Start Up Blog

The successful company lie

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on March 20, 2014

When anyone is looking for a new job, the company they worked for starts to matter more than ever. Society seems to have a default position to want to employ people who come from big name companies. When assessing potential employees the first thing we look at is where they have worked before. The thinking being that if they have worked for a successful company, then they are part of that success. A contributor, someone who knows how to win, someone who has already been vetted, if you will. But what if the opposite of that was true?

What if this employee from the successful company was hiding inside the deep and wide corporate infrastructure?

What is this employee was riding the wave of the hard work already done by those who came before them?

What if they were claiming the work of projects with a zillion participants?

What if they were better at internal company politics, than actually creating any true market value?

What if they never had the freedom of independent decisions and never actually did anything, and but worse, never made any mistakes either?

When we start to ask some of the question above (and there are many more) we start to see how flawed the ‘successful company mantra’ is. In real terms they’re the easiest place to ride career coat tails. Maybe we should instead be looking for people who’ve worked at crappy companies with poor reputations. Those struggling to stay alive, the fringe dwellers, or even those that failed. The irony is not lost on me that startup land reveres and respects failure, as a key learning mechanism, yet recruiters only ever what to employ people who came from a stable of success.

We need to think back to some of the best lessons we’ve had in our lives. Forget the corporate crap for a second and just consider the art of learning. We’ll find that mistakes are key. That when the scars run deep so do the lessons. When things go very wrong, we vow never to do it again and have the personal experience to know when to change course. We know the warning signs and what to look for. We spot the problems much quicker. Surely the same is true for where we work. We’ve all had superiors who just don’t get it. Bad bosses who taught us more about leadership than the good folk we worked for. And we’ve all seen ‘what not to do’ by working somewhere that consistently stuffs things up.

Success breads success? Well I’ve worked in some of the worlds most successful companies, I can tell you that they are often still filled with chickens, they are never an eagles only zone. Mind you, with size everything mathematically gravitates towards average – eventually. It’s a physical fact. So the larger the organisation, by definition the larger number of average employees it has. The real question isn’t if large company X has a better calibre employee than small company Y, the real question is what filter bubbles are we letting hide great people from us?

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The Potential Employee Flip

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 31, 2013

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.

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The pie

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on August 31, 2011

I was at a startup angel session last night and it reminded my why I love the startup mentality so much.

All the participants where not interested in the end, as much as they were the process. Their interest was primarily in baking a pie they could be proud of. Which is the opposite to what we often see in the corporate scene. People whose interest is in getting the largest slice possible of a pie that someone else baked.

The key question we should ask ourselves, corporate executive or entrepreneur, is this: Are we baking or eating?

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Irreplaceable & the inconvenience scale

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on February 10, 2011

We all want to be irreplaceable. In an organisational context we worry about how needed we really are. It’s an omnipresent reality in a world of agricultural mastery and excess capacity. This is true for white collar desk jockeys, CEO’s and entrepreneurs alike. The more they need us, the safer and happier we feel. The truth is that everyone of us is replaceable. Even Steve Jobs. And the ultimate proof of this is human death. It happens, and we continue on with whatever it was we were doing.

I heard a good way to conceptualize on how ‘replaceable’ we are recently. The idea is that all of us can be replaced, and that the key question was how ‘inconvenient’ our loss would be to the cohort we belonged to. Where are we on the ‘inconvenience scale’ if we need to be replaced?Are we very high like Steve Jobs, or are we very low like a supermarket cashier? The more inconvenient it is, the more utility we are providing. It’s also quite likely that we have greater power of choice in actually placing ourselves elsewhere. One mistake we often make is equating how much we earn, with where we sit on this scale. Higher pay does not necessarily make us less replaceable, it often means the opposite. The real questions in understanding where we are on the scale are these:

  • How important is what I do to the people who pay me to do it?
  • Will the people who pay me lose money (or systems break) if I’m no longer there to do it?
  • How many other people can do what I do?
  • Will the other people who can do it, do it for the same price or a lower price than me?
  • Are these others easy to get?

If we answer these questions honestly we can get a fair assessment of the value we are creating, for our own business or one we work for. Everything we do in a given week doesn’t have to matter. It may just be that thing you do for 1 hour per week that no one else can. And the thing that we should be working on, is that one thing that only we can do. The stuff we are already great at, not our weaknesses. If we invest time working our our weaknesses, we simply make ourselves ‘more average’ and in turn we fall down the inconvenience scale.

The best way to be be high in the ‘inconvenience scale’ is to become a close to the money expert. By doing this, our potential loss becomes far more inconvenient.

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Brand voices are now a collective

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on November 20, 2010

You Can’t Control Social Media
Marketers and advertisers alike are largely aligned when it comes to their views on social media. We all know how to use it, and why it can be so valuable to brands. But there is one area which is most often the area of heated debate,
and that is this:

Can we really control the output of our social media?

It’s clear what big brands want – A single voice to represent the brand personality. On the surface this sounds reasonable, even rational, but the more I think about it I really believe it goes against what it is all about and here’s why:

The voice of a brand is the collective actions of all of its representatives.

Not the CEO, the Marketing Director or the advertising they put in the market. Just ask anyone about their opinion of banks in Australia. It has nothing to do with the voice banks project, and more to do with the customer interactions. The voice is what the people hear and experience on a personal level, not what the brand stewards say. Social media can’t be controlled. So why try? There is nothing worse than limiting the voice of your people. They will talk anyway. They’ll share links, write about your brand and talk about it on line and off. They will have real interactions with customers, and if what the authorised voice says (brand marketers and advertisers) doesn’t match the reality of the brand in action, then it all sounds contrived and is useless anyway. It’s more likely to have meaning and be authentic if it is the word of the people, not the King. So let your people participate. All brand managers should run twitter accounts for their brand, giving updates on what they are planning and doing, a sub-communications strategy of sorts.

Create culture, don’t control output.

It’s an errant assumption to believe we know better than our front line employees do. It’s just not the case. What we need to do is educate our people in various levels of the business on what we want to be as a brand, the persona. We need to give them some guidance boundaries within which they can play, and some no go zones, and then let them represent us, make mistakes and be human. People love dealing with companies who have a human voice and mistakes are part of the human experience.

Trust creates value.

I find it curious that companies trust their employees with the keys to the building and the cash register and not their voices. It’s best to approach it like a parent does with a teenager. Give a bit, let them prove themselves and then loosen the lead a bit more. Trusted people usually over deliver to expectations. People who are shut out and mistrusted often act in the opposite way to what we desire. In a social media context we need to trust the average human outcome, rather than block all for fear of a single bad outcome. But again, this is where the boundaries come into play.  There needs to be augmented boundaries with clear repercussions for those who step outside of them.

The key point for brand marketers and entrepreneurs is this: if you want a controlled voice, then social media isn’t the right vehicle for a brand. More traditional media would be more suitable. The word social is the giveaway here, because social implies conversation, not lecturing or monologue. If we really want to create social brand value then all voices in the social value chain need to be heard.

This article was written for the Eye on Australia research program.

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Everyone cares

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on April 24, 2010

How to make a Hungry Jacks (Burger King) Whopper:

  1. Take the top of the bun and swipe mayonnaise across it twice starting in the middle of the bun and swiping out ways
  2. Sprinkle lettuce onto mayo base just enough so the white of the mayo shows through the lettuce.
  3. Add two slices of tomato on top of the lettuce at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock.
  4. Put the meat patty into the base of the bun.
  5. Spread 4 pickles in a dice configuration while using the squeeze ketchup bottle in opposite hand to spread the pickles.
  6. Squirt 3.5 circles of ketchup on the beef patty starting at the outside of the circumference.
  7. Lightly sprinkle onion onto the ketchup at 50% of the thickness of the lettuce.
  8. Place both thumbs onto the tomatoes of the bun top and flip onto the base.

Serve hot!

The reason I’m sharing this with you is, that I learned how to make a whopper over 20 years ago, at a wage of $3.00 per hour and I still remember exactly how to make it. It was and probably still is, the lowest paid job available in the economy.

And yet a business colleague recently told me his his employees didn’t care about their job or the brand of his company because they were Uni students, and part time workers. What a crock. I took particular pride in making fast, well formed whoppers. Even thought it was a menial wage. At the time I was in year 9 at school and had zero intention of going to University or finishing school for that matter, yet I still cared. I cared because I had good managers, encouragement and there was a culture of doing your best, maybe even a little healthy competition to make the fastest and best burgers. It’s my strong belief that the vast majority of people take pride in what they do, no matter how menial it happens to be. So when I hear people saying their employees don’t care about their job, because it is part time, or low paid, I tell them this story. The story that all people no matter what they do have pride in their job, so long as one ingredient is in place:

They know we value what they do, and we treat all employee efforts with respect, regardless of where they stand in the hierarchy.

Startup Blog says: Employees will respond to how we treat them. We must respect them in the first instance. When we do this and we’ll get results reflective of human nature, not the hourly pay rate.

You can’t control social media

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on March 22, 2010

I was recently invited to Social Media Club Melbourne to appear on a panel with Scott Kilmartin of Haul and Sahil Merchant of Magnation. The topic was Building Brand Buzz.

The three of us were generally aligned on our thoughts, with varied executions using social media tools given the differences in our businesses. I’m a big fan of Magnation, but there was one area in which Sahil and I disagreed, and that was that he preferred to control the output of social media. His contention was that he wanted a single voice to represent the brand personality. On the surface this sounds reasonable, even rational, but even a week later I really think it goes against what it is all about and here’s why:

The voice of a brand is the collective actions of all of it’s representatives. Not the CEO, the marketing director or the advertising they put in the market. Just ask anyone about their opinion of banks in Australia. It has nothing to do with the voice banks project, and more to do with the customer interactions. The voice is what the people hear & experience on a personal level, not what the brand stewards say.

Social media can’t be controlled. So why try? There is nothing worse than limiting the voice of your people. They will talk anyway. They’ll share links, write about your brand and talk about it on line and off. They will have real interactions with customers, and if what the authorised voice says (Sahil in this case) doesn’t match the reality of the brand in action, then it all sounds contrived and is useless anyway. It’s more likely to have meaning and be authentic if its the word of the people, not the king. So let your people participate. Give them their own Magnation twitter account, a sub brand of sorts. Be a collective. Be real.

Create culture, don’t control output. It’s an errant assumption to believe you know better than your people do. It’s often not the case. What we need to do is educate our people on what we want to be as brand, the persona. Give them some guidance and let them represent us, make mistakes and be human. People love dealing with companies who have a human voice and mistakes are part of the human.

Trust creates value. I find it curious that companies trust their employees with the key’s to the building and the cash register and not their voices. It’s best to approach it like a parent does with a teenager. Give a bit, let them prove themselves and then loosen the lead a bit more. Trusted people usually over deliver to expectations. People who are shut out usually react in the opposite. In social media context we need to trust the average human outcome, rather than block all for fear of a single bad outcome.

The key point to me is, if you want a controlled voice, then social media isn’t the right vehicle for a brand. More traditional media would be more suitable. The word social is the giveaway here, because social implies conversation, not lecturing or monologue. All our people should be part of the conversation if we want to create real value.

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ABC 7.30 report – Virtual Offices

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on February 5, 2010

I was fortunate enough to feature in a story on the ABC 7.30 report this week. The topic was on virtual offices and digital offshoring. My business rentoid got a nice little plug which is a bonus on a non-commercial channel. The opportunity arose from this newspaper article I was in on the topic in the Sydney Morning Herald. Which goes to show media exposure also has a compounding effect for your startup as well.

Although the story and offshoring in general has it’s detractors (unions love the status quo, unless it involves profit increases they want a share in). I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve worked with talented people in developing markets.

  • My team get paid more than they’d get locally.
  • I’ve helped team members get more work, and mentored them in building their own businesses.
  • I like investing in developing markets because improves living standards.

It’s our job as entrepreneurs to create positive situations with tech innovations, and there’s no doubt in my mind having an overseas team does this, while building a business with beneficiaries locally (employees, revenue, community) as well.

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We only have one

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on February 4, 2010

There is no career, only life.

If we think of our life and career as separate entities, we’ve  got things terribly wrong. They are inextricably linked. If we want to be happy, we need to make sure what we spend our days doing is how we want our life to be.

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The white collar underclass

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on January 3, 2010

Before the Industrial Revolution the average number of hours worked in the western world was less than 6 hours per day. Some say we worked less than two and a half days a week.

I won’t quote what the average number of hours are today, but it’s more for everyone I know personally. I’m certain many people reading this would work in excess of 12 hours on certain days.

So what happened?

We got stooged. The  industrial revolution made it possible for a larger segment of the population to work year-round, since this labor was not tied to the season and artificial lighting made it possible to work longer each day. Peasants and farm laborers moved from rural areas to the factories and work times during a year has been significantly higher since then the important  innovation of piece labour. That is, the ability to earn income based on output. Think bolts in car doors.

Over time longer hours lead to greater amount of industrial accidents and workplace injuries. Unions formed and laws changed on the factory floor. But, the office was a different place altogether.

Office workers – salary based workers who where historically in management worked for salaries. A fixed wage for a fixed number of hours. My father constantly reminds me that in his day office workers only worked from 9am until 4.30pm. That tradesman and factory workers were the only people who did extra hours. And they did this to make up for the pay discrepancy which was favour of salary workers.

Clearly times have changed. If you are working in a large corporate, cubicle farm, in front of a screen or any place where you don’t get your hands dirty then chances are your are part of the ever growing white collar underclass. Here’s the some of stuff that defines members of the White Collar Underclass:

  1. A fixed salary with no overtime (factory workers, tradesman, retail staff all have overtime)
  2. Regularly working beyond the ‘official hours’ including weekends.
  3. It is expected that you arrive before and leave after your official hours.
  4. No representation in your industry to protect employment conditions.
  5. No tax benefits or uniform allowances, because your work clothing doesn’t have a logo on it. Even though it is in real terms a ‘uniform’ and costs you 10 times what hands on workers wear to work.
  6. Your annual performance review is based on the subjective assessments of your direct manager who may or may not like you.
  7. You work in a large building full of people who look and act like you do, and no one really knows what anyone else does.
  8. In an economic downturn, you panic, because you know what you do is essentially expendable.
  9. Large parts of your day are dealing with procedure, invented by other workers to justify their own existence.
  10. You look at a screen for large parts of your day, but have restrictions on what information you can bring onto the screen from the outside world.
  11. You feel as though your rarely use the skills acquired in the formal education you needed to get that job.
  12. You can work for days, weeks and months without any physical evidence of tangible outputs of what you have done. You don’t make or fix anything real.

If some of the above apply to you, chances are you are part of the white collar underclass. A group of people who have been victimized by efficiency. A group of people who don’t do anything real. Which is why there will be a significant value shift and higher pay going to people (like tradesman) who make stuff. Simple supply and demand. In the past 50 years companies have became so good at what they do, that very few people really do anything, including you. But you are giving so much of your time… you know it, and it eats at your soul.

Startup blog advice: Earn your living. Do something that adds value, not takes up space. Even if it must be done at nights and on weekends. Even if it provides no income. The human soul feeds on real activity, not simple economic existence. Feed your soul in 2010.

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