I was a Pioneer for two days.
Last week I had the honour of being invited to speak at Pioneers 2017 – a tech conference held this year at Vienna’s Hofburg Palace.
The event hosted 2,500 tech innovators from over 100 nations, including 500 selected startups and over 80 speakers.
To be honest, I’m always in two minds about these kind of events. A few years ago I finally got the opportunity to book into one of the big ones in the US (naming no names). My brief to myself was…. “I want to be inspired”. I wanted to go to a place where I can sit and listen and let my mind play.
“I’m a cynical old fart”
However, my US experience was nothing like that. I was in a sea of tech hipsters who all just wanted to be in a sea of tech hipsters: “Hi I’m cool, yeah me too… Have you seen my Kickstarter video!!! Cool huh? I have no idea how to bring this product to market but at least I’ve got the video!!”.
Yes, I’m a cynical old fart!
At that particular event I did finally find inspiration in music and film, and that was where my mind wandered (and wondered).
A breath of fresh air
Pioneers 2017 in Vienna was a totally different story and I have to say was one of the most inspiring experience I’ve had for a long time.
“One of the most inspiring experience I’ve had for a long time”
Pioneers was set up 6 years ago by Jürgen Furian as a platform positioned at the intersection of entrepreneurship and innovative future technologies, and I think they’re doing a pretty awesome job.
This video shows the kind of event that it was, i.e. brilliant:
Pioneers was a very full two days, and there were three contributors that really stood out for me:
Harsh Sinha – Transferwise
My first highlight was Harsh Sinha the CPO of our friends, Transferwise. It’s very hard not to admire Transferwise, as not only have they grown an incredible business, but they have done so by saving their customers loads of money.
“A lesson in great business”
Harsh’s presentation was simply a lesson in great business; of having a clear vision and cause; of building and inspiring a great team though an amazing culture; and, most importantly, building incredible business success through a great product that drives huge word of mouth.
The lesson: Your product is your marketing. …Or in the words of one of their founders “our product is the outcome of the people we hire”.
I caught the back end of a speech by a guy called Steli Efti. OMG this was one tour de force of a man! To be honest, you know when you hear the first few sentences of a man who talks very loudly and you think ‘Really? Do I need this?’, and then you start to think about moving, but you stay put because that room has the best air conditioning on a red hot day…
Well, I kind of had that feeling and I’m very glad I didn’t move.
“A story about tenacity”
This guy is a genius on human nature or rather the frailty of it. He spoke for 45 minutes with immense passion and fervour about how to do sales follow ups, but really he told a story about tenacity.
He was hugely inspiring. I met him afterwards and he’s a lovely chap too.
Here’s one of his talks from Pioneers two years ago. Be warned, there is excessive use of profanity!
The lesson: You should never give up. Failure comes from the excuses you tell yourself.
Everybody should start the day with a smile or to be more precise Smiley Poswolsky.
There I was picking up another croissant from the breakfast bar on the roof terrace of my lovely hotel, and when I got back to my table my mac had met another mac only to be quickly followed by Smiley – a super lovely, super smart guy who was talking at the conference that day.
Smiley and I share the same passion for a group of people that the media has decided to call Millennials. The only difference is that he’s got his act together and written a smart books about it (namely, The Quarter Life Breakthrough) and I just rant at Simon Sinek videos.
“A place that can offer meaning over money”
Not only was meeting Smiley a highpoint of my trip, but hearing him speak on stage was a real inspiration. He talked eloquently and passionately about the role that we as business owners must play in building a purpose-built culture for our employees – and a place that can offer meaning over money, through coaching, learning and flexibility.
Lesson: Millennials are not the ME, ME, ME Generation but The Purpose Generation!
Towards the end of the final day of the conference, I was part of a panel talking about how to attract the best talent. Of course, this is a topic very close to our hearts at bob.
By strategic planning (AKA ‘luck’), that day was also the day we released a study looking at the importance of culture in recruitment.
“47% of people have rejected a job offer”
At bob we are huge believers in culture, and particularly in the importance of culture at the point of recruitment and this was borne out in our survey. For example we found that in the UK 47% of people had rejected a job offer, a number that jumps to 54% in London.
Let’s just think about that for a second: You probably interview between 5-10 people to find somebody you like. They then go on a mission being interviewed by 3 or 4 people in your company, and then (after you’ve finally agreed on a conjugal agreement and pluck up the courage to go down on the business equivalent of one knee) around half of those people will give you a slap in the face!
“Not money, not career, not the free gym membership but culture!”
“How dare they” I hear you say! Well they dare pretty easily, and the fundamental reason they do is because of your company culture. Yes, nearly 50% said the reason they rejected an offer was because the culture and people in the organisation didn’t feel the right fit for them. Not money, not career, not the free gym membership but CULTURE!
Ask yourself: What are you doing to build and make your culture transparent and important enough to get the right people?
We have a great feature in bob that allows you and everybody in your company to play with your culture. From diversity, to hobbies and superpowers, it allows you to shine a light and nurture the cultures in your business. We call it bob Clubs.
And we have also created an addition to this feature that one of our customers reminded me of the other day and I have to say I LOVE stories like these:
We’ve created a way for companies to generate a link to this dynamic cultural view of their business and then use this link in any way they want.
“It’s really important that our staff feel as if they belong in our business”
This customer that I spoke to was telling me how they used this link in their recruitment process. For example when they are in the ‘seduction’ phase (i.e. they know they want somebody but they know they have stiff competition). They they send them an email that reads something like this: “Hi X, really great to see you again today. One thing we’d love to show you is our culture. It’s really important that our staff feel as if they belong in our business so please just click here and have a look around…”
Then the potential new hire can jump right in and see the culture of the business.
Not only does the act of letting people in demonstrate your openness, but you are literally asking them to see how they would belong, and learn about their potential colleagues, be they Mums, cyclists or female developers!
A last word
All in all I loved Pioneers. It was a huge honour to be invited and I left Vienna hugely inspired.
I will definitely be there next year, and I highly recommend it.
Andy Bellass is Co-Founder and CMO at hibob, and has more than 25 years of experience in strategic brand building. He has helped define, shape and launch some of the world’s biggest and most innovative brands, including the likes of Coca-Cola and Spotify. He’s a former Partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Splendid Communications, Strategy Director at creative hotshop Mother and prior to setting up hibob, Andy spent several years advising VCs and startups in Silicon Valley and Israel. He lives in London with his wife, two children and eight bikes.
Read more from Andy Bellass here.
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