Reflections on 2013 and resolutions for 2014

It’s been a good year

2014 has began well. Partly because I was skiing with my family as I usually do in the beautiful alps. The fresh air and the mountain always helps me self-reflect and think more. Without a shadow of doubt that one week skiing may be the most productive of my entire year. And whilst I always push myself to self-reflect that time of year – and this year in particular- is the deepest and most meaningful retrospection of all.

As I reflected on the past year I realized how much had actually happened. We started the year on steroids, the typical ‘go go’ top line investor fuelled growth mode. We operated on vanity metrics instead of sanity metrics.  We were fat and over-bloated. We were management heavy and inefficient. We were shooting for the stars and developed tunnel vision.

And then something painful but retrospectively lucky happened. The investor appetite changed, some of the assumptions, promises and myths came out sour. Some hidden realities came out of the wash. The froth came off the cappuccino.

I’ve said time and time again that the true test in life is what one does when that happens. In our case I’m proud to say that we just picked ourselves up, implemented some drastic changes, got real and elevated sanity above vanity.

It wasn’t easy.  We had to let go of team members, change plans and direction, scrap a lot of things that had emotional equity built in, and especially for the guy at the top who gets the shit from both ends – investors on one and team on other – I can tell you I had more than a few sleepless nights.

But we pulled through. We turned the business into cash-flow positive, we became leaner and meaner, the people staying over being part of the earlier hires who had more dedication and passion about who we are and what we stand for. Who share our sense of purpose.

We made drastic changes like moving from two split locations to one, which meant making our support team in London redundant. We dropped a few balls in the process with some metrics temporarily dipping but overall we came out a winner. Our costs overall halved and our revenue trebled in the year.

For this I am most grateful to the team that’s left over. They are warriors, with heart, passion and dedication. To reward them I doubled the stock pool and allocated a much bigger chunk of equity to the team that stayed for the fight. Some of the more senior management voluntarily took salary cuts in exchange for more stock.

The difference I’ve seen in mindset and perceptions is that from night and day. Its almost a different company now. Before I had employees. Now I have partners. Co-owners. And I push them to look at me more as a peer than a boss.

But good is the enemy of great !

Yet with all of that, I was still troubled at the end of the year. I had a niggling piece of the puzzle missing somewhere. I felt we did good but not great. 

 

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Wired Magazine's 2012's wired 100.

I just got Wired Magazine’s latest UK edition in which it showcases the work and impact of 100 tech companies and tech-related individuals, and venture capital firms.  There is truly an interesting lineup in there from guys like the 29 year old venture capital giant Accel Partners, Pete Cashmore of Mashable, Chris Lintott, Milo Yiannopoulos, Jimmy Wales and more. 

I did not find any mention of PeoplePerHour.Com (the hub for all freelancers and an economic engine room especially for the United Kingdom) and I thought that was odd. PeoplePerHour.Com has helped relay over £50million worth of transactions since inception in 2008 and has been used by over 70,000 small and medium sized business across the globe. In these difficult times, companies like PeoplePerHour.Com can help restore confidence and bank accounts. 

The story of how this company started up is nearly the stuff of Silicon Valley legend except it happened here in the UK. Wired is doing good but I’m sending them a small email today.

How the power of the crowd will transform business

One revolution that’s in the making today is that of the crowd.  There’s  lot of literature around it but it hasn’t yet transformed business in the way i think  it inevitably will. 

The staffing industry today is a whopping $450 Bn market. Of that only a mere $1Bn has been captured online. That’s 0.2% penetration.

If we compare that with commerce which leads services, there’s somewhere between 10-15% of the total value of commerce transacted online today and that’s projected to increase to over 50% in the next decade. 

In relative terms the market of eServices is where eCommerce was in 1996! 

So there is little doubt that this will grow liver time. The question is how will it impact business? And why hasn’t it already taken off in a much bigger way

Well first its because businesses are stuck in old ways of doing business. Old habits die hard especially with larger businesses. Which is why those that have adopted the power of the crowd are the startup & tech communities and the SMB sector that’s more nimble

The real transformation however will come when that trickles up into corporate America. 

And for that to happen there is still a lot of friction that needs to be removed to embrace mass adoption. 

Just as the first wave in commerce was getting inventory online and building tools that allow that inventory to become discoverable and then deliverable, the same will happen with services. 

Currently we are just at the phase of getting inventory online, making it discoverable and building workflows  which are the equivalent of a distribution system in commerce. They get the stuff from provider to customer. 

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Listening to our users..introduction of new features.

In a recent Google Hangout which I now hold regularly with our users, one of the features that was requested was the ability to dive into your activity as a Buyer and a Seller separately. This was launched on the site yesterday. Just navigate to the top of the header and click on your avatar to drill into  your activity as shown by the screenshot below 

Other features to follow soon re an enhanced Inbox with inbuilt search facility and much easier navigation to drill into your messages. Again - requested by PPHers. Stay tuned! 

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Another great hangout with PPHers!

This last Friday I held the second video chat with members of the PPH community via Google Hangouts. Both hangouts were so successful (at least I felt so and gauging by the tweets from those who participated I think that is the general consensus) so we decided to regularize them. From now on, every Friday whoever wants to chat with me with no particular agenda, just to share their concerns, issues, delights and whatever else regarding PPH, please sign up on: http://pphgooglehangouts3.eventbrite.com/ (The time of the hangouts may vary depending on what time zone I’m in, but they will happen nonetheless.)

At this point, I should say a special thanks to all those who participated so far! A lot of great things came out of these hangouts, including the need to communicate certain things to the community, like the ones below.

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The move to a cottage economy?

Something interesting is happening in the world today. Whilst the first big step in technological evolution – the industrialization of the early 20th century- pulled masses of people out of their cottages and organised the workforce around large centralized institutions, the second wave underpinned by Information Technology revolution is seemingly reversing that trend and driving people back to their ‘cottage’. How is that?

Let’s take a few innovations that have become integral parts of our personal and business lives. Relatively recent yet ubiquitous innovations – the internet, social networks, the PC even and the mobile phone, or more lately the blackberry – what do all these have in common other than a few microchips? They are increasingly making us more connected, more mobile, more interdependent yet more independent in terms of how where and when we work. And ultimately more in control of our own time and space. So is this rendering the traditional office as we know it obsolete?

Well, lets look at some statistics that may, or may not, suggest so:

- Small business – the driving force of the UK economy – are growing faster than any other sector according to the DTI, in excess of 10% annually.
- There are 4.5m small businesses (under 50 employees) in the UK accounting for a whopping 35% of enterprise turnover. Of these 2.1million (almost half) are home based businesses
- Home businesses now account for a whopping 28% of employment in the UK
- Over 60% of new businesses are now started from home. There are about 450,000 new businesses starting in the UK annually, so that’s ca 270,000 new home based businesses per year!
- Home businesses aside, there are over 3.7m self-employed people in the UK in 2007 up by a million (or ca 30%) since 1986!

Still, the above lags behind the USA where almost 85% of employment is in SMEs (small-medium sized enterprises) so if the usual catch-up of the UK to the USA is anything to go by then this is a trend that will carry on.

But more fundamentally, what’s fuelling this are real and growing drivers that indicate that this is neither a fad nor a short-lived trend that will subside

a) More women are constantly entering the workforce, so when they take maternity leave we naturally have a growing ‘workforce capacity’ at home. Till now that was difficult to tap into but with sites like www.PeoplePerHour.com it is

b) Technology is making us more mobile and connected – indeed most homes can now be turned into a small office with very little effort. With broadband penetration approaching 90% of homes and mobile penetration exceeding 100% (a lot of people have more than 2 phones), we’re all a click of a button away

c) Increasingly people are becoming more conscious of their work-life balance. A survey conducted by the Equal Opportunities Commission in 2006 showed that over 40% of UK women and 10% of men are now making lifestyle choices which involve opting for part-time or occasional work patterns, rather than the traditional ‘9 to 5’ regime.

So what are the benefits of working from home?

We asked people registered on our site (www.PeoplePerHour.com) to give us their own personal insight in this as professional freelancers. Here were some of their comments

Increased job satisfaction - I am able to work on the projects that I enjoy and work in areas that I am passionate about. Work is never boring, every project is different. Working from home independently and partnering my skills with a broad range of advertising agencies and creative industry professionals is stimulating and rewarding. Significantly better work/life mix. Sue Dunn, Shout Copywriting

My personal life has improved greatly, from having breakfast as a family to being able to make time for simple things like taking our daughter to feed the ducks, or taking an hour out of the week to take her to swimming lessons. I am also less stressed as being the master of my own destiny so to speak I can manage my time better which benefits my marriage and our joint happiness. Johnathan Whalvin, Design Vent

A major drop in mileage and travel time, enjoying self-motivation and challenges, no office politics or hierarchy, no senseless or distant decisions, direct action and reaction between myself and clients, total responsibility - all this and more made me a happier and more fulfilled person with greater self esteem. Also I maintain that I haven’t got time to be ill therefore rarely am eg one cold a year, [and that’s usually because I’ve overworked], perhaps but never that general feeling of malaise many employed people suffer - I haven’t got time to be ill and I’m certainly too stimulated to feel off colour. A Roe, Virtual Assistant



So whilst home working can save you cost (as for example in travelling), have tax benefits (although beware – you must have at least 3 different clients to be able to convince the Inland Revenue that you’re not a full-time employee hiding behind a company), as well as potentially earning allow you to more money by being more flexible and in command of your work, it seems that the most commonly perceived benefit is the personal satisfaction it creates in being able to sustain a better work-life balance.

So if you haven’t considered home working yet, perhaps you should. Our site is a good place to start – you can get tips on home working from our Blog, and more importantly supplement your income by finding and bidding for business.

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Getting PPHers together. We loooove our meetups.. and they seem to be getting more and more popular! This one was held in London, and simultaneously (as it happened) we held one in NYC at WeWork Labs.  So come join us for the next one! You can find details here http://pphlondonmeetup-es2.eventbrite.com/?rank=1 

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