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20130703 spark labs

  1. 1. 10 ★ FINANCIAL TIMES WEDNESDAY JULY 3 2013 Should I offer my boss a tissue or will it blow my career? Our desks have just been moved around at work and I find myself sitting next to our (slightly scary) team leader. I’m not at all keen on this arrangement – not just because it means I can’t go on Facebook but because she sniffs all the time. I find the noise annoying and disgusting. I’m trying to pluck up the courage to offer her a tissue and suggest she blow her nose. Would this be a career­limiting move? Graduate trainee, male, 22 Lucy’s answer Your advice It would not only be career-limiting, it would show that you have not mastered the most elementary principles of office life. Working with other people means enduring constant assaults to three of the five senses. Your ears must cope with fairly minor affronts such as sniffing and coughing, as well as bigger ones such as people talking in loud, annoying voices and using phrases such as “exit your comfort zone”. Your eyes must learn to deal with those who are not easy on the eye as well as those who are rather too easy. And your nose must learn to cope with strong perfumes of both natural and unnatural variety. There is a second law of office life, which you need to grasp right now: it says mentioning these annoying little ways is a bad idea. The only time it is permissible to speak up is when you are the line manager and you are acting in everyone’s best interests. Even then it is one of the most difficult tasks managers face – telling someone they have BO can be more traumatic than telling them they are fired. Anyone in your position should only consider making a personal remark to a boss when you are rescuing them from a fate worse than being moderately humiliated by an underling. So if this scary team leader were to come out of the loo with her dress tucked into her underpants or with large lumps of lipstick on her teeth and was heading for an important client meeting, it would be both courageous and considerate to point it out. Otherwise, I suggest you concentrate on making yourself agreeable to your intimidating boss. If she had anything to do with the new seating arrangement – and it would be odd if she didn’t – she has put you under her watchful eye for one of two reasons. Either she thinks you very promising or she thinks you very unpromising and has noticed that you would rather be on Facebook than do your job. If I were you, I’d block out the sniffing and find out whether you are in the A stream or the D stream and act accordingly. Either way, if you offer her a tissue, you’ve blown it. Feign an illness Pretend you have a cold, offer tissues in mutual suffering, “recover” quickly and unload the purchase of tissues you made on to her. Anon You’re addicted Cocaine is a hell of a drug but so is Facebook. Sadly, you can quit cocaine and live for the future, but your Facebook garbage is going to stay forever, haunting every day of your life. You should thank the sniffles, they are there to remind you to stay away from your own addiction and keep you free from sin. Anon Is it cocaine? If she is scary maybe scare her back and say that frequent sniffing can be a sign of somebody with a cocaine habit. Communications adviser, male Out of focus Are you sure you are cut out for a career in the City if that sort of noise is so distracting for you? If you are looking at Facebook during the working day, you are already making a career- limiting move. Focus on what’s important or you won’t last very long. Headhunter, female Multi­use tissues Be grateful you have a job at all at the age of 22. As for the sniffing, yes, put a box of tissues discreetly on your desk; if an occasion comes up to offer one without embarrassment, do it. But if not, use the tissues as ear plugs. Male, 52 Get used to it She probably has either a nervous twitch or else some sort of nasal dysfunction, so blowing the nose would not help. Get used to it. I knew a very distinguished professor who had a kind of snorting twitch, which was also annoying, but so what? Anon Just do it To those who are telling the junior to shut up and take it, let me remind them that the sniffing would also be done in the presence of more senior management and prospective and current clients, who would find it disgusting too. So in the interests of the company, put a box of tissues on her desk when she’s away and deny any knowledge of who put it there. Anon Is my interest taken for granted? I’ve been headhunted by the leading company in my field. The position is attractive and the salary is higher. Friends say it’s a “no­brainer”. Yet I have found its dealings with me almost insultingly desultory. I was approached by the chief executive, but the executive designated to follow up can take a week to reply to emails, and his responses are brief and devoid of flattery. It feels like being wooed by a good­looking man who assumes I’ll jump into bed with him because everyone else does. Am I silly to think this way? Executive, female, 50 Please send answers and new problems to problems@ft.com. This column appears fortnightly Dear Lucy Work problems answered Luke Johnson The entrepreneur Women make for fantastic founders I ’m convinced this may be the most entrepreneurial generation of women yet. For example, last week I spoke on a panel at a British Library event offering advice to companies in the food industry. I would estimate that at least half the audience was female: such a ratio would have been inconceivable even 10 years ago. When I started my first business in the early 1980s few women started companies. I predict that in the coming years there will be a dramatic increase in the numbers of successful start-ups headed by women. This remarkable shift is almost never discussed yet it represents a profound change. The male need to compete and dominate combined with the fact that women give birth and nurture children, meant that men always tended to assume leadership positions. But I think patriarchy in entrepreneurship is ending. Surveys indicate that women in the west are narrowing the gap with men in terms of personal wealth. Moreover, they are also responsible for more than 80 per cent of all purchasing decisions and so are probably better placed to supervise new product development, marketing, customer relations and many other aspects of business operations. Meanwhile, I have found women tend to have a higher emotional quotient than men, and hence are well-equipped for the modern workplace. Frequently, they are less egocentric and better at team-building. Women now make up the majority of graduates in many professions, including law and accountancy, traditionally the source of many business leaders. Their ascendancy seems certain. Moreover, according to a survey late last year by Dow Jones VentureSource, which tracks start-ups and their investors, new companies have a better chance of going public, operating profitably or being sold for a net gain if they have women founders or board members. I suspect a mix of the sexes at the top is helpful because it introduces a broader perspective and a calming influence. Diversity in general makes organisations more resilient. Many businesses fall apart thanks to testosterone-fuelled disputes and founders overreaching thanks to rushes of hubris that tend to afflict men more often. Women are well- placed to curb such excess, and keep a project on course with more thoughtful management policies. In discussions with female entrepreneurs I often sense they are more risk-averse than their male counterparts and less willing to sacrifice family life for the business. Neither of these traits is a negative: over-ambition and burnout are prime causes of bankruptcy and commercial failure. Half the secret of business success is staying alive (both in a corporate and personal sense). Perhaps women are less likely to engineer the most spectacular, world-beating winners – but they will surely go from founding less than 10 per cent of all businesses to at least 30 per cent within a decade. In the west, women have historically been more likely to start a business later in life, as a second or even third profession – quite possibly after having children. That is now changing, as younger female graduates opt to become their own boss. Of course, there remain challenges and obstacles, from raising capital to juggling family commitments. In the developing world, women are responsible for half of all micro- businesses. Many are part-time and never expand but as this generation grows up having seen their mothers working for themselves, so they in turn will be more empowered. In my experience, men and women alike tend to care more about their mother’s opinion of their career choice than their dad’s. What practical difference does this make? I’m not sure. Will the emerging army of female entrepreneurs start to display more masculine traits, or will entrepreneurship as a vocation take on more feminine characteristics? I suspect there will be fewer of the old-school, macho entrepreneurs in charge. A classic example is Bernie Ecclestone, the 82-year-old Formula One entrepreneur, estimated to be worth $3bn. In an interview last week he said he had never known joy, and described how on his wedding day he and his bride couldn’t find anywhere to have lunch – so he went back to work that afternoon. Roll on, more female entrepreneurs, I say. lukej@riskcapitalpartners.co.uk The writer runs Risk Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and is chairman of StartUp Britain When I started my first business in the early 1980s few women started companies Seoul’s start­up generation A group of young and ambitious software entrepreneurs is striking out in South Korea, writes Simon Mundy Led by example: Jimmy Kim says developers of apps such as Knowre are encouraged by the likes of KakaoTalk’s Lee Sir­goo, below Penta Press J ay Mok’s family were shocked: 29 years old, recently married, a graduate from a top Seoul uni- versity with a good job at a glo- bal consulting firm, his career was a source of pride. Then he quit to pour his savings into developing a smart- phone application. “The older generation don’t under- stand as much about IT or the mobile business,” he says. “They think if I fail, the whole family will fail.” Scattered across Seoul’s Gangnam District, with its towering skyscrapers and trendy shoppers, a cohort of young entrepreneurs is seeking to remedy South Korea’s lack of innova- tive start-ups. Gathered in borrowed space or rented offices, they are strik- ing out with ventures in software, an area where initial costs are lower than other fields – and where the country’s mighty chaebol conglomer- ates are less dominant. While South Korean companies such as Samsung Electronics or Hyundai Motor are often portrayed abroad as plucky upstarts, at home they have loomed large over the economy for decades, just like the other chaebol. Experts fret that the country’s prosperity has sapped the younger generation of the entrepreneurial zeal of men such as Chung Ju-yung, Hyundai’s founder, whose rise from agrarian poverty mirrored his nation’s. But Gangnam’s software entrepre- neurs suggest such worries are mis- placed. “Over 95 per cent of our users are outside Korea,” Mr Mok says of Step,, his app on which users track their daily activities. It is being mar- keted as a private journal rather than a social tool – recording rather than sharing – which he believes is a gap in the market. The app has 10,000 users, and its developers expect to reach 200,000 this year. But Mr Mok and co-founder Dan- iel Cho had to contend with more than just parental scepticism when they set up their company, WePlanet. Funding is tricky for entrepreneurs in South Korea, where the venture capi- tal industry is tiny and the banks are more comfortable with lending to the chaebol. The two founders used $150,000 in savings accumulated from their consulting days. But they also had outside support. Jimmy Kim, a cheerful 42-year-old entrepreneur, and two friends last year set up Sparklabs to provide new businesses with funding and advice from a global network of advisers. Sparklabs’ founders had made for- tunes through technology start-ups: Mr Kim helped build games company Nexon before starting Innotive, which makes management software for big businesses. But they were keenly aware of the barriers facing others. Bankruptcy laws, for instance, are intimidating, Mr Kim says. “[In the past], if you failed in Korea, you virtu- ally became [seen as] a criminal. There’s a saying in Korea that entre- preneurs are the true patriots because they’re really risking their lives.” investors, which means they intimi- date entrepreneurs while distracting them from creating sustainable value. Moreover, successive governments have done too little to help start-ups develop international reach, he adds. As a cautionary tale, Mr Lee points to Cyworld, a social networking site that was popular by 2003. But it lost its independence when the owners sold control to SK Group, one of the big chaebols; and although it had 20m or so users in 2006, Cyworld’s failure to expand abroad undermined it at home. “They couldn’t overcome the barrier of English . . . and the domes- tic market is too small,” Mr Lee says. T he rise of smartphones has opened new opportunities, however. KakaoTalk, an in- stant messaging service laun- ched in early 2010, is now used by a big majority of South Korean smart- phone owners and reached 100m users this week. Lee Sir-goo, joint chief executive, says the climate for start- ups is improving, but still has far to go. “There are more venture capital investors around, but the banks don’t lend to start-ups unless you have col- lateral,” he says. “And for IT services like us, there are regulations that make it difficult to offer serv- ices . . . payment by credit card is rela- tively easy in the US, but here the user has to put in their card details every time they make a transaction.” Prevoius governments’ efforts to help have often been flawed, he adds, with assistance for start-ups often loaded with heavy conditions. Nevertheless, some initiatives prom- ised by the new government look promising, says Mr Mok. “Until last year, the government focused on cre- ating start-ups rather than helping them to keep growing. It seems the new government has learnt from that. “A lot of my friends want to move on to work for start-ups. The younger generation is totally different to the older ones. We have less loyalty to the big companies.” ‘There’s a saying in Korea that entrepreneurs are the true patriots because they’re really risking their lives’ Sparklabs has nurtured 16 start-ups, offering each $25,000 in funding and advice from mentors who include executives at foreign companies such as Google, Nike and Deloitte. Their involvement reflects grow- ing foreign interest in the soft- ware industry of South Korea, which has exceptionally high smartphone usage and mobile inter- net speeds. “When I travel in the US, Hong Kong and Singapore, people are very curious about Korean start-ups,” Mr Kim says, citing “the rise of Nexon, KakaoTalk and [software group] NHN, as well as the synergies with having Samsung and LG as glo- bal brands . . . And K-pop has done wonders for business,” he adds, refer- ring to the overseas success of South Korea’s music industry. Another of Mr Kim’s charges is Knowre, set up by three engineering Government support for the creative economy The administration of Park Geun­hye, which took office in February, has championed start­ ups as a vital part of South Korea’s “creative economy”, one of her key policy platforms. This includes increasing the sources of suitable finance for early­stage start­ups. Her government plans a Won500bn ($440m) Future Creation Fund, which will take equity stakes in newly formed companies; for older start­ups, there will be a Growth Ladder Fund worth Won2tn, of which 70 per cent will be raised from the private sector. Hank Morris, an adviser on North Asia at Triple A Partners, an investment advisory firm, says that such steps by the government to encourage VC lending in South Korea “are not what Korea needs at this stage”. He argues that the expanded public funding may do little more than reward VCs with good government connections. “The sector could jump­start itself if the government would just stay out,” he says. graduates and a management consult- ant who were inspired by the hagwon, after-school tuition centres attended by most South Korean schoolchildren. The founders thought a computer pro- gram could provide a more entertain- ing – and more successful – way to help children learn maths. “We wanted it to feel like a video game,” says co-founder Simon Kim, showing a screen on which the user progresses across a wooded landscape. While they worked on the program, they set up their own hagwon in order to study their target market and raise capital. Ultimately they concluded that parents’ attachment to the hag- won system meant their program had little chance of short-term success in South Korea, but they identified stronger prospects in the US. Their plan attracted $400,000 from South Korean and US angel investors early last year. A few months later they won an investment of $1.3m from SoftBank, the Japanese telecoms group, and the app was recently named best instructional app in a New York City education department contest. Knowre expects to record its first profit next year. Nevertheless, South Korea remains an unforgiving environment for entre- preneurs, warns Lee Kark-bum, head of Future Thinknet, a research insti- tute. Too many backers of start-ups have the mentality of short-term lend- ers, he says, rather than long-term BUSINESS LIFE Entrepreneurship