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How’s this for fundamental tax reform? Target the rentseekers and cut corporate tax

1:07AM | Wednesday, 14 January

Tax is back in the spotlight with coalition MPs and the Australia Institute talking about getting rid of some of the exemptions to the GST. There has also been a lot of talk about whether or not corporate Australia is paying their fair share of tax.   Many big companies, including Apple and Google have been in the firing line because of the small amount of tax they pay on their Australian earnings. Some suggest that our corporate tax rate is too high and this creates a strong incentive for multinationals to shift taxable income to other countries.   Lowering our corporate tax rate and shifting to taxes that target economic rent could help resolve structural problems with our tax system, create a more productive economy and reduce incentives for corporate tax dodging. Such a tax shift could be designed to be revenue neutral or to increase overall tax take.   Even for many economists, economic rent is a slippery term that’s difficult to grasp. Economic rent is unearned income. This means that it has no clearly associated cost of production.   Unearned income can be obtained in many different ways but is almost always derived from privileged access to something scarce. The market power that monopolies can employ to raise prices generates economic rent. A rise in land values beyond inflation generates economic rent for the owner (the “earned” income from real estate is the actual rent or value derived from the use of the land). Unearned income also comes from artificial scarcity created by government policy. Taxi licenses and poker machine licenses are clear examples.   When a communication company uses a part of the electromagnetic spectrum for profit making, nobody else can use that wavelength. The auctioning of electromagnetic spectrum is an effective type of economic rent tax. The spectrum gets put to efficient use and the public is compensated for giving up a shared resource. The company then profits according to how well they use the resource rather than simply because they have a monopoly over it. There is bipartisan support for the auctioning of electromagnetic spectrum but the principle can be applied much more broadly.   The same logic sits behind mineral resource rent taxes - such as the first incarnation of the now-abolished mining tax. When the international price of a resource goes up, those who own the resource (every Australian) receive little benefit. The benefit goes to the mining companies even though they have done nothing to facilitate those price rises and they don’t own the material whose price has risen. This is unearned income and could be taxed in order to return the income flows to the public.   Most businesses in Australia would greatly benefit from a tax shift to economic rents with a commensurate reduction in company tax and the abolition of inefficient taxes such as stamp duties and insurance taxes.   Vast sums of money that are currently directed towards rent seeking would be redirected into productive activity, generating employment and diversifying the economy. Boom and bust property cycles would be flattened due to reduced speculation and, as a result, the broader scale ups and downs of the business cycle would be somewhat moderated.   While the 2010 Henry Tax Review recommended many rent-based taxes (including land tax, gambling taxes and a resource rent tax) as well as taxing environmental degradation, very few of the recommendations were endorsed, let alone implemented. The most significant of the recommendations that were implemented (even if somewhat half-heartedly), the carbon tax and the mining tax, have recently been repealed, primarily due to the inevitable backlash of the rent-seekers.   The political hurdles to serious tax reform are very high. However, the consequences of not reforming the tax system are severe. Tax reform policies are easy prey for opportunistic political opponents. This is why we need some clear principles for tax reform that are clearly explained to the public.   Liberal politicians should favour shifting taxes off productive business and onto economic rents and the exploitation of shared resources because such reforms target market failure and free up productive and sustainable businesses to flourish. Labor politicians too should approve of these principles because they reduce taxes on labour and shift them onto the rent seekers who contribute little to society. The inherently progressive nature of most rent taxes should also appeal to The Greens, the Labor left and the increasing number of others concerned about economic inequality.   Our politicians will need courage to stand up to powerful individuals and groups who have an interest in maintaining the status quo. They can get that courage from the rest of us who stand to benefit from a taxation system that supports a more productive and sustainable economy.   This article originally appeared at The Conversation.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Aussie startup surveying the online polling market

1:39AM | Wednesday, 7 January

A Melbourne-based startup is looking to make it easy to create fun, visual polls to drive user engagement for businesses and publishers.   Chant, a mobile-first app, launched a public beta version this month so users can put together opinion polls using images, Tweets and YouTube videos quickly and – most importantly – for free.   Co-founder Matt Garrett told StartupSmart Chant is “a lot richer” than a simple text-based polling experience.   “It’s not limited to the big publishers or your individual bloggers, it’s targeted to the whole market out there,” he says.   “It’s about simple polls in a matter of minutes that look great and can be used across platforms.”     Garrett says Chant is looking to rival – and eventually replace – the polling service Polar, which was recently acquired by Google. After being acquired by the tech giant, it was announced Polar would leave the market in mid-2015 and its team assigned to Google+.   “Polar had some great successes and we think there is a gap in the market now,” Garrett says.   “There are more complex systems out there, but there’s not anything else out there to rival Pollar and we definitely think we have some product features that will not only match it but add to the experience.”   Online polling is potentially worth big money, with popular platform SurveyMonkey raising $250 million in equity financing last month – meaning the company is now valued at around $2 billion.   As for Chant’s target market, Garrett says the startup will “definitely” have its sights set on tech companies and small businesses.   “It’s really easy to create a graphic and visual poll to allow your users to give you responses around what products or features they might prefer,” he says.   “Or, in sport, it would be which catch was better or who was best on field. And in a politics or news environment, I can think of a number of examples.”   Garrett says the company has a lot of exciting ideas up its sleeve “for the longer roadmap”, but will initially focus on what works and what doesn’t.   “We’ll just see what the new year brings. The next two months are about creating that buzz and seeing what the response is in the market and we’ll tailor our response from there.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Catch Group, Shoes of Prey and up to 50 other Australian online retailers’ intellectual property caught up in phishing net

1:26AM | Wednesday, 7 January

Intellectual property belonging to more than 50 Australian online retailers, including top names such as Catch of the Day and Shoes of Prey, appears to have been hijacked as part of an online phishing scam.   In January last year, popular footwear and accessories chain PeepToe Shoes, which was launched in 2007 by designer Nikki Hager, collapsed into administration.   The company was subsequently liquidated by KordaMentha, with Hager joining Sydney-based fashion label Izoa and the Catch Group, parent company of popular online retailer Catch of the Day, purchasing its intellectual property.   But a website later appeared at peeptoeshoes.com.au with the branding of another popular Australian retailer, Shoes of Prey.   In a statement, a spokesperson from the Catch Group told SmartCompany the company still owns the PeepToe brand but has no association with peeptoeshoes.com.au.   “The Catch Group bought the PeepToe brand and some of the stock after the company went into administration. The product is still marketed through Catch. Catch owns the peeptoe.com.au domain rather than peeptoeshoes.com.au so they have no association with this website,” the spokesperson says.   Likewise, a spokesperson for Shoes of Prey says the retailer has no connection to Peeptoe Shoes and is investigating the matter.   A link appearing on the bottom-right hand corner of peeptoeshoes.com.au links to a landing page on a website called Strawberry Bay, with a layout similar to the Shoes of Prey page, which asks users to hand over their email address in exchange for daily deals.   A Google search reveals the Strawberry Bay website also has landing pages for more than 50 other Australian-based domain names, including names such as Boat Books, Gardening Central, Hobby World and Our Deals.   Search engine optimisation expert Jim Stewart told SmartCompany it appears the brands of Australian online retailers are being used as part of a ‘phishing scam’, where the names and logos of legitimate businesses are used to fool people into handing over personal information.   “I’d say someone is buying expired domain names and redirecting them to this Strawberry Bay site,” Stewart says.   “It looks like they’re lining up expired domains, then redirecting people to a landing page at Strawberry Bay, grabbing an email address and then sending out spam.”   Stewart says there are a number of steps businesses that find their intellectual property copied by scammers can take.   “The first thing you need to do is know when it happens, and one way to do that is to use Google Alerts or other tools to find out when another website appears with your content,” Stewart says.   “The other thing you can do to beat the spammers is to make sure your genuine website gets indexed first. The way to do that is to maintain Google webmaster tools.”   “When you publish something on your website, search for it in Google, and if that page doesn’t appear, make sure you go into Webmaster tools and tell Google to index it.”   “Also, if you find someone cloning your content at a .com.au top-level domain, after telling asking them to take it down, you should pursue legal action. But for other top-level domains it’s a lot more difficult.”   However, intellectual property lawyer Steve White told SmartCompany businesses should weigh up legal costs before pursuing action against online scammers.   “It appears there are multiple potential claims of misleading or deceptive conduct in breach of the Australian Consumer Law. The question is how much money you want to spend in defending your rights,” White says.   “The remedy is to take legal action, but the costs are quite large. A successful party will receive costs, but not all costs.”   This article originally appeared at SmartCompany. 

Will Australia really see tougher drone regulations in 2015?

1:05AM | Tuesday, 6 January

Whether it’s to do with people’s privacy or physical safety, everyone seems to love talking about drones and other remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs).   A government crackdown and layers of red tape make a great headline, but will Australia really see some of the world’s toughest drone regulations in 2015 as reported by Fairfax?   Not likely, according to Peter Gibson – the spokesperson for the Civil Aviation and Safety Authority.   “We have got a number of projects on the way at the moment relating to recreational and commercial drones,” he says.   “One of those is something we foreshadowed last year, which is creating the sub-two kilogram category for remote controlled aircraft. We went out to consultation with that, however we haven’t made a final decision whether or not to go ahead.”   A number of experts StartupSmart contacted were of the view CASA would deregulate drones under two kilograms for recreational use.   Gibson says if changes relating to drones weighing less than two kilograms were to go ahead, they would likely be released in the first half of this year. However, he says overall 2015 will be the “consultation stage” for any major overhauls of the regulations surrounding RPAs.   “We also have several projects underway looking at the rules covering recreational drones with a view to update those because they were written in 2002,” Gibson says.   “We’re looking to update the rules to take into account new technology and the popularity now of drones. So we just need to look at how we can make the rules as relevant as possible to the current situation and as simple and easy to use as possible for the average drone user.”   As for the commercial sector, Gibson says CASA is reviewing the rules relating to remotely piloted aircraft because they were written around 12 years ago. However, it is unlikely these changes will be completed in 2015.   “The main focus is not making it tougher, it’s about making them across the board more relevant and up-to-date,” he says.   “Right throughout the process of reviewing both the drones and RPA rules there will be consultation with relevant groups as well as public consultation before firm, final proposals are put forward. There will be the chance for everyone to have their say.”   Francis Vierboom, founder of drone surveying startup Propeller Aerobotics, told StartupSmart remotely piloted aircraft will shake-up the construction industry.   “We expect a huge part of the growth in this industry will be related to the under-two kilogram class,” he says.   “It’s possible to do some really valuable work without going over two kilograms and that means companies will be able to start brining drones in-house because they are low-cost and there won’t be red tape if that class is deregulated.”   As for speculation CASA will crack down on drones due to public safety concerns, Vierboom says some concerns are valid – however the focus should be on the good that drones can do for Australian industries.   “A lot of the concerns around drones are around privacy,” he says.   “Those are really valid but the big growth in drones isn’t going to be flying over people’s houses – it’s going to be on construction sites. That’s where the revolution will happen.”   Matthew Sweeny, founder of world-first drone delivery startup Flirtey, told StartupSmart he hopes CASA will be proactive rather than reactive by promoting “forward-thinking regulation” that sparks innovation and creates jobs in Australia.   “We're entering a drone age where this technology will have applications all around to give us new perspectives on life, as well as to save lives by conducting urgent medical deliveries,” he says.   “Shutting down the Australian drone industry today would be akin to banning modems in the early days of the internet. Do you think Google would have brought its drones to Australia for testing if we had prohibitive regulations? Unreasonable regulations will stifle local innovation.”   Sweeny says all around the world countries are moving towards more liberal regulations on remotely piloted aircraft, and he hopes Australia will follow suit.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Flopportunity: Why failure is an opportunity

1:16AM | Tuesday, 6 January

The harsh reality is that failure fucking sucks.   Don’t let the startup mantras and hashtags fool you. Failure is emotionally draining, physically exhausting and psychologically frustrating. In some circles, it’s externally glorified, and in others, overwhelmingly demonised.   I know this today, more than most days. Today we shut the doors down on OutTrippin, our company, our baby and the love of our life for the past two years. Notice how I struggle to even say the word failure in that sentence? It’s not a strategic choice of words; it’s just agonising to say the words: My company failed.   I keep telling myself failure is an opportunity. Based on the generally positive demeanour I’ve had over the past few days, many might think I do believe it. Sometimes, I think I believe it too. I can logically draw the lines and understand why failure can be, and should be an opportunity, but sometimes logic just goes out the window. Because when I dig deep, behind the pleasant demeanour, behind the words, behind the actions, late at night as I lie awake, tossing and turning, a paralysing realization starts to sink in and the “truths” you keep telling yourself during the day can no longer mask the reality. Failure. Fucking. Sucks. It’s a funny little world. I remember when we started this adventure two years ago.   Indi, my cofounder, and I met in a hostel in Buenos Aires. Traveling through, we became fast friends and when we happened to find ourselves in the same beautiful city a few months later, this time to live, ended up as flatmates and eventually as co-founders.   We’ve been all over the shop, from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Melbourne to New York, and San Francisco to Dubai. We put it all on the line to realize our vision of what this world may look like if each person travelled more, travelled better and found experiences that they found truly amazing and eye opening. We think it would make us a happier people, a more understanding civilization, a more loving race.   And so we tried. And try hard we did.   We started OutTrippin, to build products that let people get personalised recommendations for truly amazing experiences on their travels. Our first product was a service that let travel experts compete to build your vacation. We took investment, we moved continents, we dealt with visa bullshit, joined an accelerator, found mentors and experimented with product, partners and business models. We failed, we learned, and we got up and tried again. And never thought that one day, we would get up to try again, but OutTrippin would not. We never thought OutTrippin would fail.   Nine out of 10 startups fail. That’s a statistical fact (well, more like just an estimate). And yet, every account from an entrepreneur with a failed startup, the recurring theme always is: ‘I never thought my startup would fail.’ It’s the combination of the narcissistic nature of entrepreneurship (that I, as a single human can change this world of 7 billion people).   It is also the stressed importance and almost glorification of hardship (Airbnb and their one thousand days of failure) that has allowed us to create this magical bubble of optimism. We allow ourselves to reach for unimaginable heights and work our asses off, all with the belief that we are the outlier – we are not the 90%, even if statistical reality says otherwise.   And boy that bubble is simply amazing. It’s energising in the face of impossible (improbable) odds. It’s invigorating even in the darkest hours, when all seems lost, and it gives you permission to go after goals that most others have deemed impossible. Because, you, your beautiful, intelligent, passionate self is the person to achieve the impossible (improbable).   And. It. Is. Glorious.   Right up until it all comes crashing down. And 90% of the time, it does. Today, it came crashing down for my startup and my life for the past two years. People ask me, what happened? It all seemed to be going so well, I thought? I was back in Santiago, Chile in April 2013 when I was skyping with Indi on a Wednesday evening, who was stopping by Melbourne for a friend’s wedding. She said I’d love this city. She said I’d love all the cute hipster girls (she knows me well) and that we should totally think about moving there.   I considered it for half a second and thought I’d see who’s investing in Melbourne on AngelList. After a few messages with Adrian Stone and Nathan Sampimon, by Friday morning just two days later, Indi was pitching OutTrippin to a crew of angels. We all got on a Saturday group skype, and by Monday AngelCube invited us to join their 2014 batch.   The only catch was I had to move to Melbourne in four days – by Friday morning. Many would say “no way, that’s absolutely ridiculous”. For us, it was a no-brainer. A day of packing, some serious hustling for visas and few tearful and sudden goodbyes later, we were off to Melbourne, myself from Santiago and João from Portugal, just one week since Indi suggested we consider Melbourne as the next stop on OutTrippin’s journey.   Startup founders get used to living on the knife’s edge because anything can happen. In fact, anything happens all the time. For every amazing thing I tell you is happening, there is an equally destructive thing that could also happen to the company. For every potential ascension and growth opportunity, there is a deep dark valley we could plunge into. Things can be amazing and terrible at the same time.   For every huge deal we close, it can all fall apart before we’ve even had a chance to finish the champagne. So we learn to drink up quickly. We learn to manage the constant threat of things falling apart. We mask it behind the amazing potential.   But masking it doesn’t make it go away. It’s always there. It’s a condition without a cure, the best we can do is manage it, mitigate it, and accept it.   And that’s just how it goes. Sometimes it all comes crashing down like a house of cards. So what went wrong? I don’t believe that only one thing going wrong can kill a company. Usually it’s a catalogue of things that go wrong that brings any company to this point. It was no different for us.   Everything that could have gone wrong did. That includes everything from business model failure, partial failures in team dynamics, general tiredness of doing this thing this long and go through yet another product and biz failure and a difficult investor climate in the travel industry.   But, most of all, market dynamics pushed us onto a mountain that we kept trying to ascend only to eventually realize that that mountain was not our Everest. It wasn’t our Everest Startups are hard. And it’s not made easier when life things happen. Back in 2013, we were going through AngelCube, an intense three month accelerator program that essentially takes over your life.   Similar to other accelerators, the non-stop ferocious nature of the program requires you to park your life entirely for 90 days and focus on your company and company alone. But life, as you might expect, makes other plans.   From 7000 thousand miles away, I got a call no son should ever get: A hysterical sister and mother trying to tell you that your dad, the man who you could always turn to, is no longer there. And suddenly, everything changes. Everything that you knew to be true no longer is. Everything you knew about life is shrouded in doubt. Everything you were you no longer are.   I left immediately to return home (obviously), leaving my cofounders to keep the company going while I tried to simply accept what had just happened. You never realise the strength of the bonds you create with those who you start a company with until it’s put to the test. We fought through what was the worst moment of my life and my co-founders Indi and João helped me put myself back together in a way that made me think that nothing could stop us from ascending our Everest, all because we had just survived the worst moment of my life.   With all the sleepless nights, grey hair and the financial disaster that is your personal bank account, you’d think we’re nuts to go after the impossible (improbable) odds. But the truth is, when it’s a vision you so passionately believe in, everything else fades away. You say “who cares about the grey hair, I’m on the George Clooney aging plan”. You say “you’ll sleep when you’re dead”. Money schmoney, this is why you have credit cards. It’s all good if you can keep going after your vision. It’s all good as long as you have your Everest. And that’s why, it’s so very, very, very crucial to find your Everest. No other mountain is worth climbing OutTrippin was our Everest for a long time. But we were also open to following the market to wherever it might lead us. And this time, we were led astray.   In the world of travel planning, finding a business model that works is like hunting for unicorns.   It’s why there has been little to no competition to TripAdvisor on the travel planning front for the past decade. We’ve always had an amazing community of travel writers and bloggers and we’ve always had a concept that got people really excited. The problem has always been to find a business model that could scale. From OTAs to airlines, from content companies to hotels, we experimented for a sustainable route to create high quality expert generated travel content at scale. What a mouthful, I know.   With a recently launched B2B (business to business) product targeting hotels, we came damn close too. But it dragged the company to a place where we dealt with slow moving behemoths and a B2B sales cycle that makes movements of glaciers look like that of a Ferrari. We could make peace with that, I think, but we couldn’t make peace with the fact that this wasn’t the mountain we wanted to climb. We wanted to focus on creating more magic with our apps on the consumer side. But without the revenue from hotel partners to cover content costs, it would all come crashing down like a house of cards.   The travel industry’s investor climate is colder than the arctic.   It is notoriously difficult. There are fair few success stories (Airbnb and HotelTonight are the only ones that come to mind and are essentially in the accommodation booking space) and there hasn’t been a legitimate challenger to TripAdvisor in over a decade. Investors are sceptical and rightfully so.   Many don’t understand the space and those that do know exactly how hard it is. Either way, doesn’t make quite the savvy investment, does it?! What that means is that most travel startups are going to have to prove 10 times more than their counterparts for similar valuations and investment, all in an effort to overcome the industry bias. Doesn’t make it impossible, just a whole lot harder.   And that just meant that we had become a company that did things the bootstrapped way. A specific conversation I had with my cofounder still rings out in my mind. I told her of a random idea I concocted in the shower the night before. It combined the Tinder and Swipe concepts, presenting amazing things to do in the city, and an ‘algorithm’ that would put together a timely version of an itinerary with the things you like most with the time constraints you had. Groundbreaking? Not at all. But her response is what was most telling. She asked:   “How do we make money from this?”   It wasn’t one sided, there were many conversations where I played the role of “show me the money!” We had just become a company with a “show me the money” culture. Remarkably, it helped us become self-sufficient and we probably made more revenue than most travel startups our stage, mostly because we had no choice but to keep on hustling. But it also left no room for errors. And it meant that any new idea came constrained with the question: How do we make money from this?   And that, ultimately stifled our creativity.   All that pressure took its toll on the team too. It did us no favours that part of the team, mainly João, was on the other side of the world with a 12 hour timezone difference.   Sure, tools like Github, Google Hangout, Slack, Basecamp and countless others help you manage team workflow no matter where they are, but there are no tools to help manage emotions and morale. And startups are just as much an emotional journey as anything else. When the person you work with day in and day out sits next to you, you can see how they feel, when to push, when to support and when to get them a glass of wine or a gin and tonic. But when you have a two hour window in a day to work together, you barely have time to get past work to really get to know how they are truly feeling and how you might help.   I caught up with Indi last week after her trip to visit family in Sydney, and mine to visit family in Dubai. It seemed like a moment away from the home base of OutTrippin had helped us clear our heads and understand who we were and what we believed. We had a glass of wine and our thoughts and, dare I say it, “feelings” just seemed to come rolling out.   We talked about how this B2B product we created for hotels as the revenue and content driver for OutTrippin had become the bane of our existence. It seemed to have pushed us in a corner of the market we had no interest in. How the god awful B2B sales cycle with hotels made me crave a shot of vodka simply to answer an email.   We talked about how it was convoluted that we never believed in this new product but were willing to do it if it made it easier to pursue our core vision. About how the reality was that it didn’t. It didn’t make it easier to pursue. It didn’t follow our core vision. And it certainly wasn’t our Everest.   Eventually, it became clear to us that it was tiresome to even feign excitement over this new direction we were taking, all to keep surviving as a company.   We spent the past two years of our lives on OutTrippin because we were driven by the magical memories that we helped create. From sci-fi themed honeymoons in New York City to diving trips in Malaysia, from bachelor parties in Austin to a girls’ trip to Iceland, these stories and countless others that we’ve helped make are absolutely epic. And for this we are prouder than a dog with two tails.   But the more we moved in this new direction to keep surviving, the more the magic faded. And that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the stark realization that in an effort to keep surviving as a company, we had started climbing a mountain that wasn’t our Everest. And that wasn’t fair to our users, our customers, our community and it definitely wasn’t fair to us. There is no logic in building a company whose direction you no longer believe in So, it’s time for us to find a new challenge, and bring this crazy train we’ve been on to its final destination. As I sit here, listening to Frank Sinatra lay down some truth bombs, I can’t help but resonate with ol’ blue eyes:   “I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king. I’ve been up and down and over and out but I know one thing: Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race.”   And that, ladies and gentlemen, is life (and I can’t deny it).   I feel a surprising ease that I cannot explain. Considering all of the above, one would think that I would be a wreck but it’s quite the opposite. I’m energised by the decision as opposed to burdened by it.   There isn’t a trace of regret. Maybe it’s because I’ve made my peace with it. Maybe it’s because I don’t know what’s next but that excites the living hell out of me. Maybe it’s because I get to restart the search for my Everest, because I am just as thrilled to climb it now as I was when I started OutTrippin.   Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because failure is just another opportunity to start again. This time, faster, better, stronger, and (most importantly) more intelligently.   Kunal Kalro is the founder and chief executive of @OutTrippin. Kalro speaks four languages and is perpetually living out of his suitcase. He has spent most of his time last year in Chile, Australia, Dubai, India and US. This article first appeared on Medium.

Nanotechnology to outer space: ten top tech innovations of 2014

12:41AM | Friday, 19 December

Don’t be mesmerised by cool apps and flashy new gizmos – the top technology inventions of the year are ones that will have a lasting effect.   Most are advances in fields that are already changing us. Some will have immediate impact; others are portents of transformations that may take decades to complete. In this vein, and in no particular order, here are what I consider to be ten of the best technological innovations from 2014.   1. DNA nanobots injected into cockroaches   Nanotechnology is a growing research field that manipulates materials on a molecular scale. One prospect is to transform medicine by injecting nanobots into the body where they perform functions such as treating disease.   In February, an Israeli team described devices they made from DNA and injected into cockroaches. By performing a kind of origami, the DNA nanobots assembled themselves and were able to control a molecule that targeted specific cells, so demonstrating their potential to carry out medical functions such as attacking cancers.   2. Nanotubes in chloroplasts created super plants   Nanotubes are large carbon molecules that form tubes with unusual thermal and electrical properties. In March, a team from MIT and CalTech published a method for inserting nanotubes into plant chloroplasts. The novel combination boosted photosynthesis and plant growth by several hundred percent.   Applications are still years away, but besides increasing plant growth and production, there are extraordinary possibilities: tapping plants for electrical power, building self-repairing materials and erecting buildings from materials that generate their own power.   3. Scallop-shaped robots swam through blood   Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute developed tiny robots that could swim through the bloodstream, repairing tissue damage or transporting medicine.   The challenge they faced was blood’s viscosity: it not only impeded movement but also varied according to speed. They solved the problem by designing robots in the shape of scallops powered by an external magnetic field. These robots provide a starting point for many kinds of medical devices of the future.   4. A microchip helped a paralysed man regain the use of his arm   Implants are revolutionising the treatment of many medical conditions. In April, researchers at Ohio State University reported success in using a microchip implant to help a paralysed man regain use of his arm.   Ten years in development, the device, known as Neurobridge, stimulates muscles according to brain patterns. The innovation raises hopes for many disabled people. It showed that by plugging into our brainwaves we may one day control all manner of devices by thought alone.   5. Nose cells helped repair a severed spinal cord   Biotechnology is producing new cures for medical conditions long thought to be permanent. A medical team at Wroclaw Medical University cultured nerve cells taken from a patient’s nose and surgically inserted them into his spinal cord.   The transplanted cells stimulated severed nerve fibres to grow and rejoin, thus bridging a damaged section of the spinal column and allowing the patient to walk again. This innovation showed that damage to the nervous system can be reversed.   6. Unmanned drones: the future of delivery services   Unmanned flying drones are taking on a rapidly growing number of roles, especially in surveillance and monitoring. Following Chinese experiments last year to test drones as a delivery system for parcels, 2014 saw rapid expansion of serious business interest. In August, Google used a drone to deliver chocolates to a farm in Outback Queensland. By year’s end, Amazon, DHL and many others were scrambling to establish unmanned delivery services in several countries.   7. A swarm of self-assembling mini-robots   Robots are already important tools in many industries, but put them into swarms and they can do so much more. In August the journal Science reported work at Harvard in which 1,000 mini-robots, the largest swarm so far, was able to assemble itself into programmed shapes.   There is still a long way to go, but it raised the potential for structures that self-assemble, which would revolutionise construction.   8. 3D printers pushed the boundaries   3D printing is now an established technology, but developments this year expanded its capabilities and applications. At the one extreme a team in Amsterdam began a project to build an entire house using 3D printing.   Meanwhile researchers at Princeton developed a 3D printer that could print with five different materials, incorporating dot-emitting diodes, and demonstrated it by making contact lenses. This raises many possibilities, from wearable video to monitoring the health of pilots.   9. The next frontier in space exploration   Events this year highlighted the international character of solar system exploration in coming decades. Following a ten-year flight, European Space Agency’s probe Rosetta went into orbit around the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.   On November 12, it released the probe Philae which became the first spacecraft to land on a comet.   Meanwhile, Mars exploration moved forward. India’s Mangalyaan spacecraft went into orbit around Mars in September and in December, NASA successfully launched the new Orion spacecraft, a first step in preparing for manned exploration of Mars.   10. Green power and clean water   Necessity is the mother of invention, so the greater the need, the more important the invention. A worldwide need is the 780 million people around the world who lack access to clean water supplies. The challenge for inventors is to meet the World Health Organisation criteria for practical systems: accessible, simple and cheap.   One notable innovation this year was a portable new system called Sunflower developed in Switzerland. Easily transportable, it used sunlight to generate electricity, and at the same time provided heating, refrigeration for food and purified water.   What of next year? We can be sure that growing fields such as automation and nanotechnology will continue to surprise us. The US Patents Office granted more than 300,000 patents during 2013, nearly 30,000 more than 2012. If patents provide a reliable indicator, then new inventions are appearing faster than ever.   This article originally appeared at The Conversation.   Image credit: Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Gadget guide: six new technologies to watch in 2015

12:51AM | Friday, 19 December

A year ago, SmartCompany listed the top new technologies set to race into 2014. Well, another year has come and gone, and a new group of technologies are emerging over the horizon.   So what new technologies should you look out for in 2015? It’s time to gaze again into the crystal ball and take a look at six technologies you should keep an eye on in 2015: 1. Make-or-break time for smartwatches   Over the past year, both in the form of devices running Google’s Android Wear platform and the Apple Watch, the tech giants have made big bets on smartwatches.   However, so far consumers have been a bit ambivalent. Sure, smartwatches can bring notifications to your clockface and apps on your wrist, and being able to do a voice search with Google without pulling out your phone or tablet is nifty.   On the other hand, a majority of the people inhabiting the planet already carry a far more powerful device with a larger screen in their pocket or handbag, in the form of a smartphone.   So the real question now is whether consumers will embrace this new technology.   Over the next year, entrepreneurs and innovators will either come up with a “killer app” for the smartwatch that drives it into the mainstream, or else the technology will be remembered as a flash-in-the-pan tech fad.   Either way, the next 12 months will be crucial to the long-term prospects of this much-hyped technology. 2. Mobile payments and tickets   Another technology rapidly approaching the critical make-or-break point is mobile payments.   These days, from “touch and go” chip-and-pin credit cards to public transport tickets, there are a growing number of smartcards that are based on a technology called near-field communications (NFC).   Over recent years, a growing number of smartphones have embedded these chips, allowing the “tap to share” features on Samsung Galaxy and Microsoft Lumia smartphones.   NFC technology received a surge of mainstream attention with its inclusion on iPhone 6, which uses the chip as part of its Apple Pay payment platform.   Of course, the great thing about NFC is that you don’t need to be tied into a proprietary walled garden platform such as Apple Pay. Potentially, all of the smartcards in your wallet could potentially be replaced with an app on a smartphone with an NFC chip.   Since we’re now at the point where just about every flagship smartphone has NFC, we’re also at the point where it’s plausible for consumers to replace a wallet full of cards with a phone full of apps.   Whether consumers embrace the convenience over the next year will be interesting to watch. 3. Multi-device app development   The number of tech gadgets on offer to consumers is greater than ever before.   A couple of decades ago, the average consumer just had a desktop or laptop in their study at home, and a second on their work desk.   Today, a consumer could potentially use a smartwatch, a smartphone, a tablet, a desktop or laptop computer, a smart TV (or a set-top box or games console) and an in-car entertainment system in the course of a single day – and all of them run apps.   Where Apple, Google and Microsoft once created operating systems for single devices, they’re now creating app platforms and ecosystems for devices.   With Mac OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, Apple added a feature called Handoff that allows users to pass activities from one device to another.   With Windows 10, Microsoft will allow a single app to run across a range of devices, including everything from smartphones and tablets to Xbox game consoles, PCs and servers.   Meanwhile, with 5.0 Lollipop, Android apps can now run on Chromebooks. Not only that, but Google has created a range of versions of Android for different devices, including cars (Android Auto), wearables (Android Wear), and TVs (Android TV).   For businesses, what this means is that consumers are likely to increasingly expect their apps, websites and online services to work seamlessly across a range of different devices and contexts. 4. Health tech   The interesting thing about many of these devices is they have potential therapeutic benefits for people with otherwise debilitating medical conditions. Others could be used as a preventative tool to warn users about possible health risks.   For example, Google Glass can potentially overlay graphics for people with poor vision highlighting potential risks and dangers. Cloud platforms can be used to collate health records and readings from a range of different devices and sources. Robotics can be applied to help people with limited mobility carry out everyday tasks.   The great news is that there are a range of Australian businesses already doing some great research in this area.   A great example is Eyenaemia, a new technology, developed by Melbourne medical students Jarrel Seah and Jennifer Tang, which allows users to diagnose anaemia by taking selfies with their smartphones.   The technology has grabbed the attention of none other than Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates himself.   “I could see a future version for Eyenaemia being used in developing countries, especially with pregnant women, since anaemia contributes to nearly 20% of deaths during pregnancy,” Gates says.   As of August, a health-tech startup group in Melbourne has already managed to attract close to 1000 entrepreneurs and medical professionals to some of its meetings, and a similar group in Brisbane is attracting around 100.   Health tech is an area Australia could become a world leader in over the coming years – if the investment and political will is there. 5. Plastic OLED displays   A year ago, low production yields put a limit to the production volumes of curved or flexible screen devices.   The first curved screen displays appeared on smartphones such as Samsung’s Galaxy Round and the LG G Flex, and at some curved-screen TVs at the International CES trade show. However, prices were high and volumes were limited. It required specialist types of glass, such as Corning’s bendable Willow Glass, to make.   The situation is set to change over the coming year thanks to a new technology called called P-OLED (plastic-organic light emitting diode).   P-OLED works by sandwiching a layer of organic material, which lights up on receiving an electrical charge, between two sheets of plastic. Along with the organic material, there’s a thin grid made up of a transparent material that conducts electricity (known as an active matrix) that can deliver a charge to each individual pixel.   Unlike LCD displays, which require a backlight, all of the light is generated by the organic material, meaning P-OLED displays are thinner as well. It is also thinner than glass AMOLED displays.   LG Display, one of the top three display manufacturers worldwide alongside Japan Display (Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi) and Samsung, says we should expect to see bendable tablets next year, with rollable TVs and foldable laptops screens in 2017. 6. Rise of the Chinese tech giants   This last one is not so much a new technology, per se, as it is a potential tectonic shift in the tech industry landscape.   During 2014, Xiaomi overtook Apple as China’s second-largest smartphone maker and – according to some figures – overtook Samsung as its largest. By the end of the year, it was the world’s third largest smartphone maker by volume, trailing only Samsung and Apple.   But while Xiaomi attracted most of the attention, it’s far from the only Chinese electronics maker set to make an impact over the coming years.   Lenovo became the world’s largest PC maker by buying IBM’s PC division in 2005, and has recently completed its purchase of Motorola from Google. Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, is also making its consumer electronics play. In their shadows are a range of other brands, such as Coolpad and ZTE.   But it’s not just device makers that are having an impact. Look no further than the record-setting $US231.4 billion ($A258.8 billion) IPO of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. In conclusion   From health tech to mobile payments, there are a range of technologies that will potentially have a big impact on Australian small businesses over the next year.   But perhaps the most important thing for businesses will be to make sure your consumers have a seamless digital experience across all of them.   This article originally appeared at SmartCompany.

Four startup trends to watch in 2015

12:29AM | Friday, 19 December

From the continued growth of bitcoin to increased activity by US investors in the Australian startup scene, here are four trends to watch in 2015.   1. Bitcoin   Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, chief executive of Blue Chilli, told StartupSmart “it’s definitely early days” for bitcoin in Australia – however, Asia is an emerging market to watch.   “Hong Kong is a bitcoin mecca and there is a lot going on there,” he says.   “There is a lot of awesome tech being developed and Australia has a chance to emerge as a fin tech hub as well. All those ingredients point to a future where bitcoin is going to play an important part.”   Eckersley-Maslin says as bitcoin becomes more established, we can expect to see people use the “bitcoin structure” to improve things in creative ways.   2. Internet-connected devices   Google is reportedly trying to lead the race when it comes to internet-connected devices in the home.   The tech giant bought Nest earlier in the year, a thermostat that users can control from their smartphone – along with a number of IoT startups.   Rick Baker, managing director of Blackbird Ventures, told StartupSmart we will see more connected devices in our homes “and an emerging need to control them in an intelligent way” in 2015.   3. Peer-to-peer lending networks   Peer-to-peer lending networks are also a space to watch, according to Eckersley-Maslin.   “I like anything that disrupts an organisation that gets in the way of a transaction,” he says.   “SocietyOne in Australia is having some big wins and successes, which is going to drive a lot of interest in that space.”   Earlier this month the Sydney-based peer-to-peer lender closed a new funding round of more than $10 million, led by Consolidated Press Holdings, News Corp Australia and Australian Capital Equity. Peer-to-peer lending allows investors to lend a fraction of a loan directly to a borrower without the need for a middle-man such as a traditional bank or financial institution.   “Peer-to-peer networks around financial services, real estate, car transactions – wherever… that’s going to be disrupted.   4. US venture capitalists investing in Australia   Quite a number of Australian startups have scored investments from American venture capital firms this year.   In January, Technology Crossover Ventures invested $US30 million in online hotel distribution company SiteMinder. And in April, a Sydney startup secured $US250 million from Insight Venture Partners.   Baker says he thinks we will see this trend continue in 2015.   “Many of the top US firms are scouting in Australia for breakout businesses,” he says.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Five Australian startups to watch in 2015

12:43AM | Wednesday, 17 December

The startup scene continues to flourish in Australia, with hundreds of new startups launching this year and many scaling nationally and overseas.   Here is StartupSmart’s pick of some of the startups to keep an eye on in the new year.   1. Bitcoin Group   Melbourne-based Bitcoin Group, the entity behind bitcoin arbitrage fund Bitcoins Reserve, has big plans for 2015.   The company plans to raise $20 million at 20 cents a share by listing on the ASX. On top of that, the startup is a big supporter of the local bitcoin community.   Chief financial officer Allan Guo previously told StartupSmart Bitcoin Group hopes to raise the profile of bitcoin in Australia and make sure more people understand digital currencies.   “There are people building exchange platforms, as well as payment systems, wallets, all the technology, but for us we see the biggest problem with bitcoin is the lack of understanding, the lack of trust,” he says.   “The transparency, the legitimacy, that’s what we want to bring.”   2. Swift   Swift is a Melbourne startup that grew out of after-hours alcohol delivery service Liquorun, and allows retailers and other businesses to deliver their products to consumers within one hour.   Swift is a classic example of an Aussie startup taking a niche concept and applying it to the broader market. “Shopping online is very convenient until it comes down to accepting delivery of the item,” founder Joel Macdonald previously told StartupSmart. “You know where you’re going to be in the next 60 minutes but you don’t necessarily know where you’re going to be the next day. Everyone’s time poor.”   Swift was one of five companies to recently secure funding from BlueChilli’s $10 million venture capital fund and is in talks with a number of US retailers.   3. Stashd   Fashion-discovery startup Stashd launched earlier this year and allows users to swipe left or right on an item depending depending on whether they would like to ‘stash’ or ‘trash’ it.   The app features more than 100,000 items and users in more than 80 countries. Co-founder Jessica Wilson says 30% of the apps users are “power users” and have engaged with the app more than 100 times since downloading it.   “I think a lot of it is you become super addicted to it,” she says.   “Internationally we’ve grown well because it is different, and we’re one of the first people in the fashion app space.”   Stashd has plans to grow the product range to include items from the likes of Zara, The Iconic and Asos.com. The startup will likely announce a seed investment round in the next few months.   4. Wattcost   Aussie startup WattCost has developed a device that can be attached to a household’s power meter to provide home owners with real-time data on power usage.   Former Microsoft evangelist Robert Scoble says WattCost was the most interesting startup he has seen all year and Google could very well buy the company in the race to become the dominant Internet of Things platform.   “We don’t know who’s going to win, but Google’s in the early lead because they bought Revolv, they bought Dropcam and they bought Nest,” he says.   “And I think this is going to be another one that they’re going to buy, because knowing how much electricity is going through the house, knowing when the rates are changing, that’s really important.”   5. TalkLife   Global social network TalkLife was founded in Adelaide and this year announced a collaboration with a London-based business accelerator.   The startup allows young people to discuss issues such as depression and suicide and support one another online. It has grown rapidly since its launch in 2012, with currently more than 100,000 users worldwide.   Founder Jamie Druitt previously told StartupSmart the startup is working with Harvard and MIT research teams to investigate how data can be used to predict high-risk mental health episodes in young people.   “I think it is fantastic that TalkLife can give them the opportunity to see data on mental health in real time,” he says.   “I think we need to look at how we can grow TalkLife now – it has only ever grown organically but we’re not even scratching the surface of mental health. We’ve got a long, steep road ahead.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Bid-based shopping platform promises fear-free haggling

12:46AM | Tuesday, 16 December

Sydney-based startup Bidz Direct has developed a new shopping platform that’s attempting to give consumers more control over pricing.   Co-founder Phil Tran told StartupSmart Bidz Direct lets buyers select an item, name the price and get an immediate list of agreeable sellers. He says the instant match means buyers can score discounts without having to search through Google for cheaper prices or endure waiting for an auction to end   “You can walk in to a Harvey Norman and see the camera you want for $200. You take a photo of it and upload it to the site for $180 and it will show you sellers that match,” he says.   Tran says the concept is based on special bid pricing for large enterprises where clients negotiate better deals on multi-million dollar accounts. After an extensive career in this field at IBM, he decided to apply it to consumers in the retail market.   Tran hopes Bidz Direct will help people save on products in a global market while making the shopping experience more efficient and enjoyable.   “If you think about the way we shop physically, now, you don’t want to haggle but you don’t want to pay the retail price so you end up walking away because you fear rejection. We’re removing that emotional fear of haggling with shopkeepers,” he says.   Tran says retailers would benefit from fee structures lower than eBay and enhanced productivity through features like auto-approval delegation where a price range is set for an item and sold automatically to any interested buyer.   Bidz Direct is set to go live in February 2015 and has raised $150,000 from private investors so far. Tran says meetings with AngelCube and investors in Silicon Valley are planned for early next year before they expand to the Asia Pacific region.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Tapit opens US office following rapid international expansion

12:26AM | Tuesday, 16 December

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

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

12:57AM | Tuesday, 16 December

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

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

12:34AM | Monday, 15 December

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

THE NEWS WRAP: Uber ramps up efforts against regulators

12:32PM | Sunday, 14 December

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

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

12:51PM | Wednesday, 10 December

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

Melbourne startup aims to make people feel safer in public areas

12:18AM | Wednesday, 10 December

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

Australia eyes missing billions with very own ‘Google tax’

12:34AM | Wednesday, 10 December

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

Three key design lessons from the Australian designer behind Google Wave

12:48PM | Tuesday, 9 December

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

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

12:34AM | Tuesday, 9 December

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

Boom in business for delivery startup Zoom2U

12:49PM | Monday, 8 December

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

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