When's the last time you were in a structured learning environment? Lectures, tutorials, homework etc? For many of you, it will be a long time ago. That was certainly the case for me (bar standard conferences and seminars), until I recently travelled to the historic town of Stirling, not to return home for five days.
MIT and Harvard in Stirling?!?
Yes, the headline of this post is misleading. Unfortunately, MIT has not opened up a campus in Central Scotland. However, I was taking residence in a hotel/conference centre in said city for a period of five days in order to learn from two of the finest minds that spend most of their time teaching at those much celebrated institutions - Bill Aulet and Noam Wasserman. There were other speakers too, all with plenty to offer, but the Bill and Noam show was the (rightly so), the focus!
Sounds Like an Incredible Opportunity!
The course was Scotland Can Do Scale and it brought together 60 people from across Scotland's brightest businesses for an intensive (13 hours per day of sessions and homework!) program designed to show attendees how to take a tried, tested and successful approach to scaling their businesses. From establishing your 'beachhead' market, to designing the right team and everything in between, it was an incredibly useful, inspiring and brain-mushing experience.
Here's the Key Things I Took From it
If I was to write everything I learned, I'd have to take a week-off in order to scribe such a post, so instead, I've distilled these mighty gems for your reading pleasure. I've focussed on Bill's wisdom for now, but may do a Noam focussed one soon...
1 - Be strong!
"Successful people in business need to be anti-fragile" (Bill Aulet)
Bill's early session on day one hammered home what it takes as an individual to succeed as an an entrepreneur. You won't make it if you can't take the hard-knocks on the chin, adapt to change and take advantage of it. Simple, yet oh so true. Building and growing a business isn't for the faint-hearted.
2 - Say no, yes no, to new business
Prior to joining Administrate, I ran my own marketing consultancy and agency, it was my first foray into running a business and I remember the pressure I put on myself early-on to win clients. Any clients. Whatever clients wanted me I would take, some were perfect fits, others really weren't. I wanted the money and to feel like I was being successful. The business grew quickly, but that scaling was false in many ways as the client/business mix wasn't right. It wasn't until the last year or so of the consultancy that I was comfortable saying 'no' and it was during that time that I did some of my best work.
"You cannot take all customers if you want to scale" (Bill Aulet)
3 - All about the package
"People don't buy the best product all of the time; they buy the overall package" (Bill Aulet)
As a marketer, I can get carried away with the power of brand, but there's no doubt that a brand you can identify with and that makes you feel something can surpass the appeal of the actual product. People want to be associated with something they feel represents them. Take Apple (yes, I know, yawn, Apple, but it's the best example around), yes, their products, especially their laptops look and feel fantastic, but are they actually any better than a PC laptop that likely costs considerably less? The jury is out on that one. The fact is, that Apple is 'cooler'. It stands for bucking the trend, individualism and style.
Brand isn't the only part of the package though. What about customer service? Trust in the people you deal with. Connections with other users of the product. When a person has a problem they need solved, they may well buy something to fix said problem. Ensuring the overall package is right is key to making your product the one they flock to.
4 - Job descriptions are dangerous
"The worst thing you'll ever do is hire based on a job spec" (Bill Aulet)
Think about when you start the hunt for a new employee. The first thing most of you will do is write a description for the role. The person must have x amount of experience. Skills in X,Y and Z. You'll likely state some soft-skills - reliable, energetic and creative for example. When we forget the latter, and focus on the former, things can go badly wrong.
I recently spoke about this at the Turing Festival, during which I tried to summarise the skills I feel a modern marketer needs to have in order to be effective and valued. The conclusion came down to three soft-skills - curiosity, adaptability and empathy. Hard-skills can be learned by most people. If they don't have the right soft ones, you'll likely never get from them what you (and they) need. That doesn't only apply to marketing, it's the same for any position in business.
5 - Spirit and Passion must never falter
"Passion and spirit must still count when scaling" (Bill Aulet)
The moment you lose the passion is the moment that you need to decide to stop. That's a level of self-awareness that many of us struggle to have. If the spirit that got you and your team to point of scaling and beyond starts to dissolve, then surely there can only be rocky roads ahead?
It really was a fantastic five days of learning and sharing with people from so many different business backgrounds. Massive thanks to the team behind organising the week and of course Bill, Noam and the rest of the contributors. I'm off to cuddle my Macbook...