Vibe appoints Rudi Hefer as CEO

Rudi ever started at Vibe Communications as Chief Commercial Officer back in August, and he has been leading strong growth in the business. I’m delighted that he’s now the CEO –  press release below:

Vibe appoints Rudi Hefer as CEO

Vibe is pleased to announce the apointment of Rudi Hefer as CEO at Vibe Communications.

“Rudi joined as Chief Commercial Officer in August, and since then he has shown that he is the right person for the job” said founder and CTO Davey Goode. Hefer fills a vacant role, working with founders Barry Murphy (COO) and Davey Goode (CTO).

As part of his appointment Hefer will be investing into the company.

Lance Wiggs from investor Punakaiki Fund said he was delighted for Vibe and for Rudi Hefer, with the evidence of Rudi’s presence already showing in strong revenue growth and innovative new products, saying “The new Intellipath product, for example, will let clients connect data centers to other data centers within minutes, and that really changes the game for the industry in New Zealand and Australia.”

Rudi commenced his role on November 1, 2014.

Define Instruments Expands into South Africa

It’s always great to see companies grow – and Define Instruments recently took their first big leap. The team has followed existing international sales by setting up a South African office. It’s the first of many new overseas offices we hope to see over the next few years, as we seek to expand distribution and direct sales. As the press release below says, a local presence means fast shipping to customers, as well as a much more effective sales process.

I’m an external director and shareholder, and  I’ve been very impressed at how Define Instruments has steadily professionalised their team and operation over the last few years, and the top line results are showing.

NZ Industrial Instrumentation Company to Launch in South Africa

New Zealand industrial instrumentation company, Define Instruments is pleased to announce it’s expansion into South Africa beginning next month.

The Auckland-based business which builds process measurement and control technology officially opens its new branch in Johannesburg on 3 Nov.

Define Instruments spent a year planning it’s entry into the new territory. Preparations included the appointment of South African technical advisor and a full-time marketing manager.

Selling to South Africa for over 5 years, the addition of a bricks and mortar office is a natural progression for Define and solidifies it’s commitment to growth in the country.

“We’ll be employing and training South African staff so we can deliver a great customer experience from end to end,” comments Sales Manager Rolla Afrogheh.

A lack of native manufacturing in South Africa means customers often wait 2-3 weeks for industrial instruments to be shipped from overseas. A wait Define Instruments is confident it can drastically reduce to standard next day delivery.

“Having people on the ground will make a huge difference to our capabilities”, says Define Instruments CEO Anthony Glucina. “We can now hold stock onshore and ensure South African customers enjoy shorter lead times than typically experienced”.

Define’s innovative products have already gained a reputation in South Africa as some of the easiest and fastest to setup. A simplicity which has proven popular with industrial technicians worldwide.

Earlier this year Define Instruments was awarded the ISO9001 international quality standard and is current working towards UL certification of its key products before entering the US market in 2015.

Portfolio Disclosure Oct 2014

A prompt from Rowan Simpson (16 investments, $4m) and Ben Kepes (14 investments, $500k) led me to update my own investment Portfolio page.

I’ve personally invested $780,000 into 10 companies, and have equity received as a founder in several others, totalling over 15.

Overall I’m really happy with the private investments. They are relatively small amounts of money for the companies though, as I’ve only been able to invest as I earn. The mistakes have been expensive, but the amounts were small versus more successful investments. I’ve also reinvested two or more times in some of the larger investments, where it is clear that the value is there. These reinvestments have, so far, all paid off.

It’s really hard to talk publicly about how I value my investments, as each company may have different perspectives to my own. But my own take is that I’ve seen an aggregate of over 50% IRR on the investments I’ve made, and perhaps well north of that.

With Punakaiki Fund we raised and placed about $1.5 million into four great companies, and are anticipating raising more money to invest in the next few weeks.

Set a high bar and never compromise

Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP People Operations, shares three secrets for how Google recruits.

He does this at the end of a presentation he gave at a Linked-In conference for recruiters.

Action starts at 2m:40s.

Laszlo doesn’t mention it, but these are exactly the same (with a bit more science these days) “secrets” that McKinsey and many other great companies use.

Maintaining the high standards is very hard – they tend to drop over time as companies get bigger. What Google do is to keep every hiring decision (but not the interviewing work)  with a small group of very high standard setters – much like Steve Jobs set the insanely high benchmark for every Apple product. Even today Larry Page reviews every hire.

They use structured interviews, a combination of behavioural (Tell us about a time…) and situational (Case studies), and they test for general cognitive ability, leadership, Googleyness and role-related knowledge. They de-prioritise the last, liking people with more diverse role experiences, as role-related knowledge can be learned while those other experiences can bring different ways of approaching problems.

The most important issue from the video is not ever compromising on standards. This is particularly important for the first few people hired at growing companies, but it can never change as companies grow. Your new co-workers will dictate how well you perform in the future, and how fun it’s going to be. So take your time, make sure there is a alignment of values and fire fast if things don’t work out. Companies like Xero, Vend, Timely and Define Instruments* are incredibly selective and difficult to get recruited into (and they are  hiring). That’s by design, and that’s why they can stay ahead.

(I’m a direct or indirect investor in all of these)

Tracking the performance of the 1 hour Xero model

DISCLOSURE: I hold Xero shares. 

Last year I built a very quick and dirty spreadsheet to analyse Xero, and wrote Valuing Xero – in one hour. The article was cross-posted to the NBR, where it attracted far more comments. More on those comments below.

I used Xero’s September 013 earnings release (and only that earnings release) to feed the spreadsheet and to try to keep things simple. It was not meant to be a valuation – just a chance to show how simple it is to create a model from very little information.

With the recent release of Xero’s September 2014 results, it’s time to revisit.


I’m not an official financial advisor, and you should make your own counsel and seek advice before investing. I do urge you do do your own numbers, regardless of any external advice that you get. Also understand the difference between placing short term bets against market movements by traders and long term plays based on intrinsic business fundamentals. I, for example, generally buy and hold investments, whether public or private, as that allows the investment value to reflect long term results rather than actions of other market participants.

1: How did I do?

Lousy. I made a basic formula error in the spreadsheet, discovered by the ever-present Anonymous at NBR. Well done to him or her, and brickbats for me.

That formula error transformed the model dramatically – from showing that Xero’s value was $2-8 billion to showing that it was several times larger. Here’s what I said a bit later in the comments:

I agreed with the comment that Xero has a shot at being New Zealand’s biggest company ever by market capitalisation, and correcting the formula error did give me a lot more comfort that the model was working.

The error in the spreadsheet was at the final step, which I had clearly rushed in my haste to deliver the result within my own time limit. The summary table showing the customer numbers and the annual revenue and expense results had some incorrect references in the later years. These latter two were summed to calculate the annual EBIT, which was used to calculate the Net Present Value of Xero’s EBIT. One error (customer numbers) was a typo, and was just visual, but the other error meant that the profit in the last few years and hence the terminal value were well under-reported. Here’s what the error looked like:

The cells were each summing up 12 months worth of data, and I had simply not completed the line for revenue and expenses. The most embarrassing is the cell showing the sudden drop in customer numbers (2021 was going to be a bad year), as it looks so obvious.

In a real model I would generally have a large number of charts showing the trends, and when constructing models I often create then delete charts just to make sure the numbers are making sense. Here’s the chart that I should have created:

But I did not, and so the difference was embarrassingly large.

The first bottom line (Total value of Xero) showed total values of between $2.2 and $8.8 billion, depending on the discount rate. (I tend towards 12-15% but you can pick and choose).

Before fixing the error:

After fixing the error:

The amended version shows valuations from $13 to $67 billion with the same discount rates, and $5.5 billion at 25% – placed there for  Anon (comment 16 on NBR) who wrote that “This remains a venture capital play and I would suggest a WACc closer to 25% would be justified, especially for investors with limited exposure to high risk transactions.” What anon is saying is that he or she believes that there is considerable uncertainty in the future of Xero and that investors should demand higher returns.

The error undervalued Xero by a substantial margin.

However there were a number of other corrections suggested to the model, such as salary rates, checking the number of customers in the out years, key man risk for Rod Drury, validating versus value of incumbents that Xero is attacking, tax, inflation, capex and so on. Many of these would depress the value, but none would do so in a material way versus this simple error. At least the error was in the right direction, and it goes to show that sometimes it does pay to read the comments – even in the NBR.

2: Apart from the error, how did  the model hold up?

The good news:

The model (these numbers were the same in the corrected one) projected an annualised runrate as at the end of September 2014 of NZ$131.6 million. The actual reported number was almost exactly the same at $132.3 million (both round to $132 million). That’s very good.

The number of paying customers at the end of September was projected to be 383,000, but was delivered at 371,000, 3.2% under my forecast. I’m taking that as a win as it is within any reasonable margin of error, especially as the number had increased by 75.5% versus the year before.

The operating revenue for the six months was reported as $54.3 million, while the subscription revenue was $52 million, splitting these two out for the first time. The 2013 forecast showed $58.2 million, so the result ($54.3m) was 6.7% lower. But wait – Xero also reported that their subscription result in constant currency was $56.2 million, which is just 3.4% away from the actual. So I’ll take that as a win as well, however it’s clear that the model is now out of date and I need to adjust for the break out of subscription revenue.

It would also be nice to model the effect of currency on Xero’s results, but I’m probably not going to do that just yet. Over time the foreign-derived income will increase and provide a natural hedge for offshore costs.

The changes:

The material changes have been in the regional results – shown here by number of customers. The North America result was lower than expected, casting doubts in many people’s minds about whether or not Xero is going to win in the USA.

I’m not going to change my own position, which is that Xero will grab a substantial share of the US market, and that what we are seeing is standard for SAAS subscription companies. They seem so slow in the early years, but the effect of compound growth is that over time the numbers start getting huge. While the forecast numbers may seem a long way from a result, in reality the growth is so high that the forecast is usually just a month or two early or late. The overall number of customers, for example, was 13,000 over-forecast, but that represents just over half a month’s worth of net new customers. It’s similar to the classic lily in a pond that doubles in size each day – the lily covers just half the pond on the penultimate day.

However the US/Canada and rest of world total missed by a larger margin – 2.5 months or 17.4%. Most of that growth came from the  US market, which is now broken out showing growth from 10,000 to 22,000 in the 1 year from September 2013 to September 2014.

Xero did not report annualised revenue run rates by region, which is a pity. They did report total revenue by country for the six month periods to September 2013 and 2014 though. Here’s how the forecast (middle column) performed versus the result – only the NZ result was close, but given the adjustments above (currency, split out) it was probably a tad high while the Australia/UK growth were closer that shown.

The forecast was working hard here from the limited 2013 information, and it’s clear that some adjustments are required.

3: Summary

Here’s the file2013 spreadsheet with fixed formulae and comparisons. Please handle with care.

I’m very happy with how the model performed, but it’s also clear that it can be improved with the new information from Xero and by making some changes in assumptions in reaction to the comments. I’ve started doing this but am not sure whether I will continue – there is too much work to do. The model is ridiculously simple and still a long way from a proper financial model – so tread with absolute caution, and watch out for errors.


On Xero

I remain firmly of the opinion that Xero is destined to be a giant, and we should ask of Xero (and every recurring revenue company) not “Why will the growth continue?” but “What would make the exponential growth slow down or stop?

It’s clear that in New Zealand the growth is slowing – is this because Xero is hitting the end of the addressable market, or will we see slower adopters steadily coming across? What are the month to month additions and churn rates for the North American market, and when will we run out of customers in the Australian and UK markets? Xero addressed some of these questions in a recent release, and I intend (no promises as above) to adjust the model to take these into account.

Overall it’s a timing question – I remain confident that Xero will hit, say, $1 billion in revenue, but the question is when. The unadjusted model suggests that this particular benchmark would be close to happening in FY2018, but that will certainly slip a year or two once I make some reasonable adjustments. But does it really matter when $1 billion revenue occurs? Xero is clearly a monster in our midst.

Parting shot to another anon from last’s year’s NBR article – who was of course proven correct almost instantly.

Don’t cough on me

It used to be acceptable to go to work or travel with a cough or the flu. That’s been changing over the last 10-20 years, and people who cough and sniffle in public are increasingly treated like people who smoke in the same places. Good.

But now the stigma of being sick in public is even worse:

Let’s be clear – if we manage this well (and we will) Ebola will be tightly contained in almost all countries.  Managing well means contact-tracking, where everyone who comes into contact with an infected person is tracked, quarantined and cared for until they are deemed safe. This is the standard technique to prevent diseases taking over, and it was also used to slow the spread of HIV. Unlike HIV, which was always contagious, and even when no symptoms were evident, Ebola is only contagious for a limited time, and only when the patient is obviously sick. So Ebola is inherently easier to manage and scaremongering aside we will all move on.

How do we know? Well if Nigeria can do it, we all can.

But even under a well managed regime it’s still going to be very awkward to be visibly sick in public places in the next while.  Here’s how I see it right now. Do you agree?

  • It’s not acceptable to go to kindergarten or school when ill. The virus will spread and one family’s inconvenience becomes magnified by a classroom and their families.
  • It’s almost completely unacceptable [fixed typo] to go to work when ill. The virus will spread and one person’s brave “work at any costs” attitude can remove tens of others from work.
  • It’s becoming unacceptable to fly or be on public transport when ill. We are in very close proximity to each other and disease will spread very easily.
  • It’s not smart to not be treated if symptoms persist.

But society is not setting us up for success here.

  • Some parents find it difficult or unaffordable to take time off work, either to deal with either their own sickness or that of their children.
  • Some people are not living in environments that allow them to get and stay well, for  example very draughty homes in winter.
  • Some employers are intolerant of workers taking “excessive” amounts of time off.
  • Airlines make it expensive or impossible to move travel dates due to sickness, forcing  travellers to take flights where they should not. (Air New Zealand’s pursers even shake the hands of essentially every business class or passenger with high status at the beginning and end of long-haul flights – something I find hygienically abhorrent and difficult to opt out of. )
  • Doctors visits still cost money, and even finding a doctor is harder than it should be.

We need to continue to collectively change our behaviour. If we do so we’ll not only slow the spread of disease, and increase our happiness, but we will also increase overall productivity.

As Employers we can be smarter about sick (or child-sick) days, making sure employees understand they have an obligation to do the right thing and stay home. This is easy to apply for businesses where working from home is a genuine option, but more important to apply in customer service businesses where staff have contact with many people.

Schools seem to be a lot smarter about dealing with sickness, but let’s also investigate other options to help kids stay interacting with the class and content while they are away at home in quarantine. Preferably without affecting the parents too much.

As a Society let’s get intolerant of housing that is subpar, building on a movement that already has momentum. And let’s increasingly look askance at people who bring their illness into public.

As above all let’s take Personal Responsibility, and I see this happening a lot more. Stay at home if you are ill, and if you absolutely must be on a plane from Auckland to Wellington at 6am on the 13th of October with your coughing and spluttering, then please strongly consider wearing a surgical mask, as is common in more and more countries.

SellShed shedding money?

This is not how you are meant to do it: Online seller SellShed starts up

The seven-person firm has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars building a website and free iPhone app and was now on the hunt for “smart money”

A very bad sign. Rasing money just to build a website and app implies they outsourced the technical stuff (and the question is what on earth is left), and every change from now will cost money. And they will need a lot of changes.

SellShed does not have a payment engine and does not charge a commission. Howell said it instead encouraged users to contact one another and trade direct, believing its service could be funded through advertising and possibly in future by paid “premium services”

Another very bad sign is that there is no revenue model, so the flow of money would continue. A payment engine is pretty basic for this sort of thing – at the very least for premium listings of the ability to buy Facebook ads.

The app had been download nearly 5000 times in its first week,

Better – but this is a vanity metric. The next metrics to track are the actual use, number of completed transactions and, the only one that matters, revenue.

It’s sad to see a lot of money wasted. Time will tell, but the early portends, at least from this article, are not good.

Are you innovative enough?

I’ve been reading Peter Thiel’s excellent and short book – Zero to One. It’s resonating with a lot of people at the moment, and justifiably so. It reminds me a lot of Peter Drucker’s  Innovation and Entrepreneurship, published originally in 1984 and with very similar messages.

My own take is that the art of business is easy, but the way we talk about it keeps changing, at least superficially. I do recommend reading both of these books.

Thiel differentiates between companies making incremental changes, such as those who create new products in a category or new markets for a product, and companies creating entire new markets. Drucker did as well, saying that entrepreneurs search and take advantage of changes, and “create something new, something different; they change or transmute values.

All this this is aligned with design thinking, which, as we did at Better by Design, preaches that the goal is to capture a global niche – something Thiel also pushes. While Thiel puts end-user centred design in the incremental change bucket, and we can argue either way about that, we can all agree that nobody knows they need a product in a category that does not yet exist. The Walkman used to be the classic example of this – a product created by the strong will of Sony Co-Chairman  Masaru Ibuka, while more recently Steve Jobs was famous for doing similarly at Apple.

While Thiel is not enamoured with incremental companies, that’s not to say there are not great returns possible for founders and investors in those companies. Trade Me shareholders were, no doubt, happy with their status as “the eBay (and other sites) of New Zealand”, even as they outperformed eBay on all the vital per capita metrics.

But the outsized gains for founders and investors, the billions and tens of billions, are reserved for really disruptive companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Thiel’s Paypal, Elon Musk’s Tesla, and Apple. Here in New Zealand we have Xero and Vend, each of which attracted investment from Thiel’s vehicle here – Valar. All of these companies changed or are changing the way business is done, and once they establish a foothold the relentless adoption curve takes over.

All of these companies delivered or will deliver outsized returns to investors, and they all required leaps of faith by founders and investors both. Succeeding isn’t certain, as the acquirers of Paypal (eBay) eventually found, but PayPal still delivered years of outsized growth despite not delivering on the true promise of PayPal. And sometimes investment can be in a product that just isn’t going to take – it’s fair to say the jury is firmly out on Valar’s investment in Booktrack, but nobody can accuse Booktrack of being unambitious.

Thiel tells the dirty little secret that we all know – the ultimate business aim should be to create a sustainable global monopoly, but never to call it that for fear of being regulated. Monopolies can extract economic rent (high margins and profits) while they dominate, and that’s where the huge valuations come from. Don’t expect, for example, Xero’s average revenue per customer to stay as low as it is forever, and be wary of Xero moving horizontally into related products once they do dominate.

Thiel suggests that we can pick the great companies as the ones that can  answer the series of questions below:

  1. The Engineering Question: Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
  2. The Timing Question: Is now the right time to start your particular business?
  3. The Monopoly Question: Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
  4. The People Question: Do you have the right team? (real technologists wear T-Shirts not suits)
  5. The Distribution Question: Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
  6. The Durability Question: Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
  7. The Secret Question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

Let’s put these into my preferred way of looking at companies, which I use for Better by Capital, Punakaiki Fund and consulting work:

End User: Timing, Durability, Secret. Is the target end user well defined, and is the product delivering something distinctive and delightful that changes their life? Is the product in a long-term defensible position, and is there a (generally obvious) future development path?  I’m not so sure that Thiel has covered this fully in his questions, but I wold hope it is taken a a given – the product or service has to be great for its chosen niche.

Customer: Monopoly, Distribution: How do you get money for the product or service? How do you expand sales rapidly and sustainably?  How do you capture a global niche market?

Company: Engineering, People: Do you have the founders, staff and governance to deliver? Do you have the internal knowledge and IP, and a track record of shipping?

Investor: Do you have all of the above, and does the investment get you to the next stage of sustainability? Do the numbers work?

For me there seems to be good overlap, and I generally do cover the points raised in the questions in my own work. But the exact form of the model we use to look at businesses does not really matter – just whether it works for you and the business. I’ll certainly be adding Thiels’ questions to my arsenal, but not to replace my own model. I do commend them for people starting on new businesses or developing products.

Bonus growth for SaaS exporters

The currency fall has a wonderful effect for exporters, especially those who have most of their costs back here in New Zealand.

As I write this, the NZD versus the USD has fallen about 10% since earlier this year. As an exampled of what this means I’ve made a simple spreadsheet estimating the impact on Xero.

My take is that the fall from the end of May to today would increase their estimated monthly revenue by about 4.3%.

Obviously this is only for revenue received after the exchange rate changes, so don’t expect any surprises when Xero announces their September revenue, although their Annualised Run Rate might have a boost.

But we’ve also heard talk of a desired optimum level of a rate of $.65 US dollars per NZD. If that happened tomorrow (and I am never a fan of fast movements), and if the AUDNZD cross rate stayed the same, then the Xero table would look like this:

That’s would show almost 10% increase in revenue, a lovely bonus for Xero and Xero’s shareholders. Xero does have a lot of staff offshore, but the bulk of their costs would be in NZD, so overall they should see a net increase in profitability, which in their case means little, as they are very well funded and constrained by things other than monthly profitability.

Every other exporter will be facing a similar scenario, but SaaS providers are luckiest because their costs are often largely in NZD, and so they will maximise the benefit.

Punakaiki Fund

Punakaiki Fund invested in three SaaS companies early this year – Timely, InfluxHQ and Mindscape. I’ll use public information to discuss them.

Timely and InfluxHQ are, like Xero and Vend before them, offering their services to the world, but find or found their early growth from NZ and Australia. That’s a natural part of being based here and the relatively high-touch sales and support approach for B2B SaaS businesses. But as they grow at some stage (that’s a bit I’ll leave to the companies to reveal) the dominant parts of their revenue will be from other currencies, so while the short term effect might be relatively small, the long term revenue impact (and the associated value of the companies) is potentially significant in New Zealand dollars.

Mindscape sell developer tools and the error tracking system globally. CEO JD Trask reported that Mindscape exported 95% of their products, and so the exchange rate changes will have an immediate and large effect on revenue. However they also focus their  marketing efforts offshore, so the net effect will be lessened somewhat.

Overall I like businesses that match their inputs and outputs, as we should be investing in and growing businesses that are great businesses, not ones that react one way or the other to currency changes. But that said, a lower currency spells good times for many exporters.

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).

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. 


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:



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)

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. 

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 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.