Lead a vivid life that does good

Tag: Entrepreneurial Growth (Page 1 of 2)

4 key lessons after attending the Entrepreneur Development Program (EDP) at MIT in Boston.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Moments earlier we had been given five minutes to prepare our business idea and now I found myself pitching, to one of the 126 entrepreneurs gathered from around the world. They’d pitch their idea, I’d pitch mine and we would agree how we would split 7 points. You take 2, I’ll take 5 (not that easy with A type personalities).

After 7 pitches to complete randoms, we had a score out of 49. Bill Aulet, Managing Director in the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, humorously states that higher scores (I was 6th highest) meant you either had a really good idea (mine was created in 5 mins on my flight to the US), or you were really pushy (StrengthsFinder calls it “competitive”).

The top 26 of us pitch to the remaining 100 and then they walked up and choose a team, leaving only 16 ideas. Through this ad hoc process team reCollect was formed.

They say that attending MIT is like drinking from a fire hydrant, and over the next week we were saturated with ideas, discussion, teams sessions and coaching. So much so that it is only now I am narrowing down key lessons.

#1 Team is everything. The team that chose the reCollect idea was smart and diverse. Neil and Mark from Scotland, Rafael from Spain, Saeed from UAB, with Tanmay, Jax and myself from NZ. We all had radically different backgrounds and skills, which meant we ended up working incredibly effectively as a team.

I was reminded at MIT that having a cross functional team with a complimentary skill set is critically important when starting anything new. Startups with co-founders are more likely to succeed, however founding with friends you have never worked with before is more likely to fail.

Build a great team with a common vision, but different skills and networks.

#2 Narrow your focus. Many startups spend huge portions of their precious resources on trying to be all things to everyone. Successful startups spend a lot of time talking with a narrow market of customers before they even build a product to make sure it is something they will actually use, and more importantly pay for. Test an idea and pivot constantly.

Narrow your target market right down and talk constantly to you potential customers.

#3 GSD: Get S(tuff) Done: Just make stuff happen. You can talk about it, have meetings, create really great plans and strategies, but if you don’t GSD and get a product delivered then it is worthless. Herb Kelleher of Southwest said “We have a strategy plan. It’s call doing things!”

everyone needs to GSD, and add real value to the customer. Everything else is worthless.

#4 Cash: Capitalism in America is NOT dead. To be honest if a Kiwi has a great idea and someone in the States has the same idea. They will be funded about 10x more than you. Thats the reality. It doesn’t mean you can’t win, just that you need more resolve around the first 3 points. The downside risk to not having cash, is we fail to rapidly build Innovation Based Enterprises at a speed quick enough to compete.

Charge your customers as soon as possible, export and seek funding. Run out of cash and all your hard work means nothing.

Attending MIT was a fantastic learning experience, which I liken to reading 12 books in a week. Thanks to MSI / MBIE,  now Callaghan Innovation for the incredible opportunity.

Watch this space for a new business to spin out of Agoge this year.

2 lessons about leadership I gleaned while being driven through Phnom Penh.

Those of you who have travelled through parts of  Asian know how mad, crazy, radical their driving can be.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/54691916 w=500&h=282]
If you haven’t, watch this short video of a normal intersection at 6:30 at night.

At first we described it as ‘Organised Chaos’ and soon realised that it was best described as “Disorganised Order”. Everyone headed were they needed to go, in an orderly yet apparently disorganised way.

The drivers themselves were probably the most fascinating part of the driving experience. They’re a paradox of determination and grace. They wanted to get there first and fast, but were gracious as others pushed and squeezed their Tuk Tuk’s into gaps that moments before didn’t exist.

Disorganised Order,


Determination with Grace.

Disorganised Order, you don’t see that much in business or law in New Zealand. I wonder if it isn’t the essence of being truly entrepreneurial.


I have met plenty of determined people, and I have the privilege of knowing a lot of gracious people. Sadly, most often the determined people are not characterised by grace.

Determined with Grace, describes the leader I would like to be.

Creating a personal strategy to help you achieve your dream and goals.

GoalsOne of the funny things about returning from annual leave is that I often have this utopic desire to live a more purposeful life. I guess the relaxation, uninterrupted time with family and the space to think, lead me to want to create more of those spaces in my normal life.

Recently after returning from leave I realised that in our business we have strategies to move us towards our vision and these strategies help us choose the right actions.

In my personal life however, I had never put strategies in place and this needed to change.

Understanding the difference between vision and strategy and actions can be difficult so here is a personal example.

  • Vision is your dream or long-term goals. One of my visions is to “be a person of influence” (hopefully a positive one).
  • Strategy is a high level way of getting to your vision. My current strategies for increasing influence are “connecting with 4 people each week” and “writing weekly”.
  • Actions are the things you do each week to get that align to your strategy. My actions are appointments I have with people and time I actually spend writing.

The truth is I haven’t written each week and I haven’t met with 4 people each week. But, I have written more and connected with more people each week. I also track how I am going in my personal weekly check list which I review in my weekly review (this is the key to not forgetting it).

And even though I don’t achieve it each week, my influence is growing, and I am meeting and connecting with more people, which is energizing me and making me a better person.

Most importantly each week is deliberately better than it would be without them.

So what will your strategies be?

If you would like to see my current strategies, I have posted them at outward.me.

Is it even possible to WIN without competition?

Yesterday we headed out to Patetonga to watch our friend’s son race in Motocross (#342 in picture). He is racing smaller bikes in a larger class to give him more competition, as he often nails the competition in his normal class.

This made me think about the importance of competition.

One of my 5 strengths from Strengths Finder 2.0 is Competitive. I love winning and hate losing. When there is something to win, I try my hardest to win it (or often don’t play if I know I cant win, I hate losing so bad). Competition for me, causes me to work harder, think more creatively, be more persistent.


We talk a lot about winning. About being winners. About being successful. About improving ourselves.


We have become anti-competition. Kids play sports and do stuff to participate. Most businesses don’t care about their competition. Charities think competition is bad.


Is it even possible to WIN without competition?

Well no.

Not for me at least. I am reminded from yesterday that healthy competition, the kind of competition that stretches you to become better, is incredibly important.

And right now I need to add some of that back into my life.

What do you do?

Oh, what do I do?

Well “I run a business that provides training and recruitment services to the transport and logistics industry”. This has been my answer in the past and it is fair to say that usually stops the conversation dead. (As it turns out transport is boring and most people have no idea what logistics is.)

At more social gatherings I have answered “oh, I buy and sell people for a living”, this kills the conversation just as quick but I do have the satisfaction of the priceless “wacko” expressions it generates.

Recently, as a part of my journey to be more outward, I decided to change the way I answer that question. I now say words to the effect of:

“I’m a Social Entrepreneur, I am involved in various businesses and charities for the purpose of enabling social change”. 

The reason I have changed what I say, is because I am passionate about more than just Agoge which is my day job. I am passionate about Agora, Good, CBC, WOL, and SIMP.  I am also passionate about family and friends and strangers because through all of them and in them I make a small social changes for the better in this world.

The implication: Generally when someone asks us “what we do?”, we answer with our job, when in reality we do so much more.

So, what do you do?

244 | 365 Social Enterprise

Wurld Water PosterA Social Enterprise is a business that makes profit to effect social change by giving its profits to a charity or cause. It has been touted as the way increase funding for charities beyond donors.
At first glance it seems easy. Set-up a business, make money, give the profits away.
The reality is a lot harder. As a business you still need capital, profit and cash. Did I mention cash!
Added to that is the complexity of trying to tell an honest story about what you do (do, as in actually do, not plan to do). There is also inherent social and brand responsibilities to actually deliver profit to the cause, as many of your customers purchase from you because of your story. Finally social enterprise is generally driven by the conviction of founder, which makes failure so much hard.
For the record I consider myself a social entrepreneur. I love business and long to make social change through it. Social enterprises are not impossible, just significantly harder.
A couple of cool social enterprises are Café Agora (www.agora.net.nz, where this picture was taken) who sell Wurld Water (www.wurld.org.nz) check them out.

181 | 365 Coffee Stories

Day181.jpgAgora’s story is being formed one drop, one cup of coffee at a time.
Yesterday I sat at Agora drinking a wonderful coffee made by the infamous Simon, and over heard a customer tell her two friends great things about the café, about how we give 50cents from each cup of coffee to charity.
There is nothing quite so satisfying as having one of our customers tell the story for us.
As I left the café I remembered the conversations we had as trustees about story. I remembered how one idea developed into another. I remembered how we want agora to make an impact on our community and have a story.
As I left the café, I also thought about my story, about the story of my family, my business, my friends. Those stories, like Agora’s, are a working in progress.
Like a great coffee brewing, one drop at a time, story is very powerful.

[181 | 365 ‘Coffee Stories’ a shot of a shot of coffee brewing, one drop at a time at café agora]

Setting up in Australia

Mainfreight today announced that they have conditionally sold Pan Orient Project Logistics business and its 75% interest in LEP (New Zealand and Australia) to global logistics company Agility Group for A$83 million. It is the last of the non core Owens businesses to be sold. The funds released from the sale will be used by Mainfreight to fund its ongoing international expansion.

With Mainfreight, Freightways and others slowly establishing significant off shore businesses I wonder what a successful strategy would be for more NZ companies to do the same?

The road to overseas subsidiaries it would seem is littered with more stories of failure than success. Air NZ and Ansett, Telecom and AAPT (yet to see the end of this movie) are examples of huge companies struggling to make it happen. How then is it possible for a NZ company to stem the tide of Aussie investment and head into their backyard? What are the key points to consider?

#1 It is harder than you think.
Summed up well by Josef Roberts who launched Red Bull in the two countries. "Don't rush overseas. Australia might have five times the population, but it also has five times the competition, and Kiwis aren't used to dealing with Australian bureaucracy. Roberts worked out a worst-case scenario, and then doubled the cost and doubled the time. "We were about right," he says. "It took three times as long and was three times as expensive." [From Idealog "Meet the man who gave Red Bull wings"]

x NZ Herald

#2 You need to avoid the Valley of Death
Rod Drury wrote about the Valley of Death "From New Zealand, once you have saturated the local market, you then have a massive transformational change to address another market. You may need to introduce capital, add new staff, learn foreign rules – the list goes on. For us to take almost our first step of expansion, to enter only our second market – we bet our businesses. I'm calling this – the Valley of Death."

#3 You need to take your time.
This would be the key lesson I have gleamed from companies like Mainfreight, Freightways or even Michael Hill who have set-up in Australia. They seem to make slow educated decisions about their growth into other countries. They take the time to understand the markets, people, culture and regulations and they take small incremental steps. They have done this well and don't bet the NZ business on it.

I don't have much first hand experience. Hopefully one day I will, but in the meantime I am interested in your thoughts.

Agoge is the 28th Fastest Growing Company


Last Thursday agoge received a place in the Deloitte Fast 50. This is a competition to establish the 50 fastest growing companies in New Zealand. Well after I duffed the speech and we went out to dinner to celebrate, I got to reflecting on what got us there. Here are some of my less than insightful observations:

My Team – The average age of my team is 30 and I am privileged to have the people I have. We are growing and learning and trying things together. We have an incredible culture, a heap of fun and seek to live "people matter" in everything we do. As Tim Finn says in his song "We had no idea, that it couldn't be done. And we needed to find, a like minded someone" I have found those someones in my team. The lesson: People are more important than anything else!

A lucky idea? – I had (and still do) have a heap of business ideas. I choose to launch under Logistics Personnel because it was the idea that I thought offered the quickest growth and good cashflow. A heap of the other ideas would have been a disaster. I did it after taking a week off work and surveying potential customers, researching the market size, blah blah. The lesson: Choose the right idea, an idea that will actually sell.

Cashflow – I started the company with around $60k cash and we have grown the business to almost $10m in annual revenues in 3 years. We could not have done it without strong cashflow. Seth Godin had a post the other day that gave 10 secrets of the marketing process. "#1. Don't run out of money. It always takes longer and costs more than you expect to spread your idea. You can budget for it or you can fail." – He's right and I often use the saying "Profit is a concept, cash is a fact".

We have had extended periods of making losses in the past as we invested in the future. We could only do this because we have strong cashflow. We work hard on rapid debt collection (65% in 17 days) based on the principal that the money belongs to us once it is billed. It sounds a little arrogant but a heap of small business just let other companies use them as a bank. We are not a bank! The lesson: You must have strong cashflow! You will only run out of cash once.

It is genuinely a privilege to be in the Fast 50. I am not sure we will make it next year, getting 200% growth year on year gets more and more difficult as you get more and more millions in revenue. I am not too worried if we don't but I know one thing for certain, we will have a heap of fun trying.

Failing 90% of the time

I read an interesting Scott Adams post today. In it he waxes lyrically for what feels like a day about all of his successes. Finally towards the end of what appears to be self-inflated dribble, he writes "To put all of this in context, and before you start to vomit at my bragging, I must confess that I fail miserably about ten times for every one success. (That's an accurate estimate. I've literally kept score.) But interestingly, the failures always involved activities that seemed entirely feasible. I was completely qualified for all of the things that failed."

He fails 90% of the time. Interestingly enough failing 90% of the time is only an issue if your goals are set to low. If you have huge goals and only get 10% of them, you become a huge success.

If you have small goals and only get 10% of them what do you get?

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