You promised us a Scandinavian saga style opera on 1st Jan! What Happened???
Well that’s a fair enough question and whilst I apologise to my 10s of readers who were eagerly anticipating the whole saga to begin at the start of the new year and play out in all its epic glory, instead at the time I was busy getting snowed in on my trip to the US as I explored opportunities and went to a Village People concert!
Yes, they’re still alive, well, some of them at least and they didn’t miss a beat, although they were sucking down oxygen from small canisters between songs, but that’s understandable as the concert was in a town about 2,500m above sea level. The mood was electric, as everyone in the entire auditorium danced and sang to the encore performance of YMCA! It was a great night!
I did promise singing after all! So why haven’t I written the blow by blow account of building a business from scratch? Well for one, if I wrote a daily account of everything that happened, which I did to begin with, there would be lots of repetition, dull moments and swearing.
What’s my solution to this? The easy solution is that I’m going to hold off on doing the daily blog, or even a weekly blog of the saga of building a business and instead condense this down into a book. Oh crap, not another business book! Yeah… another business book, but hey, I’ll probably make it into an audio book so you can listen to the saga, rather than having to actually read it. It makes it easier to include singing in it as well.
In the book however, I won’t tell you what you should do in business. I’ll just be reflecting on my own experiences and from this I’ll let you decide what course of action you need to take for yourself. With everything in life, there are many ways to approach a problem. If for example I’d listened to all the advice I’ve been given about business over the past two years from all the many willing advice givers, I probably wouldn’t recognise my own business and it’d be a bastardised mess filled to the brim with other peoples’ ideas, goals and expectations. If I wanted that, I’d just work for public service.
Building a business is one of the most challenging, frustrating, yet rewarding things you can do and as such, the story deserves a lot more attention than a few blog posts and later in the year, it will start to take shape. In the meantime, I’ll just keep posting away about random things which excite me, annoy me or simply make me laugh.
Now thankfully this isn't something that happens every day, but it does happen. Given the fact that my first job was at a gun club, shouldn't mean the chances of being shot increases. Whilst many bleeding hearts will tell you the dangers of shooting, it remains one of the safest sports you can do. I've had far worse injuries from hockey than anything else. Mountain biking and skiing are right up there for the most dangerous sports. However, once again, I digress and so back to the topic.
I'd got my first job as many teens do at 15. However, it wasn't a fast food joint. It was a shotgun club. My job was to put the skeets on the hopper and fire them up so that people could shoot at them. It was a fun job that paid really well. Most of the time I just sat inside a concrete bunker waiting for the buzzer. When I heard that, I'd load the clay and off it would go. This would be followed by the sound of a shot gun and depending on how good a shot they were, it either shattered the clay pigeon, or it would gracefully sail back down to land in the field nearby. The only real hazard of the job was when a clay shattered inside the bunker as it flew out. You'd be shielding your eyes as you were peppered with tiny ceramic fragments as they ricocheted off the solid concrete walls.
The job was fun and often I'd get to shoot a few clays afterwards too, which added to the excitement of it all. One day however, we were on a different range. It was the field and game range. At this range, it wasn't the traditional skeet tower and bunker configuration that we usually worked with, meaning the clay pigeons would be fired from either a tower, or the bunker. Instead, we used a whole range of different styles and sizes of clays which could be bounced along the ground, thrown up into the air, down a gully or every which way possible. It added a remarkably different sort of challenge to it all.
That day, I was stationed high up on top of this rock. When I heard the buzzer, I'd fire two clays up over this rock and the shooter would see them as if they were birds through the trees. This was no worries at all as I was high up and protected by a rock. However, the next range over, something was being fired across the gully and unfortunately I found out the hard way that this side wasn't so well protected.
There had been a few shots now and then where I'd heard the leaves in trees above getting sprayed through with shot, but thought nothing really of it. I was protected by a rock. It was way above my head as it should be. It was all good. However, just as I was loading a double clay, I heard a boom and whipping sound coming at me. My arm suddenly stung before a hot painful burning sensation took over. I grabbed my right shoulder with my hand. Looking down I could see blood, lots of blood and my upper arm dimpled with telltale signs of a spray of shotgun pellets.
I don't remember screaming or crying in pain. It all felt so surreal. One second I was loading clays. Next I'd been shot in the arm and bleeding profusely. I felt my right hand release the clay hopper and I shot the two clays up into the air. It must have surprised the range officer, as I'd let them go too early. He was on the radio to see what was happening.
I said, ‘I think I might need some help. Can you come up?’
I remember the reply was one of grumbles, as if it were so much effort to get up the hill. (Actually, for most of the club members it was, given the fact that they weren't the fittest group of individuals.)
However, when he got up there and saw the blood, his attitude changed. Thankfully, someone in the club had some idea of first aid and it wasn't long before they stopped the bleeding and revealed some nice neat pellet holes in my right shoulder.
Whilst today, I'd be seriously looking into their risk processes and procedures to find out why there was such an horrendous failing in their safety, back then. After I realised that the wounds weren't too deep, the pellets had all been removed and I was ok, it now felt so cool to have been shot at work and as compensation, they gave me and extra $50. All in all, a great day at work.
Kakadu National Park
Last year was a year of travel and adventure. However, it hasn't all been just for fun. The majority of the time I've been working and building a business whilst travelling. Being an entrepreneur is challenging, yet, at the same time, running your own business, especially in the tech world, has some amazing benefits.
To be honest, this isn't something for everyone, as it means you're usually on the go from place to place, reliant on finding reliable wifi networks and living out of a suitcase. Some people find this unsettling and frustrating, which I can understand. However, for me the benefits of being able to travel and work far outweigh the challenges. I never really got to do the whole world tour thing in my 20s and so instead of doing that and then, ‘settling down’ finding a regular job to go to each day and taking on a massive, unaffordable mortgage, I've taken a different path and one which I find creative, exciting and invigorating!
So where did I go and what did I do? I travelled around Australia. I travelled overseas. I explored, I hiked, I canoed, I mountain biked, I skied, I saw ancient aboriginal rock paintings, climbed to the highest point in Australia and tried foods I'd never even considered before, including a wonderful vegan restaurant in LA! I went to galleries and museums, met wonderful new friends and most of the time, nobody noticed I was gone! My emails were still answered. My meetings still went ahead. My business still developed and grew. The difference being, every time I was somewhere interesting, my creativity, productivity and drive increased!
The places I've worked from in 2016
The rest of Australia
The different experiences, the new people you meet and the new foods are all part of the unique fabric of being able to work from anywhere in the world. In the morning, I could be hiking up a mountain or wandering through a gallery. In the afternoon, I could be on a Skype conference closing a deal or talking with the tech team and in the evening (depending on time zone), I could be making calls or working on the business.
But please don't get the impression though that it's all been business class travel and exotic hotels! In the last year, I've spent nights huddled in tents miles from civilisation designing software processes, writing business plans and beta testing software. One of my missions was to kill the notion that as a beta tester you have to be sitting in a darkened office cubicle mashing a keyboard. I remember vividly one freezing night in the middle of winter, sleeping bag over my head, trying to warm my hands on the battery charger as it powered my phone and testing my app to its limits trying to fish out any bugs. I've done conference calls from the other side of the world, framing the camera in such a way to make it look as if I'm in an office, interacted with customers in multiple countries and time zones and successfully managed multiple projects where nobody had any idea where I was. This was all due to the nature and effectiveness of today's technology. Right now, I'm writing this as I'm sitting in a café in Japan drinking an amazing hot chocolate. Believe me when I say that Japan has the best cream in the world!
Why am I doing this? Because I love the variety. It's wildly invigorating! I love the unique cultures I'm experiencing and I love the different foods I get to try. I even ate crocodile for the first time! And let me tell you it doesn't taste like chicken at all. It's like a mix between beef and fish. I baulked though at the thought of eating horse sashimi in Japan. That was a bridge too far and Mr Ed remains safe for now!
At the other end of the scale, I hate routine and for me sitting in an office somewhere isn't in the slightest way inspiring, nor productive. I do my most critical and creative thinking when I'm travelling. It's during this time that I've had awesome business ideas and been inspired to take on different challenges. If you're lacking inspiration or motivation in your business, then find a place or activity which inspires you and go and do it. Don't talk about it. Put it into action!
Working remotely and at times seriously remotely can be a hugely rewarding and fulfilling experience! If you can get the balance right, you can free yourself and discover things about yourself and the world you’d otherwise have never known. For me it's a wonderful and exciting thing to do. If you're in a similar situation where you can free yourself from the traditional office, then give it a go! It may be the life changing shift of environment that propels your business to the next level of success. If nothing else, at least you will have some delicious meals and great stories to tell!
During the January break, I was in the US for business, but took a couple of days out for skiing. I somehow found myself heading up a lift with some venture capitalists. One of them asked me what I did and I explained briefly about software platform. Then they immediately started asking about capital structures, investors, listings and all that crap they talk about in their line of work.
So naturally I started bagging out the whole VC industry. They seemed shocked that I had some other point of view of building a business. But putting it bluntly, the reality is that a VC will want at least a 10X return. They want a clear exit for themselves, don't give a crap about you and they only see $$$ and often don't really understand the underlying business. I said to them in no uncertain terms, most VCs are toxic and destructive to business, because they're thinking short-term and don't share the core values, beliefs and vision of the company. It's rare to discover an investor that understands your industry so well, that they complement and enhance your business, rather than artificially inflate a business with cash, only for it to implode when the Seed, Series A and Series B capital runs out and the whole ‘Ponzi scheme’ collapses.
It was interesting to gauge the response to the idea that a business should only exist when it's solving real world problems. Whilst I seemed to get an agreement out of them on this, it was more of a muted response. This is the reality of business. If you can't solve a pain point or provide a happy satisfying experience to your customer, you're not going to get any money out or them. If you don't get money out of customers, you won't be able to run and grow your business for very long. Under the VC logic, if you inject enough money in, you can keep running this profitless exercise for a much longer period of time before you run out of money, by which time some of them may have already jumped ship.
I got the impression they were under the mistaken belief that everyone wants and needs their money. I've written about this before, but it really is such an important issue, especially for new businesses starting out and it's well worth mentioning again.
VCs believe you need their money, because that's the business they're in. If they're not investing in anything, they're not doing their job. Hence, they make people feel as if they need their money, but at what cost? Do you really need finance? If you do need capital, what other finance options do you have? Explore all possibilities, as having a VC shackle themselves to you has the potential of crippling your vision and ability to effectively run your business. Humour them if you have to but evaluate the real cost of capital to you and your business. You've created something special. Don't let them bastardised it to make themselves rich.
Whenever I hear the word focus, I always think back to the Simpsons episode where Bart gets put on Focusin, a special drug to help him concentrate in class, but then it sends him slightly crazy. Now in reality, parents would never put their children on mind altering drugs to control their behaviour. Hence we won’t talk about that right now.
The main issue of focus in regards to business, is to help you look at a number of key areas to concentrate your mind and energies on things that will maximise business growth and effectiveness. However, in a world that’s always switched on and bombarding people with information, it’s often hard to focus on anything. The only time I really see people focusing on one single thing, is when I hear the screech of brakes and look around to see someone crossing the street like a zombie looking at the phone. I'm amazed more haven't scored Darwin Awards for this talents pastime.
Whilst most individuals can bumble through and get away with a complete lack of focus in their lives, for business, focus is absolutely critical to success. Not long ago, I was speaking at a business chamber function about what I was up to. Afterwards there was a Q & A session. Someone commented, quite negatively I thought, about the fact that my business could do so much more in so many other industries. Why had I kept it just in one? ‘Isn't that stopping your growth?’ ‘Why don't you do this or that?’ I remember hearing.
Focus is hard! Especially when you're building a business from scratch. The reality is that things are flying at you from every direction. You're overwhelmed with tasks you have to do. From admin, to finance, to product development, to marketing, to sales! There's so much to manage, not to mention all the random spanners that get thrown into works as well! How the hell can you focus on anything at all?
That's a good point! To be effective you need to delegate some of the time consuming tasks that need to be done, but are not core to sales. Look at all of the things that somebody else could do (most likely even better than you can) and let them do them for you.
Now you've off-loaded time consuming admin, you can focus on what you really need to be doing. In the early stages of a business, it's vital that you keep your focus, otherwise trying to do too many things, or serve too many masters is a potential business killer in itself. What's going to bring you the best result? Who are going to be your best customers? Firstly, through really understanding your target customer, and then focussing on how you can deliver the best solution to their problem, you can ensure that all of your efforts can be focussed in on maximising engagement with someone who’s going to make the decision to buy. Not everyone is a decision maker. Not everyone wants or needs your products, so the faster you can narrow it down to who does, the faster you can turn these leads into sales and at the end of the day, that's what business should all be about, solving a specific real world problem in a really effective way. Once you've done that, growth will come in the most positive and sustainable way.
Teaching is hard work. Sure you get great holidays, but they’re both well-deserved and absolutely essential. Having said that, why is the first week back after a break so exhausting? If you work for a school that’s anything like the schools for which I’ve worked, most of the term you’re running at a supercharged pace. Usually this pace during term time is ok, however, for me, the start of every term is particularly taxing and I put it down to compulsory meetings about absolutely nothing.
There's nothing more boring and draining than sitting in a pointless meeting listening to someone rubbish on about strategic plans for the department. In my experience, these have been nothing more than pointless time wasting activities in which nothing is achieved, or if something is possibly decided as perhaps a good idea, the good idea is deferred to a committee or held off until ‘later.’ Everybody at the meeting knows that ‘later’ means never! So why is this?
The failure to achieve anything at all is completely counter to what teaching is actually about. Teaching is about everyone learning new things and about getting things done. It's about moving forward, about improving oneself and growing! So why is it so hard for this to happen within a school? As educators, we should be at the forefront of innovation and making things happen. Yet the overall culture of schools tends to be hell-bent against new ideas and innovation.
The sad fact is that the majority of the education system in Australia is still stuck in the 19th century. Principals who should have retired when Mr Squiggle was still drawing his upside down master pieces just keep hanging on to what worked ‘back in their day!’ Well their day has come and gone and now with Australia falling behind Kazakhstan’s educational standards, something has to change. But if the top down approach isn't going to work, who's going to change it? Well you have to! If there's ever a time to get to and do something, it's now! Every time you have a good idea that could improve the education of your students, then make it happen. You might get told no five times, but don't give up.
If you really want to make something happen, then it's up to you to find a way to do it. It's time to be bold and push the boundaries. Too often I've seen teachers spoon feed kids the answers to everything just so they get results, but this shows a complete lack of innovation and is ultimately damaging to the student. Sure they might get a good result on one thing, but then they become dependent on the teacher giving them everything. The same goes the opposite way. The teachers who are prepared to spoon feed their students everything, are the same ones who put road blocks up to new ideas and innovation. You know the ones I'm talking about because someone's name had just popped into your head.
On staff development days, they're the ones ready to kill off all good ideas because it's uncomfortable to them to try something new and something different. After all, they've just got back from the holidays so they couldn't possibly do something new so soon. They're great with the excuses! However, anything worth doing comes with challenges. To achieve great things, you need to be bold and it will feel uncomfortable, but it's so worth it.
To kick off this new academic year, don't give up on your bold ideas. Make them happen! No matter how grand the challenge might be, you can find a way! After all, it’s about developing the best educational opportunities for your students, through which you can help everyone to achieve great results.
Goal setting is something that’s quite often missed due to the busy nature of our lives, but it can create focus and lead to massive positive change in your life. We often think about it at this time of the year, because people throw around the idea of the New Year’s resolution. However, this is nothing more than a notional way people feel good for a day or two before they go back to their old ways. Let’s get serious about something here. Personal and business goal setting is completely different and it’s an excellent way to create a positive and proactive start to the year.
I constantly develop new goals, work out what I need to do to achieve them, then go and make it happen! None of my goals have just magically happened. They have all required planning and taking action. If you have the drive and determination to do this, you can achieve whatever you want to achieve in life!
Over the years, I’ve worked with both kids and adults to help them create a vision for themselves through goal setting. What do they like to do? What do they love to do? What do they want to achieve? Where do they want to take their lives, their careers, their businesses? What’s their timeframe for each goal? Today? Next week? Next month? End of the year? Next five years? What actions are they going to have to take to achieve these goals?
I have to use a cliché here, but it is warranted. It’s often hard for people to see forest for the trees! People get so stuck in the noise of life. The more challenging and complex the goal, the more likely people are going to think it’s all too hard and just give up. People often don’t put things into perspective. Huge goals are awesome, but to achieve them, you need to take massive amounts of action. Goals without actions don’t actually achieve anything! One day I was at the supermarket and a rather over-weight guy was standing there complaining about how he couldn’t get fit, yet whilst standing and complaining, he was eating a pie and drinking a can of energy drink. This is typical of a lot of people because they want to achieve something, but they’re not willing to take any real action towards achieving it.
Similarly, new businesses are particularly vulnerable to this lack of direction and lack of appropriate action. Like the guy with energy drink, they want to achieve a goal of being ‘successful in business,’ but why so many businesses fail is that they don’t put in the action required to achieve their goal of ‘success,’ because they haven’t mapped out what that success looks like and what actions must be seriously taken to achieve it. Instead, all their energy is put into other time consuming activity just to maintain the status quo. However, when you set goals for yourself and your business and the pathway of actions to achieve these goals, you’ll see just how much more clarity of purpose you’ll have and this clarity fuels your drive and determination towards those goals.
You don’t have to wait for a set point in time either. Start today! You’ve got nothing to lose by doing it and it’s not going to cost you anything at all, but will deliver great long-term benefits. Once you start to truly think about what you want to achieve, break it down into smaller goals or milestones. You’ll find that you can achieve so much more. Here’s a simple guide to begin with:
1. What’s your goal? (Be specific)
2. What’s your timeframe? (Set a date)
3. What actions must you take to achieve this? (Again be specific)
I do this constantly throughout the year. Over the past twelve months, I’ve achieved 5 major business goals. However, I’m still working towards a number of others, as the actions that needed to be taken, had to be taken over a longer period of time. Don’t be afraid of long-term goals, these can produce the most reward, but they require planning and commitment. In addition to this, I’ve added more business and personal goals all along the way! One for me for the next twelve months is to be involved in another Australian feature film! The last one was an amazing fun experience and whilst for me this isn’t a business goal, it still contributes to the challenge and excitement of life.
Take some time right now to set goals for yourself. What do you want to achieve? Where do you want to be in a month? In a year? In five years? What does that look like for you? What do you need to do to make it happen?
A very important part of this is to find some space where you can get some clarity. Where’s the best place is for you to think and reflect, that’s distraction free? Where do you have your best ideas? Where’s the best place for you to be inspired? Find it, go there and start setting out your goals.
Having a healthy and proactive mind goes hand in hand with having a healthy and positive life and it’s something that you can achieve. Now take the time, set some goals and have a wonderful, proactive and prosperous 2017!
This week, since it’s the new year holiday period, I thought I'd write more about adventures and well nothing about business. After a massive past month, I managed to jump on a plane and fly to Japan. I love flying and with my favourite TV show, now movie, Absolutely Fabulous on the entertainment system, the movie was just the right length to have dinner and then fall asleep. Having not stopped for weeks, it wasn't hard at all to doze off and wake when the stewards were serving breakfast!
After a muesli and a couple of espressos, I was all ready to go. Another thing I love about travelling is the fact that one moment I can be in stinking hot weather, the next I step into winter. It's not quite like going into your cupboard and discovering Narnia, but not that far off it either!
Shuffling through immigration seems to get faster and faster as they improve technology to check people through. The biggest hassle however, was trying to work out how to make all the connections to get to my destination. The Japanese I did at school hardly prepared me for any of this. It came down to a couple of options. 1. I could wait 4 hours and catch a bus directly to my hotel (boring). 2. Get a mono-rail, bullet train and bus to my destination. Far more interesting… and challenging! Whilst I already knew of these two options and had it planned out in my mind what I needed to do to make this happen, it's not until you're faced with a ticket machine that even when in English Mode doesn't make sense and no ticket sales desks in sight.
I managed to fudge my way through and buy a ticket. I wasn't sure if it were the right one, but hey it kept working everytime I stuck it in a machine so I guessed I was on the right track. (The track being a monorail, it was kind of hard not to be!)
I made my way to Tokyo Central Station and from here ran around madly trying to find the next connection. It was the bullet train! I again did battle with the ticket machine that had way too many options that didn't make any sense at all. However, I finally succeeded in getting it to spit out a ticket, yet when I went to the gate, it turns out it wanted two tickets. So after the guard said something I didn't understand except for the word two, I went back and got a second ticket (which was apparently slightly different somehow). Placing both tickets in the machine at once, it worked! With a strange feeling that this ticketing process was somehow inefficient and un-Japanese, I raced up to the platform as the train was minutes from leaving.
This was my first time on a bullet train and it was amazing! The sleek design, the aerodynamics, the whole train was awesome. I can't for the life of me work out why Australia hasn't built any lines for them. The smooth pace at which they accelerated and slowed mean that you were never thrown about. Although I have to admit I was slightly disappointed that leaving the station I wasn't nailed to the back of my seat by 5Gs of thrust. Now that would be cool.
Seeing the sheer size and spread of Tokyo was something itself. The high-rise apartments, the industrial areas, the sprawl of the city seemed to go on forever. As the urban centre became more distant, the train sped up hitting over 280kph! The world flashed by and in the distance, I could see the snow capped Mt Fuji dominating the landscape.
The train ride was around 1.5hrs and as the towns became more rural, the design of the building changed and there was some great tranquility about this transition.
Reaching Nagano (venue of the 1998 Winter Olympics), the bullet train ride ended. Stepping off the headed carriage, I was snapped back into winter by the frosty chill in the air. From here, I transitioned onto a bus for the final leg of the journey. As the bus wound its way through the rural townships, light snow began to fall, getting heavier and heavier as we ascended into the mountains.
After another hour and a bit on the bus, we reached the township of Hakuba, a great town now deep with snow. I explored town for a couple of hours buying and eating some random foods which looked like one thing, but tasted like something else. One such food looked like a cream bun and turned out to have some sort of black bean mash within it! Ha! It's always worth trying new foods and I eventually stumbled on something I liked for lunch.
Going anywhere new for the first time is always filled with uncertainty, but that's what makes it so exciting. I don't know what's going to happen next, but to an extent it doesn't matter, as enjoying the journey and everything that happens along the way is the most important thing. It's way too easy to get so wrapped up in work and ‘regular’ life that you miss out on the opportunities to travel, to explore and to experience new things. So over the Christmas break, think about somewhere new you'd like to go or something new you’d like to try. Ask yourself where your next adventure will be and go and book it in the next hour! Whatever it is, don't delay, don't defer it, make it happen and have an awesome adventure whatever it may be!
I've been reading a lot of business books lately. Some are amazing, some are total crap and some are just repeating everything else that everyone else has already said, yet still pretending that they thought of it first. Whilst business books are great to read, I reached saturation point last week and everything started appearing to be exactly the same. I've also been driving thousands of kilometres to get to meetings and listening to audio books along the way, but again everyone's sounding the same, telling me the same thing over and over and I needed a break. Ok, so quick sidebar and for those of you thinking about writing a book on business. Please resist the temptation of reading the audio book yourself, unless you have some form of training in media production. It's a rare thing to come across someone who can write logically and fluently and perform their own work with an entertaining flair, most business writers can't!
Having said that however, in my frustration of endless repetition in business tomes and the drones of their authors reading them to me, I woke the other morning to an offer I couldn't refuse! It was a free gift from my purveyor of fine audio books, obviously because I either spend too much money with them, or just not enough. Anyway, the gift was in the form of Girt, (a mysterious word whose usage came to prominence when written into Australia’s national anthem and means surrounded).
The book Girt is about the settlement history of Australia. “Ugh! Yuck! Australian history,” I hear you cry. “How boring!” Well having a degree in Medieval European History, I thought that too. However, nothing could be further from the truth (with the exception perhaps of Hilary's approach to online messaging). I downloaded my free gift and started listening to it right away. Written and narrated by historian David Hunt, this is an astoundingly hilarious account of the unspoken tales of Australian history that show how a nation was discovered by accident more than design and built on the back of dodgy deals generally involving rum and settled predominantly by people who really didn't want to be here. However, due to their rampant compulsion to blow their noses on something nice, rather than wipe it on their sleeves, they were transported here for all the handkerchiefs they borrowed!
I won't go into all the details of the book as I can hardly do it justice and, after all, you can read or listen to it yourself. I will say however, that it was a rolling barrel of laughs as David explored how dysfunctional the early days were in the new British Colony of New South Wales. Although I do note some important general guidelines for those future empire builders looking to send their criminals far far away:
If I'm not making any sense, it's either because I'm writing this late at night, or you still haven't read the book!
Ok, so there is a point to all this, other than recommending a fantastic book. The book was so far removed from business, it was the refreshing break I needed from my business. When we focus on something so much, we often lose touch with other things which excite us and make us happy and that's been the case for me. Listening to a wonderful and interesting history that had nothing to do with work or business was great. It gave me the chance to switch off and really enjoy myself and that's so important for anyone, not just entrepreneurs, to be able to do. Take some time for yourself, recharge, refocus and just take the time to enjoy life.
As for Girt, even if you're not into history, read it. It's the most engaging and interesting history book I've ever come across and you will be richer for the experience.
It was an early start, getting up before dawn to drive to Sydney for StartCon. I’d actually been quite hesitant to go to this for many reasons, which I’ve written about in the past. The basic problem is the massive difference between a startup and an actual business. The start up world has a lot of fantasy involved with it and not much business and the business world needs to be a bit more innovative.
Anyway, today, it was fun and interesting to go to, but personally I can’t say that I got much value out of it. There were some great sessions for new ventures. However, I’m still sceptical as it remained way too much in the fantasy realm of people wanting to raise money for bad ideas.
I went in the pitch competition and it was pretty entertaining. My pitch was, well… umm… I thought it was good considering I formulated it on the way to the event. The reason being, this past week’s been manically busy and so between a wilderness expedition, setting up client meetings, beta testing the new version of software for release, writing blog posts and managing a whole host of other aspects of the business, I didn't have much time for writing a pitch to try and impress investors that I don't even want. Now, it was only a 2 minute pitch and I had four slides which I threw together from my sales deck. For those of you involved in the start-up world, you’ll know what people expect in a pitch deck. It's got nothing really to do with sales, therefore I’m fundamentally not prepared for a pitch competition in which I’m trying to ask people for money. My presentation deck is purely targeted at sales and therein lies one of the biggest problems with the start up world. They’re not particularly interested in sales. They’re interested in market size, metrics and investors opportunities. More Las Vegas than Warren Buffet in approach. Anyway, I didn’t have any of that, so I basically just threw together a couple of slides, which showed the app and looked nice and went with that.
It’s a 3 hour drive to Sydney from where I live, so I spent much of it thinking, “How am I going to describe an Educational Risk Management App to a group of people who are from the tech world? How do I simplify this, how do I rationalise this down so the audience understands?”
I ended up throwing out all the tried and tested pitches I’ve done for schools because I’m not pitching to customers. Instead I’m pitching to people who most likely know nothing about the education system and what risks are involved when taking kids away. This is a hard thing to answer and after three hours of pondering, I still didn’t have a pitch when I walked in the door and registered.
Walking up the stairs, I jotted it down, one or two points on a piece of paper, then promptly stuffed the piece of paper in my pocket completely forgetting what I'd written down. It was reminiscent of when I was up against the deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce in preselection and I wrote a speech one night on the back of a beer coaster in a pub 5mins before I had to present it. Anyway back to the pitch comp. My name was called to go on stage, so I jumped up as it was now or never and I just had to get into it. With no plan and the note in my pocket, I just went for it and delivered the 2min presentation on what Xcursion was, what the problem was, what the solution to that problem was and my background and experience. No talk about raising money, no talk about anything else other than saying that I was looking for strategic partnerships to further growth! It was so much fun! It’s been a long time since I’ve done any public speaking like that, in that sort of impromptu, unprepared sort of way and I really enjoyed it.
The results of the competition weren't great for me, probably because I didn't ask for any money. I got a 7 and a 6 from the first two judges, then a 4 from the other one, but I think he was struggling to understand anything to do with business. I'd never heard of him before so a 4 from a random nobody didn't really worry me. I was sure I could make up the points in the swim suit section, but then they told me there was no swimsuit section… Typical!
Despite there being no swimsuit section, it was a good experience and it was interesting to see what others are thinking and doing in the tech space. What was a really powerful take away for me was that it really reinforced my point of view that all these good ideas are commendable, but there has to be more of a real business behind them. What many don't realise is that it’s not all about raising capital. It is not all about falsely inflating the potential of the business by injecting cash into it. It is running a true business with real customers who at the end of the day will pay you for a good or a service.
I wandered around the exhibition hall and looked at a few other potential businesses that are there as well as many startups, which probably needed to have a clearer idea of what business they were in, than they really did. I collected some free stuff, which is always nice. I don't think I will ever run out of pens!
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to stick around for the second day of the conference as I had to get back to my own business, but there were some really good sessions and great speakers on the marketing and building of a real business and I think that’s really the core of this conference once you strip away the other parts. Considering the focus was more on how to market your business and how to develop and grow your business, rather than how to raise capital, it was a winner in my books. All up, it was quite an informative and useful conference to go to and maybe next year they will include the swimsuit contest as well.
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