The first rule of scaling your business, idea or concept is to do things that don’t scale. Matt Brown, founder of Matt Brown Media and host of The Matt Brown Show, a local podcast focused on bringing great ideas and entrepreneurs together to drive personal and business growth, intuitively built his business on this very principle.
“I should have given up after two weeks,” says Matt. “My downloads were almost non-existent. But it wasn’t about the downloads. If I could give just one person the information they needed to push through and not give up on their business journey, I was achieving my why.”
Although at the time podcasting was a relatively new medium, Matt understood their ability to generate huge amounts of trust and attention in a very short space of time. Podcasts sit comfortably at the nexus of authenticity, storytelling and conversation. Two years later and Matt consistently receives feedback telling him how much his show has impacted entrepreneurs and their ability to see through their challenges and hold onto their dreams.
“It’s incredibly motivating to know you’re creating something of real value and that you’re making a difference,” he says. “It’s what’s kept me going when things have gotten tough as well.”
Over and above the motivational factor, there’s a solid business case for creating loyal fans as well.
Kevin Hale, a partner at Y Combinator, one of Silicon Valley’s most successful incubators, has a simple philosophy: The best way to get to $1 billion is to focus on the values that help you get your first dollar to acquire your first user. He believes that if you get that right, everything else will take care of itself.
Entrepreneur and lead developer of Gmail, Paul Buchheit, agrees. According to the advice he most often shares with start-ups, it’s always better to seek deep appeal and to create something that a few people love, even if most people don’t get it right away.
The lesson is simple: Large-scale, long-term success depends on creating a product or service that truly surprises and delights your customers. But you can’t achieve that if you’re too focused on the big picture. If you’re too worried about building a R1 billion business, you’re not taking the time and effort to think about the individual customer experience.
It’s all about the why
“It’s funny, but failing in six different businesses actually taught me this lesson,” says Matt. “Success often comes after the lessons that failure brings.”
So how do you find your big idea? According to Matt, you fail — a lot. “If you don’t know what you really want to do, it’s either because you haven’t had real success — and realised you’re still unfulfilled — or you haven’t failed. Without failure, there are no lessons to push you forward.”
The problem is that you can’t fail if you don’t take risks. You need to start. And then figure out what’s working and what’s not working. “Are you in love with the vision? Are you making money? If you have a vision it’s about making it work, and where there’s passion, there’s a will and a way. There will always be people wanting to buy innovative products or prepared to change for the right reasons — you just need to offer them the right solution.”
If there’s one thing Matt has learnt along a journey spanning one hundred episodes with some of South Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs, it’s the value of passion and hunger.
“It’s what you do every day in the trenches that culminates in something of value. You need to be hungry for experiences and lessons and what you can take from them,” he says. “I’ve asked over 9 000 questions over the past two years, and this is the only consistent question I ask: Why do you do what you do? What’s in it for you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
“Even though I’ve spoken to so many individuals with different stories, experiences and backgrounds, their answer is consistent, and it’s the golden thread that binds them together. They always speak about contribution. Not about the money, but the contribution they’re making to the human race or beyond themselves.”
In other words, they have a ‘why’ that they pursue relentlessly.
“Unlike in my other businesses, what I was trying to do with the podcasts was very clear and simple to me: I wanted to work towards something that can make a difference to one person, and start there. That’s the purpose of life; to make a difference to humanity. When you look back and you ask who you became, will you be happy with the answer? Will you know you followed your purpose, or even had one?
“You need to have an idea of who you want to be, and then paint a vision around what that looks like. Start with the vision, and then enjoy the beauty of becoming, because that’s what life’s about — failing, learning, succeeding and growing as a person — and in the process of doing that, contributing to someone else as well.”
Pivoting the big idea
Matt Brown Media launched as Digital Kungfu in 2016. It was Matt’s ninth foray into the entrepreneurial space. Six businesses had failed, and two he had built and sold. He was heading up innovation at a major advertising agency, driving the digital products division of the group and thinking about what his next entrepreneurial play would look like, when he started realising how completely out of reach everything he did was for SMEs.
“I started thinking, what if we gave big agency thinking to SMEs? They can’t afford big agency fees, but if they had access to the knowledge, it could really drive SME growth.”
Envisioned as a digital media agency for SMEs, the podcast was a way for Matt to create content that would support the launch of the business. “I wanted a way to distribute my ideas, give SMEs access to experts and build the brand through a medium that was largely untouched in South Africa, which is why I chose podcasting. It’s on-demand content that really suits busy entrepreneurial lifestyles, and it was still a blue ocean, with very few players cluttering the market.”
There were a few things Matt hadn’t thought through. For one, he’s an introvert, and although he liked the medium and wanted to create content with industry experts, he didn’t want to conduct face to face interviews.
“My first interview was with Arthur Goldstuck on tech trends. It was a skype interview, and he was typing messages to other people while we chatted. It was full of errors. I sent him the questions ahead of time, and without face-to-face rapport it was hard to take me seriously.”
In fact, Matt had already interviewed the likes of Vinny Lingham, Allon Raiz and Rich Mulholland before he even used a mic. But, practice makes perfect — as an interviewer, in the way he shapes narratives, and most importantly he began to enjoy the process of face-to-face interviews. If you put in the time and effort, you will increase your skills and comfort levels, you just need to stay the course.
That focus has been a huge influencing factor on the growth of the now rebranded Matt Brown Show. “The people I interviewed enjoyed the concept. My interview style is really different, and we often have a lot of fun. They recommended me to other people, and slowly my brand started growing, in terms of listenership, my local profile and the calibre of people I’ve had on the show.”
Slowly and organically, Digital Kungfu pivoted into Matt Brown Media. The podcast became the product, and seeded the way for a media company, which is what the business has grown into, hosting blockchain/crytpo events that are streamed live and then syndicated on podcast networks around the world. This formula is clearly working with one of Matt’s events trending in the number one hashtag position on Twitter — the first podcast to achieve this feat in the history of South African media.
“If I hadn’t started something I believed in and really enjoyed, it wouldn’t have grown into what it is today. If your foundation is right, it will grow into something that other people care about and want to support.”
The Matt Brown Show
Matt thought he was building a digital consultancy. What he was really building was a media company, and almost two years into his journey, he realised he needed to rebrand the business and the show to reflect that.
“The vortex of what I was doing was entrepreneurship; digital was an enabler but not the core. I’m building a brand that gives you information that you need at the right time. How I do that might change. It started out as podcasts, and this remains a viable medium. According to research undertaken by Matt Brown Media, the addressable market for podcasting alone is 16 million people. When I do a keynote address and ask how many people listen to podcasts, 80% of the room put up their hands. We know that 50% of all growth in podcasting happened in the last 12 months. There’s a huge competitive advantage to being a first mover in this space. But it’s also not where the money is right now.
“For over a year people were asking me why we didn’t do video. I answered ‘why play in such a competitive space when I’m in such an untapped space?’, but the truth was that I wasn’t ready. I recently hosted the biggest live event on blockchain in the country — 600 people in a room, and we released the live video and podcast post the event. I’ve learnt that in order to create a sizeable impact, entrepreneurs need to behave like a media company and tap into as many channels as possible.”
The decision to rebrand the show with his own name was also deeply personal for Matt. “This was a big risk for me. Now whatever happens, good or bad, my name is linked to it. There’s no escaping your own name, but it also adds personality and authenticity to the brand and the media we create, which is important. Ultimately, we want to give our users a narrative that supports their business and personal development. Narratives are personal by nature, and so the brand needs to be personal too. If you want to make something truly immortal, it must be based on your name, and you need to make your name worth something.”
Business is about personal growth
I often ask this question: Would you agree with the statement that your only barrier to achieving what you want is your own limitations? The answer is always yes.
Learn to shift your perspectives
I spent a lot of time saying ‘I don’t play there’ because I wasn’t ready to go into video. Instead, I needed to ask ‘what would it look like if I did play in this space? That’s how you evolve and grow.
Change your story and change your life
If you tell yourself something isn’t working, that’s the story that becomes fact. You need some sense, and to pivot if necessary, but don’t give up.
Use triangulation to find your truth
I call three people and ask them what they think about an idea. It allows you to pull yourself out of your own head, and evaluate different perspectives. It’s also a good way to stop obsessing over negatives. When a service provider let me down at a big event, it was all I could focus on. Triangulation gave me a different perspective, particularly when someone I respect told me that the people in his circles — his peers — really believe in what I’m doing.
Tell a story, and people will listen and learn
It doesn’t matter what information you’re sharing, people respond to narratives. If you’re able to craft a message that people understand and care about, you will tap into a loyal fanbase, and really help your customers at the same time.
Find your competitive advantage
If you outwork everyone around you, and really care about what you’re doing and what your customers need, you will achieve success.
Podcasting is seriously hard work
It’s easy to produce content, it’s hard to create really great content. If you’re willing to put in the work, this will always give you a serious competitive advantage. In addition, if you care more about your relationships than your competitors, you will win.
Access to market is everything
In media, this means you need the right distribution channels — it doesn’t matter what you’re doing if no-one knows about you — but it’s true of any business. How are you accessing your market? If you can’t answer this question, you don’t have a business.
Ask for help
Not asking for help is the number one sin that so many entrepreneurs make. You aren’t invincible. If the market isn’t ready for you, or you need to pivot to solve a problem, you get through it by asking for help and advice. We all need support systems. I’m lucky — I have 99 people whom I’ve interviewed to reach out to, but we all need a network, and we all need to pick up the phone — and then pay it forward; help someone else in return. I’ve learnt entrepreneurs — even in competing industries and companies — will bend over backwards for each other. You just need to ask.
Listen to the podcast
For his 100th episode, Matt Brown is in the hot seat. Entrepreneur editor Nadine Todd interviews Matt about starting the Matt Brown Show, the many lessons he’s learnt and mistakes he’s made, and unpacks why this is just the beginning of the journey.
To listen to the podcast, go to www.mattbrownmedia.co.za or find the Matt Brown Show on iTunes or Stitcher.
Scaleup Learnings From Our Top Clients – What The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Do Right
So, how do our successful clients move through these constraints to scaling up? We see four key drivers of success, and they are: people, strategy, flawless execution and finance.
You’re out of your start-up boots, staff is increasing, your client base is growing, revenue is up and you’ve proven your case to the market. Now it’s time to scale up. The challenges of this vital growth phase are different and it’s a time that demands different mindsets and different actions. In a world littered with small business failures, it helps to be well-prepared for scaling up using a proven methodology. At Outsourced CFO, we get an inside look at the success factors of our clients who are mastering the transition.
On the one hand, scaling up is a really exciting phase; this is what moves you into real job creation and making an impactful contribution to economic growth. On the other hand, it is really hard to scale up successfully. We see three major constraints that limit companies’ transition from start-up to scale-up:
The business has to have the leadership that can take it to the next level. When you start scaling up, especially rapidly, the founders can no longer do everything themselves. The team must grow and include new leadership talent that can take charge and execute so that the founders are working on the business instead of in the business.
The processes, procedures, networks, systems and workflows of the business all need to be scalable. This is imperative when it comes to your infrastructure for the financial management of your business. You’re only ready for growth when your infrastructure can seamlessly keep pace.
Scaling up demands more innovative marketing and storytelling so that you can more easily connect and engage with the new employees, clients, network partners, investors and mentors that need to come along with you on your scale-up journey.
Businesses that build a market conversation and a compelling brand narrative during their start-up phase are better positioned to have this kind of market access when they need to scale up.
It is critical to have the right people on your team. Our successful entrepreneurs have what it takes to attract, inspire and retain top talent. A strong team of smart, ambitious and purpose-driven people who love the company and want to see it succeed contribute greatly to a world class company culture. They are adept at communicating a compelling vision and establishing core values that people can take on. These entrepreneurs are tuned into the aspirations of their people and focus on developing leaders in their teams who can in turn develop more leaders.
It is planning that ensures that the right things are happening at the right times. At successful scale-ups strategies and action plans are devised to ensure that the most important thing always remains the most important thing.
Strategy includes input from all team members and setting of good priorities for the short, medium and long term. Goals are clear and everyone always knows what they are working towards. The needle is continuously moved because 90-day action plans are implemented each quarter to achieve targets and goals that are over and above people doing their daily jobs.
Top entrepreneurs are not just focused on what operations need to achieve, but how the business operates. They have the right procedures, processes and tools in place so that everyone can deliver along the line on the company’s brand promise. Frequent, quick successive meetings ensure the rapid flow of effective communication. Problems are solved without drama. There is no chaos in the office environment. Everyone is empowered to execute flawlessly to an array of consistently happy clients.
Everyone knows that growth burns cash. A rapidly scaling business faces the challenge of needing a scalable financial infrastructure to keep the company healthy. Our successful entrepreneurs pay close attention to finance as the heartbeat of the business, ensuring that everything else functions. They look at the tech they are using for financial management and for the ways that their financial systems can be automated so that they can be brought rapidly to scale. The capital to grow is another vital finance issue.
The best way to finance a business is through paying clients on the shortest possible cash flow cycle. However, when you are scaling up and making heavier investments in the resources you need for growth, it is likely that you will need a workable plan for raising capital. Our scale-up clients know the value of accessing innovative financial management that provides high level services to drive their business growth.
Navigating the scale-up journey of a growing private company is one of the hardest but most rewarding of careers to pursue. Having people in your corner who have been through this journey before helps take a lot of pain out of the process. No growth journey looks the same, but there are tried and tested methods that will – if applied diligently – lead to definite success. Happy scaling!
That Time Jeff Bezos Was The Stupidest Person In The Room
Everyone can benefit from simple advice, no matter who they are.
When you think of Jeff Bezos, a lot of things probably come to your mind.
You likely think of Amazon.com, a company he founded more than twenty years ago, that’s completely disrupted retail and online commerce as we know it. You probably also think of his entrepreneurial genius. Or the immense wealth that he’s built for himself and others. You may also think of drones, Alexa and same-day delivery. Bezos is a visionary, an entrepreneur, a cutthroat competitor and a game changer. He’s unquestionably a very, very smart man. But sometimes, he can be…well…stupid, too.
Like that time back in 1995.
That was when Amazon was just a startup operating from a 2,000 square foot basement in Seattle. During that period, Bezos and most of the handful of employees working for him had other day jobs. They gathered in the office after hours to print and pack up the orders that their fast-growing bookselling site was receiving each day from around the world. It was tough, grueling work.
The company at the time, according to a speech Bezos gave, had no real organisation or distribution. Worse yet, the process of filling orders was physically demanding.
“We were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor,” Bezos recalled. “I said to the person next to me ‘this packing is killing me! My back hurts, it’s killing my knees’ and the person said ‘yeah, I know what you mean.'”
Bezos, our hero, the entrepreneurial genius, the CEO of a now 600,000-employee company that’s worth around a trillion dollars and one of the richest men in the world today then came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. “You know what we need,” he said to the employee as they packed boxes together. “What we need is…kneepads!”
The employee (Nicholas Lovejoy, who worked at Amazon for three years before founding his own philanthropic organisation financed by the millions he made from the company’s stock) looked at Bezos like he was — in Bezos’ words — the “stupidest guy in the room.”
“What we need, Jeff,” Lovejoy said, “are a few packing tables.” Duh.
So the next day Bezos – after acknowledging Lovejoy’s brilliance – bought a few inexpensive packing tables. The result? An almost immediate doubling in productivity. In his speech, Bezos said that the story is just one of many examples how Amazon built its customer-centered service culture from the company’s very early days. Perhaps that’s true. Then again, it could mean something else.
It could mean that sometimes, just sometimes, those successful, smart, wealthy and powerful people may not be as brilliant as you may think. Nor do they always have the right answers. Sometimes, just sometimes, they may actually be the stupidest guy in the room. So keep that in mind the next time you’re doing business with an intimidating customer, supplier or partner who appears to know it all. You might be the one with the brilliant idea.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How Sureswipe Built Its Identity By Building A Strong Company Culture
Culture is unique to a business, it’s the reason why companies win or lose.
A company’s culture is its identity and personality. Since this is closely linked to its brand and how it wants to be viewed by its employees, customers, competitors and the outside world, culture is critical. The challenge is understanding that culture contains unwritten rules and that certain behaviours that align to the culture the company is nurturing should be valued and cherished more than others.
At Sureswipe, the core of our culture is that we value people and what they are capable of. We particularly value people who are engaged, get on with the job, take initiative, are happy to get stuck in beyond their formal job descriptions, and who sometimes have to suck up a bit of pain to get through a challenge.
We include culture in everything we do, so it’s a fundamental element in our recruitment process. In addition to a skills and experience interview, each candidate undergoes a culture fit in the form of a values interview. We look for top performers who echo our core values (collaboration, courage, taking initiative, fairness and personal responsibility) and have real conviction about making a difference in the lives of independent retailers. If we don’t believe a candidate will be a culture fit, we won’t hire them.
If we make a mistake in the recruitment process, we won’t retain culture killers, even if they are top performers. This is such a tough lesson to learn, but it liberates a company and often improves overall company performance.
Culture should be cultivated, constantly communicated and used when making decisions. At Sureswipe, we often talk about what it takes to win and have simplified winning into three key elements: A simple, yet inspirational vision; the right culture; and a clear and focused strategy. The first and third elements can be copied from organisation to organisation. Culture on the other hand is unique to every business and can be a great influencer in its success.
Catch phrases on the wall are not the definition of culture
A strong culture is purposeful and evolving. It’s what makes a company great, but also exposes its weakness. No company is perfect and it’s important to acknowledge the good and the bad. Without it, we cannot ensure that we are protecting and building on the good and reducing or eradicating the bad.
Mistakes happen. That’s okay. But we are very purposeful about how mistakes are handled. Culturally we’re allergic to things being covered up or deflected and have had great learning moments as individuals and as an organisation when bad news travels fast. It’s liberating to ‘tell it like it is’ and almost always, with a few more minds on the problem at hand, things can be rectified with minimal impact.
Culture should be built on values that resonate with you and that you want to excel at. In our case, some are lived daily and others are aspirational in that we’re still striving for them. In each case we genuinely believe in them and encourage each other to keep living them. This increases the level of trust within the team, as there is consistency in how people are treated and how we get things done.
We are always inspired when, after sitting in our reception area, nine out of ten visitors will comment on the friendliness of staff. We hear their remarks about how friendly the Sureswipe team is or a potential candidate will talk about the high level of energy and positivity they experience throughout the interview process.
These are indicators that our culture is alive and well. It’s these components of our culture — friendliness, helpfulness and positivity — that cascade into how we do business and how we treat our customers and people in general. Being able to describe your culture and support it with real life examples is a great way to communicate and promote the type of behaviour that is important and recognised within the organisation.
Culture doesn’t just happen
We are fortunate that culture has always been important to us, even if it wasn’t clearly defined in our early days. As we grew it became important to be more purposeful in the evolution of our culture. About four years ago, the senior leadership team and nominated cultural or values icons were mandated to relook all things cultural.
A facilitator said to us, “You really love it when people take the initiative, and get very frustrated when they don’t.” That accurate insight became core to our values. We love to see people proactively solve problems, take responsibility for their own growth, initiate spontaneous events, change their tactics or implement new ideas. It energises us and aligns to the way we do business.
We celebrate growth and love to see our staff getting promoted due to their hard work and perseverance. We recently had one of our earliest technicians get promoted to the Regional Manager of Limpopo. It was one of the best moments of 2018.
Be purposeful with culture, describe it, communicate it and use it in all aspects of business. Culture should change. Don’t allow phrases like ‘this is not how we do things,’ or, ‘the culture here is changing,’ to stifle the growth and development of your culture. When done correctly change is a good thing. Culture is driven from the top but at the end of the day it’s a company-wide initiative. Design it together with team members from different parts of the organisation to get the most from it. And then make sure everyone lives and breathes it.
The best ROI is achieved when you stop wasting money.
Peter Drucker once said that businesses have two main functions — marketing and innovation — that produce results. “All the rest are costs.”
If you agree, that means that the average business has a lot of fat to trim. Obviously you can go overboard trying to cut costs too. My philosophy has been to look at some of the general areas where you can add some efficiency but not at the expense of impairing your most valuable resource — your focus.
The following cost-cutting measures will do that. Think of these as adding value to your company, whether it’s time, creativity or a closer connection to your consumers.
Uncover inefficiencies in your process
This is where I begin. In fact, it was analysing the inefficiencies of legal communication and knowledge sharing that led me to create Foxwordy, the digital collaboration platform for lawyers. I noticed that attorneys in our clients’ legal departments were drafting new documents from scratch when they could pool their knowledge and save time by using language that a trusted colleague had employed in a similar document. Business is all about process. When you create a new process, or enhance an existing process, you will drive cost efficiency.
Refine your process, then automate
If existing processes are lacking, it is time to create process. If you have processes, but they are not driving efficiency, it’s time to redefine your process. Either way, a key second step is refining processes that are needed in your business. Only then can you go to automation, since automating without a process will result in chaos — and won’t save time or money. Similarly, automating a poor process is not going to give you the cost-saving results you are looking for.
Thanks to the Cloud, there are very accessible means of automating manual processes. For instance, you can automate bookkeeping functions with FreshBooks and use chatbots to interface with clients — for very basic information. If you’re a retailer, a chatbot on your site can explain your return policy or address other frequently asked questions. Automating such processes allows you to spend more time focusing on clients and customers. Technology alone isn’t a panacea for all business functions, but if you find something you’re doing manually that can be automated, take a look and consider how much time and process definition automation would save you.
Rethink your outreach
Marketing and outreach are usually big and important challenges for an organisation. In my experience, there are two main components to successful marketing — knowing your customers and using the most effective media to spread your message. For the first part, I recommend polling. There are various online survey services that offer an instant read on what your customers are thinking. You may think business is humming along, but a survey could reveal that while consumers like your product, a few tweaks would make it even better.
For the second part — marketing messaging — once you have a firm idea of your marketing messaging, Facebook is a great vehicle for outreach. The ability to granularly target customers and create Lookalike audiences (from around 1 000 consumers) can help grow your business.
Scrutinise your spend history
There are tools that can help you assess spend history and find cost-cutting opportunities. For example, you might be able to take advantage of rewards or loyalty programmes to reduce common business expenses, like travel, or consolidate vendors for a similar function. If you have a long-standing relationship with a vendor, negotiate better pricing.
The most important elements to keep in mind are resources that make your company special. Your company may be built on one person’s reputation and expertise. Guard against tarnishing that reputation with inappropriate messaging in advertising or social media. If your company’s special sauce is intellectual property, protect that too. But everything else — ranging from physical property to salary and benefits — are costs and should be considered negotiable. — Monica Zent
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