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Susan Kabani, cofounder of Ugenie, leading the Lady Val post-lunch workshop

Susan Kabani, the co-founder of Ugenie, conducted an afternoon workshop for the Lady Val November Women’s Network lunch in central London to show us the power of digital tools to help our businesses grow. She is a non-tech founder of a tech business and that in itself was welcomed by our audience of women leaders and entrepreneurs, some of whom might admit to being a little fearful of getting to grips with the advancing digital world.  Her start-up business Ugenie provides private membership platforms for business communities and Susan is in line for a Best New Business of the Year award having made it to the final round of the Women’s Business Club New Business Award for 2019.

Susan started by pointing out that digital strategy is so much more than posting on facebook and Instagram, two things that many (older!) people dread using for business. She gave us a few definitions of what of it means and warned us that the way we are used to running our businesses today, can no longer be the way we run them in the future. Digital technology has connected us in such a way that there is no going back.  Any organisation’s business strategy today has to encompass digital. There is no longer a choice. So how do we really leverage digital tech to get more business?

To emphasise the power and impact that digital tech has been having in the world, Susan told us that 88% of the Fortune 500 companies that existed in 1955 are gone. These companies who looked invincible have either gone bankrupt, merged with another business or they are no longer in the Fortune 500 listing.  Most of the casualties came from not adapting their digital strategies in sufficient time and were replaced by others who had a better grasp of the changes being brought by the digital era. 

Susan Kabani workshop The audience was asked to think about brand name companies that we had grown up with which were now no longer here. Although no longer here, these once powerful businesses did not adapt to digital well enough .. Kodak and Polaroid are the stand-out examples of failures. Susan said that Blockbuster video, another big brand that had disappeared, had been approached by Netflix for joint ventures but they rejected them. Founded back in 1997 when Blockbuster was riding high on video cassette tape rentals with lifelong club membership, Netflix now has revenues (2018) just shy of $16 billion. If only we could see the future eh?!

If you don’t build digital into the plans today of your business, you stand a chance of going the way of Blockbuster …. losing out big time or disappearing altogether! Susan kindly shared her powerpoint as a great aide-memoire of the workshop. You can review that here. Highlights are summarised below: 

  1. What’s important to know: Susan emphasised that getting a grasp of digital does not necessarily mean that you need to know the how of getting digital done, you just need to know it must get done. She pointed out that she is a non-tech founder of a tech company!  Bring in the right expertise. You need to have fluency about what can be done but not necessarily then implementing the tech you take on board.
  1. Entry level to business is now lower: Digital has changed the economics of running a business too. Back in the day you needed to rent or own the real estate to run your business (all those Blockbuster Video stores on all those neighbourhood corners!) … now you can have a virtual location and even run a business from your sofa! The worldwide phenomenon Airbnb started in one room with one airbed!  When Netflix started out they did not need to invest in property. They invested in new tech instead.
  1. Haphazard approach is not workable: MIT and Deloitte recently did a survey of companies… the first were just adding bits of tech here and there and determined that in order to be competitive, there was a need to embrace technology in a holistic way for the whole business.
  2. The power of Gen-Z (cohort after the Millennials, defined as those born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s): Young people today want to work with a company that has a clear digital strategy. If they do not have one, they are not interested.  In the ten years this generation is going to be 40% of the buying power of consumers. We have to know how to reach this group and understand today how they are consuming in readiness for them having more and more influential buying power.
  1. Privacy is paramount: The next generation in particular are more sensitive about the privacy of their data. In this regard, Facebook is now a less trusted brand  .. and this might not bode well for this super-large company in the future unless they can turn that around.
  1. Speed is everything: things are changing and upgrading so fast .. we have entered the era of exponential growth, so it is important to have digital data to give you feedback quickly. The goal posts are moving all the time now. You need to have your finger on the pulse to react quickly. A Digital Strategy has to be able to evolve constantly.
  1. Communication confusion: There can be too many channels to choose form – is the message I am looking for in WhatsApp, or text, or Messenger .. or on email?? The advice is to choose one or two channels and stick with them. Keep it as simple as you can.   
  1. Everything is included: Digital Strategy is not just able sales leads. It is as important for team communication as it is about customer feedback.
  1. Tips about time: dob’t forget to include your own time in any project calculation. Even if your own business cannot afford to pay you at this stage, you must have an allowance for your strategy otherwise you can never afford to replace yourself.  Build a salary into your financial model. Make sure you value your time. And so you know what an hour of your time is worth? Are you able to calculate the return on investment of any activities you do?
  1. What processes are we uses that saves us time? The workshop came up with a few digital hacks and apps that we are currently benefiting from:
    1. Trello helps us project manage and keep up with team activities, who has done what.
    2. Zoom brings us together across the world for meetings and conversations
    3. Movie is another communication program like Zoom but with the added benefit of a trained message stream
    4. Notability allows you to use an iPad and bring together handwritten notes converted to text with inserted photographs from a meeting which is very useful
    5. Copper brings together everything Google to manage leads and emails, putting relevant contacts into a leads generator. If you are looking for investment then being able to show you have ready-pipeline makes you more investable.
    6. So much about digital tech gives greater efficiency and not just sales leads
  1. Building a Digital Strategy has to start from the top: you have to be informed to drive change with the right tech because you can meet resistance from people who feel they already have a solution. You need to know if what you are introducing is better. Build the data and track what is working. Take the time to acknowledge what is working when it is a success.  If it is not working .. be prompt in changing it. Bring in good tech for measuring.
  1. Buy right the first time: do your research so that you do not install something that ends up being the wrong fit. It is more cost-effective to get it right from the start. And if you need to change it usually possible to migrate your data .. with the right expertise.
  1. Women on the Web support: is a digital community with helpful, bite size how-to videos. If there is something you need to learn how to do, this is the place. You can even ask for specific subject to be covered and one of their community of 45+ women teachers will prepare something to add to the resource library. (For example Susan has prepared a video on how to load your photos from your computer up to Instagram, instead of your phone). Find out more and join.
  1. Choosing advertising: Boosted Facebook adverts can add up and are they successful? Are you tracking them?   Where are the competition advertising? Why aren’t they using Facebook ? where are they placing their activity now? 
  1. Before your Strategy comes your Vision: what are your specific objectives? Clarity helps with decision making. Is your networking producing leads? Have an objective for each event you go to. Is is able leads / contacts / intelligence? Do you know your key numbers? How many to reach to sign up as customers/sales?  Smart tech for finance: there is so much out there for assisting in organising finances, invoices and budgets. Use it. Find a person skilled in setting it up. 
  1. Gen-Z want more support … track how you are helping them, with things like health and wellness. They are much more mobile. If they are dissatisfied they move on. They are also interested in the social values of your business. They have a whole new way of looking at the world that we older people need to understand as it will likely affect their business.
  1. Good data management is at the heart of good decision-making: invest in getting the right systems or procedures to give you the data you need so you know where to put your effort, resources and money. You don’t need all the channels .. choose the best for you. Email still remains a very strong marketing tool as is local marking in your computer. With so much choice out there … keeping it local can keep it simple. Figure out where your audience is and choose the best channel for your key market … LinkedIN ..or networking / face to face meetings.
  1. Simple simple: people get lazier .. they want things done for them or to put in minimum effort. Don’t ask too much of people. Spoon-feed. Be really clear with your call to action in your website. Don’t leave them in a quandary for what action to take .. at the right time. Don’t make them register their info twice. Be the same with your brand across all channels.
  1. eCommerce remains huge:  Amazon is the biggest retailer in the Western Hemisphere. They have so much helpful data. You can track where your customer are dropping off in the sales process, where in the sales / buying journey is the weak spot you? Very useful info.
  1. The Mayor of London’s Promotional Agency: has an initiative called the London and Partners Business Growth Programme. Businesses that have at least 3 people can apply for benefits. It’s all about bringing more employment to London. It’s worth investigating for possible support. More about this initiative here.

  • About Susan Kabani: she was an IT lawyer who went straight into her family business to protect their trademarks & copyrights, specialising in sports law. When she started there fresh out of law school, she found they had no electronic record of past customers, all 2.000 of them!  In order for her to retarget the most valuable asset of the business she had to go back over all the paper invoices. Just putting these on a spreadsheet was the beginning of taking the company digital. 
  • About Ugenie: Launching her current business with her other non tech founder, they saw a need to offer communities a private way to connect with each other. They saw that some groups were struggling to be in communication using Facebook or several WhatsApp groups. They have developed a private app that these communities can use more effectively by being digitally connected and not having to share all their data.