Monthly Archives: September 2015

Northern Powerhouse tackling the USA

Stuart Watson Senior Partner EY

Stuart Watson Senior Partner EY

The industrial revolution started in the North of England, and today I attended a UKTI seminar alongside CASE (an association of 17 US States), discussing how Northern companies can trade more effectively with the USA.

After a short introduction from Mark Robson, Regional Director of UKTI, Stuart Watson, Senior Partner for EY, came to the stage. Stuart started off by discussing the Rugby World Cup and how this was having a massive impact, with 500,000 visitors coming to the UK. Four billion people globally are predicted to watch this World Cup. Stuart went on to discuss the question of what is needed to lead a winning team. The values of Rugby Union can be applied to businesses too: respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship. Clive Woodward, the former England Rugby Union coach, frequently mentioned TCUP: Thinking Clearly Under Pressure. Is your team ready? Ready to take on the best in the world? Does your team practice 1,000 times? You have to play what is in front of you. All shapes and sizes get to play the game of rugby.

Next up at the Trinity Leeds EveryMan Cinema was Sarah Dear, Managing Partner at Elmwood, who joined the brand agency in 1992. Elmwood specialise in branding for retail sector, and they managed to get into the USA via ASDA (who are of course now owned by supermarket giant WalMart). What’s great about Elmwood is that they are independent yet international, with offices in New York, Leeds, London, Melbourne, Singapore and Hong Kong. Their New York office is predicted to be the biggest in the group.

Sarah talked of a herd of buffalos shrinking, with fewer clients overall and the effects of globalisation. You have to mirror your client’s global setup. You then grow your own business on the back of those business relationships. Being international is great for people-development, giving people the option of having new experiences. In the 2008 downturn, the internationalisation of Elmwood de-risked the business. Sarah continued to say that, like Americans, people from Yorkshire are quite direct, which probably helps!

Elmwood set up a slush fund of $200,000 when they set up their New York City office, in order to give the business time to grow. Sarah warned of the differences in employment pay and conditions, with healthcare and maternity costs being funded largely by the business and not the government. Sending people from the the centre of your business to new international offices is a good way of exporting your culture abroad.

All in all, with Elmwood and Sheffield Precision Medical (and our very own Webanywhere), it was great to see similar medium-sized businesses in Yorkshire breaking into America and doing the North proud. Whilst Elmwood were in New York, Sheffield Precision Medical are in Chicago – just like Webanywhere. Their CEO Brian Reece explained the importance of getting to know your US counterparts. When asked by a member of the audience how a Sheffield company could compete with American manufacturing on price, he left us with this thought: It doesn’t matter what you are doing it can always be improved. It would seem that Sheffield still has a long, respected history and global recognition when it comes to the steel industry.

Why I wrote the book Flexible

Flexible by Sean Gilligan

Flexible by Sean Gilligan

At 13 pages (hardcopy) and 43 minutes (audiobook) Flexible is not exactly a novel. Flexible is my collective learning; summarised and distilled in to something bite-size, which I hope both startups and business-people can enjoy. I started writing the book more than 2 years ago, and only recently decided the time was right to create an audio version. Lewis Dunn does a fantastic job of the audio, and backs up the phrase “it’s not what you say, but how you say it”! Self-education through audiobooks has most certainly helped grow Webanywhere as a bootstrapped business internationally. Flexible contains the knowledge to allow you to do the same, providing you apply it.

Being a big fan of audiobooks and listening to them on planes, I thought it would be good to do my own. Some customers who have listened to the book said “How do you get the time?” My answer is simple: if you work on something a little bit each day, and as you think of something, write it down, enormous and overbearing tasks can be broken down into smaller chunks. It’s called “eating that elephant”. To eat an elephant in one go is impossible, but if you divide the elephant into small chunks it becomes possible.

Flexible 5th in Chart

Flexible 5th in Chart

Above all, the reason why I released Flexible is because Webanywhere wants to be the most Fun, Flexible Learning company in the world. Hopefully the tone of the book and the narration gives a light sense of humour, and the duration of the book means that lots of people will listen. Getting through an 8-hour audiobook is quite a battle, 43 minutes on the other hand is much more manageable. At £1.95 it’s not surprising to see my book rise to the top of the charts, as I still believe audiobooks are not mass market in terms of consumer habits. If my book has dropped off since, then it’s possibly because you can get the book for free on SoundCloud. After all, as the book says, it’s better to be a giver than a taker. It’s decisions like this which will make Webanywhere the most Fun, Flexible Learning company in the world!


To be flexible we need to give you two options for listening:

Click to listen to Flexible via iTunes 

Click to listen to Flexible via SoundCloud

Skilling up our children for the future workplace

Dave Coplin Chief Envisioning Officer Microsoft UK

Dave Coplin Chief Envisioning Officer Microsoft UK

In 10 years’ time there will be large, established companies which do not exist now. Within those companies there will probably be roles and jobs fulfilled, again which are not even advertised in the here and now. If you have watched the latest episode of Panorama on the BBC, Rohan Silva talks about the opportunities and threats of the digital age. Some jobs in the future are more threatened by the digital revolution than others. Thankfully, teachers’ threat of loosing their jobs at the hand of digital innovation is just 2%, whilst other roles such as paralegal and secretarial positions and becoming less and less widespread.

KPMG Enterprise held a seminar with keynote speakers today, presenting at Aspire in Leeds city centre. Chief Envisaging Office Dave Coplin of Microsoft UK; Adam Beaumont, Managing Director of AQL; Bryan Redpath, Rugby Coach at Yorkshire Carnegie; and Luke Allen, Director at KPMG Nunwood gave speeches, with audience participation taking place via an audience voting system. The event was hosted by David Parkin, former Business Editor at the Yorkshire Post.

Firstly, Dave Coplin talked about how human beings need to use technology in the future. Business needs to be reimagined because the way we work today does not work. How many computers at home are better than those in the workplace? This leads to productivity problems. The answer to the question asked of hundreds of employees in the workplace was astounding. What constitutes a productive day at work? Lots of people answer “clearing my inbox”, a rigid process that does not change a real issue in businesses. Organisations naturally resist change. What businesses need to focus on is the outcomes, not the processes. We are still working like the Victorians, when a digital society can give you new, different options. Dave Coplin has written a book called “The Rise of the Humans” which is well worth a read.

In the modern workplace, mobile disruption and the problem of “too much information” are becoming real issues. Indeed, in some schools mobile phones have been banned from classes for this very reason.  Dave talks about the problem being the people sending the emails. Data holds the key; data will define our future. The ability to use data in different ways allows businesses to predict the future. Gathering more data gives you fundamentally different answers. An example of this would be asking which of the following cars in the most environmentally friendly: The Toyota Prius or the Land Rover Defender? Most of the audience thought Toyota’s flagship hybrid had fine green credentials, but when you look at the data over the life time the Land Rover wins. You might ask why? The answer is there are lots old Land Rovers still going strong on our roads – they last longer!

Pattern-matching in data will allow us to create awesome new services. Take a resent innovation with Skype, where you can now, in real-time, speak to someone in a foreign language and Skype will translate your words into English, or indeed any other supported language! This changes the game, and will allow future generations to do business in non-English-speaking jurisdictions much more easily.

Our children in the modern workplace will have to embrace a culture of transformation. The rise of the machines will allow us to greatly extend our businesses in ways we have not yet thought possible. The core skills the future workforce will have to demonstrate are those which cannot be replaced by robots. Creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and empathy are the skills that future business will want to invest in. Our children must work with the machines and not against them, as our traditional middle-class, white-collar jobs become redundant in the new digital age, and new higher value digital jobs are created.

Webanywhere meets Basecamp, Chicago

Sean Gilligan (Webanywhere) and Michael Berger (Basecamp)

Sean Gilligan (Webanywhere) and Michael Berger (Basecamp)

The old meatpacking district is really taking off in Chicago’s West Loop. With the Google’s Mid-West HQ only 5 minutes away, we met our neighbours Basecamp at our new office for lunch. Basecamp is one of the world’s favorite project management software companies and Jason Fried one of the co-founders has written a number of successful business books such as Rework and Remote both of which have been best sellers with the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Jason Fried’s mum was looking to buy an iMac from the local Apple store and the customer experience was so exceptional she recommended that Jason, the co-founder of Basecamp, hire Michael Berger.

Michael had just got back from re-locating his 96-year-old grandmother from Florida and was able to meet myself and my brother for lunch before we jumped on a plane back to the UK. Over lunch we discussed a whole range of issues, including how Basecamp are rewriting their project management software from scratch. Basecamp are definitely getting their name out there – sponsoring music festivals and advising Coursera on some project management courses.

Michael was particularly interested in how Webanywhere gains feedback from its customers. Michael’s role at Basecamp involves QA, and part of the unique work culture at Basecamp means he often works from home in a morning, goes to the gym and then heads to the office. Jason, who leads design, and Daniel who leads engineers, are equals and opposites. Whilst Jason is a permanent residence in Chicagoland and is a well know business-face, Daniel spends time in California and Southern Spain while pursuing his interest in racing cars.

Howard Tullman of 1871, Chicago Startup Summit

Howard Tullman of 1871, Chicago Startup Summit

Basecamp’s open APIs means it can be integrated with learning management systems such as Moodle. One of the challenges Basecamp has is the education of the user. Users in positions of authority can ensure the whole organisation is using the product, whilst more junior members of staff may struggle to get further buy-in. Basecamp helps SMEs in particular get stuff done by providing best-in-class project management software. In addition, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is a mentor to Basecamp, who have millions of paying customers and perhaps go against the grain of most software. Basecamp believes in “less as more”. Perhaps this is why they changed their company name from 37signals to Basecamp a number of years ago. Furthermore they trimmed down their product line from several products (such as Campfire, Backpack and Highrise) to just Basecamp.

The “billionaire rule” in business is focus and Basecamp have bet the farm house on their product. They believe you don’t need to spend money on marketing, you just need a great product. Basecamp certainly has a great product, with interested followers and participants such as Bezos.

Chicago Startup Summit

Chicago Startup Summit

Earlier in the week I visited the newly-installed Virgin Hotel in downtown Chicago. The Chicago Startup Summit, held in conjunction with Virgin Unite (The Branson Family’s foundation charity), was held to educate and impact local startups. Seminars were held by One Trick Pony, a design agency based in Philadelphia and Detroit Soup, a crowdsourcing charity featured in a recent BBC documentary. Other people presenting included a number of “Pitch to Rich” finalists who had been flown in from London. Andrew Hunt finished the day talking about how he planned to import a little-known fruit known as the baobab from the African continent, which would ride the current trend of super food consumption whilst providing a profitable harvest for African farmers. Andrew had been in a state of depression as a young marketing executive in London, only to find himself inspired after 4 years living in Africa. Andrew spotted an opportunity of driving demand for the African superfood using his skills and expertise. Richard Branson awarded Andrew’s company £100,000, allowing him to move out of his kitchen and employ 15 staff.

Webanywhere USA Team at The Little Goat, Chicago

Webanywhere USA Team at The Little Goat, Chicago

What was particularly good about the week in Chicago was seeing other British entrepreneurial startups alongside Webanywhere. Chicago is too often skipped for the more glamorous destinations of New York and San Francisco, but is now becoming a real contender for startups, with the highest proportion of female-led startups in the USA. We on-boarded 3 new members of staff at our Fulton Market office and met a few of our key customers. All in all, another good week in America and my 2nd week in one month – which is a personal record!