LET'S TALK ABOUT...

Developing a start-up mentality in your business with Sahar Hashemi

#btconversations #expandingabusiness #launchingabusiness #managementandleadership

‘Let’s Talk About’ is our series of videos offering practical digital skills advice to help you grow.

Sahar Hashemi OBE, Founder of coffee republic and best-selling author on entrepreneurship, share with us her tips - how thinking and acting like a start up to survive and thrive post covid.

Don’t fall into the bureaucracy

Use positive language

Look at your business as a customer

Get out into the customer’s world

Encourage small ideas

Experiment and prototype

Change the way you see rejection

Celebrate failure

Lead by example

Conclusion

Sahar Hashemi:

I'm Sahar Hashemi, and I'm here to talk about startup mentality, how to create it, and how to keep it as your business grows.

Sahar Hashemi:

Coffee Republic really started from, I mean, almost accidentally. I just remember I'd left my career. I had no idea what I was going to do, and it was just this one trip to New York. I go down Madison Avenue looking for a cup of coffee, and I come across these American-style coffee bars and I had never seen anything like it. I'd never seen the choice, the way they do things, and I just fell in love with it. When I came back to London, I just couldn't believe we didn't have it, and so I casually said to my brother, "I wish we had those New York-style coffee bars."

Sahar Hashemi:

And his reaction to me was, "Oh my God, that seems like a great business idea," and that's how it happened. We went very quickly from, sort of, being a real startup, real kitchen table... to becoming a big company and that brought with it a huge change of personalities that I saw firsthand.

Sahar Hashemi:

The thinking back then was that when the business becomes an adult, it's time for founders to let go. People would come with processes and systems and say, "Oh no, you can't do that. This is not how you do things. This is not industry practice. You're just a founder. Well done for starting the company, but you're not really good at running a business."

Sahar Hashemi:

Sometimes you think you've just been lucky and maybe they're right, maybe you don't know. I sort of lost confidence in myself. I thought I was just passionate, and passion was flaky and passion didn't mean anything in business. Passion wasn't business-like. I used to think startup is something you grow out of, but I've learned through hard-won mistakes and lessons that actually startup is something you've got to fight very hard to maintain.

Sahar Hashemi:

There's something really incredible when you start a company, because everyone comes together around the customer. It's this sense of mutual purpose, and as you increase in size, you get more people, you put more structures in, and by definition the more people that you have to control that, you put more bureaucracy in.

Sahar Hashemi:

As your business gets bigger, yes, you need processes and systems, but just realising, not falling into the trap of bureaucracy because it kills the emotional core of the company. Every process you look at it and see, "Is there a reason? Does it serve a purpose?" If it doesn't serve a purpose, you got to get rid of it. Almost bureaucracy busters, and that's a really important thing to do.

Sahar Hashemi:

I think actually language is quite powerful, and you have to check yourself on the language and become aware that when you hear sentences like, "This is how we do things, or this is how we've always done it." The alternative phrase immediately should be, "Let's try it. There must be a simpler way. What else is there?" This sort of open, curious language, because all these words seem to have gravitas, but they shut curiosity…  they shut innovation off. It's comfort zone language, and it's not productive for anyone to use that sort of language.

Sahar Hashemi:

When you're a startup, you know that if the customer’s not paying, that there's no business. So, your boss is your customer in a way. Look at your business, not from your own eyes of how you want to sell your product or service, but through the customer’s eyes looking in at your business. Do you know what the customer’s problems are? Do you know what keeps them up at night? Do you know what they really enjoy about what you do? How well do you know your customer? How much does pleasing the customer inspire you?

Sahar Hashemi:

When you're out there in the customer’s world, what you're getting with your own eyes is real world feedback. You're not sitting in your desk, reading the market research and what numbers were there, or why they were low. You're actually seeing in real time the customer experience, and your mind is open, and you're curious, and you're finding little solutions to problems customers have got, and these solutions are these little sparks.

Sahar Hashemi:

It could be something that you're not quite sure, and you've got to develop it to become a big idea. In big companies, there's a lot of pressure it's, "Oh, you got the idea, put it on paper. How is it going to make money? Show me." It's impossible. An idea is just the starting point of something. So, you’ve got to encourage people to have the small ideas and run with them, and develop them rather than wait for the perfect first game-changing idea to come because that's a complete illusion. They don't happen.

Sahar Hashemi:

At Coffee Republic because we were our own customers, I was spending all my time in the stores. Because I was at the store, you can't help but notice the customer experience, and I could see, especially at the weekends, people were bringing their own little children and the children didn't really have that much to be excited about.

Sahar Hashemi:

So, I sort of invented actually the ‘baby cap’. I remember the name. It was in a little espresso cup, and instead of espresso just like the parents, we put hot chocolate. So it looked like it was espresso, and we put the special foam and the little cocoa powder. So just, it's tiny stuff but in the grand scheme of things, it creates that connection where the customer feels, "I like this brand. I'm going to come in again. They're providing a solution for my problem."

Sahar Hashemi:

When you've got an idea, just pursue it. Just see if it works, do it on a very small scale. Experiment it on one or two customers. Experiment it in one store, if you've got five stores, not in all the stores. Do it small, start small, and then you can see if it works. You can see if you can improve on it or whether or not you should just completely throw it in the bin, and start again.

Sahar Hashemi:

When we do something new, the knee-jerk reaction of everyone, including the consumer is to say no. We naturally, intuitively reject innovation, and new stuff. Once you factor that in, you realise that actually getting a no is part and parcel of getting a yes, because innovation is a process. It's not the linear, "Wow, amazing idea," all the yes, yes, yes, all along. Innovation is you fall, you get up. You fall, you get up.

Sahar Hashemi:

I think if you can change the way you view rejection, that's a real game changer, and you realise that actually people can say no to you, they’re not even thinking about it. You've got to give yourself that stickability, to get rejection after rejection and see it as a natural part of the process.

Sahar Hashemi:

People don't realize that there's huge fear in companies, and this fear of failure is endemic. It's enormous because especially the more success you have, the more you fear of failure. The only way to remove this fear of failure is actually celebrate failure… and so, I know a lot of companies that actually give failure awards, and that's the only way to deeply uproot this fear people have because by celebrating it, it shows people, "Actually, you know what? I'm going to try. It might fail, but that's okay." We don't punish people. It turns off the fear and actually turns up people's creativity.

Sahar Hashemi:

Culture is not something set in stone about your company. Culture is actually the sum total of individual behaviors, and it's not static. It's just how you behave every day sets the tone for what your culture is and very much as a leader, you set the tone. So if you change the way you behave, if you change your focus back towards the customer, by definition, almost by osmosis, everyone will be faced towards the customer because they see that as a priority of the business. So, culture is something that changes every day and realising it's not static. It's hugely important, and it's the tiny stuff that makes a difference with culture.

Sahar Hashemi:

For me, the startup mentality is really easy. You go to the customer, you get the ideas, you get what problems the customer’s got, and then you solve them, and in order to do that, you have to get rid of the bureaucracy. You have to keep yourself free to be out there thinking about the customer, not internally focused.

Sahar Hashemi:

You have to have an open mind. You have to have, be curious. You have to ask the right questions. You have to be not afraid of getting a no, and you’ve got to pick up those small, unbaked ideas and just run with them, and at the end of the day, once you do all these things, you're well on the road to innovation, and you can look back and think, "Wow, something changed. We did something differently, and it's something we're proud of," and it's always worth the journey.

‘Let’s Talk About’ is our series of videos offering practical digital skills advice to help you grow.

Sahar Hashemi OBE, Founder of coffee republic and best-selling author on entrepreneurship, share with us her tips - how thinking and acting like a start up to survive and thrive post covid.

Sahar Hashemi started two ground-breaking businesses: the UK’s first coffee bar chain, Coffee Republic, which she grew to 110 stores and a £50 million market cap, and Skinny Candy, a market segment-defining brand of sugar-free sweets. Her 2 books “Anyone can do it” and “Start Up Forever” are packed with ideas on how to stay agile, customer-focused and innovative. Luckily for us, Sahar has offered to share with us some of her key learnings.

Don’t fall into the bureaucracy

Use positive language

Look at your business as a customer

Get out into the customer’s world

Encourage small ideas

Experiment and prototype

Change the way you see rejection

Celebrate failure

Lead by example

Conclusion

Sahar Hashemi:

I'm Sahar Hashemi, and I'm here to talk about startup mentality, how to create it, and how to keep it as your business grows.

Sahar Hashemi:

Coffee Republic really started from, I mean, almost accidentally. I just remember I'd left my career. I had no idea what I was going to do, and it was just this one trip to New York. I go down Madison Avenue looking for a cup of coffee, and I come across these American-style coffee bars and I had never seen anything like it. I'd never seen the choice, the way they do things, and I just fell in love with it. When I came back to London, I just couldn't believe we didn't have it, and so I casually said to my brother, "I wish we had those New York-style coffee bars."

Sahar Hashemi:

And his reaction to me was, "Oh my God, that seems like a great business idea," and that's how it happened. We went very quickly from, sort of, being a real startup, real kitchen table... to becoming a big company and that brought with it a huge change of personalities that I saw firsthand.

Sahar Hashemi:

The thinking back then was that when the business becomes an adult, it's time for founders to let go. People would come with processes and systems and say, "Oh no, you can't do that. This is not how you do things. This is not industry practice. You're just a founder. Well done for starting the company, but you're not really good at running a business."

Sahar Hashemi:

Sometimes you think you've just been lucky and maybe they're right, maybe you don't know. I sort of lost confidence in myself. I thought I was just passionate, and passion was flaky and passion didn't mean anything in business. Passion wasn't business-like. I used to think startup is something you grow out of, but I've learned through hard-won mistakes and lessons that actually startup is something you've got to fight very hard to maintain.

Sahar Hashemi:

There's something really incredible when you start a company, because everyone comes together around the customer. It's this sense of mutual purpose, and as you increase in size, you get more people, you put more structures in, and by definition the more people that you have to control that, you put more bureaucracy in.

Sahar Hashemi:

As your business gets bigger, yes, you need processes and systems, but just realising, not falling into the trap of bureaucracy because it kills the emotional core of the company. Every process you look at it and see, "Is there a reason? Does it serve a purpose?" If it doesn't serve a purpose, you got to get rid of it. Almost bureaucracy busters, and that's a really important thing to do.

Sahar Hashemi:

I think actually language is quite powerful, and you have to check yourself on the language and become aware that when you hear sentences like, "This is how we do things, or this is how we've always done it." The alternative phrase immediately should be, "Let's try it. There must be a simpler way. What else is there?" This sort of open, curious language, because all these words seem to have gravitas, but they shut curiosity…  they shut innovation off. It's comfort zone language, and it's not productive for anyone to use that sort of language.

Sahar Hashemi:

When you're a startup, you know that if the customer’s not paying, that there's no business. So, your boss is your customer in a way. Look at your business, not from your own eyes of how you want to sell your product or service, but through the customer’s eyes looking in at your business. Do you know what the customer’s problems are? Do you know what keeps them up at night? Do you know what they really enjoy about what you do? How well do you know your customer? How much does pleasing the customer inspire you?

Sahar Hashemi:

When you're out there in the customer’s world, what you're getting with your own eyes is real world feedback. You're not sitting in your desk, reading the market research and what numbers were there, or why they were low. You're actually seeing in real time the customer experience, and your mind is open, and you're curious, and you're finding little solutions to problems customers have got, and these solutions are these little sparks.

Sahar Hashemi:

It could be something that you're not quite sure, and you've got to develop it to become a big idea. In big companies, there's a lot of pressure it's, "Oh, you got the idea, put it on paper. How is it going to make money? Show me." It's impossible. An idea is just the starting point of something. So, you’ve got to encourage people to have the small ideas and run with them, and develop them rather than wait for the perfect first game-changing idea to come because that's a complete illusion. They don't happen.

Sahar Hashemi:

At Coffee Republic because we were our own customers, I was spending all my time in the stores. Because I was at the store, you can't help but notice the customer experience, and I could see, especially at the weekends, people were bringing their own little children and the children didn't really have that much to be excited about.

Sahar Hashemi:

So, I sort of invented actually the ‘baby cap’. I remember the name. It was in a little espresso cup, and instead of espresso just like the parents, we put hot chocolate. So it looked like it was espresso, and we put the special foam and the little cocoa powder. So just, it's tiny stuff but in the grand scheme of things, it creates that connection where the customer feels, "I like this brand. I'm going to come in again. They're providing a solution for my problem."

Sahar Hashemi:

When you've got an idea, just pursue it. Just see if it works, do it on a very small scale. Experiment it on one or two customers. Experiment it in one store, if you've got five stores, not in all the stores. Do it small, start small, and then you can see if it works. You can see if you can improve on it or whether or not you should just completely throw it in the bin, and start again.

Sahar Hashemi:

When we do something new, the knee-jerk reaction of everyone, including the consumer is to say no. We naturally, intuitively reject innovation, and new stuff. Once you factor that in, you realise that actually getting a no is part and parcel of getting a yes, because innovation is a process. It's not the linear, "Wow, amazing idea," all the yes, yes, yes, all along. Innovation is you fall, you get up. You fall, you get up.

Sahar Hashemi:

I think if you can change the way you view rejection, that's a real game changer, and you realise that actually people can say no to you, they’re not even thinking about it. You've got to give yourself that stickability, to get rejection after rejection and see it as a natural part of the process.

Sahar Hashemi:

People don't realize that there's huge fear in companies, and this fear of failure is endemic. It's enormous because especially the more success you have, the more you fear of failure. The only way to remove this fear of failure is actually celebrate failure… and so, I know a lot of companies that actually give failure awards, and that's the only way to deeply uproot this fear people have because by celebrating it, it shows people, "Actually, you know what? I'm going to try. It might fail, but that's okay." We don't punish people. It turns off the fear and actually turns up people's creativity.

Sahar Hashemi:

Culture is not something set in stone about your company. Culture is actually the sum total of individual behaviors, and it's not static. It's just how you behave every day sets the tone for what your culture is and very much as a leader, you set the tone. So if you change the way you behave, if you change your focus back towards the customer, by definition, almost by osmosis, everyone will be faced towards the customer because they see that as a priority of the business. So, culture is something that changes every day and realising it's not static. It's hugely important, and it's the tiny stuff that makes a difference with culture.

Sahar Hashemi:

For me, the startup mentality is really easy. You go to the customer, you get the ideas, you get what problems the customer’s got, and then you solve them, and in order to do that, you have to get rid of the bureaucracy. You have to keep yourself free to be out there thinking about the customer, not internally focused.

Sahar Hashemi:

You have to have an open mind. You have to have, be curious. You have to ask the right questions. You have to be not afraid of getting a no, and you’ve got to pick up those small, unbaked ideas and just run with them, and at the end of the day, once you do all these things, you're well on the road to innovation, and you can look back and think, "Wow, something changed. We did something differently, and it's something we're proud of," and it's always worth the journey.