Change is the only constant

The last few weeks passed by in a blur of activity. Transforming a business is not easy, and one must grab  the opportunities that present themselves. However, times of change and flux can be volatile, and I do not enjoy finding myself in conflict with people whom I have a close relationship with. The conflict is not over yet, but necessary to bring hidden items to the fore, and help one refocus on what is important. It also shows that not all relationships are positive, or meant to last.

The differences between people in my life, and how they view the world and react, was highlighted after loads of us completed our Gallup StrengthsFinder surveys. This behavioural science tool shifts the focus from developing areas where you are weak, to a process where you focus on your core strengths. The strengths are divided into 34 items, and the basic test will highlight your top 5, being the ones that most influence your behaviour. A more complete test will rank all 34 for an individual, showing you which ones dominate, which ones support and which ones are really low on your radar. Your team dynamic then gets explored when you take the top 5 for each team member, and map it out on a grid. The grid defines the 34 key strengths into 4 broad categories for Strategic Thinking, Executing, Influencing and Relationship strengths. Once you see your team map, you’ll have many “aha” moments, as specific events suddenly gets explained. It also changes your hiring practise, as you now start looking at the person, not just their CV, focussing on hiring people who plug holes in your team grid.

The change this brings in small teams are amazing. I have witnessed this from the sideline where it was applied in a company that I have close ties with, and the acceleration of their business has been immense. They also started recognising these character strengths in their customers, and are able to better match their human resources with their customer strengths and needs.

On a personal level, when Mari and I did these tests, it suddenly explained so much of our behaviour, and also why we experience conflict with each other in certain situations. It has certainly added another deeper dimension to our relationship, one that will stand us in good stead going forward.

For now, I am fighting the battles I have to, driving them to conclusion, making sure that I make the best decisions for my family and my business.

Feel like giving up? Then watch this…

The past few weeks in my life has been hectic. But, while that is the case, I have also been learning new things, connecting with business mentors, completing many tasks, making tough choices and taking steps every day to get my cloud platform up and running. It is easy to start feeling overwhelmed and even easier to feel like quitting, because a project like this is not for the faint hearted.  All the long hours, lack of sleep, hours of intense concentration, overcoming obstacles etc, can really get to you. So, I decided to take the weekend off, not touch my computer and just chill out and catch up with life a bit.

To start my week, I decided to complete a few other tasks, before I get stuck into my work and cloud project. As it happens, I run a Plex Media Server at my home office, and while firing up the app to get some good tunes on, I accidentally stumbled in to my “channels” section, and then saw my TED Talks app. Thought I’d have a quick look to see what was new, and then stumbled across this talk by David Blaine. He’s well know as a magician, illusionist and stuntman. This honest, low-key, talk on him learning how to hold his breath for 17 minutes fascinated me. The talk is not about how awesome he is, all the media attention, his successes or anything like that. He does a short intro, just to set the scene of who he is and what he does, and then he describes his admiration of legendary magicians and escape artists. This admiration pushes him to attempt a stunt, to emulate the great Houdini. What follows is a story of all the ways he explored, all the ways he failed, almost dying and how he finally succeeded, setting a Guinness World record by holding his breath for more than 17 minutes. It is a great talk that shows us how we can fail many times, in many ways (including publicly!) before we finally achieve success.

Quite an inspiring video to watch on a Monday morning. What is true is that, as we learn to overcome obstacles, we train ourselves to be mentally tougher. I can already see this with my two young sons. They are quick to quit, but mom and dad pushes them to try. When they try and succeed, they suddenly realize that it was not so hard as it initially seemed, and they want to tackle an even bigger task. There is a valuable lesson in there for us, we do not get born with perseverance, we learn it my failing, trying and overcoming.

A 5 minute excersize

The time has come for me to admit to a seriously receding hairline. While the loss of my hair is regrettable, the time saved on quick haircuts is useful. I am not quite at the point where I can place a call on hold and get a quick haircut, but I did reduce from a 7 minute task to a 5 minute task. Words like “short” and “style” have lost all haircut meaning for me. I now primarily worry about my hair being “neat”. How things have changed…If you have a lovely head full of hair, get yourself styled properly, because age will take that simple pleasure from you… On the flip side I now have more time on hand to enjoy other things. Such as the new limited edition Jack White – Lazaretto album that arrived as part of my Third Man Records Vault #20 package.

Who needs hair when your record player can spin awesome tunes?

jack-white-lazaretto-vault

Size matters…smaller is better

Time to admit it, I was hugely offended recently during a session with a potential vendor. The account manager working with us may not have disclosed our current company size as part of getting a very senior european manager to see us. During the conversation, we were quizzed as to the size of our business, and you should have seen the boss’ face when my answer was “less than 10 people”. He had that “Oh no, I just stepped in poo” look.

The reality is that I should not have been puzzled by the senior guy’s reaction. It is a sizable deal for a local company, so he may have been surprised by the fact that we are a small entity. And people seem to love the whole “bigger is better” concept, so his expectation may have been just that. Being a small company with big dreams places us in good company. Any of the following names ring familiar? Google, Cisco, Dell, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple…all started by one or two guys in a dorm room or garage. Esteemed company to keep in my opinion.

The reasons for running a small company vary, for us, it was a deliberate choice, just in the way that changing that is also one. Selling time limits your margin and revenue opportunity, as you can only flog a person and sleep deprive them so much for billable hours. Lawyers, accountants etc all know what I mean. The next level up are people who can charge for their time, but special circumstances allow them a greater revenue opportunity. Think surgeons. They charge a consulting fee at a certain rate, but performing specialized surgery allows them to take their billing to the next level. Whn you have a company that sells product, you have a “sales economy of scale” that can allow a single person to hook a big deal, by moving many widgets in one go. But then there is the game we have been in for a long time, software. To say that it scales the people/revenue number is an understatement. Allow me to illustrate. My biggest customer has 8000 network devices under management using a software platform that we supplied. A “less than 10 people” company. The end user in this case supports around 160 000 employees on that network. A 16000:1 ratio for our company. How is that possible? Simple, the same amount of configuration and work to support 100 devices goes into 8000 devices. Making our size, or lack thereof irrelevant.

Now, if a supplier is worried about our size, what about our customers? In reality, they prefer us small 😉 The reason is simple. If they use the services of a large company, they could be 0.2%-2% of their revenue. With us, they could be 5%-10% of ours at any given time, meaning that we pay much more attention to them. Our size also makes us nimble. For example, if we engage a potential customer using the exact same technology, we can arrange a proof-of-concept, scope and execute it much quicker than our competitors. That is why our internal stats show, that if we are up against a traditional big player, we have a 10x larger chance to win the deal, not because we are awesome (well, I think we are!) but because the internal bureaucracy in a large company makes them slower to react to changes in circumstances. Our sales tactic? Let’s change the circumstances and upset the apple cart a bit to stumble the giants…

What about our customer size? Are we dealing with the top 5 largest customers in South Africa? No, we simply do not have the reach to get them. Instead, in the 1000-10000 user range, our customer list reads like the who’s who of well known South African companies. We prefer dealing with them, as they are far more open minded than the big, “enterprise template” players. No tenders or public RFP’s mean that we can uncover and solve problems almost unhindered for them. They decide quick, and pay quick. The value of a buck is something they know, and they seek every advantage possible to enable them to compete and win against their bigger competitors. Their internal IT departments tend to be decently sized and skilled, allowing us to leverage our specialized skills.

All of this adds up to the following. Being smaller is a competitive advantage, one that we have been using to great effect for many years, and hopefully for many more to come.

My role models? The 55 employee company WhatsApp, acquired by Facebook in a 19 Billion Dollar deal…who’s making poo faces now?

Male bonding

Last night an impromptu invite lead to yet another cherished evening. I have a buddy, Quintin, who is a great rugby lover. A few calls to arrange where the Bulls – Stormers game was to be watched, lead to an evening with me, Quintin, my kids and housekeeper doing dinner at my place.

A quick trip resulted in me fetching Quin, and a snack run was completed to make sure we are stocked with biltong, beer assorted snacks and steaks for the braai (barbecue for my foreign pals). Our team lost miserably, but that was soon forgotten when we lit the fire. Discussing everything under the sun allowed us some time to laugh, vent and just make sure that everything is ok with the world. After doing dinner inside, I got the kids to bed, and Quintin and I fired up my home theater system. We spent a glorious two hours watching tracks from 6 different Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart Bluray discs.

I always maintain, that the best music is not what we hear on the radio, but what our friends share with us. That is how I was introduced to many artists, and sharing that with Quintin was awesome.

Thanks Quintin, you’re a great pal and spending time with you is always awesome 🙂 Here’s some pics of our dinner and fire…

steaks and fire 05 07 2014.jpegboma fire 05 07 2014.jpegsteaks 05 07 2014.jpegsteaks and fire2 05 07 2014.jpeg