The 1 question we must ask before we ever send a business proposal

Business Proposal

If you’re in the business of selling, and you’re in the business to business game there is no doubt you’ve had someone ask you this:

Can you send me a proposal?

Happy days, right? No. In fact, this is the time that we must ask the question before we send them anything. And in case you’re are wondering, this is the question:

Sure. What has to be in it for it to be a ‘Yes‘? 

The reason we have to ask this, is that the proposal question is very often a friendly way of saying, go away, not right now, or we don’t have the budget. It is a nice way to say ‘No’. But let’s be honest that it is just a waste of time and resources for both sides. But if we ask the question instead, we can circumvent a lot of pain for both parties. After the question is asked, one of two things generally happens:

Situation 1: ‘Well, we can’t promise anything…..’ or any other number of excuses arrive. This tells us if they are serious about doing business with us. It forces them to tell the truth now. This is a good thing, very quickly we know where we are at. It informs the work to be done, or it cuts down a dead lead. Any good sales dog or startup entrepreneur hates wasting time on a false positive.

Situation 2: They open up with their real needs, tells us about some internal constraints, disclose budget parameters, or that there is a lot of work to be done to get their boss to approve it. It creates forward momentum, and a collaborative approach. It builds truth and trust which leads to transactions.

Time is our most precious resource. It’s better to live in the real world and have the courage to uncover the truth early.

Worried your job might disappear? This taxi driver isn’t.

taxi driver - travis

I spend my fair share of time in taxis and Ubers in order to get to the airport. One of the topics I find interesting is to ask the drivers what they think about changes in the taxi / private driver industry. Sometimes I ask them, but I’m also finding they bring up the topic before I do. So here is the tale of 3 drivers in the same industry.

Driver 1 – A taxi driver

A driver in a taxi told me that allowing Uber on the road was a travesty given he had paid so much money for his taxi license plate. One taxi licence plate currently sells for over $200,000, but has declined in value recently. It is unfair in many ways, but technology often does that – it creates change without notice. He thought the government should protect taxi drivers and that Uber should not be allowed to operate. I agree that Uber should be regulated for safety reasons, but I also think innovations should not be stifled by them. His final statement was that he thought he’d go broke or leave the industry. He said that very soon no one will be able to make a living driving a car.

Driver 2 – An Uber & limo driver

This gentleman, who drives his car for both Uber and a limousine company, said that Uber was good to provide extra revenue between jobs. But he then went onto say that he thought Uber, on the whole was good for now, but in the next few years, self-drive cars would put every driver out of business and that he would just make as much money as he could until that next coming disruption put him out of business.

Driver 3 – An Uber & limo driver

This gentleman was enthusiastic about life. Within 10 minutes in the car, he’d really been positive about everything we were talking about regarding life and business. As usual we got onto the topic of the taxi / private car industry. He told me that Uber was really working for him, but then he mentioned something I didn’t expect. He went on to say that the biggest opportunity for drivers was just around the corner, he said;  “I can’t wait for self-drive cars to arrive!” So I asked him what that excited him and this is what he told me:

“For the first time in my working life as a driver, I’ll be able to make money when I’m not in the car. I’ll buy a number of self drive cars as quick as I can. I’ll invest my time in generating business and serving loyal customers. Instead of me just driving, I’ll be at the airport every morning to great my best customers, I’ll have their favourite coffee ready, and an umbrella if it is raining. I’ll be able to build a business around the edges of the new self drive technology. I’ll be a millionaire within a year.”

Three drivers, same industry, challenges and opportunities – one very different attitude.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.

Two simple ways to grow your startup

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The two ways to grow your startup are the same two ways to grow any business no matter how established or formative it is.

  1. Same product sold to wider range of customers.
  2. New products sold to the current customer base.

Either of these two options provide a simple strategy for growth. In addition they provide a succinct feedback loop of where our problems and opportunities are. They inform us of our Product – Market fit and tells us if it is right. The most important thing to remember though, is that it is pretty hard to do both at the same time. Trying both will just confuse us as to what is working and what isn’t.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.

One thing we must learn from Tinder to create a successful app

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The reason Tinder works is simple. It replicates human behaviour in the real world. The moment someone walks into a night club they look around at the faces of people and say to themselves, Yes, No, No ,Yes, No, No, No, No Yes, Yes. And the people they are looking at are doing the same thing back at them – assuming of course they are both looking to meet someone. But in the actual nightclub there is that awkward discovery process of trying to work out if the other party feels the same way. Which then becomes the business model of the nightclub – Sell people drinks for that few hours of the discovery process.

Tinder circumvents all of this. It takes what we do anyway, but makes it happen faster and on the couch, instead of at the bar. What tinder doesn’t do, is expect us to behave any differently. After all, the Human Operating System, or H-OS as I call it, is a very old one, 200,000 years plus since its most recent update. Which means that the best use of technology will be leveraging existing behaviour, not trying to change it.

Yet, another reminder that the digital world ‘is‘ the real world.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.

The leadership secret no one ever talks about

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And it is this simple maxim:

If you want to be leader of many, then you must first be faithful with few.

One of the most important sentences I learned from the late great Jim Rohn. And it matters in all walks of life and business regardless of our ambitions. The picture above is from an after dinner talk I did recently at a local Rotary Club. One of the things I have done a lot lately is deliver speeches on the technology revolution we are all living through. This is mostly the result of my book. Sometimes I get lucky and get paid to do it at a conference. But often I am also asked by local community groups who are interested in some of my stories. Which is what happened with Essendon North Rotary. It’s events of this size where I first got asked to share a few ideas and learn the craft of public speaking. In the startup community many times I’ve shared some lessons with new entrepreneurs. For more than 10 years I did unpaid speaking with tiny audiences… that is, the few people who had enough faith in me to give me their time so we could both have a valuable exchange. If it wasn’t for this, then I’d never be able to present in larger audiences like this. But on the flip side, we should never forget the few, even if we have the attention of the many.

It raises a few question of how we might behave in a startup:

Do you love the customers you do have? Are you faithful with those who gave you a try before you have any scale? And if you have many followers, do you still take the time to reply to the few who reach out? Do you still support the low profile few who made what you do possible, or just gravitate to the high profile few who you now have access to?

An easy way to test this is to tweet a famous person or brand and see if they respond. If they don’t, then they should be clear they won’t on their profile. I’m not saying every web tool can scale, I’m just saying we should be clear with our audience on what to expect. If you think it isn’t possible, I can tell you that Seth Godin still answers every email himself (he doesn’t tweet). I can also tell you that Cory Doctorow advises in his twitter profile of better ways to reach him. I can also tell you that Skype answers every tweet you send to them.

In the end leadership is about giving thanks and paying homage to the trust you’ve been granted by those prepared to take the journey with you, from the start. But it’s also about not be too ‘big’ to engage with those who helped you get there once you’ve arrived. It’s not easy, but the real job of leaders in the pre and post success era is to bethink both the few, and the many.

Twitter vs Facebook vs Linkedin – is the medium still the message?

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The medium is the message, first coined by Marshall McLuhan has been a staple belief in the world of advertising and communications for a very long period. During the heady days of Mass Media, being seen on TV itself was beacon of success. Products on the shelf would proudly beam ‘As seen on TV’ on their packaging. For only those who sold a lot of their product could afford it, or was it that if you were on it, you’d sell a lot of product? Regardless, the channel a brand appeared in said a lot about its place in the commercial world.

While, it feels like the now infinite number of media channels might make this maxim less true, I’m certain it still applies to a large extent. Ofttimes the context shapes the content.

As far as this blog goes there are some clear patterns. If you’re a regular reader you’ll notice that I have only 3 social sharing buttons at the bottom of a post. One for Twitter, one for Facebook and one for Linkedin. I ditched Google+ because it was just too embarrassing have a share button with no shares. Here’s what I noticed with the sharing of my posts:

Twitter – always gets more shares if the post is tech, startup heavy, recent news commentary or political in nature.

LinkedIn – always gets more shares if it’s about escaping a corporate position, about becoming an entrepreneur, industry disruption, human motivation, selling and horrible bosses.

Facebook – always gets more shares if it’s about personal finance, goal setting, hope, criticism and social issues. Yet, I’m connected to the same people in all these channels.

My takeout of all this? For startups or any business using social forums trying to reach an audience, it is far less about the demographic and for more about the ideology and topic of the particular post. The interest graph is far stronger than the social graph. Now the only question on my mind is what category does this post fall into?

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.

One thing in tech every business or entrepreneur with global ambitions should remember

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While only 39% of the global population currently have access to the internet, 73% of the global population (5.2b people) are already mobile phone users.

This means that the majority of the adult population will never use a desktop computer. They may never use a laptop. And that their world will inevitably be a small screen, wireless one. With the law of accelerating returns on our side, we must assume that within probably 2 years, all of these phones will become smart phones, and the number of people with them over 90% of the population. Already, many mobile subscribers are still yet to have access to running water, indoor plumbing and other technologies we’d falsely assume ought to come first. The order of things in the past, is not always the order of things in the future.

If there was ever a case for a business strategy which is So Lo Mo Me…

Social / Local / Mobile /  Me (as in the end user)

… then that time is now. Add to this the change of the Google search algorithm to mobile friendly and the pattern is clear. The small screen rules, even if it seems to be growing!

If the aim in business is to go global, it’s more important than ever to be mobile oriented, as the developing markets we seek to enter know of no alternative. Mobile is not only first, it is the only. If you want to see the state of the internet which includes these stats and more, I can’t recommend highly enough the annual state of the internet report by Mary Meeker – here.

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.