Innovation and enterprise blog

Introduction

This blog is written by members of the Business & IP Centre team and some of our expert partners and discusses business, innovation and enterprise. Read more

08 July 2020

Meet Ahmad Baracat, founder of Baracat Bros and Start-ups in London Libraries participant

Ahmad is the founder of Baracat Bros, an app company that builds games with hidden educational value. He took part in our Start-ups in London Libraries programme and is part of our SiLL community in Greenwich. We spoke to him about his business and his Start-ups in London Libraries journey.

Tell us about your business. Why did you start it up?

We believe games offer a unique channel to deliver educational messages and foster learning because of their interactive and engaging nature. Yet, many of the popular mobile games are designed for entertainment purposes and the educational games on the market lack engagement and the fun factor. We wanted to address that. We try to create edu-games, which are fun, engaging and educational.

We rely on academic research in the Science of Learning field, which uses cognitive-science research on how students learn, and uses that knowledge to offer practical actions to improve teaching, to guide the design of our games.

From a personal perspective, we believe that working in a corporate environment is not for everyone and, for us, starting up a business was a viable option to gain more freedom over which problems we wanted to solve and how to approach them.

App screenshot for blog 2
App screenshot for blog 2

How did the SiLL project help you in setting up your business?

I attended 3 sessions as part of the programme and it helped me gain the needed confidence to set up my business. The workshops also really helped to equip the attendees - I came out of the ‘Get ready for business’ workshop with actionable advice like how to access funding, how to create a business model canvas and where to find resources to continue learning.

What was the most helpful part of the SiLL project for you?

Meeting like-minded people who were trying to build their own businesses. It was eye-opening to see the diversity of their backgrounds as well as their business ideas.

Loretta [our Start-ups in London Libraries Greenwich Business Champion] is building a business community for people who want to pursue their own businesses and need the practical knowledge and the support network to do so successfully. I really believe that such communities are invaluable for anyone building their own business.

What advice would you give anyone looking to start up a business?

Make sure to invest time in building a circle of like-minded people, it really helps when things get tough and you need people to share your experiences with.

I really can’t stress enough having a support network that understand what it takes to start a business and how to navigate the space. I would highly recommend going to the Start-ups in London Libraries’ workshops as they will equip them with a support network and practical advice on how to start a business in the UK.

I would also highly recommend preparing oneself psychologically and mentally that building a business takes time and that there are usually no shortcuts to getting it to be profitable other than putting in the hard work.

AhmadBaracat_Profile_Picture

What are the key things you have learnt while starting up your business?

When you are starting a business, the main way to think about it is how you are solving valuable problems for customers - the main way to figure out such problems is to actively talk to customers and potential customers. Once a valuable problem is identified, it becomes relatively easy to iterate on a potential solution.

What’s next for you and your business?

A few days ago, Foodology, a game we created in 2 weeks to help people learn about food, was featured on ProductHunt (the go-to platform for launching new products): https://www.producthunt.com/posts/foodology

To take a look at Baracat Bros' games, visit https://www.baracatbros.com/

To read more about Start-ups in London Libraries and our workshops, which are now all taking place online, visit bl.uk/SiLL.

01 July 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Centa

Centa is a long-standing social enterprise and a partner of the Business & IP Centre for over 12 years. Trading for over 36 years in central London, we support people wishing to start a business and offer existing small businesses advice and training on how to develop and grow their businesses. We are currently delivering the Get Started workshop for the Innovating for Growth: Start-ups programme, which is always well attended and well received by delegates from the feedback.

Lucan Richards

The workshop is delivered by Lucan Richards, who has 15 years’ experience as a business adviser. Since joining Centa initially as a business support officer, his business knowledge and expertise has grown tremendously whilst working on various government funded business support and mentoring programmes. Acting as the first point of call for all enquiries has enabled him to provide effective business solutions to budding entrepreneurs who required urgent help and support. This progressed to running his own business and the opportunity to better understand a client needs having gone through similar experiences. Besides delivering workshops for the last four years he still continues to provide direct business advice and business planning support, whilst to date has helped over 500 clients start in business and access over £750,000 of start-up finance. Delegates who attend the full day Get Started workshop will be able to:

  • Identify effective market research techniques.
  • Identify and quantify the market opportunity.
  • Develop competitive service/product offers.
  • Develop a successful marketing strategy.
  • Generate sales, break-even and profit and loss forecasting techniques.
  • Produce a clear business plan.
  • Understand how to raise finance from banks, investors, or other sources of funding.
  • Know where else to go to gain additional support and advice.

I attended your Get started workshop this week and just wanted to say one more time: great job! It was a really good day with a lot of valuable information. Thank you!

I have to say your session was one of the best and informative session I have attended so far.

Thank you for the time, energy and wealth of information and knowledge. We will have you to thank for a successful company launch.

Excellent presentation. Clear, concise, and informative. Very very useful for advice. Great tips to move forward.

Lucan Richards delivering a workshop

From our experience there are many common pitfalls for start-ups that the workshop tries to raise awareness of:

  • A reluctance to seek advice
  • Poor or inadequate market research
  • Lack of capital
  • Weak financial planning/cashflow
  • Over-optimistic forecasts
  • Pricing mistakes

But also highlights characteristics of a good business with growth potential:

  • Owners have previous success or experience and failure
  • Risk takers/entrepreneurs
  • Understanding the market – their customers
  • Prepared for growth – staff, capital, physical space, scalable client base
  • They keep evolving - moving forward.

We have a passionate determination for business and entrepreneurship and how it can be a means for economic improvement, wealth and job creation. And our partnership with the Business & IP Centre compliments this mission. 

22 June 2020

3-steps to get time back (and grow your business) 

Adam Slawson is lead consultant at Fluxx for Good, one of our delivery partner businesses who provide support and expertise to those attending events such as our speed mentoring. Here he gives some top tips on how to understand your customers, what you’re actually selling and how to find the time to do this..!

I don’t have enough time,’ said most of the businesses Fluxx for Good speaks to. The most common themes we’ve noticed during our conversations are, people:

  1. don’t know enough about their customers (and often think they have only one type).
  2. aren’t aware of what they are actually offering — the importance of ‘value exchange’.
  3. haven’t considered the detail of the emotional journey their customers take.

Fluxx for Good helps companies with a social purpose to grow and move forward. Helping them change direction, pivot, think differently, transform, grow, whichever verb you’d like to use. In short, helping organisations gather evidence, in turn, gain the confidence to make (important) decisions.

The tools, exercises and processes which aid decision making have a crucial kicker — they will give you time back in your day too.

Each tool used individually will help develop your business. The real power comes from combining them. Doing so will maximise time to spend thinking about the direction of your business rather than getting bogged down doing your business.

Granted, there is an irony in suggesting more things to do to give you time back but the return on investment will be manifold.

The conclusion of the exercises will be:

  • You’ll waste less time attracting the wrong customers.
  • A list of how to make improvements to your service (so the customers you do attract will be happier).
  • Plus a simple structure for your time/brain…and sanity.

Understanding your customer

The first question we often ask at the British Library is ‘Have you spoken to a customer to get feedback recently?’

<insert blank face> (not every time but — certainly more often than is advisable)

Customers hold a lot of information which is simple to gather, and when turned into insight is an essential aid in serving them better. If you don’t do this, your competition will — if they are not already. So, it’s important to define who your customers are — and who they are not.

Exercises & Tools:

  • Interview customers. It needn’t be overwhelming, aim for ten in the first instance. Keep the questions open-ended, don’t ‘lead the witness’ — let them do most of the talking and if you can, video them (people often say one thing while their expression says quite another).
  • Survey as many customers as you can — begin with your friends’ friends and their friends (via email and social media). Keep the questionnaire short and remember, no leading questions. We want honest answers.
  • Customer (user) research tips from Fluxx.

Output: The industry term is Personas: Characters created from real insight. See an example below, online examples here and more detail of how to create one here.

Neutral navigator

Note: It’s likely you’ll have more than one customer persona e.g. people that buy from you (e.g. neutral navigator, frequent buyers, one-off buyers…), people that supply you, and so on. It important to also remember that your team are ‘customers’ of your business too — internal ones — if they aren’t happy, your customers are unlikely to be.

Value exchange (what you are actually selling?)

If you think you sell a product alone, you’re mistaken. You implicitly sell a range of value exchanges throughout the experience of your product, and in turn, service.

Business model canvas
© Strategizer

At the centre of the Business Model Canvas is value propositions — and there’s a reason it’s positioned there. It shows the exchange between what a customer wants/needs, and the service you offer (why a customer would hand over their hard-earned cash). It’s so important, it has its very own canvas. See below.

Value proposition canvas
© Strategizer

Exercises & Tools:

  • Value proposition canvas — Start with the customer profile circle — think about what happens in your customers’ lives, what are they trying to achieve (not just in relation to your product — think wider)? Then do the other product (value map) square — in general, what could happen to make your customers lives easier? How then, can your business help with that?
  • For more on this, see How to use the Value proposition canvas in more detail

Output: A deeper understanding of your customers and more detail of what you’re offering to make their lives better (and make you money).

The (emotional) Customer Journey

You have defined your customer(s), and you know more about what you are actually selling. The next step is to map out the journey each persona takes through your service. ‘You don’t sell a bed, you sell a good night’s sleep.’ It’s an old cliché, and it’s fundamentally true. While the product is of key importance, it’s the comfort and security the customer feels that ultimately makes the sale.

Sales only happen when there’s an emotional step change, for example:

I desire something > I gain confidence in your product > I’m convinced to purchase > I love using your product/service > I’m happy to purchase again (I tell all my friends how great it feels to use it).

A customer journey map is a timeline of value-exchange opportunities. The reason to map your customers’ journeys is to break down your service into bite-sized stages. Then you can look at how to enable improvements at each stage (your to-do list), and change each customer’s emotional response towards being happier. As you increase the chances of your customer wanting to progress from stage to stage, you ultimately improve their overall experience.

Exercises & Tools:

  • With your team, map out the stages of your entire experience: think about a person who has never heard about your business (someone who’s ‘cold’) from initial contact (discovery), to point of purchase, after purchase care, through the service you provide, customer care, and beyond. What does your customer want/need/desire at each stage? Is it a positive or negative experience? How can your service enable an exceptional, frictionless service (make them ‘hot prospects’)?

Output: An even deeper understanding of your customers and a to-do list (enablers backlog) of service improvements.

Next steps..?

Ask the next person you see about your product/service for some feedback and build from there. The above might sound like a lot but if you break it down it’s not. Keep the customer at the heart of your business and taking those steps will give you time back to spend on the growth of your company. If you discover you need to grow in a different direction exercises 1. and 2. can be used to sense check desirability (combined with experimenting, using a Minimum Viable Product method) before investing in making any, perhaps vital, changes.

Adding structure to your day to carve out even more time… To undertake your to-do list from all the work above, structuring your day will help.

Fluxx uses the Agile structure in our projects — because it works. It gives structure, allows for surprises and builds team communication. Lack of communication is the cause of a lot of problems in most businesses. Agile isn’t complicated, and you can read about the Agile manifesto here.

There are subtleties within Agile that, with an understanding of the basics, help. Any Agile aficionado will tell you, that understanding them in greater detail will serve you well. For the purposes of this article, we consider one important aspect of Agile, the meeting structure. It’s something which can be applied to a business with ease — after all a business is just a big project!

The structure is cyclical: one cycle is made up of a sprint, a sprint planning meeting, daily stand-ups, and a retrospective meeting — each is equally important and shouldn’t be overlooked. The bonus here is that these are the only doing meetings you need.

The diagram below shows how these cycles fit together, and also how this tool helps bring together the steps in this article. That’s because each cycle is fuelled from the doing backlog — the to-do list you created — but also a thinking backlog which would come from your strategic mission and vision plus the roadmap you’ve created to get there. If you don’t have those, they will be needed to be done first.

  • A sprint is a set period of time work will happen in. It can vary according to your needs but they tend to be a week or two weeks (however for a small business a month might work well). Test and learn what is best for you.
  • A sprint planning meeting happens once a sprint, at the end of one/start of the next. They last around thirty minutes and ‘do exactly what they say on the tin’. From the backlog(s), you plan what you’re going to commit to doing in the next sprint.
  • A daily stand-up is a work-day meeting that happens each day. They help productivity and communication because people verbally commit to stuff and the team knows who’s doing what. They are quick, around fifteen minutes. The team literally stand-up around their to-do list (see KanBan board — Trello is a digital KanBan board. Although I’d recommend a physical one, mirrored, if necessary, by Trello). In Daily stand-ups each person, in turn, answers these three questions:
    1. Yesterday I did…
    2. Today I’m doing…
    3. I have these blockers (things that are preventing me from doing what I need to do)…

How might this play out?

Over sprint cycles, as a team, you move your to-do-list /enablers backlog from to do, through doing, to done.

Note: In a daily stand up meeting don’t go into detail around points, have a brief clarifying chat, if more is required have the conversation afterwards. They are short for a reason (no-one likes meetings).

  • A retrospective meeting happens directly before the Sprint planning meeting. Again about thirty minutes. Its job is to look back at how the last sprint went and to make things better. Its purpose is to encourage team communication and discuss what they think they should Drop (stop doing), Add, Keep doing, and Improve on, or DAKI for short.

Exercise & Tools:

Write your DAKI’s, in secret, on Post-Its (use one for each (and the same colour helps)). Once a team has exhausted their ideas group the Post Its, then openly discuss each one. The goal is for the amount of DAKI’s to reduce over time. Try it for four sprints, test and learn (that’s the point).

The last thing to add is a structure to know who’s doing what (to avoid duplication). A RACI matrix (the last acronym, promise) is a list showing what needs to be done operationally to keep your business afloat and who is Responsible (going to do it), Accountable (head’s on the line for it), Consulted (about it), Informed (about the outcome i.e. they don’t need to consult on it they just need to know the outcome).

Exercise & Tools:

Make the list of day-to-day operational tasks with your team vertically, list the team horizontally and put an R, A, C, I against each action. Discuss the overlaps (there will be some) and push for clarity — generally a single letter under each name for a given task (although a person can be R and A). Note: not everyone needs a letter, just means they aren’t involved in that task.

Next step..?

Talk to your team and suggest using this structure for four sprints. The trick is to do it enough until a habit is formed — ease and repetition are key to that. Share the responsibility of who drives the flow of the meetings each sprint. Remember it’s a structure to aid communication — to know who’s doing what- not the time to do the things. Keep the meetings as brief as possible — a habit will form and things will improve.