There is a myth that there is an inevitable path of technological advance where new, superior technologies inevitably knock off their older predecessors. It’s a myth many tech tart-ups are prone to. Build a better mouse trap and they’ll sell by the truckload. Well, to any of you holding these myths to be self-evident, Old Taskmaster has just three words to say: Amiga Video Toaster. See, back in the day when people asked “Mac or PC”, (well, Mac or IBM compatible as it was back then), there was a third option many opted for: The Amiga. Now in 1990, on the Mac side of the fence, Apple was still charging over $6,000 for a black and white Macintosh (like the SE/30). Before 1987, they couldn’t run more than one program at a time. When they finally did do multitasking, it was with a crash-prone method called co-operative multitasking. Contrary to popular myth, the first true pre-emptive 32-bit multitasking colour Mac didn’t arrive until the release of OS-X in 1999. The PC side of the fence was far worse. For those who have never experienced the "joy" of a PC running MS-DOS refusing to boot because the AUTOEXEC.BAT or CONFIG.SYS file isn’t configured correctly, just imagine the computer equivalent of root canal surgery. It didn’t get a colour pre-emptive multitasking operating system until Windows 95. In contrast, first released in 1985, the Amiga was a useful colour video editing tool. By 1990, you could hook up to four video cameras up to one and switch between them in real time: Why the name video toaster? Because it was designed to make high-end video editing something you could do on an everyday appliance. Aside from video editing, it also did 3D animation, was in full colour, had four-channel stereo sound, pre-emptive multitasking, mouse control, windows, icons and menus. It also ran many of the regular PC productivity apps, including WordPerfect. From the computer animation on television series like Seaquest DSV, to tracking NASA satellites, to running the displays at Brisbane’s Central station, to the Israeli Air Force, to – by some accounts – powering the graphics at some of the early Macworld shows and in the video production department at Microsoft, there was an Amiga behind the scenes. Even though it used the same series of processors (the Motorola 68k) as the early Macintoshes, because it had a series of separate graphics and sound processors, it was a magnitude faster and more powerful than its rivals. Yet it still cost less. However, despite all this, it failed to gain sufficient traction in the marketplace. It's time for some guru meditation on why this happened. Poor management and poor marketing shoulder a lot of the responsibility. Just like BlackBerry 10, while it was ridiculously more advanced than any of its competitors, this was never effectively communicated to the public. As a result, its demise ended up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Dealers and sales reps in stores explained to customers that while indeed the Amiga was more advanced, it didn’t have enough traction in the marketplace. In turn, because those customers failed to buy it, it failed to get traction in the marketplace. Other salespeople, mostly out of ignorance, stressed the importance of getting a “serious” computer (ie an IBM PC) that could run WordPerfect (badly) but not have enough horsepower to do high-end video over one that could do both (the Amiga). The moral of the story for anyone with a tech start-up is clear. It’s just not good enough to arrogantly assume your technology or product will succeed on merit, even if it is clearly ahead of everything else in the marketplace. You need to do the hard yards in selling and marketing your product, or else it will flounder. Get it done – today!
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there was a publicly owned monopoly known as Telecom Australia. It was an institution built on the age-old principles of bureaucracy, gold-plated waste and designing new products in committee meetings. In this bygone era, this great publicly-owned monolithic bureaucracy noticed that a few leading typewriter brands, such as IBM and Commodore, along with a new start-up called Apple, were beginning to produce a new kind of office appliance called the ‘microcomputer’. These strange boxes – later known as IBM compatibles and then desktop PCs – were appearing on offices desks across the land. The wise bureaucrats of Telecom said “me too!” There was a slight catch, however. While they were allowed to sell (or, more precisely, lease) telephones, selling computers went way beyond their charter. Fortunately, there was nothing preventing them from selling a phone which happened to also have a whole desktop computer in the same box. So the Telecom Computerphone was born. (For those of you who think Old Taskmaster is spinning a yarn and no bureaucracy would have been dumb enough to actually build such an abomination, click here for a photo.) So in the mid ‘80s, Telecom, in partnership with British mainframe-company ICL and Sinclair (maker of the ZX Spectrum), were shipping these computers – I mean phones – off to the antipodes. Internationally, they were marketed as the “One Per Desk” and the “Merlin Tonto” (“tonto” being a Spanish word roughly translating as “stupid”). Now, clearly there is a market for devices combining computers and telephones. After all, if you have a smartphone in your pocket or bag, you own a device that effectively does just that. In fact, you could say the concept was visionary – 20 years ahead of its time. But it wasn’t the concept so much as the execution that killed this beast. You see, instead of using DOS like most computers of the day, some bright spark in a meeting decided to develop a new operating system from scratch so dumb office workers could easily find the app or file they needed by looking through menus. Unfortunately for both of the people who bought one, this meant the boxes weren’t IBM compatible. Or Apple compatible. Or Commodore compatible. Or even compatible with the Sinclair computers they were based on. In fact, it was compatible with no other computer built before or since. Aside from a few built-in productivity apps, those easy to use menus had no other apps to choose from! Oh, and instead of having a floppy disk drive to store files on, like most computers of the day, the Computerphone saved its files on 8-track cassettes. As in the kind that used to get their tape jammed in the 8-track players of 1970s cars, except on a miniature scale. This meant you couldn’t save a file and then stick it in the disk drive of the IBM PC or Apple on the next desk. Meanwhile, the miniature size of these cassettes meant you couldn’t even record the Eagles over them and play them in the 8-track player of your dad’s old 1973 Holden Monaro. As for the phone itself, the phone handset itself was the width of a computer keyboard, making its size perfect for any oompa loompa in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory who needed to make a business call. While the underlying concept was innovative and arguably well ahead of its time, it will probably come as no great surprise to anyone (except for Telecom’s senior bureaucrats of the day) that a computer with no programs will generate next to no sales. So do you have an innovative idea for a new technology or business model? Make sure you plan its execution as well as the basic concept – or else you could end up with a tonto (or should that be a “Tonto”) product. Get it done – today!
The Victorian state government has announced a new $500,000 grant for small businesses targeting China’s $190 billion e-commerce market. Under its Manufacturing Productivity Networks program, the state government will offer grants to small businesses in Victoria selling food and beverage products to China through the Alibaba e-commerce platform. "Increasingly, Chinese buyers are turning to e-commerce platforms like Alibaba to source their food products from safe and reliable suppliers, like Victoria," Victorian Premier Denis Napthine says. IBM to slash 1000 local jobs IT services giant IBM has announced plans to cut around 1000 jobs from its Australian subsidiary through a cost-cutting program called Project Mercury, which has previously seen jobs shipped to Singapore, Malaysia and Ireland. "Change is constant in the technology industry," the company says in a statement. "Given the competitive nature of our industry, we do not publicly discuss the details of staffing plans.” Electrolux to cut 544 jobs Whitegoods giant Electrolux has announced plans to close its factory in Orange, New South Wales, with around 544 jobs to be cut in the process. Electrolux Home Products Australia and New Zealand managing director John Brown says the factory, which makes around 1300 fridges and freezers each year under the Westinghouse and Kelvinator brands, is no longer competitive. The company's exhaustive investment study, announced earlier this year, concluded that Electrolux is able to manufacture refrigerators currently made here more cost effectively in other factories in Asia and Eastern Europe," Brown says. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is 15570.28. The Aussie dollar is up to US95.86 cents.
Here’s a business proposition for you. I will download all of your work files or emails onto a server sitting in the dungeons under Taskmaster Towers. Your humble correspondent won’t read them or delete them without permission (like Google did to its Google Reader customers) – I promise! You can access your content at any time for a low monthly fee. Or perhaps for ‘free’ by putting up with my completely innocuous banner ads – you’ll barely notice them! I swear! Then, from here on in, you won’t need to worry about server maintenance, security patches, firewalls or Debian dependencies. All of those hassles will be taken care of for you. You won’t get to check those maintenance chores are done, or that the passwords on the server are secure, but they will be. Trust me! Now, here’s a question for you: would you sign up to such an agreement? Well, if you sign up for cloud-based services, this is exactly what you’re signing up for: your app or your computer files stored on someone else’s server. Would there be questions you wanted to ask first? Would you be more likely to agree to use the services of an ASX or Dow Jones Index-listed multinational than the Taskmaster’s? Are there other things you’d like, for example, a local backup in your office of any really essential files? Of course, once you get these points addressed, it is a computing model with a very long track record. That’s because, despite the hype, doing your computing on someone else’s server isn’t a particularly new business model. In fact, before the home computer revolution of the 1980s, it was quite common for businesses to lease time on a DEC minicomputer or IBM System/360 mainframe. Back then, Sonny Jim, using someone else’s server was known as ‘timesharing’. It was a service offered by a number of companies, including Honeywell and General Electric. If you were lucky, you’d have your own terminal in your office that you would dial in on using a briefcase-sized modem. And by dial-in, I mean you would dial-in directly to their data centre; none of this fancy logging in over the internet mumbo-jumbo. If you were really lucky, you would even have a black-and-green screen, rather than a printer, for a display for your terminal. But I digress. Suffice to say, doing your computing on someone else’s server isn’t exactly a new idea. Sure, like most things in computing, those servers are a lot more powerful than they used to be. But in truth, using someone else’s server with a terminal pre-dates even the Commodore 64 or the original IBM PC. So should you sign up to use a cloud computing service? The answer shouldn’t be an automatic yes or no. Instead, you should absolutely keep in mind that all cloud services involve storing your data on someone else’s server. Now, depending on your business circumstances, that could be a good idea or a bad one. But there are potential risks involved – especially if your supplier isn’t reputable. It’s up to you to weigh up those costs and benefits. Get it done – today.
Let’s take a look at your desk, shall we? Can you see the surface of your desk? No? A vague outline of it? Oh dear… It’s worse than Old Taskmaster feared! You’ve got many piles of disorganised papers, bills, unopened letters, hand scrawled notes and miscellany, stacked up like small mountains, haven’t you? And the piles are so tall at this point they’ve begun bending at an ominous angle suggesting they could topple over and bury you alive in an avalanche of paper at any time. But of course, you never know when you might need those old accounts from 1992, you keep telling yourself. The day you toss ‘em is the day the taxman will surely call with an audit! Then there’s that “free” promotional book you got from a group of passing Hare Krishnas in Sydney that time and another one you were given at a business networking conference – something or other about “cloud convergence” sponsored by Cisco and IBM. I’m sure you’ll get around to reading both, one of these days. Assuming you don’t die of boredom first. A two month old copy of the Fin Review gathers dust on your printer– did you actually end up reading that thing? Didn’t think so. And look! A science experiment! You have a petri dish – wait a minute! That’s no petri dish! That’s the casket of a chicken tikka meal you had from the take-away shop down the road last month! Is that an executive stress ball or a hacky sack that’s sitting next to the bobble-head figurine there? And there it is! That’s where the missing extension cord went! It’s been hiding under a box overflowing with donkey-eared sheets of yellowing paper this whole time! Why properly adjust your monitor when a three-year-old copy of the White Pages will do the same job? That said, that bottle of Mountain Dew near your feet is probably a little flat, given it has been opened for seven months now. You quite possibly should have started culling some of your post-it notes before they covered the entire front and back of your computer monitor. Sticking post-it notes on top of post-it notes until they all peel off like a bunch of bananas is not generally a good organisational strategy. And Tony’s Discount Kebabs has updated its menu three times since the copy sitting beside your phone was printed. That’s why Fat Tony always tells you off when you try to order the $5 special! He hasn’t offered it in five years! Speaking of junk mail, it would be bad enough if you still had Clive for Canberra propaganda on your desk, but unless you run a museum, there’s no conceivable need at all to still have Joe Bjelke-Petersen for Canberra leaflets! And sure, you use an iMac these days and actually don’t own anything with a floppy drive anymore, but let’s face it, you never know when that disk with MS-DOS 6.2 will come in handy, right? Right?! You’re not a hoarder! You can stop at any time! You swear! Plus you’re just too busy and stressed to start cleaning now! You have a project to work on! Well – a project to work on once you finish reading StartupSmart and the rest of your email for the morning – but that’s another story! But you’re too busy to start cleaning! Because! Because… well… uhhh… spending half an hour overturning your whole office to find the one piece of paper you actually need is far more efficient than having only what you need closely at hand! Now, in this circumstance, Old Taskmaster is tempted to order you to clean up your act. But let’s face it, your mother tried that one for years and your old bedroom at your parents’ house is still a mess! So instead, you should do two things. First, get a series of tidy tubs. Only keep one type of junk in each tidy tub. If you’re going to try working in a space resembling a junkyard, at the very least it should be a properly sorted junkyard. Secondly, get some cardboard boxes. Big ones. Write a date on the front – say, one in six months’ time – and throw a whole pile of paper inside. If you actually need a particular sheet of paper, you get to fish it out. Anything still in the box in six months goes straight to the recycling bin! No mercy! Oh, and throw out the stale junk food! I can smell it from Taskmaster Towers! Get it done – today!
When it comes to smartphones, there’s a whole heap of jargon. Quad-core processors? AMOLED displays? Android or iOS? If you’re not a techie, it can be tough to make sense of it all. So here’s a layman’s guide to some of the mobile mumbo jumbo you’ve always wondered about, but been too afraid to ask. (Before we get started a note to the techie uber-geeks reading this. Old Taskmaster is completely aware some of these points are gross oversimplifications, that your early-90s BeBox had more than one processor or that I didn’t bother to mention MeeGo. No need for snarky comments. This is intended as a layman’s guide, so sue me!) What exactly do iOS, Android and Windows Phone do? A good, simple way of thinking about your mobile phone is as a pocket-sized computer that can also make calls. On most computers, there’s a piece of system software, called an operating system that basically manages the relationship between a computer’s hardware and the programs that run on it. In the computer world, most PCs use Windows or Linux, while Apple Macs use Mac OSX. Operating systems like iOS, Android and Windows Phone basically do the same thing, except they’re designed to work on a smartphone. If you run an iPhone, you run Apple’s iOS. If you run a recent Nokia, it almost certainly uses Windows Phone. Pretty much everything else – most notably Samsung Galaxy smartphones – use Android. So why do Androids come in Cupcake, Ice Cream Sandwich or JellyBean? Each major version of Android is code-named after a dessert. The first letter of each dessert goes up in alphabetical order. So you’ve had Android Cupcake, Donut, Éclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jellybean. Why? Basically, because Google thinks ‘Android Gingerbread’ sounds cuter than ‘Android Build G’. What are the most recent versions of the major smartphone operating systems? The current version of Android is 4.2/4.3 Jellybean, although Google has announced Android 4.4 KitKat is coming soon. As fairly well publicised by their recent announcement, the latest version of Apple’s iOS is iOS 7. Windows is up to Windows Phone 8, although 8.1 is just around the corner. Finally, BlackBerry is up to BlackBerry 10.2. Given their current business status, Old Taskmaster wouldn’t bet on 10.3. LCD or AMOLED? LCD (of various descriptions) and AMOLED are the two common technologies you’ll find powering smartphone screens. An LCD (liquid crystal display) display is made up of thousands of tiny liquid crystals that modulate light to achieve a desired colour. The light itself is either provided through backlights or through a reflective back panel on the display. AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) displays are made of a thin film of organic material that lights up when charged by an electric current. The charge that makes different parts of the screen light up is provided by a thin-film transistor that sits behind the organic material. Which is better? LCD is the more mature technology of the two. Generally speaking, LCD will be clearer at different viewing angles and produce more realistic colours, but is less good at contrast. AMOLED colours are brighter, have better contrast and (because they don’t need to be backlit) generally use less power. Traditionally, they are less viewable in direct sunlight. What’s this resolution business? Whether your display is LCD or AMOLED, the number of pixels or dots of colour per square inch of screen size determine how clear your image is. In the past, Windows PCs used 96 points per inch, while Apple Macs used 72. The usual standard for the printing industry is 300 dots per inch. By comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy S4 displays 441 pixels per inch. Dual-core? Quad-core? Octo-core? What-the-core? Historically, most computers were built around a single processor – called the CPU (central processing unit) – that computer programs ran on. One processor core, one chip, one computer. These days, most smartphones have more than one of these processor cores on a single physical computer chip, and these are known as multi-core processors. In effect, it’s like having two or four computer CPUs on your phone, except they’ve been shrunk down to fit on a single piece of silicon. Most current smartphones use a quad-core processor, although some older ones use a dual-core processor, while octo-core processors are beginning to be offered on some newer models. How is the processor in my smartphone different to the one in my computer? If you open up your PC or Mac, you’ll probably find it’s built around an Intel processor. The ancestor of this chip was the 8088 and 8086 chips in the very first IBM PCs. Over the past couple of decades, the design of these chips has been optimised for maximise performance, often at the expense of using more power. In contrast, the processor in your smartphone is most likely an ARM chip. Its great ancestor first appeared in a 1985 accelerator card add-on for the BBC Micro B. (Yes, the BBC Micro B is a distant relative of your smartphone!) Acorn’s Archimedes and Apple’s Newtons used this series of chips, too. Because they’ve spent most of the past 20 years being used in mobile devices, they’ve been optimised for battery life as well as performance. But my smartphone processor is built by Qualcomm/Nvidia/Samsung? ARM comes up with the basic designs for its processors. It then licenses them to a range of other chip companies, including Qualcomm, Nvidia, Samsung and Apple. In turn, these companies don’t usually make chips, they just market them. The chips themselves are manufactured by companies with chip manufacturing plants (foundries), including TSMC and Samsung. SNS integration? It stands for Social Network Service. It’s a fancy, jargony way of saying this phone has an app or hub that pulls your social media messages into one place. Over to you Are there any other bits of smartphone jargon you’ve heard but have been too afraid to ask about? If so, leave your question in the comments below! Mobile and mobile commerce is an increasingly critical part of every business. If there’s some piece of mobile mumbo jumbo you don’t understand, make sure you get it cleared up! Get it done – today!
Twenty-three start-ups will pitch to a panel of investors and start-up veterans for prizes ranging from meetings with mentors to tens of thousands of dollars at the upcoming Tech23 conference in October. The start-ups come from a range of sectors including robotics, app development and software-as-a-service. Marita Cheng, founder executive at robotic arm-maker 2Mar Robotics and chief told StartupSmart the competition was a great networking opportunity for her team. “It’s a great way to get the message out there about my company and to meet other entrepreneurs and some investors, as well as refine my pitch and have the chance to earn some prize money as well,” she says. 2Mar Robotics launched in April, and is currently refining the second iteration of its product and taking pre-orders. Cheng has been passionate about robotics since she was very young. “When I was growing up, my mum wanted me to do the chores but I would do it begrudgingly, and thought a robot would be better. And there were none, so I thought, why can’t I be the one who brings them into the world?” Cheng says. Nicholas Tong, co-founder and chief executive at fall detection and elderly support watch company Edisse told StartupSmart the conference was very well regarded and they’d been encouraged to apply by several mentors. “The competition will put us in contact with people we wouldn’t usually be able to reach,” Tong says, adding while they’ve been pitching since they launched the start-up eight months ago, they’ve recently been focusing on product development. “Pitches are iterative in themselves. We’ll get a whole bunch of questions after one pitch and re-factor that in. We’ll need to have another look at it, as we haven’t been pitching as much recently as we’ve been focusing on the second iteration of the product,” he says. Tong says his team is looking forward to pitching their idea, and getting people excited about the elderly, who he believes have been overlooked for decades. “Our team quickly knew we didn’t just want to build another social start-up or app. We wanted to create something that had real impact, and we realised falls was a major one. And if you look at the market, it seems like no one really cares and there’s been no innovation,” Tong says. The speaker line-up for the day will include Alan Noble from Google, Bill Bartee and Larry Marshall from Southern Cross Ventures, Melissa Widner from Seapoint Ventures, Paul Bassat from Square Peg Ventures, and Stuart Richardson from Adventure Capital. Tech23 is coordinated by Slattery IT. Slattery IT founder and chief executive Rachel Slattery told StartupSmart they were seeing a larger contingent of start-ups based outside of Sydney. “About half are from Sydney, but in the past it would always be a few more than half. About six are from Queensland, and that’s exciting as usually we’d be lucky to get one,” Slattery says. “We were looking for the most innovative companies that could demonstrate traction. Ultimately it’s an event, so we look at what’s going to be interesting and who is great talent.” While prizes haven’t been confirmed yet, Slattery says there are some “fairly hefty wads of cash floating around” and they were delighted to welcome AMP, PayPal and the REA group as prize sponsors. The start-ups taking part are: 121Cast, 2Mar Robotics, BuyReply, Edisse, Ennova, Food Orbit, Geepers, HSK Instruments, Instrument Works, Intersective, Kounta, Liquid State, My Myk, Nano-Nouvelle, ollo mobile, OneTouch, Open Learning Global, Roomz, SABRE Autonomous Solutions, See-Out, SimplyShow.Me, SkyTree, and Xped Corporation.
As loyal readers will know, Old Taskmaster is fond of building employee engagement. Now of course, this certainly does not mean you should be an amiable well-mannered doormat or a lazy do-nothing slacker of a boss. You should absolutely set the strategic direction, the boundaries and the rules of engagement for your business. If there are issues, sometimes you do need to be firm and there are times when you need to make a final decision, right or wrong. However, if you aren’t happy to delegate the finer details of execution to your staff within your objectives and boundaries, frankly you’ve probably done a poor job of hiring. And if your staff feel like they own those decisions around execution, it can be a powerful motivating force. In the past week, your humble correspondent came across the perfect example of just such a program in action. According to this article in Network World, executives at IT giant IBM have recently introduced a Kickstarter-style crowdfunding website for projects within their company. How it works is this: Each year, each staff member in the program is given a $US100 budget. This money can be “invested” in internal IBM crowdfunding projects. Meanwhile, each staff member is free to contribute possible projects to run or products that need to be purchased. It might be a robotics research program or a new printer. Like Kickstarter, each project also has a target it needs to reach. If a project or purchase meets its target, it gets that budget. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t go ahead. From a cashflow point of view, your staff can choose to either “invest” their budget on small purchases that directly benefit them, or support larger purchases that benefit the whole company. But either way, it will be staff themselves, rather than you as an angry, mean boss, who will make that tough decision. Now, while your start-up mightn’t be able to organise a project like this on the scale of IBM, if you have a few staff, it might be worth considering a similar project within your business. Get it funded – today!
The Reserve Bank cut the official cash rate by 25 basis points to a record low of 2.5% yesterday, with Westpac cutting its advertised variable rate by 28 basis points to 5.98% in a bid to grab marketshare. The rate cut was also passed on in full by the National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank and the Bank of Queensland, while ANZ will announce whether it’s cutting rates on Friday. "The easing in monetary policy over the past 18 months has supported interest-sensitive spending and asset values, and further effects can be expected over time," Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens says. IBM joins NBN debate IBM Australia managing director Andrew Stevens has waded into the debate over the national broadband network, praising both parties while favouring the ALP’s fibre-to-the-premises proposal. "Both parties have come a long way (to develop policy) to deliver high-speed broadband. There's no doubt that the era of smart will be defined by this utility called high-speed broadband, so we just have to get there as fast as we can,” Stevens says. “I just find there is a leader and a laggard and, in this particular case, the Coalition is the laggard. Forty per cent of people by 2025 are going to be partially or fully working from home. And $40 billion is not that much money; it's less than the value of parks and gardens in Australia.” Department of Justice files lawsuits against Bank of America The US Department of Justice has filed two civil lawsuits against the Bank of America, alleging $US850 million in fraud on investors of residential mortgage-backed securities at the beginning of the Global Financial Crisis. However, Bank of America is denying any wrongdoing in its marketing of the loan pools, which date to January 2008. "These were prime mortgages sold to sophisticated investors who had ample access to the underlying data, and we will demonstrate that,” Bank of America says in a statement. "The loans in this pool performed better than loans with similar characteristics originated and securitised at the same time by other financial institutions. We are not responsible for the housing market collapse that caused mortgage loans to default at unprecedented rates and these securities to lose value as a result." Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down to 15518.74. The Aussie dollar is down to US 89.83 cents.
It was while doing his own buying and selling online that Leigh Williams started to look into what it takes to get products to customers. Despite no experience in the logistics industry, what he discovered led him to setting up eStore Logistics in 2008 catering to the warehouse, inventory and distribution needs of online retailers. The business has grown strongly and Williams’ achievements were recognised earlier this month when he was named International Young Professional of the Year by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport. Williams talks to StartupSmart about how he started the business, overcame hurdles, and plans to expand in the future. How did you decide to launch the business? Throughout my time at university and while working in my first real job I spent a lot of time buying and selling online. I remember selling a shipment of sporting equipment that I had imported from China. I was getting up at 4am before work to answer customer emails and package up orders for delivery before heading off to work for the day. I would get home at 7.30pm, have dinner and go through the same process again. I started to do some analysis into the logistics industry to understand what offerings were out there to service online retailers. What I found at the time was that the logistics industry was not adapting to shifts in the retail landscape and that most logistics providers were not interested in servicing online retail, and those who were interested were not doing a very good job. Within two weeks of conceptualising the business I wrote a business plan and gave my notice of resignation from my job at IBM. Fast forward four weeks, and it was all systems go! In your own words, what does it do? eStore Logistics specialises in providing warehousing, inventory management and distribution services to online and multi-channel retailers, and recently we have extended our offering to traditional bricks and mortar businesses. Basically, eStore provides all of the magic in the background to ensure that when a shopper clicks a website 'buy' button, they receive their purchase in an accurate, cost effective, and fast fashion. This includes tasks such as order picking, system-driven order containerisation (which involves analysing all items on the order and automatically selecting the most appropriate packaging size and type), and system directed automatic freight carrier selection (based on factors such as least cost routing and speed of delivery). By outsourcing the logistics function, our clients are able to focus on what they do best, and at the same time realise lower costs and smoother operations than running in-house. What were the main challenges when starting out? The biggest challenge that I had when starting out was convincing prospective clients to use eStore Logistics services. At the time I was 26, however, people often said that I looked a few years younger. I would often go to meetings with prospective clients and hand over my managing director business card, and this would turn them off as they perceived risk in giving a young business owner the responsibility to look after millions of dollars of stock. Just based on my age they didn't have the comfort that my business could protect stock from damage and theft, and ensure that it got to the right place at the right time. I knew we had tremendous systems and processes that were years ahead of anyone in the industry, but this was definitely a challenge in the early days. This article continues on page 2. How did you overcome those challenges? At the outset, when the business was small, I had to make it look bigger so that I could secure clients and have them feel confident that eStore Logistics could fulfil client requirements and expectations. I went out and had another set of business cards printed with the title "Solutions Specialist" and also used this title in my email signature. This slight tweak made it look like I was just the sales guy (who also seemed to know a lot about IT and operations). This did wonders for my sales meetings and meant that I sailed past the initial meet and greet without the prospective client losing interest and enabled me to progress further and talk in more detail about eStore Logistics services and how we can add value. Using this method I quickly picked up new clients, and today I have dedicated sales staff. Who are your clients and how did you attract them? Most of our clients are online retailers. However, we also service a handful of traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers. Our clients, big and small, come from a diverse range of retail sectors selling products such as brown goods, health goods, apparel, lifestyle goods, books, furniture, homewares, technology, artwork, home fixtures and fittings, hardware, wine etc. Among our clients we service Australia's biggest name in health and weight loss, Australia's largest online retailer of electronics, and a global apparel company which sells in 44 countries. We first attracted clients by getting up a nice clean website and doing work on SEO to get at the top of Google searches for specific keyword terms. This still works today and drives dozens of sales enquiries every day. After a while I realised that the best client enquires that we received were via word of mouth, and that it was important to build the eStore Logistics brand. Big companies that have a logistics requirement don't spend time Googling for logistics providers, instead they pick up the phone and call logistics brands which they have heard good things about. Therefore, we have always ensured that we maintain the best possible levels of service to clients so that only positive things are said about eStore. How many clients did you start out with? How many do you have now? The business was started with one client and we still service that client today. In the four-and-a-half years since the business started we have grown the client list to over two dozen. How many staff did you start out with? How many do you have now? I started out with one-and-a-half employees. I was one employee and the other half was a casual who worked about 25 hours per week. Today we have over 50 full-time, part-time and casual staff. What were the main drivers of your growth? Main drivers for growth include: Shift in retail landscape leading to growth of online retail. Other logistics providers have been slow to develop and offer services for online retailers, which has made eStore Logistics the go-to company for innovative logistics outsourcing Development of the eStore Logistics brand resulting from happy clients telling other prospective clients about their positive experiences with eStore. Personalised service and custom solutions. Not all businesses are the same and we understand that a one-size-fits-all model often doesn't deliver a cost-effective solution. Implementation of agile systems which enable eStore to rapidly on-board new clients. Other logistics providers can often take three months to set up their systems and develop standard operating procedures, whereas we have a dedicated team of analysts who can get it done within a week. What do you think has been the key to your success? The key to the success of eStore Logistics has been the in-house development and implementation of our proprietary warehouse management system (WMS), which has enabled us to provide customised, cost-effective and accurate solutions to clients. A WMS is the brains of a warehousing operation and dictates whether a warehouse is run efficiently and accurately, or whether it's a failure. We ran our own analysis of off-the-shelf WMS solutions in late 2008, and at the time everything we looked at was geared toward business-to-business sales order profiles instead of business-to-consumer, and cost upwards of half a million dollars. Since nothing on the market was suitable for our needs, and I certainly couldn't afford anything that was available, using my information systems background I embarked on developing the eStore WMS, which we still use today and is continually undergoing updates. Any plans for expansion? We are running a project to set up an interstate facility on the east coast which has a target go live by the first quarter of 2014. By 2018 we plan to have facilities in all major cities in Australia. Facts and figures: eStore has fulfilled over 1.37 million sales orders in the 2013 financial year and over 3.4 million sales orders since the business started in 2008. The company is based in Melbourne and recently consolidated from multiple smaller facilities into the flagship Laverton North facility, which is 11,000sqm and has capacity for 9000 pallet places. 99.4% of sales orders have been sent domestically. Most clients who sell to other countries have contract warehousing arrangements in those countries in order to minimise freight costs and deliver fast. Revenue grew 280% in FY2010, 88% in FY2011, 76% in FY2012 and on track for 80% growth in FY2013.
US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has announced a slowdown in its bond buying program in the latter part of this year, saying the stimulus could end in the middle of next year. However, any changes would be subject to moderate economic growth and a steadily improving jobs market. “The committee currently anticipates that it will be appropriate to moderate the monthly pace of purchases later this year, and if the subsequent data remain broadly aligned with our current expectations for the economy, we will continue to reduce the pace of purchases in measured steps through the first half of next year, ending purchases around mid-year,” Bernanke said. News Corp begins trading as two separate companies Rupert Murdoch-controlled media conglomerate News Corp has traded for the first time as two separate entities as part of the company’s separation. The entertainment and television assets of the group, now known as 20th Century Fox, traded at around $30.53, giving it a market capitalisation of $70.3 billion. Meanwhile, New News Corp, which primarily comprises of its publishing interests, along with the company’s 50% stake in pay TV operator Foxtel, saw its non-voting shares trading at around $14.30 for a market capitalisation of $8.1 billion. IBM could cut 1500 local jobs IBM is looking to shift some of its Australian operations offshore to Asia and New Zealand, in a move that could see the loss of between 1200 and 1500 jobs. Sources within the IT giant claim senior management were told about the cuts via a teleconference in March, though there has been no official confirmation of the job losses. The company is estimated to employ between 12,000 and 14,000 staff in Australia. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 1.4% to 15112.2. The Aussie dollar is down to US92.85 cents.
This article first appeared November 2nd, 2012. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when computers and the internet first started appearing on our office desks, the digital revolution promised us many things. That’s promised as in “a politician promised us tax cuts before the last election”. First, we were promised virtual reality headsets in every home, hooked up to the information superhighway. There were going to be fridges that would connect to the internet to automatically order more milk. Then there was the “problem” of how we’d all fill the leisure time freed up by computers reducing our work hours. But the granddaddy of these cyberspace promises was the paperless office. Old Taskmaster remembers being sold an IBM compatible microcomputer with DOS back in the day (back when a desktop PC was considered “micro” sized) on the promise that it could do more than run BBSes, MUDs, MOOs and WordPerfect – it would become the cornerstone of the paperless office too. By the time we took to the skies in our flying cars and hoverboards in the early 2000s, email was supposed to make all postal workers redundant. Some were even so bold as to claim that the tax office would stop sending small businesspeople forms to fill in! Fast forward to 2012. There are some filing cabinets in Taskmaster Towers that will explode like a confetti-filled piñata if one more sheet of paper is put in them. There’s a back room stacked to the roof with boxes full of paper. And I mean literally to the roof – the ceiling panels and light fittings have been removed to fit more boxes in. That’s before we get to some of the drawers in the employees’ desks. How so much paper can fit in such a small space and still obey the laws of thermodynamics remains a mystery. I have begun to suspect some of the drawers are portals to a parallel dimension filled with paper. Other staff are apparently planning skiing trips down the mountains of old newspapers that are being accumulated on their desks. Well, now the digital revolution has well and truly arrived, I say it’s time to throw out some paper. Wheel out the recycling bin and order your staff to spend 10 minutes emptying their desk of any paper – or any other rubbish for that matter – that they no longer need. If any of your staff have any questions about the clean out, tell them to send you an email. Get it done – today!
Sydney Dev Camp founder Danila Davidson is hoping to inspire more women to enter the start-up scene, after being awarded the Female Founder Fellowship by the Sydney Founder Institute.
Do you have a big presentation coming up? Perhaps you’re pitching to investors? If so, and you want to get psyched up for it, you could do far worse than watching an old presentation by the Taskmaster’s hero. No, I don’t mean Scrooge McDuck; I mean Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
Mobile phones will be able to smell, hear and taste within five years, according to IBM. The computer giant expects the gadgets to be able to mimic all five senses by 2018.
A week after the Click Frenzy debacle in Australia, Americans have started Cyber Monday – the yearly sale that inspired the local version.
I see so many start-ups that simply waste money, unintentionally (I've invested in them).
Tech giant IBM has selected five start-ups to compete in its SmartCamp Kickstart event in Sydney, where they will receive mentoring before the winner is flown to Beijing for the finals.
Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest person, has lifted her stake in Fairfax to above 15%, further consolidating her position as the ailing media company’s largest shareholder.
Small business owners are being urged to ensure their workplace is inclusive of gay and lesbian employees, after large companies dominated a list of the most gay-friendly organisations.