Friday, 22 February 2008

The Future 500

Those nice people at Courvoisier like to support entrepreneurial spirit. So much so, that they launched a business network and online club, Courvoisier Future 500, for the UK’s top 500 rising stars, cherry picked from media, fashion, finance and anything in between. Somehow – they let me in, #49 in the Business category.

Last night they threw a party for us all. With so many egos in one room – and with a bar serving Courvoisier cocktails - it was a very noisy affair. As one of the party organisers commented, whatever else it might be, Future 500 is a ‘weird social experiment’. But I met some interesting people.

One of those was Sarah Brown who heads up Pai Skincare, a range of organic skincare products that she set up after taking the leap from a successful job in PR. With a PR-savvy approach, Sarah has achieved a lot in her first 12 months getting both Soil Association and SEE (a kite mark recognising companies' Social, Ethical & Environmental credentials) accreditation. She’s now growing the venture from a one-person business to a multi-person business, another leap which can be as challenging as taking the initial leap to go it alone. I am sure she’ll enjoy continued success; she has a great product and is a great example of what can be achieved by quitting your job to go it alone.

Check out her story here.

Doing It Unplugged

Tuesday night The Stereophonics played an invite-only intimate acoustic gig at The Hospital (and fortunately I had an invite).

Seeing a band stripped down like that always reminds me of what it’s like going it alone in business. If you can do it unplugged, if you have the raw materials and talent to pull off a great performance without the full backing band, then you’ll be a success. In business and in entertainment.

The Stereophonics pulled it off, with a great set showing they undoubtedly have the raw materials required. And proving that however talented you are, you sometimes need wiser and older mentors to collaborate with, Ronnie Wood joined Kelly Jones for an encore of The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’.

A mix of old and new that worked a treat….

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Where Is A Genuine Last Minute.Com?

I was looking to make a last minute (same day) hotel reservation in London and then I realised there’s no decent, simple, effective website that’s out there.

Despite their positioning, and do not do what they say on the tin. The rates are not that discounted; you have to wade through ‘London hotels’ that include some B&B on the North Circular and a low-grade hotel in Paddington. And rates do not seem to change whether you are looking one week or one day before you are booking.

Where is the website for genuine late availability deals at Central London hotels for business travellers? does offer deals but many of these are their ‘Top Secret Hotels’, with the rationale that the rate is so cheap we cannot tell you where the hotel is until you book it. Sorry, that doesn’t work for me. I want to know what I am buying before I click on ‘buy’.

There are a couple of hotels out there with effective and innovative online offerings. The Hoxton has its popular sale where prices are heavily discounted and there are still deals to be had depending on what night you are staying. Chiswick's High Road House, part of The Soho House Group also has a neat but ever-so-simple page on its site, called ‘Last Minute Bedrooms’ where you can get decent on-the-day reservations (where available) for £100, or opt for a day-before-booking for a bit more.

The big travel websites should learn some lessons from these boutique hotels. I may not know much about hotel room business models, but surely hotels want to sell rooms rather than have them empty? In which case, where is a simple, focused and effective website that does the job?

Being That 'Good Safe Pair Of Hands'

I had a lunch meeting cancelled yesterday at the last minute so with just me and my to-do list as company, I went over to Cafe Mode on Endell Street in WC2 for lunch. It’s not a swanky Covent Garden eaterie; it’s a modest neighbourhood kind of place. A ciabatta, pizza or salad, a glass of house red. An owner who will recognise you. Good value. A ‘does what it says on the tin’ type place. I always have a chat with the owner Mohammad, about how business is going. He does well because CafĂ© Mode is the restaurant equivalent of ‘being a safe pair of hands’ in business: it is a known quantity, you know what you’re getting and it’s reliable.

And it reminded me that success in business is not always about being the biggest or the market leader. It’s about occupying a niche, suceeding at what you do and being authentic. Don’t be something you are not.

And take a lesson from Mohammad: throw in the business equivalent of a complimentary espresso or glass of wine now and then.


Monday, 18 February 2008

Outsource the Outsourcing

When I set up my current business, it was focused on filling outsourced project requirements. From feasibility studies to managing marketing projects; activities that the client could not handle internally. It was – and is – an efficient model. Client overheads remain low as they utilise outside resources to manage projects or fulfil needs on a case by case basis.

It is no coincidence that my own business utilises that outsourcing model for delivering our own projects; we outsource design and other creative disciplines to networks of freelancers and small companies. It means not only do we keep overheads low but it ensures we select the right team for each respective project.

This month’s ‘Fast Company’ reports on a radical new outsourcing model at Pfizer. Management were concerned that senior staff hired to innovate were instead ‘googling and making powerpoints’.

Some U.S. Pfizer executives in the now have the opportunity of delegating these tasks to outsourcing companies in India who look after ‘knowledge-processing’ from research and data analysis to making powerpoints. Companies like Office Tiger act as internal consultants hired on a task-by-task basis.

Apart from outsourcing powerpoint creation (we have all witnessed some truly awful powerpoints in our time), I am not convinced about the outsourcing of small tasks. How much time does it take to brief for each task? How much time to check or verify the task once it is done? In that time, you could have done the task yourself.

In this knowledge-economy, knowledge-processing is surely at the heart of strategising. Executives will have to weigh up whether delegating that bit of a project (whether to the person in the next office or someone in India) gives them the necessary overview to do the strategising in the first place.

In the meantime I am working on a model to outsource the outsourcing…

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

A Tipping Point

I'm not sure what Malcolm Gladwell would make of this, but it's interesting to note the effect of the mention of Leap in yesterday's New York Times.

In the U.S. market Leap! started the day on yesterday at #670,832 in total rankings. It closed the day at #27,848 and entered the ‘New Business Enterprises’ chart, rising to #33 in that.

I guess it's a phenomenon we call the ‘New York Times Factor’.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Business Distractions

When you work in a ‘proper job’ there can be a lot of pressure to have fun and to party. Sometimes that’s a good thing, other times it can be an irritant. When I worked in an open-plan cross-discipline office; some Fridays the sales execs would have a big lunch to celebrate a new account win, and come back to the office in the afternoon where they’d continue to party (and expect everyone else to as well). That would be a difficult environment to get that proposal or business plan finished; I’d have been better off sitting in a wine bar.

Another time my desk was close to a TV monitor that played out MTV, and every time I turned down the volume because I couldn’t concentrate I was accused of being a killjoy! Working for yourself can be a bit easier because you have more control over your workspace, whether you are on your own or share with a bunch of co-workers. Although of course, sometimes those office distractions are welcome, especially if you fancy a trip to the pub on a Friday.

I am quoted in today’s
New York Times in an article about the distractions of flirting and partying when you are on a business trip; dealing with those distractions and also having a strategy for making sure you stay focused on busines. Read the article here....

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

My publishers Capstone have launched an online newsroom where you can get information on latest titles and download excerpts. Visit the site here to see more on Leap!

'Global' Meets 'Village'

What has always stimulated me about my own business is having an eclectic mix. I’ve had days where I met with Benetton in the morning, a local arts festival in the afternoon. Dealing with a subsidiary of a Fortune 500 company one day, a sole trader the next. A client is a client in my book, whether big corporation or one-person business. Many companies talk about being global, but in the long tail of business there's a growing number of companies who pride themselves on being village, not global. I like the challenge and stimulation of dealing with both ends of that spectrum.

Those dramatic juxtapositions are reflected in some recent press interest. Last week I did a telephone interview with The New York Times* (1m + readers); yesterday I did an interview with my neighbourhood newspaper The Leigh Times (20,000 + readers).

From The New York Times to The Leigh Times; completely different ends of the spectrum, but equally valuable.

* The NYTimes sent an ace photographer Sebastian Meyer to shoot me, he’s a talented guy. Check out his website