Here’s a few notes from a non-PowerPoint presentation that I gave recently in Crete, Greece.
For once I was talking about Ethical Corp rather than other, larger companies.
The below might be of some vague interest to readers.
Crete presentation notes: Speech to European Sustainability Forum, September 2012
Who I am
– founded Telematics Update in 2000 (now 5 million euro turnover)
– founded Ethical Corporation in 2001 (now 2 million euro turnover)
– co-founded ClimateChangeCorp.com in 2007 (now shut down)
– founded Stakeholder Intelligence in 2011 (profitable but small, use to generate ideas for EC)
– 2009-2012 board director of FC Business Intelligence, turned over 35 million euros in 2012: my role was in setting up renewable energy intelligence business units: CSP, PV, Wind, Waste, Tidal
– Lecturer at University of London in corporate responsibility, supervise msc research and researching my Phd
– Involved in several start up ventures as advisor (hot water in Africa, gourmet/sustainable foods)
The Ethical Corporation story
Began in 2001: originally “ethical business” wanting to focus on East London SME’s
BUT very quickly realised we couldn’t have a business on that, and began to think about how CSR can use the power of large companies to do good, particularly in the supply chain
Learned by failing: Lost 200k in the first year on the magazine…
…But knew how to sell and generate event cash: tried to push the agenda also from a ‘right wing’ perspective to get conservative companies interested using conference titles such as: “what’s the point of corporate responsibility?”. Idea to add rigour to the debate.
Gradually spread risk across three sets of products: events, subs, reports
Always focused on being half a step ahead of customers: pushed the agenda and be useful to managers
Always hired young graduates for their energy and enthusiasm, more female than male
Key lessons learned for Ethical Corporation:
Constant trialling and testing of new ideas: many did not work (ClimateChangeCorp.com!)
Struggled to empower and keep people, but also to find them
Had to take some chances to survive: lost 40% of revenue in 2008-9
Understood the limitations of our ecosystem: forced growth never worked
Now a sustainable business and brand: now understand brand value in tough times
Understand more than ever that engaged customers will drive innovation
You and your vision
Ideas matter less than your ability to execute them: hard work and persistence are the keys
You have to feel it to do it: passion is everything
You have to be obsessive: work all day, then work in the evening
Purpose matters: you only get one life, and people need a reason to come to work in hard times
It’s really hard! Don’t over romanticise entrepreneuralism: You need to be mentally tough
Be flexible: few business plans or even models survive first contact with the market
Remember to recharge: breaks matter!
Good people are very hard to find and replace: you have to inspire them and keep them
If it’s not “hell yeah” it’s no. That goes for who you hire too!
Your best people should earn as much, or more, than you (or be able to)
Prevariction costs profits: tough decisions must be taken quickly
You can never do enough training: standards can slip in a week or two:
Trust, but verify..
Most advice you are given unsolicited is wrong: don’t listen to it
You need investors who are prepared to lose money for two years and have a five year horizon
Avoid those who want to be too closely involved, or too distant
Leverage their networks for mentors and experience
Respect, talk to and watch them, but never copy them
Success breeds complacency: watch out for the arrogance trap – others will overtake you!
Don’t get angry if they copy you: innovate and get further ahead
Never argue with them in public or do them down: praise is best, it’s mature
Your exit and what next
Have a clear idea of what your investors expect when you start
Understand that others can manage better than you
Be prepared to step aside from some tasks
Consider what a sale might mean beyond money: on your deathbed money won’t matter…
Cultivate broad personal interests: this allows you to find what may be next…