Month: July 2011

Sherry Coutu – entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist, mentor & role model

Sherry_coutu

It’s been a while since I’ve told you about someone interesting I’ve encountered in my travels so this blog is all about Sherry Coutu, award winning entrepreneur and a successful angel investor.  She has the smarts (MSc with Distinction in Economics from the London School of Economics & an MBA from Harvard), the track record as a practising CEO (her first start up was acquired by Euromoney plc and her second was floated via an IPO in 2000 when Sherry was five months pregnant and it was later valued at $1 billion), a successful investment track record (she’s invested so far in over 35 companies, one of the most recent being Artfinder) and the network (she sits on the boards of LinkedIn and Zoopla.com as well as being an investor in two VC firms).  Are you impressed yet?  There’s a lot more.  Sherry also has 3 young children and aims to spend one day per week putting something back via philanthropic pursuits (she’s on the board of Cancer Research UK, a trustee at NESTA, a non exec at Cambridge & Harvard universities and she works with NSPCC on a programme for disadvantaged teenagers).  I suspect on the philanthropic front there’s probably a lot more.  I know for a fact on the professional front there’s an awful lot more.  Wired Magazine voted Sherry one of the 25 most influential people in the wired world in May 2011.

I hate to tell you this but Sherry Coutu is also very understated, very cool and very nice.  I met her first a couple of months ago when Learning Pool was selected as one of the 9 SME finalists in the Cabinet Office’s Innovation Launchpad competition.  Sherry has been the driving force behind this initiative which seeks to improve in a practical way government engagement with SMEs.  I snapped the pic accompanying this blog when Sherry was delivering her presentation last Tuesday to the 120+ civil servants gathered at BIS.  We’ve been lucky to have her input and insight into our Big Society School idea as part of the Launchpad process.

My favourite Sherry Coutu quotes that I’ve come across so far are “I think the most important question for any startup is “Is what they’re aiming for going to change the world somehow? Is it going to make it a better place?”” and about working in the technology space “it’s a great industry that we’re a part of … being able to peer into the future and to invest in things that are likely to change our world. … It’s a huge privilege”.  In one video interview she tells how her father waved a bunch of fibre optic cable at her when she was 5 years old & told her it was going to change the world.  Life is all about those moments, isn’t it?

I’ve always thought I was a decent enough plate spinner and until I met Sherry, I’d never been envious of another person’s career.  I now realise I can surely do more.  Sherry’s tutor at the LSE talked to her about considering becoming an entrepreneur…I turned down my place at the LSE when I was 17 because I didn’t feel ready to move to London.  I wasn’t brave enough.  I’ve wondered over the past few days about how different my life may have been if I’d grasped that particular nettle – but then I also got to thinking about all the good things I might have missed and I’ve concluded that life really is too short for regrets.  It’s only in Kurt Vonnegut novels that we should visit those forks in the road & examine different outcomes.

I’ll leave you today with another great Sherry Coutu quote “As entrepreneurs you’re either seeking to disrupt something, or as a dominant market player, you’re seeking to retain your position. You know, you have to ask yourself, “Where’s the puck going to be in 25 years?”  Yep – the gal’s still a Canadian!  Sherry – it’s been a privilege to get to know you.

 

10 ways to punch well above your weight as a small business…

Punching

We all agree it’s great to be a small business but sometimes, especially if you’re just starting out, you might want people to think you’re bigger than you are.

Below are 10 ways you can do that.  I’m sure there are many more – so I’ll be glad to see your comments.  Also interested to hear if people think some of this is “wrong” to do as a small business…as in do you think it’s deceitful or just resourceful?

1.       Be professional from Day 1 of trading.  By that I mean have a logo & a brand, get business cards, have a decent website (not one of those dreadful one page affairs that tells you there’s more coming later), get collateral printed if that’s part of your sell…and always behave in a professional manner.

2.       Work hard to keep your website content fresh and changing; write newsy articles and blogs and aim to have new “stuff” on your home page every day or every other day at least – if your website isn’t refreshed, people will stop coming back & you’ll lose momentum from your launch.

3.       Use freelance resource if you don’t yet have a team in place, but present those people as part of your team & give them business cards, company email addresses etc.  Don’t lie about this if you’re asked outright…most people will be sympathetic to what you’re trying to achieve.

4.       Speak at conferences and events and be visible – a lot of people do this very well.  You have to hustle a bit to get onto the event organisers’ radar but it’s no doubt worth the effort it takes.

5.       Gather up a small advisory board & feature them on your website.  Most people will be prepared to help you get started & won’t demand 30% of your company or £1,000 a day in return.  A lot of luminaries like to dabble in interesting projects so make yours so & find an innovative way to reward them.

6.       Get yourself some testimonials.  Ideally from early adopters or your first customers.  If you don’t have any customers yet, offer some of your prospects a free trial or a discount in exchange for a written  or video testimonial.

7.       Use a proper landline number.  When Learning Pool was starting out, we obtained a London phone number to give the impression that we had a London office, even though we were based in Northern Ireland.  We never lied about this to anyone & always told the truth when asked – but the truth is that no-one asked.  They recognised it as a London number & assumed the rest.  Along the same lines have a co-working space or concierge service to use as your company address – don’t use your residential address.

8.       Register for VAT from Day 1 – even if you won’t get anywhere near the turnover registration hurdle in Year 1.  It makes your company appear bigger from the get-go and therefore more credible.

9.       Partner with a larger organisation if you want to pitch for a big contract or piggy-back onto a bigger company so that you can use their government framework if they’re on one – you will usually pay them a percentage of any contract you win in order to avail yourself of this but it might be well worth it.

10.   My last & favourite one – hold all your early days business meetings in the poshest hotel you can find.  We used to use The Goring Hotel as our “London office” in the early days of Learning Pool (it was the hotel the Middletons stayed in the night before this year’s Royal Wedding – that’s how posh it is).  We would stay in there for days on end ordering tea but never any food as we couldn’t afford that.  You’d be amazed at the number of people that have since told us they were convinced we used to stay there.  Ha – I won’t tell you where we did used to stay…but it will be in the book when we eventually get round to writing it!

That’s my top 10 folks – can’t wait to see your additions.  Keep ‘em coming.