Revolutionary Measures

When to give up


It used to be that failing in business was a potentially catastrophic black mark in the UK – essentially the end of your career. But over the last decade attitudes have changed, driven by a more American view that it is better to have tried and not succeeded than to not to have bothered at all. There are a thousand and one reasons that a venture might fail, many outside your control, and as long as you learn lessons you can bounce back stronger.

This more relaxed attitude to failure is reflected in the growth of startups in the UK. Rather than leave university and go and work in corporate Britain, setting up on your own is a viable choice – if it doesn’t work you can always try the 9 to 5 in a few years time. And as the Seth Godin quote goes, “If failure isn’t an option, neither is success.”

But if the stigma of failure has been removed it brings another big question – when do you give up on your idea/business? Do you shut up shop at the first signs of trouble or soldier on when all chances of success are gone? That was the topic of an entertaining discussion at last week’s Pitch and Mix in Cambridge, which got me thinking about the whole topic.

It is easy to look at businesses or individuals where it would have been easy to give up when they hit the first roadblock. Harvard made Mark Zuckerberg take down the first version of Facebook and nearly expelled him – but he learnt from the experience and moved on. In Cambridge, ARM was essentially created within Acorn as Intel wouldn’t sell the computer manufacturer the chips they needed. The business pivoted and is now a multi-billion dollar world leader.

What came out from the discussion were two main ways of helping you to know when you’ve really failed and it is time to give up.

Firstly, set realistic objectives and goals for your company/project, with a timeframe attached. It shouldn’t be a hundred page business plan that controls your life but an idea of what success looks like and the time it should take to get there. Whether as simple as “we need to have made our first sale in 18 months” or more complex, use it as a guide to when to stop. If you get to 18 months and there’s no sign of a customer then you should probably give up, but if you’re negotiating with a couple, then extend your timeframe. Build a plan to get to your objectives – what needs to happen for you to make that sale/launch the project within your timeframe.

Secondly, get independent advice. Everyone involved in startups must have passion – if you aren’t enthusiastic about the idea you won’t put in the hours to make it work. However perspective is more difficult – you are simply too close to the coalface to provide an objective view of reality. So find yourself an independent mentor, who understands your business and what you are trying to do and give you advice and perspective on the way forward.

More businesses fail than succeed, but don’t take it personally, learn and move on. And marry passion with perspective to work out when to throw in the towel and start again.


April 24, 2013 Posted by | Cambridge, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Disconnecting at LinkedIn?

LinkedIn Centipede Participants in the 2010 IN...

LinkedIn Centipede Participants in the 2010 ING Bay to Breakers (Photo credit: smi23le)

We’re clearly doing much more of our business networking online, so why isn’t LinkedIn more of a success? Obviously it has a huge number of registered users (over 150 million globally according to some figures) and revenues last quarter of $167 million, but it doesn’t seem to be able to take centre stage in the same way as Facebook. People use it, but in many cases more out of duty than desire.

So what’s LinkedIn doing wrong? Here’s three key things I’ve picked up, with additional points from an entertaining Pitch and Mix discussion on LinkedIn a few weeks back.

Just not clever enough
Having the CVs and career details of 150 million people should allow LinkedIn to both suggest serendipitous connections and also flag up relevant jobs to members. Yet I tend to get the same new connections suggested, simply based on my existing network. Putting a bit of intelligence behind it how about suggesting people based on my interests, location and profile, rather than just the groups I belong to? And, while this may just be me, the jobs that are flagged bear no relation to my experience level – unless LinkedIn really believes I should start again as a PR account executive?

Push to monetise subscribers
Obviously LinkedIn isn’t a charity, it’s a public company, but over the last year I’ve seen a creeping change as the network tries to push people more towards premium subscriptions. Less information is available for free and all you can see on many profiles are basic details. It doesn’t encourage me to expand my network if I can’t tell if someone would be a good contact or not.

Spam, spam, spam
LinkedIn Groups are a great resource to discuss relevant issues with like-minded people. Or they would be if they weren’t regularly invaded by spammers and people trying to sell me a new website. Ditto random invitations from people within groups that I’ve had no interaction with at all. I know a lot of this is down to those that run the groups but it is LinkedIn that suffers as people abandon potentially useful groups and consequently don’t log on as frequently.

Don’t get me wrong – I believe LinkedIn is a great resource. It just has to focus on its users and their needs if it is continue to grow and provide the right service to the B2B community.

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March 20, 2012 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Finding the next generation of startups

Cambridge has got a worldwide reputation for the excellence of its tech cluster. The likes of ARM, Autonomy and CSR are global leaders and a plethora of other innovative tech businesses like Transversal, Adder, RealVNC and Red Gate Software have successfully developed within the city.

But the tech market doesn’t stand still, meaning there’s a constant need for new startups to replenish the pipeline and potentially become the ARMs of the future. And creating a startup can look like a daunting prospect. You may have an idea, but where do you go from there? Tapping into the right skills and receiving help and encouragement is almost as critical as attracting funding when at a very early stage.

Help is at hand, through the first Cambridge Startup Weekend, which will be held between 11-13 March 2011. It adds to existing initiatives such as Cambridge Pitch and Mix to provide a focused event where people with ideas and skills can meet. Organised by volunteers, I’m very happy to be personally involved, both in publicising it and providing PR advice to the startup teams over the weekend.

An intensive 54 hour event, it focuses on building a web or mobile application which could form the basis of a credible business. At the end of the process, a high level judging panel, chaired by Neil Davidson, co-founder of Red Gate Software, will choose a winning project.

Based on a formula pioneered on the US West Coast, it is the first time a UK version of the event has been held outside London. And in another first, a proportion of the proceeds from the event will remain in Cambridge to be used as a legacy to support startups.

It promises to be an exhilarating (and exhausting) event and a great way of unleashing the next generation of great Cambridge ideas. Find out more at or follow the event on Twitter @swcambridge. Special offer tickets are available now, with prices at £50 when you enter discount code PRCAM.

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February 16, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment