Growth can be a mixed blessing for startups. It’s great to have new customers knocking at the door, but only if your cost base and cash flow are up to the task of serving them. Otherwise, growth could actually be your downfall. It’s therefore important for startups to build a scalable business model – i.e. where revenue growth can outstrip growth in costs. Scalability is partly a question of what products you sell. But it’s also about having a scalable operational model: your sales, IT and workplace arrangements must permit growth with minimal upfront costs and delays. And, preferably, not require you to work 24/7. At Regus we’ve seen hundreds of our SME customers scale up their businesses in Australia, and here are a few of the lessons we’ve learnt from them over the years. Sales Sales arrangements that rely on the contacts and skills of a key individual can only take you so far. Instead, you need to develop sales processes as well as talent. For example, Use CRM software to track sales activity and share information with colleagues. Make sure no information goes to waste. Social media, website analytics and sales data are invaluable for tracking interest and conversion rates, helping you target marketing activity more efficiently. Develop training materials to help new sales staff generate revenues more quickly. Think differently. For example, Australian software giant Atlassian used transparent pricing on its website – not something usually associated with enterprise software – to drive sales, rather than employing a large salesforce. IT The major difference between starting a business now and doing it a couple of decades ago is technology. Cloud applications, open source software and ready-made e-commerce templates have facilitated both starting up and scaling up. There’s no need to invest in expensive software like CRM packages from day one – there are plenty of free or low-cost options available. But you do need to think about IT solutions from day one – don’t just launch a business and then try to patch on IT solutions afterwards. Workplace Traditional office arrangements and leases often lock small businesses into too-small premises and prevent them from expanding when they need to. In contrast, flexible workplace arrangements provide scalability. They allow businesses to take on new space without upfront capital investment; they also allow them the flexibility to grow rapidly, or if growth falters, to contract. In addition, the global network of a flexible workplace provider like Regus enables businesses to open virtual or physical offices wherever they see an opportunity for growth – without upfront investment or a fixed lease required. HR Finally, a scalable business must be able to hire exactly the talent it needs as soon as it needs it. But finding the right personality is just as important as finding the right skills. As small businesses rapidly grow, being able to maintain that company culture is essential to finding success. When Regus helped Google set up it’s first Portuguese office in one of our Lisbon centres, we sourced a foosball table and helped identify the right local providers to provide the renowned Google catering for their employees. In the US, Netflix allow employees to choose their own holidays, with no cap on how much leave people take. These flexible HR practices, such as letting staff choose where they work can help attract the right talent for your organisation- while keeping them engaged.
As we move into the age of big data, it's important that we understand the limitations and risks of bad information and poor programming. UK tech site The Register reports that Google Flu Trends has been a dismal failure with the service over-reporting the incidence of influenza by a factor of nearly 12. The reason for this problem is the algorithm used to determine the existence of a flu outbreak relies on people searching for the terms 'flu' or 'influenza' and it turns out we tend to over-react to a dose of the sniffles. Google Flu Trends' failure illustrates two important things about big data – the veracity of the data coming into the system and the validity of the assumptions underlying the algorithms processing the information. In the case of Google Flu Trends both were flawed; the algorithm was based on incorrect assumptions while the incoming data was at best dubious. The latter point is an important factor for the Internet of Machines. Instead of humans entering search terms, millions of sensors are pumping data into the system, so bad data from one sensor can have catastrophic effects on the rest of the network. As managing data becomes a greater task for businesses and governments, making sure that data is trustworthy will be essential and the rules that govern how the information is used will have to be robust. In a small business environment, it's possible to see a situation where a bad bank feed flags customers as not having paid their bills, triggering the accounting program to send out late payment letters while warning the proprietor that the company is about to go broke. That example alone should be a warning why we should be careful of bad data entering our business. Hopefully the lessons of Google Flu Trends will save us from more serious mistakes as we come to depend on what algorithms tell us about the data. Paul Wallbank is the publisher of Networked Globe, his personal blog Decoding The New Economy charts how our society is changing in the connected century. This article first appeared on SmartCompany.
Silicon Valley-based training facility the Singularity University is offering a fully sponsored position in its graduate studies program to an Australian startup founder developing an idea or project in the climate and environment sector. The Global Impact Competition Australia & New Zealand 2014 is inviting people with plans that could impact a million Australians in three years to propose ideas that could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, fossil energy use, or facilitate adaptation to climate change in any sector. The solutions can be social, policy or tech. Part university, part accelerator and part research centre, the Singularity University is an unaccredited training centre located in the NASA Ames Research Centre. It was founded by startup gurus including Google co-founder Larry Page and inventor Ray Kurzweil. The school’s Australasian ambassador, Dr Clarence Tan, says it’s impossible to get accredited as they update at least 50% of their content every year. The graduate studies program is a 10-week program designed to improve the skills of people attempting to create social and humanitarian good. Tan told StartupSmart they were looking for great people with big plans. “We look for academic skill level, although that’s not very important when you think of Jobs, Wozniak and Gates,” Tan says. “We really look for entrepreneurial and leadership skills, startup track record and your level of passion for fixing grand problems. We want you to want to impact a billion people in 10 years.” The 2013 Australian sponsorship recipient was Zezan Tam, from Melbourne. Applications close on April 25. The video below contains more information about the university.
With an explosion in more jobs than there are computer science students, learning computer programming is as essential for the 21st century as learning to read or write. Coupled with a drop in ICT graduates, there is an urgent need for something to change. But there’s some good news, with a report in The Australian claiming that computer programming could become mandatory for schoolchildren from age eight, pending a government review. The startup community has welcomed the announcement, with the general belief that such a move is long overdue. Learnable investor Leni Mayo has been a passionate advocate for teaching early programming to children and said this was a welcome step in the right direction. “Australia has a history of failure on this front and we’ve been screaming for something to be done,” Mayo says. “There’s a current crisis in Australia with not enough skilled programmers to fill the need, and we’re addressing this through migration. What this proposal does is create opportunity for future generations.” Mayo pointed to a post by Google engineer Neil Fraser, who visited Vietnam a year ago to see how they’re teaching computer science to students. Fraser writes that Vietnamese children begin basic programming lessons in second grade and in third grade they start learning how to use Microsoft Windows and how to type. While that’s not dissimilar to current Australian curriculum, by fourth grade Vietnamese students are programming in Logo – starting with sequences of commands and then progressing to loops. "By grade 5 they are writing procedures containing loops calling procedures containing loops," Fraser says. Fraser’s post provides a window into what is possible, says Mayo, and is a good framework for Australia to teach its schoolchildren how to become computer programmers, “By Year 11, kids should be writing programs,” he says. It is hoped that getting children interested in computer programming from an early age will lead to greater interest in programming. Mayo says building this interest was more important than skills they learnt in doing it. “By year 9 and 10, kids already realise what it is they want to do, so getting in at primary school is the right move,” he says. An immediate issue would be skilling current teachers to be able to teach computer programming. “When you look at the research, most teachers in the system don’t have a STEM background or are even interested in it,” Mayo says. “The issue is that fixing this could be a 10-20 year cycle.” The Australian reports that 23,500 teachers would need training with a budget of $23 million. In the meantime, Mayo says there are a lot of great programs out there for parents who want to help their kids learn to program. He played Robot Turtle with his own six and eight-year-olds. The review is expected to be concluded by mid-year.
With so many excellent and diverse startups out there, picking only five startups to celebrate as candidates for the big title this year was never going to be easy. The following were picked based on the strength of the idea and how well the company has performed on their early goals. The winner will be announced at the StartupSmart awards night. You can follow the awards night with the hashtag #susawards. b2cloud Mobile app development is a booming industry, with this startup well placed to make the most of it, already working with major brands such as Virgin Mobile and the official Sydney New Year’s apps for Telstra. Founded by Luke Smorgon and Josh Guest, b2Cloud brought in over almost $1 million last year. < The team are keen to stay ahead of the crowd and are already experimenting with apps for wearable technology such as Google Glass and Galaxy Gear. Tommy Swiss Online furniture retailer Tommy Swiss launched with a new way of buying furniture. Founder Jimmy Du says there appeared to be only three options: aggregators and drop shippers; local focused offerings; and importer focused stores. All had their pros and cons, especially around delivery. Du’s hybird model, where 50% is exclusive to his brand, is working for him: the company brought in over $2 million in revenue last year. Paws for Life Pet supplies may not sound like a rich opportunity for startups at first, but when you consider the prevalence of pets and how much their owners are willing to spend on them, it becomes a very attractive industry quickly. For the Paws of Life cofounders Mike Frizell and James Edwards, it was too good an opportunity to miss, as they saw the millions of venture capital dollars being poured into similar online offerings in the US. The company made $5 million in revenue last year and is growing rapidly. The founders spoke to StartupSmart about their $1.5 million raise and growth plans last year. Bugcrowd Online security is a multibillion-dollar industry set to keep growing for years to come. Crowdsourcing is also a burgeoning phenomenon. This startup is right in the sweet spot to ride both waves. Founded by Casey Ellis and Chris Raethke, BugCrowd runs competitions, known as bug bounties, with professional hackers and testers for big clients who want to make sure their websites are as safe as possible. Built on a marketplace model, the company made over $250,000 in revenue last year. Ellis spoke to StartupSmart about their $1.6 million fundraising round, moving to the US and learning to speak American in September last year. Wine Cru (Vinomofo) After a couple of years trying to find the right business model to monetise their passion, wine deals site founders Andre Eikmeier, Justin Dry and Leigh Morgan have settled on one that brought in over $10 million in revenue last year. Taking on the two biggest grocery sellers in the country, Vinomofo connects wine consumers to deals and a wider range of winemakers. In the past six months, the user base has almost doubled, and their e-commerce rates have skyrocketed. Eikmeier spoke to StartupSmart about the struggle to find the right business model and the risks they took to make it work in November last year.
Grrrr … Yet another well-meaning government initiative is going to have negative side effects for the Aussie startup and venture capital community. I want to make sure the right people in the government know about it and to do that I need your help. In July of this year superannuation funds will need to start disclosing all of their investments down to the root company level. The new law, passed by the previous government, is an attempt to make super more transparent to fund members. This is a good thing, which I fully support, however it is one of those well intended regulations which may work for the broader market, but will have negative side effects on the Australian startup and venture capital community. Under this new law, superannuation funds will have to disclose (on a public website) every asset and ‘final’ investment on a look through basis. This means that if a super fund invests in an Australian venture capital fund, they must disclose each company in which the venture capital fund invests. That’s probably not a big deal. The issue is that they must also disclose the value at which they hold each of these investments. So as an Australian startup, if you take (or have already taken) capital from an Australian venture capital fund which is backed by super funds, the value at which they hold their investment in your company will be on a public website. I predict this disclosure data will soon become a key source of information on the health of venture-backed startup companies. So what, you say? Well imagine your startup is working flat out to land an enterprise customer that will make your whole year’s plan. But one of your investors has written down their investment and your customer sees this? Think you’ll get the sale? Ditto if you’re trying to attract great employees, advisors or investors. What if you’re in acquisition talks with Google and they are able to see the history of your investors’ valuations to craft their offer? My point is that at these and many other times in a startup’s life, your investors’ valuation is not the best indicator of your success, or you are at a disadvantage if it’s made public. Remember that you have no control over the valuation that a super fund puts on their investment. They are subject to a number of regulations and codes of practice. In some cases a change in valuation may be only because of a currency fluctuation. However, when these regulations come into force this valuation will be one of the first indicators people look at to judge your business. The disclosure requirements are also an issue for the venture capital community. They mean the best Aussie startups will probably not want to take capital from an Australian venture capital fund that is backed by Australian super, or at least they will prefer to take capital from offshore sources that don’t have this obligation. This will shut out Australian venture capital funds, and our superannuation pool from many of the best startups in Australia. This is an obstacle we don’t need, at a time when we’re trying to rebuild the Australian venture capital industry to fill a big gap in the funding base for Australian startups. It will also shut off our Australian super funds from most of the best venture funds globally – something that is not good for super fund members. I fully support more transparency for the superannuation industry, but a blanket rule will cause unintended side effects for our venture capital and startup sector. A simple solution would be to make an exception based on materiality (a typical venture investment would be less than 0.05% of a typical superannuation fund’s assets) and/or confidentiality for venture capital investments. This would not take away from the goal of the regulations. In fact I would argue that by eliminating the long tail of tiny investments we are making disclosure more useful to superannuation fund members. It’s quite late in the process, but I believe the current government may be reviewing this right now, before it comes into force in July. My sources tell me that they may make some changes to the original requirements, including some exceptions to the blanket disclosure rule, but that the decision could go either way. We know the government is supportive of the startup community, but it would be great to reinforce this by writing a short email to the Minister for Finance, Mathias Cormann, email@example.com and the Minister for Industry, Ian Macfarlane, Ian.Macfarlane.MP@aph.gov.au to let them know how about the unintended side effect of these regulations (and if you happen to be in the government team that’s working on this, I would love the opportunity to talk directly, you can get me at firstname.lastname@example.org). By the way, Blackbird Ventures does not have any superannuation funds as investors, but we hope to someday. I’ve set out the situation in detail below, for those with more time to read: A little background: New regulation comes at just the wrong time Firstly a little background for those of you who are not involved day-to-day in Aussie startups. I want you to know about the momentum which is building in the Australian tech startup space. I wrote a blog about this last year which explains what’s driving this, and why we should all be excited. As a community we are building something brick-by-brick which in 10-20 years could be a powerhouse of our economy. There remains one big gap in the startup ecosystem here, and that’s a lack of local capital. The main reason for this is that the Australian superannuation funds are not investing any money into local venture capital. This is because the local venture capital industry has, on the whole, not delivered satisfactory returns. However, the Aussie venture community is rebuilding itself. There are a bunch of new funds such as Blackbird Ventures (which I co-founded) and Square Peg Capital, new seed stage funds such as TankStream Ventures and those backed by Artesian Capital, a whole bunch of angel syndicates, incubators and accelerators, and some of the existing players are re-grouping. We have a real opportunity to build a fresh new start for Australian venture capital. It’s the common goal of all of these people to earn back the trust of the superannuation funds over the next five-10 years. This is a really important long-term goal as venture capital is the only conduit for our national superannuation savings to trickle down into our technology sector. New superannuation disclosure regulations and side effects As part of the review of superannuation, the previous government enacted a new law to require all registered superannuation funds to publicly disclose all of their investments. Sounds like a good idea, right, and I am all for more transparency. At Blackbird, we’re going to be transparent about everything so long as it doesn’t harm our portfolio companies and founders. But blanket-enforced disclosure is a problem. Super funds will soon have to disclose (on a public website) every asset and ‘final’ investment on a look through basis. This means that if a super fund invests in an Australian venture capital fund, they must disclose each company in which the venture capital fund invests. That’s probably not a big deal. The real killer is that they must also disclose the value at which they hold each investment. Story continues on page 2. Please click below. This means that if, as a startup founder, you take capital from a venture capital fund that has an Australian superannuation fund as an investor, their investment and their valuation of that investment in your company will be open for the world to see. You might think this is a storm in a tea cup. Who will really look at these disclosure websites anyway? Lots of people. In the private equity industry they already do it with the data from the US public pension funds (which only have to disclose to the fund level – a far more realistic requirement). As soon as these websites pop up, people will start screen shotting them to build a store of data on companies, especially unlisted private companies and startups. I predict that this data source will become a standard way of judging the health of a startup for prospective investors, acquirers, customers and employees. This can have some very real side effects for your business. Remember that you have no control over how your venture investor or super fund values your company on their own books. They have valuation policies that are set and enforced by other regulations and codes of conduct and are subject to the opinions of their auditors. In some cases the revaluation may be solely due to currency movements as super funds often hold venture investments denominated in other currencies which flow back into Australia. Imagine any of the following: You are trying to raise a new funding round at a reasonable valuation, but your venture capital investors or indirect superannuation fund investors have for some external reason decided to write down the value of their investment in your company. It’s going to be hard to raise that next round if this data is a starting point for every investor (US and Australia) to judge your company. Ditto when you are trying to sell the company. Your company is really starting to grow and you have a chance to raise a big funding round from an amazing Silicon Valley-based VC firm, but they decide not to do it because one of your existing Aussie indirect investors needs to disclose the progress of your company. Imagine you’re a struggling enterprise software business, working hard to close that sale with a large corporate, but it’s taking a bit longer, and money is tight (anyone been in this situation?). That may well trigger a write down by your investors. Normally this wouldn’t matter – who cares how they value your company right now if you just can close that sale. But in this case, your potential customer is looking at the superannuation disclosure data, and seeing that you’ve just been subject to a write down in value. Think you’ll close that sale? Ditto when you’re trying to build a team, attract that stellar a board member, or generally build the profile of your business. It also works against you on the upside. When everything works out spectacularly for you, do you want everyone being able to calculate what the company sold for? Does the buyer want this disclosed? Could it be a reason someone doesn’t end up buying you, or isn’t willing to pay such a high price? At these and many other times in a startup’s life, your investors’ valuation is not the best indicator of success and should not be public. But under these new laws it will probably be one of the first things people look up about your company. At other times, it puts you at a disadvantage if your investors’ valuations are made public. So as a founder of the next big global tech company, do you want to take money from an Aussie venture capital fund that has Australian superannuation investors? More importantly if you had a choice between an offshore venture capital fund (without these obligations) and an Aussie one, which would you pick? If you are lucky enough to be a hot tech company and you’re pulling together a stellar investor syndicate for one of your rounds, do you want to let that Aussie venture fund in for a slice? My guess is probably not. So the logical conclusion of this is that Aussie venture capital funds that are funded by Aussie super funds will be shut out of many of the best Australian investments. This in turn means that we’re stuck where we are now … with almost no superannuation funding getting into Aussie startups. And US pension funds reaping the rewards of Australian innovation, as they have done for years. Another logical conclusion of the disclosure requirement is that the Aussie superannuation industry is effectively shut out from the best investments in the global venture capital (and part of the private equity) asset classes. I know from my friends in the industry that this is already happening.1 A simple solution Firstly, let me emphasise that I think the concept of super funds being more transparent is a good idea. Surely we can come up with something that works without seriously inhibiting the growth of our venture and startup ecosystem. Here’s a simple exception based solution in two parts:2 1. Create an exception based on materiality: Most of these investments will be a tiny portion of any superannuation fund’s assets. Take an average small super fund of $5 billion, say it makes an average investment of $20m in a $200m venture fund and the venture fund makes a $2m investment in a company. The indirect holding in a typical venture backed company for the super fund is 0.04% of the super fund. In many other cases it may be as little as 0.01%. This is immaterial for super fund members. 2. Create an exemption based on confidentiality for venture capital investments: It seems crazy that we would create a regulation that kills the ability of Australian super to invest in a certain asset class. If there is a real need for confidentiality then the disclosure regulations should not apply. While I think that either condition should remove the need to disclose, an exception requiring both materiality and confidentiality would also be workable. Due to the asset allocation of all superannuation funds, these exceptions wouldn’t have a material effect on the benefits of disclosure. Some would argue that by limiting a long tail list of tiny investments, we are in fact making the disclosure information more valuable to super fund members. In any case the startup and venture community needs to jump on this and make sure the current government knows the unintended side effects it will have on our nascent, but rapidly growing sector. Notes: (1) I used to be responsible for venture investing at one of Australia’s largest superannuation fund managers. (2) I can’t take much credit for this – it has already been suggested by many within the private equity and venture capital industry. I think it works and hopefully can help by articulating it in a clear fashion. Rick Barker is a managing director at Blackbird Ventures. This post originally appeared on the Blackbird Ventures blog.
Quora is a treasure trove of great advice for entrepreneurs. The Q and A site can be a terrific resource for your own questions, but its real value lies in the expertise thousands of existing answers. Here are some of the top Quora answers every founder should read. Q: How do you size up opportunity cost when deciding to start a startup? Drew Houston, Dropbox cofounder/CEO: There’s a full post, but here’s the highlights: A: Rhetoric aside, most successful entrepreneurs I'm aware of either explored their idea and market carefully, or have toyed with a side project that happened to show massive and unexpected early promise and only then evolved formally into a company (Facebook, Google and many others fall into this category). Few were truly "leaps of faith – entrepreneurs tend not to seek out risk but are rather comfortable with uncertainty. Dropbox got started in my spare time while working at another startup (be careful about properly separating intellectual property and such). My excitement grew quickly as I validated the idea with real people; jumping ship before that would have been unnecessarily reckless. But it is possible to hedge your bets too much. The Facebook Effect (2010 book) amusingly recounts how Sean Parker begged Mark Zuckerberg to stop working on Wirehog (file sharing concept) as Zuck still wasn't sure this Facebook thing (even then one of the fastest growing websites on the planet) was going to pan out. Q: What is the perfect startup team? Bill Gross, CEO of Idealab: A: The perfect startup needs a complementary team: It needs a passionate and driven visionary who is the product person. It needs a capable execution skill that can deliver the product or service against that vision. It needs the people skills to make sure that the best staff are recruited and retained, and so that conflict in the company is resolved. It needs administrative skill to make sure as the company grows the wheels stay on. (This skill can come a bit later – it’s not needed on day one.) These skills do not need to be present in four distinct people, but most often it takes at least two, and usually three or four to lead these areas. Q: What separates the top 10% of startup CEOs from the rest? Robert Scoble, Rackspace There’s a full list, but here is the first: A: Good at hiring and firing. Whenever you find a really great CEO, you find someone who has a knack for hiring. That means selling other people on your dream or your business, especially when it doesn't seem all that important or seems very risky. I used to work for a CEO who was awesome at hiring, but couldn't fire anyone. It doomed the business. Many of the best CEOs get others to follow no matter what. Q: What are the early symptoms that a startup is going to fail? William Petri, serial entrepreneur There’s a full list of 10 great reasons, but here’s the first: A: No demonstrated user need. For example, consider 3D movies and TV. If you ask people why they sometimes prefer stage to screen, nobody ever says, "Oh, movies are only 2D". 3D tech has novelty value, but even a little user testing would show its pushers that most people are perfectly happy to go back to 2D movies after experiencing 3D, and that many actively avoid 3D. That wasn't the case when sound or colour or fancier special effects were added. Q: What is the proper definition of a startup? Dave McClue, Tech investor A 'startup' is a company that is confused about: 1. What its product is. 2. Who its customers are. 3. How to make money. As soon as it figures out all three things, it ceases being a startup and becomes a real business. Except most times, that doesn't happen.
Hackathons are held just about every weekend somewhere in Australia, but one held this last weekend had a pretty significant point of difference. She Hacks was the first female hackathon held in Australia with the event running simultaneously across Sydney and Melbourne. The sold-out events were hosted by Girl Geek Dinner Sydney and Girl Geek Melbourne respectively. With lack of female diversity in startups an ongoing issue, it’s hoped the event will foster stronger interest in women getting involved in the industry. Before the event Melbourne coordinator Tammy Butow told StartupSmart she was looking forward to seeing the impact of more tech-savvy women. “The internet we know now was primarily built by men, so we wonder about what it will look like if there were more women involved in it,” she said. Eleven teams were created in each city consisting of hipsters, hackers and hustlers (that’s designers, programmers and non-technical businessfolk). The event proved a hit among the community with many singing its praises on social media. Melbourne event attendee Lisy Kane says the 24 hours of creative and technical mayhem was a great insight into the raw talent local women have to offer. “I was amazed at the variety, innovation and team work each of the presentations showcased,” Kane says. Teams were created on the first night and worked on their ideas until midnight on Friday. They were back early for day two, having to deliver their pitches by 4pm. Amongst the push to deliver a minimum viable product (MVP) by deadline, the Melbourne event put aside some time for yoga. The team winners in Melbourne were: Grand Prize Winner: Garage Sale Map which let’s people see what garage sales happening near them on a map on their phone. Runner-up Winner: Wake Up Dress Up, which is an app that fuses morning weather updates with suggestions of possible clothing outfits. Social Good Prize Winner: OneStopeRecycle, an app to assist with the confusion of how to dispose of specific items. The team winners in Sydney were: First Prize Winner: Mission Possible, which is designed to connect volunteers with coordinators to assist with disaster relief. Second Prize Winner: My Coffee Run, a coffee ordering app that allows you to take orders from friends and keep tabs on what they owe you. Third Prize Winner: Bookloverz, a social media app for sharing what you are currently reading with others nearby. People’s choice winner: Doggle, a social networking app for dog owners. Both competitions had prizes donated by sponsors. The winning Melbourne team won $2,500 in cash and access to a number of Melbourne mentors. The winning Sydney team received a Nexus 7 and a She Hacks trophy from Google. Money made through tickets at the Melbourne event was donated to One Girl, a Melbourne-based charity that seeks to fund girls to go to school in Sierre Leone. Organisers plan to hold the event again next year. Here are some tweets from the event: My first hackathon… I’m in a very talented team… and we’re building something really fantastic that I would actually use! #shehacks— Fox Woods (@foxmwoods) March 21, 2014 eeeee! Incredibly inspiring meeting the ladies at #shehacks @GGDmelb at @inspire9!! pic.twitter.com/8Nq5v122Bv— Anne Wu (@uwenna) March 22, 2014 What an exciting vibe last night as I did my mentoring rounds at #shehacks. Cannot wait for pitches at 4pm! #gogirls pic.twitter.com/nuNQCdYdUm— Melina Chan (@melinachan) March 21, 2014 So many ideas! So little time! #SheHacks— GGDSydney (@GGDSydney) March 21, 2014 Image credit: Yishan Chan Photography.
The Google Glass Explorer program seems to be faltering. So much so that Google has taken the unprecedented step of dispelling the top 10 myths around Google Glass in a blog post. “In its relatively short existence, Glass has seen some myths develop around it. While we’re flattered by the attention, we thought it might make sense to tackle them, just to clear the air,” the post says. The myths address some of the privacy concerns around Google Glass such as “Myth 2: Glass is always on and recording everything”, “Myth 5: Glass does facial recognition (and other dodgy things)”, “Myth 7: Glass is the perfect surveillance device” and “Myth 10: Glass marks the end of privacy”. Appster director Mark McDonald says privacy is a big issue for people and would continue to be. He notes that anti-surveillance software is becoming increasingly popular. McDonald says its Google’s unusual approach to distributing the Google Glass with its exclusive explorers project that seems to have backfired. “They pretty much limited it developer communities and they’re the ones who have now turned against it,” he said. That might explain “Myth 8: Glass is only for those privileged enough to afford it”, which says: “The current prototype costs $1500 and we realize that is out of the range of many people. But that doesn’t mean the people who have it are wealthy and entitled. In some cases, their work has paid for it. Others have raised money on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. And for some, it’s been a gift.” McDonald says some of the early prototypes were pretty underwhelming, when people were expecting something along the lines of 3D augmented reality. Despite that, he’s a huge fan, though he says he’s yet to wear his out much as people just think it’s geeky. “Even if Google Glass doesn’t become a product, the exciting thing is the potential for wearable technology,” McDonald says. In his own company, which develops Google Glass apps, McDonald says most of the current interest comes from enterprise, but Google Glass will become cool when the trend is driven by fashion. “Technology is becoming more and more commoditized and the challenge for Google is how to make Glass fashionable,” he says. Perhaps then the Google list is still missing Myth 11: Google Glass is not fashionable.
Motorola has joined LG in announcing a new wearable device based on Google’s Android Wear wearable device platform, called the Moto 360, as Google releases a developer version of the software powering the new devices. In a statement, Motorola corporate vice president of product management, Lior Ron, positions the new device as a premium product. “The wristwatch has been through several evolutions since it first became a popular fashion accessory more than a 100 years ago… but the basic design has endured for a century because of its elegance and usefulness ‘at a glance’. Our vision for Moto 360 was to celebrate that history as we reimagined the wristwatch for the future. “Moto 360 keeps you on time and up to date without taking you out of the moment or distracting you, telling you what you need to know before you know you need it through subtle alerts and notifications. With just a twist of the wrist you can see who’s emailing or calling, what time your next meeting is or a friend’s latest social post.” Motorola has also announced the Moto 360 will be available in a variety of styles globally in summer 2014, starting in the US. Motorola’s announcement comes as its former parent company, Google, released a preview version of the Android Wear software powering the new device. Key features of Android Wear include its ability to receive notifications from Android apps and integration of the Siri-like Google Now service that allows users to ask spoken questions after saying “Ok Google”. Devices running the platform will also do health and fitness monitoring, and will be able to control Android tablets, smartphones, smart TVs and other devices. In a statement, Google product manager Austin Robison cites the consistency of the new user interface. “These small, powerful devices give users useful information just when they need it. Watches powered by Android Wear respond to spoken questions and commands to provide info and get stuff done. These new devices can help users reach their fitness goals and be their key to a multiscreen world. “We designed Android Wear to bring a common user experience and a consistent developer platform to this new generation of devices. We can’t wait to see what you will build.” As SmartCompany has previously reported, Google first purchased a smartwatch start-up called WIMM Labs in the middle of 2012. Since then, the company has built up a wearables design team at its then-subsidiary Motorola, with the company hiring a senior director of industrial design in July of last year. The Moto 360 comes after LG announced its own smartwatch, dubbed the G Watch, which is also powered by Google’s Android Wear platform. This article first appeared on SmartCompany.
The Google search bar in Chrome is one of the most useful tools in the browser, but you can easily change it to a different search engine altogether – or even a website. To do so, head to the Settings page, and then click on "manage search engines" under the search heading. There, you can set your preferences for search engines. This article first appeared on September 19, 2013.
When a home-grown entrepreneur returned from Silicon Valley recently to run a series of events in Brisbane, he was struck by a strong sense that Australia’s fear of failure was holding the community and technology sector back. Adrian Turner cited the poor returns of the tech venture capital industry so far and the cultural background of the country as contributing factors. To get to the bottom of the issue, StartupSmart spoke to a range of community leaders across the country. Aaron Birkby is a serial entrepreneur and a co-founder of Gold Coast start-up incubator Silicon Lakes. He told StartupSmart cultivating a culture that embraced failure should be a priority for the start-up ecosystem. “I absolutely agree that Australia has fear of failure and that it’s holding us back. It’s causing so many lost opportunities,” Birkby says. “We learn it in school where the focus on grades and scores discourages people from trying new ideas, taking risks and messing up.” Birkby believes the key to creating a more robust culture is for successful entrepreneurs to share candidly about their failures. To this end, he seeks out mentors for the incubator who have not only successfully exited start-ups, but also stuffed a few up. “Mentoring, and entrepreneurship really, isn’t just about the business. It’s all the emotional aspects around it too,” Birkby says. Beyond sharing the gory details of smashed start-ups, bankruptcies and broken relationships, Birkby says the start-up community embrace the fact failure is best way to learn. “The time I’ve spent in Silicon Valley, people talk about failures as badges of honour. There are rumours some angel investors won’t even look at your idea if you haven’t failed at something first,” Birkby says. A survey of over 1000 Australians conducted in 2013 found more were planning to launch their own businesses than ever before. But almost a third said they had a pronounced fear of failure and over a quarter feared giving up the security of full-time work. Ann Parker is a co-founder of Telstra’s Sydney-based accelerator program Muru-d. She’s run accelerators across the world and says the fear of failure is more pronounced in Australia than the United States and Western Europe. But she’s positive about Australia’s chances to create a more enabling culture, attributing the heightened concerns about failure as a growing pain of fledgling start-up communities. “I think the best way to describe this fear of failure is a learning curve that we need to overcome, as we’re taught it from a very young age,” Parker says. “I’m not convinced that Australia is worse than all other countries, it’s just a bit behind on the curve.” According to Parker, failure for tech companies is getting cheaper and easier to fix so start-ups can fail quickly and relatively painlessly. “We need to keep celebrating that failure is good. The only thing that’s bad is if you try the same mistakes again,” Parker says. “If we can embrace the culture of fail fast and embrace the lessons learned and if we can get that across more parts of the ecosystem then we’ve done a good job.” Fear of failure doesn’t exist in isolation. Parker says the best antidote and action start-up communities can take is encouraging an open and collaborative culture. Businesses fail for a range of reasons. According to a study published in 2013, the most common reasons were management issues. Of the 1000 business owners surveyed, 61% of S said small businesses failed because of an inability to manage costs, 50% said inexperienced management, 50% said poorly designed business models or no business plan, 49% said insufficient capital, 37% said poor or insufficient marketing, and 35% said insufficient time managing the books. But attitude also plays a powerful role, says Harry Schiff, the founder of Adelaide-based errand outsourcing start-up Agent Anything. Originally from Canada, Schiff told StartupSmart both countries, but especially Australia, needed to get comfortable with the arrogance break-out start-ups require. “I don’t think anywhere, besides Israel so far, has had the balls of the Americans when it comes to totally disregarding what people say. But that arrogance and bravado helps a lot in the fake-it-till-you-make-it tactic that truly innovative start-ups need to be the next huge thing,” he says. The impact of a chronic fear of failure isn’t just about people not trying their ideas. Schiff says it is also shaping how our entrepreneurs work. “There is a lot of momentum here to go and work, but people focus on activities rather than on getting stuff done. Because setting a firm goal with a due date makes it far more likely you’ll have to admit, even just to yourself, that you’ve failed.” He recently ran an event in Adelaide in which start-up community leaders shared their biggest mistakes so far and what they’ve learned. “This event is not about celebrating failure. It’s about celebrating actually doing things, not just trying. When you do things, when you get out there and try stuff, you’ll fail. It’s just how these things go.” In the coming months, the event team are launching a website to track the failed product releases of tech powerhouses such as Google, Apple and Microsoft to demonstrate innovation and failure go hand-in-hand, even for the biggest and best companies. After the failure of Google’s Wave, Australian head of research and development Alan Noble told StartupSmart there while it was a failure, it was worth it. “Australians can be too quick to judge our failed entrepreneurs. We should be giving them the credit to acknowledge they took a chance and they can try again,” he said. “By almost any other criteria, there are incredible lessons that we learned from Wave – including technology lessons and execution lessons. The individuals from that project have gone on to do good things… It was a great undertaking for us and something we learnt a lot from.” Schiff, who studied science in university, adds it takes a long time to normalise and embrace failure, but adds substituting a call to get comfortable with failure for a call to implement a culture of experimentation, may be the key to change.
By definition, every start-up plans to get global sooner or later. But scaling a business poorly is one of the fastest ways to kill it, according to two Stanford lecturers. Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao have recently released Scaling up Excellence, which explores how companies from tech superstars to fast food chains have grown and gotten stronger. “Start-ups need to start thinking about scaling a lot earlier than they do,” Sutton says, who adds you don’t need to a perfect organisation to scale well. “A lot of times when people think of scaling up, they think they’re going to focus on the great stuff and spread it. But when you look at organisations that have nailed scaling, they’ve gone from bad to great.” Sutton spoke to StartupSmart from San Francisco about the five biggest myths about scaling and how to overcome them. Myth 1: Scaling is all rapid growth through fast decisions While the scaling story of tech superstars Twitter, Google and Facebook can make it sound like every decision was instant and the implementation took only a tiny bit lower, Sutton says all scaling companies slow down to take the time they need to make the decisions where it matters. “In every case we’ve looked at, including those three, this notion they rushed all the time is just not true. From Google to even Starbucks, all successful global companies go slow sometimes.” A key time to focus on results rather than execution time is hiring staff. “From the very beginning, Google was always very picky about hiring. They only hired very technically skilled who also had the leadership skills to grow with the company no matter how badly they needed a warm body in that chair,” Sutton says. He adds founders shouldn’t shy away from the arrogance these decisions and the corresponding belief the company could become massive requires. Myth 2: Conflict will kill a company As companies grow, arguments are inevitable as teams choose what to focus on. Sutton says learning how to argue well is a critical skill for a scaling company. “To make the best decisions, you need to be clear on how you argue and when you stop arguing. Good teams can have blazing arguments and then move on.” Sutton says part of the success of many tech superpowers has come down to having founders, and later managers and executives, who are willing to model vigorous arguments followed by a resolution all commit too. “Firefox’s John Lilly (chief executive 2008 to 2010) oversaw the company’s growth from 12 to 500,” Sutton says. “He told me he started realising at about 80 people that people had begun to act as though they were afraid of their boss. So he just started having arguments with his immediate team whenever he could. He’d be right or wrong but would always end respectfully and move on.” Sutton says making sure everyone shares an understanding of what medium-term success looks like makes it easier to resolve disagreements and unites a team. Myth 3: Scaling means building the team as quickly as possible According to Sutton, one of the most dangerous myths about start-ups is the belief bigger is better when it comes to teams. “The notion that scaling mandates adding more people is a myth. There is lots of evidence that when you bring on board the wrong people too quickly, it’s deadly.” The pressure to build the team often comes from investors who are keen to see their money put to work. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a start-up still in the product development stage kill itself by hiring sales staff before they’re ready. These guys need to sell, so they sell a product that’s not ready and it’s over,” he says. Sutton says actions such as Israeli start-up Waze’s hiring freeze after raising $20 million should remind start-ups about the virtues of staying lean, as the company went on to be acquired by Google. Myth 4: Our culture will suffer and we need to stay small While cultural death by growth was the fate of Yahoo! and eBay (who later turned it around), Sutton says rapid growth won’t kill a start-up if they’re smart about it. The key to a culture thriving, as well as smarter working, is to keep teams small. “One of the mantras at Amazon is you shouldn’t have a team that can’t be fed by two pizzas,” Sutton says. “The difference between a five person team and say an 11 person team is huge. From battlefields to big corporates, all the evidence shows the maximum is seven before it dissolves into interpersonal contests and missed communications.” Small teams organised in pods is an emerging trend in start-ups. Australian start-up 99designs has used a pod approach for over a year. Sutton adds that scaling can make deeper cultural issues more significant as the organisation widens and effective communications requires more effort. “When you’re trying to scale an organisation and you have destructive behaviour or people, the first order of business is to nip that in the bud because otherwise it’s impossible to grow well.” Myth 5: Bureaucracy and hierarchies should be shunned as they stifle innovation and productivity One of the joys of start-ups is team flexibility. But start-ups need to implement some structure and processes if they want to become global companies. “Staying entrepreneurial and easy to get things done is admirable, but there is a lot of evidence that shows companies need managers, hierarchy and processes,” Sutton says. “There is a fine art of adding just enough process or bureaucracy so you can actually get all the work done. I think it’s admirable that entrepreneurs resist adding that stuff, but if you don’t it’ll turn into an unruly, out of control organisation.” For early stage ventures, Sutton adds it’s essential to work out the leadership structure early or risk confused strategy direction and in-fighting.
With a high traffic and low margin business to grow, the team at No Yelling quickly ruled out pay-per-click advertising and decided to invest their limited cash into boosting their SEO ranking. The driving lesson aggregator and lead generator launched in 2010. Founder Jasper Boyschau told StartupSmart investing in quality SEO was the best business decision he’s made so far. “We weren’t anything two years ago really, and all it took was a bit of effort and all of a sudden we’re one of the major providers Brisbane.” SEO rapidly emerged as the only viable option for No Yelling. “Even if it’s only a couple of dollars per click, that’s still 20% of our margin. We couldn’t afford to lose that even though we need to get people through the door,” Boyschau says. No Yelling focused on creating good content sprinkled with their key search terms and getting the pieces published trusted, high profile sites. “That’s pretty much the core of it. The internet is full of trashy content and cheap SEO tricks are 100% dead,” Boyschau says. “We invested a fair bit at the start, and we’ve been number one on the terms ever since.” Sometimes the tactic worked so well it caused other issues for the business. Late last year, one of their pieces appeared on leading US start-up site TechCrunch. When over 200,000 people hit their website within a few hours, the server crashed. No Yelling’s Google growth tactics also included a concerted campaign to drive customers creating Google business reviews. “Word of mouth doesn’t just happen, you can definitely influence it,” Boyschau says. “Offer a good service and then ask for a favour. Most of our customers were happy to do that. Now we’ve got over 180 reviews, more than any competitor.” No Yelling has launched localised expansions in Ipswich and the Gold Coast. They intend to roll out across the country later this year.
The issues of Qantas and Virgin might be hogging headlines at the top end of town, but Australian start-up Skybid is looking to shake things up further down the travel industry food chain. The new platform, which allows consumers to bid for seats on flights, is set for take-off and Skybid founder Karis Confos says even though it is a crowded market, the platform would manage to differentiate itself from competitors. She told StartupSmart the market for Australians seeking the best price on flights was already large enough for a new contender, and growing. “The ability to bid for flights is so new, and I can see huge potential from both a growth and profit perspective,” Confos says. Being first doesn’t guarantee a start-up’s success: Google wasn’t the first search engine and Facebook wasn’t the first social network. Confos says she checked out her future competition closely and was encouraged by what she discovered. “I looked at what was out there and thought I could do it better. We’re yet to find out if we’re right, but I feel like there are so many more opportunities that the businesses already in this space aren’t taking advantage of.” While Confos says the social media potential for travel-focused companies is a largely untapped commercial advantage they’ll explore, her focus is on customer retention. “Pay-to-bid models can be wearying for customers and there is a lot of scope to reward customers on these services more. It’s significantly easier to keep a customer than get a new one. They’re the core of your business, so it’s a small tragedy when one walks away,” she says. The idea for Skybid has developed considerably for Confos, who says collaborating with others and discussing the idea with as many people as possible helped her shape an offering she’s confident in. “At first I was more concerned about accessing flight data and supply, but realised through conversations that I should be focused on traffic and reach. Marketing is my main concern and challenge right now,” she says. She adds critical feedback made her realise which answers she needed to know, and which weren’t critical at this stage. Skybid is set to launch within the next month or two. Even if it fails, Confos says she’s never been more excited about a project. “Even if it does fail completely, the experience will be so worth it. Don’t let something stop you if you’re gung-ho and committed to making it work.”
Have you ever been typing at your computer when you’ve come across a word you don’t understand? Or perhaps you needed to find a synonym for a word? Well, if you have a browser window open, there’s an easy way to find that definition or synonym quickly. Just go to the Google search bar and type ’define:’ followed by the word you want to look up. For example, if you wanted synonyms for ‘entrepreneur’, you’d type ‘define:entrepreneur’ and hit enter. What will pop up is something like this. Note the arrow below the definition – it can be hard to see on some screens: Click the arrow to reveal more information about the word. Google will give you a definition, synonyms, an etymology, a pull-down box which will give you the translation into almost any language, and a chart plotting the word’s use over time:
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has blocked a $1.5 billion takeover of New South Wales government-owned power generator Macquarie Generation by AGL, citing market concentration concerns. “The proposed acquisition would result in the largest source of generation capacity in NSW being owned by one of the three largest retailers in NSW,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims says. “With this acquisition the three largest retailers in NSW would own a combined share of up to 80% of electricity generation capacity. “This is likely to raise barriers to entry and expansion for other electricity retailers in NSW and therefore reduce competition.” Building approvals jump nearly 7% in January Building approvals have jumped by nearly 7% seasonally adjusted during January, a faster rate than many economists had expected, according to new figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Approvals for detached houses were up by 8.3%, while apartments and other dwellings were up 4.6%. In another piece of good news, the ABS figures also show Australia’s current account deficit shrank by 19% to $10.1 billion during the December quarter, with increasing exports and declining imports. Facebook looks to purchase drone aircraft maker Facebook is gearing up for another major takeover, with TechCrunch reporting the company is planning to launch a $60 million takeover of Titan Aerospace. Titan manufactures solar-powered near-orbital drones that can fly for up to five years continuously, with the social media giant reportedly interested in the aircraft in a bid to bring affordable internet access to 5 billion people worldwide who still lack connectivity. The project is set to compete against Google’s Project Loon R&D program, which aims to use hot air balloons to provide connectivity to remote areas. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up to 16416.8. The Aussie dollar is up to US89.52 cents.
How can I traffic to my website cheaply? Is it all about advertising banners and buttons? So you don’t have much money to spend, but you want to get some traffic to your website. Sure, you are going to reinvest in your website after you rollout the first stage and make some money, but you need that first bump of cash to get you started. Top three cheap ways to get traffic to your website are: 1. Google Adwords: Here is where you are going to need to search for a $100 voucher for Adwords in Google. Find one, sign up and start paying for some traffic. This is going to give you traffic in one hour. It’s going to cost you but you will get traffic. Cost benefit – This tactic is a sure way to get qualified traffic but if your niche is competitive it can cost you more money than a new customer is worth. Test it – What you want to do with this one is test it. Spend only a small amount of money and then find out what works. You will probably need to tweak your website or form a little and then you want to load up another $100 or so from your credit card and try again. You have to treat this business expense as part research and part marketing. The end outcome you want to achieve is a channel of traffic that is coming in and making you money day in day out. That way you can spend more time trying each of the cocktails on the drinks menu as your website keeps making you money. 2. Search Engine Optimisation: SEO is a time consuming and slow build process in your business that can bring in serious traffic once you crack some big keyword rankings. Here are four quick wins: Keywords – Ensure your website has the keywords you want to rank for in the content of your homepage and unique title tags for each page of your website. There are loads of other things you can do but if you just start with these two things it will help get you to that first 100 visits. Get some listings – You need a few early win links to your site, some directories, a link from a friend and any other links you can scrounge up. List your business in an Australian directory as opposed to an American one. It gives you a better chance to get actual relevant traffic and will help you more with your rankings. Add some new content – Add some new content to your website that is about topics in your niche. Spend $35 on some new articles with a writer from oDesk or Elance and build out your website. 3. Email: Sending emails to people inviting them to your website for a high valuable reason is a great way to start. For example: All the daily deals websites at present work by sending people emails of the latest deal. The only way you can become one of those deals is by offering an insane price and offer that will cause you to lose money, otherwise the deals website will burn their list as it wasn’t a deal. You could try a daily deal site but its best to do some maths first to see if you can handle the volume. Here are some other ways to get email traffic: Send an email to your peers – Collect up all your business cards and put them in a list, send an email announcing your new site and ask your colleagues for feedback on what they think of it. The sheer process of researching your site will imprint it in their minds and they might refer your site to someone else in need! Write an article – Add a helpful article to a friend’s business eNewsletter and you will get a few residual visits from their site. Make sure you make your article 100% dedicated to their customers and just educate and inform. The keen visitors will come through. Forward an email – If you find an email or some article that is helpful, forward it to someone who might use it. Ensure you have a call to action in your email signature and you might get some residual traffic if it’s forwarded on again. Build a database – You will also want to be getting email subscribers from your website, so ensure you have a form on there. Offer a free guide or eBook if they sign up and you will probably get a better response. Here are some of the other ways you can get traffic but you might want to consider them after you have around 100,000+ visitors. Banner ads – Banners are pricey and their click-through rates are low; around 0.1% yes that is 0.001! People do click on them. But you have to buy a lot of them. Top tips to try when starting with this: Use cost per click – Buy your banners so you pay each time someone clicks, not by the number of impressions. Pay per sale – If you can get a deal set up like this through the performance media channels of the different networks, try it! Facebook ads Everyone is on Facebook but they aren’t on it for the same reason as Google. On Google you are searching to find something and take action. On Facebook you are there to hang out with your friends. Use Facebook ads when you have a competition or timely campaign that is relevant and catchy. For example: If you are a charity and you are having a toga party to raise money, you might want to try Facebook ads and target young single males. Test it – You can burn money FAST on Facebook but it’s again worth testing. Basic metrics – Facebook’s advertising reports aren’t quite as sophisticated as Adwords, although you can still set up conversion metrics with it. It’s messy, but worthwhile. Twitter, Viral, Facebook and that social stuff: Social media and getting traffic from it is again a slow build. You need to build your profile and interact. Think of it like going into a new town, you want to meet people and become friends with them before you ask them over to your house for a BBQ. The best ways to do this are: Help people – Be helpful. Helping others makes you a go-to person. The more helpful you are the more people like you and the more influential you will become. Regular – Keep plugging away. Keep helping people. Short no talk stints are ways to get your tweets and status updates ignored. Be interesting – Boring tweets and links get ignored and you unfollowed. Offline: Don’t forget that people aren’t online all the time. People who come from offline media to your website needed to remember your URL and have made the effort to turn their computer on and go to your site. Market to offline media like: PR and magazines – A good story and bring in a solid amount of qualified traffic. Leaflet drops – If you want local customers, just canvass everyone house in your local area. Eventually they will see your leaflet! Signboards – If it’s cheap or free to put a sign somewhere, put up an ad, it’ll just tick away! Business cards – Put your domain name on there and a reason to go to your site. Get a free phone, free eBook or free video. Events – Speaking at an event makes you authoritive, some people in the audience will really resonate with you and you need to put your website up so they can get more of you! What specifically you give them when they arrive needs to connect to what you were talking about otherwise you will lose them.
Have you ever wanted to know what the weather will be like tomorrow while you’re working at your PC? There’s a really simple way to quickly find out. Just type in any city name followed by the word “forecast” in the Google search bar of your browser. You can enter a city (for example, “Adelaide forecast”) or even a suburb if you know the state (for example “Glen Waverley, VIC forecast”). On top of the search results, Google will show its forecast, like this:
This week in Barcelona, the GSMA – the peak global standards body for the mobile phone industry – is hosting its annual industry trade event, the Mobile World Congress. The MWC is arguably the largest annual event in the telecommunications industry. It brings together carriers with mobile phone makers, equipment makers and app developers. It’s where handset manufacturers make the big pitch to mobile carriers for the year ahead. A strong presentation can bring your products to the attention of mobile carriers the world over. Perhaps more than the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the MWC is the big event where mobile phone makers unveil their new smartphones and other products for the year ahead. This year’s event certainly hasn’t underwhelmed, with major announcements from some of the industry’s biggest players. It’s time to take a look at eight of the biggest announcements from this year’s show: 1. Samsung Galaxy S5 Samsung is now easily the biggest handset maker in the industry. According to IDC, for the full year of 2013, it shipped a massive 313.9 million smartphones worldwide – that’s three out of every 10 smartphones shipped anywhere in the world. Forget about Apple versus Samsung, it’s not even a race anymore at this point. Apple shipped 153.4 million units in 2013, meaning that for every handset Apple shipped, Samsung shipped more than two. In fact, with the exception of the US and Japan, Apple is not even really competitive with Samsung anymore. That race was lost two years ago. In addition to manufacturing smartphones, it also supplies itself with almost every component, from batteries and processors to cameras, memory chips and displays. It is both the world’s second biggest chip builder, and the world’s second biggest ship builder. So when Samsung unveils its main, flagship smartphone for the year, you better believe that everyone in the industry – from carriers to competitors – is watching very closely. This year’s flagship, the Galaxy S5, was largely an incremental improvement on its predecessor, with the South Korean tech giant confirming speculation the new device is both dust-proof and waterproof. Needless to say, both Telstra and Optus have already announced they’re carrying the new smartphone. Aside from the Galaxy S5, Samsung shocked the industry when it snubbed Google for the latest version of its Galaxy Gear smartwatches. Instead of Android, the new devices will be powered by its own operating system, known as Tizen. 2. Microsoft’s Nokia X smartphones – powered by Android For nearly two decades, Microsoft’s Windows operating system had battled an open source rival, known as Linux. While Linux has struggled to make inroads in the desktop PC market, it has emerged as the dominant operating system for servers. Linux also forms the basis of Google Android, which competes head-to-head with Microsoft Windows Phone. Meanwhile, in September last year, Microsoft bought the mobile assets of Nokia, along with a licence to use its patents, for $US7.2 billion. In light of this, there was some scepticism when rumours first surfaced that Nokia was gearing up to release a series of smartphones powered by Android. At MWC, Nokia confirmed the rumours by unveiling a new smartphone product line powered by Android called the Nokia X series. The new devices will come with Microsoft’s cloud-based apps and services pre-installed and won’t come with the Google Play app store. Nonetheless, when Microsoft takes control of Nokia in April, it will be selling a consumer product based on Linux. Who would have thought it? 3. Facebook buys WhatsApp for $US16 billion A week before the MWC, Facebook announced it is taking over mobile messaging service WhatsApp for an incredible sum – $US16 billion. With both WhatsApp co-founder and chief executive Jan Koum and Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg delivering keynote speeches at MWC, the tech world was certainly going to pay attention. During the keynote, Koum did not disappoint, announcing WhatsApp was launching free voice calls through its app during the second quarter, once the takeover by Facebook has been completed. No doubt some of the mobile carriers were a little edgy about the prospect of Facebook launching an all-out assault on their lucrative voice call and text message businesses. 4. Mozilla unveils a $25 smartphone This year’s Mobile World Congress marked the one year anniversary of the debut of Mozilla’s smartphone platform, Firefox OS. For those unfamiliar with the platform, Mozilla is best known for its Firefox web browser. Last year, it announced it was creating a mobile operating system based on Firefox that would compete head-to-head with Google Android, Apple iOS, Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10. In Firefox OS, all apps basically work like interactive websites and are coded in web standards, including HTML5 and CSS. Since this is less demanding than running a “full” operating system with apps, the theory went that Firefox OS would perform well on low-end devices aimed for emerging markets. In practice, some of the first Firefox OS smartphones, including the ZTE Open, have left a lot to be desired. As I explained in Control Shift last week, Mozilla’s expansion drive has left it in a precarious position in the marketplace: As if the situation weren’t already urgent enough already, Mozilla’s lucrative deal with Google expires in November of this year. In a sense, it’s fitting that [Mozilla founder Mitchell] Baker has taken up trapeze as a hobby, because Mozilla’s in the middle of a high-wire act. It might be that, over the coming months, one of Mozilla’s growing number of Firefox OS-driven side-projects gains traction in the market place. However, it could also backfire spectacularly, endangering its main source of revenue in the process. Aside from the seven new smartphones on display, Mozilla also announced that a smartphone costing just $25 would hit the market this year. Given that, up until the fourth quarter of last year, more than half of all mobile phones sold worldwide were still featurephones, mostly in emerging markets, the $25 phone might just be the big hit Mozilla’s looking for. Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 5. Major updates for BlackBerry enterprise customers BlackBerry chief executive John Chen’s bid to turn around the fortunes of the smartphone pioneer were filled out in a series of major product announcements at MWC. Up until now, enterprises using BlackBerry Secure Work Spaces on BYOD (bring your own device) smartphones needed to use different versions of BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) depending on whether staff used newer BlackBerry 10/Android/iOS devices, or older BlackBerrys. That has been cleared away with the release of BES 12, in the process clearing away many headaches for IT administrators. As an added bonus, it supports Windows Phone devices too. The company also unveiled a new flagship phone with a full keyboard called the Q20 and an enterprise version of its BlackBerry Messenger service called eBBM Suite. 6. At least Sony’s new products are water-tight Earlier this month, Sony announced it is selling its VAIO PC business to investment firm Japan Industrial Partners, spinning off its Bravia TV business into a separate subsidiary and slashing its global headcount by 5000 as part of a major restructure. At the time, the Japanese tech giant announced it’s setting its sights on the smartphone, tablet and wearables markets for its future growth. Suffice to say, the company is hoping it delivered a hit with the products it unveiled at MWC. The company unveiled a new flagship smartphone called the Xperia Z2, a 4G Android 4.4 KitKat smartphone powered by a 2.3 GHz quad-core Qualcomm processor. The company is proclaiming its 20.7-megapixel camera capable is the most ever used in a waterproof smartphone. Which I’m sure is fantastic news for scuba-diving photographers. The company also unveiled a 10.1-inch tablet called, imaginatively enough, the Z2 Tablet. The tablet is being marketed as the lightest ever used in a waterproof tablet. Finally, the company unveiled a smart wristband called the SmartBand. 7. Opportunity knocks for LG? The highlight for LG was an update of the KnockON security system called “Knock Code”, which uses a series of knocks rather than a password to secure a device. The new feature will appear on the LG G Pro 2 phablet, a new six-inch phablet set to go head-to-head with Samsung’s popular Galaxy Note devices. The company also unveiled its “L Series 3” range of low- to mid-range smartphones at the show. That said, most of LG’s big announcements came at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, including its LG Lifeband Touch activity tracking bracelet, LG Heart Rate headphones, and webOS-powered smart TVs. 8. Tickets please! With the rapid growth of mobile ticketing, it’s no surprise the world’s largest telecommunications show would embrace NFC tickets. Telstra was one of a range of carriers to trial NFC badge technology for tickets to this year’s event. The badges use information stored by a mobile carrier, including name and telephone number, to help verify an attendee’s identity. The validation process also includes a photo ID check. This year’s show also features an NFC Experience demonstrating NFC-based mobile commerce systems for payment, retail, transport, mobile identity and ticketing/access. In addition, there are 61 NFC-enabled Tap-n-Go Points providing event news, schedules, documents, presentations, videos and other information. According to figures published by ABI research, in the next five years, 34 billion tickets to be sent to mobile devices,. In terms of technology used to authenticate tickets, the figures show 48% will rely on QR codes, near-field communications (NFC) will be used on 30%, while SMS or other technologies will be used on 22%. If the forecast is accurate, it suggests using our smartphones to touch on for events, public transport or entry into secure areas could soon be a part of everyday life.