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Are You the Biggest Obstacle to Scaling Up Your Business?

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So you’re looking to scale up your business. This is a challenge for all companies and for many leaders it’s a befuddling experience. I’ve spoken to and helped those running companies with just two or three employees (in some cases it’s better to call them volunteers) as well as those who are trying to get their heads around the same issues but multiplied, where they’re dealing with several hundred people to thousands.

Within the massive web of questions, there are in my experience two major areas that tend to be the biggest headaches for leaders scaling up their business. The first is people, the second is systems. The two are often confused with each other and the first is fudged in favour of the second, because it can be seen as more tangible (but it isn’t because systems depend on people).

In my experience there’s one significant area that almost all leaders and entrepreneurs overlook in this, which is critical to the successful growth of the organisation.

It’s you, the founder or leader.

Now, I don’t mean this in a limited old-fashioned individualistic way. The business isn’t you, it isn’t dependent upon you, nor should it be. And this is the crux of it. For your baby to grow, to enable it to find its feet, you have to hand it over to others for its development.

These other people are going to come in to your company and their presence is going to change the quality of your business and how it functions. They’re not going to be as wedded to its idea and construct as you are. They’re probably not going to care very much about it as a living organism as you are. Many of them are simply going to view it as a job without the heartfelt investment in its future and success as perhaps you feel. Many of them won’t understand, or want to engage in your dreams and desire for your creation or your purpose in scaling up your company.

Getting the people right

The people you bring on board will think differently and they will behave differently to you and to be frank there are a lot of people that will not be able to think in the same way you do – neither do you want them to.

If you’re bringing in investment, or arranging a partnership, this difference may be even more stark because of their underlying interests.
All these people are, nonetheless, as important, if not more so to your business than you are.

So, you’re going to have to reach out into the world to find people who can relieve you of tasks you can’t possibly manage to do all on your own and you’re going to have to accept that they’ll be different from you.

When you seek these people, you may be tempted to do a bit of Googling to find some advice on who you should get in and how. Beware the propagation of tripe.

There’s a rising narrative about the ‘type’ you’ll want to get on board. Some call these people ‘A players’ who have the personality and drive to go places and benefit your business accordingly. How you go about finding these people, assessing their true capability and fit with your company, and actually whether you really need them is another matter.

The first step is really to do a bit of soul searching and self-assessment of you in relation to your business. This is number two on the list of overlooked. If you’re going to do this properly, get somebody to help you because you cannot do a full and honest self-assessment of yourself, and act upon it, on your own.

No quick solution

The next step is to understand that this is an ongoing process, not an event or series of events. As your business grows, it will, and should, change its nature on a daily basis. If you’re employing people, the human aspect is now going to be at the forefront of your mind forever – it is ceaseless but it’s just as much of an issue to global companies.

None of this should be seen as a negative. It can actually be very liberating for you, because hopefully it will give you a little more freedom.

A simple illustration:

Lets say you accept that whilst you might be a hot app developer with the creative skills to build a great, marketable solution that’s going make peoples’ lives so much better, you have a terrible telephone manner. So you determine that your priority for growth is someone to answer the phone to speak to your customers.
In this instance, it’s questionable that you’re going to need an “A-player.” In fact, that could be a mistake. At this point in time, you need someone who genuinely enjoys being on the phone and who is good at phone-based relationships. He could be a great receptionist who loves this kind of thing. And that is great for you and your company for now and it’s mutually beneficial.

The potential hiccup is you and how you engage with your existing customers about the changing nature of your relationships with them. They may feel disenfranchised because they’re no longer talking to the boss and thus their status has been downgraded in the client hierarchy. Their experience on the phone is better, but they want to speak to the boss because that gives them a certain satisfaction in the relationship. So this may need some tender care from your side.
You may also find yourself succumbing to this immediate pressure because your major concern is the monthly revenue and you’re afraid that you’ll lose clients. So you start taking the calls again and suddenly you’re worse off than in square one.

There are always ramifications to what are intended to be simple changes to the business and as your business grows, you’ll find they are almost always, fundamentally, down to relationships.

Understanding your strengths

A real world example is an entrepreneur client I have been working with who, when we started, was struggling to make ends meet. His monthly revenue target was a real stretch and stress for him. Our work has been on him understanding where his strengths lie in the business. These are in his personality which is enabling strong brand development. However, he is disorganised and when he gets into the back-office stuff he withers, so does the business drive and direction. We’ve also dealt with how and what he focusses on in order for him to personally add more value and secure longer term growth.

Since we started working together less than 10 months ago, he has managed to increase his average monthly revenue about 4 fold. Recently he wanted some time with me to get some clarity about some management approaches where he had brought someone new in who was good at management, organisation and systems. He was talking to me about how he needed to sit down with her to plan out and create the necessary organisation and systems they needed.

I asked him about her background and strengths and did she have the capability to pick up with it and run independently? If yes, why not just trust in her different abilities? Let her do her thing in her way (with communication and appropriate oversight of course). Then she can explain and share the systems with him and the others in the company so it’s not just all in her head.

The relief he felt following this conversation was palpable. He was released to carry on with what he is best at – developing the long term relationships for his business while getting out there to build the brand.

So whilst I’ve simplified this example conversation, it’s fundamentally down to a relationship and founder/leader giving others the freedom to change and develop the nature of his business. This adds value that he could never provide himself.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Simon Darton. See more.

Entrepreneurship

Fear & Desire with Emerging Technologies

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For all their complexity, we tend to think about emerging technologies in surprisingly simple ways. Either they are a force for good. That is, for eliminating disease and pain, and offering the prospect of not only extending our lives but bringing a level of physical and cognitive enhancement that even the previous generation could not have imagined. We get a sense of the apparently limitless power of artificial intelligence to help us grapple with the widest array of personal, social and physical problems, especially as we apply it to the massive and growing resource of Big Data. And we particularly enjoy the expanding connectivity that comes with all this.

Or we see them as threatening, especially as artificial intelligence increasingly makes important decisions for us, as that same connectivity is used to exploit us and as it distorts our view of the world, and as genomics explores and alters the very codes of life. They are also seen as a threat to the ecosystem through the toxicity from mining rare metals, from the gases and microplastic waste from modern appliances and through the dumping of ‘old’ technologies as the replacement cycle shortens.

Or, even more commonly, we see them as being all of this, leading us to think that all we have to do to enjoy all the benefits is to constrain the risks they pose. A comfortable trade-off, a pact of some kind.

But the story of emerging technologies may be far more interesting than this, especially if we ask questions that have not been asked before. Why is it that this ‘fear and desire’ relationship that we have with technology seems to echo a similar ‘fear and desire’ relationship that we and our forebears have had with God, with the State and even with the large corporations of the Market? Do we have – or have our forebears had – a fear of these but also a desire that the power that causes this fear be brought to bear to create sympathetic conditions for us? A series of powerful protectors and providers? Is that not similar to the relationship we are increasingly having with the new technologies? If we can see some resonance here, doesn’t that change how we should think about technology? What further questions do we then need to be asking about how this relationship works?

Technology and the Trajectory of Myth answers these and other questions. It identifies the nature of the dynamic that drives this relationship and presents evidence to show that such a dynamic has long been in play, not just with the new technologies but similarly with those ‘magnitudes’ of Deity, State and Market. This evidence is found not only in the respective fields of those magnitudes but also in science, the legislative process and in law more generally. All this allows an argument that the magnitudes have formed a trajectory that has shadowed the history of the West from the start, a trajectory in which the new technologies are a key factor in the occupation of the space previously and sequentially occupied by those magnitudes.

This dynamic is proposed as a combination of psychology and history, which not only explains the relationship between individuals and the magnitudes across this trajectory but which argues that this relationship is strongly present today. The idea of it was drawn initially from the account of mythology presented by the German philosopher Hans Blumenberg but it has then been extended and widely re-worked. The result has been the imagining of this series of magnitudes as mythological entities, the purpose of which is to deal with the pressing and persistent existential fears and desires that all individuals experience. These magnitudes are claimed by their respective dominant interests to be not only absolutely empowered – they must be so to cope with the absolute nature of those existential experiences of individuals – but which have had that fearsomeness engaged to create sympathetic conditions for each individual.

The condition on which all this relies is the full subjection of the individual to the regime of idea and practice of each such magnitude in their respective eras. In fact, it is that subjection which fully empowers the magnitudes. The outcome is that, ironically perhaps, each absolute magnitude is ‘brought to earth’ by its conversion into a sympathetic form, with its power moving from absolute to conditional. The consequence of this loss of absolute status is then a search for a replacement absolute magnitude. These successive creations and failures – which see each magnitude descend into a field of failed but persistent magnitudes – constitute the trajectory. Within this field there are competitions and alliances as the dominant interests of each magnitude seek its re-emergence into an absolutely powerful condition. The operation of this field is a way to understand, for example, the contemporary alliance between the Market and both the State and emerging technologies.

This leads to the end point, the point of our present condition. That is, that technology can only take its place in this trajectory if it acquires an absolute form. We can see this emerging in the claims that technology will fully empower the individual as an Absolute Subject. Unlike the secondary position that the individual occupied in relation to the earlier magnitudes in their absolute condition, such an individual will be empowered to deal conclusively with her own existential fears and desires.

So we come back to the point at which we began. That is, the common view that technology should be seen as comprising contradictory utopian and dystopian features and that the former will be realised if the latter are eliminated or severely constrained. In fact, both features are together essential to this story of modern mythology. We need technology to be fully empowered – thereby fearsome – so that claims can be made that it will deal with the absolute existential condition of each of us. This to be done by the full power of technology in which we are to be embedded as Absolute Subject and by which each of us can create absolutely sympathetic conditions for ourselves. Utopia and dystopia need both to be brought into the context of the modern mythology not as contradictory elements but as working parts of the mythological dynamic.

But that is not the end of the story. As we have seen, the relationship between the individual and each of the magnitudes of the trajectory is based on a subjection which is best understood as the foregoing of responsibility for oneself. To recapture this self-responsibility – and experience the respect which accompanies it – means to reject this subjection. This in turn means opting out of the mythological way of organising both our sense of self and our social arrangements and dealing with existential concerns very differently, respectfully and in radical self-reliance.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Elgar Blog, Edward Elgar Publishing‘s blog is a forum filled with debate, news, updates and views from our authors and their readership. see more.

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Entrepreneurship

Can Coworking Spaces Save Retail?

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Coworking spaces have served a plethora of modern workers through physical spaces. There have been office blocks, private member clubs, coffee shops and more. Now, there’s a new trend on the horizon: coworking spaces in shopping centres. Whilst this might be an innovative environment for coworking spaces, the arrangement also forms part of the retail industry’s move towards a new shopping mall model emerging in 2030. This trend isn’t constrained by any region; it’s unfolding on a global level with hotspots including San Francisco, Dublin, Shanghai, Melbourne or Moscow. What has the journey involved to date?

It didn’t take long for 2017 to be coined ‘the year of the great retail apocalypse.’ Retailers closed an unprecedented number of stores with many filing for bankruptcy (such as Toys ‘R’ Us), whilst shopping malls simultaneously faced growing pressure to survive declining demand for physical retail space.

Diversification of tenants and technological enhancements might have been pursued by shopping centers as survival strategies in the past, but now are we seeing coworking spaces enter the mix. Coworking operators are taking space in shopping centers and shopping centers are developing their own coworking brands.

Why are Shopping Centers an Option for Coworking Spaces?

Retailers are taking less space and more space is available. Shopping center investment slowed over the past few years and renting space has become cheaper. Forecasts back in 2015 predicted a 20-25%rental decrease in Hong Kong. In 2016 retail investment in the Netherlands was down by 40%. In 2017 Manhattan retail rents fell by 13.4%, Canada had an average 30% retail vacancy rate, Australia’s retail investor intentions dropped by 10% and UK shopping center investment fell by 45%. Now in 2018, the likes of Ginza High Street in Japan are set to hit their lowest rent rates towards the end of the year.

Shopping malls have already tried filling space with hospitality and leisure facilities in the form of restaurants, cinemas, bowling alleys and even indoor ski facilities. However, these offerings aren’t quite enough to avoid the approximate 30% closure of space required for shopping center supply to meet tenant demand.

E-commerce giants continue their notorious online role as the major driving force behind decreasing demand for physical retail space, not to mention the shift in consumer spending from goods to lifestyle experiences. Further diversification is required and it’s starting to take the shape of coworking spaces.

Shopping Mall Owners and Coworking Brands

Westfield, in partnership with Forest City, is one of the first major retail outlets to develop their own coworking brand. In 2015, Bespokeopened on the 4th floor of Westfield San Francisco Centre. The 40,000 sq ft space is designed specifically as a retail-tech ecosystem supporting coworking, events, demos and pop up shops. The space is home to corporate and start-up members spanning industries such as payments, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, experiential, e-commerce, retail analytics and more. Bespoke hit full capacity after just 6 months.

For Bespoke, the main opportunity lies in bridging the gap between startups and big-box retailers. Kimiko Thornton, Senior Director of Innovation at Bespoke highlights, “Bespoke focuses on converging the digital and physical by curating a portfolio of members who are actively working to improve the retail landscape. Members are selectively identified by Bespoke and are connected to the C-Suites of Fortune 500 companies through our corporate innovation tours. Through this program, members benefit from access to retail executives and the opportunity to run pilots in a multi-faceted, consumer-facing environment. Retailers benefit first-hand from early access to the latest retail innovations.”

So, why would a shopping center invest in their own coworking brand instead of letting space to an operator? Kimiko notes some of the benefits: “Driving thought leadership in the industry, bringing in over 100k incremental visitors to our Centre annually, and getting early access to test and support retail innovators are just a few of the benefits. By being connected, we’ve given our startups the opportunity to run successful trials throughout our properties. Examples include Hemster, the on-demand alterations service and July Systems, the retail industry’s best location intelligence and engagement platform.”

In terms of membership types, private offices have been Bespoke’s highest area of demand; offices sold out before opening and an additional office suite was built quickly. With that being said, Kimiko explains how “demand can shift from one type of membership to another within a matter of months. This is why creating a flexible space is so important; we can easily adapt to fluctuating demand. Members do get acquired and outgrow us into their own offices, but we encourage this as we welcome fresh talent on a rolling basis.”

Atmosphere is another coworking space owned by a shopping center, situated outside Moscow’s city center towards the southwest where no coworking spaces have ventured before. The space features a conference hall and is ran by Atmosphere’s multi-business mother company, Tashir, renowned for its largest chain of shopping malls in Russia.

George Engibaryan, Business Development Manager at Atmosphere, explains how “Atmosphere is part of Tashir’s aims to diversify its assets. Running our own coworking space allows us to do this without sharing revenues with an operator. The coworking market in Moscow is still in its early development stages, meaning Atmosphere is a good business opportunity given the current low supply of operators.” Similarly to Bespoke, Atmosphere is located on a higher floor (6th), which might typically be associated with less tenant demand. Yet in this case, Atmosphere benefits from ‘a perfect oval shape and lot of natural light under a panoramic roof’.

The principle challenge faced by Atmosphere is the coworker mindset that business is done within the city center, rather than outside it. George addresses this issue by highlighting how members can avoid time wasted in congested traffic and still enjoy a workspace with a nearby cinema, restaurants and supermarkets.

Atmosphere initially experienced high demand for private offices and currently operates at 80-85% occupancy, but they now see a more equal distribution of demand amongst desk and membership types with open areas preferred by freelancers. Although there is no strict member vetting process, Atmosphere attracts innovative startups through their internal investment fund and explicitly excludes companies making excessive phone calls to avoid disruption to other members.

Operators Taking Shopping Mall Space

On the flipside, we see independant coworking spaces signing leases with shopping centers. Dogpatch Labs is a start-up hub centrally located in Dublin’s digital docklands and is CHQ’s largest tenant. The 1820s shopping center lets space to interesting tenants including the EPIC Museum, is close to the rail station and surrounded by likes of LinkedIn, Facebook and more.

Located across the first 3 floors of CHQ, Membership Manager Jake Phillips states Dogpatch benefits from “being a touch point for well over 8,000 people walking past every day. We built the retail location as a strategic mechanism to deliver our brand values of community and innovation. We are also involved with corporate initiatives; CHQ recently supported Mastercard with their app pilot focusing on the city’s demographic spending data. Being situated in a retail environment means we can also deliver a live storefront.”

Given the historic protection of the converted wine and tobacco warehouse as a Grade A listed building, the fit out costs for Dogpatch were more expensive than a non-retail space. However, the company has seen high returns as a result of the investment. Jake explains how “the investment pays when focus is on design. We built a strong relationship with the landlord through a co-branded building strategy to become a unified, authentic Irish brand and top 10 tourist destination. This journey involved strategic partnerships such as those with Google for Entrepreneurs, community involvement through local food discounts and weekly metric reports.”

Renting space from a shopping center can be a challenge in terms of opening hours beyond the operators control. Dogpatch have many software development teams working early and late hours, but thanks to their strong relationship with the landlord, they’re able to make alternative arrangements for their own operating hours. Dogpatch is also surrounded by alternative laptop hotspots, but with local farmer-grown coffee and a strong ecosystem, member applications aren’t affected. Dogpatch’s typical members include corporates seeking to innovate and start-ups seeking post seed or angel investment to Series A.

Like many spaces, private offices are Dogpatch’s most popular membership type, but Jake emphasises that “the private offices are golden; we reserve and allocate them selectively to growing members. The private offices aren’t listed on our website as we don’t want to be seen as an ‘office solution’. Most of our small teams work from dedicated desks in open space.”

The Verdict

Whether the coworking space is landlord or operator ran, there are a few key ingredients for success: community-based ecosystems as opposed to office solutions, partnerships with retail-tech startups and corporates, utilization of the retail environment for product testing, investment in design and flexibility and a criteria for member selection.

Key benefits include close proximity to leisure facilities, strong transport links and parking space, position at the forefront of retail innovation, extra visibility for increased footfall and popular uptake of private office memberships. The main challenges for operators include lack of control over building operations, potential lack of daylight and opening hours, along with frequent positioning in remaining space on higher floors. The main challenge for shopping center owners is the decision to share revenue by letting space to an operator or launch their own coworking brand as a new entrant to the workspace market.

What Does the Future Look Like?

Given the optimism around coworking within shopping centers, it’s no surprise that CBRE predict shopping centers to reinvent themselves as mixed-use ‘Centers’ by 2030. Who will be the first to get there? Western Australia is particularly active as a leading region for the lifestyle revolution of shopping centers. The Government’s ‘Direction 2031’ removes limitations on the size of retail developments and encourages the development of ‘activity centers’.

The future of coworking within shopping centers is described by Kimiko Thornton as a ‘no-brainer’: “As the retail ecosystem evolves, consumers expect dynamic experiences beyond the traditional storefront. Coworking ultimately contributes to the restructuring of the entire experiential landscape. It’s a trend shopping centers are exploring at a global level.”

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About the Author

This article was produced by Deskmag. Deskmag is the magazine about the new type of work and their places, how they look, how they function, how they could be improved and how we work in them. They especially focus on coworking spaces which are home to the new breed of independent workers and small companies. see more.

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