You’ll never believe what these guys are really selling!

The other day I was in the airport where a new startup was sampling itself. It’s an app to jump the coffee queue. I’m always stoked to see people having a go at a new business and got them to give me their pitch. It’s always good for entrepreneurs to practice unprepared. Then I realised I got a coffee but didn’t use their service. And here’s why:

Part of what I’m buying is the wait.

Yep, some of the people getting their morning java actually enjoy the wait. The wait is what is being sold. Sometimes it’s the conversation with the Barrista, and sometimes it’s the walk to the cafe. I guess we can throw the coffee on that list too.

Morning coffee

This is why you’ve seen a hundred other apps for people to jump coffee queue and they never quite work. I’m also wondering what happens if the app is successful?  Wont all those who used it end up ‘in a queue again’ via a digital deli ticketing system? The problem probably isn’t the arrival time, but the output bottleneck in peak demand times.

It;s another reminder that an effective business model isn’t just about demand – it’s very often about why we buy, and the model and the friction… and how money can be made through the transaction process, not just with the transaction itself.  As for the entrepreneurs, they did the right thing by having a crack. They could prove me wrong and I hope they do. Their worse case scenario is that they learn plenty and pivot closer to the success they deserve.

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The future of stealing music and everything else

Before technology allowed for recorded music, it was a pretty difficult thing to steal. You’d listen to the medieval minstral and maybe sing it to yourself after they’d left town. Heck, I’m sure that’s what they wanted. In those days, money only happened when they we’re ‘in the room.’ But then music changed…. it was something you could listen to when the musician wasn’t present.

When we entered the magnetic tape era, it become relatively easy to copy or ‘steal’ music for the first time. When I was a teenager there were a few ways of making copies of music:

Tape it off the radio: Wait patiently during the American Top 40 for your favourite song to come on, and hope like hell the DJ doesn’t talk over the top of it and screw it up. It was annoying to hear their voice each time your re-listened to it.

Tape it off the vinyl record: Have a friend who had the money to buy the record and tape record it onto your tape. We’d often do a swap – buy one record each, and tape each others – it was very give and take. A bit like the web should be – let others access your files while you access theirs. The basic economics of trade – by sharing we both had more.

Tape it off a tape: The old school double decker tape recorder – put the tape in and make another version off it.

Steal it from a music store: Heck, I’m sure some people did this, in those days it was the only way to get a perfect recording. All the other methods above had quality issues as the copies were imperfect, until…

… we entered the digital age. All of a sudden anyone could make a perfect copy, from perfect strangers. Napster…. Limewire…. Kazaar……Pirate Bay…. Youtube. Some got shut down, but the music never stopped, and the battle is still alive. It’s a battle people selling recorded music will never ever win. The technology is an organism with its own agenda. So what happens next when there is no device or host of the music?

“What – no host? What are you talking about Steve?”

20 years from now you’ll have a chip with petabytes of standard holding capacity. It’ll be attached to your body, and most likely inside it permanently. It will be an extension of our brain capacity in much the same way as our notebooks, libraries and computers are today. Except, it will record everything perfectly. It won’t just be what we interpret, it will be an exact copy and it will be inside us. Every sound, every song, every visual, every movie we ever hear or see will be on recall on demand for us to re-listen to and re-watch on demand. We only need to be exposed to it once and we’ll have a perfect copy, forever.

Will that be stealing? 

It will be difficult to police, because the technology will arrive and be implemented into ‘people’ before most industries realise the implications – especially those pertaining to copyright. When our technology merges with our biology, when it becomes part of our permanent memory and experience how can it be stopped? How will corporations even know what we are holding in our organic data banks?

The connected augmented human

The reality is that all biology and technology is built upon the concept of ‘copying’. Everything from single cell organisms, to our DNA, to manufacturing, to emergent technologies. Copying is ‘the’ feature, not a bug. Any business model built on this idea that all copies are controlled by the originator is flawed. It’s a business model that worked for a blip of time for humanity during the 20th century – it was the anomaly. If any business wants to survive in the future, it should be built around the idea where things getting copied is what you actually want.

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A simple Amazon strategy every business can implement

Jeff Bezos Genius

The future is a pesky little thing to predict. Much of it will surprise us no matter how well versed we are in emerging technology. A lot will change 10 years from now in ways we just couldn’t imagine. But, some things won’t change, and it is easy to know what these things are. So much so that this is a key question Amazon leader Jeff Bezos bases large parts of business strategy on:

“What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?…. You can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time…. In our retail business, we know that our customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want a vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says; ‘Jeff, I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible.”

And it is clear to see that while they use technology to make these things possible, the future is predictable and something Amazon or any business can build their strategy and infrastructure around. Jeff said this 4 years ago at the Amazon Web Services forum. With 40% of that 10 year window expired, and I’d say it’s all still true. Seems he has predicted the future, just by flipping the question.

So the only question remaining for your business or startup is this: What things can you be working on that just won’t change?

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How to Start Small to Grow a #MASSIVE Company

One of my totally favourite projects is working with Pollenizer getting startups off the ground and doing corporate venturing. The biggest challenge many entrepreneurs and pretty much every big company trying to get internal startups going is understanding why small is beautiful. Unless the initial business is small enough to test, weird enough to get attention, and easy enough to try in an analogue fashion, then we’ll never get off the ground. We need to think #antiMASSIVE first.

Here’s some of my thoughts on the topic.


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What business are we really in?

Old music tape

The business we are in is the problems we solve, not the product we sell. During times of great technological upheaval, problems get solved in new and unexpected ways.  This is how companies get disrupted. The single way to ensure any business remains valid is this:

We must always love our customer more than we love our infrastructure. 

If we truly do this, then we’ll be able to endure the pain required during the inevitable transition.

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Questions established companies must ask themselves


“How could our customers do this thing without us?”

“What can be removed from the process and still solve this problem?”

“How could this problem be solved without using a physical product?”

“What technology is likely to be introduced into our things?

“What will happen to prices of the thing we sell when more technology is introduced.?”

“What would a new entrant into this market likely do to meet customers needs?”

Once these questions are answered sufficiently and honestly, they ought go ahead and do these things. They are going to happen anyway aren’t they?

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When to resist technology

My readers know that I love technology –  I literally rub my face in it.

But technology is not always the answer. Sometimes it pays to resist the use of it. This is especially true when technology lacks differentiation or is the lazy option. A hand written letter has far more value today than an email, tweet or whatsapp message does. We know you care more, we know you made more of a concerted effort with a pen and a post box.

It comes down to swimming against the tide. Music is one industry that has been impacted incredibly by new technology. Every laptop is a world class studio, opening up the music making to everyone regardless of their budget. But prized musician David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) has some interesting views on why this might not be the answer to make great music. Watch the video below, and think about the work you do and how it applies. If you listen close enough you’ll come up with some new anti-tech ways to both make a difference and a better product. Enjoy!

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