Start Up Blog

Focus Folly

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 11, 2013

There is nothing more common in startup land than to hear the advice of remaining focused. I used to believe this myself, but recently I’ve changed my view. I’ve changed my view because I think we focus too soon. We tend to focus when we think the idea or the space is we are playing in is hot. We should only focus once we have real in market validation. While there are many measures which validate a concept, media coverage does not amount to market validation. We have to remember the objectives of the media – especially when it comes to technology industries. What they want to do is the following:

  • Report on something new
  • Try and predict new trends and what’s next
  • Fill up their pages for traffic (fill the void)

Just because what we might be doing is interesting and different, doesn’t mean it will get traction in market. In fact, sometimes media coverage in the early phases of a startup is an indication the idea itself might be bad. They cover the new and the shiny, which could mean we’ll have a much harder job ahead of us in changing behaviour and redefining how something is done.

I think we can take a lesson from the old fisherman we see on the shore line. They tend to cast a lot of lines in the water and employ the multi-fishing rod strategy. Not knowing which one will get a bite. They use different bate and different sized sinkers. Some lines are cast far from the shore, while others are much closer. They are looking for validation, for a bite. And once they get a bite, they’ll focus on that particular fishing rod and reel it in. Focus, post validation, not before.

When it comes to non-fishing startups we need to look for real in market validation. Real usage growth and revenue are the simplest. And once we have that, we can start to focus without folly.

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The 2 types of reading

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 8, 2013

Now that we all have reading devices permanently placed in our pockets we can catch up on our reading at any time. For me this presents an interesting set of considerations we should be aware of:

  • Does it increase the amount of reading we do, or just change when we do our reading?
  • Are there only so many words we want to read each day?
  • What do we read during our ‘mobile’ reading times: Social media, news, articles, books or all of them – versus our home reading time?
  • Are we in a space for which quiet consideration and reflection is even possible when we read?

It got me thinking that much of the reading we do now is more disposable than ever. A type of mind junk food for which there is often little intellectual nutrition. I’ve been as guilty as anyone wanting to know the latest business, technology and startup news. The type of stuff which is interesting to know but wont compound our knowledge.

I feel like reading has now split into two categories much like food has:

  1. Fast Reading – The latest stuff, a quick mind fix, but with little long term value. Disposble.
  2. Slow reading – Tome orientation which has a longer term perspective, directional postulations and philosophical musings. Timeless

I’m trying to focus on the latter, because if we have a foundation of thought we can easily digest the latest trends or factoids. But more importantly, add a rounded perspective which instigates a personal opinion. We go beyond regurgitation and develop thought leadership.

The key question I now ask myself is this: Will what I am reading be relevant 5 years from now? In truth it doesn’t matter where, how or with what device we consume it, but the reality is our immediate environment often shapes our consumption behaviour. We need new habit awareness during times of technology transition.

At the end of the day, it becomes a choice between knowing  the latest news or tactics, or having understanding of the larger shifts and building a philosophy. I know which one I’d rather choose.

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Kodaking

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 1, 2013

The pace of change is overwhelming. Many established companies have finally realised that this change isn’t just a little blip in the way things are done, but an entire business eco system reorganisation. It’s fair to say that the level of  corporate anxiety is at an all time high, and with good reason. Only 57 companies still remain on the inaugural Fortune 500 list from 1955, while more than half of the Fortune 500 companies were not in it just 10 years ago.  And while the cost of not adapting to the digital era is likely to be extinction, it seems as though every day I see yet another story of a large legacy market leader who is, to put it bluntly, Kodaking.

Kodaking is the term I now use to explain a company implementing strategies which are fundamentally flawed in the new business infrastructure. But before I go through the signs of a firm who is Kodaking, I’ll recap some of the terrible decisions made by the once revered imaging company.

Kodak’s Digital Camera from 1975:

First ever digital camera - kodak 1975

- – -

Kodak had over $16B in revenue in the late 1990’s – yet is bankrupt today. In fact they recently sold 1,100 of their remaining valuable digital imagery patents to a consortium of Apple, Samsung, Google and others for the sum of $527 million in a bid to restructure and salvage something. They ironically invented the digital camera in 1975, but had little incentive to facilitate its mass marketing as it disrupted their highly profitable film sale and processing business. As late as 2004 Kodak in their wisdom stupidity attempted to sell digital cameras which plugged onto home based printers so they could continue with their old model of selling chemical film for profit. Here’s the kicker though…. What they did do, share memories, ‘Kodak moments’, has never been in stronger demand than it is today. Twice as many photos have been shared in the first half of this year as were shared in all of last year. What is facebook other than a Kodak moment 2.0? Facebook’s market capitalisation is (as of today) $122b while Kodak had a market value of only $28b at its peak. In fact there is no limit of new and large brands who took what Kodak resisted – Flickr, Instagram, Smartphones, GoPro,  parts of Google, elements of Apple…. the list is long.  Kodak could obviously see the future, because they invented most of it. But they were greedy. What they really failed to do was connect people, the way the people wanted to connect. They tried to dictate the methods of visual connection with people.  As we know technology has no respect for the past, and our strategy must always be defined by our audience’s desires. They recognised the technology, but failed to open their mind to the revenue possibilities of it, and play the long game.

So how do we avoid Kodaking? Here are some things to look out for:

  • Shelving technology which is less profitable, but highly probable to redefine a market.
  • Defining the company by product portfolio instead of human needs underneath them (see the Marketing Myopia).
  • Trying to find new ways to keep old revenue models alive.
  • Not asking these core questions often enough: What business are we in? What business do we need to be in?
  • Internal talk about the advantages of scale and infrastructure, when the opposite is true.
  • Ignoring the potential of disruptive startups in adjacent industries.
  • Trying to charge a fee for what can now be found elsewhere for free.
  • Competing for market share in an existential pie (Kodak vs Fuji vs Agfa). The future is often in baking a new market share pie.
  • Not entirely embracing technology as a mandatory company focus.

Startup blog says: Don’t be Kodaking.

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We’re all coders

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 16, 2013

As a startup entrepreneur I often get asked if I’m coder. I used to say no. My answer used to be something like: our job as an entrepreneurs is to organise the factors of production, not be them. But I’ve recently changed my answer to yes regarding the coding question. And no, I haven’t gone out and learned PHP or Ruby or the latest groovy language.

My code is the english language. I’ve become adept at mashing up the approximate 200,000 words we have at our disposal. On the odd occasion I use the core 26 letters in the code to make up some new words that suit me. At certain times I hack together new code short cuts or ‘sound bites’ which promote and inspire a large number of actions on a simple string of a few words. The newness of the code inspires people to act in different ways.

The code I use can stimulate actions and outputs both physical and virtual. As far as I can tell it is still the greatest software code we’ve ever developed. It is totally open source and varies in its use dependent on many things including the geography in which it is used. This language code I use most often, is still the most interesting platform I’ve worked with. Even the same code, said by a different person with a different tone can have a number of different outcomes. It can even change its meaning based on who wrote it when it is exactly the same line of code. It really is worth mastering.

I sometimes use other codes, including the investing code. This one is based on a 10 point decimal number system. This code is very lucrative when you understand its depth as it pertains to equities, venture capital, property and other income streams. It’s super good to overlay the investing code on top of the English code to get profitable outcomes.

While I’m not amazing at the Mandarin code (another language platform) used in large parts of Asia and even Australia – I sometimes drop in some hacks I’ve learned which the receiving platform responds very well to.  try to find ways in which different codes can be used together and interchangebly on the same platform as I find this often gets a result others just cannot garner.

Code is all around us. In many forms, platforms, typologies and physical manifestations. If you’re human you’re a master at more forms of cade than you think. And if you’re an entrepreneur the real benefits arise when we work out how to let these codes interact as an entirely new language. A language which then becomes our own personal operating system. Which when done well can even turn into a powerful personal brand.  Yes, we’re all coders.

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If vs When & Who

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 13, 2013

There are some things which we as humans intuitively know will occur. Almost every industry has a future state which we can see occurring at some point. While the timing might be hard to predict, the inevitability is predictable.

We can take a quick look at certain industries to provide exemplars of this contention:

  • In the future cars will not run on gas / petrolium.
  • In the future smart phones will be usurped by wearable computing.
  • Physical retailers who compete on price with omni available goods will cease to exist.
  • Leisure space travel will be within reach for the masses.
  • Many (half?) companies will close offices and move to remote / choice based location working structures.
  • Global virtual and crypto currencies will replace fiat currency.
  • 3D printers & scanners will be as common as computers in homes & work spaces.
  • Sharing economies in all industries will create resource leverage & new financial liquidity.
  • Self organised banking and lending systems will emerge.
  • Connected everything – chips and sensors in everything from milk cartons to t-shirts.

The list is endless. These are the ‘When & Who’ startups. Those with a high level of probability, even though it may not be us, and may not be now or next year.

Yet, many startups focus on things which may occur, based on a needed shift in human behaviour which – if it does happen will be insanely profitable. The ideas that no one has thought of (white space), where the entire prize can be theirs alone. I call it the ‘IF’ startup. Sure they are possible, yet they are improbable due to their occurrence being so rare.

So we have a choice on which kind of startup to go for. The possible or the probable. The ‘if’ or the ‘when and who’. I feel like it is a better choice to go for the inevitable, rather than the possible. It’s true that some things arrive which we didn’t see coming that change lives, the reality is that most technological curve jumps are foreseeable. As a bonus it’s usually easier to inspire our supply chain, customers and investors on highly probably events of the future. And while we all make our own market entry choices, it’s nice to go in with our eyes wide open.

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Beers, Blokes & Business – Podcast

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 7, 2013

Podcasting is back baby – and this time it’s bigger than ever. It seems as though after an initial flurry in the early web 2.0 era that people have rediscovered podcasting. Quite possible driven by quicker 3g downloads, smart phones and bigger data limits? – who knows. Let’s face it we can’t always give our eyeballs up while we are busy, but our ears can take in some vital information while working, exercising and doing pretty much anything.

Beers Blokes Business - logo

Well some local Melbourne Startup Techie Business nerds have got together to share some insights once a week based on our own little journeys. We like to call it Beers Blokes & Business. A simple format really. We get together on a monday night, one of the blokes buys an interesting beer, we crack one open, he tells us why he chose it, and then we get into the business topic of the day. But it is always full strength banter.

The suspects are usual and include:

Sean Callanan (the founding father)

babyface Josh Rowe

Jim Stewart

James Noble

Luke McCormack

Steve Vallas

Scott Kilmartin

You can click on this link to follow the ‘blokes’ on twitter and see more about our backgrounds. Each podcast includes 3 or 4 of the blokes depending on who is available that night.

So far we have published three of our podcasts and have hit the global top 100 for business podcasts on iTunes. So, the world is voting and they are feeling the banter. The really refreshing element is that it is not a mutual love fest and we all keep each other grounded with some classic sledging.

The three podcasts topics so far are:

#BBB 1. Self Learning – which was inspired by the tweet below:

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 12.58.03 PM

#BBB 2.  Build your network -

#BBB 3. Manage that side project -

They typically go for 40 mins in 2 x 20 minute parts. Idea for the commute or while exercising or in the gym. So be sure to add it to your podcast list on itunes here >>> click here for #BBB goodness. Actually the description on iTunes is pretty funny but I can’t take credit for it.

So have a listen and be sure to let me know what you think, and if you have any topic ideas leave them in the comment.

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The Silk Road Patron

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on September 3, 2013

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of the Super Awesome Micro Project. And if you’re not aware I’m about to disclose some of the secret sauce. Mainly because between now and when we launch, it is physically impossible to be copied by anyone. For two reasons – the first is that no one else has Raul, and secondly it took us way more time and money than we would ever have imagined.

In fact, what we are doing has been on line for some time for those who wanted to seek it out – the secret, has been out a while on this Ignite talk I did at a global digital event as linked below:

A Stranger From Romania.

As you can tell from this super fast talk, we are building a world first piece of technology – a technology which at this point has no commercial goal – and no other reason for existing other than awesomeness. A pressure test of what is possible when the connected world aggregate small amounts of money with large amounts of thinking.  To see what we can build using democratised digital factors of production and a teenage genius.

It was made possible by 40 people in Australia, also known as the Super Awesome Micro Project Patrons. Normal everyday people having a crack at creating part of the technology narrative. Our Modern Day Medici. The facilitators of the future.

What is it?

We are buildng a full size car, built entirely from lego, with an engine built from lego, and the engine runs on air. Actually, let me rephrase this. We have already built it. It is done. We have succeeded.

This is where the Silk Road Patron comes in:

We are at the point where we need to transfer the Super Awesome thing and the Super Awesome kid from Romania to Australia for the launch. The cost of transferring our adopted son and our fantastic plastic machine to our fair brown land rounds out to approx. $25K give or take. It is our plan to airfreight both artefacts human and construction – for time & safety reasons. The truth is, I can’t ask any of the patrons to put in any more money than they have already donated. Every single one of these people has already stretched themselves financially. I personally do not even want to talk about how much money I have put into this, other than to say it is 100+ times more than I thought it would be. This is no exageration.  And so what we need is the Silk Road Patron.

The Silk Road Patron is the internet version of a silk road trader of antiquity. Someone who is intrigued by the possibilities of exchange from lands afar. Interested in new minds, methods and techniques. Inspired by and for the benefit of a populous wider than themselves. This Silk Road Patron has nothing to prove to anyone, because they’ve already done it – they’ve crossed the globe, trekked the path and already made bank with their own spice trade. They want to give back – be the final player who connects the possibilities of the #SAMP. The Silk Road Patron is a person, not a corproation. The Silk Road Patron’s gift of participation in this arduous project, is participation itself – a personal satisfaction.

This is something wider and deeper than the #SAMP – it is in fact the search for Australia’s most generous entrepreneur.  A VC whose return on investment does not involve percentages or ROI. Their drive is ROH – return on humanity. (It is worth noting we can provide validation and proof of our achievements via private digital methods.)

And so our search for this person starts today. Please let us know if this person is someone you know, or maybe, just maybe it is you. 

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The 200 year shift

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on August 22, 2013

I was recently in Perth for and presented at the Agile Perth MeetUp. The presentation I gave was entitled the 200 year shift. It’s a ‘living’ presentation which I’ve been working on for around 7 years – and it explores the end of the industrial era and the transition into a digital age. An age where most every industry is up for grabs as the rules are reinvented and barriers to entry are entirely evaporating.

I was totally thrilled when local UX legend Gary Barber did a live sketch of the concepts I was sharing. As is by séance Gary managed to visualise all my words into exactly what was in my head. He then shared the results on Flickr and posted in his twitter stream. What is amazing is that he did it all live, and some the the pieces I spoke about for a mere minute, and yet he managed to capture the essence. I later found out that he has a habit of creating such cool visuals. A picture of it is below. But before you have a look at it, here is a simple idea:

Next time you are running an event or conference with thought leading ideas: Get Gary on board to draw up some live info graphs for everyone to take home and remember what they learned, to pin on their offices walls, and just appreciate the power of thought and poignant art work.

Nice job Gary – and thanks!

200 Year Shift Sketch

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The Moldova connection

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on August 21, 2013

In what seems like a century ago I built and launched one of the first peer to peer websites – rentoid.com

In order to build the site, I outsourced the coding on a site called oDesk. This site and others of its ilk are a great entrepreneurial equaliser – for they reduce the barriers to entry. Not just in terms of price for the services, but also by allowing non techies gain access to techie services. They also allow eco systems to flourish across international borders. But they have an added benefit… a real benefit which isn’t spoken about all that often.

They facilitate an important cultural exchange.

Meet Vasilii Racovitsa – Pictured below – sharing a meal with me in my home. Doesn’t seem like such a big deal…

Vasilii Racovitsa

… Until you know that I first met Vasilii via oDesk as a freelanc web developer back in 2007. And that Vasilii was born during the cold war in the old USSR in a province called Moldova. [Moldova is now an independent country] While the relationship with Vasilii started as a commercial one, it is much more than that now. In fact, it has been much more than that for many years… he is a dear friend and business confidant for whom I want family and financial success as much as I want it for myself. But I just met him in real life for the first time last week.

Besides the fact that he made my first web play rentoid.com come to life, he also taught me more about technology than anyone else.  The truth is that the lower labour rates in Eastern Europe allowed me to arbitrage my way into techie / startup land. But most people falsely believe that lower labour rates in developing economies are a one way street. The the people in developed economies are the only beneficiaries, and that we ‘take advantage’ of those in less developed markets. In truth we’ve both benefitted dramatically. Through my local connections Vasilii now generates more that 50% of his business from Melbourne, a mere 14,854km from Moldova. Which is why he is here. He is here on a large project totally independent of me. A project which dwarfs anything he ever did for me.  But it was facilitated through the network I was introduced him to. What’s more interesting is that his business employs more people in Moldova than rentoid ever did here in Melbourne. And his development team now work in every form of coding / language / mobile dev you can think of.

Since he’s been here, it is like hanging out with a long lost relative. He’s just like the guy I used to speak to every day on skype… Which is a great reminder that the on-line and real world should only ever be pre-ambles to each other – seamlessly interchangeable.

I’m  keen to introduce him to everyone in our local startup community who likes to meet amazing, smart, helpful people. In the time and multiple projects I’ve worked with him on, he has never once gone over budget and always delivered to spec. Put simply, he keeps his promises.

This week I’ve shipped him into the abode of big Scott Kilmartin, who he has also done some work for. But if you’re keen to offer:

“a bed for beta”

“divan for development”

“a cot for code”

“a hammock for HTML”

…or a simple welcome to someone from our global community, then just let me know.

While the tools this digital revolution have provided us are amazing, it’s the connection to our world that we should be truely thankful for.

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10pm till 1am

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on August 1, 2013

My previous blog post has 12 random thoughts I came up with. A few people have commented on twitter wanting more information on some of the points including young gun Adam Jaffrey. His tweet below:

Screen shot 2013-08-01 at 9.50.25 AM

The point was this:

“What we do after 10pm has a bigger impact on our tomorrow than what we do during business hours.”

Admittedly it is a bit confusing. It could even be read as the need to get enough sleep for an energetic tomorrow. But what I was actually talking about was the ‘long term tomorrow’ and what we do late at night… the stuff we can only do once our daily tasks and family commitments are accounted for.

First of all, we must get our job done, earn our way, eat, cook, clean, be with family and friends, and generally live the tasks of life. This takes time, in fact it takes up most of it for most of us. So we know that in reality there may only be a few short hours left. But we also we know that education is a process and and not an event. And this statement is about that process. The only difference being that the most important educational process these days is not studying for an MBA at nights and weekends, it’s experimenting with the ideas, tools and technology which universities don’t have in their curriculum yet. Mind you it’s not their fault, the world just happens to be changing too quickly.

While others settle in for a night of TV, I prefer to get busy on projects. Read about technology, write an article, build a new presentation, help a startup, work on an upcoming lecture at Melbourne University, go to a hackers event… but most recently work on the Super Awesome Micro Project with Raul. We skype chat every night and plan our next steps. Not only is it inspiring, but it is building new skill sets which make me anti-fragile. More valued to the market and most importantly differentiated. The problem with traditional education is that most people have it. The problem with corporate experience is that most people have it. The problem with industry knowledge is that it ties us to a location and is probably going to become irrelevant. Technological disruption means we need to be wide in our skill base, not thin and vertical. And the best way to get a wide base of skills is the become a night time projecteer between the hours of 10pm -1am. (or whichever hours work for you). We need to be pyramids, not sky scrapers.

Not only are broad skilled business people now in greater demand, they are much harder to knock over.

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