Start Up Blog

My mum doesn’t understand

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on March 27, 2012

For the best part of the last 10 years I haven’t been able to explain to my mum what I actually do for a living. Both with startups I have created and jobs I have had. Probably more so with the paid roles I have had. And this is an important insight into the world today and how we all fit into it.

How my mum responded to various activities I have undertaken:

My blog: Why do you do that? What is it about? Who pays you for it? Why do people want to read about startups?

Startup School: How can it be a school if they don’t get a certificate at the end of it? What curriculum do you follow?

Rentoid.com: Why would people trust strangers with their things? Why would people rent or share stuff when they can just buy it?

Director of Strategy: If you don’t write the ads or make the film at this Advertising agency, what do you actually do? I don’t get it.

Twitter: Who cares about what you have to write? Why can’t you write more than 140 characters? What do you mean people follow you?

In fact, without being disparaging, we need to ensure our mums don’t understand what we do. It’s the best indication that we are a scarce resource in a rapidly changing landscape.

When everyone understands what we do, it almost certainly means there are plenty of people who can do it. And if there are lots of people who do what we can do, then there is less chance we can extract significant value in the marketplace.

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An ‘A’ or Fluency?

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on February 29, 2012

If you wanted to learn how to speak French and I could give you a choice to achieve one of the following two options, which would you choose:

- To get an ‘A’ on your report card.

- To be fluent in the language.

Without a thought you would choose the second option. The second option clearly has more value than the first option. Even though the first option, may include the second, neither two are interlinked by default.

It’s an interesting analogy we can use when it comes to business objectives, brand propositions, and why we are embarking upon our latest startup mission. Do we want a number? (the A) Or do we really want thing that the number describes? (Fluency).

What’s also interesting is that speaking any language well is a life vocation, native tongue or otherwise. The achievement is not marked via formal qualifications, and language is most recognised when it has been learned on the street. A lot like business acumen in today’s rapidly changing world. The reality is greater than the certificate.

While fluency might be far too arduous a task for many of us, it’s important to recognise what we are really striving for before we even start.

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Falling in love with infrastructure

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on July 4, 2011

Here’s a list of companies who should’ve done something, yet instead, let someone else do it for them. And in being asleep at the wheel, they will never be as powerful (read relevant) again.

Yellow Pages should have become… Google
Encyclopaedia Britannica should have become… Wikipedia
RCA / Sony / BMG / EMI / Warner should have become… iTunes
Newspaper classifieds should have become… Craigs List
Trading Post should have become… eBay
Barns & Noble should have become… Amazon
Industry X could well become… Your startup

The key point is this. The future doesn’t care about your legacy, or how things were done in the past, it only cares about what people actually want. And people don’t care about your existing infrastructure, they only care about themselves.

There’s a million more of these examples out there, and many more to come. The question is which industry will you disrupt because they are too in love with their existing infrastructure?

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Theatre at Transaction – Der Raum

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 29, 2011

Recently I ended up at a bar late at night. It’s a revered place called De Raum. It’s been well covered on the web so I’m not going to give a review of it here. What I will do instead is tell you the story of the ‘Teachers Reserve’. And how this business justifies an ultra price premium.

I asked the bar tender for something sweet, to help take the edge off after a heavy day – something night cap-ish. He said;

“I know just the thing. The Teachers Reserve. For those moments when you’ve done all you can, when the days been hard, and it’s time to reflect, quietly and possibly have a conversation in your own head. It’s not exactly social, but poignant.”

He then made up the drink and presented it in a manner which will make sense when you see the photo essay below. He furtively passed me the book, while he looked in the other direction – as if to say: ‘let this be our little secret’.

Classic theatre at transaction. I was delighted, and I didn’t mind paying the $25 for it.

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What comes first

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on April 14, 2011

Making stuff is what we must do. But it isn’t as important as the thoughts that lead to the making process. Thoughts themselves are things.

What we must do is ensure we allocate enough time to the thinking, so that we end up making.

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Good service? Prove it

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on April 3, 2011

Yesterday I went to a well known cafe in Melbourne for breakfast. Yes, it had a amazing the decor of a restored warehouse and exotic free range egg combinations, but that wasn’t what impressed me. It was the way they served their ‘non-customers’.

By the time we where half way through our second java a line had started to build for people waiting for a table, which is pretty rare in a cafe centric city like Melbourne. Up until that time the thriving restaurant still had amazingly quick service. But the service I was most impressed with was the service they gave those who weren’t even customers. People waiting patiently outside were treated to complimentary cafe lattes and flat whites. I’m sure they were surprised and delighted at the good will gesture. The tone of the staff there also told me that they gave them coffee because they were genuinely sorry they couldn’t seat them immediately. They meant it, and it wasn’t a promotional ploy. Something we’d never see from a chains store or large corporate. They’d be more concerned with wooing ‘non-customers’ that rewarding their ‘sure bets’. I say they’ve got it back to front.

The reality of the complimentary coffee is that it sent out a good vibe, and cost very little to do. And the benefits? Well I’m already blogging about it and put it on my twitter stream which goes to many thousands. I’d also say that rewarding those you’ve already got, is a far better investment than investing in those who’ve never helped your business. Something all startups should take note of.

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Car smash marketing – Rebecca Black

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on March 20, 2011

I’m not about to make any comment on the song Friday, or about Rebecca Black. She seems like a nice enough kid having a crack at the music industry.

It is interesting how anything has a chance in a zero cost media world. Sure, not everything will cut through, but in 1991 Rebecca didn’t stand a chance. She had no where to put her song (Youtube), nowhere to sell it (iTunes) and no one to spread it (Twitter / Facebook ). The invention of all this infrastructure made it possible. The thing that is different about the infrastructure versus 20 years ago is that cost of entry has been removed. Extremely good and bad start in the same place. And occasionally something unusual makes it through – so long as it is extreme in nature. No-one has placed multi-million dollar media bets on selling Rebecca’s song, so the cost of promotion has been reduced to taking 3.48 minutes from our day, or typing 140 characters. It’s like a car smash, we can’t help but slow down and take a look.

The question it makes me wonder, is if there is a valid strategy in being the ‘worst’? And if there is, how do we make sure we qualify? And if we qualify, how do we then transform?

Love or or hate her, right now Rebecca has 100% share of voice.What that turns into is entirely up to her.

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Good stuff is not enough

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on March 1, 2011

Making really good stuff is not enough. We’ve got to be good as well. Good people. We’ve got to have a DNA encoded into our business which shows we stand for something that is wider than what we sell. I’m not talking about any of that Corporate Social Responsibility crap, or even triple bottom line reporting. I’m talking about caring enough to leave good things behind us in our trail. For the things we touch to be the same or better after we’ve been there.  And most of all, we need to make sure our trail is going to be good, before we carve the path that takes us forward.

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The formula is love – Moby

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on February 6, 2011

I happened upon an interview with the musician Moby at SXSW in 2008 and he had something valuable to say about love:

The question was: “How do you recommend balancing yourself?”

His Answer:

“My advice first and foremost would be to do what you love. Um… because that way, if you do what you love, it increases the chance that you’re gonna have success with it. And even if you don’t have success, at least you spent your time doing something you love.”

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Obey your hunch – Leo Burnett

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on January 5, 2011

I happened upon a great quote today from revered Ad Man Leo Burnett which is probably more appropriate for entrepreneurs than advertisers:

“Steep yourself in your subject, work like hell, and above all, love honor and obey your hunches.”

Hunches matter. In startup land we are not in the business of research or satisfying a majority. Rather, we are in the business of sensing a shift and inspiring a minority.

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