‘FAIL quickly’ is Ben Fogarty’s motto, and after learning of the big clients he has scored after only being in business for 18 months, you could bet there is an emphasis on being quick.
The name of his business – Shorthand – would instantly suggest this too. Shorthand is a web application that helps publishers tell long-form stories in a more engaging and creative way.
Fogarty, a Brisbane boy who recently relocated to London, shared the lessons he has learnt from the first chapter of his entrepreneurial journey at Creative3 in Brisbane last week. A melting pot for creative enterprise, the forum spotlighted visionaries who think expansively and conduct business against the grain, including Imagebrief’s Simon Moss, sass & bide’s David Briskin and SourceBottle’s Bec Derrington.
Here’s a quick list of business tips from Fogarty, a guy who has already struck deals with and coordinated content for mega companies including New York Post, The Guardian, ELLE, Nike and GE among others, and scored 16 new clients in the United Kingdom in the past month alone.
1. Become an expert at failure
Fogarty is fixed on the Shorthand team “becoming experts at failure but in a good way”. He is a believer of success through trial and error.
Shorthand starts with making an assumption on the value being offered to the market, testing this, and then going back to square one if the market doesn’t see the value.
“The product means nothing unless the market wants it,” says Fogarty.
“We don’t build products for feature sake, we build them for market sake and to test our ideas.
“Sometimes we get caught up but we try to keep bringing ourselves back to that.
“From beginning to end we ask how we can fail quickly and learn quickly.”
2. Sea-saw between disruptive innovation and sustaining innovation
“It’s important to understand there is a big difference in the way you need to innovate, between sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation, and it’s not one or the other more like an ongoing line you keep sliding across,” says Fogarty.
He says disruptive innovation is needed when the market has run out of ideas on how to do things – but isn’t for the fainthearted.
“Disruptive innovation is operating in the darkness, meaning you need complete confidence in yourself, your team and your idea despite not really having a clue about how things will turn out.”
In light of this, Fogarty says it is just as important to know when to “sustain innovation” and keep going about business in the same manner. He draws on the example of launching Shorthand to the public with positive response and then being tugged in all different directions.
“People were telling us it could replace PowerPoint and other programs and we were going to be pulled in a hundred different directions,” says Fogarty.
“We decided we couldn’t be an education tool in the first six months and also a tool for publishers.
“We recognised we had a product that people enjoyed but needed to focus on who we were tailoring it to.”
3. Dive in then learn your stroke
It’s foolish to not know how to swim before diving into a business venture, but that doesn’t mean you need to be an expert at your stroke before taking the plunge.
Fogarty met with clients like The Guardian before really knowing the direction his business was heading in.
“We went in to The Guardian with a product that wasn’t finished, features we hadn’t properly tested and a feature set we hadn’t asked if anyone wanted – we were lucky they said yes,” says Fogarty.
“So after only two weeks we made a big decision to stop development on our product, threw the business roadmap out the window and test whether we were doing anything that they could use.”
4. Be flexible enough to bend your business
…but don’t build everything you create into your established offering straight away.
By now, it should be obvious that Fogarty believes in putting the client foremost. However, he says Shorthand will sometimes build a feature for a client that is well-received but won't offer it as a standard feature for all clients immediately.
“We will sometimes build a feature as a throw away to save us time and effort of integrating it across the board,” says Fogarty about the benefits of testing on a small scale.
“This is what we did for mobile optimisation for our websites, enabling it for customers when they asked, on the condition they gave us honest feedback afterwards.”
5. You can grow very quickly and still be very protective of your product
Shorthand has grown at a rapid rate, but not at the expense of being selective about how the product is being used.
Fogarty says learning is paramount in the early stages of business and giving away your product without taking yourself with it means you risk not learning as much as you could.
It may take more time to be with your product and clients every step of the way, as opposed to selling it and not following the client along the journey, but it will strengthen your relationships and business.
“We were very protective over the product particularly in the early stages, not just who used it, but also how they used it.
“Maybe we could get more sales in the first six months if we did things differently, but we wouldn’t learn anything through the process.
“This is why we ask clients to be clear on their ideas before we agree to working with them and don’t just take on any clients.”
6. Stray from tradition
Shorthand is anti-tradition in its entirety by challenging the storytelling and news delivery model, so it makes sense that even its smaller product details adhere to this.
When asked by Nike to put banner advertisements into a FourFourTwo 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign they were funding, Fogarty questioned the status quo and challenged Nike's presentation of its content.
Nike initially resisted, but Fogarty’s initiative eventually paid off.
“Nike didn’t want to flash the brand everywhere so they just wanted to run intermittent banner advertisements,” says Fogarty.
“We pushed them to change their minds so it was telling a story about them – they thought at first it would be too much effort – so we mocked something up in two hours and the piece was then reframed as football innovation to sell Nike.
“This was great commercially for us and them and also addressed the current challenge for the journalism industry: monetising without losing integrity.”
7. Float all ideas to get the ball rolling faster
This approach won Shorthand creative license in Nike’s FourFourTwo campaign. The business was also launched through this same approach.
Fogarty’s previous position was coordinating multi-brand IT for Wotif.com’s founder Graeme Wood.
When Fogarty left the company, Wood became his idea sounding board, and soon after a mentor-investor.
Fogarty credits Wood to getting him in front of the big players in the beginning, Wood being the investment that brought The Guardian to Australia.
This once again proves the age-old lesson that “it’s about who you know”.
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