Gems of advice galore – that’s what I’ve just spotted in the Power Top 50 feature from the February issue of Business XL. If you haven’t read it yet, try to find time to do so.
Fifty of Britain’s most inspirational entrepreneurs and venture capitalists gave a flavour of what had made their businesses so successful in 2011 – and it seemed like a different world from the part of the economy inhabited by so many other businesses that have been struggling with banks and suffering from falling revenues and loss of customer confidence.
It set me thinking about how to identify the essence of what can constitute a hugely successful business – and it’s all to be gleaned from that Power Top 50 feature. Innovation is the first major factor that emerges. But the term ‘innovation’ needs to be qualified. After all, there’s no point coming up with an innovative product if no-one wants to buy it.
So I think there’s another element here – ‘essential’ is an adjective that I would want to see attached to any new business proposition. And the really big bonanza would come to an entrepreneur who identifies an innovative product that may not be essential yet but will become so when people start to use it.
I bet I’m not alone when I say that when Twitter was launched I couldn’t quite see the point of it, but millions of people have found it completely essential to their lives.
That also applies, for example, to Nick Robertson’s ASOS – buying clothes could be regarded as essential, but Robertson found an innovative way of encouraging a new audience. Both these businesses spotted trends and new patterns of behaviour and took full advantage of these.
The wisdom of experience
The second factor that I gleaned from the Power Top 50 was ‘experience’. Nick Robertson has imbibed all that family experience from his grandfather Austin Reed on what makes an excellent retailer and put it to the best use possible, building a tiny business into one that has 13.6 million visitors each month.
A slightly different aspect of the importance of experience emerges from Robin Klein, founding partner of The Accelerator Group, when he says, ‘I always give high marks to a team that did a lot with very little, as opposed to someone who has put together the most beautiful presentation and market studies and then comes and asks for £1 million to do this. You want to see that people can actually do something and create something.’
How refreshing to hear from someone I admire a great deal that real experience of running a business, without having the big piles of VC cash to splash around, is an important element that he values.
In the zone
A third crucial factor for establishing and growing a successful sustainable business is ‘environment’. Errol Damelin, chief executive of Wonga, the online short-term lender, states, ‘I wanted do something on a world scale, and it felt like London was one of those places you could do that’. I think that’s still true; the past few years have been so difficult that becoming very negative about the UK can become seductive, but for fast-growing businesses it’s a better place to be than most other economies.
We just need a bit more help from the marketplace, and because I’m a ‘glass-half- full’ person, I think that’s just around the corner – maybe the second half of 2012. Fingers crossed!