Transcript: Steve Davies, Management Consultant (part 2 of2)

Podcast #6: Steve Davies, Management Consultant Pt. II – Spring ’10
Transcript provided by: A Writer’s Magic
awritersmagic@gmail.com

Kevin: Welcome back to the Maximise Potential podcast, the podcast which enables you to maximise your career, business, and life potential through listening to a range of motivating interviews.

Hello everybody and welcome back to Episode six of the Maximise Potential podcast, And part two of our interview with global management consultant Steve Davies. In the first interview, as I’m sure you’ll remember, Steve spoke at length about how he maximised his own career and he also gave excellent advice to others wishing to maximise their own career and also their business success.

Now, in this interview, Steve talks about how he made a conscious decision just two years ago to change the entire direction of his career. In addition, Steve talks at length about the business model and framework, which he applies to his own Internet businesses.

So Steve, great to sit down with you again to do another interview. Last time we sat down we spoke about your accomplishments with Ericsson Bluetooth technology, O2, a whole realm of corporate experience and imparting a wealth of advice for those who are embarking And developing within their careers and helping them maximise their potential within their careers.

Today we’re going to talk about something completely different. You’ve reached the stage within your corporate career, where you decide to make a change. I think that is where I would love to kick off from today.

Steve: Thanks Kevin, I might kick off on a few things from the last discussion because it is relative to this one. One of the kind of great things about being a senior executive in the corporate organization is you obviously have resources and influence to an extent you also have great power to do things. But, in any corporate business, you have all these other stakeholders in all these other objectives to also achieve.

What I found, was that I was spending most of my working week forecasting, planning, accounting, reporting, and also things that unfortunately every corporate person does. It can just get out of hand. I think some people enjoy that. They enjoy that operational reporting kind of world and others… I came, as I said in the previous discussion, from a very creative background and I was finding it increasingly frustrating to my own enjoyment of what I was doing to actually be spending 70% of my time accounting and reporting and planning.

I guess I have trained myself to do over the years is enjoy stretching myself, to maximise myself. Was a major partner in the consultancies and in one sense that’s at the top of the tree, but in another sense there is actually about 15 more layers, once you get deep into that extent, it’s endless. Whether you are a country head or a regional head or an overall head… there are lots of different positions you can take. But, they all tend to be much more organizational-operational and managing the political environment in which your in. Which, I say, some people find great but I didn’t.

What I was finding is that more and more I was unable to do the things that I was good at and enjoy doing and I spent more time doing things that I didn’t enjoy doing. I was just competent at doing them. I think most of us can handle a balance sheet and a spreadsheet and do all of our planning, but it is not something that I am the very best at.

So there were two things, causal factors, one being an increasing dissatisfaction with not being able to do what I was good at, which was the creativity, Forming new strategies and opening up new marketplaces etc. I was getting less and less of that unfortunately. The second thing was, one of the good things about being in a consulting or service provider environment is… I started up and ran hundreds of projects in my career and have been involved in dozens of startups in my career. Whether it be for clients or with a home company where I’ve set up a new office or a new division or whatever it might be, to be brought in to start up a new function.

I have gone through that process, and when you do that you spot opportunities. The problem with being in a service business when you’re at a professional firm is that you can’t take advantage of those opportunities because you sign some sort of like insider trading. You can’t have that conflict of interest. So I’ve seen lots of opportunities come and go that I knew would be successful but haven’t been able to exploit them because I can’t because I’m an advisor.

I was particularly working with a number of Internet businesses.. I was working with Microsoft with their new Xbox platform at the time and devising ways of actually making it take advantage of the social gaming aspect of that platform and how to maximise the social networks and gaming with friends and players and acquaintances and how to use that to drive the revenues of that business.

I was working with Yahoo and they had a lot of problems in recent years. As they were trying to become better at targeting customers and using behavioral targeting techniques to actually understand who is visiting the Yahoo portals and how best then to serve them and to use that information to then sell to advertisers.

I worked with businesses like Skype, which was a challenging one. They had hundreds of millions of customers and yet the revenue model, as a free service, they had to try and get people to spend money because obviously it does not make it a viable business. So then there were all those challenges about having to take a very large customer group and monetizing that group. We created a risk reward of agreement with them what we are actually supporting them in doing that. And they’ve got to be very successful now in the short-term.

I was involved with all of these businesses and sort of social networks as well and in my environment, I was the managing partner of Xperiens marketing business in the UK. So I had clients like BskyB. So we did all their marketing services and other major clients. So I felt, as always being an advisor or consultant to companies, that they move their own pace, They have their own limitations to achieving things because organizationally either from resources or from various stakeholders they have or not, or other competing priorities, don’t necessarily go in a straight line to target. You might see an opportunity but then you have to bring this whole organization on board, and when you aren’t just advisor you can’t make them do it.

Like most advisors, my hit rate is probably in the single percent of actually how many clients you have actually advised to do something and they have actually gone and done something. It is not very frequently they do that. They almost always more often implement only part of your advice, so as a result you feel a bit cheated in the fact that there was more to do and they didn’t actually do it.

So I just got to that point where I felt that I was a little bit tired of the corporate bureaucracy that I was actually embedded within. I saw the opportunities that others were struggling with but actually I saw there was potentially a way of addressing it. I wanted to test and learn and basically try things out. I had the data, the knowledge about what was actually happening out there on the Internet, and I thought I would try out and see whether what us all in the hypothesis that came to, how to solve it, would actually work.

So I set up a business and brought together resources to effectively prove my point. To see if the direction that I thought the Internet was going to take it could take, and whether or not the behaviors and engagement or you could expect with an audience could actually happen.

And, yeah, so that was the reason why started it. Over a two-year period, I proved those assumptions were correct and valid. We had obviously problems on the way and were all sorts of things that occur during that time but it proved to me that there was a transformation that was about to happen within the Internet. And, that some of these ideas were going to be key to the success and decided on before with other technologies, I kind of grappled with what actually makes it work. I know it is going to work but then it becomes a process of actually realizing it. Then it becomes a question about resources and other tools to actually achieve that but the base plan or strategy is sound enough when approved.

Kevin: You describe that movement in a very natural matter-of-fact kind of way, but for someone listened to this for the first time, you made a conscious decision to leave the career that you have been and they had reached an extremely high level and, to literally go right back to basics and start or grow all over again. This time, obviously, for yourself. There must’ve been a final trigger point within her mind that actually says that you’re going to make this decision. I know you are describing it in a way that made it seem like a natural transition, but to me, hearing it for the first time, it suffered a huge debt that you made.

Steve: I think, again, I got into the habit. Some people manage their careers like musical chairs and they won’t leave one shared the lead got another chair to go to. They want safety and security. I have always adopted a more risky approach to my career is that I would come start a roll and my objective would be to make myself redundant and therefore create the opportunity to do another role. That is risky because I could effectively remove myself from the equation that I have never actually found that is the case.

I have found that that is the way of throwing the grappling hook out it’s not a comfortable where you are. Would you where you’re going to, and head towards it. And therefore, by doing it, you open up the gap behind you. I would find that someone is going to come behind and replace me and I would move up that way. So to me this is a logical progression. They conclude the process you’re going through and you’re looking for the next thing.

I had done most things in a corporate perspective, and there wasn’t much more to explore. There were things I could grow into but it was stuff that I didn’t really enjoy doing, like paperpushing numbercrunching and bureaucracy type stuff. But for my own capabilities, there was nothing I could do and I wanted to take it further.

It’s back to the philosophy that life is about change, striving for the next thing, because otherwise what are you doing? Whatever that journey or patios, that is the right path to take. You’ve got to keep moving. If you’re not moving forward, you’re going backwards.

So, no matter how risky it might seem, my view is that that is the next path. So I’ll take it!

Kevin: So you described, if you like the “push factors”, which is the detachment from the core part of the job you love. What were the “pull factors” That lured you to say no I want to do something for myself this time? Because you could have gone to another career and picked a different vertical market and experienced a different framework and environment where you can express yourself and get a more hands-on approach, but you chose something completely for yourself.

Steve: That is the nature of the working environment is that you implore people to do things for you and you get to do it yourself. In my more recent job, I was actually in a corporate environment with other of the board of executives, but as a partner you are a loner. You actually do own the company and is really big consultancies, there are a relatively small number of partner relative to the resources. So there is this network of people who own their own businesses, in some respects.

So, the pull factor to me wasn’t independence because I have been independent for a number of years. In the positions I got to, you can pretty much do whatever you want to but the consequences are that it might be kind of fairly damaging if you do. I always had a pretty wide “noose” to kind of play with in that respect. But for me, it was more a case of the fact that I wanted to experiment. Particularly in recent years, Normally I would have to have a business plan, and once you put that business model on the table and has been agreed with, also spotlights on you and if you feel they’re going to shoot you. So you have this kind of quite intimidating, like you can do if you want to but if you fail, we’re going to take you out.

I wanted to be in a new environment where I could test and learn, make mistakes, and then apply them. Without the consequences of other incrimination or criticisms and so forth. I wanted to learn something new. I advise businesses in the Internet world and dot-coms back in the late 90s but I haven’t done it myself. I thought it would be good to do it and take that chance.

Kevin: what was the thought process, the decision-making process they went through to decide upon where you wanted to start on the Internet? Because the Internet can encompass so many opportunities!But, you managed to narrow it down actually go for one particular…

Steve: Yes, I’ve been working in the previous 8 to 10 years in the whole vestige of customer. By customer value type. So, how do you maximise the relationship with the customer? What is the way they do so? The Internet is particularly inspiring because you have a tangible product. It is not as simple as that would’ve been in a retail environment where the path is much more well trodden.

So, what no one had essentially to do was… I have been involved in a lot of businesses who are looking for customer retention, customer value, and all that kind of stuff… all of these businesses were focusing on how to actually deploy our brand, create our branches as customers, engage them in our brand and our propositions and how we use that engagement to deliver a positive outcome.

And, I wanted to join us together in one hit. So, basically, take an environment which,I chose cars and motor sport because it was something that interested me. I wanted to take an environment where there was a particular demand for it, one where customers really liked it and had a passion for it, and then see if I could crystallize that passion into an engagement “unit”, if you like, and trade that unit in a way that was beneficial to all parties.

Again, all of my ideas tend to come from a degree of frustration so there was a frustration with the lack of value that brands place on the customers. They use them rather than actually respect them. It is a frustration with the fact that customers aren’t really valued by a lot of brands and companies. They are valued and a balance sheet sense but not really as individuals. There was a belief again, that if you Good value a customer, you actually truly value them and represent that in the way they engage them. You would actually create something from that customer and they would be more willing to participate and contribute and you would have access to them in a positive way.

It was a level of integrity and that customer engagement that I had hypothesized would actually be worth striving for. Most corporate businesses can’t because I have all these responsibilities and they don’t have that sort of freethinking mindset. So is very much in that customer management work that I had done. I wanted to really prove that this could work in that you can actually treat customers as human beings and value them and involve them. And give them something that actually is inexpensive to give, but is basic respect and treat them as individuals.

From that engagement, then to create value from that for both brands and myself and the customers and so on and so forth. It was a proof of concept, and I wanted to learn this. I always enjoyed shaping marketplaces and the problem with many marketplaces and behaviors is unless someone does that improves it, no one wants to take the leap of faith. It was the frustration that I saw where I wanted to prove something, such that have an example that I can then use to encourage others to do likewise. Because then, that would create a positive result.

Kevin: And what would you say is an example of how you have managed to pull all these factors together and engage the audience in a more complete manner than the traditional models that are out there on the Internet right now?

Steve: Again, unfortunately I don’t wish to slur others, but people apply a very cynical approach to the Internet. A lot of the quantifiable success is always down to numbers. It is always about how many people, like Facebook has, or a particular website has 100,000 viewers per day. It is all about numbers. Though we go back to the 1960s, with the old prisoner in terms of “I am not a number.” We have come up with a very bad habit of treating customers as numbers rather than individuals. It is not a moral sense that I’m applying it from, it is that you are just wasting the resource. If you are able to engage them as people, you actually get much more out of them. Just because it is easy to count them as numbers doesn’t mean you should.

In fact, again, now this is becoming true because as I did this two years ago and followed that line, now we’ve got with the economic downturn last year, we’ve got Rupert Murdoch [indiscernible] Put in place the Times online in Sunday Times website which will then be paid only. They are cutting off all the search engines, and the FT have removed themselves from the ABCE because they are not selling numbers anymore, they’re selling engagement. That is what I was saying two years ago, and it is now coming to her reality with larger publishers on the Internet who are saying, to be honest, the number of people we engage with is pretty irrelevant. All that matters is how many people actually engage with us.

Opposite of the proposition with what I was doing, which kind of set the brands that you can have 20,000 or 100,000 or 2 million people looking at some of your branded content, but what is the end result they are trying to get to? Well, the end result is that you want those people to walk into a showroom and buy a car. Well, what we do is close to the end result is possible? Are you going to stand all the way back out there and shout at them. You want to close that interaction and make if you are as close as possible to actually bring them to the point of converting them to real customer.

So, I put a value to it. Rather than having 1 million people looking at it, have 30 people that come into his showroom. If you can buy that, isn’t that worth more than people just looking around. So people began to realize that that was really worthwhile that they can focus on engagement rather than using marketing units.

Kevin: This concept had obviously been in Iran for quite a while. What is the time. But it took you from a theoretical storyboard to actually make this a reality? To actually see tangible results?

Steve: About three months. There are ideas going around my head at all time. But, at that point the time was right and I could see what was going on with the clients in the marketplace and I felt that I should do this because the time is now right to give birth to this idea and get it going.

Kevin: such that must’ve been so refreshing if you’re going back to what you’re saying about the big corporate environment they had been used to. The speed with which you can go from idea, to implement, to get live data to test the outcome.

Steve: That is what inspired me. It was the ability to… I have always visualized something and then try to make it happen I have identify with myself and my own career perspective is that what I find most rewarding and where I get the most job satisfaction is work and visualize and implement. The shorter the time frame with that, the happier I feel. Because you can then tell yourself that is a good idea? And then try it. That is the luxury of doing it for yourself as opposed to actually working for someone else and having to go through all the systems and processes that naturally the checks and balances, slow down an organization.

Kevin: That actually goes back to what you are saying in the first episode which was about your MBA and how it is applied in your life so you can actually grab a theory, applied it, measure it, refine, and actually improve and keep moving forward. That makes complete sense in terms of your mindset and what motivates you.

You mentioned to me very briefly that you’re passionate about cars and the automotive industry. You’ve talked about the engagement, this open model online. Can we talk more specifically about what the business is so that people can understand the tangibility of it? obviously, we will put links on the site so that people can see it, but what are we actually talking about here? What has turned the Internet on its head so to speak within the automotive sector?

Steve: Sure! Originally, I called the business The Website Drives Your Public. The principle was to have an environment where it said information was rich in content, which was okay for. It was encouraged to be freely shared. It was taking advantage of what is called the Long tail Internet. The content moves around. So making that content transportable was important. So the website had car reviews, and tests, and videos, and had more videos at that time than anyone else in terms of the regularity. We have sound files of social community that we built as well. It was all based on enabling the people to enjoy the passion that we shared.

It was all around in records of who produced the continent, actually making it easy for them to take that and share it and discuss it in a very high-quality environment. The principle was that once you build a relationship with the user, that is a relationship of trust. It is a relationship of integrity, and you can communicate. The problem of brands always face online is that they cannot go into a user environment and talk to them. Because they come in with a brand, and people stand back from that. There is no way to connect.

So with the principles of what I propose to do was to actually create the relationship of trust, and then, once you’ve got that relationship, bring in the brands and introduce them to the customers as well in a way that values the customers. And, helps the brand actually achieve a connection. A “middleman” it is much more than that. But recognizing there is an internal gap and provider and consumer and that the intermediate between that can add value by knowing both well and helping them to connect in the right way.

Kevin: I see what you made so you are, in essence, becoming a source of trust from an advertiser perspective is helping them to understand how to communicate their content and their proposition former clearly to appeal to the marketplace a you’ve been generating?

Steve: And today the instructional part of it on their behalf. Of course, that requires it to make sure the you only choose the right brands because you lose trust if you abuse that position. But, to steer that introduction and make it effective for both parties. Not allowing a brand to exploit the customer and vice versa. So, we ran multiple competitions and ways for getting readers engaged in the actual contest which is something that hasn’t been done but is essential. The publishing environment of the future is one of being a catalyst.

News, nowadays, people can get news from twitter and from Google. They don’t need to get news from a news site. So the bare content is not unique, but you can make the experience you need. So, if you help a person who is interested in a particular item of news to actually help them understand more and contribute their own news, and stared in the direction that they would like to steer it, the journalist or the publisher becomes a facilitator. It can be a very hard step for a lot of publishers to follow. But that is essentially what it is about. People can access the content themselves, so what do they do the journalists for? I need a journalist because the journalist has the oversight and can actually help and understanding it more out of the experience of the news or the topic they’re actually following.

It was bringing all of those together and recognizing that what I’m doing is creating the elements that will be the platform of the future in the way that publishing and a lot of the Internet environments will work. For my part, a) I’m interested, and b) the sooner I learn about it the more I can apply those techniques and take advantage of them.

Kevin: Is there a particular art of engagement on the Internet? In comparison to a traditional off-line marketplace?

Steve: Yes, there is. The art to engagement is about, again I’ve used the words before, but listening, valuing the individual. It is about giving them something back. You can’t ask for something from people, particularly on the Internet more so than anywhere else, you can ask for me unless you give them something back. Therefore you have to know what they want and how they want and what makes them tick and how to give them something they wanted me to give you something back.

In the off-line world, you tend to get before you give, enemy on my world you give before you get. That is very counterintuitive to those brands who are used to controlling, and taking. You might have a brand that has a loyalty scheme so that after you give them something to them, they get back to you. That doesn’t work online. You have to give the audience something that is of benefit to them. It is not necessarily about monetary value, because people are online for various reasons. Sometimes they just want to be informed, or they have their own social groups that want to be able to view themselves with success and self-esteem in their groups.

You need to know what makes them tick and then help them to get that value out of it. By doing that, you build the engagement and I feel like an advocate for use of the contribution that it works that way. It is a very different approach, and it is one that still a lot of friends and a lot of publishers are still grappling with. Because they have come from that mindset… I have actually come from knowing how this works on a large scale customer management perspective in very large brands and seeing the data and knowing the data and how it works and how people behave, it is something that is inevitable and it is something I am trying to get towards.

Kevin: So, Steve, along with the engagement that you mentioned before about a crucial part of the business model which is the sharing of the content. Can you explain to me a bit more about that and obviously how that works with the engagement because you obviously said that is crucial to the success of the business model.

Steve: I mean, from a publishing standpoint, The objective is to involve the reader in the process of creating the content so therefore they feel engaged from the very beginning. They are not presented with something and saying here you are like or not. There is a term that is being used quite a lot recently called “crowd sourcing” which means many things to different people but it is essentially using the power of the crowd of the people in a positive way.

That can get out of hand, because you can have mass Facebook groups that try to batter their way to achieve certain objectives, whether it is getting a number one hit single at Christmas or whatever. There are elements of that in there, but it is essentially about being able to orchestrate a crowd. You can’t make them do what they don’t want to do, but if you effectively, and this is what ground in theory is always meant to do, is to light a path that people are meant to follow. So if you want to pass and make it attractive that people will become curious and follow it. Therefore, crowd sourcing is about creating that honey that says that we really want your input. That your input will be tangible and will be put into the output.

Ultimately, people want to have a say but they don’t want to waste their time. So, it is basically attracting them to have the essay and be involved in the content. Once they have done that, they will fill a certain ownership of the content and they will share it. It is not rocket science, but it does require you to let go. The problem that I have, with the people who are working with me in the early days of this is that their fear was that if we let go the mob will take over. “We can’t trust people who are not proper writers because they will just do rubbish.” You’ve got to have some faith in people that they want to achieve and live up to certain standards.

Therefore, your job is to actually facilitate them and help them do that in a way. If you can’t do that, they’ll be very proud of what they do in the contribute towards and they will make you successful because they want others to know about it. There are a lot of things that go viral on the Internet and some of those things are just shocked at all, but otherwise if you want to work at viral, you have to actually engage the people who are going to become the viral agents as early as possible in the process.

Kevin: So the sharing that is the easy bit if you have engaged them in the beginning?

Steve: Exactly! That can be engaging them in the actual input were engaging them in the brand which they feel reflects them. So whatever you’re doing, you’re trying to connect with them as early as possible and when you’ve connected with them, then you can actually… again, you can’t make them do what they don’t want to do, but you can provide a direction that they feel happy to pursue. And that you can then be a part of the catalyst that makes the direction achievable.

Kevin: Part of what I’m keen to understand is could it work across the entire board, if you’re someone starting off as a one-man band? Like you have an idea and they are passionate about a certain subject in the way you are. Does this work across the Internet, in your opinion?

Steve: Yeah. I think the good thing about the Internet is that it is very liberating. You don’t need massive resources. I started off with the first venture and I learned the hard way. In the first episode, when they make mistakes. I made a mistake and I engaged a well known Internet consultancy. A web agency to build an application thinking that there was more to it than I realized and therefore I needed to engage them. I spent a great deal of money on it. Only through the frustration of actually discovering how poorly they had performed did I realize that what they had done wasn’t that difficult at all.

Therefore, since I’m a great believer in learning things when you needed to learn them, I set out and decided to, as I was having to sign off on specs and whatnot, I was learning more about building websites. It is not that difficult. You just have to have a reason to learn. Then, that allows you to combine them into the big websites. The big challenge is combining the design with the build. Most Web builders tends to live in the separate camps, designers and coders. The coders create the functionality and the technical aspects, and the designers create the user interface and how that reflects the brand and the message and so forth.

The reality, is that in an ideal world you have those in one person. Because you design and build as you go along. There are more and more tools out there that are able to do this. You can go a long way without using very expensive resources to achieve it. You do have to research it. But there’s loads of information out on the Internet.

Kevin: And, I guess without having a huge amount of technical knowledge behind you, so there are applications that can enable you to get a good chunk of the way.

Steve: You can get off the ground. obviously, I have a background in technology and I kind of know all the boundaries that helps. But you can get off the ground and do an awful lot without having a background at all. You just have to understand the components that you need to have in place and had actually involved.

Kevin: From what you are saying as well, a term I’ve always been familiar with is the term of “content is King.” To me, that is along the lines of your methodology. You are obviously taking this to a whole other level are you?

Steve: I would put a challenge that actually because this is an eternal debate. Nowadays, it depends on what you call content. I would argue that content is no longer king. But there is actually too much content out there. There is a proliferation of content. There’s too much content to choose from.

As the newspapers are realizing, you can’t charge for content. People are going to pay for content. They will pay for access, experience, and privilege, and the content is an essential ingredient in that, but putting the content on a shelf and saying “buy it” isn’t going to work.

If you look at the influx of apps on the iPhone and so forth, essentially that is a process. The content isn’t unique, but how you access it is and how you are able to use it is. You wouldn’t pay for that content in a different environment. So content is very important, but operation with content only doesn’t work online. People won’t pay for. So that is a key difference. What I’m doing with the web businesses that I have put together or valuing the experience. We talk about customer experience and how important that is in the off-line world. It is all about maximising the customer experience. But the same thing applies online. The customer experience is the product. Whether you’re providing an app or the kind of engagement model that I have been, the value is what people will commit their time to. You have to reframe what content is online because it’s not as black and white as offline.

Kevin: Where does the monetization aspect of the model fit in within your strategy for putting together an online business model?

Steve: The important thing and again, it is counterintuitive… in the past, dotcom businesses have been focused on driving up the numbers. And in Facebook and Twitter it is all about getting market domination and, in the market mass. Once they’ve got that, then there is the discussion about how to monetize that. A lot of these businesses have been funded by investors who have expected to be monetization the future but in the short term there is nothing.

The problem is that it works for a few, and you see in the headlines who it works for, but most of the businesses it fails. It doesn’t work because there can only be one or two winners in that kind of market place. That isn’t a very sound strategy to adopt.

You need to focus on being able to monetize a business early which comes down to having some clear sound value propositions that actually merit payment for. And B, You have to make sure they don’t allow that monetization to actually stare where the business goes to. Because ultimately, depending on what you’re doing, you may be changing the way people are currently behaving and consuming content, but you can’t expect it to be generating revenues from day one. That is not going to work that way. You’re going to have to convey the value to people, to customers and clients.

Again, back to what I said before. You’re going to have to stick to a direction and achieve that. You have to stick to your strategy if that is what you’re trying to provide and trying to create, you have to create that. Unfortunately, online, people still need to experience things before they commit themselves to it. You still have a phase where you build something and make it tangible and people start using it before they start to deliver the kind of numbers that you actually want. So there’s still that period. But some dotcoms have taken the approach that they don’t need to generate those numbers because they have the backers who are expecting payback. But, from a startup as an individual, monetize as early as possible. But, don’t let monetization change what you’re trying to do because there is an inevitable. But you have to actually build market momentum.

Kevin: Is the old advertising model that I always knew of: awareness, action, desire, is that still applicable to your model?

Steve: There will always be advertising online, but it is more concentrated than that. Again, where the frustration that I had was of any online business potentially is a touch point for customer. Most businesses have in the past, taken advertising approach and stick some ad on their sites, and that is how they monetize their business. But that is effectively missing the trick. Because you have this very dysfunctional marketing environment. You have various layers of agencies working, creative agencies, communication agencies, etc. organizationally they are all in different size. The reality is that in theory they’re on the same boat but they don’t work together in that way. The objective is to reach the customer and to actually engage them. There are various stages of that. There is awareness, engagement, anticipation, empowerment, but that is a different model than the advertising model.

The model that I would adopt is one of awareness, but you are also trying to get them to do something. The model I would suggest is one that actually starts from awareness but you are actually trying to get closer to the customer and directly hold their hand and take them to the next stage. That is a very different approach. You can use advertising along with other tools to achieve that but that is not the be-all and end-all. We are seeing now that the industry is maturing and we are saying that some of the statistics are rent is. 90% of customers don’t ever click on ads, for example. So you have a $65 billion industry that flushes that away each year. Because, apart from awareness, Maybe they are aware that emanates from the page. They are giving the action or the follow-through and that has to change. The economic downturn is actually finally gotten more brands to realize that has to change because they can afford to waste the money they were.

Kevin: You spoke before about the speed at which the Internet environment is changing which is one reason why you actually want to do this for yourself so you can respond to the need as quickly as possible. Because of the speed of the change, how difficult is it to stop yourself getting distracted?

With all that you have explored within the sector, it must’ve opened your eyes to more and more and more opportunity and potential and other opportunities that you could’ve gone down. How would you talk about that? And apply that to start-up perspective as well?

Steve: I am distracted in the sense that I’m always looking. It’s very hard to switch off because it is always on. Therefore there is always something to see and learn from and apply. So it is more in that respect. It is very hard to switch off because there is always something to do. You can do something for as many hours as there are in the week. As far as distraction, it is the same principles as any business. You have to stay focused but it is more the case of the fact that there is so much information out there that you want to absorb as much as possible.

I use things like twitter which are great tools to keep in touch with what is going on, but it is no more distracting than any other business. There is a lot to absorb constantly because the business is so agile you have to be on top of that at all times.

Kevin: I was doing some research obviously for this interview, and I stumble across some resources for entrepreneurs on the web. A lot of the challenges they faced was if you like the procrastination saga, was the fear of making a choice for the Internet business and the fear of getting that wrong. I think the word touched on the fact that your business model has evolved quite drastically in a very short space of time. You’ve spoken about testing and learning, and how would you respond to that to give them advice in terms of that procrastination and that fear of failure?

Steve: I think the key thing, and very tough lesson that even very big brands learn the hard way is that you cannot build a solution that will be the right solution. There is no such thing as a right answer. Because you are part of the network. The whole approach the Internet is a network, the World Wide Web. Therefore any proposition that you actually implement depends upon many different factors. So, how can you possibly get something that is right the first time? It is impossible.

Therefore the approach you have to take is to test and learn. A lot of sites you see nowadays are beta sites and they stayed there the sites because there’s never a point where they stop evolving. In fact, you can never stop evolving. So the model is constant evolution and it can be daily. I change things almost every day sometimes. The only know by implementing something and getting the feedback, implement, test it, get feedback, learn from it, and reapply.

You need to make sure you have the resources to constantly innovate. That is a permanent expenditure in either time or money because unless you can keep moving you will very quickly become unconnected to the way people actually want to shop for by or behave.

Kevin: Everything that you have said about this interview today has been about getting as close to your customers possible and the web enables you to almost fast-track that experience because it gives you directly straight to them as opposed to having to wait for them to come through the shop door initially. For someone starting out straight away, what would that initial step be?

Steve: I think the big danger online is that it can be impersonal. People can hide behind websites and the way that is presented. As we all know, people buy people, people relate to people. The website, which is a very personal thing, has to have character. Where a lot of people fail is that they don’t view it as having character, it is just an adjunct to the business or something they’re putting in as a template. It has to have a personality. So the first thing anyone does the website is make sure that there is a person who relates to people who come onto the website. Make sure it behaves like a person as well so that people can actually contact them and receive a reply. That is a very basic thing but it is actually so essential. The website is your brand and therefore it has to behave like a real living thing. It can be this static picture that people look at.

Kevin: What I am keen to understand is more from a personal perspective for yourself. You only answer to yourself now. There isn’t a need for you to go into an office everyday, so how do you motivate yourself on a daily basis?

Steve: I’ve never had… Again, with my background as a consultant, yes I’ve had large offices, and large buildings to go into, but you were always on the move. You’re always working out of hotels or airports , cars and you go all the time. There is no 9-5. You’re task or outcome driven. To me, I have always been used to starting the day and knowing what you need to do and getting on to doing it.

Once you can align those so you’re actually doing what you want to, then you kind of learn that process of just working. Working is living and you are trying to strive to achieve something so every waking moment you are doing it. Therefore, you don’t need to motivate yourself. It is like breathing. You just do it. So that is who you are. It doesn’t mean that you lose contact with being a real human being and having a family, it just means that you are driven to achieve an end result and therefore it falls into place and you have to motivate yourself. It comes back to our first principle which is basically to align yourself to what you can be good at and that you enjoy.

That is what I did, and what I’ve done recently is to improve the alignment. Therefore, ultimately you will be successful if you do what you’re good at and that you enjoyed that is the logical conclusion of that process. There is some fine tuning to do, but that is the important thing to do. Don’t do something because someone else thinks that you should or someone else advise you to do it, make sure you’re doing it because you want to do it because that is the most powerful few you have to actually succeed.

Kevin: When you have had those moments of frustration, particularly in the process you’re doing right now, what do you do to snap yourself out of it and get yourself back on track?

Steve: It is a quite personal thing for me. I go do something creative. I find doing something creative is recharging. So, I create something. Whatever that is, whether it be something graphic or web based or whether it be a new relationship or whatever it may be… when you are at a certain level and you got what you’ve got, the best thing to do if you are feeling “under the pin” is to find something new. So, create something new. That, I find gets me out of that state. So don’t dwell on what you’ve got, going to something else and create it. As long as you can keep the creativity going, you always have a way out of wherever you are because you always build something. It is when you just sit with what you’ve got and mull over it, that is when you get dragged down into it. So literally I just get creative.

Kevin: So on the very last question to get creative, how do you maximise your own potential?

Steve: If I’ve learned anything, it is much less about striving… I think perhaps the perception of maximising potential is about striving and working hard. Someone might look at that, and look at the whole mountain and think I have to climb up the whole mountain. There’s actually a lot easier than that. Maximising potential is all about understanding your potential first and foremost. I think as human beings, all of us enjoy realizing our potential. From a very young age, we all love realizing what would have potentially. If we are good at it we like doing more of it.

The best thing you can do is to identify what that is the focus on that. So, the maximization of that is easy. Once you know what it is, it is all you want to do. The way that most people come misaligned is that they are doing the things they’re doing because someone else tells them to do it. I think that if you can change that and actually be doing things because you want to do it, then maximising it is just a natural human behavior and doesn’t require any effort.

Kevin: Steve, thank you again for your time. It has been incredible listening to you and I know a lot of other people will find so as well. Thank you.

Steve: Thanks, Kevin.

Kevin: So there you have it, we hope you have really enjoyed the interview and will be able to implement some excellent ideas and advice that Steve has provided us. As always, please remember you can post questions and suggest interviews by connecting with us on Twitter at maximisemylife. We would like to say thanks to the Jenrick recruitment group for sponsoring a podcast and Xerxes music to enable us to use their music on the show.

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Tom Burkinshaw, I co-produce the Maximise Your Potential Podcast and Website and my goal is to help as many people as possible be successful in life, careers and business, by offering free coaching and mentoring through a series of unique interviews from inspiring people who all display exceptional self-belief, mental toughness and desire to achieve. Thank you for taking the time to visit Maximise Your Potential!