Start Up Blog

The truth about small fish

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on November 30, 2010

When starting out or chasing new customers on an existing business it makes sense aim for smaller players first, to build confidence, and get a few small wins on the board…. right?

The problem with thinking like this is that it makes life harder and less profitable.

The truth about small fish, is that they are harder to catch than big fish. They’re more elusive than the big guys and are often much harder to convince to invest their money in whatever we are selling. With the small fish the decision is often about whether they should invest their money or not. The advantage of the big fish, is that the investment funds are usually allocated, it’s more a question of doing business with company A or company B. From a  revenue perspective it’s far wiser investment of time to court a customer whose decisions to invest are already made.  A $10,000 customer is harder to get than a $1,000,000 one.

The other factor worth considering is our reputation. If we become successful selling to the small players, we’ll be seen as a small solution provider.  But if we land a big one it gives us a license to knock on other big doors. When the investment is time, its worth chasing the bigger reward, and the truth is that it’s often an easier sell job.

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The authentic phone message challenge

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 16, 2010

I’ll start by saying the concept of getting customers to “hold” on a telephone is a pretty bad idea. Then I’ll tell this story….

Today I was on hold for Optus telecommunications, which gave me a reasonably standard phone message:

“Your call is important to us. At this time we experiencing high demand for our telephone support staff, and we’ll be with you as quickly as we can. Please hold the line for the first available operator.”

Here’s what I seriously would prefer to hear:

“We’ve made a deliberate choice to only have X number of people to answer our phones. They are incredibly expensive and having any more than this would impact our profit too much. We’ve done studies which have worked out the number of people that hang up for waiting too long, and how much revenue the average phone call generates or loses for us. The number of people employed to answer our phones is just about optimal. We check this every few months. The average wait is about 5 minutes, so it’s a cool idea to put the phone on load speaker while you wait. Then you can do other stuff. If we answer and you’re not at the phone immediately, we’ll do you the the same favour of waiting a bit while you run to the phone to talk to us once we actually answer. We hope you appreciate our honesty. We reckon it’s better than giving you a load of shit that tells you how important you are. Cheers.

And so the challenge goes out to any startup or business is prepared to develop the worlds first authentic phone message be sure to let us know here at Startup blog so we can spread the awesomeness.

There’ll also be a prize for the best comment with a phone number to a company that has a message of this ilk – and the prize is $100 Amazon gift voucher.

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Convention busting – retail

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on April 11, 2010

Long held wisdom in the retail industry is that items must be displayed on shelves by category. Idea being that we know what thing we are looking when we shop. But what if we’re just browsing? What if we don’t want anything in particular? Bring on Smiggle – stationary retailer who display their range by color.

Eyeball worthy…. I better go check out what they have in purple.

They aren’t the only ones moving towards it, as  on line retailer etsy also display their range on line by color, with an amazing interface – check it out. It just works.

What other conventions need to be busted in your startup category?

Web Success = Populate & Promote

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on February 12, 2010

I recently saw a job posted on a web developer recruiting website. It involved some people looking for coders to make a copy of my web business and livelihood www.rentoid.com. What was interesting was the lack decorum shown in the coder recruiting process where the person said – build me a replica of this website. Here’s a screen print of it below.

I was a bit annoyed at first. and sent out a tweet to assess the mood of my army of advisers on twitter. I tweeted the following:

Not sure what to think of this? http://bit.ly/cYR5FI A compliment or IP rip off with me and @rentoid as the victims? Help! Thoughts?

The responses were varied, but all were within the theme of this person clearly does not get what it takes. Here’s some verbatim of the tweet responses:

xshay don’t worry about it – we saw a guy offering to build redbubble for < $1000 once. A) not going to happen, B) not about the tech

shandsaker same thing happened to us. Just be confident that $750 and a 2 line project brief is $750 better spent on beer :-)

TimBull if they can only spend $750 to build it, quality won’t be there and they won’t stick it – betcha the coding was trivial part

BLKMGK01 Congrats man. Business must be huge if other people want to start ripping off ur ideas. U should apply to design the site! haha.

BrentHodgson Don’t let it worry you. You know that @Rentoid is more than the sum of its tech parts – & that it wasn’t a $750 job to create.

lukerides precisely…all about execution, so I would not worry…if they do a better job than you, they were always going to anyway!

I pretty much knew this before I tweeted the issue, but it did force me to think about web marketing success, and the success of rentoid to date and I came to the following conclusion. It’s not about the tech. In fact, the tech is pretty low down on the list of things needed for any website to succeed. And if i had to give my nemesis some advice on how to succeed in copying me it would be to do these two things:

Populate and Promote.

This is what needs to be done with any classified style website to succeed, and it takes a lot of time and investment. Investment in  financial and human capital. The problem with being 2nd, 3rd or later is that all the easy promotional opportunities like this are taken by the market innovator. And populating your website to make it meaningful takes a lot of boot leather, which is something many web entrepreneurs are afraid of.

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The Thomas Edison Strategy

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on February 8, 2010

In business, demand is invariably more important than supply. If demand doesn’t exist, supply is irrelevant. If demand exists, supply will eventuate.

I happened upon a quote from one of the greatest inventors / entrepreneurs in history Thomas Edison. Despite the simplicity of the idea, it’s very profound.

“I find out what the world needs, and then I proceed to invent it.”

This is some pretty good advice for any entrepreneur. It’s better to make what you can sell, than try to sell what you can make.

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Startup equation

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on December 14, 2009

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Selling – breaking down barriers

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 23, 2009

I’ve been out selling rentoid to major Australian rental companies and I’ve come to the following conclusion:

In personal selling being liked is more important than our product, price or offer.

Unless they like us, we wont really get the chance to explain the benefits of doing business with us. We might be saying it, telling them all the good reasons why we should be doing business, but they a probably not really listening.

What I’ve been doing is looking for relationship links. Things which we have in common. I know it sounds quite obvious, but when we have something in common we are essentially paying them a subtle compliment. We are saying “Oh, me too, your smart, you have good taste.”

Here’s some of the simple things of been using to find said common ground:

- Geography – Living in the same area, having an office close to theirs. People like dealing with locals. Geagraphy matters.

- Sport – Footy finals, if I see an interest in football or see some physical evidence then I get straight into it.( a bit blokey this one, but it works a treat)

- Industry Love – if we show you really care about the industry they are making their living from it’s a good thing. It means we are supporting what puts bread on their table. They like us if our objective is the help the industry we are both working in grow.

There is physical evidence all around us in sales calls from which we can find a link to develop a micro yet ‘instant relationship’. We just need to be perceptive while we are out there. It isn’t about being deceptive either. We’ve got to find a common interest. Something we actually believe. If we fake it they’ll smell it and we’ll blow the sale.

most important thing of all…

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 9, 2009

…… for entrepreneurs is this:

We must put ourselves in as many Yes / No positions as possible every day.

What’s a Yes / No position?

It’s a call to action.

It’s asking for something we need to get to the next step.

It’s asking for an order

It’s asking them to buy

It’s making an awkward phone call

It’s facing fear and rejection

It’s taking rejection straight into the ‘next Yes / No propostion

It’s putting momentum above all things.

The number of position proposals is directly proportional to our success – and our success rate as a percentage increases as the volume of propositions does.

That is all.

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Inventing Demand

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 4, 2009

It’s no secret I own and run www.rentoid.com – but here’s a story you don’t know. The story of how I got it off the ground and got people to use the website.

Rentoid had a classic chicken and egg problem when it first got launched. People wont list items until we have willing customers waiting to rent their stuff. Conversely, people couldn’t rent things until people willing to rent their items put them up for rent. It’s a bit like asking two people who don’t know each other to fall in love. To solve this problem I decided to ‘Invent Demand’. This is how I did it.

I went out and got myself a copy of the Harvey Norman and all the major department store catalogs. Scan through and them and picked off what items I thought would be suitable to rent. For the purposes of rentoid that meant items that were ‘hot‘ in market (their placement in the catalogue was proof enough of that), items which had a purchase value of over at least $200, and had a low likelyhood of damage. I then proceeded to gather photos of the specific items off Google images and listed each of them on rentoid. The rental prices I placed at 5% of item value for a week, and 10% of item value for a month. The bond I made 50% of the cost. I made sure I listed items from varying categories. I did it in 3 suburbs across Melbourne (North, West & East). The listings also said ‘as new, never used’ – how true. It also assisted with our SEO because people do ‘item & location’ specific searches.

Harvey Norman catalogue

When people rented the items, I went out and bought them, first hunting for the lowest price on line. Then rented it to the new rentoid member in good faith and gave them an exceptional user experience.  After the rental I sold the item on ebay for around about 80% of the retail price. I pretty much re-couped my costs doing this. Some items kept renting out often enough for me to keep them including my Nintendo Wii and Guitar Hero which have paid themselves off more than 3 times over. The cool thing is the experience I gave people and the live demonstration it gave me to the system I built.  It really helped me iron out many of the bugs in the system when it comes to usability and transacting on-line.

You may think this is slightly deceptive, but it isn’t, simply because the rentoid member got what they wanted from the site and the process was completely transparent. When they’d come over the pick up the item up for rent I’d tell them I own http://www.rentoid.com. I’d ask questions like how they found the site and what they think. In fact, they loved the idea and were stoked to transact with the founding entrepreneur.

It was a great process to not only to invent demand, but also gain some brand evangalists and supporters. And yes, I still list a lot of items on rentoid – espeically if it’s new and cool and we don’t have it on the site yet.

As entrepreneurs, we need not be afraid of how we can build demand and momentum with our start up. We must do this because action creates reaction and often people simply liking our idea isn’t enough. Instead we must show leadership and belief in our own product and embrace it and use it as our own ‘in house evangelist’. If we don’t believe, how can we expect them to?

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Thought starter

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on August 25, 2009

Quite often I’ll be looking for a business solution. A solution to a problem. But most times I really don’t know what I am looking for until I find it. But when I see, hear it, or touch it, I know it’s exactly what I need. If I waited to start until I knew what I wanted, I think rarely would I find a solution at all.

I know it sounds crazy, but I really think we should get started before we know what we are looking for.

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