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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Spinning out a business is just the start

I found an interesting article in the scotsman today it was praising the number of start ups produced by Edinburgh University spun out during 2009, but if you dig down some interesting statistics can be found, the investment raised across the 40 companies equates to £75k, this was raised across public bodies and financial institutes, if we looked at the funds under management in Scotland by the financial sectors this not a even a blip on the P&l, and that cash does not go far, at one of the hi-tech business incubators you can pay £250 /SqM a month for accommodation/lab space.....

The really interesting piece of information, but not from the Scotsman but one of the comments was that out of "111 companies employing, on average,3 people, at least 2 of those 3 will be the technical originators". I would agree with this comment, and it points to the need for these companies to be able to access, the commercial skills and resources to help them build there companies, but will not be able to as they do not have the financial resources to do so, if Scotland wants to generate jobs, and see us getting out of this hole we are in there needs to be a rethink in how these start ups are financed and supported.

What is the answer, I am not sure, (But I have a few ideas), but unless we get it fixed soon, there will be a large attrition rate for these start ups, yes it is good to see Scottish innovation, but it will be better to see lower unemployment and more international Scottish companies.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Does Your Service Suck?

This a fundamental part of your business, it could stop that all important repeat business or word of mouth business, and it does not take much to make a customer paying or not dislike your business. Companies underestimate the power of customer service...think about the last time you called your favorite bank and got a call center in a far off non english speaking country , (not all are bad) This article suggests a low cost method to see what your own company is like, or if you like I can have a look for you.

Does Your Service Suck? Do Business with Yourself and Find Out

By Michael Hess

How many of you put your own business through its paces, either as an actual customer or a spy? I’ll bet not many, and for those who do, probably not often enough. It may seem like obvious, old-school stuff, but there’s no better way to see how you really look to the world — and to test the quality of your service and your people — than to “do business with yourself.” If you never look in from the outside, it’s like being in a room with no mirrors: Your fly might be down, and everyone knows it but you.

There are many ways to test your own company. I urge you to do at least a few of the things below at least a few times a year. For these self-examinations to be effective, it is critical that you approach them without defensiveness, pride, ego, or company-think. Just be Joe Outsider, be honest with yourself (the odds provided below are based on brutal honesty), and be prepared to say, “Boy, we really stink at that.”

  • Give yourself a call: Most automated customer service systems drive customers crazy. Typically the level of insanity is directly proportionate to company size, but even small companies have been known to serve up some telephonic hell. So ring yourself up and try to accomplish a few phone service goals. And above all, test how easy or difficult it is to get to a real person quickly.
    Odds you’ll be OK with it, 59.5%. Odds you’ll be thrilled, 19.4%
  • Pay yourself a visit: If your business involves walk-ins, well, walk in. Of course, in a small business where everyone knows everyone, this is a silly idea… unless you are really good with disguises. But if your company is larger or has multiple locations, and you can get away with it, do the age-old “secret shopper” test (or have a trusted friend or relative do it). See what it’s like to be a visitor on your planet.
    Odds you’ll be OK with it, 71.7%. Odds you’ll be thrilled, 30.9%
  • Surf your site: If you have a website and you don’t use it yourself, you are missing (or avoiding) one of the simplest and most important self-tests for any business. You must make the time, on an ongoing basis, to surf and test every nook, cranny, function, and feature of your site. I guarantee you will find things that need fixing.
    Odds you’ll be OK with it, 79.1%. Odds you’ll be thrilled, 20.8%
  • Buy yourself something: Whether by phone, online, in person, or even by mail (yes, there are people who still do that), complete a transaction with your company. Browse, get assistance, buy, and even return/exchange. Again, if you might be recognized, use a trusted shill. But one way or another, you absolutely must test the customer experience from start to finish.
    Odds you’ll be OK with it, 72.1%. Odds you’ll be thrilled, 26.9%
  • Sell yourself something: This is for advanced players. Most companies give “cold-callers” the runaround, and many treat them like dirt. Sometimes it’s hard not to, when for every reasonable call there are many more unwelcome and often annoying solicitations. But people who sell you things are part of your business. And if your goal is to run a business with class, this is a challenging but necessary element of it… perhaps the ultimate test. Can you accommodate legit inquiries, while dispensing with pests efficiently yet as politely as possible?
    Odds you’ll be OK with it, 38.8%. Odds you’ll be thrilled, 9.6%

There are other tests as well: See what people are saying in online forums and social media, read your literature and your press, talk to customers, employees and suppliers. Create a detailed checklist of the things you want to test (phone courtesy, hold time, ease of online checkout, delivery, etc.) and grade yourself honestly.

One of my favorites: The “google suck-test.” Go to a search engine and enter “[your company name] sucks.” Hopefully nothing will pop up about your business. Plug in just about any major company or brand name and you’re almost guaranteed to see plenty. Take it as a cautionary tale. I do it from time to time and am proud to say Skooba Design has gone its entire ten years without sucking. It’s the only time I don’t want search engine hits.

One way or another, find a way to see your company from as many outside perspectives as possible.

Do you test your own business? If not, stop reading this and start doing business with yourself. But if you do kick your own tires, I’d love to hear how you do it and what you’ve learned.

from BNET

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Career Coaching on a budget

I came over this post on Career Coaching and it resonated with me, I have mixed feelings about using a Career Coach, no doubt they know there stuff, and can tell you how to dress, how to speak, how to mingle, how to think, but then I think at the end off all that coaching, who are you really, it is not you. I would rather take time out and evaluate, do a SWOT analysis on yourself if you need a structure, but understand what are your core values, and your strengths, play to them and look at how to combat your weaknesses, that's what Sir Richard Branson did, he built a team around himself, guys and girls who were best in class at what they did, and he led them, that's what a good entrepreneur should look to do, understand yourself, and then build the team, or tool box that strengths the weak part of your game, and "γνῶθι σεαυτόνgnōthi seauton" OR "KNOW THYSELF"

Your Best Career Coach: The Future You

The best coaching you’ll ever get will not come from another person. It will come from inside you.Take a deep breath. Take a deeper breath. Imagine that you’re 100 years old and you’re getting ready to die. Before you take that last breath, you’re given a wonderful gift: the opportunity to go back in time and talk with the person who is reading this blog post today, to help this younger version of yourself have a better life — both personally and professionally.

What advice would the wise 100-year-old you — who finally knows what really mattered in life — have for the you that is reading this blog post? As you think of the older you, whatever advice comes to mind, just do that.

In terms of performance appraisals, this is the only one that will matter. At the end of the day, the only person that you will need to impress is that old person that will one day look back at you from the mirror. If that old person thinks that you did the right thing, you did. If that old person thinks that you made a mistake, you did. You don’t have to impress anyone else.

Some good friends of mine had the opportunity to ask old people who were facing death what advice they would have for their younger selves. Three themes emerged:

1. Be happy now. Don’t wait for next week, next month or next year. A common regret of old people was, “I got so focused on trying to get what I did not have, I failed to appreciate all that I did have. I had almost everything. I wish that I would’ve taken the time to appreciate it.”

I ‘ve asked thousand of parents around the world to complete this sentence, “When my children grow up, I want them to be…” One world is mentioned more than all of the other words combined — no matter what country I am in. What is that word? Happy.

Do you want your children to be happy? Do you want your parents to be happy? Do you want the people that love you to be happy? Do you want the people who respect you at work to be happy? Then, you go first. They want you to be happy, too.

2. Build relationships and help people, especially friends and family. When you’re 100 years old and you look around your death bed, no fellow employees will be waving good-bye. You’ll finally realize that your friends and family are the only ones that care. They are the ones that matter.

Of course, building relationships and helping people are also keys to ultimate satisfaction with your professional career. I have asked many retired CEOs an important question about their professional lives, “What were you most proud of?” So far, none have talked about have large their offices were. All they talked about were the people they helped.

The main reason to help people has nothing to do with money, status or promotion. The main reason is simple: the 100-year-old you will be proud of you if you did — and disappointed in you if you didn’t.

3. If you have a dream, go for it.

If you don’t try to achieve your dreams when you are 25, you probably won’t when you are 45, 65 or 85. None of us will achieve all of our dreams. The key question is not, “Did I achieve all of my dreams?” The key question is, “Did I at least try?” Old people almost never regretted the risks they took that failed. They almost always regretted the risks that they failed to take.

No one else can tell you how to find happiness, who to love or where to find meaning. Only you can answer these questions. The best coachingthat you will ever receive will not come from any other person, it will come from inside you. So, what advice would the “old you” have for the you that just read this post? If you don’t mind sharing your thoughts with other readers, I’d love to hear them.

By Marshall Goldsmith

Monday, August 09, 2010

Gordon Whyte say's be prepared

This article below emphasises a motto I learned with a young boy scout, Be Prepared. Your Industry may not be the Solar industry, but just ready through it and see how easy it is to get caught out.

Polysilicon supply chain issues emerging as spot prices rise,
says Barclays Capital

Just when it was safe to say that the severe polysilicon shortages from a few years ago were long-gone and that a era of oversupply boded well for users in the solar industry, issues have emerged within the supply chain that are forcing spot prices higher once again. According to a report from Barclays Capital financial analyst, Visal Shah, checks have shown that spot prices have risen to as high as US$70-80/kg, yet spot prices were at US$55-60/kg range, only a few weeks ago. Bottlenecks were said to have appeared from polysilicon through to wafering, according to the analyst.

Shah noted in his investor note that there were several issues most likely affecting spot prices at the moment. There have been polysilicon supply issues due to production halts due to technical problems such as fires at LDK’s polysilicon plant, which Shah said had meant the plant needed to be shutdown recently.

This had led to LDK attempting to secure as much polysilicon for its wafer production operations due to strong demand for wafers.

Another producer in China, Xinguang had shut operations completely, while it worked to replace old production equipment and systems originally supplied from Russia to modern technology that would enable the company to compete better in the future. Barclays Capital said Xinguang’s capacity before the shutdown had been 1,200MT/yr.

The well documented recent power outage at an REC run plant was also cited as a catalyst behind polysilicon shortfalls and higher demand for spot polysilicon.

However, the report also links capacity mismatch issues at the wafer and cell segment of the supply chain notably that checks has shown that ingot capacity currently exceeded wire saw capacity, which remained ‘tight.’

In periods of high-demand for wire saw systems, lead times can extend considerably due to the complexity of the machines and set-up times before entering production. Although key equipment suppliers such as Meyer Burger and Applied Materials HCT arm have added capacity over the last few years to meet the last major wave of orders, the current wafer capacity additions are on a completely different scale than those seen in 2007 and 2008.

Barclays Capital noted that one customer of Applied Materials HCT arm had equipment scheduled originally for delivery in February, 2010 but received the order five months later.

Although common practice to multiple-source wafering equipment, demand for equipment is high and difficult to find suppliers without supply constraints as all equipment is usually made to order.

Shah also noted that there had been an overall higher than anticipated wafer and cell capacity additions in July to August timeframe yet manufacturers were unable to obtain polysilicon, especially on the spot market.

Shah believes that most polysilicon suppliers have contracted nearly 100% of the volumes to long term contracts in order to avoid the sharp swings in spot market, leaving suppliers unable to fulfil increased demand from the spot market, despite attractive prices.

Talk soon Gordon

Monday, August 02, 2010

why VCs don't get entrepreneurs

It has been a while since I have posted here, I will get back to regular posting now, it has been a busy time the last 6 weeks, after being made redundant, I took a week out to recharge and analysis the last job with www.narec.co.uk , it was interesting and a challenge, opened my eyes to the failure of the government to manage these sink holes for our hard earned taxes, but that is another story, anyway the article below, stirred me to step up my search for my next job, which is more and more looking like it will be outside the UK...hope you enjoy the article... " class="headline">William Chase: Down to earth
Spud king William Chase
Spud king William Chase

The founder of Tyrrells tells GB how he won a prestigious international award for his British-made vodka and explains why VCs don't get entrepreneurs.

It might come as a surprise, but the world’s finest vodka is distilled and bottled less than 50 miles from Birmingham.

Chase Vodka was named best in show at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, beating 249 rivals from Russia, Poland, Sweden, France, the US and every other vodka-producing country. It’s produced in Herefordshire under the supervision of William Chase, still a ‘humble potato farmer’ as he describes himself, but probably better known as the man behind Tyrrells Crisps, which he sold for £40 million to private equity firm Langholm Capital in April 2008.

While he’s clearly immensely proud of his vodka’s international standing, Chase does his best to tear down any shreds of mystique surrounding what goes into it. ‘It’s all down to the equipment,’ he explains, adding that the spirit is turned from liquid to vapour 50 times inside a traditional copper still with modern add-ons. ‘We could make up stories about how it’s all about having exactly the right kind of potato, but when you’re mashing it up, distilling it...’ He has a habit of not finishing sentences, but the implication is clear: one mashed-up spud is pretty much like another.

In fact, that’s not entirely true. A large part of the appeal of Chase Vodka, and Tyrrells Crisps for that matter, is down to the fact that the potatoes that go into it come from Chase Farm in Herefordshire. That’s how he can be confident it is ‘pure, as good as it can be, fully traceable’. But in the vodka’s case, the distillation process and the lack of any filtration afterwards is the real key to its success. It comes at a price: Chase Vodka costs £33 a bottle, and Chase intends to hold the premium. ‘That’s why we’re in no rush to expand,’ he explains. He sells about 1,000 bottles a week and annual sales are around £1 million.

Slow burner

A late developer as an entrepreneur, Chase’s fame and wealth has come in the fifth decade of his life. The first 40 years were very different. ‘All the decisions you make in life, the crossroads – whether to go to university or not, the people you meet, how you get into one occupation or another – I find it fascinating,’ he says, the rhythm of his speech like a winding country road. ‘When you’re young, it’s all about the glamour – you might want to be a fireman, an airline pilot. I wanted to be a farmer. But I couldn’t make money. I tried as hard as I could, but I couldn’t make enough to have a nice lifestyle.’

'I didn't want to sell my brand at Walkers prices'

Though Chase’s account of his early days is softened by the success he has enjoyed since then, life was certainly no rural idyll. He borrowed money at the age of 24 to buy his father’s farm and struggled for years to try and make it work. By 1992 he was paying his bank ‘about 30 per cent interest’ on his loan, a consequence of the very high rates of the time and the fact he had exceeded his agreed limit. ‘That nobbled the business,’ he says. ‘I sold the car and started again with nothing.’

He now sees the bankruptcy as a formative experience – ‘it did me a lot of good’ – but it took him another ten years to hit on his winning formula for Tyrrells. In the meantime he made a living as a middleman ‘supplying supermarkets with pretty-looking potatoes’, an increasingly successful business as giants such as Tesco grew in strength and became fussier about the look of their products.

Love-hate relationship

Chase’s relationship with supermarkets has always been complicated. After a well-publicised fall-out with Tesco in 2006, he was depicted by newspapers as the winner of a David and Goliath struggle against the retail giant’s bully-boy tactics. In fact, he speaks highly of the soon-to-retire Tesco CEO Terry Leahy and believes that supermarkets ‘did a lot for the food industry’ in the 1980s by cleaning up hygiene standards and offering families food that was consistently safe to eat.

‘I have nothing personally against Tesco,’ he says. ‘If we didn’t have bar-coded, pre-packaged food, shopping as we know it physically wouldn’t happen. People will say “poor farmers” but the most important thing is that they want their food to be on the supermarket shelves and they want to know it’s not going to hurt their children.’

At the same time, Chase recognises that supermarkets’ buying power has made things very hard for farmers, forcing them to either go down the premium route, as he has done, or massively increase their scale and efficiency to drive down costs. ‘It’s tough out there,’ he admits. ‘When you are just supplying a commodity you’re at the end of the chain, and if there’s anything left for you then you take what you’re given.’

Crisp moves

It was this squeeze on prices that in the end drove Chase to the conclusion that he needed to move up the value chain – to create a brand that people would pay a premium for and keep it out of the mainstream supermarkets.

Tyrrells was born in 2002 with the help of a bank loan: the start of a ‘fantastic educational process’ that taught Chase about branding, marketing and PR, just as being a middleman between farmers and supermarkets had taught him how to use personal charm to get a deal done.

Chase believes passionately that ‘there is no book of rules in life – if you believe there is, nothing ever happens’. He got his crisps into Russia by sending a single container to a retailer, who came back for another one. Before long, the product had spread all over the country. ‘To get your brand overseas, people will say you need to pay listing fees, you need marketing, advertising and so on. All we did was seed it,’ he recalls.

There were mistakes, too. In the early days of Tyrrells, Chase tried to get by with a packaging machine that wasn’t up to the job and spewed out every other crisp packet onto the floor, wasted. ‘That almost caused the business to implode,’ he notes. In the end he had to buy a proven model.

Arguably, Tyrrells benefited most from Chase’s natural flair for PR. He lost half his potatoes one year due to flooding. Rather than drowning his sorrows, he took a boat out into the middle of a flooded field, took some pictures and sent them to all the newspapers.

Cut to the Chase

What really raised Tyrrells to prominence, however, was the spat with Tesco. The supermarket, not an official supplier of Tyrrells crisps, got hold of some and started to sell them at a reduced price. Chase’s objections were ignored until he sought legal advice, at which point Tesco unexpectedly backed down.

‘I didn’t want to sell my brand at Walkers or Kettle Chips prices,’ says Chase. ‘The next thing I knew I was doing about 20 interviews. It was a hell of a decision, a difficult thing to do.’ But it paid off: not only did Chase win the important battle to control his own prices, but the story was covered by all the major newspapers and the BBC.

Chase maintains that he had no intention of selling the business until he was approached by Langholm. ‘It just came up. I didn’t really want to sell. Some days anyway, I wish I’d never sold.’

Langholm had a persuasive argument. Its offer valued Tyrrells at £40 million, ten times its annual profits (sales were £14 million). For a man whose understanding of the value of assets had been shaped by decades of hard business experience, the offer was simply too good to refuse.

‘If a company is worth £40 million but just on its profits, not on its assets, it wants selling,’ he says. ‘At the time I was getting divorced and I thought it would help with all that. It didn’t, in the end.’

Goodbye Mr Chips

There is definitely a tinge of regret in how Chase talks about the sale. Although he still has a 20 per cent stake in Tyrrells, the deal with Langholm involved him leaving the company immediately.

‘A lot of entrepreneurs are mavericks, and the first thing VCs want to do is get rid of them,’ he muses. ‘Nobody prepared me for that – the fact that they see the entrepreneur as a total nutcase. They can’t deal with the fact that this person is coming into work every day doing everything by feel. They couldn’t possibly do things like that. Everyone has to be responsible, accountable. And of course they have to work like that.’

'I didn't really want to sell. Some days, I wish I never had'

It’s a bit like his view of the supermarkets. Both intensely practical and deeply idealistic, Chase understands why things have to be the way they are, but he can’t help a rebellious tendency to challenge the status quo. If someone gets out a laptop to show him a presentation, he tells them to put it away. ‘I’m not a corporate type. I’m quite arrogant about it. I’ll tell people I don’t want to see all that rubbish – just use your charisma and charm and see if you can sell me something.’

Tyrrells’ current management team, on the other hand, are ‘proper corporates who believe in a book of rules’. Though they still call him for advice on occasion, decisions are sometimes made he doesn’t agree with – like the launch of three flavours of crisps before the general election, one for each of the major parties. ‘That bombed. You must never get political. I had the idea for a credit crunch crisp – I thought it was a great idea but they didn’t do it.’

Fortunately, Chase still gets an adequate outlet for his creativity. The man who brought us parsnip, beetroot and carrot flavoured crisps is now selling marmalade vodka and has visions of potato-based cosmetics. ‘Premium cosmetics is a market I would love to get into, but it’s very difficult,’ he explains, before his sensible side kicks in. ‘Of course, vodka is number one. We don’t want to become a jack-of-all-trades.’

He hasn’t lost his flair for PR, either. Recently, he stepped in with an offer to save the government website lovechips.co.uk, which has been threatened with the coalition’s axe. If people didn’t know there was a government website to promote potatoes, they do now.

It’s typical of the way Chase likes to do things – audacious, attention-grabbing, but with an underlying message about his values, which for all his grasp of marketing remain firmly rooted in the soil.

from Growth Business