Decisions, decisions, decisions

I had a meeting in London today (down there a lot recently) with a business “accelerator”.

” What’s an accelerator? ” you ask. That’s pretty much how I put it too actually when I asked them. Anyway an accelerator is a fast moving environment for startup businesses designed to get them up and running quickly, to “accelerate” them if you will, and normally comes with office space and financial support.

This particular accelerator caters for businesses selling to retail, like I plan to, so I was interested to hear what they had to offer. They’re based in a nice area of London with nice offices to boot so a great first impression all in all!

We had a chat for an hour or so about my business, their business and everything in between and I left with a lot to think about. Namely, is going into an accelerator the right move for me? If so when should I make this move? And if I did enter the accelerator how would that affect my personal life?

All big questions I know but ones which need asking. It’s a big decision after-all!

The Mind Reboot

I’m sure many of you reach a point each day where there is just too much going on in your head. I can’t be the only one can I!?

What I mean by this is that you’re juggling several tasks at once and are constantly thinking ahead to what needs to be started next.

No amount of planning gets rid of this feeling in my experience. It’s just natural to want to know the status of things and where things are in relation to where you want things to be.

And like me I’m willing to bet these thoughts, ideas, worries (call them what you want) follow you after the end of the working day, don’t they?

What you need really is something to do on a regular basis that requires, no DEMANDS, 100% of your focus and energy. With no room in your conscious thought to worry or ponder about business stuff what happens…?

You don’t worry or ponder.

In that instant you become removed from your tasks at hand completely. This allows you to come back to things later with more clarity and focus than before. Plus it’s nice every now and then not to have your mind running at full sprint, isn’t it?

Now at what point can you reach a state where you’re completely removed from business? Just being away from your desk? Hardly. On the commute home? Doubt it. How about whilst sleeping? Maybe, but it’s not proper time away if you’re unconscious is it?

No in my opinion it has to be something you do, in your free time, when you’re awake:

Meditation?
Reading?
TV?
Football?
Running?

Maybe for some. For me the one activity that empties my mind completely is…

Swimming!

Yes that’s right. No matter how much my brain is ticking and whirring when I step into the pool all is tranquil after just a few lengths.

So what presses your mind reboot button? What helps you zone out? Make sure you do whatever it is often to help stay on top of things, retain clarity and reduce stress. It works trust me!

Now I think it’s time I went for another swim…

Cushions Galore

A few weeks back I was asked to be on a Q&A panel on funding at a homewares event in London. Not one to turn down an opportunity like that I said yes right away and booked my train.

The event was a full day and based out of Microsoft’s Cardinal Place offices in Victoria London – the sort of impressive steel and glass sculpture you’d expect from a multinational like the Windows guys.

Throughout the day I got to listen to some very interesting people tell very exciting stories about their experiences in the homewares industry, both good and bad, and managed to take loads of useful notes too.

After my panel I also managed to grab two key buyers from a large UK department store chain for a quick chat and to get their feedback on my product ideas.

And…?

They loved them! They had nothing but kinds words to say about both products which, coming from experts in the homewares market, gave me a real confidence boost! Needless to say I’m now connected with both of them on LinkedIn and will be in touch soon…

This just goes to show you never know who you might meet and when. Granted this was at a homewares event down the street from the department store’s headquarters but that doesn’t lessen the importance of the encounter!

Now if there were only other events like this I could go to…

 

Going the extra mile (and a half)

I was making preparations to build a new prototype recently that was urgently needed for a photo-shoot the following day. It was getting late (around 7:30pm) when I realised that in order to work my new vacuum pump (required for proper vacuum casting of the prototype parts) I needed a special US to UK transformer! Sort of like this one…

maplin-230v-to-110v-300w-voltage-converter

 

 

I little boring-looking but does the job!

A quick search online showed me that a Maplin in town would probably have what I needed. The only problem? The store shut at 8pm, it was 1.6 miles away and I didn’t have the car with me!

So that was it. Deadline missed right? Wrong.

In my mind there was only one thing for it, I had to run there.

So I said goodbye to the other people in the office and was off, running through the streets of Loughborough, in the half-light, in ill-suited shoes. Believe me when I say I got a few funny looks along the way!

And… I made it!

With 20 minutes to closing I arrived at Maplin and thankfully they had exactly what I needed. Problem solved.

Everyone always says you have to go the extra mile with your business to make things happen, I guess before now I didn’t know that the saying could be so literal!

 

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Ever seen fuzzy goal posts?

Have you ever watched a football, rugby or [insert sport here] match and seen the players shooting at fuzzy goal posts?

I thought not… and there’s a reason for that.

Goals that aren’t rigid and clearly defined are very had to reach… after all if you can’t see exactly what you’re shooting for where do you aim and how do you know you’ve scored?

This is as important in business as it is in sport. Setting poorly defined goals is something I’ve been guilty of many times before (and still am from time-to-time trust me) and it is often the main cause for project delays, feature creep, confusion and a whole heap of other problems.

Want something done on time or to get into a routine? Then clearly define exactly what you want to achieve when you want to achieve it and how you’ll know that the goal has been achieved.

Here are two examples from my personal time and from my business:

Going to the gym

Before: I used to set myself the goal of going to the gym three times a week. This often meant however that I kept changing my mind about which day to go, putting visits off until I had to go three days in a row at the end of the week and then ultimately not managing it because something else came up.

After: Now I go to the gym and exercise for at least 30 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 4pm. Because this is much more clearly defined I’ve had far less trouble sticking to the routine and achieving my goal of regular exercise.

My business

Before: For my first product launch I set myself the goal of “going to market” by the end of the year. Predictably I kept adding things, making changes and pushing deadlines and ultimately launched several months after I intended.

After: For my second product launch I set myself the goal of launching at a pre-booked stand at Naidex, a trade show in Birmingham on the 28th April 2015 at 10am with 10 prototypes. With this much more clearly defined goal I launched bang on time and had everything I needed in place!

So…

Do you often find yourself staring at fuzzy goal posts?

Think about what you can do to bring them into focus.

 

 

It’s not always where you look first

Just a quick lesson I learnt from another product recently.

“The largest market for your product isn’t always where you think it is.”

Or in other words the people you start out designing your product for won’t necessarily be the people who generate the most sales.

The product in question that got me thinking? Greeper Laces.

Greeper Laces are nylon shoe laces that never have to be untied and re-tied. Once they’re laced up they’re laced up. They do this using a special toggle.

Greeper Laces

 

How exactly they work isn’t that important. What is important though is who they were designed for and who is using them.

Who they were designed for

They were initially designed for the inventor’s children and other children to help them put on and take off their shoes unassisted.

Who is using them too

Greeper laces are incredibly popular in two other completely different markets: the elite athlete market and the disability market.

Elite athletes, particularly triathletes, like using Greeper Laces because they allow them to very quickly put on and take off their trainers during an event; dramatically reducing their transition times between sports (e.g. switching from swimming gear to cycling gear and from cycling gear to running gear). This isn’t what Greeper Laces were designed for but it’s something they’re very good at!

Disabled people, particularly those who have trouble reaching their feet, those with reduced co-ordination and those with the use of only one hand, also really like Greeper Laces because it makes the task of putting on and taking off shoes easier. This gives them more independence.

In Conclusion

What you consider the “main market” for your product won’t necessarily be the one in which your product offers the most value. Therefore it’s worth launching your product into as many markets as possible where there might be a fit. Otherwise people might miss out on the value your product offers and you might miss out on the extra sales that would come with this!

So ask yourself the following:

What would you consider is the main market for your product and why?

Are there other markets out there you hadn’t thought of that your product might do well in?

Mentorrific News

A few weeks ago an exciting thing happened… I got my first official business mentor!

Many business owners I know are constantly telling me how important having a mentor is so I’m glad I’ve finally found the right match for me and my business.

I can’t say who they are for confidentiality reasons but I can say they run a multi-national branding agency so they really know their stuff. I’m looking forward to having someone with experience who I can bounce ideas off, get advice from and ultimately someone who can help me make Version 22 the best business it can possibly be.

I know mentor-mentee business relationships are supposed to go both ways so I’m determined to offer as much value in return as I can in some way or another. How I’ll do this if something I’ve yet to figure out though.

So what’s happened so far? It’s early days so not much but even after our first meeting I am feeling more motivated and inspired than ever!

  • Have you got a mentor?
  • If you have how do they help you and your business?
  • If you haven’t should you get one?

Questions definitely worth asking yourself.

 

My first time

Last week was my first time as an exhibitor at a trade show!

The trade show in question was Naidex, a huge disability show at the NEC in Birmingham. I was there field testing and soft launching my new product Nimble, a one-finger inclusive package opener. (See more over on my business blog here).

The reason I had a space there was thanks to be friend Duncan from Equipable Ltd. who kindly offered to share his stand with me! We drove to Birmingham last Monday afternoon to get everything set up for the following day and on Tuesday it all kicked-off…

It’s safe to say the next three days at the show were both exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure. How? Well I spoke to hundreds of people over the course of the show and had on average one person sign up to either be a tester or get email updates every 6 minutes!

The highlights for me? There were so many but here are my top 5.

  1. The sheer volume of people that were as excited as me about the product (200+)
  2. The number of people that asked to buy one then and there… despite the products shown being prototypes!
  3. The 100+ people that volunteered to be product testers on the spot
  4. Several healthcare professionals telling me Nimble was the best thing at the show
  5. Meeting Baroness and Paralypic champion Tanny Grey-Thompson
  6. Being asked to feature in a national magazine this summer.

What a blast! I can’t wait to exhibit at my next trade-show and thankfully it’s looking like this will be happening soon!

Want to find out more about Nimble? Read my in-depth post over on the Version 22 website here.

How having strangers staring you in the face can help get things done

Everyone’s been there – working on a project you have to deliver where you are the one in control of the delivery date.

And so the inevitable happens.

You give yourself an arbitrary goal; “the end of the month”, “two weeks time”, “next Thursday” something like that, and sure enough one after another things start getting in the way.

  • Something that you thought would be done in an instant takes days
  • The person you were counting on for X turned out to not be all that reliable
  • You’re just not quite happy with everything until it’s all perfect.

So what happens to that deadline you set?

It slips.

It gets pushed back, moved around and its goal posts get shifted too. Tasks get added beyond the original spec of the project, and things begin to take longer and longer than planned. Before you know it your one week task turns into a two week task, then a three week task, then a month long ordeal!

Still with me on this?

I’ve suffered from this problem several times in the past, particularly when coming up to the launch of my first Kickstarter campaign. Tasks kept growing as I added to them and fretting over details caused no one tasks to ever been signed off when intended. This meant the goal posts kept moving and ultimately…

…I over-ran my original deadline by weeks.

Why was this? Well I now know it was down to the person project managing the whole thing. Me.

Because I was the one in charge of completing the project I spent as much time on each task as I deemed appropriate. This was almost always too much time. I’d also push the deadline back if it was getting uncomfortably close and change the overall aim of the project if I had a new idea or thought I could improve something further.

The result? The project I eventually completed was very different from the project planned at the start and it took waaaay longer than intended. But was the project a success? Sure in that I was happy with the standard I’d completed it at…

…But if I measured it by how I kept to the initial schedule and whether I delivered on the goals set out at the start?

Absolutely not.

So the main lesson I learnt from all of this? Set deadlines you have to stick too. How? By letting other people hold you accountable. By this I don’t mean hiring a project manager necessarily. I mean choosing the deadlines you set, and how you set these deadline, very carefully. Here are a few examples:

 

  1. Announce a project completion/ product launch/ ship date – this way you’ve now got a captive audience waiting on you to deliver!
  2. Sign up to a tradeshow/ speaking event/ exhibition – this way you’re committing to having something to show people at the event, if you don’t it’ll be a huge embarrassment afterall!
  3. Take part in challenge prizes and other types of competitions – this way you’re competing with other people to deliver what you promised by a certain deadline.
  4. Take on another commitment set to clash in the future if things overrun– this might be something as simple as booking a holiday or saying yes to another big project. It just has to be something which you won’t be able to run in parallel with your current project. This way you’re forced to finish the one at hand first.

 

I now try and make a habit of using at least one of these 4 strategies to help me stay on target with current projects. I’m already noticing a big difference in my project management when compared to before the change!

So do you use any of these 4 techniques, or perhaps others, to help you stick to self-imposed deadlines? Let me know in the comments below.