I recently met someone at a conference I was speaking at. Afterwards we exchanged some emails on a new project he was working on. He needed a developer, but was nervous about sharing his idea with anyone. After I assured him that there is rarely currency in ideas, and having them stolen was a low risk, I offered to connect him with my development team. Which from my talk, he would’ve known they were overseas. He sent back an email which said:
Where are they based?
This was my response:
Based overseas…. Moldova to be precise. I’m sensing that might by why you asked….
Here’s a some better questions:
In the super terrific web series Comedians in cars getting coffee, Jerry Seinfeld (the host) was asked what he thinks has more value in comedy:
A funny story which is suitable for talk show
A small bit more suited to a stand up session
Jerry had an unequivocal answer. He said; ‘A bit is gold’. He went on to say it was superior in every way to a longer piece that requires more explanation, and that’s why you leave long stories for the talk show. The gold bits need to be left for the stage – where it really matters. It’s in this episode we can hear Jerry tell the tale.
It’s the same when it comes to marketing copy or web copy or pitching for a startup. There’s a temptation to not want to leave anything important out. To give all the details so the person can work out the important bit about the project. In some ways it is a form of justification of what we’re doing. A basic fear of the simple. Almost as if we are short changing the audience if we give them less. The ironic thing is that we almost always want less. When it comes to branding and marketing, just like comedy – sound bites are gold. They are customer winning, they are pitch winning and they are life winning. The longer story is inferior.
The added beauty of the soundbite is that the receiver creates the longer version. So soundbites work harder with more people. They tell themselves whatever story they want to from there. They add the layers they want according to their perception. The sound bite is the seed, and the recipient is the soil.
Organise the worlds information
Change the world 140 characters at a time
A computer on every desk in every home
Yes we can
If people can remember our soundbites, that’s all they need to know.
This is a favourite saying of companies pretty much everyone whose ever given advice about anything. But as we know, advice is a form of nostalgia, and while nostalgia can conjure important and worthy emotions, it’s not something to live a life by. Personally I believe that encouraging anyone to not make the same mistake twice is bad advice. Any skill I’ve mastered, which was worth mastering involved me making the same mistake over and over again. Repeating the error until I had got it entirely out of my system.
A better version of this advice is as follows: Making the same mistake is fine, so long as you are making it on purpose.
All forms of study and industry have their own theories and jargon. They mostly exist to provide knowledge shortcuts and play books, but part of their function is to exclude. If someone knows the industry jargon, we can be sure they value what we value. We can be sure they read what we read, and mostly there is a chance they believe what we believe.
As time goes by theories and jargon fall out of favour. They become old hat and not cool to reference. That’s also part of the game of being in touch with a community. It show’s whose invested in what we do and who is a fly by nighter. It’s important though that we don’t think this makes the old descriptor less true. Especially when it comes to business. Sure, new theories and knowledge emerge in science which render the old ideas incorrect. But many business philosophies are thousands of years old and aren’t about to change any time soon. I like to say that the Ancient Egyptians invented ‘lean’ methodology…. I can’t possibly imagine the pyramids being built any other way, surely they would have ran out of capital!
Last night the super Ben Rowe delivered a talk at PauseFest (A nerd web festival in Melbourne) using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. An older theory that doesn’t get much coverage these days. It doesn’t make it any less compelling and real though. It was one of the most insightful presentations I’ve seen in recent times and I loved that he mashed up the new world with an old theory.
The thing it pointed out to me was that it doesn’t matter so much which tool we use to do things, but how we apply it to create new meaning with our audience.
While success is a relative term, there is a simple way to know if we’ve built something we can regard as a huge macro success. And that is when others are claiming derivative success within the platform we have created.
Examples could include:
- A top downloaded iPhone app
- X million views for a Youtube video
- A featured post about your project on Boing Boing
- Being person X on platform Y
Once someone can be regarded a success because they have used what we’ve built well, that’s when we know we’ve really changed the world.
It seems that the #BBB podcast has been providing me with some clear blog ideas recently. Below is a comment I made in one of the podcasts in regard to the Super Awesome Micro Project – and well, projects in general costing us much more than we ever estimate.
Now I’m starting to think our human delusions on the real time and cost of embarking on activity helps us grow and expand. So when it comes to time and cost on our next project in 2014, we should probably know it’s wrong, and just do it anyway.
A bad decision is better than no decision. Yep, I’d rather get it wrong than suffer from inertia. I will point out that I’m talking here about non life threading concepts, or decisions which could lead to total financial disaster. But generally, most the of the decisions we need to make personally, in business and startups fall into neither of these categories.
The power of a bad decision is the real world feedback they provide. They allows us to cross one of the possibilities off the list. Not doing anything or procrastinating on a choice is the enemy of momentum. And momentum is game winning.
I can recall working in large companies and how often they’d research the daylight out of ideas. I’m certain they did this to avoiding making a call. Managers making sure they remove accountability from themselves… they could use research to save their ass. In this decision time they could’ve tried multiple activities, and instead choose to pontificate on the possibilities. A decision on the other hand would uncover what actually works, save money on research and opportunity cost. The final irony being the majority of these slow corporate decisions still turned out to be wrong.
So in the spirit of new beginnings for a new year – I say embrace bad decisions. Ultimately they will lead us to the right ones.
I’ve been reviewing my notepad from 2013 and thought I’d share my insights into what’s changed and the big issues from my perspective in startups, business and technology.
Technology is no longer a thing: It’s almost not worth mentioning now it is so ensconced in human life. Business, political and social activities are intertwined in technology as an organism. Having a digital strategy is a bit like having an ‘electricity strategy’ – it’s just nonsense. In fact, if any business still delineates a part of their strategy as digital, then it’s fair to say they have no strategy at all. A terrific piece of evidence for this fact is observing how the technology and business section of the WSJ and New York Times now have a massive overlap.
Social media just is: It’s becoming a bit like general chit chat between any group of friends. A way of communicating. It doesn’t have a nuance or specificity that makes it remarkable anymore. It just is. I guess it’s now just a stage in the evolution of human communication. We could regard this as evidence of its permanence.
Anonymity is the new black: You may remember in the early commercial web era – post 1993, we all had alias names and emails before we felt comfortable enough to convert to our actual human self on line. It seems now that anonymity is back. People wanting to express themselves without it impacting their college application or next job interview. It’s been said that this helped tumblr, and is a large part of Snapchats appeal. As privacy gets eroded through government activity we can expect a lot more anonymous forums to emerge as powerful web platforms. Another outcome is the potentiality for privacy to become a serious luxury going forward.
Email & text on the comeback trail: The inbox has made a comeback for me. This year I signed up to a number of email newsletters which provided a haven of curation in my areas of interest. It might also be that my email address is mine, where social media has the who owns this data issue hanging over it. I also reverted to more text / SMS activity which would’ve been the only domain for my social media a couple of years ago. I think this was facilitated by improved video and photo output of smart phones, the direct & personal nature of people we share with phone to phone. Also the up weighting of data allowances on mobile phone from carriers.
Device equilibrium: All devices are merging to a kind of functionality equilibrium. Phablet anyone? It does seem as though all tech devices can perform much the same function. Now the only differentiator is size preference and UX.
Still waiting for wearables: It feels like we are in early 2000′s phase for smart phones when it comes to wearable computing. We all know we want it, we all know it is inevitable, but no one has quite nailed the technology output yet. Google Glass is the clear front runner, but no one has launched anything yet which has captured the ‘iPhone’ this changes everything moment. Here’s hoping for 2014.
We of things: See above – insert web of things.
The geo layer: Doesn’t seem to me like it can be a point of difference for any web related startup or brand. Foursqaure and others may have missed their chance. It’s a lot like digital now and just exists as an invisible layer on all our output. A vital component to making sense in a technology world, but omnipresent simple and expected.
Long reads: The deminishing returns of news and immediate communication are helping long thoughtful analysis make a comeback. The startup Medium.com seems exciting and longer posts which consider the implications of rapid change are capturing more of my time these days.
Tech valuations & bubblenomics: Crazy company valuations continue to astound. We are absolutely in another technology bubble, this time it is a valuation bubble, rather than an investment boom. I was talking with Nic Hodges about the $3 billion+ valuation of Pinterest proposing that they are like a shopping centre of sorts – a Westfield maybe? His retort was classic. He said:
Westfield owns $20 billion worth of property. What Pinterest owns is some code.
It seems that everyone forgets that valuations must be a function of earnings, or expected future earnings. Here’s a question worth asking when it comes to the true worth of any company. What would you rather own:
Apple stock at a 14 times price earnings ratio?
Facebook at a 141 times price earnings ratio?
Do you really think Facebook will be 10 times more profitable than it is now or any time soon? Or that Snapchat with an infinity price earnings ratio (zero earnings on $3.2b valuation) will ever make serious money? There is a very big difference between usage utility and commercial value.
There’s a reason why Warren Buffet has been in the top 2 richest people in the world for the past 30 years – he knows what companies are actually worth. And there’s a reason why many famous VC’s are rich – they are selling you sausages at caviar prices. It seems the real money in technology stocks is made when the founders exit, not when investors buy it.
So – what did you guys notice in 2013?
Had a few ideas in my mind for blog posts. But thought I’ll just soundbite them now and go deep later:
1. Selling Potatoes: Startup ideas are often far too clever. Often they represent what is technically possible, rather than what is technically needed. I keep coming back to the idea of selling potatoes. That is, selling something demand already exists for. If we do this, we can stop wasting resources trying to creating demand. Instead we can just do a better job connecting and serving the existential market. Buy for price X and sell for X2. I’m wondering why a ‘potato’ business is rarely considered by aspiring entrepreneurs. We ought resist the temptation to 3D print ceramic fur balls for imaginary cats.
2. Market Validation: Real market validation must be with strangers, not colleagues. If it’s an online business, then validation can’t be done in person. If it’s a physical business then validation can’t be done on line. We ought match the real world. Real market validation should involve money, and avoid surveys.
3. Size & Attitude: The bigger the company the harder it is to maintain a cool attitude. When companies go public, their DNA changes. It’s just a fact we ought accept. At this point founders don’t care, they’ve already made bank. When our favourite companies get big it is inevitable we will suffer from a little bit of startup nostalgia.
4. Business Model & Problem Solution: I often get pitched startups that have a great business model with no real human problem. Or a solution to a human problem which struggles to find a business model. Our chances of success increase dramatically when we have both. We should work hard on having both of these elements when conceiving our next startup.
5. Quiet Self Esteem: It is what we are doing when no one is actually looking that matters. The actions we take that only we will ever know about. This is what we should focus on.
6. Half Baked Ideas: These are the best ideas to play with in the short term. It means we are in the kitchen experimenting. It doesn’t mean we should try and sell these cookies at the market, but we should always throw a few new recipes in the oven.
7. What VC’s Really Invest In: Justifiable failure. They don’t aim to fail, but before they invest a dime they know they will get it wrong more than 9 times out of ten. They’ll never admit this, but they are only ever investing in what will sound like a good bet to their partners. So that when it does fail (and it will more than 90% of the time) it is justifiable to those who stumped up the money. Hence, when seeking capital all we need be is justifiably worth the risk.
A business plan is not a user manual. It’s not a map of a defined territory and it’s not a even a vision of the future. At best it is a contention of how we may be able to get things done. Because of this, we need realise it can and should be revised as soon as it is unproven. Yes, we should give it a chance, execute against the contention, but remember it is only as valuable as the results it generates. We can throw it away, draft a new one if needed.
While important, a plan must serve us. We ought not serve it.