Australian developers are cautiously optimistic that Facebook’s decision to turn Facebook Messenger into an app platform will help strengthen the app industry. Facebook announced the decision during its F8 conference in San Francisco, with third party developers able to develop apps that extend the messaging platform’s functionality. Full details of Facebook’s new Messenger Platform API are available on its developers site. The announcement was made alongside the unveiling of its new Business on Messenger customer service functionality and also comes a little over a week after Facebook added a feature allowing users to transfer money directly to their friends’ debit card accounts. While BlackBerry’s rival secure mobile messaging platform BBM (which is available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone as well as on BlackBerry 10 devices) has long offered similar functionality, its platform APIs are restricted to BlackBerry devices. (Ironically, Facebook is among the apps to take advantage of this API.) Klyp mobile lead Tyson Bradford told StartupSmart the Facebook Messenger Platform API is very exciting news for app developers. “From an app developer’s perspective, this is very exciting. It looks like, instead of having to roll out their own messaging system, they’ll be able to piggyback off Facebook Messenger to provide that messaging functionality,” Bradford says. “So for example, say you were developing a jobs marketplace app. Instead of needing to write your own code from scratch to facilitate that functionality, you can just plug and play Facebook’s messaging API. “It actually reminds me a bit of a similar service a few months ago the developer community was very excited about, by a company called Layer.com. The only problem is that users had to create a second account to send messages. Because 98% of app users will already have a Facebook account with a friend list already, getting people to log in once with their Facebook account won’t be an issue.” Marcus Lim, co-founder and chief executive of online marketplace OneFlare, told StartupSmart he was already looking at integrating a mobile messaging platform, such as WhatsApp, even before Facebook’s announcement. “One of the issues is communications between customers and service providers before a job is carried out, and after their use the OneFlare platform. The issue is that businesses ring customers, but customers aren’t always available to take the call. “Messaging works well because it’s less intrusive. The communications are often quite brief – such as when and where a particular job needs to be performed – and messaging avoids the issues of both parties needing to set up a call.” However, realAs chief executive Josh Rowe told StartupSmart while there are advantages to Facebook opening up its APIs, there are also risks. “My initial view is that being able to tap into the massive user database of Facebook is a good thing. After all, realAs is a community of people looking to buy houses, and being able to tap into those databases could be advantageous to the community,” Rowe says. “However, the con side is how much we can trust Facebook, and to what degree we control our data. We’ve seen in the past the way big companies have opened up their platforms to outside developers, only to cut off access to those APIs down the track. “And just look at the way Apple has copied people’s app ideas and created its own versions of them. So there needs to be assurances that Facebook will remain a neutral player and won’t end up competing with the startups that use this.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Buy tickets to the 2015 StartupSmart Awards.
Amazon will launch its new on-demand services marketplace on Monday in order to compete with US-based crowdsourcing startups such as Angie’s List. TechCrunch reports the platform, which has been rebranded from ‘Amazon Local Services’ to ‘Amazon Home Services’, has recently expanded its service categories as well as the cities it will be available in. The new platform will offer services including lawn mowing, gardening, automotive services and one-on-one lessons. IoT startup raises $US38 million in Series B funding August, a startup which produces smart door locks, has raised $US38 million ($A48m) in Series B funding in order to launch new products and expand its San Francisco-based team. The round was led by Bessemer Venture Partners and brings the startup’s total funding to date to $US50 million. Co-founder Jason Johnson said in a statement the latest capital injection will allow for a runway much larger than he ever anticipated. “With this new financing, our team will define a new product category in the smart home, aiming to solve what we call the ‘last five foot problem’,” he says. “With our smart lock, mobile apps, and cloud-based access control, we offer homeowners, property managers, and guests a sophisticated and trusted way to control home access, bridging the gap between service providers and homeowners.” Facebook launches new service for marketers Facebook has announced a new tool that will allow marketers to analyse how successful their campaigns are based on aggregated social data. The service – called Analytics for Apps – will allow users to see how their marketing campaigns performed across different demographics such as age groups or gender, according to TechCrunch. Previously, marketers using Facebook to analyse their marketing efforts could only view who clicked on an ad instead of being able to see which demographics they could best target. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 292.60 points, falling 1.62% overnight to 17,718.54. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 78.4 US cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Early stage tech startups are the focus of changes to the employee share scheme legislation introduced into Parliament on Wednesday. Small Business Minister Bruce Billson tabled the bill on Wednesday morning, saying the reforms will “restore and rebuild” startup incentives, which were taken away by the previous Labor government. Speaking to StartupSmart after the second reading, Billson said an effective employee share scheme framework is an important ingredient to any healthy economy. “There has been a consistent and loud chorus calling for change,” he said. “The incoming government recognised that and we’ve set out not only to correct the harm of those 2009 changes, but stepping forward with new concessions to bolster support and engagement for employee share schemes.” The changes Companies and employees who are issued with options will generally be able to defer tax until they exercise the options (convert the options to shares), rather than having to pay tax when those options vest. Eligible startups will be able to issue options or shares to their employees at a small discount, and have that discount exempt (for shares) or further deferred (for options) from income tax. The maximum time for tax deferral will be extended from seven to 15 years. The maximum individual ownership limit for accessing employee share scheme tax concessions will be increased from 5% to 10%. Eligible startups need to have an annual turnover of less than $50 million. In the event a startup raises venture capital, that will not affect the eligibility threshold. If a startup is acquired before it has operated for three years, its original shareholders will still get their 15% tax deduction on the sale of the shares. Billson says the changes are on track to come into effect in the new financial year. “I’ve had encouraging early responses with opposition members and I’m optimistic that will all be implemented as per a tight and demanding timetable which is exactly what the startup industry were calling for,” he said. StartupSmart understands there is support from within the Labor party to overhaul the current rules governing employee share schemes. The legislation tabled in parliament today not only allows employees at eligible startups to receive tax concessions, but also ensures the regulatory burden faced by young tech companies is significantly reduced. Billson says there will be “good-to-go template tools and documents” from the ATO available to help businesses wanting to set up an employee share scheme. Reuben Bramanathan, senior lawyer at Adroit Lawyers, told StartupSmart there were some “key issues” with the draft bill that have carried over to its current form. “If an employee resigns from a company on good terms, and they keep their vested shares, they still have to pay income tax at that time,” he said. “This taxing point applies even if they are unable to sell the shares at that point, for example, due to lockup restrictions in the shareholders’ agreement.” Billson says this was identified as an issue during the consultation process. “This was an issue that came up and we consulted quite widely on that as we knew it was an issue of some interest,” he said. “We extended the tax refund provision to cover situations where an employee is forced to pay when those options lapse or cancel. That’s what we’ve sought to do to alleviate that concern.” Another part of the legislation that has been criticised is the exemption for startups turning over more than $50 million, as well as companies listed on the ASX. That means companies like Atlassian and Freelancer will not be able to access the scheme. However Billson defended this, saying issues around employee share schemes “most visibly” affect smaller players. “It’s unashamedly focused on startups and smaller enterprises,” he said. “We’ve got to work within a frugal budget climate, therefore we’ve had to target these measures where they can best make a difference.” Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes has criticised that position, telling SmartCompany last month it’s a bit like saying Facebook and Google don’t need to give employee share options “which I think they would disagree with”. The new employee share scheme rules are due to come into effect on July 1 should they pass both houses of parliament. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Buy tickets to the 2015 StartupSmart Awards.
We are living in a “magical time” for entrepreneurs according to Matt Barrie, founder of Freelancer.com, and SmartCompany advisory board member. Speaking at yesterday’s Creative Innovation Conference in Melbourne, Barrie said we are living in a period of “unprecedented growth” powered by the internet. He outlined four global macro trends that he says have led to “a remarkable period of disruption”. 1. Software is eating the world Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, famously said software is eating the world. “Every business is waking up to realise it’s a software business,” Barrie said. He says the world’s biggest book company, Amazon, is a software company, the world’s biggest video service, Netflix, is a software company. 2. Most of the world’s population are yet to use the internet Barrie says there are tremendous opportunities for growth as more and more of the world’s population gets online. “There are 4 billion people not yet online,” Barrie said. “There as twice as many people on the internet in China as the entire population of the United States.” Facebook and Google are working hard to enable more and more people to access the internet while simultaneously, Barrie says, every industry is now being digitised. For digital businesses like Freelancer, this means increasing numbers of clients. “We are in the early stages of replicating a country in software,” he said. “We have a population the size of Belgium”. 3. Distribution is unprecedented Technology adoption speed is increasing as distribution gets faster and faster, according to Barrie. Facebook went from zero to a billion users in eight years, the Apple iPhone got to 40 million units in two years, and the iPad ramped even faster. “Consumers are adopting faster and faster but distribution is also occurring faster and faster,” Barrie said. Technology enables “distribution fire hoses” to reach the potential clients more and more quickly. 4. Stuff is free, stuff is cheap Barrie says it’s cheaper than ever to build a business. “The great thing about this is everything you need to build a business is free … if it’s not free it’s virtually free,” Barrie said. He cites tools such as Google docs, MailChimp and Canva as all providing free or close-to-free business services. “You can start a business off the back of a credit card,” Barrie said. For example, RetailMeNot was built with $30 in one weekend, bootstrapped to $30 million in revenue and then sold to WhaleShark for $90 million five years later. Now, RetailMeNot is listed in the United States and has a market capitalisation of several billion dollars. The original founders were clever enough to retain shares. All these factors mean that businesses can succeed at a quicker pace than ever before, Barrie says. “It took Apple eight years to reach $1 billion in revenue, Google five years, companies are doing this faster and faster,” he says. This article originally appeared at SmartCompany.
Silicon Valley veteran Jason Goldman will become the White House’s first chief digital officer as part of the Obama administration’s bid to grow its tech staff. Goldman is best known for his work on Twitter, Medium and Blogger and will now lead the White House’s Office of Digital Strategy. “Goldman brings new energy and coveted expertise as someone who’s helped shape the digital age,” President Obama told Politico. The announcement follows a string of recent appointments, including former Facebook engineering director David Recordon being brought on as the White House’s director of technology. Facebook is looking to host news content directly on its site Facebook is in discussions with several media partners including BuzzFeed and National Geographic in order to “make the experience of consuming content online more seamless”, according to The New York Times. The new format will be tested in the next few months and will see Facebook directly host content, rather than users having to click through to a link to read a news story. Facebook has 1.4 billion users worldwide. Wearables are coming Wearables will soon be the new smartphones, according to Telstra’a chief technology officer Vish Nandlall. “I think the curve starts to bend around probably 2020 leading into 2025,” he told Fairfax. “That’s where we’re going to see a lot more industries start to come in, and then you’re going to see much more penetration of these services across the population.” The Apple Watch will launch worldwide on April 24. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 104.90 points, falling 0.58% overnight to 18,011.14. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 79 US cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Cyanogen, a startup that distributes software based on Google’s Android mobile operating system, has raised $US80 million in series C funding in order to hire talent and accelerate software development. The round was led by PremjiInvest and included participation from other investors such as Twitter. "We’re committed to creating an open computing platform that fundamentally empowers the entire mobile ecosystem from developers to hardware makers, and most importantly, consumers around the world,” Cyanogen’s chief executive Kirt McMaster said in a statement. “We’re excited to have the backing of an amazingly diverse group of strategic investors who are supporting us in building a truly open Android.” The startup has received a total of $110 million in funding to date. The company reportedly rejected a buyout offer from Google last year. Instagram launches standalone photo-editing app Instagram has launched a standalone photo-editing app in order to give users the ability to make collages or mirror effects before uploading them to the photo-sharing app or other sites, such as Facebook. “From imagining mirrored landscapes to sharing multiple moments from an entire adventure, we’ve seen these kinds of visual storytelling happening on Instagram and we’re inspired by it,” the company said. “With Layout, it’s easier than ever to unlock your creativity — and we can’t wait to see what you’ll make next.” Layout is currently available on iOS and will be available on Android devices in the next few months. Twitter testing autoplay videos on iPhone and iPad apps Twitter has started testing a new feature in the US that will mean videos in a user’s timeline play automatically. “We’re running a small test on a few variations on the video playback experience,” a Twitter spokesman told Advertising Age. The autoplay test will apply to video advertisements. Facebook has had autoplay videos since September 2013. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 11.61 points, falling 0.06% overnight to 18,116.04. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 78.89 US cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
A former software engineer has filed a class action lawsuit against Twitter, alleging the company unfairly favours men. Tina Huang filed the law suit in San Francisco last week according to Reuters, saying the promotion process at Twitter involved a “shoulder tap” policy that meant few women were brought into top-level positions. The news follows a lawsuit by Chi Hong, a former Facebook employee who is suing the company for alleged sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Uber’s future in China at risk Uber’s future in China is at risk thanks to the merger of two popular taxi apps Kuaidi and Didi which claim to process book up to 6 million rides a day. In comparison, Uber hit 1 million daily users late last year according to Forbes. Together Did and Kuaidi control more than 99% of the Chinese market, with more than 150 million people in China using their smartphones to book taxis. iiNet on the back foot with shareholders over TPG deal iiNet’s management will hold a teleconference with investors today to defend the proposed takeover deal by rival TPG Telecom. The proposed buyout has enraged some shareholders according to Fairfax, with one major shareholder saying the deal was “appallingly incompetent”. TPG announced its $1.4 billion acquisition plan earlier this month. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 168.62 points, rising 0.94% overnight to 18,127.65. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 77.83 US cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
A German court has issued a nationwide ban on Uber which will prevent unlicensed taxi drivers from competing with licensed operators. Should Uber continue to operate in Germany with unlicensed drivers it will face fines of more than $300,000 per violation of the law. “We will not give up on the German market: our UberBlack and UberTaxi services remain unaffected by today’s judgment,” an Uber spokesperson told Re/code. In Australia, unregistered UberX drivers can attract fines of up to $7500. Facebook sued for alleged discrimination and unfair dismissal A former Facebook employee is suing the social media giant for unfair dismissal as well as alleged sexual harassment and discrimination based on race. Chia Hong has made 11 separate legal claims against the company after being fired in October 2013. She alleges that after she raised issues about being harassed and discriminated against the treatment became worse before her employment was terminated. “We work extremely hard on issues related to diversity, gender and equality, and we believe we’ve made progress,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “In this case we have substantive disagreements on the facts, and we believe the record shows the employee was treated fairly.” Fantasy sports app Draft raises $3.5 million Fantasy sports app Draft has raised $3.5 million in Series A funding in order to accelerate the startup’s growth and monetisation strategy. The round was led by Upfront Ventures and founders Jeremy Levine and Nicolo Giorgi are now looking to grow their team from four to nine employees, according to TechCrunch. The mobile app allows users to draft their own sporting team and play against other users for real money. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 227.11 points, rising 1.27% overnight to 18,076.19. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 77.80 US cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Facebook is adding a new feature to its Messenger service that allows its users in the United States to send money to one another. Users need to add a Visa or MasterCard debit card issued by a US bank to their Facebook accounts; they can then create a PIN which provides security for the payments system. They are then able to transfer money between one another directly from the Messenger app on iOS, Android and Desktop. The service will roll out in the US in the coming months. There’s no word if it will become available in Australia. Nintendo entering mobile games After years of forgoing mobile gaming, Nintendo has announced an alliance with Japanese mobile gaming firm DeNA, TechCrunch reports. The deal will see the two companies jointly develop games for “smart devices”. In addition, a service will be developed that will let users play games across a variety of devices, including mobile devices, PCs and Nintendo consoles. That service is expected to launch later this year. Tweet analysis startup raises $130 million Dataminr Inc, a startup which analyses tweets and information streams, has raised $130 million led by Fidelity Investments, The Wall Street Journal reports. The startup’s software identifies patterns in hundreds of millions of daily tweets, web postings, traffic data, news wires and similar streams of data. The deal values the New York-based startup at about $700 million. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 128.34 to 17,849.08. The Australian Dollar is currently trading at US76 cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Facebook has attempted to clarify its community standards and approach to government requests following criticism of the way it censors content and has discriminated against users who are not using their legal name online. Facebook’s head of global policy management Monika Bickert said in a statement the social media giant’s updated community standards are designed to “create an environment where people feel motivated and empowered to treat each other with empathy and respect”. “It’s a challenge to maintain one set of standards that meets the needs of a diverse global community,” she said. “For one thing, people from different backgrounds may have different ideas about what’s appropriate to share – a video posted as a joke by one person might be upsetting to someone else, but it may not violate our standards.” Facebook’s updated community standards, which clarify how and when the social network removes content online, can be viewed here. Yik Yak founders say their app has “very little” cyberbullying The founders of anonymous messaging app Yik Yak have defended their startup following criticism around cyberbullying on the location-based platform. Speaking at the South by Southwest conference, co-founders Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington said it was a misconception their app was a melting pot of threats and cyberbullying, according to TechCrunch. “Both of those are not what we see on a daily basis,” says Droll. In November last year Yik Yak raised $US62 million in funding, bringing the startup’s valuation to between around $US300 million and $US400 million. Aussie kids are spending almost a day each week on their phones Children in Australia are spending almost an entire day each week on their smartphones, according to research published by Telstra. While the average age of smartphone ownership for children is 12, the study found 10-year-olds spend on average 14.7 hours a week glued to their phones. Meanwhile 17-year-olds spend on average 26.3 hours each week on their smartphones. Family researcher Justin Coulson told Fairfax children shouldn’t be given a phone until they are at least 12 or 13, and even then there should be rules surrounding the phone’s usage. “Smart parents give their kids dumb phones,” he said. “You don’t give them too much too soon… kids don’t need smartphones.” Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 228.11 points, rising 1.29% overnight to 17,977.42. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 76.41 US cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Multinational tech giants Google and Facebook could soon be charged goods and services tax on advertising booked by Australian companies if a proposal flagged by federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is adopted. While multinational corporations continue to come under fire for minimising their tax bills in Australia, Turnbull has floated the idea of using GST as a way to claw back some of this forgone tax revenue. “The Australian media industry is under enormous pressure from online platforms – notably Google and Facebook,” Turnbull said in a statement issued to SmartCompany. “The modest amounts of company tax both companies pay in Australia has been a matter of great concern, here as well as in other countries, and there is a global discussion going on about how these internet age companies should be taxed in a manner that delivers a fair return to the countries where they make most of their money.” Turnbull said Australia has “a real problem … in the erosion of our tax bases” but said “changes to international tax treaties take time and are contentious”. “Another approach which has been canvassed is to impose the GST on advertising booked on these platforms by Australian residents,” Turnbull said. “At the moment, little or no GST is collected in respect of advertising by Australians on international online platforms like Google and Facebook. This can be done unilaterally and would recover very substantial amounts of revenue.” According to The Australian, local companies are expected to spend more than $2.4 billion on online advertising with the likes of Google and Facebook, with a 10% GST charge therefore raising $240 million for the state governments. “All of these questions are being considered in the tax review that the government is undertaking,” Turnbull said. “We need to have a frank and informed discussion about how to ensure Australia is not short-changed in the internet age and the review will ensure that discussion is very well informed.” Kate Carnell, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told SmartCompany the proposal is “worth having a close look at”. “[Turnbull] is absolutely right that the international process of addressing base erosion and profit shifting we’re involved in with the OECD and others is a really important process, but getting the G20 plus the broader OECD together to agrees on issues is really hard,” Carnell says. “It’s got to happen but finding other ways to address the issue here in Australia is essential.” Carnell says the Australian economy quite clearly has a “problem with revenue” and it makes sense to consider proposals that can address this. “What’s exciting about it is it’s important to have new ideas,” Carnell says. “There’s got to be a debate about new and fair ways to generate revenue and make sure companies and the community more broadly pay a fair amount of money.” SmartCompany contacted Google and Facebook but did not receive a response prior to publication.
Ashton Kutcher and his business partner Guy Oseary are launching a new venture capital fund called Sound Ventures. TechCrunch reports the fund will be stage-agnostic, allowing the pair to invest in later-stage startups. Kutcher has previously invested in companies such as Uber, Spotify and Airbnb through his first fund A-Grade Investments. The actor and tech investor was in Australia last month for the Tech My Way conference, where he speculated that virtual and augmented reality, biotechnology and artificial intelligence were the next big things in tech. Controversial app developer slams critics An Aussie app developer who promised to give thousands of dollars to charity and was exposed for not handing over the money has hit back in a rambling Facebook post. Belle Gibson, the founder of The Whole Pantry, solicited donations from around 200,000 people for various causes and said she would give away a quarter of her company’s profits – however, an investigation by The Age found no such contributions were ever made. Now the entrepreneur has hit back, according to Fairfax, writing in a Facebook post that those who were speaking to the media about her were bullying “myself and my family”. “I know the work my company and it’s [sic] contents did changed [sic] hundreds of thousands for the better,” she said. YouTube could be considering a subscription model for premium content YouTube could soon have its own paid video on demand service, according to The Verge. The company is exploring the concept as a means to improve its bottom line and allow popular content producers to access a higher percentage of ad revenue. The rumours come from an unnamed executive at a company that partners with YouTube to produce video content. Competition between streaming providers has heated up in the past 12 months, with Netflix confirming it is launching in Australia on March 24 and taking on local companies Quickflix and EzyFlix. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 145.91 points, falling 0.82% overnight to 17,749.31. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 76.23 US cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
I read a tweet a few weeks back that had my head meeting my desk repeatedly. The advice was, “Don’t build a Swiss army knife, build a scalpel.” I get the sentiment behind the message (i.e. build a focused product), but it’s a message that is easily misinterpreted and misapplied. It closes avenues of thought and experimentation prematurely, it stops people trying things for fear of looking stupid – oh and it’s complete nonsense. This is one of a thousand pieces of advice you’ll find on Twitter, Facebook and the blogs of founders and “mentors” around the globe (yes, this one included). These snippets of advice have become the proverbs of the startup world, the sort of things that people regurgitate without really thinking about. This sort of advice isn’t judged on its merits, it’s judged on the number of retweets. Please! Stop and think before applying this advice to your business! Like anything you read on the internet, most of it is plain bullshit. And the stuff that isn’t bullshit should still come with a lengthy list of disclaimers and more than a little context. If you’ve studied at school or university, one of the first things you learn about doing research is to always check your sources. Only a fool publishes data from sources that are unverified, and yet in this day of easily digestible and repeatable tidbits, all too often a lot of smart people hit the retweet button without thinking about what it is they’re promoting. “Fail fast” or just give up quick? The big problem with any such “startup advice” is that it comes without context. “Fail fast” is a classic case of advice often delivered without context. Do you know who originally said it? Do you understand the full extent of what they were talking about? Does it even apply to a business like yours? Or, are you just hitting retweet because it seems catchy? (BTW, here’s a great article by Mark Suster on failing fast, go read it!) There are many, many problems that cannot and will not be solved quickly but may take months, years or even decades. If, as a founder, the extent of your ability to focus on a problem is reduced to the commonly accepted definition of “fail fast”, then you may simply end up giving in too soon. In the process you’re probably wasting a lot of people’s time and money by running the race but never finishing. Significant achievements take time, money and effort, and unless you’re working with a deeper understanding of what “fail fast” is really getting at, you could just be using it as an excuse for being lazy. This is just one example of how using these startup proverbs as a mantra can lead you astray. Why the sausage matters But the worst way this sort of advice rears its ugly head is when making decisions in a team. There is nothing worse than having an idea or suggesting a course of action and having someone glibly replying something like, “Sell the sizzle, not the sausage.” It is spoken as if it is advice passed down from God himself, and that it is somehow equally infallible. It stunts conversation, and stops people trying out new ideas. The same can be said for those that lean on such truths as “I read it in a blog post”, “I saw a YouTube video” or “I went and saw a talk on it”. Unless you have some unequivocal proof that sizzle is indeed better to sell than sausage, you’re better off just testing it for yourself. Every business is different, and more importantly, every market is different. Some people buy on emotion, and some people buy off a checklist. The latter is very much about the sausage, not the sizzle. And this is the real problem — there are few, if any, absolute truths in a startup. The whole point of what we do is to find new ways of solving existing problems. For every person who tells you that success is “all about hustle”, there’ll be another that will tell you it’s “all about execution”. Blindly following either path without consideration for how it applies to your business is plain stupid. Any advice without context is worth as much as the effort it took to cut and paste it. The enduring popularity of the Swiss army knife And that brings me back to the legendary Swiss army knife. This is a tool that has been around for well over a hundred years, has become synonymous with adaptability and usefulness, and to this day is still actually standard equipment for military personnel in countries all over the world. Victorinox alone ships 60,000 of them every day, and that obviously doesn’t include the dozens of other brands making their own versions. It’s easy to say “it does 20 things and does none of them well”, but when you consider the value of portability to the intended customer, it’s not hard to see exactly why they’re still so damned popular. By closing your eyes and accepting “build a scalpel” as the ultimate truth, you’re missing out on some important learning opportunities. There is far more to be gained from understanding why the Swiss army knife is actually a fantastic example of focus, rather than simply dismissing it as something that isn’t. For startups, the humble army knife has become a symbol of the typical unfocused product, when in fact it’s a shining example of absolute customer focus. The fact that it is so completely useless to me at home when I have a shed full of tools is precisely the reason why it is so useful when I’m hundreds of miles from civilisation. The value of its portability far outweighs the value of its individual functions. So next time you see someone saying “build a scalpel, not a Swiss army knife”, don’t just hit the “retweet” button. Start a conversation about focus and value, customers and markets. Then ask them if they own a Swiss army knife; with over 23 million being made every year, they probably do. Alan Downie is co-founder and chief executive officer of Macropod. This article first appeared on Macropod’s blog.
Australian iOS developers are excited about the upcoming launch of the Apple Watch and say “wearable-first” will soon be the new “mobile-first”. The Apple Watch will launch on April 24, with customers able to pre-order the highly anticipated device 14 days before it is officially released. Apple has also confirmed how much each version of the smartwatch will cost, with the cheaper Apple Watch Sport setting Australian customers back between $499 and $579. Meanwhile, the standard Apple Watch will cost up to $1629, with the premium Apple Watch Edition costing a whopping $14,000. Mark McDonald, the co-founder and chief executive of Appster, was at the Apple Watch presentation in San Francisco and says he is “very excited” about the product. “We saw how Facebook would work and it is really interesting how one must look at building a minimum viable product more than ever before because the amount of functionality built into such a small amount of space is crazy,” he says. “The Apple Watch is almost like Google Glass done right… they realised the user liked larger screens on phones but also want to think about form, function and user experience and how that’s a little different on wearable tech – it needs to be a bit smaller.” McDonald says the Apple Watch design is “very socially acceptable” and developers need to make sure that their apps load in no more than four seconds – the time it takes to reach into your pocket and pull out your phone. “As the apps designed for it have a quick to use core functionality, those are the apps that are going to be very successful,” he says. “We think the Apple Watch is right on the timing… the form and function is right and they have an existing market. Just today we’ve got clients a couple of floors up on our office who are working on developing Apple Watch products already. A lot of people are thinking not just mobile-first, but wearable-first.” Paul Coleman, from Fuse Mobile, told StartupSmart he also thinks Apple has gone “to great lengths” to ensure their smartwatches will be both desirable and fashionable products. “The exciting phase will be when we start seeing killer apps made specifically for wearables from the developer community,” he says. “This is what will make the watch an attractive purchase for consumers and be something truly useful rather than a glorified second screen.” Guy Cooper, the managing director of Wave Digital, says the price point of the Apple Watch could potentially be an issue – but price hasn’t deterred Apple fans in the past. “The Watch is going to be particularly useful to companies in the health and fitness space and may just blow some of the existing wearables in that space out of the market,” he says. Logan Merrick, from app development company Buzinga, says an exciting aspect of the Apple Smartwatch is its ability to simplify the reading of messages, checking notifications and taking directions. “We’ve been pushing a method to support this type of development that we’ve come to call ‘threesixty design’… which is simply designing software for a dynamic experience,” he says. “Human behaviour isn’t linear, it’s dynamic. So we have to think of design in the same fashion.” Danny Gorog, director of app development company Outware, agrees that Apple’s smartwatch range will take wearables “to a new level”. “Outware is already working with our clients to reimagine their apps on Apple Watch and look forward to sharing more when the watch is released.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Apple has confirmed its Apple Watch will launch on April 24, with customers able to pre-order the highly-anticipated device 14 days before it is released. Apple has also confirmed how much each version of the smartwatch will cost, with the cheaper Apple Watch Sport setting Australian customers back between $499 and $579. Meanwhile the standard Apple Watch will cost up to $1629, with the premium Apple Watch Edition costing a whopping $14,000. Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook has promised the smartwatch’s battery will last an entire day, according to Fairfax. Twitter acquires video streaming app Twitter has confirmed it has acquired video streaming app Periscope for an undisclosed amount, according to Business Insider. The startup is still in private beta, with a public launch date yet to be announced. The deal follows Twitter’s acquisition of celebrity advertising startup Niche last month, also for an undisclosed amount. The startup helps advertisers partner with celebrities and people with large social media audiences on Vine and other platforms. Facebook will shut down FriendFeed Facebook is officially shutting down FriendFeed, the social network it acquired in 2009 for reportedly $US50 million. In a statement to Re/code, Facebook said it has been maintaining the service for the last five years but usage has been declining steadily. “Given this, we’ve decided that it’s time to start winding things down,” the company said. “Our thanks go out to the FriendFeed community for its many years of support.” FriendFeed will remain active for the next month before being shut down completely. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 138.94 points, rising 0.78% overnight to 17,995.72. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 77.07 US cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
A website that offers daily deals for pet products has launched nationwide. For the Pet gives pet owners discounted rates for toys, treats, small bags of food, water fountains and the like for a period of two weeks. While shipping is free, the items take 2 – 3 weeks to arrive after the deal expires. The website is primarily geared towards dog products with plans to stock items for cats and birds from May. Founder Daniel Carrington says that more people are going online as bricks-and-mortar pet stores register dwindling customer numbers. “Consumers used to go to a pet store and receive one-on-one customer service,” he says. “Our business model is to offer cheap products. There is no one that caters 100% to pets in Australia on a weekly basis. The new generation, or Generation Y, spend anywhere between $80 and $120 on deals online so that they can buy it cheap and get it delivered. Our price depends on what we can generate from the customers.” After suppliers come to an agreement about the discounts on the products, the store purchases them in bulk. Once a deal is sold on the website, the suppliers are paid immediately, which reduces their costs, enabling consumers who took advantage of the discount. According to Carrington, different suppliers offer different prices with discounts ranging from 10% to 40%. Carrington says his staff’s knowledge and experience in the pet industry makes them well-placed to predict and test products that will sell. The website has an email sign-up service and boasts some 55,000 subscribers. Subscribers are also emailed a daily deal. “We have received very good responses from our users,” he says. “There is a 25% to 30% open rate. For instance, if 25,000 to 30,000 people read the email that was sent to 100,000 people, only 5% to 8% of that number will actually buy items from the website.” The website is currently bootstrapped and is aiming to make an impact in regional areas. It is working with marketing strategies which include Facebook, various pet-related organisations, referrals from people who have used their service and dog clubs, as 70% of their turnover rate comes from dog-related items. Carrington hopes to hit 100,000 subscribers by the end of the year and begin advertising in newspapers in major cities once the website puts down stronger roots in the online marketplace. “We are focused on the price point and weight of the product,” he says. “As a new company, we are gifting people time to know us and order from us. Over the long term, we will shorten the time limit on deals to perhaps seven days. But first we want customers to talk about it (us) and purchase (from us) it.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
In the days and weeks leading up to the death of Leonard Nimoy, the actor and director most known for playing the gravel-voiced Vulcan Mr Spock in Star Trek, knew he was dying. He used Twitter as a means to make peace with this fact, and to say goodbye to his friends, family and fans around the world with sayings, poetry, and wise words. A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP — Leonard Nimoy (@TheRealNimoy) February 23, 2015 Don't smoke. I did. Wish I never had. LLAP — Leonard Nimoy (@TheRealNimoy) January 11, 2015 So is a new ars moriendi, or a new craft of dying, emerging in the digital age? Historians have argued that dying was a more public affair before the 20th century, when most people were cramped together in one room hovels. Even the rich in their grand houses lived more public-facing lives than we might tolerate today. Improved housing offers greater privacy for living, including that provided by hospital or residential care, which is where our dying takes place – removed from most people’s sight. The result is not that death is taboo, but it has certainly become hidden – what historian Philippe Ariès called “unfamiliar”. But that has been changing for a while now. The past 30 years have witnessed an explosion of auto-pathography: published autobiographies about the writer’s own dying, almost always of cancer. Art photographers also have got in on the act, documenting the withering bodies of people dying of cancer or AIDS, or portraits taken before and after death. Nobody was obliged to read or view these offerings, but in the UK that changed in 2009. Jade Goody, who had come to fame as a contestant on Big Brother, did a deal with the tabloids and OK Magazine to cover her death from cancer, day-by-day, week-by-week. She wanted to die as she lived, in the full glare of the media. For several weeks it was impossible to go into any newsagent without being confronted with front-page images of a bald-headed Goody on her final and very public journey. These days, the pervasive nature of social media can carry this several steps further. Anybody can now blog or tweet about their own dying – which can be remarkably educational for the doctors who read their patients’ blogs. Online mutual help groups of those with a fatal condition also enables them to communicate, anywhere, any time. Online, they can find emotional and practical support from one other. Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can't find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere — Lisa Bonchek Adams (@AdamsLisa) February 17, 2015 After death, social media enable grief to become more shared, more public, than it generally was in the 20th century. Sufferers can express their suffering. And in so doing, they educate others about dying and mourning. A mixed blessing All this is not without its problems. In the 20th century, many people actually valued the privacy that removed their dying or grieving from the sight of others. Visibility, offline or online, creates the possibility of support, but it also requires the sufferer to put on a public face which may not mirror their internal torment. Visibility also increases the chances of unhelpful comments and even censure. This is apparent in grieving, where mourners may be criticised for grieving too much or too little, too long or not long enough, for being too stoical or too expressive. Facebook, with its upbeat ethos, may not be where young people dying of cancer want to share their worst fears and deepest anxieties. In the US, split between religious conservatism and liberal humanism, people’s very different ways of dealing with suffering and finding hope in mortality might once have stayed within their communities. But in the borderless online world they bang up against each other, often adding to the suffering. Fundamentalist sites discussing euthanasia or post-abortion grief can be profoundly unhelpful to those seeking advice and counsel. Liberal humanist sites may not be welcomed by some who are religious and after pastoral help. This is why online groups restricted to particular age groups with particular conditions or particular religious beliefs, can be valuable. But online sites run by people living with certain life-threatening conditions – notably depression and anorexia – can disturb friends and family. Such sites may even embrace suicide pacts or a pro-anorexia ethos, and may get shut down, adding to their members' feeling not being understood. The one certainty Humans have always been mortal, but cultures and subcultures around dying have never been static. The internet and new ways of communicating offer new ways of familiarising ourselves and others with death: printing, photography, sound recording, television, email, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. Each new technology impacts existing tensions such as privacy versus sharing, freedom to die or grieve one’s own way versus surveillance and censure by others, power versus resistance to power. We can all be certain we will die. But we cannot be at all certain, when our time comes, how technology and society will offer to accompany us on that final journey. This article originally appeared at The Conversation.
The Australian father-and-son duo who raised more than $1 million within three hours on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo have now broken the $US4 million ($A5.1m) mark. Cedar and Stuart Anderson, from Byron Bay in New South Wales, have developed a way to harvest honey without opening a hive and disturbing the bees. The pair’s invention, called Flow, allows beekeepers to simply turn on a tap to retrieve honey instead of having to smoke the bees and take apart the hive. The Andersons’ initial target was $US70,000 – however, that goal was smashed in a matter of hours. The invention has now raised more than $US4.3 million to become the third most-funded project in Indiegogo’s history, with more than 10,000 people backing the invention. Co-founder of Flow, Cedar Anderson, told StartupSmart the crowdfunding campaign has been “a wild ride” so far. “We’re amazed and so proud of how well Flow has been received,” he says. “That we’re now the most successful-ever crowdfunding venture ever launched outside of the US is just incredible. The response has been humbling and has already far exceeded our expectations.” Anderson says the project’s success came down to the fact that people love bees. “We’re blown away and really hope this leads to increased bee numbers and better bee health around the world.” The most-funded project on Indiegogo to date was a device called Ubuntu Edge, which raised $US12.8 million in August 2013. Coming in at second place is the An Hour of Code project, which aims to give students in the US the opportunity to learn foundational computer science skills. The campaign raised just over $US5 million, with even a donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Flow, however, could easily surpass An Hour of Code as the invention’s crowdfunding campaign has more than 30 days left before it expires. Riding off this success, Anderson said in a recent post on the company’s Indiegogo page that it will be able to negotiate up to 50% off their backers’ shipping costs due to the groundswell in support from around the world. “Expanding manufacturing to the US will also reduce shipping costs for those in America or close by,” he said. “Where possible we will source the wooden hive boxes and frames closer to you to reduce shipping costs and support your local beekeeping suppliers. We will add some estimates of shipping soon. Once again thank you all so much for being a part of this project.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Think you’re good at classic arcade games such as Space Invaders, Breakout and Pong? Think again. In a groundbreaking paper published today in Nature, a team of researchers led by DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis reported developing a deep neural network that was able to learn to play such games at an expert level. What makes this achievement all the more impressive is that the program was not given any background knowledge about the games. It just had access to the score and the pixels on the screen. It didn’t know about bats, balls, lasers or any of the other things we humans need to know about in order to play the games. But by playing lots and lots of games many times over, the computer learnt first how to play, and then how to play well. A machine that learns from scratch This is the latest in a series of breakthroughs in deep learning, one of the hottest topics today in artificial intelligence (AI). Actually, DeepMind isn’t the first such success at playing games. Twenty years ago a computer program known as TD-Gammon learnt to play backgammon at a super-human level also using a neural network. But TD-Gammon never did so well at similar games such as chess, Go or checkers (draughts). In a few years time, though, you’re likely to see such deep learning in your Google search results. Early last year, inspired by results like these, Google bought DeepMind for a reported UK£500 million. Many other technology companies are spending big in this space. Baidu, the “Chinese Google”, set up the Institute of Deep Learning and hired experts such as Stanford University professor Andrew Ng. Facebook has set up its Artificial Intelligence Research Lab which is led by another deep learning expert, Yann LeCun. And more recently Twitter acquired Madbits, another deep learning startup. What is the secret sauce behind deep learning? Geoffrey Hinton is one of the pioneers in this area, and is another recent Google hire. In an inspiring keynote talk at last month’s annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, he outlined three main reasons for these recent breakthroughs. First, lots of Central Processing Units (CPUs). These are not the sort of neural networks you can train at home. It takes thousands of CPUs to train the many layers of these networks. This requires some serious computing power. In fact, a lot of progress is being made using the raw horse power of Graphics Processing Units (GPUs), the super fast chips that power graphics engines in the very same arcade games. Second, lots of data. The deep neural network plays the arcade game millions of times. Third, a couple of nifty tricks for speeding up the learning such as training a collection of networks rather than a single one. Think the wisdom of crowds. What will deep learning be good for? Despite all the excitement though about deep learning technologies there are some limitations over what it can do. Deep learning appears to be good for low level tasks that we do without much thinking. Recognising a cat in a picture, understanding some speech on the phone or playing an arcade game like an expert. These are all tasks we have “compiled” down into our own marvellous neural networks. Cutting through the hype, it’s much less clear if deep learning will be so good at high level reasoning. This includes proving difficult mathematical theorems, optimising a complex supply chain or scheduling all the planes in an airline. Where next for deep learning? Deep learning is sure to turn up in a browser or smartphone near you before too long. We will see products such as a super smart Siri that simplifies your life by predicting your next desire. But I suspect there will eventually be a deep learning backlash in a few years time when we run into the limitations of this technology. Especially if more deep learning startups sell for hundreds of millions of dollars. It will be hard to meet the expectations that all these dollars entail. Nevertheless, deep learning looks set to be another piece of the AI jigsaw. Putting these and other pieces together will see much of what we humans do replicated by computers. If you want to hear more about the future of AI, I invite you to the Next Big Thing Summit in Melbourne on April 21, 2015. This is part of the two-day CONNECT conference taking place in the Victorian capital. Along with AI experts such as Sebastian Thrun and Rodney Brooks, I will be trying to predict where all of this is taking us. And if you’re feeling nostaglic and want to try your hand out at one of these games, go to Google Images and search for “atari breakout” (or follow this link). You’ll get a browser version of the Atari classic to play. And once you’re an expert at Breakout, you might want to head to Atari’s arcade website. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.