It runs in the blood

It runs in the blood

I recently interviewed Chris Collins, CEO of Containerchain, for Episode 1819 of the WDKY podcast. Here is a quick excerpt:

Risk and failure

You’ll find the full episode here. Other highlights from the conversation:

Assessing the potential of the company was very much the first conversation I had with each founder. When I met Tony Paldano, founder of Containerchain and listened to the way he talked about the business and his vision, I knew that there was plenty of room for growth. Then when I got involved with the business in a little bit more detail, and I saw the opportunities for the markets, for the growth in the people, to bring people in to build teams to grow them, I thought, yup, this is a great opportunity.

Creativity runs deep within our family. I mean I’m a part time musician. And I think it’s that sort of innate creativity that sits in the background that really made me think about the product and helped Tony, in this particular case, with his vision and what I could contribute to it.

Supply chain does suffer from a stigma. You know, very very old school, quite boring, not a lot of sexiness to it, if we can use that word. But the reality of that is, there are so many fascinating problems to solve within that segment or that industry, and when you look at technology and the solutions and in this particular case, the Containerchain platform solutions, it just becomes very intriguing and you have to think very creatively how you address those problems and how you solve them.

Can you truly succeed without failing? I think it’s cumulative experience, and that’s what you really get at and as long as you’re focusing the right way, the right energy, and you’re on a day-to-day basis contributing towards that objective or that goal, I think that is right. 

We’ve had moments of failures. We had this experience with our early markets in Southeast Asia, Thailand actually, where it just wasn’t working to the plan. You’ve opened up in your market, you’ve put people on the ground, you’ve been there, you’ve invested capital for two years, and it’s just not delivering what you thought. So (you think) you have to do something about it. You don’t just continue doing the same thing that’s not working. You have to change. I had to shut that operation down. And at the moment when we were involved in doing that, I thought, what a complete mess. This is terrible, the investors are going to be not very happy. I thought the world was ending. No joke. On that one particular market that just didn’t go to plan. But then I realised afterwards well, ok, that happens. And I would refer to them almost as misses rather than failures. It’s accumulating those experiences where you learn and you’re able to succeed the next time when you’re faced with a similar challenge.

When I try a major new initiative, I probably have three things that I look at. One, the plan, and are we executing milestones on the plan. Maybe that’s the accountant in me. But I think largely that’s driven by my background. I think the other two would be more around how we are reacting to the environment, that we were never going to experience until we did it. It’s all good to take a step back and look at a new market. Do your addressable market studies and you know, speak to consultant after consultant and your shareholders and your fellow management and come up with a great plan. And a view on how the market will be. But when you get there, it is different. And it’s different each time. And it’s how you react to that difference, I think, which is a really critical part. And I think we probably write that as equally important to the plan itself.

The plan is a responsible thing to do, but plans change. Markets change, you know. So I think that’s important to get the goal correctly, articulate it, particularly in early stage businesses. And not to be limited by too much process; at the same time, I think there does need to be some framework built in. But you don’t want to stifle that creativity.

Optionality is key. I mean in venture capital, early stage growth, late stage, optionality is key to success in business, no question about that. As I’m mentoring more early stage startups, acting as an angel investor in a few opportunities, which I’ve had the chance to do this year, which is great. With entrepreneurs, and I would say particularly young entrepreneurs, the optionality question is a double-edged sword, because the drive to succeed is there, in most, that’s a common thing. The idea and creativity engine is working in overdrive. And plenty of optionality is being thrown out. However, maybe sometimes, it’s going too into overdrive and there’re too many options and therefore focus becomes a challenge for them.

It is important to have the sandbox for creativity time factored into your day-to-day life within the business. And I think in your own personal life too. Why not? Because you’re missing things otherwise. And I think that’s your point, you know, that if you allow that moment for just free thinking, free creativity, let the juices flow, so to speak, that gives you some things that you would never have uncovered previously to that.

It’s very important for founders to identify succession early in the journey of when the business is growing. And the team they put in place is critical to that future exit. And people do it in stages. And it’s nothing wrong with that. I’m of the view though that if you can somehow visualise that ultimate goal, you want to visualise what that team of individuals look like. Their capabilities, their skill sets, and what the organisation below them looks like. And you need to be able to take yourself out of that picture. And if you can do that, and if you can see that success, that should drive you through a process where you’ll bring people into the organisation and the business at the right times, with the right capabilities and contributing the right culture.

Anything over 150 people in an organisation, that’s starting to get political. That’s when culture becomes political and you can see the influence on organisational culture of politics starting at around about 50. And that has its different forms. I think plus, you know, another 50, that’s still ok, it’s manageable. I think at a 150 plus, it really starts to look like a large organisation from a people perspective, from an early stage venture capital, private equity type of standpoint, you’ve become a large organisation.

The biggest thing that I know now is not true is that success will happen just because you work hard. In my advisory days, PWC, prior jobs to that, if I worked hard, things would happen. I’m not talking about everything is a bit of luck and that sort of thing. I always used to think the harder you work, the easiest success becomes, or success will be achieved. I I have learned that not to be true. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t work hard, and that’s not to say that success will not be achieved, you have more chance, I think. But I now know that thinking to be not true.

What’s left to learn? Everything. You never stop learning. And you’re kidding yourself if you think you’ve learned everything. This is what I say to myself and I think it to be true. There’s so much to learn.