Stunted By Reality Just another know-it-all talking about life, business, technology, sports and music.


Taking orders should not be a problem for entrepreneurs

I was once in a conversation with an army officer who managed to form a pretty accurate assessment of the type of person that I am (entrepreneurial, full of ideas) without me having actually mentioned what I do.

So he asked me if I would ever work in a corporation, to which I replied that I would and that I had previously done that. Thinking about it later I realised that his question was more about whether or not I have a problem taking orders and if that would stop me working for someone else. That is to say, if you're entrepreneurial are you capable of working for other people?

It's a very interesting question which I thought about last week when Pascal Finette over at The Heretic wrote a post about encouraging more people to become entrepreneurs.

..many of our brightest students all around the world choose instead the perceived "safe" path of employment at Big Corp.

Even as an entrepreneurial person myself I don't think that starting your own business is a necessary requirement to being an entrepreneur. The mindset and method is more important than the title of founder. Google and Tesco both owe a great deal of their early success to two people who did not found the companies. I would class Eric Schmidt and Terry Leahy as great examples of entrepreneurs (or business people).

That is the reason why I answered to my officer friend that "no I do not have a problem taking orders". What I have a problem with is taking orders to advance a cause (or company) that I don't believe in.


Musicians need to be like bloggers and stop whingeing

I've often thought that literature and music share a lot and by that I don't mean the historical links of cheap arty neighbourhoods populated by musicians, artists, poets, actors and writers all scrounging around trying to find themselves.

Just like music, writing has now evolved so much that some old timers would rather terms like literature and chord were not applied to blogging and grime music respectively. And just like it would be churlish to deny that instant noodles are not noodles, it is improper to deny those two their place in their respective cultures.

And so it is that like music, writing is an art form. However apart from a deluded minority you don't get us bloggers thinking that we MUST live off the pen keyboard.

Musicians need to get over that aspect of their art and realise that there are thousands of them out there and that just because they have spent some money on their craft, doesn't mean that the world owes them a living. In the music and bloggers analogy writers who can string two sentences together would try to go professional; and as soon as they try to live off of writing they would start to complain about every aspect of the industry. Spouting on about anything from the 'dinosaurs' who don't get the change that's happening right down to the new school digital gatekeepers who are screwing them on behalf of the dinosaurs (who want to hold onto inflated profits from times gone by).

"To save money we will be replacing our reporters with bloggers, who will work for free."

You only have to look at the blogging world to realise that we too spend money on our craft hoping that one day we'll make it. However making it for most of us just means getting a back-link and getting 100 hits in a day. There are millions of websites out there competing for eyeballs and whilst it would be great for me to be paid to write, I seriously don't lose any sleep over it. I will continue to fork out money to Godaddy (and their girls), theme designers, app makers and anyone else who promises to make my blog look cool or easy to put together. I am prepared to do all this in order to fool a few readers a day into clicking the subscribe button. One day my kids may be mad at me because they missed out on playing time whilst I wrote about my sadness at the death of a dictator but you know what? I don't mind. I blog for the love of it and though my time is worth a lot to me and my family, the fact that I'm doing it for me means that I'm content with not charging you to read it. Link away dear friend. Unless I suddenly become popular and am the subject of a mega-bucks Rupert Murdoch takeover, this website will always be freely available. Though lets face it, everyone has their price so you never know what could tempt me to put up a paywall.

Nevertheless, I am truly content with knowing that the millions of rubbish websites and blogs out there make it much less likely that mine will be found by any significant number of people. Not through a lack of presence of course, but apathy from readers who are tired of being trapped into reading ugly blogs full of unoriginal content churned out by machines. And that's just if you're lucky, because on a bad day surfing the web can result in your computer catching a virus or you visiting a site for paid local (same) sex services which would be impossible to explain if your boss or wife looked at your browser history.

In the end it's clear to me that the internet is full of junk. Millions of rubbish websites with trash-type content strung together by biased writers who stopped learning grammar soon as they finished learning their ABCs and all available through one of the greatest ever innovations in history. The weird thing is that some of that junk is actually really popular and a huge number of other well written and presented content will never be exposed to much more than the writer who wrote it and their long lost ex who is trying to track them down. I'm conceited enough to think that my blog is one of the better ones, but I'm not up-myself enough to think that internet surfers owe me a living.

Despite all this I'm not deterred in my quest to write compelling posts and it's probable that my anti-Apple zeal could have been cured if Steve Jobs had ever said that the Macbook was so magical it could make me write like a latter-day Thomas Hardy. The Macbook is one of the few things that separates me from my very musical younger brother. The fact that he has invested much more in his equipment than I in blogging aids. This could quite easily have been the reverse had I been born in the days of the type-writer, however in terms of time spent I believe I would have no problem matching him or any other arty type. Nonetheless I won't single him out because he has never expressed a sense of entitlement about his standing in the music business. My ire is directed at his up-and-coming peers in general who complain about the state of an industry which they have chosen in all consciousness to be a part of.

As the proprietor of a music related business, I'm not anti-musician nor do I foresee doom and gloom on either side of the music business artist or establishment. I simply believe that people have choices. To work in the industry or not. To view it as a hobby or not. To use certain services or not. To always complain about the state of things and the problems they encounter or to try and effect change and solutions. But most pertinently musicians also have the choice to live in the real world and look around...... or not. Either way I wish they'd stop whingeing about the business!

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The screwing game: Cable companies vs Fred Wilson

New York Knicks logo

Perenially on the cusp

Fred Wilson on AVC recently wrote a blog post about how he ended up 'illegally' streaming a New York Knicks match because there was no 'legal' way for him to pay for it without actually going to the match. In that situation he had been willing to pay even $25 for the priviledge. The post is aptly titled #screwcable!

In and amongst the support for what Fred did were some well argued contrarian views. The quote below is not one of them though it raises an important issue.

The players, owners, league spend money to enter into contracts with cable companies and specialized networks, who in turn negotiate with advertisers to bring viewers an entertainment medium. They have real costs to all of this. But because someone doesn't like that there are fees or limitations or other obstacles within the creating group's model, it's okay to simply "hack" in and take what one likes?

I agree that a lot of planning and investment goes into making a profitable business out of a sports team or even any other entertainment performance like a music album or whatever. Those investors and operators are perfectly entitled to charge what they want and how they want in order to recoup their costs.

For me the big caveat in all the above that turns someone like Fred into a 'pirate' is the fact that during business planning a conscious decision has been made to have this sports package not appeal to him. That is through a combination of pricing, segmentation rights, down to stadium capacity, match day scheduling and location. When all is said and done the rights holders have put together a package which they believe will earn them the most revenue possible in order to recoup costs that they have deemed as appropriate for this enterprise.

In simple terms; when selling their package rightsholders are consciously saying #screwyou to a certain percentage of interested parties. Nothing wrong with that. It's their prerogative and a balance HAS to be found.

What I find interesting is that there seems to be a belief that it's okay to then go after these people who have already been told to screw themselves as if they actually mattered to the business model. They don't really; and any plan should not have taken into account revenue from someone who has been told where to go or revenue lost by that person consuming that service in a way that does not deprive other willing buyers. The fact is no business can sell all their products to everybody all of the time. Someone has to be out of the loop even though digital products make that scenario theoretically possible.

Naturally there are people who infringe copyright and would have been perfectly able to legally consume it. It is wrong of course, but I believe that every business model has to try to have low enough barriers to allow people to take up the product. In a previous post I referred to the concept of a consumption threshold. This is something that is generally not a feature of high quality digital content, though Louis C.K seems to have found a balance between price and protection and he is succeeding despite those who are saying #screwyou to him. It's probably because he only tried to 'screw' relatively few people in the first place!

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Copyright infringement is not stealing


Maybe that ought to be a picture of a hammer cracking a nut.

Some time ago Fred Wilson on posted an article about how annoying he finds it when people describe copyright infringement as stealing. He has a point. Infringing a copyright is not stealing. It is just that an infringement. Both are wrong and in most countries illegal, but they are not the same.

I also find it very annoying when people use words that should apply in an effort to get me on their side. It's a bit like that scenario where someone tries to turn you against another person by telling you something bad they are meant to have done. Except in this case the the squealer doubts that they have sufficient ammo to get you worked up and have to dress it up. A lot.

And so it is that the digital protection agencies and creative unions are uncomfortable about factual copyright debate and it seems that 'By-Any-Means-Necessary' is their new strategy. Unfortunately Fred didn't eloquently put his point across and his article soon generated into another 'How do I make money from my digital product?' debate.

Here on Stunted By Reality we don't like minced words and I tip my hat off to the commenter who noted the real difference between copyright infringement and theft.

Theft would be stealing a sculpture, or... picture.

Copyright infringement would be taking a picture of the sculpture and posting it online, or producing a replica of the sculpture.

Either act deprives the author the right to enjoy the benefits of his/her work, but they are totally different concepts.

I'll add that theft will definitely deprive an artist of the ability to sell his sculpture, however infringement does not do so. I am not saying that infringement is OK; I'm just saying lets not use hyperbole in trying to paint the picture.

If a serial groper terrorised women on public transport, by all means we should throw the book at him and even throw away the key, however it still wouldn't mean that he committed rape. That would be sexual assault no matter how depraved his groping technique was.

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OpenMusicMedia is a London meetup that “gets together once a month to discuss, explore and shape the future of digital music and media”. The group is free to attend and is open to anyone, though it’s predominantly attended by relatively young new music business types. Typically the meet is a topical talk presented by an industry guest from 7pm. The talk then moves onto a discussion around the day’s topic up to around 8.30pm. After that attendees normally go to the bar for some networking, drinks and to generally wind the evening down.

I’ve attended OMM three times at their cosy (read small) venue, The very nice William IV pub, located a short walk from Old Street tube in London. For me it is a great meetup that contrasts very well with most networking events because of the informality of it all, though there is still enough organisation that things moving along well. You do get to meet a lot of smart music, media and technology types.

There’s a meetup tomorrow 24 February 2010 on “interactive music.” Yes that’s a very broad topic, but all the better for you to provide some input! See you there.


Jay-Z sues to protect his second-hand name. Ridiculous

Around the mid ’90s when Jay-Z decided to start a label to put his records out on, he came up with a really stupid name. Roc-A-Fella. Geddit? Rock a dude with his music? Rock a fellow?

Roc-A-Fella y'all!

That was the clever part but the name was a double entendre, the second part being from the Rockefellers. One of New York’s most entrepreneurial and wealthiest families. Something of a dynasty. I get that part too. I mean these are all things he and his business partners aspired to. What better way to pay them homage?

Except, I believe it was dumb simply because the family still exists. Maybe not with the great patriarch of old but an actual family and corporation that still operates and uses the name Rockefeller.

I guess Jay and Co would have said something like “Well it’s spelt different! We’ve spelt it hood so there’s no conflict there. They’re corporate and we’re hood. That’s what we’re about.”

Anyway Jay, Dame and Biggs brushed all this aside; did their thing; put out great music and actually made a name for Roc-A-Fella in very admirable ways. Some of them corporate, but that’s by-the-by. I can imagine them saying something like “We’re hustling, so anyway we can get it, we get it!”

Fast forward to 2010 and Jay-Z now thinks that no one should do business with any name sounding like Rock A Fella. Case in point a restaurant called Rockafella, located in Newcastle, England. The guy who owns it was recently sued for using that name. Not by David Rockefeller Sr, but Roc-A-Fella as in records. It’s one thing appropriating someone else’s name, but suing others who use a similar name as if it was your own? Ridiculous.


Rockafella restaurant. Part of the Roc-A-Fella Records Group

I know there are issues in all the music genres to do with naming, and that’s understandable. There are only so many names to go round. Freeway and Rick Ross had to take names from the same person due to the shortage. In Reggae Dancehall, which of course has a symbiotic relationship with Hip-Hop, we’re starting to hear names like Busy Signal and Voicemail. Make no mistake people, the name shortage is real. The Killers named themselves after a fake band depicted in the music video of another band. You couldn’t make it up!

The shortage is leading some to speculate that Roc-A-Fella are launching a trading market for band names. Sort of like buying and selling domain names. The premise is that if it’s good and catchy, its worth more. So you register someone else’s name as your own and 20 years down the line or more likely when your band flops, you can just trade it in. Brilliant.

However all this still doesn’t excuse Jay-Z suing that poor restaurant. Does he not realise the name is spelt different? It’s Rockafella with a K. Plus there are no Dashes. Geddit?


iLike didn’t believe the hype

Nic Brisbourne the London based venture capitalist yesterday blogged about the lessons of iLike's low valuation. The gist of the article was that iLike, a business based around a Facebook app that allows users to share and interact around music, had been sold for the relatively low figure of $20 million. Nic says;

It seems to me there are two big takeaways here.

1. It is important to build value as well as traffic

Ultimately the true measure of value is net cash flow and it seems that despite being profitable there simply wasn't much scale to iLike's business in revenue terms.  I would speculate that is partly because not all their 50m users were very active (it is telling they always quote total registered users not active users) and partly because the inventory they do have doesn't monetise that well.  Widgets on social networks suffer from the double whammy of limited real estate in an environment where ads perform poorly.

It is worth noting here, as David Pakman of partner at VC firm Venrock points out, that traffic is often a good lead indicator of value, just not always .

2. Dependence is a weakness

The other big problem for iLike seems to have been that 70-80% of its traffic came from Facebook, making them vulnerable to changes in FB's terms of service or if FB decided to launch their own music service.  So iLike was dependent for its future on the good will of Facebook, and If there is even a small chance that iLike could have its ioxygen (sic) cut off nobody is going to risk paying too much for the company.  This problem is all the more acute when the company you are dependent on hasn't sorted out its own business model and is somewhat unpredictable

These are very valid points for any web-based business to take on board. Nevertheless I'm just not sure they apply in the case of iLike and I commented to that end. (Updated: Nic has commented below with more insight and futher clarifying the background information. Be sure to read that.)

I'm guessing, but I think iLike's founders and investors probably knew the value of the company they were building. That they cashed out a slightly profitable company at $20 million, with other bidders on hand seems to suggest that they got what they were looking for and where not unhappy with the price. It would have been easy for them to move along thinking they'd grow and/or get more down the line.

This however, is a lesson to the tech media, analysts and all those who build copy cat businesses. Hype does not equate to a high valuation. It seems iLike (quite rightly) didn't believe the hype.


pay attention to anyone who likes what you do

This morning I read an article called Beware of Fringe Fans: Appreciate Them, But Don't Let Them Distract You on MusicThinkTank. The gist of the article is that 'fringe fans' are not the author's "ideal customer. And while (he) welcomes suggestions and respects a diversity of ideas, (he) won't lose any sleep over" such fans. And the author, Bob Baker, goes on to advise musicians not to be distracted by them.

I couldn't disagree more with that thinking. Musicians, artists and anyone who produces, sells or puts out anything for other people, really should be paying attention to anyone who pays THEM attention.

I commented to that end on the original post and am going to repost it here because I think it needs to be said as much as possible otherwise we'll carry on fuelling the multitude of big-headed musicians, sports people and businessman that there is. Not to mention that anyone who wants to succeed in life really has to have a good way of selling themselves. (I'm not talking about pimping here!)

Basically, there's no such a thing as a fringe fan. A fan is a fan, however all of them have different thresholds to consuming your material. That threshold is dictated by things like;

  • the quality of your output,
  • money (I'd buy this song if it were xx cents),
  • time,
  • general availability of access to your output and a few other things I could come up with.

Generally, what the industry calls 'core fans' have a much lower threshold to consuming an artist's material than  other fans. However 'fringe fans' also have a point at which they will consume your material. That point is just higher than that of your 'core fans'. That doesn't mean to say it can't be lowered at some time in the future. Let's face it, we all wish we had fans and customers whose consumption threshold was so low that they'd pay for our stuff no matter what!

For example, I could get a new, higher paying job and all of a sudden I'm able to buy albums having only heard 1 or 2 songs. Whereas, previously I may have had to think about every dollar I spend, my new, lower monetary threshold is now enabling me to consume that artist's music on a whim.

In my mind, just about anyone who is willing to spend their time consuming a musician's material is their fan. In using the word 'fan', I also include all those who attend gigs on corporate tickets! The press round on them, performers too and moreso the paying fans, however all considered they are as much of a fan as anyone. After all they're giving up their time, (out of their way to do it), after which it's an artist's job to LOWER that fan's consumption threshold. Remember time is money and I'm sure there are plenty of gigs you would not go to even if they were free.

The idea of consumption thresholds applies to all industries and funnily enough I believe banks do a great job playing the theory behind it very well!

In relation to your industry, the question would now be; Can you identify your fans' consumption threshold and where you can, is it economical (time or moneywise) to overcome any barriers that exist?