Business

How to become the next Elon

Daniel Kirby

My confession

As a small business owner, my entrepreneurial life is very "real".

Staff issues, cashflow issues, customers not behaving. Cock ups. The odd catastrophe.

But I still believe I’m going to be my industry’s Elon. The innovator that everyone looks at and goes: “that guy”

Elon is going to Mars.

But I want to make a dent in my universe.

Am I deluded? Maybe.

But all good ideas seem crazy until they aren’t.

What’s your big idea?

You’ll have to invest in new technology to make your dream business a reality.

I hope this guide for investing in new technology, which took me 20 years and nearly going bust to learn, helps you achieve your big idea without the mistakes I made.

What you'll learn

Together we'll guide you through the process we've used to help our startup founder clients become the Elon of their industry.

  • Your future
  • Part1 - The Secret
  • Part2 - The Tech Bootcamp™
  • Getting started
  • Why listen to us?
  • Do it with us

I recommend taking notes. Doing so forces you to slow down and draw connections between ideas. This helps you internalise—because reading without note-taking is like exploring a new territory without drawing a map.

We can predict your company’s future.

It’s whatever you’re doing now, but with more technology.

Booksellers, black cabs and Blockbuster all thought technology wasn’t their problem. Amazon, Uber and Netflix said otherwise.

You may be cautious about wasting your time and money.

Technology will work for you.

But not if you approach it in the way that tech people want you to. 

 

Part 1: The Secret 

The Secret is that digital change is not about the technology. It’s about the improvement.

No Digital Consultant or Tech Company will tell you this. It’s not in their interests. Technology is easily complicated. And complicated is costly (for you).

Starting from first principles

To be fair to our consultancy colleagues, even they don’t know The Secret.

Techie assume your future is sorted by ‘the cleverest tech’.

Which is why they all bang on about big data and artificial intelligence. But when you get back to the office, these high-tech issues – generally – aren’t the solutions to your everyday problems:

“Why are the sales team re-keying client quotes?”

“Why does our old system not connect to the new system?”

“Where is the email database from last year’s event?”


The solutions to these questions can be simple. And quick. But consultants, agencies and software suppliers don’t like simple and quick.

So that’s not what you’re offered.

You need:

  • Improvement not Tech
  • Results not Features
  • Simplicity not complexity
  • Momentum not Perfection
  • Investment not Cost
     

What You Need vs. What You Think You Need

If you first focus on improvement, your technology strategy is simpler:

  • You don’t want a web site. You want more sales
  • You don’t want a CRM. You want customers to feel loved
  • You don’t want an intranet. You want the team to talk more


Nowadays, 80% of any business improvement will come from improving technology. Yet even though you have the intention to modernise, reality halts your progress.

Unlimited time, team and money? No

Already overflowing in-tray of things to do? Yes

Starting with why you want to do something, you can quickly orient everyone on what’s important (which is the business improvement, not the technology specification). Maybe a fix is quick, simple and cheap: a line of text on the web form, or a new combined online spreadsheet.

Bad technology is bad for business

It annoys your customers.

It makes your team un-productive.

It puts the brakes on growth.

Good technology will release your potential.

Why are we sharing The Secret?

 In 2017 – after 13 years in business – we had a company near-death experience (which, ironically, started on our 13th birthday).

Bad management meant we lost a bunch of cash. As we licked our wounds, we looked a teach other and said: “Let’s re-think this.”

We were sick of acting like every other digital agency, transformation consultant, tech company. Twisting arms to buy features we thought were cool, impressed our peers – and made us profitable – but our client didn’t really need.

We snapped out of it.

We made a commitment to only work with a client if we could improve their business. But how?

We needed a way of systematically ensuring this happened.

So, we created a process – unique to us – called The Tech Bootcamp™. This five-step process is simple and repeatable. The output is business improvement. Again and again.

We have a renewed mission: to help you get what you want from your business.

That’s why in Part 2 we’re going to teach you The Tech Bootcamp™. 

Part 2: The TechBootcamp™ 

"Our success at Amazon is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day." - Jeff Bezos

Learning from Jeff

A focus on improvement will become your direction of travel on a long-term business journey. This journey will have many steps. Mostly digital.

Jeff Bezos attributes Amazon’s success to the number of experiments they run. Because most new things fail, the more experiments you run, the more likely you are to succeed. It’s a numbers game.The trick is to design your experiment to be fast (so it doesn’t cost a lot of time) and focused (so it doesn’t cost a lot of money). And that you capture and build on any lessons from each experiment.

This means a shift in your thinking.

From technology being something complicated that you ‘commission and launch’…

…to something simple that you ‘test and continuously improve’.  


Introducing The Tech Bootcamp™


18years, 5 steps

We’ve spent 18 years creating custom technology products and services, starting the company in 2004 with a software product. Subsequently we’ve made SaaS products, invested in tech start-ups and built custom technology for leading companies.

Before we decided to focus on growing small businesses, we worked for a range of household names, including BBC Children in Need. We built their fundraising platform, optimising it over the last half-a-decade based on their financial data. They said: “I hope you know we wouldn’t have had another record-breaking year without you. Fact."

This experience has been condensed into a super-simple, super-effective, repeatable process. A method to create improvement. Over and over and over.

Step 1: Mindset

“Mindset is your most important asset, more crucial than wealth and knowledge” - Peter Diamandis, founderX-Prize & Singularity University


We start TheTech Bootcamp™ process with Mindset because without the right Mindset you’ll loseout (and possibly burn out).

We believe you should approach getting digitally fit the same way you approach getting physically fit. You don’t finish a marathon, stop all running and expect fitness to stay. So why install some new tech and expect to solve digital problems in perpetuity?

That’s why we called our process The Tech Bootcamp™.

In a fitness bootcamp you show up, and workout. It’s short and sharp. You perform better insome than others, but over time you’ll get fitter (and the workouts get easier!).

Digital change is an ‘infinite game’. You are always playing, whether you want to or not.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” - Henry Ford

You can’t expect to improve your business without creating change. It always creates some risk. Those that see technology as a cost – rather than an investment – will miss the opportunity it offers. Costs disappear, but while investments may rise and fall, over time they should show growth.

Remember Jeff Bezos’ insight about experiments? The more you do, the more you will succeed. Minimise the upfront costs and time spent on each experiment, and you minimise the risk of each investment.

Your business always needs continuous improvement, and so does your technology.Improve your technology and you improve your business.

TheTech Dept Mindsets Scorecard

We have five company Mindsets at The Tech Dept. These underpin The Tech Bootcamp™process. We hire and direct our team based on them. We even use them to decide whether we’re well suited to work with a client. Score yourself now, all you have to be is honest.

If you score highly, we’ll get along great (give us a call).

If you don’t, we won’t (don’t call).

1 – 2 – 3 – 4– 5
Total score: {  } Max score: 25

 

Tell The Truth  

Live with integrity, the same on the inside as outside. Tell the truth, first to yourself. Radical Candour: care personally & challenge directly. Embrace reality & deal with it head on.

Service To Others

Give service to others first. Help out. Keep a sense of humour & positive focus. Listen, be open, communicate

Commit To Improve

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got”. Start small, build marginal gains. Read and rewire your brain.

Less But Better

Keep it simple.Reduce, create focus. Maintain that focus on what is Essential.

Good Energy

Be Positive & Definite. Kickstart momentum.

  

Step 2. Plan

 Before you start taking Action you need a Plan, an idea of what improvement you want.An intention. You should be able to articulate why.

We often get people calling and saying “we need a new web site / CRM / ecommerce platform”. To which we ask, “why?”. Often there isn’t a great reason, or the reason is weak, like “the CEO hates the colour”.

It’s tempting to just do it. But it always pays to slow down at the start and go a little deeper.

Imagine a pilot starting their flight a few degrees off course. By the end of the journey the plane would be thousands of miles from its intended destination. The same applies to technology.

 


Introducing The Tech Bootcamp™ Workshop

To create the Plan, hold a two-hour workshop to create the Plan. You don’t need any more time.

At the end of the workshop, you will find the simplest thing you can do for the least cost and biggest impact to create improvement in your company.

There is one condition of a Tech Bootcamp Workshop: you have to tell the truth. “I don’t lie!” I hear you say. But do you say what you really think when your boss, or awkward employee is in the room?

The workshop is a chance to spill your guts and understand what the pressures really are. The wider context to any detailed technological decisions. This is a very healthy process, particularly for aligning different teams, but also for you.

In the last two years six Director-level clients have independently said the workshop is “like therapy”.
  

How to run The Tech Bootcamp™ Workshop

DuringThe Tech Bootcamp™ Workshop you’ll ask questions and refuse to accept ‘corporate’ answers. You know the kind of thing, the stock sayings, the company mission statement. The same old goals such as “hit our targets”.

Like drinking a foamy cappuccino, you have to get through the froth before you get to the coffee.

Allow for ideas to emerge, keep asking “why”.

You’ll be surprised what happens. Incredible insight emerges, often from your own mind(let alone your team). Things you already know but have forgotten. Or that you assume everyone understands, but they don’t. Or that have become “normal” in your industry and company but don’t really work for either customers or team.

Listen, really listen.

As if for the first time, and your career depends on it (because it may do).

The people

You need two people to run the workshop. A Chair and a Note-taker.

The Chair stays in the moment, facilitating the conversation. The note-taker aims to capture the best bits. We often use an app called Otter which automatically transcribes a conversation (it can be clunky but can capture things we miss).

We recommend having attendees from across your business, as it’s a great opportunity to ensure everyone is on the same page. If you have a marketing department and an IT department, get those guys there.
 

Kicking off

The Chairperson introduces the workshop and explains the format and the requirement to tell the truth.

We recommend starting with a Positive Focus exercise. This is a simple way to prime people for openness and creativity. Simply ask each person to share one thing they feel good about – personal or professional – to the group. This is a great ice breaker, shifting the gears. Plus, your brain is 31% more productive when it's positive.
 

Running the workshop?

Here are some principles that work well:

o   Keep asking “Why” - peel back the layers - don’t take the first answer as the only answer
 

o   Summarise and play-back the gist of the conversation - so that the team can hear it themselves. People say things they aren’t aware of

o   Regularly pause & reflect and then go back over the same ground - it digs up fresh insight

o   Be alert - all the good stuff comes at THE END of an exercise or workshop: the choice turns of phrase  

o   Resist the urge to start brainstorming solutions – we want the What and Why, not the How  

o   Write down the precise words people say. Listen hard but especially at the end of the workshop when things are winding down

TheTech Bootcamp™ Workshop Exercises

There are four exercises to complete in the two hour workshop. We recommend having them in a Powerpoint document which you share on a screen with the group. The note-taker then types notes into the document as the discussion unfolds.

- 18Month vision (30mins)
- SWOT
(15 mins)
- NorthStar
(10mins)
- PriorityInbox
(30mins)
 

18Month Vision

Our first exercise is the 18 Month Vision. To find this, ask your workshop this question: If we met again in 18 months, looking back, what has to have improved for your customers, company & team for you to be happy with your progress?

Remember:

  • Improvement doesn’t have to be“of technology”
  • Don’t just accept the first thoughts that come to you
  • Ask why, challenge, dig into ideas
  • Don’t worry about “how” you achieve the vision
  • Trust your gut, this is a sketch

Looking at the near future – the next 18 Months – is useful as it’s enough time to implement something strategic and see how it pans out.

Relax into the conversation, let dead-air hang.

Don’t worry about what the ideas are. Just see what feels right as you examine your near-term improvements through each of these three lenses: customer, company, team. Get it all down. 


SWOT

Once you’ve had a discussion – maybe a debate – and got your 18Month Vision, spend 15 minutes answering these three questions:

  1. What 3 biggest Strengths need     to reinforced and maximised (to achieve your 18-month vision)?
  2. What 3 biggest Weaknesses need     to be overcome?
  3. What 3 biggest Opportunities need     to be focused on and captured?
  4. What 3 biggest Threats need     to be eliminated?

Again, write down what first comes to mind, and you don’t have to stick at 3 things.

  

North Star

Now you’ve got your 18 Month Vision it’s time to define your North Star.

Without a target you’ll miss every time, and without a North Star you can’t ensure your technology is improving the right things. Technology can be very useful and solve lots of problems, but are they the right fixes for you right here right now?

Any data you learn from The Tech Bootcamp™ - in effect your repeated experiments – should be serving a bigger purpose. It’s easier to find perspective in the day to day of digital when you can orient on your North Star.

All you need for a North Star is a sketch, the right general direction: ‘this’ way and not ‘that’ way. And if you need to change it after a while, no big deal.

Your North Star should be sufficiently aspirational – and sufficiently clear – to be achievable. But not so specific that it narrows your thinking.

So, what is yours? Write it in a short sentence. Examples include:

“We need more customers”

“Make more money from mobile sales”

“Persuade the board to invest”


Priority Inbox

You have your North Star, now you need to take your first step towards it: the simplest thing you can do, for the biggest impact and least cost.

Like everyone you’ll have a thousand things you need to tidy, fix, improve. If you write them all down – as a team – and then agree their priority, it’s easier todo them, one at a time.

Get a white board, or a big bit of paper. Shout out all the things you wish you’d done, that P you off, that frustrate your customers (or team or supply chain).Remember: all progress starts with the truth.

Yet you can’t have “Everything” as a priority. The Dictionary says that a priority is a thing that is regarded as more important than others.

So, focus on the essential, not the merely ‘good’.

Look for small gains, quick wins because these create confidence and momentum.

Yes, choosing is hard. But as a famous footwear brand once said: Just Do It. By choosing you’re much more likely to actually do something.


Because what we’re really after is Action!

After The Tech Bootcamp Workshop

Within 48 hours of your workshop, both the Chair and note-taker should regroup and reread their notes, collating and editing them for clarity. The notes should then be distributed to the full group of attendees.

In order to move to Step 3 of The Tech Bootcamp™ process you’ll need to decide which next step you should take, what form of Action. During the process of auditing and discussing the notes, the true strategic context for any decisions becomes very clear.

For example, internal communications could be your big issue. Or new customer acquisition. Or lack of clarity on the data between departments.

Now is when you can get carried away and brainstorm all the great solutions, features and technologies that will solve your problem. In other words, this is where you can waste a lot of time and money (and where your digital agency gets excited).

Remember you are running an experiment.

An experiment is a hypothesis.

You need data to prove it’s true.


The simplest thing for the biggest impact, and least cost.

“First, we guess it. And if it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is.” Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist

So rather than trying to do things ‘perfect’ straight away, why not prove things in an ‘imperfect’ way? If it works, build on it. If it doesn’t, kill it. This way you always know where you stand, and damage from failure is limited in scope.

At The Tech Dept our starting point is to look for the simplest thing we canAction for the biggest impact and least cost. That doesn’t mean that the project will be cheap, or it won’t functionally work properly. It simply means that we cut our cloth according to the needs of the moment.

 

NOTE:

Technologists almost always believe the answer to any problem is more – and more up-to-date –technology. Sometimes this is true, often it’s not.

Do you like wasting time and money? Of course not. And maybe you’ve had your fingers burnt, so are now doubly careful with digital.

This is why The Tech Bootcamp™ approach is so powerful.

You test your experiments intentionally. Proving – or disproving – your hypotheses in a simple structured manner.

Step3: Action

What, why…now how?

You now have a Plan. It’s focused in scope so that you can test your hypothesis with reduced risk. It is rooted in an intention to improve the most appropriate part of your business at this precise point in time.

You know What you want (you have a Plan), and Why (you have a NorthStar). Now you need to find Who can make this real.

Because you started with improvement, not technology, you’ll approach this in a healthier way than simply ‘writing a brief’ and sending to your digital agency.It may be that the Plan is so simple that you can do it yourself. Or maybe you can sub-contract to a specialist freelancer on a platform like ODesk or TaskRabbit.

Because you know what you want to improve, you can focus all your team – whether within or outside your company – on what is most important throughout the Action (akaProduction or Development) process.

This helps you easily remain aware of the bigger picture, avoiding getting caught on the most pressing issue of a given day, or the most interesting technical problem.

There are a million important things to do on any digital project.

But there are only a few essential things.

What’s essential is what you’re trying to improve.

Everything else is secondary to that.

 

Introducing the Improvement Scorecard

 To create further focus through the Action stage, and to allow you to Measure the impact of the project, you create an Improvement Scorecard.

This is a simple grid – see below – in which you identify up to five specific things to improve. You can have less, but no more, because what you want is granular focus on what’s most important.

Everyone talks about Big Data, but far more interesting is Actionable Data.

Data doesn’t have to mean quantum-theory-level-statistics. It can be Qualitative as well as Quantitative. If 100% of your sales team hate your CRM, you can measure how they feel about it after it’s upgrade.

Don’t get hung up on the Improvement Scorecard.

You’re not creating a set of Financial Accounts that will be audited by the tax office. And you’re not guaranteeing a boost in sales on which your career depends.

You’re identifying how to measure improvement on this specific project at this specific time. You are benchmarking reality as it is now. The ImprovementScorecard is a simple format with which to assess progress towards – or away from – your North Star.

If you’re spending more time trying to decide the Improvement Scorecard – or get its benchmark data – than on The Tech Bootcamp™ Workshop, then you’re doing it wrong. This should be a ‘sketch’.

Speed is a factor in The Tech Bootcamp™. Better to be 80% right and done, than 100% right and still debating a Plan.

 

Fixed points

It is important to agree a Statement of Work upfront so that all parties know what is expected of them, and what the outcome will be.

You should take this – including the Improvement Scorecard – to your team to approve before you start work.

It is a rare Accounts department that is happy with an open ended “Agile” budget! A fixed price, fixed time frame, allows you to channel budgets and expectations effectively. You also need to agree upfront when – after the project is completed – that you’ll audit your Improvement Scorecard and ensure any measurement tools or analytics are specified and planned into the project.

You’re now ready to start Action, employing your project team and their preferred project management process.

Action can take the form of many things, but often include:

·     Integrating & opening up data

·     Connecting legacy tech with new tech

·     Automating workflow and tasks

·     Improving e-commerce

·     Custom web applications

 

Step4: Measure

Measurement: what was the impact?

You’ve now finished your Action and released your project into ‘the wild’. The technology is serving its purpose.

At the start of the Action stage you will have agreed a date to return and audit your Improvement Scorecard. Now is the time. Simply complete the Improvement Scorecard by comparing the data from before you took Action, to after.

If the numbers are bigger, that’s (usually) good. If they’re smaller, that’s bad. By recording the information you can do something about it. Because either way you will want to improve the numbers, or at the very least learn from them.

 

Good, bad, improve

If the Action has boosted sales: great! Boost them some more.

If email subscriptions have fallen: that’s bad! Find a way to fix it.

As Jeff Bezos understands, most experiments – most new things, most innovation –don’t work. Yet most people aren’t even aware that the new tech thing they have implemented isn’t working. Usually it takes a few years to sink in. Wouldn’t it be better to know sooner rather than later, after a small amount of time and money, not a large amount?

Creating intention, taking action and then measuring its impact in the real world creates valuable insight. Data – good or bad – on which to build the future of your company. Remember that many breakthroughs came from failure (eg penicillin) and play (eg glass fibre).

In effect you are creating the argument, the business case, for the next evolution of your business.

Step5: Repeat

Repetition= transformation

If it all goes to Plan, The Tech Bootcamp™ process will have created measurable improvement in your business. If it hasn’t gone to plan, you know why and will have learnt from it.

Having chosen the ‘simplest thing for the biggest impact and least cost’ your risk is minimised. If it’s a complete cock up then you know quickly and can kick your supplier’s behind or find someone better.

Either way, you’ll want to improve the results.

So simply repeat The Tech Bootcamp™ process.

This step-by-step approach simplifies the endless complexity of the digital world. Rather than ideas, features and functionality, you focus on improvement.

Regular steps – even if some are negative – build over time.

Think of it like ‘marginal gains’ in sport. Small improvements in each area of competition, combine to create significant performance enhancements.

This is how your company will ‘transform’.

In small steps, each step measured and in line with your North Star.

Why listen to us?

 

We innovated at the highest level...and then everything went boom. 

·       Founded in 2004, we built a business in trendy parts of London doing innovative tech stuff for big companies

·       We won a bunch of awards and tossed it off at international conferences

·       We really thought we were hot shit

·       Then on our 13th birthday the business blew up and we nearly lost everything

·       In that moment, we questioned what we were doing and why.

·       So we chose to work only with people like us - ambitious small business owners

·       And we created a unique process - The Tech Bootcamp™ - which ensures we focus on improving your business, not selling you a bunch of unnecessary tech crap

For years we built custom technology and innovation projects for big companies – like BBC Children in Need, BAE Systems and John Lewis – but working with entrepreneurs and their teams to create positive change is the thing we love most.

 

Dan Kirby, Co-founder and CEO of The Tech Dept

  

You’ve got ideas.We make them real.

You're building a business and have ideas for innovative new ways of doing things. You'll need new technology to make these ideas happen. Get it right and you could shake up your industry. But just how do you do it?

Our unique process, The Tech Bootcamp™, allows us to quickly create a plan, build your new technology, measure the return on investment and continuously improve it.

This means improved growth, profits and customer experience. We’ve helped our clients grow 100s of %. And because our work is bespoke we can help recoup your investment through R&D tax credits.

Book a call