Monday, 16 May 2016


I’m not against big businesses. They’re full of people who are smart, civilized and charming. I like Google and Apple (who couldn’t?) I used to love the spirit Nike had in the period of their pre-21st-century glory. I love the confidence with which companies such as John Lewis, Heinz (now 3G) and BMW go about what they do.

I enjoy seeing challengers like Aldi disrupting the market and behaving small when they are actually the 90th biggest company in the world - quite a lot bigger than Tesco with twice as many stores in 18 countries. I ‘m thrilled by the narrative of British Airways and the problematic relaunch of Coca-Cola. But there’s something about big companies that’s beginning to worry me quite a lot. It’s that being big can make you a bully and turn you prematurely deaf.

Being big makes you think ‘There’s my way and then, of course, there’s my way.’ Most of all, being big makes you an enemy of marketing. The big decisions you make will be about cost and margins, about downsizing, consolidating and acquisitions. They should be about people and what they want and need. They should be about marketing but they won’t be. And when you get too big to focus on marketing, you’re going to die. Big, old companies often get trapped in their own legacy with an out-of-date business model and old fashioned products. They get uncomfortably stuck with a redundant overhead too expensive to write off yet dragging the minds of the company downwards and backwards. New businesses are about the future. They are about risk and about change. They are now and next. They are where innovation thrives. They are about learning. They are busy doing important things. Like visualising how the world might be in the future. Thinking radically and being inspired.. New businesses are lucky. They generally don’t have shareholders. They don’t have a lot of out-of-date plant and property they don’t need. They don’t have a huge workforce or a lot of bureaucracy. But what else don’t they have? They don’t have enough money to have much wriggle room. So they need to be very smart or lucky to survive. 
In a recent conversation between Professor Clay Christensen and Marc Andreessen (Silicon Valley entrepreneur) at Startup Grind Global 2016, Clay Christensen said there was capital everywhere looking for a home. Unfortunately return on investment was virtually zero overall and there was an astonishing $6 trillion in negative yielding bonds. So why isn’t more of this money being invested in start-ups? The success rate of start-ups is improving and starting from zero is recognised as a great place to set off from. The world of the new and disruptive is amazing. Consider. The biggest media company in the world is now Facebook, the biggest Hotelier is Airbnb, the biggest producers of films are India and Nigeria (Hollywood comes third.)
Excited? Well I think we should be.

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