Get ready for ambient computing

The best sign of technology maturity is this – it becomes invisible. It’s there in our everyday lives, but fades into the background, it requires less attention and it forms part of our everyday ambient environment. Like electricity does. It’s just there, in the background waiting and acting on our behalf with the minimum of attention required.

The announcement of the Apple HomePod is more significant than a music player, or a competitor to Alexa and Google Home. It’s the start of the shift to ambient computing. A world where computers and the internet are no longer a thing that we go to, or attend to, or dig out a device to access, but something we literally live inside of.

  • We talk to it, and it serves up answers.
  • We talk in general and it listens and learns our language and desires.
  • We do things and it observes our behaviours and interacts to our advantage.
  • It’s just there, in every room.
  • It becomes the operating system of our lives, without us having to caress a screen or ignore the people around us.

It might seem that Apple haven’t really given us an innovation. I mean lets face it their HomePod is late to the market and is mostly about playing music in the home. But I think they’ve just dealt a stealth move doing less. I think they’ve got a better chance at getting in more homes than Amazon and Google. A harmless little music player which looks nice, and allays the fear of big brother. That my friend is the big trick. Get in the house first, widen the scope later.

This is the start of a wider shift to the ears and mouth replacing the eyes and fingers as the killer interface. It might mean the world around us gets a littler noisier, but it might also mean we can start to look each other in the eye again.

Here’s a closing thought for businesses who rely on SEO as part of their strategy. Once we start asking the computers in our life for a recommendation, we better hope they ask by brand, or we’re the first verbal answer the device gives back. We are very quickly going to move to a world where being on the first page was good, to one where being the first, and only recommendation is vital.

If you’re interested in making yourself future proof, come join me in Melbourne on June 20th and get your mind around ‘The Lessons School Forgot’. 

I’ll be doing a talk on how to hack your way to a radical future, and answer all the questions you might have about finding a path to independence. It’s going to be a great night.

Click here to reserve your Free seat. 

See you then, Steve. 


What they don’t tell you

It’s easy to get caught up in the brilliant stories of startups going viral to gain awareness, and the simplicity and usability of certain websites turning into large revenue streams. How cool the actual product is, the fact that the founders just built it and the rest just happened. This is the veritable entrepreneurial myth.

Here’s a few things to think about:

How many sales and business development people do you think Google has? Answer = around 5000. And we all thought their non human automated adwords system did it all.

What investment has Twitter made in Public Relations? You think Oprah and Obama just happened upon it? No they were pitched to heavily with a large investment in leading PR firms.

How many Youtube videos were posted by company created accounts? Answer = Hundreds of thousands.

Who seeds the quirky auction items on ebay? Answer = ebay started the game very early on and let the media know.

Everything is not as it seems. Push marketing is alive wand well, just the tactics have changed. It feels very organic and community driven, but the often the community is created by it’s founders and leaders. Nothing wrong with that, it is the job of entrepreneurs to invent said communities. But it makes for better business articles to talk of such things occurring naturally, so the real story is rarely told.

The question for startups is – what tactics can we employ to garner the same momentum?


You’re in good company

This blog is an example of compound effort. Yes, just like interest, effort compounds too. In the 4 years I’ve been writing it every month the readership has increased. With no real marketing of the blog. Just good solid writing, be open and honest, sharing insights, and letting the wondrous SEO of wordpress do the rest on Google for me. A few things worth considering if you’re into blogging and want to build an audience.

  • I have written 1 blog entry for every day this blog has been live. Consistency and frequency matter.
  • Every entry is on the same topic. Startups and Entrepreneurship. I stay focused by having one of these two words in every entry.
  • I love the topic my blog is about. I find it fascinating and would still write it if nobody was reading.
  • 70% of my traffic is Long Tail, which means that every entry increases my total traffic flow.
  • It taught me more about digital media and the internet that anything else I have done.

Of all things I have done in my career writing this blog has generated the most value. It has documented my thoughts, improved my thinking, built discipline, created a reputation, generated media coverage for rentoid, launched me as a business journalist in other business magazines, it places me number 1 in Google searches for the term startup blog in every country in the world and has built friendships and helped others.

If you read this blog regularly you are among 70,000 other people every month. So you’re in good company. Thanks for reading.


beware of averages

If we added up all the men, and all the women on our planet, we’d find that, on average, the typical adult human being had exactly one breast and one testicle. Yet how many people actually fit that description?

Statistics are used the create meaning. Yet, very often they create the opposite. In a world for of numbers, statistics and analytics (yes, even the Google kind) we are better off deciding what we want to find out, than we are looking at the available statistics and asking what they mean.

Startup Blog says: First decide what you want to find out, then devise a way to measure it.


Feature Creep

The art of adding features to any product or service is this:

Those who need or want the new features can find them easy.

Meanwhile those who don’t need or want the features don’t even notice them. They are invisible.

Sounds impossible to do, but I think the team at twitter are doing a pretty good job of it. The way I’d try and achieve this would be by making sure the visual structure doesn’t change, and the sequence of events to use it is not interrupted.

shhh – here comes the controversy.

Inventing Demand

It’s no secret I own and run – but here’s a story you don’t know. The story of how I got it off the ground and got people to use the website.

Rentoid had a classic chicken and egg problem when it first got launched. People wont list items until we have willing customers waiting to rent their stuff. Conversely, people couldn’t rent things until people willing to rent their items put them up for rent. It’s a bit like asking two people who don’t know each other to fall in love. To solve this problem I decided to ‘Invent Demand’. This is how I did it.

I went out and got myself a copy of the Harvey Norman and all the major department store catalogs. Scan through and them and picked off what items I thought would be suitable to rent. For the purposes of rentoid that meant items that were ‘hot‘ in market (their placement in the catalogue was proof enough of that), items which had a purchase value of over at least $200, and had a low likelyhood of damage. I then proceeded to gather photos of the specific items off Google images and listed each of them on rentoid. The rental prices I placed at 5% of item value for a week, and 10% of item value for a month. The bond I made 50% of the cost. I made sure I listed items from varying categories. I did it in 3 suburbs across Melbourne (North, West & East). The listings also said ‘as new, never used’ – how true. It also assisted with our SEO because people do ‘item & location’ specific searches.

Harvey Norman catalogue

When people rented the items, I went out and bought them, first hunting for the lowest price on line. Then rented it to the new rentoid member in good faith and gave them an exceptional user experience.  After the rental I sold the item on ebay for around about 80% of the retail price. I pretty much re-couped my costs doing this. Some items kept renting out often enough for me to keep them including my Nintendo Wii and Guitar Hero which have paid themselves off more than 3 times over. The cool thing is the experience I gave people and the live demonstration it gave me to the system I built.  It really helped me iron out many of the bugs in the system when it comes to usability and transacting on-line.

You may think this is slightly deceptive, but it isn’t, simply because the rentoid member got what they wanted from the site and the process was completely transparent. When they’d come over the pick up the item up for rent I’d tell them I own I’d ask questions like how they found the site and what they think. In fact, they loved the idea and were stoked to transact with the founding entrepreneur.

It was a great process to not only to invent demand, but also gain some brand evangalists and supporters. And yes, I still list a lot of items on rentoid – espeically if it’s new and cool and we don’t have it on the site yet.

As entrepreneurs, we need not be afraid of how we can build demand and momentum with our start up. We must do this because action creates reaction and often people simply liking our idea isn’t enough. Instead we must show leadership and belief in our own product and embrace it and use it as our own ‘in house evangelist’. If we don’t believe, how can we expect them to?