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Nanotechnology to outer space: ten top tech innovations of 2014

12:41AM | Friday, 19 December

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

Gadget guide: six new technologies to watch in 2015

12:51AM | Friday, 19 December

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.

Four startup trends to watch in 2015

12:29AM | Friday, 19 December

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.

Five Australian startups to watch in 2015

12:43AM | Wednesday, 17 December

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.

Bid-based shopping platform promises fear-free haggling

12:46AM | Tuesday, 16 December

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.

Tapit opens US office following rapid international expansion

12:26AM | Tuesday, 16 December

An Australian startup leading the way in contactless communications has opened an office in New York as part of its expansion into the US market.   Tapit, founded in 2011, has been finding new ways for consumers to access information instantly on their phones – all off the back of an aggressive international expansion.   Earlier this year the startup collaborated with the likes of Google and HBO to allow people to access film and television-related content on their smartphones by scanning event posters.   In September, Tapit entered the Chinese market via a partnership with mobile commerce giant 99 Wuxian.   Co-founder and chief executive Jamie Conyngham told StartupSmart the company opened an office in New York because it wanted to position itself where its clients were.   “There’s a concentration of media in New York and a lot of iconic brands have their global headquarters there, so it made more sense for us to relocate there rather than San Francisco,” he says.   Conyngham says the startup has been using Australia as a “launchpad” for global deals, which has worked well because it can bring those case studies to the US.   “If you do a deal with Google or Microsoft in Australia you have that case study and you can then go to their global teams,” he says.   “You can’t do that unless you do those deals in the US – Skype only takes you so far.”   The company has been helped by the fact that Australia is ahead with contactless communication in comparison to other countries, according to Conyngham.   “You’ve seen the massive take-up of tap and pay with credit cards and that has put us ahead in the contactless ecosystem. So we’ve been lucky to have headquarters here in that regard because the US is a bit behind – even in the UK.”   Tapit also has offices in Tokyo, Shanghai and Dubai. The fast-growing startup has pioneered contactless communications for brands such as Telstra, Vodafone, Coca-Cola, Samsung and Sony.   There are around 635 million smartphones fitted with near-field communications technology around the world, and Tapit expects that number to grow to one billion by 2015.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

When emails go public. How to avoid sharing the things you should never have said

12:57AM | Tuesday, 16 December

There is a lesson for us all in the continuing revelations from stolen Sony emails being splashed over world-wide media. It is a lesson that Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairperson Amy Pascal could have benefited from before sending emails with racist comments about President Obama. Or an email calling Leonardo DiCaprio’s behaviour “Absolutely Despicable” when he decided to pull out of a planned Steve Jobs biopic.   The lesson is a very simple one. It is that when you are writing an email (or any other corporate document), imagine that it will inevitably one day end up on the Internet for everyone to see. Even without the hacking episode, there have been enough horror stories of private emails being accidentally sent to the wrong people who have little issue with making the contents public.   The emails of Amy Pascal and other Sony Pictures’ executives reveal damaging internal discussions about business practises and commentary on a wide range of people that the company relies on to do their business. It is hard to imagine how those involve retain their credibility as more of the emails become public.   The dangers of emails being used against an organisation was something that former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates discovered the hard way during US antitrust investigations. After that point, Microsoft internally discussed a practice of not keeping any emails for longer than 6 months.   In many other cases, emails have been obtained by journalists and others and used against the owners under Freedom of Information requests.   Deleting emails after a set amount of time would have helped a great deal with Sony’s problems but it comes with its own issues. Many organisations, including universities, are subject to legal regulations governing how long official records need to be retained. Emails can be considered part of official records and so it is sometimes difficult to apply a blanket policy that requires all emails to be deleted after a relatively short time.   The problem of email could also potentially be solved by using other forms of electronic communication instead. There have been suggestions that email could be replaced with instant messaging. This is certainly the case but many of these services keep records of conversations. Google for example, allows individual hangouts to be switched into “off the record” mode, but does not allow this setting as a default for all conversations. To delete the record of the conversation, it has to be done individually.   Special software that automatically deletes conversations can be used such as messaging apps Telegram and OneOne but these require widespread use. In terms of the types of email exchanges that were highlighted in the Sony releases, it is unlikely that the participants would have had the presence of mind to use more secure communications in any event.   Although companies should be advising all of their staff, especially the senior ones about good email hygiene, there is still a much easier way of avoiding all of these issues by not writing the email (or document) in the first place. If that is not possible, then there are a few definite things you should do when writing email:   1) Always keep it brief. The more you write, the harder it is to check you haven’t said something you will regret. 2) Never write email when you are angry or emotional. Leave it for 24 hours before writing, if at all. 3) Never write email when you have been drinking. 4) Never include personal, intolerant, or insensitive statements in corporate email.   If it helps, it is also useful to imagine a prosecuting lawyer looking over your shoulder as you write every email you send.   This article was originally published at The Conversation.

Why ‘manual first’ can help you MVP quicker: #2015istheyear

12:34AM | Monday, 15 December

A common refrain in Silicon Valley is ‘manual first’, referring to all the different approaches you can take to validate and grow your startup idea before putting any time into building a web or mobile application.   The reason this approach is so popular is due to the speed at which you can accomplish things. Speed is everything for a startup. It is one of your few natural advantages over pre-existing competition. Because you’ve invested so little in your idea to this point, it will never be quicker or easier to change what you’re doing, be it slight changes or drastic ones.   Big companies have mass, and with mass comes momentum. Momentum is great if you know where you are going, but crippling if you need to change directions suddenly.   So how does ‘manual first’ equate to getting the ball rolling on your startup? The answer lies with an MVP. That’s not a sports reference mind you, rather in this context MVP stands for minimum viable product. That’s startup lingo for doing what you have to in order to learn whether the assumptions around your idea are valid.   What this means in practice depends on the type of startup you’re creating and the particular hypothesis you’re hoping to test. Typically, you want to test the biggest assumptions in your business first, which usually equates to “will anyone use my product/service?”   A good assumption to validate before going out and dedicating your life to making it happen, don’t you think? In fact, everything we try to do as entrepreneurs, be it speaking to people, creating a lean canvas, and testing the various hypotheses within, is geared towards de-risking the startup as quickly as possible. So, what might an MVP look like for your idea?   If your idea is for a product that you plan to sell and distribute online, one clever MVP is known as the ‘smoke and mirrors’ technique, which involves setting up a landing page for your ‘product’ (including relevant information such as price, benefits, feature set, etc), sending people to said landing page (often via some paid ads on Google, Facebook, or whatever platform is relevant for your target audience) and seeing how many people actually click the purchase button.   The point of this exercise is that you find out relatively cheaply – whatever money you spent getting people to your ‘product’ website – if anyone wants what you have to offer. If no one bites then there’s not much point in building out the product. You’ve invalidated the hypothesis that your product is the solution for a certain group of people, whom you believe suffer from a certain type of problem. From this you can deduce that:   1. The people who came to your site weren’t the correct subsection of people (change your advertising).   2. The people coming to the site were OK but the positioning of the product was not (change the content of the landing page).   3. The offer wasn’t compelling enough for the price (change the price).   4. People aren’t really interested in the product (put more work into researching the problem – is it really a problem?)   If your idea is more service than product, then you can utilise ‘the Wizard of Oz’ technique to validate your assumptions (the name bears homage to the old man who hides behind a curtain pretending to be a powerful wizard in the children's classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). If your startup revolves around some type of service, the Wizard of Oz technique means physically complete the service by emulating the actions of what you would eventually code and automate.   As an example, say you had an idea for an online gift recommendation service. Manually emulating the service in this case may take the form of finding potential gifts for a user by personally going through shopping catalogues looking for gift ideas that match said users preferences, then returning the results online as files in an email.   To the user, there is no difference between an algorithm sourcing the gifts automatically and you working behind the scenes doing the same job. This approach often involves creating a site that is slightly more complicated than setting up a simple landing page and some ads, but generally not much more than an extra form field or two. Note that if you are completing manually what you intend to offer as an automated service, you shouldn’t be shy about taking money for said services.   Some tools that you might find useful for this part of the process include:   Balsamiq – a wireframing tool that lets you sketch out your website or mobile application.   Unbounce – a tool that lets you create, publish, and test landing pages for your startup.   FluidUI – similar to Balsamiq, but with a later stage focus, higher resolution designs and the ability to put your prototype onto your mobile and test it out directly.   Google AdWords – you know Google, you know ads on Google, this is where you go when you want to put your own ads on Google. Facebook have a similar platform you can find via https://www.facebook.com/advertising   Wufoo – a customisable online form builder with no coding required.   Regardless of what tools and techniques you use for the job, keep in mind that speed is the essential ingredient. The faster you can prototype, iterate and prove an assumption, the faster your idea transforms into a viable startup. So, get out of the building, speak to customers, figure out what they want, what it looks like, put that online, and see if anyone buys! From there it’s wash, rinse, repeat… with one caveat which we’ll cover in the next article! Amir Nissen is program manager at AngelCube   This is the part four of our #2015istheyear series.   Part one – 2015 The year for my idea.   Part two – How to validate your idea this Christmas.   Part three – How Ash Davies created his ‘YouTube for books’ startup Tablo. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: Uber ramps up efforts against regulators

12:32PM | Sunday, 14 December

Uber is ramping up its efforts to lobby regulators in the US by mobilising its users as well as a team of powerful lobbyists, The Washington Post reports.   After being told by the Virginia state government its services were illegal and the company needed to stop operating in the state, Uber struck back by enlisting an army of supporters to email the bureaucrat in charge of the decision.   Uber won a reprieve from the state transportation department and is now working on a long-term solution to get around industry regulation.   The ride-sharing service recently completed a $US1.2 billion raise, valuing the company at $US40 billion.   Spanish media doesn’t want to break up with Google News Less than a week after Google News announced it was shutting down its Spanish arm, local media have pleaded for the decision to be reversed, according to Tech Crunch.   Google announced it was closing Google News in Spain last week due to new legislation which would require publications to charge services like Google News for showing their content – no matter how little – regardless of whether the media company wanted to or not.   The Spanish Newspaper Publishers’ Association has released a statement saying the closure of Google News Spain will “undoubtedly have a negative impact on citizens and Spanish businesses”.   Tinder competitor raises $12 million   Dating app Hinge has raised $12 million in Series A funding led by Shasta Ventures in order to fast-track its international expansion, Tech Crunch reports.   Described as a competitor of Tinder, Hinge is an iOS and Android dating app that uses a so-called romance graph algorithm to predict whether a user will get along with a potential match.   The app is currently available in 28 cities in the US.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 315.51 points or 1.79% to 17,280.83. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at US82 cents.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: Instagram surpasses Twitter with 300 million active users

12:51PM | Wednesday, 10 December

Instagram has surpassed Twitter’s 284 million active users, hitting the 300 million mark nine months after recording 200 million users.   “We’re thrilled to watch this community thrive and witness the amazing connections people make over shared passions and journeys,” the company said in a statement.   Instagram also announced it would be rolling out verified badges for celebrities, athletes and brands – in the same way that Facebook and Twitter has verified users.   The social network is also cracking down on spam accounts in order to “improve” the user experience. As a result, the company has warned that some users’ follower counts may change.   Instagram was purchased by Facebook for $1 billion in 2012. More than 70 million photos and videos are shared on the platform each day. Apple and IBM launch their first wave of apps for enterprises Apple and IBM have launched the first apps resulting from their partnership today, in a bid to bring mobile analytics to enterprises.   The software includes apps made for companies such as Air Canada, Citi and Sprint.   Senior vice president of IBM’s Global Business Services, Bridget van Kralingen, said in a statement the new enterprises will see businesses be able to unlock big data and drive individual engagement in a mobile-first world.   “Our collaboration combines IBM’s industry expertise and unmatched position in enterprise computing, with Apple’s legendary user experience and excellence in product design to lift the performance of a new generation of business professionals,” she said. Google tells Android developers to watch this face Google has opened up watch-face creation to third-party developers for the Android Wear community, according to TechCrunch.   The tech giant has also created a dedicated section of the Google Play store so that users can download watch faces just as they do with apps.   The updates will be rolled out over the next week. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 267.7 points to 17,533.47. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US83 cents.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Melbourne startup aims to make people feel safer in public areas

12:18AM | Wednesday, 10 December

An Australian startup is looking to use crowdsourcing and mobile mapping technology to make people feel safer in public areas.   Mappsafe, based in Melbourne, is a patented smartphone app that allows users to anonymously flag areas with poor lighting and anti-social behaviour.   Founder Tea Maherl told StartupSmart these days people are sharing a lot of information about what they are doing – from what they are eating to what they are wearing. However, public safety is not something that is often talked about.   “We wanted to start a conversation and create awareness,” she says.   “When we have this information we can influence government and councils to change – if there isn’t enough street lighting we can go and say it’d be great if you have more lighting there. But if nobody talks about it the council will not see it as an issue.”   Maherl also hopes the app will provoke a conversation about violence against women because as many as one in three women will experience violence in their lifetime.   “We do have areas we don’t walk through because of the unsafety element,” she says.   “And a lot of times in countries women still don’t have a voice. So with that we’re expanding the possibility to speak and talk about these issues.”   The app is under development alongside a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to help it get off the ground. Maherl says crowdfunding is a great way for the startup to engage with potential users and make sure the product is tailored to their needs.   “I think it [crowdfunding] is a great way of putting the word out there for people to see it and supporting it,” she says.   “As a startup it gives you a bit of an insight into the perspectives of others.”   The app will initially be available on Android devices, and is expected to be available on the Google Play Store for $1 in March next year.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Australia eyes missing billions with very own ‘Google tax’

12:34AM | Wednesday, 10 December

Joe Hockey has hinted he may introduce a “Google tax” as a new weapon to tackle profit shifting by multinational enterprises. The Treasurer’s suggestion is not only political as a counter to aggressive tax avoidance by multinationals, but also suggests the government may not have full confidence in a successful outcome of the G20/OECD work on base erosion profit shifting (BEPS).   The suggestion of a “Google tax” in Australia appears to be a coordinated action with the UK. Last week, the UK Treasury announced the introduction of a “Diverted Profits Tax” (commonly dubbed the Google tax). The tax will be imposed on profits artificially shifted from the UK at a rate of 25% from 1 April 2015. The tax is expected to generate more than £1 billion over the next five years.   Details of the Australian tax are yet to be delivered, but it’s likely to work as follows, using Apple’s tax structure as an example. Apple has successfully sheltered US$44 billion in Ireland for four years, and that amount has never been taxed anywhere in the world. The US$44 billion represents the profits shifted from Apple’s sales in many countries, including Australia.   If Australia had a Google tax, the ATO would impose 30% tax on a portion of the US$44 billion that represented the profits derived from sales in Australia. Will it work?   The proposal, if properly designed, should be a powerful weapon for two reasons. First, it provides the much-needed legal basis for the ATO to impose tax on profits shifted from Australia to “taxpayer-friendly” countries such as Ireland. At present, even though the ATO is aware of the US$44 billion sitting in Ireland, the existing international tax regime does not empower the ATO to lay its hands on the profits.   Second, a Google tax would be a unilateral action. Its introduction does not require international consensus and Australia does not have to wait for that to happen before taking action on profit shifting by multinationals.   The G20 and OECD have been working very hard in an attempt to achieve consensus on measures to address the issues of BEPS. However, one major player may not support the project wholeheartedly. The US has been knowingly facilitating avoidance by its multinationals of foreign income taxes through its own tax system. To make matters worse, its participation in the G20/OECD BEPS Project has been described by a prominent US tax commentator as “a polite pretence of participation with quiet undermining”.   International consensus is the ideal course of action to comprehensively resolve the issues of BEPS. However, without full support from the US, it is doubtful the project will be able to achieve meaningful measures to curb tax avoidance by multinationals. Therefore, unilateral actions may be the pragmatic response of other countries like Australia to protect their tax bases. Not so fast…   The proposal will face a number of challenges. First, the tax would apply only if a multinational has shifted profits from Australia under a tax avoidance structure. This raises the question: what is a tax avoidance structure?   Apple’s example is clear-cut. As the US$44 billion has never been taxed anywhere in the world, it will be difficult for Apple to argue it is not engaged in a tax avoidance structure.   However, what about profits shifted to a country where the tax rate is 10%? This is one of the technical issues policymakers will have to address.   Second, the ATO will have to find a way to determine the amount of profit shifted from Australia. Going back to the Apple example, how should the ATO estimate how much profit out of the US$44 billion booked in Ireland should be subject to the Google tax? This issue may be difficult and controversial, but should be manageable.   The third and possibly most formidable obstacle to the introduction of a Google tax is that multinationals are likely to offer significant resistance to its introduction. They can be expected to apply intense political pressure, lobbying against this proposal.   A common argument by multinationals is that unilateral action by a country will scare businesses away. This may or may not be a concern, depending on the types of businesses of multinationals.   One important factor that policymakers should remember is that the location of customers is not mobile. Apple can generate A$600 sales income only if it sells an iPad to a customer in Australia. It is highly unlikely, and does not make any commercial sense, that Apple would give up the Australian market because it does not want to pay 30% tax on sales profits.   This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

Three key design lessons from the Australian designer behind Google Wave

12:48PM | Tuesday, 9 December

The Australian designer behind Google's now-defunct Wave service has shared the key lessons learnt from the innovative but ultimately unsuccessful service.   Cameron Adams, now the chief product officer at Canva, has spent 16 years as either a graphics designer or chief designer.   During the Above All Human conference in Melbourne, Adams shared the following three key lessons about design:   1. Design it how it works   "Every time a conference speaker quotes Steve Jobs, an angel investor loses their wings. Nonetheless here's another one: 'Design it how it works'," Adams says.   Back in 2007 Lars Rasmussen, then an engineering manager at Google, contacted Adams about working on a new service called Wave.   Wave was launched at the 2009 Google I/O conference in the first YouTube video to run over 10 minutes. It was conceived of as being a feature-rich 'next-generation' email service and received positively, with the launch clip eventually watched over 80 million times.   "If you ever have a product that has inerrant flaws launch the way we did -- we gave an 80 minute talk and demoed every single feature," he says.   "There was only small problem with Wave, and that was no-one on the team had any idea what Wave should do,"   According to Adams, design maturity within a company is a spectrum.   "At one end, some companies think design is like lipstick. And at the other end, you have companies like Apple that think is design is everything," he says.   Google at the time was the former, according to Adams, with the Wave project having 50 engineers, five product managers and him as the sole designer.   It led to the absurd situation where engineers added a range of features with no coherent vision for how the overall product would work, while Adams spent three days making sure the drop-shadows looked right.   2. Design is not everything   After leaving Google, Adams launched an email design startup called Fluent.   "The product itself was a great design... The problem was we forgot about the business.Following an Article in the Sydney Morning Herald, we got 60,000 people trying to use our service," he says.   "We flew to San Francisco and spoke to VCs. They were like 'awesome product, but what's your business model?'"   It was estimated the service, though solidly designed, would need to raise $5 per user per month to break even. It was a price consumers were unwilling to pay.   "We created an experience that was well designed, but didn't move the bar enough to be a great product."   3. Design is cultural   Compared to his previous two ventures, Adams says the secret of Canva has been that it has created a design culture, in which design decisions have been delegated throughout the organisation.   "The design culture has to be embedded into your company so everyone can make great design decisions. And the best way to do that is to embed it from the top," he says.   "Having a holistic design culture throughout your company has been critical to our experience."

Why ethicists and engineers need to start talking to each other: Waleed Aly

12:34AM | Tuesday, 9 December

Ideally, engineers would work side-by-side with ethicists when developing new technology, according to journalist and academic Waleed Aly.   Take self-driving cars. In the creation of the technology that drives those cars, engineers are required to tell the car what to do when it’s faced with a collision with a pedestrian. Should the car be programmed to swerve, missing the pedestrian, even if it means killing the driver? Or should the driver’s safety be paramount?   If that were a regular car, the decision would be made in a split second by the driver. In the case of self-driving cars, the ethical conundrum is placed on those who build it.   “Who should decide this? Should we leave this to car manufacturers, or software manufacturers, who are going to be creating these cars?” Aly asks.   “Does Google make this decision for us? Is that appropriate? Should it be the government? Should it be the driver? We’re talking about the moral fibre of society really. Is there something ethically different about a split-second decision that can be critiqued afterwards, or one that is made well in advance?   “These are ethical questions that you cannot escape merely by technology.”   Aly was speaking on the topic of ethics in technology at the Above All Human conference in Melbourne on Tuesday. He says it’s important to examine the reasons behind developing new technology, in order to be aware of, and to accept the ethical implications of such decisions.   “I would just ask you to think about it. If you can ask yourself a series of questions about what it is you’re about to unleash, that perhaps you weren’t asking before, and you could perhaps talk to other people,” Aly says.   “Shouldn’t engineers and ethicists be in the same room when they’re designing these (self-driving) cars? If not, that’s when we have a problem.”   A good ethicist won’t tell developers what to think, Aly says, rather they will ensure that engineers understand and are comfortable with the implications of their actions.   “We’re not used to having ethical conversations because we don’t have people that we have access to that are very good at them, and we don’t recognise what they look like when we do have them,” he says.   “If you reach a conclusion, it’s not that your conclusion is incontestable, it’s that it’s considered. It’s that you’ve actually thought about what it is you’re doing.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Boom in business for delivery startup Zoom2U

12:49PM | Monday, 8 December

The growth of delivery startup Zoom2U has surprised its founder Steve Orenstein after deliveries tripled to 1000 in its third month.   Orenstein told StartupSmart that a combination of traditional marketing methods with new technology was used to promote its services but tripling bookings was an unexpected result.   “You just never know when you start in a new company what the uptake will be like,” he says.   Zoom2U is a same day delivery service where bookings can be made online using any mobile device or computer. It provides real-time tracking of parcels and aims to build a relationship between customers and their couriers.   The high traffic generated to Zoom2U is no accident.   In addition to search engine optimisation and domain acquisition, Orenstein has used traditional cold calling to boost its customer base.   “It is an expensive way of finding customers but we combined that with Google free marketing services,” he says.   Zoom2U cold-called hundreds of potential clients offering to send through an email with information on its services and a link to its site.   Orenstein says this proved to be one of their most effective marketing strategies. Fifty per cent of those who clicked on the email ended up requesting a quote compared with 20% of people who visited the site through other means.   Zoom2U also bought existing domains of older companies that still track well when analysed on Google. Orenstein acquired GoParcel and Samedayexpress.com.au, a domain that ranked highly for several relevant key words including “same day courier”.   The sites were redeveloped through WordPress with new content added and a more user-friendly interface.   With Zoom2U’s deliveries up about 50% in the first week of December compared to last month, it continues to reap the rewards of Orenstein’s approach to web analytics and marketing.   “We are progressively growing and the hope is to get to 1000 bookings a day,” he says.   Zoom2U currently services Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Competitor questions Uber’s burn rate after $US1.2 billion capital raise

12:38PM | Sunday, 7 December

Uber has announced it has completed a financing round of $US1.2 billion, valuing the company at a total of $US40 billion, as competitors point out the service continues to face substantial challenges.   In a post on the company blog, Uber founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick says the funds will be directed at expansion in the Asia-Pacific region.   Kalanick’s post claims Uber is now six times larger than it was a year ago – growing from 60 cities and 21 countries to 250 cities in 50 countries. It also alludes to some of the cultural challenges Uber faces, including accusations of spying on customer data and hiring investigators to spy on critical journalists.   “The events of the recent weeks have shown us that we also need to invest in internal growth and change. Acknowledging mistakes and learning from them are the first steps,” Kalanick says.   “It will lead to a smarter and more humble company that sets new standards in data privacy, gives back more to the cities we serve and defines and refines our company culture effectively.”   Recently, the chief executive and co-founder of taxi-booking app goCatch, Ned Moorfield, called for an urgent summit of transport ministers over the UberX ride-sharing service.   Moorfield says that while there is a possibility it will become a near-monopoly, the company’s future prospects are far from clear in a number of markets.   “It’s a clear risk – they want to dominate transport like Google dominates search in every market. But they’re still far from that position and it’s far from clear they’ll get there,” he says.   “[The latest funding round is] pretty eye-catching – they’re now in 250 cities and 50 countries. But the amount of money they’re burning – their burn rate – is substantial.   “When they give away $50 vouchers to existing customers and give 40% off – as they did recently in Israel – they must be burning a lot of cash.   Aside from the burn rate, Moorfield points to a number of other key issues the company faces.   “There’s clearly regulatory questions in the Australian market and questions about whether their strategy will work in a number of countries. Their strategy is to push through regulatory barriers, but regulators are pushing back hard now and becoming more active in punishing UberX drivers,” he says.   “And there are serious customer issues – including spying on journalists – that exist no matter how much money they raise.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

A new way to fix those frustrating websites

12:51AM | Thursday, 4 December

How many times have you been looking for information online, only to find yourself going round and round in circles? Or you’ve spent too long poking around a website trying to find what you need, only to realise you’ve been looking in the wrong place all along?   Whether it is doing your banking, looking up details of a flight or checking out some government services – if a website doesn’t work the way we want it to, it can be a very frustrating experience.   It might seem like a first-world problem but the reality is our expectations around service delivery are changing. More than three quarters of Australians prefer to access services electronically and we expect those services to be faster, adaptable and available whenever and wherever we desire.   This is why, more than ever before, service providers need to understand how people use their digital channels and make sure that their design is efficient, user-friendly and fit for the purpose. Creating digital communities It’s not only businesses that need to have a savvy online presence. Digital service delivery is increasingly relevant for the public sector. The Australian Public Service ICT strategy 2012 – 2015, states that digital technologies will be used to enable the delivery of better government services for the Australian people, communities and business.   Take the Australian Government’s Department of Human Services, which interacts with millions of Australians through services such as Medicare and Centrelink.   Managing payments worth more than a third of the federal government’s overall budget, small improvements to individual transactions can have a huge benefit. Customers being able to use self-service and online tools for some of their needs frees up valuable resources for cases where human interaction can make the most difference.   For the past five years CSIRO worked with the Department – under the Human Services Delivery Research Alliance which concluded in September – to develop a number of tools that are helping to transform service delivery for the digital era. Connecting on social media The Department is using our social media monitoring system, called Vizie, to support their social media management.   Vizie tracks, integrates and visualises information from a range of social media channels including Twitter, Facebook and Youtube, into a single, theme-based dashboard.    Vizie can generate streamgraph visualisations, like this one collected during CeBit. Using language processing and text analysis algorithms, it identifies what topics are being discussed in real time. CSIRO   Vizie can then help the department identify, from social media and in real time, when customers are experiencing problems using online and mobile services. This knowledge provides valuable feedback and supports quicker system responses.   As well as providing immediate insight into the major topics of the day, Vizie can also save organisations a lot of time that would otherwise be spent sifting through huge volumes of social media chatter. More intuitive website experiences The department is also using LATTE, a software platform that analyses the patterns in how people interact with websites.   It compares the sequence and duration of page visits to patterns that denote happy customers or user frustration through an inability to find the information they are looking for.   These patterns detect not only when, but where and why people encounter trouble with finding information, as well as the context of the session. It reveals insights into the organisation of pages and links, and the impact of word choice in search terms.   For example, LATTE might identify a pattern where users load four or five pages in succession before “abandoning ship” and jumping to a Google search instead. This indicates that they were not able to find what they were looking for within the website itself, either because it is hidden away or simply doesn’t exist.   The software can also identify problems with language usage, which can play a huge part in a website’s usability. This can often be the case when an organisation’s internal terminology or jargon doesn’t match up with everyday usage.   Internal search engines can also be a source of frustration if they don’t work effectively. LATTE can be used to identify patterns of user behaviour that show where searches are failing.   For example, users might conduct several searches, one after the other, still unable to find what they need. Or it might show that users have followed a link to a search result, only to then go round and round in circles.   LATTE identifies these mismatches between a user’s expectations of a website and the website itself – whether it be language, structure, the location of content or expected search terms.   By arming organisations with this information, they can make adjustments to the content, metadata and layout of their sites, in order to create a more user friendly and satisfying experience. Protecting privacy and boosting productivity While all this is happening behind the scenes, a user’s privacy is being protected. The software distills this data from standard log files captured on any web server, meaning there is no intrusive monitoring.   It’s the volume of data, not the identity of the user that’s important. LATTE reports data from aggregates of hundreds or thousands of visitors and identifies trends and patterns in behaviour that can inform decision making.   As the public sector seeks further efficiency dividends and people expect more from their digital services, government agencies are becoming more agile and responsive to change than ever before.   UK research shows that an online transaction costs a mere 1/100th of a face-to-face one so there’s clear savings to be made by agencies improving the online experience.   Perhaps one of the greatest impacts of the digital economy is that today almost anything can be measured – in fact we are drowning in data. So the old management adage “what gets measured gets managed” is turning inside out, to become “how do you measure to manage better?”   The challenge is identifying what data will be useful, and how it can be presented and managed itself to help improve a service to better meet customers’ needs without compromising their rights to privacy and informational security, and without overwhelming decision-makers.   Emerging technologies, such as LATTE and Vizie, are providing this evidence. The potential for these tools to be adopted by other organisations - both public and private - are almost limitless and we believe they are key to enabling services to be delivered faster and better in the digital age.   This will not only improve our productivity as a nation, but hopefully it will also eliminate those frustrating online experiences that leave you pounding the keyboard. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Online retailer Shoes of Prey turns to bricks and mortar after scoring $6.5 million in funding

12:30AM | Wednesday, 3 December

Online retailer Shoes of Prey secured $US5.5 million ($6.5 million) in venture capital this morning to fund its bricks-and-mortar expansion.   The retailer, which enables customers to design their own shoes, started off as a pure play online offering.   But Shoes of Prey’s founders, Jodie Fox, Michael Fox and Mike Knapp, have realised the value of having a physical store presence after the success of Shoes of Prey’s David Jones concession stores.   The funding round was led by US-based Khosla Ventures after the Shoes of Prey team got in touch with Ben Ling, the investment partner at Khosla, through a former Google colleague.   Michael Fox told SmartCompany the deal came together fairly quickly after first reaching out to Ling in July this year.   “That seems to be how venture capital in the US works, warm introductions always seem to help,” Fox says.   New investors alongside Khosla Ventures include Bonobos co-founder Andy Dunn, and ThirdLove co-founders David Spector and Heidi Zak.   Existing investors also took part, including Blackbird Ventures, Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes and Bill Tai from Southern Cross Ventures Partners.   The deal leaves the co-founders with “just under” 50% in equity while Shoes Of Prey’s employees retain 15% equity in total.   In order to “get the deal done” Shoes of Prey’s co-founders had to agree for one founder, at this stage Jodie Fox, to step down from the board.   “US venture firms generally have much smaller boards so we reduced the board to three, so only two of Mike, Jodie and me could be on the board,” Fox says.   “We might set up a rotating structure”.   Fox says “it’s not ideal” but the business should be able to work around the limitation.   Shoes of Prey will use the funding to open more bricks and mortar stores, including in the United States, hire some more key staff and increase its manufacturing facilities.   “We have signed a deal with Nordstrom to open six stores in the US. The first one opened two weeks ago in Seattle and we are opening a store in Westfield Bondi Junction and funding will help with all those stores rolling out,” he says.   Shoes of Prey will roll out another seven stores over the next few months.   “We still sell most of our shoes online but we have realised that there is life left in physical retail,” Fox says.   “It offers a great opportunity for customers to come in and interact with the brand.”   Expanding Shoes of Prey’s manufacturing in China will also reap rewards for the business.   “We have maxed out the size of the space of our factory in China, so we have leased a new three storey 4000 square metre factory and that will give us a lot of room to expand,” Fox says.   “The key thing is that it will bring our delivery time down to deliver shoes within two weeks of the consumer ordering”.   Shoes of Prey previously raised $3 million in Australia in 2012 with further fundraising in 2013.   This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.

Will Google’s nightmares never end?

12:53AM | Tuesday, 2 December

Last week, Google was hit with the commencement of a new legal battle in the UK which proposed to extend its liability for enabling defamation and not doing enough to remove the offending material.   Google’s headaches don’t stop there. This past week, the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution to split Google up. What does this mean? The EU Parliament wants to separate Google’s search engine from its other activities. This would weaken its dominance across the region as it now controls approximately 90% of all web searches in Europe. Can the EU Parliament do this? The EU Parliament does not have the direct power to break up companies. However, this does start putting pressure on the anti-trust regulators, who do have the power to take action.   This also is seen as a recommendation for the European Commission to take notice and review the decision. Where is the push coming from against Google? European regulators announced in 2010 they were reviewing Google’s business practices.   They are increasingly worried at the stronghold Google has taken in Europe. Their biggest concern is the increasing number of complaints involving squeezing out competitors in Europe, which breaches anti-competition legislation.   In order to prove that a company has been engaging in anti-competitive behavior, European regulators have to first establish that a company has a dominant market position and that it has abused its dominant position.   The dominant position is not in question: the question is now proving the company abused the dominance. EU regulators are looking at two specific aspects to do this:   Google’s search results: whether they are deliberately down ranking competitor sites; and Google’s business practices on advertising: whether they are imposing exclusivity obligations on advertising partners to the exclusion or hindrance of smaller advertising networks. Dominating the market is not illegal. Using the dominance to control pricing, squeeze competitors or harm consumers – this is all considered illegal activities. 3. Strong reasons for monopoly breakup There are number of reasons the European politicians are concerned about the monopoly power of Google, but the three main concerns are around allegations that: Google promotes their own goods and services over competitors; Google controls the online search results; and Search engines are increasingly ‘commercialising secondary exploitation of obtained information’ 4. What do they want from Google? They want a promise of “all internet traffic...‘treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference”.   They were also discussing more certainty with respect to net neutrality as well as a focus on consumer protection, but these are secondary to the main issue. What would this mean for the rest of the world? If this action proceeds and Google is forced to redefine its operations, it would mean that Google’s search business in Europe would be split from the rest of its commercial operations. It also means it is likely the rest of the world would follow suit in this push for more internet ‘equality’.   Whether this will go further remains to be seen. All I can say is that their lawyers will be gainfully employed for the next few years.

THE NEWS WRAP: Microsoft splashes $US200 million on email startup

12:24PM | Monday, 1 December

Microsoft is believed to have spent over $US20 million to a startup called Acompli, which makes an email app for Android smartphones and iPhones.   The news was reported by Re/Code, with Microsoft later confirming the deal in an official blog post from the company’s corporate vice president for Outlook and Office 365, Rajesh Jha.   The email client was developed by veterans from Zimbra and VMWare, and supports both Microsoft and Google email services.   US retailers concerned about Chinese online marketplace Alibaba   A number of leading US retailers have called on Congress to end special tax treatment for online retailers, citing fears Chinese marketplace Alibaba could “decimate” their businesses.   According to Reuters, claims were made in a series of TV and radio ads by a lobby group called Alliance for Main Street Fairness, which includes major US retail chains such as Best Buy, Target and JC Penney.   While Alibaba has not yet launched in the US market, the retailers are concerned the company could use some of the money raised through its recent IPO on a US expansion.   Google Fiber signups in Texas   Google Fiber has opened up signups in the US city of Austin, Texas, according to The Verge.   The fibre-to-the-premises internet service costs $US70 per month for data only, with 1 terabyte of cloud storage and TV setting consumers back $US130 per month, and a slower 5Mbps download and 1Mbps upload service available for a once-off $US300 fee.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 43.45 points to 17784.8. The Aussie dollar is down to US85.04 cents.

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