Innovation is an attitude

Last night we announced at Tomcar Australia that we’d be accepting bitcoin as a payment method when selling our vehicles. Not surprisingly we got a lot of coverage globally in news and technology circles.

The reason I came up with this idea was multi-layered. Firstly, as a new car startup (the first in over 30 years in Australia) our budgets are skinny and our brand awareness is low. It was a damn cheap way (a few dollars on coding in bitcoin payments to our e-commerce platform) to get many millions dollars worth of PR. But there is more to it than that. And this is the key reason:

Innovation is just not about what we make. It is an attitude.

mini Tomcar

At Tomcar Australia we are hell bent on disrupting the auto manufacturing industry because the model is broken and it needs fixing. It needs not only new cars better suited to their environments, but new go to market methodologies. While we know our cars are best in class, we want to be best in class in our approach to everything. To push the boundaries of commerce. Ideas and methods that seem flunky today, become the norm tomorrow. I’m old enough to remember when credit cards seemed like a crazy and risky way to take payment from customers. One of our favourite questions is this: What would the legacy auto industry never do? It’s very cool to be involved in an organisation that embraces and considers the possibilities of every suggestion, and finds a way to make it work.

A key question for start up entrepreneurs is this: where can we innovate outside of what we actually sell?


Am I a Startup? – Tomcar

I was at a startup party in Melbourne a little while  ago. It was organised by Ned Dwyer as his startup ‘‘ 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 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 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.


Windows = Screens

If you think my raving on about screen culture is just a little too much. Then, get ready for more. In fact, look around at all the places in your life where you see glass and windows. Now imagine all of those panes as actual interactive screens which are web enabled as well as, well simple normal see through glass. Because this is coming, and it is coming much quicker than we thought it would.

The only job left to do now, is dream up the best data mashups based on the context of where the window is, because the technology evidenced below needs entrepreneurs underneath it to create real meaning and purpose.


The infrastructure disadvantage

I was really excited to read about the new Eday hatch electric car which will be launched in 2012. It’s very cool for a few reasons including: It’s price is under $10,000. It’s an Australian startup. They are IT focused, not automotive focused. All the major functions are controlled electronically. It’s also the first eco / electric car option which isn’t priced at a premium, so it’s a total game changer.

What I find most interesting in the article is the advantage of zero infrastructure. When industries go through significant change as the automotive industry is, existing infrastructure can be a major disadvantage. Not only can it define how things should be made, but it also has the added burden of it needing to be supported financially. It demands asset utilisation and so limits the potential for a real change in product output.

The only way to innovate in an industry is to re-imagine the best way to build something from scratch. To ignore what we know about the incumbent mode of operation and create a new one. It is examples like the Eday that should inspire entrepreneurs to believe that that no company or industry is all powerful.