Start Up Blog

7 simple concepts

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on December 12, 2013

Had a few ideas in my mind for blog posts. But thought I’ll just soundbite them now and go deep later:

1. Selling Potatoes: Startup ideas are often far too clever. Often they represent what is technically possible, rather than what is technically needed. I keep coming back to the idea of selling potatoes. That is, selling something demand already exists for. If we do this, we can stop wasting resources trying to creating demand. Instead we can just do a better job connecting and serving the existential market. Buy for price X and sell for X2. I’m wondering why a ‘potato’ business is rarely considered by aspiring entrepreneurs. We ought resist the temptation to 3D print ceramic fur balls for imaginary cats.

2. Market Validation: Real market validation must be with strangers, not colleagues. If it’s an online business, then validation can’t be done in person. If it’s a physical business then validation can’t be done on line. We ought match the real world. Real market validation should involve money, and avoid surveys.

3. Size & Attitude: The bigger the company the harder it is to maintain a cool attitude. When companies go public, their DNA changes. It’s just a fact we ought accept. At this point founders don’t care, they’ve already made bank. When our favourite companies get big it is inevitable we will suffer from a little bit of startup nostalgia.

4. Business Model & Problem Solution: I often get pitched startups that have a great business model with no real human problem. Or a solution to a human problem which struggles to find a business model. Our chances of success increase dramatically when we have both. We should work hard on having both of these elements when conceiving our next startup.

5. Quiet Self Esteem: It is what we are doing when no one is actually looking that matters. The actions we take that only we will ever know about. This is what we should focus on.

6. Half Baked Ideas: These are the best ideas to play with in the short term. It means we are in the kitchen experimenting. It doesn’t mean we should try and sell these cookies at the market, but we should always throw a few new recipes in the oven.

7. What VC’s Really Invest In: Justifiable failure. They don’t aim to fail, but before they invest a dime they know they will get it wrong more than 9 times out of ten. They’ll never admit this, but they are only ever investing in what will sound like a good bet to their partners. So that when it does fail (and it will more than 90% of the time) it is justifiable to those who stumped up the money. Hence, when seeking capital all we need be is justifiably worth the risk.

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What matters more?

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on November 22, 2012

Being involved in the startup scene, or any business environment, there is a constant pull between the forces of production. A pull for power and control. The desire for one party to feel as though they are the input that matters, the major resource of creating something cool, desired and valuable. The idea creator, versus the coder, versus the salesman, versus the marketer, versus the capital provider… they all have a unique and special relationship with the output that makes them rightly feel as though they are the input that really matters. The input that makes it all possible.

But here’s an allegory worth considering.

We plant the seed of a lemon tree. We place it in the soil. We ensure it’s in a place that will receive enough sunlight. We water it frequently. We give it mulch and fertilizer. We stake it for stability to avoid the strong winds from breaking it. We attend to it daily. We are patient. We hope it bears fruit… Actually, we are certain it will bear fruit. For this belief enables us to find the energy to keep attending to our investment.

So what is more important? The seed, the soil, the nutrients, the sun, the water or the attention? None of them.

Without all of it, there will be none of it.

Instead of making claims to being the catalyst of creation, we should be thankful that we are part of a rich eco-system.  A system from which he output we can all benefit from.

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Do it when nobody is looking

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 23, 2012

If we get up early when nobody is looking.

If we go to the gym when nobody is looking.

If we read the books when nobody is looking.

If we attend the night classes and seminars when nobody is looking.

If we tend the garden when nobody is looking.

If we save our income when nobody is looking.

If we build our prototype when nobody is looking.

If we knock on doors when nobody is looking

If we work hard when nobody is looking…

So long as ‘we’ are looking, is all that matters.  If we do it for long enough, eventually the yield from silent and lonely work appears for others to see, and most often, they wonder ‘when’ we did it.

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Stay true vs the pivot

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 12, 2012

I bumped into  friend who recently had a successful exit to a tech start up. One thing that I have really looked onto with envy is his ability to throw the old model out and start a fresh. In fact, he did it more frequently and with more haste than most people I know. if it wasn’t working he moved on to an entirely new idea, or made a quick pivot onto the sticky good parts of the concept.

Turns out this process has worked for him.

I’ve been more of a stay the course kind of guy. This comes from my general long term philosophy on when it comes both investing and how to live life. I’ve recently wondered how much this has held me back in startup land – while acknowledging it has worked very well for me financially.  But what I’m starting to realise now is the difference between pivoting from an idea as opposed to pivoting the process. And that I can remain true to my ethics so long as I don’t confuse the former with the latter.

The course is the process, the pivot is the direction.

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Property Investing 101

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on January 27, 2012

A startup blog regular – Josh Moore has been asking for as post on Property Investing. Which like anything can be treated like a startup. It’s a big topic with a million books on it. But I have had a side interest in it for some time. So here are some tips on stuff that I think is worth knowing when investing in property. A bit of a 101 guide:

  • Property returns on average about 10%. Which is quite similar to the share market on.
  • Banks will lend much more money for property investments due to lower volatility than shares.
  • You should buy investment properties that you, yourself would like to live in.
  • Land goes up in value. Concrete and air does not increase in value.
  • Period buildings (unique styles, historical) have higher capital growth than the average property.
  • Rental returns are usually below 5% per annum.
  • Property investment can be a quicker path to wealth than shares due to leverage (borrowing money).
  • Getting someone to manage a property costs about 7% of the rent per week. (so you wont have to fix toilets)
  • You should always allow for 6 weeks a year vacancy on rental properties.
  • High capital growth properties & areas, tend to have lower rental yields.
  • High yield properties tend to have low capital growth.
  • Areas going through gentrification usually have greater capital growth.
  • A rental guarantee is a lie – the rent for the guarantee period is usually built into the selling price.
  • Auctions are invented by real estate agents who want it to sell quick to get their money.
  • Homes on busy roads have a higher turnover of renters and reduced yield.
  • Homes near water (river, beach, lake) grow faster and fetch a premium.
  • Tax benefits of property investment in Australia are a significant advantage.
  • You can draw out profits (capital gain)  from a property that has grown in value and not pay tax on it
  • You can buy insurance against tenants in case they damage your house (Landlord Insurance).
  • Investors should choose between yield or capital growth when investing.
  • Capital gains tax on selling is 50% lower if you’ve held the property for over 12 months.
  • Property investing is very dependent on government policy, technological change, and infrastructure.
  • The key to investing is compound growth. Trading removes the power of compounding.
  • Trading properties & developing, is not investing, they are more like running businesses.
  • Trading properties is expensive – acquisition usually costs between 6-9% of market value.
  • Disposing of property usually costs around 3-5% of market value.
  • The property market can go through long periods of sustained stagnation, 10% returns is 100 year+ average.
  • Buying properties off the plan is risky. The saving in stamp duty can be a false friend.
  • Mortgage insurance is for the bank, not the mortgage holder.
  • The word mortgage is French, meaning; An engagement until death.
  • I believe that property is a get rich slow category
  • The biggest land holder on earth is ‘The Catholic Church’

Hope this helps getting you off and running in your property ventures. Good authors on the subject include; Jane Somers and Dolf De Roos.

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Top 10 financial hacks

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on April 13, 2011

There is no point being a successful entrepreneur, or selling a startup if we have no idea how to handle the money we get. So here is my top 10 financial life hacks.

  1. Spend less than you earn, no matter what that amount is. The net result is happiness.
  2. Allocate cash to savings & investments before anything the day you get your profits, pay or dividends.
  3. Never go into debt for anything which does not appreciate in value.
  4. The real definition of an Asset: Anything that puts money in your pocket. The accounting definition of an asset is flawed.
  5. Do not trade stocks. Trading makes the broker and tax man rich and you poor.
  6. The greatest financial instrument is ‘compounding’. It only happens when we hold assets, not by trading them.
  7. If you can’t afford a consumer product in cash, you can’t afford it.
  8. There is no such thing as ‘financial engineering’. It was invented by Wall street to trick you.
  9. The best type of share investment is an Index Fund. They are investments in civilization. If that fails, we have bigger worries than our money.
  10. Invest more in education than entertainment & ‘things’ and you will outdo society financially.

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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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Unexpectedly Awesome – BBC

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 26, 2009

Sometimes it’s worth being even just a little bit awesome. We don’t need to change the world, maybe just having a little bit of public fun is enough. The usually conservative BBC did that for me today when I realised the following: The BBC video player has a volume which goes to 11.

It’s what I call unexpectedly awesome. I was delighted. So much that I’ve linked here to little video of Warren Buffett being interviewed. Upon which you can learn something and also pump the volume up to 11.

Startups – do something a little bit awesome.

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2 schools of business valuation

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 10, 2009

A favourite game of entrepreneurs, especially in the technology industry is discussing whether companies are worth the price they are bought out for. $1.5 billion  for Youtube ………. Sales prices with infinite price earnings multiples (because there are no earnings, or they are loss making). Versus a company being sold for a few times it’s annual earnings with a long period of earnings history.

A more relevant discussion would be which school of business valuation was used during the transaction, and there are two:

1. Sale price representing believed potential

2. Sale price representing return on investment reality

Which is more valid? Well it depends on which side of the equation you are residing. I’d say when selling, we should be aiming for potential. When buying we should go with reality. When buying a business the simplest question to ask ourselves is this:

On current earnings, how many years will it take me to get back my original investment.

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There’s no doubt certain industries are more likely to sell using the potential valuation method. Burgeoning industries like the internet, IPO’s and even railways 200 years ago are good examples. To get away with selling on ‘potential’ the industry needs to be growing, the future unknown and your company well known. If your startup ever gets enough traction to sell to an incumbent, then take what you can get – sell on potential.

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Timing vs Time in

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 6, 2009

The timing versus time in argument is a long standing one in investment circles. And it gos a little bit like this:

People who are for ‘timing’ the market proclaim that smart investors should time their entry and exit for their investments. And that investors should exit when markets are too hot, for example when price earnings ratios are well above the long term average. And enter at the opposite end of the spectrum. Resulting in higher profits.

People are are for ‘time in’ the market proclaim that smart investors should stay in the market at all times. That when you enter or exit the market does not matter so long as the investment has been in market long enough. Which will result in a long term result of profitability due to the period of time in the market, allowing market averages to endure.

Both parties happen to be correct.

What neither side bothers to discuss is most important factor in either strategy. Probability. The probability of success of either the two different investment strategies. It turns out that it’s a pretty simple proposition related to risk and probability.

Timing the market – Can have very high returns (losses) but a much lower probability of success.

Time in the market – Has average returns (rarely losses) and a very high probability of success.

Numerous studies have proven the above to be fact.

How does this pertain top startups? Well it reminds me a lot of the internet and entrepreneurs attitude towards it. Most entrepreneurs believe that the only way to succeed is to win big. To sell out our startup to some digital behemoth. Our business brains have been hijacked by the Techcrunch stories and the large novelty checks presented to the likes of My Space, Facebook, Digg, Flickr and friends …

These are a little bit like investments where the market has been timed. It’s a low probability event. Sure there’s a lot more to it than a passive investment vehicle, but the probability of it happening is so to us, is so low that it’s not worth considering.

What we ought do instead is focus on the high probability events. In an entrepreneurial sense success is a very long term proposition. So our goal should be to remain in the entrepreneurial game as long as possible. As we do this we inevitability move up the learning curve and increase our chance of winning at some time in the future. Winning may not mean a cheque in the millions, but it might mean earning 5 times what we could in wages, as well as having a lot more fun doing it.

So how do we stay in the game?

Keep our costs low. Know how to bootstrap. Enjoy the simple things in life. Know that the having is in the doing, not in the owning of stuff.

Startup Blog says: Use probability to your advantage

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