Start Up Blog

7 simple concepts

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on December 12, 2013

Had a few ideas in my mind for blog posts. But thought I’ll just soundbite them now and go deep later:

1. Selling Potatoes: Startup ideas are often far too clever. Often they represent what is technically possible, rather than what is technically needed. I keep coming back to the idea of selling potatoes. That is, selling something demand already exists for. If we do this, we can stop wasting resources trying to creating demand. Instead we can just do a better job connecting and serving the existential market. Buy for price X and sell for X2. I’m wondering why a ‘potato’ business is rarely considered by aspiring entrepreneurs. We ought resist the temptation to 3D print ceramic fur balls for imaginary cats.

2. Market Validation: Real market validation must be with strangers, not colleagues. If it’s an online business, then validation can’t be done in person. If it’s a physical business then validation can’t be done on line. We ought match the real world. Real market validation should involve money, and avoid surveys.

3. Size & Attitude: The bigger the company the harder it is to maintain a cool attitude. When companies go public, their DNA changes. It’s just a fact we ought accept. At this point founders don’t care, they’ve already made bank. When our favourite companies get big it is inevitable we will suffer from a little bit of startup nostalgia.

4. Business Model & Problem Solution: I often get pitched startups that have a great business model with no real human problem. Or a solution to a human problem which struggles to find a business model. Our chances of success increase dramatically when we have both. We should work hard on having both of these elements when conceiving our next startup.

5. Quiet Self Esteem: It is what we are doing when no one is actually looking that matters. The actions we take that only we will ever know about. This is what we should focus on.

6. Half Baked Ideas: These are the best ideas to play with in the short term. It means we are in the kitchen experimenting. It doesn’t mean we should try and sell these cookies at the market, but we should always throw a few new recipes in the oven.

7. What VC’s Really Invest In: Justifiable failure. They don’t aim to fail, but before they invest a dime they know they will get it wrong more than 9 times out of ten. They’ll never admit this, but they are only ever investing in what will sound like a good bet to their partners. So that when it does fail (and it will more than 90% of the time) it is justifiable to those who stumped up the money. Hence, when seeking capital all we need be is justifiably worth the risk.

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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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Reality, Comedy & Venture Capital

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 13, 2013

The story of the court jester is an important one. Largely employed by rulers to entertain during medieval times, they served not simply to amuse but to criticize their master and their guests. The jesters position was one within a the power structures of society. Rulers knew that their servants had neither the position or the courage to drop a truth bomb or two, and so this role was outsourced to the local fool.

The problem today, is that most leaders, CEO’s and entrepreneurs don’t have a personal jester to keep them in tow. Maybe we should. It’s also fair to say that the technology and Venture Capital realm could do with an injection of reality now and again. I recently happened upon a video of famed inventor Nikola Tesla as if he was transported from the past directly into Silicon Valley. He was pitching his concepts to a group of VC’s whose responses were both hilarious and predictable. Another classic example which proves we often have more to learn from the Court Jester than the local hero who has already made bank. It seems as though we too have our own Jester, in the form of video spoofs.

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End of year lessons

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on December 18, 2012

I came across 3 really good pieces in the past week that I really think are worth sharing.

  1. The first of the these was a blog post from Jason Calcanis on the topic of how moderate success is the enemy of breakout success. Something I spoke about earlier this year. But this post is totally insightful and potentially direction changing. While we all espouse staying the course – maybe the course isn’t to stick to a particular idea, but to stick to being in startup land. Instead we should pivot quickly and frequently until we find the right path. His contention being that when we are on the right track, we’ll know within a few short months. Read it here.
  2. The second is two important pieces from Seth Godin. This first is a video where he is very candid about his previous failures, which for me was important because he talks so often about the power of failure and for once we hear more about it – some of his past ventures where pretty out there. It was a great video interview – watch it here. Another post of his stood out to me as his best of the year. It was about confusing being good with being lucky. The post explains itself very clearly – the lesson to take is not to be alarmed if you haven’t been lucky ‘yet’. While others, even revered Silicon Valley wiz kids may well have just been lucky. In fact, some get so lucky we may never find out if they are actually any good. Read it here.
  3. The last is a story about startups by Sriram Krishnan that were told they couldn’t succeed and were ‘Not Fundable‘. What I love about this post is how convincing the negative arguments are. They are indisputable – but you’ll know what happened to these ideas… More proof that anything can happen during a technology revolution. Read it here.

I’d be keen to hear about any links you’ve happened upon which provide some poignant end of year lessons for us to consider over the holidays.

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The truth about crowd funding

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on October 29, 2012

Most web tools that are re-shaping commerce are doing one thing, handing over control to the users from the producers. They are democratizing the factors of production so that anyone with access and ideas can now play. They do this through cutting out two things that existed and thrived in the industrial era: middle men and gate keepers. The power of collaboration has been touted as a revolution consistently since the the word web 2.0 exited the mouth of Tim O’Reilly. I think it is entirely justified. This is particularly the case with the latest disruptor to emerge – crowd funding. The reason that funding our projects from the crowd changes everything, is because it doesn’t really change anything.

All things have always been funded by the crowd, we just didn’t know it before.

To bring this idea to life let’s consider a couple of examples:

Debt funding via banks is a form of crowd funding: They take our deposits, assess and carry the risk of ‘sub-letting’ our deposits on margin. Essentially banks make money from crowd funding projects and managing the organisation of it.

Capital raising via VC firms is a form of crowd funding: They take large portions of their venture money from Superannuation or 401K funds which has been allocated to ‘high risk’ investments. This is typically between 1-5% of the total asset allocation. Again, our money is being allocated in our behalf from which transaction profit margin is made.

The point is that pretty much every type of investment that involved aggregated money, has always been the money of the ‘audience’ hidden within a structured system. A system which we are now re-structuring with deomcratised tools so that we can organise our capital amongst ourselves. So that we can access each others funds without permission from financiers. So that we can decide what is worth funding. So that we can make the margin available on float capital. And this is just the start of the inevitable changes to the financial system.

The very truth about crowd funding is that before it arrived in its current ‘web organised’ form – we got locked out of the system that our money funded. And it feels like crowd funding of micro projects is just the begging of something much bigger and more important. The question for aspiring entrepreneurs is how can we disrupt the finance industry further with newly connected commercial eco systems?

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Would you like some pie?

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on May 30, 2012

There are 2 people who are offering you some pie.

Person 1:

They tell you that they are about to bake a pie. They then continue to tell you a story that they are terrific pie makers and that all of their experience in and around the kitchen (watching their parents bake) and eating lots of pie, gives them the right qualifications to make a really great tasting pie. They also tell you about their secret recipe, which has never been used before. They are certain it will make a far superior pie. They even show you the written recipe and tell you about the ingredients and methods.

After all this explaining they then ask if you’d like a taste, but before that, you will have to wait until they bake it. Then they ask you to give them some money to go build a kitchen and buy some ingredients. They want to bake these pies at great scale. They think they can sell many of these pies.

Person 2:

Has already baked a pie and offers you some. They have only baked this one small pie. But would like you to try it even though it is just a small sample. It smells nice, and it looks nice. You try some and it tastes lovely. You then engage in some conversation about their pie. How they baked it, the ingredients, and if they think they could replicate this pie and make it at scale. It turns into a really great discussion and evolves into a deeper immersion about the pie business. You’re both really inspired by each other and start planning some next steps.

Your startup is the pie. Which person would you invest in?

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How to invest $1500

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on December 29, 2011

Invest it in yourself. Go to local Melbourne (Y Combinator) Statup site Adiso.com and book a flight to San Francisco.

Spend the next month working on your best idea startup idea.

Get a working prototype, or do those updates you’ve been talking about for the last 6 months on your current startup. Get it in shape.

Book meetings with VC’s, write up a schedule of where all the events are, startups weekends are and build a calendar of people to meet, things to do and actions to take while in Silicon Valley. Ask some locals who’ve been there and done it.

Get your spiel tight. Know how to pitch in 1 minute. With no slides, just your voice box.

Make sure your spiel covers what it is, who it’s for, what it disrupts, and the final revenue model. 

Go there, pitch and win (or lose). But you’ll win regardless. You’ll win with knowledge gains and contacts made. Get excited, have a story to tell, get 2012 off to a fast start.

Didn’t you know it’s an Aussie gold rush over there?

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4 factors for webpreneurs – Guest Post

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on December 30, 2010

1. Technology is easy – getting customers to pay you is outrageously difficult.

When was the last time you heard about a web startup failing because the product didn’t work?  Almost never.  With the greatest respect to all the hackers and engineers out there coding away, making a product do what you want is simply a function of time.  Spend enough development time on it, and you can write code to do almost anything you want. Getting a customer to pay you some money for that feature you just added? That’s an entirely different proposition. The vast majority of web startups fail because they don’t find enough customers, at the right price and in enough time before they run out of cash.  If we spend as much time on marketing your startup as you do on writing and shipping your code, and we just might beat the odds.

2. Customers can always choose to do nothing

When pitching a prospect we are generally trying to convince them to do one of two things:
(i) Leave a competitor and join you
(ii) Stop doing nothing about their pain problem and join you

Who knew that getting them to leave a competitor was often easier than getting them to stop doing nothing? At least if they are using a competitor they recognise that they have a problem that needs solving! The truth is, many prospects are indecisive, stagnant, glacial, apathetic, unwilling, and unmotivated.  Demonstrating your product and then asking for the sale is just as likely to be met with a yawn and a scratch of the arse as it is with a chequebook. If you understand how difficult the process is, then there is a good chance you will approach it with the right amount of preparation and effort.

3. Financial models are fantasy
Their is one good reason to construct a financial model prior to having any real customer data.  Do it to prove to yourself that the fundamentals of your model will produce a profitable business over time.  Think of it as a sanity check. Once you are happy that the model works in theory, throw the spreadsheet away.  Never look at it again, and for christ sake don’t go out and try and raise investment funds off the back of it (guilty as charged!). Just launch your product and get as much real live data as you can.  Months later you can giggle about how wrong your projections were, but at least you won’t be making life altering decisions based on nonsense.

4. There is no replacement for quality user testing

User testing pays for itself many times over.  This doesn’t mean getting your mates over to play with your creation in return for a 6 pack.  It means getting real life customers/strangers to use your product while you watch. True story.  Our startup is an online event registration solution that allows customers to sell tickets and accept registrations for any sized event. Three months after launch, we sat and watched via web cam while a Canadian tester spent 15 MINUTES just trying to create an account. In one of our releases, we had cannily decided not to display a “register button” to anyone using Internet Explorer.  No-one using this browser  could get in and use our product, and it had been that way for over a week.  He eventually managed to get in, but man was he pissed!

What else do you wish you had known before you did your own web startup?

Post by Scott Handsaker founder of Eventarc

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I don’t…

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on August 19, 2010

I don’t have a rich Father

I wasn’t left a sum of money from my Grandma

I didn’t go to Harvard

I don’t live in Silicon valley

I wasn’t funded at Techcrunch 50 or Y combinator

I’m not technical genius

I can’t code the latest killer app

I guess I’ll just have to build my startup the old fashioned way. Work my ass off, invent my own revenue, build a team and improve what I have to offer as I learn from the mistakes I’m bound to make. If you’re still around in 10 years, look me up.

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How to pitch

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on June 20, 2010

There is more good than bad in these hilarious Ali G pitches to Venture Capitalists.

What to look for:

  • His tone of voice and pausing when speaking.
  • His reliance on talking. There is no powerpoint.
  • Taking them on a journey. Story telling.
  • Simple visuals. Having samples / props.
  • Supreme confidence

I’d seriously recommend this video on how to pitch versus most other examples we see on the web so long as we understand the context.

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