“We will be the best we can and we will set the global standard for RISC microchips"
That was my vision for ARM. Not a few years down the line after enjoying some success and not at my starting date. This was my vision before the company was created and I joined as CEO.
The reason for this was that unless we became the global standard we would fail. There were so many well funded competing companies developing their own microprocessors, as a small start up we had to do something different to succeed.
Before agreeing to join the company I met the 12 person founding team from Acorn in a pub. It was in this informal setting I shared my initial vision. I wanted the team to meet me, understand me, and then decide if they wanted me. They did and shortly afterwards did a SWOT analysis which helped develop the vision further and the rest is history. But my main point here is that as a CEO, the people you surround yourself with are just as important as your roadmap to success.
You must look to inspire your staff and have them buy into your vision, while encouraging diversity of thought and openness. At ARM we never left the boardroom without making a unanimous decision on our plans. But of course, nearly always technologists will have a different perspective to the CFO and the sales people as they have different roles and aims – debating extreme views and yet coming to a common conclusion is the best way to get the best answer.
In today’s business climate it is crucial that entrepreneurs, engineers and the whole team are relentless in their desire to be the world’s best. Many businesses fail because the company doesn't have a vision or know their plans for the future, even after burning through millions of pounds of investment money.
Our togetherness, our shared vision and drive, are what helped us set the global standard at ARM. From the beginning we worked as a global force with our interests and operations spanning the world. Of course at times we experienced failure – every ambitious person does - we learn by making mistakes, but that was part of our journey and by helping each other we all became stronger.
In life there are always both problems and opportunities. The political landscape currently looks particularly uncertain but for start-ups with global ambitions there is always opportunity if you look in the right place. The weaker pound currently makes our cost of services more competitive globally - on the other hand venture capital money for hardware businesses is more difficult to find than it was a year ago. What’s more, if you’re working across the world you can mitigate the risks that may arise in specific locations.
While maintaining this global ambition, start-ups still need to act locally no matter where in the world they are. This means working with people who have on-the-ground cultural and business clout. If you don’t already have this in your own staff, think more broadly. Your networks and senior advisors may hold the answer. By combining your drive and global vision with a local understanding, you are one step closer to succeeding.
Of course, all this is dependent on one very important ingredient – having a great product that is in demand, that is better than the competition. You need to know your customers and markets as well as your technology.
If you’re confident you’ve got a good technology that can make a difference around the world, then you’re at a good starting point. First understand the customer need. Then set a shared vision for where you want to be 20 years out, employ global ambition with local people and actions and build a team that can deliver that vision. Also remember the team is as weak as the weakest link so when you can’t afford the best, find the best on a temporary or helping basis. This is where the Enterprise Hub might be able to help you.
Image: Elspeth Finch (Chair of RAEng Innovators Network and RAEng Silver Medal winner), Sir Robin Saxby FREng FRS and Ian Shott CBE FREng (Chair of the Enterprise Hub Committee) at the Academy on 28 November 2016