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Starting at the Bottom (I am still not sure where I will end up)

The below is a speech delivered by Ron Manners at the Tallinn leg of the Free Market Roadshow 2023

I am told that when talking to a group of entrepreneurs they will not listen if they think you are an academic.

Entrepreneurs only learn from entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship is a ‘mindset’ rather than a ‘science’.

Let me tell you, that I was an entrepreneur even before I knew how to spell the word entrepreneur.

At age 12, I was making and selling Crystal Sets (the pre-curser of the transistor radio).  Then, at age 15, after school, I ran a very profitable business where you might say that “I started at the bottom”.

I need to give you a picture here of a circa-1950s Australian toilet / ‘dunny’.

This was before the invention of the toilet paper in rolls.

It was then a custom to use old magazines or newspapers, then along came the toilet roll, with which you are all familiar. 

Well, there was one problem, I always seemed to be getting the very last piece of paper so, I did something about it.

I invented the dual roll holder – perhaps the first of its kind in the world?  (I may never know).

Well, what do you know, it took Australia by storm, each day after school I tended to my ‘production line’.  I had a small device that easily bent the steel frame and welded it to a hook-hole.

On the left of the picture, you see the frames hanging, after spray painting and, on the right, you see the weekly advertisement which ran in a national magazine.

Business was brisk, everyone seemed to want one as a worthy addition to their bathroom.

This dual roll holder and magazine rack was marketed as the ‘Seatside Companion’.

This was a very elegant contraption.  They became both a fashion statement and a national icon.

Some people would take the Seatside Companion for a walk, more stylish than a dog!

Others just hung them in their library.

You might ask, why am I not still in this profitable business?

Well, I read somewhere, that if you run a business for too long, you end up looking just like it.  So, it was time to move on from this business at the ‘bottom’. But, just before moving on let me give you some statistics.   The price of the Seatside Companion was A$3.00, including postage anywhere in Australia.  Just for comparison I took my remaining device to Australia Post, recently, and found that it would now cost $20, just to mail it anywhere in Australia.

I calculated that there has been a ten times increase in the price over these 70 years.

The price really has not gone up; it is just that the government has destroyed our money by a factor of ten.

Our government is just like most governments, having got themselves into debt, they find the best way out is to declare ‘partial bankruptcy’ by destroying the currency, in effect, paying their creditors ten cents in the dollar.

Yes, I have little confidence in governments when they stray from their very few legitimate roles.

Well, I may have started at the ‘bottom’ but, I have managed to repeat that entrepreneurial pattern, many times, over my long life.

  • I brought the first jukebox to my city.
  • I  imported from Turkey a spectacular salt-eating plant, ‘Puccinellia’  that rehabilitated Australia’s salt-damaged pasture lands.
  • Our family mining equipment company has been actively involved in Australian mining for 128 years and, over that time, we have done many entrepreneurial exercises.  One being to convert many of Australia’s mine winders from steam-driven to electric.

In the 1970s underground mining was done with a man-operated ‘bogger’ like the one illustrated below.  Then the price of nickel collapsed, and many mines were running at a loss.

I wondered how Sweden was managing to mine extremely low grades of underground iron ore and transport by rail, over the mountains, through the export port of Narvik in Norway.  To follow up my curiosity, I flew to Sweden and went underground at every Swedish mine, from Lapland in the North, right through to the south of Sweden.

I found that by ‘scaling up’ they had overcome their lack of grade by use of large Kiruna diesel dump trucks.  They managed to get an incredibly low profile, for operating in the underground mines, by putting two Volvo engines, side-by-side, and the diesel exhaust, which would normally be unsafe for use underground was run through catalytic converters (cylinders containing millions of platinum prils). They had used science to overcome this significant technical problem.

We imported many millions of dollars-worth of these trucks and the nickel mines maintained profitability.

That gives me confidence that right now, in 2023, we could continue to use science to overcome engine exhaust emissions that are being presented to us as being of ‘Crisis proportions’. There is plenty of scope for entrepreneurs in this field and a much better plan for the world’s economy than the green extremists’ demands that we shut down our industries.

Let me conclude this series of entrepreneurial mini adventures by mentioning our successful importation, from England, of the ‘disposable steel rock bits’, back in around 1950.

We were selling these ‘disposable rock bits’ (they just fitted on the end of a tapered drill steel and once they became blunt you just knocked them off and fitted another).

We were selling these by the thousands until one day this all stopped.

The Swedes invented a tungsten insert which they fitted into the steel rod which became an integrated steel rod with a tungsten insert.  This certainly outlasted our ‘disposable product’ and our market disappeared instantly.

What was I to do with 20,000 of the old disposable rock bits?

Would I spend the rest of my life looking at shelves full of these unwanted rock bits?

At about that time I had been curious at a particular metal usage, and I  noted that Australia’s fishing industry was a major user of lead.  What for, I asked?  Upon checking I found that they were pouring lead into small moulds in which was embedded a wire loop.

These were then used all the way around Australia’s fishing nets.

After a little more investigation I found that each of these lead weights were about the same weight as our rock bits, which also featured a convenient hole.

Another market miraculously opened, and I was happily able to sell the unwanted ‘bits’ at a much higher price than the mining industry had been prepared to pay.

Not all of my entrepreneurial efforts have been this successful and I even wrote a book about all my spectacular failures, yes, the title of the book was Heroic Misadventures (free e-book available below)

So spectacular were my failures, that my book was a sell-out success.  Could you imagine that; I made good money from selling a book about my failures?

Anyway…… that brings us right up to 2023 where I am more excited about the future of entrepreneurship than I have ever been, over those many years.

The Good News

One of the greatest drivers for the entrepreneurial start-up industry is the current fad / cult of E.S.G. (Environment, Sustainability, Governance) / D.E.I. (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion).

Anyone who has studied economics and, in particular, Public Choice Theory will immediately recognize this fad as being a money-making scheme by those receiving the ‘Concentrated Benefits’, with the costs ‘widely dispersed’ over an unsuspecting public.

This cult / fad will continue on its merry way until some current class actions from aggrieved shareholders, give a jolt to public company boards who have been seduced by the warm fuzzy language of E.S.G. / D.E.I.

The strange thing is that most good companies already practise this good governance, necessary for corporate longevity, and have no need to demote ‘profitability’ from the major priority of their enterprise.

The good news is that shareholders are ‘fleeing’ to private equity and unlisted companies and find the new start-up industry attractive, in this respect.

Let us enjoy this redirection of shareholders funds while it lasts.

So, what am I doing about it?

After a lifetime of taking risks, with a better rate of success than failure, I can recognize the mind-set that mark the successful entrepreneurs.

I am not an investment advisor and I’m not putting forward these three most interesting start-up / venture companies, in any way other than suggesting you should look closely at their style of operation.

The three of them are geographically well separated:-

  • Bombora – Investment Management Partners (Sydney – Australia)
  • Purpose Ventures (Perth – Australia)

  • Startup Wise Guys (Tallinn – Estonia)

You will find no preoccupation with E.S.G. / D.E.I. language amongst this group but, you will get an insight into the skilled entrepreneurship that the world urgently requires to lift it out of the E.S.G. / D.E.I. swamp and its self-serving jargon.

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