Retirement fail

It’s time to face facts. My first attempt at retirement has failed. It’s been just over 2 years since I withdrew from the workforce and I’m almost broke. In that time, my total income has been £1’700. Clearly, I’m not financially self sufficient. I have not created the revenue streams that I set out to.

Realistically, I spent the last 2 years farting around. I had some great times, met some great people, I have some incredible stories. But cash flow I do not have.

It’s time to get back on the horse. Time to get back in the saddle. Time to recognise that I must once again return to the pursuit of wealth.

Let me also be clear, this does not mean I will return to exchanging labour for reward. I will not. I will focus on building businesses, not working for money. In that sense, I have absolutely made progress. But the important word here is focus, I need to pull my proverbial finger out and get to it.

The first step is to find a physical space in which to work. Working from home isn’t working. I need a desk in an office somewhere. I’ve put out a few feelers. I’d welcome any suggestions.

I began this journey into retirement with lofty ideals and high ambitions. The last two years have been decidedly retired. Late, lazy evenings, later mornings, and a generally relaxed demeanour. I had hoped to sustain myself financially within that relaxed state, but in that ambition, I have failed.

Now I must rouse myself from the drowsy slumber of retirement and return to the sharp, focused, energised passion of commercial enterprise. Hopefully, with a few well placed choices, I will return to the lackadaisical lifestyle soon. Until then, back to the grindstone.

My experience at CHS11

Friday night and yesterday I was at Culture Hack Scotland 2011 (#chs11). It was a 24 hour hackday. A hackday is a session where designers, developers and other hackers get together and create stuff. Typically there’s a theme, and this theme was culture with specific focus on the Edinburgh Festivals. The event was put on by the Festivals Lab.

In this post I’ll share my experience, talk about the future of what I started, and offer some suggestions for future events.

My experience

My interest at the beginning of the session was the people in the room. There seemed to be a lot of outward focus. People were building stuff for other people, for the public, for some sort of audience. I wanted to do something for the people physically present. I wanted to make some kind of contribution to the shared social experience of the event.

I started out thinking about photo and video. Taking portraits of participants maybe, or creating a video diary corner. After a couple of hours I hit on an idea. I wanted to do something with qrcodes and people. (A qrcode is a square barcode that many smartphones can scan, more on wikipedia.) Tagging physical people with qrcodes so they could be scanned by other participants in the event.

I had a vision of people complimenting each other, providing encouragement, and so on by scanning each other. So a person might be sitting working furiously and another participant walks past, scans them, and shares a positive message.

The execution seemed simple enough. I’d generate qrcodes that linked to twitter with the tweet message pre-filled, including the person’s twitter username. So I can scan Jill and immediately have a pre-written tweet saying something @jill.

The whole thing was incredibly simple. I wanted to launch in the morning, but spent ages getting the qrcodes printed. Tom Inglis helped a great deal here. He physically purchased and printed the stickers! I arrived just before 9am fired up and ready to go, but it was well after 1pm before I had the stickers ready to print. That could have been a lot faster, it was an easy problem to solve.

The next step was to tag people, which went fairly well. Most people were receptive. In total I linked 82 qrcodes to twitter accounts. In total, I count 21 tweets with the #tagrrd hashtag. So there were 4 qrcodes for ever one actual tweet. Those 21 tweets were produced by 16 authors over about 9 hours. That’s about one scan every 30 minutes.

I had hoped for much higher participation, but I think my execution let me down in the morning. I think if I had gotten the tags out earlier in the day, I could have spent more time encouraging people to use them.

Future of tagrr

I can see some interesting potential the concept. For example, I like the idea of creating a simple brand around a qrcode. Surrounding it in a red box for example. Then potentially sticking qrcodes around the city, maybe along the lines of geocaching. I also think the same idea could be done at other events with the tags handed out as people arrive. People might use them more if they were part of the event experience from the beginning.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled for other events where I could try to test the idea further. If you’re reading this and hosting an event in Edinburgh, let’s discuss the possibilities.

Suggestions

At future hack days, I’d love to see more tech oriented communication during the event. The #chs11 hashtag allowed people to communicate around twitter, which was ok. I think there’s room for easy improvement here.

A screen dedicated to showing a specific hashtag for developers would have been good. Somewhere developers could post questions, receive answers, and so on. Maybe that happened around the #chs11 tag and I missed it all, but a screen in the room would be good I reckon. Another nice option is the WordPress p2 theme. It’s a sort of vaguely private mini-twitter. Can all be done for free on wordpress.com.

Personally, and this is totally personal feedback, I would provide less food more often. The food appeared to be quite expensive, which is nice. I reckon the experience could be improved slightly by having less expensive food always available. For example, a fridge with sandwiches and snacks in it. It would be cool to have them freshly delivered at breakfast and lunch, but ultimately, probably not essential. Likewise with drinks. Having a coffee machine in the room, always on, continuously filled, for the whole 24 hours would be awesome.

A halfway demo might work well. Giving people the option, not required, to present their project after breakfast for example. Let the guys who worked overnight show off what they’ve done, maybe bring new people into their work. Likewise, people could pitch tough problems they’ve hit, see if other folks in the room have solutions to offer.

Overall, the event was awesome. Personally, I had a great time. The highlight for me was the sense of cooperation between the participants. There was a great spirit of collaboration, people sharing problems, bouncing idea between different teams, and so on. There was amazing talent in the room.

A WordPress hosting cooperative

Maybe you make WordPress sites for cash. Maybe you design themes or write plugins. Then, after your work is done, your clients (or friends, lovers, etc) need to be supported. Somebody needs to keep WordPress and her plugins up to date, secure, and backed up.

Would you like to share that load with some co-cooperators in a WordPress hosting cooperative? Imagine a small group of developers collectively managing 50 or 100 WordPress sites instead of individually managing 10 or 20.

Logistics

Ok, you’re sold on the vision, what about the details?

Initially, a loose association of a few individuals, no legal structure. I’m willing to act as the banker for the startup period. I’ll register a domain name and pay for a few servers. I promise to transfer ownership of the domain and any other assets when (or if) a legal organisation is created at any point in the future. Or, if I choose to move away, to transfer the domain and other assets to another person in the group.

My suggestion is that we adopt a split pricing model. We set a fair market price for customers. In the beginning, it’s probably simper to charge per blog irrespective of traffic, disk or cpu usage. We can change this policy as soon as we need to.

Members then pay a pro-rated share of costs based on their number of sites. For example, we have 10 customers paying $10 a month, $100. Expenses are $150 a month, we have 5 members with 4 sites each, $50 over 20 sites, each member pays $2.50 per month per site.

To distinguish between customer and member sites, we can say if money changes hands, it’s a customer site. So a member might pay for 8 of their client’s sites at customer rates, and 3 for their family at member rates. The distinction is whether or not the member receives cash from somebody for that site. We trust each member to be honest.

Payment optional

It’s not as crazy as it sounds, honest! I suggest we adopt a post-paid, payment optional policy. At the end of each month, we send invoices marked payment optional. Customers can choose not to pay and their sites will be taken offline in reasonable time period.

The advantage of this model is we don’t ever have to deal with refunds, price disputes or otherwise. If the client is happy with the service they already received, great, if they’re not, they don’t have to pay and we part ways amicably.

Principles

  • Transparency: All financials are publicly visible.
  • Profits: Until we have a legal organisation, any profits are kept in the group to pay for expenses. No payouts to members until the legal structure is sound.
  • Do-ocracy: Until we decide to change it, we each contribute what we can and what’s needed to keep the system online.
  • Respect: Inspired by the Ubuntu project, in joining the group, we each commit to treat other members and customers with the utmost of respect at absolutely all times.

Next step

These are my initial thoughts as I wrote this post in half an hour. If you’d like to join the discussion, become a member or a customer, post a comment below, shoot me a message, or otherwise open the communication lines. :-)

Announcing my retirement

I am going to retire on 1 July 2009. In a little over 2 months, less than 2 months after my 27th birthday, I will retire.

retire v.intr.

  1. To withdraw, as for rest or seclusion.
  2. To go to bed.
  3. To withdraw from one’s occupation, business, or office; stop working.
  4. To fall back or retreat, as from battle.
  5. To move back or away; recede.

I’m calling it retirement symbolically. I’m putting an end to the work that has been my livelihood for my adult life thus far. The time has come for a change. Time to do something new, in a new way. Time for a new chapter.

Why? My work is just that, work. I exchange time for money. It’s productive, it affords me a lifestyle I enjoy, but it’s just work. I feel that it’s time to change the way I work firstly, and secondly the type of work I do. In order to make that change, I’m choosing to give up my existing work completely. I want to have a clean break, to be free to engage in my new chapter as I choose.

What will I do? I’m not completely sure yet. I’ll start by writing. I will carve out a space in which I will serve my readers. If my service is useful, the financial matters will take care of themselves. That will be my aim, to serve for 12 hours a week. If I can do it well, I’ll be able to sustain myself financially. I’m confident I can offer something of value to readers.

I believe that what a person holds to be possible, what they think they can do, governs what life offers them. I believe I can generate value to society contributing 12 hours per week. I will leave my “profession” behind and take up this challenge.

This photo appeared 1st and 9th searching for the terms “new” and “freedom” with the “most interesting” option set.

Introducing Chris Guillebeau

I read Seth Godin’s blog. Seth wrote this about Chris Guillebeau’s newest manifesto called 279 Days to Overnight Success (pdf).

I have just finished reading the manifesto. I’m inspired. I agree with probably 30% to 50% of the content, but that’s not the point. The very existence of the manifesto is what inspires me. It’s time to make a change in my life. Thank you Seth and thank you Chris.

I’m not decided yet, but I think I’m going to retire as a programmer. I have a contract that finishes at the end of June. Right now, I’m thinking that I will no longer accept any money in exchange for computer / programming related work after 30 June 2009. I need to burn my boats if I’m going to move forward.

[ Burning the boats refers to the story that in 1519 Hernando Cortes led a small army to conquer a foreign land. He burned their boats after arriving to make it clear to his men, there is no retreat, conquer or die. ]

I think I may embark on a new project and call it the 12 hour experiment. More information to follow soon.

Book Review: Built to Last

I’ve just finished reading Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras. I picked up a copy of Fortune magazine on my Frontier Airways flight from San Jose, Costa Rica to Los Angeles. One of the articles that caught my eye was about Jim Collins and the book he’s working on. They referenced his earlier work Built to Last. I picked up a copy a week later at LAX before my flight to New York.

Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras wrote the book as the product of a 6 year research project. They selected 18 companies which they identified as “visionary”. Each company was at least 50 years old and had survived and indeed thrived under multiple generations of leadership and multiple product cycles. The idea was to find companies that had succeeded beyond the success of one individual product or leader.

They then painstakingly researched these companies, some founded in the 1800s, and compared them against a carefully selected set of “comparison” companies. The comparison companies all outperformed the market, but were not as highly regarded or as profitable as the “visionary” companies. In effect, they compared a list of great companies against a list of outstanding companies.

Over a 6 year period they identified a series of trends, patterns, consistent behaviours that set visionary companies apart. These findings are the subject of their book.

Clock building

The first concept the authors introduce is that of time telling versus clock building. They define clock building as the art of building something that will endure, that will perform, over a very long time (over 50 years in this case). Whereas time telling is the act, the trade, the work of a person.

A great time teller may be able to tell you the exact time, to the second, at any point, night or day. That person is incredibly skilled and (in the context of the metaphor) extremely useful. However, the clock builder by comparison, creates a device that tells any person the time, long after the time teller or clock builder themselves will be dead.

The authors assert that the leaders of visionary companies are clock builders, not just time tellers. They build organisations, institutions in fact, that are designed to endure, to perform over the long term (50+ years). These leaders build companies which transcend their personal leadership and even the current products of the company.

The so-called visionary companies are like wonderful, artistic clocks. They tick and whir and continue to operate through many generations of people, products and markets. As a result, these visionary companies drastically outperform their comparison companies in financial terms. The visionary companies performance is in an entirely different league to that of a “market average” company.

Genius of the and

The authors warn of “the tyranny of the or”. They propose that visionary companies strive to achieve multiple objectives simultaneously. For example, to plan for 10 to 30 year goals while also performing exceptionally well today. To give back to their communities, employees and customers while also making healthy profits.

This is a wonderful concept to me. I’ve long held the belief that being ethical or doing the “right” thing is not counter to being successful. The authors described this concept wonderfully in calling it “the genius of the and”.

They showed that time and time again, visionary companies set extremely high milestones in areas which might traditionally appear to be in conflict. The most common example is financial performance, profit. Visionary companies show that treating people well, treating the environment well, is actually a hugely profitable strategy, far more profitable than the “average” company who views these objectives as mutually exclusive.

Preserve the core, stimulate progress

Using the yin / yang symbol, the authors introduce the motto “preserve the core, stimulate progress”. This is essentially a simple concept. Define what the company is about, not what it does, and remain true to that while changing everything else.

This means truly defining what your company is about, what it means, what it believes, not merely the actions it performs. This can be thought of as the company’s personal values, belief systems. What does the company believe to be important beyond just profit.

Once that has been discovered, and it can only be discovered not prescribed, remain absolutely true to it. While remaining true to these core values, change as necessary in response to market conditions, the outside world, and all manner of other factors. In fact, change constantly, recognise change as the only constant.

This is linked to the idea of the genius of the and. In addition to constant change, the core must remain solid. Remain true to the ideals of the company, but respond to the external world proactively.

Seek consistent alignment

Tied into the concepts above, work tirelessly and continually to keep the company in alignment with its core values, its core beliefs, what it stands for. Any misalignment between these two must be stamped out ruthlessly. New and creative ways must be perpetually sought to bring the company more into alignment with its ideals.

This is a crucial point. To simply write a mission statement, values, and so on, means nothing. A company must truly live these values. Everything within the company must constantly reinforce these values. In other words, talk is cheap.

If a key value is to treat all staff as equal, this must be carried through in every decision the company makes. If upper management travel by private jet while other people within the company do not, this is out of alignment. This is a clear signal that the company does not truly live it’s so-called values.

This process of seeking alignment is a perpetual one.

Summary

I enjoyed the book. I read it in less than 10 days. The content of the book is excellent. The points made are spot on. The actual writing style of the book I found a little long winded, slightly academic and at times dull. But not so much that I stopped reading it or skipped sections.

Overall, I thoroughly recommend Built to Last to anyone interested in business, organisations or better understanding the world around them. I gained deeper insight into how the world works through this book.

My Manhattan office

I went to the New York OpenCoffee meeting this morning. I’ve been to a few OpenCoffee’s around the world and I like the events. They normally give me a quick flavour of the tech scene in a place. The meetings in Cape Town are really buzzing for example.

This morning’s meeting opened with a series of introductions, each person introduced themselves in that usual “My name is blah and my company is called blah and I blah blah blah”. I was looking for a place to work for the day so I literally jumped from my seat when my turn came. I sprang into life, delivered an energetic good morning, explained my name was Callum, I’m from Scotland, and I was looking for a desk for the day.

The charming, generous and downright handsome Ashley J. Heather was a couple of intros before me. English accent, runs a tech incubator. Perfect I thought. He agreed. Bingo, I had scored an office for the day. So this post comes to you from the office space of dotbox. Thanks Ashley. :-)

Here’s a completely unrelated, creative commons licenced picture of a totally different type of dotbox for your viewing pleasure!

Satellite versus roaming

Satellite broadband runs about $5-$7 USD per Mb. It seems expensive. I thought I’d compare that to global roaming charges. Vodafone NZ charge $10 – $30 per Mb depending on the region!

At these kind of prices, it looks like I’ll be staying in major metropolitan areas with wifi for the next few months. I was dreaming of getting a satellite phone and a camper van (or a motorbike) and taking off into the wild!

If I want to be uber-available, I might consider a pre-paid satellite sim card ($500!) valid for 6 months. Paired with a satellite handset, I could potentially be “permanently connected”. Food for thought.

There’s still time…

… to apply for the alternative MBA. Applications due tomorrow (Sunday). I’ve just sent Seth my application. It’s done. It’s in. I can probably still make changes, I guess Seth won’t see it until Monday morning. But I won’t, it’s done. Now time will tell.

If I’m accepted, awesome, 6 months in New York working with a group of amazing people. If Seth doesn’t think I’m the right person for the program, equally awesome, I’ll be spending the next 6 months in Latin America. I really can’t lose. :)

Have a smile…

A non MBA with Seth Godin

Wow. I just woke up and read this. Awesome. I’m physically excited. My first thought is, apply, do it right now, immediately, without hesitation. Ok, reality check:

  • I have 6 months of expenses saved, I can afford it.
  • I could still spend 3 hours / day working on my own stuff.
  • How would I get a visa to remain in the US for 6 months?
  • I’d need to apply and be accepted!

It would be a huge commitment. I dreamed up a new project last night. One new customer per day. If I can find one customer per day for StraightPress, in 6 months, I’ll have a sustainable business. I was thinking to launch on 1 January, try to get a few other people on board.

There’s something about Seth’s focus that really connects with me. I’ve always been hesitant to fully engage with purely commercial projects. I’ve never felt quite … comfortable about it. Somehow like just making money was a little corrupt. I think I’ve managed to solve that within StraightPress by making our service available, for free, to non profits, charities, NGOs, and others.

Application deadline is 14 December. That’s 2 weeks. I have some time to consider. Anyone care to comment? Should I go for it? Either way I’m about to email the top 10 people I think would benefit from it. Now who are they? :)

Thinking bigger

Thinking bigger by HalonaCoast

I think Seth Godin’s is my favourite blog. His posts are short, concise and usually thought provoking. Seth avoids the mistake of writing too much, too often, and writing crap just to keep the content flowing.

Today Seth talks about thinking bigger. It’s got me thinking about StraightPress.

I host a handful of WordPress sites for family, friends and so on. Every time a WordPress update is released, I manually go through each site, run a backup, apply the update, then test the site. It’s a time consuming process, but it’s important to keep the sites secure. The sites are on my server, so security is my concern. It’s a bit like brushing your teeth. Important, but not always the highlight of your day.

This is where the idea for StraightPress was born. If I can manage a handful of sites, why not manage a few hundred sites, and generate serious economy of scale? Like a professional tooth brusher. We’ll come round to your house at 6pm every night and give your teeth a professional clean. Great I thought, here’s a business I can build that meets my criteria.

Recently I read the excellent book Scientific Advertising (pdf) by Claude Hopkins. The book was written in 1923 and is as relevant today as the day it was penned. It really is an inspirational read. It’s a book about caution, practicality, being realistic. It’ll never inspire you to create Google, Apple or Twitter, but like insurance, it will keep you safe, sensible and secure.

The book makes an excellent point about toothpaste. The author makes the point that tooth paste is easier sold on account of its beauty enhancement than its disease prevention. I do believe that is true. Offering a product that enhances, improves, enriches is a much easier sell than a product that prevents.

Why do you want your WordPress site kept up to date? One of the most important reasons is security. Preventing problems. But that’s not a great selling point. New features is another important point. WordPress 2.6 added post revisions. Every time you save a post or page, it creates a new version. So if you mess something up, you can easily go back to an older version. That’s a very powerful feature.

My question is, how do I think bigger? How do I shape StraightPress so the offering is oustanding, remarkable, notable. What can we offer, around WordPress hosting and management, that would make people sit up and say “Damn, I want me some of that”? I don’t have an answer today, but it’s a question that will be on my mind until I do.

Where to incorporate?

I’m starting a business. It’s a purely online business. We’re going to manage WordPress sites. Customers will be global. A grandma in Detroit, a professional blogger in Sydney, or a teenager in Bangkok. As the principal owner of the business, I will be nomadic for a few more years. I’m trying to decide where to incorporate said business.

  • I might eventually sell the business, most likely in the USA.
  • I don’t mind paying tax, but I want to stay “international”.
  • We’ll most likely take payment by PayPal.
  • I believe in transparency, the ownership structure will be visible for all the world to see.

I’ve considered a few options:

  • Incorporate in Vanuatu. Tax haven, minimal red tape. Can I get PayPal linked to my Vanuatian bank account?
  • Incorporate in Vanuatu, establish subsidiary in Scotland. Gives me long term international ownership. Might add legal complexity.
  • Incorporate in Scotland. Administration of the business has a cost. Would I need a director physically in Scotland?
  • Incorporate in the USA. Not sure how to do that from overseas. Is it costly? Worth the effort? Bureaucratic red tape?

What do you think? Can you share any experience? Do you know any experts in this area I could speak to?

Here’s a picture from Jennoit on flickr which came up on a search for incorporate!

Incorporate...

Inspiration from Seth – stay true

Seth posts this. Inspirational. It’s inspiring to see somebody at the point in their life/career where they can be true to their principles. I think it’s harder to remain true to one’s ideals at the earlier stages of a career. When you’re earning less, have less exposure, less influence, and so on. However, ironically, I think remaining true to principle is probably key to gaining that later success.

In my personal experience, the “truer” I am to my principles, my values, myself, the easier, happier, more successful I am. I’ve noticied this is especially true commercially. For example, when I only get involved in projects or work which I really believe in, things work out great. By figuring out what a great job looks like for me, I have a great job.

Smile launch faster payments

Smile! (Week 14) by cybertoadChanges are afoot in UK banking. I just received an email from Smile telling me about faster payments.

Dear Callum

At smile we’re always looking at ways we can improve the service we offer you. This is why we’re pleased to tell you about Faster Payments. The Faster Payments Service will speed up the way you make and receive electronic payments. It means, in most cases, the beneficiary will receive the payment in two hours, instead of the usual three working days it takes currently.

In future you will be able to use the Faster Payments Service to make funds transfers, including, future dated transfers, bill payments and standing orders.

The service will be free – and you don’t need to do anything to benefit. All eligible payments will automatically go via the Faster Payments Service once it becomes available for your account.

The official industry launch happened at the end of May 2008. However the Faster Payments Service is one of the most complex services introduced in recent times and we want to make sure it’s fully functional before making it available to our customers. Along with many other banks we will be conducting a phased introduction over several months, so it may not be available until early next year.

Visit http://www.smile.co.uk/faster for more details.

Yours sincerely,

The smile team

The email was also followed with this rather nonsensical disclaimer:

This e-mail is intended solely for the addressee and is strictly confidential. If you are not the addressee, please do not read, print, re-transmit, store or act in reliance on it or any attachments. Instead please e-mail it back to the sender and delete the message from your computer.

As you’ll notice I chose to ignore that! :evil:

A vision for Lonely Planet

Lonely planet publish books. They’re a book publisher. Books, in their traditional paper form, are dying. I attended a talk by Frances Linzee Gordon on Wednesday night at Gleebooks. Frances is a travel writer for Lonely Planet. She’s a great traveller. She’s a good photographer. She has some fantastic stories. It’s a pity her employer is bound to fail. That is, unless they evolve, and evolve fast.

This got me thinking, what would I advise Lonely Planet to do? I’ve thought about it a little. Here’s a quick summary.

Core offering

At it’s core, a Lonely Planet guidebook is 2 things. First, it’s a guide. Second, it’s a directory of information.

The guide is the bit that people like Frances make wonderful. The guide inspires you. It motivates you. It captures your imagination. You can fall in love with a place just by reading the guide. The information in the guide stays fairly constant. If a place is charming today, it’ll be charming a year from now.

The directory is indispensable. It’s a list of accommodation, sights, attractions, entertainment for the kids, emergency services, embassies, etc, etc. This information changes almost daily. New businesses open. Old businesses close. Places get better, places get worse. Opening hours change. The book can only hope to be “good enough to be useful”. It can’t possibly be “current”.

I think firstly, Lonely Planet needs to recognise this divide. Then they need to start separating the parts.

User input

Wikipedia, Wikitravel, Mahalo, they all work. They’re all using user feedback in one way or another. It works. Mahalo are trialling a great model. Something similar would work for Lonely Planet. Let readers update the directory. Business owners, bloggers, anyone. Let them all update the directory. Then have Lonely Planet staff check the facts. Anything else would be madness in this day and age.

The fact checking can be done mostly remotely. By telephone, email, or even online. It’s relatively unskilled work, so it’s cheap and easy to outsource. All sorts of smart algorithms could be used to prioritise what gets fact checked first.

So the content in the directory stays fresh, almost live.

Print

Print is what makes Lonely Planet great. You can buy it in a shop and take it with you. No wires, no batteries, no breakages. Split the book into two sections. Firstly, the glossy guide. Full colour, luxurious pages, beautiful photos. Secondly, the directory. Lighter paper, black and white, no photos. Here’s the genius. Make them two separate books. Put the directory inside the guide. In a back pocket. In a separate holder. Whatever.

Then print the guides every year. Every 18 months. As often as the books are currently printed. But, here’s the catch, print the guides every month. Grab whatever’s ready at the deadline, and print it. Mark what’s been verified and what hasn’t, and print anyway. Offer cheap updated directories for existing book owners. Let existing book owners print their own guides online.

Conclusion

Focus on the strengths. Lonely Planet has a great reputation. Let the travel writers focus on being great writers. Let the readers update the directory. Split the book in half. Print-on-demand the directory, pour even more splendour into the guide.

The reality is, if Lonely Planet don’t do it, somebody else will, and they’ll be the next Facebook to Lonely Planet’s MySpace.

Meeting Jason Calacanis

I met Jason Calacanis at the blogger breakfast this morning. Duncan Riley was there, although I didn’t meet him. Somebody said he (Duncan) was a big wig, so I was checking him out online after the meeting. I came across Duncan talking about Jason. Jason originally posted, 37 signals responded (my favourite post of the lot), and finally Jason somewhat retracted.

Personally, the key quote comes from Jason’s follow up post:

My work *is* my life.

That’s in line with my impression of Jason from this morning’s breakfast. He struck me as the typically edgy, always on the go, workaholic, American entrepreneur. He has that craving that so many entrepreneurs have. I think it’s what drives them to achieve greatness. By contrast, I think it’s also what keeps them from being happy.

I met Jason’s wife at the event. If I’d read all this stuff beforehand I’d have been interested to get her opinion.

Personally, Jason epitomises the type of entrepreneur I don’t want to be. I respect his success and his drive, but it’s definitely not how I want to live. I’m much more in line with 37 signals thinking. In any venture, I’d want people to work as little as possible, while still getting the job done. I value my free time more than the money that any business success might bring. I’ll give the workaholics a wide berth.

Talking down the competition

I was at the Cape Town Vespa store a few days ago. All the sales people we met were talking trash about the much cheaper Vuka bikes. One chap said to us “The brakes fail after 500km.” When pressed, what he meant was, the brakes need tightened regularly on the Vuka bikes.

True, it does need maintenance. It doesn’t ride as well as a Vespa. Some would say it’s not as stylish. The Vespa has much better brakes. The Vespa is probably a lot safer. But the Vuka range starts at R5’000 ($600 USD) while the Vespa range starts at R40’000 ($4’800 USD) for an equivalent CC. So naturally you’d expect the Vespa to be better quality.

Just for the record, I ride a Vuka. :)

The end result of my experience is, I actually think less of Vespa. Simply because they talked down the competition. If they’d talked up the benefits of their brand, I’d probably hold Vespa in much higher regard.

It was a great, real life example of the old marketing adage, focus on your positive points, don’t put down the competition. From personal experience, it’s absolutely true. Talk up your product, don’t talk down the competitor’s.

I don’t have a resume

I’ve never been a fan of resumes. It always sounded like such a boring job, cataloguing all the things I’ve done, listing all my various endeavours. Seth Godin has an excellent post on why great people don’t have resumes.

People often ask me how I found my current job, how I manage to work and travel, etc, etc. I don’t have a simple answer. I didn’t apply for my current job. I’ve never applied for a job in the traditional sense. I’ve never submitted a resume for a job. I make connections in various ways, and sometimes they lead to work.

Maybe I’ll start a new page with an explanation of why I don’t have a resume instead of actually having a resume.

Dinner at Savoy Cabbage

George and my crew at SmartHippo organised a R1’000 dinner at Savoy Cabbage (their web site is being updated I’m told). I worked miracles a few weeks ago in producing some truly mind blowing javascript (at least it blew my mind). The dinner was a thank you for working an outrageous number of hours to get the code live on time.

I took 3 friends and we all ate well. I had a beef tartare starter and a springbok main. I figured I would try the South African icon! Then the most wonderful chocolate pancakes for dessert. My word they were good. Our bill came to R1’034, or within 4% of target!

Thanks guys.

Cape Town Facebook Developers Garage

I was at the Cape Town Facebook Developers Garage last night. I have the badge to prove it!

South Africa Cape Town Facebook Developers Garage My ba

It was an interesting evening. Pizza was generously provided by Butler’s Pizza. If I’m not mistaken their delivery staff arrive wearing a tuxedo shirt (whatever it’s called) and a bow tie! Fantastic. Drinks were supplied by Joyent (I think I got the link right).

There were a few interesting presentations.  Jacques Marneweck spoke about memcache. He looked pretty nervous, but had some interesting things to say. He talked about starling, a memcache based queue server developed by Twitter and some other highly techy stuff. His slides were missing due to a format issue. I think the slides would really have helped the presentation, maybe he’ll post them online.

I’m meeting a few of the same people at most of the tech events in Cape Town. There seems to be a few interesting businesses going on down here. It feels like a small tech community, with a few “big fish”. Reminds me of Edinburgh.

Cape Town January OpenCoffeClub meet

I went to the February Cape Town OpenCoffeeClub meet yesterday. I had lunch with Nur (Nomade One) beforehand. We had a really interesting conversation around religion, values, ethics and business. I look forward to meeting Nur again.

Internet at the event was generously provided by Henk from Skyrove. Skyrove have an interesting business model. They manage internet hotspots and revenue share with the venues who host the hotspots. Bandwidth is outrageously expensive in South Africa, so Skyrove are also a little pricey.

However, Skyrove have undoubtedly gone up in my estimation since I met Henk. When accessing the internet through Skyrove hotspots he pays as an ordinary user, so that the venue get their revenue share. It’s nice to meet ethical business people.

From the meeting we spawned a Cape Town WordPress meetup. I’ve started a mailing list and a blog. I chose Google Groups to host the mailing list, much to my distress. I simply cannot find a good alternative. If you know of one, please put me out of my Google misery! :)

Seth Godin on Monetization

Apparently Seth Godin’s blog is read by “more people than 95% of all the magazines published in the US”. Impressive numbers. A reader asked why he doesn’t monetize his blog. To which he responded:

I tried to sum it up like this: Not only can’t I imagine charging for my blog, I’m practically in debt to the people who read it. I ought to pay them, not the other way around.

Every time you read something I write here, you’re giving me a gift… attention. It’s getting more precious all the time, you have more choices every day, and it’s harder and harder to find the time. I know. I’m grateful. I’m doing my best to make your attention worth it.

I remember an ingenious little monetization trick less than two weeks ago. It was truly inspiration. He asked people to contact him to be notified when his next product will be released. Fitting for a marketing guru hey!

The inquisitive reader also apparently missed the links to all of Seth’s books in the sidebar. Although personally, I don’t see those as I subscribe via RSS.

Seth subtly re-framed the question, saying he was grateful for his readers, indebted to them, almost suggesting he doesn’t monetize the blog. I find myself asking, was that misleading? He clearly does monetize the blog, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but does his post imply that he doesn’t?

See for yourself, and let me know what you think. You’ll have to leave the comments here as Seth doesn’t accept comments! :)

Open source and adding value

There has been an interesting shift in Intellectual Property over the last few years. Particularly, the rise in popularity of open-source software. Companies like MySQL, Zend, RedHat, and others are pioneering a new way of doing business. Their core “product”, the software, is freely available. Not only is the product free to use, but you’re free to modify and re-distribute it.

I think this marks an interesting change in focus. What do these companies do to create value? The typical, old-fashioned model is you create something once (some Intellectual Property, IP) and you sell it many times over (Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, etc). Yet these new companies give you the IP for free.

Where many of these companies make money is by charging for additional services. Support, consultancy. Some also charge for alternative licences if you want to include their free software within your non-free software.

Personally, I like this direction. I support the idea of people being paid when they actually do something, rather than being paid many times for the same work. I think music will move in this direction over time, where fans pay for concerts, for events, but not for the music that has already been recorded. Interesting times.