Having studied software engineering for five years at University and then working professionally on IT related projects for another seven years, I have an appreciation of the difficulties of technology and projects. It’s not that easy.

Don’t get me wrong, it IS easy to build any lame old product, but it’s exceedingly difficult to build a quality software product. And that’s why you have companies like Google and Amazon, which were worth zero dollars and fifteen years later are worth 350 billion dollars. It’s because they’re able to implement software well and have extremely talented engineers working for them.

Hence I admit I’m often disappointed when I see things like the image below. Basically the advertiser has ‘an idea’ and is looking for a ‘technical co-founder’ who is ‘able to accept constructive criticism’ and accept a ‘CEO’ who is in charge. Translation; I need someone to do all the programming (ie. grunt work) while I hover over your shoulder and be the big boss.

The advertiser touts her skills as ‘marketing’ and ‘business development’ but if you’re working on releasing a software product, then I would say the majority of the time will be spent on building the software product itself. Good software takes thousands of hours of development and even then, it can still be highly flawed. This isn’t to say that marketing/business development is unimportant, it certainly is, but the product won’t build itself and an incredible amount of time and effort needs to be thrown at it.

So what kind of marketing and business development can you do when you don’t have a product yet? Not much. If you’re at day one of a startup, and are without a product, then your focus is on building the Minimum Viable Product MVP. In the end, the non-technical co-founding advertiser will be left with only a supervising responsibility.

Practically speaking, the relationship of a supervisor and implementer is akin to one of master and slave. The master commands how the work should proceed, and watches as the slave produces the output. Needless to say, this kind of relationship is demeaning to the technical co-founder, and it’s certainly an unsustainable situation long term. I’d go so far as to say that any start up established with this kind of power dynamic is absolutely doomed to failure.

In general, I do think that non-technical people tend to completely underestimate the efforts, skill and time required to implement a software product. If you’re doing a software startup, it’s important to realise that implementation is of incredible importance. Hence, the guy doing the implementation, ie. the developer, absolutely deserves a healthy amount of respect and should be treated as an equal.

It’s been a hiatus of nearly two years, but finally I’m back posting again! I write for my own pleasure, and I just wasn’t that motivated the past couple of years.

But after finishing up with my full time job recently, my inner passion has been reborn and I’m very much inspired pursue a new path. Namely, a startup path!

So for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to break into the startup community. While working on my own project, I’ve been attending meetups, seminars, networking events and startup courses. I’ve been determined to meet new people and just about everyday I’m scheduling in meetings and learning more about how to run my startup venture.

For this news page, I’m going to start adding my reflections on startups and entrepreneurialism to help retain everything I’ve learned. I hope that whoever is reading will be able to gain some sort of benefit from this but at the very least, I’ll have enjoyed writing it.


Fedor retires – the strongest man in history

A few weekends ago, Fedor Emelianenko retired from the sport of Mixed Martial Arts with little fanfare or media coverage. On the one hand, I understand that Fedor was past his prime and had found himself eclipsed by the talents of an upstart generation. Yet the fact remains that for over a decade, Fedor was undefeated as the greatest fighter in the world.

That means something to me. But why, you ask? Well allow me to explain…

My friends often ask me why I’m so interested in Mixed Martial Arts. And invariably, I answer it’s because the competition of fighting is ingrained within our genetics. This is because long before humankind ever learned to write or even use tools, thousands upon thousands of generations of our ancestors lived and died as fighters.

I can only imagine the struggle of their daily lives, living rough in the wilds. Yet one thing I can be certain of is the violence of their daily lives; the absolute necessity for our ancestors to fight other animals or one another. The battle for supremacy would not have just been a battle for pride. Rather, it was a Darwinist battle for survival, where the victor would live and the defeated would die.

Fast forward 200,000 years and in modern civilisation we find that recorded history spans approximately six thousand years. Yet of those six thousand years, only a portion contains generations of people who have lived peaceful unmarked by violence. Think of the great empires in history such as the Roman Empire, the Yuan Dynasty or even the British Empire; they were all societies with an embedded sense of bloodshed and conflict.

Suffice to say, it is only in very modern history whereby physical conflict is not the norm. Our thousands of ancestors before us lived violence as part of their daily lives, and it would be difficult to say that it hasn’t had an impact on our inner desires and subconscious thoughts. But instead of entirely suppressing our natural inclination for physical combat, there are other ways of expressing it. That is, competitive fight sports and specifically the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.

So if you realise that the sport of Mixed Martial Arts is society’s new way of expressing our natural desire to fight, then it gives importance to the champions. The champions are not just merely top level fighters, but the finest real life incarnations of our natural desire to fight. Thus a fighter is able to transcend their mortality and become the embodiment of an ideal.

And that is what Fedor means to me. He was the greatest fighter in history and thus the pinnacle of an innate human aspect. And so despite the lack of public interest, I felt that Fedor’s retirement was the end of an important age in human history.

iPhone manufacturing and mining

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/business/apple-america-and-a-squeezed-middle-class.html?_r=4&pagewanted=all (Registration required)

Here’s an article which says what I’ve been saying for a while now, albeit with researched evidence. If you want to save half an hour of reading, the lengthy piece is about how the iPhone is manufactured in China, and why the operation will, in the words of the late Steve Jobs, never return to the USA.

This drives home the point that despite what people may think, manufacturing is a very specialised industry which requires a lot of skilled engineers and workers. Taking the iPhone as the example, it would not only cost significantly more to do it in the United States, it would be nearly impossible to get the necessary parts, skills and labour to put it together.

With that said, whether you agree manufacturing should stay in Australia is now a moot point. Decades of inaction has meant that it’s far too late and most manufacturing jobs have already gone overseas. Only a few exceptions remain, but their long term existence is questionable given that they’re receiving massive taxpayer subsidies (ie. car industry).

While it may be nearly over for big manufacturing in Australia, it serves as a powerful example that once an industry goes overseas, it generally does not come back. The current economic trend in Australia is obviously the booming mining industry, which now has the greatest share than ever of the Australian economy. Primarily the big two companies, BHP and Rio are gearing Australia’s economy towards being a raw materials exporter.

The consequence of this economic realignment is that it is causing a brain drain of talent and labour away from other industries. In fact, it’s already a struggle to find tradesmen, engineers and labourers to do odd jobs, and when you do find them, they’re incredibly expensive. But this is only the beginning, and in the future it will be far more difficult as these individuals are further tempted towards the mines.

And just as it will become impossibly expensive to hire tradespeople and physical workers, the mining boom will also start siphoning Australia’s best minds. Young students and talented workers will increasingly become frustrated their relatively low pay scales and start thinking that they’re better off driving a mining truck for triple the pay or getting into a mining company’s corporate headquarters.

These are just a few consequences of the supposed mining boom. While it is a positive that Australia’s economy is temporarily being saved by the money brought in by resource exporters, it is a dependency which in the long term will cause irreversible damage to Australia’s other industries.

The story of the iPhone and manufacturing is a lesson to be well heeded, as one day the mines will run out or other nations will start developing their mining capabilities to a competitive standard. And when that happens, Australia needs to have alternative sectors which will sustain the economy.

So, a couple of weeks ago this article appeared on the Business Spectator. It contained a couple of graphs which I found very interesting and have reproduced below.

In the article ‘An ageing Asian will weary Australia’, author Robert Gottliebsen argues that China and Japan have rapidly ageing populations. As such the Australian government and Australian companies are short-sighted in setting strategies which rely on increasing Asian growth and demand. In short, the predicted wealth of Asia will be curtailed by a severely diminished workforce.

Sounds like a good story on the surface, but if you delve deeper into the details, it looks like Mr Gottliebsen has intentionally missed out on some details. The source of the data quoted in the graphs is the UN, and a quick search reveals this UN page which contains data on predicted population ages for each country.

In the report, the UN describes the problem of ageing populations as a ‘global phenomenon’ which ‘has profound implications for many facets of human life’. While some countries are more ‘aged’ than others, the report data reveals that it is predicted that by 2025 Australia and the USA will both have 24.8% of their total population over 60 years of age. This is compared with 19.5% for China. In fact, the ‘ageing index’ which is the measure the UN uses, puts China at a better rating than not only the USA, but most of Europe. Japan does have a greater ageing issue than all of the previously mentioned countries, however the fact remains that the ageing issue is global.

So given the facts, lets put aside the ageing issue for the moment and assume that it will effect countries equally. Does China still have potential for further economic growth? The news is filled with stories of incredible Chinese economic growth and how rich the country is already. Well, rather than writing a book arguing my case, lets just look at the per capita GDP graph below as I think it alone conveys a compelling story.

The reason why I’ve included Singapore and Hong Kong as comparisons is because both cities have populations of overwhelmingly ethnic Chinese. As much as some of the inhabitants would like to deny it, but each of the countries share similar sets of beliefs, philosophy, language and culture. This is not to say that there are other enormous differences in say resources and history, but the graph provides insight into how much more growth there is to be had from China.

Robert Gottliebsen is certainly entitled to his view. But I question why he has so obviously picked out the issue of ageing populations as his primary counterargument to the Asian growth story, when it is in fact a worldwide problem. Chinese economic growth and the potential for further growth, should be convincing enough.

Environmental bling

So I’m just reading an article before I head off to bed, and I’m somewhat bitterly glad to read a sentence providing evidence on a topic I’ve felt strongly about for quite some time. So the article I’m reading is in The Age and here’s the quote I saw:

A social researcher, Mark McCrindle, of McCrindle Research, says his studies have shown while most people are concerned about the environment, they are not prepared to pay more to make a difference.

And how true is that?

Throughout life, I’ve known so many people and organisations who profess their deep and passionate love of the environment. Then when prompted to elaborate, these people often then talk about how they switch the lights off at home, choose to reuse supermarket plastic bags or even plant trees on volunteer days. While those are great sentiments, the reality is that they’re token acts which don’t actually affect the environment much at all.

What does effect the environment is the fact that these supposed environmentalists drive two cars, live in McMansions and eat loads of meat. I’m not just referring to the amount of carbon produced from these acts, such the burning of petrol when driving a car, but also the environmental impact in producing the products themselves. For example, huge amounts of energy and coal would have been used/burned, in the process of mining the iron used for the steel in the car.

The truth is, a lot of these passionate lovers of the environment pay lip service to environmental causes in an effort to feel better about themselves. Yet these same people will absolutely refuse to make any real sacrifices for the benefit of the environment, because it would mean compromising on their lifestyle. They’ll continue driving their four wheel drives or building decks for their homes because in the end, the reality is that they actually don’t care that much. To borrow a term from a friend, this supposed care of nature is just ‘environmental bling’; a shiny fashion accessory with with no real value or worth.

This isn’t to say that everyone who isn’t committed to the environment are evil sinners. But if you do make the claim that you’re a committed environmentalist, back your talk up. Or then again, it might be easier to just admit that you actually don’t care that much.

The real Gracie Jiu Jitsu

For years I’ve been using the terms Gracie Jiu Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu interchangeably.  For all intents and purposes, they are the same thing.  But after meeting Pedro Sauer and attending his seminar, I truly believe that technically speaking they are now two separate things.

In his visit to Australia, 8th degree red black belt Pedro Sauer talked to us not only about techniques but also about the history and philosophy of Gracie Jiu Jitsu.  He emphasised to us again and again that Gracie Jiu Jitsu was designed as a form of self defense.

However these days, the majority of people who practice Gracie Jiu Jitsu do the sport form of it and use techniques which only work in a competition scenario.  Similar to my previous post on pulling guard, if you try these techniques in the street then you’re going to pay a big price!

The gap is now so pronounced that I believe Gracie Jiu Jitsu now means one thing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu means another.  So to clarify, Gracie Jiu Jitsu is a form of martial art however Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has come to describe a grappling sport.

Consumerist goals

I often hear the phrases “I want to enjoy my life!” or “I’m only young once!”.

Of course, they’re both fantastic sentiments and worthy of praise.  But more often than not, I hear these claim made when someone is trying to justify their inability to save money. Without exception, the individual will have spent their not-insignificant income on getting drunk each weekend, dining at top restaurants and buying expensive brand name clothing.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a conservative and I don’t disapprove of drinking and spending money.  In fact I do it myself!  But the difference is that I do it within my means and I don’t hold consumerism and alcoholism as goals in life.

But others do and therein lies my disappointment with my fellow generation Y.  Through our worship of the rich and famous, we’ve been continually presented with images of their lifestyles.  As they stand before us and are held up as shining examples, we see lives lived in opulence where it’s essential to own as much as possible, and drink as much as possible.  And so as a result, we mimic what we see, and without realising it their lifestyle becomes our goal.

I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us in society have accepted this image of success and subsequently our goal to achieve.  But really, when you think about it, it’s a dream that’s been subtly imposed on us by what we watch on TV and the stories of the heroes we look up to.

However, as fully grown adults, and as people gifted with the ability of free thought, it’s not good enough for any of us to accept goals superimposed on us by the media and corporations.  Fair enough if someone has accepted consumerism and alcoholism as their motive in life.  But my bet is that the vast majority of people never stopped to think about it, and are just buying stuff they don’t need and drinking to excess because ‘that’s how I enjoy life’.

Those people are wrong though.  There are alternative goals in life and there are other ways of enjoying it.

Say no to pulling guard!!

Today while running the class at Docklands BJJ the other instructor Alki noticed that my students consistently fought for the top position.  I considered what he said and I was very pleased at how visible this top position philosophy was while watching my students fight for dominant top control and resisting the common Jiu Jitsu urge to pull guard.

My personal saying is that while Jiu Jitsu is great to compete in, the reality is that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is also a means of self defence.  And in the street, you want to be on top in control and not on your back.

Imagine that it is a street scenario.  Some punk teenager high on alcohol and other substances decides that he finds your face offensive.  So if it’s time to use your Jiu Jitsu, what you want and what you want your students to do, is to have the confidence to utilise a double leg takedown.  But if you’ve spent all your time in the gym working your guard on your back, I guarantee you that in this street scenario that takedown confidence will not be there.

So to all Jiu Jitsu practitioners… Work your stand up!  By all means, train your guard, but always remember that there is also the self defence aspect to it and in the street flopping to guard would get you killed.


A video of what NOT to do

Public transport fiend

First post!  I’m intending on using this blog as an opportunity to rant and rant often…  So here goes!

In today’s edition of The Age, there was an article of some idiots literally riding on the back of a suburban train.  Well, it turns out that I had witnessed a similar happening not so long ago and I managed to take a pic of it!  I’ve emailed it to The Age though I doubt it’ll be published.