Monthly Archives: April 2009

Favours in meetings

The other day I had a catchup coffee with Scott Kilmartin ( known as @ScottKilmartin on twitter ) where we were having a discussion about his very cool business Haul, and the life of the entrepreneur.  Haul has a couple of different levels but to the man on the street, they recycle and retail.  Think Billboards turned into laptop pouches etc.  Very unique, stylish & carbon neutral.

Amongst other things, Scott and I were talking about the effectiveness of the Entrepreneur who tends to operate in a cloud of uncertainty, knowing that they are regularly wasting their energy, but not knowing which activity is a waste.  (Like the old adage about 50% of advertising isn’t working, just not sure which 50% it is).

Anyway I told Scott an anecdote about effectiveness and favours.  We both thought it was very cool, and we both wanted to emulate the habit described.  In fact I thought it was so cool that I would pass it on.

Ages ago I had coffee with Hugh Morgan ( ex Western Mining CEO and ex Chair of the BCA) and I noticed something fascinating that he did.

  • I was interested in Nanotech at the time.  Hugh rang one of his business partners to find out the name of someone he knew that was investing in Nanotech.  Turned out they couldn’t find the name.  Dead end in 30 seconds.
  • Hugh mentioned a document he had read that he thought I would enjoy it.  He rang his PA who emailed the document to me whilst we were having coffee.  Job done.

When I left the coffee shop I had a number of things I was going to do.  Best to term them  favours as there was no immediate tangible benefit to me.  Hugh however left with no tasks.

What I realised later was that’s Hugh’s favour to me was spending half an hour discussing Churchill Club issues over coffee.  It did not include him going back to his office and finding things to send to me.  If it couldn’t be done on the spot, it wasn’t part of the favour.

He was simply more effective than me, even doing favours.

Scott and I (because we were idiots) both then promised to do stuff for each other and left the coffee shop.

Just stop it – There is no secret

Really, Just stop it.

In the last 7 days I have a couple of experiences with quite dramatic contrast.  On the one had I have been asked for a number of people (I’ll call them Startup Groupies) for support in getting their pitch ready for investors.  On the other hand I have been for coffee with a number of highly successful entrepreneurs whom are now investing as well as getting new projects off the ground.   The discussion with both camps has been around getting technology based startup’s off the ground.

The main thrust of the successful entrepreneurs/investors was ; Ideas are almost meaningless, Execution is everything.  The process discussed for deploying a startup went along the lines of:

  1. Select an idea  that you feel is worth focussing on.
  2. Tip in some of your own money & time and flesh the idea out with some quality research to turn your good idea into a great idea.
  3. Determine your desired goals for the project.
  4. Protect your position.
  5. Have appropriate partners (from your network)  to tip in some time, IP, assets, customers and or money.
  6. Create a tangible product or service and business.
  7. Validate the product (visit potential customers to find what what they like and don’t like).
  8. Validate the business model (visit potential customers to find how to sell it to them).
  9. Start operating the business.
  10. Speak to investors already in your network if you need investment to help you scale.

The whole process runs on the smell of an oily rag and serious investors don’t get pitched to until you have a validated business that could probably survive without investor monies.

The main idea of the Startup Groupies was ;  a great idea well communicated is the key to success.  Their desired process went along the lines of :

  1. Have a great idea.
  2. Flesh out the idea with a  bit of web based research.
  3. Prepare an elevator pitch.
  4. Prepare a presentation and rehearse it.
  5. Get referrals into Venture Capitalists.
  6. Pitch for Investment.

Now I don’t know anyone that the Startup Groupie model has actually worked for.  Sure I have read tales from Silicon Valley of the hot pitch that won the money, however I also know that for every hot pitch invested in, there was another 5,000 pitches that failed to get any attention. By the way, those tales also occurred on the other side of the world in a differnet culture with a much higher level of affluence, not here where our venture finance community is much more risk averse and money is in shorter supply.

However with the successful entrepreneur/investor around 3 out of 5 business started-up turned out to be winners.

So a message for the Startup Groupies –  Stop thinking there is a secret to avoid really hard work financed on the smell of an oily rag.  Just stop it.

Event Report – The Future of Search

From the Churchill Club Event on the 16th April 2009

A great evening on trends in search online, asking questions around “are search engines still effective” and “where is the money being made tomorrow”?

Our panel was:
Angela Beesley Starling – Chair of the Wikipedia foundation, Co-founder and vice-president of Wikia
Alan Long – Research Director, Asia Pacific for Hitwise
Tim Giles – Director, Sagital Media

The evening was moderated by Brendan Lewis, Chair of the Churchill Club.

The Mega trends around Search Engines
Search is becoming more complex as users are entering in longer and longer search terms to find more specific information (think “cheap flights Melbourne Brisbane”, rather than just “Cheap Flights”).

This tends to indicate users are embracing the long tail, ie less prepared to accept generic results.  Which creates a problem for Search Engines as their current algorythms tend to promote sites with lots of links, which is not necessarily what users are looking for.

Human intervention is desired to make sense of the overwhelming masses of information, however crowd sourced search doesn’t seemed to have worked though.  Wikia had to close down its Wiki Search and Google’s Search Wiki, hasn’t had mass appeal.

But Websites with human filtering are on the increase.  Filtered video websites such as Wonder How To? for instructional videos or Political IQ for politics are becoming more popular than simply searching Youtube.  Wiki Answers after 3 months was getting 10 x more visitors than Wiki Search after 2 years.

So what do Companies need to think about?

32.4% of visits to Australian websites are from search engines ( of which 95% are from organic search results, not paid links in search results).  This means that Search Engine Optimisation should be a much higher priority than just buying the right adwords.

Social Networks (Facebook, MySpace and the like) generate another 11.6 % of traffic to Australian websites so they shouldn’t be forgotten as the next highest source of traffic.

It should also be remembered that Search Engines are driven by the best way of monetising their search results, which is slightly different from actually giving the best results.   Therefore its possible that anything improves profitability by skewing results could be implemented (remember its all black box stuff).

Because of this “increasing long tail” of search, organisations should be looking much more closely at their cost of acquisition and be careful of their adword and SOE spends. Budget could well be put to better use optimising content for being picked up in a small number of Organic Searches.

Companies should also remember that just because the world wide search for “widgets” may be 1 million users, they may only obtain sales from Australian searches which could be a fraction of the former.  I.e. The internet may be global but your customers are still local.  Don’t get suckered into big spends.

Well what are Users up to?
Search engine’s are still the number one tool on the internet.  Last year Australian’s went to search engines 12.5 times for every 100 pages visited.  In NZ this rate is 12.2% and in the US this is 9.4%.

Traditional search engine use is becoming a more complex landscape.  Search terms are becoming longer, but the chance of having a successful search(clicking on a link rather than re-searching) is reducing.  Last week Australians entered 3.6 M phrases into search engines.

The length of the search term is increasing as users become more sophisticated.  Last year, use of search terms of:

  • 5 words increased by 7.5%
  • 6 words  increased by  10.5%
  • 7 words  increased by  14%

The top ten words searched for by Australian’s last year were all brands (Facebook was no 1 in Australia) and Whitepages was the only traditional brand in the top ten.  In fact you had to go down 23 places before you got a non-brand search term.

Where are the emerging opportunities?
Interestingly, two new (complimentary not replacement ) search areas were discussed, both with different ways of monetising the results

  • Realtime Search – Many organisations are now  monitoring real time conversations on platforms such as Twitter and dropping in to offer recommendations when their search terms are matched.   They are also monitoring conversations to understand trends and context when their search terms are used.
  • Non Text Search – Shazam is a iPhone application that searches for details on songs it hears.  When the song is identified, the user is offered the option to purchase the song at the iStore, and it actually works really well.  Apple is leading the way when it comes to monetising non-text based search.

12 Essential Freebies for the GFC.

So Michel Hogan and I got invited together to a lunch on Friday. As part of our back chatter (using the free Skype Instant Messenger), I pointed out that if I tried really hard, I could probably eat for free during the week, in fact you could elevate it to an artform.

So having been through a couple before, I thought I would put together some recession busting tips.

  1. Dining – Go to as many free functions with food as you can, the more you say yes to the more you get invited to as you are on the mailing list . Learn to value finder food as dinner (its like going to Yum cha).
  2. Office – Home Office. Do I have to say more?
  3. Meeting Places – Really, who needs to have a meeting room when there are so many cafes around. Put the effort into finding interesting places with carpets that aren’t cramped (better acoustics). Learn to pace yourself on those Lattes.    Jelly can also be useful of you want to get some free buzz.
  4. Bags – Get your self a really nice selection of promotion bags. Some are really easy to “alter” if you don’t want to walk around advertising the “CPA Congress”.
  5. Transport – Get to know your Bicycle or free city promotional transport.
  6. Office Supplies – Who needs to buy stationary today? You’re being green right? But if you need to have business cards, you can get  free-ish from vendors such as Vistaprint ($o but plus freight). If you need pens, pick up some from your local doctor as they’re given thousands by the drug companies. Go to a couple of free seminars and you sure to get yourself a nice collection of free pads.
  7. Clothing – You’re in the 21st century, and the creative/dynamic man about town has the confidence not to be locked in with corporate prison uniform (or pay the dry cleaning bills).
  8. Your IT Infrastructure – Use Google for eMail, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks and Documents. Its all free and the processing grunt isn’t required locally. This means you can use a crappy old laptop that others would throw out. If you really need to, you can grab some free open source software to do things locally (eg Freemind)
  9. Internet Access – By the way, get to know your local free wireless hotspots to get your free internet access.
  10. Telephony – Since Skype calls don’t yet work on my Iphone on Australian networks (they would rather I made a more expensive GSM network call) its best to get yourself a good phone plan, then master SMS messaging.  Thats of course if your out of the office and can’t use Skype or another free VOIP service.
  11. Marketing– Use Blogger and LinkedIn as your free web pages. Use Social Media for marketing. Twitter like mad and ask and answer questions in Linkedin.
  12. Administration – And finally, use Saasu for your Accounting needs its free for 10 transactions a month.

Oh’ in my experience Government funded functions normally have the widest and most interesting selection of Canape. Enjoy!

6 steps to Blog Heaven

The another day Amanda Gome rang me for some advice on how to run her business to have a chat about some future events. We got to talking about blogging and how difficult it was.  I was in the first group of Bloggists for Smartcompany (around 20 of us) of which there is now only a handful left.

I asserted that writing your first couple of blogs is easy because everyone has a couple of articles in them.  However then it gets really hard because you have to deliberately create something new rather than just empty on to the page what you already had.

Amanda agreed as she regularly gets approached by new bloggists and now she just can just tell when someone is only a “3 or 4 blogger”.

I reckoned the issue was caused by the fact that the average wanna-be bloggers aren’t generally trained as journalists or even writers by their nature.  So blogging seems like a great idea but becomes hard quickly.  You can see this issue everywhere as CEO’s are conned into marketing by using social media tools such as blogs, but they run out of steam quickly when the reality of being “creative” sets in.  I regularly run into corporate blogs that have lost steam after 3-4 posts.

Amanda pointed out that I am a non-writer who managed to get through the 4 blog barrier, so what was my secret?

So here it………….

How I write

  1. Pick a time -I’m a systems guy so I like to organise things.  Monday after lunch is the time I have programmed into my Google Calendar for writing.
  2. Get an idea –  Finding something to write on becomes easier as time goes  on.  However the cheats way is to find a prolific twitterer or two on your topic who will uncover new things to investigate and share.    For me Guy Kawasaki posts about twenty items a day on new things around entrepreneurship, technology and interesting ideas.  I can’t keep up with all of Guy’s posts.
  3. Make your point – Simply re-posting a web link doesn’t have value.  I like to think about how and why rather than report on the what.  I like to create a number of dot points on the topic.
  4. Remember an Anecdote – Nobody wants to read a report, everbody wants to hear a story.  Revolution in Russia?  Make it the backdrop to a lovestory (Dr Zhivago ).
  5. Put flesh on the bone – Write the article starting off with your anecdote which then leads into the points you want to make.
  6. Finish it off. – Nobody wants loose ends so I find it much tidier to link the point of the article back to the opening anecdote.

I developed this as a process when I almost burst my brain trying to write blog number 4. According to my records I have now written around 110 weekly blogs.  Not bad for technical guy that came close to failing English.

Marketing Budgets for Bootstrapping

A long time ago I studied Accounting at Monash University (well it seems like a long time ago).   When I did it I was in a small sub group who had plenty of varied work experience.  In fact at that stage I had been a software engineer, salesman, army officer and had started and had started and sold my first business (commercial light fittings).   Because of this I felt my point of view on some of the management accounting tools was a little weird.

Things like working out break even points seemed a little obvious and low level.  The questions in my mind were more along the lines of how much do I spend on marketing (a variable cost) to get to the break even point, rather than just being worried about the maths which I felt was simplistic.

Anyway recently it appears I have been giving a fair bit career guidance to people creating startups, and I had a meeting last week that reminded me of my time doing Management Accounting.

I was talking to someone who had recently moved to Victoria from Queensland and was re-starting their IT services business.

I asked “how much are you spending on marketing?”

His response was “Well nothing, as I am bootstrapping and there simply isn’t any funds available, I am just meeting people to generate business”.

I thought this is a typical entrepreneurs problem.  Accounting tools such as budgets aren’t taught in a way that fits the realities of their situation well enough to be a useful tool.  And on top of that, lets call him John, didn’t actually connect in his head that him  “just meeting people” was a marketing activity he was conducting.

I pointed out to John that he wasn’t spending money on marketing, but he was spending another finite resource his company had, which was his time.  So I re-arranged the question and asked him again “So, what percentage of your time have you budgeted to generate new businesss?”

You could almost see the light bulb click on above his head.

John was working around 60 hours a week on his business.  It appeared that he spent about one day a week meeting people which translated to about 13% of his time.

John agreed to launch a service business into a new market that simply wasn’t enough.

But how much is the right amount to spend on Marketing?    I might have a crack at that next week.

In hindsight though the Accounting does come in extremely useful for entrepreneurs, you just have to adapt the tools for your situation.

Is your SEO expert ripping you off?

There is a nice conversation running in a LinkedIn group called “On Startups – The Community For Entrepreneurs”. The conversation is titled – Is your SEO expert ripping you off?

Interesting as I often wonder the true value of SEO because :

  • If your competitors are doing it too (likely), are you both paying for something that doesn’t generate a competitive advantage?
  • Nobody outside of Google actually knows how their algorithm works.
  • Getting IT people to do marketing is just scary as they forget people have lives offline.
  • Every web developer in the world has hopped on the SEO bandwagon.

Anyway 4 techniques mentioned for monitoring your SEO effectiveness (the bang-for-the-buck-o-meter ).

  1. Monitor your keywords monthly on Google to see whether you are actually paying for movement in your ranking (obvious). Don’t just search on your business name as that’s almost pointless.
  2. Find out who links to you. Google takes into account the number of “high ranked” sites that link to you. A link from Craigslist can instantly boost your rankings, while a link from Bob’s House of Junk has no effect. Type “” into Google to have a look at who links to the Churchill Club.
  3. Ask your SEO expert for a monthly report. Get a baseline report of where your website stands before optimisation began, then request regular (monthly) reports detailing ranking movement.
  4. Use a third party service such as Authority Labs

Do we still need experts?

So yesterday I got emailed a request to fill in a survey. so apart from the fact that the design was just awful (bright green) and no corporate identity, the construction of it was just terrible.

Each of the 10 questions finished with ………… How much would you pay? and the answer for each question was:

Nothing or I wouldn’t pay for this


Wow, what a completely rubbish survey. It gave me the strong, over riding impression that the survey author is running out of money and ideas.

It also reminded me of something:

  • In 1982 I realised that no matter how hard I try, art software on the computer (at that stage it was a Commodore64 )will not make me an artiist.
  • In 1990 I realised, bookkeeping software will not make you an Accountant, nor even a bookkeeper.
  • In 2009 I am reminded once again that survey software will not make you Market Researcher.

We still need skilled people. Just because we are enabled to create our own content, doesn’t mean we should.

So Survey monkey may allow you to knock up a free or cheap survey or two, but please don’t. The internet is a huge place and I don’t have time to deal with rubbish executions.

Community Office Space

Last weekend I went to an event called Trampoline, which was an un-conference (the attendees decide what topics are going to be spoken about at the conference).  Weirdly though it got me thinking about my own office.  Actually offices, as I have three.  My North Melbourne office where I run the Churchill Club from, my  South Yarra Office where I run my Flinders Pacific activities from and my home office where I do everything else.

I realised a traditional office offers :

  1. A workspace – but hang on, I can work anywhere.
  2. Consolidated infrastructure – But all my systems are in the cloud, and peripherals like Laser printers are now so cheap I can afford to have a couple of them.
  3. Co-workers within easy reach – But my co-workers are geographically distributed but still in easy reach due to email, skype and google docs.
  4. Meeting places – But I always seem to meet for coffee in a café or lunch in a restaurant.
  5. Chance meetings – Serendipity still happens, but for me it occurs from meeting new people at functions or in Cafe’s.
  6. Buzz – This is definitely missing for me as creative brainstorming, sharing, and camaraderie just don’t happen by yourself.

So how do I get back the buzz?

Well Trampoline got me thinking about about how communities are redefining organisational models.  A quick bit of research and I cam across some interesting solutions to office space.

The Free
Jelly is an American concept where someone basically opens up there workspace to let others work from there.  Sit around a table, get free wireless internet access, meet and bounce ideas off other independent spiritits (normally Geeks, Graphic Designers and Ideas people).  Melbourne Jelly seems to happen around once a fortnight.

The Very Cheap (from around $2 per day)
From the blog I found out that there is  slightly more commercialised version of jelly where you can share renting of office space.  Its called Co working.  More on a Melbourne solution can be found at Openhub .

The Cheap (from around $15 per day)
And finally I came across an organisation tapping into the “meeting in the café” type of work arrangements.    In Melbourne and Sydney,  Bureaux runs an interesting workspace that combines, café space, meeting rooms, hot desks and even a library.

Interesting that as our work habits evolve, office space doesn’t die, it just reinvents itself to suit.