Let’s look at the story behind a simply metal. A metal you discard without a moment’s notice in your everyday life (emphasis is mine).
The Lesson of Aluminium
Gaius Plinius Cecilius Secundus, known as Pliny the Elder, was born in Italy in the year AD 23. He was a naval and army commander in the early Roman Empire, later an author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, best known for his Naturalis Historia, a thirty-seven-volume encyclopedia describing, well, everything there was to describe. His opus includes a book on cosmology, another on farming, a third on magic. It took him four volumes to cover world geography, nine for flora and fauna, and another nine for medicine. In one of his later volumes, Earth, book XXXV, Pliny tells the story of a goldsmith who brought an unusual dinner plate to the court of Emperor Tiberius.
The plate was a stunner, made from a new metal, very light, shiny, almost as bright as silver. The goldsmith claimed he’d extracted it from plain clay, using a secret technique, the formula known only to himself and the gods. Tiberius, though, was a little concerned. The emperor was one of Rome’s great generals, a warmonger who conquered most of what is now Europe and amassed a fortune of gold and silver along the way. He was also a financial expert who knew the value of his treasure would seriously decline if people suddenly had access to a shiny new metal rarer than gold. “Therefore,” recounts Pliny, “instead of giving the goldsmith the regard expected, he ordered him to be beheaded.”
This shiny new metal was aluminum, and that beheading marked its loss to the world for nearly two millennia. It next reappeared during the early 1800s but was still rare enough to be considered the most valuable metal in the world. Napoléon III himself threw a banquet for the king of Siam where the honored guests were given aluminum utensils, while the others had to make do with gold.
Aluminum’s rarity comes down to chemistry. Technically, behind oxygen and silicon, it’s the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, making up 8.3 percent of the weight of the world. Today it’s cheap, ubiquitous, and used with a throwaway mind-set, but—as Napoléon’s banquet demonstrates—this wasn’t always the case. Because of aluminum’s high affinity for oxygen, it never appears in nature as a pure metal. Instead it’s found tightly bound as oxides and silicates in a claylike material called bauxite.
While bauxite is 52 percent aluminum, separating out the pure metal ore was a complex and difficult task. But between 1825 and 1845, Hans Christian Oersted and Frederick Wohler discovered that heating anhydrous aluminum chloride with potassium amalgam and then distilling away the mercury left a residue of pure aluminum. In 1854 Henri Sainte-Claire Deville created the first commercial process for extraction, driving down the price by 90 percent. Yet the metal was still costly and in short supply.
It was the creation of a new breakthrough technology known as electrolysis, discovered independently and almost simultaneously in 1886 by American chemist Charles Martin Hall and Frenchman Paul Héroult, that changed everything. The Hall-Héroult process, as it is now known, uses electricity to liberate aluminum from bauxite. Suddenly everyone on the planet had access to ridiculous amounts of cheap, light, pliable metal.
Save the beheading, there’s nothing too unusual in this story. History’s littered with tales of once-rare resources made plentiful by innovation. The reason is pretty straightforward: scarcity is often contextual. Imagine a giant orange tree packed with fruit. If I pluck all the oranges from the lower branches, I am effectively out of accessible fruit. From my limited perspective, oranges are now scarce. But once someone invents a piece of technology called a ladder, I’ve suddenly got new reach. Problem solved. Technology is a resource-liberating mechanism. It can make the once scarce the now abundant.
If you’ve got entrepreneurial goals, this is the classic model that’s been drilled into our heads:
The founder has a vision of how to change the world. He partners with other co-founders and hires people who can execute on his vision. After 6 months of hustle, toil & sweat, which involved breaking the rules, and throwing so many off the wall ideas out there, you have a business. You’ve successfully launched an idea into a working vehicle to create wealth.
Now is the time for the business to grow, systems are put in place, more people get hired, and slowly this startup starts to look like a corporation, and the founder becomes bored as hell. But he has to stay on, because this is his baby. This is what he gave birth to the world, and he has to shepherd it to IPO.
Or does he?
I just saw this brief 2 minute video of Mark Suster & Fred Wilson (2 excellent VC’s) discussing this.
If your strengths as an entrepreneur are in the early stages, of executing upon an idea to make it into a business, and not in managing and growing (and the other tasks of a CEO) why stay on as a CEO?
Why not capitalise on your strengths, hire a CEO, and stay on the Board, and go start another baby. You’ll have a more impressive portfolio, get that sweet Serial Entrepreneur title, and create more wealth as a result.
Capitalise on your strengths, the market will reward you more.
Everyone knows that those who attain rare success have many things in common.
But one trait which they all share, which stirs the spirit, is their audacity.
In other words, the sheer balls they have to set their minds on something seemingly unattainable, and the hustle to get it.
Most stories on the internet will talk about some modern business or entrepreneur as a case study to inspire you.
But I want to get deeper than that. I want to go back in time.
I want to show you how the ancients did this.
Let’s Get Us A Navy
Let me set the scene:
It’s 261BC. Rome and Carthage are vying for dominion over Sicily in the 1st Punic War in order to protect their interests and sphere of influence. Rome has just recently conquered the Italian peninsula and fought off the Gauls. Her land army is second to none.
Carthage on the other hand was a nation of traders. Her strength lied in her navy.
In order to land troops on Sicily, both nations needed to ferry their troops by sea. However the Romans navy was non-existent as they had never needed one before. During the early parts of the war they hired ships from their neighbours to land their armies, but after a few disasters they saw that to attain victory in this war they would need to defeat the Carthaginian Navy.
So without any naval experience whatsoever, they set out to do this. To build a navy. As Polybius writes in The Rise of the Roman Empire (emphasis mine):
“But so long as the Carthaginians held unchallenged control of the sea, the issue of the war still hung in the balance…So when the Romans saw that the balance of advantage continually oscillated from one side to another for this reason…they were filled with the desire to take to sea and meet the Carthaginians there…
It was, therefore, because they saw that the war was dragging on that they first applied themselves to building ships – 100 quinqueremes and twenty triremes. They faced great difficulties because their shipwrights were completely inexperienced in the building of a quinquereme, since these vessels had never before been employed in Italy. Yet is is this fact which illustrates better than any other the extraordinary spirit and audacity of the Romans’ decision. It was not a question of having adequate resources for the enterprise, for they had none whatsoever, nor had they ever given a thought to the sea before this. But once they conceived the idea, they embarked on it so boldly that without to gain any experience in naval warfare they immediately engaged the Carthaginians, who had for generations enjoyed an unchallenged supremacy at sea.”
He then goes on to talk about just how the Romans found the knowledge to build ships despite the fact their engineers had no experience whatsoever in shipbuilding,
“One piece of evidence of their extraordinary daring…is this. When they first ventured to transport their forces to Messana, not only had they no decked ships, but no warships at all, not so much as a single galley. They merely borrowed penteconters and triremes from the Tarentines, the Locrians and the people of Elea and Neapolis, and ferried troops across at great risk. It was on this occasion that the Carthaginians sailed out to attack them as they were crossing the straits, and one of their decked ships, in their eagerness to overtake the transports, ventured too near the shore, ran aground, and fell into the hands of the Romans. It was this ship which they proceeded to use as a model, and they built their whole fleet according to its specifications;from which it is clear that but for this accident they would have been prevented from carrying out their programme for sheer lack of the necessary knowledge.”
Did you see that?
First they set their minds to building a navy, despite their lack of experience and knowledge in the endeavour. Then when the opportunity presented itself, they seized it. They captured the ship, and used it as a template for their future navy.
The results of which that when the Romans set out to battle Carthage over the sea for the first time, the Carthaginians were surprised and the Romans novel ships and tactics won the day.
Proof that being audacious isn’t just a modern day cliché. It’s a necessity for achievement.
Through the dying hazes of the alcohol permeating my brain I was once again struck by this passage on the nature of scarcity:
Even in a world without oil, Masdar is still bathed in sunlight. A lot of sunlight. The amount of solar energy that hits our atmosphere has been well established at 174 petwatts (1.740 x 10^17 watts), plus or minus 3.5 percent. Out of this total solar flux, approximately half reaches the Earth’s surface. Since humanity currently consumes about 16 terrawatts annually (going by 2008 numbers), there’s over five thousand times more solar energy falling on the planets surface than we use in a year. Once again, it’s not an issue of scarcity it’s an issue of accessibility.
Moreover, as far as water wars are concerned, Masdar sits on the Persian Gulf – which is a mighty aqueous body. The Earth itself is a water planet, covered 70 percent by oceans. But these oceans, like the Persian Gulf, are far too salty for consumption or crop production. In fact, 97.3 percent of all water on this planet is salt water. What if, though, in the same way that electrolysis easily transformed bauxite into aluminium, a new technology could desalinate just a minute fraction of our oceans? How thirsty is Masdar then?
The point is this: When seen through the lens of technology, few resources are truly scarce; they’re mainly inaccessible. Yet the threat of scarcity still dominates our worldview.
Apart from the obvious TECHNOLOGY F**K YEAH, exclamation that invokes, Peter and Steven are right. Energy and water scarcity are the two biggest resource worries at the present. But we have that stuff in abundance: The sun and the oceans. All we need to do is liberate them, just as our ancestors liberated fruit from tall trees with sticks. It’s not a nature of running out of resources, it’s a nature of making them accessible.
There are asteroids out there in the asteroid belt full of platinum and rare earth metals.
Sometimes when reading we try and find answers, a clue to the internal monologue that will push us to the ideal character or the ideal action that will get us what we want.
But we have to remember that we can simply act to become the ideal character or act to take the ideal action that will get us what we want. The key is that we have to do it for our own internal validation, not external validation.
Which brings us full circle, what is the nature of our internal validation, and how do we fulfill it?
Once in a while a book comes along which ties up a-lot of unanswered questions you’ve been thinking about.
Ryan Holiday’s new book has been just that for me.
If you don’t know Ryan Holiday is the Director of Marketing for American Apparel, and has done work for authors including Tucker Max and Tim Ferriss. He wrote the bestseller Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, where he outlines how he got free national press for his clients.
In his new book Ryan goes about explaining from his experience why traditional marketing is dead, even in his current capacity as Director of Marketing for American Apparel, and what is here to replace it: Growth Hacking.
He then goes on to explain what Growth Hacking is, and how it’s done.
He cites examples from Dropbox to Hotmail, to his personal experience of launching Tim Ferris’s 4 Hour Chef.
The last story is worth the £1.99 in its own right. The 4 Hour Chef was banned from all boycotted by bookstores nationwide. In 60 days, Ryan using Growth Hacking principles was able to make the book an astounding success on launch, making it on the New York’s Bestseller’s list and being No 1 on the Wall Street Journal’s Bestseller’s List.
Why else is this book awesome?
It’s short. It took me 40 minutes to read.
It’s cheap, Ryan specifically requested Penguin Publishers to price it at the $2.99 price range (£1.99 in the UK).
It’s awesome. Ryan “gets it”. As someone who just wasted 6 weeks of his life doing a marketing internship at a start-up, the 1st lesson of the book strikes home for me. The first stage of Growth Hacking is building a remarkable product (an echo of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow).
I also wanted to get my intrapreneurial muscles ready so I read Seth Godin’s Lynchpin. (Yes I am a reading junkie).
One lesson I took away is that Everything You Do Is Marketing.
Before we begin let’s define what marketing is. In my humble opinion marketing is the activity of getting people who don’t know about you to know about you. Converting them into users or customers is the job of selling.
So if we define marketing as letting people know about us, there are a few ways to do this.
We can put up a billboard with a sexy gorgeous woman, with our logo and what we do. This interrupts drivers and passengers and let’s them know about us. This is akin to the kid who screams in the playground about how awesome he is, so that he can make friends.
You don’t want to be that kid. Not in this day and age.
We can buy adverts on Facebook or Google, which comes up on the side of people who we define as really interested in what we do (otherwise called a demographic or a target market. I’m trying to keep this simple ya hear?), they can click through and find out more about us.
This is good. We are reaching people who have a possibility of being interested. The adverts aren’t that interrupting but can be a slight nuisance.
But they’re two problems. If we’re not awesome, or aren’t interesting enough they’ll click away. So we have to be awesome, which we’ll come to later.
Also adverts cost. And they don’t scale linearly. There are better methods which if done right, cost less and have a far higher return. Ads are good to validate your ideas, or for testing. But not as a re-usable channel to get customers. Because at the end of the day an advert is an advert. People trust people more than adverts.
Which brings us to our final option. Get people to talk about you. Yes. It’s common sense. But it’s hard work you say?
It’s not hard work, you just have to take a risk. You get people to talk about you by….
DOING AWESOME SHIT.
Not PR stunts. But being awesome. I’m going to say this again: Everything You Do Is Marketing.
The packaging of your product, the wording of your email, the phone call between your intern and your customer, the copy of your website, the design of your website. Any single time you are interacting with a customer is a time to do something so awesome that all they want to do is share it with people.
Now they’re the cliché methods of Facebook competitions and SEO (both valid techniques by the way), but they’re kinda boring. Let’s focus on off the beaten path techniques.
Alright alright, Virgin are already a recognised brand, so it doesn’t count. Or does it?
Most companies with the success and established brand of Virgin would get boring, and just lie in the fact they’re now an established name in the public. They would stop being awesome.
Apart from Sears went bust, Lehman Brothers tanked, Blockbusters died, and several book chains have filed for chapter 11.
Being incumbent is never good.
I was browsing Facebook when I came across this in my news feed:
But…do you see what they did?
They just injected a bit of their personality into the copy on a toilet lid.
How much do you think that costs?
All you need is a culture which allows itself to take the risk of just being human.
And it resulted in an unsolicited share on Facebook. If I hadn’t had known who Virgin were or if this was some other train company, I would be intrigued. I find this sort of thing funny and I would have Google’d their name to find out more about the company.
From a simply piece of writing on a toilet seat, they would have converted someone who didn’t know about them into knowing about them.
I remember when I re-installed dropbox on my computer, I came onto their installation comic. I found this pane hilarious:
I found it so funny I posted it up on tumblr, and told all my flatmates about it. Now they were students so they already knew about Dropbox, but if someone else had been in the house and they didn’t know who Dropbox were they would have asked a simple question.
*Giggle* “Who’s dropbox?”
As a loyal customer I would then have evangelised and tried to sell Dropbox to this customer. That’s the power of having a True Fan.
Do you see what I’m getting at? Do you see what I mean by Everything You Do Is Marketing? Do you understand why you have to take a risk on having some personality in your product? Why would I want to talk about a generic startup, company or brand that focuses on x to my friends? What’s the story behind it?
Let’s look at one more example…
Facebook Superhero Competition.
We all know about Facebook competitions. We all know about the blatant social sharing behaviour they’re trying to exploit. But Vermont’s Barre Army Navy decided to go a bit further in their competition. They made a buzz about their buzzing competition.
There were a certain number of entry slots available, and it was on a first-come, first-served basis. Contestants entered by posting their “superhero name” and abilities to the page’s wall. Entrants were then pitted one-on-one against each other in a series of ten minute heats. During each heat, the entrant who got the highest number of “likes” on their status moved on to the next round. The catch here was that only people who are fans of the page can like the updates.
Of course, what this did was inspire entrants to get their friends to like the page and then like the status update for their entry. The contest ran over a few days, with the final heat running twenty minutes. The prize was some camouflage netting, something that normally costs over $100.
A number of factors came together to make this contest a success:
It was something different. Many companies run simple sweepstakes or contests where the first to answer a question correctly gets a small prize, but this was intense and much more of a game.
It got people involved. Entrants needed votes, so they recruited their friends.
It was active. This wasn’t just a contest where you submitted an entry form and waited. You actually had to do something to have any chance of winning.
It gave away a valuable prize. Nobody’s going to put that much effort into it for a $10 prize.
It was drawn out. The fact that the contest ran over multiple days offered more opportunities for people to get involved with the contest and recruit others.
It was fun. This might be the most important point here. The contest was not only fun, but it got downright hilarious at times.
In exchange for roughly $100 worth of product and a few days time, this page gained hundreds of new fans. That means all those new fans are now getting the updates they post every day. Most people won’t bother un-liking a page after they’ve gone to the trouble to like it, unless you do something they perceive as very negative (like clog up their news feed or spam them).
They just focused on doing an awesome Facebook competition and BOOM! Everybody is talking about them. People who didn’t know about them, now knew about them. And that my friends is what we defined marketing as earlier.
In conclusion, the point I’m trying to make is you have to inject personality if you want to survive. This awesome post by Fake Grimlock summarises it effectively. You do not pet a rock. You pet a dog. Why? Because the dog has personality.
So do I swallow my own medicine you ask? Well I try when I can. When I entered TaskPandas on my 3rd day I changed the welcome email to new Pandas (people who sign up to our site to complete tasks that customers post) from this
Thank-you for joining and welcome to the TaskPandas community!
We have now activated your account. So login using
your email address and the password you chose at registration and start
posting your tasks today.
To increase your chances of winning your first task we strongly suggest
you upload a profile picture - this will give customers more confidence
when looking at your bids.
We also need you to go through our guidebook containing our marketplace
rules. To view the TaskPandas Guidebook click here:
Please let me know if you have any questions, and happy bidding!
You have been personally approved by our quiet team of meditative Panda monks in Tibet.
By fast carrier pidgeon they have given us the following haiku to pass on to you:
To login gently
Email and password you wrote
To be used today
We’re not great at haiku’s but we do kindly ask that you click “Login” in the top right hand corner and login using the email address and password you registered with here:
If you have any questions, please personally get in touch.
David @ TaskPandas Support
PS If this doesn’t make sense, please email me. Your emails are awesome.
I got told it was too intense, and they’re possibly right. So I dialled back to this:
Yaaay! You’ve been approved!
Here in our office we donned our Panda costumes and celebrated this glorious event.
So… who are TaskPandas?
Here at TaskPandas we find awesome gigs and oddjobs in your local area that you can help out with. We follow up every job just to make sure everything runs along smoothly. We protect our Pandas.
I’m afraid we’re going to have to ask for a favour though.
(But it’ll be real quick I promise!)
First it would be awesome to quickly glance through our guidebook. It’s written for your benefit as we’ll like to foster a community which has awesome people like you: http://www.taskpandas.com/guidebook/TaskPandasGuide.pdf
Finally we would like to ask you to upload a profile photo to your page. We’ve found it helps you win more tasks, as customers trust a human face versus a grey avatar.
David @ TaskPandas Support
Inject some personality into your startup in everything you do. As Alfred says to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. “Who knows, Master Wayne? You start pretending to have fun, you might even have a little by accident.”
It’s something that’s recommended in the book. From the 80 or so pages I’ve burned through the book, I gather it’s a tool allowing newbie drawers to project 3 dimensional scenes onto a 2 dimensional plane.
The exact resources:
You will need a piece of clear plastic, about 8″ x 10″ and about 1/16″ thick. A piece of glass is fine, but the edges must be taped. Use a permanent marker to draw two crosshairs on the plastic, a horizontal line and a vertical line…..
The internet being the glorious treasure trove it was, I thought to do a quick google search to see if anyone was selling aforementioned plastic drawing viewfinders.
Google promptly told me in it’s own way… No. (seriously search for it… if there were enough people learning drawing from this book, that’s a small business opportuity)
I checked out clear Perspex on Ebay. That shit’s expensive.
In the limited amount of time I wandered where I was going to find a piece of clear plastic. With my limited budget, and more importantly my limited time, I realised I was going to have to get creative … fast.
So ladies and gentlemen I present how to make a plastic viewfinder for less than £2.
Go to your nearest large store, whether it’s Tesco’s, WHSmith, Home Depot etc. The key is it’s gotta be a large store.
Now here’s the hunting part. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to find any object which has a clear plastic component that is flat and larger than an A4 piece of paper. Look for anything. I initially considered Tupperware covers, but then found this teacher’s certificate box:
With your discovered piece of plastic, using a ruler measure out an 8″ x 10″ rectangle to cut.
Next find a piece of cardboard. Any will do as long as you can make a section larger than an A4 piece of paper. Now measure out a 8″ x 10″ rectangle. Then a 6″ x 7 5/8″ rectangle inside that. Stick a scissors in the middle like you did in primary school and cut out that tough son of a bitch.
Tape the cut out cardboard frame and stick it to your plastic with some tape
Finally find a permanent marker and draw crosshairs in the middle of the pane. Like you find in old fashioned windows.
Voila, you have a plastic drawing viewfinder! And for less than a cup of coffee.