Start Up Blog

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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Evolution & strategy

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on May 12, 2014

Evolution itself does not have a strategy. It just lets what wins, win. If anything, it is the accumulation of a lot of in market testing. Traits, (or tactics) are tested for advantage, and those that work, keep on happening through natural selection. Nature tries everything. Nature lets things that don’t work die.

We too can help our business evolve. We just need to do what nature does. That is to not pretend to know what will work. Instead we should try everything and find out what does. The good news of course, is that it’s so cheap to try so much in a low cost technology world.

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Philosophy > Tactics

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on May 2, 2014

The blog posts which I write that have a ‘How to’ element in them get infinitely more traffic and attention than those that are philosophical. It seems people want to know about more about the method than they do the reason. But what we need to understand is that methods are often temporary, when reason can be timeless. If we have the an over riding philosophy, then we wont get caught short once the tactics we employ expire in effectiveness.

 

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Every success is strategic

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on March 29, 2014

Or is it?

Whenever a person or a company succeeds there is no shortage of post analysis on why the strategy was so clever. Why what they did worked, and how clever the people behind it were. And I’d say most time the people behind it are clever. But what I’m wondering is how much of it was planned, on strategy and predictable before any of it happened.

If we look at the history of science, very few of our discoveries started on paper, or in the lab. What was far more common was something actually happened which surprised and delighted. The people behind the discovery, or even those around it, then re-tested what happened to build a theory to describe it – or in business terms, a story that described what happened in the form of a strategy.

I’m pretty sure this is most often the case in business. For every new company, or game changing innovation there are probably a thousand or more failures of others trying to do the same thing. But these failures rarely get written about, only the success stories. And these success stories are always told post success – who wants to hear about failures anyway?

This tells us much about startup strategy. And what it tells us is that strategy is often an illusion. It’s a post rationalisation of what happened – the reverse engineering of business enlightenment. Where the real value is unlocked in business, is entering a realm where value needs to be created, and implementing a set of behaviours that lead to momentum and serendipity. This is a more accurate description of how a “pre success” strategy is landed upon.

In a world of rapid change we are better off letting events shape the opportunity, rather than trying to shoe horn our idea into a perceived market trajectory.

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Don’t start a business

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 30, 2013

No, we shouldn’t do that. It’s such a big thing with no clear way to start, and no clear way to end. There’s a really big chance we could waste a significant amount of financial, temporal and emotional resources on it. It’s too uncertain and adds a whole lot of life complications to it, it takes a lot of organising, registrations, financing, commitment to something for which a future which is unproven.

Here’ a better idea. We should do a project instead. Projects are superior to businesses. Superior because they tell us more about the future. It can sample our predicted future reality and test it for truth. In addition to that it has a number of micro benefits which add up to something significant.

  • A project helps us get over our inertia. It’s only a project.
  • A project can be bootstrapped more heavily, as we don’t need to build in any scale.
  • A project allows us to do a minimum viable product, but actually mean it, and actually do it.
  • A project is not a life long commitment. We can close it off any time for any reason we choose.
  • A project tells our circle and the market that this is temporary, but worth trying.
  • A project doesn’t need huge resources, only enough to cover one cycle.
  • A project is likely maintain momentum and energy as the finish line is in sight from the start.
  • A project let’s us test our assumptions, but in the real world – the market place.
  • A project can lead to a better conceived project.
  • A project can lead to important collaborations and discoveries.
  • A project can lead to something bigger… maybe even a business.
  • A project….

In fact, when we really think about it, business is simply a project which worked well and got bigger. Or we could say that a business is a number of separate yet continuous projects linked together in perpetuity, performed by the same people and infrastructure.

And so, it’s pretty clear if we just start with a project or tow, we might be lucky enough to end up with a business.

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Goals and cars

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on December 19, 2012

I’m a strong believer in the importance of setting written goals. However, it does seem as though for every person I meet that agrees with their ability to influence life outcomes, there are an equal number of people who dismiss the concept of goal setting as having an impact on achievement.

So here is the simplest explanation I can provide for how goals work: Setting a written goal creates selective perception. Written goals subconsciously program our mind to be aware of opportunities relating to the goal as they cross our path. All of sudden we see how things might work. This does two things: Firstly, it reminds us of the task we’ve set. Secondly, it helps us find ways to make it actually happen. After that, it’s just a question of effort and tenacity.

It’s kind of like your car: Have you ever wanted a new car, or just bought a car only to notice how many of them are driving around on the roads? This is selective perception at work. It’s a beacon for stuff that matters to us – for what is relevant in our world. We only see what is out there once we purposely place ‘it’ into our life or desire it.

One of the most powerful things we can do is set our brain to work in the background – and if we know it works on simple things like noticing cars, imagine what it can do once we set it to notice opportunities.

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Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on April 11, 2012

This was just so brilliant I had to re-post it here in its entirety. The 12 most powerful words in business from Ragans PR daily.

Office conference rooms, cubicles, corner offices, and common areas are crammed with business jargon that dulls imaginations and saps creativity.

Many powerful words for business have nary a thing to do, directly, with industry.

1. Why

Polite push back can temper groupthink. Ask why “things have always been done that way.” Or ask why it didn’t work the last time you tried it.

2. Show

People like proof. They want to see things with their own eyes. It’s human nature. In trying to reach and win customers, clients, colleagues, or management, show your ideas with examples. Draw an analogy, give an anecdote, paint a picture. Help them see what you see. Show them, and they’ll be more likely to get it and get on board.

3. Goof

Trying something that didn’t work, as long as it wasn’t impulsively foolish, dangerous, or illegal, can be regarded as the trial run or first draft.

4. Reflect

Breathe, pause and collect yourself before you send an email while angry, take criticism too personally, or speak when emotion is clouding your judgment. The repair work required after you lash out is wasteful, unproductive, and inefficient.

5. Do

Sure, market testing and focus groups have their place. But business success takes action and plenty of doing.

6. Listen

Hearing is a function. Listening is a skill. It takes practice. But it yields immeasurable dividends. Extra points if you listen, consider alternative options and critical feedback, and adjust course because of it.

7. Learn

The staggering pace of growth in social media shows how essential it is to learn all through life. Learning can mean formal training, of course. But learning also happens by staying nimble enough to act when opportunities appear.

8. Open

Being open-minded—open to change, open to being wrong, and open to new possibilities—can lead to new products, new clients, new markets, and entirely new ways of doing business.

9. Respect

Civility eases differences among humans. When I was an editorial writer, my colleagues and I would gather each morning to discuss the official position the Cleveland Plain Dealer would take on the most controversial topics of the day.

Politics, religion, social issues—you name it. It worked well largely because the group was civil and respectful. And our boss was an awesome leader who made sure the discussions stayed that way.

10. Lead

Leading is much more powerful than managing. Think about it: You manage problems. You manage bills. Or you manage just to cope. Leading, on the other hand, is nuanced, customized, and inspired.

11. Fail

Fear of failing keeps people from doing all sorts of things: Piping up at a meeting with an idea, starting a business, or taking other risks. Failing is really an inevitable part of taking risks. And taking risks is an inevitable part of a strong business.

12. Regroup

After failing, it’s important to learn what when wrong and how to do it better next time. This is the true secret of missteps. Through the lessons learned in the aftermath, greatness can emerge.

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the tale of 2 robots

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on March 15, 2012

I was recently at the WPP Stream digital event in Asia (hence the serious lack of blogging). One of the sessions that we have at Stream are Ignite presentations. The idea for an Ignite talks is this:

- Tell us, but tell us quickly.

So the format is for 15 slides, where the slides change automatically after 15 seconds regardless of where you are up to.

It makes for entertaining viewing and rapid transfer of ideas. Here’s one that I particularly liked from Stream by Jason Oke which has some really great lessons for entrepreneurs, startups and anyone working in an innovation field for that matter. Enjoy.

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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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Compound pain

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on July 5, 2011

A retail analysts was telling me that many of his clients don’t want to know the truth about where their customers are going – the inevitable move on-line. He asked him why and he said that many of them can’t face the truth, because it hurts too much.

Another truth is that it ends up hurting more the longer you ignore it.

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