This year, go get yours

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This year, go get yours

New Years Eve

For as long as I can remember NYE has involved one or more parties, amazing locations, djing to friends and strangers and a wonderful recklessness that helps round out one good year and make way for a new one.

This new year something changed, or I changed something. Probably a bit of both.

People who have known me a while probably know that I set a theme for my years, a directional goal that is settled upon sometime between Dec 1 and Jan 31 and sets a focal point around which I can iteratively explore and hopefully improve.

This year just gone was the year of the mind, the previous one was the year of sleep.

At 5pm last night something about the night I had loosely planned felt wrong. It felt like going out again, meeting a bunch of new and probably lovely people, being around friends and djing music while the sun rose on a new year was at complete odds with that road ahead.

The backstory

2014 represented a pivotal year. It was a year of tough decisions, decisive actions and considerable progress, primarily around work, but also more broadly.


As a result the opportunity that 2015 presents is vivid.


The company I came to the US to start is in the best position it has ever been in, we are on the verge of having something that is unique, important and valuable. With the clarity this opportunity brings, very little else seems important.


It was clear that this year is to be the year of priorities.

Knowing yourself

For the 36 something years I’ve been alive on this planet I’ve been quick to help and quick to say yes to most anything. These traits are the core of my character, perhaps unfortunately so.


Sometimes that which defines us as people can confine us as people.



This year to fully realize the potential in the venture I run will require me to say no to anything that is not a priority. Existing commitments aside, if you have come to this page by way of me politely declining to help, attend, advise, invest, listen or introduce then I hope for your understanding.



I came to this conclusion last night so I reached out to my friends and excused myself from their respective soirees, and took an early night.

The road ahead

With my plan for today clear, I slept soundly and set out early from home.


I took a train and a bus, along the coast about an hour south to a place called Pacifica. A sleepy coastal city which butts up against some wonderful ridge lines that divide San Francisco bay from the  expanse of the Pacific Ocean.


Roughly speaking if you draw a line from Pacifica to my home in Potrero Hill you will hit three major ridges. I decided the three peaks of these ridges would represent the three things I will prioritize for 2015.


Health, Work & Love


The first peak  that I reached today in my hike represents health. It combined solitude, nature, fresh air, the trail ahead and the ocean behind me. It was the first thing to be tackled and its completion would give me the view of the greater road ahead.


From there to the second peak and the long and windy road out, with line of site to my home, represents work. The longest part of the hike as I wound from hilltop to suburbs, sharp inclines and a mix of terrain. This part of the hike I barely knew but for the most part I never lost site of the overall objective.


The last stage, both shortest and sweetest, embraced the local streets of San Francisco and the hill that sits a mere mile from my home. This part of the hike represents love. As I took in the bench overlooking the final descent I was surrounded by children and families with their pets.


It was a serene and playful mood in the first sunset of the new year with a soft winter dusk light casting its shadow across the city I’ve come to call home these last 4 years.


It can be tempting to confuse meaning for coincidence but as I hiked today, largely alone and in silence I observed 3 things from my hike that relate to my year ahead.


  1. Progress towards the first peak contributed to progress towards the two that would follow it. Your priorities or goals do not likely standalone, but it can be hard to realize this when you are focused on the task at hand.


  1. When the objective is in plain sight you will find making progress the hardest as the nature of the road, that was windy all along, will feel more so when you can see what it is that you are chasing.
  2. A peak attained opened up a view of a numerous other peaks, which all presented their own temptation. Being able to stay the course as you complete one goal is your measure of strength and focus, this is actually where & when you are most vulnerable.



I’m not sure what you have planned for 2015 but I wish for you the best. In the more lucky of years we can be successful despite ourselves, but I have a feeling to achieve our potential the rest of the time requires our focus, awareness and dedication.


Go get yours.



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Forget New Year’s Resolutions – this year, try setting a theme.

Only 8% of people keep their new year’s resolutions!

…according to this article in Forbes published early 2013. So I’m going to let you in on a system I’ve been using for almost a decade now, a system for the other 92% of us.

This system has helped me to make considerable, lasting and positive changes across a broad range of facets of my life.

Here is how it works

Around this time of year, mid December, I start thinking about what my theme for 2015 is going to be. I’m not in a rush, you have until the end of January to pick a theme. This theme is any central idea or direction you want to move in that represents an area you’re looking to improve in. It is, by design, directional rather than specific.

For example last year for me, was the year of sleep. Anyone who knows me knows that, somehow, I function *very* well on not a lot of sleep. It’s one of the things I like about myself but I’m not silly enough to think that I’m somehow going to be able to fly in the face of the overwhelming evidence that indicates that poor and little sleep has huge ramifications on everything from weight to mood to productivity.

So that year, being ‘the year of sleep’ I took the time to explore sleep. To learn about it, to experiment with variables that affect sleep including diet, exercise and even things like removing all electronics from the bedroom as suggested in this wonderful post by Nir Eyal, who thinks and writes about creating habits for a living!

The net result is I’ve drastically changed my sleeping patterns, quantity and quality. I’ve reaped the benefits as well.

By not having a specific goal I was never in fear of failure and I was afforded more opportunity to experiment with things and learn.

What other themes have you had?

I’m getting close to a decade of doing this now and I’ve had all manner of years including

– the year of music, I learned a new instrument, joined a band and produced a live show with a vocalist

– the year of consolidation, I actively removed anything that felt like it was noise and duplicity in my life

– the year of travel, sort of speaks for itself but it was about embracing a life of travel and other travelers

– the year of activities, wow that was a fun year. If someone asked me to try something or do something that was new activity I defaulted to and prioritized around being able to take part

– the year of the frangipani, not so obvious of a theme, but this is a lovely flower that is everywhere in Sydney but you miss it if you walk down the street with your head down. It was a year to take the time to stop and admire the surrounding beauty.

As you can see this isn’t about something I have to do, but a place I’m trying to end up. “Up and to the right”, as they say in startup circles. It’s all about direction.

Observations over the years

The most consistent observation has been that this works, well it works for me .. and I’m the 92%. One more interesting and surprising outcome was that the change in behaviors that developed organically over the year in response to the theme have stayed with me.
As opposed to focusing on fixing something, a focus on improving something has shown itself to provide a longer and more holistic benefit.

So what’s your theme for 2015? You have till January 31st to work it out – feel free to put your ideas in the comments below.

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20 tips for creating a successful industry focused meetup group

So you’ve decided that you want to set up a meetup group, more specifically one aimed at bring a group of people around a particular industry segment. Good for you! In early 2012 we decided to do this in the bay area, setting out to create a meetup for people in the ‘fintech’ industry and with some pretty good success (defined below) so thought we should share our 20 tips for creating a successful industry focused meetup group

First the statistics for fintech meetup

  • Started: Feb 2012

  • Location: San Francisco

  • First event: March 2012

  • Most recent event: Feb 19th 2014

  • Next event: May 27th 2014

  • Total Events: 28, 4 social, 20 Standard (we also helped to market 14 3rd party events)

  • Members: 2026

  • Reviews: 38 (estimated average rating of 4.5 stars)

  • Attendance: ~100+ per meetup

  • Link to group

20 Points to build a great industry meetup

Identify your objectives upfront

What is the mission of the group? why are you bringing all these people together? For us we have two very clear goals.

  • Foster innovation in financial services through technology (fintech) by bringing together people in and interested in fintech on a regular basis to learn, share & network

  • Create awareness of the opportunities in fintech to help drive more investment into this space

State this every time you meet

Without fail I ensure that the people in the room hear the objectives stated at each meetup. We typically have about 40% new people in the room at any given meetup so it’s as much to ensure they know what we’re trying to achieve as to re-affirm this to our repeat visitors.

Choose the right venues (location, type, culture of venue owner, frequency)

The importance of this can’t be overstated. Ask yourself ‘what do I think the people I”m bringing together are going to want to do with their limited time here?’ and optimize the venue around this. For us we had a focus on networking and having people listen to one speaker or panel so the conference rooms of large law & accounting firms were perfect venues. Consider your needs but also you’ll probably have to take whatever you can get in the early days :) It helps to have two venue partners so you aren’t 100% reliant on the availability of one and helps to keep things fresh for your members.

Don’t charge

If the purpose of your meetup is to bring people in the industry together, whatever industry, then you need minimal barriers to entry but there is more to it than this. Charging money means you have to answer to the people who don’t feel like they got value for money. In the early days it’s hard to do this as you’re still working it out, so charging becomes a distraction. Expect 50 – 60% attendance rate rate if it’s free, more on that later.

Forget food & booze

.. and if you don’t charge then you can’ get away with not having to provide food & booze. Push your ‘venue partner’ for light refreshments (read water & soft drinks) but worrying about having this stuff is a distraction to running a great event. You’re better off expending your energies elsewhere and as a bonus you’ll avoid the people who pay $5 for mid-week feed who aren’t super connected to your value proposition anyway.

Focus on people, every. single. time

Instead of charging, food & booze spend your time with people. I make a point of introducing myself and welcoming new faces to the group as much as I can. I then try to introduce the person to another person I know in the group. I’ve of course made mistakes where I welcome people who’ve come previously. Laugh at yourself. Go again.

Paint a picture of the future

People like progress and love to be part of progress. Usually when I’m talking about the objectives for the group I’m talking about what’s coming down the line also. Whether it’s next months speakers, a new subgroup (for us this was the fintech developer community) future direction keeps people interested, talking and coming back.

Ask for feedback, as a group and to individuals

The first bit is obvious, I ask people to rate the group and provide feedback every meetup but realistically you need to ask people one on one to really know how you’re going and what to change. Do it.

Make early active supporters, advocates

Because misery loves company haha, no – to make this work you’re going to need people to shoulder some of the load. I found this worked in some areas and not in others. Getting early active supporters to help grow the meetup is easy and the risk is low. Having those people take on responsibility for an event or even helping out at an event doesn’t always work. I had a couple of occasions where I did more work trying to ensure someone would turn up to help than it would have been to just do the work myself. That said you will inevitably find great people who believe in the objectives of the group so embrace them, empower them and thank them publicly when they take responsibility.

Get great speakers, aim to constantly improve

Twitter is your friend and remember that anyone who is having success in your industry is probably motivated to change your industry. Being invited to speak to a room of their peers is both a compliment and an opportunity for them. You have more pulling power than you realize and be sure to use your last great speaker to get your next one

Mix up the format

We started with just the ‘speaker, presentation with Q&A after’ format. It works very well for us but have found that mixing this up with panels and ‘fireside chats’ keeps things interesting for people. Panels tend to take a bit more work (you have 4 schedules to deal with) but you get a lot of bang for your buck as you have 4 people who will self-promote. Panels require strong moderation, make sure you have that covered.


Don’t set the agenda

In our meetup descriptions we err on the side of ‘the event is from 6 – 9pm’ vs breaking it down into parts. This is so there is some serendipity in the event. Once you start getting bigger speakers people will come just for the speaker at 7pm and walk out at 8pm. This doesn’t contribute to the community you’re trying to build.

Follow up RSVPS

Unfortunately it’s just too easy to RSVP yes to something these days so your ‘200 , RSVPS closed’ might only translate to ~100 actual shows. You should account for this, I tend to expect ~60% show rate but might be different for your group based on location, speaker etc. I make a point of asking people in the days leading up to update their RSVP so people who waitlist can come. If anyone reaches out to you on the day because you’re full always say yes to this person and put their name on the list manually. See next point.

Make friends with the guy downstairs (security)

Speaks for itself, will only ever help you.


This is critical, especially as you grow. You get 100+ people in a room then you’re going to have characters, opinions and agendas. Finding the line between adding to the dialogue and distracting it is tough but completely unmoderated it is bound to disintegrate which serves no one :) – learning the phrase ‘I think you guys can take this offline’ is invaluable.

As you grow, use that to get more growth

People like big or growing numbers. As you make progress, whatever it is, use that to get your next big speaker, venue or partner.

Market via the 3rd party lists, make friends with those people personally

These curated lists exist everywhere, find them, submit to them, offer to help the people who run them (9 times out of 10 they won’t take you up on the offer, 1 time of out 10 you get a great supporter because you helped). Also, does a ton of heavy lifting in terms of reaching new audiences. Outside of the essentials of running an event I would say this is the single biggest value that meetup adds in organically growing a meetup.



Decide what you do and don’t do. It’s no problem to try new things but saying no to things that don’t line up with your objective is critical. Once the value proposition of your meetup is diluted or misunderstood it will be very had to have continued success. In our case this meant making the call that the ‘showcase’ (where startups show their technology) was an area we weren’t going to play in. People like them but running them presented challenges that we weren’t resourced to handle and there is plenty of fintech showcases which do an amazing job (and a commercial organizations for a good reason, they’re a lot of work!)


Once you have a few members people are going to want to leverage all your hard work. Sometimes the would be partners are highly relevant to your group, work out how to work together even if its as simple as marketing their event to your group. If it is not, be ruthless but polite. It takes very little for people to feel marketed to and you probably have 1 – 2 chances.


In our case we have specific filters before we will co-market an event (it basically has to be fintech only) and we make it VERY clear this is a 3rd party event.


We also said no to a lot of venue offers that came with ‘sales strings’ attached. Venues who want to actively sell to the people you bring to their venue are a distraction. Our two main venue partners have organically got plenty of business and value out of the meetup and broader relationship with us. Find these kind of venue partners and be explicit in stating this to be the modus operandi.

Take your time

Cause all good things take time and what’s the rush. Unless you’re in the [INSERT DYING INDUSTRY HERE] industry then you’re industry is going to be around for a while so there is no rush to create a great meetup. It takes time to learn what works for your specific sector, so be humble, try things, make mistakes and have fun.

Good luck!

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Will only accept bitcoin for djing in 2014

DJing in San Francisco

For the last 10 years I’ve been djing. Sure I’ve been running startups and advising others as well but I’ve been doing enough djing to actually call myself a dj.

I think there is 3 tests you have to pass before you can call yourself a dj

  1. You can dj vinyl
  2. You’ve been paid to dj
  3. You’ve been flown somewhere to dj

(To make it as a professional dj (which I have not done) I think you need to also be producing music)

Anyway, when I moved to San Francisco in mid 2011 I decided to hang up my records, so to speak but quickly realized that djing is the way I get connected to the city, it’s people and the scene generally… so I started playing again

2014 is going to be a big year for Planwise, the startup I came here to setup – it’s going to be a big year for fintech generally but I think we have the emergence of bitcoin into the mainstream to thank for that.

Bitcoin Only in 2014

Accordingly this year I’ve decided that any djing gigs I get booked to play will require payment in bitcoins only.

The current rate is 0.1 BTC per hour, minimum of 2 hours.

If you want to learn to dj I can do this too, the rate for that is 0.1BTC for a 2 hour lesson

Bitcoin Address




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Why I left Facebook

Recently I got ‘off’ facebook. The quote marks are to indicate what that actually means, which is to say I deactivated facebook. For all intensive purposes it means I’m no longer visible to any other user, I can’t be messaged or invited to anything and there is nothing there waiting for me.


But I can get back on.


Every part of the facebook experience is designed around your being on there, even the part where you leave.


The focus on engagement at facebook is second to none, and it shows. I don’t need to rattle off the statistics here (although I may later) so why is it that my 8+ years usage of facebook has resulted in my strong and now actioned desire to leave?


The typical reason people ‘leave’ a technology, is they simply stop coming back. This wasn’t the case here.

The space between


In jazz they talk about the notes you don’t play being where the magic is created,


When people ask me why I got off facebook I explain it like this.


Imagine a vase, and put a few large stones in it. These represent the major things in your life from a mental perspective. Friends & family, work or vocation, eating, relationships, sleep and exercise.


In between there is space.


While I wasn’t on facebook that much (maybe an hour or so a day on average after I removed it from my phone) it was very much water in that mental space.


With it there, there was no room for creativity.


There was no room for magic.

Data informed decision making


In a talk Adam Mosseri, now Director of Product at Facebook,  gave in late 2010 on UX ( ) he spoke about how facebook was driven by data informed decision making, in how they design their user experience.  How they use the masses of data they collect to drive how they continue to engineer their user experience.


He also spoke to the need to optimize for the needs of the individual with the needs of the network, and that sometimes these may not end up aligned.




In it’s early days facebook optimized for growth (# of users on the network) and engagement (how often they use the network). With a billion people now on the network and ~ 50% of them using it on a daily basis their focus has paid off.


… and while Facebook is still winning the battle for our engagement with over 700m daily active users there is clearly plenty of indicators that others, like tinder in dating or tumblr for micro-blogging, are working out that you can engineer for engagement.

Engagement squeeze


In a recent blog post I spoke about picking trends ( ). In the last 5 years we have moved to a world where the world is literally at our fingertips. It is no longer just about working out how to engage people with your product or experience … you’re now fighting every other experience for it.


Having the highest engagement, while clearly not a bad strategy, may not be the right strategy for the product you are designing, supporting the venture you are building


Here, let me explain.

Wants & Needs

When I was pitching Planwise to investors I would continually get asked ‘how long do people spend on your app?’. A huge weight was placed on time on site as the measure of engagement, a notion I challenged with the following question


“If I took away both facebook and google (search) from you personally today, which one would you want back first?”


In almost 3 years of asking that question no one has ever answered facebook.


Although there is probably a variety of reasons I summarize it as although facebook is a great way to stay in touch, it’s convenient, it speaks to your desire for social inclusion or whatever other motivator you care to choose… when you really need to find something out in today’s connected world you need google, you really do.


Yet is not engineered so you spend hours on their search or results page. In fact it’s engineered completely the opposite way. It’s designed around the very premise that you have things you’d rather be doing than searching for stuff, so let’s get you on your way as quickly and effectively as possible by having nothing by the search bar when you start, and organic results on the left hand side and clearly separated from ads they also serve.


When you start designing your product or experience you need to consider is the underlying behaviour or habit I’m looking for the user to complete something that they are predisposed to naturally or are we building to a need that is a reflection of the world we now live in.


In the same way that creating engagement and habit works by understanding the way our reptilian brains respond, we need to understand that our core traits as humans has evolved over hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. Our ‘need’ to survive in our current world is a relatively new phenomena.


Dave McClure famously spoke of great companies work to get you laid, paid or made, which is a nice rhyming simplification of our basic needs.


This ignores probably the most basic of human emotional states however. The need to create, invent, learn and dream, which is core to the lives we live.


Love & Lives


In whatever product you are designing right now, you need to firstly consider engagement. How often do people use my product, for how long. Without the most basic of engagement you won’t create a viable venture.


But once you have established habits in your users, you need to start optimizing for something else.


You should work how to be really important to your users, whether it’s love or need, without simply further optimizing for traditional engagement metrics.


The technology that people love and can’t live without that lets people go out and live is one that people will never want to leave.


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Why Betakit could do more for the Canadian startup scene by removing it’s stated Canadian focus

You tend to have a soft spot for places you first got press when you’re in a startup.


Sure, press isnt everything and it won’t make your startup truly successful but in the last 2.5 years at Planwise, getting press has played a key role in just about every major milestone. Like it or hate there is something that happens when someone else says something about you that you’ve been saying for ages.


When you first get some press, especially when you’re pre-revenue, have a pre-MVP product or don’t come from a ‘star-studded’ team you know that publication has gone out on a limb a bit.


In early 2012, after having over 6 months of twitter conversations with a couple of the editors of, we were stoked and surprised when they suggested they’d like to cover us for their January ‘Hot Startups’ email, that went out to about 65,000 people from memory.

Sprouter was a place where aspiring entrepreneurs could table questions to some amazingly successful people in startup land. The email, that came out weekly, featured 4 companies hand picked by the team.

We had just launched a private beta of Planwise, and needed enough people to come through it to confirm our belief that people, given easy, fast and self-service tools to model their financial decisions, would not only like them but would use them.

The coverage we got in (which was being run by the same team who ran brought us hundreds of people over a 3 – 4 day window that pushed us into an easy 500+ person private beta. We got clear and conclusive data, tons of new personal relationships and could now talk with authority to our potential investors for our first seed round (which then closed about 8 weeks later).


To say the single feature in Sprouter made all the difference would be an understatement akin to saying ‘Elvis could hold a tune’


Going forward, as sprouter started to take a backseat, we developed the relationship with betakit (who also covered our seed funding). The publication stood alone for us as one who were prepared to focus on the startups, the emerging tech, the unknowns and unprovens. It had a beautiful grassroots feel about it, while having a depth of insight and coverage on the larger events that meant you could really get a full update on the scene and learn about a ton of new teams & ventures by spending an hour in there.


A few months ago there was a move, along with a management change, to refocus Betakit. Not to take away from their early stage ethos, but instead to focus this attention purely on the Canadian startup scene. It’s a clearly stated objective that I can understand the intention of, but I think it might actually do them and the Canadian startup scene they are looking to support, a dis-service. Well, perhaps not a dis-service, but simply limit them.


To make a point with a sweeping generalization, people in tech are people of the world. I’m not interested in a specific regional focus, the problems we’re trying to solve and the companies & people we solve them for (should) exist everywhere.


When the first banner I read says ‘Canadian Startup News’ I’m inclined not to read too much further. My response would be no different if it was ‘Silicon Valley startup news’ or Tel Aviv tech news’ (or Perth where I”m from)


When it comes from a team, brand & publication that stood strongly for the startup scene and by bravely covering emerging, unknown teams at times other than when they were just raising money, wherever they came from, I can’t help but think if you dropped the stated intention, appealed to a broader audience and just covered more Canadian companies by virtue of your proximity to them (physically, emotionally & relationship-wise) .. when you do cover them and help them get visibility, users, learning and even funding, you will have done more for them.


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A good friend of mine recently launched a kickstarter to help finance a low budget film. It looks hilarious so I thought I’d repost the kickstarter here. If you like comedy, standup, films and hilarity in general, check it out

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Picking Trends for Startup Success

This post was originally published at

Trend is your Friend


Stock traders have been saying it for years, and while I don’t really see eye to eye with their application of this rule, the inherent lesson remains.


Learning how to understand, pick and benefit from trends is potentially the biggest single factor you can and should incorporate into your startups’ ambitions to help underwrite its success.


Put conversely, failure to understand trends will without fail increase your likelihood of failure itself.


Where I’m coming from


When I was 19 I had spiky hair, ½ a college degree and a fledgling startup helping real estate agents put their property listings on the interwebs, it was 1999, and yes we partied like it was.


The world was abuzz for anything technology related, it had been for a while. It had been a year since ebay had floated with a valuation around 150+ times it’s profit (it currently sits at around 26)


A set of serendipitous circumstance led to me pitching a new startup idea, an SMS gateway, to a group of angels in Perth, Australia. We raised the money easily and in 12 months went on to build out a product, secure a lead client (a major Aus bank) and start generating some nice revenue. In 2001 we easily closed a small venture round, the money hit the bank about 1 month after the entire tech market came crashing down. I’d successfully managed to start and grow a tech company 2 years before the entire market melted, but we had customers, revenue & money so set out looking for another sand pit.


As it turns out our banking customers had other problems so within 12 months we had found an opportunity to help them in lending, mortgage lending. By 2004 we had commercialized a platform to help their mortgage brokers streamline the mortgage application process, things were going well until 2007, when that market too started to unravel.


In 2009 I woke up realizing that I had managed to pick the 2 biggest industry collapses in a single decade and start ventures around 2 years before their respective collapses. I’d been swimming upstream for years.


In my next venture I swore I would understand the macro dynamics within the market before setting out. In fact, I would aim to build a business around an observable, established trend, with my bet effectively being on the impact of that trend. Equally I would try to understand the cycle of the market I was planning to go into.


This is what I learned about seeing, interpreting and backing trends & cycles as a result.


What is a Trend?


Firstly we need to define a trend, which I define as being a single long term shift in capability, behaviour or need within a market.


In short

  • Capability trends relates to the evolution of hardware or infrastructure, e.g. the shift from fixed to mobile

  • Behaviour trends relate to how people behave e.g. the shift from office bound jobs to work that can/is done remotely

  • Need trends relate to what people want to do e.g. be able to check email on the go

And yes, they are related – Capability enables Behaviour which drives Need.

Finding a Trend


Picking a trend is relatively easy, you will read about it a lot and over a sustained period of time.


Mobile is a trend, there has been and continues to be a sustained move towards things being mobile.


Improvements in computing power and hardware capability generally, is a trend. A well documented, unbroken for years trend.


High speed internet is a trend, miniaturization is a trend, increased access to information is a trend.


These are a handful of the Capability trends that are established and will continue for years.

Connecting a Trend

This is where the trend shifts from capability to behaviour. If computers become smaller, faster and can connect to the internet faster what kind of behaviour will this enable in people.


The key thing to think about here is a core human trait that relates to the fundamental desire by all animals to do 3 things


- procreate

- seek pleasure

- avoid pain


Ignoring the first one for the moment the change in capability over time will result in new ways for people to find pleasurable things and/or avoid pain (more easily referred to as inconvenience). This shift in behaviour then drives the need on which you can build your product.


Let’s take an example.


Over time more people will have smart phones (simply phones with good internet, better screens, faster processors and other sensors like GPS). What behaviour will this mobility and mobile access to information enable? Perhaps being able to connect with friends who are also out and together find food that is good value, suits your tastes and not too far to walk to.


People will need (desire) an application that uses where they are to show them places to eat, of food they like, within walking distance that they can easily share with their friends.


What the trend does is multiply the number of people for whom this behaviour is enabled and thus need is driven.


Starting Yelp in 1998 before smartphones and high speed mobile internet access would have sucked.


A good way to try to predict the behaviour that will be enabled from the capability trend is to work in absolutes. If my phone was with me 100% of the time, always charged, had unlimited internet speed and could project video quality data on any surface.  What would I want to do that would give me pleasure or help me avoid pain or inconvenience.


The what if can be extended to any of the hardware or infrastructure parts of the puzzle from sensors like location (what if my location could be measured to within 1cm?) to data (what if I could transfer money to anyone, instantly at zero cost).


I might pay to overtake people on the freeway so I can get to where I’m going faster and be inconvenienced less.


Thinking in absolutes breaks you free from the constraints of a break in one part of the equation.


Picking the tipping point

Once you’ve picked your trend and predicted your behaviour in absolutes the most critical part of the process is required which is to pick when the underlying capability trend has reached a point where the behaviour you predicted is now also becoming a trend.


This may happen very quickly, think app stores and social media. In other cases it may happen over many years, think Salesforce/SaaS applications or online purchases.


The successful companies in just about all the major behavioural trends of the last 15 years in tech were backing the trend before it emerged and were ready with a viable, scalable proposition that closely met the final need. Trying to bringing a product to market and become dominant or successful after the tipping point is reached is rarely the case, gmail being a notable exception.


For you and your startup this means while you dont need to pick the capability trend, you in essence will have to bet the company on the behavioural trend you predict and the needs it drives. You will want to time your run so your product is viable & scalable at the tipping point.

Trends vs Cycles


Outside of Trends we also have Cycles, these being the more traditional ebb and flow and usually relate to things like business, political or social environment. There is an argument that you can start a company anywhere in the cycle and, if its good, it will survive at any stage in the cycle.


While this is true you startup success can be accelerated or retarded based on your timing in the cycle. The relationship between the cycle and the overall level of demand (a relative measure) for your product is both specific to your market unlikely to upset the long term trend.


For example the ill fated software I was making for mortgage lenders went through a small downturn in 2007 but then, despite a terrible mortgage market that saw some 40% of mortgage brokers (our users) leave the market, we saw an increase in both usage, volume & revenue after this. The trend eventually outweighed the cycle.

Making this work in your startup

People talk about luck or being in the right place at the right time. Others innately seem to read the market dynamics and tend to better see how a capability will drive a behaviour. There is even an argument for find the right place (in the market) and simply wait it out, although most startups dont have this luxury.


To make this work in your startup I would firstly be aware.


Consider the shifts in the hardware & infrastructure that affect your market, users & customers and at what stage these are at. Be super mindful of data/information, this is the most underlooked trend. Access to data, quality of data, timing of data, has driven more behavioural change than hardware alone ever has, and it tends to move it faster as it itself happens faster. (Granted in some cases the hardware trend has helped with the access to data).


Then consider if my users, customers or market had these capabilities to the nth degree, or in absolute terms, what would they do? … what would they need? am I building to solve that need? .. and will it be ready & scalable when it matters to enough people to make my venture viable?

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Winter Olympics

Screen Shot 2013-06-22 at 10.02.29 PMExploring paths in Ilustrator using basic curves drawn with the pencil to re-interpret the winter olympics


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Mystopia is Love

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Deep bar House – a taste of Mystopia for those coming to the playa this year

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New Deep House Mix

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Beautiful collection of deep house tracks with some haunting vocals throughout


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I can’t believe they’re going to shut down ‘Plate Sharing’

This has got to to be the last straw. I say that in jest, you dont have to bring your own straw when you go out to eat but you do have to bring everything else.. plate, cup, glasses, knife, fork and spoon…. and your own napkin. Except in a few restaurants that have been trialing that sharing concept which is potentially going to revolutionize the way we eat out.

It’s a remarkable idea.

What they are doing is instead of everyone having to own and bring their own crockery and cutlery when they want to dine out, there is enough at each of the restaurants that you simply go there, they serve you the food on what they have, then they wash it and it can be used by the next diner.


At first people couldn’t believe it, I mean who would want to eat food off someone else’s plate – but ‘plate sharing’ as it has come to be known is really taking off. This is the kind of thing you expect here in San Francisco, always challenging the status quo, and reinventing the way things are done to make the system better and more convenient.


It all started with car sharing a few years back. This was the most obvious place to start really. Cars are big, take up lots of room, we only use them around 2 out of every 24 hours. At first people were skeptical ‘would people really share cars?” … now it’s pretty much taken over ‘owning a car’ and comes in a variety of different forms.


You have big players like Zipcar who let you simply rent a car as you need it but then you have even leaner players like Getaround who realise that some people want to own a car and others want to use them. So it’s more efficient to set up a car sharing between owners and renters. After that you saw the entry of people who didnt even want to drive and just wanted the convenience of getting from A to B sometimes, so businesses like Lyft and Sidecar setup to enable people who owned a car share the value of that car by providing the service of driving someone else.


But back to Plate Sharing. I’ve heard rumour that people are starting to do plate sharing within friends, families and neighbors. Basically if works like this. If someone comes over to dinner you just let them use the plates etc that you have and then you wash them up afterwards. I guess they copied that from Getaround. I don’t know if that’s for me yet, but we”ll see!


So, it amazes me with the success of Car Sharing, which is pretty much mainstream now, how the local governments are set to ban Plate Sharing. It’s obvious that this system is so much more efficient and convenient for everyone. It’s better on the environment too as the restaurants can wash everything centrally in one go, rather than each person having to handwash their own stuff when they get home individually. Some people say that it’s the powerful Cleaning Product lobby that’s behind it all, as they realise if people could share all this stuff then it would cause sales of their products to drop by around 30%.


I guess that’s the way the world works though.



This was a satire piece designed to highlight the proposterous and arbitary nature of what we can/should share and what we don’t in response to a prop to disallow ridesharing services like uber, Lyft and Side Car from operating in San Francisco and other cities. Clearly these services improve the system and have nothing but positive benefits for everyone, except the incumbent operators who could have easily re-invented themselves. Support ride sharing by signing this petition or respectfully emailing to state your support of ridesharing initiatives.


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How the Internet will change Personal Finance

This post was originally published at

I started my adult life studying accounting and finance in Perth, Australia, dropping out to start my first tech company in 1999, raising millions in venture capital before my 22nd birthday, running the startup through the boom and bust of the early 2000s and well into the subprime meltdown before finally walking away from an enterprise software company that counted over 90% of Australian banks as clients. I moved to the US to start again, this time focused on consumers.

The Internet has created an unprecedented amount of opportunity to redefine the personal finance space but as at September 2012 the landscape is still hugely dominated by antiquated and enterprise-centric solutions. The lion’s share of consumer and personal finance software interactions still happen on systems developed decades ago, such ACH, SWIFT, Maestro/Cirrus and the ATM networks.

The most successful personal finance software platform in the US,, still counts barely 3% of the US population as ‘active’ users (where active is defined as using the service at least once a month) and is virtually inactive with the remaining 1.9 billion Internet users.

Clearly the Internet has not changed personal finance. Not yet.

Put another way, there is no dominant brand that the Internet associates with personal finance in the same we think of eBay, Amazon, Google and Facebook when we think of classifieds, shopping, search and social.

So how will the Internet change the face of personal finance becomes the real question and to properly comment on this we first need to define the Internet.

The internet is no longer simply the any-to-any connection of computers storing data, enabling any individual access to unprecedented information. Dropbox founder Drew Houston framed his massively successful company as not so much building a product or service for users, but for the Internet itself. This in a way represents what the Internet is becoming: an array of services on which applications can be built.

Figuring out how this Internet will change personal finance requires a look at the services coming online that are going to form the building blocks of any new personal finance applications. For example, I see these companies as the leading providers in their respective areas:

Historical Transactional Data: Yodlee aggregates all the historical transactional data from every major bank in the world, enabling Mint and the slew of ‘me too’ products. Their pricing and structure is prohibitive from the type of explosive growth we expect on the Internet. In time I believe they will change their model which will power the next generation of personal financial reporting tools.

Online Payments: Dwolla. Especially in the US, online payments represent one of the most limiting parts of the stack available to build out personal finance applications. The integration and availability of real-time data flows representing personal consumer transactions will enable functionality not unlike that seen in auto or health today, which live on similar real-time data feeds.

Offline Payments: Square. Point of sale technology is yet to be truly disrupted. Last month Starbucks invested a token amount in Square and agreed to roll it out to their 6,800 stores in the US. This represents the first major step towards truly connecting the point of sale in the real world and the Internet.

Banking: Simple (formerly BankSimple) is the first full-service bank built from the ground up as a technology company, with a mobile-focused banking experience. Simple will not so much redefine banking for everyone as reset the bar for how technologically progressive a bank needs to be.

Once these building blocks made by these companies (and those that will imitate them) begin to take hold you will start to see true innovation in personal finance. This innovation will be centered around data and decisions.

Personal finance is software that the mainstream needs, but doesn’t love. No one loves logging into their bank account but most accept that they need to know how much money they have as a binary indicator of whether they can do whatever it is they want to do next.

Personal finance tools that are yet to evolve will take this binary indicator far further and, by pulling in real-time data — such as historical transactions, online payments, offline payments and banking — will provide meaningful input to help people take control of their personal finances.

In much the same way as GPS-based navigational systems have improved as raw data has become more available and have become more ubiquitous as the input costs drop (physical units & GPS service), so too will personal finance applications become less and less something we go into and more something that simply follows us around.

Once this happens we will (as you can observe with any Gen Y or below) end up trusting the machine more than the person it replaces. In the end personal finance decisions, particularly those relating to our income, spending and debt, will be made only by first consulting the tool.

When your personal finance application makes it to the front page of your mobile device alongside Twitter, Facebook and Google, you will know we have arrived.

Until that point there is a brave new world out there to be created in personal finance. It may not hold the same allure or sex appeal as that which has come before it but inevitably one company will dominate this category too.

Watch this space.

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From guns to funds

This post was first published as a guest post for Startup Weekend but was originally taken from a talk given at Bay Tech Startups in Finance, a meetup event I organise in San Francisco

NOTE: LONG POST (lots of links to other resources & reading also)

The title sounds misleading, I assure you it’s not. In January 2011 I started a company called Planwise, by May 2012 we had traction, product, customers, a great team and seed funding. Somewhere along the way someone pulled a gun on me.

This post is a narrative from a talk I gave in July 2012 in San Francisco called “Idea to Seed Funded” and combines the story with practical advice and resources on how to get your startup going.

Let the story begin


Idea & Incorporation

Planwise (Mifii Inc as it was known back then) started with $35,000 in initial capital in January 2011, incorporated in the US. We had to incorporate there, to be able to get a visa for me to be there. By April 2011 over 1/3 of our capital had been spent on lawyers without a line of code cut.

Learning: avoid legal if at all possible in the early stages but if you do need to engage to do things like sign contracts with co-founders, leases or get visas then negotiate hard. Find a law firm that specialises in startups, get references, and negotiate both a fixed price for the specific work required and get deferred (6 – 12 month) payment terms.

We also spent $2,000 on formal market research, I can’t recommend it highly enough. The numbers helped guide our early product ideation but more importantly helped solidify the market opportunity. The point of your startup capital is to fund early ideation & prototyping to prove the market opportunity. Having a comprehensive, US ‘census relevant’ survey helped hugely with our early conversations. We used (for the US market)

Co-founder & Prototyping

If you’re starting a company built on technology, and let’s face it, if your’e reading this you probably are, then a technical co-founder is critical. For a bunch of reasons you should have a co-founder anyway. If yo’ure out to create an amazing product, solving an important problem for lots of people then it’s a whole lot more fun to do with someone else. For pure startup reasons it is a whole lot tougher to get funded without a co-founder, and if you do have one and neither is technical (read: able to code at least your prototype & beta versions) some angels/incubators won’t even talk to you.

Further reading:

It’s also important to structure your co-founder relationship properly. I believe in keeping cash bought and work earned equity separate. Have a 50/50 for work earned, agree a valuation for cash bought. At day one, value it at cash. Be honest with yourself, your idea (everyone’s idea in fact) is worth nothing at the idea stage :D

I got a co-founder in early 2011, we courted for months, we set off down the road together but when it got to the all important step of ‘burning the boats’ (i.e. leaving his job to come on full time) we hit a roadblock and we decided to part ways.

Was it easy? no. was it managed because of the structure we put in place, yes,

For prototyping – start with wireframe tools like Balsamiq, create low fidelity, highly interactive mockups and step through these with a broad range of people including those you might have invest in the future (mine included 2 of the 3 who would later invest). Let them get invested in your product evolution. Listen.


Objective – is to get a majority of people identify with the problem and confirm in theory that your solution could/would save that problem.

Twitter can connect you with some amazing people..  There is only two type of people in this world who fall for flattery.. Men and women …   be prepared to have any conversation when you get their time.. They will often see a more pressing problem than the one you hit them up about. In our case I met an amazing ex Flickr guy for a ‘coffee to talk about UI design’, he gave me 2 hours which ended up being all about what problem we were actually solving and for who.

Review your focus – who’s problem are you solving? What are you looking to support? .. If you’re building a consumer tool you need to ensure that you are solving a problem that affects a lot of people and often. We had to change our focus from mortgages, connecting consumers & banks … to any spending/income/debt decision, focused on the consumer.

Learning: listen to those who present different views – go back to your early targeted investors and get their input/buy-in on these changes but be sure to own the product strategy yourself.

Brand & Positioning

Our original name was Mifii … I kid you not.

It failed the 3 rules of good names

  1. Hard to read, when you see it
  2. You aren’t sure how to say it, when you hear it
  3. You’re not sure how to spell it

… it had to go. Don’t get stuck on your name, be pragmatic

How much difference does it make…  huge. Mint vs wesabe example, well documented on quora.. Be prepared to work on getting a good name.. We spent months on it. It paid off.

Spend a decent amount of money to create your core brand, give designers something to work with (a good name and a clear vision of what you stand for) and create something interesting in your brand story. We are focused on helping people make better financial decisions, but we know people care less about money and more about the things they want to do in their life.

Our brand stands for knowledge, calm, insight, simplicity.. nothing to do with money however the green we use is actually sampled from US money as an example … We spent almost 1/3 of our startup capital building our core brand and blog and UI concepts..  Allowing us to sell the vision to everyone in a far more effective way. A strong vision helps secure customers, advocates, investors and most of all, passionate team.


Learning: set an end point for your vision, but let the specific evolve. Most things people will ever do will be for emotional reasons, so try to understand the emotion behind why someone has the problem you’re trying to solve.

At this point we started to make enough progress that it made sense to bring on advisers. I will say the following about advisers.

Informal is good,.. Formal is better – be opportuntistic… be active on twitter… help other people (be an adviser, it will help you understand how best to use them yourself) …  structure equity, ~0.5 – 2% of pre-funded but fully vested capital for 2 year commitment. Document their role, core and other areas and leverage them as much as you can


Friends, Family & Fools

In June 2011, after we had created a prototype, which was testing well (formal surveys showing 90%+ people wanted to use the beta product once available) and had even been accepted into a major conference to launch the technology, my cofounder and I parted ways. Remembering that he was the guy cutting code, we found ourselves with

  • No product
  • No developer
  • No capital

So, on the advice of some incoming angel investors who had a relationship with Bulgaria, I got a one way ticket to Sofia. Over the weekend I flew world markets dropped 10%… so by the time I landed they pulled out so to further compound I now also had

  • No investors
  • No money
  • no return ticket

The investors had stumped up the first week’s rent to my 6’5 mid 60s ex mercernary bulgarian landlord – when I turned up to pay rent at the end of the first week with essentially the last 100 EUR I had left, he pulled out a magnum, slammed it on the table, and while gently stroking the barrel said

“.. I want you to know what happens if you try to run away without paying..”

I turned 33 the day before, happy birthday, you’re at rockbottom.

Learning: things can always be worse :) .. one day you’ll have a gun pulled on you too (metaphorically or otherwise), you need to choose what to make of it. I spent an afternoon watching TED talks for strength and motivation. I then focused on the uber short term.

I hit up one of my advisers, who I had met less than a year prior and shared the situation with him. I got him to agree to fund the next 2 immediate milestones, the second conditional on hitting the first. I agreed to underwrite his investment if we couldnt get to seed funding, I gave him superb terms. He deserved it, when no one else will back you, back the people who will, reward them, then work like a fking banshee to hit the milestones. With less than $15k invested we were able to get a showcase ready product from start to stage within 7 weeks, and in late September in front of over 1000 people at Finovate in NYC we showcased publically for the first time Planwise.

Within 2 days we had attracted further angel funding.

Learning: Fools who invest early.. Only look like fools to other people … in reality they are people who you’ve kept close enough to your vision and progress, who have been active in shaping it.. So are better informed than the outsiders looking in and calling them fools

Product & Traction

With a successful showcase, a small amount of angel funding (< $25k) and some publicity starting to build we turned our attention to beta.

A beta is primarily to provide a basic but working version of your core product to real people so you can establish with authority that they will actually love it, use it or pay for it. When you launch a beta getting enough people to it to have reasonable data is critical. To do this, you need publicity, you need to get traffic from established sites. We developed relationships with sites focused on technology, startups and beta launches early.

When we were ready to beta, they were ready to cover us. We ended up getting a feature in which sent ~1000 people to our beta, of which about 25% signed up. Combining this with our own efforts on blogging (which we had in place since August 2011), twitter, facebook and other sources.. we were able to get 500+ people through our beta in around 10 weeks.. and only about 20% were our mates, which is important.

A beta will have one of 4 outcomes

  1. It will suck so bad people will tell you that you should give up – good, learn this, change direction or go back to your day job. Better you know this now before you raise & burn heaps of capital which will then haunt you for years to come
  2. People will like the concept, and get it, but not take to it so strongly as to power new users coming from existing users.
  3. People will love the concept and actively start telling other people about it but conversion/action on this means that growth with be single digit and/or flat.
  4. It will be an absolute smash hit, driving 25%+ weekly growth that is self sustaining – and people will line up to hand you money.


Plan for 2, possibly 3. You can def raise money on 3, but should be able to raise money on 2 as well.

Pitching & Failing 

We got on to Angel List, it didn’t work for us but you should be there anyway. The following is what I recommend

  • Start early
  • Build a great profile, make sure all your advisers & employees do the same
  • Show an early traction story then approach Angel LIst team with that story
  • Demonstrate you have read all the core posts on how best to use Angel List and quote these in your approach
  • They will promote startups that are ready, in the right markets… initially to only a small group of angels…  to see how it goes.
  • Research those who respond well before replying, but reply quickly


Result? It didn’t work for us – our traction wasn’t strong enough… none of the investors who reached out understood or had invested in consumer internet focused on finance. Our metrics and assessment of the market/problem were not relevant to these investors… they expected internet / mobile level traction story (100,000 users growing at 30% a month). The successes I had in the Australian market didn’t seem to carry a lot of weight either.

It was a positive learning experience but we knew that we had to try something else.

Traction – in the valley and elswhere this is becoming the ‘currency of angel investing’ – it’s important, but it’s more important to the actual success of your startup and plays only a part role in your getting funded.

You can read a ton about traction but honestly early stage investors are really investing in two things

  • Market
  • Team

To short circuit a large dialogue, basically if investors believe in you and your ability to capture a market they already believe in, you have a good fit for investment. Traction helps communicate this to people who dont know the market you’re chasing and/or don’t know you. But if you’re getting a “2″ in traction above, then you going to need to come at this a different way.


Learning: If traction doesnt win you investors, find & chase people who already know you/your team and already understand and believe in your market.


Focus & Funding

Trying to launch.. And trying to get funding.. At the same time.. Is incredibly hard, don’t do it.  If your beta can’t get you funded … get to launch first…then come back to it. We launched our live version in April 2011. I started pitching people who new our market and I had a previous working relationship with in May. We closed in June.


Learning: Try to learn why you didn’t get funding.. Ask hard questions, don’t worry about scaring people off.. If they’ve not committed after 1 month then they are unlikely to commit, so nothing to lose by understanding what isnt working

Your reasons will be different but get in the habit of asking why why why – find the root cause of their disinterest in investing.


Learning: Go back to your roots – find people who knew you in a former life, who you have had some, any success with, even if that was also associated with some failure. Qualify that they trust you, and focus on the market you’re playing in … in short, find people from the industry who you’ve worked with and still have a relationship with.

Come in at your initial terms but be prepared to negotiate to get the deal done. Remember to appeal to their ability to help you over and above the money alone. This resonates with people who are successful.. Typically they invest and/or run businesses they either know/understand or can control.

Convertible notes are great for seasoned investors.. For everyone else they are confusing and only make your life harder. Keep the investment structure simple, give new investors the right to top up and know how to put together a basic shareholder model and illustrate their investment with this model.. Don’t’ focus on exit .. But do focus on the intended amount/timing/valuation of next round … likely a Series A



This is the first ‘exit’ valuation point for your seed investor and puts a level of support under their holding – don’t be afraid to give a board seat to a lead angel investor but set the expectation that this may need to end for a Series A to complete.

The right/likely investor will (likely) do the following things

  • Return your calls
  • Offer areas they can help in within the business
  • Bring in other angels
  • Return feedback in a timely manner

If you’re getting 0 from 4 here, start looking for more or new people.

The right people, at the right time, will make a decision in days and execute it in weeks. They will be as keen to get you the money as you are to have it.


We find ourselves with 12 months to get from a ‘mid 2′ in terms of traction with our product to a 4.0 – This will position us to raise or fund the next stage of our growth. With a clear vision & brand we have attracted some amazing people to work with us and advise us and get called by VC most months (we’ll be ready for those conversations in a few months).

Your journey will be different but hopefully you can learn something from mine – I’d love to hear your story and your challenges so feel free to contact me on twitter @vinaeco

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Application too complex to design for mobile. Try harder.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard someone say over the last 10+ years in software ‘that would never work for our industry’.


What they really mean is I could never make that work for our industry, another to add to the list of self-fulfilling prophecies. After hearing this enough times you swear you’ll never say it yourself but late last year I found myself saying exactly that.


I had the good fortune to meet with an amazing UX designer (and overall product guy, Andrew Chen) who helped me in a number of areas which I blogged about previously which you can read here. He also suggested I look at mobile, work out what our mobile strategy should be and understand how our proposition would work on a mobile.

At the time I debated the relevance of mobile to the use case and even now I believe we will get a lot of our users from the web/tablet optimised experience we provide today.


In early December we launched our beta to the public and went from a handful of users to hundreds of users in the following weeks. When people asked me before the launch what I expected I replied


“I see one of four outcomes..

1) worst – people not only dont like it, but can’t see why we’re even solving the problem

4) best – people absolutely love it and it goes bananas

or the two options in between being

2) – people can see what we’re trying to do but we have improvements to make the product amazing

3) people like the product and we start seeing traction

… and that it will likely be somewhere between 2) and 3)


This has been the case and we identified the overall UX as being at the core of what would shift us towards 4)


So, I revisited the ideas & advice of ‘design for mobile’ .. with our current beta as a starting point. Another designer who I know, is kind enough to give me a coffee catch up about once a month. He had a look, and while not providing a design, provided me with 3 simple functional objectives to achieve with any design


1) How to get the user to complete the individual workflow on the current interaction

2) How to communicate how the interaction fits into the overall workflow

3) The single amazing outcome that your user gets from using the tool

We spoke about possible techniques to achieve this but the main breakthrough in how to design for mobile, came in reducing the scope of the objectives. The more specific and focused they were the easier it became to reduce the design to meet these objectives.


I wont ruin what is set to be a great surprise in the future when we launch v2 of our software but the learnings from the last month are already clearly evident.


1. Get Users – it took for us to see users, enough of them, actually using the tool to confirm some of our beliefs and open our mind to others. In our case we went from 10s of users in our prototype & showcase to 100s of users, this was enough.

2. Define one critical user outcome that you can safely say will be important to most if not all of your users and ask at every step ‘does this interaction or screen or even field help achieve that outcome’ .. if not, question the need for it to exist yet. In our case, being an application to make better financial decisions we reduced it to ‘will I run out of money’. Simple, binary.

3. Question if the things (interactions, screens, fields etc) that you treat differently are in fact the same. This will help you work out  how to simplify your design in having more standardized approaches to what are in essence the same problem/challenge/step. In our case we realised that your current data and future data are not really that different (that will make more sense when we launch v2)

4. Find the quick user wins. By this I mean work out that the final objective is like the war and the steps to get there are the battles. Work out how to get users a win in every battle. These wins might seem petty or insignificant. They might also be colorful and fun if you let them, get creative.  It will probably mean breaking your application into smaller steps that the user can the iterate through as opposed to the ‘efficiency’ of having it all on one page

5. Constrain yourself. There is a saying that a garage is always as full as it is big. I set a constraint of not having more than 8 fields on a screen total and went to bed every night thinking about how to work that out. It was 1am. then 2am.. then 3am .. one evening when I worked it out… I then spent the next 2 days hitting up our UX/UI adviser to share the good news about having cracked the design… he fortunately concurred.


So, for those designing software, especially that which might typically be considered as too complex for mobile I’d say remember this.


Complexity is entropy’s half-brother. That which you use as the baseline for your design is probably trying to do a lot, too much, none of it well. If you can reduce the objectives of your software to one primary over-riding outcome that the vast majority of users will value, you have the basis for your mobile inspired design.


If you want to know more about our experiences or the process we went through here feel free to get in touch

(originally published at





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Startup? Marketing matters

First let me say..

Traction, product, users, and all the numbers that represent this going from bottom left to top right are most important.. I’m not going to suggest they’re not. I’m a product guy, I’m interested in building things and getting those things in front of people and getting them used. So everything I’m about to say assumes you’re building something The not so eloquent but utterly apt saying we have in Australia is ‘you can’t polish a turd’ … of British origin originally I believe.

For years I worked steadfastly on building amazing product, and in my previous startup in Australia we did. The technology & capability we built, still today, 2 years after it was first released, remains well ahead of what else is available but do you know how many more users we have now in that company than say 3 years ago? Well, not much has changed.

Marketing starts with..

A vision and a set of beliefs on which that vision is based. Sound familiar? It should.. that’s what all good products are based on as well. A big part of the success lies in understanding why you as a company are doing something, as well as what you are doing. Now, I’m over simplifying here in that it would appear I’m ignoring data driven decision making & product design. I’m not, data driven decision making gets to the execution of how we are going to solve the problem not why we are solving it. For example at planwise we have a belief that people hate the websites that are available today when they are researching online around major financial decisions. We have a vision to create an amazing product that ‘doesn’t suck’, if I can borrow from the Venture Hacks school of thought. To create an amazing product we will need to measure things to be able to iterate and refine our solution. But our vision & beliefs remain.

Ok, so back to the topic

So why does marketing matter at this early stage?

Planwise is a startup, we’re just out of stealth, we’re still in private beta but we spend a good amount of our time on activities that can only be described as marketing. Everything from writing this blog post and tweeting about it later, to spending a good chunk of our startup capital on a PR company as part of being at a conference we did a few weeks back.

Firstly, you don’t get marketing right first time. People are bombarded with literally thousands of brands on a daily basis. If you’re a startup then you’re starting at zero. People will make a decision to use your product/service before you’ve even had a chance to get it in their hands. You think your product needs iteration? I assure you your communication needs just as much.

Getting your message, your vision, your beliefs infront of people sooner is invaluable to help help shape how you will acquire customers. Walk into any VC office with an amazing product and one of the first questions you will be asked is ‘how will people find out about it’. If you’re building something that is not inherently viral like a social/sharing app then this is even more critical.

Marketing your vision early enables you to not only refine your message (the way you communicate your vision) but also helps you refine your product. By marketing early we were able to have conversations about our positioning that hugely shaped our product. It’s like the first cycle of product iteration “do people even want this?”.

Retractions are hard

Marketing does something else, it forces you to do things. It forces you to deliver things. Like you needed any more motivation right? But it’s been well documented. When people say publicly they are going to do something their compliance (a term used by in Influence & Persuasion, I blogged about this book a few years back here) goes up. When we committed to go to Finovate in early June I could never have imagined the hurdles ahead to be ready to get up on that stage in late Septmeber. I’ll cover those in a later post but I can safely say without the firm do or die date, we never would have progressed to the point we did. The single marketing based event forced absolute single-minded focus on the development required for demo.

At the conference the question we were asked by more than 90% of people we spoke to was ‘when will you be live?’. I provided an answer (November) and we are working to it but it wasnt until this week that I found an event to tie us to a date. That event (the Founder Showcase on Nov 8, feel free to vote for us at will be when we announce that we are in public beta. That’s not an arbitrary date, I’ve had a development schedule in place for a week that puts us in beta in this week but I’m associating the development with the marketing activity as I know it will focus the team again. It will force us to make hard decisions about functionality and priorities.

Hit the ground running..

New tools & technology follow a fairly typical adoption model, especially in the case of disruptive technologies. It’s been heavily written about and in some respects all fairly common sense stuff. (You can find more at if you’re interested). In short (yeah, I’m really reducing it down here), in terms of what we are talking about here, the first 2.5% are going to try your product, just because it is new technology. The next segment are willing to take some risk but are going to need to understand the benefits.. the message. Marketing early enables you to move faster with the early adopters once you have a product ready.

Momentum matters

Last week I did an interview on Fox Business, a brief 5 minute segment. They cut it short (in the version posted online here) but the main message talking about our vision is covered. I’ve had about 20 conversations with people validating that we are solving a real problem and the segment has helped us attract more media attention which will be linked to the full launch. Media coverage is a fickle thing and something I am fairly new to, to be fair, but it seems that getting coverage in one place assists in getting elsewhere in the future. By marketing early, even if only a couple of key but public items of coverage, you can move a lot faster when you are ready for launch as other outlets seem to use your current coverage as their version of social proof in deciding to cover you.

Truth is a construct..

And finally the benefit of marketing early is that marketing takes time.. truth is a construct that takes time to build. I’ve found that the time taken to have people ‘get’ your message is about the time it takes to get product associated with it to them. If you tell people what you are doing right now, by the time you get the product to them (or they get around to using it) the product would have evolved and being do something else.

I’ll finish where I started by saying I’m a product guy. Give me a well thought out, constructed, valuable product over a flashy campaign any day of the week. When your organisation has less people building than selling (in IT anyway) something is wrong (for the record ours is currently about 65/35 but should be 75/25 by November!) but in the same way that almost nothing is more tragic than raw talent left unused, a great product with no users is the same tragedy.

(published originally at

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Dreams, Deserts & DMVs – the Planwise road trip

The Roadtrip – events, experience and lessons learned

For anyone following the story up until now, it has been all a little too quiet from the fanfare pre-trip last week. Firstly, this post will give everyone an update on just what happened but like anything that appears to have gone wrong it is never completely wrong, there is always more to the story.

I thought about doing this as a video but the story took place over a few days and the pace at which things happened is so much better served with a written narrative. I hope you have the time to read it.

Hitting LA – Day 1

I got to L.A on Monday night, an old friend from Australia, now an actor/director in L.A picked me up from the airport. It was very decent of him and the period we spent in traffic gave us ample time to catch up. Paul came out to L.A a few years back off the back of a huge commercial deal and threw himself into the acting scene but managed to walk into the writers strike and the ensuing lull in work that persisted for quite some time to follow. The world handed him a golden opportunity to come here and served it at the worst possible time yet he persisted and has been having success of late with a short film he wrote, directed and acted in. It was good to see him however briefly as he dropped me where I was staying that night.

I was staying with a friend of mine, who I had met djing in a bar in the Swiss alps earlier this year. That had come about through a random set of events beginning over 10 years prior involving a former girlfriend from Switzerland who I had got back in touch with. I spent some time out there last August and credit my trip there with being a major factor in moving to America and starting Planwise. A long story short I got invited back out to dj at their bar in the village they all grew up in and while waiting for my visa to process, took that chance. Danny, whose brother also part owned the bar, dj’d as well. We go on famously and he, having only in the last week moved out to L.A, to also pursue an acting career, was more than happy to have me on his couch.

Why tell you all this? Within 3 hours of being in L.A I was reminded of the value of persistence against adversity and the serendipitous nature of any of our endeavors. Both these factors would play a key role in the coming days as I was soon to find out

Truck #1 – Day 2

Danny (and his mum, thanks Maureen!) dropped me off at the auto shop Tuesday morning and were on their way.

Greg, who I had spoken to on the phone and over email for some weeks was there to greet me. He was easy going, polite and articulate. I would later find out he had worked in real estate, which seemed to make sense. The truck, looked as it did in the ads, a video of which is already online. It did however have a part of the engine on the ground in front of the truck and not yet attached. Greg assured me it would be a matter of hours before I was on my way. In situations like these, you sometimes must trust in the judgement of others, so I made myself comfortable in the office adjacent to the car yard, got online and planned further parts of my trip. It was here I got the back story on Lizarde Auto Services, from Greg’s brother Gus.

Their old man had started the Auto shop years ago. His background was Mexican but both the boys were born in the US and spoke perfect english and spanish. The auto shop reflected 2 life long dedications to fixing cars, helping people and a love of things automotive generally, both Gus and his father. There was some beautiful old cars in the lot, some customers, others belonging to his staff and a few pet projects including a few mustangs and even an old pickup from the korean war. Still work in progress Gus assured me :)

I told Gus about my plan to drive across the country, meet Americans and hear their story, their dreams and their plans. It must have resonated, we spoke for quite some time.

In the end Greg came back in, almost 5pm by this time, to announce that we were good to go. Excellent, it had been over 100 degrees out in east L.A so I was in no rush to drive east into only hotter weather, but I did want to hit the road that night. We got in the truck and drove the 2 miles up to the bank so I could withdraw the money for the payment. After returning with a wad stuffed into a paper envelope which Greg told me to hold on to until we got back to the shop the car refused to start. It was incredibly hot and I was not surprised by this, so I walked off to get some food and 5 mins later Greg showed up at the car-park. In a fateful move, not seeing me coming out to get in the car, he turned the car off.

It would never start again.

We got back to the auto shop after 7pm and discussed options. Greg was committed to getting the truck running and assured me he’d be back in the next morning to sort out the issue which I accepted but pressed that I would have to look for an alternative as a back up. To which he pointed at a classic baby blue & white 65 chevy, parked just up the road. Gus’s daily driver and main side project.

Truck #2

Gus was still finishing with some customers when he motioned to me to talk further about the truck. This was not merely a car for him but the embodiment of his dream to drive to NYC and help his daughter in an upcoming move towards Florida. He spoke vividly about the dream and the need for that car to fulfill it’s role in that dream. I was heading to NY, I shared that dream, it seemed all too convenient.

So we went for a drive, out in the warm L.A evening, we headed north up the I5 towards Burbank, caught up in the perpetual flow of metal that runs through the veins of this city. Keeping pace with traffic, feeling the vehicle and talking about how we might make it work. It already seemed to work on a lot of levels.

In the end, with about 20 miles of driving, talking and listening we were able to agree on a price and an approach. Gus would run the ruler over all the important things the next morning and we would head to the DMV (licensing centre) to sort out the transfer of title. Realistically, with another 100+ degree (40+ metric) coming up it would be the following evening before I set out.

AAA, DMV & AZB Day – 3

Gus, true to his word, was at the shop by 830 and had his guys working on the last few items best checked before setting out on a trip of many days and thousands of miles. I got to the workshop around 1pm, and by 2pm we were on our way to the DMV, in a round about way. We stopped off at a workshop along the way, belonging an older Albanian man that Gus had obviously known for a while. He assured us he could look at the truck straight away for the brake & lamp certification that looked like a likely requirement for the title transfer.

We went to a AAA where if you are a member there is certain DMV services that they are able to help you with. If you sign up for roadside services, which I was going to need, they tend to put you next in queue for the DMV services they provide. With only one other person waiting it was going to be pretty quick either way.

The Russian lady was only too pleased to serve me, enjoying my Australian accent and recounting her prior experiences with my Aussie brethren. One can only imagine if the amount of help I was receiving from strangers over the last few days was a reflection of my incessant use of those 2 sweetest words in the Australian English language “G’Day”.

She was however not so pleased to inform me that since the vehicle was both de-registered since May and had an outstanding ‘salvage’ mark on it that the transfer could only be completed at a DMV office. A friend said to me this morning ‘welcome to the DMVs lair’ in recounting the full story to him. It serves no one to be negative so I informed Gus and we moved on.

It was now 3:30pm, the DMV shut at 5pm, there was still time to do this. Gus drove me to the DMV and he got Greg back on the phone requesting he help get the truck to the brake & lamp place with the intent of meeting us at the DMV with certification and the truck before 5pm. They could give it the once over and I could be on my way.

It was 4:10 before I got in line at the DMV, however it was only 4:40 by the time I got served. By then there was no sign of Greg, so I got him on the phone. It seems the brake & lamp couldn’t be issued, as the reversing lights that were on the truck, despite working, were not connected to the reverse in the newer transmission that was in the truck and accordingly not activated when you put the truck in reverse.

So by 5:40pm, I was back to the shop, we had a truck that was mechanically sound and had a reversing light switch installed, but I was in DMV no mans land. I had a truck that was registered but didn’t have an operating permit, it needed to get to a DMV and to pass, but it needed the brake & lamp to work.

It was going to have to wait another day, but not necessarily in LA. A quick check found a DMV in Blythe, literally the last stop before the AZB (Arizona Border!) and a couple of phone calls found a place to complete my brake & lamp certification, so I booked an appointment at 8:30am.

There was no rush to leave L.A, it’s not possible to rush L.A traffic and with the temp still a balmy 95 degrees at 7pm I instead spent some time playing with 3 of Gus’s 5 children, one of whom proudly announced it was her birthday. They were due somewhere at 730 to celebrate this, Gus had worked right up to the wire of his daughter’s birthday to get the truck right and to see me on my way. We both spoke of the need to try and see this through, I took some photos and he wished me all the best and I drove out east away from the L.A sunset, quickly enveloped by the patchy black of Southern Californian suburbia.

I would drive for a few hours, getting a real feel for the car. It is challenging and nerve wracking driving an old car on old roads. I discovered this in a trip across Australia a few years prior. It gets impossible to tell the bumps in the road from the bumps in your car. You drive listening to every noise, creak and feeling every stagger and lurch. I’d love to say I felt good to be on the road but I felt sick to my stomach. I had 4 days to be in New Orleans, I had a glorious truck, exactly what I had hoped for but I was not yet in the clear, either on paper or in reality. As I passed out on the bench seat at 2am in a truck stop 10 miles past Coachella and still some 80 miles from Blythe it was sheer exhaustion that allowed me to ignore the still searing heat and the continual internal monologue and get some semblance of rest.

Sunrise on a day and sets on a dream Day – 3

By 5am a biker deep in conversation with another motorist who had also pulled over alongside my truck had me woken beyond the point of no return so I decided it was time to get back on the road. For some reason this guy reminded me of Brad Pitt’s character from Fight Club, in the scene on the plane. I would later wonder whether it too had been merely a figment of my imagination. I fueled up and got on the road.

For the first time since I left L.A, I felt like I was actually on a road trip. In Australia not hours from leaving a city center and certainly any time after 10pm if you’re on a country road, it’s just you. In some sort of Pavlovian manner the 4 hours on the road out from L.A the night before was cluttered with traffic and noise to the point where it wasn’t until setting out at 5am into the milky darkness of a pre-sunrise morning that I felt I was truly on a road trip.

As the sun slowly drew itself from behind the craggy peaks of Eagle Mountain a barren landscape was revealed to me. It was beautiful and scary. I had been driving through this last night and days of this lay ahead of me. I soldiered on to Blythe arriving just after 7am.

It had taken 3 days to get to this point, it would take less than 3 minutes to understand that to complete the title transfer, which required a brake & lamp certification, would now mean 100+ mile drive back towards L.A as the only place in town that did them, didn’t do them any more.

A simple enough mistake for a sales guy to make at 6pm when I confirmed the previous day that the cert could definitely be done but in the end you have to heed the signs that up until this point I had assigned to the ‘challenges that made the story’ category.

As I meandered back to Starbucks, a green oasis in the otherwise hot & reception challenged town of Blythe, the reality began to sink in. I’m reminded of a ted talk given by Tony Robbins where he talks about success in the face of adversity and people who persevere despite continual setbacks & challenges and tried to muster up a way out of this but to no avail.

What the mind tends to do then is akin to the fabled ‘sour grapes’ but through rationalisation. It was obvious that no amount of positive energy and projection was going to change the facts.

Thursday morning
200+ mile round trip to Indio to get brake & lamp cert then
no certainty the DMV would then pass inspection
110+ degrees for the next 3 days (TX on fire!)
1600+ miles to New Orleans
Old car that can manage 60 miles an hour and;
in these conditions should be driven at night only when it’s cooler
but the real fact was the road trip was a means to an end, and that end was to demo a product on stage in NYC on Sep 19th. The trip was meant as an exercise in getting to NYC, marketing the company and lastly an adventure.

It was not contributing positively to any of the three, it was time to re-assess priorities, but first I needed sleep. No good decisions were made on poor sleep except perhaps the decision to sleep. I found a cheap motel, promising the Chinese lady that I would be leaving in the middle of the night and hoping for a cheaper rate. She offered $40, which became $45 when I pulled out a credit card. Turns out this was the standard rate anyway :). I was too tired to care, I set an alarm for 1am and passed out in between laptops, remotes and mobile phones.

Tasting the road Day – 4

It started at 1am, as the alarm went off, in fact it started at 12:01am. After a few hours of good sleep earlier I woke up restless and unable to get back to sleep. I had resigned to head back to SF but every other thought played over in my mind so I was evaded by sleep. By 1am, I was in no state to be getting back on the road so after an attempt to get up and pack I decided to go back to bed. It was the best decision I had made, I slept soundly till 5am when I woke up without an alarm and within 10 minutes I was pack and on the road.

The drive back through the desert, past Palm Springs and into Riverside county was effortless. I had the sun at my back, I found my road rhythm, swinging in behind large trucks and sitting comfortably at their speed. The truck was driving beautifully, I even reconsidered my decision to head back to L.A. My mind was clear and the road was open to me. The bumps I had encountered in the drive out from L.A seemed less so in the light of day and with the mental calm surrounding me.

It really is true that the drive back from somewhere seems faster. That which is familiar to us brings comfort and confidence, I took mental note of the parallels for the software we are developing.

By 930am I was well into L.A, on my way back to Gus’s. I had figured he could hold on to the truck for a few weeks while I went back to SF and then over to NY to launch, I hadn’t worked out how to get back to SF from L.A as yet but that could be worked out.

It was fortune or fate that saw me get off the I5 one exit early. I went to get back on and in doing so missed my exit entirely and so the option of driving all the way back to SF became a reality. I had it in my mind since cruising through the outskirts of the city and why not? I had done the math. It would take another 8 hours or so including stops to drive back. It would cost about another $100 in fuel at the rate I was going. Having the car in SF was inevitable anyway, besides since not needing it for the trip I had put it on craigslist to see if there was potential to sell it. I didn’t need a 65 chevy in San Francisco and had a few bites already.

I draped my hand out the window, a practice I had been doing regularly as a way of trying to gauge the heat of the day from my moving vehicle. In the desert, even at night, it was like the warm hand dryer at a dive bar restroom, but now it felt cool. I had the wind at my back, the sun as well and for the first time since Monday I felt good about being on the road, so I never turned around.

The rest of the drive home was easy and enjoyable, it was a taste of the trip I was leaving behind. The truck was perfect and perhaps one day will see the east coast, as both Gus and I had hoped. I got to the southern tip of the bay around 6pm and started to see the familiar exits to Mountain View, Stanford and University Ave, a subtle reminder that I had got my priorities right to focus on my software launch over the trip.

As I pulled up home in Potrero Hill, there were neighbors surprised to see me back and others who didn’t know I had gone. I was reminded by a quote that went something like ‘your failures are often considerably less important to others than they are to you’. After 14 hours on the road I was ready for proper sleep, with a clear mind and the knowledge I’d planned, tried, persevered and failed, but that this was ok.

The main game was still ahead.

Lessons learned

The trip was a microcosm of what I had hoped to achieve over the 14 days originally planned. I learned the following

  • Have a unique story and people will conspire to help you
  • Taking time to listen reveals the character of interesting strangers you might otherwise never stumble upon
  • An Australian accent in America doesn’t hurt
  • People relate to you with experiences and dreams, the love of the story is truly that which binds and inspires us
  • Children will surprise you with their blunt assessment of the world around them, if only we could be so honest
  • Little Caesars Pizza outsells Subway 3 to 1 in east L.A, from where I was standing
  • A field of wind turbines is a scary and beautiful thing, especially at night
  • When things go wrong for you, people for the better part genuinely care
  • Comfort can be found in social media, it is the people that matter in the end, not the medium
  • Sunrise and sunset in the desert bear remarkable likeness to each other
  • They really are feeding lots of hundreds of acres of cows in seemingly horrendous conditions, only a few hours south of the bay area
  • Traffic coming into SF on a Friday night at 7pm is considerably worse than traffic driving into L.A on a Friday morning. Don’t get too smug SF, if it wasn’t for the considerable & consistent wind up here, we’d probably have a problem with smog as well.
  • Home never felt so good as when it also closes a chapter in a week plagued by adversity
  • The DMV owns your dreams, when those dreams involve cars and road trips
(originally published at
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1 website via three website design tools in one weekend? who came out on top?


So here at Planwise we are getting ready to launch, super! ready! Which is exciting. A key part of our launch is a roadtrip that I”m going to be doing over a 15 day period taking me from San Francisco to New York City via the southern states and eastern coast. More on that later, but no point doing the trip if we weren’t ready to blog about it.


Our previous blog was one that we (me and our designers) put together super quickly when we launched our new brand about 6 weeks ago. Functional, basic and fit for purpose for the ‘stuff’ we wanted to do. For what we wanted to do, it had to go.


There is a heap of options – I’m not going to try to cover them all here but I ruled out

  • Custom design (whether based on a CMS or framework i.e. drupal, wordpress etc)
  • Custom implementation (coded from scratch, I mean seriously, does anyone do this any more?)
So I looked at 3 options which I will discuss in more detail
  1. Tumblr
  2. Squarespace
  3. WordPress (with store bought theme)


This is going to be key to what I’m about to say. The three website design tools above are all hugely capable tools/services and used by millions of users worldwide each so with the wisdom of crowds they obviously all have their place.

So my needs were

  • Inline video – being able to navigate multiple videos and watch them from the home page
  • Gallery for photos
  • Traditional type blog
  • Pre-built theme that is able to be customised
  • Social functions
  • Tracking/Analytic functions
So I started with the most accessible of the options, tumblr.


Within minutes I was up & running with no theme .. and shortly after trying on a range of themes. There is quite a few but they are just about all designed with a mobile device in mind mostly forcing a 500px main content window or at most 720px main window. This makes sense, tumblr is designed heavily with the mobile user in mind both for consumption and addition of media. All types of media were easily handled and render well. Themes however, I hit some issues. Primary issue was that when you install a theme you can go into ‘custom configuration’ but this doesnt give you the ability to tweak the template (at least not in the demo version). It simply gives you a clean slate. Now a couple of the better premium domains ($49) let you integrate via typekit which although I didn’t do I believe would enable you to modify from the template.
I played around for a few more hours, looking at different templates but in the end started to see the way in which the templates worked and the mobile design principles as being too far from what I needed, so looked for the next option.
I will say that tumblr’s support was excellent and they came back with a template refund on a sunday!
but, I moved on.


SS has been an old fav of mine for years. My personal blog at had run on it for years and it was sensible balance of framework (so you don’t stuff it up) and control ( so you can pretty it up). I knew my way around and within minute I was signed up and authoring content and using their inbuilt editor to control styles, layout, formats, components, menus.. just about anything. This part of squarespace truly is amazing software design as much as anything else. There is a lot out of the box and by combining tools for design & authoring with hosting it really has very little that you have to worry about. The help & documentation is beautifully polished and although I didn’t use their support this time, I have before and it is some of the best support I’ve got from any software company, ever.

It costs nothing to get going and the basic plans that cover a great deal of stuff are only setting you back around $10 – $15 a month, that’s barely more than hosting a website so represents excellent value. So far so good.

But then I got stuck – while trying to implement on my 4th and 5th requirements.

Templates – seriously, unless I”m totally blind the available pre-built templates were the exact ones available 4 years ago when I did my blog. .. there is about 20 of them. and really its about 7 with a few variations of each. Now, I don’t know whether this is the double edged sword of the amazing editor mentioned earlier or a result of not enabling a 3rd party community to create & sell designs but this is a serious issue and ended up being a near show-stopper. 20 themes for millions of users isn’t going to work. Yes, you can implement your own CSS, but if you’re doing that. then why would you have a tool to do that for you?

The nail that broke the camel’s back (yeah, it’s a joke) was, again unless I’m completely blind, a lack of inbuilt social sharing tools. I found a menu for Social tools but the omission was facebook as a point & click ‘insert into every post’ option. I still am not sure I’ve got this right but when I do a search on their help for facebook I get this so am pretty sure I’ve got this right. Squarespace I love you guys, so if I have this wrong, I will correct and re-publish.

so, I moved on.



Sheer scale is really the only way to describe wordpress. It is the behemoth in the room when it comes to building & running websites using 3rd party website design tools. A casual search of the term ‘wordpress theme’ returns millions of results.. 280.. million to be precise. Searching for plug-ins yields a similar result.

WordPress is a bit like Vegas. The sooner you realise you can do *anything* you want want, the more fun you’re going to have and the more you’re going to get out of it.

But herein lies the problem/challenge (or.. opportunity as I like to think of those two prior items). There is so much to know even really to get going that it is most left to an army of web developers & designers who over the years have seen their actual development effort reduce considerably to produce some pretty amazing results. I would say the reason you can get a website done for around $500 these days is because of wordpress. People will say “yeah, a $500 website” but thats the same as saying “yeah a $500 computer” which is infinitely better than what $500 bought you 10 years ago. The point is you can get a hell of a lot now for $500 and it can be pretty good (design, features, functionality etc)

So for my requirements it was not really going to be a case of could they be met but more

a) finding suitable solutions

b) could I implement them myself

Finding a template that you like, even as a starting point, is no easy feat. In fact this part was the longest single part of the whole exercise and although I’m happy I could have spent another week. The only advice I really have is pay, be prepared to pay for a decent design. It will cost you $50 – $75 from most of the major premium retailers but you are in fact getting the work output of unbelievable designers who are savvy enough to realise that 50% of the $50 sold to 10,000 people over a few years is a happy little earner. The other thing (more important) you get with premium designs is the investment in the quality of the tools that show up in wordpress to configure and manage the design. Now, it’s no squarespace but the core of what you want to configure (color, font, sections, images etc) is pretty basic stuff, no coding required.

Don’t think you could do it? well, I cruised the support forums (don’t buy a premium theme unless it is from a vendor who has a well trafficked support forum) and found stay at home mum’s from the midwest tinkering with their templates. Get involved. I got mine from a company called Elegant Themes and in many days of searching a forest of themes (in joke) I found them the best.

With wordpress it took a few hours to get going and there is definitely a learning curve but that is a factor of time only, not really technical skills. However, this only gets you 75% of the way there. The other 25% will take you the next day or more, it’s diminishing returns. This is ironing out how pages, posts and plugins are going to work. WordPress, whilst being like Vegas, is also like lego. Some assembly required. But the result, I hope you’ll agree, was pretty special for an outlay of less than $50 and a weekend’s work.


Well, there is a space for all three. Let me begin with that. If you want to create something quickly, with zero hassle that looks good and works from computers & mobiles and is much about your contributing content as other’s consuming it, tumblr is excellent. It’s free, hosted, looks nice, plays friendly with mobiles and all the cool kids are doing it. I’m sure some businesses are using it but i really is a product aimed at people, not businesses. Squarespace represents an excellent entry point for a company and some amazing sites run on this and it is truly an amazing product but it is essentially a closed system meaning it moves as quickly as they move. It is hard to compete with armies of people creating extensions to open framework based solution, even if sometimes that resembles a 1000 monkeys at a 1000 keyboards. WordPress is such an army but there is enough monkeys and enough time that the good has floated to the surface and there is a set of base templates & tools to empower someone with only a basic knowledge of technology.  And if you don’t have that knowledge then time/effort is your only barrier.


For us wordpress won out but I think consider your own needs based on 3 key factors

> audience

> content

> time/money

and the appropriate website design tool will be one of the 3 above.


If you’ve had a different experience or other comments please let me know. If you like our new blog, share it, we’d appreciate it! and if you want to know more details about how I set up word press (themes, plugins, traps etc) contact me at get [at] – I’d add it to this post but it’s long enough already!


(originally published on

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only upside – why creativity in art knows no bounds

Solve a problem, a real customer problem.. heard it?

I design software for a living, I’ve done it for my entire working life.. in fact I left university to start a software company over 11 years ago and have been finding & solving customer problems ever since.

I have long held in the belief that software design is a hugely creative pursuit, the day coders stop talking about elegant code is the day I’ll change my perspective on that. I vividly remember sitting on a plane in 2007 next to a lady who, in a conversation every technology person has had countless times, trying to explain to her what I did, what problem I was solving and how my technology solved that problem.

15 minutes later she was none the wiser.

So we moved on.. we moved on to the Myspace vs Facebook discussion. This was back when myspace owned the space and fb was the new contender. Anyone in technology could see the writing on the wallfor myspace, I stated this and tried to explain why.

It was a conversation peppered with lavish descriptions of facebook’s implicit design as evidenced by their developer/apps offer and their explicit design sensibility in realising that allowing users to change their own page degraded the experience for all the rest of their users. Some of these ideas are covered in aseparate post I did a few years later.


I found myself explaining to a non-tech person, that what facebook was doing was so engaging so as to be considered art, it was on par with a symphony containing all the  beauty, wonder and magic.. but most of all creativity.

But even facebook, by their own admission, seek to solve a problem, they seek to help people understand the world around them (taken from this interview in 2006). What is interesting is that you can observe any company that is solving a problem in a new space. The space seems completely unbounded, the innovation is huge and high paced but at some point the rate of change slows, the solution matures and a ceiling of creativity in solving this problem is reached.

There are numerous examples of this

- the car; in solving the problem of affordable personal mobility has seen only incremental change since the first Model T’s rolled off the production line. In essence (and suitably ironic) the over used ‘my customers would have asked for a faster horse’ maxim now applies to the very product that relegated horse drawn transport to history’s annals. By the way, the new problem to be solved is working out how to retain our levels of personal mobility without destroying our planet in the process, more on that here

- iphone, when Apple’s stock price might go up because they release a new colour (color for my US readers) you know they are hitting a ceiling. (nb: Im not diminshing the value of incremental improvements of which Apple has released numerous)

- The wheel, yeah it’s a joke but you see the point. Solving problems is bounded by the problem, you move closer and closer to completely solving it and one might argue at a rate of diminishing returns.


So how does this relate to art?

Well, I’m not 100% sure but I got a little closer to working it out the other day. My appreciation for art came from trying to visualise, in an abstract way creativity in both problem solving and purely artistic pursuits, so I offer the following.


Put simply you end up over time having less and less of the original problem to solve, for creativity bounded by the logic of a problem. Einstein captured this pretty nicely when he said “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere”


What’s interesting is that art for purely creative purposes sits both above and below the line. There is art that makes you happy and there is art designed to make you unhappy, well not in such a direct sense but within the context of some shocking statement to provoke your thinking, to drive you to consider the world around you in a new perspective and perhaps end up understanding the world around you a little bit better.


Sound familiar?


It’s funny becuase people generally get art that’s trying to say something, art that is below the line, art that ‘solves a problem’. And artists get why people devote their entire lives to working in non-artistic pursuits below the line, they are solving problems.


But for those of us who ask ‘why’ when some creates art, just because, perhaps consider that it lives above the line and if it doesnt ‘solve a problem’ then regardless of its intended purpose .. it’s probably going to make you happy if you stop expecting it to be a solution.


Today, for the first time in 15 years I picked up a pencil and drew something, a sketch of a cup. It doesnt do anything, it has no specific purpose


but it made me happy, and now I know.

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Amazing People

On the weekend just gone I was fortunate enough to have one of the most valuable single meetings since moving to the US to progress my new startup.

In a nutshell I was able to get a meeting with an individual who had a huge amount of hands-on exposure to a variety of businesses playing in the same space as planwise, Consumer Internet. I expected a 30 min coffee so was stoked with the 2 hours afforded to me. In terms of how to get meetings like this  and how to get value out of them I can only offer my experience which was

> Don’t reach out too early, discover early on the people you think might be interested in what you’re doing (firstly & most importantly!) and might be able to help you (secondly, and a byproduct of the first thing!). Follow them on twitter, read their blog & interaction, understand their character as much as possible. They will likely qualify giving any time to you based on what they can determine about your character from a quick skim of your twitter, linkedin & blog etc  as well as your opportunity so have that stuff at least up to date

> Have progress – progress involves overcoming challenges, if you’ve not made any then you’ve not worked some things out for yourself. If you can show in a concise and under-sold manner what you have been able to achieve then you provide comfort that you will get value from the advice/insight to be provided. Nothing erks more than providing advice knowing that it wont be understood or contribute to adding value.

> be flexible & responsive; people who are any good usually have a lot going on so are often opportunistic with their time. You might get a days notice for the 20 min catch up that will change your thinking

> listen! … If you’re talking, you’re pitching (probably) – anyone of any calibre will get very quickly what you’re doing, it doesnt need to be sold, get to the crux of your challenge or opportunity then start listening again

> no set plays – I went for an intended chat on UX design and we didn’t even get to the laptop in 2 hours. These people can get where you’re at with  your venture very quickly and accordingly will bring the dialogue to the point of maximum value. In my case we had some fundamental questions around strategy & positioning that were obviously open and our discussion in these areas was far more valuable than diving into a dissection of my prototype.

> Watch out for the ‘why’ – the most refreshing & useful thing to be got from meeting someone who really has depth of experience is they will provide substantiated opinion, not simply a point of view. Understanding why they are suggesting something is where the real lesson is.

> Capture the moment; as soon as you finish up get your notes down as quickly as possible and add your own thoughts (clearly marked!) alongside these. If amazing insight has been provided it will all make sense at the time but you need time (days or weeks) to properly process it and potentially apply relevant parts to your previous approach/strategy which means being able to revisit the new ideas or input with clarity. Your mind is good, but it’s not that good.

In terms of process, getting the ear of one such individual will likely require reaching out to a few. If you’re fortunate enough to be in the valley there are numerous people who can help you and will likely find your venture interesting enough to give up 30 mins of their time in exchange for a coffee or some such. The quality of your planning & thought to reach out to the right person, in the right way, at the right time should not be reduced just because you have a few people in mind.

Exercise patience, connect every 2 – 3 months and leave it after 3 attempts unless things have changed SIGNIFICANTLY for you.

Good luck, be humble and persevere

(originally published on

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Why twitter is DOS … and facebook is apple?

(n.b. this post was written before Google+ launched – published it after but decided to leave it as is although will probably revisit some of the ideas in another post)

Twitter, in my opinion, is throwing down the gauntlet to facebook in the social network stakes.

No longer content with being the plaything of the famous and those that would follow them I believe twitter has worked out their true calling which is to be come the internet’s social fabric. They are to end up becoming to social what google is to search. 

A toll booth operator.

Here is a parallel to consider.

Back in 1981 a young Bill Gates in a amazing display of vision, luck or both positioned his recently ‘developed’ DOS operating system to become the defacto standard operating system of the PC revolution that was to follow. He did it by essentially solving a problem en masse at a price point that made sense to larger players who were focused on more strategic activities, like selling computers, back when the hardware game had margin.

Like any company (not just tech), the way to riches is to sell a large amount of something small and create profitability through economies of scale and operational efficiency and any good transactional model starts out with selling something small but important (like an OS), for a seemlingly innocous amount and over time leveraging that piece,  growing the value proposition and finally the revenue/margin per transaction.


Today, especially in the public perception, social = facebook. Of course it does, you don’t need to hear the statistics from me, whether it’s users, mobile internet usage, advertising spend or even article mentions. But Mark Zuckerberg himself correctly pointed out that % meaures of the available market are of limited value when you believe you can GROW the market. 


In other words, the opportunity for to improve many facets of the internet and indeed commerce in general with social capability, is wide open. The future is well beyond photos & status updates.


Facebook knows this, and so does twitter.


So, how does this relate to Micrsoft & Apple? Well, simple really. Both Apple and Facebook are building everything INTO their network, creating a carefull controlled and curated user experience. But Microsoft, back in 1981, went the opposite way, creating ubiquity and growing the available market in the process.


In other words, twitter is positioning themselves to become the social fabric of the internet, to enable application providers to build social capability into the next generation of software AND devices. Apple’s announcement at WWDC only last week is testament to the strategy and I believe the first of many devices and software plays that will leverage twitter. This will not only enhance the value of software or hardware but will also make joining twitter more compelling, growing the network and creating a virtious cycle.


Final thought on where this will end up? 


I believe John Gotts got it right when he commented on article by Joe Wilcox on betanews eariler today, that Apple will end buying twitter, but perhaps not until they’ve built up healthy network to then close off and monetise.







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Don’t over complicate things – learning from our intern

There is a certain irony in the title of this post, which probably should have read ‘make things simple’ – I decided to leave it as it helps to make the point about learning

Last week we had a new person join our team, Ryan Paredez, who came on as an intern a few hours a week. Bringing new people into a venture is always interesting, especially at such an early stage. You really get a feel for how good your story is when you have to explain it someone who is not coming out of the business/technology world… and to be honest, in some respects, I struggled.


With the addition of examples, diagrams and the mockups of the software (we started development this week too!, but more on that later) progress was made and Ryan got a good handle on what it was we were doing. So I then asked him to explain it back to me, as much to demonstrate he ‘got it’ but also to hear it explained in someone elses words.


When I asked him the core customer problem we were addressing at mifii, barely hesitating Ryan broke it down to one simple 10 word statement..

“people not knowing what they think they’re getting themselves into”

It’s pretty much perfect. It identifies the 4 key aspects on which any solution is based

Who – people looking for mortgages (which I take as implied in the context)

What – mortgages

Problem – not knowing

Action – the act of getting into a mortgage


We were then able to much more easily relate the why and how back to the 4 aspects above and on the second time round both of our understanding of what we were doing .. but more importantly our ability to communicate what were doing improved remarkably.


If you’re starting a new venture.. with new ideas and perhaps looking for how best to ‘break it down’ .. try asking people who’ve not yet had their thinking complicated by countless blogs, features, articles, books, buzzwords or research papers


p.s. awesome start Ryan


This post is a copy of a post made at

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Always Learning


I made it down to the Bases product showcase in Palo Alto during the week. (more here -

Basically current and former students of Stanford showcasing product innovations. Everything from software to solar powered water filtration for the 3rd world

It was attended by some Silicon Valley royalty as well a handful of venture capitalist, always inspiring but I was determined to leave with more than just inspiration, but tangible learnings for mifii in mortgage education. This was going to be a challenge, hard to pitch to a room full of people pitching.

I was fortunate enough to get a few minutes with KT Moortgat from MDV and talk to her about what we were doing and with it a fresh perspective on where the pain points were. She related her specific pain in the mortgage process, which in itself taught me two things about what we were doing.

Firstly, all of the language showed more strongly than ever that mifii is really solving a pain based on the human condition. Words such as ‘I felt’ and ‘We believed’ demonstrate that what we build needs to understand, relate to and even empathize with people and THEIR situation.

But secondly the specific example that KT provided really demonstrated the highly specific manner of people’s concerns. For us to create something relevant to people it needs to be able to relate to their situation, beliefs and concerns.

It’s no wonder the vast majority of consumer mortgage sites like and are not working for the consumer (not absence of the word ‘average’ .. there is no average).

Not only is this a difficult proposition at a point in time, it’s also a moving target as the individuals situation and the market they operate in evolves.

Need to design a tool for the life of a consumers’ mortgage education, research and subsequent product comparison and selection.


This is a copy of a blog post written for


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Thinking forward

Originally posted at


Isn’t funny how so of the most mundane decisions make for the biggest impact and conversely the ones we fret about the most can be virtually unimportant.

There is a great talk on  ( which talks all about the choices a couple made when building a new home in the context of environmental sustainability and energy use. I won’t go into the specifics here but the video is certainly worth a look.

In any case the video was designed to demonstrate the energy that goes into building a home and how different decisions have both a smaller or larger effect than we might believe. The parallels with researching mortgages are too big to ignore.

Mortgage research

You will hear time and time again from us that the huge focus on interest rates in the context of mortgage research is misguided. Ask the approximately 1 million people who had their homes foreclosed on them in 2010 if they were worried about the interest rate on their mortgage.

In fact 25 points .. the difference between 4.75% and 4.5% amounts to about $9 a week on a $250,000 mortgage. The industry becomes fixated on the difference over 30 years, which is a bigger number, but is a bit like the fact that people spend about 3 months in the shower over the same 30 year period. It’s an interesting fact, a big number when you say it that way but in the grand scheme of things far less important than other factors.

When you take out a mortgage, or build a home for that matter, it’s important to ask the right questions and focus on the right data. This will relate to your personal situation as much as the world around you.
MiFii Solution

Mifii will be releasing tools in the summer of 2011 for US consumers to better understand their mortgage, we welcome early sign ups to our private beta, just get in touch.

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don’t just talk about it..

Today I went to login to my bank account .. and saw some links to a new marketing campaign they were running.. this is the nab campaign where they ‘broke up’ with the other major banks..  some marketing gurus idea in an ivory tower somewhere linked to an media/ad spend of probably around $5M .. who knows.. maybe more.. 

I presume the planned outcome was (according to an article in the financial review)

> take market share

> promote bank as being different


Without being at all offensive to nab, I actually think they are genuinely trying to change the way they interact with their customers and the market generally, but how about trying this next time instead.


Find 100 charities .. maybe do this by asking your 30,000 or so employees to nominate their favouries .. and donate 80% of what you would have spent on marketing to the best options on the condition they do a quick video on what the money means to them..  


Then create a mini site where people can go and see the difference nab is making in the community (you’ll need the 20% of your previous ad budget that is left over to do the mini site and promote what you’re doing through pretty standard PR etc).. it should promote itself


The internet is a wonderful utility for truth.. be truly different and people will talk about it, if you just talk about it .. people will know the truth.



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… and absolute consumption consumes absolutely…

I came across a lovely graph a few days ago… produced below for your viewing pleasure

 showing some interesting statistics for C02 emissions on a per capita basis. Now, I’m not here to argue statistics today.. but this graph triggered some thought processes that had me wake up at 2am to write this post… so here goes.

I live in the modern world, you do too.. if you’re reading this you’re probably part of the smaller % of people who consume the bulk of what the world produces, well.. per capita anyway.. and in doing so you probably produce (directly or indirectly) a good portion of the CO2 as well.


And here is where that graph got interesting for me – Australia, my home country, is shown as having second only to the US, in terms of CO2 emissions per capita (as well as a rather nasty upward trend), and I checked out graphs on personal consumption and its not much different. .. but Australia is what a nation of 22 million in a poplulation nearing 7 billion, what difference could Australia possibly make.


here is some things to consider that woke me up at 2am.

… I bothered to ask… why on earth does country based per capita consumption matter? Doesnt this simply complicate the numbers and allow for the kind of statistical interpretation that enables us individually or at a country level to simply justify our ongoing behaviour.


Australians would simply say ‘our per capita amount is high.. but we have low population, so, we’re not the problem here’ .. conversely a Chinese person could say ‘well, our per capita rate is low so I don’t need to change what I’m doing here’. Anyone else want to sit on their hands?


There are two important measures that we should consider.


How much do I consume? (subsitute use, output, waste as appropriate) individually?

How much do we all consume.. globally


I am not ignoring the role of countries (and their governments), their role in education, direction & facilitation is cornerstone to engaging a population to effect change however..


We as individuals have the greatest opportunity for change.


We don’t need a protocol ratified, a committee formed or a policy directive to swtich to alternative energy, drive less, make sustainably grown food purchasing decisions and consume less generally.

We just need to decide to do it. If 500+ million plus people individually can decide to join facebook in 5 years then surely they can just as easily decide to act individually to do their part to preserve what we have. 


What’s missing is the belief that something has to be done individually or subsequently the will to do it 




I wouldn’t normally push a specific course of action as I like to simply challenge people’s thinking and then enable people to come to their own conclusion as to what they want to do, however if you aren’t sure of simple changes that can make a huge difference then I present the following (in no particular order)

Diet – reduce/remove packaged & takeaway foods, buy locally grown food & produce, eat less but better quality meat

Travel – get a pushbike or a scooter. If you’re part of the 50% of people who now live in urban areas you will in most cases get from A to B faster and cheaper with these options.

Consumption – question the need to buy new when you buy. simple

Energy – switch to 100% green energy (nearly all power providers offer it)

Carbon – offset your life, – it’s cheap and simple

Housing – if you do need to build/buy new housing ensure your architect & builder understand the energy used in building your house (materials & labour) as well as the ongoing energy profile


Interestingly doing the first 3 offsets the cost of the 2nd two so you will come out about the same $ wise. I’d say “you’ll be healthier & happier too!”… but I’ll leave you to find that out :)

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blowing bubbles in the melting pot is all the rage..

This spring just gone, clogs became all the buzz in the fashion world, that will become relevant later.


I have just moved to San Francisco, the self proclaimed and self-evident IT capital of the world. 

Coming from Australia it is hard to overstate the difference in activity, talent, progress and sheer scale that I have found here in 3 very short weeks and I feel I am just scratching the surface,.. but the surface of what?

As a bit of background I have walked a fairly typical, if not cliche IT path over the last 10 years

Drop out of university – check

Start IT company with friend, raise VC, get patents – check, check check

Survive tech crash, change direction, come out the other side realising that traction and business models count for everything and good technology is table stakes

So, today I find myself in a cafe (any cafe, right?) in downtown San Francisco …  80% of the people here are on laptops.. which you can safely leave unattended in clear sight for 10 mins while taking a wash room pitstop


Welcome to the bubble. Immersion doesn’t convey enough the feeling, drowning would be theatrics. 


So, as usual, the context provides for the question. How is one to develop technology, traction and a business model for the real world? Does that even matter? 


My observation thus far is that, not dissimilar to the fashion vertical, what is in the winter collection in new york this year will be on the shelves in the real world next winter or perhaps the year after. Is technology fashionable? absolutely. Consumer technology is based on fashion, form and function as much as the next iPhone.


It’s almost like the bay area itself is a testing ground for what exists here today will be be the norm everywhere else tomorrow, following the trendy logic. 


I watched an interesting talk (webinar) last night ( by Naval Ravikant where he talked about the power shift from VC to entrepreneur as the barriers & cost to go from idea to solution were becoming negligible. Subsequently and importantly the focus from investors (angel, superangel and beyond) were specifically to see Traction and Social Proof. Traction, seeing people using the solution .. and Social Proof, have other people shared your vision and backed it, usually with cash.


From where I’m standing, understanding how to think beyond the bubble has never been so important to ensure the global success of your start up, or your investment in one.


In Australia, we suffer from ‘tall poppy syndrome’ where we cut down the over achievers…  most end up coming to places like Silicon Valley to spread their wings, myself case in point. Here we can be around like minded, forward thinking and motivated talent. The amount of learning and the pace of progress that can be achieved in a place like this can not be ignored..  but ignore what the rest of the world thinks at your peril.


Surely if you can create technology that gets traction & social proof outside the bubble as well as inside .. then you really have something of value. 


Clogs may have ‘come into fashion’ in spring 2010, but the europeans have loved them for years.