“My family started, and has been involved (for over 20 years) in the fight against banned lion hunting — which automatically means being dragged into other conservation related issues such as rhino hunting, and pretty much any other contentious wildlife related issues. Our registered charity, CACH, has representatives all over the world and is responsible for some pretty big changes; both in terms of public opinion and legislation. Almost everything I’ve learned through business has been channelled into helping build this international campaign. Whether it is advising on social media strategies and campaigns, or discussing how to approach sensitive matters in the public domain. Pretty much whatever I can do to help. The real hero, however, is my father, who first used his legal skills as an advocate to help turn the tide against the wealthy canned hunting industry in the courts. It was his leadership that fundamentally inspired the growth of the campaign from its first day.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing David Mercer Founder of SME Pals. David is a tech entrepreneur and published author with business and development books published and translated into over 13 languages worldwide. Using his cum laude degree with a double major in applied math and math, he has contributed to startups with diverse goals from tackling NP-Hard (Non-Deterministic Polynomial-Time Hard) problems to fun ones that help online shoppers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I started working as a technical editor with a publishing company that made books for programmers. Those massive, door-stop type, books. Over time I picked up quite a broad base of knowledge about programming and ended up becoming an author.
I wrote for about 5 years and ended up with my books being translated into over 13 languages around the world. But it eventually came to an end when my last book was available online (pirated) before it had even been released to the public. Trying to sell expensive books when the information is available to download for free is generally not a good way to make money.
So I decided to change tack.
Instead of writing books and charging for them I started writing the same stuff and putting it on my own blog. Oddly enough it turned out that you can make more money from free content (from advertising, etc) than you can charging for it.
Plus I was free to write about anything I wanted. I could talk about anything from business ideas, or answer readers’ questions about things like which website builder is the best for small business startups.
Over time I began to get involved with other startups, on the side. Contributing time and skills to help get good ideas off the ground — in addition to continuing creating content for my own blog. That’s pretty much where I am today.
Each day is different. Each day is a challenge. Which is how I like it.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you in the course of your career?
Early on. In fact, the first book I was ever fully in charge of making had the first word of the first sentence of the first paragraph of the first chapter spelled incorrectly. Instead of reading, “Virtually”, it read “Vitually”.
To this day I still don’t know how it happened. I suspect an old draft got bundled up and forwarded to the printers. But, of course, a mistake like that means that nearly 15 years later some of my old colleagues and friends still begin their emails to me with, “Vitually”.
Fortunately, the book went on to sell well and of course the error was corrected in the second print run. But I guess that’s going to follow me around forever.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
That’s easy. My family started, and has been involved (for over 20 years) in the fight against banned lion hunting — which automatically means being dragged into other conservation related issues such as rhino hunting, and pretty much any other contentious wildlife related issues.
Our registered charity, CACH, has representatives all over the world and is responsible for some pretty big changes; both in terms of public opinion and legislation.
Almost everything I’ve learned through business has been channelled into helping build this international campaign. Whether it is advising on social media strategies and campaigns, or discussing how to approach sensitive matters in the public domain. Pretty much whatever I can do to help.
The real hero, however, is my father, who first used his legal skills as an advocate to help turn the tide against the wealthy canned hunting industry in the courts. It was his leadership that fundamentally inspired the growth of the campaign from its first day.
If someone would want to emulate your career, what would you suggest are the most important things to do?
Another easy one. I’m basically a poster child for doing everything wrong. I think I could write a pretty good book on all the things not to do when it comes to being an entrepreneur. I guess the biggest mistake I made was trying to go it alone. In hindsight I’m not even sure why I had this attitude.
Being successful in business is about building teams of great people who share a common goal and can bring ideas into the real world in a way that’s profitable.
A good example is Optergon, which is a route optimization startup that can help maximize the efficiency of fleets of vehicles that have dynamic delivery and pickup conditions. Basically it allows companies to reduce their transport and logistics costs by providing route optimization solutions that take into account time based costs (like drivers’ hourly rate), and distance based costs (like fuel), along with restraints and conditions (like how much each vehicle can carry, whether they are able to carry certain things, when specific deliveries need to take place, and so on) to produce real world solution that would otherwise be impossible.
A startup like this simply can’t be built by one or two people. There are too many working parts. To get something like this off the ground requires a lot of skilled people all working together. If you’re going to try create something big, you have to understand how to put together the people who can make it happen.
If you find that you’re spending all your time locked away from the outside world working on a business idea, you’re most likely doing it wrong (yes, I know. A lot of great businesses came out of someone’s garage.).
You have to make connections, meet people. Get out there and start building a network of people who can, in one way or another, help get your business off the ground as soon as possible.
Which brings me to my next important point.
Get your business to the point where it can start generating revenue as quickly as possible. If you can’t find a way to make at least some money early on your chances of succeeding diminish quickly. Starting a business is hard already. It’s almost impossible without money coming in fairly quickly.
Is there a particular person that made a profound difference in your life to whom you are grateful?
It might sound cliche but I would say my wife.
We all have strengths and weaknesses that help or hinder us in business and in our personal lives. The trick is finding a partner who can see things you can’t. Who’s good at what you’re not. Who can say, “this is not right” but also explain why, and what needs to be done to fix it.
It means you have to swallow your pride here and there but the payoff is worth it because between the two of you, you do a better job than by yourself.
While I tend to approach problems like a computer, she brings a creative and out-the-box type thinking to the table (which some might think is odd considering she’s an auditor by training). What we do together is better than either of us could do on our own. Which is wonderful.
Can you share a story?
I was working on a startup that provides analytical data to online sellers. My wife realized that this same data would be really useful to shoppers (something I had never really considered). Since all the infrastructure was in place to provide that data to shoppers in a way that would be useful to them we decided to go ahead and do that.
At first, I presented the information in the same way I would have to sellers. Giving them hard empirical evidence with charts and stats. When I showed it to her, she hated it. She sat down and explained to me what shoppers want and need when making a buying decision. All of which was completely new to me (I’m not a big shopper).
After muddling through a few iterations we finally came up with something that she knew would help her make better buying decisions — and by extension other people also looking to shop smarter. The net result was a service based on my analytical data that is also attractive, easy to use and easy to understand for shoppers.
So what are the most exciting projects you are working on now?
RankTracer is an hourly Amazon price tracker that can find and surface online deals that other deal sites miss. In addition it provides really easy, interactive price comparisons and price histories that empower shoppers to make better buying decisions.
Why am I excited about this?
Well, it has a number of genuinely unique features that make it an excellent free tool for people who want to save money. But save it buying better products. It’s not just a fast, accurate price tracker. It’s also a price comparison tool that allows you to make instant decisions about whether 20% off on this product is better or worse (in terms of value for money) than another item that is at, say, 25% off.
In addition, the system doesn’t simply track millions upon millions of products like everyone else out there. People simply can’t browse ten thousand toasters to make up their minds about which one they want to buy. Instead, it uses human curated comparison lists that include only best-selling, high value for money, well reviewed products. In this way it helps to cut down on information overload and protect shoppers from much, if not all, of the junk they would otherwise have to sift through.
It’s got a lot of other features that empower shoppers to spend wisely. You can glean quite a bit of useful insights into how much you should be paying for products when you have access to data like this. For example, the lowest price deals page shows all the products that are selling currently selling at their lowest historical price (over the last month) right now. While the latest price drops page shows products that have dropped their price in the last hour (updated every hour).
What are your “Top Five Ideas About How Influencers Can Monetize Their Brand”.
The best way to monetize your brand as an influencer comes down to the quality and quantity of good relationships you have with other industry players. It doesn’t matter whether you want to work as a brand. Here are some of the most common ways:
The amount of money you can make depends both on the size and makeup of your following. Who you are able to reach at any given time will determine the value you can offer to industry players, and subsequently how much they will be prepared to invest.
How often you can convert potentially interested players to invest in you is determined by how many good relationships you have in and around your industries. Converting influence into revenue requires a strong, high quality network of connections. Simple as that.
I like challenges, so I tend to work with early stage companies that are agile and can adapt and evolve quickly because these suit my style of doing business. I negotiate on a set of deliverables in return for a small equity share. If I do my job right, the fledgling startup launches and makes (someday, fingers crossed) a billion dollars.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂
I’d probably like to have a chat with Elon Musk because he strikes me as one of the very few people who is both able (i.e. has the influence and resources) and willing to tackle big problems that humanity needs to solve… and fast.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
The easiest way to follow me is via Twitter at @smepals, or via my blog https://smepals.com
Originally published at medium.com