Wednesday, 30 December 2009

How was it for you?

31st December 2009.

We finally come to the end of the decade. The Noughties. And it does feel like the end of something and the start of something new.

As it is the end of a decade, I thought I would look back on the last ten years of my life and reflect on the highs and the lows. For many of you, doing this will take a lot of time, as you sit with a glass of wine and ponder. The extroverts amongst you will chat to people who went on the journey with you saying "Oh, yes, remember when we went to....". The introverts will grab a pencil and notebook, sit alone and sketch out a timeline.

No such effort for me. I simply go to my files, pull out the folder marked "My Life" and skim down the date-order list, selecting major events. What do you mean that's a bit weird? You mean you don't have a year-by-year list of events in your life to hand? Hey! You're the weird one, buddy!

It's a funny list though. Some years clearly had more of an impact on me than others. For example

Year 2000: (intentionally left blank)

(it appears nothing of particular note happened in my life that whole year)

Year 2005: Left Egg plc. Founded new company, Garlik. Received Honorary Doctorate of Technology. Elected Fellow of the British Computer Society. Visited Poland, South Africa, Jamaica (for wife's big family reunion), USA (New York, Los Angeles, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas), Nigeria. Met a President or two. Found a long lost sister in a country thousands of miles away.

Overall the "noughties" has been a positive decade for me. I became a grown up (i.e. reached the splendid age of 40), bought a new house, became a Freeman of the City of London, was invited to 10 Downing Street, appeared on national TV & radio, attended Davos, travelled through USA, Europe, Africa, India, China, learnt the Wu style Tai Chi Long form, met the world's richest man and some of the poorest, set up a new charitable foundation, and emerged from all this only about a stone heavier than I started!

By far the low point of the decade for me was the sad and untimely death of my brother-in-law Roger Gill in early 2006. Roger was like a big brother to everyone who knew him and just a wonderful, warm, down to earth, hilarious man. We miss him so, so much.

The high point was undoubtedly searching for and amazingly finding my half-sister in Uganda after over 30 years of having completely lost contact and not even knowing whether she was alive or not. The story of this experience is worthy of its own telling so I won't rush it here.

Poised on the edge of another decade (the "One-tees"?) I am very excited about the future. The world is getting nicely interesting. It's throwing some head-scratching challenges at us, just in case we were getting a bit complacent. Hey humans, thing you're clever huh? You're in control? Got it all sussed? Wrestle with a downpour of global warming with a dash of terrorism thrown in, it's saying. It's given us these vast technological landscapes to explore and it's given us friends. Friends, friends, friends everywhere we look. It's given you to me and me to you.

So, celebrate the highlights of the last ten years. At midnight share the very best thing that happened to you with the friends and loved ones around you. And then let's boldly go and explore this fascinating new decade together!

Happy New Decade to you all

Mr Bojangles

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Boxing Day Group Therapy

On Boxing Day like many men across the UK I attended a large scale, group therapy session. We stood in a huge circle and were encouraged to express our inner feelings in public, not something us stiff upper lipped types tend to do.

We call this ceremony a "Football Match".

I have come to believe that going to football matches is a great form of therapy and that must be its main attraction. Why else would hundreds of thousands of otherwise sensible grown men troop out onto the terraces shivering in the cold and rain when they could just as easily be sitting in the pub, pint in hand, watching it all on a wide screen TV?

There are three reasons why I and my fellow believers in Football Therapy left our families on Boxing Day and went for our therapy session.

Firstly, the SCREAM. How often do you get the opportunity to scream? I mean really, really scream. Let it all out in one primal howl that practically bursts your lungs? When was the last time you lept in the air, arms aloft, punching the sky, screaming and hugging complete strangers in a big group (apart from immediately after sex of course)?

We live in a repressed world. When you are "grown up" you are supposed to control your emotions. You "behave". Something great happens at work and you say "jolly good show, well done everyone" whereas what you want to do is scream like a banshee and run around the office with your shirt pulled up over your head, fist punching in a piston like motion shouting "get in my son, yessssss". Well at "A Football Therapy Gathering" you are allowed, nah, encouraged to behave in this way and it is very relaxing. Try it. Try it now. You'll enjoy it.

Secondly, the WOMB. When you immerse yourself in the midst of 22,000 fellow believers, you effectively re-enter the womb. You are surrounded on all sides, completely safe. You have no responsibility at all. You don't have to manage the team, yet you know exactly what "should" be done and you let them know in no uncertain terms. A bit like being an investor in a start up company I wold imagine. Take that donkey off, put that striker on. You demand action, but don't worry, you are not responsible so if they lose you can complain bitterly anyway. Relax. It's Not Your Fault. It's Not Your Fault.

Thirdly, the BROTHERHOOD. When you attend a "Football Therapy Weekly Group Meeting" you become part of a band of brothers. There are the 22,000 of you of course. For that moment all unquestionably committed to the same cause (unless a cheeky Manchester United supporter has sneaked into the Fulham end because that's the only way he could get tickets, and then he forgets to jump up a cheer at the right time). But more important is what we called your "Football Hug Group". These are the strangers directly around you, the other season ticket holders whose names you don't know, whose histories have never crossed yours, who you will never meet across a Board room table and yet who you will join in a group hug and cling on to for dear life as the curling free kick lifts over the wall and dips into the top left corner. Or who share your pain and anguish as Chelsea score a late, lucky winner in injury time.

Oh, your Hug Group. How you love them. Shouty Sweary Man and Shouty Sweary Man's Dad in front of you. When he leaps up, points at the linesman and screams "You Blind Lino????" you know that everything will be okay. Gnarled, Fed-up Bloke AKA "Sit Down "(or "Sidddaaaarnnn") sitting behind you. Grinning Bobble Hatted Clappy Lady to the right. Massive Fat Geezer to the left who really ought to have paid for two seats instead of taking half of yours. This is your Hug Group. You might pass them on the street, but in the heat of the moment, you will rely on them, you will leap up with them, you will join them in a group hug. And remember, your Hug group is a safe group. What happens on the terrrace stays on the terrrace (a fact I neglected to explain to my son when we started attending these sessions, who came home one day and walked into the lounge singing a popular football chant. We have since clarify the point regarding the importance of Football Therapy Confidentiality.)

Imagine how much better you would feel if after a particularly good pitch to a group of VCs, you could leap up and scream at the top of your voice, run around the room with your shirt over your head, hug your accountant and legal team and when the rooky VCs asked those silly questions they ask ("erm, shouldn't you be trying to sell some more stuff, errr?") a big tatooed bloke next to you would leap up, point straight at them and boom "You Don't Know What You're Doing, You Don't Know What You're Doing".

So on any given Saturday, when you see me and my fellow patients gathering at the clinic, don't be confused. We are not out enjoying ourselves and wasting time when we should be at home with our families. We are attending a Football Therapy session and making ourselves Better People.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Doing the deal

As the year comes to an end and at a time when I should be winding down, preparing for outrageous Xmas parties and generally getting demob happy, I find myself negotiating one last deal that we are trying to wrap up before the end of the year.

I wouldn't say that I am a brilliant negotiator but I am a disciplined and decent negotiator. This is because I still use that most basic of negotiating techniques - the Like, Intend Must (LIM) model.

Anyone who has had any sort of negotiation training will know this model, or variations of it, but if you haven't then you might find it useful. It's very simple and it has served me well over the past 20 years whether it's been negotiating my next meal or multi-million pound deals.

The key, in my experience, to negotiating a deal that you are likely to be happy with is to put in the effort up front to work out what that deal would look like. Some people jsut get straight into the action and start haggling. They haggle away on instinct, calculating the pros and cons of doing the deal in real time and arrive at whatever deal is doable with a view at the time as to whether it feels right.

I don't. I sit down and plan out up front what an acceptable deal looks like. Whether it's negotiating a job and salary package or a major investment, I know from the start what the deal I am looking for looks like. I will almost ceretainly have it actually written down on a piece of paper somewhere, so that I can look at it, sleep on it, wake up the next day and take another look and be sure that its the right deal for me.

I structure it using the LIM principal. What would I LIKE the deal to end up as, in an ideal world? What do I INTEND to aim for? What MUST I get, otherwise I am going to walk away?

Get a piece of A4 paper, draw two lines down the page and mark the columns Like (right), Intend (middle), Must (left). Okay, you are ready.

Start with LIKE. Write down a long, ambitious list of all the things that you would like to receive as part of the deal. Don't be ridiculous, but don't hold back either. If the sun was shining, birds were singing, small cockney lads were tipping their hat to you and saying "G'Day to yer, Guv" then what would you get? Write it all down. Add a couple more items. Okay, thats in your "LIKE column.

Next go to your MUST column. Be completely and utterly realistic. What would you put in this list that you MUST get otherwise you are going to walk away. Don't kid yourself. Don't add a bit extra. This is the real, absolute bottom line. Want a salary of £40k? What if it was £38k? Would you really walk away from the job? £37k? £35k? What is your real bottom line? That's what you write down in the MUST column. There shouldn't be more than a handful of items in this column. If there are, you are probably kidding yourself and that's not going to be helpful in your negotiation.

Finally, go to the middle INTEND column. The way you do this one is to pick items from your LIKE column and copy them across, perhaps modifying them a little, but still being optimistic. There will be less items in your INTEND column than your LIKE column but there will be a lot more than your MUST column.

When you start negotiating, when the other guy says "so what are you looking for?" you are going to judge where to pitch between your LIKE and your INTEND list. If you are feeling strong or lucky you will go closer to LIKE (perhaps even start there). If you want to get the deal done quickly you will list INTEND and make it clear that there is not much room for negotiation. Then you haggle away, between LIKE and INTEND. If you are luckly you will end up somewhere around INTEND with a few nice bits thrown in.

But if you get pushed you may fall below INTEND. That's okay. You sit on your MUST list. That is deep in your mind. It's your bottom line, so you know exactly how far you can be pushed before you walk. That gives you confidence and you can't possibly do a bad deal. You can't be talked into anything below your MUST list and if at the end of the day the only deal equals your MUST list, then you do it because it is what you said you MUST get and you've got it. So don't whinge, don't complain, do the MUST deal, take what you came for and move on. Did the world end? No, it's still going round. Take your deal and move on.

I don't have a lot of patience for negotiating. Some people will go on and on for months, squeezing out another drop to get a slightly better deal. I don't. I prefer speed and certainty. I draw up my Like, Intend, Must. I pitch, I haggle a bit, I get to the right place. I do a deal or walk away. It's done, move on. Can't lose. Can't go below Must, so it's always going to be bottom line or better.

Two weeks of haggling to go on the deal I'm in at the moment. Wish me luck. Merry Xmas!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Ballad of Big Red

As an entrepreneur, you are constantly talking your business up. But there is a fine line between pitching hard and lying through your teeth. Sometimes you stay the right side of the line but you pitch too hard and to your surprise you actually get what you pitched for!

That can be a bit of a shock and that brings us to the Ballad of Big Red. But more of that later.

There is a game that start-up guys and Venture Capital guys play.

Start up guys are expected to "pitch up". Your business is going to be a BILLION $$ business. Your market is a BILLION $$ market. You have a WORLD CLASS team. You technology is WORLD BEATING. Your business model is PARADIGM SHIFTING. You are the new [INSERT LAST SUCCESS STORY HERE].

In some cases much of this might actually be true but whether it is or not, as a start up guy you pitch it. In fact you will learn to speak IN CAPITAL LETTERS.

VC guys demand that you do this. Ever seen a pitch where the start up guy says "I think we might at a stretch build a £10m business and you might make 2x your money - can't promise anything though. Let's see how it goes"?

VC guy needs to hear you pitch up, and then they immediately discount it. However if VC guys likes what he's hearing, he starts to pitch to you too. He is SMART MONEY. He's got CONTACTS. He can TAKE YOU IN TO CHINA (whether you want to go there or not).

By the end of it you and the VC are PRACTICALLY SHOUTING AT EACH OTHER across the desk, STRUTTING AROUND LIKE PEACOCKS. Start up guy and VC in full flow, going at it hammer and tongs. It is truly wonderful to behold.

In reality, you should pitch what you believe. If you believe that your business will turn over £100m next year, pitch it. Why not? It's your business. You are going to have to make it happen if they say yes. So pitch the future that you believe you can create and if the other guy doesn't believe you, go find someone who does.

If the other guy does believe you, you had better be ready to clamber aboard and ride your heart out. Which brings us back to the Ballad of Big Red.

So, a couple of years back I'm on holiday with the family in upstate New York. Wife wisely rests at the hotel whilst me and the kids go horse riding. We arrive at the stables and pay our money. Now this is where things go a bit wrong.

In mitigation I would like to remind you that I am a middle-aged man, comfortably into my 40's who has been known to boast to my kids on occasion about my extraordinary capabilities and can on occasion puff out my chest when in the company of the younger, fairer sex. So the cards were stacked against me, really, when the cowboy who assigned us to our horses turned out to be a cowgirl.

Having assigned midget pony things to the kids, she turned to me and drawled "do you ride much?" My son looked at me expectantly. He knew the truth. How could I have slaughtered all those buffalo "back in the day" if I didn't ride? Surely I wasn't lying when I told him I had ridden Camels in the Sahara?

I heard myself pitching up. "Sure, I ride a bit" I said in a fake American accent that I think came out a bit Lithuanian.

When I say I ride a bit what I meant was that in th early 70's myself and my elder brother once rode a donkey on a beach in Spain. It jiggled up and down and made us laugh a lot. But I didn't bother to go into detail. I "pitched up".

"Cool" smoldered Cowgirl "let's give Big Red a run out this afternoon."

"Look" says me in my best Hugh Grant "I err, errr, what, eh, what, I mean, are you sure?"

"Oh, its no problem, Sir"

When American's start calling you Sir, you know you are in trouble. "Step away from the car, Sir", "Let me see your hands, Sir", "Is this your goat, Sir?" You know how it goes. Best to give in.

Then they bring out Big Red. ARRRGGGGHHHHHH. A giant mutant, elephant of a horse that clearly was not in the mood for games.

I let the party trot gently off into the woods, saying that I would follow behind before starting the lengthy process of hauling myself up onto the BEAST FROM ANOTHER PLANET. I lay on its back, gripped everything I could grip and fortunately the T-REX IN A HORSE COSTUME decided to walk calmly after the rest of the horses.

All was well until Cowgirl called out from the front "Let's give them a run". Off they shot and off went Big Red. ARRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!

Anyway, all's well that ends well. I survived but I learnt three lessons

1) sometimes when you "pitch up" the other person believes you, so you'd better believe yourself too

2) if you walk into the VCs office and anyone around the table is dressed as a sexy cowgirl, don't inflate your figures by 100%

3) if you do find yourself sitting on top of Big Red, hold on for dear life and ride the damn thing! You'll live.