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Be remarkable. Be a Purple Cow.

June 18, 2019

Last week Radiohead issued a vast collection (1.8 gigabytes) of unreleased tracks from the sessions for their 1997 album OK Computer, after a MiniDisc archive owned by frontman Thom Yorke was hacked, and were reportedly asked for a $150,000 ransom to return the recordings.

Instead of paying the ransom, the band made eighteen MiniDisc recordings, most of them around an hour in length, available on Bandcamp for £18. All proceeds will go to climate activists Extinction Rebellion.

Frontman Thom Yorke described the hours of recordings as not very interesting, and guitarist Jonny Greenwood – who confirmed the hack via Twitter – said: Never intended for public consumption it’s only tangentially interesting, and very, very long. Not a phone download. Rainy out, isn’t it, though?

Yorke and Greenwood are absolutely wrong: the files are a treasure trove. Frankly, a look behind the curtain of one of the most innovative albums of a generation is priceless.  This hoard of private material is an illuminating chronicle of a band reinventing the mainstream. The eighteen tracks have been documented in a Google Doc by fans. If anyone understands the dynamics of content, innovation and the internet, it’s Radiohead.

Radiohead is an English band formed in Oxford in 1985 by five school friends. Initially the band were called On a Friday, the name referring to the band’s usual rehearsal day in the school’s music room. In late 1991, after a chance meeting between band member Colin Greenwood and EMI’s A&R representative at Our Price, the record shop where Greenwood worked, they signed a six-album recording contract with EMI. At the request of EMI, the band changed their name – Radiohead was taken from the song Radio Head on the Talking Heads album, True Stories.

Since their formation, Radiohead have been lyrically and musically spearheaded by Thom Yorke, the essential spark of innovation in the band. Yorke’s somnambulant ramblings and markedly individualistic performances cutting a strangely solitary figure, making him look like a man in the throes of a tortuous titanic confidence crisis. It’s all there in the songs, spooked, soul-baring millennial masterpieces. Yorke’s vocals trail through atmospherics with angst and despair of a tortured performer.

Radiohead are in many ways the Rolling Stones of Gen Y but without the ostentatious commerciality driven by a marketing machine. They are a serious band that make serious music, a touchstone for adventurous music, yet you have to actively listen to the music and the lyrics, they have meaning.

Just like Joy Division, they are seen by many as morose, gloomy harbingers of doom and introspective sensibilities, purporting monochrome view of the world. Not everyone’s cup of tea but for me there are toe tapping and sing-a-long moments a plenty. Something about Radiohead inspires a disorienting kind of hope.

What Radiohead did to counter the hack was remarkable. It reminded me of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, the concept that you’re either remarkable or invisible. In a world that grows noisier by the day, Godin’s challenge has never been more relevant.

Godin evolves the traditional ‘4Ps’ marketing thinking with a new P – the Purple Cow. He identified this when he was with his family driving through France and were enchanted by the hundreds of cows grazing on picturesque pastures. For dozens of kilometres, we gazed out the window, marvelling about how beautiful everything was. Then, within twenty minutes, we started ignoring the cows. The new cows were just like the old cows, and what once was amazing was now common.

Worse than common. It was boring. Cows, after you’ve seen them for a while, are boring. They may be perfect cows, brown or black cows, attractive cows, cows with great personalities, cows lit by beautiful light, but they’re still boring. A Purple Cow, though. Now that would be interesting.

On a long car drive you may see some cows on a hill, and see many more as the hours pass. Brown cow. Brown cow. Black Cow. Black Cow. There’s nothing remarkable about them, they pretty much look the same. But if you spotted a purple cow, then wow, that would be remarkable. You’d sit up in your seat and take notice; you might even pull the car over, let the kids out, take some pictures and share them with friends on Social Media.

Godin’s book came out in 2003, before the first iPhone, however, it is almost like Steve Jobs took everything Godin mentions in his book and put it into creating the iPhone. The iPhone succeeded wildly as a product everyone wants, and it stood out like a Purple Cow in the field of normal phones.

Tesla, Uber, Airbnb are all Purple Cows. As is Paypal. Banking is probably one of the hardest industry of all to try to disrupt, because the barriers to entry are huge – you need mountains of capital, regulatory approval, and years of building trust with your customers.

Banks’ business models are largely unchanged in hundreds of years, and they’re insanely powerful and almost impossible to displace – as we’re seeing with the Challenger Banks and Open Banking initiatives still to truly disrupt their business model – but for some crazy reason PayPal didn’t seem to care, and became remarkable.

Look at their Purple Cow attributes:

  • PayPal spends less money on technology than even a medium sized bank does. Yet its technology platform is far superior.
  • Consumers trust PayPal as much if not more than they trust their bank. Even though PayPal has been around for a fraction of the time.
  • When a customer buys with their PayPal account, the bank has no clue what the customer actually bought. The transaction appears on the bank statement as ‘PayPal’. That gives PayPal all the power when it comes to data mining.
  • PayPal is quicker to market with just about any kind of payment innovation going.
  • PayPal refuses to partner directly with banks – instead opting to partner with retailers directly.

In a small period of time, PayPal inserted itself as a whole new method of payment to become a real alternative to debit or credit cards. But how did it manage to do it? There are two huge pillars of success to PayPal’s story.

They seized the moment. They got a lucky break when they ‘accidentally’ became the favoured payment provider for eBay transactions. This was followed a few years later by their $1.5bn acquisition by eBay themselves. eBay were smart enough to leave them alone, and their newfound sense of boldness saw them strike a series of deals with other online retailers to try and replicate the success they’d had with eBay.

The second pillar of their success was Partnerships. Banks had always been wary about forming partnerships directly with retailers, instead they relied on their scheme partners Visa/MasterCard to do that for them. They didn’t want the hassle of managing so many different relationships, and were extremely confident about the fact that credit and debit cards would always be at the heart of the financial payment system.

But the problem was that MasterCard themselves were already working on a partnership with PayPal, leaving the banks out in the cold. Today, PayPal has 20% market share of online payments in the US, and 63% of the eWallet space. Almost all of that growth has come from their direct relationships with merchants large and small.

Paypal is a Purple Cow. Making something remarkable means asking new questions and trying new practices, doing the unexpected and creating an offering that is genuinely innovative. Godin identifies some key traits of Purple Cows, for example:

Get into the habit of doing the unsafe thing. Remarkable isn’t always about changing the biggest machine in your factory, it’s about being bold and every time you have the opportunity to see what’s working and what’s not. It’s safer to be risky. Use this mindset to go for the truly amazing moon-shot things.

Explore the limits with early adopters. What if you’re the cheapest, the fastest, the slowest, the hottest, the coldest, the easiest, the most efficient, the loudest, the most hated, the copycat, the outsider, the hardest, the oldest, the newest, or just the most? If there’s a limit, you must test it. The early adopters heavily influence the rest of the curve, so persuading them is worth far more than wasting time and effort trying to persuade anyone else.

Target a niche. The way you break through to the mainstream is to target a niche instead of a huge market. With a niche, you can segment off a chunk of the mainstream, and create an ideavirus so focused that it overwhelms that small slice of the market that really and truly will respond to what you offer. The market is small enough that a few wins can get you to the critical mass you need to create an ideavirus.

Think small. One vestige of the social media explosion is a need to think mass. If it doesn’t appeal to everyone, the thinking goes, it’s not worth it. No longer. Think of the smallest conceivable market and describe a product that overwhelms it with its remarkability. Be remarkable by being curated.

Differentiate your customers. From the above two points, find the market segment that wants your product and ‘own your market’. Within this, find the group that’s most likely to influence other customers – cater to the customers you would choose if you could choose your customers. Have the insight and guts to craft a Purple Cow product/service offering that gets the right people to seek them out.

Find things that are ‘just not done’ in your industry. And then go ahead and do them. Ask ‘Why not?’ – almost everything you do is the result of fear or inertia or a historical lack of someone asking, ‘Why?’ Uber and Airbnb did just that, and what about Tesla – who gave away their IP of their electric batteries.

If you’re remarkable, then it’s likely that some people won’t like you. That’s part of the definition of remarkable. The best the timid can hope for is to be unnoticed. Criticism comes to those who stand out.

Playing it safe. Following the rules. They seem like the best ways to avoid failure. Alas, that pattern is a dangerous and mistaken fallacy. In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible. Boring is always the riskiest strategy. Startups realise this and work to reduce the risk from the process. They know that sometimes it’s not going to work, but they accept the fact that that’s okay, as ultimately, chewing your own cud leads to being remarkable.

Understand the urgency of the situation. Half-measures simply won’t do. Being noticed is not the same as being remarkable. Running down the street naked will get you noticed, but it won’t accomplish much. It’s easy to pull off a stunt, but not useful. Extremism in the pursuit of remarkability is no sin. In fact, it’s practically a requirement. Remarkability lies in the edges. It doesn’t always matter which edge, more that you’re at (or beyond) the edge.

Part of what it takes to do something remarkable is to do something first and best. Roger Bannister was remarkable. The next guy, the guy who broke Bannister’s record wasn’t. He was just faster, but it didn’t matter.

Godin challenges us to be a Purple Cow, crafting something truly exceptional in everything we create or do. Like the Radiohead reaction to being hacked, like Tesla giving away their IP and PayPal did in challenging the status quo, be unexpected, be innovative, standout from the crowd, make people stop in their tracks and think. Be remarkable.

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George Mallory’s entrepreneurial motivation: because it’s there

June 11, 2019

A photo captured last week by Nepali mountaineer Nirmal Purja Magar showed a near continuous line of hundreds of climbers bottlenecked on the summit ridge of Everest, all trying to take advantage of a narrow window of good weather, tantalizingly close to the top of the world.

The 2019 climbing season on Mount Everest, which just came to an end, was a record setter, more climbers summited (825) than ever before, but it was also notable in a grimmer regard: at least eleven climbers died, the most in four years. Nirmal’s image went viral, sparking a debate about whether the high number of casualties was due to too many climbers.

Eleven fatalities is far from a record, but previous years’ high death tolls can be attributed to unforeseeable accidents, like the 2014 avalanche that killed sixteen climbers, or the 2015 avalanche that killed nineteen. This year, only two fatalities can be attributed to falls; the rest have been reported as edema, exposure and exhaustion, suggesting that too many climbers are spending too much time near the summit, a place where strength and mental faculties quickly fade, leaving too few resources for the dangerous trip down.

It’s less the climbing than the altitude, climbers are not climbing beyond their ability but instead beyond their altitude ability. Unfortunately it is difficult to get experience of what it is like climbing above Camp 3 (8,300m) without climbing Everest. Climbers invariably do not know what their ability above 8,300m is going to be like. In Everest’s ‘death zone’ above 8,000m, the lack of oxygen can cause high-altitude pulmonary edema, in which fluid floods the lungs, or high-altitude cerebral edema, which causes the brain to swell, even leading to high-altitude psychosis.

But to put things in perspective, the risk of death on Everest can be overstated. The death rate of those who climb above Base Camp is less than 1%.

The grand prize of mountain climbing is Everest, for obvious reasons. It’s not the most difficult or dangerous mountain, but it invites the adventurous to stand at the peak of the world. It’s the spot closest the sun, moon, and stars, the ultimate junction of earth and sky, with the ultimate panoramic horizon. It allows the brave to revel above the clouds, look upwards into the void and leave the earth behind. This is what drives people to risk physical exhaustion, dehydration, even death.

Mount Everest was first recorded in the Atlas of the Whole Imperial Territory as Qomolangma, its traditional Tibetan name, in 1719. It was discovered to be the world’s tallest mountain in 1856 and named after George Everest, head of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India.

It was in 1924 that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine got near – or perhaps reached – the summit on a third attempt, but never make it back down. Mallory’s body was found at 27,000 feet in 1999. It then wasn’t until 1953 when Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary reached the summit to officially claim the recognition of first to conquer the peak.

My fascination with the mountain and Mallory began when I was a teenager staying at my grandmother’s house in North Wales when I came across an epic story of mountaineering: The Fight for Everest, the account of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine’s 1924 expedition, when they disappeared neat the summit, giving rise to folklore as to whether they had reached the top of the world.

I was staying with her in the summer before I went to university, doing odd jobs, perched up ladders with a paint brush in return for an endless supply of home made pies and scones. We went to the local market, and as with a habit of a lifetime, I made a beeline for the second-hand bookstall.

I managed to scramble four books about exploration, adventure and mountaineering – and my affinity with Amundsen, Scott, Mawson, Nansen, Hilary, Herzog, Compagnoni and Lacedelli, Shackleton and Mallory began.

I started to read The Fight for Everest. I already knew some of the details, but its black-and-white photographs and its fold-out maps captured my imagination. As I read, I was carried away to the Himalayas. The images rushed over me, I could see the distant white peaks, snow storms approaching and the climbers reaching up the ice-walls on the North Col, scaling with ropes, the oxygen masks on their backs making them look like scuba divers.

Some 40 years on, I have still marked the passage of the book that etched an enduring memory, the description by Noel Odell, the expedition geologist, of his last sighting of Mallory and Irvine, some 800 vertical feet from the summit on June 9, 1924:

There was a sudden clearing of the atmosphere above me, and I saw the whole summit ridge and final peak of Everest unveiled. I noticed far away on a snow slope leading up to what seemed to me to be the last step but one from the base of the final pyramid, a tiny object moving and approaching the rock step. A second object followed, and then the first climbed to the top of the step. As I stood intently watching this dramatic appearance, the scene became enveloped in cloud

Over and over I read that passage, and I wanted nothing more than to be one of those two tiny dots, fighting for survival in the thin, icy air, unfazed by adversity. That was it. I lived intensely with and through these explorers, spending evenings with them in their tents, thawing pemmican hoosh.

No evidence, apart from this testimony, has been found that they climbed higher than the First Step (one of three final physical stages to the summit) as their spent oxygen cylinders were found shortly below the First Step, and Irvine’s ice axe was found nearby in 1933. They never returned to their camp and died high on Everest.

On 1 May 1999, a frozen body was found at 26,760 ft. on the north face of the mountain. Name tags on the body’s clothing bore the name of G. Leigh Mallory. No subsequent searches have found either Irvine or a Kodak camera, known to be in their possession, which could hold the answer as to whether they were on the top of the world 30 years before Hilary.

Mallory carried a photograph of his wife, which he was going to leave at the summit. When his body was discovered, the photograph was missing and it could have been left at the summit. Whether it will ever be proven that he reached the top or not, he certainly had climbed to an altitude of at least 28,000 feet in 1924 with clothing and equipment far inferior to what is available today, a remarkable feat.

Mallory took part in the first three British expeditions to Everest in the early 1920s, joining the 1924 Everest expedition believing that at 37, it would be his third and last opportunity to climb the mountain. Mallory’s grandson, also named George Mallory, reached the summit of Everest in 1995. He left a picture of his grandparents at the summit citing unfinished business.

Only a fraction of people have ever exalted in that experience and lived to say: I climbed Mount Everest. But for Mallory, this was not recreation or physical challenge, that was not what he sought – he pursued the pure adventure of climbing. It was Mallory with the famous aphorism that, to this day, best summarises the avid climber’s pursuit, quoted as having replied to the question Why do you want to climb Mount Everest? with the retort Because it’s there. These have often been called ‘the most famous three words in mountaineering’.

I’ve kept Mallory’s retort in my head for many years, as did President Kennedy, who quoted Mallory in his speech announcing the NASA programme in 1962, and his own words with the same sentiment of ambition: We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

As Mallory said in one of his final interviews, when trying to explain why he’s climbing Everest, I have dreamt since I was a boy of standing atop this mountain, and it’s worth it to risk your life to make a dream come true.

Mallory is one of our last great explorers and one of the greatest truly ambitious men. Remember this was the 1920s, Mallory had to hike through miles of Nepalese jungle without a map – this was all uncharted. He hadn’t even seen Everest until he arrived there, and yet from the second he heard the idea he never hesitated. He is so revered that the ice-wall on the North Col which must be climbed for all who summit Everest via the North Route is named after him, the Mallory Step.

Mallory epitomises unwavering entrepreneurial ambition and the attitude to succeed. He had focus and clarity on his goals, and a tenacious will-to-win, qualities needed to be an entrepreneur. Starting and running a business is a lot like climbing a mountain for the first time, look at the similarities:

  • Inner drive Entrepreneurs are driven to succeed and grow. They see the bigger picture, set massive goals and stay committed to achieving them regardless of challenges that arise. Mallory had this in abundance.
  • Strong self-belief Entrepreneurs often have a strong and assertive personality, focused and determined to achieve their goals and believe completely in their ability to achieve them. Mallory has the same inner confidence.
  • Search for innovation Mallory had a passionate desire to be the first man on Everest, just as entrepreneurs look to bring new ideas to market. They are pioneers too, in their aspirations and approach to the task and opportunity before them.
  • Competitive by nature Successful entrepreneurs thrive on competition. The only way to reach their goals and live up to their self-imposed high standards is to be the best they can be. Mallory’s wasn’t competitive with other climbers – but with himself and the mountain before him.
  • Highly motivated and energised Mallory was always on the go, full of energy and highly motivated. Entrepreneurs have a similar high work ethic, restless and always trying to get to where they want to get.
  • Accepting of obstacles Entrepreneurs are on the front line and hear the words it’s never been done, it can’t be done as opportunity. They readjust their path, obstacles are an expected part of the journey. Everest was both a physical and mental obstacle in Mallory’s journey.

Sometimes if you haven’t got your head up from the startup grind for a while, your vision can get cloudy. Mallory’s story and attitude reminds me that there’s a purpose and a reason for your dedication, discipline and hard work. Do stuff because it matters, for the purpose of a creating a story to tell that what you’ve done matters, and that it made a difference. It’s because the challenge exists, it’s because it’s there.

Don’t get lost in startup life’s busy shuffle and the noise. Remember those three words: Because It’s There, the drivers of George Mallory, possibly the first man to reach the summit of Everest. Mallory reminds me – as he did Kennedy – not just ‘do things’, but to do them with a passion and a purpose bigger than ‘just turning up’. Make it count, where it matters, for yourself.

The myopic thinking of 110% effort

June 3, 2019

During a meeting I had last week, a bloke poured water into his glass and it overflowed slightly. Clumsy I said jokingly, to which he replied, Not really, I always give 110%. This is one of my utmost bugbears: You CANNOT give 110% effort, and this chap had used the phrase twice times already – before attempting to fill a glass 110% – trying to convince me he was going to be the next Elon Musk.

I call on the mathematically literate to join forces with me and together defeat the scourge of giving 110%. It’s a numeracy blight on the intelligence and lexicon of our country and it needs to be stopped. For non-pedants wondering why this phrasing that peppers sports vox pops and TV talent shows annoys me so much, maximum effort is 100% – 110% is beyond your capacity.

Even 101% means you are making an effort beyond your actual capacity. Some may argue it’s justified as you’re increasing your effort beyond what you thought was possible for you – you’re going the extra mile – yet that’s irrelevant as the percentage is a measure of maximum output.

You can only pour water into a glass to fill it 100%, and thus you spill 10% if you’ve given it 110%. The expectation to give or receive 110% would also mean it would have to be reasonable to expect many other things that fly in the face of logic and what is impossible according to the laws of physics. A day is 24 hours in duration so how could you expect it to magically become 26.5 hours long? Where is the 110% there? An idiomatic expression for going beyond, that’s all, but it’s meaningless.

I know this is a lot of numbers, but stick with me. I recall walking into the front room one Saturday afternoon and the dog was watching Sky Sports, when one footballer being interviewed promised to give 110% and later another promised 150%. Did this mean one was going to output more effort than the other? No, it means both of them were talking utter poppycock.

Maybe I’m too literal, maybe I’m too curmudgeonly, but you can only give 100%. I know the phrase is meant to embody the notion of doing more than what was thought to be possible, but to me it puts the emphasis on the wrong element. It’s not that you did more than you could, which is impossible, it’s that you had the wrong assumption about what was possible to begin with.

So I’m a founder member of the Quantitative Pedants 2019. Of course, percentages greater than 100 are possible, that’s how startups experience 200% growth in year-over-year revenue, to pick one example. It all depends on what your baseline is – x% of what?

Here’s actually a more serious (and more mathematically precise) way to look at this. Economist Stephen Shmanske produced a paper titled Dynamic Effort, Sustainability, Myopia, and 110% Effort that actually brings some stats and benchmarks to bear to figure this out in the right context.

For Shmanske, it’s all about defining what counts as 100% effort. Let’s say ‘100%’ is the maximum amount of effort that can be consistently sustained. With this benchmark, it’s obviously possible to give less than 100%, but it’s also possible to give more. All you have to do is put forth an effort that can only be sustained inconsistently, for short periods of time. In other words, you’re overclocking.

And in fact, based on the numbers, entrepreneurs pull >100% off relatively frequently, putting forth more effort in short bursts than they can keep up over a longer period. But in giving greater than 100%, this can reduce your ability to subsequently and consistently give 100%. You overdraw your account, and don’t have anything left. This seem like a rough-but-reasonable analysis of what athletes and other people mean when they use the ‘110%’ language.

Thus an elastic 100% does exist, but only temporarily, and at the cost of future performance – you borrow from the future in short-spurts of extraordinary effort. As well-renowned basketball coach John Wooden used to say to his players, if you don’t give 100% today you can’t make up for it tomorrow by giving 110%: your maximum effort is 100% of what you are capable of – period.

Every entrepreneur wishes there were more hours in a day to get their work done. These days, with all the new technology, many are convinced that multi-tasking is the answer. Yet there is more and more evidence that jumping tasks on every alert for a new email, text, or Skype call actually decreases overall productivity.

According to Rasmus Hougaard, the founder of the Potential Project, delivering mindfulness programs to Amex, Nike and Accenture, taking time for what matters, there are some basic rules that can help you manage your focus and awareness in work activities. Practicing these will ensure greater productivity, less stress, more job satisfaction, and an improved overall sense of well-being.

With mental health of entrepreneurs being given more attention, to balance the machismo of I work 24/7, this is highly relevant. Hougaard outlines eight mental strategies that every entrepreneur needs to cultivate, to keep the mind clearer and calmer, and increase your overall productivity.

Mentally be fully present and engaged in the current task Presence is foundational for focus and mindfulness, it means always paying full attention to the people around you, making a conscious decision to intentionally be more present.

Deliver rational responses rather than impulsive reactions This requires patience, and an ability to stay calm in the face of challenging situations. Patience is more concerned with larger goals, rather than temporary quick-fix solutions. Practice by stopping and taking a few breaths to calm down, before reacting.

Choose to always give honest and constructive responses It’s easy to give negative responses and find the downside in a proposal made to you. However, make a conscious decision to always find the positive aspects, even if it’s a proposal that isn’t for you and you can see lots of downsides. Practice positivity in every interaction with people.

Approach every situation with a beginner’s mind Without a beginner’s mind, what you have seen and done in the past, called habitual perception, can be problematic. It means you may not actually see today’s reality. Practice by overtly rejecting any habitual perceptions, and challenging yourself to be more curious in your day-to-day activities.

Refrain from extended fighting with problems you can’t solve Accept and realise that every problem can’t be solved, and frustration won’t resolve the issue. It will just make you less effective and less happy. Practice by choosing to move on, without carrying an inner battle.

Balance your focus between instant gratification and discomfort work Consciously identify the tasks that come easy to you, versus tougher tasks, and also a balance between short-term and long-term, that inevitably have different levels of satisfaction once completed. Practicing awareness of balance will lead to a change in your level of achievement and long-term avoidance.

Proactively seek moments of joy throughout your day Most of us are ‘always on’, always connected and always running, all day. The key here is to anticipate at least some activities you enjoy daily. Many people find this in just sitting still for a few minutes in quiet contemplation, maybe reading or going for a walk. Whatever it is, just switch off and find some personal quiet time.

Consciously let go of heavy thoughts and distractions Letting go is a simple but hard to do mental strategy to clear your mind and refocus on the task at hand. Let go of a problem stuck in your head means putting it to one side, and when you return, create the opportunity to refocus your thoughts.

Without these initiatives to balance your effort and get a clear focus, most people will find their ability to focus declining, yet still live with the rhetoric of 110% effort. We all face overload, increased pressure to move fast, and a highly distracted work reality. Our attention is continuously under siege, with more things and stuff to do causing distractions.

Pragmatic optimism is not fashionable, yet virtually any problem that can be articulated clearly enough can be solved without overthinking and overworking it to 100%+ effort. Being comfortable with uncertainty is perhaps the most important trait we can develop in ourselves as entrepreneurs, and not default to becoming overwhelmed.

Are there occasionally stressful moments? Sure, such is startup life. Is every day peachy? Of course not . But do your best so that on balance be calm , by choice, by practice. Be intentional about it. Make different decisions than the rest, don’t follow-the-lemming-off-the-cliff worst practices. Step aside and let them jump!

Chaos should not be the natural state at work. Anxiety isn’t a prerequisite for progress. Keep things simple, leave the poetry in what you make. When something becomes too polished, it loses its soul. It seems robotic.

Equally, chose fulfilment ahead of growth. Small is not just a stepping-stone. Small is a great destination itself. Build something of purpose, of intent. Growth can be a slow and steady climb. There is no hockey stick graph, simply looking inwards at the success you are achieving, it may be the time to accept no last minute rushes to ‘go the extra mile’ will make a difference long-term.

I am turned off by the super rapid growth companies. It’s not stable. Just look at oak trees. They grow slowly, but they have the kind of solid foundation to withstand storms and other disasters. You need a solid core, which is why I’m such a big fan of consistent and steady growth.

Periods of extraordinary effort borrow from the future. It just doesn’t work. Thomas Edison captured it well, with his words: Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Maximum effort is the minimum requirement for sure, but 100% is all there is to give and that’s that.

The problem isn’t that we have too little time – we all get the same amount of time each day and each week – it’s possible that we have too many things to do. Actually, the real problem is that we want to do too much in the time we have. We want more, and what we have is never enough. It’s this lack of being satisfied that is the real problem. If time flies when you’re having fun, it hits the afterburners when you don’t think you’re having enough.

We live in actions, thoughts, breaths and feelings, not in figures on a dial, yet it is the hands on the clock that dictate our attention. It’s being here now that’s important. Time is a very misleading thing. All there ever is, is the now.

What might have been is an abstraction, whilst time remaining is a perpetual possibility, but both exist only in a world of speculation. As T S Elliot said, Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage which we did not take, towards the door we never opened.

So, let’s reflect again on the words of Annie Dillard: How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. The most productive entrepreneurs think about what their time will be worth in the future, and focus on doing stuff today that is important for tomorrow. Think about it, all that really belongs to us is time in the moment – and that’s 100% of today, nothing more.

The failure of Jamie’s Italian shows Blitzscaling isn’t a growth strategy for every startup

May 28, 2019

My Oldham born wife is one of the finest cooks I know, and at the same time, one of the most vicious critics of celebrity TV chefs. Whilst she effortlessly makes two soft centred poached eggs on toast – such seductive delights are the basis of our thirty-five year relationship – she generously peppers criticism on any TV chef who appears to pay more attention to their own ego than the flakiness or their pastry or the creaminess of their stilton and celery soup.

Whilst James Martin is in her current good (cook) books, a regular target of her wrath is Jamie Oliver. His image as a slightly mouthy, salt-of-the-earth chap was always slightly at odds to her refined Northern palate, but apart from once paying a fortune for a mediocre meal at his Jamie’s Italian outlet in Manchester, I’ve taken little notice of him.

But last week in an era of millennials eating habits graduating from cheese on toast to avocado on rye, the failure of Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain is a perfect example of how not to scale a startup venture. Susan, it seems, really does know best.

The mass-market chain was founded by Oliver and his Italian mentor, chef Gennaro Contaldo, in Oxford in 2008. The chain rapidly expanded to 43 outlets by 2016. However, appetite waned as it faced rising competition from numerous Italian-inspired rivals and the market became crowded after private equity investors piled into casual dining chains.

Consumers became nervous amid the uncertainty of Brexit, while the rise of takeaway apps and delivery services such as Deliveroo and JustEat and high street food takeaway emporiums, and the emergence of home-eating kits such as Gusto and Hello Fresh, encouraged the Netflix generation to stay at home on the sofa.

Jamie’s Italian struggled for relevance as people changed their eating habits. It first showed signs of trouble in 2017 when it closed six outlets as its relatively expensive prices and unexciting menus failed to stand out from the crowd. The chain made a £30m loss that year and the chef pumped £13m of his own money to keep it afloat. January 2018 saw the closure of a further twelve outlets, and Oliver injected another £4m. Customers would buy his books and watch his shows, but choose to eat out in a rival restaurant.

Susan always said the end was nigh when he added chorizo to paella. But of course he’s not alone, other chains, such as Carluccio’s, Prezzo, Byron Burger and Gourmet Burger Kitchen, have closed many outlets.

The boom which increased the number of chain restaurants by a quarter since 2014 has come to an end. The latest sector analysis from Alix Partners, reports the number of restaurants in Britain fell by 2.8% in the year to March 2019, with 768 net closures over 12 months – that’s 15 per week – with five successive quarters of decline. Compare this to the heady days of 2013-18, when the restaurant sector expanded by 15%.

In the midst of the barrage of negativity, it’s easy to forget the positives – his 20 years in broadcasting, selling 40 million cookbooks that cajoled reluctant cooks to give it a go, campaigning on issues such as school dinners and energy drinks, and his charitable venture Fifteen Cookery schools, which helped the poor and underprivileged to become chefs.

But that was not enough to persuade diners to pay £4.50 for a garlic flatbread or £15.30 for a prawn linguine at Jamie’s Italian – the ingredients needed to make a celebrity chef aren’t those for a businessman. The restaurant business margins are notoriously slim and those who do well do so by either constantly evolving – anticipating rather than following trends – or delivering classic experiences with superb service and outstanding food.

Oliver did neither of these, his hubristic approach led to Jamie’s Italian expanding at a ferocious pace.. This for me shows why the populist Blitzscaling growth strategy for startups is fundamentally flawed.

Blitzscaling is an accelerated growth path, prioritising speed over efficiency to move a company from startup to scaleup at a furious pace to capture the market. Its advocates are Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and Chris Yeh.

Dropbox cofounder Drew Houston described the feeling produced by this kind of growth when he said, It’s like harpooning a whale. The good news is you’ve harpooned a whale. And the bad news is, you’ve harpooned a whale!

While blitzscaling may seem plausible, it is fraught with challenges and is just about as counterintuitive as it comes. The classic approach to growth strategy involves taking risks when you make decisions, but conventional wisdom says take calculated ones that you can both measure and afford. Implicitly, this technique prioritises efficiency over speed.

However, when you blitzscale, you deliberately make decisions and commit to them even though you’re very uncertain about the outcome. You accept the risk of making the wrong decision and willingly pay the cost of significant operating inefficiencies in exchange for the ability to move faster.

Historically, stories of breakneck growth involved either tech businesses, which offers nearly unlimited scalability in terms of distribution – for example Amazon – or software-enabled hardware, such as the Fitbit fitness tracker or Tesla electric car, whose software component allows the company to innovate on software timescales (days or weeks) rather than hardware timescales (years). Moreover, the speed and flexibility of software development allow companies to iterate and recover from the inevitable missteps of haste.

So, the failure of Jamie’s Italian looks to be a good example of why Blitzscaling doesn’t work. Here’s why I think this, against my own ten-step startup scaling growth plan.

1. Scale the personalised customer experience Every company needs to connect to customers as individuals, with highly personalised experiences. That’s why it is vial to make the most out of every customer interaction by transforming single moments into personalised customer journeys.

Oliver’s growth plan was classic blitzscaling, driving rapid expansion in pursuit of bums-on-seats to the detriment of the dining experience. Behind every social post is a customer.  They ignored the feedback from TripAdvisor local ratings, which always showed a poor dining experience.

2. Scale simplicity Oliver said he relies heavily on others to help with the day-to-day running of his businesses. Don’t forget that my day job’s making content for television and books. I can’t do everything.

The rapid growth in branches meant they were effectively franchises, and run very differently to the TV chef’s early restaurants. Blitzscaling means you quickly dilute the culture and personality of your startup venture.

3. Scale through validated learning How many moving parts in your startup do you need to scaleup? Maintain a learning mindset, be the best at getting better, recognise growth is never done. Maths and metrics don’t lie but they don’t tell us everything.

The expansion of the chain was intended to provide economies of scale and market share, but in fact market share fell. It’s one thing having a strategy, but when it’s obviously not working you ought to change it.

4. Scale the right mindset When your startup enters the scaleup stage, ensure you’re not just thinking about the numbers, you need to have the right mindset for your current phase of development, and ensure the people you’re working with are on the same page too.

Scaleups are especially vulnerable to mindset mistake when things are working well. Rather than developing their customer base organically, Jamie’s Italian tried tie-ins with voucher schemes, such as Groupon, which attracted fickle bargain hunters, and didn’t inspire loyalty or regular customers. The blitzscaling mindset is ‘growth’, not ‘experience’

5. Scale unit economics You need to reach a point where unit economics start making sense. A startup is a bet on a business model attaining the scale/critical mass beyond which the unit economics starts making sense.

Again the focus on blitzscaling isn’t efficiencies but simple raw growth. Reports about Jamie’s Italian raised questions about the location of new venues and the suitability of those he appointed to run and the way the business was run, hurting Oliver’s reputation in the process.

Blitzscaling means you lose sight of your purpose, your ‘why?’, and when the numbers don’t add up, you’ve no other options.

6. Scale transaction frequency The purpose of scaling is to build a sustainable, repeatable business model where customer attraction, acquisition, retention and traction build the revenue model, and brand builds transaction volume and value.

Research showed tourists and those who happened to be passing by became the key clientele, with very few people coming in because of excitement of being at a Jamie’s Italian. Again the focus was on growing numbers, not learning about customer habits. Blitzscaling doesn’t focus on the right growth metrics.

7. Scale thoughtfully Scaling means ensuring everything moves together. There is no shortcut leading a startup restaurant from one customer location to 50+, each function must mature, staying in line with equal attention to detail and support.

By avoiding the trap of ‘one-size fits all’, and smaller thinking, growth is considered and intelligent. For Jamie’s Italian, the feedback is glaring, as one critic review stated: firstly, the restaurants are far too big; due to pared-down staffing numbers, on busy evenings staff are waiting on as many as eleven tables at once, while managers and chefs also felt overburdened.

8. Scale things that don’t scale The early days are the perfect opportunity to do things that don’t scale, for example cultivating special, one-off menus. Keep doing this as you scale for as long as you can. Startups become Scaleups because founders make them take off.

Again Blitzscaling ignores the finesse, personalisation and remove the opportunity for localisation. Jamie’s Italian was just a faceless, soulless franchise vehicle that had no connection to Jamie’s personal passion, vision and focus on food. It was a business model.

9. Subtract as you add Scaling is all about more – adding employees, customers and processes. Often, this masks what you are losing and what you should lose. Scaling is actually a problem of less, there are lots of things that used to work that don’t work anymore, so you have to get rid of them.

You have to be aware of necessary subtractions even as you keep your eyes fixed on additions. The Blitzscaling model is ‘wash, rinse, repeat’, it may work for a global software application, but not in a competitive local market where experience is a key aspect of the customer purchase.

10. Scale Out. Think of scaling out as building the base of a pyramid, the foundation upon which everything else is built, and you know that it will hold. Most startups focus on building their architecture in an intelligent way that will allow you to grow to realise your potential, without over taxing your team or endangering your roadmap.

For me, this is the fatal flaw in Blitzscaling. It’s a bet. Blitzscaling combines the gut-wrenching uncertainty of startup growth with the potential for a much bigger, more consequential failure. It’s a do-or-die approach. A mass market roll out without a solid foundation gives you nothing to fall back on when the growth stalls.

The failure of Jamie’s Italian also shows the flaw in the financial model of Blitzscaling: unless you can finance your growth from an exponentially growing revenue stream, Blitzscaling means you’ll need investors with deep pockets, and you usually need more money than you thought, because you’ll need further funding to recover from the many mistakes you’re likely to make along the way.

At the beginning, there was so much promise. Oliver was the fresh-faced, down-to-earth culinary whizz with his charming, stripped-back style and no-nonsense approach. Then, just like me when I refuse to choose between cheesecake and chocolate mouse, his eyes became bigger than his belly.

His ambition and ego absorbed the Blitzscaling hype, and the metaphorical soufflé went flaccid. I bet he felt like I did recently when I burned the home made sausages, and Susan’s retort was simple: the whole plate looks like it should go straight into the bin and then the dishwasher.

Put customer innovation at the heart of your startup business model

May 22, 2019

Currently there’s an army of startups working on high impact and daring ideas. These ground-breaking ventures, with sweeping visions and big hairy audacious goals, operate under the influence of outsize creative thinking, and employ audacious strategies.

For a startup to survive, innovation is an imperative, developing a value proposition and business model to provide unique value to customers is the key. But choosing which innovative idea to pursue is often serendipity or a ‘light-bulb’ moment like Archimedes had relaxing in a bath before discovering his famous principle.

Let’s face it, business models are less durable than they used to be, they are subject to rapid displacement, disruption, and in extreme cases outright destruction.

Every industry is built around long-standing beliefs about how to connect with customers, value creation and to make profit. These governing, dominant beliefs reflect widely shared notions about customer preferences, the role of technology, regulation, cost drivers, and the basis of competition and differentiation.

They are often considered unshakeable, until someone comes along to rip them up them – for example, Philips Lighting: what if LED technology puts an end to the lighting industry as a replacement business?

In today’s digital world, companies don’t have to own the hard assets to provide that service – Uber up-ended the taxicab franchise model – yet owned no taxis or employed taxi drivers. Amazon Web Services shows you don’t need to own infrastructure yourself. Open Table is the world’s largest dining service and doesn’t own a single restaurant. Airbnb has the most ‘rooms’ for rent, but doesn’t own a hotel. Alibaba is the biggest retailer with no stock at all.

The examples are numerous and familiar, but what’s less familiar is how, new entrants achieve their disruptive power. What enables them to exploit unseen possibilities?

For market incumbents, this kind of innovation is notoriously hard, faced with current challenges and balance sheets they struggle to recognise possibilities or shrink from cannibalising existing profit streams. Some tinker and tweak, but the reality is innovation requires you to reframe your mindset, put aside the prevailing reality and underlying ‘rules of the game’ which requires bold, brave thinking.

Startups innovate by examining each core element of their business model, which typically comprises customer relationships, key activities, strategic resources, the cost structure and revenue streams. Within each of these elements, various business-model innovations are possible. Here are some examples.

Innovating in customer relationships: from loyalty to empowerment

Customer loyalty is seen as key business goal, but the pursuit of loyalty has become more complicated in the digital market. The cost of acquiring new customers has fallen, Customers, enabled by digital tools and extensive peer-reviewed knowledge now often self-select their buying options.

Innovative startups embrace the paradox that goes with this – the best way to retain customers is to set them free – pay-as-you-go and the Freemium model are attractive pricing strategies to gain early customer traction.

Innovating in activities: from efficient to intelligent

Here the focus is to spend less time on optimising processes and instead build flexibility and embedded intelligence directly into them to help improve the customer experience. In essence, digitisation is empowering businesses to go beyond efficiency, to create learning systems that work harder and smarter.

For example, consider a web-based hotel-booking platform. They are used to reframe the focus of the hotel business model from efficiency to user choice, marketing, self-selection and satisfaction, and opening new revenue opportunities.

We look for more than convenience, simplicity and speed, from the platform, and focus on content – the tone for the site’s text, photographs, additional information about the area, testimonials from happy customers etc. All seek to raise the click-through rate. There is also the AI learning aspect here too, tracking individual customers preferences and behaviours.

Innovating in resources: from ownership to access

Businesses use to compete by owning the assets that matter most to their strategy, and at scale, to be the best way to ensure reach and access for customers. Banks and Retail are the best examples of this. Now, as referred to above, digital technology increases transparency and reduces transaction costs, enabling new and better value-creating models of collaborative consumption.

As a result, ownership may become an inferior way to access key assets, increasingly replaced by flexible win-win commercial arrangements with partners, best shown by AirBnB. As with all the business model innovation highlighted here, putting the customer at the heart of the business model is the fundamental paradigm shift.

Innovating in costs: from low cost to no cost

What’s driving prices in digital models is the reframe that multiple customers can simultaneously use digital goods, which can be scaled and replicated at zero marginal cost.

Consider the implications for telecommunications, where the dominant belief has been that value is best captured through economies of scale – the more telephone minutes sold, the lower the unit cost.

Now the move is from texting and voice plans by focusing the economic model on making money from data usage and investment in data networks and storage capacity. We’ve seen tariffs split between handset and service supply, and a plethora of pricing menu options to suit the individual consumer.

We have the Freemium model backed up by bundling of products and services, where ‘free’ is an option and consumers pay for additional, premium services. This has been hugely disruptive.

Innovation is inherently risky and getting the most from innovation initiatives is more about managing risk than eliminating it. Since no one knows exactly where valuable innovations will emerge, and searching everywhere is impractical, startups must create some boundary conditions for the opportunity spaces they want to explore.

The process of identifying and bounding these spaces can run the gamut from intuitive visions of the future to carefully scrutinised strategic analyses. Thoughtfully prioritising these spaces also allows startups to assess whether they have enough investment behind their opportunities. Within this, one of the hardest things to figure out is when to kill something.

So let’s look at where you could introduce innovation in your startup business model.

Innovation in the Profit Model: How you make money Innovative profit models find a fresh way to reflect an understanding of what customers value and where new revenue or pricing opportunities might lie. Innovative profit models often challenge an industry’s established assumptions about what to charge or how to collect revenues. Apple’s iTunes is a great example of profit model innovation.

Innovation in Networks: How you connect with others to create value in the connected economy. Collaborative networks enable startups to leverage other companies’ brands, processes, offerings and channels through strategic partnering. This network innovation means firms can capitalise on their own strengths and share risk, while harnessing the capabilities and assets of others, develop new offers and ventures. Amazon is the best example of network innovation, which ensures its growth is driven by customer insight and intelligence gathered by network effects.

Innovation in Process: How you use processes to do your work differently Process innovations involve the activities and operations that produce a startup’s core offerings. This requires a fresh think around ‘business as usual’ that enables the company to provide a different customer engagement and cost model.

Process innovations often form the core competency of an enterprise, are sustainable and scale, and become the ‘special sauce’ that competitors simply can’t replicate. Amazon Prime shows the power of process innovation.

Innovation in Product Performance: How you develop distinguishing features and functionality Product Performance innovations address the value proposition – the features, benefits, impact, experience and evidence of a startup’s offering. This type of innovation involves both entirely new products and updates to existing products that add customer value. Too often, we mistake product performance for the sum of innovation.

It’s often the core of the competitive arena, but it devolves into an expensive arms race and mad dash to parity from competing firms in the market. The smartphone market is an example of this. Product performance innovation that delivers long-term sustainable competitive advantage are the exception rather than the rule – the Dyson, Tesla and Apple are great example of this, but they are the exception as product innovation in isolation is hard to sustain.

Innovation in Service: How you support and amplify the value of your offerings Service innovations ensure and enhance the utility, performance and value of an offering. They make a product easier to use and highlight features and functionality customers might otherwise overlook.

They also fix problems and smooth rough patches in the customer journey and bad customer experience in the current product. Done well, they elevate products into compelling experiences that customers come back for again and again. Uber’s application of technology is a great example of this, which fundamentally changed the taxi-passenger experience, yet still provided the identical core transportation offering.

Innovation in Channel: How you deliver your offerings to customers and users Channel innovations encompass all the ways you connect with your customers and users. While e-commerce has emerged as a dominant force, traditional channels such as physical stores are still important in creating immersive experiences.

Skilled innovators find multiple, complementary ways to bring their products and services to customers. Their goal is to ensure that users can buy what they want, when and how they want it, with minimal friction and maximum delight. Apple’s Genius Bar is a great Channel Innovation. After Dell had educated the PC buying market to buy online and direct, Apple reinvented the in-store experience and took it to another level, reinforcing the brand values and consumer experience.

Innovation in Customer Engagement: How you foster compelling interactions Customer Engagement innovations are all about understanding the deep-seated aspirations of customers and using those insights to develop meaningful connections between them and your company.

Great customer engagement innovations provide opportunities to foster customer loyalty and help people find ways to make parts of their lives more memorable. Airbnb executes this brilliantly, leveraging personalisation, automation, simplicity and intimacy.

For innovation, you need the mindset, determination and curiosity of an entrepreneur, and to be bold and brave. When we all think alike, nobody is thinking. Capital isn’t so important in business, neither is experience, you can get both these things, what is important is new ideas.

You need to see what everybody has seen and think what nobody has thought, and don’t live your life in the rear view mirror – it tells you where you’ve been, not where you can go looking forward. So work hard on reimagining and reengineering your startup business model, put customers at the centre of your thinking, and give your startup an unfair advantage.

Legs, hearts & minds: lessons for startups from sporting comebacks

May 14, 2019

Comebacks are possible. In fact, they happen all the time, but if you have had a major setback, it may seem dauntingly impossible. Life is full of stumbles, no matter who you are – financial problems, health issues, a relationship breakdown – they hit us all. The challenge is how you overcome a setback. How do you dig in and hit back?

It’s the same for a startup. Circumstances and events may have conspired to force you into a number of cul-de-sacs on product development, customers may have backed out of a deal, cashflow could be spiralling downwards, whilst recruiting new folks into your team may be proving troublesome.

Of course, we all love those great sporting comebacks when a team or individual looks down-and-out on the ropes, the scoreboard showing the game is over yet somehow they claw their way back to win with the odds stacked against them. And what a week we’ve had for this!

Spurs and Liverpool, both at some point 0-3 down on aggregate in their second leg Champions League matches, came back to win. The results weren’t tactical, they were just pure heart, it was just giving it everything to try and get to a Champions League final, and both achieved that with winning goals in the 79th and 96th minutes.

It was nothing short of extraordinary. Amid all the euphoria, with its capacity to surprise and conjure up barely conceivable storylines, sometimes football can be thrown back to the basics – legs – the physicality – hearts and minds – the winning mentality. ‘Legs, hearts and minds’ is the club motto of my team, Burnley FC, and it resonates with the passion on and off the pitch.

Beside the Liverpool and Spurs games in the last week, what’s your favourite sporting comeback? Many will cite the cricket in 1981, when Australia were on the verge of going 2-0 up against England in the Test series inside four days at Headingley. Then Ian Botham strode to the crease. His swashbuckling innings of 149 made the Aussies bat again and Bob Willis ripped through the tourists with 8-43 to seal a remarkable 18-run win. England became just the second team to win a Test after following-on.

Memorable and with global attention, but for me, a local rugby game is the greatest sporting comeback of all time I’ve witnessed, and helped shape my thinking on startup recovery lessons.

Rossendale RUFC are based in Rawtenstall, just up the road from the market, with a club house and pitches nestling in the scenic hillside, with stunning views looking down the valley to Manchester. On March 4, 2017 the Rossendale First XV staged a memorable fightback from a 0-28 points deficit against Kendal, to win a National League 3 North game.

Rossendale came from a seemingly irrecoverable position to earn a dramatic win. Curtis Strong crossed over the line in time added on to make the final score 31-28 and win the match after being 26-28 down in a frenetic stoppage time.

Rossendale started slowly to say the least, going in at half-time with a 0-21 deficit, and it seemed all hope was lost when Kendal scored their fourth try of the game shortly after the break. However, Fraser Lyndsay scored Rossendale’s first try and his first of two in the final half hour giving his side a ray of hope. Alex Isherwood, Nick Flynn and Curtis Strong added three more tries, as well as three out of five conversions from Steve Nutt, ensured victory was snatched from certain defeat.

At 0-28 down, generally speaking there’s no coming back. But the belief in the team and never say die attitude, once they scored, kick-started the most remarkable sporting comeback I’ve ever seen. It was an 18-man effort with the substitutes; there was no one player who made the win, it was all of them, together.

Comeback stories like this, and last week’s barnstorming performances from Liverpool and Spurs, are inspiring and cause us to believe there is hope for our own situation in the face of adversity. There are some impressive business comebacks in the past twenty years to take inspiration from too.

Look no further than Apple, which foundered in the late 1990s before Steve Jobs resurrected it to become the most valuable company in the world. In my estimation, Apple’s triumph is the number one business comeback of the last two decades.

Marvel, founded in 1939, is another great bounce-back story. As the home of Spider Man, Captain America, and other iconic characters, Marvel had long been the comic-book world’s biggest player. But in the mid-1990s the comics market crashed, Marvel went broke, and there was no superhero to stave off bankruptcy.

But after restructuring to focus on movies rather than paper and ink, today, Iron Man, the Avengers and X-Men are all billion-dollar franchises, and the company’s master plan to connect many of its characters in a single cinematic universe has turned it into one of pop culture’s most powerful brands.

Entrepreneurs choose the life of challenge and hardship, gambling for achievement, but also inevitably encountering times marked by confusion, chaos and disappointment seen by Apple. The entrepreneur consciously chooses a life in which they are likely to have higher highs and lower lows, in which the peaks and troughs are more vivid than if safer choices made.

Entrepreneurs jump on the roller coaster ride where the tracks haven’t yet been fully built. They’d have it no other way, happy going round blind corners and crazy inclines. A good part of it is fighting the urge to revert back to their comfort zone. Having to pick themselves up from setbacks, dust themselves off and go again, is an accepted part of the journey.

Ryan Holiday, in his book The Obstacle Is The Way, drawing lessons from philosophy and history, shows how to be prepared for knockbacks and be bold and mentally able to handle the pressure of running a startup. Here are some quotes from his book, which I think say a lot about building your mindset to make those stunning comebacks.

Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective. When something happens, you decide what it means. Is it the end? Or the time for a new start? Is it the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Or is it just a setback? You have the decision to choose how you perceive every situation in life.

I can’t afford to panic. Some things make us emotional, but you have to practice to keep your emotions in check and balanced. In every situation, no matter how bad it is, keep calm and try to find a solution. Sometimes the best solution is walking away. Entrepreneurs find it hard to say no, but that can be the best solution at times.

No one is asking you to look at the world through rose-coloured glasses. See the world for what it is. Not what you want it to be or what it should be. Hey, we’re back to being realistic – but it’s also about optimism, the mindset to expect the best outcome from every situation – and that’s resilience to make it happen. This gives entrepreneurs the capacity to pivot from a failing tactic, and implement actions to increase comeback success.

If you want momentum, you’ll have to create it yourself by getting up and getting started. If you want anything from life, you have to start moving towards it. Only action will bring you closer. Start now, not tomorrow. Maintain active optimism, observing how others were successful in similar situations, and believing you can do the same. Equally, it’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit. Entrepreneurial life is competitive. When you think life is hard know that it’s supposed to be hard. If you get discouraged, try another angle until you succeed. Every attempt brings you one step closer. Don’t have a victim’s mindset. Learn that tenacity is self-sustaining. Great entrepreneurs become tenaciously defiant when told they cannot succeed. Then they get it done.

We must be willing to roll the dice and lose. Be prepared for none of it to work. We get disappointed too quickly. The main cause? We often expect things will turn out fine, we have too high expectations. No one can guarantee your success so why not expect to lose? You try with all your effort, it doesn’t work out, you accept it, and move on. Understand that any decision is usually better than no decision.

The path of least resistance is a terrible teacher. Don’t shy away from difficulty. Nurture yourself: gain strength from the unrealistic achievements of others. Surround yourself with high achievers. Avoid toxic people like the plague. To be remarkable, you have to expect unreasonable things of yourself.

Manager Jürgen Klopp puts the incredible Liverpool comeback down to ‘mentality of giants’, waves of red fury and reckless effort ending in joyous bedlam, an effort of will that, frankly, took the breath away. On a rapturous night Liverpool’s chasing narrowed the deficit, then burst into the most extravagant life as a 1-0 half-time lead against Barcelona became two, then three, then four.

In a startup, when you overcome one obstacle, another one waits in the shadows. Entrepreneurial life is a process of overcoming obstacles, one after the other. The obstacle becomes the way so you might as well enjoy it. For startups, there are many comeback lessons from the remarkable sporting and business turnarounds outlined above.

Hardship prepares ordinary people for an extraordinary effort. Standing over the precipice, the first step to getting somewhere different is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are, and go all in.

I liken it to pushing yourself to the ‘tremor of truth’ moment of giving your maximum in physical exercise when you push yourself to the edge. You grimace as a tremor of unease shoots through your body. Your arm muscles quiver during push-ups; your legs tremble with exhaustion running those yards.

Your brain says you can’t do it. But you get a second wind, persevere, and discover unknown mental and physical reserves. And just before giving up, you push through the challenge. ‘Tremor of truth’ builds muscles on the physical plane and a growth mindset on the psychological plane.

So look at the memorable turnarounds in sport last week in terms of resilience, mental toughness, self-belief and handling pressure in the moment. The path to entrepreneurial success is forged via breakthroughs, small steps and iterations, each possible because you have your eyes and ears wide open and you’re able to reflect and adjust time after time, with the resilient mindset to keep going.

Resilience is the virtue that enables entrepreneurs to move through hardship, set backs and achieve success. No one escapes heartache, uncertainty and disappointment, yet from these setbacks comes wisdom, if we have the virtue of resilience.

Many misunderstand what’s at work in comebacks. For me, it’s not about ‘bouncing back’, rather its about the ability to integrate harsh experiences into your entrepreneurial thinking, learn and apply the lessons, and then be motivated to go again, and expecting to go one better. The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back stronger, legs, hearts and minds. That’s the essence of it.

The four minute mindset

May 7, 2019

It’s 65 years ago since Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile – 6 May 1954 at Iffley Road Track in Oxford. Two years earlier, in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Bannister set a British record in the 1500m, but did not win the medal he expected. This strengthened his resolve to be the first 4-minute miler.

Bannister was inspired by miler Sydney Wooderson’s British record of 4 min. 4.2 sec. in Gothenburg on 9 September 1945, and started his running career in the autumn of 1946. He had never previously worn running spikes or run on a track, but ran a mile in 1947 in 4 min. 24.6 sec. on only three weekly half-hour training sessions. He was selected as an Olympic possible in 1948 but declined as he felt he was not ready to compete.

Over the next few years, improving but chastened by this lack of success, Bannister started to train more seriously. It paid dividends. In 1951 he set a personal best of 4 min/ 8.3 sec. Then he won a mile race on 14 July in 4 min. 7.8 sec. at the AAA Championships.

Bannister then set himself a new goal: to be the first man to run a mile in under four minutes.  On 2 May 1953, he made an attempt on the British record at Oxford. Paced by Chris Chataway, Bannister ran 4 min. 3.6 sec, shattering Wooderson’s 1945 standard. This race made me realise that the four-minute mile was not out of reach said Bannister.

But other runners were making attempts at the four-minute barrier and coming close. American Wes Santee ran 4 min. 2.4 sec. on 5 June, the fourth-fastest mile ever, then Australian John Landy ran 4 min. 2.0 sec. Bannister had been following Landy’s attempts and was certain his Australian rival would succeed. Bannister knew he had to make his bid.

6 May 1954. Aged 25, Bannister had begun his day at a hospital in London as a junior doctor. He took a mid-morning train from Paddington to Oxford, nervous about the rainy, windy conditions that afternoon. With winds up to 25mph, Bannister said that he favoured not running, and would try again at another meet.

Just before the start, he looked across at a church in the distance and noticed the flag of St George was moving but starting to slow. The wind died. The conditions were far from perfect, but Bannister knew at least one obstacle had been eased. As the run began, the conditions did worsen, with a crosswind growing, but by then Bannister was in his stride.

The race went off as scheduled at 6pm with Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher providing the pacing. Brasher led for the first two laps, recording a time of 1 min. 58.2 sec. Bannister stayed close and then as the race reached lap three, Chataway came through to maintain the pace. The time at three-quarters was 3 min. 0.5 sec. but Bannister knew he had to bide his time.

Bannister began his last lap – he needed a time of 59 seconds. Chataway continued to lead around the front turn until Bannister began his finishing kick with just over a half-lap to go. He flew past Chataway onto the final straight, his tall, powerful style driving him on. Could he do it? He knew this was it. The world stood still. It was just him and the track. He was being carried by history. The announcement came.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event nine, the one mile: first, number forty one, R. G. Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which – subject to ratification – will be a new English Native, British National, All-Comers, European, British Empire and World Record. The time was three…

The roar of the crowd drowned out the rest of the announcement. Bannister’s time was 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. He’d done it. He’d broken the world record. He’d done what so many believed was impossible. He’d made history. It was an extraordinary end to an ordinary day.

But Bannister’s record only lasted 46 days, as Australian John Landy on 21 June in Turku, Finland recorded a time of 3 min. 57.9 sec.

Then on 7 August at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Bannister competed against Landy for the first time in a race billed as The Miracle Mile. They were the only two men in the world to have broken the 4-minute barrier, with Landy still holding the world record. Landy led for most of the race, building a lead of 10 yards in the third lap, but was overtaken on the last bend, and Bannister won in 3 min. 58.8 sec., with Landy 0.8 seconds behind.

Bannister went on that season to win the European Championships with a record in a time of 3 min. 43.8 sec. He then retired from athletics to concentrate on his work as a junior doctor and to pursue a career in neurology.

It was doubted that a man could break the four-minute barrier for the mile. Experts said for years that the human body was simply not capable of a sub 4-minute mile. In the 1940′s, the mile record was pushed to 4 min. 1 sec, where it stood for nine years. Perhaps the human body had reached its limit.

As part of his training, Bannister relentlessly visualised the achievement in order to create a sense of certainty in his mind and body. He alone was able to create that certainty in himself without any proof that it could be done.

Bannister turned his dream into reality and accomplished something no one had done before. But once he crashed through that barrier, the rest of the world saw that it was possible, and the previous record that had stood for nine years was broken routinely – twenty four people broke the 4-minute mark within a year of Bannister.

Many people have been conditioned with thoughts of what can’t be done. Studies have shown that within the first eighteen years of our lives, the average person is told ‘no’ more than 148,000 times. We are constantly told what we cannot do. This conditioning causes many of us to achieve a small fraction of our potential and result in a negative approach to life.

To dispel this pessimism, we must transform our approach to life by finding solutions instead of excuses. This small change in our approach to life will produce great outcomes. Elbert Hubbard wrote The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.

Once Bannister proved that once you stop believing something is impossible, it becomes possible. He decided to change things. He refused to settle. When no one believed his goals were possible – he did. When he failed publicly, he picked himself up, and carried on. When his competitors were hot on his heels, he picked up his pace. He took things into his own hands, and decided to tell a better story. And in doing so – he did the impossible.

In the next 30 years the record was broken 16 more times – including British runners Ovett, Coe and Cram (3 minutes 46.32 seconds is the British record, set in 1985), with the current world record held by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco, set 7 July 1999 in Rome at 3 minutes and 43.13 seconds. But Bannister was the first.

Despite what the experts said, Bannister thought otherwise. In his mind, it was not a question of whether or not someone could run a sub-four-minute mile. For Bannister the questions to be answered were who and when. He believed that someone would break the four-minute barrier. He believed that he was capable of doing it. I believe this is not a dream. It is my reality. And, in the end, his convictions and confidence carried him to a truly remarkable achievement.

The story of Bannister’s success is a lesson in that what others believe to be our abilities and limitations has absolutely no bearing on how high we can take ourselves. What does matter ultimately however, is what we believe we can achieve.

We simply need to believe. Each of us needs to believe that within us is a sub-four-minute mile performance, regarding our personal or professional achievement. We need to believe that we have that performance where we cast aside all self-doubt. We need to endeavour to refute the naysayers – and those little voices.

It’s about mind over matter, stepping outside your comfort zone and overcoming mental barriers. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, so move out of it. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new. We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.

Most people are living under someone else’s rules. Society encourages people to play it safe and avoid loss. Risking big for big payoffs is discouraged, labelled foolish and irrational.

Like Bannister, if you want to achieve success bigger than you’ve ever had, you’ll have to do things you’ve never done before, but the safety of the crowd is more appealing than the freedom of going out on your own.

Most people aren’t committed. They are simply ‘interested’. If you’re interested, you come up with stories, excuses, reasons, and circumstances about why you can’t or why you won’t. If you’re committed, those go out the window. You just do whatever it takes.

If you want extraordinary success no one else has, you need to adopt a new mindset. You need to become more. To do something truly original requires a deep sense of courage and vision. The interesting paradox here is that often those who do new things also have a healthy disrespect for what has already been achieved. They use the past not as a boundary, but as the frontier upon which to innovate.

In this sense, those seeking to truly innovate find reassurance in the discomfort of originality, as those who strive to create new things are quickly confronted by the stark reality that we live in a world that finds comfort in doing what is tried and tested. The battle against conventional wisdom, therefore, becomes the innovator’s greatest encounter.

It’s about going beyond incremental advances in search of great opportunities that have the potential to upset the status quo, and open up a nexus of possibilities. As Alan Turing said, We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.

The first sub-four minute mile could have belonged to someone else, but Bannister wanted it more than anyone else. Three minutes and 59.4 seconds that changed history. Few other sporting moments have been crystallised in a nation’s memory in the same way as the first sub-four-minute mile. It’s still special too – more people have climbed Everest than run a sub-four-minute mile.

So, what’s your four-minute mile? It might be something that others have accomplished that you want to emulate, but it just might seem impossible to you. It might be something that you’ve always aspired to, but that you think you can’t do. You need to treat this goal as a four-minute mindset, and know you can do it, that you can break your own four-minute mile barrier.