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How to build trust when working remotely – Ben Brabyn, Founder of GenieShares

James, thanks very much indeed, it’s a great pleasure to be here with you all, and also James thank you, as you rightly pointed out you’re one of the very early adopters of the campaign we’re calling GenieShares, so I’ll come to that in a minute. But first of all you raised a really key point these are challenging times, challenging times for all of us, but especially for people running growing businesses, and especially if you are running lean, running hot, your capacity to deal with a crisis like the one we’re in at the moment sometimes is pretty limited. So to the question how to lead, how to manage in crisis, I guess the answer is particularly important for many of the people here today. It’s particularly important for many of the organizations who I’ve worked with certainly over the last four years while I’ve been leading an organization called level 39, with about 200 FinTech and cybersecurity fast growing startup and scale-up companies. 

I thought it might be useful to start off with something which isn’t working. So fairly obviously one thing that isn’t working is we’re no longer able to spend as much time face-to-face. We’re not able to get together physically as much as we were very recently. And certainly when you run a business which depends upon bringing people into the same place, the iconic one Canada Square in Canary Wharf where level 39 is based, that’s certainly a very direct impact. But of course that’s just the the immediately obvious visible effect. I think the real challenge here is that communities like level 39 are effective, precisely because they enable people to connect together and achieve an important network function. They enable people to refer to broker and to close relationships, to achieve network closure. What that in fact means is that there’s a huge amount of collaborative effort and even organizations that are strictly competing with each other still help each other to shorten sales cycles, reduce the cost of customer acquisition, and actually also help with engagement with investors and recruiting and retaining top people as well. So the benefits of physical clustering are really pretty hard to overstate. And suddenly we’ve really found ourselves in a position where we’ve lost all of those, and while technology like this does a fantastic job of imparting information, it’s possible to share data like this, I think the bit which is often undone noticed because it’s not so obvious but it’s at least as vital is that you don’t just need to discover a capability, you don’t just need to find a person, there’s something far more fundamental than discovery and that is trust. And so at a time like this when every person and every organization is under stress of one sort or another, the need for trust is even more pronounced than ever. And since it is always a doubt lack of trust which holds back the sales process, holds back the process of securing investment and of course holds back the process of recruiting somebody, I guess that we should all be applying ourselves to the question how do we build trust in these times. Now the role of real estate of course and physical convenient offices of co-working spaces is now a little challenged, but it’s not the only tool in the box, and so my suggestion to you and really my invitation as well is to consider this: spend less time worrying about the processes of discovery, less time making those cold calls, more time seeking to build that collaborative trust building environment. And since it’s now harder to do that physically in person it’s worth looking for ways of doing it which survive and escape the constraints of geography. 

Now of course when you are dealing with each other online you don’t get those layers of nonverbal communication you get when you’re physically present with somebody; talking recently to someone working in recruitment, he was explaining that building new relationships with the rich insight into the needs of their clients is really hard when you can’t visit their office. Another friend who’s a VC, he said a lot of his decision-making depends on looking in the fridges of the people he’s considering investing in, I don’t know quite how literally he meant that but he certainly can’t look in their fridges without an awkward conversation on zoom now. So finding ways of building trust that get beyond that I think is the key challenge. Now I think there’s an answer, and I think that answer is rather than seeking to impart information, rather than focusing always on this let me tell you more about my product or service approach, there is instead the opportunity to align on the basis of shared values, and this is why I think purpose let businesses stand to gain most or you could say suffer least in this crisis. But critically not only do reasonably well now, more importantly even than that set themselves up to win the future.

And what I mean by this is making sure that you use this time now to enlist a set of collaborators, a group of people and organizations who share your values, regardless of what they are seeking to do with their organization, simply find ways of gathering together people with whom you share values. They will be become your most effective echo-chamber, they will be your force multiplier both in selling and in bringing broader connection access, and certainly it’s that for example which with GenieShares we’ve set out to achieve. In other words a concern I’ve had for now several years and predating of coronavirus by a long way, is that technology businesses while creating huge value are losing a lot of the support of the public, because that value isn’t very well distributed, so for many people the values and benefits of technology businesses haven’t really trickled down and out. But actually that’s short-selling the value of these businesses, these are businesses which do a great deal for our communities, they just haven’t got very good expressing that so I’ve been looking for a way to help people express the social purpose of what they do regardless of what technology they use and what market they serve. 

GenieShares is one way to do that and in the case of GenieShares informed by the principles of lottery design, we’re enabling entrepreneurs like James to give slivers of equity in their business away, but to do so in ways which connect much more directly, much more viscerally much more on the basis of values with the general public, so to make sure that awesome dynamic fast-growing businesses like sales confidence, while they serve their clients, and their shareholders, and their employees, are also totally plugged into and aligned with the community, and that community of course right now very focused on the needs of people who don’t typically have the kind of jobs in the companies many of us are working for, people working on the frontline of health care caring and volunteering.

So I would suggest that while GenieShares is one way, there are many others, the essential point is this for successful leadership in crisis focus less on discovery, focus much more on developing and cultivating trust on the basis of shared values.

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