All posts tagged business

  • The Weekend Australian Magazine story: ‘Lockstep With Lockie: Santiago Velasquez and his guide dog’, November 2017

    A feature story for The Weekend Australian Magazine, published in the November 25-26 issue. Excerpt below.

    Lockstep With Lockie

    This black labrador spends every waking moment by his owner’s side. He’s not just a faithful companion, but Santiago Velasquez’s eyes on the world.

    'Lockstep With Lockie: Santiago Velasquez and his guide dog' story by Andrew McMillen in The Weekend Australian Magazine, November 2017. Photo by Justine Walpole

    Their day begins soon after 6am with a series of movements so familiar they’re like clockwork. After rising from their beds, positioned side-by-side, Santiago Velasquez and his companion greet each other with affection and a leash is clipped to a collar. It’s a couple of dozen steps from their bedroom to the front door of the apartment, then down three floors in the lift to a small garden so that one of them can water the grass. “Quick quicks, Lockie,” says the young man, using the voice command for toileting. “Quick quicks.”

    After breakfast, Velasquez — known to all as “Santi” — leads Lockie to the balcony where he brushes the dog in the morning light, black wisps of fur falling to the floor. The guide dog stands docile, wagging his tail and panting happily. “It’s a good bonding exercise,” says Santi, a handsome 21-year-old with a swimmer’s strong build, a crown of black hair and sporty-looking glasses. In the ­distance is an extraordinary view of the ­Brisbane city skyline and surrounding hills but Santi cannot see it. Since birth, he has been blind in one eye with only three per cent vision in the other.

    It is a Wednesday in mid-October and they have a big day ahead. In an unpredictable, fast-paced world, Santi and Lockie rely on familiarity and routine as much as possible. Theirs is an intimacy of constant contact. “He’s very, very attached — that’s a massive understatement — because we spend pretty much every moment of our lives together,” says Santi, who takes almost an hour to groom his black labrador and then painstakingly shave his own facial hair by feel with an electric razor. “He takes a long time for everything,” says Santi’s mother Maria, laughing and rolling her eyes in mock exasperation. In truth, she and her husband Cesar are nothing less than patient, having taught their blind son that his only problem is that he cannot see, and that his blindness is no excuse for not doing the same household chores as his sighted brother, 18-year-old Camilo.

    Downstairs at 9am, Santi reattaches the leash and repeats his voice command, while Lockie walks in circles and sniffs the lawn. “Quick quicks, buddy,” he says, and he means it: they have a bus to catch. Santi slips a fluorescent yellow harness over the dog’s head. With this action, Lockie has been trained to recognise that he is now in work mode, and his focus narrows to the singular task of guiding Santi from home to university — and, much later, back again. The dog is now six years old but has been in training since he was a puppy to fulfil this role. Santi never knew him as a puppy: Lockie was three when they first met on a rainy day at the Guide Dogs Queensland head office. Since January 9, 2015 — a date seared into Santi’s memory — they have scarcely spent an hour apart.

    To read the full story, visit The Australian. Above photo credit: Justine Walpole.

  • CNET story: ‘The Man Who Virtually Has It All’, March 2013

    A feature story for CNET Australia; excerpt below.

    The man who virtually has it all

    A 30 year-old Sydneysider has amassed a small fortune by trading virtual items for real cash in the online game Entropia Universe. What next, though?

    Zachurn "Deathifier" Emegen in Entropia Universe, pictured as part of 'The Man Who Virtually Has It All' story for CNET Australia, March 2013

    In game, the nearest moon to Planet Calypso sits huge in the sky, framed against a blanket of twinkling stars and space clouds. Surrounding mountains tower above and oddly bendy palm trees sway in a gentle breeze. It is beside the teleporter located at Camp Icarus, Planet Calypso’s seaside outpost for new players, that I met with Zachurn “Deathifier” Emegen, leader of the Dark Knights society and one of the wealthiest men ever to play Entropia Universe.

    With a few quick mouse gestures, Deathifier — a tall, handsome avatar clad in shiny red armour — had spawned a Quad-Wing Interceptor, an impressive and expensive-looking aircraft. He then added me to the vehicle’s guest list and invited me to take a seat inside. Our destination? Treasure Island.

    Deathifier is the owner of the 25-square-kilometre plot of in-game land called Treasure Island. He purchased it for US$26,500 in December 2004 and set a Guinness World Record for the largest amount spent on a virtual item. We had to take the long air route, though, because Entropia Universe game developer MindArk had, without notice, disabled the teleporter that allows new players to travel between Camp Icarus and Treasure Island with ease.

    My pilot wasn’t pleased about this unexpected change: he’s reliant on hunting tourism for much of his income, and if players can’t easily get there via teleporter, he’s missing out on potential Project Entropia Dollars (PED), the in-game currency that’s tied to the United States dollar at a fixed exchange rate of 10-to-one. (Treasure Island cost 265,000 PED in 2004.)

    In real life, outside of this vast virtual planet and its two continents, Deathifier is David Storey, a 30-year-old Sydneysider who has been playing Entropia Universe for almost 10 years. Throughout that decade, behind the screen, in-game investments and earnings have comprised the bulk of Storey’s income. With help from a handful of silent partners, whose identities he has never revealed, Storey has invested over US$1 million into the game. The $26,500 Treasure Island purchase broke even in its first year, thanks to Storey’s tireless development, salesmanship and marketing, both online and off.

    At first, this is a strange concept to get one’s head around. This man makes a good living by spending his work week inside a computer game, a space more readily associated with fun and entertainment than commerce and profit. While Storey piloted the Quad-Wing Interceptor south-west across vast oceans and jagged mountain ranges toward Treasure Island, my avatar sat in the gunner’s seat — the aircraft is armed and able to shoot down opposing vehicles if necessary — while we spoke over Skype.

    I asked him whether it’s been difficult to separate the fun from the business side of the game. “They’ve always been intertwined,” Storey replied. “At some points, it’s been more for fun; at others, more for business. More recently, I’ve transitioned more toward business, because the fun elements have declined, so to speak. The core gameplay hasn’t changed in 10 years.”

    To read the full story, visit CNET.

  • Voyeur story: ‘Helping Hand: Modern mentorships’, February 2013

    A story for Virgin Australia’s in-flight magazine, Voyeur. Click the below image to view a PDF version, or read the article text underneath.

    Helping Hand

    To be the best, it’s said, it pays to learn from the best. Finding the right mentor is the first step to realising your full career potential.

    Voyeur magazine story: 'Helping Hand: Modern mentorships' by Andrew McMillen, February 2013There’s a lot to be said for one-on-one mentoring relationships, as great things can grow from even the simplest alliances. Sometimes, this is literally the case: Alexander The Great received private tuition from the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who taught his 13 year-old student about practical matters such as medicine, logic, and art, but also concepts such as self-control, honour and discipline. Clearly, Aristotle’s pupil benefited greatly from this relationship: by the age of thirty, he had created one of the largest empires in ancient history. Though that distinct master-apprentice relationship may not apply in all business scenarios, the broader concept of mentoring is certainly alive and well in Australia in 2013.

    “Great mentors push you to the edges,” says Wendy McCarthy AO. “They make you find that you could do things you’d never dreamt of. Great mentors do that for you; that’s the magic of mentoring.” McCarthy, who founded McCarthy Mentoring in Sydney in 1998, is also an experienced company director, and currently chairs Headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation, Circus Oz, McGrath Estate Agents and Pacific Friends of the Global Fund. McCarthy’s daughter, Sophie, came on board at McCarthy Mentoring in 2007 as general manager, and the pair now arranges mentoring programs with senior executives, corporations, emerging leaders and individuals located in Australia, the UK, China and New Zealand.

    McCarthy‘s experiences with the power of mentoring relationships began in her first career, before entering the business world. “I was the beneficiary of organic mentoring, certainly, even as a very young teacher at a girls’ school. There were older women in the staff room who took it upon themselves to help me find my way around – people whose wisdom I wanted to listen to, who were always there for support and advice.” This is an example of what she deems ‘organic mentoring’, which tends to grow in the workplace, beginning with a tap on the shoulder. “Someone senior sees someone junior, and thinks, ‘I’ll see what I can do for that person,’” Wendy explains. “It’s always a generous thing.”

    The alternative is ‘formal mentoring’. “It’s quite different: it’s more structured, and it reaches a much wider group of people, because it’s not just self-selecting,” Wendy says. In such situations, “a CEO might look at how to develop high-potential people and how to have a diverse, inclusive culture,” she says. “It makes you look at people in a different way. It’s a reward program; it’s not just somebody tapping you on the shoulder. There’s a place for that, but nothing beats the formal discipline of meeting with someone for 20 hours a year, or 2 hours a month, to talk about and clarify their plans and what they’d like to be; and to be validated, in many ways.”

    According to David Gonski, businessman and philanthropist, striking up a mentoring relationship is a very professional thing to do on the part of the mentor. As for the mentee, Gonski believes that it’s an “incredibly courageous and correct thing to do, because you’re investing time in thinking about yourself – which, often, one doesn’t do.” The simple fact that a mentee must open up completely, warts and all, before the earnt wisdom and experience of a senior figure is a significant gesture. “And of course you don’t know what the mentor will say to you. Sometimes it can be quite confronting,” he admits. “It takes a lot of guts to work under someone in your own profession.”

    Gonski is a fine position to ruminate on his experiences on both sides of the mentorship coin. Although he currently chairs the boards of Investec, the Australian Stock Exchange and Coca-Cola Amatil, among others, he first became aware of the virtues of being mentored around the age of 22, when he began training at the law firm Freehills. Gonski calls his master solicitor and first mentor, the late Justice Kim Santow a saint. He taught Gonski not only how to be a good solicitor, but how to be a good person. Santow was enthusiastic about displaying a generosity of spirit in the community as a whole; by sitting in his office, Gonski learned “by osmosis” how Santow ran his life, his practice, as well as the way he looked at the world.

    Ever since that first, fortuitous mentorship, Gonski has felt indebted to Santow, and has sought to give back what he got from the experience by mentoring others as often as possible. “If you can give somebody assistance, and see them succeed, it is fantastic. It is almost as good as seeing a child succeeding,” he says. Gonski says that many of his mentees are “much, much better than me, and it is absolutely wonderful to see them – as they say in the movies – ‘going for gold’.”

    One of Gonski’s mentees is Ilana Atlas, a former group executive at Westpac. The pair was introduced through a mentoring program overseen by the Australian Institute of Company Directors in 2010. Although the program stipulated that the two were to have hour-long meetings every second month, Atlas says she was delighted to find Gonski was readily available outside of these if she wanted to talk through any issues. “For someone who has his obligations, I was frankly amazed that he was always accessible to me,” she says.

    When queried on this, Gonski smiles and says he has a theory whereby, if someone asks him go to the ballet, he’s “extremely busy. But if you want me to go to a play, I’m available.” He recalls that, as a younger man, he was extraordinarily busy; at the time, mentorship was an extra to a very full-time load. Today, however, he views mentorship as part of his load, rather than an extra.

    To get the most out of such an arrangement, Atlas, who serves as a non-executive director on Coca-Cola Amatil’s board,  believes that the two most important ingredients are respect and trust. For the relationship to be successful, there needs to be mutual respect. “There also needs to be clarity about what you want to achieve, and clear rules so that each party understands what to expect from the relationship.”

    McCarthy believes that internally operated mentoring programs have a low success rate. “Internal mentoring programs often fall apart,” she says, “even if they’re formally constructed, because the two people walk past each other in the workplace and make apologies; ‘Oh, I’m sorry we didn’t make our meeting last month. We must catch up.’ Quite often, it loses its intensity. My experience is that internal mentoring programs tend to be more effective when they’re organic; if they’re short, sharp and crisp, and across portfolios.”

    Career consultant Katie Roberts advises her clients that, when seeking a mentor within their company, it’s important to look beyond their immediate managers. “It’s unusual for someone to have their boss, or their manager, as their mentor,” Roberts says. “I’d recommend that they go for someone at a higher level, who can be a little bit more objective in the advice they give; someone who is not directly impacted by the decisions they make.”

    Roberts has operated her career consultancy since 2002, and has provided services for more than 10,000 individuals and organisations. “Mentorships work best in competitive industries, where there’s a lot of people vying for the same role. For people who are not given a clearly defined career development program within their company, mentoring relationships can help give them some solid steps that will help them move forward in their company and their industry,” she says. “As the job market becomes more competitive, it’s more and more important for people to look for mentors to help them out.”

    David Gonski’s top tips for a good mentoring relationship

    1. Choose wisely

    “The mentor and mentee must be compatible. The best situation is where the mentee is keen to work at getting the guidance – in other words, they make sure to make another appointment, and make sure that they get the best out of the time they’ve got.”

    2. Meet before mentoring

    “In all the mentorship situations I’ve been involved in, I’ve always sought to meet the potential mentee first, before committing to do it. I’ve made sure that the mentee is somebody I believe I can work with, for their benefit.”

    3. Mutual enthusiasm

    “As a mentor, it’s important to be both listening and remembering. They have to work at it, too, rather than just taking it as a comfortable hour to listen to the mentee’s story.”

  • ZDNet story: ‘The Digital Beat: policing social media’, July 2012

    A feature story for ZDNet; excerpt below. Click the image for the full story.

    The Digital Beat: policing social media

    Your business may not have to deal with issues of life and death in social media, but there are lessons for everyone in how Australia’s police forces interact with the public.

    If you were in Queensland during the floods of January 2011, Kym Charlton’s iPad may have saved your life.

    The device itself has since been superseded and effectively retired, yet its weathered, black leather case still features a hastily scrawled note, which, at the time, acted as both a mnemonic and a reality check. Two words in thick, white text: DON’T PANIC.

    As executive director of the Queensland Police Service’s (QPS) media and public affairs branch, Charlton [pictured above, centre; to her left, senior digital media officer James Kliemt] was bunkered down in the State Disaster Coordination Centre while then Premier Anna Bligh and her team of emergency-services specialists alternated between internal briefings and live-streamed press conferences.

    The matter at hand? How best to deal with an uncanny series of weather events that would ultimately leave 90 per cent of the state declared a disaster zone.

    iPad in hand, Charlton was responsible for posting live updates to the QPS social-media accounts — vital information which, for some Queenslanders, meant the difference between fight or flight; home ownership or homelessness; life or death.

    Having convinced the deputy commissioner to sign off on a six-month social-media trial in mid-2010, Charlton and her media team had grown the QPS Facebook page to a respectable following of 6500 by the end of the year. As rain saturated the state throughout December, QPS was in the ideal position to establish itself as the state’s singular, trustworthy news source in a time of need.

    “It was quite an organic thing for us,” Charlton said from her office in the QPS headquarters just outside of the Brisbane CBD. “We’d been using social media for six months, so we immediately moved to get the information out through those channels, because time was so critical.”

    Charlton is a calm and confident narrator, having had plenty of time to reflect on this topic both in private and public — including a presentation at the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism in Marrakech last year — yet it’s clear that the urgency and quality of the work that her team produced in January 2011 is never too far from her mind. The numerous framed awards hanging on her office walls make such matters difficult to forget, in any case.

    The QPS social-media presence meant that Charlton didn’t have to waste time with the clearance processes that ordinarily hamper police news dissemination. “Rather than me sitting in a disaster-management meeting, listening to the premier being briefed, taking notes, going out and giving it to someone to write a media release, then spending the rest of the day chasing around incredibly busy people to clear the information, I started to post status updates as I heard the premier being briefed,” she said. A self-imposed limit of 140 characters per update meant that the news could be bounced from Facebook to Twitter with ease, and without diluting the message.

    “We were able to pump out a whole lot of information that we knew wouldn’t make the mainstream media; they just wouldn’t have picked up that volume of information. It was quite low level, but it was really important if it was about your area,” she said.

    “For example, the day that the Lockyer Valley flooded was the same day that Brisbane and Ipswich realised there was going to be a major flood. All of a sudden, you had the entire population of both cities desperately trying to work out if their houses were going to flood. A lot of people weren’t here in 1974; also, there are way more houses [now] than there used to be. We saw a huge jump of people coming to the page to find that information.” On that particular day, 10 January, Charlton sent her first and last tweets at 4.45am and 11.45pm, respectively.

    The numbers surrounding 10 January are astonishing. The QPS Facebook page received 39 million individual story views — the equivalent of 450 page impressions per second — while being updated by staff every 10 minutes or so. (“That amount of traffic would have crashed both our public website and our operational website,” Charlton noted.) Their Facebook audience grew from 16,500 on 9 January to 165,000 within a fortnight; many of those joined the page during the 24-hour period following the Lockyer Valley torrent. Overnight, the QPS social-media accounts had become a lifejacket to which many Queenslanders clung.

    Though neither QPS staff nor their newfound legion of followers would have realised it at the time — it’s fair to say that there were far more pressing matters to consider, like whether their houses would go underwater — this confluence of events exemplified the great big promise of social networking that Zuckerberg et al proselytise: to connect humans with one another, and to share meaningful information immediately.

    Charlton’s decision to establish and nurture the QPS social-media presence the winter before that unforgettable summer was fortuitous. “We were in that wonderful position where we knew enough to be able to use it [during the floods],” she said. “It wasn’t a decision where anyone said, OK, we’re going to focus on social media’. We just started doing it because it worked.”

    For the full 3,700 word story, visit ZDNet. Above photo credit: Andrew McMillen.

  • A Conversation with Scott Bagby and Carter Adamson of streaming music service Rdio, February 2012

    The concept of paying month-by-month to stream music from your computer and smartphone remains a relatively new idea in Australia. In the last year or two, a number of contenders have emerged. Nokia has had their ‘Comes With Music’ service for a while now. Sony launched their ‘Music Unlimited’ product in February 2011. Hulking, canary-yellow retailer JB Hi-Fi launched their own streaming platform in December 2011, dubbed ‘NOW’. BlackBerry, Samsung and Microsoft all have proprietary systems operating in some capacity. Rumours abound of Spotify’s Australian launch. A site named Guvera offers a slight twist on the idea: ‘guilt-free’ mp3 downloads. None of these services have yet gained any real traction in the Australian market.

    Clearly, it’s becoming an increasingly crowded marketplace, as app developers and record companies alike cosy up to the assumption that most people don’t give a fuck about music ownership anymore. That whatever CDs, vinyl and cassettes they own gather dust on a shelf somewhere, immobile and largely useless in the era of interconnectivity. These companies believe that most music fans – ‘consumers’ – simply want the ability to take all the world’s music with them, wherever they go. For a monthly fee, of course.

    The newest contender on the Australian market is named Rdio [pictured above]. It’s web-based and also has apps for the main phone platforms (iOS, Android, BlackBerry… Windows Phone?). It was founded by a couple of the guys behind Skype, it’s been public in the States since August 2010, and it’s pronounced exactly like it’s written (‘radio’ minus the ‘a’). For AUD$13.90 per month, you get access to unlimited PC and mobile streaming of their library, which apparently consists of over 14 million songs. Ahead of a launch party at Bondi’s Beach Road Hotel in early February 2012, a couple of the Rdio guys flew me to Sydney, bought me lunch, and answered my questions as best they could.

    Andrew: How long has Rdio’s Australian launch been in the works?

    Scott [Bagby, VP Strategic & International Partnerships; pictured left]: I first came down to Australia to start the discussions at Easter 2011. We were pretty much sewn up by the end of the year. So not quite a year.

    There’s been a few streaming services available in Australia over the last few years, but none of them have had any real success in terms of market penetration. Is that fair to say?

    Scott: Streaming services on the whole, globally, are quite nascent. I was just hanging out with a bunch of labels. I can’t verify these numbers, but this label guy told me that worldwide, there’s only about 7 million subscribers, to any streaming service. It is very much in the early days of all streaming services. But the potential is huge. They’re planning on massive growth in the area, especially this year. I think you’ll find that here in Australia, as well. There’s still an education that needs to happen for the user to understand streaming services. [They need to] just learn about ‘em, and use ‘em, and get what I refer to as the ‘a-ha’ moment, of why streaming services are so much better than buying individual tracks.

    Carter [Adamson, co-founder; pictured right]: But seven million music subscribers in a world where everyone loves music? There’s a lot of room to grow. For ten years, we’ve had various fits and starts with digital music: DRM, tethered CDs, and that kind of stuff. We have services like Rhapsody in the US, who are stuck at around 600,000 subscribers. Now within the past year, you have more than a handful of services that have well over a million subscribers apiece. That only happened within the past year. You have markets like Australia, where 40% of all music revenue is digital music revenue. Korea’s over 50%. For the first time, digital music revenue globally is growing quicker [than physical sales]. I think we’re now at an inflection point with digital music subscription services.

    Scott: The timing’s also great, because of the iPhone and other smartphones. People want to take their music with them. Back in the old days, when I was travelling around I used to have a CD case [for a discman], but that’s just too much of a hassle now. With this streaming service, we have 14 million songs at your disposal, no matter where you are in the world. You can download songs to your phone, switch ‘em out; every Tuesday, there’s new releases [on Rdio]. These sort of things – that’s the education that has to happen, and that’s the ‘a-ha’ moment when you get all of that going. The perfect alignment of the ubiquity of smartphones is what’s really helping it along.

    Carter: Well, connected devices. Any single device that can talk to the internet is a playback device now. Whereas before you had one device; a record player, CD player, 8-track player. Now there’s a wide array of devices that are effectively playback devices, so it no longer makes sense to buy one song for each device. It no longer makes sense to port all the downloads that you bought a la carte via external hard drive to every single device that you have. The only thing that makes sense is for you to access it seamlessly wherever you are, using whatever platform or device you have.

    Using the US service as an example, what percentage of users are using Rdio on their phones?

    Carter: Over 85% of our subscribers are on the higher-priced tier. [Note: PC-only access to Rdio is AUD$8.90 per month – five bucks cheaper than the PC/phone combo.] And that makes sense, because the value proposition has always been seamless mobility. People always wanted to move their music around. No-one’s ever bought a song on iTunes to just play it on their computer. They’ve been waiting for 10 years for this whole seamless mobility thing to become a reality. Now it’s finally here.

    Scott: I think that’s one of the reasons that the music industry faced such a piracy problem in the past, because they didn’t offer it in a format in which people wanted to consume music. Now that it’s coming into that format, you see a lot of people moving into services like ours. They wanted to listen in several places at once, but they couldn’t, so the only way they could do it is to steal it. It was still happening up until a month ago in Hong Kong. Everyone was saying, ‘I want to buy music, but there’s no iTunes, there’s no digital services here. I can’t buy what I want; you leave me no choice but to steal it’. These people were lawyers, bankers – people that had the means [to pay], they didn’t want to steal it, they just didn’t have it.

    Carter: And also, the price has never been so low. We’re talking about 34 cents a day for access to the world’s music, across all your devices. That’s an insanely low price.

    Tell me about that education process you mentioned earlier. How do you turn seven million streaming music subscribers into seven billion?

    Scott: [laughs] Well, one of the benefits is to have your music everywhere and anywhere. Part of my job is to go around to all the different countries and get the rights sorted, so at least it’s available to everyone. Once it’s available, the education process is an ongoing one. And it’s one for the entire industry to be involved in. The best way to get there is to allow people to get that ‘a-ha’ moment. That moment comes at certain times, like when they’re at their friend’s place, they’re sitting around and they want to hear that song from their childhood that they’re all laughing about. Obviously no-one has it in their collection anymore, but then you – boom – you stream it down, you get a big laugh, and it kicks off. You can almost have Rdio and some beers, and you have a party.

    I think a lot of people would be using YouTube for that purpose at the moment.

    Scott: But YouTube, again, isn’t all that mobile. I mean, not as mobile as Rdio is.

    Which labels do you have on board for the Australian launch?

    Scott: We’ve got all the major labels, and we have some indies like Shock, MGM and Inertia. We won’t open up in any market, anywhere in the world, unless we have the domestic music, as well. At the end of the day, it’s about enjoying the content. That’s what makes a good service – the titles that you have. We have a whole team who just make sure that we have as much music as we can on the service. Funnily enough, I was just in Germany, doing a radio interview with a DJ. She is in love with Australian music, specifically Australian hip-hop. She used to fly out here, buy the CDs, then play it on her station. What she loves about this now is that she can now follow Australian influences [using the service], get the music that she wants, and find new music just through the service.

    Will Rdio have an Australian office?

    Scott: Yes.

    In Sydney, I suppose?

    Scott: We’re looking for some key players. Who’s the best person to hire? Once we find that person, they can determine where the office is going to be. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth… they’re all options. It all depends on who the best person is to run [Rdio] Australia.

    You talked about the ‘a-ha’ moment earlier. For me, when I was testing out the app, that moment was when I realised that Rdio had taken over the iPod player interface on the iPhone [ie the screen that appears when you’re playing music]. I thought that was pretty clever, how similar and familiar that screen was, even though I was using a web streaming service.

    Carter: Two of the most common pieces of feedback we receive: “I just deleted my iTunes collection because I no longer need it,” and “I’ve discovered more music on Rdio in the past two days than in the past two decades”. We’ve obviated a lot of what you would’ve needed iTunes for, and we’ve made it even better with the whole discovery [aspect].

    Scott: How we discovered music in our teenager years is we’d go to our mate’s house and you’d wait to hear their song. It wasn’t until you’d heard it a couple of times that you’d go out and buy it. It’s rare that you’d buy a song without hearing it first. That was one of the disadvantages that iTunes has; you couldn’t hear it without purchasing it.

    Carter: Every Tuesday, new music comes out [on Rdio]. You don’t have to pay a dollar a song, or eighteen dollars an album: you can play literally everything that’s out on Tuesday. You can save it to your mobile device, you can un-save it and throw it back into the water if you don’t like it. People are consuming more music now. I’ve never seen higher retention or engagement metrics in the 17 years I’ve been doing consumer software, or consumer services. It’s insanely high. People get on it, they love it, they use the hell out of it.

    The recommendation worked really well for me. It’s probably a simple thing, but it seemed to work better than most other services I’ve tried.

    Carter: We wanted to be the most comprehensive service out there. Unlike the other services, we offer a little of everything. We not only have the social music discovery stuff, which is always front and centre, no matter where you dial up the service; we also have the algorithmic recommendations, which you were playing around with. They’re getting better and better every day as we see more data, and learn more about you. We also have the on-demand aspect; “I know exactly what I want to listen to,” whether it’s a song or a playlist. And we have the passive listening stuff; “I like an artist, but I don’t really know which song or album to play. Just play me some of this artist’s songs, and maybe mix in related artists.” Or you can play your ‘heavy rotation’ or your entire collection as a radio station. Or your network’s ‘heavy rotation’, or collection.

    In the US… we haven’t carried it over anywhere else because no-one uses it, but we have built our own iTunes store. So you can buy [songs] a la carte in the US, but we found that no-one uses it, because once you’ve used the streaming service, there’s really no reason to buy stuff a la carte.

    How does the Australian subscription price point compare to the American version?

    Carter: Scott, I’ll let you take that one…

    Scott: [laughs] Thanks. The price point is heavily influenced by the rights holders. Between different markets, we have similar… every market to us is the exact same. So the price point basically was just taking into [account] what we had to pay the artists, the labels and publishers. How does it compare? Unfortunately it’s more expensive than the US market. That was just due to market circumstances when we came here. But we personally didn’t treat Australia any different to the US.

    How do you pitch the service to fence-sitters? Those people who say they love music, but rarely pay for it. They might go to a lot of shows, but most of the music they download is via torrents and other shady methods, not via iTunes or equivalent stores.

    Scott: I think in general, most people want to do the right thing. Music lovers want the artist to get paid. I’ve never come across a music lover that says, “Screw the artist, I want to steal from them”. I think the key is making the service as easy and quick to use that it’s almost the default. So that you’re almost paying for the convenience. Instead of researching on BitTorrent, I have ‘social discovery’ [on Rdio]. I’ve built my playlists around my influencers. I like a particular DJ, and a good friend of mine knows a lot about music, so it just kinda bubbles up [in my playlist]. What used to take me a half hour of reading different music blogs and listening to their tunes, it just comes to me easily, now. As Carter says, discovering more music in two days than in two decades – that is what’s going to engage these music lovers, and make it worth them spending the money that they would otherwise gain through BitTorrent.

    Can the service be used offline, or do you have to be connected to a 3G network or equivalent for it to work?

    Carter: You can save as much music as you want to your device’s memory card. So if you have a 32gb iPhone, you can save that much. Again, for 34 cents a day – instead of spending $10,000 to fill up your iPhone or iPad…

    The mp3s are saved onto the device’s hard drive?

    Carter: They’re locally cached, yeah.

    Has that been hacked yet?

    Carter: Not yet. [laughs]

    What are the most common comments you get when people are engaging with Rdio for the first time?

    Scott: The people who’re born before 1980, their concern is: “why am I just renting my music? I want to own it; I want to have a collection.” I think that’s just a lack of understanding of the access model. It almost goes back to the heyday of having a massive CD collection, and looking at it, touching and feeling it. But more and more, as that moves on… there are a lot of 21 year-olds who’ve never owned a CD. So that question is more of a theoretical until they start using the service, and then they realise, “Hey, I can hear all my songs, and it’s actually better because I can hear my entire collection no matter where I am, not just in my house.”

    Carter: I think there’s a general lack of knowledge. Most mainstream consumers don’t understand why they need a service like this, but strangely, they’re already doing it with other types of services, like movies, videos and books.  You have a digital book reader; you pull down your books electronically, you don’t have a physical copy. Same with video. They’re getting the fact that, “Oh yeah, this is what I do with other forms of content. Now I have this wide array of connected devices, I don’t need to buy one song for every device.” But I think there’s a general lack of education on why you need the service. I don’t think it’s a resistance, per se.

    The desktop client – which is optional to download – has a matching feature, which looks at the music on your iTunes or your computer, and if we have the rights to stream it, it automatically moves it to your Rdio collection. It’s kind of like a locker service, for those people who’ve paid a ton of money – or any money at all – buying digital downloads a la carte. We do that as well. We make it an easier transition.

    Going back to what you were just saying about existing libraries; part of my job is being a record critic. It shits me to tears when labels still insist on sending me a CD – which I’ll rip to mp3 immediately anyway – rather than supplying the mp3s so that I can hear the music instantly.

    Scott: The industry itself is still in a physical mode. It’s turning around. I get CDs all the time, but I don’t have a CD player. My laptop doesn’t have a CD drive. I can’t rip the CDs. I say “thank you very much” and I usually hand ‘em over to the maid at the hotel. [laughs] It’s a transition period.

    Carter: In general, we’re leaving a hit-driven business when you move to services like this. It’s a more personalised view on music. You follow specific people because you like their taste in music. You don’t go to Rdio and look at a ‘top 50’. You go there and you look at what’s relevant, what your friends are listening to. That is a fundamental shift in the industry – along with the mobility [the app allows].

    I want to touch on what artists are being paid through Rdio. As I’m sure you’re aware, Spotify had some bad press about how little artists were being paid per-stream. What’s your model like compared to Spotify’s?

    Scott: The model’s similar, because the tariff is going to be similar.  There’s a couple ways to approach this question. First and foremost, we don’t know about the labels’ relationships with their artists. Those are confidential. I have no idea how the labels are paying the artists. I know the majority of our revenue goes to the rights holders. How that’s being distributed afterwards is a black hole as far as I’m concerned. Having said that, there’s other ways to look at this. Net present value of money and all that other stuff aside, if you buy a [music] download, you only get paid once. That person can listen to that song thousands and thousands of times and you don’t get paid for that. On Rdio, you get paid every single time that song gets played. If it’s a good song, and it goes on for a long time [in terms of popularity], you’ll get paid a lot more than you’ll ever get paid than by a [single] download.

    The second way of looking at things is, there’s been cases where artists or labels will pull their music off streaming services off Spotify. It was funny, because this label guy I was talking to – the one I mentioned earlier – was talking to a big artist of his. He turned around and said, “OK, you want me to pull it off streaming for these reasons? That sounds good. So you want me to close YouTube as well, and also the radio?” [The artist] was like, “No no no, keep those open…” The label guy was like, “Hang on a second. You make 200 times more on the streaming service than you do on YouTube, and 150 times more on the streaming service than you do on the radio. So… I don’t understand your reasoning.”

    So I think there’s another education [required] on how these [services] can help and build the labels. The actual money pool for these artists, as of 2011 – two months ago? It probably was too nascent, too small to be anything significant to walk away from. However, the way that the ‘hockey stick’ [graph] of digital music and streaming services are going? I don’t think you’ll see those same stories this time next year, because the pie is getting bigger. That is one of the biggest complaints – that dollar-for-dollar, they’re not getting as much from our service as they are from iTunes. But the iTunes pie is a hell of a lot bigger than seven million people worldwide. I understand the gripe now – again, I don’t know what [the artists] are getting from their labels – but if they look at it in a promotional way and also that this is a nascent service and it will grow, you’ll see more and more people come online and stay online.

    Carter: In a nutshell, we’re driving up music consumption. Once people are on this service, they’re listening to a lot more music. As Scott said, there’s been a model shift in terms of how they’re paid. So you’ll no longer get paid from only one transaction; you get paid each time you play a song. And we’re driving up consumption. So theoretically, that should even out very soon, as we get to scale. The other part of the equation is, we’re hitting segments of the music value chain that have never paid for music, or only pay $30 or $40 a year through iTunes gift cards. We’re reaching new segments. More people will be paying for music again, as we reach scale.

    Scott: And not only that, but the smaller independent labels in each country – because we do worldwide deals – we’ve now given them reach, very quickly and with no cost to the label or artist. In America, in Brazil, in Germany. That exposure can translate into a great opportunity that they’ve never thought of before.

    Carter: They can be big in Japan.

    Scott: Yeah – it’s not just a t-shirt! [laughs] Going back to our Skype days; when we first launched Skype, we had no idea that Brazil was going to be as big as it was [in terms of users]. It was huge. I’m sure there’s some artists sitting here going, “I don’t know if we can do stuff in Brazil.” Now they’re getting feedback from streaming services and they’re like, “OK, everyone in Brazil is streaming our music, now it makes sense for us to tour there, rather than taking a blind punt.” Or maybe they wanted to go to Rio anyway, which is an understandable blind punt. But this sort of exposure is global, at very, very little cost.

    Those are some well-rehearsed answers to a very hard question.

    Scott: [laughs] Well, we think about it. It is a concern for us. Because if all of a sudden, the artists don’t want to be on streaming services, we’re in trouble. But we’ve thought about it. It’s an industry-wide discussion.

    ++

    Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) is a freelance journalist based in Brisbane, Australia.

    For more on Rdio, visit their website.

    Edit, June 2012: I wrote a feature story for The Global Mail named ‘Unchained Melodies’, which examines the streaming music market in Australia following the launch of Spotify. Click here to read it.

  • SMH IT Pro story: “‘Larger technical issue’ in Facebook ad system”, December 2011

    A short feature for the Sydney Morning Herald’s IT Pro section. It’s my first work published under the SMH masthead. Excerpt below.

    ‘Larger technical issue’ in Facebook ad system

    Self-service ad platform gives advertiser grief.

    A Facebook employee has suggested the dramatic shifts in advertising rates on the company’s self-serve ad platform may be due to a “larger technical issue”, in an email to an Australian customer.

    The customer, Tim Levinson [pictured], manager of Sydney-based hip-hop music label Elefant Traks, claims to have experienced price hikes of up to 1000 per cent on the social network’s self-serve ad platform.

    Levinson has spent around $10,000 on Facebook advertisements in the last two years; roughly $100 per week, using the site’s pay-per-click model.

    In late July, he wrote a concerned email to Facebook’s ad sales team, noting that the pay-per-click rates had gone “inexplicably through the roof” – from $0.50 per click to as much as $5. The Elefant Traks manager – who performs under the MC name Urthboy, and is also a founding member of popular Sydney hip-hop group The Herd – noticed in July that the estimated cost-per-click suggested by Facebook’s self-serve ad system wouldn’t budge on its ‘suggested bid’ amount, regardless of whether he was bidding on popular – and therefore, more competitive and expensive – keywords such as ‘triple j’ and ‘bliss n eso’, or significantly less popular terms such as ‘sydney underground rap’.

    “I run a music business where a click results in an actual ‘sale’ only a certain percentage of the time,” he wrote in the email. “This is consistent across the board. The art is increasing that percentage through clever targeting. There is no way that $2 per click is value for money, let alone $3 or $4. There is no way that I gain useful information about the best keywords for targeting people who actually buy our product when the fee per click is the same, regardless of the targeted groups.”

    It took two weeks for a Facebook employee to respond. In the month of July, Levinson had been charged between $25 and $71 each day. On August 5, “Josie” from Facebook’s ‘Online Sales Operations’ team wrote back and explained how the pay-per-click system worked, despite Levinson having used the ad platform without problems for two years. His concerns remained, so the email conversation continued.

    For the full story, visit SMH IT Pro.

  • The Australian story: Hillsong Music Australia, October 2011

    A short feature for The Australian’s arts section about Hillsong Music Australia, the record label arm of the Hillsong Church. Excerpt below.

    The power in grooving for God

    [Photo above: Hillsong Live plays at the Sydney Entertainment Centre in December. Thousands of fans attend Hillsong’s conferences and live album recordings each year. Picture: Trigger Happy Images Source: Supplied]

    The crowd roars as the lights dim. All eyes are focused on the stage, where smoke obscures the silhouetted figures. Four guitarists, four singers, two keyboardists, a drummer and a dozen-strong choir break into song. The sound is loud and clear. A boom operator swings a camera across the front rows; its images are fed on to three screens, which also list the song’s lyrics in a huge white font.

    The visual aids seem superfluous, though, as most know these songs by heart. Once the strobe lights disperse at song’s end, one of the singers asks: “Does anybody love Jesus here tonight?”

    It’s Friday night at the Brisbane campus of the Hillsong Church, yet the production values wouldn’t be out of place at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, about 25km away. About 3500 worshippers surge through these doors each weekend for services on Friday nights and Sunday mornings. The first third of this 90-minute service is more rock show than sermon: there are about 600 people in attendance tonight, all grooving on the spot to the rhythm section, hands held aloft in praise, voices singing, “Our God is greater than all”.

    All the musicians on stage are volunteers, as are the sound and lighting technicians. But unlike other live music venues across Brisbane, there’s no pursuit of a pay cheque. Instead, we’re witnessing musical expression in search of divine approval.

    After the band leaves the stage, an advertisement for Hillsong’s annual live album recording appears. This year, the recording takes place at Allphones Arena in Sydney, where 15,000 people are expected to attend. Hillsong Music Australia manager Tim Whincop calls the recording — to be held this Sunday — “an extension of our church services”.

    “With so many services across a weekend, we don’t often get chance for our whole church to worship together at the same time,” Whincop says. “Our gathering at Allphones Arena will allow us to achieve this, and we will take this opportunity to record our next worship album.”

    Since its first album in 1988, Hillsong Music has become one of the most successful independent record labels in Australia. According to Whincop, the label has sold more than 12 million records worldwide, and more than one million records in Australia. It has 21 ARIA-certified gold records to its name, 11 certified gold DVDs and one platinum CD: the 1994 live album People Just Like Us, which sold more than 70,000 copies. Yet, apart from when it pops up in the charts a handful of times each year, the label exists outside the nation’s mainstream music industry.

    Hillsong Music emerged in 1983 out of the congregation at the Hills Christian Life Centre in Baulkham Hills, Sydney. Whincop says its music interests have grown from “a small team of passionate people to a group of hundreds of singers, musicians, songwriters and production volunteers” based at three campuses in Sydney, one in Brisbane and 12 extension services held in venues including bowling clubs, universities and cinemas.

    Hillsong Music Australia — a department of the church — employs 17 full-time staff.

    Its artists and repertoire have little in common with other labels. Where a company such as Dew Process in Brisbane has a diverse roster of artists, such as Sarah Blasko, the Panics, Mumford & Sons and Bernard Fanning, Hillsong has just three bands on its roster: Hillsong Live, Hillsong Kids and United, the church’s best known “praise and worship band”, which was founded in 1998 and has 13 albums under its belt. Like the Hillsong Live series, United releases an album each year. The label’s next release has a Christmas theme.

    For the full story, visit The Australian. [Note: you may have to register for an account to read the full article, as News Limited has imposed a paywall as of October 2011]

  • Interviewed by Bianca Valentino about freelance journalism, October 2011

    Brisbane-based music journalist and zine maker Bianca Valentino has posted a long interview with me on her blog, Conversations With Bianca.  Here we speak about freelance journalism, interviewing, and goal-setting. Excerpt below.

    Interview: Andrew McMillen on Freelance Journalism In Australia, Writing & Interviewing

    To me Australian journalist Andrew McMillen is without a doubt a success. His work has been published in/for Rolling Stone Australia, The Weekend Australian, QWeekend, Mess + Noise, The Vine, Triple J Mag, The Courier-Mail, Australian Penthouse, Gamespot, BrisbaneTimes.com.au and Junior. Andrew has managed to make freelance journalism in Australia pay the bills, not an easy task! Here Andrew and I discuss interviewing, challenges facing freelance journalists in Australia, his career goals and aspirations as well an insight into how he’s made writing a full-time gig. I give you a chat with two writers that deeply care about their craft…

    I get a little nervous before my interviews, just a little. Good nerves though I think.
    ANDREW MCMILLEN: Ha, you know Neil Strauss told me the same thing which I think is fascinating because he’s pretty much at the top of his game yet he still feels that way. He told me it is because of the expectations that he puts on himself to do the best interview that that person has ever done. Obviously if you are talking to some of the most famous people in the world then that is a pretty tough ask most of the time.

    Do you get that way yourself?
    AM: Yeah, in the moments leading up to an interview. On the phone it’s usually worse because of that anticipation – you’re walking around in the morning or whenever it is and you know it’s coming up ’cause it’s in your schedule and you know you’ll be fine once you start doing it but it’s just the planning and waiting that increases my anticipation for it. Once you’re actually in the moment I find that you’re fine.

    There have been moments in my interviewing career where I have had almost a constant anxiety attack throughout the whole interview and then because I wasn’t in the moment when I got off the phone I was like, damn! I wish I hadn’t been so worked up I didn’t see the opportunity to ask an awesome question.
    AM: Do you think that came down to a lack of preparation on your part?

    No – I was suffering from panic attacks and anxiety at the time – I do more research than anyone else that I know for my interviews and with a lot of people I interview I have long-standing relationships and friendships I’ve built up with them over our careers, sometimes a decade or more. At times when I’ve done interviews I get an almost out of body experience or it’s almost a trance like state. I can’t quite explain it. I’ve had some amazing experiences and connections interviewing. I really, really care about what I do.
    AM: Yeah, wow! For me a big part of it for me is being present in the moment. You’ve got your list of questions in front of you that you want to get through but you should be willing to go with what they want to say and change in direction if need be. I’ve done interviews where I have lots of stuff prepared but then I only get to ask three or four questions and the rest of it is made up on the spot because they go off on some tangent which interests me and then I push them on that and go down an entirely different path. Some of those interviews have been some of the most enjoyable interviews I think, the ones which don’t go how you planned at all. I think that comes down to being versatile and being able to change it up on the spot.

    I’ve had some interviews where I’ve had a list of 50 questions and pretty much not even asked one of them. I also have notes on hand as well as questions. I did an interview with Dr Know from the Bad Brains – I’d loved that band for so long – once and when I started talking to him I felt it kind of fell apart. It was a really interesting interview for me where I learnt a lot from.
    AM: It turned out good in the end though didn’t it?

    Yeah in the end it did but at the time when I got off the phone to him I burst into tears – it’s the first and only interview that’s ever happened with. I thought I’d really failed. It meant so much to me because they were one of the first overtly spiritual hardcore punk bands and those two things mean the world to me. Reading the interview back though I realised it was awesome!
    AM: I love that reflection of how you might not realise it in the moment but then you type it up afterwards and awesome stuff comes out, it speaks a lot about the person, it speaks a lot about your talent to get that kind of thing out of them. I like when people say ‘I’ve never told anyone else before but…’ and then they tell you.

    That makes your heart stop a little and you’re like ‘hell yeah!’
    AM: [laughs].

    I wanted to clarify, is writing your sole work that you do?
    AM: Yeah I’ve done it full-time since June 2009. Up until October 2010 I was doing a bunch of copywriting and web project management, client management stuff for a small business called Native Digital. I was doing that as well as journalism so I wasn’t fully concentrating on journalism. Since October last year my full energy has gone into pitching, researching, interviewing and writing – it was a real shift in my mindset because it wasn’t just me plugging away trying to get my name out someone else [Nick Crocker] was investing time, energy and to a certain extent their reputation in introducing me to other people. We’d have weekly updates and they’d really just push me with each passing day to make sure that I was getting better—more connecting, pitching harder and pushing harder. That was the real shift for me in 2009.

    Since the start of last year Nick and I started this pitching spreadsheet where every time I pitched any kind of article to anyone – it could be an album review or a feature story – I’d track it in a Google Docs spread sheet so we could both see what was going on and what the response was and what stories were worth to me in a money sense. That was a business management strategy that Nick employed to get me to be more accountable for my actions so that I could see on a daily basis what I have on, what I’ve earned and I can see how it’s changed between now and six months ago. If I look back from now to Feb 2010 the changes are just ridiculous. I was totally green back then in terms of the stories I was pitching and the relationship I had with editors. Now it’s at a much more advanced level because I have those systems in place and I’m accountable and keep pushing harder. That relationship with Nick has been a massive part of why I am where I am.

    I’ve had a few conversations with Nick where he has encouraged me. I remember our first chat he asked me why I hadn’t started a blog yet. I told him I was waiting for this or for that and he told me there will never be a perfect time and to just start doing it.
    AM: He is incredible in that way. He’s started several businesses, he has that entrepreneurial spirit in him obviously but he even applies all that stuff to non-business things. He had this blog called Way Cool Jnr for a couple of years that he used to push his ideas about the music industry just for the hell of it. He wasn’t getting paid for it, it was for free. It became one of the most popular music blogs in Australia for some time. I took over editing it last year and I did it for a while but I stopped that recently because I can’t give it the time it needs which is a shame. That brand, that blog called Way Cool Jnr had a good name for itself and it just shows you can start a blog and it can have an impact even if it’s not for a business purpose. I have my own blog which I’ve had for a couple of years and it was cool to have that inbuilt audience from Way Cool Jnr.

    For the full interview, visit Bianca’s blog. You can find her on Twitter at @BiancaValentino, too. Thanks for the interview, Bianca.

  • A conversation with Ryan Holiday: blogger, former marketing director of American Apparel, soon-to-be author; October 2011

    Ryan Holiday is one of the most influential people in my life.

    His blog, RyanHoliday.net, is one of the most valuable online resources I know of. This is a statement that I know will make him blush, because Ryan is a modest guy. I know this because when I first approached him for an interview in January 2010, he deflected my questions – which were extremely detailed, potentially to the point of exhibiting stalker-like behaviour. He wrote that when he felt he deserved an interview, he’d give it to me; he also said that mine was “the most in depth, investigative email I’ve ever gotten”.

    At 24, Ryan [pictured right] is a year older than me. I’ve viewed his blog as a kind of counsel since I first became aware of his work. His thinking and writing has, in turn, shaped my thinking and writing. It is fair to say that I wouldn’t be on the path I am now if I hadn’t been closely studying another young male on the other side of the world, fearlessly kicking down doors in search and pursuit of his goals. For a couple of years, Ryan’s ambition, persistence and confidence all directly influenced my day-to-day thoughts and actions. Which is another statement that will make Ryan blush, because it’s a pretty fucking weird thing to type, let alone think.

    Ryan first attracted my attention by attracting the attention of someone who I was closely studying at the time: Tucker Max, the American blogger-turned-author who is best known for his 2006 book I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell and the 2009 film adaptation of the same name.

    Ryan wrote a review of Tucker’s website – which, at the time, was a collection of stories about Max’s drinking and sexual exploits – for his college newspaper, and sent the link to the author. Soon after, Max posted the review on his message board, which was a fairly popular corner of the web; it was deleted a couple of years ago. I immediately became interested in figuring out who Holiday was.

    That review led Tucker to hire Ryan as an intern at his company, Rudius Media (now defunct). It led Ryan to work with the acclaimed author Robert Greene as a research assistant on the strategy book The 50th Law, co-written with rapper 50 Cent and released in 2009. And it led Ryan to be hired by the clothing manufacturer American Apparel, where he worked as Director of Marketing for a couple of years. He still works as an advisor to American Apparel, but moved from Los Angeles to New Orleans in mid 2011 to work on a book project of his own.

    Since January 2007, Ryan has consistently used his blog as a platform for discussions about writing, running, online PR, media, philosophy, and stoicism, among other topics. I’ve consumed every word that he has written since his first post, ‘The Business Of Running‘. I often re-read his posts multiple times, which is something I rarely do online. That first post remains a valid starting point for understanding Ryan’s way of thinking and writing. I’ll quote the opening paragraph below.

    “I run 5 miles every night. It’s where I go to digest my day, hash out the multitude of information that’s been poured into me in the last wild six months or so, and to try and condense it down to some sort of cohesive strategy to live my life by.” – Ryan Holiday, January 31 2007

    When I visited the United States for the first time with my girlfriend Rachael in September 2010, I asked to meet up with Ryan in Los Angeles. We met at a burger joint on Melrose Avenue and talked for an hour or so. It was a huge thrill for me to meet a guy who’s been something of an internet hero to me for nearly five years. Rachael didn’t really understand why it was so important to me at the time.

    Neither did I, really, now that I think about it. All I knew then, and know now, is that Ryan Holiday is one of the most influential people in my life. It’s an honour for me to publish the below email interview.

    Andrew: When you wrote that review of Tucker’s website, what was the intended outcome?

    Ryan: I’m not sure if I ever told anyone this, but I’d noticed that Tucker tended to link to or write about any press he got (at least back then) and so I thought, “I’m a writer for a college newspaper, why don’t I try it”? It didn’t really go much further than thinking about it at that time. Then a couple weeks later I had the opening line of that piece floating around in my head: “If Hunter S Thompson had read this site, he probably wouldn’t have killed himself.” I figured I had something and eventually sat down and wrote it.

    So the intended outcome was that I’d send it to him and he’d link to it (I reposted the article on my blog) and that would be it. But the reaction totally blew my mind. Within about 20 minutes he’d responded and… I went back to my Gmail and found it:

    From: Tucker Max

    [November 28th, 2005]

    “Jesus Christ. Dude, that is fantastic. Seriously, I am awed by your grasp of me and my material. I am going to post this as THE example of a great review of me and my work.”

    It’s funny to me now because that reaction has become a pretty routine occurrence for me since then. I obviously thought I wrote a pretty good article but I was still reluctant to send it off. Is he going to like it? Did I go overboard? What are the chances of it getting a response? Turns out I had nailed the target and didn’t quite understand the extent. That seems to happen a lot to me. You’d think I’d anticipate it by now, but still other peoples’ reaction (positively, anyway) tends to catch me by surprise.

    What did that response change for you? Was that one of those ‘Fight Club moments‘ I remember you writing about years ago?

    I think it was the opposite of one of those moments. I think of a Fight Club Moment as something that breaks you down and demolishes the pretense and bullshit entitlement you have in your life. This wasn’t that. It instilled a lot of confidence in me. It was like, “ok, I am better than I knew. That’s awesome, maybe I can build on this.”

    What happened next between you and Tucker?

    I think after he had the publisher send me a copy of his book to review, which I did, and after it was published I asked for his thoughts on the writing. He went over it on the phone with me about ways I could improve my voice and tone.

    I stayed in touch—I think in my post about advice a couple weeks ago I called this ‘staying on the radar’, and that’s basically what I did. I would pop in and ask questions, for advice, send links etc. Any excuse I could think of to keep that connection alive. Only an idiot would waste that chance.

    A year or so later I was in New York, where he was living and I told him I wasn’t looking for a job, or a salary or a handout but I had some thoughts on ways I could contribute to his company, Rudius Media. After the meeting, he offered me an internship, which 6-8 months later become a job. But it was all a very fluid thing, like I was saying.

    [Andrew’s note: that post he mentionedAdvice to a Young Man Hoping to Go Somewhere (Or Get Something From Someone Successful)is an absolute must-read.]

    To me, the act of writing the review and showing Tucker is a pretty solid example of figuring out what you want, and pursuing it accordingly. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t that lead to him offering you a job, you quitting college and moving to LA, and then working for American Apparel?

    Haha, I mean you pretty much figured out exactly what I was doing or trying to do with the last question, probably with a better sense of clarity than I really had at the time. But yeah, it was the door that ultimately led to the opening of all the other doors. I have him to thank for all of it. When I see a path to an opportunity–like a lane in basketball–I sort of put my head down and the next thing I know I’m through it and it took me somewhere I didn’t totally anticipate.

    With the Tucker thing, I knew I wanted to one day be a writer like the kind of writers he was working with at the time – I’d known this since I first saw his sites in high school – so I did that article, and then I was working for him, and then I was working for the people he was working with, and then the people they were working with, and so on. I don’t think any of them every solicited me for a job either so much; it was just that I was around all the time, doing stuff and offering to do stuff, and then it eventually became official.

    How did you come across Robert Greene’s work? Was it Tucker who first showed you?

    Yeah, I’d heard of the books obviously but I think Tucker recommended The 48 Laws of Power so I read it. I marked up my copy so much and had a million questions to ask Tucker.* Then the first time I met him, Tucker walked me to a bookstore and bought me The 33 Strategies of War and said, “if you’re going to work for me, you’ll need to have read this.” I think that’s how I found out I got the job. All I took from that exchange was: “I better read this book on the plane ride home and know it backwards and forwards.”

    * Ryan’s sidenote: that copy of The 48 Laws is priceless to me. Someone stole it out of my office at American Apparel. I was fucking distraught. It makes no sense because Dov [Charney, AA chairman and CEO] has a million copies laying around. Why would they want my marked-up personal copy?

    How did the opportunity to work for Greene arise?

    The three of us – Tucker, Robert, and I – had lunch in L.A. a few years ago and it kind of arose from that meeting. Although it almost didn’t, because I was so nervous I accidentally messed up when I gave Robert my phone number.

    I have a suspicion that working on The 50th Law might have inspired a sense of validation, given your regular documentation on your life via the blog, and your personal reading and research via your Delicious account. Am I right, or way off?

    I mean, it was very cool to have the privilege to be allowed to peek inside of project like that. But I don’t think validating is the right work. What it was was educational, from top to bottom. Researching for someone–particularly someone like Robert–is crazy because you get pointed in all these directions that you’d never have gone by yourself, given a very firm objective to gather from that direction, and a tight deadline with which to do so. When you read or research for yourself, it is kind of this wandering, directionless thing. For the book, it was like getting a crash course in a million different subjects. I was interested in all of them so I would mark down the stuff I would want to go back and look at later.

    So it’s funny, when I see the book, it reminds me of loose ends I still need to tie up for myself and am interested in looking into.

    Your stoicism guest blog for Tim Ferriss in April 2009 attracted a lot of attention. What did you get out of it? What did you learn from the experience?

    More than anything, it helped me clarify my thoughts. Tim is awesome and he’s got a very impressive commitment to expanding the scope of blog all the time. He starting writing about productivity and got all these people hooked and the next thing you know he’s totally revolutionized how they think about health and science. I was lucky that he gave me the microphone for one of those digressions.

    I got quite a few new readers out of it and he also was gracious enough to give me two more chances to write about similar topics. [The Experimental Life: An Introduction to Michel de Montaigne‘, October 2010; ‘Looking to the Dietary Gods: Eating Well According to the Ancients‘, July 2011]

    What you learn in a setting like that is how to tailor your message to different mediums. When I write for my site, I can be as self-indulgent as I want. When you write for someone else or on a bigger platform, you have to be much clearer and you have to catch them right from the beginning. They’re not YOUR readers, so you have to meet them where they are if you’d like to bother listening to your message. At the same time, it taught me that I don’t want to have to perform like that all the time which kind of freed me up to not have to chase acquiring that audience for myself. If didn’t learn that, I’d be spend all my time working to build something that at the end of the day, would make me miserable to have.

    Could you tell me about your working space?

    When I was in LA, I had a big office with 5-10 employees at any given time at the American Apparel factory. I had an office at my house at well.

    Now, in New Orleans, I sort of went in the completely opposite direction. I’m in a studio apartment so I don’t work much there. I like working and reading and writing out of the library at Tulane or, I belong to an old school athletic club in the French Quarter that has like a library/parlor work space that I use.

    On Mondays, I try to do all my administrative stuff—conference calls with employees, meetings, paperwork and then during the rest of the week I respond to AA emails in the morning and again at night. The middle of the day is mine. I try to write, go to the gym (run, box or swim), and read—in that order.

    I still have the same quote, the one from Marcus [Aurelius], above my desk:

    “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.”

    The other quote above my desk is from Seneca:

    “Some lack the fickleness to live as they wish and just live as they have begun.”

    In November 2007 , you wrote that “you have to be happy with you”. I understand it’s a work in progress, but are you happy with you in October 2011, nearly four years later?

    Happier for sure. It’s not so much that it’s a work in progress as it is a process. I forget who said it, but someone smarter than me said that “happiness ensues, it cannot be pursued”. And I think it was Aristotle who said that happiness was the result of excellence.

    Either way, I take that to mean that you’re happy when you are doing whatever it is that you’re doing, well. So: are you doing well at your career? Is your relationship the best it can be? Are you handling adversity or a difficult experience with excellence? Are you behaving honorably? Etc etc.

    These are all opportunities to excel in the moment and cumulatively these moments create a sense of happiness. I’m fucking 24, there’s no way I’m doing well all the time at everything but I do feel I am getting better and more consistent.

    I want to close on a cliched question, which I hope you’ll humour me on. What advice would you give to yourself five years ago, when all you really knew about yourself was that you ‘wanted to one day be a writer like the kind of writers Tucker was working with at the time’?

    Fucking breathe. It’s not as precarious as you think it is. There’s no need to be anxious. See, it’s really easy when you’re that young and you don’t have a safety net to think you have to cling to everything for dear life, everything is a crisis, everything is mission critical, nothing else can be the priority.

    When you’re in that space, it’s really hard to have the patience and compassion or even empathy for the other people in your life because you’re fucking fight or flight all the time. In reality, it’s not as dramatic as all that. Taking a more relaxed and accepting approach might mean losing a couple opportunities here and there but down the road, you end up turning down plenty of those anyway, so what does it matter if a couple never arrive?

    If I told myself this and really listened, I feel like I’d have been happier along the way and be able to be prouder of how I behaved and the decisions I made.

    ++

    For more on Ryan Holiday, visit his blog. Hopefully he’ll soon post some news about the publication and release of his first book.

    [Edited on November 18: the first news of Ryan Holiday’s book has been announced.]

  • GameSpy story: ‘The Health of the PC Gaming Industry’, October 2011

    A story for GameSpy.com; my first for them. It’s a feature split into two parts: one to discuss the retail side of PC gaming, and one for digital.

    Excerpts from both halves included below.


    The Health of the PC Gaming Industry Part 1: Retail

    Dying or developing – just how is the PC doing?

    If you want to make a hardcore gamer roll their eyes in exasperation, tell them that the PC gaming industry is dead and/or dying. Variations on this well-worn statement have been circulating for years, and it’s never been particularly true. In 2011, it’s less true than ever: thanks to digital distribution, more people are buying and playing PC games, so it’s no surprise that developers and publishers continue to invest heavily in the space. Their efforts don’t necessarily have the goal of extracting gamers’ wallets from pockets, either: the burgeoning ‘free to play’ model is being taken seriously by publishers like EA and Activision. And though the hardcore among you might be loath to admit it, those who choose to while away their hours playing Facebook games are technically PC gamers, too.

    All told, PC game sales accounted for $16 billion in revenue worldwide last year, according to research conducted by DFC Intelligence on behalf of Nvidia. If DFC’s forecasts are to be believed, PC games will eclipse console game sales in 2014, and incur a sense of deja vu among those gamers old enough to remember a pre-console period where the PC ruled the emerging market for home video games.

    In this two-part feature, GameSpy will examine the health of the PC gaming industry across two fronts – retail and digital – in an effort to dispel those pesky death rumours once and for all.

    Bricks and Mortar
    When compared to the reams of laudatory material that have been dedicated to praising the virtues of digital distribution platforms, it’s easy to overlook the roots of PC gaming: the humble bricks-and-mortar retailer, a place where chunky, colourful cardboard boxes containing CD-ROMs once received pride of place on shelves a few short years ago. Though the cardboard boxes have been downsized and the CD-ROM technologically superseded, Steve Nix counters that there’s still a significant market for over-the-counter sales of PC titles.

    As general manager of digital distribution at GameStop, the world’s largest video game retailer – who employ some 17,000 full-time staff, and whose annual earnings in 2010 were $9.47 billion – Nix is well-placed to survey the PC gaming landscape. It also helps that he spent four and a half years at id Software, as director of business development and later, director of digital platforms. He’s been with GameStop since February 2011. “Many years ago, PC games were the largest category for GameStop,” he says. “But PC retail sales didn’t look good over the last ten years. There’s been a steady decline. As a PC gamer first and foremost, that always was very concerning. In the early 2000s, I was wondering, ‘What’s going to happen to the PC? Is it going to become completely extinct at some point, as a gaming platform?'”

    We now know that the answer to this question is a firm ‘no’. At the time, Nix reflects, “my strong belief was that we were seeing a user experience problem with PC games in a retail box, versus console games. Really, if you think about the fastest, easiest way for people to get a game and start enjoying it, it’s the consoles. They offer a really nice experience: you get your game disc, you pop it in, and you’re playing in under a minute. Whereas, by the mid-2000s, for PC gamers, games had gotten quite a bit larger. Before the DVD, you’d have nine CDs for some games. And then you might have to search the web for the latest patches. If you’d done everything correctly, maybe a couple of hours later, you’d actually be playing the game after all this work. Really, I think that a lot of customers who were PC gamers started transferring to the consoles just because the user experience on the PC was poorer at that point,” he reflects.

    According to Nix, all GameStop saw at that point was “the decline of the physical PC box sales, so they decided to focus on the console business. But fortunately, in the last few years, some of the leaders in the PC digital space have been more public about going out with their numbers. They’re seeing amazing growth. That information started to get back to GameStop, who did some extensive research and said, ‘the PC market is thriving, but it’s just shifted online. It makes sense for us to be a major player in the PC digital space’.” The company will invest $100 million in digital initiatives in 2011, according to a report in March. We’ll return to Nix and GameStop’s recent forays into the online marketplace in the second part of this feature, which focuses on the digital market.

    To read the rest of part 1, visit GameSpy. An excerpt from part 2 follows.

    The Health Of The PC Gaming Industry Part 2: Digital
    There’s money to be made in them thar online hills.

    In part one of this feature, we examined the boxed-retail past that many gamers have abandoned. Now we take a microscope to the digital-driven future of PC game distribution, which many gamers have already embraced. Like downloading music, downloading games for your PC makes a shitload of sense: it’s fast, convenient, better for the environment, and you can do it in your underwear and no-one will ever know. Sneaky and classy.

    Where did all the money go?
    Half to 70% of the $4 billion market for downloaded PC games are purchased through a platform named Steam [pictured below right], according to an article published by Forbes earlier in 2011. (Steam operator Valve refused to comment on the accuracy of this claim.) Though Steam was a right royal pain in the ass when it launched in 2002 during the beta period of Counter-Strike 1.6 – any gamer who recalls that frustrating time will no doubt concur – using the software is now as akin to the average PC gamer as breathing and circle-strafing. It’s the gaming equivalent of iTunes. Both are clear market leaders; both maintain an enormous brand loyalty worldwide.

    That same Forbes article quotes North American market research firm NPD Group as stating that, in 2010, “sales of PC games via download outstripped sales of boxed games in stores for the first time”. When I question Valve VP of marketing Doug Lombardi on the significance of this outcome – was this always a goal on the agenda, or happy coincidence? – he cryptically replies, “Our goal has always been to deliver a higher quality of service to the customer, regardless of where or how they purchase the product.” Perhaps enormous consumer uptake and financial success was always going to be a consequence of aiming to develop the market’s best digital distribution platform.

    Lombardi makes it clear that Valve still values traditional retail and healthy competition in the digital distribution market. “We don’t advise folks to skip retail, or other digital outlets,” he says. “Every publisher and developer should consider the widest possible distribution possible.” I’m curious as to how he pitches the service to prospective Steam clients – from indie developers, to the world’s biggest publishers. “We start with the 30 million-plus gamers connected to the service, the instant access to data on their Steam sales, and the increasing number of Steamworks features we offer free of charge such as matchmaking, anti-piracy, support for in-game DLC, and more.” Also of note is Lombardi’s eyebrow-raising claim that “Steam has grown over 100% year-over-year for the past six years.” A userbase of 30 million is a fairly compelling reasoning for both developers and publishers to do a deal with Steam, I’d imagine.

    Game developers such as Tripwire Interactive are among the legions of Steam supporters. The Roswell, Georgia-based studio – creators of Red Orchestra 2 and Killing Floor – have been fans since they signed up in 2005. “And we still are”, says vice president Alan Wilson. “They still have that Valve sense for what the people buying the games actually want, will give it to them at a good price, good customer service – and they treat the developers/publishers right as well. They’re always easy to work with. There are other good services out there – D2D, GamersGate and so on. But until Steam either starts getting it all wrong, or the others find some miracle formula, Steam will stay king of the pile.”

    To read the rest of part 2, visit GameSpy.