Start Up Blog

Inside the minds of others

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on April 2, 2010

When our genes could not store all the information necessary for our survival, we slowly invented brains. But then the time came, maybe tens of thousands of years ago, that we needed to know more than could be conveniently stored in brains. So we learned to stockpile enormous amounts of information outside our bodies. We are the only species as far as we know to have developed a communal memory, and the warehouse of that memory is called the library.

Something extraordinary has been happening on the planet earth. Rich information from distant lands and peoples , has become routinely available. Computers can now store and process enormous amounts of information extremely rapidly. In our time a revolution has begun. A revolution perhaps as significant as the evolution of DNA and nervous systems and the invention of writing. Direct communication among billions of human beings is now made possible by computers and satellites.  The potential for a global intelligence is emerging, linking all the brains on earth into a planetary consciousness.

The above words were spoken 29 years ago by Carl Sagan (in Cosmos 1980). Well before the personal computer revolution, the graphical user interface, before the internet had left military installations and Universities. Carl was a prophet, with great insight. He’s just described our world so poignantly, well before it arrived.

It makes me excited to be able to share my thoughts so easily, like Carl said we would all this time ago. It makes me want to ensure my digital contribution is positive and leaves a valuable legacy. It makes me want to make sure we all know how important this gift of omnipresent communication is, at a time when our species needs to collaborate so strongly for our survival.

Now that we can so quickly enter the minds of others, we should all make sure our contributions are positive, that we add something of value to this collective consciousness.

When technology makes you obsolete

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on March 12, 2010

I once heard an interview with drummer Rob Hirst from the rock band Midnight Oil. It was in reference to one of their most critically acclaimed and best selling song, Power and the passion. Rob was asked about the infamous drum solo in the middle of the song, which not only doesn’t sound indulgent, but fits the rhythm and meaning of the song. What I find most interesting from an entrepreneurial perspective is how it all came about, this is what Rob had to say:

“It was 1982 and drum machines were entering the music scene and replacing drummers very quickly. They were cheaper and more reliable. It was a time when drummers were throwing themselves off cliff tops. Rather than fear the technological advancement, I thought it might be better to embrace it.  I wondered how I could use it to supplement what I was already doing to make it better. So for the Power and the Passion, I decided to have a drum machine playing in the background on the entire track. By doing this it freed up my arms and legs to add some color to the song, and ultimately allowed for the drum solo which is often sited as the catalyst that makes the song so great.”

The story above is one for all the Luddites out there. for the technology fear mongers, and those who worry about being replaced. The truth is, we should be happy when technology replaces labour for the simple reason that it opens the door to creativity. It opens the door to opportunity, for a better use of our time and resources.

You can watch / listen the drum solo at 2.35 minutes on the clip below. Be sure to listen for the drum machine track quietly providing the beat underneath.

PS – the smashing sound at the end of the solo is a florescent light tube Rob brought into the studio for  a dramatic industrial effect, not a pane of glass. Awesome.

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Why scoreboards matter

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on February 20, 2010

Humans are compelled to count. We count everything. Days, weeks, months, years, birthdays, money in the bank, salary levels, years of experience. It’s part of the human condition, maybe it helped us evolve to a civilised existence .

As startup entrepreneurs we need to let our people count something. Whether it’s the savings they made or they friends they have, there needs to be a way for them to keep track. So our people know they have made progress. Commerce is an anthropological game of football. So we must keep score. But it must go beyond the corporate scoreboard of profit, share price, turnover, number of employees… it has to be an audience focused score. Like followers on twitter. It has to be about them, not us, it’s how humans roll.

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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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Why iterations matter

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 8, 2009

When it comes to startups iterations matter a lot. They are evidence of the business pulse. They mean we are progressing and building momentum.

But there are some deeper reasons why iterations matter so much. Iterations give us a reason to go back.  To go back to the market ‘our people’ and re-engage in a conversation. It gives us something to talk about,  stimulate interest and demand. To glean feedback from, regardless of who this conversation happens to be with. Our business is essentially a large complex set of conversations, and the changes we make facilitate them.

So who can we go back to with our iterations?

- Our customers who want to know how these iterations help them out

- Our employees who can get excited about the cool stuff they have been / will be working on

- Our suppliers who can get excited about the prospect of more business

- The media want to report on innovation, updates and the industry

Nintendo EvolutionPic via Alex Figueroa

All of these conversations stimulate our business, our industry and ultimately the market place. Our iterations have a much bigger impact than we think. It’s far more macro.

Iterations are social, and we are social creatures. If nothing has changed or improved, then we move on. It is human nature.


Entrepreneurs must change

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on July 15, 2009

I am a fan of the rock band Talking Heads. Not only their music, but their lyrics. Some of which I find incredibly provocative to this day. Actually – most of them are ahead of their time and almost only starting to make sense to me now almost 30 years on.

One song called Seen & not seen is almost spooky. At no time in history have we been able to transform ourselves like we can now. Both socially and intellectually. As entrepreneurs – that’s our journey. Becoming an entrepreneur is all about social and economic evolution as a person. it’s about unlearning the lessons of school and previous jobs we’ve held. But more so it’s about having a vision and transforming our mind, and maybe, just maybe our physical disposition.

Evolution of Mario

Read these lyrics – and just think about it. I’m not trying to be weird – rather to open your mind.

He would see faces in movies, on t.v., in magazines and in books….
He thought that some of these faces might be right for him….and
Through the years, by keeping an ideal facial structure fixed in his
Mind….or somewhere in the back of his mind….that he might, by
Force of will, cause his face to approach those of his ideal….the
Change would be very subtle….it might take ten years or so….
Gradually his face would change its shape….a more hooked nose…
Wider, thinner lips….beady eyes….a larger forehead.

He imagined that this was an ability he shared with most other
People….they had also molded their faced according to some
Ideal….maybe they imagined that their new face would better
Suit their personality….or maybe they imagined that their
Personality would be forced to change to fit the new appearance….

this is why first impressions are often correct…
Although some people might have made mistakes….they may have
Arrived at an appearance that bears no relationship to them….
They may have picked an ideal appearance based on some childish
Whim, or momentary impulse….some may have gotten half-way
There, and then changed their minds.

This song is worth a listen to as well if you can find it on itunes or the net.

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Competitors

Competition is eternally existential. We compete for love, money, attention, fame, wealth, recognition, and sometimes, we even compete for food. Turns out humans aren’t the only species who must to compete to survive. All living things must do it. Even trees in a deep forest compete for sunlight by growing as quickly as possible forgoing width for height.

What I find most interesting about competition is how we or any being chooses to do it. When a competitor catches us unaware, they usually achieve this through  using some form of subterfuge. Like growing in a smaller segment of the market. Focusing on a neglected geography. And the really smart competitors disguise what they are doing so you don’t even see them coming. A little like Google has done to Microsoft who was overly focused on the ‘desktop’, while the world was moving to web app’s and gathering and storing of information externally.

I noticed this phenomenon first hand recently. My business was moving along swimmingly (which in this case is my tomato plantation). As you can see from the photo below. My Roma’s looked healthy and almost ready for the picking:

tomato1

But upon closer inspection a competitor had been eating away at my market for quite a long time without me noticing. Once I turned around the tomato to inspect the back side of them – I was devastated to find my competition. They caught me napping and had a very big impact on my market share. As can be seen here:

tomato4

How did they manage this?

  • The caterpillar was smart enough to attack on the reverse side out of view.
  • His color is exactly the same as the tomato proving an excellent camouflage.
  • He waited till the market was already developed (by me) and the tomatoes had a reasonable size and were worth attacking – in this case risking his life over!
  • In true terrorist fashion he penetrated the market at one entry point and ate it inside out. That is, the caterpillar was so deep inside the market, he was completely out of view.

None of this was by mistake. It has been driven by millennia of evolutionary survival and subsequent genetic coding. Nature is smart.

The implications for startups are many. When we start out to compete, the best thing we can do is replicate what nature does. Stay out of harms way. Stay small and unseen. Try and gain some momentum and size. If we’re lucky will have built our share of the market and be ensconced before anyone notices.

(FYI – I picked the tomatoes, and placed them in another location of the garden to let the caterpillars fight another day – they may just leave some seeds which will flourish next season!)

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