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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