Monty Munford interview: from blogging to Bollywood and back again

11 Jun 2012

Monty Munford is one of the UK’s top tech writers, as well as being an entrepreneur and a consultant to some of the world’s top brands on mobile and social strategy. He talks to John Kennedy.

When I call Monty Munford up on Friday afternoon, he is sipping a cool beer at a train station, waiting for a mate to arrive.

He’s done for the day but still in thinking mode, primarily about how digital technology – what he calls the ‘Googlisation of things’ – has made it possible for individuals like himself, those who follow their hearts, to find their place in the world today.

Munford will be in Dublin this week to deliver one of the keynotes to the third annual dot conf at the National College of Ireland.

Munford spent more than a decade as a motorcycle dispatch rider in London before finding his way into technology, entrepreneurship and blogging.

Munford, who has more than 15 years of experience in mobile and digital, is the founder of Mob 76, a company that helps start-ups raise money and exit, and he has consulted with Paramount Digital Entertainment and Liverpool FC on mobile and social strategy. As well as this, he has acted as a villain in two Bollywood movies during a two-year stint in India.

He is also is one of the UK’s top tech writers, contributing to TechCrunch and The Telegraph, and his blog ‘Monty’s Outlook‘ is listed as the 54th most influential blog in the UK with an audience of venture capitalists, investors, entrepreneurs and publishers who value his insights.

The age of generalism

“Entrepreneur,” he says testily in a Cockney accent when I ask him how he describes himself. “Yeah, I suppose, it’s a trendy word. Someone I met a few months back said he had never met anyone more qualified to be a millionaire than me. ‘Well f***k me’, I thought – I never considered myself like that.

“I think there’s an incubation period in everybody’s career where you do as much as you can and I’ve always been a generalist. I think the age of generalism is now. It never used to be; it used to be all about specialism, you were either a writer, an actor or a business person in some kind of vertical.

“An entrepreneur is someone who encompasses everything they can be – a good writer, a good networker, a good traveller, good project manager, a good coder. As long as you do all or some of those things, it creates a kind of content management system for our times.”

Munford is perfectly at home in a world where multitasking, and multiple skills matter. “At Google it takes 40 interviews to get a job and the highest points go to someone who can segue or play polo or something batty. The world I came from was a world where everyone had a job for life and had pensions and I’ve always stuck my fingers up at all that.

“Fortunately, things have come around to the way that I’ve always thought. I’m a bit out there, a bit different and you know what, I stand by that type of life. I’m a real passionate exponent of just do what you want.”

Breaking the mould

Munford says he spends about half his working month consulting and the other half writing. “Jack Nicholson once said ‘It’s funny, the harder I work the luckier I get.’ That’s exactly the way it is for me. The more you put into it the more you get out of it.

“I’m 51, not 12 or 30 and I feel the best is always yet to come. You can break the mould when you’re Zuckerberg at 19, but you can also break the mould when you’re 30 or 60. With digital we’re all becoming more intelligent.”

Munford says he doesn’t buy into the media moaning about the death of print. “Bloody hell, it’s been 10 years or more since Google. The craft of writing still exists. I spent a long time learning that craft. It can be a real labour and it can take 10 years to get up to speed. Is someone going to turn around to me and say you’re not getting any money for it? F**k off!”

I ask him does he think journalists or media are in control of their own destiny or are they just not taking enough charge of the situation? “They are in absolute control of their destiny and they have to discover before it’s too late their entrepreneurial qualities. In many ways I’m forced to become an entrepreneur because that’s the business model that exists at the moment.

“Imagine working at Canary Wharf for a newspaper on a six-figure salary and car allowances and other nice frills and suddenly all of that is pulled from under you? Necessity is the mother of all invention. But it’s something else that goes even beyond that – there’s a stage you have to get before you get desperate.

“You have to change tack and pick up new skills. You have to get good at branding.”

And, he points out, with the internet providing more of an audience of generalists, “use that generalism to hone your specialism.”

Opportunities and dangers in mobile

The way Munford talks about the increasingly mobile web, driven by smartphones and speedier cellular networks, you can’t help but feel that many who worked in the mobile industry in the last decade didn’t see what was coming.

“When I worked at Player X in 2009 everyone was treating mobile as something different and they weren’t integrating it into their strategy.

“Very few companies at the time were smart enough to realise mobile should be embedded in their strategy. The ones that did – AdMob, Millennium Media, Rovio – are worth billions of dollars today because of their foresight.

“Companies we were looking to do deals with at the time weren’t very clued and the technology that exists now didn’t exist then. Now we’ve got near field communications (NFC) for things like payments. But we also exist at a time where people are dubious about 3G broadband which operators call superfast broadband, but people think its rubbish.”

Munford says its important that the mobile industry gets its marketing right in terms of managing expectations.

“I would say NFC is very interesting but as long as they (the operators) get the marketing right and the trials by Orange and O2 go to plan in urban areas it could do very well. I think it’s great that I can swipe my phone over a machine and pay with digital cash.

“I still think operators are missing a trick. Mobile operators have it in their power to provide micropayments. In fact, I always thought telecoms operators would become banks. I always thought Vodafone was going to take over from MasterCard.

“But something like that is going to happen. Mobile banking will be ubiquitous in a few years.”

This creates opportunities, but also challenges.

“I was in Somaliland a year and a half ago and people there can do transactions over mobile in amounts of US$100,000. Merchants there can send that amount of money by mobile now.

“At the moment there are loads of Russian hackers in Somaliland hacking the f***k out of mobile payments systems and I bet there will be a day in the not-too-distant future when all the world’s banking systems will go down because they’re all extremely hackable. But that’s another story …”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years