11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

The Gunninghams at the cavalry charge field, south of Villers Guislain, earlier this year

One hundred years ago today, at this time, the guns fell silent. The great war was over.

We pause now to remember those that fell, that never came back, those that were scarred for life, families affected… the massive sacrifice. It was a bludgeoning war, a stalemate of forces stacked up against each other, smashing away for 4 years at terrible cost.

But within it, were personal stories. Here’s one…

At 9.35am on 1st December 1917, the Indian 2nd Lancers (Gardner’s Horse) Cavalry were ordered to charge on horseback up a valley with the intention of capturing the town of Villers Guislain.

This was northern France, during the wider Battle of Cambrai, that had been raging for months. The battle was the first time tanks had been used in war. They were moderately successful, many broke down, so commanders still liked the fast paced nature of a horse back attack. After years of bloody stalemate, you had to do something different to break through.

My grandfather, who I am named after, Charles Harris, was on horseback that day charging up that hill. I remember him telling me how some of his regiment fell off their horses during the battle, and he wondered why this was happening as the ground (mainly cabbage patches) was not too hard going. They were being shot off their horses of course. Something that did not occur to him in the adrenaline of the moment.

As bullets whizzed overhead, the Lancers made it to the top of the hill and jumped over the trenches. Most of the fighters had fled, and some returned to their positions as the mounted cavalrymen overshot their positions, were halted and then jumped back over the trenches and retook them a second time. 3 officers and 42 ranking servicemen were killed. My granddad (‘Pop’ as we called him later) survived.

Now becoming surrounded, two volunteers rode back on horseback to get word on what to do next. One was killed, the other – Lance-Daffadar Gobind Singh – had three horses shot from under him, an action that would result in the awarding of the Victoria Cross.

The upshot of this skirmish was that the 2nd Lancers were told to retreat to their former position. They had gone too far too fast, and could not be supported. Pop and his crew had to fight their way back to their own lines.

Earlier this year, together with my two older brothers, and our families (which included three great grand children of Pop Harris) found the location of that brave cavalry charge, just over 100 years ago. I had last visited with my own parents in 1980, and when I saw the crucifix in the road, I remembered being there 38 years earlier, and how Pop had told us the cavalry turned left at this point then up the hill.

When I saw the crucifix, and the path to the left, I knew this was the place

This week, the Daily Telegraph in England, in homage to those that fought in the Great War, reprinted a series of articles and stories from the time. They chose to reprint Pop’s obituary that they had ran in 1996, when he passed away 6 days before what would have been his 100th birthday. (‘ Lest we forget: Brigadier Harris, the Battle of Cambrai veteran who charged the Germans on horseback – obituary.’)

I remember listening in awe to Pop’s stories over the years. He remembered that charge as if it had been last month, yet he was telling me the story over 60 years later.

Of course, if he’d not lived to tell the tale, he would not have had my Mum 12 years later, and neither me, my brothers, or our children would have existed.

What bravery. What a generation.

And so today, at this hour, I pay tribute to The Rev Brigadier General Charles E ‘Pop’ Harris, and all those that fought with him on that day and in that war, on all sides. May we never endure such a terrible event again. May we never forget the sacrifice of that generation, and those since.

Future Generations: 3 of Pop’s great grandchildren with poppies from the nearby field.

 

 

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Your wealth is ultimately tied to the customer problems you solve

Anyone running a business should understand, with laser like clarity, the customer problems their business solves. Not only will this mean the business will be focussing on the right activities, it will also be the single greatest determinant of the business owner’s wealth.

There’s a coffee shop (restaurant really, that also does a nice coffee) overlooking a lake near where I live. When I have a new client to meet, and it is convenient for them, I suggest we meet there. For me, it’s a pleasant, neutral venue in lovely surroundings, where I can hear the founders’ story, what they want to do with their business, what they have ‘got’, and if I can help.

The customer problem the local cafe solves for me is that, as I work from a home office, I don’t want to invite the business into my own home, and I don’t necessarily want to pile out to their office (if there’s a second meeting, we can meet there), so I need a ‘third place‘ (as made famous by Starbucks) to meet.

Once the order for coffee is taken, I also want to be left alone to have a conversation with the client. I don’t want to be ignored, I don’t want to be pestered. I don’t want to feel we have overstayed my welcome just because we have finished my coffee (ooohh, how I hate that).

Coffee with a lake view

My local cafe understands this. They are friendly, attentive, chirpy even, and seem genuinely pleased to see me. I frequent the place so much they guess that the person at the front counter peering inside is probably coming to see me, or if I have arrived after the client, they point me to who it probably is.

In this way, they are going above and beyond, and they will have my business for a good while yet. In fact, the place is so thriving, that visitors usually remark ‘Wow, this place is a gold mine‘ or ‘What a great place.‘ Some come back on their own volition later on.

Contrast this to a cafe I used to visit. They seemed genuine and friendly at first, but as soon as your cup was nearly finished, they would pounce and whisk it from you asking ‘Anything else?‘ (which  was plainly delivered to mean ‘Can you leave now!?‘). Staying any longer made you feel uncomfortable. I would barely stay 30 minutes, and after a while, never went back. At my local cafe above, I stay an hour per visit, and often have 3 meetings there in one day. I like my coffee. And I like it there.

The second cafe seemed to be focussing more on solving their problems (getting as many customers in and out of the place), than paying attention to their customers’ problems (a third place to meet, a catching up place, a filling in time space, or whatever). By focussing on the wrong things, and taking a short term view, the ‘cafe-I-never-visit-anymore’ lost my business, and I wonder how many others? I passed it the other day and it had shut down. Meanwhile, my local thrives.

Now I am not a restauranteur nor am I well versed in running cafes – I often do a rough calculation of revenues at the place, notice the high number of staff and wonder how they make money – but if I was to run a cafe I think I would realise that the third place concept was well established and understood by now. Customers are not flocking there for the wonderful coffee, or even the view, but for a service that provides them that place other than home or work (even if it is nothing more than to catch up with old friends or fill in an hour reading the paper.)

If I was running a cafe, I would like to think I’d train my staff to appreciate what the third place meant. I would provide free wifi. I would encourage local business people to meet up, linger, and ‘become members’ (a simple loyalty stamp card would suffice). Yes, I would make more money from the evening meals served with alcohol, but if I am to open during the day, then I would encourage more and more to attend and keep the tills ringing over. The more that come through, the more will be enticed by the carrot cake and muffins, or to have lunch, or to come back one evening for a nice meal, give me nice reviews and to spread the word.

It’s the funnel concept of selling – tip more in at the top, and more shall be returned to you down the bottom. Tweak the conversion rates, and off you go.

In the end the value of any business – and the wealth it creates – comes down to one simple question: how well do you understand and then solve the customer problem?

For, as I have said many times before, only if you solve a customer problem (the person who pays you for your product or service) will you create value; only if you create value will they pay, and only if they pay will you even have a business.

And… if you rinse and repeat this enough over a period of time, your revenue will grow, as will profits (as long as you control your costs) and the business will be worth a pretty dollar or three. This could ultimately determine your own wealth.

If you are not born into money, or have not made it in property or mining, then probably the best way to build wealth is to create a business you own, build it up and sell it (or live off the wonderful dividends it provides). The recent Australian Rich List (self made under 40s) all made their money in business, with 42 of the 100 in tech or online business of some sort. Only 6 were in resources, and 1 in property. The next generation of wealth creators have understood the process well.

Meanwhile, enjoy the coffee.

Learning startups at uni… what a blooming great idea!

Now in its second year, UWA showcased its Launchpad graduates – which gives participants full six credits for any undergrad course at the university – at an annual pitch night…

They never had uni courses like this in my day‘ – is what almost every audience member over the age of 25 was probably thinking, as they watched the nine graduating teams from UWA’s Launchpad unit pitch on Monday night.

Not only that, most people were also thinking ‘I wish they’d had‘. And ‘what a great idea‘.

Yes, it’s true. A 13-week course, with mentors and guest speakers, took enrolled students through all the main stages of ideation, lean canvas model, customer problem, market validation, key metrics, channels, the pitch and reflection, culminating in a pitch night.

FUTURE LEADERS: Graduates from ‘Launchpad’ – UWA’s startup unit

KPMG consultant Graeme Sheard and Bloom Lab co-leader Jack Hallam put the students through their paces in a 3-hour workshop every Monday, with weekly assignments including blogging and business plan development.

It’s the only university in WA to offer such a course, and in a fitting conclusion, the final pitch night at Bloom showcased all 9 businesses, before a panel of judges, which included visiting Professor  Martin Katz from the University of Denver (Colorado, another hotbed of startups).

Last year, Humm Tech went through the program, and they were on hand, via video link to wish the graduates well. As reported a few months ago on, Humm are now based in San Francisco.

CLEVER CUPPA: Easy Brew’s drip coffee solution for adventurers

The startups this year were a real mixture, with five of the nine having a social enterprise angle, and four being educational.

The businesses ranged from a neat little coffee capsule for making a great cuppa in the outback to story telling cooking classes to help better understand different cultures to a program to help Year 12 students find their true purpose.

After much deliberation, the judges gave the pitch contest to Charlotte Pennel from ‘Mother & Bride’, who in a pitch perfect performance, explained how her new wedding planning web service works. Yes, she got married earlier this year – and found the process of the wedding planning a pain – and yes, her mother is also in the business. And she already has four weddings booked up on her platform.

Honourable mentions were given to the team from ‘I Can and Will Do’ (educational resources for rural kids in Cambodia), ‘EnviroVend’ (vending machine to replenish food and staples, to reduce plastic) and ‘Pay It Forward’ (an app that allows you to gift a meal to a homeless person).

All great ideas, and some real potential businesses here. Plus, another unit ticked off at uni. How good is that?!

~~

MAIN IMAGE: Charlotte Pennel pitching her ‘Mother & Bride’ startup

This article first appeared on Startup News.

How win free media for your business – Part THREE (Press Releases)

In the THIRD post in this series on ‘how to win free media for your business’, we look at press releases.

Earlier we looked at the importance of thinking like the media, and there were also 15 pieces of advice to bear in mind when contacting the media.

A well written and target media release can be worth its weight in gold in terms of the free publicity and promotion it can provide for your business brand.

Be aware though that journalists may receive hundreds of media releases a week by email, so it’s important your message follows a recognisable structure and is easy to read (layout easy and clear with no typos and grammatical errors).

When I worked at Business News – a relatively small media business in the grand scheme of things – we received 1000 press releases a week, and very few (less than 10) probably ended up being a story.

Now, in my role running Startup News – an even smaller, niche publisher – I can tell you we receive several press releases a day, perhaps 50 a week, and only 2 or 3 become stories.

That’s because many of them are pretty rudimentary (this person has been appointed here or done that deal there) or are not targetted at the publication in mind (for example, Startup News only publishes stories on WA startups, so there’s no point sending us a press release about a Melbourne tech business with no connection to WA).

Faced with these odds, your media release needs to get to the point quickly, and have some degree of urgency.

The best ones will leave the impression that the media outlet needs to READ THIS NOW without resorting to click baity techniques like actually putting ‘READ ME NOW’ in the heading or subject line of course (!).

It’s fine line between appear authentic and having something to say without coming across as desperate.

Generally, an effective press release will have several elements to it:

  1. Inverted Pyramid – the most important information is at the top, in the headline, and first paragraph with supporting detail below. This will also be on the subject line of the email.
  2. First Impressions matter – most journos and editors do not read beyond the title (or the email’s subject line) and the first paragraph before they have decided to publish or not. It needs to be newsworthy. What’s new and interesting for their audience?
  3. Send by email – the universally accepted method of reaching media. The email itself should be short (no more than 2 paras with the main gist of the story and who is available for interviews and photos). The press release and photos (or links to photos) are an attachment to the email, in word format, not pdf, so the text can be copied and pasted. Ideally, the media could simply lift your release and publish it as is, or with minimal changes (except perhaps to make it even better.)
  4. Title your release ‘FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE’ in block capitals.
  5. An attention-grabbing HEADLINE then follows, with the BODY of the press release and CONTACT & ABOUT ‘XYZ Pty Ltd’ on the company at the bottom.
  6. Include QUOTATIONS from someone knowledgeable and authoritative (e.g. the CEO). It might be why this novel product is going to be useful to the industry.
  7. Clearly mark the end of the release with ‘ENDS’.
  8. Make the release no more than one page. Sentences should be no longer than 25 words. Every sentence starts a new paragraph. Make it as SHORT as possible to get the story across.

Here’s an example of a recent press release sent to Startup News…

PR1

Structure of a well laid out media release

Notice how the various elements of the release are clear and it has made it easy for the media to follow. This release has followed good practice to the letter, and it was no surprise that Startup News duly published the article, almost exactly as per the release. The main photo had also been supplied…

PR2

The resultant article mirrors the original release, almost word for word, including the headline and opening para.

What was then interesting was in follow up social media posting, there was acknowledgement of the article, from the person mentioned, and his friends, so the information reached an even broader audience…

PR3

Flow on effects of social media add to the reach.

That’s how to do it.

How win free media for your business – Part TWO

In the first post, we set the scene. Media is a tough business and you have to put yourself in their shoes if you are going to understand how to approach them.

Below, there are 15 pieces of advice, that will help you win a nice steady stream of free media attention, which will strengthen your brand with your current and prospective clients, staff and investors…

Most media organisations like to post positive stories – not all journalists are looking for an axe to grind, but some are, so stay away from them.

There are some easy things you can do to increase the chances of your business being covered in a positive light, consistently…

  1. Have a MEDIA page on your website – here you will post your latest press releases, published news stories, clear links to people (or the person) inside your organisation that deals with media enquiries, and a library of logos, photos and images (in various media-friendly versions). Have press kits, backgrounders and case stories on your business. A good example of this is here: http://www.boundlss.com/press/ (simple, small AI business) or https://about.canva.com/press/ (large, well known business).
  2. Be AVAILABLE! Make yourself available to be interviewed over the phone or in person. Respond to media interviews, and act in a professional manner. (Treat journalists like clients, not pests!)
  3. Learn how to produce a well written professional MEDIA RELEASE. (The 3rd post in this series will deal with this.)
  4. Grab ATTENTION! There is a lot of clutter and too much information around, especially in media organisations under time pressure and with thin staffing levels. Cut through the clutter with a great headline and first paragraph. If you are talking about something very topical (war on waste, blockchain, AI, data analytics … ) then use that as your way in. Piggyback on existing stories that are already running well in media.
  5. Be INTERESTING! What’s unusual about your business or what you are doing? Give stats and trends. Give context.
  6. TEACH! Give something away in your story, something that people can take away and learn from. Something you have learned. Give in order to receive.
  7. Try to be real and HUMAN, and not overly rehearsed. You can be too media-trained. Think about what you are saying, but talk in a normal conversational way. Think about some nice snippy sound bites that the media could use and quote you on.
  8. Do your RESEARCH. Find out which journalists and online influencers write about your area, and get to know them. Reach out to them. Buy them a coffee. Show them what you are doing. Discover what stories they like to write about, their interests, and then feed them relevant stories over time. Listen to them. Thank them after the piece is published. Tweet the resultant article out mentioning their twitter handle.
  9. CUSTOMISE your message to the relevant media; in that way you can use the same basic story with more than one media outlet. Sometimes. But be careful, if you hock the exact same story around to all media, don’t be surprised if no one picks it up. Each media has their own audience, so you can change the message accordingly. Or sprinkle stories around different media over time (better).
  10. Become an AUTHORITY in your specialist area. Once you have had some media coverage, you may find the media comes to you for your thoughts. Great! This is free media you don’t even have to arrange beforehand, and it’s wonderful branding.
  11. FOLLOW UP! Just like the best sales people do. Don’t just smash out some press releases and hope events will take their course. They invariably won’t. You need to ring up and ask the journalist ‘Are you going to use the story? Would you like to arrange a time for a photo and interview?’ Get on the phone. Don’t hide behind a keyboard and just spam journos with emails. (The basic rule is: if you already have a good relationship with someone, email; if you don’t yet, pick up the phone.)
  12. Be REALISTIC. You may think you have the best thing since sliced bread, but the journo may not know you at all, or appreciate what you have developed. Building a media profile can take months and years. Not everything works. But if you persist, listen and learn, it will happen. Don’t be put off if you don’t get any media attention for a while.
  13. Use SOCIAL MEDIA. Be savvy. Pithy headlines that can be tweeted. If they are a play on words they may be shared well beyond your own networks. Think creatively. Follow journos on social media, twitter and LinkedIn especially. Remember to copy them in if the publish you.
  14. MULTIMEDIA. Can you do a 60 second video? A 10 second meme? Learning how to do this can make your message multiply many-fold.
  15. SHARE the coverage far and wide. When you do get covered, make sure you share this with all your networks. Print the article and frame it, display it in your boardroom or entry foyer for all to see (current and potential staff, clients, media, board members and investors…).

As in all things, persistence and patience wins.

Don’t do the above, and very little (if anything) will come to you. So don’t whinge that the media is ignoring if you do little yourself to make it happen.

The THIRD POST in this series will deal with Press Releases.

How to win free media for your business – Part ONE

These days we are faced with a wide range of media channels. More than ever before. It’s a minefield. But there are ways to cut through…

It’s a tough old business

Firstly, perception switch.

Think of things from the media’s point of view. Media has become a very tough business over the past decade or so, having undergone immense disruption and change. Many media organisations are running very thin indeed with very few resources.  Barely clinging on in fact. No one has been immune – everyone from the local newspaper, magazine, TV station, radio channels and every other form of media has been struggling for a shrinking pie.

If you want to get your message out via the media, you have to be far more subtle than merely bashing out a press release to the local paper (although that can still work, to a degree, if done correctly).

Some business owners are (understandably) a bit shy or nervous about gaining media attention, but if you research and then select the most appropriate journalists, control the interaction between yourselves and the media channel, and have a clear goal in mind, things need not be problematical.

It is fairly easy these days to gain positive media coverage if you know a few ‘tricks of the trade’. The ideal is to have a drip feed of positive stories about your business over time. This all adds to your brand and name recognition, which can be helpful in all kinds of ways.

Having an editorial about your business has about four times the value than a paid for promotional ad of the same size.

Remember, the media is not there to give you free promotion though.

Most of their business models rely on them gaining a significant readership in their local area or niche, then charging advertisers for publishing promotional messages to that audience.

The media understands all too well that businesses would love to circumvent their advertising models and get free exposure in their online and offline media, and at their events.

Therefore, be aware that your message should not be too ‘self-promotional’. It should be informational and targeted at the specific audience of the media in question.
Put yourself in their shoes.

Before you approach any media, make sure you have answered these questions:

  • Why is your story of interest to their readers?
  • What is the ‘angle’?
  • Is the story given exclusively to this media source, or is it for general release?
  • Why is this particular story relevant to this particular media source?
  • How can you help the media organisation towards their own goals?

Treat journalists like clients

With a little research, you can find out which writers, journalists and online influencers are relevant in each local media source (the daily newspaper, the business journal, the local free paper, various online news sites and blogs…)

Think about your local media contacts as if they are clients of yours. Contact them, take them out for a coffee or lunch. Send them a personally written Christmas card each year (yes, really.)

Ask them what kinds of stories they like to write about, and then, when the time is right, feed them this story. Don’t overdo it, but have enough stories and writers to keep you in the lime light over time.

A steady drip of positive news stories does wonders for your company’s credibility, brand awareness and positioning.

Plus your staff, shareholders, board, management team and clients will love it too. You will also find that this reputation will precede you, so that it will easier to attract higher quality staff, clients and investors as well.

It’s all ‘hidden’ to some degree, but it adds up and it is real.

Imagine someone (a potential client or employee or investor) researching your business online. What will they fund? If they discover a good deal of positive news stories written by independent media, this will only enhance your brand in their eyes.

Part Two in this series gives you 15 pieces of advice for approaching the media.

The Coffee Meeting Pitch Mistake

I was speaking with an American CEO a few years ago, just after he had been in Perth a few months.

“What’s the biggest difference between doing business in the States and here?” I asked him.

“You guys sure love your coffee meetings,” he remarked, “Everyone just rings me up or emails and says ‘Let’s catch up for coffee!’ ‘Can we do coffee?’ ‘We should do a coffee!’

“If I said ‘yes’ to all those requests, I’d be able to sky uphill!”

Yep, that’s how we roll in the great state of WA. The coffee is great, the weather is lovely, and there are plenty of good coffee shops around. A $4.50 mug of skinny flat white can last an hour, and in that time you can get a lot of business done.

The Coffee Pitch

When I assess a likely startup or innovative project that comes to me for some grant funding, I like to start with a coffee meeting.

For starters, it’s a neutral venue, so is less stressful for either party. Stress is not conducive to learning the best about a particular idea or person. You want both sides to relax, and be themselves.

I also have a very fine coffee shop just a 3 minute walk from my house, which overlooks a lake. Very nice, very convenient.

If things go well, and there is something worth considering, then the next meeting may very well be at the company’s own office. But for now, we’re in a coffee shop near where they work, or by the lake.

So we sit down, order our drinks, and start a conversation.

This is where I get to observe the entrepreneur(s) in question. How well can they articulate their idea? How well can they explain their solution, and give me a potted history of their own experience to date. I want to hear about their team, and what they have built, and the market they are attacking.

But most of all, I want to hear one thing coming through – I want to hear them tell me all about the big, global problem their potential customers have, and why those customers will pay them to solve it.

Often, this is not what I hear about.

Too often, I am feature bashed with whatever gizmo they have built. They have fallen into the simplest and most obvious trap there is – falling in love with their product.

Of course you have to build a product or service for your customers. This is the thing they are going to buy right? It has to be wonderful, disruptive, novel with superb UI.

Sure, but building the product is the easy bit.

Selling it is going to be the hardest thing. And you will only make a sale if you are solving a big, hairy problem for your potential customers.

So, the first thing I want to hear from the coffee meeting, after the initial small talk is, what huge problem have they uncovered, that no one else has, and explain why customers will pay to have it solved, and solved by them.

Forget the product for now. As you take it to market, new information will arise and they will have to make product changes anyway. If they are wedded to the product, they will be less likely to change it. So don’t tell me how great it is, and all its features. It will change. It will have to.

Tell me about the customer problem. Tell me about the customers. Who are they? Why do they have this problem? Why will they want you to solve it for them? Why will they choose your solution? How are you going to reach your customers? Why will it be YOU that solves this, and not someone else? How many of them are there?

If you are pitching, over coffee or on stage or in a boardroom, START with the problem.  First slide. First sentence.

Spend most time on this, and the rest of your pitch will flow naturally.

Because only if the potential investor or government grantor believes there is a real deep customer problem will they believe there is someone who might pay to have it solved. And only if customers pay will you have revenue, and only if you have revenue will you have a business.

How Unlikely Squared Became the Norm

Sunshine and Roses: Hampton Court gardens last week.

It’s almost 30 years since I left the UK, and for the past 3 weeks I have visited family, friends, old haunts and new places while two unlikely events happened simultaneously – a heat wave that lasted two months (and counting) and a strong run by the plucky young English football team in the World Cup.

I had to remind my fellow travellers that England rarely has weather like this. The last time was 1976. England had not seen rain since May and there’d been over a month of temperatures in the high 20s and early 30s, which seemed hotter due to the perpetual mugginess.

Arriving from Australia, where no rain for months is the norm, you had to pinch yourself that this was England, not Perth, WA. English houses are simply not built for this heat – as it is so unusual – and the nights were quite uncomfortable. We were relieved when the gauge dropped to the early to mid-20s in our final week so we could sleep easier. Opening the window was the only answer as homes do not have air conditioning, but when it’s a muggy 24 degrees all night long there is no respite.

As the sun was up til 9.30 at night, it meant the days grew hotter as the afternoon wore on, with relative cool mornings making way to searing evenings.

Still, we were blessed. The parched parks and ovals were a reminder of the continual heat, and we could do anything and go anywhere.

A T20 game, whose tickets we had purchased months earlier in a fit of positive pique, was one of the highlights and a run feast took place before our eyes in a small county ground rock solid and perfect for batting. Who’d be a bowler? The team batting first put up a reasonable total, but the home team knocked it off with consummate ease and 19 balls to spare. In any normal summer, it would have been an even bet that the match would be affected by rain, if not abandoned altogether.

Once, back in the 1980s I organised 4 cricket matches in different parts of the country on consecutive days. Each one was rained off without a ball being bowled.

While this amazing weather was going on, and on, and on (we did not see a drop of rain, nay rarely a bank of clouds while we were there), the oft-maligned English football team had a strong run in the World Cup, which was being played in Russia.

By the time we landed in England from France, the team was in the knock out stages, but hadn’t won such a game in 12 years. Yet, they won two in a row, won their first ever penalty shoot-out, scored more goals than the 1966 winning team, with the captain scoring a hat trick in one game and securing the Golden Boot (scoring more goals than any other player in the tournament – one that included the likes of Neymar, Ronaldo and Messi).

The refreshing part was the team was one of the youngest and least experienced in the competition, and perennial defeats to the likes of Germany, Argentina or Brazil did not eventuate. In fact those teams did not make it past the group stages, round of 16 or quarter finals respectively. Italy and the Netherlands did not even qualify. It all had a weird unusual ring to it. Can this actually be happening?

England got to the semis and the final 4. Not bad for the 12th rated team in the world, and one whose names few of us knew when we landed. When we took off a few weeks later, we could name the entire team.

Despite scoring first, they were knocked out by the latest goal they had ever conceded in a World Cup game, towards the end of extra time. Their victors were the plucky, savvy and more experienced Croatia, itself a tiny nation of 4 million. A country that did not exist that last time England made the semis 28 years ago.

Meanwhile France – with the youngest squad – went on to win the thing. A team built on strong defence and incisive counter attack, with a 19 year old superstar, not even born when France last won in 1998. A team full of immigrants and different backgrounds. Vive la France! Liberté, égalité, fraternité. If ever we needed a team like this, the time was now.

During our holiday we also stayed in Paris and northern France. Walking around a small village one evening, we could hear the whoops of joy as their national team knocked the might of Argentina 4-3.

We were exiting a west end show in London at 10pm a week or so later when French supporters took over the Piccadilly Circus chanting about that night’s semi final win over close rivals Belgium.

Unlikely… Squared

And so two unlikely events – a sustained heatwave and World Cup run – occurred together and book ended our visit. It made for a quite barmy – and balmy – visit.

The combination of both did something else too…

Amid all the Brexit shenanigans and political divisiveness, England seemed to pull together. You could sense the pride of the country around their young football team. 28 million people – 84% of all those watching TV – tuned in to see the semi-final.

As the knock out stages stretched on for almost two weeks, there was plenty of time to get excited and positive about what the team was doing. English flags flew in every town we visited and hung out of car windows as we passed. The good weather seemed to add to people’s smiles and refreshing positivism.

A mate of mine managed to buy a ticket to the quarter final, and took his teenage son. The game was a 5 hour flight east of Moscow, itself a 3 hour flight from London. It was quite a trek, yet he was there Saturday night and back at work Monday morning.

While driving to a work site that morning, he pulled over from the road and somehow secured semi-final tickets for the Wednesday semi. So he left for Moscow again the next day. Thousands of people like him, who’d never been to – or thought of visiting – Russia found themselves there twice in one week, on a whim and a crazy once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

As England scored goals in those knockout games, beers were thrown sky high in a swirling sea of crazed excitement at public screens across the land. Walking through towns and villages, through market stalls and pubs, there was only one topic of conversation. People were humming the perennial fan tune ‘It’s Coming Home’, and everyone was discussing the manager’s waistcoats and steely reserve, or the relative merits of Kane, Alli or Sterling.

It’s great that something as simple as a spell of great weather and some soccer victories can pull a divided nation together, yet it can, and it felt great to – by more luck than judgement – be there amidst it all. I wonder what it would take to make this can happen a little more often.

Latest Internet Trends: Mary Meeker

Every year since the mid 1990s, Mary Meeker has presented the latest internet trends in the US and globally.

You can view her here delivering the latest trends for 2018 (she speaks for 33 minutes). In typical style, she speed clicks through no less than 294 slides at a rate of 1 every 6 seconds. Don’t blink, as it’s one of the most amazing presentations you see.

So what? Well, not only is the content good, but as I have mentioned before, the ‘Trend is your Friend‘.

If you’re running a tech business, or any business really, you need to know which way the world is going. It’s far easier than swimming against the tide…

  1. Internet growth is slowing – not surprising for something that has over 50% market share globally; there are now 3.6B people connected.
  2. Digital media use still growing – up to 5.9 hours a day.
  3. Devices are better, cheaper and faster – we’re doing more with our devices, with coin exchanges and digital payments exploding.
  4. Voice is lifting off – the tech is now there for voice, with products growing.
  5. Data vs Privacy – companies are using data to provide us with better experiences, but we’re giving them enormous amounts of our data. “While it’s crucial to manage to manage for unintended consequences, it’s irresponsible to stop innovation and progress.”
  6. US tech companies investing heavily in R&D – a ton of money is being invested in tech companies. The top 5 R&D companies are tech companies, and fastest growing: Amazon, Google, Intel, Apple & Microsoft (with Facebook 11th.) Tech companies are now 25% of total market cap.
  7. E-commerce growing strongly – a lot of it is driven by Amazon. Integrated payment and customer support systems are exploding. Shopify even has an online exchange where you can buy and sell online shops, from within its own platform.
  8. Search continues to dominate – people find products via Google, but also Facebook and Instagram. Google is adding a commerce platform, while Amazon is evolving its ad platform.
  9. CTRs and CPMs are rising on platforms – cost is rising more than reach, but both are rising.
  10. Spotify converting most of its users to paid – driven by a great user experience.
  11. Mobile shopping growing fast – especially using video and gaming. Shopping = entertainment.
  12. Alibaba is now the leading retail environment in China – e-commerce sales in China is 20%, #1 in the world.
  13. US Household and student debts rising – while personal savings are low; relative prices are falling, people spending less proportion of their incomes on food and entertainment.
  14. Rise of the gig economy and sharing – leading to rises in flexible gig economy jobs, renting out spare home space on AirBnB.
  15. Transportation spending flat – cars are lasting longer, Uber driving prices down.
  16. More spending on health care – but there are signs that tech can bring prices down: “Let’s hope so.
  17. While some jobs are displaced, others are created – service jobs have replace ag jobs, aircraft jobs have replaced locomotive jobs.
  18. US unemployment is low, consumer confidence high and rising – job openings at 17 year high.
  19. Most desired non monetary benefit is flexibility – tech and freelance work make this possible. 15M ‘on-demand jobs’ in the US, such as Uber, AirBnB and Etsy.
  20. Massive uptake in data makes data cheaper – also drives customer satisfaction and personalisation.
  21. AI emerging – “one of the most important things humanity is working on.”
  22. Cyber Security – a major sector.
  23. US vs China – China had 2 internet leaders 5 years ago (in Top 20); today China has 9. Rest are from US. Facebook and Google (US) dominate with ~2B users each, but Tencent and Alibaba (China) both have ~1B users each. AI growing in China, as are doctoral and first degree holders.
  24. Hunger for education – Coursera and Youtube learning courses/videos rising rapidly; lifelong learning & retraining.
  25. Change. Opportunity. Responsibility – “we’re living in an era of unprecedented change, and along with this come opportunity and responsibility.

~~

About Mary Meeker

Former Wall Street analyst and now VC, Mary worked at Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley (where she was lead manager for the Netscape float and later on the Google IPO.) She published her first internet report in 1995. She is partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Main Image: screenshot of Mary Meeker presenting at Code 2018 Conference.

The Tyranny of Digital – being human in the digital age

I attended a public lecture from Dr Paul Arthur last week, on the topic of ‘the Tyranny of Digital‘.

Dr Arthur, you may imagine from his lecture title, is not a fan of digital. Well, he kinda is, but he was there to warn us of the perils we are ‘sleep walking’ towards.

Talking Points

We are now living, as one writer puts it, a “liquid life” – which is disorientating our normal life practices.

Human knowledge is doubling every 14 months. In 1950s it was doubling every 50 years. In the future it could be doubling every day.

On an average day, humans generate trillion billion bytes of data. We’ve created a fertile environment of data for Google and others to trawl. For many years companies have been thinking ‘how can we collect as much data as possible, and work out later how to use it?’

We reach for our phone an average of 221 times a day; every 4.5 minutes. We’re device people now.

The Desktop PCs entered businesses and home in 1980s. They were not communication devices. This happened in 1990s, with the WWW and email.

Since 2010, computer power has been within reach of almost everyone. We’re constantly connected. We feel uncomfortable when devices are out of reach. 4B are now connected to the internet. 6B mobile phones are connected.

By 2025, most of world’s 8B population will be online. And this is already dwarfed by the 30B connected devices.

In April 2018, Facebook had 2.2B monthly active users (1/3rd world’s pop); Youtube & Whatsapp 1.5B each.

The recent #metoo movement has shown how a 2-way interactive group can create immense power over people who used to wield it.

The private has gone public. Every click or touch adds to it. We have a digital version of ourselves, separate from our true selves. ‘Everybody Lies’ – new book by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz – details this phenomenon.

It’s not all bad. Online areas can be safe, and allow people to express themselves and get help. We are instantly in touch with information that hitherto was hard to acquire.

Our internet experience is unique to us, tailored to what we have done before. This can entrap us in an internet of our own making, in a ‘filter bubble’.

“We’re sleepwalking towards a world run by algorithms, and we should be very afraid.” (‘Homo Deus’ by Harari).

Mass connectivity that promised greater understanding, now allows us to get whatever information we want, and can amplify our prejudices.

The Dark Web is ~500 times the size of surface web. Accessible to those with specific codes, software and permissions, invisible content from Google.

Can we create a private space, where we are not watched? Do we want to?

My Thoughts

OK, I get that in the information age, information has exploded. We create and consume lots of it. But aren’t we all in control of what we put online, when we go online, what we consume? Mostly.

Could we stop tomorrow, or at least temper what we post? I reckon I have done the latter, especially on Facebook.

My feeling listening to the good Doctor was that the audience (mostly middle aged) tut-tutted their way through all his facts and figures, almost bemoaning a ‘simpler age’ we have well and truly left behind.

Yet this is the same generation of people who now totally rely on the internet, and willingly use its power, while wailing against the idiosyncrasies of a younger generation who have known nothing else.

Are the kids and twenty somethings really all that bothered by their devices? They are digital natives and these things come naturally to them. Yes, they need protection and perspective, but the power they can now wield is immense, which can be used for good as well as evil.

Teenagers may reach for Snapchat and communicate that way, rather than talking, but teenagers have always been poor at expressing themselves. Middle aged fogies have been wailing against that one since the Roman times, and no doubt before.

Despite the recent ruckus over Cambridge Analytica and our data, I reckon most of this tech power is used for good.

Connecting. Checking in. Saying hi. Feeling a part of a group. Organising trips and parties. Who is seeing who when. Investigating places and products before purchase. Research and understanding. Producing and publishing. Laughing and entertaining. Expanding one’s brain. Communicating.

We can still remain human. Do human things. Be human. We’re just a bit more connected to everything, and all knowledge. That’s a good thing right?