Eye Contact, Hand Shakes and Smiles!

This blog is a summary of my year-long journey of business events, talks and networking activities. Of which, have conveniently linked in with a module I am completing in college.

In total, I have attended two professional events, listened to eight talks and interacted with several individuals across a plethora of industries.

Prior to beginning my module of Small Business Management (SBM), I had attended a talk by Shane Ryan titled “Mental Health and Entrepreneurship” at DIT, Aungier street. After the talk, I approached Shane to ask for his details, expressing interest in the area and talking of the possibility of sending him an email in the future.

I felt it beneficial to engage with a person of professional and academic experience in the area of entrepreneurship, hoping to gain some information to help complete my Final Year Project, which is on the topic of Lean Startups.

Shane did in-fact provide some valuable help to me. Soon after I sent him an email asking his advice, or help on the topic of Lean Startups, he sent me information regarding a conference for Lean Productivity.

Without his help, I would not have come across such an event. This was a professional event, as such, students rarely associate in circles of professionals, therefore without his help I would not have had access to this information. This shows the importance of networking and network ties to gain access to information that may not otherwise be gained.

I began my SBM class after my Christmas break, where I was pleasantly surprised by my enthusiastic, passionate and engaging lecturer, which was supported by an assignment to go and engage with professionals at the conference.

This event was in-fact a triplet of conferences, held in conjunction with one another. The primary conference was The National Manufacturing & Supply Chain Conference, which was supported by The Lean Productivity and Continuous Improvement Summit, and The National Sustainability Summit. All of which are of particular interest to me.

Citywest Hotel, 31st January: (3000+ people)

The entire exhibition hall of the Citywest hotel was taken up by exhibitions of SMEs, with several stages dotted throughout, where seminars were continually taking place.

My lecturer for SBM spoke of the importance of such events to SMEs. The SMEs with exhibitions have specific customers, such as logistics companies, therefore traditional marketing strategies cannot be applied, instead these events are vital for the interactions between SMEs and customers.

I had interacted with a few people from the exhibition stands, however, most were of little interest, as people were there to do business, not talk to a student. I could feel the competitiveness of the arena, people brushing shoulders, initiating important individuals with the hope of getting something in return.

However, it amazed me the repetitiveness of the exhibition stands.

My first useful interaction was with a woman from ILDANA consulting. Her name was Jean Roberts, she ran training courses for companies to up-skill workers, specializing in electrical, mechanical and six sigma. Although this was interesting, I took her business card and details but declined to be added to a mailing list.

My second interaction was with Maria Ryan, a consultant from Crystal Lean Solutions. Maria specializes in training, consulting, and gaining access to funding for SMEs and startups, Particularly in developing Lean/Six Sigma systems.

We spoke about her career and applicability of her consultants to startups, the area which is of most interest to me.

In my previous post, Colm spoke of the unnecessary resources that are spent on Lean Teams. However, Maria’s business is essentially an independent ‘Lean Team’.

I would consider Maria’s consultancy a useful organisation, however, these Lean principles are of value in certain functional areas within companies, and as such, should only be carefully assessed before attempting to bring in such consultants.

I took Maria’s business card and company details.

My third interaction at this conference was with Emmet Kearney. Emmet gave a talk on Process Improvement, which was more interesting due to his presentation skills, rather than the content of the lecture. Emmet had also mentioned Crystal Lean Consulting in his lecture, which shows the networking effects involved in industries.

I approached Emmet after the lecture. Emmet spoke to me about his career decisions, his views on academic Vs professional experience and also spoke of ‘start-up weekends‘.

This was another bit of information which I would not have come across, if I had not engaged in the networking activity. A startup weekend would be another activity which one could gain a lot of experience from, with minimal risk involved.

Emmet also gave me the advice to take risks. He explained that finding opportunities is sometimes about taking risks, be that in networking via social media, approaching individuals or closing the sale.

I requested and received Emmet’s business card.

Market Hotel, 14th February (Valentine’s Day): (300+ People)

I had enjoyed my first conference so much, I had decided I would attend a second event. Another individual in my class couldn’t find a conference, so I had searched and found the Dublin BIC Scaling and Funding Series.

This was exactly where I may possibly end up one-day, so I decided to throw myself in the deep-end.

The event saw about 300 individuals in the Marker Hotel, with a series of continuous talks containing information about their start-ups so far and finance opportunities. However, the funding opportunities are particularly difficult (and boring) to write about. While only one speaker’s content held any real value to me.

This may be down to specialty of the event, clearly aimed at startups, who may well be seeking tax incentives or other finance opportunities.

Before the event started, I approached my two class colleagues who had just been approached by a gentleman called Morgan O’Regan, the Commercial Branch Manager of Bank of Ireland on Grand Canal Square.

The conversation seemed one sided on the part of Morgan, so I engaged with him about his profession and he spoke about operating an open work-space on Grand Canal Square. This interested me, I often spend a lot of time in the library, so understanding how open work-spaces function and engaging in the community is something I would hope to do in the future.

I requested Morgan’s business card, which I then received.

The BIC Scaling & Funding series was not a big event, although it was insightful into the entrepreneurial community and opportunities available. It was less competitive than my previous event, more individuals looking to learn and grow. It was to help start-ups reach their next stage, find access to funding and to surge their motivation back into the company.

Upon reflection, I could see vast differences between the two events. One was an established industry with a lot of competition, with front-line sales people attempting to push their company. While the other were small start-ups, which were just surviving and hoping to find a break somewhere. The BIC was more of a safe zone, for communicating, learning and growing.

I will most definitely keep an eye on the BIC and GEC in the near future.

I have since added Maria, Emmet and Morgan on LinkedIn.

Don’t let your limits challenge you, Challenge your limits.

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“Britebill: From Start-up to Scaling” : Alan Coleman

 

Alan Coleman, a finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2015, gave a talk on founding and scaling BriteBill, an online billing company which is currently scaling through international markets.

The Dublin Business Innovation Centre (BIC) is a business support organisation, established to provide development assistance to start-ups, from the start-up phase through to scaling. The organisation connects start-ups to investors, while also helping them to ‘get investor ready’, through incubation communities such as the Guinness Enterprise Centre.

Alan described taking his business from idea, to start-up, to scaling at Dublin BIC Scaling and Funding Series at the Market Hotel.

As an aspiring capitalist, a soon to be graduate and all-round eager beaver, I decided to venture to the quarterly event run by The Dublin BIC.

Alan began his talk with references to his business model, a recurring topic throughout the talk.

He spoke of his initial struggles with the business model, acknowledging that it had ‘operational problems’. It quickly came light that the general public was not interested in the software.

Alan reassessed his Value Proposition (See the Business Model Canvas below), after reviewing the business model, he reaslised that the original idea did not provide enough value for the intended customer. This realization forced Alan to pivot, which resulted in the company changing their Customer Segment and Channels, this was vital for the company as it gave the company a new premise to achieve their aims.

The Business Model Canvas (as seen below), is advocated by Steve Blank. It is often referred to as a template to disassemble a start-up and categorize the fundamental components of the company, possibly identifying the areas which need to be adapted or developed.

 

With the financial backing of an angel investment, a Minimum Viable Product was built by Britebill, to better understand the applicability of the product. The company then decided to strategically change the product, to instead target telecommunication companies. The product was iterated repeatedly and sales began to come (slowly).

This shows the importance of attempting to map-out the company, while also staying flexible so the company can adapt.

A notable part of this talk, was Alan’s clear problem about ‘sales’. He found that closing the sale was one of the most difficult parts of the process. The entrepreneur knows that they have built something from scratch, then to go and make the sale is difficult. Particularly in the case of Britebill, given that these deals were worth millions, according to Alan.

This could refer back to The Lean Startup Methodology, which attempts to gain the initial paying customers (early adopters) to learn from. This step may be difficult to engage in, especially if the product is not fully developed.

Britebill focused on the behavioral science aspects of the customer’s interaction with the product, similar to Dropbox, this was of particular help when pitching to investors. The strategy was also aided by hiring a software bill designer, who brought in significant intellectual property that helped Britebill distinguish itself from competitors.

This would be in-line with the Resource-Based View of companies, differentiating Britebill from competitors through their behavioral science approach, aided by their bill designer.

Alan also spoke of the importance of the non-executive directors. The monthly meetings with these independent board members allowed the company to continually reassess the company’s strategy and position, while also giving focus to the functional areas when necessary.

Colm Fitzpatrick also spoke of the importance of this ‘independent review’ within company’s in his talk (Lesson 2). This appeared to be another vital part of the success at Britebill.

The company has come on leaps and bounds since it’s initial contact with the market. While Alan spoke his journey, it resonated with me that the importance of remaining flexible and adaptable are key in a start-up. It is important to start small, then ensure that the business model is sustainable and scalable, and that the company is geared towards providing value to the customer through their given output.

Britebill was recently acquired for €231 by Amdocs.

My lessons:

  • Start small, fail quickly and adapt.
  • Don’t expand until you have a proven, functional business model

“Lessons Learnt from 25 Years Personal Journey to Productivity”: Colm Fitzpatrick

Colm Fitzpatrick, the CEO and founder of TravePlan Technologies, gave a talk on the lessons he has learnt from his career in productivity. Colm presented at The Lean Productivity Conference at the Citiwest.

Colm refined his personal journey into five points:

  1. Driving down costs may drive down revenue
    • A company that focuses solely on costs, will inevitably diminish elsewhere. Substituting or disregarding a part of an organisation will have impacts, be that efficiency, risk or quality. Decisions have impacts and simply focusing on costs is not sufficient.
    • Colm instead presents the formula as:
      • Quality = Output/ total costs
  2. Management is responsible for productivity
    • It is managements responsibility to communicate priorities. Employees often become distracted and veer off course, it is the role of the manager to direct them towards the set objectives.
    • The flow of information should be filtered and adapted at every level. The same information is not useful to the CFO, as would be for the HR manager. However, both have an impact on the employees on the ground.
      • Likewise the actions on the ground have an impact on their roles. It is important for management to direct and orchestrate adequate channels for information flow
    • It is also the role of management to acknowledge a lack of success. It is therefore their responsibility to bring in individuals/organisations/consultants to independently assess the situation – This has also been touched on by Alan in his talk regarding non-executive directors.
  3. Data is key
    • Colm, as did both Emmet and Denis,  strongly advocated data collection, and analytics in order to objectively observe and improve an organisation. Information is everywhere in and around a business, correct data metrics should be utilized to engage with the data and adapt business operations to the markets requirements. Ultimately , an organisation must implement a proper data infrastructure to collect this data, this should be aimed at examining trends and changes in the market, allowing the organisation to adapt when necessary.
  4. Analysis Paralysis
    • It can often be a problem of engineers to over analyse information and attempt to adapt. Resources can be wasted if too much analysis happens within a start-up. The aim of data analytics is to measure and review critical metrics, some metrics will need to be ignored or may be irrelevant. It is a matter of reviewing these critical metrics regularly, then adapting iteratively. Some metrics are controllable, particularly internally, however most metrics are influenced by the macro-environment and therefore too much resources put into this areas can be wasted. Data analytics should be used for validating the changes since the last iteration.
  5. No Best Process to Fit
    • The concept of Lean is not a general framework fitting to all organisations, it must instead be adapted to each organisation. The lean principles are more cultural/lifestyle principles as opposed to a framework that a company can buy and regularly use when necessary. Fitting the lean principles into a company to drive efficiency is done on a case-by-case basis and is not a general blanket concept applicable across the board.

I found that some of the topics Colm touched upon were rather apparent, even to a know-it-all business student. Although, the analysis paralysis lesson was quite important, a start-up should not over analyse all of the information, but rather review the important information regularly and attempt to find trends.

This process is taught under the Customer Development Model, with regular iterations to improve the product, as opposed to huge leaps with vast arrays of data used.

However, I would disagree with some points made within Colm’s talk. He claimed that if a company had a ‘lean team’ or essentially a process improvement team, that it was an area which resources were wasted. Claiming that the Lean concept is a principled based approach and not a general framework.

I believe a cross-functional team dedicated to observing data analytics and attempting to reorganize operations to improve efficiency can be beneficial to a company.

Management is done on a case-by-case basis. Different situations, people and problems will arise, therefore different actions are to be applied. I feel that remaining flexible should have been included, possibly talking about company culture or business model innovation .

Apart from this one topic, I found Colm’s presentation quite informative and structured. There were clear aims and set points in which affected him. His experience is obviously subjective and given his examples, you can gather why he has chosen these lessons.

My Lessons Learnt:

  • Actions have reactions, so make sure you know your environment
  • Regularly analyse important data – find trends
    • However, don’t over analyse the data

“Traceability: How to Have Your Cake & Eat it Too”: Denis O Brien

Denis O’Brien is the Director of Standards & Solutions at GS1, a Global standards organisation assisting businesses to capture and send information. Denis spoke at the National Manufacturing & Supply Chain conference, pitching the benefits of incorporating tracebility standards into the supply-chain.

The vast majority of businesses use it in one form or another. Some rely on it, some view it as red-tape, others use it to optimize their operations. It is of course; documentation and data.

Traceability begins with documentation, be that in the form of hard or soft copies. As discussed in my previous post, documentation can be key to optimizing business operations, particularly in industries such as agriculture.

The traceability function has three main aspects:

  1. Identify – This is to mark each unit, stock, person, ect.
  2. Capture – This is done via writing the units down, or using barcodes, etc.
  3. Share – Collecting this data and using it to improve your processes or technology.

The aim of traceability is to integrate the supply chain. In examples such as the horse meat scandal, companies realize the necessity to have access to reliable information elsewhere in the supply chain.

Traceability can ensure quality controls are met and reliable products are provided to the customer. It also deters against counter-fit goods entering into the supply chain. It is not only the consumer or individual company that gains from an integrated supply chain, but all entities within the supply chain can benefit.

Denis divides traceability into two main categories:

Internal – Internal traceability refers to all the operations within the company’s walls. They are easily controlled, managed and changed. The company may determine the standards, technology and resources required, then adapt them when necessary.

External – External traceability refers to the rest of the supply chain. This is evidently more difficult to manage and control. There are several other interests, opinions and goals brought to the table, therefore achieving an agreed standard across the supply chain can be difficult to implement.

The traditional form of supply chain management is the ‘one up, one down‘ approach. This approach means that any one organisation should only deal with the organisation directly above or below them in the supply chain. Denis believes this model has become outdated.

The traceability network must be integrated, as shown in the feature photo above. Communication must be open, reliable and easily accessible for all partners in the supply chain. In doing so, a company can create a more appropriate and efficient model to improve the overall process to deliver maximum value to the customer.

Problems can be identified, information can be accessed and solutions can be implemented with far more efficiency when transparent procedures are shared among partners.

It is not only to identify and capture information, but through technological traceability, sharing has become a vital tool in optimizing a company’s processes.

Using softwares such as Bar-coding and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), have already standardized this traceability network across several industries.

Realizing the potential for a reliable, standardized and fully integrated supply chain can be the starting point for not only optimizing processes, but to achieving a competitive advantage. Increased efficiency, waste minimized and reliable materials are just some of the benefits to adopting these standardized traceability technologies.

With the onset of globalization, ensuring that information is transferred successfully and transparently, is becoming even more essential in today’s successful businesses. Adding value to the customer is key, ensuring that every part of your supply chain is adding value is difficult, although achievable through transparency within the supply chain.

My Lessons Learnt:

  • Information (data) sharing  is key to optimization
  • Transparency, accessibility and standardization within the supply chain are vital components to managing the supply chain.

“How to Achieve Process Improvement and Reduce Human Error with Effective Documentation”: Emmet Kearney

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

This famous quote often looms over the areas Six Sigma and Lean Management. It was also the key message brought into Emmet Kearney’s talk on process improvement through documentation.

Some authors have contested the relevance of the quote, with Colm Fitzpatrick touching on the positive & negative aspects of data in his talk. It is generally regarded that business decisions based on objective data and trends are more effective, particularly with reference to the lean principles.

As I am completing my Final Year Project on Lean Start-ups, inevitably the process is about finding out what the customer values through the lens of objective data collection, then orientating the business towards adding value for the customer.

Emmet Kearney, the Business Development Manager at TWi, presented on the topic of Process Improvement at The Lean Productivity Conference. He refined some of the key points of Six Sigma, contesting that standardized operations, documentation and data are the key tools of process improvement.

These same topics have been recurring themes throughout my previous blog posts.

The basis for this argument is that humans make errors, these errors are costly to an organisation. Therefore, standardizing and improving the processes will improve the companies long-term strategic position.

Emmet placed a particular emphasis on the human-tech interface in companies. With modern industries developing, this interface is becoming more prevalent in today’s businesses (This is discussed in my post with Denis O’Brien).

Emmet highlighted several key areas of attention:

  • Culture: as discussed in my post regarding Change, a company that promotes communication, sharing, and curiosity, is more likely to acknowledge mistakes as being productive or having potential for improvement. The ability for a company to create an environment where the risk of mistakes are minimized, while the learning process of mistakes are maximized.
    • Providing communication channels within the company’s framework can direct the company’s culture towards that of an open and sharing environment. Advising people on procedures, allowing them to partake in training and workshops can enhance their curiosity and willingness to engage. Over-time, building a nurturing and open company culture.
  • Quality Management Systems (QMS): standardized planning and execution with strict quality controls are another option to minimize risk and human errors. Standardization reduces variation, which is easier to manage and reduces errors.
    • QMS such as ISO 9001, provide stringent procedures to follow in order to reduce errors and provide a framework to follow to manage errors. The format in which employees have access to the information is vital.
  • People: The above three points all revolve around people. The technology is built by people, to be used by people, for people. Ensuring that employees know how to use the human-tech interface to the best of their ability is vital, while also allowing nurturing the company culture and providing adequate information to employees, are all key to reducing human error and generating process improvement.

The rise of technology in commerce has meant a rapid change in how business is done. Technology has allowed for documenting and data analytics to be far more efficient.

Emmet suggests that both hard, and soft documentation, are the driving forces behind process improvement. Documentation supports data, data can allow for an objective analysis of the business, therefore data is arguably the vital tool for process improvement.

Data can highlight the areas which are in need of attention. Without adequate documentation, human errors will go unnoticed, affecting the customer and affecting the organisation.

It is through documentation that proper management can be accomplished and processes can be optimized. It is also through continued analysis, such as with QMS, that these standards are maintained and adapted accordingly.

Humans are bound to make mistakes, yet humans are a vital part of the company. Through documenting the processes, generating standards and nurturing the employees to achieve these standards are the fundamental building blocks of process improvement.

Without documentation, there is no where to begin.

You begin with data, you improve through data, and the results should be visible in data.

My Lessons Learnt:

  • Objective information is an important tool in Process Improvment & TQM
  • Through soft-copy documentation, processes can be improved easier
    • Nurture the technology in the company, it is an opportunity
  • Humans make mistakes
    • Find the way to minimize the risk & maximize learning

“The Next Level of Change Management”: Paul Guidea

It’s the 1st of January. You’ve set your New Years resolutions. You’ve thrown out your cigarettes, equipped yourself with a new fruit blender and an overpriced gym membership. 2017 will be your year…

We’ve all been here, yet why do these changes never last?

Paul Guidea, a change & adoption consultant at Kellogg Company, presents the idea that lasting change happens once the perception, mind-set and context of the change has been developed by each individual employee. Paul therefore suggests that organisational change does not happen in one change, it has several individual and incremental changes by each employee. These changes happen at a different pace and for different reasons.

During Paul’s presentation, he claims that 70% of organisational changes fail  because of the mind-set of the employees. However, understanding that each individual has different motives and utilizing them in order to adopt the change is key to success. Leading on from this idea, it can be gathered that an individual can be motivated by intrinsic or extrinsic motivations, therefore, an employee is more likely to adopt the change if a company can align the changes with the motivations of the employee. It is through understanding, communicating and reiterating which allows for long-term organisational change.

Change can often lead individuals to feel  uncertain and isolated. Paul believes that integrating the HR department in organisational change is vital to success. Ensuring to create an environment where employees are listened to, motivated and curious about the change.

It can be assumed that leaders with an autocratic rule, or verging towards autocracy on the Continuum of Leadership Behavior would not be suited to managing change within an organisation. Strong upward and downward communication channels must be present in an organisation in order for each individual employee to adopt the change successfully.

The organisation must be pushing towards not only changing temporarily, but instead to enhance employees curiosity and engagement, resulting in an organisational culture built on communication and sharing, allowing for lasting change.

Paul presents the option of initiating workshops in the organisation. Bringing about change in an informal environment, allowing employees to engage with the new change and promote discussion and sharing among employees. Workshops build momentum, allow for the inclusion of employees who feel isolated and provide a space for uncertainty to be discussed.

Information, communication and iteration are vital to achieve organisational change. Ensuring that the information provided to employees is easily accessible and in a format that is understandable.

“A company is people. Employees want to know – am I being listened to or am I a cog in the wheel?” – Sir Richard Branson

It is important to engage with employees, to understand them and resolve their worries. Realizing that your success relies on their performance.

Companies are built by people, for people.

The change starts with the person.