Start Up Blog

Loving your customers – celebrity style

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on July 8, 2014

At Tomcar we seriously love our customers. It’s a highly personal interaction at this early stage in the business, so we both take it personally, and make it personal. We care about how our cars perform for them, and how they make their working lives better. We’ve recently been documenting the delivery of our vehicles and making some short films about it.

Yes, we know it doesn’t really scale as a business model.

Yes, we know that major car manufacturers would never do this.

Yes, we know that it makes us seem like small fry.

But here’s something else we know: Doing things which do not scale in the short term, is what gives startups a chance at scale later.

Here’s a little video of one such unscalable activity. Oh, and if you buy a Tomcar, you’ll get your personal movie made too.

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So a question you might want to ask is this – How can you treat your customers like micro celebrities of your brand?

The competition is invisible

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on May 29, 2014

I recently saw a prototype for the Google self drive car – It’s picture is below and looks kinda cute / cool / weird.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 9.50.12 am

Anyone who follows the technology world will know that Google have successfully driven their self drive cars without incident for more than million miles. But up until now, the cars have been retro fitted Toyota and Lexus’s – other companies cars they fitted their self drive technology to. This is a bit of a shift in the projects trajectory. The Google car, is quite It’s further proof that information, when distributed freely and easily changes the physical world too. That dramatic changes in information, have dramatic impacts on all things physical. But what it should remind business people is that we simply can’t know who our competitors are any more. In a world where everyone has access to all the major factors of production we end up with a global demarcation dispute. Non linear competition where brands and big businesses get blindsided by category newbies. We’ve already seen it in retail, music and media, and we are about to see it in every form of hardware and manufacturing. The established industries who should, could and would provide the next level of innovation probably wont.

Tesla is already around half the size in market capitalisation of GM and Ford after a few short years in the market. And as we can see by this post the auto industry better get ready for new players from the technology world – Google, and possibly even Apple. The auto industry would do well to remember that cars are about to become mobile lounge rooms, and all the high tech companies are already competing for the ‘lounge room’ in the house. Next they’ll be competing for the lounge room in transit. A preemptive sense of future irony right there. Even small players like Tomcar Australia (which I have an interest in) have proven you don’t need to own a factory to make best in category vehicles and disrupt an established industry base.

I also read yesterday about two absolute powerhouse Australian companies (both in the top 10) Coles and Woolworths better get ready for a new set of competitors. And while they mentioned a siphoning of revenue category by category, I believe they have a much bigger problem coming their way:

What to do with 1000+ stores when no one goes to a grocery store to get their shopping.

And no, this is not like discretionary retail which can be made a social, fun and entertaining experience. Grocery shopping is a chore and technology has a habit of removing chores from the human experience. Not many people run fast or lift heavy things for a living. And mind you, the word computer, was originally a job title, not a machine.

In the food industry there is a term called ‘share of stomach’. What share did the food company get of the stomach. Which is the type of measure which is used to assess the truth about who the competition is, and where the revenue threats lie. I feel as though every industry needs to develop their own ‘Share of Stomach’ metric so they can see the real change in their industry. Maybe all industries related to transport need to measure share of human movement? Self driving cars, aren’t just a competitive play against legacy auto industries, but it’s hard to see city car parks being a valid business when we can ‘send our car home to our driveway’ and get it to pick us up later. It also raises questions about what relatively new businesses like Uber will do when cars don’t need drivers? Chances are they’ll need to become a system which organises and delivers our cars?

Just like life, the real life threatening diseases are from entities our body hasn’t encountered before and built a natural defence against. At times like these, a tectonic shift, business would do well remember lessons from the natural world.

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Am I a Startup? – Tomcar

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on August 24, 2013

I was at a startup party in Melbourne a little while  ago. It was organised by Ned Dwyer as his startup ‘Tweaky.com‘ had just reached profitability. In usual fashion the local startup illuminati were all gathered talking about their latest idea, site or app. Who is moving to Silicon Valley, who got funded and who just pivoted. It’s kind of a strange scene. If you’d just arrived from mars you would think that the only type of startups on earth were web related. In some ways it is an absurd form of closed mindedness. It’s as if there was no such thing as a ‘new business’ before the internet and silicon valley arrived.

Then I got talking to a guy called ‘David Brim‘ – only because we happened to be standing next to each other. He then offered to buy me a beer – seemed like my kind of guy.

He asked me what I did, and I went straight into startup mode and told about my ‘web’ stuff. (I’m one of the guilty souls from the first paragraph) But when it was David’s turn he surprised me. I asked what do you do? And his response was nothing I expected. He said, I’ve got a car company. I had to ask the question again and clarify if he meant he worked for a car company, was helping a car company or he genuinely owned a car company. After it was clarified that he actually owned a car company he surprised me even further to say that the cars were being made here in Australia, in the heartland of Melbourne in South Oakleigh. He went on to tell me that he’s been working on his startup for 8 years…. and only started selling the cars this year…. and that he had invested several million dollars through private investors and personal funding. I was totally blown away. After this he said:

“Am I a Startup?”

My reply was something like: ‘Of couse. Man, you’re the real deal…. were moving around 1’s and 0’s, bootstrapping ideas cheaply and hoping something sticks. Where as you’ve bet the farm and your life on something big and crazy.’ It’s the kinda of thing we don’t hear about much in Australia – especially when the local car industry seems to be closing down, rather than starting up.

His company is called Tomcar and it is different to every other car out there. Firstly they are not made for the road. But specifically for the Mining Industry, Farming and the Military – you can read more about it here tomcar.com.au. They are the most versatile all terrain vehicle in the world and I feel like they are about to become pretty famous. They eventually plan to sell the cars on road too – it will be a bit like Hummer (sans negative environmental impact) – a cool car with off road cred’ kinda thing.  Anyway – for me it just makes me proud that we’ve got more than web startups happening. It should also remind us that there is an entire underground of ‘other non digital’ startups that we need to welcome into our community to cross fertilise with. More so – merge our skills as part of the startup revolution…. Digital meets physical, or shall we say hardware on steroids!

Tomcar

Tomcar have done all sorts of cool things too – like all their computer systems, bill of materials etc is cloud based (Google Australia even use them as a cloud use case study), cell based manufacturing, everything is outsourced for lean manufacturing, but all done locally. It’s seriously mind blowing. They’ve taken the digital ethic and transposed it into manufacturing.

Australian Government: They also told me the government have never given them 1 cent / handout / or any funding…. while they throw millions to other auto players for zero return and exits from our country! A classic story of our government not having a clue about where to allocate votes which will actually benefit our country, rather than buying votes.

This surprise meeting taught me a few things:

  • Go to events: you never know who you’ll meet. You might be surprised. Chance meetings and lessons like that never happen while we’re sitting at home watching TV.
  • Don’t try to network: just talk to who is near you. Listen, learn and remember that one valuable discussion is more worthwhile than a number of cheap handshakes.
  • Open your mind to the revolution: this re-organisation of capital and society around digital is impacting all forms of commerce. Startups are a symptom of something bigger – the maker revolution is next, new methods of manufacturing and niche products replacing legacy industries. It’s bigger than the web.
  • Help others: Which is what I tried to do with David and the marketing of Tomcar… given I was so inspired by the company.

Since our chance meeting, I have shared an espresso a few times with David – and he then asked me to join the Tomcar team as member of their advisory board. A pinch hitting CMO if you like – to help them let the world know they’re here.  And it is going to be super fun.

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