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.

When venture capital investment isn’t everyone’s cup of tea: SelfWealth’s fundraising story

12:13PM | Monday, 2 December

When investment tool SelfWealth went looking to raise around $3 million to bring its information technology in-house, it considered but then rejected accessing venture capital sources.   While it may be the dream of many start-ups to progress from early stage investment from angels to larger funding from the venture capital sector, for SelfWealth managing director Andrew Ward it wasn’t the right fit.   “The valuation they put on the business was a lot lower than we thought,” he told StartupSmart.   “And their position on being strict on exits and potentially taking on debt made my board nervous.”   So instead of going down the venture capital path, SelfWealth “turned on our heels” and went back to its early backers, including carsales.com chief executive Greg Roebuck, and other high net worth individuals.   The strategy is paying off for the company, which allows users to build and compare investment portfolios with others and has been described as the “Facebook of investing”.   It’s added 10 new investors, raised $2 million with another $1 million expected in the near future.   Ward advises other start-ups that don’t want to take on venture capital funding to go back to their original investors. Also, when pitching for series A funding, let new potential investors know who’s already invested.   “When we went back to our strategic investors it all happened quite quickly,” he says, adding that previous investors were happy to talk to others about why they invested in the company.   Among the 10 new investors to come on board is Australasian Wealth Investments, an ASX-listed investment fund.   Last year, SelfWealth raised $1.6 million through the Australian Small Scale Offerings Board, with 21 investors taking part in the raising.   Ward also suggests that other start-ups seeking investment not take money “for money’s sake – although you can get desperate”.   “You don’t want to take cheap money, you want smart money,” he says, urging founders to ask how potential investors can add value to the company.   “I know every one of our shareholders,” he says.

Home delivery alcohol start-up emerges from beta and begins to grow

12:55AM | Monday, 2 December

Liquorun, a start-up that delivers alcohol to metropolitan Melbourne homes within two hours, has emerged victorious from their beta testing phase and just passed their first weekend of trading.   Launched in July by Melbourne Football Club players Joel Macdonald, James Strauss and Rohan Bail, the Blue Chilli-backed company will be focusing on growing their customer network and online community in Melbourne with a view to launch in Sydney and Brisbane in early 2014.   Macdonald told StartupSmart their fundamental partnerships are functioning well and they’re learning a lot.   “We got probably more orders than we expected. The bottle shops are really happy, and that partnership is crucial to our growth as they’re pumping our brand in store and we’re leveraging each other’s databases, so the long term prospects are looking good,” Macdonald says.   He adds the most challenging part of their launch so far has been making sure the agreements with the bottle shops were up to scratch.   “Most challenging has been making sure that the agreement is tight with the bottle shop and our own licensing documents, because they’re putting huge faith in us,” Macdonald says.   The first weekend involved 300 customers and three drivers. The Liquorun team are focusing on tightening the processes and systems they rely on.   “The learning has been great, and we’re trying to implement everything we hear that makes sense straight away,” Macdonald says. “Now we’re in the validation through growth phase. We need to tighten up the model and boost our distribution and delivery reach.”   They’ll be focusing on customer acquisition and developing their online communities in the coming months with Facebook advertising, Google AdWords campaigns and editorials in hyper-local news sites.   Macdonald adds one of the best bits of the business so far is how delighted people are when the delivery team turns up.   “We’re working on protocols for our drivers as we grow, because everyone wants you to come in and have a beer with them when you rock up,” Macdonald says. “But we’re going to keep it really professional and hopefully soon the drivers will have too many orders to hang around at any spot.”

Brush with death sets Leola Foon on course for business she loves

11:13AM | Tuesday, 26 November

After suffering a life-threatening brain aneurysm three years ago, Leola Foon understands the importance of a healthy lifestyle and doing something you love.   The 31-year-old Sydneysider has combined the two and launched More For Me, her own business preparing and delivering healthy meals for people too busy to cook meals for themselves.   She tells Smart Solo the idea for the business was born after a friend who was running her own health food business asked her to prepare some meals because she was too busy to cook for herself.   “The more I thought about the idea and that people didn’t have many healthy food options at a good price point, it made sense,” Foon says.   She says she launched the business within 72 hours of thinking of it through a Facebook page in October. Within 48 hours, despite not having any branding or logo, she had six orders and has since attracted a number of regular customers.   More For Me now has its own website and Foon’s ambition is to grow the business.   “I love cooking. Cooking is something that comes very natural to me. I’ve always loved to make healthy foods and making them delicious, which is a challenge to many people,” she says.   Two weeks after starting More For Me, Foon quit her full-time job with a not-for-profit to focus 100% on the business, a leap she says was one of the riskiest things she’s ever done.   “I’ve always been financially secure and to make this leap has been right out of my comfort zone,” she says, adding that she’s got a strong support network around her.   “I just think life is too short to not do something you don’t enjoy.”   She says being a sole trader is trying and tiring but she’s happy doing what she wants to do.   “I just have to remind myself this is where I want to take my life and this is where I want to be.”   Foon says while she feels she’s still learning as she develops her business, the best advice she can give to others thinking of starting their own business is to “just keep on going and just remind yourself why you’re doing this”.   “If it’s something you truly love, then don’t let anything stop you doing it. It’s not going to be easy but there are bigger things in life … health is more important.   “By being happy you are contributing to your health. Your health should always come first.”   Foon says it’s a shame that it takes a life threatening illness for many people to change their lives and realise their health is important.   She says she aims to remind people through More For Me the importance of healthy eating and living a healthy lifestyle.   Foon operates out of a commercial kitchen she rents and offers menus that change weekly.

What kind of special offers work on social media?

11:41AM | Tuesday, 26 November

What kind of offers work on social media? Giveaways on Twitter? Competitions on Facebook? I'm not quite sure how to approach this.

The Weekly Digest: Don’t give up this Global Entrepreneurship Week (or ever)

11:48PM | Sunday, 24 November

Happy Global Entrepreneurship Week! Here’s the wrap of the stories we covered this week, so you can catch up on your reading over the weekend.   Apple Inc has hit a roadblock in their bid to trademark “startup” in Australia, and Kogan got into a fight with Click Frenzy.   We spoke to the local co-ordinator for Global Entrepreneurship Week about the 230+ local activities, new research revealed Australia is the third most entrepreneurial country in the world, and some of Australia’s leading entrepreneurs were celebrated at an awards night on Thursday.   Meanwhile, Ireland is making a play to attract our best and brightest, announcing a start-up ambassador for Australia, a campaign director told us how to get more sales via Facebook, and Nina Hendy shared seven tips to make your business look bigger.   Don’t give up   The big theme of our stories this week is a perennial mantra for start-ups: don’t give up.   Niki Scevak, serial entrepreneur, investor and advisor, shared why ideas don’t fail, teams that give up do. It was also a recurring theme in the Start-ups are Scary series we launched this week.   We heard from the co-founders of 99designs, Canva, Thank You Water, Vinomofo and Seek about their toughest and most terrifying moments, and how they made it through.   Investment and accelerator news   We spoke to an investor and advisor who’s worked with some of the world’s leading start-ups about his top five tips for seeking investment, heard from a start-up that raised $2 million and got the inside scoop on what the plan is for the new Telstra-backed accelerator.   The ANZ Innovyz Start program, one of Australia’s leading accelerators, announced they’ll be opening an intake in Sydney early next year. We spoke to managing director Dr Jana Matthews about why they chose Sydney, and how the program has evolved in the past few years.   Entrepreneurs shared their plans   Start-ups may be hard work, but they’re also rewarding and a lot of fun, especially according to this MBA student who’s chucked in her plans to get a corporate gig to work for a start-up instead.   We heard the business plans, passion and growth strategy behind a nursery furniture company, a museum mapping tech company, a Melbourne beer company, and a start-up turning one-week-old this weekend.   Also this week, find out how to boost your profits as we head into the traditionally quiet period of Christmas, why getting a handle on hyperbolic language will revolutionise how you do business, and how to find the perfect business partner.

Kirti Kogar

11:24AM | Friday, 8 November

Business: Little Boosh Age: 25 State: Victoria   When Kirti Kogar hurt her back and suffered a disc protrusion, leaving her unable to work in her office sales job, she had to figure out something else to do.   The behavioural science and marketing graduate had always wanted to work with children and had enjoyed success attracting people’s interest in cute baby wear posted on Facebook while at home.   “It was extraordinarily difficult because I had no idea of what I was doing,” she says.   But she stuck at it as mothers commented how much they liked the items she was putting online, such as animal costumes for babies.   Earlier this year she created her own website, Little Boosh, and, with two friends, set out to carve a niche in the crowded online retail space for products for babies and mums.   “We’re a one stop shop,” she says of her site, which offers monthly nappy subscriptions, accessories for babies such as shoes and hats, and bags and dresses for mums.   Kogar says she’s a very determined person and is encouraged to prove people wrong if she’s challenged.   “If I want my business to grow I have to work on it 100%,” she says.   She says she’s determined to stay ahead of the competition by keeping an eye on what they’re doing and then making sure what she’s offering is better.   She adds that there are no secrets to success.   “It’s the result of preparation, hard work and learning from your failure.   “And to remember there’s only one boss, and that’s the customer.”

The top four tips from the Facebook Accelerator program

11:37AM | Tuesday, 5 November

Twelve start-ups and small businesses have graduated from Facebook’s accelerator program last week, armed with in-depth knowledge about how to use the platform to promote their businesses.   Facebook announced their accelerator program for start-ups and small businesses in July, and announced 12 finalists in August.   According to the latest Facebook user metrics for Australia, there are almost 10 million daily active users of Facebook, and 12 million monthly active users.   Nick Bowditch, manager of small business for Australia and New Zealand at Facebook, told StartupSmart the major discussion that rolled over the training period was the need to be authentic.   Be honest about who (and how big) you are   “The very bottom line and most simple thing we pushed was authenticity. You need to represent your real brand as it is,” Bowditch says. “In the end, your fans are going to love you or not, and if you’ve been authentic from the start you won’t have to backtrack.”   Bowditch says this discussion, and how to avoid the major branding errors involved, was especially important for the younger companies.   “Always referring to yourself as ‘we’ when there are only one or two people can be off-putting. People want to support start-ups and small businesses, so don’t make yourself out to be a multi-national business or something bigger than you are,” Bowditch says.   Just ask your followers what they want from you   Bowditch says one of the big learning curves for business in the age of social media is recognising how directly they can engage with their audience.   “Of the 12 companies, none of them were really asking their fan base what they want. So much of Facebook is high tech, but the underlying principles are about common sense and simplicity. If you want to get more engagement from you audience, just ask them what they want,” Bowditch says.   Not only will this provide you with the insights to shape your content sharing strategy around, Bowditch adds it will increase the connection your customers have to your brand.   “Ask them what they want, what their pain-points are and how you can help. This really isn’t traditional marketing anymore, with Facebook it’s a two-way conversation,” Bowditch says. “This makes your followers feel really included in the business as well. And people really love doing that for start-ups.”   Create content your users may not know they want yet   Once you’ve established what kind of content your followers want, Bowditch say the growth opportunity for page managers is to occasionally share relevant and topical content your users might not know they’re interested in yet.   “There are a lot of cat pictures on Facebook, but would that sell more hammers for a hardware store?” Bowditch says, using a hardware store as an example. “You can be a bit salesy but your people want to know about renovations, about The Block, about how to build a sandstone wall, things that are topical and interesting that you can be the expert in.”   Bowditch says while only two out of 2000 followers may have been planning to build a sandstone wall, you might find 20 people click through, creating 18 new customers.   Combine your external communications resources with Facebook customer reaching tactics   The most useful product lesson of the program was around the customer audience features, which enables page admins to match the emails of their database to the login details of their Facebook followers.   Bowditch says one of the companies in the program launched a customer audience campaign during the accelerator and is already booked out until March.   “You can now create ad campaigns that are just seen by those already in that. If they sign into Facebook with the same address, we can match it and give you another way to reach this customer audience, so you can create follow up ad campaigns just for these people,” Bowditch says. “This feature means your costs come down, and the targeting is greater.”

The beginner’s guide to landing pages

11:50AM | Friday, 1 November

If you’re a web marketer, the easiest way to attract subscribers, leads and customers is to set up landing pages on your website.   It’s where people can get a feel for you and it’s the virtual business card swap. So why is it also the most overlooked part of a web marketer’s strategy?   Firstly, what is a landing page?   It’s a purpose built page on your website where people “take action” of some description. Visitors could ‘buy now’ or ‘sign up for a free trial’, but as a marketer, this article is about attracting leads and subscribers.   In short, the way to do this is to offer a premium piece of content, in exchange for the person’s name and email address.   Your online business card swap   You’d always take business cards to a work meeting or function, wouldn’t you? The reason is because if you meet someone interesting or who has the potential to be a customer, you need to swap details to continue chats later. Normally you’ll meet lots of people and a handful of those you’ll swap details with.   Exactly the same happens online   You’ll get a certain amount of visitors to your website and some will be interested in finding out more about you. Not in a pick up the phone kind of way, but in a let me download something so I can get a feel for them way.   The idea is to offer something appealing on your landing page, in exchange for their email address, so that you can continue the conversation later.   Why is this ‘email exchange’ so commonly overlooked?   I think a lot of marketers who are new to the web, feel apprehensive about requesting people’s email address for fear of upsetting them with future contact.   However, this is the wrong way of looking at it. If people are sufficiently interested in your content, your obligation as a marketer is to provide more information that they may find useful.   Keep it easy!   We all have loads of distractions when we’re surfing the web – lots of tabs open, messages popping up, emails coming in, Facebook open, tweets floating past, and of course the work you are meant to be doing!   So if someone makes the ‘click’ to come to the page where they can download your content, for goodness sake make it a smooth, easy and distraction-free experience! Or else, they’ll lose track of you, and you’ll lose your chance to stay in contact with them.   Anatomy of a great landing page   The basics include removing “the leaks” on your landing page. In other words eliminating links, or conflicting calls-to-action that distract your visitor. Yes, this includes getting rid of phone numbers and your main navigation!   Good landing pages also provide social proof that the download is worthwhile. Things like social media shares, testimonials and mentioning how many other people have downloaded it, reassure the visitor that they should download it.   The final ingredients are: a privacy statement saying you’ll keep their email address private, a simple form where you only ask for what you need, and nothing more, and a nice big button to download your offer.   If you’d like to see my best performing landing page, check out the Web Strategy Planning Template – feel free to download the PDF too!

Tiger Pistol raises $1 million in funding for expansion and promotion

10:36PM | Thursday, 24 October

Australian start-up Tiger Pistol, a social media marketing platform for small and medium businesses, has raised $1 million from Australian venture capital fund Rampersand and existing shareholders to establish an office in Silicon Valley and promote its services.   Co-founder and chief executive Steve Hibberd told StartupSmart the business tapped a desire by small and medium businesses to market themselves online through social media channels such as Facebook.   “There are about 75 million small businesses in available markets globally for what we’re doing,” he says.   Hibberd says attracting investment comes down to the quality of the business’s vision and the quality of its plan and people.   Founders should “be very honest with themselves” and ask whether they’ve done enough work to validate their idea, whether their plan stacks up and do they have the right people around them, Hibberd says.   “All of these things come out in the fundraising process,” he says.   Tiger Pistol provides a pre-scheduled social marketing plan for individual businesses using big data to achieve the best outcomes.   The company is currently focused on marketing plans using social network giant Facebook but aims to add other channels, such as Google AdWords, in the future.   “We remove a headache and provide confidence to small business operators, helping them to be successful in just a few minutes a day,” Hibberd says in a statement.   “Most small businesses know they need to be on social, but have neither the time nor the head space to take advantage of it.”   Tiger Pistol’s first platform was launched in May last year, providing custom Facebook pages and promotions for several thousand small businesses in more than 100 countries. Revenue has doubled each quarter.   The company raised $1.15 million in funding last year.   Rampersand co-founder and managing partner Paul Naphtali says social media marketing has “come of age”.   “It’s time small businesses had a tool as powerful as those built for enterprises, but with clear simplicity,” he says in a statement.   “Tiger Pistol has not only built a great product, they have created a new category in marketing platforms and we look forward to supporting company through its rapid growth.”

Facebook start-ups: Five things you should know

10:31AM | Friday, 11 October

Some start-up businesses grow first via social media before they ever consider setting up a website. And truth be told, many businesses have been given a start-up via the social media network and have profited by it without ever setting up a website!   A Facebook start-up usually means having your business placed in the social media world and letting all your friends and acquaintances see it first to test the waters. You may think this is enough to launch your business formally and is all you need to do or worry about, but there are a few important business items you may not know.   Despite Facebook businesses cropping up everywhere, there are certain requirements that you (and they) still need to follow. You may believe you are exempt from your legal requirements by launching on Facebook, but you are not!   There are a few aspects you should consider before embarking on your Facebook business:   Initially, you should consider registering your business. This consists of having a registered name, an ABN, and possibly GST registration. Check for government regulations regarding the products or services you wish to sell because some states have restrictions on things such as food products and importation.   As for the legal side of things, you need to comply with all Australian standards with regard to selling to the public. Terms and conditions have to be inserted in your business profile to protect your business and limit your liability in respect to claims, warranties and indemnities and also to notify your customers of your terms.   Australian Consumer Law has to be adhered to. It governs all products and services that are purchased by the public (this has only recently been amended). Obviously, all claims you make about your products and services have to be true and correct, and not false or misleading. Also, you will have to ensure you have this inserted in your terms and conditions as well as having relevant licences for the products and services that require them. Be aware of all the state and territory jurisdictions on these matters before offering your goods and services.   One very important factor in your Facebook business start-up is that you are responsible for everything people post on your social media business site. In turn, you need to monitor your site carefully and regularly. If it breaches someone’s copyright, is defamatory, offensive, false or misleading in any way, you may find yourself in a litigious situation that you were not aware of.   Privacy laws must also be complied with wherever you sell your goods or services. All personal information, including email addresses and credit card details need to be securely stored and you are responsible, even if you are using a third-party service. As such, you are required to have a privacy policy on your sales site. Facebook and other social media sites have their own privacy policies and legal terms covering themselves, not you or your customers.   Finally, you are not above the law when it comes to having your business on Facebook or other social media. Endeavour to make sure you know all there is to know about selling your goods and services to the public. Do a business plan, taking in all aspects of the legal and regulatory requirements to ensure you are aware of all the requirements to sell your goods or services around Australia.   Regulators are looking into businesses started up online and through social networks, so – be aware!

How to build the right board for your start-up

10:48AM | Thursday, 24 October

At a board meeting this morning, I couldn't help reflecting on our awesome group. A good start-up board helps in many ways but can hinder in others. I've probably experienced the best and worst of what they can do. Creating a board is serious and should be approached with caution.   When I started Posse I didn't know much about company boards. A family lawyer helped establish our companies. He suggested I set up a board and try to find some impressive-sounding people to join it. His objective was to make the 'team' list in my fundraising presentation look more appealing to prospective investors. So off I went on a mission to meet big name folks who'd look good on my deck. It didn't seem to matter how many, the more the better.   Within a month I'd assembled a board of eight, including myself, and we called a meeting. A friend lent me his board room, a big office in the city. I expected a casual, friendly affair where we'd chat about business and strategy and they'd agree to introduce me to some potential investors.   I was in for a surprise. First of all they wanted to know everything. How much money did we have in the bank? What were the liabilities, the budget, how many people had visited the site last week, last month, how long did they stay for, how much money had we made? And so on. I wasn't prepared and it was overwhelming.   After a couple of hours of grilling, I gained a sense of what a board expects from a founder. I'd run my own business for eight years and didn't report to anyone. In time I came to appreciate the rigour of reporting. For the next meeting, I made sure I sent out the cash-flow report, budget, metrics, and a presentation outlining what I wanted to talk about – all in advance of the meeting.   Six months in, our group hit its first challenge. The business had started well; we'd raised some money and gained traction. Everyone became excited; then, out of the blue, one director presented us with a proposal involving a full-time job and a lot of equity.   The group wasn't sure how to react. He left the room while we discussed his proposal, and when we rejected it he was hurt and embarrassed. He quit the board and sent us a huge invoice for his time, which we spent a year fighting and eventually settled.   Some members of our original board were excellent and are still active in various capacities today. Others drifted off: they had an expectation that we'd be a huge hit within months and when hard work set in they disappeared. Some stuck around and were destructive when things didn't go their way.   I learnt the hard way how bad things become when you have the wrong board. I've also learnt how powerful it can be to have the right board behind you. Here are five tips for start-up founders looking to build and run an effective board of directors.   1. Set expectations up front   It's easy to procrastinate about finalising deals with advisors and directors. Everyone is there to be helpful, and at the start it doesn't seem worth negotiating to pay them a share of nothing. The problems kick in after few months when things start going well, and you realise you and they have different expectations about payment. Most start-up directors will expect to receive equity rather than cash, and in my experience the standard rate is 0.5% to 2% vesting over two years.   You must determine what you expect of the director. How will they help with fundraising, strategy, introductions and the like? If appropriate, you might want to agree on how much time they'll commit to your business – although when you have the right people on-board it's likely they'll be bugging you with ideas and suggestions for how they can help.   2. Be transparent and organised   Your board should be the one group of people with whom you can be completely transparent. It's their job to help you work through challenges; so they must understand those challenges if they're going to add value.   I remember at one of the first meetings of our new board, I announced that the product we'd created wouldn't scale. We had to go back to the drawing board and try something else before we ran out of money. No one flinched. We put a process in place that would devise a better strategy. I've also found that board meetings are much more effective when I've put time into thinking through the agenda and have written a presentation to talk through.   3. Make sure your directors have the right experience   My original board sounded impressive, but many were impressive in the wrong industries. They had no experience of the challenges of a start-up like ours. So I received bad advice which led us to hire the wrong team and spend too much too quickly. A couple of our early directors had never used Facebook or Twitter and wouldn't even join Posse.   Everyone on our current board has incredible expertise in different areas of early stage companies in our space. They know what other businesses are doing to grow, engage users, monetize, save costs and much more. Almost every day, one emails me with an idea or opportunity that I wouldn't have thought of. And through them, we can access almost anyone we'd need to help our business anywhere in the world.   4. Keep the numbers small   We have four directors on our current board, including me, and one regular observer who acts like a director except he doesn't vote. It's a tight group: everyone knows the others' strengths; everyone is committed to making Posse a hit.   I've heard that the reason to keep boards small is to ensure that as a founder you won't be outvoted. I suggest that if you even think this, you either have the wrong board or you're the wrong founder. For me, the benefit of having a small board is that I can spend time with each person regularly. Everyone is in touch with what's happening and can contribute.   5. Make sure you like and trust people before inviting them to join   Directors have much more influence than I originally thought. They decide who leads the company, what deals to do and when to exit, so you must make sure you all share the same vision upfront. You must know they'll do the right thing, and that they'll stick around and support you when you hit tough times. I've heard many stories from founders whose advisors and directors vanished when it looked like the company might fail. We've had hard times and I can honestly say that our group pulls together and digs in, no matter what the circumstances.   At my first board meeting I learned what directors expect from a founder. It took me quite a while to work out what founders should expect from their directors. Our board helps me refine our strategy and operation plans; they're constantly suggesting new ideas and making introductions; they've been involved in fundraising; they hold me to account and oversee the governance of the company.   The names on our board are impressive but that's not why they're there. I've learned that a top notch board of great people with relevant experience and a shared vision is a wonderful advantage and has made my founder's journey easier and more fun.

Social media is a must when selling a business

10:03AM | Tuesday, 8 October

About 58% of people that have internet access have a social media account that they are actively using.   Out of ages 18-24, a common marketing target group, 98% of people claimed to have a social media account. There are a total of 1.4 billion Facebook users across the globe, spending a total of about 700 million minutes on their social networking accounts.   With this amount of popularity all targeted towards one area, it's impossible to ignore it when trying to sell your business.   How can you sell your business on social media?   It all depends on the social media network, but seeing as is currently the most popular, it's good to start there. Facebook allows businesses to create a page for either a product they sell or for the business itself. A page allows you to display information about your business, offer promotions to users, and directly link to your business's website.   In order to create a page, you need to have a personal account that the business page will be attached to. You can then set up moderators that have permission to post on the page and ban people who abuse the content of the page. There are different levels of admin privileges that you can set, from editor to mod.   Showcase your business   Think of your social media page as an area where you can display all of the pieces of your business in one convenient area that is available to anyone. Social media pages will allow you to:   Post images Directly communicate with potential buyers Show the potential profit of the business Connect with people   Showing works a lot better than telling. Use images and albums to show your possible clients what the business they may be purchasing has to offer.   Try to pique their interest with graphs, charts, and other tools to show them how the business can earn them a profit. You can show images of employees working with customers and much more. By organising it into albums, you make it easy for clients to go through the images in the areas of the business that they are curious about.   Connect to your website   You can use the Facebook or other social media page to try and connect your potential clients to a website that may share more information about the business, including a way to talk to you more personally. In this way, the social media page acts more like a gateway that directs traffic for you.   Locals   One of the biggest advantages to using social media to sell your business is the fact that it allows you to see and communicate with local people in the area. You have a much higher chance of selling your business to someone who lives in the area than an outsider. You can directly target a community when trying to get the word out and pull in some interest.   Next to each person's name is a location that they reside. This gives you information as to who is sharing your business. You may even be able to push them into doing a little advertising by sharing your page onto their own wall so that others in the area can see it, and hopefully grow your popularity and increase your chances of finding a potential buyer.   Always respond   You should never ignore people, or at least take your time to respond. If you really want to get your business sold, check your messages at least twice a day so that you can keep in touch. Facebook likes to place messages from sources that you haven't communicated with in the past into a separate "other" or spam folder. Make sure you check this area as well, as it may hold messages that you would otherwise miss.   Conclusion   Social media is very important to marketing a business properly. It serves a variety of purposes and can help you make the sale. It can also direct people to a business website that can offer deeper information about the website as well as personal contact info. Social media websites can be very efficient and shouldn't be ignored when trying sell a business.   Peter Watson is the chief executive of BizListings.com.au.

New app heralds the next generation of radio: socially attuned and completely customisable

10:23PM | Monday, 7 October

Omny, an app allowing users to combine news clips, emails, social media updates and articles via voice-to-text software, launches today after over 20 months in development.   Created by 121Cast, the app allows people to create their own customised audio channel. The app also includes a recommendation algorithm to suggest content.   121Cast co-founder and chief operations officer Ed Hooper told StartupSmart they were excited to see it finally launch.   “Seeing how it can change people and their behaviour is really exciting, as is the opportunity make that commute period really productive all over the world,” Hooper says. “We’ve all been doing this for so long and everyone knows about it, so how this goes is tied to our personal brands, what we stand for, and our credibility.”   Co-founders Long Zheng and Hooper began exploring the idea for the app in 2011. They had previously worked on an international award winning start-up involving farm irrigation automation software.   “But it was the GFC and we were still students, so for a whole lot of factors it didn’t work out but it was an amazing journey,” Hooper says, who gave up studying at Stanford to return to Australia to work in the Groupon team just as coupon sales were taking off.   He was working at Groupon when Zheng got in touch to talk about how to turn the issue of commute productivity into a business opportunity.   “I was constantly looking for a good opportunity, but I didn’t want to jump on something unless it was awesome, because you want to put everything into it. When Long called me up and we started talking about an audio solution that read you your emails and updates, I realised this was it. I literally could not stop thinking about it,” Hooper says.   Omny sources content from over 30 providers, from music apps such as Spotify, to news groups such as the ABC and BBC, to Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Hooper says all the early conversations were focused on the difficulties of developing such an app, rather than building a business around it.   “Whenever we’ve spoken to potential partners or investors, the assumption is always if we can make the app work, the money stuff will be fine,” Hooper says. “The feedback we got was the idea was there and it could definitely be a business, but also that it was going to be really hard to build and we’d need significant expertise.”   They brought on third co-founder and chief technology officer Andrew Armstrong in February 2012. They’ve gone on to hire a front-end developer and a data scientist as well.   To guide the development, the 121Cast team launched a test app, SoundGecko, in mid-2012.   “We realised we didn’t have a clear idea of what we were creating and needed some real data. We tried surveys and interviews, but it didn’t really get us there. So we took a small fraction of this app, and bundled it as a standalone,” Hooper says.   SoundGecko, an app which read websites and PDF documents for users, has almost 50,000 active monthly users. It allowed 121Cast the opportunity to test the reception of voice-to-text, and also the data requirements for sending audio to thousands of users across the world.   Over 210,000 people have downloaded SoundGecko on iOS, Android and Microsoft phones.   “We found that managing all three platforms was quite hard. As soon as we’d launch a version, we’d see things we needed to change and there were always things we should have done on the first one,” Hooper says. “For the resources we have, it just isn’t feasible to be updating the app on all three platforms. So we’re fine tuning the iOS one while we do the core Android development.”   Omny is currently a free app. 121Cast will introduce ads and affiliate marketing in the coming months, and are exploring a premium subscription for launch later next year.   “SoundGecko definitely validated that people would pay for the premium features, such as more voices, and the Omny premium subscription will probably not include ads,” Hooper says.   Hooper adds financial opportunities will emerge from the user data over time.   In order to fund the development, the 121Cast team used their own capital and raised a series of seed investments.   “We burnt our own savings and lived off them for quite a while. We decided we were going to do this regardless, and between us we could go for about a year without raising funds. Let’s just build this because we have to do it,” Hooper says.   They went on to raise $250,000 from Adventure Capital and the SingTel Optus Innov8 program in November 2012; $20,000 from the University of Melbourne Accelerator program in late 2012, and just over $250,000 from Commercialisation Australia in July 2013.   “With the investment, if we knew we need to do something in the future, we started building the relationship as early as possible and find out what’s important to our potential partners and match them on multiple data points,” Hooper says.   Hooper says they’re focused on Australia at this stage, but will be looking to expand to the US, United Kingdom and other English speaking markets in the next few years.

Leading accelerator program Startmate opens applications for fourth intake

10:26PM | Monday, 7 October

Designed to turn Australian technical founders into successful global entrepreneurs, one of Australia’s first start-up accelerators Startmate is now open for applications.   The program will run next year from January to May. Companies will spend three months in Sydney and two in San Francisco.   Startmate is seeking around eight companies, which will receive $50,000 in seed capital, in exchange for 7.5% equity.   Startmate co-founder Niki Scevak told StartupSmart they’re seeking founders with big dreams and plans.   “Beyond the very product centric technical team, we’re looking for people with large ambitions, the crazier the idea the better. We really want to work with teams who want to make a big difference in the world, so the scale of the ambition is what we’ll be selecting,” Scevak says.   He says they’re committed to approaching each pitched idea with an open mind, adding that being the hundredth start-up to tackle an idea didn’t hurt Google, Facebook or Atlassian.   “Anyone doing anything in an incredibly crowded area will be taken as seriously as brand new ideas. The ideas may sound incremental, but it really does matter why the founders have chosen to pursue this idea, and if they have a unique insight into it,” Scevak says.   “It’s about why they care about their customers and if they have an authentic connection to the market. We look for what in their lives have driven them to this idea.”   The program includes an impressive line-up of mentors including Atlassian co-founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar; Tjoos co-founder Bart Jellema; and Spreets co-founder Dean McEvoy, as well as several partners from Square Peg Capital and Blackbird Ventures.   This will be the fourth intake for the program. Previous participants include BugCrowd and NinjaBlocks.   Start-ups can apply via Angel List.

The pros and cons of using employees to promote your business on social media

10:46AM | Friday, 4 October

More and more businesses rely on social media to advertise their products and services. Many now use their employees to promote their businesses through their blogs, Twitter accounts, LinkedIn and on Facebook.   The pluses to this are great as it is essentially free advertising, having employees engage on another level with clients and to have employees more actively and directly involved in the promotion of the business. But beware: there are risks that go with the benefits.   1. Plus: Social Media can be inexpensive effective advertising   Employees are good ambassadors for promoting your business. They can give your business both personality and a human face.   Businesses have been using employees more and more as a means of promoting and advertising their products. They primarily do this through their personal social media accounts such as Facebook and LinkedIn. It has proven to have some great success and the benefits can be enormous. But you need to be aware of the potential problems with this.   2. Minus: Impact of social media personal accounts   For the benefits that businesses are seeing with their employees promoting the company through their social media accounts and interacting with clients, there are also potential negatives:   Time wasted on social media for non-work, non-productive activity Inappropriate use of social media for personal negative comments such as defamation, harassment, etc causing reputational impact as well as other legal implications for the company.   Management of social media risks is becoming an increasingly critical area to maintain control over the numerous consequences that arise from the unrestricted and undefined use of social media by employees. But this is not the only major consideration that businesses have to deal with. It can get worse.   3. Problem: What happens when the employee leaves?   What do you do if your employee who is leaving your company has LinkedIn, Twitter and other personal social media accounts which they use to communicate with clients?   Who actually owns the account and the correspondence on the employee’s personal social media account?   These social media accounts often contain business information and client contacts. This is an increasing area of litigation with it being more difficult as the regulations have not yet caught up.   In addition, there has been very little to no judicial commentary in Australia regarding the ownership of social media accounts. There has always been clear law that client lists belong to employers when their employees leave the company but there is no clear direction of precedent cases either in Australia or other countries to follow.   It is now clearly under the microscope, with companies attempting to terminate employees for inappropriate comments about the company on social media but there has been no clear direction as yet and each has been determined on a case-by-case basis involving other external factors which sets no clear guidelines. So how can businesses minimize their risk?   Here is what businesses can do:   Ensure you have a social media policy for work. Otherwise it’s difficult to show its use at work/during work hours (even excessive) as grounds for dismissal. The social media policy should define the scope of “acceptable use” and ownership of content. This means employers specify that any social media used during hours of or in the course of employment is owned by the employer and indicate that social media accounts are given up or terminated when the employee leaves the business. Ensure all your employees are aware of company policy in relation to social media and that they are enforced within the company.   And keep up with the latest developments - they, like social media, are a moving feast!

THE NEWS WRAP: Twitter files papers for $US1billion IPO

10:25PM | Thursday, 3 October

Social networking giant Twitter has filed papers with the US Securities and Exchanges Commission ahead of an IPO in which it seeks to raise $US1 billion.   The company revealed that it had 218 million users as of June 30, compared to around 1.2 billion for Facebook and 240 million for LinkedIn.   Twitter also revealed it lost $US69.3 million during the first half of 2013, compared to a $US49.1 million loss for the same time last year, but revenues grew to $US254 million from $US122 million.   Turnbull names Switkowski as new NBN chairman   Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has named former Telstra and Optus chief executive Ziggy Switkowski as the chairman of NBN Co.   The German-born nuclear physicist replaces current NBN chairwoman Siobhan McKenna, while also temporarily replacing Mike Quigley as chief executive until a full-time replacement is appointed.   “In appointing Dr Switkowski to the board as chairman, we're appointing one of the most experienced telecom executives in Australia ... someone who's been the CEO of not just Telstra but Optus as well, a very distinguished company director and chairman," Turnbull says.   Retailers renew calls for GST threshold cut as online shopping figures are released   The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released figures showing consumers spent more than $7.6 billion on online retailers on purchases below the $1000 GST threshold, prompting calls to remove the low-value threshold.   Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman says the higher than expected sales point to an uneven playing field in the sector between local retailers and overseas-based online retailers.   “The concern isn't that people are spending money online – either locally or overseas. The concern is that it's not a level-playing field,” Zimmerman says.   “We believe that the firm of online [shopping] generally will grow, and as that figure grows, there will be a bigger loss of income to the states and territories if they don't do something about the low-value threshold.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down .9% to 14996.48. The Aussie dollar is at US93.96 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: 800,000 US workers take unpaid leave as Affordable Care Act reforms roll out

10:26PM | Tuesday, 1 October

The US government shutdown has come into effect with more than 800,000 government employees forced to take unpaid leave, as Affordable Care Act reforms roll out.   “This Republican shutdown did not have to happen – I want every American to understand why it did happen,” US President Barack Obama says.   “[The Tea Party Republicans] shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans.   “One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government shut down major parts of the government because they didn't like the law.”   Facebook introduces new mobile app ad capabilities   Facebook has introduced new capabilities to its mobile app ads, claiming the features will boost the amount of time users spend in third-party mobile apps.   Instead of ads simply prompting users to install additional apps, the ads can now also be used to promote in-app purchases.   The new feature allows, for example, an ad in a travel app to promote a discounted airfare.   Melbourne and Sydney boost average house prices to a record high   The average value of houses in Australia’s major capital cities has been boosted to a record high, fuelled by rises in Melbourne and Sydney, according to new RP Data-Rismark figures.   The average capital city house price rose by 1.6% during September, boosted by a 2.5% rise in Sydney, a 2.4% increase in Melbourne and 1.1% in Adelaide.   The increases offset falls in Darwin, Perth, Canberra, Brisbane and Hobart.   “Over the past 10 years, values have only risen by an annual rate of about 2.5%. So in many ways Sydney's playing catch up at the moment,” RP Data analyst Tim Lawless says.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 0.41% to 15191.7. The Aussie dollar is down to US94.01 cents.