Thursday, 29 January 2009

Mike Lynch tells it like it is

Mike Lynch – CEO of Autonomy comes with a very credible track record – especially for a technology entrepreneur in the UK (and Cambridge). He is one of the very few people I know that has taken a company from the bedroom to being a $500m sales company in software/high tech; done IPOs, acquired a US competitor and remained CEO. The usual story in the UK is that the founders are either fired by the investors in one of the funding rounds or make an exit to take up new careers as business angels, non execs and so forth. In a way the high tech founders are serial entrepreneurs and not global CEOs.
Mike talked about building the dream team – in fact he talked about how to do this and what the background grunt and grind is – to make such a thing happen. Here are just a few tips:
The need to set a cultural tone to the business – to ensure it remain entrepreneurial by having the vision and energy of the entrepreneurial founder on tap, visible and ensuring the sense of urgency, flexibility, hunger remains at the of the agenda on a daily basis.
To hire the best people- being elitist – because the marginal extra cost of hiring the best person is minimal to the cost of hiring a second best person.
Try and get people who are obsessive about what they do, with a passion for their professional skills. They may get hard to manage – but they will have a preference for action and ensuring their work is to a high standard.
The cultural tone needs to be one where people can admit mistakes , learn and get on. You need to avoid the “myth of properly” – i.e. people who say things like “if only we did things properly around here” – because there is no such thing as properly – only things that meet customer needs.
Ask yourself – who would want to work for entrepreneurs?! the initial pay is low, there is no job security, the journey will be a roller coaster ride..The only reason someone will work for an entrepreneur is because of the likely upside, the fun and because they have bought into a strong vision of the possibilities. On this point Mike also had advice for people applying to work with entrepreneurs who have a strong vision – when you do get invited to join – don’t ask where the coke machine is!!? Entrepreneurs want to hire self-starters, people who “get-it” and will make up their own rules and get things done – not people who need a lot of nursing from the founder.
On the other side to all this rock and roll – is the simple human factor – treat people fairly, reward them fairly, take care of them when they go through some personal life issues. And work hard to kill off politics in the organisation and the potential spread of cultural poison – negativity can hurt.
The implication for leaders is that they need to remain upbeat, energetic, have a sense o f fun and at times be willing to take tough decisions – quickly.
Mike had a lot more to say (about doing business) and he was videoed – and this video will be edited and placed on in due course along with some of the other lectures that have gone onto to site (under resources)

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Levi Roots to success with reggae reggae sauce

Levi Roots first came to public prominence on BBC’s Dragons Den series 4 episode 1, when he blew the Dragons away by making his pitch for funding by singing and playing his guitar. Two of the so-called Dragons invested in him and his product and although they took a large slice of his company for a relatively small initial cash investment, the real value it seems came later in teh quality of advice, networks and publicity they were able to generate.
So now Levi owns a small share of a large bottle of sauce rather than all of a small bottle. The crucial thing about this reggae singing musician is that he is completely in tune with the harsh reality of capitalism! He seems comfortable with the idea of sharing, being open with his ideas and inclusive in the people who help him run the business. Although in reality it seems like all his 7 children and his 4 year old grandchild are involved, not to mention his mother and his grandmother who were both strong influences on him!
So what are the top 5 points we can learn from Levi?
You need to start out in life as a self-starter, energetic and being willing to have a go. If you are inhibited and wait for others to lead you all you can do is get into trouble or just plain do nothing.
As you search around and become alert to opportunities, you might find something about which you believe in passionately – this is the starting point of forming a dream that you can then set out to turn into a business.
You need to plan for the long term, because it is going to be tough and if your dream is to make a difference and make it big you will need to be persistent, patient and keep at it over the lkng haul of the roller coaster ride.
Get real advice – find a top quality lawyer, a good accountant and get a mentor who has been there and done it before. These are almost the first steps to any form of success.
Do what it takes to stand out from the crowd. There are a lot of people, lot of ideas and if you just do what everyone else does, you will disappear into the wallpaper. You have to really learn to communicate, have a truly excellent product or service and build a top quality team that gets noticed.
Beyond these high level lessons from Levi, oozing with self confidence and driven at the same time by a sense of spirituality and common sense in business, a key moment arose in his business when his mentors turned Levi Roots from being a product based company into a brand. Levi is charismatic and a great communicator, so his shareholders have advised him to go and give speeches, build the brand and leave the sauce making and selling to the others in the company.
He has certainly demonstrated a thorough capacity to learn and be open to learning, which is something I have seen in many other entrepreneurs. This flexibility of mind, openness and yet a dogged ability to see things through is what differentiates the bright ideas bod from the successful entrepreneur. Good luck Levi – we hope to see you back in Cambridge.