Home internet

Now that working from home is something more obtainable, the last thing on the minds of most people is the internet connection or until that all important Zoom call drops in and out because of the kids watching Netflix movies in 4k while downloading an Xbox update.

Compared with that extra fast connection you have been accustomed to in the office, our home internet speeds are probably sluggish and our Wi-Fi connections may be spotty.

So now is a good time to assess and it’s fairly simple.

At the writing of this document, I’d recommend at least 20Mbps per person in the house. So for 4 people, then around 100Mbps. Remember, this is the connection capability speed and not your download limit. For that, and if you can afford it, go for an unlimited download plan – it will save you the headaches in the long run.

If you are having issues still, then here are some good tips to optimise your home or apartment internet set-up.

And finally, if you are stuck, then drop a comment below.

Remoteness isn’t so remote now

As the humble city office that was once bustling with a hive of activity now becomes a distant memory. Or dare I say, the coffee catch up has now been pushed aside for something not so personal. The new beginning has arrived.

Allow me to indulge and replay a little history. The knowledge worker is nothing new – it’s just a little more pronounced than before thanks mostly to technology. We’ve been fussing over words, numbers and concepts for as long as we’ve been around. Once work became more mainstream and took on the physical side, this is when it had a more serious undertaking which leads us down the path to what we now know as the office – the physical place where we came together. Centralisation of business processes was born. The modern-day office had arrived. 

Cities evolved into places that housed these mega structures in which the office and its workers congregated on mass. No doubt that the ambition was to continue to propel us forward however the supporting infrastructure didn’t support it. For example, a person’s commute became a huge burden. Could working from home be the antidote to this? Could the worker be as productive? Could the worker perform better? I believe that the answer isn’t in what you do or where you are, it is in the fundamental habits, tooling and experience of the worker.

Work is something you do rather than a place you go

We only need to look at the next generation of businesses. They are in every sector, however rarely occupying a flashy address in the heart of the city. It’s those that have harnessed this mindset, which they call work. Their fundamental grounding has always been distributed – to work from anywhere. Companies like WordPress and Zapier are all great examples of working without the confines of an office. The old mentality has taken a beating and now people are free to explore their true potential as they aren’t restricted. The flexibility of work environments has now become a reality for everyone. 

The new headline reads some Twitter employees will never return to their office. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey emailed employees telling them that they’d be allowed to work from home permanently, even after the coronavirus pandemic lockdown passes. Some jobs that require physical presence, such as maintaining servers, will still require employees to come in. This was a week after Facebook and Google said they’d allow most of their employees to work from home through the end of this year.

But you shouldn’t be left feeling that only these new-age tech companies are doing it. Our tooling, for the most part, is a simple one to solve. Be it a design team wanting to share ideas or an easier way to communicate face to face it’s never been easier to click your mouse or tap on your screen to get things started. As Marc Andreessen once said back in 2011, software is eating the world. And for the most part, he’s correct. We can now do just about anything from our laptops, phones or tablets without the need for an office. 

The sheer fact that we have all been working apart, we are now living the new beginning. This brings a great opportunity should you embrace it. You may look at this as the outside has decided for you but now it’s your turn to decide when the change happens.

What’s going to be newsworthy at the end of the year is not companies saying they’re embracing a distributed workforce, but those that aren’t. Those who thought this couldn’t work have been forced by the pandemic to do it anyway, and they’ve now seen that it’s possible.

Has this posed more questions than answers? If so, then my free Modern Remote Work guide my assist.

Have we stopped moving?

For a long time, I have enjoyed the intersection of technology and sport – and there’s plenty of numbers involved there as well. And while I don’t see myself as any real athlete, numbers have provided me a with constant reminder that I’m not even close to professional triathletes like Terenzo or Aaron.

A few weeks ago I found some hard-hitting data to support the start of what I was wanting to depict in this article – thanks Garmin. Then tonight, I saw a post by Chris Kerr about what your training routine looks like during this time which spurred me on to finish this.

The question was;

What has happened to human activity while in lockdown?

While the lockdown has been a unanimous global effort, human movement has slowed for some while others it may have increased. With the metrics of millions of Garmin wearable devices, it provides an understanding of the impact of the pandemic on people’s active lifestyles. We’re observing a remarkable shift in the types of activities people are doing, reflecting an unprecedented about-face when it comes to typical exercise and activity.

The above shows how the change happened and it would seem nearly overnight. Everyone who had a bike and was riding outdoors moved indoors and remained there for some time. Given this incredible growth, platforms like Zwift and TrainerRoad saw a lot of this.

If we look at virtual running (performed on a treadmill by linking your smartwatch to an outside app such as Zwift) we see a steep increase in the second half of March. And despite gym closures, overall indoor cardio is holding strong over 2019 levels and showing an 18% week-over-week increase from 16th March to 30th March. This all seems to suggest one thing:

More people are exercising. And they’re finding new ways to do it from home, with and without their own equipment.

Coming back to indoor cycling for a moment, I’m very fortunate that I have spent a lot of time (and money) on fitting out my cycling area in the garage (thankfully I did it before lockdown as they are now rare as hen’s teeth).

Given that the data suggests people are moving more now than ever, I really hope it continues to grow and that everyone moves. And besides, it’s bloody good for you.

Is Change The New Black?

I took on the little challenge a few weeks ago to pen a piece that spoke to how things had changed for me on a personal level, be it my little microcosm of life, and where I thought the real gold was – by the way, I’m panning for more as the days roll on.

I’m acutely aware of the amount of content flying around and the words that have been used of which I’m trying desperately not to invoke, those that spell out the captain obvious of things. So, this time I wanted to share some of my observations that I have encountered throughout the last few weeks, from industry thought-leaders, IT leaders to business owners.

There’s been plenty of organisations that are now facing their biggest challenge, some may say that they have already closed the doors and will never return. Some businesses have pivoted to an area which may have never been considered before. One that is front of mind, and no I’m not drinking one at this moment, is Four Pillars Gin, who is now making hand sanitiser. Who would have thought only a few weeks ago Matt Jones and the team would be doing such a thing?

Looking a little deeper, I asked several people for their views on the changes. There was an overriding consensus that many had to rethink their drive, motivation, success along with the connection to clients (either external or internal). Was there a slight pivot in the workings? Some said that it was this time that they found solace in the fact that change was here and they better grab it with both hands. Some also mentioned that they picked up the phone and called every single client and reassured them that they were ok and that they would assist them wherever and whenever.

Interestingly, Jennifer Christie who is head of Twitter’s HR said

We’ll never probably be the same. People who were reticent to work remotely will find that they really thrive that way. Managers who didn’t think they could manage teams that were remote will have a different perspective. I do think we won’t go back.

Adding to this, several key technology people can attest to receiving a call from a C-level executive to respond with technology solutions – those platforms that haven’t been ratified or tested – need to be ready within days. Or instead of having just a few offices, all employee’s homes were now a branch office – oh the complexities. The change has been swift and there’s never been a time like this that we’ve had to reassemble teams remotely for such a prolonged period of time. This is uncharted territory for so many.

Which brings me to my final point of employee engagement, from individuals to small teams and the broader workforce, which PwC has summed it up well.

Engaging with your workforce is no longer about parroting company policies or delivering a new update. It becomes a strategic and critical practice that can boost flagging morale and inspire confidence.

As I’m entering the 5th week of #stayhome, I’ve been fortunate to observe many businesses, including the one I work in, and others from a distance.

The overriding themes that I’m watching play out, and seem to be working right now, are when leaders provide clarity, with purpose, and have fostered a community of collaboration. Sure, this may sound like it’s business as usual, however, when they have purposefully gone about this, I’ve witnessed strength and cohesion unlike before.

Life, lemons, isolation and opportunity?

The world as I saw it a few weeks ago has certainly changed and has provided me with an interesting lens in which to look through it – more on that another time though.

It’s Monday morning here and I’m starting my working week. But before I really get immersed, I started jotting down some of my key takeaways from the last few weeks – so here goes.

Family first: by no means has this really changed from before, and I know my circumstance will be different from others, however, consider the current environment, this has been even more front and centre. My life-long wife/partner/friend has been through everything mankind could throw at here and is at higher risk than most should COVID-19 be contracted. Then add my father, who is currently in hospital, the situation has led to limited visiting hours, and that he is also in a higher-risk category.

While these may seem impairments, for me, this actually means slowing down a little and being there for them more than ever. I hope it’s a win-win. 

Technology: From a very young age I’ve been fascinated with technology which at times has given me heartaches and other times my world seems to have opened up even more – and I’ve met some amazing people through it as well. Work has obviously been very disrupted and for the foreseeable short-term. However, the team have really embraced some of the tools that we have had, for some time might I add, and are making great use of them – things like video calls all the time (that’s probably me doing that), to just saying “hi, how are you?” These connections, while a little distant, are still handled with the same care and smiles.

The unfolding crisis: Situations like this gives everyone the ability to take action. I’m a firm believer that this will define many of us and create amazing new leaders within our business and beyond. It’s time to rethink the norm, to rethink what is possible, to rethink a new path. There’s plenty of negative attitudes around and it’s best to pause and look to ways to innovate – which will lead to greater value.

As an example, we are discussing ways of building upon our current solutions in ways not discussed before by using our digital whiteboard sessions to find ways to unlock our potential – to move the needle.

Personal reassessment: This may sound a little bold however I’m getting back around 2 hours per day as I’m not commuting into the city each day which has given me a lot of extra breathing time. So the question is, “What am I doing with that extra time now?” So far, not a lot.

Before you think too much about that, this is actually where this whole piece started from – I have some extra time – let’s write something. Unpacking this a little more, I’ll be using this extra time to just listen and breathe. Listen to something – it might be a podcast, a YouTube video series or just music. Breathe, the power of just doing that in a controlled and mindful way is amazing. Additionally, I will be adding some extra items to my reading list.

Interview: First Off The Bike – Part 2

Who the hell is Shawn Smith? It turns out that he’s the man behind the men responsible for some of the best triathlon racing in the country over the last year. Shawn manages Tim Van Berkel, arguably Australia’s best 8-hour racer and Aaron Royle, Olympic hopeful and ITU’s rising star. Shawn isn’t your stereotypical athlete manager for one thing, he’s in it for the love, not the money and that gives him a unique perspective on the sport, on management and on professional triathletes.

In Part I of our interview, Shawn talked about developing an athlete/sponsor relationship, constructing an effective rating system for triathletes and why a good manager needs to have a personal connection with their client. In Part II, we get the inside story on maximising social media impact, how an athlete can develop their brand and why scampering after races is a bad idea.

FOTB: Welcome back, Shawn! Although managing triathletes isn’t your full-time gig, I understand that you’re no stranger to the pressures of high-level racing?

Shawn: True! The competition can get pretty intense at the Footscray Cycling Club and I can only describe the atmosphere in the D Grade Criteriums as ‘cut-throat’! Seriously though, as a youngster I had a degree of sporting success which did give me some insight into what it means to compete at a high level the potential highs and lows that athletes face, the pressure and the sheer hard work that it takes to excel in any area of life. I like to think that I’ve taken that desire to win and the serious work ethic that it demands into my business life.

FOTB: Last time we spoke you talked about the importance of athletes running their brand like a business. You said that they really needed to get their head around social media. This is an area that you’ve been developing with both Berks and Aaron. What advice would you give to athletes wanting to expand their profile on social media?

Shawn: Let me begin with a word of warning when it comes to social media, remember that your livelihood, certainly as far as sponsors go, is actually based on two things your performance and your behaviour. It’s a small industry and people talk, so it only takes one dodgy tweet to make sponsors run a mile. Always assume your sponsors will see everything you post on social media, so be aware of what you’re putting out there. This is Social Media Etiquette 101 it’s good advice for everyone, not just athletes. Assume your boss or a potential employer is going to be checking out your social media stuff and post accordingly.

While we’re talking social media, how can athletes maximise their impact online?
I visit a lot of athletes’ websites, and the first thing I notice is that usually they turn their comments off. Secondly, if they have their comments on, they don’t bring their comments from different social media platforms all into one space, so they’re always there. It’s about creating a conversation with your audience. Let me give you an example…

It’s no secret that Berks had a disappointing outing at Kona this year. It would have been easier for him to just brush it under the carpet, but he chose to be honest about it online, didn’t make excuses and talked about why it was so important to him to actually finish the race when he could have just pulled out. The fascinating thing was the comments he got back on Facebook and on the website were really positive which was good for Tim and good for his brand. And sponsors notice this stuff!

If we take it back to absolute basics:

  • Have a Twitter account that’s yours and that’s specific to what you’re about.
  • Be a little tongue-in-cheek if required in your bio, but make it real.
  • Be acutely aware of what you’re posting and tweet often, but not too often.

Once a week is not often enough!

  • On Facebook you should have a fan page, not just your own personal one.
  • Lock that personal one down, so if you want to post some inappropriate stuff dancing on the table at Aunty Gertrude’s 90th, that’s where it ends.

The bottom line is gone are the days when you could get away with doing nothing. Everyone’s lifting the bar and if you’re not doing some of it, or most of it, you’re going to be swept away.

FOTB: This is totally separate to actual race results. This is the other side of professional sport.
Shawn: Exactly! As a manager, I’m constantly thinking about how to help Aaron and Berks perform better in this area. Doing things differently that’s important. We’re constantly trying new strategies.

How do the boys stay relevant and connected with their readership?
I think the key is to make sure that they are giving something back. If you look at Tim’s site he’s got useful info about nutrition, going aero, core strength it’s not just race reports. We’re thinking, “What will age-groupers appreciate? What’s going to help them?” We’re not
just keeping people informed we want them to feel connected and appreciated.

So again, just a few basics have a website a good website, make sure it’s updated regularly, give your readers some insights into who you are, what you’re doing and how that connects back to their lives. This stuff isn’t rocket science, but I don’t see a lot of it happening out there.

FOTB: Both Aaron and Berks have big years ahead. They’re both at the top of their game what’s your plan for their futures?
Shawn: Obviously I can’t control Tim and Aaron’s performance as a manager I’m there to give them all the assistance I can, but both of them have extremely accomplished coaches in Jamie Turner and Dan Plews. That’s not my area of expertise. So I’m constantly thinking, what are the things I want to do with them from a management point of view this year?

The first thing is to get them in front of more eyeballs expand their readership. The second is to expand their brand into other regions, geographically Asia Pacific, Europe. Now obviously the sponsors love that, but it’s really for Berks and Aaron to expand their own brands.

While they’re on the natural high of performance you need to capture that when you’re succeeding people want to know who you are and read about that and really immerse themselves in the brand. For example, Aaron is heading into an Olympic year, so we’ve really got to take hold of that and run with it.

It’s all about engagement with your audience. I think both of them are doing a pretty good job with that, but there’s always more that can be done. Personality is at the heart of it too people want to connect with a real person. Both my guys are very different in that regard. But here’s the thing everyone has a story. The trick, and this also relates to life after triathlon, is being able to tell your story in such a profound way that it connects with and has an impact on the audience.

I watched Aaron do this recently. I invited him to come and talk to a bunch of execs at work. He didn’t just lob up there thinking, “I’ll just have a chat with these guys.” He prepared for it like he was preparing for a race- he really went the extra mile. On the day, the response was fantastic it really resonated with the audience. Sure, there’s an element of ‘This guy’s just an exceptional athlete so I want to listen to him’, but what really connected were the similarities Aaron was able to pull out of his story and apply to the corporate world.

FOTB: When you’re thinking about the future, you’ve also got to be talking about what happens when these guys stop racing. Is that part of the plan?
Shawn: That’s an important part of my job making sure the boys think about life after triathlon. Aaron has a bit of a passion to do speaking and some coaching. Berks… I don’t think he has any clue about the future yet! But I’ve instilled into both of them the idea that they need to start thinking about this stuff. It’s just baby steps at the moment.

I think this connects back into the question of what does their business look like? For example, by this time next year I would hope that both Aaron and Berks have done two or three sit-down sessions with their sponsors, where they’ve been able to add value to those companies. You know, they’ve spent a day with them and their staff  and had the opportunity to give back in that way.

Some athletes find this easy, some don’t. Like everything you’ve got to start small with this stuff. You don’t start a public speaking career in the big league you start with low-key gigs and work upwards. It’s just like sport you start with the little races, you train, you build up proficiency and you move up through the ranks. Part of it is finding your unique story and what is going to resonate with your audience that’s the place to begin.

FOTB: You’ve stressed the importance of planning for the future. What advice would you give to athletes about this?
Shawn: There are too many athletes, especially in the Ironman space, who just go chasing races. They think “I can get a couple of thousand dollars for this race… and I’m getting free accommodation and flights and I might even get paid some dollars to turn up.”

If that’s what you’re doing, my advice to you is “Don’t be silly! Stop what you’re doing. Sit down, take a couple of deep breaths, pour yourself a vodka and look over the sheets at the races coming up in the year and plan them!”

There’s no point in just randomly chasing races on the basis that you might get some money out of it. It does nothing for anyone. I’ve seen it time and time again. These guys just burn themselves out and they have nothing left. Before they know it, the year’s finished and they’re trying to back it up the following year and they’re looking around going, “What have I done? I didn’t accumulate enough points, I can’t go to the World Championships.” They’re just scampering. I’m not saying put all your eggs in one basket. But plan for it as best as you can. I know things change… you might get sick, but that’s my tip plan the thing as best you can.

FOTB:  In terms of doing that, what are the priorities, what are the criteria that you should be taking into account? Let’s say you’ve got an athlete sitting down to look at 2016, what would you say to them?
Shawn: You have to accumulate points to go to the World Championships or be ranked so;

Step One

Look for your big races. Ultimately, most athletes want to go to the big races, they want to compete on the biggest stage and see how they perform that’s what drives them to continue to do what they’re doing. So plan those big races ahead of time.

Step Two

If you can, do as little traveling as possible. Travel is stressful. The ITU and WTS are a little bit different. Aaron falls under Triathlon Australia’s care so he has access to a whole team and the support that comes with that. Ironman athletes don’t really have that. Berks doesn’t have that luxury where he’s got people around him to travel with him. He’s really got to be quite strict in what he does. I think he’s done that much better in 2015. Tim’s learned from some of his mistakes and worked out that less is more. It’s a bit different for Aaron with the shorter stuff you can pack in a bit more.

Step Three

Work out what your sponsorship obligations are and make sure those contracts are adhered to as well. In the end, there’s no magic formula around this stuff, but my advice is plan and be sensible and realistic about the way you use your time and energy. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have a good manager to help you along the way!

Interview: First Off The Bike – Part 1

Who the hell is Shawn Smith? He works for a large Aussie telecommunications company. He doesn’t have a background in triathlon. On the weekend you might find him racing criterium at the Footscray Cycling Club in Melbourne’s West.

So, why on earth is FOTB talking to Shawn Smith? Good question!

What you may not know is that Shawn currently manages two of Australia’s top Australian male triathletes Tim Van Berkel and Aaron Royle. In this two-part interview FOTB gives you the inside scoop on sports management as we hear Shawn’s unique perspective on what makes a good manager, dealing with sponsors, how to maximise social media impact and why it’s always good to think twice before you tweet.

FOTB: Welcome Shawn! Thanks for spending some time with us.
Shawn: My pleasure!

FOTB: Managing triathletes isn’t your full-time gig, so what do you do in ‘real life’ to pay the bills and how does that balance with managing Aaron and Tim?
Shawn: I have a full-time job working in the telecommunications/IT/technology space. It has its own challenges and obviously, that can complicate things a little when it comes to also managing athletes. For instance, it makes it hard to talk to Berks and Aaron during the day. As far as balancing things goes, for me, the number one thing is that whatever pays the bills, whatever is my full-time gig that should take precedence… and it always does.

FOTB: So, do the boys get enough of your attention?
Shawn: Of course! It’s about utilising my time very appropriately when required. Which is why, when I’m approached by other people to consider taking on other athletes to manage, I politely say ’No!’. For Tim and Aaron, this is their income that I am influencing and if I’m not 100% on board with it, they will suffer. And I couldn’t live with myself if that was the case.

FOTB: What qualifies you to be a sports manager?
Shawn: Absolutely nothing! I don’t have a degree in sports management, I didn’t sit around with a bunch of athlete management teams or be involved in them. I guess I’m taking a very different approach to management. Probably the biggest difference is that I’m able to take the financial motivator out of the equation for me it’s not about the money. My approach is that it’s more of a relationship with Aaron that’s still embryonic, but with Berks that’s been over a very, very long course of time.

And when I say I have no qualification to manage, that’s not quite true. I think I bring something valuable to the table more of a business-structured head around things. A key part of management is removing the complexities or removing the heartache that these guys go through when negotiating their own contracts.

As a manager I’m blessed I mean Tim and Aaron are very, very good at what they do. I’ve got the sub-2 hour guy, best in the country, top 10 in the world. I’ve got the best 8-hour racer, best in the country and top 10 in the world. They’re really good at getting the best out of their bodies and their minds. They know how to prepare themselves. So when it comes to the sponsorship negotiation stuff this becomes a secondary or tertiary thing for them. And they only go through the cycle once a year or every second year with sponsors. So for them it’s a real challenge they have to gear up and work out how to do this and get involved with the sponsor again. It’s quite taxing on them, especially when it’s normally at the end of their calendar year, which is their downtime and they’re trying to plan for other things. That’s where a good manager comes in.

FOTB: You can be the ‘bad guy’ who does the tough negotiating?
Shawn: Like any manager I sit ‘in-between’ and yes, I’m able to be the ‘bad guy’ who pushes quite hard to get a result for the athlete, whereas the athletes would certainly feel uncomfortable trying to sit there and negotiate their own contracts. I think for Tim and Aaron it gives them confidence because I bring some level-headedness around the contractual stuff the legal complications they could possibly have. There’s also what I call the ‘posturing’ of the deal at some point in time you need to get to a level playing field and I do this day in and day out in my full-time job. So, if there’s a deal to be had, I’m confident that we’ll get an outcome that’s palatable for both sides. I’m quite accustomed to having tough conversations with people too. Whether I’m talking to a start-up or a business that turns over several million dollars, it’s not just sitting around drinking tea and eating scones. I’m not afraid to take the hard-ass approach when required. I prefer not to play hardball, but sometimes you have to.

FOTB: You said you’re not in it for the money, so what do you get out of it?
Shawn: I’m heavily invested in this because I have an emotional connection to the two guys. I’m sure many other athlete managers have the same thing they’re kind of like your two kids! But, I have to say, if you had a stable of 20-30 athletes and there were 5 or 6 people running the business, I don’t think you could have an emotional investment in all of them. And therefore, in my opinion, I don’t think you could ever get the right result.

FOTB: That’s a big call! I can hear managers out there sharpening their knives! Isn’t the danger that you get too emotionally involved? Doesn’t that make you less professional and objective?
Shawn: If you take the emotional connection out of the equation, the real danger is it just becomes a by-product or a transaction. I guess I find it hard to see how with a big group of athletes, they wouldn’t simply become ‘assets’ there for the manager’s well-being, their own material gain. Don’t get me wrong, I know the services that managers bring to the table looking after those areas that the athlete just doesn’t understand or have the time or the expertise to deal with. I want to be clear that this is just my opinion, based on my own experience and what I’ve seen in the sport I’m not saying having a stable of athletes is the wrong thing to do.

But, when it comes to something like contract negotiation, I think that personal connection is important. It gives the athletes more comfort when they know that you’re not just batting for yourself it’s not all about money for you.

FOTB: How do sponsors respond to dealing with you?
Shawn: Taking money out of the equation changes the relationship with the sponsors too. I’ve always been super-transparent with all the sponsors about what motivates me and I think that reduces some of the challenges that they face.

For example, sponsors have said that many managers don’t allow the athlete to talk directly to the sponsor. That bamboozles me! Why do that? Ultimately we’re talking about a ‘product’ that the sponsors are purchasing or an ‘asset’ that they’re paying for I hate talking about it like this but that’s what the athletes end up looking like on a Profit and Loss Statement it’s a Marketing budget line and there’s probably a sub-line in there for Athlete Sponsorship. So the sponsors have to manage that accordingly.

From a management point of view, I need to turn a line of figures into a real person. The representatives managing the sponsorships have got to be able to ‘touch and feel’ and see where their money is going and so I want to make sure that both my guys have long-standing relationships with their sponsors they know their sponsors and the sponsors know them at a personal level. That way Berks and Aaron are not just a line on a balance sheet- they’re flesh and blood people who are integral parts of the sponsors’ teams. Rather than cut them out of that relationship with the sponsor, I want to draw my athletes into it.

FOTB: Let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment… you’ve got the ‘luxury’ of not having to have your management work pay your bills, so that changes the whole dynamic…
Shawn: I get it and let’s be honest people have to survive financially, but… I think the hardest part would be the contract negotiation and the posturing of those contracts. It’s difficult to find that even position where both entities agree.

FOTB: Does the personal connection allow you to go in harder in a negotiation?
Shawn: Absolutely! And on top of that, walking away from deals that aren’t in the best interest of the athlete is actually easier because I’m not thinking about what’s in it for me. It’s important to realise that it’s not just about dollars it’s about making sure there’s always a value proposition around the deal. Both Tim and Aaron have some contracts which don’t have a dollar value attached, but they believe, and I also believe, that they get some really good exposure and some great product that they like. It would be nice if there were dollars attached, but ultimately the value part is the most important is this deal providing value for both sides? And the athletes definitely need to be comfortable with what they’re promoting so it should never just about the money. There’s got to be some integrity there.

FOTB: Speaking of value on both sides, how do you quantify what the sponsor gets out of the deal- how do they work out what the bottom-line is? I mean it’s a pretty nebulous thing isn’t it?
Shawn: I know we talked about the Profit and Loss statement, but I actually don’t think that most sponsors have an ROI attached to any of this. I do think that sponsors would see sponsorship as a return because they become front of mind, there’s an affiliation to the brand photos on the podium, crossing the line on a bike, in marketing terms they call it mental availability. The sponsors are buying the rights to be there with the athlete in the consumers’ minds, if and when it occurs. They don’t buy it to know that that individual will always be on the podium, because that is just an impossibility in this sport. There’s not a winner and loser every week there’s just first, second, third and then everybody else.

If you asked me, do I know to the dollar what each athlete is worth?… probably not, but I definitely have a view of what an apparel company is willing to pay. I know what kind of support a bike manufacturer will give. But I don’t have an overview of the whole sport to be able to make comparisons with all the other athletes.

FOTB: As far as ROI goes, you’re working on your own project related to that?
Shawn: It’s not really about ROI but it’s certainly about comparing athletes. In baseball and basketball they have a rating system for an athlete based on the wealth of statistics available. Triathlon doesn’t have one. I’m trying to build one. I’m doing this for my own purpose because I want to know how my athletes perform against two major metrics performance as an athlete, and there’s a whole bunch of metrics that sit under that and also from a social media perspective. Mash those together and we generate a number. I would then want to rate Tim and Aaron against others.

The idea originally came about because a marketing executive believed he knew more about my athlete than I did. It annoyed me because it wasn’t true, but I had to go back to him with hard evidence to refute what he said because it was inaccurate. And then I argued that he was actually worth more than what we were currently asking… and here’s why. You can’t argue these things on the basis that you’re a nice guy or your athlete is a nice guy you actually have to be able to put some rationale behind it. And funnily enough… we’re back at the negotiating table having a discussion with the sponsor!

FOTB: When it comes to the business/management side of things, what advice would you give to other athletes?
Shawn: The first thing is that you need to run your own brand as if it is a business. If you’re not, you’re selling yourself short.
Secondly, if you have contracts that are stipulating product only… you’re also selling yourself short and putting pressure on the guys who are in the mid-tier level or just starting, because they’re going to be pushed down to product-only too. I know this sounds like I’m contradicting myself, but in the context of Berks and Aaron’s sponsorships, product only is a very small part.

The harsh reality is, if you’re not confident in pushing harder… bad luck! Grow some balls and just do it or get yourself a manager. Of course… and I say this tongue in cheek… personally I’m happy if you stay on product-only because that allows me to make sure Berks and Aaron get paid! Seriously though, you’re not doing yourself or the sport any favours learn to push harder!

The third thing is related to the first when you’re running your brand as a business, really operate it like a business understand your profit and loss, see where you need to invest more time with sponsors, keep asking “What more can I do?” and become an ambassador for your own brand, but also for your sponsor. Because sponsors don’t want to have a one or two year contract and then say “You’re out of here.”

Ensure that you have a business plan that clearly sets out what you want to do. Sit down with your sponsors and talk it through. Sure, it’s an athlete plan, but ultimately it’s also a business plan. Think about where you see yourself in three years time. How are you going to get there? What events are you aiming for? What are you going to be doing? Ask what you can get involved in that helps your sponsors. Really structure it. The reality is that 99% of the athletes I’ve come across would never even dream of doing that. Just doing this will set you apart from the pack.

When it comes to sponsors, my view is you’ve got to give something back. It’s not a one-way street where the athlete constantly has his or her hand out for money or product.

I think way back to 2008 when Berks won IM WA at Busselton I was doing photography at that stage and we chatted after the race. I said to Berks, “You should give this photo, fully framed, to your very important sponsors. If you want to sign it, sign it.” And he sent it, I think to Scody at the time. And it’s still there in their office.

As I said to Berks, that stuff is really important. It cost him a couple of hundred bucks, but that money has gone a long way. It’s the little things that mean a lot to your sponsors it’s not just about the money, they’re often fans. So, do the basics. Stay in touch. Send out an email once a month about what you’ve been doing. And get your head around social media!

FOTB: That’s a good spot to finish for now. Thanks for your honesty and your insights, Shawn!

Stay tuned for Part II of our no-holds barred interview with Shawn Smith as he goes into the nitty gritty of building your brand, maximising your impact on social media and planning for the year ahead.

Mining isn’t done in the ground anymore – the BitCoin revolution

In William Shakespeare’s key play Hamlet, Polonius educates his son Laertes that he should “neither a borrower nor a lender be”. Bitcoin, the first widespread, virtual currency subverts this concept, ensuring that no one has to be buyer or seller beholden to a financial intermediary to make payments.

What is BitCoin?

Bitcoin works like a worldwide currency exchange platform, where you can sell goods or services or exchange fiat money to buy the virtual currency. You can also make payments with some businesses who accept Bitcoin and your privacy is ensured because you do not have an intermediary collecting your data and every transaction is ‘blind’.

You can use Bitcoin to buy any digital goods and services, including digital signatures, digital contracts, digital keys (to physical locks, or to online lockers), digital ownership of physical assets such as cars and houses, digital stocks and bonds.

Bitcoin is a whole Internet distributed ledger. You buy a section in the ledger by purchasing a number of slots in the ledger, either with cash or by selling a product and service for Bitcoin. You can leave the ledger by trading your Bitcoin to someone else who wants to buy into the ledger. Anyone in the world can buy into or sell out of the ledger any time they want – with no consent needed from a third party. The Bitcoin “coins” themselves are simply slots in the ledger, comparable to seats on a stock exchange, except much more broadly applicable to real transactions.

The Bitcoin ledger is a new kind of payment system. Anyone in the world can pay anyone else in the world any amount of value of Bitcoin by simply transferring ownership of the corresponding slot in the ledger. Bitcoin is a digital currency, whose value is based directly on two things: use of the payment system today – volume and velocity of payments running through the ledger – and speculation on future use of the payment system.

Is it a fad or disruption?

A number of analysts believed that the Bitcoin ledger could be more disruptive to the international financial system than the currency itself. A new report by research and consulting firm Celent, has found that ledger model could be used for a number of new purposes including public financial transactions, public documents and digital contracts. For example, another ledger type application has also arisen called Ripple. This ledger is used for open source payments protocol for real -time transactions in any currency,

The processing power required to make mining profitable is extremely high — the smallest current unit is a “Satoshi” which is one hundred millionth of a bitcoin. In other words, it’s not really something you can generate on a home PC to any meaningful level. Plus, other computers will be attempting to solve the same equations as yours, which means you invariably waste time crunching redundant numbers.

Bitcoin is also likely to have considerable impacts across three different areas -the financial reporting supply chain, bank innovation and payment process convenience for consumers.

Bitcoin is firstly going to influence the financial reporting supply chain including accountants, auditors and financial leaders. Bitcoin is easily open to sabotage – Bitcoin payment processors can createdistributed denial of service attacks, which mean that Bitcoin users cannot make payments across secure networks.

For example, 430 million in Bitcoin has been stolen over the past few years. However, Mark Rees of Bitcoin Magazine believes that this challenge pales in comparison to the US $180 billion lost in credit card fraud every year.

Another example was in Canada when a hacker with access to a Canadian internet provider hijacked net traffic from large foreign networks to steal more than $83,000US in virtual currency over a four-month period.

Researchers with the U.S.-based Dell SecureWorks said the hacker’s attack started last February and stopped in May, after the Canadian Internet service provider (ISP) was notified.

Bitcoin also has transparency issues for auditors trying to monitor it -transactions are ordered on the ledger publically, meaning that anyone could construct a cash flow statement based on the transactions. Financial professionals therefore need to ensure that any payments they make for themselves of someone else’s behalf uses a different email per transaction.

Bitcoin is lastly very hard for governments to tax because of confusion over whether it is a stock or commodity that should be subject to capital gains tax or whether it is fiat currency and should be treated as fiat currency as taxed as income.

Bank Innovation

Bitcoin secondly will strongly affect bank innovation – however, it will not cause widespread bankruptcies. According to Tom Hay, head of payments with ICON , Banks could start offering digital Bitcoin wallets on behalf of their customers, removing the IT learning curve for consumers and concerns about malware.

They could also provide more consumer protection in their data architecture that the current Bitcoin system.

Bitcoin is likely to ensure payments are simple and easy for consumers. However, the first hurdle the virtual currency will have to clear before it can do this is that it has to develop as a medium of exchange – much like PayPal and credit cards. Bitcoin is currently only a store of value so it cannot be used for mainstream purchases. There is a very fruitful opportunity to develop Bitcoin into a medium of exchange, if computer programmers and developers can work out how to exchange Bitcoin effortlessly between payment systems and across borders.

In fact, Bitcoin is gradually making progress as a medium of exchange in developing countries. While it can be volatile as an investment asset, it has real utility as an instrument for payment and money transfer, especially in places where conventional payment systems are immature. Since Bitcoin facilitates instant payment through peer-to-peer technology, most transactions can be completed in less than 10 minutes no matter how distant the two parties are. In addition, each transaction is recorded in a public ledger, enhancing transparency and trustworthiness.

In conclusion, Bitcoin has the potential to make ‘silent buyers and sellers’ of us all, should it become a mainstream traded currency. However, it first has to overcome its transparency issues and lack of medium of exchange. Another example of a development that could support or detract from the model is the Dark Wallet, introduced last year by co-founders Cody Wilson and Amir Taaki. The product is designed to provide privacy and protect users’ identities. Critics say its privacy protections could also facilitate money laundering. In the longer term, the Bitcoin community’s technology challenge is a matter of figuring out how to prepare and secure a monetary system for technology that hasn’t been developed yet.

Good for Consumers

To be sure, consumers are increasingly familiar with many of the concepts behind Bitcoin in emerging markets like parts of Africa, where alternative cashless payment solutions like M-Pesa’s mobile money are already popular. A recent survey by mobile payment company Jana found that over half of respondents from Asia and Africa expressed confidence in investing in Bitcoin. Consumer confidence is especially high in Kenya, home of M-Pesa, and 74 percent of Kenyan respondents said they would feel comfortable investing in digital currency.

The next step for Bitcoin seems to test the security of the platform through hackathons and collective programming events. Earlier in August, Money 20/20 announced the ‘Money20/20 Hackathon” to be held in the days prior to the start of the Money 20/20 conference, which officially kicks off on November 2nd.

The teams are tasked with creating applications based on the application programming interfaces (APIs) from “10 of the top innovators in the financial services sector.” Hopeful developers will be creating never-before-seen implementations from the APIs provided.

By working with Money 20/20, Chain.com and Blockchain.info will be at the forefront of Bitcoin’s latest push into the mainstream spotlight. While Bitcoin companies are always present at specified Bitcoin conferences, this year’s Money 20/20 conference will be one of the first times that two, not just one, Bitcoin companies’ APIs will be offered to developers on the same even playing field as Mastercard’s and PayPal’s.

In addition, many financial institutions are now setting up complaint centres. For example CFPB, the Federal Agency issued new warnings about the risks of using the nascent virtual currency, which is still subject to relatively loose regulation and is not backed by any central authority. The CFPB is urging consumers to be wary of wide fluctuations in Bitcoin exchange rates, potential hacking, theft and stolen funds.


The changing face of retail in Australia

Australia is far ahead of any developing nation when it comes to the adoption of smartphones and tablets however its a far cry from the experience they will have inside of a retail store.

Below is some insight for the retailer and how the consumer is wanting to interact and much more.