Start Up Blog

Top 10 thoughts on independent living

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 5, 2014

paths to independence

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.

New book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.

Top 10 tips to learn a language

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on November 12, 2012

When it comes to starting anything new, including learning how to speak a foreign language. So here’s my top 10 tips on how to hack the language learning process using the web:

  1. Watch free youtube lessons on speaking your preferred language. They’ve got ‘em all.
  2. Follow native speakers of that language on twitter. Here frequency & brevity is your ally.
  3. Comment on blogs in that language to practice your written form.
  4. Makes friends on-line with people from that country who want to learn English.
  5. Organize skype chats with your on-line friends to practice each others language together.
  6. Download one of the many free apps to practice in down time or while waiting for people.
  7. Offer free on-line English lessons to speakers of the language you desire to learn.
  8. Watch kids shows (cartoons etc) from your home country that have been translated on-line (see youtube)
  9. Set your browser, mobile and web apps into the language you are learning.
  10. Bonus Analogue tip – go to local restaurant and practice with waiters…

There’s never been a better time to start something worth starting.


20 things in 20 years

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 28, 2012

Since I left school around 20 years ago and in that time I’ve learned some things, that might just be a short cut for you. I’m not going to explain them – just state them. This list is non exhaustive and here they are:

  1. Taking longer to make decisions rarely improves the final result of said decision.
  2. Large companies primarily make decisions to protect income, startup companies primarily make decisions to grow income.
  3. Hard work from an average person invariably has better results than average work from a smart person.
  4. We remember and revere events much more than we do so for things. We should know which one to accumulate.
  5. People who have money problems while on low incomes have them on high incomes as well. It’s the habits that matter.
  6. Spare time is a poor choice to allocate anything important to (read here family, exercise, reading).
  7. Large companies most often reward people on cultural alignment more than actual results of tasks.
  8. Passion projects often take a lifetime to bare fruit. The short term favours sacrifice of belief systems.
  9. Great technocrats always get paid well. Great leaders and influencers always get paid more.
  10. Being aligned to your partners values is more important than alignment of interests. True for business and love.
  11. Financial independence is always a function of spending less than your income. Regardless of income size.
  12. Technology is recalcitrant towards the status quo and history. It forges ahead regardless.
  13. Informal and self education is of greater value than the formal version. It should also never end.
  14. Over time, prices for most everything relative to income drop. The only exclusion I know of is land.
  15. The most valuable things in life cannot be bought or sold, they must be earned. Respect, love, health…
  16. Secrets kill the soul.
  17. Ideas should be shared.
  18. Generosity is rewarded on the long run but may be invisible.
  19. We all have valuable skills, and these skills can leveraged in many ways once we stretch our imagination.
  20. The people we spend our days with has a greater impact on happiness than the work we do.

What are some of the philosophical things you’ve learned?


Spend money on these things:

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on February 20, 2012

Was thinking about this laying in bed last night. The things we should never think twice about spending investing money on.

Mainly because they make us and life better and they build on our entrepreneurial foundations. Here’s my top 10 list.

  1. Books
  2. Clothing
  3. Education
  4. Insurance
  5. Medicine
  6. Health Care
  7. Car maintenance
  8. Shouting a friend (Meal or a drink)
  9. Healthy Food
  10. Childrens well being

What’s on your list?


What to spend our money on

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 30, 2011

The common question we hear is: Are you a spender or a saver? It’s the wrong question. Any smart person needs to be both. A more relevant question is what is worth spending our money on, and what things should we resist the temptation to spend on. Given that any good entrepreneur needs to have an live a lean life, not just in their startups but in their life, I thought I’d throw together a top10 list of what to spend on So here it is:

Top 10 things to spend money on:

  1. Books & newspapers
  2. Education
  3. Annual vacation
  4. Gifts (non lavish) for family & close friends
  5. Sports & exercise
  6. Fruit & vegetables
  7. Comfortable accommodation
  8. Public transport tickets
  9. Internet access
  10. Insurance

These are the things that we shouldn’t even think twice about spending on. They add value to our lives and make us better people. In the long run they pay for themselves.

Things which don’t appear on this list, and things we should make what I call our ‘Considered purchases’.

You should follow me on Twitter by clicking HERE

Pop culture knowledge

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 24, 2011

Pop culture knowledge used to be about knowing who was atop of the leader board:

  1. the top of the billboard chart
  2. the number 1 movie
  3. the best selling pair of jeans
  4. the best selling athletic shoe
  5. the best picture at the Academy awards
  6. the most popular celebrity endorser
  7. … popularity contest X

This knowledge was a quick reference asset. It was worth keeping tabs on.

Pop culture has changed.

Now it’s about knowing what’s coming next. Knowing who’s already here is of little value. Anyone can find that out in a moments notice, it’s public and omnipresent on the web. Knowing who or what will be hot 6 months from now is where the currency is.  And that takes constant assessment and curation of the content. That is an art in itself.


Youtube rewind 2010

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on December 20, 2010

I promise this will be the last year in review video I post. But I do think it is relevant to all entrepreneurs and marketers to be across what people are watching. The one caveat that I’d place on anything which makes a hit list or a top ‘anything’ list for that matter is this:

When anything reaches a certain level of critical mass, the fact that it made it onto the agenda drives a large part of the subsequent popularity.

In the case of Youtube, the videos that make it to the most popular for the day, often make it to the weekly list… and so on. We end up watching, because people are watching. Not because it is actually worth watching. A few excellent pieces make it anyway – like the Old Spice commercial. You can check out the Youtube top 10 for 2010 here: And the summary video is below. Enjoy.



Retail startups are rad

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 26, 2010

This guest post by Michael Fox. Michael is a co-founder of the design your own women’s shoe business Shoes of Prey. He blogs about the adventures of running a startup at

5 reasons why retail startups are rad

Prior to starting Shoes of Prey, Mike Knapp and I were working at Google and were brainstorming industries that would be good for an online startup. We settled for online retail and here are the 5 reasons why:

1. There is so much room for innovation
Retail is an industry that’s 1000’s of years old and while there have been innovations, there hasn’t been an enormous industry changing event in that time. Online retail has the potential to change the industry more than anything else in it’s history.

Whether it’s offering products in a way that has never been possible before, like Pandora do with music, the brilliant use of customer and sales data at Amazon to suggest highly relevant products to customers, a new retail model like offering only 1 product (Woot) or deal (Groupon) per day, or tearing up old business models as Alice is attempting to do with grocery and Apple did with music retailing, online retail has enormous potential for innovation and there are so many ideas out there waiting to be executed.

2. Online retail is a growing industry
Figures can vary depending on exactly what is classified as ‘retail’, however online retail still makes up only a small percentage of total retail sales, in the order of 5%-6% in the US and less in countries like Australia. This is only going to grow.

3. An online retail business is easy to monetise
In addition to the difficulty of getting people to use your product, many online startups face the problem of how to make money from their business. Take Twitter and FourSquare. They’ve each built a fantastic user base, but they now face the challenge of working out how to make money from their product.

Like countless retail businesses for 1000’s of years, an online retail business sells a physical product so there is no need to develop a whole new business model for the business to be profitable.

4. There’s not a great deal of competition
The lure of getting rich quick by hitting on a winner in Apple’s Appstore or building the next Google or Facebook draws most top developers into those spaces resulting in a huge amount of competition. Most good web developers, when brainstorming what sort of business they want to start will avoid anything that involves a physical product like the plague.

If you and your team have the skill set to build a great website, and manage physical operations like sourcing physical goods and a physical supply chain, then you’ll face a lot less competition in the online retail space.

Of course you’ll potentially face some competition from traditional retailers moving into the online space, but particularly in Australia, that’s happening at a very slow pace. To help minimise that risk, but an innovative spin on your product and odds are you’ll stay well ahead of most traditional retailers.

5. The industry is small enough that you can have an impact early on
Online retail, particularly in Australia, is only just starting to develop. There are a number of industry groups and websites that have only recently started like Internet Retailing, Inside Retailing and Power Retail. Because these sites are relatively new it’s not too difficult to get coverage from them. It’s a similar story with conferences and industry awards. If you do something new and interesting in the online retail space you’ll soon be presenting at conferences and find your startup a finalist amongst some fantastic industry players.

If you’re thinking of doing an online startup I’d recommend considering online retail or applying a similar thought process to the industry you’re thinking of launching in.

Click here to follow Michael on twitter.

Time to share your thoughts:

If you run a startup, I’d love to hear about the factors that influenced you to choose the industry you operate in?

Trim the ‘to do’ list

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on July 20, 2009

Small tip for startups for today.

Trim the ‘to do’ list and actually deliver on something.

All to often we get caught up in ‘options’ and priorities and a simple solution is to have 1 priority, and 1 thing to do.

Then do it.

Take your to do list and put everything which isn’t number one and file it in a digital format somewhere to return to later. This way you’ll ensure that the ideas and projects aren’t lost.

I know, you know this. I know you’ve heard this idea before…..

But if you’ve forgotten it, or you don’t do it – do you really know it?


Digital project list

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on January 22, 2009

To do lists matter. In fact they matter a lot. The problem I find with always long to do lists is the that urgent always takes place of the important. And occasionally important projects fall off the agenda. They do this because they seem to live on the bottom of the ‘to do’ list.

This is why we must have a digital version of our to do list. Even if we are a pen an paper kind of person. As I am, which can be seen here, here and here.

The beauty of the digital to do list is the footprint lasts for ever. The important, but not urgent  items on the bottom of the list don’t need to be carried over with the pen. So they wont get lost in transition.

A good way to do it is to have a digital project list and an actual to do list for the day – that is, the items which you will certainly finish today. Remember, we can always add another item if we blow our own minds and finish all our tasks early.



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