Lured by the lights of the startup industry, ARTHUR ATTWELL found himself as the product in someone else’s show. After closing his startup business, he made a few rules for himself.
Earlier this year, I closed my startup. So now I get to reflect on what I’d have done differently. Hindsight is unfair and inaccurate, but I still enjoy its lessons. This is one, a note to my future self: Don’t call your projects ‘startups’. It’s a semantic trick, but a really important one. Here’s why.
‘Startups’ have become a commodity in an industry of startup conferences, websites, courses and competitions. As founders of young organisations, we struggle to distinguish genuine guidance and support from the distracting pizzazz of the startup industry, where we’re just the product, not the customer. Lured by the lights, we spend valuable hours crafting slide decks, jumping on planes, giving presentations and filling out entry forms, almost always so that someone can sell tickets to the show. I worked it hard, and I didn’t see the return. I want that time back for my business.
Here are five new rules for myself.
1. No more startup events
I’ve been invited to four startup events just this week. Wait — checks email — that’s five. It’s a freakin’ craze. Startup seminars, breakfasts, retreats, showcases. Say no to all of them.
Startup events are supposedly ‘good for networking.’ I made an interesting connection at one or two, I think. For the most part they’ve sucked vast amounts of time I really should have put into working on my organisation.
Your next project may be in publishing, healthcare, engineering or another industry, but it’s probably not in the startup industry. At a startup-industry event, you’re only going to meet startup-industry people. They are not your customers. Only go to events packed full of potential customers in your industry.
Very occasionally, treat yourself to a dinner with a few entrepreneurs you like — it helps fight the loneliness. Otherwise, if you’re not out selling, get back to your office and work. Or go home and spend some down-time with your family.
2. No more startup competitions
Then there are the competitions. Innovation competitions, pitching competitions, business-plan competitions. Sometimes the prize is an investment in your company. (First prize, an investor! Second prize, two investors!)
Honestly, do you want an investor who comes shopping for startups at a cocktail function? Winning an investment is like your bank calling to say you’ve won an overdraft. Lucky you.
It can be worse. I got a call from a major international consulting firm to tell me we’d won a big innovation award. But I can’t tell you about it because I have to pay them a licence fee if I do. Seriously: they wanted 7500 euros just to let us tell people we’d won. Another time, I got interviewed on a startup-support radio show, only to be asked to sign a letter afterwards saying they’d given us R188000 in airtime. (I didn’t sign.)
You can also win ‘business support’, or well-meaning MBA students to ‘help you grow your business’ for their course project. I’ve spent days with teams who are new to my industry using my time to tell me things I already know. I want those days back.
If you’re certain that you have time to enter competitions, only enter the ones where they’re giving out loads of free money and you know you can win. Don’t be the product.
3. Beware the warm glow of startup media
The startup-industry press is so seductive. It’s pretty and says it loves you. Being a startup, especially based in Africa, is great for media coverage, more especially if you win a startup award.
At Paperight we kept a long list of posts and articles about us that came from startup-industry acclaim. We won startup and innovation awards in London, Frankfurt and New York, an Accenture Innovation Award, and public congratulations in South Africa’s national parliament. We were featured in several ‘startups to watch’ articles and were profiled on the websites of CNN, Forbes and others. We were even featured in a book about open-business innovation. We’re fairly certain that the awards made this coverage happen.
But in not one case did we see a corresponding spike in sales (or calls from investors), and for a young business running out of runway, sales are all that really matters. For a while, the acclaim is great for motivating staff, and to help inspire an investor’s confidence, but the effect wanes after a few awards. Don’t chase coverage in the startup industry. Find your own industry’s media outlets (they’re harder to find and less sexy than the startup press) and focus only on them.
4. Don’t tell customers you’re a startup
Every office-bound exec wants to love a startup. Like a pet. But no one wants to buy from a startup. Especially big companies. Big companies want to buy from big, stable businesses. They want to trust that you’ll still be around in a few years. And their people need to feel you’re a familiar name. At Paperight, we needed book publishers to trust us with their most valuable IP. It’s insane to think they’d give it to a ‘startup’. We could have put our whole business in a cupboard for ten years, then dusted it off and they’d be more likely to work with us, because we’d be too old to be called a startup.
5. Get real help
The startup industry appeals to a very real need for emotional, intellectual and financial support. But (except in very rare cases) it is going to distract you more than it delivers. It’s bad for focus. Instead, find experienced confidants from an industry like yours. If nothing else, their emotional support will mean more to you than a hundred hollow prizes.
I’ll be surprised if I stick to my new rules. So remind me, please, because I’ll probably forget: run a business, not a startup. You don’t have the time.
Triggerfish launches free digital learning Academy online
Platform designed for anyone wanting to understand more about career opportunities in animation.
Triggerfish, in partnership with Goethe-Institut and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, has launched Triggerfish Academy, a free digital learning platform for anyone wanting to understand more about the career opportunities and how to get started in the field of animation.
The website features 25 free video tutorials, quizzes and animation exercises introducing animation as a career and the principles of storytelling, storyboarding and animation, as well as several additional resources to help guide aspiring animators into a career in animation.
“The South African animation industry is growing – and so is the demand for skilled animators globally,” said Noemie Njangiru, head of Culture and Development at Goethe-Institut Johannesburg, pointing to the success of recent Triggerfish projects like the Oscar-nominated Revolting Rhymes; Mama K’s Team 4, recently announced by Netflix as their first original animated series from Africa; and this year’s New York Children’s Festival and Shanghai International Film and TV Festival winner Zog.
Njangiru also highlighted the opportunities for animation outside the traditional film industry, within fields like advertising, app and web design, architecture, engineering, gaming, industrial design, medicine, and the motor industry, not to mention growth sectors like augmented reality and virtual reality.
The course was created by Tim Argall, currently the animation director on Triggerfish’s third feature film, Seal Team. He’s roped in many of the South African animation industry’s brightest stars, from Malcolm Wope, character designer on Mama K’s Team 4, and Annike Pienaar, now working at Illumination in Paris on Sing 2, to Daniel Snaddon, co-director of the multi-award-winning BBC adaptations Stick Man and Zog, and Faghrie Coenraad, lead dressing and finaling artist on the Oscar-nominated Revolting Rhymes, as well as Triggerfish head of production Mike Buckland. The featured talent share not just their skills but also their stories, from how they broke the news they wanted to be animators to their parents, to common myths about the animation industry.
“As kids, animation is part of our lives, so we don’t really think about the idea that animation is actually somebody’s job,” said Argall. “When I was a kid, I loved animation and I loved to draw. I remember when I was about 12, I thought: ‘I really want to see my drawings come to life. I want to be an animator.’ But I had no idea where to even begin.”
Triggerfish Academy is his attempt to make it easier for the next generation of African animators: an accessible starter kit for anyone considering a career in animation.
“By the end of working through this course, you’ll have all the background you need to know whether animation is a good choice for your career,” said Njangiru.
Aspiring animators can also use Triggerfish Academyto learn how to write and animate their own short story, then post their animation on the Academy’s Facebook group for feedback and advice from professional animators.
Triggerfish Academy is set up so that youth can play with it directly, but it’s also been designed to double as an activity plan for teachers, NGOs and after school programmes to use. Schools, organisations and other animation studios who are interested in using it can contact Triggerfish for additional free classroom resources.
Triggerfish Academy is just one of a number of Triggerfish initiatives to train and diversify the next generation of African animators, like sponsoring bursaries to The Animation School; the Mama K’s Team 4 Writers Lab with Netflix; the pan-African Triggerfish Story Lab, supported by The Walt Disney Company and the Department of Trade and Industry; Animate Africa webinars; Draw For Life; and the Triggerfish Foundation schools outreach programme. For more information, visit www.triggerfish.com/academy.
Dell aims to unlock tech for start-ups
The upcoming Dell Technologies Forum in Johannesburg will show that cost and scale are no longer barriers for a mid-size businesses to adopt enterprise-grade tech
Today’s medium-sized companies enjoy reinvigorated access to business technology. The powerful systems that raised the game of enterprises are now also open to smaller, agile, start-up and niche businesses.
“When you look at medium and start-up businesses, those companies have very similar needs to a large company, but not necessarily the internal resources to always pull it off,” said Sabine Dedering, Regional Sales Director at Dell Technologies South Africa. “Dell Technologies worldwide has a lot of focus on the medium business. This includes South Africa, where we established a dedicated medium business team about a year ago.”
Medium-sized businesses – internationally defined as those typically between 100 and 1,000 IT users – do not necessarily have smaller IT footprints than their enterprise peers. Some manage large and complicated accounts or service enormous user-bases among their customers. In the big picture, they deal with the same complex market demands that the large players do, but until recently often had to make do with much less in access to technology due to constrained resources such as limited IT teams and budgets.
This balance shifted dramatically with the advent of cloud, scalable services and hyper-converged infrastructure. Yet despite the doors opening, the traditional gatekeepers – other vendors and their partners – still habitually focus on enterprise players. It undermines the new possibilities technology can offer to medium businesses, a world that often marchesto the beat of its own drums.
“These are not small customers,” said Dedering. “Sometimes they are market leaders in a specific niche. But they don’t have thousands of people. You get your traditional companies that may have a few hundred employees. They provide a certain service on a regional basis or in a niche market and might never grow much beyond that because that’s what they do really well.”
Everyday everyone faces the same thing: Challenges. With support from Dell Technologies, those Medium business and start-up customers can prevent work disruptions, streamline operations, and increase productivity, using scalable, fast technology optimised for the way their business works.
Ambitions to use modern enterprise-grade technologies can be purely functional, such as hunting for efficiencies and streamlining processes. But they can also include the adoption of emerging technologies such as machine learning, mobile workforces, predictive analytics, real-time data, Internet of Things (IoT), automation and active business continuity. These capabilities are available because their services are able to fit the mould of the business, instead of traditional monolithic technology systems that dictate cost and availability.
Accessing tech’s best
But just because the technology is more accessible doesn’t make its adoption seamless. That still requires a business-first view and as such a reliable partner. As mentioned earlier, too many vendor ecosystems obsess over large enterprises. But Dell Technologies has seen the demand from medium businesses and is actively meeting them on their terms.
This can be put to the test: there will be a stand dedicated to medium businesses at the upcoming Dell Technologies Forum in Johannesburg. Visitors will be able to meet Sabine Dedering and her team:
“First and foremost, we will have a chat and understand their business requirements. Then we will connect them with the experts at the Forum and showcase the different technologies available that could be relevant to them. For us, the main focus will be to understand our medium business customers, understand their business and how our expertise can help transform their business. We explore what types of services we can wrap around their requirements to make it easier for them to leverage technology the way other bigger companies may be.”
Finance is part of this conversation: Dell Technologies is pioneering a number of finance models that are very flexible and customised around customers’ cash flow.
Medium-sized businesses don’t need different technologies than what enterprises use. Nor are they excluded anymore: the barriers of costs, complexity and scale have collapsedto open the market, aligning to the limited resources that medium-sized companies have to manage. Every business has its own unique requirements.
* Dedering and her team will be at the Medium Business stand, hosted at the Dell Technologies Forum on 27 June, at the Sandton Convention Centre. Attendance is free but attendees must register beforehand at https://www.delltechnologies.com/en-za/events/forum2019/Johannesburg/index.htm.