Where do we go from here?

Since the start of 2020, the pandemic has changed how many of us work and live. Suddenly all those face to face meetings and amazing conferences you flew all around the world to attend were forced to become virtual. Teams, Facetime, Zoom and countless other platforms exploded and became the new stomping ground for business and social interaction.

It was exciting. This new way of working, which was in fact, not new at all, gave way for exploring what we really need or want to get out of life.

At BoS Conf Online Spring 21, Jason VandeBoom was asked:

We’ve had this small pandemic for the last two years, and we’re all sitting at our homes. And one of the big existential questions is whether this is a ‘change the world’ situation, and how that’s going to impact both our customers, and how we run our businesses; has it been a nice little hiatus, are we gonna go back to business as normal? How do we go forward from here?

Mark Stevens

Here’s ActiveCampaign’s Founder’s thoughts:

Future of the Workplace

Jason, on the return to the workplace and the move from all remote to something different, “There’s More challenges ahead…”

A sentiment echoed by our ‘return to work‘ survey of attendees that highlights the direction and challenges the workplace of the future will hold – there’s an expectation that hybrid working is the future but much less clarity about how that works best.

Hybrid may end up being the worst of both worlds for many.

Future of Conferences

Conferences have the same challenge. Traditionally physical events became virtual. Virtual conferences need to be designed for the medium. Most aren’t but here’s a great example of one that is.

As life continues on, hybrid events are becoming a thing but we think they will impair attendee experience .

Don’t miss the best online conference of the year – 27-29 September at BoS Conf Online Fall 21.

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One Bad Meeting Can Create a Culture of Silence

Elizabeth O’Neill, People & Culture expert, BoS participant and, this year, speaker, explains the difference between having one bad meeting and creating a culture of silence in this guest blog post.

One Bad Meeting Can Create a Culture of Silence

A Founder, who I’ll call Sam, has finally come up with an idea that will pivot his company from its flatlined growth. It’s taken many sleepless nights, but he’s formed a solid vision for a new product that will make their existing platform exponentially more valuable. Excitedly, he pulls together his small team and describes his idea. 

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Book Review – Exponential – Azeem Azhar

Azeem Azhar is speaking at BoS Online Fall, 27-29 September!

If you saw his talk at BoS Europe in 2016 on whether we should be worried about AI and Machine Learning, you will be as excited as I am and know he is a phenomenal thinker and speaker. I’ve been super-privileged to have just read an advance copy of Exponential, Azeem’s new book, published September 7.

It is a must read for anyone in tech.

So good in fact, we’re going to send a hard copy to the next 20 people who sign up for the conference, so you can read it before you meet.

Here’s a summary of the book to whet your appetite…

The book’s premise?

Technology is developing at an exponential rate. Humans evolved for a linear world. The result? The exponential gap. How can we adapt?

It’s brilliantly written, where do we start?

With some history for context

A history of the evolution of technology at the turn of the 20th Century – the great transition when the world changed beyond recognition. Cars, electricity, telephones and more were the manifestations of a phase transition.

Exponential argues we’re living through another phase transition – from the industrial to the Exponential Age.

Computers were the first exponential technology – improving at more than 10 per cent per annum for multiple decades straight.

And the dawn of a new era

Azeem demonstrates exponential technologies are increasingly common, massively disruptive, and show no signs of slowing down. Renewable energy price collapses and the cost of modelling the human genome at a dollar apiece are just two examples he shares as he describes how four industries – computing, energy, biology and manufacturing are being transformed by exponential technology.

The transformation of these sectors alone mean we have entered a new era of global civilization.

New era, new problem

The Exponential Age is problematic. Exponential change is fast. Humans evolved to deal with slower, incremental changes – the annual harvest, the human lifespan, the changing of the seasons. When change starts accelerating, we struggle to comprehend it. He explains the psychology showing humans are ill-equipped to deal with rapid change and why human institutions – whether our businesses or our political norms – tend to move slowly too.

The exponential gap is why exponential technology is so dangerous: it has the potential to leave our economy, our politics and our lives behind.

How does this relate to software businesses?

Until a decade or so ago, the rules about how businesses work were fairly simple. Bigger businesses made more money but if they got too big, would creak becoming too complex and less efficient. They might become complacent. There were ‘decreasing returns to scale’ – the bigger a company became, the less return it got on dollars invested. Azeem argues exponential technologies have inverted this logic so the bigger companies get, the more efficient they become. Digital technology can scale indefinitely for almost no cost and without becoming more cumbersome. The corrosive effect increasing returns to scale might have on our economy could herald a new age of monopoly capitalism.

What does it mean for people and work?

Giant monopolies aren’t just bad for small businesses, they’re bad for workers. We get work in the age of big tech wrong. For all the talk of mass automation, we’re not headed for a ‘jobless future’. Despite what headlines say, automation will probably lead to more jobs, not less.

That doesn’t mean the future of work will be easy. Automation is a distraction from the real issues facing workers in the exponential age: from pernicious systems of algorithmic management, to a relative decline in workers’ wages.

Laws governing our workplaces were forged in the industrial age and are being undone by the remarkable pace of technological change.

What does it mean for society and states?

Globalisation supposedly turned the planet into one big, inter-connected market – the local gave way to the global. Maybe once. Not any more. Azeem shows how exponential technologies are making the economy increasingly regionalised. New innovation makes some global trade unnecessary or less important – renewable energy for example means states need to ship less and less oil across the world. De-globalisation brings problems as rich countries stop depending on poor countries for manufacturing, that could bring untold economic instability in developing countries.

The exponential gap drives ever-greater inequality between the rich world and the poor.

As countries become more insular, global politics becomes more unstable. Nations have less in common – and are more likely to go to war. This conflict will be more savage than ever as exponential technologies turned everywere into a potential battlefield. Cheap military drones mean a few hundred dollars can mount real-world attacks.

Growing online connectivity means anything from lightbulbs to fridges can become a crack in our national security – from misinformation campaigns to autonomous weapons.

What does it mean for me?

Azeem argues we’re living through an unprecedented commodification of human existence.

Historically, there were limits to the market economy – you could sell food and gadgets; but you couldn’t sell people’s private lives or a nation’s laws. The boundaries are increasingly blurred. A handful of platforms dominate our public sphere, private companies make the laws that govern our lives. The emergence of the data economy means that the most intimate details of our lives are bought and sold for profit. The result, an erosion of the lines between public and private sector.

To survive and thrive, we need to understand the new rules, consider how we fit within them and adapt. Fast.

All a bit gloomy to be honest.

There’s much to be cheerful and hopeful about. That’s where the book gets really interesting.

If you’ve got this far, I’m not going to spoil the punchlines, buy a copy and read if for yourself.

Or come to BoS Online Fall, 27-29 September and I’ll send the next 20 people to register a hard copy myself.

The light

Exponential technology could bring a new age of prosperity.

  • Computers could solve humanity’s most intractable problems.
  • Renewable energy could stave off the environmental crisis.
  • Bioengineering could make us all healthier and happier.

We will only build this future if we manage to close the exponential gap. Azeem outlines specific policies and ideas we need to make life in the Exponential Age liveable. He also describes the broad principles that could help us get there.

  • First, we need to rediscover the power of the commons – developing new forms of collective decision-making and international cooperation, all to stop society tending towards conflict.
  • Second, we need to build our resilience – creating businesses and political institutions that can cope with rapid change.
  • Third, we need to become more flexible – so when change does come, we can adapt to it.

Exponential ends with a message of hope. While the exponential gap is eroding our societies, with the right solutions we can build a world of abundance and equity.

As software folk, we’re responsible for designing and building the technology of the future. That will have significant impacts on the health, happiness, wellbeing and of the world’s population.

Come and meet Azeem Azhar

Azeem will be at BoS Online Fall, 27-29 September with a talk and extended discussion based on the book, Exponential.

He will discuss the book’s core ideas – how the exponential gap came about and caused of some of our most pressing problems. He will also share why he thinks the exponential gap is not inevitable – and how those that can harness its power will do much better than those who don’t.

Azeem is the founder of a number of successful tech companies. After exiting his latest venture in 2016 he spoke about AI & Machine Learning at BoS Europe. (Well worth a rewatch). Then he gave his bio as,

‘Currently discovering literature, neuroscience and thinking about exponential change.’

Shortly after, he founded Exponential View, a platform for in-depth tech analysis with free and paid newsletters with over 200,000 readers across the world. He also created the The Exponential View Podcast in partnership with Harvard Business Review which has 2,000,000 listeners.

Notable subscribers include

“Exponential View is a must read”

Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek

“I look forward to being challenged and inspired by the Exponential View every week”.

DeepMind founder Mustafa Suleyman

He’s a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council, sits on the board of the Ada Lovelace Foundation and contributes to the Financial Times, Prospect and MIT Technology Review.

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At BoS we run events and publish content that is highly valued by anyone trying to build, run, and scale a great software company.

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Scholarships: BoS Conf Online Fall 21 thanks to lovely supporters.

Business of Software is a paid conference with limited sponsorship. We focus on delivering value to our customers – the attendees. We know this means not everyone who would like to can afford the cost of attendance.

We’re delighted and grateful for the lovely people at:

As supporters, they help support us to enable smart and awesome people who would otherwise be unable to attend the event to come, learn, join the community and get a helping hand to start the next phase of their career and journey as an entrepreneur.

Apply Now.

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Talk: Scenario Planning for an Uncertain Future — Stephen Allott

Stephen Allott is a venture partner at Seedcamp, a fund that has around 300 active portfolio companies.

As an engaged investment partner, when Covid first hit the UK, Seedcamp doubled down on assisting their companies with navigating the unprecedented uncertainty they faced. What they, and Stephen in particular, are particularly good at is scenario planning which – when done well – is about planning for uncertainty.

The silver lining for us is that in the talk, Stephen is sharing a new tool that you can use for planning out your response to unexpected scenarios.

Stephen Allott on why Seedcamp came up with this new tool.

The full talk and links to the original slide deck and transcript are below.

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How One Company Hired 2,000 People Without Compromising Culture

At BoS we don’t tend to default to idolising the kind of rapid and massive growth Valley culture thrives on. Mainly because it feels often driven by ego and valuation rather than solving a genuine market problem.

The ability to scale however is one of the attractive features of software after all, so when we come across a good scale-up or growth story we love getting our teeth into it.

Jason VandeBoom‘s talk from BoS Spring was one such example where he spoke about his journey of “bootstrapping” to over a thousand people at Active Campaign. The focus there was primarily on finance, management, and the entrepreneur’s personal journey.

This time we’ve got something different for you.

Cazoo’s Growth Story

Have you heard of Cazoo? If you’re outside the UK you’ll be forgiven if you haven’t because they were only founded in 2018 and launched a used-car sales platform in December 2019. Since then, in just around two years, they’ve become a force to be reckoned with.

Sure they’ve raised £450M and they’re valued at the $2B mark. Yes they’ve become the main sponsors of Aston Villa, Everton, and the World Snooker Tour (again those outside the UK will be forgiven for not knowing exactly who those football team are).

The thing that really piqued our interest what that they managed to maintain a core and healthy company culture while hiring upwards of two thousand people into their organisation since 2018.

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What is “team disharmony”? How do you fix it?

If you work in a team or manage a group of people you’ll undoubtedly have experienced ups, downs, and disagreements. In many cases these are resolved in the normal course of work.

Issues like a team member going through a down period, a product roadmap being unclear, or a change in leadership can have a negative effect on team morale. But these kinds of problems, being products of circumstances, are very often relatively easily fixed. Or if not exactly “easily”, at least the underlying causes and possible solutions are not that hard to identify and implement.

“Team disharmony” however is when performance problems persist and grow within a team. Even though there may not be obvious, or easily diagnosable, causes.

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The Clickbait DONG Story or, i18n for Dummies

A few years ago I attended a day-long investment workshop. Part of the event was focused on raising capital for the purposes of international expansion. The speaker used an example from his native Denmark to illustrate the pitfalls of taking a brand global.

Name Change

Dansk Olie og Naturgas (meaning Danish Oil and Natural Gas) was one of the major energy players in Denmark. As the company tried to establish a larger presence in the UK and other English-speaking countries they encountered a problem. When presented with the company’s name, acronymised to DONG, folks would, ahem, react oddly.

In 2017 they changed their name to Ørsted, citing the fact that they no longer supplied oil or gas. I have no reason to disbelieve that story but I can bet that their marketing teams sighed a sigh of relief at not having to tiptoe around that name anymore.

While the DONG story is largely clickbait, it does serve a useful purpose.

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The First Fall 2021 Sessions Revealed

BoS Conf Online is designed to be interactive, engaging and even more personal than in-person events. We want you to learn, develop, meet other great people and get answers to specific questions you have.

BoS Conf Online Fall 2021 Tickets are being snapped up fast – just ask the dozens of forward thinkers who saved their space before the speaker line up started being announced. So what are you waiting for? Join other smart people who’ve guaranteed their spot before we reach maximum capacity.

Guarantee a space for just $995

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Ep 76: Continuous Discovery Habits with Teresa Torres

In this conversation with Fall 2021 and USA 2019’s BoS speaker Teresa Torres, Mark Littlewood digs into her latest on customer discovery and what to expect in her new book and her BoS Fall talk Continuous Discovery Habits.

Teresa Torres is an internationally acclaimed author, speaker, and coach. She teaches a structured and sustainable approach to continuous discovery that helps product teams infuse their daily product decisions with customer input. She’s coached hundreds of teams at companies of all sizes, from early-stage start-ups to global enterprises, in a variety of industries. She has taught over 7,000 product people discovery skills through the Product Talk Academy. 

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Ep 75: Harnessing Culture & Using Data To Build Value For Your Business | Sarah McVittie | BoS 2019

This week on the BoS Podcast Sarah McVittie talks about data collecting and the culture of fashion.

In this talk from BoS Europe 2019, Sarah discusses why Dressipi started as a B2C play but the data it collected on customers has a much higher value to fashion retailers as it enables them to forecast demand more effectively and reduce their unsold inventory. 

You will leave with ideas to stimulate creative, data-driven, approaches to problem solving and how you can harness culture to build long-term value in your business.

Some estimates suggest that globally, 40% of garments produced in the fashion industry are never sold; of which 90% go to landfill.

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At BoS we run events and publish content that is highly valued by anyone trying to build, run, and scale a great software company.

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Proven Sales Playbooks are BS — Paul Kenny Explains

In this guest post Paul Kenny (founder of Ocean Learning and long time BoS participant and speaker) argues that software and SaaS “proven sales playbooks” are BS.

Paul writes:

I’ve spent the best part of 30 years thinking about ways to help salespeople to get better, to develop more from their customer base and to have satisfying and enjoyable sales careers.

Over that time, we have become much more sophisticated in collecting and analysing sales data. We know who our salespeople talk to, when, for how long, what about and in what level of progress they make. Our CRM system can prompt the team to make the optimum number of calls, to follow up efficiently and to be better at predicting call or demo outcomes. 

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Ep 74: Creating Early Warnings Scenarios & Thinking About The Future (with Rita McGrath)

What is the world of tomorrow going to look like? They say to find out what life is like in 20 years time, ask a current 10 year old as they are the adults of the future and what matters to them may not be the same as what matters to current adults.

In this talk from BoS Conf Online Europe 2020, Rita McGrath looks at early warning scenarios and discusses with a high school student the pros and cons of the sudden dive into the deepend of online learning thanks to the 2020 pandemic.

Happy Listening!

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Creating Ecosystems for Competitive Advantage — a BoS Hangout (30th June)

We’re running a very practical hangout this week on the topic of building a software ecosystem around your business.

The event is being led by Bill Cushard and PJ Marquez from ServiceRocket. They will be working with BoS attendee Simon Randall (CEO and founder of Pimloc) on a real-life case study during the hangout. Together they will help you understand the strategic and tactical challenge of building a strong ecosystem for a growing organisation.

Join us (free to attend) if you’re thinking about how you can build a stronger community of customers and users… and bring your questions.

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Learn the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) Framework: The Best (free and paid) Resources Available Online

  1. What is Jobs-To-Be-Done? (Definition)
  2. Free Online Articles and Resources
  3. Books about Jobs-To-Be-Done
  4. JTBD Masterclasses by BoS

If you’re running a software company (or somehow involved in strategy) you’ll be familiar with the conversations and debates about what the “next killer feature (or product)” is going to be.

While there are very few silver bullets in life, the Jobs-To-Be-Done framework is an indispensable tool in answering those kinds of questions.

The reason is that the JTBD framework (used and applied correctly) helps entrepreneurs, designers, and engineers clearly understand what “job” customers are trying to accomplish. This in turn helps you create products (or features or marketing campaigns) that resonate with customers and align with their goals.

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Ep 72: Iterating less and achieving more

New on the BoS Podcast: Radhika Dutt talks us through how to iterate less and achieve more with Radical Product Thinking.

Radika Dutt co-founded Radical Product Thinking to establish a movement of leaders creating vision-driven change. In this talk, she discusses where iteration goes wrong and why we need to rethink our approach. Methodologies such as Lean and Agile have democratised innovation by teaching us to harness the power of iteration to innovate faster, but our ability to set a clear destination hasn’t kept up with the pace.

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Talk: Building Resilience in Sales — Paul Kenny

Paul Kenny (Ocean Learning) returned to BoS in March 2020 to talk about Building Resilience in Sales Teams at BoS Europe Online and how some new approaches have proven successful at creating winning mindsets amongst salespeople. Particularly in changing or challenging circumstances such as what we’ve been experiencing in the past eighteen months.

Paul Kenny on his initial skepticism of new methods.

The entire recording including links to the original slide deck and full transcript are below.

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Future of the Workplace Survey: Results and Analysis

  1. Background
  2. The Survey Questions
  3. Results: The Numbers
  4. Results: Anecdotes
  5. BoS Commentary
  6. More Resources

At our Spring 2021 Conference in April the future of the workplace was, unsurprisingly, a hot topic. We had two important keynotes on the theme (subscribe to get notified when they’re published), various breakout sessions, and innumerable conversations.

We took the opportunity to poll our attendees on their experiences, challenges, and plans for their future workplaces and work environments.

The results were exciting and not quite what we expected. In this post we’re publishing the full results as well as our own analysis and take on them.

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Hardwiring Sales Into Your business

Paul Kenny talks about the story you tell in sales and the people who make the best story tellers.

Paul Kenny has been developing salespeople for over 30 years. He set up his first training company largely out of frustration at not being able to find the right training for his own sales teams. The kind of training that was immediately useful and would stick.

Paul has trained salespeople in media, technology, medical, engineering, education, and professional services sectors. He’s helped to train the sales teams at Redgate Software and Stack Overflow during their early growth phases. 

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