Start Up Blog

Colors, Apps and Cognitive Shortcuts

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 17, 2014

airbnb app icons old & new

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.

New book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.

A list of things large companies could do without

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 15, 2014

I’ve spent an equal amount of time in large corporates and startups. With the success that large companies have achieved comes an entirely new set of cultures which they could do without. So here is my top 10 list of behaviours large companies could do without:

  1. Public reading events. Organise a room full of people and stop their work to read stuff to them instead of actually providing an inspiring change instigating presentation.
  2. Pre-meeting meetings: Getting everyone ‘on the same page’ – I felt sick writing that… yuck. Time wasting. Have some courage people.
  3. Promoting the best political performers: Ensuring the political champions kick on instead of those making a difference in the market.
  4. Skimp on the product: Remove cost from product instead of having a product in which customers would tolerate price rises for.
  5. Creating information spirals: Gathering more research to reduce risk and avoid making a ‘go’ decision while the market opportunity gets taken by nimble competitors.
  6. Developing slogans instead of getting stuff done: A company I worked for had a new one each year. One was Fewer Bigger Better. It was a great way to justify not doing anything.
  7. Developing internal language: Having a culture of industry jargon, codes and acronyms to create the ‘self aggrandising’ illusion of intelligence. Talking to themselves
  8. Mistake avoidance culture: Creating a fear of decision making, by rewarding staff for not making mistakes.
  9. Penny pinching: Closing the stationary cupboard during a tough year, yet the senior people can still afford those first class trips to international trade conferences.
  10. Global alignment: Ensuring the packaging for Australia is the same as the packaging in Lithuania when the product comes out of different factories and is served in different cultures. Confusing when global focus is a disadvantage.

What’s your favourite piece of corporate folly?

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Wood chips, sugar & hazelnuts

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 8, 2014

It was recently the 50th birthday of that favourite chocolate spread we sometimes convince ourselves is ok to eat between two piece of bread. Nutella.

Nutella Jar

What a lot of people don’t realise is that Nutella is what it is because they couldn’t afford to make it the way they wanted to. Originally Nutella was a pure chocolate spread, but during the post WW2 era, a time of heavy rationing in Italy, they bulked up the ingredients with hazelnuts. They did this because hazelnuts were plentiful in the local area and much cheaper than cocoa per kilogram. The presence of mind to turn to the woodchips, in this case hazelnuts, and remarket the brand was very clever indeed. The branding was adapted to talk up the nut credentials and make people believe it was actually a hazelnut spread.

In fact it only has 13% hazelnuts and a whopping 52% sugar by volume – ironically about the same amount as the white label on the jar. While I’ll leave the moral discussion on the marketing of Nutella for another blog post, the question it poses for all of us is this:

How do we turn necessary cost cuts or lack of availability of inputs into brand advantage?

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Getting media coverage for your startup

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on May 5, 2014

There’s a lot of things I’m not good at, getting free media coverage for my startups is not one of them. Every project I’ve ever worked on I’ve managed to get major mainstream media coverage for it.

I recently wrote a post for the crew at Pollenizer on the Sammartino methods in getting how to get media coverage. I call it:

How to media hack your startup to awareness.

Like most things in business there is a recipe, and once you know it you can cook up that dish just about any time you have the right ingredients. A couple of my favourite recipes are right here.

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Just start working

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on March 22, 2014

If you want to work with someone, or for someone, people falsely believe that they have to ask for permission.  That they need approval to start  working with those who inspire them. The opposite is true and if we really want to work for someone, then all we need to do is start working for them. Start being a resource and creating value to what they do. It’s probably the best way to end up doing business with someone. To prove your capability, to demonstrate effort and to do it without asking for anything in return in the first instance. To be the resource.

I recently happened upon a great example of it. Aspiring advertising graduates went right ahead and did that for Tesla Motors. Here’s an advertisement they created below.

- – -

The interesting thing is that it got a all the way to Elon Musk.

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 3.22.00 pm

Just think about it, they’d never be able to get a meeting with him, to pitch an idea for an advertisement (mind you Tesla does not do any traditional advertising and does’t really need it – which is what happens when you make great products). But the lesson here is a vintage case of modern day bootstrapping. If we have resources at our disposal for connection and creativity, there’s nothing stopping us from using them. It’s those who create first without asking for anything who win respect and future opportunity.

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How a new brand can gain trust

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on February 25, 2014

This post by Seth Godin got me thinking about how to generate trust when we are a new brand or startup on the block. Here is what I think:

Building trust is simple. Create stories by doing things which exceed expectations. One customer at a time. When we do it, they share their good fortune to have done business with us. Trust never comes from the brand owner, but the interactions with the brand recipients. They then deliver that trust to others who buy the brand off them metaphorically. Thought they’d get X and they got X+1. They tell people about their win. We win by being generous.

Startup blog says: Generosity is the fulcrum of trust.

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A bit is gold

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on February 24, 2014

In the super terrific web series Comedians in cars getting coffee, Jerry Seinfeld (the host) was asked what he thinks has more value in comedy:

A funny story which is suitable for talk show

or

A small bit more suited to a stand up session

Jerry had an unequivocal answer. He said; ‘A bit is gold’. He went on to say it was superior in every way to a longer piece that requires more explanation, and that’s why you leave long stories for the talk show. The gold bits need to be left for the stage – where it really matters. It’s in this episode we can hear Jerry tell the tale.

It’s the same when it comes to marketing copy or web copy or pitching for a startup. There’s a temptation to not want to leave anything important out. To give all the details so the person can work out the important bit about the project. In some ways it is a form of justification of what we’re doing. A basic fear of the simple. Almost as if we are short changing the audience if we give them less. The ironic thing is that we almost always want less. When it comes to branding and marketing, just like comedy – sound bites are gold. They are customer winning, they are pitch winning and they are life winning. The longer story is inferior.

The added beauty of the soundbite is that the receiver creates the longer version. So soundbites work harder with more people. They tell themselves whatever story they want to from there. They add the layers they want according to their perception.  The sound bite is the seed, and the recipient is the soil.

Organise the worlds information

Change the world 140 characters at a time

A computer on every desk in every home

Yes we can

If people can remember our soundbites, that’s all they need to know.

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How to lose a customer

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on January 20, 2014

I’ve been using a certain weather app on my phone for some time. It is called Pocket Weather AU – Lite. It is the free version. A few times when I have clicked in to check the weather, it has given me this pop up screen below:

Pocket Weather

This time in good faith, I thought I’d click through and see what the offer was. To my disappointment, it was a simple ‘buy our paid version‘ of the app. No benefit, no exclusivity, nothing had been unlocked, no reason, no thanks for using. Just their way of asking me to upgrade. Now if you ask me there cannot be a more insulting way to incentivise a customer to upgrade. Tell them they are a cheapskate, pretend to offer something better, and then give them nothing for using the service for a few years.

Here’s what I did. I deleted their app – got another equally good free weather app, and wrote this blog entry about what I think might not be the best way to engage an audience your doing business with. Some things these guys might want to consider:

  1. If you don’t want your app to be free, then make it a paid version.
  2. Insulting people is not a very effective way to get them to upgrade financially to a software or web service.
  3. Making promises of exclusivity and non existent benefits is generally not a good idea.
  4. Understand the economics of excess supply. There are a zillion other free weather apps and my cost of moving to another service is close to zero.
  5. But mostly respect people, and maybe make them some kind of offer or reward for loyalty if employing a fermium business model.

I prefer to be positive in life, and have not even enjoyed writing this entry. Maybe that’s the over riding lesson. Don’t lie, treat people with respect and  positivity and they just might give you more money.

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Issues with Facebook

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on December 29, 2013

Every time I catch up with my young niece and nephews I ask them about their social media usage. Clearly not a robust analysis, but telling none the less. Given I see them most months it has become like a usage and attitude research program. I’m interested to understand their digital behaviour patterns, and see if they align with what the media is reporting. They are all between the age of 11 and 18 years. The question is simple: What social media are you using these days? No brands or tools are mentioned.

In the past few months Facebook has pretty much fallen off their radar. Not even used to socialise. They all told me Facebook is just good for invites and parties. But they prefer Snapchat and Instagram. In fact, over Christmas all they did all day was ‘snap’ with their friends. Ok, so this is no surprise, but what is interesting is the why. When I asked them why they care less about Facebook now the answers are quite predictable:

  • It’s too busy, with too many messages. The page on FB is all messy now.
  • It’s not as good on your mobile as ‘Insta’ and ‘Snapchat’ are. They suit it better.
  • It’s just my mates, not relatives and parents and all that.
  • It’s not cool any more.

There were more responses but you get the picture. Interestingly privacy issues have never been mentioned.

What’s clear again and again with the on-line world, is that it replicates the real world. There is no delineation. It IS the real world. But it seems that every on-line brand and social channel at some point start to forget this. Usually post market success.

I really feel that Facebook cooked their golden goose when they started to manage people’s feed and decide for them what was most relevant.  This had a really big effect on brands and organisations who had invested a significant amount in the FB platform, where overnight, their investment in connecting with those who care about their stuff was diluted. Reports say that most people see about 17% of what they actually sign up to see. But I believe it had a bigger and wider effect on individual users. It reduced the need for their members to be careful with who they said ‘yes’ to and what they ‘liked’. All of a sudden they removed the need for their users to be diligent, to manage their digital investment, to ensure their feed is up to date with who they want to hear from. And when there is no consequence, there is no investment. What Facebook tried to do with people’s feeds (keep it relevant and digestible) had the opposite effect in the long run. People lost control, didn’t manage their digital home and it turned Facebook into a crowded shopping mall. People selling stuff, lots of noise, too many options, full of strangers – people you met once at a party….  In any case cool kids don’t hang out in shopping malls, they prefer alley ways, and exclusive clubs.

In my view Facebook has become the White Pages of the web – boring and busy, but most names are there…. with a few unlisted persons. Ironically unlisted for the same privacy concerns people had with phones and addresses being public -

‘Are you Sarah Connor?’

I’m certain it will continue to be used to reach out and find people, but I feel it’s days of deep connection are over. I feel as FB will morph into an older demographic as most cool young brands do when they graduate into serious commercial entities. They always lose their cache.

FB wont disappear any time soon, but the kids on it will (have). Unlike older people using social networks, kids don’t have a commercial imperative to keep them there. They aren’t at a life stage where they are managing a personal brand, or are too scared to exit for industry knowledge reasons. They simply don’t have the exit costs many of us do with social media. I personally find LinkedIn totally annoying, spam filled and interruptive  but am yet to turn it off by not wanting to offend people or miss a random opportunity. Though I’m getting closer as each day passes.  Twitter has a broadcasting and personal quality to it given it has a one-way follow mechanism, it’s also more flexible and succinct. I truly believe it will be more highly valued company than Facebook in the long run because it more easily feeds into other media, TV, events and has a zytgeist of the times quality due to it’s immediacy.  

For me all of this is more proof that power in a digital economy is far more ephemeral than the industrial era. The barriers to entry for new competitors are low, as are the exit costs for users. It’s the mere nature of a democratised economic structure.

While this is good news for all startups, it’s also worth paying close attention to the forums we choose to build our brands in.

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The evolution of luxury

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 26, 2013

Like most human experiences or endeavours they live in a state of flux. They evolve. I’ve been thinking alot lately about the concept of luxury. And while luxury is a relative concept based on location, wealth, opportunity and many other factors, it seems to me as though technology is the most influential factor in its evolution. Most luxuries are temporal and may exit the fray based on technological advances or shifts in social behaviour.

The industrial revolution introduced a lot of luxuries, and invented a particularly well off middle class. Innovations which made life more comfortable would arrive and make their way down the social and economic ladder as civilization forged ahead. But as you’ll see, most luxuries have a limited lifespan with such a status. While some non-luxuries become luxuries as we evolve in other areas.

A non exhaustive list of the evolution of luxury:

  • Settlement: Becoming masters of our domain to the point where we didn’t need to be a species of nomads.
  • Excess food: Learning how to grow plants, trap & breed animals.
  • Agriculture: New efficient farming methods allowed people to exit food preparation as a way of life.
  • Piece labour: Getting paid by how efficient we became. The factory and the industrial revolution.
  • Industrialised homes: Heating, cooling, indoor kitchens, plumbing, refrigeration, washing machines.
  • Annual leave: 40 hour work weeks, salaries and paid leave from work, weekends.
  • Cars: Private motorised travel.
  • Air travel & holidays: Still being further democratised to this day.
  • Conspicuous consumption: Hello 1980’s, competing with the Joneses.
  • Fashion: Clothing beyond both needs, and functionality.
  • Premium food & widgets: Imported artisinal gelato and $100 electric toothbrushes.
  • Information: Anyone with access to the web today has more information on hand than the US President just 10 years ago.
  • Time: A core luxury today, due to humans inability to admonish the superfluous.
  • Privacy: An emerging luxury as we allow government infiltration and lack the presence of mind to think before we publish.

Of course you can think of luxuries which belong on this list, you can see how non luxuries have become luxuries as technology changes lifestyle. We can also guess some which might appear on the list in the coming years. So why am I telling you this?

It’s a realy clue into what might be important for entrepreneurs. Within the new luxury realms (physical or social) lie a number of startup ideas which will change the world and make people rich (for lack of a better word) in the process. The only question is, what might be tomorrows luxury in your community and how can you deliver it to them to make their life better? Or even better widen the distribution of something only the fortunate few currently have access to.

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