How the evolution of the technology industry has changed the face of competition for leaders and CEOs.
In 2007 Apple launched the first iPhone, effectively putting a super computer in everyone’s pocket. This brought a whole new generation of entrepreneurial thinking into the world by opening young people’s eyes as to what computing technology can achieve.
Today, advances in computer software, bandwidth and storage means that unimaginable amounts of computing power can be applied to most business problems. New founders/ CEOs can today rent these technology stacks, giving them the ability to start businesses with relatively little setup costs to become a business disruptor. For those that have a truly compelling idea, they can reach out and find new customers quickly and easily using today’s internet marketing techniques.
This has generated huge numbers of technology entrepreneurs following their dream and created the associated fierce competition.
The pressures facing leaders today
Leaders need to create a compelling vision of the future that excites and inspires the very best talent to want to be part of that vision. If you have great people around you who are motivated, you can achieve anything you set out to. However, it’s easy to compromise when hiring due to a variety of pressures. If you hire poorly you will fail.
Leaders also need to build customer success as a key value of their company: happy and successful customers do three things. They:
- Buy more
- Recommend you to friends, colleagues and others: they are your best salespeople.
- Buy again from you when they change jobs
Unhappy customers can easily churn to a competitor in today’s world. They can be very vocal and affect your brand. Making a myopic focus on customer success is an essential business value in today’s world.
Finally, speed of execution has never been more important. Establishing and maintaining a leadership position is under huge time pressure. The market leader will typically take 50% share, the number 2 will take 20% share and all others will fight for single digit share.
Aim to be the leader…
The challenges to setting out a vision and getting abusiness started
In my experience, there are 5 key challenges:
- Timing – nothing beats being in the right place at the right time! You need to ask yourself: Why does the customer need to have my product right now?
- Talent – you need the very best people by your side.
- Business model – it needs to generate revenue quickly and be sustainable into the future.
- Company values – having company values and culture create value!
- Funding – secure the right amount to get to market to generate growth and profitability.
Preventing great people from leaving
You have to take a strong interest in a person’s career. Most talented people fall into 3 categories:
- Mountain Climbers – who want to go to the summit and be a division head or CEO
- Explorers – who want to experience the likes of sales, marketing, alliances etc
- Deep Divers – who want to become a domain expert in a given area.
It’s important to plan out each employee’s career and train them to achieve their respective goals. You should train your people so they could leave but motivate them so they don’t want to.
You should also pay and reward them well, use stock allocations whenever possible, so they become shareholders. Always celebrate their success publicly, but discuss their mistakes privately
Finally, give them job titles they can be proud of, it costs nothing.
How to scale as a leader: the attributes
I have been fortunate to have worked with many great technology leaders who have all had important attributes. Great leaders:
- are inspirational and create a desire in you to massively over achieve for them
- don’t believe they have to have all the answers
- push you to think harder by asking great questions
- teach you how to think not what to think
- dare you to dream bigger
- continuously support and encourage you and defend you when you need it
- recognise and reward top performers (and remove consistent under performers)
- believe that no matter how talented you are, how you treat people reflects on you.
- are courageous
- ask for help if they get stuck and proactively seek constructive criticism to improve
How to scale as a leader: advice
The most important piece of advice is that ‘Revenue solves all problems!’ If revenue is coming in you can work on all the other areas but if the revenue slows everything starts to crumble. With revenue secured, there are 10 core principles to follow:
- Have a plan and a vision of what success looks like in the near term – 12-18 months. Get your team to define, write it down and own it
- Celebrate with your team customer wins and success
- Drive growth – it creates excitement and career opportunities
- Drive innovation, competition will be fierce, so you constantly have to innovate
- Hire great people – don’t compromise
- Certify and test employees on product knowledge, very few leaders do, but they should
- Create a customer success culture
- Be a player/coach – go onto the pitch and perform some of the hard tasks yourself!
- Remember you don’t need to create enemies to win
- Keep a beginner’s mindset, be an insurgent for your customer
What are the core business values needed to scale,examples:
Real company values are not slogans, strap lines or words taken from the website. To be meaningful they have to have business processes built around them. Also, people in the business need to be measured on the metrics of these values and rewarded (or not) on how well they are achieved.
Some examples of business Values that I like are:
- Customer success