It was very hard to do. I had a comfortable 6 figure job at Coupons.com leading the International Engineering team. My core responsibility was to make sure the International business is supported and everyone is happy there. The company I built (Couponstar Ltd) got acquired by Coupons.com and that is how I ended up in Silicon Valley. I was fortunate enough to experience a lot of change there and rub shoulders with many smart folks from Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, MySpace etc… I also got to run internally Python & Django classes (“Snake Wrangling for Couponians” as I called it) and build out the International products in that stack. It was a fun journey and maybe too comfortable.
And then I quit.
Why I quit
Mainly for 2 reasons:
The Silicon Valley Entrepreneurial bug and
Large company syndrome of being cubed – I will leave this point for another post.
Moving on is about change
… but not the way you may initially imagine it.
Change works best from within and the environment. Just like when I moved from Sydney (Australia) to Silicon Valley (USA). This was a major environmental change. It also changed the network of people around me.
“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with” ~ Jim Rohn
So moving on from the comfort of a job changes:
Your environment and
Your professional & personal network.
Change is not comfortable because it goes against the automatic programming known as the habit. But it becomes comfortable after a while and then your back into auto pilot mode.. again habit. To understand this and how to modify habits check out The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.
Change is difficult but you adjust and move to auto pilot. Just like when you first learnt to drive a car. It was tough but now you don’t even bother to pay attention to it. That part of you is in auto pilot mode. It’s a gift we humans all have. Just need to embrace it.
So lets say you have made a decision to move on from being an employee to an entrepreneur. After a while you will never want to go back to being an employee not because it may be more financially beneficial but because your mind no longer associates with that environment, network and habit of being a cog inside a machine.
This is why children of entrepreneurs end up being entrepreneurs because they too have grown up in that sort of mindset and moving to being an employee (the norm for most) just doesn’t comply. It doesn’t feel right. However coming from an employee’s mindset moving to an entrepreneur feels scary because you have yet not embraced the new way of living. You have a choice to embrace it and wait for the change to become a part of you or fall back into your old patterns. You choose.
Before, I was just another cog in the comfort machine. Now I will be rubbing shoulders with fellow entrepreneurs and business folks. Have full visibility across the whole business, full technology accountability and be responsible for making major impact and disrupting the medical space. Knowing that the technology we build and scale internationally is saving lives. I think I will enjoy the new journey ahead as the CTO of Medlert Inc.
Couponstar Ltd, formerly Cashstar International and later Coupons.com Ltd (post acquisition in late 2011) was a journey I will never forget. A journey which changed me. From being a corporate guy to an international entrepreneur. The 5 years building Couponstar Ltd from ground up were boisterous, convivial and challenging. It is also what took me on a journey to Silicon Valley and ignited this blog.
It all started back in Sydney, Australia, on January 2004. Having been made redundant from AMP Pty Ltd (the best thing that ever happened to me) I joined Cashstar (as it was formerly known) to work with Jared K (a 2 man team) in changing the retail world using coupons.
We were in the market providing coupon and media solutions to the gaming and entertainment industry in Australia. We licensed Coupons, Inc. technology outside North America and set out to “couponize” the rest of the world with our high-tech customized solutions which were aimed to drive online traffic into bricks and mortar stores.
Below is a picture of the early days (vintage 2004) when it was only me and Jared. We drove 800km in my car from Sydney to Melbourne to attend ADMA (Australian Direct Marketing Association) trade show. Airfares in Australia back then were expensive.. ahh the memories of those early days. I (a software engineer) also got to learn some sales techniques from Jared and via the experience of marketing to customers at ADMA.
The tall blurry banner in the picture above was something we did ourself in-house to lure by passes getting hooked on trying to read it properly. Then Jared and I would swoop in.
On top of sales & marketing I also got involved in every aspect of strategic, operational, technical & engineering tasks while we grew the business. Jared & I even folded print & mail envelopes on the floor of our rented space. Hey it had to be done!
With time we grew to a small lean team of 6 in the Sydney office. After a lot of sweat, we also realised early on that Australia just wasnt the right market for what we were doing. Australia (even today) is slow to adopt new disruptive technology.
So we decided to pivot and opened an office in London under Couponstar Ltd. We realized that Europe had more potential since the market was far greater than Australia and the concept of coupons (vouchers) was partially engraved into the culture for over a century.
Our determination, forward movements and the never say die attitudes sparked Coupons.com’s interest and they invested in us. This helped with the UK & ultimately European expansion. Bonus!
Fast forward to the end of 2008 and Jared and I were in discussions to work out what is the best way forward for the business. Working across multiple continents Australia, USA and Europe was very taxing on us and we knew there were better alternatives. I proposed I come to Silicon Valley and run the international engineering team from Coupons.com and Jared would go to London to focus on the European market from there. It made perfect business sense. And it was also already on Jared’s mind. Bang! Let’s do this.
So I set off on my journey to Silicon Valley in March 2009 and Jared to London. The International business flourished and expanded fast and in late 2011 I got my exit. Couponstar was 100% acquired by Coupons.com. Ultimately giving Coupons.com an International presence.
Below is what the UK office looks like today, 2012. Nicely staffed team of smart folks.
Top 6 lessons
In August 2012 I decided to move on to a new venture and start my own business in Silicon Valley. I am a co-founder / CTO (hello again) of Medlert Inc. We combine industry expertise with innovative technology to deliver critical information to your family, doctor/s and emergency response units to save your life in an emergency. Powered by leading edge secure and encrypted technology to save lives fast.
Yes it’s a totally different shift from saving people money to saving lives.
But before I end this, here are the top 6 lessons from Couponstar days (in no particular order):
Customer is no#1. It is alot harder to get a new customer then look after your current one. Your current customers took alot of hard work to bring on board – look after them! I’m sure you have heard to “always under promise and over deliver.”. We always over delivered and made sure the customer was happy and if not asked how we could improve.
Business intelligence (data) is super important. Collect collect collect and Analyse analyse analyse so you can understand pain points, what isn’t working and what is. This allows you to create action points to correct what isn’t working so that the customer can see the value in your solution and feel confident about their decision. We used a host of client and server side analytics along with feedback forms throughout our service to collect this data. We also found that trends can be a great indicator of something having gone wrong so being able to correct it early is key. Without data, this would not be possible.
Fire fast. The worst is having an unproductive employee dragging not only you but also your team. The rest of the team is very well away of others who are unproductive and this has the potential to rub off on them. So fire fast! Have a chat with the under performer to find out what is going on and should it repeat give them a formal warning and if it repeats again – fire. Your competitors aren’t going to stop while you sort out your internal mess. Act fast.
Never run a data center in-house. This point might not be relevant in today’s times since the boom of cloud computing but still requires mentioning. If data center management is not in your specialty or it takes too much red tape to set up in-house forget it. Leave it to the pros and let them manage it. Believe me, you will sleep better at night, scaling will be a thing of the past and your bills will be much lower.
Automate everything you can. If you find yourself repeating something too many times. Automate it. From data capture to reports. Spend some time automating it so you can move on and focus on stuff that really matters. Like growing the business, customer base, technology stability etc… Automation is not putting people out of a job, automation it is running lean and mean and most of all FASTER!
Working inter-geographically is not for everyone. We all heard of outsourcing and teams working in different regions of the world – some with success and some without. Work out whether this is a good direction for your business to be pursuing, what are the pros and cons and the unforseen. We worked on GMT, EST and PST time zones – round the clock. It was a drain on people and their productivity. Unless the teams are loosely coupled it may not be worth doing this. This is just one of the reasons we decided to shut the Sydney office and move overseas. Has it worked? To some extent yet. But then you have other issues to deal with 😉
So there you have it. I got involved in helping grow a business past those critical startup years into an international company. Along the way sold to the company we partnered with and landed myself in a country where I had to start from fresh (building credit history, new home, new friends, new location, new experiences). Change is scary and also rewarding. I hope this post inspires at least 1 person to make a difference not only to their life but also the life of the people they will touch through their company.
GTDfaster iPhone app just went up on iTunes App Store and we are super excited!
Thank you to all our wonderful Beta testers. You guys have made a HUGE difference in making this app kickass. As promised we will be sending you promocodes to download the app free of charge.
GTDfaster iPhone app is the 1st glimpse of things to come. Visit http://gtdfaster.com/ regularly to see updates, new features & services we planed for release in 2012. We are aiming to change the way you get things done.. so that it’s faster and your productivity skyrockets. Get more stuff done fast.
Now go and please check out GTDfaster.. and don’t forget to give us a review! You rock!!
Stuff is constantly bouncing around in our heads. Do you remember it all? Do you often forget it and remember it too late? Missed an occasion or forgot a great business idea? All this can lead to untold stress and anxiety as you try to manage it day to day.
The Getting Things Done (GTD) method created by David Allen rests on the principle that a person needs to move stuff out of the mind by recording them externally. This is the GTD principle. The GTDfaster app does exactly that! Following this GTD principle this GTD app helps you be more productive and less stressed so you can get on with life and get stuff done fast!
Any GTD app you pickup should make it easy for you to store, track and retrieve all information related to the things that need to get done. GTDfaster takes care of all of this for you. Here’s how this GTD app excels above other GTD apps:
1. Collect everything (stuff) that catches your attention. Immediately! No need to enter any additional properties until you are ready to process.
2. Gain control over the collected materials by processing stuff in your Buckets. Processing means deciding what to do with—not actually doing— by processing and organizing the items one by one.
3. Retrieve any notes from your finely assembled and customizable list of Buckets. Of course the standard GTD buckets are still there but with the addition of your customized buckets also known as Projects.
The power of GTD is in your hands. It’s simple and efficient.Get GTDfaster today and enjoy the world of GTD productivity. Now you know what all the GTD fuss is about 🙂
Musichouse was a music ecosystem compromising of an Electronic Press Kit (EPK) for artists & producers with exclusive access to online & offline (radio) broadcasting channels via RockinTheShed. We developed a number of monetization models to appeal to our target market. RockinTheShed served as an initial hook to get leverage for Musichouse. We had a great team of smart entrepreneurs like Dave Manna (Sydney’s top Music Producer), Artur (RockinTheShed host) and Denis who is today the co-founder of embedster.com (Y Combinator 2010 Alumni).
The most complete music ecosystem
This consisted of three key components:
1) Electronic Press Kit (EPK) for bands / artists – a way for an artist to professionally express themselves online by providing information about the band and events in an electronic equivalent of a press kit. Some of the parts of this EPK include biographical & contact information, music clips with accompanying lyrics, videos from events, media information, calendar of upcoming events linked to eTicks system etc… Each EPK is monitored using custom internal analytics analyzing the “groove in your music” to help the artist profit from the distribution and monetization model linked up to their EPK.
To help with the distribution of EPK content, an array of specific social network applications and widgets “spread the word” and allow users on other networks to interact and explore artist content.
2) Digital distribution and unique online monetization model for Music – an artist shouldn’t be locked into the 1 monetization model rather have an array of options to choose from when it comes to distributing their assets like audio, photos and merchandise. MusicHouse will have 3 monetization models for an artist to use. Therefore being able to mix and match to see what works. Because we believe in giving the artist control, we are providing 3 monetization models (to start with) for an artist to use to distribute their music.
3) Online and Offline broadcast on radio stations world-wide through RockinTheShed (marketing arm of MusicHouse) and other planned shows. Essentially giving artists a fair go to get heard by millions of radio listeners. To get heard an artist has to build “credit” through a web of interconnected and aggregated fan voting systems, fair-share inbounds back to MusicHouse and other algorithms that we have planned under the bonnet.
Vision: “To be the one stop shop for artists / bands when they want to express themselves and reach new consumer markets by getting heard internationally both online and offline”
MusicHouse would help artists and bands to promote their music by creating their very own Electronic Press Kit (EPK) which enables a connection with musicians, promoters, fans and radio stations around the world. It is differentiated through a multitude of music services to enable a richer online experience, better monetization model, and unique, powerful, integrated offline exposure channel for member bands to achieve airtime at radio stations world-wide.
What the site looked like (in development)
Musichouse Business Architecture
How we planned to monetize
The site never saw day light (production launch) since RockinTheShed (its partner & complementary business) fell apart and we decided to wrap it up. Although the technical skills learnt building this site proved (and prove) to be extremely valuable assets today.
RockinTheShed was a weekly 2 hour Rock and Alternative radio station show delivering sounds from local and international artists blended with current news and happenings in the Rock and Alternative scene around the world. The show played across 12 radio stations geographically in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA. We got to meet and interview many interesting and famous bands while expanding our broadcasting range.
Goal: “We wanted to help artists get heard on the radio.” Mantra: “Signed or unsigned, if it sounds good we wanna hear it.” – and so breathed & worked towards that vision.
There was 4 of us. All long-time friends. Two of the co-founders were deep into the Australian rock scene with one already managing an Australian rock band called Viperose. We saw this as an opportunity help Viperose and like bands get heard on the radio and explode onto the music scene. We all love music and this was passion married with business.
Our online services
We provided online tools for artists, broadcasters & listeners of rockintheshed.com. Those included:
Artists/bands: “Get heard” upload tools for artists to upload their songs and band information. We also provided Marketing banners to get artists to help spread the good deed of RockinTheShed and get fans voting for their songs to get heard on RockinTheShed.
Radio Stations: A secure login facility to download the weekly edited 2 hr RockinTheShed show including a playlist. There they could also find few marketing fillers & advertisements radio stations could use in their daily broadcasting.
Fans/Consumers: Ability to vote upcoming (uploaded by artist) songs and listen to uploaded songs including past RockinTheShed weekly 2hr show. Top voted songs would end up in the upcoming show. This encouraged artists to help spread our marketing banners (mentioned above) thus in turn getting their song played on RockinTheShed.
Facebook radio app: Allowed Facebook users to listen to the latest 2hr weekly show with similar voting capabilities as the RockinTheShed website without leaving their social network. This was a hit since Facebook was just growing.
Trivial background history: One evening when trying to work out a logo for the business we threw around ideas about what RockinTheShed meant to each of us. I started sketching these ideas and came up with a design (bottom left) which later was professionally crafted (bottom right) and become our logo and branding.
Life span: 2 years Co-founders: 4 – Dave Manna (Sydney’s top Music Producer), Artur (RockinTheShed host), Denis (a serial entrepreneur whom managed the band Viperose and is today the co-founder of embedster.com, a Y Combinator 2010 Alumni) and me (The tech geek). Profitable?: Nope. Zilch. We had a long-term monetization plan once we built enough leverage. Why terminated: Chewing too much of our money and some of the co-founders had started looking at other opportunities.
Top 5 things I learnt from this venture
4 co-founders is a crowd. We had issues agreeing to decisions and at times felt like we were all stepping on each other’s toes. Maybe this was due to too many powerful personalities all at the same table but 4 definitely felt crowded.
Never relay on a 3rd party’s infrastructure for your “core” business. I didn’t like the idea that without the radio stations we could be gone. We had some trouble with 1 which proved to be a nightmare to manage but we survived and it left a sour taste. I decided after this to never build a business which relied on someone else’s infrastructure for the “core” of my business. This is like outsourcing your “core” business to someone else and hoping you will stay afloat – good luck!
Turn pains into solutions. We had certain internal issues with stuff forgetting to be done and late delivery of tasks. This meant our quality suffered. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of this I asked myself what can I do to solve this. Then one day it hit me and I built a tool over the weekend solving this problem (while watching all 3 Bourne Identity movies).
To minimize loses, run an unprofitable business only when there is a profitable one under your belt. If it wasn’t for the profits from WebAnt this business would have cost me a fortune to sustain. Yes it was a fun business and extremely valuable to artists.
Outsource your weakest parts. Neither of us were good at website design (look & feel). The 1st few iterations of our site proved this lol. Instead of wasting further time trying to come up with a design that sticks we decided to outsource the design. We ended up going with a designer through elance.com. Because we earlier also outsourced the final logo / branding we provided this designer with everything we had to create the new RockinTheShed website – and boy were we pleased.
I really enjoyed this business venture. It was fun. We got to go to many gigs, meet crazy and talented (sometimes both) bands & artists and it left us with wonderful memories. My band photography business (ernestsemerda.com) span off from this venture, I learnt how to build Facebook applications and Musichouse was born to complement RockinTheShed.
WebAnt was a holistic web analytics and automation service servicing corporate clients on the Australian market. WebAnt proved to be a competitor (at the time) to Red Sheriff (now Nielsen NetRatings) when the Australian market was not overcrowded with analytic tools. Overthrowing Red Sheriff as the web analytics provider of choice for MBF – Australia’s largest health benefit fund.
Our service offerings
Web Analytics tools and reports ranging from the standard client analytic type to website overlays, dynamic component tracking, email blast tracking, trend reports to footprints (heatmaps) et al.
Automation tools and reports to allow WebAnt subscribers to generate “phantom customers”. Then sending them interacting through subscriber http / https site and report back on findings. This proved to be the hottest and most value adding service add-on since it identified problems before they escalated / affected the larger online user community.
Automation in more detail
Life span: 3 years. Founder: 1 (me) + multiple outsourced contractors on a need basis. Profitable: From the start – 20% in expenses and rest profits. Why terminated: Google Analytics entered the market – hard to compete with free.
Some product screen shots
Trivial background history: WebAnt began its life as BlueArrow (logo below) which was built as a complementary offering to a web design business I and a former AMP colleague ran. The web design business was my 1st true business out of University. Former AMP executive management invested in BlueArrow and WebAnt was born with branding capabilities to allow anyone to resell the product.
Top 5 things I learnt from this venture
You need to spend money in order to make money. Sometimes more than you are used to / comfortable with. This was my biggest fear (initially) since the hardware cost us around USD 1,000 per month, yet it was only a fraction of what we were earning once we got it rolling.
Linux sh*ts all over Windows. We had both stacks (initially) and Linux always impressed me with its stability, up time, ease of maintenance without taking the site down and super performance. Need I say more lol.
Don’t get tied up in a “which language” debate. At the end of the day you are solving a business problem and whatever tools work at the time stick to them. BlueArrow was built-in classic ASP (remember this), then it was ported to PHP as WebAnt and later we introduced parts in C# & Java. It worked, we were profitable, it was fun to learn new languages and our clients were happy. Just make sure you monitor performance and stay on-top of the game (trends) and adjust as needed.
Results are everything and talk is just bullshit. Don’t get excited about a potential partnership / expansion unless you start seeing some results like customers signing up and/or your bank account dollars increasing. Everyone around you wants to make money off your idea and will talk it up like you will be a millionaire tomorrow. Just focus on your business and give them the tools to go away and bring those millions. Never lose focus of you goal.
Build a profitable business from the start. It’s alot more fun knowing that every sweat and late night you pull in is rewarded financially. The harder you work the more money you make (not always but you get the gist). Don’t hope that one day you will find a way to make money, do the hard-work now (at the start) and you will have more rewards. Take a read of 37signals/DHH style companies on being profitable and proud: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=169197
When I walked away from this venture I knew the ins and out of web analytics. I considered myself very well-informed. And to this day I still hold a very keen interest in data mining, analysis & analytics. Yes today I use Google Analytics for most projects which require tracking since it’s a lot simpler and easier than building your own home-grown solution + it’s a very powerful tool when used correctly.
Ramify was a company that was to provide tools and objective ratings of unit trust funds and Unit Trust Fund Management Companies using both quantitative and qualitative data. It was to be a valuable service to the Unit Trust Funds industry participants including retail and institutional investors, financial planners, agents, banks, Unit Trust Management Companies, regulators, etc.
We were a team of 3. We developed a working prototype & value proposition with plans to launch on the Asian market starting in Malaysia. The other 2 team members were industry veterans in the Unit Trust Funds industry in Australia and have spent time in Malaysia customizing the offering and business strategy, establishing strategic alliances, assessing the market potential, and conducting qualitative assessments of Unit Trust Fund Management Companies.
We flew to Malaysia with our Prototype to propose this Investment Opportunity to the board of RAM with the goal of:
Giving 50% equity to the investor (RAM),
in return asking for a purchase price RM2 million and
acquiring investor to provide RM2 million working capital.
We met many interesting and intellectually clever people. From the board of RAM (Malaysian largest rating agency) to investors from USA and CEO’s of various financial firms whom were interested in what we wanted to do on the Asian market. At that time no one was doing this and it seemed like this was going to be that multimillion dollar opportunity. In the end due to a number of reasons I cannot disclose here the deal fell apart. But it was fun while it latest and provided plenty of education.
Here’s some screenshots of what the early (2006) prototype looked like.
Top 5 things I learnt
Don’t get too excited too soon. Deals come and go very quickly and even with the hope of smelling millions, it can fall apart very quickly and easily.
Surround yourself with smart people. You will be surprised how your thinking processes, behavior and views will change (for the better) once you spend time with very intellectually smart people. People that have been there, done that and can provide you with a wealth of knowledge & advise based on their experience.
Build a winning team. Everyone in the team should complement each other in some form or another. That way no one is spending time carrying the others on their backs. When you work, everyone works, on their parts. Then all parts come together like a transformer resulting in a giant unstoppable machine.
Business brings friends closer. Yes there is the old mantra not to run a business with your friends but my experience proved to be very fruitful here. It allowed us to get closer and build long lasting friendship. Boy did we all party in Malaysia… in style may I add. Memories that will never be forgotten.
It’s like there’s more of me working on this. We were a team of 3. This meant we got stuff done quicker and had access to greater brain power – the power of 3. We all supported each other during the down times and this kept the morale strong.
I walked away from this venture a new man. Now I know what it feels like to be at a pinnacle.
I love tinkering and bringing ideas into reality. Seeing that idea come to life is amazing. The energy, thrill, excitement and daily challenges faced in order to bring an idea into reality is simply amazing. It’s true what Don Williams, Jr once said “The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.”.
Below I share with you my entrepreneurial journey in Australia building start-ups and the lessons I have acquired by taking them. Without these I would not be the man I am today.
WebAnt Analytics– a quantitative service providing a holistic web analytics and customer metrics solutions that allows you to get inside the mind of your online audience. This also included the famous InSite module which could generate “phantom customers” for automation & monitoring. We used a lot of interesting models I learnt during the course of my MBA studies to provide a unique selling proposition and differentiate ourself from our only competitor on the Australian market (at the time), Red Sheriff. And then came free Google Analytics (Urchin) and the show was over. To read more click here.
Ramify – a company that provided tools and objective ratings of unit trust funds and Unit Trust Fund Management Companies using both quantitative and qualitative data. It was to be a valuable service to the Unit Trust Funds industry participants including retail and institutional investors, financial planners, agents, banks, Unit Trust Management Companies, regulators, etc. This one took me to Malaysia, presentations to board members of RAM (Rating Agency Malaysia Berhad) and dinners with CEOs of financial banks. To read more click here.
RockinTheShed – A weekly 2 hour Rock and Alternative radio station show delivering sounds from local and international artists blended with current news and happenings in the Rock and Alternative arena. The show played across 12 radio stations geographically in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA. We got to meeting & interview many interesting & famous bands and expand our broadcasting range. My band photography business span off from this venture. To read more click here.
Musichouse – A music ecosystem compromising of an Electronic Press Kit (EPK) for artists & producers with exclusive access to online & offline (radio) broadcasting channels via RockinTheShed. We developed a number of monetization models to appeal to our target market. RockinTheShed served as an initial hook to get leverage for Musichouse. We had a great team of smart entrepreneurs like Dave Manna (Sydney’s top Music Producer), Artur (RockinTheShed host) and Denis who is today the co-founder of embedster.com (Y Combinator 2010 Alumni). To read more click here.