There is nothing more common in startup land than to hear the advice of remaining focused. I used to believe this myself, but recently I’ve changed my view. I’ve changed my view because I think we focus too soon. We tend to focus when we think the idea or the space is we are playing in is hot. We should only focus once we have real in market validation. While there are many measures which validate a concept, media coverage does not amount to market validation. We have to remember the objectives of the media – especially when it comes to technology industries. What they want to do is the following:
- Report on something new
- Try and predict new trends and what’s next
- Fill up their pages for traffic (fill the void)
Just because what we might be doing is interesting and different, doesn’t mean it will get traction in market. In fact, sometimes media coverage in the early phases of a startup is an indication the idea itself might be bad. They cover the new and the shiny, which could mean we’ll have a much harder job ahead of us in changing behaviour and redefining how something is done.
I think we can take a lesson from the old fisherman we see on the shore line. They tend to cast a lot of lines in the water and employ the multi-fishing rod strategy. Not knowing which one will get a bite. They use different bate and different sized sinkers. Some lines are cast far from the shore, while others are much closer. They are looking for validation, for a bite. And once they get a bite, they’ll focus on that particular fishing rod and reel it in. Focus, post validation, not before.
When it comes to non-fishing startups we need to look for real in market validation. Real usage growth and revenue are the simplest. And once we have that, we can start to focus without folly.
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.
Yesterday I was cleaning the remnants of 2012 from my desk when I found an old note pad. I was flicking through and found some thoughts and ideas I had written down during meetings, while listening to some talks and just reading articles. While many of them are ‘oldies’ I still think some are worth sharing and creating a digital foot print for.
- Being busy is not the same as being effective.
- We should begin every project as if there is no budget.
- 1 billion dollars laid flat in $100 bills would fill a 1 meter deep 1300 meter square space. (Swimming pool?)
- To get a good answer, we need to ask a great question.
- The average Australian has 1 testicle (be careful with averages).
- Get T-Shaped people to work in your business. A broad set of experiences. Arms that reach wide into the world. People that can go left or right. people who are centered and balanced.
- It’s worth asking “why” 5 times if we want to get to the real reason of something.
- There are only 7 major plot lines to a story: Overcome the monster, Rags to riches, The quest, Voyage and return, Farce, Tragedy, Re-birth. Even our startup needs to choose one of these.
I think demographic segmentation should be added to the bundle of tools from yesteryear. The redundant list. Note just because it is a cold and dehumanizing concept, but because we no longer have to use economic and social indicators to guess who cares about something. In a connected world, where we opt in to tracking our own behaviour guessing is no longer required. Instead we can know precisely who cares, and what matters to them.
Age, Location, Income, Education levels, Employment, Race and Gender are all proxies. Estimating by proxy is very quickly being circumvented by knowing through tracking and connecting. In the old world we’d imagine a potential target audience or we’d research a target audience if we could afford it. The good news today is that none of us have to guess anymore, and all of us can afford the price (very often zero) to find out who they are. And most importantly we should remember our people are not some statistical cohort we attack, but a group of individuals that we should be bending over backwards to help out.
My post yesterday was about the simple yet great fundraising effort by Wikipedia.
Well today I got a lovely follow up letter, which although I’m sure much of it is ‘form, it didn’t feel like it. It was also from ‘Sue’ with her actual email address and phone number (not included) not a ‘thankful robot’. Actually it said some smart stuff which reinforced my decision – which is something few brands bother to do.
Thank you for donating to the Wikimedia Foundation. You are wonderful!
It’s easy to ignore our fundraising banners, and I’m really glad you didn’t. This is how Wikipedia pays its bills — people like you giving us money, so we can keep the site freely available for everyone around the world.
People tell me they donate to Wikipedia because they find it useful, and they trust it because even though it’s not perfect, they know it’s written for them. Wikipedia isn’t meant to advance somebody’s PR agenda or push a particular ideology, or to persuade you to believe something that’s not true. We aim to tell the truth, and we can do that because of you. The fact that you fund the site keeps us independent and able to deliver what you need and want from Wikipedia. Exactly as it should be.
You should know: your donation isn’t just covering your own costs. The average donor is paying for his or her own use of Wikipedia, plus the costs of hundreds of other people. Your donation keeps Wikipedia available for an ambitious kid in Bangalore who’s teaching herself computer programming. A middle-aged homemaker in Vienna who’s just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A novelist researching 1850s Britain. A 10-year-old in San Salvador who’s just discovered Carl Sagan.
On behalf of those people, and the half-billion other readers of Wikipedia and its sister sites and projects, I thank you for joining us in our effort to make the sum of all human knowledge available for everyone. Your donation makes the world a better place. Thank you.
Most people don’t know Wikipedia’s run by a non-profit. Please consider sharing this e-mail with a few of your friends to encourage them to donate too. And if you’re interested, you should try adding some new information to Wikipedia. If you see a typo or other small mistake, please fix it, and if you find something missing, please add it. There are resources here that can help you get started. Don’t worry about making a mistake: that’s normal when people first start editing and if it happens, other Wikipedians will be happy to fix it for you.
I appreciate your trust in us, and I promise you we’ll use your money well.
I wonder how many startups are this thankful to their first customers?
Advice is an interesting thing to give because by it is opinionated in nature. It is influenced more by the previous experience of the giver, more than it is by the taker. Because advice we give is usually one of many possible courses of action, there will always be doubt in the recommendation. The only way of really knowing what advice to take, only becomes evident after it has been taken.
Where doubt is an omnipresent reality, the best advice we can give is definitive advice. Advice which is acted upon quickly and fervently. When advice increases self belief in the receiver, it is often more valuable than the advice itself.
With great change, comes great tension. This tension often leads to a split between the opposing forces from which re-alignment may never occur. A favourite past time of many of us is predicting a winner – the eventual pattern that we’ll all follow.
No category is less pervasive in this arena than technology. But in reality it is becoming less and less about winners and losers, and much more about choice, fragmentation and tribes. An old axiom by Stewart Brand we’ll all remember is the one about “information wanting to be free”…. but it turns out that this story has an oft left out post script: He immediately added after this that “information also wants to be expensive”, which was a far less quoted caveat.
In a world were control is dissipating, and startups are changing everything, we ought remember that both directions can be equally valid.
The graphical web as we know it is about to have its 20th anniversary. The first free downloadable graphical web browser ‘Mosaic‘ was launched in January 1993. In the past 20 years, the world has been reshaped no less dramatically than it was during the halcyon days of the industrial revolution which started in the 1750′s. And while it is clear that we are living through something like a 200 year shift, the shift can be segmented into easily definable parts when we pay attention to what has been happening.
The web, so far has had two distinct phases – from a commercial and a human perspective. The first was the connection of the infrastructure and the second was the connection of people. But now, we are about to enter a third and most interesting phase – The web of things. The web of things can be defined as a world where the web becomes so omnipresent that it becomes…invisible. It will be a world where everything and everyone is augmented via the web. You may be asking why anyone would want this and how it could relate to marketing and advertising, but before we do that, it is worth considering how we got here and why the web of things is inevitable.
The first phase of the web was the connection of the machines. This takes us all the way back to the 1960s when experiments in data transfer arose. Machines and code were being built so that previously separate forms of technology (largely mainframe computers) could talk to each other. The second phase was the one that confirmed this internet thing was not just a passing fad. In fact it was this part that caught the advertising industry napping and resulted in the largest disruption to human existence since we left the farms en masse. It was the connection of the people, the web 2.0 phenomenon, as it became known later, when we realised there was value in humans being connected to each other’s expertise, thoughts and creativity. The previously top down marketing models big brands lived by became yesteryear – turned upside down forever. Coined in the early 2000s, this phase was defined by the power of the people on the web, rather than the infrastructure providers themselves. This shift was made possible by ubiquitous cheap technology and a rethinking of platforms from a bottom up standpoint. Now that we have our invariably permanent connection to the web, we want more. We want everything we touch and experience to be augmented, bettered and digitally enhanced. Step forward phase three – the web of things.
The web of things is a vision where everyday devices, i.e. objects that contain an embedded device or computer, are connected by fully integrating them to the internet. This has been made possible by the dramatic deflation in both size and cost of the sophisticated technology, which enables the web. This includes microchips, cameras, GPS, sensors, RFID et al. The constant need for better and cheaper technology in smart phones has provided a classic scenario where the web of things can ride on the coat tails of innovation of what already lives in our pockets.
In order to provide some context of how cheap augmentation technology has become, the following price changes are enlightening: In 10 years, one gigabyte of memory has dropped from over US$12 to less than five cents and a single RFID chip is now a little over 10 cents. What this means is that technology that connects ‘things’ to the web is as disposable as the packaging it comes in. If we add to this consumers’ desire for all things to be connected to the web, then there is no stopping it from becoming a consumer and communications phenomenon that will dwarf the impact of the social web. After all, a web of things has direct financial implications and monetization potential.
What we have seen with web connected running shoes and refrigerators is just the tip of the proverbial ice berg. Imagine how we might be able to integrate communications with a fridge that knows exactly what is in it – everything we buy at the local supermarket is connected to the web. A world where, we can remotely control everything in our homes, where almost everything we buy can interact with us, other products, our smart phones, our friends and our media habits.
Let’s take the humble toothbrush – imagine it is web-enabled. All of a sudden we can directly reward usage and brand loyalty. The toothbrush will know how often and how long it is used for each day. So there would be nothing stopping the toothbrush manufacturer from coalescing with a dental health provider. The toothbrush brand could provide discounted insurance based on regularly tracked brushing and brand re-purchase, while insurance provider could benefit through reduced risk of poor dental health. A triangular loyalty and incentive programme which lives outside of in-store discounting. It is this kind of product/ service mash-up that entrepreneurs need to be thinking of. There’s plenty of evidence already that humans really like tracking their own behaviour – runkeeper for example.
As entrepreneurs, we have now got a chance to invent the commercial implications of the inevitable ‘web of things’. The social web has now connected us and introduced a new era for startups, so we should now take the lead and create consumer goods mash-ups and value equations which couldn’t exist in a world without connectivity. And just like the social web, we will only ever know what people want to track, share and do when we put our web of things startup in front of them.
I’m convinced that pretty much everything is getting cheaper as time progresses. Relative to incomes there are not many things I can think of that have increased in price over time (excluding property). I wrote about this in a recent business manifesto post:
Omnipresent Deflation – While tabloids decry the rising cost of living and most everything we purchase, the reality is the opposite of what is being reported. Energy, housing, technology, entertainment and even food are all getting cheaper in ‘real terms’. Rapid technological change, Moore’s law and developing nation labour forces will ensure this continues. It’s creating the great business revenue maintenance challenge as we quickly move the price of ‘free’.
This is good news for startups. The barriers to entry have been infinitely reduced to well, almost nothing. One such service that is so cheap it is ridiculous is fiverr.com While it may not represent a bastion of quality, there sure is a lot of interesting services one can get for $5. Some of which could form interesting fun stuff to pimp your new brand. Many of these services could never have been available at such low prices… while many would never exist at all without the craziness that goes with all things web. Here’s a few of my fav’s from Fiverr:
Another case of the tail getting longer and the impact of connected labour.
Just when it feels like it’s all been done, it seems that the next idea will just take that niche a little further, and they’ll be some people who demand it too.