Month: June 2011

Going for business awards – is it worth all the hassle?

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Over the 5 years Learning Pool has been trading we’ve entered a few – won some & lost some – but is it worth the time & effort that it takes?

Like most things in life, the answer is probably “it depends”…which I know isn’t a great deal of help to you if you’re reading this blog to find out.  The thing is that awards cover a huge spectrum.  At one end are the “straightforward” awards – for example, the Deloitte Fast 50 technology awards.  It costs nothing to enter, you don’t have to write an essay or deliver a presentation, you don’t have to be a Deloitte customer, it’s up to you if you want to buy a few more places at the Awards dinner but there’s no pressure.  All you have to do is make your published financial information available and a calculation is performed of your revenue growth over a defined period of time.  The 50 companies with the highest growth are then ranked with the winner being the company whose revenue has grown by the biggest percentage.  It’s black & white and the numbers don’t lie.  We like this one & have been the Rising Star winners in Ireland for the past two years.

At the other end of the spectrum are the much less clear & transparent “industry” awards such as those run by e-Learning Age magazine.  I don’t know this is the case but from our perspective winning appears to be all about who you know in the industry and how much money you’ve spent with the magazine in sponsorship and advertising – as I say – only my own opinion from Learning Pool’s experience.  We’ve entered twice and although shortlisted each time have won nothing.  The winners are judged behind closed doors by a panel of industry “experts” – most of whom have their own e-learning companies and are therefore in direct competition with many of the entrants.  A more cynical person may conclude that everyone who enters gets shortlisted so as they’ll fork out for a very expensive table at the Awards dinner.  I shouldn’t scoff so – at least our last experience of this farce served to remind us that Learning Pool’s industry is very much the public sector and not e-learning.

Somewhere in the mix lies the business “competitions” – usually for seedcorn monies aimed at new or fast growing start-ups.  These require a detailed business plan, a significant time commitment and a number of presentations over a period of time.  The one & only time Learning Pool entered the Intertrade Ireland seedcorn competition (in 2008) we did well and won the Northern Ireland heat (we’re very proud of our trophy and that’s it in the photograph).  We were pipped to the post by resellers of 3D printers…I’ll say no more but c’est la vie.  This competition is definitely worthwhile for new start-ups, we learned a lot in the process and I would recommend it for any Irish companies thinking about entering.

In the future Learning Pool will continue to enter the Deloitte Fast 50 but we’ll probably be a bit more discerning about other awards and only enter in partnership with our customers to showcase their projects and achievements.

In summary, I don’t know whether entering awards is worth it or not – and I’ll be interested to hear your views on this.  Awards dinners are a fun night out for your team, especially if you win, but weigh up how much time and energy entering will take up and think about whether or not you would be better off, certainly as a start-up business, investing that resource into making sales.

 

Loch Leven Seafood Cafe review

I’m straying a bit from my usual territory here with a restaurant review.  The Loch Leven Seafood Cafe on the north shore of beautiful Loch Leven near Ballachulish and Glencoe is just too good to miss & I wanted to share it with all of you.

We called in there last Monday night when we were staying close by.  The food is divine.  Fresh fish & seafood perfectly cooked – no wonder the restaurant was busy despite the fact that it was a Monday & to be honest its location is somewhat remote.  If you’re visiting in the summer it’s probably worth booking first.

The company started out as suppliers & exporters of fresh fish and seafood and they used to have a few benches in the car park for customers to snack on shellfish they had bought in the shop.  This became so popular that 5 years ago the owners (some Scottish, some Spanish) decided to bite the bullet and open a restaurant.  This mix of cultures is reflected in their uncluttered menu.

Everything is about the food and the view from the windows (see my 3rd photo) – so don’t visit if you’re obsessed by glitzy decor…let’s face it – you can get that anywhere!

The first photo above is of my main course – fresh and lightly cooked scallops in light soy sauce with sesame seeds.  Simple and delicious.  Without doubt the best meal out I’ve had this year.

I was impressed by their people (friendly and welcoming without being overpowering).  I asked for their raw tomato soup recipe and the chef gave it to me without hesitation, even offering to mail their special Arbequina olive oil to me when I mentioned the liquid/hand luggage on planes issue.  Also the simplicity of their menu which still managed to have something for everyone.  It just shows you that even in a recession excellent businesses that have really thought about their business model, care about good customer service, execute relentlessly and have their team completely on message will thrive.

Two people, three delicious courses, £70 and a view to die for – what’s not to like?

I wonder if they could be persuaded to open the Lough Neagh Cafe…

Scallops

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Top 5 qualities the start-up CEO wants from team members

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You have to be a certain sort of person to get on well in a start-up and there’s no doubt it isn’t a suitable career choice for everyone.  I thought a quick “top 5 qualities” may be useful for any of you out there that are wondering if this sort of adventure is for you.

My original list was much longer but I’ve whittled it down to the 5 that matter most to me – I realise that this is personal to me and many of you will have some of your own that you wish to add in the comments section.

Read on if you’ve been bitten by the start-up bug or are thinking you might jump in to the technology bubble that’s rapidly exploding right now.

1.       POSITIVITY No-one wants to listen to or work alongside a whinger or sniper.  Yeah – things generally aren’t even close to perfect in a start-up environment but get over it & get over yourself & you’ll  make a far better team member.

2.       HARD WORK No getting away from this one folks.  You cannot cover off everything you need to by working 9-5 for 5 days a week.  If that’s all you can give, stay well away from start-up land.

3.       COMMITMENT I want to know you’re gonna stick around long enough for me to recoup my investment in you – and there will be one.  The flip side to that is the minute you’re gone, you’re gone – don’t expect a leaving party & sad farewells in a start-up; no-one has time for that.

4.       ENTHUSIASM AND ENERGY Enthusiasm for what we’re all trying to achieve, hunger for success and energy which manifests itself as urgency in all that you do.  Don’t come sloping in to work at 9am telling me you are tired.  I don’t want to hear it.

5.       A SOLUTIONS FOCUSED OUTLOOK Don’t bring me problems.  We have millions of those already.  Push yourself a bit, work it out & bring me a solution.  I like that a lot better.

You’ll note nothing on the list has anything to do with your skills.  I guess they’re a given & a secondary consideration.

As always your comments are welcome – keep them coming & I look forward to reading them.

 

A blog about pride…

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Last night I attended the awards evening for SeedComp 2011 – a Digital Derry initiative to uncover the North West of Ireland’s most promising digital business ideas.  The process has been ongoing since late March & has resulted in 30 or so new business ideas emerging.  This type of competition is a fabulous way for any town to encourage & promote some innovation & entrepreneurialism.  The overall prize kitty last night was £10,000 and included a £1,000 prize for the most promising student idea – so it’s a very cost effective way to get some ideas moving in your community & get especially your young people thinking about starting their own businesses.  Most brand new ideas only need a tiny amount of money to get started.  We’re lucky to have our own Digital Champion, Mark Nagurski, in Derry to come up with competitions like this and then put in the hard graft to make them a success.  Definitely worthwhile if your town doesn’t already do something like this.

12 fledgling ideas were shortlisted at the start of May and the new promoters presented yesterday.  The judging panel included some tech industry veterans, one of Facebook’s senior executives, a couple of local entrepreneurs and a (friendly) VC.  A terrifying prospect and indeed one of the competitors shared with me at last night’s event that although he’s presented to both Steven Spielberg and James Cameron in his career so far, he was more nervous going into the room yesterday.

It was therefore with great pride that Paul & I witnessed our very own Breda Doherty pick up a prize as part of her new venture with her business partner Catherine Morris.  An all girl geek team.  What could ever be nicer?  Breda & Catherine met on the Invest NI/Digital Circle funded mission to this year’s SXSW event in Austin, Texas (thanks Matt!) and they’ve wasted no time in coming up with a new business idea & putting together a plan.  Their new idea has elements of the passion of the original Craigslist (Breda interviewed Craig Newmark at SXSW) and it uses Bill Liao’s homespun advice on marketing messages (Breda interviewed Bill in Washington DC); I’m hoping their relentless execution against plan will show that Breda has maybe even learned something from Paul & me along the way (good stuff only Breda!).  She’s certainly a different person today than the one who walked into the Learning Pool office in April 2008 to bring order to the chaos that existed at that time – more self confident, more informed about technology and investment, more assertive, more aware of how to get things done, more experienced, more of an all rounder…but still as sweet, still as stylish and still universally loved by her school chums, the whole of team lovely, our entire customer base and basically anyone who ever meets her.

Go Breda & Catherine – we’re all rooting for you & we can’t wait to see where this takes you.

Addendum to this blog (11 June 2011)

A few people have asked me why Paul & I are so supportive of one of our own star team members thinking about starting her own business…hmm…being a small business owner isn’t just about finding people & extracting your pound of flesh from them over the time they work for you.  It’s also about adding to your local community & giving back where you can, providing careers & challenge for your people and equipping them with the skills they need to go on & do something else.  Learning Pool is 5 years old this summer and we are lucky to have a high performing star team that’s the envy of many other companies.  But after 3 years in a job, people are entitled to try their hand at something else and if they go on to take a stab at being an entrepreneur themselves, Paul & I see that as a perfect 10 scored for ourselves – our work is done & we’ve achieved one of the things we set out to. 

The other day a local entrepreneur I met at a lunch told me how he’d had someone come in to arrange the desks in his company so that everyone could see each others screens – his reason for doing that – so that no-one would be on Facebook during the hours of 9-5.  What did I do – I just sighed a bit to be honest.  He wasn’t interested in what I had to say anyway.  Old fashioned companies with old fashioned opinions – think on.  Your days are probably numbered.