Business Transparency

Today, I read this article on business transparency. The guys at Empire Flippers make a living, connecting buyers and sellers of web businesses and I love seeing what type of businesses end up on the site. I enjoy looking at some of the profits the businesses generate and how long they’ve been in business for. It’s also interesting to see how businesses are affected by cyclicality (e.g. a company selling kayaks is probably busier in the summer months). Moreover, it’s kind of refreshing seeing the many different ways that business operate and make money. There is no one method to running a successful online business. Anyhow, one of the other cool things about the Empire Flippers website, is that they occasionally have some great and insightful  . This time they talked about business transparency.

Empire Flippers have adopted a policy that aims to be open about their business, talking about their shortcomings and successes, problems they’ve had with their customers and what they’re doing to address them. It definitely makes for an interesting read when talk about how they became victims of Russian scammers. Or how they try to determine what an online business is worth.
However, the long story short is that they are big proponents of being open about what they do and how they do it. In an era of encroachment on individuals’ privacy and much more scrutiny on what companies are doing, these guys are taking a stand and are becoming more open about their business.

Business Transparency: the benefits

Empire Flippers clearly highlight the main benefit that comes with practising business transparency: Trust.
They have established a high level of trust between themselves and their customers. But in being open they are also gaining trust from other stakeholders such as suppliers and affiliates. As the people behind the company step into the limelight and speak openly about how they operate their business, what may have previously amounted to a faceless business now receives a human visage.
A great example of how Empire Flippers managed to gain trust is when the Founders spoke about how they were scammed out of $25,000. Not only did they discuss what they did to recover some of the money, but they also went step by step through they’re thought processes at the time. By opening up about this, they showed their human side and also demonstrated how they improved their processes after the event, hopefully stopping any similar scams of this type going forward.

Business Transparency: the downsides

I can’t think of many downsides to being this open about your business apart from there being extra work on a regular basis. I guess the main point is that it doesn’t work for every business sector. There are businesses that are so complex that transparency might only end up confusing things and could deter future customers. Other businesses require a certain amount of confidentiality. This may also apply for listed businesses which have to adhere to specific rules and regulations as to how they publish sensitive information. Although in the latter case the detailed transparency could be publicised well after the announcement has been made to investors. There are always instances where client confidentiality has to be guarded, and this may tricky if you are practising business transparency.

In  a way, operating as a transparent business is very clever and honest marketing. You’re opening up to your customers about your values and goals. And most importantly you are honest about it. And honesty breeds trust.

Happy Monday!

Humanity’s progress: where will it lead?

Last week, this blog touched on a topic that fascinated me and kicked off a myriad of other lingering thoughts that I’d like to put to paper(/screen). After having questioned which was/is the smartest generation to have lived on the planet, I’d like to think a bit further. If we’re not growing smarter, where are we, as humans, heading and what are our goals? Where is humanity’s progress heading?
This is actually a surprisingly simple question, yet incredibly difficult to answer. Consider the multitude of different perspectives. We are all influenced by dreams, experiences, dogmas and many other factors. Some people espouse to live an ideal life according to their beliefs. These beliefs can be based on and affected by morals, money, power and many other things. And with billions of differing opinions, it’s quite hard to find one congruous answer to this question. Instead I’ll try to find an answer that will show where humanity’s progress is leading us to. And perhaps more importantly where it is not currently leading us to.

Humanity's progress?

Photo from WSWS/Surviving Progress (https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/02/prog-f03.html)

There is no question that we are currently on a constant trajectory. You can read the newspaper daily and discover a new idea being championed that will supposedly revolutionise one part of our lives. There is progress happening, whether it’s positive though is a different question.

Leaning on to last week’s post, I don’t think we’ll ever have a society where everyone is ‘smart’. I see society more as a bell curve where a certain percentage is above average and others are below average. That doesn’t mean that below average people may be of no use to progress. In fact I think the exact opposite.

As we develop new technologies, ways of thinking etc, we also develop the skills that are required for these new advances. This UK-based charity argues that there is a huge skill gap missing in the UK’s current population that is needed to power the digital growth engine. Articles such as this one frustrate me. They argue that there are desirable and less desirable skills to have. In this case being digitally equipped is being painted as an advantage.
The skills that Britain desperately needs (according to the article) to prosper in this era are digital. In contrast, I believe there is value and benefit found in many different professions that may not be classified as ‘modern’. The article fails to highlight many other skills that society needs. Skill development in general needs to be encouraged.

Diversity is key

What good are hundreds of programmers if they can’t direct themselves or there’s no one left to direct them towards building something worthwhile. A society needs artists and writers as well as engineers and scientists.  Writers such as Jules Verne inspired generations of scientists and engineers by imagining a possible future for us. “The Earth to the Moon” was said to have been the inspiration for Astronomer Edwin Hubble (after whom the Hubble telescope was named).
Seeing value in creative professions and scientists is easily, but society also needs the likes of carers for example.  I read an article a while back (which I unfortunately cannot find anymore) arguing that people who have retired should be involved in the upbringing of the youngest generations. A lot can be gained from this proposal on both sides. Seniors will be able to rejuvenate rediscover themselves by being around kids and kids will be exposed to some of the wisdom and experience of the eldest generation. Both sides could gain a lot in this type of exchange. Carers could supervise the whole process and make sure that one side is not being overzealous.

The only professions or skills which I think are holding humanity back are the ones which are rent-seeking. There are rent-seekers in many business and government institutions which inhibit positive growth and progress for the sake of protecting entrenched interests (usually around power and profit). By definition, there is very little wealth creation for the broader society involved in these activities and they stand in the way of having an efficient society. This article (albeit long) highlights many rent-seeking behaviours. The one example that sticks out for me, is the fact that Southern Water (a utility company) does not want to release data concerning a river’s floodplain because it could impact house prices. House prices should be a means to determine a value of a house given various different factors. By withholding information that could potentially cause prices in the affected area to drop, they are encouraging further building as well as very likely endangering lives for when the next flood comes around.

What I mean by having an efficient society is that everyone provides a specific purpose in aiding progress. One can imagine it via a battle ship and its crew.  On such a vessel, everyone is serving a purpose. There is no dead weight. The cooks, cleaners, gunmen, engineers, officers etc all have one purpose in mind: To complete the mission and keep the vessel and its inhabitants unharmed. I would imagine global society along similar lines. The vessel being the planet and the ecosystem upon which we depend, while the mission is to take care of the planet and advance our standard of living whilst keeping the crew of the vessel happy.

Currently the vessel is on the verge of being wrecked and it’s pretty clear that it’s the crews’ fault. Humanity’s progress is bringing us very close to a very uncertain future because of groups of people working towards the different goals. In order to direct a course towards a better future, we need to tackle this problem at a foundational level.

Bringing it back to the article about the skills gap in the UK. Why is there this skills gap? And by whose notion is there a skills gap? Is there a skills gap because we need to progress in order to become happier and more sustainable? Or is it because we are measuring a country’s economy versus another country’s economy? Of course it’s the latter and this type of thinking is causing separate sections of the vessel to compete against each other.

Humanity’s progress is very much within our own hands. We can determine which direction we want to take. But we can only do this if we work together, take care of the vessel and make sure we take care of each other in the process. How this may be done is a topic for another blogpost.

Are we the smartest humans to have ever lived?

Until a few years ago I had been of the opinion that the current iteration of the human race is by far the smartest the world has ever seen. After all, look at all the marvelous engineering projects the smartest humans have built: Airplanes, submarines, spaceships! Within the last generation we have been to the moon! Incredible when you come to think about it. But this kind of thinking can gloss over the many achievements of our forebears. Astounding inventions such as the wheel, the compass, paper and the printing press (more about the latter two later).

Smartest Humans

Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (credit: Azothgallery – http://azothgallery.com)

Mozart, Pythagoras, Plato, Shakespeare, Napoleon, Sun Tzu, Da Vinci etc etc. I could probably go through every epoch and name plenty of great minds, strategists, thinkers that lived in each segment of humanity’s timeline. In today’s day and age you have people like Alan Touring or even more recently Stephen Hawking. The latter is arguably one of the smartest humans alive. However, I doubt that there truly has ever been a time period which didn’t have a great mind such as the above. I’m referring to times when there was written and oral communication.

If you want to compare humans of different epochs, how do you do that? How do you measure the average intelligence of humans at any given point in time? IQ tests were only developed approximately a hundred and fifty years ago and likely only capture certain aspect of a human’s intelligence. Do you measure intelligence via innovation? But then how do you keep track of the innovations that have occurred earlier in our history and that were then slowly forgotten about? One could also look at measuring increases in life expectancy. But measuring life expectancy of your average Joe in 200 B.C. accurately (something that would be expensive and would require a large dataset to be statistically relevant) is tricky. There’s also the added issue that intelligence does not always equate to increases in life expectancy. After all, we knew the Romans were a clever bunch, yet they used lead pipes. Any decent increase in life expectancy would likely have been negated by the adverse impacts of lead poisoning.
It seems we have to fall back to a rather crude method of analysing. At the same time is my favourite way of coming to conclusions: guestimating and discussing!

I actually don’t believe that today’s humans are more intelligent than people who previously graced the earth. Apart from us having the bias of knowing and living in the present day (thereby thinking we are superior), there are too many examples of great innovations having occurred in the past. There are too many great people who composed, wrote and theorised about many aspects of the world for us to be able to bat them off as anomalies.
My hypothesis is that we have, broadly speaking, been equally clever throughout the ages. What may be happening nowadays is that the pace of innovation is accelerating. And this is largely due to a few key points and has little to do with our intelligence increasing:

The written word
Humans have been talking to each other for thousands of years. It is probably safe to say that they have also been writing and recording for thousands of years. Be it hacking words into stone or using ink and parchment/paper. I think there have been two innovations which have helped humanity kick off several important innovations since:

The first is the printing press which enabled knowledge to be mass reproduced and be read by many more people than previously had been possible. This way knowledge was distilled throughout the populace that could read or write and copies of important books were not left locked up in monasteries or libraries (in Europe that is). But perhaps even more importantly the mass production of paper (which took over 1,000 years to travel from China to Europe) enabled Gutenberg to invent the press. The mass production of paper enabled people to ditch brittle and expensive parchment and allowed for innovations such as the printing press to take hold and spread knowledge.
Long story short, humanity has since benefitted massively from having knowledge recorded, stored and be accessible for many generations to come, allowing humanity to build upon previous knowledge rather than let it be forgotten.

Stability
Arguably, there’s been a lot more stability in the past 50 years than there has been over similar periods of time. What happens when young men and woman are not drafted into the military? They get to partake in the pursuit of knowledge by joining an academic institution, advance and innovate at a business level etc. It helps society if humans aren’t blowing each other to smithereens.

Demographics
Over the last 250 years, humanity has seen a growth in population that has been gigantic. With a larger population you get a higher amount of brain capacity to advance humanity and innovate. Of course, if you think of a bell curve, you also have a higher absolute quantity of people in the top percentile of intelligent humans. We are only now approaching an inflection point in the next 50 years or so (bar a catastrophe of course) where this mega trend in population growth is expected to stop. Will our rate of innovation decrease as well? I believe so. Less people in the world means less people that will be there to innovate and create awesome things.

So all in all, I think humanity is (and has been) seeing an unprecendented rate of innovation that will probably last a few more decades before demographics take an inevitable turn. But we are not the smartest humans to have lived on the planet at any point in time. I think the geniuses nowadays are just as capable and brilliant as the geniuses of a couple of hundred and thousand years ago.

Happy Monday!

SEO Series: Part 1 – An SEO overview

I think I’ve spent enough time trying to familiarise myself with SEO to be able to give you a brief SEO overview. I have been trying to put this off for a couple of weeks now in order to be able to give you a better guide. However, I think I’ll just start posting separate SEO posts over the next few weeks highlighting key aspects of this very important topics.

The first thing to note is that Search Engine Optimisation (in short SEO) is a topic that has many components. I could probably spend hours going on about them  (if I knew them all that is, haha). But it’s also a field that is constantly evolving as the internet, search machines and the technology surrounding the web evolves.

In short, good SEO should enable your website to occupy higher spots in searching rankings.

A few (of many more) points that have to do with SEO:

1.) What type of website are you running (is it a blog? an eCommerce store?)?
2.) Do you have great content? Will users who land on your page find it useful?
3.) How is your web page constructed (e.g. code used)?
4.) What hosting provider are you using?
5.) Whether you have a sitemap and how detailed it is.
6.) Whether you have ‘registered’ with Google and other search engines.
7.) The aesthetics of your site (hint: this site has got pretty simple aesthetics and therefore doesn’t rank highly on this metric alone).

Those are some of the positive differentiators that if done well can get your site rank higher than normally. The things to remember with SEO is that people actually have to find your site useful. If your visitors arrive on one of your pages, hang around for a long time and come back regularly, search engines will recognize this and will move your site up in the rankings for specific keywords. You have to remember that search engines have customers to: US! They want to be used over and over again and have to satisfy what the user wants. If visitors like your site and you attract decent swaths of people to your site, search engines will help you get towards the top of the ladder.

But you can also have plenty of negatives that will drag you lower. Doing things like repeating keywords over and over again in a non-sensical fashion in the hope of search engine algorithms ranking you higher. Or setting up loads of websites that all link to your main webpage in order to increase its ‘validation’. These things can easily be spotted by humans even if the algorithms can be fooled. Whilst these methods may have worked five years ago, they definitely don’t work in this day and age and will cause your site to get negative ratings and thereby lower places.

I’ll leave you with this great ‘periodic table’ which I found on searchengineland.com which highlights a lot of the key areas to focus on when aiming for that higher rank:

Periodic table giving an SEO overview

Periodic SEO Table (Source: SearchEngineLand.com)

As I mentioned this is just an SEO overview and I will go into more detail in future posts and highlight some of the areas that I think are important. This topic really is inexhaustible and I keep on discovering new things every time I discover helpful articles or online resources.

Happy Monday!