Tuesday, June 14, 2016

When It Rains, It Pours: Weather and Hard Disk Drive Failing

You know those days, when bills upon bills just rain down, and then literally for us, when it rained, it poured.

Those end of financial year enticements have been luring us for years and now, the sum of all those parts have really come home to roost into a huge consolidated sum once those bills are all paid.

Sydney had a massive, drenching rain last weekend which resulted in three deaths and homes flooded, with some coastal houses lost to the ocean. For us, it meant a leaking roof/ceiling and a few more thousand dollars worth of impending repairs. The joys of home ownership.

After about four years of use, my Macbook started playing up and it turns out the hard disk drive was failing and lucky I had backed up everything in time before it died. Now it's a slow process of re-installing a few applications, recovering bookmarks etc. Fortunately, all files are safe and sound.

This is probably one of the most adhoc post I've ever written, so apologies for that. It shows the state of my mind, which is currently all over the place. I have my fingers in way too many pies presently.  I'm hoping that over the next two years, it will all be sorted and falling into a routine. 

It's been an incredible ride these last handful of years. 

I was on TV(briefly haha) and looks like I may be published in an industry magazine. An offer of more TV appearances but I'm not sure I want to pursue that path. That opportunity arose many years ago which I declined as well. Life is really strange. These are such random opportunities which just fell into the lap. Some try so hard and actively to pursue TV fame and opportunities but here I am, consistently declining the offers.

Financially (seeing as this is a personal finance blog!!), it's also been incredible. We reached a huge milestone a few years ago, so these last few years simply amplified that.

I will be back writing about being on the hunt for acreage and land banking versus buying a blue chip property in an established suburb. Our friends are also doing exciting things with their properties, some are demolishing and rebuilding, some are looking at $4 million houses to buy. Some have just got a foot hold into property while some are renting. It's amazing how we all pretty much started out at similar junctions in our life. 

From being friends at University, the choices that we individually made over the years is now starkly apparent and the differences between all of us diverges more dramatically every single year. Some are holding stellar careers and lifestyles. Some are still struggling. Some are living the golden life, while some are just surviving day to day. What differentiates the stellar achievers versus more ordinary achievements? I would hazard a guess and say that the stellar achievers have planned a lot more in their life for the long term horizon as opposed to short to medium term planning only. And they're type A personalities. Really great organisational skills to boot. 

So what do you want from your life? What are you doing to achieve those plans? Are you all talk and no action? Or are you talk plus action? Are you going to look back in ten years time and wish you had done something? 



Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Power of Saying Yes and No

Have any of you heard about the power of saying yes or no? It's suppose to be a life changing concept to apply. Saying yes or no to people. Its power includes opening up new doors, unlimited opportunities and new experiences.

Some say that saying yes is very powerful, while some argue that saying no is more powerful. Unfortunately life doesn't come with a manual to teach you when you should say no and when you should say yes. And knowing the difference of when to apply which, is what changes your life positively.

I think the best way to approach this is what I read from James Altucher. He wrote:
"I started saying “No” to people who weren’t right for me. I started saying “No” to everything I didn’t want to do.I started saying “No” to mindless meetings, mindless events, mindless people who were bad for me, mindless food or alcohol, mindless anger and regret. Mindless TV and news.I started saying “No” to colonoscopies and other things related to painful medical experiments. I listed all the things I could say “No” to and I still do.When you have a tiny tiny piece of shit in the soup it doesn’t matter how much more water you pour in and how many more spices you put on top. There’s shit in the soup.I had been saying YES to the wrong things for 20 years.Within six months my life was completely different. I met Claudia. I moved out of hotels. I was working on ideas that actually made money. And I needed fewer and fewer things to make me happy. That’s the Power of No. That’s true minimalism."
I've been thinking about the concept lately because recently I have had difficulty finding the strength to say "no" to people. I've been saying yes, yes and more yes. Instead, I am bending over backwards trying to help people from all walks of life. It feels draining. Instead of being uplifting and generating the happiness buzz, it feels draining. 
Questions like, "Can you help me get a job? Can you ask so and so if they have work? Can you call so and so for me? Can I borrow blah? Do you know how to do this or that? Can you help me do blah? Can you etc etc etc." These are people who work for people I know, or people who I come into contact with weekly, but aren't immediate colleagues or friends. Just friendly people that I come into contact with. I could help them, that's a certainty (and I have) but I find that more and more people are leaning for help and it's starting to burn up serious time.
So, it's time to work up the courage to say no. To admit that I am time poor and I'm sorry but I can't help. Is that selfish? I don't know. Is it selfish to try to protect ones free time? I don't know. What Altucher wrote is what I was able to practice for many years and it made me happy to be able to do that. I said no to crap TV, no to watching miserable news. No to really bad food. No to those who simply wanted to use me emotionally or materially. Somehow, over the recent years, I simply stopped saying no and just started saying yes again to everyone. And saying yes to everything is NOT powerful. 
What is powerful, is the ability to say no to the crap, bad things or people that drain you and to say yes to the opportunities or the people who lift you and the people that make you happy. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Appillionaires Secrets from Developers Who Struck It Rich on the App Store by Chris Stevens

Appillionaires by Chris Stevens 
(developer of Alice for the iPad and Alice in New York)



This book illustrates the story of some of the app world's successful developers and how they arrived at their point of global app fame. The road is long and not easy even though the media makes it look like instant fame hit.

Stevens wrote that most indie developers struggle to get attention for their apps due to lack of marketing clout and their reliance on top placement in the App Store. For indie developers, being featured by Apple or advertised in an iTunes banner ad is the largest road to being noticed. After finding fame with a successful app, app developers find themselves constantly being pitched app ideas. Stevens write that few Appillionaires were overnight successes. The book has chapters based on specific apps such as Doodle Jump, StickWars, Harbor Master, Angry Birds and Pocket God. I'll go through them more thoroughly on the next blog post. 

Mills from Angry Birds says, "People say it was an overnight success. Well, yes, it was an overnight success after 52 other failed attempts."

Max Slade from Johnny Two Shoes recalls that, "We actually unplugged our phone because we were getting so many calls from VCs saying, "We want to give you some money; let's give you some money. Here, have some money. Money. Money!"

To be in the app game, it cost $99 to join up as an Apple developer. The expense is your time and or paying people for work. The official Software Development Kit (SDK) is a free download from apple that allows anyone to try programming for the iPhone. 

"Free apps accounted for 65-70 percent of the software installed on iPhones in 2009, which meant than an impressive proportion were paid apps, with 99 cents already established as the most popular price. By the end of 2009, Apple had supplied over 2 billion apps to iPhone and iPod Touch users in 77 different countries, netting developers over $900 million. Customers were downloading an average of 11 apps each per month and a mind-boggling 8,500 new apps were being submitted to Apple by programmers every week."

"The masses wanted cheap, straightforward games they could dip in and out of during a bored moment on the train. They didn't necessarily want a virtual film experience with layered plots and an advanced control system; they just wanted the next Tetris."

Stevens write that, "Almost as soon as Alice hit the number one spot I was fielding calls from The New York Times, giving interviews to Japanese television stations, and advising major print publishers on how to make digital books. Alice was literally programmed in a bedroom- a phenomena that the App Store had made possible...What few people saw were the months of near insanity that led up to the success of Alice. The confusion and self-doubt as app after app that we attempted to sell on the App Store failed to turn a profit. Alice was the culmination of almost a year of repeated failures."

"The store has become a magnet for the overly optimistic with money to spend on getting their app built. I've sat in meeting after meeting with recent university graduates who have scraped together thousands of pounds from friends and family with the intention of making a fortune on the App Store. Almost without fail, their ideas have been vague, or based on gut instinct, rather than the commercial realities of the world's most competitive software market."

Peter Pashley was quoted in the book saying, "It was the first time that a distribution channel existed for a single creative to distribute their work to tens of millions of people. If you're a musician that never really happens-unless you have a label. If you're an author that rarely happens- unless you have a publisher. People are actively looking for apps all the time and, if you make something good, it has the potential to spread like wildfire. Books and CDs never had that."

What can we take away from Steven's book? He quoted Castelnuovo (creator of Pocket God) as saying, "I think that success in the entertainment industry has a lot to do with luck: the reception of the audience. You can't really quantify or second guess that easily. It's like a lottery ticket. The strategy was to keep it small, stay in the game for a long time, and keep working on projects until something stuck... People see that a lot of people are making money, and that a lot of people have these devices. They think they could come up with an idea. But having an idea is 5 percent of the thing. Implementation counts for a lot." 

Castelnuovo believes that the buying public enjoyed Pocket God's app updates and new game mechanics. "The best strategy is keep your costs down, and support your app like crazy. Be laser-focused in getting it out there. You can't just do something, watch and see if it takes off. You have to put everything behind it. Get a sense if the audience is receptive to your idea. If they're not, then cut your losses and work on a new game. But if there is enthusiasm, get behind it."

John Hartzog, creator of the game StickWars advice was, "I hit a momentum and realised that, if I kept updating the app every three weeks, I could accelerate the rise... Work independently. That's what I did at the start. Focus on making a fantastic game and worry about money later. First, make a great product."

A simple app is estimated to cost between $15,000 to $50,000 to produce (not inclusive of marketing). Stevens created some simple interactive book apps which cost $60,000. 

"Bedroom programmers can eliminate much of these costs by doing all the coding and design work themselves- the first Alice app, for example, cost nothing except time. Increasingly, young entrepreneurs with no programming experience are now choosing to employ outside help to build their iPhone app ideas, making the projects extremely expensive. The unfortunate truth of the market is that most of these entrepreneurs will never recoup their investments. Ever. The most cynical estimate is that the median app makes $682 per year for its developer on the App Store."

It's an easy book to read. Interesting in the way that it delved into the history of the programmers and how their interest in game design originated from a young age and Apple's App Store was the perfect vehicle for indie and small developers to release and distribute their work to the global marketplace. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hollywood Entrepreneurs Series: Jessica Alba

Fame can be fleeting. The new generation of sport, music and movie stars have to multi-task and become entrepreneurs if they want to survive life post fame. They don't know when the public will stop buying their music, stop watching their movies or injury forces an exit from the world of competitive sport.

There are so many fascinating entrepreneurial artists that I thought I'd write about some that have intrigued me due to their meticulous control of their brand and their many businesses. Along with their gorgeous looks of course. 


1. Jessica Alba and The Honest Company

34 year old Alba owns reportedly 15-20 per cent of The Honest Company, a company that is rumoured to be worth 1.7 billion dollars. Her share has been estimated by Forbes to be worth roughly $200 million. If you watch some of her interviews on YouTube, you will see how eloquent, passionate and intelligent she is. She built a business that focuses on organic and natural products used in everyday life. 

Honest employs roughly 500 staff*. Honest now has over 135 products ranging from toothpaste to detergent and diapers. The products were initially sold online but is now available both online and in 4,400 retail stores.

The acting world is as competitive as the commercial world. Alba auditioned and won against 1,000 actresses for the role in James Cameron's tv show, Dark Angel. That led to 86 hour work weeks in Vancouver. Following on from Dark Angel, she won roles in Sin City, Fantastic Four, Little Fockers and Honey. When she tried to crossover into ecommerce she was subjected to disinterest from Silicon Valley. So her success emphasises that the naysayers aren't always right. Don't let them stop you from doing what you want to do. 

She revealed in some interviews that she would work 16 hour days, training for movies and shows. Some memorable quotes that I like are:
*"You have to have a vision of where you want to go in order to get there, so I absolutely had a vision that it was going to become something massive. If you want to effect real change in the world you have to be a real competitor, and in order to take market share from, you know, people who have been in the business usually for a long time." (Vogue Australia, February 2016)
* On juggling work and family: "Multitasking, it's a struggle." (Extra TV interview, 04/08/2014) 
* "You'll never know if something is going to succeed if you don't try. Put yourself out there and try it." (Women's Innovation Panel with Susan Wojcicki, Jessica Alba and Gayle King)
* "I learned a lot when I was acting... I learned a lot about marketing...I learned a lot about selling different types of products to different demographics...I took in all that knowledge that I collected along the way from marketing to a teenage boy demographic versus marketing to a young girl in a movie called Honey that I did and then marketing to a really broad family audience with The Fantastic Four movies and then doing campaigns with Loreal and Revlon and understanding the millenial woman...it was just about understanding the demographics at that time and understanding what they want and how to market to them to get the best outcome in what you're selling.
It could have been a television show, it could have been a product, it could have been a film, marketers pretty much go about all of those things the same way so when I had this idea of wanting to create this company that was honest and transparent, that made effective products so that people could live a healthy life, I really had to understand the consumer...I feel a lot of what I do and how I went about it was to prepare myself for that consumer so I did some market research on myself at the time and this was about seven and half years ago and I was really heavy into 18-25 year old males shockingly...
I wanted to get the 25-35 year old millenial mum, so I had to come from an authentic place and change the dialogue in how people saw me and so that's how I got onto Twitter with my first social media platform and then Facebook and now Instagram and Pinterest. Not Snapchat yet. I'm late to the game. Understanding those platforms. Creating content for those platforms... opened the door for me to create this company.
So I understood my marketplace and then I know what the consumer wants and then it's about creating and going after it. So I did all that prep work before I even found my partners, before I even honed in on the business model and before we did our seed funding. That took about three years... It took me about three years to figure out how to turn a 55 page deck of this idea and a really long explaination of what the idea was to a 10 page deck and an elevator pitch.
There have been over 80,000 new chemicals introduced in the marketplace and used in these everyday products that have not been tested for safety. Now in Europe, there are over 1200 chemicals that are banned in personal care alone because they're not safe for human health. In the United States, we only ban 11...The company was Love and Honour. It sounded like a bridal company, so everyone that I pitched it to, they were like, "Oh that sounds really nice, but cleaning products?", they didn't get it. I was like, "What about The Honest Company. A company that is honest, and transparent about their practices. They have effective products that are beautifully designed, affordable and easy to get. And they were like, 'Oh that makes sense. Doesn't a company like that already exist. And that's when I knew I had a great idea. When everyone says, 'Doesn't that company already exist?'.
And then when they got into the nitty gritty of how the hell are you going to do it? And it seems really complicated, then I knew I needed to find the right partner...My approach was to really start with the human health mission and work backwards from there. The early days were tough because we had to setup a warehouse and we had to create front end and back end technology that actually worked together. And we had to setup a credit card system that actually charged credit cards, which it didn't for the first six weeks...
Everything from the UI and UX design to ...our first shipment... The flow of the website, it had to be simple and easy to training my customer service which I still do, knowing that they are really the heart of the company. All the marketing. I push my partners heavily on going into social media, having a blog and really, empowering people with education and a choice and telling them the difference between this and that... I'm developing packaging, design and product around two new verticals that we're launching this year...
The reason why we get such talented people is that people love that we have a social goodness aspect to our company and that we give back... I always feel like I'm compromising something. I haven't figured out work life balance.But my kids are my priority... I feel that Facebook is the best platform for our demographic, but pinterest is also really strong, Instagram and Twitter has it's place, but it's more of an international platform.
What advice would I give myself?...When I was younger up until recently, I always felt like I wasn't enough, like I wasn't enough to be a successful actress or I wasn't enough to start a company and I definitely had a lot of moments where I had a ton of self doubt and I was lucky enough to have a Mum who would just kick me in the ass and tell me to just go for it and to stop being ridiculous... I think common sense is so valuable and creative thinking is so valuable. And don't take no for an answer in whatever it is that you are going for."

"You have to not take criticism personally. I think you have to look at it as being constructive and I think you have to surround yourself with people that are smarter than you... If you can put together a team that can execute on your idea, that's going to be the strongest thing you can do when you're going to raise money... You can't be too married to your ideas...You have to really understand your marketplace through and through. I pitched my ideas to really smart people that had all kinds of different businesses... having smart people that you respect poke holes at the business idea. You never want to be in a room and not know how to answer three questions.  (Jessica Alba at USC 2015) 

*"If it was easy, everyone would do it. You have to be a little bit crazy; you have to have gumption and tenacity. A lot of people give up at the first roadblock. But, for entrepreneurs, if there isn't another road, we create it. We break concrete; we throw dynamite; we figure it out."
She is occasionally plagued by insecurity, remembering in 2006 whilst walking down the red carpet at the Academy Awards, thinking, "If I talk to anyone for too long they're going to know I don't belong here". *


Sources:
* Vanity Fair, Holiday 2015/2016
* YouTube interviews
* Vogue
* Image from Stylebistro.com