Control your digital presence and harness the vitality of web-based communication

A big part of my job is to bridge the gap between our portfolio companies and the markets they serve. I speak with potential customers on a daily basis about a particular novel technology and the possible value it can unlock; I have found that a large part of successful commercialisation and deal making is in the effective presentation and communication of the product, solution, or service. If it is worth putting in days of preparation around the narrative and framing for a particular meeting that could lead to a million-pound deal, does the same principle not apply to the preparation and maintenance of a company’s communication platforms? Communication platforms are a way of ‘pitching’ to potential customers, partners, or investors as the public image of the company before a face-to-face meeting. I have found, judging by feedback from market validation of some of RIG’s portfolio of clients, that many early stage companies do not pay enough attention to their digital communication which is the most easily accessible expression of their value proposition. This ultimately leads to missing out on deals because the potential value of their technology is not conveyed through clear communication.

Early stage companies are often so focused on lead generation and outbound communication that they forget the importance of the website. A company’s website is a simple, yet extremely effective, tool to build the right narrative – about the technology and about the company itself.

Another considerable part of my remit is to research and find early stage companies with novel, innovative technologies in emerging areas with whom we can engage. There are some extremely exciting technologies that promise to solve critical sustainability challenges; however, this is not always effectively communicated via their websites. Far too often I come across a website that is either a labyrinth of pages with text that requires a code-breaker, or a basic website with outdated information and ‘news’ items.

A website is perhaps the most frequented platform and means of sourcing information: it should be a platform that a company uses to communicate who they are; it should be the keystone of its digital identity. Two of the main causes of page visits are online searches and direct stakeholder engagement. Either it is because an online search has led them to your website, or it is because you have approached a stakeholder, who will revisit the website. I am certain that, every time you have effectively engaged with a potential lead, they will have visited your website at some point. Thus, every aspect of it – the colour scheme, graphics, language, even layout – conveys a message about the company and builds an image. Your company image is only as strong as you communicate it on the website; it does not matter if you have the better, faster, stronger technology. If you are unable to convey why your technology’s advancements or innovation will result in added value for your partner or customer, or the end consumer, then it is unlikely that the technology will be adopted in the first place. Ultimately, this image will form the foundation of your brand.

That said, not all early stage companies will have the resources available to design a swanky, slick website – and given the nature of early stage companies, they will doubtless want to change the content as they constantly iterate, fail fast, and pivot. Therefore, when I have led and overseen website redesigns, I have tried to stick to 4 key guidelines: clarity, conciseness, consistency, and currency.

  1. Be clear. Typically, innovation companies have a unique product, solution, or service that is differentiated by IP. If the technology is not easily grasped, it becomes infinitely more difficult to commercialise. Diagrams, animation, or videos are often more effective than written word.
  2. Be concise. Every word on a website is important and should be used for a reason and avoid over-complication. A website should not publish every detail of a company’s history: there should be enough detail to communicate the core values, mission and vision of the company.
  3. Be consistent. Strive for uniformity in colour, words, and style. This not only consolidates the information and conveys professionalism, but it shows an awareness of strategic brand management; once the product/service is adopted and imitated, the effective use of its brand is one of a company’s main sources of differentiation and defensibility.
  4. Be current. Content is critical. In the first place, up-to-date content shows progression by acting as a log of the development of the company. Your company is only as up-to-date as you publish. Secondly, it highlights the achievements and milestones of the company. Target audiences will not be informed of any developments (e.g. your latest product offering, award, successful test etc.) unless you tell them. Emerging technology companies are judged based on the traction they achieve, and that can only be recognised by generating awareness – keep your news ‘new’.

Whether you are trying to generate leads, fundraise, hire, or simply raise awareness, I can guarantee that people will frequent your company’s website. It is the main platform where your company is presented over which you have control, and it is critical in the development path for early stage companies. Present your company as you want – no one else will do this for you.

Information is Free, Knowledge is Expensive, Wisdom is Priceless

A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to hear some of the speakers from the event “Silicon Valley Comes to the UK” in Cambridge. Several of the speakers talked of the amazing possibilities opening up with the availability of large data sets that effectively index information, language, and the world itself. It got me thinking about the nature of information, knowledge, and wisdom, and my thoughts turned, of course, to the old giant Vafþrúðnir (Vaf-thruth-neer).

In the Old Norse poem Vafþrúðnismál (Vaf-thruth-nis-maul)The Sayings of Vafþrúðnir—the god Óðin (O-thin) comes to the giant Vafþrúðnir in disguise. Both are powerful figures in body and mind, but Óðin challenges Vafþrúðnir not to a contest of strength, but to one of wisdom.

The giant agrees, but it is his hall and his rules. They set the terms of the competition: he who loses the battle of wisdom shall forfeit his head. The cultural implications of this wager are great. Strength without wisdom is useless; the strong fool is as good as dead.

The giant does not know, of course, that he battles against Óðin, and is therefore doomed to fail. But Óðin finds a dauntless opponent in the giant as he crafts riddle after riddle, and must win in a rather sneaky way. He asks a question to which only he knows the answer: What did Óðin whisper into the ear of Baldr when he was laid on the funeral pyre? Upon hearing the question, the giant realises that his opponent must be Óðin, for only Óðin would know the answer to this question. Aware of his error, he concedes defeat.

In the Q&A period after the final session of the Silicon Valley Comes to the UK conference, one person asked about what skill-set will be required in the coming years of computer-based living as opposed to the skill-sets cultivated in years past.

The first answer came from Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, who said that memory and memorizing would no longer be necessary, and instead people would only need to know how to navigate data and find the information they need in the moment. Delivered to an audience largely comprised of current Cambridge students, this answer did not seem to sit well with the crowd.

After a brief, half-hearted challenge from Megan Smith at Google, Andrew McLaughlin of Civic Commons championed the opposition to Hoffman, saying that no matter how readily available information and data in the coming years may become, nothing can match the human being’s ability to integrate and synthesize information into something newer and better. Memorizing, he said, would still be important not for mechanical recollection of facts, but for the pathways it opens up in the human mind that facilitate true growth, unmatched by any program or computer.

The response received loud applause from the audience. Without the processes that real learning initialises within an individual, what purpose do the advancements in data storage and processing actually present mankind? Information has always been free. Everything we know as a species we have learned through observation, exploration, and experimentation. The information has always been there; we just needed eyes to see it, like Newton beneath the apple tree. The effort required to unearth and organise that information, however, speaks to the costliness of knowledge. Knowledge is not just about possessing information, but also about possessing methods and means of storing, processing, and using that information. It requires action. Owning an encyclopedia is useless if one never reads it, much like the uncut pages of the books in Gatsby’s library. Information is just potential, useless unless developed into knowledge, and then used with knowledge. 

And then we get to wisdom. Wisdom is yet another step further, a kind of combination of knowledge and experience that transcends the articulable. Knowledge can be traded, bought, sold, and passed on; wisdom must be developed within each and every person individually. Knowledge is also limited to a specific subject area, whereas wisdom applies across the range of human experience. And that is precisely why no matter how advanced data processing and applications become in the years ahead, they ultimately have nothing to do with the internal advancement of each human being that makes life worth living.

Wisdom will always be our rarest and most expensive commodity. In our quest to explore the applications of data, we must be sure we do not neglect the importance of wisdom and lose our heads like the giant Vafþrúðnir.

How to give your startup more power when selling to corporates

A friend of mine used to run a technology project at Tesco, working alongside a growth-stage technology company. Whenever he phoned that technology company, he represented Tesco with the full weight of its brand and its revenue potential: his calls would be answered at all hours of the day. On the other hand, even the CEO of the technology company was seen as only one element of a much wider project, from which my friend would shortly move on to the next one.

There seems to be a clear imbalance of power here. I think that this can sometimes arise from the very understandable eagerness as a growth-stage company to prove yourself and your product or service to the best and the biggest in your sector.

But growth-stage companies should remember that they have power too. And this should be reflected in your approach to potential customers.

Compare these two approaches:

  1. We have a really great product; we have experience in your sector and a proven ROI; we can save you £1m within the first year. Based on your characteristics x, y, and z we think you might be a good fit for us. We'd love to open a dialogue with you to see whether we might be able to help you
  2. We have taken funding from VC investors in order to demonstrate in the next 12 months that one of the major players in this sector can save £1m within the first year through using our product. We're going through a process of identifying which the best company would be to partner with to generate this proof. We feel based on your characteristics x, y, and z that you might be interested in exploring this with us.

The second approach creates a sense of scarcity: the startup is choosing the customer not the other way around. There is an opportunity here to save £1m, the entrepreneur is saying, but it's not open to everybody. The offer won't be around for long because our investors need to see a return. It's then up to the potential customer to convince the entrepreneur that they are the right people to capitalise on this opportunity.

Give yourself more power when selling to corporates by remembering that your resources are limited and so you have to be just as careful to select with whom you work as your customers are.