Follow The Crowd

Thousands of entrepreneurs with good ideas are now looking to the great mass of small investors rather than one big venture capitalist to help them launch or expand a product. Many musicians, writers, filmmakers and artists are looking to fans to help them get their work made. For the entrepreneurs and artists, it’s a way to get around an establishment that can be risk averse and limited in vision. For you and me, it can be a fun way to put a small amount of spare cash into supporting something we like.

Photo of Chateau de Peyrepertuse

Last week I found myself in the middle of a huge conspiracy. Visiting the Languedoc part of France, now renamed Cathar Country by clever tourism people, I climbed a hazardous mountain path to the ruined castle of Peyrepertuse and found myself in the setting for Kate Mosse’s bestseller Labyrinth.

I don’t believe in the conspiracy theories about the Holy Grail. I tend to think such a big story wouldn’t really have been kept secret for two thousand years. Even if true, I’m not that interested. Nevertheless Mosse writes a gripping narrative and brings alive a dramatic period in medieval French history.

I first came across Ms Mosse as the writer of the book accompanying the BBC TV documentary series which went behind the scenes at the Royal Opera House. I found that a gripping read too. Where the book generated light, the TV series preferred the heat of conflict and confrontation including a memorable occasion when a frustrated marketing person broke his phone which, as I recall, was not even worthy of a mention in the book.

I actually helped publish Ms Mosse’s most recent non-fiction work- a history of 50 years of Chichester Festival Theatre. The book was crowdfunded by the publisher Unbound and I was one of the crowd. Given it’s probably my favourite producing theatre, I decided to put up £20. There was no risk. The funds were raised so I got a copy of the book with my name in it, but if there hadn’t been enough subscribers, I would have kept my £20.

This is nothing new. I have a set of leather bound works of Shakespeare from the mid nineteenth century which were published by subscription periodically as and when sufficient money was raised. Clearly it wasn’t an entire success as there are no Roman Plays!

This year, for the first time I think, a West End musical was partly crowdfunded. Through the Seedrs website, The Pajama Game, which I saw and loved at Chichester, raised £200,000. Theatre is a risky investment. I once asked a well known and successful West End producer whether I should put money into one his productions. ‘Only if you are prepared to lose it,’ was his candid reply. However, unlike the usual situation where the smallest amount you can put in might be £3000, you could have been an investor in The Pajama Game for as little as £10. A better bet than the Lottery, I suspect, and a lot more exciting.

Thousands of entrepreneurs with good ideas are now looking to the great mass of small investors rather than one big venture capitalist to help them launch or expand a product. Many musicians, writers, filmmakers and artists are looking to fans to help them get their work made. For the entrepreneurs and artists, it’s a way to get around an establishment that can be risk averse and limited in vision. For you and me, it can be a fun way to put a small amount of spare cash into supporting something we like.

We can all be dragons now.

This blog originally appeared on the Daily Echo website. It was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn.

What Matisse Didn’t Cut Out

The best work is not the first work, as Henri Matisse’s constant revision of his cut-outs demonstrates

The Snail, a cutout by Matisse
Matisse Cut Outs at The Tate

One of the many fascinating aspects of the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibtion, which is at the Tate Modern until 7 September is the insight into how he worked.

Matisse first used cut out shapes as a way of trying out different compositions until he found the one he would ultimately paint. Eventually they became art in themselves but the technique remained the same. Even when he was old and frail, he would direct his assistants to move and re-pin cut-outs until he was finally happy with the relationship of the shapes and colours.

On one canvas, featuring perhaps a dozen cut-outs, researchers counted over a thousand pin marks. The lesson for all of us is that you can’t expect to get it right the first time. All great authors revise their work. So don’t expect your copy or press release or website design to be right at the first attempt. Go back to it. Try writing it again without reference to the original. Read it out loud. Let someone else read it to you. The best work is not the first work.

The author of this blog is Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn.

 

The Business Lessons Of Wolf Hall

Ben Miles in Wolf Hall at The Aldwych excels in what must be a career defining role as the tough but tender, honourable but ruthless fixer, Thomas Cromwell. Watching him, I couldn’t help thinking of the occasions I’ve been in Cromwell’s situation.

Photo of Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall
Ben Miles

The story of Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII as told by Hilary Mantel in her Booker Prize winning books has lessons for anyone in politics or business. I saw Wolf Hall last week in a brilliant stage adaptation at The Aldwych and can’t wait to see the second part Bring Up The Bodies next month.

Ben Miles excels in what must be a career defining role as the tough but tender, honourable but ruthless fixer, at the King’s shoulder but always looking over his own shoulder, ingratiating himself with jokes and honest advice, bowing as low as etiquette requires but never bowing inside his head, scurrying from court to home ever at the King’s will.  Watching him, I couldn’t help thinking of the occasions I’ve been in Cromwell’s situation.

To survive in those times as a politician, you were entirely dependent on the King, just as employees are today on the autocratic bosses who run many of our companies. Cromwell succeeds by keeping close to the King and by offering good advice. The problem for him is that the King likes to blame his advisors for his poor decisions.

I remember once working for a boss to whom I became right-hand man. He liked me because I gave him solutions not problems, just as Cromwell finds King Henry a solution to his problem with his first wife. But, as time went on, I made the mistake of just getting on with the problem solving without involving him. This gave others the opportunity to get close to him and undermine my position.

It was then I found, as Cromwell will in the third book, that loyalty counts for a lot less than you might hope, in business as in politics. This particular chief exec always made great play of the company being like a family. This meant very little when he was faced with a choice between pursuing self interest or the interests of the business. It turned out that if the company was a family, it was more Borgias than Waltons.

My loyalty to him which had been unquestioning was repaid with a push through the door. It was a harsh lesson for me. I still believe that you won’t get loyalty in business unless you show it but I am also much more aware since then that most people will not put loyalty above survival. Still, at least I didn’t have my head chopped off.

A version of this blog originally appeared on the Daily Echo website. It was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn.

The Seven Elements of a Successful Plan

The only blogger I follow religiously is Seth Godin, guru of entrepreneurs and users of new media. Today he talked about the Acute Heptagram of Impact. The seven elements that lead to success or failure, says Seth, are Strategy, Tactics, Execution, Reputation, Persistence, Desire and Fear. The importance of Strategy and Tactics we can all understand. As a marketing consultant, I often provide companies with these. But Seth’s right- the company then has to have the skilled people to execute the strategy and tactics. It certainly helps if your organisation and people already have a reputation and that’s not built in day. Then there are the human traits. It’s easier to give up than keep at it. You have to want to achieve your goal. You have to overcome the fear of failure. Follow Seth Godin at this link http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog