Starting your own business: Tips from Tech for Growth
27 May 2015
Tech cannot be ignored by SMEs. Coding is on the curriculum, there are skills shortages in engineering, maths and science, and it has never been more important to use technology to make efficient supply chains.
Richard Reed, who, with two friends, founded Innocent in 1999, talked in typically colourful language about his business journey. “I became an entrepreneur at the age of 16,” he said. “I was working in a dog biscuit factory for £2 an hour, picking the biscuits off the factory floor. I thought, ‘There has to be a better way of making money than this.’ So I went to the foreman and asked if he had a brush, and he said, ‘Son, you are the brush…’”
The Yorkshire-born businessman went from there, via a lawnmowing business - and being turned down by every bank, venture capitalist and London business angel - to become one of the UK’s most exciting entrepreneurial stories. But, he quipped, if he had known what lay ahead for the first 15 months of the Innocent business he would have never bothered.
Mr Reed outlined the seven drivers of success he believed all entrepreneurs subscribe to. These included having a simple focus, a north star. “Explain in one sentence that your granny could understand and make sure that every decision helps you. Does it make the boat go faster? If yes, do it. If not, don’t do it.”
He talked about recruiting people who subscribe to your vision instead of making your staff change later down the line. He talked about creating a community, something Innocent has done admirably, by gathering like-minded people around your brand instead of trying to convert.
He reminded the audience that the devil is in the details. “Getting the big stuff right only gets you to neutral,” he said. “The little details get you noticed and passed on. The big things only get you to the start line.” He used the example of Innocent’s Enjoy By instructions instead of Use By: “I didn’t want people to use our products, I wanted them to enjoy them.”
He talked about how the company strove to produce the world’s most environmentally friendly packaging. Over 15 years, Innocent gave away 60pc of its net profit and, Mr Reed said, “I am a richer person for it. In fact it’s a very easy thing to square, in financial and soulful terms.” And it pays dividends for customer loyalty.
Mr Reed also talked about “sifting the world for great ideas”. Collaborate if you need to, collaborate constantly; but, he said, “Sometimes you just need to sit in a room by yourself with a prototype and think it through. There’s a time to collaborate, a time to reach out and a time to say, ‘I’ve just got to make that thing brilliant.’”
During the lively Q&A session, Patrick Drake agreed about the power of the consumer and explained how, though Hello Fresh is a relatively analog company, it exploits technology to make the most of customer feedback. “You have to react really quickly to what the customer wants,” he said. “There’s nothing more personal than what a person can eat, and we have to give people what they want. If you close that door, you’re in a bubble imagining what people want.”
So to that end, Hello Fresh sends a weekly questionnaire to each customer asking them to mark the recipes out of four. “We get thousands of replies which get fed into an algorithm that even I don't fully understand, but which allows us to predict culinary likes and dislikes. Feedback is our lifeblood.”
To this end, HP chief technologist Howard Roberts gave a fascinating tour through the lifespan of a document and how our approach to paper has changed - pointing out that, for most SMEs, technology is the driving force.
“You’re the early adopters,” he said. And though, he said laughingly, “we have been talking about the paperless office for 25 years, we know there is more paper than ever because we’re selling more printers than ever”.
The fact is that we are driven by documents. We are printing more because we have more information, and what we are actually doing is converting that paper to digital. The way we are using documents is transitory.
Mr Roberts talked about subscription services such as HP’s Instant Ink - which allows businesses to leave the monitoring and ordering of toner to the machine, saving on upfront costs and maintenance - and about security elements of today’s printers, allowing SMEs to remain agile but secure.