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The Importance of a “Social Team Culture”

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If the average startup team member works 50 hours a week and gets 8 hours sleep a night, that means we all spend around 44% of the time we’re awake, at work. With nearly all of that time spent in the presence of your colleagues discussing work related subjects, where and when do people gain the opportunity to engage with them on a personal level?

What I mean by this is; Do your employees know more about the person sat next to them than just their name? Do they understand what they’re interested in and what drives them?

A recent study by OfficeVibe revealed that “office friendships have a direct link with engagement and productivity”, so can we really afford not to be nurturing social interaction within our companies?

The Competing Values Framework by Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn is a useful tool for breaking down the three main areas regarding company culture as a whole;

  • Type (what is your culture)
  • Strength (how strong is it)
  • Congruence (how consistent is it)

The social aspect of your team culture feeds directly into the strength and congruence sections of this matrix. For defining your culture and how to hire for it, check out our Head of Talent’s post on ‘‘Hiring for Cultural Fit’.

Social team culture means much more than just the monthly social, it’s also the everyday interactions you provide and cultivate within your office environment that allow social activity to happen. Below I discuss some considerations for promoting and improving your social team culture.

Start from the top

Investing time into social activity with your team inside and outside the workplace starts from the top. Manager contribution and investment plays a big part in how the rest of the team perceives “fun” and non-work related activity. Particularly in small startups, team members often adopt the same approach founders and managers have to socialising, believing if they don’t do the same it’ll be frowned upon. If you want to promote a cohesive, engaged and open team environment, lead by example. Be present, be positive and avoid talking shop outside of meetings & work discussions.

Office Layout

Optimising the layout of the desks in your office can work wonders in creating ‘accidental interactions’. Long banks of desks make approaching co-workers for an off-the-cuff ‘how was your weekend?’ conversation extremely difficult. Instead, opt for smaller banks of desks that break up team cliques and eliminate employees with their backs to the office.

This can also be said for communal areas such as kitchens and breakout areas. Just like in the home, kitchens are hives of activity; where there’s food, there’s people. Focus on making these areas as accommodating and comfortable as possible. Long lunch benches and a variety of breakout areas encourage people to stay and engage for longer.

Organised Socials

Monthly socials, although commonplace, are extremely important for workplace culture. They’re not just about allowing your team to socialise, they’re also an opportunity to say; ‘you work really hard, let your hair down’. The real battle with a team social is attendance, it doesn’t matter how hard you try, there will always be a handful who feel slightly uncomfortable by the unknown entity that is ‘organised fun’. Don’t lose sleep over the few, it’s impossible to please everyone, but aim for the many and hope the few are converted in time. Avoid imposing a calendar of events that doesn’t compliment your team, listen to them, gain informal feedback and try ideas they suggest . After a couple of tries you’ll get a feel of what works for the majority and matches your culture.

Informal socials

Keeping the frequency of social activity going is also important, here at Forward Partners we have several weekly activities that involve all or just a handful of employees. We have weekly team lunches, Friday beers with peers, coffee walks, pub lunches, team lunches, 1:1’s on the tennis court. All informal and open to all, but not compulsory. Most of these have developed out of friendships made between colleagues and extended into more regular occurrences with more colleagues. Enhanced frequency and the strength of your social culture will come from facilitating a freedom for employees to define what fun means to them, who they choose to have it with and when.

Get ahead of the game

We’ve had really positive feedback at Forward Partners on the benefits of getting future employees engaged in social activity before they officially start. Notice periods are no-man’s land for employees, so get ahead of the game by integrating them into their new company quicker by inviting them to socials. You’ve then halved all of your formal first day introductions and given a taster of the culture they’ll be contributing to. Hopefully it’ll get them excited for the new chapter to come and already have kicked started their social journey with the team.

Just as culture will vary from company to company, so will the ways in which employees socialise with each other. Organised fun, is no fun. However, offering a consistent, supportive and varied offering of social engagement allows employees to define relationships and opt into a social culture that works for them.

If you’ve hired the right people who are living your shared values, the social culture will flourish as long as it has the right foundations.

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About the Author

This article was written by Tara Howard, Operations Manager at the  Path Forward. The Path Forward was developed by Forward Partners, a VC platform that invests in the best ideas and brilliant people. Forward Partners devised The Path Forward to help their founders validate their ideas, build a product, achieve traction, hire a team and raise follow on funding all in the space of 12 months. The Path Forward is a fantastic startup framework for you to utilise as an early stage founder or operator. The framework clearly defines startup creation as being comprised of three steps. The first step of this framework involves understanding customer’s needs.Nic is Head of PR & communications at Forward Partners. Over the course of a 10 year career in communications, he has working with global brands including Orange, Warner Bros., BBC, and amazon.co.uk.

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Startups

Top 10 Mistakes that Startups Make

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As we know there is no limit to the ingenious ways people find to royally screw things up – as a start-up or anywhere else. As one expert puts it, experience is what you get when you fail to get everything else you wanted so, in lieu of learning the hard way, learn from others! In order of importance, most important to least, I’ll cover some of them:

Mistake #1 (The Worst): Burning Your Bridges

Paraphrased, this came out more as “live by your word and act with integrity”. Interesting #1, this, because its not limited to startups, obviously. In the world of startups, however, there are many inexperienced people, sometimes significant personal money at stake, lots of uncertainties and a huge amount of trust needed between investors, boards, founders and employees to pull it off.

This can cause people to behave, lets say, in a manner which is less than desirable or ethical. And outsiders sometimes take advantage of this (example quoted: Facebook’s and Microsoft’s habits of structuring acquisitions to offer more value to key people they want to keep going forward, vs. the deal already agreed between the investors and the founders/employees).

The point comes down to this. As you go into this with your team – all of the stakeholders – keep your word, make sure everyone feels good and properly treated and take care of your reputation. If you shake hands and then do something different it will come back to haunt you.

Mistake #2: Not Focusing Nimbly

Focus is critical in startups. Its very easy to get distracted, or overreact to outside factors. That said, the reality is that things change as you go along. So you need to be highly focused, yet nimble enough to change tack if something happens to significantly impact your plan. Fact is, many successful startups never set out to do what they ended up doing.

Ann Miura-Ko from her investments: Chegg was Craigslist for Colleges – until Facebook started doing it, so now it’s textbook rentals for students; Circle of Moms was started as Circle of Friends by two young, single (no kids) guys as a way to create groups on Facebook, so when Facebook started doing the same thing they focused on Moms as one of the key active large groups that formed under their prior plan. (Hmm, notice a theme in Ann’s investing??).

Focusing nimbly was also defined by one panelist as being able to say what you do clearly, in one sentence. Focus certainly, not sure about the nimble …

Mistake #3: (Not) Letting Your Investors Become Your Trusted Advisors

This one actually focused more on developing the right dynamic between you and your Board/investors. A consistent theme was along the lines of “well, you (the CEO/Founder) are in charge and you need to run the company”, with of course the caveat that if we don’t like what or how you do it then we’ll take you out. Reality is that you need to pay a lot of attention to who you take as your investors and how the dynamic will play out. Many investors have two completely different sides – when things are going well, and when things are not. So check out both sides with people who have worked with both sides – before you take the money.

If you need more help from your Board or investors its OK – to a point. Introductions to potential partners? Great. Taking over running the business – not good. It all depends on the timing, the relationship and the needs. Generally investors want you to listen to what they have to say, but not be told what to do (otherwise they should get someone else). So you have to figure it out but with their advice and input.

This also helps with one key point: never surprise your Board! Always keep them in the loop, knowing what’s going on.

Mistake #4: Not Having Trusted (Valuable) Advisors

Naturally I like this one (becoming a trusted advisor – and earning that role – is one of the ways I help startups myself). And I agree with it because even experienced entrepreneurs don’t know it all. They tend to know a few things well, and the rest has to come from around them – the team, the investors/Board and the trusted advisors.

In this case “trust” means “valuable”. They need to add true value. If they are just names on paper to look good then they’re just endorsements -and largely worthless. They need to be real help to you. You should hire an advisor the same way you hire an employee – carefully, with reference and other checks. Paid or unpaid, cash or stock, depends on the value and the role.

However advisors will get frustrated and move on if you don’t know how to use them, receive the advice and know how to parse and act on it. This does not mean blindly following the advice. But if you ask for advice then please accept it and decide how you will use it. And don’t try and do it all yourself.

Mistake #5: Not Recognizing When to Supplement or Shrink the Team

Founders who fear bringing in the right people at the right time are a problem. “When I find someone as smart as me then I’ll bring them in” – wrong! Engineer founders generally don’t know how to build sales and marketing. The culture you want determines the kind of people you hire. You should always be hiring or shrinking – but make sure the people are the right fit (don’t hire guys with machetes if you are already on the highway). Personal characteristics and motivation are always the most important, not the specific skills – you can learn the latter but not the former.

Mistakes #6 and #7: Not Having a Real Plan – and Not Knowing Where You Are On Your Roadmap

A key emphasis here was to insure you figure out what type of business you are building – a big or small company, a home run or a single. This is really important because it determines much of what you do – and who you hire and whose money you take. The reality is the vast majority of startups that succeed turn out to be single. Very few ever IPO (fewer than ever). Most will get acquired if successful. And for you as a founder you may be a lot better off taking smaller money from angels or smaller vc’s, controlling your destiny more and getting a larger share of a smaller business (and more total dollars) than someone who swings for the fences and even if successful gets a very small piece of that bigger business. Regardless, you need to build your business to be independent, not just to be bought.

Always have a clear plan – but be nimble enough to change it if you need to. If revenues are less than you planned then you need to find new growth or cut expenses. This is partly why investors bet on people – things rarely go according to plan and how the people handle it is key. Knowing where you are on your roadmap then becomes key – is your hypothesis (for that’s what it is) working or not? By the way – as I’ve written about before – tying funding to milestones is wrong, not just because its a cheat on valuation by the investor but because you may need to change the plan and the milestone becomes a millstone.

However metrics are important. Here’s what we said we’d do. Here’s what we did. Here’s what we’re going to do next. It’s your feedback mechanism. Why is something drifting? Be ready to reset if needed, or take other action. Be super transparent, regular, communicative and avoid surprises.

Mistake #8: Being Penny-WIse and Pound Foolish

As a financial advisor and CFO to startups of course I have to echo the starting point on this one – the panel’s statement that you need to have a good CFO or Controller. It’s still a surprise to me that so many startups don’t have either one – and in fact frequently don’t even have a good bookkeeper or basic financial information available. The panel view was that you need someone on board who doesn’t want to spend money BUT the real key is someone (CEO’s are often not the right ones) who can help make the right trade-offs. After all, saving $5k a month in online marketing is a false economy your total burn is $150k/month and not spending the $5k means you take X months longer to make your target. Not having a top sales person is a bigger mistake than having a colour copier. I’ll repeat a personal view here: the right financial person on board (emphasis on RIGHT) will pay for themselves many times over in better business decisions and return on investment.

When you have raised money (see below) then have self-control and don’t defocus. If your plan said you would spend $Y on marketing and you raise the money you needed then don’t go spend that $Y on swanky new space instead.

Mistakes #9 and #10: Never Be In The Position Where You Have No Money; Don’t Raise Too Much or Too Little

Sounds obvious. Amazing how many don’t figure it out. Cash is the rocket fuel so you need to raise it. Be sure you know you much you need to get to the next key funding milestone – then raise more because it will take longer than you think to achieve that milestone. But also, raise money when you can, not when you need it. Timing is a key factor – not just in your business but when the market is more ready to supply funds is critical.

Be forced to make tradeoffs and prioritize. Be very lean during product development and market discovery, then accelerate to ramp up the customer acquisition and returns.

Raising lots of money at a high valuation means you need to have a big exit. This will NOT happen for most companies. Solid singles (an exit in the $50 – $100m range) are a great result for most people. When raising money don’t obsess on valuation. Take a reasonable valuation and focus on increasing it solidly between rounds. Down-rounds are viewed very negatively (in fact they can be the kiss of death).

Finally, raise money strategically. This means raising based not just on cash needs. You need to have in mind what business you’re building over the longer haul, who the investors are and what they bring to the table that can truly help move the business froward. Yes, terms are important but get a win-win-win out of it.

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About the Author

This article was written by Philip Smith of Silicon Valley Frontlines, he provides consulting to startups and emerging companies.

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How Huawei plans to win the Western Markets

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Some Chinese high-tech companies may be bigger than you think. The e-commerce giant Alibaba has a market capitalization of over $400 billion. The social media and gaming company Tencent is not far behind, and nearly a billion people use its WeChat messaging service. Baidu is the world’s second largest search engine, and is increasingly strong in the key sector of artificial intelligence. Despite their size, these companies are largely invisible in the West because their massive successes are almost entirely restricted to China.

That’s partly because they offer software and services, neither of which travel particularly well thanks to the cultural baggage they bring with them. Chief among those is that the Chinese government has access to all of a company’s user data, and can impose any restrictions that it wishes on the use of software and services, as this blog reported earlier this year. More recently, Alibaba was instructed to remove unauthorized VPNs from its Taobao e-commerce platform. These are not aspects that are likely to endear Chinese software and services companies to Western users worried about privacy and censorship.

But there is another Chinese IT giant – Huawei – still relatively unfamiliar in the West, that is having far more luck in selling its products into markets outside China. It has achieved that because it is a company that produces hardware based on international standards, and largely running open source software. As well as the general benefits of adopting open standards and open source, this approach may also be an attempt to allay earlier fears that Huawei hardware might contain backdoors available to the Chinese government.

In the West, Huawei is probably best known for its mobile phones. Recent market research suggests that it has overtaken Apple as the world’s second-biggest smartphone manufacturer by sales after Samsung, with particular success in Europe. However, for several decades after its founding in 1987, its main product line was telecoms equipment. A measure of its success is that in 2012, it overtook Ericsson as the world’s largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer.

Huawei today employs 180,000 people, many of whom hold shares in the company, which is still privately held despite its size. Last year, its revenue was around $75 billion, with a profit of $7 billion. In 2016, approximately 80,000 employees were engaged in R&D, comprising 45% of its total workforce. Huawei’s R&D expenditures that year were around $10 billion.

The fruits of that investment were revealed at Huawei Connect 2017, its massive annual conference that this year saw 20,000 participants from over 150 countries, and which I attended last week (disclosure: Huawei paid for my travel costs). As the conference motto “Grow with the cloud” underlined, Huawei is placing public and private clouds at the heart of its strategy.

According to one of Huawei’s “rotating CEOs“, Huawei aims to be a key player in one of the five global cloud systems it predicts will coalesce, rather as airline alliances have created three main global carrier groups. Huawei placed great emphasis on what it called the “intelligent cloud”, which runs artificial intelligence software on the cloud platform. Specifically, at its conference the company launched what it called “the industry’s first all-cloud, network-wide smart video cloud solution.” This, it said, “provides a strong computing engine that supports public safety video application services and accelerates video application innovation to help public safety organizations better serve and protect citizens.”

Such “smart video” capabilities form an important component of a larger concept, the “smart city“, which is now one of the hottest marketing buzzwords in the high-tech world, along with its variant, the “safe city”. A brochure available during the Huawei Connect conference entitled “The Road to Collaborative Public Safety” defines three aims of the safe city: being able to detect threats as they emerge; being able to collect, share and analyze city data; and allowing the authorities to identify threats and then act in real-time. Huawei’s brochure says that there are already more than 100 safe city implementations using its products in 30 countries, covering 400 million people.

A key element of Huawei’s safe city system is “intelligent video surveillance.” This offers scene search in order to track particular elements in the video feeds, and video synopsis, which can summarize hours of surveillance videos into key clips for human analysis. Other features include “entity recognition”, behavior analysis and crowd counting. Extra features that can be added go beyond video surveillance to include data from Internet of Things devices to detect chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material, radar and electro-optics, and monitoring of social media feeds. According to Huawei’s text:

“Public safety is more than current safe city. It is about preventing and solving crimes, reducing loss of life and property. Public safety is also about minimizing disruption to life. Public safety is beyond detection and response; it includes prevention and bringing life to normalcy. It encompasses digital security, health security, infrastructure safe and personal safety.”

As that hints, this includes predictive policing, or “PredPol” as the brochure terms it, which “involves analysis of data to predict the next crime, with the objective of preventing it.”

The ideas and technology behind the “safe city” sound troubling, not least from a privacy viewpoint. But in truth, much of this is already happening in the West. For example, CCTV cameras are routinely keeping tabs on our every movement, especially in countries like the UK, which has millions of the systems in place. As this blog has reported, facial recognition systems are also being used in the UK and elsewhere. The only difference between this and what Huawei offers with its safe city systems is that the latter is completed integrated and probably works rather better. Indeed, it’s easy to see Western governments that already carry out mass surveillance of their citizens acquiring Huawei’s products in order to upgrade their snooping capabilities.

The problem is not so much with Huawei’s application of powerful cloud and AI technologies to surveillance, but the bargain it implies – the bargain that we have all, to varying degrees, accepted. The deal is that if we allow the government to watch our every move, it will keep us safe from all those lurking dangers in the modern, uncertain world. Politicians everywhere shamelessly play on our fears to justify intrusive surveillance laws. So it should come as no surprise that many people are happy with the roll-out of CCTVs or suggestions that end-to-end encryption should be banned – after all, if you are a law-abiding citizen, you have nothing to hide, right?

In China, government surveillance is baked in to every online service, not just in safe cities. But again, the situation outside China is not that different: everything we do on Google or Facebook is tracked and analyzed for the purpose of selling advertising. As we now know from Snowden’s leaks, under the Prism program, the US government taps into that commercial surveillance data to gather intelligence. So the only difference between China and the West is that the former does not attempt to hide the fact that it spies on its citizens, while the latter tries to deny it. Similarly, Huawei has no problem openly offering its new AI-enhanced cloud-based surveillance systems, while its Western rivals are doubtless doing the same, but keeping quiet about it. The real issue is our meek acquiescence in the continual roll-out of privacy-harming technology by both governments and companies everywhere.

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About the Author

This article was written by Glyn Moody of Privacy News Online.

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