Every business needs a Flywheel

From tractors to Ferrari’s and everything in between, engines of all sorts are incapable of functioning without a heavy disc of spinning metal known as a Flywheel. The more you know about the role of and characteristics of the Flywheel, the more you may see parallels with your own organisation.

First, some basics about the operation of an engine when used to generate enough energy to move things.

Strip out all the fancy from an engine, and you are left with a few basic principles;

  1. Fuel is injected into a chamber along with some air, the chamber or Cylinder has a rod or piston at one end.
  2. The fuel mixture is ignited by an electric spark causing the expanding gasses from the explosion to push the piston outward.
  3. The other end of the piston is attached to a shaft, which turns as the piston moves, converting the piston’s outward movement into rotation
  4. A number of ignitions are timed in a number of chambers creating a continuous rotation of the shaft
  5. The end of the shaft is attached to a Flywheel which is hard to turn at first due to its weight (hence why engines have electric starter motors to get the flywheel turning)
  6. Now that the Flywheel is moving, and it has momentum, it has much more energy than any individual ignition could produce, meaning that the Flywheel is storing up the energy from hundreds of individual sparks, ready to move the wheels
  7. When you want to move, the clutch plate is allowed rub against the Flywheel transferring the Flywheel’s energy out to move the wheels and overcoming the vehicle’s inertia.

Like an organisation, the engine needs to be in balance to perform as a whole, and it also needs to be optimised for the function it is intended to perform.

The amount of fuel and the size of the spark, the timing of ignition and in which order. And finally, the size of the flywheel are critical in order to get the balance right between the need for agility (lighter is better) versus the need for power (heavier is better).

I love the concept of a Flywheel because it is so critical yet so often ignored, and so much of the of an engine’s power comes for the energy stored in the Flywheel. Kids debate number of cylinders, capacity, etc, but never the size of the Flywheel!

Organisations of all sizes need to have a Flywheel function too, a place to store the sparks of innovation ready to release them at the optimal moment. Sure, a powerful Flywheel can be the enemy of Agility, but that’s about right-sizing the Flywheel to make sure an appropriate trade-off is made between power and control. But like engines, if the Flywheel is too small the whole thing will grind to a halt when things get tough, too big and it will be hard to alter the speed of the engine easily.

Crankshaft (red), pistons (gray) in their cyli...
Crankshaft (red), pistons (gray) in their cylinders (blue), and flywheel (black) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I think about a Flywheel Function, I think about Finance, IT, Project Management Office, HR and other corporate services. The rightsizing of those functions is essential if the business is to perform, both to ensure that momentum is maintained when new ideas are scarce, but able to respond quickly when innovation emerges.

Starting a business is True Grit, not The X Factor!

Successful businesses evolve from the same place as unsuccessful businesses, but something happens along the way that makes them pop. On rare occasions, a phenomenal idea will emerge that’s backed by a suitably phenomenal management team then the magic happens, but that’s the stuff of legend. For the rest of us, separating wheat from chaff is a grind.

But the grind is the last thing on the mind of many an entrepreneur. Overnight success stories litter our TV screens, conditioning those who know no better to think that being discovered is more important than working hard. And like pitchy hopefuls on unreality TV, many entrepreneurs mistakenly assume the slippery slope to success is greased by exposure alone. It isn’t. Time spent looking for limelight could be better spent knocking on the doors of potential customers, hunting for feedback and trying to secure distribution for their shiny idea.

Walking the streets and talking to potential customers is busking for entrepreneurs, it probably won’t lead to overnight success, but you get to perfect your pitch and make some money along the way, increasing staying power and the likelihood you will nail an audition if the time is right. Better still, generate enough income to avoid external funding and you negate the allure of instant fame altogether.

The serious side of Gamification

A steady stream of retail innovation exists online; some effective, some less so. But most claim to centre on a perennial problem in Retail:

How to drive sales through incentives without destroying long term brand value…

Group Buying and other Daily Deals sites were built to address this issue, and they’ve done a pretty decent job if their multi-billion dollar revenues are anything to go by! Though, to some extent they are a victim of their own success in that it’s hard for a brand to discriminate on price discretely when so many of its regular customers are Daily Deals customers.

Further challenges with Daily Deals include the fact that the Brand doesn’t typically control the creative, meaning they are often a Supplier to the Daily Deals Site not a Client. And, the Daily Deals site will leave a permanent record of the Sale in their back catalogue which will appear in Search and therefore undermine brand value. Further, the Brand owner is asked to give away quite a lot, more often than not the Retail price is discounted by more than 50% and a further 20% – 30% is given to the Daily Deals site as a commission.

Clearly there are a number of scenarios where this channel works well for a business. The unit sales volume can be significant with no marketing effort from the Brand Owner hence they are appealing in a lot of ways, especially if owning the customer is unimportant.

A radical new tilt at the problem is Entertainment Shopping, where the retail price is used only to describe the Size of the Prize, but is otherwise irrelevant. One example of Entertainment Shopping is Penny Auctions, where users purchase Bids which they use to win items, theoretically being able to win and items for a single bid, which may cost less than a dollar. TPlay for Winhe reality though is that these Auctions are super competitive and the likelihood is that you will lose many more auctions than you win, yet the bids you used on lost auctions still cost real money – in that sense it’s more akin to gambling than shopping. For the Auction site this means the overall yield per item is greater than the retail value, thus favouring the Penny Auctions themselves more than the Brand Owners or the customers, albeit customers may choose this purchasing route for the sheer joy of the Auction!

In the Entertainment Shopping category Australian Statup Wynbox has a much more evolved solution for Brand Owners. The genius of the Wynbox solution is that they provide their Buy-to-Win platform as an integrated shopping engine for an existing website, meaning the retailer retains end to end control of the user experience.

Buy-to-Win involves the retailer setting a ratio of free items to full paid items, meaning anything from 1 in 2 to 1 in 10 or more may be free, equivalent to a direct discount if that number are purchased by a single customer, or a lucky dip if you are buying just one.This is a simple way to provide a strong purchase incentive without discounting the product, and it can be fun too, so it ticks the box for the user who plays Candy Crush between shopping missions!

There are a number of interesting scenarios that underline the power of the Wynbox platform, such as in the sale of concert tickets for instance. As sales begin to lag for a concert, the ratio is introduced. The ratio can be cranked up to 1 in 2 if necessary to drive sales, but at no point is the ticket price discounted, meaning the customers who purchased the concert tickets at full price never feel cheated and the Talent and the Promoter are happy.

In fact, Wynbox works in a number of scenarios, including Fashion where margins on Full Price products are high but the vast majority of purchases normally occur at a substantial discount, with Buy-to-Win the discount can exist without an overt discount.

All retail businesses should be thinking about the entertainment value of their shopping experience as consumers explore less boring ways to shop for discretionary items. Wynbox offers a fresh solution that can be “plugged in” to an existing site, meaning a fast track to an Entertainment Shopping experience that would otherwise be very hard to achieve.

Click Frenzy, in spite of the massive failure it was an unprecedented success!

Sneeze and you may have missed it.

The Click Frenzy frenzy came and went in a matter of days, yet in that time it managed to reach the consciousness of some 20% of online Australians! That’s quite an achievement.

Their PR machine had triggered something in Australia’s uber-price-sensitive media which led to an incredible amount of coverage in the days leading up to the sale – it really did become a frenzy.

Even before the site ran into capacity issues on their woefully inadequate servers, their business model meant they would only ever make moderate returns. Choosing an all-up-front fixed-fee suggested they doubted the results they could yield for their retail partners preferring instead to cover their costs and hope for a modest return.

All in all, they clearly had no idea how ready the Australian market was for Click Frenzy!

Click Frenzy founder Grant Arnott explained in a rare and touching mia culpa that 300k visitors was their top traffic estimate, so the 1.6m visitors they actually saw blew their infrastructure wide open. To be fair, I think only a handful of sites around the world would cope gracefully with 1.6m concurrent users! The fact is the 7pm launch time was a big part of the problem, internet infrastructure hates concurrency!

Aside from the access issues suffered by many hundreds of thousands of bargain hungry shoppers, many found their way to the registered retailers and boy did they spend!

One retailer example I was shown paid less than $3,000 to participate but yielded over $80,000 in sales. An equivalent Group Buying offer would have cost the business $24 – 30k in commissions! A pretty good outcome for the retailer!

The chart below from Quantium shows the direct impact on participating retailers versus non-participating retailers.

160 retailers of varying sizes participated, and Click Frenzy probably netted an average of 3 – 5k upfront from each, meaning 480 – 800k in Gross Revenue. Not bad, however had they chosen to take a booking fee plus a moderate trailing commission, they would have netted anywhere from $800k ($1k upfront, 5% commission on $80k Average) to $2.4m ($1k upfront, 15% commission on $100k average)!

All credit is due to the Click Frenzy team, they were swept along by a frenzy of their own making albeit they we flattened in the stampede. Better luck next year.

Good commercial sense underpins sustainable philanthropy

BC Logo new

In 1999 the ever cheery Brits (of which I’m one) were flabbergasted when their #1 Son Richard Branson lost a bid for the National Lottery. His manifesto for the People’s Lottery was based on it being run as a Not for Profit meaning that profits would be provided as donations to the lottery commission over and above the standard fun-raising efforts of the National Lottery. Even though these additional donations would exceed $1bn each year the Lottery Commission said no, instead they chose Camelot who had no such altruism in mind.

Surely something’s afoot, why would the Purpose driven Lottery Commission choose greedy toes Camelot over goody two shoes Branson? Isn’t that Greed before Good?

Not that simple.

The Lottery Commission figured that without the benefit of a Profit Engine behind Lottery Ticket sales, they’d be worse off taking the $1bn contribution from the Virgin effort. That their interests would be misaligned and the overall donation pool would be smaller as a result. A decision that has since been vindicated several times over.

If the collective interests are balanced, doing good doesn’t have to be unprofitable.

Recently I co-founded a business called BeyondCover. On one hand BeyondCover is an Insurance reseller for Global Underwriter QBE, selling CTP (The mandatory Motor cover in Australia), General Motor and Travel Insurance, on the other hand it raises money for causes by rewarding Cause partners when they introduce a new Insurance Customer.

The key to having the right incentives in place lies within the nature of Philanthropists. People who regularly support Good Causes are good people, they take fewer risks, cause fewer accidents and pay their bills on time. They make pretty good Insurance customers too!

Big companies can’t win, time to get down and dirty!

Reinvention is bloody hard, rarely has a big business managed to pivot wholesale to a new them without causing a catastrophic collapse of their core along the way. History is littered by once great corporations hollowed by their failure to recognise the need for reinvention.

But this isn’t a cautionary tale featuring Kodak and their resistance to the Digital age, although that is a good story! This cautionary tale concerns those businesses that recognise the need for change but fail, fail because their big company DNA rejects the wide eyed organism growing within.

Clayton Christiansen describes the issue as the Innovators Dilemma. The central theme of his argument is that big businesses innovate within the constraints of their own expectations. Big business’ expectations demand an aggressive and predictable return on capital as well as a degree of polish that small businesses and startup entrepreneurs happily live without.

Those expectations limit their ability to innovate to the Sustaining kind only, meaning incremental improvements that result in incremental bottom line impacts. The new breed of competitor, i.e. startups, don’t live with those constraints and can therefore galvanise their new business around an untested way forward.

Innovation favours the brave and startups are certainly brave. Entrepreneurs often leave themselves with little to lose and can afford to turn existing models on their head in a effort to break through. And breakthrough they do.

In the past big corporate goliaths still won though, regardless how stilted their innovation; barriers to entry and scale benefits afforded them a dependable lead against newer foes. But today’s David is better equipped. They have the triple whammy benefits of low cost of capital, cheap scalable technology and affordable access to a large audience; also, this new wave of Disruptive Innovation is easily embraced by customers so should be feared by slow to move businesses and their shareholders alike. Boardrooms have too much as stake to stay ignorant to the Breakthrough Innovation occuring around them, so breaking through the innovators dilemma will have to happen eventually. But there is a great risk of too little too late.

Corporate leaders have to do more to embrace breakthrough thinking and create structures to do so. Establishing a mini startup fund and incubator for internal entrepreneurs and staff incentives to encourage broader thinking are essential steps. Communicating to the broader business the importance of supporting those innovations by accepting the quick and dirty necessity of breakthrough thinking is also essential if rejection of the new organism is to be avoided.

yabbit.com–a feedback platform for business owners who care about great service…

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Things don’t always go well, no matter how passionate you are as a business owner. What’s important, is what you do next.

yabbit will help you to connect with your customers, on premise and off. Providing a platform to gather feedback about your business, and giving you a critical opportunity to respond when things have not gone well – before your highly connected and passionate customers turn to social media and their favourite ratings and reviews site to share their disappointment.

At no cost to you or your business, yabbit will provide an easy to use feedback platform that will encourage your customers to “tell it like it is” – simple, discreet feedback, straight to you, the one who cares the most, the business owner.

yabbit is looking for 100 passionate business-owners to get involved in a pre-launch Beta, to provide us with invaluable feedback that will help us shape this business into a game-changer for your business.

Go to www.yabbit.com to register.