WED • 26 AUG 2015
The internet going around in circles
Another area that looks to be reverting back to the good old days is the internet, well actually retail. For many years we have been told about the death of the high street as retailers move online or new online only retailers set up shop. However with the internet comes downsides, notably the issue around same day delivery, testing goods and returns. Some of these issues are looking to be resolved with Amazon recently announcing same day delivery. But for those of you who have sold items on eBay or tried to return an item bought on the internet, the hassle of having to find packaging and posts goods is tiresome to say the least.
Today news comes that Ebuyer (a great resource for cheap electronics) is losing their MD over a disagreement about the direction of the business. He believes the business needs to look at opening up high street stores and the rest of the management team disagree. However having the ability to distribute goods directly to customers and upsell through a personal interaction is a benefit long lost in the world of the internet. Even the likes of Amazon are desperately trying to work out their high street strategy as they look for new areas of growth. Who would have thought that a company like Argos would have had the right model for an internet sales goliath like Amazon?
So I don’t think the high street is dead, it is just being reinvented as we look to regress from the internet (as far as retail is concerned) and look to do what we used to do, but only better.
THU • 04 JUN 2015
The Speed of Change
Our parents saw it as a key investment in our education and it was an introduction to an industry that has become my career. Back in the days of the 1990’s our first machine had 8 MB RAM, 500 MB Hard Drive, Windows 3.1 and an x386 processor. There was even a ‘turbo’ button on the front. Who, by the way, would sit there with this not engaged? Anyway I spent many a happy hour deleting everything on the machine, having to reformat it, taking it apart and putting it back together again. I have built my own machines until recently and take great pleasure in specifying all the hardware and bringing it to life. I even started my own company do this while as school.
So it was yesterday evening that I found myself building my brother’s machine when we thought about how far the industry has come. His machine now sports eight cores (processors) at 4 Ghz, 32 GB of RAM, 4TB of hard drive space with SSD technology and a graphics card with 2GB of dedicated RAM and a dual core processor. Even his operating system can’t cope with the power and we have to now look at upgrading that as well.
They have been saying for a number of years now that Moore’s Law can’t continue. But with new advancements being made continuously I think we should be considering development speeding up, not slowing down. Even in our industry who would have through speeds of 100 Mb/s are achievable using a copper phone cable when 10 years ago we thought 0.5 Mb/s was fast.
FRI • 20 FEB 2015
Moving to the dark side
I understand the need for Microsoft to continue to develop their widely adopted operating system however since Windows 8 has launched I have struggled to get to grips with it. Certain features have been removed and the interface changed, and I am sure that will further be the case with the imminent release of Windows 10. With PCs becoming more powerful and software better written, the ability to customise or see the nuts and bolts of the software has slowly been removed making the software more functional. The problem with this and the new interface is that it got me thinking as to whether instead of getting to grips with another new version of Windows interface that actually I should now have a go with Apple’s OS?
Like a lot of people I have made an easy transition to Apple’s iPhone and iPad and use a lot of its functionality. But going from a pre-smart phone from Nokia to an iPhone is surely an easier task than unlearning years of Windows software shortcuts and moving to OS X Yosemite? Well this week I took the plunge with my sitting room computer and I have to say how impressed I am. After reading lots of reviews on Apple’s Mac software, I got the impression it was difficult to use, but within 10 minutes I was happily moving files around, upgrading software and customising my desk space. I believe the latest version is the closest yet to imitate Apple’s iOS, which is used on their infamous iPhone, so some users dislike it, but for a virgin user it helped it make more sense.
Going forward I can see more of my machines moving to Apple and crucially when my parents knock on my door for advice I am going to be steering them towards Apple’s cool looking PCs. As I say there is no need to know what is going on underneath the hood so Apple’s locked down machines and stable software mean I can now start treating my computer more like my car, in the sense that mechanically if something goes wrong I take it to an expert!
THU • 12 FEB 2015
Freedom of the City of London
Today the Freedom is more closely associated to the Livery Companies which are basically London’s ancient and modern trade associations and guilds. Currently there are one hundred and ten such companies focusing today on charitable-giving, networking opportunities and the ability to be involved or vote for senior civic roles such as the Sheriffs or Lord Mayor of London.
My father joined his Livery Company when he worked in the contract cleaning industry and became master, which afforded him a great opportunity to give something back and support his industry. This early awareness of the City of London is one of the reasons I wanted to join the WCIT and be involved in such a historic institution.
So I understand I am now afforded the right to heard sheep across London Bridge as part of receiving a Freedom, so if you hear of any serious delays in the Southwark area you will know who is responsible!
TUE • 10 FEB 2015
Does a low tax model work?
I understand the economics and the fact that a rich non-dom spending thousands on a Swiss made watch isn't really helping someone living in the UK, but what I do have a problem with is the concept that a low tax model for the UK has somehow hindered our prospects as a nation. I think most people agree that it is our middle classes that make the biggest contribution to our nation in the form of tax receipts and spending, both of which are needed for our economy to grow. They are generally low users of the state and as such are the part of our society we need to focus on. I can’t believe that a competitive tax model for the middle classes won’t aid growth as people are not penalised for earning more and have more cash in which to spend.
I do believe however that someone paying the highest band of tax, let’s say 45% should be uniform so that anyone earning greater sums, but in different ways (dividends for example) all pay the same amount. So the high earner of the middle class isn't overly penalised because they aren't in a position to avoid tax like the high net worth’s. However if this was achieved I can’t see why a new average can’t be obtained and that the highest rate becomes a more palatable 30-40%. Surely with a more streamlined tax model this would have an impact to persuade the very rich not to overly invest in avoidance and help increase overall tax receipts.
As mentioned in a previous post I would also focus on increasing tax for spending, I think VAT is a brilliant method to collect tax as people have a choice as to what, and how much they spend their earnings on. It also has the ability to tax those with large disposable incomes more proportionally, even if they are classed as non-doms. It also has the ability to change the proportion of tax on the individual item so costs like food and energy can be kept lower to aid those with a lower income.
I think we need to have a much more healthy debate around tax and get away from the ambiguity that HMRC have managed to create with international businesses and non-doms, and bring in a uniform policy that affects the whole nation. Thus simplifying the process and hence aiding clarity on what is due and by who. That way the UK can start to address the growing divide and look to raise the prospects of those wanting to earn more without having to curtail the achievements of the very rich. Society in my view on the whole has moved a lot further on from the 60s and 70s when the divide was much smaller, even though the economists would argue people are in fact poorer today. Our expectations have grown, as there are more things in which people can now spend their money (and save it), so we need a tax policy in which reflects our changing demographic.
FRI • 12 DEC 2014
A truly separate Openreach
TalkTalk of course have more to lose than most if BT continues with their plan to combine the two businesses. TalkTalk is a customer of Openreach so that they can install their own equipment in the telephone exchange and compete directly against BT Wholesale. The thought that their supplier will also be their biggest competitor will not be a positive thought. SKY of course is in the same boat and so are a number of other businesses who invest into the Openreach infrastructure.
For the wider industry and businesses such as ours, I can’t see the benefits. I can see a lot of cost cutting and improved investor return for BT Group, but for the industry? Fortunately in the UK we enjoy one of the most competitive and diverse telecoms markets in the world. This surely can only continue as long as the industry works to ensure BT provides as much of an open playing field as possible. Perhaps we didn’t go far enough and by keeping Openreach as part of the group has meant this situation is now in the realms of reality, and that actually the complete separation should have happened long ago.
Maybe it is too late. From the discussions I have heard; people in BT see it very much as a done deal. Let’s hope whatever the outcome, the needs of the industry and consumers are heard over those of the shareholders.
WED • 12 NOV 2014
Seeing is believing
The phones themselves are the latest Polycom models which plug into the hosted voice platform we have been using since our inception. Video is automatically enabled for any internal call and means it is always used, without any interaction needed from the employee.
One of the challenges we have found as a fast growing multisite business is the interaction between new staff across offices, and I am hoping technology like this will only help forge closer working relationships. I am taking one home this weekend, and if successful on my abysmal home internet line, will see more staff being able to interact more when not in the office.
I have always found with technology it has to be intuitive to be adopted – as we found when we built our video wall which is a permanent video conferencing setup between our two offices. When video conferencing is in a meeting room, it rarely gets used, but set it up as a permanent ‘window’ into the other office and it is constantly looked at, smiles are made and interaction happens.
Time will tell if it has been an expensive exercise with a technology that has stalled before to get off the ground. My hope is that in the next few months if I suggest we go back to the old system, without video, that the staff refuse to do so.
MON • 08 SEP 2014
A chance to meet the Queen
The award culminates in two Directors being invited to Buckingham Palace to a reception held by the Queen and a number of her key associates. So it was with much excitement that I was able to meet her and receive the award on behalf of the company. The whole event was impeccably organised and I loved every minute of it and it got me thinking as to how unusual and lucky we are to have her as our monarch, and that we have this institution above our politics. While I am sure it would have been an honour to meet our Prime Minister, it would not be without its controversy, and for some not that significant.
Even though the Queen is probably the most recognised person on earth, there is still an element of mystique around meeting her and visiting the palace. While I am aware there have been many people ahead of me in making the journey there, it is still a very special event. The gathering had around two hundred guests but we all but disappeared into the Palace and had opportunities to walk around, enjoy the champagne and network. Not only did the Queen add significant status to the awards but also the very businesses being recognised. My fellow Director and I enjoyed some interesting conversations with some very talented people who are building impressive businesses.
It got me thinking as to how other countries like France misses out on this kind of recognition. With a president currently being the most unpopular in living memory I can’t believe a similar event held in Paris would carry as much reverence.
Leading a business is hard work, but this kind of event makes the risk and reward all that more pleasurable. Now I have to take stock and think about our direction and ambitions for the next ten years.
THU • 14 AUG 2014
Amazon want to know everything
Their main selling point is that their fees will be 2.5% which will be below the industry standard of 2.75%. So the might of Amazon with a lower cost, surely this is a win win situation for small businesses and start-ups? Well don’t be so sure. I have recently come back from a 2,000 mile drive across Europe where I subjected my partner to eleven CDs on the birth and growth of Amazon. Called ‘The Everything Store’ the book focuses on Jeff Bezos and his founding of the Amazon empire. I hadn't really realised their original ambition was not just to be a book retailer but that was their initial focus to get the business established. Their plan was to sell everything and use their ability to drive down costs which not only gave their customer a great experience but also put their retail competitors out of business. If you have a long drive coming up, I would highly recommend it, if anything to understand the underhand tactics and bully boy policies which the business shamelessly promotes.
This brings me back to the issue of Amazon helping high street stores with portable chip and pin devices. Because the real benefit to Amazon is being able to see what transactions those high street or physical businesses are doing and hence what products it should be selling online. It also gives it the advantage of knowing what costs people are putting on these products, buying habits and so forth. All important information for the largest online retailer.
Apparently this model has been the same one Amazon has used within its own marketplace. The marketplace allows anyone to sell goods via Amazon which amazingly start being supplied by Amazon directly soon after volume is noticed for that particular product. I assume it is a similar model to supermarkets who push up their margins by offering their own brand products next to famous brands once they know the volume of sales and potential market.
So while Amazon may be offering a cheap service, but it is not necessarily good for business.
FRI • 14 FEB 2014
Working lunch or afternoon beer?
So why would I want to break this cycle and have a 'working lunch' instead? You know the type where a supplier wants to be friendly and make a boring meeting less boring and more informal. Or make up for their lack of content for a meeting. For me my lunchtime, all 20 mins I can manage on a good day, is my time and an opportunity to not do business or make small talk. It is why I don't like taking customers for lunch for the same reason. I don't want to come between them and their relaxation time while I hark on about data networks.
If we were in Spain we would have lunch and then a sleep. Fine because you can't have a meeting while sleeping, but as I wouldn't be too popular grabbing forty winks at my desk (it has happened but usually drink fuelled) I don't think lunch meetings work. Far better in my mind to focus on after work drinks or meal instead.
That way you don't have to think about going back to work. You don't have to worry if you can have a drink with your lunch. Personally I find it much more enjoyable and ideally after the formal meeting has taken place before. That way if the person is boring you can always make your excuses and leave early without any guilt... a probable necessity if you have a young family and promised to be home on time.
And in the world of anti-bribery acts and reducing expense accounts a beer is far cheaper than a good lunch.
FRI • 13 DEC 2013
Business guru or celeb
Never has this been truer than at a talk that one CEO gave where he spoke purely about his own achievements and success in the media at an awards dinner. Now I don’t want to single him out specifically but it was a good example where the media hype had overtaken reality and while I am sure he is very successful with his business, it certainly hasn’t delivered the kind of success yet I would expect from someone to be a Dragon or on Secret Millionaire.
I for one have been asked many times to appear on the Secret Millionaire, and while such a call strokes ones ego, I did explain to the researcher than one I was not a millionaire and two I didn’t feel I had achieved a level of success to contribute effectively to the program and the people it helps. But really there didn’t seem to be a huge focus around helping a part of society and more around gaining personal publicity and promotion. I thought at the time the publicity would be fantastic for Fluidata and I but in the end I would have felt like a fraud, and so continue to turn them down.
Don’t get me wrong we need to talk about successful entrepreneurs and give people the confidence to start their own businesses but we need to be careful who gets pushed into the limelight and why they are there. There are too many examples of nearly successful entrepreneurs being pushed into the media talking about success which is greater than the reality, rather than those who have done it and have been full circle with their companies.
Anyway I am sure I will come to regret this post as success in the UK seems to only go hand in hand with publicity and media attention. Hopefully my business will continue to grow and become successful, but at the same time I keep my feet firmly on the ground.
WED • 11 DEC 2013
A wish and a prayer
And this brings about an interesting truth in that there has to be an element of faith and belief when investing or supporting a new business or idea. Faith and belief in the people running and building the company, but also in a bit of luck and a fair wind will see the business to success. It is certainly the biggest challenge successful business people have to overcome when they become wannabe investors and angels to the next generation of businesses.
The problem is we all forget the pain in starting and growing a business. The time involved, the unforeseen issues, and the opportunities that appear because you are in the right place at the right time. Unfortunately none of this can be quantified against an investment risk and so it means good businesses, even brilliant ones are not given the start they need because of a lack of funds. Now my personal belief is that most of these businesses will become great through the determination and ingenuity of their founders, but I am sure would have happened quicker and faster with the right support from the beginning.
The problem is America still leads on seed funding and will still be an incubator of new businesses for the foreseeable future. Even a friend of mine I spoke to this week is spending his time in San Francisco and finding much more support with his software projects than he ever has in London. We just need to help investors remember the heyday of their own business and the fact that not everything could be analysed or forecasted – some of it relied on a bit of luck.
WED • 13 NOV 2013
Is being an entrepreneur a good thing?
At the moment everyone is told to become an entrepreneur, however by my definition does that really deliver the best results? Some of the biggest names in business, and hence success, have only ever focused on one business or brand. Bill Gates for example was a businessman by building Microsoft. Steve Jobs with Apple, Sergey and Larry of Google, and while Richard Branson of Virgin has been involved in a number of different industries his brand remains consistent throughout.
On the flip side of the coin I have met with quite a few people who I consider real entrepreneurs. They are involved, and have often founded, many different businesses involved in many different industries. Usually they are all happening at the same time and spread themselves thinly across them relying on the management team within in each company to carry the business. And as a result it is more difficult to name household names who have managed to build these businesses to a grand scale. The only successful entrepreneur I can name off the top of my head would be Elon Musk. The PayPal founder who is now involved in establishing and running Tesla cars and SpaceX.
Apart from the monetary reward of a successful business, I am not sure the entrepreneurship model really works when the direction and focus of the individual is spread so thinly between fledgling businesses. Surely it is better to focus on one company and build it to greater success rather than focus on many different businesses? Some of the people I have met love the creation of a new business but quickly loose interest in running or seeing through their vision. So the thought of being able to jump between businesses must be rather appealing. But from what I have seen these people spend a lot of time trying to catch up, constantly traveling and never really achieving the potential of the original idea.
I on the other hand appreciate the more time I focus on my business the better it is and for the moment other distractions will have to wait. While it may not have a cool title the outcome should be much more rewarding for me and the business.
WED • 23 OCT 2013
Unions out of touch with reality
Had the plant been in government hands then the outcome of the dispute would have been very different, as politicians would have been involved and concerned about any public outcry, so I am sure would have capitulated to their terms. However with a multinational such as Ineos an outcome other than closure was far from realistic. With shareholders stomaching £10m of losses per day something had to be done and while the requirements they put forward to staff were tough, it is surely better to have some jobs than none at all.
And this got me thinking as to where these unions sit in the global picture and just how relevant they are today. They certainly haven’t helped Labour and Ed Miliband is certainly trying, unsuccessfully, to distance his party from their main contributors to party coffers.
Interesting that the will of Royal Mail staff to strike was somewhat upset by a large amount of shares as part of the public offering. While I don’t doubt there will be a last hurrah by their union I think they realise in the world of public companies, their influence and control is dramatically reduced. And as Royal Mail modernises and competition widens the opportunities for staff to move roles becomes more common place, again reducing the need for a union in the first place.
We live, even though we might not always like it, in a global economy where multinationals can own vast swathes of UK enterprise. I believe in this reality unions are going to struggle to continue to exist. If they can be replaced by good market regulation and competition then hopefully staff shouldn’t suffer. It is ironic that thanks to their union, the staff of Grangemouth are now without jobs, and Scotland’s chance of independence that much further away.
FRI • 04 OCT 2013
Payment terms start to slide
I find this somewhat ironic considering they are signed up to Government’s Prompt Payment Code which states among other things ‘without changing practice on length of payment for smaller companies on unreasonable ground’. For me paying 15-days later is purely about improving their cash position rather than improving the business in any way. The only business it hurts is their small supplier who has still had to pay to keep the lights on and all their associated costs in producing and supplying the product to them.
This kind of mentality surely doesn’t have a place in our modern economy? If you rely on this supplier and value the product or service they are delivering you with, then surely you should treat them as such? I am always intrigued as businesses get larger how they look to squeeze their supply chain to deliver better payment terms rather than issues within their own business to drive more sales.
From my own experience apart from the kudos of supplying someone that everyone knows the appeal ends there. They are poor payers, focus highly on cost rather than value and sap a huge amount of resource from your business. Usually they are poorly run and so your agile business finds itself bending backwards to ensure the service is experienced correctly by compensating for their inadequacies.
Much better in my mind to concentrate instead on the mid-market clients and smaller businesses that value relationships and help to drive better business. Maybe in response to Marks & Spencer’s action their suppliers should be voting with their feet and helping to supply their smaller competition with their products?