Stefano Maifreni is the founder of Eggcelerate, the B2B expansion experts for SMEs. Eggcelerate has worked, among others, with British start-ups in the field of FinTech (equity crowdfunding, supply chain finance), IoT (immersive events, drones) and more mature Italian SMEs (software house, manufacturer of electronic components). Stefano was recently a judge in TechRound’s Fintech50.
Why was the business started?
Running an SME or a Start-Up brings unique challenges. Your world moves fast, and resources such as time, skills and people are always scarce. A butterfly flaps its wings in sales, and a tornado sweeps your operations.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Simple changes can save you from the pain of running a business.
On the one hand, Small Businesses feel neglected and are poorly served by Large Corporates and Consultants. On the other, they might feel they can’t ask or afford more and perceive Large Corporates as pure bureaucracies. The MBA frameworks often used by the traditional consultants look fluffy, expensive and not focussed on results.
They are caught in the day-by-day, cash-in/cash-out, and don’t have time or headspace to focus on the bigger picture. Add that they are bombarded by buzzwords, ranging from Digital Transformation to Artificial Intelligence – and including SEO, PPC and other TLAs: these require specialist skills, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
I founded Eggcelerate in 2014 to help the CEO and Founders interconnect thoughts and actions while adopting a down-to-earth approach that leaves bandwidth for learning and adaptation.
Our objective is to bring operational discipline to Small Businesses while avoiding large corporates’ bureaucracy; to make available the MBA frameworks, theories and practice, with a strong focus on achieving tangible results fast.
Our ambition is to bridge a cultural and knowledge gap that, at times, looks insurmountable.
How are you different?
You could describe Eggcelerate as a small consulting firm, and we sell Professional Services indeed. However, we’re different from the norm.
Traditionally, consultants are infamous for an “advise, bill and run” approach. Think jacket and tie, glossy presentations, high bills, but no execution.
Small businesses run using scarce resources – time, skills and people.
We can fit around our Clients’ business and organisation, so we work as a team. Wherever possible, we also stay with our Clients and take responsibility for the execution too.
We are good listeners: we won’t force each Client’s business to fit any framework.
We believe in an emerging (rather than a deliberate) strategy: setting the direction is of paramount importance, but it is essential to leave some bandwidth for learning, change and adaptation.
Instead, we keep an open mind and choose the best framework from our knowledge base to answer each Client’s business issues – or take a completely fresh approach based on sound business principles.
Our consultation starts with up to one day free of charge. In the end, we assess whether we think we can add value and make a difference.
Our goal is not to extract money from our Clients. We turn down assignments unless we’re sure a Client will profit from our expertise.
Growth is not all about the top line. As the saying goes: revenue is vanity, profit is sanity, and cash is the reality. We appreciate how our Clients’ lives interweave with their businesses: company problems translate into personal issues, from ensuring the payment of staff salaries to being able to take holidays.
Our interests are aligned with our Clients, linking our rewards to achievements and measurable results. Our Clients buy from us tangible results, not timesheets.
We don’t lock our Clients into long-term contracts
That’s why our Clients receive lots of questions from us at the outset, rather than instant answers. We’ll talk about “sustainable growth”, “strategy activation”, and “think/commit/grow” — and explain how this relates to them.
So, don’t overthink your strategy, Eggcelerate it, instead!
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What have you learnt?
“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes”, said Oscar Wilde.
Well, there are all the challenges you can imagine: establishing a business from scratch, gaining credibility, keeping momentum; but also, some sleepless nights about cash flow, a Client deferring payments (and I must confess: at some point, I had 2GBP on my bank account, couldn’t even afford a tube ride).
But these were business-related challenges that were somehow expected. I didn’t expect that feeling of loneliness that entrepreneurs have: you’re out there with your business, and you need to look after yourself & your business.
If I had to change something with the benefit of hindsight, I would have started my business earlier, as I spent too much time in my comfort zone. I would probably be fairer to myself and take more “me time” on the entrepreneurial experience.
My top-3 learning points:
First: take a superhero reality check, be fair and take time for yourself.
You’re not Superman or Wonder Woman, even if you look great in tights. There’s a limited number of things you can do in one day — even if you get up at 6 AM and work until 10 PM. But crazy hours should be the exception, not the rule. Work regular hours instead and just accept sometimes you can’t fit in everything. Get over it!
Don’t be too harsh with yourself. Running a business takes guts. It’s a steep learning process, and everyone makes mistakes. As long as you’re willing to learn from them and you’re open to good advice from others, you’ll keep heading in the right direction.
Life is not all about work. Don’t ignore public holidays or forget to book vacations and weekends away. These breaks will lift your morale and strengthen personal relationships. Taking time out can also help you to keep everything in perspective.
Second: build a reliable ecosystem you can rely upon (and outsource non-core activities)
The other thing I would change is to us more trusted experts and earlier. I even waited to hire an Accountant!
Seek external help where needed. There’s no substitute for asking an expert in many instances, whether it’s an issue on anything from operations or marketing.
However, these mistakes, these scars, are something I wear with pride. And they also represent value added to my Clients – I can help them avoid the same mistakes.
Have a business plan and keep it up to date. Then translate this into operational objectives for each month. It will help keep your activities on track while giving you focus and the belief that your business is getting somewhere.
Every week, plan the week ahead. Make sure you block out hours in your calendar to spend time with your staff — and time to think. Switch off your mobile phone at these moments. Think of these times as pressure-release safety valves that are very necessary to stop the rest of your business (and you) from overheating.
Every day, review your plan for the following day. It’s easy to arrive at work at 9 AM and be blown off course by emails, texts and calls until the dust settles at lunchtime. Instead, let your diary control the agenda, and the other things can fit around your schedule unless it’s an absolute emergency.
Get used to living with an overcrowded inbox and be harsh with emails. Apply the Defer/Delete/Delegate/Do test to every email you receive. Keep your replies short and to the point. Having time to tell stories and write witty emails is a luxury — that some other area of your business could end up paying for!
What are your plans for growth?
We have worked very closely with growing companies and start-ups in technology-intensive and innovative industries, such as IT, Technology Manufacturing, Drones, IoT and Insure/FinTech, immersive theatre.
We see an opportunity to add value to SMEs and Start-ups in the Creative, FinTech and Manufacturing industries in the UK.
We’ll focus our efforts on two types of services.
If you are a CEO of a small B2B business experiencing flat-lined results, Eggcelerate’s “FlexCOO” will help you achieve focus and sustainable growth and bring your business back on track.
Eggcelerate’s “FlexCCO” helps the Founders of ambitious B2B start-ups gain a position in the market and deliver upon investors’ expectations from post-seed to Series-A.
We are SME Specialists, trusted partners and enthusiastic companions on our Customers’ journey, working with them to build customer-centric scalable operations, allowing them to achieve sustainable, measurable business growth and expansion.
We produce results in two quarters while avoiding our Customers the costs of a traditional consulting approach or interim management.