Monthly Archives: August 2009

Networking and Names

When I gave up the darts after 15 or so years as a smoker, it was really hard for me. I tried a whole lot of systems but they all failed. Then it occurred to me that the only thing the systems had in common were that they were systems, and hence I had something to lay blame on when I failed. I then decided to go cold turkey so I could only blame myself if I failed. Surprise, surprise it worked – as I couldn’t bare to think of myself as too weak willed to give up smoking. This “me making the change” rather than using a system is now a recurring theme in my life.

So last weekend I had two different people asked me “how come you know so many people and how do you remember all the names?”   The answer, which sounded a little disingenuous was that I had become genuinely interested in people and actively try to meet new people.  What I discovered was that if you are genuinely interested in people, their story, their ambitions and their personal circumstances, its incredibly easy to remember their name as you’ve got to know them, not categorised them in you head.

As I mentioned last blog, I don’t care wheter someone is a CEO or a cleaner.  When I meet someone new, I focus on them.  Where they came from, where they are going, and who is with them on the journey.  Conversation is never difficult as everyone loves to talk about themselves and are generally subject matter experts.    I don’t have a flowchart running in my head, asking the question “Are they an opportunity? – Yes / No”.  There is only a small chance that they are an opportunity, but what’s almost certain is that they will have opportunities for me within their own network and if I have mindshare with them, I communicate my needs clearly and they have goodwill towards me – they will bring those opportunities to my attention.

I also discovered four other things about meeting and remembering the names and circumstances of a large number of people:

  1. Like most things in life it becomes easier and easier with practice until eventually you have unconscious competence.
  2. Its just as easy to remember 1,500 people as it is 15, if you actually know the person.
  3. The more people you know, the more likely it is that you can help out members of your netowrk and generate good will by introducing people.
  4. Its much better way to live your life, to connect with people rather than going hunting

I know that sounds a bit trite but it makes me enjoy my career and selling rather than just playing a role.  Really what could be more interesting that spending your life getting to know, understand and help other people.

Expanding your Network

Last blog I talked about the best Business Development people I know being great networkers, so I thought I’d talk a bit more this week about expanding your network.

Despite Social Networking being all the rage :  LinkedIn, TwitterFacebook.  I am not very keen on connecting to people I haven’t met.  There is a concept called being a an Open Networker.  This is about making connections via social networks to as many people as you can (tens or hundreds of thousands) – LinkedIn’s version of this is called being a LION.   I see the whole thing as being pointless in that the number of records in a database somewhere that refer to me has little if no impact on me and calling them “friends” is just plain silly if you don’t know or care about these people.   I am however a big user of these social networks though as they allow me to be efficient communicating with the people I already know plus exposing me to new and interesting people to meet.

But when expanding my network, there is a number of things I like to do.  I tend to think they are obvious, but I have been assured that they are not as people to get stuck into ruts. Stuff that I like includes:

  • Going to functions in my industry where I can gain knowledge (networking only is soulless).   I note that if this is your thing, then get yourself on the committee running the show as you are guaranteed to meet more people, interesting people and  its a great credibility thing to do.  Just remember though you are more likely to network with the same competitors, over and over again.
  • Going to functions where potential clients will go – I vastly prefer to do this than hang out with competitors.
  • Going to functions that pique my interest – Its easy to develop a relationship with people when you are both passionate about the same thing.
  • Arranging functions to discuss issues that I find of interest – Nothing better than a good discussion dinner with people you barely know and lots of wine to flesh out some issues.  I have spoken about this in previous blogs.
  • Getting involved in volunteer work – You’d be surprised who you run into.  For me I do a lot of work volunteering at my children’s school and have been surprised about the number of truely interesting people I have met, digging mcuk out of drains with me.
  • Speaking to strangers – I jsut can’t let an opportunity in an elevator go by.  If nothing lese it helps you get over the jitters of speaking to a stranger.

My rule of thumb when meeting new people is that 95% of them are probably feeling conflicted – afraid of speaking to strangers, but desperately wanting to meet new people.  Groups of people chatting are generally jsut groups of the same whom are massively relieved they don’t have to start a new conversation with a stranger.  Therefore when I say “hi” to someone new – they are probably really happy I did just that.

So by now you probably thinking “you need to be a bit discerning though – you don’t want to meet just anyone”.   Unfortunately, I disagree and would like to give you some recent(ish) examples.

  • I have been dismissed by a politician as she though becuase of the circumstances of our meeting,  her party had my vote and my donation. Turns out that they only had my donation.
  • I have chatted to housewives who turned out to have been previously a Director of public companies with workforces of over 10,000 – who decided to take a couple of years off to spend quality tim with her small children, but was really still well connected.
  • I have chatted to cleaners who have given me free tickets to sporting events where their cousin was playing.

The thing is that it turns out that everyone in your network has value, either directly or through their own networks.  but more on this next week.

Networking Numbers

I was thinking the other day about two guys I knew that were really good at generating new business.  Earlier in the day I had dismissed both of them with the comment – “they are only selling into their existing networks”.  but at my afternoon coffee, I wondered whether I had thrown the “baby out with the bathwater”.

Mulling over the situation, I realised three things.
1.    They found selling easy because generally their clients were buying off a mate.
2.    They had very large networks that they maintained through regularly communications and catch ups (they never ate breakfast or lunch alone).   These catch ups and communications never appeared mechanical or insincere.
3.    They actively sought opportunities to grow their network.

I also started to think of the mathematics of what was happening.

For those who have read my work before, you would now that I regularly assert that only about 5% of your network has opportunity for you, and the average person has a network of around 150 people.  This means that the average network has around 7.5 opportunities.  Which explains to me why the vast majority of IT services firms I meet go down the gurgular after about two years  – as they don’t market themselves, instead asserting that “people just know how good we are, so we get lots of work.”  In truth, over the course of 2-3 years these firms soak up the opportunities within their network, plus a couple of referrals, never noticing they were accessing a finite resource.

If however these firms expanded their networks – 10 fold is the target that Dr Michael Hewitt-Gleeson  likes, so that their network was 1,500 rather than 150 – they would have 75 opportunities in their network instead.

Or, if these people “activated” their networks so that they had mind share with everyone in their network – as well as goodwill and a clear message about what opportunities looked like to them –  then their opportunities could explode exponentially.  If every member of your 150 person network was also looking for opportunities for you and they each had around 150 people  – you could have access to upto 1,125 opportunities.

So next week – How to expand your network.

The year I stopped watching TV

Understanding who you are is generally rewarding.  Unfortunately its also usually a bit painful as well –  or even depressing.  I say that because I was a bit depressed when I realised in regards to TV, I was pretty much representative of the rest of Australian society.  When I found reality TV fascinating, everyone did.  When I found it boring or unpleasant, ratings of the shows seemed to plummet.   Being a TV bellwether wasn’t something I aspired to though.

So whilst having a casual conversation over dinner on the weekend,  something popped out of my mouth that on reflection, I found a bit disturbing. I said.

“I think 2009 will go down as the year I stopped watching TV”.

Despite the fact that Television technology has jumped forward in leaps and bounds over the last couple of years, with large hi-res screens, digital TV, surround sound etc.   I’ve lost interest in both free to air and pay TV and there seems to be two reasons for it.  First reason is that it appears (from my point of view) the commercial stations have gone out of their way to alienate me as a viewer, offering mostly lowbrow crap,  regularly moving the few interesting programmes to different slots on different days and even inserting repeats into runs of new content.     The second reason is that the competition has got so much better. Specifically:

DVDs

1.  The price of DVDs dropped and the trend to purchase rather than rent DVDs started.  After a couple of years of collecting DVDs, our home DVD library now has lots of content to watch.  I prefer my children to watch DVDs as they are ad free, and my kids prefer to watch movies as well.  Its quite apparent to me that both they and their friends have no “TV habit”.  They wouldn’t have a clue what was happening on TV and when.

2. Entire TV series are now available to purchase, and everyone I know seems to prefer watching two to three episodes of a series a night, for six nights straight, rather than having to wait for months to complete a season.

3. All our friends are in the same position as us and consequently we are regularly offered box sets of series (In the last month, MadMen and GetSmart) .

The Internet

The internet is interactive and more fun, however its not really a couples thing.  It does though have vast amounts of both paid and free content available to download.

1. My wife would rather download a free audio book from Libriovox and listen to it on her ipod than watch TV.  Although I could download free ebooks from Project Gutenberg or purchase Ebooks through the iTunes store or from Amazon (or a hundred others) I would rather read words on paper, until an Ebook reader comes along thats better than paper.

2. You can now purchase TV shows and movies directly from the Apple IT tunes store and a number of other online shops.

3. There is a large amount of free video content available both at TV station websites and generally on the internet.  For instance I recently downloaded what’s known as a Fan Film called Hunt for Gollum which is a 40min long extension of the Lord of the Rings movies.

So if I don’t want to watch Free to Air or Pay TV, what are my technology options?

So if I’m not using the antenna (or Foxtel) on the back of my TV to get video content, what are my options – and thus to the pointy end of this blog.

1. DVD player – Obviously the DVD player is fairly old technology but it has been recently refreshed with two options.  Firstly the introduction of Blu Ray to improve the quality of the experience, and secondly the introduction of hard disks inside the appliance so that it can also act as a video recorder.  This has extended its life but as a generally “dumb” device  at around $500 at the top end, I feel its days could be limited.

2. Computer – A number of people I know have now connected a computer to a TV screen so that they can watch youtube or downloaded movies directly on the bigger screen.  Most modern TV’s now have HDMI or PC connections at the back.  The problem here is the cost ( an old spare PC won’t usually process video fast enough) and the noise generated by the onboard fan can be irritating.  So unless you are buying small footprint, ultraquiet PC specifically for the job, and  running software like Windows media centre, it tends to be a less desirable option coming in at around $1,00 minimum..

3. Games Console – At my house we picked up a Playstation 3 with the purchase of a TV, normally $500.  Not only can we play games with it, but we can play DVDs, surf the internet and transfer downloaded movies to its hard disk (I networked it to the rest of the home network and the internet connection).

4. Apple TV – Apple has introduce a small player to connect to your TV called Apple TV .   With it you can rent HD movies, purchase TV shows, listen to your iTunes music and watch podcasts.   Those that have them tend to rave about how its seamlessly integrates with iTunes.  A fantastic solution at around $600 but it does like you to have an end to end Apple solution and use their formats.

5. Media player – A reasonably new entrant into the market place is the media player.  Not much bigger than a wallet these devices will play a huge array of formats (you’re not locked in) and are extendable as you can plus USB drives into them that they will suck content off.  Then can then be connected up to the TV by a HDMI cable.  I know a number of people that are now loading a whole lot of movies onto them to take to their holidays (rather than a bag full of DVDs for the kids).  At under $150 these devices are becoming highly appealing.  I will be picking one up for our next trip away.

But what’s next?

The interesting thing about these technology options though is that they are all converging.  The difference between computer sourced video content and TV sourced video content is no longer relevant as appliance solutions take away the headaches.  There is also an increasing demand for all devices to be smart and networkable.  Who wants to be locked into last years solution  , when you should be able to download the latest firmware for your player from the internet .

The big players are all aware of this convergence which is causing a somewhat hidden battle to be raged amongst the major players who would like to own what’s called the last metre – the distance between the viewing appliance and your TV screen.  Foxtel, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo all know that if they can control the last metre, they can control revenues.

The opportunities here are rich, which is one of the reasons that JB HiFi is continuing to perform so well in difficult market conditions, despite this being the year I stopped watching TV.

Geographically Embarrassed Businesses

Geographically Embarrassed. Its a euphemism for being lost. Whenever you go wandering about in the bush on an Army exercise, individuals or groups are sure to get lost. In my my experience, the first assumption made when you realise you are lost is that the map was wrong. Unfortunately it almost never is.

The army of course knows people will get lost, so it gives them tools to figure out where they are. And no I’m not talking about GPS. The problem with GPS is that they need batteries, can break and don’t always work properly.

One of the first things young soldiers learn about navigating (apart from reading a map and using a compass) is how to conduct a resection. Effectively what you do is:
1. Look around for 3 major features (eg hills).
2. Find them on your map.
3. Use your compass to get a bearing to each of the features.
4. Draw that bearing on your map, making the line go through the feature.
5. You should have 3 lines on your map that (depending on your accuracy) create a small triangle.
6. Unless you have buggered things up, you are in the centre of the triangle.

“But” I here you say, “So What?”. Well navigating from point A. to Point B. in the bush is not that dissimilar from getting your business from point A. to point B. You start off with a well thought through plan, that normally begins to fall apart as soon as you move. The terrain isn’t how you expected it to be, holes in you plan become gaping chasm’s, people in your team have their own agendas and if you end up running into a little bit of competition, all bets are off.

So one of the things that I regularly see in both businesses that I am an investor in, and my clients –  is a business plan that regularly mutates to suit the current situation . This always seem rational at that moment in time and is described as a benefit “We are dynamic and not a moribund corporate, we are constantly changing to market conditions”. Unfortunately, like the dodgy map, its not just not true .

Its very hard in startups and SOHO firms to have strong management and governance but I suggest that in monthly management meetings, a resection is conducted. Take 3 of your KPI’s for the year, metaphorically draw a line back to where you are and figure out whether you are still on track. Which KPIs should you pick? Material ones of course – large &  drivers of your business,  the ones that matter. This is normally around Customer acquisition, Revenue and Cashflow management.

If your not where you expected to be, don’t change your plan, change your actions to get yourself back on track. Your map is almost never wrong.

Super8 living forever

super 8
One of the things I find terrific about being alive today is that we can actually see what people whom are no longer in their prime or have passed away, were actually like.  Not just movie stars, but old documentary footage of leaders such as Churchill and Kennedy.  We also get to see old home movies.  Contrast this with my grandparents who if they were lucky, only had an oil painting to go on.

But to the point of this weeks post.  My wife’s parents found a whole lot of old super8 movies that they had taken in the late 60s & early 70s.  They decided that it would be a really good idea to get them converted to DVD before they deteriorated much more.  Apparently the pitch is that DVD will last for  at least 100 years whilst their super8 film was getting nasty 35 year later.

Watching these silent movies from the past was of course fascinating and sometimes just plain weird (note is it okay to find my wife attractive when she was just 14?).  My wife then mentioned that there was only this one lot of DVDs and we had to pass them over to another sibling when we were finished with them.  This of course struck me as odd, and before I knew it, out of my mouth came “Do you want me to make a copy?”. Faced with big teary eyes and a “would you?”  I couldn’t resist.  Despite the fact I had no experience ripping a DVD.

You see DVDs don’t just contain one file like an AVI or MPEG movie file.  They contain a whole hierarchy of folders, with the top (root) directory normally called VIDEO_TS .  Video and audio tracks are kept separately, because amongst other reasons, their may be more than one language audio track.  So whilst copying a file is simple, ripping involves merging audio & video files back together, encoding them and creating an output that is a useful single file called something like myvideo.avi or myvideo.mov

The payoff is that once I had ripped the DVD, I would have a digital copy on a hard disk which was no longer locked into the medium and could last forever.  Because this was a once off for me, I decided to find out what free software was available that I could acquire and test without paying a cent.  I typed into Google “Open Source DVD ripping” and came up with a huge variety of offerings.  I was looking for software for Windows (their are plenty of offerings for unix and mac out there as well) and noticed I seemed to get plenty of hits on a product called Handbrake.

HandbrakeHandbrake is hosted in France  but the website and software is all in English.   The software appeared to do the job being available for Windows, designed to rip DVDs and could output in a variety of formats, including avi and mpeg.  It also seemed to be reasonably current as updates for it had been released this year.  And as open source it was free to download the software.   I then did a Google search on “handbrake dvd ripping” to see what other people were saying about handbrake.  Happily it seemed to be the goods so I downloaded a copy.  It was a small download (6.3MB) for the version with an easy to use GUI (GUI = a pretty Graphic User Interface, CLI = text only Command Line Interface).

It was also easy to operate with an idiot mode.
1.    Select the source – The VIDEO_TS directory on the DVD in my disk drive
2.    Set the output location – A new file called Super8.avi on my desktop
3.    Confirm the file format you want – In my case I wanted avi
4.    Press the start button.

It appeared to take around 45 mins to rip an hour and a half worth of movies.

Result  – browny points for me.   And since my parents inlaw owned the copyright on the film, there was no copyright issues for me.  I am now going to start on my catalogue of video recordings I have made at work (stored on DVD) so that they can live forever as well.