Better questions

I recently met someone at a conference I was speaking at. Afterwards we exchanged some emails on a new project he was working on. He needed a developer, but was nervous about sharing his idea with anyone. After I assured him that there is rarely currency in ideas, and having them stolen was a low risk, I offered to connect him with my development team. Which from my talk, he would’ve known they were overseas. He sent back an email which said:

Where are they based?

This was my response:

Based overseas…. Moldova to be precise. I’m sensing that might by why you asked…. 

Here’s a some better questions:

  • How good are there?
  • Are they trust worthy?
  • What do they cost?
  • How do I connect with them?

Often our perception makes us ask questions which are for the large part irrelevant.


Digital Intention

In our omni connected era, people seem to have no qualms in telling us what they are doing and where they are. But what I’m starting to see in digital forums is people starting to tell us where they’ll be, what they are going to do, and what they intend to buy. Event organising forums, pinterest pages, wish lists, I’ll be here this Friday style tweets…. But the one that really sticks out as a massive opportunity for me is an on-line an open diary. Yes, it would require radical transparency. Yes it sounds kinda crazy and risky, but maybe fully public diaries can give back some control to the user by being removing the middle man social media marketer. A kind of open source arbitrage to fight back against the data industrial complex. Such a radical flip could give people back their power and allow self monetization.  Most users of social media are currently being sold by stealth, and sold with a large amount of guess work. Why not take it to the next level and go open source on our future locations. With an open source diary we could sell the benefits of sharing our intended activities and let traders compete for our patronage and attention.

This is a startup idea I’ve got on my radar. Would you sign up to it?


Focus Folly

There is nothing more common in startup land than to hear the advice of remaining focused. I used to believe this myself, but recently I’ve changed my view. I’ve changed my view because I think we focus too soon. We tend to focus when we think the idea or the space is we are playing in is hot. We should only focus once we have real in market validation. While there are many measures which validate a concept, media coverage does not amount to market validation. We have to remember the objectives of the media – especially when it comes to technology industries. What they want to do is the following:

  • Report on something new
  • Try and predict new trends and what’s next
  • Fill up their pages for traffic (fill the void)

Just because what we might be doing is interesting and different, doesn’t mean it will get traction in market. In fact, sometimes media coverage in the early phases of a startup is an indication the idea itself might be bad. They cover the new and the shiny, which could mean we’ll have a much harder job ahead of us in changing behaviour and redefining how something is done.

I think we can take a lesson from the old fisherman we see on the shore line. They tend to cast a lot of lines in the water and employ the multi-fishing rod strategy. Not knowing which one will get a bite. They use different bate and different sized sinkers. Some lines are cast far from the shore, while others are much closer. They are looking for validation, for a bite. And once they get a bite, they’ll focus on that particular fishing rod and reel it in. Focus, post validation, not before.

When it comes to non-fishing startups we need to look for real in market validation. Real usage growth and revenue are the simplest. And once we have that, we can start to focus without folly.


If vs When & Who

There are some things which we as humans intuitively know will occur. Almost every industry has a future state which we can see occurring at some point. While the timing might be hard to predict, the inevitability is predictable.

We can take a quick look at certain industries to provide exemplars of this contention:

  • In the future cars will not run on gas / petrolium.
  • In the future smart phones will be usurped by wearable computing.
  • Physical retailers who compete on price with omni available goods will cease to exist.
  • Leisure space travel will be within reach for the masses.
  • Many (half?) companies will close offices and move to remote / choice based location working structures.
  • Global virtual and crypto currencies will replace fiat currency.
  • 3D printers & scanners will be as common as computers in homes & work spaces.
  • Sharing economies in all industries will create resource leverage & new financial liquidity.
  • Self organised banking and lending systems will emerge.
  • Connected everything – chips and sensors in everything from milk cartons to t-shirts.

The list is endless. These are the ‘When & Who’ startups. Those with a high level of probability, even though it may not be us, and may not be now or next year.

Yet, many startups focus on things which may occur, based on a needed shift in human behaviour which – if it does happen will be insanely profitable. The ideas that no one has thought of (white space), where the entire prize can be theirs alone. I call it the ‘IF’ startup. Sure they are possible, yet they are improbable due to their occurrence being so rare.

So we have a choice on which kind of startup to go for. The possible or the probable. The ‘if’ or the ‘when and who’. I feel like it is a better choice to go for the inevitable, rather than the possible. It’s true that some things arrive which we didn’t see coming that change lives, the reality is that most technological curve jumps are foreseeable. As a bonus it’s usually easier to inspire our supply chain, customers and investors on highly probably events of the future. And while we all make our own market entry choices, it’s nice to go in with our eyes wide open.


Scribbles from a note pad

Yesterday I was cleaning the remnants of 2012 from my desk when I found an old note pad. I was flicking through and found some thoughts and ideas I had written down during meetings, while listening to some talks and just reading articles. While many of them are ‘oldies’ I still think some are worth sharing and creating a digital foot print for.

– Being busy is not the same as being effective.

– We should begin every project as if there is no budget.

– 1 billion dollars laid flat in $100 bills would fill a 1 meter deep 1300 meter square space. (Swimming pool?)

– To get a good answer, we need to ask a great question.

– The average Australian has 1 testicle (be careful with averages).

– Get T-Shaped people to work in your business. A broad set of experiences. Arms that reach wide into the world. People that can go left or right. people who are centered and balanced.

– It’s worth asking “why” 5 times if we want to get to the real reason of something.

– There are only 7 major plot lines to a story: Overcome the monster, Rags to riches, The quest, Voyage and return, Farce, Tragedy, Re-birth. Even our startup needs to choose one of these.


The end of demographics

I think demographic segmentation should be added to the bundle of tools from yesteryear. The redundant list. Note just because it is a cold and dehumanizing concept, but because we no longer have to use economic and social indicators to guess who cares about something. In a connected world, where we opt in to tracking our own behaviour guessing is no longer required. Instead we can know precisely who cares, and what matters to them.

Age, Location, Income, Education levels, Employment, Race and Gender are all proxies. Estimating by proxy is very quickly being circumvented by knowing through tracking and connecting. In the old world we’d imagine a potential target audience or we’d research a target audience if we could afford it. The good news today is that none of us have to guess anymore, and all of us can afford the price (very often zero) to find out who they are. And most importantly we should remember our people are not some statistical cohort we attack, but a group of individuals that we should be bending over backwards to help out.


Reinforcing decisions – Wikipedia feedback

My post yesterday was about the simple yet great fundraising effort by Wikipedia.

Well today I got a lovely follow up letter, which although I’m sure much of it is ‘form, it didn’t feel like it. It was also from ‘Sue’ with her actual email address and phone number (not included) not a ‘thankful robot’. Actually it said some smart stuff which reinforced my decision – which is something few brands bother to do.


Dear Stephen,

Thank you for donating to the Wikimedia Foundation. You are wonderful!

It’s easy to ignore our fundraising banners, and I’m really glad you didn’t. This is how Wikipedia pays its bills — people like you giving us money, so we can keep the site freely available for everyone around the world.

People tell me they donate to Wikipedia because they find it useful, and they trust it because even though it’s not perfect, they know it’s written for them. Wikipedia isn’t meant to advance somebody’s PR agenda or push a particular ideology, or to persuade you to believe something that’s not true. We aim to tell the truth, and we can do that because of you. The fact that you fund the site keeps us independent and able to deliver what you need and want from Wikipedia. Exactly as it should be.

You should know: your donation isn’t just covering your own costs. The average donor is paying for his or her own use of Wikipedia, plus the costs of hundreds of other people. Your donation keeps Wikipedia available for an ambitious kid in Bangalore who’s teaching herself computer programming. A middle-aged homemaker in Vienna who’s just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A novelist researching 1850s Britain. A 10-year-old in San Salvador who’s just discovered Carl Sagan.

On behalf of those people, and the half-billion other readers of Wikipedia and its sister sites and projects, I thank you for joining us in our effort to make the sum of all human knowledge available for everyone. Your donation makes the world a better place. Thank you.

Most people don’t know Wikipedia’s run by a non-profit. Please consider sharing this e-mail with a few of your friends to encourage them to donate too. And if you’re interested, you should try adding some new information to Wikipedia. If you see a typo or other small mistake, please fix it, and if you find something missing, please add it. There are resources here that can help you get started. Don’t worry about making a mistake: that’s normal when people first start editing and if it happens, other Wikipedians will be happy to fix it for you.

I appreciate your trust in us, and I promise you we’ll use your money well.

Sue Gardner
Executive Director,
Wikimedia Foundation

I wonder how many startups are this thankful to their first customers?