At age 21, Marcus Taylor had only £500 in his bank account and a broken laptop. Nine years later, Marcus has Venture Harbour: a multi-million-pound portfolio of 9 businesses.

Every year, Venture Harbor designs, builds, scales and automates a new online business. Marcus has one rule: each new venture must be more ambitious than the last.

The company has built 9 businesses since 2012, ventures that range from music law contracts to artificial intelligence chatbots. Last year they released Leadformly, an online form builder that lets users create lead capture forms.

“There’s a thread that connects all of our ventures: All of our ventures unlock growth for people, businesses, and economies,” says Marcus.

LeadFormlyLeadFormly makes it easy to ask the right questions in order to qualify your leads early on, so that you can follow-up with them while they’re still hot (Source: Leadformly)

At first glance, it seems like a tall order – create and automate a new business in just 12 months? Exactly how automated are these businesses?

“On the one hand, there’s always things that need to get done. On the other hand, there’s a lot of automation,” explains Marcus. “We only have 6 employees running 9 companies. Compared to the average business it’s very automated.”

The road to a successful business venture starts with a single step (or 4 steps, actually)

How does Venture Harbour generate high-quality ideas that lead to a successful business as the end result…and all within 12 months?

It’s not through guesswork. When they start a new business, Venture Harbour uses a regimented, 4-step process.

The 4 steps are:

  1. Ideation
  2. Incubation
  3. Acceleration
  4. Automation

1. Ideation

“The first 8-9 ideas will be pretty awful. Or illegal. Or defy the laws of physics.”

clock

Marcus and his team know that they need to generate about 40 ideas to land on the one viable business venture they’ll develop over the course of the upcoming year.

To make it easier, they break the process into quarterly segments of 10 new ideas. Enough of those will be good enough to create 4 “Minimum Viable Products” or MVPs. And of those 4 MVPs, one will be good enough to become a new product.

“We generate those 10 ideas in 10 minutes,” says Marcus. “We even set a timer.”

The point of the exercise is to unlock creativity. When you only have 10 minutes to throw out ideas, you don’t question those ideas. You just get the ideas out. It’s an effective way to dig down beyond surface-level thoughts, and to unearth a new way to think about what customers might pay for.

2. Incubation

“There’s a big difference between a good business idea and a good business.”

clipboard

How does Venture Harbour know which of the MVP ideas they’ve brainstormed is actually the one worth building?

“We have a “Should We Build It?” checklist,” answers Marcus.

The checklist moves the team past the initial excitement of an idea, so that they can really work out if it’s something that would be a high-quality business.

The questions on Venture Harbour’s “Should We Build It?” checklist include:

  • What is the 5-year business plan for this venture?
  • Is this MVP financially feasible?
  • Who will buy this product?
  • Are the competitors in this field profitable?
  • Is this industry on the rise or in decline?

If the MVP passes the checklist, it moves through five stages:

  1. Prototype. Venture Harbour rapidly prototypes an MVP in a 2-week sprint. That forces them to build the simplest version of their idea.
  2. Team demo. The team demos the prototype and gets feedback
  3. Investment. The project gets a timeline and a budget for development — typically 3 months and $10,000
  4. Test users. Venture Harbour contracts a focus group to test and review the product
  5. Refinement. The team makes further improvements based on the focus group’s feedback

“Every year we have pre-determined budgets and time allocations for new ventures. A big challenge we have at Venture Harbor is: how much time do we spend building new ventures vs maintaining our existing portfolio?”

Based on their 9 years (and 9 new businesses), Venture Harbor has landed on the following time allocation:

  • 10% to create new ventures
  • 20% to develop the most recent pre-revenue venture
  • 70% to maintain existing businesses

As Marcus says, “Innovation is on a time-table.”

3. Acceleration

“What works for one venture won’t always work for another.”

megaphone

Of all the steps, the Acceleration stage is the most fluid — it varies venture-by-venture. Or, as Marcus puts it, “This one can get a little bit messy.”

This is when a new product gets more customers. At this stage, Venture Harbour asks:

  1. How can we acquire customers at a profitable rate?
  2. What cost of acquisition, or cost-per-user, is reasonable for us?
  3. Which channels can we test to acquire customers?

Once they find their best customers, Venture Harbour markets the new product through one (or several) channels:

  • Google AdWords
  • Referral engines
  • AdRoll retargeting
  • Evergreen webinars
  • SEO optimization
  • Content marketing

For Leadformly, Venture Harbour used AdRoll to send people to an evergreen webinar. Venture Harbor has a large online following, so content marketing is also a great way to reach the right audience for their product.

4. Automation

“It’s this final step that makes us different.”

lifecycle

To develop a new venture, most companies go through steps 2 and 3 — incubation and acceleration — and stop. Venture Harbour is unique in that they then automate those steps.

Venture Harbor has a team of 6 people who run 9 profitable businesses (and need to build another business every year). They can’t afford to spend a lot of time on marketing.. Instead of campaign-based marketing, they use what Marcus calls “Lego-block” marketing.

“We only focus on marketing channels where the work we do today will still be working 2 or 3 years down the line.”

Instead of starting each month fresh, every month builds on the previous month’s work.

“A lot of the automation stage is about automating our operations,” explains Marcus. “We ask ourselves, “Why can’t we leave this alone? What would have to be done for us to not touch this business for a year, and then come back and find it bigger than we left it?”

He adds: “That’s where ActiveCampaign comes in.”

How Venture Harbour uses ActiveCampaign to automate their businesses

Venture Harbour uses ActiveCampaign to run both internal and external parts of their operation.

They use ActiveCampaign to manage:

  • Internal onboarding
  • HR operations
  • Sales
  • “Lego-block” marketing strategies
  • DevOps processes

One of the many ways Venture Harbour uses ActiveCampaign is to get vital feedback from customers. Marcus sends automated emails (set up to look like personal emails) that ask for feedback shortly after people try a product.

“We found that including a small amount of personalization massively improves the response rate,” Marcus says. “On our website we ask people about their business. In the email we’d say, “We appreciate your [business name] using our product.”

marketing automation bullseyeMarketing automation helps your emails hit their target.

Marcus says that personalization makes customer response rates “soar, which we can then use to improve the product faster.”

Venture Harbour’s products have helped hundreds of companies grow their businesses online. With 9 businesses under their belt, only one question remains.

What business will Venture Harbour build next?

How can you save time…when there are so many steps involved?

23 Minutes.

That’s how long it takes to refocus each time you get distracted.

Every work environment is filled with distractions, and those interruptions can really add up throughout the day. Brains can only process so much info at once— and overload can hurt your ability to focus (and is proven to negatively impact our health).

It only takes three distractions in a day to lose an hour of work. An hour!

What can you do to reduce those distractions?

Serene, Venture Harbour’s newest app, helps people take control over distractions in the modern work environment…and get their focus back.

Serene is a unique app — there are a lot of apps out there, each focused on a different way to improve productivity. Serene combines the methods that work, pulling them all into the same place. Instead of setting up all the tools separately (and possibly forgetting one), you can just hit a button.

Serene app illustrationWhat would you accomplish if you had zero distractions?

Marcus played around with many of the productivity solutions already on the market. “I noticed they all helped, they all did the job they were meant to do…but…”

…but it was hard to get them all synced. Remembering to sync all of them was even harder.

“At one point,” Marcus remembers, “I had focus music playing from BrainFM, I had multiple website and app blockers, and my phone was set to Do Not Disturb. If I wanted to get something done I had 10 tools I had to use. And I had to remember to turn all of them on.”

Think of everything you use to shield yourself from work distractions so that you can get into a deep work state.

With Serene, you trigger all those steps with just one click.

Serene app how it worksSerene prompts you to set your most important goal each day, and then gives you the space to get it done by removing distractions.

Do distractions keep you from doing your best work? Try Serene for yourself and take back your time.

Automation for automation’s sake isn’t the answer.

Marcus has some advice about how to best use automation in your business:

“Some things are easy to automate, but that doesn’t mean they should be automated after all. Focus on automating the things that either save you time, money, or energy. If there’s a task you can’t stand doing, or one that wastes a lot of time, that’s where you should start.”

The ability to automate routine-but-essential tasks gives you the space to grow your business — not just maintain it.