I will be honest in that i did not know who Don McCullin was until a month ago, when i watched this documentary. But i can say that this is one of the most influential movies i have ever seen.
Don McCullin is an English photojournalist who is renowned for shining a light on the dark side of humanity, telling the story of those impoverished, war stricken people all around the world. Growing up on the mean streets of Finsbury in London and doing a stint in the RAF eventually led him to take the photo of a notorious gang that ran in the Observer in 1959. It was this photo that started his journey of storytelling, across all continents and of all cultures from Biafra and Northern Island to Vietnam and parts of Africa through the AIDS Epidemic. Often finding himself amongst brave, shocking and horrific tales of human suffering he earned himself a reputation as a fearless truth teller. Starting out as a self-confessed ‘war junkie’ he develops an incredibly deep and sensitive consciousness that i believe is reflected in the tone and timing of his photographs.
As the Falklands reared its ugly head he was not allowed to go, which was at the time believed to be because the government of Margaret Thatcher did not want his hard hitting photos to hit the pages of the papers, reducing sentiment for the actions of war. Wikipedia states that this was not the case, but was infact a simple lack of Royal Navy ‘press passes’.
He is one of those people that you cannot stop listening too, and this film is no different. Intelligent and reflective of his actions he makes no attempt to glamorise his work, and is openly abhorred by the lows our species can stoop to. This film was directed by David Morris and Jacqui Morris and nominated for 2 BAFTA awards.
Inspirational, uplifting, terrifying, sobering and questioning; this story must be heard.
Here are some of the photos that he has taken, showing the cold face of many human crisis and often being responsible for questions to be asked by the populations to those in power.
“Life is a glorious release from ignorance”
This is my favourite quote of all time, and it’s from good old Hunter S Thompson.
I think that one could easily describe the journey of any young company with those exact words. You form amongst a torrent of excitement and ideas, raise money through enthusiasm and exhilaration, hit speed bumps with conviction and anxiety, make huge gains with exhilaration and hard work. There are many more moments that make up this journey, so unique to each and every startup. The point is that they are like a story, and that some protagonists, like in all good books, are there are the beginning and not at the end. The story happens, words written on a page describe a narrative that dictates the outcome, and before you know it they are gone. But I hope not forgotten. Those early protagonists set the scene, write the opening paragraphs for others to take over. They are the stage setters.
I have decided to move on from Movebubble this week as I felt that it was time for me to exit the Movebubble narrative. The relationships that form within an organization are what make or break it. Business is merely socializing with a purpose, and when those relationships and shared purposes disappear then the time comes to find another adventure. This was my moment of realisation, my release from ignorance. I found out that relationships change, and what you started as is not where you end up. My relationship with my co-founder and CEO changed, and was damaging to both the business and ourselves.
I do not regret my time at Movebubble in any way; I loved working there and am sad to leave. The friends I have made, the people I have worked with will be with me forever. They are the most talented bunch of people in the world, coming into work every day to change the world just a tiny bit. Little by little they make progress and my challenge to them is to continue with this focused mind. Keep on learning, and find that passion. You have inspired me to do the very same. You can achieve what you want, how you want it. I applaud you to go get ‘it’, and to make your life matter.
Thank you for all the patience you have offered me, the knowledge you have imparted on me and fun we have had. However, this is a very positive move for me. I am so excited about beginning a new book and an opening paragraph. Once again I am the author. I am now unrestricted to follow through with my conviction, to pursue another story and create the life I want.
I hope that I have made a difference to Movebubble in some way; I hope that I have helped set the stage for success. Good luck to you all.
In the infamous words of Disraeli,
“life is too short to be little”.
Now it’s my time to think BIG! Watch this space….
Technical startups are wriggly creatures, especially those that are grown in the wild, outside of larger corporations. The stereotypical bootstrapper with a vision will be unable to lay out any accurate roadmap for the business, technical development or marketing roll out. Why? Well, simply because they cannot predict what it will be in 6 months from the day they commit and pull the trigger by setting up a company.
And as my co-founder and CEO (at Movebubble) Aidan Rushby often reminded me,
“it’s just about starting the journey!”
Once committed to a vision, there is an understanding that the journey is likely to change. In fact it’s pretty likely that you will have pivots, big or small along the way. Whether you are changing the product or marketing direction your journey will be fluid. Your value proposition malleable whilst you figure out what really does work, and what really does offer value to your customer. Now I speak more from a software/website development startup perspective but I would imagine that the same is true for hardware too.
Lets go back a little and look at what marketing was.
Marketing was the demonstration and monetization of value.
Having just written that sentence down for the first time since I learned it on my MBA I can actually see how flawed it is. The ‘demonstration’ of value to me implies that a business should show, advertise and sell its benefits and features, highlighting how this is valuable to customers. Now this is still true, in part, for those businesses that know how their products deliver value and are effectively a marketing led organization. But in agile development startup environments, unless you’re delivering something with IP, then you’re solving social problems, communication problems, integration problems, and the business is ultimately (and should be) product led. This is correct because you are ultimately testing and failing every day, building more of what people use more of, and less of what people use less of.
Until there is demonstrable value being delivered from the product, the role played by marketing is exhausting and incredibly difficult. It is not for the faint hearted, but if you understand the role of marketing in a startup you can add a phenomenally powerful competitive advantage to the business. Now i have limited experience to many, but it feels like this is a rarity in the startup world. I think that people view marketing in a startup exactly the same as performing marketing in a more established business. Before the ever-illusive product-market fit marketing is in a perpetual state of change, always in catch-up as it tries to re-communicate the shifting value proposition. This can be truly exhausting, and I can talk from experience on this one.
It was however only when I truly began to understand my role as the strategic arm of marketing within the business did I begin to get that it was about supporting the business at it’s current stage and not sticking rigidly to an MBA text book. I know people talk about it all the time, but the key is to learn to tell a narrative. Turn marketing into a storytelling machine. The reason is not what you might expect. If you are telling a story, the plot is allowed to change. It is expected to change actually, and in doing so becomes interesting. What marketing must learn to do is manage change. It must become comfortable in motion, and very specifically build processes, strategies and hire people to manage this movement.
There needs to be an understanding that what we are doing today will be irrelevant tomorrow. It is becoming much like agile development, however agile marketing is unable to check the rendering of a story on a screen, and must instead analyse both quantitative and qualitative data to understand whether it is on course.
So what processes am I specifically talking about? Well, there are many but for me it is about speeding up the time between knowing whether something is working or not. It is about automating reporting metrics that are important to the business and being able to take action every single morning to move the needle back in the right direction. The more you can turn the function of marketing into a machine, the more marketing can do its job of leading change and growth from within the company. Because ultimately I think that marketing’s new role in startups, is to be able to lead a group of people to work together and pull in the same direction.
Marketing has so many channels open to it today, that it is impossible to ‘do’ them all. But what is not impossible is to establish a set of process, from the bottom up, that empower your team to test and make decisions to ultimately guide change.
Now that is a good question. These days being a tech startup founder or early employee is a wet dream for most. It’s the new rock star, perhaps even the next Justin Bieber… actually no, i take that back. I certainly don’t want to be labelled in any way the same as that #doosche!
But I think that there lots of assumptions and stereotypes that are likely played on within the startup world, and i suppose even the word startup implies something new and cool. The irony is that any business that is not yet successful is called a startup…! Really you don’t want to work in a startup, and you really don’t want to be a startup founder. You want to be a business founder but hey… who am I am to know?
Let’s have some fun, and see what the stereotypical startup looks like, what myths exist and see if we can debunk them a little…
Well contrary to popular belief you don’t have to sleep and eat in a brightly coloured, itchy ill fitting hoodie. Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly a ‘cultness’ to a startup and how better defined than wearing the same clobber, but this in my experience is only at events etc. Personally I like to dress well (well I think so!) as fashion does say something about you, and is really people’s first impression. Basically the long and short is that a startup is a collection of diverse individuals and therefore the fashions you find within will vary too. Thankfully…:)
Now although this is obviously a really important attribute for a technology startup to have access to, it is not necessary for all team members to know C Language, C++, C#, Java, Ruby, SQL, PHP or Python. Now although they do have good names, you can get by without them. It is however useful to have a basic understanding of what they are if you are trying to recruit a top tiered development team or in case you go on a date with a developer. Now i am learning SQL as this will make me a better marketer, but otherwise don’t panic. So long as you have developers on your team you will be fine.
This is rubbish. If you are a startup then you are probably running it from a broom cupboard. When my business partner, Aidan Rushby, and I started Movebubble we did so from his bedroom. Post it notes all over the wall, a table too small for 2 and his flatmates having a go as we did work pretty late building business plans and investment proposals. So when you see slides and bouncy castles in a ‘startup’ office again you are seeing fun and engaging studio setups for an established business. That takes time and money to get there. So start small, and get comfortable in that bedroom of yours… you have to work hard to get out of it. 😉 Good luck.
This is so far from the truth as all those overnight success stories that you have heard about are not overnight successes. These business have usually been in operation for a few years, had several pivots in strategy, have likely almost run out money and probably started as something else! So if you are looking at entrepreneurship as a money maker don’t. Go and join a bank. I think that approximately 90% of new businesses fail. Now this is certainly not a reason not to begin the journey, I applaud anyone brave enough to try, but you have to manage your expectations. It will be hard work, and take you some time before you are rolling in the ‘dollar dollar bills y’all…!’
Ahhhh, another load of rubbish. VERY few businesses, if any, have this imaginary hockey stick curve from the get go. It is more phased approach, with smaller wins, and then plateaus, followed by more small wins and then probably a trough of despair! It takes a huge amount of learning to develop a technology business, and you can only learn with failure. Don’t get me wrong there are moments when scaling a business becomes important, and you should only really be focussing on growth but this is not an initial concern. Focus on optimising what you have for a limited number of clients and go from there. Don’t stress about the magic work scale. VCs don’t want to see a large database, but retained, recurring users that are growing in number each cohort.
At Movebubble we have focussed on making a valuable product first, that users return to use over and over. Then we can focus on growth.
I know these are some silly examples, but I think that some people don’t really understand that a startup is about business and ultimately about adding value and making money. All technology startups should be aiming for a big win, a monopoly. I know this is a dirty word, and we are all bread to believe that competition is healthy but it’s not. Competition erodes profitability and ensures cat fighting and posturing rather than progression (this is another post altogether that will certainly write later for sure). Startups are beautiful places that hopefully breed innovation, creativity, diversification and development for mankind. I know it’s a cliche but yes, we do all start a business to ‘change the world..!’
But if you want to know what a startup is all about how about this funny video called #thestartup….
The world is evolving at a rapid pace, with new technological, cultural and societal boundaries being laid to waste by innovative business models. The traditional business cycle seems to be getting shorter, with the rise (and fall) being potentially far quicker than say 20 years ago. And, much like Moore’s Law, I feel this advance in the capabilities of businesses to fulfill customer needs will grow exponentially as businesses come to terms with the cloud, data and mobile/wearable technology and their endless possibilities. In turn, customer expectations will advance, and businesses will ever be playing catch-up with user demands. The sharing economy has been born, developed and surged in recent years, utilizing those aforementioned factors; and in the process fundamentally altering the way people expect to do business around the world. I feel that there are still substantial opportunities for both the sharing economy, and those larger companies that currently feel threatened by it.
Technology has certainly enabled businesses to build platforms that facilitate the sharing of assets already in circulation. Peer-to-peer sharing reduces the costs for the end user, as there is no requirement for an agent to moderate the transaction. Technology has reduced transaction costs, making sharing of assets easier and cheaper than ever before. This has enabled businesses operating in this space to acquire substantial market share quickly and expand operations on a much larger scale than has been previously possible. Airbnb is one such example where it now provides a service in over 30,000 cities globally, and has disrupted the well-established hotel industry with a punchy valuation of $10 billion in just under 6 years of trading. It is my belief that this emergence of a new model of consumption was driven by a desire for greater value, and less reliance on any middleman following the 2008 credit crunch.
Data has enabled businesses to disaggregate individuals’ assets into services. It has also enabled businesses to provide more contextual service offerings from other individuals based on preference, location, purchase history and peers. Sharing sites enable users to become ad hoc providers of a service, and make incremental or continuous income from already owned assets. For the end user or customer this is great, because access is more important than ownership of assets. Rachel Botsman has stated that the peer-to-peer rental market is worth $26 billion. Although there are opportunities for businesses to use this rental model for spare resources and assets, it is predominantly person-to-person rental within which they operate.
It is easy to see how “collaborative consumption” can offer greater levels of value and utility for customers, because owners can make money from underutilized assets and users can gain utility from using an asset they would not have otherwise been able to afford. This is bleeding edge capitalism, and solves the issue of overconsumption and materialism. It is focused on the efficient use of resources, which has environmental (and economic) benefits too.
Trust is inherently built into the mechanisms of these new business models with open, two-way review and referencing systems in place. Technology has enabled the platform providers to validate users, and ensure they are real people; which in turn only increases the trust of users in that platform. David Lee, founder and managing partner at SV Angles (an early investor in Airbnb) states that although a solid payment platform is paramount, the most important aspect of these business models is being able to build a trusting community and enabling users to ‘meet’ one another online before they meet in person.
There are however inevitable regulatory issues with these models, specifically around areas such as insurance, liability and tax. In 2012 the California Public Utilities Commission issued $20,000 worth of fines against three companies: Uber, Lyft and SideCar for “operating as passenger carriers without the required public liability and property damage insurance”. Frustrated incumbents will use outdated regulations to restrict, as best they can, the rise of such businesses. In many states in the USA, such companies are unable to operate and are fighting many legal battles.
Room sharing businesses are also causing a stir, and have run into issues around the zoning regulations and other rules governing temporary rentals in which the property owner is not present. Owners have served some renters notice because the renter was seen to be sub-letting the room on Airbnb. Interestingly it has recently appointed David Hantman, previously the head of government relations at Yahoo, as its head of public policy to tackle this regulatory issue.
Progressive businesses will always encounter fractious times. Inevitably regulatory bodies or governments will play catch up, mediating between the wishes of the end-consumers (which can be represented as the actions and purchase patterns of those customers supporting new business models) and the established businesses fighting to stay in the market, and keep its once loyal customer base.
Interestingly, the larger companies that face disruption are moving into the space through investment into these upstart rivals. GM Ventures invested $13 million into RelayRides in 2011. This has not only offered a vote of confidence to the sharing model, but it has highlighted how old and new business can work together to offer additional value to both the new and old business alike. In this instance, RelayRides was granted access to GM’s OnStar navigation system. Now OnStar equipped cars can now be locked and unlocked from an app, removing the need for individuals to meet and hand over the keys.
I have always felt that the sharing economy lacked any real coherent definition, and that it in actual fact was made up of many various value-adding models. And as with any great surge of capitalism it has been hacked, rebuilt and rolled out across many other markets and industries with a variety of results. The one thing that has seemed to remain fairly constant was that these models focused on the sharing of assets; it was about access and not ownership. Now I believe there is another step change in the sharing economy, and we (Aidan Rushby, Tony Edwards and myself) have built a company based on these beliefs.
Movebubble uses technology to disrupt an old, archaic industry, that of the private residential property lettings market. It does not enable people to share assets in a manner as that described above; instead it facilitates collaboration on key tasks centered on the long-term property rental process. Users are able to work together through technology to reduce the waste of a particular resource; time spent on a task. Through guided collaboration of tasks, aptly timed to reduce delays and confusion, via any device users are able to increase productivity on the move, ultimately reducing the time spent on such tasks. And as the old adage goes, “time is money”.
Such platforms will reduce waste, as user groups work together to achieve common goals, which in the case of Movebubble is a safe and secure rental tenancy agreement. Is the next step in the evolution of the sharing economy the emergence of platforms enabling users to reduce time spent on tasks, and to collaborate faster, remotely? Is this the rise of the Collaborative Customer?
In order for these Customer Collaborative Platforms (CCP) to work, users need to know that other users are validated, real and ultimately trustworthy. This is one thing that is held in common with the sharing economy. CCP’s must build a trusting community that is exclusive and not available to those who are not a part of it. The reciprocal nature of the review system requires that only those involved with transactions with another user are able to offer reviews and feedback. Not only do users need to trust the users of the platform, but they must also trust the platform itself. Data privacy is paramount, and CCP businesses must continue to invest in its security. It can take many years to build up trust in a brand, and unfortunately only a moment to destroy it. Executives of such businesses must work tirelessly to uphold and reinforce the messages that are central to such organizations: openness, honesty and transparency. Trust is the marketing currency of the future, with a vast number of Internet users still concerned about online privacy protection.
Consumers are primarily concerned with Environmental Control, i.e. the ability of the user to control the actions of the vendor (this could manifest as worries over supplying credit card information online) and the secondary use of that information (which is typically a worry that vendors will sell private information to 3rd parties). Although an older study, the 1997 Georgia Tech Graphics, Visualization and Usability Centers’ GVU 7th User Survey showed a whopping 87% of web users think they should have complete control over the demographic information websites capture, and over 71% feel there should be new laws to protect their privacy online. 63% of those reporting that they decline to provide information to websites have done so because they do not trust those collecting the data.
So that these businesses are able to ensure that customers can collaborate quickly and effectively these CCPs will tread the peripheries of public and legal interpretations of privacy. Such companies will need to pre-empt competitor actions with appropriate responses to calls for additional regulation on this subject. However, more importantly these CCPs will need to deliver an explicit social contract with the user, executed in the context of a cooperative relationship built on trust.
Any technology that can equip customers with the ability to undercut the current status quo through collaboration will ultimately win, as mainstream market adoption occurs via word of mouth (or word of mouse!). So get ready, as the rise of the collaborative customer is finally here.
I have just started to read a big book. A very big book. Avinash Kaushik‘s Web Analytics 2.0 and i must admit i am hooked! I am not entirely sure how i have become quite so interested in the frameworks, mechanics and methodologies of disseminating metrics to acquire valuable insights for businesses and decision making but i have. “Who would have thought?” as my mother might say! As suggested in my previous post What is Agile Marketing, the ability for teams to quickly and confidently alter course based on real data drives us to improve on failure; over and over and over. I think it is this attitude toward a continual state of team learning that makes us all lean a ‘little bit analytical’ these days.
Now I have only read the first few chapters but one thing that has struck a chord with me already is that one (or a business) can be armed with all the tools under the sun and yet still fail to deliver on changing those frameworks, mechanics and methodologies that I have alluded to earlier in this post. If you cannot instil a change of ‘mindset’ (or will) in your customers or colleagues then you are doomed to the status quo. This is the power of leadership i suppose, and perhaps from where the coined term “thought leadership’ has emerged. Emergent internal team leaders, business leaders and businesses themselves have to be able to take colleagues, team members and customers in directions which were not immediately obvious or comfortable, physically and emotionally.
So this got me thinking about the process of altering mindsets, and how one might go about this. As a business leader myself (a co-founder of Movebubble) I am tasked with changing the mindsets of those looking to move house around the world. It is my role to push, position and illustrate an alternative method to achieve the same goals. With this new venture we are taking on an old, heavy and wealthy adversary; an adversary with real authority and ‘apparent’ knowledge. And in the mind of the prospect, this is the ‘status quo’, the way things are done… unless we can change that.
Daniel Kahneman has written of something called the Theory Induced Blindness in the acclaimed Thinking Fast and Slow, in which individuals are blinded to an obvious truth (albeit in hindsight) simply because of an official and generally accepted theory stating otherwise. People seem unable or unwilling to challenge it. In particular he talks of Daniel Bernoulli’s theory of economic utility, in which an individuals’ utility (or happiness) can be easily calculated based on wealth (see the graph to illustrate this below).
Kahneman goes onto to argue that this is in actual fact not entirely true, and that it does not take into consideration where you have come from, i.e. your relative starting position of wealth. I would also add into this that people don’t act rationally most of the time which is one of foundations of economic utility theory. Kahneman introduces the Prospect Theory, which does take into consideration the relative starting position to calculate utility.
“Well that obvious Logan!” I hear you shout.
My point is that for approximately 200 years, scholars, intellectuals and other economists believed Bernouilli’s theory was true almost without question, because it was an official theory. And the longer it went unchallenged the more official it became. They themselves had Theory Induced Blindness.
It reminds me, in part, of the Milgram experiment, where subjects of a psychology test were asked to administer potentially lethal electrical shocks to other volunteer subjects, simply because they were being told to do so by authoritative people in white official clothing. This recurrence of an ‘official line’ seems to be important in making people act irrationally. Our societies and cultures are shaped by our anthropological background as a species, and hasinstilled a sense of respect for authority, which we perhaps feel uncomfortable in challenging.
I work in the Real Estate and Technology Sector (Realtech) therefore I am able to comment on this sector more ably than any other. It feels to me, that the Real Estate and Private Residential Lettings market has Theory Induced Blindness, or as i am going to call it Business Model Induced Blindness. People are unwilling to (or have not to date) look outside the current models in play; but once they do the alternative will seem to have been so apparent;
“Why has this not existed before?”
is a common statement that i come across in my daily work life. This implies to me that this alternative ‘unagency’ or ‘customer collaborative’ model (as being used by my company) is, in hindsight, so obvious.
Even Mark Earls, author of Herd (officially one of my favourite books on ‘group think’ and ‘herd mentality’) talks about this power of authority, and how people are willing to listen to, trust and undertake tasks given to them because the ‘giver’ is an authoritative looking figure. Perhaps this is why Real Estate agents and brokers wear suits and drive fancy cars. I am sure that web developers with hoodies and beards instills less authority!
So, i am finally getting to my point, in that we can enact change in the market place, in any market place as entrepreneurs and startups by taking real positive action. It is up to us to be authoritative, perhaps even in areas where no one has authority. I am beginning understand that this leadership, whether of the tangible or thought variety, is the key to altering the mindset of colleagues and customers. Firm, consistent and constant messaging and communication thereof is the key to moving people into a new mindset or way of thinking.
This might perhaps sound obvious. Drone on and on about your ideas and eventually people will follow… no no not at all. You miss my point. One has to become an authority on that subject, find the knowledge that is not common, and share with the world. People won’t always like what you have to say, in particular the incumbents, but be sure to shout loud and clear from the digital rooftops that you really do know what you are talking about and that people should follow. Be willing to learn that knowledge with your customers, and even your competitors. Because if you are truly going where no one has gone before as an entrepreneur then knowledge on that subject will be few and far between. It is up to you to find, and communicate this through your comms and content strategies.
Thought leadership is a state of mind, and it begins with you…
This may sound like a contentious and argumentative blog article, however it is merely written with the hope of stimulating a dialogue. The residential lettings industry is changing, evolving into a new ecosystem with new players and new challenges for both owner, renter and those businesses that serve them. As the landscape shifts like quicksand under our feet, old players and incumbents will go through the stages of disruption, as laid out in the Classic Disruption Cycle by Elad Gil.
In this phase of the disruption cycle the traditional model thinks that the ‘newbies on the block’ are nothing more than young upstarts. A flash in the pan and that nothing could ever shake their hold over the status quo. There may be some simple regulatory action here, similar to when UberCab was made to change its name to Uber.
Sudden Collapse or #massmigration
This is the moment, when the incumbent realizes that they are on slippery slope to ruin. Massive migration occurs, and they lose a vast, sizeable chunk of their customer base quickly. This is the phase when others see others using the new service, and therefore think they should use it. I suppose this is the idea of social and peer reinforcement, or herd marketing as highlighted by Mark Earls in his book ‘Herd’. This is one of my favourite books by the way, some great insights.
“I’ll have what he’s having”…. is one of my favourite examples of this, and one I hear all the time in various forms.
Look at Airbnb and how quickly it spread around the world as more people knew others that had used the service.
Too little too late
This is the stage when the incumbents do what they should have done in the overconfidence phase. They try to save the situation, with innovations of their own but by this point they are already out of date and way too late!
This is the stage when the older model of doing business is no longer relevant. It has been superseded with new customer expectations and better customer service.
So why does this matter, I hear you cry..?!?!? Well we think that we (Movebubble) are somewhere on this Disruption Cycle, with incumbents taking aim at anything new and regulatory bodies such as the Association of Residential Lettings Agents feeling the need to advertise on UK mainstream…(ish) television. Now this last point seems particularly odd, and I wanted to shed some light on ARLA for all of our trusted owners out there.
I felt I needed to gain some greater insights into ARLA and what it is like working at the sharp end of the industry. So I asked my co-founder Aidan Rushby about his experience and opinions on the subject. Some might not like his view, and for that I apologise. But without challenge how can we ever progress. It is our alternative viewpoint, that will after all likely challenge the status quo, which will always cause friction and disagreements along the way. Just to give you some context I am co-founder and CMO of the same business (Movebubble), and although this article does mention our business, it is in no way intended to be a sales pitch at all.
The words below are an executive summary of our discussion, and I really hope that this generates a dialogue around this subject. So please let me know your thoughts and comments.
Most lettings agents will be proud to announce that they are members of ARLA, and are likely to even have ARLA stickers in the windows of the agency shop. It does sound impressive, but what does it really mean?
ARLA stands for “The Association of Residential Lettings Agents” and on the website it reads:
“The Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA) is a professional membership and regulatory body for letting agents and letting agencies in the UK. ARLA recognized the requirements of the residential lettings market were so detailed and specific that a separate organization was required to promote standards in this important sector of the property industry.”
Now don’t get us wrong, this does sound great but what benefits does this produce for owner and the renter (aka landlord and tenant)?
I have previously worked within the residential lettings industry for around about 7 years, and have an opinion on this that I had wanted to share, as it may be a little unorthodox.
There are some great things with ARLA, such as the requisite that all agents operating under ALRA must maintain valid Professional Indemnity Insurance to ensure that ARLA member’s consumers are protected from errors or omission made by any agency. ARLA members also agree to comply with all the professional standards outlined in ARLA’s Byelaws and Code of Practice, demonstrating their dedication and commitment to high standards in Letting Agency. Great stuff.
Be sure to check out http://www.arla.co.uk/about-us/why-use-our-members for more information
From my experience owners (aka landlords) and renters (aka tenants) do not get any tangible benefits from utilizing agents that are members of ARLA. It is so easy to become a member, pay the membership fees required, put a sticker on the shop window and voila..! You are now a ‘Bon-a-fide’ ARLA representative. What’s more, an agency has to have only one registered individual per branch to display that ‘all important’ sticker and give the impression that the branch is a registered member.
Online letting agents like Rentify even have the ARLA logo on their website. This seems very odd as they don’t even conduct viewings and surely thus can’t follow the code of practice. They also allow owners to upload properties for free, without even seeing the property. Considering the statement below, as found in the Code of Conduct, it would appear that to be an ARLA representative you have to qualify all descriptions of the property to be true and reasonable.
G. II A Member must take reasonable steps to make sure that all statements, whether oral or written, about a property are accurate and not misleading. In particular, reasonable care should be taken when describing property as Unfurnished, Part Furnished, Furnished or Fully Furnished so that applicants are not misled as to what fixtures, fittings etc might be included.
Therefore, how can Rentify adhere to ARLA’s code of conduct? We are not sure that they do but perhaps this is another post altogether… I digress.
Even one of the most successful lettings companies in the UK, Foxtons, chooses not to be a member of ARLA. Is this because Foxtons fail to find any added value from being a member, either for themselves or their customers?
So lets talk about the ARLA examination process.
In order for you to become a vetted ARLA representative, and be able to speak with authority you have to undergo a grueling set of examinations that only the bravest, smartest and most qualified can pass. Apparently.
I have been there and done them, and got the ARLA tee-shirt.
I picked up the required book, read for half an hour and passed the 4 examinations. I was only 24 at the time. Easy. Now I was apparently qualified to advise owners (aka landlords) on perhaps their most valued investment. My employers would confidently declare that I was the man to talk to when it came to advice about being a property owner and the trials and tribulations of renting out a property. In hindsight, I feel that this was very far from the truth. Another business of which I was aware, even allowed its representatives who were not ARLA qualified to claim they were and give advice as such. Mmmmm…. Dubious. In my 7 years as Branch Manager I was never contacted by ARLA. Not even once.
Another more recent point of notice.
Interestingly there has been a new ARLA television campaign, and this is no doubt to drive awareness and acquire more customers i.e. lettings agents.
But I wonder if there is a slightly deeper and more pertinent reason for this new channel of marketing. There is renewed vigour to regulate the industry, and perhaps ARLA are trying to reinforce the ‘need’ for the agency model and thus their own position within the market. No agency model, no ARLA!
I think that they should be focusing on managing their membership more closely, so that all ARLA registrars are offering validated benefits to the end users rather than showing off with large TV adverts.
I feel that ARLA, (and for that matter any non market-driven or Government intervention), infact prevents innovation in the industry with strict, archaic and immoveable requirements. Hence why Movebubble is not a member of ARLA. This is for several reasons. The first being that it is not an agency but rather a trusted community marketplace (or customer collaborative platform #coined) centered on the rental agreement. Secondly, innovation is stitched into our very nature as a business, and to voluntarily adhere to any restrictions would seem detrimental to our future success.
In all I think this is a sign that we are already in the Overconfidence stage, and rather than the business model and businesses therein innovating and coming out with new solutions for the end users, they are simply cranking up the ad spend, and applying the band aids.
How long will this strategy last..? Lets put it this way, I would not want to own a lettings agency right now.
Agile is the new buzz word in the business world, being first established in the software development world to tackle a set of unpredictable and moving requirements. Eric Ries, amongst many others, was one of the first to talk openly about the principles of the Lean Startup and Agile Methodologies where optimising the performance of a website or piece of software was the primary focus. This is where the term Conversion Rate Optimisation has come from, or Growth Hacking to use the contemporary terminology.
I believe that these very same principles of test often, fail often, learn always are paramount as we move into a faster and far more dynamic world in terms of both customer expectations and the competitive landscape. I believe that we are able to focus on the reallocation of resources within marketing in the very same way, and move away from the stale, rigid and risky waterfall management framework and into the fast, ‘boxer like’ world of SCRUM.
In short Agile Marketing is comprised of short sprints, that occur anywhere between 7 and 30 days. These micro campaigns consist of pre-defined stages, that in turn feed the direction of marketing strategy and vision. A brilliant piece to read, is the SCRUM reference card that highlights the details of this way of thinking. I have amended the defined Sprint stages so that they are more relevant to the responsibilities of marketing, in my humble opinion.
SCRUM teams get together at the beginning of each sprint or micro-campaign to break down larger goals into smaller tasks. The team then chooses and allocates tasks, roles and responsibility to members. Each team member accepts the tasks, in the genuine understanding that they are achievable in the sprint.
The layout of the SCRUM will be as follows:
This stage will enable team members the autonomy to work on their own, and collaborate accordingly to deliver on their own responsibilities. Team members will look use personal knowledge, research and data available from previous iteration cycles to develop campaign and marketing assets that will deliver on the KPIs identified.
So as to minimize risks of customer facing content the following ‘have I done this checklist’ should be used by each team member:
1. Have I read this word for word, slowly to make sure that it reads correctly?
2. Have I read this backwards to make sure that there are no obvious spelling errors.
3. Have I run this piece of content through a Microsoft word spell checker?
4. Has another person read this before I pull the trigger?
5. Am I willing to put my reputation against this piece of content?
6. Only when the answer to all those above is YES, then you can deploy.
This checklist format comes from Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto, which i would encourage everyone on this blog to read.
Mid sprint SCRUM Review meetings will be encouraged, where team members are to demonstrate finished materials (or at key iterations) for feedback from interested team members. This offers an opportunity for outside people, customers or potential customers to offer feedback. This will offer iterative feedback on material and campaigns enabling a value driven approach
In this stage, seeding teams will take the assets and distribute across previously identified channels so as to gain maximum exposure for the brand. Teams are also responsible for answering any questions online and via social media, or taking any feedback and gathering it for the next SCRUM meeting.
This is an important (and continual process) of social listening and communication. It ensures that all team members are on relevant social media and engaging in associated conversations about the material, products, services and company.
In this stage of the iteration cycle team members will collect the data of relevant KPIs so that ROI can be gauged. Assumptions should be made from this information, and attempts at insight are encouraged.
Decisions should be made for future iteration cycles in preparation for the next SCRUM.
I think it apt to state that all team members should get aligned with real metrics, and leave the ‘gut instincts’ at the door.
Each sprint will end with a retrospective meeting where the team can reflect on its own process, and are able to take action to make future sprints better.
The main aim of these meetings is to expose organizational and team impediments. It is important that this time is a free and open environment to positively critique team and individual performance. This is not a time for the blame game, rather for personal learning, mentorship and improvement.
So this is, in short my breakdown of the Agile Methodologies into something ‘chewable’ for marketers. I could be wrong, but hey, i am happy to amend my view dependant on the results. Challenge me.. please.
I look forward to your comments.
I must admit, i think i hate what the word marketing has come to represent. Marketing people (and i think the general public) think it represents advertising, direct mail, persistent one-to-one communication (aka bombardment), cookie ridden snooping, inbox flooding SPAM etc etc etc. Delete delete delete… It sounds as popular as the word politician and banker. But really it is so much more, so much more intrinsic to us all.
I am still learning (in my current role as CMO for Movebubble), every day the enormous role that marketing plays in any business. From customer listening, value setting, branding, message, tone of voice, social engagement, competition analysis, revenue streams, User Experience, product development and the list goes on. And, one might ask… what does that all means Logan?
I think the one thing that many business are so focussed on is B2C (business to consumer). I once wrote in another blog post that it was P2P (what i called people to people). I thought i was so clever… When i wrote this original blog post I had still envisaged a member of an organisation speaking, albeit as a person, to a customer (also another person). However since this P2P insight I have come to realise that the most crucial and valuable form of brand ‘marketing’ comes from personal recommendations i.e the interactions between your customers. Its C2C (customer to customer) as Mark Earls suggests in Herd; a book about how humans are built to interact; is the most important thing to understand and focus on.
‘I’ll have what he’s having‘ is how we are made. Its Cognitive Ease (did i just coin a phrase?)
We don’t like making decisions, hence we always take the easiest route… mentally that is. We are down right lazy. Again as Mark Earls says, we are homo-mimicus. We like to copy, its a survival instinct. I do listen to my friends and will often go the same movies as them, buy the same beer, eat at the same restaurants. So how does a company get into this, personal space. And should it? If it tries does it really just turn people off.
If your business is good enough, and performs a task beautifully and easily then is this enough to generate WOM (word of mouth) or as marketers now like to say ‘word of mouse’. The role of marketing is today; in my humble opinion all about lubricating the wheels of C2C communication. I am not sure there are any answers (that is that i have any), but i hope this makes you think a little about the role of marketing these days.
This blog is for me to put ideas out and see what people think. Engage and open up lines of dialogue. If any one has any thoughts on this, please let me know.
And on that note… “Waiter, can i have what he is having…?
This is a great lecture from Professor Clayton Christensen at Business of Software 2011. He is a lecturer and professor at Harvard Business School and has some brilliant insights, something all entrepreneurs should understand. In this talk he describes disruption (referencing disruptive innovation) as the art of killing rather than being killed. How do you take on the incumbents in the marketplace? You can’t outspend them, and you probably can’t out innovate with new features and added benefits onto already existing products and services.
He implies that if you can focus on the job required to be done and the causal mechanism behind a customers decision then you can retain the ‘bleeding edge’ high ground and ensure continued profitability. Becoming a purpose brand is vital, i.e. one that states what job it tackles so as to become that brand people go to when thinking of a task. This is the only way to ensure sustained profitability. An example here is ‘furnishing my house’ and IKEA.
Drucker has a great quote:
“A customer rarely buys what the company thinks they are selling him (/her)”
Investigate what job people are using your product for, and improve on it. Companies are often wrong about how people are really using their services. People use chairs to change lightbulbs and not to sit on (all the time) so should chair companies make chairs that do both jobs better, or innovate with a new product for changing lightbulbs?
If you do the job well enough as a service (or product) then you don’t need a marketing budget. Sounds so simple hey? Too many companies compete on the same axis of performance and competition. Innovate on different axis, centered on the task only. Simple examples are Salesforce.com and Oracle, Toyota and Ford Motors.
Oddly he tells us not to listen to the customer but to be sure that the company makes the job easier and cheaper. A great example here is when Ford was the innovator in the market, and the famous line from Henry Ford himself:
“If we asked the customer what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse”.
Henry Ford understood that the problem was getting from A to B, and so simply innovated to make this task easier and quicker. He did not try to breed faster horses. People are willing to pay a premium for a product/service that provides a better solution.
Its true customers don’t know what they will need in a few years time, and companies do have to lead the way. However if they lose sight of the job being performed they lose track altogether. Jobs don’t change quickly. So don’t add features above customer requirements or capabilities. Yes it adds complexity, and makes it harder to copy, but sometimes you will get so far ahead of the customer that you become too complex and replaceable. Not a good place to be as a business. Christenson suggests rather than innovate on the same axis/market, look to create zero consumption markets with simple products.
He makes a point that refers to innovation as a culture, and investing in the services of the future before you need them. Because if you wait until you need the innovation persuading shareholders to move away from key business activities to invest in higher risk projects is difficult, if not impossible.
Finally he describes how companies are now competing on business models. This is something that i have mentioned before of how it is now ‘Battle of the Business Plans’. The three business models he describes are summarised below:
Solutions Shop Business
In this business model you define a problem and offer a solutions. Business consultants are perfect examples of this.
Value Adding Business
These business take something in at one end, add value, and sell it at a profit. Great examples are clothing manufacturers.
Facilitated Network Business
These are closer to customer company collaboration to find a better solution. Perhaps the sharing economy falls into this category also. There are many examples of this, but a couple are Lyft and Sharedesk. These companies will take revenue per transaction.
Lastly he talks of ‘stupid managers’. Be careful as a company that looks only at the Return on Net Assets (RONA) or Internal Rate of Return (IRR) as measures of profitability and a guide to decision-making. If you are not careful, you can easily outsource your core competency further down the supply chain even though we are taught in business school that this is the right framework within which to make decisions. Dell is a perfect example of this managerial oversight. He says the best way to make decisions, is on how many tonnes of cash you make.
Anyway, enough of my summary. Watch this, and let me know what you think.
……. Also since writing this post, i have been asked to share this link for the Business of Software blog post with Clayton’s talk, which also includes a transcript of the talk. Happy reading. Sorry i did not do this the first time around. I forgot.
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