Do you love what you do?

The test of whether people love what they do is whether they’d do it even if they weren’t paid for it—even if they had to work at another job to make a living. How many corporate lawyers would do their current work if they had to do it for free, in their spare time, and take day jobs as waiters to support themselves?

From  How to do what you love by Paul Graham, Founder of Y Combinator.

A Monumental Shift is Occurring Right Now – The Triple Convergence

I’ve been plugged into the tech scene for years but I’ve never seen technology and the web progress and iterate as rapidly as is happening right now – as in right now. There is a monumental shift occurring at this moment. The forces are best described in this interview between Carlota Perez and Fred Wilson. They sum it up incredibly well.

Carlota explains that during every major revolution in history there are two phases – the installation phase and the deployment phase. She notes that between the installation phase and the deployment phase there is a HUGE bubble. Investors and companies recognise the enormous potential of a future after the installation phase but end up speculating and overvaluing entities that are founded during the installation phase which appear as if they will benefit from the outcome of the deployment phase. The problem is that the deployment phase usually takes many years, but the speculative valuations of businesses tend to sky rocket in a matter of days or months. The deployment phase never occurs as rapidly as the speculative forces that power the bubble’s growth.

One of the examples Carlota uses is the production line. Henry Ford engineered the production line and spent years building a platform that could enable the production of vehicles at scale. The leverage that the production line was able to achieve was unheard of at the time and spurred on the industrial revolutions of the US and Europe. This method of assembling products flowed through the economy and set the benchmark for brands around the world who also set up production lines enabling the mass production of consumer goods.

Thinking back to the tech boom makes me realise that Carlota is entirely correct. The Ford’s of today are companies like Cisco, Intel, Dell, Microsoft, Google, Apple, RIMM and Oracle who created the products that laid the foundations for the deployment phase of the web. They provided the infrastructure that connected us together and wired up our world and put devices on our desks and in our hands.

However what we expected was a connected world. What we got has turned out to be far more monumental. The convergence of three significant forces has landed us where we are today. I call it the Triple Convergence.

  1. Internet
  2. Social
  3. Mobile

While we were dreaming of fruit being delivered to our doors (or golf clubs) via a web order, Steve Jobs was working on what was to become the most revolutionary piece of consumer technology ever created. At the same time Facebook was acquiring 10 million users a month, while fibre optical cables were being strung around the world from Mumbai to New York.

Carlota explains that once a bubble has burst, it’s a sign that the installation phase of a revolution is over setting the stage for a huge capacity for wealth creation.

Ladies and gentleman, the installation phase of the internet is complete and the deployment phase is at full fucking throttle.

Consider how fast iOS 5 was deployed across ~200 million devices – 1 week? 2 weeks?
One year ago operating systems were distributed on CD. The installation phase was incomplete.

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I had written half this post last week and saved it as a draft however this morning I read an article by Thomas Friedman entitled “One Country, Two Revolutions” which prompted me to finish it off. Friedman, Carlota and Fred all speak of the same thing. They never coerced – they all realise something is going on at the same time. This shift. It made me shiver when I read it. This is in part what he wrote (I suggest you read the full article):

I was on Wall Street two weeks ago, and I’ve been in Silicon Valley this past week. What a contrast! While Wall Street is being rattled by a social revolution, Silicon Valley is being by transformed by another technology revolution — one that is taking the world from connected to hyperconnected and individuals from empowered to superempowered. It is the biggest leap forward in the I.T. revolution since the mainframe computer was replaced by desktops and the Web. It is going to change everything about how companies and societies operate.

It was Thomas Friedmans book “The World is Flat” that inspired me to start Lind Golf (yes, a book can inspire someone to start a business). After reading it I knew I had to do something to leverage the Internet and globalisation and at the time I was selling putters on eBay. I’d never played a game of golf in my life but at that moment I decided to take things to the next level. I had the skills to execute because of my computer science background. I had some small business experience and felt I just had to do something on the web to leverage its capabilities because I could see the potential. The way I leveraged the internet was random and unconventional, however I used it to centralise the customisation of golf clubs and empower golfers to choose from 50 million possible configurations of clubs. It worked. This kind of retail experience was unavailable in a golf store and so was the price point which we were able to sell our clubs due to the direct to consumer business model. Having said that, I believe this kind of business was, and still is internet 1.0. In fact online retail and eCommerce businesses are retail businesses at heart. They are not technology businesses. They use 10% of the internets potential.

The great internet businesses of our time are not retailers. They don’t carry inventory. They are empowering systemic and cultural change and are revolutionising our lives. They are creating network effects that are shrinking our world and toppling governments. Some of these companies don’t even have business models, but they are reshaping the establishment at rapid rate with or without revenue. You can’t ignore them. They are important.

In the last 12-24 months I’ve noticed the following things happen:

  • A guy raise $1m to develop a watch strap without giving away any equity in his business
  • The Australian fashion industry become centralised by Asos with free freight to Australia (Asos is a UK based business)
  • The fitness retail industry become centralised by Wiggle (Also based in the UK)
  • The publishing industry be disrupted by the Kindle and Borders die
  • Amazon eat up the retail world and centralise sales for well know branded products
  • My mobile phone become my personal assistant (it can read me stock prices while I drive over bluetooth in my car)
  • I can’t hire a video in a video store because video stores are mostly extinct
  • American Greetings shares dropped 16% the day Apple announced their “Cards” app that lets you create a greeting card on your phone for $4.99 which they will print and ship anywhere in the world for you
  • The graphic design industry be disrupted by crowd sourcing
  • Consumers become empowered to scan barcodes in the shopping mall and compare prices globally
  • The #OccupyWallStreet movement spread from New York to Sydney within a week (and most people still don’t even know what the # means)

And the list goes on and on.

I honestly believe this is the tip of the iceberg. The hyper connectedness of our world via mobile, social and the internet is changing society. For some it provides opportunity, for others it is disruptive to their businesses, governments and personal lives but what stands true for all of us is that we cannot control what is outside of our immediate world so therefore we have to stay focussed on what it is we do best, and if what you do best is build iPhone or Facebook apps, then you are very lucky.

Findings.com

I came across this website today, Findings.com (A Betaworks Company) and found it particularly interesting.
Amazon Kindle PDF

It is a service that aggregates highlighted  text and paragraphs from users who are reading on Amazon’s Kindle (and the web). The Kindle enables you to highlight text that you find interesting and provides a summary of your highlighted paragraphs so you can refer back to the sections you found interesting later. Findings is this on steroids as it centralises everyones comments into a single feed by taking the sections you’ve highlighted and making them publicly available for other people to see on the internet or to share with your friends. Highlights are grouped by book so you can see the history of all readers highlights over time. Findings is in invite only beta mode however I can see this becoming a popular resource as it learns what parts of each book are highlighted most frequently and allows these nuggets of information to surface to the top of the list. Over time it is likely that you’ll be able to read the best parts of a non-fiction book in minutes however I can’t see it working that well for fiction as sections of a story or plot are meaningless without context … Great idea.

Removing Friction

There appears to be a trend forming in technology where solutions are being built to remove friction. Technology generally exists to improve efficiencies however there are plenty of inefficiencies that exist around our use of technology. Here are some examples:

Mission: STS-41-B Film Type: 70mm Title: Views...Siri – removes the friction of having to physically handle your phone by using voice activation and dictation.

GoCatch – removes friction having to call a cab by providing a map of cab locations on your smartphone.

PayPal Access – offering a single sign in to eCommerce sites so that you don’t need to enter your payment and delivery details when you check out.

Less friction = happier customers = higher conversions.

It’s never been done before

The Red-eyed Tree Frog (Litoria chloris) found...I had a meeting with an entrepreneur recently who told me his idea had “never been done before”, and that “this time it’s going to be different”.

I cringe when I hear this because it indicates a few things:

1) It has never been done before because there is no need for it

2) They are viewing the world through a pinhole and choosing to ignore the 50 pound gorilla that is staring them in the face because they are “doing things differently”

3) They haven’t spent 15 minutes searching Google for their competition

Competition is excellent. It validates markets. There are ideas, few and far between, that have never been done before.

Why You Should Blog

I was e-mailed a link to a job description last week from a friend in New York City. The job was for an analyst role at
Union Square Ventures. What was interesting about this job description was that they did not ask for a resume.

Instead they asked for two other pieces of information:

1. Links that will help us get to know youFirst, we’re looking to see links that will help us get to know you. This could be anything from a Twitter account to a blog or Tumblr to a project you hacked together – whatever represents you best. We expect your web presence to represent who you are, not who you think an employer wishes you were, so please don’t waste time sanitising your web presence before sending us there. We get it.

2. Two short videos - Second, we’d also like to hear from you, so we’re asking each applicant to record two short videos answering these questions: “Why are you interested in the analyst role at Union Square Ventures?” (up to a 90-second response) and “Which web or mobile services most inspire you?” (up to a 120-second response) We’re using Take The Interview to collect the video responses securely.

I think this method of candidate selection is useful for a number of reasons:

It demonstrates passion – If you are blogging about your work, that already indicates that you are passionate about what it is you do. To an employer, it is a very good indication of the calibre of a candidate.  Great software developers will tweet and write about software development. Great photographers will have an amazing Flickr gallery and so on.

It shows interest over time – Blogs evolve over time and you can’t fake the frequency of blogging. The frequency and relevancy of a blog says something about a candidate. A candidate who is passionate and disciplined will write regularly. You can see how regularly someone writes by looking at the time period between posts. A candidate who is less diligent will write infrequently, or never at all.

It demonstrates how you think – There are varying depths of knowledge and experience across all subjects. An employer can understand quickly how a candidate thinks by reading what they are posting about. Bloggers often reflect on personal and career experiences providing the ability to understand  a candidates history.

You can’t fake it - The oldest trick in the book is fluffing up a resume so you get through to an interview however the truth is that a blog or links on the internet are a lot more telling than a one page summary of your career.

It makes for a quick application process - If you’ve been writing and maintaining a blog for some time, it provides for a much deeper understanding of who you are as a candidate than any interview or resume could ever hope to convey.

Resumes are boring - There is nothing more mundane than sorting through a load of resumes. Viewing a porfolio, video or blog is more exciting and telling.

It eliminates a lot of candidates - USV is effectively saying that they do not want to hear from you if you dont have a reasonable internet presence. If your communications skills are poor, or you dont write regularly, you are probably not the right candidate for the role in any case.

In the future who express themselves online are going to have an advantage over those who do not  as our online personal and professional brands become a part of the hiring process.

Steve Jobs

Steve JOBS 1955-2011

Image by COG LOG LAB. via Flickr

We need to think about computers before the Mac. Before the iPod. When they were white boxes assembled by that guy down the road in the store with a neon light in the window and a faded Intel bunny sitting on a motherboard box next to a Creative Labs Voodoo 2000 3DFX poster.

And we thought that was cool…

Steve was a role model to many including myself. His success inspires me. He was the Henry Ford of our generation. His Stanford commencement speech was the first thing I added to my Facebook page in 2005. He taught us that overnight success takes many many years. As a 28 year old I often think of Steve Jobs being fired from his own company by the age of 30. He was unemployed then. Look at what he has achieved since. A lot is possible in 26 years. What will your next 26 years look like?

Steve raised the bar of business to new heights. He inspired us. He showed marketing departments around the world what marketing was really about. He showed us what it meant to create products that appeal to our emotions. He executed to exacting standards with an unrivalled level of consistency across every touch point of every aspect of the brand. From the gradient of the icons on the iPhone to the transitions of the slides in his keynote presentations. Every detail was consistently Apple. He made computing cool.

Through his visionary foresight, consistant innovation, branding and execution he built what was to become within months of his passing, the most valuable company of all time.

He put a dent in the universe. A big one. And most importantly, he did it with humility.

He will forever be remembered.

Front Running on the Web

Front Running is an illegal practice associated with securities trading. If you are not familiar with “Front Running”, here is a definition I took from Wikipedia:

Front running is the illegal practice of a stock broker executing orders on a security for their own or personal account while taking advantage of advance knowledge of pending orders from their customers. If a stockbroker takes an order from a client that is sizable  enough to change the underlying share price, purchasing the shares first (usually in a smaller quantity) for their own account gives the broker an unfair advantage, since it can expect to close out its position at a profit based on the new price level. The front running broker either buys for his own account (before filling customer buy orders that drive up the price), or sells (where the broker sells for its own account, before filling customer sell orders that drive down the price).

Brokers that illegally participate in this practice are using information privy only to them to predict demand. While front running might be illegal in the financial markets there are strategies that eCommerce merchants can use to predict demand quite accurately which are of course completely legal.

At Lind Golf we used two free tools that enabled us to understand what golf equipment people were looking for before we committed to manufacturing any product.

The first tool is Google Adwords Traffic Estimator. It is a free tool that accurately estimates the search volume on Google for a particular keyword.

Whenever I went on a buying trip to Asia, I would be presented with around 100 different designs that we could choose to brand with Lind Golf. It was not always clear which designs would sell best so instead of guessing, I turned to the Google Adwords Traffic Estimator.

I would run a query similar to this:

You can see from this query that there are 22,200 monthly searches for the Callaway X Irons so they are by far the most popular model. From this information we would easily be able to identify the models that people are looking for, and make sure that the designs we chose had common technologies and features to those which people were searching for. Our direct to consumer business model mean’t that we’d always beat major brands on price on price by 50%-70% across the entire range.

Another utility we used was Google Insights to help understand search trends over time. Here is an example:

What this graph shows is the seasonality of the keyword “Golf Clubs” over time. You can see how the search volume increases in the summer/holiday season so it helped us forecast demand.

Between these two utlities you can make smarter and more caculated decisions whether you’re selling services, products or identifying a new opportunity.

The internet has made this kind of measurability possible and the data is there to eliminate some of the guess work, so why not take advantage of it!