Category: Business Development

Leaning forward

Feels like ages since I started this blog. The first post was written in July of 2006. Phew, 11 years ago. Time flies.

Back then, I worked for Sony Ericsson, making platform plans for web and Java in the mobile phones. The iPhone was still not out, Facebook was a tiny social network and Android was still a singer in an obscure Swedish electronics band. So much has changed. Yet, so much is still the same.

Currently, I work as a consultant in a company I co-founded called Lean Forward and in many ways it’s the natural continuation of this blog. I used to call it “agile business development” and many posts on this blog touch on that subject. I didn’t have a clear picture of what it was (I probably still don’t) but it’s what happens when you merge agile product development with innovation and digitalization and then add a flavour of purpose to it. The concept of growth is critical, but not just growth in revenue and profit. I find this post from 2009 on the same subject:

Growing a business is also about growing the individuals working with that business.

This. We need to “level up” our understanding of what a company is and does and that is what we try to achieve with Lean Forward.

Five different flavors of a digital strategy

ice cream [1081]
Yummy. Digital strategy!

Wikipedia defines a “digital strategy” as:

[…] the process of specifying an organization’s vision, goals, opportunities and initiatives in order to maximize the business benefits of digital initiatives to the organization.

What does that mean? I have seen many different flavors of a digital strategy over the years. Here are a few. Do you know any more?

A community (social) strategy. How to build loyalty amongst customers. How to make customers help each other solve problems. How to make customers extend and complete your products. How to make customers love you. Skills needed: community management, social media.

A multi channel strategy. How to make sure the mobile, tablet, desktop, TV and whatever else experience of your digital presence fits together, both from a technical standpoint but more importantly, how your organisation can manage it. Skills needed: change management, IT architecture.

A media strategy. How to use video, blogging, microblogging, live streaming, Facebook etc. as media channels to build on online presence. Every company is a media company – but how? Skills needed: content marketing, (low cost) video production.

A conversion and growth strategy. How to make sure that you get as many visitors to your web site as possible and that as many of the visitors as possible do what you want them to do, like buy your products. Aka “growth hacking“. Skills needed: agile development (for speed of changes), search engine optimization, web analytics.

An innovation strategy. How to make sure you keep pushing forward and explore new business models, new products and new markets that digitalisation enables. Skills needed: customer development, business model canvas, lean startup.

Selling is about framing it right

365 day228 Bubbles

In order to make a sale, you need to frame the product or service in a way that makes the benefit and value clear to the buyer.

An example, from real life. Trying to get my 2 year old daughter in the bath.

– Honey, do you want to take a shower?
– Noooooo!
– Do you want to take a bath?
– Noooooo!
– Do you want to bake foam-cookies?
– Yeeeeeaaah!


Idea vs execution: are ideas worthless?

Where’s the local maximum, the highest hill? Photo: garry61

This is a favorite topic on the tech entrepreneur site Hacker News. It keeps popping up every other day, just recently in this thread about disruptive ideas.

The notion that “ideas are worthless” is sort of a counter reaction to the instinctive approach of most beginner entrepreneurs, who think that their idea is the best ever (and must be kept secret so no one “steals it” – aka stealth disease) and if only they could get funding, find a team, wait for the economy to bounce back, wait for spring to arrive and wait for the moon to be aligned with Venus THEN they will most definitely succeed because the idea is so good.

You might as well give them the exit money straight away because, you know, it such a great idea.

As you might suspect, I disagree. I do think that ideas should be treated as though they are worth close to nothing.

The article linked above, about disruptive ideas, describes different ways to find holes in existing markets by thinking out of the box. Aha! you say, see, the idea actually is important!

Well. I’d like to think of it this way: execution is the active searching of the problem space until you find a local maximum of customer value. The idea is only the starting point.

Sure, you can get lucky and find an idea that is already on a local maximum – but you wouldn’t know that without verifying it.

Simply thinking “what if you sold socks that didn’t match?” (an example in the article) is far from enough to prove that it’s a good idea. If you gave it just five minutes you would probably come up with a hundred similar seemingly weird ideas.

Some examples:

What if TVs were not boxes but bubble-shaped?

What if cars bounced like rubber balls? Would that make them safer?

What if pants had four legs? Of different lengths.

What if shoes were glued together?

What if I had an internet connected computer in my sight of vision constantly?

What if books never ended?

What if people could grow all their food, including meat, at home, in a box like a micro oven?

I can go on like this forever. How do I know which ideas are the good ones?

By testing them in the real world – searching the problem space for a local maximum – that’s the only way. And that takes execution and effort. Thus: the idea, by itself, is worthless.

“Books and apps” is the new “brick and mortar”

A “brick and mortar”-business is a business based in a physical store. It sells goods of some kind. The name comes from the building material used to build houses and the name represents something different than a virtual store, an e-commerce site.

I’d like to propose a third kind of store: “books and apps”.

A “books and apps”-store sells virtual goods that’s purely digital. Primarily e-books and mobile apps – thus the name.

A “books and apps”-store doesn’t have a physical store or even a warehouse because it doesn’t sell physical goods.

The cool thing about it is that you can start one yourself with minimal investment. Write a book, sell it as a PDF – or a mobile app. It’s never been easier and that’s why we will see plenty of small “books and apps”-shops where writers or developers work on their own to build and sell virtual goods.

A “books and apps”-shop is not a startup – or at least it doesn’t have to be. There’s nothing magical about it. Anyone can do it. It’s a new way to build a lifestyle business, made possible by the mobile app stores and the Kindle – with the added benefit that you can work on it from anywhere.

Books and apps – you can do it too.

What your company can learn from Sweden Social Web Camp

OK, this will be a long post so bare with me. The topic for today is marketing.

And customer service.

And R&D.

Oh, and also some words about recruiting.

What the heck, it’s actually about the future of business. Period.

I told you it will be a long post…

But let’s start at the beginning. First let me explain what Sweden Social Web Camp (SSWC) is.

SSWC is an “unconference” taking place in August on an island in the Blekinge archipelago in Sweden. Blekinge is sometimes called the appendix of Sweden – as in a small place no one really knows what it’s good for – but if there’s one thing that’s great about Blekinge it’s the archipelago. It’s beautiful, especially in the summer time.

The theme of the conference is (unsurprisingly) the social web in different flavours and contexts.

This year, the second year of SSWC, roughly 400 people participated in the unconference on the tiny island of Tjärö. Most of them were camping – as in tents – while sheep and other creatures roamed the island. (Hey, it’s a camp, isn’t it?)

Camping. No sheep. Photo by Gitta Wilén.

There are no big names on the speaker list (in fact, there’s no speaker list at all – there’s not even a schedule!) and it all takes place during a weekend. So, what brings 400 entrepreneurs, journalists, PR-people, bloggers and hackers to a small island somewhere between Nowhere and Faraway to spend a weekend sleeping in a tent?

The answer to this question holds the key to what business will be like in the 21st century.

Exciting, huh? Before we go on please take a moment to read my blog post from last years SSWC. That will explain a little more details on how an unconference actually works.

No, seriously, read it.

OK, so now you understand that an unconference is all about participation. The organizers of the unconference only set the stage, it’s the participants that creates the play as they are there. They become both the speakers and the audience and in many cases the line is blurred as a speech turns in to a conversation.

The interesting consequence of this is that the value for the participants is higher than it would be if they only came to listen to a Big Name Speaker sharing her knowledge while at the same time the monetary cost is lower since Big Name Speakers are expensive.

How can the value be higher? At a traditional knowledge conference with Big Speakers there can be hundreds or thousands of people with overlapping interests, skill sets, insights, experiences. They all share a common interest, otherwise they wouldn’t be there – and yet there is no way for them to pool each others knowledge base. They all come to passively listen to one or a few heavy weighters in knowledge – but the sum total of untapped knowledge in the room far surpasses the knowledge of even the best speaker.

An unconference acknowledges this fact and builds the entire meeting around it with the goal to maximise interconnections between participants.

So now you have two different models.

1. A (traditional) knowledge conference that tries to maximize value through the knowledge radiated from the stages. Keywords are: broadcast, authoritative, passive, expensive (the best speakers are the most expensive),

2. A participatory (un)conference that tries to maximize value by leveraging interconnections in the crowd. Keywords are: conversation, open, active and low cost (blocking people out with a high price can even lower the value for the participants).

When something can create higher value at a lower price compared to what came before that’s a sure sign of disruption happening.

And that is why you need to learn from SSWC.

Because you can do participatory marketing. It’s called social media.

Because you can do participatory R&D. It’s called open source. And open innovation.

Because you can do participatory customer service. It’s called a community.

This all means higher value, lower price – if done right. Disruption, remember? And if you can do all that, so can your competitors.

Now you must ask yourself one question. A very important question. Namely this one:

Do you want to be the only one in your business executing your strategy with something that provides lower value at a higher price?

Do you think you will survive if you do that? Seriously?

Now, you may argue that in some markets broadcast, authoritative, passive and expensive actually works – and yes, you may be right. Some parts of your business may not be affected by competitors that are open, participatory, agile and costs less. But some parts of your business will be affected. And, here’s the catch: you don’t know which parts!

Kristin Heinonen and the remains of Mr Krax (long story…).

You should also know that going this route is not easy. What Tomas & Kristin have done with SSWC may look easy, but it’s the result of years of active participation and community building. Also, neither of them planned to start the best social media conference in Sweden, it just happened that way.

Tomas Wennström, Campfixer.

As a big company you carry a heavy burden: your history. Your customers are most likely not your friends or fans. You don’t have an active community. You don’t have a voice on the web. Probably, you’ve treated your customers as an expense (once they’ve made the first purchase) instead of an asset. You’ve been doing the broadcast, authoritative, passive and expensive way for so long that it’s part of your DNA and your culture.

This must change.

This has to change.

Or you will perish.

How’s that for a lesson from Tjärö?

(I couldn’t attend this year because of the birth of my daughter. To her, all this talk about participating and opening up will be the most natural thing in the world. She will require it. She will expect it. Your company can still change. Do it. Now.)

Follow me on Twitter.