When I am looking to set up interviews, I try to think of people who have come from nowhere and created something truly amazing. With that said, I thought I would interview Mat Jacobson, the founder of the Global Education Company, Ducere. The vision of Ducere is working directly with global leaders on topics they are experts in, to deliver a formal education. What makes Ducere truly unique is that they have been able attract some of the best leaders on the planet including five Australian Prime Ministers, two Canadian Prime Ministers, Heads of State from Europe, Asia and Africa, Nobel Prize winners, Oxford and Harvard professors and the list goes on and on.
Mat is very inspiring to talk with and is always looking for ways to help the entrepreneur community. He thinks big by nature and is not afraid to share his opinion about what needs to change in the entrepreneurial education system. I get the feeling that Mat see’s entrepreneurship as a way to solve many of the world’s problems and using trusted, global leaders to deliver that message is one way he can have a major impact on the outcome.
It was important when Mat created Ducere that philanthropy was embedded into the business and wasn’t a case of if they make money they would write out a cheque to charity when they could afford to. There are two companies that make up Ducere, one is the academic arm, and the other is the Ducere Foundation. Part of the profits of Ducere Education go to fund the Ducere Foundation. Ducere doesn’t donate money to third parties, they create programs in Africa with their philanthropic arm through education programs that are now in 12 countries. This business model is quite unique and has helped create a vision that has attracted the types of global leaders they have onboard.
***Spending Time With Bill Clinton***
Ducere is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative where they partner together on a publishing program for Africa. Mat had the chance to speak with Bill Clinton a number of times.
Mat says that Bill just has a genuine interest in the projects they are involved in so when you speak to someone of his stature, you might think they are aloof or politely nodding their head, but with Bill Clinton he is 100% engaged in the conversation with eye contact the whole time and listening very carefully to what you’re saying. He will then ask very good questions and give his opinion on how you can take your vision a step further. Bill gave advice to Mat on the politics of Africa, where the Ducere programs should be based and people they should work with like Sir Ketumile Masire. Having someone like Bill Clinton for Mat to bounce ideas off was an invaluable experience and just demonstrates how the Ducere vision has successfully captivated everyone.
Later this year Ducere will be rolling out four bachelor degree’s with applied qualifications and coursework directly tied into real-life business projects.
After my interview with Mat I thought I would share with you his top seven ways to create an amazing vision for your startup.
1. Attract the best leaders to your startup
You must have a very compelling reason for someone to be involved with your startup. One of the reasons global leaders are attracted to Duceres vision is because of their social enterprise elements.
Having said that, you still have to get in front of someone to communicate your idea. This can only be done by having people around you that have great networks and connections. To get great leaders, Mat said it’s usually done through an introduction or via someone who knows about their work – it’s always one or two degree’s of separation. A method that you should avoid is sending a letter that says “Dear Sir we would like to introduce ourselves to you.” To be successful in attracting global leaders, you need to create a trusted environment that they will gravitate to more than anything else.
2. Decide if you’re startup should have a global vision
It’s just a question of how far do you want to expand the activities you are involved in. If you’re an organisation that operates in one country, and then you take that same product or service to 50 countries, then obviously that’s global. It’s more a question of ambition.
By Ducere doing their philanthropy in African countries, as well as their academic programs in first world countries, they have become global by nature. Another example might be if you create an interesting platform for transport that helps people, such as Uber, that could equally apply in one country and the founders might be happy generating revenue, on the other hand if it’s a product or service that is really popular, maybe it could be spread to more than fifty countries. It comes back again to ambition and not so much whether a product or service is limited to one or more countries
3. Reframe your prior failed visions
In order to create an amazing vision, you need to be able to reframe your prior failed visions and be able to use the lessons to help create your new vision for your startup. Of course, things don’t always work out as planned. There a lot of things that don’t go the way you intend, especially in a startup environment.
The problem with the word failure is that it has a very negative connotation. Mat believes we should use a more scientific type of terminology like experimentation or trial and error. This terminology is really the way startup and entrepreneurial businesses operate. It’s not a question of success or failure it’s a question of how quickly can you move, adapt shift to create a successful outcome. That’s the case with any organisation that you can point to. No company in the world has a 50-page business plan on day one that ten years down the track they can look back on and say “that’s exactly what we intended to do.”
Look at the genesis of Facebook, what it does today is completely different to what it started out as in its first version a number of years ago. If you look at Google and what the plan, idea and vision of was when it first started, it certainly wasn’t self-driving cars. Even when we can point to a business that is successful, it’s still constantly about adaptation and evolving in order for that business to stay in the same successful position. Mat believes we should talk more about experimentation because in an experimental environment it’s very normal for things to be cut-off, modified, focused more on a different area and to go off on tangents.
Failure is such a negative word and people don’t like to be associated with it, which is perhaps why in the western world we have such a risk adverse culture. Trial and error, and experimenting until a business model succeeds is far more palatable.
4. Take the Steve Jobs approach – simplify and focus
How do you balance opportunity with focus? There are always lots of opportunities out there. People overestimate the value of ideas, and they underestimate the value of implementation. People talk about the idea and vision to a great extent, but this is only one component.
There are lots of people that have interesting ideas, but there are far fewer people who can actually execute that vision into a successful, global organisation. It’s about the execution and for Mat that’s the balance between lots of ideas and focus. There are constantly more ideas than the amount of focus you can have to successfully implement those ideas within your startup. It needs to be about having a good sense of core value and being the best at something rather than doing lots of things poorly.
In Ducere’s case, education is a huge space. They implemented this idea of simplification by narrowing down their focus to a business school rather than teaching all the broader areas that a typical business faculty in a university would offer such as bookkeeping. This allows them to leverage off their unique skill of business programs that can utilise global leaders in the areas of entrepreneurship, leadership and management.
Your startup needs to look constantly at the core focus you are trying to achieve and make sure it is relevant to everything you do. Don’t just implement something because it sounds like a good idea or financial opportunity, if it doesn’t meet your core focus.
5. You need lots of diverse thinking, interactions and experiences
If you work in the airline industry, you would typically go to airline industry conferences and deal with people in your industry. If Mat was in the banking industry and wanted to come up with something novel, he would spend time trying to understand how the airline industry works. On one hand, the airline industry has nothing to do with banking but that’s where opportunities for innovation arise. It allows you to see something totally unique and different, and then you start thinking to yourself, how can I use what I have learnt from the airline industry in banking.
A classic example of this was when the founder of Ikea went on holidays to New York to visit the Guggenheim. Most people would wonder what visiting a museum has got to do with a furniture business. When he was in the Guggenheim, he had to follow a set path through the different attractions. This experience he had while on holidays became the impetus for the now famous IKEA model of a structured pathway through their stores, ensuring customers have to walk past every product.
Another important component of creating a vision is being in an environment where you can have headspace and think clearly. A holiday is a perfect example of this and often you can think that a holiday is to get away from work. What a holiday does is to allow you to think outside of the hustle and bustle, the hundreds of emails / meetings and phone calls where it’s very difficult to think innovatively, and completely change your environment.
Mat does his best work often when he is on holidays or an aeroplane where he can’t be interrupted. The idea for Ducere came to him when he was in holidays in Bali, in a pool, thinking about what he wanted to do to start up his new education business. He already had a few things like philanthropy, education qualifications, and leaders in his head and these began to link together while in Bali.
6. Stay focused on your vision
True entrepreneurs are typically not very disciplined or organised people; they are more the creative type. Mat says that it’s very easy for him to stay inspired because he has created a business that allows this process to occur naturally. Their programs in Africa are world-leading initiatives to improve education and then in their academic side they are working with the most inspiring leaders from all over the world. This makes it very difficult for Mat to not be inspired. If you embed these types of things into your startup, you too can achieve the same inspirational results.
“An entrepreneur is almost like an artistic equivalent but in a business environment”
Mat applied the concept of staying focused by only allowing Ducere to partner with not for profit, public institutions because he saw that they had the right focus, which is on skills and quality outcomes. Mat found that the focus in education is not necessarily the same for “for-profit” education institutions. Public education institutions typically aren’t the most nimble or entrepreneurial but that’s why the partnership works so well because Ducere’s thinking is totally different and much less traditional.
At the same time, these institutions bring a very different level of process, rigor and compliance that is non-typical for a fast moving, innovative, startup company. Sometimes these two sets of strengths that both organisations have can bring operational challenges but if the end goal is aligned, you can work out the detail. As long as you have a vision with your partners of where you want to go ultimately everything else can be figured out.
7. Execute your vision in line with the fundamentals
Be outcome focused. It’s not about sitting in a room and pitching to investors about a concept or idea. Ultimately it’s the customers who decide whether a business is successful or not. If customers buy your product or service, this single ingredient will determine whether your startup is successful. You need to refine your business model around the customer through speaking with customers and doing focus groups. Often the reverse happens. People go out and think about their startup, product or development and then go out to customers and say this is what we have
Be very clear about the niche focus of the organisation because it’s very easy to take on too many opportunities as opposed to saying “no that’s not our core business.” It’s harder to say no than yes.
When it comes down to executing your vision make sure you do so in the biggest and most exciting way possible because that’s what get’s people on board. No one is interested in who came seventh in an Olympic race. On one measure coming seventh in the Olympics is unbelievable because out of billions of people in the world that person was the seventh fastest. The reality is no one cares or remembers who came seventh. People care about who is the most successful and came first. You need to be thinking about what you can be successful at and be number one in, and then create a bold vision around that.
Lessons from Africa
Mat loves spending time in Africa, and one of the things that was surprising to him is the culture and the positive attitude of the people. When you think about going into a place that is the poorest area in the world where they don’t have running water, earn less than $200 USD a year and have schools that have no libraries you would expect these people to be very disgruntled.
What’s amazing is that you find the opposite. Kids in schools in these areas have such a positive attitude, a desire to learn and such an appreciation for any opportunity they have. It makes you feel how complacent we are in some western countries where kids can take a lot for granted and run a muck or be disruptive in class instead of appreciating how incredibly valuable the opportunity of a good education is. In Africa, it’s the opposite, if you give a child a book to own for the first time, you can just see the gratitude and value they have.
Just by providing some of the basic necessities people need, you can achieve amazing things quite quickly because of their willingness to learn.
Final advice from Mat Jacobson
Work on the most exciting thing that you can possibly work on. Only work with people that you enjoy working with and that you trust in. If you have the passion and work hard then you can do absolutely anything and can change the world by working on something exciting, and working with people who share your vision, and believe in you.
14th-century scholar Maimonides, “The highest form of charity one can give is to give someone a livelihood, so they needn’t rely on charity“
If you’re looking for a global education provider that tailor entrepreneurial courses around amazing global leaders and real world projects, then head over to Ducere’s website to find out more at www.ducere.co
How to Create a Winning Startup Culture
Some time back, in my infographic on 51 Business Mistakes that most Entrepreneurs Make, I had outlined that one of the biggest mistakes is that you do not give any thought as to what you consider would be a great startup culture. And, without good policies or HR to keep things in check, the startup begins to develop a toxic business culture. (more…)
51 Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Dream Startup
So you’ve got an idea. You know it will work. And, it means the world to you.
You are an entrepreneur and you think you can rock the world with this one idea that matters to you the most. And, you set out to form the idea into a startup that you are going to nurture and develop into a blooming business in the upcoming years.
However, I don’t want to throw water over your dreams but, I do need to bring this “optimist” you into the hard and cold reality…….. the reality which says that 90% of all startups fail.
Of course, this can bring a great deal of uncertainty into your life and you got to be prepared to deal with it. You are also going to face a ton of challenges in your life which will force you to grow as an entrepreneur. But, the important thing is that you stick with it.
Of course, as Charlie Munger (Warren Buffett’s friend) once said, “All I Want to Know is Where I’m Going to Die So I’ll Never Go There”. No entrepreneurs want their startups to fail after putting in days and weeks of effort into it.
So, a lot of research has been put forward into knowing what does actually sabotage a startup?
Fortune reported that the single biggest reason startups fail was because they do not identify what the market wants before setting up their startup.
However, it isn’t as simple as that. An entrepreneur needs to perform a comprehensive business plan before he sets out with his business idea. Also, you have to know whether your business idea actually suits you or not. If it doesn’t then, you either you need to fine-tune yourself with your business idea or you need to change the business plan so that it suits you.
And, it is only after that, should you venture upon your startup.
Now, is that all? Of course not. The problem most entrepreneurs face when they first begin their entrepreneurial journey is that they don’t know what they don’t know.
That’s where they tend to make a series of mistakes that may cause great harm to their startup.
That’s why I scoured for successful entrepreneurs to provide me with information on what they think were the most common mistakes that startups do. Plus, I also got tips on how to avoid these mistakes.
You can check out the original article here: 70 Mistakes Startups Make And Tips On How You Can Avoid Them
Now, it’s your turn to do some work. Let me know what you thought of these mistakes and tips that entrepreneurs commit. Do you know of any other mistakes that entrepreneurs do? Comment below!
8 Key Factors That Discourage Investors From Putting Money Into Your Startup
Today’s ideas are tomorrow’s winning businesses. Ideas executed brilliantly and with proper investment bring your business success. That is how the world of business got the likes of Apple, Google, McDonald’s, Amazon and so on.
But why in spite of the brilliant and promising ideas at the core of their business, many startups fail to attract investors? Why do investors hesitate to put their money into some startups? Well, investors have reasons and only by deciphering these reasons we could get hold of some deterrent factors that hold them back.
Let us explain some of the vital factors that prevent investors from putting their money in the startups below:
1. Inefficiency or Absence of Leadership Qualities
Inefficiency is the most significant deterrent factor for pulling the success of most startups. This can also be referred to as the lack of leadership qualities. Investors always want to make sure that they don’t lose their money through a company that has an extraordinary business model but no efficient and skilled business leader to make it successful. When fetching investment from investors, you need to offer a clear prospect and detailed plan of how you are going to achieve the goals.
2. Lack of Trustworthiness
An investor puts his money on a venture purely on the basis of the credibility and trustworthiness of the business. This is why besides having a sound business plan with clear objectives, you need to establish the integrity in terms of the security of the investor’s money and how the fund is going to be invested to give results as per business plan.
If an investor has a feeling that the startup may not have enough customers to fulfil its financial liabilities or if it finds that the business is hiding some information, it may further push the trust of the investors down. Total transparency and establishing the faith of the business brand are crucial for finding investors in favor.
3. Lacking Experience in Business Management
You have a great business idea backed up by a sound business plan and solid trustworthiness based on your background, but you have zero experience in managing a business. This is a serious reason for an investor to deny making any investment in your business. An investor cannot put his money just to allow you trying and learning your management skills the harder and riskier way. Uncertainty is the single biggest turn-off factor for any investor and lack of managerial experience is synonymous to that.
4. Business Model is Not Sound Enough
You have a business idea, some efficient, competent and experienced professionals as leaders, the great stamp of trust and pretty much everything that make a company look promising. But what about your business strategy and business model? Are they sound enough to take on the market competition and challenges for business growth? Well, this is what investors are most interested in.
In most cases, a business model is what makes an investor think twice and even take a backward step from investing in a startup. After all, your business model and strategy will decide how your business and products will be able to withstand competition and become victorious.
5. Taking Investors for Granted
This is a big mistake on the part of many startups. Just by becoming confident in the potential and the soundness of the business model and prospect, a business can consider getting investors on board requires just a little effort and time. But in reality, getting investors on board is the toughest thing a business can think of.
This is why without proper and meticulous preparation, it would be foolish to approach investors for your business. Most investors receive hundreds of such emails and a similar number of approaches through other means and they coldly just let them pass. This is why you need to send them very detailed proposals backed by strong recommendations and referrals.
6. Targeting the Wrong Investor
Every business has a target customer base, right? Not all customers are interested in every product in the market. Similarly, not all investors are interested in your business. Investors based on their prior experience and industry exposure, put their money in businesses that they know like their own palm of their hand.
So, targeting an investor who has no interest in your business will only drain your energy and bring you unnecessary frustration. When you are seeking investors for your software startup, don’t approach someone investing in real estate business.
7. Non-Realistic Proposal for Funds
Investors normally come with huge experience of your industry and so they have a clear idea about the fund requirements for your business startup. Moreover, they already have invested in other ventures or have gone through many proposals. Naturally, they have every bit of estimate already in their mind. So, any proposal claiming a lofty and unrealistic amount will only face rejection.
This is why it would be wise to become meticulous about your estimation of the required fund and calculation of various cost factors. Have meticulous details about every facet of investment backed up by breakup of the costs. Only when you can convince them with correct estimation, investors can take interest in discussing the matter further.
8. Make Sure Your Product Solves a Customer Problem
Will any investor put money in building a simple calendar app now? No, simply because such an app idea has no value for the end users now. Will an investor put money in a product that has already been outdated and has no use? No, no investor has to even go through such a proposal for dismissing them.
Well, to fetch investment, your product must be thoroughly customer-centric. It not only has to solve a problem but has to deliver some competitive value in comparison to similar products in the market.
Obviously, finding an investor for a new business is not an easy task, considering the huge competition that businesses need to deal with. But, if your business idea is unique and you fill all those requirements correctly as mentioned above, finding investors may not be as tough as it sounds.
5 Must Have Branding Tools for Your Startup
Your brand is more than just the colors on your website. And for startups, it’s important to create a strong and memorable brand from the beginning if you want to stand out from the competition, scale your company, and find your ideal customers faster.
Here are 5 simple tools that will help your company avoid branding mistakes, take charge of your visual identity, and set a solid foundation for future growth:
1. Graphic Design Software
The word “design” doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Before deciding on your startup’s logo, colors, designs, and overall tone, consider working with a brand strategist who can translate the core ingredients of your startup into a visual identity that speaks to your target market.
Brand strategists have expertise in the psychology of colors, shapes, textures, and words, and they will work with you to make sure that your branding appeals to your target audience. Once you have those basics of your brand established, there are several tools that can help your company refresh and maintain your visual identity.
The absolute best graphic design tool for non-designers is Canva. While the free version has a lot of functionality, the paid plans offer more customization such as the ability to import your exact brand fonts and colors.
But if your company handles all of your design in-house, you will need something more advanced than Canva. In that situation, I would recommend Adobe Creative Cloud to startups who work on their designs in-house, as it includes top-notch design software like Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, InDesign, and more.
“Branding is what people say about you when you are not in the room – Jeff Bezos
2. Visuals & Creative Imagery
Have you ever wondered where your competitors get those beautiful branded photographs that end up on their website? While it’s possible that they worked with a photographer, it’s also likely that much of their imagery comes from stock photos.
Here are my recommendations on the exact places to purchase stock imagery to improve your company’s branding:
- Creative Market – A treasure trove of quality visual imagery where you can buy anything from stock photos, to branding mockups, to social media templates (Facebook cover photo, anyone?), to custom fonts… the options are nearly endless.
- Adobe Stock – Beloved by designers, and the platform offers tiered pricing plans based on your image needs and download quantity.
- Pixels – If you’re on a tight budget and just need to grab an image or two for a blog post, you may be able to find what you need on Pixels – which is great because all of the photos and videos on Pixels are free!
3. Social Media Scheduler
You’re a leader. You’re an entrepreneur. Your staff, board, funders, and admirers depend on you to make big decisions, lead the ship, and plot the vision towards your company’s future. You don’t have time to stare at a blank screen every day wondering what to post on Facebook.
By using a social media scheduling tool, you can sit down for a few hours, schedule batches of content, and schedule the dates and times when it will post to your accounts over the next couple of months. Then, once the content is posted, you only need to worry about responding to comments and engaging with your customers. 21st century efficiency at its finest.
Popular social media schedulers include Buffer and Hootsuite, both of which include free and paid plans. Not sure what exactly to post? Check out these social media ideas from influential businesses. And if the idea of writing and planning months of content still overwhelms you, our next tool will help you stay organized and on-brand.
4. Editorial Calendar
When it comes to your content, it’s time to step it up a notch and start thinking like a media outlet. Every piece of content that you put out as a company, whether it’s an e-mail blast, blog post, social media post, podcast, or video, needs to be aligned with your brand.
Each major magazine maintains an editorial calendar which outlines the overarching theme for each of the upcoming 12+ months. By establishing a monthly content theme in advance, they create a framework to generate and organize their ideas.
Consider creating an internal editorial calendar that will guide your startup’s content over the next 6-12 months. The software tool you use to maintain your editorial calendar isn’t that important — I like to use Trello, but you can also create a simple numbered list in Google Docs or Microsoft Excel. You may be surprised at how quickly the creative juices flow once you have an editorial calendar in place.
“Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.” – Paul Rand
5. In-Person Networking
Offline efforts count towards your branding too! And if you run your entire startup from behind your laptop screen, you miss out on ample opportunities to build your business offline and gain local referral partners.
If you’re new to in-person networking, start by visiting Meetup.com or Eventbrite.com where you can browse for events in your area. Think outside the box when it comes to selecting events to attend. For example: If you’re a chiropractor, it makes sense to attend local holistic health meetups. But you could also attend a travel event and meet digital nomads who don’t yet realize that a chiropractor can help them recover after long plane rides.
Remember that you’re not at the networking event to make instant sales, you’re looking for referral partners and connections. Don’t be the person who tries to shove your sales pitch down everyone’s throat upon meeting them.
As you can see, there are many simple online and offline resources that can help you spruce up your branding, reach new customers, and pique the interest of your target market. If you take branding one step at a time and start with the tools above, you will be well on your way to creating a brand that your customers will cherish and remember.
Have you used any of these branding tools before? Are there any additional tools that have helped your startup’s branding shine? Share your thoughts below!
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