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Google steals drone aircraft maker Titan Aerospace from under Facebook’s nose

4:13AM | Tuesday, 15 April

Google has announced the takeover of drone aircraft manufacturer Titan Aerospace, outmanoeuvring Facebook in the process.   As SmartCompany reported in early March, Facebook was believed to be interested in launching a $60 million bid for the drone aircraft maker.   At the time, it was believed the social media giant was primarily interested in Titan’s technology in a bid to launch affordable, low-cost internet services in emerging markets.   Titan’s drones – dubbed “atmospheric satellite platforms” by the company – fly at an altitude of nearly 20 kilometres and are equipped with solar panels, allowing them to continuously remain in flight for up to five years without needing to land.   While most of the content on its website has been removed since the announcement, the New Mexico-based drone aircraft manufacturer originally described its primary market as being for high-resolution imaging.   “Titan Aerospace provides persistent solar atmospheric satellite platforms to global customers for easy access to real-time high-resolution images of the earth, voice and data services, and other atmospheric-based sensor systems,” the company stated on its website as of March this year.   A Google spokesperson emailed SmartCompany and said providing internet access was one of the key benefits of purchasing Titan.   “Titan Aerospace and Google share a profound optimism about the potential for technology to improve the world. It’s still early days, but atmospheric satellites could help bring internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation.”   In June of last year, Google announced Project Loon, a project using hot air balloons to deliver broadband services to remote areas.   Meanwhile, interest in drone aircraft has intensified after online retail giant Amazon announced plans to deliver customer orders using unmanned aircraft in December of last year.   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

THE NEWS WRAP: Amazon looking at launching Kindle smartphone

4:33PM | Sunday, 13 April

Amazon is believed to be gearing up to release a smartphone in the second half of this year, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal.   The tech and online retail giant is believed to have demonstrated prototype handsets to developers in recent weeks, with an official announcement planned by the end of June ahead of a September launch.   A key feature of the new device is said to be a 3D screen that doesn’t require special glasses, a feature the company hopes will differentiate its device from competitors, including Apple and Samsung.   No dotcom crash despite stock falls, say US analysts   Leading analysts in the US say another ‘90s-style tech crash is not likely, despite recent falls on the tech-heavy Nasdaq index.   “What I'm looking for is really more or less a re-alignment in a somewhat orderly fashion,” BMO Private Bank chief investment officer Jack Ablin says.   “A new appreciation for dividends, for cash flow, for earnings and for revenues - things that investors should be looking for all the time.   “Investors are starting to move away from markets that seem expensive and are gravitating toward markets that have a better value so, all and all, I think it’s probably a cathartic cycle that's going on right now.”   Smaller David Jones stores coming after SA Woolworths takeover   South African department store operator Woolworths Holdings says it is looking at introducing smaller format David Jones stores if its takeover of the Australian department store chain is successful.   Last week, the South African Woolworths, which is not affiliated with the Australian retailer of the same name, surprised investors by announcing a $2.15 billion takeover bid for David Jones.   “I think we see three obvious [sites] within the next couple of years. I believe we can get to double digits in time – but it's going to take time,” Woolworths Holdings chief executive Ian Moir said.   “What we will not do as a business is make bad real estate decisions. So you need to make sure you have got the right demographic and the right position within that demographic.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down to 16026.8. The Aussie dollar is down to US93.97 cents.

Meet the Australian startup planning to run the skies with their drones

4:40PM | Sunday, 13 April

It takes a gusty entrepreneur to start a pitch claiming Amazon’s plans for drone deliveries are vaporware, and then that his tiny team can and is pulling it off.   But that’s exactly how Sydney-based drone startup Flirtey’s Matthew Sweeny kicked off his pitch at one of the Startmate accelerator demo days recently.   He’s one of eight Australian startups hitting the shores of the United States with hundreds of hours of pitch practice behind them, in a bid to woo early stage investors with their bright ideas.   Sweeny told StartupSmart they believe they’re ahead of the curve with the incoming surge of accessibly priced robots.   “Our vision is a future where flying robots are low cost and ubiquitous,” Sweeny says. “I founded Flirtey because I realised there had been no innovation in delivery for a long time and wanted to develop a disruptive technology that would create a new industry.”   The idea for drones emerged for Sweeny while he was studying in China and tinkering with helicopters in his spare time.   Realising the technology was at an inflection point, Sweeny decided he wanted to be part of making drones mainstream.   The Flirtey technology was developed with the assistance of the University of Sydney's Warren Center for Advanced Engineering.   The drones operate on rechargeable lithium polymer batteries. Sweeny says they can carry parcels of up 2kg for a range of up to 10km. They use GPS to locate customers, and may be tracked via smartphone in real-time.   “The market opportunity is enormous, we're in discussions with some of the world's largest online retailers for UAV delivery,” Sweeny says.   As for the regulations around drones: Australia is apparently a good place to start, as it has already legalized commercial UAV flights.   Flirtey previously partnered with a textbook startup Zookal (video below) to demonstrate what the technology could do. The story garnered some international media attention, with some reporters believing the hype was a little premature     Flirtey Zookal flight from The PR Group on Vimeo.     Beyond ecommerce deliveries, Sweeney says the drones could also be used to deliver food and even urgent blood and medical supplies.   But it’s not going to be simple. Other than Amazon, Flirtey is just one of 219 drone startups registered on Angel List.

Social media and the law: Starting your business on Facebook does not exempt you from the law

3:57AM | Friday, 21 March

Facebook is a great, inexpensive way to test interest for your startup idea and to informally promote your business. But just because you are starting your business on Facebook does not mean you are exempt from legal or regulatory requirements.   The law still applies   You still need to comply with Australian regulations even if you start your business through social media.   Just because you are starting your business on Facebook, other social media or even setting up a shop via one of the large online shops, does not mean you don’t need to comply with the Australian regulations, including consumer law.   You not only need to ensure you comply with your chosen social media channel’s own terms of use for your ad and promotional campaigns but also all the Australian rules, regulations, industry codes and standards relating to advertising, privacy and all things consumer law related.   Otherwise you may be fined or without a business at all. Last year, Bendon did a promotion encouraging people to upload photos of themselves and their best friends (in Bendon lingerie) to win a prize on Facebook. This was quickly shut down by Facebook and considered a breach of ethical code.   There is no special or specific law yet relating to social media in Australia. Despite this, it is covered by general consumer law, rules, regulations and contained in advertising and industry codes and we are beginning to see cases in court which will form the precedents for new regulations.   Social media terms and conditions protect them not you   Social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are increasingly being recognised as legitimate marketing tools. All the social networking sites along with the large shopping e-commerce platforms such as Etsy, Big Commerce and Amazon all have terms and conditions-but they protect them and not you.   And if you read the terms carefully, you will see that you are actually indemnifying them for any claims, litigation or issues that an individual may have with any content associated on your account site. This is true even if you didn’t put it there yourself.   Did you know Facebook owns your customer list?   Facebook is a great way to start a business and access a large customer base. But did you know Facebook owns your customer list? They can close your Facebook page at any time without notice and overnight and your business is gone. They don’t need a reason. This is one reason why you should consider setting up a website ASAP with your goods and services and reading their terms of service.   Minimize your risk   You are responsible for all content on your website and social media accounts.   Don’t make ‘over-statements’ or claims on your Facebook or other social media pages that you wouldn’t make in any other type of advertising. Monitor your social media pages and remove any posts or advertisements that may be false, misleading or deceptive as soon as you become aware of them. This is what the ACCC would expect you to do with any other type of advertisement and they expect it on social media as well.   And don’t allow others to make misleading claims or defamatory comments on your website or social media. You are responsible for posts or public comments others make on your social media pages also.   You should establish clear ‘house rules’ that apply to the actions of your fans, friends and followers when using your social media pages. These rules should be prominent on your social media pages. You then need to block users who breach those rules.   There are no specific or different consumer laws or rules in place for social media. Consumer protection laws which prohibit businesses from making false, misleading or deceptive claims about their products or services have been in place for decades. These laws apply to social media in the same way they apply to any other marketing or sales channel.

Does your business have a rapid orgy response unit?; Amazon as bully uncle: Best of the Web

3:25AM | Friday, 21 March

The secret to Airbnb’s freakishly rapid orgy response: “Scenario planning”. Yes, there is a business story in here. On FastCompany, Austin Carr explores how Airbnb used strategic thinking to prepare the business for just such an occurrence.   “He and Chesky came up with a game plan for how to respond to a range of incidents,” Carr says. “The aim was to make sure its hosts and guests feel safe and cared for in any situation.”   Cheap words: Amazon is good for customers but is it good for books? George Packer charts Amazon’s rise to global dominance and argues the online behemoth has destroyed the publishing industry as it has reinvented it.   “Publishers are less like abused minors and more like financially insecure adults who rely on the support of a bullying uncle,” he says. “Their dependence breeds bad faith.”   As Amazon spreads its tentacles into an increasing number of product categories, the fate of the publishing industry is a cautionary tale.   On Instagram, a bazaar where you least expected it. Instagram wasn’t designed as an e-commerce site, but in The New York Times Jenna Wortham argues the social network can offer shoppers the thrill of discovery.

Stanford start-up tutors share the top five myths about scaling tech start-ups

3:35PM | Tuesday, 11 March

By definition, every start-up plans to get global sooner or later. But scaling a business poorly is one of the fastest ways to kill it, according to two Stanford lecturers.   Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao have recently released Scaling up Excellence, which explores how companies from tech superstars to fast food chains have grown and gotten stronger.   “Start-ups need to start thinking about scaling a lot earlier than they do,” Sutton says, who adds you don’t need to a perfect organisation to scale well.   “A lot of times when people think of scaling up, they think they’re going to focus on the great stuff and spread it. But when you look at organisations that have nailed scaling, they’ve gone from bad to great.”   Sutton spoke to StartupSmart from San Francisco about the five biggest myths about scaling and how to overcome them.   Myth 1: Scaling is all rapid growth through fast decisions   While the scaling story of tech superstars Twitter, Google and Facebook can make it sound like every decision was instant and the implementation took only a tiny bit lower, Sutton says all scaling companies slow down to take the time they need to make the decisions where it matters.   “In every case we’ve looked at, including those three, this notion they rushed all the time is just not true. From Google to even Starbucks, all successful global companies go slow sometimes.”   A key time to focus on results rather than execution time is hiring staff.   “From the very beginning, Google was always very picky about hiring. They only hired very technically skilled who also had the leadership skills to grow with the company no matter how badly they needed a warm body in that chair,” Sutton says.   He adds founders shouldn’t shy away from the arrogance these decisions and the corresponding belief the company could become massive requires.   Myth 2: Conflict will kill a company   As companies grow, arguments are inevitable as teams choose what to focus on. Sutton says learning how to argue well is a critical skill for a scaling company.   “To make the best decisions, you need to be clear on how you argue and when you stop arguing. Good teams can have blazing arguments and then move on.”   Sutton says part of the success of many tech superpowers has come down to having founders, and later managers and executives, who are willing to model vigorous arguments followed by a resolution all commit too.   “Firefox’s John Lilly (chief executive 2008 to 2010) oversaw the company’s growth from 12 to 500,” Sutton says. “He told me he started realising at about 80 people that people had begun to act as though they were afraid of their boss. So he just started having arguments with his immediate team whenever he could. He’d be right or wrong but would always end respectfully and move on.”   Sutton says making sure everyone shares an understanding of what medium-term success looks like makes it easier to resolve disagreements and unites a team.   Myth 3: Scaling means building the team as quickly as possible   According to Sutton, one of the most dangerous myths about start-ups is the belief bigger is better when it comes to teams.   “The notion that scaling mandates adding more people is a myth. There is lots of evidence that when you bring on board the wrong people too quickly, it’s deadly.”   The pressure to build the team often comes from investors who are keen to see their money put to work.   “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a start-up still in the product development stage kill itself by hiring sales staff before they’re ready. These guys need to sell, so they sell a product that’s not ready and it’s over,” he says.   Sutton says actions such as Israeli start-up Waze’s hiring freeze after raising $20 million should remind start-ups about the virtues of staying lean, as the company went on to be acquired by Google.   Myth 4: Our culture will suffer and we need to stay small   While cultural death by growth was the fate of Yahoo! and eBay (who later turned it around), Sutton says rapid growth won’t kill a start-up if they’re smart about it.   The key to a culture thriving, as well as smarter working, is to keep teams small.   “One of the mantras at Amazon is you shouldn’t have a team that can’t be fed by two pizzas,” Sutton says. “The difference between a five person team and say an 11 person team is huge. From battlefields to big corporates, all the evidence shows the maximum is seven before it dissolves into interpersonal contests and missed communications.”   Small teams organised in pods is an emerging trend in start-ups. Australian start-up 99designs has used a pod approach for over a year. Sutton adds that scaling can make deeper cultural issues more significant as the organisation widens and effective communications requires more effort.   “When you’re trying to scale an organisation and you have destructive behaviour or people, the first order of business is to nip that in the bud because otherwise it’s impossible to grow well.”   Myth 5: Bureaucracy and hierarchies should be shunned as they stifle innovation and productivity   One of the joys of start-ups is team flexibility. But start-ups need to implement some structure and processes if they want to become global companies.   “Staying entrepreneurial and easy to get things done is admirable, but there is a lot of evidence that shows companies need managers, hierarchy and processes,” Sutton says.   “There is a fine art of adding just enough process or bureaucracy so you can actually get all the work done. I think it’s admirable that entrepreneurs resist adding that stuff, but if you don’t it’ll turn into an unruly, out of control organisation.”   For early stage ventures, Sutton adds it’s essential to work out the leadership structure early or risk confused strategy direction and in-fighting.

Infographic: What are the top online retail categories?

2:45AM | Monday, 10 February

E-commerce platform Bigcommerce has revealed the top retail categories that are seeing strong online sales growth.   It’s found jewellery and accessories stores are growing fast, with Bigcommerce stores in this category seeing revenues jump 31% last year.   The automotive sector is also booming, with revenue surging 89% in 2013.   But in a warning for those considering a store in books, movies and music, they’ve seen revenue fall by 14% as iTunes, Amazon and Netflix continue to dominate the space.   Bigcommerce has produced an infographic that illustrates where the growth in online retail is happening, and where smaller players are beating the established retail giants.  

How to install the Amazon app store for your Android smartphone or tablet

2:54AM | Tuesday, 4 February

If you run an Android smartphone or tablet, did you know that there’s a good chance you might be able to run Amazon’s app store as well as Google Play? Here’s how to set it up.   First, in your settings menu, look through the Applications and Security menus for an option called “Install apps from unknown sources”. If you can find it, make sure you tap it to switch it on.   Next, visit this page and press the yellow “Download the Amazon App Store” button in the middle of the screen.   When the download is complete, you’ll get a notification saying “AmazonApps-release.apk. has installed”. Tap the notification, tap install, and then tap open. It’s now ready to run.

Investment is all about focus, proof and people: Insights from the Next program

10:20PM | Tuesday, 15 October

This week’s session of the Next start-up development program was focused on investment, with Adventure Capital co-founder and partner Darcy Naunton presenting to 27 start-ups about investment strategies and business development.   Naunton told StartupSmart he was impressed all of the start-ups were tackling genuine problems, and therefore had real potential if they focused their idea on one target market.   “The focus in my answers last night was on the need to target and hone in on one market. It’s much easier to test by defining your best market and going after them,” Naunton says. “It also means the number of players and stakeholders you need to get onside are much lower.”   Naunton says once an idea is proven, you can approach angel or venture capital investors, and begin expanding across verticals.   “Having traction within a single vertical is enough to approach any investor for funding, provided you understand the similarities and differences of the verticals that are next on your list. This is pretty important, because each market has its own dynamics and culture of doing things,” Naunton says.   The presentation also explored the changes that are required once a start-up founder takes on investment, adding they are considerable.   “You need to be ready for the obligations and cultural change that come when you take on investment and become responsible for someone else’s money. From then on, as director of a company your single goal becomes to maximise shareholder value, even if that’s a detriment to your own goals and lifestyle,” Naunton says, adding most investors expect to be able to exit within five years.   Naunton says for new founders with limited track records, it helps to get in touch early to start building relationships before approaching for funding.   “Investment is a people game, and getting comfortable with your investors should be your top priority. Get in early and set some goals, and then achieve those milestones and communicate it back before approaching for funds,” Naunton says.   He adds it was great to see the start-ups were approaching possible investment pragmatically.   “I was refreshed to see they weren’t all indoctrinated into the Silicon Valley mentality, and the idea that a good idea has the right to investment and enough persistence will make it happen sooner or later,” Naunton says.   According to Naunton, online marketplaces are one of the most common ideas emerging across all levels of the start-up ecosystem, from start-up weekends to accelerator s to funding pitches, but many misunderstand how complicated these are to scale.   “Because it’s quite an easy to understand business model, we keep seeing a lot of marketplace ideas. But they’re really hard to build and scale, and very few successful ones have emerged from Australia,” Naunton says, adding 99designs was the stand out in this space.   Naunton added Adventure Capital saw a lot of value in business to business ideas, especially those that focused on delivering and using data such as business intelligence softwares.   “Another really interesting area is ideas that follow on from the Amazon web services model and carve out particular aspects of the business process, refine it and turn it into a business of its own,” Naunton says.

Three Australian founders share the books that were a catalyst for their careers

10:47AM | Tuesday, 1 October

Amazon executives are urged by their chief executive Jeff Bezos to read three books, which he uses as frameworks for explaining the future of the company.   Bezos told a CNBC tech correspondent he encourages them to read Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive, Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Solution and Eliyahu Goldratt’s The Goal.   Three local entrepreneurs spoke to StartupSmart about the book that changed their lives and approaches to their entrepreneurial careers.   Fred Schebesta, founder of rapidly growing comparison site Finder, told StartupSmart that Michael E. Gerber’s E-Myth helped him understand the importance of systems for driving growth.   “When I first started out in business I was completely stumped by continuously briefing the same project over and over again. As I had never worked in a big company before, I didn’t have the same frame of reference as other professionals and I needed something that would help me build a business,” Schebesta says. “E-Myth taught me the importance of systems, processes and how to manage people. It completely changed my view and provided me with a fresh perspective. I often consider reading it again for inspiration!”   Dan Flynn told StartupSmart reading Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad in his teens sparked a new way of thinking that inspired him to launch the social enterprise Thankyou Water several years ago.   “The book really got me thinking about ways to generate money but also helped me understand that while school education was important, entrepreneurs had to apply business principles in order to succeed,” Flynn says.   Thankyou Water has got their range of food and water products into major supermarkets after a crowdsourced lobbying campaign.   “As I look back over this book again now, there was this one line that was one of the key messages in the book: ‘Failure is the process of success.’ It’s crazy how this line is even more relevant to me now, five years into the Thankyou journey. The numerous failures and setbacks we’ve experienced have taught us so many lessons, which have helped shape Thankyou as a company and our team as individuals,” Flynn says.   Robin McGowan, founder of customisable commerce site for suits InStitchu, told StartupSmart Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose should be mandatory reading for every business owner.   “It tells the story of Zappos and the focus they put on customer service and experience. Tony makes the point that anyone can copy your business idea but they can't replicate the level of service you provide to your customers. If you go above and beyond with your service they will keep coming back no matter what,” McGowan says.

Making the leap from corporate world to sole trader: Why one woman did it

9:26AM | Tuesday, 10 September

Making the leap from the corporate world to writing her own recipe book and launching a food website was “terrifying”, Tanya Bartolini tells SmartSolo.   “I have always been such a corporate person,” she says.   “I never imagined myself to have the courage to do this in the past.”   But after the birth of her son Mitchell, now 20 months old, working with a career coach and mulling the idea of writing a book, the former business development manager in the finance sector decided she had had enough.   Bartolini, 32, had worked in finance since leaving school, and steadily rose through its ranks as she focused on her career.   Based in Brisbane, she worked with a career coach to investigate how she might be able to stay in her home town, but still advance to an executive position without the need to move to Sydney.   From those discussions, she came the realisation that maybe she wasn’t meant to be in the finance industry.   She says she and her coach started investigating a path that would combine her loves of food, Italy and family and formed the idea of writing a book, which she started when she went on maternity leave.   When she returned to work, she found it wasn’t what she wanted, especially after starting her book and thinking how she might be able to turn it into a business.   “I’ve had to take a big risk and leap of faith that what I believe in is something that people will believe in as well,” Bartolini says.   Her book, Blending the Cultures, is being self-published and is due to be released in November. It tells the story of Bartolini’s family who left Italy after World War II to come to Australia and weaves together family recipes.   She says that with the birth of her son, she realised there was a generation of children who could grow up without knowing the stories of their families and the recipes that sustained them, which helped spur her to get writing.   She’s having 1500 copies printed in the first print run and the book will also be available through Amazon as an iBook and for Kindle.   Bartolini also launched a popular food website for everyday home cooks, The Kitchen Bench, which aims to be a place where cooks can share recipes and offer useful advice to each other. She also has a Facebook page that currently has over 3000 likes.   The website was originally called The Everyday Cook Network, but an email from a reader alerting her to a similar-sounding site prompted her to change it to The Kitchen Bench.   “My lesson learned is don’t fight something that’s not worth fighting for,” she says.   She says she was only three months into starting the website, so the switch was not too stressful.   “In the end I think I’ve got a much better name,” she says, adding that she’s got a trademark process underway.   She plans to monetise the site through advertising and hosting a monthly “In the Spotlight” section where she showcases a business that can provide a recipe or kitchen tip or trick that provides value for users.   Bartolini aims to continue growing the number of followers of her blog and become a “go to” site for advice for home cooks. And another book may be on the cards in the future.

Online travel management tool breaks down borders

8:23AM | Friday, 23 August

Duncan Thomas has assembled an unlikely international team to help bring his online travel management start-up to life.   From his Hobart home he’s brought together developers in Pakistan, website backend expertise from Israel and a flights wholesaler in India.   Pakistan and India have battled over the Kashmir region for many years, while Pakistan’s passports say they are valid for all countries except Israel.   Despite the tensions between the countries, Thomas, who works in software sales and business development, says “people are people” and the people he works with aren’t interested in politics.   “Politics is for politicians,” he says.   Thomas has been working on Travl8tor, a travel management and booking tool for small and medium-sized businesses, for the past two years and recently won a pitching advice webinar run by international accelerator Founder Institute and co-hosted by StartupSmart.   “I like the business a lot,” Founder Institute chief executive Adeo Ressi said of Thomas’ pitch for Travl8tor. “This is a real issue.”   Thomas, 37, says the idea for the business came to him when reading an article that interviewed a human resources manager who said the biggest issue they faced was travel management for their employees.   “I got to thinking that seems an easy problem to fix from a software basis.”   After discussing it with his brother, a sales manager at a mining company, whose reaction to the idea confirmed for Thomas that “it has legs”, he set about writing up a business plan.   A key weakness, however, was that he didn’t know anything about the travel industry.   That was overcome as he researched the subject and came across an Israeli start-up that developed backend platforms for travel agents and websites and helpfully sent him a document titled ‘So you’ve decided to create an OTA’ [online travel agency].   “Once I had that the pieces began falling into place.”   Thomas has secured travel product suppliers that can offer 200,000 hotels around the world, 900 airlines and car rental in 193 countries.   Travl8tor works by providing a platform for businesses to manage travel bookings. Businesses can set budgets and company travel policies which are applied whenever staff book travel.   Thomas says motivation for working on Travl8tor is “easy”.   “It’s my idea, it’s something I can see, I know what it can potentially be,” he says, adding he’s bootstrapped the business and spent around $20,000 building it so far.   The biggest problem he says he faced was thinking too long about the idea. “You’ve actually got to do it,” he advised other start-up entrepreneurs. “You’ve got to follow through.”   He adds that he’s also inspired by a quote from Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos who said: “There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less. We will be the second.”   Thomas says the thinking reinforces the theme that customer service is key and that customers generally want to pay less.   He also advises that start-ups have a “good lawyer” on board as early as possible to help navigate legal issues such as trademarks, supplier agreements and patent applications.   While Ressi liked Travl8tor’s idea, one thing he didn’t like was the name.   “I beg you, this is such a good idea, just rename it,” he said.   Thomas says he’s open to suggestions and wouldn’t rule it out.

Read all about it: Bookshop industry veteran dismisses the gloom, urges indies to get the model right

8:33AM | Wednesday, 21 August

The bricks-and-mortar bookstore industry is here to stay provided owners can get the model right, says QBD The Bookshop managing director Mark Robinson.   The company opened seven stores last year and is set to open three to five new stores this year.   Robinson told StartupSmart they wouldn’t be opening new stores if they thought the industry was not long for this world.   “We’re always opening shops, and we wouldn’t be doing that if we weren’t confident about the book industry’s future,” he says, adding each new store is on a six-year lease and costs the company almost half a million dollars to set up.   “We’ve been doing this for 22 years and the industry has changed dramatically. But we see a future; you just have to get the model correct.”   Robinson says the major changes are reduced store sizes and the constant evolution of the range offered.   Ten years ago, QBD The Bookshop stores would easily sell tens of thousands of dictionaries and street directories, but now they’d struggle to sell 3000 a year as these services are available online.   Online is the elephant in the room for many bookstores, with the rise of Amazon disrupting the book industry twice with lower priced, home-delivered books and the rise of eBooks, where Amazon retains market dominance.   “I think Amazon has already had its impact, it’s here now. That said, I love seeing the Australian dollar falling so it’s less attractive to buy overseas,” Robinson says. “All retailers are doing it a bit tough with the downturn and bookstores have been caught up in that with a double whammy.”   He adds he’s confident paper books are here to stay for the foreseeable future.   “The market has changed, but there is an experience you’ll never get with the electronic book. You’re not going to wrap up a USB stick with a picture of Donna Hay and stick it under the Christmas for grandma,” Robinson says. “There are plenty of people out there who want to buy books.”   While QBD The Bookshop stores are company owned, and therefore have the flexibility and range of a chain network, Robinson says the industry isn’t over for independent retailers who are smart about how they’re structured.   “When things get difficult, owner-operators can adapt. Saying that, the market is very tight. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling books or saucepans, it’s not easy and you really have to be on your game,” Robinson says.   QBD The Bookshop began fitting out a new store in the Sydney suburb of Liverpool this week. Robinson says the keys for a new store in Southland shopping centre in Melbourne are due in October, and they’re in the final stages of contracts for three more, including one in South Australia.

The 10 commandments for reaching A-List bloggers

8:04AM | Wednesday, 14 August

Getting backlinks, retweets, endorsements and social mentions from influential bloggers is a powerful way to give your content marketing a real boost. However, the challenge is that they get hundreds of outreach emails every day.   So how do you, an aspiring blogger, earn the attention of the bloggers further up the food chain?    Let’s start with what not to do.   How to get ignored Send an un-personalised email Beg for something Guilt them into it Blast out a group email Talk about yourself Don’t include details on your email signature   This ‘spray and pray’ approach does more harm than good.  Fortunately for you, most people make one or more of these six mistakes and the worst culprits are usually SEO companies and PR agencies.  I personally recommend doing this type of blogger outreach yourself rather than engaging someone to do it for you.   How to stand out   The good news is that it’s relatively easy to stand out in sea of appalling outreach emails if you do your homework.   Think of backlinks as an indicator of your relationships and put work into your relationships.  People will link to you, if you’ve earned it.   Here is a process to follow to increase your chance at success.   10 steps to take before you “ask”   1. Identify the influencers in your market 2. Keep a list in a spreadsheet 3. Follow them on Twitter 4. Follow their blogs via your RSS feed (I use feed.ly) 5. Comment on their blogs 6. Tweet and share the posts that you like 7. Buy their books, read them, review them and blog about them. 8. Subscribe to their email newsletter 9. Email them with sincere praise or a thoughtful question (best to reply to their email newsletters) 10. Wait until you get a reply, and grow your relationship from there.   The golden rule is always to lead with generosity!    This process obviously takes time, and whilst that won’t appeal to some people, it is the only way to build relationships of substance with the right people.   Blogger Outreach Email Template   When that time comes to “ask”, I recommend you follow this format:   1. Be personal and friendly   Hi [first name], how are you?   2. Show sincere praise   As you may remember, I’ve been a fan of your books and blog since I was referred to your writing by ________ in 2009.   3. Lead with generosity   Your recent book about _______ resonated with me because of XYZ. I wrote a short review on Amazon and since I knew my tribe would find it useful too, I emailed it to my 1500 subscribers. It also prompted me reach out to you.   4. Ask   Using some of your tips from your book, I actually released my first e-book last week! It’s called ____________ and I credit you in the acknowledgements on page five.   If you felt it was worthy of a tweet or link that would make my day! But if you don’t, that’s cool too, I just wanted to say thanks for inspiring me to take action.   Note: My preference is not to actually ask for anything since they already know how valuable a tweet or backlink is.  I trust that if I create something valuable enough, they’ll want to link to it or share it anyway, without me asking. I do however make it easy for them to link to, hence the link.   5. Close   I notice your speaking schedule will bring you to Sydney later in the year. Knowing that you love _______, so you should really try _______ if you get the chance!   6. Email signature   All the best,   Adam   Success   The key to success is to take the time to nurture the relationship, lead with generosity, don’t ask for too much, make it easy for them and provide enough info in your email signature so they can make sure you are legit.  Don’t fret if you don’t get a hit back, they are busy people. Keep following their work, leading with generosity and your time will come!   I must to extend a hat tip to Rand Fishkin & Tim Ferriss for the insights I’ve been able to apply and share here.   My first piece of content that earned the attention of prominent bloggers was the Web Strategy Planning Template, which is still a free download.

Australian eBook start-up achieves funding success in Amsterdam

7:26AM | Tuesday, 2 July

E-book writing, publishing and promotion platform 7write is looking for a home after attracting $250,000 in seed funding from a range of investors, including early PayPal investor Australian Peter Davison.   The start-up is in the final stages of the three-month Startup Bootcamp Amsterdam program. It is set to launch in public beta in the next week or so, final tweaks to its platform permitting.   The founder and developer of 7write, Paul Hayes, told StartupSmart the funding breakthrough and intense training experience has rewarded his commitment to getting 7write into an accelerator program.   “There are about 400 global accelerator programs. I didn’t apply for all of them, but I definitely applied for at least 50,” Hayes says.   “It took me four years to get here. I tried many, many different ideas and start-ups.”   7write offers writing software with a range of extra support tools, an eBook file-generating software and digital marketing support.   Hayes says the success of 7write breaking through the crowd of ePublishing start-ups is due to offering a complete solution in an often confusing space.   “We understand a lot of people will take certain pieces of the puzzle, whereas we take an author by the hand and guide them through from concept to fully published eBook and paperback. We’ve gone to extreme efforts to simplify a complex process,” Hayes says.   Hayes started developing the interface for the platforms in September after trying to develop a range of start-ups. He says the demand after he listed on Beta List spurred him on.   “I did a one-pager and a lean launch on Beta List and had over 1000 people sign up, so I knew I was onto something,” Hayes says, adding that the listing and following accelerator applications attracted interest from investors in New York and Dubai.   Despite the success, Hayes is backing away from any claim of being a disruptive technology.   “We’re not trying to disrupt the publishing industry. There is a huge space for self-publishers to work synergistically with the major publishers,” he says.   “The number one problem publishers face is finding the next big-selling author, and the number one problem writers have is getting noticed by publishers and getting a contract.”   Tapping into emerging markets   Hayes says 7write taps into these problems as well as the rise of successful self-publishers achieving mainstream publishing success, such as E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey and Hugh Howey’s Wool.   “We’re partnering with publishers around the world and giving them access to our sales data. So people who publish with us are getting exposure to publishers who are increasingly seeking out new talent who already gained traction,” he says.   Set to move into public beta shortly, the 7write team is in contract negotiations with several major publishers.   The focus on data is something Hayes is keen to keep developing.   “I know for a fact it was one of the things that interested Peter Davison quite significantly. So the more people who publish with us and the more data we collect, the better,” Hayes says, adding that they’re starting to experiment with cover split testing,   “In our development pipeline, we’re working on features like split test covers. It’s pretty close to impossible to do this in Amazon at the moment, but we’ve talked to Amazon and they agree that the number one factor in sales is the cover.”   The 7write team charges an upfront fee for authors to use the software that includes ISBN allocation, professional cover design, file conversion, and global sales. They also take a 10% cut of sales.   “We do that to align our interests with the author, they win and we win. We’re constantly experimenting with ways to sell more books,” Hayes says.   While anyone can publish using the service, Hayes says they’ll be offering extra services for bestselling authors, and working with them to test experimental marketing tactics before rolling them out to the wider network of authors.   Hayes says their focus post-accelerator will be on expanding the team of four, developing an HTML5 version of their software and working out where to base the business.   “We really are going to go where is best for the business. We do have a lot of interest and a strong base in Australia with a couple of funding offers available. But the majority of publishers are in Europe, so London, Amsterdam and Berlin are strong options for us too,” he says.   International focus   Hayes says not limiting the idea to a geographic location and honing his time management skills were key to the company’s success so far.   “Don’t limit yourself, apply to global accelerator programs. If I only applied to Australian programs, I would have had a fraction of the options,” Hayes says.   “If I had to pick one main skill to learn, it’s time management. If you can master your time, that’s a huge step up. You need to work out how to get things done. When you start up, there is so much focus on the idea and the notion the idea is what is going to get your there.   “But, really, the idea is just a multiplier of the team; if you learn to get things done, and combine that with a powerful idea and a powerful market research, you’re set.”

NSW start-up ditches Business Insider name following US legal stoush

4:09AM | Tuesday, 30 April

A start-up NSW media company has bowed to pressure to change its name from US company The Business Insider, which claimed that it was deceiving visitors to its website by using a similar brand.   Business Insider Pty Ltd, located on the NSW Central Coast, has switched its brand to Business Ink following legal action lodged by New York-based The Business Insider Inc in the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia earlier this year.   Mark Cleary, co-founder of the Australian site, tells StartupSmart the name Business Ink was chosen as a way to “thumb our nose” to its American adversary.   Cleary founded the Australian version of Business Insider with Bob Fitzgerald and Dean Collin in 2011, with the site providing information to companies in regional NSW.   By contrast, New York-based The Business Insider, created in 2009 by entrepreneur Henry Blodget, has 23 million unique visitors a month and now has substantial interests in Australia.   Allure Media, a subsidiary of Fairfax Media, recently won the right to publish a local version The Business Insider. However, Fairfax wasn’t part of the legal proceedings to force the name change.   Business Ink initially hauled down its URL businessinsider.net in order to emphasise its local, rather than international, focus, but has now gone further by completely rebranding.   “If we had a lazy $250,000, we would’ve carried on, but we made a decision to not risk it,” Cleary says.   “Our legal advice was that it would be an ‘interesting’ test case. (Business Insider) beat us to the internet by 10 months and in that time they say they’d established a presence in Australia through the number of hits they were getting here.”   “We got early advice saying to just rename ourselves and that has proved good advice. They could’ve bitten us when it was much tougher to rename.”   Cleary says that one of the most damaging aspects of the episode is that the business’ entire online archive has been wiped by the rebrand.   “The Google history we’ve created has just evaporated,” he says.   Cleary adds that start-ups need to be increasingly careful when choosing a business name.   “We talk about world shrinking, but it has already shrunk,” he says. “Your search for a name needs to be global and you need to avoid similar names, because it’s just too hard to compete when it comes to hard cash.”   “We could argue that does anyone really care in New York, Rome or Paris about the laying of new sewerage pipes in The Entrance on Central Coast? But that doesn’t matter – we were in their space.”   “You’ve got to be unique. That’s the challenge. Google or Amazon don’t have names that relate to what they do, but they have a strong brand name. Choose a name that you can really own.”

Retail Evolution Lab unveils five must-have technologies for stores

3:03PM | Tuesday, 12 March

Local retail design firm Red Design Group has unveiled a range of new in-store technologies for retailers, after partnering with AOPEN to launch the Retail Evolution Lab in Melbourne.

Expert predicts trickle-down effect for group buying after LivingSocial raises $110 million

3:45AM | Friday, 15 March

US-based daily deals giant LivingSocial has raised another $US110 million from investors, with an industry expert predicting a trickle-down effect for smaller players.

The Iconic’s India outsourcing sparks sale speculation

3:39PM | Sunday, 10 March

Cashed-up online fashion retailer The Iconic has come under fire after it was revealed the company has been outsourcing jobs to India, with a retail expert suggesting the start-up is preparing to sell.

The ultimate company culture tour: Zappos in Las Vegas

3:33AM | Friday, 15 March

I was privileged to go on a tour of the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas last May 2012. You can check out the official tour here.

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