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Announcing the finalists for the So You Think You Can Start-up competition

2:38AM | Thursday, 6 February

StartupSmart received over 100 entries to be part of its So You Think You Can Start-up pitching competition.

Start a private guest browser session in Firefox for Android

1:23AM | Tuesday, 28 January

Have you ever let someone else use your tablet? Perhaps you’ve been concerned they could pry through sensitive personal information you’ve saved on websites or your bookmarks?   If so, the latest version of Firefox for Android smartphones and tablets has a new feature called private guest browsing you should try.   This feature runs a ‘special’ session of Firefox that allows your guest to view websites and pages while preventing them from looking through your personal accounts on websites such as Facebook.   To start a private guest session, just tap on the menu button:     When the menu pops up, tap on the Tools menu, and then the New Guest Session option:     Now it’s safe to let someone else use your tablet– without them prying through your private accounts!

Eight global trends that could reshape your online business in 2014

1:57AM | Friday, 24 January

In the internet world of accelerating change, law reforms are being proposed and passed at breakneck speed.   Much of the focus in Australia is on risk management as the internet is difficult to monitor and regulate. But with many disputes coming from overseas business sites, Australia is looking to the global initiatives in many of their proposals.   Plus there is a large increase in online Australian businesses expanding offshore so it hard to ignore what’s going on in the rest of the world, especially if it may affect your business.   Be prepared and plan ahead by watching out for some of the upcoming trends:   1. Privacy laws   Privacy requirements for your business have and continue to be in the forefront of most western countries. The onus is now on business owners to ensure they know what their service providers are doing with respect to keeping and sharing your customers and business data both on and offshore.   As well, you will need to be able to answer to both customers and regulators on the security measures your website ‘providers’ have in place for collection, storage and transmission of business and personal information. (More information is available at the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s website.)   2. Cookies policies and active notifications   Notification requirements are being reviewed and regulation is making more business owners obtain active consents where certain customer information is collected and customer behavior is recorded. This means you need to know when you need your customer to actively agree to your terms rather than just post them on your website.   It will also impact what your business collects, why you collect it and what you do with it. And if you are collecting information from cookies placed on your visitors or customers computers, be sure to notify them and actually be using it in your business analysis-otherwise you may find yourself breaching other laws such as the new Australian Privacy Principles.   3. Copyright reform   Make sure you know where your content and images come from. This is becoming an increasingly monitored (and complained about) issue with the increase in ‘sharing’ in social media.   The Australian Law Reform Commission report and recommendations to the Attorney General on this reform should be made public in March 2014 – watch this space.   4. New cyber security laws   The European Union (EU) and the United States (US) are trying to work on new policies to address cyber crime. The EU is working on reforms to get member countries to agree to have compulsory reporting of cyber attack crimes to national authorities. They want to have an arrangement that countries will give up nationals who commit such crimes against EU or US but this is meeting some resistance. All in all, a good initiative to protect your business!   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 5. Data collection   After the NSA fiasco and issues with Facebook and Twitter tracking individual’s preferences and behaviour, there is and will be more regulation in relation to tracking systems, particularly those permitted by large tech companies. Opting out of tracking will be more and more difficult as larger corporates will look to improve their ability to collect personal data for advertising databases.   Singapore has already instituted legislation of which the main provisions come into effect in July 2014. The US announced through the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs new data collection tool regulation to be proposed and the International Association of Privacy Professionals (a body that represents 83 countries and makes gov’t recommendations) has cross border/international online protection at the top of their conference agenda in April 2014.   What does this mean for you? It will be harder to protect yourself and your customers’ information online. You are responsible for protecting your customer’s information so your security systems and those of your service provider will need to be robust particularly where international providers or customers are involved. 6. More Local Regulation for Online Businesses   Australian regulators are hitting out as business use of the internet grows. Everything from tax collection, legislation compliance, consumer protection and privacy are all on the radar among some of the other legislative changes that are continuing to be examined in 2014. You can be sure that tax revenue will be top of the agenda!   The best thing you can do is to be sure you are always updated and keep informed. You cannot afford to ignore it nor leave yourself and your business exposed. Your assets and your business are at stake.   7. Online businesses to be targeted for taxes in other countries   With growth in sales at bricks-and-mortar shops shrinking, and purchasing on the internet growing daily, governments are looking to find ways to tap into the sales revenue. By 2017 global mobile commerce transactions will exceed US$3.2 trillion up from $1.5 trillion in 2013 (source: Juniper Research, Mediabistro).   Be aware of the tax reform proposals where your online business has customers-you don’t want to be caught out.   8. Crowdfunding   This new innovation is virtually unregulated so far in Australia and is growing faster than any other funding source for businesses. It’s making entry costs for individuals who want or have started businesses more feasible – it’s becoming a global way of accessing funding.   Watch out for this new way that businesses are finding investors to help them grow.   Don’t fall behind with your online business. Like any business, large or small, change is happening fast and you need to keep up with it.

I spy with my little…FBI!

1:33AM | Monday, 20 January

Have you heard the latest about website privacy policies?   Have you heard that the latest draft Australian privacy laws will soon want you to advise your visitors where you may be sending their information, including if you send it overseas using a service provider located in another country?   Thanks to the US and its far-reaching access to other country’s information, this new proposed requirement may come as no surprise to any frequent internet user (or anyone watching the news frankly!). The US seems to have been ‘breaching’ normal privacy laws of other countries for some time, with the FBI accessing information from Australia as well as other countries.   In other words, this means that personal information obtained by your website about your customers and even some visitors may be shared with a US government entity if, for example, you use a US service provider. And you have little control over this happening.   In addition, if the FBI decides to access your own personal information from a US website that you may have used yourself, you do not have the right to be advised of such and cannot object! However, they do inform us that if, in fact, for some reason, they did decide to access this information, it would remain strictly confidential. Hmmm ... so that makes it okay?   Personal information in other countries – and the use thereof   Other countries have varying regulations relating to the taking and use of personal information.   For example, the US patriot and anti-terrorism law gives the FBI extensive investigative powers in many aspects of life and business, including the power to use personal information collected on websites.   The UK on the other hand, is more protective of personal information and requires website owners to advise each visitor of any cookies being dropped on a visitor’s browser collecting information about their use of the site.   New Australian draft regulations regarding privacy policies:   New Australian draft regulations, which would require users be informed specifically on how their information is used and stored, does not fit in with US requirements. These new proposed laws are very privacy-oriented and require a website that collects personal information to be completely transparent in how that particular data is collected, stored, used, and if it is shared, to inform the user that their information will be shared. This new draft Australian regulation goes as far as stating that if this information is shared with someone overseas, this needs to be made clear in a privacy policy. Apparently, this law aims to protect consumers’ rights to data protection.   It is quite difficult to reconcile this need to inform customers exactly how their information is used if the material is then shared with a US service provider, and then potentially being used secretly by the FBI.   Stay with me here!   Now, somewhere in the clouds, there are still other issues   Another issue that needs to be considered in conjunction with the protectionist stance of Australian privacy policies is the implication caused by cloud services and where the data is stored exactly.   Cloud services including Facebook, Dropbox, Google, Gmail and Hotmail are perhaps the most pervasive examples of storing information somewhere out in the internet world. However, the problem with this is that there are multiple servers across the world that they all use, where different privacy laws apply.   How can you know exactly where your information may be stored on cloud services, and in turn, you may then not be complying with Australian requirements to notify your customers. So how can you be expected to manage this?   You need to know what your website business does and what you collect as well as what the service providers you employ do and store your website information. This is continuing to become a bigger issue that is being transferred by governments and regulators to individual internet business owners.   So, what does this mean for my website?   Quite apart from being alarming, this proposed law poses problems for Australian website privacy policy requirements and how you may decide to set up your online business.   Australia is now trying to ensure that any website that uses US or other country’s services, notifies their visitors to enable them to make an ‘informed’ decision (or at least are aware) when they are using your website. This may affect how and where you source your service providers for your business. So…   Be aware!   Conduct due diligence in investigating how information is stored and shared, both by your website and your potential service providers before deciding on who to use. Then you can attempt to ensure your privacy policy covers all potential issues and any changes that may arise by the constantly moving Australian privacy laws.   More information on these changes is available at the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner website.

The year of mobile and accessing Gen Y’s secret weapon: Telstra exec on how start-ups can make the most of 2014

1:51PM | Sunday, 19 January

This year is one of opportunity for start-ups and tech enabled small businesses able to navigate and exploit the rapid shift to mobile, says Will Irving, group managing director of Telstra Business.   Irving says the move to mobile is a trend Telstra is well aware of, as they’ve been investing in their mobile capacity such as developing their 4G networks significantly over the last few years. In 2013, they invested an additional $1.2 billion in mobile capacity.   “Businesses will start to see the benefit of investing in mobile technology, from professional services side and even in retail, being able to do valuable work anywhere will be a big productivity gain,” Irving says. “If you run a small business you are the business. So if you’re not here the business isn’t working.”   Not only do mobile technology and the cloud boost productivity for business owners, mobile is also increasingly how consumers search and interact with brands, so businesses need to invest in mobile-ready websites.   “The pace of investment in mobile across the board is incredible,” Irving says, adding the biggest uptake of tablet devices are among those over 45. “The demand is just so big and growing.”   Irving says a big opportunity for start-ups and small businesses to boost their sales in 2014 is in mobile-enabled sites and social media.   “Social media is a very cheap and effective way to tap into the mobile trend and reach your most loyal customers on it. It’s no longer just teenagers hanging out together,” Irving says, adding that this latter group is actually the smartest way to access the potential of social media promotion.   “Gen Ys are incredibly powerful employees to spread messages and brands because they’re so well connected to each other and so comfortable online,” Irving says.   The power of social media is especially exciting for start-ups, who tend to favour more organic approaches to marketing and recruitment.   “Who you hire in small business is much more a function of someone who knows somebody than it used to be. This is true for vendor relationships and eventually customers too. Today, word of mouth could almost be called word of Facebook or Instagram,” Irving says.

Turnbull encourages government to “think laterally” about start-up tax challenges

1:29PM | Thursday, 16 January

Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has praised the potential for crowdfunded equity and said more needed to be done to encourage innovative companies, during a question and answer session on Facebook.   Turnbull is touring leading start-ups in San Francisco. He conducted the session from Facebook’s Menlo Park offices. The 15-minute conversation can be seen here.   “We need to do more to encourage innovative companies in Australia . . . an obvious area is rectifying the anomalous treatment of employee shares and options in Oz,” Turnbull wrote. “There is a lot of potential for crowdfunding-type models for aggregating venture capital. We need to think laterally on this critical issue.”   Crowdfunded equity is an increasingly popular discussion in the Australian tech start-up ecosystem with the success of international platforms such as Israel-based OurCrowd becoming better known.   OurCrowd founder John Medved said in October that Australia had “huge potential and room for growth in Australia” at an event on the emerging opportunity.   “The people here in Australia have courage, they’re quirky and interesting. You’ve got a lot of money and everything going for you. When I come back here in five years, I reckon you’ll be a completely different ecosystem,” Medved said.   VentureCrowd, an Artesian-backed platform to enable Australian crowdfunded equity, launched in December.   Artesian managing partner and co-founder of VentureCrowd, Jeremy Colless, said the approach would enable more individual investors to be part of start-up opportunities.   “This will help attract and retain a new generation of savvy tech investors who have been prevented in the past by the clubby nature of venture capital or the high hurdles in the space.”   The previous federal government announced a review of the regulatory issues around employee share schemes and equity crowdfunding last year.   A discussion paper on crowdfunded equity was released by the Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee in September 2013.   CAMAC deputy director Vincent Jewell told StartupSmart they were taking a “clean sheet” approach to the process and were anticipating considerable input given the interest in the area.   “It’s a very active area that’s attracting lots of interest. We know there are people out there wanting to make use of these options, and there is an eagerness to raise funds through crowdfunding. The enthusiasm and frustration with the legal impediments at the moment means I think there will be enthusiasm to have some input into the process,” Jewell says.   The next stage in the review process is the release of a report based on the submissions.   A team member at CAMAC told StartupSmart this morning they have “no time or date for the release of the report as yet”.

The end of stress

1:36PM | Wednesday, 15 January

Now, in the New Year, I can admit it: 2013 sucked and I’m glad it’s over.   For the first eight months, I ran around the US trying to launch a start-up on no budget, build a product, raise capital, and run the team back in Sydney – all simultaneously.  I was exhausted; sometimes I wondered whether the business or I would make it.   Occasionally, I was so stressed that I was paralysed – unable to muster energy or focus to move. I asked myself repeatedly – why am I doing this to myself?  Why can’t I get a normal job like normal people where I could go home at the end of the day and actually get some sleep!   Well I’m happy to report that, in 2013, Posse and I didn’t die and that the year ended well. Yet throughout the year, ‘stress’ was my constant, unwelcome companion. I can’t help but wonder; am I more stressed than everyone else, and what is the underlying cause of this stress? How can I eliminate it in 2014?   If you knew me personally, you’d discover I’m an exercise-obsessed, non-caffeine, virtually non-alcohol drinking, twice daily meditating, vegan, yogi. But I’m not about to preach stress-management techniques; thousands of articles tell us how to reduce the effects of stress. I’ve read many of them and, as you can tell by my controlled lifestyle, take on each suggestion with zest and commitment. This summer holiday I’ve been wondering; what are the causes of my stress? In 2014, I’ll address these causes, rather than adding more stress-control techniques. I’ve run out.   Before revealing my thoughts about my own stress, I’ll share the conversation I had with my friend Chris over brunch this past Saturday morning. Chris works for an advertising agency in the city and he’s having trouble at work.   Chris is a mid-level manager who runs a sales team for the agency. His boss in Melbourne just placed a family friend in his team who, rather than reporting to Chris, has been hired to co-lead the team and report directly to the manager.   Chris is stressed because the new woman with whom he’s supposed to be working is becoming obstructive, undermining him to the team, and badmouthing him to the boss. Because they have a personal relationship, he can’t address the problem. He’s terrified he might be fired and lies awake at night, angry and frustrated. He looks worn out and I’m worried about his health.   I’ve long assumed that being an entrepreneur with so much responsibility and risk, surrounded by uncertainty, must be more stressful than having a job. But even after my tumultuous 2013, when I look across the table at Chris, he may be a lot more stressed than I am.   Can we access the key causes of stress? Instead of managing them, would it be possible to remove them from life altogether? Obviously, I’m not a doctor or psychologist. But as I sit at the kitchen table of my parents’ house on holiday, these are my thoughts.   Control   A lot of my stress comes from feeling out of control. Suppose I’m waiting for a funding round to close and a key investor goes silent. I feel there is nothing I can do and lie awake at night, heart thumping, waiting for an email. Chris is stressed because he can’t control his co-worker and her vindictive behaviour. He lies awake fretting about what she’s going to do next.   Control is one area where we entrepreneurs have it much better. Sure, it’s stressful when we have to rely on other people, but there’s usually something we can do about it. The next day we can scope out new investors or cut costs. We’re never at the mercy of someone else. Chris feels as if he’s out of control but he’s a talented, hard working guy; he could always quit and find another job. To remove ‘control’ as a stress factor I must remember that I’m ultimately in control. There are always other opportunities.   Expectation   Another major cause of stress comes from worrying that things won’t work out the way I’d hoped. Much of the pain that I experience, lying in bed waiting on an investor to email, comes from a future I’ve created in my head – a future where our investment round closes smoothly – a future that may not exist. This feeling is similar to grief.   When I suffered the loss of someone very close to me, much of the pain was for the loss of a future I’d imagined. I think it’s healthy to hope for an investment round to close or for a product to take off, to plan and work towards those goals. But I also think it’s important to remember that the future hasn’t arrived. The only thing that’s for sure is now.   Perception   Last year, I wrote a post about professional jealously. I was flooded with emails and Facebook messages, so obviously it struck a chord with many people. I find it difficult to avoid comparing myself to other people or worry about what others think of me. I know this is pointless, but it’s very hard to stop.   When I compare myself to others, it always leaves me thinking that something’s wrong with me, which knocks my self-confidence. And it’s crazy to worry about what others think of me because no one actually cares much about what I’m doing. Everyone has their own stuff going on. The world is big and I am small.   Self-esteem   I’ve been thinking about self-confidence this holiday and it struck me; I might not have as much as I’ve thought. Often, people who seem the most confident externally (like entrepreneurs) are, behind it all, the least.   They just act confident to compensate for that voice inside their head that tells them they’re not good enough. Self-esteem and self-confidence – that’s a whole other issue. I’ll write about that later. I do believe that, through cultivating a deep sense of self-belief, I could kill stress entirely.   Stress is an invisible energy drain; it wears us down. It doesn’t matter if you’re a struggling start-up entrepreneur like me or you have a corporate job like Chris. We all suffer. With so much opportunity out there in the world, I want all the energy I can have.   This year, rather than work on ways to manage stress, I’m going to address its root causes. Then I’ll be able to relax my stress-reducing routines and have a bit more fun as well.

US venture capital fund invests $US30 million in Australian hotel bookings company

1:35PM | Wednesday, 15 January

Online hotel distribution company SiteMinder has received $US30million from Technology Crossover Ventures, a leading Silicon Valley venture capital firm that has also invested in Facebook, Expedia and Netflix.   SiteMinder co-founder and chief executive Mike Ford told StartupSmart their experience and this breakthrough was a sign of the considerable increase in attention Australian tech start-ups are now receiving from major US venture capital firms.   “There has definitely been an upsurge in interest from the US funds. When we raised our series A round ($5.5million from Bailador) just 18 months ago, the US market didn’t seem as interested. But several funds have reached out since then, which is exciting for the Australian tech company community,” Ford says.   Launched in 2006, Ford says SiteMinder was bootstrapped and built on only $2 million of angel investment for the first six years.   After their series A round in 2012, they began to grow rapidly. In 2013 they grew by 70% and processed over $5 billion in booking revenue for more than 11,000 clients.   With its head office and 105 staff in Sydney, 70 in the United Kingdom and 12 in Bangkok, Ford says their major challenge in global expansion has been overcoming how far away Australia can seem to international hotel power players.   “The challenge of going global with our technology was getting people over the idea we’re sitting on an island somewhere. To establish a global brand from Australia took a bit of work. We had to plonk ourselves down right in the middle of those markets, so we could turn up and show face,” Ford says.   The funds will be used for product development, as well as consolidating and growing their global presence, entering the US market and setting up an office in Dallas.   “Dallas is the last piece in the puzzle of our ‘follow the sun’ strategy,” Ford says. “Our target market is global accounts, so we’ve got all kinds of time zones and language to contend with. Between our three offices and now Dallas, we’ll be available 24/7.”   SiteMinder launched its series B fundraising round last year to ensure it could grow quickly in the coming years, despite having surplus capital.   “We hadn’t burned all the Bailador cash, but we decided to bring the money on now because the next two years are the critical point in hotels adopting this kind of technology,” Ford says.   “Several consumer booking applications are pushing quite aggressively into the US market, and hotels are rapidly adapting to this tech and we want to be front and centre of that movement.”   In a statement, TCV general partner David Yuan praised Australia’s entrepreneurial community tackling global business opportunities.   “Australia has a wealth of pragmatic entrepreneurs who are attacking global markets with compelling products and SiteMinder is a great example of this,” he says.   “We have been following SiteMinder for a number of years and have been impressed with the company’s rapid growth, market-leading product development, and a strong, talented team. As a pioneer, SiteMinder’s culture of innovation is unparalleled. We are excited about this partnership and look forward to working with SiteMinder in continuing its global expansion.”   This is TCV’s first investment in an Australian company.

Google+ and Gmail integration can boost your email database

1:26AM | Monday, 13 January

Businesses using Gmail now have access to a whole new contact base, as Google allows Gmail users to directly email any of their Google+ connections.   Google lets users opt out of the function, however, the new default setting lets individuals or businesses email “anyone on Google+”.   However, it doesn’t provide businesses with endless opportunities to spam consumers. Businesses or individuals can only email strangers once using the new feature, unless the person then replies, or adds them to their circles.   This said, Seedling Strategy director Shu Yap told SmartCompany it does provide businesses with new opportunities.   “Google+ is basically Google’s version of Facebook, which also really helps businesses with their search engine optimisation… I still see Facebook as being more predominant, but it will have some additional benefits,” she says.   “I’m always amazed by how clever email marketing is these days when it’s done well. It can get very annoying… but when done well it’s a really clever form of communication.”   Yap says if emails are targeted and displayed well, people like receiving useful information.   “People actually want to receive information which is relevant to them, even if it is uncanvassed or from someone who they didn’t opt-in to receive emails from,” she says.   “Lots of platforms now exist which help businesses be relevant and helps them integrate information into emails for time poor people.”   If businesses can perfect their email marketing strategy, the new Gmail feature could help them expand their customer base, especially as the social network’s user numbers continue to grow.   Yap says it can be difficult for small businesses to “get their head around” the number of social media sites now in existence.   “In some regards I feel the social media world is getting so saturated …I think it will be the widgets which will be more popular than the actual channels themselves,” she says.   “As more platforms come on board it gets more confusing for small business owners, there will be more of a market for tools which can integrate and streamline this information for the time poor.”   Yap says social media is challenging for small business owners because many don’t have the resources to employ someone full-time to manage it.   “They’re their own IT, marketing and finance departments. Unless they’re very savvy it’s challenging. But the ones which are adopting it in an industry conducive to their product and services have found great results… although it does depend on the business and its audience,” she says.   “One consideration is how the legal system and spam legislation is going to change to account for social media. How it’s controlled and policed will be something to consider in the future.”   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

Four-month-old start-up tackling coupons, contests, Lady Gaga and seeing 100% monthly revenue growth

1:19PM | Sunday, 12 January

Coupons have been a playground for start-ups for years, with one of Australia’s biggest start-up success stories, RetailMeNot, selling for $90 million in 2010.   The team behind Gleam is also tapping into the power of coupons, to help small businesses get the most out of their social media networks.   Launched in October 2013, Gleam is a software platform that businesses can use to run contests and share coupons such as discount codes.   They recently ran a competition for Lady Gaga’s upcoming Australian tour, and co-founder Stuart McKeown told StartupSmart both their revenue and user engagement is growing by 100% month-on-month.   McKeown told StartupSmart their recent growth is due to changes in Facebook’s algorithms, which have lobotomised the marketing plans of many small businesses that had previously been able to reach more of their followers for free.   “One of the big problems in marketing and growth hacking at the moment is the drop in organic reach in Facebook. We’re working with businesses that have hundreds of thousands of fans but they’re only reaching 5% now,” McKeown says.   The platform enables companies to run competitions on their social media profiles and own site. The competitions are commonly used as traffic or sign up generating tactics, or to convert Facebook page fans to Twitter followers or newsletter subscribers.   “As a business, where you really want people is on your newsletter list. By running contests and offering coupons as rewards, we’re helping people to diversify their social portfolio so you don’t have all your eggs in the one social network basket,” McKeown says.   The software as a service start-up has 15,000 users and runs on a freemium model with a conversion rate of just above 10%.   McKeown’s co-founder John Sherwood is working on the business full time, and McKeown is hoping the business will continue to grow so he’ll be able to do the same later this year. This is their 9th project together.   The team’s focus for the next few months will be on growing the business with both new products and partnerships, such as the one they recently signed with online ecommerce checkout company Shopify.   “We’re doing a lot of growth hacking and we’re really focused on user acquisition. A key way we’re going to grow is through partnering with third party platforms, such as Shopify. We’re just getting started with leveraging that opportunity,” McKeown says.   The Lady Gaga project with MCM Entertainment inspired the Gleam team to start developing a white label version of the software to be used by agencies for larger projects. They’re also developing a range of software plug-ins, and have started exploring referral and social review tools.

Three tips to help you with your New Year’s resolution to learn to code

1:51PM | Monday, 13 January

The ubiquity of technology, the burgeoning uptake of apps and the growing awareness about tech start-up potential and success stories has made learning how to code an increasingly popular New Year’s resolution.   Peter Argent can attest to this. After launching his Sydney-based coding school, The Coder Factory, in September 2013, he describes the first few months as slow-growing but they’ve been swamped since the calendar clocked over to 2014.   “Every second person these days has an idea for an app, but they don’t necessarily know how to build it themselves,” Argent says.   Argent says the stereotypes about coding and coders are beginning to melt, but they’re still holding people back.   “There is an underlying idea that it’s for geeks and nerds, that you have to be super smart and like maths. But that’s not true. Yeah, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are pretty nerdy, but it’s worth giving it a go as it’s an increasingly important skill set for every possible career.”   Argent shared his top three tips for learning how to code your way to your first app with StartupSmart.   Start with a particular project in mind   Beginning to learn how to code with a particular project in mind will make navigating the new language easier, and keep you motivated says Argent.   “It’s important to have a project or end goal in mind because that keeps you going. It enables you to actually get it, and move beyond theory,” Argent says.   “We recommend people play around with some of the free online courses first to get an inkling it’s not too hard, and then think of an app and start learning how to build it.”   Argent says they stay focused on actual apps and products the whole way through the course, exploring platforms such as Facebook and popular apps and showing the students how to build the same functionality.   Learn Ruby on Rails as your first coding language   While coders often recommend python as a good first language for new coders, Argent says the increasingly popular Ruby on Rails language is the best one to get started with because of the social support factor.   “I would always definitely recommend Ruby on Rails. There are a lot of languages that are good for beginners, but the Ruby community is amazing. It’s very friendly and you can ask questions online without people getting narky,” Argent says.   As learning how to code can be intimidating, working in a supportive community can be the make-or-break factor for many aspiring coders.   He adds the community has also spawned many free open source tools and plug-ins which enable coders to build out their functionality quickly as they learn the basics.   The second step is the hardest, so hang in there   According to Argent, many students falter and many aspiring coders give up after they’ve learned the basics and feel they’re beginning to understand how to code, and then realise there is another major step to reach understanding.   “The fundamentals of coding aren’t too hard, even young kids can pick up the core ideas quickly. It’s the next step that gets people,” Argent says.   Argent says the module introducing the model view controller passage is the toughest in the course. The module deals with how code is structured, and how it operates with what’s appearing on the screen.   “It’s tough because it’s a completely new way of thinking. Everyone can get there, but it’s a different approach so it takes a bit longer before I see the students’ eyes start to light up as it clicks into place.”

Social media news and views in 2013 and advice to take into 2014

12:03AM | Tuesday, 31 December

No matter what your opinion of social media, it’s become a ubiquitous feature of our lives.   It’s also rapidly evolving, with new platforms and features being developed to capture people’s attention and possibly become the next Facebook.   Businesses are also catching on with their own presence on platforms as they need to be where their customers are.   There was plenty of news and advice for readers this year on the latest developments and ways to get the most out of tweets and hashtags and posts and pins.   Quixomatic consolidates social media pages   The story of Sydney-based start-up launching its platform that consolidates a company’s social media pages generated plenty of interest for readers.   Co-founder and managing director Brett Poole, who previously worked for Yahoo, told StartupSmart the idea emerged from the trend of start-ups and small businesses being active on social media first to build traction before investing in creating a website.   Quixomatic uses the information already on a company’s Facebook page to generate a mobile-friendly website. It also plugs into other social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube.   Who owns what on social media?   When you post content on social media, who do you think owns it? Many people will say the person who posts the content. That may be true, but the content maker may not be the only owner.   Mentor Vanessa Emilio looked into the issue here and warned readers to be aware of what could happen to their content.   Time-saving tools for Twitter   A tweet has become more than what a bird does. It’s now a message to the world that can whip up outrage, embarrass or entertain. It’s also a powerful tool for business engaging with their customers through the Twitter platform.   But for the busy businessperson, managing their Twitter account can be time consuming.   Lauren Ridgway offers here some time-saving tools when using Twitter, including using Tweetdeck and various analytical tools.   Facebook accelerator program for small business   Many small businesses have a Facebook page. For those who don’t want to create their own websites, it’s a relatively simple option for them.   The news that Facebook was offering places in an accelerator program to help small businesses get the most out of Facebook was widely shared.   “Many small businesses are doing great things on Facebook and we are committed in helping them continue to unlock the opportunities open to them,” Nick Bowditch, Facebook’s manager of small business in Australia and New Zealand, said.   What’s better – advertising a business or using social media?   Advertising and social media provide different paths for promoting your business, as mentor Dean Ramler writes. But in today’s business world, it’s no longer a question of one or the other.   In this post he outlines how social media can be great for engaging with customers while online and traditional advertising also play a role.   “Any good marketing program should combine both advertising and social media for maximum impact,” he says.   Some more articles worth reading: How to build social media hype for a crowdfunding campaign; Twitter announces a partnership with a young Sydney start-up; and Why social media is a must when you want to sell your business.

The Weekly Digest: New partnerships, investment news and plenty of tips

12:10AM | Friday, 20 December

Despite many corporates slowing down and packing up this week as we roll towards Christmas, the Australian start-up community has been powering along launching a car made entirely of Lego that runs on air and announcing new partnerships.   The big one this week was Tiger Pistol, which is now one of two companies listed as Facebook’s preferred marketing partners. Co-founder and chief executive Steve Hibberd spoke to us about what this means for his company, and how they got in touch with Facebook after 18 months of perseverance.   Investment announcements haven’t slowed yet, with an education app start-up announcing a Commercialisation Australia grant of $50,000 and an emergency response system start-up that planned to raise $500,000 but ended up raising $1.2 million after tweaking its pitching material.   Also in investment news, an angel investor expert has warned the Australian angel networks to develop slowly, and the director of new ventures at NICTA, Andrew Stead, crunched the numbers of 71 investment deals made in 2012 and shared his findings about what Australian investors look for with us here.   For every start-up that receives funding, there are plenty that don’t. This start-up decided to pursue their dream to go global with no extra capital, and all of their friends telling them it was a bad idea. They made it work after working through the overwhelming stress.   The government announced it was abandoning two tax reforms that would have boosted the start-up scene, but it’s been a rougher week for workers at car maker Holden. The local start-up community in Adelaide has thrown open their doors to welcome any aspiring entrepreneurs among their number.   Many local entrepreneurs are exploring ventures in the outsourcing and freelancing market, so the merger of international outsourcing giants Elance and oDesk is sure to change the playing field a bit.   In other international news, an Australian start-up has returned from the 10X accelerator based in Ohio and another entrepreneur shared his insights after attending the Lean Startup conference in San Francisco.   Closer to home, we shared tips to get the best work-life balance you can over the summer holidays, how much the average freelancer is charging, and three tips for creative entrepreneurs who can struggle to sell their work without selling their soul.   Finally, we heard from a start-up tapping into the power of the crowd to compete with roadside assistance heavyweights, an award-winning education platform enabling anyone run an online course, and shared an infographic on how to master your fears as you move forwards as an entrepreneur.

THE NEWS WRAP: NAB chairman warns Australia faces modest economic outlook

12:33PM | Thursday, 19 December

The chairman of National Australia Bank, Michael Chaney, has painted a lukewarm outlook for the Australian economy, saying the country is faced with “at best” modest economic growth and rising unemployment.   “Business conditions are subdued and, unless economic reform and restructuring continue, are likely to remain so,” he told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting.   “That is the challenge facing governments and all participants in the economy.”   Zuckerberg to sell shares in Facebook   Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is to sell a part of his stake in the company as part of a new share offering by the social media giant.   The company said in a regulatory filing it would sell 70 million shares in a follow-on offering to the huge initial public offering in May 2012.   Of that, Zuckerberg will sell around 41 million shares, mainly to satisfy his tax obligations, it said. The sale will have little impact on his control of the company, however.   The 27 million new shares at Facebook's latest closing price of $US55.57 would raise some $US1.5 billion for the company "for working capital and other general corporate purposes," the statement said.   Ksubi jeans placed in receivership   Australian jeans fashion label Ksubi has been placed in receivership, the ABC reports.   It says receivers have been appointed to find a buyer for the denim and street wear brand that’s been operating for 13 years.   The action follows other Australian fashion labels that have faced financial difficulty this year, including Lisa Ho and Collette Dinnigan.   Markets   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 0.1% at 16,177.47 points while the Australian dollars is up at 88.6 US cents.

OpenLearning impresses in education tech pitching competition

12:26AM | Tuesday, 17 December

Online classroom platform OpenLearning was selected winner by both the judges and crowd at last week’s education technology start-up pitching competition co-hosted by SydEduTech meetup and the Optus-Innov8 Seed accelerator and investment program.   Launched in October 2012, over 30,000 students have used the OpenLearning platform. The platform is able to be used by large, open access groups, universities or small businesses and corporate partners.   SydEduTech meetup coordinator Atul Pandey told StartupSmart OpenLearning was the stand-out start-up of the night.   “They’re trying to be Facebook for education: a platform that is more interactive and social. They’re opening up the platform and targeting universities in Australia and Malaysia,” Pandey says.   The judging panel included investor Kim Heras, education investor Terry Hilsberg, educator and community coordinator Matt Easterman and Alfred Lo, principal at the Optus Innov8 Seed Fund.   OpenLearning co-founder and chief executive Adam Brimo told StartupSmart there were a lot of massive online opening learning start-ups but OpenLearning’s focus on community was their main differentiator.   “The key differentiators for us are ease of set up and the community. Small businesses often think online courses are too complicated or expensive,” Brimo says. “But anyone can use the platform to teach courses.”   Brimo says 2014 is already shaping up well, with a host of new clients locked in and even more scoping out the offering. They recently launched an institution product, similar to a white label service, which offers customer branding.   He adds the biggest challenge of getting OpenLearning up and running has been learning to work with different kinds of billing cycles.   “When dealing with universities and larger organisations it can take a really long time to get to a decision. As a start-up you’re trying to move as fast as possible, and that can be hard when the customers take a bit longer,” Brimo says.   Five other start-ups made it through to the final round, which will be judged on January 29: Literatu, ClassCover, MomentumCloud, ReadableEnglish and MyEdOnline.   The winner of the January round will be off to leading Asian tech conference Echelon.

Monetising motherhood advice: Baby Bargains Australia launches new website

12:33PM | Thursday, 12 December

Belinda Jennings, co-founder and chief executive of pre-loved classified site Baby Bargains Australia, has launched Mum Central, a new site to broaden the brand and entice a whole new realm of advertisers to her business.   Jennings told StartupSmart the content-driven site was a natural spin-off from Baby Bargains Australia, as the community has always been core to their value.   “When we started, I just wanted to allow parents to buy and sell pre-loved products, but we morphed into a community and really tapped into the powerful nature of peer to peer advice,” Jennings says. “I have always been collecting the conversations knowing that one day they would be so powerful if all put in one place because there is just so much demand.”   After registering the domain Mum Central last year, Jennings says she was spurred into acting on these inklings after conversations with several advertisers she was liaising with for Baby Bargains.   “We got a lot of pushback from brands who didn’t want to put their brand on something just for babies or about bargains, because it might be cheapening or limiting the brand. I was aware of this and thinking ahead to the next step,” Jennings says.   Part of preparation for the next step was preparing a network of social media pages so Baby Bargains and Mum Central can offer targeted solutions for advertisers.   “Mums are the most highly sought after demographic for advertisers and it is competitive,” Jennings says. “We have 10 different Facebook pages and page managers across the country. We’re working with a more powerful mum-to-mum dynamic than expert-to-mum dynamic, and that’s how we’re different.”   The new site has become the core of the business for Jennings, who adds she’s keen to get out there and connect with advertisers as she’s found sharing her own story, both as a mum and an entrepreneur to be one of the most powerful tools she has.   “A lot of people see me as a mum who is running a community, but I’m also an entrepreneur who is hungry to develop the opportunity to be innovative in this very competitive space,” Jennings says.   “There are massive opportunities and they fit perfectly for the way we’ve built Mum Central. We’ve got a lot of big ideas to develop the company to drive revenue while keeping our freemium model working.”   Jennings, who graduated from two intakes of the ANZ Innovyz Start program and raised $250,000 in seed funding shortly afterwards, has begun raising a Series A round of $1 million.   Jennings says the funds will go towards scaling their offering across the country in preparation for an exit in three years.   “We have a pretty clear exit strategy in the next three to four years. We’re planning on an acquisition exit, probably by selling the sites to one of the key media companies,” Jennings says. “We’re doing everything a bit differently, and we believe that the growth and engagement will make us very appealing. Also the three and a half years of data we’re sitting on and developing will be quite valuable as well.”

Five marketing lessons from 99designs chief executive Patrick Llewellyn

12:33PM | Thursday, 12 December

With new figures from Sensis revealing 67% of businesses expect to see an increase in sales in 2014, 99designs chief executive Patrick Llewellyn saysrefreshing your business’s image could be the key to boosting sales.   Just as you need streamlined back-end technology in business, a company’s image is also fundamental to its success and longevity.   Llewellyn told SmartCompany if a business is underperforming, or if it wants to address a new market, it needs to consider changing its image.   “If things are going great, I wouldn’t be changing up your look for the sake of it. You need to have a purpose for why you’re doing something and have a clear reason,” he says.   “But if your brand feels and visually looks dated, you should clean up and use flattering design principles. It’s an element of taking stock and having a good look at all of your materials and asking yourself hard questions about how your design represents your brand and reflects you.”   For businesses in need of a facelift, Llewellyn has the following advice:   1. How does your design translate?   Llewellyn says businesses need to consider how their design works on the different mediums.   “Think about how it looks on social media, on mobile devices, on websites and whether or not your site needs to be more responsive. All of these things need to be considered,” he says.   Llewellyn says when thinking about redesigning, businesses should find out what customers think of the brand.   “Think about it as though you’re taking stock of yourself. Survey your customers and ask them what they think of the brand, how they perceive it and what values it represents to them. This process can give you a springboard,” he says.   2. Start with a clear vision   Businesses need to start with a good understanding of what they want to achieve through the redesign process.   “Spend some time trying to articulate this and engage others in this process,” Llewellyn says.   “When coming up with a vision about making these changes, engage with your staff and try and involve as many stakeholders as possible.”   Llewellyn says businesses can have fun with the process and use it as a way to bring everyone in the business together.   3. Think about the future   When redesigning, businesses need to think about what they want their brand to present going forward.   “Think about the future and your audience going forward and combine the best of the old and the new elements of the brand,” Llewellyn says.   “Any new brand needs to be able to work on mobiles and also consider how the brand will interplay with the importance of content marketing. We will continue to see the rise of this in 2014 and any new branding effort needs to take this into account.”   From here, businesses need to construct a design brief.   “Talk about what the industry is, who the customers are, your mission and vision, and what visual styles you’re looking to represent,” Llewellyn says.   “Look at brands you inspire to be like and where you want to go and really articulate this.”   4. Refresh all brand interaction points   Llewellyn says brands now need to consider how they’re presented on every medium.   “You also need to refresh your social and visual representation – so things like Facebook covers, blogs, emails and different interactions points with the brand could benefit from a redesign, rather than just your logo,” he says,   “With content marketing a key trend, also think about repurposing existing content and turning it into something else, like an infographic or video.”   Llewellyn says the notion of needing to stay relevant and be present on a “myriad of devices” is only just starting to take hold.   “The trend is starting to permeate down to smaller and smaller businesses. The old paradigm of small businesses just caring about how their advertising looked in the Yellow Pages is changing. Small businesses now also care about SEO and SEM,” he says.   “Every time there is a new device, your design needs to be rethought and redone. We’ll continue to see an evolution of these trends going forward as lots of small businesses still need to go online.”   5. Aspirational businesses   Llewellyn says businesses big and small are reinventing in positive ways.   “Looking at the big players, Google has done a really great job of enhancing its individual style. There’s been a noticeable change and it’s brought its products together in a more unified way with a good aesthetic and responsive design,” he says.   “In terms of smaller sites, The Next Web and TechCrunch are trying to reinvent pretty often. They’ve done an okay job with their latest reiterations and their visual design styles continue to evolve.”   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

Microsoft announces $8 million partnership for natural user interface technology research centre

12:19AM | Monday, 9 December

Microsoft, the University of Melbourne and the Victorian government have joined forces to open an $8 million research centre for social new interactive technologies that use voice, touch, gesture, gaze and physical movement.   The Microsoft Centre for Social Natural User Interface (NUI) Research will have funded positions for researchers exploring the social uses of technology that enables digital products to use physical human engagement more intuitively and naturally.   NUIs, such as Wii game consoles and Xbox Kinect, moved away from the desktop and mouse to use direct physical engagement such as capturing voice, gesture, touch and even brain recognition with sensors that interact with technologies.   Centre director Professor Frank Vetere, who also heads up the Interaction Design Lab at Melbourne University, told StartupSmart the centre would push the emerging field of NUI design towards reaching its social potential.   “The recent explosion of social media shows the extraordinary human desire to use technology for our own personal needs and interaction, so there is definitely a growing role for social NUIs,” Vetere says. “The centre is not just about the fun stuff like Facebook. It’s also the way we’re social in the workplace, in schools, in hospitals, and how we relate in public spaces.”   This is Microsoft’s first NUI centre focused on the social uses of the emerging technology. Vetere says there is ample opportunity for Australia to become a leader in this emerging tech industry.   “Clearly this is an opportunity to extend the thinking and knowledge happening elsewhere. We’ve got enormous strong support with Microsoft, so we can clearly leverage and contribute to their wider NUI work,” Vetere says.   The research centre is intended to explore the emerging field of how technology can encourage positive social and collaborative behaviours. Resources have been allocated for three years.   In a statement, Microsoft Research vice president Tony Hey said the three-way partnership was great news for achieving their goals.   “This is a world class research centre, located at a world class university in a forward thinking state,” Hey said. “I am confident the centre will open the floodgates to innovative social uses of NUI. The potential for social NUI will only be limited by our imagination.”   The 28 supported academics and PhD students will have the opportunity to spend time at other Microsoft research centres such as Cambridge, Beijing, and Redmond in the US.

10 events and trends that shaped the tech industry in 2013

12:02AM | Friday, 6 December

The tech sector has always been hyper-competitive, and never has this been truer than in 2013.   For the likes of Twitter, Samsung and Google, the harvest of 2013 was bountiful.   However, from the perspective of Nokia, Microsoft, BlackBerry or the PC industry, it was a year to forget.   Here’s a look back at 10 of the big events and trends that shaped the tech sector in 2013.   1. One billion smartphones sold this year – and counting   The most important tech story of 2013 didn’t take place with a major product announcement or a Steve Jobs-style keynote speech.   Instead, it took place without fanfare at an ordinary mobile phone retailer somewhere deep in suburbia.   It was there that a consumer decided to purchase the one billionth smartphone to be sold during 2013.   To put that number in perspective, it is projected that 227.3 million tablets shipped worldwide during 2013, 158 million television sets, 180.9 million portable PCs and 134.4 million desktop PCs.   Meanwhile, figures from market analysts IDC show smartphones also outsold featurephones worldwide for the first time in history during the first quarter of 2013.   What this means is that while smartphones now account for more than half of the 418.6 million mobile phones shipped worldwide each quarter, there are still millions of old-fashioned featurephones being sold each year.   Especially in the low-end of the market and in emerging economies, that means there’s plenty of extra room for growth in the future – especially at the low-end of the market.   Make no mistake about it. The smartphone industry is big – far bigger than the PC or TV business. And it’s only going to get bigger in 2014.   2. Google Android and Samsung: The juggernaut rolls on The biggest winners from the spectacular, ongoing growth of the smartphone market have been Samsung and Google.   Last year, smartphones running Google Android outsold Apple. In 2013, that trend morphed into total industry domination.   For example, of the 261.1 million smartphones shipped worldwide during the third quarter of 2013, 211.6 million or over 80% ran Google’s Android operating system.   That compares to just 33.8 million iPhones, representing around 12.9% of the market, and a measly 3.6% for Windows Phone.   Samsung managed to ship 72.4 million smartphones during the second quarter of 2013 alone, representing around 30.4% of the market – more than double Apple’s sales during the same period.   Those device sales also mean increased component orders flowing through the various divisions of the South Korean tech conglomerate, which manufactures everything from semiconductors to batteries and smartphone displays.   The growing strength of the South Korean electronics behemoth is demonstrated by its advertising and marketing budget, which has been estimated at around $US14 billion worldwide.   To put that figure into perspective, as of 2011, North Korea’s entire national economy was estimated to stand at $US12.385 billion.   3. The PC industry bloodbath   While Google and Samsung have had a stellar year in 2013, the same certainly can’t be said for the PC industry.   The September quarter was the sixth consecutive quarter of falls, according to Gartner, with shipments falling to 80.2 million units for the quarter from 87.8 million a year earlier.   Figures released by IDC forecast PC shipments for the full year to fall 9.7% in 2013.   More alarmingly, it appears the emerging middle class in China, India and Brazil aren’t keen on buying computers, with total PC shipments in emerging markets expected to drop from 205.2 million to 185 million this year.   Australia and New Zealand led the trend, with a massive 21% year-on-year fall in shipments for first quarter in Australia, along with a more astounding 27% fall in New Zealand.   The implosion of the PC market was disastrous for a number of PC makers, including Dell, HP and Acer.   In August, HP announced a major shake-up of its senior management team after announcing a large 15% year-on-year drop in net earnings and a 22% drop in revenue from consumer devices during its quarterly results.   That same month, Dell reported a massive 72% year-on-year collapse in quarterly earnings, while a consortium including founder Michael Dell, Silver Lake Capital and Microsoft successfully fought off high-profile investor Carl Icahn’s bid for control of the company.   And at Acer, founder Stan Shih made a surprise return as interim chairman and president, following the resignation of former chief executive JT Wang and president Jim Wong after the company recorded a record third-quarter loss.   The resignations came after Acer announced its consolidated revenues for the third-quarter of 2013 fell 11.8% year-on-year to $US3.11 billion, resulting in an operating loss of $US86.6 million.   4. Surface falls flat   On top of falling PC sales and 3.6% Windows Phone market share, the news was dire for Microsoft on another front in 2013.   Late last year, Microsoft launched its Surface series of tablets as a first step towards making devices, with the company believed to have manufactured around six million units.   The release of the Surface instantly made Microsoft a direct competitor to many of its already struggling PC partners, straining relations in the process.   Fast forward to July of this year when Microsoft announced a massive $US900 million writedown on its inventory of unsold tablets. The writedown came less than a week after Microsoft announced a large price cut of $US150 for the struggling product line.   Adding insult to injury, Microsoft also revealed it has spent $US898 million advertising the tablets, while only generating $US853 million in sales.   According to many leading analysts, the company was believed to have sold just 1.7 million of the six million tablets it had built.   To put those numbers in perspective, Apple sells around 14.6 million iPads each quarter, while Samsung sells around 8.8 million.   5. Steve Ballmer resigns   During the 1990s, Microsoft was undeniably the 800-pound gorilla of the tech industry.   Then, in January 2000, founder Bill Gates stood aside as chief executive, in favour of Steve Ballmer, in order to focus on his philanthropic efforts.   Since then, the company has lost much of its former dynamism, and has failed to become the dominant player in a range of new technologies that have emerged since then, including search, tablets, smartphones or social media.   In August last year, Vanity Fair magazine journalist Kurt Eichenwald ran a feature exploring why Microsoft fell behind its rivals. A management technique called stack ranking was almost universally blamed.   “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review,” a former software developer told Eichenwald. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”   Add the low market share for Windows Phone, poor sales of the Surface and the PC industry bloodbath, and it became clear something had to give at Microsoft.   In July, the company announced a major management restructure, with the company’s strategy shifting to focus on “devices and services”.   Then, just one month later, Ballmer resigned as chief executive, with stack ranking dumped as a management technique soon after.   The Redmond, Washington-based tech giant is currently searching for his replacement.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 6. Nokia sold for a song   Soon after Ballmer’s resignation, the news was overshadowed by an even bigger story.   In September, Microsoft announced it was buying Nokia’s smartphone and devices businesses for $US7.2 billion, with the Finnish telecommunications company retaining its Nokia-Siemens services network equipment business and the Nokia brand name.   The deal came after Nokia announced its smartphone sales had slumped 27% year-on-year during the second quarter of 2013, with an overall loss of €115 million ($A190 million) for the quarter.   The sales plunge was led by the company’s Windows Phone-based Lumia smartphone unit, where shipments fell 27% from 10.2 million units during the second quarter of 2012 to just 7.4 million for the same quarter in 2013.   To put that number into perspective, it was a little over one-tenth the number of smartphones sold by Samsung during the same quarter.   It was an inglorious end to a company that absolutely dominated the mobile industry through the 1990s and 2000s. As recently as 2010, when Apple sold 47 million smartphones, Nokia managed to sell 104 million.   According to prominent industry analysts, such as former Nokia executive Tomi Ahonen, the fateful moment came in February 2011, when then chief executive Stephen Elop made the decision to switch its smartphones to the Windows Phone operating system.   Soon after, a leaked internal letter from Elop known as the “burning platform” memo likened the company’s situation in the mobile phone market to a person standing on a burning oil platform.   After the takeover was announced, Elop was named as one of the top contenders for the position of Microsoft chief executive.   7. BlackBerry’s failed comeback and takeover attempt   It wasn’t just Nokia that had a tough time in the smartphone market at the hands of Samsung and Google.   In January, BlackBerry launched its new, all-touch BlackBerry 10 smartphone operating system. The platform, originally scheduled for late 2011, had been delayed by a year, preventing the company launching a flagship phone in 2012.   The Australian launch for the first smartphone to run the new platform, the Z10, came in March at a gala event in Sydney hosted by Adam Spencer. A second device using a traditional BlackBerry keyboard, called the Q10, came soon after.   While the reviews were generally positive, the new devices failed to be the big comeback success the company’s then-chief executive, Thorsten Heins, had hoped for.   By August, the company formed a special five-member panel to examine takeover options after director and Canadian investment guru Prem Watsa quit the board.   In its September quarter results, the full carnage was laid bare. The Canadian smartphone maker reported just $US1.6 billion in revenues for the quarter, down 45% year-on-year and 49% quarter-on-quarter.   The company also revealed it sold just 3.7 million smartphones for the quarter – and less than half of those ran BlackBerry 10.   Total losses came in at $US965 million, including a massive $US934 million inventory writedown against unsold stock of the company’s Z10 smartphone.   The company announced more than 4500 staff layoffs, representing nearly 40% of its global workforce, while Heins bought a new private jet.   Meanwhile, the company’s rollout of its Messenger app for Android and iOS was frozen due to technical issues with its release.   In early November, with banks uncertain of the company’s long-term future, Watsa failed to raise the requisite $4.7 billion for a buyout, instead lending the company $US1 billion.   As part of the deal, Heins stood aside as chief executive, replaced by former Sybase chief executive John Chen, with Watsa rejoining the board.   Heins received a $US22 million golden parachute for his efforts, significantly less than the $US55.6 million he would have received had the sale gone through.   8. The Twitter IPO   Last year, Facebook’s disastrous IPO ended in tears – followed by lawsuits.   Thankfully, the outcome was not repeated when its social media rival, Twitter, listed on the New York Stock Exchange in November.   After opening at $US26 per share, the company’s share price surged 72.69% in its first trading session.   It closed at $US44.90 per share, before dropping slightly to $US44.44 in after-hours trading.   Making the result even more amazing was the state of its balance sheet.   While the tech giant has revenues of $US534.46 million and around 230 million users worldwide, it has never posted a profit.   Despite this, the company now has a market capitalisation north of $US20 billion, with chief executive Dick Costolo claiming the company’s long-term investment strategy has prevented it from chasing profits in the short term.   9. iOS7, iPhones and iPads   For Apple, 2013 was a solid if somewhat unspectacular year.   In June, the company released a redesigned version of its smartphone and mobile operating system, iOS7, alongside a new version of its Mac OS X desktop operating system, known as Mavericks.   It was the year that Apple finally unveiled a low-cost version of its iPhone, known as the iPhone 5c, alongside a new 64-bit flagship smartphone called the iPhone 5s, complete with a 64-bit processor and a fingerprint sensor.   Then, in October, the company unveiled a lighter version of its iPad, known as the iPad Air.   None of the products had the industry-shaking impact of the unveiling of the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone or iPad.   That said, with billions in profits each quarter, a solid second place in the smartphone market and the world’s biggest selling tablet, solid and unspectacular for Apple is better than most companies could dream of.   10. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launch   Last, but certainly not least for gamers, 2013 marked the introduction of next generation games consoles from both Sony and Microsoft.   Coming a year after Nintendo launched its Wii U system, Sony announced one million first-day sales of its PlayStation 4 system, but the launch was marred by a number of angry consumers taking to social media to complain about non-functional systems.   Sony’s first-day sales were soon matched by the first-day sales of Microsoft’s new Xbox One system.   So how will the two new devices perform over the long term? We’ll have to wait until next year to find out!   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

A franchisee’s biggest business regret

12:52AM | Tuesday, 3 December

As Taskmaster readers will know, earlier this week your humble correspondent went for a sales meeting at a busy suburban shopping centre.   After visiting one customer, Old Taskmaster trundled through the now narrow corridors to a second store. Slowly.   The once wide corridors have been narrowed down by a series of mobile phone store kiosks, meaning a single elderly gentleman with a walking stick and five-year-old granddaughter in tow can now single-handedly slow a whole row of shoppers to a crawl. Seriously, centre management, it might boost revenue per square metre, but it’s a practice that really annoys your shoppers!   Anyway, the second sales call was a franchisee of a national chain. During a discussion about the newest widget models from Taskmaster Enterprises, they revealed their biggest business regret.   Apparently, part of their franchise agreement states that they have an exclusive ‘territory’ in terms of the location of physical stores. Unfortunately for them, any revenues from sales through the chain’s website or its mobile app go to the franchisor, even if the customer is within the same suburb as an existing store.   So if a customer visits their local store on Sunday, looks at an item, and then goes home before ordering it online a couple of days later, the value of that sale goes entirely to the franchisor.   As you might imagine, this creates all manner of perverse incentives.   For example, the franchisee views the website as a competitor with the same merchandise rather than an asset for their business. Why encourage your loyal customers to purchase their goods from a competitor?   As a result, since the company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts are geared to get people to buy online rather than in store, what incentive is there for the sales staff to promote them?   As a result, Old Taskmaster was amused to note the sales staff consistently “forget” to ask the customers to follow the chain on Twitter and Facebook – even when the owner or manager is within earshot.   The franchisee’s big regret with all of this is to fail to ask the question of how online sales revenues (or profits) are distributed. After all, who wants a franchisor who feels like a rival rather than a partner?   Well, Old Taskmaster says this: If you’re looking to become a franchisee, make sure you ask about how online revenues are distributed. It’s always better to ask ahead of time than to find yourself in a business dispute.   As for franchisors, be aware that the way you treat your online sales and web presence can create perverse incentives for your franchisees. If a sale can be traced to near a physical franchisee’s store, consider some sort of profit sharing agreement with your franchisees.   Get it done – today.

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