Blog Archives: Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneur Events. Get out the building and explore!

Taking entrepreneur events for granted.

For many years I have frequented entrepreneur events in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Some might say I am addicted.  But, after you read this post, you will know why it is addictive.  And, you might want some too.

Entrepreneurs are remarkably good at getting focused. Sometimes this works against them. Like when they stay holed up in their garage for months on end building a product, only to emerge at the end with something that nobody wants. All that focus and energy is lost.

Last night, I attended a gathering of entrepreneurs who were interested in New Zealand’s new accelerator programme: Lightning Lab. And, last night I got reminded why entrepreneurial events are so freaking awesome!

The people you meet are awesome!

When you get out of the building and go to events with other entrepreneurs you meet crazy, energetic, passionate people. These are people that are where you are, or have been where you’re going. They want to help as much as possible with your journey, because they’ve been through the struggle.

If you’re looking for great co-founders in your startup, you will possibly meet the your future team at these very events.

People know people.

It’s crazy how much serendipitous value comes out of events like these. I get the most value out of the connections I make, and the introductions that are made with me.

When you’re talking to people about your venture and the problems you’re facing, entrepreneurs will always offer you solutions. You’ll be told “You need to meet <fill in awesome, valuable person’s name>”. Make sure you get these introductions because over time, the more people you know, the more you are able to achieve.

So much knowledge in one room.

Entrepreneurs have so much knowledge and insight, they’re just bursting to share it with you. They learn through experiences,  and boy do they have a lot of experiences!

When you’re out at events share the problems you’re facing and questions you have, you’ll get lots of advice. Listen and ask deeper questions so that you really understand the advice.

Note: not all advice is good advice, so make sure you listen and get insights from the advice, but take most of it with a grain of salt. Your hardest job is figuring out which advice fits your situation and applying it.

An outside perspective.

One of the greatest benefits of getting out of your garage and attending events is that you get some true and honest feedback from your peers. They will challenge your idea and beliefs (and many will call you out on the ones they don’t believe in). This feedback is an important part of making your idea better. Either you will use it to make the idea better, or you will be more resilient in believing that you have more insight than other people. Hopefully, whatever you choose will result in your success. But, enjoy this feedback – it’s free and it’s valuable!

Give what you can, too.

The only way anybody gets any value at events is because someone chose to give it away. When you go to events remember you know people and you have knowledge too. Keep an eye out for where you can add value to other entrepreneurs. With everyone helping everyone out, all us kiwis can take on the world with our ideas.

Go get em!

Awesome Entrepreneur Events in Auckland

Some awesome events I like to attend:

If I’ve missed out an awesome event, please add it to the comments below, and I’ll update this blog post.

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Steve Jobs: The Rebel Wrangler from Apple

I’m in the midst of reading Steve Jobs ’ Biography which I’ve been enjoying whilst absorbing the Auckland summer sun.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was an incredible human being. I think we all recognise this. But his methods of working with people have been challenged and brought into question many times by many people – especially after his death. I’ve found it fascinating to read the biography and take look into the life, attitude and practices that Steve Jobs lived.

Today, let’s take a look at how he chose to interact with people, and why this worked when working with rebels at Apple.

Steve was an artist. A believer and upholder of perfection, fineness and distinction. Take a second to understand that about him. Understand that this is what drives him. Understand that this is what he expects of other people. And, understand that he wanted to lead a company that produced perfection.

Not every human being understands or wishes to pursue perfection. In fact, a very small portion of humanity even believes perfection is possible. Steve understood this paradigm. But, he also understood that this was a mindset. And, minds can be changed and shaped and moulded.

Steve knew that any person could be a perfectionist. And, he had a method of producing this in people. He created himself as an authority. He created himself as the benchmark. If Steve said something was “shit”, then you knew you had to do more, try harder, achieve closer to perfection.

Once you understood this about Steve, and you start to learn that you too are producing perfection, you finally have the leg to stand on and challenge him.

Steve created a pathway to perfection. First, you would have the shit beaten out of you so that your mind and ego were supple and manageable. Second, you would be challenged to reach perfection. Third, you would reach perfection and be challenged by Steve, at which point you returned fire and stood for your work. And finally, you would be rewarded with recognition and respect for your work. After working with Steve and walking this pathway, you emerge as a wholly different person. A transformed human being.

For this alone, Steve was an enlightened being. He created a pathway to realisation and he “guided” (aka pushed) you through it. It may not be the perfect way for everyone, but it was one way to do it.

The second incredible feat that Steve achieved was to create a functioning organisation of rebels. It is well-known that Steve’s hiring philosophy was to create teams out of rebels (“the Pirates”). These are people who refuse to follow rules. Who fight the system. Who listen to no one. These are entrepreneurs, visionaries and the elite of the intellectual bracket. But these are also the most powerful people around. They choose to act. They choose to do things. They are the ones that change the world.

Have you any idea how difficult it is to bring thousands of these people together into a team?  It is impossible!

The only way to have achieved this outcome would have been to be like Steve Jobs. To cut them down to size and show them that they are nothing compared to their potential. To push them to breaking point. To remove their ego and their beliefs.

Steve did what he had to do to create an organisation completely filled with entrepreneurs. He created an ecosystem where people of the highest intellect and ego would be broken down and rebuilt into transformed human beings, who believed anything was possible, and that they could be the ones to produce “anything is possible”.

Without this understanding and without this methodology, Steve could not have created Apple (or Pixar). No one could have achieved this. It is a prerequisite for the result.

Steve was a great man.  He achieved the impossible.  His gang of rebels achieved great things. But none of that was possible without the systematic breaking down of egos of the most rebellious and powerful people on earth – entrepreneurs.

But, if Steve was the reason that this gang of rebels were kept in line, and were kept performing, what now?

What about the future of Apple?  Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs.

How will Apple continue to be what it has been without this great savant at the helm?

Money: Make as much as possible! Or is there something else?

Thinking about starting a business or already working on your business ambitions?  What sparked that drive, that ambition, that passion? Was it all about making “as much money as possible”?

Having just read this article about Money and Passion by David Wilson on the Audacious Blog, it got me thinking about what drives me as an entrepreneur.

It is worth noting that David’s article is missing a lot of content, and if you are an entrepreneur reading it, I encourage you to ask more people about this topic and do further research.

I would be cautious about starting a business “to make as much money as possible”.   Because, sadly, many entrepreneurs will start businesses with this intention and hardly make any money.

What happens then is that you lose motivation – you can only live on ramen noodles for so long before “it’s just enough”. If this is your reason for starting a business, I encourage you to ask why you want to make as much money as possible.

Many entrepreneurs that I meet and interact with share this ambition with me – and when we delve deeper into that motivation together, something incredible emerges.

Often, entrepreneurs want money so that they can make a difference

— invest in others, give money as philanthropy, start and support socially-conscious businesses.

Too many entrepreneurs believe that they have to make money first before they can make a difference. Why do you believe that?

Think about it…Right now you have time, you know people. You could start making a difference today. It might be a small difference now,   but you can grow. If you spend your whole life trying to make money so that you can make a difference when you finally have money, instead of just making a difference, what if you FAIL?  You lose all that time, all that energy and all that potential impact.

I invite you to consider that you can make a difference TODAY – at the same time as you make money. The world is changing, social enterprise is a massive and emerging form of business – you can make a difference whilst making money!

When you are doing things every day with a larger purpose, you will get access to contentment, fulfilment and success. Be genuine with others and follow your true ambitions. Don’t settle for anything less. Be a small hero first, and grow into a big hero.

What difference do you want to make in the world?

Entrepreneur, why share your idea?

 

I recently read a great story by Natasha on the Audacious Blog, about the value of sharing your ideas as an entrepreneur. Here’s a few extra thoughts that I left in the comments:

I’ve been an entrepreneur for over four years, and nowadays I interact with entrepreneurs every day.

“Not sharing your idea is the biggest barrier facing first-time-entrepreneurs.”

It’s like shooting yourself in the foot.  The most important part about entrepreneurship is the ability to learn and iterate (pivot or change).

If you’re not sharing your idea this is what you lose out:

(1) Initial validation

Good ideas have a “wow!” factor. If you’re not getting that “wow!” response, either your idea isn’t great, or you’re not pitching it right. (Ask the receiver of your pitch for feedback at this point. I recommend asking them to play Perfection Game on your idea and/or your pitch. If you’re not sure how to do this, ask me on Twitter.)

(2) Perfect pitch comes with practice

Explaining your idea to people:

  • helps you understand it better yourself,
  • helps you understand how people perceive what you are saying, and
  • allows you to learn how to pitch it better.

If people aren’t getting it – listen to the questions they are asking…is everyone asking the same questions? Could you adjust your pitch to incorporate the answers to the common questions you keep being asked?

(3) Feedback and contribution

When you share ideas with people (and they’re excited about them), then they almost always come up with ideas. Listen to what they are saying and keep their suggestions in mind. They might be describing the perfect solution…but you have to have your ears (and mind) open to their suggestions for you to hear it.

(Some of the best ideas for Copono and Digitribal have come from people we’ve shared with, some incredible suggestions!)

(4) Team mates

Sharing your ideas gets people excited! They may be your first team mates and the ones to get your idea on the ground and running. Keep an ear out for people who are passionate about your idea.

There are four people in the Digitribal team and 10 people in the Copono team. A year ago, I didn’t know a single person in any of these teams – today they are my best friends. Share your idea and you will find these inspiring and amazing people. So much untapped value comes from sharing your ideas.

First-time-entrepreneurs, please consider sharing your idea with people and capturing this value!

If you want someone trustworthy to share ideas with and get some initial feedback, I’d be happy to help and have loads of experience as one of the National Organisers of Startup Weekend New Zealand.

For the entrepreneurs reading this, what other value have you gained by sharing your ideas? Share your story in the comments below.

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A Solution for Women Seeking the Future of Equality

It is both shocking and interesting that the debate around women being treated less than equal is still going on in today’s society. After the huge leaps and bounds we have made as a human race, you would think a problem as small as this would be solved by now.

I hope in reading this blog post you seek to add to the conversation, take action or stand for moving this debate forward. It is time to move on. Specifically, I will be talking about the inequality in women’s salaries, some perspective on the debate, and some actions that will resolve this issue if we all take at least one.

I am a firm believer that people should and will be paid fairly for the value they provide to a business or society. However, to get what you think you are worth, you need to ask for it.

I think a contributory factor to the statistic that women get paid 13% less than men in the same position is that women are not asking for what they are worth. And if they are asking, then they are not standing for it with resilience. If you believe you are worth $78,000 p.a. then why would you accept any less?

There is a natural human tendency to make others feel small and inadequate, this comes from our survival instinct: “If you win, I lose. If I win, you lose.” But, we are no longer animals fighting to survive. So we need to let go of this mindset.

This is mostly in the mindset of the employer. Men have controlled the job market for centuries, and arguably still do “control it”. And, many men get off on the idea that they are powerful and superior to others, women especially. This superiority comes from a difference:

  • I am better because I am white.
  • I am better because I am older and have more experience.
  • I am better because I am a man.
  • I am better because _______.

Any difference I can find between you and me, is something I can be better at than you. And, that’s the mindset dominating our society.

We really have to start reflecting on our reasons for doing anything. Am I a CEO because I want to dominate and be more powerful than others? Or am I a CEO because I want to further grow and develop this organisation.

Honestly, if your answer was the latter, then this debate would not exist. If a women employee complains to you that she earns less than an equally-placed male staff member, and she is providing equal or greater value than the male member, why not give her the salary for which she asks? An empowered, respected employee will be loyal, hard-working and substantially more productive and value-adding. The cost of disempowering your staff is: (1) higher staff turnover, (2) higher human resource costs, (3) lost brand equity, and (4) lost productivity due to poor morale.

Is 13% really worth all that cost? Or could a 13% increase in salaries for women remove this dilemma, empower your staff and unlock the hidden potential in your organisation?

(I’d bet on the latter!)

On the other hand, women could be using this debate to dominate too. What if there are two employees – one male, one female – both doing the same job, with the same responsibility…and the salaries are different?

Well, it could be bias as we have already talked about. But, it could also be a material difference in performance. The male could actually be outperforming the female, and adding more value to the organisation. If that is the case, and the woman is using the defence of “You’re paying me less because I am a woman!” then that is not fair or just. You can be sure that there are some people playing this card in the real world.

Ultimately, the solution to both these problems is transparency. If everyone knows what everyone is earning, what value they are providing, what objectives they are achieving, and what they are delivering, there can be no argument. A male cannot argue that he should be paid more when all that information is open. A female can argue for equality when something is clearly not equal. Men cannot dominate based on superiority and an empty argument about “children” or “productivity” or risk.

Now, you might argue that being open about salaries can cause a lot of conflict. And, if inequality exists in the organisation, then clearly that will be the case. But if everyone is paid according to the value they create in the organisation, then these conflicts will be irrelevant and not based on evidence. There is nothing wrong with being paid more than another person. And nothing wrong with being paid less than another person.

If you believe you can provide more value, sit down with your boss and plan out how you will do that, demonstrate you have a plan, show how you will measure your value and what you add to the organisation. With a solid proposal you should definitely have cause for an increased salary.

If you don’t get accepted and supported for this, and excuses and reasons come into play…First, listen to the reasons. Are they justified? Are they founded in reality? Do they make sense? Or are they egotistical? If you end up in an organisation or with a boss that doesn’t empower you, you need to make a choice: leave or stay.

If you stay, you will be stuck in that place complaining and fighting forever. You will be unfulfilled, dissatisfied, disempowered and disrespected. Do you want these things for yourself and your life? If not, leave. It’s your choice.

When you leave, you can do one of two things:

  • find an empowering job and boss; OR
  • start a business with an empowering culture.

It’s a sad and problematic world out there, with so few businesswomen and women entrepreneurs. From my perspective, women add significant value with the creativity and empathy they bring to a team. Often, with more women in a team the dynamic is different; personable, trusting and relaxed. I’d love to see more women taking on the lifestyle of running their own business. Starting a business can seem like a risky option, but if you do it with the right people and your team is committed to a purpose, those risks can be significantly reduced. I encourage you to attend events like Startup Weekend or courses that teach you the basics and foundations of business.

From what I can see, every person reading this post (men included) can take one of these three actions:

  1. Be a champion for transparency at your workplace. Stand up for equality, fairness and evidenced-based salaries. Stand for opportunities to demonstrate and grow your value. Will you do this? Join this Facebook page and find others like you.
  2. Find a job and a boss that empowers and enables you. Leave the organisation that doesn’t give you opportunity and respect.
  3. Start a business with others’ like you. Form a culture that empowers and enables other people.

If you won’t do any of these actions, ask yourself why? What are you holding on to?

If everyone does one of these three things:

  • the organisations that are empowering and enabling will get more amazing people and will win.
  • more great businesses will be started, which will create more jobs that are empowering.
  • the businesses that are NOT changing will gradually lose people, and face competition that is powerful and effective, until eventually they wither and die.
I can’t wait for a world of equality to exist. Can you?

What did you take from this post? What would you like to add? Please share in the comments below.

Promote CHCSW

Thanks for helping promote Christchurch Startup Weekend. You are doing a lot for NZ and NZ entrepreneurs by spreading the word and bring the entrepreneurial ecosystem together.

Please share any (/all) of the following messages:

  • Got an idea? FLASH PITCH it and win tickets to Christchurch Startup Weekend http://on.fb.me/ApkTsC
  • Are you a developer with loads of ideas and want to put them in action with a team? Come to Christchurch Startup Weekend http://bit.ly/yxqKPm
  • Love to design cool technology and interfaces? Come show your stuff at Christchurch Startup Weekend http://bit.ly/yxqKPm
  • Turn your idea into a business in 54 hours at Christchurch Startup Weekend. http://bit.ly/yxqKPm You coming?

Tweets:

Major links:

Christchurch Startup Weekend Website: http://christchurch.startupweekend.org/
Blog: http://christchurch.startupweekend.org/category/uncategorized/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AKLStartupWeekend
Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/chcsw
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Startup-Weekend-New-Zealand-3857121
Pre-Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/228146050608653/
Flash Pitch: https://www.facebook.com/events/310827475634003/
Main Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/300968269949131/

 

 

IFTTT – Automation for busy people

One of my greatest discoveries in 2011 has to be IFTTT (If This Then That).

Because I am exceptionally busy but I still want to be able to do certain things on the web, IFTTT has allowed me to do so many things in so much less time.

AU – TO – MA – TI – ON !!!

So for example, when I want to post articles that I like to Twitter…this is what I use IFTTT to do:

If
[I "star" an article in Google Reader]
then
[send a Tweet out with a link to the article]

To do this the old way I would have to (1) had to open the article on the web, (2) click the tweet button and (3) tweet it out if I was already logged in. Using IFTTT it takes me a tenth of the time and it can all happen from where I want it to happen (Google Reader).

IFTTT is amazing and it can do ANYTHING YOU WANT. Check it out and let me know what you’re doing with it in the comments below.

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Fun Marketing Idea for Sphero

I first came across Sphero when I watched Tech Stars TV a few months back. Yesterday, I watched an interview of their founders on This Week in TechStars.

If you don’t know what Sphero is “it is a Robotic Ball controlled with your smart phone!” Check it out here.

Now, this ball can do anything you want it to, and you can program any app to make it do anything you want it to. Ah…possibility…

So, I had an idea…

Wouldn’t it be cool if you set up a room with a Sphero in it, set up some obstacles (a maze or something). And then run a social campaign (using a live feed cam) that gets people all around the world to contribute one small action in order to get the sphero to do some thing or complete some objective?

I see Viral.

What else would you do with the Sphero?

Alternatively, for anyone with a cat. Completing the above setup and then creating random actions using tweets or something else, might be a great way to keep the cat entertained.

My First Startup Weekend in Auckland

In April, 2011, I attended the inaugural Startup Weekend event in New Zealand. It was held in Auckland and had around 45 participants, and 15 mentors / judges.

For those that don’t already know, Startup Weekend is a 54 hour event where entrepreneurs, designers and developers get together to come up with and execute a business idea. If you haven’t been to a SW I couldn’t recommend it enough. It is one of the most exhilirating, fun and learning-filled environments – where entrepreneurs flourish and thrive.

The first Startup Weekend was a minor failure for me and our team. Eight people got together because of an idea for a mobile app.

Then we got into the nitty-gritty research and talking to potential customers. What we found was that there was a WAY BIGGER PROBLEM. So we sat down and discussed the problem and what we had learned. We discussed for hours different solutions and prototype ideas. We must have discussed things for over 70% of the weekend. The rest of  time was spent coding up a quick protoype of an idea we all agreed on (last-minute) and preparing for the pitch.

When we finally pitched it wasn’t too bad (well executed pitch) and we could answer questions from the judges about the business. However, as a team we didn’t have a consistent understanding of the problem/solution space.

I consider this a failure of the weekend at achieving the primary goal: “Execute a startup idea in 54 hours”. But on so many levels this was a personal success.

With every failure comes multiple lessons and this is what I learned from the event:

  1. Every team needs a shared vision. The great thing about SW is that the team gets together because they all love the idea. But, the idea is subject to change when customers give feedback. What you need the team unified on is a Vision – and this must be related to the idea. I think if our team had been interested in the vision for the product, we might have still been together today; we are not.
  2. During SW, every team needs a leader. Because many SW teams are incredibly large, there are always a lot of opinions and perspectives to account for. This is one thing we failed to manage in our team. We discussed at length what everyone thought and didn’t have a system for making decisions. At SW, a leader could be useful. Someone who makes an executive decision quickly, so that the team can move forward. Now, you must realise that I do not agree with this in every day startups. I believe you need consensus in a startup team – because you are building a business on someone’s effort, they need to be bought into the decision. So at SW because there is only 54 hours, this may not be possible, so a leader may need to take command of this.
  3. Execution. Execution. Execution. Many teams produced prototypes, comprehensive business models and validation during the weekend. We did not produce much substance ourselves. Some might consider that SW’s purpose is to have a protoype to present to the judges by pitch time. I don’t agree with this at all. But, the team does need a thorough understanding of the problem and potential solution based on customer-sought validation and research. A comprehensive business model + slick pitch will always beat a team with a prototype that fails on the other sections. (A prototype is good, but not essential.) My point, though, is that the team should focus on validating their problem and potential solution by focusing on customers. This is real execution and how things work in the real world.

I spent $79 to attend this event, and I can’t explain exactly why, but that weekend was SO full of value that $79 seems insignificant now. (Plus you get 7 meals included in your weekend, insane!)

My weekend was so full of fun, energy, amazing people (participants and mentors) and learning that I had to be more involved!

And…that is when I asked to be involved in the organisation of the second Auckland Startup Weekend. This is what I learned there.

—————–Startup Weekend New Zealand—————–

Auckland: http://auckland.startupweekend.org/

Wellington: http://wellington.startupweekend.org/

Christchurch: http://christchurch.startupweekend.org/

Register Now!

Finding NZ’s Top Entrepreneurs…The Wrong Idea

I see it all over the place. Competitions here, there and everywhere searching for “NZ’s Top Entrepreneurs”.

Why are we doing this?

In the entrepreneurial space we already know who the top entrepreneurs are in NZ: Rod Drury, Derek Handley, Sam Morgan, Sean Gourley, Victoria Ransom, Sebastian MarinoGeoff Ross and many more. These are many of the people that inspire our entrepreneurs at the grassroots level today. But these are the same entrepreneurs that have investment, that have support, that are recognised and good as gold.

But one of the major complaints by many investors in NZ is the lack of deal flow. There just aren’t enough good entrepreneurs bringing up good ideas and building great businesses.

I suspect part of the problem is that investors, the media and the public want to find “the best”. They forget that the more good entrepreneurs you create, the more great entrepreneurs emerge, and the pie gets bigger for everyone.

Perhaps we would be better off supporting the education, development and support system for good entrepreneurs. This is a grassroots movement at the end of the day. And by bringing more entrepreneurs into the mix we increase deal flow for investors, we create more success stories, and we develop more revenue for NZ as a whole.

I would like to see the entrepreneurial ecosystem in NZ supporting more of the grassroots movement. Perhaps, instead of having competitions and support mechanisms that reward only those that are already recognised, we might see the available resources shared with some of our up-and-coming success stories.

This is one of the reasons I co-organise Startup Weekend New Zealand. You will hear more about Startup Weekend soon, but in the meanwhile between 24-26 February, Startup Weekend Christchurch will be happening, and it would be compelling to have you along.

Visit the website, and buy your ticket now.