I’m so glad that I took yesterday out to attend Doug Richard’s excellent “Starting & Growing a Successful Business” lecture in Letterkenny. Learning Pool’s now an established business (when do you stop being a startup I wonder?) but most entrepreneurs have one eye on the next opportunity – it’s part of our condition…
Doug’s a man I could listen to all day. He sounds exactly like the wonderful architect Frank Gehry (a Toronto man who’s also lived in LA for a long time) and he doesn’t mince his words. I knew a bit about Doug already & I expected him to be like his reputation – ferocious, blunt to the point of rudeness & flashes of vitriol. Instead – he’s a caring pussycat trying to impart his vast experience of being an entrepreneur to those folks that are just starting out. Impressively, as part of his School for Startups social enterprise, he’s spoken to 7,600 entrepreneurs or would-be entrepreneurs in the last 2 ½ years. He says he does it to show it can be done & to prove the government wrong – he thinks the way UK government supports & starts new business stinks. I think most startup businesses we network with (and there are an awful lot of those) would wholeheartedly agree with him. So – he’s a sort of energetic entrepreneurial avenging angel.
What impressed me most was his ability over the course of the day to really add value & give advice completely on the spur of the moment to people in the audience with businesses as varied as stainless steel catering equipment, online bridal directories, health clubs, micro-breweries, logistic businesses & distributors of artwork – so it must be true – business really is just business and entrepreneurialism can be learned – you don’t have to be born to it.
Doug’s written plenty of stuff & there are loads of good & free resources on his School for Startups website including his excellent blog – so I’m not going to regurgitate all that stuff again here in my blog, Instead – I’m going to give you the quotes from Doug that I liked enough yesterday to write down – just to give you a flavour of the day and a flavour of Doug Richard. Here we go:
Entrepreneurs are not born; babies are born
Some businesses can simply not succeed; entire industries exist that do not make any money (example he gave was the airline industry with the exception of our friends at Ryanair)
Some industries are harder to make money in; you need to know what industry you are in
A brand is a residue of what’s left; it’s a promise – you need to have a promise that you’re offering
Simple businesses are the ones that are most likely to succeed; but everyone does too much in their business – it’s human nature
You should make your promise accurate & narrow – how narrow can you get?
The story you tell as a young business is the most important thing – often you have nothing else
Entrepreneurs are defined by the story they tell
Risk & reward walk up together in a perfect continuum
Look elsewhere for tomorrow’s today (advice to go & check out other countries when looking for a business idea)
Government makes the measurable important instead of the other way around
You must delight your customers & exceed expectations – even by just a little – this will create word of mouth
If you’re building product, think about how you can include whimsy (he used the example of Apple’s “bounce” when you scroll to the end of the menu – utterly unnecessary but Steve Jobs felt it should exist)
Your family & friends are there to support you when you’re wrong so don’t ask them to appraise your new business idea
There is no conversation with a prospective customer that is too long, they are all too short
Every company should write a short profile of who their customer is – write it as a story – give them names
Most business expenditure is not driven by need but by ego (e.g. company cars)
Adults should only be rewarded for accomplishments, not for trying hard
Entrepreneurs are on a journey of discovery not invention – all the answers are already out there
Don’t stop at Page 1 of Google when you’re doing market research – there’s value in the long tail
You make more money from having an innovative business model than you do from having a great product or service
Business models matter & you should think about yours
Don’t overlook affiliate marketing (if this is your bag, Doug runs an 8 hour class on this alone)
Take the first offer – it might be the last offer!
Product doesn’t have to be better, it just has to be different (example used was skype – although of course it is also free!)
Just ask your minority customers why they don’t buy more from you (what a blindingly obvious idea – thanks Doug – we’re doing it)
A patent is not protection, it’s a hunting licence to protect (talking about the costs of defending patent breach)
No-one has ever started a company in Silicon Valley & ended up with what they thought they would – they are all Plan B companies
In an entrepreneur, resilience is so important (as an aside – in the very first conversation I ever had with Paul McElvaney many years ago, I asked him how resilient he was. It’s something we as business partners return to from time to time to make sure we’re still resilient as – yes – you really need to be)
It’s a very, very rare business that succeeds with just one person – there needs to be a team
You have to be optimistic to be an entrepreneur
There were a few “funnies” as well that I noted – please be warned that there’s a small bit of bad language coming up:
I don’t speak “local” – when he couldn’t understand a few of the strong accents in our Donegal audience
I’ll take better, I’m good!
We don’t use the phrase “poison chalice” in the USA (talking about being Chairman of the Tory task force to review SME support in the UK)
I’m saving you an entire MBA today
Thanks for the validation…I was a bit concerned. I know I’m obnoxious (to a member of the audience that told him he believed he was right about something)
On software development – Imagine selling a fridge where in v1 it just holds stuff
On Google rankings for your company – Do you know what we call the second page? – Siberia
On competitors – It’s not that you’re paranoid, they’re after you; they want to rip off your head & piss down the hole
On being an entrepreneur – Resilience, overcoming adversity, survival – they all pale into insignificance if you’re an asshole
In conclusion, a fab day where we learned a lot and Doug even made up a word – perfical (a perfect vertical). Don’t miss him – he’s brilliant, warm & very well informed – and he’s running one of these again in Dublin on 16 Feb & a Belfast date is to be announced. Come along with your questions & expect him to challenge you – he isn’t your mum & surely you’d rather know if your baby’s ugly. I guess you want to know what I asked him don’t you? I asked him how he decides on the one investment he chooses each year from the 3,000 business plans he receives. He was candid & admitted that there isn’t a “one” from the 3,000 – he decides what the next big thing is & goes hunting for a company to invest in. All I can say is I hope he has an urge to invest in a public sector online learning community – come talk to me if you do Doug!