Discovery Invest Leadership Summit: Raising the bar

 

 

Since its inception in 2009, the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit  has consistently challenged leadership issues of the day. This summit was the first to bring Malcolm Gladwell to our shores, and continues to engage and inspire audiences with the help of high-calibre international thought leaders as speakers. It is definitely a conference worth marking on your calendar. This year it happens on the 21st of September.

Raising the bar

The inaugural 2009 summit featured Sir Richard Branson, Malcolm Gladwell and Wendy Luhabe amongst others. In 2010, they outdid themselves again with insights from Adrian Gore, Nassim Taleb and Tokyo Sexwale. This summit transforms our ideas of what a “headline speaker” is and who to look out for.

This year, they’ll have me – in the audience – not as a speaker. (Well, for this year at least.)

This year’s draw-card speakers include Al Gore, Graça Marcel and Chris Anderson (Editor-In-Chief at Wired – not to be confused with curator of TED). It is expected to shift paradigms. And I have high expectations that it will. The idea that Chris Anderson will be there, is enough for me to go.

In addition to his role at Wired, Chris Anderson is also the author of “The Long Tail” and “Free”, both of which change your perspective after reading them. His thinking is current. He writes the kind of material that is for this time – for the ever-transforming digital age. In both books, he creates a vivid image of how any thriving business model became profitable online.

In “The Long Tail”, Chris Anderson delves into what creates a niche and how the blockbuster culture was eradicated. It demonstrates, through research analysis, why the future of business is selling less of more. He goes into how the lowest selling songs on iTunes create niche categories in themselves. How having 1000 True Fans (as first written by Kevin Kelly at Technium) is the way to go and why niche has eliminated traditional business theories of creating and developing for the masses.

That leads me to how the rules of leadership have transformed over the ages. These interesting times we live in demand that leaders focus on building communities (“tribes”) and on creating a compelling story that connects people. I look forward to hearing what he proposes the new way of leadership for niche audiences, is.

This conference comes at a time when my search for leadership ability has reached levels of obsessions. It became evident to me, that leadership is a significant way to coordinate change and create a community of people for a cause. So, they have a lot of high expectations to measure up to.

If you would like to get an idea of how Chris Anderson thinks – have a look here.

If you would like to follow the conference, search for #DILS11 on Twitter.

To become involved in the search for leadership, take a quick look at their blog or book your tickets here. The conference is on the 21st of September at the Sandton Convention Centre.

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Photo of The Long Tail by: topgold on Flickr

 

Smiling One Pledge: The Crowdsourcing Challenge

We all get different requests to help someone. And if you spend time on social networks with just over 300 Facebook friends, those requests increase to annoying proportions. When I heard Smiling One would close if they didn’t raise funds it was very compelling.

So to help them raise funds, get donations and some rad ideas, I started crowdsourcing challenge on Evly, here. A lot can happen when you put a lot of people together in one place. When you crowdsource solutions in an open source platform, even more can happen.

What’s the challenge?

The guys at Smiling One need to raise R1 22 000 (about $18 00 US), in the next four days. Spreading this crowdsourcing challenge on Evly will help us get more people and perhaps pledges to keep them open.

If you’ve got a blog share this challenge. Or Tweet #smilingone.

About Smiling One

The programme creates a platform for personal valuebased leadership development – using THE RESPONSIBLE INDIVIDUAL – involving youth, families and the community as a whole.

Have you got some off the wall fundraising ideas for them? Share them in the comments.

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Image by:  Michael Kalus on Flickr

Short Book Review: Poke The Box by Seth Godin

Seth Godin made an announcement last year that he wouldn’t publish another book through traditional means. Never again! There was much debate online, questions were asked and many speculated that he still will.

All speculation was cast aside when he launched The Domino Project, with Poke The Box being his first release. So, I went over to Amazon, ordered a copy, waited 3 weeks. . . . . . And voila! The 84-page little book, with a running man arrived.

Seth Godin cuts through all assumptions and challenges you right from the start. Much like he did in Linchpin, he tempts you out of comfort, he calls you out, he asks you to take a stand. No contents pages, no forewords, no introductions, he just gets right into it.

In all of four sittings, each less than an hour – with coffee breaks – I was done.

“The job isn’t to catch up to the status quo; 
 the job is to invent the status quo.” 

When you read those opening lines, you know it’s you. Or not. If it isn’t, don’t bother reading further. This post is not for you. Check back next time.

Poke The Box – is a book about:

  • Doing!
  • Doing what you love
  • Questioning the status quo
  • Starting things
  • Starting everyday
  • Failing!
  • Failing often
  • Making a connection
  • Finishing what you started
  • Shipping
  • Shipping often
  • Repeat!

In 84 pages, Poke The Box takes you through a journey of changing things. A journey of getting to ‘Yes!’. Of facing fear. Of living without the fear of starting. You realize when you’ve done enough and you need to take your ideas out to market.

Now go!

Go start!

Start new things. Start every day. Ship your ideas. Repeat!

The Art Of The Start : Lessons from Guy Kawasaki

 

After reading most books, I would review them. That is, comfortably write about what I got, yet The Art Of The Start was different. It goes in depth about starting an organization (whether for profit not), and running it successfully. If you are running a successful organization, then it’s a book you wish you read before starting – and a hardback you want to own.

Guy Kawasaki had me gripped in his introduction, where he wrote:

“When telescopes work, everyone is an astronomer, and the world is full of stars. When they don’t, everyone whips out their microscopes, and the world is full of flaws.”

Granted! We all start organizations to cause – some much needed – change in the world. More important than change, if you take away one thing from this post – it should be go out there and make meaning. Guy warns entrepreneurs against “being solutions looking for problems”, which most experts won’t tell you.

Carve a niche

An entrepreneurial organization that serves, and targets everyone, is a solution looking for a problem. A well defined business model quickly resolves this issue and helps you cut your losses. Here are Guy Kawasaki’s guides to defining a business model:

  • Who has your money in their pockets?
  • How are you going to get it into your pockets?

Tips to develop your business model

  1. Be specific – Know who your customer is, serve them and grow outwardly.
  2. Keep it simple – Narrow your business model down to ten words.
  3. Copy somebody – Many people have innovated business models, you can copy what exists and innovate in technology, markets or customers.

Have you ever had a great idea, one you knew that was sure to be the proverbial cash cow, but you never acted on it?

Well….ideas by themselves are worthless and Guy Kawasaki advises that you create a prototype to end the uncertainty and get it to market immediately. Most of us want to perfect our offer, as though that is the final version of the product, when our customers will need us perfect and change it.

The Art Of Bootstrapping

Having read (and lived by) Seth Godin’s, Bootstrapper’s Bible and being eager to reach Guy Kawasaki’s chapter about it. It seemed to take me too long.

I admit, the possibility of raising capital, building an organization that quickly gets acquired by a conglomerate and “living happily after”, crossed my mind. Sadly, happily afters are great before bedtime and 8pm romance thrillers.

From being an Evangelist at Apple in the 1980s, to starting Garage Venturesa venture capital firm. Guy Kawasaki himself emphasizes how the odds of raising capital are slim to non-existent.

In the beginning stages of this chapter he states that “entrepreneurs can bootstrap any business model”, because bootstrapping is managing for cash flow. And when done correctly, it will be a stage in the life of your business.

Here are some excerpts to note about bootstrapping:

  • Build A Bottom Up Forecast – Know the minimum achievable goal, then build your cash and sales forecast from there.
  • Ship, Then Test – Get your product to market immediately, fix problems that may arise, ship again and alter product till you’ve perfected it.
  • Forget The Proven Team – Forget about hiring well-known industry veterans. Build a case for your team.
  • Start As A Service Business – You can making cash immediately and pay for further research and development.
  • Focus On Function, Not Form – When selecting service providers, pick them based on your needs – not their size.
  • Pick Your Battles – Make money from you magic, not things anyone else can do.
  • Go Direct – The more middlemen there are between you (the seller) and your customer, the longer it takes to know what to fix.
  • Position Against The Leader – Your competition has done you a huge favour by establishing themselves ahead of you. Use known equivalents to describe what you do.
  • Take The Red Pill – As in The Matrix, rid yourself of fantasy and face reality.
  • Get A Morpheus – As in The Matrix again, this is the person who sees to it that you achieve your objectives and is realistic.
  • Understaff and Outsource – Run with a lean team, it’s better than laying off people you didn’t need in the first place. Outsource everything else.
  • Build A Board – Not only for funded businesses, it helps with evangelism and maintaining innovativeness.
  • Sweat The Big Stuff – Looking big and fancy are less significant than developing your product, selling and getting paid. Focus on what matters

As you can tell, bootstrapping is one of the lessons I had to learn again. It keeps you on course and definitely differentiates you from everyone else. That, like romance thrillers, leads to a happily after.

This chapter, which also quotes Seth Godin, drives home the idea of making meaning and strengthening your business model.

These, as said earlier, are just some of the highlights and lessons I had to learn. You’ll be seeing a lot of quotes from The Art Of The Start, going forward. It spoke to areas in my startup that need perfecting and improving and testing. Other things that also ring true from the book are the Art Of Pitching and the Art Of Selling.

What is the most significant lesson you’ve learnt in business, lately? Care to share?

Let us know what you’ve read as well. If you’d like to share it, you could write a guest review.

Kill your last great idea

A blank page is quite scary. Really daunting to say the least. Well….it has been, for me,  lately.

Here is the thing, you want the writing to come out perfectly. To bring hundreds, if not thousands, of readers. But the real intention was never that, for me. It was to track where I was at any stage and continually improve.

In came all the expert blogging advice, SEO and ‘master blogging in a month’ or day. Then the pressure followed.

A friend, who admittedly subscribes to ‘tough love’, always says – “be the one to kill your last great idea”.

It’s great to have hundreds of people read your blog and follow your work. It’s when  you lose of why you do it, that it loses its essence. We all want to, absolutely have to continually redefine ourselves and do the next best thing.

Your last great innovation, is what the masses define with. The hardest thing – is to be the one who exterminates and kills that idea, to replace it with something better. More innovative.

The focus should always be your audience, and that being an audience of one. The one client, who evangelizes to hundreds. Not the hundreds and thousands that soon dissipate into thin air.

Image by: fo. ol on Flickr

Nedbank delivered on their “Ask Once” promise

I avoid going to the bank as much as possible. Who wants to queue and get average service?

Thereafter – in most instances – be told to go to “your home branch”. At least that was always my perception of banks. Until this past Saturday, that is.

With the excitement of Friday night, I forgot my card at some store after making a payment. As Murphy’s Law would have it, I only realized that after 11am on Saturday. Knowing banks close at 12pm on Saturdays and you cannot get anything out of them without raising your voice. Well….all the purple angry faces on Hello Peter would also have you believe that. I have posted a few about other companies as well.

After 1pm, I arrived at a quiet Nedbank branch in Sandton City, and that alone was too good to be believable. With Murphy’s Law hanging over my shoulders and all. The guy behind the desk advised me to cancel my card using the phone in their branch and request a replacement one.

Expecting the skies to fall, surprisingly their contact center was open, the card was canceled quickly and Victor Mochemi – the teller – gave me a new one.

For the first time, all the perceptions I had of banks were changed. Victor Mochemi raised the bar and made it difficult for his colleagues to give anything less than great service. So, Murphy’s Law no longer applies.

From this experience, I also learnt that the larger Nedbank branches close at 3pm on Saturdays instead of 12pm. On weekdays, they close at 6pm and that would be convenient for normal branches to offer as well. They really improved their service and with linchpins like Victor, they can only get better.

If the world were a perfect place, this would be the bear minimum you expect of banks. But, sadly it isn’t. Most companies tend to get stuck in the clouds and aspire to be many things, except what they should be.

Where were your expectations exceeded recently?

Image by: Mark Bridge on Flickr

That Elusive Dream Client

So, you wake up one morning with an idea to start your business and having high profile clients call you up all the time. Days become weeks, they turn to months and you haven’t had access to that dream client.

What now? You’ve tried everything you know how and exhausted your network calling everyone who knows someone. And still. Nothing!

Being the enterprising mind that makes things happen, of course, you are nowhere near giving in. That first morning with that ‘great idea’ starts to fade.

One of many things can happen, and 2 of them are:

a. Offer some pro bono work to the dream client

What I relearned again this morning was – Free work means you put your branding next to it. This is instant access to the client for more work at a later stage. It also associates you with them, in which case your credibility is built and they add to your references.

b. Compete for the client as everyone else with references

Well……this is actually a no brainer, especially if your business is highly conceptual and aims to compete against established market equivalents. Without a “credible” background, seeing that you are still a startup, it is difficult convince clients that you are worth working with. Make that damn near impossible.

Most companies that we target have a template according which they measure service providers. And if there is one thing that frustrates me more than people working from templates, it’s people who discredit your work without thorough understanding. Then rejecting you, because you don’t their template requirements.

Proving you are confident about your concept and breaking through the red tape of template workers, may mean doing free work. At least where I am now.

What are your ideas around breaking into the market and getting that dream client? Better yet, how did you get through to that client?

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Image by: annais on Flickr

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Chilli Cheese Fries and unusual buzz

Tasha's Chilli Cheese Fries

Some days you get so busy, lunch becomes a distant reflection. Except those days when you actually put everything down. You leave the office and go sit somewhere.  Even then, little do you expect lunch itself to make it into your conversation.

What’s for lunch?

So we went to a little restaurant called Tasha’s with a colleague. The intention was to have their Belgian Chocolate Cake – more about that later. While looking through the menu, we opted for their Chilli Cheese Fries.

The waitress returned a few minutes later with a box, which we didn’t suspect was ours. The fries were – “chips with all the yumminess of pasta” as Victoria – my colleague put it.

Conversation starter


Everything we spoke about prior ended, in almost, an instant while were having the “chips with all the yumminess of pasta”.

Tasha’s became part of our conversation from then on. Companies that create buzz are the bold ones. Ones that, apart from the status quo with its established rules, do things differently.

Because you are adding personality to your offer, you wont be liked everyone. But those who do, may just care enough to talk about you.

I recommended we go there for their, earlier mentioned, Belgian Chocolate – which may just be the only place in Johannesburg that has it.

So there, I would go back to Tasha’s and recommend you do too.

Lose The Business Plan : Book Review

Business plans are never a true reflection of what goes on in a startup. Yet banks, funders and potential investors still insist on them. My mentor told me something very interesting recently, which also transformed the way I view business since that chat. His words were “don’t plan too much, take your product to market and let clients determine how you craft it to meet their needs”.

That message was also conveyed in Allon Raiz’s new book – Lose The Business Plan “What they don’t teach you about being an entrepreneur. Something I got prior to launch and Allon Raiz singed it. If you have been here before, you may have read a wish list of people I wanted to meet and talk to, Allon is one of those people.

The book begins with Allon citing a meeting he had with his mentor, who believed in him and continually invested in ideas that sometimes failed and others succeeded. While starting businesses and growing them, Allon Raiz realized his passion was in building businesses rather than running them. That was when he discovered the incubator business model, which he now runs as Raizcorp alongside a team of committed people.

Desire

In the first few chapters he got me hooked, not only with the bold title, but because of some of the things he mentions in the book with desire being one of them.

“Desire is almost the inoculation against the downside. It is desire that gives you the ability to carry on when sales are down and you’re not closing any deals.” – Page 28

Business Plans, as almost a prerequisite, are not expected to portray anything that resembles change and wanting to transform how things are done in business. Banks and funders are about the numbers, low risk and a graph that starts with funding and takes an upward curve. Realistically, startups have challenges and continually alter their offer to suit the market. And banks, though knowing this, expect small businesses to follow a similar path.

Most funding requests are measured as being viable by people who, themselves, are not entrepreneurs. Then comes the dreaded meeting with your would-be funder, where you put on your best behavior and leave the dream, the desire to change things back home.

I had sex last night

Keep your mind out of the gutter, at least till you’ve commented – what you do thereafter is up to you.

Sex, being a universal activity across different cultures is a test that Allon uses for research among groups of entrepreneurs he interacts with. In this test he requests the participants to write words they associate with sex.

His findings reveal “up to 10% of the participants in pairs have no words in common and the average correlation is less than 14%”. This he uses as proof that something as unique as your business, in comparison to a universal activity, requires you to get the masses excited about.

He also found over 500 definitions of the word ‘entrepreneur’, with the only link being “They see an opportunity, take a risk, and in doing so create value”.

It is then, for the purpose of this post, safe to say that no 2 people will have a similar path in their businesses and business plans overlook that.

3 Types Of Entrepreneurs

You may have found yourself in countless debates about who is an entrepreneur and who isn’t. The committed man down the road from you, who has been running the same supermarket for ages, is seen as an entrepreneur. You may not agree, but everyone is adamant he is. Allon settles that argument with these 3 different kinds of entrepreneurs.

And the types are . . . . .

  • The Subsistence Entrepreneur : Generally a one man band that has no real value, as it relies completely on the entrepreneur. It also does not make consistent profits.
  • The Lifestyle Entrepreneur : Similar to the subsistence entrepreneur’s business, this one cannot be sold without the entrepreneur. Inversely, it makes a consistent profit that is sufficient in sustaining the entrepreneur’s lifestyle.
  • The Growth Entrepreneur : This entrepreneur’s entity has value, and with time depends less on the entrepreneur. It also makes profits without the entrepreneur.

The Bottom Line

Allon Raiz wrote this book to get a point across and he manages to grip you quickly. Within the first few pages, you know if it’s something worth reading for you or not. He makes some valid points and in all of two sittings, I had decided to read the 154 pages again. Because it has some invaluable information, I would give it away except mine is a signed copy.

This book obliterates a lot of the misconceptions we tend to have about entrepreneurs and what makes them.

Which type of entrepreneur are you?

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Allon Raiz is the founder and CEO of Raizcorp, the only privately held, unfunded, profitable business incubator on the African continent, supporting in excess of 200 businesses.

Make contact with Allon on his website here, take a peak at Raizcorp and follow them on Twitter.

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Introducing WordStart

So . . . about 2 months ago I decided to work something that, at the time, seemed simple enough. A lot of the projects I worked on over the years had one thing in common – building movements behind a single idea.

After working with a few people, being the recipient of a stern talking to from my mentor and attending grueling 12-week business bootcamp. A new startup is ready to be unveiled.

We can venture into dialogue about creating an offer, business models and what it takes to cut it as an entrepreneur.  But we wont. . . . Instead, the one thing that is still missing for most businesses is conversation behind their products.

Introducing WordStart

After the bootcamp, aching everywhere and rethinking things – WordStart came to the fore. This is the newbie, my latest startup, the change.

Drumroll please . . . . WordStart is a word of mouth agency that connects young African influencers with the latest and coolest products to seed word of mouth.

We are now ready unleash this newbie to the world and let people interact with the community, share their ideas and let us know what they want to sample. We all love new things (well most of us), and being the first to talk about them. That’s what WordStart is all about.

Come join us on Facebook and Twitter. And take a look at our video, you may be one of the bright young WordStarters we are looking for. More details will follow next week.