Sell your house privately in New Zealand – the book.

Over at 200 Square we help people sell their house by using the latest internet tools, and avoiding expensive print and high agent overheads like fancy offices. Our licensed real estate agents  to the wheeling and dealing for clients, and are very successful and selling houses. The upside is that it costs just $4,500 to sell a house, rather than the $18,000 or so average.

But some people don’t want to pay even a $4,500 success fee. So 200 Square founder Grant Wakelin wrote an ebook to cover the basics of selling your house yourself.

Download it directly here: How to Sell Your Home Privately in New Zealand (PDF).

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Time to change: Another Fatality at Lyttelton, Port of Christchurch

On January 6th 2014 I asked When will the next fatality happen at Lyttelton, Port of Christchurch?, after a near miss gave clear evidence that the Port’s safety systems were not in control. It was a prediction that was almost certain to become true if they did not make drastic changes.

The sad answer is that today, August 28, 2014, a person was fatally wounded in a scissor lift accident. That’s a terrifying tragedy for the family and friends of the 40 year old man who died, and my heart goes out to them.

It’s yet another severe indictment on the owners, directors and management of the Port.  

It was clear then, as now, that the safety culture and systems at the site were broken. In January I stated:

Two fatalities and this incident are well beyond any normal signalling required for a site to recognise it is in crisis and for major change to occur.

Here’s what I said in an earlier post, in December 2013. Lyttelton Port of Christchurch this has to stop. 

What should happen?

The Port has faced tremendous challenges following the earthquake, and no doubt the challenges will continue as the rebuild evolves. But challenges to operations should never be a priority over safety.

LPC is a listed company, but 80% is held by Christchurch City Holdings (CCH), who are generally very smart. CCH and the board should be entering crisis management mode, and ensuring that the company responds with appropriate seriousness. At the very least I hope they all understand that this is arguably a lapse in duty of care that could elsewhere remove the site’s “license to operate.”

The board and management team should not rest until they can state unequivocally that the safety systems and culture have changed, and changed for good, and that people on their site can go home unharmed each day.

What would I do?

If this were under my control the port (and any other facility) would be shut down immediately after any fatality, and not reopened until control of fatal risks was regained. I would conduct an all-hands meeting (as suggested by the union) and ask everyone to commit to a tougher set of site safety rules – and enforce them. The rules would include the obligation to stop any observed unsafe work, and I’d hire in external experts to stick around for months to coach everyone through the process. Not everyone will get the new Zero Harm approach, and a small percentage may need to be prohibited from accessing the site.

As an uninformed outsider in any case like this I would stand the CEO down. I would replace him with a new leader with a mandate to place Zero Harm back at the top of the site priorities. I am sure the CEO in this instance is going through hell, and I appreciate that me saying this will not make that better. He may well be superb at his job, but the priorities the board and he agreed to were not correct and an epiphany is required.  So while the CEO may be able to change his approach, he is also somewhat caught in the crossfire here, and in my experience removing the CEO (and at times the management team and/or board as well) is the strongest signal that owners can send to a site that things simply have to change. 

Finding a new CEO who will drive change will not be an easy job, and neither will that person have an easy time of it. He or she will need to work top down and bottom up, and get the support of the Union, employers and all the other players on site to make sure that safety outcomes improve. It’s a challenging job, but one that has been successfully done across a wide range of industries – I’d start by calling recruiters for senior staff in the Australian mining sector.  

The standard is quite simple really – we should all fight to ensure that everyone gets to go home safely at the end of each day. 

 

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The comics of climate change

 

XKCD elegantly sums up what we are facing:

 

 

We really don’t know what that question mark will be, but it’s going to be scary. It won’t be this scary:

But it’s pretty clear that the implications for global warming are very serious for humans – and other land mammals. It’s interesting to look at the chart below and think about the amount of emissions that cattle are responsible for. Do we really want to reduce cattle emissions by reducing the number of animals? Would sheep, goats and elephants be next?

 

 

 

 

However only a tiny percentage of the change in global warming is going into the atmosphere and land. It’s all about the ocean, which is absorbing getting warmer and absorbing more CO2 as a result. But the CO2 absorbed creates a more acidic environment  – so with warmer and more acidic fluid we can expect far more dramatic changes in sea life.

 

 

So what to do. We can wait and see:

Or we can choose to not understand all that complicated science stuff (it’s actually pretty easy):

 

 

Or we can protect our selfish interests by forcing others to avoid the facts:

simpsons-global-warming-is-a-myth-463-2

 

But the best solution by far is to take action, lots of action, and to do it in a way that creates a better society and improves our economy. This is something where each country  really wants to be first, so that their industries can transform faster and then lead the rest of the world.

 

(Click on photos for sources)

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How do we solve the Gender Gap?

The #YesAllWoman Twitter stream is the latest voice about the serious issue of the gender gap. There is a lot of coverage elsewhere, but for my part I want to try to summarise what the #YesAllWomen Twitter stream is saying, then ask ourselves, as men what our right response should be.

Three Themes

I’m going to pick just three themes from the Tweet stream, accepting that this is an insufficient summary.

Women are not safe

Women do not feel safe because many of them are not safe in many situations, and almost all take precautions to maintain their safety. Behind the surface are a torrent of stories from women who have been subjected to everything — including child abuse, ultra violence, rape, theft, threats, stalking, shaming and so on and on.

This lack of safety is due to the behaviour of a significant percentage of males, many of whom seem to have little or no understanding of their effect on others, and a few (but enough) of whom have seriously malicious intent.

Women are not treated as equals in society

Beyond safety, women are at a considerable disadvantage in society, education and work. This varies a lot by city, country, school and employer, but it’s generally a lot worse than it appears to be from the male perspective.

This disadvantage is due to the institutionalised discrimination from arrangements set up and maintained by men. It’s sometimes difficult for men to see how the rules are bad when the rules were made by and for men.

Men are complicit 

While some males may see that these issues are all caused by a minority of other men, all men are still part of the society that tolerates prejudice, violence and worse towards women. That society degrades crime against women, tolerates men who grope, harass or stalk and accepts that male values and behaviour will drive career success. The discrimination makes it far easier for men to succeed than women.

Men, like white people in colonial countries, have a privileged situation in society due to a history of domination and subjugation. It’s difficult for them to even see the advantages that have, at home, work or in society, as they see it all through their own lens. However women, who have to moderate their behaviour to be safe, who live in fear, and who have glass ceilings at work know all too well.

The positive themes

It’s hard to see much positivity in all this, but again let’s pick three.

Some societies are better than others

Some countries, and within some countries, some cities, schools, industries and employers have vastly better female outcomes. As we’d expect the Scandinavian countries are ahead and New Zealand not far behind, and equally unsurprisingly the USA is 23rd on the WEF index.

But even the best country, Iceland, has a WEF gender gap score of 0.87, with 7th placed New Zealand on 0.77 and the USA with 0.7. Now the Global Gender Gap report scores are not meant to be used in this way,* but a crude way to think about it is that women still have a 13-23% disadvantage, even in the most equal countries.

But the index only measures outputs, which are correlated but not necessarily dealing with the issues above. Even in highly-ranked New Zealand we have large percentages of women who live in fear, and sections of society who do not understand the gender-inequality. Our previously much-loved Air New Zealand, for example, seems intent on destroying goodwill with a misogynist swimsuit safety video, and I won’t refer to certain news items, but we have our share of male-to-female crimes too.

Improving poverty, education and inequality will improve behaviour

Improving education, social welfare, inequality, wealth and the multi-cultural mindset will also help improve gender equality. I can’t prove it, but as the World Economic Forum report states:

” The correlation between competitiveness, income and development and gender gaps is evident”

Unfortunately this also means that fixing the issue is not simple — in fact it’s ridiculously difficult to improve societies across all those metrics. And that’s for societies intent on improving – arguably some Western societies are intent on walking backwards.

Talking about it is the start of the cure.

This is not the first time that any of us have heard these stories, the ones about how women are treated in our society. I was lucky to have Rape Crisis, an organisation that started in 1977,  speak to my all-boys class when I was very young. They educated us on how it was, and challenged us on how to behave with women. I was also lucky at university to have patient female friends, and there and countless times afterwards I have heard many stories of child abuse, rape, violence, stalking, misogyny and it has never stopped. Today with social media the streams of fear are never far away, and the #yesallwomen is sadly just the latest.

The stories are good, as understanding what’s going on is the critical first step for men, as it’s only when we know that we can begin to moderate our own and others behaviour. Our societies must teach and we all must learn that being an adult means understanding what is ok, and what is not ok, and maintaining control at all times.

What can we do?

It’s overwhelming, the scale of what needs to be done, and I hazard that it’s multi-generational. But here are three ideas for how we men can each help.

Set the standard

We can monitor and continuously improve our own behaviour to make sure that we are setting the standard. This is a constant joinery, and it means striving to not just be a good person, but to be a defender of other people’s values and not imposing our own.

As well as the obvious large things, it’s also the little things. For example let’s remove gender-infused words from our vocabulary – words that have no power for men when we say them, but can hit women hard.

Let’s help women by providing them with their own space and with security if required. If someone asks for help – we offer assistance to the best of our abilities, while if someone is beyond asking, then we seek the police or other authorities, stump for a cab or otherwise safely solve the issue.  We try also to promote women voices in public forums, especially if we, like me, are louder voices to begin with.

Do not accept poor behaviour from other men

The standard we walk past is the one you accept – so we call out men who are behaving badly.

This firstly means not accepting poor behaviour from our male friends, and it may mean some serious conversations or even choosing to spend less or no time with a friend.

 

It also means we call out people at work and in other relatively safe mild social situations – a gentle nudge in the form of a joke might work, and that can get a bit less subtle if required.

It also means, and this is the hard bit, calling out strangers. We might get smashed in the face, as I once did after making a bad joke to a Perth predator eying up young girls. We might feel we are calling the police for the wrong reasons or that we are annoying your neighbours if we yell “shall I call the cops?” at an arguing couple where the guy is just behaving a little too aggressively. But it’s a worse feeling when we don’t intervene, and we start to wonder what happened to the woman – did she become yet another victim?

Change our organisations 

We can’t do it all at once, but we can influence change in each of the organisations that we are part of. Seek to help change our school, work, society and country.

Let’s ask to see the Equality Policy and put one in place if it doesn’t exist. Let’s challenge existing behaviours, and bring people in to help us learn. Let’s fight for better representation of women at all levels of our companies, from the board and shareholders down, and vote with our feet if the culture is unchangeable.

It’s a long war this, but we are making serious progress. Entire industries are being transformed, countries are being tracked and improving and yet the stories remain. At stake is a significantly better society, not just for the other 50%, but for all of us.

 

*The Gender Gap report looks at gender gaps in various categories, marking out of 1, with 1 deemed as parity. It then averages or otherwise adds up these sub-categories. However in categories where women have an advantage over men, such as in New Zealand where there are far more women than men at university, the category scores truncate at 1, the equality benchmark so the only way a country could exceed the maximum of 1 is if women equalled or out-scored men in every single metric. 

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Signing customers – learning from Optimizely’s website

Optimizely are in the business of helping people improve their websites so they can sign up more customers or achieve other desired results. They just raised US$57 million, on the back of US$28 million last year, and are growing very quickly. So they must be doing some things really well – so let’s take look at their own marketing website to see what we can learn.

Here is the home page – which decisively answers the question of “what do want me to do?” It’s a simple question, but almost all websites fail to deliver a definitive answer on the home page, let alone on every other page.

Sadly though the next step involves a road-block pop up to set up an account, but after a couple of tries I realised it was by-passable. Once through that, Optimizely places you into something I’ve been advocating for years – a no sign-up demo mode.

Optimizely’s product allows you to edit your existing website, create new versions and then test these with a percentage of your audience. I chose Raygun.io as my target website to “improve”, with apologies to the folks at Mindscape.

It’s a complete experience – the visitor can experience the power and simplicity of the product, set up your two or three trials, explore the options menus, and gain a lot of confidence in the product and how it works.

The pricing page, my next landing, has a lot of the standard methods used in SaaS, and it’s worth checking that your own business has these. As well as the features highlighted below, I also like the combination of simple looking pricing (nice and big) with the fine print about discounts and the 30 free days in-line for the more discerning reader. However Once again it’s clear what the page wants you to do, and I’m picking that most people will click one of the four green buttons without adjusting any of the pricing or currency parameters.  

 

What I really like about Optimizely’s site is how they can deliver completely different experiences for different audiences. We all know we should do this, but Optimizely are unashamed in how they do it. From the top of the pricing page, and elsewhere, visitors can  select who they are from a menu:

 

Here’s the landing page for Agencies- who get asked to be “Optimizely Solutions Partners”, and are presented with well-formatted and no-doubt well-optimised text. (I’m picking that these and other versions of these pages are also landing pages for advertising campaigns).

Next is the Developer landing page, which is very different. Even the menus have changed, losing all that marketing text, and leaving developers in their own world.

Once again Optimizely presents obvious answers to the question of what they want visitors to do – in this case the page obviously wants developers to click on one of the three boxes.

And with just one click we are in a developer happy place – looking at code:

I’m guessing the marketers stay away from these pages.

Going back, here’s the eCommerce page. This page is obviously directing visitors to fill out the form – and they can expect a call or email back.

Key to this page is the “Monthly Visitors” drop down:

You can bet anything that visitors with larger trafficked eCommerce sites are getting a phone call back within seconds or minutes of the enquiry. The smaller ones will get an automatic response and approach, or placed in a queue for outbound sales. The outbound sales team can also pre-load the customer website provided and set up a quick demo of the product over screenshare or through the product itself. The product might sell itself, but you can bet that it’s being very professionally sold as well.

The Enterprise, Publishers, and Small Business pages are all variations of the eCommerce page – albeit with optimised text for the bullet points. The first bullet point for Enterprises, for example, is “Revenue tracking….“, while small businesses get less bullets overall, and start with “WYSIWYG, no-coding required editor…“.

Optimizely are in the business of making websites better – so there is plenty more to learn from the site. The links in the footer are another good place to explore, but I’d focus on the main customer flows into and through the website.

This is all deceptively simple, but it reality getting the flow of visitors through to buyers and then loyal customers is very difficult. The initial flow is sometimes overlooked for months, but as the accelerator for many businesses I believe it’s worth working essentially constantly.

Six things to make your SaaS website better

  1. Make sure it is blindingly obvious on every page what you want the visitor to do.
  2. Get people using your product instantly, removing all barriers including sign-ups, payments, videos, walls of text, multiple web pages and so forth.
  3. Provide a price and a process for every wallet size, company and customer type.
  4. Provide definitive landing pages and experiences for different types of customers. Be many things to many people rather than trying to be one thing to all.
  5. Ask for the key metric that differentiates the potential deal size for enquirers, and adjust your sales response accordingly. Go nuts with efforts for the largest and more well known potential customers.
  6. And it’s not here, but bears repeating: let people buy before or without registering. Once you have their money they are far more likely to want to register, and you already have their information.
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Do Oxfam, Amnesty and World Vision support petrol consumption?

Some unsolicited email spam (not to me) from Littlelot, who replace your Android or PC wallpaper with advertisements:

Aside from the problems of this email being unsolicited, they also have a problem of giving away gasoline. This seems out of line with what I would hope are the ethics of the listed charities below:

 

A glance at the sponsor pictures above may give a hint – there is nature, children, bicycles, animals and festivities – but no cars or roads or other environmentally challenging issues.

Giving away gasoline also seems out of line with the values of many of the early adopters for these sorts of products. The applications themselves take over your PC and mobile devices:

It refreshes your desktop background and mobile lockscreen every day with wallpapers from brands relevant to your profile and interests.

But imagine seeing an advertisement for a fuel company on your homescreen if you were a member of the Green Party (I’m not) or someone who cares about climate change and liveable cities (I am). I’d accept that Z Energy, who are genuine about health, safety and the environment, but am extraordinarily doubtful about any other local fuelco.

The company used to be called Donate your Desktop, and it didn’t really work. Last year they raised $200,000, a surprising feat in the face of no real traction. They also changed their brand, upgraded the website (I believe) and improved their apps. While the new name and website feel like improvements, with just $4,451 raised for charities to date (the company clips 25% of income) it’s very early days.

What to do

It’s hard when you are a start-up, but decisions made early on can have an enduring impact on how your company is perceived. The decisions should be made based on the values of the company, and in the early days these have to come from the founders.

This incarnation of the company seems a lot better than the first, but I would counsel the company to heed their own advice to themselves across everything they do:

“If we wanted people to love our product, we had to give them cool wallpapers from brands they like – even better if we could actually put them in control.”

LittleLot have been very good at generating publicity to date (yes, this is more), but have yet to demonstrate that they can deliver on the promise. Ultimately I’ll always struggle with ceding control of my desktop to another company or to “brands”, and the challenge is to see whether a critical mass of people will.

But I suspect many could be interested, if the apps are good enough, in a one-wallpaper across all your devices product – a decent screensaver app, differentiating by the all-devices approach and perhaps source of the photos. Time will tell.

 

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Should anyone else adopt the Internet Party policies?

The Internet Party‘s website just launched, but sadly for them this is what happened when I tried to play on the video at the top of the site:

I tried a bit later and had a different sort of error with the same lack of result.

Policy

But enough of presentation – let’s instead look at their 9 policy points. My initial take before reading this and before the party has announced any candidates is that they will need to have great policies for this to work, but that other parties can simply steal those policies to defuse the new party.

1: Deliver cheaper, unlimited, high-speed Internet for everyone. 

Hard to argue with this goal, but other parties have this goal as well. Two details are 50% cheaper connectivity for everyone and an international cable. The devil will very much be in the details which are not available, but the second is a really simple business case to make to those who get it (Labou and the Greens do too), and the first is going to require quite some money and effort, which is already underway.

2: Stop the government from spying on citizens

The details of this will be critical as well – there are clear cases where spying is a good thing, and Kim Dotcom has a clear (and justifiable) bone to pick.  Covered under point 7 is the much more important policy about foreign governments spying on New Zealanders and vice versa. Most people won’t get excited about this, unless there is scaremongering.

3: Reform copyright laws. 

This would be a strength of the Internet Party, and the rhetoric so far is good. I very much like the idea of compelling content creators offshore to make their content available in NZ at essentially the same time as offshore (and, I trust for a similar price) or else we can copy it regardless. That’s a policy that will hasten the day where all content is released globally. The party also advocates for open research, and those efforts are already happening, with Waikato University just launching their new policy on this. Fair Use is another policy and that’s well overdue here, though the lack of the law doesn’t stop bloggers from excerpting liberally. The safe harbour for ISPs will be scrutinised pretty hard given Kim Dotcom’s involvement.

4: Make government work for its citizens, not the other way around. 

“The Internet Party will make government more efficient.” This is an old chestnut, and I give a lot of credit to the work that the public service and government are constantly doing to make things better. But that doesn’t mean to say there isn’t a lot more to do. For example, it would be great to allow people working for government be able to embrace modern online tools such as Dropbox & Skype that the rest of us take for granted.

5: Encourage green technologies and protect our environment. 

All standard stuff and as a country that build lots of hydro power stations and has reaped the benefits of cost-free power generation ever since, green tech should be an easy business case to make. The Internet Party throws in the red herring of green data centres, but the greenness comes mainly from the grid electricity generation mix, and that means building more green power stations and shutting down Huntly. Huntly power station is of course the key asset of Genesis Energy, currently on the block.

6: Boost innovation and high-tech jobs in New Zealand. 

Blah blah. This is not easy to do, and I suggest the Internet Party just support and tweak the MBIE Business Growth Agenda.

7: Strengthen New Zealand’s independence. 

Reviewing the TPP and the national security arrangements. That’s code for don’t sign the TPP because of the ridiculous copyright (and other) provisions (it’s basically been captured by US corporate lobbyists). It’s also code for “why be in bed with the USA (or anyone for that matter) when China is far more important to our economy?”

This will be a fascinating policy area, and sure to provoke discussion and outrage. However they also need to be careful to balance naive “do the right thing” against the relative size and power of New Zealand versus other countries. Both Helen Clark and John Key are walking the international corridors of power exceedingly well, and we cannot afford to risk being isolated and at the wrong end of a trade war. That said, there is scope here for major change, akin to the  Nuclear Free moment and it should be exciting to watch.

8: Introduce a government-sponsored digital currency. 

A giant red herring that could be crazy enough to work, but why would you lose your ability to print money? Why not start, instead, with regulation that accepts verified digital currencies as currencies per se, and provides/nudges/forces banks to be able to exchange them. Why not fix the asinine anti-money laundering know your customer requirements for financial institutions at the same time? We are subject to US imposed regulations on this, and it is making of dreadful customer experiences and attacking our “ease of doing business” philosophy.

9: Modernise schools and the education system. 

Nothing that’s not being already done here.

Overall

I would encourage political parties to observe and copy critical elements of these policies.

The copyright, spying and internet access policies should be the most well-formed, and will drive a lot of the party’s support. So borrow extensively from them rather than fight them outright, and the party will lose impact.

The environment, responsive government, modern schools and innovation and jobs policies are all relatively bland, and should already be part of all other party platforms. Obviously there are tweaks that each political party brings, but they are minor, and smart parties will be looking for policy elements that they can adopt.

The digital currency policy can be safely ignored. It might be a god or bad idea, but it’s mainly a distraction.

The spying and independence policies are potential election year nightmares, and not just for the Internet Party. Watch those closely, and if public opinion starts moving then the other parties will have to form strong responses. These could develop into signature issues for the election, or they could fizzle along with the Internet Party itself.

And finally the elephant in the room is Kim Dotcom. He’s great at generating press coverage, but he’s also great at delivering poor coverage. The party, to be credible, needs him to be replaced in the limelight by a whole host of high quality candidates.

It’s going to be an interesting year in politics.

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