The virtual office / meeting room

Well I’ve known it would come but sudden lack of access to facilities makes you really consider how you are going to work. I’ve always had a preference to work in open ‘busy’ locations and fortunately where I came from we were forward thinking in some of our new buildings with shared locations and cafe type environments.

This now has become my only option. Thank god for Starbucks! Over the last couple of weeks I have wondered from one Starbuck to another across London whilst getting down to work and meeting mentors potential partners & customers. Find the right location off the classic tourist destination and the environment is a buzz of energy. It makes me wonder (corporation tax practices aside) how much these coffee locations add to our economy just by providing areas for people to meet and work together. I’ve been in a couple of stores where there are large shared tables where people with laptops get together and are clearly working their innovative ideas.

I am probably going to get to a point where I am going to truly miss having access to meeting rooms all over the city. However there are locations like Second Home which I did try out for a meeting before I left Big Co. which itself has a buzz about it that’s hard to explain.

For the time being when I’m not meeting people, I’ve got into the routine of going to my local gym early in the morning and then using the coffee area until about noon. Get’s me out of the house and ensures focused time. Well for the moment it’s perfect as my ‘new normal’.

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Getting the value proposition right

A really interesting exericse over the last couple of weeks which is far from simple. What is the value proposition of our New Co.? What makes us different? We have tried a number of ways of bringing this to the debate table. They say that diversity drives better results. I agree with this completely having built many teams over the years with the desire for full breadth of thought. But diversity comes with challenges. How, when planning a New Co., can you enable yourself to step back far enough to clearly define the value proposition so that everyone can align and focus future attention towards that ‘dot on the distant wall’.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve found is the excitement in the room. Conversations together are inspiring to say the least but they are because we have allowed ourselves to think broad and far.

“We could do this…. How about if we did that… The solution would be perfect for this user group too…”
The reality however is we need a near term plan to get a ‘Minimum viable product’ to market. A product that has a specific purpose that can be build in a short timeframe and has a clearly defined consumer in mind. The product and the New Co. needs to be able to clearly differentiate from the rest of the market. So then it’s obvious we need to focus on the product and it’s functionality? Perhaps but also perhaps not. We need to ensure we have a corporate vision and goals that ensure our product firmly meets these boundary conditions. I believe that people buy people not products per say. When we talk we need to have purpose, focused dreams. The product whilst needs to deliver is secondary to an extent. A buyer needs to believe we will work with them to ensure their goals are achieved and we are prepared to put the effort in to help them achieve.

So going back to defining this vision, we’ve tried a number of techniques beyond calls together.

  • Mini stories detailing problem statements and our perspective of these problems
  • Single statements of intent
  • Mind maps showing eveything from our beliefs to how we differentiate from the wider market
  • Lists of potential consumers and their respective use case
  • Visualisations of what our product could look like.
  • Lists of potential functionality

So we have a lot of information. What needs to happen now is that somehow this cleans up into simple concise messages that forms our vision. This is where the hard work really begins.

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First Monday off Payroll

So the day has come that everything I do directly retaliates to the abilty for me to bring in revenue either in the short or longer term. The last few weeks have been quite focused on getting foundations in place. I left the corporate office for the last time a couple of weeks ago and since then using up my vacation days.

The biggest positive suprise of my infrastructure assessment was Microsoft. I’d been fearing the day when I would have to migrate away from the comfortable position of Office and Outlook email expecting them to be replaced by Google Docs and Google accounts. Having spend a good deal of time looking into what Office365 can offer as an integrated solution I am completely won over for the moment to remain with Microsoft.

My minimum need was good and efficient team communications. Long ago I moved into the world of VOIP and perfectly comfortable with calling people via my laptop, iPad and iPhone (through an app). Office365 comes with Skype for Business and instantly internal communications across my new team are as good as the corporate I’ve just left. Arguably due to the better bandwidth from home locations I would suggest potentially even better. More than this however working or planning to work in Software Development I need to be able to demonstrate the tools remotely to potential clients. My team needs to be able to provide training support themselves. All possible with a credible corporate image through Skype for Business.

Coming from corporate life scalability is crucial. I used to often say to my team that anything they build or design should be planned in a manner that if it went viral the solution wouldn’t collapse. My state of mind doesn’t change now for New Co. I have been playing around with how we should work together and optimise collaboration and remote working. Within 3 months we will have team members working in North America, UK, India targets will need to be set and met. Targets will include our minimum viable product, roadmap, marketing material, revenue plan and partnerships. I have a huge dislike for the email madness of the big org. Too many recepriants, cc’ s and even the dreaded bcc’s. I’d like to migrate completely off the email for collaboration. Office365 comes with ‘groups’ it’s looking very positive well integrated with the various apps but falls down a little at the moment for document sharing (syncing to laptops) and the lack of the iOS app for ‘groups conversations’ I do wonder if Yammer will actually be replaced with ‘groups’ in the near future or a fundamental merging of the two. I’ve been enjoying Slack in recent times with the team but would like to think we could get back to core Microsoft as it evolves. Asana another strong contender that the forthcoming ‘Group Planner’ might replicate but not yet.

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Organisational effectiveness

One of the main elements of my role over the years has been organisational effectiveness. For me this is about scale and I ask the simple question to myself. “If this activity scaled would it still be possible to manage?” This question has lead to the implementation of many solutions over the years from CRM (Salesforce); Ariba (Spend Management); SAP (ERP). Now looking at a new startup I look at a far smaller scale and find solutions that will help us scale. It’s quite important too I know that we will be operating over multiple geographies so I need to ensure that internal tools and solutions that we use will drive high quality collaboration irrespective of timezone, location or put simply ‘presence’

It’s quite a fun world out there when it comes to apps. I’m used to apps from my iPhone. I’ve just checked and I’m embarrassed to say that I have over 300 installed. Obviously I don’t use them all any-more but it does show that I’ve tried a good deal of them over the years. I can also safely say that I have no more than 5 games installed.

Anyway getting back to topic there are many apps out there for the small – medium organisation. All waiting for me to give them my card details and start subscribing. Well I’ve a few rules.

  • They must offer a free option so that I can test them
  • They must be fully workable in the cloud
  • They must have good integration to other cloud apps
  • They must have a good mobile option
  • Oh and they must work well or more specifically they must be able to resolve my problem.

So far these are on my list to acquire

  • CRM – I need to be able to manage my contact, build the pipeline and not loose track of what is really important. Manage customer queries. I’m used to Salesforce. I need to find a small alternative
  • Finance – Absolutely key to manage what is important. I trained as an accountant so P&L’s; Balance Sheets all very important to have good control of
  • Project Management – This is important not for me but for the wider team. I need something collaborative that brings us together; enables us to share our challenges and hold each other to account
  • Release / Build management – Never lose control of your code; Keep on-top of your defects; Have a clear plan for subsequent releases
  • Mindmapping – The visual side of me wants to be able to throw ideas down and come back to them later.
  • Cloud Based storage – I’m a dropbox fan!

I’ve been testing a few and yes they are all listed on a Mindmap – using Mindomo at the moment

I’ll talk about how we go on these as things progress but so far:

  • CRM – Capsule CRM
  • Finance – Intuit Quickbooks
  • Project Management – Asana
  • Release / Build Management – TBA
  • Mindmapping – Mindomo
  • Cloud Based Storage – I’m using Dropbox personally but mixed on what to use for the team
  • Personal Note taking and Management – Evernote – Well this is what I’ve used for years and love it. However with the list above I don’t know if this is one app too much now
Posted in Product Reviews, Startup

One of many conversatoins

Earlier today we were on a call together talking about how we were going to structure the development team. Lots of open questions here.

  • Do we use a service provider to get our ‘minimum viable product to market’ – Higher cost but broad experience.
  • Do we recruit locally – Well there isn’t really a locally for us. ‘We’ are based many thousands of miles apart.
  • Do we hire our first employee – This is for sure our starting point we have we in fact know who we would like to join the team.

We continued to talk about our launch product. We have a good straw man solution available now – it’s been a pet project for couple of months. How we can differentiate from what is already available in the market? What sectors can we market to. Our product will not be a consumer app but a business solution and it will launch with a certain amount of advisory services initially. Scalability is of course critical as a result.

Over the last month since I resigned I’ve been slowly converting my thought process from managing corporate dynamics to the necessities of succeeding as a business

  • Are my contacts in shape?
  • Will my contacts / network endure? It’s one thing being the big buyer of products and services it’s another trying to be one of those providers!
  • What’s our unique selling proposition? – Is it really unique?
  • How much hard earned money should I put in to this? What’s too much? What’s too little?
  • How long do we need until our Minimum Viable Product is ready for the real world?
  • What will it take to go live after our first signed contract?

Most importantly and something that I have always lived and worked for: How can we ensure that whilst building this company it remains fun. Hard work & long hours are not my concern. When looking back I want to ensure that I enjoyed getting there.

Posted in Startup

Perfect is not normally the answer, getting it nearly right helps you to move on and learn more

Reading a blog on 37 Signals the other day Worse is Human made me think about the ongoing challenges one has in big corps all in the name of risk mitigation. Coming from a business consulting background specifically in the software area, life was about finding the right compromises. Now working within the big corp I find people looking for that unachievable level of perfection in design. A solution so hard to find that it either will never be achieved – justifying the status quo. Or so complicated that the build itself is totally unsupportable.

I have always believed in a level of simplicity in life. Whilst a perfectionist in the activity itself, an 80% goal that allowed progress to be made to me is usually more than sufficient. After now having read the blog above I think perhaps more is at hand than I had originally thought.

We spend so long designing that perfect solution that based on our human need for ‘quirks’ we would never be happy with that perfect solution anyway. The ever challenging aim to achieve perfection would just start all over again. It is perhaps why so many large scale change programmes start to stagnate.

Don’t mistake me I fully understand the need for exactness for certain life supporting, financial trading; construction programmes. However the majority of processes and operations within a corporate environment need to be designed with the human in mind. People need a level of freedom and room for innovative reasoning.

When designing processes to be operationalised I think it as important to design solutions with ongoing continuous improvement in mind. Going live earlier with an acceptable, albeit lesser, solution is often far more important than allowing significant delays in search for that impossible dream.

One should also not forget about the lessons that can be learnt along the journey of improvement I often find that so much is learnt through practical application of a 60-80% solution followed by improvement cycles that in the end that ‘perfect’ answer looked nothing like what would have been designed in the first place.

There is a lot more to these thoughts and I will pick up more in future writings but I will end by stating that when designing iteratively a set of boundary conditions or key objectives are essential to ensure the journey isn’t taken down the wrong path.

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Steve Ballmer has regrets. Well so do I

One day in and I’m already thinking of regrets. No, not that I’ve started on a journey that doesn’t make sense but why I didn’t start this long ago. Since starting to think about writing, topics fly through my head all day long. What is going to be a challenge for me is focus. But I think that’s the whole point.

Talking about regrets, Steve Ballmer, departing Microsoft CEO, recently spoke of his regret during the early 2000’s of not redeploying talent from the Vista project to ‘the new device form factor called the phone’. He claims it harmed windows itself. This was well reported by Reuters.

Thinking back to those times I remember, being a strong supporter of Windows, struggling from one early HTC smart phone to the next. Even back then the focus of mine was to find that ‘perfect’ application to download in support of my specific need at the time. The challenge, Microsoft wasn’t helping me. Choosing an application was always a gamble, the tools never quite worked as you had expected. I fully appreciate Steve’s concerns that it may have harmed windows itself. I held out until 2009 before finally giving in to my stubbornness and purchasing an iPhone 3GS.

The experience was quite surreal. iOS3 was backward in a number of ways: No multitasking; applications that didn’t talk to each other; no file system! I was however prepared to trade all that in for the brand new world of apps. Apps that truly did what they said; effective crowd sourcing through user reviews; and two final things that I think changed it all. Perpetual upgrades for a cost of only 69 pence. (I’ll leave it for someone else to tell me how much the entry price for an app is in the US) 69 pence: No more was I paying upwards of £10 for an app that had to be upgraded a year later. I still use apps today that I purchased back in ’09. For that matter so is the rest of my family who share my account.

Since then? Well I have had 2 iPads, currently with the iPad Mini, a MacBook Air, a MacBook Pro (my daughter took the Air for school) and I am currently waiting to get my hands on the 5s. My views on where I think Apple are today, well that’s for another post.

Have I completely let go of Windows? No I currently have Windows 7 running within a virtual environment supported by VMWare Fusion. Both stability and responsiveness is fantastic for that general day to day Corporate Type activity. I will for sure write about VMWare at some point in the future. I’ve also played around with Windows 8 and look forward to seeing the improvements in 8.1

Do I plan to go back to a native Microsoft product? Hmm perhaps not at the moment it is more likely that I turn to Android.

Back to my regret. Well it is better to start late than never at all. I will talk in the future about the fear of going public on the net and perhaps even how it may well have held me back on my journey ahead.

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