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The BlackBerry Messenger fiasco: How not to handle a major product launch

9:12AM | Monday, 23 September

When it comes to business advice, embattled smartphone maker BlackBerry is like the Kevin Rudd of smartphones: study it closely and then do the opposite.   Their latest fiasco? This past weekend, the company was going to launch a version of its BlackBerry Messenger app for Android and iPhone. This launch is crucial for the company. If their mobile phone business goes under, at least they’ll have a cross-platform messaging app and some services to sell.   Sure, the company probably should have released it six years ago. Still, better late than never.   Now, if you had a crucial product launch coming up, what sort of press release would you issue the day before?   If you’re BlackBerry, the answer is obvious. You pre-announce nearly $US1 billion in losses for the current quarter, along with the fact you’re slashing 4500 jobs or 40% of your global workforce. You know, just to make your consumers feel secure.   Worse, most of those losses came from write-downs on unsold inventory of their touchscreen-based ‘comeback’ product, the Z10 smartphone. Basically, if this company is going to lose a billion bucks, this is possibly the worst way it could have happened.   Now, before anyone accuses Old Taskmaster of being a BlackBerry hater, read this. Your humble correspondent is firmly of the opinion that the Z10 could have been a success – if the phone was marketed properly. It wasn’t. Or if BlackBerry communicated the fact it used a new operating system. It didn’t. And now there’s a $US1 billion worth of unsold Z10 smartphones sitting in a warehouse somewhere, gathering dust and getting ready to be dumped in a New Mexico landfill.   This is on top of the existing uncertainty over the company’s future ownership. Apparently, co-founder Mike Lazaridis is now circling like a shark, and so is Canadian investment guru Prem Watsa. But whether they want the company whole or just pieces of it is anyone’s guess at this point.   Well, a day after all this bad news, with no clear air, the big launch weekend comes.   The Android version is supposed to be launched on the Saturday, and the iPhone version on the Sunday. There’s an official BlackBerry Twitter account to let users know when the app is available in their country.   Well, Saturday comes around and the app launches in a few different countries – for iPhone rather than Android.   It launches in three or four countries. Then the notices stop, with no warning or explanation.   Several hours go by. Finally, there’s a message from the official Twitter feed: “Pausing #BBM4All rollout to fix issues caused by unreleased BBM for Android app.” The company also issues a statement explaining that issues caused by the Android version of the app are to blame.   A few more hours go by, then this: “We will provide you with an update on timing as soon as we can. Teams are working non-stop.” From then on, it’s been radio silence.   Now, anyone who’s dealt with a big tech product launch knows anything that can go wrong will.   Which is why companies like Google have, in the past, made new product launches invitation only. Alternatively, instead of staggering out a launch over a weekend, they’ve staggered it over a week or a month.   That way, you slowly build up the traffic on your servers instead of having a sudden load of people trying to access your service all at once.   Likewise, make sure you have clear air in the media before a major product launch. There is a time and a place to announce bad news – and the day before a major product launch is never that time or that place.   In short, if you want your business to succeed, look at what BlackBerry have done lately – and do the opposite!   Get it done – today!

Finalists announced for pitching conference at leading technology conference Tech23

9:04AM | Wednesday, 18 September

Twenty-three start-ups will pitch to a panel of investors and start-up veterans for prizes ranging from meetings with mentors to tens of thousands of dollars at the upcoming Tech23 conference in October.   The start-ups come from a range of sectors including robotics, app development and software-as-a-service.   Marita Cheng, founder executive at robotic arm-maker 2Mar Robotics and chief told StartupSmart the competition was a great networking opportunity for her team.   “It’s a great way to get the message out there about my company and to meet other entrepreneurs and some investors, as well as refine my pitch and have the chance to earn some prize money as well,” she says.   2Mar Robotics launched in April, and is currently refining the second iteration of its product and taking pre-orders. Cheng has been passionate about robotics since she was very young.   “When I was growing up, my mum wanted me to do the chores but I would do it begrudgingly, and thought a robot would be better. And there were none, so I thought, why can’t I be the one who brings them into the world?” Cheng says.   Nicholas Tong, co-founder and chief executive at fall detection and elderly support watch company Edisse told StartupSmart the conference was very well regarded and they’d been encouraged to apply by several mentors.   “The competition will put us in contact with people we wouldn’t usually be able to reach,” Tong says, adding while they’ve been pitching since they launched the start-up eight months ago, they’ve recently been focusing on product development.   “Pitches are iterative in themselves. We’ll get a whole bunch of questions after one pitch and re-factor that in. We’ll need to have another look at it, as we haven’t been pitching as much recently as we’ve been focusing on the second iteration of the product,” he says.   Tong says his team is looking forward to pitching their idea, and getting people excited about the elderly, who he believes have been overlooked for decades.   “Our team quickly knew we didn’t just want to build another social start-up or app. We wanted to create something that had real impact, and we realised falls was a major one. And if you look at the market, it seems like no one really cares and there’s been no innovation,” Tong says.   The speaker line-up for the day will include Alan Noble from Google, Bill Bartee and Larry Marshall from Southern Cross Ventures, Melissa Widner from Seapoint Ventures, Paul Bassat from Square Peg Ventures, and Stuart Richardson from Adventure Capital.   Tech23 is coordinated by Slattery IT. Slattery IT founder and chief executive Rachel Slattery told StartupSmart they were seeing a larger contingent of start-ups based outside of Sydney.   “About half are from Sydney, but in the past it would always be a few more than half. About six are from Queensland, and that’s exciting as usually we’d be lucky to get one,” Slattery says.   “We were looking for the most innovative companies that could demonstrate traction. Ultimately it’s an event, so we look at what’s going to be interesting and who is great talent.”   While prizes haven’t been confirmed yet, Slattery says there are some “fairly hefty wads of cash floating around” and they were delighted to welcome AMP, PayPal and the REA group as prize sponsors.   The start-ups taking part are: 121Cast, 2Mar Robotics, BuyReply, Edisse, Ennova, Food Orbit, Geepers, HSK Instruments, Instrument Works, Intersective, Kounta, Liquid State, My Myk, Nano-Nouvelle, ollo mobile, OneTouch, Open Learning Global, Roomz, SABRE Autonomous Solutions, See-Out, SimplyShow.Me, SkyTree, and Xped Corporation.

Top four tips for effectively hiring and managing outsourced workers

9:19PM | Monday, 16 September

Matt Cooper, vice president of international and enterprise at oDesk, told StartupSmart back in August that the new frontier of outsourced work required managers to develop their communications and leadership skills in new ways.   “If you’re a mediocre manager when you’re sitting next to the worker, you’ll be a really bad one when they’re on the other side of the world,” Cooper said. “You need to communicate more and be more specific, and be more engaged as they work. It does pay off, but it is a new skill for a lot of people.”   Cooper is in Sydney this week for a series of events in the lead up to the Startup Spring Festival, including one entitled: Everything you thought you knew about hiring but don’t.   “The global skills shortage is predicted to turn into a war for talent. In 20 years, there will be 5600 new tech start-ups in Australia alone, according to Google and PwC. All those companies are going to be competing with yours for the very best people,” Cooper says.   He shared his top four tips for managing outsourced workers with StartupSmart.   1. Find the right people: Wide sights, narrow target   Cooper says people need to realise even though they turn to outsourcing to meet a skill gap or demand, smart outsourcers know they’re hiring people rather than positions.   “If you can't find someone with those skills and experience for your budget, then it’s going to stay empty. Instead, find someone who has half the core skills you need, but could be trained in others. Remember that everyone brings something new to the table: they may turn out to have talents you didn’t ask for, and didn’t even know you needed,” Cooper says.   2. Consider multiple outsourcers and be flexible   Depending on your management style, you can customise your outsourcing workload to suit your company’s needs. Cooper says using multiple outsourcers can have unexpected benefits.   “Having two people also gives you double the chance of bonus skills, and it gives you much easier absentee cover options. Plus if the workload suddenly spikes, one or both of your part-timers may be able to add more days,” Cooper says.   He adds this is especially important for people working with outsourcers such as new parents and young people, who require greater flexibility than more traditional employees.   3. Keep your core staff in the loop about your outsourced work   While the work may happen offshore, overnight and by someone you’ve never met before, smart managers keep their core staff informed of how the outsourced work is being handled so they can tap into their full professional network.   “Your employees may have some great ideas about who might be a good fit for their team. The chances are they know of suitable people looking for work, or can ask through their own networks. They may even want to train for the vacancy themselves, but you won't know what hidden potential you already have on hand until you ask,” Cooper says.   4. Recognise the global outsourcing trend requires new approaches   Managing teams where the geography is irrelevant beyond when you schedule meetings, Cooper says managers also need to shift how they think about recruitment and managing talent.   “Workers chop and change a lot these days, particularly younger employees, and particularly those with highly in-demand skills. Even if you find the perfect hire, they may not stay around forever. So prepare for churn. Consider recruitment an ongoing process, and look for talent in advance of when you need it. Keep resumes on file. Store the contacts of talented people you've met at business events. Even if they’re not looking for work in six months’ time, they may have a colleague who is,” Cooper says.

Top US investor Jonathan Teo to visit Melbourne

9:15AM | Monday, 9 September

Leading US investor Jonathan Teo will visit Melbourne next month to meet local start-ups and entrepreneurs and speak at an event hosted by investor group Investors’ Org.   Adrian Stone, chairman of Investors’ Org, which organised Teo’s visit, said in a statement the group was “super excited” that Teo was visiting and checking out Melbourne’s start-up sector.   “In recent years Melbourne has been home to a number of very successful start-ups, including 99designs, Kaggle and Catch of the Day, and RetailMeNot,” Stone says. RetailMeNot recently listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange in the US.   Teo is the managing director of venture capital firm General Catalyst Partners and was involved with Twitter, which is estimated to be worth around $11 billion, Instagram, which was sold to Facebook for $1 billion and Snapchat, a photo-sharing platform valued at $800 million.   While in Melbourne, Teo is also due to meet government innovation officials.   Teo has a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Sydney University, a Masters from Stanford University in the US and managed several engineering teams at Google.   His profile on the General Catalyst Partners website says his areas of investment interest are consumer internet services and infrastructure.   In a recent interview with Forbes, Teo said while he didn’t know what the next big thing in consumer applications would be, he has been focusing his efforts “on culture and its enablement in the digital realm”.   “My job is not to read the future, but to see the needs of people all around the world (thus all the international interest) and find the common threads of need and desire that can be expressed through product,” he told Forbes.

Coalition wins federal election: What next for start-ups

9:08AM | Sunday, 8 September

The election is over. The Coalition has won. Now what does it mean for Australia’s start-up sector?   Unfortunately, it’s not entirely obvious.   It’s something that’s been picked up on by members of the start-up community who are wondering what attention their industry will attract now that Australia has a new government.   Dean McEvoy, who launched Australian group buying website Spreets.com.au, published on his blog an open letter to Coalition broadband spokesman Malcolm Turnbull last week highlighting the opportunity around start-ups that “at the moment nobody appears to own”.   “There is an opportunity with the right incentives to inspire a generation of technology entrepreneurs,” he wrote.   His letter was supported by other leaders in the start-up community, with Pollenizer co-founder Mick Liubinskas commenting that “supporting start-ups shows real leadership”.   Blue Chilli co-founder Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin added: “Thanks for the open letter Dean and I agree that we have a golden opportunity to support the emerging economy and again draw attention to the report by PwC on the impact this industry can have on the Australian economy if the sufficient support is done correctly now.”   At the Coalition’s e-government and digital economy policy last week, the policy document recognised that “policies encouraging innovation, funding research and providing incentives for entrepreneurs are very important over the medium term in developing a more sophisticated economic base”.   In April this year, a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, commissioned by Google, said Australia’s tech start-up sector had the potential to contribute $109 billion, or 4% of gross domestic product, to the Australian economy and 540,000 jobs by 2033 “with a concerted effort from entrepreneurs, educators, the government and corporate Australia”.   The Coalition’s policy said that while a vibrant start-up community would be very encouraging, “there are limits to the capacity of governments to will this into existence, and, even if they could, it would not be material to the broader economy for years”.   When StartupSmart asked Coalition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull’s spokesman for its policies relating to start-ups, we were referred to speeches Turnbull had made earlier in the year.   Turnbull told the Kickstarter conference in February: “What we really have to do is to make sure we create an environment and some judicious support whether it is by way of R&D (research and development) concessions or supporting venture capitalists; we’ve got to make sure that what we are doing is really supporting you and your counterparts around Australia because you are the future of the industry.”   He also said the Coalition was committed to making it easier for businesses to get on without excessive regulation and has pledged to cut the cost of red tape by at least $1 billion for each year it is in office.   McEvoy suggested fixing tax laws that don’t incentivise people to take risks and be entrepreneurs and inhibit experienced people from helping start-ups.   “The second and most important thing is to take ownership of this opportunity. Let it be known that you are aware of this opportunity and will sit down and help work out policies that make it thrive, not let this massive opportunity slip through the cracks,” McEvoy wrote.   The start-up sector’s wishlist for the election included action on employee share scheme arrangements by making them simpler and their tax treatment more start-up friendly, more early stage funding available for start-ups, and a focus on educating more computer engineers.   A review is underway into employee share schemes, with incoming Treasurer Joe Hockey saying in July that the Coalition would consider making changes.   StartupSmart also asked a spokesman for Coalition industry and innovation spokeswoman Sophie Mirabella for a list of policies relating to the start-up sector, but didn’t receive a response.   The Coalition has also pledged to protect medical research funding and provide “long-term” policy stability and that there needs to be better links between government, business and research institutions.   With the election now over, and the business of governing now in the Coalition’s hands, the start-up community will be watching closely to see what changes, if any, come to help their sector.

Enable or disable Google Instant in Chrome

9:52AM | Friday, 6 September

Google introduced a feature a couple of years ago called Instant, which would automatically fill search functions for you while typing.   It can be useful, but also annoying. If you’re using Chrome, then you can turn it off.   Head to the Settings page, and then choose “Enable Instant” under the “search” heading in order to toggle it on or off.

Upgrade your Google storage

9:28AM | Thursday, 5 September

When you create a Google account, the company gives you a set amount of storage for you to use in Gmail and other products.   But if you’re using a backup product like Google Drive, you can actually buy more.   To do so, head to the Settings app, and then click on the “accounts and import” tab. The very last link should say “upgrade your storage”, which will take you to a new web page.   There, you should be able to buy more storage for Google’s online products, including Google Drive and Picasa. It’s cheap, too – only $2.49 a month for 25GB.

Assessing a start-up’s potential in 12 minutes and 56 questions

9:57AM | Wednesday, 4 September

I was asked to look at a business opportunity the other day on behalf of a mate and fellow member of the Entrepreneur’s Organisation in Melbourne.   He is currently sailing around the world with his family for three years, after successfully selling his business. It made me realise how I was able to use all of my experience to gauge a complete position on a start-up in a phone call, which lasted 12 minutes with the founder along with probably 15 minutes of prior research.   As a result, I thought it would be useful to share my screening process, which helps me form an opinion quickly as to whether to continue the conversation.   I’ve seen a lot of pitches and get approached by a number of entrepreneurs who want and need help. Unfortunately, ‘time’ is the scarcest resource, so it’s critical to get it right before committing to anyone.   I’ve also got enough of my own opportunities to work on, but generally happy to hear someone out as it’s great to connect with smart, motivated entrepreneurs and stay in touch with them for the future in the event that we can’t work together today.   Some entrepreneurs want money, others want guidance, but before I can work out what I think they really need, there’s a bunch of things I need to assess before actually looking at the business itself. Here’s my approach: Before I start, I warn them that I’m about to bombard them with questions to gain a quick picture, and likely to cut them off to avoid rambling, so now I’m less likely to offend and at least very clear about the next 10 or so minutes!   The person   It’s imperative to understand their background, experience, skills and motivation as it’s initially the founder driving the business forward:   What’s your background? Which high school did you attend? What did you study at uni? What grades did you get at school and uni? Did you work while you were at high school or at uni? What subjects did you love? What do your parents do? What do your brothers and sisters do? Where do you live? Have you had to pay rent? Who pays your credit card bill? What are your monthly living expenses? What are you passionate about in life? What are you really good at? What do you suck at? Why do you want to be an entrepreneur? What hours do you work on your start-up? What time did you get out of bed today? Who have you worked for? What skills did you learn? Have you been in business before? (If not – I stop there. I’d rather someone who has tried and failed but not someone too green.) Who funded it, how did it go? Have you failed in a business before? If so, what were your biggest lessons? What are the last three business books you’ve read and when did you read them?   I’m looking for someone smart, motivated, ambitious and with a strong work ethic who has no option but to succeed. I like to understand their ‘breed’ and potential culture fit. It’s often the family background that helps establish some pattern for work ethic, motivation and values set.   Would you rather back a maiden horse who has never won a race or likely to come close, or back a maiden who’s got great potential and willing to do what it takes?   If the person is not suitable, it would only be out of curiosity sake to hear about the actual business opportunity.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. The opportunity   Here’s the exciting bit. What’s the business and opportunity all about and what stage is it really at:   Tell me about your business (assuming I’ve already had a look at the website or some other information as I like to be prepared before wasting my time) What problem are you solving? How big is the problem? What’s the value for a customer? What’s compelling about your offering? How easy would it be to replicate what you are doing? Who are your current competitors or similar players? What are the barriers to entry? Have you any experience in this industry sector? What role do you play in this business? How much money have you personally invested? Who plays the other roles – who are they and what are their backgrounds? What’s the current shareholding if you currently have partners? What value do they add? (this could kill the deal as often the equity is already split too many ways for not much added value unless a complete restructure) What are the macro factors going on in the industry right now? Is the industry growing or declining and do you know why? How much have you invested to date in this business in terms of hours and money? What metrics have you achieved so far i.e. number of users, current customers, growth rates? How much has it cost to acquire a new customer (does this person even know their own metrics? Most don’t!) What feedback have you had from current customers who’ve bought your product/service? How do you plan to grow this business?   It’s amazing to see how some entrepreneurs go along way down the track without knowing a whole lot about their industry, the market, other players and generally what’s happening.   They don’t know where their opportunity lies in the scheme of things, nor know who has come and gone before them and why.   It’s a huge risk to have a founder who has no intimate knowledge of their industry or sector with limited experience. A lack of experience is fine if the energy, motivation and willingness to learn is there; assuming they’re a great operator with a great market opportunity.   Often, the opportunity lies in being able to help fill many voids as an experienced entrepreneur is less likely to need help and more likely to want more for less.   The ability to fast track growth cleanly and smoothly and add genuine value based on my experience, knowledge and networks is what I am looking for.   Assessing the deal   Does the founder have realistic expectations given that they need help, and most likely a lot of help, where their business would otherwise fail?   What are you looking for specifically now to grow – cash, resources, contacts, expertise? What are you willing to give up? Could I replicate what has currently been done in a short amount of time for a fraction of what the current owner has spent? Is there anything that’s compellingly unique that provides some protection against new entrants? Do I like these guys – could I hang out with them day to day? Are they future leaders? Do they listen and want to learn? Can I add genuine value to this business? Do I understand the associated risks with this business and industry and can they be managed? Am I passionate about this industry, product or service offering? Is it worthwhile my time, energy, resources and commitment?   In a nutshell, there is no shortage of opportunities, but there is definitely a shortage of good people with good opportunities that meet your criteria at a deal that is worth your while! It’s a long-term investment with any new business, particularly if you are willing to be ‘hands on’ rather than a pure cash investor.   My hit rate and likelihood of success has significantly improved as my experience grows and my screening process gets better, although there is no secret formula. Ask any successful venture capitalist in Silicon Valley who overlooked Facebook, Google or Groupon in their early stages!   Some entrepreneurs can really surprise you and perform wildly above your expectations, and others can severely disappoint and go missing in the wilderness (literally).   When times are tough, it’s easy to spot those that choose to survive and those that choose to fail. Although this is half the fun of start-up land, which is ultimately where the risk and reward is the highest!   If you want help assessing a start-up opportunity on your behalf – feel free to contact me via www.jonathanweinstock.com.au.

How to set up two-factor authentication in Google

8:19AM | Tuesday, 27 August

Protecting your online accounts is as serious as protecting any other type of critical data. You don’t want to find yourself hacked.   Google includes a handy two-factor authentication system that not many people actually use. However, it can save you when you really need it.   To set it up, you need to head to your account settings page by going to www.google.com/settings.   Then, you need to click on “security” and then press “edit” to turn on two-factor authentication. Just follow all the prompts – including using a mobile number for text authentication – and then your account will be secure.

Australian multimillion-dollar design start-up Canva launches worldwide

8:33PM | Monday, 26 August

Canva, a well-backed start-up promising to revolutionise the design field of marketing collateral, has launched worldwide.   Founded by Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht, Canva says it aims to equip everyone with the tools to create their own marketing collateral. The idea evolved from their first start-up, Fusion Books, which allowed high school students to design and create their own yearbooks.   The development of Canva has been watched with interest by many in the start-up industry, after closing a $3 million funding round including investments from Commercialisation Australia, one of the funds now merged into Square Peg Capital and Silicon Valley based investor Bill Tai.   Canva has recently attracted significant tech talent to its team, which now includes Cameron Adams and Google’s Dave Hearnden.   Perkins told StartupSmart they were nervous and excited to be launching Canva.   “At the start it was just Cliff and I, two uni students, sitting at my mum's dining room table with a big vision. We had to learn every aspect of business; how to build a product, hire an engineering team, market our platform, everything really,” Perkins says.   Perkins says despite running their own business for a few years, they came to Canva with minimal exposure to the start-up industry.   “At the start we didn’t know what venture capital was, let alone how to go about fundraising. In fact, we’d never even thought of ourselves as a start-up, as we’d never heard the term,” Perkins says. Canva is a free to download and use platform. The revenue will come from the stock images, the only part of the platform users pay for.   Perhaps because of this, Perkins says her personal focus for the next year will be on ensuring positive user experiences.   “We’re focused on allowing everyone to take an idea and frictionlessly turn it into a design,” Perkins says. “We want users to feel confident while designing and proud of the designs they create. We believe the key to strong growth is people coming back to Canva time and time again and promoting Canva to their family, colleagues and clients.”   Perkins explains their journey from idea to international launch in the video below:  

How to use your MVP to test how your business will grow

8:38AM | Thursday, 22 August

Creating clear growth hypotheses to test before launching your beta round and minimum viable product can save start-ups a lot of wasted time, energy and money, an innovation expert says.   Dr Amantha Imber is head ‘inventiologist’ at Inventium, a management consultancy company that works with companies to better their creative innovation processes.   She will be running an innovation masterclass at the Creative Innovation Asia Pacific 2013 conference.   Imber told StartupSmart a successful product and start-up was more likely to emerge from a thorough beta-testing period with clear hypotheses.   “For the riskier, more novel ideas, everything may stack up in the business plan, but it’s a completely different when it hits the market,” Imber says. “It’s almost a scientific experiment, and based on those results, you can iterate and refine the product.”   Imber says an area start-ups often overlook during their MVP and beta-testing process is gauging how their product is most likely to grow.   “MVPs let you turn the key variables into hypotheses and test these. So you can set up experiments to test those hypotheses,” Imber says, adding that the most common way a product grows is through word of mouth, repeat users or advertising.   She says online businesses are perfectly placed to test all of these due to Google Analytics and social media data, especially for testing repeat user hypotheses, but nothing beats a face-to-face conversation or phone call for insight and detail.   “Ask every client you can about how they found you. It’s a really important question, and it’s about how you ask it,” Imber says.   Many companies use drop-down menus, but Imber says the data shows most users will just pick the first option, making the data useless.   “Drop-down menus with options are the worst way to test how people are finding you. Open-ended questions without prompts is a more accurate way of collecting data. You need to think about what information you need and not go with well-worn options.” Imber says.   To test your assumptions around growth from advertising, Imber recommends establish a unique phone number or URL to promote via these channels, so you can see how many leads are coming from these sources.   She adds the most important factor in a beta testing round is connecting with people who genuinely struggle with the problem you’re trying to solve, so they are committed to what you’re creating.   “If it’s solving a real problem, it’ll be well received even with glitches and missing features. Finding the people who are struggling with the issue means they’ll be both more forgiving, and give you richer feedback,” Imber says.

Content marketing isn’t a buzz word, it’s here to stay

8:24AM | Tuesday, 20 August

Creating compelling content that builds audiences is an important marketing pillar for anyone starting out in business.   Known as content marketing, custom media, custom publishing, branded content and branded media, this style of marketing is particularly important given consumers are increasingly seeking out information they can trust.   Content marketing enables businesses to deliver content via tutorials, email newsletters, white papers, custom publications, ebooks, free reports, blogs or social media.   Anyone can create relevant content that spruiks their business. If you’re a landscape gardener launching your own business, you could own a niche audience of followers keen to hear your thoughts on drought-resistant gardens, for example.   Content marketing is the way of the future, says the chief executive of the Association for Data-Driven Marketing and Advertising, Jodie Sangster.   “The future of marketing is content marketing. The convergence of data, technology, new consumer consumption habits and digital distribution mean the business case for content marketing has never been more compelling.”   Craig Hodges, chief executive and founder of King Content says content marketing has been around forever. It works best for companies that want to drive leads and sales, working across multiple sectors from banking and finance to fast moving consumer goods, he says.   “It’s not something that has developed in the last couple of months, as many people might think. The real game changer has been the transformation in the way consumers find brands and ‘stuff’ in general.   “Google has played an integral role in this by determining they wanted a search engine free of keyword-stuffed landing pages, instead ranking quality sites with great content,” Hodges says.   This has encouraged brands to begin investing in owned, searchable content assets that are of value to the consumer and share the essence of what the brand stands for through storytelling, he says.   “If you couple this with the role of social media, a powerful sharing and amplification tool, it’s easy to see why there has been such a focus on developing quality content marketing strategies.”   Content marketing works well for new online homewares/linen store, I Love Linen.   Melbourne founder Lauren Roe has had strong results from Facebook despite the brand only launching a few months ago.   “A great Facebook strategy is based on engaging with customers and promoting a certain image around a desired lifestyle and then finding ways to link it back to your products,” Roe says. One of her recent posts was shared by a popular blogger with a huge Facebook following, which resulted in a day of high traffic and sales, she says.   “It’s so easy to manage because once you have a good content strategy and you know the themes around how you want to post, then you can pre-source and pre-load all the content. We do this once a week so it’s locked and loaded so we don’t have to think of content ideas on the fly,” Roe says.   “I know Facebook works because I track the click-throughs from Google Analytics and can track the purchase journey that way. A great example is a customer that I generated via Facebook has purchased with us three times in just under six weeks,” she says.   Content marketing is also a key marketing pillar for Intrepid Travel, with content partnerships forged to develop content that will appeal to potential customers.   One of its most successful partnerships has been with sustainable food filmmakers The Perennial Plate. This partnership sent two chefs to 13 countries to create short videos that reflect local food culture, which aligns with Intrepid’s new range of food adventures and commitment to responsible and sustainable travel.   “The videos are authentic and compelling and each has its own distribution strategy. The first video that was produced received over 300,000 views and the series so far has been viewed by 2.75 million,” global public relations manager Eliza Anderson says.   Many start-ups already embark on a PR campaign, but minor tweaks to existing PR, communications and social media content isn’t the same thing as content marketing, according to a report by technology research firm Gartner.   Hiring freelance writers to create your content, create a pipeline of talent via online freelance marketplaces like elance or outsource your newsroom can be great ways to get the content you need, says Gartner analyst Jake Sorofman.   Ultimately, businesses need to decide what end result they want to achieve from content marketing from the outset, he says.   “Do you want to create blog posts, build a special website or blog, or generate Facebook comments or Tweets? Ensure that whatever content management system you are using can create content forms that match your goals. Also ensure that each asset you generate can be shared socially,” Sorofman says.   But creating content is one thing. Making sure it’s reaching an audience is something else altogether. Distribution of content is a major issue, according to a recent roundtable forum held in Sydney.   Hosted by ADMA and content marketing firm Edge, it found that many businesses overlook the importance of developing distribution strategies.   Care needs to be taken when it comes to distribution as distribution via social media can turn consumers off, according to a recent report by Pitney Bowes Software. It found that 83% of consumers have had a bad social media marketing experience.   Simon Bird, general manager Australia, warns that annoying customers can mean lost revenue, with 65% of consumers saying they’d stop using a brand that upset or irritated them through its social media behaviour.   “It’s critical for businesses to develop an in-depth understanding of their customers’ communications preferences and what makes them tick. You need to approach customers through the channels they like and with content that is relevant to them and their current situation.”   Five tips to help start-ups thrive in the age of content   Create brand ambassadors. Use Twitter Advanced Search to find people who are talking about similar offerings to yours. Contact them and get them excited about your brand   Understand and track your SEO. Use free Google tools like Adwords, Analytics and Trends to compare keywords, view keyword search traffic demand and find out if your keywords are converting traffic   Take advantage of hashtags. Simple and consistent hashtags like #apps help your target market find your start-up. Use social dashboard tools like HootSuite or TweetDeck to find relevant hashtags.   Find free publicity. Sign up for free services like SourceBottle and HARO, which connect journalists with sources to easily and cheaply build a reputation in your industry.   Protect your reputation before you have one. Use free tools like Google Alerts and watchthatpage.com to find out what is being said about your company, competitors and industry.   Source: Ali Berg, head of content, Online Circle Digital

Could your business find itself in dire straits over your salespeople’s “unconscionable conduct”?

8:54AM | Friday, 16 August

Earlier today, your humble correspondent was sitting in the bat-cave office in Taskmaster Towers as some alarming news came across the scanners.   In a test case, vacuum cleaner distributor Lux was found to have acted “unconscionably” in selling vacuum cleaners to five elderly people.   According to reports, elderly people were offered a free vacuum cleaner maintenance check, only to be pressured into buying a vacuum cleaner. For anyone who employs salespeople, this news sucks – literally.   Of course, there’s a reason why Old Taskmaster keeps carping on about sales. Quite simply, unless you convince someone to hand over cash in exchange for your goods and services, your business is not viable.   “But what if I make some cash by just throwing up a nice website with some Google AdWords down the right hand side column?” you might whine.   Well, if anyone could do it, everyone probably has. Which means the amount of money anyone could get by doing it is limited. Everything else is a get rich quick scheme – probably run by a shyster who’s (ironically) good at sales!   Unless you’re Dire Straits, forget about getting money for nothing – no matter how much you might want to play guitar on MTV!   You won’t make payroll unless you sell some installed microwave ovens – and get some custom kitchens delivered! You’ve got to move these refrigerators! You’ve got to move these colour TVs!   Sales is also a tough business. Getting people to part with their cash is arguably the toughest part of running a company. Often, it leads to lazy and greedy people taking short cuts. Poorly thought through commission structures lead to dirty sales tactics that stain your brand – the kind of mess no Lux product will clean!   While some salespeople will always be dodgy, you are ultimately in charge of their reward structure. You’re ultimately in charge of the KPIs and targets they have to meet. You’re in charge of your corporate culture and expectations. So when the ACCC comes a-calling with “unconscionable conduct” accusations, guess who they’ll be calling, boss?   KPIs and the expectations you set go a long way in setting the behaviour you’ll get out of your salespeople.   For example, if you run a business selling subscription-based products, instead of setting your KPI around getting the maximum number of new subscribers, try setting it around the number of subscribers still with you in six months’ time. The former rewards people who sign people up no matter what it takes, even if they quit as soon as the first bill arrives. The latter rewards finding long-term satisfied customers.   Also make it known to your sales staff that missing a sales target is always preferable to complaints about dodgy or illegal sales tactics. With the former, you can provide extra coaching and support. The latter is always intolerable.   Finally, it might be worthwhile following up with some of your customers after your initial sales contact. It doesn’t have to be every one, just a few. Again, reward positive reviews as part of your KPIs.   Now that ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it!   Get it done – today!

The impact an accelerator can have: Two Slingshot start-ups share their stories

8:15AM | Wednesday, 14 August

Eight tech start-ups, the current intake of the Slingshot start-up accelerator program, have pitched their ideas to a packed out room of almost 300 people at its demo day.   Program co-founder Trent Bagnell told StartupSmart the program had been embraced by the community.   “The ecosystem as a whole has really embraced the program, and our start-up teams have got a lot of value out that,” Bagnell says. “It’s always interesting to see how it’ll go, but the pitches were really good and there is a fair bit of investor interest already.”   Nick Trkulja, co-founder and managing director of bitcoin exchange World BX, told StartupSmart his team did a 360 degree pivot during the program.   For the first six weeks, Trkulja and his team were focused on launching Flightbids, a platform to bid for low-cost, last minute flights.   “We validated there wasn’t really a long-term option for this business model,” Trkulja says. “It’s always tough to do such a big pivot, especially when you’ve been putting so much time into an idea, you want to test it but sometimes you need to fail fast and move onto the next thing that will work.”   Trkulja says they had been exploring the bitcoin exchange idea prior to the program, but couldn’t find the right technical co-founder, as they needed both technical expertise and a financial services background.   They found the right chief technical officer, Paul Hulskamp, in Newcastle, and intend to launch the platform within the next six weeks. They’ve also launched an escrow service, which now has over 14,000 users and turns over $50,000 in escrow each month.   Trkulja adds Paul’s experience in building tech infrastructure for stock exchanges means they’ve built a platform that can process thousands more transactions per second than the current market leader.   While Shaon Diwakar, co-founder of related stories widget NewsMaven, didn’t have such a significant pivot, he says the Slingshot program gave them the courage to pursue their long-term goal from the beginning.   “Working with the mentors we realised we could head straight into our long-term plan, so it was a big fast track for us,” Diwakar says.   NewsMaven went into the program with a prototype similar to Google Reader.   “We ditched the reader clone and went straight into the recommendations engine widget. Had we’d been left on our own, we wouldn’t have been under the same amount of pressure or had the courage to do this.”   NewsMaven has launched a minimum viable product and they’re targeting small to medium publishers in the food and wine, and sport blog space. They’re also in discussions with a major news company.   “Now it’s a matter of focusing on getting traction. We have an MVP and a good looking roadmap on what we want to do next, but it’s all about traction, so that’s our focus for the next, well, forever,” Diwakar says.   The eight companies were selected from over 150 applicants. They come from a range of industries including music and mining, and four are based in the Newcastle/Hunter region.   The slidedeck from the pitch night can be viewed here.

Set meeting length in Google Calendar

8:12AM | Tuesday, 13 August

If you use Google Calendar often, you’d know that setting a meeting can be annoying if you’ve set the default meeting length at an hour. Sometimes you just don’t need that much.   You can change the default by heading into the Settings page, then scrolling down to the “default meeting length” option. There, you can change the setting from 60 minutes to 15, 30, 90 or 120.

Small jobs marketplace Occasional Butler begins national rollout and expands to Sydney

8:38AM | Monday, 12 August

Occasional Butler, a peer-to-peer marketplace based in Melbourne, is expanding to Sydney as the first step in its national rollout.   Launched in July 2012, the marketplace allows customers to get small jobs done around the home or office by casual workers. Over 500 jobs have been organised through the site.   Co-founder Jodie Imam told StartupSmart they had concentrated on Melbourne while they developed their offering and systems.   “We wanted to make sure the website was working how our users wanted it to. Now we’ve reached critical mass in Melbourne, we know we can handle the transactions and everything is running smoothly,” Imam says. “We’ve got a bit of a rhythm now, so we know we can handle more jobs.”   While Imam and her co-founder and husband, Erz, will manage the Sydney offering from Melbourne, she says they’ll be doing a lot of local work in Sydney and changing their messaging slightly.   “The main change will be focusing our advertising efforts towards Sydney. We advertise on a lot of job sites and through Google for people looking for workers, but also those looking to make a bit of extra money.”     Imam says they’ve developed a pool of 1400 occasional butlers in Melbourne and they’re recruiting and building a network of 500 launch workers in Sydney. They will also be looking to hire a Sydney-based community manager in the next few months.   Imam concedes the peer-to-peer small jobs market is an increasingly competitive one. Last month Airtasker, which also connects people wanting small jobs done with people willing to do them, partnered with online jobs website CareerOne.   Imam says they’ll be in Sydney a fair bit as part of their wider marketing strategy.   “One of the most successful things we’ve done for marketing has been actually being out in the community handing out fliers and chatting to people. There are so many online businesses, and people can be a bit wary about who is behind these companies, so we try to head out and chat to as many communities as we can,” she says.   She adds they’ve developed a softer and more personable brand than other offerings.   “We feel that our brand is a strong differentiator. We’re trying to build a loyal community based on us rewarding and recognising our butlers,” Imam says. “We know from feedback that our community has a really soft, personable feel to it.”

Former Catch of the Day project manager launches start-up to tackle dog-eat-dog culture

8:25AM | Monday, 5 August

Fresh from serving as a project manager in the start-up division of online retail group Catch of the Day, Robert McIntosh has this week launched a start-up to deliver monthly gifts, such as flowers, coffee or beer, to people.   McIntosh told StartupSmart he wanted to find a business model that was successful in another country and bring it to Australia and then expand internationally.   “This is a decade-old business model originally made popular in the US. It was originally introduced for corporate gift-giving and its popularity evolved into other markets,” he says.   He settled on monthly gift services and launched Gift of the Month this week. The service allows users to buy a gift of regular, monthly delivery by signing up the recipient to a club.   McIntosh says he learned a lot from Catch of the Day.   “I learned a lot about the need to watch your money and be careful with it,” McIntosh says.   “They’re good to people, but they run a lean operation. They’re big on not burning your bridges with suppliers or anyone else.”   McIntosh says after working in start-ups and internet companies since 1998, he was keen to launch a positive idea.   “I’ve dealt with lots of founders and one of the things that I thought was there was a lot of take-take and dog-eat-dog mentality out there, and I wanted to be involved in gifts instead,” McIntosh says.   “I want to be able to contribute to the abundance of people’s lives and one of the ways of doing that was by giving.”   McIntosh says the monthly giving factor was decided by the fact the specific website domains were available.   “The big attraction was the generic domain name was available. I was surprised that at this time in eCommerce that a generic category domain name was available,” McIntosh says, adding he bought 200 similar domain names when he discovered the core sites were available.   “I registered the lot, a virtual clean sweep both in Australia, plural and singular, in New Zealand, Singapore and the UK.”   Gift of the Month now offers 14 clubs and has had three sales so far, to the flower, wine and movie of the month club.   As they’re delivering nationally, McIntosh and his team of five are working with a range of suppliers and delivery teams. He says finding the right supply model is an ongoing process.   “We could go with third party providers or to purchase everything wholesale and ship it ourselves. We’ve gone with a combination, and a delivery service for different suppliers with different states,” McIntosh says, adding they don’t need to lock a full range of gifts in yet.   McIntosh says he’s now tackling the major challenge facing all start-ups – getting web traffic to his site.   “The old notion of build it and they’ll come has worked so far, but we’re not relying on that,” McIntosh says, adding they’ll be expanding into new domain names for SEO reasons and launching a series of Google AdWord campaigns in the coming weeks.   “We think there is a real opportunity for the viral nature of the gift, because of the newness of it,” he says. “We’ve just got to get the base of marketing going and the product and service will sell itself, and other people will talk about it.”   Gift of the Month is focusing on Australia this year, but plans to expand to New Zealand, the UK and Singapore eventually.

Australian entrepreneur comes out of shell to pitch on world stage

7:42AM | Tuesday, 16 July

Australian entrepreneur Neil Smith is nervous ahead of pitching his start-up in front of a panel of investors in the US this week.   He’s one of six finalists from around the world, and the only Australian, who are in San Francisco taking part in start-up accelerator Founder Institute’s Founder Showcase event.   His start-up, slidefish, is an online platform for feedback for presentations and documents and Smith says the stakes are high.   “The level of pitching and expected standard is very high and the other companies involved all have great products and teams,” Smith says. “The opportunity is enormous; we have the chance to get a lot of exposure in the US and globally as a result of being a finalist.”   Previous finalists have raised more than $US75 million as a result of pitching at the event.   While Smith adds he’s not sure slidefish is even officially launched yet, he did a soft launch at a Google start-up event in February after Mick Liubinskas, from incubator Pollenizer, called for people to launch that night, promising promotion from himself, Kim Heras from accelerator PushStart, and Sally-Ann Williams and Alan Noble from Google.   Smith says being part of the Sydney program of the Founder Institute forced him to do all the business development work he was avoiding, and took away a lot of the random factors that can cause a company to fail, such as defining what the company is and its vision and developing a marketing plan.   The program was also personally challenging for participants, including Smith.   “It made me come out of my shell, as uncomfortable as that is at times. To start a company is one thing but to go and face people that you don't know with your baby is hard, to take the criticism and use that to build a better product and business,” Smith says.   “For me it was at times very hard and nerve wracking, I am quite happy to sit in a room by myself and work away without seeing or talking to anyone else for days or weeks. So to stand in front of a group of strangers and not sweat, and have wobbly hands is difficult, but after a few months of it you do get somewhat used to it, but I can't say I am comfortable at all with it yet.”   Regardless of the results of the final pitch, Smith will be developing a permanent presence in the US over the next 18 months.   “A large part of our target market is corporates like banking, insurance and advertising. These US companies will often only talk to you if you have an office here,” he says.   Slidefish is also looking at setting up offices in Europe and Asia for similar reasons.   “So the plan is to go global, be where the customers are, and grow as fast as we can,” Smith says.

Six ways time-poor entrepreneurs can get more mileage from content marketing

7:31PM | Sunday, 14 July

Content marketing is being hailed as the holy grail for marketers and start-ups everywhere.   But what we often overlook is that it’s hard work and time-consuming, so it’s easy to see why time-poor entrepreneurs simply don’t get around to it.   That’s why there’s an easier way to reap the benefits of content marketing without needing to do all the grunt work yourself. Here are six tips:   1. YouTube interview   Too busy to dream up your own content? One of the oldest tricks in the book, and still one of the best, is to interview someone. Some people use this technique to build entire careers and they never have to create their own content!   If you’re in person, use your smartphone to record it – there’s no technology excuses anymore. If you’re not in the same location, you can use Skype for free and Skype Call Recorder for $20 to record it. Then use a low-cost online service like Elance or Fiverr and get someone to convert it to a YouTube video. Or use iMovie if you want to do it yourself.   2. Use the audio version as a podcast   You can also just take an audio version of your interview and embed it on your website as a podcast for people to listen to.   3. Get a transcription for your blog   Take the YouTube URL of the interview and use a tool called Speechpad to transcribe it for you.   From $1 per minute of audio, this sure beats hitting play and rewind and typing it all up yourself. You can spend that time running your business or lining up the next interview.   4. Take a handful of transcriptions and turn it into an eBook   You’ve already got all the content you need to release an eBook and you don’t need to pick up a pen (or open your laptop). Compile four or so video interview transcripts and shoot it off to your designer on Elance or Odesk to whip it into a PDF eBook.   Some of the bestselling books of all time are just interviews. This format means you’re the author, but your guests have provided all the content – perfect for us time-poor entrepreneurs!   5. Email the top five insights to your subscribers   You wouldn’t usually send 40 pages of content via an email but why not send the ‘eBook highlights’ via email and attach the entire eBook for people who want to read the whole thing?   6. Do the final 1% of sharing it around   My final tip is to remember that the “easy wins” occur after you hit publish (which is when most people think their job is done). It takes minimal extra effort to post your content on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram once it’s live.   And the biggest goldmine of all is LinkedIn groups. Share your valuable content in the appropriate LinkedIn groups you’re a member of and interact with the readers who are kind enough to leave a comment.   It’s no secret that it’s hard work running a business and hard to do good content marketing, but leverage your time and use these tips and it gets easier. Feel free to download this free editorial calendar template to help keep yourself on track too!

Use Chrome as a calculator

7:46AM | Friday, 12 July

The Chrome browser has lots of little nifty features scattered about, but did you know you can also use it as a calculator?   In the address bar, just type out some simple equations like “2 + 2” and you’ll come to a Google search page with a calculator widget.   It’s probably only meant to be used for simple equations, but still, handy when you need it.

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