Yellow Pages directories have been appearing on doorsteps across Australia in recent weeks. As often as not, they go straight into the recycling bin. In the world of the internet and e-commerce, the very notion of a book the size of two bricks being the source of valuable purchasing information seems plain silly. Once directories like the Yellow Pages served a valuable need in most developed economies. They provided basic and inexpensive local advertising, especially for small businesses. As the internet emerged as the preferred means of accessing such information, the potential for directory owners like Telstra to translate directory information into a valuable online business opportunity seemed promising. As is often the case in the unpredictable world of the internet, it was not quite so simple. In January 2014, Telstra sold a 70% share of Sensis, its directories subsidiary, to a US hedge fund for A$454 million, only 2.4 times projected 2014 earnings. This is quite a turnaround from the A$12 billion value suggested to Telstra’s Board in 2005. At the time, Telstra’s chief executive Sol Trujillo declined to spin-off the business, suggesting Sensis (Telstra’s directory business) would be “bigger than Google”. Google Schmoogle? Indeed, with characteristic ebullience, Trujillo commented in November 2005, “Google Schmoogle”. Contrary to that prediction of sorts, since 2005 Google’s market capitalisation has increased tenfold, to more than half a trillion dollars. Among Trujillo’s many strategic mistakes, his misunderstanding of the relative potential values of Google and Sensis probably takes the cake. It’s fair to say, however, that Trujillo was not alone in misunderstanding the radical changes in the economics of information over the last decade. These changes have completely upturned the value of directories businesses globally. The investors who bought Telecom New Zealand’s directories business in 2007 for $2.1 billion (at an earnings multiple of 13.6 times) at the height of the private equity bubble have done most of their dough. Knowledge is Power (and Money) The 2.4 earnings multiple on the recent Telstra sale suggests two things - that the business is still profitable, but that profits are expected to rapidly erode. How can we explain this sudden, anticipated and precipitous decline in the value of information available through directories like the Yellow Pages? The economics of information is changing rapidly. Economists George Akerlof, Michael Spence and Joseph Stiglitz won the 2001 Nobel Prize for economics for their seminal work on the economics of information, especially information assymetries between buyers and sellers. Most famously among the suite of work done by these economists was Akerlof’s 1970 paper “The Market for Lemons”. Like all great academic work, its beauty lay in its simplicity. In essence, buyers and sellers have “asymmetric” information. In the example in his paper, the seller of a used car knows if it is a “lemon”, though the buyer rarely does. A consequence of Akerlof’s Lemons paper for sellers is that it made sense for them to signal to the market aspects of the quality of their products – by suggesting that they are selling “cherries” (great used cars) and not “lemons” (cars on their last legs). One simple way to do this was through advertising. This was especially useful where the buyer’s knowledge of the seller was limited, as would often be the case for the buyers from small businesses who advertise in directories like the Yellow Pages. Better information, less asymmetry The steep decline in the generic, supplier-provided data that is the essence of Yellow Pages has been driven by a set of related phenomena. First, sites like TripAdvisor have emerged to provide detailed and generally reliable information on services including hotels, tourist attractions, restaurants and the like. Importantly for Yellow Pages, sites such as these are becoming the first place for buyers to visit. As the quantity of collected reviews increase, the value of such sites increases greatly, as they provide a level of information on sellers that static directories cannot match. Second, the costs of “searching” for information is in steep and terminal decline. Once, buying a set of golf clubs for the best price, for example, required a multitude of phone calls or, worse still, visits to stores with pushy salespeople. Now, finding the best price in the market is a few keystrokes away through Google. Too late for Sensis? This begs the question – can the Yellow Pages reinvent itself to be a new portal for information on sellers that will be valuable for buyers, and thus continue to attract advertisers? The answer is probably not. As a late mover into such information provision, it will have an almost insurmountable challenge to build an equivalent body of information in comparison to its competitors. More so, it will be a generalist in an industry full of specialists, the last site visited by buyers and thus the least valuable site for sellers to direct their advertising dollars to. This makes the 2.4 times 2014 earnings paid in January for Sensis seem about right. Such a multiple suggests that this year’s Yellow Pages might be the last one to lob onto Australia’s front porches. If this is bad news for Sensis, it is good news for the millions of trees that will be saved! By John Rice and Nigel Martin. Rice is an Associate Professor in Strategic Management at Griffith University. Martin is a lecturer at the College of Business and Economics at Australian National University. Rice is a member of the National Tertiary Education Union and the Australian Labor Party. Martin does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Earlier this year, I reviewed the latest version of an open source computer operating system called Kubuntu. For the uninitiated, like Windows, Mac OS-X or Android, Kubuntu manages a computer’s hardware, provides a user interface and allows users to run apps. It includes a desktop environment called KDE along with a set of apps covering everything from graphics and multimedia to internet, office and games. While I was critical of the installation process (and deservedly so), I had many complimentary things about Kubuntu to say in the review, including the following: “The good news is, assuming you get through the installation process, is that Kubuntu and KDE 4.13 does have a lot going for it.” “Firstly, there are preinstalled apps covering most of what you’d need to do, from word processing, to playing CDs, to watching videos and surfing the web.” “There are big improvements in how multiple screens are handled. It’s now literally a matter of dragging and dropping to have two connected screens mirroring each other, or having one to the side of the other.” “With a little tinkering, you can set it up to look like a Mac (including each app’s menu bar across the top of the screen), or like Windows (with the menu bar across the top of each window). You can also set up multiple ‘activities’ each with their own desktop layout.” Yet, literally for months after the review was published, there were (at times incredibly detailed) comments from open source advocates arguing against the conclusion that this was not a product for everyone. The open source basics Kubuntu is an example of what is known as “open source software”. The basic idea behind the open source model is that the developer gives away a computer program for free, including the source code used to create that program. Users are free to make any changes they require in the future and share their modifications with others. In terms of copyright, open source software is often made available under a licensing agreement such as the GPL, or under a Creative Commons licence. Can you really have a free lunch? Of course, this raises a question: How do software developers survive if they give their product away from free? In many cases, open source projects are the work of hobbyists or not-for-profit groups, with Wikipedia probably the best example. Some companies (such as Red Hat and IBM) give away software on an open source basis, but charge businesses for services such as setup and support. An example I’ve discussed in this column previously is Firefox. Mozilla supports giving its popular web browser away for free based on the commission it receives from Google each time someone searches from the search bar. As incredible as it might sound, that little search field is worth around $US280 million per year in revenue. One of the best known examples of open source software is the Android smartphone and tablet operating system. Here, Google makes its money by selling downloads, as well as the mobile services (Gmail, YouTube, etc.) it bundles with the platform. Another well-known example is WordPress, which is offered by its developers (Automattic) on an open source basis, with a commercial cloud-hosted version at WordPress.com supported by ads and premium upgrades. Open source software stands in opposition to proprietary or closed-source software, where the developer retains all intellectual property rights to the software, along with the source code. Windows, Microsoft Office, Photoshop and most other commercial apps are examples. The best tool for the job Advocates for open source software are certainly a passionate lot when it comes to their software licensing model of choice. In many areas of the tech industry, there are open source products that are either market leaders, or are at least competitive in terms with features with their proprietary counterparts. And certainly for many cash-strapped businesses, if finances are tight, choosing an open source option can be quite appealing. However, there are many hidden costs in business that stem from using the wrong tech tool for the job, including lost productivity, the cost of IT staff for the initial setup and installation, maintenance costs, IT support costs and lost business opportunities. When these additional costs are factored into account, the product with the lowest upfront costs might not have the lowest total cost of operation. And the harsh truth for advocates is the open source option is not always the best option in the market, or the best choice for every business. As the example of Kubuntu shows, an open source product that works well in one situation might not be the best choice for everybody. So, when it comes to choosing a tech solution for your business, it pays to evaluate a range of options, both proprietary and open source – because being an ideologue with technology can be costly in the long run. This article first appeared on Smart Company.
Amazon, the e-commerce internet giant, is launching its first smartphone. Media attention is focusing on whether the phone’s features, such as its rumoured 3D interface, are really as cool as portrayed in its trailer video which aims to wow early users. But by entering into the fray of an already hyper-competitive mobile phone industry, Amazon is doing a lot more than adding another gee-whizz feature to a smartphone. This launch tells us a great deal about CEO Jeff Bezos' strategy for his company – and what it might mean for the future of competition and innovation in our increasingly digital world. First, let’s ask the obvious questions. Why is Amazon, known for internet retailing and related software development, entering a hardware market where leading incumbents like Nokia have already failed? After all, what does Amazon know about the telecoms business? Can it succeed where Google has failed? We have seen Google, which has virtually limitless financial resources, enter the mobile phone handset industry by purchasing Motorola Mobile in 2012, only to take a heavy loss after selling it on less than two years later. Even incumbent firms who had a very strong set of phone-making capabilities have taken tough hits in this turbulent market – witness Nokia’s dramatic plunge, which led to a sale of its mobile phone business to Microsoft. Platform Number 1 You cannot understand Amazon’s move without situating it in the broader context of platform competition. Platforms, these fundamental technologies such as Google search, Facebook and the Apple iPhone, are the building blocks of our digital economy. They act as a foundation on top of which thousands of innovators worldwide develop complementary products and services and facilitate transactions between increasingly larger networks of users, buyers and sellers. Platform competition is the name of the game in hi-tech industries today. The top-valued digital companies in the world (Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook) are all aggressively pursuing platform strategies. App developers and other producers of complementary services or products provide the armies that sustain the vibrancy and competitiveness of these platforms by adding their products to them. The more users a platform has, the more these innovators will be attracted to developing for them. The more complements available, the more valuable the platform becomes to users. It is these virtuous cycles – positive feedback loops, or “network effects” – that fuel the growth of platforms and transform them into formidable engines of growth for the companies and developers associated with them. The smartphone is a crucial digital platform. Achieving platform leader status in this space is a competitive position all the hi-tech giants are fighting for. Google has its ubiquitous Android operating system, Apple has shaped the whole market with the iPhone, Microsoft has purchased Nokia’s phone business, and Facebook has invested $19 billion in WhatsApp among other acquisitions for its growing platform. In fact, I suppose I should have rephrased my question a little earlier – why hasn’t Amazon already staked its claim to lead this digital space after having launched its Kindle Fire tablet and Fire TV set-top box? Opening the door Simply put, the smartphone is the main gateway to the internet today, and, in the hand of billions of users throughout the world, is the physical embodiment of a conduit that links those users to each other and to the whole content of the internet. There are almost 7 billion mobile phones in the world (and only 1 billion bank accounts). And the trend is staggering. Mobile payment transaction value surpassed $235 billion worldwide in 2013, and is growing at 40% a year, with the share of mobile transactions already reaching 20% of all worldwide transactions. So, while risky, Amazon’s entry into the smartphone business is a classic play: a platform leader entering an adjacent platform market that is also complementary to its primary business. All platform leaders aim to stimulate complementary innovation (think how video game console makers aim to stimulate the provision of videogames), and they often attempt not to compete too much with their complementors in order to preserve innovation incentives. But at some point all platform leaders start to enter these complementary markets themselves. Google has done it through Android, Apple has done it with iTunes, Facebook has done it with Facebook Home. It happens when platform leaders feel threatened by competition in their core market, or when they want to steer demand, competition and innovation in a particular direction. The idea is to use their own user base as well as their own content and technologies to create an unassailable bundle, one that is difficult for external competitors to break into. Think of it as creating barriers to entry, while expanding the core market. The reasoning behind entering a complementary market is well known, and related to the benefits of bundling. In the case of hi-tech platforms, the benefits are even stronger. By optimising and controlling the interface between a platform and complements, a company can have a structuring impact on the evolution of the platform ecosystem – and that means on all the innovators around the world that invest and make efforts to develop complementary products and services. In your hands So, these are the reasons why Amazon is entering the mobile phone market, despite the difficulties inherent in taking on an über-competitive market. This strategic choice makes a lot of sense. As to whether Amazon has a fighting chance of succeeding, there are reasons to be optimistic. Beyond its deep financial resources, Amazon has learned something of what it takes in the development and successful commercialisation of various versions of the Kindle. That has given it expertise in hardware, on top of its software background, and should prove a useful training ground to allow it to launch other consumer products such as the smartphone. But the ultimate judge will be you, gentle readers. Will you be willing to swap your favourite mobile phone for a yet another new kid on the block, even if it does let you browse Amazon’s ever-growing catalogue in splendid 3D? Annabelle Gawer is Associate Professor in Strategy and Innovation at Imperial College Business School. This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the
The internet ain’t what it was in 2004 and on the tenth anniversary of Web Directions, the conference organisers are taking the time to remember just how far it’s come. “When we started Web Directions, we were just looking at ‘the web’, but now it’s the foundation for almost everything,” says Web Directions co-founder John Allsopp. “It’s powering major financial institutions.” The conference has two tracks, engineering and product, and its status as one of Australia’s premiere web events is highlighted by some of the big local and international names Allsopp and fellow Web Directions founder Maxine Sherrin have managed to attract. Genevieve Bell, Intel Fellow and vice president of Intel Labs, as well as director of User Experience Research at Intel Corporation, is delivering a keynote. Bell leads a team of social scientists, interaction designers, human factors engineers and computer scientists focused on people's needs and desires to help shape new Intel products and technologies. On the product side, Douglas Bowman, who just recently left Twittier as its creative director, is one of the big names they’ve managed to attract. Also on the product line-up is Scott Thomas, who famously worked on the Obama campaign, but also for the likes of Fast Company, Apple, IBM, HP, Nike, Patagonia, Levis, the Alliance for Climate Protection, and Craigslist. Younghee Jung from Nokia’s corporate research team, focusing on enablers of social development through mobile technology, will also be speaking at the conference. On the engineering side, Bill Scott, senior director of business engineering at PayPal, will be speaking, along with Railsbridge founder Sarah Mei and Jake Archibald who works in Google Chrome's developer relations team. Allsopp says he feels the calibre of speakers makes it the best line-up they’ve had and competitive on an international level. “These are world class speakers by anyone’s standard,” he says. This year also means a change of venue, moving from the Convention Centre to the Seymour Centre. “It’s got a good vibe and it’s both edgy and accessible, which makes sense for us,” Allsopp says. Allsopp says they’ve always advocated the benefit for teams and individuals to get out of the office and become rejuvenated by immersing yourself in the amazing work so many in the industry are doing. “We want to create that feeling when you can’t wait to get back to work because you’re just pumped with ideas,” he says. “For a lot of people who come from all over Australia, it’s the one chance in a year to catch up with people in the industry.” The full program can be found here.
Amazon has unveiled its long awaited smartphone – Fire. Features include Dynamic Perspective and Firefly, which the company is describing as breakthrough innovations that “let you see and interact with the world through a whole new lens”. Dynamic perspective uses a new sensor system to respond to the way you hold, view and move Fire. Firefly quickly recognises things in the real world – web and email addresses, phone numbers, QR and bar codes, music, movies, and millions of products which can be added to your Amazon shopping cart. It has a Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 2.2 GHz processor, 4.7 inch HD display and is set to be released on July 25. Canadian court orders Google to block websites worldwide The Canadian Supreme Court has issued a temporary injunction which requires Google to block a group of websites from its search engine. The decision came despite arguments from Google’s lawyers that the Canadian courts did not have jurisdiction to make such an order. App that just says ‘Yo’ raises $1 million in investment The app, which took eight hours to build, allows users to send the word ‘Yo’ to their friends. Founder Or Arbel says the app deals with “context-based communications”. The app, which was released on April Fools’ Day this year, has raised $1 million in investment and has over 50,000 users, according to ThinkProgress. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 98.13 to 16,906.62. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.
According to SEEK co-founder and Square Peg chief executive Paul Bassat, payments are the “holy grail of innovation”. He made the comment at The Australian Financial Review and Macquarie Future Forum on Tuesday, where some of Australia’s leading entrepreneurs declared the industry ripe for disruption. Despite banks in Australia being protected by complicated regulations, entrepreneurs are placing the industry under increasing pressure. Adding to banking woes are the likes of Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook eyeing entry to the payments market. Here are the top four Australian disruptive financial services startups to watch: 1. Society One Society One is Australia's leading peer-to-peer lending platform, with a $5 million investment from Westpac’s Reinventure Group, a $50 million fund set up to back early stage startups. It’s rumored to be on the investment radar of both James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch. Borrowers list loan requirements and investors decide which loans they choose, how much to invest in each loan, and the rate at which you want to earn their interest. Its personal loan rate for a prime borrower is 9.80% pa, 5% lower than the average rate from the major banks. 2. Tyro Payments Tyro provides credit, debit and EFTPOS card acquiring services and does not take money on deposit. It was founded in 2003 by ex-Cisco employees Peter Haig, Andrew Rothwell and Paul Wood as MoneySwitch Ltd. Eleven-year-old Tyro is in its second year of profitable business operations. Disrupting the Australian banking industry was never going to be easy, and it took the team over $30 million in capital and a founder break-up to get there. At launch it was the first new entrant into the eftpos space in 15 years. 3. Pin Payments Pin Payments is an Australian-based startup operating from Melbourne and Perth that offers onsite payments and a developer API without the need for a merchant account. It received a grant from Commercialisation Australia and partnered with some of the Australian banks to make its offering possible. Both overseas-based Braintree and Stripe operate in the same space, but Pin has a solid local focus. Getting access to a payment system has previously been a juggle for companies, especially early stage ones. Pin Payments is aimed at developers who can easily integrate its service through their API. 4. CoinJar CoinJar, a Melbourne-based bitcoin exchange and payment system, which has raised $500,000 in seed funding from a range of individual investors and the Blackbird Ventures seed fund. Launched in February by Asher Tan and Ryan Zhou, CoinJar has over 10,000 active users in Australia. The company charges a low single-digit percentage fee for each transaction. CoinJar was the first company to get its Bitcoin app re-listed in the iPhone App Store, after Apple revised its app guidelines to include virtual currency apps that it previously excluded.
Independent musicians could disappear from YouTube in a matter of days after Google confirmed the popular video streaming service would drop content from independent labels that have not signed up for its upcoming music streaming service. Google is set to begin testing the new service, rumoured to be called YouTube Music Pass, in the next few days, with a launch expected later this year. Democrats defend net neutrality Democrat party lawmakers in the United States are set to unveil a piece of legislation that would force the Federal Communications Commission to ban internet fast lanes. The proposal requires the FCC to use whatever authority it sees fit to make sure internet providers don’t speed up certain types of content at the expense of others. eBay Valet app launched The online shopping giant is expanding its eBay Sell For Me service to mobile with the launch of a new app called eBay valet. The app promises to take every step of the selling process and automate it. It’s designed to make online selling easier for first-time sellers and anyone who doesn’t have the time to handle a listing themselves. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 27.48 to 16,808.49. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US93 cents.
News that Google representatives are in talks with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are seen as further evidence the web company is looking to set up a series of low-orbit satellites to help connect more people to the internet. Reports earlier this month said Google was planning to spend more than US$1 billion on a network of 180 satellites to provide internet access from space. Then Google revealed last week that it paid US$500 million for the satellite imaging company Skybox. It says the deal will give it access to better imaging technology for Google Maps, but it could also see it launch a new satellite network for delivering internet access. Google is already experimenting with new ways to provide internet access in remote locations through its Project Loon, which began in New Zealand last year and uses antenna held aloft in balloons. Access to digital networks and information are playing an increasingly important role as we move towards a more networked society. The global population today is approximately 7.1 billion, yet only 2.4 billion people are connected to the internet. Over the next six years this is expected to double, reaching 5 billion in 2020. It’s not just about the web Significantly, internet users will not be the key source of growth. There is increasing demand coming from a range of devices, systems and infrastructure being connected to the internet – home security systems, personal health monitors, cars, trams, trains, smart meters for power, gas and water, traffic lights and offices, as well as public spaces and buildings. As the internet is further industrialised the big technology companies are tapping into the growth in networked devices – usually referred to as the Internet of Things. Currently, 16 billion devices such as smart phones, tablets, security systems and smart meters have a network connection. This will grow exponentially towards 50 billion in 2020. There is a change in the focus of connectivity too - from individual people to houses, towns and cities. Large information and communication technology (ICT) companies such as Google are driving this increase in global connectivity, as their biggest market growth opportunity lies in the areas of population that do not have internet access. The World Economic Forum – which monitors the digital divide through its annual Networked Readiness Index – also sees the urgency in making the internet accessible to remote communities from the developing world. They are the people likely to benefit from substantial improvements in the quality of life through access to ICT. Other players trying to connect the world Google is not alone in this race. Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has also announced similar satellite plans to connect the unconnected, through the internet.org project. There have been past attempts to increase internet connectivity via satellites, such as the Iridium Project by Motorolla, now Iridium Communications. Iridium provides satellite phone connectivity across the globe via a constellation of 66 satellites. The service is limited by very low data rates - approximately 10kpbs - with costs of around A$1 to A$2 per minute of access. Well ahead of its time, the Iridium project faced significant challenges with a range of technological issues as well as failing to effectively monetise the idea. There were serious issues with the inter-satellite links needed to maintain the network, its handsets were bulky and its internet access plans were expensive. It remains largely an emergency communication tool and for infrequent access such as asset tracking in maritime/defence applications. Iridium plans to launch a new satellite service, Iridium NEXT, delivering peak download rates of 1.5Mbs by 2017. We will have to wait to see if the second incarnation of Iridium can increase its subscriber base. There have also been several other commercially yet-to-be-proven proposals that looked at high altitude long operation platforms making use of aircrafts and balloons to deliver similar broadband services. These platforms use the millimetre-wave (30-300 gigahertz range) frequency bands (currently targeting around 28-33 gigahertz range) to deliver broadband wireless services to locations theoretically wherever access is required. But none have yet to offer a product to market. Current satellite constellations are small (such as the 66 in Iridium) with each satellite often covering an area in excess of 1000km2. With limited bandwidth (often less than 100 megahertz available) to share between thousands of subscribers, individual subscribers get very low internet speeds. Looking for growth Yet new services are emerging. The Federal Communications Commission in the United States has approved Globalstar’s request to use a frequency band adjacent to the WiFi frequency window to offer satellite based WiFi coverage. Additionally, operators such as Intelsat and Inmarsat provide satellite internet connectivity across the globe. The growth in connected people and things presents an expanding market opportunity. Google’s business relies on its users delivering information upon which it can target advertising. It appears to be pre-emptively meeting the projected demand in order to increase its services. Satellite technology has matured and is now able to provide increased access and throughput to users and devices. Google’s approach is similar to that deployed by mobile phone operators. By increasing the number of satellites, individual beams can cover smaller areas, approximately 100-200km2 thus sharing scarce frequency spectrum with fewer customers, increasing internet access rates. Competition for Australia’s NBN In Australia, NBN Co offers broadband plans using existing satellites to about 3% of Australian population scattered around the massive landmass in areas with lower population density. The company has been designing its own satellites, which will be launched soon to increase access to broadband in remote Australia. But the project is facing major obstacles in terms of securing the highly regulated satellite launch rights. It is reported that NBN is in negotiation to secure a launch orbit spot. Google is not confining its vision to satellites or balloons. Google Fiber also plans to offer fibre connections with greatly improved speeds (compared to that offered by NBN) in selected USA cities directly competing with traditional telcos such as AT&T. This is driving innovation in the sector, with these new technologies providing possible options for the NBN to deliver broadband to cheaper and faster to remote Australian regions where wireline access to broadband may be difficult. Google’s satellite play highlights its serious intention to move into the new converging world of computing and communications, driving further competition and changes in the communications sector in the near future. Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas is currently the Director of Melbourne Accelerator Programs (MAP) which supports entrepreneurial activities of the University Community through business acceleration models. He is also an Associate Director for the Institute for the Broadband-Enabled Society. This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
Google has partnered with incubator Fishburners, in a six figure deal, to implement its startup outreach program Google for Entrepreneurs to help facilitate the growth of the startup community. The partnership will see Fishburners become part of the global network of Google’s 30 startup hubs, allow companies based at Fishburners access to the Google framework for startups, as well as international innovation programs. It will also be renovating and doubling its space, including a ‘physical’ Google Hangout. Fishburners chief Daniel Noble says that the partnership was a good fit based on the fact that Fishburners acts as a not-for-profit and does not take equity or invest directly in startups accepted to its programs. Startups apply for space at Fishburners and commit to a 20-month program until they are ready to move on. Successful applicants pay for their time there with desks being charged at $400 a month. “We’re about equipping startups to be better formed companies when they go to market, or seek investment,” Noble says. “Too often companies try and do things much too early.” Part of the Google deal will also be a push to encourage more female entrepreneurs. In a blog post announcing the deal, Google says: “From the Cochlear bionic ear to Wi-Fi, Australia has a long history of innovation. Local-born innovations and startups like Atlassian, Freelancer, 99Designs, and Shoes of Prey are flourishing in global markets with the help of the web. While we’ve seen the growth of the startup community in recent years, we know there’s still a long way to go.” One of the first programs on offer is BlackBox Connect, a two-week immersion program in Silicon Valley. A Fishburners’ based startup will be selected to spend a week on Mountain View and have access to Google’s network of experts. “Supporting local tech startups is vital to Australia's future economy. We know the talent, drive and potential for innovation is all here; we hope to help realise the full potential of Aussie entrepreneurs,” concludes the blog post.
In a follow up to his talk at last week at Vivid Sydney about growing Australian startup culture, Google engineering director Alan Noble has written a an official Google blog post about encouraging more computer science (CS) graduates. At the event, Noble suggested that one of the ways to ensure mores startups in Australia was to produce more CS graduates, as more startup founders had CS degrees than any other qualification. “Students will be a whole lot more excited about studying computer science if they can combine it with their passion, their X,” Noble says. In the post, which is titled “CS+X: What’s your X?” Noble notes that “it’s not just startups which need CS graduates; demand is growing globally from all sectors of the economy so that by 2020, global demand will exceed the number of graduates by 1 million jobs.” Noble suggests that we might also consider changing the name of the degree, to encourage more to take it up, as computer science “sounds a bit intimidating, doesn’t it?” “Certainly there is a scientific/mathematical basis to CS, but the CS practitioner mostly relies on computational thinking (CT) skills,” he writes. “CT includes pattern recognition, pattern abstraction (generalisation), modelling, design, and programming (coding). “ Noble says it’s not “well appreciated” that CT is “applicable to more than just software engineering; it is increasingly a critical skill for understanding and using the computing technology that underpins much of our modern society.” Highlighting one of the three ways he mentioned in his talk about growing more startups, Noble says that “CS combined with another discipline, brings with it new insights and new ways of approaching things.” “We call this CS + X, where ‘X’ can be virtually anything,” he says. “For example, CS + retail = online shopping, CS + finance = ‘fin tech’ (think online banking, personal finance management, etc.), CS + music = products like ‘Pandora’, CS + health = fitness products like ‘Fit Bit’, etc. The opportunities are endless. “There’s even an Aussie startup called myEvidence combining CS + crime fighting.”
A year on from Edward Snowden’s revelations around state sponsored mass surveillance programs, some of the major players in the online and technological world (including Google, Mozilla, Twitter and Reddit) have launched the Reset the Net campaign. The program aims to increase people’s awareness and uptake of privacy and security tools so they can better resist surveillance, particularly that conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). While the campaign is laudable in its efforts to raise the issue of surveillance, there are some glaring oversights present. A step in the right direction Reset the Net seeks to challenge mass surveillance and help people to take back their privacy while online by encouraging patterns of behaviour that resist surveillance. For individual users they suggest the use of apps with encrypted communications protocols (such as TOR or Chat Secure), and safer password choices. More structural suggestions are provided for developers and administrators, such as the use of encryption as a part of a website or application, and the use of end-to-end encryption. Encryption makes any collected data more difficult (but not impossible) for authorities to interpret and act upon. These kinds of strategies do a great job at “target hardening” users and digital services against the collection of personal data, and they improve the general security of users online. Vodafone announced this month that some governments allow their security agencies to connect directly into its network to conduct surveillance, so these kind of user based forms of resistance are a good starting point to counteracting some surveillance measures. While these are positive achievements, they merely address some of the more visible consequences and implications of surveillance, and fail to address what are perhaps the most worrying aspects of contemporary surveillance. Where the problems lie The Reset the Net project acts to reinforce the idea that surveillance is primarily conducted by state authorities, with the NSA as the primary antagonist for this story. But the reality is that the NSA is only one actor in the surveillance drama. As others have noted one of Reset’s biggest backers, Google, is also one of the biggest instigators of corporate surveillance. Google collects enormous amounts of personal data every day, harvesting personal data from user’s browsing habits and email, while simultaneously calling for email to be encrypted against outside sources. Google also uses its large range of products (such as Gmail and Google Docs) to data-mine every conceivable audience, including up until recently children. Story continues on page 2. Please click below. You are being monitored by many Google is just one of many private companies conducting surveillance today, with supermarkets, insurance companies and many Fortune 1000 companies all monitoring customers on a daily basis. This leads to the next issue with Reset the Net, and most counter-surveillance activities today: they don’t address the incredible amounts of data already circulating in surveillance databases. Surveillance today is not just about seeing into the lives of the present – it’s about cataloguing and using the past (and present) to understand the future. Australia is no exception to this trend, as the government once again pushes for mandatory data retention. As a part of the (so-called) development of big data, which allegedly can assist to generate new statistical insights from ultra-large data sets, the data collected from ubiquitous surveillance are increasingly being used as a part of predictive analytics. Through these techniques a user’s future behaviours, actions and dispositions can be extrapolated from past data. While there are some possible positives here (such as better management of goods and services for business), the negative potentials are enormous. Shaping the future The use of algorithms and automated profiles can open the door to forms of control (and discrimination) that occur without any human input. Through the power of code, corporate or government powerbrokers can reshape individual lives, automatically analysing and predicting possible outcomes for citizens and then determining their treatment, from seemingly random pieces of personal information. As US sociologist Gary Marx has pointed out, no-one is innocent under such regimes of “new” surveillance, with all citizens viewed as a risk - what he calls categorical suspicion. The focus on internet surveillance ignores that surveillance is not just on the internet, but everywhere. As recently pointed out, we live in a Sensor Society, with many aspects of daily life recorded through various sensor technologies. From smartphones to drones, there are many possibilities for invasive surveillance today. The German newspaper Der Speigel has also pointed out that the NSA and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are at the forefront of developing new means of sensing individuals. Once again Google is a part of these trends, recently purchasing a drone company and is reported to be bidding for the world’s largest home surveillance company. The drama is just beginning Internet surveillance is only one aspect of contemporary surveillance. The Reset the Net project paradoxically represents a small positive step in resisting and counteracting warrantless and illegal surveillance, while ignoring the bigger picture. There is a growing and ongoing disparity between the rights and powers of the watched (or sensed), and the watchers (or sensors). As both spectators and actors in this surveillance (or sensor) society, there is a need to be mindful of this bigger picture as we play our roles and choose our props, and recite (or improvise) our lines. These are only the opening scenes of a much longer and difficult play. With no sign that the social or technological scope of surveillance will fade, we must play our parts wisely and critically, if we are to have any hope of a happy ending. Peta Cook is a Senior Lecturer of Sociology at the University of Tasmania. Ashlin Lee is a PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania. This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
Amazon plans to launch a marketplace for local services – a term which encompasses anything from babysitters to tradespeople, according to a Reuters report. The e-commerce giant will gauge demand and test logistics before beginning the expansion of the service, much like the way it launched its grocery delivery service Amazon Fresh, which was initially tested in Seattle before expanding to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Google acquires Skybox Imaging Google has paid $500 million in cash for Skybox Imaging, a company that provides high-resolution photos using satellites. In a statement announcing the acquisition, Google says Skybox’s satellites will help keep Google Maps accurate with up-to-date imagery. “Over time, we also hope that Skybox’s team and technology will be able to help improve internet access and disaster relief – areas Google has long been interested in,” the statement says. About.me raises $11 million About.me, the startup that enables its users to create a simple page where you can find information about them online, has announced it has raised $11 million. The company says it will use the money to invest in new features and to make its platform easier to use. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 2.82 to 16,945.92. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.
If you thought that self-tracking and the collection of personal health and fitness metrics was just a fad then an announcement last week by Apple CEO Tim Cook at the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference might suggest otherwise. A Health app and a developer tool named HealthKit, which is designed to serve as a hub to allow various health apps and fitness tracking devices to “talk” to one another, have been included in iOS 8. But are these “new” developments from Apple really all that new – and do they indicate that matching hardware in the form of wearables is next on Apple’s launch list? What Apple and partners such as the Mayo Clinic envisage is, for example, an app that monitors heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol. It would then be able to seamlessly share data with a hospital app or directly with healthcare professionals. Building a technical infrastructure to develop health apps, or to enable the sharing of information between various third party apps, is an ambitious task. Both Microsoft and Samsung are already entering the field of wearables with announcements of plans to release smart watches. Apple’s latest offering adds to the speculation of the long awaited iWatch with reports in could be released as soon as October. Meanwhile the latest advertisement (below) for the iPhone 5S shows people using a variety of wearable products already on the market. The benefits of aggregating health and fitness data in this way are fairly clear in terms of how medical histories will be taken, how they are shared and the aggregation of personal data. It should provide better experience for those who use personal metrics in various aspect of their daily lives. What’s in a brand name? Some of the celebratory hype around HealthKit was overshadowed by an Australian start up which took Apple to task for using the same name of their practice and patient management software. In a blog post the Melbourne-based company was both flattered and annoyed that Apple had used its established brand name: They didn’t feel that they had to do a quick domain search – it would have taken 5 seconds to type www.healthkit.com into their browser and discover us. Would it have made any difference to them? Are they so big that they are above doing an ordinary Google search? We might also wonder what other issues Apple’s health data aggregation system might face beyond this naming fiasco. When a user opens any of Apple’s HealthKit enabled apps the information they produce will be housed in database and is immutable and read-only. What this means for developers is that apps can be developed which can collect and analyse this data in a variety of pre-determined ways. Permissions and privacy This highlights a range of problems that are likely to implicate and frustrate users, health care professionals and administrators. Naturally issues of privacy are likely to be significant factor in how well Apple’s health apps actually work. Developers will need to seek end-user permissions to collect data on their behalf when they build Apple’s HealthKit into their apps, which means spelling out exactly which permissions they are seeking. Given the whole logic of HealthKit assumes, to some degree, an interoperability between applications and datasets, it would be fair to suggest that there are likely to be gaps between what the technical capacities and outcomes for end-users. Take for instance an app that has been designed to use a measurement from one device and ignore data on that same variable from another device. Or a user may grant access to a third party app to their pedometer data but this might not mean that the same app has the permissions to access other variables to produce meaningful data (such as location, heart rate, age, weight or gender). Not so healthy competition Vendors operating in this market will compete not only at the level of the brand but also at the level of components, algorithm and databases. An app might use Nike Fuel Band data over Fitbit when it takes calorie data to make some or another secondary calculation based on that data. Organisations such as Microsoft are also partnering with developers who are designing apps available for medical practitioners to use in telemedicine and the consulting room. This tethering of devices and data to proprietary platforms (Apple vs Microsoft) means that patients and doctors might need to use a certain product and patients might be restricted in terms of what systems they can use to track their health. The trade-off of openness to get systems to market quickly is going to make attracting users and developers difficult and makes Apple’s (and others) vision of health data aggregation far less attractive or whole. Suneel Jethani is a PhD candidate and lecturer in the media and communications program in the school of culture and communication at the University of Melbourne. This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
As Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) winds up in San Francisco today, 1,000 Apple engineers and 5,000 developers will return to their parts of the world armed with Apple’s own programming language. In his keynote on Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled – among other new developments – programming language Swift and claimed it to be a significantly faster code for development across iOS and OSX. Apple is the latest tech firm to produce their own programming language (Google and Microsoft also have their own languages) and Swift can be used by Apple developers as of today with 677 pages of documentation available in the iBooks store. But why would a company want their own programing language – especially when existing, general purpose codes such as Objective-C and C have been successfully used for 20 years? So what’s so good about Swift? It pretty much comes down to speed. While Apple (and other companies) supply the hardware, developers ultimately bring the most utility value out of technologies. The faster developers can code, the more apps can be created. So let’s have a look at why Swift is the next big thing (and why developers should take the time to learn a new language, as it were): Swift is much easier to code with. Swift looks much “cleaner” than traditional code. In addition to getting rid of nested brackets and semicolons (which makes code look very complex and harder to maintain), programmers can now use inferred types, which means that variables and constants can be declared without necessarily specifying the data type. Developers can reduce debugging time over mundane and trivial errors (if you’re interested in the nitty-gritty, Swift manages unsafe codes by self-managing memory, preventing overflows – in arrays, for example – and properly handling nil objects). It also means that new developers can be spared the need to learn Objective-C’s complex and verbose syntaxes (but Swift will sit alongside existing Objective-C and C codes). Swift is fast and powerful. Fast programming is a key ingredient in Apple’s new hardware and software capabilities. Swift codes will be compiled using the same high-performance compiler, and it will be run natively to combine the best features from Objective-C and C. Based on the presentation in WWDC, we saw statistics showing complex algorithms can be run much faster than Objective-C. Swift supports “interactive playgrounds”. “Interactive playgrounds” allow developers to immediately see the results of changing codes and keep track of progress timelines. This is particularly useful for debugging complex loops, algorithms and animations. Speaking of new developments … As widely expected, Apple joins Google and Microsoft’s moves towards delivering health and home automation applications, as well as supporting stronger integration between native features (such as Siri and Notification View) and third-party apps and sensors. The Health app joins Samsung’s Gear Fit, Nike and Fitbit to bring health and fitness data, measured by mobile and wearable devices, into our palms. A new tool for developers called HealthKit adds to the standard activity, heart rate and diet measurements by allowing developers to create third-party apps and sensors to measure factors such as blood pressure and sleep patterns. Users can also create emergency cards with important health information such as allergies and blood types, accessible from the lock screen and emergency call screen. Another development tool – HomeKit – will let us control aspects of our homes (such as lights and temperature) using our phones. To enable natural interactions with our phone for home and health apps, iOS has evolved to allow Siri be hands free, similar to its Android counterpart Google Now. We could say: “Hey Siri, I’m ready for bed”, then the lights will automatically dim for sleep and the phone will go into “do not disturb” mode – perhaps even playing our favourite relaxing music. With the introduction of Swift, we can expect to see more apps than ever – truly building upon Apple’s 2007 slogan, “There’s an app for everything”. Dian Tjondronegoro is an Associate Professor of Mobile Multimedia at Queensland University of Technology. This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
The co-founder of Melbourne-based startup HealthKit, Alison Hardacre, was surprised and confused to learn Apple is using its name for one of iOS 8’s features. Even the capital K. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Hardacre woke to the startling news. . @HealthKit was around a long time before iOS 8... #justsaying — Healthy Startups (@healthystartups) June 3, 2014 “I just happened to wake up at 4.15am and couldn’t get back to sleep, so like any good tech entrepreneur I decided I’d check my emails on my iPhone,’’ Hardacre says. “I found an email from a friend asking, ‘Has Apple just trampled on your name?’” Surprised, she jumped out of bed and checked for herself and found numerous reports about HealthKit, Apple’s new native health tracking platform. Apple’s HealthKit is designed to help users keep track of all their health and fitness data, effectively collating health data from the many health apps available by allowing them to share data. The Melbourne-based HealthKit is a global health administration platform which enables patients to find practitioners online and enables users to track, manage and share their health records. “Every startup worries that Google, Apple or Facebook will enter their market, but nobody thinks they’ll take their name when they do it,’’ Hardacre says. @healthystartups @HealthKit The new cyber squatting. The big don't have to care! #notfairapple — Tim Offor (@timoffor) June 3, 2014 Following the announcement her company’s name was the fifth most popular trending term on Twitter yesterday and traffic on its website www.healthkit.com, which it has owned since 2012, was 10 times more than usual, according to Google Analytics. “We’ve been growing at a rate of 7% a week, which is really a fantastic rate of growth, it’s what the founders of Airbnb say you should be aiming for,’’ Hardacre says. “We’ve been over in San Francisco at health tech conferences; we’re not like some company hidden in some backwater. We’ve grown and we’ve followed a particular strategy, we’ve looked at moving the company to Silicon Valley. “Part of me thinks it’s the cut and thrust of the business, but it’s actually not. “It made me realise that this could happen to every startup. “I kind of felt a little bit let down – didn’t they spend five seconds to visit HealthKit.com?” Hardacre says HealthKit had already filed a trademark for HealthKit in Australia. StartupSmart contacted Apple for comment, but has yet to receive a response. @tim_cook @HealthKit I know you're new to this whole Ruthless-Like-Steve-Jobs game, but my good man, you need to learn subtlety! — Daniel Cohen (@CodaAzzurra) June 3, 2014 Executive director of Premier IP Ventures and intellectual property expert Brian Goldberg says the incident serves as a warning to startups to ensure they register their brand name as a trademark. Goldberg says it’s not conclusive at this stage that the brand HealthKit is entirely owned by the Australian startup, nor whether or not Apple will use it as a standalone brand name or in conjunction with its core Apple brand. “So at this stage the Australian startup may have some brand rights in Australia but it’s not definitive as to the extent,’’ he says. “It is important to file your brand as a trademark. This provides certainty and clear rights for the brand owner. Importantly the rights can then be enforced as well as negotiated." Note: this story has been updated for clarification.
Kickstarter has simplified rules for campaigns in an attempt to make the service easier to use than ever before. It’s announced Launch Now, a new feature which gives creators a choice to launch their projects whenever they’re ready, or to get feedback from one of Kickstarter’s community managers first. Kickstarter’s guidelines have also been boiled down to three basic principles: projects must create something to share with others; projects must be honest and clearly presented; projects cannot fundraise for charity, offer financial incentives, or involve prohibited items. Google is making end-to-end encryption easier Google has launched an alpha version of a new tool called End-to-End, a Chrome extension that is intended for users who need additional security. End-to-End encryption means the data leaving a user’s browser will be encrypted until the message’s intended recipient decrypts it. Zenefits raises another $66.5m After raising $15m in a series A funding round four months ago, cloud-based human resource startup Zenefits has raised an additional $66.5m from return investor Andreessen Horowitz along with Institutional Venture Partners. The startup was founded on the idea of simplifying the process of HR companies by providing a simple user interface for personnel departments as well as the rank and file, making it easier to keep track of their pay and benefits. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 21.29 to 16,722.34. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US93 cents.
Apple has unveiled iOS 8 in what it says is its biggest release since the launch of the app store. Some of the main features include: Interactive notifications which gives users the ability to respond to notifications within the notification pane, without having to switch apps. An improved mailbox with Mailbox-style actions enables users to easily tag or dismiss emails without needing to open them. Spotlight now lets you search for apps you haven’t installed yet, along with songs in the iTunes store, movie location times and more. HealthKit, which is a one-stop shop for all the health tracking apps on your phone. No Microsoft Start Menu until 2015 Microsoft won’t be delivering a new Start Menu for Windows 8 with its coming Windows 8.1 Update 2, sources told Zdnet. Microsoft’s operating systems group has decided to hold off on delivering a Microsoft-developed Start Menu until Threshold, the next major release for Windows, expected to be released in April next year. Google scraps Zavers The tech giant has decided to discontinue Zavers, a service that lets shoppers clip coupons online and get those savings when they purchase products in the stores of retailers. The service had been running for 17 months, launching in January of last year following Google’s acquisition of a startup called Zave Networks. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 26.46 to 16,743.63. The Australian Dollar is currently trading at US92 cents.
Google have recently shown us a car of sorts. The self-driving Google Car is the internet giant’s latest foray into physical products. Visually it’s a cute cross between a golf cart and a Japanese anime character, with an obvious ‘face’ and round, soft features that exude friendliness and care. However, ideologically the driverless vehicle is more akin to an escalator than a car. Interestingly, in developing a car that doesn’t need a driver, Google are venturing into completely virgin territory and as a result they have exaggerated the friendliness of the product to make it appealing to the public. The Google Car’s cuddly aesthetic is designed deliberately as a counterpoint to the abject fear most people would have in handing over control of their car to a computer. The Google Car does contain amazing technology, even at a prototype level. The autonomous, self-learning vehicle has sensors that can remove blind spots by detecting multiple distinct objects simultaneously in all directions for hundreds of metres and hopefully react safely. Sound impossible? So did the iPod before Steve Jobs and Jony Ive put their minds to it. Watching the publicity video clearly illustrates Google’s ideas on the target demographic, with older people, the blind and children the focus. At least initially, they seem to see the car as a device for people who can’t drive or don’t want to. Unsurprisingly, everyone appears to be having a ridiculous amount of fun. Like all designers of products that create a paradigm shift, Google’s team needs to answer questions that others haven’t tackled before. Who would use it, how and why? Can current technology deliver a suitable solution? How much actual driver control should be relinquished? In discussing the Google Car in our studio, debate raged about what would happen in a crowded street. How would the Google Car react to a random mistake by another driver or pedestrian? These are the unknowns that still need to be worked through. Therein lies the most important aspect of this project. The Google Car is a big innovation, but it really is only the first foray into the unknown. This prototype will challenge what we think and allow people to test the technology in the semi-real world. No doubt it will fail some tests, but it’s sure to provide insights that we don’t expect, and lead to innovations that most can’t imagine right now. Like Apple and Nike before them, Google is applying their massive resources to looking outside their comfort zone for bigger opportunities. In doing so, they are risking failure and ridicule (look no further than the backlash against Google Glass), but they also open the opportunity for enormous rewards as the first into a new market. Perhaps the biggest hurdle to acceptance of the Google Car may not be confidence in the technology, but people’s love affair with the glamour of a fast car. The ability to be reckless, to feel the power of the engine or to show off to your peers may still be that intangible desire that an oversized golf cart could never deliver. Although many will scoff at the idea of a self-driving car, pointing to countless issues and dangers with the concept, the fact is that it seems almost inevitable in some form or other. If we look to science fiction we could expect these types of vehicles to be very much part of our lives sooner than we imagine. In the words of the great Henry Ford, “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would’ve said a faster horse.” Perhaps the Google Car represents the first small step towards one of the biggest changes to our society since the internet was invented. Nathan Pollock is director at Katapult Design Pty Ltd.
Spreets co-founder Justus Hammer and StyleTread co-founder Bjorn Behrendt have joined Australian online jewellery startup Gemjoli as advisory board members, as the company looks to expand. Hammer describes Gemjoli as the 99designs of jewellery – it enables customers to design made-to-order jewellery. It offers users the chance to use the Gemjoli platform to tinker with a number of customisation options, or work directly with designers in order to create exactly the type of jewellery they’re after. Both Behrendt and Hammer participated in Gemjoli’s seed funding round. Gemjoli co-founder and CEO Sundeep Maheshwari says the company was lucky to have access to Hammer and Behrendt’s knowledge. “They kind of experience they bring to the venture is going to add immense value,’’ he says. “The idea of getting these guys into the venture was to increase scale. “It’s a question of the reach that we want and obviously a new concept takes time before you climb the ladders of Google.” Gemjoli launched in January and while Maheshwari would not disclose how many people had used its service, he says there had been steady growth and the company was generating revenue. “The cost of acquisition of a customer is about what you would expect from a startup,’’ he says. “Right now our customers are from Australia but the technical architecture makes it possible to replicate the model without replicating the establishment costs.” Maheshwari says the goal is develop ‘portals sites’ for Gemjoli across the globe. They’ve got a partner in Europe who will help create one of these portals with local branding in France. “In Australia, the key next step for us would be to expand the designer community,’’ he says. “That’s the concept we want to work on, we want more and more designers, more and more people who are creative.”
Disruptive Investment Group (DVI) has negotiated an option to increase its stake in bathroom component manufacturer and e-commerce startup Allure Bathrooms to 50%, in exchange for $2 million of growth capital. It follows an agreement in March that gives DVI an initial option to provide $1.5 million of investment in return for 40% equity. The Melbourne-based startup was co-founded by Tony Nguyen and Vinh Luong in 2010 and began as a humble eBay store. Nguyen says the decision to potentially give up 50% equity was a difficult one. “It was a tough negotiation,” he says. “I guess after starting up our business, giving up half of it was never our intention. But after the initial stage, after discussions we looked at the bigger picture. “After a good talk with the DVI guys, it was matter of understanding where they were heading with the company, and we think it’s a good match.” Luong and Nguyen began the business after deciding they’d had enough of their 9-5 jobs. Following a visit to Vietnam with his parents, Nguyen had been investigating the prices of various products compared to those back in Australia, and was quite surprised by how cheap bathroom fixtures were there, considering the relatively similar standard in quality. Soon they had their own stock of product, but their initial plans to sell them locally backfired when they found no takers, so they decided to list the products on eBay. The stock, which they’d initially found difficult to move, sold quickly online and after getting a feel for the market, the duo decided they would team up with a designer and launch their own range of products. “From there it’s been growing, we were quite confident with the online business and the exposure that goes with it, the feedback we were getting from customers gave us the confidence to open up a retail store,’’ he says. “We’ve been selling online for about two years and then for the retail for about a year now.” They had a record breaking month in March, reaching almost $180,000 in revenue. Nguyen says the company is now planning to open up a number of physical stores around the nation and expand their online services. “We’ve learnt from eBay and also Google there’s demand Australia wide,’’ he says. “DVI see the big potential of online, that’s their area of expertise as well. “We’ve noticed there’s been little done online with these types of product so that’s a big area we want to look at.”