Pitching and winning at DIA

The Digital Insurance Agenda is a global event where startups from all over the globe pitch their start up to industry professionals.

Sherpa debuted their product and pitched their radical approach to underwriting people, not products.

Sherpa won the diamond award, placing it as a leading InsurTech startup globally.

For me personally, DIA was a super experience.  Having been in the insurance world for less then 12 months, and winning such a prestigious award, was certainly a moment I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Check out the pitch below:

 

 

 

What I learnt while giving an innovation workshop

[As seen on LinkedIn]

A few weeks ago, I was giving a workshop on innovation and creativity. The client wanted to foster an intrapreneurial way of thinking with their staff and asked for an interactive session. The workshop was held at a hotel on a sunny Friday morning.

At 8:30 am, employees from a client of mine started to walk in. Different departments, ages and backgrounds. All struggling to wake up. From their mannerisms, you could tell the varying motives as to why they were there.

Some were there because they had to. Others wanted to win brownie points. A ‘few’ were generally interested in the topic.

The event started and it was clear that a lecture style ‘workshop’ was expected. They were wrong.

Bored audience

What I did was try to bring ‘start up’ culture in the room. I made them pitch, talked about pivoting ideas, explained the concept of an MVP. I gave examples of awesome startups that had brilliant ideas and execution. I explained how most had mediocre ideas that became brilliant over time. I explained lean thinking and approach.

The atmosphere in the room changed. They were excited. Even the Facebook-obsessed few at the back of the room were interested in what their colleagues had to say. They started to challenge each other. They got up to pitch ideas. Most importantly, they got excited.

This was a revelation for me.

Creativity, innovation, startups, thinking outside the box. They are achievable for anyone. All you need is to be excited for a long (long) period of time, and that eventually becomes a passion.

This means that every company can become innovative, no matter who your employees are.

Knowing that, the next question I asked was, should they? Should businesses challenge the way they do things and be innovative? Should processes change to allow for creativity and not just efficiency. Should companies think motivation, rather than just KPIs.

An easy answer for most, yet so few companies adopt it. Fear or knowledge? This is the next question I need to answer.

Got thoughts on the subject? Leave a comment below!

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.

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? :)

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.

This will definitely be the next big app!

We have all heard this too many times before. Many believe that the development of a mobile application that is functional in some way, will be a sure success. Simply develop it, put it on some appstore, and huge success will follow. Normally, after the description of the mobile application, name dropping occurs, most often being Instagram, followed by acquisition values. A sure success than.

The mobile application business can be very lucrative and certainly an attention grabber. However, simple marketing principles still apply. Understanding what problem you are solving, who your market is, where your customers are, how to inform them about this life changing app, etc. still needs to be carried out. Simple market research has to be affected before even starting any business plans.

Another interesting phenomenon about apps is that they tend to be of a disposable nature. Apps tend to be consistently evolving or, similar to the blockbuster movie business, based heavily on fads.

All this makes it an expensive business to be in, though if you get it right, hugely rewarding.