Advice on starting a blog

write something

5 years ago I made it a new year’s resolution to start a blog. I’d been telling many of my clients they should blog and thought I should practice what I preach. I’d guest blogged (posted on someone else’s blog) but not run my own. I owned charliegunningham.com (and a few other) domain names and were not using them, so off I went.

If you have not started a blog yet (let’s put aside the reason why you should, or perhaps should not, for a moment), it is very easy to do so.

A 3 step process really:

  1. Choose your blogging platform – for me it was either WordPress (which I chose) or Blogger (owned by Google). These days you can use SquareSpace, and a whole raft of others. But I went with WordPress as it was the largest (250,000 posts are uploaded through WordPress daily), and I wanted to learn it’s ‘back end’ (the system that powers it, all those clever little themes and plugins).   So off I went to WordPress.com and got myself a free account.
  2. Buy a domain name (optional) and hook it up to your blog. You don’t have to do this, and can happily run with the web address of ‘Yourname.wordpress.com’, but there’s something nicer in allowing someone go to Yourname.com address. If you do this, then you are up for 2 regular fees (but they are not large)…
    1. the cost of buying and renewing your domain name. I already owned charliegunningham.com so there was no extra cost here, but every year I pay about US$13 (~A$17) to renew it.  I buy and renew my ‘.com’ names from Aplus.net and my ‘.com.au’ names from NetRegistry.com.au.
    2. the cost of hooking this up to your wordpress blog, and allowing those entering yourname.com into their browser to seamlessly finding your site. Another US$13 (A$17) a year to do this.
    3. And that’s it – sum investment, apart from my time blogging away, is ~$35 a year. Hosting all included.
  3. Write regular posts. This is the time consuming bit, and I’ll talk more about this below. Mechanically, wordpress makes it easy – you click POSTS > ADD NEW and off you go – think of a title (which becomes part of the all-important web address of that post) and then write the main body of your post. When ready, hit PUBLISH and off it goes up to your website (and, once you get some subscribers, it will arrive instantaneously in their InBox).

So, getting going is easy. If you skip step 2, it can all be done inside a few minutes.

Like all new things, it can seem exciting at first, and then that initial feeling can wear off. What am I going to write? What if no one reads it, or comments on my posts? Does that matter? Why am I doing this anyway?

I’d have some good reasons for doing it before you begin. For me, it was to learn about the wordpress platform, so I could talk from experience when advising people. As time wore on, it became a weekly rhythm (and discipline) to write something interesting on topics that interested me, and I hoped others. Things I learned about my favourite subjects (digital, ebusiness, tech, strategy, leadership, occasionally politics or even cricket) I would pass on in 500-800 word articles. It helped order my own arguments.

Over time, I found it was good to talk about my blog, sending people there, so they could register for my posts. It was personal branding of a sort. By sharing my latest posts on Twitter, LinkedIN and Facebook, I could build an audience. I started to receive feedback in the form of comments on the blog, or within my social networks. Once LinkedIN opened up its own internal posting mechanism (a blog system within LinkedIN really) I would take some posts and repost them there, further promoting my own blog.

If you stick at it, you will also notice a few things happening. 5 years in, I have developed my own style. When I started, I was not yet working in the media. These past few years I have written over 150 articles for Business News, and learnt how real writers – journalists and sub editors – work and this, I think, has improved my own writing. I post at least once a week, without fail.

Another point is that I can categorically testify that blog posts are ‘cat nip’ for Google. Google loves nothing more than indexing fresh text. It’s what it does. And new posts are full of exactly that. Fresh text. Now that I’ve posted over 300 times on my own blog, every single post is indexed and searchable on Google, forever. New posts are found within minutes.

This means if you’d like to be found in a Google search, then make sure the title of your post (and many words within it) includes those key search words. Remember, the title is given high priority by Google, as are the keywords that appear regularly within the post itself.

I have chosen the title of this blog deliberately, with key words such as ‘advice’, ‘blog’, ‘starting’ appearing. Notice how the web address (URL) also contains these words.

Google “Calling it strategic does not make it important” and the 1st and 2nd results are my  original and LinkedIN posts from November 2015. Out of 369 million results.

Posts I have done only a few minutes earlier are being picked up on Google. It’ll be interesting to see how this post goes, and if I can get it up onto the first page of Google, or near it, within a few hours of me hitting the publish button.

Above all, make your posts full of relevant and meaningful content about your topic area, and others interested in those areas will be able to find you. In that way, you’ll become an influential expert.

If I was a small business owner, I would simply use a WordPress blog, buy a domain name, hook it up, and then write about my chosen expertise, the jobs I do, the pitfalls, advice … in fact, I did up a wordpress blog for a mate of mine who is a bathroom renovator. He works on his own, has done so for years, and never needs to advertise. What he now also does (and WordPress make this so easy) is to take some photos of the bathroom before he started work on it, then some progress and after shots, and posts these. He does this all from his iPhone, using the free WordPress app. His site already comes ‘mobile responsive’, meaning it looks fine on all devices.

$35 a year, including website name and hosting. Now that he’s been doing this for a few years and has published dozens of posts, when you enter “bathroom renovation doubleview” or “bathroom renovation wembley downs” into a Google search he’s up the top of the first page of organic (free) search results. These are highly competitive search terms, yet he’s there amid some major players. It costs him very little to do this, beyond spending $35 a year, and having the nous to take photos and post them onto his blog site, JSBaker.com.au. And, more importantly, hundreds of competing bathroom renovators are nowhere near that first page.

So, might blogging work for you? Yes it might. But it’s not for everyone. All I can say is that I have learnt a lot about the power of blogging these past 5 years, and am still learning.

~~

EPILOGUE:

As some of you more keenly aware folks may have noticed, I have made a slight tweak to the categories I will blog under. 5 years on from when I started, I am now more interested in the digital transformation of businesses, strategy around the digital disruption of various industries and how organisations and their people can best respond, plan and take advantages from the immense changes going on around us.

Hence, I will now post on these topics: digital, transformationstrategy and leadership. (Less venting about the English cricket team and politics I promise.) I invite you to stay around for the ride… the next few years are going to be critically important for the future of our local economy.

~~

POST SCRIPT:

blogI posted this on Australia Day, in mid afternoon.

By the following morning, the post was already on the first page of Google if you searched “Advice on starting a blog”, out of 23 million+ results…

 

Get out of your social media bubble, easily

popping-the-bubble

As a former teacher said to me once – There are those who do, and those who watch. I remember when social media burst upon the scene, well, not so much burst, as crept into our lives, only to now (almost) take over, there were those who scorned the Twitter, the LinkedIN, the Facebook and all those that have come since. And there were those who jumped in early, while others became hooked later on.

Those who decided to watch, chose not to start accounts, not to spend countless hours thumb-flicking through the ever lengthening news feeds, nor posting sunsets, their lunch or a selfie. And they felt strangely superior, in a strangely superior kinda way. They probably were ‘of a certain age’, or disposition or just felt busy enough as they were. Perhaps they were a bit conservative and a bit tech-unsavvy. Either way, they hung back.

The rest of us slowly warmed up to social media, and found new friends, re-engaged with former colleagues and school mates, and became amazed at the information that could be shared, instantly, within almost anyone, anytime. We were never bored again!

Slowly more and more of us were on it, for an hour here, and hour there, and then increasingly most of our spare waking moments. We found ways to use it in business, and we settled on an equilibrium of our favourite social media platforms, and ways of using it. We became annoyed at the self-promoting wannabees, who would clutter our newsfeed with their humble bragging or pushy salesy ways. Some of this would make us unfriend them or leave a group they were in.

All along, these social media sites were learning more and more about us: not only who our friends were, but what we clicked on, liked, commented on and pages we visited. Slowly, it began to give us information it had learned we liked. They knew how to drag us back, keep us engaged, clicking and liking. They sold this information to advertisers who could target us individually, and as a group.

In the meantime, something happened to our feed. It got personal. We all have a feed specific to us, specific to what we had done before. We were (literally) fed what we know we liked – be it news, sports, entertainment, whatever.

About 17% of your total feed is fed to you. The rest is invisible, unless you do something quite simple – tell your newsfeed to give you the ‘Most Recent’ news, not just what Facebook believes are the ‘Top Stories’. Remember, your feed is what you see, not what anyone else sees. You are (actually) in control.

fb-feedUnless you like this Facebook-decided feed bubble, switch to the ‘most recent’ news feed. At the top left of your Facebook HOME page (or news feed) is a simple pull down, ‘News Feed’. Click the pull down option triangle thing to the right and choose ‘Most Recent’. You’ll now get all the latest news from your friends and pages you’ve liked, not just what Facebook has decided. It will make your news feed look ‘more full’ as it will include everything in chronological order (which is what it originally was designed to do, and did.)

As you can see from the graphic above, there is also a little wheel graphic to the left. Click this and then ‘Edit your Preferences’ and you can tailor exactly what you see in your feed. You can decide to see only what your friends post (not friends of friends, or even the pages you’ve liked), unfollow friends who will still remain connected to you but you won’t see all their stuff in the feed, you can reconnect with people you’ve unfollowed and find some pages that might interest you.

Furthermore, go up to your privacy settings (top blue bar, the icon which looks like a padlock) and there is a whole array of things you can lock down or open up. Have you ever looked in this area?

Most people have no clue on how to tweak these settings, and are left with the default. Or they may have made a change years ago and forgotten it.

So what, I hear you scream?

Well, as Google started giving us customised search results years ago, and Facebook is also giving you a sample of your information, and both are eating the internet (swallowing up the lion’s share of viewing time and ad dollars), so we are being given a version of the world these 2 companies believe we want to see.

We’re actually living in our own bubble. We are discovering less and less new information. We are learning less. We are being (quite literally) dumbed down. Surprising new information is less common.

An excellent BBC ‘Seriously’ podcast analysed this recently (it’s well worth a listen). Is it partially to blame for the tribal politics we now live in? No one listens to the other side anymore, there is no debate, only point scoring and name calling. Even if the facts are on your side, we get Brexit and Trump. We are gathering facts we are already programmed to agree with. We don’t think beyond the headline. We are post facts. It’s all about feelings.

So, let’s break away from the same old same old. Update your newsfeed to ‘most recent’. Secure the privacy settings you want, not that which is given. Go out of your way to understand alternative view points. Become more rounded, not a greyed out facsimile of your good self.

With social media now becoming part of the traditional media landscape (it’s where most people get their news), then this is more important than ever. The role of the traditional media is to reach out and explain the issues, and delve into detail. Mobile and social media can be platform to distribute the more rounded view, to keep a sense of perspective, to pique intellectual curiosity, and to protect the citizens from making uncivilised decisions. Or is it too late?

Digital disruption and women – opportunities and threats

Last week I delivered a talk to the WA public sector forum for women on the topic of whether digital disruption is delivering opportunities or threats to women in the workplace.

The news is that it’s a mixed bag.

You can view my slides here, (or if the embedding has worked on your device, view them above and click through them.)

Here’s the summary:

  • I’ve been living and breathing digital disruption since 1999, with my own startup, then reiwa.com and now at Business News
  • Great things happen slowly – the overnight fad fades quickly – the changes wrought by digital disruption seem to happen fast, but have probably been building for years. Either get on board and change, or be changed
  • At Business News, our digital advertising has tripled in 3 years; our web traffic has never been higher, despite being behind a pay wall; our subscription renewal rates have never been higher
  • Disruption can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere
    • 25% of WA GDP under attack over the next decade, from digital businesses like LinkedIN, Uber, AirBnB & Facebook … and who knows who else?
    • Are we getting behind our own tech startups in WA and Australia?
  • The “always on” worker is feeling under attack; never switching off; what kind of parenting is going on? How are we handling stress?
  • Disruption offers new opportunities (to shave costs, gather new revenue) and challenges
  • 61% women are in the workforce (men 77%) yet men earn 18% more (in WA, it’s 25% more)
  • 12% of Board appointments are women, only 3% of CEOs are women … yet women make up 50.8% of population (the majority!)
  • This underutilisation of a key asset is estimated to cost the Australian economy 20% of its GDP every year, or $300bn/year
  • 1.4 million women face physical violence, and many more some kind of domestic violence
  • There are 4,300+ violence restraining orders (Source: WA women, 2015)
  • Only 31.7% of senior executive roles in WA public sector are held by women
  • 59% of law students are women (in WA) … but only 15% of legal partners & barristers are women … and 20-40% judges (Source: Women’s Report Card 2015)
  • Paid parental leave for all … what’s happened to that?
  • Returning to work
    • there should be a need for experienced, mature workers, who’d like to work 9.30am-2.30pm, 3-4 days
    • we need to allow top level execs to be part-time – why not?
  • Most of the jobs to be disrupted over the next decade are more heavily associated with women workers = a threat
  • Look at

Despite some improvements made in recent years, this makes quite startling reading – we have a long way to go to achieve gender equality in WA, and digital disruption offers some opportunities, but also some threats, especially towards female workers.

Let them eat cake

Asking for startup money

Legend has it the wife of King Louis XVI of France, Marie Antionette, uttered the words “let them eat cake” on hearing the starving peasants were in revolt against bread shortages. We’re talking late 18th century, and although the Queen would have probably said the words in French (something like ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche‘) there’s no evidence that she actually said this at all. The saying actually predates her birth.

But the attribution persists, and has been used to show how out of touch the nobility were at the time, resulting in the French Revolution, and King Louis losing his head.

The words rung in my head this week as I indulged in a discussion I’d had many times before, relating to Perth’s burgeoning startup sector. The weight of opinion agreed that there’s not enough early stage funding deals going on. As to why, there was a distinct divergence of views.

I’d like to explode a few myths if I can …

Myth 1 – If they were good deals, they’d get funded

I hear this one a lot. If they were good deals, the argument goes, then eventually (or even swiftly) they would get funded, as an investor would see the opportunity was too good to miss. Some may pass, but eventually a good startup business would attract money.

However, this argument rests on the Perth market for startup funding acting perfectly, which (let an old economist like me remind you) only exists where there are a large number of buyers and sellers, such that no one buyer or seller can influence price. Perfect markets also rely on a perfect spread of information, freely available to all, and homogeneous (exactly the same) products.

Perth’s startup sector is no perfect market. While there are a good number of startups to choose from (300 at last count?), there are a very limited number of private investors willing to back them. There is one VC fund (and that’s already fully invested, 2/3rds in biotech) and one angel group which meets 4 times a year and maybe does 5 or 6 deals annually. Meanwhile, there are plenty of potential investors dripping with (business, mining or property) money removed from startupland.

Neither is there a perfect spread of information, with only a privileged few getting in front of the investors, and as they are all very different, each startup investment opportunity needs to be considered individually, one by one, a bit like buying an investment property. It’s time consuming, uneven and sporadic, at best.

I have no idea what makes a good startup investment (well, I have some idea, but I am not arrogant enough to say I know which one will be a unicorn and which will fade to nothing), but I believe there are many more out there worth a $25,000 or $50,000 investment that are currently being funded. I am seeing too many move away from Perth for funding (and securing funds) and too little getting funded here; and yet, Perth has far more high net worth individuals per capita than anywhere in Australia, and is one of the top places in the world for multi-millionaires.

There is a distinct disconnect between those that might have spare money to invest and those that could do with a decent little early stage investment that could give them 6 to 9 months of road, get them to market and revenues to see if there is something viable there.

Myth 2 – They shouldn’t be raising money anyway

This argument goes that startups should forget about raising money anyway (far too many think the capital raise IS the end game, clearly it is not) and should start pitching to customers instead. Get to minimum viable product (MVP), get early clients on board, earn revenues, and maybe they’ll find that they won’t even need investors at all, or if they do, they’d secure a better price, be able to raise more money and give away less equity in the bargain.

Bingo – I agree 100%.

However, most startups are either doing exactly that (out of necessity) or cannot get any further without something else investing upfront. They’ve piled in their own cash, savings, credit card debt, taken money from family and friends, spent months on the idea, with no pay back, giving it their all. They have got somewhere, and now are looking for some extra help.

Some ideas just need money to get off the ground. You have to spend something to build it, you have to get out there to see if it works, and this may take $50k or more beyond the funds available to the founders.

Most successful startups have had early stage money. Very few are profitable or cash flow positive from day one (or after the family and friends money has gone). Often there are dead ends, false starts, wasted attempts, and this is all the cost of learning. If you’re doing something very new, disruptive and game changing (surely what the investors want to see?) then it simply takes some funds upfront. Like buying the investment property.

It also takes time. The successful ones will tell you it took 5 or more years to make money. It certainly took my startup this length of time, and others like realestate.com.au, carsales.com.au and others took 7 or 8 before profits appeared.

Mel and Cliff from Canva understood this. There they are today, smiling out at us from the front page of the local weekend paper. They’ve raised millions and millions of funds  – are they profitable, or cash flow positive yet? They were helped off with a cool $3 million raise a few years ago, which took them away from Perth to Sydney, and have since raised many millions more. Nick and Al from Simply Wall Street could not raise money in Perth, but have successfully raised $750k from angel investors, also in Sydney (why not in Perth?). Talking to their lead angel at a lunch function a few months ago, he told me that in their case, they had an idea so disruptive, “you just had to give it a go to see if it worked.”

Exactly.

Not all startups deserve money, some may not be at the right stage, but somewhere along the line, many do, and the vast majority of these simply aren’t getting the funds they need, despite there being ample in our city. Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.

Myth 3 – The entrepreneurs are unrealistic 

Sure, owners of anything are unrealistic about their valuation. I think my property is worth more than it is, and also my car. The price is determined only when someone is willing to pay for it what I am willing to sell it for.

But with a limited number of genuine local startup investors the power is weighted heavily on the buy side, such that in some cases the negotiation is more like staged bullying (running down the efforts of the down trodden entrepreneur, and finding all sorts of reasons not to invest). Meanwhile, the poor startup trudges back to their lean canvas to see if they can eke out another month or two.

Perth investors have grown fat on the ability to exit their investment through an ASX-listed entity. We have seen 60 ‘back door’ listings announced over the last 2 years, as the mining downturn takes hold and now empty shell companies look to evolve into a tech company. This is a highly expensive and dangerous way for a genuine startup to raise funds. While potentially fine for a commercialised organisation with revenues and a clear growth path, it is clearly not suitable for the early stage venture (or only in very rare cases – FMG was in fact a back door listing, but I wouldn’t classify that as a tech startup.)

Sure entrepreneurs are unrealistic, but so are investors. You can’t have it both ways, you can’t have your cake (or bread) and eat it. It’s a punt. It’s a riverboat gamble. It’s like betting on the horses. You will probably not see that money again. Yes, it’s probably illiquid, for years. But if you win, you win big, so it’s best to make a few bets, to cover yourself. The more you make, the more you spread your risk. You may say ‘no’ to 20 before saying ‘yes’ to your first. But you might do 2 or 3 a year.

Myth 4 – It’s good they get money elsewhere & leave

The argument goes that we should not worry about our best and brightest startup ideas leaving our shores to get funded elsewhere. Sometimes they just need to spread their wings, bless them, and once they make their money they will return and help our ecosystem back here.

OK, maybe. But why can perfectly good Perth ideas get funded in Sydney, Singapore or San Francisco and not here? Why should they have to leave to get funded when we have so much money in the hands of private individuals in our fair city (and come July a nice little tax deduction too)? Why should they have to leave our great lifestyle, family and friends… unless they really want to?

To me, this argument is lazy. While it’s perfectly fine for businesses to go wherever they want (fly my darlings fly), it is not fine to have so few early stage funding deals that jobs and income that could have been created here (and stayed here) are exported to other cities or countries. We are competing in a global marketplace, the gloves are off, it’s either get nimble and innovative, disrupt your own market or someone else will do it for you. Where is the post mining diversification we so badly crave? Even during the boom, people were worried about us becoming a one trick pony. Now that pony has well and truly run its race, where are the up and coming industries? They need to be backed. We have no idea what great businesses might flourish and grow unless we give them a helping hand.

~~

Startup investment is not for the faint hearted. It’s not a slam dunk. It’s not for your nest egg, it’s play money. Many thousands of high net worths in Perth could make two or three $25k to $50k investments a year, and not even notice it. Conservatively, that’s $250 to $500 million of available funds a year, that would make a tiny fraction of a dent in the portfolios of many, yet revolutionise our local economy.

Perth could become a regional tech startup sector, offering a great lifestyle, climate and investment funds to plucky entrepreneurs who want to cash in on a place that just happens to sit in the same time zone as 60% of the world’s population.

It would be almost criminal (and certainly negligible) if we don’t do this.

Why a tech startup? Because the best ones have highly scalable business models. Those guys and gals down at Spacecubed hammering away at their idea on a laptop could have $100 million businesses in a few years (just as Canva does today after a relatively short 4 year journey). This type of growth is hard to do with traditional bricks and mortar businesses.

It’s the most speculative investment these investors will make, but for many of them, it’s the best fun they can have. They can add some value to the startup (sharing hard won advice on commercialisation, open some doors) and it can give them plenty of dinner party conversation.

If we can throw enough darts at the dart board here in Perth, we will hit some bulls eyes. It’s a numbers game. It’s a funders’ game.

So, let them eat bread. Cake will come later. Perhaps.

Photo Credit: Flickr.com, Heather Katsoulis

It’s Startup Week!

{ View from the panel at Techboard's inaugural meeting: How to get Publicity for your Startup }

{ View from the panel at Techboard’s inaugural meeting: How to get Publicity for your Startup }

We’re in the middle of ‘startup week’ in Perth, with an incredible array of start up events, conferences, hackathons, demo days, meetups and even reports being published (one is already out.) The media, MPs and Ministers are all over it. There’s a bit of ‘bandwagon jumping’ going on, but that’s OK, as long as something now happens to solve the problems inherent in the sector, which have prevented many startups being funded and scaling up.

Perhaps for the first time, you can sense a growing appetite and attention for the sector.

It all kicked off on Thursday night at PwC in the city, where Techboard (the local startup ranking site which, of course , is itself a startup) held its first ever meeting (see photo above), attended by 100+ people listening to a panel of startup folks talking about publicity and promotion. I spied local MP Peter Tinley plus our wonderful Chief Scientist Prof Peter Klinken in attendance, the latter getting up to say “What an amazing sense of relief has come over the country recently… (since our change in Prime Minister)… now everyone is talking innovation”.

Friday night was a get together of the recent Startup Weekend crew, and tonight it’s the pre-OzAPP/West Tech party down in Nedlands at Larry Lopez’s house.

Monday is the full day, of West Tech conference incorporating the OzAPP Awards. Silicon Valley types who love to kite surf have winged their way to Perth and brought with them a bit of Californian fairy dust and cool, with various panels and keynotes on stage at the Perth Town Hall. The ever effervescent US Ambassador (who famously  welcomed people last year at the historic building with a cheerful ‘Welcome to Hogwarts!’ line) will be taking centre stage again this year with a whole morning session entitled ‘The Ambassador’s Innovation Roundtable’. In the afternoon the final 5 in the Asia-Pacific wide OzApps comp will pitch to the judges (including me) and a winner will be announced at the after party that evening.

As if that is not enough, Tuesday heralds a Unearthed demo day showcasing great ideas for the mining industry, which the WA Premier Colin Barnett will be attending and that night is the mass gathering (350 are expected) at the West Tech Assemblage at Government House ballroom, which brings together (for the first time) eGroup, WAITTA, Australian Computer Society and OzApps. I’m privileged to be MC’g this event, with Liberal State Attorney General and Minister for Commerce Michael Mischin addressing the throng, as well Opposition leader Mark McGowan, Chief Scientist Peter Klinken and others. That very night, there is also an Innovation Bay pitch night and dinner taking place.

It’s still not over, because on Weds, Startup WA will officially publish their new report into WA’s startup scene, which will update the excellent report produced by Boundlss (who are also producing this one) in 2013.

And after a week of events, Startup WA have the Assistant federal Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy over in Perth on 15th December for a Q&A session with Senator Linda Reynolds and Matt Taylor. Wyatt Roy is not just a seriously cool name for a politician, but he is also the youngest ever MP, having won election in 2010 when he was just 20. The ‘baby of the House’ is seriously interested in tech startups, and it’s good to have someone like him so close to power at the top levels in this land.

You can sense that startups and tech and innovation are the flavour of the month, and one wonders if politicians and leaders can grab this opportunity. Will the drastic shortage in funding for the sector be significantly eased? Will we see some tech success stories emanating from Perth? Will would-be angels and investors take the sector seriously and start loosening their pockets?

Can we create a place where people flock from around the world (tick), get funded (errr…) and then see us develop a regional centre of excellence for tech and innovative companies? Maybe this week will be an important step in the road… let’s hope so.

So many flearnings (my startup journey)!

flearning

Last week I did a talk to BloomLab, the university based co-working space for student startup folk here in Perth, WA. My slides are visible above (and also here).

Here is my 10 “flearnings” (learning from failures) – hard won advice from making the wrong decisions (many times), but learning from them.

  1. Startups are easy

Wrong, well actually, right – startups ARE easy, initially; as what you are mostly doing at the outset is “buying things”, and, as a board member once told me, “any fool can go out and buy something”. You raise some money, or maybe invest your own (along with friends, fools and family), and/or max out your credit card(s), and then go on a buying spree … buying programmers, office space, cool marketing campaigns, staff, …. It’s a buzz of excitement, and you’re wearing cool clothes, have ditched the jacket and tie, and are in a startup.

Wrong!

Businesses only survive if they are SELLING things, that is, collecting revenue. And that means someone ELSE is doing the buying, from you. Unless you are creating value by solving a problem for them (your clients), they will not buy from you. If they don’t, you ain’t got a business. Startups are hard. Selling is hard work. Not many startups are cut out for it. But everyone should be sales, including (and especially including) the fancy pancy founders and CEO.

  2. Build it, and they will come

Wrong! Although ultimately the service should sell itself, very few will do this from the get go.

Also, don’t fall into trap that the next release, the latest new functionality, will solve all your problems. ‘Once we add this feature we’ll be home and hosed’. Nope.

Having a great product is very important (as long as it solves a problem that people will pay to remove), but it’s a necessary, not sufficient, factor in your startup succeeding.

3. We’ve got a great product!

A related fallacy to #2 above. The worst sales person falls in love with their  product. The best fall in love with their clients’ problems.

We thought we were building the greatest map-based property web site (even if we were that was irrelevant). We thought we were solving home searching and making it easier. Well, yes we may have been, but they weren’t our clients. They were our users. Our clients were real estate agents, and paying a monthly subscription. We had to solve their problems. What was their problem? NOt selling properties. Properties sell. Buyers seek them out (buyers like to buy, remember? espeically property, especially in Australia.)

‘Getting listings’ is the real estate problem. Good listings. Ones that will sell. Ones that have nice owners. As soon as we realised this, we developed more and more features (including web development and even a magazine) that helped them get listings. ‘List and last’.

Who is paying you? They are your clients. Solve their problems. Full stop.

4. Spend loads of money on ads

If we’d had a bucket load of money for ads, we would have just used it. (There’s that buying itch again!) So what? We might have felt good watching our TV ads, hearing the radio commercials or watching the bus ads zoom by. So may our staff and investors. Would it have brought us revenue? Probably not. So many dotcoms spent huge amounts on advertising (or ‘brand’ as they euphemistically put it), so more people would come to the site, have a ‘meh’ experience, which meant you had to raise more money to get a different set of people to the site. And so on.

Have you ever seen an ad for Google? [Well, OK, I did see this one, and it was great, but it was not a traditional ad in any sense.] Promote the site through making it easy to spread, make it sticky (people stay on), make it elastic (draws people back). This could be about design, in built devices (such as Dropbox offering extra storage if you referred customers), encourage content sharing, etc. Use the free media; journo needs stories. Treat journos & influential bloggers as clients. Take them out for coffee. Don’t just do mass press releases; tailor your media approaches and provide exclusives.

5. Do regular, massive big upgrades

No; keep innovating, but not in a wholus bolus way, as that will ruin things for your users. Changing how the whole site works really annoys your loyal fans. Keep improving things, based on testing and feedback, in an iterative manner. Be fluid, add features, yes, but also think of ways to keeping it simple. UX (user experience) is all important these days. It’s a refined skill, and you will inch (not blast) your way there.

6. There’s either a tech solution or there isn’t

It’s not that cut and dried. The times I was told something was impossible, then the programmers would wander in all sheepishly and show me how they’d solved it (bless their little cotton socks). You get to learn what’s hard and what’s easy. I’ve found a simple truth in all this – it’s never the technology, it’s the people.

7. You’re on your own

Not true! There are multitudes of people out there, probably hammering away at similar type businesses solving similar problems, every day. Network, go to startup events, find people, ask questions, provide value yourself (give and it shall be returned). Years before Spacecubed, Perth Morning Startup, Startup Weekends and the rest, a few internet enterpreneurs still going in the mid 2000s formed ‘eGroup’, as much for the emotional support as anything.

There are now over 30 places and programs you can visit in Perth alone to find alike minded people and support…

Perth-Startup-Network-Sep15

View a full list here

8. SEO is a black art & expensive

I learned much of what I know by trial and error, but the importance of ‘title tags’ and ‘H1’ headings were not lost on me. Get these right and 80% of your search engine optimisation is done. Also, hire someone local who knows that they’re doing. (Direct message me if you want to be introduced to Perth people I have used and recommend.)

The SEO and SEM (search engine marketing) ‘industry’, along with social media and web/app development, is not a regulated so anyone can hang up a shingle and claim they have knowledge. Beware of stupid ‘I can put you on the 1st page of Google’ claims, because no one can guarantee that (well, not before knowing what search phrase is important, and how competitive that is, and how your site is written/updated).

And don’t try to cheat the system. Do not engage in ‘black  hat’ tactics (hiding white text on white backgrounds, keyword stuffing, content automation and the like) to get a higher ranking. Anything that looks like a shortcut is a shortcut, and could get you blacklisted (removed) from search results. It’s hard work, done over time. It’s cumulative. Google is only trying to find the most appropriate site for the search terms entered, so be that site. Have interesting, fresh content. Change it up and keep posting.

9. Social media is all nonsense / waste of time

Really? How do you view the telephone, email or web sites in general?

Social media is just a communications tool. Use some or all of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram … to engage with your audience, build your brand, learn about your market/competitors and all the other things it can do. Use them as part of your overall strategy. You can’t do everything, so decide what makes sense for you and what you can execute on well. And keep doing it, and keep learning.

Allocate time for it, and who is going to do what. Best case is everyone does some of it, and lends a hand to some degree, in the same way everyone probably uses email or the phone to some degree. Don’t allow it to be addictive. Have a plan, train your staff, measure what you do, keep what works and ditch what doesn’t.

In promotional campaigns, mix traditional advertising and social, and watch the impact of your promotions make a larger impact and last longer.

Do not buy links, likes or followers. Build your social media presence organically (the occasional Facebook promoted post, OK), and watch your Klout score to gauge which activities work the best.

10. I will build for a PC 

Think mobile first, because that is now becoming the largest environment online. Build for mobile, and then PC. With a mobile responsive site, you can pretty much have your cake and eat it. 40% of Australian traffic is now on mobile during weekdays, and more than 50% in the evenings and at weekends.

~~

So there you go, 10 flearnings, from 10 failed mistakes I have made (some of many, many more I could bore you with). Despite making loads of these errors, and learning the hard way, we did survive 10+ years, so we did OK…

All the best with your startup!

SLIDES AVAILABLE HERE >> http://www.slideshare.net/CharlieGunningham/so-many-flearnings-my-startup-journey

Innovation, the new buzz word

Einstein thinking

Since new PM Malcolm Turnbull, in his first address to the nation, challenged Australians to embrace change and innovate, everyone seems to be talking about ‘innovation.’

But what does it mean, and why’s it so important?

Technically, ‘innovation’ means ‘new’, as in a new method, a new way of doing something, or a new invention. It’s synonymous with being clever, successful and on the cutting edge. Turnbull, a successful businessman in his own right, has experience in these things. He went from lawyer to investment banker to IT entrepreneur and made multi millions in the process.

Rabbiting on about innovation is not enough, but grasping the challenge, seeing the positive and actually doing some different things, is important. As Albert Einstein reminded us – “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” He also famously said that the definition of ‘madness’ was trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

We have to try new things. You get points for trying. Seriously, you do. Because you learn, and no one will forsake you if you give something new a try. The Finnish company Rovio Entertainment spent 6 years and laboured over 51 failed games before their smash app hit Angry Birds came out in late 2009. Since then, its been downloaded 3 billion times – 3 billion! – plus various spin offs such as multiple versions, merchandise, a TV series, a movie and several theme parks. From an app. From a multiple-failed game developer. In Finland. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.

Six years on, even Rovio cannot rest and is having to innovate further. They’ve recently laid off a third of their workforce, mirroring staff cuts at Zynga (who make the Facebook game Farmville) and King (Candy Crush). The more successful you get, the more imitators and competitors try to knock you off your pedestal. You knocked others off to get there. That’s how the world works.

Nice though Australia’s resources base is (many countries would kill for this, and, often, do start wars over this stuff), we are not a cheap place to do business, and need to occupy the technological heights if we are to remain competitive and continue living the life we’ve had so good for so long. 23 years of uninterrupted economic growth is under threat. It’s no time to rest on our laurels, or pretend that new things aren’t changing how the world works, fast. As the PM says, we need to embrace technological change “as our friend“.

Consider the following:

  • In latest Global innovation rankings, Australia is 17th, no change from our 2014 position. Sweden, Switzerland and the UK occupy the top 3. The US is 5th, Singapore is 7th … Germany and New Zealand sit above Australia
  • According to a Deloitte Report (2015) one third of Australian companies face imminent and substantial disruption by digital technology and new business models
  • Another report from 2014 suggests 25% of Australian GDP is under attack in next 10 years
  • San Francisco-based Uber has taken 9% of Aus taxi industry ($450m of $5bn) from a standing start inside 2 years (~ consider how well entrenched, regulated and supported this industry thought it was pre-2013)
  • In the Crossroads’ economic complexity map, Australia ranked 74th in world – we are just too reliant on too few traditional industries. Sweden is one of the most diverse.
  • In 2014, $47bn was invested in Australian resources while $1.5bn was invested in tech
  • In the last 5 years, Australian startups added 1.5m jobs. Meanwhile, large businesses are culling staff numbers. In the US 80% of new jobs (in a run lasting now 67 consecutive months of net job creation) have come from new/small business.

Consider further…

  • Singapore has allocated $14bn over next 5 years for investment in startups/tech
    – funded 15 incubators
    – matching funds 85% to 15%
  • Israeli government supports 22 incubators, invests ~ 85% of their budgets
    – has led to 5x private investment in follow on funding
  • Meanwhile, our WA government invested $6.9bn in royalties for regions, and $20m into tech startups
  • Other States in Australia have a Minister for Innovation, but not WA

We’ve got a way to go to catch up, but perhaps the message will get through. To the innovative belongs the future. It’s always been thus.

Can someone develop a complete car parking app please?

traffic warden

I try not to drive my car around the city for meetings; often it’s much easier to walk, take a CAT bus or use Uber. But sometimes, an event may be on the other side of the city in the late afternoon or evening, from which I want to get home afterwards. My only option is the car, and finding a nearby car park or spot on a side road.

Which got me thinking the other day – why can’t I park, and an app tell me how much I have to pay, with payment taken at the end of my time based on how long I was there for? (The ‘Uber of car parking’, if you like.) The app would estimate the charge for the time. Even if overshoot my time (say, the event goes on longer than expected), it need not matter as I would be charged when leaving (the app could let me know the new total charge – and I could decide to stay on or leave). The phone would know where I was, when I arrived and left the parking spot and therefore how much to charge. The funds would then be taken automatically, and go to the local council, or Wilson, or whoever (private car bays could be used as well). The app would take a small % as a enabling fee.

It wouldn’t be that hard to develop. Most of the effort would be in getting all the car bays loaded on, and the permission of those that owned them. You’d get the larger car bay companies and councils on board first (explaining how this was going to save them costs and ensure all bays were paid for, making them more revenue). Private car bay owners could then have an uploading and admin system built for them.

No more overdue tickets, no more fines, no more paying more for what you use, no more fumbling around for coins at the nearest ticket meter in the rain. Indeed, no more parking meters or ticket inspectors. (There would be a transition period during which you’d still have the existing system but overtime the old would be phased out, and we’d wonder why we ever had them.) If you tried to park without paying, you’d get a warning, and if you did not agree to the ticket you would be fined. Appropriate warnings would come as notifications.

A central command would know where possible bays are, and could guide you to them. They’d know who’s parked where, who’s paid and who has not. Totally efficient, no one would get away with not paying, indeed no one need be be fined. All done on an app, every time.

Over time, an efficient use of all car bays would make for better use of vehicles on roads, less time wasted trawling around for car park spaces, less angst, and a better use of all space available.

There are many car parking apps out there, but none of them do this. Some find car bays that are on their system, some try to hook you up (AirBnB style) with private spaces for hire, and some know how many bays are available in real time in the larger city parking spots. But no one pulls it altogether. Someone will, one day.

P.S. No, I have not been fined recently (!); I’ve just been mulling this over. Now, over to you…

Photo: Dom Joly’s Traffic War

Ecosystem done. What Perth startups need now are success stories

Startup Weekend

Almost exactly three years ago I attended the first Startup Weekend in Perth. 100 plucky individuals bought tickets to attend. 40 or so got up on Friday night to make a 1-minute pitch (if they went one second over, they were stopped in their tracks). From these 40 pitches 15 or so teams formed by 9pm that night, and they were off and running.

By Sunday evening the teams had to pitch their ‘completed’ ideas to some judges. Some had almost complete products out on the web, or in the Google play store. They had branding, cool designs, working products, had engaged in customer validation and had learnt a tremendous amount. Perhaps 6 or more months of learning had been crammed into a frenetic 48 hours. Most would wake up a little bleary Monday morning and return to their day jobs.

I was one of the mentors on that first weekend, and I remember the ‘Breakeven app’ who I worked with ended up in 2nd place. The leader of the team had attended two Startup Weekends in New York previously and thought Perth’s one was better. Better in terms of the quality of the attendees, mentors, judges and ideas.

Wind on three years and there have been 5 startup weekends. There are now 5 tech accelerators in Perth (a year ago, there were none). There have been 3 iterations of Founders Institute. There are half a dozen co working spaces. The Perth morning startup meetup has 1500+ members. I have accumulated a list of 250+ startups that I know of (there are probably way more, and I am finding out about new ones every week).

The ecosystem is full and vibrant. None of this existed 3 or more years ago.

A well known Perth-based VC Matt Macfarlane told me once, “first comes the ecosystem, then the success stories, then the investors.”

We’ve got the ecosystem, now we need some success stories.

The Internet in real time


Click the animation to open the full version (via http://pennystocks.la/).

This animation keeps things in perspective!

Watch as the number of tweets, youtube posts and watches, Linkedin searches, Skype calls, Instagram photo uploads, Google searches, App downloads, Facebook likes, emails sent, Dropbox files saved, Amazon items purchased, Netflix views … and much more, changes in real time in front of your eyes.

And to think most of this did not exist 10 or 15 years ago, and none of it was around 20 years ago.

Back in 1995 the internet was new, a mess. No Google. And scientist Clifford Stoll wrote a piece in Newsweek called “The Internet? Bah!” pouring scorn on its future. What could we do without it now?