People create startups for a variety of reasons. They might have a burning desire to solve a problem, they’ve come up with something innovative that they want to commercialise or it seems the logical step from what they were doing before. It might even be an accident of being in the right place at the right time.
Obviously you’re not going to put your heart, soul and every waking hour into a startup unless you want it to succeed. And one measure of success is money – how much is the company worth, and what is your personal reward for your blood, sweat and tears along the way.
So it is interesting to look at the latest Forbes list of the world’s richest people, which has just been published. The good news is that tech and telecoms dominate the rankings – but the bad news for entrepreneurs is that it takes a lot of time to become a billionaire.
Overall the richest man in the world is Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim Helu, worth a whopping great $73 billion. To put it in context that’s more than the gross domestic product of many countries (for example Azerbaijan’s GDP was $63bn in 2011).
Following Slim Heddu is Microsoft founder Bill Gates with $67 billion (enough for Azerbaijan and loose change) with Oracle’s Larry Ellison also making the overall top 10. But all three of these are either long established companies (Oracle, Microsoft) or seized an opportunity (mobile phones in the case of Slim Heddu), rather than tech startups.
You have to delve further down the charts to find Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin (only $23bn and $22.8bn) respectively. In fact they are followed in the tech list by current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer ($15.2bn), showing that you don’t need to start a company to benefit from its growth. And despite the travails of Facebook’s stock price Mark Zuckerberg is still worth $13.3bn, but at 28 is one of the youngest names on the list.
So from studying the rankings, what do you need to look at if you want to join the Forbes Tech rich list? Here are a few tips:
- Cross the chasm – none of the top 10 are particularly innovative, but the majority have achieved mass market appeal very quickly (with the exception of Oracle which has used its muscle to hoover up the B2B competition)
- Keep it at it – billionaires might have not invented things, but they’ve focused on execution and have prepared to invest for the long term to drive growth. Perhaps this long term focus explains the lack of tech UK leaders in the upper echelons of the list, In fact the highest UK representative is the Duke of Westminster. And it is difficult to get more long term thinking than a peer of the realm that owns huge swathes of central London.
- Look at emerging markets – Latin American mobile telecoms has skyrocketed over the past 20 years, propelling Slim Heddu to the top of the list and there are a large number of billionaires linked to the BRICs countries where they’ve used technology to revolutionise people’s lives
- Flotation is just the start – lots of startups (particularly in the UK) look for an exit through flotation or more often a trade sale. As the rise of the fortunes of Gates and Ellison show a stock market listing was used to increase investment in the company rather than sell up.
- Deliver something scalable. You can’t build a billion dollar organisation selling people’s time (ruling out my PR company joining the Forbes list anytime soon). You need a product or service that provides economies of scale as you grow – software or telecoms being perfect cases in point. The more copies of Windows sold the greater the profits per copy as development costs are spread more thinly.
Don’t set out to be a billionaire. Everyone wants to be rich (even if, like Bill Gates, they then use the money to fund charities and education) but I doubt anyone set out with the specific goal of becoming a billionaire. Develop your idea, be innovative, appeal to a large market and deliver on your promises and (with a bit of luck) success will come – even if it takes some time. And of course for anyone that follows my advice and hits that billion, I’ll take a very reasonable 1%……………….
Like a lot of people I start my morning with the Today programme on Radio 4, where a continual succession of politicians, captains of industry and celebrities queue up to be interviewed. If they are lucky they get the mild-mannered Justin Webb or if unlucky James Naughtie or John Humphrys in a particularly cantankerous mood.
As a PR person one thing I notice very quickly is if the interviewee has been over media trained. You can hear the key messages and soundbites being introduced into the conversation (often with a complete lack of subtlety), the practised swerve away from difficult questions and an overall replacement of any personality with a mechanised response.
Obviously anyone speaking to the press (and particularly to Humphrys, Naughtie or Paxman) needs to be trained – the car crash interviews when spokespeople are completely unprepared are toe-curlingly bad. But in too many cases the message overwhelms any personality that the spokesperson has – the lines could be delivered by a robot rather than a human being. This may be fine if the speaker is a third undersecretary at a government agency, but not good if he’s your CEO and essentially the ambassador for your brand.
And this malaise isn’t confined to senior managers and politicians. I see a lot of entrepreneurs and heads of growing companies who shut down when they have a camera pointed at them or a microphone shoved in their face. All the energy and enthusiasm they have for their wonderful product drains away to be replaced by a tongue-tied mouthing of platitudes.
So what can spokespeople do to get their personality and message across? I’m not going to provide a full media training session in this blog but it revolves around five key areas:
As Ben Franklin said, “Fail to prepare and prepare to fail.” Take the time to research who you are speaking to, the audience of their programme/readership of the magazine. What has the journalist written recently? What is the angle of the interview? If you have a marketing or PR person they should provide you with this information ahead of time – read it well before the interview (not 5 minutes before).
2 Know what you are going to say
Have 2-3 key points that you want to get across, particularly for broadcast interviews. But say it in multiple ways – repeating the same soundbite again and again is going to put listeners/viewers off and makes you sound like a stuck record. Back up what you are saying with examples or figures that prove your case, particularly if they come from a reputable third party.
3 Be human
People relate to people, not to dry words. Use stories and anecdotes that build pictures in the audience’s mind – and make them personal. Things like ‘I saw on my way here that…..’ or ‘I was talking to one of our customers and they said……..’ show empathy and involvement. Just make sure they are true and not PR spin.
4 Be enthusiastic
Particularly for a start-up, if you can’t be enthusiastic about your product, how do you expect others to buy it? You may be repeating details for the thousandth time and feel you are having to dumb down the language around your wonderful new innovation but explain clearly, simply and with energy what it will do to change people’s lives for the better. You’ve got passion for your start-up – get it across when you speak.
5 Get training
If you’re not sure about how good you are at speaking publicly then make an investment in training. Not necessarily media training, but coaching in public speaking is an invaluable way of building up your confidence and providing methods for getting your message across without losing your humanity.
There’s a reason that the same spokespeople keep popping up on radio and TV – from the likes of Richard Branson to Justin Urquhart Stewart of Seven Investment Management (a mainstay of Radio 5 Live). They provide consistently interesting and punchy answers, without letting the message overwhelm their own personality. It is time for entrepreneurs and spokespeople everywhere to follow their example.
Over the years the humble car has been getting smarter. From electronic control units that monitor and automatically manage performance (and flash alarming warnings at regular intervals) to in-built sat nav devices, cars are becoming driven by technology.
And now it looks like the internet is coming to a vehicle near you. Intel, for example, claims that, for some brands, by 2014 every car they sell will offer some sort of internet connectivity and analysts IHS say that over 50% of consumers would be swayed by the presence of an internet-capable device when it comes to buying a car.
So what do they predict connecting your car to the net would enable? Obviously there’s entertainment – surfing the web, updating social media, listening to internet radio and watching streaming content. But where analysts see the biggest growth is in apps that help the driving experience – from updates on the nearest cheap petrol station to finding you a parking space in a crowded city.
All very impressive sounding, but will it actually catch on and will car manufacturers actually recoup the billions they’re investing in connected technology?
In my view, the market is going to initially be a lot smaller than people think – but it does provide a potential new revenue stream for car manufacturers if they retain control. In terms of size of market there are four ways that the car market is very different to other internet-connected devices.
Firstly, not that many people buy cars new, so even if half of new cars are smart, that will take a while to trickle down into the mainstream, by which time technology will have moved on in leaps and bounds.
Secondly, a lot of the apps being touted around can already be found on 3G smartphones. Plugging them into a voice controlled connected car should guarantee an easier experience but as anyone that’s tried speech control will tell you it doesn’t always work.
Thirdly, there’s the safety aspect. You can’t use your mobile phone in a car, and the complex apps that some people are talking about would be equally distracting to the driver. In the US a quarter of car accidents are attributed to mobile phone use. I’m sure ‘I was arguing with my car when I crashed’ would soon enter the list of insurance excuses.
And finally, the car market is in turmoil as cash-conscious consumers desert mainstream brands for cheaper alternatives – Peugeot for example lost £4.3 billion in 2012. Is it likely that such advanced technology will be in the latest generation of Kias anytime soon?
But if car manufacturers can get it right they would be able to add a completely new revenue stream to their operations. Rather than just selling a car, they’d be able to act as a gateway to the internet, taking a cut on every app installed in the vehicle and providing ongoing services (such as mapping) on a subscription basis. You may even get to the point of cars, like mobile phones, being subsidised if you sign up to certain packages.
However the big challenge to the automobile industry is adapting to this new reality when it happens. Can they avoid losing out to the likes of Apple, Samsung, Google or mobile phone networks by keeping control of the relationship with the customer? When you look at other industries transformed by the internet (such as music or retail) it isn’t the traditional players that have survived, but young upstarts. Ready for a Google car? They already have one on test…………
Turning your brilliant idea into a world-beating product requires a lot of things – drive, commitment, flexibility and often a large slice of luck. But one element it can’t really do without is money – whether to develop prototypes, employ staff or simply pay your own bills.
Finding funding has never been easy, but the range of potential sources does seem to be growing. As well as traditional sources such as VCs, banks, angels and friends and family, there are a range of government grants and multiple competitions that can potentially help startups take a step forward. I’m not saying this necessarily makes gaining investment easy, but it does give more options.
And another option that is expanding rapidly is crowdfunding – sharing your idea with the world and getting them to back it before you start the expensive business of actually producing anything. If you don’t attract the pre-orders then it should probably act as a wake-up call – are you producing the right product that people actually want?
There’s been a run of successful, over-subscribed launches on sites like KickStarter. The company behind the Pebble smart watch raised over $10m and will start shipping real products this month. On a smaller scale, projects like photography book I Drink Lead Paint hit its target of £10,000, unleashing the thoughts and images of Mr Flibble onto the world. And B2B versions like Funding Circle have attracted government backing, making £20m available to British businesses over the next 12-24 months.
With growth like this, it is no wonder that Deloitte predicts that crowdfunding will double in 2013, raising £1.9 billion globally this year. Not huge in the scheme of overall investment, but potentially opening up funding options to smaller scale projects in a simple way.
But, with more and more projects out there looking for crowdfunding, how do entrepreneurs get people to view what they are doing – and potentially part with their cash? Kickstarter’s own stats show that just over 40% of projects hit their funding targets, showing it isn’t as simple as launching and waiting for the money to roll in.
This is where an enormous opportunity arises for the marketing and PR industries to get involved. Crowdfunding projects need marketing in the same way as any other product, identifying target audiences and demonstrating the benefits your new wonder widget brings to them. And then you’ve got to reach them, using both social and traditional media to identify the influencers that are likely to help you spread the word and convincing them and the world at large. Obviously the downside is that projects don’t tend to have any ready cash, but for anyone brave enough to go for payment by results the business is out there. At a time when the PR industry is suffering financially, creating smart, all-in-one services that help you get crowdfunding or launch your new iPhone app are just what it needs to be developing to recapture growth and build relationships with the next generation of smart businesses.
I’ve always believed that people who take part in daytime phone-ins either have too much time on their hands, don’t have jobs or don’t get out of the house enough. Which of these apply to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg I’ll leave to the audience to decide, but his strategy to take part in a weekly phone-in on London radio station LBC looks like a mark of desperation.
Currently with the lowest poll ratings of the leaders of all three major parties (which is saying something), Clegg’s strategy is to appeal directly to voters by appearing on LBC. After all, his spin doctors must have mused, it was his appearance on the first televised party leaders debate before the last election that pushed the Liberal Democrats up the polls and ultimately helped them into power. So, let’s simply repeat the exercise and people will forget the last couple of years of government, and any policy changes, and just connect to Clegg the man.
Unfortunately, I think they’ve got the right idea but the wrong media for turning round Clegg’s image before the next election. Here’s three reasons that come to mind:
Lack of control
Obviously the whole point of a phone-in is that you have no idea what you are going to be asked. The plus point is that you can get the chance to talk about a wider range of subjects, but normally people on phone-ins aren’t giving up their time to call in and praise you. Hence Clegg suffering a verbal kicking in his first week on the radio. This may improve as he builds a rapport with the audience, but the randomness of live radio was shown by the headline news picked up by the press – Nick Clegg has a onesie, but hasn’t worn it yet.
LBC doesn’t reach a national audience
Having a senior politician on every week is a no-brainer for LBC – it boosts ratings, increases profile and, by broadcasting via the web, means it can reach a wider audience. However, whichever way you look at it, Clegg is not reaching the right voters – hundreds of miles from his constituency and not on a national platform. He’d do better (and show a keener grasp of new technology) by hosting a web chat or using social media to increase his credibility.
Other politicians make you look good
One of the basic reasons that Clegg impressed in the televised debates was that he was a relatively fresh face against the well-known Cameron and Brown. He hadn’t got the baggage they had and so looked good by association. The combination of years of government and being the only politician on show is always going to weaken credibility.
However it is a brave move from the Liberal Democrats who realise that from a communications point of view they need to do something to differentiate themselves and rebuild their fortunes. What next – sending him into the Big Brother house or chairing Have I Got News for You?
I like my gadgets as much as (or more probably more than) the next person. However looking through all the announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas I can’t help thinking some are a triumph of ingenuity over common sense. While we can automate a lot of our lives, there are some things that we should be doing intrinsically through common sense rather than relying on electronics. There are genuine innovations at CES (the Plastic Logic PaperTab ultra thin tablet springs immediately to mind), a lot of bigger and better TVs but it is the wacky gadgets which attracted my attention.
I’ve previously moaned about Google Glasses as most of us are lucky enough to have eyes which do a similar job a lot more cheaply. As well as optical technology, CES also sees a whole range of other ‘firsts’ designed to make our lives easier. Here’s a round up of five I found particularly pointless……..
A phone you can use in the bath
One of the few places we can’t use our smartphones is in water, but for those that can’t exist without them while in the shower, Sony is introducing the bath-friendly Xperia Z smartphone. Though if it encourages geeks to wash more, it could be a positive move……..
The intelligent fork
Rushing your food? Tired of being admonished by his wife for wolfing down his food, French inventor Jacques Lepine invented the Hapifork. If you eat too quickly the smart fork buzzes to tell you to slow down and is being marketed as a way to tackle weight gain. Instead, why not just focus on your food and make conversation while eating to avoid guzzling your grub?
The Android Oven
Staying in the kitchen Dacor’s cooker has an 7 inch display and runs the Android operating system that lets you pull up recipes and then adjusts the cooking time to match. All fine so far, but what happens if you get the recipe slightly wrong and it frazzles your dinner while you’re busy playing Angry Birds?
Monitor your plants from afar
The Parrot Flower Power is a Bluetooth monitoring tool that you put in the soil next to one of your prized plants. It then sends messages to your iPad on the nutrients in the soil, ambient temperature and if your plant is in trouble. Again, a pair of eyes, a watering can and reading the label that comes with the plant should be a lot simpler – at least until they develop a version that automatically electrocutes aphids without you needing to spray……….
Find your missing luggage (sort of)
Arriving at a different airport to your luggage is a major inconvenience. Pop the Trakdot, a card-sized tracking device into your bag and it will use mobile phone technology to let you know where it is – and it even shuts down in flight to avoid crashing the plane. However while it might prove your luggage is in Paris, Texas when you’re in Paris, France it doesn’t actually get it back to you any quicker.
I’m sure we’ll see some of these gadgets hit the shops in 2013, but hopefully common sense will prevail over technology and people will keep using their eyes, ears and hands to interact with the world around them, rather than leaving it to a computer…………