Archive for the 'entrepreneurs' Category

What’s wrong with sales?

I was talking to one of my friends recently about career prospects. He’s not long out of uni, and like most recent graduates, is confused about his options. However one thing he is adamant about is that he doesn’t want to go into sales. It’s a strange attitude, but one that I encounter quite often. And the question needs to be asked, ‘What’s wrong with sales’?

His immediate reaction to this question was to say that he didn’t want to be a double glazing sales person. Slightly narrow minded immediately! However in my view, everyone needs to have a degree of sales knowledge about them, as at some stage in everyone’s lives, we will need to sell either ourselves, a brand or a product. Whether it be in an interview, selling your company to potential  investors or even selling yourself on a date. We need to be aware of how to persuade someone to trust us. And here is the problem, as one of my colleagues put it recently. Sales (and it’s respective attributes) is a skill that many feel uneasy around, as people don’t want to feel as if they’re being sold too, instead wanting to be left alone to make their own decisions. Using the example of guys trying to pick up girls, I can remember plenty of times when younger, when friends (and probably myself…) chased girls badgering them to go out with us! Cringing to think about, but inevitably it didn’t work, as it reeked of desperation. However it only reinforces the point that when actively selling, it comes across as needy and desperate. And when my friend thought about getting into sales, this  is the image that he had of sales people.

Is there a way to change this image? Probably, but it will need to start in the home or at school. However, is there a willingness to change this? Probably not unfortunately. In my opinion, the more young people we generate that have an understanding of sales, and how it can fit into an organisation, the more entrepreneurs this country will generate, which will help the private sector plug the gap of the public sector.

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The Ills of the public sector

My girlfriend works in the public sector, and for the last year and a half, I’ve had an interesting insight into the inner workings of a government-funded organisation. She works for a company that is tasked in giving direction and career guidance to students aged between 11 and 16 both in schools and in local communities. And she hates it.

One of the main issues with her job is the lack of work ethic her colleagues display. In the private sector, if you work hard and are successful, you get rewarded. If you don’t, are lazy or are permanently ill, you are disciplined or further still sacked. Fair enough you may say. However in the public sector this is not the case, as many a time she has complained about people displaying minimum effort but reaping the same rewards as someone who has worked much harder. Many times she has come back from work having to cover the shift of someone who is off ill. This does little for her morale. Furthermore she is then tasked with covering the target of this absentee, despite her exceeding her own target without praise or any incentive to perform. As a naturally hard-working person, this can be extremely demoralising. Until recently, I thought this was a local issue with her organisation. However it seems that this is symptomatic of the public sector.

Her argument was compounded by an article we read recently in the Sunday Times. Apparently Sir Stanley Kalms, upon becoming chairman of an NHS hospital, threw a tea party for members of staff who had served for more than 25 years, as a reward for loyal service. However what he encountered was a motley crew of people who neither he nor other members of staff even recognised, as the majority were either ill, grotesquely overweight  or “no longer fit and proper people to be in a hospital”, but crucially were still being paid. Also because their packages had been negotiated in more profitable times, they were generally on better pay than the majority of their colleagues. In the example, this had repercussions for the hospital, as wards were left short-staffed and hospitals were without funds to purchase vital equipment. Reading this made me realise that the local issue my girlfriend had mentioned time and time again was  actually a more generic issue afflicting the vast majority of the public sector.

But the question has to be asked, why can’t they just sack these individuals? In every company I’ve worked in in the private sector, if you had a long period of illness that was unexplainable you would at least be disciplined. However in the public sector, the trade unions have a much larger sphere of influence. Again according to the Harriet Sergeant’s article, 61% of state employees belong to a trade union, compared with only 20% in the private sector. Their influence is not waning either. In 2006, Labour received roughly 73% of their donations from unions. This figure is thought to have increased during the subsequent recession, as the labour government relied further on donations..

Unfortunately there is no real way to rectify this, as any real resolution will need to be dictated from the top, filtering down through the system. And as we know, this could take years to implement properly. However there are positive signs. There is pre-election talk of the Tories disbanding government-funded organisations such as Connexions, with a view to giving this responsibility to privately funded companies with a similar ethos. This is part of a more macro trend, as the government looks to increase the number of projects they relinquish. One way they are doing this is by outsourcing. Serco, one of their key benefactors of government outsourcing, recently posted a 34% rise in annual profit, and they expect this to grow further. By giving as much responsibility, jurisdiction and control where possible to companies who understand from the ground up their industry in the private sector will only help to weed out the inefficiencies of the public sector to bring it into line.

Mobile connectivity trends

Having my HTC Hero has made me aware how much our online presence is being determined by what we are doing on the move. Mobile access is slowly coming to the fore, lead by the innovative features of smartphones and their respective applications. With apps available such as Foursquare (an online location based game), Google Goggles (an augmented reality app using image searching) and Places Directory (a directory of venues surrounding your location) our use of mobile connectivity has skyrocketed. Mainly led by the iPhone, this has led to several network operators around the world scratching their heads on how best to deal with bandwidth for devices. However the sphere is exciting, and there are a number of ways in which one can be innovative.

I recently came across a very interesting collaborative slideshow canvassing the opinions of various industry leaders on how the mobile space may look in 2020. There are a number of conflicting thoughts on key trends (ie whether we pay or not for digital content). My favourite was provided by Tomi Ahonen, who predicted that the ‘Star Trek Universal Translator’ will become commonplace. Whatever trends come to the fore, the next decade will prove to be very exciting for the mobile application space.

My ‘Hero’

I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of Apple. I owned an IPOD back in the day when they were different, and I never really liked it. Mainly because of hassle in transferring my already massive digital music collection onto it, and it’s inability to work with non-proprietory file types. For me, it was a clear sign that Apple just wanted to monopolise the market with. Anyway that’s a post for another day.

Since then, I have never ever purchase an Apple product out of principle, mainly because I’m stubbourn. 2 years ago, I purchased a HTC Touch Dual and loved it due to it’s versatility and dual interface. Then the I Phone came out and I was found wanting. However my principles stood firm, and in August this yr, when I could bear no more, I upgraded my HTC Touch Dual to an HTC Hero. I didn’t have high expectations, as the Android platform is still quite formalative. But in all comparisons with my friends and colleagues IPhone, it compares well. Potentially the number of app’s available could be much more than on ITunes (although I admit that currently this pales into insignificance…) whilst integration with the Google cloud is first rate. Currently I’m synched with about 6 of my social network platforms as well as my Google account.

The thing that really scares me however is that should I lose my Hero, or even worse, should someone steal it, they would have instant access to my identity. It’s a thought that has always worried me. They could obtain personal details by impersonating me on either Linkedin, Facebook or Twitter. This potentially could do a massive amount of damage.

The entrepreneur in me always thought that this would be a great niche for an app. My thoughts were that there could be an app controlled by a web interface that when accessed, could shut down the phone in some way. It would be a great example of Cloud Computing. However whilst I’ve been scribbling some plans on the back of a coaster, someone has actually designed what I think is a great app, which does just this. Created by a company called Wave Secure, they’ve made an app which operates in the background of your phone from startup. If the phone is lost or stolen, you can use the web interface to ‘lock’ the phone down. This means that the thief would not be able to gain access to the phone unless they had your unique PIN.

It’s a great app, and one I think should be a necessity on every smartphone around. Only issue I see with it is that should the thief disable the WiFi/3G, then you wouldn’t have any access to the device…

Oh well, it can’t be perfect!

How businesses evolve

It’s useful to understand how over the recent years, big businesses have reinvented themselves. I was reading an article recently on the departing Ericsson CEO Carl-Henric Svanberg, which gave an insightful account of the issues facing Ericsson after the dot-com bubble had burst. His model solely focused around consolidation, whilst others in their market either spread themselves extremely thin in looking for new markets to expand into (see Marconi) or acquired rivals to try and quickly expand (see Alcatel-Lucent). What Carl-Henric Svanberg did with Ericsson was to really consolidate, concentrate on their core business of building networks and inevitably cut costs. This worked, and he now leaves Ericsson today in the healthy position of having 40% of all mobile calls made on their network. I think a lot of companies get excited by the profits and market share available to them when they look outside of their domain. 2 large enterprises who are having mixed results are Google and Cisco. Although Google is still king of search, it’s increasingly more lucrative and more prestigious projects such as Google Books are starting to sap resources from it’s search empire. This has had the effect on competitors like Bing taking more market share.

It was also interesting to see how emerging technologies helped to spur growth in the ailing company. Although a large proportion of their spending is still attributed to legacy networks, opportunities increasingly present themselves to expand into so-called next generation networks. 3G networks are fast becoming their bread and butter, with customers such as Three (3) and T-Mobile in the UK having Ericsson infrastructure to power their data networks. Moving forward, with the advance of M2M, Carl-Henric Svanberg thinks that there is the potential for roughly   sim cards to be embedded into devices as seemingly mundane as fridges, microwaves and washing machines. This is where he envisages Ericsson’s next market shift. There’s no doubting the strength of the mobile data market. Whether it hits a natural saturation period or whether advance such as LTE will help it break through it’s glass ceiling are anyone’s guess. However one thing is certain. Due to the requirement for people to be connected on the move, this is definitely a market that will be key for a long time.

The big Twitter debate

Over the last two years, Twitter has taken the Internet by storm. Early adopters (myself included) saw it as just another method by which to communicate to your network, and dismissed it on this basis. However, as celebrities such as Britney Spears and Ashton Kutcher started to jump on board, Twitter slowly started to become more of a mainstream media tool. This was further enhanced by events such as the River Hudson plane crash and the terrorist events in Mumbai. Now Twitter is seen as a fundamental broadcasting medium by many to obtain relevant news.

However, the problem with Twitter is that there doesn’t seem to be any obvious way to monetise their service. They have a massive subscriber base, all of which obtain a free service. Now they even have a large enterprise and corporate client base who use their service not only to promote their brand and products, but also to connect with their client base. Due to the size of Twitter’s user base, the temptation is always there to sell out to a larger player, and there has been a lot of speculation relating to an acquisition by Google. Real time search is the one area within their portfolio that they’ve had problems coming to terms with. However, with Twitter’s real time feed suddenly Google would have specific relevant information about up to date trending topics, of which to target their adverts too. The immediate benefits of this are there for all to see. Google can instantly monetise a service that currently does not have any obvious income stream. Whilst for Twitter, they have direct access to Google’s massive resource pool to be able to compete against the likes of Facebook, who with the acquisition of FriendFeed are slowly encroaching into the space of real time search. Also, Google’s track record of amalgamating newly acquired assets into it’s estate is strong, as is shown by the success of both YouTube and Blogger being able to keep their brand identity and prove successful in their respective markets.

However, Twitter does have an ace up it’s sleeve. With the use of hashtags, Twitter has a direct way of keeping a handle on the latest trends being discussed. They have large investors behind them providing them with the capital to increase their infrastructure. Also, despite the fact I mentioned earlier that their lack of an obvious business model was a problem, it definitely constitutes a nice problem . Currently their valuation is built solely on their subscriber base and their infrastructure. The minute they disclose their intentions, their value would rocket to potential investors, and may well even see them go down the IPO route. Remember that the guys behind Twitter are also the same guys that started Blogger, and sold it successfully to Google.

For my two pence, I think that Twitter would be silly to ignore the threat of Facebook, and sell in a hurry to the likes of Google and Apple. They have an extremely strong brand and an even stronger user base which they can use to their advantage. And just as Google did with the implementation of Adwords, if they can find a way to monetise the mammoth amount of hashtags flying around, I think they would stand a good chance of seeing off the combined Facebook/FriendFeed threat.

Can we take lessons from the Apprentice?

I’ve missed a lot of this series of the Apprentice, however last night I finally sat down to watch what many deem to be the hardest task of each series – the interview. The militant nature of the interviews reminded me of some of the worse ones I’ve had to endure. Having an interviewer tell me that at the age of 25, I had achieved nothing with my life hurt. However, my dad alwyas used to say to me that a man is not defined by the setbacks he experiences, but how he deals with them.

The one quality that all the candidates seem to share is that they are all extremely self confident about their abilities. And this needs to be the case in any interview. If you are going to sell yourself to a potential employer you need to be completely confident in the skills that you can bring to the table. There is absolutely no point in being modest about yourself. No employer wants an average employee. However, in my experience, you should never gloss over your flaws. If someone is highlighting a mistake, admit it. Don’t try and blag. I remember when I was younger having an interview with an a company who sold double glazing. I was so desperate for the job that I told them I had sold windows previously. I got the job, but was very quickly found out and promptly humiliated. The same happened to Yasmina, who completely fell apart once her business acumen was exposed.  In my experience, a candidate or even just a human being, who is able to admit to their flaws, learn to overcome them and then rise above them, presents themselves as a stronger and more rounded individual than someone who seems to be the perfect candidate. This is because you know what to expect with the ‘warts and all’ character, whilst you are always waiting for the veil to slip with the perfect character.

It was also quite admirable how none of the candidates lost their bottle in any of the interviews. Although this was the final series and you’d expect candidates of this quality to give polished interviews, they were really tested. In that environment, it is hard not to take some of the critiscim personally. For me, that quality, combined with the propensity to learn from an experience can really shape a person.

Lastly, who do I think is going to win? It’s got to be Kate. Who did I hope to win? Debra. I think Sir Alan didn’t pick her purely because he realised he had met his match!


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