This appeared in Proseed Mag here

Dear Richard, during the past year I managed to build my company’s value. I would like to sell the company – get some money for myself for the shares and the rest of the amount dedicate to the company’s development and growth. What do you advise to do? It is a media related business. The team consists of 6 people. We have 200k zl of yearly income. There is no profit so far. How to prepare ourselves? How to act?

Dear „I want to sell my business and see it grow and develop”,
There is a slight contradiction in your goals. You want to get money for your shares, and you are making plans for your company, post exit. In a real sense once you sell your shares it is no longer „your business”. What the future owner does is up to him or her. However, as everyone who has tried to value a business knows, the present value of the business is the discounted value of future earnings. You need a plan and story that makes the company attractive to potential acquirers.

Let’s take the issue of maximizing the value of your shares. If you are not making a profit at the moment – the business is not worth much, except in very limited and unlikely circumstances. It’s a mistake I’ve made in my past to look for investors when a business I owned was losing money. A perfectly reasonable question I was asked by a potential investor „why on earth should I want to own a business that is not making money?” It’s often better to keep your money in the bank than own something that needs external cash injections to stay afloat.

However, let’s not be pessimistic – maybe there are reasons why your business might be worth something even if it is not making a profit. Perhaps your business has the prospect of making a lot of money soon. The best examples are companies like Amazon which historically spent a fortune on marketing, offering long term profits against short term results. If the reason for losses now is optional or one off investments in things like marketing that could be cut or will soon be over, then the current trading loss can be presented as an investment choice.

Maybe your business could be used as a platform to enter other markets. Media businesses are an example. If you own a newspaper, you can use your „near zero” cost of advertising to built up a position in other markets that would cost anyone else a fortune. News International were able to use their „near free” cost of print advertising to build up their now fabulously profitable satellite TV business. In Poland, ITI cross promote their various media channels (magazines, cinema, TV) very effectively. If you owned a loss making cinema, ITI might make more money out of it that you could.

Maybe your business could be profitable after tough cost reduction decisions. If this is true, a new owner could make a profit even though you don’t. After firing half the staff, closing the office, getting rid of the accounts department, keeping only the best sales and marketing people and the clients a new owner might be able to make money. You have to ask the question whether it is not better to do the things that need to be done first before trying to sell the business. You’ll get a much higher price if you do the tough stuff first.

There are exceptions to the rule that if you are not making money, your business has little or no value: think „Instagram”. If you are incredibly lucky, it’s just possible that what you are doing will be of strategic interest to a wealthy market leader who will buy you out at a premium price. It is however a very risky business plan to count on this. Looking backwards it is obvious how you could have made a fortune if you had access to capital 5-10 years ago (buying fields next to major roads on the edge of most Polish cities, for example, where now there are blocks of apartments and shopping centres). However these opportunities are not open to those without capital. And it is not obvious how to make a good return on capital from June 2012 for the next 5 years.

There may be people who want to buy your business for lifestyle or prestige reasons, or because you are a threat to them. Some businesses do have a glamour factor, and the media is one of them. High circulation newspapers, popular TV shows and web sites, and respected industry titles have a value as well, but it is hard to monetize. If you can buy favourable coverage in the press, then your value diminishes a lot. If some of my readers are cynically thinking, „this happens the whole time” you are sadly correct. As money flows out of traditional media due to the rise of the internet, the number of media groups that can resist commercial pressures not to be objective is falling, and the money that can be invested in content is going down too. In terms of being a threat, then most threatening thing to do is to make money. Being a loss making competitor is not so scary.

Having dampened your expectations of making money as a business, let’s briefly review what possible ways there might be of making more money from the existing business. Making the product better and different may be a good idea, but only if clients are ready to pay more for it. It is worth reviewing what your competitors (and/or organisations against which you benchmark yourself) do, and seeing if there are any of their activities that you could add to your range of services. Don’t outsource to a market research company, have the boss or a decision maker go see the top 20 clients in person and discuss whether they are getting value now, if they would be interested in new, better or different things in your product, and of course listen hard to any suggestions they have. This might yield some ideas. If this doesn’t lead to anything new, the only options are to increase revenue through intensified sales or cut costs. There may be marketing partnerships to be done with organisations that will distribute your product to their audience in return for adverts and there maybe be advertisers who have not yet been approached.

Is the sales team operating an international best practice? It is worth reviewing your sales process. Do you know what KPIs are common in your industry in other countries? It is instructive to find out, compare simple things like sales targets, numbers of calls, meetings and offers that need to be made per week by each sales person. Sometimes it is quite surprising how much less is expected in Poland. If you do this comparison, be ready for excuses about „Poland being different, not understanding the local culture”. If you want to be successful, you have to teach your organisation to work to international standards. If you can afford it, it can be worth hiring someone good, who has worked doing a similar job for competitors you admire, at least to review your processes compared to theirs.

Are there markets like the European Union programmes that can sponsor your product with large expensive adverts for example? I am not a fan of many of these programmes – but they do exist and spend a lot of money so perhaps you can get some of it. It is not a stable long term business to live off EU or government money as there will be less than everyone expects in the future.

Are there any opportunities to cut costs? Can the number of journalists be cut or can they be paid less/work harder? It doesn’t usually sound like much fun but for media organisations in high cost countries that work in English a lot of the content generation is now done in lower costs countries, with fewer jobs left at home. Could work be outsourced to Polish speaking Ukrainians ? Would it make a difference? Is it worth it?

Even with the best organisation in the world, if the market is not there, you will not succeed. You need to be sure that the clients are getting things they really value and are ready to pay for at prices well above your costs. If you have a market like that, you have a potential business.

If this all sounds rather tough and demanding, welcome to the exciting world of building a world class business. It is not easy, but it is worth it. Building a world class business can be very satisfying.

I wrote this as a contribution to the Oxbridge Society of Poland group on Yahoo. I decided to repost it to a wider audience

My father John Lucas spent a lot of his working life interviewing candidates for PPE Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford . I used a lot of what I learned from him when hiring people for my businesses.  I also used to be involved in a movement called Target Schools to encourage pupils from State Schools to apply to Oxford and Cambridge in the 1980s. I believe in diversity.

So here are my top tips

1. Be genuinely interested in the subject you are applying to read/study, or at least some aspect of it.
“I want to go to Oxford to get a good degree and a job in Goldman Sachs” may be true but it won’t get you a place. If you aren’t interested in Economics, don’t study it.

2. If you don’t know the answer to the questions they ask, don’t panic. The tougher the questions, the better you are doing. It’s OK to say “I’m not sure, but I suppose this might be the right approach” or “my first thought is that the answer is this, but I can see a problem with that point of view which is….”.  You are aiming to show that you have thought about the subject in the past and you are able to think quickly. If you haven’t thought about why it makes sense to study History of Art, and why you want to, don’t apply. If you were sick when a certain topic was studied in your school, don’t say “I was ill so I don’t know”, say “I didn’t cover this topic at school,  but it’s interesting. What I think is xxxx and suppose yyyy is relevant and I would really like to know more..”.

3. Have some good questions – if you are going to be interviewed by historians at Jesus College…. Use the College web site to find out who is going to interview you, read some articles they have written,  and think how you can challenge them. If you can’t be bothered, why are you applying? Don’t be afraid to ask “Which one of you is….John Smith?”  – in your book on xxxx when you said yyyy, why didn’t you address the argument zzzzz. ?” this shows you are smart, interested – and may be interesting to teach.

4. Be friendly, and think of ways of demonstrating that you have a high internal energy level and some kind of inner spark…
(not “I like reading”) but ” I really like Philip Pullman’s books – and set up a reading club at school, I’ve tried to find that seat where Lyra and Will were going to meet by Magdalene Bridge in the Botanical Gardens” (provided you have read The Amber Spyglass). Be ready for a random question – like  “what didn’t you like about the book?”

5. Hint at interests and ideas that you haven’t had time to discuss. If we had more time I could tell you about the way I would like to do x, y and z. One thing I think I’d like to devote more time to is ……

6. Don’t get caught talking rubbish. If you mention a hobby or put it down on your CV,  have something true/interesting to say about it. If you say you are learning Chinese, someone might ask “how do you say “thank you” ?

7. Play to your strengths. If you like Football, then say “I really like soccer, there isn’t really enough time to do it as much as I’d like to but I make sure manage to play for a few hours a week, and watch the professionals play when I can.” It makes you sound focussed and good at prioritization.

8. Be enthusiastic. If you don’t care, don’t apply. Quite often school pupils have a (sub) culture of it “not being cool” to be into your hobbies, interests, and school work. To the extent that that is true it is a disaster to have that attitude during interview. Leave it behind at the College gate. You are talking to people who have devoted their lives to the study and teaching of their subject and for them it is really good to meet a young man or woman who is also into it….

9. It isn’t Brideshead Revisited. The buildings and atmosphere can create a very misleading impression and encourage you to think that they are all fuddy duddy old buffers who are into port, brandy cigars and “the old school tie”. It may be true of some but most of these people are not like that at all…

10. Don’t be shy. Everyone is a bit nervous, it’s normal. Remember there are no prizes for nervousness. If you are the right person for them, they are lucky you are applying. It’s win/win.

In summary
Focus on the people interviewing you, being yourself and why you want to study there….If it is because “everyone says these are the best universities and Mum and Dad will be happy, and it will help me get a job” then think a little more deeply… These reasons may be true, and they are valid reasons… but not enough to get you a place.  If they ask “why should we give you a place?” How about “because it is so tough to get in I hope to be studying with people who are as interested in economics as I am” – and then follow some question about economics that still puzzles you” I’ve always wanted to understand more about why some of the nastiest people I know are rich… or how some rich people are nice”, or “why some people are happy without having much money” or whether the Euro is going to be like the Gold Standard”, or “why Monetarism doesn’t seem to work any more” or some other genuinely interesting question that you have some ideas about. They are almost certain to ask you what you think if you ask a rhetorical question like that.

Good luck.

I re-read this article on 26th October 2016 after a conversation with Jamie Miles whose Youtube channel is full of good advice on the same subject

from my column for Proseed Magazine

Dear Richard

I need to plan everything regarding the strategy for a little company we are going to set up with my friends (it will be an app supporting the existing tools for brand popularity monitoring). What to take into consideration when preparing a strategy? How to start? How to put it in practise in the end?

Dear little company founder

We used to say in one of my businesses, “if our clients/staff are happy and we are making a profit – who cares about the strategy”). It was a mistake but it felt clever at the time.

A start up needs a strategy so it is good you are asking about this.

When I was working for a small PA Consulting Group joint venture in 1989-91 I was told “strategy is what happens” and to ask three questions
1 where are you now ?
2 where do you want to be ?
3 how are you going to get there?

You need a sense of where your business is going. But your question is very worrying. There are three problems. You are focussing on
1 the scale, (little)
2. The “who” (my friends), and
3 the “what” (an app supporting brand popularity monitoring) ?

The first and fundamental question in strategy is Why? Why should anyone anywhere be remotely interested in what you are doing? What is the point? Why should they care? Why are we doing it? what is the benefit? what is better and different about your project? what unsolved problem are you solving. ? Guy Kawasaki calls it the search for meaning, in The Art of the Start If you cannot answer these questions you cannot really have a strategy

The second problem with your question is the lack of ambition. You make your business sound like a hobby, Why should anyone talented who could get a job with Mckinsey, Goldman Sachs The Economist, or Facebook consider working for you instead? If you can say, “we are going to be big, we want to be big” you may get the best most talented and ambitious people on the planet interested in working for you. If your ambition is to be a little company, then you need something else (cutting edge technology, super high wages, fabulous people) or you will probably be a struggling little company for ever. You need to be able to offer the money or careers that make you interesting to smarter people.
If a start up is not ambitious you will probably fail. If all you want is to make a living then good luck, but you may be better off getting a regular job with a normal company instead.
You will not survive in business if you are not hyper-motivated and if you care that much you can aim far higher than a regular job in a large corporation. Of course there are companies with great opportunities for the very ambitious but this article is not aimed at describing them.

Having been negative about your question, here are some positive ideas. How to make a strategy? Spend time with clients and potential clients. Let’s assume that you have something really good and different. You’ve done your competition analysis in English, French, German and Spanish and you know that you have something special. You can ask me for advice on business models but it’s the wrong moment. Spend the next 6 months with clients and potential clients, and if you don’t have the money to do that sell 25% of your business to someone smart (or stupid enough) to pay for your bus/flights and hostel (not hotel) bills. Talk to your potential customers about what your tools can do, ask them about whether they are interested and what they would be interested in, and make sure that you take their feedback into account. Make sure they commit to trying and testing your product once you have taken their feedback into account. If you cannot get that commitment you’ve failed but at least you tried. If you understand why they rejected you, you can do better in your next conversation. If you start getting commitment then you are in a position to write the strategy, Each step of the strategy road needs a reality check.

If you can say “We have talked to 100 potential channel partners for our solution (here is a list) and 25% are ready to pay (here is a list). This is why they are interested, and how we can help the,. There 12,150 more companies like this this globally, and we are going after them, in the following ways (telesales, face to face, fairs, visiting them, google adwords, whatever)” then you begin to show strategy execution capability. An OK strategy implemented by a workhorse is better than a brilliant strategy on paper where the authors don’t have the organisation and drive. To be great in business you have to turn rejection into opportunities.

We can talk about business model strategy and many more things once we have a sense of why you are offering what you are offering and more importantly why anyone should buy it. As an angel investor I can tell you I am far more interesting in investing in businesses that already have happy clients. It’s very easy to build a product if you don’t have to deal with all those annoying clients, but completely pointless
In summary what should you do to develop your strategy ? 1 Have a clear sense of
– whose problem your product or service is going to solve and why they are going to choose you.
– how you can make money out of this, and how much, in other words your costs and pricing.
– how you are differentiated from current and future competitors. What will stop other’s entering your market and copying you if you start to succeed and how will you compete with those who copy you anyway.
– Who are you going to have in your team ? What sort of people do you have and need.
– set long term goals and have an implementation plan.

Whatever you do good luck. It is smart to ask for advice

From my column at Proseed

Dear Richard
I’ve been running my business (e-learning platform) for two years now. It’s doing OK, but I have an impression that I reached a point where nothing else can be done to gain more users. I am not afraid of the risks. I want to open my business to foreign customers. What would you advice (apart from making the EN or CZ or DE version of the website)? Which markets shall I take into consideration – those who are close and kind of similar, or those which are unknown and scary but huge and full of potential?
What to do, how to plan?

“Wondering about going global”

Dear “Wondering about going global”

Thanks for the question.

I will answer this question “generically” in a way that hopefully makes sense no matter what your business is.

The news is actually rather good. Poland is not the easiest market in the world in which to to “make it”. If you are making a profit here, then remember the line from Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” paraphrasing “if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere”

Many Polish companies find that they can make more money from international clients than local and therefore do not even think of dominating the local market first, so the issue of going global was solved from the very beginning. However from the sound of it this is not your approach.

Before we start opening the champagne, let’s think about this from the strategic point of view. Remember the “three Cs”. (costs, competition and clients)

Let’s start with clients. Several questions about them.
Who are your clients and users? Most web based businesses have some people who use your site without paying anything at all and some who are the source of money. It depends on the business model. You should have a clear idea of all your users and clients, especially the people who are sending you money – your clients. If you don’t know your clients well, then you are making a fundamental mistake. Pick up the phone and call them, Skype them, survey them, ask what they like and don’t like about your site, if there are any features that you should have that they would pay for, and if there is anything that annoys them. Ask them what other sites they visit instead of yours to address the need that leads them to your site. Call it “client relations, market research, whatever.” any business that does not focus on what its clients want and like both now , and what they will want in the future, is probably doomed. If you have 10,000 clients, don’t call them all, just call 250. Start by saying “Thank you” (and that you don’t want to sell them anything) You will be amazed at how much you can learn. If you don’t know about telephone interviewing try clicking here

Next, figure out what the foreign equivalents of your Polish clients are. It shouldn’t be hard. If it is going to vary by country (there are going to more clients in Germany than Iceland, you will want to start by ranking countries in terms of their potential attractiveness). Big and rich is often better than small and poor (but not always – sometimes you can dominate smaller markets while rich global competitors are spending a fortune in places like the USA, UK Japan and Germany and it is very hard to compete)

Remember the 3Ps (Product (or service) People and Process).

Reviewing the potential clients in foreign countries for your offering leads to a natural question “is your product/service ready for it.” it’s more than just translating the web site. You will soon figure out how scaleable your product is. VCs and on line Start Up gurus obsess about scaleablity, and it is important. It is also true to note that many business are highly profitable, have sustainable competitive advantage and are not particularly scaleable. Lack of scaleability can make your business model harder to copy, so don’t despair If going global means hiring a person or two for each market you are going to address that is a fact, not a disaster.

If you do E-learning, are there linguistic, cultural, regulatory or other reasons why what you offer here will not work in other countries ? If yes then you will start have to factor in the costs of modification of your product to suit one or more international market. In many markets you will find that you need to take care not just of the web site but also the legal requirements of doing whatever you do in that country, including local language instructions, safety certification, approval from local regulators and compliance with recycling or guarantee requirements, so make a check list and work your way down it.

Is your service bundled with local service providers, who provide support, face to face training, or integration with client platforms? If yes, then your strategy for that market will include identification, qualification of, and forming partnerships with, those local service providers. This costs time, money and someone who speaks the relevant language.

This is the counter argument to the Sinatra song. Sometimes the reason you can make it in Poland is that the “big boys” in the market place have focussed on the world’s big markets (English speaking plus – FIGS, CJK, BRICS* (see if you can work it out) without cheating * Footnote France Italy, Germany Spain, China Korea Japan Brazil Russia India)) . If you never did competitive intelligence research in at least English, whoops 🙁 at least you are thinking about it now..:-)

You need to be aware that if your foreign competitors are doing well and making money then it is only a matter of time before they enter the Polish market. either through localization of their web site into Polish and (maybe) hiring your best people. You cannot assume they will ignore your market if you are making money here.

It may well be the case that you find that while you are ahead in Poland you face strong competition in larger international markets. What to do about this depends case by case.

You might want to sell your business to the international market leaders. If that is the case then it can be a good idea to establish yourself in markets where they are not present to increase the logic of an acquisition. if you are not making money (and worse, neither are they) then your chances of an exit are very much reduced.

You should try to figure out their strengths and weaknesses, in what ways you could compete. Decide how you can be better and hire their best people, or use their sub contractors. Obviously this requires money. but if you have decided to go global then it will cost something.

Another “P” is people (team or staff) Do you have the right team to go global? If you are going to take enquiries in foreign languages you must have some who can respond to them. How strong is your brand? If your brand is high quality then they need to be able to communicate in high quality English. If you need to visit clients then do you have someone in the team who is willing to travel, and if they do travel will they do a good job with partners and clients? You may need to hire someone for this position or else take on board the fact that you will be travelling a lot so make sure you’ve explained this to your boy or girlfriend, husband/wife kids and friends.

Another of the three Cs is Costs. As will be clear if you have read this far, you are going to have some costs from trying to go global. You are still likely to be in the fortunate position of being in a lower cost country than some American and West European competitors, but you for sure will find there are well organised and clever competitors in other developing countries who are also hungry for the same revenue. As in any business, you need to cover your costs in the long run, If you are going to go into foreign markets for free to get a reference or two, that can make sense, but you have to charge enough to make a profit in the longer run. Generally speaking if you do not have arguments other than price to get people to buy from you you will struggle. Most clients want a good product or service first and foremost and will not switch just because you are cheap.

The third P of the three Ps is “Processes” Do you have good processes and are they suitable for international business. This will be true across a whole range of issues from:
Payments (suppose an American wants to send you a check),
Logistics, you want to send some CDs educational materials and workbooks to Korea, what is the import tariff and postage?)
Tax so what exactly are the rules about VAT when invoicing a Russian company that wants to pay you out of Cyprus, and what exchange rate do we use to calculate our taxable profit?

I always emphasize the importance of good processes in a business no matter how small (or big). well designed processes leave more time for the brain work that really matters.

Localisation – I have to declare an an interest here because I am a shareholder in Argos Translations which makes its living from helping companies go global. It is not cheap to get documents, web pages, instruction manuals and the like translated professionally, and good translators make good money. This means that going to a professional agency is going to cost more still. Many businesses start by trying to do translation “on the cheap”, using students and untested translation services and learn the hard way when native speakers of the target language tell them that standards are not professional, If you are a high quality company, your web site and marketing materials must be of high quality in target languages, and it is not a one off cost. Every time you have add new content in your source language (probably Polish), whether on your blog, or in the news section, you will need to update across the site. It is not rocket science but you need to develop a process, and automate it, probably with a Content Management System

Marketing in most web businesses is the process by which a business generates sales leads, to whom there is a chance of selling something. Having very little experience of branding in consumer goods markets I am not going to comment on classic issues like logo colour and image other than to argue that it should be consistent and authentic. if you promise high quality reliable and professional services then not only should your web image be consistent but the people you have should meet the specification.

So when considering going global you must review your client acquisition process at home, and think about the equivalent in foreign markets. if you are somehow driving traffic to your web page(s) in Poland and then selling to people who visit, how are you going to do that in foreign markets? If you have lots of organic traffic from search engines, it’s going to be hard to generate that overnight, so it may be worth spending a relatively small amount of money on landing pages in foreign languages, and driving traffic to them using Google adwords. The process is described in detail here

The 3 Ps and 3 Cs – Costs, Competition, Clients, Product (service), Process and People are the building blocks through which to analyse any business, on line or off. An awareness of where you are now, where you want to be, and how you are going to get there under each of those headings will give you a clear view of your strategy.

If none of your team have the money you need to start, and if you cannot find a way of bootstrapping (or an investor), your team will collapse – says Richard Lucas in an article that originally appeared here . The format is that entrepreneurs write to me with their questions, and I answer them

Dear Richard

Our team (we met during Startup Weekend Krakow) is currently dealing with formalities. We would like to sign a paper about who is responsible for what, that nobody will do our idea on the side and most of all – how we divide our startup.

Could you give me some tips about dividing shares of a startup among multiple team members? We have me (idea founder, mobile developer), one designer, one web developer, one PR specialist and one business person. In my opinion they are all very important to our team.
Another problem is that we can work different amount of hours (for example I can work about 40h a week, but others have their day jobs). I don’t want to make problems with my team, but I want to be fair to everyone, including myself.

Dear Start Up Team Builder,

This is complex, and it is smart to get advice. There is a large amount of advice in English on this topic on line. Try this

Remember that if the business is not solving someone’s problem or meeting their needs in a way that you can potentially make money from, you are wasting your time negotiating. If you don’t believe this, why should anyone else (customer or investor)?
There is no one „fair” deal. Felix Dennis, one of the UK’s richest men, described in his book “How to get rich” deciding to fire his top four managers who demanded together 5% each (he goes on to say the book is called “How to get rich” not “How to be nice”). Lesson: if you ask for too much you may get nothing, but if you don’t negotiate well you may be screwed.

Here is a checklist of things to consider:

Is your team complete, or are there gaps?
If there are gaps leave some shares for “key new people”. If you want people more talented than your current team (and of course you do), then leave plenty. Why should someone with more experience than you leave a good salary to join your team later ?

Whose idea is it? How much is it worth?
I used to overestimate the value of my good ideas, thinking it was 25-50% of the value. It isn’t. Michael Dell said “it’s 99% down to execution”. 5-10% for the idea is a lot. Anyone can have the idea of starting a bar, but how many people can make it happen?

How much money do you have and need?
If none of your team have the money you need to start, and if you cannot find a way of bootstrapping (or an investor), your team will collapse. Capital is scarce, and most startups fail. The person who contributes risks the first 10,000 zl or 25,000 zl is taking a bigger risk than later when there are clients.

Nice-ness, character and values
You will spend a lot of time working with your startup team so make sure they are the right type of people. Do they share your values? Do you like them? At Krakow Network we share our values ( Guy Kawasaki of and Apple talks about the Shopping Mall test (if you see them in a shopping centre and they haven’t seen you, do you hide so they don’t see you, or are you pleased to see them and say “hello”?). UK doctors’ partnerships sometimes have a “green socks” clause, saying that any partner can be expelled at any time if “they don’t like the colour of his/her socks” (IE for no reason), if all the other partners agree. It’s a powerful incentive not to include (or be) an arsehole in the team. Make sure that you are on the same page in your attitudes to corruption, racism, and respect for other people. Not everyone is.

Be clear about what you want from the other team members
Most important is: are they really committed? If yes, how much time/money are they ready to commit? I wouldn’t want a shareholder if they were not fully committed. Think of some reasonable test. For example: if you work on this in way that I/most of the team thinks is great, then in x months when we form a company, you are entitled (but not obliged) to invest up to xxxx, get yyyy % of the shares.

It is a good idea to ask if the others consider putting their own money in
Even if they have “no money”, they should be able to find 1000 zl from someone. It is a test (but remember that 10K zloty from a young Pole with “nouveau riche” parents maybe “less” commitment than 1000 zl from someone whose parents are pessimistic cynics, who never trust anyone, or provided any role model (or a kid with no parents at all). Anyone who can write code should be getting much more money than average, (otherwise is lazy, spoiled, incapable of managing money, stupid, or demotivated – and do you want that?).

Roles, skills and responsibilities
These need to be discussed, defined agreed, and modified if need be. Marketing, sales, PR, developers, legal, finance. Think about the core skills you need, and who is going to fill them. Note that the best leaders often have few skills, just are good at listening, taking decisions and getting everyone working well together. The way you take decisions is important, and you need to communicate what you expect to happen when there are disagreements. You may find there are inexperienced people in the team who are not used to modern ways of working, and have to educate them.
It is good to have “test” questions, like “would you be happy to live in Warsaw (or Korea or Bytom) for a time while we open up there?”. If they say “I’d love to” that is great. If they say, “if I have to”, that is OK. If they look shocked and say “no way”, it rules them out of some positions, and shows a lack of commitment.
It is a good idea to do “gap analysis” – see who else is or will be needed in the team. Save some shares for new people or get agreement from the others about giving some shares away for new people.

Leadership and alignment of goals
Leadership is not taught in Polish schools. Allow a few hours on Youtube and Google to make sure you know what it means. A leader is able to get a group of people working towards a goal willingly. You have to know and develop a vision for your startup with your team, communicate it and make sure they share it. If you want to work like crazy and build a global company, and someone in your team wants to take it easy and spend more time with their boyfriend, kids, or wife, or shopping, it limits what roles you can offer. Of course you don’t know everything, but it is important to discuss and get a feel for longer term ambitions. Is your team aligned with your vision? If someone does have kids and a credit – be open in discussions about how far that impacts on their ability to take risks and be mobile. A good rule is to say to everyone “there are no bad questions. We should all ask each other anything we like”.

What happens if it goes wrong?
If you met at a Startup Weekend, the risk is not trivial. You need to consider “buy back” provisions if someone quits. You don’t want 5-10% of the company in non-working shareholder hands, if they quit or you part company for some other reason. Discussions about this can be very revealing about whether you trust each other. Poland is known as a “low trust” society. In my experience most people here are honest, being cheated is the exception, and trust is efficient.

Sweat equity. If some of your team have jobs, cannot afford to quit
Putting a value on your time – say it is equal for everyone to make it less difficult: 10 euros/hour whatever. If you work 2000 hours in the first year and the others work 200 then you have invested 20K sweat equity, the others 2K so it should be 20/28 for you, 2/28 for other team members. Obviously if one of you feels your time is much more valuable than the others, maybe you have to negotiate. It is better to have a discussion up front than not. Use some time management software, like TimeCamp, and online project management tools like Basecamp, so everyone can see what everyone is doing.

Non-compete, drag and tag along agreements are important
It should not be a problem among founders. Later, when you are telling new employees to sign non competition agreements, you can say “we all have already”. They are very hard to enforce, but most people feel a moral obligation to honour them. It makes your company more valuable. Drag along and tag along are for the shareholders only.

Business plan
Someone has to write the business plan. What needs to be done? By who? By when? How much it is going to cost? How are we going to make sure it is done as planned? This is probably your job as a leader.

Investor and team appeal
If you need an external funding, it is a great idea to have someone in the team who will impress potential sources of capital. Investors tend to invest in people more than ideas. Having impressive people is also essential when hiring. So if you have someone with that magical star quality, be ready to offer them something extra.

Wages and benefits
Talk about this before you meet investors, if you are going to have them. Investors will need to see that you are doing this not to make a salary, but to build a great company. In Poland, there are no real rules. It is unusual to make more than 50% of your “normal market salary” in a startup.
Quite often investors will be looking for evidence of entrepreneur skills that mean you have made and saved a bit of cash in the past.
Life is relatively easy when you are building a startup team. If you fall out, have arguments and cannot manage at the start, then you won’t manage later.

Angel investor, entrepreneur. 6 companies, 400 employees, 20 years in Poland, Cambridge University, Economics, TEDxKrakow speaker, and supporter. Interested in getting involved in startups as coach, mentor, minority investor, in business projects that are: better, cheaper, faster and more fun that the existing way of doing things. Active in supporting the pro enterprise culture in Poland in schools and universities. Notably through and Global Entrepreneurship Week. And the Krakow Network. Awarded a Pro Memoria medal for his work promoting projects associated with Wojtek the Soldier Bear

A Polish Linkedin Group is having a discussion about the characteristics of a good sales manager.. something I was discussing with the CEOs of three companies I am involved in yesterday during our Annual General Meetings, so the topic is on my mind.. I posted the original group here

Jakie cechy są warunkiem koniecznym bycia dobrym Sales Managerem
What are the features of a good sales manager

– to able to set an example, so be not just able but willing to demonstrate to his/her team how to sell, and work in the way and at the pace he/she requires of those who report

be a leader – to get the team to work willingly towards the company goals

to be able to take tough decisions

to be able to attract and retain talented sales people

to be ruthlessly well organised, to set realistic KPIs and then monitor them

to have good business skills focussed on long term profit and client satisfaction” to make sure the company does not start doing things that are stupid in the chase for short term targets.

to set demanding and realistic goals for sales and margin together with top management

to bring the best of the team, helping the high fliers fly even higher (20% improvement from the top sales guy is much more than 40% improvement at the bottom)

co ordinate with other departments (production, finance) to make sure that major opportunities are given highest level attention and priority

to be fair minded and just when allocating commission for new and repeat business

ensure that sales people get the right training, coaching both internally and externally, that they know what do do and how to do it.

have a clear sales process and ensure that it is rational, followed and open to agreed modification and improvement.

have good relationships with key clients.

work effectively with marketing and make sure that sales people know what to do when they are not getting enough leads

Ensure that existing and new clients are properly and efficiently mapped, DMUs (decision making units)  and opportunities are fully understood and exploited

They must love their job. Of course top sales managers are very well paid… but they should be into it as well  ..  it must be for more than the money.

This week’s Economist has a valuable article of the way Honeywell is run. Here I draw out ten points that make sense to me.

1. Time management, lots of short (15 minute) meetings where people stand up. no long boring meetings.

2. Tools and tricks to create an urgent environment (like special coloured clocks on the wall, labels where people should stand on the floor creating social pressure on late comers.

3. Daily meetings for suggestions of realistic process improvements,

4. lots of measurable results (4 times faster to do make x, higher profits, revenues, cash generation, 2 ideas per employ per month)

5. successful implementation of management theory (theory without good implementation is so much BS)

6. 12 “behaviours” including customer focus, self-awareness and championing change as opposed to values which are hard to measure.

7 Employees were indoctrinated in a forthright retraining exercise, known as One Honeywell (“One Hon”).

8. “better to do it right than quickly” as in Tim Harford’s Unilever example in his wonderful TED Global talk: Trial and Error God Complex
– initial template following visit to Toyota,
– pilot in 10 factories. worked in half.
– tweaked and tested in 5 more factories
– deployed broadly.

9 Decentralization. “hardest … was to get workers—… to adjust to a more decentralised power structure. “You have to get to the point where people say, ‘this is how I do my job now’,”

10. cost cutting can go to far as in Allied Signal. spending money can be good if it is to raise productivity and make money

Key facts about Honeywell here US$36.5bn revenue $3.5bn Ebitda

This article was first published here aims to convince you that it is worth considering entrepreneurship seriously as a career choice, even if you never start a business, to give tips about how to get the most out of the week if you are already convinced, and to give you signposts towards other things you can do, if you want to be involved in enterprise more than just one week a year.

Entrepreneurship is a way of life. I won’t repeat the arguments I made on about why enterprise is essential for Poland’s social and economic development. All the large foreign companies that ambitious Polish graduates (and their parents) dream of working for were founded by someone. Dr Procter and Mr. Gamble (P&G), the Lever brothers (Unilever), Mr Price, Waterhouse and Cooper (PWC), or Sichio Honda who left home and made for Toyko at the age of 16. Every corporation started life at some stage when someone decided to make it happen. Even if you never decide to start a business, we were privileged at TEDxKrakow Live to see Reid Hoffman, live from Palm Beach TED conference, talking about “The Start Up of You”. His says you should run your life as if you were a start up. Reid Hoffman (who invested in Paypal, Facebook, Zynga, and founded Linkedin) never intended to go into business wanted to be an academic. The skills and characteristics of an entrepreneur: spotting opportunities, solving problems, organising and leading groups of people to work towards a goal willingly, negotiating with clients, suppliers and other stake holders, self motivation and perserverence, listening, self-confidence, self control, willingness to take rational risks, are ones that will serve you in good stead whatever you do in life. The secrets of success as a person are pretty minutes by Richard St John (with Polish sub-titles).

Even if you don’t want to be an entrepreneur, you should understand entrepreneurs. Not only will it be good for your own career, but you will understand the type of people you are likely to be working for, and that will make you more productive. Even if you end up working in tax payer funded NGOs, lunatic EU funded programs, or in professional services like law and accounting, your money and your organisation’s income, will ultimately be coming from business who through tax or being clients keep you alive, it’s good to know about the people who finance you.

So how to get the most out of BOSS?

It is much like everything else. 5 mins preparation has a huge payback. Look through the speaker schedule. Think about things you don’t know you ought to know more about, the skills you think you could never possess, and the things that you want to get better at. Google the topics/people who are giving the talk. Think of the questions that you would ask them if you took them out for a drink, how they are relevant to the things you are doing in your life. Go to their talk, ask questions, and approach them afterwards. If they say anything useful, you should ask them out for a drink.

How to be enterprising for the 51 weeks in the year when BOSS is not going on?

Obviously if you’ve got a business on the side, work on that, but assuming you don’t there are now (at last) plenty of places in Krakow where business people and entrepreneurs hang out. As well as BOSS, SFBCC has other great projects: Przedsiębiorcza Kobieta, Konkurs Najlepsze Zajęcia z Przedsiębiorczości, Przedsiębiorczy Kraków, Spotkania z biznesem.

Ramon Tancinco, the boss of Cisco Central Europe, gave this at TEDxKrakow. TEDxKrakow Cinema gives a chance to get involved with TEDxKrakow projects, apart from our once a year mega-events and experience the magic of TED in Krakow. Hive53 lets you experience Silicon Valley style web 2.0 start up buzz for free, Interactive Days from Pride and Glory set you up with the Interactive on-line media crowd, Global Entrepreneurship Week is active in South Poland, Innovation Nest from the guys behind Onet provides more than an incubator, training, capital. Krakspot is another place to meet technology entrepreneurs. The Krakow Network runs this English language gateway to Krakow for free. AIP runs several incubators, as does the Krakow Technology Park It’s not just about the existing insitutions. If you are a student in any part of the University or Polytechnic you can join or talk to your Student Body/Careers office about organising an enterprise day/event or competition, you will find that some alumni will come back. It’s all do-able and will help you use your time as a student to both learn and have fun at the same time.

★ Autorem artykułu jest Richard Lucas, który 30 marca poprowadzi warsztat pt. „Starting a business? How to improve your chances of success?” w ramach IX Festiwalu Przedsiębiorczości BOSS

Ramon Tancinco (Head of Strategy at Cisco Central Europe) Ramon Tacinco's TEDxKrakow talk set up the Krakow Network site as a volunteer.
Krakow IT Companies

We decided to write about the values of our enterprise support activities.

Seeing so many misconceived, badly executed, government funded enterprise support projects, where the motivations of those involved were more to make money from supporting enterprise than genuinely believing in the cause, we felt it was important to say what this was about.

Voluntary: We do it because we believe in it. People who want to make money can do so but not by monetizing the network and making it unavailable unless you pay…

Open networks – We believe our network must be comprised of people and organisations who believe in open networks.

Status…. We believe that our community should be made up of people who believe that any social status is earned by their current activity, and contribution, not past achievement, fame, or “rock star” status

Money: Events we organise must be open to talented and motivated people with no money or contacts. In other words a “ladder up” for those who want it

Transparency: Financial and other deals with sponsors, partners etc should be clear and obviously stated. Everything in the light of day.

Good standing: As a community, we will do our best to keep out corrupt or dodgy people.

Private sector Led: We don’t to rely on the government or to be a channel for giving away tax payers’ money. We can partner with, link to the government, invite them to our events, use their buildings and facilities, but we do not want them to control our initiatives.

Freemium: It is fine for sponsors to pay for extra value added, such as covering the cost of events, but the majority of events should be free/low cost to visitors.

Linking: We are committed to linking to everyone who is relevant to the eco system.

Events: We will share info about events which we think are relevant for our community, while trying to avoid collisions and clashes.

Databases/Media: We will try to get a consistent pro-enterprise message out to all media. Our mutual challenge and goal should be to speak with a unified voice for Krakow’s enterprise community.

Mentoring/Support: We need to find every opportunity to encourage mentorship at all levels (experience and non-experienced, young and old, multinational and start-up). Mentoring is a way that people who have been successful can give something to the next generation of business people.

Children and Youth Engagement: It is never too young to learn about entrepreneurship, we need to pull together as a community to engage our youth in this area.

Krystian came second in the competition at Startup Weekend Krakow with his project “Gameteller” – a “game purchasing recommendation” app that tells you what games you will like. He also had the courage to present in English, to a crowd of 200 adults.

As the youngest person present, in an event that normally is attended by adults, he attracted a lot of attention. It’s great that he decided to enter. As a role model for those who want Poland to more entrepreneurial, Krystian cannot be faulted. Hats off to his father – Krzysiek -too. Any adult reading this should note their role in making children they know aware of the possibilities, and devoting time to support the next generation. I asked for an interview them by e-mail, and this is what we came up with.

1 how did you get the idea of Game Teller – your Game Recommendation App ?

I got the idea of GameTeller when I stood in front of the wall of games in a big store and I could not decide which one to buy. I thought that it would be nice if there was a tool that could tell me what game I would enjoy.

2 How did you get the idea of coming to Startup Weekend Krakow

It was my dad who told me that I could share my idea at Startup Weekend and I can find people who would like to work with me on Game Teller. At the beginning I was to go to the Startup Weekend Warsaw but two days before the event I caught a cold. My dad told me that in two months time there was another Startup Weekend in Krakow so I decided to go

3. What was best about Startup Weekend Krakow

What I liked most on Startup Weekend Krakow was the great, relaxed and cheerful atmosphere

4 What was worst about Startup Weekend Krakow

It lasted 2,5 days but I felt like the weekend has passed just in a few minutes. I wish that I could stay longer with these people.

5 what do your friends at school think about Startup Weekends when you tell them

I haven’t attended any Startup Weekends before, so I told them nothing about it. And now I have holidays. I’ll tell them when I go back to school.

6. Why do you want to have a business?

Because I want to see what it is like to make a living out of being in business. Then I want to have enough money to be able to invest in more buseinsses, and that the money I have is earned by me.
I think that having a startup will be a good lesson from me at the beginning. Having my own business will teach me more responsibility and decision making. I also like challenges. And I hope that thorough having my own business, I will be able to buy myself a laptop, such as my dad has 🙂

7. What do you say to people who say you are too young?
Nobody has already said anything like this to me. But if that happened, I think that I would answer that it is never too early to start a

8. What help (if any) do you need ?
I’ve just started to learn programming, so backend and mobile developers are the ones who I need most to make my project happen. Unfortunately, I didn’t find them for team at the event. I also need a PR person who is passionate about games and will help me promote GameTeller in the gaming community. Because I want GameTeller to be in English I also need native speakers of English or American. My parents and sister help me 🙂

9 Were you nervous, if yes how did you deal with it, if not how come you were not?

Before my first pitch (a pitch is a short speech to potential investors describing an idea in a way that is designed to make you want to buy it) , I was not nervous because I saw how other people pitched, and also that people in the room were friendly and supportive. I also trusted that if I make a mistake everybody including me would accept it with a smile. Besides, before Startup Weekend I often practiced pitching with my dad. I was a little nervous before the final pitch. I only had an hour to prepare for the show. My final pitch was much longer than the previous one and much more difficult – there were some words that I did not know before and I had difficulty pronouncing them. Fortunately I could just read my pitch and that helped me a lot. Besides I was more self confidence after the first successful pitch and going on the stage and talking to others for the second time was not so bad

10 What advice would you give to other young people about Startup Weekends and going into business

I would tell to them to treat Startup Weekend as fun. And to not stress too much, because the people there will not consider them inferior, even if mistakes. When it comes to business I would advice them to devote an hour a day on making their project happen. They should always make a “to do” list. because it is a very useful way of getting things done. I would also say to them that every idea is good at the beginning, and all you have to do is just to go for it.

11 Is there anything else you would like to tell people reading this interview

In my opinion you are never too young for doing a business, so if you’ve got an idea try to find a team or just do it by yourself. I would also like to thank my team – especially Darek Kosiba (the graphic and web designer ), my Dad, as well as all Startup Weekend Krakow mentors for good advice and assistance, because without them this would not happen, and this wouldn’t be the best weekend of my life.

Entrepreneurship has always been important. The concept of a person or group of people using their minds and creativity to solve a problem is both the foundation of a business and also basis of human progress. Throughout history there are many examples of societies where the means by which those in charge mobilized their citizens to action were through fear and raw power. The entrepreneurial drive of the leaders of such societies could on occasion produce some kind of result but at a terrible cost. Whether it was the Roman Empire, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s USSR or today’s North Korea we can see that even if roads and rockets get built, terror and slavery does not produce prosperity, happiness or sustainable progress. The most powerful, creative and dynamic societies are those where people decide for themselves that they want to do something, to change something, to make something happen, and do so for their own reasons at their own timetable. Self interest, broadly defined, is much more than just looking for a cash profit: ultimately it means people doing what they want to do with their lives.

Societies built on individual incentives and free markets have delivered far greater opportunities and prosperity than the alternatives. The role of the entrepreneur is absolutely central in making this happen. Technological progress, the profit motive, capital mobility and competition ensure that new ideas and technologies are examined, considered, adopted and tested.
Every new technology is both an opportunity and a threat to existing organisations and start ups. Entrepreneurship means that those in existing organisations should be thinking “what does this new technology or idea mean for us?”. “How can we use it to cut costs, deliver more value and service to our clients?” Self interest means keeping a systematic eye and look out for competitor activities. If a better (cheaper, faster) way of doing things is being adopted by competitors, then companies have to adjust, improve or die.

Without entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship, societies are destined to stagnate, wither away and die. 60 years of welfare capitalism has deadened the sense of urgency and necessity in many Western European countries. The disaster of communism in Central Eastern Europe has left a positive legacy: an awareness that people cannot rely on the state to solve all our problems and that we have to look after ourselves if we do not want to be dependent on the goodwill of others.

Some societies in Southern and Western Europe are only dimly beginning to realize how their lack of economic dynamism threatens not just their living standards but their national independence and social stability. This appeal from entrepreneurs in Spain gives a sense of the debate.

If Poland is going to avoid the looming economic crisis of debt, deficits and inflation – it will be partly because our entrepreneurs have done so much to ensure that goods and services made in Poland are competitive with imports and to export onto world markets

What kind of entrepreneurship barriers do you see in Poland?

There are cultural, social, and institutional barriers. The cultural barriers are the way in the media celebrates leisure and rest as an ideal form on being” “thank goodness its Friday, what a pity the weekend is ending”. The Mcgregorian idea that working and being productive is can lead to personal fulfillment and happiness is presented as a weird work-a-holicism. Many parents, grandparents, teachers, priests and authority figures do not see “starting a business” as a respectable career choice. If you do want to start a business, the bureaucratic environment is extremely unsupportive. The labour code assumes that someone starting a business has almost unlimited time to read and understand ridiculous and complex laws concerning employment contracts, sick pay, holidays, and documentation. It should be enough for a small business to be legally obliged to pay its staff as agreed, be legally liable to keep the work place safe and leave it at that. Tax and ZUS regulations could clearly be made more simple. I am not complaining about the level but the degree of knowledge needed to be compliant.

Financial barriers: There is far more advertising to promote consumption than investment in business. I would tell every bank that for every advert promoting consumer credit they have to advertise loans for small business, and have a tax on consumer credit that is used to subsidize small business loans, especially for those without collateral.

What are the main differences between Poland and United Kingdom in the context of entrepreneurship development?
The situation in the UK is far from perfect. I live in Poland so my perspective is limited. I get the impression that there is a political consensus in the UK that entrepreneurs are needed and good without a clear idea of how to make the culture more entrepreneurial. In recent years TV programmes such as the Apprentice and Dragons Den, business networking events in Universities and elsewhere, have really taken off. There are great “eco system” support networks, like those in Cambridge, where banks. VCs, Seed capital funds, local government, business schools, the university, technology parks, angel investors, work together without much in the way of rivalry or professional jealousy.

If someone wants to find business support networks in the UK they can. I am not sure that is true outside the major cities in Poland, though anyone who says “nothing is going on in Poland” should spend 5 minutes on Google, Any would be entrepreneur who is “too busy” to do that lacks motivation and needs to change his or her attitude

Trust is a major issue in Polish society or rather the lack of it. Too many people assume that everyone else is gong to cheat them. For people with business ideas the problem manifests itself in way it prevents people from talking to others about their business idea. This needs to change. The big challenge in business is effective implementation of ideas, not the idea itself.

You support many initiatives which stimulate entrepreneurial culture in Poland. One example of it is your project Could you describe it?

The idea is simple. That school children should find alumni from their school who have gone into business, interview them, and publish the interview on their school and the competition website

School pupils at Primary (Szkoła podstawowa), Secondary (Gimnazjum) and High school (Szkoła średnia) can win 500 zl if they find, interview and publish interviews with alumni from their school who have achieved success and/or established a business.
This competition has several major objectives, we want to:
• Encourage children to be active, develop their self confidence and research skills, learn how to communicate intelligently with adults and learn about the world of business;
• Encourage business people to support the schools that they used to attend, and to make them feel appreciated and valued;
• Encourage schools to celebrate the successes of their alumni and to consider using them to help with teaching their current pupils;
• Challenge negative stereotypes of business, through bringing children into contact with business people who are ready to give time for free as volunteers
• Introduce no cost ways of improving education in Poland through using resources that are available but under utilized;
• Provide children with positive role models, of people who studied in the same classrooms as they do, and have now done something impressive with their lives.
While these are ambitious aims, it is also a pilot project. We want to do the competition, learn the lessons, and do it better next year, maybe roll out worldwide in other languages. This year we are allowing schoolchildren to interview business people who did not go to their school this time round, so that even if there are no entrepreneurs able or willing to help in a particular school children can still go in.

Poland does not yet have a strong tradition of school alumni helping their schools as volunteers. Schools seldom celebrate the successes of their alumni. When I see British schools and universities organising events with their alumni for the benefit of their pupils that cost no money, I think “why not in Poland?” which after all in a less wealthy country.
Alumni school links do not require tax payer or EU subsidy. They are sustainable and can carry on even when tax payer money runs out. There is no bureaucracy, and the benefit for school children can be very high. It’s much better to hear about the world of business from a businessman, journalism from a journalist etc. than a career training organisation. It’s good that we are working with Primary Schools as well as schools for older children. Many people in Poland instinctively think that that 6-7 year old pupils are “too young” to learn about enterprise. This way of thinking has its roots in old Marxist, pessemistic and feudal beliefs about work being a necessary evil, rather than being part of what gives life its meaning. Young children are just as capable of understanding about work and business as older people, sometimes even more so. If Poland wants to compete to her maximum potential in the global economy, she needs future generations to have a positive attitude to work and enterprise. Bringing former alumni back into schools who have achieved something and are ready to donate their time for free is a powerful positive role model. Who knows how many of today’s children have the potential to start a business employing 5, 50 or even thousands of people, provided someone shows up in their classroom at tells them it can be done, and that person is credible because they have already done it.

Do you see entrepreneurship potential in Polish youth?

Very much, but this is a wider topic. My children have two passports, British and Polish. I have friends and business partners from all over the world. I feel good when I hear of a business success from any country, where the founders have done something impressive (not just exploited political contacts or got an EU grant) I really see entrepreneurship and enterprise as more than a competition between countries. A good new business can create value, jobs and wealth for all stake holders, suppliers, clients, employees, shareholders in whatever country. I know that I have made more money than many employees who have worked for me but I also know that there is nothing to stop them (unless they signed Non Competition agreements) from doing their own business. I believe in free trade and free markets. If Poland imports goods and services from good foreign companies, paid for by money earned in Poland, we win as well. Of course we need to export but the old mercantilist “exports good imports bad” way of thinking doesn’t make sense to me. One company I used run in Poland, PMR with British and American shareholders, helped the largest Brazilian mining conglomate do business in Serbia. The staff working on the project were not Polish. We made a profit and so paid taxes in Poland but was it a “Polish” business. I don’t think it matters very much.

There is a lot of room to increase the promotion of enterprise and business in Polish schools, universities and society by business people.

Enterprising values come out of creativity and taking the initiative. So from my perspective initiatives like TEDxYouth, which is happening in Poland for the first time and Universytet Dzieci Children’s University are also very important. Project based learning which teaches responsibility is coming into Gymnazjium. It’s all about people learning to be responsible,take the initiative, get control over their own lives, rather than let life happen to them

You are great fan of Creative Commons idea. What exactly is it and why do you support it so much?

I first found out properly about Creative Commons via Richard Baraniuk’s TED talk here and immediately realized this was the perfect solution for a problem that has bothered me for a long time.

The problem is that when people create materials for promoting enterprise the value is very much reduced because it is not available to other people working in the same area. Where the presentations, workshops and content is being created by professional trainers or publishers who live from selling training services it is understandable they want to keep control of their content. However when the work they are doing is being financed either by pro enterprise foundations like Kauffman (who support for Global Entrepreneurship Week, Start up Weekends or paid for out by taxpayers through government or international agency – like the EU then it annoys me that the work is not available for everyone who wants to use it, given that we as taxpayers have bought it in the first place. Even if presentations are made available on line (for example, in Malopolska, we asked those doing projects as part of GEW to make them available afterwards) it is still a problem if someone wants to use the materials in a workshop because they need to permission and this takes time and effort that is not necessary. When I or other people are doing projects as volunteers and we put in the creative commons we build the amount of materials available for others.

In Poland we are “starting from behind” in terms of the resources available and the tradition (or the need to build it) of business people supporting entrepreneurs.
Richard Lucas

What can we do/are doing to encourage pro enterprise attitudes in our city

I’ve plenty of thoughts and will kick things off here

Building the pro enterprise eco-system in Krakow is a long term goal of tremendous importance and it would be good to think through all the issues so that the sum of the parts is greater than us all working independently.

There is a great opportunity as a result the critical mass that has now been achieved.

Hive – has really taken off..Their event Friday 4th November was brilliant upward of 300 people all into Start Ups
its backed by Applicake, Brightberries, and had the editor of Techcrunch Europe as a keynote and star guest

There is going to be a start up week end in January 2012 (at least that’s what I keep on hearing) with the same backers. – connected to Mediaframe -the AGH student circle has regular turnouts of several hundred where presentations from VCs and recent start ups figure regularly

This week I was at the opening of two more business incubators from AIP in the Uni of Agriculture and WSE.

Piotr Wilam and Marek Kapturkiewicz and his colleagues have founded Innovation Nestz with a school of entrepreneurship connected to it. It looks like it could turn into a full fledged like accelerator

The Krakow Technology Park continues to build new incubators

Interactive Days – for those into marketing and on line issues attract 100s of people

Last but not least it is worth noting the active role of the local government in publicizing and encouraging participation in Global Entrepreneurship Week
All to often government and EU funded actions cost to much and achieve too little but in this case they deserve serious praise and recognition for what they have done..

I see most dynamism is in Hive Krakspot Innovation nest., TEDx type activities where people are involved because they want to be rather than because they are paid to be.

As those who attended TEDxKrakow Ramon Tancinco of Cisco was praising both Hive and Krakspot in his TEDx talk about Krakow Silicon Valley. Ramon is behind this English language intro to Krakow for the world

Bringing together the key components of the ecosystem and make sure we are all “on the same page” of open networks, collaboration, sharing etc is important.

For a long time I’ve had the vision of Enterprise Tuesday type intensity, where for the first few weeks of term there is an event. They make all the presentations available on their site here
Mamstartup in Warsaw with my encouragement has launched a creative commons section
for enterprise support materials on their web site

They wrote this nice review of Hive here

It looks like the KPT elevator pitch competition Moje 2 Minuty written about here will go national with Gazeta Wyborcza.

I’d like to draw attention to the “entrepreneurs from our school” pilot project (and the fantastic support I’ve been getting from Agnieszka Wlodarczyk who works for the Wojewoda, Paulina Lesniak – a student from the super active Krakow SFBCC and Jakub Malinowski who is still at school and did the web site.

One of the points of this project was to get schools and business people talking to each other. We need more Polish business people involved in supporting enterprise in their schools. Many people have said “yes it s a great idea but
with notable exceptions.. 🙂 not that many have actually approached their schools and offered help”

We are also lacking the active involvement of business schools at the moment, banks and financial institutions, a diary where we can all see all the events that are organised in my view

It would be great to hear what anyone else thinks

Richard Lucas
Global Entrepreneurship Week

Krystian Aparta is a translator living in Krakow, the town I have made my home. As someone who is actively involved in both voluntary projects and translation, I asked him to answer a few questions about TED, and his views on translation.

What motivates you to be be a translator.

At first, it was the idea that sometimes I would not be able to communicate how great something was without expressing it in a different language (movies, lyrics, books, poems). When I started translating professionally, I also found that I am motivated by the need to investigate terminological mysteries. It’s great fun to work with lyrics, although I don’t get to do as much of that kind of translation as I would like to. As far as subtitling goes, I love movies, so I find it very rewarding when I can figure out a way to express a piece of dialog in a form that is succinct enough to work as a subtitle. Also, as a freelance translator I can make my own hours, and that is the way I like to work.

Do you see your interest in sign language as “just another language” or more than this?

A lot more than this. I am very kinesthetic in the way I think and communicate, so I suspect that initially added to the attraction. However, the reason I first became interested in ASL was that I saw it as an element of a fascinating culture with a view of the world that could be partially different from my own, and with a cool language that was different in a few ways from spoken languages. I later got interested in PJM (Polish Sign Language) after I realized that Deaf people were discriminated against in Polish society. Sign language was banned in deaf education in Poland for a long time, and discouraged as a means of communication outside of the school. This barred thousands of people from access to a first language. Even now very little has been done to bring Polish Sign Language to its rightful place as the language of education and communication in the Polish Deaf community, and Signed Polish (“System JÍzykowo-Migowy”), a constructed language, is being promoted instead. However, there are efforts in place to support PJM, part of which was the summer PJM course that I was lucky to participate in. I can’t abide ignorance restricting people’s right to communication and suppressing the unbridled mental development in a social environment that comes from communicating in a first language. This is why I became interested in Polish Sign Language.

In your interview on the TED site you refer to the shock of a move within Poland. do you see Poland as a single country or a country with strong regional differences.

Country, culture, land, region are all abstract concepts that our mind uses to organize concrete ideas, such as memories of physical interactions with particular people. I don’t like generalizing in this way. What I can say is that I am aware of the differences between people that are constructed in a diglossic society based on language. I know about this from growing up in Silesia, and I could recognize all the same patterns when I was learning about diglossia in a sociolinguistics class. The right accent or turn of phrase can immediately categorize you as “one of us” or stick you out of the group. This actually happens even within one language as well, but with diglossia, it happens all the time, in every linguistic exchange. I am sure that this experience is not common in Poland, as only a few places in this country have more than one language or dialect, and that may be considered a strong regional difference.

What are your thoughts on translation as a career

I believe that when you consider anything you’re doing a career, you should check your priorities and direct them to something more concrete and human. That said, I think that working as a translator has a few perks, like being able to make your own hours if you’re freelance, or often being able to choose a job or a client based on what you currently feel like doing. One downside is not working physically with other people, and as a social person, I sometimes miss having that forced on me (although there are times when this does seem like a blessing). I think that as long as you continue to develop your craft and remain ready to question your choices and learn, plus find a few niches that you specialize in, you will probably be fine. Working as a freelancer can be risky, since an uninterrupted flow of jobs is not always a guarantee, but I must admit that even this aspect can be somewhat exciting.

The comment that many translators dream of doing works of literature and poetry and end up doing contracts and instruction manuals might reflect the gap between what translators do and what they want to do – do you agree? any comments.

Why can’t you do both poetry and instruction manuals? If you are good at what you do, I am sure you can find the work you need, and possibly make opportunities for yourself if the job market is not calling for you. Literary translation may seem more glamorous to some, but literary translators still need to respect deadlines and do research. I can’t imagine somebody really motivated to be a literary translator and good at what they do failing to find a job. Perhaps it’s an issue with their job-seeking strategy more than with the industry itself. It may be the case that there is just more demand on the market for non-literary text, and so more need for people to translate it. Starting out doing both and gradually moving into more specialized work that you love most may be a good idea for those who want to start out by making a living as translators.

What motivated you to be a TED Translator?

I watched a talk and realized that I couldn’t share it with friends who did not speak English well enough to follow. I wrote TED saying that putting subtitles on the videos would be a good idea, not only for the sake of the global non-English audiences but non-hearing viewers. I got no response. When I wrote them again a few months later, they asked me if I wanted to contribute to the Open Translation Project that was just being rolled out. I believe in increasing access to knowledge, because I think it is potentially beneficial to humanity, now and in the future, when new technology is able to make use of the stuff we are putting online today to bring even more learning to people.

What arguments would you use to persuade someone to do TED translations, or get involved in other pro bono work such as Khan Academy work .

We have been brought up to monetize effort, so it’s easy to forget to disassociate the money from what motivates us. I think that it’s easy to motivate volunteers to participate based on their principles. If you see that your effort helps to fortify what you believe in, you will be drawn to the work, and I think that most people can be persuaded to get involved when you explain to them that their work can bring ideas that are significant to them to more people in the world. There are also more traditional perks, more easily relatable to the usual economic motivations. Volunteer work can be included in CVs, and there will probably be no confidentiality agreement, so one can freely share information about the work one has done. This is not so in regular translation work, where some degree of confidentiality is usually involved. Volunteer translation work can also be a way to hone one’s skills, especially in setups with a review process, where the translator can receive feedback.

Where would be the best place to find volunteer translators.

English philology and translation courses at universities and translation industry websites like or

Do you use translation memory software – if yes do you encourage other translators to learn it.

I used MetaTexis for a few years and then switched to SDL Trados Studio. CAT software does not help much with literary translation. If you do any other kind of translation (instruction manuals…), I strongly encourage you to learn it. It makes translating text with a lot of recurring parts more convenient, and is helpful in trying to keep style and terminology consistent across translations. Your translation memories grow with every project, so it’s best to start using the software as soon as possible.

What is your view on the competitiveness of automated translation like Google Translate,

There is zero competitiveness. I hope that automated translation will grow more useful and context-sensitive, because it could make human translation easier. But I don’t think it will replace human translation any time soon. I am a Trekker, and recently I gave a talk on the impossibility of Star Trek’s Universal Translator. The Universal Translator is much more advanced than our automated translation, and probably more advanced than human translation itself, since it can read concepts directly from the speaker’s brain. However, in my talk I discussed a series of selected reasons why the UT would not work even assuming that the technology were possible. The UT wouldn’t be able to avoid problems that human translators face in their work. One simple example – when an Englishwoman says “You are here,” does she mean “pan” or “ty” (the “V” or the “T” form)? Because the distinction is not lexicalized in English, we cannot expect that when faced with a social interaction, the mind of a native speaker of English will always contain the information that triggers the V/T distinction in the mind of a person whose language does code for it. This is one of the many setbacks for the Universal Translator, while the automated translators are a few (fictional) centuries behind. However, if one day automated translators are able to do all or almost all of a human translator’s work, huzzah!

Do you think that the world will need ore or less human translators over the next generation?

This is impossible to predict. Perhaps with increasing international mobility, there will be need for more interpreters. On the other hand, more multilinguals will be created too, so maybe fewer interpreters will be necessary? Prognosticating is a futile activity, since it always consists in simply dancing with one’s imagination. It may be a better idea to sit down and spend that time translating a TED Talk.

Another interview with Krystian is here


I run a group on Facebook here promoting the learning of the Anders Army history through projects concerned with Wojtek the Soldier Bear.

One of the uses of this group is to distribute information about Wojtek related initiatives, cultural events and the like. I first heard about Animal Monday at an event in the Scottish Parliament at the beginning of 2010 over 2 years ago. Since then Animal Monday have made a film Wojtek – The Bear that went to war. Details of what to do if you want to organise a showing, or see it, are in this interview I did by e-mail with Will Hood. Many thanks to him for his time.

You can visit the film page here

1. Where did the idea of a film about Wojtek come from ?

The film maker Pinny Grylls and I had worked on a film about a sheep that crossed the line separating man from beast (Peter & Ben – 2009 Invisible films) And she had heard about the story from a friend whilst at a funeral. Being a subject that we both are fascinated by we planned to make the film together – but due to the huge amount of research and development that was needed, spanning over two years, by the time we had got backing to go in to production, she was unable to commit the time that the project needed.

2. When you first heard the story of Wojtek what was your reaction, did you believe it

I’m not sure i really did believe it at first – but i was very aware that other people really did believe it – and that was the most interesting thing from a film making perspective. I still find it amazing quite how much of an influence this bear had on the people i met during the making of this film. They believed in him and that is very touching.

3 what is/are your favorite Wojtek story/ies/?

There are many stories i like – the getting entangled in the underwear story (as told in Lasocki’s – soldier bear book) – and the bear attending plays and falling asleep and farting in Berwick (as told in Aileen’s Orr’s recent book ) are favourites. But i absolutely love the hole story/ legend of him carrying the shells at Cassino. Its such a pivotal part of his army career and made so much appealing to the imagination by the lack of photo evidence. Our film features an interview with John Clarke MBE of the black watch who saw Wojtek perform this legendary act and his eyes nearly pop out of his head as he tells the story – it’s still very exciting for him 60 years after the event.

4. Some people react negatively to the idea of an animal being used in war. What would you say to those people

This animal is different and was there by his own volition – he believed he was a man. This was not a case of animal cruelty.

5. what is the launch schedule for your film. What languages are planned. and who should anyone contact if they want to help get the film into another language

The film shall broadcast on terrestrial channels around Europe at the end of the year. Presently this includes Britain, Israel, Germany and Poland. But we are hoping more countries in and outside the EU will wish to broadcast it. Anyone interested in the film who wishes to contact the creators should go to – or to find out more info about the story you can visit the soon to be live website

6. if someone wants to arrange a viewing of the film in there school or cultural centre, who should they approach and how much does it cost?

As above

7. The story of Wojtek is connected with terrible suffering and tragedy. Do you think the focus on Wojtek is appropriate in this context

Yes… The story of Wojtek is connected with terrible suffering and tragedy – but it is also a story of enduring human spirit, hope and perseverance and i think that it is totally appropriate that his story is celebrated for this reason. All of the Polish veterans that i talked to were devoid of self pity or martyrdom concerning what had happened to their people/ country during the 2nd world war and i believe that the story of the bear then and now is a way to describe their journey from Russia through the middle east, Italy and Scotland in a way that doesn’t portray them as victims. This seems important to me as they are all very strong and proud individuals that have survived a very profound time in our shared history.

8. If someone reading this is considering a “Wojtek” project in their school, would you encourage them to go for a drama, like in Ely, painting like in Poland or singing like in Italy or Scotland.

I would encourage creative expression of all persuasion – i do think however it propagating the Wojtek story further (ie. if you become the storyteller – through your project) it is important to get the information right and to treat the real people involved with the respect due to them.

9., Have you met people during the making of the film who might be interested in doing further “wojtek” related projects to help spread the word about the bear and this forgotten history.

Not that aren’t already engaged in projects already – ie. Aileen Orr or Krystyna Ivell

10. how much does it cost to make a film like this, and how it funded?

The film was made on a very modest budget and involved a lot of late nights with a small team of people who really believed that this was a story worth sharing with a greater audience. It was funded in part by by BBC Scotland, PISF, MDR – and produced by AnimalMonday and Braidemade films

11. Is there anything else you think people should know before going off to see the film?

No bears were harmed in the making of this film and in fact one even received a donut

I came across Charles Cracknell, thanks to Global Entrepreneurship Week and seeing his activity on Social Networking sites on Facebook. After exchanging a few e-mails I asked if I could interview him. The outcome is below.

There is a lot to learn from and emulate in what he is doing.

1. What are your responsibilities with respect to entrepreneurship support in schools and universitiies?

In general my role is develop and support the development of the City of Hull’s entrepreneurial culture so we work in all of the schools and colleagues at the University in order to do this. We run a programme for under 11’s were a business loans a group of young people £150 and they have to turn it into a profit using 13 Enterprise Schools. For 13 year olds we run a programme with out football and rugby club in which they get an enterprise qualification and learn about the clubs as a business not just about the players. Than we we give grants and business advice to young people

2. It’s hard to measure the impact of activities that are designed to change mentality opinion and values. What are simple ways of being sure that your work is successful ?

You are right we tend to use case studies as evidence which are invaluable showing how the young person has adapted the enterprise skills we promote, also we ask the young people to be ambassadors for us which is the most successful way of showing how we are doing

3. What are the best examples of low budget high impact projects that you recommend for people organisations in other parts of the world to try

Our giving of loans to young people in schools with the support of a business mentor is certainly the lowest cost budget wise. However our Youth Enterprise Bank that gives on average £500 with general business support has achieved great success and this is lowcost at £137K going to over 200 young people. Much of this is funded via fundraisers and donations from Hull’s business community for instance KC a telecommunications company has just agreed to give us £20K a year for three years to give as grants.

4. What are the biggest barriers to getting your message through to young people, and how do you overcome them?

There own limitations which once they realise they are enterprising everyday in what they do and show they can be a success we can overcome the barriers easy.

5.Who else in your support network are important allies, how do you find them and how do they help?

Every one of our 60 odd partners are important allies but the most important are the young entreprenurs we have helped in the past as they are very willing to put something back.

6. Do other towns and local governments in the UK (or internationally) that have equivalents of you? and are there any events, places, on line networks through which we can reach them

Yes there are people with similar roles to me in the UK in particular in Yorkshire area who we work with via for our area – we work in particular with Rotherham who have helped us with our enterprise culture agenda and our primary enterprise person is employed by them but managed by me it’s a great partnership

7. What are examples of people/projects that don’t work well or have a negative impact what are dangers signs to look out for. We notice that sometimes a lot of money is spend on activities that have rather limited impact

I would agree in general any programme that is not about the individual and about numbers / bums on seats in my view does not create a cultural change or inspire

8. What are your biggest challenges and goals for the next five years.

To keep things together will be a challenge with a range of cut backs that are taking place, my biggest goal though is to persuade the banks to to give full business bank account privillages and support to those young people who set up in business or want to set up in business as after all if they get them young they will have good customers in the future.

9. What advice you would give to people who have similar responsibilities to you ?

Do not give in its worth it in the end and by developing an enterprise culture amongst young people you can change how your area develops as an economic power house using the imagination and drive of your young people

10. Does the current economic climate negatively impact the budget available for the work you do, or do cut backs simply mean there is more need to be creative in identifying supporting projects that don’t need much funding

Certainly it’s a challenge and we will step up to it with the support of partners and the city’s business community, we are looking to establish an enterprise club with Jobcentreplus for the Under 18’s in Hull so we can start working with young people who maybe only route into the labour market is through self employment.

11 Is there anything that we can do to help you, or are there projects which could work well with a partner in another part of Europe?

To my mind anything is possible as we have a large Polish Community in Hull and would welcome any proposals you might have maybe you could come over sometime

This I am not sure of but we are always looking to develop new links across Europe and explore ways of working with new colleagues

“Taking part in enterprise education at school doubles the likelihood of a person starting a business, showing that entrepreneurs really can be made with the right support and encouragement.”


HULL: The family friendly city where no child is left behind.
Hull City Council recognises the importance of delivering high quality services that meet your needs. How you see the services provided by us determines whether we succeed or fail. As part of our pursuit of Service Excellence, we want to know your views of the services provided – whether they are good or bad. If you have a suggestion that may improve the services we provide let us know. All of this information will help us to provide services that:

· Are reliable
· Meet your needs
· Represent value for money

We recognise that things do go wrong from time to time, and when they do, we need to know about them. Similarly, when a particular service that we provide is working well, and you are satisfied with it – we want to know. This is so that we can share this good practice for the benefit of others.

(This interview was published on the Cambridge University Careers department web site in 2008  behind a password wall.. I’m re posting it here on Soundcloud

 Our Director, Gordon Chesterman met with Richard during a recent visit to Cambridge and asked him about entrepreneurship and starting your own business.

Part 1 covers introductions, why start you own business and any downsides. (8 minutes) Listen now 

Part 2 covers the skills and attributes needed to succeed, whether to seek other experience first, and the possibility of gaining experience in another SME. (12 minutes) Listen now 

Part 3 introduces speculative approaches to SMEs and advice before making the leap into your own business. (11 minutes) Listen now |

Richard Lucas read Economics at Cambridge, graduating from Pembroke in 1988. He worked for PA Cambridge Economic Consultants with Barry Moore 1989-91 before moving to Eastern Europe, where he has set up or invested in 10 start up businesses, 6 of which are active, currently employing about 400 people in Europe and the United States. Richard has been active in supporting enterprise education (particularly at school level) and gives talks at conferences from time to time about innovation, entrepreneurship and what it is like being in business.

Here is Richard’s Linkedin profile, with links to many of his business interests.

Several years ago I was surveyed by a Chamber of Commerce about the Corporate Social Responsibility policies at PMR, the company I then led. I found so annoying one of the questions “what steps do you take to ensure your staff take part in CSR activities?” that I wrote a CSR policy on the spot. I dislike the idea of compulsory CSR very much. Compulsory good behaviour is as idiotic as the compulsory happiness of Monty Python’s Happy Valley

Beyond this, there are more fundamental issues like the business being a “good” business. I had a few years earlier had a business fiasco where I was the major shareholder in a company that went bust, while supporting a development project in Indonesia. With advice from some staff members,

“PMR is supportive of individual and group efforts of staff to contribute more than their job and the law requires both to the societies in which we operate and the company as a whole. We believe that company resources can provide an effective channel with benefits to people and institutions outside the company and that through doing this both the company and the wider community can gain.

This CSR policy is not about looking good. We mean it. First and foremost.

PMR aims to be a profitable and successful company

In order to fund Corporate Social Responsibility, the company has to be successful, in terms of looking after our clients well, having attractive working conditions for staff, making profits and paying our taxes(1). To give money away we have to be making it and our primary responsibility is to be profitable. It would be irresponsible for management and staff to focus attention on the wider community if the fundamental raison d’etre of the business is not being successfully executed 2. If we don’t look after ourselves then we can’t look after other people, even if we want to.

CSR is not compulsory for our staff

We say “mozesz nie musisz” (Polish “you can but you don’t have to”) with respect to voluntary activities. We don’t want an atmosphere where people are involved in CSR because they feel they have to. Being a “good citizen” is an active choice that individuals can take according to their own consciences and the company will not require participation in CSR activities. PMR policy is to let staff choose whether to get involved. If a member of staff does an outstanding job, but keep his or her private time for their own activities, that is completely acceptable. If a member of staff wants to contribute their own time and resources to a CSR project, it is quite likely that the company will make a matching contribution, in cash or kind. People acting under their own initiative are far more likely to be committed to what they are doing, and the company does not waste time supporting things nobody cares about, just to “look good”.

PMR has four CSR pledges:

That we will act ethically in all areas of our business, aware of the effect we have on all our stakeholders in the work we undertake.
That, where appropriate, company resources will be made available to support programs initiated by members of staff aimed at benefiting the wider community and environment. This can take the form of corporate support for employee giving, corporate support for employee volunteering and corporate giving.
That we will work to ensure a safe, enjoyable and tolerant workplace with equal opportunities for all our employees.
We welcome any initiatives that reduce our energy consumption or cut waste.

To help deliver on these pledges, PMR runs a suggestions scheme on its intranet which is reviewed by the management through which suggestions (about CSR or anything else) can be made. Staff can initiate ideas on their own at any time they like.
In the past, PMR staff have been supportive of:

links between business and education, fostering entrepreneurship and business awareness in Schools and Universities
public speaking initiatives (helping found Toastmasters in Cracow)
sponsoring educational summer school events/parties
children’s and families’ charities.

Some things we support, like joining and supporting a local frisbee club are more a a fun community thing to do than a “worthy cause”. We are not bothered about definitions.

CSR at PMR is bound to evolve as the firm grows, particularly under the influence of the rapidly increasing number of staff from different parts of the world and the ideas that they bring. New ideas (from staff or anyone else reading this document) are always welcome.


This article should be useful to companies designing or running internship programs, who want make them successful, and to interns who want to make sure that they end up in the right sort of company where they are appreciated and valued.

For interns, few things in life are as demoralizing as being ready to commit and help an organization and then to find that the company is not interested or aware of their commitment and potential contribution. Sadly some companies systematically inflict this on interns because interns are regarded cheap/free resource so it doesn’t seem to really matter if not much advantage is gained.

For companies, this is a big mistake for four reasons.

Internships are a highly visible and public way of spreading information about your corporate culture and company among active and ambitious students around the world. If you screw interns around you are destroying value and your reputation.
Internships are a very cost effective way of conducting long term recruitment, because there is easily time during an internship to assess whether an individual has the potential to make a long term contribution to the company and is a real high flier. In a standard recruitment exercise executives get an hour or two with the candidates before taking a decision that is expensive for the company and life changing for the candidate. In an internship, there are several months in which both intern and company can check each other out.
Interns tend to be young, full of energy, and are capable of making a valuable contribution to a company with a new perspective, and time to work on special projects that regular staff have little time for.
Interns are people. It is obvious that interns are not as experienced as long standing key employees, but they are still human beings. Just as you can assess the character of successful person by the way they treat people in “low status” jobs, a good indicator of a company’s core values is how it treats “low status” positions. If no one cares about the interns, then there is something badly wrong with your company.

For interns – finding and working in a good company can change their experience from being a way to get something useful looking on the CV/resume to a life changing experience.

What can a prospective intern do to avoid being stuck in a Dilbert style company?

Review your objectives

Maybe it is some (or all) of the following objectives come to mind

to assess and bridge the gap between perception/imagination and the reality in the targeted industry/company

to experience the difference between working and student life

getting ready to enter the job market

Earn some money

Improve your CV

Have fun, make new friends/ get a new girl/boyfriend

Learn something new

Live in a different country

Get away from my parents/home town/existing relationships

Get a long term position in a target company

Get experience of a business /sector

Whatever it is, it’s obviously good to think it through, and know what you are looking for. You are far more likely to get what you want if you define it in your own mind first and act accordingly. Going through an organization like Aiesec to a thriving lively city (like Cracow in Poland where PMR is headquartered) see to get feel for it, means that you arrive to a city with an instant network of people to hang out with from different parts of the world. Even if the internship is really dull at least you have a bunch of people to hang out with and grumble with.

Remember that recruitment is a two way process.

It may seem like there are hundreds of candidates and a few good companies, but equally there are only a few good interns and hundreds of companies are interested in hiring them. A good company certainly has senior people actively looking for good people all the time. If there is a specialized human resource function, they should be able to tell you how it works in their company. If a company or organization does not have the time or culture of answering straight forward questions from you when you are considering who to work for, what is it going to be like when you get there?

If you are going for an “A brand” employer like Goldman Sachs, The Economist, Deutsche Bank, Wahaha, Mitsubishi, or SAB Miller things are different in two ways. There can be a power imbalance meaning that the people dealing with interns in the well known company have the

“you are so lucky to work here”

mentality, and don’t appreciate being quizzed about what actually happens to interns. If this is the case, maybe you should steer clear and work somewhere where you will be appreciated.

The other more obvious point is that you will have a lot of competition and need to be a bit smarter than the average to get in as an intern. For example:

A Chinese speaking student might be more valuable to a consulting company not in China which needs the skills more badly than companies in China. Think about what you’ve got that the average person hasn’t and to whom that might be valuable

Check if any of the senior executives of your target companies have publications, speeches, presentations, Linkedin type identities and approaching them first rather than going direct to the HR dept can differentiate you completely from the average candidate. If the intern program manager gets an e-mail from you saying “I am writing to you on the recommendation of the CEO /Director of international marketing /whatever” it obviously improves your chances.

Do your homework/research

Use company web pages, Facebook, Linkedin, Myspace, the Blogosphere, Google and personal and institutional networks to research the company, country, town, function and position. It is much easier than it ever has been to get information about companies and the culture of the internet makes it feasible to ask people questions. If you are a member of or another “internship” type organization, they for sure have alumni associations and through them it should be possible to make contact with interns from previous years. The questions become very obvious. “Which companies are good for an intern in town X for someone who wants to get experience in Y?” The more knowledge you display of your target company in your application the better (“I can help with your latest project launch as per your web site”) looks very powerful in an application.

What does an internship look like?

Does the company have a defined concept of what interns are for and what will happen to them. The “cheap labour so it doesn’t matter” attitude is the one to be most sensitive to. No one will tell you that openly so you have to read between the lines. If there is no policy and program for interns, it increases the chances that no one cares. An intern should know what sort of tasks can be expected and it is good to have a project or some tasks where if they make an effort it is clear that they have succeeded in something.

Is internship a route to job offer?

A good company will screen interns early on after they join to assess if they have the potential to be a long term employee. The definition of a high flier will mean different things in different companies. At PMR we are looking for people who are friendly, with high levels of energy and commitment, intelligence, a willingness to work hard and acquire new skills, who are ambitious but not arrogant. If an intern is doing well, does the company have a means of making sure they get to meet staff who can take a decision to hire them.

Are interns treated as employees, invited to company social events, formally induced and introduced to the company.

Not every smaller company will have as formal a policy as Microsoft, where there are special codes for interns . For a funny description of how Microsoft intern Jeff Maurone experienced being invited to dinner with Bill Gates click here . Anyone who has read about Bill Gates involvement and attitude to recruitment may reflect on the degree to which his active example of leadership in high flier recruitment may be part of the Microsoft’s success. The nightmare situation that interns can find themselves in is sitting at a desk in a large office, being referred to as “the intern” and not being introduced to anyone. Any company that treats a human being as a noun is to be avoided. Going to company parties and social events is a way of getting to know other staff and departments, and for the intern to decide if this is the sort of place they want to work. If they are doing well, the word should have spread around and it is a chance to build a network even before the job offer comes in.

What happens at the end of an internship?

A good company will review what went well and badly, and how the person feels about their experience. No company or organization is perfect and the first step to continuous improvement is assessment of what is going on and has happened. A good company will be open to constructive criticism and feedback.

Is the company you are applying to doing well, thriving and prospering?

Many people do not think about this issue when they are job hunting, for whom it is even more relevant than for an intern. Not all companies are doing well in the basic business sense of making healthy profits and having happy clients and staff. If there are problems with profitability, and falling sales, is likely to impact on the atmosphere and the difference that you can make. At the very simplest level, it may well be that your supervisors are firefighting or worrying about job cuts rather than paying you attention. Equally if you have a project to do there may be less money available to pay for research or travel connected to it.

Can you have the e-mail and phone numbers of previous interns to talk to them

If the company and intern program is good this will not be a problem at all, and indeed it is highly likely that some of the people whose contact details you are given will be full time employees who joined the company through the intern route. Any company that makes difficulties or cannot give you good reasons should be Googled for example with the company name and “boring internship” as key words.

Have you got the right attitude?

My first full time job was with Westland Helicopters in Yeovil, England in 1984, and I was very critical of the experience (it was one of the things that led me to consider setting up businesses of my own). I was very keen to work hard and had only a few challenging tasks while I was there. With hindsight in some ways I was too demanding of the company and had little concept of the pressures of being a European defence contractor at a time of recession with huge pressure on military budgets. I didn’t have experienced people giving me advice at the time. What I tell people now, is what I wish someone had told me then and in my view, give a view to the attitude that makes for a successful intern (or staff member of a good company). In my view, it is vital to have a “get your hands dirty” attitude. The “get your hands dirty” attitude means a willingness to take the rough with the smooth, doing dull stuff with a positive attitude without thinking “someone else ought to do this – I am too important/talented because I am a student at a top university.” Good senior managers usually got there because they were ready to do the tough stuff, and will notice if you get stuck in. A good attitude also means that you think and contribute your own ideas to the company, making suggestions and asking questions.

Concluding remarks

I don’t think I can do a better job than Steve Jobs – speaking to Stanford graduate as they started their time at university. I strongly encourage you to watch the whole 15 minute speech, which can influence the way you live. Many people who have seen this lecture talk about it, though some find it somewhat idealistic. Students who are considering an internship or employees of a company that has internships reading this article should aim high as possible. Steve Jobs argues that no one should settle for less than the best, which means to him doing things that that they love doing.

If you work for a company, review your intern processes to make sure that they are as good as they possibly can be. The trigger for writing this article was meeting clearly intelligent and motivated interns in Aiesec Krakow complaining about the boring days they were having in their companies. This article is being reviewed by our interns at PMR and our recruiters for feedback. We don’t want to be criticizing others without having good practice in house.

If you want to be an intern, take the effort to find a great company and fight like a tiger to get in. Good luck.