Internal hackathons can lead to big cultural changes

Hackathons are those mini focused events where groups of people look at a problem and solve it in a free-to-do-as-you-please manner. Basically, teams hack a problem – i.e. manage to solve a problem, by proposing validated, detailed ideas. Some may involve code/tech, but not necessarily.

Hackathons come in many shapes and sizes. From the large public events where anyone can join, to the closed corporate event where employees can focus on new problems.

Hackathons are great. Not only do they break boundaries and get teams to work together, but results can be meaningful and very real. However, for them to have any impact on real improvements, you need to follow a few key steps. Here are a few things we need to keep in mind when suggesting an internal, corporate hackathon.

Safety – Employees need to feel that if they mess up, they will be fine. Failing is fine. There are no KPIs for hackathon participants under than experiencing and learning. And let’s face it, many failures were successful eventually (for example – bubble wrap was initially designed to be wallpaper!)

Timing is key – Look for that week where teams have more time on their hand. Timing is really everything. Setting up a situation where teams are focusing on a hackathon and yet loads happening at their office will result in greater stress and not much innovation.

Death by Frequency – I love prawns. Love them. Juicy succulent stuff. Give me prawns every day and will hate them very quickly. Hackathons are great but only do them as often as possible, and not more.

Hackathons are not lost development time. Hackathons held monthly may be overkill. Try and look for that balance and start small. Think about each hackathon as a big deal, and avoid letting them become another boring Monday innovaton thing that your staff doesn’t get. Keep them excited!

It is a priority – Let’s face it, if something is not made to be important, than it is likely to never happen. Is there CEO buy-in? Does your staff feel that what is being done is important? Is it appreciated? Is it easy to get out of it? Show that this is not a team building exercise but a strategically important event that aims to change the way you do business. (Yes, it can be that important!)

Give it a theme – Themes are great! It gives some focus. Do not give requirements.

You want to give themes a framework for the event, but you do not want to give teams a list of requirements. Themes allow teams to go down similar paths. Requirements ensures they all end up in the same place. Worse still, requirements lead to manager pointing fingers saying our staff is not innovative!

Winners are important – Let us face it, competition is a great driving force. We all want to win, or at least, no one wants to lose. Therefore have winning teams! Give prizes! Yes, give prizes!

Mentors work – Teams often come together by ideas and energy, rarely by perfectly matching skill sets. Give teams mentors. External mentors may add an extra spin. Give them energy to feed off of. Mentors go a long way!

Make it count – Hackathons need to be part of a process. In isolation they are great, but ideally you need to know what happens next. How do projects come alive? How are they managed? What happens to the employees that thought about the new ideas? How are they treated? How are they involved? How is the new idea reintegrated into the company? How should teams work on the new idea? How are resources going to be allocated? How are road blocker type of people going to conform to change and new ways? How are you going to make good ideas become a reality yet diminish risks?

Have you ever tried an internal hackathon? Was it a success? Would love to hear your comments below if it was grand or ‘meh’!

Drones, crowd purchasing and digital currencies – Local start-ups think BIG for Startup Week

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Malta based start-ups came together for a week full of activities, adrenaline and action for the week starting 13 October. The series of events gave local start-ups the opportunity to practice their pitch, to learn about the various forms of start up financing, as well as to attempt starting a high growth business in under 54 hours.

“Startup Week was an excellent opportunity for the local start-up and entrepreneur to learn, build relationships and meet motivated thinkers. With such great energy, ideas and persistence, it was truly a Silicon Valley-style week”, says Simon Azzopardi, organiser of Startup Week.

During the week, start-ups looked at local and global problems and used technology to try and solve them.

“Start-ups came up with ideas and products that solved real problems, such as traffic congestion, lack of funds when a start-up has an idea, inefficient taxi management and expensive mobile app development. They also looked at technology to help make our lives easier, using drones and concepts such as crowd purchasing.”

“Over the weekend, seven teams developed their own ideas into market ready businesses, all in under 54 hours. Teams were given support in terms of tools and mentors to develop their idea and learn the ropes of thinking lean and building a viable and scalable business,” continues Mr Azzopardi.

“During the week, we also launched the Startup Island brand. Startup Island is the brand to represent the local start-up community and help promote Malta as a Startup jurisdiction overseas,” says Mr Azzopardi.

Several high profile individuals were also present to show their support including Andy McCartney from Microsoft Ventures, Luka Sučić from hub:raum and Rumen Iliev from LAUNCHhub.

The main sponsors of the event was Microsoft Innovation Centre who not only hosted the event, but also utilised Microsoft’s network and resources to ensure that some of the biggest names in this space got involved.

“Microsoft Innovation Centre is all about supporting the start-up community. We offer local start-ups the space and tools to reduce the pain of starting up a technology business, and also assist local start-ups with integrating into our other centres across the globe,” says Edward Portelli, manager of the Innovation Centre.

Microsoft also offered the BizPark program to all participants in the weekend start up competition.

The event was sponsored by Microsoft, KPMG, Altaro, MITA, SAP, BusinessFirst, and SkyParks.

The event will most certainly not be the last. Startup Island, together with the local start-up community, have already started to organise future events, including meet-ups, hackathons pitchathons and other start up related events.

www.startupisland.org

What every company must have for innovation

Innovation, the term on everyone’s mission statement, is rarely taken seriously yet is the only way to survive.

This subject is something that comes up regularly with clients, government and friends as to how can innovation be encouraged or brought into a company.

Innovation is a process, not an end game. The ownership of innovation within a company lies with every employee and is not a delegated task. But for this to happen, two elements are crucial.

Culture – a culture of innovation must be fostered. Employees must want to suggest new products, process and possibilities.

Flow – once an idea or suggestion is received, than what? How is this idea going to be nurtured?

The easiest way of changing a culture is to change a process and watch the effect of that change.

Therefore, if you want innovation, develop an internal accelerator for ideas. Develop KPIs for that accelerator. Create a team to manage and promote the process.

Change by doing not by thinking about it. It is a lot easier, effective and result driven.

A lot more than Start Up Weekend this coming October

Start up weekend is awesome! I am a huge fan of the event! Like-minded individuals passionately competing to win a competition over a stressful yet super rewarding weekend. What is there not to love! 

However what about those that have started up? We need some activities for them also. 

This year, the organisers behind start up weekend are taking it to the next level and organising a week full of start up relevant events. 

Yupp! A whole week!

 Start Up Weekend Malta 2014

We are organising a pitchathon for early stage start ups that need pitching practice in a constructive environment. 

We are inviting some awesome local start ups to share their experience in acquiring start up funding, or approaching the funding issue in a ‘nothing-will-have-to-do’ (bootstrapping) approach! What did they learn? What did they struggle with? What advice can they give you? Real stories from real start ups. Sounds awesome? Not done yet!

We have confirmed hub:raum to come along and give a few workshops and talks on lean start up methodologies. Hum:raum is a fantastic accelerator/incubator based in Germany and Poland and is an offshoot of TMobile.

Microsoft is also giving a few talks on their BizPark program! This is the program offered at various Microsoft centres throughout the world. 

Lastly, we are going to end the week with start up weekend because we strongly feel that start up weekend is the ideal place where future start ups and existing start ups can integrate, add value, help each other and live that exciting start up culture for a week(end).

This year, we want to really work on integration (no coding required). We want to get different faces into the room. This year, we are encouraging a wider mix of people to our events. We want expats, foreigners, (tourists – we always get a few!) as well as corporates. Why? because each one of those communities add tremendous value.

As for corporates, wouldn’t you want to know what the local innovators are up to?  

Dates? All this is going to happen between the 13th October and 19th October 2014.

A super-massive thanks to Microsoft for their immediate support and belief in us (the community) to make this a reality.

Want to know more? Check out startupisland.org (What’s this? Yes, we are launching a start up community focused website for Malta based start ups!)

 

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.