5 MBA insights for startups and entrepreneurs

Last night I was privileged to be the guest speaker at a UNSW AGSM Business School Executive MBA dinner of those graduating 2017. (I graduated in 2013.)

The conversation was how having an MBA can make a difference and to talk through my personal learnings and journey. After working internationally for the previous five years, my MBA helped connect me to a local network of key decision makers, it provided the assignment discipline for me to focus my strategy and assessments on Digivizer, and gave me access to first- rate lecturers and a peer brains trust I wouldn’t otherwise have had.

In my final year, I wrote my strategy and plan for Digivizer in which I was able to secure $2 million in funding. It was definitely tough working full-time in my startup, studying for my MBA and raising my family, but it gave me amazing resilience and the conviction to pursue the opportunity I see for Digivizer (now seven years in and 50+ employees).

For those wondering how to make an MBA and a start up work, here are my top-five MBA insights for startups and entrepreneurs.

1. Do, don’t just think

Business success is about actually doing, and this is especially-true for startups. There are plenty of consultants, advisers and commentators in the Australian startup ecosystem. The ones to listen to are those who have successfully launched and grown a company, those who have delivered value to customers, and earned revenue and profits.

Many startups suffer for the lack of a plan, and they can be light on strategy. MBAs are good at helping develop both.

It is important to develop a meaningful plan with key measures of success. Then you need to translate your plan into actions and delivery. You need to measure all that you do and refine on the way. I love Eisenhower’s quote on planning and plans: ‘In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.’ This is true in preparing your business for success.

2. Define, then evolve, your strategy

When I co-founded Digivizer in 2010 we developed a clear vision: to provide value at the intersection of social media, big data and CRM. To help our customers in acquisition, retention and loyalty by knowing more about how to engage their customers. Back then this was new thinking as most focus back then in social was on volume measures of mentions and very little in connecting social to your customer base. Much of our time was spent explaining to marketing managers where the value was to be found in social media let alone linking it to actual customer acquisition and management programs.

Today that vision remains the same but we have had to evolve our strategy. We now talk to boards and C-levels about how to help to better understand the digital footprint of their customers and have this central in their customer engagement strategies and how to measure their digital investment.

Business of all sizes and at every stage in their growth now need to know exactly how their digital and social marketing budget is working, and to be able to take action on real time insights. We deliver those data and insights and have 7 years now of proof points.

We are also now working on going direct to the SMB business owner. A more simple message but largely the same vision (helping them grow their business by helping them know more about how best to engage their customers and know what is working and what isn’t).

Entrepreneurs are good at having instinctive visions, MBAs are good at building out business concepts against changing market conditions. The learnings in a MBA help form points of differentiation and bring frameworks that help you navigate the different stages of organisational growth.

3. Be flexible, ship value early

Back to doing: the value in any company is in what it ships and how that makes a difference to its customers. At Digivizer we started delivering value as soon as we could, and have built our company and technology primarily on the back of bootstrapping through our own revenue and cash flow. We received funding at a point that we wanted to accelerate building out our enterprise technology platform which allowed us to engage and serve some of the biggest technology, telco, financial, FMCG and retail clients. We are at the stage where we will be taking our technology and our learnings into the broader global SMB market in a SaaS model.

Part of shipping early is flexibility: you can’t wait for the perfect plan or the perfect product. You need to ship and learn from customer feedback. Today’s customers and users are very generous when taken on the journey with you, acting as beta testers when you’re developing a product (especially software).

MBAs can be guiding hands on these Agile environments, balancing product usage with product revenues. This helps remind the startup of the direction they should be heading in, and the ways to measure progress along that journey. Nothing validates a product more than a paying customer!

4. Develop your people and leadership teams

People are everything inside the organization. Startups have to compete against larger companies with larger budgets and established brands.

Yet startups also attract talent, often the best in the market. They offer opportunities to make a real difference from the first day at the company, and to do things never attempted or delivered before. And do so in new and more flexible ways.

To keep these people, you need to develop a team culture and develop them as individuals.

This means understanding everyone as unique individuals, having a clearly-articulated vision for the company, having well-defined opportunities to contribute, to share success, and to reward when the big prize is won (and with smaller prizes along the way). The biggest value you can offer is “the MBA every day”. Involving them in strategy, planning, pricing – all key decisions. Ensuring that everything we do is measured by impact on results, not ego or past experience.  It keeps the organisation flat, fluid and provides plenty of ideas and leadership opportunities. It certainly provides learnings.

MBAs can bring insights into structures, systems and programs that can help a start up grow through different stages. For example, at Digivizer we have introduced project management by objectives, and key results (OKRs, as espoused by Christina Wodtke). Anyone at any level can own a x-platform objective to deliver. We can connect all we do to the direction we’re heading towards (and why), and we can support our teams on the way.

5. The customer is everything

A great idea is just that without a customer. And, it must be said, an MBA is just a business degree without a customer. All businesses from start up to established are successful when they put the customer first. MBAs are most successful when they bring their knowledge to bear on the needs of the customer, working through the products and services of the companies they work for.

I’ve benefited personally from having an MBA, and Digivizer has as a company as well. Having an MBA means I can switch between structured thinking and creative development, between the growth mindset and the longer-term business mindset.

The result is that we have accelerated, evolved, and grown. We continuously check we are ready and relevant for our future.

Robert Kennedy said: “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” If there is a difference in having an MBA in the startup world, perhaps this is it: having the business rigour and training to sit alongside your passion, vision and experience, to instil the confidence to take risks, to be prepared to try new things, to be prepared to fail, and to inspire in leadership so you can achieve great things.

This article is also published on LinkedIn.

Taking your business through growth

I was recently invited to speak at a tech entrepreneurs’ lunch.

In the audience were entrepreneurs just starting out sitting alongside those a number of years in who had successfully navigated the stages of early growth to something more sustainable. We were also lucky enough to hear research presented by Cameron Research Group on key growth inflection points for SMBs.

There were a number of insights gained through the research and the discussions that followed:

1) Focus and commitment to success

Many had chosen to do their own thing not just because they were driven to harness an opportunity and to create a new future, but also because they liked the control it offered. Entrepreneurs felt they could live the life they wanted, and the more time spent on forging their own way, the less likely they could ever work for anyone else again. The result? Total focus on making their venture successful.

2) Managing growth through key inflection points

The way someone was able to run their business in the early days could only get them so far. That point seemed to be at 20-30 employees, at which point entrepreneurs needed to think about switching from a control model to an empowerment model, from an authoritative leadership style to more democratic style of leadership. This meant hiring differently, bringing in new systems, enhancing leadership capability, and formalizing HR and marketing resources and programs.

The next growth inflection point was at 70 employees, where the audience again recognized that what had been built to get them to that size would need to be revisited again, particularly in terms of systems, leadership and culture. The main concern each entrepreneur had was on how to keep and protect their company’s culture and the way they wanted their business to run when they could no longer be personally involved with, or connected to, every decision.  An emphasis on investing in building a strong culture based on values, trust and empowerment was key to those who were successful.

3) Four main growth pain points

This seemed to be universally agreed upon. To grow their businesses from startup to success, entrepreneurs needed to:

  • focus on cash flow,
  • scale recruitment and performance management
  • scale sales and marketing,
  • control costs.

Everyone agreed that all of these were challenging, especially when gearing up for sustainable and often accelerated growth. This has certainly been our experience at Digivizer and we have put much investment in each of these areas.

What was particularly insightful for me was the number of businesses that had realized they had to switch their marketing models from doing it themselves to recognizing they needed external solutions.

And it was especially interesting to hear that once businesses grew to that 20 employee point, they needed to save time and become better at seeing and understanding what was working for them. In particular, it was time for them to invest in solutions as it was important for them to easily and quickly know the ROI of marketing expenditure. They needed to be able to easily measure what was working for them, and to focus resources there ie do more of what works and fix or stop doing what was not working. Data matters and tools could help over manual options.

This resonated with us, given that at Digivizer our focus is on helping businesses create better experiences for their customers by knowing more about them and what they care about in order to help them generate leads and sales from digital.

All of which makes me even more focused and committed to rolling out our technology and solutions in an affordable way for every business.

This article is also published on LinkedIn.

Brands and CMOs: don’t compete with creators and storytellers. Instead: inspire, invest in, and support them

Marketing has always been about achieving the best results by getting the right message to the right person at the right time using the right channel. That mantra remains as true as ever, but the techniques, long-accepted and built on the now-crumbling foundations of broadcasting messages at anonymous audiences in sufficient numbers that some of these messages eventually stick, are increasingly redundant.

What’s changed is the consumers. They are to be found on their mobile devices, managing their everyday work and personal life commitments, making choice about who to like or engage with, and to turn to, every waking minute. Overwhelming consumers with mass-market branded messages is increasingly ineffective, often prevented by ad-blocking technology, becoming expensive quickly, and still often misses the individual and their context.

The consumers are in control. And the secret to engaging with them lies with the true creators and storytellers.

Last night Digivizer supported Thom Whilton and Lisa Teh, natural storytellers, entrepreneurs and creators with whom we’ve had a long partnership, at the launch of their new book Australian Style: The Who’s Who of Fashion.

The book builds on Thom and Lisa’s on-line content and editing success, and celebrates Australia’s fashion industry innovators, leaders who create Australia’s leading designs, and those who tell their genuine stories to the industry and to consumers.

I joined a panel alongside Daniel Watts, managing director of Thames and Hudson Australia, Janice Breen Burns, former fashion editor of The Age, Lisa Teh, and blogger and influencer Lana Wilkinson as moderator. Despite our different backgrounds and careers, early consensus appeared:  a brand telling its own story no longer holds the same equity and interest for consumers. Consumers want a new and different story to be told by someone they trust, one that is entertaining and informative, and that aligns to their passions and values.

Thom Whilton & Lisa Teh, co-authors of Australian Style: The Who’s Who of Fashion

The evidence is in the data. Digivizer’s analytics show that those brands that work with great creators and storytellers gain greater consumer engagement, loyalty, interest and sales. They outperform those trying to control the branded messaging and solutions.

Brands must understand that to win, they must deliver the best experiences and provide great reasons for individuals to engage with them. One of the best ways to do this is to work with the people consumers already turn to for information and inspiration: the creators, the innovators and the storytellers who have already earned and built engaged communities of like-minded individuals sharing common interests, passions and values.

Consumers are savvy. They know who is being authentic and what is contrived, and they spot undeclared paid-for influence or comment. Even ahead of increasing regulation around declaring paid-for comment, brands should look to earn consumers’ respect for what they really help create, rather than look to trick or mislead. This comes through investment, inspiration and collaboration of these exciting possibilities via this new generation of creators and storytellers.

The process of engaging with individuals starts with great stories, but consumers quickly vote with their thumbs on their mobile devices. As they do, they leave clues about their intentions, connections, needs and preferences, many with the expectation that brands will act on these clues and engage with something of interest and relevance.

The opportunity sits in the precision of being able to act on these real-time actionable insights intersecting with the actual conversations and content engagement taking place on the social web.

The choice for brands seems clear: embrace the new role that supports, commissions and inspires the storytellers and creators to deliver genuine and inspiring collaborations that in turn fuels real Australian and global innovation.

Brands need to invest in, not compete with, the creators and storytellers.

This article is also published on LinkedIn.
Australian Style: The Who’s Who of Fashion was launched Wednesday 8 March in Melbourne, as part of the 2017 Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival IDEAS program. Follow the social conversation at #australianstylebook #vamff. Digivizer was the primary sponsor of the event.

 

Key Speaker for Government’s “Women in Global Business” Conference

Emma is invited to speak and present a case study as to the key ingredients to achieving global success at the July

Women in Global Business Speaker Series.

Here are some of the details being shared to promote the event:

Australian women will have the opportunity to hear from prominent women who have succeeded internationally at the Women in Global Business Speaker Series in July and August.The annual event held in states and territories across the country will feature speakers from a variety of industry sectors, providing businesswomen with practical advice on venturing overseas.

Women in Global Business national program manager, Cynthia Balogh, believe the event is beneficial in helping women overcome international barriers, particularly those in the Middle East.

“The Middle East presents quite specific barriers for women; some of the Asian and South American markets can do the same,” she said.

Balogh told Dynamic Export the event offers business owners the opportunity to learn and network with like-minded people.

“It’s an opportunity to see their role models, who have often had quite tough journeys to expand their businesses into those market places, women often learn from seeing role models. It helps them overcome some confidence issues, whether it’s personal confidence or confidence in business,” Balogh said.

Digivizer CEO, Emma Lo Russo, who will be speaking at the Sydney event can relate to the personal challenges women face when growing their business.

Lo Russo believes the event will provide shared mentorship and allow women to learn from real-life experiences.  “Having real honest examples of what works, is quite empowering. Instead of feeling like you have to navigate the unknown or have a goal and do it alone”.

Details & registration for the event can be found here :

Thursday 26th July 2012

8.30am – 12.30pm

NSW Trade and Investment Centre, Level 47, MLC Centre, 19 Martin Place, Sydney

I’ll post more about my key points to achieving international success here soon.

Commonwealth Bank exploring how the social web can de-risk their decisions

Last week I spoke to 75 of CBA’s Risk, Institutional & Business Banking team to help them see how leveraging the digital footprints of people on the social web could de-risk their organization’s decisions.

I shared how insights from the social web can be used to help make better decisions around relevant targeting and personalization of offers. This is made possible when a customer base is linked to the social web (something DIGIVIZER offers).

The questions and discussions that followed regarding applications were active, positive and encouraging. They continued for a further 2 hours following the presentation and it seems for a few days following.  Feedback was positive and the discussions continue:

“Emma did a great presentation for CBA last week on “How social web can inform and de-risk your organisation decisions’. She certainly raised awareness and promoted significant debate both during and for days after her presentation. Highly informative and all delivered with an engaging and passionate approach.” Trina Edgar, General Manager, Commonwealth Bank

There is lots of discussion about Social CRM and many companies are making good in-roads into leveraging real-time insights within their marketing programs.

You can find out more about how you can use the social web to get closer to your customers and increase sales and profit here.

Commonwealth Bank – Women In Focus 3 day conference 2011

logo-commonwealth-bankEmma is a keynote speaker addressing the Commonwealth Bank’s 2nd Women in Focus conference, held at the prestigious Byron, at Byron Bay 31st August – 3 September, to approximately 100 key banking clients on “How the Social Web is changing the way we do business”.

Emma will be presenting latest research, different value and view points into the social web, some case studies and will lead a workshop session on how to leverage the social web across your entire go-to-market strategy and how to link your activities to specific business outcomes.

If you would like to know more about Emma’s presentation or would like Emma to speak at your next event, contact Emma at emma@emmalorusso.com.

To find out more about DIGIVIZER’s unique capabilties in delivering the social footprint of the people you know (your customers & prospects) and the people you wish you could know (new leads & influencers), visit www.digivizer.com.

To find out more about Commonwealth Bank’s Women in Focus Community, visit www.womeninfocus.com.au.

Growth in a connected world

Emma will be the key-note speaker at next week’s business conference “Growth in a connected world” where she will explore in greater detail the forces of change impacting your business, customer relationships and infrastructure.

Understand, Grow and Lead by embracing these changes.

Read Emma’s related post on Driving your own upturn

DETAILS OF CONFERENCE:

GROWTH IN A CONNECTED WORLD

Date:  Wednesday 23 March 2011

Time:  7.30am for an 8.00am start

Location:  Sydney Masonic Centre, Corner of Goulburn and Castlereagh Streets.

NB: Ample parking available close by.

RSVP:

Register your interest by emailing ned@greengoldit.com.au Or

Register online at www.ontrackaus.com Events Or

Call (02) 9261 5111 / (02) 9248 0162

Who Should Attend:

Business Owners, CEO’s, CFO’s, CIO’s and Senior Managers.

Event hosted by:

Green and Gold People to People & Ontrack Systems (AUS) Pty Ltd.

Supported by SAP and NETFIRA.

SAP Business One, is an affordable integrated business management solution for Small and mid-size businesses, turns your existing business assets into thriving resources.

NETFIRA is a B2B supply chain software solution for small and medium businesses, allowing them to buy and sell online without a need for the website or EDI.

When One Business Just Isn’t Enough: How to run a portfolio Business

Emma was recently interviewed by Suzi Dafnis of Australian Businesswomen’s Network.  Here she introduces Emma to her network as:

“For many of us, running one business is more than enough. My guest today runs two businesses. Emma Lo Russo is an experienced innovator, organisation leader and marketer. She has brought together her experience gained from leadership positions across a broad spectrum of industries to two businesses.

Digivizer, a business that delivers the digital footprint of the people you know (i.e. your clients) and the people you should know. Digivizer looks at who you should connect to through social media and Validity Coaching, a collective of experienced executive coaches.

Emma joins me to talk about the pros and cons of running a portfolio business, that is, a collection of businesses. We look at:

  • Does running two businesses impact the effectiveness of one or more of the business?
  • How can a split focus help you get better business results?
  • What are the challenges of running more than one business, and how do you overcome them?

Enjoy this interview with Emma Lo Russo.”

http://www.abn.org.au/site/article/Video-When-One-Business-Just-Isnt-Enough-How-to-run-a-portfolio-business-Emma-Lo-Russo-interview

International HR Shared Services Conference 2010 Malaysia

Emma will be chairing and doing the introduction/key note speaker address and facilitation of the closing workshop at the International HR Shared Services 2010 conference.

The International HR Shared Services 2010 conference will be a gathering for corporate HR & Shared Services executives from companies around the world, and specially Asia Pacific, to exchange ideas, develop new partnerships and discuss the latest tools, technologies and strategies being employed in the profession to enhance departmental efficiencies and propel corporate growth. The event will focus on the most current topics in the HR shared services industry including metrics, automation, outsourcing, globalization, compensation & rewards, benefits and an overall focus on the new strategic role of HR shared services.

3 – 4 August 2010, Crowne Plaza Hotel – Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia

 To find out more about the conference visit http://www.fleminggulf.com/cross-industry/asia-pacific/international-hr-shared-services-2010