Opportunists

A few weeks ago I was involved in a “culture” discussion at the Northern Ireland Science Park as part of one of the CONNECT initiatives. I raised the point that it is unfortunate that the word “opportunist” has such a negative connotation.

op·por·tun·ist [??p??tju?n?st]
n.
One who takes advantage of any opportunity to achieve an end, often with no regard for principles or consequences.

and the word itself has become synonymous with self-seeker, back-scratcher, bottom-feeder, carpet bagger, hustler, operator and timeserver. None of which are particularly complimentary and none of which you would, as a careers advisor, encourage your wards to pursue.

Of course, we have to consider that the definition of Entrepreneur is eerily similar.

en·tre·pre·neur (ntr-pr-nûr, -nr)
n.
A person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business venture.

You only have to look at The Apprentice to see the qualities of hustler, carpet bagger and bottom feeder displayed for the world. Notably, many of these self-seekers are lauded as selfless saints once they return to normal life.

The difference being the interpretation of “no regard for principle or consequence” as compared to “assumes the risk”. Both will attempt new things, or old things in new combinations. Both will possibly risk reputation, personal credit, and the goodwill of others in order to succeed. An both will shrug off failure easily because in their minds they haven’t “failed” per se, just found one more way not to become a billionaire.

So if we stopped talking about “entrepreneurs” (a word, which, much like “innovation” has become utterly meaningless) and started talking about opportunists, we might understand them better.

I say “we”, I mean “they”.

Here is the News-paper

Craig Mod:

So why do so many of our digital magazines publish on the same schedule, with the same number of articles as their print counterparts? Using the same covers? Of course, they do because it’s easier to maintain identical schedules across mediums. To not design twice. To not test twice (or, at all).

Unfortunately — from a medium-specific user experience point of view — it’s almost impossible to produce a digitally indigenous magazine beholden to those legacy constraints. Why? Not least because we use tablets and smartphones very differently than we use printed publications.

I have had conversations along this line for the last few months with folk like Lyra McKee and the talented lads at Starfish (who have just launched TapBrochures.

Legacy is the single biggest issue for newspapers. They do things because they have always done them. They charge meaningless amounts of money for their newspaper, relying on circulation to pay the bills through advertising (and they have complicated, misleading methodologies on counting that circulation).

They have deadlines set by the mechanisms of printing, the movement of vans and the opening hours of newsagents.

How stupid is that?

We’re not going to get out of this mess with the thinking that got us in here.

From Pandodaily:

The 60-person startup is pulling in close to $750,000 every day, according to our reporting. That’s 50 percent up from the $500,000 the Times reported in early October. Not bad for a two-year-old company, whose two big-earner games launched in June and August respectively.

This is an important point for local investors and “business appraisal” executives. This company is two years old and they just launched their big earners in July and August of this year. It took them 18 months to produce a hit. Rovio, the other big game dev in Finland took 4 years to have an overnight success with Angry Birds.

Lesson for locals: it’s not going to be overnight but compared to biotech or ship building, it’s not going to be costly.

We’ve also heard that the startup has very low costs, spending as little as $60,000 a day. Again, Paananen wouldn’t confirm that figure, but he did say that user acquisition costs are very low, because the vast majority of its traffic is organic. The games spread by word of mouth because they are inherently social, he said.

They’re bringing in $750,000 a day and their costs are less than a tenth of that. Think about that for a minute when you consider the “high margins” that companies like Apple commands. 90% margins for this game. 28% margins for Apple.

Supercell has venture backing, but not a lot given this torrid growth. It has raised $15 million, including $12 million from Accel Partners alone.

This is the rub.

Northern Ireland has several venture funds but all of them are little. None of them would be able to meaningfully contribute to a $12M funding round. Also, Supercell is based in Finland but has operations in San Francisco. With backers like Accel Partners and London Venture Partners, it’s plain that Northern Ireland is attempting to play in the big leagues with their local venture capitalists. But having the plaque on the door isn’t the same as walking the walk.

Northern Ireland needs to accept that it has seed capital and treat it as such. The terms in the average term sheet from [local venture capital firm] are so punitive that I can honestly say they’re aimed at idiots and anyone with an ounce of savvy would just leave. There are bigger and better funds who actually are motivated to succeed (compared to tiny local funds who don’t give a shit whether you succeed because they get their fees anyway).

For a country of just over 5 million to produce a Rovio and a Supercell in just the last few years…well, that can’t just be coincidence can it?

No, it’s not a coincidence. Of course it’s not. They have a different environment. It’s a wealthier nation, but they also apply that wealth appropriately. In June this year, they launched a new €70M programme to support the games industry. In comparison, Northern Ireland has contributed almost nothing to sectoral development of this industry. They contributed £235K over three years from 2008 to 2011 but only if industry contributed £265K in effort (and the industry effort had to be given first).

This is separate from grant schemes for “creativity” or funding for R&D. I’m talking about direct sectoral development.

€70M versus £235K is considerable. Is it any wonder that the NI Digital Sector is lagging? I’ve come up with half a dozen ways that government could help develop the sector, at incredibly low risk to the public purse. I’m getting tired of thinking of new ways to push things forward when local companies cannot afford to take risks.

Now, if a local MLA comes up with this:

And everyone agrees that something must be done and nobody does anything, is it any wonder that we never seem to get the results we are looking for?

“We’re not going to get out of this mess with the thinking that got us in here”

Pay gap between Northern Ireland’s public and private sector workers higher than ever

From the Belfast Telegraph:

The pay gap between Northern Ireland’s public and private sector workers is wider than at any time since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The average full-time public sector worker here now earns a staggering 45% more than an employee in the private sector. In the rest of the UK the difference is just 17.8%.

NI public sector represents 30% of the employed workforce but 60% of the economy. Considering the private sector pays for the public sector, does anyone think this is unsustainable? And when the English cut the Block Grant and the discrepancy is actually felt locally?

BOOM.

Ruminating on Android Engagement

Horace Dediu has an interesting article on Android engagement considering results from web activity on differing devices. In short, though there are a lot more Android devices, their usage on the web is a lot smaller than iOS (and we also know that Android users buy fewer apps) so what are these people doing?

My theory is that they’re using them to make calls and send texts.

On Android Activations:

Increment the Activation when the unique device ID associated with the user’s Google account was different than the previous reset.

Which works great when the market is not saturated. But as soon as an Activator hands down a device to another user (Mom, Pop, Little Brother), it counts as another activation. That means that sales of devices are probably a lot lower than reported Activations.

On devices sitting in drawers:

I know when I got my Nexus 7, there was a screen with loud banners and widgets trying to get me to buy stuff, and my primary reaction was irritation.

Apple, of course, relies on device sales to make its money, and so there is no sales pressure present anywhere in the device. You can use the iTunes store and the App Store, but they are just icons on the screen; they are not given any particular prominence, and you are free to ignore them if you want.

That seems like a strange advantage when it comes to getting people to buy stuff with the device, but my working theory is that the hard sell on many of these devices causes them to be dumped in drawers and never looked at again, while Apple’s soft sell makes people more engaged and happy with their purchase.

I don’t entirely agree with this. I think that the devices he refers to in his comment (the really low-end tablets and phones) do get dumped in drawers but I don’t think it’s due to the hard sell. Certainly the advertising on these devices is tiresome but you don’t get anything for free.

On making it up with content:

But the “give away the razors and sell the blades” model they are employing relies on selling a premium blade. For example, printer makers and game consoles virtually give away their hardware and make it up from the exclusive – and high margin – sale of ink and gaming cartridges. There is nothing premium about the content or the advertising that the Nexus or the Fire are selling. Therefore the model fails.

Apple have always maintained the iTunes Store is “break even”. It’s entirely possible that the margins they get from apps and music are very low (for Apple) and therefore they consider it to be negligible. It’s entirely possible that these margins are high enough to sustain a very successful business. For example, Apple sold 1.3 million of the Apple TV in the June quarter of this year. For most, that’s a brilliant business; for Apple, it’s a hobby. And do you think the margins on the Apple TV are close to zero?

The average tablet is capable of surfing the web and other than advertising revenue, when someone surfs the web or reads email they’re not contributing a cent to the content ecosystem. Apple can take that on the chin because they make money on the device. It’s in their interest to make that experience worthwhile

On Android and the Web:

The reason there is a disparity in that Android users are not browsing the web is because they simply cant (effectively). The majority of Android users are running 2.3 [sic] which is a horrible internet experience. So though, yes, it is true that Android Popularity surged and has gone over the iOS, the main reason for this is simply just because it was an alternative

I don’t think this is the only reason, but it’s contributing to the mix. We have two Android devices in the house and both of them are “orphaned” by the manufacturers (HTC, Samsung). And being out of date means malware.

On the marketing of devices:

Apple devices seem to be marketed as devices that do something. Commercials show the device in use, doing stuff like editing a photo or drawing a picture. People who respond to this marketing do so because they too want to do these things too.

Android devices, on the other hand, seem to be marketed around other factors – you almost never see the device being used to solve some need. Instead, they seem to be marketed around emotional factors. Droid is tough. Galaxy is for folks who think Apple fans are iSheep.

I think Samsung is changing this, especially with some of the Note marketing I’ve seen this year. Their examples may not be as clear as Apple’s but they’re certainly trying to appeal to folk trying to get stuff done. Maybe they figured out that insulting customers wasn’t a way to win.

The Note commercials, while not attracting me to buy one, are interesting me. That’s a subtle difference and reflective of my demographic.

SBRI Briefing in the Assembly today

That this Assembly calls upon the Executive to actively promote and raise awareness and understanding of the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) across the public sector; and further calls upon the Executive to put in place appropriate measures to increase uptake of the SBRI by Departments and the wider public sector to help stimulate and drive innovation, especially in local micro-businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises.

SBRI is, in my opinion, possibly the most important tool for government to support small businesses in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is 98% small to medium enterprises, and 95% micro-businesses. Yet, the very people who provide the bulk of the private sector get the least assistance.

You see, it’s not funding, it’s procurement. It’s not a grant, it’s a purchase order. And it also neatly solves the problem of government not getting what they want out of the current procurement jungle (though they get what they ask for, to all our detriment).

An Education-focused Link List

Lots of stuff on here on the driving of technology into education. I think this Christmas will be a tipping point. Hundreds of students will receive multi-purpose mobile gadgets far beyond a mere DS or PS VITA. As the Scratch tutorial apps below indicate, there’s a commercial opportunity for educators to work with developers to create the curriculum-supporting apps that are needed. (And the Creative Industries Innovation Fund would be right there to help for Northern Ireland start-ups)

I’ll finish this off with a quote from Bill Gates:

“Just giving people devices has a really horrible track record. You really have to change the curriculum and the teacher” Bill Gates

Of course, he was talking about devices loaded with his software but the sentiment remains. Just handing out devices isn’t enough. There’s a “human” part of the plan (where you integrate with lessons, pastoral care) and a “technology” part where you integrate with systems and networks.

The Economist thinks Gamification is a “fad” rather than a “trend”.

Link

As video games have grown from an obscure hobby to a $67 billion industry, management theorists have begun to return the favour. Video games now have the dubious honour of having inspired their own management craze. Called “gamification”, it aims to take principles from video games and apply them to serious tasks. The latest book on the subject, “For the Win”, comes from Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter, from the Wharton Business School and the New York Law School respectively.

Video games may not have been entirely mainstream but to call them an obscure hobby highlights a thorough lack of understanding of history. Almost since they appeared, video games have captured the imaginations of young and old. Whether the operation was in an arcade, at home on a console, using a PC or, more recently on your phone, the games market has been anything but obscure.

Does gamification merit the hype that has quickly surrounded it? The idea is only a couple of years old, but it has already spawned a host of breathless conferences, crowded seminars and (inevitably) TED talks.

The name “gamification” is only a couple of years old but the concept and the practice go back more than thirty years. Major UK retailer Sainsbury’s launched their Homebase reward card in 1982. Air Miles, possibly the most well known international brand, started operating in 1988. Collecting points for rewards is the simplest form of gamification but we’re supposed to ignore it because they didn’t invent the name?

Does the Economist merit the hype with this kind of shoddy research?

The problem is that, after the authors have finished instructing their readers in what not to do, the concept of gamification is left looking somewhat threadbare. That is a shame, because their central idea—that the world might be a better place if work was less of a necessary drudge and more of a rewarding experience in itself—is hard to argue with. But then perhaps it is called work for a reason.

If all you want to do is paste achievement badges and point collecting onto drudgery, then yes, the concept is threadbare. But that’s not gamification. You have to use game concepts and gameplay to entice better performance.

If all you want to do is produce some poorly researched and barely understood fluff about Gamification, then I wholeheartedly recommend that you contract whichever Schumpeter journalist produced this article. They deserve an Achievement.

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