Wednesday, 31 March 2010

David Sloly at Ignite Bristol

Before we launched #Unplan at SXSW in Texas, David Sloly gave a sneak preview at Ignite in Bristol. Here's a video of his presentation (video from Ignite Bristol - thanks guys):

Monday, 29 March 2010

John Borthwick: A Process of Constant Iteration

One of the principles behind #unplan is not to sit on your idea crafting a detailed business plan but instead to take your idea to market rapidly and test it as you go.

John Borthwick is CEO and co-founder of Betaworks, who invest, build and buy companies in the real time web space. In this video interview ‘Going From Small To Big’ posted on the American Express Open Forum, John argues that you should iterate quickly. He advocates taking ideas to market very quickly within 90 - 100 days; pushing the idea into beta, watching users react and adjusting from there:
 “A couple of years ago people would sit around, think about a business, create a deck, go pitch it to people. That’s not what people are doing today: you build the thing, you push it into market, you see if it gets traction and then you go talk to people about partnering”.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Avoid Analysis-Paralysis: Why Too Much Analysis Can Kill A Good Business Idea

One frustration in business is that everything has to be over-analysed and measured to the nth degree. Businesses are obsessed with metrics: data, strategic plans, financial forecasts, analytics. There was a great session at SXSW called ‘Is Too Much Math Killing Marketing?’ where Mike Teasdale of Harvest Digital argued that some things are easier to measure than others, and too much analysis can kill creativity. I share the same view about too much analysis killing great business ideas.

So I was very interested to discover Jeff Stibel’s post on The Harvard Business Review called “Why Wise Leaders Don't Know Too Much”. Jeff is an entrepreneur, brain scientist and author. He argues that whilst knowledge is – of course – a good thing, there is a limit to what we can digest and understand and that too much knowledge undermines the greatest insights. Here’s some edited extracts from his article:

“The more information you pile on, the less likely you are to make educated guesses. But educated guesses spring from wisdom: all of your past experiences, knowledge and knowhow, coupled with the most recent information and analysis. In other words, wisdom comes from your gut”
“…. faced with an abundance of information you fall victim to analysis paralysis — unable to make any decisions in the face of so much data. To be frozen by information is perhaps the single biggest risk of knowledge. Ancient Greek philosophers used to warn their children about this ailment and Peter Drucker did a good job of combating it in the business world. But is anyone really listening? People often become victims of the "knowledge trap" or "analysis paralysis," thinking they need to weigh every bit of information against all possible outcomes. Those people rarely make it very far. Those who avoid these traps — who realize they'll never have all the answers no matter how much knowledge they gather — are often the ones who succeed.”

Monday, 22 March 2010

Mike Southon: Delegate Finance!

Mike Southon is an entrepreneur, Financial Times columnist and co-author of the 'Beermat Entrepreneur' series of books. I asked him for his take on unplanning:
“I don’t think it’s about whether business planning is a good or a bad thing; it’s acknowledging the importance of a Finance person in your start-up line-up. That means the entrepreneur can be free to evangelise about how great the business idea is and how it’s going to change the world; whilst your finance person talks about numbers and forecasts to the money guys. That separation of powers means the entrepreneur is liberated to be visionary about the idea, while your sensible Finance cornerstone worries about the long-term plan.”

Friday, 19 March 2010

Unplanning Using Post-It Notes

James Barlow was in the audience last Saturday at our SXSWi ‘Unplan Your Business’ session. James is currently with the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance in the US, and previously was CEO of the Scottish Institute Of Enterprise. He’s got a rich experience of working with start-ups and told us about a user-friendly route for business planning he's developed: Strategy Mapping with post-it notes. Ditching the traditional business plan approach, James uses a post-it note wall to visualise the process from idea to customer. It’s a really simple way to think about business process in a entirely flexible and rapid format. And it’s lo-fi so you only need a marker pen and a bunch of post-it notes to do it. In this 8 minute video James explains how it works:

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Give Up On The Guesswork

I finally got my hands on a copy of 'Rework' this week, the new book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals, that I've talked about on this blog before. On Saturday at SXSW, Jason gave a great little talk about the themes in the book; I went and said hi afterwards, telling him about 'Unplan Your Business'. I took some time out yesterday afternoon to get out of the convention center and dive into the book; here's an extract from the chapter 'Planning Is Guessing':
"Give up on the guesswork. Decide what you're going to do this week, not this year. Figure out the nest most important thing and do that. Make decisions right before you do something, not far in advance. It's OK to wing it..... Working without a plan may seem scary. But blindly following a plan that has no relationship with reality is even scarier".

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Core Conversation at SXSW 2010

We'd like to thank everyone who made the effort to turn up at 5pm on a beautiful Saturday in Austin Texas to join our conversation 'Unplan Your Business'.

We came to SXSW to discover peoples' take on how to launch their business ideas. The core conversation really got people thinking; a show of hands immediately discovered that over 70% of the audience ran a small business. They were quick to crush the myth that a traditional business plan is required. Instead, they spoke of the power of vision, passion and a rapid journey from your product to consumer. We discussed tools to enable that journey such as crowdsourcing, project management tools and other apps.

The buoyant conversation lasted for an hour and spilled out to the corridors. For us, the core conversation experience was about discovery; indeed to crowd-source entrepreneurs and people taking their own business ideas to reality. We're not #Unplan experts yet, we're #Unplan evangelists who aim to curate, create and publish the interviews, experiments and learnings for taking your business idea to market rapidly.

Our ask for you now is to kindly comment with links, thoughts, tips and tools that have been helpful in launching your business.

Follow the discussion at:

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Views on why entrepreneurs don't bother with business plans

Last November there was an interesting piece in the New York Times by Scott Shane called “Why Don’t All Entrepreneurs Write Business Plans?” Scott, who is professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western University (Cleveland, Ohio), came up with 3 reasons why entrepreneurs don’t plan:

  1. The ignorance theory - the one most cited by business school professors.
  2. The ‘Just Do It’ theory – people like to be more action-oriented.
  3. The ‘don’t-look-under-the-hood’ theory – people who don’t want to test their ideas in case they fail.

I think ‘2’ is the most common reason; that people get frustrated by over analysis and want to put their ideas into action instead. It’s not about entrepreneurs being lazy or ignorant; but smart: they know too much analysis will paralyse their idea, so they want to take a leap and put it out there.

The entrepreneur and blogger Neil Patel who's founded two internet companies, posted a great response to the NYT piece (check out his post here). I think his reasons are much more spot-on:

  1. Business plans do not automatically result in getting funding.
  2. You can’t predict the future.
  3. Time is money: it takes time – away from your business – to write a plan.
  4. The business world has changed – the idea of a business plan is outdated, things move to quickly for rigid plans.
Neil doesn’t think having a business plan will increase your chances of success. I think he’s right, plans can limit your potential; you need to be flexible, open and enterprising to make the most of a changing market.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Why It's Time To Rip Up Your Five Year Plan

Monday, 8 March 2010

37signals: Long-Term Business Planning Is A Fantasy

I’m looking forward to getting hold of Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s book ‘Rework’. It’s clear that Jason and David share my thinking on ‘Unplan Your Business’ and some of my ideas on work and business from 'Juggle! Rethink Work, Reclaim Your Life'.

Their company 37signals agrees that organisational obsession with long term planning is futile. Here’s an extract from a great post on the 37signals blog by Matt from last May explaining why:

"Why don’t we just call plans what they really are: guesses. Unless you’re a fortune teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy. There are just too many factors that are out of your hands: market conditions, competitors, customers, the economy, etc. Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control.
In fact, you might as well change the name of your business plans to business guesses, your financial plans to financial guesses, and your strategic planning to strategic guesses. Do that and you’ll probably start putting a lot less weight into those things".
37signals have created a great little video to promote the book. I love it; it could have been one of ours for ‘Unplan Your Business’! Check it out here:

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Fred Wilson: Trying Stuff Out

Unplanning your business is about having the guts to try things out, to make decisions, to be spontaneous. And that means you’re going to make mistakes. That’s part of a ‘just do it’ mindset, part of prototyping your ideas. And once you realise you’ve cocked up, you need to quit, and move on.

Fred Wilson is a Venture Capitalist in New York who blogs at (cool domain). It’s great to hear Fred’s VC take on entrepreneurship and I love this post about the importance of being action oriented:

 “People ask me all the time about the traits I look for in entrepreneurs and action orientation is at the top of the list. I'd much rather back someone who makes 100 decisions a day and gets 51 of them right than someone who makes one decision a day and gets it right”.

 I’ve seen so many management cultures get stuck in the analysis of an idea, before it’s even launched. Whereas, it’s much more effective to just go for it – try something out, then stand back and measure how you did. Fred Wilson is a fan of the ‘trying stuff out’.

“You can think and debate about stuff all day long or you can try stuff out and see what works. From my experience, the latter approach is a much better one”.

* I love this seat made out of a pallet. I took the photo above on holiday in Crete last year. I doubt the guy that made it spent hours looking over drawings or design concepts; I like to think s/he just tried it out.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Sejal Parekh: Insight, Instinct and Prototyping

Sejal Parekh was until recently Head of PR And Communications at ?What If! Innovation. She’s now co-founded her own start-up Trifle Creative with a promise to make organisations’ workspaces more effective. Trifle is also creating a London space where clients can come to get inspired, stimulated and motivated. She has lots of experience of working with big organisations and now with her own business has insight into what’s important planning a start-up.  Sejal thinks that instead of traditional business planning, start-ups should be led by insight, use their instinct, be brave enough to stick to their guns and use rapid prototyping to test their ideas in the market.

Monday, 1 March 2010

A Story On Planning From Derek Sivers

I found this great little story ‘Let Pedestrians Define The Walkways’ on Derek Sivers’ blog last year. Derek is an entrepreneur who founded CD Baby and has experience in the music and creative industries. I’ll let Derek’s story speak for itself:

“A new green college campus was built, but one thing was still debated: Where in the grass should we put the paved walkways?
Some felt the walkways should be around the edges, to leave the center green and untouched. Some felt the walkways should cut diagonal, connecting all buildings to all buildings.
 One professor had the winning idea: ‘Don't make any walkways this year. At the end of the year, look at where the grass is worn away, showing us where the students are walking. Then just pave those paths.’
 Of course I think about this with business plans.
As time goes on, we get smarter. We learn more about our customers and what they really want. Therefore, we're at our dumbest at the beginning, and at our smartest at the end.
So when should you make business decisions? When you have the most information, when you're at your smartest: as late as possible.
 Like the college campus, you can do without walkways for a year. Resist the urge to figure it all out in advance. Realize this is when you know the least.
 When people expect you to make these decisions in advance, get used to saying, ‘We don't know yet,’ then tell this simple story about walkways, to show them how wise you are”.