Archive for January, 2009

Tuesday Push – IGOpeople

Tuesday Push for IGOpeople

I’m a little late on this because of a few deadlines yesterday but the Tuesday Push is back and this week we’re pushing IGOpeople, ‘a network for the real world’.

There are advantages though in writing at the tail end of a push because a lot of good reviews have already been done. So instead of writing another [a post explaining what IGOpeople is], I’m going to show how the IGOpeople team are leading by example and engaging in their community and learning from the feedback they receive.

Instant Engagement

The first post I ever put up on IGOpeople generated 3 Thumbs Up, 7 comments, and has been viewed 86 times. It was a thread called “IGO back to Twitter” and was a tongue in cheek way of firing some tough feedback back across to the IGO team.

I challenged them on the point that despite how great their site is (and it’s very good) I doubted that it would attract great numbers of users because the early adopter community was already on Twitter and seemed very happy there.

The response was overwhelmingly positive. Both their CEO and Lead Developer replied to the post and actively engaged with me on the feedback I gave them.

The responses they gave me may not have convinced me to switch over, but I was definitely impressed by how they reacted the to challenge and the positive way in which they received it.

Quick Fixes

Within 24 hours of my original post, the IGO team had added a new feature to each post to allow users to publish part of their post on Twitter. Now I’ll agree that that doesn’t solve the issue entirely but it’s a start, and it shows that the people behind IGO are willing to listen to their community and give them what they want.

As I understand it now, they’re working on new ways to bring the Twitter community and the IGOpeople network closer together. I’m not sure how they plan to do this, but one useful way would be to let users import their followers to save them having to start a new community from scratch.

But there are other ways too, and because of the active way in which the IGO team have responded to feedback, I have no doubt any more that if there’s something that can be done to make IGOpeople a success, then Campbell, Darragh and the rest of the team there will do everything they can to make it happen.

Remember, It’s Irish

On a final note, I’d just like to mention that IGOpeople is an Irish startup.

We talk a lot about the lack of startup community in this country, always moaning that Silicon Valley is where we should all be. Personally I couldn’t disagree with this more (but that’s for another post). The more we encourage each other and actively use and promote other Irish startups, then the more likely we are to emerge successful.

That’s the reason I take part in Damien’s Tuesday Push, because a rising tide lifts all ships. If we are to become truly competitive and successful on a global scale, we need to come together, speak as one and bring attention to ourselves by shouting out loudly that Ireland is the best place on earth to run a startup. If we don’t believe it, then there’s no way anyone else will.

My hat’s off to the guys at IGOpeople, because they’re actually doing it. They’ve built something and they’re bringing it to the rest of the world. We need a hundred more of these. Roll on next weeks Tuesday Push.

3 Mistakes We Make With Our Kids

Stand Out from the Crowd. Be Different.

I was at a negotiating training session last weekend as part of the Hothouse course. It was given by the excellent Dermot McConkey. He gave us great tips on selling, negotiating and promoting our business. Lots of good stuff.

He’s also really good at telling stories and one point he made was that as adults we have an inherent aversion of selling to people we don’t know. This originates from our childhood when our parents constantly told us “don’t talk to strangers!”.

This got me thinking about what other things we teach our kids that makes it difficult for them to succeed in business later on in life. Here’s my top three:

1. Don’t Talk To Strangers

Like I mentioned above, as children we were constantly told not to talk to strangers. This teaches us that engaging in a conversation with someone we don’t know is wrong. For a kid, this is a perfectly good piece of advice. Child abductions are rising and talking to strangers significantly increases the risk.

But what about later in life? This lesson is a sticky one and often proves hard to forget the older we become. This is the reason we often feel uncomfortable while trying to sell. We’re going against our parents advice! The ‘don’t talk to strangers’ lesson is still inside us pushing against us when we’re making those all important sales calls. It’s the little voice inside our heads that shouts out ‘No! Don’t do it! It’s wrong!’.

But this is real life and as business owners we have to get over this and go through the hard slog of picking up the phone, or knocking on that door, or going to that networking event, even if it goes against what our parents taught us as children.

2. It’s Important To Fit In

As business owners the one thing we don’t want to do is to look exactly the same as our competition. We want to be noticed, to stand out, to be at the forefront of people’s minds when they think of companies in our industry.

This behavour goes against everything we’ve learned as children. All I wanted to do when I was in school was ‘fit in’. Someone who fitted in didn’t get picked on or bullied or discriminated against. Life went smoothly. If you managed to fit in really well then you might have even been the cool kid in the class. Even better!

But this sort of reward for meeting the status quo doesn’t transfer to adults in business. In fact, the complete opposite is true. To be noticed we need to stand out from the crowd, go against the grain and be different in as many ways as possible. We should be aiming to behave just like the bold screaming child at the back of the classroom, stamping on top of his desk waiving his school bag over his head. Now that’s what we should be doing to get noticed.

3. Expect Gifts Often

As kids we learned to expect gifts. Every time our parents arrived home we looked at them expectantly, asking the all important question ‘did you get me a present?’. This is the natural innocent behavour of a child, but yet again it doesn’t translate to adulthood, especially during business negotiations.

In a negotiation we must never expect a gift. We have to fight tooth and nail for every concession, and these often come at a price. In other words, the opposition will concede something if we concede something. Unfortunately though, this lesson is something we’ve had to relearn as adults because as children we expect things for free and we expect to give nothing in return. Obviously though, this is not an accurate reflection of the real world.

Reteaching Ourselves and Our Children

These three small points show that while we think we’re helping our children, we’re actually making life more difficult for them in the long run! But despite this I would definitely not recommend you start telling your kids to go out and talk to strangers or to ask to be picked on in the classrooms. No, nothing like that, but I really do think it’s a shame that the skills we used to succeed as children actually may prevent us in some ways to succeed as adults.

Real World Networking Report 2008

Real World Networking 2008

2008 was a great year for me. I doubled my income, I grew my business, I made some great friends, I learned a lot and I had a blast while doing it. Here’s a quick review of where I got my business from during the year.

Business Connections Report

This colourful graph is a hand drawn representation of where all my business came from in 2008. The main nodes off of me (in the middle) are:

The exercise produced some interesting information. For instance I discovered that out of the 60 clients I had in the last year, 40% of them originated from contacts I made through my mum’s design business. However, these 24 clients only accounted for 27% of my annual revenue.

I also discovered that my most lucrative deals in the year originated from contacts I’d made through Damson Technologies. Fin and Donal don’t know this yet, but a whopping 48% of my revenue in 2008 came from businesses they put me in touch with (thanks lads!). A few other interesting stats resulting from this graph are that I get a healthy amount of business from my website, about 18% of the total, and that the areas with the most referrals from existing customers were contacts originating from family or friends.

A Referral Continues To Be The Best Path To New Business

This brings me to my main point, which is that I now know I can get business from anywhere. This graph is relatively even and I can see that I get business from all areas of my life. And even better then that, over half of the business I got this year was a referral from a referral!

Some people poo poo the idea of using your friends and family as a source of business, but I think if you ignore these then you’re ignoring the best possible source of business you can have. Now I’m not suggesting that you lean on those closest to you to support your business, that’s just plain wrong. But what I am suggesting is that you use them and the people they know as a platform for launching your network of business contacts.

Word of Mouth Is Still King

Even in this day and age, the best source of new business for almost all small businesses is still word of mouth. Despite all the talk of viral marketing and using technology to grow sales, nothing but nothing seems to beat good old fashioned word of mouth for gaining new business (obviously though, word of mouth can happen online too!).

One final thing that strikes me about this graph is how many links there are. Over 70% of the business I got in the last year originated through referrals from existing clients. Long may this continue! I’m really interested to see how this graph evolves over the next 12 months. Where will my next big chunk of business come from? Will it be from a referral? Or possibly some web traffic? Who knows, maybe even from this blog!

An Opportunity In Every Crisis

An Opportunity In Every Crisis

The current economic crisis in Ireland is like nothing I’ve seen before in my lifetime. It’s my first recession, and it looks like it’s a serious one. People close to me are losing their jobs and/or leaving the country for better opportunities elsewhere. Things are looking fairly bleak and the country is in free fall. But we can’t all leave, and we can’t all hide from these problems. Some of us will have to step up and take part in fixing the country. In creating value in our economy once again.

Growing Exports from Indigenous Companies

The answer to this is to build up and expand our export market. We’re not competitive anymore in areas like production or manufacturing so we need to think outside the box. Much of our export economy right now is heavily reliant on the large US companies who have operations here. But the recent announcement from Dell to close their plant in Limerick with the loss of 1,900 jobs is a stark reminder that these large multi-nationals will only stay here for as long as it’s profitable to do so. What we really need is to nurture and expand our indigenous Irish owned export economy.

Technology To The Rescue

Right now, our best chance of success is in the technology sector. We’re a nation of brainiacs, full of great ideas, talent and motivation. We’re perfectly positioned to fix the current crisis. All we need is to organise, focus, prepare and then to just go out and do it.

There’s a growing community of Irish startups, each of them bringing passion, energy, innovation, and the right skills to execute their ideas. I believe that it’s this group of companies and others like them that will lead the way for the regeneration of the Irish export market.

Lets look at this crisis in another way, lets be more optimistic. This recession might not the nightmare it’s being made out to be. Instead, it could be the single biggest opportunity we’ve ever had to reshuffle, reorganise, reposition, regain our competitiveness and kick some serious ass in the international technology sector.

Now that all the stones have been unturned, there is nowhere to hide and we’ve got no choice but to hit this crisis head on with smiles on our faces. And I for one am looking forward to it.

A Plan For Success

I’ve got a three point plan to maximise my opportunities during the downturn. These are tips that anyone can adopt in their business, doesn’t matter what you do.

  • Generate passive recurring income
  • Export your skills and your products
  • Focus on a niche and kick the ass out of it

Generate Passive Recurring Income

There were two main causes of the property bubble. The first was the fact that property development is a once off job. After a house is built and paid for, that’s it. No more revenue could be generated from it. The developer had to move onto another project and build yet more houses to keep his revenue up. The second problem was we were selling to each other, at ever increasing prices. And they were doing all this, just to stand still.

I hope that the lessons learned from these catastrophic business practices will mean we won’t be likely to repeat them again any time soon. So what else can we do? How can we guarantee a steady income stream into our businesses that are genuinely sustainable?

The answer is to generate passive recurring income.

Like most of you know, I work in the web industry and right now the big buzz is software as a service (or SaaS). This is the concept of renting software to your clients in return for a monthly fee. If your clients are happy to continue using your product, then they’ll be happy to continue to pay you. It’s a simple business model with one major advantage: the revenue is stable, recurring and can be expected to grow on into the future.

Even better, would be to build a product that required no interaction or ongoing work on your behalf. That’s where the ‘passive’ part comes in. This is a scalable simple idea that will become the norm in the software industry over the next 5 years (it already has to some extent).

If your business isn’t a web based business, don’t worry, there are loads of different ways to apply this and the web is just one of them. Try to think of how you can get your customers to ‘subscribe’ to your service or product. Once you’ve figured that out, you’re half way there.

Export Your Skills and Your Products

Despite the fact that the whole world seems to be struggling economically now, nobody seems to be suffering quite as badly as we are (except maybe Iceland). This means that there’s money and customers waiting to buy your products literally just over the horizon.

If you’re struggling to pick up customers in your local area, why not broaden your geographic target and go after customers abroad? The Internet has levelled the playing field in loads of industries, and you’re just as likely to land a contract for a client with offices across town as you are with one who has offices half way round the world.

Stop thinking local and start thinking on a global scale.

Focus On A Niche And Kick The Ass Out Of It

Leave being all things to all people to the over zealous and the old school, pick a niche and kick the ass out of it.

Never before has there been a greater opportunity to build highly specific tools for small groups of people. Like Richard Feynman said in his famous speech in 1959, ‘there’s plenty of room at the bottom’, there are a massive number of problems for small groups of people that still needs to be solved. It’s these ‘verticals’ that provide the best opportunities for new business in times like these.

This is where we come in.

The barriers to entry and the cost of getting started with an online product are ridiculously low nowadays. Anyone can do it. All you need is a laptop and an idea.

Once you’ve got your niche, build products for it with razor sharp focus. Provide features designed just for them that no ‘off the shelf’ offering could possibly provide. Make your product indispensable to those people, so they couldn’t live without it. Fix all their problems for them and do it at a reasonable price.

You could only hope to do this in a really tiny niche, so don’t worry that it’s a small market. Once you’ve become indispensable to them other opportunities will pop up, I guarantee it.

Out Of Every Crisis Comes An Opportunity

This is how we will dig ourselves out of the hole we now find ourselves in. By taking advantage of the global market and building new products that solve simple problems.

This recession doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. It’s a chance for us to become agile again. It’s an opportunity to reinvent ourselves.

If you doubt me, I’ll refer you to the Chinese people. They’ve known this for a millennium. That’s why their Mandarin symbol for the word ‘crisis’ is the exact same as it is for ‘opportunity’.

Now get out there and do something.