Thursday, 3 January 2019


Small is going to win

I’m about to write a book together with entrepreneur Rachel Bell on entrepreneurship and start-ups. What I’ve learnt from the many interviews I’ve done is that small enterprising businesses are much more interesting than business behemoths. Well, you might say - we knew that, but what was less clear perhaps was the behemoths do brilliant process creation, impressive risk management, consistent production. We have never until recently had such efficiency. Cars that don’t break down. Do you remember how printers in offices were always failing? That’s history. We make things now that work time after time.

But out there in the sticks someone small is trying to create a better ice cream, an alcohol free beer with an alcohol, beery kick, an ad agency run by seasoned, empathetic professionals, a food company inventing in flight foods you’re going to enjoy and a lot of people with great apps and tech ideas to make our lives work better. Thousands of innovators making stuff that tastes disgusting until one day – oh rapture – their umpteenth recipe clicks and they create the best tasting vodka you’ve ever had.

I’ve seldom been more excited than I am now by a new generation of self-starters. 70% of university leavers want to start their own businesses now rather than join a graduate trainee scheme at Mars, IBM or Accenture. Freedom. Innovation. Disruption.

This is just one small step by man but (potentially) a giant leap for mankind. Suddenly now in 2019 enterprise and innovation are being unleashed.

Retail is dead; long live retail

Stand outside any outlet in the high street or shopping centre and ask yourself three questions:
- What’s it for?
- Who’s it for?
- Why is it performing like it is?

We are told there has been a dreadful downturn and that online trading is the reason why. A few years ago Justin King then MD of Sainsbury’s declared that out of town superstores were the answer; the high street is dead he said. Wrong Justin….think again. The cards are being dealt at random right now. Online is doing well, sure. But smaller, interesting stores are doing well too. Dull, drab and overpriced stores are (surprise, surprise) doing badly.

The quality/price axis has shifted and stores like Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons, Iceland and the Co-op are doing relatively well. Homebase, Carpetright and long gone Toys-R-us are/were horrid places to shop. Waterstones has rediscovered its mojo whilst HMV lost theirs. Jarrold’s of Norwich is exciting. Debenhams is dull. And so on.

Walking through the Brighton Lanes where so many of the shops are independent and quirky is fun and inspiring. They are, to use the marketing cliché, “sexy”.

Don’t listen to the industry cynics. Retail is reforming, transforming and the bright, light and interesting outlets are doing OK. Contrast M&S with Zara and the M&S problem is sharply exposed by Zara’s lightness and colour.

Gadgets, gimmicks and gimmicks
2018 was the year when we realised the monster tech companies were frail too. Will Facebook actually be around in 5 years? Will Google? Will Tesla? Will Apple? Facebook in particular is floundering and demonstrating the kind of moral incompetence an Enron or Carillion did in their day. Mark Zuckerberg is going through his own “memento mori” moment.

But the stream of inventiveness from the extremes of silly, funny and incredibly useful is growing not only in silicone valley but all over the world. Check out the Didi Chuxing Technology Co. In 2018 it became the second biggest start-up company in the world  having taken over Uber China and raised $4 billion in a round of funding. Its market capitalisation is currently $56 billion with over 100 investors. Didi is just six years old.

The good news is the US tech hegemony is beginning to fracture. Change is happening everywhere. Even to Amazon. “Alexa what sort of Christmas did Amazon have? Alexa. Alexa!” Alexa crashed over Christmas because its servers were overloaded.

I promised not to indulge in prophecies  but here’s one.  Category killer Toys R Us was global leader in toys and baby merchandise in the 1980s . Today it’s dead. Everything is cyclical. Watch this space.

The final part will follow around 10am gmt tomorrow...

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