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Ben Harper

Is Success The Enemy?

We all want to be successful. What success looks like is, naturally, very different to everyone. To some it will be starting a family and living within their means, for others it will be creating a multi-billion dollar company. Whatever your idea of success is, it’s completely valid – you set your own goals and your own ambitions.

However, one thing I’ve noticed in the last few years is that in business, success is an interesting concept. I’ve written before about how there are no major success stories to write home about in my local area, but on closer investigation there are some great companies who just aren’t shouting about their success. And the reason for that, is they don’t feel that they’re successful yet.

Success as a mindset is massively problematic in a business situation. I know a few business owners who consider themselves to be successful – the issue they’ll find at their own pace is that feeling successful can breed complacency. The most successful people I know don’t class themselves as successful. They look to the future of what their company could be, and are constantly driving forward to a new end goal.

So what can business owners use to drive them? I’ve recently read two books that give two different takes on it. The first, Zero to One by Peter Thiel, argues that true entrepreneurs should be driven by creating their own monopolistic situation by creating something that’s different to any potential competitors by at least a multiple of 10x differentiation. The second, Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, discusses how at Pixar they’re driven by constantly creating amazing movies, along with an inherent concern that they will one day have a big flop at the box office.

Creating something important and new, and fear of major failure are clearly two big drivers for people. The interesting thing about Pixar, is that whilst they have a driving worry about having a film flop, they embrace failure throughout their culture at all levels. I’d argue that you can’t succeed without failing. We all fail to different degrees, and that’s a good thing. Whilst the education system has taught us that we have to pass and do things the “right” way, what we should be learning is that experimentation is key.

Embracing failure leads to learning, which helps you succeed. As we’re taught to seek success, embracing failure is the real challenge. Craving success can blinker us to our failures and mean that we miss the lessons we should be learning in order to do better.

My aim is to make sure at Datify we’re more transparent about our failures as well as celebrating our successes. By looking at where things go wrong, we can make sure our processes change and that continual improvement happens. Lets share our failures as well as our successes in order to work better as a business community.

Creating an Entrepreneurial City

For those of you that don’t know, I originate from the Cathedral city of Peterborough in the East of England. Peterborough’s history is as a cathedral town, with a lot of the cities industry linked to the rail routes that connect London to the north of England and Scotland. Peterborough was designated a ‘new town’ in the 1960s and since then the population has boomed as government money flowed in to improve the infrastructure of the city.

However, Peterborough has never had a University, and has suffered from a bout of brain drain with the best talent often drifting to the science hubs in Cambridge, or making the 50 minute train commute to London. Some efforts have been made in recent years to address this, but the fact remains that there is a lack of entrepreneurial success stories in the city – particularly in the tech sector.

There are some companies who are absolutely flourishing in the city and doing exciting things, with the likes of BGL (whose brands include Compare the Market) really leading the way.  Peterborough is also one of the UK’s first gigabit cities – with a gigabit speed fibre network connecting the city.

Scratch underneath the surface and you’ll find a bubbling tech scene trying to break free – there’s regular events like Agile and Digital People in Peterborough (DPiP) where freelancers, agencies and in-house marketers can come together and learn and network. There’s also STEM festival, occasional hackathons, and code clubs to attempt to get the younger generation coming through into tech.


My argument is, that with all of the above in mind, we’re not achieving as much as we should be as a city. We’ve got no major startup to shout about, no huge success to point to (yet), but we’ve got the ingredients to make it happen. We’ve got passionate people, creative talent, amazing connectivity, and a popular tech networking scene.

I think there’s five things we need to do as a city to start to generate some real success stories:

1. Open Up

We’ve got companies and freelancers doing great things, and achieving good results (for clients, and for themselves financially). We’ve also got companies and freelancers out there who are struggling. The issue is, most of the people you ask will tell you that “work is busy”, that they’re “growing fast”, or that they’re “struggling to keep on top of everything”. In some cases that’s probably true – but in a lot of cases in won’t be. Even when it is true, it sometimes feels like there’s a lack of ambition to go to the next level when you are busy.

The best way to improve as an entrepreneurial city is to be as open as we can with each other. Lets talk about our failures as much as our successes – knowing what doesn’t work is probably even more useful to a fellow creative as it’s not insight they’ll be given often.

The more you can talk about the better, but don’t just talk – make sure you listen to others too, even if their business is smaller or newer than yours. We can all learn from each other in the right environment.

2. Celebrate Success

Whilst there is a lot of networking going on in the city, it feels like success isn’t celebrated massively. I know of a design company who have worked on major football team contracts, a development agency who have grown massively in the last few months, and a marketing company who have recently picked up some big contracts – but we’re not celebrating each others successes. We should be, as we should be working in a more inclusive and supportive environment.

The other side to this is that those who are successful (be they company directors, in-house marketers, or whoever) should be open to sharing their stories on how they reached where they are now. For example, i’m sure we could all learn something on branding from the Compare the Market team who came up with the Meerkat for instance!

3. Collaborate

Tying in with the themes above – at present it feels like most of the freelancers and small companies are working in isolation. That’s probably from a lack of understanding about each others work, a lack of trust, or a fear of losing clients. We should address this and collaborate much better.

Just this week at Datify we’ve met with three other companies who offer complementary services to us – by understanding what they do, how they work, and what their charging models are we can start to build confidence in recommending them, and working together in a beneficial relationship. It benefits us as we’re confident our clients will be looked after, and it benefits the other agency as they can pick up new clients as we introduce them. This is happening elsewhere, but too often people are looking outside of the city when the skills are right on their doorstep.

4. Mergers & Collectives

There are an absolute wealth of creative talent and smart people in Peterborough. But there seems to be a lack of desire to really work together and make something bigger.

Lets facilitate new companies being created by considering merging smaller businesses, and joining freelancers together to create something bigger. Not something that can happen overnight, but something that the community should bear in mind when putting together new business plans. There is strength in numbers, and even having some freelancers working as a collective would be beneficial with transparency around different services being offered by different team members.

5. Think Beyond Digital

I feel we’ve perhaps become a little too focussed on digital. Don’t get my wrong, it’s the cornerstone of all of my work, but it’s perhaps that we’ve become a little too focussed on the technology and not enough on the purpose of what we’re doing.

Remember, we’ve all in this to make money, make a difference to the world, or to do interesting things (or a combination of the above). Lets have some networking for tech and creative people around why we’re starting our own companies and working for ourselves.

Lets talk about setting our own destiny at work, being in control of our projects, and trying to disrupt industries. Lets get experts in from across the UK on these topics, and work together to really make a difference to our businesses.


That’s my two cents on how we can make Peterborough a more entrepreneurial city. I’d love to hear your ideas and feedback, and then lets make a change and develop our businesses and grow our cities economy together.

If anyone wants to chat to me, I’m always happy to share my story, offer any advice I can give, learn from you, and talk about how we can help each other.


End of Guesswork Launch

I’m delighted to launch my latest book, ‘The End of Guesswork: The Role of Data in Modern Marketing’ today.

The book is now available worldwide on Amazon, and at other popular book retailers.

The End of Guesswork has been inspired by my time in data led marketing. In the book I draw on my experience from working with hundreds of companies across the years, and use real life examples to show you how you can become more data led in your marketing efforts.

The purpose of the book is to allow you to become a better marketer. By learning to change the culture of your marketing department, and to think of your campaigns as tests that you can learn from you’ll get better results long term and grow your business.

You can find out more about the book here, or pick it up from Amazon here.

The #1 Reason Your Content Marketing is Failing

In my latest article for Business2Community, I’ve argued that the number 1 reason that brands are failing at content marketing is that they’re not using data.

This is leading to companies not tracking their efforts properly (and therefore not truly understanding performance), not using audience insight (so their audience isn’t fully profiled or understood), and not optimising their efforts.

By using data in all of these areas, companies can massively improve their content marketing efforts.

Read the full article here to learn more.

Twitter Analytics for Audience Insight

In my latest article on Social Media Today, I’ve gone into how you can use Twitter’s analytics dashboard to glean extra audience insight that can help you to create better campaigns across all channels.

Twitter has built in persona data, and particularly interesting third party purchase data that you can match against to truly understand your audience on Twitter.

Get the lowdown with the full article here.