Why a small little light is changing the world

The Startup Business Ross McKenzie StrategyHave you ever come across a situation which at first glance seemed normal, but for some reason you had another look and realised that something strange was present when so called “common sense” would suggest otherwise?

This happened to me a few weeks back and now that I have my eyes open and time to reflect, I realise I was witness to something that is changing the world.

I will get back to that in a moment, but first, what do I mean “changing the  world”?

Well time and time again new innovations and new ways of doing things start to impact society. For example, back in the mid to late eighties, the fax machine was slowly being introduced across businesses and replacing what some of you will recall, was the telex machine.

Now the telex machine was quite a beast – you needed to be trained on it and then, you still needed patience and perseverance! However it was just like it was overnight, the fax machine arrived and before we knew it, we were trying to figure out how to not let the thermal paper copy of the fax machine fade and lose all that valuable information or the customer order just received by “magic”!

The ripple effect of course of that innovation was in how we communicate today and how we interact as individuals or as organisations, across borders and across oceans.

Once the “flood gates” open, these innovations or “disruptive forces” play out in their own way, finding the lower ground fast and spreading with ease. Before we know it, the landscape changes before our very own eyes, literally transforming us along the way.

So coming back to where I started this article, what was it that, I witnessed?

Well I was in Phenom Penh last month.

Phenom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia and my hotel that I stayed at, the Indochine, sits adjacent to the Tonle and Mekong rivers. There are all sights and sounds and of course a country with a history that Cambodia has, there are many people experiencing significant hardship on a daily basis.

One evening, may be close to midnight, as I looked out my window from 5 floors above the street below, I could see a small glow towards the river bank. It flickered on and off every now and again, but basically stayed in the one location.

It took me a while to figure out what this small little light was.

Then “bang” I got it. I realised what I was looking at.

You see the small little light was coming from a smart phone and it was being held in the hands by a young woman who was surrounded by two children sleeping on mats beside her.

Now I did not get to find out about her situation, only that she is one of many families who live on the streets there in Phenom Penh. This as we all know, is not unique to Cambodia either. My own city, Sydney for example, has far too many people living rough each night as well.

I wonder what she was looking at on that evening with her phone?

Could it have been a TV broadcast for entertainment? Could it have been something else, maybe to teach her a new skill, to inspire her to somehow feel that she has the ability to rise above her current circumstances? To give her some hope.

Did she sleep that night with a little more comfort and re-assurance than the night before?

Did that small little light help her?

I hope so. I hope so for so many who are living it rough.

I also hope that many of the changes happening today will have their flow on effect to the people who are often on the margins because I do believe we are living in extraordinary times.

So when you curse your printer’s paper jams, or its taking too long to download your favourite programs, spare a thought to that young woman, that stranger, and lets hope that she and her children can grow up to have similar opportunities as we have.

Would You Like To Dance With Me?

The-Startup-Business-Ross-McKenzie-Strategy-People-2015-12-07-300x220-compressedI am an Arthur Murray bronze level ballroom dancer you know!

But that may not be enough to help my friend Vivien.

You see, Vivien wants to learn to dance, but she is just not sure where to start at the moment. Which step goes first and what follows after that…

She has just launched an online business. It’s a small micro startup and what she is providing is a unique online solution that supports businesses with virtual executive assistants.

She explained to me her business model and I found it very interesting.

I then asked her who are her potential customers or clients and she said anyone requiring an assistant!


Do you think that could be too broad?

I think so, in fact it is so broad the statement suggests she is trying to be all things to all people.

However, in this world of relationships and intimacy, you cannot afford to be general – you need to know the specific steps to each dance. Tango is different to Rumba as it is different again to Viennese Waltz.

In fact, you need to be very targeted in how you position yourself in the market and then when you engage in the market place, you need to be more specific in your conversations, otherwise it is very hard to differentiate yourself from all the others out there.

When I shared this view to Vivien she was concerned that if she did this, she would be cutting herself off from potential customers. I then explained to her that this need not be the case as if she identified the customer avatars within her market place, she can then speak to them directly in a voice that they understand and relate to.

Let me explain…

Vivien’s potential market place at this stage is very large and also very broad. So I asked her what would be the typical customers that she currently has. She explained to me that there were generally four groups:

  • Startup Businesses / Entrepreneurs
  • Sole Traders / Professionals – no employees
  • Small Businesses – less than 10 employees
  • Mid Size Businesses – 10 to 20 employees or associates

I then asked whether the specific needs of each customer group were the same or different – in other words what are each group’s pains and what are their desires?

Surprisingly when Vivien did this exercise, there were many things common across all groups, but there were a few things that did start to be unique within specific customer groups.

I then suggested to Vivien that if she met a representative from each group separately at some social event and got to talking about what they both do, would it be likely that the conversation starts off broadly to explain their businesses, but then progressively start to be more tailored around each other’s business commonalities and specific needs?

Yes, this is what happens as we are constantly seeking alignment and this by the way, is a very natural approach.

For example, just think of how we talk to people that we already know? Whether that be your teenage nieces or nephews, or your colleagues. In fact, there is a word for it which should not surprise you and it’s called…


At the end of the day, it’s about you establishing rapport with your customers and you can only do this by speaking in terms of their fears, pains and concerns, but also their hopes, dreams and aspirations.

Rapport by any other name is the beautiful dance that occurs when we are in sync with each other

There is no second guessing as to which direction we are heading when you are in rapport.

You cannot have rapport if you are sitting on the side speaking in generalities. Rapport is an intense relationship where you need to make the first move.

For Vivien this breakthrough translated by changing her messaging slightly so that it is specifically tailored to each of her customer groups or avatars. In fact, it was more natural for her because to do this, all she had to do was to think about each of these avatars more intimately to refine her message.

As to results, well still early days for Vivien, but I did hear her speak at a conference recently and she was very specific in the types of clients she helps and I noticed there was a group of people wanting to talk to her afterwards!

What about you?

How are you talking to your customers?

Are you dancing or are you still on the sidelines?

How Fair Is Your Trade?

“I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth will starve in the process”- Benjamin Harrison

The Startup Business Ross McKenzie Strategy People FairtradestoreIn business we are typically focused on achieving customer satisfaction and we often link customer satisfaction to overall success. However, is this where the focus should be?

In fact, if you Google the key words Customer Satisfaction today, you will get about 95.4 million results. Employee Satisfaction on the other hand, gets you just 10% of that, at 9.6 million results or references.

What about Shareholder Satisfaction? Surprisingly this comes ahead of employees at 20.4 million references, yet Supplier Satisfaction gives you 52.2 million.

Now of course you can extrapolate what you want from that data. It is not real research with any particular hypothesis in mind. However, I wanted to use it to bring up a point that perhaps in business we should continually be looking more broadly across the ecosystem that we are part of and understand how we can have an impact both positively and negatively. With this in mind, we do not have to go too much further from our supply chains and where we source our goods and services.

For me, this is about two important concepts – Fair Trade and Impact Sourcing.

I do not know about you, but I am very uncomfortable to know that modern day slavery is prominent around the world. In addition, there are far too many work places of which may not be classed as modern day slavery, yet clearly provide working conditions for their employees or contractors in which most business owners and managers would find appalling.

Fortunately, though, things are changing and more transparency of the working conditions is being achieved as companies implement social responsibility policies and ethical sourcing practices and even having independent parties audit supply chains. The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” just does not cut it these days for most of us. However, it is a very difficult area to continually to monitor.

That said, it is my view that as customers or clients, we have an obligation to ensure we are sourcing from reputable businesses where the rights of individuals and communities are being respected to the same level that the International Labour Organisation would come to expect.

So what can you do?

Well Education Is The First Step

You need to become aware as to what are indeed some extremely poor and cruel practices are out there, maybe by the businesses that you are currently sourcing your goods and services from, but you are just unaware of.

Next Is To Take Action

Develop you own ethical sourcing policies and work with your suppliers to improve theirs as well. If they are not prepared to change, well you can change them and if you need to, report them to the appropriate authorities.

Third, Become An Advocate Or Champion For Fair Trade And Impact Sourcing

Embrace it within your own business. Assist your employees own awareness. Invite representatives in from other organisations to share their stories as well.

Lastly, if you are like me and have become very passionate about the subject of Fair Trade and Impact Sourcing then start you own business supporting it directly! You see, I cannot over emphasise the amount of pride I have today in launching the Fair Trade Store, an ecommerce store supporting micro business startups around the globe.

Would the World miss it, if I had not launched the Fair Trade Store today? Probably not.

However, is it possible that the Fair Trade Store will make the World a little better for some in it? Most definitely!

The Fair Trade Store Launches

The Fair Trade Store Launches

The Fair Trade Group Announces The Launch Of Their Fair Trade eCommerce Platform…

The platform will be showcasing artisans from communities around the world and their handicrafts.

Supported by the e-commerce platform Shopify, the whole end-to-end supply chain is semi automated, resulting in minimal overheads. What this means for consumers are fair valued products to purchase and for the artisans, maximised revenues.

The e-commerce store is also supported by a community site – www.fairtradestore.info to provide information and insights on all facets of fair trade.

When the founder of The Fair Trade Group was asked why he established the portal, Dr Ross McKenzie said:

“I wanted to create a way to give back but at the same time draw upon my expertise in global technology and startup businesses – that way I can help more businesses”.

As in the case with all Fair Trade products, the money that is made by the artisans is channelled back to their local communities and families.

So whether you are in New York, Hong Kong, Perth or Paris, you have at your finger tips access to some of the most beautiful hand made gifts while knowing that the proceeds are going towards making the world a better and fair place.

The Fair Trade Store Tanzania

The Fair Trade Group is part of The Business Centre of Excellence Pty Ltd or which also owns The Startup Business and The Startup Business School. All enquires regarding The Fair Trade Group, or the Fair Trade Store should be referred to info@fairtradestore.com

Walk In Their Shoes – Or Discovering Your Customer “Avatars”

“You never really understand a person unless you consider things from his point of view until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” – Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

The Startup Business Strategy PeopleWho are your ideal customer avatars?

Not sure what I mean?

Well if we were in a crowded street with people of all backgrounds and from all walks of life, who would you point out and say “they would be my typical customers”?

In other words, what are the unique characteristics that make up your targeted customer groups? What are their ages, their professions, their likes and dislikes, their hopes and aspirations?

Still not sure?

Well let me explain why knowing your customer avatar is critical in this day and age.

To do this, we must understand that there are two types of marketing approaches…

  • Transactional
  • Relational

For transactional marketing, basically a customer purchases your goods and services for the exchange of something tangible – like money. It is one object being transferred to another party for the receipt of a different object, but perceived as equal value (well in economic terms each receiving party generally perceives that they are getting more value from the exchange – otherwise the transaction would not occur). The vision of both parties, is generally not beyond the initial transaction.

For relational marketing, the “customer” perceives additional value or intangible value, than just the object itself and the seller generally holds a view of maintaining that specific customer relationship for the longer term – hence the vision is way beyond just this first transaction.

Today, we are moving toward more relational marketing. Customers are more informed of product features and for many products (and services) they are becoming more commoditised – hence to compare on price alone, is no longer effective. One must consider the “complete package” or value proposition, that is on offer, but critically more so, the “value proposition” perceived by your customers.

Since the perception of value from intangible benefits will vary from person to person, it is therefore important for you to define specific customer groups or avatars, so that you can position your products and services more effectively.

Now I know a lot of this is marketing 101, but it is always good to go back to first principles to reinforce the importance of such concepts.

When you start defining the specific customer avatars that your products and services will then target, you are putting in place an intent to engage in a long term conversation. You are seeking to build rapport because you are now more intimately involved as you are coming from their side of the “transaction”. You understand their “pains and gains”, you are walking in their shoes.

Who Do You Want To Become When You Grow Up?

The Startup Business Strategy Positioning

“Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you” – H Jackson Brown Jr

I don’t know if you remember people asking you when you were a child, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”.

What did you say?

…an actor?

…a famous sports person?

…a doctor?

…a park ranger?

What about now, did you make it? I mean are you what you wanted to be as a child?

Does it matter at all now?

Well I am sure there are those who were very clear on what they wanted to be when they grew up and are doing that precisely. There is no doubt many others who for a variety of reasons, some good and some bad, have drifted away from that child’s vision.

I know I am certainly in that later group, in fact I did not really have much of a vision of who I wanted to “be” when I was a child.

However, I now realise and yes hindsight is very valuable, that the question asked of me as a child, still resonates – but it is a slightly different version.

You see the question we should really be asking ourselves is this…

“Who do you want to become when you grow up?”

In other words, what type of person, what do you believe in, who do you look up to and who looks up to you?

My view is that we only really grow up, once we know the answers to those questions.

Don’t get me wrong that I mean growing up is losing our “childlike” curiosity, amazement and creativity either… definitely not.

What I am referring to is it’s about a sense of knowing who we are and that others know who we are as well.

Marketers call this “positioning”, I just call it becoming clear and living that on a daily basis through our thoughts and actions – with no exceptions.

Another way to describe what I mean in one word is…





noun: integrity

  1. the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.

“a gentleman of complete integrity”

synonyms: honesty, uprightness, probity, rectitude, honour, honourableness, upstandingness, good character, principle(s), ethics, morals, righteousness, morality, nobility, high-mindedness, right-mindedness, noble-mindedness, virtue, decency, fairness, scrupulousness, sincerity, truthfulness, trustworthiness

“I never doubted his integrity”

  1. the state of being whole and undivided.

“upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty”

synonyms: unity, unification, wholeness, coherence, cohesion, undividedness, togetherness, solidarity, coalition

“internal racial unrest threatened the integrity of the federation”

Does this describe who you have become today?

Or is it possible that you are still on this same journey as myself in “becoming”?

Regardless, I have come to realise it is who we become as human beings, as people, as adults, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, politicians, teachers, volunteers, cleaners that is most important. Who we continue to look up to for inspiration and example and who now looks up to us.

When we “become”, integrity, in my opinion, should be the common thread that ties us together.

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