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.

7 Perth podcasts worth listening to …


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!

Go jump off a ledge!

A few weeks ago, I gave the address at the UWA graduation, 18 years after I had graduated there in the same hall. Here’s my speech… and here’s a link to watch (from the 16 minute mark of the night)

Well, what an occasion.

For those of you graduating tonight, smile, take selfies in your gown and finetune your snapchat stories.

You deserve it, it’s your night. Well done.

Parents and friends, you should feel justifiably proud of your charges spread out in their finery before us.

For UWA is a top university, already firmly placed in the top 100 globally, and as if that is not enough, has set out its stall to break into the top 50.

No one will be able to take away this degree they have earned, and strived for, and shed frustrating tears for.

It’s there, letters after their name, forever. Well done.

And for those of you robed professors behind me, I haven’t forgotten about you either.
I know you’ve sat through these interminable things for more years than you dare to count.
You deserve a self-satisfied Cheshire cat smile, and so please, in your amazing extravagant felt & silly hats borne of a different era, sit back, kick off and relax, because I will only be 7 minutes.

If there’s a theme for my brief talk this evening, it’s go jump off a ledge.

Every now and again I implore you to look about, smell the air, nod knowingly to the safe well-trodden path and simply go jump off a ledge.

Not in actuality, just figuratively. I have only once (actually) jumped off a ledge.

It was many years ago. 1981.

I was painting the roof on my parent’s 2-storey house back in the west of England where I grew up.
I was 18, between school and university, what I laughingly referred to as my gap year.

The Ashes was on the radio, Ian Botham was singlehandedly toying with the Australian cricket team, and I was somewhat distracted.

Balancing on the moss-covered tiles, I felt myself slowly slipping downwards and had but a few seconds to examine my predicament.

As my feet came to the edge of the building, I leapt and somehow made it onto the driveway without injury.

So NO, dear parents and friends, I am not urging your newly bestowed to throw themselves off the nearest actual ledge they can find, but I am asking them to have a think about doing so, when, metaphorically, they have a choice.

Leap at certain times in your life, and often when you feel most comfortable. In fact, especially when you feel most comfortable.

It’s perhaps the best advice I can give you.

For it’s when you push yourself that you perform at your best, discover what’s new, achieve the most and have more fun.

In Easter 1999 I was sitting where you are today, a freshly minted graduate, top of my class indeed, with an MBA from this very university.

I’d never topped anything in my life, as my Dad seemed amused enough to remind me on countless occasions.

A few weeks later I was walking down a beach in Esperance with my wife Lisa. I had been quiet for a few days, something you may gather is rare for me, so Lisa knew something was up.
I’d been thinking.

I stopped in the pristine white sand, turned to her and said: “I know I have to use this MBA. I have to use this and do something else, but the trouble is, I have no idea what I should do. I’m a school teacher, I’ve never been in business…”

Before I had barely said any of that, Lisa said “Go for it.”

You know you’ve married the right person when you get a response like that. Well of course I knew that many years before, but you know what I mean.

I was Head of Commerce at Hale School, and had an MBA.

Now I was arguing to throw that all away, and for what? To do what?

I had no clue. Should I leap out in management consulting as so many MBA grads do? How could I do that, without any business experience? Should I start up a company? How is that possible? Get a job – if so what? What jobs are there for ex school teachers?

All these things ran around my troubled mind for many weeks after.

Then, the idea that became aussiehome.com appeared. The world’s first map-based real estate website, launched here in Nedlands, a stone’s throw from this very hall, by 2 UWA grads.

It was very tough convincing real estate agents to post properties on our website back in 1999, let alone keep them updated and then pay for the privilege.

I know you don’t remember 1999, most of you were not even 5 years old, but stay with me.

Over time, our little internet business grew. Real estate agents were getting enquiries, and after a few years, we were profitable, paying dividends to our plucky shareholders and then after 10 years, we sold the business, lock stock and barrel, to REIWA.

REIWA took on all our staff as employees, and shareholders received a cash exit.

None of this would have happened without me jumping off that comfortable ledge I had at Hale School.

After 3 years at REIWA, I jumped again, this time into Business News to help them with their digital transformation. A few years later I was made CEO.

After 4 more years and just a few WEEKS ago, I jumped yet again, and finally I did get to set up my own consulting business.

I simply don’t know this will go, I’m only in week two, but have already secured my first paying customer, which has me flying to Cambodia next week, and a second client as of this morning.
So, you get the picture.

Your 20s are for experimentation – with your career I mean – you may move a few times and that’s fine. You have bucket loads of time on your side.

Even if a few moves don’t work out, you have plenty of time to recover. You may be embarking on a 50-year career.

So don’t settle, keep moving forward.

And when a ledge presents itself, take a leap.

If it does not appear, create one, and jump anyway.

Because that’s how WA built its sizeable resources industry, through a pioneering spirit, and that’s how we will build our future economy, in health, tourism, education, agriculture, technology and all the rest.

In fact, with the rapid rate of change these days, we don’t even have an option. UWA should be handing out parachutes with those fancy gowns you’re all wearing, or maybe they really are a parachute after all?

When I was a kid, a favourite west country insult was: “Go take a long walk off a short pier”.

In other words, UWA graduates, go jump off a ledge!

Where WA’s future will stem from

The rise and fall of once dominant people, companies and economies is common place. These days, if you think of the most amazingly successful, be wondering how well placed they will be a decade from now.

10 years ago, the top website in the world was MySpace. It was the first social media darling, quickly to be overtaken by Facebook. Who uses it now?

For the first time ever last year, the top 5 companies in the world, by market value, were all tech companies: Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft. 2 of them were formed in the 1970s, 2 in the 1990s and one in the 2000s. They all stem from the US.

Four of these five companies dominate our landscape here in Western Australia – even though we are about as far away from their headquarters as you can be…

  • Apple devices are everywhere. We have 2 iPhones and 2 iPads in our household alone. (10 years ago, these devices did not exist.) We purchase nearly all of our music through iTunes.
  • Google is ever present. It’s how we search for anything, and 2 of the other smart devices in our household have Google-operated platforms.
  • Facebook is all pervasive for the parents in the household, while the children are on Snapchat, Instagram and Youtube. The last 2 of these are owned by Facebook and Google respectively.
  • We have 3 Microsoft  PCs in the house running Microsoft software and operating systems.
  • Only Amazon is not (yet) a dominant player. Amazon online retailing is coming to Australia this year, and it could also become a force to be reckoned with in our house. In the US, 50% of all online commerce goes through Amazon. I have a feeling they will make a huge impact here, maybe not immediately, but do check back in 3 to 5 years.

Which gets me to thinking about my teenage children, the environment they are growing up in and the world of work they will shortly enter. If the rise and fall of organisations teaches us anything, it’s that the businesses that cannot sustain relevance fade away, and the wildly successful dominant players better be re-imagining their future before the rug is taken out from under them. Reinvention is the key, keeping on top of the trend and perhaps getting in front (if possible) is crucial to survival.

Western Australia has an economy almost like no other. It has a massively successful resources industry, which grew to three times its size over the 2002-2012 period. It’s still growing, but is in another phase now (production, rather than building). So much income is earned from it, and from our State, almost half of the country’s entire export income comes from WA (even though we represent just over 10% of the population). The resources industry is not going away!

If I liken the WA economy to a major organisation, then during the very strong years (the decade from 2002), it was time to make hay while the sun shone (yes, we did that) while also looking out for the next success story before the end of the current one (err….).

It’s easy to look back in hindsight to the one trick pony mentality of the 2000s. Here in 2017, we are where we are. So what now?

One thing is clear: we need a diverse economy, in every sense of the word. Not only do we need to draw on the rich and full resource of all working people, at the managerial, C-suite and board level, we need to develop our other industries to take up the slack. Tourism, health, technology, agriculture, aquaculture, education … these are areas of great potential. The trouble with many of them is that every city or region in the world could claim to have some prowess here, or aim to be a world leader. In only agri/aqua-culture could we claim to have some innate natural advantage.

If we’re to lead in tourism, then we need to have a reason for the Asian and global tourist to visit our State, and to return. In health and technology and education, we need investment and smarts and hyper-intelligent people to be drawn to live, work and stay here (including our brightest).

There’s one thing we could do that would be a true investment for the local economy; one thing that could make a significant difference long term, and might save us as a State. It’s not a hopeful, wishful thing, it’s an absolute necessity if we are to continue to enjoy our great lifestyle.

The answer is a meaningful and rigorous devotion to world class STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education for our children – from primary school all the way through to university (and then beyond, through continuous education). We have to commit ourselves to extracting maximum value from the best resource of all – our brains, well, the brains of our children. As you and I are not the future of the economy, yet our school children are, then it’s to them (and their education) we must turn.

It’s a sad fact that the numbers of children taking STEM subjects in our schools has been dropping, and the quality of STEM teachers is also moving in the wrong direction.

The average number of science subjects taken by Year 12 WA students declined from 1.41 to 0.66 between 1986 and 2012. (Report: Optimising STEM Education in WA Schools, TEAC/ECU, 2012). The average number of maths subjects taken declined from 0.92 to 0.69 between 1992 and 2012. There is also a lack of STEM qualified teachers (too often teachers are teaching out of their training area just to get someone in front of a class), and we don’t even have a database of what qualifications STEM teachers currently have. If you don’t measure the problem, you can’t manage it.

Just think about this. The average year 12 student does not even take a maths or a science subject. In other countries, such as one of our closest neighbours Singapore, where I taught for 7 years back in the 1990s, students record among the best results in maths and science globally. There is serious investment in education by the government, and a drive (by students and parents) to get the best results. It’s embedded in the culture, and in many ways Singapore, with few natural resources to speak of,  has had to invest in its people to survive, and thrive.

It’s always been the case that economic growth derives from investments in education, science and technology. Which brings us back to where we came in. If the 5 richest firms are all US-based, and are deriving more and more income here, paying little tax, and employing few people relative to that income, where are the Aussie and West Aussie firms coming from, who will employ our children in 5, 10 or 15 years time? What jobs will be there waiting for the 20-somethings of the 2020s and 2030s? If the STEM skills are the ones future employers will require, are we going to get serious about STEM education?

We all have a role here, not just government. More of our bright young things should teach, at least during their 20s. More of them should take STEM subjects, not because they’re easy and may improve an ATAR score (they’ll likely not), but because they’re important. Especially girls. We need diversity all the way through our businesses, right to the top and across all industries.

Parents, colleagues, managers, employers – I’m talking to you.


More reading on STEM:

Transforming STEM teaching in primary schools, Prinsley & Johnson, Dec 2015

Optimising STEM education in WA, TIAC, ECU, 2013

Image Credit: Lorenzo G Alarcon Elementary

The best education …

WA Schools table 2014OK, one of my favourite topics – education.

I was a classroom teacher for 13 years (3 jobs on 3 different continents) which gave me an insight into perhaps (along with health) the most important of all industries.

When I began my first teaching job way back in 1986 (almost 30 years ago, my goodness) I was a starry eyed freshly minted teacher set to change the world. Well, change the world of as many of those students I came into contact as possible, and change for the better I would hope. Provide them with opportunities, like a university education for example, open their eyes to how the economy or business worked. Maybe give them the confidence to go into business themselves (I taught business and economics).

That first year was momentous – there were teacher strikes in England (I taught in a government school), and although you might think this odd, it does take some prodding to get teachers to take action like this. Many were conflicted (what sort of example does this set, etc?). Teachers are, by their nature, humble and selfless people on the whole, doing a job they know is not highly paid, but a noble one nonetheless. Like nurses and other caring professions, people don’t go into them for money. However, after 2 university degrees and 18 years of education, I did feel my 6,500 pounds a year salary was a little on the low side. (Although compared to the 2,000 a year I had had to survive on at uni the 4 years preceding, I felt like a relative rich young thing.) Teachers were being blamed for everything by the government of the time, from high unemployment to soccer hooliganism. What the?

Wind on almost 30 years and now I am a parent, have recently sat on the board of our local primary school, and also lecture once a year in eBusiness at UWA Business School. I have seen education from all sides – as a student, teacher, administrator and parent. And my position has really not changed that much – I am an avid believer in the public education system, while totally understanding that a private system sits alongside (now worth about 30% of all students in Australia).

When it comes down to it, education is about three things – the school, the student and the home environment. It’s a triangle, and each corner has to do their bit. I fundamentally believe you cannot absolve yourself of your parenting duties and expect the school to do everything. Nor can the student do it alone. It takes all 3, acting together.

I also feel competition within schools and between schools is healthy, as are assessments, exams, trying out for orchestras, debating or sports teams. The pursuit of excellence is what it is about, finding out what you can do, where you can go. Developing your skills and confidence. Trying some new things. Stretching yourself. Being at school is a much a time of your life, as it is a preparation for life.

When we moved into our suburb 17 years ago it was before we had children. We chose it for the peacefulness, the lake opposite, and the excellent private and public schools on offer. I was teaching part time at a local private one (a boys school – even with my Uni of London teaching degree and 11 years of teaching experience I did not have the qualifications to work in the public sector in WA). Roll on a few years, and the time came to decide to send our own children to private or public schools. The choice was fairly easy – take advantage of the excellent local public schools, and roll our sleeves up and contribute to making them even better. Even before my 5 year old first born had joined kindy I was dragooned into trying to ‘save it’ as the building was subsiding and we had to raise money for a renovation. A few years later I ran for the Board of the primary school and then became Chair. By then the excellent IPS (independent public school) system had been introduced into Western Australia and our school was in the second year of intake. It meant we could hire staff directly rather than having them imposed on us without choice, and, critically, when the time came, appoint a new Principal (and boy, what a new Principal we got). The whole school lifted, we went through a rebrand, with a new logo and tag line, injected money into classrooms (every room with an interactive white board, at $6k a pop) thanks to an amazing P+C that raised $60k a year. It was the best example of the parents, community and staff all pulling together in a common goal. Last year the school turned 50 and a huge fete was organised with dozens of stalls, live bands and such. It raised $30k in a single day.

So, don’t tell me public schools can’t be excellent. Private schools have their place (I was sent to one myself and have taught in a couple), but public schools can be at least as good, and perhaps better in many respects. Secluding children of ‘those who can pay‘ off into a single sex environment for their most impressionable years does not make sense to me. Anyone who wants to go to a good uni can from get there from almost any school in the state. Private schools seem to be less critical in terms of determining career options. With 2 children, we simply could not justify dropping them off in single sex schools 5 kms apart, and paying $45k a year for the privilege.

Which brings us back to competition and those end of the year league tables (above). You’ll notice that 12 of the top 14 are private schools (“top” as measured by the average schools of the uni entrance year 12 exam results – a narrow and incomplete measure, of course). However, nearly all of these students would have had public education along the line, during their most formative years, primary school. Behaviours are learned early, and by aged 5 to 7 most of people’s behaviours are set in stone. (I’ve seen 50 year olds fly into tantrums – obviously they were not told ‘no‘ aged 5.) Certainly by the time students came to me aged 14-18 to learn economics or business, I found it hard to reach those that had switched off years ago and no longer saw the point. I wish I’d got to them aged 5, 6 or 7.

Self select students by the ability of their parents to pay, and no doubt you will gain a 30% cohort who, as a group (but not necessarily individually), will do better in Year 12 exams. Charge them $25k a year and rising, drum into them the importance of exam results (for the good PR of the school?) and you will secure what you want. Anyone who does not make the grade (even if their parents can pay for it) will be dropped along the way, either into non-TEE subjects or out of the school altogether. Those average end of Year 12 exam scores will be safe.


But that does not mean there is better education in these private enclaves, nor does it follow that that privately educated student has done any better than might have been the case going public. I remember one year the top  Year 12 student in the State was from one of those private schools, yet up to Year 11 had been at the public school that is #16 position. Was this result really the result of that private school?

We live in a society where many people have free choice to buy a nice car or not, to take time out for a family holiday or not, to give their money away to charitable causes or not, to pay for private education or not. That’s fine. I would argue that, given a well run public school down the road, the benefits of having both sexes in the school, from all demographics and walks of life, are real. It’s more normal. We do pay quite a lot of taxes and these schools are provided for us. The IPS system (now covering 55% of all students in Perth metro) allows the parents and communities to get involved and help lift the school higher, as I’ve seen at our local primary. It’s interesting that for the past 3 years, the % of students going to public schools in WA is on the rise, after a previous period of 30 years where it fell every year. Could this be post-mining boom blues, the impact of IPS or the realisation that public schools offer a great option? Maybe a mix of all three.

Other States are now seriously looking at the IPS system.

Meanwhile, I am proud that my first born is off to the #16th in the list, the #2 in terms of non selecting public schools. I am sure she will do well there, as will her brother who will join her next year.

What did you learn today?

Today we learned

About 15 years ago, I remember watching a real bad Bruce Willis movie – I mean really bad – The Story of Us, don’t watch it, it’s dreadful . But it had one saving grace. The family depicted always sat down for an evening meal together, and every night the Dad (Willis) made his kids tell everyone one thing they learned at school that day. Just one thing that they didn’t know yesterday.

Watching this (before I had kids of my own) a nerve struck me about this as an idea. ‘How was school today?‘ gets the normal grunt and “OK‘” from the teens. Making them come up with something they actually learned today to the evening dinner table does not allow them to get away with a throw away line. They have to explain something they learned today that they didn’t know yesterday. Try it, kids love it.

Not only does this keep the conversation going around the dinner table, it sends an important signal to your children – as their parents you are interested in their education, and they can explain something that maybe even their parents did not know. On all sorts of levels, this is fabulous.

When our kids began school, we started doing this every night. It works a treat. We’ve been at it for years now. It’s automatic. They are now clamouring to the be the first one to tell us something they learned today. We take an active, real interest in our kids’ education, and we learn something ourselves. The signal this gives off is very powerful.

I was a teacher for 13 years, and now I’ve been a parent of 13 years. I can say that the whole education system can be boiled down into one strong premise: it’s not the fancy school you send your kids to, it’s the fact that education works as a triangle: the school is one corner of that triangle, the child is the other, and a supportive home life/parents is the other. All have to work together. Each is as important as each other. You cannot default learning (or parenting for that matter) to the school, it’s a triumvirate. If one (or two) corners are weak, education is weakened. One element cannot do all the heavy lifting – it’s a team game.

The simple act of asking your kids what they learned today closes the loop perfectly.

Don’t just take my word for it. This is steeped in educational research. In fact, a new online service has been developed in Perth that looks to promote just this – an app that updates parents in 60 seconds about what their kids learned today – simply called ‘Today We Learned‘, it won the RAC Seed Spark accelerator top prize of $25,000 (as the best new tech idea in WA) and the team are currently being mentored and are looking to commercialise the idea.

So, why not ask your kids what they learned today at school? This simple act, done regularly over many years, could be the single most important thing you do to improve your childrens’ educational outcomes.

Perth, the MBA and tech startups

Business Because

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You learn most when you teach

Teach Learn

In order to teach something, you first have to know it well. More than that, you need to know how to communicate that learning so it becomes the learning of someone else. That is a different plane entirely.

When I was a school teacher, I found my understanding of Economics grew each year as I researched it more, found new ways to get the concepts across, and came across different classrooms with a wide variety of learning styles. Some people learnt most by doing exercises, some by hearing it explained well, some others liked to see it first, or from understanding a logical flow. As a rule of thumb, I found that I had to explain most central concepts in at least three different ways before most “got it“.

The local primary school my children attend has a dynamic new Principal who told me once: “Children learn 80% of what they learn from other children; the trouble is that 80% of it is wrong!” So the trick becomes, teach the children to teach others the right stuff, and in the right way. Collaboration is key. Who sits with who, and how they are arranged is critical to this working. You also need to train the teachers to this new way of learning. It’s amazing to witness it in practice. And yet, when you think about it, it all makes perfect sense.

Once  I switched to business about 15 years ago, I quickly realised that I had to “educate to sell“. Especially as I was in a new industry (internet) and was trying to convince hard-nosed salespeople who had done things one way for many years with great success to change their ways entirely. I had to teach them about the new media and how to use it. I was learning too. Years later, I hired a consultant to go out and ask why our clients used us. He reported back that “They look on you as their ‘interweb’ guru, who explains all this techie stuff they need to know, and keep them up with all the latest.” I suppose the teacher in me never went away.

Education theory already backs this up:

  • we retain 5% of what we hear
  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what we see
  • 50% of what we discuss
  • 75% of what we practice (do)
  • 90% of what we teach others

Try teaching someone today; and encourage a culture of teaching and learning in your organisation. You’ll be amazed at the spread of knowledge that results. You’ll learn most yourself. Learning organisations are always the most successful and longest lasting.

REBarCamp raises the bar

Images from Perth REBarCamp 2012

[tweetmeme source=”ChazGunningham” only_single=false]RE BarCamp Perth 2012 was a distinct improvement on last year. Not to say the last year’s was not good, but this year (perhaps because some of us had done it before?) involved more sharing amongst attendees. And the more you gave, the more you took away.

For those of you not familiar with the rebarcamp concept, it started in the tech industry in the States where programmers would come together and exchange code on projects they were collaborating on.

The concept switched over to real estate about five years ago when some real estate agents in San Francisco came together to try and share practices and ideas amongst themselves. A novel concept, the older and wiser heads would think this was sacrilege in what is traditionally a dog eat dog industry.

The REBarCamp concept has now gone around the world with the first one in Australia being held in Sydney last year shortly followed by our first one in Perth last October.

REBarCamp group in action

So there was a bit of nervous tension and excitement around the second annual one held at the Balmoral Hotel in East Vic Park last Friday – coincidently the same day another REBarCamp was going on in Tucson Arizona (#rebctuc).

Given the time difference we were up first, with agents sharing their ideas and experiences on such diverse subjects as vendor paid advertising, using video, breaking into a new areas, using Facebook and blogging, using your website, search engine optimization among others. Basically the idea was that if everyone could go away with sum knowledge of the 60 people present then everyone would be better off for the day. And that is how it proved.

I felt this year was better than last years as about half the crowd had been to one before, so this set the tone from the outset. There was more sharing and giving going on, and we have more sponsorship which allowed the attendees to have lunch, morning and afternoon tea and even a sundowner paid for along with the excellent venue, the venerable old lady that is the Balmoral pub.

How did we fare in comparison to Tucson? Well the Perth tweeters got up 98-38 in the (not serious) hashtag battle, and everyone seemed to go away buzzing. One participant was heard to say “I have learned so much from today, now it’s up to me to go away and implement it!”.

Hats off to the volunteers who organized it notably Peter Fletcher, Natalie Hoye, Lee Baston and Bill Atkinson, plus all the sponsors who were so numerous we had to print off two banners to capture them all. I got a tremendous amount out of it persoanlly and came away learning more about how agents use databases and CRM’s, what some are doing with video and some new things I’d not heard of before. Thanks to everyone involved, and roll on REBarCamp 2013.

Private Schools don’t own Excellence

[tweetmeme source=”ChazGunningham” only_single=false]  Aged just 10, I was packed off to a private boarding school, where I would complete my education over the next 8 years. I had no choice in the matter, and I had a good time and got a decent education. With two older brothers at private boarding schools, my parents would have made sacrifices to afford this, and I am sure they believed they were doing the right thing, and doing the best for us. Their intentions were honourable, and I love them for that.

Aged 23, bright eyed and ready to change the world, I started my teaching career in a government school just north of London. During my teacher training year, I had practiced teaching classes that were so tough, if half the class were sitting down for most of the lesson, it was an achievement. I shudder to think back on it now, I must have delivered some pretty ordinary (but spirited) lessons. I was hooked. The dynamic of the classroom, the raw energy of the classes, the challenge, the amazing non monetary rewards. I was changing the world, well, some of the worlds of those I came into contact with. Education is a change agent.

When I moved to Singapore, a local government school was not an option, and I had seven happy years at a large expat school. When I later moved down to Perth, a private school worked as I wanted to complete a full time MBA, which then changed my whole career around. So I’ve had experiences of private and public, both as a student, teacher and now a parent. From all sides you might think.

Today, my children are both at the local primary school, which last year became an “independent public school” (IPS), meaning the Principal could select and retain staff rather than have that decided by the rules of the Education Department. It also means the school has slightly more autonomy, an elected Board, writes its own Constitution and business plan, and decides how to spend some of the discretionary funds (such as maintenance money). I was elected to the Board, and have just taken over as Chair. We have a new Principal. We select our own teachers, and last year appointed a former State Teacher of the Year from 168 applicants. There is a buzz about the place, parents are more involved (the P&C raised over $50,000 last year) and there’s a feeling we are going places.

All this for the good. Why can’t public schools strive for excellence? Should we apologise for demanding this? Aren’t our children as deserving as those that ‘go private’? I have nothing against private schools (went to them, taught in them) but they do not own the word “excellence”. Their model is a self fulfilling one – make something expensive (infers higher quality), select the brightest talent from the population that can afford it and select the teachers, and hey presto, your academic results are better. This then breeds an aura of excellence. The buildings shine, the school uniform shines, the sign at the entry way shines. It’s a sacrifice for most to afford it, but the education of your children is worth it right?

When I taught at the nearby private school, I enjoyed it, but towards the end of my time I realized that a cardboard cutout could really have been teaching my TEE class, and 80% of them would still go off to UWA to do a BComm degree. No challenge left. I was also shocked to witness the worst bullying ever (some by the teachers), and then be told “it’s much better in this school than the others“.

This week I was asked to attend a nearby primary school meeting as they are contemplating ‘IPS’. Some parents agonized over selecting the best teachers. “What about the hard to staff schools, shouldn’t the best teachers go there? … our kids will do OK” (an exact quote). I have a few issues with this thinking, noble though it aims to be. Why can’t we have the best for our children? Are we to decide that mediocrity is OK? Why should the public system just be an amorphous blog of “doing OK”? Why can’t our children aspire to be whatever they want or imagine to be? Why should parents feel they have to make huge sacrifices ($20,000 per child per year) to get excellence from the private system? Who is going to stop the good teachers going there?

In fact, IPS allows the parents to get more involved, and the school to self manage more. That’s it. This means the government can concentrate on the tougher schools, sorting them out. This is precisely what does and should happen.

Excellence does not mean elitism. It means striving for the highest standards possible – in behaviour, manners, hard work, respecting others, taking pride in what you do and your school and the work of your team/others… and yes the best possible in academic, sporting, arts and music. It means having the best resources (teachers yes, but also interactive whiteboards, tablets and computers, classrooms, trips, art, music programs, sport). These are NOT the exclusive domain of fee paying schools. They can be the domain of the local village primary school. No question.

So let’s not be scared of excellence, let’s embrace it. We cannot solve all the problems of the state education system, but we can have excellence in our public schools, from K-12, school by school.