A few months ago, I went to a talk by Niall Murphy at London Business School where he talked to a large group of MBA students about “An experience & perspective from a serial startup tech entrepreneur”. Niall co-founded The Cloud, one of the first major players in the wireless network (WiFi) market, which business was then sold for a ‘handsome sum’ to BSkyB. In his talk, Murphy described the process from “insight” (having a new business idea and turning it into a business) to “next phase / exit”. I liked how he broke this process down into some distinct stages (obviously helped by the beautiful thing that is hindsight):
- Insight – This is the phase where Murphy saw an an opportunity in mobile ethernet technology, when faced by the difficulty of getting Internet access in Amsterdam.
- Idealistic vision – I guess it’s one thing to spot an opportunity, but how do you then assess its potential and act on it? Murphy explained his original idea of mobile Internet everywhere and then went on to stress the importance of having a vision. A vision that you must try and stick with, a set of values, an aspiration to hang onto.
- Wilderness and fog – Murphy took us through the ‘dark’ years; working his way through wireless technology and finding initial investment. This phase is all about finding a foothold, and developing a picture in your head of the current marketplace and the way in which it’s likely to evolve.
- Clarity and catalyst opportunity – Murphy pointed out that this stage is very much an evolving process; assessing the market space and competitors, concentrating on key user scenarios, all based on your original insight.
- Clarity of market entry strategy and catalyst opportunity – This phase is all about creating a market entry strategy that works for your business, finding a way to ‘change the game’. In Murphy’s case this meant linking with a company that specialised in putting game computers in pubs and shops. The Cloud piggybacked on the broadband network that this company was rolling out across their game computer locations.
- Execution and leverage – The Cloud focused very much on so-called ‘golden events’ to create more leverage and momentum (then using their small PR machine to create leverage around these events) as well as concentrating day-to-day business.
- Crisis and tough stuff – Murphy made it very clear that starting your own business is by no means a case of an upward facing curve. In the case of The Cloud, they had their fair share of internal crises, drastic business decisions and an overall fear of things falling apart.
- “2nd life” – They say that crises and challenges make you stronger. In the case of The Cloud, following the crisis phase, they slowed down the rate of execution, consolidated the business and thus regained their focus.
- Next level or exit? – Murphy explained how he had come to realise that the market in which The Cloud operated had changed. It was no longer a young market, instead it was a becoming a big, more established market. He felt that the company was at a crossroads and after careful consideration, Murphy sold The Cloud to BSkyB and became a non-executive director in June 2010.
Main learning point: Hearing someone like Niall Murphy talk through his experiences of founding and then successfully selling a startup business was insightful and inspiring at the same time. I guess what I liked particularly about Murphy’s story was the different stages he and the business went through, which he presented in an honest but exciting way. The MBA students seemed to be soaking it up and so was I.
It makes me wonder how I will feel about Eric Ries
who some people regard as a ‘startup guru’ and describe as a rockstar in the startup scene. I will be going to Ries’ London book presentation tomorrow night and it looks like a lot of the great and good of young, talented UK entrepreneurs will be joining me. Will Ries’ story turn out to be as interesting and inspiring as Murphy’s? Will he be as likeable and down to earth as Murphy? Will keep you posted.