Business

A Life in the Day of…… John Straw – Entrepreneur, author, venture investor, born disruptor

Let’s dispel a myth about entrepreneur innovators. We don’t get up before we go to bed, well mostly. I’m beyond the days of a 5.00am startup and need my 8 hours. Wake up by iPhone is around 6.45 which is immediately grabbed for a news injection.

I use serendipitous news as an innovation starter. Looking for inspiration in a combination of economics and technology. My first port of call is the Economist Expresso app it gives me a macro news perspective in near real time (I was recently asked by a young person – 420 years younger than me – what would be the single best advice I could give her to kick start her career – easy – take a subscription to the Economist and become religious about it). It’s followed by a long squint at Apple’s rather nice new News app which intelligently acquires stories that interest me.

Breakfast in en passant – I’m too impatient to enjoy it other than the functionality of fuel.

I’m not very well organised – I have a brilliant pa, Joy, to do that for me – but that’s part of the makeup of a disruptor I suspect – little process creates lots of room for creativity. I commonly work from home and the first thing that grabs my attention at my Mac is a screen save with Henry Fords brilliant quotation “if I’d have asked my customers what they’d have wanted they would have said a faster horse”.

I spend a couple of hours looking at investment decks – I’m a fairly prolific early stage investor in B2B businesses – the trigger point for interest is the quality of people – the business idea will morph and change through experimentation but it’s the people that drive it through operationally. The second driver is defensibility – how difficult would it be for a competitor to copy the model and tech – I often get the answer “we have first mover advantage”. It’s not. Your advantage is a stream of marketing and product innovation that surrounds the original idea.

I spend a lot of time talking at conferences – as I write I’m in my second home Terminal 5 on the way to give a speech to the EU sharing a panel with the PM of Luxembourg – not somewhere I expected to be 40 years a go when I left school in Sheffield at 16. I don’t do it for the money. I do it to change the world. My current theme is what will we do with the underemployed middle classes in 10 years time – here comes the artisan economy.

I recently became an advisor to Mckinsey and Co – it’s a brilliant experience – surrounded by really really smart people who are just downright nice. That’s a few hours a week mostly helping their corporate customers understand how to copy startup models. There’s an issue here that’s the norm across all corporates – how do you reward creativity and innovation – it’s a rolling debate inside many Mckinsey clients.

Then there is the issue of my next startup. I promised myself I wouldn’t do one – in a normal 5 years cycle I’ll be 62 and I do wonder whether I’ll have the energy. So what did I do having made myself that promise? I’m doing another startup.

I was recently asked what three things I would take to my grave? I assume this means beyond wife, wife’s shoe collections, wife’s handbags..for me – selfish as I am – my beloved iPhone 6+, a subscription to the Economist and my boxing gloves. Bloody useful when you’re pushing up the daisies.