37 Signals, the Web design company that created Ruby on Rails, Ta-da list, Highrise and a bunch of bestselling technology business books, has changed its name and will drop all but one of its products. Fifteen years after its founding, the company will be known by the name of its most successful product: Basecamp. The project management tool, which is now ten years old, has over 15 million accounts and continues to grow at a rate of more than 6,600 business customers each week.
The fate of the company’s other products depends on finding the right financing and partners. They may be spun off under Basecamp’s partial ownership, sold off completely or left live but with no further development and no new customers. Basecamp expects that Campfire will sell in the “single digit millions” and Highrise will sell for “tens of millions.” All of Basecamp’s 43 staff will remain with the firm, even in the event of a complete sale. Staff now working on the offloaded products will be directed to work solely on the project management software.
It’s an unusual move for a technology firm. Successful Web companies tend to act more like Google, using their breakout product to finance moves into other more speculative areas. Sergei Brin and Larry Page might have started in search but the big interest in the company is now focused on its mobile operating system, its wearable hardware and even its self-driving cars. They’re all related to the company’s core product but they’ve moved a long way from retrieving Web pages and serving ads.
A Twitter bio leaves room for just 150 characters. Once you’ve written “These views are my own.” you’re down to 127. If we learned anything from Justine Sacco’s problems though, it’s that professionals tweeting from accounts that have any association with their employers may as well save their characters. That disclaimer won’t protect them if they tweet something their company doesn’t like. The employer will still be associated with it; and they’ll still fire your hide to save their image.
But we learned something else from Justine Sacco’s disastrous tweet and the nightmare that followed: Twitter is not a pleasant place.
Sure, the people you engage with every day, the celebrities you follow, the reporters who tweet the news from war zones and disaster sites, the colleagues who keep you up to date on what’s happening in your industry, even in the public relations industry, they’re all nice and friendly and fun. They write tweets that are often witty and intelligent. They’re people you want to meet.
When Twitter launched no one quite knew what it was for. That included the company’s founders who created it as a side-product when their podcasting project ran into trouble. They put it up, promoted it at SxSW and waited to see what the community did with it. The rest is history.
The community used to show what they were eating for lunch.
Only later did businesses pile in, using Twitter first for customer service and then as a way to track sentiment. They experimented with hyperlinked special offers, connected their Facebook accounts and finally found that if they put a face on the business and a personality behind the brand they could help to build connections and loyalty among their customer base. It took time, and the results weren’t measurable but their marketing firms were telling them that it was all good.
News that Elance and oDesk, the freelance world’s two biggest job markets, are to merge has not gone down well in the freelance community. Worries have been expressed by freelancers on both sites about what the new company means for their ability to find clients, to continue working and to build their freelance businesses. They’re right to be worried.
Fabio Rosati, chief executive of Elance, and Gary Swart, chief executive of oDesk, have been trying to offer reassurance. The companies’ merger, they say, will mean more money to spend on marketing to employers, persuading them to outsource work to freelancers around the world and increasing the pool of jobs. It will also allow them to develop and share the technologies that underpin the sites. A blog post published on Elance predicted that the two companies will be able to produce better hiring and collaboration tools, improve mobile accessibility and offer job skills development. By combining their engineering and data science expertise, the companies believe that they will be able to better match freelancers with clients and improve their job recommendations to freelancers.
“It’s a matter of scale and synergies — we don’t need two escrow systems, we don’t need two hourly billing systems,” Gary Swart told the New York Times.
Simon Sinek is a consultant and speaker whose book “Start With Why” has become an international bestseller. We read the book so you don’t have to, and pulled out the 25 most salient points.
- Business success can be described as a Golden Circle made up of WHAT, HOW and WHY. (Sinek likes to capitalize those terms.)
- Companies know WHAT they do: they make cars or drinks or computers. (Especially computers. Apple is the standard case study to which Sinek refers throughout the book. By the time you’ve finished reading Start With Why, you’ll know as much about Apple as you will about the Golden Circle.)
- Some companies know HOW they do WHAT they do. Sinek defines the HOW as a “proprietary process” or a “unique selling proposition.” (Sinek doesn’t dig too deeply into the HOW which is a shame because it sounds important.)
- It’s the WHY that determines whether a company succeeds or fails. The WHY is the company’s driving force, its brand identity. In Apple’s case, for Sinek, it’s a determination to upset the status quo.
- People don’t buy WHAT a company does; they buy WHY the company does it. (So people who want to buck the status quo buy Apple. Although Apple is now the status quo and when it was only making Macs and being all rebellious, it was barely able to stay in business, an issue that Sinek doesn’t really address.)
- The Golden Circle places the WHY at the center of the decision-making process, surrounded in turns by HOW and WHAT.
- The pattern of the Golden Circle matches the structure of the brain, with the central limbic region an area governed by instinct not rational thought. (A lucky break that. If Sinek had drawn his diagram differently he would have needed a different rationale for the importance of WHY.)
- When people understand a company’s WHY, and if that WHY matches their own personal identity, they’ll have an overwhelming desire to be associated with the company and to buy its products.
- Most companies, Sinek, says, have no idea why their customers are their customers. When they talk about their products’ superior quality features or service, they’re talking about the WHAT and the HOW but not the WHY that underpins the company’s success.
- Figuring out a company’s WHY isn’t easy. It’s not something you can find hidden in data reports or given out at conferences. (Which is a shame because one of the most frequent comments made in response to Sinek’s is “How do I find my company’s WHY?”)
- When a company doesn’t communicate its sense of WHY, customers buy based on empirical data rather than instinctive desire. They compare features and specifications, quality and service. (Although you’d think that they’d also do this even when the WHY clicks, and Sinek does concede that the quality of Apple’s products is important in its success.)
- When a WHY “goes fuzzy” companies struggle to maintain the growth, loyalty and inspiration that created the original success. (It’s not too clear what would make a WHY go fuzzy but Sinek describes how Japanese carmakers put cupholders in cars made for the American market. That happened around the same time that GM were losing the American market.)
- In the absence of a clear WHY, companies turn to “manipulations” to win sales. Those manipulations are: price; promotions; fear; peer pressure; aspiration; and novelty. All are dangerous and can only create success in the short term.
- Price drops become addictive. Customers expect the price to continue falling, forcing companies to continue cutting profits. They buy sales now but at a cost of losing future business.
- Promotions can be deceptive and easily missed. “Breakage” is the term created by marketers to describe the percentage of customers who miss the promotion and pay the full price.
- Slippage” is the term used by marketers to describe the percentage of people who fail to earn the rebate promised in a promotion. (Sinek gives a fascinating account of a court case in which Samsung limited rebates to one per household… then defined an apartment block as a household.)
- Typical percentage of customers who qualify as “slippage”: 40 percent. (Sinek describes that loss a tax on the disorganized. We’ve been warned!)
- Marketers frighten people into buying their products by warning them that something terrible will happen if they don’t buy it. Insurance and drug companies love this manipulation.
- Aspiration is what pushes up gym membership by 12 percent at the beginning of each year. Reality is what causes so few of them to still be using that membership at the end of the year.
- Peer pressure doesn’t just come from our peers. It also comes when advertisers tell audiences that cats prefer Whiskas and dentists prefer Trident. (Sinek doesn’t say this but it may also now be what helps to drive Apple’s success. If all your friends have iPhones, you might want one too. Unless, of course, you want to buck the status quo.)
- Novelty can drive sales but it won’t keep them. Eventually, a competitor will produce a product with a better feature or a thinner handset. True lasting innovation on the level of a light bulb or the personal computer is rare.
- Those innovations will bring loyalty as well as sales. At least until someone comes up with an even better innovation.
- The book ends with a personal story that tells how Sinek overcame his initial business failure and discovered the importance of WHY. That tale of despair to reinvention is one that every entrepreneur can identify with. It’s the most interesting part of the book.
- Personal stories can form someone’s WHY. (Sinek seems to miss his own WHY. That personal story adds a huge amount of credibility to his theory.)
- You can get the gist of his book by watching his TED talk. (The video is a tight eighteen minutes. The book is a rambling 250-odd pages.)
The world currently contains 2,170 billionaires — and you’re (probably) not one them, at least not yet. They have a combined net worth of $6.5 trillion, an amount larger than the entire GDP of every country in the world except China and the United States. The number of billionaires increased by ten between June 2012 and June 2013, says a study conducted by UBS and Wealth-X, a consultancy service. Their total wealth grew over that period by 5.3 percent.
That growth, though, was uneven. The European billionaire population fell from 795 in 2012 to 766 in 2013 (even as their total wealth rose 3.7 percent from $2,045 billion to $2,120 billion.) Asia, however, picked up eighteen new billionaires to reach a grand total of 508 while North America’s most exclusive club welcomed eleven new members this year, bringing its membership to 552. (Although with 214 few individuals, North America’s billionaires are worth $38 million more than all of Europe’s super-rich combined.)
Although billionaires have a mean worth of $3 billion each, most just scrape into the club. Some 1,175 people are worth between $1 billion and $2 billion. Only four, Bill Gates, Carlos Slim, Warren Buffet and Amancio Ortega, founder of clothing chain Zara, qualify as “mega-billionaires” with total wealth topping $50 billion each.
Twitter’s announcement that it would soon file for an IPO wasn’t unexpected but it should have other start-up entrepreneurs pulling out their calculators. The company is the last of the big social media firms to go public, after Facebook and LinkedIn, and it provides a valuable look at how the market values not just social media platforms but also the users of those platforms.
That’s vital information for anyone working on some sort of social media site — or even just trying to create an audience to push ads towards. If you know how much the market values each user, you’ll know how many users your product will need before you can call yourself a millionaire.
The bad news though is that the numbers can vary tremendously.
When the App Store first opened, expanding the use of Apple’s smartphone beyond calls, photography and stock watching, it quickly became clear exactly why Steve Jobs had put so much effort into the device. He knew that it would become the perfect fart machine. iFart Mobile, an app that did little more than play fart sounds, was one of the most successful apps in the early App Store, at one point generating more than $10,000 a day in sales.
That was a silly idea whose success surprised even its maker and it paved the way for a number of other novelty apps that do little more than place a moustache on a picture, allow users to shake a magic 8 ball or, in the case of the short-lived and $10,000 priced “I am wealthy” app, just show off their wealth (and stupidity). But in between those novelty apps, few of which ever sell, and the games brought out by leading studios lie a number of unusual, high-priced but surprisingly useful, apps. They’re odd but creative. They required an investment of time, effort and money to make and they often cost a small fortune to buy but they all fill a real need which has allowed them to generate downloads.
Most importantly, they prove that you don’t need to give away your app idea or hope to make a heap of one-dollar sales to make your efforts pay.
If you’ve ever sat through a Powerpoint presentation and thought that you were wasting your time, you’re not alone. It’s a thought that’s also occurred to some of the Internet industry’s leading entrepreneurs — and they’ve reacted by banning Microsoft’s presentation software. Both Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, and Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, have removed Powerpoint from their meetings.
In fact, they’ve eliminated presentations completely from their meetings.
Instead of listening to a presenter read slides, participants are given a few minutes at the start of a meeting to look through documents prepared in advance. The meeting then becomes a discussion of the topics rather than an opportunity for a speaker to communicate information. Read the rest…
For freelance image-makers, the launch of Stocksy, a stock agency, should be food for thought. Created by Bruce Livingstone, the founder of microstock site iStockPhoto, the site is a freelance co-operative. Not only do contributors receive at least half of the sales price generated by their submissions, they will also receive a share of the company’s profits. The idea is to create a new model for stock contributors that gives artists a fairer share of the value of their work. (iStock pays contributors commissions as low as 15 percent.) But could the co operative model work for freelancers in other fields?
The benefits are certainly attractive:
- Easier Scheduling
Freelancers face a number of concerns. We worry about long gaps between big projects. We might be concerned about rising competition as more people set up shop as home-based designers, writers and programmers. And we fret about the willingness of new clients to make the final payment when the work is complete. Few of us though really fear being sued. That could be a mistake.
In August 2012, Lesley Kemp, a freelance transcriber, completed her second assignment from Resolution Productions, a company based in Doha, Qatar. According to her blog, instead of receiving payment within weeks of sending her invoice, she received an email from the company’s Managing Director, Kirby Kearns, informing her that because of “very late payments” from their clients, they would have to delay payment.
Delayed payments are annoying to freelancers but they’re not unusual. One survey of 182 freelancers in the UK found that while 60 percent said that they were always paid on time, 10 percent felt that late payments were still an obstacle for a one-person businesses. Work as a freelancer for long enough and you will, almost inevitably, run into the occasional client who hums and haws over the invoice and needs frequent reminders before they cough up the cash.
David Karp is rich. He’s 26 years old, and having just sold Tumblr to Yahoo for $1.1 billion, he’s now worth about $250 million. That makes him a lot richer than me and a lot richer than you, even though he’s probably a lot less educated than either of us. We’re not talking about someone who dropped out of Harvard or failed to complete a PhD at Stanford to monetize an idea generated in a dorm room; we’re talking about someone who didn’t even finish high school. So how come David Karp has managed to get so rich… and we didn’t?
1. He Built What He Wanted
Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper and the first person Karp hired to build Tumblr, has given a fascinating account of the early days of the company and of the way Karp works. The first point to stand out is how Tumblr started.
Crowdsourcing has picked up a lot of good press over the last few years. Entrepreneurs can now raise cash for projects through Kickstarter. Philanthropists and volunteers can collect funds on platforms like IndieGoGo. Researchers and developers can build cheap, large-scale workforces through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. They follow the work of organizations like SETI which for years have been making use of thousands of idle computers to sort through massive amounts of data. For a long time, it’s seemed as though the power of the crowd could do lots of good and never any wrong. The reaction to the Boston bombing, though, has shown what can happen when an online crowd becomes a connected mob — and raises important questions about how even freelancers and small entrepreneurs should be using networks to build their businesses.
What Went Wrong?
Following the bombing Reddit’s users took upon themselves the task of sorting through the hours of video footage showing the crowd at the Boston marathon. Thousands of eyeballs, they believed, would be able to help the police look for suspicious behavior among the crowds in the stands. Having isolated individuals who appeared to be up to no good, the community’s tech-savvy members could then get to work on identifying them. They would also be able to scour the local news, Facebook pages and forums for information about people who could have been involved.
Social media is usually treated as a marketing tool, a way to build a relationship with a market, maintain that relationship and make sure that it’s ready when we’ve got a product to sell. We use it to make sales, and we want to be sure that whether we’re pitching watercolor paintings or computer programming the time we invest in writing tweets and uploading photos to Facebook are hours that deliver a return. Otherwise, what’s the point? No one understands better than freelancers and small business owners that every hour has a price and that time spent on activities that don’t deliver a measurable return is time spent not earning.
But there’s more than one way of measuring the return on social media activity and more than one goal for a professional social media account. Sales delivered through social media are nice but they’re not the only reason to tweet, post and upload to Instagram.
Those multiple benefits are already known to large corporations. Raytheon, for example, is an aerospace and defense company that sells rockets and radar systems to government buyers. Nothing the firm writes on its Facebook page or its Twitter timelines is going to affect the chances that it will win a contract from the Department of Defense for a new air-to-ground missile system. Those sorts of decisions are influenced by prices and jobs, delivery schedules and capabilities, not sharp photography uploaded to a social media page.
When I started freelancing a dozen years ago, it was meant to be a stopgap. The Web company I’d been working for had popped with the Internet bubble and freelancing seemed to be a good way to keep some revenue rolling in while I looked for my next job. I’d seen Elance open on a friend’s computer, joined and within a week had landed my first job. I picked up a second job a couple of days later and haven’t looked back since. I still work for that second client and my client base is now solid enough for me not to have to pitch for jobs or bid on projects. Work comes to me and the ten bucks a month I pay to Elance now functions as a kind of unemployment insurance, keeping my reviews, my ratings and my profile up to date just in case I need it. It’s been a long time since I have needed it.
Freelancing turned out to be my next job.
I have learned a few things over the last dozen years or so. These are the most important things I’ve picked up:
You’d expect to see creative agencies using Twitter to promote their clients. Even seven years after its launch, the platform retains a certain cachet. As Facebook saturates and stalls and Pinterest struggles to get past its audience of shopping-addicted women, Twitter has managed to hold on to and grow its audience of mostly urban microbloggers. Its market of 200 million and the challenge of cramming a message into just 140 characters give Twitter a strong appeal among the creative types who get the fun of being brief, witty and connected to other brief, witty types.
It’s no surprise then that plenty of companies have come up with creative campaigns on Twitter to promote themselves — or their clients. Simply Zesty, a UK digital agency, produced a list of five of the most “brilliantly creative campaigns that used Twitter” in 2012. They included Ben and Jerry’s promotion of Fair Trade Day for which the firm built an app that used leftover characters in tweets to push a fair trade message; a drinks company in South Africa that created a tweet-operated vending machine that turned every purchase into a public announcement; and a commercial for Mercedes Benz that let Twitter users choose the plot of an unraveling story.
And yet, while Twitter has provided plenty of creative campaigns for big brands, it’s rare to find creatives marketing themselves on the platform — which is why a new idea from Floyd Hayes, the former creative director of “specialized guerrilla and non-traditional advertising agency,” Cunning, has attracted so much attention.
Bad clients are easy to describe. We’ve all had them and in more than twelve years of freelancing I’ve had my fair share. I’ve had clients who paid late or didn’t pay at all; who demanded additions to projects but were surprised to see the days added to the bill; who said they wanted one thing until I delivered it when they realized they actually wanted something completely different; and who imposed impossible deadlines forcing me to work nights and weekends then sat on the finished work until it was out of date. Clients like these turn up in a freelancer’s career but they don’t turn up as often you might expect and they pass quickly. Most clients, like most freelancers, are reliable and professional. They know roughly what they need, they pay for the work and they’re grateful for the skills and talent you can bring to their project. Clients like those are easy to find.
Perfect clients though aren’t just harder to find; they’re also much harder to describe. That they should pay the bills on time and without argument is a given. That they should make your efforts feel appreciated and important would be a part of it. That you can rely on them to deliver work on a regular basis so that you can count on their income to the same degree that they need your deliverables is important too. Freelance life is unstable; a client with regular demands goes a long way towards stabilizing a schedule.
The (Almost) Perfect Client
When it comes to freelancers carrying their laptops to cafes and turning coffee bars into offices, the rules are relatively clear. They’re a mixture of common sense and consideration with a big tip to the wait staff thrown in. Break the rules and the worst thing that will happen is that you have to find a different café or spend more time working from home. For telecommuters, though, the rules are a great deal tougher. Human resource departments, especially in government organizations, tend to pour out detailed eligibility requirements before they allow employees to set up a cubicle in their bedroom. Their suspicion of this new way of working makes the risks higher even as the practice becomes more popular; get the rules wrong and you could find your telecommuting privileges revoked and your job pulled back into the office.
Here are the rules to follow if you want to retain your opportunity to work in your pajamas:
1. Don’t Work in Your Pajamas