Businesses with digital projects have accepted that lean thinking and agile methodologies provide the best approach for their projects and ventures. Start-ups use them as a matter of necessity. Commonwealth Bank, Suncorp, Telstra, Fairfax and even the Australian government have realised the value in this new method. Lean thinking and an agile approach work by taking an iterative, evolving approach to developing an idea rather than the more traditional, stages of plan, develop and deliver as a whole. Lean and agile can shorten product development cycles, reduce the risk of misunderstanding user needs, increase the likelihood you create something that sticks and, if it doesn’t work, decrease the cost of the failed project. Lean isn’t for everyone and here are six watch outs to think about before embarking on your own lean project: 1. Lean is not the ‘no plan’ plan Far too often people say ‘we’re running agile, so we don’t write plans or requirements any more’ and the speed and low-cost benefits are used as an excuse not to invest time and money into thinking things through, opening up a project for failure. Going lean doesn’t mean doing away with planning. In one instance, we were brought onto a project with developers that had been coding away for months. No one had a list of completed or outstanding tasks. No one had documents, diagrams or mock-ups describing what needed to be done. Management was wondering why there were so many bugs and why things kept being delayed. Things turned around when we put some basic planning processes in place and some unimposing levels of documentation. Simple, but successful. You don’t need to spend months planning but you still need to plan, do requirements and think ahead to keep stakeholders on the same page. You may even choose to evolve your planning and requirements iteratively. 2. You and your stakeholders must accept things will go wrong Lean means that you would prefer to try, fail, learn, improve and repeat in small incremental and manageable investments. Failing is part of the process of understanding where things are going wrong. Demanding that things go smoothly is therefore false economy. Sure, there are mistakes that are avoidable but more often than not, if you have good team and you’re following the process correctly, the errors will be important. Errors mark a need to change approach, re-evaluate or, in extreme cases, kill the project – a much more favourable, low-risk outcome compared to an investment in something that isn’t going to work. But you need board, senior management, customers and suppliers to buy in. Google does this really well. They brand their products or features as “beta” or “labs” signalling that they’re trialling something and it may go wrong. People accept that these features may have errors because they know it’s part of the process of producing a better outcome for them. This might sound obvious, but when you’re innovating and outside your comfort zone the temptation to return to the comfortable can be strong, especially when the board or senior management is breathing down your neck demanding to know why things aren’t going smoothly. But if you succumb, you face a much greater risk: a project with the expectations of “lean” but none of the flexibility to experiment and learn. 3. Lean isn’t an excuse not to commit to things With the emphasis on trying, failing, learning and improving it is easy for teams to start avoiding any commitment but you can’t let lean or agile be a scapegoat. At the end of the day, your team is still operating in a commercial environment and results need to be delivered. 4. Accumulating technical debt Projects that use lean as an excuse to go as quickly as possible without much forethought tend to pile up what engineers call ‘technical debt’ that is an amount of future effort required to fix technical tasks that were done the quick way instead of the right way. We’ve seen entire systems are thrown away and written again because the quick and dirty approach has been used. 5. Lean doesn’t mean you can always change your mind and expect immediate results Lean can help move things along faster and can be better at dealing with change when compared to more traditional approaches. This is often how it is sold to management and stakeholders. However, lean and agile don’t mean you can repeatedly change your mind and expect immediate results. Software engineers make decisions and create logical structures based on the current requirements and future vision of the project. Some changes can easily slide inline with prior decisions and the existing logical structures but other changes may require a significant restructure which in turn results in a significant effort to make changes. 6. Knowing when to move away from lean The landscape may have changed; you may have thousands of users, new regulation to deal with or greater certainty that the project will succeed. Ignoring more “traditional” planning or risk mitigation strategies may result in missed opportunities or worse, in a damaged brand or fines. The lean methodology has already brought great rewards and better business practice to many firms, but like any other process, misunderstand it and it can go wrong. Knowing the things to look out for is half the battle. I hope these tips help in keeping your lean project on track. Scott Middleton is the CEO and founder of Terem Technologies, an Australian company that specialises in developing custom software and technology solutions for corporate innovations and high-tech ventures.
There are many more bad people hacking computer systems than good ones helping them not get hacked. Each week it seems that some huge institution reveals that their customer's financial information has been breached or passwords compromised. There was Target earlier this year and Home Depot in the US more recently and hundreds more that never see the light of media attention. So what do companies do to get help? Smooth sounding salespeople from trusted large organisations sell the time of security penetration testing consultants at a rate of $2000 per day. The client doesn't know if they'll be any good and the cost means they can't hire as many of them as they would like. Bugcrowd was setup to change the way this corner of the world works. Casey Ellis and Serg Belokamen had worked together in a small consulting firm selling their services one day at a time before starting Bugcrowd and joining Startmate last year. The premise of Bugcrowd was to pay for results not hours. Companies like Facebook and Google had pioneered the concept of a bug bounty program where good hackers would responsibly disclose vulnerabilities and the companies would reward them, first with t-shirts and now with serious cash. Bugcrowd would let all the companies in the world who weren't the size of Facebook and Google run similar bug bounty programs. The second insight was to help security testers build a reputation. By sitting in the middle of helping security problems get fixed, Bugcrowd could audit and verify if a security consultant was any good or not. The tester could then take that reputation and help win more consulting work, more reliably and not have to work for a big accounting firm. You can see an example here in Pinterest's bug bounty hall of fame, who use Bugcrowd's platform to manage their security testing. What was once a whacky idea is now a common practice, at least in Silicon Valley, and Bugcrowd has grown very quickly. But not without some heartfelt moments. The company decided to relocate to San Francisco to be nearer to its customers and Serg, the original co-founder, had to make the personal decision to stay in Australia and leave the company. Chris Raethke, who was a founder of another company in the same Startmate batch last year that had failed, joined the company as a founder. The company's growth though, meant they were able to raise a large multi-million dollar seed round from some great investors like Icon Ventures, Paladin Capital and Square Peg Capital, as well as a bunch of angels. We filmed an interview with Casey and Chris about their journey so far and the help Startmate gave them in this mini documentary. Applications for Startmate 2015 close next Tuesday and we'd love for you to begin your own story. Apply now. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Has Google finally decided to take total control of its Android destiny with the release of its Android One operating system? Aimed at “emerging markets”, such as India, Google will operate the smartphone device rather than handing over to hardware partners such as Samsung and HTC. Historically, Google has taken a hands-off approach to Android, providing it “free” to manufacturers as an open source product. These manufacturers have a reputation for adding on their own extra features such as the Samsung TouchWiz user interface. The assumed goal was that a better mobile experience for consumers would funnel them towards Google’s other products such as its popular search. In contrast, Android One will not allow that customisation, giving Google full control of the operating system users get. So perhaps the latest move represents a paradigm shift for the company? The life and times of Android The approach taken with the Android operating system has always been more open than that taken by rival Apple with its iOS operating system. In fact, in general Android has always been considered more open than iOS, starting from the very beginning before the company was acquired by Google and the original Android operating system was released open source to the community. That version of the operating system still exists today and is used by companies such as Amazon on its Kindle Fire tablet. This creates what software developers call a “fork”, with the base Android operating system sitting underneath the customisations that Amazon makes. But in recent times Google has begun to demonstrate a desire to take more control of its operating system. Starting with the Nexus phones and devices, which involved Google providing a reference design for both phone and operating system free of the extras added by the hardware manufacturers and the carriers. This has continued with the announcement of Android One, with Google starting to become more involved in the entire process and trying to own the user experience. Products such as Google Glass represent other forays into this vertical integration, an area traditionally embraced by their main competitor, Apple. But Apple is starting to change its approach as well. A more open Apple? Apple has always been a product focused company. Starting with the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 and continuing with the iPhone and other iOS devices, Apple has always strived to control the whole experience of hardware, software and services. Earlier this month in a television interview with Charlie Rose, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that Apple values vertical integration and wants to control their primary product. But looking at Apple, industry insiders can begin to see a shift in the way that the company operates. The most recent hardware and software announced by Apple (announced one week before the first Android One smartphones) provides a lot more control for developers and users than they’ve ever had before. Features such as extensions allow apps to communicate with each other and users to share data among apps through the share pane. Developers can add features to place small apps called widgets in the notification centre or to enable actionable notifications, allowing you to (for instance) respond directly to a Facebook message from within the notification. And, in an unprecedented move, users can replace the Apple provided keyboard with a third party alternative. While all of these sound like small changes, they represent Apple relinquishing control of some parts of their iOS experience back to developers, a major departure from when Steve Jobs launched the iPhone in 2007. In his interview with Charlie Rose, Tim Cook was also asked what companies Apple competed with and, without hesitation he nominated Google as the main competitor, even going so far as to downplay Samsung as a competitor as the Android operating system was created by Google. This is especially interesting given that Apple has slowly moved Google out of its phones, (in)famously replacing Google Maps with Apple Maps a couple of years ago as well as slowly enhancing the voice recognising personal assistant, Siri, to perform many of the functions that Google performs with search. Even though the Apple Maps launch was riddled with problems (with users claiming the experience was sub par compared to the Google offering and prompting Tim Cook to issue an apology), Apple is clearly looking to shed itself of Google and own more of this part of the experience too. A new battle for market (and mind) share So, over the course of September, both Google and Apple have shown a new side to themselves. Both are pushing into new markets, with Android One specifically targeted at the China/India market. Many analysts suggest that the iPhone 6 Plus is an Apple foray into the desire for “bigger phones” in the same market. To conquer this market and maintain a foothold on the market in existing developed countries, it would appear both companies are making some changes - with Google taking control of its destiny while Apple becomes more open. Both are baby steps for now, but perhaps this is the beginning of a new battle, for the market (and mind) of more and more consumers.
Becoming a successful business blogger is a lot harder than many people think and overnight successes are rare. However, with hard work and the right strategies, anyone can find their online niche and start to build an audience. World-renowned blogger and Social Media Week Sydney special guest, Jeff Bullas, examines his key learnings from five years of blood, sweat and tears, online. 1. Find your passion and purpose Blogging about something you’re passionate about gives you the fuel and drive to persist and keep going. So when considering the content of your blog, you should consider the point where your passions and skills merge; writing about a topic you are ambivalent about is a sure-fire way to lose interest and make what should be a fun and interesting process, into something that is an effort. 2. Identify your target audience Observe the audiences of your competition: the major bloggers, websites and influencers. Watch how they interact, and make sure you read their comments and responses. Now think about your own skills and identify who would benefit from your own knowledge. Everyone wants to reach out to the whole internet, but finding an audience that cares about the content you have to offer and trusts your expertise is key to keeping them engaged. When you’re clear about who you’re reaching out to, it makes creating content so much easier as you understand your audience and know what they want to read. 3. Creating free content Creating content has to come after finding your passion. Identify your topics and then put yourself in your reader’s shoes and ask yourself: what are their problems, their challenges and their aspirations. The content you produce should meet the answers to those questions. Monitor the reaction to your content and continue experimenting and marketing it relentlessly. If you are struggling with what to write about there are blogger topic databases that can be used to spark an idea. Other than that, pick a key topic, and what industries that topic could be used for, and write a tailored article for some different industries. When it comes to actually writing content, I try to set aside some time every working day before distractions get in the way. For me, that is early in the morning. I also have guest writers, which help free up my time to focus on other important tasks. 4. Building your distribution network The key to marketing your blog is in building the largest distribution network through social media and email that your time and resources will allow. These days there seems to be a reduction of organic reach on social networks, so instead of solely focusing on social media to build a distribution network, it is important to build your email list as well. When doing this, there are a few key points to remember. Firstly, make it easy for people to subscribe; give them options on your home page and at the end of your blog posts, and create non-annoying pop ups. Secondly, give readers an incentive to subscribe, even if it’s in the form of exclusive reports or white papers. And finally, write good content with added-value, on a consistent basis. That’s what makes readers want to keep up with your blog. 5. Creating and packaging your knowledge Blogging can be a great source of revenue, but for that to be the case you have to properly ‘package’ your knowledge. The key is looking at innovative and compelling ways to share your passion and skills. For example, why not look at writing a short e-book or demonstrate your skills through an online video? Or could you host a Google Hangout? 6. Building joint ventures Joint ventures can help amplify your marketing efforts; they let you reach out to other networks of readers by working with other bloggers and businesses. The important thing with joint ventures is that content must be high quality and produced with care, as there is a lot of credibility and trust on the line. When looking to build a joint venture it is important to find relationships with both competitors and non-competitors that have very similar audiences, but that also have large social networks and substantial email lists. 7. Launching and marketing your products Using social media to launch and market your products gives you multiple platforms to reach different communities and share your messages. Marketing for your blog happens on three main levels: social media, email and optimising for search engines, so think about how you can leverage these channels. The best advice I can offer when it comes to being a successful blogger is to start, learn and persist. Put simply: “Being done is better than being perfect.” Jeff Bullas is hosting a number of seminars and master-classes at Social Media Week Sydney. For ticketing details, visit www.socialmediaweek.org/sydney. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Oculus has unveiled its new prototype Crescent Bay. It’s not an official developer kit, rather a “feature prototype” designed to show off the future of what Oculus is doing. Crescent Bay features a faster frame rate and is lighter than previous prototypes, has 360-degree head tracking, and integrated headphones. The prototype was revealed at the Oculus Connect conference where Oculus also announced the new Oculus Platform, which is coming to the Samsung VR. The platform brings virtual reality to a large audience through mobile apps, web browsers and a VR content discovery channel. Getty launches image sharing app Getty Images, the company which sells image licensing rights, has launched an iOS app, Stream, targeted at non-professionals, Businessweek reports. The app lets people browse through Getty’s images from professional photographers, with a special focus on curated collections. Google Plus no longer mandatory for Gmail Google is no longer requiring Gmail users to connect their account to a Google+ profile, a move which Wordstream’s Larry Kim speculates could be another sign the end is close for the troubled social network. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 13.75 to 17,279.74. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US89 cents.
Last Friday, Blackbird VC hosted The Sunrise conference which featured some of Australia's greatest technology companies, sharing the stories of their early years. Speakers included Mike Cannon-Brookes (Atlassian), Bevan Clark (Retail Me Not), Matt Barrie (Freelancer), Collis Ta'eed (Envato) and Evan Thornley (Look Smart). These were the key take aways for entrepreneurs: 1. There is no roadmap Just as a business fails for many reasons, a business succeeds for many reasons, however what works for one startup may not work for another. For example, lots of founders find success by focusing on one product, yet Mike Cannon-Brookes said building a second product was a key to Atlassian's success. For Freelancer's Matt Barrie, scoping the market size and crunching the numbers helped guide decision making early on, while Bevan Clark, the founder of Retail Me Not benefited from being naive about the size of his market. For every perceived right way of doing something there is someone achieving success by doing the opposite. This leads to the next lesson. 2. You gotta try stuff Every founder made mistakes along the way, whether it was being blacklisted by Google, fighting with investors, or wasting money. Of course you can only make mistakes if you're prepared to put your neck out there and try stuff. That's what every successful founder does, they try things whether it's experimenting with different acquisition channels, new product features or even new team members. A key turning point for Rod Johnston's SpringSource was diversifying the team. The more you test the more you learn. 3. Prepare for tough times According to Evan Thornely founder of LookSmart the second cause of startup failure after lack of cash is failure of governance. Governance is about having processes in place when the road gets rocky because it will get rocky. This covers everything from legal contracts, documentation and having a board you can trust. It also covers decision making. Founder of Tibra Capital Danny Bhandari admitted that collaborative decision making leads to team alignment but it can be at the cost of progress. Having processes in place will save you time and money. The old adage 'hope for the best, prepare for the worst' applies to startups too. 4. Team is everything Team and culture is critical to your success. This advice is not new but it's worth repeating because every founder that spoke emphasized the importance of people. Asked how to create a good culture, Mike Cannon-Brookes said "You can't create culture, the people are the culture." You have to hire A players and get rid of toxic people. As Matt Barrie said, if you had to compromise on people, product or market you compromise on product because great people in a great market will make it work. 5. Design is the new black In a world where every entrepreneur has access to the same online tools, resources, books and business models, often what separates a great product from a mediocre one is the user experience in which design is a key part. This is why, according to the founders, designers are in hot demand at the moment. In fact, you could say that design was the inspiration behind founder's launching products in the first place. Freelancer was partly inspired by the bad design and UX of a competitor, likewise SpringSource. 6. Don't let lack of funding stop you A lot of the startups that featured were self-funded to a point and some still are such as Envato, a $180 million marketplace. Envato's founder Collis Ta'eed admitted that not having funding was a good thing for his business. A limited budget led to more creativity and ingenuity. This gives hope to every Aussie entrepreneur who thinks the difference between success and failure is raising capital. Jason Allan is the marketing manager for Cammy.com.
For years, the overnight success story he was craving eluded Nic Blair. The digital entrepreneur has 10 startups to his name, and has personally lost $43,000 along the way. “Failure is how you learn, though. It’s all part of the journey,” he says. Blair began turning his ideas into business ventures in 2007, and spent the next year juggling his time between six startups with a couple of business partners. These included a Facebook app, a directory for a martial arts business, online marketing agency NSM Digital and online content network Luscious Media, which included Knockout Bids and Play Free Online Games. But none of the ideas worked, and the trio walked away from all the businesses and returned to the traditional workforce. The 28-year-old Brisbane man had lost $25,000 all up, though landed a job in online marketing for Flight Centre and wanted to repay his debts. “I had to accept that I needed a job to pay the bills. It was hard, because I had so many ideas.” He started his seventh startup, SEO and SEM agency Search Factory, on his own in 2011 after quitting Flight Centre, and it has been successful. Search Factory has grown to employ a team of 27 people and a further 25 contractors (all based in Australia). It has almost quadrupled turnover from around $560,000 in their first year to $2.2 million in their third year. “We’re constantly cleaning up digital messes for clients, getting penalties removed so they’re ranking again, that sort of thing. We focus on high quality search, so we don’t outsource to overseas, which is a model that has worked well for us.” At the same time, he launched number eight – a network of 25 travel websites called the All Site Network – which he hoped to turn into a lead generation business, though this ultimately failed. “The whole concept was good, but I wasn’t practising what I was preaching about lead generation, so it fell over. Google changed its algorithms, which hurt the business, too. I sold it cheaply and walked away with an $18,000 loss.” In September 2012 he launched yet another startup, mobile apps business Brus Media, which has also been a success. This was his ninth startup. Brus Media is an affiliate network focused on performance-based advertising for mobile apps. It helps clients monetise and grow their iPhone, iPad and Android apps. In a nutshell, Brus Media offers promotional opportunities for advertisers and game developers. Blair and his co-founders have helped grow some of the largest gaming apps, including Candy Crush Saga, Castle Clash, Clash of Clans and Slotomania. Back on the very first day of business, Brus Media generated just $1 in revenue. Fast forward, and its generating $1 in revenue every 7.6 seconds, which equates to almost $4000 per day, based on an eight-hour work day. In March this year, Brus Media had over 19,000,000 clicks for mobile apps, over 550,000 installs and made over $225,000 in revenue. Both Brus Media and Search Factory were launched with no capital and present huge overseas growth opportunities, which Blair is focused on now. He was recently named in the 2014 Australian Anthill 30 Under 30 list. A recent opportunity to purchase FreeRiderMX magazine (print circulation of around 8000) also presented itself, which Blair seized upon. He’s trying to revive it by focusing on a stronger digital strategy to grow print sales, which marks his tenth business, which he’s rebuilding from the ground up. The biggest lesson he’s learned has been the importance of focusing on one startup at a time. “The gap between closing down and opening a new business hasn’t really existed for us. Sometimes if the idea strikes, we’ve just gone out there and launched a new startup. I probably wouldn’t do that again. It’s far better to focus on one thing at a time,” Blair says. “I’ve also learnt that you don’t need a bunch of money to start a business. The marketing side of business is definitely a skill learnt, because that’s going to make the startup, or not.” Don’t put barriers between yourself if you’re thinking of starting a business, he says. “Most people I speak to are thinking about starting a business, but tell me all the reasons why they can’t do it now. Don’t wait until everything is perfect to get started. Particularly in the tech world.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Speaking in front of a healthy crowd of entrepreneurs at a Startup Grind Melbourne event at the NAB Atrium on Tuesday, Carsales.com.au founder and managing director Greg Roebuck gave his top three tips for startup founders to consider when pitching to investors. 1. Don’t expect to be an overnight success “The chances of someone being an Instagram, two or three years of hard work, a billion dollars; sorry, it’s unlikely. You’ve got to have the view you’re going to be doing this for years. I don’t want someone that’s built something that’s enough to get some money and then walk away. In my view, people say why are you still working in the same business all these years later, they ask why haven’t you done something else?” “It was never a let’s build it to a point where we can flick to someone else and move on. I like businesses that the people have a genuine passion for, and have passion for it for a longer period of time. It doesn’t mean a great idea can’t be sold to a Google or a Facebook or a Twitter, but it’s probably not how I think about businesses.” 2. Belief and passion “Nobody will tell you it’s a good idea, otherwise they would have done it themselves. Everyone will tell you a bad idea, and it’s always easy to say no. I like people that are prepared to get a few noes and are prepared to keep giving it a go.” 3. Solve a real-world problem “Car sales were broken. And a lot of things we do in Carsales people take for granted now: like list until sold. We were the first people in the world, certainly in Australia, to offer listing until sold for a classified. I love the old classified model. It was put an ad in The Age on a Saturday it’ll cost you $70 bucks. If it doesn’t sell, well give me another $70 bucks. If it still doesn’t sell give me another $70 bucks. The problem with that model is they made more money if they did a bad job. Then I came along and said give me your money and my job is to get you a sale and you never have to pay me again because you’ve given me the money for the job I have to do. So solving real-world problems that help people.” Startup Grind Melbourne’s next event will feature Envato co-founder and CEO Collis Ta’eed on Wednesday, October 29. For tickets, head over to Startup Grind Melbourne’s Eventbrite page. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Google is giving startups $100,000 in Google Cloud Platform Credit and 24/7 support to help them take advantage of resources in the cloud, and use those resources to quickly launch and scale their ideas. Google senior vice president Urs Hölzle announced Google Cloud Platform for Startups at the company’s Google for Entrepreneurs Global Partner Summit recently. Sydney co-working space Fishburners is one of a number of the world’s top incubators, accelerators and investors, whose startups will have access to the program. Google says it’s working with 50 such partners to roll out the service, and that number is expected to increase over time. Partners include the likes of Y Combinator, 500 Startups and Startup Grind. It will be available to startups that are less than five years old and have less than $500,000 in annual revenue. In a statement announcing the offer, Google director developer relations Julie Pearl says it supports the Google Cloud Platform’s philosophy. “We want developers to focus on code; not worry about managing infrastructure,” Pearl says. “Thousands of startups have built successful applications on Google Cloud Platform and those applications have grown to serve tens of millions of users. “It’s been amazing to watch Snapchat send over 700 million photos and videos a day and Khan Academy teach millions of students. We look forward to helping the next generation of startups launch great products.” Other prominent startups that have built their applications on Cloud Platform include car-sharing service Getaround, and Leanplum, a platform for optimising the mission-critical metrics of mobile apps. Startups wanting to apply should contact their accelerator, incubator or VC about the offer. Google says if they’re not in the program, email firstname.lastname@example.org to get them added. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Could your Nest do with a little more Zen? Meet the Aussie startup building a simpler, smarter thermostat9:51AM | Friday, 5 September
Melbourne-based startup Planet Innovation has raised nearly $50,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo in just days for a device called Zen, which it claims is the first thermostat that is not either “extremely unattractive” or “too complicated to use”. Zen, a smartphone-controlled thermostat, is designed to work over Wi-Fi with iControl’s OpenHome Labs and other smart home systems such as Apple HomeKit. Aside from being controlled through an app, the thermostat can be controlled with a touch screen on the front of the device, rather than through push-buttons. It features a minimalist design, and is attached to the wall using magnets, unlike other thermostats that are attached with screws. Since starting the Indiegogo campaign on August 31, as of publication, as of publication, Planet Innovation has raised $47,895 of its $50,000 target from 333 funders with 26 days to go. While the device is likely to draw comparisons to Google Nest, Planet innovation marketing manager Roger Langsdon says it is likely to find a different market segment. “I think Nest has helped to take thermostats out of the dark ages, but it’s gone too far and become too complicated,” Langsdon says. “With Zen, it’s a simple design and the smarts are in the app, not in the device… There’s a whole market for people who want a beautiful thermostat, but who aren’t particularly technical. And Nest can be intimidating for them.” Principal industrial designer at Planet Innovation, Ben Druce, told Private Media Zen aims to be “smart” in the sense that it is simple to install and easy to use. “Another difference between us and Nest is the removal of a lot of the in-depth functionality. What we’ve done is present users with the bare minimum of what they need to do, and that’s control the temperature,” Druce says. “It did come about independently,” Langsdon says. “We’ve been playing with home technology and other thermostats for around three or four years now, we ended up putting the two together.” The crowdfunding campaign comes with most of the development work on the device already completed, with assistance from key staff from US-based firm MMB. “The product is well developed at this point. Don’t get me wrong – the money will be useful in setting up the factory tooling for mass production – but we’re mostly using it for market validation. “This is the easiest way of getting feedback quickly by putting it in front of hundreds of users all around the world in order to get feedback.” Langsdon says he would like to see Zen available on a mass scale, with the device already attracting attention from potential channel partners in both North America and Australia. “At the moment, we’re hoping to meet our target in the next few hours. For the team, it’s been an amazing journey. We finished in December and ship in January,” Langsdon says. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Envato becomes the first Australian startup to release its diversity figures, encourages others to do the same9:43AM | Thursday, 4 September
Envato has become the first Australian tech startup to release comprehensive workforce diversity figures. Of the company’s overall workforce, 71% are male and 29% female, with a similar divide in leadership roles, 72% of which are occupied by men. The contrast is even starker in tech roles, with 93% of roles occupied by men. Women are considerably better represented in non-tech roles at 42%. Co-founder and chief executive officer Collis Ta’eed says the company is actively trying to improve its diversity, and hopes one day the company can look back on the figures and see how far they’ve come. “They’re not figures we’re proud of, but it fits our value of transparency,” he says. “It also shows potential applicants that this is something that we take seriously, acknowledge we could be better, and not pretending we have got it all figured out.” “I have an especially strong belief that diversity leads to better outcomes, the more varied the opinions in the room, the more different backgrounds and experiences at the table, the more likely you’re going to get the best answer. I feel like it’s about getting a strong team.” When Envato examined its job application statistics, it found that only 5% of applications came from women. Ta’eed says in light of that fact, the company is rethinking the way it approaches recruitment. Like Google, LinkedIn and Twitter before it, Envato admits there’s a problem and hopes the release of its figures will form a solid basis for meaningful discussions about ways to address to gender imbalance in technology. It’s the furthest any Australian tech startup has gone so far. Freelancer releases a small snapshot of diversity in its annual report, while 99designs and Campaign Monitor maintain a level of transparency by including photos of each and every one of their employees on their websites. “I think it’s a broader issue than Envato,” Ta’eed says. “But at the end of the day all we can really work on is our own backyard. But I’d certainly encourage other companies to take a transparent approach. It helps the conversation by providing actual stats so it becomes more than anecdotal evidence.” Envato has implemented a number of policies to try and address its diversity problem. Late last year it created a dedicated group that brought together men and women from across the company called The League of Extraordinary Inclusiveness, which is working on ways to make Envato a more inclusive workplace. It was created after some of Envato’s employees pointed out the diversity problem. “We have a culture of reflection built in,” Ta’eed says. “Henry Ford said ‘I always get a brain when all I wanted is a pair of hands’. We’re the opposite, we want a thinking human; someone who actively wants to improve their work environment.” Some of Envato’s initiatives include improving flexibility for employees, supporting events encouraging women to enter technology, encouraging staff to mentor women in technology, and rethinking recruitment with a focus on inclusiveness rather than closed network. “Our very first employee was a software developer, a man, the next two were people that he knew and that trend carried on,” Ta’eed says. “We primarily relied on the existing staff’s own personal networks, for better or worse, if they happened to know lots of women, it might have been a different story. “So we’re choosing to cast our net further and deliberately go to places where female tech developers and software programmers go. We recruit top talent, we always go to where the top talent is, so we thought if female tech talent is not coming here, let’s go to where they are.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Apple is expected to launch the latest version of the iPhone at an event it is hosting at the Flint Center for Performing Arts in Cupertino, California, next week. Apple has already sent invitations to an event taking place on September 9th at 10am, local time. In a curious move, there are reports the notoriously secretive tech giant has gone so far as to construct its own multi-storey structure alongside the venue. The choice of location is particularly significant because it is the venue where Apple launched its first Macintosh computer in 1984. It is also significantly larger than the Yerba Buena Center or the theatre at Apple’s corporate headquarters, where the tech giant normally makes its major new product announcements. Speculation about the new device hasn’t escaped its key rivals, with a list of consumer electronics giants including LG, Samsung, Microsoft and Motorola – and possibly others – all gearing up for major product launches of their own over the next month. So what can we expect to find from the iPhone 6? Here are some of the more credible rumours about what we can expect from the device: 1. A larger screen and, perhaps, a phablet As far back as November last year, there have been persistent and credible reports Apple has been working on two different models of the iPhone 6. According to most reports, the first model is set to feature a 4.7-inch display, while the second will include a 5.5-inch screen. This would make them close in size to the 5-inch display on the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the 5.7-inch display used on the Galaxy Note 3. Along with the move to two screen sizes, Apple is reportedly moving away from the plastic casing used on its current low-end device, the iPhone 5s. Aside from the usual Apple rumours sites, reports about the two screen sizes have appeared in a number of credible business publications, including The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. Unfortunately, it is not clear if both versions of the iPhone will be available at launch, with some speculation the larger 5.5-inch phablet version could be on hold until next year. 2. Mobile payments According to a second credible rumour, Apple has been working on its own mobile payments platform centred on the iPhone 6. During the past week, a number of respected publications including The Information, Re/Code and Bloomberg have independently confirmed with sources that Apple has struck a number of deals with major payment providers, retailers, and banks. Those signing up to the payment platform include credit card and payments giants American Express, Visa and MasterCard. The reports suggest the iPhone 6 will include an NFC (near-field communications) chip, a technology used to power tap-and-pay credit cards and public transport systems. It will allow iPhone 6 users to make purchases with their smartphones, rather than by using a credit card or by paying with cash. While NFC-chip technology has long been a standard feature of Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry smartphones, Apple has long held out on using it in its devices. 3. Does Apple have anything up its sleeve? For years, it has been rumoured Apple has had a smartwatch, or iWatch, up its sleeve. In recent years, the hype surrounding wearable devices, including smart bracelets and smartwatches has grown, with many expecting Apple to eventually join the market. Following the release of the Pebble in January 2013, a number of consumer electronics and device manufacturers have dipped their toes in the market, including Sony, LG, Motorola and Samsung, among many others. Other companies, such as Microsoft, are believed to be working on wearables of their own. At the Google I/O developer conference, the search and mobile giant unveiled its Android Wear device platform. Meanwhile, rival consumer electronics makers are working on smartwatches with their own SIM cards, as well as round clockfaces. The growing speculation is that the time is right for Apple to release its smartwatch – before it’s too late. 4. iOS8 Whether or not the iPhone 6 comes in a larger form, accepts mobile payments or is partnered to a smartwatch, one thing is for certain: it is set to run iOS8. First unveiled during the company’s WorldWide Developer Conference during June, iOS8 will bring along a number of new features for users. The new version of the mobile operating system is designed to be interoperable with the new version of Mac OS X, known as Yosemite. The improved interoperability means users will be able to use their Mac as a speakerphone for their iPhone, read and send their iPhone messages from their Mac, or use a feature called Handoff to pass activities from one device to another. It will also come with a new health tracking app called Health, which uses a new underlying API called Healthkit to gather health tracking data from a range of third-party health tracking apps and devices. iOS8 also includes the foundations of Apple’s Internet of Things home automation platform, known as Homekit. 5. A sapphire display In August, some photos of the new device leaked showing a thinner, lighter version of the iPhone. But one feature in particular was notable: the use of sapphire, rather than glass, for the screen. While the choice of material is likely to make the device significantly more expensive, a less shatter-prone iPhone will certainly be music to the ears of anyone who has ever accidentally busted a mobile phone screen. This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.
The celebrity photo leak was a very targeted attack on specific accounts, Apple says in an update on its investigation into the incident. Apple engineers have been working for more than 40 hours in an attempt to find the source of the leak. “We have discovered that accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the internet,” the statement says. “None of the cases we have investigated has resulted from any breach in any of Apple’s systems including iCloud or Find My iPhone. “We are continuing to work with law enforcement to help identify the criminals involved.” UberPop ride-sharing service banned in Germany A German court has banned Uber’s most popular service from operating in the country until a hearing this year is completed, The New York Times reports. The hearing will examine whether or not the service unfairly competes with taxis. UberPop allows people to use their smartphones to book rides with freelance drivers. Uber Black is unaffected by the ruling. Uber says it will continue operations and appeal the ruling. Ouya in acquisition talks Ouya, the maker of a low-cost Android-based gaming console of the same name, is in preliminary acquisition talks with a number of big players in China and the US, including Xiaomi, Tencent, Google and Amazon, sources have told Re/code. Those sources say the acquisition is related to company’s staff talent, rather than the Ouya console. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 30.89 to 17,067.56. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US93 cents.
Google is receiving one million takedown notices per day. Not for ‘right to be forgotten’ but for copyright infringement. Online copyright infringement is a rapidly growing problem. With the growth of the internet comes the increase in sharing of images, videos, music and written content. It also coincides with the growth in copyright infringement, use of other people’s designs, using photographs for your business or posting on your site without payment or permission. One week ago, Google reported that it had received eight million search removal requests in one week from copyright owners and reporting organisations for URLs that give access to material that allegedly infringes copyright. Google posts a Transparency Report each week and you can see from the statistics in the graph that the number of removal requests has increased from 2012 to 2014 by more than 200% per year. The number of URL removal requests is only expected to continue to increase. So what is Australia doing about it? Australia is now finally taking action and starting to consider coming into line with some of the other countries that are already trying to tackle this growing problem. The Attorney General has released a public consultation paper on Online Copyright Infringement which is calling for submissions from interested parties and organisations on how to combat this growing problem. This paper suggests important amendments to the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) that may potentially have a significant legal impact for ISPs and online content providers. Submissions for comment and consideration on this paper were due by September 1, 2014. The focus for the changes in the law mainly relate to the responsibility and liability of ISPs, including considering what constitutes ‘reasonable steps’ for an ISP to take to prevent any online copyright infringement. There is also the proposal for implementing notification mechanisms similar to the US, UK and NZ which focus on educating users and penalising repeat infringers. The other main issue being proposed is the ability of copyright holders to apply for injunctive relief to be able to block internet websites that operate outside of Australia where the main purpose of the website is copyright infringement. This approach and the short time frame given for comments and alternative suggestions to combat the growing infringement trend means that Australia is now finally taking copyright infringement more seriously and moving more rapidly to have measures in place to deal with the infringements. But whether it will actually be enough to slow or stop this growing problem remains to be seen. Who will be held responsible? The most interesting and important outcome will be who will be responsible. Will it be the publishers or the “pipes”? Where the responsibility lays for ensuring there are no copyright breaches and taking down any content will shortly be determined. The Australian government is already asking for submissions on this and provided a very short response timeframe, meaning they will soon be deciding who is responsible in Australia. With the ‘Right to be Forgotten’, the European judiciary is putting the onus on Google and other search engines to address and take responsibility for the issue. It will be interesting to see where Australia goes with both issues.
E-commerce giant Amazon has splashed out, paying close to $US1 billion ($A107 billion) for live video gaming platform Twitch. Amazon said on Monday it will pay $US970 million in cash for the platform, which had previously been rumoured to have fallen into the hands of Google. The deal is expected to close by the end of this year. “Broadcasting and watching gameplay is a global phenomenon and Twitch has built a platform that brings together tens of millions of people who watch billions of minutes of games each month —from The International, to breaking the world record for Mario, to gaming conferences like E3. And, amazingly, Twitch is only three years old,” said Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos in a statement. “Like Twitch, we obsess over customers and like to think differently, and we look forward to learning from them and helping them move even faster to build new services for the gaming community.” Twitch chief executive Emmett Shear said in the same statement the acquisition will allow it to “create tools and services faster than we could have independently”. “This change will mean great things for our community, and will let us bring Twitch to even more people around the world,” he said. So what is Twitch and why did Amazon fork out the big bucks to purchase it? Here’s five things you need to know about the platform. 1. Twitch allows gamers to live stream their gameplay Twitch enables game lovers to broadcast their gameplay sessions on PC, Xbox One or PlayStation 4 to viewers online, essentially turning what was once a solitary pursuit into a spectator sport. Users typically see the screen of the person playing the game, as well as a video feed of the player’s face and a window that allows they to chat with the player and other viewers. 2. It is used by millions of gamers Twitch has more than 50 million monthly active users and more than 1.1 million members who broadcast videos each month. In a typical month, Twitch users will watch more than 16 million minutes of gameplay. The platform has grown exponentially since it was launched in June 2011 with 3.2 million active users. 3. The platform started out as something called Justin.tv Twitch was founded by Justin Kan and Emmett Shear, who also co-founded Justin.tv, one of the first websites to host livestreaming user-generated video. Twitch was born as one part of Justin.tv, which the duo launched in 2007 and allowed users to broadcast their own video live streams. But Business Insider reports Twitch soon took over Justin.tv, so much so that Justin.tv changed its name to Twitch in February this year. Justin.tv officially closed earlier this month, with Twitch becoming the business’ sole focus. 4. Twitch allows advertising As with most other online social platforms, Twitch does share advertising revenue with those who broadcast their videos on the platform. And there is little doubt the advertising potential in the platform is at least part of Amazon’s attraction. According to the New York Times, most Twitch broadcasters, which can include businesses and content publishers, currently earn very little from the platform, although there are some said to be earning more than six figures a year. 5. It may expand to include live concerts in the future While Twitch’s users are dedicated gamers, the platform has experimented with live music concerts, raising the possibility of the platform morphing into a live equivalent of YouTube. In July this year, Twitch hosting a free broadcast of a concert by musician Steve Aoki. According to The Verge, Twitch said at the time it had received feedback that 80% of its users would be interested in watching live concerts. This article first appeared on SmartCompany.
Australia is at an inflection point. The role of innovation and technology in our lives, shaping business, and growing the economy is profound. The pervasiveness is inarguable, be it from a generation of toddlers expectantly swiping books as though they’re tablets, to the increasing urgency of STEM being taught in schools, through the disruption of the world’s largest companies. As the pace of innovation in digital change has increased, it has surpassed businesses and organisations of all sizes – whether they are multi-billion dollar industries or the smallest of start-ups. Large companies are threatened with disruption, with 85% of CEOs globally and in Australia citing digital and innovation as the top opportunities and priorities for their business. At the other end of the spectrum, growing Australia’s start-up economy is a subject of vigorous debate as we look to grow Australia’s economy and role in a global and digital world. Which is why continual innovation is so important. We don’t read so much about SMEs in the focus on innovation. On the start-up side, businesses are so fast-moving and focused on creating a sustainable business they’re able to pivot into a new area relatively quickly. For large organisations, there is a greater ability to fund innovation through an increasing focus on design thinking, R&D, venture funds or acquisition. For SMEs, however, innovation is just as important for the growth of Australia’s economy and the inflection we are at. Though there are challenges for many SMEs in terms of reduced capital to invest, utilisation and risk adversity, the profile of an SME to be the flagship of growth within Australia and offshore is incredibly positive (despite a lack of venture based investment capital). They’re faster to respond to opportunities, generally have reduced bureaucracy, less shareholder pressure and the length of the chain from which to observe customer behaviour and communicate or find levers in assets is considerably shorter. We need SMEs to be more innovative. PwC research suggests that transforming Australia’s SME laggards to leaders in their use of technology specifically could increase GDP by nearly $6 billion (0.4%) in 2012-2013, increase real wages by 0.5% and raise revenue in the economy by $11 billion. Australia is one of the highest and fastest adopters of technology in the world, a great test market for new services, and there is no impediment geographically for where a service originates. How might SMEs think about continual innovation beyond the brainstorm? What's your relevance? List and revisit your relevance to changes in society and the market when making strategic decisions. Is there a way your audience or competence is able to pivot on subjects like health, aged care, tourism, or Asia? Is there relevance in technology trends such as payment, 3D printing, analytics, crowdsourcing or wearables, such as printing parts, sourcing globally or remote monitoring of equipment? Key an eye on the ecosystem Draw out extended relationships around you and see how to move from a b2b or b2c focus, to an extension of relevance or marketplace. How can you provide for your customer and their family? Are there relations to be formed or extended with developers, app stores, governments, retail presence or competitors? Reviewing startups stimulates opportunities to leverage innovative new capabilities early at low risk to SMEs, and high value to putting faith in our startups if there’s a way to team. Reading outside your normal lens generates new ideas. Some food for thought includes ThereIsIt, Gigya, Idomoo or sites like SmartCompany, Nocamels, Business Insider, and Forbes. Lo-fi testing Finally, go lo-fidelity in testing ideas before running major projects; set some innovation metrics to make sure you’re not settling into the comfort zone; seek feedback and customer insights as they may represent an unmet need on a greater scale; know the R&D tax benefits; and finally, ask your team for two options for any major decisions. For example, have one usual or incremental direction and one radical option. Even if you planned to go to Bacchus Marsh, spend an hour packing for Brazil, at best you’ll confirm your decision, or reset on somewhere in between. It’s true, as the world changes, we won’t have much of a choice. It’s also true there will never be at better chance to jump on the springboard of opportunity. Kate Eriksson is the head of innovation at PwC Australia’s Digital Change services. A stalwart of the digital industry, Kate’s experience and network spans across some of the most iconic digital businesses in the world such as Google, Facebook, Skype and Twitter. This article first appeared on SmartCompany.
One of the issues of self-driving vehicles is legal liability for death or injury in the event of an accident. If the car maker programs the car so the driver has no choice, is it likely the company could be sued over the car’s actions. One way around this is to shift liability to the car owner by allowing them to determine a set of values or options in the event of an accident. People are likely to want to have the option to choose how their vehicle behaves, both in an emergency and in general, so it seems the issue of adjustable ethics will become real as robotically controlled vehicles become more common. Self-drive is already here With self-driving vehicles already legal to drive on public roads in a growing number of US states, the trend is spreading around the world. The United Kingdom will allow these vehicles from January 2015. Before there is widespread adoption, though, people will need to be comfortable with the idea of a computer being in full control of their vehicle. Much progress towards this has been made already. A growing number of cars, including mid-priced Fords, have an impressive range of accident-avoidance and driver-assist technologies like adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, lane-keeping and parking assist. People who like driving for its own sake will probably not embrace the technology. But there are plenty of people who already love the convenience, just as they might also opt for automatic transmission over manual. Are they safe? After almost 500,000km of on-road trials in the US, Google’s test cars have not been in a single accident while under computer control. Computers have faster reaction times and do not get tired, drunk or impatient. Nor are they given to road rage. But as accident-avoidance and driver-assist technologies become more sophisticated, some ethical issues are raising their heads. The question of how a self-driven vehicle should react when faced with an accident where all options lead to varying numbers of deaths of people was raised earlier this month. This is an adaptation of the “trolley problem” that ethicists use to explore the dilemma of sacrificing an innocent person to save multiple innocent people; pragmatically choosing the lesser of two evils. An astute reader will point out that, under normal conditions, the car’s collision-avoidance system should have applied the brakes before it became a life-and-death situation. That is true most of the time, but with cars controlled by artificial intelligence (AI), we are dealing with unforeseen events for which no design currently exists. Story continues on page 2. Please click below. Who is to blame for the deaths? If car makers install a “do least harm” instruction and the car kills someone, they create legal liability for themselves. The car’s AI has decided that a person shall be sacrificed for the greater good. Had the car’s AI not intervened, it’s still possible people would have died, but it would have been you that killed them, not the car maker. Car makers will obviously want to manage their risk by allowing the user to choose a policy for how the car will behave in an emergency. The user gets to choose how ethically their vehicle will behave in an emergency. As Patrick Lin points out the options are many. You could be: democratic and specify that everyone has equal value pragmatic, so certain categories of person should take precedence, as with the kids on the crossing, for example self-centred and specify that your life should be preserved above all materialistic and choose the action that involves the least property damage or legal liability. While this is clearly a legal minefield, the car maker could argue that it should not be liable for damages that result from the user’s choices – though the maker could still be faulted for giving the user a choice in the first place. Let’s say the car maker is successful in deflecting liability. In that case, the user becomes solely responsible whether or not they have a well-considered code of ethics that can deal with life-and-death situations. People want choice Code of ethics or not, in a recent survey it turns out that 44% of respondents believe they should have the option to choose how the car will behave in an emergency. About 33% thought that government law-makers should decide. Only 12% thought the car maker should decide the ethical course of action. In Lin's view it falls to the car makers then to create a code of ethical conduct for robotic cars. This may well be good enough, but if it is not, then government regulations can be introduced, including laws that limit a car maker’s liability in the same way that legal protection for vaccine makers was introduced because it is in the public interest that people be vaccinated. In the end, are not the tools we use, including the computers that do things for us, just extensions of ourselves? If that is so, then we are ultimately responsible for the consequences of their use. David Tuffley does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
China could have a new homegrown operating system by October, to take on imports Microsoft, Google and Apple. The US and China have had a number of disputes regarding cyber security in recent months. The operating system would first appear on desktop devices, before being extended to smartphone and other mobile devices, the head of an official OS development alliance, Ni Guangnan, says. Ni says he hopes the Chinese-made software would be able to replace desktop operating systems within one to two years and mobile operating systems within three to five years. Coin apologises to customers Connected credit card startup Coin issued an apology to customers on the weekend after mishandling the announcement of a product delay. The San-Francisco based startup was criticised last week after revealing, after months of ambiguity, it would be delaying the launch of its connected credit card and replacing it with a beta program in which its 10,000 pre-order customers could opt in to receive a prototype. They would be required to pay $30 to upgrade to the finished product when it launched. Coin reversed its stance and the beta program will now be free. It apologised to its users for a “lack of transparency and clarity” in its communications. Facebook most popular app in US In comScore’s latest mobile app report, which tracks the 25 most popular smartphone apps in the US, Facebook leads the way by a considerable margin. The Facebook app had 115.4 million US unique visitors over the age of eighteen in June 2014, with YouTube finishing in second with 83.4 million. The top subscription app is Netflix with 28 million unique visitors. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 38.27 to 17,001.22. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US93 cents.
Google is rolling out a number of new Android app promotion features across its Google Search, the Google Display and YouTube ad networks targeted at app developers. For developers, Google now allows developers to promote their app through its ad networks, with the ads only appearing for users who haven’t downloaded the app from the Google Play app store. Developers can also embed deep links into content in their apps from ads on Google websites, with the ads only appearing for users that have previously installed the apps. The deep linking within apps mirrors a feature introduced by Twitter in January. In an official blog post, Google’s vice president of AdWords product management, Jerry Dischler, said app developers such as LINE, Zoopla and Booking.com have already signed up for the service. “Here’s how it works: let’s say someone has the Booking.com app installed on their phone and searches for “San Francisco Hotels” on Google.com; now they can go directly to the specific page in the Booking.com app that shows listings for hotels in San Francisco,” said Dischler. App downloads through the Google Play store that follow a user clicking on an ad will show up as a conversion in AdWords without any additional setup. This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.
There is no doubt that starting a new business is hard. However, the range of new products and services on offer means it is getting cheaper and easier to get up and running. Here are some examples of what many new businesses are using. Shared office space More and more shared office space has been opening up across the capital cities, allowing new businesses to get desks for a fraction of the price of a traditional office. Often they are month-by-month and do not need you to commit to long-term leases. There is a lot of press around the facilities provided by various incubators and accelerators; however, there are plenty of shared office spaces elsewhere. While rates can be as low as $400 per month, in Sydney it is more commonly in the $600 to $700 per month range if you want to be near the city. Voice over IP Essential to the operations of many businesses is a regular phone number. In the past the cost of getting a new number would run to the hundreds of dollars, and then ongoing monthly costs for a basic service would easily start at $30-$50 per month. And that’s before adding basic functions for voice greetings, menus to direct callers to the right place, call queues or even just voicemail. These PABX features used to require small business phone systems to be purchased and physically installed. However, this can all be provided over the internet using voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) services, which are quick to sign up to online and work on your computer or a cheap IP phone from a local electronics shop. They cost a fraction of the price of a physical system and generally do not have setup fees. They work over your internet connection, so there is no need to wait around for the technician to not show up. A standalone phone number with Internode’s NodePhone service costs $5 per month, and services such as Edgetel offer PABX functions that allow you to automatically answer a call during business hours with a greeting and a “press 1 for support” type menu system. You can also divert calls to different numbers, at different times of the day, ring one number or handset first before calling others, or place callers in a queue. Everything you need to make you sound like a big company, for as little as $20 per month. Online business applications Gone are the days when to have your own email address email@example.com would mean buying your own server, connecting it to the internet and spending thousands getting things configured. The same goes for sophisticated systems such as customer relationship management or building an online shopping website. The recent advent of software-as-a-service (SaaS) means business can now access these powerful applications online and pay for them by the month (often after a free trial). There are a huge range of applications in a broad range of categories. Some common examples include: Office style productivity, such as Google Apps, Office 365 Customer relationship management (CRM), such as Zoho, Highrise, Salesforce Accounting (invoicing, payroll, etc) such as Xerox Websites and online shopping, such as Bigcommerce, Wix, Squarespace Project management such as Jira OnDemand, Pivotal tracker, Basecamp, Trello Source code management such as Github and Bitbucket Offshore software developers For new online businesses, or those who have a significant online component, the cost of software development is usually by far the largest expense. Offshore software developers are an effective way to cut down that cost. All the software development can be moved offshore, or a blended on-shore/offshore team can be used to help maintain control and quality while still greatly reducing the price. Hiring an independent resource overseas is easy to do through myriad contract hire websites such as Freelancer and oDesk. There are also businesses such as SoftwareSeni that complement the offshore resources with Australian-based operations to provide an additional level of technical oversight and quality. Hosting In the old days, servers had to be bought and installed, and system administrators had to set them up and keep them going. Now there are a range of cloud-based hosting services like Amazon Web Services where you pay for what you use and you can increase and decrease capacity quickly. Some of the more sophisticated ones, such as Heroku and AppFog, also provide online setup and automation which empowers developers to manage the hosting, removing the need for a system administrator. Taking advantage of these “enabling” products and services will give you the ability to put your focus on your core business idea, as well as keep your cost base competitive with your peers both within Australia and abroad. Paul Russell is the managing director of SoftwareSeni, a Sydney-based startup specialising in near-shore software development seat outsourcing.