I enjoy going to conferences, although some are often far better than others because of the theme or approach of the organisation to a certain topic or area of shared concern. Recently, I went to my first regional development conference. I’d been on their mailing list for years and despite having conferences in some cool locations, I’d never been able to get to one before.
This year however, was different and I was given the opportunity to speak at the conference around starting tech business in regional NSW.
Given the icy gale force winds we’d been experiencing lately, I was excited to escape to the warmth of Coffs Harbour for a couple of days. I admit that I missed the morning session of the first day. After landing in Coffs late the night before, I’d been frantically working on polishing my presentation for the next day. I then managed to sleep till 6:30am before getting up and jumping straight back into it.
After a few more practice runs of the presentation and the ever-annoying last minute reformatting to PowerPoint to make sure it all worked whatever the setup was, I headed in. There was a vibrancy to the gathering which was exciting and the range of speakers was excellent, covering diverse topics affecting our regional communities from infrastructure to economic development to social demographics. Thus, there was something quite specific for everyone.
Some of the most interesting sessions I attended explored the way in which regions were growing and the reasons behind the growth. There’s this massive myth that unless you’re living in a major city in Australia, you’ll never be able to be really successful, yet what does that even mean? Years ago when I started another business, someone said to me, ‘So when are you moving to Sydney?’ My reply was, ‘Why would I want to do that? I’d just have to sit in traffic all the time and waste all my money on rent!’
This is a key problem owning or working for a city-based business. Why would I want to waste all my time sitting in a car in stop-start bumper to bumper traffic when I can have a 10 min commute to town on foot? Added to this when you figure in the relatively low cost of air travel from most of our regional airports to our capital cities, then why would you bother living in a cramped studio apartment in which you can’t swing a cat, when you could live in a large house in the country where you can swing as many cats around as you like! Not sure why you want to swing the cat around, but you get the picture.
However, regional towns are not just about a better lifestyle, which is now being easily afforded to digital entrepreneurs and those who don’t need to operate a traditional ‘shopfront’ style business. The most important part of being in a regional town is that of community. The sense of community and the opportunity to be part of something much greater than yourself is massively beneficial to yourself, your family and happiness in general.
The days of regional towns being isolated by tyranny of distance, are quickly disappearing and the opportunities for jobs, business and being part of the community continue to grow.
For me, meeting other business people from different regional centres around Australia was a refreshing experience and a reinforcement of what I hold to be so true. You can establish and run global businesses from regional Australia and have both a lifestyle you can enjoy and the opportunities for a global presence.
Now all you need is a real world problem to solve or a customer’s need to fulfil, a fast, reliable internet connection, a few strong lattes and a massive amount of determination and persistence. You’re on your way to building an amazing business from a wonderful place in which to live.
The GovHack Team - 2017!
I felt the bracing cold of Canberra, as I stepped from the car in anticipation of another challenging weekend at GovHack. I can understand why the Federal Parliament has a winter recess! However, despite this, I was rugged up and ready.
Walking up to the Snow Centre (Canberra Grammar’s amazing technology building), it was lit up with the GovHack and CGS logo projected onto the wall, looking more like a night club, than a school. Thinking of which, imagine how much money you could make from doing pop-up night clubs in schools on the weekends and in the holidays! Think about it! You have the venue, the sound systems, plenty of parking… You just need a liquor licence and you could make a ton of money! Hmmm I could be onto something… (patent pending © David Gregory 2017!!!)
Anyway, walking in, the place was buzzing with excitement. Even the registration process was cool, as I lined up to register. It was in a darkened room, illuminated by a number of computers. My name badge had been printed on this cool looking Perspex, which in the darkened room appeared to glow.
Armed with my badge and my laptop, I walked around and said hi to a few people I’d met last year. However, my nerves were starting to kick in. For me this sort of event, at least getting started is way outside my comfort zone. I may run around the countryside mountain biking, hiking, exploring new places and speaking to large audiences without any problems, going into an unknown project with a team of people I haven't even met yet is a tough and challenging experience for me. However, that's the whole point! Part of the challenge for me in doing something like this, is the fact that it is confronting and nerve wracking stepping out into the unknown.
Whilst I often talk about ways in which to push others outside their comfort zone, it makes little sense to be teaching this, unless you're going to do it yourself. Despite the nerves, the apprehension and not knowing how that night was going to turn out let alone the whole weekend, I walked in. Always worried that I wouldn’t be able to find a team, I pushed through this negative thinking, in anticipation of what could be. As usual, I was proved wrong on this. At the team forming point, I met some amazing and diverse people with whom I ended up working.
Whilst there are prizes for the most innovative use of data and a range of other categories, for me success was more to do with finding a team and working with that team to produce something interesting over the next forty six hours.
The excited noise of the crowd subsided, as ACT organiser Matt Purcell introduced the evening and ran through the rules of the event and provided a rundown of everything that was happening over the weekend and most importantly what was for dinner!
At the conclusion of his presentation, there was hurried activity as teams scrambled to their breakout rooms to start hacking, or grab a can of drink from the fridge, both good options! For our team, the first challenge was to get to know everybody's names and work out what everybody's strengths were. We quickly went around the table and introduced ourselves with a quick background as to what we do and why we were competing at GovHack.
Most teams had been organised beforehand and many of them had already devised some idea of the sort of projects they were going to work on. However, when you’ve just created a brand-new team with people you’ve never even met before, suddenly the challenge of this exercise escalates. Not only do you have to get to know people and work out their strengths really quickly, you have to come up with a cohesive and innovative idea using government data and produce at least a semi-working prototype within forty six hours.
For many, this might be an overwhelming task. However, I believe the key to success in this is effective communication. Even though we weren't able to go straight to a room and start working on our project, we were able to communicate effectively with each other and through our discussions and brainstorming, ideas started to flow and slowly come together.
As I've said many times before, for me being innovative is really hard sitting around a table. Yet this time, I found as ideas were being thrown up as to what datasets could be used, I was able to start bouncing ideas back that over the next hour and a half started to form into something
quite interesting. The only thing which stumped all of us was the team name, which in the end pretty much ended up being based upon the solution that we created.
So what did we come up with?
After harassing countless government mentors and asking them what their biggest problem was, we came up with a mashup idea which evolved from using the cat restricted area data to chase down rogue cats, to a mobile app which allows drivers to quickly and accurately report injured wildlife to ACT Wildlife services. With the ultimate aim of faster rescue services and better data-capture on injured wildlife, our team got to work to research the impact of this in more depth and then built a business case and prototype from this.
The day seemed to evaporate as we brainstormed, planned and developed the idea. The sun had set and the rich tantalising smell of Indian food wafted through the air. With the organisers catering for 170 people, I've never seen so many massive buckets of curry in my life. It was a much needed and appreciated meal after a long day of hacking!
I headed off around 8:30 that evening after what had been a very productive day of team work. We’d all been working on our individual tasks, which were all contributing to the big picture of our overall project.
The next day started slowly, but the pace picked up to frantic levels as the deadline approached. We’d completed the project and the video just in time. However, after the first attempt to export the video from iMovie to YouTube failed, I had to do it manually and when I did, the computer was telling me it would take 26mins to upload the video and there were 13mins to go!!! Not able to rely on a timely server crash, I quickly re-exported the video at a much lower res and nervously cancelled the upload, removed the file and started again! The smaller video file uploaded quicker than I expected and thankfully with 4 mins to go, it was in!
Honey I Hit a Roo! - https://youtu.be/Gpi8EZiYi2Q
As the upload was confirmed, a great feeling of relief and achievement flooded in. It felt great to have successfully completed a project that two days ago, we had no idea about. Whilst at this point, it’s easy to reflect and say there was nothing to worry about, which in the end was true, if I hadn’t challenged myself and pushed myself outside my own comfort zone, I’d never have met such a great team who included Yogesh, Anthony, Ian and Mahathir and been able to create a really cool solution to a massive problem in Australia.
For the remainder of the year, I encourage everyone to do something that’s way outside their comfort zone. Don’t just teach it! Actually do it! Through this, you can become far more confident and effective in your own work and your own life. For me, this was such a great weekend, meeting new people and reconnecting with others I hadn’t seen in a long time. If you’ve never been to something like GovHack, then you must save the date for next year! A huge thankyou to Canberra Grammar, Matt Purcell and all the other GovHack volunteers who made it such an amazing weekend! Great work for me! It was a wonderful experience and the atmosphere of the whole event spoke volumes about how well it was done!
Building a business from scratch is hard work. There are so many things you need to do, so many things to organise and so many things to make happen, often with no idea as to how any of it should be done. Where do you start? In what order should you do things? These are just some of the many and varied problems when developing a business from scratch and shaping it so it grows the way you want it to.
Consequently, not only do you have to decide in what direction you want your business to head, but how all the moving parts must operate for that to actually happen. Sometimes it feels as if you’re trying to spin a collection of plates on thin metal poles. This is a classic circus act trick and if you’ve ever been to a circus and have seen someone doing this, it’s amazing. If you’re in business for yourself, the reality of the spinning plates being your world, starts to become clear. It really is amazing to watch! One plate slows down and the performer has to run over to speed it up so it's going fast enough for it to balance on the thin metal pole. By the time he has that plate up and spinning again, the next one is starting to slow down and wobble awkwardly. So once again the performer has to run to it and speed this one up. The performer continues to add more and more plates on thin metal poles to the act. As he starts each one, another one slows down and starts to wobble. This one urgently needs his attention and once sorted, another plate needs his attention.
This seemingly endless act of plate spinning ends in one of two ways. With all the plates up and running smoothly, the performer calmly walks along and removes each plate from its pole and neatly stacks them all up. The other way, the plates end up smashing on the floor one after another in a hideous disastrous mess. However, any good performer is not to let this happen and will do everything to keep those plates spinning.
This is a perfect analogy for building a business. There are so many moving parts. It comes down to priorities. What’s your current priority? What needs to be done right now to make sure that you keep that part of your business going just long enough to get the next piece in motion? In real life terms, this is called crisis management and crisis management is never good. With a significant amount of experience in crisis management myself, it's not a place in which I like to spend much time. A crisis is a point at which an organisation encounters a significant disruption to normal operation. However, if your normal business is drowning in constant crises, then as soon as you solve one crisis you just find yourself falling into the next one, you need to carefully examine the way in which you're doing business.
Operating constantly in crisis mode is unsustainable and something will eventually give. However, when you’re building something completely from scratch and a lot of it you’re having to make up as you go, what feels like a crisis is often not. It's just the way a new business is and we’re not used to that feeling and people often believe that everything must be done, all at once, right at this very moment for the business to succeed.
The reality is however, if you try and get everything done all at once, you’ll never succeed in getting anything done at any point in time. Therefore, it’s a matter of setting clear goals and priorities. The size of the goal doesn't matter, but what does matter is the mindset and approach you take as you start chipping away your big goal. When staring up at a seemingly insurmountable mountain, you can either give up because it looks too big to climb, you can run around in a panic worrying about all the things you must do before you can climb the mountain, or you can just start climbing.
It's the people who just start climbing and little by little make their way up the mountain that in the end succeed. When you look at your business from the same point of view and divide the massive end goal up into small manageable steps, the path toward success becomes much clearer. With a persistent mindset that ‘I’m going to take this first step, then I’m going to make it to that first ridgeline. At the ridgeline, I’m going sidestep around till I find the next ascent, which connects me up to a great stable rock face with some solid footings which will help me to take the next step, and the next, and the next until I’ve reached the summit.’
Approaching any goal, be it personal or business in this methodical and relentless manner, helps to remove the crisis mindset that is so often holding many great entrepreneurs back from success. This doesn't mean you won't encounter a crisis, an avalanche or a yeti along the way, but it does mean that through taking all of these small steps along the way and working towards your end goal consistently, you can conquer any mountain.
When you’re building your business and, like the performer with too many spinning plates, you’re struggling to keep it together, step back and instead of looking at the mountain ahead, simply focus on what your next step needs to be. Once you decide what the next small step is and you’ve gone and done it, feel happy in the fact that you’ve done everything you need to, to ensure you reach your end-goal. The simple act of taking the next step, has chipped away at that mountain of a goal and all those little chips start to build momentum towards whatever you’re trying to achieve. Eventually, each step and each little chip will ensure that at the end of the day you will conquer the mountain in front of you.
Recently this has been on my mind as I’ve been caught up in a frantic whirlwind of work, work and more work. Basically, if I’m not working, I’m sleeping. Now this is an insane combination and totally unsustainable. The realization hit me the other weekend when I went to Canberra to run the marathon! One of my goals this year has been to run a 1000km for the year and as part of that, run a marathon.
42km all at once is a hard slog. I did this once in the Relay for Life, when I was living in Orange. However, this was without the pressure of the race and basically it was just going around and around in circles on a playing field. Looking back, it was great that a group of high school students, who had been walking on and off throughout the evening, had seen me slowing down, but then encouraged me to keep going (around midnight) when I was about to give up having hit the 40km mark. With their encouragement and running beside me, I pushed through the stinging pain in my legs and jogged the last 2km before collapsing in a chair that took me until 1am to vacate.
Fast forward a couple of years and last year I got back into running. When I started to set some goals at the start of this year, running a marathon became one of them. So I booked my entry into the Canberra Marathon and during January got into training. I kept progressing and extending my runs from 6km (two laps of the beach near home). Up to 21km (the beach near home, plus the next two beaches to the north). All was looking good and if I kept increasing the distance I was training for, I’d easily be ready for the April race. However, February struck!
Once businesses and schools went back for the year, I found myself consumed by work. As I said before, if I were not working, I was sleeping and something had to give and that was everything outside of work, and I mean everything. My training stopped dead in its tracks and the only running I was doing was from meeting to meeting and eating unhealthily on the way. Not quite what was needed to be able to run 42km…
Two weeks ago, I reached the point where I knew I wasn’t prepared for a race of that length. Whilst much of a marathon is a mental battle, there’s also a massive physical component. Burning the candle at both ends ultimately has a cost, and the cost was achieving one of my important goals for the year. I reluctantly changed my entry from the full marathon to the half, knowing that was at least within my reach.
When I ran the half marathon, it was a good run. Thankfully, the training I’d done last year and early this year had paid off. However, it left me feeling unfulfilled. I’d wanted to do more and yet, because I’d been throwing all my energy at something else, I’d missed out on doing something that was important to me. I can only blame myself for letting it happen.
Reflecting on this, the reality is that work can never fulfill every aspect of your life. If it is, then you need to do something to change this, because at some point you’ll miss out on something that’s important to you, just as I did. I know I’ll find another marathon to run, but with this happening, it was a timely reminder that everyone needs to make sure there’s always time for themselves throughout their daily and weekly schedules, without which, you risk becoming the guy from
Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of A Salesman,’ and nobody really wants that.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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