1. Always do your homework

    A good friend told me a story of a student who messaged him asking for an intro to his old company.  Problem was the friend had started a company that competed with the old company.  Recently, I watched an episode of Dragon’s den where the people pitching had no idea that the people they were pitching to had built industry leading websites!

    I could go on with just how many instances I’ve heard of people not doing their homework and there’s really no excuse today.  I feign ignorance sometimes, but I’m of the Francis Underwood school of thought on people and information.  That is, you can never know enough about people.

    I’m not perfect, by any means, but there’s a lot of basic information that people can get, from Google and the rest of the internet, from Linkedin, from many many sources, to not have made an effort can show someone that you either don’t care, are incompetent or worse.

  2. You need a F’in mentor

    Hey You, yes YOU, you over there who thinks you know everything, that thinks you’re doing fine and thinks that you’re happy enough and your team is happy enough.  You’re wrong.  You’re not fine.  Your team is not happy enough and you need to do better.  Sorry, but it’s true.

    Everyone needs someone who’s been there before, who’s done whatever it is you’re doing, has done it better, in which case they can tell you what they did, or has done it worse and in that case they’ve identified the mistakes you’re about to make.

    Whether that person is a mentor, a therapist, a coach or a friend - or some combination of all the above, you need that person in your life.

    Whether you’re a CEO, a CTO, an investor or a middle manager, you need someone, outside of your organisation, who doesn’t know you that well yet, to tell you when you’re full of crap or when you’re about to make a monumental mistake.  A person to tell you how to motivate that un-motivateable member of staff.  Or how to manage that really tricky situation you think you might be in really soon.

    I always wonder why more people don’t have that person in their lives.  Personally I have about 6 people I trust and I try to meet up with 3 x’s a year with who all have different experiences growing teams, building companies and products.  It’s hard when you’re wearing multiple hats, but it’s even more important in this situation.

    So if you don’t have that person in your life, start looking.

    Note - this post is based on several conversations over the past 6 months, not one particular conversation, so if you’re taking this personal, you’re waisting time.  Time that would be better off finding a mentor!

  3. 5 reasons why Apple didn’t get in the Nest

    There’s been lot’s of noise on social media around the Nest acquisition by Google yesterday.   Some of the noise was focused on a lot of conjecture regarding what Google would do with Nest and what this means for consumers.  There was also a lot of noise regarding the fact that Apple didn’t get into an M&A conversation with Nest.  I’m not surprised by this at all, here’s why:

    1 Google got into bed early with Nest

    By taking series B capital from Google Ventures, and then having Google Ventures lead a round with Nest, Nest signalled that the Googlers got Nest.   I’m not sure if any Google Ventures backed companies have sold to Apple but my guess is that if Google Ventures leads a round with you, Apple would be less likely to enter M&A conversations.

    This is why companies need to think really carefully before taking capital from an industry backed fund.

    2 Nest employees had already worked at Apple

    This article talks about how there are 100 employees from Nest who had worked at Apple.  So Apple’s already had some of these people in their organisation, why bring them back?  If someone leaves your organisation are you really going to get them to come back and be motivated to do their best work?  My guess is probably not.

    3 Apple already has a design god

    I think Tony Fadell will eventually become a Jonathan Ive like figure at Google.  Someone who can make things look and feel pretty.  After all he’s the guy behind the iPod right?

    Why would Apple want Fadell back when they’ve, arguably, done some of their best work since he left.

    4  Apple has a strategy in place and Nest isn’t a part of it

    There’s something to be said for focus and while other products in the home may eventually be important, Apple has it’s hands full getting mobile and television right.  Why go into other areas when you haven’t really cracked all the things you want to do well?

    5 Price

    Apple has never spent more than half a billion dollars on an acquisition and that strategy has worked so far, why change?  

    Discipline around focus and price has worked in Apple’s favour to date, so I can see why Apple wouldn’t even sniff at Nest.

  4. New year, new hopes

    So, I’m not sure if the 6th is too late for a new year’s post but who cares?

    Last year was challenging to say the least.

    1 new addition to our family, which now feels complete.  Even without as much sleep and twice as much worrying about children, he was definitely the best thing to happen to me this year.

    3 jobs, 1 where I was forced to end (RIP Ad Av), and 1 where I thought it was in my best interests to move on.  Worrying about jobs and finances was definitely the worst thing that happened to me (and by extension the family) this year.

    25 or so books read, no where near the number I hit last year, but if you want to know why, see the above.

    Most importantly, I learned a lot of important lessons, I learned what kind of organisation in what kind of industry I want to be in.  I learnt that I have a strong network and a strong support system from my wife and immediate family to my closest friends to people I’ve had the pleasure of going to school or work with.

    I’ve also learnt a great deal about myself and what makes me happy professionally and personally and I’m keen to apply these lessons to 2014.  Bring. It. On.

  5. The patrons of crowdfunding


    Back to back tweets this morning made me think about the future of crowdfunding.  The first tweet was from IDEO dude and angel investor Tom Hulme talking about a kickstarter project he had just backed, a smartphone powered paper airplane set.  Make a paper airplane, add the kit, download the app and off you go.

    Right after that, a tweet from London Business School leading to an article in the Telegraph which talks about the future of crowdfunding, with one of the professors from the school, Dr. Mullins, commenting, “I think we are headed for a train wreck. The likely outcome is that a lot of people will lose money when the entrepreneurs they have funded fail to deliver, and then we will see a backlash.”

    Right, because in traditional risky investments investors always see a return from all of their investments. </sarcasm>

    Crowdfunding is an evolution and peer-to-peer fundraising is not going anywhere, it will likely mature and companies and investors will get smarter about the signs they look for when making investments.  Some will succeed and some will fail and we’ll see a norm established.

    At the same time, the trend I’m noticing is that companies aren’t looking for traditional investment from sites like Kickstarter, instead they’re looking to establish whether they have the product and the market fit right, whether they can grow sales leads and market themselves effectively.  

    I think the term investors for people who fund product development through these platforms is a misnomer.  Personally, I believe they’re patrons, a hybrid customer / backer who believes in the idea but wants a little something for themselves.  In some cases a mention in others an early release of the product.

    So, I don’t know if peer-to-peer funding is right for all types of companies.  I remember when I was raising funds for my venture, my resistance to crowdfunding was that I didn’t really have anything to give on top of equity.   

    Embarrassingly, I’ve yet to “back” anything on kickstarter or any of these sites yet, but I’ve told people about Kano and Pebble as well as shared videos for movies that are trying to be made and a handful of other concepts that are looking for funding.  This is the power of crowdfunding platforms for entrepreneurs, you come for the money, but you stay for the customers and marketing opportunities.

  6. Engineers : other

    One of the things I’ve realised I enjoy is being in an environment with an engineering culture.  I was discussing this last night with a young entrepreneur who is looking for what he’s going to do next and I came up with this point regarding the ratio of engineers to other people in a company.

    Here at PeerIndex, we have a really high engineer to other ratio.  It’s easily over 1.5:1.  Our engineers kick butt but they also make up the majority of people in the company.  That means everything from the culture to the environment is built with our engineers in mind.  It also means that our sales, marketing and operational team has to have some technical proficiency and be able to discuss things logically to make sure everyone is connected in the company.  This leads us to hire operational interns who can write SQL queries and marketing execs who can code in HTML, CSS and basic javascript.  It also means that the non technical team has to be able to decipher business problems and turn them into  engineering problems for our teams to work on.

    As companies mature, products are more defined and the number of engineers to non engineers starts to move in the other direction and that leads to a company culture that is more business driven, more about the economics rather than problem solving and working on big picture stuff.  I was having coffee with a partner at a great creative agency that was recently acquired and we were discussing Google.  Google started off as a high engineer to other company but the more people I speak to the more the engineers are starting to feel like they’re not the majority.  Facebook still feels like an engineering led organisation, twitter is a harder one to read.

    Overall, it’s important to know what kind of organisation you want to work for and where you fit, making sure the organisation’s objectives and team structure are aligned with the type of organisation you want to be a part of.

  7. Acquisitions

    Lot’s of buzz on Apple’s most recent acquisition (Apple just bought Topsy, a social media analysis tool for $200M) .  It’s an acquisition that really caught my attention not only for the fact that PeerIndex operates in a similar space, not only for the fact that the price Apple paid made a lot of people take notice and not only for the fact that Apple has a history of making acquisitions into core offerings of their products and services whether software (oh hello Siri, Lala) or in hardware.

    The primary reason the deal has caught my attention is all the debate surrounding what Apple will do with Topsy.  Lots and lots of speculation, for what it’s worth I agree with the idea of using their social software to improve app store recommendations.

    Here’s the thing, Apple has just bought itself some great engineering talent that really understands data and what to do with data to help consumers make decisions.  So What will they do with the Topsy talent and platform?  Whether they use that talent in ads, in app recommendation or in film and media recommendations in Apple TV or whatever else this team might be able to help them with, in the words of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, IT DOESN’T MATTER WHY THEY BOUGHT THEM!

    The big question is what they will be able to do with the acquisition, and my gut tells me a lot.

    The question will be what will happen of the Topsy service and what will happen to the customers if Apple decides that it wants the team to focus on another area?  Oh wait my phone is ringing… to be continued.

  8. Management consultants and startups

    I’ve had separate conversations with two guys over the last couple of weeks where the question of management consultants in fast growing companies came up.  Personally, I think this is a much better debate than the MBAs in start ups and one that gets discussed far less.

    Like MBAs, every management consultant will be different.  Depending on geography, industry specialty, seniority, how long they were in consulting, why they went into consulting, what they’ve done since being a consultant and other individual elements will all play a part and some of the points I’m going to draw out on these posts won’t apply to every individual or every company. It’s just based on my experience.

    I’ve spoken to a couple of people who are at multi-billion dollar tech companies and they separately have said that the speed of release has slowed down considerably and that there are a lot more ex-management consultants around now. Personally and generally, I would not hire or recommend a founder hire an ex-management consultant when the company is less than 30 people.  Consultants are great at driving new revenue growth or giving a company a strategic perspective that might be able to take it from 10s of millions in revenue to hundreds of millions in revenue.  But that first million or so in revenue is really difficult as you try to figure out your product market fit, you have to be agile and able to fail fast (I’ll stop with the start up cliches now).  

    There are ex-management consultants who’ve gone on to be great founders and build great companies, but these were usually people who were exceptionally passionate about what they were building and either were using management consulting as a stamp on their CVs/resumes (like how some use Business Schools), or were learning about a specific problem and industry before launching a startup and in a number of instances these were people who left management consulting and worked in a couple of roles between leaving management consulting and starting something.

    So if you’re considering your own fit within a company, looking around to see how many ex management consultants are around might give you an indication as to how quickly the company might be moving when it comes to product, marketing and sales.  Consultants have a knack for looking at the detail and weighing up options and not really the right people for tinkering and experimenting.

    Personally, I think a seed or series A company may want someone who’s in b-school looking for a career in management consulting to do a project for them (competitive analysis or something like that), a company that’s growing might want a couple of ex-management consultants to help with strategy and hiring, but after that a large number of management consultants is a sign that a company is focusing on getting things right before going to market rather than with a customer driven approach.

  9. Commissions for startups

    I’m firmly of the belief that start ups should not have commission structures for sales people.  The early stage the company the firmer this belief is.

    The reason is that start ups have to be agile in every area and sales is no exception.  Objectives and targets are constantly moving, especially as a company focuses on driving growth, driving usage, driving revenue, driving profitability.  Sales teams need to  be flexible enough to move between targets and commissions are one way of keeping them wedded to an objective that may be outdated next week.

    The other reason is that sales teams need to be more than sales driven at the early stage of a company.  They may be account executives, on-boarding customers and making sure they’re getting what they expected from products and services, they may be marketing, raising profile of the company, they may also be valuable sources of information on product pricing and competitive intelligence.

    Sales people in startups are the eyes and ears of an organisation in the market and when your product offering is still developing it’s really hard to incentivise them properly with commissions.

  10. Learning to break the mold


    The first time I considered being an engineer it was too late.  

    Growing up I loved numbers, loved manipulating numbers and playing games in my head (in 1993, Doug Gilmour lead the Toronto Maple Leafs in scoring wearing number 93, he scored 127 points, 2+7=9, 1+2 = 3, 93).  But, for some reason I thought I wanted to be a doctor.  The fact that one of my dad’s brothers had studied computer science and another had a masters in engineering didn’t sway me, a PC in the 90s also didn’t sway me, it wasn’t until a friend of mine sent me a geocities link in the late 90s where I started tinkering with code and decided that I wanted to build web sites.

    I’m keen for my kids to be exposed to learning, to love education and to love learning in a way that I never did.  To think about learning first and then let it lead naturally into career selection.  It’s a major reason why I’m very pro the montessori method for the little Bee and seeing her starting to read is a big thing for me and her mom, seeing her play and discuss mathematical principles is even more exciting.  The fact that one of her favourite games right now is a simple wooden game filled with rhombi where she can make shapes makes my inner nerd very happy.  I love playing lego with her and watching her build an alternative reality through building blocks, shapes and her imagination.

    But yet I’m worried.  I’m worried that somewhere down the line she’ll be told “Girls don’t do that”, and she’ll reconsider her interests.  I hope and I pray that never happens and she never feels like there’s nothing she can’t do, but we live in a society that isn’t always fair and reasonable.  

    So, when the bee sends me a video like the one below, which shows and encourages girls to play, for girls to build and for girls to think about engineering, it makes me happy.  It makes me think, HELL YEAH, she can do anything she wants and I look forward to the day someone tells her “Girls don’t do that”, so I can show her this video and say “There isn’t a thing you can’t do”

    Update - not sure how I feel about the company behind this ad.  The Beasties are awesome and not sure if the Goldieblox products are, but the idea behind the ad is definitely a good one.

    See - this and this