Future Rewired at the Digital Greenhouse this year was on Sat 10th June. Marc and Matt both attended, and indeed spoke... (and cleaned up on the innovation competition, natch!)
Marc did a technical deep-dive on using Docker for .NET development - a well-attended session.
Matt, on the other hand, presented on the 'Innovation and Entrepreneur' track with a session on some of the headline things that have been learnt over four years in business with Cortex (and drawing on previous business experience.
This was not focused on how to start a business or how to bring a product to market; instead it was looking at some of the things that are less-obvious, and usually only discovered by experiencing them... aka learning the hard way.
It was presented as a list of five, summarised thusly:
#1: When you start a business, it's your business
When you start a business, it's really easy to get excited and carried away with all the obvious things that are required to start a business. Registering a company, getting bank accounts, getting a website and social channels, talking to people, gaining opportunities and leads and of course, actually developing your product or service. Before you know it weeks, months or longer have passed and you can find yourself in a position of running the business you started, but potentially without the clear vision of why. Or how to measure your successes.
People start their own business for all sorts of reasons. It might be that they just want to make a pile of cash, or change the world in some way, or leave a legacy. Or it might be that you want a change of lifestyle - a business that fits around your family commitments or other activities. You might have a sense of what working your perfect job would feel like.
A lot of these things will come naturally - you will inevitably slot in to the pace and approach that suits you.
But at the outset is the best time to take time to pencil out these things, so that in 6 months or 18 months or 5 years time you have something to refer back to, which will help you assess whether you're doing what you set out to do.
In our case, we spent a lot of time doing a lot of cool things, but you could only really peg a handful of these things directly to the goals and vision we'd set out. In fact, we never really wrote down the vision until a few years in to the business. Oops.
#2: Back Yourself
Some people don't struggle with confidence. Estate agents, used car dealers, mobile phone salesmen etc. And there is a difference in (mis-placed) confidence and believing in yourself. See the 'Dunning-Kruger
' effect for more info, but the lesser known side of that is where people who are talented at something, find it so easy, that they believe that it must be easy for everyone, and so therefore underestimate their actual abilities.
You absolutely can do more than you think. A business owner must make decisions and must take responsibility for them. It's common when you're new in business to seek advice and counsel from other people - and this is fine, and recommended - but provided you are able to own the decisions and outcomes.
There is nobody - literally nobody - who can tell you what to do and guarantee your success. Business is hard, and at some point you just have to do it. The mistakes you make will rarely be as bad as you think they could be. You'll learn, and you'll do better next time.
This challenge magnifies when you have staff and/or other interests in the business. The business is typically the vision and dream of its founder(s) - and not only do you have to sell that vision to other people, who will challenge it, but also you can not expect them to live and dream it in the same way you do.
#3: Commit To Your Vision
And this is when being committed to your vision will be drawn in to account.
When faced with two choices, or two paths - where one is easy and one is hard - it is human nature to take the easy path. And in business, this can mean doing the simpler things, or simpler choices - possibly the lower risk stuff, but not necessarily - but this can commonly be subconsciously as it allows you to put off making the harder decisions or doing the harder or more uncomfortable things.
For us, this manifest in a whole series of 'distractions' - side projects, or CSR-type activities, or other things, that, whilst valuable in most cases to our business, they were absolutely not in keeping with our vision.
The outcome? We have mostly delivered on our vision, but it has taken around 3 years longer than we expected. We have a successful, stable business that does what it set out to do - great success - but could we be further along in the big picture if we had been more committed to it in the first place?
#4: Be Patient (Growth Is Hard)
You should definitely be aware when things are not going to plan. You should be prepared to bail out or pivot or just pack up and go home. But if you are doing a good thing - and you'll know if you are (trust your gut was another title for this section) - then you have to have patience.
People (your customers) are annoying. They do weird and unpredictable things. You may know they need your product but they won't admit to that and it will take time. They will need to be told repeatedly. We had one scenario where we were told flat out and completely outright that they had absolutely no use for one of our services when we contacted them directly. But when they were told again (via word of mouth, i.e., not from us) then it was shoe-in to make the sale. (You can use this experience to tailor your messaging.)
Remember that whatever the product, service or solution you happen to be selling, you are also selling yourself. Friends, family and existing connections already know that you're legit so they just need to know about the product.
But new customers have no reason to trust you, let alone your product.
(This is why word of mouth / referrals / recommendations is so powerful.) So you need to work doubly hard to convince your new customers. But the good news is that if you can win some of these, then the power of *their* recommendation / referral will be even stronger.
So be patient and persevere.
#5: Cut Yourself Some Slack
Running your own business is so much more than just developing and selling your product. You wear a billion hats and you are the focal point for all decisions. And you have to make decisions - but having to do it all-the-time is tiring - really tiring. There will always be something else to do and you will never to get to that point where your business is "done" and you can just settle back and relax.
And the tendency is to never switch off. Just one more thing. Just an extra half hour. Just get that bit done. Then I'll stop.
The risk is that all the great reasons you started the business get lost in a torrent of stuff that needs to be done. Work becomes tiring - and tiresome - and the danger is you start to resent it. All the reasons you set for starting the business (from #1 above) fade away.
So you need to give yourself a break. Take time. Your to-do list will still be there tomorrow. That client can wait. You don't need to say yes to everyone. If you don't, then the chance of ever actually achieving the success you're searching for will almost certainly never materialise.
This is a highly abridged version of the talk but if you read the points from start to finish, you'll end up with a pretty solid blueprint for running the business you set out to create.... establish your vision, back yourself to deliver it, commit to it, and have patience that things will come. If you're doing those things, then you'll be able to give yourself a break because it's all under control.
Go out and smash it.
(If you couldn't make it to Future Rewired, read the DGH write-up here.)