Mpire Media, the online marketing business founded by Western Australia-based technology entrepreneur Zhenya Tsvetnenko, will spring on to the Australian Securities Exchange by June through a backdoor listing with shell company Fortunis Resources. Tsvetnenko, who debuted on the BRW Rich List with wealth of $107 million in 2009, first announced plans to take Mpire public in mid-2014. The deal with Fortunis is worth approximately $10 million. The software engineer listed his bitcoin company Digital CC Limited via a reverse takeover of energy investment firm Macro Energy in early 2014 and was revealed as an investor in now-collapsed tech startup Alphatise. But his first business success came in the early 2000s when he worked from home to pioneer SMS gateway technology and Google AdWords. Speaking to SmartCompany this morning, Tsvetnenko says the deal will give Mpire Media “immediate access” to the cash reserves of Fortunis and he expects to raise between $2 million and $4 million from the market. But Tsvetnenko says another key reason for floating the company is an ASX listing “gives us the credibility of a listed company, which goes a long way in this industry”. Mpire Media is a performance-based marketing firm. The company acts as an intermediary between advertisers and clients and only receive payments once a sale is achieved. It has worked with clients including Amazon-owned Audible and Samsung. Tsvetnenko says he originally founded Mpire Media as a “vehicle” for his previous mobile content business but re-focused the company at the start of last year to better capitalise on Mpire’s proprietary software. In July last year Mpire recorded monthly revenue of $55,000. By February this year, the company’s monthly revenue had hit $1.1 million, with a gross profit margin of between 16-20%. Tsvetnenko says total revenue since July last year is approximately $5.3 million. Mpire has 12 employees in Toronto and another 10 in Perth. Tsvetnenko says the company will need to expand its team later this year as it ramps up plans to commercialise its software and offer it as a service to other firms. “That’s the blue sky plan that we work on every day,” he says. “We’re putting the plans in motion and I think it will be the next phase for the company.” But Tsvetnenko’s focus also remains on continuing to grow Mpire’s revenue base, admitting the Mpireteam has already revised its budget this year having “blown away” its initial revenue targets. “We want to keep hitting and exceeding our targets, increasing revenue and gross profit,” he says. But while Tsvetnenko has chosen to pursue backdoor listings on the ASX for his companies, his advice to other entrepreneurs considering taking their company public is to first look at the market you operate in. “It really all depends on the market, you have got to get it right,” he says. “If you are generating revenue, it is a good consideration if you just need a little bit more money. But if you are making a profit and are cash flow positive, you might also consider taking on private equity.” “Money is often easier to raise in a public market because it is liquid, but there is a trade-off because if you do an IPO, you are giving a lot of your company away.” This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.
Early stage tech startups are the focus of changes to the employee share scheme legislation introduced into Parliament on Wednesday. Small Business Minister Bruce Billson tabled the bill on Wednesday morning, saying the reforms will “restore and rebuild” startup incentives, which were taken away by the previous Labor government. Speaking to StartupSmart after the second reading, Billson said an effective employee share scheme framework is an important ingredient to any healthy economy. “There has been a consistent and loud chorus calling for change,” he said. “The incoming government recognised that and we’ve set out not only to correct the harm of those 2009 changes, but stepping forward with new concessions to bolster support and engagement for employee share schemes.” The changes Companies and employees who are issued with options will generally be able to defer tax until they exercise the options (convert the options to shares), rather than having to pay tax when those options vest. Eligible startups will be able to issue options or shares to their employees at a small discount, and have that discount exempt (for shares) or further deferred (for options) from income tax. The maximum time for tax deferral will be extended from seven to 15 years. The maximum individual ownership limit for accessing employee share scheme tax concessions will be increased from 5% to 10%. Eligible startups need to have an annual turnover of less than $50 million. In the event a startup raises venture capital, that will not affect the eligibility threshold. If a startup is acquired before it has operated for three years, its original shareholders will still get their 15% tax deduction on the sale of the shares. Billson says the changes are on track to come into effect in the new financial year. “I’ve had encouraging early responses with opposition members and I’m optimistic that will all be implemented as per a tight and demanding timetable which is exactly what the startup industry were calling for,” he said. StartupSmart understands there is support from within the Labor party to overhaul the current rules governing employee share schemes. The legislation tabled in parliament today not only allows employees at eligible startups to receive tax concessions, but also ensures the regulatory burden faced by young tech companies is significantly reduced. Billson says there will be “good-to-go template tools and documents” from the ATO available to help businesses wanting to set up an employee share scheme. Reuben Bramanathan, senior lawyer at Adroit Lawyers, told StartupSmart there were some “key issues” with the draft bill that have carried over to its current form. “If an employee resigns from a company on good terms, and they keep their vested shares, they still have to pay income tax at that time,” he said. “This taxing point applies even if they are unable to sell the shares at that point, for example, due to lockup restrictions in the shareholders’ agreement.” Billson says this was identified as an issue during the consultation process. “This was an issue that came up and we consulted quite widely on that as we knew it was an issue of some interest,” he said. “We extended the tax refund provision to cover situations where an employee is forced to pay when those options lapse or cancel. That’s what we’ve sought to do to alleviate that concern.” Another part of the legislation that has been criticised is the exemption for startups turning over more than $50 million, as well as companies listed on the ASX. That means companies like Atlassian and Freelancer will not be able to access the scheme. However Billson defended this, saying issues around employee share schemes “most visibly” affect smaller players. “It’s unashamedly focused on startups and smaller enterprises,” he said. “We’ve got to work within a frugal budget climate, therefore we’ve had to target these measures where they can best make a difference.” Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes has criticised that position, telling SmartCompany last month it’s a bit like saying Facebook and Google don’t need to give employee share options “which I think they would disagree with”. The new employee share scheme rules are due to come into effect on July 1 should they pass both houses of parliament. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Buy tickets to the 2015 StartupSmart Awards.
We are living in a “magical time” for entrepreneurs according to Matt Barrie, founder of Freelancer.com, and SmartCompany advisory board member. Speaking at yesterday’s Creative Innovation Conference in Melbourne, Barrie said we are living in a period of “unprecedented growth” powered by the internet. He outlined four global macro trends that he says have led to “a remarkable period of disruption”. 1. Software is eating the world Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, famously said software is eating the world. “Every business is waking up to realise it’s a software business,” Barrie said. He says the world’s biggest book company, Amazon, is a software company, the world’s biggest video service, Netflix, is a software company. 2. Most of the world’s population are yet to use the internet Barrie says there are tremendous opportunities for growth as more and more of the world’s population gets online. “There are 4 billion people not yet online,” Barrie said. “There as twice as many people on the internet in China as the entire population of the United States.” Facebook and Google are working hard to enable more and more people to access the internet while simultaneously, Barrie says, every industry is now being digitised. For digital businesses like Freelancer, this means increasing numbers of clients. “We are in the early stages of replicating a country in software,” he said. “We have a population the size of Belgium”. 3. Distribution is unprecedented Technology adoption speed is increasing as distribution gets faster and faster, according to Barrie. Facebook went from zero to a billion users in eight years, the Apple iPhone got to 40 million units in two years, and the iPad ramped even faster. “Consumers are adopting faster and faster but distribution is also occurring faster and faster,” Barrie said. Technology enables “distribution fire hoses” to reach the potential clients more and more quickly. 4. Stuff is free, stuff is cheap Barrie says it’s cheaper than ever to build a business. “The great thing about this is everything you need to build a business is free … if it’s not free it’s virtually free,” Barrie said. He cites tools such as Google docs, MailChimp and Canva as all providing free or close-to-free business services. “You can start a business off the back of a credit card,” Barrie said. For example, RetailMeNot was built with $30 in one weekend, bootstrapped to $30 million in revenue and then sold to WhaleShark for $90 million five years later. Now, RetailMeNot is listed in the United States and has a market capitalisation of several billion dollars. The original founders were clever enough to retain shares. All these factors mean that businesses can succeed at a quicker pace than ever before, Barrie says. “It took Apple eight years to reach $1 billion in revenue, Google five years, companies are doing this faster and faster,” he says. This article originally appeared at SmartCompany.
Cyanogen, a startup that distributes software based on Google’s Android mobile operating system, has raised $US80 million in series C funding in order to hire talent and accelerate software development. The round was led by PremjiInvest and included participation from other investors such as Twitter. "We’re committed to creating an open computing platform that fundamentally empowers the entire mobile ecosystem from developers to hardware makers, and most importantly, consumers around the world,” Cyanogen’s chief executive Kirt McMaster said in a statement. “We’re excited to have the backing of an amazingly diverse group of strategic investors who are supporting us in building a truly open Android.” The startup has received a total of $110 million in funding to date. The company reportedly rejected a buyout offer from Google last year. Instagram launches standalone photo-editing app Instagram has launched a standalone photo-editing app in order to give users the ability to make collages or mirror effects before uploading them to the photo-sharing app or other sites, such as Facebook. “From imagining mirrored landscapes to sharing multiple moments from an entire adventure, we’ve seen these kinds of visual storytelling happening on Instagram and we’re inspired by it,” the company said. “With Layout, it’s easier than ever to unlock your creativity — and we can’t wait to see what you’ll make next.” Layout is currently available on iOS and will be available on Android devices in the next few months. Twitter testing autoplay videos on iPhone and iPad apps Twitter has started testing a new feature in the US that will mean videos in a user’s timeline play automatically. “We’re running a small test on a few variations on the video playback experience,” a Twitter spokesman told Advertising Age. The autoplay test will apply to video advertisements. Facebook has had autoplay videos since September 2013. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 11.61 points, falling 0.06% overnight to 18,116.04. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 78.89 US cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Microsoft has unveiled Windows Hello, a Windows 10 feature that uses infrared cameras to automatically identify users based on their face, eyes or fingerprints, without them needing to type in a user name and password. Windows Hello was unveiled as part of Microsoft’s Convergence 2015 business computing conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Once authenticated on a device, users will be able to access apps, websites and networks secured through the company’s Passport service without needing to key in a password each time. The new system will be opt-in only, with a user’s “biometric signature” to be stored locally on a device and will not be sent over a network. It will only work with devices that incorporate a fingerprint reader, illuminated IR sensor or other biometric sensors. It comes after Microsoft unveiled a number of identity authentication systems as part of its Azure cloud computing platform in March last year, including Azure Active Directory and Azure Access Rights Management that are interoperable with Windows Hello. At the conference, Microsoft also announced Lync replacement Skype for Business is rolling out next month. On the Internet of Things front, it has expanded Azure Intelligent Systems Service into a commercial product called Azure IoT Suite that allows businesses to manage and capture machine-generated data from sensors and devices. Also, the company’s Salesforce competitor, Dynamics CRM, is receiving a major update. For businesses using Office 365 or Yammer, there’s a preview available of Office 2016, and an Admin app for Office 365 that allows IT staff to remotely manage the service from Apple, Android or Windows Phones. Also, a new Office 365 dashboard feature called Delve uses machine learning to show users with Google Now-style cards with relevant work information. This article was originally published at SmartCompany.
Last week, prominent tech site Gigaom ceased operations with the terse note “Gigaom recently became unable to pay its creditors in full at this time”. Started in 2006 by Om Malik, the site had raised about $40 million over that period to create a technology news site, an IT analysis business and another business running IT events. None of them could make enough money to cover the $400,000 a month needed to keep the business going. For a site that covered the future of journalism and media in detail, it turned out that it had little insight into how to succeed in a landscape that is setting legacy media and digital media alike, in a continuous struggle to survive. The shutdown of Gigaom follows on the heels of AOL’s shutting down of two tech sites earlier this year. TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog) and Joystiq were both closed by AOL as part of its process of “simplifying the portfolio of brands”. The problem that digital media sites face is that, unlike traditional print where their markets are protected geographically, websites largely compete on a level playing field, albeit one that is determined in part by Google’s (and others) ranking of sites in its search engine. Every tech story that is released gets rapidly echoed by literally hundreds of sites. Recycled tech news Take a recent article about Microsoft’s decision to release its personal assistant technology Cortana, across multiple platforms. A search in Google News brings up 290 versions of the same story. The ultimate irony is that the originating “exclusive” for this story from Reuters actually comes 15th in the list of news sorted by Google in order of “relevance”. As the majority of these sites make money from advertising, the inclusion of stories on any given site is motivated not by journalism, good or bad, but by the need to fill the site with constantly refreshing content. In fact, the job of journalism becomes solely one of copy editing, adjusting an already published story for style, format and length, for an individual site. The danger with this for those employed in this sector (or perhaps a blessing to finally convince them to do something else more worthwhile), is that computers are getting very much better at being able to generate this type of content. Algorithms will be able to take a press release, newswire story, or simply any other story circulating on the Internet and generate a new one with the right mix of specific language tied to brands, advertising, and possibly reader interest. Recycled news This state of affairs is not simply related to technology news. Taking any random headline from the NY Times; for example a story about CIA funds falling into the hands of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan gives 83 articles all repeating the same story as reported by the NY Times. At least in this case, the NY Times appears top of the list in the Google News search. The Senior Director of News and Social Products at Google, Richard Gingras and Sally Lehrman, a fellow of the Markulla Center for Appled Ethics, have suggested that the current situation has eroded the public’s [trust] of journalism in general. They quote reports from the Pew Research Center showing that “55 percent of Americans said they simply did not expect a fair, full and accurate account of the days’ events and issues. As many as 26 percent said they did not trust the news to get facts right.” The Trust Project Gingras and Lehrman’s solution to this lack of trust in journalism is the aptly titled, “The Trust Project”, a new effort led by the authors and the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. This project proposes that all journalists should disclose their expertise and any conflicts of interest and engage in rigorous citation in their writing. The sites that they write for should also have a published code of ethics. Whilst these aims are highly laudable and should be common practice (The Conversation implements all of these principles), it is not clear that it will solve the ultimate problem that the vast majority of content on media sites on the Internet is derivative. One estimate by journalist Nick Davies claims that only 12% of stories featured in the UK’s quality press were original, the rest were what is often called “churnalism”. On the Internet that number will be higher just by the nature of the sheer volume of content that is produced every day. Journalism academic Jeff Jarvis has suggested additional recommendations to the Trust Project that involve Google News ranking derivative stories below the original sources in their search results. Judging the ultimate quality of articles in this way might prove difficult to do algorithmically. Gigaom’s passing will largely go unnoticed. There is an endless supply of other sites filling the void, although a vanishingly small number of them will be paying journalists or operating as a business making a profit. This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Multinational tech giants Google and Facebook could soon be charged goods and services tax on advertising booked by Australian companies if a proposal flagged by federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is adopted. While multinational corporations continue to come under fire for minimising their tax bills in Australia, Turnbull has floated the idea of using GST as a way to claw back some of this forgone tax revenue. “The Australian media industry is under enormous pressure from online platforms – notably Google and Facebook,” Turnbull said in a statement issued to SmartCompany. “The modest amounts of company tax both companies pay in Australia has been a matter of great concern, here as well as in other countries, and there is a global discussion going on about how these internet age companies should be taxed in a manner that delivers a fair return to the countries where they make most of their money.” Turnbull said Australia has “a real problem … in the erosion of our tax bases” but said “changes to international tax treaties take time and are contentious”. “Another approach which has been canvassed is to impose the GST on advertising booked on these platforms by Australian residents,” Turnbull said. “At the moment, little or no GST is collected in respect of advertising by Australians on international online platforms like Google and Facebook. This can be done unilaterally and would recover very substantial amounts of revenue.” According to The Australian, local companies are expected to spend more than $2.4 billion on online advertising with the likes of Google and Facebook, with a 10% GST charge therefore raising $240 million for the state governments. “All of these questions are being considered in the tax review that the government is undertaking,” Turnbull said. “We need to have a frank and informed discussion about how to ensure Australia is not short-changed in the internet age and the review will ensure that discussion is very well informed.” Kate Carnell, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told SmartCompany the proposal is “worth having a close look at”. “[Turnbull] is absolutely right that the international process of addressing base erosion and profit shifting we’re involved in with the OECD and others is a really important process, but getting the G20 plus the broader OECD together to agrees on issues is really hard,” Carnell says. “It’s got to happen but finding other ways to address the issue here in Australia is essential.” Carnell says the Australian economy quite clearly has a “problem with revenue” and it makes sense to consider proposals that can address this. “What’s exciting about it is it’s important to have new ideas,” Carnell says. “There’s got to be a debate about new and fair ways to generate revenue and make sure companies and the community more broadly pay a fair amount of money.” SmartCompany contacted Google and Facebook but did not receive a response prior to publication.
Blue sky thinker raises $200,000 to bring Google Analytics-style data to bricks-and-mortar retailers3:00AM | Friday, 13 March
David Mah, the co-founder of successful online shopping app Blue Sky, has raised $200,000 in seed funding for his latest venture, which provides Google Analytics-style real-time data to bricks-and-mortar retailers. Mah told StartupSmart Kepler Analytics uses passive Wi-Fi sensors to help retailers measure and understand real-time customer behaviour on a continuous basis, allowing them to design better experiences for their customers. “Today, brick-and-mortar retailers are not able to get much feedback on in-store marketing ROI, visual merchandising effectiveness and conversion rates. This is because the current methods, like hiring observers and deploying thermal cameras, are very expensive and time-consuming,” Mah says. “Kepler is built around low-cost, highly accurate passive Wi-Fi based sensors. It’s a different technology to iBeacons, which are based on Bluetooth. We can achieve accuracy of 85% to 95%, which exceeds the industry requirement of 80% accuracy.” While privacy is a growing concern for many shoppers, Mah is keen to stress that all the data collected through the platform is completely anonymous, allowing shoppers to remain private. “We don’t want to know who you are. In fact, our sensors are passive and do not capture any personal information. We only report customer behavioural data on an aggregate level to inform retailers on how to optimise their stores,” he says. According to Mah, there are three key ways his previous experience with online retail has helped him develop Kepler. “First, having a retailer contact base. It helps a lot knowing people who can provide good-quality feedback. Secondly, we gained a lot of experience with online analytics, which led us to build a product that could provide the same insight for bricks-and-mortar retailers. And third, by demonstrating to our customers that we can deliver.” “I co-founded the company with Nigel Ang in January 2015. We have secured seed funding of $200,000 and will be applying for a government innovation grant called the Entrepreneur Infrastructure Program that matches investments dollar-for-dollar.” Despite only being a couple of months old, the company has hit the ground running, and is already trialling the technology with two national retailers and one international retailer, ahead of an anticipated official release in July. Behind the scenes, Kepler has also assembled a team of experienced retail, engineering and data experts “We are looking for five more medium-sized retail partners to run trials with and strategic investors who can help accelerate our growth. We want to become the standard for in-store customer analytics in Asia-Pacific.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
While the young entrepreneur launching a multi-million-dollar enterprise from his or her parents’ garage is a startup cliché, in Australia young entrepreneurs like 20-year-old CoinJar co-founder Ryan Zhou are actually in the minority. The 2014 Startup Muster survey found of the over 400 founders polled just 5% were aged 20-24 and just 1% under 20. By contrast, a massive 41% of all startup founders in Australia are aged between 30 and 39, with a further 21% aged 25 to 29 and 16% aged between 40 and 44. Zhou credits the AngelCube program with teaching him many of the skills required to run a business. “I co-founded CoinJar after meeting [cofounder] Asher [Tan] in May 2013 – I was not even 19 at the time – and we were accepted into AngelCube soon after,” Zhou says. “I did not have much experience in how to run a successful startup, so at AngelCube I learnt about things like fundraising, product design and business development. Then in late 2013 we raised $500,000 in a funding round, led by BlackBird Ventures,” Zhou says. Zhou, who is studying full-time in addition to running CoinJar, says this lack of experience is a key factor holding back many of his friends from launching startups. “There’s a few of my friends at uni who want to launch a startup, but they think they don’t have the experience to meet all the challenges. So instead they’ll graduate with a job and then, maybe, start one in a few years’ time,” he says. “I think passion is extremely important. If you’re only in it for the money, it’s hard to be motivated to do what you can do. I’ve got a huge passion for technology and the internet and studying finance at university. So bitcoin combines what I’m studying with something I’m passionate about working on in my spare time.” While CoinJar is best known as the startup that introduced Australia’s first bitcoin Eftpos card, it has over recent months also introduced a hedged bitcoin account service and a mobile app for iOS and Android. It was Zhou’s passion for his startup’s end-to-end digital currency products that helped CoinJar take out the best in show prize last month at one of Europe’s largest fintech conferences, FinovateEurope 2015. “A CoinJar hedged account is a product for everyday consumers who want to store money on the internet. The consumer might be interested in using bitcoin, but be concerned about volatility in the price,” he says. “With a hedged account, if you deposit $A300, the value of bitcoins in your account will be pegged to the Australian dollar and will be worth $A300 whether the price of bitcoin goes up or down. “CoinJar Touch is our mobile app for the Google Play and Apple app store. It lets you manage all parts of your CoinJar account from your mobile, so you can put money into your Hedge Account and move money into Coinjar Swipe. “So we presented a real world case study where I paid Asher for a flight – that’s a pound sterling to Australian dollar hedge account transaction. We then demonstrated how to move that money to Coinjar Swipe – and won the best in show award. Looking forward, Zhou is keen to expand Coinjar internationally, after relocating to the UK late last year. It has recently hired its first full-time employee at its UK offices in the London financial district of Canary Wharf. “My advice to students wanting to launch a startup is to learn as much as you can, read about your industry, and gain expertise as well as experience.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Apple’s ability to mesh technology with beautiful design will be put to the test when it finally releases the much-anticipated Apple Watch. The tech giant is taking a super-advanced piece of technology and packaging it as a fashion statement. Although the iPhone-compatible wearable watch is still more than a month from its official release date, the hype is building among Apple enthusiasts and fashionistas alike as they anticipate the first product Apple has designed to be worn. On April 24 this year, the new smartwatch will find its way on to store shelves in a dazzling variety of colours and styles to trump even the options for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. There will be 38 Apple Watch choices with a range of changeable faces – including an animated Mickey Mouse face. Apple says the watch is designed to be “highly customisable for personal expression”, allowing the owner to make a unique statement. The watch is all about personalisation, even more so than previous Apple products, which have sported various colour possibilities plus the option of engraving the iPhone, iPod and iPad, which will also be available for the watch. With six band types and 18 interchangeable colours, you can don the sport band for a gym session and switch effortlessly to the Milanese loop for a night out. Wearable technology But is the world ready for wearable technology? We can hardly forget the moment when fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg put Google Glass on the runway in 2012. But the Google Glass project is currently on hold. This head-mounted optical display was seen as somewhat dorky, giving rise to the opinion that technology belongs on our desks and not on our bodies. So the question remains: will the Apple Watch succeed as a fashion item in a way that Google Glass has not? The emphasis on creating a fashionable product is readily apparent, with Apple leaning heavily on fashion insiders and retail gurus throughout the development phase. Apple is betting big on the success of its watch. Apple’s senior vice president of design, Jony Ive, even introduced the device to iconic designer Karl Lagerfeld and a 12-page spread is reportedly being prepared for Vogue. In case we needed further evidence that Apple is taking the fashion aspect seriously, super model Christy Turlington Burns appeared alongside Apple CEO Tim Cook to spruik the watch. She went so far as to call the Apple Watch a chic fashion accessory at the official launch. The price of design Given the emphasis on luxury, it is perhaps not surprising that the Apple Watch comes with a designer price tag for the 18-karat solid gold edition, which also has a top-of-the-line computer inside it. Apple says prices for these top-of-the-range models start from A$14,000. For those of us who are not prepared to take out a loan on what is essentially a piece of jewellery, the entry-level Apple Watch Sport with its aluminium body and rubber strap starts at A$499 for the 38mm version and A$579 for the 42mm. One step up from there is the Apple Watch, which has a A$799 or A$879 price tag for the 38mm and 42mm versions respectively. Depending on the band you choose, be it classic leather or the Milanese loop, expect to pay up to A$1629. Apple has never been shy of setting premium prices. What can the watch do? Given the hefty price tag, you may well be inclined to ask: what does the Apple Watch actually do (after telling you the time)? Quite simply, the watch aims to get us moving. Like the Fitbit -— an early leader in the fitness tracking market -— the Apple Watch is an activity tracker that counts our steps and measures our heart rate. And let’s not forget, it’s also a timekeeper and rather novel communication device. Despite similar products on the market, Apple is betting that it can do it better, thanks to its ecosystem of hardware, software and services. Coupled with a loyal fan base and the watch’s status as a fashion item, Apple is likely to be on to another winner in terms of sales. But despite its potential to help us achieve our fitness goals and perhaps curb obesity rates in Australia (three in five adults and one in four Aussies children are overweight), will we see Apple move from a well-loved consumer brand to the next big name in fashion? There does seem to be a convergence of technology with fashion. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Whether it’s getting chai-flavoured milkshakes delivered to your door at 11pm or hiring your own manservant to feed you grapes while you lie in repose, San Francisco has some pretty excellent – and all-out whacky – services available to its residents. StartupSmart has chosen four American startups or services that would hit it off in Australia should they launch Down Under. Reckon there’s another service that should have made the list but didn’t? Get in touch. 1. Washio We hear that hardly anyone does their own washing in San Francisco thanks to on-demand services that pick up your dirty laundry and deliver clean clothes straight to your door. Washio is the most popular on-demand laundry service in the US at the moment, allowing users to schedule drop-off and pickup times for their laundry and dry cleaning at the tap of a button. Washio costs $US1.6 ($A2.1) per pound of clothes for a simple wash and fold service – with higher prices for shirts, dress pants, dresses and jackets. Last year, the startup raised $US10.5 million in Series A funding in order to expand beyond Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington. 2. Classpass Standard gym memberships are so yesterday. ClassPass is a startup allowing people to pay a monthly fee in exchange for access to as many boutique fitness classes as they like – whether it be yoga, boxing or beginner’s hip hop. The service costs up to $US99 a month and members can visit the same class up to three times each cycle. In January, the startup raised $US40 million in Series B funding in order to fuel international growth. 3. Lyft Line Ride-sharing startup Lyft has a service called Lyft Line that allows people to share a car with someone going in the same direction. It’s much like car-pooling to work or how friends in the same neighbourhood might take turns to drop their kids off at school, but streamlined through a smartphone app. Lyft, which is a major competitor of Uber, has raised around $US320 million in funding to date. 4. Google Express Google Express allows users to shop from local stores and popular retailers online and get same-day or overnight delivery. Delivery is free for orders over $US15, and the monthly subscription rate is currently waived for new customers for the first three months. Users either subscribe on a monthly or annual basis for $US10 or $US95 a respectively. The service was originally available in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and last year expanded into Washington, Chicago and Boston. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Apple is donating $US50 million ($A65m) to organisations that strive to improve diversity in the tech sector. Apple’s head of human resources Denise Young Smith has told Fortune the company was partnering with several not-for-profits in order to increase the workplace participation of women, people of colour, and people with diverse sexualities and genders. “We wanted to create opportunities for minority candidates to get their first job at Apple,” she said. “There is a tremendous upside to that and we are dogged about the fact that we can’t innovate without being diverse and inclusive.” The news follows Apple’s announcement that the Apple Watch will launch worldwide on April 24. What’s happened to Yik Yak? Anonymous messaging app Yik Yak has quietly disappeared from the Google Play charts. An investigation by TechCrunch found the startup was delisted from Google Play in October 2014, suggesting Google has taken action against the platform. The company has previously come under fire for publishing “demeaning” and “sexually explicit” language and imagery. Yik Yak brought on $US62 million in capital late last year in a funding round led by Sequoia Capital – valuing the startup at between $US300 million and $US400 million. Google’s CFO to retire Google’s chief financial officer Patrick Pichette has announced he is retiring in order to spend more time with his family. In a post on his Google+ page, Pichette said he will hand over the role in the coming months after the company finds a suitable replacement. “Life is wonderful, but nonetheless a series of trade-offs, especially between business/professional endeavours and family/community,” he said. “And thankfully, I feel I’m at a point in my life where I no longer have to make such tough choices anymore. And for that I am truly grateful.” Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 332.78 points, falling 1.85% overnight to 17,662.94. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 76.26 US cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Australian iOS developers are excited about the upcoming launch of the Apple Watch and say “wearable-first” will soon be the new “mobile-first”. The Apple Watch will launch on April 24, with customers able to pre-order the highly anticipated device 14 days before it is officially released. Apple has also confirmed how much each version of the smartwatch will cost, with the cheaper Apple Watch Sport setting Australian customers back between $499 and $579. Meanwhile, the standard Apple Watch will cost up to $1629, with the premium Apple Watch Edition costing a whopping $14,000. Mark McDonald, the co-founder and chief executive of Appster, was at the Apple Watch presentation in San Francisco and says he is “very excited” about the product. “We saw how Facebook would work and it is really interesting how one must look at building a minimum viable product more than ever before because the amount of functionality built into such a small amount of space is crazy,” he says. “The Apple Watch is almost like Google Glass done right… they realised the user liked larger screens on phones but also want to think about form, function and user experience and how that’s a little different on wearable tech – it needs to be a bit smaller.” McDonald says the Apple Watch design is “very socially acceptable” and developers need to make sure that their apps load in no more than four seconds – the time it takes to reach into your pocket and pull out your phone. “As the apps designed for it have a quick to use core functionality, those are the apps that are going to be very successful,” he says. “We think the Apple Watch is right on the timing… the form and function is right and they have an existing market. Just today we’ve got clients a couple of floors up on our office who are working on developing Apple Watch products already. A lot of people are thinking not just mobile-first, but wearable-first.” Paul Coleman, from Fuse Mobile, told StartupSmart he also thinks Apple has gone “to great lengths” to ensure their smartwatches will be both desirable and fashionable products. “The exciting phase will be when we start seeing killer apps made specifically for wearables from the developer community,” he says. “This is what will make the watch an attractive purchase for consumers and be something truly useful rather than a glorified second screen.” Guy Cooper, the managing director of Wave Digital, says the price point of the Apple Watch could potentially be an issue – but price hasn’t deterred Apple fans in the past. “The Watch is going to be particularly useful to companies in the health and fitness space and may just blow some of the existing wearables in that space out of the market,” he says. Logan Merrick, from app development company Buzinga, says an exciting aspect of the Apple Smartwatch is its ability to simplify the reading of messages, checking notifications and taking directions. “We’ve been pushing a method to support this type of development that we’ve come to call ‘threesixty design’… which is simply designing software for a dynamic experience,” he says. “Human behaviour isn’t linear, it’s dynamic. So we have to think of design in the same fashion.” Danny Gorog, director of app development company Outware, agrees that Apple’s smartwatch range will take wearables “to a new level”. “Outware is already working with our clients to reimagine their apps on Apple Watch and look forward to sharing more when the watch is released.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Apple’s event at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center was widely expected to focus on the release of the Apple Watch. ResearchKit In a move that took everyone by surprise however, Apple also released a new software platform called ResearchKit. Like HealthKit, the platform enables medical researchers to create applications that specifically support the enrolment of subjects in medical trials and the continuous collection of data for research projects. Five sample applications supporting research into Parkinson’s Disease, Cardiovascular Disease and Breast Cancer, were built with partner universities in the US, UK and China for the launch of the kit. Unusually for Apple, the platform will be Open Sourced which means that others can contribute to the core platform. Apple has made it clear that none of the data collected through ResearchKit will be seen by Apple. The benefit of using a software framework of this type is that it standardises the collection and sharing of research data, potentially in real time from research subjects. Data collected in multiple studies could potentially be linked and shared. Apple is not the first company to throw resources into helping researchers use technology in their research. Google and Amazon have both built computing infrastructure to support research involving large amounts of data and high performance computers. With ResearchKit, Apple is facilitating one of the more challenging aspects of research, interfacing with test subjects. HBO Now In more traditional form, Apple also used the event to announce a lowering of price of the Apple TV box by 30% to US $69. It will also be the exclusive platform for the release of a service called HBO Now, that will provide all of HBO’s content via the device. This means that the new episodes of Game of Thrones can be subscribed to directly from HBO for $14.99 rather than through a cable subscription. Disappointingly to the rest of the world, the service will be available only in the US when it launches. 12 inch MacBook Apple has released a new 12 inch MacBook which is not in the “Air” range but is actually thinner and lighter than any of the MacBook Airs and boasts a retina display. Technologically, the laptop will be the first Apple device to support the new USB C cable configuration which resembles Apple’s Lightning cables but replaces the display, charging and data transfer ports. The MacBook Air and MacBook pros get refreshes with faster components across the range. Apple Watch Although the Apple Watch had previously been announced, the final launch of the watch was expected to fill in many of the questions about what would be actually released, and at what price. Most of the introduction by Apple CEO Tim Cook however was a re-run of the previous event. What was new were especially created apps that were available for the release of the watch including apps from Instragram, Uber, Twitter, SPG (hotel check-in and room key functionality), Shazam, and Apple’s own Apple Pay, Passbook and on-watch Notifications. Apple Watch apps will have their own section in the iTunes store. Although the presentation was not completely new, it highlighted how innovative the interface on the watch was. Time will tell whether this overcomes some of the limitations of this type of interface highlighted by Android Wear and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear. The Apple Watch Sport in anodised aluminium will come in two sizes (38 mm and 42 mm) and will cost US $349 and $399 for the two sizes. The stainless steel Apple Watch will also come in the same two sizes and cost between US $549 and $1,049 depending on the band. The gold Apple Watch Edition will be released in limited outlets and cost $10,000. The watches will be available for pre-order on April 10th and shipping on April 24th in 9 countries including Australia and the UK. Questions still remain about how the watch will do, how often it will need to be recharged and whether sufficient numbers of Apple customers actually buy the watch. However, as with all Apple events, the speculation is now over and the debate based on experience can begin. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
A Queensland startup is hoping to help other fledging tech companies monitor their online profiles in order to maximise digital opportunities and placate dissatisfied customers. Based in Brisbane, myPresences hopes to make it easier for businesses to juggle their online reputation across numerous platforms such as Reddit, Product Hunt, HackerNews, AngelList and even the Apple and Google Play stores. Founder Paul Gordon told StartupSmart the platform was originally designed for small businesses, but after a conversation with a venture capitalist around two months ago he introduced additional features for startups. “Being able to monitor people leaving reviews on the app store or if your business has been posted to Reddit is really important,” he says. “You don’t have the time to be going and checking all those sources. You can also get a really good idea of who is following and unfollowing you and in one simple place be able to see everything that is happening online in terms of your business.” Gordon says startups can also compare their online presence with other companies. “If you want to maybe see your review count on the Google Play store against your competitor, you can do things like that,” he says. “It’s a good metric to get an idea of how your competitors are listed and where they’re getting activity – it might be a good place where you can also get activity.” “There are lots and lots of places out here on the internet where you can promote your business, but if you start putting yourself out there too much you can lose control. You might also have posted your startup a year ago, but the data might be up to date.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Bevan Anderson and Simon Hackett accepting the award at the Avalon Airshow Aviation software developer AvSoft Australia has taken out Australia’s top prize for civil aviation innovation, with the electronic flight bag (EFB) app also winning a major contract with the Australian Army. The company, backed by entrepreneur Simon Hackett, has developed an EFB for the iPhone called AvPlan EFB that allows pilots to view the maps, charts and other information they traditionally needed to hold in a heavy flight book. A version called AvPlan Lite is also available for Android devices from the Google Play store. AvSoft chief executive Bevan Anderson told StartupSmart the software saw AvSoft win the Aerospace Australia Civil Industry National Innovation Award for 2015 at the biennial Australian International Airshow at Avalon Airport in Victoria. “They do three award categories in civil and three in defence. We applied when they asked for entries for the civil innovation award, and of the many entries, we were the winner. This is the big one for commercial aerospace awards in Australia – we’ve run out of awards to win,” Anderson says with a chuckle. There’s big news on another front for Anderson, with AvPlan recently securing a major contract with the Australian Army. “The Army has been conducting trials for the past two years of various platforms. Recently, they passed the product selection space and chose our product to equip all their pilots with,” Anderson says. The deal will see around 200 Army helicopters equipped with iPads running AvPlan EFB. Anderson says the Army is leading the way in terms of technology with the move, and that he is not aware of another defence force anywhere in the world that has adopted an EFB app. “There have been additional challenges going into the defence space, and that’s something they’ve helped us with,” he says. “We needed to do EMI (electromagnetic interference) testing of the devices, clearing the iPad for use in all the helicopter models including with weapons systems. Obviously, you can’t have weapons going off because of electromagnetic interference from a tablet!” There’s also good news for the company on the civilian front, having partnered with a Boeing subsidiary called Jeppesen in a deal that has led to significant interest from ad-hoc charter and business charter flight companies. The deal allows AvPlan EFB to access Jeppesen’s international data, while pilots will be able to undertake flight preparation and submission in AvPlan and then transfer that information to a Jeppesen device. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Google has announced it is going to begin introducing paid search results for apps into its Google Play app store, with the news drawing a mixed reaction from Australian app developers. Under the changes, sponsored results will soon begin appearing at the top of search queries in Google Play in a manner similar to Google’s web search results. The move is designed to help the search giant to monetise the global installed base of its Android operating system, which runs on around 1 billion devices globally. According to figures published by Kantar Worldpanel last year, smartphones running Google’s Android operating system account for around 58.1% of the Australian market, meaning the Google Play app store is also a significant gatekeeper in the local market. David Mah, co-founder of mobile shopping app BlueSky, told StartupSmart he was among the app developers approached to participate in a trial of the paid ads, but turned down the invitation. “They approached us to do just that, but we didn’t go ahead with it. Apple also approached us for something similar by putting us at the top of their app store on the front page. We were their top shopping app for 2014, and [Apple] didn’t charge us for that,” Mah says. Klyp mobile lead Tyson Bradford told StartupSmart if the ads work like Google’s existing search ads, it will be advantageous for app developers to look at the ads as a channel to build exposure. “The apps stores can be hard to navigate and get to new content on. You’re trying to view over a million apps on a four-inch screen. Especially if Google gets the contextual part right, this is going to be valuable for app developers,” Bradford says. “It’s not going to cost you millions of dollars to get an ad on there, but if they put down $50 their ads won’t be there as long as someone with a million dollar budget. So it could be more cost-effective for app developers than other mobile channels.” Zoom2u cofounder Steve Orenstein told StartupSmart the benefits of advertising will vary depending on what marketplace each app serves. “In our instance there could be some relevance – gaming apps might be more relevant because people search for those a lot. If it’s good, it will give Google a new revenue stream while adding value for app developers,” Orenstein says. Meanwhile, Freight Exchange co-founder and chief executive Cate Hull told StartupSmart she hopes the news prompts Apple to improve its search results. “Anything that improves Apple’s search results will be great for users and developers,” Hull says. In a post on Google’s official Android Developers Blog, Google Play product management director Michael Siliski said that in the coming weeks, selected users will begin to see ads in the app marketplace from a pilot group of advertisers. “With more than 100 billion searches every month on Google.com, we’ve seen how search ads shown next to organic search results on Google.com can significantly improve content discovery for users and advertisers, both large and small,” Siliski said. “Search ads on Google Play will enable developers to drive more awareness of their apps and provide consumers new ways to discover apps that they otherwise might have missed.” Image credit: Flickr/ashkyd Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Eye tracking devices sound a lot more like expensive pieces of scientific research equipment than joysticks – yet if the latest announcements about the latest Assassin’s Creed game are anything to go by, eye tracking will become a commonplace feature of how we interact with computers, and particularly games. Eye trackers provide computers with a user’s gaze position in real time by tracking the position of their pupils. The trackers can either be worn directly on the user’s face, like glasses, or placed in front of them, such as beneath a computer monitor for example. Eye trackers are usually composed of cameras and infrared lights to illuminate the eyes. Although it’s invisible to the human eye, the cameras can use infrared light to generate a grayscale image in which the pupil is easily recognisable. From the position of the pupil in the image, the eye tracker’s software can work out where the user’s gaze is directed – whether that’s on a computer screen or looking out into the world. But what’s the use? Well, our eyes can reveal a lot about a person’s intentions, thoughts and actions, as they are good indicators of what we’re interested in. In our interactions with others we often subconsciously pick up on cues that the eyes give away. So it’s possible to gather this unconscious information and use it in order to get a better understanding of what the user is thinking, their interests and habits, or to enhance the interaction between them and the computer they’re using. Practical uses outside the lab There are lots of useful applications. For example, in marketing and usability studies, eye trackers are commonly used to study the impact of an advertising campaign or the design of a website. For people who cannot use their arms or are completely paralysed, eye tracking can be used to operate a computer or speech synthesiser: eye-based applications allow them to move a mouse cursor and spell out sentences using only their eyes. Other more futuristic-sounding applications have been explored, such as appliances that listen to your commands when you look at them: imagine speaking “on” and “off” commands to your lamp, your hi-fi system or your television, which until you looked at them had been in standby. Other examples include automatic scrolling when you have reached the bottom of a screen of text, or automatic pausing of a movie if you look away. While there are uses for eye tracking in industry and among researchers, firms are now looking seriously at how to make them useful for the general public. Tobii – the same firm that brought us pizza ordering by mind control – recently launched a consumer-priced remote eye tracker, the Tobii EyeX (US$139) with the aim of encouraging games developers to build eye tracking support into their products. For comparison, research lab-grade eye trackers cost around US$20,000. Another large eye tracking company, SMI, has announced a partnership with Sony to integrate eye-tracking into games for the PlayStation 4. Interactivity at the cutting edge There’s a lot of potential for eye tracking in video games. For example, in the popular first-person view (“3D shooter”) style of games, eye tracking can be used to automatically pan the screen to where the player is looking, replacing a task usually performed by the mouse. The eyes can be used to target weapons, too. One of the most interesting applications is interaction with game characters. When using eye tracking video game characters can be made to react to the player’s gaze the same way a human would. Imagine entering a shop and letting your eyes rest on a sword you find interesting: the merchant could tell you directly about this item, making the interaction that bit more real. Or a character might get upset if, instead of looking at him while he’s talking, your eyes rest on his wife. The eyes are very powerful means of nonverbal communication. Implementing human-like reactions in virtual characters could mean a whole new level of immersion in video games. Beyond games, there is another range of applications where eye tracking is becoming a hot topic: smart glasses. Because of its shape, a lot of people think Google Glass also tracks the eyes, but it doesn’t. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see the next generation of smart glasses including eye tracking capabilities. This could provide further ways of interacting with the head-up display projected onto the glasses, adding automatic scrolling and navigation that leaves the wearer’s hands free instead of having to use the manual control. There’s already an eye tracking upgrade for the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. If users are willing to wear something on their heads, why not add an eye tracker too and enhance interaction using all that information that’s being given away by the eyes? Using the eyes as a tool opens up the possibility for more natural, subtle interaction. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.