Category Archives: General

Jeff Bezos Annual Shareholder Letter

If you look at the progress of Amazon as a company between 1997 and 2017 when the latest shareholder letter was published it is quite remarkable.

I have said this before but if you want to see a great example of very long term thinking – read these letters. Amazon as a business has very good cash flows it just decides to invest these in the future. You really can’t fault that as a manager or shareholder.

It’s my money!

Sometimes you enter a market and existing competitors don’t like it.

Unfortunately for them it is a free market economy that we live in and I can spend my hard earned money on whatever I want!

There are lots of areas that I don’t invest in and OK, like everyone we don’t get everything right on day one, but if we focus on our customers, deliver a great service and product then we will succeed.

If the market doesn’t like our products then we won’t, but without listening to customers and getting feedback we will never know what is wrong and go on to fix it.

Product-Market Fit is something that is very important to us, but it generally doesn’t start with getting everything right. It starts by understanding what is wrong (using measurement, not gut feeling) and fixing it!

I can look at companies, investments or competitors that fail to listen to the customer, most successful ones do listen.

So I am listening, but unless you are a customer please don’t tell me how to do things. If you want to take up the challenge and make a difference to a market we operate in apply for a job.

Liquid e-commerce

We have now pushed a couple of the investments we have made in brands in the drink space into a group.

Liquid e-commerce is designed to bring the skills, technology platform and capital together into a cohesive group.

We will continue to create brands within this group and share the benefits of many years experience in the FMCG space.

Take a look http://www.liquidecommerce.com

Sticking at it..

Lots of startup businesses give up at the first sign of problems. This is a great pity, as running a business is really an endurance race rather than a sprint.

Unfortunately most business stories we read about skip over the years of effort, planning, experience and knowledge that go into most startups. Founders are often looking for short cuts for growth or get rich quick schemes.

I know from personal experience is that although it takes much longer to get to a comfortable business state when a journalist speaks to me I skip conveniently over the years of hard work and obstacles that you need to overcome.

The excitement of starting up is usually dulled by the focus, knocks and diversions that happen in everyday business.

The simplest way to get over this is not to set unrealistic timescales – something that entrepreneurs really struggle with – they are all optimists.

When will it get easier when running a business – the answer is really never!

But we don’t do it for an easy life, if we did we would be working in a nice comfortable cozy job, clocking off at 5.30 and not taking the worries and issues home with us everyday.

It sounds attractive, but I would much rather forge my own destiny.

Apple Watch

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I haven’t worn a watch for a long time. I find it really annoying to wear one and now check the electronic devices in my life all the time to check the time. If I really wanted a watch I think one that singularly tells the time is a great idea.

But Sinclair (above), Apple and Samsung have spent years trying to convince us that a multifunction device on our wrist is really useful. I don’t get it, Apple have brought out a larger screen smartphone and a small screen wrist device, it seems that we are all confused why we need one, but Apple have really done a great job convincing us we need their devices!

But I am going to pass on the Apple Watch, just as I passed on the Black Watch from Sinclair!

Independence

I have kept my views on Independence to myself and don’t really want to share them here, my current issue really is the level of uncertainty.

I have lived in Edinburgh, Liverpool, Chester, Rosyth (yes really!), Palo Alto, Nethybridge and Edinburgh. I typically travel to London or further afield every 1-2 weeks and spend quite a lot of time visiting different parts of the world. Cultural identity is very important to me, I think of myself as Scottish and have used that to my advantage when travelling around the world (especially in Silicon Valley).

But the issue is the world is global, I spent last summer in China and it reminded me how small a country Scotland is (Approx 5m) compared to places like Shanghai (14m). There is nothing wrong with being a small country, but we live in a global economy. I work hard and pay taxes (In Scotland), employ people (In Scotland) and enjoy the benefits of a great health service, education system and living in a small village that is Scotland.

The issue I hate most about the independence decision is it’s for life (or 300 years perhaps), it is an incredibly important decision for everyone and shouldn’t be taken lightly. None of the political parties have really explained some of the major issues I face as a business person and employer:

  1. Currency

How can we use another countries currency and have total fiscal responsibility? It doesn’t seem possible, so Scotland needs its own currency. This is likely to devalue in the short term at least, so how is this going to impact employment, taxes, interest rates etc. This is VERY important to avoid economic uncertainty that would definitely impact everyone in Scotland in the short term.

  1. Employment

How competitive can we be as employers, I run an e-commerce business that is dependent on a large customer base in the rUK not just Scotland, how will independence impact costs of transport, courier, staff costs. These are all issues that impact how competitive our business is compared with the rUK and international competitors.

  1. Investment

How can we make investment at this stage of the debate, we can’t so we need to understand the likely impact over the next 12-24 months of any decision. This can only have a negative impact on my business.

I totally agree that it would be great to be independent if we knew all the facts. We don’t – so I think we are letting our heart rule our head.

Any vote is going to be marginal either way, not a good start to further devolved powers or independence.

This is Tom

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In less than 12 hours I am picking up one of the most technologically advanced cars on this planet. I have been waiting for over 12 months for this car, and have been logging on everyday to get a status update.

I have struggled with what to name it, but it has to be called Tom (Tesla Tom). Why is a deeply personal story. Tom was my Uncle and the owner of many technical innovations that inspired me. He owned a lot of different cars in his life and loved the technological innovation the newest model brought.

In addition he inspired me in two ways – my father died when I was quite young, and at 13 I had no idea what to do. Tom was someone who left school, got an apprenticeship and became an electrician. In addition he then studied and worked to get an Open University degree while still working full time and looking after a growing family.

He also bought a BBC microcomputer – something that to me is has similarities to the Tesla I have bought today. It is a new technology entering our home – most people didn’t think it would “catch on” but Tom did and so did I.

I have spent my career living on the edge of technology – where most of my friends think I am mad or weird (OK I give you that!) but that is the spirit of Tom.

In addition at Orbital he was our first landlord after we left the garage to Corbiehill Road, Davidson Mains and believed in Calum, Alan and I to rent us some space, when most people laughed.

I will check the stats with Alan, his son – but I am sure he owned more than one car (52 to be precise!) – Tom, this is for you, an all electric innovation – all the way from Silicon Valley.

All I need to do now is drive the 404 miles back to Edinburgh!

The startup conundrum

Not that I was ever really a fan of Neil Sedaka but I have been thinking about what is next for the last few months.

I do think that the focus on grocery or food is excellent. Firstly I understand the market dynamics of the supply chain. Manufacturer, distributor, retailer and the associated benefits of each of these roles.

I also have some good contacts in the area for branding, packaging, distribution and customer acquisition. I have been impressed how many companies have launched in this area over the last 12-18 months, but I think times have changed.

When Andrew and I launched Diet Chef (way back in 2008) the barriers were a lot lower. You could work with a supplier and effectively displace consumers from bricks and mortar retail or from other segments that were badly served by e-commerce (diet being a great one at the time).

The issue is retailers are much better at online now, they have the infrastructure, staff and skills to easily launch an online service. The only thing is they are slow, but should you build an interesting online business you are going to struggle with the power of the retailers. This usually comes back to a price war – as consumers are very price focused online. If you started in the last decade you probably have a big enough moat to survive, but starting up today is another story.

In addition, customer loyalty is to new things and price, so churn of customers goes up massively.

You therefore need to understand how you will differentiate yourself compared to your competitors. Diet Chef was started with £100, I doubt that you could start today with this level of investment capital, but I will try!

I am going to try and keep my thoughts on what is next to a minimum on this blog until we have actually tested a few theories. All I can tell you is it’s online and in groceries and not in anyway competitive with Diet Chef!