This year I’ve been working steadily on my new book and sharing ideas with people who want to know about the technology revolution. And while it is true we are always learning while on the job, I feel like people in the information business need an off-season as much as professional sportspeople and musicians do. Problem is we don’t tend to plan for it on an annual basis as much as other ‘seasonal industries’ do. Which could lead us into a dangerous pattern of already knowing what we know, or at worst obsolescence through ignorance. The ironic thing is that this exact behaviour pattern is what is causing large corporations to be disrupted. They are so busy doing what they do, making what they make and utilising the assets they already own that they rarely go back to the well.
If you’re an entrepreneur or freelancer (like I am) then we need to ensure we don’t get so deep into our work wormhole that we ignore the world around us. Screens and offices are very dangerous places to watch the world from. It’s probably better to make, break and explore a few things outside of our work to ensure we keep our edge.
I have my apps set up so that they will automatically update whenever I am connected to wifi. It’s pretty handy to have the latest version of something, assuming of course they make it better than the previous version.
But what I’ve noticed recently, or more aptly haven’t noticed, is that apps have a habit of changing their logo, or colour scheme. Which most often means I can’t find it, and all of a sudden I have the chance to drop the habit of using their service, or even worse finding a replacement. It’s worth remembering that the shape and the colour of an app’s logo is the cognitive shortcut we look for when we need to use it. And more often than not a logo or colour change is really only serving the people who make it and not those who actually use it. Unlike aribnb (who recently changed their logo) get front page stories when someone in their office sneezes, most app developers and curators are not so fortunate.
Just because we become bored with something we see a zillion times a day, it doesn’t mean our customers want to relearn what to look for.
I recently gave a talk at the Melbourne Entrepreneurs Club. It was full of current and aspiring entrepreneurs – so I thought I’d lay out the top 10 things I think matter if we want to lead an independent life. Read here, one where you determine your own destiny, are not reliant on a corporation to feed you, and you have enough money (that little reality checker we have in our modern market place) to serve yourself and your family. It was just 10 ideas I wrote down on a piece of paper. I didn’t write an actual speech or have any slides. I just spoke from my heart after I wrote these 10 things down. Some of the ideas I had around the 10 things I thought had value, so I wanted to share them here, but also write down the thoughts so I didn’t lose them in the ether. Here they are:
1. The word Employee: If you’ve ever wondered why you don’t like how it feels to be an employee, it’s because you were never meant to be one. In fact, employees have only existed for a tiny portion of human existence – around 0.1%. If we look at this graph, you’ll see the word was hardly even used before the Industrial era. It’s totally normal to not want to be one.
2. Boss vs the Market: In a corporation our fortune is determined by our boss. If there is a mismatch, it makes it very hard to progress. There is nothing more frustrating than having a career thwarted by a manager who isn’t supporting us regardless of the quality of our work. In fact, the entire problem is that a sample size of 1 is not very robust. It’s a far better bet to place our skills on the market – to put what we do in the hands of many and let the true value of our work be judged by quantitative sample rather than a single opinion.
3. The Consumption Cycle: Often when we get trapped inside the corporate enclave, a sense of dissatisfaction occurs. I personally believe that we seek refuge through consumption. We buy things to justify the time, effort and pain being directed by others. We enter a consumption cycle to assuage the emptiness of working openly for the pay.
4. Savings and greatness: 20th century industrialist W. Clement Stone said that if we cannot learn to save, then the seeds of greatness are not inside us. It is the ultimate test of patience and delaying gratification. But more than that it opens up the door of possibility. I’ll go one step further and give you my ultimate savings hack. If you can save 50% of your income, you only ever need to work 1 year in every 2. It really is that simple. And during that ‘off year’ who knows what we might become.
5. You’re already an entrepreneur: It doesn’t matter whether we work for ourselves, our startup or a fortune 500. You are the CEO of your own personal services corporation. If you’re an employee, then you are simply an entrepreneur with one really important and big customer. Once we make this mind flip, we do better work and realise we need to invest in ourselves and deliver for others. That’s the start of more independent living.
6. Side Project Power: Side projects often become the front projects. How we experiment with our time invents new unforeseeable and unexpected revenue streams. I now make a living doing things I used to do after work. So the real question is what are you doing from 9pm-12am? If you’re watching TV, then you’re missing the greatest informal education opportunity humanity has ever had. Right now the market pays a premium for informal knowledge because quite frankly formal education is way behind.
7. The Woodchips: Often the wood chips have more value than the table. But we only ever find this out if we endure and make the table. The side effects of what we do has value, but we need to presence of mind to look behind us and see what we have left behind. This blog was a bunch of woodchips from when I left the corporate world 10 years ago. It was the seeds for my new book. You have wood chips. We all do, locate them and see what they may become.
8. Freelance Friction Removal: I’m starting to believe that anything we can get paid for as an employee, we can do as a freelancer. The recent revolution in freelancing websites has taught us we can find people to do for us what we can’t afford to pay for 5 days a week. Maybe we can pay them 2 days pay for 1 days effort, and result in 3 days output? The freelance friction is being removed and once the tasks are taken from the corporate HQ the time wastage also gets removed. The best advice I can give anyone trying to escape their cubicle for the first time is to start as a freelancer. From accounts payable, to marketing director – we can all do it now.
9. A Tools Revolution: We all now have the same super powers that were once the domain of the worlds most powerful corporations. We can connect with anyone, we can access a factory without owning it, the worlds information is available and free on line, we can do e-commerce with zero cost set up, we can advertise to a specific audience with zero wastage. It’s never been easier to start a business at low cost with the gift of free tools. Go.
10. The DNA of Australians: If you’re reading this in Australia (where I live) then entrepreneurship is in your DNA. The fact that you are here, means your forefathers crossed oceans in search of a better life. They probably came with nothing but their wit. We all have entrepreneurship running deeply through our veins. Best we make those who came before us proud.
I recently did I podcast with a friend Murray Galbraith who runs Dads.co – a place for dads to share and celebrate being a rad dad. I was particularly happy with the chat we had as it covered many of the important parts of being a dad, and being independent economically. I really think it’s some good ear candy. You can listen to it here.
Also, this Wednesday night I’ll giving a talk at the Entrepreneurs Club in Melbourne, about how to transition from employee to entrepreneur. I’m really excited about this one as I’ll be sharing my top 10 “Hacks of Independence” to help you escape the drudgery of corporate cubicle life. It’s free and you should totally come and share some ideas with other like minded individuals. Details are here.
There’s a lot of talk about the amazing things beacons will be able to do at retail level. And all of it is true – at least from a functional perspective. For the first time products will be able to directly interact with potential customers at store level. Physical spaces people spend time in will be able to interact with the people inside those spaces. Department stores, farmers markets, concert halls and football stadiums are all being filled with beacon technology. And it will give birth to a new era of pocket spam. I wonder if what we really need right now is more vendors shouting at us with offers we didn’t know we wanted? I doubt it.
So, here’s the startup opportunity for Beacons which few are focusing on just now.
How to stop them.
Yes, the spam filter equivalent for the intrusive beacon. And I know you’re thinking that this time it’s different, because it wont happen unless we allow push messages. But when was the last time you read all those terms and conditions for a web based service? Often we say yes to something before all the details emerge and when the world was slightly different. It’s our legacy decisions which get taken advantage of.
Often the market for the hotdogs around the stadium is bigger than what is on the main playing field. And there’s always less people watching that game while you set up shop on the sidelines.
In a very short period of time, opinions of anything can change. It wasn’t so long ago that these statements were made about the internet as a commercial platform:
- It’s for nerds. “Fine, you nerds can do what you want but normal people are never going to use this thing.”
- It’s completely decentralized, which means you can’t trust it. No business is ever going to do anything on it because businesses won’t work on an untrusted environment. There won’t ever be any e-commerce.
- There will never be any internet payments. No one will put their credit card on the internet.
- It’s an open-source kind of thing so there will be no Internet companies.
- It’s got all these technical deficiencies. It’s slow. It’s unreliable. It doesn’t work right. When you do a search, sometimes you get an answer back and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes when you dial in you get a busy signal.
- What happen if your ISP goes out of business? Then you can’t get back online.
- Once you get on the internet, even assuming you get on the internet, there’s nothing to do. There’s no content. Time magazine isn’t online, the New York Times isn’t online. It’s just a bunch of nerd stuff.
These classic soundbites come from Marc Andreessen in a recent interview while referencing those who think bitcoin will never be more than some kind of digital space oddity. While we are on the topic of economic change, it is telling to have a look at the market valuations of the top 10 internet companies. That is, companies less than 20 years old who could not have existed pre dot com. The US top 10 public companies now have an accumulated value of $1.168 trillion dollars.
- Google – $585 billion
- Facebook – $170 billion
- Amazon – $155 billion
- Ebay – $65 billion
- Priceline – $65 billion
- Yahoo – $36 billion
- Salesforce.com – $36 billion
- Twitter – $24 billion
- Linkedin – $21 billion
- Expedia – $11 billion
We can also add the upcoming float of Alibaba.com to this at anything between a further $120 to $200 billion.
This takes my mind directly to the potential of 3D printing, web of things and the solar energy industry. All of which are in their 1993 era. The only question remaining for entrepreneurs reading is this; What are you going to do about it?
Yes, I have been writing, just in other places. So here’s 3 recent articles I’ve put out there which could have been put here:
Back posting tomorrow – I promise.
Fake it till you make it – sure you’ve heard that. But have you ever seen a documentary showing it in action? Been a fly on the wall while people make dramatic transitions? There’s an old UK television show aptly called ‘Faking it’. It’s now been off the air for almost 10 years but has serious lessons for entrepreneurs and anyone looking to make a transition.
It is truly inspiring to see what is possible for most anyone with focus, hands on practice and coaching from experts. One of my favourite episodes takes country boy James Sawyer dressed in tweed who speaks with a toffy voice to become a street graffiti artist in a mere 4 weeks. The premise of the show is that his mentor has to get their student up to speed so that they can sit a test, and trick experts who have to pick the ‘faker. The test James had was to go through a live graffiti art contest (pitch if you will), against 3 other actual graffiti artists followed by an interview on the hip hop culture in the hope of to stooging the judges.
It’s worth watching and you can watch it here.
The thing is that we are all faking it, even when we are regarded as an expert in our field. None of us really know anything with absolute certainty. We guess, we estimate, we take a chance, we copy others and we just forge ahead. We should remember this more in life and forget the fear of being called out as a fraud. Most of what we do to make a living or build a startup is not life and death. Getting it wrong wont really matter that much, unless you are building airplanes and bridges. (Airplane and bridge building readers, please ignore this post.) The rest of us should start acting is if we can.
Every now and again there are movements which gather pace and very quickly form industries. Industries which have inevitability about them. Industries which are suited to the startup realm more than they are to corporate giants. Industries in which it is clear to see that a void will be filled and fortunes will be made. The kind of concepts that are who and when, rather than if and how.
The personal computer industry had this in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The the media industry was clearly going to be transformed in the 1990’s witht the dot come boom and right now the web of things is a big opportunity that most industries are failing to see, or at least act on. The thing that they are failing to see is that every product people buy is also going to become a tiny computer. So here’s a question entrepreneurs searching for an idea should ask themselves:
How can I turn product X into a computer?
The companies who already make product X probably know it to, but I seriously doubt they’ll do anything about it. Especially if the company was born before the internet. They’re likely to do what they’ve always done; try to make their product cost cheaper than last year, and maintain their market share. It’s what industrialists do as they return a profit to their shareholders while mitigating risk and changing incrementally – or only once the market demands change. Sure, their are more innovative established firms who’ll see this opportunity and act on it, but they’ll be in the minority. This means that the opportunity is a massive white space for entrepreneurs. A white space where you can turn your hobby into a company – by doing exactly what the question asks. Putting a computer onto a product you love. I intend to do it for surfing. And this isn’t some fanciful development years from now it’s already happening:
LIFX did an amazing job making web enable light globes to change the home.
The Moxie showerhead has a wifi enabled speaker inside it so you can rock out while bathing.
We’ve also seen connectivity on home locks, sports shoes, cars, and clothing, so why not milk cartons or cricket bats?
In fact, have a look around your home and office – look at something and that thing will be connected to the internet at some point in the next 10 years. Whether the connected technology will enhance utility, automation, the smart home, e-commerce or feed into the quantified self, it is going to happen. And the entrepreneurs may not even need to make the thing – it might be attached to the product others make. There’s any manner of ways it can be mashed up. And given that these things that will be connected to the internet already exist, with established markets, the exit potential is clear and simple. So the only question remaining is whether or not you’ll do it or watch while other entrepreneurs fill the void.