An Australian Opportunity circa 2014

This article was written by Steph and accepted for publication to Merise Magazine,  in late 2014. It was, to the best of our knowledge never published, online or in print.

Here it is - with some slight modifications for the time between 2014 and 2018.

We hope you enjoy Steph's story of Opportunity and Growth.

I’m sitting on the train at 5:30 pm, mid September 2014, coming home from the Google Analytics User conference in Melbourne, and thinking about how I am going to write this article. That should teach me for jumping in head first to the opportunity.

An opportunity is a time or set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.  Don't take my word for it, that's the official definition.

So, by its very definition, an opportunity is neither negative nor positive. It simply is.

It is chance to do something. A turn. Your go at taking the shot.

Opportunity does not discriminate, it does not take sides.

Getting the chance to write this article, is the result of an opportunity. One that I grabbed hold of without hesitation when I met the Merise Team at the Ladies Tea in Melbourne in early 2014.

I ponder thoughtfully that the definition of an opportunity is not about the end result, but rather about the circumstances. Getting more money into your business is not an opportunity, but helping someone in your network, that’s an opportunity. It’s a chance to do something.

It's also not a guarantee, to the disappointment of a great many humans I think.

It's an option, a happy coincidence of circumstances that enables you to

  • be something more,
  • try something different,
  • learn something new about yourself or
  • test your limits and boundaries.

And for Migrants and Saffers ?

What does this mean for migrants that land on our adopted fair shores ?

I think it’s about understanding what it means to have a fair-go. A fair-go is really the chance to take a hold of your Great Australian Opportunity.

Everyone in Australia has their "Fair-go" it would seem. Does that mean we all do well and prosper?

Not at all, because having a fair-go is not the same thing as working hard.  Australia,  in my experience does extraordinarily well at providing opportunities to more people than any other country, but you still have to work, and network, and be extraordinarily better than the rest to make a success of your career, your life,  or your business. In whatever way you choose to define that success.

So I’ve been pondering my journey since settling in Melbourne and the opportunities that have come my way.

In my whole working life, the longest I have ever worked for a company is 8 years. The longest I have ever had the same job is 5 (at that same company).

In South Africa I’ve cleaned houses, worked as a receptionist, a bookkeeper, a supervisor of dance instructors (couldn’t dance a step myself when I started) , a call centre agent, a debtors clerk, and a business analyst. All with a BSc Biochemistry under my belt.

In Australia, my CV looks a lot more stable, but that calm surface belies a far more complicated, and challenging personal and career growth curve.

I run a software company owned by 2 co-founders, and I'm not one of them. Technically, and legally not  mine, but it’s my baby nonetheless, as many other General Managers, Managing Directors and employed CEO's can relate I am sure. We invest ourselves, and our working identities heavily into these "children" of ours. Staying awake consecutive nights when we take big risks, and wondering what will happen to our team members and staff if it all goes belly up. Feeling the weight of that responsibility very heavily when our staff have families, and thinking about how much your decisions affect the lives of these newly minted little Aussie tykes.

I’ve learned to say Yes. 

I’ve learned to say No.

And more importantly, I’ve learned how I can tell in advance when each is appropriate.

I’ve learned to be discerning in my trust, and to go with my gut when there is no other data to work from.

Snakes are very pretty, and can be exceptionally hypnotic and charming before they bite, or strangle the life out of you without mercy or empathy. Life-giving wells of breathing space, and genuine appreciation are often hidden under plain unassuming facades. Don't judge a book by it's cover, sales is an art in Australia, and it's full of charlatans.

If you try to embrace Australian "mateship" without understanding it first, you’ll fall flat very quickly.

I wish that I’d been told this all of this when I arrived in 2010.

Eagerness is not always appreciated by your average small business Australian, they are a very reticent people, and if they don’t know you, you just look pushy.

Sometimes the opportunity is to be found in sitting back, and waiting.

And when the universe sends you a cryptic email wondering if you’d like to explore doing business in USA, you whip out that eagerness and energy and throw everything you have at it, in the face of enormous fear, because those are the times when the opportunity is in the YES, and you have to learn to stretch yourself.

An that is how I find myself all alone stranded overnight in Sydney en route to the USA in May 2013, fighting with an airline, and negotiating my way into 24 hours of plane hopping across the globe so I could get to my 2 week immersion in San Francisco on time.

I had a surreal moment in the middle of that night in 2013 in the Sydney Hotel, waiting for a call back from an airline. I made a wry mental note-to-self that I was having a chance to do some personal growth. This was rapidly followed by an angry admonishment to the Universe in general

“Personal Growth be damned, I just want things to work!”

It's so much easier to look back and see how far you've come, and apply an overlay of logic to the circumstances that challenge us. Much easier than seeing and grappling with the discomfort of that growth when it's happening in real time.

So I became the CEO of said company, because American Investors in Silicon Valley will not take a Business & General  Manager seriously. They want to talk to the CEO. It’s a bit like having a split personality really. CEO on one side of the globe and a Manager on the other.

What a moment that was, I think I celebrated by making myself another cup of coffee.

Celebrations do happen often in any business that I have a significant interest in, I believe it's important to mark the small wins and big. We had an apoplexy of happiness when we made it into the Apple App Store – and we got a couple of rounds of applause when we told our friends and business colleagues. It was a small win for us, but apparently far more impressive to our friends and clients than we realised.

The irony of that did not escape me,  that we had built this amazing software company over many years, with an incredible online platform, and no-one applauded until we had simple contact manager app in the App Store. When did the measure of business value become an App I wondered?

We cannot all be Steve Jobs

Moments like those bring my attention sharply into focus; snapping me back to the reality that we cannot all be Steve Jobs. Most times, us normal people need to see, pick and exploit opportunities by listening to what people want.

They may not have the words, but their needs and desires are there in their behaviour. And if you are not solving a problem, then you’re not doing anything useful, marketable and by extension, sellable.

Everything that happens to you every day when you live in Australia is an opportunity to grow.

It’s so damn hard to remember that,  when it’s 3 am and you can’t sleep because you miss your family with a pain so deep it knocks the breath out of you. It is true nonetheless.

One last lesson I have learned, is that you will be happy only when you decide that you’re going to be.

Unfortunately, it is the one lesson I cannot pass on as if it were a transferrable skill. Us migrants, we the brave that leave everything we know behind - we each have to come to our own peace and settlement of why we now live in Australia, and what it means to be an Australian from another birthplace. And we do it in our own time.

I notice the train has stopped here in 2014 - we’re at my station, so this is the end of the line for today. Only today mind you, because tomorrow morning will bring with it another set of opportunities.

What will you do with your opportunities, here in our adopted homeland?

Manage your Emails Effectively - LEAN principles applied to emails

I recently did a free speaking gig, where I talked through how I manage my email accounts ( 2 work email addresses and a personal account). The topic was so popular, I decided to blog about it, to show you how you can manage your emails effectively.

I've made great progress since my Sept 16 Blog about being the bottleneck just by the way.

Here's the outline of what I do and how I transitioned from email overwhelm, to having Sundays off entirely ( I'm not kidding about the Sundays).

Read more

Referring business is a skill, and well, some people are just better at it than others

Just recently , a fairly new acquaintance of mine referred someone to me, or rather , I was referred to them.

This is not unusual - a lot of people see a lot of opportunity with the various business interests that I have, notwithstanding my startup Rocking Rose, and my new social networking App Network Buddy.

And if you consider my "Day Job" with Dolphin Worxs as their main person , chief chick in charge and all round general Bossy Person, you get the picture that a lot of people would like to sell me, or pitch to me, a variety of services or products, and even partnerships.

However - this recent incident brought a wry chuckle to my throat. For the sake of keeping things anonymous,  I will not name the company, referee, or service that was referred to me, I shall instead talk about Baking Cupcakes.

The Story Begins

I was on the phone with said New Acquaintance, when I happened to mention that I hadn't been able to call them back in recent days, because I had been a little busy Baking Cupcakes.

side note - I was in fact Baking Cupcakes for one of my largest clients, and it was an activity that I happen to be fairly good at, I have a custom recipe, which I have perfected over the years, and I follow it to the letter. The result is that the final Cupcake is exactly what the client ordered. I was being paid to Bake Cupcakes. 

We continued our discussion, and the call ended.

A couple of days later , I was formally introduced by email to a Specialist Cupcake Maker. Someone to whom I could outsource my Cupcake Baking Woes.

Say What How ?

Cue extremely puzzled expression while reading emails.

A day after that , the Specialist Cupcake Baker replied to the email, thanked my aquaintance for the referral and confirmed their availability to speak with me.

Alrighty then.

Steph Looking at her phone confused
but ... I like Baking Cupcakes ...

I made a mental note to call or reply to Cupcake Specialist at some point to politely thank them and confirm that I was not actually in the market to outsource my Cupcake Baking Activities.

Before I could do that, I was called. On a Public Holiday. To discuss my requirements for the Cupcakes. It was a slightly awkward call I can assure you.

Said Cupcake Maker had done nothing wrong, and was in fact following all the right steps for a word of mouth referral. It would have been glorious, had I actually wanted,  or needed to outsource my Cupcake Baking Activities.

But I didn't, and in fact I didn't even say that I wanted to, I simply mentioned that I had been very busy Baking Cupcakes. And that was it.

One Sentence. That's it. And it turned into a referral.

So - what's the point of my story?

If you are listening for subtle cues about pain points, that's fabulous. Just don't listen so hard, that you invent pain points where none exist.

And if you are going to refer, or you think there's a potential referral, clarify.

All it would have taken, is one question about whether I was struggling with Cupcake Making and I would have quickly assured my contact that I was in fact thoroughly enjoying the work, and quite happy to do it. It was in fact not something I needed to outsource.

Don't be a blunt instrument where tact and precision are called for. Don't be the referral equivalent of the spray and pray letterbox drop, or the business card confetti at networking events.

Just Do it ! And test, test, test ....

This is a quick post , being written on a train , at 7:52 am on a Saturday.

Yes - I'm on a train to the city before 8 am on a Saturday morning - welcome to the life of an entrepreneur ! Why I'm on the train , is another story for another post ...

This post is about a wee bit of testing I did recently for the Network Buddy app and service that I am developing.

There are 2 pieces of advice startups and new business owners with new ideas will hear over and over,

The first , is just do it. Get started. Don't wait, don't keep your idea secret and work on it alone, tell everyone and anyone, and get started. Want to know if someone will buy something at a certain price point ... sell it to them.

And the second , is to test, test and test some more. Never stop testing assumptions, never stop testing your idea, and never stop testing the advice you get from people.

And to help you understand how you really and truly can do this , on a shoestring budget, for a new idea in it's infancy - here's a real world example from the life of Steph ( it's like the life of Pi but without the amazing CGI, or a tiger. It's more like the Life of  Brian actually.... )

So about 6 weeks ago ( give or take) I decided to take this idea I had for being a Network Buddy / consulting mentor/ networking helper - and turn it into a scalable tech business .

It didn't just happen by itself, I had several conversations with some amazing women at the Fishburners Female Founders Hackathon in Sydney . And I had several more conversations with lots and lots of people subsequent to that weekend , as I attended every single networking event I could lay my hands on to test the hypothesis.

And here's how it went.

I put up a website , with a landing page - briefly outlined Network Buddy as a service/app to connect people for the purposes of mentoring/buddying each other at Networking events.Thus far , this has cost me nothing but time, and a small fee for shutterstock. I'm using a free AWS micro instance and a wordpress install with a free launch page template

At the first networking event I went to , I had nothing printed with me, I just talked about the idea,and mentioned the website . I had 8 signups in one night.

I then put up a facebook page - and asked the amazing secret society of awesome women that I belong to ( you know who you are *wink wink*) to give me some feedback on the landing page. They did, and it was good constructive feedback . Some even signed up. The page hasn't changed much publicly (mostly because the launch page template I used doesn't lend itself to too much customisation) - but all that awesome feedback has been taken in and will be used for the final release of the website.

Then I attended a networking event which was all about networking. ( duh!) And to that event I took with me pamphlets, which I designed and ran off on my home printer.

Home printed Pamphlets ???

They were not perfect, or professionally printed. But that wasn't the point. I didn't have time ( or the budget) to have 1000 pamphlets printed . I need 30. and this is why.

I printed 2 variations of the pamphlet , so only 15 of each .... they looked the same, but had slightly different content .... I placed them on the table at the entrance to the event in 2 piles , right next each other.

At the end of the event , I had 3 left of option A , and 14 left pf option B . A very definitive result for my test.

Option A - all about finding a Network Buddy, being too shy to introduce yourself , and not knowing where or how to effectively network at an event.

Option B - All about becoming a mentor and the Network Buddy - helping other people to find their feet , and raise money for the charity of your choice at the same time.

 Photo of Homemade pamphlets showing 2 piles with sightly different content
Option B at the top - lots of leftovers
Option A underneath - only 3 left ... much more effective

My theory going in, was that at that specific event, I would likely find a lot of people looking for help and feeling unsure , and probably not more than 1 or 2 Buddy Mentor people.

Knowing this - I have tailored the actual content and design of the brochure to speak to people who need help, and will be sending it off to a graphic designer imminently for that professional touch.

I just received my first batch of 50 business cards -- and have commenced dishing them out to test reactions to the design .... watch out for the results of that test in future posts.


 Photo of Network Buddy Business Cards - first draft from and back
The test cards ... (ps I do love them myself)

So - there you have it - for the cost of 30 sheets of A4 paper , printed on a home printer - I established very firmly what type of content and style I needed for my brochure , and I also established a very firm need for the idea as well.

Test, test and test some more -- just do things - don't wait until you have the perfect design or the perfect budget. People will not be able to tell you about something that they cannot see , so if you need to know which content works better, or which image works better , print up something and hand it to people, and watch their reactions . Far more accurate than asking them outright what they prefer or think about your idea or how you should market it.

Rocking Rose  over and out for another day of hustling.

Uber me baby, Uber me


Nemesis of taxi Drivers everywhere.

The Ultimate Disruptor in transport.

*except for Self driving electric vehicles of course. ;-)

We recently began using Uber in earnest. Mostly for business related trips, up to the airport, the train station or to see a client where I don't have my car for the day. For those times when it's just not useful to drive and park your car at the airport for a gajillion dollars.

I loathe taxi's. Mostly I have had some really sh^&*y experiences, here in Melbourne, in Singapore and in the good old US of A. I cannot say that I remember anything that is pleasant, even in the most uneventful of taxi rides. And it's not the drivers necessarily that are the problem (although I have met some real special ones along the way).

I hate the fact that I have to have local currency on me, just in case the taxi can't process credit cards. Or, as happened to me in Singapore, they didn't take Visa cards, and my Master Card (from South Africa) is a Debit Card, which is blocked for international use anyway ( because the Saffer Government is hell-bent on not joining the global economy, and thinks that my money is their  money... but that's another post)

Oh yes, back to my story about loathing taxi's and my Singapore experience.

In Singapore, the taxi stops, I ask them if they take credit cards, they say yes. I double check, "It's a VISA card ? "

Yes, yes says the driver impatiently. I climb in.

Upon arrival at Fuji Building, and lo and behold, the card won't process. His machine doesn't take VISA cards. And now I am stuck, because well you know, in between the international long-haul flight, landing, showering and coming down to the meeting, I haven't actually had any time to draw actual cash at an actual ATM.

*note to self - make a habit of drawing cash at the airport before exiting*

So, there I was stuck on the side of the road with an irate driver in Singapore, and rapidly approaching the point of being late for my meeting. I was saved, but again, that's a story for another post.

That has never happened to me with Uber. Never. This app payment story is priceless.I don't need cash or special open for banking cards. And the driver knows he's going to get paid, because Uber handles all of that already. No risk to me, and no risk to them.

Also - as a side benefit, I have met the most interesting people using UberX to go to and from my various networking events and meetings.

Here are some highlights ;

- The Civil Engineer  who works flexible hours for his main employer, and drives for Uber for a couple of hours in the evening.
- The Brickie who drives for UberX on rainy days and any other day when inclement weather won't allow him to ply his trade.
- The semi-retired Writer, who also has a room he rents out with AirBnB, and does 2 toastmasters meetings a week to boot. Talk about embracing the digital age!
- The IT Student,  who quite frankly drives better than any taxi driver I have come across and told me all about his plans to uplift his coountry once he goes back and starts his offshore IT development business in Pakistan. Ambitious youth, aah I remember it so fondly !

So I say, Uber me baby, Uber me.

At least until something freaky happens, and then I'm out.

Then I'll be saying : Bring on those self-driving cars.