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Life’s a pitch!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I spent 11 hours last week on pitches. Either pitching business ideas myself, preparing myself or others to pitch, or listening to people pitch ideas me.

I reckon I've spent at least that amount of time on pitches every working week for the last 20 years and it's often been more time than that.

If you are successful at business: life is truly a pitch. You are constantly seeking to get others' support for your ideas or listening to others tell you how they can help you. In my view success in business is more than 50% determined by the quality of your pitches and your judgment on what pitches to back

6 hours pitching time last week was Garlik related; in the remaining 5 hours I helped one entrepreneur prepare a pitch for funding, and I listened to no fewer than 14 business ideas being pitched to me.

12 of these ideas came at an event called Pitchfest. I put together a team of professionals – a top VC, a lady who owns a PR company, a major angel investor and one of the UK's leading young entrepreneurs, and got people to pitch to an invited audience of 100 people and the panel (chaired by me) .

We listened to 12 people pitch ideas at us for up to 4 minutes each. The 12 were chosen from a group of 50 small business owners and entrepreneurs who had spent just one day with me in May in a Perfect Pitch Workshop.

I hadn't seen them since . I'd done the work with them and sent them off to practice for 6 months with the Pitchfest as the goal. Someone else had chosen the top 12 for me.

There was no specific requests in the pitches , they were just trying to interest us in what they were up to and get some feedback on both their pitch and their business. We gave them feedback and scored them Strictly Come Dancing style. The winner got a prize , the top 5 a slightly lesser prize.

There's great freedom in giving a pitch like this at every opportunity to everyone you meet. You can get a lot of different sorts of results, for example:

  1. Rejection/disinterest – which doesn't tell you anything so you just discard it
  2. Understanding and acknowledgment – useful in building rapport and a personal network, briefing suppliers, recruiting staff
  3. Valuable feedback –someone with expertise says: to make that work you will need to ..OR that will never work unless...
  4. A customer
  5. A partner who can get you loads of customers –this is most small business owners dream!
  6. An investor
  7. An evangelist, a well connected person who goes round telling everyone what a fabulous person/idea they have heard

I was nervous about the pitches on Tuesday. These were people who, on the whole when I met them in May, were not good at pitching their businesses or ideas. I'd only spent one day with them and I was putting them in front of a panel who were used to hearing and delivering world class pitches. I need not have worried. The panel was impressed. The VC said at least half of them were better than most pitches he gets from companies seeking investment, and remember companies that get to pitch to VCs have already had to get through a rigorous appraisal which 99 out of 100 fail .

All but one of the pitches on Tuesday was at least "good", one or two flirted with "excellent". That's  a great result as in my normal business life it would be the other way round ie 1 pitch in 12 might be good. "Excellent" is so rare as to be a  cause for celebration!

I also felt a little frustrated in that I could see with each pitch exactly what needed be done to take it up a notch , but I haven't got the time and most of them  haven't got the money!

I think every pitch got valuable feedback. 3 interested at least one of the panel members from an investment point of view. 3 others got the PR lady excited about how she could get them on TV and make them famous.

Several pitches got new customers from the audience and two got me as an evangelist – I haven't shut up about them since Tuesday.

Best of all everybody , including the panel had enormous fun. We shall do this again!



Iconic Brand Workshop Slides

Thursday, July 1, 2010

For attendees of the evening workshop on 8th July you can download the slides here.


Contact details:

To get details and an application form for the two day Difference Engine workshop on September 7th and 8th 2010 please email : mike@findyourlightbulb.com or nick@thedifferenceengine.ca

To get details of the Triumphant Events KPI programme , incorporating Mike Harris whole day perfect pitch workshop please email: Info@triumphantevents.co.uk

Business Architecture

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I've become more and more convinced about the role of business architecture in getting results.

I can pretty much know how well a business is going to do now just by asking a few questions:

  • What's the business about
  • What are you up to over the next three years?
  • What's working for you right now and what isn't?
  • How are you approaching getting the results you need?
  • What gets you out of bed in the morning , raring to get to work?
  • Tell me about one of your products (preferably a flagship product) - what has people spend money on it rather than spend money on something else?

If the answers to these questions aren't full of clarity, credibility, energy , insight and commitment I know I'm looking at trouble.

The interesting thing is I reckon if the management is up for it then nine times out of ten I know how to put in place an environment and architecture which would :

-make answers to those questions second nature

- outperform in terms of results gained any expectations they currently have

-make coming to work a great delight for them and most of the people who for them


Exciting huh?


More in future posts.

Hot Air

Monday, April 19, 2010

This cartoon (Times Friday 16th April) amused me. It of course depicts the debate between Brown, Cameron and Clegg .

The more so since I'd been speaking at a lunch the day before the cartoon was published about iconic brands .

I'd said that iconic brands often started as a mission by a few people to dent the universe (in the words of management guru Warren Bennis.)

That is a mission to cause something new and different to happen in the world, something that simply wouldn't have happened without them.

Someone said that sounds more like politics than business. I responded that many of today's biggest and most successful businesses started out with exactly that sort of change the world mission, but a change the world mission very much focused on the worlds of business.

For example Bill Gates set out to redefine the world of computing away from mysterious and remote mainframes to being something personal, something in every office and in every home.

Steve Jobs continues to redefine people's experience of the world of technology and the Google guys set out to redefine people's experience of the digital world – from finding a needle in a haystack to all the world's information , organised at your fingertips.

In my own case Firstdirect started with a mission to redefine banking as something which happened at customers' convenience, Egg to redefine the world of of financial services so that people got a stunning individualised experience with all the help they needed . The Mercury brand was built around a redefinition of the world of telecoms to People, Information and Entertainment to the palm of your hand.

Anyway back to politics . In my experience the differences between businesses that set out to create a dent and politicians who set out to create a dent are as follows;

  • Successful businesses mean what they say – there is no hot air
  • Successful businesses carefully and thoughtfully design structures which mean they consistently deliver the brand experience they promise. In politics and public services too often the structures appropriate for what is being promised are not thoughtfully designed. Instead a series of one size fits all, politically correct rules are followed which usually dooms any significant initiative to failure.

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Innovation Winners

I was browsing through Business Week's annual poll of executives to identify the 50 most innovative companies in the world and amused myself my doing a google search for their missions. Fascinating . Every company in the top 12 had a mission about what they do for customers not about themselves.

Compare that to the average turgid mission statement which goes something like : to be a leader in the provision of xxxx services in our chosen markets and to be a good corporate citizen in the way we deal with our employees and the communities we operate in.

The thing is that a mission which is specific about how you are of service becomes a powerful motivating factor for employees , liberating energy, creativity and yes of course innovation.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Dedication to every clients success through innovation that matter to them (IBM)

  • Improve the lives of the world's consumers (P and G)

  • Create the most satisfying ownership experience in the world (Toyota: I know, I know!!! But watch them recover)

  • A smile on every face (Nintendo)

Originating Intent

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I had a problem last Friday. I was looking for some cash. I left my flat at 7:30am knowing there were three cash machines in easy reach and I could choose any one of them , draw some cash,have some breakfast and still make the seminar I was leading, on time.

The best laid plans!

The first machine said "service not available". The second let me enter my pin and the amount I wanted and then said "try another machine". The third machine had the same problem on both my debit and credit card.

The guy behind me on the third machine couldn't get any cash either.

At this point I thought all the cash machines in London had failed. I'm a chemist by training so three experimental observations makes a theory!

Nothing on the news.

So I called Firstdirect. They were brilliant. I can't imagine any other bank dealing with it as well as they did.

Firstly they told me instantly that the chip was damaged in my debit card because one of the ATMs had reported that (they knew about all my failed transactions although none of the machines were HSBC). They told me instantly that there was a fraud marker on my credit card (always seems to happen if I buy some furniture immediately after buying lunch!) . They took me instantly through my last six transactions and as I recognised each one they took off the fraud marker.

"So Mr Harris you'll get a new debit card in the post in the next couple of days (I did), in the meantime you can draw cash with your credit card or at any HSBC branch up to a certain amount at any branch with some ID and if you need more tell us which branch and when and we'll arrange it. Is that going to work for you or do we need to do something else?"

When I created Firstdirect I set out an Originating Intent of being known for heroic customer service leaving people feeling totally taken care of. Seems to have survived these 20 odd years.

Actually I visited Firstdirect in Leeds before Christmas. The organisation is in great shape and remains a fun and vibrant place to work.

If you see an organisation struggling see to what extent they have compromised their Originating Intent (all organisations have one , even if they didn't set it out consciously) .

It's fine to declare an Originating Intent complete or finished by the way as long as you create a new one.

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