When selling anything we need to know where to focus our energy. Often there are two different realms we need to sell against.
- Convincing or demonstrating to the person that the product or service is good or better than the alternative.
- Convincing the person to exchange the thing in question for their money.
Most good sales people know how to do both of these tasks, but sometimes it’s tricky to know which one is the focus question of the moment. A simple way of finding out is to go ahead and ask. It’s worth remembering that selling isn’t a guessing game it’s a service game.
I’ve been keenly thinking about how we validate startup concepts recently, the methods and simple ways to work out if an idea is worth pursuing. While there are many ways, one of startup lands best hackers Tim Ferris teamed up with Noah Kagan (of Appsumo) and did a pretty good interview session on the topic recently. It goes for a bit over an hour, but shows with a number of examples how easy it is to know if something will get traction. If you’re in the launch phase of anything – then I’d recommend getting your head around this one.
I recently did a talk at Depo8 a Melbourne co-working space for an event which was aptly titled: Leap and the neat will appear.
I thought the general theme of the talk was worth sharing as it really summarises the entrepreneurial spirit and can also assist in removing irrational fear associated with taking the leap to pursue an enterprise. The way I see it, the truth about entrepreneurship can be broken into 4 parts.
1. Savings: I really believe that any human who wants to succeed financially and in business needs to be able to save money. It is the most basic of financial requirements to prove to ourselves we have the capacity to think ahead and delay gratification. If we can’t exercise enough self control to save, then it would be a waste of our own time to even try and start a business. And savings, or the ability to save has nothing to with what we earn. It’s really just an attitude, and even a small percentage of a modest income is enough to provide direction and momentum – some bootstrapping practice. In fact, American billionaire W Clement Stone once said this about savings: If you cannot save, then the seeds of greatness are not within you. I remember I was once told a simple life hack which is so obvious I’d never thought to do it. If we can live on half our income, we can take every second year off work, and pursue something else. A nice example of the power of savings.
While it sounds a little vulgar, the world is awash with cash in developed markets. It should be noted that once momentum is obtained, it is not that difficult to get financial support.
2. Worst Case Scenario: Ironically, we are actually at our greatest financial risk when we are an employee. The first reason for this is that we only have one customer – the employer. A big and important customer, but it’s one customer none the less. This means that all our income depends on a single source, which, if that relationship turns bad, we could quickly find ourselves in a zero income situation. This also excludes job obsolescence risk, which occurs through being a factor of production, rather than organising them.
If we do fail in market as an entrepreneur, we are very unlikely to go hungry or become homeless. The mere fact that we are both on the internet right now, can serve as a reminder that we are well resourced, and that we have people around us and infrastructure to support us in times of need. In fact, the safety net in places like Australia are significant. Social security payments for the unemployed in this country amounts to $306 a week, or $1326 a month. Yes, it would be a struggle to live on it in Australia – but it is more than the average wage in every Asian Country excluding Japan, every African country excluding South Africa, and every Eastern European nation.
But most of all, entrepreneurs returning to the fold as an employee (post startup) often come back in a higher paid gig and more senior positions. Given they know how to sell a story of learning. This happens because they arrive with new skills most employees simply can’t get while working for someone else. I know, because I have been this person.
3. The 2nd Best Time: We’ll always be able refer to when it was, or when will be a better time to take the leap into startup land. So maybe we should just embrace the fact that the second best time is now. That now is as good a time as any. This can help us jump the psychological hurdle, but in reality there actually has never been a better time than right now. Never in before in history has it been this cheap and easy to build something, and connect with an audience. The weird wired world allows us to connect with like minds as never before. To build stuff people could never get before and use free commercial platforms the world has never had. The long tail of the internet is demanding our ideas, content and products. Add to this the ability to outsource and brand build and I really can’t see why anyone with the intention to start a business would delay it.
4. The Human Code: To be an entrepreneur is an essential part of the human experience. The evidence is in the real definition of the word itself. The actual translation is not about business, but literally, one who undertakes (some task), equivalent to entrepren ( dre ) to undertake (< Latin inter + prendere to take, variant of prender). It’s about starting, to trying and doing. It doesn’t say, make money, or get rich, and it certainly doesn’t say ‘don’t fail’. It says start. And this is what humans are all about. About trying new things, travelling across oceans to new unfound lands across the globe. It’s the reason why we humans live on every corner of the globe. Everyone of our forefathers left the human birth place of Africa (unless you’re reading this in Northern Africa) to find a better life. Entrepreneurship is in our DNA.
Let’s go beyond how we got here, and look around the room your are sitting in right now. Everything around us is the work of entrepreneurship. The technology, the chairs, the floor, the roof, the building you’re in, the clothes you’re wearing, the paint – whatever is where you are right now excluding dirt, air, sky and trees. All this is the result of entrepreneurial action. And we should be both thankful and proud.
It’s time to escape the corporate vortex. Our fore fathers are calling us.
While the flow of jobs through history here clearly simplifies the reality, but there is no disputing the type and structure of work we do is in a constant state of flux.
Soon employers will realise they don’t actually need employees. They will work out the thing they actually need is tasks completed, projects managed and leadership provided. And in a connected world they won’t need to pay for people to do these things 5 days a week – especially when large amounts of that time paid for are unproductive. What we need to remember is that companies pay people based on the value they deliver, not by the hours they are present. If a person cost X for 5 days work, but it really only takes 3 days to do, they the company would be happy to pay the equivalent of 4 days for previous cost of the 5 days output. Especially when it reduces the overhead of carrying the employee. On average an employee costs twice their salary to carry. In a connected world roles for employees will fragment into pieces and projects purely because the balance sheet will demand it. When this does happen will happen and we will enter the age of the projecteer. And I truly believe this will be better for everyone. Projecteers we gain a greater revenue clip for their time given, and companies will save on cost for activities done. In addition to this, neither party will be chained to each other mentally providing a more creative work life ecosystem.
So the question for all of us are:
How are we building our personal brand?
What are we developing our pinch hitting expertise in?
How can we create more value by being cross fertilised, nimble value merchants?
And how can companies connect with us?
We all about to become entrepreneurs whether we like it or not, best we get ready now.
Last night we announced at Tomcar Australia that we’d be accepting bitcoin as a payment method when selling our vehicles. Not surprisingly we got a lot of coverage globally in news and technology circles.
The reason I came up with this idea was multi-layered. Firstly, as a new car startup (the first in over 30 years in Australia) our budgets are skinny and our brand awareness is low. It was a damn cheap way (a few dollars on coding in bitcoin payments to our e-commerce platform) to get many millions dollars worth of PR. But there is more to it than that. And this is the key reason:
Innovation is just not about what we make. It is an attitude.
At Tomcar Australia we are hell bent on disrupting the auto manufacturing industry because the model is broken and it needs fixing. It needs not only new cars better suited to their environments, but new go to market methodologies. While we know our cars are best in class, we want to be best in class in our approach to everything. To push the boundaries of commerce. Ideas and methods that seem flunky today, become the norm tomorrow. I’m old enough to remember when credit cards seemed like a crazy and risky way to take payment from customers. One of our favourite questions is this: What would the legacy auto industry never do? It’s very cool to be involved in an organisation that embraces and considers the possibilities of every suggestion, and finds a way to make it work.
A key question for start up entrepreneurs is this: where can we innovate outside of what we actually sell?
With so much information abundance, it takes a certain skill in knowing what to know. Many emerging trends and changes in our economy and social structures are vital points of knowledge. We need to know them intimately, know how to use the technology and have a detailed domain expertise or we’ll miss out in a business or social context. But many things, maybe even most things, knowing about them is enough. Simply knowing it exists, that people like and engage in it, and why they like and engage in it will get us through:
- Angry birds
- Candy Crush
- Reality TV
- Most news
- Any ‘down time’ activity…
If we’re across the motivations, the technology and the sociology, then it’s highly likely we wont get caught short by not having a personal interaction with it. Unless of course, it is related to what we actually do for a living. This is the key point, knowing which domains are worth us investing our time in to understand.
In a world of infinite expansion and choice where we can’t try or participate in everything, knowing what to ignore is an art form. If it feels disposable, then it is probably not deserving of our bandwidth.
I can remember a time when it really mattered that you stayed in the same industry. If you wanted a job in consumer goods marketing for example, it really mattered that you had experience in consumer goods marketing. If you wanted to transition industries it was an incremental process. You had to eek your way across to new ground. Small step by small step. They wouldn’t let you play in their playground unless you had played their before, or at least a very similar playground. Sadly, our first job often defined us for much of our career. An potential employee needed a logical straight lined career flow.
I’m glad to say those days are over.
That attitude was one of protection. It’s a guild ethic, where profits are a function of a knowable, existential system. One that must be protected at all costs. But when a system breaks down, the smart players look for a new set of functions. A new attitude and ideas from an unfamiliar realm. If you’re in the middle of career transition, or wanting to break into a self determined entrepreneurial realm then there has never been a better time in history to do it. It’s damn exciting.
The best CV, or should I say personal brand isn’t one with a consistent story line. No, today it needs to be a set of juxtaposed, unusual and significantly differentiated projects, industries and activities. One that shows experimentation and the ability to cope with non-linear complexity. Go ahead and get involved in some, we’re waiting for you.
I couldn’t think of a better time to go on an anthropological journey through living and working spaces. The story is surprising and interesting. If you’re in Melbourne tomorrow come along and have a listen – I’ll be on at 12.30pm. No power point, no data, just idea exchange and human knowledge. This is the outline of my talk to whet your appetite:
I’m really excited about this one.
There’s a lot of talk in Australia about what makes a good Fish & Chip shop. It just so happens I know the answer to this question, and based upon this tweet by Heath, it has become clear I must share my rules right here.
Fish & Chip Shop rules:
- Cannot sell other food items which traditionally live outside of the Fish & Chip ecosystem. Namely pizza and kababs.
- Cannot be attached to another retail outlet such as a Milk bar. Must operate single business operation.
- Must have fish tiles on the wall.
- Must have wall poster of local fish population.
- Must wrap Fish & Chips in paper. Boxes are an unacceptable packaging material.
- Must not provide tomato sauce. Only salt and vinegar. Tomato sauce you have at home or go without. It’s just the way it is.
- Must sell pickled onions in a plastic tub on the counter, with the price written in a marker pen on the side.
- Must have traditional retro cans of beverage for sale in the drinks fridge such as Creamy Soda and Passiona.
- Drinks fridge must have a sign which says: “Please make selection before opening door”.
- Must make hamburgers and include a hamburger with the lot which has the options of beetroot, egg and pineapple.
- Hamburgers must be built on the grill while they cook by an expert burger cook.
- Must be run by hard working immigrant Greek family – the inventors & stalwarts of the local Australian fish & chip shop tradition.
- Must have home made chips from own potatoes. Frozen chips from bag are unacceptable.
- Must make potato cakes in house and dip in batter, just prior to dropping in deep fryer.
- Must provide both fired and steamed dim sims. These of course, must come from the frozen bag variety.
- Pricing board must be above the cooking fryers with prices written in chalk to allow for inevitable price inflation.
- Must have retro 1980′s arcade machine with a single game such as Galaga or Pacman.
- Must claim to be ‘local fish supplier’ of some random restaurant or pub in the local area.
- Must be located in working class area, preferably in the Western Suburbs.
- Should not be in obvious seaside location and counter intuitively be far away from waterway or estuary.
- Must be closed on Mondays.
- Must only be staffed by family members.
- Must have wide multi coloured plastic strip at door entry – to keep flies out.
- Must have cabinet at the front of the store window to display the ‘fresh’ fish.
- Must have semi inappropriate Chiko Roll poster on wall.
- Must sell ‘apple turnover’ oily apple pie with thick pastry.
- Must sell banana and pineapple fritters.
- Must wrap non-fried items in separate paper.
- Must use metallic industrial sized salt shaker to deeply cover chips in salt.
- Insert your rule here….
So why am I telling you this here on Startup Blog? Because sometimes the real innovation is about having the presence of mind to maintain a tradition in the face of change. While fish & chips might not be a thing where you live, I’m sure there is some kind of equivalent food or retail outlet. When change is the order of the day we can become worth talking about when we don’t change, or even bring back things of value which got lost along the way.
Leadership ironically, is sometimes about being a stalwart of the past.
While many startups are new versions of existing ideas, in our quieter moments all entrepreneurs would freely admit they wouldn’t mind changing the world. Me included.
If we want to do this, then one of the most important things we can do is ignore the facts.
Facts specialise in yesterday. They are by definition an historical account of what we understood or what happened. Even science continues to disprove previously held scientific facts – the most recent being the quantum revolution, which among other things has proven that atoms can be in more than one place at the same time.
In startups we should start with fiction. An imagined world of what we’d like to see or create. We need to remember that the concept of ‘what works’ is by definition really, only what has worked. That ‘the way it is’, can only actually be about the way it was. And ‘the way to do it’, is really just a way in which it has been done.
Our job as entrepreneurs is really about turning today’s fiction into tomorrows facts. While this doesn’t mean we should go live with the fairies, it does mean we should sometimes ignore the so called rational.