What I did on my furlough
Well that went quickly, three weeks where I tried my very hardest not to think about work, check emails, respond to calls from clients and generally spend time on things that were all about me. It wasn’t as easy as I thought and although there was an added distraction in the form of a beautiful Flatcoat puppy I still found it hard not to think about work, talk about work and generally get excited at the thought of coming back.
What I did do though was read, and lots of it. I love reading, it’s my down time, how I relax at the end of the day, my go to thing when I need a distraction; I like just about any kind of book, something that I can lose myself in, something that I can read and it challenges me to think differently, a book that can make me laugh out loud until I can’t get my breath (thank you David Sedaris, your books have been a tonic recently). Whilst I was furloughed I received a copy of ‘Non Bullshit Innovation’ by David Rowan which became my bedtime reading, and what a read it was, it could have only been made better had I had post-it notes at the side of the bed to mark all the interesting sections. It was the first book I had read that gave me the examples to describe why and how we do things at Alpaca; at last I could read about other businesses that felt familiar and that I wanted to be part of.
So, here’s my very short take on the companies whose strategy resonated with me because it’s stuff we are already doing.
As a result of the economic impact of COVID 19 there have been companies out there who have found new ways to do business. Did you know Craven & Co used to make metal & steel wire storage and handling solutions, but nobody was spending money on new catering facilities or shops, however with a few tweaks (well maybe a bit more than a few tweaks) they are now making medical equipment for the NHS Nightingale hospitals. Then there is the Dine Group who provide high end catering to weddings and other large events and also had a ‘Dine Delivered’ product. Much of their market; gone in a day! What they did was to change their business to only supply home dining experiences because folks still had birthdays and anniversaries during lockdown and called it the ‘Lockdown Dinner Box’. What about Masons Gin and Harrogate Tipple who started producing hand sanitiser alongside their Gin? All of these were fast pivots to respond to a rapidly changing market, but if you think these are innovative though, think again! In the book there is a chapter about OP Financial group who switched from being a long term, well established bank in Finland to be a hospital, how exciting is that? It was able to do this because it was a trusted institution that held fast to its core values of a cooperative and instead of trying to do banking better it took a long hard look at what its clients really needed and made that switch.
Reading about Xiaomi (shao-o-mi) is the first time I have been able to understand a company and say, ‘that’s how Alpaca operates!’ Xiaomi is a technology company that designs and builds smart products such as Mi Phones, Mi Smart TV’s and Mi Pads, you get the picture. What it does differently is rather than expanding the business as the technology changes they invest in start-ups and other business to create a portfolio of products, that together create a lifestyle for their consumers. They call it an ‘eco-system’. They describe their strategy as akin to building a bamboo forest; traditional companies are like trees, they take time to grow, they are fixed and when they fall, they fall hard and fast, and we have certainly seen that happening recently, even pre COVID19! Bamboo forest don’t die off, new baby bamboo is always growing fast to replenish it. Alpaca is made up of numerous shoots of bamboo, we have our core product of professional services; we have start-ups that we invest in and support to grow through business advice; there are clients we work with where we take an equity stake rather than a fee (we call it putting our money where our mouth is!); and there are businesses that we purchase and add to our portfolio of services because we know our clients need that type of support. In a nutshell we are creating our own bamboo forest!
At Alpaca we often talk about our service and how we price it for clients. We don’t charge by the hour or the ‘letter’, whatever we charge we do our very best to add value to the client, but what does that look like? Heywood Hill Bookstore has a wonderful literary history and a royal warrant, but they were significantly impacted by the online retailers and just could not complete. Rather than cutting prices or closing the business they realised what they did have, that none of the online retailers had, was a team made up of dedicated bibliophiles who each read up to 200 books a year and understood the importance of matching the right book with the right person. They grew a subscription service where book lovers could choose a subscription based around the type of books they liked and how frequently they wished to receive a book and the staff would select them a book and send it with a beautiful personalised note. The cost of a 12-month subscription for 12 paperback books is £225. That’s approximately £18 for each paperback book, but according to their filed accounts it generated £313,068 in revenue in 2018. Let’s overlay that model with the Alpaca model; we are not cheap, and we don’t pull clients into services they don’t need, for example think about supermarkets where you can buy three books for £10. You end up with two books you want and one you don’t because it’s perceived as a bargain. Or what about online retailers that uses an algorithm to tell you what you need to read next; how many have you bought and not read or wished you hadn’t read it; I know I certainly have. Both simple examples that show how easy it is to waste money and time. At Alpaca we personally get to know our clients, we anticipate their needs, we make valuable connections for them that they didn’t know they needed and those who get it are absolutely prepared to pay for our service! Anyone any ideas how we get a royal warrant?
Four of us at Alpaca have now read the book, and we all picked out different chapters we got the most from or that resonated with us in regard to work we had done; which shows we all looked at this book with a different perspective. Imagine what that looks like for your business when you engage with us? Having a team of Alpacas working together, being innovative but without the bullshit!