May 072016
 
singapore-airlines-777

I’ve spent much of today, interviewing Australian tech company founders on why they moved to San Francisco for a project I’m doing.

One question I’m asking is what advice they would give others planning a similar move.

Every response so far has been, “do it now. Don’t wait.”

So what are you waiting to do?

Mar 172016
 
walking the shop floor is important to business management

Last week Australia’s Fairfax Media announced the company will cut another 120 editorial jobs at the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age. What strategies beyond cuts can save old media companies as traditional advertising revenues dry up?

For decades, the print and broadcast media was incredibly profitable as they provided an advertising platform for businesses and individuals. While television revenues have held up, the rest of the media industry has seen their income collapse.

In the early days of the web the hope was display advertising would provide revenues for online publishers, however it turns out  readers are blind to the ads and, should the messages become too intrusive or resource heavy, people will install ad-blockers.

One revenue channel for publishers is ‘content marketing’ or ‘branded content’ where advertisers sponsor specific stories. At the Sydney Ad:Tech conference earlier this week Asia-Pacific Regional Advertising Director for the New York Times, Julia Whiting, described what the iconic masthead finds works in this medium.

Whiting says there are five key factors in making branded content work for advertisers.

  • Give something of value. Be entertaining, informative, educative or provide some utility.
  • Tell an authentic story. Make the link between the brand and story as subtle as possible.
  • Produce high quality content. Consider how a newsroom cover the story and what would hook the reader.
  • Choose the right environment. Advertisers have to align with publishers that have the right brand values and audience.
  • Targeted campaigns. Use data to define and find target audiences then use that information to deliver relevant content.

The question with the branded content is how explicit the advertiser’s message or sponsorship can be before readers start losing trust.

Becoming creepy

Another aspect is creepiness. One of the campaigns Whiting showcased was The Creekmores, the story of a young family who travelled the world as the mother was dying of breast cancer that was sponsored by Holiday Inn.

On a personal level, this writer is uncomfortable with such a personal story being associated with a multinational brand and wonders if the family would have been happy for their tale to be part of a branded content campaign for a hotel chain.

For branded content to really work, that ‘alignment’ between the publisher, audience and advertiser is essential and in turn ultimately relies upon the credibility of the outlet.

In the case of the New York Times, that credibility rests upon good writing and strong editorial values, although the paper hasn’t been immune from scandal itself.

Good, well edited writing may turn out to be the greatest asset for today’s media outlets as smaller publications such as The Economist, Punch and The Spectator see readership and revenues increase.

The Guardian, ironically an outlet that itself is cutting 250 staff, reports these publications are succeeding due to well written articles. “If you produce journalism that is not just better but significantly better than what’s free on the web, people will pay for it,” says Spectator editor Fraser Nelson.

Which brings us back to Australia’s Fairfax where a succession of clueless managements have eroded editorial standards. Three years ago former editor Eric Beecher wrote a scathing account of his time at the company where an incompetent and unqualified board flailed in the face of market changes it could barely comprehend.

One of the villains of that tale, board chairman Roger Corbett, was a successful Chief Executive of the Woolworths supermarket chain. That he was so obsessed with a failed business model and protecting margins by slashing costs indicates much about the nature of Australia’s insular corporate world.

A consequence of Fairfax’s cost cutting obsession has been foreign outlets have stepped into the market with The Guardian, Daily Mail, Buzz Feed and a range of other sites setting up in the country – something that further squeezes the incumbent’s market position.

In opening her Ad:Tech presentation, the NY Times’ Julia Whiting noted Australia was the outlet’s fifth largest global market, something undoubtedly driven by the decline in the SMH’s and Age’s output.

The travails of Fairfax and the successes of smaller outlets show what might be an encouraging trend in the media – that a quality product actually attracts an audience and advertisers.

If that’s true, the managements that mindlessly cut costs that hurt the quality of their core product may be accelerating the demise of their businesses.

Oct 212015
 
google-street-view-in-the-swiss-alps

“In all my issues at Google, I knew I had no idea what to do, but I knew that I had the best team ever assembled to figure out what to do,” says Google – and now Alphabet – chairman Eric Schmidt in an interview with LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.

Schmidt’s interview is a great insight into managing fast growth companies,”almost all small companies are full of energy and no process”. While he reflects on his early days at stricken companies like Sun (“tumultuous and political”) and Novell (“the books were cooked, and people were frauds”).

Moving to Google he found all of his management skills exercised at a company with a unique culture and rapidly growing headcount.

One notable anecdote is how Larry Page kept a 100k cheque from an early investor in his pocket for a month before cashing it.

Compare and contrast that attitude with the current startup mania where by the end of that day a media release would be issued proclaiming the company to be a new unicorn on that valuation.

Schmidt’s view, like many others, is that the real key to success in the company is the people. This echoes the interview with Meltwater’s CEO earlier this week where Jørn Lyseggen described how the key to starting a venture in a new country was the first five people hired.

One great takeaway Schmidt has from his time at Google is how great companies are created through the Minimal Viable Product method, “the way you build great products is small teams with strong leaders who make tradeoffs and work all night to build a product that just barely works.Look at the iPod. Look at the iPhone. No apps. But now it’s 70% of the revenue of the world’s most valuable company.”

Ultimately though Schmidt’s advice is to make decisions quickly, “do things sooner and make fewer mistakes. The question is, what causes me not to make those decisions quickly.”

“Some people are quicker than others, and it’s not clear which actually need to be answered quickly. Hindsight is always that you make the important decisions more quickly.”

Jun 192015
 
Accountants and bookkeeping ledger

Investment advisers could be the next occupation to face automation reports Bloomberg Business with the prediction two trillion dollars worth of investment funds could be managed by computers by the end of the decade.

An important aspect of the change to computerised investment advice is the reduced fees that makes professional knowledge far cheaper and more accessible.

The downside, as Bloomberg points out, is that there may be fewer investment advisers enjoying corporate hospitality and conventions in future so there may be other industries feeling the job losses too.

Jun 092015
 
Telstra_consumer_insights_centre_insight_ring

The Twentieth Century was defined by abundant and cheap energy while this century will be shaped by our access to massive amounts of data.

How do managers deal with the information age along with the changes bought about by technologies like the Internet of Things, 3D printing, automation and social media?

Management in the Data Age looks at some of the opportunities and risks that face those running businesses. It was originally prepared for a private corporate briefing in June 2015.

Some further background reading on the topic include the following links.

 

May 142015
 
HEXO+_ autonomous drone front view

An old saying is necessity is the mother of invention and nowhere is this shown better than walking the exhibition floor of the Internet of Things World conference in San Francisco today.

The Wallflower is a good example of this, thought up of after the founder had to rush home when his partner thought she’d left the stove on (she hadn’t), he thought there had to be something that could monitor this on the market and when he discovered there wasn’t, he invented it.

Snowboarding needs

Probably the sexiest device on the floor is the Hexo+, an autonomous drone designed for video shots. Use the app to tell you what shot you want and it the drone will take off and video you.

Hexo+ was founded by Xavier de Le Rue, a French professional snowboarder who wanted to get shots of his maneuvers but couldn’t afford a crew or a helicopter to do so. The preprogrammed flight patterns represent the most common camera sequences optimised for the GoPro camera.

Probably the most trivial is the MySwitchMate, a mechanical device that fits over a wall light switch. Set it up and you can use its app to flick your lights on and off.

The device was born out of the founder wanting to remotely control his college dorm lights from his bed. While the market seems to be those who don’t want to get out of bed, its main market are those who would like remotely controlled lights but can’t install a smart lighting system.

A niche from a need

What all three of these devices show is how a need by an inventor spurred a  product’s development, in that respect the Internet of Things is no different from any other wave of innovation.

So if you wonder “why doesn’t someone sell this?” it might be an opportunity to set up your own business or invent an IoT device to meet that need.

May 102015
 
Microsoft-HoloLens-MixedWorld-RGB

A few weeks ago the source of all wisdom for micro-businesses, Flying Solo, and I did a webinar on Future Proofing Your Business.

During the presentation we looked at the big trends that will affect business over the next decade with a focus on some of the demographic, economic and technological changes that are happening today.

The technologies are evolving rapidly and some of those we focused on as being business changing are the driverless car, automation, robotics, the internet of things and cloud computing.

As with all good presentations we took as many audience questions as possible and the feedback was particularly pointed on one topic, “given the degree of automation, where do the jobs come from?”

Finding the jobs of the future

While to some it might be surprising to hear this from a business audience, it’s very much a valid question given most of the solo operators tuned in are in consulting type roles that will probably be eliminated or affected by algorithms or robotics, if not outsourcing through o-desk, Airtasker or similar services.

Exactly what will be the jobs of the future is a difficult question to answer as predicting what tomorrow will look like is a fraught task, predicting in 1990 that web designers and online analytics would be a growth field ten years later is a good example.

A changing economy

What we can be sure of though is that business and employment does change and evolve around technological advances. The third slide of the presentation shows Sydney’s Circular Quay in the 1920s.

The economy though was still predominantly farm based, in Australia around a quarter of the workforce were in agriculture – in the US 27% of the population were farmers – in both countries today it’s below three percent.

All of those displaced eventually found jobs, although the transition costs were great as John Steinbeck documented in the Grapes of Wrath.

Free your mind and the rest will follow

So the key to future proofing your business lies in not being one of Steinbeck’s Oakies and that requires a mental shift, we need to be data literate and deploy the tools that mean our companies are more responsive to changing markets.

One of the keys to business survival in a changing world is to use the right tools, particularly cloud computing services some of which I’ve listed below.

We only touched on a small number of ways that the world is changing, for instance the image illustrating this post is Microsoft’s Holo Lens and we haven’t mentioned Virtual Reality at all. The key is to keep an open and flexible mind.

Office applications

One of the biggest costs for business is the software for writing letters and working on spreadsheet. There’s free and paid for services that you can use on the cloud that cut your costs and increase your office productivity.

Google Docs
Evernote
Zoho Docs

Website platforms

There’s plenty of free, or cheap, tools to get your name out on the web. Don’t forget to register you business name’s domain though.

WordPress
Blogger
Wix

Design software

In a crowded world good design matters, Canva is a good quick way to get a good looking logo and graphics for your business.

Canva

Accounting services

One of the greatest challenges for small business is doing their books and accounting software is a must have for every commercial operation. Online services reduce costs and increase flexibility for businesses of all sizes.

Saasu
Xero

MYOB Business Essentials

Customer Relationship Management

CRM software helps you monitor and understand who your customers are and what you’re doing for them.

Salesforce
Sugar CRM

Backups

Backing up is critical for your business. Having an online automated backup helps you ensure essential data is safe.

Carbonite

Shared storage

Sharing files with others helps your business be more efficient as teams can get work done without using the same computer.

Dropbox
Box.net

Communications

Voice over IP, or VoIP, is a massive cost saver and most of them are cloud services.

Skype
MyNetFone

Project management

Running and managing projects is a complex task made much easier with a good project management program to keep track of tasks and time.

Basecamp
Zoho Projects

Outsourcing

Cloud computing and online services are making outsourcing possible for small businesses. With a browser and a credit card, you too can be in the outsourcing business.

Upwork (formerly O-Desk
Freelancer