Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Startup lessons from the Australian Labor Party

It's been an interesting week for the Australian Labor Party. The leadership challenge from Kevin Rudd and the discussion that has been generated by it provide some interesting lessons for startups.

1. Lessons from Kevin Rudd - management style is critical to keeping your team on board.

Some of the stories of Kevin Rudd's management style to come out over the last week will be quite devastating to his chances of obtaining the ALP leadership ever again. James Button, a former speech writer shared the following in a recent article in The Age:

"The truth is, Rudd was impossible to work with. He regularly treated his staff, public servants and backbenchers with rudeness and contempt. He was vindictive, intervening to deny people appointments or preselections, often based on grudges that went back years.

He made crushing demands on his staff, and when they laboured through the night to meet those demands, they received no thanks, and often the work was not used. People who dared stand up to him were put in "the freezer" and not consulted or spoken to for months. The prodigious loyalty of his staff to him was mostly not repaid. He put them down behind their backs. He seemed to feel that everyone was always letting him down. In meetings, as I saw, he could emanate a kind of icy rage that was as mysterious as it was disturbing.

He governed by - seemed almost to thrive on - crisis. Important papers went unsigned, staff and public servants would be pulled onto flights, in at least one case halfway around the world, on the off chance that he needed to consult them. Vital decisions were held up while he struggled to make up his mind, frequently demanding more pieces of information that merely delayed the final result. The fate of the government seemed to hinge on the psychology of one man."


Politics is already quite a challenging and thankless profession. I can only imagine the difficulties of working in an environment and culture described by James. Like politics, working at a startup involves working long hours in a fast paced environment testing new ideas many of which don't work out. As in politics it's critical for startup founders to be able to make quick and effective decisions, help employees prioritise their work so they're only working on the most efficient tasks and not wasting their time, and thanking everyone for the work and sacrifices they make. Failure to do this in a startup will see a loss of support amongst employees as Kevin Rudd has lost the support of his ALP colleagues.

2. Lessons from Julia Gillard - inspiring leadership is required to keep everyone engaged.

From all accounts Julia Gillard is a much more effective manager than Kevin Rudd. She's achieved a lot in her short time as Prime Minister with the passing of a Mining Tax, putting a price on carbon (both of which Kevin Rudd couldn't get through) as well as significant education, disability services and water reforms.

What Julia Gillard has failed to do is inspire the Australian people. Her preferred Prime Minister rating is significantly lower than Kevin Rudd's and more importantly Tony Abbott's. When I speak with friends and family who don't follow politics closely the most common complaint about Julia Gillard is that she's uninspiring and doesn't represent our country well. It's a sad fact that part of the reason given is related to her accent and appearance, issues that should be minor in the context of what's at stake in choosing a leader for our country, but I think it also reflects a lack of understanding of what she actually stands for, so this is the easy thing for people to fall back on as a reason. She's failed to deliver a clear, consistent and inspiring message and has arguably failed to always act out her values via some less than inspiring moves in refugee and marriage equality policies. From all accounts she's inspiring 1:1 and in small groups, but hasn't been able to inspire at scale.

Like politicians, startup founders must inspire the people around them. Employees must feel inspired to join and work effectively in your startup, your first customers must be inspired to buy from an untested company, journalists need to be inspired to write about you to get PR and investors need to be inspired to trust their money to you. The number of people to be inspired only grows as the startup grows and as in politics, eventually this inspiration must be done at scale, not just 1:1 and in small groups. Some of the key tools for a founder to inspire the people around them are a clear and consistent vision, mission, values and elevator pitch. These need to be delivered not just verbally but culturally and in the way things are done in your startup. Julia Gillard has struggled in getting her message across to the Australian people, it's important not to do the same in your startup.

3. Lessons from the last week - ensure your management team are on the same page.

The biggest beneficiary from the turmoil in the Labor Party over the past week will be the coalition. Comments from Kevin Rudd that 'Julia Gillard had lost the trust of the Australian people' and accusations that the way she came to power means she's never really had this trust in the first place provide great fodder for the coalition come the next election. For the Labor party's sake, hopefully their MPs can now rally behind Julia Gillard, but significant damage has already been done.

Similar disunity within the founding team at a startup would be devastating. Stakeholders like employees, customers and investors don't want to see disagreements in strategy and direction aired publicly. A certain amount of debate around strategic and operational approaches is healthy, but these discussions should be kept private and only shared where relevant rather than aired in public as the ALP have done.

What other lessons you would take from the events of the last week?

Image credit 1 & 2. Cross posted to Startupsmart.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What should I blog about?


I'm coming up a little short on blog post ideas of late so I thought I'd put it to readers of the blog - what would you like me to blog about?

Let me know in the comments. :)

Image credit

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Shoes of Prey Sydney Christmas Party

I'm a bit late writing this post, but back in December we had our Shoes of Prey / Sneaking Duck team Christmas party!

We left the office after lunch and hired a boat to go sailing on the harbour. Mark is an avid sailor so captained the boat for us. We boarded the boat in Rushcutters Bay then sailed over to a harbour beach in Manly for a swim. After a slightly dodgy morning it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day, with a slight breeze, perfect for sailing.

We sailed back to Rushcutters Bay then headed to Mark's place for dinner and cocktails. We hired in a chef from Figment catering who cooked us an amazing 3 course meal:

  • Entree - Spice Roasted Pork Belly, Green Apple & Ginger Salad
  • Main - Saffron & Honey Chicken Supreme, Caramelised Onion Quinoa, Cherry Tomato
  • Dessert - Saucy chocolate pudding with pear and ice cream

It was a fun afternoon and evening!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Moda Operandi

Fascinating article on booming fashion startup Moda Operandi's strategy. And a second article with some more detailed background on them.

I also love the look of this page, very fashion magazinesque.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Advance Innovation Program - 50 for the future


Advance, a global network of Australians living abroad (founded by Lachlan Murdoch, Anthony Pratt, Peter Lowy and Lisa Fox) aims to forge connections between the 1 million Australians living overseas. Advance is very supportive of Australian startups and have just launched their '50 for the future' program which is designed to mentor Australian startups and help them pitch for funding in silicon valley.

The program includes:
  • Pitching Workshops in Sydney (20 March 2012) and Melbourne (22 March 2012)
  • Nine weeks of Mentoring (April / May 2012)
  • Advance Innovation Summit (15-17 May 2012)

The cost of the program is $2,000 which includes return flights to San Francisco for the Innovation Summit.

I've met some really good people who are involved with Advance, this would be well worth applying for if you're contemplating funding for your startup in the not too distant future.

For further details and to apply visit their website.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Marketing strategy - don't get excited by what's new, get excited by what works

Something I've been reflecting on recently is it's better to get excited about marketing strategies that have been proven to work, rather than strategies that are brand new.

For example, if I'm analysing the success of Fab.com, I shouldn't get too excited and want to adopt parts of their live news feed the week it launches, I should look at what it is they've done that's proven to work by making their business so successful to date, and in their case it's email marketing which until recently, was their largest traffic driver.

It's tempting to get excited by brand new marketing strategies, and in some cases that can work, but until you've got the basics right like SEO, SEM, email marketing, social media etc. you'll likely get a better ROI on your marketing spend focusing on the tried and true approaches to marketing.

Image credit. Cross posted to StartupSmart.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Child's Own Studio

Child's Own Studio is one of the coolest online retail sites I have seen in a long time. The owner, Wendy Tsao makes stuffed toys for children based on their drawings:

Esme’s bunny has super duper sonic bionic ears…

“This is Sonny Li’l Bad Guy, Keadryn’s imaginary friend who goes on extreme adventures. One day he is in the Alps and one day he is in Africa. Currently he is in the middle east. He’s hard to keep track of. ” (Jeff, Keadryn’s uncle)

Olivia’s dog with his rainbow stripes, great red tongue and sparkly wings is a most faithful companion.

Cade loves to draw fantastic, powerful creatures, like this dragon, named Cartonthorus.

Apparently her site has gone viral recently so she's struggling to keep up, in a large part due to Pinterest. I love how authentic her desire to create beautiful art based on children's drawings is:



I also love how simple, yet effective her site is. She's set it up as a wordpress blog posting beautiful photographs and a brief description, sometimes from the child, of each toy she makes.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Future-proofing your business

We've been talking about "future-proofing" a bit lately at Shoes of Prey and there are some important considerations that are impacting the way that we think we'll remain innovative and competitive in the fast-changing retail environment.

Multi-channel retailing
While we're strongly embracing the idea of personalising the products you buy and the online shopping experience, the next level of this is to be available for convenient interaction and purchase wherever our customers happen to be. For us it's the reverse of most retailers as we look at what offline opportunities we should pursue to ensure that our customers have the experience that they desire with Shoes of Prey.

However, it's not as black and white as online vs offline. It's also about finding the overlap into discreet retail environments in which it's value-adding for brands to be - the "first frontier" of which is social spaces.

More intuitive online offering
Technology and talent is now at a point where it is very likely that if you can imagine a better way of doing something, we either can or are close to being able to build it. This means that there is an enormous opportunity for retailers to revolutionise the way that their industry has been operating. Is it enough to have a gallery of products to select from? How else can you communicate what the product is like in real life?

Better collection and use of data
In some ways it's about more intuitively observing our own habits, things we love about what brands do, things we wish brands did and realising what made for a pleasant experience and taking those lessons back into our own companies. However, observing your own responses is tough to separate from actually having the experience itself and for the same reasons your customers won't be able to articulate that insightful silver bullet - which is why smart data collection is so important.

Take your hypothesis about what's working and what is not and see what story the data tells. Particularly online there are so many opportunities to collect and use data well. Deep-dive into Google Analytics to see what you can find out about how people are behaving. Do user interface testing to see what's intuitive and what could be changed to message more naturally and simply to your audience. Survey your customers, using questions that aren't too literal and direct and always keep focused on what it is you are trying to understand about your target audience. Also leave room for them to make suggestions - you may find the same suggestion comes up over and over - something obvious to a consumer but not to the business itself.

The future of retailing is incredibly exciting and we're really only at the beginning of understanding what this can be in the new channels and technology available to us. Consumers expectations are shifting rapidly and the opportunities this creates are enormous - if we can only find a way to identify them and be willing and agile enough to evolve with them.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Facebook advertising - Valentine's Day Gift Certificates

Last year we tried running a Facebook ad for Shoes of Prey gift certificates for valentine's day. Sadly it didn't work.

We're trying again, this time with a 'Page Post Advert'. Jodie wrote a Valentine's day blog post pitched to men for the Shoes of Prey blog, which we posted to our Facebook page and that forms the basis of the page post advert.

This ad type is more social than the one we used last year. The ad shows how many likes, comments and shares the Facebook post has which gives it some social currency.

This ad type shows two images, one from the blog post and our Facebook page icon. As you can hopefully see, Susie created a heart out of red shoes which we've used for both images, we're hoping the image draws the attention of guys who haven't yet bought a present for their significant other for valentine's day.

We're targeting the ad to men in relationships who have friends already connected to Shoes of Prey. Ideally we'd be able to target the partners of Shoes of Prey fans, but Facebook's targeting doesn't get quite that granular.

The ad isn't perfect but I think it's much better than our efforts last year. We'll let you know how this one goes!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

We're looking for interns

It's an exciting new phase of growth and we need more hands on deck at both Sneaking Duck and Shoes of Prey in the form of unpaid interns for PR, marketing, operations and customer service roles.

If you’re interested let us know and please do forward to others who you think would be a great fit for us. We’ve had several interns in our office. All have brought skills and passion, and all have taken away learnings and experience covering the start up space, technology and fashion.

Aside from a passion for and/or experience in PR, marketing, operations and customer service, we're looking for proactive, smart problem solvers, with a great sense of fun and willingness to come and get their hands dirty with us in shaping these companies as we grow.

Life inside a start up is a baptism of fire, and while it is a lot of fun it's more guts than glamour. We all take turns at emptying the bin, and we all have big projects to tackle as well. Your days won't be filled with meaningless tasks - everything you do will and must have a direct, tangiable impact on the success of our businesses. It won't be the structured environment that a big corporation can offer (which can be frustrating if you've been indoctrinated into that kind of workplace), however the rewards of being able to develop and implement what you'd like to see the businesses be are great.

You'll also be exposed to two very different phases of start up - one focused on post-launch scaling, the other looking to change gear from bootstrapped to funded. You'll work with and learn from experienced professionals - brand marketing, operations and strategy, media sales, software engineering, photography, design, web engineering and more. If you've been toying with the idea of starting something of your own, this is the perfect risk-free way to "try before you buy".

For unpaid interns, we can look at flexible working arrangements - we’re happy to flex hours to accommodate other activities or academic obligations.

We also have a very relaxed work environment - brand new converted warehouse-style offices in the heart of Sydney's gastonomic and fashion district Surry Hills, with lunch, fruit, chocolate, coffee and tea provided.

What would be your responsibilities? This is the full list of what we need, enough for several people! The exact job spec will depend on experience, time commitment and candidate preference.

Order processing

  • Checking and processing new orders
  • Managing supplier relations and logistics
  • Packaging and dispatch of orders

PR associate

  • Researching appropriate publications and writers
  • Support in designing successful PR approaches for targets
  • Tracking effectiveness

Marketing associate

  • Researching marketing opportunities
  • Support in designing successful marketing campaigns
  • Tracking effectiveness

Customer relations

  • Responding to customers on email, instant message and phones
  • Hosting customer appointments

If you'd like to apply, please send your applications to jodie@shoesofprey.com and mark@sneakingduck.com

Image credit

Monday, February 6, 2012

Core v Non-Core Activities


A startup only has limited resources and needs to ensure they're invested in activities that are core to helping the business grow. I've been spending some time with Mike reviewing what I'm working on, and a question we keep asking ourselves is how core is each activity to achieving the goals we have for Shoes of Prey and Sneaking Duck. Where can I free up more time to spend focusing on what I need to do most: marketing, raising capital, business development deals, hiring - all activities that will help the business to continue growing quickly.

The activities that come up as non-core include speaking engagements, writing for other websites, networking/non-core business meetings, TechTalks, even writing on 22michaels.com. That said, there is still a lot of value in these non-core activities, particularly the latter two but where I can streamline what I'm doing I should. The Tech Talks have been working well as a way to network and meet fellow entrepreneurs without having 5 meetings a week to do this. The blog acts as a good reflection and planning tool, particularly if I write on topics that are core to what we're working on at the time. To help streamline the first two activities I only write for other sites where I can still use the posts on 22michaels.com and I'm only going to do larger speaking engagements that don't require significant preparation.

How do you evaluate and free up time to ensure your maximising the amount of time you're spending on core activities?

Cross posted to Startupsmart.

Image credit

Friday, February 3, 2012

Email Marketing

Aside from a very simple signup form on our Shoes of Prey home page, and a monthly email newsletter, we've never explored email marketing in great detail.

We recently added a dismissible email signup popup on our Sneaking Duck online try on page and we're now capturing email addresses from about 5% of the total visitors to the Sneaking Duck website. This has us thinking about ways we can use email marketing more for both Shoes of Prey and Sneaking Duck.

Successful online retailers like Fab.com, Gilt Group and BrandsExclusive here in Australia require you to sign up and provide your email address to even access their site, and email marketing has been a key component of their success.

We don't want to go that far, but we've been thinking of adding a dismissible email signup popup on our 3D shoe designer page, then creating a 5 part email series that goes to new customers explaining some of our most commonly asked questions around shipping, delivery time, and returns policy as well as some key sales messages, like the very bespoke way our shoes are made, the natural leathers and materials we use, the fact we sell gift certificates and that our shoes are great for events like weddings.

Have you considered using email marketing in your startup? If so, what has worked well for you?

Image credit. Cross posted to StartupSmart.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Welcome to the team Steph!

We'd like to welcome Stephanie Sandoval to the Shoes of Prey team. She's joining Mike, Mel, Ritwik and Chung as a software engineer.

Steph joins us after having completed a Bachelor of Computer Science & Mathematics at UNSW. While at university Steph was heavily involved in the CSE Revue Society. She was the Producer of the show in 2009 and the Publications Head in 2010. She's also involved with the Robogals Society -- a society that conducts lessons at high school using Lego Mindstorm robots to encourage female students to pursue a career in engineering. In 2011 she was the President of that organisation.

When she's not coding up a storm, Steph enjoys photography, music, baking and computer games. She's also very interested in supercar racing! We're so glad she is joining us full time.

Pleas join us in welcoming Steph to the team.