Archive for the ‘business’ Category

Move to the Valley

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

This was written in December 2007 for the Sunday Tribune. Some parts have aged well and some … I was either still in Silicon Valley or was just back. I was very critical of Enterprise Ireland and not much has changed in 10 years. All their work is based on fomulas created from 10 year old business books that were written by people who wrote books to deflect from being shit at business. Those who came along didn’t want to make much noise as they were tied to the EI noose to keep their business alive. I think one of the companies that came on the tour is still alive which after 10 years from embryonic stage, is good going. The Sunday Tribune of course is not. But I own the domain name and still get loads of press releases.

==
“Move”, the one word summary from billionaire Marc Andreessen on how to build a successful global technology company. This week I was embedded in Palo Alto, Silicon Valley with 26 Irish people from 14 Irish tech startups. Palo Alto is a city strewn with addicts wherever you go but instead of heroin or crack, the natives are hooked to networking and building better relationships with people. Andreessen, founder of Netscape, Opsware and now social network creation site Ning was one of many executives to take time out of their busy lives to meet up with Irish companies, just as unknown back home as they are in the Valley. Andreessen was quite happy to give a private hour-long Q&A with these visitors from Ireland. On elaboration Andreesen said that inter-networking with people is one of the most important things for any business and the greatest place in the world to do business is in Silicon Valley. Should we just pack our bags and look for networking chances in them thar hills, the same hills our ancestors mined for gold?

Andreessen wasn’t the exception to the rule either, earlier in the week a Facebook VP gave a personal tour of Facebook and brought in their top brass to meet these Irish companies who for now had nothing to offer them. After the tour our group were personally walked to our next meeting a few blocks away by one of their Vice-Presidents and he personally thanked us for choosing to visit Facebook, something echoed by Microsoft the next day too and other companies all through the week. Ever been thanked when walking out of a store in Ireland with empty hands and full wallets?

Silicon Valley Caltrain

Mark Zawacki leads the Milestone management consultancy group and took time out to do a free consulting session with the visiting Irish companies, he suggested that the philosophy of Silicon Valley is that relationships are the currency of business and pointed out that the vast majority of the billions invested in tech every year are local investments whereby investors are giving money to people they have good working relationships with already. Even Irish CEOs attending the Enterprise Ireland Leadership for Growth initiative that took place in Stanford broke their curfew and met with the other Irish to exchange thoughts and contact details. Everyone gets hooked.

Ger Hartnett from Limerick based Coclarity summarised the experience of many on the tour “We heard the same key message consistently; contacts and relationships are crucial and it was contacts and relationships that helped us meet Marc Andresson and Ross Mayfield who were extremely generous with their time. ”

Not everyone though can afford to up sticks and move to the centre of the tech industry universe even if it offers so much. You don’t have to move though to take advantage of the Valley. Ross Mayfield from Socialtext gave sage advicento the Irish startups on how he manages a multi-million dollar company using free tools for online conference calls and long-distance phone calls. While his main office is in the Silicon Valley and he meets more venture capitalists and industry bigwigs on his smoke break than Irish businesses would meet in a lifetime, most of his team only meet up together in one place a few times a year. Mayfield seems to have found an ideal balance between keeping the addiction to maintaining Valley connections alive and not pricing yourself out of a market which expects products to become cheaper every year.

With cheap and direct flights to San Francisco and already existing Irish Networks in place in the Valley perhaps we should move our monthly networking events to Palo Alto and skip Dublin altogether or encourage Valley events to move 11 hours away to Ireland. A finger in each pie is an advantage this time.

Pattern Recognition – How being able to spot patterns gives you an advantage

Thursday, December 28th, 2017

Pattern Recognition
A post in the need of an editor…

I come back again and again to the idea of pattern recognition in business and life. I time traffic lights – I count as the lights change from one coloured state to another and back and forth as cars go through junctions and people cross. I watch the traffic lights at the next junction down. I know when to get ready to go so as it hits green, I’m moving. However experience also allows me to know that someone will be breaking the red light nearly 50% of the time, pattern recognition comes from experience. I do the same counting when I’m the pedestrian, though I give no leeway to cars that try and break lights.

In medicine respiratory rate is a key part of the Early Warning Systems they have for patient monitoring. Studies have shown that a change in respiratory rate can signal (sometimes hours in advance) that a patient is in decline. Watch for that change in pattern and save lives.

The idea of writing something on pattern recognition came again from a recent article I read about “The Roofman”. Jacob Shelton studied a few McDonald’s and realised that the core proposition of each restaurant and the corporation is that they are all cookie cutter restaurants that if it could break into one he could break into all of them. So he did, 40 before he got caught. But then studied his prison and the patterns and escaped from that.

Terry Kniess did extreme pattern recognition of The Price is Right and won it all. He taped 3 months of shows and started seeing prices repeat. (keep reading though)

And David Phillips bought pudding and soup, got the Salvation Army to remove coupons from them and they got to keep the food (he got a tax rebate cos charity donation) and he ended up getting a million travel miles. All after seeing a pattern and seeing it play through if he added himself into the pattern.

Systems

Patterns, algorithms, systems.
Giving a box of chocolates to cabin crew on a flight, even a Ryanair one will get you special treatment. But Ryanair will fire a staffer if they give you a free coffee or sandwich if they give you free stuff. Yet, they do. The system says they can’t do that but the system never considered the public giving them a box of chocolates either. What happens if you add in an unexpected kindness into the equation of a scrooge airline? Change the pattern or at least make it wobble? Unexpected kindness is like caffeine with painkillers, it brings a state-change faster. A toblerone can get you very far in an organisation you are accessing, if genuinely given. Recognise the pattern and mess with it and see what happens.

I would think computer security experts are like that in a way. “This is what happens when A sends this to B” “What if we send C attached to A?” “But people don’t do that”. You can break into a computer system with a large amount of pure luck if someone didn’t lock it down in the most basic way or you can break into a highly sophisticated system because you have years of experience and you’d studied this system and have an amazing knack of thinking on your feet. You’ve got the receipts, you’ve the data.

UX (user interface) people are good at pattern recognition too. They study people and systems and they know if the system does D most people will go ahead and do E. But if instead they make the system do C and then D, then people might instead do F. UX to a degree utilises psychology and data. And psychology is of course about pattern recognition.

Data will make you better at Pattern Recognition.
Experience is data that has been analysed.

“You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads – at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out. “ Charlie Munger on reading.

Buffet and Munger. Two human data processing and analysing machines. I’ll write about them some other time but these billionaires are the Gods of the slow money movement. Reading, analysing, holding, pouncing. Pattern recognition.

Shake the hands of a carpenter or a chef, they’re going to be rough. (BTW, did you picture a man in this scenario? Tut, pattern recognition and unconscious bias). Carpentry is not kind on the hands nor is cheffing. I’m sure you could sit down some carpenters and chefs together and they can exchange war wound stories. Your meal or table might not be as good if it was made by soft hands. Not sure can you ask to feel the hands of your chef the next time you’re out for a meal though…

Complex Systems

Pattern recognition “naturals” are not professionals
You can be a natural at sales because you *get* people and know or have a feeling how to play with them to buy something from you. You can become a great salesperson from lots of experience, hard work and lots of study. Being a natural is an advantage but being enthusiastic is too. The naturals at anything never become the superstars without lots of practice too. Raw talent won’t win the great prizes unless nobody else is in any way skilled. Natural is in the same family as amateur.

Muscle memory is acquired data. The more you do it, the better you get. That data gets more refined over time too. If you watch a lot of comedy – you can predict the next line. Only Fools and Horses, Mrs Brown, Big Bang Theory. “Fucking obvious” comedy it is but only obvious because you’ve seen lots of it and know the pattern. In fairness, three shows of these and you can predict all of the lines but that’s probably because they are influenced by the same old comedic shite that went before them. Carry On, Last of the Summer Wine, Fraiser.

But can you be a writer for the Big Bang Theory from just smothering on that repetition? Well you’re only seeing the end product so you’re only witnessing a single digit percentage of the export. The structure, pace, themes are going to be hard to replicate. (I however think a BBC headline of “A.I. writes perfect copy of Mrs Brown’s Boys” is but months away. I hope Brendan O’Carroll buys that tech and he can live forever as Mrs Brown.)

Amateurs are professionals before getting experience
Maybe you can get a gig writing gags for someone that sells to the Mrs Brown audience? Doing the same thing again and again and looking for a different result is madness apparently. But is that not practice too? The over-used story of Giotto’s perfect circle but he wouldn’t have been able to do that without 100s or 1000s of hours of practice. BTW, not referencing Gladwell’s 10,000 hours idea because like everything else he ripped it off and twisted it.

Media is about systems and knowing that A + B + C = makes a good story. You can work on being the A part of this system. Watching media patterns, the likes dislikes, the things that get the headlines, when there are lulls that your story can get a chance to be covered, knowing when to stay away from pitching. Anyway, a post by me on PR tips based on pattern recognition.

Good Data makes you .. good
I’m a big fan of the show Billions. The dodgy traders in the show like pro gamblers (cos same) have tipsters all over the place letting them know about movements of stock, about financial mischief, giving them shredded documents and piecing things back together. There’s a bit where they use satellite imagery to figure out how much stock a chipmaker is actually shifting. Many of these actions are real. Traders now buy satellite imagery data and can predict how much Walmart is making based on cars in their car parks or how much excess oil there is based on shadows made by oil tanks. Same with crops. Hard to hide your secondary or tertiary data these days.

This is how they were able to predict a sales decline in Chipotle too but they used Foursquare check-in data.
There are so many free resources for mining data on things.

  • Google Alerts to find online mentions of competitors
  • Facebook Ad Data is unreal for market research
  • Google Keyword tool for what people are googling
  • Daft.ie house prices for areas
  • DoneDeal for the what the market will pay for something
  • The CSO
  • Scraper tools
  • Membership directories
  • Paper records – just use TinyScanner or OCR phone photos.
  • Even instruction manuals
  • And books.

I find autobiographies of business people are utter egotistical poo that are designed to just be a PR thing for their business or them rewriting history. Biographies of dead business and historical people are better. Hard Things about Hard Things (the first half) is an exception and a fav though. The best way to read a book when you want to get something good out of it.

How can you get better at Pattern Recognition?
Open your mind’s eye. Do LSD. No, not really. For me it’s just about noticing things. Ever tried a day of silence? No speaking, no devices, no reading or writing. Try that in an art gallery for 2-3 hours. Pay conscious attention to what are background objects or background noises.

There’s a nice book – On Looking where the author brings various people with expertise around her neighbourhood and they show her new things each time. Being better at looking and noticing to me aids with pattern recognition. Learning from others and how they see things gives you a swiss army knife of lenses at your disposal. If you only get views from your narrow field you won’t be very good at pattern recognition. You maybe will be good at Unconscious Bias though.

There’s this link with some advice.

Stop and treat everything like a painting in a museum and it’s raining outside so you have to stay in. Count traffic light changes. When the lights a few 100 yards ahead go to green, how long before your ones will? 20 seconds, 30 seconds. Look above the ground floor of shops, a whole new world. Put your phone in your hand. Notice the shape. Notice the edges. Notice the weight of it. Notice the temperature. How big is it in relation to your hand?

Complex Systems Pattern Recognition

So you’re good at Pattern Recognition, so what?
You’re like a water diviner. The water is below us, dig down. Wow, how did you know? Nothing to do with knowing the waterway patterns… You should start spotting opportunities when you find the patterns. Knowing the patterns might mean using them to get something for you. Like how to get stuff into the media by knowing their patterns. Everyone has their own grooves, know what their groove is and journey in it to get a return. Sometimes it’s knowing what the pattern or process is and using it.

Sometimes it’s knowing how to break it. “This is how it’s always been done.” Nice and safe and predictable. We like our groove. An ass groove isn’t it? How do we use this “always done this way” groove. How did they get to “this is how it’s always been done”? If something changes, can they get out of the groove? Google: history of newspapers. That’s an equation really.

“This is how it has always been done” is a bit like the Bystander Effect too. If the rest of the group behaves like this then you will too. Even if smoke is coming into the room.

Can you remove, replace or add something to the equation to change it? Plan it out, what would happen, what new factors get added when you make a change to the equation? Line them up, press play, see what happens, rewind, move things around, press play again. How do you address what would happen?

I gave a talk (I also I thought I did a blog post but can’t find it) called “Your next business is on Boards.ie and DoneDeal.ie”. Twitter thread of it. If you study the history of newspapers and Craiglist you’ll see how Craigslist killed off listings in newspapers. Then 100s of startups pared off pieces of Craigslist and some became billion dollar operations. AirBnB, Ebay, Grindr, Hassle and so many more in a way were just sections on Craiglist before founders spotted patterns of interest and came up with ways of making these more efficient for people. Spot patterns on Boards or DoneDeal.ie, see what are the sections most popular, see what people are complaining about online about them, make something cheaper or less friction. Unbundle this into an app.

Uber or Hailo/myTaxi
I remember advising a taxi company years ago to get everyone that took a taxi to put them into their phone as Taxi and when they show it to the driver, they get a discount. That “wasn’t the done thing” so they wouldn’t do it. Why should they offer discounts? At that stage it was obvious that everything was going to be mobile but the apps weren’t there yet. There is still ample opportunity to take back from Uber and myTaxi.

Every step is different pattern recognition
Finding your opportunity and starting it is one set of patterns. As you grow the idea there will be other patterns and systems to deal with and you may have to learn a whole new dataset for that or bring in people that have the experience to do that. If you want to destroy your company then bring in a team of MBAs to run the place. So this was just the starter course.

Value – Fuck You, Pay Me

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

Been meaning to write this for a while but writing anything on a blog takes effort these days when the Twitter/Snapchat/FB timesink takes you away. Just like the remote control turned us into nonstop channel clickers where we never settle on a station, social media is doing the same for longform content. Which is why we’re seeing Tweet 1 of 15 instead of a blog post.

Value

I think we all need to work harder at communicating our value to others and to ourselves. Sadly in Ireland, anything that’s low price is seen as not having value and anything that’s a high price has lots of value. Many times it’s the other way around. I keep on going back to the idea that people won’t buy a newspaper for €2 but will spend €4 on a coffee and buy a few of them in a day. If you are good at what you do, then there has to be a value exchange between you and the person you are doing work for. “A ‘thank you’ costs nothing”, how true. Thanks doesn’t pay for your heating. Thanks isn’t payment but payment is thanks.

Saying no to doing things for people is hard for many of us, isn’t it? We feel that saying no is not nice or is classed as rude. Of late I’m archiving emails and not replying to people that solicit free advice and never want to pay. It’s better than me replying with an invoice for €150, right? It’s taken me years but now when someone asks me to give a talk I ask “what’s your budget?”. For 2017, I’m all about equality. Everyone gets treated the same and gets this as a GIF:

So here is my take on why doing something, even small for free is not good for me or you.

Want to meet me for a coffee?

Let me explain how that works. I disrupt my day to have coffee with you where you want to pitch me something or get free advice from me. 30 minutes means 60 minutes. Me getting from where I am takes 30 mins and going back to where I am is 30 minutes. So that coffee is now 2 hours of my time gone. I’ve knocked two hours out of my flow during the day so that’s maybe an hour to get back into that flow. So basically three hours of my day has been taken up.
Want to meet me for a coffee? €700 cashmoney plz.

Want me to speak at your event?

I am really good at what I do. So when I come and give a talk I will give a talk that normally knocks it out of the park for the people attending. There are few people better than me at enlightening people about digital marketing. Entertaining, educational and inspiring. That’s value. For you and those at it. I’ll make you look good for hiring me in. Asking me to do it for free is disrespectful and just plain miserly. I’m a known entity, this is not arrogance. You’re not doing me a favour here by giving me a platform in fairness. “But you’ll get work from it” is perfectly correct. That’s what happens when you’re good but I created lots of value, return that with money.

Some advice after seeing me talk?

You paid to attend an event that I spoke at? Great. Did the ticket include a short one to one with me? Am I still on the clock? Maybe I am but I am not your employee, please respect that. You can of course email me but see below.

Emailing me a quick question?

Do you think I’m sitting at my computer or refreshing my email on my phone waiting for your email? You sent me a reminder email about the email you sent wanting me to go off and get you a solution for something. So you’d like me to pause paid client work for you or you want me to use up what little non-work time I have to do this for you? Do you even Google Bro?

You’re very expensive

Damned right. I worked a long time for people not to regard me as being low value. Took me 30 minutes to figure out what to do? How long will it take you? How many hours did it take me to get good at what I do? Yeah. My ten years of experience knows where to hit the right spot with the hammer. This has been attributed to Henry Ford in some places and to others before him in other spaces but it’s correct whoever did say it “If you need a machine and don’t buy it, then you will ultimately find that you have paid for it and don’t have it.” — Henry Ford
Or another way, over the next 6 months, that 30 minutes of help I gave you has saved you how much in time or has gained you how much in revenue? Yeah.

There are exceptions

People I’ve done work for before, people I will work for again. People would take a bullet for me, people who are recommending me to others, people who I know will do a favour for me.

When to do something for free

There are times though where you give advice or give talks without payment. Value still needs to be exchanged though.

For a favour:

Shep Gordon, the super-manager to the stars worked a “coupon” system. You did him a favour, he could ask one of you. It worked really well.

New Material

For talks. Like a comedian, when you’re trying out new material you’ll try out the material many times in many locations. Here the value is you got a free platform for untested stuff.

You’re a New Entity

If you’ve not got much experience in public speaking or are not a known entity then go ahead and give a free talk. It’ll get your name on a billing, you’ll be associated with others speaking, if you’re good, those in the room will spread news of your expertise.

You want to level up

Maybe you want to be on the billing as rockstars in an industry, if that’s the case you might work for free and you’d be the one contacting the organisers.

The Database

Some speakers and some sponsors of mine ask for the contact details of those at the event. Nope. I do send out mailers and put contact details and links to special offers in the mailers though. If you’re giving a talk, ask for your contact details to be sent out in a mailer including a link to your website or to your mailing list. You have a mailing list, right? Or I’ve offered a free document to accompany my talks (and mention it in the talk) and that has all my details in it.

References

Get them to write a reference that you can use or they actively go out and mail a few friends recommending your work. A link from their website to yours is good too.

Don’t run your own free talk

50-70% of people won’t turn up if you give tickets away to your event. Charge a minimum price. €5 or €15. No shows are huge the closer to zero the ticket prices are. If someone spent €15 there’s a much greater chance they’ll turn up. Or charge higher but the ticket price can be used as a discount for consultancy or training.

Don’t you organise conferences and not pay people?

Yes, I did. The Measurement Conference is on hold as I need to work on a pricing model where all the speakers get paid. To pay all your speakers at a conference can become quite costly if it’s low revenue or the tickets are cheap. Say you pay each speaker €500 (which is a low price for what they bring) and you have ten speakers, that’s €5k just for speakers. I try and make the Measurement Conferences good value for those attending and try and also keep the crowd small. Tickets were €30, €50, €100 for a full day. Now if you are one of the rake of digital conferences you see in Ireland that charge €300 or €400 and pack 100s of people in to the event, you can well afford paying 20 speakers €500 a pop. I was asked to speak for free at an event in Cork City Hall where they were charging €300 per person and expected 500+ at it. Half the speakers were sponsors too. Please.

Do you chicken out when asking for money

Consider that it’s your money they’re keeping. Find it awkward to ask for money? Hire someone to be your bagman. There are plenty of virtual assistant type services that can email or phone people back and take a booking for your services. They’re happy to email with your rates and asking do they want to make a booking. They’re getting paid to do it.

The Fuck You, Pay Me line is from a Mike Monteiro talk where he quotes from Goodfellas. You need to watch it, it’s the best talk any business person can watch.

Thoughts on Mentoring – Getting and Giving

Sunday, August 28th, 2016

I’ve been doing mentoring for a few years now, both with organisations like Local Enterprise Offices as well as private events now and then, when I have time. I think going to a mentor/advisor and being a mentor/advisor is a good idea.

Sadly a lot of charlatans have ruined the idea of business coaching so you now have someone with no qualifications that’s just a liar pretending they have a clue about business. The percentage of con artists in “business coaching” is as high as “social media gurus” that work in digital. The advice these people give is plain dangerous. Just another version of the celeb “nutritionists” that can fix autism with some grape seeds.

Getting good advice can help a hell of a lot. We take advice and pay a good price for personal trainers, we take advice from running coaches, from dieticians, counsellors, we should do the same for aspects of our business too.

I do find value with business coaches but they need to be real business coaches. I did a course at the end of 2015 and start of 2016 funded by Management Works. It was run by Actioncoach Ireland. I got training and advice from someone that was properly trained in understanding businesses and knowing what works for a business. They also had years of working with businesses so had a rich tapestry of experience in this.

Most business fundamentals will greatly help a business when done right but most businesses are too busy being businesses to reexamine the fundamentals and get them right. Coaches can quickly see how your business works and communicate simply what you need to do. These people are worth every penny.

Advice for choosing a mentor, advisor, coach

Some thoughts on choosing a mentor/advisor/coach.

  • Pick a person that will push back against you and tell you (politely or not) that your idea is crap but will go on to say how to change it to make it better. The worst person you can have is a yes person.
  • Choose someone that has experience. Ask for proof. When I see startup advisors who are only on their first company and it’s barely 18 months old giving advice to startups, I want to smother them with their branded hoody. I’m not sure someone in business less than 2 years has any qualification to give you any advice and I wonder why they have time in their new company to be able to give advice.
  • Keep the sessions short. At the end of the session, have a to-do list. In between sessions, implement the to-do list. The standard length that orgs giving per session is 3 hours but after 90 minutes both parties become mentally exhausted.
  • Implement the God damned advice. I’ve found myself giving the same advice to people at mentoring sessions over the years. Same business, new writing pad, same stuff written down and never done.
  • A mentor cannot and should not be able to answer or suggest a fix to every problem you have, and you should have loads. Pick specialists. Get mentoring for just sales, mentoring for finance.
  • Know what you want to cover. I really get annoyed when I ask someone what they are looking for advice on and they go “I dunno”. The clock is ticking, I’m being paid anyway but me being paid to figure out what you need isn’t efficient.

Why you should mentor

I guess this is advice to people that aren’t already mentoring cos the fakesters would be the first to say they’re coaches and are already offering their services. Both giving training and mentoring has made me better at my own business. In a way there is a business advantage to doing mentoring and it’s not the fairly low standard rates you get from State bodies for it. It’s this: the more businesses you encounter, the better you are at understanding business more and understanding markets more. In the Digital Strategy courses I do, we spend time on defining customers – mentoring is a live version of this with companies coming to you and telling you how they work. You ask questions to figure them out even more. I find giving training sessions has me learning new things nearly every time because those on the course ask questions I’ve not encountered before and mentoring is the same.

Will I mentor you?

No. Like I won’t meet you for a coffee to chat about your business. My chunks of time are broken into half day sessions. Less than that and it’s not worth it.

InvestNI and Web Summit – £310,366 given to Web Summit and sister events

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

FOI results from @InvestNI £310,366 (€442,603) given to Web Summit and sister events by InvestNI since 2012. The oddest one for me is for F.ounders given it’s pretty much an invite only event for very rich men.
Web Summit is an all island money acquisition machine.

Previous FOIs on Web Summit

IDA and Web Summit.

Enterprise Ireland and Web Summit.

2010 and 2011 payments to Web Summit.

On working for myself

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

The Sunday Business Post interviewed me ages back about working for myself. The piece went out on Sunday where I as Damien Mulley and as Damien Mulvey answered the questions.

The more verbose version via an email interview is here:

Why have you chosen to do project work instead of having a traditional job?

I don’t play well with others in the longterm. I’ve worked in very structured company environments and I just didn’t fully fit. Many are very comfortable with working under structures like this but not me. I found that every now and then I zigged when the company zagged.

What kind of project work do you do?

Several organisations hire me to train their members or member companies and lot of it is on digital marketing which changes a lot so these are regular gigs but not guaranteed. Companies also approach me to evaluate and fix their digital marketing for them. Sometimes there is no need for me to come in as the people in there are better than me but those that pay the bills don’t see it. These gigs keep me going over the year and in between I run events like the Social Media Awards, SME Awards and Web Awards.

vHow do you find clients?

It’s all inbound. I’ve never sought work from a company. Despite my crankiness and bad language on Twitter, I still get calls and emails to come in and do some work for companies. Word of mouth and doing a good job gets me future work.

Do you intend to stay doing project work, or would you like to have a traditional job?

When you have months where you are in minus figures you sometimes think about that regular job with regular pay but the vast majority of the time, no. I’ve been blooded with the taste of freedom, no going back to the world of fake plastic trees and Chandler Bing fake laughs. In addition the project work pays the bills and also bankrolls me doing other fun things that a regular employer wouldn’t sign off on. I had comic books made instead of business cards, I did events that never made a dime but tested things out and informed me as well as the audience. With project work I get to be honest with companies and lose business as a result sometimes. I’d never be afforded that luxury in a traditional job.

Do you think you do more or less work than someone in a traditional job?

I’m on well below minimum wage. I envy those that work for themselves and take weekends off. 80 hours a week isn’t unusual but I’m happy to do that. This is a time management issue and if I had the time I’d work on it. The clients always get their work on time and on budget though.

What are the biggest risks with project work?

Cash flow is my biggest risk. I’ve had to chase some companies for over 6 months for even small amounts. I had one media company find fault with an invoice 3 months after issue saying I undercharged them by 1 cent so we had to start the process again. I never wanted to become the sour one waving a contract before doing anything but that’d what happens now and I get paid faster. Progress, ironically is a risk as these days you can become irrelevant if you don’t adapt. Illness and getting a bad reputation are other risks.

How do you manage your taxes?

I have a patient and forgiving accountant called Derek Madden. The Magician I call him. I’m terrible with finances so his company does the most of the heavy lifting. It’s the main advice I give to new businesses: Get a good accountant to do as much as you can afford and the time saved will be worth more than what you give the accountant.

Do you think that the tax system is fair?

Has anyone ever answered yes? There are some issues with the way I pay myself and what I get taxed. Some good examples of how if I paid an employee a certain salary, they’d get a better rate than me. I’m okay with how the system works though but again The Magician helps me navigate it. There are good supports especially from Local Enterprise Offices, people who have leeway and know your business personally. There’s currently funding for getting your web offering up to speed, every business should be looking at this. The world can be our client based not our suburb.

You’ve started, will you finish?

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

There seems to be a growing trend that in order to be happy everyone should work for themselves, everyone should start a startup. Many people are happy to exchange 39 hours of their week for money from a company, they get to do their job and be left alone. That’s probably most people. This is for the others.

2015 and startups

This is an unrefined rant written on a Sunday morning that turned into a whole Sunday and some of a Bank Holiday Monday. It’s about starting businesses and is built around small independent thoughts on startups that I have attempted to weave together into a fabric that has a nice flow to it with edges won’t catch on anything too pointy.

It is also a test for myself to see can I still write interesting things since mostly I’ve abandoned blogging.

My company

I’m coming to this from a position of strength or maybe not giving a shit. My company is 7 years old and is doing okay. Not great, mind. I don’t have any full-time employees as I don’t want to expand it. I also am the “burn it to the ground” type where I fire clients or tell people I don’t want their business.

Having full-time employees would mean I’d have to work for their future and not just mine and I’m too pigheaded for that. To me I find there’s comfort in knowing I can shut this down at anytime and walk away. I gave this 5 years now it’s 7 and I’m almost disappointed with this.

It’s an accidental business. Blog posts on tech got me speaking gigs, they got me training gigs and the day job had to be given up to keep doing it. That’s my “founder story”. Iterations, which I’ll come back to.

Even before then, I started the Blog awards which created the Web Awards which created the Social Media Awards which created the SME Awards. All of those helped me find some great people that I work with at events. Lots of mistakes were made but that helped with refinement. Iterations again.

Without the blog awards none of the rest of the events would probably have happened. The Sockies 2015 generated revenue of about €40k but the profit to be honest wasn’t much and it created one motherfucker of a VAT bill. A proper manager would I’m sure make it a valuable entity but see above! But we got 650 people giving a standing ovation to the Yes Equality social media team. That’s a fine reward.

So that’s my business. It shudders and survives despite of me, not because of me. Not a month goes by where I don’t bounce money around to balance things. Not in an Anglo way though.

On to the rant

So where is this rant coming from? I’ve seen a few people starting startups so they can get some kind of buss from that. There are better and cheaper legal and illegal ways of getting a buzz dear reader.

I’ve seen other people start businesses because they have an idea that they think is a winner and people have encouraged them to go for it. Others start because they’re unemployed and this is their chance at something. This bit sounds like a riddle but some have listened when they should have ignored and some ignored when they should have been listening.

I’m sharing my advice for those that want to start or are starting and it is based on my jaded views of the startup “journey” in Ireland. There are more blog posts on startup advice than there are people with a David Gray CD I suppose but this is my cover version!

If you think the TV show “Silicon Valley” is what starting a business is like, you’re in dreamland. Don’t bother. Go back to the daydreaming of doing Darth Vader death grips. That show is far too close to home for some people I’ve encountered. Ever watched Dad’s Army? That’s more like it.

Working for yourself means you are going to be on less than minimum wage, that you never leave the office mentally, even if you do physically. It’s. Going. To. Be. Shit. And yet so rewarding as you do it on your terms, such freedom. Stressful freedom!

I’m not a fan of turning a hobby into a business because it ruins the love and you lose your hobby, the thing you can get lost in when all else turns to shit. For me starting something as a part-time gig was a nice measure of whether I wanted to keep doing it.

Of late, what bothers me is those that start because they just want to be in a startup now and they have people encouraging them to leap without looking and are marketing their status as “pre-idea” and “pre-team”. Aren’t we all pre-idea and pre-team? You’re no more a startup than someone that speaks at a TEDx can say they’ve given a TED talk.

Tell me: What do you want to do with this business?

So many come to my training courses and a day later call themselves digital marketing experts. Oh you do training in that? That’s unique isn’t it? Is your training better? Faster? Cheaper? Different to be of value? Aa few 100 more within 10 feet are doing the same. Saturated market.

An Irish facebook? Fuck off. An Irish Snapchat? Fuck off. Yahoo and Google tried that, they failed. You will too. Some people will tell you this failure is good, see the failure section later. They’re wrong.

Now, going back to the digital marketing training idea. if you were to offer all this training online, you now have a global market and it isn’t saturated. That has potential.

To move a few steps ahead you have to have some original take with your idea. What are the junctions in life where money, tech and people intersect? Some junctions are traffic jammed or slow, yes? How can you aid this flow?

Start with software will eat the world by Marc Andreessen
http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424053111903480904576512250915629460

Start with Ev Williams on making a common thing easier by taking out one step
http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-10/01/secret-rich-formula

Those two links are really all you need for now. Find other links after starting your startup. I’d suggest you never wait for that one idea and then go all in instantly. The natural high from finding this glorious idea inebriates you to think “this is it, I’m sorted”. It’s not, you’re not. It can easily be that half glass of booze that was so nice last night and you can’t stick today when you look back.

Write down the idea, whiteboard it, examine it, figure out the use of it, figure out who would use it. Ask questions of people who might be users. Let it percolate over time. Outside non-startup pursuits will help you even more here. TV, reading, exercise. That hobby. Do the same for other ideas. Sometimes solutions or thoughts from other ideas fit perfectly with those other ideas. You might start to see the patterns in time. Now you’re trucking.

That idea? It’s rarely a flash of light gifting something from the heaven that’s fully formed. It’s some rough stone you might see and you start to chip at it and then polish but you find other stones around too. A point will come when you finally see this idea properly and you might even find it seemed it was always there but you saw it in the wrong light until now.

Built a startup at a startup weekend? Oh wow, that’s an amazing responsive site and Twitter account you have. Oh look, I can do that in the control panel of my Blacknight account in under 3 minutes. But I didn’t have fun eating pizza and beer.

Pain points/pinch points

Is there something in your life that could be made more efficient or could be automated? Is there something out there right now that does lots of things but it’s only one part you and most others use? Unbundle it.

Is there something during your day that pisses you off and you despise doing and would be willing to pay someone else to do? I’d rather not get a taxi and have to endure some smelly, racist person that won’t shut the fuck up about Irish Water. Hailo! Uber! Servitude as a service

Are you looking at a business and there are many elements of it that make you want to scream because they could do a much better job with some changes? Could they adapt fast enough to your offering and match or better it? Are they a Nokia? WhatsApp does text messaging better and for free. Worth $13.5 billion now. SMS was done yeah?

If people are willing to spend big money – a small market is all you need to start
Willing to spend tiny money or none – huge market is needed for you

Feedback from friends is a fallacy

Don’t ask people whether they think your idea is any good. They’ll lie and tell you yes because they’re nice or spineless or they’re idiots so will tell you yes. Depending on the idea, it might be something your buddy would never use for work or pleasure so why spend time explaining it to them?

Find people who roughly understand what your solution is and see can they contextualise it for their work. “That would work for me if it was able to do this first” is much better than “Amazing, let me know how it works”. NDAs waste everyone’s time. If you thought of this idea about 50 other people are working on it too.

Okay, so now can you just fucking start?

Okay, idea sorted. Don’t fall into the trap of going to the “startup supplies” store and getting all these things before you start. You’re now just prepping for study by tidying your room, reorganising your notes, spending two hours on a study playlist kind of thing. Except afterwards you’re much much poorer. You’re just one more autobiography of a business person away from starting aren’t you? Just start.

Start and as you’re starting you’ll quickly find what you need to keep going and what other stuff just gets in your way. I give out to people every day for having crappy sites and mine is crap. I’m too busy helping others but work comes in due to word of mouth so that’s grand.If I only had my website and not got an existing reputation then I’d be SEOing that site to the hilt and blogging on it and sharing it everywhere.

For me my main thing that I needed was a money person, I got a good accountant for that. I had a laptop, broadband at home, a mobile, access to a car, cash in the bank. Google docs looked after my software and I had a site. For the first two years I used a slow old clunky laptop, it needed to always be plugged in to work. It did me grand.

Bootsrapping aka being cheap

Be a virus, live off a host for a while – Web, FB, Twitter. Use all the platforms that are out there. Don’t buy equipment. Don’t buy software. Just use the free stuff that’s out there even if with limits. Have meetings in the lobby areas of hotels with good wifi. Buy a tea to stay for ages, do work after the meeting. Cheap domain name and hosting for the site. Mailchimp for mailing lists.

If you need hardware, rent it or borrow it. Use the manufacturing workshop of other businesses at night and weekends. It might feel like you’re only reselling for now and you possibly are but your overheads are low aren’t they? You can work on the process then, refine it, swap out and in elements to make you more money per interaction.

Not got a logo, not got cards, have a one pager website, don’t have fancy offices with bean bags and slides? Good. Wait later for these go-faster stripes.

TheJournal, a site I dislike for their wholesale robbing of content in the early days and quizzes these days still ploughed on, they were out there, they used staff from the web generation, they had a better site, they knew how to use website optimisation, they knew how to write catchy headlines. They got how to use Twitter and Facebook as distribution channels.

With that, they had a huge advantage. I remember seeing people quoting Journal pieces on Twitter which were based on Irish Times copy. Years later and their headlines are still better for the same stories.

They are now massively influential and have the systems to start pushing out original content and are doing a better job than “traditional” media with the printing press millstone around their neck. They could have waited for more newswires and building more sources, they didn’t. They could have built more automated systems, they didn’t at that moment. They got out the gap and live tested it all.

Get out and talk to customers

Most startups I’ve encountered failed because of arrogance and/or poor or no sales. I’ll say this later too: If you are going to be your own customer and you only need one customer then keep doing what you’re doing. For everyone else you’ll need to talk to people. Step away from your air-hockey table and ring some customers or customers of a competitor. Not comfortable with people? Hire someone that is or get a buddy to help. Get them to do an online survey. Customers and potential customers will teach you so much about your own offerings even if in the end they don’t buy from you.

Iterate the motherfuck out of it.

The Apple Watch is shit right now. It will replace the phone in 5 years. It’s basic now but it’s first. It has a base of a million plus users in less than a year who will stay loyal to it. Version 2 will be better, version 3 much better. Apple are making money and learning with live data from crappy version 1 though. They waited long enough to have an okay version 1 that will not be disliked and they’ll move on from there.

This okay version 1 is still years ahead of the existing competition and it will be a year before Google/Samsung bring something out but by then version 2 is out. They do it with every product they have. Done is better than perfect, so says Facebook.

Positive hits

Do find small little easy to find measurements for your company. Milestones, milepebbles so you can see you are going in the right direction. The same way you can beat procrastination by splitting a task into easier parts, you ought to try it with your startup work. Even if what you think the most constructive thing you did is water the plants, they’re now done. Start with tiny tasks that take a few minutes and widen it out. I didn’t get X done today but I did get W, Y and Z.

Failure 2.0 is dangerous.

The myth of failure. “Most startups fail” They do. “It’s okay to fail” This is true too. But the current thing seems to be that it’s okay to phone in sick when running a startup and if it fails nobody was responsible as startups always fail, the odds were against you. This is just pulling the “It’s okay to fail” card. Failure is valuable if there’s responsibility and a need to learn from what worked and didn’t work.

In this space we have “startups that failed” and we have people who “failed to do anything worthy with a startup”. Hugely different. Irish Smoked Salmon. Smoked Irish Salmon.

Failing but developing as a person and enriching your experience is what you want if you did fail. The other is grasping nettles again and again and again and “failure experts” telling you that at least you know nettles sting and hard luck and best of luck with the next patch of nettles. And you’re still in that nettle patch two years later. Move one step forward, move another, get pushed back, ask why, ask how to prevent that next time, move one step forward. Is that failing? A long enough timeline and all businesses fail but was it a failure 80% of the time or just the last 5%?

Startup Ecosystems

There is finally a startup ecosystem in Ireland. Ecosystems can be healthy things but in the rush to encourage everyone to be in startupland, there are some dire companies that should not exist. Many can only exist in Ireland because they’re bankrolled by the State in one form or another. Ecosystems of course have predators. They are happy to push the idea that everyone needs to do a startup, the more the merrier. Volume is good for them. Plenty of people will now mentor you for a fee or take the fee from an Enterprise Board. Hypocrisy alert, I do this! Sharks with beards, baseball caps and a can of craft beer telling you “whatevers” in exchange for something. Beer, money, board place, equity.

Some developers will build a site or an app for you and extract as much as they can from you for it. It really isn’t up to them to tell you your idea is useless. Useless or not they need to build and make money. There are some I know who politely tell a potential client to go away and have a think and then come back if they still want to do their idea.

Do you need a fancy website, do you need an app? For some an app is hugely important, for others it’s pure vanity. If you need an app for the sole purpose of proving to people you’re a big deal, walk. We’re still waiting for iPad apps from Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat. Other things have their resources.

Pivot

This “pivot” term that’s used by startups today is mostly bullshit. Today it seems to mean a startup that started with a really bad idea is about to go under so they’re starting something new to get away from that bad idea. Which is a good idea if your new idea is a good idea. That’s where Twitter came from. Mostly though it’s just moving your company on to expensive life support and give yourself the space of a few months before calling it a day.

Where the really good pivots work though are in working on the original idea you find a roadblock of pure granite that means you don’t go further. However on working on smashing through the granite you might come up with new tools or tech and suddenly you’re making something for others to smash granite.

Or when talking to potential customers about your idea they end up presenting to you (without realising it) a bigger more lucrative issue and you realise can solve that.

But that comes from talking to potential customers, really really getting the industry and the issues and fixing it. And fuck all companies do that cos that’s too much work for them especially so many introverted tech people. But tweeting and going to startup wankery events and hanging around with people that will never be customers is enough, right? No.

You might not need a sales strategy (you actually do) but you definitely need a “meet potential customers and see what issues they have” strategy. Some non-customers can be of more value than customers that do give you money.

The Hard Things About Hard Things is my favourite half-a-business book.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaellindenmayer/2014/03/07/4-hard-earned-lessons-from-ben-horowitz/
The first half is a thriller that everyone that wants to start a business or has a business should read. So inspiring. The second half is just blog posts lashed on to pad the book. A billion dollar business was born from a failing other business that the guys had created, they took IP from that business and created Opsware. You’re googling the rest of that story.

Flickr and Slack are “pivots” too. Businesses created from other businesses that weren’t doing well or were going nowhere. They were learning even while failing and reset their targets and made Flickr and Slack. Same guy too.. I love these types of pivots because the idea is road tested, poacher becoming gamekeeper in a way and a lot of time it creates a great energy in the startup. Leaner, tougher, looking for revenge.

Killing in the name of … sanity

Sometimes though, it might not go anywhere so just shut it down. It’ll steal full breaths off you for weeks but it will be the best decision. If you’re stuck for a gig at this point, do the circuit of giving talks at startup events and do some startup consultancy on the side.

Incubation centres

You needn’t worry if you’re in an Irish incubation programme, you will never fail, nobody ever fails in those. Nobody fails. hardly anyone passes. In a State funded one you’ll just get acquired for an undisclosed sum. A euro. Or pivot. Lumped in with a butcher, baker and selfie-stick maker. It’s a bit like school, you even get homework and given out to! So it feels like you’re working for them when they should be working for you. Incubation centres are good if those running them are well connected and will connect you. Worth a repeat: make them work for you.

Do also note that those in there that tell you that you’re doing it wrong may not have experience of doing it right. You will be given guidance on building automobiles from people that still have horses and carriages and a “man” to work them. Did they ask for equity? What’s their motivation for helping you? What do they get? Job satisfaction? Run.

While in there you can spend 6 months working on a business plan and get pushed down routes that area dead ends. Only a few years back anyone that wanted to do a web app startup were told middleware was better. Now if you tick Cloud, App, Internet of Things on the form, you’re probably in. Or instead of that business plan let the accountant do cost analysis on your idea in a few days and you build something for a potential customer with the freed up time. Everyone wins an award at the end too. They do graduation ceremonies in playschool now. No difference.

Incubators are a core part of this “ecosystem” idea now. Pretty soon we’ll have an incubator for incubators. Just like you do that whole making a playlist, tidying your room to avoid doing study, incubators, funding structures and initiatives are a handy way of avoiding real work by State orgs. You know, like fixing the tax laws so someone that’s self employed pays more taxes than their own employees who might be on less or the same wage as you.

Accelerators
Accelerators are things for cars, normally balanced with a brake. Speeding while you’re still learning to drive, great idea.

Conferences and events

Startup events
Startup lads bant free drinks. LOL. Pivot. StartupBullshitBingo. Did you watch that latest episode of “Silicon Valley”?

The ecosystem is now replete with obnoxious events on all the time that seem to be more support group AA meetings than anything more. Events on how to fail or something like that. Sponsored by an idiot bank, probably. Startup events on a boat, a plane, a tent,a treehouse, a van, a telephone box.

I do wonder about those that are in startups yet give almost weekly talks about startups to startups. Not busy in work then? Life support startup? Intercom people talking at startup events makes sense. Stripe too. Their customers go there as do potential new customers. Do your customers attend startup events?

Go to conferences where your potential customers are. If staff don’t come back with real leads, chop off one of their fingers. Yak style. Conferences cost time and money. Or start your own event or workshops for customers or potential customers.

Makey Uppey Job Titles
Chief Movement Creator. Director of Online Happiness. Co- Chief Hoody Wearer. Alloys on your 89 L Toyota Starlet. Director will do. The ones with money can see you’re bored with your gig. Careful.

Well that meandered.

TLDR

In summary

  • Work on loads of ideas.
  • Start.
  • Start it as a part-time gig if you want. Switch when the day job is financially interfering with your startup.
  • Be really really cheap with everything that allows you to be cheap but not with wages.
  • Don’t implement most advice you’re given but listen.
  • Skip startup events, you should be too busy.
  • Incubators are safe and warm and keep you from the real world.

Read this too if you want:

And?

Just fDIY

Fáilte Ireland and the Web Summit

Monday, January 26th, 2015

What Fáilte Ireland spent around Web Summit 2013 and 2014

Pretty lights!

€60k light job

€60k light job

2014

  • Design of Online Le Cool Guide to Dublin – €4000 ex VAT – Link to Issuu
  • €13,715.68 on hosting media organisations for the Web Summit, flights and accommodation included.

    Rest of 2014 payments are for walking tours around Dublin

2013

  • Design of Web Summit Dublin Guide and Online Guide by LeCool – €8500 ex VAT Link
  • Printing costs of said guide €9,550
  • Lighting of Trinity College during Web Summit €48,985 ex VAT, goes to €60k with VAT
  • Jogging tours of Dublin – €2,018
  • 2 Buses for Jogging Tours – €900
  • Videos about the Web Summit 1 30 second video, 1 2-3minute video, 1 2 minute video – €13,100 ex VAT
    Video to include “cool young hipster types, speakers, tech geniuses”
  • Pre-promotion media event for International media – flights, accom etc. €4065
Fáilte Ireland Web Summit Costs

Fáilte Ireland Web Summit Costs

How much has IDA spent on Web Summit?

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

FOI Request to IDA has generated this:

2012: €80,000 ex VAT
2013: €140,000 ex VAT
2014: €100,000 ex VAT

The below is for a press conference and networking event at the 2014 Summit. From IDA “Our networking event in the National Museum which had over 200 clients and potential investors present. We also had a press announcement with national and international media in the building to coincide with the event.”
IDAWebSummit2014

2010 and 2011 payments to Web Summit.

How much has Enterprise Ireland spent on Web Summit?

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

TLDR: €265k in 2014, €175k in 2013, €144k in 2012 : €584k over three years

I did an FOI request in December:
1) Grants, fees, payments made to the Web Summit / Founders
2) Web Summit/Founders costs paid by EI such as speaker fees, travel costs (if any)
3) Costs for the EI for stands, marketing and running events around Web Summit / Founders

This is what I got back:
EiWebummitCosts

The Income column is money EI made from subletting their stand at the 2014 Web Summit.
The column on the right includes travel and accommodation costs for overseas buyers, investors and media.

2010 and 2011 payments to Web Summit.

Accounts for the company behind Web Summit, Manders Terrace Limited. Please note these are from Duedil so may not be fully up to date.

Manders Terrace Limited | DueDil