3 Things I have learnt from mentoring entrepreneurial students

Over the years I have mentored numerous students who have the dream of running their own businesses or becoming entrepreneurs in their own right. It would come as no surprise that there are things to be learnt from both sides of the table. As I have helped with marketing, technology and general business advice – I too have picked up on a few things from the students I have mentored and wanted to share with you here 3 things I think to be of interest I have learnt.

Variety of drive

What one person desires and is willing to put into achieving their goals isn’t nearly as much as the next might be willing to do. This can cause some controversy over the word entrepreneur which is being thrown around to anyone who has a web site and an idea to play on, but the real fact is where one person maybe entrepreneurial in the sense of willing to give it all up for greatness – there is (rightly so) those who are only willing to go so deep in the rabbit whole and who still may be entrepreneurial.

A variety of both how far one person is willing to commit vs others – neither is bad – but in a world where people boast of their 20hr days and 4hrs of sleep a night – it is hard not to follow the convention. Those putting in a solid 10hr day may just well outwork their tired caffeine infused counterparts.

Understanding your passion, your drive, your ‘why’ – is crucial. Are you happy to be putting in 8-10hrs a day? Can you commit 14hrs+ a day? What are you willing to put in? There is no right or wrong answer.

Its the latest craze

For a lot of students I speak to often ‘entrepreneur’ has become that ‘cool’ job title or term to use. What was once a label for ‘unemployed’ or ‘still trying to figure it out’ has become a buzz word for many. Since Zucks put on a hoodie and made a few billion and the likes of Dragons Den put ‘entrepreneurship’ in the spot light it has become the one word bio for many.

Not everyone with a web site is an entrepreneur in the same way that not everyone that buys the Ralph Lauren shirt is a model. Its a term that many people are applying to themselves and others incorrectly and is detracting from what the real purpose is.

Far too often I’ve asked the question ‘what do you want to do in business’ and the answer comes in the shape of ‘an entrepreneur’… there is something inherently wrong with that answer in my opinion.

That age/race/background still matters

Its a sad thing to say particularly as we have so many young talented entrepreneurs doing so well, that people will still undoubtably ‘judge’ someone based on their looks, race, ethnicity and even age.

The human race has a tendency to judge people far too quickly – we are all guilty of this to some degree. Having mentored a number of students of different ages, backgrounds and seen first hand how they are dismissed or not taken seriously because of these facts.

I recall being 21 years old and meeting a potential client at an event who would later become not only an influential figure in my development over the years but a great client to work with for several years. Being young, smart and good at explaining who I was and what benefit I could bring to their business, I thought I had it in the bag – only to be largely ignored because of my age. Once my name kept floating around this person decided to bring me in to consult on some projects and after a very short time I was told the reason for the quick dismissal in our initial meeting.

“When I look at 21 yr olds – they have all the talk and none of the action – you proved me wrong” the client said. The fact that we can look at someone and immediately make a snap decision we don’t want to work with that person because of age or cultural background is astonishing.

This particular client grew to be someone I considered a mentor myself and a great businessman – perseverance keeps you going. If you are 18 to 25 (or even older) and regularly get knock backs, or if you are finding it difficult to get those meetings or be taken seriously – KEEP PUSHING.

Patience is GREATLY underrated. You need to be patient.

Some of these student / graduate entrepreneurs are REALLY dominating – lend them your support!

Culture matters – but so does IQ

It is easy to understand that agency life and the technology world has been largely influenced by those great American firms such as Google, Twitter, Facebook and many other Silicon Valley giants.

So it is not uncommon to walk into startups or agencies that have the fridge stacked with fizzy drinks, the football or pool table, the best of tech, huge multi monitor setups, bean bags and all the other crazy antics that go along with such a young, vibrant and energetic environment such  as the agency I ran for the last ten years had.

The problem is building a fantastic culture will only ever take you so far – you still need to hire the best people possible for the team. Recruitment has forever been one of the most difficult aspects of growing a business.

At my previous company iBox which I ran for 10 years we hired some of the best and brightest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and couldn’t have been more proud of each team member and their empathy, intelligence and drive. 

This is not something that is straight forward to find – along side building a team that creates and maintains a culture you want to exist in your company, the fact that each member of the team has to be at the top of their game every day can only exist in an environment where they work well together and operate under a single vision. 

You can teach culture, it can be instilled into your new recruits by your existing team – scale the vision. But a good team member needs to have IQ (and EQ) enough so that they can make those sales calls you need, build that beautiful web page or put together the incredibly detailed marketing plan but also integrate within the organisation beyond their basic job description.

A team member that goes above and beyond those ten bullet points set out in their job description is someone that doesn’t need telling on a daily basis how much value they bring to their organisation but realises that they are making a difference every day. A problem solver vs a problem stater makes an enormous difference to an organisation. 

iBox had an incredible collective of highly intelligent people and I’m happy to see each one in a role they can continue to develop in going forward. 

Becoming a UN Peacekeeper – Alex Webber

I met Alex some weeks ago at the University of Derby and Flint Bishop hosted event – “Network of Entrepreneurs (NoE)”, something I have been involved with since the first event in November 2014.  

During the event Alex gave a very heartfelt speech about why his goal was to become a UN peacekeeper and how he intends on going about achieving it. Having spent a lot of time meeting with Alex, and numerous emails discussing this, it is very clear that there is very little standing in the way of Alex and his goal.

Alex, who turns 25 this month, aims to become a UN Peacekeeper knowing that this is no quick process – in fact, it could take him some time. Currently, Alex works as a mentor with the University of Derby and recently sought support from Flint Bishop’s new initiative “Inspire and Ignite” (http://www.flintbishop.co.uk/solicitors-and-lawyers-derby/inspire-ignite/).

If you ask Alex why it all started – he doesn’t really know, but he can explain why….

“This all started around three years ago when I made the very sudden shift in career change. I was at the time still working on a Princes Trust backed business that was in a ‘prototype’ mode after the second year, which I was looking at leaving as a side project after so long trying to get it going.

I didn’t have a ‘Eureka’ moment unfortunately, that one moment when it all became clear.

It was over the several years that I have been watching the scenes we see in the Middle East and now also Europe ,of international politics and terrorism movements clashing more so than ever. I took an interest in the news headlines from day one and after seeing this day in, day out I began to wonder if I could be involved in any way.

At first I considered simply working with a charity and doing something on a smaller scale, but very quickly it dawned on me that it wasn’t just a passing interest. After seeing a report into Peacekeepers, particularly their civilian numbers, I became fascinated and knew I wanted/needed to be involved.”

Alex is  currently fundraising for an internship in the USA and will ultimately need financial aid to reach his goal.

Alex comments on his fundraising goals:

“Fundraising wasn’t something I ever intended to do in regard to my career ambitions. Having seen the opportunity before me, I simply can’t ignore the chance to find myself at the heart of a Humanitarian operation and unfortunately I simply cannot manage that on my own. The skills, knowledge and networking involved is invaluable to someone in my position. The internship itself, a position within the UN Peacekeepers base in New York, will allow me to survey the other side of working in Humanitarian roles and gain a greater understanding of the paper side of such an operation.

It’s something that not all Peacekeepers, in fact very few, are be able to see first-hand. In doing so, I am able to create connections with a large number of crucial contacts in my field, as well as plan towards moving up within the Peacekeeping and UN system itself. My ambitions don’t stop at working as, or alongside, the Peacekeepers. I fully intend to progress through either the UN system, or another in my work in Humanitarianism. I’m already reading heavily on the use of drone or UAV technology in the NPO sector and the developments within the industry, that we’ll see over the next ten years. The scope for potential involvement that I’ll have with the help of this one internship, and what will come from it with the associated skills, will be massive.

This internship will be the first step on my way into, a hopefully very long and involved career and is the single best step to allow me to pursue it. I fully intend to be working in the field within the next five years within Africa, the Middle East and Asia, helping me in my efforts isn’t a ploy to save me money, it’s verifiable support in helping me to obtain skills, information and abilities that will eventually help to manage to refugee and overall humanitarian supply lines of the future. I’m grateful for any and all support. I sincerely thank you if you’re able and willing to do so, I hope to be able to repay the efforts of others one day myself.”

If you would like to get in touch with Alex you can find him on Linkedin here (https://uk.linkedin.com/in/alex-webber-6bb0ab40) or via email awebber68@yahoo.com

But most importantly the Justgiving page: https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/alexander-webber

Every little donation would help Alex achieve his dream of becoming a UN Peacekeeper. 

A decade of agency life and its been fun.

April 2016 signifies eight years since iBox became a limited company – with another two years prior to that running as a sole trader. A decade of entrepreneurship has taught me many lessons and with every passing day to become a better leader, not to mention to meeting some of the most fantastic people in the UK.

It is with this in mind that as much as it will shock most people, the computer security consultancy business I founded a decade ago that grew into an ecommerce web design giant has come to an end. 

We have been growing strength to strength and had a fantastic team of expert designers, developers and marketers that made us really shine as a beacon of hard work and what a small Derby business could achieve without the need for external funding, growing off its own successes and ultimately becoming a place many young people in the city want to work for. 

Unfortunately it seems all good stories must come to a bitter end as we suffered from a client dispute which would end up costing us a considerable amount of money, more so than we would be able to recover from at our fast paced growth trajectory. 

The final blow came when as a result of this tight spot we had fallen behind on keeping up with other aspects of the business leading to an eventual shortage of cashflow. 

Having always had a very good success rate of winning over 75% of our sales pipeline I was convinced we could come back from this situation and move forward however it just wasn’t meant to be as cash is king and problems started to occur in the last 6-8 weeks. 

Having taken a very serious look at the business, my team and having discussed this scenario with trusted friends and family I have taken the decision to make the team at iBox redundant and wind the business up. 

I am deeply saddened that I am going to be leaving some people in a tight spot both friends and colleagues. My intentions are to do right by people the best I can.

For the clients and contacts I haven’t yet had a chance to speak with directly about this – please contact me via my usual work email or Linkedin to discuss anything current. 

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone that has helped the business over the last decade – every person from start to finish has contributed towards its successes over the years. 


It’s 2016 & your business is marketing like its 2010

It doesn’t matter if you are B2B or B2C – the year is 2016 not 2010!

Putting up a simple blog post, a call to action or maybe even adding in a nice infographic was considered ‘digital marketing’ gold once upon a time. In the fast paced world of today however this simply isn’t enough to engage your audience effectively enough and remain competitive. Back in the year 2010 a cool infographic with some buzz words were the most effective ways to generate traffic and high quality leads through to your website. These days it takes so much more creativity and imagination to engage with your target market. 

Digital marketing, whether it’s social media marketing, content marketing or video marketing, is all about getting your businesses message in front of the people that matter, when it matters. In 2016 your audience are spending less time in their email inbox than they were in 2010 and more time scrolling through Facebook, Instagram and other social networks. 

Although the creative elements of email and landing pages are still vital to business, being aware of the other aspects of digital marketing is so important. It is key to realise that your potential customers are going to be more receptive to your message on social media channels than they are in their email inbox is ultimately what matters.  

The old saying was that it takes 6 or 7 touches to have a happy paying customer – today those touches are more subtle. A piece of storytelling content about your brand on Facebook, a customer testimonial on the bottom of your email signature, that Linkedin post that demonstrates an in-depth expert knowledge of your industry- it all forms part of the necessary steps needed today to stay ahead of the competition. 

It doesn’t matter whether you are B2B like an accountancy practice or B2C retailer selling shoes, storytelling and brand building is key to growing a sustainable business and marketing effectively. Those 1000 leaflet drops no longer have the necessary impact they once did, nowadays a proactive accountancy firm today will tell their story through social media day after day, week after week. These new marketing techniques have proved effective in building brands to the point that when a business owner is looking for a firm to use then who better than the fantastic proactive firm who have consistently been front of mind day in day out. Social media marketing enables businesses to showcase their client success stories online over and provide content and context to the community rather than leaving them just waiting on the next eshot or leaflet drop.

Bespoke software is crucial for small businesses today

What’s holding your business back in 2015? Are you tracking your sales leads efficiently? Are you remembering when to contact that client who said six months ago to remind them in a few weeks time to get back in touch? Do you know at the touch of a button how much revenue you have derived from a particular client whilst flipping through email?

In business there is no shortage of necessary evils we all have to take care of no matter our position in the company. Be it a sales rep or small business owner who needs to keep track of new leads, potential clients, deals that are in development or just who said what about a particular project that is being discussed — this problem is typically solved by CRM systems. However, the problem here begins when your business doesn’t fit into one of the cookie cut CRM systems out there on the market and you require something a little more suited to your exact business.

Perhaps your company maintains mission critical data on your clients finances, stock management or resources — the Excel spreadsheets don’t cut it anymore in today’s digital work. With all aspects of software moving to the cloud — the ways in which your business can benefit from such a change is endless there are a number of cloud providers that offer productivity suites from the likes of Salesforce for CRM or Microsoft 365 that allows your to get not only email but also project management and CRM aspects in the cloud. But what about your business, that may not fit into the ‘general’ CRM mould or perhaps you need some integration with your accounting package — this is where bespoke software comes in and really can help improve the productivity of your staff and business as a whole.

With the economy bouncing back from recent years, companies are beginning to fight back with growth and looking to increase sales and profitability. The systems your organisation uses every day really does power how effectively your team works together — understanding how your staff is performing with resource management, inventory tracking or customer relationship management systems that is all available from your iPhone/iPad anywhere in the world aids companies to achieve massive growth, and this is where a good software development agency can help sit down with your organisation, identify the pain points, areas of improvement and explain the benefits a system could improve your business efficiency.

Functional bespoke software doesn’t need to go down the route of typical IT projects the likes of the NHS has seen which cost millions and over run by five years that said the benefits of such software could end up saving your business thousands, even millions and weeks or months of lost productivity. A recent bespoke CRM client we worked with commented that last quarter their CRM system helped them keep on top of deals they weren’t giving enough attention to, keep in contact with customers and maintain proactive relationships that generated further business with customers that otherwise may have slipped through the cracks.

A safety first approach

Even a 3-person company can’t rule out the need for cyber security reviews in their businesses.

The government recently allocating some £860M to its cyber security efforts particularly focusing on the recently launched CERT-UK (http://cert.gov.uk) which aims to provide advisory notices of cyber security issues related to national security. CERT-UK with Chris Gibson former cyber security chief of global banking corporation Citigroup at the helm launched in the last couple of months certainly seems like the first milestone towards achieving a more proactive approach to cyber security in the UK.

Because it’s not just governments and large public companies that need worry about computer security, with the average cost of a cyber security attack ranging from £400,000 — £800,000 every business small and large needs to be aware of the implications of cyber threats.

Smaller companies with smaller budgets still need to face the facts that these things occur and in order to remain competitive in the market place and resilient to current climate — IT security is something they need to keep in mind. With everything moving to the cloud its crucial there are policies and procedures in place to monitor goings on across their network.

From system downtime, lowering staff productivity and of course legal and financial problems that may occur due to a cyber attack there are many facets to take into account. These problems stem from poorly configured network appliances, out of date software, weak passwords, staff training and much more.

To give an example of possible threats you may not have thought of as being important enough to consider. What about Dropbox or similar ‘cloud’ data sharing accounts — it’s not just what you put into it that you need to be careful of but what others can put into it also.

It’s not unheard of during security audits we perform to see not only small business owners, but mid level execs, CEOs and more placing crucial company information into sync services. This poses a threat in more ways than one as you may share certain folders or files with others & this happens to allow others to not only ‘read’ what you share but also ‘write’ to your shared folders meaning a virus or similar malicious program could end up in your system without you ever clicking a thing. Once onto your system there’s no end to where this may stop.

So whats the solution — stop using these services altogether? No of course not — but to be vigilant about which you use, how you use it and who you give access to even if its only a single folder shared.

That’s just one of the many things we see happening on routine audits.

You may not lose 40 million credit cards like shopping giant Target did in 2013, be at risk of losing trade secrets or having your corporate data leaked across the Internet. But what would happen if your business systems halted for a day, a week, a month? Published author losing a manuscript, finance directors having their entire systems wiped out for ‘fun’ by a computer hacker. Companies are rarely ‘targeted’ any more with much of the ‘hacking’ being done for amusement by a variety of age groups across the globe.

What you need to take away from this is the knowledge that policies and procedures need to be put in place for any sized business, small, medium or large.

Local economy, Richard Branson, web design and Coca Cola

Local economy, Richard Branson, web design and Coca Cola

It’s not unusual to be working on exciting projects but when one of your projects is put in line for the likes of Richard Branson to review, it gets the staff motivation pumping that much higher.

Whether it’s building mobile apps which I discussed last month, or fuelling our development team with Coca Cola and Red Bull to get the very best out of their creative abilities and the long hours they put in to produce incredible results — as a local Derby-based business we are always looking to the future and how our web team producing mobile responsive ecommerce sites, tie in with the marketing team and can continue to push local businesses forward and help the local economy.

This year we added a digital marketing team within our business with social media and online advertising operating as a perfect combination to our ecommerce clients. We are actively looking to grow each team within the company.

It’s no surprise that as a fast growing digital agency here at iBox we get to work on some incredible projects for some fantastic clients across the country who have one goal in common — to improve their online businesses in this digital era. That said our biggest pain point is finding the talented individuals to join our team as there is a severe lack of web designers, developers and high quality digital marketers in the local talent pool.

As a result we focus heavily on internal training and looking at recruiting with a more open mind than most when it comes to educational background. So that we can continue to grow our team as we expand our strong web and software development teams we need to in this era look towards not just who has a piece of paper stamped with a degree qualification but who is making waves and developing ideas of their own, who is putting together their own online projects and have a drive for success.

Saturday mornings I run Code Club in Derby which teaches a class of 9–11 year-old children to code and how to build games. This is merely the start of what I believe as a employer and local business we can give back to the community.

With ambitious growth plans to expand the team over the next 12 months coupled with a great order book of new contracts we are looking to next tackle some of the problems in our industry closer to home with a number of projects which will be announced over the coming weeks.

Mobile app development: I looked — you’re doing it wrong

It seems forever ago since we got that first iPhone in our hands, but in reality it was June 2007, eight years ago…

The first iPhone came out without the app store — it was web apps only, something which raised a lot of concern for the developers of the world.

A year later in 2008 the second generation iPhone was released complete with the app store — available to everyone and developers were happy. The only problem is most iPhone developers pretty much stopped there. With the exception of run away hits from the likes of King and the Candy Crush Saga games — there haven’t been that many real apps of significance from developers particularly in the business world.

I won’t lie, we build iPhone and iPad apps for clients, have we revolutionised any businesses — that’s probably a stretch but what we have done is provided enormous value to their companies through doing so. The problem stems from the fact that many businesses don’t know what they want, they claim every year its ‘the year of the app’ — this simply isn’t the case. It’s like proclaiming its the year of the car…

We have analysed a number of apps produced by companies in the East Midlands, found some to be suffering the same issues Moonpig went through — leaking millions of credit card numbers, some are websites sat in an app frame and the list goes on. What needs to happen is developers need to work closer to businesses and realise its not about using a dummy app they have built before and simply repurposing it for the next client in just a few short hours. It’s about adding value to the clients business, adding revenue streams or simplifying processes to lead to more productive environments — not overcomplicating systems or creating apps that deliver no more value than a website would.

You don’t need an app — when a website will suffice — an app may run into the thousands of pounds to create and thats just for one platform, maybe you have users on Android or Windows (who knows) and these are all separate apps, you shouldn’t be trying to squeeze the same app into different phones or tablets expecting it to run and be something your customers or users would enjoy.

The year of the app came and went in 2008, the marketing is wrong and the thought process is wrong. We actively promote the fact that app development is a long term process, its not going to be done in a few months nor should it be thought of as a replacement for a website. The real facts are your business may very well need an app but probably not for the reasons you can think of — perhaps its your staff that need it and not your customers.

Perhaps that development shop that told you an app to display your restaurants menu is a great idea simply want to increase billables and don’t care about your business.

Take it from me, the year of the app is irrelevant — your business is what’s important, regardless which device, screen size or type of customer you deal with.

Another city employer joins academy project

ANOTHER employer academy has been added to Derby College’s portfolio of links between itself and businesses, which are intended to benefit students’ job prospects.

The latest company to form a partnership is web and software development company iBox Security, which is based in the city’s Cathedral Quarter.

The firm has an apprenticeship programme, offers internships to university and college students and works with Derby City Council to support IT and coding teaching through schools and libraries.

The iBox Web and Programme Development Academy is the next step in the company’s commitment to skills development, according to managing director Sean Price.

He said: “Our industry faces similar challenges to those in construction and engineering. Although young people have the interest in and passion for technology, they often do not come out of college or university with the up-to-date skills that are relevant and viable in a business environment.

“Web and software development are fast-moving and are led by industry rather than the education sector. We relish the opportunity to work with the college to ensure students have the skills and attitudes we need as employers.

“We will be offering master classes for IT students, work placements for academy members and everyone will be guaranteed an interview for jobs and apprenticeships at the end of the course. We envisage taking on one or two young people as part of our expansion plans.”

Other employer academies are: Atlas Building and Groundworks Academy; Cricket Derbyshire Hospitality Academy; Cricket Derbyshire Sports Academy; Derby Telegraph Media Sales Academy; EPM Technology Advanced Composites Academy; Huub Marketing and Product Development Academy; and The Finesse Collection Professional Cookery Academy.

Interviews with employers are being held and the first students will join the academies this month. This will be followed by recruitment in October for September 2016.

For details about the academy programme, call 0800 0280289 or visit www.derby-college.ac.uk.