my thoughts about #cebitaus 2016

The ideas boom. An innovation nation. A technology economy… the catchphrases supporting the current government’s budget and their promises for a bright horizon if re-elected in a couple of months.

However, my trip to CeBIT yesterday does not fill me with hope that this is the reality… or maybe all the really cool cutting edge guys are too busy getting shit done to attend?

What did I expect? Not sure, however it was certainly more than I saw. I imagined to see lots of companies with great ideas about VR, apps talking about how they integrate to the new Messenger BOTS on Facebook, or things that even I had not thought about… however, I was left feeling like one feels when ordering burger at McDonalds, full of promise from looking at the picture, but flat and sloppy in stark reality…

Stark… that’s an interesting freudian slip perhaps. I expected to see some ironman level shit at CeBIT, but I just didn’t. It wasn’t there. There were lots of 3d printers, lot’s of fusion splicers (whatever the hell they may be) but nothing that took my breath away. I guess the biggest eye opener for me was when I had a conversation with a guy that was in translation. You know, taking written documents, and translating them to another language.

I asked him why he was there, hoping to hear him talk about how translation was changing because of augmented reality, or how using AI you could now wear a hearing aid that could translate on the fly. Instead of that, he told me about all the reasons that was still ten years away… Seriously dude? You really think that.

And that there is the problem I see with a innovation nation – so many people are risk adverse. It is not OK to fail in Australia. People are trained from birth that safe is best, get a job, don’t take a risk. Innovation is inherently risky. Stuff doesn’t work, ideas fall over, it is the nature of the beast. In my 23 year career in this industry, I have failed more times than I have succeeded, but I have never, ever, given up.

Persistence is my key ingredient.

Without the ability to say what if… we are only go to be a nation. Not an Innovation Nation.

I gave this guy my ideas about augmented reality translation, it already exists surely (i haven’t looked, but i will soon…) and the machine based translation for the hearing aid, if you think that is ten years away, you will be in the position of the industries that have died at every revolution in the past.

We are at the dawn of a new age. You have to understand that. Things as we knew them will not be the same for much longer.

Think of a world without a device. Think of a world that is hyperconnected, every thing in your house has intelligence, and is there to help and make your life better.

Imagine your own Jarvis (another ironman reference.. it’s true, i have a massive man crush on Tony Stark) an intelligence that exists that you could be connected to throughout your waking hours that worked out all your stuff, booked your flights, made a reservation at the restaurant, did your weekly shopping, woke you up at the right time, told you when it was time to do whatever was important to you… that day is not 20-30 years away, it is in my opinion… 2-3.

The world is at the tipping point of technology answering the call of why we started this journey, making our lives better.

However you, we – whoever you want – will not take our place amongst the pioneers of this new age unless we can be prepared to take massive risks, and be prepared to fail – but always get back up and start again.

Personal Branding – the most important thing to get right in 2016…

I gave a presentation for some buddies of mine last Friday which was all new material. My focus was on Personal Branding and why I thought it was by far the most important aspect for you to get right in 2016!

In this 24/7 media consuming world we live in, everyone can be a superstar, and everyone should be the face of their business.

It is very true what the image above says –
[blockquote source=”Me…”]We recognise and follow people, not companies.[/blockquote]

Think about it, you see a picture of Steve Jobs – You think of Apple… but he has been dead for nearly 5 years.

Think of Richard Branson, you think of Virgin. The Virgin group has hundreds of businesses, and they all benefit from being associated with Sir Richard’s image, even though he never steps foot in most of them.

The list goes on and on, but the simple truth is this. Even if your business is growing and you want your team to be the ones people recognise, having you as a figurehead, or face of the company can only add value in the long run, and help you build your own profile that will carryon to whatever you may want to do in the future.

I am not suggesting for one second that you create a character… I am suggesting you get very clear about the real you that is the one that people are inspired by, put some framework around who that is and make sure you live up to it every day.

Thi sis the basis of what social media marketing is in 2016. You.

Live video – is dominating social media right now and to be able to stream on demeaned you need to be clear on who you are, what you are going to say and a host of other things.

It is not hard, but it does take some work. I suggest sitting down and asking yourself these questions…

  1. Who am I?
  2. How do I present myself, what do I wear?
  3. How do you speak?
  4. What am I talking about?
  5. Who am I talking to?

This is the basis of having these things in place so you don’t have to think about the basics, you only have to think about he content you want to deliver.

I look forward to seeing your personal brand develop 😉

RE

[divider type=”white|thin|thick|short|dotted|dashed” spacing=”10″]

I will be holding a 4 hour workshop on this topic in April, you can find details here: http://rich-evans.net/events/upcoming-events/

The Pre-Launch Jitters

Here is a pic of me explaining the Feedbak system to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Christopher Pyne and Fiona Scott at our office inside Launchpad
Here is a pic of me explaining the Feedbak system to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Christopher Pyne and Fiona Scott at our office inside Launchpad

We are launching our latest product next week. Feedbak is Point of sale customer feedback system that allows users to leave their feedback about your business in less than 15 seconds on their way out the door.

There is a huge need for this type of business intelligence to be captured on this modern era of doing business, however most businesses don’t have a system for doing so.

Our platform allows business owners to customise the questions to their business and get information that makes sense to them.

It’s very easy to use for someone leaving feedback, and ensures that the business owner can see the feedback and run reports to see trends and understand what is happening in the business.

We began development just over 4 months ago, and now… we are ready to go to market.

We have written a business plan (a one pager as per my desire to keep things simple), we have run our forecasting models, ensured our costings are all good and now we are on a mission to find our first 100 customers.

This is when the jitters strike me. Every. Single. Time.

I always have this feeling, like when I was growing up and I thought no one would come to my party. I start shuffling nervously, redoing my spreadsheets because my numbers are ‘just unrealistic’ and start the process of not believing in myself.

This usually lasts 2-3 days where I just try to convince myself it will be ok if we don’t hit the targets, let’s just see what happens, then all of a sudden, you get the first enquiry, or meeting and BOOM! You are superman, the estimates are probably too LOW if anything and I start thinking what I am possibly going to do with all that money?

Then over the first few months, you find the line and get into the groove. The reality is usually somewhere between the two, and as long as the product is good, it will continue to grow.

The difference for me this time is the scalability of this product. The fact we could go from 0 customers to 1000 in 3 months does not matter at all. In previous launches that has mattered, as my previous launches have centred around service. Me giving my time and expertise to people, so scaling is hard, there is after all, only one me.

So the jitters are now being replaced with nervous anticipation, not self doubt, and as we throw up the curtain on this new product, I look forward to sharing the journey with you.

feedbak2

the true meaning of WWW

This post has been inspired by my friend Leela Cosgrove – as part of her new project The 8%

 

The World Wide Web. A concept that has changed the way we communicate, learn, entertain ourselves, buy stuff. It has been the source of my income and my frustration for over 15 years.

However, I think we are at a point I predicted in a talk I did back in 2002. Technology has reached a point where it has infiltrated our daily lives to a point where we have a expectation that it will be there and it will just work. It is now an invisible layer that has influence over our daily lives.

There is still however a massive gap between my online world and my experience in the ‘real’ world. The race is on now amongst the giant tech companies to find the missing link. Chinese based Baidu recently announced big plans to drive it’s online to offline model and they are not alone.

For me however it is a little more organic. This is a project that has been at the back of my mind for over 5 years, we have dabbled now and then, and always reached a point where we thought the technology was not at a point where it would be supported.

The original concept as drawn on the office window goes something like this:

[blockquote source=”Name of the source”]WWW stands for: Who you are – Where you are – What you like[/blockquote]

Once you know Who someone is, Where they are and What they like, you can tailor their online and real world experiences to add greater value.

Let me give you an example: You walk into a shopping centre, your phone in your pocket, and your app sends you a push notification that the shop you like to buy black shirts from is having a sale on black shirts. You decide you will go and get some, and as you approach the store, they get notified it’s you, and greet you with “Hi Rich, after some more black shirts today?”

How does that make a consumer feel? Remembered? Valued? Loved? of course it does. This may seem an unlikely scenario, however here is why the data is already there to achieve this, but no one has found the connecting fibres to make it seamless as a relationship.

I have a Country Road loyalty card, every time I purchase my purchase data is recorded and stored in their system.

Guess what – I have only ever bought black shirts from them aside from 2 gifts I purchased for Kel. However they do not send me notice when black shirts are on sale, they send me emails once a month about their preppy pastel bullshit that are of no interest to me. My instore experience does not benefit from their knowledge of my spending history at all, only minutely when the sale is being made.

A massive percentage of the population now carry a supercomputer in their pocket every day, this means the time is now for these engaging technologies to come to the forefront in the real world. Technology in retail is constantly advancing, but as yet has not embraced the automation of the customer experience.

The technology I am talking about is what I refer to as the Contextual Web and we call our idea CUBES. It works on three axis and gives the sense there is a multi dimensional (not in a foo foo sense) world that is currently seen as flat by social platforms.

We need to allow users to discover, connect and engage, with a strong focus on the outcomes desired by commercial organisations. These are the people that are going to drive technology, as businesses need to improve the way the interact, or they will perish in the face of online competition. The main competitive advantage the offline world has over the online world is – WE ARE PEOPLE – and generally, we like to interact with other people.

CUBES is not a replacement for facebook or twitter, it is an add-on. It is a way to make sense of the noise and find what matters most to you.

Businesses on facebook have to be sought out, and when you do find them, not many build relationships very well when you do connect. CUBES will have a very clear path to success for businesses in how to build connections, engage with those users and build long lasting relationships. Based on the data they can access and have collected.

There are a number of technology hurdles for us to jump over to develop this platform. It is however achievable.

This is my great work. This is what I will achieve.

5 things I learnt while working from home

I remember when I started my first full time business back in 2000. I say first full time business as I had been running little side projects most of my teenage years and in to my early 20s while still working full time. At one point I had a full time job, two part time jobs and a tidy little graphic design side business.

I had just lost my job in the great 2000 dotcom bust and I had $824 as severance pay from the company where I had been working. I decided it was time to ‘go out on my own’ and work for myself.

I lived in a 3 bedroom townhouse in Penrith, and with no kids, I was able to turn one of those rooms into an office.

Day 1, I went and bought a desk and a new computer and got set up. Day 2, I started knocking on doors and trying to find work. After a morning of prospecting, I had found my first lead, and the customer was coming over that afternoon to talk about his website.

It was just before the Olympics, and the guy I was speaking to wanted to create a logo and a website for a new business called OnTheArena.com – it was all about equestrian and horse eventing.

I took the job and promised him I would have it done by Friday, that was on a Wednesday afternoon. I literally worked from Wednesday evening until Friday morning to get the job done – no sleep at all until l was finished. That might sound crazy, but I just thought that doing a good job would maybe lead to more work, I had no idea who this new found customer was at the time.

As it turned out he was involved in the sports and celebrity management industry, and was an entrepreneur with a great deal of connections. That one mammoth effort lead to over $500,000 over the more than 10 years I did work for his organisations.

Working for myself has been one of the most rewarding decisions I have ever made in my career – and it all started with a little office at home.

[well]

Here are the top 5 things I learnt about working from home in the first 6 months of my business.

1) You never know who you are working for – referrals were the source of my success in business. Do the best possible job for everyone as you never know what it will lead to.

2) Be prepared to work harder than a job. Working from home is not 9-5, you may need to do crazy things like work all night, but being the boss, you can make a decision to take the middle of the day off to get a massage.

3) Go to work. A lot of people sit around in their PJs all day – because they can. I had a routine of getting up and showered and having breakfast, then went to work. I stuck to a routine, and I never lost days sitting on the couch watching Oprah.

4) Make a dedicated space. It is hard to work from home if you are sitting in the corner of your dining room, particularly if you have kids. Try and make a dedicated space that works for you.

5) Find a support network. Joining a networking group was the best thing I did to combat the isolation you can sometimes feel working on your own. Being able to get out once a week and meet and network with people was a great way to win business and to just have a change of scenery.

[/well]

From whoa to go in 180 days… starting fast

In an age where people focus on building hype around product launches and building lists of beta testers for the next Facebook… the good thing about an analogue business is we didn’t have to worry about that. So we played our cards VERY close to our chest – very few people outside of our immediate colleagues had any idea what we were planning, we certainly didn’t go and tell everyone our business plan, we didn’t do a bunch of advance marketing. WE got ready to go, and then we went hard, not a slow build… we delivered 5000 papers in our first drop to 80% of the entire region.

So one day no one had any idea who we were, the next… everyone was talking about us. By hitting the ground running so to speak, we got a jump on our competitors in terms of them being able to respond. If we had started with just 2000 papers, they would have been able to say we weren’t distributing many, so we outplayed them. If we had produced a cheaper (inferior) product, they could have said they had a better product, so we outplayed them there also.

The best attack is always a surprise attack that no one has any idea is coming, and in my book, we executed a text book ambush of the particular market we are operating in and made a big enough noise from day 1 that everyone HAD to take us seriously.

That is not to say we had support from the entire community from day 1. We had a massive number of complaints over the first few weeks that we did not expect. More on that in the next post though.

The week we launched (in fact the night of our deadline) we ran into our first hurdle, I had set our template up slightly wrong and had to redo the entire paper in only 3 hours. That was a good thing. The first publication you ever do is the most time you will ever have. I had been messing around with the design for weeks before our first Issue. Then on the deadline day, I found myself with 3 hours to reset the entire paper, thankfully only 16 pages. What that mistake taught me though was what was possible. I could lay out the entire paper by myself in 3 hours if I really had to. That is now our production baseline, although the paper is a bit bigger these days, we know we can do the whole thing in 5 hours so we never worry too much until about 5 hours from deadline. It removed a whole heap of stress from my life to make that mistake and set a benchmark.

As the weeks have gone by, we have continued to tweak the systems of that first week, and we are still a long way from perfect, however we are improving every week. So by just starting and setting the benchmark of what we could achieve, we have not been limited by what ‘should’ be possible according to a researched plan.

[blockquote source=”Name of the source”]So my advice for how to start is fast. Don’t wait unit everything is perfect, perfect it along the way. [/blockquote]

In the next post I am going to discuss challenges, the hurdles that inevitably come up and try to throw you off course and how I have dealt with these things over the years to stay the course.

From whoa to go in 180 days… research

First a warning, the last thing you want to do at tho stage is get “analysis paralysis” – by that I mean so caught up in analysing your previous assumptions that you do not move forward. I have been in a position where we got industry reports and compared ourselves to what others were doing, and had accountants run detailed forecasts, produce long winded information memorandum documents on how we were going to execute our business. All the extra cost and effort did nothing to help that business succeed. At the end of the day, it’s mostly just guessing…

The only thing you need to do at this stage is to get some proof of your previous theory. The easiest way to demonstrate what I mean is to tell you the exact scenario that played out with our new paper.

When I had worked out the cost of my ads (which I based on another newspaper) and worked out how they sell ads – by the column centimetre (which is sooooo confusing) I went around to some businesses and talked to them about what we were doing and got their feedback. I started with “friendlys”, people I already knew, but I also knew they would likely be telling me what I wanted to hear, so then I started to pound the pavement and find businesses that were willing to take a punt on a new publication. What became evident to me VERY quickly was that the economy we were operating in was struggling, and the prices we had set, although 30% lower than the alternative, were still out of reach for some businesses.

My spreadsheet was out the window, and i was faced with an issue of much lower margins than I would have preferred. However, the other thing that became evident was that this was NEEDED. We had to find a way to make it work, as these businesses needed the help, and if i could find a way to put together pricing that allowed them to advertise for longer periods of time and show them some results, they would be loyal customers forever.

After speaking to about 30 businesses, we found about 10 that were willing to give us a try even though they had not seen our product yet, and they just had to take us at our word we were going to be able to make a quality paper.

This is where research, becomes sales, and that is the absolute best test of whether your business is going to be able to hit the ground running – is someone willing to pay you based on your pitch of the idea.

For some people this is raising capital, which is a whole other ball game, but you have to be able to demonstrate to both potential customers and potential investors what you are able to do for them. The only way to be certain of that is to have been very clear before hand in brainstorming about what you were doing.

In the first issue of the paper we had 13 advertisers. 2 of them were put in as freebies to try and prove this would work for them (something I would never do again as it set their level of value…) We made a total of $865. The first paper had costs of nearly $2500 – renting delivery vehicles, printing, fuel, so we lost money.

But you have never seen someone so happy to lose money because I just knew we had started something big.

In the next post I am going to talk about hurdles. One of the most important things in any small business is not skills, intelligence, talent, it’s mental toughness, the ability to stay the course the storms. If anything in my career has been my strong point, it is that.

From whoa to go in 180 day… brainstorming

This is possibly the most important part of any startup to me. The point where you site down with a blank sheet of paper and work our what your startup is all about.

The key to any business is solving problems. and typically a good business will solve a number of problems for a number of people, hopefully some of whom will be prepared to pay for the privilege.

I always do this process on paper, usually in my notebook. I literally have hundreds of notebooks filled with ideas for businesses or problems I think we can solve, but under the scrutiny process they don’t all see the light of day. As my mate Justin Herald says, “Ideas a like armpits, everybody has a couple and they usually stink!”

Not every idea is a good idea, so I brainstorm the idea to over and over until we just have all the best bits.

First you have to start with all the problems. For me with the new paper they were:

  1. No easy and cost effective way for communities to let everyone know what was going on
  2. No affordable option for businesses to promote their products and services

The next step is to look at the costs involved in answering those questions. A lot of people skip this step, and get caught up in the idea aspect, because they have a prototype product or an idea of what you can charge for a service, and they run their numbers based on the income – not the profit. If you fail to look at the costs involved, you are going to run into issues quickly as  you will likely not have enough working capital to sustain you in the early stages.

For me, I wanted to deliver a free paper to the door of the residents in my area. The competitor sells their paper 3 times a week, so if I made ours free and delivered it, I cut down on my marketing massively as I didn’t have to educate them in to choosing my product over an alternative that has been in the marketplace for a long time, had brand awareness and brand loyalty.

The people that would be prepared to pay to participate were the businesses, however, small businesses could not afford to be involved over the longer term if we went with traditional newspaper advertising rates, so we worked out what we needed to make to be profitable, worked out our costs and worked backwards from there.

At this stage of the process, I do not get everyones opinion, I don’t seek outside counsel, i trust my own judgement and the judgement of those partnering with me. Too much feedback at the brainstorming stage will send you in endless loops and you will never get started.

The idea of the rapid startup is to hit the ground running and pivot as you have to. This is true of any business, whether it is a website, a product, service or anything in between.

Once I have the problems, my ideas and potential costs and revenue all worked out, I  close my book, and give it 24 hours.

Usually within the 24 hours I go through the wrestling process… “How could that possibly work? Who am I to think I can do it?” etc etc, all that self sabotage bullshit we all do. It’s ok, it’s human nature to doubt yourself. after 24 hours I open the book again, I look at my numbers and my ideas, if they seem reasonable, I move forward to the next stage, if they don’t I go through the process again… as many times as necessary.

The next post is about the research stage, which usually becomes pre-sales, if someone is ready to commit money based on a blue sky presentation, you are onto a winner!

 

 

From whoa to go in 180 days… the seed, the spark and the beginning of an idea

Most people believe that a new venture starts with the idea, however it doesn’t it starts with the seed, the thing that makes you come up with the idea.

Before you have the creative power to come up with a new business idea, you first must have the seed to spark your imagination to life.

Let me tell you the story of my seed.

When I first started REDD back in 2000 I had a very simple business plan.

  1. Build websites for people to make money
  2. Invest some of that money in building magazine style websites of my own on subjects I was interested in (local events, music, lifestyle, food)
  3. Get those websites generating money, then stop building websites for other people

That was it, like I said – very simple. The issue is we got very good at number 1 and really didn’t get to number 2 because the worst possible thing happened… we got comfortable. We made money, we had  a nice place to live, we did what we wanted when we wanted, and a good life got in the way of a great life.

So for me the ‘seed’ of publishing and telling stories was planted a very long time ago. But it was lying dormant in the soil of my mind. Just sitting there waiting for the day I would water it and watch it grow. Patient little seed…

As I said in yesterdays post, I have been heavily involved in community activities since we moved to our new home, and last year I was organising the Portland Spring Fair. As always I was in charge of marketing and PR so I contacted the local newspaper to see if they could help us promote the fair with a small piece about the event. I got through to a sales lady, who asked me if we had a budget for advertising, which we didn’t. The money we had raised in sponsorship was almost entirely spent on putting the day on to make it a great day for the community.

When I said I didn’t have a budget, I was then told they wouldn’t be able to run anything for us in the lead up, but if we sent some photos of the day in they may be able to run those after the event.

I was furious. If this was happening to me, was it happening to ALL community groups that try to get PR for their events? Most of these groups have no money and if they are holding an event it is usually to raise money to do something. How does it make sense that a community group pays to advertise a charity event. A chunk of the money they raise is already gone in marketing before they even start!

It was right there that I decided we should see if there was a way we could change that. That was October in 2013. So my seed was planted back in 2000, but the spark that ignited the seed came 13 years later.

The thing that had been lacking for over a decade was the ‘why’. The what was easy, but the why is what started the creative process, and the creative process is what leads to the idea. It would look something like this:

[blockquote source=”getting to the idea”](Seed + Spark = Creative Process) x time = idea[/blockquote]

So we knew what we wanted to do: create a platform to tell the good stories in small communities.

We knew why we wanted to do it: Because the communities achieve amazing things and no one ever finds out.

The only problem now was how. In the next post I will take you through the brainstorming process I use to determine how to solve an issue with a business.

From whoa to go in 180 days…

Startup. My favourite time in business.

Over the years I have started a number of ‘businesses’, some successful, some not so much. Every business I have started since 2000 has been in some way related to my core business in web design and development.

Designing and building businesses is something I have done for myself and for my clients for the last 15 years.

However, it is a long time since I have started a new business, not related to our core competency, in a new market, with no existing network of contacts or relationships. In fact, it was 2000 when I did that with my business REDD, and everything since has been an extension on that.

Six months ago, that all changed. I had moved, I was in a town where I had few friends let alone a black book of business contacts, and I saw an opportunity in a market I had not been involved in for a very long time, media. My only experience prior to this in media had been as a desktop publisher at my uncle’s startup paper back in the early 90s.

Coming from Metropolitan Sydney, when we made the tree change I was very surprised to learn in an area where community is so important, we did not have a free community paper. At the time we first moved here though, starting a paper of my own was the furthest thing from my mind.

Being part of the community I am in, pro bono community work has been a very rewarding way to pass the time. Getting involved with local groups, organising events and helping promote the town. I realised we had some great stories here that were not being told. And if that was true in my own town, then maybe that was true elsewhere, and so some research started. That was January 2014.
We started with an idea “give the community a platform to tell the GOOD stories that make them feel proud” a very different editorial direction than a typical metro paper.

My first idea, for obvious reasons, was a digital platform, but as I did my research and realised a lot of these small communities have limited internet connectivity, and many areas a significantly older audience, it made sense that our platform needed to be a bit more old school. And so we made a paper.

In just 6 short months we have established ourselves as a real alternative to the other publication in the area. We have built a massive loyal audience that reads pour paper each week, and we have built a solid support network with local businesses who have found advertising in our paper is a cost effective means of promoting their own business, and have businesses committing to 12 month marketing plans each and every day. Most importantly, we have arrived at a point where we are profitable and sustainable for the long term in just 6 months. This is not the story of selling 1 million ebooks in one afternoon, or having a massive membership program or event.

This is the story of a traditional business, bootstrapped by passionate people from obscurity to market dominance in 180 days.

Over the coming weeks, I am going to be releasing my journals from during the process. What we went through to create a sustainable traditional business in just 6 months with almost 0 startup capital, no list and nothing more than a belief that we could.

I hope you enjoy it if you choose to play along at home, it has been one of the most rewarding periods in my career because I know I am doing something important.

Here is a link to the digital versions of the paper: http://issuu.com/villagevoice.net.au

Here is a link to the website for the paper: http://villagevoice.net.au

Here is a link to our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thevillagevoicelithgow