Tag Archives: business

Essential Software Tools for a Startup Business

Over the last year I have either started mentoring or joined the advisory board of several technology startups. These are technology led businesses with a team of both techies and non-technics. For every startup its important to set the tools early on as it influences the culture of the business and also the pace of the business growth. Selecting the wrong tool delays development as everyone has to learn it or even stops the business as no one wants to use this tool.

There is no one tools I recommend and it depends on the team members and then the project attributes, such as the size of team, selected coding platform, use of third party plugins and also the length of the creative cycles. So below you will find at least two options for each core tool. The tools selected below all start off with a freemium model which is ideal for startups.

Another factor in selecting the tools below was they should work on multiple devices (mobile, tablet and PC) and also with multiple people (sharing, editing and also distribution).

Startup Documents

Criteria: Need to share, edit and collaborate on documents. Multiple people should be able to view documents at any time.


I have been a fan of Evernote since it was first launched. I use it in several ways:

  • Research – I use the Web Clip extension to save web pages which then allow me to develop a collection of articles very quickly and then index them against tags and within notebooks. For early stage startups understanding what competitors are doing and how certain technology works is important. This can then be shared with everyone on the team, ensuring a similar knowledge base.
  • I have multiple notebooks that I use for all sorts of things including my task management, goal setting, lists of all kinds, photos and random notes.

Google Apps/Docs

Its taken me some time to get happy with Google Docs and still don’t put documents I want to be secure on it, but as an editor which multiple people can use to generate a shared vision its the best tool out there.

  • Collaborative Documents – The document editor is better than MS Word and has a better spell checker, it also loads faster.
  • Save As function, especially to PDF and Website is worth using as it allows you to email and share document very quickly.
  • Google Forms is the best way to create surveys. Since I found this I have stopped using Survey Monkey which has got too expensive.

Startup Internal Comms & Project Management

Criteria: A place where everyone can state what they are doing and when, any issues are discussed and logged.


This is a must have tool for collaborative teams.

  • Team Chat – To have a open chat box which everyone can contribute, add files and also URL links is extremely powerful. This always on and open team collaborative culture is extremely important to generating momentum for the business.
  • Team Calls – Every team has to go through the storming/norming phases and chatting on Skype for hours on getting the vision/mission/strategy right is the only way. Most of my team members use Skype of their mobile/tablet for this, so they can walk around the house, trying different rooms during each stage of the meeting.


This provides a digital kanban board for project management, allows the team to contribute and on one page see the entire set of tasks.

  • Great way to show projects, tasks and business mapping on one page which everyone can buy into.
  • The graphical interface provide a simple way to get the team to contribute and set/agree their tasks

Startup Cloud Storage

Criteria: Always on and backed up to the cloud. Low cost.


Keeps my working files available to me wherever I am, synched across multiple devices.

  • For one startup all their large images are shared through dropbox with all documents shared through Google Docs.
  • I also backup google docs and websites  to Dropbox
  • For another startup they use this for their business plans and external funding applications


This is a cloud-to-cloud backup provider which enables you to draw down these resources and also edit and repurpose.

  • So backing up what’s on Flickr, Twitter, Delicious, Zoho, Google Apps/Docs, WordPress, Basecamp, Gmail, Facebook, Google Calendar…

Startup Code Management

Criteria: Version control for multiple developers


This is the default repository for any startup source code plus task lists for developers.

  • It offers as standard distributed revision control and source code management functionality you need.
  • The Wiki and bug tracking features are important once development has started. A wiki can help track the outcomes of those conversations you have about “Should we do it this way or that”. As you know you one of these will be wrong and you will need to reserve this decision.

Windows Azure

This feature rich version allows expansion and future proofing.
You can get this free on the “www.microsoft.com/bizspark/” programme

  • As with a lot of Mircosoft products they are very well designed, (sometimes too over engineered), so choose the options carefully to start with and then open up additional features later on when needed. This way you can grow into the product and not be over “controlled” by the tool.

Startup Social Media

Criteria: Simple tools to tell the world of your progress during development. Management of multiple channels during launch.


This is my default social media management tool, as it has Instagram, Youtube and others.

  • Management of multiple streams
  • The fact you can see all tweets from a particular Search and interact with these is very powerful

Buffer App

A simple and elegant way of scheduling tweets and posts.

  • Easy to get started and set a scheduled tweet or facebook feed
  • The sharing and timing when these posts go out is very powerful

There is lots of research on how startups work and the process. The vast majority of it states that time, finance and commitment is limited within the team. Therefore a simple limited set of tools is more powerful than having a expanded and more complete solution. The startup process to MVP and Alpha testing is a non perfect process and therefore over engineering the need for support tools just over complicates the project and therefore inserts delays.

Top 10 Enterprise Movies of All TIme

During the Christmas holiday I got asked to name my top ten films and as always its hard to bring it down to just ten, but then I thought about what have these movies teaches me about business or enterprise.

So here goes…

Stardust (2007)

“having a dream, passion and a little determination is all you need”

Our hero needs to track down a fallen star, living in a small village in Kent, he heads over the local boundary wall only to find its a magically world. Its a great movie and Robert De Niro plays a cross dressing captain is just a surreal part.

Its the story of EVERY entrepreneur I have ever meet, they have a dream, some passion and didn’t really know what the end game would be, but they were determined to see it through. We celebrate those that succeed but we should encourage everyone to have a go, as these people create wealth, innovation and more importantly experience.

Godfather (1972+)

“Pivoting an established business is extremely hard, so do it early on”

Michael tries to change the business activities of his family business and even with all his wealth and influence he fails.

I have seen this so many times in my career. Motorola was the greatest mobile phone manufacturer in the world, developing first generation phones (1G) and then Nokia started developing 2G phones and Motorola never really got into the digital game. Then Samsung took the 3G market with bigger screens and apps and Apple is the current power house with 4G phones. This is not even a pivot its an upgrade to me and you, but these businesses can not do it, so learn early on in your business and get it right. It may be your only chance.

Star Wars (1977+)

“The small business has more opportunities than the larger “death star” businesses, however its in the execution”

Lean methodology is key to setting off but for today’s business small is best. Think of Arm or Superdry which are amazing companies who outsource or create business models which mean they don’t employ thousands of people installed in the “death star”. Get yourself an Millennium Falcon and just keep the hyper drive working.

Apocalypse now (1979)

“Know your enemy better than yourself”

I just love this movie, its about a journey that we all take, a physical and mental one. Each journey changes us and that change is inconceivable at the start.

The best line in the movie being “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” which alway reminds me on the business mantra “Eat a toad every morning”. This is a Mark Twain saying and aims to get you doing the worst job first every day, then the day can only get better.

This analysis of your enemy and then eventual destruction of them is a very common business theme, however the real message is that by learning their strengths and especially their weaknesses we can become better entrepreneurs. Its sometimes hard to learn other people’s weaknesses but certainly we should identify our own and seek the support they need.

Avanti (1972)

“In every business there is value”

Jack Lemmon did some great films, such as “Some like it hot” but this one is my favourite, bit of a romcom set in Italy. The comedy is just excellent and the settings are just breath taking. The story line is that Jack Lemmon must go to the Italian island of Ischia to claim the body of his millionaire father, only to find his father took more than the local spa each day.

It really shows how cultures clash and that different business methods may seem odd or just outdated, yet just taking the time to understand the culture and the business methods allows you to then extract the true value. We are very keen to adopt new technology and business methods without understanding the processes and methods which have worked for thousands of years.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

“Sometimes you need someone else to help you”

Everyone should spend time with hitmen who have a penchant for philosophical discussions, especially around the foody topic of Hamburgers. However when they get into trouble its Mr Wolf they turn to.

Every entrepreneur should have Mr Wolf, “I solve problems” who they can call on. This may be a mentor, a consultant or advisor who can come in and just sort out the issue. Everyone has a skills gap in one area, a thing that bugs them or they just can’t get their head around. You have to have one of these “Mr Wolf” people who can come in and solve it. Your’ll never look back.

Hairspray (2007)

“You don’t have to ever grow your business”

Everyone loves a musical, a man playing a dame and a dance off. Its the secret ingredient for a great movie. Mr Wilbur Turnblad has been running his joke shop for a lifetime and yet he is still enjoying every day of it. Making it bigger will take the real fun out of it and also create a set of issues which he doesn’t want to present to his family. So small is beautiful in this case for him.

The incredibles (2004)

“Family businesses are stronger”

Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl never worked together as superheroes until they have to protect the family. Each family has a different super power which enhances the whole team to beat off Syndrome. This is true for every team, everyone have something to offer, sometimes mundane is the most important skill to have. (e.g a good cup of tea when sailing in a force 10 gale is just awesome)

The best quote from the movie is “Everyone can be super. And when everyone’s super, no one will be.” which shows we need everyone to be different otherwise we have nothing special.

Avatar (2009)

“Go in prepared”

You can have the best trained soldiers, biggest guns and latest technology and you still may lose the fight. Sometimes its more about the hearts and minds which win the battle, so you need to prepare these to fulfil your goal. Just don’t forget it.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)


This movie shows you can create a business which is solely focused on sales and there are still a large number of these around, the modern day call centre is an example. However the loyalty you get from looking after you staff is a major mantra for this movie.

The number one thing you have to do in a business is sell, no matter what business it is, a Charity, Religion, Social Enterprise or PLC. You have to get people to part with their cash on a regular basis to ensure you are solvent.

Also it shows that the name of your business is everything “Stratton Oakmont”. These people travelled across on the Mayflower and thus can be trusted.

Hopefully you have enjoyed hearing my top 10 enterprise movies.

Business plan competitions , the benefits for all

The Business Plan Competition is one of the major tools for those institutions starting out with entrepreneurship as it provide a promotional platform for creating student awareness, real role models and institutional engagement. A large number of universities and colleges create an enterprise delivery strategy around this linchpin.  From this they can hang workshops such ideas creation, business skills and also more personalized services such as mentoring and accelerators.  


If it is done correctly it can generate a significant interest in the student population, local business and senior management, growing at an annual rate to ensure competitors from all facility or schools within the institution. A true win win!


So why should your institution run a business plan competition? 

Enterprise Ethos

There are very few projects within the university which develops the enterprise ethos of the institution. The business plan competition can be made to work with all academic departments, staff and students to ensure that the benefits of enterprise are understood in the context of the institution. This management tool requires careful development but will product results which will be lasting in changing the ethos.


The development of students out of the class room is important in ensuring they understand that a continual approach to learning in the work place should be adopted at every stage of their life. The process of learning, developing new skills and applying them to real world problems in a creative way is one every degree student has to learn. 

Celebration of enterprise

The awards event should be a celebration of enterprise whereby everyone associated with university enterprise, staff, researchers, students, businesses, By engaging the Vice Chancellor to deliver prizes and keynote speech you can ensure some level of support from others within the university. 

Skills Development 

Students will develop new skills through a competitive behavior and engaging in a number of pre-submission sessions. This ensures that a wider number of students gain experience whilst also increasing the competitions’  finalist ability. This is especially important when dealing with the expectations of sponsors and also ensuring that a sufficient story can be provided to the press. These role models are especially important when developing a sustainable competition. When we look at shell live wire, the press and PR exposure provided to the finalist has always been exceptional, ensuring the further development of the finalists businesses.

Student Role Models

Student peer development is an important learning pedagogy which ensures wide spread appeal when embedding enterprise  into the student mindset. A diversity of business types and annual growth of this growth is an important factor for a student when seeking reassurance for their entrepreneurial thinking and endeavors. 


It is important these role models are seen on event marketing collateral, made available during events and speak about their real life experiences. These experiences, should include The good, the bad and the ugly and should be demonstrated to the students that what ever life experiences come forward, its the learning from these that enables the entrepreneur to grow and succeed.

Business & Alumni Collaboration

It also brings in sponsors from businesses and more importantly alumni. These groups thrive on engaging students, their ideas and being part of the university culture. Once they get involved, they start to recruit students into their businesses, develop knowledge transfer partnership and take an active interest in the students and staff of the institution.


The competition will also create and should involve the institutions alumni of key role models for our student entrepreneurs. These groups of people make great judges, mentors, business coaches, sponsors and advisory board members which are so important in ensuring staff and students understand the needs of business and entrepreneurs.

Internal Collaboration

Opportunities for collaboration on a single project with a large number of internal stakeholders such as the student union, the incubator, university departments and external businesses is very rare at universities. One case study is from the Liverpool university which bases the competition out of the student union ensures the highest student engagement and also attendance at the finals. This engagement then ensures wider student perception of the competition and also from the widest demographics of students, from social sciences to biology. 

Staff Development

The process of running the competition provides a good opportunity for staff development, providing opportunities to run a project from start to completion within one academic year which brings in the skills of marketing, student engagement, mentoring and skills development. The metrics can be easily obtained and understood by all parties and thus ensures a great opportunity for staff.

Student & Enterprise Society Engagement

Using enterprise society for promotion and student engagement is one of the best ways to ensure student involvement and ownership, This ensures you develop a student led approach to the marketing and earlier stages engagement of the competitors which allows them to forms founder groups. There are numerous statistics which show that a team is more likely to win a business plan competition.


The vast majority, even the most success one will admit they would like to Increased business engagement, with students, with research, with course development, with CPD. The business plan competition is the first step in getting businesses on campus and meeting students, from here we can sell in all the other aspects of the university. So getting them to sponsor, attend or engage with a competitor is one the most critical parts of the universities business engagement strategy.


The key KPIs for a business plan competition should be:


  • The total number of student and graduate entries
  • The total number of students engaged on social media
  • The number of schools which enter
  • The total prize money available 
  • The business categories
  • The total hours of skills development
  • The total number of students having skills development
  • The number of businesses sponsoring
  • The total number of businesses attending the presentations
  • Increased student perception in enterprise



The changing world provides us business opportunities

In the news recently Nokia and Mircosoft are teaming up. This is good news for both of these companies as they may now focus on what they both do best. One will make hardware which receives radio signals, which a person can use to communicate. The other will make an operating system which everyone can use. Surely a great day for the consumer, even though they have some development to do before we get our hands on the goods!

I can remember using my first mobile phone, it was a Motorola (1981) and you needed a motor vehicle to transport it. It was a carphone, you could even buy it in a special warehouse. Motorola really did dominate the first generation of mobile phones and no one, not even they expected ever to fail.

Then we moved to the second generation (GSM) and the Illinois based company just could not believe what was happening, even when their European executives told them. As with a lot of businesses they did not innovate fast enough, they did not see where the market was going and they just lost touch with their potential customers. They expected business as usual.

Nokia took over billion dollar market, they had better phones in terms of functionality and also in terms of diversity of style. The mobile phone became a consumer item, sold in supermarkets and everyone had a cupboard full of them at home.

Then we did the 3G thing, which cost a lot of money (in terms of licence bids and infrastructure). Whenever this happens companies become risk adverse and they try and control the business models, partners and also the consumer. The greedy operators were taxing everyone 50%, application, SMS and event the payment solution. The cosy manufacturer-operator-regulator friendship was working. Yes, the regulators all want to keep the status as it keeps them in a job too. So somthing had to change…

Then Apple and Google, who are always looking at markets in a fresh way, thought this has to stop. The internet has largely been free from regulations, so devised a plan to attack.  Providing us, the consumer with better handsets, services and business models.

As a business owner-entrepreneur you must understand that everything everyday changes. You have to both believe in the change and want the change. Be the master of change and feed from it. Just because you are doing well today, providing a great product, there is out there, somewhere in cyber space, someone looking at your business wanting part of the action.

Be faster at creating change than any other business!

Do Politicians create Entrepreneurs?

When a new government comes into power and they don’t have too much money, they look to get entrepreneur to work to generate them more money (so they can work out ways of spending that). So around the world we see Entrepreneurs, Business Growth, Enterprise Zones…  etc being announced by politicians.

So are these politicians creating new Entrepeneurs?

The fact that the economy is on it knees means that the most logically person would think twice between the three news stories, first: government has no money, second: economy reducing, third: why don’t you start a business. Within the 60 seconds news flash, you mind has to say, hang-on your trying to brain wash me into bankruptcy, and maybe you’re right.

The fact is existing businesses are declining, new businesses tend not to, as their cost and staffing structures are more flexible and they can capture new customers who are looking for new service propositions and experiences faster. Those businesses which start in a recession also manage higher growth when the economy starts to increase.  So it’s never been a better time to start a business, keeping these factors in mind.

Those that fail will come into two areas, those that spend money on the wrong things and those that don’t develop fast enough. During a recession many people who are thinking of starting a business will have some form of redundancy payment which they hope to use in developing their business ownership hopes. These people either think that paying for high value websites, marketing material and franchises will automatically bring success. The development of the business and the entrepreneur is very important. We see people who think of starting a business as a similar role, yet with more freedom as their previous job, meaning they can come into the office at 9am and leave at 5pm with 5 weeks off holiday each year. Successful businesses don’t run that way (pop down to the 24 hour Tesco’s and sit, watch and learn) and the extra effort is an important factor in ensuring success.

The message given by a government is taken in on many levels, the basic on is “get off your sofa and make your own job, cus no one else ‘at this point in time’ can and you are the champion of your own destiny (until we get a bit more money).” This message is digested by a vast range of people from 12 to 50 year olds who then decide to make the changes to ensure their destiny is one of self esteem, motivation and focus. There is no better way to live your life and this is why an entrepreneur’s role the world is secure and thankful leaving the politicians just to talk about it.