5

So you want to do a startup?

Startups

I enjoy mixing with startup people; and I’ve been catching up with quite a few recently, a meeting here, a cup of coffee there, a presentation somewhere else. So it got me to thinking about the top 10 tips I’d pass on to anyone contemplating a startup…

1. PROBLEM: Focus on the problem you are solving – if your idea does not solve a large enough problem for a large amount of people (e.g. traffic congestion, boredom, finding a job, making friends…) you probably don’t have a business. Solving a problem creates value for those you are solving it for, and so they may even pay you something.

2. CUSTOMER: Find out who your customer is (they are the ones going to pay you to solve their problem). Build your whole business and systems around them. Talk to them, ask them things, listen. Never stop doing this.

3. REVENUE: There are only three revenue streams (most are variations on these three): subscriptions, advertising or selling – work out which of these (or a mix) you are going to deploy. In my humble opinion, subscription is nearly always the most sustainable model.

4. NETWORK: If you need others to join your team (and even if you don’t) head on down to the various startup events going on around Perth at the moment – the best of these is probably Perth Morning Startup held at Spacecubed (770+ members and counting) every second Wednesday. Also good are eGroup held monthly on a Tuesday evening and Silicon Beach (490+ members and counting). Find these and many more by searching on meetup.com.

5. TECHNOLOGY: much of the technology platforms these days are free, or very cost effective; open source software is available, much of which can be developed by some home grown or offshore talent. A basic rule of thumb – it is never the technology, it is always the people. Get the best people, and they’ll find a way.

6. FUNDING: if you need funds to get your business going, network your way to the money. If you are serious, you need to be holding many meetings daily, and if you do this you will find the people in Perth you need to talk to. Try to “get the no” – don’t be led on by those who are just going to say no but have a hard time saying it. Ask the ‘noers’ for 2-3 other referrals. Those that can’t say no, are interested. Land them (if you want to). In the end, it’s not about the money, it’s about the connections your backers can bring, and doors they can open.

7. GET JUST OUT THERE: If you don’t need much money yet, or can bootstrap it for now then soft launch with a minimum viable product (MVP); this will allow you to obtain the best feedback possible (from early customers) and give you credibility and perspective when and if you raise funds later.

8. EXECUTION: your best protection is to execute on your plan well; many people talk a lot, but few go out and do it well. Don’t hide from reality, and encourage your team to bring you the negatives, but equally, be firm, trust your instinct and go for it.

9. PIVOT: if things are not going well, you may need to change direction fast. Your early results will tell you how things are going, but it will take judgement to gauge whether things just need a bit of a push, or whether things will never turn out the way you want and a pivot is required.

10. ENJOY: overall, it should be an enjoyable journey. No doubt there will be sleepless nights, but your network will also help you get through the tougher times. In the end, if you don’t enjoy it, why do it? Your belief, passion and sense of fun will get you through.

0

Perth, the MBA and tech startups

Business Because

I was recently interviewed by Business Because, a network for MBA graduates.

You first studied in the UK – which country are you originally from?
England; I lived there for 26 years before moving to Singapore (7 years) and then arrived in Perth in 1997 – 17 years ago. I was an Economics teacher by training (Portsmouth Uni for Econs BA (Hons), then Uni of London for teaching post grad degree)

Why did you decide to begin an MBA in Australia and what were you hoping to get out of the program?
It was more that I was moving to Australia, and that I wanted to do an MBA anyway, and the timing was that aged 34 I had been teaching for 10+ years, was taking a break, doing an MBA (thinking it would be useful if I became a Principal – I had already been Head of Dept and Head of year for many years). MBA was also a chance to take a break from full time work (I taught at a local school part time), immerse myself in the MBA, meet lots of new people in a new country. Having decided on Perth as the place to move to, then it was a case of which is the best MBA, and there is no question that it’s UWA, so UWA Business School (or GSM as it was then) was it.

As for ‘why Australia?’ I had visited in the 1980s as my older brother moved to Brisbane in 1982 and as soon as I landed I knew I loved the country – “I am going to live here one day” was a strong feeling. Singapore was supposed to be a stepping stone (it was), but I loved Singapore, got married, stayed there 7 years. But we were always going “settle down” in Australia, and so in 1997 it was time and we chose Perth.

You studied an MBA back in 1998 – do you feel they are still as beneficial today?
I think there is a premise in the question that is false – in that the MBA itself has benefit on its own. The MBA is what you make of it – if you are looking for letters after your name, you can get an MBA anywhere – download one from the net if you want! As I was about to invest quite a bit of time (18 months) and money (cost of the MBA plus the opportunity cost of no income for 18 months) into the MBA, I wanted the best from it. I threw myself into it. It was wonderful really – the new people you meet, the whole experience. Sure, it’s not easy, but like running marathons or climbing mountains (which I don’t do!), the sense of achievement is from conquering something that is hard. And it’s why MBAs are taken seriously. Go in and take what you can from it. Don’t expect it to deliver things for you. It gets you a ticket to the dance that’s all. It’s up to you to make the most of it.

Everyone will have a different story, but for me personally, the MBA was life changing. I went in as a economic school teacher and came out the other side as a dotcom entrepreneur – this was unexpected, it was not the plan! But it’s what happened. What then followed would not have happened, “I would not be where I am today” (to steal an old phrase only people of my generation would remember) without it. It’s true. Nothing wrong with teaching, I loved it, but it was time to move on, and the MBA gave me the confidence, contacts and chutzpah to get out there and do something very different. And, importantly, it worked out for me.

What are the benefits of studying in Perth?
Perth is just so beautiful – 290 days of sun a year, the beaches, the wines, the open spaces, the opportunity, great people, the strong economy underpinned by the natural resources we are blessed with, the … everything. If you’re going to study somewhere, it might as well be a nice place!

UWA is 100 years old, steeped in tradition (for Australia!), lovely campus on the edge of the Swan River; great facilities, easy to get to. It’s a privilege really going back to school in your 30s (when you are mature enough to appreciate it) and study there.

You launched a business after graduation and went on to achieve 10 years of success – what was your inspiration behind the idea?
I had met Nick on the MBA, and he, like me, was not from Perth. He was Swiss and grew up in New York. He had run his own hedge fund and was older than me. I was a school teacher from the UK via Singapore. Very different backgrounds. But we got to discuss the internet (which was going off in the late 90s) and how it might be used for business. We had both moved to Perth recently and bought a house using newspaper ads and trawling around the home opens. We both instinctively knew it was not going to be done that way in the future. Our real inspiration was to use GIS (mapping) technology, borrowed from the mining industry, to show properties for sale/rent on the internet. This was 7 years before Google Maps. It was not easy, very expensive, but we did it.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during those ten years and how did you overcome it?
Starting a company is easy. Running it, and managing the growth and all that is entailed – is hard! Anyone can raise money on an idea (as we did, in a week) and launch a business. Because essentially you are ‘buying things’. Anyone can buy things. Go out and buy a programmer, an office, a marketing campaign, and – hey! – you’re in business. No you’re not!! Selling is hard. Selling to hard nosed real estate agents, who have been used to putting their money in a wheel barrow and giving it to the local newspaper for decades, and for whom that works just fine – is HARD! Getting them to change the way they do their business, while at the same time the traffic to the site is not there yet – DOUBLY HARD! I look back and wonder how we did it, how we got through, how we convinced the agents to stick with us while we grew the business. They were very loyal – they didn’t have to be.

There were times Nick and I would look at each other and laugh – “we’ve got MBAs, we can figure this out!” Because, for all the great things I learned on the MBA, there is nothing quite like what you learn in the field. The MBA can help give you a systemmatic way of solving problems, and strategising, but often you have to go on a mix of instinct and good fortune, and make it up as you go along. Make mistakes, and learn, keep trying things til it works.

How beneficial was being located in Perth for a technology/online business?
I think Perth has some advantages to other cities ~ relative isolation means people do take risks, and lean on each other. People give you a go here (it’s a lovely part of the Aussie culture to “give someone a fair go”). The internet/tech allows you to get out from your isolation so is welcomed here. People have literally “got up and gone” to come here, so have a good degree of “get up and go” about them. Maybe it’s our pioneering, prospecting culture/history as well, and the nice weather (seriously – people shine and smile!). The economy is solid, the technology is here, we are wired in. Being removed from other places give you the ability to test things and see how they go, to be ignored by the larger players while you learn your craft and experiment. For us, it allowed us 2 clear years head start to get established before the “big boys” from the east coast came over. Once they pitched their tents here, we were already in business and they had to deal with us.

Google ranks Perth as Australia’s digital capital – what makes it a good place for digital-focused MBAs to begin a career?
The startup-tech scene here is going off. Back when we started there were no co-working spaces (now there are several), no official angel groups (we had to hock our idea around to various rich folks), no startup weekends, no pitch nights… no tech community at all. We felt very much on our own, and that’s why I helped form eGroup in 2003 (it still goes on to this day). There is now Perth Morning Startup (700+ members – a free meetup), Synch Labs, Spacecubed, Silicon Beach, OzApps, … and loads more. All of these have set up in the last 2 years. Now I am at Business News running their digital strategy, I can also mentor/advise various startups, which I love doing, and also can write about them in the paper, giving them promotion.

People come from all over the world here, for various reasons (net 1000 people ARRIVE in Perth every week – that 50k a year net immigration – or another million people in the next 20 years) – there is loads of space – and they bring their ideas and worldly experience with them. Imagine what that creates in a small city. It’s vibrant.

4

Startup city

image

I am reading ‘Startup Nation‘, which tells the story of Israel’s tech startup community – 3,500 or more companies. An incredible number considering a population of 7 million. On this measure Perth should have about 1,000 or so. Maybe it does. A report published last September put it at 200, but this might only be a fraction of the total. I did a rough preliminary count and got to 150 quite quickly. I am sure I know only a small minority.

It depends how you define ‘startup’ of course. I tend to define it as a new company, less than three years old, probably (though not necessarily) in tech, that has a scalable business idea. Something that could go to $10 million or $100 million in revenues in a few years from inception. Most won’t of course, but that is the game. It’s not simply a new small business that provides a few jobs to its founders and team. It’s something that could enjoy explosive growth. Hence the attraction to seed and business angel investors, who get the golden opportunity to get in at the ground level.

There are grey edges around the definition of a startup, and how many are actually ‘going’, as opposed to many that might be ideas, hobbies, dormant and/or unfunded. But let’s assume the business is going, has clients, revenues and either founder, family, friends, angels or even venture capital money.

The number (150? 200? 1,000?) is inconsequential. It’s the scene, the vibe, and there are marked similarities between the state of Israel and the city of Perth that makes for interesting comparisons…

1. Isolation
2. Displaced population
3. Pioneering spirit (frontier mentality)
4. Mix of nationalities
5. Large major industry requiring innovation
6. Healthy disregard for authority
7. Relatively small population
8. Strong universities with innovation flavour

All these factors mean both places have a mix of ‘can do’ people, with an urge to do something. In Israel they call the attitude chutzpah. They are not ‘from here’ and have to forge their own future. There is a sense that much can still be done, there is still plenty of opportunity. People arrive with their talents (800-1000 people arrive in Perth every week) bringing their worldly experience and ‘get up an go’ with them- for they have literally ‘got up and gone’ to get here.

In the way Singapore used its people (the only asset it had) and an open economy to create incredible growth for its first 50 years, so Israel and Perth are gaining from the skills within its human resources. Israel has 63 companies listed on the NASDAQ, more than any other country outside the US. How many could we get there?

Startup Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer was published in 2009 and was fifth in NY Times business best seller list in 2010. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Start-up_Nation

8

Trends in Video + Social

video + social

Yesterday I attended  XMediaLab’s ‘Video + Social’ conference. There were 5 main speakers, with information ranging from what you can do with video, to how trad media is dying (if not already dead) to how mobile fuels the demand for video via social. And loads more besides. It’s all about great content, and the Milennials (born after 1980) are feeding the frenzy… oh lordy.

Duane Varan ~ Capitalising on a multi screen universe, @duanevaran

  • bio metrics can measure ppl’s interest during TV watching; during the US VP debate Repubs were all doing fine until the ‘moment’ (Biden said to Ryan “what, so you’re Jack Kennedy now?”) – the bubble popped, and the debate changed thereafter – yet the media did not pick up this; we can measure this in real time
  • cross platform devices makes for more complex world; in fact all ads create near same responses on any device, so the device does not make a difference (discovered 10 years ago in Perth)
  • day after recall is low ~ if TV only there is 60% recall, but with 2nd screen this plummets (less than 10%) ~ becos the 2nd screen becomes the 1st
  • = huge problem; the solution is build a “cognitive bridge” – have same ad banners/creative on TV and 2nd screen and then recall crosses over; have synchronised virtual banners
  • research shows ppl like to choose, choice enhances impact of ads; but not a forced choice. If you get the choice wrong, impact implodes
  • the longer the exposure, the higher the impact; it’s about time, not views
  • interactivity is good, it can triple purchasing intent; interactivity stimulates anticipation, but the ad that follows then gets v little attention (you don’t want to follow one of these ads)
  • but don’t over try at interaction; some demographics don’t like it, so scale it back; you can ruin the story, and in the end it’s the storytelling that works best
  • interactive gaming meant the actors looked unbelievable as they had no motivation; but if you keep the same ending/beginning, this can solve the issue
Samir Bangara ~ Cracking the Da Vinci code of Online video; @samirbangara
  • by 2017 it will take 5mn years to consume all the video that will traverse the internet in a month
  • 70% of all net traffic will be video; 1bn YT users, 100 hrs of video uploaded a minute. You cannot watch it all
  • G+ is not a social netwk (altho it’s the 2nd largest) it’s an integration of all G does
  • Gen X are on the way out, the Millennials (born after 1980) will dominate content creation and consumption
  • 1994 Banner ads had 78% CTR (click through rate), now it’s 0.2%
  • FB has now brought video into streaming news
  • Likes less important, sharing and engagement is the currency
  • FB side banners less important, integrated sponsorship and updates more useful
  • Sponsored content ~ communications, not selling; ppl shun ads, ppl want to consume content: self publishing, ongoing process
  • digital mkting = no story, just selling
  • spon’d content = evolving, growing fast, real time mkting,
  • 30% Milennials in US watch NO TV at all, but hours and hours of online video every day
  • Disney bought Maker Studios for almost $1bn ~ collaborate with 60k content providers, multi channel network, monetise most of YT traffic, 250m users/mth
  • eg Pewdiepie videos: Swedish game maker, 25mn subscribers - https://www.youtube.com/user/PewDiePie You may not like it, but it’s probably not for you, the traffic is immense (40mn views/video)
  • So ~ set 3 do’s and 2 don’ts and empower your 20-somethings; let them loose
  • don’t use YT as a catch up or video dump; use 1/10th of your TV ad budget to create 30 videos with engaging content
  • humour is overdone, go for emotion
  • destination is irrelevant for users, they just want the content
  • partner with creators, become a multi channel network; create huge amounts of findable content
  • on spon’d content, spend <30% talking about your own brand, >70% talking about something else
  • create ebooks (HubSpot do this best, and drive consulting off it), video, blogs
  • “if all research was right, then 9 out of 10 shows would not fail!”
  • “Crowdspeaking”: e.g. Thunderclap ~ look at it, Obama used it; allows your message to go out FROM ppl’s social networks, simultaneously. How powerful is that?! ~ https://www.thunderclap.it/en
  • Troye Sivan, Australian, 18 years old, 1.8mn susbcribers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HL8Qfz0voqk 909k views in a week
Dan Hon ~ Big Advertising’s view of video, social and mobile: @hondanhon
  • everyone hates advertising!
  • FB comicon ad, used real ppl, humour, and FB show how groups/gregarious we are
  • P+G used emotion (far stronger) & story telling to tie their brand to Mums to the Olympics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyiLPj94BBQ
  • “do the hardwork to make it easy”
  • social “are” networks, social has splintered
  • mobile is the interface, mobile is a multiplier
  • this is what computers were meant to be, always on, everywhere, in your pocket: not just on every desk, for everyone. This is now a reality
Richard Cardran ~ How to turn content archives into gold
  • recontextualise archive content – thru cut downs, cut ups, supercuts and dubtitling …
  • cut downs ~ present the narrative but snack size
  • cut ups ~ all the ‘D’Ohs’ from Homer Simpson in one reel,
  • or Nick Bertke (from Perth!) 9 min views of Snow White: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qs1bG6BIYlo his channel >https://www.youtube.com/user/Fagottron
  • supercut ~ muti referential from many sources; e.g. “Too Doo” Pink Panther theme:
  • use The Internet Archive, it’s free, Rick Prelinger: https://archive.org/details/prelinger
  • dubtitling ~ adding new titles to existing footage, Bonnie Tyler song, Downfall clips
Rachel Dixon ~ Does social drive media or media drive social? @viocorp
  • most successful YT channels are earning $100ks maybe, but rest are earning v little
  • yet, they get bought by big media for multi-millions
  • video on demand (VOD) is working, e.g. tonton.com.my with 1m viewers a day; catch up TV in Malaysia
  • iphone is a studio in your pocket
  • algorithms and editorial work, but not without editorial; you can’t just be purely data driven
  • big dollars are in editorial and algorithms
  • native ads (sponsored content) is a big deal
  • read Luke O’Neill “The Year we broke the Internet”, Esquire; http://www.esquire.com/blogs/news/we-broke-the-internet
  • understand recommendation engines, it drives traffic
  • Read “Year Zero” novel by Rob Reid (2012) ~ was Bill Gates an alien to hold back progress in computers?! http://www.amazon.com/Year-Zero-Novel-Rob-Reid/dp/0345534514
  • Talk is cheap, content is expensive!

For more: http://www.xmedialab.com/videosocial/

or: https://twitter.com/search?q=%23xmedialab&src=tyah

0

Not here for a haircut

The Donald

The Donald – and that famous haircut

A cricket coach of mine used to turn up to training, survey the scene and pronounce “C’mon boys, get organised, we’re not here for a haircut!” We would all groan and start our stretches.

“Not here for a haircut” has become a favourite saying. I use it a lot. It’s quirky and punches through. It raises a smile, and it’s better than saying “come on guys, get your **** in gear” or stating the ‘bleedin obvious‘ Basil Fawlty style.

Traditional Pub Scene. Man asks other “want another beer mate?”. “Not here for a haircut” comes the response. Beers duly ordered. Scene ends.

Well travelled Aussie folk band ‘Rough Red‘ has just released their new album ‘Not Here for a Haircut’. Where did the name come for the album, asked the reporter? Steve Tyson, band member explains ~

We’ve had this saying floating around in the band for years. After a gig, or sitting on a canal in a café in Amsterdam, someone will say, “Are we going to have a drink?” And the response will usually be, “Well, we’re not here for a haircut.”

Traditional use.

I found this Youtube video showing another band playing their jazz ditty: Not Here for a Haircut - Elad Mileikowsky on tenor sax  is awesome.

My boy was bemoaning his new (tougher) basketball coach the other day. ‘He shouted at us and told us to get moving‘. “Well, you’re not there for a haircut” came my response. [Translation: suck it up lad, put more effort in and listen to your coach.]

Looking around business life, I see many people seemingly there for a haircut. Life is not going to hand it to you on a plate. Stop sitting around looking/sounding clever for effect. A haircut occurs every 2 to 3 months, the rest of the time, you are literally NOT there for a haircut.

4

Becoming a CEO

Lloyd Smith
On Thursday morning I attended an excellent AmCham event, with Lloyd Smith of Gerard Daniels speaking on the topic of ‘Becoming a CEO’.

I first met Lloyd across the parent interview table at a school I taught at 15 years ago, as a sponsor of our MBA alumni association and also at various UWA events. He has been in recruitment since 1980, and there is no one more expert in the hiring of CEO’s. These are my notes from the talk:

  • Understand what you are getting into as a CEO
  • You need a track record of stability and success
  • have to “good at people”
  • I interview the partner; CEOs have to have good family support
  • CEOs are good at coping with failure
  • Board interaction ~ if you have no Board experience, get onto some not for profit Boards
  • CEOs are good deal makers, have an element of extraversion
  • everyone looks to the CEO ~ what example do you set?
  • get great executives who smarter than you! and encourage them
  • CEOs make tough decisions; no white lies, tell people the truth
  • CEOs are strong in finance; go on short term courses, up your skills, do AICD course
  • CEOs have a firm vision of the future; can paint a clear picture to clients and the organisation
  • CEOs exude the values of the organisation; anyone can then make a decision within the values
  • CEOs take risks, use intuition and judgement, and trust it
  • CEOs mix with other CEOs; attend, speak, join
  • CEOs back themselves, stay focussed

Some other tips:

  • never be interviewed first, you will not get the job (the 1st interviewee becomes a benchmark for later interviewees)
  • following a founder as CEO is not easy – they will be interrupting you every 5 minutes; lay the ground rules upfront (or don’t take the job!)
  • we do 15+ reference checks on CEOs, it’s important to really dig deep
  • psychometric tests are fine as tests, but should not be used to make the actual hiring decision
  • don’t rush the hiring process, keep calm
  • internal candidates are usually treated unfairly – the external candidate is “bright shiny and new”; if you’re internal you have to go in as new and tell them how you’d run it
  • the most impressive CEOs take a smaller organisation and grow it (riskier, and more impressive)
  • 66% of recruitments happen without recruitment companies, so make sure you get out there and engage
  • if you are made redundant, you should be having 10+ meetings a week with contacts
  • music often translates into good business, so don’t be afraid to put your musical attributes on the CV – we always interview these!
0

Try to get the NO!

no
Sales can be an emotional roller coaster. Some of the best sales people I have met do not get overly emotional about it, and treat it like a numbers game. Then again passion is good, belief is good, and this cannot come across if you are are merely some semi-robotic sales machine. People need to believe you, and overall trust you, to buy from you. Because really that is what they are doing – trusting.

One tip I learned (from an older, wiser mentor with vast sales experience) was to try to get the no. Reverse psychology. It’s OK if you don’t buy. No really. It’s OK. A quick no is far better than a slow maybe (which is in fact a slow no). If they can’t say no, they are a yes. Don’t waste time with people who just want to please, string you along, and are never going to buy. Those that can’t say yes, but don’t say no either. They are still a no. They will suck the life out of you, and life’s too short.

That’s not to say you phone up or walk in with the express expectation that everyone will say ‘no’. You obviously would love everyone to say ‘yes’ (well, not everyone, not all business is good business), but really not everyone fits your product, and it might not be the right time for them. ‘No’ does not mean ‘never’, it just may mean ‘not now’. Not yet. So don’t be worried – always be closing, and if it’s a no, thank them for their time, follow up in a few weeks or months (don’t forget to do this, most don’t bother), and most importantly, ask them for 2 or 3 referrals. Now they have understood what you are selling, ask them for some people they know that might be interested. It’ll make them feel better for saying no. So you see it’s not a no at all, it’s a way to get in front of more people. Each strike out brings you closer to the next home run, as Babe Ruth famously said.

Don’t get embroiled in the treacle of ‘may be’ – deal in definitives, black or white, yes or no. Either way, make it snappy and move on. Like I say to my kids sometimes… sometimes the answer is NO!

1

Domain name renewal!

launch

If your domain name is down, there’s no fireworks for you

Embarrassing. Frustrating. Helpless. Dear reader, these were but some of my emotions over the past 3 days as I was powerless to prevent my blog site going down (yes, the very one you are reading right now) due to the simple fact my domain name (web address) charliegunningham.com had expired. 

For 15 years now I’ve been berating clients for not having proper processes in place to know when their domain name would expire, and how to renew it in a timely manner. The number of times we thought something was up at our end when in fact it was the dear client’s fault for being so disorganised. Whoops… ahem… it can happen to the best of us (!)

I only started blogging away at this domain 2 years ago, and the account I bought the domain on points to an email that I no longer have access to, and no longer exists. Hence I did not receive the reminders to renew my domain, and was blissfully unaware of its expiration (about a month ago). Hence, once my grace period was up, down went my site. Well, it was not down really – being a WordPress blog all the details were there, but not at charliegunningham.com. The more embarrassing thing was a well informed and impressive online Canadian entrepreneur pointed it out to me mid week (I had been on the site earlier that day, but in the interim it had been disconnected.)

All good now though – thanks to the fine folks at Aplus.net – who I had to ring in California this morning (7pm last night their time) where a very cool guy sorted it out for me in minutes. I did not have records of my login or password (so password reset was of no use), but I knew what my password was at least – that was enough to verify who I was, so I could pay the $12 to renew the domain, and within a few hours, the site was back live. Phew.

Let this be a lesson to you my fine blogsters and bloggerinis – do you know when your company/personal website address expires, and how to renew it? No? Because not knowing can take your site down, turn your emails off and provoke a plague of locusts. Well, two of those three are accurate.

3

White Line Fever

image

Will Ferrell getting way too intense in the movie "Kicking and Screaming"

What makes some parents at sporting events become overly competitive, in front of their own children? What sort of an example do they think are they setting? Are they trying to live their lives through their offspring? What makes them behave like this, and why do they think it is OK to do so?

I have been coaching kids sport for over 25 years, and have been a parent for half that time. I don’t find this is going away, and it could be getting worse.

Recent examples I’ve seen (from oppositions, fortunately my own team’s parents would not do this, or I would jump on it!) are:

- berating referees and umpires, even their own coaches,
- questioning decisions and rumbling on about it throughout the game and afterwards
- accusing opposition coaches and players of cheating (when it is quite the reverse!)
- questioning the bowling action of a 8 year old (seriously!)
- stirring up their own team to do all the above
- ignoring the rules of the league itself regarding giving everyone a turn in batting and bowling order (strict rotation is supposed to happen – some teams simply ignore it giving their better players all the main roles)
- shouting at their own fielders during the game (as the bowler is running up) changing their positions- the poor kids don’t understand why they are being moved, nor learn anything from it
… and many more

I think what annoys me most is seeing parents more interested in winning than teaching. They have lost sight of what weekend support is supposed to be about. I see this behaviour in adults too often generally, but here it’s worse. Kids learn from modelled behavior, and pick up a tremendous amount from their parents!

Let us remember that no parent/coach/umpire is getting paid but is giving up their time to ensure little Johnny or Gemima get some weekend activity, perhaps pick up a sport along the way, make new friendships and maybe develop some skills.

It’s behaviour that reflects badly on grown ups who should know better, and gives the worst example in what sport should be about – fair play, winning (or losing) graciously, playing the best you can, respecting the opposition…

I’ve seen too much of this over the years to dismiss it lightly. It is becoming the norm, not the exception. It’s sad, and in many ways quite pathetic.

Being a parent surely includes instilling values in your children, setting the example, teaching them things that books can’t. Losing is something that happens in life. Something we can draw the most lessons from. Something that makes us stronger and more resilient.

Parents – don’t live your own life through your children – they have their own lives. Live yours. Be the best example you can be.

3

Managing Flair

KP

KP contemplates Ashes defeat, alone on the WACA boundary, Dec 2013

The other cricketing nations must be laughing at the mess that is English cricket right now. How a mighty side has fallen, having been ranked #1 in all formats of the game (Test, ODI and T20) in 2011, including a world T20 title to boot. Blessed with some workmanlike reliables (Cook, Trott, Prior, Strauss) mixed in with some flashy class (Pietersen, Bell, Swann, Anderson) and some brutish try hards (“we never left anything art on the field guvna!” – Broad, Bresnan) it was a golden era for English cricket, which had been the laughing stock through much of the 1990s and into the 2000s. 17 test series in a row with barely a defeat up until the end of 2013.

Then quite suddenly, it’s all gone to pot. Strauss gone, Trott gone, Cook out of form, Ashes gone (after three fairly easy series wins in a row), Swann retired, Prior dropped, Bresnan weakened after too many operations, Bell out of form, Anderson has lost his mojo. Only newboy Stokes and firebrand Broad look up to the mark.

And then the ECB fires KP. Not dropped or rested. Gone. Discarded. The highest international run scorer for England in the history of the game. Still only 33 years of age. More test hundreds than anyone except Captain Cook. More test hundreds than Boycott, Cowdrey, Gooch, Atherton, Gower, … AND IN FEWER TESTS than any of them. More than Wally Hammond, Len Hutton, Herbert Sutcliffe, Ken Barrington (true, in more tests, but in shorter time). More test runs than anyone (even Cook) except Gower and Gooch (but with a far superior batting average). A far superior conversion of 50s into 100s than nearly any of those mentioned.

But KP is more than stats. Not since Botham, and maybe Gower, could an English player fill a stadium single handedly. (Sport is entertainment isn’t it?) And like Botham and Gower, his employers could not work out how to manage him. Which is their job, after all. All 3 ended their test careers too soon.

Why does corporate management these days have issues with employees of flair? People who can do the seeming impossible, and yet they do it right in front of you. Are managers that lazy they want an easy job, only wanting to manage the machines, the dependables? Where’s the joy in that? Steve Jobs was not easy to manage, and seemed to be a very difficult person all round, had various fall outs with managements and was prone to tantrums, but any manager worth their salt should be able to handle this. For what else is management than the skill of managing people? People are not machines, furniture or lines of code, they are often irrational, emotional and needy. Many things are going on in their lives (and yours) simultaneously. So what? Manage this!

Great captains of old, like Mike Brearley or Michael Vaughan, would have been able to handle KP, as Brearley did with Ian Botham (most famously in 1981) and Vaughan with Flintoff (2005). Sure KP, Freddie and ‘Both’ have big egos, but it’s that same self belief that sees them through the tough times, and let’s them try the impossible. Let them have a dash where others fear to tread.

And it’s not that KP was being especially problematical on the recent Ashes tour. By all accounts he was helping the younger players out in the nets more than ever, staying long after others had gone to help someone with their technique and pass on his experience. On the very day he was sacked, he was holding a coaching clinic with his Surrey teammates. Although he did not soar to his usual heights downunder, he was the leading scorer on the tour, and you should give some credit to the Aussie bowlers who were sensational. They are currently destroying the South African test team (who are ranked #1 at the moment… but for how much longer?) so perhaps it would be better to take this on the chin and say “Fair call – Aussies were far better, well played.” And learn from what they did … as the Aussies did from their previous 3 defeats.

During the recent Ashes series, I watched him at the WACA. In the nets, around the ground and on the field. With a bat in his hand, he was trying what he knew best. He was the one trying to bust out, and yet had the impossible task of trying to take the battle to the Aussies while being berated should he hole out at mid off. He played some of his slowest and most measured innings’ for England in this series, straining at the leash, always looking for an answer to Australia’s superb line and length. Watching him and Cook taking on Johnson at full steam on a blisteringly hot Saturday afternoon last December, they ducked and dived and survived the onslaught for over after over, only for Cook to get out meekly to the spinner Lyon when the pressure had been relieved. A few minutes later KP was out to a mishit pull off Siddle to (that man again) Johnson at mid on. Having been 2-136 chasing Australia’s 385, the innings subsided to 251 and it was all over red rover. Ashes gone. Later in the field, I saw KP consigned to the boundary, where for hour after hour he was barely interacting with his team mates. What was the point of that? The guy’s played 100 tests, he should be drawn into the team, not pushed away from it.

Captaining a team, moving the field around, analysing the opposing batsmen, sensing the moment, changing the bowling, saying a word here and a word there… is what captaincy is all about. In no other sport is captaincy so crucial. It’s instant leadership and management of people. What you try either works right there or it does not. Not everyone is up to this task. I don’t think Cook is.

What would I have done? I would have made Cook test captain, and KP vice captain. (Someone else, maybe Morgan or KP, could be one day captain, and run two very different teams – a test squad and a one day squad, with very few – if any – players in both.)  Mixed solid with flair. Get them to work together. Ying and yang. Creative differences are good. I would have rebuilt the side with the dependables, some new boys and the flairs. To see how it’s done, just look at how brilliantly John Inverarity has rebuilt Australia with a perfect blend of the old/dependable (Rogers, Haddin, Siddle, Harris, Lyon), flair (Johnson, Warner, Clarke) and the new boys (Smith, and now Doolan, Marsh). And he’s done it from the depths of the crushing Lord’s defeat (which was only 7 months ago). I wrote then ‘Do not overreact‘ Australia! Same is now true for England.

Management – blending flair with reliability. Is it really that hard?