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“Short-sighted”: Startup community blasts Commission of Audit’s funding findings

5:39AM | Friday, 2 May

The National Commission of Audit report’s contention that government support of startups provides no real benefit to the community is flat-out wrong, according to a number of startup industry figures and two major reports into the industry.   Rui Rodrigues, investment manager of Tank Stream Ventures, says the commission’s suggestion is ridiculous.   “It’s a very short-sighted view and there isn’t any logic behind it,’’ he says.   “They’re essentially saying that the thousands of jobs created through startups and technology have had no impact on the economy.”   It’s an opinion echoed by Sydney Angels management committee member Richard Dale.   “The verdict’s been in for quite a long time, a startup, as long as it’s a high growth potential venture and not a lifestyle business, is a net creator of jobs,’’ he says.   Last month peak not-for-profit StartupAUS released its report Crossroads: An action plan to develop a vibrant tech startup ecosystem in Australia which highlighted that startups play a big role in job creation – three million new jobs are added to the US economy each year by new firms, while existing firms lose a total of a million jobs per year.   The Crossroads report noted Harvard professor of economics Ricardo Hausmann’s observation that Australia has “an amazingly primitive export basket”, which he says will lead to Australia becoming one of the worst performers in the region in terms of GDP growth.   StartupAUS board member Bill Bartee, who is also a co-founder and managing director of Blackbird Ventures and Southern Cross Venture Partners, believes the commission is taking the wrong position.   “Well I don’t know where they’ve been or where they’re getting their data,’’ he says.   “It’s pretty clear when you look across the OECD and the US that there’s been lots and lots of job growth from startup and tech companies that build real businesses.   “The eBays of the world, all of these very, very large tech companies that drive the US economy in a lot of ways were once very small companies.   “It’s not as if the government is assisting a dying industry.”   artee says he’s a firm believer in the need to support tech startups by providing capital, both human and financial.   Last year, The Startup Economy, a report commissioned by Google and carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers, found high-growth tech companies have the potential to contribute 4% of the Australia’s GDP by 2033 while adding 540,000 new jobs.   Currently, startups contribute just 0.2% to the nation’s GDP.   The commission’s recommendation that the government abolish Commercialisation Australia and the Innovation Investment Fund would leave Australian startups in a weaker position, says Dale.   “Do they benefit? The answer is yes, these programs are putting experience, talent and money into the startup ecosystem,’’ he says.   “Are they perfect? No. Do they help? Yes. Does taking them away have an impact? Yes, absolutely. Are they the best way of reducing barriers startups and early stage ventures face? Probably not.   “All programs, all solutions can be improved, but we have programs at the moment that are functioning, providing benefit – so don’t turn off the tap.   “The two years it will take to design, approve and implement a new program, that’s two years of lost opportunity.’’   Startup Victoria CEO Lars Lindstrom added to the chorus of startup community voices speaking out against the Commission of Audit’s recommendation.   “In our view CA (Commercialisation Australia) has been doing a good job and the IIF(Innovation Investment Fund) structure of government matching investment 1:1 mirrors successful initiatives elsewhere such as in Singapore,’’ he says.   “I don’t agree that it’s as simple as saying ‘finance can be acquired from the private sector’, VCs have had poor returns and therefore funding is in short supply.”   “It may be short-term cost-saving but in the long run it would be highly damaging to the Australian economy.’’

Google announces progress on self-driving cars

4:17AM | Tuesday, 29 April

Google has announced a shift in focus for its self-driving car program towards mastering the art of city driving, rather than driving along freeway.   The project team says it has now chalked up more than 700,000 miles or 1.126 million kilometres of autonomous control with its self-driving vehicles.   In a statement on the project’s progress, Google self-driving car project director Chris Urmson says city driving is much more complex than freeway driving on account of the number of moving objects.   “We’ve improved our software so it can detect hundreds of distinct objects simultaneously—pedestrians, buses, a stop sign held up by a crossing guard, or a cyclist making gestures that indicate a possible turn. A self-driving vehicle can pay attention to all of these things in a way that a human physically can’t—and it never gets tired or distracted,” Urmson says.   Urmson says the patterns of a crowded street are often far more predictable for a computer than they are to the human eye.   “As we’ve encountered thousands of different situations, we’ve built software models of what to expect, from the likely (a car stopping at a red light) to the unlikely (blowing through it),” Urmson says.   “We still have lots of problems to solve, including teaching the car to drive more streets in Mountain View before we tackle another town, but thousands of situations on city streets that would have stumped us two years ago can now be navigated autonomously.”   The program first allowed a visually impaired person to “drive” a car in April 2012, with the company first gaining its first licence for its autonomous vehicles from the state of Nevada a month later.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

Virtual staff: Getting bang for your buck

4:33AM | Tuesday, 22 April

Growing numbers of Australian businesses are either allowing staff to work from home, or hiring workers located overseas to save costs.   But how can you be sure you’re getting real bang for your buck when they’re not sitting in an office beside you? Here are six ways to be sure virtual staff output is up to scratch.   1. Use time trackers   Pay your virtual worker by the project for an outcome, rather than by the hour.   Luke Chapman of hire car comparison site Vroomvroomvroom.com.au uses time tracking software Time Doctor, which gets the user to log the task they’re working on and tracks the websites and apps they’re using. It also takes screenshots every six minutes.   “The user can delete their screenshots, but that time is then taken away from the total time worked,” Chapman says.   Melbourne city manager for outsourcing platform Elance, David Hobson, says when hiring a graphic designer, agree on the outcome, deadline and project cost. Then, how long they spend on it is up to them.   Utilising Skye and Google Hangouts is a great way to communicate with virtual workers, he adds.   “I do project costs for most things, as it’s a very powerful accountability tool. I prefer to pay people well and reward them, rather than using bonuses, as they may come to expect it.”   Using platforms like Elance and Odesk also works well as they are very accountable to the agreement because people are concerned about the feedback left by those that hire them, he says.   2. Set strict KPIs   Andre Pinantoan is head of marketing at Australian start-up, Pocketbook. He favours key performance indicators over time-tracking tools.   Make sure there can be measurable outcomes with hard numbers so there’s no dispute whether or not the work is done, and whether it’s done well, he says.   “We pay our virtual staff by the hour, but we have a KPI for everyone to meet, which we can then compare to virtual staff doing the same task to judge performance.   “And if you’re trying to hire one virtual staff member instead of a team, then you should at least know the usual amount of work a productive staff would do in an office so you can compare this.”   But sometimes, it just doesn’t work out, he says.   “Working from home requires a lot of discipline and many of those who didn’t work out performed well at first, but their performance slowly deteriorated from there. We can see they log in less frequently, for example.”   Spend 15 minutes at the end of every day to look at the report sheet that virtual staff fill out, he adds.   “Having a short review cycle allows you to catch problems early and fix it early. If you review it weekly, a whole week worth of work might be lost before you catch it.”   Nicole Williams of management advisory business, BRS recommends fixing the price when hiring freelancers, so you know exactly what you’re up for.   “You really need to be outcomes focused when working with freelancers. But it’s important to highlight that, like anything in life, you get what you pay for. It’s not about finding the cheapest person to complete tasks you can’t do yourself,” Williams says.   3. Go through an agency   There are plenty of agencies out there that hire offshore virtual assistants you can go through to lessen the likelihood of running into issues.   Business coach Glenn Williams, of nLIVEn, says engaging an agency that can find and manage the relationship with you is a popular approach.   You interview candidates, choose one, contract with the agency, pre-pay a month at a time and monitor the worker’s performance, he says. Some people may pay performance incentives, he adds.   “This way, they’ve already done some of the matching work for you, by negotiating some of the terms and conditions such as rates, availability and mutual responsibilities.”   He recommends starting with a flat hourly rate with a fixed number of hours.   “Once you both understand the nature of the role, each other’s strengths and allow a pattern of work to emerge, you can then start to think about reward and incentive programs.”   Like any employee, review the relationship after three months again agreed and documented expectations, he adds.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 4. Set and follow your own procedures   The founder of cloud software Way We Do, Jacqui Jones, says it’s paramount that you don’t get taken off course by virtual staff.   She recently set a job on a fixed fee and posted it to Odesk, hiring a freelancer from New Zealand for the task. However, he argued that a fixed fee was no good in case she didn’t approve the final output and decided not to pay him. He also wanted to use a different tool to the one stated in the brief.   “We agreed for him to work on an hourly basis, and for him to use the tool that he was experienced with. After 11 hours of work, the output wasn’t usable and we paid over $US330. Needless to say, we ended the project.   “In hindsight, we should have stuck with the project fee and offered to pay a deposit to demonstrate that both parties were sharing the risk.” She also regrets not following her own procedures for hiring off-shore staff.   “I didn’t spend enough time with him upfront educating him about the project and standards required. And I didn’t get him to work on one small part of the project first to test his ability before proceeding.”   5. Value the input   After many trials and tribulations, Rob Whyte has good virtual staff. It’s imperative to motivate them and understand how different personality traits are crucial to the right selection of candidates, the director of The Mortgage Gallery says.   “Our staff is motivated by acceptance and respect within our business, and to know their input is valued and welcomed, like most staff.   “Through support and training, they grow pride in the job as they deem themselves a fellow staff member of an overseas business and proudly promote and support through their own networks,” he says.   6. Give them your trust   Like any staff member, you need to make sure you extend some trust to virtual workers.   Toney Fitzgerald has been using a virtual assistant since 1998.   “You’ve got to be gracious in business. You need to extend some trust toward them, or there’s no way it’s going to work out.   “That means that once you’ve got a good working relationship established, let them get on and do the job for you. Don’t constantly hassle them about minor things.”

THE NEWS WRAP: Packer set to bet on a return to Las Vegas

4:50PM | Monday, 21 April

James Packer’s Crown Resorts is set to make a bid for a $US2 billion casino on the Las Vegas Strip.   The investment marks a return to Vegas for the gaming tycoon, who was burnt by two Las Vegas Casino investments made on the eve of the global financial crisis.   Packer is believed to be interested in investing in The Cosmopolitan, which was taken over by Deutsche Bank in 2008 after gaming tycoon Ian Bruce Eichner defaulted on a loan, and is located next to MGM Resorts International's Bellagio.   Nokia deal with Microsoft to close this week   Smartphone maker Nokia has told investors it expects the $US7.2 billion sale of its devices and services business to Microsoft to be finalised this week.   The company says it has now cleared all major regulatory hurdles required for the deal to go ahead.   The deal will see Nokia sell its mobile phone division to Microsoft, including its Lumia smartphone line, with the Finnish company retaining its network equipment manufacturing business.   US fibre optic rollout continues   One of the largest telecommunications carriers in the US has announced plans to deploy fibre to the node (FTTN) or fibre to the premises (FTTP) services across 21 US cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Atlanta.   The AT&T U-verse deployment comes as Google continues its fibre optic network rollout in selected US cities.   The company claims it already has 10.7 million internet and pay television subscribers using its fibre optic services.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up to 16449.2. The Aussie dollar is at US93.27 cents.

Online advertising: What’s the future for small business?

4:12AM | Tuesday, 22 April

Facebook’s latest changes to its layout creates more problems for small business using social media, as the real estate available on its site for eyeballs gets smaller.   The social media giant has been catching criticism recently for changes to its algorithm that make it harder for businesses to be seen online.   In the hospitality industry, discontent was articulated by the Eat 24 website, which closed down its Facebook Page after finding the problems too hard.   With the changes to the online advertising feed, it makes it even harder for small business to be seen on the platform as reduced space means higher prices for the space that remains available.   It’s hard to see small businesses getting much traction with the changes when they’re up against big brands with large budgets.   On the other hand for the big brands, the importance of proper targeting becomes even greater.   A challenge for small business   The big problem now for small business is where do you advertise where the customers are?   A decade or so ago, this was a no-brainer – the local service or retail business advertised in the local newspaper or Yellow Pages. Customers went there and, despite their chronic inefficiencies, they worked.   Now with Facebook’s changes, it’s harder for customers to follow small business and this is a particular problem for hospitality where updates are hard.   The failure of Google   Google should have owned this market with Google Places, however the service has been neglected as the company folded the business listing service into the Plus social media platform.   Today, it’s hard to see where small business is going to achieve organic reach – unpaid appearances in social media and search – or paid reach as the competition with deep pocketed big brands is fierce.   Services like Yelp! were for a while a possible alternative, but increasingly they are stitching up deals with companies like Yahoo! and Australia’s Sensis, which marginalises small business.   So the online world is getting harder for small business to get their message out onto online channels.   For the moment that’s a problem although it’s an interesting opportunity for an entrepreneur – possibly even a media company – to exploit.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

Canva to get the Kawasaki treatment: how the Sydney startup snared Apple’s former chief evangelist

4:21PM | Wednesday, 16 April

Communications powerhouse Guy Kawasaki is joining the team at fledgling design software startup Canva, under the “chief evangelist” title he made famous at Apple, thanks to a tweet.   Kawasaki had tweeted a design created on design software several month ago. A fellow Canva user asked him if he had used the platform.   Cofounder Cliff Obrecht then followed up on Twitter, and the relationship grew from there.   Kawasaki will stay in the US but work closely and in a full-time capacity with the Sydney-based Canva team.   He told StartupSmart he loved the Canva product and the impact it could have.   “I love what Canva does. I’m into democratizing stuff such as Apple and computers, Google and information, and now Canva and design.”   The media landscape has changed significantly from Kawasaki’s Apple days with the rise of platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Kawasaki has over 8 million social media followers.   “Some people may have a bigger following but don’t know how to use it. But no one has a bigger following, knows how to use it, and is willing to use it,” he says.   He adds the growth of the startup so far doesn’t appear to be hampered by Canva being based in Australia.   Canva launched late last year and has 330,000 registered users. Over one million designs have been created on the platform already. Canva’s communications team wouldn’t confirm how many of the 330,000 users are   Cofounder and chief executive Melanie Perkins told StartupSmart Kawasaki joining the team would make it easier for Canva to take off in the US market, which is already one of their biggest.   “Cliff and I spend a lot of time travelling to and from the US, so having feet on the floor over there will help speed us up,” she says. “We couldn’t have planned on this, but our whole company was set up to solve a problem, and every single little bit along the path we haven’t been able to plan any of it.”   Kawasaki will be involved in the marketing and promotion of Canva, speaking at events and driving a planned evangelist program with influencers.

Google steals drone aircraft maker Titan Aerospace from under Facebook’s nose

4:13AM | Tuesday, 15 April

Google has announced the takeover of drone aircraft manufacturer Titan Aerospace, outmanoeuvring Facebook in the process.   As SmartCompany reported in early March, Facebook was believed to be interested in launching a $60 million bid for the drone aircraft maker.   At the time, it was believed the social media giant was primarily interested in Titan’s technology in a bid to launch affordable, low-cost internet services in emerging markets.   Titan’s drones – dubbed “atmospheric satellite platforms” by the company – fly at an altitude of nearly 20 kilometres and are equipped with solar panels, allowing them to continuously remain in flight for up to five years without needing to land.   While most of the content on its website has been removed since the announcement, the New Mexico-based drone aircraft manufacturer originally described its primary market as being for high-resolution imaging.   “Titan Aerospace provides persistent solar atmospheric satellite platforms to global customers for easy access to real-time high-resolution images of the earth, voice and data services, and other atmospheric-based sensor systems,” the company stated on its website as of March this year.   A Google spokesperson emailed SmartCompany and said providing internet access was one of the key benefits of purchasing Titan.   “Titan Aerospace and Google share a profound optimism about the potential for technology to improve the world. It’s still early days, but atmospheric satellites could help bring internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation.”   In June of last year, Google announced Project Loon, a project using hot air balloons to deliver broadband services to remote areas.   Meanwhile, interest in drone aircraft has intensified after online retail giant Amazon announced plans to deliver customer orders using unmanned aircraft in December of last year.   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

Faking it ‘til you make it

4:15PM | Monday, 14 April

We asked a number of well-known Australian entrepreneurs to share their stories around “faking it ‘til you make it”. Here’s what they had to say:   “When I was 17 my friend and I got asked to install a 10 computer network at a local business. It was 1991 and the product they wanted was Lantastic with a 10 kilobyte coax bus network. We said we had done that a number of times and got the job. On Friday at 5pm they packed up and left. We opened the boxes and started reading the manuals. Monday morning at 4am after about four hours sleep all weekend we got it running. Scary. But fun.” – Mick Liubinskas, head coach at Muru-D.   “One day I find myself onstage in front of hundreds of tech people. I'm supposed to be sharing stories of building (and let’s face it – fucking up) a life and a business. Suddenly, I realise that I am an imposter. These folks know their shit. They sit tapping on their keyboards with furious determination, simultaneously tweeting, coding and I dunno, maybe internally figuring out some epic longstanding algorithmic problem in their head. These guys eat books of code for breakfast. I on the other hand can barely figure out how my iPhone works and have still never managed to successfully download a movie without my computer, or my face, exploding.   “The MC reads out my bio, who is this mythical creature he speaks of? Oh yeah, me. I think to myself, yep I've done all those things. I belong here. But still I feel like a fraud. Am I on glue? How the hell did I get here? Why the fuck did I agree to this? I'm so nervous I almost vomit on my shoes. But here’s the thing, half of them look bored anyways and it’s too late to back out now, so I just roll with it. Instead of telling them what they should do, I just rock up on stage, am more vulnerable than I ever thought possible and I simply tell these folks a story or two.   “And what do you know? They like it, they learn something, they laugh, they're inspired. I breathe a silent sigh of relief. But that doesn’t mean that it became easier. But I keep doing it. Constantly. With false bravado. People believe I'm a speaker. They believe I'm an entrepreneur. And one day I wake up and realise that all of a sudden, I am both.” – Avis Mulhall, serial entrepreneur and founder of Think, Act, Change.   “When I joined 99designs in January 2009, I was pretty much a one-man show. I worked out of my living room in San Francisco for over a year, building and moderating our designer community, meeting with potential partners, helping customers via a basic online chat system, writing press releases…you name it, I did it. Though 99designs launched in Melbourne, the company was focused on the US market from day one, with an American-English site and all transactions in US dollars. Little did our early customers know that the company’s US presence consisted of just one person working around the clock in a tiny San Francisco apartment! Patrick Llewellyn, our CEO, relocated to join me in 2010, and now I’m one of more than 50 staff in our SF office, with over 100 employees worldwide." –Jason Aiken, product manager, 99designs.   "If you sell a product or service to US companies, you need to look like a US company otherwise you'll have a lot of friction. Incorporate a US sub and print business cards with a US address and phone number and route the number to either voicemail, an answering service or your local mobile number. Just be prepared to take a few early morning calls!" – Matt Barrie, CEO Freelancer.com   “When I was a theatre director, I would design the brochure before the show. I would get thousands of them printed and tell everybody that this was what they would come and see in a few months. Because I did so, I needed to deliver. Because I did so, I defined my focus and something to target. Because I did so, people know what I was working on and knew how to help. I sung the world into existence.” –Phil Morle, CEO Pollenizer.”   And here’s a different perspective on the idea that we should “fake it ‘til we make it” from a blog post by The Fetch CEO Kate Kendall, who declined to share a story saying she didn’t think we should encourage the idea:   “I had a micro-epiphany the other day when it came to looking at how I tell the story of my company. For a while, something in my gut wasn’t quite right – I also couldn’t get my head around how to play the game. Then it hit me – that’s because 80% of startup land is bullshit and I hate bullshit. I just can’t do it. I can’t lie (well, not express my version of reality). It’s all vanity metrics, bloated achievements and boring same same. I was viewing a stream of old accelerator pitches the other day and was mesmerised by how impressive each founder was. It was like watching magic. But then I stood back and realised I’d heard of none of the companies and upon a Google DuckDuckGo search, found minimal product or press trails on the web. I questioned if many were still around.   “Remember: you can progress and tell it like it is.” – Kate Kendall, CEO The Fetch

Three social media trends every startup should know about

4:30AM | Tuesday, 15 April

There’s a golden saying that networking is about getting someone else’s business card, not giving away your own. When you meet someone you want to connect with; someone who inspires you, a potential business partner, a future employee; your mission is to intrigue them enough that they want to connect again with you.   Taking this advice on board, we recently packed our bags and headed to San Diego for Social Media Marketing World, the world’s biggest conference for social media marketers. With a bag of t-shirts, stickers, and a few business cards, we were off to meet and learn from some of the top social media experts from around the world. Without a sponsor booth or speaking session, our goal was to meet as many people as we could.   Unsurprisingly, social media is just like networking. You want to provide enough unique value that you stand out from the rest of the pack. The first time someone visits your page, you want them to give you permission to keep them updated – have them ask for your business card.   But what else can you do to spice up your social media presence? Here are some of the top things we took home from this year’s Social Media Marketing World conference.   Visual social media is growing fast   There’s no question about it, visual social media is on the rise. According to new research announced by Social Media Examiner’s Mike Stelzner, 70% of marketers plan on using more visual content in 2014. It’s really no wonder. The brain can process visuals faster than text. Visuals have the power to inspire an emotional reaction. They’re easier to understand and they’re shareable.   The biggest social networks – from Facebook to Pinterest, Google+ to Instagram – are all centred on visual content. Even Twitter has joined the visual game by allowing people to add embedded content to their tweets. In fact, Buffer found that tweets with images received 150% more retweets than those without. There’s more you can do to maximise the engagement of your social posts.   When considering your visual content calendar, aim to build consistency with your content. You can do this by using the same colours, fonts, brand photo filters and templates for different posts. Each time your content appears on a follower’s News Feed, it will stand out to your followers because it reflects a consistent brand. If you see a similar looking post from the same brand each day, it’s more likely to make an impact.   Slideshare expert and speaker Todd Wheatland suggested considering visual content as part of your brand’s marketing funnel. For example, if you’re releasing a big research report, break it down into bite-sized content that you can share across different social networks. Leverage your existing content by being strategic about the way you share on social media. Entice people to give you their email address by promising the full or extended version if they provide their email. You can also Facebook and tweet individual graphics with links to your Slideshare presentation or blog.   Good content must be shareable and snackable   That brings us to an important question: does good content exist if no one can find it? Well, it’s certainly not living up to its potential. Many of the speakers at Social Media Marketing World revealed that spreading their content was one of the most important things they do as a content creator. Good content needs to be put out into the world.   A good tip from Australian blogger Donna Moritz was to make your content shareable and snackable. If you’ve produced a blog post with social media tips, then take individual tips and share them as image posts on social media. You can share these bite-sized tips at different times over the course of a week, of course linking back to your original blog post.   So you’re wondering: how often can you tweet a tweet? There’s actually some interesting research that suggests repeating your tweet. As the New York Times found, sharing the content several times over a day or week generates more clicks and helps keeps your content in the feed so people don’t miss it.   Another thing to consider is making sure you’ve included shareable content in all your blog posts. Did you know that more than 80% of content on Pinterest is re-pinned? That means people are looking for content they can re-share on their own Pinterest page. Pinterest is also one of the top traffic drivers on the Web. In your next blog post, try including a few of the taller Pinterest-style graphics in your posts that people can easily share.   The customer is the hero of your story Don’t forget that social media is, well, social. The best online relationships are just like any offline relationship. It’s important to invest time and energy building relationships with people in your industry. If there’s a topic you’re interested in, whether it’s social media or fashion, there’ll be a community online that you can tap into. Figure out how you can contribute.   Razor Social’s Ian Cleary advocated spending time building a network of influencers. Over time this network of people in your industry will be useful as a second opinion for new ideas, and can also help you get content out to the world. Focus on building relationships with people in that community. You never know what potential there may be for you to work together. You truly do need to “go offline to build online.”   We set up a simple Google Spreadsheet to use during Social Media Marketing World to keep track of people that we met. Every time we were given a new business card, we added that person’s details to the spreadsheet and make a note about anything we talked about as well as ways in which we could help them out or work together. This made it a lot easier to follow up after the event.   Tools like Grouphigh, Littlebird and Mention can be helpful to find people talking about particular topics online. Tapping into conversation in your industry is a great way to build relationships with the right people. Put simply, it all comes back to having a coordinated plan for any marketing activities you undertake, whether they’re online or offline. Seek out influencers, produce great content, and invest time in getting the word out there.   It’s important that you look at your startup’s objectives when planning your social media strategy. Good content takes time. Are you trying to attract new users or build a community for your existing customers? What topics does your brand need to be talking about online? Knowing the answers to these questions will help get started on the right track.   How are you incorporating these trends into your startup’s social media strategy? Share your suggestions below.   Zach Kitschke is head of communications at Canva.com.

Switch off from your startup this May

4:30AM | Tuesday, 15 April

Technology is developing exponentially, and at the click of a button we can access an infinite amount of information. With this privilege, comes the potential cost of information overload, increased distractibility and low-grade background anxiety as we try to keep on top of things.   With invisible umbilical cords connecting us to our devices, staying focused is an increasing challenge. Our attention buzzes around with the restlessness of a mosquito fluttering between, emails, Facebook, Twitter, and text messages. Many of us are suffering from what Dr Ed Hallowell, specialist psychiatrist in ADHD, coined as Attention Deficit Trait.   If we wish to remain healthy, happy and clear-minded we need to upgrade our "inner technology" to meet the demands of our increasingly complex world. We are standing on the precipice of a potential paradigm shift with an exciting dialogue unfolding at the intersection of science, technology and the world of wisdom.   From the outside, meditation can look like a whole lot of nothing, but you only need to try it for a few minutes to realise just how challenging it can be to develop our attention and sharpen our focus.   In the start-up community in particular there are never enough hours in the day and so bringing any extra habit into your life needs to be worthwhile.   Meditation is not about becoming passive or giving up on your goals or future plans. In fact, it's a perfect companion to developing your capacity to think more clearly, be more effective and find wiser solutions to challenging problems.   Leading companies in the world, including Google are offering mindfulness training to their employees, recognising the benefits of meditation in supporting more clarity, innovation and productivity.   Science is supporting the fact that just two weeks of regular mindfulness meditation can have significant benefits. When regularly practiced, meditation has been shown to increase our immune function, grow our prefrontal cortex (required for strategic thinking and problem solving), and increase an enzyme called Telomerase, which functions to protect our chromosomes from age-related damage.   To really benefit from meditation, the problem is you actually have to do it. Meditation commonly falls by the wayside for even the most enthusiastic amongst us. Just like physical exercise, bringing a habit of regular meditation into your life can be quite a challenge. So often it seems like there's not enough time or we just "don't feel like doing it”. The thing is there is research to suggest that even 10 minutes of meditation, five days a week can improve our attention and focus.   Sometimes we need support to follow through on our intentions. Having the support of others or doing something that helps us feel we're making a meaningful difference in the world, and can boost our motivation. This logic has fuelled the creation of Mindful in May, a one-month meditation campaign starting on May 1, and delivered online.   It will teach you how to meditate and at the same time help bring clean water to those in developing countries. To date the Mindful in May global community has raised enough money to build water projects in Ethiopia and Rwanda helping transform the lives of thousands of people. You’ll get a one month meditation program including 10-minute guided meditations on a weekly basis, access to exclusive video interviews with global experts in the field of meditation and mind wellbeing.   The challenge starts on May 1 so register before then, donate and invite your friends or colleagues to create a meditation fundraising team to help bring clean water to those in need. Together, let's see how far we can spread this Mindful Ripple.   Elise Bialylew is a doctor, coach and wellness innovator with a background in psychiatry. She is the founder of Mindful in May.

Why business will lead the way in wearable tech: it’s too dorky for consumers

4:40AM | Wednesday, 9 April

There’s good news for Google Glass in Deloitte’s 2014 Tech Trends report, which predicts the wide use and business applicability smart glass technologies are likely to see devices such as Google Glass gain widespread acceptance in 2014.   However, the accountancy firm was more cautious about smart fitness bands and smart watches, which, it predicts, are unlikely to become mainstream this year.   The wearable tech market is likely to generate $3 billion this year, as 10 million units are sold, says Robert Hillard, Deloitte’s managing partner of technology agenda who wrote Deloitte’s Tech Trends report.   “In Australia alone, we anticipate 20% of 17-75 year olds will own a wearable by August this year,” he says. “It’s an interesting trend, but wearables will not replace smartphones, as the majority of wearable devices require smartphone tethering for connectivity and GPS.   Smart glasses free up the user’s hands. That’s why Hillard thinks they’ll catch on, particularly in enterprise. Workers in harsh conditions or those who need to be able to hold onto things for both hands for safety or other practical reasons can’t access mobile digital tools at the moment without putting everything down. Smart glasses could let them check things or access data without stopping what they’re doing.   Hillard thinks wearables are more likely to be embraced in the short term in workplaces than at home. Partly this is because of privacy concerns, and partly, because they look dorky, at least at the moment.   “As consumer devices, wearables represent a very personal buying decision in which aesthetics and fashion are almost as important as function,” Hillard writes. “But in the workplace, experience and engagement matter. Function can trump form – as long as a wearable is perceived as unobtrusive, safe, and not ‘creepy’.”   Indeed, there’s already some examples of this. Australian firefighters are already being kitted up with data-transmitting wearables that detect early signs of heat stress, for example. And Philips Healthcare kits out its surgeons with hands-free smart glasses, so they don’t have to turn away from the patient to monitor their vitals.   There are plenty of other applications. Deloitte envisions a world where factory workers check the metrics for nearby equipment on their smart-watch, or insurance companies who offer discounts for members that can prove a healthy lifestyle through wearing a fitness-tracking device.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

Pet price comparison app launches to disrupt booming industry

4:27AM | Tuesday, 8 April

Man’s best friend may also be one of man’s best business opportunities, with another startup targeting the pet industry re-launching this week.   With rapidly growing startups in the space like award-winning Paws for Life disrupting the industry, it was only a matter of time before a startup entered the market to enable consumers to make the most of the price competition that’s heating up.   99PetShops is designed to do exactly that. The free web app allows pet owners to compare prices from over 60 online stores.   Cofounder Edward Chan told StartupSmart prices differ significantly, with a popular tick and flea treatment ranging from $79.95 to $144.95.   The idea emerged when his pet pug developed skin problems. He needed lots of different foods and products, and high prices drove Edward online, where he could always find a better deal.   “I could always find a cheaper price online, but there wasn’t a good comparison tool that was comprehensive enough,” Chan says.   A year of building the app in the evenings after clocking off from his full-time job saw him launch the app late last year.   He and cofounder Daniel Ng are planning to charge an affiliate link on each sale, but want to build up their traffic before approaching the stores to discuss the opportunity.   “We’ve got about 20 people using it a day, so it’s a bit of waste at the moment,” Chan says.   They’ve been experimenting with Facebook advertising and want to explore Google AdWords campaigns in the future, but are saving up the budget for it first.   The pet industry is a big one. Market research group IBISWorld says the Australian pet products and services industry earned about $6 billion in revenue last year and has grown by 0.9% each year since 2008.   The industry report also details that over 60% of households own a pet, with over 50% owning either a dog or a cat.

$28 billion mobile gold rush: Consumers spend two hours and 19 minutes each day using apps

4:46AM | Tuesday, 8 April

The average smartphone user now uses apps for an average of nearly 11 minutes for each minute they spend looking at a mobile website, according to recent figures from mobile analytics firm Flurry.   The figures show consumers spend an average of two hours and 42 minutes per day on either apps or mobile websites during the quarter to March, up four minutes year-on-year.   Of that time, 86% or two hours and 19 minutes is spent each day on apps, with just 22 minutes spent on mobile websites, down from 20% for the same quarter a year earlier.   The figures suggest consumers are increasingly choosing to interact with online services through apps than through mobile websites.   According to Flurry, consumers are increasingly viewing their mobile web browsers as just another app, rather than as their primary means of accessing online content on their mobiles.   Mobile game apps accounted for 32% of all app or mobile web usage, followed by Facebook (17%), mobile browsers (14%), mobile messaging apps (9.5%), utility apps (8%), entertainment apps (4%) and YouTube (4%).   The Flurry figures echo projections, made in a Gartner report late last year, forecasting the total number of apps download each year would reach 268 billion by 2017, including 253 billion free apps and 14 billion paid apps.   This is a significant increase from the 102 billion apps estimated to have been downloaded in 2013 and 63 billion in 2012.   Gartner’s figures also show total revenue from apps hit $US26 billion ($28.187 billion) worldwide in 2013, up from $US18 billion ($19.5 billion)a year earlier.   Dennis Benjamin from app development firm Appswiz told StartupSmart apps allow for faster and more convenient to access to content than the mobile web.   “Mobile apps allow for ready access to the information you want, at your fingertips 24/7. Combine this with the fact that a range of app features will still operate on your phone without an internet connection (unlike mobile web) and the advantages become clearer,“ Benjamin says.   “Having a mobile app can allow for a choice of alerts to be received, a feature not available from a mobile website. These alerts, for example special offers, time critical messages or updates all build customer engagement.   “Mobile websites in general provide one way communication to the user whereas mobile apps facilitate two way dialogue and engagement.”   Benjamin advises businesses to develop versions of their apps for smartphones running Google Android as well as for Apple iPhones.   “In the third quarter of 2013, Android made up some 81% of devices shipped and now far exceeds the downloads of the Google Play Store compared to the iTunes App Store,” he says.”   Today, just because an executive thinking about an app for their company has an iPhone doesn't mean that most of their customers do – they don't.”

The 11 rules of highly profitable companies: Best of the Web

4:54PM | Sunday, 6 April

The 11 rules of highly profitable companies   From the man who brought us the four-hour work week, self-described human guinea pig Tim Ferriss, is this pretty insightful list on what drives profitability.   “How do you generate the most profit with the least effort? How do you maximise margins without sacrificing quality?” Ferris asks.   There’s some strong advice here, that’s probably worth listening to:   “Many companies will sell direct-to-consumer by necessity in early stages, often through a simple website. Only later do they realise that their margins can’t accommodate resellers and distributors when they come knocking. This is true whether your ‘distributor’ is iTunes, a worldwide widget distributor, or Orbitz.”   The five competitive forces that shape strategy   In a follow up to his 1979 essay How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy, economist and associate professor, Michael E. Porter discusses the forces that shape strategy in a video interview for the Harvard Business Review. He addresses common misunderstandings, provides practical guidance for users of the framework, and offers a deeper view of its implications for strategy today.   “The strongest competitive force or forces determine the profitability of an industry and become the most important to strategy formulation. The most salient force, however, is not always obvious.”   Why the Trix rabbit looks down on you:   FiveThirtyEight, the new data blog by Nate Silver, looks at how marketing works.   “…[you] might not have thought much about the eye contact of cereal-box cartoon characters. Don’t fret: a new study investigated precisely that.”   Indeed, the study found comic characters depicted on the boxes of children’s breakfast cereals are almost always looking downwards. That’s because in supermarkets the boxes are typically displayed on shelves above a child’s eye-level; the characters, by looking downwards, appear to be looking at the children – in effect, making eye-contact, as a device for gaining attention and increasing trust.   How Gmail happened: The inside story of its launch 10 years ago   Gmail is 10 years old, and Time takes a look back at how it all happened.   When Google launched Gmail on April 1, 2004, the offer of 1GB free storage per user – 500 times what Microsoft’s Hotmail offered – seemed so implausible that some mistook it for a prank.   And so begun a revolution of sorts.   “If you wanted to pick a single date to mark the beginning of the modern era of the web, you could do a lot worse than choosing Thursday, April 1, 2004, the day Gmail launched.”

THE NEWS WRAP: Firefox chief Eich resigns over anti-homosexual controversy

4:41PM | Thursday, 3 April

Mozilla cofounder Brendan Eich has resigned after becoming embroiled in a controversy around his support of anti-gay marriage bill Proposition 8.   The controversy escalated when popular online dating site OkCupid launched a series of notifications for users on their site via the Mozilla Firefox, urging them to use another browser.   Eich has resigned from both the for-profit business unit that manages the browser and the not-for-profit organisation in which it resides.   US tried to launch the Cuban Twitter to destabilise the government   The United States attempted to set up a social media site in Cuba, in order to stir unrest and potentially spur on a revolution similar to what was being seen across the Middle East during the Arab Spring.   Officials from the US Agency of Development, the same department that manages the US’s aid programs, even reached out to Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey for funding for the project.   Google announces overhaul of apps in preparation for the rise of wearables   Google has announced an overhaul of many of their apps in a move they’re calling ‘Google 2.0’ to ensure their apps are ready for a smooth transition to wearable tech platforms.   Reserve Bank calls for greater scrutiny of small business loans   In their submission to the Financial Systems Inquiry, the Reserve Bank of Australia has called for more attention to business loans rather than staying fixated on real estate.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down to 16572.55. The Aussie dollar is up to US 92.32 cents.

Turning a mobile app into a wearable one: Pocketbook shares their first forays with Google Glass

4:56PM | Thursday, 3 April

We hear a lot about apps created specifically for Google Glass. But if Google has its way, the wearable smart glasses could become the main platform for apps one day.   Personal finance management app Pocketbook doesn’t want to get left behind, so its two founders obtained a Glass device a month ago and began to explore what they would need to do create a good experience for users.   Cofounder Bosco Tan told StartupSmart the impact Glass could have if it became the main way of consuming apps would be huge, but it’s still hard to imagine.   “It’s like asking web developers from a view years ago about the impact of mobile. It’s big, and they’re just grappling with it now.”   Tan says the biggest breakthrough for lifestyle apps like theirs can be integrated seamlessly into their user’s lives.   “It’s hard to conceive, but in broad strokes, apps and app developers will be in context with Glass. Your app can kick in without people even expressing or releasing they need it, so you could be more proactive.”   Pocketbook released the Android edition of their app recently. Tan says they can use the base code within it to create a glass app.   “A lot of the information is already accessible, we just need to rework how it appears and is used,” Tan says, adding they’re looking at other public data they could weave into the app to tap into the locational opportunities of wearables.   Pocketbook recently signed up their 50,000 user. They also took out the prize for Best New Startup at the 2014 StartupSmart awards, sponsored by DFK Australia New Zealand.

How one Aussie startup is bringing augmented reality to the web

4:58AM | Thursday, 3 April

Augmented reality (AR) is often understood in terms of wearable technology and device-driven capabilities, but an Australian technology company, buildAR, has built technology to enable it in your browser.   Often thought of as a futuristic play, the augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) markets are expected to grow 15.18% from 2013 to 2018, reaching $US1.06 Billion in 2018, and that’s excluding mobile based AR and non-immersive VR.   It puts some perspective into Facebook’s recent $US2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift – a VR play in that it creates a virtual world, where AR lets you see the world with more information overlaid on what you’re looking at.   According to TechCrunch, Microsoft is also reported to have bought the augmented reality-related intellectual property of wearable tech company Osterhout Design Group for between $US100 and $US150 million.   What makes buildAR unique is that they are “augmenting the web” and bringing the experience into your browser.   BuildAR founder Alex Young says there was a lot of fragmentation in the app world when it comes to augmented reality, but using it in a browser got around this problem and democratised the technology for everyone.   It has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign that makes it possible for anyone to deliver AR using standard Web browsers, but their focus is on utility based applications, particularly in education.   The Kickstarter campaign will allow anyone to “create a project and embed it directly in their webpage as easily as you do with a YouTube video.”   The campaign highlights some of the uses of the technology:   “If you back us as an educator, we'll give you the tools to create experiences such as an AR treasure hunt or historical exploration that'll have your students running around your school or campus having fun while they learn.   “If you back us as a curator, we'll give you the tools to enable your visitors to point their phone at items in your exhibition to unlock extra information that extends your collection beyond what's physically on show.”   The buildAR platform enables anyone to create digital content into the physical world around you by linking it to images, locations and more. When it comes to education this could mean using the technology to bring learning objectives to life.   The technology will work on smartphones and tablets, as well as wearable devices such as Google Glass and Oculus Rift.   There are limitations in the use of the technology on Apple devices though, something the buildAR team wants to draw attention to, claiming that “commercial decisions made by Apple have put the [iTunes] App Store ahead of their customers”. As Young points out, Apple have consciously decided not to support the latest open web standards.   buildAR have created a demo for their technology to show that how you can run augmented reality within your standard web browser, presenting the "Projects We Love" newsletter as AR images, floating in the real world.   If you open this on a modern Android device using the latest version of Chrome, Firefox or Opera you'll see a rich combination of augmented reality and the web, which is called the augmented web.   However, if you open the exact same page using an iPhone or iPad, you'll find that it works but that you can only see a very limited user experience.   Young says the company has a much higher profile overseas, than locally, but were committed to staying in Australia if it can. They have also launched some local meetups for those interested in Wearable tech, in both Sydney and Canberra.

Five tips to make your employees enjoy work

4:59AM | Tuesday, 1 April

If you’re running a startup or a small business, you know that it’s extremely important to keep the team energetic and enthusiastic. The team at the startup I work with, DesignCrowd, are a group of friendly people, who love what they do and bring refreshed energy into the office every day. I think keeping the team motivated is one of the most important assets for any sized business. So I wanted to share some things we do at DesignCrowd with you, that could also work for your business.   1. Share your goals and strategies     You’ll obviously have a few goals and strategies that you want to achieve this year, and one of the best ways to motivate your team is to let them in on your plans. This makes it easy for them to understand how they’ll be contributing to the ‘bigger picture’ and how they fit in with the overall vision for the company.   Also there’s no better feeling than reaching a goal as a team and celebrating it!   Make sure your goals go beyond your products/services, too; while many of your plans will be about business/growth, others should focus on improving the company culture or providing employees with new incentives/perks.   2. What’s your role?   A big part of motivating your team will be to ensure that everyone understands their role and responsibilities; failure to do this can lead to team conflict, low productivity and fissures in your team dynamic. Communication is key!   Clarifying job descriptions and functions up front is critical, particularly for smaller/startup companies who often overlook this, and setting individual performance expectations and objectives at this time will also be key for motivation.   3. Get on top of team building   Team-building activities can be an excellent way to get your team motivated. These exercises are lots of fun and give your team the opportunity to work out how to best communicate between themselves, as well as with other teams.   If your budget is tight and you can’t afford to hire an external expert, ask your team leader to run the workshop or take on the responsibility yourself. If your team hasn’t had much of a break over the holidays, holding your workshop away from the office can also be a refreshing motivator.   4. All work and no play…   Makes a dull team! Social events and activities are just as crucial to your business as your operations and goals; they also form an integral part of your culture. Holding regular social events is a fantastic way to acknowledge your team’s value, keep them motivated and help build better relationships amongst your team. Encourage your team to grab lunch together, play lunchtime sport together, or go out for a drink after work.   5. Make your workplace motivational   Bland workspaces do nothing for motivation, so focus on making your workplace a visually creative and motivational place to walk into each day.   You may not be able to replicate the Google offices just yet, but you can change the colour of your walls, or use whiteboard paint so teams can brainstorm easily.   Small moves like this can be affordable too; DesignCrowd, for instance, offers graphic design services from as little as $150. If in doubt, ask your team to get involved and contribute/execute ideas on how to make their workspace more motivating.   Jo Sabin is the community manager at DesignCrowd.com.au.

April Fools’ startup PR pranks: The good, the bad and the downright silly

4:09AM | Tuesday, 1 April

April Fools’ Day is a rallying call for the PR industry, which has whipped out would-be ideas for their clients. Here’s our pick of the five almost-stories that stood out.   Kogan Drone Broadband Network takes flight     The idea serial entrepreneur Ruslan Kogan has (allegedly) launched a Wi-Fi broadband network via drones, which are already in the air around you, is quite fun.   From the release: “The current Australian NBN rollout is going to cost an estimated $73 billion. Frustrated by the delays and cost blow-out associated with the NBN, our team of engineers decided to take matters into their own hands.”   With the ongoing angst about the withering NBN, and Google’s actual ambitions to spread internet via hot air balloon last year, this idea is the perfect combo of political statement meets market demand meets crazy. We actually wished this one was true.   OneShift launches JobSwap   Employment platform for retail and hospitality staff OneShift has launched JobSwap, a service to enable employees to swap employers and responsibilities for a couple of weeks.   From the release: “[Founder Gen] George said that although OneShift was focusing mainly on employer registrations at this stage, staff of participating businesses would be able to sign up via the website in a matter of weeks.”   This one goes into our April Fools’ lemon basket. In a business promoting themselves as pairing people with the right job, surely the idea of interchangeable staff-company fit is a bad one to promote? It’s also low on humour.   iiNet launches Pet-Fi: Wi-Fi-enabled pet collars     Another internet-related prank, iiNet has announced the launch of Pet-Fi to turn your pet into a mobile hot spot.   From the release: “Bringing you the latest advancement in Wi-Fi technology, we give you Pet-Fi, the world's first pet-powered mobile broadband solution. We know you love your pets and you love having them close-by, so why not take advantage of that? Use Pet-Fi to transform your pet into the ultimate – yet cuddly – Wi-Fi hotspot and mobile broadband modem.”   Water resistant, shock proof and almost definitely a joke, this April Fools’ prank is adorable with a hint of animal use that makes it uncomfortable enough to spur the conversation on. Though it loses points for being easily unbelievable.   Swiftly launches Fool your Friends offering     More of an enabler than a prankster in its own right, 99designs' new service Swiftly has launched a series of pictures demonstrating how the software can be used to doctor photos to fool your friends.   Unfortunately for Swiftly, which is fundamentally a design business, the images aren’t remotely convincing or aesthetically compelling. Again, an April Fools’ dud.   Google Maps launched Pokemon challenge     With ample resources and a history of fun gimmicks and Easter eggs, startup folk were quick to check the Google platforms for April Fool pranks.   This year, Google Maps released a video announcing a new position within their team: Pokemon Master.   {qtube vid:=4YMD6xELI_k}   To find the Pokemons, head to Google Maps and hit “start” without writing in anything. Quite frankly, we think the Pokemons should stay.

Cybersecurity: Time to think like a fox to fend off the hedgehogs

3:26AM | Monday, 31 March

A report into cybercrime and stolen data has highlighted the risks for online companies saying that “the ability to stage cyber-attacks will likely outpace the ability to defend against them”.   The Markets for Cybercrime Tools and Stolen Data report says  “attackers can be hedgehogs (they only need to know one attack method, but do it well) while defenders must be foxes (they need to know everything; not just technical knowledge, but knowledge of networking, software, law enforcement, psychology, etc)”.   It also says big companies will be able to secure themselves and follow new Payment Card Industry Guidelines (e.g. use of chip and PIN systems), "but smaller retailers will be hurt because they may not be able to keep up with these new security requirements imposed on them”.   Drew Sing, platform engineer for Bugcrowd – an Australian startup that offers bounties on behalf of companies to discover website vulnerabilities – says attackers can be beaten by fighting fire with fire – the good guys who think like bad guys.   “By incentivizing security researchers to responsibly disclose vulnerabilities through bug bounty programs, it allows them to utilize their specialized testing skills sets (the "hedgehogs") to help make a company more secure,” Sing says.   “This helps level the playing field against malicious attackers, and has been a successful strategy utilized by companies such as Facebook, Google, and Github.”   The approach has worked for Bugcrowd, which was referenced as a successful example of preventing cyber-attacks at least three times in the cybersecurity report.   Sing acknowledges that smaller companies sometimes don't have the resources to pay bounties, but says that by setting up a responsible disclosure policy, they can still benefit from the knowledge of security researchers without having to provide a sum of money.   “A disclosure policy provides a scope of what can be tested, and gives researchers permission to submit vulnerability information to your company without the fear of legal action,” he says.   It's important to remember security researchers want to help companies, but often aren't offered a simple way to communicate this information.   This necessity was highlighted when 16-year-old Joshua Rogers, a self-described white-hat hacker, found a security hole in the Public Transport Victoria website and reported it to the site.   Rogers hacked the site using an unspecified hacking technique to access a database that held personal data including full names, addresses, home and mobile phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, seniors' card ID numbers, and nine-digit credit card extracts of customers of the Metlink public transport online store.   The site didn't respond, so Rogers reported it to the media, who in turn contacted PTV, who in response reported Rogers to the police.   The increased risk to businesses has also seen growth in the cybercrime insurance industry, with Allianz today launching a cybercrime insurance product and saying that cybercrime costs the Australian economy over $1 billion annually.   According to its research, Allianz says cybercrime moved into the top five risks faced by Australian business in 2014.   The new Cyber Protect insurance product will cover up to $50 million to enable businesses to protect themselves against cyber criminals and data loss.   Insurance expert Allan Manning says cybercrime insurance had been around for a while now, but the Allianz announcement was evidence this was an increasing trend with the cybercrime insurance now a billion dollar industry.   “In the future it will be a standard insurance policy that most companies take out,” Manning says. He mentioned that some policies cover bounty payments for people to find vulnerabilities.   Manning says the costs of the cybercrime insurance were not really prohibitive. He took out a policy for his own business which cost around $3000 for coverage between $300,000 and $500,000.   The Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance will release a report comparing the different cyber insurance policies later this year.

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