This is going to be a nice and short one. April 2008 can be characterised by three types of posts: general business, food and retail (yay!), and interludes-after-interludes (the latter is just a naturaly consequence of time/creativity-problems, sorry). Previous monthly wrap-ups can be found here.
Let’s get started!
I think I started with people-businesses, a topic I find interesting and will likely write more about in the future. Essentially, a people business is one whose value is mostly made up of people, which, I believe, includes most start-ups, but excludes businesses like McDonalds, which has a lot of capital costs. There are a number of challenges related to such businesses, such as measuring/increasing productivity, and finding business models that are compatible.
The next (micro-)topic I discussed, was bootstrapping, which I thought depends on three abilities: low cost-living (duh), time-management skills, and a strong goal-orientation (lots of distractions on the way to enlightenment).
Another micro-topic was on taking a detached view towards business. A lot of business-people and entrepreneurs, serial ones mostly, talk about seeing their business as just another business, rather then a passion, executing the right levers to make it succeed and eventually focussing on the next challenges. You have to be strongly motivated by something though, and I guess, following Ram Charan’s logic, the passion is for business itself, which can be an exciting and all-consuming activity. Well, that wasn’t exactly what I wrote, but is what I was thinking! 😉
Finally, for general business, I linked to three interesting stories, which I quoted here, but which illustrated the importance of the team, the “test,” which shows the level of understanding a leader must have about his business, and the “rule,” which is that every action has some sort of reaction elsewhere.
Food & Retail
Let’s start with the challenges facing the food-industry, which are currently related to economics and the environment. Economics-wise, everyone is seeing high food-prices due to events going on around the world, including a shortage of oil and an increased demand for farming-goods from India and China. Eventually, an equilibrium will happen, either the demand will subside as production happens locally (unlikely in the short-term), or production will increase. Considering I just heard that dairy prices are falling, I’m betting on the latter. For environmental-costs, we are mainly speaking about the cost of transportation. Food is a very global business, which seems to come at a high price to the environment. No solution is in sight for that yet, I don’t believe living locally is as yet sustainable, though there are plenty of proponents for that way of living.
A second topic, I looked at, was beer and the way pubs are funded in the Netherlands, which is often through exclusivity-contracts with breweries. It’s an interesting situation, as breweries have been facing the problem of commoditisation for that reason; people order “a beer” instead of a Heineken or a Grolsch (mmh, Grolsch). It seems to be good for the horeca-industry as it suffers from high failure-rates, but at the same time, other countries, like the UK, seem to manage without exclusivity-contracts, at least as far as I know. Requires further research.
A retail-topic was about the differences between Spanish Zara & Swedish H&M, both fashion-businesses, with a different business-structure, but otherwise fairly compatible in attitude, I think. Both have a strong design-branch, focus on cheap, high-quality fashion, and have an extremely high IT-focus, which helps them manage logistics and merchandising at an elevated level. The differences arise with Zara being very vertically integrated, owning producers, supplier, and retailers, most likely because Spain is such a low-wage country traditionally. H&M is not so integrated, probably because of Sweden being such a high-wage country. And while H&M is very strong in terms of marketing, Zara does virtually none of it, but draws high repeat-visits from its customers, due to constantly releasing new fashion-lines (3-5 x more then comparable businesses).
Some lists then, Coke Zero no. 1 in the Netherlands, and incidentally the first food-related topic I wrote about, I think. And a list of the top-horeca-businesses in the Netherlands, mostly hotels, but also some retailers, like Hema, which I like as a business.
A lot of interludes this month, as it’s my way of recharging creative energy. These posts can be divided into ones posted here, and others posted on Tech IT Easy. Let’s start with the first.
The flirt was about some of the variables involving flirting, which I consider useful information, but probably not food ‘n’ retail. The cookerlude was my attempt to do a regular posting on cooking, but I’m still not sure whether I’ll go that direction.
On Tech IT Easy, I wrote a couple of interesting posts last month. Two on blogging, why it isn’t for everyone and what competitive advantage means for some. One on copyright, which is a topic I’m pretty interested in and which Fidji Simo continued with her usual insights. And the latest on technology-incubators, which relates to research done for my thesis.
That’s about it! Happy to close the door to the last month and already busy thinking about the next one!