Monthly Archives: May 2011

10 reasons not to start your own business

The ScreamA few months back I spoke to a group of government types about what life is like in a start-up. The plan was that Mary and I would speak to them about the cold realities of starting up a business so that they could be well prepared if they decided to cut loose from the public sector or if they were made redundant (which is happening a lot) and decided on this as a next step. Anyway the session was pretty much a car crash, I think because of a combination of Mary and I being too down beat, and the audience having a very one sided and positive picture of life in the start-up lane.

My opinion on this is that entrepreneurs are wired in to do this, not necessarily because of their genetic make-up, but because it’s the right thing for them to do right now. That being the case, nothing anyone tells a true entrepreneur will divert them from what they are going to do but at the same time, being forearmed with the knowledge about what it’ll really be like is useful to say the least.

So here’s the list of some of the reasons why you perhaps shouldn’t start a business:

  1. Failure – I like the start-up definition that calls it “something that is likely to fail”, not because I ever aim for that but because it’s true. Most start-ups do fail and as the entrepreneur, you get to carry 100% of that can when that happens;
  2. Age – you could be too old, too young, have kids who are too young, be planning to get married or go travelling around the world. If you think your age is a reason to not start a business, you might be right. On the other hand, there is never a good time to do this and sacrifices are inevitable;
  3. Bureaucracy – one of the lies entrepreneurs tell themselves is that they’ll start their own business so they won’t have to do mundane stuff. The reality is that there is no fun in VAT returns, PAYE, grant applications or tender writing, all of which you’ll have to do because no-one else can or will;
  4. Idea – not having an idea is a widely used reason for not starting a business. In my view it’s bogus though – plenty of entrepreneurs make themselves millionaires by doing someone eles’s idea better than they did;
  5. Cash flow – managing cash is a daily and horrible task when you are a start-up and is often the thing that kills a business. There is no fun in this and it can be extremely stressful;
  6. Selling – when you are starting up you have to sell. In fact, everyone has to sell all of the time. I’m always amazed by the people I meet who are afraid of selling of simply won’t do it;
  7. Fear – you might be too scared to start up a business in which case you really shouldn’t. If you do take the plunge though, expect to be shit scared pretty much all of the time for the first couple of years;
  8. Being nasty – when you are in charge you need to be prepared to be a pretty horrible person. You’ll have to sack people that you like and really care about, you’ll have to say no when you and your entrepreneurial instincts want to say yes and it’ll make you feel pretty bad about yourself;
  9. Family – if you are staring a business the next 2-5 years will be hard, uncertain and full of things that take longer to do than you thought. If your family don’t support what you are doing and aren’t prepared to make the sacrifices with or for you it’s going to be a nightmare. Have an honest conversation for god’s sake;
  10. Freedom – contrary to popular opinion, being an entrepreneur doesn’t give you unlimited freedom. Sure you don’t have to answer to a ‘boss’ per say, but you are accountable to your bank manager, your customers and your staff which can be extremely constraining and stressful. Being an entrepreneur does not necessarily equate to being able to do whatever you like.

So that’s a list of reasons not to start up a business. You can take this or leave it, use it as a reason not to take the plunge or use it as a reason to say “fuck you… I’m doing it in spite of all those things”. At least you know what they are though!

Learning as a service – what’s that all about then?

A while back I started using the term ‘learning as a service’ to describe the service we provide at Learning Pool. It started as a throw away comment but has somehow gathered legs and I often get asked to talk about what I meant by this when I meet people.

The whole ‘.,, as a service’ thing started as a software phenomenon and software as a service (SAAS) is a massive area of growth in that industry. This has been the inspiration or many of the things that Learning Pool has developed over the last few years and it’s a strategy that I and the rest of the management team are really committed to. We think we’re largely unique in the ‘learning’ industry and that’s hopefully got a lot to do with our success so far. Here’s why we love this model:

Its low cost – there are no two ways about it, our offerings are cost effective, not just because there are no upfront fees but because the cost per head is so incredibly low compared to face to face training or bespoke e-learning development. The pay as you go nature of what we offer is also really compelling for new customers who don’t need to eat into dwindling cap ex budgets to use our services;

The service switches on immediately – our customers expect to buy something today and see it tomorrow. While there are practical limits to this for a lot of our customers (getting 10 people to agree to a colour scheme for example), this is pretty much how it is with Learning Pool and because we own the technology, that challenge is all ours so our customers don’t need to worry about any of it;

It scales – our customers range from small organisations with a few hundred staff to massive councils with tens of thousands of staff not to mention partners and associates. Regardless of the size of organisation, our service can scale to meet the need and because we’re in control of our infrastructure, we can keep a couple of steps ahead of what our customers need so that they rarely notice the difference;

There are no set-up fees – there just aren’t. Our customers pay a subscription service that they can stop paying when they decide to. Luckily this very rarely happens;

The service improves all the time – this isn’t all to do with the service nature of what we do. It’s actually more because we are a community and that we listen intently to what our customers need. It’s also because we have a great in-house team who are motivated to continually improve our offerings but the service nature of Learning Pool means that the improvements are almost always free and just sort of happen for customers;

You can make the service do what you need it to because there’s an element of customisation available in the technology. This means that although they sit on the same platform, no two customers need have exactly the same Learning Pool service so it still meets everyone’s needs despite the low costs;

We deliver tangible outcomes and return. This is really important for our customers and because they have the option to switch the service off at any time, we are motivated to help customers demonstrate that they can make real savings by using our services. This is a key element to the service side of Learning Pool. We want customers to stay with us for years and have a proud record of rarely losing customers despite it being fairly easy for them to switch supplier.

Selecting this business model for Learning Pool was maybe the most crucial decision we ever made although I’m not sure we thought about it as much as we should have at the time. Instead it sort of grew organically from that day around my kitchen table… I guess some things are just meant to be.

Coming soon – a blog about the pros and cons of this business model from a more commercial  perspective.