Dear Prime Minister…


Last week I looked at the lessons we can learn from the General Election campaign.

This week I wanted to start with, ‘The dust has settled and we can get back to normal…’ But, apparently not: still no deal with the DUP and a Queen’s Speech which roughly translated as, ‘Sort it yourselves, I’m off to Ascot.’

Apparently many Conservative MPs are privately admitting to disappointment at the way the Prime Minister has handled the talks with the DUP. Ah well, it’s not as though she has any major negotiations coming up…

But sooner or later the dust will settle: sooner or later we will have a government that won’t be in permanent crisis. Perhaps then the politicians could turn their attention to business: to the tens of thousands of small business owners up and down the land that are building a future for themselves and their families.

number-10-300-8ce94bd7c585b701c420d159f8c79f9b0a24b65860ef33fafcff92039c15870e

So here’s my open letter to whoever is PM when the music stops. I’m sure TAB members and franchisees will have their own ‘wish lists.’ Here’s mine…

First and foremost, Prime Minister, perhaps you and our other elected representatives could put your big boy pants on? Raise your eyes from the Westminster village and your plots and counter-plots and realise that there is a country to govern. More importantly a country which faces serious challenges – whether it is the ageing population, the ridiculous amount of money wasted on treating the all-too-preventable obesity crisis or the impact AI and robotics are going to have on our jobs. It is time to stop kicking every potential crisis into the long grass and hoping it doesn’t need addressing again until you are writing your memoirs.

And then there’s Brexit – in particular, defining the shape you want it to take. Call me old fashioned but – like most business owners – I prefer to go into negotiations knowing what I want to achieve. That doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment.

As a business owner and a father, I want to see continued investment in our world class universities. We cannot turn the clock back: we live in a global society and we’re not just competing locally for the best talent, we’re competing internationally. So let’s do everything we can to attract that talent to the UK. And while I’m on education, could we just have a radical overhaul of the school curriculum? As Dan and Rory get older I look at some of the work they bring home and I think, ‘that’s the same essay I did thirty years ago.’ If they ever need to know about an ox-bow lake they’ll ask Wiki: teach them to be creative, to solve problems.

Increasingly work is about successful collaboration: and yet we continue to examine ever more irrelevant subjects on an individual basis. Would it be so hard to examine a project that four students had worked on together?

What’s next? A comprehensive review of the tax system. Seriously, what is National Insurance? Would anyone invent it now? In much the same way as we have 20th century town centres trying to cope with 21st Century shopping habits, so we have a 20th Century tax system trying to cope with 21st Century working patterns. People have more than one job, they’re employed, they’re self-employed, they’re contracting, they’re working overseas. Goods are designed in one country, refined in another, manufactured in a third, shipped across continents and sold across the world. And all the time, the poor old tax system is puffing and panting as it runs after the money.

Simplify the system and embrace the Laffer Curve. Give business an incentive to invest and to make profits and it will generate the revenues the country needs. Treat it as a cash cow to provide for everything and everybody and it will rapidly move to a more hospitable tax regime.

It may also move to somewhere you can get a phone signal. I know this is looking dangerously to the future, but could we please have a full and speedy roll out of 5G? Yes, yes, I know your Chancellor has said that he is committed to it but so far that commitment doesn’t extend to a starting date. Right now the UK is ranked 54th in the world for 4G LTE connections and bluntly, it is not good enough. We are behind Morocco and Greece. Even 4G only works intermittently – unless you’re driving through parts of North Yorkshire, when ‘intermittent’ would be a remarkable improvement.

5G is expected to start rolling out worldwide in 2020: according to this article in Wired, South Korea has been preparing for it since 2008. That’s very nearly ten years. In the Spring Budget we committed the mighty sum of £16m for ‘further research.’ If we are going to leave the EU and become a ‘global hub’ then we are going to have to do a lot better than £16m.

Lastly, could we please make long term investments in a coherent, joined-up, 21st Century transport system? Other countries in Europe have taken the long term view, invested in their rail networks and now have modern, connected, effective services. Meanwhile there is a credible argument that the Conservatives lost their majority thanks to congestion on Southern Rail. £90bn on HS2? I can think of other priorities. HS2 will save minutes: business owners waste hours sitting in contraflows on our ‘smart motorways.’ No matter, I’ll just save up and buy one of these little beauties

That’s it. Except that if you’re still struggling to cobble a government together give me a ring. I know plenty of owners of SME’s who are first-rate negotiators. 10 members of the DUP to sort out? They’d do it before breakfast…

Best regards

Ed

Advertisements

It’s Time for E-levels


There’s a simple truth that all parents know. Letters from school are very rarely good news:

It has come to our notice that…

It is with some concern that I write to you regarding your son…

And, of course

The school nurse has regrettably informed me of an outbreak of head lice.

Yes, almost always bad news: unless of course, your son or daughter goes to Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, California.

Last week the Principal sent out a rather unusual letter: Dear Parents, we’ve made $24m…

You may have seen that Snap Inc. – parent company of messaging app Snapchat – floated on the New York Stock Exchange. The company has never made a profit – last year it lost $515m – but that didn’t stop investors piling into the stock, attracted by Snapchat’s 161m daily users. The price rose from the initial $17 a share to end the opening day at $24.48 – valuing the company at $28bn.

That was good news for the company’s backers, great news for the two founders, Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, both still in their twenties and both now multi-billionaires – and quite extraordinary news for Saint Francis High.

Back in 2012 the school – encouraged by one of their parents who had seen how excited his children were by a fledgling app – invested $15,000 in a little known start-up. That start-up was Snapchat and, five years later, the principal has been able to write to parents regarding the small matter of $24m. We can assume that the cake stall won’t be so crucial in the future…

Meanwhile in the UK there’s a crisis over school funding. I was listening to Radio 4 the other morning when the head of Altrincham Grammar School for Boys said that the school was considering asking for voluntary contributions of £30 to £40 per month from parents, with “many other” schools also apparently considering a similar move.

One head teacher went much further, suggesting that if the funding problems couldn’t be resolved she would need to run her school on a four-day week, scrap the sixth-form or remove arts subjects from the curriculum.

Despite this, Philip Hammond, our (relatively) new Chancellor, has committed himself to spending £500m on vocational education. The move was trailed on Sunday morning’s Andrew Marr Show and confirmed in Wednesday’s Budget. It’s a bid to train more skilled workers and thereby boost productivity and the UK economy. The plans will see 15 ‘routes’ into employment, linked specifically to the needs of employers.

The government is calling these plans – due to be introduced from the 2019/2020 academic year – “the most ambitions educational reform since the introduction of A-levels some 70 years ago.” The new qualifications will be known as ‘T-levels’ and will increase the amount of training available to 16-19 year olds by 50%.

And I’m absolutely in favour of the move. I don’t often quote former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, but he was right when he said, “It takes the British worker to Friday to do what the equivalent French or German worker will do by Thursday afternoon.”

The country has to close the productivity gap – but let’s not stop at T-levels. Let’s have E-levels as well.

business_kid

Yes, let’s see Entrepreneurship on the National Curriculum.

Why shouldn’t schools take a leaf out of Saint Francis High’s book and invest in emerging local companies? And why shouldn’t Entrepreneurship be a recognised subject alongside Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths?

The scientist, the engineer or the mathematician might well go on to start a business in the future. But they won’t do that without the entrepreneurial spark: if there was ever an education secretary brave enough to kindle that flame and put Entrepreneurship on the curriculum then he or she would have done the country an enormous service.

Because let us be clear on one thing: it is the entrepreneur, not Government policy, that creates jobs and growth. It is the entrepreneur’s willingness to sacrifice security, to put his house on the line, to give up sick pay and holiday pay and pursue a dream that, yes, benefits himself and his family. But at the same time it also enriches – figuratively and literally – the country and the wider economy.

The Five Lessons I’ve Learned


I was talking to a potential new member of TAB York last week: explaining what I did, how the concept of peer coaching worked, the benefits it had brought to my members… And looking back on the seven years I’ve been running TAB York.

“So,” she said. “What are the five key pieces of advice you’d give to an entrepreneur?

Five? I thought. More like 55. Or 555. But let me try and answer the question more successfully than I answered it then. What are the five most important lessons I’ve learned in the past seven years – and by definition, the five most important pieces of advice I’d give?

Lessons Learned written on chalkboard

1.The job of a leader is to lead

You’ve pushed your breakfast round your plate in a desolate motorway service station: you’ve decided that enough is enough. It’s time to start your own business. You owe it to yourself: you owe it to your family. Sooner or later your new business will be employing people – and your job is simple. It’s to lead them: to say, ‘this is the where we’re going, follow me.’ There are plenty of other things you need to do – realise you don’t need to be an expert in everything and don’t be afraid to hire people who are brighter than you – but it is your drive, determination and vision that will carry the company forward.

2.A mistake is only a mistake

I made Spaghetti Bolognese at the weekend. I broke a bowl, tipped pasta sauce on the floor and left the gas on under a pan. They were mistakes – and that’s all they were. No-one (not even my wife) is suggesting that I give up cooking and never enter the kitchen again. So your latest idea didn’t work out: the guy you hired who was going to transform your business transformed it in the wrong direction. Move on: you live to fight another day – your vision is still the same. No-one scores 100% with their decisions – and as the saying goes, ‘the man who never makes a mistake never makes anything.’

3.Keep on Learning

I think we can say that the world has changed since I joined The Alternative Board in 2009. In that year Facebook had 360m users and 20m iPhones were sold. Today the figures are approaching 2 billion and over 200 million. In 2009 Apple had just introduced a fledgling service called the ‘app store.’ The pace of change over the last seven years has been astonishing, and it’s not going to slow down. You need to set aside time to learn – and as I wrote a few weeks ago, if you don’t develop and grow, then your company can’t develop and grow.

4.Nothing can replace your KPIs

Having just written about change, let me turn to something which can never change: your Key Performance Indicators – the numbers and metrics which tell you the current state of your business and go a very long way to predicting its future.

If I’ve seen one cause of business failure over the past seven years it’s not knowing your KPIs. Checking your KPIs every month is simply essential to the continued success of your business. And ‘How much have we got in the bank?’ is not an adequate check. Sadly, it is almost always followed by ‘Can we afford to pay the wages this month?’

5.Your product is more important than anything

Despite the internet, despite social media, despite e-mail marketing and despite every change that’s happened over the last seven years, your product (or service) remains the key to everything. And if it’s not excellent, you’re in trouble. To paraphrase the old saying, stories about bad service are half way round the world before good service has got its boots on. Not only is the world changing, it is spawning a lot of hungry competitors: if you’re not innovating and improving, then someone else will be, and they’ll be telling your customers.

6.We all need friends

Clearly I haven’t learnt to count, but where else can I finish? Over the last seven years it has been my privilege to listen to some outstanding business advice from the members of TAB York. It’s been advice which has transformed businesses, transformed lives and – on at least one occasion – saved a marriage. We all need friends and – in business – you will never find better friends than your colleagues round a TAB boardroom table. As the man said, we all need a little help

New Year: New Quotes


Good evening/morning – and a very, very happy new year. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that you’re now ready to enjoy a truly stellar year.

…And if I sound enthusiastic and positive, it’s because I am. I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to any year as much as I’m looking forward to 2017. (Ah – damn it. Apart from the year I got married, of course. Only four lines into a new year and I put my foot in it…)

For me – and I hope for all of us – 2017 is going to be full of challenges and opportunities. And isn’t that what life and business is all about?

So let’s start the year with some inspirational words. Anyone who’s been in business for a while will have read all the standard Steve Jobs/Henry Ford quotes: so I’ve done a little digging to see if I can find some you might not have come across before. Hopefully one or two of them will kick-start a very successful year for you.

deep-quote

The first one is from Jake Nickell, the CEO of Threadless. I try not to make any decision I’m not excited about.

I couldn’t agree more. If I turn to someone in a TAB meeting and they say, “I’ve had this idea. I think it’s OK and it might make some money,” then I guarantee that in six months it will have been quietly shelved or – much more likely – it will have turned into a problem and be losing money.

If, on the other hand, my Board member is so excited she needs to stand up when she starts talking about her new idea; if she’s waking up to make notes on it at three in the morning – then we might just have something that changes a business and/or a life. You’re an entrepreneur: having ideas is what you do. You only need to act on the ones you’re passionate about.

The vast majority of us will have seen ads for Under Armour when we’ve been watching sport. Here’s what founder and CEO Kevin Plank has to say: There’s an entrepreneur right now, scared to death, making excuses, saying, “It’s not the right time yet.” There’s no such thing as a good time. Get out of your garage and go take a chance and start your business.

Or as Seth Godin, author of Permission Marketing, put it, If you wait until there’s another case study in your industry you’ll be too late.

There are 101 reasons not to do anything new in 2017. Worries about Brexit. What will Trump do? Elections in Europe. The possible collapse of the Chinese credit boom…

But there are 101 reasons not to do anything in every year. If you’ve had a great idea; if it keeps you awake at night; if you have the support of your peers round the TAB table… Then, as the iconic Nike ad said, Just do it.

Who’s up next? Indra Nooyi, Chair and CEO of PepsiCo. I cannot just expect the organisation to improve if I don’t improve myself and lift the organisation. That [is] a constant.

I’m not sure there’s much I can add to that. Today – more than ever – you simply have to go on learning and improving. If you stand still your business will stand still – and as I’ve written many times, once a business stands still and starts to stagnate, it’s the beginning of the end.

Fiddlesticks. I’m going to have to admit defeat: I can’t get away without a Steve Jobs quote after all. But here’s one you might not have come across.

Jobs was giving a small, private presentation about the iTunes music store to some independent record label people. At the end of the presentation they were all bursting with ideas and features that could be added. “Wait,” Jobs said. “I know you have a thousand ideas. So do we. But innovation isn’t about saying ‘yes’ to everything. It’s about saying ‘no’ to all but the most crucial features.”

Why do I like that story so much? Simply because you can take ‘innovation’ out and replace it with ‘success.’ And if you want a recipe for success in 2017, that’s it. Make decisions that excite you, don’t wait to put them into action, constantly improve yourself – and above all, say ‘no’ to everything that’s not crucial to your own success and the success of your business.

Lessons I Learned from my First Job


That’s that then. Whit’s over, the kids are safely back at school.

For a few weeks. And then the long summer holiday stretches in front of us.

Maybe it’s time to send your offspring out to work…

Dan, my eldest son, has just turned 14: I’ve been thinking about his first job for a while – ever since I was at York races in May.

I always like going to the races – especially in May. And yes, I know real men go to Wetherby in February, but May meetings hold a special place in my heart.

They remind me of my first job. That was at Chester races – and the Roodee is synonymous with May.

51s2Z4+CEKL._UL1500_

Aged 18 I was a bar porter. Nattily dressed in a green boiler suit my job description was simple: skivvy for anyone and everyone. The general perception was that I wouldn’t be up to it – “talks too posh” was one of the politer comments – but I must have shown some promise as I was ‘promoted’ to the Grand National meeting the following year. And it was a great first job: it taught me about real life, it taught me that you’ll sometimes need to prove people wrong – and gave an early boost to my cash flow. Being there first thing in the morning and hearing all the gossip from the stable lads was invaluable!

So what, I wondered, did other members of TAB York learn from their first job?

Here’s Suzanne Burnett of Castle Employment, someone else who learned valuable lessons in the catering industry:

My first job – aged 15 – was at the Tramway Café in Scarborough. I helped to make the food and clear the tables. It was my first time working with older people who weren’t teachers, relatives or friends of my parents. And it taught me I could make friends with people outside my own age bracket and from different backgrounds. I also learned that not everyone has the same work – or life – ethic. I learned that customers aren’t always right but they’re still customers – and I learned that money gives you independence and freedom. I also learned that I was strong-willed and didn’t necessarily like to conform: I wonder if that was the start of my entrepreneurial spirit…

But not everyone had their first taste of the workplace serving up a full English…

Richard Shaw of Ellis Patents had just turned down a place at Nottingham University:

I had no idea what to do. Eventually my father insisted I did something productive and I went to work in the flattening press department of our family business. It was a dirty, noisy and dangerous place to work – and I remember buying a new pair of overalls every fortnight! I was there for a year and it changed my life. The works manager saw my aptitude for engineering and – despite my initial protests – I ended up on an engineering course at Leeds Poly. The main thing I learned about was stress. At the beginning of each month I was given a ‘panic list:’ orders that simply had to be out by the last Friday. And in the last week of the month I was given the ‘panic, panic list.’ I learned – and I’ve never forgotten – that controlling the workflow is crucial to the success of any business.

Finally, we’re ‘back of house’ again. Chris Wilson of Tailor Made Sales started his working life in a Beefeater Steak House.

It gave me a ‘taste’ for the hospitality industry, seeing the stresses of a busy Saturday night service. I was washing up: being prepared for the onslaught of dirty crockery was an important lesson. Above all, it taught me how quickly your own service can impact on how others will treat you. Make a cracking cup of tea for the chef and you got pans that weren’t burned and even the odd well-cooked sirloin. Include the waitresses in your brew-up and they’d scrape the plates clean before they got to me – and maybe even give me a share of their tips.

Three different people, three different jobs – but in many ways, very similar lessons. Being prepared, seeing things from other people’s perspective, working with a team and – as Suzanne suggests – the beginning of that feeling we all know. I want to be the one in control…

Don’t discourage your children when they come to you and say they want a part-time job. Don’t worry that it’ll impact adversely on their school work. It’s part of them growing up and it’s part of you letting go. And it may just be a key part of their eventual success…

Ignorance is a Choice


I don’t frequent football fans’ forums very much – as a Newcastle supporter it’s not a sensible way to spend Saturday evening. But you know how it is, sometimes you can’t resist… And what did I find after we snatched a draw from the jaws of victory against Crystal Palace? An important business lesson for us all.

If you’re not a regular visitor to football chat rooms – and let me congratulate you on that particular life choice – I should tell you that all the fans have fictitious names and ‘signatures.’ Mostly these signatures question the manager’s competence or the owner’s sanity, but one of them ran much deeper than that. “Right now,” it read, “Ignorance is a choice.”

And for every reader of this blog, that’s true.

Let’s do a simple test. How far is it from Vladivostok to Delhi? Starts stop watch on iPhone…

It’s 5,088km – and it took me 18.53 seconds to find that out, including the time it took me to type the query.

Maybe something more philosophical? Why is it wrong to steal? In 0.31 seconds Google offers me 43m results.

So I’m inclined to agree with my pal on the forum. Ignorance is a choice. But sadly from a business point of view, it’s a choice that a lot of us make. The mass of men not only live lives of quiet desperation: all too often they live lives of quiet complacency as well. And if you’re running a business in this rapidly changing world, that’s dangerous.

Let me ask you two questions:

  • When did you last challenge yourself intellectually?
  • When did you last feel out of your depth in a discussion, at a conference or in a meeting?

It’s human nature: we all like to feel comfortable: we all like to feel in control – but very often we’re only learning when we’re slightly out of our depth.

One of the best business tips I’ve read recently is to take yourself off to a conference or a meeting that’s well outside your comfort zone. Maybe it’s programming or SEO or mobile apps: you’ll be surprised at a) how much of it is relevant to your business and b) how much you learn.

I find as I get older that I like learning more and more: it’s one of the bonuses I never expected from TAB. I know far more about management techniques, different leadership styles and – above all – different ways of coping with the trials, tribulations and joys that running your own business brings.

One thing we can be sure of: the world will not stand still and the pace of technological change will continue to increase. If you don’t carry on learning you’re going to be left behind. Ignorance is a choice and unfortunately it’s going to be a choice that will put your business at risk.

One of the great strengths of TAB is that it allows you to go into areas where you’re not comfortable; where you don’t know everything. I’m constantly amazed at the collective wisdom round a Board table and I’m constantly gratified by the discussions: it’s fantastic to hear successful people say, ‘All I know about this is that I don’t know. Can someone help me?’

It’s a characteristic of good leaders that they’re always willing to learn: rest assured that if you’re going to run a successful business over the next ten years a willingness to learn and to go on learning will be absolutely crucial.

To paraphrase the famous Robert Kennedy quote, successful leaders won’t be the people that see things as they are and ask ‘why?’ They’ll be the ones who see things as they could be and ask ‘why not?’

Giving It All Away


Virtually everyone reading this blog will have heard the term ‘content marketing.’ Put simply, it’s attracting and retaining customers or clients by creating and/or curating valuable and useful content.

It’s giving your customers something of value – letting them know that you care and that you’re thinking of them. You can do this through your website, your blog and/or any amount of social media channels – from the sober and serious LinkedIn to 140 characters on Twitter.

Content marketing is the way the world is moving: it’s effective, it’s efficient and best of all, it’s very often free. Unless you take your time into account that is…

This blog is a form of content marketing – and yes, it’s time consuming. But I like to think that it’s useful and I am absolutely certain that over the nearly-four years I’ve been writing, the blog has both attracted new clients and developed and strengthened my relationship with existing ones.

As with any form of content marketing, the blog gives away a lot of information. I can’t think of a subject relevant to business that I haven’t covered in the four years and in total there are well over 100,000 words – plus all the insights and extra information from your comments…

All that has been for free. But this is Yorkshire. Should I have given away that much information? After all: if ivver tha does owt fer nowt, allus do it fer thissen.

Sadly, in the age of Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and Gmail the old Yorkshire adage no longer applies…

I am more convinced than ever that creating, curating and distributing free content is one of the fundamental building blocks of a business and of good relationships with your clients and potential clients. Here are just a few reasons:

  • Free content attracts your target audience. Anyone creating content should have a picture in their mind of the exact target audience they’re aiming for. I won’t embarrass them, but when I write this blog there are a dozen TAB members – and now one potential member – that I keep in mind.
  • Free content gets your ideas and views shared. That’s what you want. If people share your content, re-tweet it, send the link to their friends, that’s exactly what you want. The more people who see what you’ve written the better – and that will happen with good content. As I said last week, you never know who’s there, you never who’s listening – and you never know who’s reading either.
  • Free content establishes your authority. I’ve constantly been astonished by the number of people who’ve said, ‘Oh yes, I read your blog.’ This is one of those instances where you have to rely on the anecdotal evidence, not the analytical. You can’t measure authority, but you do know when you’ve established it.
  • Consistent content proves that you can deliver. For me, this is one of the huge advantages of blogging on a regular basis. If someone says, ‘I’ve read your blog every week for two years’ I don’t need to convince them that I’ll deliver consistently. They’ve already seen the proof.
  • They also know (hopefully!) that I’m a nice guy. That’s another advantage of content – you can use it to establish your personality. You can also use it to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

So back to the earlier question. Do I give away too much content? Is that something you should worry about if you’re currently creating content, or planning to start?

No, it isn’t.

People appreciate free content. But they will always pay for the content and information that is specific to them – that answers the questions they want answering. Free content will establish your authority, help you connect with an audience and prove you’d be a good person to deal with – but don’t worry, you’ll still get paid for the nitty-gritty.

To hark back to blog no. 99, Make Good Art – use free content to show people what it is that only you do best: and then they’ll pay you for doing it.

The Genes or the Classroom?


So now even the BBC is getting in on the age old debate. Are entrepreneurs born or made? Is it nature or nurture? Is it in the genes, or is it in the classroom?

The argument rumbles on and the battle lines are fairly well drawn up. Entrepreneurs, by and large, say that it’s an inherent characteristic – you’ve either got it or you haven’t. Try suggesting to Alan Sugar or Duncan Bannatyne that they’d have done better with some training. And then perhaps retreat a few paces…

On the other side stand the academics, largely arguing that training and education is the main determinant of success. According to Brian Morgan of Cardiff Metropolitan University, “Sixty per cent of the competencies needed to create a successful and sustainable business have to be acquired.”

And in the middle stands … Ed Reid.

I work with entrepreneurs all the time – and clearly I have a vested interest in the ‘nurture’ side of the debate. And yet I know that the true entrepreneur has a quality that simply can’t be taught.

Are entrepreneurs ‘born?’ Maybe, maybe not. What I do think defines the entrepreneur is his or her attitude to risk – which can come from nature or nurture. In my experience all entrepreneurs are willing to accept risk: no-one running a business has a continually upward path and the number that I know who’ve come perilously close to losing it all is remarkably high. What sets the entrepreneur apart is that they’re prepared to accept that risk: the possibility of going right back to square one and starting again.

Some entrepreneurs may well be born that way. I suspect though a much larger number are exposed to something in their development which encourages an acceptance of risk. It’s interesting – and hardly surprising – that many entrepreneurs have a parent who was self-employed or who ran a business. There are also a significant number of successful entrepreneurs who report an early trauma in their life, such as the death of a parent or their parents separating. Similarly – as we’ve noted before – entrepreneurs contain a far higher proportion of people with dyslexia than the general population.

Dyslexia is obviously a ‘nature’ factor: your parents divorcing is nurture. What they have in common is that they’re problems that need to be overcome. And maybe overcoming them at an early age instils a belief that all problems can be overcome: that they’re not problems at all – they’re challenges.

So Brian Morgan is right – in part. 60% of the competencies can be learned. But there’s an element that can’t be learned. And even if this element is only 1%, it’s the 1% that holds everything else together. It’s a cliché, but the day comes for every entrepreneur when they have to go the extra mile. And then turn right round and do it again. That’s when no amount of training can help, because no amount of training can implant a basic will to win: a basic bloody-minded refusal to be beaten.

It’s that 1% that allows an entrepreneur to say you’ve either got it or you haven’t – but which gives enough scope to allow the academics to claim that the majority of the necessary skills can be taught.

As you know, I play golf. I’m OK, but I have my faults – and occasionally I go down to the driving range and hit 100 balls to try and correct the faults. At the end I’m tired – and then I remember reading about Greg Norman, who’d go to the driving range and hit 700 balls a day. Who’d hit golf balls until his hands started to bleed…

That’s the one quality that all successful entrepreneurs have: an absolute determination to succeed at the one thing that only they do best. Does that come from nature or nurture? In my opinion, it can come from both.

Do I think that every entrepreneur can be more successful with training? Yes, absolutely.

But do I think that someone without the necessary drive, flair and willingness to take a risk can be turned into an entrepreneur with training? No, sadly I don’t.

Over to you…

A Few Thoughts from the Chairman of the Fed…


Last month Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, sent world stock markets into a tailspin by suggesting that America might end its financial stimulus package sooner rather than later. Cue plenty of red on plenty of dealers’ screens.

Bernanke was also in the news for another reason – he returned to his old employer, Princeton University, to give the graduation address to the class of 2013. You can read a full report on what was a widely-praised speech here. The speech contained ten points for the graduating class to consider, including advice on finding a wife.

I don’t want to step on Relate’s toes so I’ll sidestep that one and instead concentrate on three of the other points Bernanke made, the first of which has been a running theme of this blog. Life is unpredictable. As Bernanke said, “A dozen years ago I was minding my own business teaching Economics and trying to think of good excuses for avoiding faculty meetings. Then I got a phone call…”

More pertinently he said, “Any 22 year old who thinks they know where they will be in 10 years, much less in thirty, is simply lacking imagination.”

Well, the timescale I’ve often used in this blog is five years, never mind ten. Technology and the world are changing so quickly that none of us know what’s going to happen. Business models that looked likely to last for ever have been swept away: companies that didn’t exist a few years ago are now worth a billion dollars. Right now the most dangerous thought you can have is, ‘this will never change.’ And there’s no better advice than ‘never stop learning.’

Secondly, advised Bernanke, be happy with yourself. “If you’re not happy with yourself, even the loftiest achievements won’t bring you much satisfaction.” And everyone who sits round an Alternative Board table knows that’s true. Whatever you achieve, if you’ve no-one to share it with it won’t mean much. There are very few sadder sentences in the English language than, ‘I missed seeing my children growing up.’

A good friend of mine will drop his daughter off at university in September. “Twelve months and we’ll have gone from three at home to one at home,” he said to me. “I saw every football match, every school play. I was there all the time. But it still wasn’t enough.”

And the third point? Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. As Bernanke put it, “If your uniform isn’t dirty, you haven’t been in the game.” Again, that sentiment will be nothing new to anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis. Mistakes are one of the defining factors that separate successful people from unsuccessful ones. A mistake is a learning experience; it’s a setback. It is not a complete and total disaster. It is not the end of your business career.

I like that phrase: ‘If your uniform isn’t dirty.’ And as the father of two highly energetic boys it poses an intriguing question… If I turn up at the next Board meeting with grass stains on my suit, have I just made a colossal business mistake? Or did I find time for a quick game of football with Dan and Rory?

Going Far at Venturefest


If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

I’ve quoted that African proverb before, and I make no apology for repeating it. To me, it’s one of the most fundamental business principles there is – and it pretty well captures my whole business philosophy.

We all know people who’ve gone fast. In my experience some people have gone very fast. Then they’ve hit a brick wall.

It’s not just the ability to work hard that produces long-term success – it’s the ability to work effectively. And working effectively means working with other people. Being successful isn’t about a ‘eureka moment’ – it’s about turning that moment into a viable business, and that almost always means finding some help along the way.

I was having this conversation with Rob Blake of The Law Wizard after a recent TAB meeting. Rob certainly had a ‘eureka moment’ – that technology could offer people a cost-effective solution to sorting out probate – but that didn’t automatically translate into a business.

“Working with other people through TAB had obvious advantages for us,” Rob said. “Straightaway we tapped into a huge well of experience. We had instant access to knowledge and experience that it would have taken years – and a lot of money – to gain ourselves.”

Hopefully, this allows business to move forward quickly. When someone says to me – as Rob did – “the business is unrecognisable from where it was even two months ago” that’s about as rewarding as it gets. Looking back over the last three years, some of the TAB members have made giant strides – which they couldn’t have made it they had opted to ‘go alone.’

That’s why I’m such an admirer and supporter of Venturefest – and why I’m so much looking forward to being at York Racecourse on February 28th next year.

Yorkshire is producing plenty of people who can go fast, but the region needs them to go far. They may have had a brilliant idea – be it in their bedroom or at the back of a lecture hall – but now they need help with funding. They need to get the infrastructure of their business right. As Rob said, they need to tap into the experience that they don’t have time to wait for.

I love working with Venturefest and being a part of it – short of Dan and Rory opening their Christmas presents, it’s just about the most exciting day of the year. There’s something very special about seeing a young entrepreneur come to York Racecourse with an idea – and leave with her eyes opened as she realises not only is her idea viable and practical, but there are a whole host of experts prepared to help make it a reality.

Similarly I love the way both TAB and Venturefest can act as a springboard to propel an established business to the next level by providing the critical expertise at the critical time.

In the conversation we had, Rob talked to me about being much more aware of the value of time. “We’re constantly asking ourselves, ‘is this the best use of my time right now?’” For every entrepreneur there comes a time when you need to build a life as well as a business, and both the TAB board members and the experts gathered at Venturefest can make sure you do that.

There’ll be everyone at Venturefest – from a wannabee entrepreneur in his jeans to people who’ve seen the Yorkshire economy rise and fall half a dozen times. Let’s hope that we can all go further by working together.