Real-life enterprise 2.0: startup support

online and offline

This short article is about practical “Enterprise 2.0” processes.

To simplify: taking what you do now, and move it online, with benefits, not costs.

But before discussing the detailed approach, a short description of how I came to develop this approach.

When I accepted in late Spring 2005 the invitation to share an apartment in Brussels, it was because I had been disappointed from my attempt at returning to my country, Italy, attempt that started in 2003, and resulted in plenty of (unpaid) startup and business development support.

Brussels, as most long-term foreign residents would tell you, is a town that elicits two reactions: either love, or hate.

In my case, it was of course the first, as I had first seen the town in early 1980s for political activities, and then came again repeatedly to visit a relative, who was eventually to be paid to work in support of my activities.

What is nice about Brussels? Certainly- it is a relatively small town, but quite international, for at least two reasons: the international institutions and the amazing number of connection by air, rail, road, to nearby countries.

Nowadays, in a couple of hours more or less you can be in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Koeln- by train, with almost no queue and plenty of “last minute” travel opportunities. And you can came back the same day, if so you wish.

I worked in Paris and London and Zurich, and also Milan and Rome, along with occasional visits to other major towns.

I think that only Brussels and Zurich are multinational but still “pocket size”- my measure? What I call a “walkable town”.

I slowly started from Spring 2006 (in March 2006 I had become officially resident in Brussels) to spend more and more time in town.

It is interesting to see how the labour market works in each country- moreover, considering that I never really needed a CV since… 1990.

I have been working and shuttling around not by working via agencies, but by answering calls from people that worked with me before, or who had been told by other people to contact me.

Eventually, in March 2008 I completed the phasing out of my activities, but I quickly saw that Dutch is not an option, at least in my (previous) industry.

As I had already discovered from 2007, when living almost full-time here in Brussels, via my technology- and startup-oriented club meetings.

Therefore, I started/stopped learning the language from Summer 2008, first recovering some of my German, then testing how much I understood until 2008 by attending conferences, and finally studying seriously from January 2009, completing my learning first by passing the A2 test in late June 2009 (read/write/understanding- but I can survive also speaking), and then volunteering to translate into Italian a free Dutch grammar (see http://www.dutchgrammar.com); I started in August to acquire via self-study business Dutch reading skills (that I expanded using software into a read-and-listen course).

I completed the translation of the Acrobat version on September 14th, as planned πŸ™‚ And this week I will complete the first 20 lessons of the business Dutch course.

But languages are not enough.


the 100% online consulting approach

How do you keep skills alive? By working pro-bono for startups and non-profit. And to reduce the costs to nihil- I expanded the online part (e-mail, skype), so that instead of my usual 10-20% onsite, the support was 100% online.

After one year (I started in July 2008), I can confirm that it works. And also brings up some value added, like: easier to track, increased efficiency (no travel time), greater flexibility (you need a short notice to reschedule), and, most important, higher efficacy, as each party is sitting in his/her own office, and has immediate access to any material that during the brainstorming could be required.

I am still searching for a position, but, considering the ill-match of my skills/experience/qualifications with market demand, you have to be creative.

Today I had a quick interview with a consultant at the local employment office- and, also if probably the consultant did not realise it, by willingly acting as a “bouncing wall” for some ideas, he gave me some valuable suggestions (no, not how to use the search engine :D).

When I was helping SMEs in consulting activities, a common way of building continuity was to have a “backbone” of low-cost services, covering the fixed cost, personnel training & management, communication costs; and to then use the income produced by that business line to support higher margin activities.

Of course, we too did convert some activities into online activities- e.g. BPO (business process outsourcing) or the usual remote support and software development.

By moving all my previous consulting activities online (including business/marketing/communication planning, personnel selection and profiling, website information format and architecture design, etc.), just by chance I was following the same approach that I had helped my customers follow.

And moving beyond that: developing a way to actually remove completely the need to have any face-to-face physical meetings.

The obvious need was to create a business approach that did not require any skills beyond e-mail and the ability to use a mobile phone.

It is easy to “convert” technically-oriented people, but the nice side-effect of the multiple tests that I did over the last year is that now the methodology works also with people whose interest into technology is, to say the best, marginal.

I will eventually share in detail all the lessons learned (of course, including the SWOT), but the first step is really simple: take your existing processes, trace down how they are now, and then use the normal “divide et impera” approach, i.e. split into the component activities.

Then, analyse each activity, see who should be involved, and identify how to involve them.

As in any “multicultural partnerships”, one of the partners has to take the onus of “understanding” the mindset of each of the parties involved.

In this case, it is up to you.

(PS If you copy-and-paste the text of this article, except this “post-scriptum”… it is exactly 1000 words- trying to reduce my writings to 2-minutes bites :D)

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