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Starting a business remote first – 10 priorities

I mentor startups from time to time, in my spare time. I am doing so at the moment with one. I am bringing my past experience to bear starting and working in startups and I’ve also written an eBook on a related subject. In the current case though, it’s more my current experience I am advising and focusing on based on my professional work at Microsoft (disclosure). This is around the use of the Microsoft 365 platform (mostly) to support collaboration and productivity.

First some assumptions to be clear on:

  1. Remote first. The team members are all distributed and not all in the same country. So far, so normal 🙂
  2. Side job so multiple other tools. Some of the members have other jobs and so there is a question of competing and even conflicting technologies that need to be considered.
  3. Early stage. This is a very early-stage startup with founders just starting to work together on this – hence the need to start from scratch.

Then here is my list of top 10 things I am focusing on – not that they are necessarily the most important, just what I can and need to prioritise for the team now:

1 Create a new Microsoft 365 account and license the users. Just because I work with this tech, I did not want to push it. Many of the members have familiarity with other platforms and this needs to be considered. In the end, after some discussion (and I presented the case in a DanelDoodle), we agreed on M365. I chose an M365 Business Standard option and here is a handy guide when setting up for the first time if needed.

2 Assign a domain that can be used in email and beyond. The team already had a domain, I was given access to manage the domain through GoDaddy, the domain registrar. Assigning it was a doddle.

3 Create a Team for internal collaboration. I started with a great template for project management. More about Team templates here. We are using this for all collaboration naturally, asynchronously and through Teams Meetings on regular sync calls.

4 Orientation page or description with clear outline of purpose. In the General Channel for the project management Team I set up, I created a simple wiki page in a Tab with pointers to everything they needed to know to get started and up and running. It also collates links and info on the function of each Channel and the tools available in each Channel.

5 Simple Task Planning – Planner in Teams is the perfect lightweight option to get started with. Members access it from a Tab in the Planning Channel in the Team that was set up from the template. Tasks are listed by sprint buckets.

6 Viva Learning and powering a growth mindset. Setting up a Tab in a Channel is straightforward and other than to bring in content covering Teams and the broader M365 platform, you can choose from the 125 free LinkedIn courses to driving learning in other important areas to fill any skills gaps.

7 Automation for competitive intel – Power Automate. One simple automation I have started with (based on a template) is to bring in tweets with relevant hashtags related to competitive activity. Will be looking for more and much of these kinds of templated flows plus many you can build come free with the M365 license (but beware of the limitations).

8 Marketing – start a website prototype. I had already started working on that and I documented that in this post: Content management with WordPress evolved – full site editing 1. This covers both the content management and website creation side of things as well as eCommerce.

9 Forms for surveys to get feedback on prototypes and other things. Microsoft Forms which comes with the license is a simple and useful tool.

10 Chat Bot in Teams (employees), later for website (customers) using Power Virtual Agents (PVA). I started with a simple pre-made BOT to support understanding of Teams. It’s snappily called the Teams Training Assistant App – you can watch it in action in this video here. I’m not actually sure it was built on PVA but regardless, it is useful for the Teams newbies. I will look to build a customer facing BOT later using PVA.

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Hackathons the MVP and lean startup

I’ve been doing a lot of work recently supporting customers with their hackathon efforts. It’s been especially focused on use of Microsoft Power Platform and Teams as core technology platforms underpinning the hackathons. I captured a best practice story about that and this is based on the many hackathons I’ve been involved in over the years.

Click to enlarge

But what I wanted to cover here was a thought rocket on where hackathons fit in to the innovation cycle using MVP’s and the Lean Startup cycle as context.

I see this as a kind of sweet spot for hackathons – cue DanelDoodle.

One key focus of a hackathon would be that it is used as a starting point for MVP’s (a key principle of Lean Startup methodology), as a main outcome of the event. That is, the winner’s ideas get taken forward for further implementation.

Thus a relatively simple yet collaboratively rich and less risky way for finding ideas to experiment with that then get taken forward through building prototypes.

Cheap and rapid experiments systematically lower innovation failure rates and risk.

These can be stage gated along the way with checks and balances so that they are constantly being evaluated for risk and future development (or not). A key measure should be through data.

The Lean Startup cycle is one of the most flexible approaches and you can easily see how what I have suggested fits in, but other innovation process flows could be considered.

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How to overcome the innovation predicament – the term versus the spirit

I’ve observed before how everyone wants innovation but no one wants to innovate. The essence of that observation roughly 6 months ago was that although the talk of and need for innovation (from company executives) was high, interest in the topic wasn’t (from punters).

Not much has changed since except the gap has probably grown. Can you blame people when there are so many other pressing issues and people are overwhelmed.

That doesn’t take away from the fact that it is still very much needed, nor from the fact that it is happening in abundance, despite all the disinterest in the term or even all the other overwhelming pressures.

Distractions and pressures aside, people, whether in startups or large corporations, are out there innovating and doing their thing every single day. They are just not necessarily calling it innovation.

Who cares then, what it’s being called, as long as its being done. And I don’t believe the imperative for it being done comes just from executives.

Most, whether admitting it or not, want to be innovative. It’s an innate desire to evolve, be creative or inventive. It’s built into us. It was needed for survival in the real jungle, now the jungle has evolved but survival by these means is still necessary.

For evidence that there is a bunch of innovation hustle and bustle out there, look no further than the Creator Economy. If you want deeper level insights on this, follow Creator Economy by Kaya Yurieff from The Information (a newsletter). The creator economy is just another catchy phrase for people being innovative (since creativity is at its core) and by all accounts, it’s huge.

The difference in the terms and spirit of it is that on the one hand there is a lot of talking going on (about innovation) and on the other, on being innovative (by just doing stuff).

In an age where self promotion is par for the course, its understandable that talking dominates. And there is good reason to shout about successes and spreading the word. But when it comes to innovation, it is the doers that matter and just plain being innovative. As an individual or a company, whatever you call it, this is what determines success and in many cases survival.

So how can we do more or be more innovative

  1. As an individual, experiment. Try things out and see where it leads. By this I mean a methodical approach that begins with an hypothesis and then pursues a series of trials to either prove or disprove it. The benefit of doing something yourself, whether at work or in your personal life, is that the barriers to doing so are super low and this approach should provide data. Assuming positive, you can present the data as evidence in arguing your case and getting others on board as will inevitably be the case. This is quintessentially a learning by doing exercise and any which way it goes, it’s a win.
  2. As a company, cultivate intrapreneurs. I wrote an eBook that was partly on this subject and that’s how this website started. Read that or any of the posts I created as part of researching that book under various tags: innovation hacking, startup innovation or intrapreneur. In many of those you will find, whether in startups or large companies, stories where individuals are given the freedom and courage to innovate with the success this brings. But don’t just take my word for it, PwC have a series that cover this well (even if not using the term intrapreneur – but remember, its not about terms): Workforce of the future – The World in 2030. Ditto the World Economic Forum: David vs Goliath – Understanding the corporate battle of digital disruption.
  3. In general, forgive failure. People wont try if they fear failure. They have to give themselves permission to fail. In companies you can make it safe to fail (great article from McKinsey which explains how and also recounts a story about Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s approach to this). Speaking of Microsoft (disclosure), one other thing it does is organise global hackathons, with customers even, most recently. These are essentially safe spaces and times to innovate and fail gloriously even though the ultimate goal is to come up with great ideas that can be commercialised. Some examples of the latter here: The Garage Wall of Fame – Microsoft Garage. This should apply to the whole of society really if we are ever to overcome the innovation predicament and solve some of its biggest challenges and ills in the true spirit of innovation.
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Startup innovation is alive and well in UK GOV

I’m a fan of startup innovation having followed the practice and written about it extensively. This culminated in an eBook/trend report a few years back: Startup Innovation. The Information has just written a post about how the UK government is embracing the practice: How Silicon Valley Is Rewiring Downing Street’s Brain (registration required).

Continue reading Startup innovation is alive and well in UK GOV
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Round up of latest #innerventures trends

innerventures-vennI’m tracking these updates with the #innerventuresupdate tag – you can find all of them by following the link. They all tie in with and add to the findings from my trend report which covers startup driven innovation in large corporates, corporate venturing efforts and the role of the intrapreneur. You can buy the report from iBooks or add a comment (which requires an email that no one will see) and I can provide a voucher for a FREE COPY :)

ibooks

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When corporate/startup innovation programs fail

A great article describing the closure of Coca-Cola’s Founders startup incubator over on TechCrunch. It details some of the challenges with this approach that I thought were worth sharing here. I especially love the quoted thought below:

You need a translator to help them understand what’s going on. That’s why a lot of platforms inside big companies fail and you have to take the time.

This could apply equally to my role as a customer success manager I thought and with the launch of new platforms and the challenges with this which I wrote about here: Launch like a boss – bringing consumer startup practice to your enterprise technology platform

#innerventuresupdate

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The state of startup / corporate collaboration 2016

startup-corporate-collaboration-2016

Cracking report from Imaginatik and MassChallenge. Its available to download from either site if you can find the page (registration required) but I’ve added the the-state-of-startupcorporate-collaboration-2016 (pdf). Key findings below:

1. INTERACTIONS MOVING EARLY STAGE

While most startup/corporate interactions used to begin at the negotiation table, corporations and startups increasingly recognize the benefits of earlier interactions. Corporations said that 67% now prefer working with startups at earlier stages, mainly “to explore new technologies and business models”.

2. INTERACTIONS WITH STARTUPS BECOMING “MISSION CRITICAL”

At an overwhelming 82%, corporations now view interactions with startups as “somewhat important” to “very important”, and 23% indicated that these interactions were “mission critical”. Innovation efforts, it seems, are no longer just nice-to-have programs within corporations.

3. CORPORATE INNOVATION MODELS ARE STILL IN THEIR INFANCY

While 86% of large organizations view innovation as crucial to their future, most of their current attempts to work with startups to further that objective are early stage, underfunded, and scattershot—such that 25% of corporations aren’t even sure how much they’re spending.

4. STRATEGIC FIT IS PARAMOUNT, BUT THE UNDERLYING GOALS VARY

Startups and corporations agree that “strategic fit” is by far the primary criterion for working together, but the way they interpret the term diverges significantly. Thus, a lost-in-translation problem sometimes persists, despite the best of intentions. This is exacerbated by remaining cultural issues within corporations: many are still struggling to re-organize themselves to enable productive interactions. Conversely, startups are persistent, but remain frustrated at the number of hoops to jump through.

5. MINDSET CHANGE— NO LONGER ‘US’ VS.‘THEM’

Startups are seeing corporations in a variety of roles—no longer are they cast solely as either “competitors” or “potential acquirers”. As the startup culture matures, founders are realizing that corporations have a lot of wisdom, experience, and resources to be leveraged, and that perhaps working with, rather than against them, could be the smarter way to go. Also, in a post-Uber and Airbnb world, startups realize that the power is not only with large corporations, and that leads them to be more selective with whom they choose to work. In fact working with corporations is shaping up to be a startup’s most powerful growth hack.

AND ON A RELATED NOTE…

I found this interesting website/activity on my travels. It’s an up to date database of Corporate Accelerators being run by company’s around the world.

Ties in nicely with findings from my trend report which you can buy from iBooks or add a comment and I can provide a voucher for a FREE COPY :)

ibooks

#innerventuresupdate

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Round up of latest #innerventures trends

Lots going on recently so this is a big update with an excellent selection of articles and activities.

You can see other updates like this by checking out posts with the #innerventuresupdate tag as well as the original posts I curated under the #research tag which I then used in the InnerVentures trend report that you can find here: Trend Reports

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The slide in Mary Meeker’s 2016 internet trends report that shows incumbents’ interest in startup innovation

Here it is below. Admittedly it is somewhat narrowly focused on acquisitions of tech companies as a means to extend their digital capabilities. Still, a strong indicator from a very powerful voice. The commentary below the slide came from the article where I first read about her latest report and I cannot be sure of the source but think it was TechCrunch.

Ties in nicely with the kinds of trends I was picking up in my my trend report which you can buy from iBooks or add a comment and I can provide a voucher for a FREE COPY :)

ibooks

#innerventuresupdate

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Round up of latest #innerventures trends

Couple of new things happening in the world of startup driven innovation since my last post, at least new things I’ve found – some articles/announcements are from a while ago. Here they are:

#innerventuresupdate

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Round up of latest #innerventures trends

As always there lots going on and the last few weeks have brought some interesting new announcements and great stories from the trenches. 

#innerventuresupdate

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How old banks are learning from a new breed of tech start-ups

I gave this (i.e. the Fintech scene) special coverage in a separate section of my trend report.

Banks around the world are realising that in the rapidly developing world of smartphones and apps they are at risk of falling behind in the innovation race. Fresh-faced financial technology start-ups (fintechs) are coming up with new mobile-first services – payments, loans, money transfers, digital currencies – and threatening to steal customers, particularly younger ones.

This is why many old banks have been flirting with younger models in an effort to stay hip. But are such apparently mismatched relationships doomed to failure?

From the BBC website.

#innerventuresupdate #fintech