Facebook eyes more start-ups as mobile ad revenue soars

5:41AM | Thursday, 2 May

Mobile platforms accounted for 30% of Facebook’s advertising revenue for the first quarter, according to new figures, as the social media giant to snaps up a number of mobile-based start-ups.   According to Facebook’s latest earnings results, approximately $375 million of the company’s $1.25 billion in advertising revenue came from mobile ads in the first quarter.   In the previous quarter, Facebook made 23%, or $305.9 million, from mobile advertisements. That represents a 22.5% quarter-over-quarter increase in mobile advertising revenue.   The company saw its first-quarter profit soar 58% from a year ago to $217 million.   Monthly active users rose 23% on a year ago to 1.11 billion, including 751 million who accessed the platform via mobile.   Here’s a few of the mobile start-ups set to drive Facebook’s revenue even higher.   Parse   Just a few days ago, Facebook acquired mobile development tool start-up Parse for a reported $85 million.   Parse, based in San Francisco, was founded in 2011 by Y Combinator graduates Ilya Sukhar, James Yu and Kevin Lacker, who raised about $7 million in funding.   According to Facebook, the acquisition of Parse will make it easier for developers to build mobile apps with Facebook Platform.   “We want to enable developers to rapidly build apps that span mobile platforms and devices,” company spokesperson Douglas Purdy wrote in a post on Facebook’s developer blog.   “Parse makes this possible by allowing developers to work with native objects that provide backend services for data storage, notifications, user management and more.   “This removes the need to manage servers and a complex infrastructure, so you can simply focus on building great user experiences.”   Osmeta   Last month, Facebook acquired Mountain View-based mobile software start-up Osmeta, which has also been around since 2011. It was founded by Amit Singh and Mark Smith.   Osmeta describes itself as a 19-person engineering team consisting of “world-renowned hackers and highly accomplished researchers” capable of “herculean” software engineering.   Neither Osmeta nor Facebook have commented on the acquisition, so it’s hard to know what Facebook’s motives are.   However, Osmeta is yet to launch a commercial product, suggesting the deal is primarily a talent buyout as Facebook looks to strengthen its mobile presence.   Karma   In May last year, following its disappointing IPO, Facebook acquired San Francisco-based start-up Karma, which lets users send gifts to their friends from their smartphones.   Founded by Lee Linden and Ben Lewis, the Karma app allows users to browse through a virtual storefront. Karma has partnered with providers such as Spotify, so the gift range is impressive.   Once the user has found a gift, they can create a virtual card and send the gift to the recipient via text, email or a message on their Facebook wall.   The app’s Facebook integration is a key part of its appeal. Karma reads through messages on users’ Facebook walls and alerts them to specific events for which they might want to buy a gift.   “This acquisition combines Karma’s passion and innovative mobile app with Facebook’s platform to help people connect and share in new and meaningful ways,” Facebook said.

Technology inflation is here: How creativity is caught in the breeze of the cloud

4:29AM | Friday, 26 April

Sir Ken Robinson talks about the idea of academic inflation much like the process of economic inflation.   I agree with him 100% here – if you don’t know what I am talking about and have been living under a rock for the past six years, I suggest you watch the following video:   {qtube:=iG9CE55wbtY}   Now that you’re on track with my train of thought and you’ve had a bit of a laugh, I want to explain why I think cloud technology is also in a state of inflation.   After my recent research and general discussions with a creative colleague of mine, Ben Seydel, I have realised quite quickly that cloud technology is indeed inflating. So much so that good ideas are failing simply because someone else got to the next floor by taking the lift rather than the stairs.   If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, have a look into Found. This amazing app has recently been acquired by YouSendIt. It is one really impressive piece of software used by millions that allows you to connect to all of your cloud storage centres and sync them into one beautiful interface.   “It’s very evident that we’re moving to a more ‘cloud-nostic’ world. Our industry has placed a huge burden on users to manage their cloud data – effectively isolating it across a growing number of proprietary platforms,” said YouSendIt CEO Brad Garlinghouse.   “Found enables YouSendIt to realize an exciting vision, where users can access and manage the information they’re looking for, no matter where it's stored.”   The ‘cloud-nostic’ future   Found is just one example of technology inflation.   Other examples include Marketo and PromoJam (dedicated social media tools) that, let’s face it, wouldn’t be around if not for Mark Zuckerberg (he really started this social media boom with Facebook in my opinion).   Please don’t let me lead you to believe that I think this is a bad thing by any means. It creates more jobs, more cool products, a more connected community and more creativity. Technology inflation creates creativity – what a beautiful way to put it.   All of these tech-inflated products that I’ve been discussing have one thing in common – they are all cloud-based. Now if you have an internet connection and a web browser you’re good to go – if you don’t believe me ask yourself why Google has released the Chromebook.   The Chromebook is simply a fast loading computer with a browser. Google has obviously seen their future through a crystal globe and to be honest, I really don’t blame them. Nearly everything that I do on my computer I do through a web browser. I have even recently moved to Office 365 (sorry Google – not discounting you but I just like the Microsoft suite).   The next web   There’s a website called The Next Web and literally all it’s about is what’s next on the internet. It’s essentially a news site for the internet.   Technically, they should be predicting what I am about to, regarding the web/tech/cloud inflation that we are currently seeing. I think the next big thing on the web will fall somewhere between what Windows tried to do, pulling all of your information together, and how Facebook sorts “what you really want to see”.   A stream of friends, colleagues, news, emails, texts, and anything you can imagine – simply manipulated in the most effective way for the end user. At the moment there is too much information – automatically sorting and sifting everything cloud, from the important to the unimportant is where I believe the next amazing piece of future tech will lay.   Remember, though, I had the idea first.   If you would like to discuss the above I can be contacted at  john@cloudbasemedia.com.au If you would like to transform your business’ current online profile take CloudBaseMedia’s 100 Day Challenge today. No risk, endless gains!

How we analysed competitors to design our product

4:57AM | Wednesday, 24 April

Last week I experienced my first taste of controversy in this arena. I contrasted Posse to Foursquare in an interview with Fast Company, who ran it as a feature with the headline 'What Foursquare would look like if it had been founded by a woman'.   The article sparked a barrage of comments and tweets arguing why Foursquare is or isn't a good product for women and how Posse shapes up. It's the first time we've been so publicly compared to a competitor; the experience was both flattering and scary – a tiny Australian start-up set against a US industry heavyweight.   Posse is not a revolutionary idea; many competitors are trying to solve the same problem as we are. And being first in line to seek a solution to a problem isn't always best.   I found this recent Techcrunch article interesting: it points out that almost all of the nine tech companies that have exited for more than $1 billion in the past four years haven't created a new product category. Rather, they have developed in areas where the existing solution isn't up to snuff. Facebook provided a better experience than MySpace or Friendster, and Zappos just sold shoes in a better way with better service. We designed Posse because we felt the existing solutions weren't working for us.   Now that we've officially launched in the US, it's natural that we'll be compared to competitors. In my blog today, I wanted to reflect on the process we used to design our product and how we took inspiration and ideas from others, like Foursquare and Yelp.   1. Define the problem and the audience   We started with a hunch that some people preferred recommendations from friends to reviews from strangers on Yelp or TripAdvisor. We also thought that the process of asking for recommendations from friends through email, SMS or Facebook was cumbersome and inefficient.   We set up an initial 10 focus groups to test our theory and asked questions like, 'Describe the last time you were in a new place looking for a restaurant or hairdresser. What did you do first?'   The most common answers followed a pattern of, 'tried to contact a friend who knows the area,' then, 'couldn't get hold of them so ran a Google search or checked Yelp'. We also asked group participants to recommend places to each other on the spot, so we could understand exactly why they enjoyed sharing recommendations.   Not everyone had a problem with this. Some were happy to use Google or Yelp to find places. The people who were dissatisfied tended to be like us: slightly fussier urban types who wanted to visit the best bars, restaurants, fitness centres, hairdressers and so on. They needed recommendations from friends and almost panicked at the thought of going somewhere cold.   We continued the interview cycle until we identified four audience definers: gender, age, behaviors, and 'preferences'. By this I mean, what they sought in recommendations from friends and why they enjoyed giving recommendations to friends.   Three of the four audience segments turned out to be female, so while we didn't design Posse just for females, we expected that the majority of users would be women. This may appear cold and calculating: breaking down users into audience segments, then designing features and artwork to appeal to those users. It certainly helped us understand who would want to use our product and why they'd use it instead of the competition.   2. Who has previously tried to solve the problem? Why did they succeed or fail?   For this exercise, we mapped out every platform, past or present that had tried to solve social search. Yelp and Trip Advisor obtained lots of reviews and great data but failed to get a high enough proportion of their users writing reviews to show what your friends think of places.   Both sites seemed littered with irate customers writing negative reviews. These upset the merchants, and many users we interviewed were skeptical about who was writing the reviews. Apps like Stamped and Fondu emerged to solve the social recommendation problem, but appeared to fail because not enough people were making recommendations to sustain long-term engagement.   The only platform we could find that had managed to crack the problem of persuading lots of socially connected people to give it content was Foursquare. To understand how, we interviewed 100 Foursquare users.   We invited friends who used the platform and put up posters around our office building offering to pay anyone who used Foursquare $50 for an interview. I wanted to know what was so compelling about checking in on Foursquare.   We found that the overwhelming number of people who responded to our ads were male (+80%) and I was amazed when they described how they used the product. One guy told us about how he drove out of his way home every day to check-in at a supermarket where he was the Mayor. Others said they would check-in to places that they didn't even visit as they walked past. They were addicted and didn't understand why.   As I struggled to make sense of check-in addiction, I couldn't help but notice the parallel between what these guys described and the behaviour of my small male chihuahua 'Steve' who dragged me to random posts, marking that he'd been there more than other dogs.   Many women using Foursquare wanted to secure recommendations from friends for the best bars and cafes but found it frustrating that the most popular places around them were subway stations, people's offices or alleyways. They also didn't like 'checking in', broadcasting where they were, and were irked by random guys asking to be friends with them.   I'm not saying that Foursquare, Yelp, Trip Advisor and many other local discovery platforms aren't great products that are loved by lots of users. Foursquare in particular was revolutionary in the way they use game mechanics and design to make participation in their platform fun: Posse and many others since have taken inspiration from these ideas to develop other products.   I'm just saying, this is a process we went through: analysing the competition to design what will hopefully be a better product for a certain part of the market that doesn't seem to be well served by the existing players.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. Above: Steve the dog. 3. Designing the principles behind our solution   Once we'd defined our problem, our audience, and analysed the competition, we created a list of principles. These principles underpinned the product for which the platform we designed would work.   They included statements like:   >Our audience make recommendations to signal social status.   >Our audience like to collect and display their favorite things (Pinterest/Wanelo).   >Our product category is so competitive that our product must be delightful and fun so people want to share it with friends.   >Our audience doesn't want to earn currency for making recommendations but love recognition with authentic unexpected gifts from their favorite retailers.   There were many others.   4. Designing the product   With these principles in place, we set about designing the actual product. It all came together surprisingly quickly. The whole team took part in daily product design and we brought in lots of outside help for fresh perspectives on ideas.   This whole process of defining the problem and audience, analysing the competition, designing our product principles and then the product took around four months and involved more than 200 outside interviews before the first line of code was written.   It's something I didn't do the first time around when I built a site for selling music tickets. While we're constantly evolving and coming up with new feature ideas and design improvements, the fundamental strategy behind the product is solid and hasn't changed.   Execution is the next big challenge and we're getting better at that too. We're still a tiny team with an early product that doesn't really stack up against the competition yet.   Who knows if we'll make it? We're giving it our best shot.   I know most people who read this blog are in the process of starting a company. I think that an in-depth analysis of the competition is vital, without fearing to enter a product category because of the big incumbents there already. We've found it helpful to take inspiration and learn from the successful trailblazers in our field, and if others do the same then we'll all end up with better products as a result.

Five ways to keep it friendly on Facebook

4:17PM | Thursday, 25 April

Last year I volunteered to work with another writer to help a local festival by running their Facebook page.   Neither of us had done this before, but the page was set up and we had some pics and we were both writers. So hey! What’s to know?   Heaps as it turns out, and here’s a summary of a few things I did and learned from the experience.   Speak when spoken to   Some people have still not cottoned that even though it’s online, it’s still a conversation. You need to keep up your end of it and answer every single post or message.   If you don’t reply it’s like walking right past someone you know who has just called out to you – cutting.   You have a bit more time than this online, but not much. If you will be away for a while – say so – it’s much harder to explain silences afterwards, by that time no one’s listening.   Keep it short   No one has time to read a rant. Use pictures and write something pithy and witty. If this is not your scene, engage someone who can do this to your specifications.   Always use original images or share them from businesses you are connected with. The festival page is now turning into an up-to-the-minute tourism site because we share local info.   Keep it sweet   There’s a definite skill to managing the tone of your messages, and the media is full of situations where one written word has proved mightier than the PR department.   This is where thinking about how the reader might interpret what you say is your best guide. Think it over. Say it out loud. And run it past someone else if you are not sure.   Use the delete button   You will receive annoying messages and posts from time to time. We got one from a neighbouring festival seeking stallholders. Hmm.   Had to consult an under 25 expert for that one. Following his advice we politely contacted her, asked her to ask us before posting on our page and pressed the delete button. It’s your page – manage it.   Make it fun   Not every post has to be upbeat, super positive and hyped up or you will end up sounding like a try-hard newbie, but imagine you are talking to someone you know and wanting to share.   Use short sentences and tell people what you are excited about in your own words. Include them and keep a sense of (appropriate) humour. Avoid the word ‘awesome’ if at all possible – that’s a personal peeve!   If you’d like to check out how we did with our local event, check out the Birregurra At Show and Festival.   We hit our target of getting 300 more likes within the time frame and it is still rising. The number may not seem high, but the quality of our friendships is.

Three secrets to how Sydney start-up Canva raised $3 million

11:00AM | Wednesday, 30 November

For our start-up Canva, raising funds was like being a hitchhiker on the side of the road; knowing where we wanted to go and being prepared to jump in any vehicle that would take us in the right direction.   It meant learning to kite surf in the freezing cold San Francisco Bay area, preparing a speech for a roomful of the most influential people we had ever met in just a few hours, and sleeping on the floor of my brother’s San Francisco apartment for three months while I networked with every investor and tech person I could find.   Every founder will have their own journey and story to tell, but one thing is for sure – you need to be ready for the adventure and be prepared to seize every opportunity. Here are my top three tips.   1. Build momentum   As a start-up founder, your job is to be the continuous advocate, visionary and, ultimately, company storyteller.   You need to capture the excitement or energy surrounding what you’re doing and amplify it. Investors don’t want to miss out on something that could be big.   Lots of people will say they like your idea but far fewer will sign on the dotted line.   Your job is to convince investors there is a huge problem that needs to be fixed, and that you have the best solution with a team to deliver it.   For us, the MaiTai kiteboarding and entrepreneur conference provided a wonderful opportunity to introduce our idea to a roomful of influential investors, media, and entrepreneurs.   You need to generate buzz about what you’re doing so that investors want to get in on the opportunity. Within a period of three months, we went from an unfunded and unknown start-up to one of the hottest start-ups in Silicon Valley, trending number one on AngelList.   The hardest part was closing the deal. My co-founder, Cliff Obrecht, and I spent three whole months with phones in one hand and a giant spreadsheet in front of us.   We kept track of every investor we met, whether they were interested, what they liked about us and what their hesitations were.   When we did get an investor on-board, we got them to help generate further momentum for us. One of the best things we did was ask all our investors to post a recommendation for Canva on AngelList.   It created a sense of social proof for other potential investors, and helped us create enough buzz to become the number one trending start-up in July 2012.   We pulled some really long days during this time and were absolutely unrelenting in our efforts.   2. Continuously revise your pitch   Our pitch deck (the presentation given to potential investors) constantly evolved. Following each pitch, we took note of every question an investor asked and worked out solid answers.   Sometimes it was just a matter of articulating the strategy we had already developed, other times it required days of brainstorming.   Each time we pitched we were able to communicate our vision more clearly and the tough questions started to dwindle.   When we first started trying to raise money our pitch deck was a five page document, and took 10 minutes to present.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. At the end of each pitch we were bombarded with questions from investors, and for many of them we didn’t have compelling answers.   However, each time we got a tough question from an investor we would incorporate the question back into our pitch deck.   In fact, we ended up revising our pitch deck more than 100 times. We went from a five page pitch deck which took 10 minutes to present, to a 25 page pitch which took 40 minutes.   By the end, investors had very few questions as we had given solid answers to all their questions before we even got to the end of our deck.   In the early days, our pitch deck was more of a utility, following a standard pitch structure: the vision, the problem, our solution, the size of our market, the strength of our team and so on.   However, when we described our product and vision to people without our pitch deck, we were able to successfully communicate our passion, the innovation of our product and our team’s excitement and competence.   Whenever we were pitching an investor with our actual slide deck, it felt like we were selling a generic product. We lost the excitement and communicated our product vision poorly.   After a while we were able to capture the vision, the excitement and the problems into a cohesive story and were able to capture this story in our pitch deck.   A mentor told us it was important to capture the emotion of the story; not just what you say, but also how you say it. Inevitably, investors all want to know the same things.   They’ll ask: ‘How big is the opportunity? How talented is the team? Why are you the right people to solve this problem?’   Making sure we satisfied their questions was so important, and this is something you can only improve with practice and continuous revision.   3. Build strong relationships with potential investors and business partners   When we first started pitching to investors, we would pull out our pitch deck as soon as we got into a meeting.   We soon realised this was quite a naive approach. It is so important to build rapport and credibility before you start talking through your pitch.   Start building relationships with investors as early on as possible. Communicate your goals and your wins as you go.   It’s your job to convince people to work with you, to invest in your company. Most potential investors will want to spend time getting to know you and the way you work prior to committing.   We met Bill Tai, who introduced us to many of our other investors, more than two years ago. Yet we only recently closed our round.   Raising money takes a long, long time. My first trip to San Francisco was only supposed to be for a two week holiday. I’d planned two meetings; one with Bill Tai and the other with Facebook’s Lars Rasmussen.   I very quickly realised I needed to spend more time on the ground getting to know the technology scene and building my network.   My two week holiday ended up turning into a three month trip. I barely slept, and when I did it was on my brother’s apartment floor. I went to an event every single night of the week, trying to meet engineers and find people who could give me an open door to the start-up scene.   During this time, we met and spoke with many other investors who we kept in the loop with our efforts.   If you’re raising money, you need to build strong relationships with potential investors and advisors. We did this by communicating with them regularly.   We never could have predicted the adventures we’d have or the people we’d meet along the way. We’re lucky to now have the team in place, our product ready to launch and a burning passion for what we’re doing. And so the next chapter begins.   Melanie Perkins is co-founder of Canva, along with Cliff Obrecht. The Sydney-based business provides an online collaborative design platform, allowing users to create professional quality designs regardless of their skill set.

Notify your customers of your Anzac Day trading hours

4:47AM | Tuesday, 23 April

On Thursday, Australians will commemorate the brave men and women of the armed forces who fought valiantly in defence of the country they loved.   In an ideal world, this solemn national day of contemplation and commemoration should not be a day of work. Indeed, many businesses will be closed for this very reason.   However, modern commercial realities being what they are, some businesses will trade on this important national holiday.   Making matters more confusing, different states and territories have different rules and regulations around when Anzac Day must be commemorated. In some cases, it even varies depending on how big your business is or where in a state your business is based.   Now, if this business of opening hours on a public holiday is a confusing subject for you as a business owner, imagine what it’s like for your customers.   That’s why it’s a wise decision to decide now whether or not you intend to trade on Anzac Day, if you haven’t already done so.   Whether you choose to open or not, Old Taskmaster says it’s essential you let your customers know what your decision is as soon as possible.   If you have a shop window, put a sign in it letting your customers know whether or not they can expect to find your business open on Anzac Day, and if so, what your trading hours will be.   Do the same on your business blog, on the front page of your website, on your Facebook and your Twitter accounts.   Even if you run a tech start-up and you will continue to take orders via your website on Anzac Day, but won’t be in the office to take customer service calls, it’s important to let your customers know.   After all, there’s little point in coming to work on Thursday if no one knows when you’re open. And it’s equally important to not disappoint your customers by having them turn up to your store only to find your business is closed for the day.   Get it done – today!

Co-working space WeCo to charge members based on levels of collaboration

4:38AM | Wednesday, 24 April

Newly launched co-working space WeCo is trialling a new pricing model whereby members’ fees are determined by their level of collaboration and shared value within the space.   WeCo, which opened its doors earlier this year, is located in the Sydney suburb of Edgecliff. Founder Joel Hauer describes it as a drop-in co-working space for consultants, freelancers and start-ups.   In a bid to honour the concept of collaborative working, WeCo is trialling a new pricing model.   “People have come through and we’ve slowly filtered them out because they’re not about collaboration. They want a private space and think of it as a serviced office,” Hauer told StartupSmart.   “What we found is that to make the space what we need in terms of collaboration, there needs to be a few things. There needs to be a culture, which we’re trying to enforce.   “What we also found is that a great incentive is money.   “What we’re going to be trialling over the next couple of months is pricing based on how much you can add to the space, so what value you provide to other people here.”     Hauer says members’ fees will be determined on a case-by-case basis.   “[We will be] sitting down with them, understanding their business – where they see themselves going within the next 12 months or 24 months or whatever it might be,” he says.   “Then we’ll be giving a free trial to people… over one or a couple of days, just so we can see how much they’re able to be open to other people working here.   “There’s also a WeCo WIP (work-in-progress meeting), which is about discussing the week ahead and if there’s any challenges other people have experienced, and lending a helping hand.   “If there’s a serial entrepreneur who’s just exited their business and just hanging around waiting for a new idea, or to be inspired by a new start-up, they could come and work out of here for less than half the price because they have a huge amount of value to add, compared to someone who might be a consultant where they want to kind of work by themselves but is still valuable in terms of their network.”   Hauer says the pricing model will change over time, but is confident it will be successful.     “We’ve had a few people who started here on a higher rate and then, as they’ve been more open to helping other people, we’ve been able to discuss dropping their rate,” he says.   “The whole idea of collaboration is helping others… I think there’s a lot of opportunity to put a really clever structure in place.   “A lot of co-working spaces sing the words, ‘We’re collaborative’… but there’s not that much structure involved.   “I think that’s where a lot of the spaces might fall down in terms of actually maintaining a culture that is explicitly about collaboration and nothing else.”   In the meantime, WeCo has signed up a number of well-known start-ups.   “We’ve just signed on the team from Peazie who are setting up the Sydney part of their successful Facebook brand page tech start-up, aimed at B2B advertising and brand sales,” Hauer says.   “We’re seeing some great collaborations spawn, which is helping new entrants to the start-up scene; Alex and Sophie from Goulburn Health Hub and as well as an orthopaedic surgeon turned medical start-up founder of Europos Medical.”   Jayson Hornibrook, managing director of Peazie, says the company was intrigued by the WeCo model.    “We were very excited about contributing and working with like-minded individuals, collaborating and executing. It’s an everyone wins model, especially for start-ups,” he says.  

Five tips to get your LinkedIn account buzzing

4:35AM | Wednesday, 17 April

So you have your website, a Facebook Page, a Twitter account… but do you have a LinkedIn account? And if you do, are you keeping it up to date?   Recently, I've noticed a lot more engagement taking place within the platform, such as sharing of content, commenting and activity within discussion groups. LinkedIn has really shifted over the past year from being a tool for job-seekers to a tool for networking and content discovery.   Creating new, relevant connections is a great benefit from using LinkedIn, and for start-up businesses the ability to connect with potential partners, investors, suppliers and customers is second to none.   Here are my top five tips for using LinkedIn:   1. Upload a profile picture   This one should be obvious, but the number of profiles I see without a photo is astounding. When using a platform where building relationships is key, you should humanise your profile with a picture, just as you would Facebook or Twitter. Ensure that the photo you choose fits the professional nature of LinkedIn and clearly shows your face (head and shoulders is ideal).   2. Don't use your job title as your headline   Sell yourself and your capabilities by expanding here. For example, 'Eco-friendly Product Specialist, Homewares Designer and Owner at eHome Design’ is better than just ‘Owner at eHome Design’.   Sometimes your headline and name will be the only thing a person sees while they’re browsing LinkedIn – make sure you capitalise on the space you get here.   3. Join groups   Networking is one of the greatest strengths of using LinkedIn and this is a great place to start. Groups also stimulate great debate and conversations, a fantastic way of staying in the loop within your industry or area of interest.   There are also plenty of small business groups which will connect you with other entrepreneurs.   The ability to learn from their knowledge and experience is invaluable. And you don’t even have to leave your desk to go to a networking event!   4. Share useful and relevant content   Position yourself as a subject matter expert by sharing content on your LinkedIn profile that is interesting and relevant. For example, the Owner of eHome Design would share an article about the importance of not having chemicals in the home. If you create your own original content (e.g. you have a blog) you can be posting this as well as sharing third-party content.   5. Keep your profile current and login regularly!   A LinkedIn profile is not a resume any more, as it might once have seemed. It should be a living, breathing representation of your professional life that is constantly being updated and tended to.   One of my biggest tips is that the first thing you should do after a business meeting is connect with those who were present on LinkedIn. Aim to share content or participate in group discussions 2-3 times a week. You will be amazed with the value of the connections you make and information you acquire.   Have you made any valuable connections for your business through LinkedIn?

StartupSmart Awards winner 1800Approved targets 100 franchisees by 2021

4:33AM | Thursday, 18 April

Above: Rodney Michail (left) and Angelo Lauro (middle) claiming the Fastest Growing Start-up title at the 2013 StartupSmart Awards.   Queensland-based business 1800Approved has unveiled its plan to recruit up to 100 franchisees nationwide by 2021, one month after winning the 2013 StartupSmart Awards.   Founded in 2009 by Angelo Lauro and Rodney Michail (pictured above), 1800Approved provides finance brokerage services across a range of products, from homes to motorboats.   With revenue of $20 million last year, 1800Approved blitzed the competition at the 2013 StartupSmart Awards, easily taking out the top spot.   “We are [a] very versatile business; we have forecasted change very well,” Lauro told StartupSmart in March.   “We moved into bikes, then marine and commercial – we can do anything from a $5000 loan to a current deal which is with a group of private lenders for $600 million.   “Our business comes from consumers directly, or referral partners and dealerships. We are about the whole solution – car, house, about providing solutions.”   “We do the same with the dealerships, to help them sell their products. We provide the tools, whether that’s an online calculator or building them a website, to help them. We invest a lot into developing the products and tools.”   Now the company has revealed its plans to embark on an aggressive growth strategy by way of franchising.     Michail told Insurance Business the company wants to recruit as many as 100 franchisees across the country within the next seven years, and has already attracted interest from several people.     However, Michail insisted the company’s plan is not a money-making exercise but is about “growing together”.     “This is indeed a volume-based industry so we can all benefit from each other. It’s important to offer a fair platform for franchisees to work from and not be greedy,” Michail said.   According to the company's Facebook page, the company is looking for people with previous experience in broking, coupled with “enthusiasm to join a network of other experienced and likeminded individuals”.   “1800Approved provides motivated people the opportunity to achieve greater income through an agency-structured business model,” Michail said.

Why slower is better when stocking your start-up

4:47AM | Friday, 12 April

Running out of stock is one of the worst things that can happen to an entrepreneur. But, as mumpreneur Sharon Fong found out, having too much stock can be just as bad.   Fong is the founder of Melbourne-based business Anything Baby, a baby equipment hire service founded in 2009, which offers equipment from leading manufacturers and retailers in Australia.   Fong came up with the idea after becoming frustrated at having to pack and unpack the required cots, prams and car seats when travelling with her newborn son.   In her first year of trade, Fong did $52,000 in sales.   She franchised the business in early 2012, recruiting her first franchisee in Melbourne’s inner north-east, followed by a second franchisee covering the northern suburbs of Perth.   Anything Baby is on the hunt for additional franchisees to fuel the brand. But as Fong explains, the business has overcome a number of hurdles to get to where it is today.   “We used business consultants basically from fairly on, so in terms of the management side of things we did okay with that,” Fong told StartupSmart.   “What I did muck up on was the overcapitalisation in terms of stock. I made a terrible mistake with that.   “We had way too much stock in the beginning for what the business required, and even today some of my start-up stock still hasn’t been sold, so that was a huge mistake… I probably spent $50,000 more on stock than I needed to.”   Fong realised her mistake about six months into the business.   “We started in a business period where we just had so many calls coming in and then it was winter and the calls just stopped, and I think that’s when the penny dropped,” she says.   “What I’ve learnt from that, as the business is now franchised, is we now stock our franchisees to [handle] a quiet period, and then when the busy period comes they can stock for that period.   “We’ve learnt to keep people at minimum levels and add to their stock as the business grows.”   Based on her experience, Fong’s advice to other entrepreneurs is to “start slowly”.   “That’s what we now do with our franchisees. We give them very basic stock… to certainly meet the demands of our quiet period and then a little bit more,” she says.   “You’re better off spending your money doing marketing and getting your brand known than you are stocking for the business you don’t yet have.   “Had I put that money into marketing at the start, the business could have taken off a lot faster.”   However, Fong admits her knowledge of marketing was limited when she first started out.   “For my generation, I never grew up with social media. I never grew up with Facebook… I didn’t put enough emphasis on the fact that people follow blogs and Twitter,” she says.   “I still don’t get Twitter – I employ people to do that.   “It’s a whole new world for mums starting from scratch out there. Unless you have somebody who can guide you, you’re going to struggle through in those early months and hope for the best.   “We have a web designer who’s on board with us, we have a graphic designer and we have a business consultant that helps with the franchising of the business, so we really have three key people that the business employs.”

Should you study business or learn to code?

4:34AM | Friday, 12 April

I think there is an interesting discussion to be had around the idea of learning to code versus getting an MBA. Both are very different disciplines, but both are applicable to today’s business world.   The path that you take, I believe, depends on your career direction. If you are entrepreneurial and want to pursue a career in start-ups versus working in the corporate world, then you should learn to code. If you want to work in corporate, then I would advise to learn to code as well.   Why? Because software is eating the world. Because as a founder I know where the real value lies. It lies in being able to build stuff for the web. Would I hire an MBA to do this? No. Would I hire a developer? Yes.   An MBA is a soft skill – if you can call it a skill. It is not even that. It is an expensive break from reality that will yield you a strong network and theoretical insight into the business world, but until you actually get out there and experience the business world for yourself, it is still just theory.   Coding on the other hand is a hard skill. Even if you are a novice, at least you can start to build things. You can innovate. You can build on that skill over time and get better and better at it at your own pace and in your own time.   It’s hard to quantify progress like this from an MBA. And when you have the light bulb moment, you are the master of your own destiny. You can use your coding skills to build a prototype, show it to some customers and then assemble a team to take it to the next level. And even if you hire people around you to code (as is my strategy), at least you’ll be able to talk their language.   Another point around an MBA (coming from an entrepreneur) is that it doesn’t matter how big your network is or how many friends you make or how well you can build a discounted cashflow model – in the start-up world all that matters is building a great product and putting it in front of the right customers. If you build an excellent product with product/market fit then people will buy it, regardless of whether you spent $160,000 and two years of your life to go to school with them.   I’ve chosen a career in the start-up world and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, with 101% certainty that MBAs are completely useless to early stage ventures.   The perfect example is the Winklevoss twins of Facebook and The Social Network fame. They are your typical MBA personality. But Zuckerberg won because he could code and had a stronger vision.   All that matters in the first year or two of a start-up is building something that can be used by a customer, and getting customers to use it. That is all that matters.   There are three simple ingredients to a start-up:   A very strong product visionary A good user interface designer Web application development skills   Usually these roles can be filled by a founding team of two. It’s the most common scenario and has proven to result in the highest level of a success.   I believe that an MBA provides very little benefit to your immediate career if you are in the start-up world. You are better off developing your design or coding abilities. If you don’t want to code but are more creatively minded, learn Photoshop, HTML and CSS. Make mock-ups, show your developers a vision that they can build. That is valuable.   I also view an MBA as a deferral of reality in some situations. When I hear that someone is doing an MBA it reminds me of people who travel to South America for two years. It makes me think that they are “figuring things out” – particularly when it comes from someone who considers themselves to be a strong entrepreneur.   If you are really serious about executing on a vision, the last thing you want to do is waste two years pushing papers around in a classroom (and in our world, two years is a lifetime). It is a productive sabbatical, but that is what it is at best – particularly if you are on fire. A better use of two years would be to work for a start-up. I think you’d learn more and it would cost you less. Even if you worked for free!   An entrepreneur who is truly on fire and excited about their company will view an MBA as a distraction and loss of focus. That is not to say that an MBA is not useful. Maybe I’ll do an MBA at some point in my life; however, if I do, I would be doing it because I haven’t found the next big thing to work on.   That isn’t a bad thing either. Ideas and enthusiasm comes in waves and between waves, why not study if you can afford to. It would also mean that I haven’t learnt to code yet, because I would rather learn to code (at this stage of my life) before getting an MBA.   Regardless of how you look at it, you’ll always learn more at the coalface of a business than in the classroom and you’ll be more valuable to a start-up if you can develop than if you have an MBA.   Your thoughts?

Should my business buy friends on Facebook?

4:35AM | Thursday, 11 April

This article first appeared on May 28th, 2012.   What are your views on companies buying Facebook “likes” to appear more popular?   Is this is a good strategy to employ as a start-up or just plain deceitful? Is it wrong to buy Facebook “fans”?   The simple answer to this question would be yes, it’s wrong to buy fans on Facebook.   Not only because you’re purchasing this data from sites that have mass-produced user accounts (which is against the Facebook terms & conditions), but the results of paid “likes” will not benefit your business in the long run.   The argument, however, is that buying fans in the early days helps your business appear popular and merely acts as a “kick start”.   One thousand followers obviously looks a lot more impressive than just one (which is you) and the more followers you have, the more likely someone is to click that like button too.   However, there are risks involved in doing this – and not just from a terms and conditions perspective.   You risk adding no real value to your business.   Here are five reasons why:   1. Followers are not usually geo-targeted   Sites that offer to grow the "likes" on your business page do not typically offer targeted users. Even the ones that say they do don’t.   If you own a ladies shoe shop in Brisbane, it’s likely you will end up with 500-plus male followers from the USA and India.   The number may look good for an instant, but on a closer inspection your page will appear very suspicious.   2. Unrelated commentary on page   When someone “likes” your business page, usually they are automatically granted permission to comment and write on your wall.   Real followers with an interest in your business will add value in the form of questions and comments – this will ultimately help promote your business or cement how good you are.   Fake followers, however, are likely to either not comment at all or, even worse, leave completely unrelated messages or abuse.   You may have an impressive amount of followers but if they’re filling your business page with abusive language or arguing with your customers, what’s the point?   It would be the equivalent of paying people to enter your store to start fights.   3. You gain no relevant data   The thing that all online business owners strive for when they launch any kind of digital campaign is to get data that they can use to drive future business.   Data is key to online success and knowing who your audience is and what they respond to has never been easier than it is on social media – unless, of course, you fill your page with people who aren’t your target audience.   All you end up with then is greater confusion over what is actually working for your business.   4. They will leave   This point may not matter to those who just want to buy followers to kick start things, but bought followers will eventually leave. As they do, you’ll be left with a stagnant figure or one that is steadily dropping, which certainly isn’t a great image to portray to those who do follow you.   5. Your brand is at risk   If found out – and it’s quite easy to spot, especially on new pages – your brand will be tarnished for good. Customers will not respect your business if they know you buy followers. It devalues their custom and makes you seem untrustworthy.   No matter what your motive is, it’s arguably top of the list when it comes to online marketing faux pas. It’s unequivocally dodgy ­and you certainly don’t need to be tarnished with that brush when you’re starting out online.

How do you get more “likes” on Facebook?

4:13AM | Friday, 5 April

It’s a question that people ask me virtually every day: How do I get more ‘likes’ on Facebook?   To be brutally honest, it’s the wrong question to ask. The right question, the question that every business owner on Facebook should be asking is: How do I attract the right people to ‘like’ my page?   The reason this question is more important is because the right people are more likely to become your customers/clients. Attracting anyone will result in less engagement, and fewer paying clients – not what any business owner wants!   I’ve never really worried about how many people ‘like’ my business pages, never really participated in “liking ladders/parties/buses and trains” on Facebook (except maybe once to see what all the fuss was about) to boost my numbers or done anything as desperate as buying fans (not something I recommend).   Yet, my businesses are chugging along nicely. So why is that?   The key to better performance on Facebook is NOT ‘likes’. If you want to really know what drives people to your business, read on.   How to drive the right people to your fan page and your business   If you want to drive more fans, more leads and more clients to your business, you need to stop focusing on ‘likes’ and start focusing on relationships.   Building relationships on Facebook is easy, once you get started, but it won’t result in overnight success. Social media marketing is a long-term strategy and one of about 10 elements that work together to ensure your marketing gets results.   Shameless plug: I share these 10 elements (and much more) in the Turn Around Your Micro Business Bootcamp (coming up April 22 to May 6).   So what can you do to ensure your Facebook page results in more business for you?   Here are three big tips!   1. If you have a new page and know your target market, run a brief Facebook Ad campaign   The trick with Facebook ads is to drill down to a very specific target audience. For instance, I recently ran a campaign for my local social enterprise Mumatopia, as we have a Mums’ Retreat coming up in May.   When I defined my target audience, I selected women, living in Brisbane and Ipswich, who were mums of children aged 4 to 17, who liked organic food, who have said at some stage: “I need a holiday” or “I need a massage”. The result was a highly targeted campaign aimed at about 1,200 women.   That’s how powerful a tool Facebook ads can be for attracting the right people to your business.   2. Look for Facebook groups that relate to your business   Once you find groups and join them, you can start participating in them and getting to know people. The more you answer people’s questions, the more insight you can gain on how they are thinking and what they are struggling with. You can then take these issues/questions to your fan pages and use creative ways to get conversation going on your business page.   3. Start interacting on other business pages   When I say interact, I don’t mean jump on someone’s page and say “Hi, look at me, look at me, visit my page.” No way! I don’t recommend that at all as it’s just like walking into someone else’s shop and saying, “Well, this place sucks, come over to my shop!”   What I mean by ‘interact’ is, comment, ‘like’, respond, be helpful, add your two cents worth and show you care on pages which relate to your business but which are not in direct competition with you.   People will naturally be drawn to you, if you can solve their problems and show empathy towards them. And other businesses won’t mind you interacting on their pages in this way as it is not about stealing attention away from them, it’s about contributing.   So, the real trick with Facebook marketing is to focus on building real, genuine relationships – and forget the ‘like’ count. Quality fans are way more important to nurture than large numbers of fans. If you’re wasting time constantly trying to get new fans, perhaps it’s time to shift focus and concentrate on getting to know the ones you’ve got.

Top three guerrilla marketing techniques for start-ups

4:01AM | Thursday, 4 April

Bigcommerce was created after the two founders met in an online chat room. Four years on, the Aussie eCommerce start-up has secured $35 million in venture capital funding, built offices in Sydney and Texas and attracted 30,000 customers. In the latest in a series of insider tips provided to StartupSmart, co-founder Mitchell Harper explains how to best reach your target market.   Last time in this series, we talked about creating a typical customer profile and positioning your products.   This time, we’ll look at ways to spread the word to people who fit your typical customer profile. This is where we get into guerrilla marketing.   There are two goals here:   Affordably attract as many people as possible who match your customer profile Ask them to recommend you to their friends who share similar interests (and therefore buying habits)   Because we're on a shoestring budget, we need to get a good return for every dollar we spend.   Our aim is to take our profits from guerrilla marketing and put them into search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM), which we will automate (more on that in future columns).   Let's look at some proven guerrilla marketing techniques.   1. Like-like partnerships   In this case, you find a handful of online stores which sell products that are complementary to yours and link to them on your website or in invoice emails to your customers (so they don't leave your website before buying from you).   In our example from last time, we sell custom sports jerseys, so we'd find partners who sell sports memorabilia, hats, poker chips – maybe even alcoholic beverages.   (Note: Call these potential partners on the phone – do not send them emails. You want to build a relationship, and the good old phone is still the best way to do that.)   Get these partners to do the same for you, instantly sending you targeted traffic for free. If you're just starting out, then set up an affiliate program and share revenue with partners to earn their trust. To get more visitors, simply bring in more partners.   As a bonus, these partners can become your "mastermind" group to share ideas that can help you all grow your business at the same time.   2. Twitter find and answer   This involves a couple hours a day of effort, but the payoff is huge. Go to http://search.twitter.com and search for keywords around what you sell (in our example, the name of NFL teams such as “Washington Redskins”).   You want to find and answer questions people have about what you sell – without being self-promotional.   After answering their questions, encourage them to follow you on Twitter with a friendly follow-up tweet.   You can then use your Twitter account to share coupon codes and useful bits of information that they can easily retweet to their network. You want to get them and their social network to your website and onto your mailing list.   3. Facebook “Get to know us”   If you live under a rock, and you haven’t set up a Facebook fan page for your business, get to it!   Use your company logo as the photo of the page to build brand awareness. Be casual in what you post on your wall – the idea is to give people a real insight into you and what you do.   Importantly, be real. Don't post "corporate speak”, and don't fix typos or grammatical errors.   You want to come across as genuine, not smarmy. Post photos of your office or warehouse, whatever you can to show the "inner workings" of your business, even if you work from home.   Every few days, share a coupon on your Facebook page (and on Twitter) and encourage people to share it with their friends.   On Facebook, free shipping promotions work really well, but use them no more than once a week. You don't want people getting used to them.   Next time, we’ll share a few more guerrilla-marketing tips – and where to go from there.

Twitter reportedly buys Aussie start-up We Are Hunted to build Twitter Music service

4:03AM | Sunday, 14 April

Twitter is understood to have acquired We Are Hunted, the Australian-founded music discovery start-up, in order to build a major new standalone app called Twitter Music.   CNET reports that the Brisbane venture, which has since decamped to San Francisco, has been acquired by Twitter and is working on a relaunch that would spearhead the social network’s foray into the sphere of music recommendation for its users.   Richard Slatter, general manager and co-founder of We Are Hunted, would not confirm the deal when contacted by StartupSmart this morning.   “I can’t say anything at all – it’s a rumour that has got out there and Twitter has a policy of not commenting on rumours,” he says. “We are following suit on that, so I can’t comment.”   Slatter would not reveal why We Are Hunted’s website has been down for the past two weeks, nor why the business hasn’t updated its Twitter feed since February 25.   However, it has been reported that the start-up has downed tools to work on a music recommendation app for Twitter.     StartupSmart understands the app, called Twitter Music, is expected to be officially unveiled within the next two weeks. The TwitterMusic account already has 2.4 million followers.   The Twitter Music app would recommend songs to users based on several inputs, such as the artists they follow on Twitter, with songs streamed via SoundCloud. Users will be able to share music using the #NowPlaying hashtag, which has been extensively used by Slatter and fellow co-founder Stephen Phillips on Twitter over the past month.     Still beautiful. #NowPlaying @darkdarkdark - Tell Me ♪ soundcloud.com/melodic-record… — Stephen Phillips (@huntedguy) March 21, 2013       People without a Twitter account will, however, still be able to use the app.   The app would be a natural extension of We Are Hunted’s existing business model. The company has developed software that identifies the 99 most popular tracks currently being listened to online in the world, displaying a corresponding wall of various music videos on its website.   Along with its music charts, We Are Hunted has created iPhone and Android apps and struck a partnership deal with Spotify in 2011 to help users locate new music based on their preferences.   Ironically, the new Twitter Music service would provide competition to Spotify, as well as Facebook, which recently revamped the music section of its news feed.   We Are Hunted was launched in Brisbane in 2008 by Slatter, Phillips, Michael Doherty and Nick Crocker. Crocker has since departed the venture.   The service was officially unveiled to the public in 2009, with Wotif founder Graeme Wood subsequently investing $3 million for a stake in the start-up.   Slatter spoke to start-up networking group The Hive about the creation of We Are Hunted in 2010.   {qtube vid:= 3oMU-MSKKV0}

Instagram-inspired camera is picture perfect

3:38AM | Thursday, 28 March

A Polaroid-style Instagram camera that will allow users to apply filters to happy snaps, and print them out on the spot, should be available early next year.   With a built-in Zinc printer similar to a Polaroid camera and an 11 centimetre touchscreen, the Instagram cam will resemble the social media tool’s app icon.   It will be able to snap photos, apply filters and print pictures, as well as upload them to Instagram and Facebook apps via WiFi and Bluetooth.   Developer Socialmatic hopes to launch the device in the first quarter of 2014, having already announced a non-binding branding deal with Polaroid.   What other successful apps could be turned into physical products like the Instagram camera?

Why I always expect the unexpected in my start-up

3:37PM | Sunday, 24 March

Being young and ambitious is all well and good but, as Sam Keats found out, determination can only get you so far in business, particularly a business with significant capital requirements.   Keats is the founder of Living Environs, a WA outdoor design, renovations and construction company, which offers complete external solutions via one professional point of contact.   “The niche I identified was to provide a complete one-stop-shop outdoor living solution that was not only professional but delivered high quality design and workmanship, all from one point of contact,” says Keats.   With eight staff and revenue of $1.2 million, Living Environs is in good shape. But when Keats started the business at 26, he did so without having run a business before.   “I would like to think this lack of experience was somewhat hedged by my background in business development, coupled with pure hard word, determination and drive for success,” Keats says.   “My focus was on marketing and getting in front of people to sell our services… From a two-line advertisement in the Western Suburbs Weekly, I secured my first contract and employee.   “However, even determination can only go so far in a business that had significant capital requirements for office space, furniture, vehicles, insurance, website development, ongoing costs for marketing and advertising, and cash to pay suppliers and contractors in the shortfall.”   Keats realised he would need additional capital in order to grow the business, having already invested seed capital.   After receiving additonal funds, Living Environs was able to gain a bit of momentum. However, the business faced challenges when it came to consistent workflow.   “I responded by accelerating my marketing campaign and efforts, and pushing the business’ profile through the likes of Facebook and other social media platforms,” Keats says.   “Within two weeks of losing a key client, I was able to sign a larger client.   “Although this signing justified my marketing campaign and expenditure, the situation taught myself and my staff not to sit still, not to take anything for granted or as a given, and to always expect the unexpected.”   Keats now stays in constant contact with existing key clients to develop relationships. But unlike before, he has a good understanding of how to handle change.   “Setbacks will occur regardless of the amount of work you put in and how many different scenarios you can try to plan for,” he says.   “The key is trying to plan for and plan against the ones you can foresee, and reacting swiftly to the ones you don’t.”

Five steps to humanise your business

3:07AM | Friday, 22 March

The web represents huge opportunities for start-up entrepreneurs to humanise their organisations.   This makes us much more likable and trustworthy than the bigger corporates we may face as competitors.   International speaker Jay Baer was the social media keynote at the recent National Growth Summit and he introduced a brilliant concept called the ‘humanisation highway’.   It is simply a five-step journey that we go on where we gradually humanise our businesses:   1. Ignoring   This what most companies are doing right now. Nearly everyone has heard of social media but most simply don’t use it yet. It may be fear, anxiety, lack of time, lack of resources or simply lack of interest.   Or perhaps you have set yourself up with social media accounts but they are lying dormant and neglected.   2. Listening   All this involves is setting up Google Alerts and logging into your accounts on a regular basis to see what is going on. If you’re at this stage of the journey you are likely to be following a handful of people you like of Twitter, Facebook and you may follow certain blogs.   If you simply listen, you’re putting yourself ahead of most of your competition because at least you know what is going on. This stage can be very exciting because you can see the power of the community and you’re possibly thinking about taking the next step.   3. Responding   This is where you stop lurking and you get involved. It’s often the scariest step mentally because you’re no longer anonymous and you’re putting yourself out there for all the world to see.   It’s also the shortest stop because you realise there was nothing to worry about. It’s actually quite fun and the business benefits are enormous. Tools like Google Alerts and Twitter Search make it really easy to keep track of what people are talking about, so you are in the position to respond to conversations, which normally means replying to tweets or leaving comments on a blog.   4. Participating   If you have a blog and you use all the usual social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn on a regular basis, then you’re a rock solid participant. The key difference with this phase is that you are ‘contributing content’.   The rule of thumb online is that 90% lurk, 9% respond and 1% contribute. Congrats on being in the top 1%.   5. Story Telling   The final and ultimate stop on the ‘humanisation highway’, and it is where you are actively contributing and sharing compelling stories. Stories that take the shape of blog posts, YouTube videos, e-books, podcasts, emails, infographics and webinars that people simply ‘have to’ share with their friends and colleagues.   This is how you earn your true fans, and the reward is that they start spreading the word for you via tweets, Facebook likes, email forwards and blogging. When you become a master storyteller, then you’ve well and truly humanised your organisation!   For more information to guide you on this humanisation journey, you may like my free e-book Web Strategy Secrets. 

NSW start-up TiimFocus warns Facebook co-founder: We’re coming for you

3:27AM | Wednesday, 20 March

A tech start-up based in Wollongong is taking aim at task management venture Asana, which was created by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, after raising $800,000 from angel investors.   TiimFocus, founded in 2009 by Kevin Withnall and Jason Weaver, aims to improve workflow management between teams, allowing organisations to keep track of tasks and assignments.   Withnall, who began developing the product two years ago, initially created the product for his 12-person development company.   “We created TiimFocus because we didn’t see a product fulfilling the need in the market,” he says.   In a bid to become “the world’s most complete collaborative task system”, TiimFocus has raised $800,000 from three angel investors, whose names will remain undisclosed.   “Kevin… has contacts in the superannuation investment field and was able to access them. We pitched our idea to these guys and they thought it was a good enough idea to back, so we managed to secure an initial $500,000,” says Weaver.   “Since then we’ve secured another $300,000 [from the same investors]. We’re in a position now where we need to get another $500,000 to really help with the marketing push.   “Blackbird [Ventures] launched a week or two ago, so they’re somebody we would probably contact.   “It’s very difficult [to secure funds] in the Australian market… We certainly haven’t ruled out going to the US, but our preference is to keep it in Australia if we can.   “We think this idea – the idea with the workflow – hasn’t actually been done. I’ve been in business and I’ve run many successful teams myself, and I’ve never been able to get this right.”   TiimFocus has compared itself to Asana, the start-up founded by Dustin Moskovitz, who, after sharing a dorm with Mark Zuckerberg, became one of the founders of Facebook.   Like TiimFocus, Asana keeps teams in sync. It has already raised more than $10 million from investors including Benchmark Capital and Andreessen Horowitz.   However, TiimFocus is confident it can compete in the marketplace.   “The largest player in the market is Asana… However, its greatest strength – an easy-to-use product – is also its largest weakness; minimal functionality,” says Withnall.   “We outgrew Asana within a month. TiimFocus was built to be the world’s most complete collaborative task system. Companies will not be able to outgrow TiimFocus.”   TiimFocus provides team members with one central location where they can see what peers are working on and can receive updates on how a project is progressing.   The B2B software is designed to evolve as an organisation grows.   “We believe the beauty of this marketplace, particularly as more attention is focused on B2B companies, is that the best product can win,” says Weaver.   “Despite the pedigree of Asana and other competitors, we spent two years building and validating TiimFocus, and we, and our clients, believe this is the best product in the market.”

Meet the Startmate class of 2013 – part two

3:16AM | Tuesday, 19 March

Above: Ben Sze, Duncan Anderson and Jeremy Cox from Tutor on Demand   Yesterday, we profiled three of the restless young start-ups that are aiming to become the next Aussie tech superstars, with a little help from the Startmate accelerator program.   There was the SME tech help service, the communication tool for parents and child minders and the security crowdsourcers.   Below, we speak to three more of the Startmate class of 2013, which have been lavished with $50,000, intensive mentoring and a trip to the US.     Tutor on Demand   Website: https://tutorondemand.com.au/   Founders: Ben Sze, Duncan Anderson and Jeremy Cox   What if you were a student wanting to top up your studies with some learning via your smartphone? And what if you were a teacher after a little extra cash and the chance to help a wider pool of students?   These two elements are drawn together for Tutor Demand, which features video content of 18 different teachers discussing 15 different topics, to help high school students.   Where did this idea spring from?   Anderson: Ben, Jeremy and I all worked together at Goldman Sachs and then did our own thing. We kept in touch and Ben was tutoring a bit. He had an idea to set up Skype, so we have tutors one side of a city and students the other side of the city.   He spoke to me about an idea in South Korea called MegaStudy, which is an on-demand resource with multiple teachers. It has a market cap of $1 billion.   We thought the business model could work here in a similar way.   Why hasn’t this happened until now? It seems like quite a simple idea.   Sze: Internet speeds weren’t so good until about 10 years ago. But, also, schools are slow moving beasts.   We are focused on finding great teachers and empowering them to teach more than the 50 students they normally teach.   Another barrier to entry is the time teachers would have to take to build and then sit and upload content – there’s a lot of time commitment there and not a lot of time.   How does it work?   Sze: We record teachers doing video lectures over a week period and show it in bite-sized pieces, five or six videos.   The focus is high school at the moment. There’s a really good opportunity as no one rewards good teachers – you get the same regardless of whether you are a good or bad teacher, unlike, say, a lawyer.   We have a recording studio, so the teachers come to us, do a Powerpoint presentation and walk away. There’s no need for them to have equipment, so there’s no hassle for them.   Students get access online through a referral or their school purchases access on their behalf. They might use it for just Year 12 physics or five other subjects, for example. Four weeks before exams, we expect to see lots of students watching all the videos and doing a crash course.   Who are you selling this to, exactly?   Anderson: Initially, we saw this as additional to the schools – there’s a big market for top-up lectures and here you get great teachers at great price points.   But we had teachers come to us and say they want to purchase for a class and a few libraries asked the same. So two schools purchased from us.   We are currently looking at all channels – directly to students and parents and some to schools.   What’s the business model?   Anderson: We sell subscriptions to get access to a subject for an entire year, over two parts. So you get, say, chemistry for $25 for one part. That gives you unlimited access. We’ve found that students usually buy more than once.   Schools can then buy access for all subjects, for a price per student. We are still trying to figure that out.   Sze: One school we piloted with had nearly 50% of students using the videos getting an A or A+ in their final exams. Only 25% get an A or A+ usually. We were quite pleased with that.   So far, we’ve reached 2,700 students across 350 different schools.   For schools, it adds another level of teaching. Students get access to a great teacher whenever they need it. They have an iPhone app they can use wherever they go and consolidate what they’ve learned.   None of you has a tech background, which is strange for a tech start-up.   Anderson: Yes, it is a bit unusual. But we did get it designed and get it all done, so I’d view us as project managers that have an understanding of tech, but didn’t build the core project.   We had people help us out with recording, generally multimedia students. The back-end was initially built by friends of Ben, while the design came from a few different places.   What would your advice be to anyone applying to Startmate?   Anderson: If you’ve built a lot of start-ups in the past, you’ll probably have an easy time. But if you haven’t, get traction first.   It helped us that we had customers, product and revenue. It wasn’t just talk. If you apply, don’t just have a great idea. Go out there and build something.   You all had comfortable jobs. Why do this?   Anderson: Building your own thing is much more interesting and engaging than working for other people.   Tutor on Demand can have strong, positive effects on society. Good education allows people to make better decisions.   We feel we can empower great teachers and build something that is riskier but the reward is completely different. As Steve Jobs says, do something you love that doesn’t feel like work. You end up really caring about what you’re doing.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. Shiftr     Website: http://www.shiftrapp.com/   Founders: Adrian Dean and Ludek Dolejsky   Shiftr is a very modern start-up story. The founders discovered each other via Google and launched a simple but clever idea for an app despite only meeting each other a couple of times – mainly due to the fact Dean’s Canberra base was a little far from the Czech Republic, where Dolejsky was living.   The start-up’s app allows workers to swap shifts without lengthy phone calls and organisation.   What’s the benefit of being in Startmate?   It’s a big learning curve, having seen the calibre of our peers. Startmate has given us $50,000 – which is 50,000 $1 experiments we can make to run and iterate our ideas.   We want to get into a tight cycle of rapid change, while companies don’t change so quickly. We want bang for our buck in every way, such as getting a place rent-free in Sydney. A friend agreed to this if we arranged to move his stuff in, which I did. It saved us around $10,000.   So how did you meet Ludek?   I was in San Francisco when I first made contact, via a Google search. I had another idea called MyMyke, which was a distributed microphone app.   He’d created software for that so I contacted him. He’d developed something to just spy on friends, something fun, and I said let’s retool it. We worked on it for a month and then I shared a Pilsner with him when I went backpacking.   I then floated the idea of Shiftr maybe 18 months ago. My girlfriend couldn’t get out of work and had the whole hassle of calling around and getting a replacement. She had the threat of not getting work if she dropped out without getting someone to cover her.   I thought there was a real opportunity there to create an app that was easy for staff to use. I didn’t want to create a full rostering system, as it’s hard for businesses to change those big processes, but employers weren’t bridging to smartphone very well when swapping shifts, they’ll use Facebook or text.   How does it work?   Any employee can download the app and invite co-workers in. We include managers in this too, as they are on the front line, having to deal with this pain with tools lumped on them by IT departments; people who have never flipped a burger.   Employees jump in and can create a shift – it takes you about 10 seconds. You push ‘swap’ and it notifies everyone in workplace that they want to swap and other staff have the option to grab it. The manager gets to choose the winning employee.   How will you monetise it?   We are going to charge managers when they want to claim their workplace as official workplaces. We’ll add features such as group messaging and store ‘walls’. Obviously they get control over swapping too.   It doesn’t require everyone in the business sign up, but catching point is around 40% of a workplace. We trialled a McDonald’s store and it had a 60% take-up in the first few hours.   We’ll have a subscription model with a 30-day trial. The charge depends on the business, we’re looking at $30 to $40 a month.   We are looking at a flat site fee. We found workplaces want that, rather than pay $1 per employee or anything like that.   We’re actually a small part of these massive rostering systems. We are filling that pain point when someone calls up to say ‘I can’t make it’ because it costs a lot of time to coordinate.   Eventually, we’d like to be able to match people who are skilled casual workers with different workplaces. That’s the long-term vision – complete labour flexibility.   How did you persuade Ludek to move here?   Well, Australia has a certain allure to it. Every European thinks Australia is a beautiful place with beautiful people and beaches.   He has a tech consultancy company and felt he could take it as far as he could. This way, he gets to learn more and challenge himself.   I think we complement each other well. I’m not overly technical, while he’s not someone to sit in front of a client.   How many workplaces have signed up?   We started on one site with a trial. We had a terrible product but the look on the manager’s face was ‘wow, staff can see shifts in their phone’. He recommended it and it grew rapidly to eight workplaces in Canberra.   We’ve now got 18, with another three coming on board – I’ve had calls from businesses in Hobart and the Central Coast.   We feel a lot of these companies have this problem. This initial roll out works well with McDonald’s, but we’re also looking at Woolworths and Walmart – big brand names. We have interest from nurses and doctors too.   We have just had the app on the app store and have done no marketing, so people are obviously searching for it. Managers say ‘we need this.’   Next, we’ll target industry groups and thought leaders that are talking about absenteeism. We’re starting to ramp the marketing up.   We’re getting a lot of fanatical support from managers in McDonald’s –one guy got us into five different stores as he was raving about it.   What are your ambitions for the business?   Niki (Scevak) gave us a pep talk and said you need to accelerate to five to 50 to 100 stores quickly, otherwise you’ll lose out.   The longer term goal is to crack into the US market. We’ve had to be very careful when choosing our words – shifts works well across countries, where roster in US means sports roster.   I hope to get into the US by May. If we’re not hitting our targets, we’ll see if the value proposition is strong enough and if we can continue. We don’t want to be stuck with a stillborn company, earning enough to pay salary but not growing.