The Digital Economist

Hi, I'm Sam Birmingham. I love startups, innovation and challenging the status quo.

For the vast majority of my years, economies have grown, companies have profited and people have got richer on the back of a once-in-a-lifetime demographic shift and debt-fuelled boom. Those days are through.

Economies must evolve beyond rampant consumerism and confront the demographic headwind that had been a tailwind until the Baby Boomers began retiring. Companies must become nimble, innovate and invent new products to address customers' ever-changing needs in this digitally-disrupted world. And as people, we must focus on solving problems and learn to do more with less.

These are the challenges that excite me. They are what I want to get out of bed each morning and be a part of. This is where I share my thoughts.


Find me on...

I like...

More liked posts

Tag Results

8 posts tagged Entrepreneurship

I think I was lucky to be a mediocre engineer. If I was successful I might be trapped in a 9-to-5 job as an engineer rather than become an entrepreneur. The best employees are specialists. The best entrepreneurs tend to be generalists.

Vishen’s 7 lessons:

  1. Your College Degree Is Meaningless (And Sometimes A Liability)
  2. Don’t Quit Your Day Job Too Soon
  3. Business Plans Are Mostly Bullshit
  4. Control Your Equity
  5. Forge Networks And Learn To Connect
  6. No Other Skill Is As Important As Sales & Marketing
  7. Don’t Build Crap For The Sake Of Making A Buck

Mark Suster:

My biggest fear as an entrepreneur? I was worried that I was going to get married and be on the altar unemployed. “There’s my son. He should have been a doctor like his father!” Truthfully, that’s one of the things that kept me going. I didn’t want to disappoint.

I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. My wife. My employees. The press who trusted me enough to report on our successes.

I didn’t want to disappoint my customers. People seldom understand that when enterprise customers choose your software it isn’t just a purchase order. It’s a human being inside the buying organization who has trusted you. He went to his bosses and asked for budget. He beat down the other factions that wanted to choose your competitor. He has staked his reputation on a project to use the software of some shitty 2-year-old startup company because he believes! In you.

So you ask why on Earth being a founder is stressful?

No, it’s not as bad as working in coal mines. But it is quite the roller coaster and the stress is real.  Some people love roller coasters. Others prefer a smoother ride.

Gapingvoid: I'm Not Delusional, I'm An Entrepreneur from gapingvoid

Gaping Void "I’m Not Delusional, I’m An Entrepreneur"

The price of being a sheep is boredom. The price of being a wolf is loneliness.

Choose one or the other with great care.

"There is something really cool going on in the world today…"

Entrepreneurs Are Everywhere

Last week, Shopify recommended twelve must watch TED talks for entrepreneurs.

Tim Harford’s was one of the few talks that I hadn’t watched before. I especially loved his closing anecdote, of Japanese mathematician Goro Shimura reflecting on his friend and fellow modularity theorist  Yutaka Taniyama:

“He was not a very careful person as a mathematician – he made a lot of mistakes, but he made mistakes in a good direction. I tried to emulate him, but I realised it’s very difficult to make good mistakes.”

Two other standout quotes for aspiring start-uppers…

First, a simple lesson in customer validation from marketing boffin Seth Godin:

"What you have to do is figure out what people really want, and give it to them."

And a snippet of inspiration from ad man Rory Sutherland, channeling G.K.Chesteron:

“We are perishing for want of wonder, not want of wonders.”

Startup Weekend Perth was one of the highlights of my past few years!

As much as everyone gets caught up on ideas, I have always maintained that Startup Weekend participants should focus on learning - their ideas are simply the vehicle by which to understand the processes and techniques, which can then be scaled across your next hundred and one ideas.

Our uber-judge Hugh Mason looks at it similarly:

"The legacy is not so much the startups, it’s actually the relationships."

And in the words of our facilitator Dave Moskovitz:

"The primary purpose of Startup Weekend isn’t to produce startups in 54 hours. It is to inspire the people who come along to continue on their entrepreneurial journey and connect them with other people and resources in the ecosystem. When they leave Startup Weekend on the Monday morning, if their 54 hour startup is a winner then that’s fantastic, but if not, hey, it’s a safe place to fail. Maybe one, two or three of the startups that come out of here will be go-ers, but the people who come will all have a new set of skills and a whole new set of relationships that they can apply to working on a real startup." 

PS - Another awesome quote from Dave in this video:

"Startup Weekends are the crack cocaine of entrepreneurialism. We’re giving them their first hit for free at Startup Weekend…"

Last month I was involved in a discussion about the prospect of establishing a startup incubator/accelerator in Perth… A lot of thought had gone into the structure; models applied successfully elsewhere in Australia and around the world had been borrowed from; and, most significant of all, everyone agreed that it was important to stimulate Perth’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

To be honest, though, the response from the “big end” of town was pretty disappointing. Not because they couldn’t see the opportunity, but because they wanted someone else to do all the heavy lifting. 

If only more of the people in that room were on the same wavelength as TechStars founder/CEO David Cohen and awesome innovator/VC Brad Feld.

A few choice excerpts from their interview:

@ 5:05 - Does this remind you of anywhere?

When I looked at Boulder as a community… it’s small enough that you can really understand what’s going on in the ecosystem but it’s big enough to be interesting and relevant.

@ 5:25 - Again, does this remind you of anywhere?

I have been here 11 years and I have seen a lot of entrepreneurs create  businesses and I have seen lots of people have success and failure in those businesses, but there wasn’t really a cohesive centre to the entrepreneurial community. There wasn’t really a thing that all the experienced people and the first-time entrepreneurs or new entrepreneurs could rally around. There were lots of people doing stuff, but it was very diffuse.

@ 6:10 - Explaining the logic behind TechStars:

You were really describing this idea that was much more than just “hey let’s show up every now and then, and talk about doing something” or “let’s get together and host a party or an event”, you were really talking about “let’s go create a bunch of companies and let’s make sure we’re constantly getting new entrepreneurs into the mix, and I saw in that something that felt like it could really be the core in the centre. Not the thing that created all the entrepreneurial community, but something that really created some glue across that entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

@ 7:15 - This is the mindset that we need to see more of:

When you try to do something you should recognise “OK, what do I get out of this if it doesn’t work?” and I think our view when we first started talking about doing TechStars was “OK, it’s going to cost some money. We’re going to invest in these companies, let’s assume all of the companies are worthless. What do we get out of this?” I think we agreed that it would be fun, interesting and that we’d learn alot, but we also viewed it as a way to get 20 or 25 new entrepreneurs into Boulder and get them engaged with the people in and around the entrepreneurial community in Boulder. So we had a very clear sense as to what our downside case was, if things didn’t work out.”

@ 8:40 - An appreciation of this wouldn’t hurt either:

I have a very deeply held belief that the venture capitalist is actually not the generator of entrepreneurial activity - the entrepreneur is. I also believe that the venture capitalist is not the manager or the curator or that gatekeeper of the entrepreneurial community - the entrepreneurs have to do it. So I’m very attracted to entrepreneurs who want to drive that entrepreneurial community, where I can play a supporting role - which is what I think, fundamentally, the venture capitalist’s role is.

The entrepreneurial ecosystem doesn’t owe anyone anything; innovators don’t have a God-given right to find co-founders nor capital, and VCs don’t have a God-given right to “deal flow”.

If anything, I believe that we all owe something to the entrepreneurial ecosystem… We need to create some glue to bring it all together; we need to do more to connect the dots; we need to stop talking about doing stuff and actually do it.

According to Wikipedia, Boulder’s population is about 100,000. Perth is ten times larger and, as a result of the resources boom, significantly wealthier… If Boulder can build an inspiring entrepreneurial community then what are we waiting for?

[Originally posted 13th January 2012]

My Challenge To The Innovation Community

I am always surprised by the number of people who say “I don’t know where you get all your ideas from” or “I have lots of ideas but never any good ones” or “I’ve got this idea but I don’t know how to take the next step”…

The way I see it, the innovation process comprises a series of hurdles. Viewed in isolation, it might seem a long way from idea to business, but it shouldn’t be such a quantum leap when you break things down, step-by-step.

The first hurdle is to have an idea: I am adamant that everyone has ideas, so let’s move on to step two.

You’ve got to realise that you’ve had an idea: Too many people dismiss their ideas as a mere passing thought, without recognising that it could be the kernel of something much bigger.

Third, you’ve got to be willing to act on your idea: A huge percentage of people don’t get past this point… Maybe they don’t know what to do next? Perhaps they’ve got a family to look after or a mortgage to worry about, and don’t feel that they can afford to take the risk?

Assuming you can get past that hurdle, the next step is to envision how your idea might become a scaleable business: That is not to say that you need a fully developed business case, but you must at least have a sense of how to monetise whatever product or service you are providing. 

And finally, you’ve got to be able to execute on that vision: As Yoda says Do or do not, there is no try!

Now, let’s put some numbers to that whole exercise…

Say only 10% of prospective entrepreneurs get past each hurdle. If we started with 10,000 people with ideas, by the time they’ve realised it, been willing to act, envisioned how their idea might become a business and executed that vision, we’ve only got one person left.

My challenge to the innovation community is this:

How can we improve the ratio of people overcoming each hurdle?

Just think about it… If only we could double the number of people progressing to the next stage, all of a sudden we would have sixteen times as many aspiring entrepreneurs giving life to their idea!

[Originally posted May 2011]

Loading posts...