17: Starting a business with Henry Latham

Entrepreneur, founder and coach Henry Latham shares the low down on how to start a business. From deciding if you really want to, to evaluating ideas, to building it in a way that fits in with your lifestyle (rather than replacing it). We cover a lot of ground here while discussing the founding game, and explore what might be in it for you and your family.

About the show:

Problem Busters is a show that explores solutions to the biggest and the smallest of problems. Hosts Jonathan Goodwin and Oliver Happy discuss making the world a better place with guests from far and wide.

About our guest:

Henry Latham is a London-based Entrepreneur and founder of Prod MBA. First attracted to starting his own business while backpacking in South America, Henry has founded, grown, funded and wound up his own business and is now enjoying helping others evaluate and pursue their own business ideas via the Prod MBA course. Henry now lives in sunnny Middle England.

Show mentions:

  • 01:00 It started when backpacking in Brazil by myself, floating down a boat in the Amazon.
  • Backtracker – my first idea and first business. An app for tracking travel. As a Politics and Spanish major I had to learn it as I went along.
  • Fast forward a year or so, we’d been through an accelerator program and raising investment, the business failed due to making every mistake in the book.
  • Book – Product Leadership starts with you
  • My second business: Prod MBA and helping people succeed.
  • 04:00 What lessons did you learn from the initial business failure? I could dig into many things, but many are well trodden. The surprising thing for both Product leader and entrepreneur is the disillusionment with the business you are building.
  • Looking back, I never believed in raising investment and shaping a pitch deck to show scaling 10x per year. I started the first business because I liked travelling.
  • In the end I became stuck in London in the funding cycle.
  • But I was really wanting to build something that was more aligned with my beliefs and the lifestyle I wanted to life.
  • 06:00 Does starting a business have to mean building an app? We have a misconception that a product equals a solution. What what we need to be successful in business is to understand where value lies in a market and how best to deliver that value. Take coaching: There could be many way to achieve this. It could be an app, but you could deliver more value in say a high level coaching program.
  • It is a big mindset shift for many.
  • Obviously technology enables delivery of value, but it isn’t the only way to get them to their desired outcome
  • How do we get customers to their desired outcome the fastest way possible? This is what we need to be doing.
  • 10:00 What is the Prod MBA? The market need is that there are Product Managers to master core competencies of Product Management. As a Product person, I was seeing so many courses and books that were so far removed from reality, that it wasn’t helpful.
  • The real world of product is messy, it’s uncertain and you come up against challenges of your own ego, pressure of people pulling in different directions.
  • There is a psychological aspect to product
  • We teach these competencies by building a real product from scratch – because that is the best way you are going to learn.
  • 13:00 Some examples of ideas people have tackled in the gym?
  • Akash: Gym towels and prototyping bamboo towels.
  • Nittin: Healthcare and how to choose healthcare options in the U.S.
  • What we teach is that it is all about understanding where the biggest problems are in the market
  • Is it an addressable problem? Is it an acute problem? Is it worth addressing?
  • We don’t talk about solutions until 8 weeks into the program. It’s a massive mindset shift for many.
  • We break down many of the misconceptions about product. What is a product in simple terms?
  • We look at how to evaluate good ideas and how to filter them, then how to go out and talk to people
  • 16:00 Week by week, what we do in the Prod MBA program
  • We then look at how to flip an idea into a product vision
  • Then how to turn that into a viable business
  • 18:00 What is a no code prototype?
  • MVP: Minimal Viable Product. MVP was meant to be the quickest experiment to validate if anyone is interested in this thing we have to offer.
  • The problem in the majority of cases I see, is that companies take an MVP and make that the first version of what they build. They are committing to a coded solution (weeks or months), delaying feedback on the idea.
  • Everyone talks about an MVP, we are talking about mapping out a problem, validating first to gauge interest, then perhaps a landing page, then a design prototype with something like Figma, then a no-code prototype that is a real app for a user, but is not coded.
  • Book: Eric Reis – Lean Startup
  • The problem stems from a narrow idea of what success looks like. You don’t need to go zero to 1 hundred, to run before you can walk.
  • As a Product person you have limitations on resources, so you need to be disciplined about step 1 and what you really need to do, what stepping stones you need to take to get there.
  • Product is the whole experience of the customer. Everything they touch and every experience as a customer. There are a lot of issues created when we create silos. We lose sight of why a product really exists.
  • 27:00 Why does a product really exist? To fulfil a customer promise. Everything we do should be geared to ensure our strategy delivers actionable and hands on learning.
  • Recent episode: Jason Knight
  • 29:30 Examples of companies who scale really well: Loom
  • Loom conferencing – loom.com
  • They have a huge profit margin and have raised a lot of investment.
  • Why have they scaled so well? A simple promise, and a simple delivery method.
  • Promise: Video communication is better. Video is a great way to save time. Everything they do is geared up towards that.
  • If you are looking at multiple products or opportunities, and if it isn’t clear what the customer is, you’ll end up with challenges.
  • The strategic step is key – at what point do you look to expand your offering?
  • Now we are doing well with our first product – Prod MBA, we are looking at launching a second product (Helping prepare for interviews), but we are taking our time, researching it.
  • How do you fast track a product manager’s career? with hands on, actionable learning.
  • 34:00 What trends did you see in product/lifestyle during the pandemic? I started the business before the pandemic, specifically during the pandemic (which was great for our business), I had a lot of conversations with people who had for the first time in years, had paused to consider what they wanted out of their careers. To start their own business, or take charge of their own career.
  • I suspect we will see a massive boom in new businesses, new successful businesses, as a result of the pandemic
  • Recent episode: Heather Rooke
  • Recent episode: Darrell Woodhouse
  • 37:00 Henry’s founding story. Unfortunately as human being it takes a moment of crisis for things to really crystalize. I had the first business then the second, then freelanced. I keep a journal every morning, then do an annual review (reading everything from the year before). It was clear I had a classic lack of focus. I wrote one line on the page: “nobody is coming for you”.
  • Nobody is coming for you to found this business. I realised I had created this false belief that I would need a co-founder or investment to get started. I realised if I wanted to take control of my life, then I would need to go and take charge myself.
  • That simple mental shift, that massive mental shift, got me down the path of starting a business in a very real way.
  • Timing was fortunate for us – luckily good for us just before the curve.
  • Example – Life isn’t as certain as I thought.
  • Example – now I’m not commuting into London every day, am I happy with the life I am now living
  • 41:00 Is the founder’s life really work all the time for 5 years, then retire? It’s part true, and part BS. There is a path that leads to going big, via investment, with specific targets. You need to hit 2x growth per month, 10x growth per year. You will have many employees and handling the myriad risks of a business. You won’t have a great life balance. That’s fine, delivers more impact for more people. Personally I decided on another way. Yes initially, you work hard (10-12 hour days), but you have choices early on. If you want to take walks and exercise, you can.
  • More work is not the answer. It is going to come down to a few big strategic things, placing the right bets on the right market, opportunity, offer you might make to your customers. That’s the thing you need to be iterating on. Product people are builders and we like building stuff. Hold yourself back deliberately, so you can be thinking through these high level things.
  • 45:00 The sharing section
  • 46:00 Who do you most look up to in the world? Ryan Holiday.
  • Tim Ferriss – the 4 hour work week
  • Ryan Holiday – was at American Apparel, doing really well, then launched his career as an author. About Stoicism and a practical guide to living well. He lives a very intentional life, lives on a farm, spends 4 hours a day, spends time with his kids. I have massive respect for wisdom he passes on in his writing.
  • Brewdog as an example of not living in line with their own ethos.
  • Book: Ryan Holiday – Ego is the enemy
  • Book: Essentialism by Greg McCowan. Teaches you how to operate in a way that focuses on what is really important.
  • Book: Product Leadership starts with you by Henry Latham. Whatever you do, particularly true with Product, you need to start with your foundations and be mindful, resilient and focus on the essential – to be great at focusing on what really matters.
  • A huge amount of success comes down to managing yourself effectively and using that as a foundation.
  • What tech is improving your life at the moment? Automations!!!
  • Tool: Active Campaign (as you scale up) or MailChimp (the starter version). Used to automate a sales funnel, tracking and automating people showing an interest, booking a call, and auto invoicing.
  • Quote: Products come and go, but data will be there forever – Tim Bernards Lee
  • You want to start in month 3 with some strong customer management tools.
  • 55:00 What is one thing you’d like to change in the world? For people to qualify their fears more effectively. For example, the fear of thinking to start a business, people must quit their job and take a bit risk. They can do it with zero risk! Realising that the idea of things is more scary than reality.
  • 56:30 What one thing would you like people to take away from this episode? To take time to write down your ideas, to create little habits, that stack with other habits, that effectively fulfil your goal.
  • 58:30 Getting in touch
  • Free 7 day course: Go to prod.mba and sign up
  • Henry is happy to have questions on LinkedIn: https://linkedin.com/henrylatham/
  • Book: Product Leadership Starts with you by Henry Latham

Logo and concept by Christy O’Connor

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