.  

I've pitched to Angels in the past and felt like I was providing free training.  Trying to secure investment from someone who invests in 8 things in the hope that 1 or 2 will provide a 10x exit is hard.  And by the way, if a UK innovator does get an offer from an Angel, 20% of the innovators equity is gone.  Whoosh.  Just like that.

Loans?  Brilliant!  Let's make innovators borrow to add more risk to their journey!  Innovators always have limited income.  This is because they are funding themselves and their Start Up.  Giving them a loan just doesn't make sense at any level whatsoever.  

Equity deals pre-launch other than Angels?  Not in the UK.  There is literally nothing that works.  If anyone can prove me wrong, please shout.

So Mr and Mrs UK innovator, the choices for you are stark.  Get to launch under your own steam, launch with zero cash and hope you can make sales.  Get to £1m in revenue and maybe, just maybe, a growth funder will look at you.

Impossible.  We may as well ask innovators/entrepreneurs to get to Mars using two pieces of wood and an Eccles cake from Morrisons.  

Most innovators are clever.  They hustle, bob and weave and understand all of the above (and more) at the start of the journey.  

And guess what?  Most of the most give up.  The innovative part of them becomes that hedgehog and looks for the leafy bed under the hedge.  The idea is lost.  

Asleep.  Never to be woken.  Ever.

There will never be News at Ten coverage of the UK Prime Minister, leaving a black Jaguar, flanked by bodyguards, entering the UK HQ of the Tech Giant which significantly changes the lives of Consumers all over the Globe.

Is the UK a great place to live?  Yes.

Does the UK infrastructure allow innovation and entrepreneurs to create Tech Giants?  No.

And that's why we'll never have an Uber.  Or a snapchat.  Or any of the other applications or services which make our lives easier.