Legaltech Venture Investment

This week Crunchbase produced some numbers covering Legal tech investments in 2021.

Legal tech companies have already seen more than $1 billion in venture capital investments so far this calendar year, according to Crunchbase data. That number smashes the $510 million invested last year and the all-time high of $989 million in 2019.

While dollars are higher, deal flow is a little behind previous years, with 85 funding rounds being announced so far in 2021, well behind the pace of 129 deals last year and 147 in 2019.

Some of the largest rounds in the sector this year include:

  • San Francisco-based Checkr, a platform that helps employers screen job seekers through initiating background checks, raised a $250 million Series E at a $4.6 billion valuation earlier this month;
  • San Francisco-based legal services provider Rocket Lawyer closed a $223 million venture round in April; and
  • Boston-based on-demand remote electronic notary service Notarize raised a $130 million Series D in March at a reported $760 million valuation.

According to various start-up founders:

“This mainly is a paper-based industry. However, COVID exposed inefficiencies and it forced people to look at everything you do and explore new ways.”- Patrick Kinsel, founder and CEO at Notarize

“There’s no doubt COVID provided huge tailwinds for legal tech growth,” said Jack Newton, co-founder and CEO at Vancouver-based legal tools platform Clio, which raised a $110 million Series E at a $1.6 billion valuation. “It was the forcing factor for firms that had put off their transformation.”

“Since the midpoint of last year, we’ve seen an acceleration of our business,” said Vishal Sunak, co-founder and CEO at Boston-based management tool developer LinkSquares, which used that increased interest to help raise a $40 million Series B in July.

Here are a few observations on what is going on:

  1. Impact of the Cloud: Just as in many industries, the cloud and other new tech had been slowly changing the legal world for more than a decade. However, after COVID caused offices to close and legal processes and documents to go virtual, adoption of those technologies skyrocketed. Investors started to eye technologies that took many firms “in-house” processes and moved them to the cloud—many involving documentations and filings as well as tools to help better communicate with clients.

2. Cloud-first generation: Many general counsels are now coming from a “cloud-first” generation and know the importance of things such as data insights that can help predict outcomes. Just as data and AI has changed marketing, sales and finance, the legal community is now catching on, and many don’t just want to be a cost centre

3. Increasing investor knowledge: The increasing market and scaling legaltech start-ups are causing VCs to take note. While many investors eyed the space in the past, more investors have knowledge about contracts and legal tech, and founders do not tend to have to explain the market

However, the market is still small albeit growing and no ‘goliaths’ exist in the space. With no large incumbents, how investors see returns remains a popular question.

This may chance if, for example, horizontal software companies like Microsoft or Salesforce could become interested in the space—as legal tech has data and analytics those types of companies find useful, Wedler said.

Some companies in the space also have found private equity a viable exit, with films like Providence Equity rolling up players such as HotDocs and Amicus Attorney several years ago.

However, perhaps more interesting to some startups is the legal tech space even saw an IPO this year, with Austin, Texas-based Disco going public on the New York Stock Exchange in July. The company’s market cap now sits at $2.8 billion.

One thing most seem certain about is that while the legal world’s tech revolution may have been brought on by a once-in-a-century event—there is no turning back.

How to Fail Fast and Pivot: Lessons from the Legal Ops Front Lines

This week I attended a virtual Summit hosted by CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium). One interesting session covered lessons learned from developing and implementing legaltech and operation changes within legal and compliance teams of large corporates and SMEs.

Panelists including range of lawyers, project managers and legalops experts from Netflix, Salesforce and GE and covered topics including:

*How to manage change and being comfortable with being uncomfortable

*Avoiding big bang deployments which are so risky now vs POC/MVP and more agile approaches to change

*Learning how to take some budget off the total and use it for experimenting and be prepared to fail.

The below is a blurb introducing the session:

“…On the path to success, failure is not only an option, it’s inevitable. Mistakes, missteps, and misunderstandings are opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge that can contribute to your professional growth. The growing and evolving legal operations profession is filled with opportunities to evolve beyond errors. 

In this honest and impactful session, legal operations professionals will share a key moment of failure and how they learned and grew from it. After hearing from the panelists on their vulnerable moments of growth, we will spend time as a group sharing our own stories and offering our peers perspectives and possible solutions for overcoming some of their failures…”

Below I captured a few nuggets of gold from the panellists:

  • Give a purpose to failure; this helps to gain buy-in from users and clarify the bigger picture
  • Allow the community to own the new way to work rather than push to them
  • Leadership (e.g. town hall) to set the tone
  • Wider business context, and show why the change is important
  • Be transparent – there will be failure. Expect it. Tolerate it!
  • If leading the change, need to get to a stage of comfortable with being uncomfortable…but not too uncomfortable. Have to be mindful of current state of culture, empathise with users
  • Need to balance focus on the big picture using storytelling, sales skills etc as can’t control every details of the change
  • Experimental in communication, design thinking, courageous leadership, state of culture a huge consideration on how to balance approach
  • Big bang projects are so risky now vs POC/MVP and more agile approaches

Ultimate Resource List: Optimising & Transforming Legal Services

Here is a list of great resources I have started to compile recently. I’ll continue to add here over time and hopefully build up a pretty good catalogue for those people interested in optimising and transforming legal services, whether legal and compliance teams and departments, law firms, or other service providers.

As the list get bigger I’ll start to add headings to make it easier to follow. If you come across any interesting resources, frameworks, guides, research etc, be sure to email me at andrewessa@gmail.com

What is Legal Operations? A CLOC Guide

InCloudCounsel Guide for Successful B2B Vendor Outsourcing

Top Priorities for Legal and Compliance in 2021

KPMG 2021 Global Legal Department Benchmarking Survey

CLOC Templates and Resources

Gartner Guide for New General Counsels: 8 Step Action Plan

Gartner Guide For Selecting and Implementing LegalTech

Evaluating Your Business Idea With Better Customer Discovery Questions

As someone who is fascinated with start-ups and business ideas, I loved this post called “100 Questions You Can Ask In Customer Interviews”.

In it, the author compiles an inventory of questions you might need to better understand the problem you are trying to solve for the customer, how important is it for them in the context of their life, how they currently solve it (or not), and so on.

Having founded start-ups and advised many other founders, it still surprises me that many people do not take the time to do this work to the quality and depth required. Many do not even know about it or value its importance, which really baffles me. Obviously it is more ‘exciting’ to get on with it and ‘start building’, although this is fraught with serious risks.

In any case, the tool above is certainly a great way to have better conservations with potential customers and shape propositions accordingly.

25 Legal Tech Stats for 2020/21

This week I came across a blog post from ImpactMyBiz which compiled a list of great statistics, use cases and market data pertaining to the current state of technology in the legal sector.

In sum, there’s a lot of good progress but the sector is still subject to a lot of hype and extremely slow adoption when compared to other sectors. This is moreso in the B2B space with B2C innovation moving at a faster rate of adoption in improvement over time.

Perhaps the continued challenges presented by COVID around the world, increasing regulatory complexity, competitive pressures from alternative legal service providers (ALSP) and new entrants, remote working, client cost pressures, access to justice, and other key drivers will continue to move the needle forward.

25 legal tech stats to shed light on where where the industry is heading for in the new decade:

1.  In 2018, legal tech investments broke the $1 billion mark. That figure was topped in 2019, with $1.23 billion in funding by the end of the third quarter alone.

2. With the help of AI, a contract can be reviewed in less than an hour, saving 20-90% of the time needed to perform this work manually without sacrificing accuracy.

3. AI legal technology offerings for businesses increased nearly two-thirds in 2020 compared to 2019.

4. JP Morgan launched their in-house program, COIN, which extracts 150 attributes from 12,000 commercial credit agreements and contracts in a few seconds. This is equivalent to 360,000 hours of legal work by lawyers and loan officers per year.

5. Cloud usage among firms is 58%, with smaller firms and solos leading the way.

6. Security measures are lacking, with no more than 35% of firms using precautionary cybersecurity measures to protect their businesses. A staggering 7% of firms have no security measures at all.

7. Despite some reservations, lawyers continue to use popular consumer cloud services like Google Apps, iCloud and Evernote at higher rates than dedicated legal cloud services. Clio and NetDocuments ranked the highest among the legal cloud services.

8. The percentage of the ABA 2019 Legal Technology Survey participants answering “Yes” to the basic question of whether they had used web-based software services or solutions grew slightly, from 55% to 58%. 31% said “No”, a small decrease. 

9. When asked what prevented their law firms from adopting the cloud, 50% cited confidentiality/security concerns, 36% cited the loss of control and 19% cited the cost of switching.

10. 26% of respondents in a 2019 survey report that their law firms have experienced some sort of security breach

11. In 2018, just 25% of law firms reported having an incident response plan. In 2019, this figure had risen to 31%, and we expect the same for 2020.

12. Interest in cloud services from law firms is high, but expectations of adoption among them remain low, with just 8% of firms indicating they will replace existing legacy software with cloud tools.

13. Only one-third of lawyers (34%) believe their organizations are very prepared to keep up with technology changes in the legal market.

14. Firms described as “technology leading” fared better, with 50% prepared to meet digital technology demands in the industry.

15. 49% of law firms report that they are effectively using technology today, and 47% say they can improve technology adoption and plan to do so.

16. Over half (53%) of lawyers in the US and Europe say their organizations will increase technology investment over the next three years.

17. While over half of lawyers expect to see transformational change in their firms from technology like AI, big data and analytics, fewer than one quarter say they understand them.

18. The biggest trends cited by lawyers that are driving legal tech adoption are “Coping with increased volume and complexity of information” and “Emphasis on improved productivity and efficiency.”

19. It is estimated that 23% of work done by lawyers can be automated by existing technology.

20. 27% of the senior executives at firms believe that using digital transformation is not a choice, but a matter of survival.

21. The top challenges for corporate legal departments today include reducing and controlling outside legal costs; improving case and contract management; and automating routine tasks and leveraging technology in work processes.

22. 60% of lawyers believe their legal firm is ready to adopt new technology for routine tasks.

23. According to research conducted by Gartner, only 19% of law firms’ in-house teams are ready to move forward with enterprise-level digital strategies.

24. A recent study uncovered that 70% of consumers would rather use an automated online system or “lawbot” to handle their legal affairs instead of a human lawyer because of three important factors—cost, speed, and ease of use.

25. 70% of businesses indicated that “using tech to simplify workflow and manual processes” to cut costs was a top priority going forward.

“New Law” Opportunities for Law Firms

I recently came across a presentation I gave in April 2015 to senior partners at Eversheds LLP in London. At the time, Eversheds were proactive in starting to diversify their professional services offerings away from traditional legal and transactional work into ‘alternative’ services areas, such as business improvement consulting for in-house legal teams, and flexible resourcing solutions.

At the time, it was unusual for a major corporate firm to be experimenting into different areas.

The question for the presentation was as follows:

Downward cost pressure, deregulation and new technology are transforming the legal industry, as ‘New Law’ providers compete with traditional law firms.  What are the opportunities for large law firms in this evolving marketplace? 

I focused on 2 main themes of (a) Changing the mind-set and (b) Managing innovation.

Since then, in six years a lot of innovation has been introduced into the legal sector. However, it has been a fairly low-bar for many years with the legal sector ‘glacial’ when it comes to change and technology.

Certainly the ‘legaltech’ and/or ‘lawtech’ markets have received significant injections of VC to build next generation B2C and B2B solutions. Most large firms are now experimenting with different AI and automation solutions, running incubators, offering flexible resourcing arrangements, investing in start-ups, and so on.

To better support Fortune500 General Counsels with their efficiency challenges, the Big4 are building services and capability at scale, as are legal process outsourcers and ALSP’s.

Many of these ideas were referenced in the presentation.

However, the critical question is has anything really changed in how legal services are delivered, bought and sold? How much of this is ‘innovation theatre’ and nibbling around the edges versus real change?

For example:

  • Does the partner in the Freshfields office in HK work any differently then they did as a trainee 20 years ago?
  • Are the skills and requirements of a newly qualified lawyer any different?
  • Does the single lawyer law office in Bristol run their practice any differently?
  • Does the COO of a regional law firm run the business any differently?
  • Do consumers who need a family lawyer do this any differently?
  • Does the barrister or judge involved in a trial do this any differently?

The short answer I think is not a great deal of change across the industry as a whole. However there has been a tonne of experimentation and innovation in some fragmented areas, especially in B2C (e.g. DoNotPay). COVID-19 has certainly accelerated this, and that can only be a good thing.

I think what we are seeing is a marathon, not a sprint. In fact, it is more like the start of a triathlon where there’s a washing-machine effect as participants fight their way forward before a steadier state emerges.

We see this with most new technologies, where things often take much longer to truly disrupt. In retail and e-Commerce, it is only recently that the Internet is causing significant challenges for traditional players, almost 20 years after the Dot.Com crash in 2001.

One thing is for sure – the next 10 to 15 years in the legal sector will be fascinating.

Management of Portfolios (“MoP”)

Today I sat (and passed) the MoP Foundation Exam run by PeopleCert on behalf of AXELOS. I’ll do the final Practitioner exam next week. I bought the on-demand training via SPOCE, a UK training firm specialising in project management (“PM”) certifications such as PRINCE2, Agile, MSP etc.

Although I’ve had over 15 years experience with PM (including courses in PRINCE2, ITIL), it has been an extremely worthwhile exercise to build and consolidate knowledge on best practices around managing change portfolios.

For those not familiar with portfolio management, it helps organisations to make better decisions about implementing the right changes to their business as usual (BAU) activity via projects and programmes.

The Management of Portfolios (MoP®) guidance provides senior executives and practitioners responsible for planning and implementing change, with a set of principles, techniques and practices to introduce or re-energize portfolio management. MoP helps organizations answer the fundamental question: Are we sure this investment is right for us and how will it contribute to our strategic objectives?

In my experience – and supported by many studies and anecdotal evidence – most change initiatives tend to fail or not realise intended benefits. There are many reasons for this but certainly high-performing organisations invest in the right initiatives and implementing them properly.

In other words, such organisations do the right things, and realise all the benefits.

The Practitioner Exam next week will be significantly tougher than the Foundation. I better get back to studying.

8 Areas of Leadership Focus In Times Of Ongoing Disruption

In July last year I published a research and later and an eBook called REIGNITE! From Crisis To Opportunity In A COVID World. In light of a recent lockdown where I live (Guernsey) I thought it worth reflecting on what I wrote back then. To help I’ve pasted an infographic containing 8 areas where leaders should focus to rebuild their organisations.

Six months on and most (if not all) recommendations still remain, from prioritising digital investments, pushing ahead with smarter working policies, and leading with empathy. Whether or not organisations have implemented some or all of these is likely to be another story.

A Stronger Science, Technology + Innovation Agenda: 6 Areas of Focus

“Science, technology and innovation (STI) are universally recognized as key drivers for economic growth, improving prosperity, and essential components for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”  UN Conference on Trade and Development (2019)

A few months ago I wrote down some thoughts and questions after being inspired by political events where I live (Guernsey) and internationally (e.g. US). In both jurisdictions, the balance of power has dramatically shifted for different reasons but both against a backdrop of major crises including health (COVID), rising inequality, and skills gaps.

In essence, I was trying to think through answering 2 key questions for the new Government and ecosystem players (e.g.businesses, investors, educators etc): what are some key STI areas of focus, and what questions would I ask?

I have since shared the memo with various stakeholders in the ecosystem, and now I thought it would make sense to post it publicly here. If you have any feedback, be sure to let me know

——-

Research, analysis and policy development opportunities and questions for the new Government and ecosystem players (e.g. businesses, investors, educators etc)

Business case for an STI economy: the importance of ‘science, technology and innovation’ for Guernsey’s future in driving economic growth and improved prosperity for all citizens 

  • Key STI trends, opportunities and challenges 
  • What is STI/digital, why important, global best practices
  • Why important for Gsy?
  • Defining and measuring Guernsey’s existing STI/digital economy 
  • Benefits and impacts to economy, society, prosperity and infrastructure 
  • Jobs, skills, human capital and education
  • Role of stakeholders e.g. education, govt, business, people etc
  • Building blocks, what is needed? E.g. 
    • Policy and regulatory frameworks
    • Institutional setting and governance
    • Entrepreneurial ecosystems and access to finance
    • Human capital
    • Technical/ICT & R&D infrastructure
  • Relevance of Sustainability, Green Finance, Solar/Wind, FinTech, RiskTech, RegTech, GovTech
  • Role of tax policy, skills, FDI, govt, business etc 
  • Strategic options for Guernsey 

Resources – A FRAMEWORK for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Reviews: UN Conference on Trade and Development 

http://www.oecd.org/innovation/inno/

OECD (2020) A Common Framework for Measuring The Digital Economy 

ICT Infrastructure: Reshaping SURE Telecoms as a strategic asset to benefit the future of Guernsey and investigating the promise of new tech e.g. fibre, 5G etc

  • What is SURE’s current investment model, business strategy etc with regard to infrastructure, network performance and speeds, pricing and tariffs etc
  • How does it fit with Guernsey’s requirements, strategy and vision for the future? 
  • To what extent does the existing relationship with Sure/Cicra/others need to be reshaped?
  • What is the overall technology vision of Guernsey? E.g. the most digitally-enabled small island economy in the world? KPIs? 
  • What are the existing telco infrastructure challenges and market opportunities? E.g. connectivity, fibre, 5G etc
  • What are the key ICT indicators/KPIs for Guernsey?
  • How good or bad is the current network/asset performance? Where is the evidence? 
  • To what extent does Sure need to be incentivised to improve performance?
  • How will that benefit Guernsey? E.g. access, education, WFH, FDI, economic growth etc
  • What are the different levers to pull that can assist that?
  • What are the roles of the key stakeholders and to what extent does this need reshaping? E.g. Cicra, 
  • What are some example ownership models from around the world that should be considered?

Resource – 14 Key ICT Indicators

Smarter e-Government: Transforming public sector services to improve efficiency and effectiveness

  • Agilisys IT procurement: What was the promise vs reality, where is the accountability and island benefit (e.g. jobs, knowledge etc), what is the road ahead, and what needs to change 
    • What is the current status of the Agilysys IT procurement, what are the benefits (e.g. local jobs) vs costs, what is the roadmap
    • Current status and how successful has it been, why?
    • What was the scope of the original deal that was signed? How did that change over time? 
    • How much has been spent by the SOG?
    • What have been the benefits? E.g. local jobs, tax payer savings etc
    • How is the vendor managed, programme governed, quality assurance provided, risks/issues etc 
    • Strategic options and recommendations 
    • Role of new ways of working and thinking e.g. agile, design, lean
  • e-Gov/Future Digital Services
    • What is the latest vision and roadmap forward? Is it good enough?
    • In 2017 FDS was championed with a delayed and time-consuming procurement process which say Agilysys hired – what is the status?
    • What are the roadblocks, challenges vs opportunities 
      • E.g. SOG IT procurement decision-making and processes
    • What can we learn from other e-gov national leaders e.g. Estonia
    • What are the big opportunities/challenges?
    • What are the areas of focus?
    • What is required to move forward?
    • What are the costs/benefits?

Digital skills: how to re/upskill the population to be fit for the future 

  • What digital skills does Guernsey need? 
    • E.g. Data Analysis, Business Analysis, CS/Software Engineering, Product Development, Agile, PM, UX/UI, Google etc
  • What courses should be created?
    • For which groups e.g. school-leavers vs mid-level vs later stage 
  • How to deliver this?
  • Best practice models from similar jurisdictions 
  • Who to deliver this?
  • How much to deliver this?

Entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems: what is the Innovation & Growth vision for Guernsey PLC? How to create a more efficient, attractive and collaborative system: 

  • What new tax policies, incentives and regulatory changes are needed to drive the captial/FDI and other behaviours? E.g. EIS
  • How to encourage businesses to invest in R&D?
  • How to encourage angels/HNWI/funds/businesses/VC etc reallocate investments into start-ups?
  • Build on my article here – https://andrewessa.com/2020/08/28/digital-ecosystems-tzars-puzzle-pieces-the-halo-effect/
  • What is the Innovation vision for Guernsey PLC
  • Baselining and measurement
    • What is Guernsey’s approach and how effective is it?
    • Strengths/weaknesses
    • Challenges/opportunities
    • Actors in the ecosystem
  • What is best practice in small or island communities and competing off-shore jurisdictions?
    • What have Jersey done? cost/benefit?
    • What can we learn from them and other nations?
    • What could we improve?
    • What needs to happen?
  • Ecosystem pillars: how effective are the current actors and what needs to change 
    • Tax, finance and incentives 
      • The role of tax policy, tax credits, R&D, and other incentives 
      • Access to capital, finance
    • Guernsey Innovation Fund
      • What has been invested in to date?
      • What type of investments and how much?
      • What mix of businesses e.g. local vs overseas, maturity etc
      • What returns, benefits to date?
      • Who is involved in the fund, what governance etc
      • What is success? 
      • How does it compare to other small community or island ‘sovereign’ investment funds?
      • What is ‘best practice’ in this space?
    • Human capital strategies – from cradle to grave 
      • Understanding the digital/skills crisis e.g. PwC report
      • Practical solutions to solve it 
      • Alignment with Guernsey PLC strategic vision 
      • Baselining, what new skills, how to up/reskill, what incentives for businesses and people 
      • Life-long learning 
      • More flexible access to skills and talent 
      • Immigration policies 
    • Digital Greenhouse
      • Current vs future state
      • Cost/benefit
      • Challenges/opportunities
      • Recommendations 
    • Governance 
      • Effectiveness of current system
      • What changes are needed
      • What models, what structure, what responsibilities etc e.g. Guernsey Innovation 
    • Corporate innovation
      • How to incentivise investments in skills and new ventures 
    • International cooperation
      • Role of collaboration including within the Bailiwick 
    • New business opportunities 
      • The role of new ‘market creation innovation’ (MCI) policies- see below
      • Relevance of Sustainability, Green Finance, Solar/Wind, FinTech, RiskTech, RegTech, GovTech
      • Regulatory innovation models e.g. sandboxes 

Resource – OECD Review of Innovation Policy – New Zealand (2007)

Other sample areas of ‘innovation policy’ to explore:

  • Environment: Sustainability, ESG and climate change  
    • What is best practice around the world in small island or communities 
    • What are some potential or viable new business opportunities
    • Assess current state of initiatives (e.g. Green Funds)
    • Evaluate new initiatives e.g. Wind, solar etc
  • International collaboration and trade
    • How important is it to be more market-focused and rethink and prioritise international partnerships/affairs? E.g. Jersey
    • A colleague and partner Chris Brock covers some of this topic in a recent report here
  • Regulatory, governance and risk innovation: to what extent do the various regulatory bodies and related private/public sector organisations (e.g. GFSC, Cicra, TISE, DPO etc) need to adopt a more balanced and innovative approach to regulation and new business? How to accelerate existing initiatives and opportunities? e.g. Green Finance
    • What is the nature of the current approach? 
    • How to balance bureaucracy/risk-adversity in the Guernsey ecosystem but at same time encourage innovation, FDI and new businesses?
    • What are best practice examples of innovative regulatory/risk models from competing or similar jurisdictions or around the world?
    • To what extent could this be useful in Guernsey?
    • How is the wider market evolving and how will this impact Guernsey?
    • What are the pros/cons and opportunities/threats?
    • What new business opportunities a more innovative approaches enable? E.g. FinTech, RegTec
    • What are practical recommendations forward and for which actors 
  • Role of market-creating innovations to drive prosperity AND economic growth (MCI): What is the opportunity for Guernsey to incubate market-creating innovations for local use and export? And how can Guernsey facilitate the development of MCIs across different sectors – e.g. FS, Infrastructure, Transport, Environment etc – for local use and export to improve income inequality and other social/economic benefits? 

Resources:

https://hbr.org/2019/01/cracking-frontier-markets

A Quick Course on Lean

Today I came across a brilliant resource from Steve Blank for anyone interested in better understanding ‘lean’. It covers resources helpful for a formal class or for anyone who wants to review the basics. Here is what he provided:

Lean in Context

No Business Plan Survives First Contact With Customers

How did we build startups in the past?

The Business Model

An introduction to The Business Model Canvas

The Minimal Viable Product

How to Get, Keep and Grow Customers?

How to Get Out of the Building and Test the Business Model

What is Customer Development

What is Customer Discovery and Why Do it?

Why Get Out of the Building?

short article on how to do Customer Discovery via Zoom

Jobs to be done

Customer Validation

The Pivot

The Harvard Business Review Article “Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything” ties the pieces together here

The Mission Model Canvas

What is the Mission Model Canvas

The Mission Model Canvas Videos

Extra’s

Why Customer Development is done by founders

What Do Customers Get from You?

What are Customer Problems/Pains?

Users, Payers and Multi-sided markets

How do I Know I Have the Right Customers – Testing

How big is it?

How to Avoid Pricing Mistakes

More two-minute lectures here

Tools for educators here

Tools for students here

RIP Tony Hsieh

I first came across Tony Hsieh when I read his book Delivering Happiness soon after it was published in 2010. I remember immediately being captivated by his story as a scrappy but ultimately successful tech start-up founder, and then as an early investor and employee at ShoeSite (later Zappos).

There he focused on people and tested ‘radical’ management concepts such as:

Pay brand-new employees $2,000 to quit
Make customer service the responsibility of the entire company-not just a department
Focus on company culture as the #1 priority
Apply research from the science of happiness to running a business
Help employees grow-both personally and professionally
Seek to change the world
Oh, and make money too . . .

Aside from these techniques which helped propel Zappos into the hands of Amazon for $1B+ , the bigger impact for me was how ‘simply’ he was able to communicate in the pages of the book. There was a real ‘humanity’ with the way he wrote which was in stark contrast from most other best-selling leadership and business books of that era (e.g. Jack Welsh).

You got a real sense that the author really cared about using business as a means to do good, and make money for not just himself but colleagues and investors. I later learned that he deployed significant amounts of his wealth into various regeneration and gentrification projects around Las Vegas (according to various reports, some were successful, others not so much).

The world of entrepreneurship is certainly worse-off with Tony’s loss.

For more context on Tony’s life and the impact he had, this NY Times obituary is well worth a read.

RIP Tony.

Understanding Value Proposition

Last week I posted here about my experience mentoring a start-up team from LSE’s Innovation Accelerator programme.

This week I have asked the team to get more ‘granular’ to better define, understand and analyse the problem they are focused on solving i.e. identify user pain-points, challenges, jobs to be done.

In the original Uber pitch deck the co-founders demonstrated a good understanding of the problem for the different stakeholders. Once this is done to a satisfactory level, you can then start to ‘test’ with customer research, experiments and MVPs.

To assist the team, below I provided some great videos from Strategyzer

The Value Proposition Canvas Explained
Value Proposition Canvas: Best Practices
The Basics Of Testing Business Ideas

Think Tank Credibility

After listening to a podcast with Tristan Harris (co-founder of the think tank, Centre for Humane Technology), I’ve started to take a closer look into think tanks over the past few months. Given the recent Congress Hearings with Tech leaders and upcoming elections in US (and Guernsey where I have resided since 2016), I am slightly fascinated in the role think tanks play in democracy.

As part of the research, I recently came across a brilliant article by Andrea Baertl on the topic of ‘think tank credibility’. Obviously, credibility is crucial for a think tank. To be able to effectively inform policy and practice they need to be and be seen as credible sources of information and advice.

In the current environment- where fake news, fake think tanks, bad and fake research abound- think tanks need to be trustworthy sources of information and advice to their stakeholders.

In Andrea’s article, she provides an annotated reading list of resources that address the concept of credibility and think tanks. Below, I have provided a selection of the key resources to check out for further insight into the changing role of think tanks and the challenges of the new world:

A problematic context: post-truth, bad research and clandestine lobbying

Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U. K. H.,& Cook, J. (2017, in press). Beyond Misinformation: Understanding and coping with the post-truth era. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.

This article discusses the terms post- truth, fake news and misinformation. It outlines the societal trends that gave way to the current misinformation environment: a decline in social capital, growing economic inequality, increased polarisation, declining trust in science, and a fractionated media landscape. It also shows how misinformation influences people and the pervasive effects this can have. It finally discusses how people respond to corrections, showing how difficult changing people’s minds can be, and finishes with recommendations on how to combat misinformation

Leach, M. (2017Research and evidence in the ’post-truth’ era. Institute of Development Studies. Opinion.

This opinion article discusses the role of research and evidence in the current environment in which experts and facts are rejected by some groups. It argues that there is still need for research and evidence, but done differently. Research, evidence and knowledge needs to evidence how and why we need to create a fairer and more sustainable world, and how research can contribute towards that goal.

Gutbrod, H. (2017) Fake news, fake tanks, and the general election: Britain’s democracy under threat?. Transparency International Blog.

The author reflects on the impact that fake news and fake tanks can have on UK elections. He describes how fake tanks have effectively generated false news that are picked up by the main media outlets arguing that, yes, there is cause for concern. Editors and journalists often cannot tell the difference between real think tanks and fake ones (who are usually fronts for lobbyists or other powers) and gives examples of them further propagating fake news. Transparency, he argues, is a useful tool to identify if a think tank is credible or not, and that could and should be used to combat fake news and fake tanks. He finally argues that governments should not fall into the trap of more regulations, as that would stifle existing think tanks, but instead the focus should be on improving the media and ask them to fact check and refuse providing outlets to fake tanks and dark money groups.

The concept of credibility

Rieh, S. Y. & Danielson, D. R. (2007). Credibility: A multidisciplinary framework. In B. Cronin (Ed.), Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (Vol. 41, pp. 307-364). Medford, NJ: Information Today.

Rieh and Danielson discuss the concept of credibility and its relationship with trust, quality, authority and persuasion. They focus on identifying critical concepts and dimensions of credibility and the factors that influence its assessment. The focus is geared towards general communications, web design and information science, but the review of the concept they do as well as the framework proposed are very useful and a good introduction to understanding credibility.

Hilligoss, B., Rieh, S.Y., 2007. Developing a unifying framework of credibility assessment: Construct, heuristics, and interaction in context. Information Processing and Management 44 (2008) 1467–1484

Based on interviews the authors propose that there are three levels of credibility judgements: 1) Construct, which is the way a person defines or operationalized credibility, 2) Heuristics, which are the rules of thumb that people use to assess credibility in particular situations, and 3) Interaction level, which is how these two interact with the cues elicited by the source. Additionally, they propose that context frames these assessments. This is a very interesting framework and useful to understand how individuals assess credibility. The authors do a very good job of explaining to readers how assessments at every level are made and how different aspects influence credibility judgements.

Policy research, think tanks and credibility

Judis, J.B. (2017) The credible think tank is dead. New Republic.

Judis discusses the ousting of a Google critic at the New America Foundation and argues that donors have corrupted Washington’s policy and research institutes. The author traces the story of think tanks in the United States and shows how they have transformed, and concludes- in an un-optimistic tone- that a reduction of the role of money throughout American politics is needed to revive the older vision of the think tank: carrying out disinterested research.

Mendizabal, E. (2018). Is it all about credibility?. On Think Tanks Article.

This is a reflection article on different aspects that On Think Tanks has focused over the years: governance, business models, transparency, research quality, communications, etc.- and how these different issues all lead to a think tank strengthening and showcasing its credibility.

Doberstein, C. (2017). Whom Do Bureaucrats Believe? A Randomized Controlled Experiment Testing Perceptions of Credibility of Policy ResearchPolicy Studies Journal, 45: 384-405.

Highly recommended research that shows the power of heuristics when assessing the credibility of a source. Doberstein ran an experiment in which participants (government bureaucrats) were asked to read research summaries and assess their credibility, for half or respondents the affiliation/authorship of the content was randomly reassigned. The findings showed that credibility was basically assessed via heuristics and regardless of the actual piece of research: academic research is perceived to be more credible than think tank or advocacy organisation research. The author did this follow up study with similar findings: Doberstein, C. (2017) The Credibility Chasm in Policy Research from Academics, Think Tanks, and Advocacy Organizations. Canadian Public Policy, 43, 4. Both articles can be found in academia.edu and the author also published an abridged version.

Rich, A. (2004) Think tanks, public policy and the politics of expertise. Cambridge University Press, New York.

This book is an excellent introduction to understanding and studying think tanks. Regarding, credibility chapter three “Political Credibility” is highly recommended. Rich analyses the perceptions of think tanks among US congressional staff and journalists (as key actors in policymaking), their views on the influence and credibility of think tanks, and how their visibility and marketing efforts affect their influence and perceptions of credibility.

Stone, D. (2004) Private authority, scholarly legitimacy and political credibility. Think Tanks and informal diplomacy. In. Higgot, R., Underhill, G.R.D., Bieler, A. (2004) Non-State Actors and Authority in the Global System

The work of Stone on think tanks in general is highly recommended. This chapter is very interesting to understand the credibility of think tanks from a political viewpoint. The author describes how think tanks as non-state actors act as policy entrepreneurs on both domestic and international policy domains and contribute to policymaking. Despite not being fully academic actors, they operate within that world as well, which in turn lends them credibility.

Baertl, A. (2018) De-constructing credibility: factors that affect a think tank’s credibility. On Think Tanks Working Paper 4. On Think Tanks

The paper explores the concept of credibility, explaining that credibility is constructed through the interaction of characteristics and actions of an organisation, and the assessment of others in the context within which communication takes place. Stakeholders give (or take away) credibility based on their assessments of the information they have and the influence of the current context. The paper argues that the credibility of a think tank goes beyond the quality of its research, and that there are a common set of factors from which individuals draw from to assess the credibility of a think tank. These are: networks, past impact, intellectual independence, transparency, credentials and expertise, communications and visibility, research quality, ideology and values, and current context.

Ensuring credibility

The following are a selection of articles that focus on specific factors that relate to the credibility of think tanks, and give ideas on how think tanks can ensure and showcase it.

Research quality

Méndez, 2012. What’s in good? Evaluating IDRC Results: Research Excellence. IDRC

Although a little dated now- therefore missing the latest research quality frameworks (REF and RQ+)- this is an excellent overview of the literature on research quality and excellences, as well as some of its gaps. The article discusses the elusive concept of research excellence or quality and demonstrates that there are no common definitions, but several commonalities in it. This document is included in this credibility reading list because research quality is at the core of a think tank’s credibility and a needs to be reflected on before moving any further on to assess its credibility.

McLean, R. (2018)Credibility and research quality- time for a paradigm shift? On Think Tanks Article.

The author discusses the RQ+ framework of the IDRC as a way forward to measure and ensure the quality of research and lead to its credibility. The article starts by questioning impact indicators an argues that they are essentially a proxy indicator of how popular the publication is, and that they say very little about the importance of the topic, the quality of the research or their impact on policy or practice. The framework developed by the IDRC is a way to ensure all of this, which would in turn lead to credible research.

Transparency

Gutrod, H. (2018) Credibility- the role of transparency. On Think Tanks Article.

This short article reflects on the relationship of transparency and credibility, arguing that transparency does not guarantee credibility for a think tank, but it is a necessary step towards achieving it. Gutbrod says transparency can also contribute to the debate on credibility- after all, every organisation has particular interests, motivations and affiliations. The problem for the credibility of the organisation arises when these are hidden.

Bruckner, T. (2017) Think tanks, evidence and policy: democratic players or clandestine lobbyists?. LSE Impact blog

Think tanks are thought by some to conduct sound policy research aimed at enriching policy discussions, and by others as covert lobbyists financed by corporations to suit their needs. Bruckner discusses the role that transparency can (and is) playing in establishing which think tanks are legitimate and credible organisations and which are not.

Communications and credibility

Fogg, B.J. (2002). Prominence-Interpretation Theory: Explaining How People Assess Credibility. A Research Report from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, Stanford University

Prominence-Interpretation theory proposes that in order to assess the credibility of something (in this case, websites) people first need to notice something (prominence) and then make a judgement made about it (interpretation). People only base their credibility judgements on aspects that they notice. This highlights the importance of good communications as part of a think tank’s credibility strategy.

Williams K (2018). Three strategies for attaining legitimacy in policy knowledge: Coherence in identity, process and outcome. Public Admin. 2018;1–17.

The author outlines three types of coherence that enhance the legitimacy of organisations based on an analysis and interviews to individuals from 12 development research organisations. Williams argues that the credibility of knowledge production organisations is enhaced by demonstrating a coherent identity; showing adequate processes for maintaining independence, integrity and transparency; and creating the ‘right’ products that impact on their audiences.

Schwartz, J, 2018 Credibility and think tank communications. On Think Tanks article.

Schwwartz argues that credibility is at the heart of all effective communications (as without credibility the message will not be adequately received by the source). The argument, is that to build its credibility, a think tanks needs to: be evidence based, and showcase this in its communications; be brand-conscious and build consistent arguments over time, and; be useful, working with and for their audiences, and making its ideas easy to find and use.

Westerman, D., Spence, P. R. and Van Der Heide, B. (2014), Social Media as Information Source: Recency of Updates and Credibility of Information. J Comput-Mediat Comm, 19: 171–183. doi:10.1111/jcc4.12041

This very interesting article analyses how information available on social media impacts the perceptions of credibility. Although not directly focused on think tanks, it does offer very interesting lessons for them. The findings showed that recency of tweets positively impacts the credibility of the source, although this process is not automatic and is mediated by cognitive elaboration.

Newman, E. J., & Schwarz, N. (in press). Good sound, Good Research: How the audio quality of talks and interviews influences perceptions of the researcher and the research. Science Communication

Although the focus of this research is not think tanks per se, the implications of the findings are important for think tank communications. The authors ran an experiment in which they presented identical conference talks in high and low audio quality and asked people to evaluate the piece. People evaluated the research and researcher less favourably when they were presented with the poor audio quality audio. This has important implications for think tank communications, as efforts in curating the quality of their pieces will have larger implications in how their audiences perceive them.

Flanagin & Metzger 2017. Digital media and perceptions of source credibility in political Communication. In Kathleen, K.K & Jamieson, H. (2017) The Oxford Handbook of Political Communication. Oxford University Press

The authors compare the credibility of digital versus traditional channels, and the dynamics and nature of political information online. They also reflect on the following aspects: the link between credibility and selective exposure, the potential for group polarisation, and the role of social media in seeking and delivering credible political information. They analyse these issues and offer challenges and opportunities that can be used by think tanks to better engage with the public.

Customer Discovery & Development

Last week I began mentoring a team who have entered the London School of Economics (LSE) Innovation Lean Accelerator Programme.

Team’s need to focus on improving their Lean Canvas which initially requires an in-depth understanding of the problem they are looking to solve.

This process of ‘customer development’ or ‘discovery’ is probably the most vital phase of a start-up’s life. However, in my experience advising would-be founders, it is often the least understood area of start-up development.

There are many reasons for this, but far too often I find that budding entrepreneurs are not willing to ‘get out of the building’ and talk to potential users/customers in the right way. And do this in an iterative and ‘lean’ way over time.

To help my team to better understand the process, I shared with them these resources. Whilst not comprehensive, provide a good introduction to better understanding and defining the problem (and most critically, how important it is for that user in the context of their life/work).

TechStarts Toolkit

Conducting Customer Discovery Interviews

Neil Patel 26 Customer Discovery Resources

Steve Blank Lean Launchpad Videos

Steve Blank Start-Up Tools – (focus on the Customer Discovery section)

If you come across any other interesting resources, please share in the comments or on twitter @andrewessa



Don’t Think You Have To Conquer The World Straight Away

Today I came across a video from 2014 from The Happiness Start-Up School Summercamp where I was interviewed about starting a business, inspiration, and other entrepreneurial things.

At the time, I was 2 years in to launching The Social Experiences Club, one of the first online marketplaces for connecting people with experts and hosts for unique experiences and activities.

If you can ignore the amount of ‘ums’ and ‘aahs’ I unfortunately use, it does provide interesting insight into my thinking whilst in the thick of start-up mode.

Corporate Governance And Innovation: 10 Questions for Boards

To be successful, companies must be led by leaders – the CEO, top executives and board of directors – who are deeply and irrevocably committed to innovation as their path to success. Just making innovation one of many priorities or passive support for innovation are the best ways to ensure that their company will never become a great innovator – Bill George, former CEO and Chairman of Medtronic and Professor at Harvard Business School

A few weeks back I gave a talk focused strategic response, adaptability and innovation in a COVID world to an audience of NEDs mainly focused on off-shore financial services (FS) sector firms.

Given how highly regulated and risk-adverse many off-shore FS firms are, unsurprisingly questions were focused on the challenges of balancing risk vs innovation, how to make change happen at board level, and how to navigate director duties.

It got me thinking….

What are the ways for boards to show their real, concrete commitment to innovation and technology, and its governance?

As I discussed in my talk, all global business and technology trends point in the same direction: there is a need for more proactive and far-sighted management of innovation. Innovation for business reinforcement and growth – and for transformation in particular – are, of course, the prime responsibility of top management. Innovation governance – a holistic approach to steering, promoting and sustaining innovation activities within a firm – is thus becoming a critical management imperative.

Boards of directors also need to be more than just observers of this renewed management interest in innovation, because so much is at stake in an increasingly pervasive digital and COVID world. In a growing number of industries and companies, innovation will determine future success or failure.

Of course, boards do not need to interfere with company leaders in the day-to-day management of innovation, but they should include a strong innovation element in their traditional corporate governance missions. For example:

  • Strategy review;
  • Auditing;
  • Performance review;
  • Risk prevention and, last but not least;
  • CEO nomination.  

It is therefore a healthy practice for boards to regularly reflect on the following questions:

  • To what extent is innovation, broadly defined, an agenda item in our board meetings?
  • What role, if any, should our board play vis-à-vis management regarding innovation?

To facilitate their self-assessment, boards should answer a number of practical questions that represent good practice in the governance of innovation. According to various innovation governance experts, including Professor Jean-Phillipe Deschamps at IMD Business School and author of Innovation Governance: How Top Management Organises and Mobilises for Innovation (2014), below are ten good-practice questions and perspectives to incorporate into any board evaluation:

1) Have we set an innovation agenda in many, if not most, of our meetings?

Board meetings are always crowded with all kinds of statutory corporate governance questions, without talking about the need to handle unexpected events and crises. So, unless innovation issues are inserted into the board agenda, they won’t be covered. It is a good practice to include innovation as a regular and open agenda item in at least a couple of board meetings per year. It should also be a key item in the annual strategy retreat that many boards set up with the top management team. Many of the following questions will provide a focus for this open innovation agenda item.

2) Do we regularly review “make-or-break” innovation projects?

In some industries, like pharmaceuticals, automotive, energy and aerospace, company boards regularly review the big, often risky innovation projects that are expected to provide future growth. They also do so because of funding issues – some of these projects may require extraordinary and long-term investments that need board approval. But in other industries, boards may be only superficially aware of the new products or services under preparation. Arguably, there may be several projects that are still small in terms of investments but could become “game-changers,” and it would be wise for the board to review them regularly in the presence of R&D leaders and innovators.

3) Do we regularly review and discuss the company’s innovation strategy?

Boards are generally aware of – and discuss – the company’s business strategy, particularly when it involves important investments, mergers and acquisitions and critical geopolitical moves. But what about the company’s innovation strategy (if it exists and is explicit, which is not always the case)? There are indeed important decisions that might concern the board in a company’s innovation choices because of their risk level and impact. Think of the adoption of innovative new business models, the creation of totally new product categories, or the conclusion of important strategic alliances and partnerships for the development, introduction and distribution of new products. Management’s adoption of a clear ‘typology’ of innovation in its board communication would definitely facilitate such reviews and discussions.

4) Do we regularly review and discuss the company’s innovation risk?

Boards usually devote a significant amount of time to risk assessment and reduction. But their focus tends to be on financial, environmental, regulatory and geopolitical risk. Innovation risk may be underestimated, except in the case of large projects involving huge investments and new technologies. But internal innovation risk is not limited to new project and technology uncertainties. It can be linked to the loss of critical staff, for example. Innovation risk can also be purely external. Will competitors introduce a new disruptive technology that will make our products and processes obsolete? Will new entrants invade our market space through different, more effective business models? Will our customers expect new solutions that we have not thought about? Assessing innovation risk is critical to avoid what Ravi Arora calls “pre-science errors” – underestimating the speed and extent of market or technology changes – and, even worse, “obstinacy errors” – sticking to one’s solution too long after markets or technologies have changed. It is the duty of the board to prevent such errors.

5) Do we set specific innovation goals for management?

Boards often exert strong pressure on management by setting performance goals. But most of these goals tend to focus on financial performance: top and bottom line growth, earnings per share, capital utilization ratios, etc. Some companies add other goals to focus management’s attention on worthwhile new objectives, such as globalization or sustainability. But what about innovation if it increasingly becomes a growth driver? A number of highly innovative companies have indeed included innovation goals in the CEO’s balanced scorecard. One of the most commonly found is the percentage of sales achieved through new products, typically products introduced in the past few years. But there are many other innovation goals to incite conservative management teams to take more risk – for example, the percentage of R&D spent on high risk/high impact projects. Innovation goals are interesting because they actually determine much of the company’s long-term financial performance. It is therefore good practice to discuss these goals with the management team and retain the most meaningful ones.

6) Do we review innovation management issues with the CEO?

Most sustained innovation programs raise many issues. Some of them are managerial – how to keep innovators motivated and reward them? Others are organizational – how to decentralize R&D to tap the brains of our international staff? Many deal with intellectual property – how do we practice open innovation while maintaining our IP position? Others deal with strategic alliances and partnerships – how do we share the efforts and risks of new ventures with our partners? And there are many more issues. The question boards should ask is: Are we aware of the most acute issues that management faces as it steers the company’s innovation program? The board’s mission is of course not to interfere and become too deeply involved in these innovation issues. However, its mission is to keep informed and help the CEO and top management team reflect on their options. This is why it is essential to keep a short open agenda item – “innovation issues” – in board meetings with a specific innovation agenda. 

7) Do we expect management to conduct innovation audits?

Many companies embarking on a major innovation boosting program rightfully start with an internal audit and, sometimes, a benchmarking exercise against best-in-class competitors. Where are we deficient in terms of strategy, process, resources and tools? Do we have the right type of people in R&D and marketing, and do we tap their creativity effectively? Do we cover all types of innovation, i.e. not just new technologies, products and processes? Are our projects well resourced and adequately managed? Are they under control? How good is our innovation climate? These audits are extremely effective for highlighting priority improvement areas, and it is therefore good practice for the board to suggest that management undertake such audits and keep them updated. These audits will provide the board with a rich perspective on the company’s innovation performance issues.

8) Do we expect management to report on innovation performance?

This question is directly related to the questions on innovation goals (5) and innovation audits (7). Once innovation goals have been set and an audit conducted, it will be natural for the board to follow up and assess innovation performance. To avoid having to delve into too many details, innovation performance reviews should be carried out once or twice a year on the basis of a reasonably limited number of innovation performance indicators. Good practice calls for these indicators to cover several categories. A couple of them should be lagging indicators, i.e. measuring the current result of past efforts – the percentage of sales achieved through new products being one of them. A couple of others should be leading indicators, measuring the level of efforts done today to ensure future innovation performance – for example, the percentage of the R&D budget devoted to high risk/high impact projects mentioned above. One or two others should be in the category of in-process indicators – the most usual measure being the percentage of projects managed on schedule and on budget. Finally, it is always interesting to include a learning indicator to measure the reactivity of management and its ability to progress on key issues.

9) Do we know and occasionally meet our main corporate innovators?

Nothing conveys a company’s strong innovation orientation better than a visit by the entire board to the labs and offices where innovation takes place, both locally and abroad. Such visits, which are often carried out by innovative companies, have a dual advantage. They enable board directors to be aware of the real-world issues that the company’s innovators face, and they provide them with a good understanding of the risks and rewards of innovation. They also motivate the frontline innovators, who often lack exposure to top management.

10) Do we take innovation into account when appointing new leaders?

This last question is probably the most important. The nomination of a new CEO is undoubtedly one of the board’s most visible and powerful contributions to the company. It can herald a new and positive era for the company if the capabilities of the CEO match the company’s strategic imperatives. But it can sometimes lead to damaging regressive moves if the values of the new CEO are innovation-unfriendly. Management author Robert Tomasko notes that CEOs often fall into one of two broad categories: fixers and growers. The former are particularly appreciated by boards when the company needs to be restructured and better controlled. But fixers often place other values and priorities ahead of innovation. Growers are more interested in innovation because of its transformational and growth characteristics. This does not mean that boards should always prefer growers over fixers. There are times when companies require drastic performance improvement programs and an iron-handed CEO is needed. The board should, however, reflect on the impact the new CEO will have on the company’s innovation culture and performance. This is why it is so important to look at the composition of the entire management team. How many growers does it include and in what position? Will these senior leaders be able to counteract excessive innovation-unfriendly moves by the new fixer CEO?    

If you are interested in this topic, I suggest starting with Professor Jean-Phillipe Deschamps book Innovation Governance: How Top Management Organises and Mobilises for Innovation (2014)

Pandemic Pivots by Small Businesses

The COVID-19 crisis caused many businesses to make crunch decisions such as rapidly pivot offerings or building out new products/services. Often we hear stories of how big companies (e.g. Uber pivoting away from ride-sharing to food delivery) have done this (or not as the case may be), but rarely do we hear of pivots by small or local businesses.

In the course of research for my REIGNITE! 2020 Report which analysed strategic responses of 439 international organisations (large and small) around the world between March-June 2020, I came across many inspirational stories of incredible small business pivots.

In a recent speech to the NED Forum (slides here), I described the story of one particular business who had managed to turn crisis into opportunity.

To tell the story of a brilliant pandemic pivot by a small business, I’ve pasted the excerpt from the talk below:

Let me tell you a quick story about ABC Learning Company, based here in Gsy. Obviously that is not their real name but I came across them in some research I did during Q2 and lockdown. 

In the research which later became the REIGNITE 2020 Report – which I’ll introduce shortly – there was so much devastation across sectors including travel, hospitality, retail, construction, manufacturing, and so on. 

In fact 50% of the 439 leaders surveyed were in total despair, in terms of closures, restructuring, uncertainty and so on. 

However…there was a glimmer of hope!

About 10% of businesses were doing extraordinary things. They were using the crisis as an opportunity to reset, rethink, and reinvent. They were pivoting, quickly using technology to launch new offerings, testing new business models, and at the same time becoming more efficient, productive and reducing costs.

In terms of ABC Learning, it was a typical lifestyle business providing high school tutors, owned by one person with 5 tutors on the payroll. No online presence, web-site or anything. Business stopped overnight with lockdown, but by rethinking things quickly and using simple online and digital tools – google spreadsheets for CRM and bookings, zoom for delivery of live sessions, stripe for online or over the phone payments, the owner was not only able to quickly survive but doubled revenue during lockdown, hired 10 more tutors on contracts, and created a scalable solution which allowed for recorded training on-demand on popular topics. So better CX, more revenue and profits.

So what is interesting here is the combination of human psychology and business strategy during a crisis: so how did the leader reinvent whilst everyone was retreating, what can we learn, and how can we emulate this for our own contexts

This is what underpins today’s talk and certainly the REIGNITE 2020 Report which I’ll introduce shortly.


How To Create Winning Strategies That Reignite Human Potential, Adaptability and Creativity

Yesterday I gave a presentation to a NED Forum event sponsored by Investec. It covers a topic that I think is one of the most important issues for CEOs and Boards today who continue to grapple with the challenges of COVID.

The 3 key objectives for the presentation were to:

  1. Better understand what are some of the key and complex forces at play in organisations due to COVID
  2. How organisations can be more adaptable and resilient to future disruptive change
  3. And how to do this with more humanity using some best practices of a growing new breed of organisations out there

You can view the presentation here or below including the REIGNITE! 2020 Report:

The REIGNITE! 2020 Report

For those interested on more detail, below I have pasted in snippets of the talk including the Introduction.

Enjoy!

——

Hello and welcome everyone. Thank you to The NED Forum and Investec for the opportunity to speak here today. My name is Andrew Essa, and today I’m going to cover a topic that I think is one of the most important, if not THE most important, issues for CEOs and Boards today.

And that is:

Not just about turning this COVID crisis into an opportunity

Not just about where CEOs should focus, or where to invest

And not just about what winning strategies to implement to outmanouevure the competition

But more about HOW to do all of this in a way that is also more humane, more trusting and less bureaucratic, and in a way that can unleash the potential and creativity of people to have more impact and more fulfilling work lives

So we will aim to do 3 things here today:

  1. Better understand what are some of the key and complex forces at play in organisations
  2. How organisations can be more adaptable and resilient to future disruptive change
  3. And how to do this with more humanity using some best practices of a growing new breed of organisations out there

Slide 2 – Gary Hamel quote

  • So to bring this quote which I love and also my ‘fascination’ with this topic – I’ll tell you a quick story about ABC Learning Company, based here in Gsy. 
  • Obviously that is not their real name but I came across them in some research I did during Q2 and lockdown. 
  • In the research which later became the REIGNITE 2020 Report – which I’ll introduce shortly – there was so much devastation across sectors including travel, hospitality, retail, construction, manufacturing, and so on. 
  • In fact 50% of the 439 leaders surveyed were in total despair, in terms of closures, restructuring, uncertainty and so on. 
  • However…there was a glimmer of hope!
  • About 10% of businesses were doing extraordinary things. They were using the crisis as an opportunity to reset, rethink, and reinvent. They were pivoting, quickly using technology to launch new offerings, testing new business models, and at the same time becoming more efficient, productive and reducing costs.
  • In terms of ABC Learning, it was a typical lifestyle business providing high school tutors, owned by one person with 5 tutors on the payroll. No online presence, web-site or anything. Business stopped overnight with lockdown, but by rethinking things quickly and using simple online and digital tools – google spreadsheets for CRM and bookings, zoom for delivery of live sessions, stripe for online or over the phone payments, the owner was not only able to quickly survive but doubled revenue during lockdown, hired 10 more tutors on contracts, and created a scalable solution which allowed for recorded training on-demand on popular topics. So better CX, more revenue and profits.
  • So what is interesting here is the combination of human psychology and business strategy during a crisis: so how did the leader reinvent whilst everyone was retreating, what can we learn, and how can we emulate this for our own contexts
  • This is what underpins today’s talk and certainly the REIGNITE 2020 Report which I’ll introduce shortly.

Slide 5 – The Modern Org is Under Attack

  • So the modern organisation is clearly under attack from so many angles. 
  • The pace of change now is exponential and only will increase as further technological convergence happens through digital, AI, automation, analytics and so on
  • Today’s orgs look and feel very similar to how they have always been – command-control, top-down consistency, coordination and standardisation- which is the classic bureaucracy 
  • In US 1983-2019 the bureaucratic workforce – managers and overhead – has doubled in that time-frame VS growth of 50% in all other job categories
  • At same time productivity per OECD has gone down since them
  • Mental health, burnout, anxiety, stress, bullying, politics, discrimiation, harassment etc has skyrocketed 
  • Do we know anyone who is a leader, manager or worker and genuinely feels inspired, trusted, valued and engaged by their organisation every day??
  • We can’t afford it anymore!
  • So the question becomes, is it possible to build organisations that are big and fast, disciplined and empowering, responsive to market shifts yet resilient, efficient and entrepreneurial, and bold and prudent?
  • Many examples of new breeds of organisations successfully operating with 1/2 of bureaucratic load of traditional org
  • Case study – Buurtzorg (page xi)
    • Dutch firm Birdszaard home-health employers 16,000 nurses and home-carers with 2 line managers with a span of control of 1-8000!
    • They do this with dividing into small teams, give them the data they need to be self-managing, connect with a social platform to collaborate to solve problems and collaborate and share best practices, hold deeply accountable with P&Ls
    • Gives all the advantages of bureaucracy with control, consistency and coordination with no drag or overhead

On Digital Business:

  • Speed and scale: Digital and cloud has enabled adaptability at speed and scale;
    • The crisis has shown that rapid change at speed and scale is possible using digital and cloud in the short-term.
  • Increased adoption: Increased adoption of back-end cloud and front-end productivity tools, from e-signature to VC to MS365 to Dropbox etc
  • Effectiveness and benefits: Focus now on what is working, what isn’t, benefits realisation, productivity, efficiency, training, 
  • Complexity: So much going on…..managing capacity, cybersec, managing the complexity of the new IT estate, ensuring greater resource allocation with 2021 budgets, investments and leadership commitment to that 
  • Scaling and Transformation: The best firms – probably not many – are:
    •  firmly putting digital at the centre of corporate strategy
    • looking whether to build vs buy
    • aligning leaders on digital acumen so every CXO is a Chief Digital Officer for their function
    •  looking at wider opportunities for upskilling and digital adoption across the firm – so beyond infrastructure into more advanced worker productivity tools – automation, AI, analytics, superior Customer Experiences, New Business Models and Products/Services, Ecosystem Collaborations/Ventures
    • As well as more strategically, how to better organise and transform to become a digital business
  • Caution! Digital laggards will get left behind due to external forces and competitive intensity

On Trust + Safety:

  • So this is such a critical, complex and often overlooked dimension, mainly as it requires leaders to be empathetic and emotionally intelligent, and unfortunately many aren’t  
  • The BIG opportunity is that for the firms who get these complex dynamics right, will differentiate themselves from a talent retention and hiring perspective and become the new employers/brands of choice 2021+
  • But first we need to look at the state of play before COVID
  • In a nut-shell, there is very little trust, just need to look at amount of oversight, rules, policies, rule-choked processes and employees get this and know they aren’t trusted and even that their managers don’t think they are very capable
  • UK amount of discretion people have in jobs has been going down in last 20years
  • Only 1 out of 5 believe their opinions matter at work
  • Only 1 in 10 have the freedom to experiment with new solutions and methods
  • Most people can buy a car or house but same people in organisations can’t order a better £150 work chair without going through crazy internal hoops and hurdles
  • The way organisations are organised it is a caste system of managers and employees of thinkers/doers which causes disengagement of people from their work
  • Gallup surveys show only 20% of those highly engaged in their work – this is ALARMING so something needs to change
  • So against that backdrop you introduce a health and economic crisis of proportions never seen before, which impacts the human psyche in many different ways, and for most orgs you have a widening trust gap
  • Key impacts:
    • The “psychological contract” between employer/employee has also shifted for many
    • Traditional work assumptions have been challenged, firms must now not assume ‘old’ practices were the right ones
    • Acceleration of complex issues around safety, mental health, inclusivity, belonging, empathy, EQ, culture and behaviour, power dynamics, and expectations on leadership styles

The Power of Language To Communicate Strategy & Change

I used this slide at a presentation yesterday.

For me its purpose was to contrast current/future states and link to best practices.

However one of the participants (Banking senior executive) said he loved how it simply showed how powerful ‘language’ can be to communicate a new strategy, initiative or change.

He said they have been stuck for years using the same old terminology from the ‘old’ column.

This was brilliant.

An unexpected but simple example showing the power of fresh #perspectives #diversityofthought #customerdevelopment #userfeedback

An Interview With Gary Hamel

I recently listened to the Eat.Sleep.Work. Repeat podcast where Bruce Daisley interviewed Gary Hamel about his new book Humanocarcy. I posted about my excitement to recieve the pre-order of it here, and am really enjoying working my way through it.

If you are a leader, manager or worker in ANY job, this book (or notes below) is a must-read.

Whilst I rarely (well, never) take notes of the podcasts I listen to, after the first 5min it was clear I needed to capture the content. There was just so much unbelievable value Gary Hamel was providing.

And so the below represents my rough notes of that interview (which includes the below quote – so simple, yet so powerful):

Cannot assume that low-skill jobs means low-skill capabilities! – Gary Hamel

Enjoy!

What is the impact of COVID on the world of work?

  • Remote work and flexibility is possible, that will continue
  • Power moves to the periphery. Front-line people have had to use their ingenuity along with more freedom and autonomy so these people will not want to go back to traditional roles
  • Institutional and political resilience has come up short. Organisations are poorly suited to fast-moving, demanding problems and challenges beyond COVID such as racial injustice, income inequality, environmental change, automation impacts will need everyone to turn on everyone’s creativity

What is going on with the state of trust?

  • Yes very little trust, just need to look at amount of oversight, rules, policies, rule-choked processes and employees get this and know they aren’t trusted and even that their managers don’t think they are very capable
  • UK amount of discretion people have in jobs has been going down in last 20years
  • Only 1 out of 5 believe their opinions matter at work
  • Only 1 in 10 have the freedom to experiment with new solutions and methods
  • Most people can offered to buy a car or house but same people in organisations can’t order a better £150 work chair without going through crazy internal hoops and hurdles
  • The way organisations are organised it is a caste system of managers and employees of thinkers/doers which causes disengagement of people from their work
  • Gallup surveys show only 20% of those highly engaged in their work – this is ALARMING so something needs to change

What is the impact of bureaucracy?

  • A 1/3 of wage bill goes to managers, supervisors and administrators
  • A 1/3 of all hours/activities in organisations goes to bureaucratic tasks
  • In US 1983-2019 the bureaucratic class has grown by 200% (doubled) in that time-frame VS growth of 50% in all other job categories
  • It’s not about more regulation but the proliferation of new functions
  • At same time productivity per OECD has gone down since them
  • We can’t afford it anymore!
  • Many examples of post-bureaucratic vanguard of firms operating with 1/2 of bureaucratic load of traditional org
  • Dutch firm Birdszaard home-health employers 16,000 nurses and home-carers with 2 line managers with a span of control of 1-8000!
  • They do this with dividing into small teams, give them the data they need to be self-managing, connect with a social platform to collaborate to solve problems and collaborate and share best practices, hold deeply accountable with P&Ls
  • Gives all the advantages of bureaucracy with control, consistency and coordination with no drag or overhead
  • Can cut the bureaucratic drag by 50% would produce 10T gain in economic output across OECD (in UK £900B) and would double productivity growth rate over next 10 years
  • No other proposals on the table eg improving education, more incentives for capital investment
  • Economic reason, competitive reasons, social reasons as ethically the reason to do this

How do we get there?

  • Foundation for building a post-bureaucratic organisation is everyone thinking and acting like an entrepreneur, owner
  • Pre-Industrial era most owners/employees 4-5 people, all customer-focused and knew each other
  • As organisations scaled in line with Industrial revolution that was lost and no longer have the information to be self-organisation
  • Firms that do it e.g. Haier, Nucor ensure the front-line people have the information, skills, incentives, and freedom to think/act like owners
  • Still have to have coordination and tie the org together, instead of top-down it can be via collaboration
  • Some organisations have ESSP but that’s not what an owner – autonomy, right to make key decisions, right of participation in the financial upside of the business

Have we over-valued consistency and scale?

  • Bureaucracy invented to enable control and efficiency at scale with a top-down model
  • Replicability required to do things properly at scale
  • But that makes it very hard to change 
  • Control is important in most industries! 
  • But what else is important and what other ways to achieve it?
  • Orgs at heart are built to maximise control
  • Today we need orgs to maximise contribution with free to experiment, free to respond quickly to customer needs, free to solve local problems, not waiting for permission 
  • In bureaucratic model everything comes top-down which makes it hard to change fast
  • By the time an issue is big enough to attract CEO’s attention, often too late by then
  • E.g. Intel CXOs only would go after $1B Opportunities – but how do you know what is this at this scale? Only way is if someone else is already doing it i.e. not original, innovative. Nothing starts out as a $1B opportunity VS Amazon which experiments with all sorts of opportunities at different levels VS waiting for someone at the top to say ‘this is a strategic priority’ which will rarely happen

Experimentation is part of the new Org DNA

  • Pace which anything evolves is limited by the amount of experimentation that takes place e.g. humans today
  • Worrying that vast majority of employees say it’s virtually impossible for front-line employee to get a small amount of time and budget to try something new
  • More than ⅔ of employees say new ideas are greeted by hostility or skepticism 
  • E.g. central collaboration platform at a global tech retailer to share ideas and issues and real-time and treat the stores/orgs as a laboratory
  • Bezos says his goal is to build the world’s biggest lab, best place to create break-out success or fail with ideas vs if know it will succeed as have data it will likely be incremental innovation 
  • Intel hires goes through ‘Design To Delight’ programme teaching ‘design thinking, rapid prototyping, agile, experimentation’ 

Is the moment now a great opportunity to experiment?

  • We’ve had the tools/tech to enable remote working for over a decade 
  • Whilst tech becomes more available, also enables orgs to exert more control! Due to analytics. 
  • But data is not context and is historical 
  • We can assign every worker a detailed rulebook on what they need to do and somehow it aggregates into extraordinary performance. But does not reflect reality 
  • Battle of forces pushing decentralisation and autonomy and remotely, enabling lateral communications VS vertical challenging managers top-down
  • Same complexity to drive decentralisation is also pushing to exert control especially with the old guard 
  • One of the ways to ‘soothe’ a leader is to go to bed at night is that there is a policy to guide everything! I.e. squeeze the complexity of the chaos and world by creating appearance of uniformity and control but reality is far from it

The paradox of forces at play:

  • Consistency does matter – when I got to Apple store we expect certain things
  • But we do need this and creativity on the front-line with ability to tweak and change to make the real-time trade-offs
  • E.g. Nucor – unleashed the everyday genius of workers 
  • Tension between adaptability vs consistency 
  • Even if irreconcilable the eco value from scale is not what it used to be VS demand now for customised, personal experiences 
  • It will be a long slog
  • Over 70% say the prime way to get ahead is to be a good bureaucrat! i.e. horde resources, politics, climb ladder, attain positional power
  • But requires political challenge to redistribute power which no-one will like to do that 
  • System is working for anyone – workers, managers, leaders 
  • It all grows to accumulate power! We have to change that game 
  • Power needs to be fluid in orgs
  • If adding value people or a mentor or inspiring people will follow

What;’s happening in politics?

  • There’s a belief that the system is not working for them – income inequality, low wage jobs, equity
  • Workers treated like commodities, resources VS opportunity to use all competencies, skills, grow etc
  • Cannot assume that low-skill jobs means low-skill capabilities!
  • Stop talking about low-skilled jobs!
  • US Bureau of Stats – 70% low-skilled jobs are designed so people cannot use their originality 
  • Economically indefensible that we haven’t done more to given front-line people the opportunity to grow and use ingenuity

Can all orgs make this change away from bureaucracy? 

  • If you are a smaller business, what are the principles to hold scared as you grow the org
  • Founding principle – humanity vs bureaucracy 
  • From the start highly alert to the signs of bureaucracy to stay vibrant 

US Airlines example

  • Needed to kick-off some people to allow crew on
  • Staff did not have authority to offer correct incentives
  • Passenger carried off and became worst PR disasters ever
  • The CEO said workers did not have the procedures, guidelines, rules to use their own judgement! But it was the existence of too many rules that did not allow the local staff to use their own judgement 
  • Manual at UA is 60 pages VS manual at Southwest Air 5 pages

Haier Case Study

  • Hair Chinese domestic appliances
  • They wanted to build a network company
  • They divided 80k organisation into 4k micro-enterprises
  • All businesses had rights and flexibility akin to start-ups with significant incentives
  • Tied together with internal contracts for services e.g. HR or can go outside
  • Everyone’s performance – including internal contracts – is tied together on the success of the product in the market so everyone is aligned
  • Make it easy to start new businesses, if new idea post it online internally and others can join, Haeir can give you access to their VC network and they will co-invest and you can leverage the Haier network
  • Haier to make the journey redeployed 12k middle-managers to the micro-enterprises (or left), today three is 1 level between front-line and CEO, most firms have 8 levels