Melbourne entrepreneur wins $30k scholarship for SV university program

5:03AM | Wednesday, 8 May

University of Melbourne graduate Zezan Tam will join 79 entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley next month for a 10-week program at Singularity University, after winning a $30,000 scholarship for his carpooling concept.   Tam is the creator of cloud-based app Carpooler, designed to make carpooling easy by saving drivers time and money, while helping to reduce congestion and transport-related pollution.   Tam is the winner of Singularity University’s Global Impact Competition, which launched in Australia in February.   The aim of the competition was to come up with an idea that could positively impact more than one million Australians.   As the winner of the competition, Tam will travel to Silicon Valley with a $30,000 scholarship, which will see him attend the 10-week Graduate Studies Program at Singularity University.   This university, located in the NASA Ames Research Centre, was founded by a number of well-known personalities including Google co-founder Larry Page, space entrepreneur Robert D. Richards, physician and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, and inventor Ray Kurzweil.   The Graduate Studies Program is designed to inspire and equip leaders who want to build innovative solutions to address global challenges.   Tam will be joined by 79 other participants from the around the world. In addition to the program itself, he will be exposed to investors, funding bodies and mentors.   He will also receive a scholarship from Singularity University partner Creative Universe, which offers leadership and innovation programs to enhance leadership performance and productivity. Creative Universe will support Tam’s attendance at the Creative Innovation Global conference in November, which gives participants an opportunity to present their vision for the future.   Tam told StartupSmart cars are often heavily underutilised, so his plan is to change that.   “Cars are wasteful in two ways. You use them for two out of 24 hours a day and you use one out of five seats,” he says.   “You think of all the resources that go into building this wonderful piece of engineering, and then it barely gets used to its full potential.   “A lot of value can be related to carpooling. The only reason people don’t do it now is because of a lack of coordination.”   Tam, who is yet to build the Carpooler technology, has high hopes for the Graduate Studies Program.   “Number one is to get my mind blown apart from all this cool stuff out there,” he says.   “[I’m also hoping to] use the time out there to get the concept developed and get it funded so I could hire some full-time staff to get it built, then return to Melbourne and keep working on it.   “Melbourne is one of the perfect cities because of the urban sprawl here. I would prove the concept here in Melbourne, which would essentially allow me to expand to Sydney and some more American cities.”   Tam wasn’t the only entrepreneur recognised by the judges in the Global Impact Competition. Queenslander Mark McConville won second prize with a unique comedy-based entertainment and educational program.   He will receive mentorship and support services from the Australian Institute for Commercialisation and the Gold Coast Innovation Centre, worth more than $16,000.

SEO update time as Google rankings shift, expert warns

5:03AM | Wednesday, 8 May

Australian businesses have been warned to give their search engine strategies another tune-up, with rankings for several popular keywords having undergone some curious shifts in the past few days.   The change could be another one of Google's algorithm updates, which affect how businesses rank whenever people search for particular keywords.   Google was contacted this morning by SmartCompany, but referred to the Google Webmaster blog where no specific mention of any update has been announced.   Jim Stewart, chief executive of StewArt Media, told SmartCompany he monitored several changes to clients' rankings on Friday afternoon, after first noticing some changes to the Google Places page.   "Last week we noticed a missing drop-down menu in Google, where you could click on 'places' in a Google search. That disappeared on Wednesday."   The 'places' category allows users to locate nearby businesses which have some sort of relevancy to the keyword used in a search.   "Now we've noticed a whole bunch of clients' rankings for single words have changed. We've seen a similar experience across a number of clients."   The keyword 'flowers', for example, delivered significantly different results from just 24 hours previously, Stewart noted. The keyword 'lighting' also saw changes, with some businesses dropped out of the first page altogether.   "It looks like Google is changing its Places regime, and at the same time, it appears to be doing some updating with regard to sites with dodgy backlinks."   The common factor seems to be location, Stewart says. Those business websites which mention specific cities and other locations are more likely to be ranked even higher in the current update – although Stewart emphasises without Google clarification, it's difficult to say what exactly is being given priority.   "It could be ranked by Google Place listings themselves, so for that you'd have to update your information. We could see this emerge more over the next few days."   Stewart says, nevertheless, companies need to be mindful of the location data on their websites. Those pages which specifically feature location data are more likely to be ranked higher.   "If you don't have an address on your website, you probably want to get to that pretty quick, and for wherever you have an office as well."   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

THE NEWS WRAP: The Chaser boys and the ABC sued by Swisse over The Checkout

5:17PM | Thursday, 2 May

The father of Swisse chief executive Radek Sali has launched a defamation action following claims on ABC’s consumer affairs program The Checkout, claiming a recent episode ‘‘severely injured his reputation and standing’’.   Presenters Craig Reucassel and Julian Morrow along with executive producer Nick Murray and the ABC are all named as defendants in the lawsuit.   Avni Sali’s lawsuit centres around claims made during the episode broadcast March 21, which alleged the National Institute of Integrative Medicine he founded was not independent in conducting clinical tests of Swisse products.   “The program was meant and was understood to mean that the plaintiff performed clinical tests... and then manipulated the published results for the commercial benefit of Swisse,’’ Sali says.   Packer lieutenant John Alexander appointed to Seven West Media board   Seven West Media has announced it is appointing John Alexander, the former executive deputy chairman of James Packer's Crown Casino empire, to its board of directors.   "We are delighted John has accepted the invitation to join the board of Seven West Media," Seven West chairman Kerry Stokes states.   “His success in media and business speaks for itself. His appointment adds further depth to the board of our company as it continues to develop its businesses.”   Treasury looks at closing tax loopholes for digital services   The Treasury has released an issues paper examining the ways in which international online giants, including Google, Apple and Microsoft, minimise their tax bills by shifting profits from online services into low-tax jurisdictions.   “The global reach of multinational enterprises, along with the developments in information and communication technology…provides them with a high degree of flexibility in how to structure their affairs,” the paper states.   “These developments raise serious concerns about the efficiency, equity and sustainability of the income tax system.”   The paper also calls for submissions suggesting possible solutions to the erosion of tax revenues by international tech companies, along with further data that could assist the Australian Tax Office.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 0.9% to 14831.6. The Aussie dollar is up to US102.48 cents.

NSW start-up ditches Business Insider name following US legal stoush

4:09AM | Tuesday, 30 April

A start-up NSW media company has bowed to pressure to change its name from US company The Business Insider, which claimed that it was deceiving visitors to its website by using a similar brand.   Business Insider Pty Ltd, located on the NSW Central Coast, has switched its brand to Business Ink following legal action lodged by New York-based The Business Insider Inc in the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia earlier this year.   Mark Cleary, co-founder of the Australian site, tells StartupSmart the name Business Ink was chosen as a way to “thumb our nose” to its American adversary.   Cleary founded the Australian version of Business Insider with Bob Fitzgerald and Dean Collin in 2011, with the site providing information to companies in regional NSW.   By contrast, New York-based The Business Insider, created in 2009 by entrepreneur Henry Blodget, has 23 million unique visitors a month and now has substantial interests in Australia.   Allure Media, a subsidiary of Fairfax Media, recently won the right to publish a local version The Business Insider. However, Fairfax wasn’t part of the legal proceedings to force the name change.   Business Ink initially hauled down its URL in order to emphasise its local, rather than international, focus, but has now gone further by completely rebranding.   “If we had a lazy $250,000, we would’ve carried on, but we made a decision to not risk it,” Cleary says.   “Our legal advice was that it would be an ‘interesting’ test case. (Business Insider) beat us to the internet by 10 months and in that time they say they’d established a presence in Australia through the number of hits they were getting here.”   “We got early advice saying to just rename ourselves and that has proved good advice. They could’ve bitten us when it was much tougher to rename.”   Cleary says that one of the most damaging aspects of the episode is that the business’ entire online archive has been wiped by the rebrand.   “The Google history we’ve created has just evaporated,” he says.   Cleary adds that start-ups need to be increasingly careful when choosing a business name.   “We talk about world shrinking, but it has already shrunk,” he says. “Your search for a name needs to be global and you need to avoid similar names, because it’s just too hard to compete when it comes to hard cash.”   “We could argue that does anyone really care in New York, Rome or Paris about the laying of new sewerage pipes in The Entrance on Central Coast? But that doesn’t matter – we were in their space.”   “You’ve got to be unique. That’s the challenge. Google or Amazon don’t have names that relate to what they do, but they have a strong brand name. Choose a name that you can really own.”

Technology inflation is here: How creativity is caught in the breeze of the cloud

4:29AM | Friday, 26 April

Sir Ken Robinson talks about the idea of academic inflation much like the process of economic inflation.   I agree with him 100% here – if you don’t know what I am talking about and have been living under a rock for the past six years, I suggest you watch the following video:   {qtube:=iG9CE55wbtY}   Now that you’re on track with my train of thought and you’ve had a bit of a laugh, I want to explain why I think cloud technology is also in a state of inflation.   After my recent research and general discussions with a creative colleague of mine, Ben Seydel, I have realised quite quickly that cloud technology is indeed inflating. So much so that good ideas are failing simply because someone else got to the next floor by taking the lift rather than the stairs.   If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, have a look into Found. This amazing app has recently been acquired by YouSendIt. It is one really impressive piece of software used by millions that allows you to connect to all of your cloud storage centres and sync them into one beautiful interface.   “It’s very evident that we’re moving to a more ‘cloud-nostic’ world. Our industry has placed a huge burden on users to manage their cloud data – effectively isolating it across a growing number of proprietary platforms,” said YouSendIt CEO Brad Garlinghouse.   “Found enables YouSendIt to realize an exciting vision, where users can access and manage the information they’re looking for, no matter where it's stored.”   The ‘cloud-nostic’ future   Found is just one example of technology inflation.   Other examples include Marketo and PromoJam (dedicated social media tools) that, let’s face it, wouldn’t be around if not for Mark Zuckerberg (he really started this social media boom with Facebook in my opinion).   Please don’t let me lead you to believe that I think this is a bad thing by any means. It creates more jobs, more cool products, a more connected community and more creativity. Technology inflation creates creativity – what a beautiful way to put it.   All of these tech-inflated products that I’ve been discussing have one thing in common – they are all cloud-based. Now if you have an internet connection and a web browser you’re good to go – if you don’t believe me ask yourself why Google has released the Chromebook.   The Chromebook is simply a fast loading computer with a browser. Google has obviously seen their future through a crystal globe and to be honest, I really don’t blame them. Nearly everything that I do on my computer I do through a web browser. I have even recently moved to Office 365 (sorry Google – not discounting you but I just like the Microsoft suite).   The next web   There’s a website called The Next Web and literally all it’s about is what’s next on the internet. It’s essentially a news site for the internet.   Technically, they should be predicting what I am about to, regarding the web/tech/cloud inflation that we are currently seeing. I think the next big thing on the web will fall somewhere between what Windows tried to do, pulling all of your information together, and how Facebook sorts “what you really want to see”.   A stream of friends, colleagues, news, emails, texts, and anything you can imagine – simply manipulated in the most effective way for the end user. At the moment there is too much information – automatically sorting and sifting everything cloud, from the important to the unimportant is where I believe the next amazing piece of future tech will lay.   Remember, though, I had the idea first.   If you would like to discuss the above I can be contacted at If you would like to transform your business’ current online profile take CloudBaseMedia’s 100 Day Challenge today. No risk, endless gains!

How we analysed competitors to design our product

4:57AM | Wednesday, 24 April

Last week I experienced my first taste of controversy in this arena. I contrasted Posse to Foursquare in an interview with Fast Company, who ran it as a feature with the headline 'What Foursquare would look like if it had been founded by a woman'.   The article sparked a barrage of comments and tweets arguing why Foursquare is or isn't a good product for women and how Posse shapes up. It's the first time we've been so publicly compared to a competitor; the experience was both flattering and scary – a tiny Australian start-up set against a US industry heavyweight.   Posse is not a revolutionary idea; many competitors are trying to solve the same problem as we are. And being first in line to seek a solution to a problem isn't always best.   I found this recent Techcrunch article interesting: it points out that almost all of the nine tech companies that have exited for more than $1 billion in the past four years haven't created a new product category. Rather, they have developed in areas where the existing solution isn't up to snuff. Facebook provided a better experience than MySpace or Friendster, and Zappos just sold shoes in a better way with better service. We designed Posse because we felt the existing solutions weren't working for us.   Now that we've officially launched in the US, it's natural that we'll be compared to competitors. In my blog today, I wanted to reflect on the process we used to design our product and how we took inspiration and ideas from others, like Foursquare and Yelp.   1. Define the problem and the audience   We started with a hunch that some people preferred recommendations from friends to reviews from strangers on Yelp or TripAdvisor. We also thought that the process of asking for recommendations from friends through email, SMS or Facebook was cumbersome and inefficient.   We set up an initial 10 focus groups to test our theory and asked questions like, 'Describe the last time you were in a new place looking for a restaurant or hairdresser. What did you do first?'   The most common answers followed a pattern of, 'tried to contact a friend who knows the area,' then, 'couldn't get hold of them so ran a Google search or checked Yelp'. We also asked group participants to recommend places to each other on the spot, so we could understand exactly why they enjoyed sharing recommendations.   Not everyone had a problem with this. Some were happy to use Google or Yelp to find places. The people who were dissatisfied tended to be like us: slightly fussier urban types who wanted to visit the best bars, restaurants, fitness centres, hairdressers and so on. They needed recommendations from friends and almost panicked at the thought of going somewhere cold.   We continued the interview cycle until we identified four audience definers: gender, age, behaviors, and 'preferences'. By this I mean, what they sought in recommendations from friends and why they enjoyed giving recommendations to friends.   Three of the four audience segments turned out to be female, so while we didn't design Posse just for females, we expected that the majority of users would be women. This may appear cold and calculating: breaking down users into audience segments, then designing features and artwork to appeal to those users. It certainly helped us understand who would want to use our product and why they'd use it instead of the competition.   2. Who has previously tried to solve the problem? Why did they succeed or fail?   For this exercise, we mapped out every platform, past or present that had tried to solve social search. Yelp and Trip Advisor obtained lots of reviews and great data but failed to get a high enough proportion of their users writing reviews to show what your friends think of places.   Both sites seemed littered with irate customers writing negative reviews. These upset the merchants, and many users we interviewed were skeptical about who was writing the reviews. Apps like Stamped and Fondu emerged to solve the social recommendation problem, but appeared to fail because not enough people were making recommendations to sustain long-term engagement.   The only platform we could find that had managed to crack the problem of persuading lots of socially connected people to give it content was Foursquare. To understand how, we interviewed 100 Foursquare users.   We invited friends who used the platform and put up posters around our office building offering to pay anyone who used Foursquare $50 for an interview. I wanted to know what was so compelling about checking in on Foursquare.   We found that the overwhelming number of people who responded to our ads were male (+80%) and I was amazed when they described how they used the product. One guy told us about how he drove out of his way home every day to check-in at a supermarket where he was the Mayor. Others said they would check-in to places that they didn't even visit as they walked past. They were addicted and didn't understand why.   As I struggled to make sense of check-in addiction, I couldn't help but notice the parallel between what these guys described and the behaviour of my small male chihuahua 'Steve' who dragged me to random posts, marking that he'd been there more than other dogs.   Many women using Foursquare wanted to secure recommendations from friends for the best bars and cafes but found it frustrating that the most popular places around them were subway stations, people's offices or alleyways. They also didn't like 'checking in', broadcasting where they were, and were irked by random guys asking to be friends with them.   I'm not saying that Foursquare, Yelp, Trip Advisor and many other local discovery platforms aren't great products that are loved by lots of users. Foursquare in particular was revolutionary in the way they use game mechanics and design to make participation in their platform fun: Posse and many others since have taken inspiration from these ideas to develop other products.   I'm just saying, this is a process we went through: analysing the competition to design what will hopefully be a better product for a certain part of the market that doesn't seem to be well served by the existing players.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. Above: Steve the dog. 3. Designing the principles behind our solution   Once we'd defined our problem, our audience, and analysed the competition, we created a list of principles. These principles underpinned the product for which the platform we designed would work.   They included statements like:   >Our audience make recommendations to signal social status.   >Our audience like to collect and display their favorite things (Pinterest/Wanelo).   >Our product category is so competitive that our product must be delightful and fun so people want to share it with friends.   >Our audience doesn't want to earn currency for making recommendations but love recognition with authentic unexpected gifts from their favorite retailers.   There were many others.   4. Designing the product   With these principles in place, we set about designing the actual product. It all came together surprisingly quickly. The whole team took part in daily product design and we brought in lots of outside help for fresh perspectives on ideas.   This whole process of defining the problem and audience, analysing the competition, designing our product principles and then the product took around four months and involved more than 200 outside interviews before the first line of code was written.   It's something I didn't do the first time around when I built a site for selling music tickets. While we're constantly evolving and coming up with new feature ideas and design improvements, the fundamental strategy behind the product is solid and hasn't changed.   Execution is the next big challenge and we're getting better at that too. We're still a tiny team with an early product that doesn't really stack up against the competition yet.   Who knows if we'll make it? We're giving it our best shot.   I know most people who read this blog are in the process of starting a company. I think that an in-depth analysis of the competition is vital, without fearing to enter a product category because of the big incumbents there already. We've found it helpful to take inspiration and learn from the successful trailblazers in our field, and if others do the same then we'll all end up with better products as a result.

INFOGRAPHIC: Why Australians start businesses

4:19PM | Tuesday, 23 April

It seems Australia doesn’t just have a two-speed economy – it also has a two-speed start-up environment.   While a small minority of new ventures prime themselves for Silicon Valley or rapid expansion into Asia and beyond, the majority of the 300,000 fresh-faced businesses that emerge in Australia each year have different goals.   This week, a major study by Google found that tech start-ups could add $109 billion to the Australian economy by 2033.   However, previous research by the search engine giant found just 4.8% of new Aussie ventures evolve into viable, global powerhouses.   So why do Australians start-up and how do they do it? Small business accounting software firm Intuit has created the following infographic that provides a handy snapshot of our start-up landscape:  

What service can I use to replace Google Reader after its demise?

4:57AM | Monday, 22 April

Many Google Reader devotees have been left scratching their heads looking for a replacement for the sadly departed service.   While Google may have retired Google Reader, what you need to realise is that it’s simply what it says, it is – a reader. Working on a very old technology called RSS (Really Simple Syndication), there are many applications that can replace Google Reader.   So let’s begin with direct replacements. This probably sounds a little easier than it actually is because many products out there actually used Google Reader to implement their feeds.   One such example is Digg. The good news is that Digg is building an engine it hopes to release before the official closure of Google Reader on July 1, which will look to include an easy ‘import’ feature for your existing Google Reader account.   If you’re keen to know more, you can sign up for updates from Digg.   Another popular alternative is Feedly. They claim to have switched over 500,000 Google Reader users and provide direct plugins for Firefox, and iOS and Google Play versions as well as a web interface.   Feedly has already integrated with Google Reader and by simply logging in via your Google credentials, you’ll find it pulls all your categories and subscriptions into Feedly. For the time being it will sync across both services, but come July 1 all your data will be migrated to the Feedly system.   These are certainly strong and solid alternatives to what you have been using, but you may also need to consider what works best for you in gaining the information you want.   As was suggested in the question, social media is definitely another mechanism, with Twitter possibly being the most ideal. Finding sites and information that provide Twitter feeds is common and Twitter is a widely used platform for all forms of feeds.   Depending on what you’re seeking information about, Google Alerts may be another alternative to explore. Simply type in a search query, choose what type of content you’re looking for and how often you wish to receive it, along with how many results you wish to receive, and it will deliver this directly to your inbox. This can be used for a multitude of purposes and allows for a broader scope of information rather than a feed from one site.   As for the question, ‘Why would Google shut down Reader?’ Well, that’s simple. It’s a business decision.   Like any good business, reviewing your product offerings periodically is vital to building a successful business.   Focusing on products and services that derive you the highest income is nothing short of standard business practice and while the demise of any product will upset some customers, as any business needs to do, Google has done what is right for them.   Freeing up the resources tied up in Google Reader will allow Google to focus on other useful products which you may find offer you something new and different in the future.   We all know that technology is a fickle industry, but today it’s almost a given that there will always be someone willing to pick up where someone else leaves off.   Digg and Feedly are not the only alternatives, and don’t be surprised if a number of others pop up in the next few months either.

Picking the right web developer for your start-up

4:13AM | Wednesday, 17 April

Unfortunately, there are a number of web companies out there looking to make a quick buck. To make matters worse those same companies spend a lot on SEO (search engine optimisation).   So be aware they are likely to appear in the first few pages of your Google search.   But don’t fret! A little planning goes a long way. The better you plan, the smoother the project.   As a start-up you are probably looking for a cost-effective solution for your web build. Be open, honest and clear about what you want.   Do your homework, research competitors’ sites and what you love/hate about them. List things you would 'like your site to have' as well as 'has to have'. Give the list a hierarchy so they know what could be built in at a later date.   Web companies should have a questionnaire to help you kick-start the planning process. Are there any parameters they need to know about such as established databases, email marketing tools or social media integration?   Once you have chosen a company and before any design begins they should produce a technical specification document.   This document is like an architect’s blueprint and outlines the main pages plus any technical functionality.     Once both parties are happy with the plan, the design can begin. If you don’t understand bits of the document, now is the time to say.   Changes to important components once it has gone into production can get expensive.   What to look for in a web company   Look for smaller or local companies that deal with similar businesses industries or sizes to you.   Their portfolio doesn't need to be huge or only feature large brands. They should give the same care and attention to all clients big and small. Ideally look for case studies or white papers that show recent projects in more detail. They should have a blog that talks about projects, staff and clients in a respectful way.   Ask about their terms and conditions: what happens after the project is complete, what ongoing costs are involved in maintaining the website, or what happens if you part ways midway through the project?   Be honest   How much do you have to spend? If it is a small amount, be upfront about your budget as they may be able to suggest resources or things you can do to streamline the process.   Leave your ego at the door. It is your developer’s job to know more about the web than you. There are some amazing new platforms and technologies they can employ to create your new site.   Trust your gut   If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. As an entrepreneur you are continually making gut decisions.   If you don’t get a good feeling about working with them or they are being evasive about costs from the start – then keep looking. Better yet, ask around on your social media networks for recommendations.

The Coalition’s NBN policy is a triumph of short-termism

4:31PM | Thursday, 11 April

“The superfast broadband of the order of 100+ megabits per second (Mbps) and into the gigaspeed bracket is de rigueur for any nation purporting to be a developed and advancing economy.” – Phil Ruthven, “A Snapshot of Australia’s Digital Economy to 2050”, IbisWorld, June 2012.   The Coalition should firstly be congratulated upon launching today a detailed, closely argued policy proposal on their alternative vision for the National Broadband Network and how it can be implemented “faster” and at less cost than the current NBN.   Malcolm Turnbull has moved the Coalition light years – or at least several million fibre optic kilometres – from the Luddite criticisms thrown up by the Opposition during the 2010 federal election campaign. And today, with his party leader Tony Abbott, he has released a coherent policy five months in advance of the 2013 election, in contrast to the Opposition’s broadband policy release just three days ahead of the previous federal election, on 13 August 2010.   That said, it was sad to see the number of debating tricks employed in launching his national broadband policy.   There was the conflation of the government’s NBN policies mark I (2007) and mark II (2009), and the selective omission of the “externalities” in the rollout of the NBN — (particularly the long negotiations with Telstra and the business-model-changing interventions of the ACCC) — in order to trash the reputations of both NBN Co and the government, in failing to meet rollout targets announced in either 2007 or 2010.   And there is the claim that the NBN, as a “government-owned telecom monopoly”, somehow inhibits retail competition. In contrast, the Australian telecommunications industry recognises that it has only been through part of the current government’s NBN policy — the structural separation of Telstra and the positioning of the NBN building blocks as wholesale resources available to all retailers on equal terms of usage — that will allow totally equitable retail competition in the supply of broadband.   There was also Mr Turnbull’s claim that in choosing the cheaper FTTN (Fibre to the Node) option, rather than Fibre to the Home (FTTH), the Coalition is following world’s best practice. This political delusion – not shared widely within the telecommunications industry – was recently burst by independent journalist Stuart Corner’s article in the Telecommunications Journal of Australia, “The politics of speed”, where he found that “82% of investment in FTTX (FTTH or FTTN) in 2012-17 in the world’s developed countries is estimated to be in fibre-to-the-home (FTTH)” – i.e. only 18% of that investment is destined for Mr Turnbull’s preferred FTTN.   These debating points must be debunked because they are part of a smokescreen that portrays the current NBN as being needlessly gold-plated, incompetently managed, and ridiculously tardy in meeting Australia’s real needs for broadband – none of which I believe to be true. The reality is that we now have the chance to compare two policies pitched at different timescales of infrastructure need and use – and there are arguments in favour of both approaches. But we need to remember that, under both policies, there will be a world of difference between the timelines set in politicans’ election promises and the hard engineering realities of managing any project of such massive scale.   Let me briefly compare the essential differences between the two policies. First, timescale. The current NBN is based upon meeting bandwidth needs, in the case of the lucky 93% with FTTH, for perhaps three decades beyond the rollout completion in 2021. (Just as the copper access network rolled out by the PMG in the 1950s was intended to last – and generally did last – for a further 50 years.)   The current NBN’s vision satisfies two key drivers. The first is the need for Australia to grow its digital economy, as the only likely growth sector that can complement, and ultimately overtake, the mining industry. The Ibisworld report, from which I have quoted above, lays out a well-argued scenario in which by 2050 some 20% of the national GDP will be generated by the digital economy – if it is underpinned by ubiquitous high-speed broadband.   The digital economy is already a larger employer than the mining industry, and it has the advantages of providing a much greater diversity of highly paid, high-value jobs, which can be teleworked virtually across Australia – given enough access bandwidth.   The second driver is the inexorable historical growth in telecommunications access rates, which has been exponential since the 1950s – see the attached graph from Rod Tucker’s 2010 article, “Broadband facts, fiction and urban myths”.   Rod Tucker (2010) This exponential growth prediction, which is the telecommuncations industry’s equivalent to Moore’s Law for computing, continues to get empirical support – for instance, Google is currently trialling 1 gbps applications in Kansas City.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. The current NBN policy is predicated upon building the major infrastructure – the network infrastructure – only once, and its lasting for decades. For this reason, the current NBN policy must be seen as being far more future-proof than the alternative policy. Optical fibre, already capable of supporting bandwidths in terabytes per second, is considered to have a lifeteime of 40 to 60 years. (A caveat is that the new satellites to be launched in 2015 to support the 3% of homes in remote areas will probably need to be replaced in 15 to 20 years. The fixed radio technology supporting 4% of premises can be replaced or upgraded much more cheaply, but should last a good 20 years without upgrades.)   If the current NBN policy is predicated upon providing international competitive advantage to Australia over several decades, the Coalition’s NBN policy can be fairly categorised as a more cost-effective catch-up across Australia of the bandwidth that most households need now, in two stages.   Firstly, within the parliamentary term ending in 2016, their plan aims to universally match the 25 Mbps “bar” now set by NBN Co’s fixed radio technology, announced two months ago (an impressive doubling of the previously planned 12 Mbps download speed, due to improvements in radio technology). In a second stage, to be completed by 2019, they aim to provide 50 Mbps minimum access speed to all FTTN and FTTH premises. This is an excellent aim for a cost-effective short-term (six year) plan.   However, in many cases, the proposed new FTTN technology intended for use in 71% of premises will not reach this speed in areas of low copper reticulation (British Telecom’s solution in the UK requires the use of two pairs of copper per house connected, which is not universally available here), or in areas of ageing or particularly water-prone copper cables (a frequent situation).   The Coalition’s solution is to provide FTTH in these exceptional cases. Without access to their business plan, one cannot see if they have factored in enough cases to affect their budget.   Four quick points in conclusion. Firstly, the Coalition has minimised the likelihood of any rural backlash by basically leaving the current NBN plan intact in rural areas. Secondly, it has not (at the time of writing) released its estimate of the cost of paying Telstra to maintain in working condition the copper network that will link its new FTTN cabinets to customer premises. There is reason to believe that the Coalition will have significantly underestimated this.   Thirdly, the Coalition has behaved extraordinarily like the Gillard government did in 2010 in building an investment case for the NBN that fails to factor in the real benefits to the nation’s GDP, such as to the digital economy – let alone attempting to “capitalise” the benefits of social inclusion through facilitating universal broadband access.   Instead, the Coalition’s proposal reads like an engineering investment case alone – an impression reinforced by Mr Abbott’s statement today that his NBN, unlike the current one, will provide “a real commercial return”. Given all the cherry-picking that their NBN policy will allow to private developers, free at last to directly compete with the NBN’s access infrastructure wherever they can make a profit, there is good reason to think that the Coalition’s NBN will, as a result, inevitably operate at a loss.   Lastly, the Coalition makes much ado about saving taxpayers' money through reducing the scope and scale of the NBN. In fact, the only taxpayers' money saved would seem to lie in lower interest payments made by Treasury in the period before the NBN breaks even – in a period of historically low interest rates. These savings need to be offset by the loss to the economy of all the construction jobs associated with FTTH – the most labour-intensive part of the current rollout.   Peter Gerrand is an Honorary Professorial Fellow in telecommunications at the University of Melbourne. This article first appeared on The Conversation.

Enable instant search in Chrome

4:27AM | Friday, 5 April

This article first appeared on May 14th, 2012.   If you’re using any modern browser you’d know typing a query in the search box takes you directly to a search engine results page.   But in Chrome you can actually use Google’s instant search feature to make everything that little bit faster by predicting what you’re going to search for.   To turn on Google Instant in Chrome, head to the browser, then the settings page. On the “Basics” page, down the bottom, you should see the box to tick off “Enable Instant for faster searching”.   Check the box, and if you don’t like it, you can turn it off at any time.

Who should I turn to for marketing ideas?

4:00AM | Wednesday, 3 April

This week’s Secret Soloist is answered by marketer Michael Halligan   There’s nothing worse than a big mental block when you finally manage to put time aside to try something new with your marketing.   While coming up with new ideas is the sexy side of marketing, the hard work must be done first to determine why your campaigns haven’t been getting a great response.   There are six common reasons why marketing campaigns fail:   The ad is just creating more noise in a crowded marketplace; The brand has no clear position or value in relation to competitors in the market; There is no call to action; The offer isn’t compelling enough to take action; The customer makes the first step but isn’t convinced by the rest of the sales funnel; The brand only splashes the water with the campaign, afraid to give it the resources and repetition that it needs to be successful.   Once you’ve worked out what was troubling your campaigns in the past, you can start to plan how you are going to improve. Fortunately we live in an age where we can dive straight into Google and come out an hour later full of inspiration and buzzing with ideas.   There are four key methods of expanding your marketing arsenal:   Look overseas   Other cultures present fresh ways of looking at a market. Find equivalent businesses in other countries and see how they present their business to their customers. Better yet, take it one step further and contact the business to work off each other’s ideas.   Look at other markets   You would be surprised how many of us stick to the same old, tried and tested routine of our industry. Make a list of five industries that intrigue you and research some of their most successful campaigns and common tactics.   Immerse yourself in blogs   There is a wealth of information, ideas and past work online to get your creative juices flowing. Trevor Young and Julian Cole have each posted top 50 lists of influential marketing and advertising blogs.   Work with a marketing consultant   Consultants spend their professional lives solving problems and injecting life into tired marketing strategies.   Working with a marketing consultant can dramatically speed up the campaign development process and often bring ideas to the table that you might have never thought of. If you are on a tight budget, however, working with a consultant can sometimes leave you with little money to execute your campaign.   If you do head down the path of outside help, do everything possible to involve yourself in the work of the agency. The more you learn about what’s driving the campaign and the marketing strategy being implemented, the better position you will be in when it comes time to mix things up again in the future.

Deborah Sharkey quits eBay Australia – Five ways she helped eBay sellers

3:04AM | Friday, 22 March

Self-described shopping evangelist Deborah Sharkey has resigned from her post as eBay Australia’s current leader and vice president, after more than four years in which she introduced several measures aimed at boosting start-ups' trading via the auction website.   Sharkey, who is moving to the company’s global headquarters in San Jose, California, joined eBay’s Sydney team in October 2003 and has led eBay Australia and New Zealand since late 2008.   “I’ve enjoyed four great years at the helm,” Sharkey said in a statement.   “[However,] having worked almost my entire professional life in Australia and Japan, I am particularly excited about returning to the US to continue to work for eBay.”   She will be replaced by Jooman Park, who currently heads up eBay’s Korea businesses.   Jay Lee, senior vice president and general manager of eBay Asia, praised Sharkey for her “agility, results-focus and inexhaustible energy”.   “Deborah’s leadership has enhanced eBay’s reputation as a great partner for businesses of all sizes and a favourite shopping destination for millions of Australians,” Lee said in a statement.   Here’s a few of the things Sharkey achieved during her time at eBay Australia:   Growing eBay’s awareness on Google   In December 2010, Google revealed the top Australian searches for the year – known as the Google Zeitgeist – with “eBay” coming in as the fourth most popular search term.   eBay was also the most searched for shopping brand in 2011 and again in 2012, suggesting its awareness on Google will only continue to grow.   Greater choice from eBay’s global marketplace   In May 2011, a number of categories on were opened to a greater proportion of relevant listings from (the United States) and (the United Kingdom).   “We believe that making it easier for consumers to access eBay’s global product selection will improve their shopping experience,” Sharkey said at the time.   “[This will] ultimately benefit local businesses selling on by retaining Australian customers who might otherwise look elsewhere.”   Championing Australian online retailers   In June 2011, Sharkey provided some comments in conjunction with eBay’s submission to the Productivity Commission regarding the review of the Australian retail industry.   “Online retail offers consumers low prices, wider selection and greater convenience. Australians can purchase goods at any time of the day, anywhere,” Sharkey said.   “Additionally, online retail offers Australian businesses and entrepreneurs an efficient avenue for sales, with online retail allowing for productivity improvements and cost reductions.   “The internet’s 24-hour operation allows businesses to operate free from the constraints of shopping centre or store trading hours, increasing consumer convenience and access to the widest variety of products available.   “These contributions would be significantly eroded if the GST low value import threshold is reduced, hurting numerous stakeholders from businesses to importers.   “We believe it is important to work with the government to ensure further infrastructure investment is made, enabling eCommerce to continue its growth in Australia.”   The eBay Shipping Report   In March 2012, eBay, Australia Post and PayPal launched the eBay Shipping Report, a review of global best practice and how Australian domestic shipping services measure up on a global scale.   The report, which surveyed 1,015 eBay sellers, highlighted the need for further investment in domestic shipping infrastructure.   “Many sellers… acknowledged that choosing a shipping provider was more than just about price – it was also about choice,” Sharkey said.   “Accuracy and availability of tracking, bulky item shipping, more delivery time choices and flexibility of pick-up service were all key improvements that sellers would like to see.”   Mobile madness   In September last year, eBay celebrated its 100 millionth app download across its range of apps, with Australia identified as one of the fastest-growing regions for mobile sales.   It was revealed on an average day on eBay Mobile Australia, a vehicle is sold every nine minutes, a ladies handbag every four minutes and a pair of ladies shoes every two minutes.   After releasing these findings, eBay Australia was quick to point to the results of its Online Business Index from March, which suggests eBay’s huge investment in mobile commerce is resonating with sellers.   “In this year’s OBI, 72% of the top 3,000 Australian eBay sellers said mobile commerce would play an important role in their business strategy this year,” Sharkey said.

Five steps to humanise your business

3:07AM | Friday, 22 March

The web represents huge opportunities for start-up entrepreneurs to humanise their organisations.   This makes us much more likable and trustworthy than the bigger corporates we may face as competitors.   International speaker Jay Baer was the social media keynote at the recent National Growth Summit and he introduced a brilliant concept called the ‘humanisation highway’.   It is simply a five-step journey that we go on where we gradually humanise our businesses:   1. Ignoring   This what most companies are doing right now. Nearly everyone has heard of social media but most simply don’t use it yet. It may be fear, anxiety, lack of time, lack of resources or simply lack of interest.   Or perhaps you have set yourself up with social media accounts but they are lying dormant and neglected.   2. Listening   All this involves is setting up Google Alerts and logging into your accounts on a regular basis to see what is going on. If you’re at this stage of the journey you are likely to be following a handful of people you like of Twitter, Facebook and you may follow certain blogs.   If you simply listen, you’re putting yourself ahead of most of your competition because at least you know what is going on. This stage can be very exciting because you can see the power of the community and you’re possibly thinking about taking the next step.   3. Responding   This is where you stop lurking and you get involved. It’s often the scariest step mentally because you’re no longer anonymous and you’re putting yourself out there for all the world to see.   It’s also the shortest stop because you realise there was nothing to worry about. It’s actually quite fun and the business benefits are enormous. Tools like Google Alerts and Twitter Search make it really easy to keep track of what people are talking about, so you are in the position to respond to conversations, which normally means replying to tweets or leaving comments on a blog.   4. Participating   If you have a blog and you use all the usual social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn on a regular basis, then you’re a rock solid participant. The key difference with this phase is that you are ‘contributing content’.   The rule of thumb online is that 90% lurk, 9% respond and 1% contribute. Congrats on being in the top 1%.   5. Story Telling   The final and ultimate stop on the ‘humanisation highway’, and it is where you are actively contributing and sharing compelling stories. Stories that take the shape of blog posts, YouTube videos, e-books, podcasts, emails, infographics and webinars that people simply ‘have to’ share with their friends and colleagues.   This is how you earn your true fans, and the reward is that they start spreading the word for you via tweets, Facebook likes, email forwards and blogging. When you become a master storyteller, then you’ve well and truly humanised your organisation!   For more information to guide you on this humanisation journey, you may like my free e-book Web Strategy Secrets. 

Why we shut down Storyberg: Co-founder reveals all

3:41AM | Wednesday, 20 March

Storyberg co-founder Michael Dijkstra has revealed why the start-up surprisingly folded, shortly after being accepted into the 2013 Startmate program, but insists it’s “definitely not the end” of his start-up adventures.   Storyberg, which helped app owners align product development with key metrics, was founded by Dijkstra and Kevin Nguyen, both of whom previously worked for Pollenizer.   In addition to being selected as one of eight start-ups for the Startmate class of 2013, Storyberg was shortlisted for season two of the Optus Innov8 Seed Program.   But less than three months into the Startmate program, Dijkstra confirmed in a blog post Storyberg is closing down.   “In January 2013 [Nguyen and I] both went full-time. By that time, over 120 people had signed up, however, the data showed that we were the only ones to validate our features,” Dijkstra wrote.   “People signed up but were only using our tool for task management, not hypothesis validation.   “We decided that we did not want to build another project management tool that’s got a better design/UI so we pivoted to focus on the validation part of the lean start-up workflow.   “We quickly relaunched our product as an analytics tool.”   Storyberg’s pitch was: “Google Analytics tells you something happened, KISSmetrics tells you who did it, Storyberg tells you who did and why”.   But the team quickly realised there was not enough value in the “why” on its own, without all of the additional information attached to the “who”, offered by services such as KISSmetrics.   “We did not have the resources or desire to build all the baseline features of a product like KISSmetrics and then add our own unique value proposition on top,” Dijkstra said.   “In the end, as a team, Kevin and I believed we had exhausted our possibilities with Storyberg and did not have anything else to firmly ‘pivot into’.”   Dijkstra told StartupSmart the response from Startmate was “all very positive”, with co-founder Niki Scevak in full support of the team’s decision.   Dijkstra is quick to point out Storyberg did not fold as a result of any disagreements between Nguyen and himself, saying he and Nguyen will potentially work together again in the future.   But he is adamant nothing could be done to save Storyberg, insisting a second pivot was not possible.   “The key to a real pivot is, they say, to plant one foot on the ground and then turn on it… There was nothing we could do to pivot into the space we had identified,” he says.   “We weren’t ready to start from scratch again and do everything from day one because it’s a massive undertaking.”   Dijkstra says if it hadn’t been for Startmate, it might have taken Storyberg a lot longer to make this realisation.   “I think if we didn’t do Startmate we might have been in this situation six or 12 months later. [Startmate is] an accelerator and that’s what it does – it speeds everything up,” he says.   “It was a great experience. The learning around the whole process of pitching, demo days, dealing with investors – you get a lot of support in that area, which is all new to us.”   When asked about his involvement in the Australian start-up scene, Dijkstra says it’s “definitely not the end”.   “Through Pollenizer and Startmate and everything, you become part of the start-up family in Australia,” he says.   Startmate could not be reached for comment. 

How to profile your typical customer

3:18AM | Wednesday, 20 March

Bigcommerce was created after the two founders met in an online chat room. Four years on, the Aussie eCommerce start-up has secured $35 million in venture capital funding, built offices in Sydney and Texas and attracted 30,000 customers. Here, co-founder Eddie Machaalani passes on his top tips on customer profiling.   Most marketing plans fail because they don’t focus on anyone and try to attract everyone. As a result, companies are selling products that customers don't want.   Sadly, most customers aren't at the centre of the feedback loop. Sadder still, most customers will tell you what they want if you just ask.   In the first instalment of this series my colleague and co-CEO Mitchell Harper presented a seven-step marketing plan that can almost certainly double your sales in 12 months and get you on your way to seven figures in revenue.   Those steps were:   Create your typical customer profile Position your products to appeal to your ideal customer Spread the word to people who fit your typical customer profile Wow them immediately after buying Follow up with lots of free, useful stuff Ask for a (video) testimonial Repeat steps 3-6 infinitely   The first step of the plan: Create your typical customer profile   Obviously, this works best when you already have a few dozen customers, because you’ll be surveying your existing client base (no matter how small) to understand future buyers better.   Understand that this doesn’t have to be a costly process. There are free tools such as Google Docs and MailChimp that let you create a survey and mass email it easily and affordably.   Let’s say you sell customised sports apparel. Get into the heads of your customers with a survey that gives you information to help build a typical profile of someone who is likely to buy from you.   Useful information includes:   Sex Age range Salary Marital status Job Hobbies How did they find you? Why did they buy from you? What problem did your product help them solve? Would they recommend you to a friend?   And so on. The results of this survey will let you literally write a profile of your typical customer. I mean really write it out. For example:   “John is 29 years old, has brown hair, green eyes, weighs 197 pounds and is 5 foot 11 inches tall. He lives in Melbourne with his wife and works in an office all day. He loves to watch the game with his buddies on weekends and found our website via a referral from a friend at work.”   “He bought from us because of our large selection of products, has recommended us to at least one friend and was happy with his purchase so would buy from us again. He also loves video games, playing poker and has a high school education.”   That makes your next step easier: Position your products to appeal to your typical customer   Put yourself in John's shoes. Ask yourself, "If I were John, what would grab my attention and make me either sign up for information or buy something, instead of closing my web browser?"   Some ideas:   An email newsletter about his favourite AFL team with little-known facts about players. A free shipping coupon that he can use on his first order. Photos or videos of other customers (who look and sound like John) wearing your product.   Remember, your goal is to become relatable to John. Anything and everything you write or display on your website, in your emails — any communication — must feel like it's speaking directly to him.   You’re building a personal rapport with John (even though he’s a profile of a typical customer). That’s crucial, because people buy from people they know, like or respect.   Next time, we look at how to spread the word to people who fit your customer profile with some proven guerrilla marketing tactics.

Meet the Startmate class of 2013 – part two

3:16AM | Tuesday, 19 March

Above: Ben Sze, Duncan Anderson and Jeremy Cox from Tutor on Demand   Yesterday, we profiled three of the restless young start-ups that are aiming to become the next Aussie tech superstars, with a little help from the Startmate accelerator program.   There was the SME tech help service, the communication tool for parents and child minders and the security crowdsourcers.   Below, we speak to three more of the Startmate class of 2013, which have been lavished with $50,000, intensive mentoring and a trip to the US.     Tutor on Demand   Website:   Founders: Ben Sze, Duncan Anderson and Jeremy Cox   What if you were a student wanting to top up your studies with some learning via your smartphone? And what if you were a teacher after a little extra cash and the chance to help a wider pool of students?   These two elements are drawn together for Tutor Demand, which features video content of 18 different teachers discussing 15 different topics, to help high school students.   Where did this idea spring from?   Anderson: Ben, Jeremy and I all worked together at Goldman Sachs and then did our own thing. We kept in touch and Ben was tutoring a bit. He had an idea to set up Skype, so we have tutors one side of a city and students the other side of the city.   He spoke to me about an idea in South Korea called MegaStudy, which is an on-demand resource with multiple teachers. It has a market cap of $1 billion.   We thought the business model could work here in a similar way.   Why hasn’t this happened until now? It seems like quite a simple idea.   Sze: Internet speeds weren’t so good until about 10 years ago. But, also, schools are slow moving beasts.   We are focused on finding great teachers and empowering them to teach more than the 50 students they normally teach.   Another barrier to entry is the time teachers would have to take to build and then sit and upload content – there’s a lot of time commitment there and not a lot of time.   How does it work?   Sze: We record teachers doing video lectures over a week period and show it in bite-sized pieces, five or six videos.   The focus is high school at the moment. There’s a really good opportunity as no one rewards good teachers – you get the same regardless of whether you are a good or bad teacher, unlike, say, a lawyer.   We have a recording studio, so the teachers come to us, do a Powerpoint presentation and walk away. There’s no need for them to have equipment, so there’s no hassle for them.   Students get access online through a referral or their school purchases access on their behalf. They might use it for just Year 12 physics or five other subjects, for example. Four weeks before exams, we expect to see lots of students watching all the videos and doing a crash course.   Who are you selling this to, exactly?   Anderson: Initially, we saw this as additional to the schools – there’s a big market for top-up lectures and here you get great teachers at great price points.   But we had teachers come to us and say they want to purchase for a class and a few libraries asked the same. So two schools purchased from us.   We are currently looking at all channels – directly to students and parents and some to schools.   What’s the business model?   Anderson: We sell subscriptions to get access to a subject for an entire year, over two parts. So you get, say, chemistry for $25 for one part. That gives you unlimited access. We’ve found that students usually buy more than once.   Schools can then buy access for all subjects, for a price per student. We are still trying to figure that out.   Sze: One school we piloted with had nearly 50% of students using the videos getting an A or A+ in their final exams. Only 25% get an A or A+ usually. We were quite pleased with that.   So far, we’ve reached 2,700 students across 350 different schools.   For schools, it adds another level of teaching. Students get access to a great teacher whenever they need it. They have an iPhone app they can use wherever they go and consolidate what they’ve learned.   None of you has a tech background, which is strange for a tech start-up.   Anderson: Yes, it is a bit unusual. But we did get it designed and get it all done, so I’d view us as project managers that have an understanding of tech, but didn’t build the core project.   We had people help us out with recording, generally multimedia students. The back-end was initially built by friends of Ben, while the design came from a few different places.   What would your advice be to anyone applying to Startmate?   Anderson: If you’ve built a lot of start-ups in the past, you’ll probably have an easy time. But if you haven’t, get traction first.   It helped us that we had customers, product and revenue. It wasn’t just talk. If you apply, don’t just have a great idea. Go out there and build something.   You all had comfortable jobs. Why do this?   Anderson: Building your own thing is much more interesting and engaging than working for other people.   Tutor on Demand can have strong, positive effects on society. Good education allows people to make better decisions.   We feel we can empower great teachers and build something that is riskier but the reward is completely different. As Steve Jobs says, do something you love that doesn’t feel like work. You end up really caring about what you’re doing.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. Shiftr     Website:   Founders: Adrian Dean and Ludek Dolejsky   Shiftr is a very modern start-up story. The founders discovered each other via Google and launched a simple but clever idea for an app despite only meeting each other a couple of times – mainly due to the fact Dean’s Canberra base was a little far from the Czech Republic, where Dolejsky was living.   The start-up’s app allows workers to swap shifts without lengthy phone calls and organisation.   What’s the benefit of being in Startmate?   It’s a big learning curve, having seen the calibre of our peers. Startmate has given us $50,000 – which is 50,000 $1 experiments we can make to run and iterate our ideas.   We want to get into a tight cycle of rapid change, while companies don’t change so quickly. We want bang for our buck in every way, such as getting a place rent-free in Sydney. A friend agreed to this if we arranged to move his stuff in, which I did. It saved us around $10,000.   So how did you meet Ludek?   I was in San Francisco when I first made contact, via a Google search. I had another idea called MyMyke, which was a distributed microphone app.   He’d created software for that so I contacted him. He’d developed something to just spy on friends, something fun, and I said let’s retool it. We worked on it for a month and then I shared a Pilsner with him when I went backpacking.   I then floated the idea of Shiftr maybe 18 months ago. My girlfriend couldn’t get out of work and had the whole hassle of calling around and getting a replacement. She had the threat of not getting work if she dropped out without getting someone to cover her.   I thought there was a real opportunity there to create an app that was easy for staff to use. I didn’t want to create a full rostering system, as it’s hard for businesses to change those big processes, but employers weren’t bridging to smartphone very well when swapping shifts, they’ll use Facebook or text.   How does it work?   Any employee can download the app and invite co-workers in. We include managers in this too, as they are on the front line, having to deal with this pain with tools lumped on them by IT departments; people who have never flipped a burger.   Employees jump in and can create a shift – it takes you about 10 seconds. You push ‘swap’ and it notifies everyone in workplace that they want to swap and other staff have the option to grab it. The manager gets to choose the winning employee.   How will you monetise it?   We are going to charge managers when they want to claim their workplace as official workplaces. We’ll add features such as group messaging and store ‘walls’. Obviously they get control over swapping too.   It doesn’t require everyone in the business sign up, but catching point is around 40% of a workplace. We trialled a McDonald’s store and it had a 60% take-up in the first few hours.   We’ll have a subscription model with a 30-day trial. The charge depends on the business, we’re looking at $30 to $40 a month.   We are looking at a flat site fee. We found workplaces want that, rather than pay $1 per employee or anything like that.   We’re actually a small part of these massive rostering systems. We are filling that pain point when someone calls up to say ‘I can’t make it’ because it costs a lot of time to coordinate.   Eventually, we’d like to be able to match people who are skilled casual workers with different workplaces. That’s the long-term vision – complete labour flexibility.   How did you persuade Ludek to move here?   Well, Australia has a certain allure to it. Every European thinks Australia is a beautiful place with beautiful people and beaches.   He has a tech consultancy company and felt he could take it as far as he could. This way, he gets to learn more and challenge himself.   I think we complement each other well. I’m not overly technical, while he’s not someone to sit in front of a client.   How many workplaces have signed up?   We started on one site with a trial. We had a terrible product but the look on the manager’s face was ‘wow, staff can see shifts in their phone’. He recommended it and it grew rapidly to eight workplaces in Canberra.   We’ve now got 18, with another three coming on board – I’ve had calls from businesses in Hobart and the Central Coast.   We feel a lot of these companies have this problem. This initial roll out works well with McDonald’s, but we’re also looking at Woolworths and Walmart – big brand names. We have interest from nurses and doctors too.   We have just had the app on the app store and have done no marketing, so people are obviously searching for it. Managers say ‘we need this.’   Next, we’ll target industry groups and thought leaders that are talking about absenteeism. We’re starting to ramp the marketing up.   We’re getting a lot of fanatical support from managers in McDonald’s –one guy got us into five different stores as he was raving about it.   What are your ambitions for the business?   Niki (Scevak) gave us a pep talk and said you need to accelerate to five to 50 to 100 stores quickly, otherwise you’ll lose out.   The longer term goal is to crack into the US market. We’ve had to be very careful when choosing our words – shifts works well across countries, where roster in US means sports roster.   I hope to get into the US by May. If we’re not hitting our targets, we’ll see if the value proposition is strong enough and if we can continue. We don’t want to be stuck with a stillborn company, earning enough to pay salary but not growing.

Add calendars in Outlook

3:44AM | Tuesday, 19 March

This article first appeared on April 12th, 2012.   If you manage all your email through Microsoft Outlook then you probably deal with the Outlook calendar as well. But if you’re using an external calendar, it can be a nuisance to sync the two.

Meet the Startmate class of 2013 – part one

3:32AM | Tuesday, 19 March

Above: Chris Raethke, Damien Brzoska and Saxon Fletcher from Supportie (Image: Zach Kitschke).    Startmate may have evolved from a trailblazer in the start-up accelerator scene to one of several incubators offering broadly similar things, but it is still regarded as the gold standard by many aspiring tech entrepreneurs.   The Sydney-based program, now in its third year, hothouses web and mobile ventures by throwing an army of top-notch mentors and $50,000 at them, as well as providing them with a handy trip to Silicon Valley.   The participants for the 2013 iteration of Startmate were picked back in December, with Niki Scevak, co-founder of the scheme, declaring “we have been looking for those unique ‘two shit’ teams – those which get shit done, and also give a shit about the customer and their problems”.   So which of the class of 2013 are set for riches in Australia and beyond? We spoke to this year’s participants to get their insights and will be profiling them in two parts on StartupSmart:   Supportie (formerly GetStall)   What? Technical help for your small business. There are experts online waiting to help. ·   Founders? Chris Raethke, Damien Brzoska, Saxon Fletcher   Website:   Why did you apply to Startmate?   We remember seeing BugHerd being accepted into the first intake and saying, “Wow, that’s a really cool product. This Startmate thing sounds exciting.”   Before applying we were running our own web company, building out MVPs for other people’s start-ups, and we really wanted to pursue an idea of our own.   So late last year we had saved up some money and felt we had a good product (GetStall) to apply with. So we did.   What was the application process like?   As a tech team this was the hardest part for us. The application had a lot of tough questions around sales, marketing, finances, etc.   Getting answers for these meant a lot of whiteboard sessions, reading and learning for us.   It really helped us to grow as a team, and thankfully we have a really strong tech team so we were able to get through (even though our business skills were a bit light on).   How are you finding the program so far?   The program is great – there are a lot of really smart people here and some really interesting problems that people are solving.   It is definitely an emotional roller-coaster, as any start-up could relate with. Some days are up, some days are down.   The big thing we have learnt is that this doesn’t end mid-April when we go to the States. This is something which will continue on for at least the next four to five years.   Why did you pivot?   We were four weeks into pushing GetStall out to the masses and, while we were getting quite a few shops signing up, we weren’t getting many sales.   We spent a few days going over what we had achieved and learnt so far, and the numbers didn’t show us anything which we could get too excited about so we chose to move onto something new.   In hindsight, we put too much pressure on ourselves to be performing quickly. Things take time and unfortunately we learnt that the hard way.   A day off, and a chance to breath and get some sleep, would have been a good idea.   How do you make money?   Like many marketplace-type businesses, the plan has always been to clip the ticket. We are actually only three weeks into this business, so the actual pricing will need to be refined once we have more data.   What is your vision for Supportie?   Supportie is still very much in the early stages and we are still doing a lot of discovery.   We have been focusing on a small segment of the market at the moment, so we can’t say too much more just yet.   How do you plan to achieve your vision?   We’ve already spent two weeks assessing two markets within the Supportie space.   The current plan is to spend a bit more time looking at possibilities in this space and then decide where we want to specifically focus. So the current plan is to learn more and then make a plan.   Kinderloop   What? A simple and secure way for child carers to communicate with parents.   Founders? Dan Day and Daniel Walker   Website:   What was the inspiration for Kinderloop?   Dan Day: After having my two children in daycare for three years, I was frustrated by the lack of communication.   Collecting them at the end of the day, it was impossible to find out what they learnt, ate or did. The carers were always so time-poor as well.   Why is this needed?   Kinderloop solves this problem by allowing carers to record events as they happen during the day.   This saves them valuable time reporting, saves money in consumables and keeps them fully engaged with parents.   What is your revenue model?   Each carer pays a monthly fee and the parents pay for premium add-ons.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. Why apply for Startmate?   We liked the idea of an accelerated program, the mentor list was attractive and it fitted nicely with where we were at in Kinderloop’s lifecycle.   What was the application process like?   We found it relatively straightforward. The one-minute video pitch was great practice and the demo interviews were fun – it really made us refine our spiel.   How are you finding the program so far?   We are enjoying it – you work as hard as you desire (which is hard, let me tell you!) It’s great sharing the highs and lows with the other teams, and there is so much learning each day.   Are you hoping to raise additional funds for Kinderloop, either here or overseas?   Yes we are. We will raise a round of $850k from both here and overseas to help build the team.   Where do you see yourselves in a year from now?   We aim to be the go-to communication tool for anyone who cares for children, from preschool to sports clubs, worldwide.   Bugcrowd   What? Crowdsourced security testing. We run managed bug bounty programs for business.   Founders? Casey Ellis and Sergei Belokamen   Website:   What was the inspiration for Bugcrowd?   Ellis: Bugcrowd was the result of a series of conversations with customers of my previous business, a security testing consultancy, where the bug bounties run by Google, Mozilla, Facebook and others kept coming up in conversation.   I started asking the question, if you think these are such are good idea, why aren’t you running one?   Off the back of that, I had the idea to create a business that handles those objections and runs bug bounties as a fully outsourced service.   You’ve described yourself as “Kaggle for security vulnerabilities”. How so?   One of the mentors at Startmate called us that.   We are similar to Kaggle or 99designs in that we crowdsourced, meaning our customers pay for the results they want, not the effort that went into the results.   The way Bugcrowd works: The client sets a reward pool, a duration for the bounty, and tells us what they’d like the crowd to test.   The crowd is notified and starts testing. The first person to find each security flaw wins a reward, and there are higher rewards for the most creative or severe flaws.   At the end we take the findings and validate them, then produce a developer-friendly report of things to fix. We then manage the payouts to the crowd.   What’s your revenue model?   We take a percentage of the reward pool offered in each bounty.   We also have premium paid features, such as our Crowdcontrol system (which controls testing traffic) and private bounties (where only the top-ranked researchers are invited).   Why apply for Startmate?   Bugcrowd is a great idea but, despite our experience in running businesses, we knew we’d need help taking it from being a great idea to being a great business.   The Startmate mentor network is built for this purpose.   What was the application process like?   Hectic! I left applying a little bit late (like the day before) so I had a lot to do to get something sensible submitted in time.   How are you finding the program so far?   Excellent. The focus it brings is fantastic. The mentor network is invaluable and the money we got from them is letting us work full-time on making Bugcrowd awesome.   Niki (the founder of Startmate) is a very focused guy who knows what it takes, and you can tell that he’s gone to great lengths to impart his experience into the program.   You’ll be heading to San Francisco a bit later. What are you hoping to achieve there?   The main purpose of the trip will be to pitch for seed capital to take the business to its next stage.   Apart from that, I'll be doing a bunch of business development and meeting up with a bunch of industry friends who I’ve only known through Twitter for years, which I am really looking forward to.   What’s your overall goal?   Our overall goal is to connect the global white-hat security research community with companies of all shapes and sizes through the Bugcrowd platform.   Our aim is to become synonymous with the concept of crowdsourcing your security testing.   Another goal is to continue and expand our charity bounty program, where we do bounties for charities for free, and make that the first port of call for charities wishing to have their security tested.

Dropbox swoops on start-up app Mailbox in rumoured $100 million deal

3:19AM | Monday, 18 March

It's been a while since the tech industry has seen a massive takeover deal, but this weekend delivered: cloud-storage group Dropbox agreed to acquire the popular new email app Mailbox for a price rumoured to be as high as $US100 million.   The price is a huge premium for the app, which has only been available for a few weeks. But it also shows businesses in Silicon Valley are still willing to shell out massive amounts of money for very early, or even premature, ideas.   Mailbox has become popular for its mail system, which allows users to delay receiving messages until certain times to help clear inboxes as quickly as possible.   Mick Liubinskas, the co-founder of Australian start-up incubator Pollenizer, says email has become "one of the biggest areas of opportunity".   "There are a lot of people attacking this in many different ways and it's a very good one to crack as well," he says.   "But it's also a problem, because how do you disrupt something that's so embedded?"   Reports, first from The Wall Street Journal, started emerging over the weekend that Dropbox had acquired Mailbox, where the company confirmed Mailbox would remain a separate app. Dropbox chief Drew Houston said he believed the acquisition would help the app grow "much faster".   Houston also said he believed the deal would help Mailbox add new features quickly, such as handling attachments. In a blog post, he said the app's simplicity caught the company's attention.   "Dropbox doesn't replace your folders or your hard drive: it makes them better. The same is true with Mailbox. It doesn't replace your email: it makes it better. Whether it's your Dropbox or your Mailbox, we want to find ways to simplify your life."   With both Dropbox and Mailbox working so closely with cloud-based services, an acquisition makes sense.   Mailbox is created by Orchestra, which was founded by Gentry Underwood. The app caused a splash during its release by creating a digital queue, with users having to wait days or even weeks to access the app – the company wanted to avoid any downtime caused by a rush of users.   It was a smart move, bringing attention to the app's main feature – the ability to not only archive email quickly, but also tell email messages when they should be sent.   For instance, users can decide to read an email later that day, or even in a few days. The Mailbox servers handle the message in the meantime, and then send the message back as per the user's instructions.   Orchestra had already raised $5 million in funding from Charles River Ventures, SV Angel, Kapor Capital and Crunch Fund. The app already has 1.3 million users.   The amazing part of the deal is the price, with TechCrunch claiming the deal was done for "well over" $50 million, to as high as $100 million, although All Things Digital says the structure of the deal makes an actual valuation difficult.   The deal is in many ways a throwback to the past few years when small, relatively unproven businesses won millions in funding, such as the $1 billion Facebook-Instagram deal. More recently, however, those deals have become rarer.   Telsyte analyst Rodney Gedda says the acquisition is a smart one, as email has been ripe for innovation – it's essentially the same product as it was 20 years ago.   "It was designed for simple messages that weren't time-critical. It was never designed for collaboration and sorting in the sense that a structured data application would be."   Some have tried to advance the email process, such as Google with Google Wave, although the tech giant eventually shut that project down due to poor usage.   The biggest change, Gedda says, is the move to cloud-based services.   "The challenge now is to build upon that base line of email to make it more functional, collaborative and user-friendly, and then extend it to any device."   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.