Left to their own devices


I could leave you, say good-bye. I could love you if I try, and I could, and left to my own devices I probably would,” sang The Pet Shop Boys in 1988.

It’s not one of the best songs ever written, but the ‘left to my own devices’ stuck in my mind, and, these days we are often left to our devices, of a different kind. We all have various (mobile) devices, and we reach for them with increasing alacrity these days. That’s fine, I assume, as long as we are performing our main functions, such as conversing with our fellow human beings, giving attention to our friends and family, doing some meaningful work and getting out and about in the sunshine every now and again.

The question is, how much is the next generation on their devices, and is that good, or bad? As parents, it can be easy to plonk the iPad in front of the children to entertain them at the restaurant, or when we want some peace. But what message does this send? That, when eating out, we don’t want them to converse across the table? That their needs and questions are of no import? What kind of parenting is that?

A few years ago, Taiwan introduced a law restricting the amount of time children should have on screens and devices. Apart from the obvious issue of how on earth do you police such a thing, was Taiwan correct in doing so, and if so, why? Juveniles, so said the new law, “may not constantly use electronic products for a period of time that is not reasonable,”  which begs the question, how much time is “not reasonable“? Parents and guardians could be fined up to A$2,000 or so if found in breach of the law.

I expect the answer is somehow in a happy medium. 6 to 9 hours a day glued to a screen, I think we all can agree, is not healthy. Kids need to get out and run about, climb trees, play sport, ride bikes, interact, and get up to all kinds of nuisance. Is it that we (helicopter) parents are buzzing around too much these days, not allowing kids to be kids? Local comedian Griff Longley certainly thinks so, and he has set up a not for profit organisation Nature Play that encourages parents and their kids to get out doors and do stuff. Like make cubbies. Whatever, just get out there and do things. Together. Unstructured. Like we used to. “It’s OK to stuff up and have stuffups”, says Longley. Dang right. It builds resilience, it’s how we learn.

I wonder if the screens are just an easy babysitter option, or actually serve some positive purpose for the children? Simply taking them away is not the answer. The devices are out there, everyone has them, and to deprive children of them is to hold them back compared to their peers. Certainly, there needs to be some happy balance between active play and iPad consumption. Certain hours of ‘screen time’ can be negotiated, depending if it’s a school night, weekend or holiday. Screen time can include all screens, TV, play stations, Wii and mobile devices.

For younger kids, I’m a fan of the Family Zone service, which can be set up on every device, and provides screening of everything the child does online, limiting access to questionable sites, and allowing the parent to set times when devices can be used, and when they can’t, anywhere. I’ve found children are fine with rules, as long as they are clearly explained, and consistently enforced.

In this digital age, we shouldn’t ban our kids from being online, or becoming confident with technology. It is going to be a huge part of their living and working lives. They should certainly understand there is a place for devices, and certain times when they are put away. The precise rules, I reckon, like everything, are up to the parent and child themselves to negotiate and enact.

Leaving them to their own devices, I certainly would not.

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7 Perth podcasts worth listening to …

7-Perth-Podcasts

In an era of self-publishing, you might expect to find some local West Australians broadcasting their views via the channel of podcasting.

I’ve been listening to, and in some cases have been a guest on, some of these pods. Some of the magnificent 7 highlighted here have been podcasting for years, some are relatively new to the game, but all are professionally put together and are (in the main) a joy to listen to. In each case, I can tell you that I have met and know the people involved. They are all producing them (for free) for the right reasons – to educate, interest and in some cases probe the listener.

No doubt there are many more people podcasting away in WA. In a search for others, I found a plethora of church podcasts (over a dozen) and quite a few that had been seemingly abandoned. The ones I highlight are all podcasting away frequently, once a week in most cases.

Before I get to them, here’s a brief history of podcasting…

The term was first coined by a British journalist back in 2004, a year after the iPod came out – so it’s a blend of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcasting’. In fact, ‘audioblogging’ as it was known before, started 15 or more years earlier in the mid 1980s, with the humble beginnings of the world wide web. It was a quiet, slow burn for the most devoted during the 1990s, until the new millennium dawned and the advent of easy to use audio web players.

As an activity, podcasting took off in the mid 2000s with the iPod revolution (‘1000 tunes in your pocket‘), but then fell away as we all jumped onto video sharing (with the rise of Youtube) and the distractions of social media. The fact that pods were only audio saw them lose out in the popularity stakes to the wilder, visual treats of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the rest.

Ten years on, and podcasting is now making a come back. Between 2013 and 2015, the amount of podcasts on iTunes doubled. By 2015, there were a billion podcasts subscriptions – the average person subscribes to 6. One in three US citizens listen to podcasts, 67 million of them monthly. 52% of podcasts are listened to at home, 18% in the car. 85% of all podcasts are listened to through to the end, or mostly the end.

I find podcasts fill that otherwise dead time commuting to work, driving in the car or doing the gardening. Yes, as I’ve written about before, it’s good to let the brain declutter, but listening to a podcast is also a great way to learn and engage the brain. I subscribe to a whole host of different pods from around the world, on such varied subjects as philosophy, biographies, sport, satire, business, design, technology, history and politics. It’s radio on demand, and you can consume a tremendous amount of free and interesting content on almost any subject under the sun. Perhaps, I will share some my world wide favourites in another post. For now, let me describe, and humbly invite you to subscribe, to these 7 local podcasts, which I think you will find are well made, and great to listen to…

 

‘The Road to CEO’, and ‘The Key to Authority‘ from Jenish Pandya

If there is someone in Perth who has most inspired me to become interested in podcasting, it is Jenish Pandya. One of the nicest guys you’re ever going to meet, Jenish has already concluded his fantastic ‘Key to Authority‘ podcast series (57 episodes over 2015 and 2016) interviewing thought leaders on various topics, and now has started a new series, ‘The Road to CEO‘, where he interviews CEOs all about the job of becoming a CEO and what it’s like ‘in the hot seat’ so to speak.

I was interviewed on both, and was impressed with Jenish’s passion and energy for the podcasting format. He’s become a bit of  a local expert, and can often be seen speaking on the topic of podcasting. Not bad for a Water Corp engineer, who does all this in his spare time.

 

‘Mark my words’ from Business News.

Mark Pownall and Mark Beyer, are CEO and Editor respectively of WA’s only dedicated business media organisation. The 2 Marks are the most respected business journalists in Perth, and their 18 minute weekly show is a must listen to those who want to keep abreast of what is happening in the world of business in WA.

They’ve been podcasting now for more than three years and have a nice, natural style together. They obviously respect each other greatly and are firm friends and colleagues. Mark P asks most of the questions while Mr B provides most of the detailed analysis, although Mr P also chips in with his perspectives as well. It makes for a really interesting combination, and for those of you who may have missed what’s happened in WA during the past week, it’s a great catch up. I like hearing each other’s perspectives plus a welcome sprinkling of humour. More than you might get in the paper or online, you get to hear why these major stories are the main stories of the week.

As a nice extra, Mark Pownall also records his regular ‘CEO Lunches’ with WA business leaders and puts these out on the same podcast channel. Subscribe to Mark my words on iTunes or Soundcloud or listen to past episodes through the BN website.

 

‘Ask Alyka’, from Alyka

The Subi-based digital marketing agency has recently begun its own podcast, with Alyka cofounder Zion Ong and digital strategist Beth Caniglia talking about a different digital topic, often with a guest in the studio.

These guys go to town, as you might expect, with 3 microphones and 3 cameras recording the action, turning the podcast into a fast-paced lively show available through all the normal podcasting and video channels. Topics mainly centre on digital marketing, naturally, as that is their area of expertise. I was interviewed in a recent one, on the topic of digital disruption, and I was impressed by the laid back style of the pod, and the professional production standards.

If you want to know what’s going on in the digital marketing space, then Ask Alyka is the pod for you. Subscribe on iTunes.

 

‘WA Real’, by Bryn Edwards

Based on the London version (London Real), WA Real looks to interview real people and get into the real stories behind their life.

A fairly recent podcast, having started last month, UK immigrant Bryn has already posted 7 interviews of between 30 minutes and more than an hour duration, so this one really gets under the skin of the guests, and a deeply personal discussion usually ensues. I particularly enjoyed listening to local comedian Griff Longley, who is the founder of Nature Play, a local not for profit which aims to get kids outdoors with their families. “Kids have to learn how to stuff up! It’s OK to fail and have a go.” As a parent of two, I loved this discussion and found myself saying ‘Yes!’ – which greatly amused my fellow commuters that morning.

Subscribe on iTunes.

 

‘Music on the Move’, from the PSO

OK, a disclaimer upfront here – I am a huge fan of PSO founder Bourby Webster, having known her since uni days, and I’m chair of a PSO technology advisory board.

I also encouraged her to start a blog, and bless her, she did, and it’s great listening. She interviews local or visiting musicians who might be performing in an upcoming PSO concert, and we get to hear what happens behind the scenes, and the motivations and passions of the people who put such a complex live performance together. Listening to Bourby chat with Matt Allen (WAAPA Gospel Choir) 5 days prior to the world premier of ‘George Michael: Faith and Freedom concert’ brought the whole experience back to me, one, I am not ashamed to say, brought me to tears.

Subscribe on iTunes for some classical music food for your brain. Go on, it’s good for you.

 

‘Brand Newsroom’, from Lush Digital Media

When you have a former BBC and ABC radio host James Lush managing proceedings, you know you’re going to get something polished and professional. That’s not to decry co hosts Nic Hayes (Media Stable) and Sarah Mitchell (Director, Lush Digital Media) who make the perfect team to discuss the main content marketing themes of the day. Their collective experience and wisdom absolutely nail every topic, and they usually have a guest in their studio or online, including one I absolutely loved with Nenad Senic arguing that print was not dead, and could do way more things than digital can, in some cases. 160+ episodes in, there is a tremendous amount of great content in their back catalogue to listen to.

Subscribe on iTunes.

 

‘Business Marketing Show’, from Ed Keay-Smith & Brendan Tully

I’ve got to know Ed over the past years as we are both eGroup members, an association of internet entrepreneurs and managers which meet first Tuesday of every month to discuss all things digital. He interviewed me on this podcast back in March 2017, when I was CEO of Business News, and he has a lovely way with his guests, laid back and chatty. Ed keeps the whole thing real, without worrying too much about fancy production tricks. It’s a raw interview, plain and simple, and some great content. He has built up quite an impressive audience with around 5,000 listeners per show, with more than 70 podcasts over the past 3 years.

If you want to know more about SEO, SEM, remarketing, online video, … for small and medium sized businesses, this is the one to subscribe to.

 

So, I hope that inspires you to subscribe to these local WA podcasters, and give them a bit of love and support. More importantly, listen and learn. And if you like a particular podcast, don’t forget to go in and give them a positive review. It really makes a difference in their pods being discovered by others.


UPDATED – the original post neglected to list Jenish Pandya – a terrible omission, now corrected!

The Rise of the Bots

Everywhere you turn these days there seems to be another potential tech disruptor raising its head above the parapet. The topic for today is the bot.

The rather cutesy name – bot – conjures up a sci-fi future of robotic machines doing everything for us lazy humans, who might be otherwise left to sojourn on our flying chairs a la the folks in Wall-E. Set a few hundred years from now, having abandoned a wrecked Earth, people are overweight, can barely walk on their short stubbly evolved legs and bark orders for everything they want. Robots zip around everywhere doing all the work.

I wonder if we’re really a hundred or so years away from this now. I reckon it’s almost upon us. And, as for obesity, well that is certainly among us – just look at the evidence.

But let’s get back to modern day bots. A bot, or ‘internet bot’, is simply “a piece of software that runs automated scripts over the internet” (Wikipedia).

Some are malicious (such as spambots roaming the internet for email addresses they can pester or mailboxes they can take over), and some are there to do good (answering your questions or suggesting a great blouse to go with that new dress).

Whatever they are up to, they account for almost half of all internet traffic. On smaller websites, it could be 80% or more. We know that Google sends robots to check websites out, index their content, and help rank them in their search engine. This cannot be done by humans, there is just too much stuff to read.

If, like me, you have an iPhone, then you may already be used to conversing with Siri, who is (of course) a bot. Have no hands free to tap an SMS, look up a contact’s phone number or check your appointments for tomorrow? Simply hold down the screen button and Siri is there to help.

With the release of Google Home, you can now have a Siri-like service sitting on your side table to answer your beck and call – what time is it in India? what’s the traffic like on the commute today? and what are the answers to your kid’s tricky homework questions?

A short journey from here are the bots already installed on Facebook, who can answer your typed questions. It’s like talking to a real, live person, except there’s no one there. It’s a bot. Also, have you noticed how Uber has quietly slipped inside Google Maps and Facebook Messenger to be able to offer you a ride without leaving their service?

That pop up window offering you answers to your questions on that website you’re on? Increasingly likely, there’s no one there. It’s a chatbot.

Based on what you say or type, the bot can quickly provide you with answers or suggestions to your queries, and can do this 24/7. They don’t get tired, have coffee breaks or moods. They can understand context, nuance and even sarcasm. Try fooling Siri, and she’ll quickly catch on you’re playing silly buggers.

Some people feel more comfortable talking with a chatbot than a real person, especially if it concerns personal issues such as health or emotional problems.

Over on Slack, the explodingly successful messaging app used by many organisations to better coordinate internal communications, chatbots are inbuilt. They’re called Slackbots (of course), and you can program them to message someone when, say, a certain task is complete, or when some other condition was met, as well as answer questions about a project.

Slack has expanded rapidly from its 2014 start. With a mission to replace internal email, Slack rose to a million users within 18 months with 300,000 of them are paying. Its valuation hit US$ 9 billion in June.

11 million Aussies are already using messaging apps, and 4.5 million use it as their primary communication tool. There is a whole generation of youngsters and others growing up who rarely, if ever, send emails. Perhaps they never will.

It’s not just the young though – the peak age for messenging apps is the 25-34 age group and more than half the 35-54 age group do likewise.

In Australia, Facebook messenger dominates, then it’s Whatsapp and Snapchat.

As a general rule, chatbots work well inside messaging, and more ‘menu driven’ info (such as ordering a meal, with bots suggesting what goes well and selling upgrades), anywhere where there is a fairly simple user experience, such as a check list. Decision tree formats work best. If this, then this, if that, then the other. So, tailored gift recommendations work well.

Bots don’t go all that well (yet) on free flow chat, but tomorrow we could see general chat, voice, avatars or some other abstract versions offering a more conversational approach. Where we end up will probably depend on what customers want and are comfortable with.

The bot battleground will probably be fought between Apple, Google and Facebook, who each want to own that bot search and interaction experience.

Fancy designing your own bot?  Well, you can with Chatfuel, which does bots for Facebook or Motion.ai.

It might be an idea to think how bots could impact your market – how you might use them (start with Slack), or incorporate them into customer service, lead generation and the like? As artificial intelligence (AI) will only get sharper from here, you can bet the bots will be a big part of our future…

Pitching advice for startups

Last weekend was the 10th Startup Weekend event. A sell out, with 118 people attending. From their 1-minute pitches, 15 or so teams were formed Friday night, who dutifully worked their way through their idea(s) before presenting in front of judges Sunday night. Most of them had a working product and some even had revenues by that time.

Earlier on Sunday afternoon I presented to the attendees on what the judges love and hate in pitches. Here are my slides, and also if you want to watch my talk, it was also recorded (20 minutes).

Here’s my basic advice:

  1. Know the criteria your judges (VCs or whatever) are judging you on. For Startup weekends it’s 3-fold: the business model, customer validation and execution & design.
  2. Start with the problem – preferably a huge, global problem. A problem that you just have to scratch, the itch is that strong. Define, describe and explain it, clearly. For if you are not solving a problem, you are not creating any value, and if you don’t create value for a customer, they are not going to pay, and if they are not going to pay, you ain’t got a business. So, on your first slide – explain what the big hairy problem is. And how you’re going to solve it.
  3. Explain how you have validated your solution – what evidence do you have that customers have this problem, like your solution, and will use and pay you for it? Surveys are nice, but usage of your piece of tech is better. And actual dollars from paying customers (not your Mum!) is best. Only when people are parting with their cold, hard cash do you know if there may be a business in it.
  4. Explain why you and your team are going to be the ones to solve this problem. Investors mainly invest in people (not an idea), because they understand that ideas can change but you remain. Above all the other opportunities they pass on, they have to believe that you have the determination and grit to keep going, when the going is really, really tough. Which it will be, often. So provide evidence of your toughness under pressure, and how the super blend of your amazing team is perfect for the challenges ahead. This should come across in your voice, your manner and your tone. You sound confident, but not overconfident. Strong.
  5. Don’t do crazy valuations or overly confident projections. Banish all ‘hockey stick‘ cash flow and revenue charts, showing slow, low revenues then some astounding take off to amazing heights after only 18 months. Rarely, if ever, (never?) do startups actually take off like this. It can take years of trial and error, pivots and tantrums, to get to a position where you are even paying your way, let alone making super normal profits. It did for AirBnB (who launched 3 times), Google (who had no business model for years) and many other very successful unicorns.
  6. Beware the ‘China number’ syndrome. ‘Oh, the market we are entering is a $20 billion market… if we’d only grab 0.05% of it, we’ll all be multi millionaires!’ This is lazy. Tell me how you are going to get your FIRST paying client, and why they will pay, and then tell me how you are going to get your 10th, 100th and 1000th… Explain, in detail, your customer acquisition strategy, and how you will scale.
  7. Do a great demo of the tech you have built, but better to do this through screen shots, not through live demo, which is fraught with problems in a live environment in front of 100+ people and judges looking on. Make it swish, have a great UX and show off the elegance of your solution. Mention what you would next do, and like to do next, given more time.
  8. In your slides, don’t inflict death by powerpoint. Use images rather than words. Use as few bullet points as possible, with a large easy font. Not too fussy, the slides are supposed to be a visual aid, not a crutch for you to lean on. In a 4 or 5 minute pitch, you may have 6 to 8 slides.
  9. Enjoy it. Smile! Engage your audience and the judges. Allow your passion to shine through.
  10. Practice, practice, practice. You should be able to nail your presentation after a few run throughs (at least half a dozen), and your timing should be bang on. There is no excuse to be rushed towards the end. Take things out if they are peripheral. You can always refer to other points during Q&A time. Aim to be word perfect, no ums and errs, no awkward moments, just one strong, believable logical argument with evidence.

Hackathons, like Startup Weekends, are a great way to condense months of learning into a 54 hour period. All the trials, tribulations & tantrums are smashed into 2 days… little sleep, anxiety, things breaking, things not working, arguments, chaos, and even triumphs… I highly recommend them.

Is your twitter account yours?

Does a company have the right to your twitter account after you leave their employment? Are they in control of what you send out while you work for them? Should they be? Can they be? Does it matter?

These questions have vexed many a business owner and manager, and I’d like to share some of my own personal views on the matter.

I believe that if a member of staff has their own twitter account, with their own name, whether created before or during their employment with us, it is their property.

Take for example, someone called Jo Smith…

If their account handle is @josmith, that is their name, and they will take it with them if and when they leave. The account itself is not company property, nor are the followers of that account.

If they tweet as themselves, they may tweet about their work and/or their own life. Being employed is part of their life, but not all of it. I would ask that if they tweet about anything official, something about us, and even perhaps about something unrelated, they do so with all due respect and realise that as part of their life is being employed with us, they take that into account. I would ask them to be courteous and wary of what they post, and that everything they send out (once sent) is permanent. Even a deleted tweet can be retweeted (or screenshotted) before you get a chance to delete it.

We provide coaching tips and guidelines to all staff members, and sometimes sessions, on how to use social media at work – the traps, the way it can work, how it can benefit their and our brand.

I believe a twitter account is very different to a staff member’s official email account (which absolutely is company property, including its name being that our company brand forms part of the address, and is run off our servers).

When and if Jo moves on from our employment, he or she can take their twitter handle and account with them … but not their email account. Their own name is Jo Smith and belongs to them (not the company), and so @josmith, and all its followers, moves with them.

To be honest, their twitter account is not much use to me after they leave anyway, even if I insisted I retain it. Their contacts, or followers, followed them for various reasons, and enjoyed (or not) their content. I don’t believe I have the authority to take over their persona, even during their employment with me, and certainly not after it. Even if I did, what would I do – carry on tweeting as them? Change the name and twitter handle? That’s deception.

I have noticed some companies (such as the ABC) have some of their reporters use a twitter handle such as @josmithABC, which presumably is created when they join, and ties Jo’s twitter account to the ABC, and only the ABC.

I actually don’t follow this policy because, what happens when Jo leaves the ABC? Are you going to rename his twitter account, take it off him, and give it to someone else? Shut it down? Plus, if you do this with all your staff, then they will have to start their accounts from scratch, and it can take a long time to build up connections and followers. What happens to their personal ones? Do they now run two?

I would argue that when Jo joined me, he or she brought with them everything learnt prior. Their skills, experience and yes, even their social media nous, was what I was hiring. When they leave, that walks out the door with them. When they arrive, I benefit from all their former employment and education and experience (this is what I am hiring, after all), and when they leave, that leaves too.

I try to treat all staff the same. If they have their own social media accounts (most have several), then our social media policy does remind them that whenever they use it, part of their audience knows they work for us, and for them to be respectful of that. We have a public persona, a brand, and that needs protecting, and hopefully, building upon. They do too.

On my own twitter account, which I started in 2009, two employers ago, I clearly state who I am, and that any views are mine and not of my employer. However, I always try to use my accounts to the best of the company’s goals, by liking and sharing content (but overly so, so as to annoy my followers) as part of my overall social media strategy.

See > https://twitter.com/ChazGunningham

Social media has developed into an important communication tool, and like the computer, phone and pen and paper before it, has its own foibles, pros and cons as compared to other forms of communication. What one needs to remember is that this form of communication is now permanent, and that proper staff coaching, including providing clear guidelines, tips and traps, is essential these days.

When the World Wide Web Conference comes to town

The World Wide Web conference, now in its 26th year, hits Perth this week. The last time it visited Australian shores, in 1998 in Brisbane, a certain unknown couple of Stanford PhD students with an odd-sounded company name presented a paper showing how they were going to revolutionise the world of online search.

Yes, the Google guys, Larry and Sergey, delivered what is now believed to be one of the all-time classic papers about the web. The conference itself was initiated by such luminaries as Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the world wide web) and others a few years earlier.

19 years since it was in Brisbane, it has travelled around the world (next year it’s in Lyons, France, last year it was in Montreal, Canada) and moves into my home city this week, with 400 sessions being put on at a dozen different locations, mainly centred at the Convention Centre.

Looking at the agenda, it is geek heaven. What next big thing will be presented this week? There are topics ranging for the semantic web to AI to data visualisation to machine learning. There’s a session entitled ‘Is Tofu the new cheese of Asia?’ and ‘Web-based surveillance data to improve influenza forecasting in Italy’. Some pretty obscure stuff. I love it!

On Thursday I get to interview on stage 4 senior tech people from Google, LinkedIn, Wikipedia and Snapchat. Can’t wait. 375 people are booked in for that event.

As we rush headlong into the future, it will be interesting to hear from these incredibly smart folk about what type of future we are hurtling towards. You get the feeling, like the 2 PhD guys in Brisbane in 1998, that the future will be moulded by some of the 2000 tech people descending on Perth this week.

Advice on starting a blog

write something

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

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

A 3 step process really:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EPILOGUE:

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

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

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POST SCRIPT:

blogI posted this on Australia Day, in mid afternoon.

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

 

Get out of your social media bubble, easily

popping-the-bubble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what, I hear you scream?

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

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

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

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

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

Digital disruption and women – opportunities and threats

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

The news is that it’s a mixed bag.

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

Here’s the summary:

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

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

Let them eat cake

Asking for startup money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth 2 – They shouldn’t be raising money anyway

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

Bingo – I agree 100%.

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly.

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

Myth 3 – The entrepreneurs are unrealistic 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Flickr.com, Heather Katsoulis