Convergence 2015

OCE Discovery is one of the largest innovation/commercialization conferences in North America. Inventors, commercialization professionals, investors and emerging companies participate. I attended this year for the fifth time in six years. The main show floor, in the Metro Convention Centre in Toronto, is like a sparklingly bright nightclub full of all of your favourite business colleagues: past, present and future (minus the cocktails, until an appropriate hour).

While my time at the conference was invigorating, chatting to folks about new trends in government support, and seeing emerging business models from new entrepreneurs, back in the calm of my office, I ruminate about what I learned about the evolution of tech-based businesses. It all comes down to this:


Convergence was a buzz word when I was in the investment industry in the late 1990’s. The internet – its anticipated impact – was the shudder running down everyone’s spine. Then, it was a tool for the academics and those in the tech industry. The prophecy – that this communication platform would change the way we obtained all our information: text, movies, music, mail and news. Guess that was a pretty good prediction. Sharing of all content converged to one platform. The internet was disruptive and many business models evolved because of it, but few have become extinct.

Enough nostalgia. Let’s talk 2015. At the conference, the keynote speakers included Eric Ries, of Lean Startup fame, representatives of Uber (the app to let people get rides with other people), and Airbnb (a service that hooks up traveller and those with accommodations to share). There were other companies I met, like the Innovation Concierge, with a skills-to-need matching concept for small, unusual projects, or FreePoint, a company with an innovative perspective on monitoring production on the factory floor.

What’s converging in 2015? Everything we do. The term work-life balance emerges frequently in water-cooler conversations. Is it possible we are moving away from any distinction between work and life? Uber allows people to share rides, turning a personal trip into revenue potential. Similarly, Airbnb provides a way to let people earn a little extra cash by sharing their living quarters with travellers. But each is more than that. Both sides of the transaction can gain something personal, new friends, companionship, new perspectives.

The lean startup model encourages incorporating ample user feedback into product development. The Innovation Concierge solves business needs by looking at the full spectrum of a person’s skills, not just their business experience.

A keynote speaker, Chad Hurley, cofounded YouTube with the goal of allowing individuals to share their videos. We are converging to a global collection of a billions of individuals. Individuals with individual interests, needs and abilities. Uber puts individuals together for car rides, Airbnb for accommodations. FreePoint lets the individual factory worker participate in manufacturing efficiency.

The convergence I see involves loads of interaction facilitated by technology, interaction between buyers and sellers, creators and consumers, those who have and those who need, those who know and those who would like to. At any given time, each of us may fall into several of these categories at once, because of our business, personal or social experience.

When I headed to the conference, I was thinking about making connections for my clients and with new clients. And I did. But I also found connections for my family with businesses, for clients with potential suppliers and partners, and for colleagues and friends.

This is what I discovered at Discovery: Life is converging – business is personal and personal is business. Technology ties it all together.

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Growth Hacker Marketing – a Real time Book Review

I finished reading a book about marketing and 24 hours later implemented one of the new strategies I learned. Is this too slow to call real time? I’m old enough to remember black and white TV commercials, so it seems fast to me.

The book, by Ryan Holiday, is simply titled Growth Hacker Marketing, after a business strategy that is often applied in high-growth, emerging tech companies and is as an iterative approach to incorporating customer feedback to promote the product. The hacking aspect comes alive as an immediate, just do it and amend on the fly mentality, rather than through traditional, highly planned marketing approaches which employ much testing such as with focus groups before launch.

The author describes the concept elegantly in these two excerpts from the book’s Glossary:

‘the growth hackers’ main task is to build great marketing ideas into the product’
‘growth hacking… customer acquisition techniques that are testable, trackable, and scalable’

Not too far into Growth Hacker Marketing, Eric Reis’ ‘Lean Startup’ philosophy came to my mind, which was fine because in another few pages, it was mentioned by the author. Similar ideas underpin the two – get lots of customer feedback. Get a product out into the hands of users, see what they think and modify the product accordingly to suit their needs. In Growth Hacker Marketing, this goes a little further, to incorporate features into the product so that the users themselves will build awareness of the product and recruit additional users. From here, it’s easy to see how this kind of strategy can lead to a ‘viral’ market campaign – the penultimate goal of many marketing folks.

Ryan Holiday provides may examples in Growth Hacker Marketing of familiar companies that have used growth hacking and even his own experience with promoting a book launch. As he states, this approach to marketing can be applied to anything. I’ve seen examples too. Wattpad is platform to bring readers and writers together. The writers like it because they have access to a number of readers to raise awareness of their product and the readers benefit by finding new fiction. Readers provide feedback to the writers on their stories. Since the writers find benefit in Wattpad, they talk to their writer colleagues who then join, providing more material for the readers.

A related example is Inkitt, an organization (not sure of its structure) which, like Wattpad, is based on a social platform where writers submit their stories and get feedback from each other. The editors at Inkitt then select the best stories to publish on their website, where readers can consume for free. The philosophy espoused by Inkitt is that better reading material can be created as a communal effort, with many eyes on the early stage product, that is adapted and amended based on user (reader) feedback. I became aware of Inkitt because a fellow writer sent a link to me.

How did I use the principles I learned about in Growth Hacker Marketing? I am working on building the membership in a not-for-profit organization. It’s easy enough to articulate who the target audience is but the most efficient way to reach them is less clear. After reading Growth Hacker Marketing, it came to me: the existing members are likely to know who would be interested in joining. Let the existing users draw in other users. And we’ll make it easy for them to do so by sending messages they can simply push out to their friends.

This is an odd sort of a book review, maybe a good example of Growth Hacker Marketing. I’m not sharing a critique of the book so much as my enthusiasm about how I see the book’s message in practice. Perhaps if you read my review, you will be inspired to read the book because this user had a good experience with it, and you’d like to have that sort of experience too.

Well designed and marketed, Ryan Holiday.

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Good Friday News

This post is a little more casual than a business blog but since it’s a holiday, I’m exercising a little artistic license.

Good Friday News

On a lazy holiday Friday1, I peruse the news. I’m struck by how many stories there are about emerging technology, even scientific findings, and how they might effect our lives.

So, first, kudos to the CBC for a front page that I think is full of interesting, innovative stories. There’s home DNA tests, Facebook following everyone, Apple getting a patent on using a selfie as a password and full moon myths. Where to start – perhaps with this scientist’s favourite.

In this article, Howling at the Moon and at Scientific Myths, I particularly like the theme and could hug Bob McDonald, the author, for the statement ‘But I haven’t done that experiment, which is exactly the point.’ That is one of the points I try to make in my opinion piece Comic Book Science. Proving things, like the influence of the full moon on human behaviour is BORING. Urban myths are more entertaining. But so too is experiencing an awesome natural phenomena, like the blood moon. No theorems, laws of man or media hype can equal goosebumps thrilling down the back of my neck as I watch a wonder like an eclipse or full moon.

How many posts will there be on Facebook and other social media of tonight’s resplendent moon? The story that Facebook is tracking people who don’t even have Facebook accounts doesn’t surprise me. I find the internet is becoming creepy. All sorts of apps and software want to store my documents, photos and everything else in their cloud. Why? Am I a cynic for thinking it’s not an altruistic desire to help me out? There must be an agenda.

And speaking of access to personal information, this article asks if it’s appropriate for an insurer or employer to ask about your genetic makeup. There are kits now available to individual consumers to identify their genetic traits. I could write books about what these might mean (but not today, it is a lazy day). But it is another point to ponder at the intersection of business and biology.

The story about the Apple patent is interesting because it is a thing as old as Homo sapiens (that is how we decided who we’d let into the cave and sleep beside – by looking at their face and recognizing them), but figuring out how to get a machine (iPhone) to do it is not trivial.

Thanks to the news, my brain’s been politely woken from my mid morning slumber, nudged into gratitude for living in such thought provoking times and still able to experience the wonder of our earth, governed by natural laws, which we can only study and appreciate, not alter.


1. Despite my lack of observance of Christian religious dates, I harbour a lingering ‘feel’ for them. Good Friday is solemn day, not meant for the exuberant hoopla of say, May 24 (pronounced two-four) weekend.


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Watching an Industry Evolve at The Book Summit 2014

The book publishing industry is a great example of a traditional business that is evolving as a result of new technology. My reflections from a recently attended conference on the subject are below.

The program of the Toronto Book Summit 2014 promised an event that would amuse, engage and challenge both the author and the business person. When I attended this past Thursday, I was delighted. The conference was great. All of the sessions were very current. The information reflected what is going on this very moment (or at least last week) in the publishing industry. And there’s a lot going on.

I am going to highlight four sessions and then provide what I think the implications are for the authors and the publishing industry at the end. All of the conference speakers gave thoughtful, thought-provoking and absorbing presentations. The interpretation presented below is my own.1:

1. Evolving Business Models for the Publishing Industry (extracted from suggestions by Mike Skatzkin):

  • The subscription model, like Scribd  or Oyster, where users pay a fixed fee for as much content as they can consume.
  • Combining book sales with provision of other items. Amazon does this, as do bookstores like Chapters/Indigo, with a coffee shop and gift-store like items in their bricks and mortal (or cement and plywood) stores.
  • Publishers become more like literary agents. Mentioned examples were EReads, Rosetta and Diversion, that might look to accelerate the publishing process and provide comprehensive service to their authors, publishing back titles etc.
  • Book pricing, both of the paper version and ebook, will remain under pressure, from each other and from indie publishers. It was acknowledged that price erosion does signal a decreased value for the content, which to me, is sad. The value of intellectual property still isn’t fully recognized.
  • Celebrity imprints. Much to my surprise, this is already happening. Folks like Johnny Depp lend their reputation to attract certain authors and titles to a publisher.
  • A less unified book industry, where various business models co-exist.
  • Continuation of the used book market

2. Big (or small) Data and Marketing Strategies (inspired by Peter McCarthy’s talk)

If you are squeamish about the use of information that is culled about you from your use of the internet (with or without your knowledge), this talk might have sent you running for a dark cave and isolation from the rest of humanity. On the other hand, if you embrace the new normal in privacy (little to none) and believe it will deliver better, personalized information, products and everything else, then this talk would have delighted you.

We were treated to various examples of the predictive power of social media, such as Twitter. Academic models have achieved some success using tweets about movies to predict box office sales.

One theme of the day (also see #4 below) was the difference between surveying and observing people. Or, what we say isn’t necessarily what we do. From a marketing perspective, this means that social media has the potential to deliver added information not available from other sources.

Plenty of consumer data is readily available from Google, Twitter and Facebook. Combined with postal code (or equivalent) data, with comprehensive demographics2, it’s incredible what can be learned. Different forms of social media provide different information. Facebook is a good source for personal information. A google search history provides a behaviour profile, while Twitter supplies current information and location information.

Peter McCarthy showed us how readily available this information is, and how it could be used in something that resembled a stream of consciousness guided wander through the internet. Like many brilliant technological advances, he made the incredible look easy and in the end showed how this analysis could develop new marketing strategies. An example is arranging for an author signing/reading in an area where the author is relatively unknown but the demographics of the population are similar to the demographics of the author’s loyal followers.

3. The Use of Social Media in the Publishing Business (based on a talk by Evan Jones)

This is a challenging topic, since social media is so pervasive in all of our lives. We all have preconceived notions about social media. The presenter, Evan Jones, should be commended for delivering some sage messages about how social media can be used for business, and where business intersects with personal life.

This is my distillation of the presentation:

Even though corporations are legal people, they cannot form social networks the same way people can. Corporations are pressured to use social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, to promote their brands and corporate image. However, likely the best approach for this type of activity is to have them act as ‘Broadcasters’ or providers of content, rather than use social media to form peer networks.

On the other hand, individual authors can promote their own brand, which is likely to be closely related to their own interests and personality. By creating their own social network, they build a community of followers who are likely to be interested in their writing.

All use of social media is not marketing. Marketing can be a distraction on social media.

4. Matching Readers with Content (based on the talk by Sara Critchfield of Upworthy, an organization that provides reader content)

This topic resonated with me. Under the pressure of the digital age, the publishing business must evolve. I think those that survive (the fittesr) will be those that use technology to help readers find the content they most enjoy, or to cut through virtual forests of material to find the trees of wisdom that they seek.

Sara Critchfield suggested that asking readers what they want to read and then looking at what they are reading often leads doesn’t have the same answer. Knowing how readers find what they want is key to getting publications in the hands of readers. The message I took away from the very edifying presentation was that we don’t have the analytics yet to model all of human behaviour. We are missing the emotional component. Thus the recommendation was to include the intuitive emotional information is creating marketing strategies which make use of the aforementioned demographic and social media data (#2 above). Also, testing, by looking at the number of ‘like’s, or equivalent, on social media, provides good approaches to identifying media that people want to see.3

There were other sessions I attended and folks I chatted to, and I learned something from each one.

So, what do I think the implications are for writers and the evolving publishing industry?

Traditional business theory (or maybe it’s economic) suggests that the broadening of the industry, including the rise of many smaller publishers, the introduction of new business models (or new incarnations of older ones, like subscriptions), and the revision of product themes (like selling of books paired with other items), is typical of a growth industry. Compared this to the consolidation and reduction in number of corporations in a mature to declining industry. Does it go without saying that its better to be in a growth phase than a mature phase? I think so, at least for business, as it suggests good stakeholder support, a lower risk of disappearance, and an increase in competition which leads to stronger business and happier customers.

I think industry evolution is a good thing for writers. A more robust industry means more of us can find markets for our work. More variety in publishers means more flexibility in finding a ‘fit’ with a publisher. There are some who fear that price erosion will make it impossible for writers to earn a living. I can see how this is logical, and frightening, but the publishing industry needs writers, so an evolved system must support writers.

Most importantly, I think evolution this is good for readers, which ultimately is what both publishing and writing is all about. We all strive to make our readers happy and I think a healthy, diverse industry will do that.

1I’m going to provide my reflections of what the speakers presented. The full program is here, along with links to the speaker’s bios. If you see yourself misinterpreted, please comment or send me a message.
2Try it. This is for the postal code of the area I grew up in, right there on a government of Canada website for all to see.
3This makes me think of Wattpad, a platform for writers to get active feedback from readers on their work.
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