E&I regularly interviews inspiring CEOs to discover their top tips and advice for others on entrepreneurship in general – and on key industry topics. Marcus Taylor, CEO of Venture Harbour looks at the benefits and issues around automation, and how to make it work for your company.
- What is your business, and what was the inspiration behind becoming an entrepreneur?
I am the founder and CEO of Venture Harbour. We build tools and services that help companies and entrepreneurs grow their success online. These range from lead generation software (Leadformly) to AI chatbots that help startups find the right web host for them (Web Hosting Insider).
I became an entrepreneur because I wanted the freedom to turn several of my ideas into reality. I enjoy the early stages of designing a business then the process of figuring out how to make it a functioning company that can turn a profit.
That’s why Venture Harbour is essentially a collection of different businesses in different industries. Rather than being constrained to a single project, it lets me explore my ideas and turn them into reality. Then I work out how to design them to run on autopilot, so the Venture Harbour team can focus on growing the overall business through the launch of new ventures rather than having to sustain our existing ones.
- How have you managed to automate many business processes?
We adopt an approach called “growth on autopilot.” We don’t just build online businesses that can maintain themselves through automation, we also put systems in place that drive their organic growth. This means we’re able to leave one of our ventures for months or years at a time before coming back to find its significantly more successful than where we left it. Because of this, we can spend almost all our time being proactive and building new systems, rather than being reactive and constantly putting out fires.
- What impact has this had so far?
It’s freed up the team to be truly entrepreneurial by focusing on growing and developing new ventures and ideas rather than merely looking after the nuts and bolts operations for the businesses already under the Venture Harbour umbrella.
Personally, it’s had an impact on how I manage the business too. We made big strides towards full automation last year, which had a bearing on how we spend our time and how we go about driving business growth. In 2017, the Venture Harbour team had fewer meetings, calls, business trips, or days where we had to work late than any year before it, yet the company grew by 750%.
- How can other entrepreneurs introduce automation, and what pitfalls should be avoided?
Our general process is we try to eliminate, automate, and then delegate. We have a saying that anything you do more than three times you should just automate, and a good place where any business could start is by removing time-sapping team meetings and conference calls.
Ultimately, though, you can only automate tasks that are repetitive in nature. So, you have to start with the boring bit – getting a process to work effectively manually. The second step is to document that process in a flowchart or some kind of standard operating procedure. This lets others can follow your plan with a high level of consistency. Only at that point can you begin to think about automating your process with a level of confidence that it’s going to be successful.
The major pitfall with automation is automation for automation’s sake. Some things are easy to automate, but that doesn’t mean they should be automated after all. Focus on automating the things that either save you time, money, or energy. If there’s a task you can’t stand doing, or one that wastes a lot of time, that’s where you should start. A side effect of automation is that it has no emotion or agenda, so it’s often a great solution for removing yourself from the tasks that may create tension or stress.
- What will the future of work look like for start-ups and small businesses?
For any startup, acquiring and retaining talent makes a huge difference. A team that shares your passion and can bring new skills to the table is essential. As an entrepreneur, you naturally have to be involved in all aspects of the business, and that often extends to your team. However, if they have to adopt the all-hands-on-deck approach that’s typically required in a startup, the talent you work hard to bring on board can sometimes go to waste. The future looks very different. The ability to automate menial but essential tasks means small businesses will be able to make the most of their hires from the get-go.
Cost is also going to become an even bigger consideration for the future of business. Many entrepreneurs think they need huge amounts of capital to get started. Our most successful early ventures cost less than £500 to develop the minimum viable product. Even today, we rarely spend more than £2,000 developing the MVP for a new idea. Build the smallest version of your idea that adds value and ship it quickly to see if someone is willing to pay for it. If not, iterate and try again. If the idea is validated by having paying customers, that’s when you should invest more into it.
- What advice would you give to a start-up entrepreneur in 2018?
The best piece of advice I can give is not to raise funding unless you absolutely have to. It focuses on the wrong things, teaching you to become good at spending someone else’s money and to waste time on pitch decks and cap tables rather than learning how to build a sustainable business.
Venture Capitalists don’t want you to build a sustainable business. They want you to build a unicorn. I’ve never met an entrepreneur who regretted bootstrapping (Venture Harbour started out that way too) but I’ve met more than I can count who regretted raising money.