Jul 232014
business planning session

“Every large company is just another color of a spore in a petrie dish.”

For the latest Decoding the New Economy video Internet Pioneer Doc Searls discusses The Respect Network, online privacy and the future of business on the web.

Doc Searls is one of the internet’s pioneers who helped write The Cluetrain Manifesto that laid out many of the ideas that underpinned the philosophies driving the early days of the internet.

Searls’ visit to Sydney was part of the rolling worldwide launch of the Respect Network, a system designed to improve internet users’ privacy through ‘personal clouds’ of information where people can choose to share data with companies and others.

A big reset button on business

In many ways The Respect Network shows how the internet has evolved since the days of the Cluetrain Manifesto, something that Searls puts in context.

“We wrote the Cluetrain Manifesto in 1995,” says Searls. “At that time Microsoft ruled the world, Apple was considered a failure – Steve Jobs had come along and they had the iMac but it was all yet to be proven – Google barely existed and Facebook didn’t exist at all.”

“On the one hand we saw the internet, we being the four authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, and this whole new thing in the world that basically hit a big reset button on ‘business as usual’”

“It did that. I think we’re vindicated on that.”

Resetting business

“What we have now are new industrial giants; Apple became an industrial giant, Microsoft are fading away, Nokia was the number one smartphone company and they’re all but gone.”

One of the key things with today’s markets in Searls’ view is the amount of information that businesses can collect on their customers; something that ties into the original Cluetrain idea of all markets being conversations.

With the evolution of Big Data and the internet of things, Searls sees challenges for companies using old marketing methods which rely upon online tracking. Something that’s a challenge for social media services and many of the existing internet giants.

“The interesting thing is there’s a lot more intelligence that a company can get directly from their customers from things they already own than following us around on the internet.”

Breaking the silos

Searls also sees the current trend towards the internet being divided into little empires as a passing phase, “every company wants a unique offering but we need standards.”

For Searls the key thing about the current era internet is we’re only at the beginning of a time that empowers the individual,  “the older I get, the earlier it seems.”

“Anyone of us can do anything,” Searls says. “That’s the power – I’m optimistic about everything.”

Jul 212014
teamwork in the cloud

Today in Technology Spectator, I have a piece on collaboration based around the Google and Deloitte paper released last week.

At the moment Google are on a marketing campaign promoting Apps for Business, for a previous campaign I prepared The Future of Teamwork which examined the benefits of cloud computing for industry.

It’s interesting how the message hasn’t changed a great deal in the last five year, despite it being valid.

Jul 192014

“Why are you travelling by train?” I was asked by the expat project manager as I planned a site visit to a factory being built by our company on the outskirts of Bangkok.

For me, that two hour third class train trip was an opportunity to get out of the pampered bubble that is life as an expat in a country like Thailand and get a brief, if incomplete, picture of daily life in a rapidly changing nation.

Business Class Syndrome — a view of the world seen through the prism privileged lifestyle that isn’t shared by most people — is a phenomenon that afflicts many of our business and political leaders who are insulated from the real world.

Over the past three days I’ve been dipping in and out of various economic forums as the B20 and the Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance conference being held in Sydney this week ahead of the G20 Heads of Government meeting being held in Cairns next October.

Both events illustrate Business Class Syndrome as global experts travel the world discussing issues like youth unemployment, third world growth and startup businesses that are beyond their experience.

None of this is to say the speakers at these events were wrong or dishonest, just their ideas — however well informed and intentioned — are developed through a selective view of the world.

That selective view has to be kept in mind when reading the recommendations of such experts. White, middle aged, western men don’t have a monopoly on the planet’s good ideas.

In the case to the Bangkok project managers the expats didn’t really care about what was going on; their job was to build and move on, which they (and I) did.

However I hope those hard seat journeys left me a little more understanding about Thailand than those who wouldn’t leave an airconditioned site hut.

Indian Railways sleeper image by dforest via wikimedia

Jul 122014

A Virginian restaurant, the Serbian Lion, went out of business because its Google Places listing was hacked, reports Wired.

The proprietor of the Serbian Lion, Rene Bertagna, wasn’t aware his online listing showed the restaurant as being closed on weekends and as a result customers stopped showing up, he alleges in a law suit against Google.

As a result of result of the drop in earnings, the restaurant entered a death spiral of falling service standards, declining customers and further cuts until the place closed down.

While it’s difficult to judge how true Bertagna’s claim is – it’s quite possible the listing was a mistake by Google’s data scrapers or an oversight by a customer putting the data into the services – the story does illustrate how important getting the correct information into online services like Google Places, Microsoft Bing and Yelp.

Bertagna himself appears to be a classic case of roadkill on the information superhighway with his claims not to be a computer or internet user.

Bertagna immigrated to the U.S. from northern Italy when he was young. He’s 74 now, and, he says, doesn’t own a computer—he’d heard of the Internet and Google but used neither. Suddenly, a technological revolution of which he was only dimly aware was killing his business. His accountant phoned Google and in an attempt to change the listing, but got nowhere. Bertagna eventually hired an Internet consultant who took control of the Google Places listing and fixed the bad information—a relatively simple process.

The sad tale of Rene Bertagna and the Serbian Lion illustrates just how important it is for operators in the hospitality industry to be on top of their listings and online presence. This is where the customers are.

Sadly, this story isn’t news – that customers are using the web to find local businesses and read reviews of neighbourhood establishments has been the case for a decade, the move to mobile has been obvious for over five years.

For all local businesses, it’s a core responsibility to make sure online listings are correct along with having an up to date website. If you don’t, you only have yourself to blame if the customers don’t show up.

Jul 082014
Digital Day for Small Business September 2011showing how to use cloud computing and social media to grow your business

“My job is to spread good news,” says Guy Kawasaki of his role as Canva’s Chief Evangelist.

Kawasaki was speaking to Decoding the New Economy about his role in popularising the online design tool which he sees as democratising force in the same way that Apple was to computers and Google to search.

Democratisation is a theme consistently raised by startups and businesses disrupting existing industries and Kawasaki continues this theme.

“The world is becoming a meritocracy; it’s not about your pedigree, it’s about your competence,” states Kawasaki.

Falling barriers to entry

What excites Kawasaki about the present business climate are the falling barriers to starting a venture. “Things are getting cheaper and cheaper, in technology you had to buy a room full of servers, have IT staff in multiple cities. Today you call Amazon or Rackspace and host it in the sky.”

“Before you had to buy advertising for a concert, now if you’re adept at using social media – with Google Plus, Facebook,Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram – you have a marketing platform that fast, ubiquitous and cheap.”

“What excites me is there are going to be more technologies, more products and more services because the barriers are so low.”

Creating a valued and viable product

For those businesses starting into this new environment, Kawasaki believes the most important thing a startup should focus on is getting a prototype to market; “at that point you will know you’re truly onto something.”

“If you build a prototype that works you may never have to write a business plan,” says Kawasaki. “You’d never have to make a Powerpoint, you may never have to raise money as you could probably bootstrap.”

Kawasaki view is the MVP – Minimum Viable Product – model of lean product development should have another two ‘V’s added for ‘Valuable’ and “Validated’.

“You can create a product that’s viable, ie you could make money, but is it valuable in that it changes the world?”

“Is your first product going to validate your vision? If it’s not then why are doing it?”

The story Kawasaki tells is the tools to deliver valued and viable products are more accessible than ever before; that’s good news for entrepreneurs and consumers but bad for stodgy incumbents.

Jul 062014

“It’s my absolute dream job” says Melanie Perkins of her role as CEO and co-founder of online design app Canva in the latest Decoding the New Economy video.

Since being set up ten months ago, Canva has grown to over a half a million people using the tool to create graphics for applications such as books, marketing banners and website logos.

The idea for Canva came out of the difficulties Melanie found in using design software while lecturing at university and it’s growth has been as a result of the idea catching the imagination of investors like Lars Rasmussen, one of the driving forces behind Google Maps, and Guy Kawasaki, Apple’s original Mac evangelist.

“We’ve got some great things coming in the next few months,” says Perkins. “So stay tuned.

Jul 032014

Having deep pockets is a great help in business as the online cab war in San Francisco shows.

As competition heats up on the streets of San Francisco, Uber is trying to put Lyft out of business by offering fares below what they pay drivers.

This has been the long term tactic of Amazon; raise a lot of money and then run your main line of business at a loss.

Amazon have shown you can do this for a long time if investors stay patient. Fighting it is difficult if you don’t have deep pockets yourself.

In the long term though you can’t see this being good for customers, although in the meantime San Franciscans can enjoy cheap taxis.