Start Up Blog

You say ‘ello’, I say goodbye

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 29, 2014

elli sign up page

While it is around 6 months old now, and still in beta, there has been a lot of noise about Social Networking Startup Ello. And rightly so. A decade or more deep into this social connection thing people are starting to realise, that corporations like Facebook and Twitter, are well, just corporations. They just have incredibly compelling and usable products, from which they’re motivated to deliver what all public corporations aim to do – increase shareholder wealth. Nothing new there. And while some of the founders may have had, and possibly even still have rather altruistic visions…

A more open and connected world

Change the world 140 characters at a time 

… once any company becomes public, its DNA changes somewhat, it mutates and we end up with what we’ve always had. Profit centricity. This isn’t necessarily bad, profits are good, and only companies with great (or addictive) products ever turn one. It’s more about understanding things for what they actually are, or in this case, have become.

Ello, on the other hand believes there is a better way. And I agree. You can read their manifesto here. In short they promise never to sell ‘you’. What they don’t mention is that they’ve already accepted venture capital funding as part of their growth plan. Call me a cynic, but in general people who provide funds usually want some kind of monetary return at a later date.

If any social network wants to arrive and actually be, what Ello is positioning itself as, then it can never be a for profit corporation. It also probably should never be controlled by a limited number of people, or even an organisation. It needs instead to be a gift to humanity, a bit like the World Wide Web. It needs to be open source, and uncontrolled. A bit like a language really. One thing is for sure, it can never be about a financial return on investment.

New book – The Great Fragmentation – out now!

recent thoughts

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 16, 2014

Pollenzier logo

I’ve been publishing a few thoughts for the good people at Pollenizer – two recent articles are below:

History repeats: The seminal article written in 1960 by Theodore Levitt of the Harvard Business School called the Marketing Myopia is having a sequel. I wrote about it here and why startups are eating the lunch of many fortune 500’s.

Why we don’t have to invent the future: Sometimes it is enough just to participate and facilitate – I wrote about the feeder startup here.

In fact just yesterday I was doing a keynote for the financial services industry and I spoke about the GFD, ‘Great Finance Disruption’, which I believe is on the way given the recent developments in crowd funding, micro payments and crypto currencies. And I got asked a question about it.

And this was the question:

There are many banks in the audience, what advice can you give them to keep an eye on these trends in non traditional banking?

And here is my answer: 

It’s not about watching from a distance, it’s about getting involved, even in a small way, maybe set up a skunk works or a division for radical finance for dissident customer groups. Instead of watching it or trying to fight it, get involved and even facilitate it. It’s very difficult indeed to shape or benefit from something when you are not participating in it.

New book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.

Some companies are infallible, or are they?

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on May 8, 2014

In a classic case of economic externalities, privacy has become the hot issue in the Digital Industrial Complex. It’s the industrial pollution equivalent of the digital era. There’s a lot of attention going to startups which circumvent or avoid centralisation of their services, or use what is becoming known as Block Chain technology. In fact famed Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson is calling their 2014 fund the Block Chain cycle. In simple terms, startups in which the information is distributed across the network of users, rather than stored in the companies server farms.

It got me thinking about how what seem like minor road bumps can become the key factors which entirely disrupt companies and industries. Privacy could be the type of road bump which up ends businesses, whose infrastructure is based on an old method. That method being, centralised data aggregation and distribution. I’m talking about brands like Google and Facebook. Companies who at this very moment seem entirely infallible, simply too important, big and powerful to ever lose their position of dominance. Personally, I don’t think it will happen, because unfortunately most people have a level of apathy where they usually don’t care about a potential problem until it really becomes one. And even then they sometimes still don’t care – just look at the climate change issue. Why this is interesting is that the thing which disrupted the recording industry, the retail industry and many others was that the infrastructure they set up became a distinct disadvantage. I’m starting to wonder if internet based companies with centralised data systems are creating an infrastructure which isn’t in line with a shift which technology seems to wants to make happen. The shift to distributed data.

Some recent numbers on a search engine called Duck Duck Go – a privacy based search engine are interesting. It is growing rapidly. Here’s a description of what they do straight from Wikipedia:

DuckDuckGo is an Internet search engine that emphasizes protecting searchers’ privacy and avoiding the  filter bubble of personalized search results. DuckDuckGo distinguishes itself from other search engines by not profiling its users and by deliberately showing all users the same search results for a given search term. DuckDuckGo also emphasizes getting information from the best sources rather than the most sources, generating its search results from key crowd sourced sites such as Wikipedia.. 

Here’s a chart of the recent growth that Duck Duck Go has achieved:

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 10.58.25 am


While this search engine doesn’t operate on a distributed system, it is interesting to see how a slightly different proposition to the incumbent can have a lot of meaning to groups of end users. Yes, it’s tiny in the scheme of search, but this is how change begins. Every disruptor was insignificant at some point. And we’ve already seen the disruptors being disrupted. For example streaming music impacting iTunes business in the space of under 10 years. It seems like dominance occurs in shorter life spans now.

The key thing that we shouldn’t forget is that once powerful organisations can fall quickly. They seem infallible, untouchable. But the two things we ought remember are that companies like Ford once had a Google-like air about them and in a digital world the barriers to entry and dissemination of change are lower than ever.


When innovation is not really innovation

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on May 6, 2014

Innovation is an interesting word which gets thrown around lot in organisations. No one seems to disagree that it is the life blood of long term organisational survival, but I think it’s clear that the definition of what it actually is happens to be wrong. The definition tends to be most wrong in large stable industrial companies. I should know, once upon a time I was the ‘head of innovation’ in one such large organisation. I was recently pointed to this article which goes a fair way to demystifying innovation, versus novelty and invention. But for me it doesn’t go far enough. I think the problem with innovation in many large companies is this:

They confuse Asset Utilisation with Innovation.

A colleague of mine works in a large industrial concern heading up the product innovation area. Here’s a bunch of constraints they’ve placed upon him:

- All innovations must be able to manufactured in their existing factory.

- All innovations must use the existing machines in the existing factories.

- All innovations must focus on the existing core users of the brand.

- All innovations need to be able sold in the existing sales channels and retailers.

- All innovations should have a price point in and around the existing price points their range of products are already sold for.

- All innovations have exactly 13 weeks to prove themselves in market, because that’s what the reseller demands.

Clearly constraints like this prove that the core task is not at all about innovation and much more about business management within a set set of structured parameters. In simple terms it’s an asset utilisation program. There’s nothing wrong with asset utilisation. It’s a valid, profit centric, strategic imperative. It’s what companies must and should do to reach their financial potential. What’s foolish though, is confusing it with innovation. Such confusion can only lead to a long term displacement of brand relevance.


Random Soundbites

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on March 25, 2014

In the past few weeks I’ve been in the audience a few times when some smart people have taken to the stage. The presentations were largely retail focused. As usual I took notes and thought I’d share some random soundbites from what they had to share. I haven’t got the sources for each quote, because I couldn’t write those down quick enough without losing the information. But the thing that really matters isn’t the exact figures, but the patterns they are part of:

  • 10 years ago car buyers used to visit the dealership an average of 6 times before buying a new car. Now the average 1.5 times. When surveyed about the cars they bought more than 90% of buyers knew the specs in more detail than the car salesman.
  • Retail Delivery Gap: Australian retailers believe their customer shopping satisfaction rates are 80%. When surveyed the actual satisfaction rates from shopper was 8%.
  • There are a significant amount of retailers who are now treating the customers as employees: Airline check in – Supermarket check out. This is all fine so long as it reduces friction and increases joy. It shouldn’t be the default approach, but a considered one.
  • Retailer measurement used to be all about foot traffic and transactions, now they can measure everything in between, before and after. But smart retailers will need to ensure they have permission and share the prize with those providing the data.
  • Big data is a bit like teenage sex: “Everyone talks about it. No one knows how to do it, and everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, but not many actually are.”  Not my quote – but made me laugh.
  • Advertisers need to get ready for revised TV. A television that knows who is watching it, what they’ve bought, where they’ve been and what they car about.  One that can serve up specific, permission based  and relevant content for a single person. 1 to 1 television creative executions – the TV’s can already do it – but it seems no marketers can?
  • The delineation between physical and digital is over – pointless and and us versus them zero sum game. The intersection is now mandatory, or even tables stages – it’s now phygital.
  • People like buying stuff, but not so much paying – but the money isn’t the pain point, it is the process and the friction they hate. Sellers need to get out of the way.
  • Network Survival: A network stays alive so long as it provides trust and reduces friction. What’s interesting is that friction is often reduced by routing the long way round.
  • The top 12 Australian retailers have $700 billion worth of currency convertible loyalty points on hand – a giant liability, or is it an asset?
  • The phone is now becoming the personal life controller. It is the new location for commerce – literally where the phone is: simple example is Uber.
  • We are entering the wallet wars era. The digital wallet as spruced about by Bill Gates way back in 1995 – every tech player, bank, payment system and hardware developer is in the battle.
  • Mobile payments growing at an astounding rate in e-commerce. In the past 2 years payments via mobile phone grew 57 fold in Australia alone.
  • Mobile provides a leap frog opportunity. Many players who missed the first web iteration, can now disrupt the disrupters by doing an amazing job on mobile – this game is still open.

What does this tell us. Just that there is so much happening, and no matter what business we think we are in, we are all in the startup business now.


If vs When & Who

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 13, 2013

There are some things which we as humans intuitively know will occur. Almost every industry has a future state which we can see occurring at some point. While the timing might be hard to predict, the inevitability is predictable.

We can take a quick look at certain industries to provide exemplars of this contention:

  • In the future cars will not run on gas / petrolium.
  • In the future smart phones will be usurped by wearable computing.
  • Physical retailers who compete on price with omni available goods will cease to exist.
  • Leisure space travel will be within reach for the masses.
  • Many (half?) companies will close offices and move to remote / choice based location working structures.
  • Global virtual and crypto currencies will replace fiat currency.
  • 3D printers & scanners will be as common as computers in homes & work spaces.
  • Sharing economies in all industries will create resource leverage & new financial liquidity.
  • Self organised banking and lending systems will emerge.
  • Connected everything – chips and sensors in everything from milk cartons to t-shirts.

The list is endless. These are the ‘When & Who’ startups. Those with a high level of probability, even though it may not be us, and may not be now or next year.

Yet, many startups focus on things which may occur, based on a needed shift in human behaviour which – if it does happen will be insanely profitable. The ideas that no one has thought of (white space), where the entire prize can be theirs alone. I call it the ‘IF’ startup. Sure they are possible, yet they are improbable due to their occurrence being so rare.

So we have a choice on which kind of startup to go for. The possible or the probable. The ‘if’ or the ‘when and who’. I feel like it is a better choice to go for the inevitable, rather than the possible. It’s true that some things arrive which we didn’t see coming that change lives, the reality is that most technological curve jumps are foreseeable. As a bonus it’s usually easier to inspire our supply chain, customers and investors on highly probably events of the future. And while we all make our own market entry choices, it’s nice to go in with our eyes wide open.


The 200 year shift

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on August 22, 2013

I was recently in Perth for and presented at the Agile Perth MeetUp. The presentation I gave was entitled the 200 year shift. It’s a ‘living’ presentation which I’ve been working on for around 7 years – and it explores the end of the industrial era and the transition into a digital age. An age where most every industry is up for grabs as the rules are reinvented and barriers to entry are entirely evaporating.

I was totally thrilled when local UX legend Gary Barber did a live sketch of the concepts I was sharing. As is by séance Gary managed to visualise all my words into exactly what was in my head. He then shared the results on Flickr and posted in his twitter stream. What is amazing is that he did it all live, and some the the pieces I spoke about for a mere minute, and yet he managed to capture the essence. I later found out that he has a habit of creating such cool visuals. A picture of it is below. But before you have a look at it, here is a simple idea:

Next time you are running an event or conference with thought leading ideas: Get Gary on board to draw up some live info graphs for everyone to take home and remember what they learned, to pin on their offices walls, and just appreciate the power of thought and poignant art work.

Nice job Gary – and thanks!

200 Year Shift Sketch


The story of ice

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on July 8, 2013

Most everyday products we use and take for granted have a deep story of innovation underneath them. Once such product is that of simple household ice. What’s interesting about ice is that it went through a number of disruptions. New methods and players arrived to usurp yesterdays heroes. Much like the industries did in this post.

The original startup thinker and bootstrapper Guy Kawasaki tells the story of ice and how it pertains to curve jumping. I’ll do my best to remember how the story is told.

If you truly want to be an entrepreneur or an uber innovative intrapreneur, you have to jump curves. You can’t do things 10% better, you must do things 10 times better.  Originally ice was sold through an ice harvesting business. In the ice harvesting business in the early 1900’s, this meant that Bubba and Junior would go to a frozen lake or a frozen pond during the winter time and physically cut out large blocks of ice. And in 1900 over 900 million pounds of ice was harvested in the USA. Then 33 years later was the beginning of the first curve jump in the ice industry. This was the start of the ice factory era. Operating on the ice factory curve then meant that ice harvesting didn’t have to happen in the winter and it also meant that you didn’t have to be in a cold climate. You could freeze water centrally any time of year and any place you decided to set up an ice factory. (In fact, ice factories for obvious reasons did a better trade in warmer climates – a counter intuitive shift) And then once the water was frozen in the factory, the ice man would deliver ice to your house or business. So imagine the advantage of going from ice harvester: a cold city in a cold time of year, labour intensive – to moving to an ice factory, any city, any time of year, with dramatically lower labour costs.

Fast forward another 30 years and we move into the second curve jump. The refrigerator ice curve. This becomes ice 3.0 where an ice factory becomes a legacy cost infrastructure. People started to have refrigerators in their own home that could create ice on demand in a matter of hours, with no wastage, at the cost of a small amount of electricity. No need for factories or deliveries to your home when you have a personalised ice factory.

So if we look at this closely, the great value that was achieved was because the new method jumped across to the next curve. Incremental innovation was entirely usurped. It didn’t matter if you improved your efficiency dramatically on the previous curve because the entire market moved. And very few (if any) producers went from ice harvester, to ice factory, to refrigerator manufacturer. As you can imagine most ice harvesters didn’t see the disruption coming. So too with the ice factories and their owners. And in all probability refrigerator companies are not looking at bio tech or what is likely to come next in freezing water or ‘things’.

So the lesson for entrepreneurs (and more so for business owners & industry stalwarts) is that we simply cannot and will not change the world on the business curve that we are on. We have to jump it, and if we don’t someone else will. Incremental improvement is just not enough. Sometimes we must jump curves to merely survive. Makes me think that car companies are playing a very incremental game with their hybrids… What I really want is a self driving electric car or personal transport drone!

Worth Noting: In many ways all industries move from the macro to the micro. We’ve seen it with computers, music, many forms of manufacturing. We can only assume that the future will be continue the current trajectory to ‘personal’. Most curve jumps involve taking the macro to the micro.

Startup blog says: Get out there and curve jump!


Who is your competition?

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 17, 2013

If we ask any well know brand who their major competitors are the answers are reasonably predictable. It’s those brands who have that other part of the market share pie. This is what we all got taught during marketing class, and it made sense in the AC Nielsen TV ratings market share industrial era. The problem is that it makes a lot less sense as we transition to the digital age. An age where incumbents are constantly being exposed on the flanks, rather than by direct competitors. If we went back and asked a number of industrial world businesses who their main competitors were, the story becomes much clearer:

Kodak: At first it was Fuji & Agfa, closely followed by Cannon and Nikon…. but really in the end their nemesis came from a different planet. The planet of Apple, Google, Instagram and Facebook. What is Facebook really other than a Kodak moment 2.0?

Encyclopedia Britannica: Clearly World Book and later Encarta, the CD ROM based delivery by Microsoft. But in the end it was you and me who provided more accurate data on the subject of ‘everything’ as we populated both Google and Wikipedia. We turned out to be more accurate, more timely and we came at everyone’s favourite price – free!

Free to Air Television: First became very worried about movie rental stores (VHS, DVD) followed by cable TV. While now their real worry is the other screens in the home as Netflix, Youtube and Pirate Bay eat their lunch.

There are of course an unlimited number of examples with the same story.

But the lessons in a period of technological transition are two fold.

Incumbents: If your company or brand is in a battle defending revenue and market share from industry players, you’re focusing on the wrong area.

Entrepreneurs: If you’re aiming to disrupt an industry that has intense and focused market share battles, you’re focusing on the right area.

Startup Blog says: In times of transition, it pays to look to the sides instead of straight ahead.


Houses and technology

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on December 5, 2012

I was discussing with a colleague the inevitability of supermarket retailers being disrupted the same way department stores have been . I contended that in a few short years the technology will arrive that allows a supermarket shopping experience on line that is cheaper and better in every way than entering a store – not even considering the time saved. Their retort I found to be an interesting one….

They claimed it was too difficult logistically. That the shift would even need to involve some kind of one way cupboard and or refrigerator being installed at the door of every house to take delivery of the goods. They even made reference to the fact that the goods would need to be segmented into different delivery boxes based on their temperature storage requirements. Besides the fact that this person had terrific ‘solutions’ within their proposed issues scope – it made me think about how the places we live in have already changed significantly based on technology, social and commercial innovations. Innovations which have been pushed into homes based on an entrepreneurial imperative.

The simplest example is the driveway. Something that no home in the history of man had before the nineteenth century. A simple yet expensive convenience all new homes were built with after WW2.  Based the desire of home owners to have the convenience of a private transport device, adjacent industries responded with solutions. In fact, a large part of the Henry Ford strategy was to convince government to pave the roads of America and accommodate his burgeoning industry. So it isn’t silly to believe that the impending upheaval in the supermarket industry will involve a great deal coalescing from the ‘new supply chain’ and home designers and builders. Through history this has happened in both large and small ways. But to jog your memory, here’s a few more examples of technology placed into homes to assist homeowners and new industries:

  • the letter box
  • the kitchen
  • the inside bathroom
  • the inside toilet
  • telephone cables
  • internal plumbing & gas fitting
  • internal electricity
  • heating & cooling systems
  • wifi systems
  • garages

In fact we could probably add everything under the roof that doesn’t involve the primary idea of housing – providing shelter.

The insight for startups is two fold: Firstly, we can inspire and believe that the infrastructure will arrive to support an innovation which makes life better for people. And secondly, we can be the provider of that infrastructure to make the next growth industry possible.

New startup idea for free – One way in home front door fridges!



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