Top 4 reasons why Malta is an awesome start up place

Malta truly is a jewel in the Med. Yes it has awesome weather. It is safe. It offers fantastic food. It has a night life comparable to Ibiza. It has a history that makes Stonehenge seem modern. It simply is a great place to live. But what value can it offer the start up scene. This is where things get really interesting. 

Stability
Malta is stable in every sense. Politically and economically. As Maltese, we love to grumble, challenge and bicker about politics and that is just us being Mediterranean. What is not Mediterranean though is that we are focused politically on being the best we can be. Malta has a booming financial sector, gaming sector, a leading EU country for eGov services, maturing tourism markets, and a lot more. The recent recession was felt, of course, but we tightened our belts and powered our way through it. We can be compared to the rest of the Med with confidence and everyone will say we did a by far superior job. 

Burn Rate
Based in London? Berlin? Stuttgart? Paris? Imagine that with the price of rent you pay on a monthly basis to have a roof on your head, you could settle your coworking space, accommodation (with a lot more square meters), and a few other necessities. Now apply that to business. In Malta, the monies invested in your business simply go a long way further. Moreover, at the end of a milestone, you are a lot more motivated and eager to get right back in the midst of things. Why? Malta will do that for you. The weather, lifestyle, people, diversity, etc! 

Language 
Yes, Malta has its own language. But all business is done in English. This means resource speaks English. Furthermore,because of the gaming companies already based here, it is not hard to find resource with other mother tongues. 

Access to Markets 
This may not apply to everyone but certainly worth considering. Malta is often regarded as a hub for connecting north and south. North Africa is an interesting space which several entrepreneurs have realized. It is a recently opened market that although not stable, has a lot if potential. Malta offers value to both the North African that needs a stable base and support to do business in North Africa, as well as the European that wants to gain access to that market. Why not North Africans that want to do business in Europe? 
Besides the North Africa model, Malta’s thriving gaming and financial sector simply means the market is here, or if not, very accessible from here. 

Yes, a few wins, but we cannot stop here! Malta needs more. Not because it will fail if it’s not fed, but more on the lines of Malta having an unfulfilled potential. What makes it happen? Like everything in this world, the answer is always great people. We need more entrepreneurs! More quirkiness! More diversity! After all, when can we get enough of these!

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The importance of managing your customer’s online journey

(As seen on Tain & Able)

The online customer journey, or conversion journey, is probably the most important concept in digital marketing. The customer journey is the diagram or path a customer goes through from discovery to actually making a transaction, meaning you actually making a sale. The importance in understanding this and its applicability has already led to entire industries and service providers solely focused on this function alone.

The one thing to keep in mind is applicability. A customer journey is unique to industry and sometimes even brands.

The importance in realising and understanding a customer journey is that it allows you to picture the behaviours and path of your customers and manage the steps within that journey. Once you understand that, you can then start to talk about customer conversions and reducing the amount of potential customers that don’t buy. This is where things get very interesting.

Even if al this is alien to you, you probably already have an offline or online customer journey. It could be that you either don’t manage it, but yet it exists, or that you call it a sales process. Managers that talk about generating enough opportunities that lead to enough sales meetings, that will eventually lead to proposals and at the end of it all, a smaller percentage will buy, understand offline conversions. Online conversions is similar though a lot more scalable.

A quick word of advise though is to not to get bogged down with micro elements. The initial focus needs to be the connection between one action and another, or one web page and another. The online customer journey is a process that is continually being optimised. The micro elements may need to come later.

Lastly, the online journey is had by people. Not bots but potential customers with values and emotions. By understanding your customers and managing the customer journey, great things can happen.

Can you draw up your customer journey?

Innovation, the new average

Innovation

[As seen on Times of Malta, 21st November, 2013]

Innovation is an overused and abused term. From political figures to businessmen, innovation, as a word, is thrown in as part of their remit or mission statement. Innovation has been so overused that as a term, it today has a negative effect or, worse still, means nothing more than mainstream or average.

In fact, when I read a press release, mission statement or advert and the word innovative appears, I immediately understand it to mean an aspiration rather than a fact. Even though that company might have something worth shouting about, the term simply doesn’t do anything for me.

When entities, political or commercial, use the word innovative or any of its variations, what they are trying to say is “we think it is new and worth taking a look” or “look how clever we are”. Statements such as “Our innovative solution” or “innovative design” adds little value to the subject and is a case of blowing one’s own trumpet.

Innovation in its entirety does not say much about value add. Then what is all the fuss about?

Innovation that matters exists when it is used as the tool for successful entrepreneurship. It is a process of solving a situation or challenge in a different way, even if that innovation is a minute property of the problem. The measure of innovation, would be the change or impact on positive results within the delivered solution.

Therefore, innovation is a process or tool that delivers potential new products or services that can reap financial, or otherwise, rewards. So yes, worth fussing about. A country with a culture that values innovation will most certainly increase their chances for economic growth.

An interesting challenge exists in developing a behaviour that is entrepreneurial and innovative. Such shifts in behavioural patterns to develop these qualities are often the most challenging, as a lot of its makeup has to do with culture.

Interestingly, because innovation is a process, it can therefore be planned. It most certainly is not some eureka moment, or flash of genius, while sitting in a dark room smoking an intellect’s pipe. Innovation comes about through the constant challenging of a status quo, whatever that may be.

The most important aspects of being innovative are essentially understanding how innovation is derived, and after, how it can be validated.

Eureka moments for an innovation happens after a process of recognising a potential solution to a problem that has never been done before. Commonly, the problem is seen from different perspectives, in different domains, through a rigorous challenging process of questioning and through research. Yet the key point in all this is not only the process, but the strict focus on a single idea or problem.

In fact, even when an innovation is deemed noteworthy and is launched into a market, it will most likely be a cyclical process of tweaking and re-innovating. This is due to the fact that once a solution is launched, customer data can be gathered and used to develop solutions of fit within a market, or in other terms, innovations that add value to a market.

This is no newly discovered scientific process of deriving innovation.  Sir Alexander Graham Bell was not trying to invent the telephone but rather was making improvements to the telegraph in a cyclical fashion. The interest and persistence in such improvements came about due to his mother’s gradual deafness which resulted in his research in acoustics.

The process of labelling an innovation comes with customer validation. Proving it within your market fit will deliver the necessary positive change for it to be felt, measured and therefore quantified.

The technology industry has understood this clearly. It understands that innovation is felt mostly once it is used, as value can be transposed or associated with such an innovation. Therefore, tech companies offer 30 day free trials and other taster forms in order to prove its innovation and value and then win the sale, without ever mentioning the term innovative.

So when should we use the word innovative? Innovation is like proper management. Every company needs it, though writing it all over your office walls is nothing more than cheesy.

In Malta, innovation through the entrepreneurship model is beginning to emerge. A quietened murmur of tech start-ups can be heard within the economy as well as an increasing availability of individuals with entrepreneurial spirit. It seems that the stars may be lining up for Malta’s emergence as an entrepreneurial society, which means that the likelihood for real innovation to be seen will be on the increase.

Interesting times and a change in how Malta should be perceived

The past few weeks have been one awesome roller-coaster ride. Certainly one of the most exciting ones I ever experienced.

You see, over the past few months, some very interesting things happened. Like with most interesting things, it was due to me bumping into some inspiring entrepreneurs and visionaries, of various scales.

I have been getting my hands dirty within the start up scene. Events, such as Start Up weekend, started happening on the little Maltese island, and to be honest, I was sceptical. The result from that weekend was, I admit, an eye opener. The quantity of high quality minds in a single room surpassed my expectations and Malta, as an island, is now seen in a different light.

The most interesting factors are:

Skill sets

Malta has grown and matured significantly over the past few years. From just another beautiful Mediterranean island, to an island that not only is strong enough to survive one hell of a financial crisis, but was also well geared up to build a rock solid financial and iGaming industry. The result was an influx in skill sets, expectations and possibilities, connecting our local human resource to Northern Europe. Today, Malta is most certainly an interesting location for business with quality people that quite frankly know their stuff.

Vision

I have had many arguments, time and time again, about the Maltese and their lack of vision. With a local mentality of foreign being better, I was convinced that such limiting beliefs will stifle growth and potential. That said, the local start up community and entrepreneurs proved me wrong. The show stopping belief was turned on its head. Today, more and more Maltese are looking at add value to foreign markets, in technology, services, finance, and other industries. Today, Malta sees itself as an equal, in the least, with the rest of the world. More and more Maltese have their focus on global domination and this is a huge asset for the island.

In order to add potential to the local community, I have been organising the set up of www.9others.com to start in Malta. A series of events, focused on the start up and entrepreneur, held in an informal setting (read wine), giving the opportunity for the locals (and expats!) to meet and greet and talk shop. A great opportunity based on a simple concept that is in effect across the world, from London to Singapore.

Further than that, I have also set up a product acceleration company. Tain and Able is a company that focuses on converting services based businesses or small product businesses into something big. With a focus on lean and effective digital marketing, and a series of overnight clients, this is most certainly the cherry on the cake.

All in all, Malta is what it is. A great place that not only offers a work-life balance, but is overflowing with opportunity, particularly for those looking for global domination!

The Social Media popularity contest – FAIL

Social media is certainly being given importance. There are many companies that have invested time and effort in managing and promoting their social media channels, yet one does have to ask, are results being felt?

A typical approach to social media is by centralising its management and efforts to an assistant or executive and being asked to increase as many ‘likes’ as possible. Likes are then bought in exchange for iPad’s and other freebies and a community starts to grow. As likes increase, social media efforts are then deemed to be a success, because after all, social media is all about popularity.

Social Media tips

The problem with this is that the value of such likes need to be questioned. Are the likes due to an interest in a product? Is your fan base potential or existing customers looking to engage with the brand? Or are they liking the fact that you give away free iPads?

Social media, like with any marketing effort, needs to be done with purpose and that purpose must solely be to increase sales. While a little bit of humour does help, social media must focus on giving your readers value.

How can we know whether social media is done right? There are a couple of clues in order to know whether it is being done in a proper way, some of which are listed below:

Know why you are bothering

What are you trying to achieve through your social media efforts? Many will say awareness, visibility or even sales which are all correct answers, though highly superficial. Let us take the tourism industry, particularly hotels, as an example. Social media may be an excellent tool to improve customer retention or by engaging with customers to create repeat visits.

A very specific objective with tangible advantages affecting the performance of your business.

Have a theory

It is impossible, especially when starting out, to know exactly what is going to work. You may believe that your hotel’s strong points, to stick to the same example, are the people that work within it. To create a scenario, your hotel’s staff has the ability to give that family run culture and patrons are therefore extensions to such a family. Therefore, if you can theorise this, back it up with evidence, and feel that that is your strong point, then have your hotel’s social media work with that scope in mind, making such patrons feel like an extension to your family.

Theories help give your marketing efforts an objective and scope in order to prove or disprove this theory. It may not be a 100% hit on your first go though you are slowly starting to create a structure in order to achieve an objective.

Measure it

We are constantly being told to measure everything we do though most give little more than lip service to the most critical function. Measuring the successes of a social media theory through the understanding of engagement is vital for it to work. How many likes and shares do you get for your posts? Are such likes and shares led to a landing page with an offer? Are you seeing opportunities for your business increase with such posts? Is there an improvement in conversions?

Are you asking such questions?

Social media works. There is no question about it. It starts national revolutions, as well as helps companies build global brands. Making it work for you is the difference been achieving better returns and wasting a lot of time and money.

I leave you with this, if your social media followers stops receiving updates, will they complain? Will they call in to ask when the next update is due? Will you be missed? If you are answering no, than it may be time to rethink your theory or purpose. You may also want to look closer at your measures of success.

The four pitfalls of eCommerce

eCommerce is undoubtedly an important sector. It is growing at an alarming pace and customer habits are changing in order to take advantage of the value of eCommerce, whatever each customer feels to be most important to them.

That said, eCommerce is still no where close to what it can be.

eCommerce still suffers from a traditional model whereby an on-line retailer provides goods or services through an online screen or online shop window with a logistical element thrown in order to solve the physical retail aspect that may be missing or bypassed on a transaction.  Fine, eCommerce is born, alive and healthy, yet is still suffers from the fact that it is new or unstructured, or simply that the opportunities that eCommerce offers have not been taken advantage of.

Let us talk about shopping, or more specifically, on-line fashion retail. There are two types of shopping, the “let me look around” or “window shop” and the “I need to buy tight blue jeans for a party I have next week that match my shoes and new shirt”.  How easy is it to do either?

Getting to a site is normally achieved through four medium, Google, Social Media, email or by remembering the URL. Each medium delivers a communication channel for customers but which ones work? All but differently most say, but why is this? And what are the challenges at a higher level?

Google

Google knows best. Google is king. Is it? The problem with Google is that it will give you the result based on keywords and the SEO performance and not necessarily what you are looking for. Say I need to buy black smart trousers for work, typing that into Google will give many options but which one shall I click? Which offer good customer service? Do I need to open 20 tabs in order to find a respectable site? Am I getting the best deal? Who buys from this shop? Do I buy trousers based on the performance of their SEO team? Does Google rank according to quality of the outlet’s products/customer service? If so, (it doesn’t), what if I want something cheap and cheerful?

Google is not geared up for eCommerce. It is excellent at delivering the right information but search, as we know it today, is not designed to deliver results on eCommerce items.

Social Media

Social Media, the saviour and answer to all our problems. Again, not really. Social Media gives on-line business the opportunity to manage and organise referrals as well as develop customer relationships in mass. But still, as a medium, it is unstructured. To use the same example, should I need to buy black trousers, I would need to wait for a post from a friend that talks about my requirement, and that may deliver the eCommerce site I need.

Email

Email is an excellent tool though works with two things – you must have the customer’s details and you need to suggest or titillate the customer into affecting a purchase. Doing it effectively will obviously deliver results. Though, when planning a purchase, this often fails. Nobody looks  through emails to see whether an email in your inbox will have the items you require.

Remembering the URL

Probably the greatest let down of the internet. Remembering a 6 to 8 digit phone number is a challenge for me. Asking to remember how to spell the latest eCommerce shops with their new and wacky names – impossible. The result is normally that a consumer will remember two or three URLs and directly go to those outlets. However, as a customer, are you getting the most value out of the shopping spree? Should you have gone through a different outlet? Are you shopping from the wrong place because you don’t know better? Are you buying items from one store because of mere wrist and finger laziness or are you worried of getting lost in the eCommerce abyss.

eCommerce will only grow and that growth will bring more opportunity, more value, more choice, more competition, more flexibility, more logistical challenges, and most definitely a more complex experience where the feeling of being lost may be more common.

How do you shop? Do you worry about not getting the best deal? Are you always shopping from the same outlets because experimenting is too risky?

Do you struggle to find what you are looking for on-line?

Is it just me? :)

Lessons learnt from a startup weekend in Malta

Malta, the little island in the Mediterranean, shed some light over the weekend on its potential through the StartUp weekend held at SmartCity.

Being the first ever start-up event ever held in Malta, I was not sure what to expect, in terms of both turnout and ideas.

I was pleasantly surprised in the end as the weekend offered the coming together of several individuals that showed a huge amount of both passion and technical ability.

Startup weekend Malta

Being a mentor for the weekend, I honestly feel that I have learnt a huge amount from the teams that were present. Some of which being:

Ideas are seeds to value

Everybody has heard of the saying ‘ideas are cheap’. In truth, ideas are what they are, an expression of interest on a particular subject or problem with underlying suggestive motive to influence change or improvement. Though ideas may deliver little value, they are however seeds in our minds that allows us to develop concentrated thoughts on a particular subject. During the initial idea pitches, most of the ideas were cheap in that it offered little value to anything other than highlighting a ‘could-be’ problem and a makeshift solution. That said, once a team was thrown together focused on problem and solution for an entire weekend, both the problem and the solution was defined and structured and therefore become of value. True, an idea is cheap, but so are seeds. Give it enough time and energy and that seed can become something great, even if the seed isn’t perfect in any way.

Energy is contagious

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” True. Put those five people in a room full of energy and doing great things, and that average will improve multiple times over. Energy and passion is contagious and comparing the difference between the shuffling of feet when entering the startup weekend, to the energy of the room at the end, it was clear that the little community over the weekend worked on developing each others momentum to be better. Truth be told, some of the energy was excitement for the after beers, but then still, you can guess what conversation revolved around at the watering hole.

Malta has huge potential

Last but definitely not least, was the eureka moment by seeing Malta’s potential in a tangible manner. Malta boasts a thriving financial sector, global leaders in the igaming scene, a popular tourist destination, and yet tech is not considered to be a pillar of its economy. The start up weekend taught me that we have the essential pillars to become an ICT hub delivering innovation through start-ups. I knew we had excellent technical people. I knew we had some of the best designers on the island. I knew that we had specialists in key verticals that are essential to solving industry problems. I however did not know we had a community willing to come together and share ideas, take risks, and look at the world as being full of endless possibilities.

Malta certainly has the potential to be great within the tech industry, for both locals wishing to start up a company and take over the world, as well as for foreigners looking to relocate to an up and coming jurisdiction that has a lot of potential in terms of ideas, talent and infrastructure. What about tax reasons? Well, that is just the cherry on the cake.

 

Are you struggling to increase your sales?

Have you been hiring and firing sales execs or business development managers and never satisfied?

Are you micromanaging your sales team due to their lack of performance?

Is your sales team inefficient?

A common challenge with top level executives is that of under performing sales teams. This is evident because cash flow is tight, growth is not being achieved  and  targets are not being met. Therefore, it is evident that your sales team is under performing and are not worthy of selling your product.

Most often, this is not the case and needs to be studied further.

A sales person is simply a cog in a very large machine. It may be the net that catches your fish but it may also be that your nets are being thrown in the wrong location or the holes are too large (figuratively speaking of course).

Before criticising anything within your business, the first place to assess is the direct function or characteristics that impacts the one in the spotlight.

For example, let us look at a company with low sales volumes and work backwards in a sort of cause and effect manner.

1. Are your nets being cast in the wrong location? What does your distribution look like? Are your sales executives targeting the right companies and locations?

2. Does the odour, colour and shape of your bait you use appeal to the right fish? Is your product positioned for the customer that you are targeting? Does it have the right branding in order to be in line with your target customer’s perceived requirements, actual or emotional.

3. Is your bait even the right bait? Does your customer want it? Will it solve enough of a problem to actually give you there hard earned cash for it? Is the value you allocate to the product similar to the value given by the customer? If not, is it within a negotiable range?

4. Are you using fishing nets blindly? Do you have a vision for your company? Is this vision communicated? Is this vision shared? Are you all trying to achieve that same vision with belief and determination? Is your culture and vision intertwined?

This cause and effect method of looking at a challenge allows the CEO or top executive to solve the true problem. A matter of finding the source, or true cause may be a challenge for various reasons but most often, such challenges force top level execs to look upwards and inwards and challenge their own methods.

Could it be that your sales team are under performing because you, as CEO, do not have or have not managed the company’s vision?

What are your thoughts?

Apply a different face to your product

Some companies spend huge amounts of money and time to research and develop new products that can continue to deliver growth.

Some companies dream about extending there product line in order to capture new sales and drive new business.

Building a new product or product range is sometimes a matter of altering perception of the product. Customers only see the face of the product and rarely get to witness the infrastructure, business processes, technologies and other aspects that make the product what it is. By managing the product’s perception differently, what added value could be delivered?

Let us look at the car industry.

A saloon version of a car is released and boasts excellent safety, comfort and elegance. The car is given a brand and styling in order to appeal to a certain demographic. Let’s say that the car appeals to the businessman with a young family within a certain income bracket.

Now let us use the same car but give it a sporty twist by tuning the car and modifying it to fulfil a different requirement by altering mostly perception. This may add value for a specific demographic and therefore, voila, a new line of cars.

The car industry affects this method of refacing a product to meet different requirements substantially yet it is highly applicable to other industries which often goes unnoticed.

Think about it. If you changed your brand, approach, look and feel, yet utilise the same infrastructure, is there a different market that can be captured?

Let us take a software development company, as an example, that sells content management systems (CMSs) for websites. The company is looking to grow its business by entering a new market. It could redevelop, from scratch, a new CMS that will cater for larger corporates but that would require huge investments and put the company head to head with larger players.

Another option is to use the same CMS system, as is, though heavily simplified. With more and more people wanting to build and manage a website, a CMS system for companies or individuals with limited functionality and most importantly, easy to use, will appeal to a new demographic or type of customer. Think parents or grandparents, think individuals that are starting their own business yet find WordPress complex (ever showed WordPress to an unsavvy 60 year old?). Though, most importantly, the new product can utilise the same technology as the previous product.

This approach can be an effective way for an SME to tap into new markets in an efficient manner. Interesting? Could this be possible with your company?

 

My top business blogs at the moment

The following are my top blogs at the moment. They are different and discuss diverse issues but most importantly, they leave an impact after reading.

Both Sides of the table. 

A professional and mature blog that discusses board level or strategic  aspects of business. The blog is written by Mark Suster, an ex entrepreneur and now VC. Written with flare, the blog is interesting to read, direct and covers various topics of interest.

Both Sides of the Table
Both Sides of the Table

Toilet Paper Entrepreneur

A blog with a sense of humour! After endless emails and long-winded meetings, a giggle is much appreciated.  Mike Michalowicz is a serial entrepreneur that has moved into consulting business and delivers regular good reads through his blog, discussing various key points from start ups, to quality as well as marketing.