During the process of a capital raise it is likely that you will need to present some documentation for due diligence purposes. The bigger the raise, the more likely you will encounter a more intense due diligence process. This may include a full audit of your company's legal documents. I can't recommend enough that if you haven't already got a good cloud-based filing system in place, that you get one as soon as possible. Developing good habits now could save you from expensive, time-consuming admin work later. I often come across entrepreneurs who think that written agreements are unnecessary in the early stages of their business. This can be agreements relating to things such as employees, contractors and commercial partners. What is often overlooked is how this kind of thinking may present potential risk issues for future investors. If you are just starting your business I suggest that you consider setting up a simple framework from day one. I recommend Google Drive or Dropbox. If you already have something in place but it's not organised, it’s not too difficult to make some changes. The key is keeping the high level structure simple and then developing good disciplined habits to maintain it. Here's how I always set up a simple structure using either Google Drive or Dropbox: Set up two main folders: Folder 1: Highly Confidential – imagine you have a filing cabinet in your office; this is the one that you would lock and keep private. Folder 2: General Admin – this is the folder for the whole team to use. Folder 1 is the main focus of a due diligence process, it will need to contain all legal, financial and HR records. I always keep it as simple as possible by creating three sub-folders. I always think of each of these sub-folders as drawers of a filing cabinet, I guess that's because I'm old school and I've done lots of filing the old way. Once you've created your three main sub-folders then you can create more sub-folders for each one. I find this flow works in all startups that I've worked with: ● LEGAL ○ 3rd Party Agreements ○ Company ○ Investment ○ Employee Share Scheme ● FINANCIAL ○ Bank Accounts ○ Sales Invoices ○ Suppliers Invoices ○ Management Reports ● HR ○ Employees ○ Contractors Folder 2 is for general admin, this is where you keep all things general, items that anyone on the team may need to access at any time, e.g. R&D product development, shared company policies, etc. Of course everyone has their own way of setting things out so there are no hard and fast rules here. This is just an example that might help you to start a filing framework for your business. The secret is to have a framework in place and then to continually add your documents into the correct folders on a regular basis. If you know you don't have the discipline to do this yourself, then I recommend that you make it a priority to engage someone who does. I also recommend that once you have this in place you provide clarity to your team on the importance of keeping the startup house in order. Clare Hallam is a Startup Operations Specialist. Follow Clare on Twitter. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Think your day has been busy? Spare a thought for Crowd Mobile, which announced the takeover of a Hong Kong-based company on the same day as its initial public offering, after completing a $3.8 million pre-IPO funding round. Launched in 2009, Crowd Mobile operates a platform where users pay a small fee to receive crowdsourced answers to their questions. The fees, in turn, can either be paid through direct carrier billing, the Apple app store or Google Play. While its best known brand is its Bongo app, where users ask entertainment-related questions, the company offers a range of apps covering a range of topics including fashion, religion, and gossip about friends. Since launching, the Australian-based company has expanded its services to a range of markets, including New Zealand, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy and Poland. Chief executive Domenic Carosa told Private Media the 2014 financial year, Crowd Mobile charged for more than 3.4 million questions, generated more than $9.8 million in revenue and made circa $2.2 million in EBITDA. "Basically, there's a big opportunity for us. In FY2014, English-speaking countries were our big markets. Since July, we're in multiple markets and multiple languages," Carosa says. Immediately ahead of its IPO, Crowd Mobile completed a $3.8 million funding round, which included $363,000 through the VentureCrowd equity-based crowdfunding platform. It then completed a back-door listing on the Australian Securities Exchange through former resources company Q Limited. "Part of our growth strategy is making acquisitions, and there are a number of acquisitions we're exploring at the moment. Being a publicly-listed company helps facilitate acquisition growth and also allows us to share the upside with our team." Shortly after listing the company announced it had just purchased a Hong Kong-based start-up called Kiss Hugs, its first move into the Asian market. Crowd Mobile anticipates the Kiss Hugs intellectual property will form the foundation of its expansion into Asian markets. Carosa anticipates the company will use its funds to further push into more countries and launch new products. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
The final communique of the 2014 G20 Leaders’ Summit called for enhanced economic growth that could be achieved by the “promotion of competition, entrepreneurship and innovation”. There was also a call for strategies to reduce unemployment, particularly amongst youth, through the “encouragement of entrepreneurship”. This desire to stimulate economic and job growth via the application of entrepreneurship and innovation has been a common theme in government policy since at least the 1970s. The origins of this interest can be traced back to the report produced by Professor David Birch of MIT “The Job Generation Process” that was published in 1979. A key finding from this work was that job creation in the United States was not coming from large companies, but small independently owned businesses. It recommended that government policy should target indirect rather than direct strategies with a greater focus on the role of small firms. Fostering the growth of entrepreneurial ecosystems Over the past 35 years the level of government interest in entrepreneurship and small business development as potential solutions to flagging economic growth and rising unemployment has increased. It helped to spawn a new field of academic study and research. This trend was boosted by the success the iconic “technopreneurs”. Technology entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs of Apple, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, or Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google have become the “poster children” of the entrepreneurship movement. One of the best known centres of high-tech entrepreneurial activity has been California’s Silicon Valley. Although it is not the only place in which innovation and enterprise have flourished, it has served as a role model for many governments seeking to stimulate economic growth. Today “science” or “technology” parks can be found scattered around the world. They usually follow a similar format, with universities and R&D centres co-located with the park, and venture financiers hovering nearby looking for deals. Most have been supported by government policy. What governments want is to replicate Silicon Valley and the formation and growth of what have been described as “entrepreneurial ecosystems”. However, despite significant investments by governments into such initiatives, their overall success rate is mixed. So what are “entrepreneurial ecosystems” and what role can government policy play in their formation and growth? This was a question addressed by the first White Paper in a series produced by the Small Enterprise Association of Australia and New Zealand (SEAANZ). The purpose of these papers is to help enhance understanding of what entrepreneurial ecosystems are, and to generate a more informed debate about their role in the stimulation economic growth and job creation. What is an entrepreneurial ecosystem? The concept of the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” can be traced back to the study of industry clustering and the development of National Innovation Systems that took place in the 1990s. However, the term was being used by management writers during the mid-2000s to describe the conditions that helped to bring people together and foster economic prosperity and wealth creation. In 2010 Professor Daniel Isenberg from Babson College published an article in the Harvard Business Review that helped to boost the awareness of the concept. The diagram below shows the nine major elements that are considered important to the generation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. The focus of this first SEAANZ White Paper is on the role of government policy. Future White Papers will deal with the other eight elements. Isenberg outlined several “prescriptions” for the creation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. The first prescription was to stop emulating Silicon Valley. Despite its success the Valley was formed by a unique set of circumstances and any attempt to replicate it in other places were unlikely to succeed. This led to a second prescription, which was to build the ecosystem on local conditions. Grow existing industries and build on their foundations, skills and capabilities rather than attempting to launch high-tech industries from scratch. The third prescription was the importance of engaging the private sector from the start. Here the role of government is indirect and one of a facilitator not a manager. In trying to shape the growth of such ecosystems attention should be given to the support of firms with high growth potential that can help to generate a “big win” early on. This is the opportunity for local success stories to become role models for others. However, care must be taken by governments not to try to pick winners or over engineer the system. High growth firms by nature are inherently risky and highly innovative firms are typically unique. As such there is no magic formula for their success. Helping such firms to succeed is more about removing obstacles to their growth such as anti-competitive cultures, unfair taxation on small firms, unnecessary “red tape” or lack of access to markets, skilled employees or investment capital. In seeking to help stimulate entrepreneurial high growth firms it is important, according to Isenberg, to avoid flooding the system with too much “easy money”. This can take the form of government grants and venture capital funds that are too easily obtained. What is important is to grow firms with strong root systems that can sustain their own growth as much as possible before seeking additional funding. Such firms should be financially sound; profitable and well managed, or their likely success rates will be low. The focus should be on encouraging sustainable, growth oriented and innovative firms not simply fostering more start-ups. Starting a new business is the easy part, successfully growing it is the challenge. What can government do to stimulate entrepreneurial ecosystems? The challenge for government policy is to develop policies that work, but avoid the temptation to try to effect change via direct intervention. A 2014 study of entrepreneurial ecosystems undertaken by Colin Mason from the University of Glasgow and Ross Brown from the University of St Andrews for the OECD, developed a set of general principles for government policy in the relation to these ecosystems. They contrast “traditional” versus “growth-oriented” policy approaches to enterprise development. The first of these approaches tends to focus on trying to grow the total number of firms via business start-up programs, venture capital financing and investment in R&D or technology transfer. This is a “pick the winner model” and can also include business or technology incubators, grants, tax incentives and support programs. Such programs are essentially transactional in nature. It is not that they are of no value, but they cannot guarantee success via such direct intervention. A “growth oriented” approach is more relational in nature. This focuses on the entrepreneurial leadership of these growth firms. It seeks to understand their networks and how to foster the expansion of such networks at the local, national and international level. The most important thing is the strategic intent of the team running the business. Firms seeking to grow need to be given help in linking up with customers, suppliers and other “actors” within the ecosystem who can provide resources. Government ministers can play a critical role in fostering enterprise and innovation. Their role is to direct the government departments and agencies to focus on the problem and develop effective policies. A minister who has a good understanding of what entrepreneurial ecosystems are, how they form and the role and limitations of government policy is well-placed to generate more effective outcomes. Key recommendations for government policy In summary, key recommendations for government policy in the fostering of entrepreneurial ecosystems are: Make the formation of entrepreneurial activity a government priority - The formulation of effective policy for entrepreneurial ecosystems requires the active involvement of Government Ministers working with senior public servants who act as ‘institutional entrepreneurs’ to shape and empower policies and programs. Ensure that government policy is broadly focused - Policy should be developed that is holistic and encompasses all components of the ecosystem rather than seeking to ‘cherry pick’ areas of special interest. Allow for natural growth not top-down solutions - Build from existing industries that have formed naturally within the region or country rather than seeking to generate new industries from green field sites. Ensure all industry sectors are considered not just high-tech - Encourage growth across all industry sectors including low, mid and high-tech firms. Provide leadership but delegate responsibility and ownership - Adopt a ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ approach devolving responsibility to local and regional authorities. Develop policy that addresses the needs of both the business and its management team - Recognise that small business policy is ‘transactional’ while entrepreneurship policy is ‘relational’ in nature. For more reading see: Mazzarol, T. (2014) Growing and sustaining entrepreneurial ecosystems: What they are and the role of government policy, White Paper WP01-2014, Small Enterprise Association of Australia and New Zealand (SEAANZ). Note: Tim Mazzarol is President of the Small Enterprise Association of Australia and New Zealand Ltd (SEAANZ). SEAANZ Ltd. is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1987. It is dedicated to the advancement of research, education, policy and practice in small to medium enterprises. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Publishing startup Tablo has launched an iOS and Android app in a bid to help people discover and follow authors on the platform with ease. The Tablo Reader app, available on both the iTunes and Google Play stores, allows users to browse books by scrolling through opening lines and synopses and swipe at their favourites to read more. Readers are also able to follow particular authors and see their works being written in the cloud. The aim is to allow writers to build up a fan base in a similar way to how musicians can create a large following on YouTube and then draw the attention of record labels and industry heavyweights. Ash Davies, founder and chief executive of Tablo, told StartupSmart the new app is a “big step forward” for the startup’s goal of helping authors share stories and connect with readers. “Authors now have a wonderful place to publish their work and readers have a never-ending library of the best up-and-coming books,” he says. “We’ve worked hard to create an experience where you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Davies says the app was developed in response to consumer demand, and he hopes it will mean the next generation of bestselling authors will be discovered on the platform. “We’ve always had a plan to enter the mobile space, but lately this has been pulled by our users,” he says. “The demand for a reading app from our users has been very, very high.” Tablo currently has around 20,000 authors from 130 countries using its platform to publish more than a million words a day. Davies says he could never have imagined when he first founded the startup in 2012 that it would be this successful. His advice to other entrepreneurs is to focus on their product because if they get the product right, then growth will come naturally. “The past few months have been extraordinary and not something I would have expected,” he says. “The thing that’s got Tablo to this stage is focusing relentlessly on our product and focusing on our users. In an early stage company there is a trend for people to focus on their pitch deck, partnerships, pitching and PR – but the thing that’s helped us is aiming to have the best publishing product in the world.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty weird fit within corporate culture. Having never adhered very well to corporate dress codes, understood the reason for having a meeting to discuss a meeting or put the person who works the longest hours on a pedestal. It’s always been a little irregular for me to enjoy “office life”. A little over a year-and-a-half ago, I was working for a pseudo-government company when I decided it was time for a change. I interviewed for a marketing role within Melbourne startup ‘BugHerd’. Attending the interview in my usual corporate regalia, a grey suit skirt and shirt, I prepped with answers to the “usual” interview questions. “Why my greatest weakness would have to be that sometimes I pay too much attention to detail” (barf). I realised I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. The people in the office played loud music, they wore t-shirts and jeans, they talked to each other in casual tones and there weren’t any partitions, cubicles or meeting rooms in sight. My interviewers didn’t ask me the usual questions I’d prepped for and instead told me a little about the history of the company. What they’d been working on, what they were looking for and, most importantly, they wanted to know about me. Not about my “top 5 Marketing Strategies” but about what kind of person I was. (Of course we eventually covered my skill-set but not in the first interview). It was really refreshing and I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of it, even though I knew nothing about startups, little about the tech industry and even less about web development. However, I was technically proficient in digital marketing, had a good background in traditional marketing and have always had a roll-up-my-sleeves and ‘get shit done’ mentality. I got the job and started nice and fresh, waltzing in incredibly eager to make a big difference. I had a lot to learn. Other than the obvious differences between corporate and startup culture such as the lack of dress code, the plethora of beard styles and the casual working environment (thumbs up to all these things). I started to realise that I had to adapt my style of working, quickly. Things can change on a dime in less than 24 hours flat. I’d never heard of the term ‘pivot’ before but it sure makes sense in the startup world. You need to be able to adapt and move on as fast as you can. It was the first time my Google Analytics code was stripped from the site during the middle of a campaign that I was confronted with one of the challenges of the ever-changing nature of a startup. “That’s going to affect how I prove ROI?!” I would cry. I had to come to terms with, unlike in the corporate world, there being no “chains of command” or “hierarchy of reporting” in a startup and often the only person really interested in your very important reporting and analytics is you. Losing my data was the least of my troubles, it merely pointed to missing processes and protocols that I had the opportunity to implement along the way. Processes you can sometimes take for granted when you work with a corporate company. Marketers who can look to Brand Guidelines or Communications Strategies for guidance or have wonderful procedure manuals to turn to should be pretty thankful these documents exist. I’m thrilled to help create such resources, but will never again look the proverbial horse in the mouth for having them in the first place. Startup marketing can be lonely. Going from a marketing team to one person is challenging. Marketing folks are often outgoing, type-A kind of people who love to have a chin wag about what they’re doing with the rest of the marketing team. This is a luxury busy devs scarcely have time or inclination for, unless it’s within the realm of real time messaging services such as Hipchat or Slack. It can get very loud in a chat room (usually sharing amusing cat gifs) whilst you can hear a pin drop in the office. The blessing with such a small and accessible team is you can gain insight from people with whom you’d not normally have access to within the corporate world. It’s not often that marketing would have access to the IT team on a daily basis. In startup culture the term ‘marketing’ is oft referred to as ‘growth hacking’ (I don’t love the term). You’re looking for opportunities to grow the company as quickly and efficiently as possible. Scalability is key and it often feels like you’re in a constant state of test and learn, learn and test. A lack of historical data existing and having to rely on information such as peer recommendation or gut feelings can be very exciting though incredibly daunting at first. So many articles I’ve seen on Growth Hackers bang on about quick wins, constant iterating, testing and quick hacks. Though it’s so rewarding to get that first data in yourself and being optimising. I’m not proud to admit it, but in big corporate companies it’s sometimes easy to get away with being a bit slack. Depending on your career level (though I’ve known plenty of managers with questionable work outputs) you’re possibly just one tiny cog in a big machine. Despite the clichéd image of startup employees sitting around playing Nintendo all day, there really isn’t anywhere to hide. People without the aforementioned ‘get shit done’ attitude won’t go much further than the door. If you slack off, it’s noticed. Comparing the realm of corporate culture to venture into startup land is like comparing apples and Winnebagos. I do wonder if I’ll ever make it back to the land of the corporate and be able to hold down my job. Chanie Hyde is the marketing manager at Macropod. This piece was originally published on Medium. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Two of Scotland’s leading politicians illustrate an interesting phenomenon on Twitter. In the wake of the Scottish National Party’s surge in popularity following the independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have both gained large numbers of followers. Both have now amassed more than 100,000 each, with Salmond out in front with about 139,000. A high proportion of them are fakes, however. These fakes might be what social media specialists call “sock puppets” – fake accounts of individuals pretending to be someone else. These online imposters often follow celebrities to make themselves look more authentic, along with other tricks that include constant automated re-tweeting and constantly following and un-following other users. What is the point of these sock puppets, you may be wondering. One obvious advantage is that they can be parcelled up and sold in batches to people and organisations seeking extra Twitter followers. Make me popular! Social media is one of the fastest-growing areas of marketing. One study in which I was involved concluded that there is indeed no such thing as negative publicity if Twitter is used effectively. Organisations and individuals realise that having a healthy social media following increases trust from prospective customers. You want everybody to know your business is popular. You can build a strong following by developing good content and relationships with other users, particularly those who will either help amplify your message or act upon it. This takes time, however, not to mention the human resources required to plan and engage with your following. So people are sometimes tempted to take shortcuts, including buying Twitter followers, retweets, Facebook likes or YouTube video views. You name it, it can be bought. Sometimes they might do it themselves; sometimes it might be the social media agency that manages their account, or even a sub-contractor. Nor does this cost a great deal. Visit some websites offering these services and you find that thousands of Twitter followers can be had for as little as £5. Such shortcuts certainly seem to be popular. Data from the Google AdWords keyword research tool shown below reveals that on average, more than 40,000 searches are conducted per month that use the keyword “buy twitter followers”. Is it worth it? If the followers are simply accounts that do not have any human interaction or just re-tweet everything that your account says, they are of very little value. A number of studies suggest that simply having a large number of followers does not indicate that you have an influential Twitter profile. What is more important is that viewers can see that the account has been recently updated and the content is not simply a monologue about the great things that the organisation offers. Twitter is a social platform and although there is room for sharing content, it is also about listening and engaging with others. If an account interacts and replies to its audience, it is usually much more useful and influential compared to an account with thousands of followers but does not tweet to them. A number of tools exist that can help people analyse the value of their Twitter profile. For instance Sprout Social looks at engagement and influence. Here’s what it makes of Alex Salmond (139,000 follows) compared to Salford Business School (2,000 follows): Salmond might have vastly more followers, but his account actually scores slightly lower than our business school. It is worth pointing out here that you would expect an account that has lots of fake followers to score badly on these metrics. Another good analysis tool is FollowerWonk. Here’s what it has to say about David Cameron, Nicola Sturgeon and Salmond: I’ve included the follower numbers for context, but you can see that criteria such as engagement, average followers per day, total tweets and average tweets per day are also used to show the success of an account’s performance. We can clearly see that Nicola Sturgeon is much more active compared to the other two accounts. David Cameron is still attracting more followers per day, however, which could be due to his high profile or because he is a more popular target for those celebrity-following sock puppets. It is worth adding that fake accounts are not something Twitter encourages, as its spamming rules make clear. Twitter wants to remove and suspend these accounts, partly because it could undermine its own advertising-based business model. This is backed up by advertising regulators such as the UK’s Committee of Advertising Practice, whose non-broadcast-advertising code requires that any paid social-media endorsements be declared to the consumer of that information. In short, purchasing fake Twitter followers is both a waste of money and considered spam. It is not about your number of followers but how engaged they are and how useful these are in pursuing your objectives. On the other hand just because an account is not behaving as expected by the norm – not tweeting, for example – it is not to say it is a fake. The vast majority of internet users are “lurkers” – interested to read content but don’t want to share their views. If you are one of these lurkers, beware. Your account might be suspended or blocked if you don’t change your image from an egg to your profile and you don’t attempt to engage with others! This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
When technology, and the companies behind it, fails, the end can come in a number of different ways. A technology can be mercifully put down, as with Google’s failed hardware media player, the Nexus Q. Alternatively, a failing company can be bought and shut down, as in the case of the once famous personal digital assistant maker Palm, who were bought, and then shut down by HP. Failing companies can also enter a more indeterminate, zombie state where the company may still earn enough money to stay open, but the company itself, and the products they produce, will never again be a significant force in the technology landscape. Recognising a zombie company Recognising zombie companies and technology is relatively easy. Companies with a languishing share price that shareholders are clearly only holding onto because they hope the company will be bought, is one clear indicator. Blackberry’s shares for example, popped 30% on the rumour that Samsung was about to buy the beleagured mobile phone company. The shares crashed back to their original value after the company denied the reports. Twitter and Yahoo also both benefited from the suggestion by ex CEO Ross Levinsohn that they should merge. The fact that the market should respond to these types of rumours are clear signs that the companies have exhausted the option of developing their own products to continue making them relevant or competing against the market leaders. Discussions about the death of a company or technology Another indicator of a zombie company are the number of discussions that occur about whether the company/technology is actually dead or whether it will see a resurrection. This is being played out right now after Google’s announcement that its much maligned smart glasses were being pulled from public sale. Commentators are divided as to whether this signifies the complete death of the product or merely a pause before some form of re-launch. Google Glass has become a zombie product because even if it does survive, it will never have anything other than marginal interest. In another case, reviews of BlackBerry’s latest phone, the Passport have tried to imply that this will somehow reverse its fortunes. Others propose growth for the company through services rather than hardware. The key thing for zombie companies however is not to confuse the ability to stay in business with the fact that the business is actually viable. In the UK in 2013 for example, there were approximately 160,000 companies that were capable of staying afloat because they could pay the interest on their loans but had no way of ever being able to pay back the actual loans themselves. Companies like Twitter for example, who are as yet to make a profit from anything other than the selling of their shares, can keep going on their IPO proceeds and by convincing people to invest further on the basis that they will eventually make money. The interesting thing with Twitter is that there is the belief that it can still make money somehow, with the right management. There are increasing calls for the CEO Dick Costolo to resign even though it may simply be that there is no viable way for Twitter to make enough money from its social network. Zombie technologies Zombie technologies pose a greater problem than zombie companies because it covers everyone involved in that technology. Zombie technologies are interesting because they often result from over-hyped expectations about their significance leading to a gold-rush surge of companies trying to catch the early wave of expectation. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for example, were going to transform the higher education sector by offering high-quality, free, online courses to the world. Companies like Coursera are still going only because of the large amounts of money that they have raised from venture capitalists. Unfortunately, the higher education industry proved resilient to change and Coursera’s attempts to make money out of ongoing professional education is never going to realise the ambitions of their investors. The same outcome is true for other MOOC companies like Udacity and edX. Another topical zombie technology are crypto-currencies like Bitcoin. Bitcoin’s 80% fall in value since its peak in the past year has cemented its general failure to gain acceptance by governments, the financial sector and the public at large. This doesn’t mean the end of Bitcoin as there will be fringe uses for this technology supported by a core group of loyal fans. Its zombie state however will continue to be confused with a technology simply waiting for the right market opportunity to become the basis for the world’s future digital economy. Zombie companies present a real problem in that they lock in funds, and employees who could otherwise be working more productively within their own startups or other companies. Of course, eventually companies will stop trading, or be bought for their remaining assets, but that time may be surprisingly far into the future. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
With the recent acquisition by Facebook of voice-recognition company Wit.ai, all four major players in the post-PC market (Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook) now have a significant infrastructure for hands-free communication with your device. But what will that mean for our communication with our devices? Is voice just another method to talk to your computer, or are we on the cusp of a revolution in computer communication? How old is your keyboard, anyway? The humble computer mouse was created in the 1960s by engineer Doug Engelbart. The keyboard, through its ancestor the teleprinter, is even older, having been developed in the 1900s by mechanical engineer Charles Krum and connected to a video display terminal that owes its ancestry to a device developed in the 1930s. Despite the age of these devices, they still remain the main input devices for your personal computer on your desk or laptop. Sure, they have more buttons, or more colours, or higher resolution, but the basic input mechanism for the average home computer is the same now as it was in 1984 when the Macintosh became the first commercially available computer to provide a graphical user interface and mouse and keyboard input. Even the multi-touch screen, made famous by the iPhone and other devices in 2007, could be considered a direct descendant of the mouse, simply moving control of the pointer from an indirect method on your desk to a more direct method on the screen. But perhaps that is all about to change, with voice-recognition technology finally becoming important to the main players and other technology changing the way we interact with computers. Your voice is your password to a world of possibilities Like the mouse and keyboard, voice-recognition technology has been around for a number of years. Commercial voice-recognition software has been available for computers since the early 1990s. But it was only with the advent of technologies such as Apple’s Siri and Google’s Voice Search around 2010 that voice recognition became part of many people’s lives. Through a natural language, context-aware interface that is always connected to the Internet, technologies such as Siri allow users to address a vast range of needs while skipping touching their device altogether. Instead, they rely on their voice to set timers, check the weather, find movie times and even query where to hide a body. In 2014, Microsoft introduced Cortana, a Siri-like competitor, meaning that all three leading smartphone platforms had voice recognition. Also in 2014, Apple introduced the “Hey Siri” feature in iOS 8, allowing users to “hail” a smartphone from across the room (as long as it’s plugged in) and ask it a question without touching any buttons at all. Finally, in 2012 Google released Google Now, an extension to Google Voice Search that provides users with contextual information prior to them requesting it, such as providing traffic information as you leave the office or a list of good restaurants to eat at when you arrive in a new town. And it’s widely rumoured that both Google and Apple have plans for voice-recognition technology in their television products as well. While these solutions sometimes have a way to go (John Malkovich surely remains the only person in history to get Siri to correctly interpret “Linguica”), they present a starkly different view from the mouse-keyboard combination of old. It surely won’t be long before users can have a standard conversation with their device, talking it through a problem rather than frantically tapping the on-screen keyboard or clicking the mouse. Blending the digital and the physical world The revolution extends beyond our voice to other devices as well. It would appear that along with replacing old-fashioned input devices, output devices like the monitor are slowly being phased out. Earlier this year, before it acquired Wit.ai, Facebook made news for acquiring pioneering virtually reality company, Oculus VR for a staggering $US2.3 billion. The major product of Oculus VR is the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that immerses you fully in a 3D virtual experience. Using positional sensors, the Oculus Rift can track your head movements to allow you to look around the environment. The device is still in development. Given the cost of the development kit at around $A400, it’s expected that the final product will retail for less than $A500, bringing virtual reality to the everyday consumer. Even if you don’t want full immersion, new output products are making it easier for us to step in and out of a digital world without needing a computer monitor. Google Glass, still in development but having been in beta for a number of years, provides a small display that you can view while wearing the glasses. Products such as the new Android Wear watches from Motorola and others, as well as the Pebble smartwatch and upcoming Apple Watch, provide us with small, customised views into the digital world. These can all put notifications, music control, sleep and activity monitoring and all the power of those voice-control systems literally at our fingertips, all without the need to use a full input or output device. Even in your car, Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay provide a glanceable, touchscreen and voice-controlled interface to your smartphone to ensure you’re always connected to the cloud. Sensors everywhere Beyond these standard options, input devices and data-gathering devices are continuing to pop up in places that we don’t expect, making it easier to interact with your devices and control your digital world. At the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) this year, gadgets using Bluetooth Low Energy for communication with your home network abound, from a smart chair that helps you work out to a pot for your plants that monitors their vitals and allows you to apply water with a touch of a button. These add to items from the last year such as the connected toothbrush that monitors your brushing time and style and reports on how you’re doing and the Vessyl cup, a smart cup that can tell you the calorie and caffeine content of your beverages as well as keep track of your daily water intake. No longer are we tied to our keyboard and mouse to look up and record this data. Our devices will now do it for us automatically and let us know when something needs to be changed. This trend towards the Internet of Things has been brewing for a number of years, but if the CES is any indication, this year shows a real explosion in external input devices that collect data about us and feed it into the cloud. It will be interesting to see what the future brings. It could be argued that the new ways of communicating with your computer are already here, although just beginning. As the year progresses and these models mature, perhaps it won’t be long before we are speaking to our device using natural language while wearing a VR headset and being instantly alerted about the status of our plants and how much activity, sleep and caffeine we’ve had so far today. With all of these solutions, perhaps finally the old mouse and keyboard are looking mighty old-fashioned. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Facebook has begun trials of its Facebook at Work service, a cloud-based platform that allows business to create social networks for staff, with the project led by an engineer who launched one of Sydney’s most successful startups. Development on the project is being led by Lars Rasmussen, who was the cofounder of a Sydney-based mapping startup called Where 2 Technologies that was subsequently acquired by Google and rebranded as Google Maps. After his success with Google Maps, Rasmussen went on to lead the development of Google’s ill-fated Google Wave project, which was intended as a real-time collaborative document editing platform. TechCrunch reports an app for Facebook at Work has appeared on the iTunes app store, with an Android version set to go live shortly and another version accessible through the Facebook’s website. News of the service first leaked in November last year. Facebook at Work will also give employees the option of either using a single login for both their work and personal accounts, or the ability to keep both separate. Facebook at Work is set to compete against collaboration platforms such as Microsoft’s Yammer. Microsoft announced it is combining its business-focused Lync video conferencing and instant messaging app with Skype to create a new package called Skype for Business late last year. This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.
THE NEWS WRAP: Founder of ShipYourEnemiesGlitter says site made five-figures in sales within 24 hours1:08PM | Wednesday, 14 January
The founder of ShipYourEnemiesGlitter, an Australian startup that took the internet by storm yesterday, says his website is for sale after turning over five figures in less than a day. Mathew Carpenter – who also founded the Bye Rupert web browser extension – took to Twitter to say he was willing to sell his website which allows people to send enemies glitter in the mail for $10. Everyone from The New York Times to Mashable ran stories on the startup after the website was featured on Product Hunt and Reddit. Carpenter claims the website received one million visits, 270,000 shares on social media and made six figures from glitter sales within one hour. ShipYourEnemiesGlitter with 1m visits, 270k social shares, $xx,xxx in sales, tonnes of people wanting to order. 24 hours old. For sale. — Mathew Carpenter (@matcarpenter) January 14, 2015 Facebook unveils Facebook At Work Facebook is making the leap into the enterprise market with the launch of its new Facebook At Work product. TechCrunch reports the platform will allow businesses to create their own social networks among employees in a manner that looks and operates just like standard Facebook. Facebook At Work is available on the iTunes and Google Play stores, and will also be accessible through the company’s main site. Employees can create separate accounts for the work accounts; however, they can then link this to their personal profile. Online education company Lynda raises $186 million Online education company Lynda.com has announced a $186 million capitals raise to accelerate acquisitions and new content initiatives. The capital raise was led by global investment firm TOG along with existing investors Accel Partners, Spectrum Equity and Meritech. Chief executive of Lynda, Eric Robison, said in a statement the investment was a “tremendous vote of confidence” in the company’s ability to empower people through learning. Lynda.com offers thousands of online classes and video tutorials to its users in English, French, German and Spanish. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 172.43 points, falling 0.98% to 17,441.25. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US82 cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Tax is back in the spotlight with coalition MPs and the Australia Institute talking about getting rid of some of the exemptions to the GST. There has also been a lot of talk about whether or not corporate Australia is paying their fair share of tax. Many big companies, including Apple and Google have been in the firing line because of the small amount of tax they pay on their Australian earnings. Some suggest that our corporate tax rate is too high and this creates a strong incentive for multinationals to shift taxable income to other countries. Lowering our corporate tax rate and shifting to taxes that target economic rent could help resolve structural problems with our tax system, create a more productive economy and reduce incentives for corporate tax dodging. Such a tax shift could be designed to be revenue neutral or to increase overall tax take. Even for many economists, economic rent is a slippery term that’s difficult to grasp. Economic rent is unearned income. This means that it has no clearly associated cost of production. Unearned income can be obtained in many different ways but is almost always derived from privileged access to something scarce. The market power that monopolies can employ to raise prices generates economic rent. A rise in land values beyond inflation generates economic rent for the owner (the “earned” income from real estate is the actual rent or value derived from the use of the land). Unearned income also comes from artificial scarcity created by government policy. Taxi licenses and poker machine licenses are clear examples. When a communication company uses a part of the electromagnetic spectrum for profit making, nobody else can use that wavelength. The auctioning of electromagnetic spectrum is an effective type of economic rent tax. The spectrum gets put to efficient use and the public is compensated for giving up a shared resource. The company then profits according to how well they use the resource rather than simply because they have a monopoly over it. There is bipartisan support for the auctioning of electromagnetic spectrum but the principle can be applied much more broadly. The same logic sits behind mineral resource rent taxes - such as the first incarnation of the now-abolished mining tax. When the international price of a resource goes up, those who own the resource (every Australian) receive little benefit. The benefit goes to the mining companies even though they have done nothing to facilitate those price rises and they don’t own the material whose price has risen. This is unearned income and could be taxed in order to return the income flows to the public. Most businesses in Australia would greatly benefit from a tax shift to economic rents with a commensurate reduction in company tax and the abolition of inefficient taxes such as stamp duties and insurance taxes. Vast sums of money that are currently directed towards rent seeking would be redirected into productive activity, generating employment and diversifying the economy. Boom and bust property cycles would be flattened due to reduced speculation and, as a result, the broader scale ups and downs of the business cycle would be somewhat moderated. While the 2010 Henry Tax Review recommended many rent-based taxes (including land tax, gambling taxes and a resource rent tax) as well as taxing environmental degradation, very few of the recommendations were endorsed, let alone implemented. The most significant of the recommendations that were implemented (even if somewhat half-heartedly), the carbon tax and the mining tax, have recently been repealed, primarily due to the inevitable backlash of the rent-seekers. The political hurdles to serious tax reform are very high. However, the consequences of not reforming the tax system are severe. Tax reform policies are easy prey for opportunistic political opponents. This is why we need some clear principles for tax reform that are clearly explained to the public. Liberal politicians should favour shifting taxes off productive business and onto economic rents and the exploitation of shared resources because such reforms target market failure and free up productive and sustainable businesses to flourish. Labor politicians too should approve of these principles because they reduce taxes on labour and shift them onto the rent seekers who contribute little to society. The inherently progressive nature of most rent taxes should also appeal to The Greens, the Labor left and the increasing number of others concerned about economic inequality. Our politicians will need courage to stand up to powerful individuals and groups who have an interest in maintaining the status quo. They can get that courage from the rest of us who stand to benefit from a taxation system that supports a more productive and sustainable economy. This article originally appeared at The Conversation. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
A Melbourne-based startup is looking to make it easy to create fun, visual polls to drive user engagement for businesses and publishers. Chant, a mobile-first app, launched a public beta version this month so users can put together opinion polls using images, Tweets and YouTube videos quickly and – most importantly – for free. Co-founder Matt Garrett told StartupSmart Chant is “a lot richer” than a simple text-based polling experience. “It’s not limited to the big publishers or your individual bloggers, it’s targeted to the whole market out there,” he says. “It’s about simple polls in a matter of minutes that look great and can be used across platforms.” Garrett says Chant is looking to rival – and eventually replace – the polling service Polar, which was recently acquired by Google. After being acquired by the tech giant, it was announced Polar would leave the market in mid-2015 and its team assigned to Google+. “Polar had some great successes and we think there is a gap in the market now,” Garrett says. “There are more complex systems out there, but there’s not anything else out there to rival Pollar and we definitely think we have some product features that will not only match it but add to the experience.” Online polling is potentially worth big money, with popular platform SurveyMonkey raising $250 million in equity financing last month – meaning the company is now valued at around $2 billion. As for Chant’s target market, Garrett says the startup will “definitely” have its sights set on tech companies and small businesses. “It’s really easy to create a graphic and visual poll to allow your users to give you responses around what products or features they might prefer,” he says. “Or, in sport, it would be which catch was better or who was best on field. And in a politics or news environment, I can think of a number of examples.” Garrett says the company has a lot of exciting ideas up its sleeve “for the longer roadmap”, but will initially focus on what works and what doesn’t. “We’ll just see what the new year brings. The next two months are about creating that buzz and seeing what the response is in the market and we’ll tailor our response from there.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Catch Group, Shoes of Prey and up to 50 other Australian online retailers’ intellectual property caught up in phishing net1:26AM | Wednesday, 7 January
Intellectual property belonging to more than 50 Australian online retailers, including top names such as Catch of the Day and Shoes of Prey, appears to have been hijacked as part of an online phishing scam. In January last year, popular footwear and accessories chain PeepToe Shoes, which was launched in 2007 by designer Nikki Hager, collapsed into administration. The company was subsequently liquidated by KordaMentha, with Hager joining Sydney-based fashion label Izoa and the Catch Group, parent company of popular online retailer Catch of the Day, purchasing its intellectual property. But a website later appeared at peeptoeshoes.com.au with the branding of another popular Australian retailer, Shoes of Prey. In a statement, a spokesperson from the Catch Group told SmartCompany the company still owns the PeepToe brand but has no association with peeptoeshoes.com.au. “The Catch Group bought the PeepToe brand and some of the stock after the company went into administration. The product is still marketed through Catch. Catch owns the peeptoe.com.au domain rather than peeptoeshoes.com.au so they have no association with this website,” the spokesperson says. Likewise, a spokesperson for Shoes of Prey says the retailer has no connection to Peeptoe Shoes and is investigating the matter. A link appearing on the bottom-right hand corner of peeptoeshoes.com.au links to a landing page on a website called Strawberry Bay, with a layout similar to the Shoes of Prey page, which asks users to hand over their email address in exchange for daily deals. A Google search reveals the Strawberry Bay website also has landing pages for more than 50 other Australian-based domain names, including names such as Boat Books, Gardening Central, Hobby World and Our Deals. Search engine optimisation expert Jim Stewart told SmartCompany it appears the brands of Australian online retailers are being used as part of a ‘phishing scam’, where the names and logos of legitimate businesses are used to fool people into handing over personal information. “I’d say someone is buying expired domain names and redirecting them to this Strawberry Bay site,” Stewart says. “It looks like they’re lining up expired domains, then redirecting people to a landing page at Strawberry Bay, grabbing an email address and then sending out spam.” Stewart says there are a number of steps businesses that find their intellectual property copied by scammers can take. “The first thing you need to do is know when it happens, and one way to do that is to use Google Alerts or other tools to find out when another website appears with your content,” Stewart says. “The other thing you can do to beat the spammers is to make sure your genuine website gets indexed first. The way to do that is to maintain Google webmaster tools.” “When you publish something on your website, search for it in Google, and if that page doesn’t appear, make sure you go into Webmaster tools and tell Google to index it.” “Also, if you find someone cloning your content at a .com.au top-level domain, after telling asking them to take it down, you should pursue legal action. But for other top-level domains it’s a lot more difficult.” However, intellectual property lawyer Steve White told SmartCompany businesses should weigh up legal costs before pursuing action against online scammers. “It appears there are multiple potential claims of misleading or deceptive conduct in breach of the Australian Consumer Law. The question is how much money you want to spend in defending your rights,” White says. “The remedy is to take legal action, but the costs are quite large. A successful party will receive costs, but not all costs.” This article originally appeared at SmartCompany.
Whether it’s to do with people’s privacy or physical safety, everyone seems to love talking about drones and other remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs). A government crackdown and layers of red tape make a great headline, but will Australia really see some of the world’s toughest drone regulations in 2015 as reported by Fairfax? Not likely, according to Peter Gibson – the spokesperson for the Civil Aviation and Safety Authority. “We have got a number of projects on the way at the moment relating to recreational and commercial drones,” he says. “One of those is something we foreshadowed last year, which is creating the sub-two kilogram category for remote controlled aircraft. We went out to consultation with that, however we haven’t made a final decision whether or not to go ahead.” A number of experts StartupSmart contacted were of the view CASA would deregulate drones under two kilograms for recreational use. Gibson says if changes relating to drones weighing less than two kilograms were to go ahead, they would likely be released in the first half of this year. However, he says overall 2015 will be the “consultation stage” for any major overhauls of the regulations surrounding RPAs. “We also have several projects underway looking at the rules covering recreational drones with a view to update those because they were written in 2002,” Gibson says. “We’re looking to update the rules to take into account new technology and the popularity now of drones. So we just need to look at how we can make the rules as relevant as possible to the current situation and as simple and easy to use as possible for the average drone user.” As for the commercial sector, Gibson says CASA is reviewing the rules relating to remotely piloted aircraft because they were written around 12 years ago. However, it is unlikely these changes will be completed in 2015. “The main focus is not making it tougher, it’s about making them across the board more relevant and up-to-date,” he says. “Right throughout the process of reviewing both the drones and RPA rules there will be consultation with relevant groups as well as public consultation before firm, final proposals are put forward. There will be the chance for everyone to have their say.” Francis Vierboom, founder of drone surveying startup Propeller Aerobotics, told StartupSmart remotely piloted aircraft will shake-up the construction industry. “We expect a huge part of the growth in this industry will be related to the under-two kilogram class,” he says. “It’s possible to do some really valuable work without going over two kilograms and that means companies will be able to start brining drones in-house because they are low-cost and there won’t be red tape if that class is deregulated.” As for speculation CASA will crack down on drones due to public safety concerns, Vierboom says some concerns are valid – however the focus should be on the good that drones can do for Australian industries. “A lot of the concerns around drones are around privacy,” he says. “Those are really valid but the big growth in drones isn’t going to be flying over people’s houses – it’s going to be on construction sites. That’s where the revolution will happen.” Matthew Sweeny, founder of world-first drone delivery startup Flirtey, told StartupSmart he hopes CASA will be proactive rather than reactive by promoting “forward-thinking regulation” that sparks innovation and creates jobs in Australia. “We're entering a drone age where this technology will have applications all around to give us new perspectives on life, as well as to save lives by conducting urgent medical deliveries,” he says. “Shutting down the Australian drone industry today would be akin to banning modems in the early days of the internet. Do you think Google would have brought its drones to Australia for testing if we had prohibitive regulations? Unreasonable regulations will stifle local innovation.” Sweeny says all around the world countries are moving towards more liberal regulations on remotely piloted aircraft, and he hopes Australia will follow suit. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
The harsh reality is that failure fucking sucks. Don’t let the startup mantras and hashtags fool you. Failure is emotionally draining, physically exhausting and psychologically frustrating. In some circles, it’s externally glorified, and in others, overwhelmingly demonised. I know this today, more than most days. Today we shut the doors down on OutTrippin, our company, our baby and the love of our life for the past two years. Notice how I struggle to even say the word failure in that sentence? It’s not a strategic choice of words; it’s just agonising to say the words: My company failed. I keep telling myself failure is an opportunity. Based on the generally positive demeanour I’ve had over the past few days, many might think I do believe it. Sometimes, I think I believe it too. I can logically draw the lines and understand why failure can be, and should be an opportunity, but sometimes logic just goes out the window. Because when I dig deep, behind the pleasant demeanour, behind the words, behind the actions, late at night as I lie awake, tossing and turning, a paralysing realization starts to sink in and the “truths” you keep telling yourself during the day can no longer mask the reality. Failure. Fucking. Sucks. It’s a funny little world. I remember when we started this adventure two years ago. Indi, my cofounder, and I met in a hostel in Buenos Aires. Traveling through, we became fast friends and when we happened to find ourselves in the same beautiful city a few months later, this time to live, ended up as flatmates and eventually as co-founders. We’ve been all over the shop, from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Melbourne to New York, and San Francisco to Dubai. We put it all on the line to realize our vision of what this world may look like if each person travelled more, travelled better and found experiences that they found truly amazing and eye opening. We think it would make us a happier people, a more understanding civilization, a more loving race. And so we tried. And try hard we did. We started OutTrippin, to build products that let people get personalised recommendations for truly amazing experiences on their travels. Our first product was a service that let travel experts compete to build your vacation. We took investment, we moved continents, we dealt with visa bullshit, joined an accelerator, found mentors and experimented with product, partners and business models. We failed, we learned, and we got up and tried again. And never thought that one day, we would get up to try again, but OutTrippin would not. We never thought OutTrippin would fail. Nine out of 10 startups fail. That’s a statistical fact (well, more like just an estimate). And yet, every account from an entrepreneur with a failed startup, the recurring theme always is: ‘I never thought my startup would fail.’ It’s the combination of the narcissistic nature of entrepreneurship (that I, as a single human can change this world of 7 billion people). It is also the stressed importance and almost glorification of hardship (Airbnb and their one thousand days of failure) that has allowed us to create this magical bubble of optimism. We allow ourselves to reach for unimaginable heights and work our asses off, all with the belief that we are the outlier – we are not the 90%, even if statistical reality says otherwise. And boy that bubble is simply amazing. It’s energising in the face of impossible (improbable) odds. It’s invigorating even in the darkest hours, when all seems lost, and it gives you permission to go after goals that most others have deemed impossible. Because, you, your beautiful, intelligent, passionate self is the person to achieve the impossible (improbable). And. It. Is. Glorious. Right up until it all comes crashing down. And 90% of the time, it does. Today, it came crashing down for my startup and my life for the past two years. People ask me, what happened? It all seemed to be going so well, I thought? I was back in Santiago, Chile in April 2013 when I was skyping with Indi on a Wednesday evening, who was stopping by Melbourne for a friend’s wedding. She said I’d love this city. She said I’d love all the cute hipster girls (she knows me well) and that we should totally think about moving there. I considered it for half a second and thought I’d see who’s investing in Melbourne on AngelList. After a few messages with Adrian Stone and Nathan Sampimon, by Friday morning just two days later, Indi was pitching OutTrippin to a crew of angels. We all got on a Saturday group skype, and by Monday AngelCube invited us to join their 2014 batch. The only catch was I had to move to Melbourne in four days – by Friday morning. Many would say “no way, that’s absolutely ridiculous”. For us, it was a no-brainer. A day of packing, some serious hustling for visas and few tearful and sudden goodbyes later, we were off to Melbourne, myself from Santiago and João from Portugal, just one week since Indi suggested we consider Melbourne as the next stop on OutTrippin’s journey. Startup founders get used to living on the knife’s edge because anything can happen. In fact, anything happens all the time. For every amazing thing I tell you is happening, there is an equally destructive thing that could also happen to the company. For every potential ascension and growth opportunity, there is a deep dark valley we could plunge into. Things can be amazing and terrible at the same time. For every huge deal we close, it can all fall apart before we’ve even had a chance to finish the champagne. So we learn to drink up quickly. We learn to manage the constant threat of things falling apart. We mask it behind the amazing potential. But masking it doesn’t make it go away. It’s always there. It’s a condition without a cure, the best we can do is manage it, mitigate it, and accept it. And that’s just how it goes. Sometimes it all comes crashing down like a house of cards. So what went wrong? I don’t believe that only one thing going wrong can kill a company. Usually it’s a catalogue of things that go wrong that brings any company to this point. It was no different for us. Everything that could have gone wrong did. That includes everything from business model failure, partial failures in team dynamics, general tiredness of doing this thing this long and go through yet another product and biz failure and a difficult investor climate in the travel industry. But, most of all, market dynamics pushed us onto a mountain that we kept trying to ascend only to eventually realize that that mountain was not our Everest. It wasn’t our Everest Startups are hard. And it’s not made easier when life things happen. Back in 2013, we were going through AngelCube, an intense three month accelerator program that essentially takes over your life. Similar to other accelerators, the non-stop ferocious nature of the program requires you to park your life entirely for 90 days and focus on your company and company alone. But life, as you might expect, makes other plans. From 7000 thousand miles away, I got a call no son should ever get: A hysterical sister and mother trying to tell you that your dad, the man who you could always turn to, is no longer there. And suddenly, everything changes. Everything that you knew to be true no longer is. Everything you knew about life is shrouded in doubt. Everything you were you no longer are. I left immediately to return home (obviously), leaving my cofounders to keep the company going while I tried to simply accept what had just happened. You never realise the strength of the bonds you create with those who you start a company with until it’s put to the test. We fought through what was the worst moment of my life and my co-founders Indi and João helped me put myself back together in a way that made me think that nothing could stop us from ascending our Everest, all because we had just survived the worst moment of my life. With all the sleepless nights, grey hair and the financial disaster that is your personal bank account, you’d think we’re nuts to go after the impossible (improbable) odds. But the truth is, when it’s a vision you so passionately believe in, everything else fades away. You say “who cares about the grey hair, I’m on the George Clooney aging plan”. You say “you’ll sleep when you’re dead”. Money schmoney, this is why you have credit cards. It’s all good if you can keep going after your vision. It’s all good as long as you have your Everest. And that’s why, it’s so very, very, very crucial to find your Everest. No other mountain is worth climbing OutTrippin was our Everest for a long time. But we were also open to following the market to wherever it might lead us. And this time, we were led astray. In the world of travel planning, finding a business model that works is like hunting for unicorns. It’s why there has been little to no competition to TripAdvisor on the travel planning front for the past decade. We’ve always had an amazing community of travel writers and bloggers and we’ve always had a concept that got people really excited. The problem has always been to find a business model that could scale. From OTAs to airlines, from content companies to hotels, we experimented for a sustainable route to create high quality expert generated travel content at scale. What a mouthful, I know. With a recently launched B2B (business to business) product targeting hotels, we came damn close too. But it dragged the company to a place where we dealt with slow moving behemoths and a B2B sales cycle that makes movements of glaciers look like that of a Ferrari. We could make peace with that, I think, but we couldn’t make peace with the fact that this wasn’t the mountain we wanted to climb. We wanted to focus on creating more magic with our apps on the consumer side. But without the revenue from hotel partners to cover content costs, it would all come crashing down like a house of cards. The travel industry’s investor climate is colder than the arctic. It is notoriously difficult. There are fair few success stories (Airbnb and HotelTonight are the only ones that come to mind and are essentially in the accommodation booking space) and there hasn’t been a legitimate challenger to TripAdvisor in over a decade. Investors are sceptical and rightfully so. Many don’t understand the space and those that do know exactly how hard it is. Either way, doesn’t make quite the savvy investment, does it?! What that means is that most travel startups are going to have to prove 10 times more than their counterparts for similar valuations and investment, all in an effort to overcome the industry bias. Doesn’t make it impossible, just a whole lot harder. And that just meant that we had become a company that did things the bootstrapped way. A specific conversation I had with my cofounder still rings out in my mind. I told her of a random idea I concocted in the shower the night before. It combined the Tinder and Swipe concepts, presenting amazing things to do in the city, and an ‘algorithm’ that would put together a timely version of an itinerary with the things you like most with the time constraints you had. Groundbreaking? Not at all. But her response is what was most telling. She asked: “How do we make money from this?” It wasn’t one sided, there were many conversations where I played the role of “show me the money!” We had just become a company with a “show me the money” culture. Remarkably, it helped us become self-sufficient and we probably made more revenue than most travel startups our stage, mostly because we had no choice but to keep on hustling. But it also left no room for errors. And it meant that any new idea came constrained with the question: How do we make money from this? And that, ultimately stifled our creativity. All that pressure took its toll on the team too. It did us no favours that part of the team, mainly João, was on the other side of the world with a 12 hour timezone difference. Sure, tools like Github, Google Hangout, Slack, Basecamp and countless others help you manage team workflow no matter where they are, but there are no tools to help manage emotions and morale. And startups are just as much an emotional journey as anything else. When the person you work with day in and day out sits next to you, you can see how they feel, when to push, when to support and when to get them a glass of wine or a gin and tonic. But when you have a two hour window in a day to work together, you barely have time to get past work to really get to know how they are truly feeling and how you might help. I caught up with Indi last week after her trip to visit family in Sydney, and mine to visit family in Dubai. It seemed like a moment away from the home base of OutTrippin had helped us clear our heads and understand who we were and what we believed. We had a glass of wine and our thoughts and, dare I say it, “feelings” just seemed to come rolling out. We talked about how this B2B product we created for hotels as the revenue and content driver for OutTrippin had become the bane of our existence. It seemed to have pushed us in a corner of the market we had no interest in. How the god awful B2B sales cycle with hotels made me crave a shot of vodka simply to answer an email. We talked about how it was convoluted that we never believed in this new product but were willing to do it if it made it easier to pursue our core vision. About how the reality was that it didn’t. It didn’t make it easier to pursue. It didn’t follow our core vision. And it certainly wasn’t our Everest. Eventually, it became clear to us that it was tiresome to even feign excitement over this new direction we were taking, all to keep surviving as a company. We spent the past two years of our lives on OutTrippin because we were driven by the magical memories that we helped create. From sci-fi themed honeymoons in New York City to diving trips in Malaysia, from bachelor parties in Austin to a girls’ trip to Iceland, these stories and countless others that we’ve helped make are absolutely epic. And for this we are prouder than a dog with two tails. But the more we moved in this new direction to keep surviving, the more the magic faded. And that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the stark realization that in an effort to keep surviving as a company, we had started climbing a mountain that wasn’t our Everest. And that wasn’t fair to our users, our customers, our community and it definitely wasn’t fair to us. There is no logic in building a company whose direction you no longer believe in So, it’s time for us to find a new challenge, and bring this crazy train we’ve been on to its final destination. As I sit here, listening to Frank Sinatra lay down some truth bombs, I can’t help but resonate with ol’ blue eyes: “I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king. I’ve been up and down and over and out but I know one thing: Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is life (and I can’t deny it). I feel a surprising ease that I cannot explain. Considering all of the above, one would think that I would be a wreck but it’s quite the opposite. I’m energised by the decision as opposed to burdened by it. There isn’t a trace of regret. Maybe it’s because I’ve made my peace with it. Maybe it’s because I don’t know what’s next but that excites the living hell out of me. Maybe it’s because I get to restart the search for my Everest, because I am just as thrilled to climb it now as I was when I started OutTrippin. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because failure is just another opportunity to start again. This time, faster, better, stronger, and (most importantly) more intelligently. Kunal Kalro is the founder and chief executive of @OutTrippin. Kalro speaks four languages and is perpetually living out of his suitcase. He has spent most of his time last year in Chile, Australia, Dubai, India and US. This article first appeared on Medium.
Don’t be mesmerised by cool apps and flashy new gizmos – the top technology inventions of the year are ones that will have a lasting effect. Most are advances in fields that are already changing us. Some will have immediate impact; others are portents of transformations that may take decades to complete. In this vein, and in no particular order, here are what I consider to be ten of the best technological innovations from 2014. 1. DNA nanobots injected into cockroaches Nanotechnology is a growing research field that manipulates materials on a molecular scale. One prospect is to transform medicine by injecting nanobots into the body where they perform functions such as treating disease. In February, an Israeli team described devices they made from DNA and injected into cockroaches. By performing a kind of origami, the DNA nanobots assembled themselves and were able to control a molecule that targeted specific cells, so demonstrating their potential to carry out medical functions such as attacking cancers. 2. Nanotubes in chloroplasts created super plants Nanotubes are large carbon molecules that form tubes with unusual thermal and electrical properties. In March, a team from MIT and CalTech published a method for inserting nanotubes into plant chloroplasts. The novel combination boosted photosynthesis and plant growth by several hundred percent. Applications are still years away, but besides increasing plant growth and production, there are extraordinary possibilities: tapping plants for electrical power, building self-repairing materials and erecting buildings from materials that generate their own power. 3. Scallop-shaped robots swam through blood Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute developed tiny robots that could swim through the bloodstream, repairing tissue damage or transporting medicine. The challenge they faced was blood’s viscosity: it not only impeded movement but also varied according to speed. They solved the problem by designing robots in the shape of scallops powered by an external magnetic field. These robots provide a starting point for many kinds of medical devices of the future. 4. A microchip helped a paralysed man regain the use of his arm Implants are revolutionising the treatment of many medical conditions. In April, researchers at Ohio State University reported success in using a microchip implant to help a paralysed man regain use of his arm. Ten years in development, the device, known as Neurobridge, stimulates muscles according to brain patterns. The innovation raises hopes for many disabled people. It showed that by plugging into our brainwaves we may one day control all manner of devices by thought alone. 5. Nose cells helped repair a severed spinal cord Biotechnology is producing new cures for medical conditions long thought to be permanent. A medical team at Wroclaw Medical University cultured nerve cells taken from a patient’s nose and surgically inserted them into his spinal cord. The transplanted cells stimulated severed nerve fibres to grow and rejoin, thus bridging a damaged section of the spinal column and allowing the patient to walk again. This innovation showed that damage to the nervous system can be reversed. 6. Unmanned drones: the future of delivery services Unmanned flying drones are taking on a rapidly growing number of roles, especially in surveillance and monitoring. Following Chinese experiments last year to test drones as a delivery system for parcels, 2014 saw rapid expansion of serious business interest. In August, Google used a drone to deliver chocolates to a farm in Outback Queensland. By year’s end, Amazon, DHL and many others were scrambling to establish unmanned delivery services in several countries. 7. A swarm of self-assembling mini-robots Robots are already important tools in many industries, but put them into swarms and they can do so much more. In August the journal Science reported work at Harvard in which 1,000 mini-robots, the largest swarm so far, was able to assemble itself into programmed shapes. There is still a long way to go, but it raised the potential for structures that self-assemble, which would revolutionise construction. 8. 3D printers pushed the boundaries 3D printing is now an established technology, but developments this year expanded its capabilities and applications. At the one extreme a team in Amsterdam began a project to build an entire house using 3D printing. Meanwhile researchers at Princeton developed a 3D printer that could print with five different materials, incorporating dot-emitting diodes, and demonstrated it by making contact lenses. This raises many possibilities, from wearable video to monitoring the health of pilots. 9. The next frontier in space exploration Events this year highlighted the international character of solar system exploration in coming decades. Following a ten-year flight, European Space Agency’s probe Rosetta went into orbit around the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. On November 12, it released the probe Philae which became the first spacecraft to land on a comet. Meanwhile, Mars exploration moved forward. India’s Mangalyaan spacecraft went into orbit around Mars in September and in December, NASA successfully launched the new Orion spacecraft, a first step in preparing for manned exploration of Mars. 10. Green power and clean water Necessity is the mother of invention, so the greater the need, the more important the invention. A worldwide need is the 780 million people around the world who lack access to clean water supplies. The challenge for inventors is to meet the World Health Organisation criteria for practical systems: accessible, simple and cheap. One notable innovation this year was a portable new system called Sunflower developed in Switzerland. Easily transportable, it used sunlight to generate electricity, and at the same time provided heating, refrigeration for food and purified water. What of next year? We can be sure that growing fields such as automation and nanotechnology will continue to surprise us. The US Patents Office granted more than 300,000 patents during 2013, nearly 30,000 more than 2012. If patents provide a reliable indicator, then new inventions are appearing faster than ever. This article originally appeared at The Conversation. Image credit: Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
A year ago, SmartCompany listed the top new technologies set to race into 2014. Well, another year has come and gone, and a new group of technologies are emerging over the horizon. So what new technologies should you look out for in 2015? It’s time to gaze again into the crystal ball and take a look at six technologies you should keep an eye on in 2015: 1. Make-or-break time for smartwatches Over the past year, both in the form of devices running Google’s Android Wear platform and the Apple Watch, the tech giants have made big bets on smartwatches. However, so far consumers have been a bit ambivalent. Sure, smartwatches can bring notifications to your clockface and apps on your wrist, and being able to do a voice search with Google without pulling out your phone or tablet is nifty. On the other hand, a majority of the people inhabiting the planet already carry a far more powerful device with a larger screen in their pocket or handbag, in the form of a smartphone. So the real question now is whether consumers will embrace this new technology. Over the next year, entrepreneurs and innovators will either come up with a “killer app” for the smartwatch that drives it into the mainstream, or else the technology will be remembered as a flash-in-the-pan tech fad. Either way, the next 12 months will be crucial to the long-term prospects of this much-hyped technology. 2. Mobile payments and tickets Another technology rapidly approaching the critical make-or-break point is mobile payments. These days, from “touch and go” chip-and-pin credit cards to public transport tickets, there are a growing number of smartcards that are based on a technology called near-field communications (NFC). Over recent years, a growing number of smartphones have embedded these chips, allowing the “tap to share” features on Samsung Galaxy and Microsoft Lumia smartphones. NFC technology received a surge of mainstream attention with its inclusion on iPhone 6, which uses the chip as part of its Apple Pay payment platform. Of course, the great thing about NFC is that you don’t need to be tied into a proprietary walled garden platform such as Apple Pay. Potentially, all of the smartcards in your wallet could potentially be replaced with an app on a smartphone with an NFC chip. Since we’re now at the point where just about every flagship smartphone has NFC, we’re also at the point where it’s plausible for consumers to replace a wallet full of cards with a phone full of apps. Whether consumers embrace the convenience over the next year will be interesting to watch. 3. Multi-device app development The number of tech gadgets on offer to consumers is greater than ever before. A couple of decades ago, the average consumer just had a desktop or laptop in their study at home, and a second on their work desk. Today, a consumer could potentially use a smartwatch, a smartphone, a tablet, a desktop or laptop computer, a smart TV (or a set-top box or games console) and an in-car entertainment system in the course of a single day – and all of them run apps. Where Apple, Google and Microsoft once created operating systems for single devices, they’re now creating app platforms and ecosystems for devices. With Mac OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, Apple added a feature called Handoff that allows users to pass activities from one device to another. With Windows 10, Microsoft will allow a single app to run across a range of devices, including everything from smartphones and tablets to Xbox game consoles, PCs and servers. Meanwhile, with 5.0 Lollipop, Android apps can now run on Chromebooks. Not only that, but Google has created a range of versions of Android for different devices, including cars (Android Auto), wearables (Android Wear), and TVs (Android TV). For businesses, what this means is that consumers are likely to increasingly expect their apps, websites and online services to work seamlessly across a range of different devices and contexts. 4. Health tech The interesting thing about many of these devices is they have potential therapeutic benefits for people with otherwise debilitating medical conditions. Others could be used as a preventative tool to warn users about possible health risks. For example, Google Glass can potentially overlay graphics for people with poor vision highlighting potential risks and dangers. Cloud platforms can be used to collate health records and readings from a range of different devices and sources. Robotics can be applied to help people with limited mobility carry out everyday tasks. The great news is that there are a range of Australian businesses already doing some great research in this area. A great example is Eyenaemia, a new technology, developed by Melbourne medical students Jarrel Seah and Jennifer Tang, which allows users to diagnose anaemia by taking selfies with their smartphones. The technology has grabbed the attention of none other than Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates himself. “I could see a future version for Eyenaemia being used in developing countries, especially with pregnant women, since anaemia contributes to nearly 20% of deaths during pregnancy,” Gates says. As of August, a health-tech startup group in Melbourne has already managed to attract close to 1000 entrepreneurs and medical professionals to some of its meetings, and a similar group in Brisbane is attracting around 100. Health tech is an area Australia could become a world leader in over the coming years – if the investment and political will is there. 5. Plastic OLED displays A year ago, low production yields put a limit to the production volumes of curved or flexible screen devices. The first curved screen displays appeared on smartphones such as Samsung’s Galaxy Round and the LG G Flex, and at some curved-screen TVs at the International CES trade show. However, prices were high and volumes were limited. It required specialist types of glass, such as Corning’s bendable Willow Glass, to make. The situation is set to change over the coming year thanks to a new technology called called P-OLED (plastic-organic light emitting diode). P-OLED works by sandwiching a layer of organic material, which lights up on receiving an electrical charge, between two sheets of plastic. Along with the organic material, there’s a thin grid made up of a transparent material that conducts electricity (known as an active matrix) that can deliver a charge to each individual pixel. Unlike LCD displays, which require a backlight, all of the light is generated by the organic material, meaning P-OLED displays are thinner as well. It is also thinner than glass AMOLED displays. LG Display, one of the top three display manufacturers worldwide alongside Japan Display (Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi) and Samsung, says we should expect to see bendable tablets next year, with rollable TVs and foldable laptops screens in 2017. 6. Rise of the Chinese tech giants This last one is not so much a new technology, per se, as it is a potential tectonic shift in the tech industry landscape. During 2014, Xiaomi overtook Apple as China’s second-largest smartphone maker and – according to some figures – overtook Samsung as its largest. By the end of the year, it was the world’s third largest smartphone maker by volume, trailing only Samsung and Apple. But while Xiaomi attracted most of the attention, it’s far from the only Chinese electronics maker set to make an impact over the coming years. Lenovo became the world’s largest PC maker by buying IBM’s PC division in 2005, and has recently completed its purchase of Motorola from Google. Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, is also making its consumer electronics play. In their shadows are a range of other brands, such as Coolpad and ZTE. But it’s not just device makers that are having an impact. Look no further than the record-setting $US231.4 billion ($A258.8 billion) IPO of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. In conclusion From health tech to mobile payments, there are a range of technologies that will potentially have a big impact on Australian small businesses over the next year. But perhaps the most important thing for businesses will be to make sure your consumers have a seamless digital experience across all of them. This article originally appeared at SmartCompany.
From the continued growth of bitcoin to increased activity by US investors in the Australian startup scene, here are four trends to watch in 2015. 1. Bitcoin Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, chief executive of Blue Chilli, told StartupSmart “it’s definitely early days” for bitcoin in Australia – however, Asia is an emerging market to watch. “Hong Kong is a bitcoin mecca and there is a lot going on there,” he says. “There is a lot of awesome tech being developed and Australia has a chance to emerge as a fin tech hub as well. All those ingredients point to a future where bitcoin is going to play an important part.” Eckersley-Maslin says as bitcoin becomes more established, we can expect to see people use the “bitcoin structure” to improve things in creative ways. 2. Internet-connected devices Google is reportedly trying to lead the race when it comes to internet-connected devices in the home. The tech giant bought Nest earlier in the year, a thermostat that users can control from their smartphone – along with a number of IoT startups. Rick Baker, managing director of Blackbird Ventures, told StartupSmart we will see more connected devices in our homes “and an emerging need to control them in an intelligent way” in 2015. 3. Peer-to-peer lending networks Peer-to-peer lending networks are also a space to watch, according to Eckersley-Maslin. “I like anything that disrupts an organisation that gets in the way of a transaction,” he says. “SocietyOne in Australia is having some big wins and successes, which is going to drive a lot of interest in that space.” Earlier this month the Sydney-based peer-to-peer lender closed a new funding round of more than $10 million, led by Consolidated Press Holdings, News Corp Australia and Australian Capital Equity. Peer-to-peer lending allows investors to lend a fraction of a loan directly to a borrower without the need for a middle-man such as a traditional bank or financial institution. “Peer-to-peer networks around financial services, real estate, car transactions – wherever… that’s going to be disrupted. 4. US venture capitalists investing in Australia Quite a number of Australian startups have scored investments from American venture capital firms this year. In January, Technology Crossover Ventures invested $US30 million in online hotel distribution company SiteMinder. And in April, a Sydney startup secured $US250 million from Insight Venture Partners. Baker says he thinks we will see this trend continue in 2015. “Many of the top US firms are scouting in Australia for breakout businesses,” he says. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
The startup scene continues to flourish in Australia, with hundreds of new startups launching this year and many scaling nationally and overseas. Here is StartupSmart’s pick of some of the startups to keep an eye on in the new year. 1. Bitcoin Group Melbourne-based Bitcoin Group, the entity behind bitcoin arbitrage fund Bitcoins Reserve, has big plans for 2015. The company plans to raise $20 million at 20 cents a share by listing on the ASX. On top of that, the startup is a big supporter of the local bitcoin community. Chief financial officer Allan Guo previously told StartupSmart Bitcoin Group hopes to raise the profile of bitcoin in Australia and make sure more people understand digital currencies. “There are people building exchange platforms, as well as payment systems, wallets, all the technology, but for us we see the biggest problem with bitcoin is the lack of understanding, the lack of trust,” he says. “The transparency, the legitimacy, that’s what we want to bring.” 2. Swift Swift is a Melbourne startup that grew out of after-hours alcohol delivery service Liquorun, and allows retailers and other businesses to deliver their products to consumers within one hour. Swift is a classic example of an Aussie startup taking a niche concept and applying it to the broader market. “Shopping online is very convenient until it comes down to accepting delivery of the item,” founder Joel Macdonald previously told StartupSmart. “You know where you’re going to be in the next 60 minutes but you don’t necessarily know where you’re going to be the next day. Everyone’s time poor.” Swift was one of five companies to recently secure funding from BlueChilli’s $10 million venture capital fund and is in talks with a number of US retailers. 3. Stashd Fashion-discovery startup Stashd launched earlier this year and allows users to swipe left or right on an item depending depending on whether they would like to ‘stash’ or ‘trash’ it. The app features more than 100,000 items and users in more than 80 countries. Co-founder Jessica Wilson says 30% of the apps users are “power users” and have engaged with the app more than 100 times since downloading it. “I think a lot of it is you become super addicted to it,” she says. “Internationally we’ve grown well because it is different, and we’re one of the first people in the fashion app space.” Stashd has plans to grow the product range to include items from the likes of Zara, The Iconic and Asos.com. The startup will likely announce a seed investment round in the next few months. 4. Wattcost Aussie startup WattCost has developed a device that can be attached to a household’s power meter to provide home owners with real-time data on power usage. Former Microsoft evangelist Robert Scoble says WattCost was the most interesting startup he has seen all year and Google could very well buy the company in the race to become the dominant Internet of Things platform. “We don’t know who’s going to win, but Google’s in the early lead because they bought Revolv, they bought Dropcam and they bought Nest,” he says. “And I think this is going to be another one that they’re going to buy, because knowing how much electricity is going through the house, knowing when the rates are changing, that’s really important.” 5. TalkLife Global social network TalkLife was founded in Adelaide and this year announced a collaboration with a London-based business accelerator. The startup allows young people to discuss issues such as depression and suicide and support one another online. It has grown rapidly since its launch in 2012, with currently more than 100,000 users worldwide. Founder Jamie Druitt previously told StartupSmart the startup is working with Harvard and MIT research teams to investigate how data can be used to predict high-risk mental health episodes in young people. “I think it is fantastic that TalkLife can give them the opportunity to see data on mental health in real time,” he says. “I think we need to look at how we can grow TalkLife now – it has only ever grown organically but we’re not even scratching the surface of mental health. We’ve got a long, steep road ahead.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Sydney-based startup Bidz Direct has developed a new shopping platform that’s attempting to give consumers more control over pricing. Co-founder Phil Tran told StartupSmart Bidz Direct lets buyers select an item, name the price and get an immediate list of agreeable sellers. He says the instant match means buyers can score discounts without having to search through Google for cheaper prices or endure waiting for an auction to end “You can walk in to a Harvey Norman and see the camera you want for $200. You take a photo of it and upload it to the site for $180 and it will show you sellers that match,” he says. Tran says the concept is based on special bid pricing for large enterprises where clients negotiate better deals on multi-million dollar accounts. After an extensive career in this field at IBM, he decided to apply it to consumers in the retail market. Tran hopes Bidz Direct will help people save on products in a global market while making the shopping experience more efficient and enjoyable. “If you think about the way we shop physically, now, you don’t want to haggle but you don’t want to pay the retail price so you end up walking away because you fear rejection. We’re removing that emotional fear of haggling with shopkeepers,” he says. Tran says retailers would benefit from fee structures lower than eBay and enhanced productivity through features like auto-approval delegation where a price range is set for an item and sold automatically to any interested buyer. Bidz Direct is set to go live in February 2015 and has raised $150,000 from private investors so far. Tran says meetings with AngelCube and investors in Silicon Valley are planned for early next year before they expand to the Asia Pacific region. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.