Australian money management app startup Moneysoft has closed a $500,000 follow on funding round that brings its total funds raised to $1.5 million, which will be used to continue its rapid growth in the financial services space. The BlueChilli backed startup says the funding will assist expanding its reach in the sector. The platform automatically collates all of its users’ financial data, making it easy to for them to manage their finances. Moneysoft’s service, which is available for free, is aimed at people aged between 25 and 45 who take an active role in managing their households’ finances. While it’s not unlike Pocketbook, Moneysoft’s main competitor is Xero Cashbook, which offers a similar service that’s based on a monthly subscription fee. It monetizes its service by charging partners in the financial services industry a fee to allow them to use it as a tool to offer improved financial advice to their clients. Moneysoft founder Peter Malekas says the company, which was founded in late 2010, is on target to achieve its goal of 100,000 users, although he kept the specific details of that goal to himself. “I think what we are all doing as competitors, if you look at the positives of competition, we’re creating awareness around managing your finances and the tools that are available for Australians in general,” Malekas says. “As opposed to once upon a time, when it was purely just Excel or digging out receipts.” Malekas says the company already has over 50 partners and is in negotiation with two of Australia’s largest financial advice groups and a number of additional industry funds. In addition to helping with growth, the funds will also allow Moneysoft to hire key personnel to fulfil specific needs brought about by that growth. It’s set to expand from eight full-time employees to between 12 and 15. It’s already made one of those key personnel hires, naming Jon Shaw, formerly of IBM, as its new head of technology and commercial operations. “Over the past 18 months, I’ve seen first-hand what a great job Peter and the Moneysoft team have done to get this brilliant application built and market-ready,” Shaw says. “I’m humbled to be invited in as part of the team that will take Moneysoft to the next stage in its evolution. “It’s rare to have the opportunity to be involved in such a visionary and exciting technology, and we’re all hugely enthusiastic to grow this little Australian company into a great Australian brand.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
Microsoft is planning its biggest round of job cuts in five years, as the company looks to slim down and integrate Nokia Oyj’s handset unit, sources have told Bloomberg. One of the sources speculates the reductions will be in engineering, marketing, and areas that overlap with Nokia. The restructuring could be unveiled as soon as this week. Apple and IBM partner to “transform enterprise mobility” Apple and IBM have announced an exclusive partnership on a new range of business apps that will bring IBM’s big data and analytics capabilities to iPhone and iPad. A statement from Apple announcing the move says the partnership aims to “redefine the way work will get done, address key industry mobility challenges and spark true mobile-led business change”. This will be done by a host of native apps for iPhone and iPad, unique IBM cloud services optimised for iOS, AppleCare support tailored for enterprise, and new packaged offerings from IBM for device activation, supply and management. Alan Mulally appointed to Google’s board of directors Google has announced former Ford CEO Alan Mulally will be joining its board of directors and will serve on Google’s Audit Committee. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 5.26 to 17,060.68. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.
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.
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.
In almost every industry there are innovators, ‘smart companies’ who are leveraging disruptive technologies to stay ahead of competitors and offer the latest and greatest features to their customers. The world of app development is no different. Here are a few recent innovations and some thoughts on what they might mean for your business. 1. Facebook and IBM active in mobile app space Facebook and IBM aren't usually linked together, but both are currently marketing their presence in the mobile app space as a critical path for their future. Facebook announced at f8 (their annual developers conference) that they are launching the mobile ads Audience Network. Facebook will start serving ads to third-party mobile apps via this new network. This means that partnerships between mobile companies will increase, and app developers can now serve Facebook ads in their apps. Ads will be more targeted to the recipient, as Facebook understands their members and their interests. This is good news for companies interested in reaching mobile users who often log into apps via their Facebook account, as this increases the effectiveness of your mobile-delivered marketing messages. Global behemoth IBM is fuelling an open-source platform movement to help generate more business value from mobile computing. At IBM’s Impact2014 conference held last week in Las Vegas, the company announced a significant expansion of its MobileFirst Business Acceleration portfolio, which includes IBM Ready Apps offering standardised customisation to reduce time and resources required to create apps. It is also introducing 18 ‘development studios worldwide’ to foster innovation in custom apps – with mobile experts from designers, developers and architects. If IBM is investing so significantly in making apps more accessible to its customers, shouldn’t you be considering making your company’s services just as open and easily accessible? 2. Mobile app-linking New technology is now directing users to specific areas of mobile apps instead of website pages (Instagram is a good example). This is another leap in mobile innovation as Facebook and others continue to challenge the key issue of the mobile-computing world – ‘users spend most of their time inside apps rather than on the web’. Consider the importance of this in increasing convenience for customers if your business still relies on an old-style, non-responsive (i.e. mobile un-friendly) website. 3. Mobile payments Smartphone apps such as Venmo are now replacing cash on many US university campuses. The era of ‘mobile payments’ – leaving your wallet at home and using your phone to pay for everything – is still in its early days, but its mainstream take-up seems inevitable. Think about your own ease of purchase in the app stores. It’s plain to see that if the next generation of consumers is eschewing cash and using an app to pay for everything from their lunch to their rent to their parking to their bar tab, then they’ll also expect the convenience of buying your goods or services through an app. Of course, most companies don't have the internal resources, or actually need the resources to get themselves into the app space. The creation of links within apps and how to take advantage of this new wave of opportunities should be left to companies that specialise in it. Having your own branded app and promoting it well to your customers will pay off – delivering more engagement, more loyalty and more convenience. Don’t be the one who gets left behind. Dennis Benjamin is the founder and chief executive of mobile apps specialists AppsWiz and the Informatel Group. He is an expert in the areas of mobile trends, mobile apps, apps for businesses, entrepreneurship, and startups. This article first appeared on SmartCompany.
6:55am Five minutes before Lyle is scheduled to wake up. Wrist monitors check his pulse to figure out when the best time to stimulate him awake is. Good, he has been asleep for at least eight hours and his heart rate and breathing is almost optimal. A quick traffic check confirms no need to wake him up early. His water heater starts for his daily morning shower and his thermostat for the bathroom is increased for when he gets out. 7:05am Lyle’s coffee-maker turns on and starts brewing a fresh cup of joe. His fridge checks to make sure he has his usual breakfast ingredients–orange juice, eggs, yogurt, and a banana–and orders more eggs for the next week. 7:35am Lyle departs his house on time and ready for the day ahead because of a refreshing shower and delicious breakfast. All of this has become possible because of a recent paradigm shift in technology known as the Internet of Things, or as it is most commonly referred to in tech circles and articles, the IoT. In 1999, Kevin Ashton, a British technologist who helped to found the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, coined the term ‘Internet of Things,’ but the idea of devices connecting with each other hails from as far back as the creation of the internet itself. The dawn of the internet age kickstarted an era of growing and shrinking. The amount of information that could be created, stored, and shared grew exponentially with the ability to create and harvest from across the world–or, at least, from across the world wherever servers were at the time. Simultaneously, places and people that once seemed far away and beyond one’s own scope could now be reached and interacted with on a more personal level. Unfortunately, the interactions allowed by the internet were limited to only those few scholarly elites or academic institutions that invested in this process and new contact was limited. And connection with devices was even more stringent since wireless technology did not exist and wired connections had to be used through ethernet cords to communicate with the internet. As a result, machine-to-machine (M2M) interactions were nearly impossible, and M2M links over long distances were unheard of; Internet interface was solely between a computer and a human. How did the Internet of Things come to be then? Futurist and technologist Richard Yonck, who has written extensively about the IoT, explained the precipitation of devices connected to the internet and each other: "If you think about it, the IoT is a fairly natural evolution of processing and communications technologies. Computers have continued to become smaller and cheaper over the decades. As they continue doing so, where will they go and how can we use them? Throughout our environment, naturally!" The first internet-capable machines do not seem like much today, but when they were first created, Carnegie Mellon University programmers and engineers developed the first appliance connected to the internet in the early 1980s. They rigged a Coca-Cola machine to send status updates and messages about the availability of a can of Coke so that a trip to the snack area would not be in vain. Other similarly sized projects became the norm for bored or experimental college students with enough resources and time. None of these devices became commercially viable and the Internet of Things remained a topic confined to academia. It wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that the concept of having a network of interconnected devices became popular and drew interest from corporations and consumers. Kevin Ashton led the movement at his Auto-ID Center at MIT with research into the field of radio-frequency identification, or RFID. Bill Joy supplemented Ashton’s research with a proposal for a “Six Webs” framework. Joy graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering and computer science, and then went on to co-found Sun Microsystems. His initial thoughts into the development of a standardized system (a Web) paved the way for M2M interactions that occurred through similar protocols and syntaxes. However, it was a combination of his theory and Ashton’s research that a truly useful and pervasive Internet of Things could be developed. Although Ashton and Joy began the process of creating a standardized system of communication and interaction in the beginning of the millennium, the Internet of Things remains a rather fragmented and developing field. Since the Internet Coke machine, many more devices have been created by university researchers and commercial companies, but most have stayed rather proprietary and do not discuss results with other devices. Some of the most prominent products today represent huge leaps in technology from even ten years ago, but the status of the Internet of Things remains a gradual acceptance into society. Many media outlets predict that 2014 will be hailed as “The Year of the IoT” but few care to define by how much or through which methods. In fact, despite most tech pundits believing this year to be the year, many also point out that the IoT will grow slowly. Brian Proffitt of ReadWrite, a prominent online magazine about technology, argues that, “the Internet of Things won’t see any big splashes in 2014, just steady and incremental progress toward automating … everything.” Currently, the biggest problem facing the IoT is the lack of standards for communication. Without a “common communication method,” devices will only be able to talk to their own brands and severely limit the helpfulness of connected machines. For example, currently, sleeping monitors only give results to phones for users to analyze themselves. Imagine a future where sleeping monitors could give results to doctors or alert users of abnormal or unhealthy sleeping patterns and suggest fixes that could in turn be prompted by communication with a coffee machine (if caffeine is suspected of hurting the user) or thermostat (if temperature could be negatively impacting sleeping habits). To remedy this situation, Intel, Cisco, GE, and IBM have come together to form the Industrial Internet Consortium, a conglomerate nonprofit with the goal of increasing inter-operability standards in devices connected to the Internet. As a thriving industry, M2M has proved that people are willing to allow more and more technology into their lives. Yonck wrote an article last year that discussed the adoption of innovation into mainstream culture and the process a prototype undergoes to become a product: "Consider that in order to move all the way from concept to prototype to marketable product, every idea has to pass through a succession of filters. Is the idea possible within the laws of physics as they’re currently understood? Then forget retro-causality (time machines), perpetual motion, faster than light travel/communication, etc. Do our existing, or soon to be existing, engineering capabilities, materials, tolerances, etc., allow us to realize the idea or will it remain on the drawing board for centuries, as did Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machines or Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine? Can a need be established? That is, can consumers, corporations, or the military be convinced this is something they must have? Because without a perceived need, it will surely go the way of the [Ford] Edsel. "And what of other institutions? Regulatory bodies, insurers, political organizations and others must be persuaded to support or at least tolerate and accept the new tech. And ultimately is this an idea that is right for its time? An invention must fit within the established mores, accepted behaviors and realities of user understanding and functionality. Without all of these, the idea will die stillborn. Given all this, it may seem a miracle any new tech ever comes to life and gets the opportunity to walk the earth, even if only for a few years." The Internet of Things meets all of these criteria and therefore has seen dramatic commercial success. In fact, according to a Business Insider Intelligence report on the future of the internet: "The IoT will account for an increasingly huge number of connections: 1.9 billion devices today, and 9 billion by 2018. That year, it will be roughly equal to the number of smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, wearable computers, and PCs combined." And Cisco CEO John Chambers predicts that the Internet of Everything (as he refers to it) could be worth $19 trillion in the near future–a future where objects all over from house to airport will know people’s preferences and set themselves to certain modes to best suit the individual. However, The Internet of Things caters to a growing category of what people enjoy calling “first world problems.” The technology that has been developed in hopes of creating the IoT is great and innovative and nothing can be said to take away the promise of advancement. Unfortunately, many of these technologies have not been created with the idea of helping developing countries and economies. A thermostat that optimizes the temperature of your floor and shower down to a degree may seem like a necessary item to some who struggle with a bathroom that is too cold after a searing bath, but to a farmer in Africa or artisan in India it fails uselessly. As more and more companies start connecting their products to the internet and the markets of industrialized and modernized countries become saturated, hopefully devices will be created to help the people who truly struggle and could benefit with a system of interconnected machines. Perhaps an irrigation system that interacts with a weather prediction service and a local water storage facility for baths and showers of citizens as well as drinking water for local livestock. With better water management, farmers could optimize crop yield and sell to other through an online or other system that tracks grain production. The application of such devices to different environments is inevitable, so it is just a matter of when companies will realize the opportunities in creating an IoT for those countries. Yonck, as a futurist, understands the current trends of technology and predicts where they are headed. "As it develops, the future of IoT is to basically make our world more intelligent. Technology everywhere will literally have the ability to sense it’s environment and respond to it. While this may not result in direct physical action on the particular device’s part, it will be capable of relaying data to servers elsewhere that will potentially cause other devices to respond." In the information age that we live in technology regularly changes the way we live. In the 1970s it was mainframe computing. In the 80s it was the PC. The 2000s saw the rise of social media. Today, the Internet of Things is revolutionizing the way we live. Techie and entrepreneur with a passion for soccer and a distaste for chocolate, Dylan Steele dabbles in a little bit of everything, including that new crypto-currency/property. This post first appeared on Medium.
Googlers, Beliebers, Magicians, Little Monsters, Droogies or Yahoos: Naming your employees or user base3:44AM | Friday, 28 March
It seems almost every singer, band, and popstar out there these days comes up with a name for their fans. For example, Justin Bieber has Beliebers, Lady Gaga has Little Monsters, Katy Perry has Katy-Cats, One Direction has Directioners, and Mariah Carey has Lambs. Now, Old Taskmaster’s natural instinct in response to this insanity is to yell out: “Kids these days! It didn’t used to be like this in the good old days, Sonny Jim Crockett!” Except even in the days of yore, when music was ever so slightly more tolerable, some artists insisted in employing such shameless marketing tactics. The classic was the Grateful Dead’s Deadheads, but there were others. For example, Barry Manilow has Fanilows, Jimmy Buffett has Parrotheads, Aerosmith has a Blue Army, KISS has a KISS Army, Phish has Phans and Megadeth has Droogies or Rattleheads, amongst others. According to the comments on a recent column, there’s even a term for fans of the king of trucker rock, the certainly-not-a-one-hit-wonder who came up with Convoy, CW McCall: Crispy Critters. (See kids, yours truly does read your comments, so keep ‘em coming!) Of course, it’s not just musicians inventing collective nouns – many Silicon Valley tech companies have terms for their employees. For example, Google has Googlers, Atari had Atarians, IBM has IBMers, Yahoo! has Yahoos, Tropo has Tropons, Xerox has Xeroids, Subway has its Sandwich Artists, Disney has Cast Members, and Starbucks has Partners. Your humble correspondent has it on good authority that the editorial staff of SmartCompany and StartupSmart are known as smarties. Some of the employee names are admittedly rather witty. For example, General Magic had Magicians, Lockheed Martin apparently has Martians, and Telstra has “future redundancies”. Now, what about your startup? Do you have a term you’ll use for your current or future employees? Or your user base? If not, it might be a fun thing to think about as you plan or grow your business. After all, you couldn’t call yourself a proper Taskapprentice (or StartupSmarter) if you didn’t, now could you? Get it done – today!
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!
Entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to pitch to venture capital investors in a rigorous “Silicon Valley style” pitching event in Perth in March. The 2014 Innovators Pitch Night will take place in March at the national conference of the Licensing Executives Society Australia New Zealand (LESANZ). Coordinator Graeme Speak launched the first iteration of this event ran with IBM in August after returning from Silicon Valley. He told StartupSmart it was an incredible learning experience for the start-up founders who pitched as the judges didn’t hold back in their feedback. “The entertainment and learning is off the scale. It’s great practice but the real value is when the judges started to lay in. They weren’t really angry, it was done with compassion but if it’s a shitty deal they told you exactly why,” Speak says. Lindsay Lyon, founder of personal safety device start-up Shark Shield, took out top honours last time. “He’s a good salesman for one, but anyone can learn to pitch. It’s a format and a formula and he made it irresistible. The deal was clear, the return on the investment was clear, the path to market was obvious and the judges couldn’t fault him,” Speak says. Companies applying to pitch need to have intellectual property that can be protected and be ready to take investment of over $250,000. “You need to know how to pitch. It’s a tight format, and Silicon Valley style we’ll turn your mic off at five minutes. So you need to make sure you cover what you want, what investors will get out of it, what and when the return will be and who is on your board,” Speak says. Applicants need to submit a PowerPoint pitch deck or one-page overview by Friday, February 14 to firstname.lastname@example.org Entrepreneurs will need to apply before the pre-screen pitch day on Friday, February 21. Speak then works with the selected finalists to hone their pitches in preparation for the Wednesday, March 19 event.
Recently, your humble correspondent looked at vertically integrated companies. But if you’re just starting a business, the chances are you will – at least initially – be focused on a single stage of production, dealing with companies that are far more vertically integrated than you are. Well, as Old Taskmaster says, business is war. The dark side of vertical integration comes when someone else tries to take your businesses out of the supply chain. It happens. Just think about all the small businesses that supplied specialty foods to Coles and Woolies, only to find their lines deleted and a generic product taking their shelf space at $1 per litre. Or, for that matter, the local servo owners who used their local supermarket as a supplier of their convenience store, only to find a shiny new Coles Express or Woolworths Plus Petrol opening down the road. In theory, the ACCC should do something about it when it happens. In practice, Australia’s competition watchdog is more of a chihuahua. On the other hand, Apple seems to be doing just fine, despite the fact its vertically integrated arch-rival (Samsung) also supplies a number of key iPhone components, including the processor and display. And it’s not the first time Apple has found itself in such a predicament. Way back when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were in their parent’s garage, guess who the supplier was for the main processor in the original Apple I and Apple II computers? It wasn’t Intel. Nor was it Motorola. And ARM didn’t exist yet. No, Apple’s first computers from the late 1970s were built around an MOS 6502 chip. From Commodore. As in, Jack Tramiel’s Commodore. A number of their competitors did likewise, including Atari (including the 2600), the original Nintendo NES and Acorn (who built the BBC Micro B). All used a variation of the processor in the Commodore 64. When Tramiel started a price war by dropping the retail price of the Commodore 64, all of those companies were left buying processors at retail price while Commodore was effectively buying them at cost price. Jobs actually referenced the industry shakeout that resulted while unveiling the Macintosh: “Nineteen eighty three… The shakeout is in full swing. The first major firm goes bankrupt, with others teetering on the brink. Total industry losses for ’83 outshadow the combined profits for Apple and IBM, for personal computers.” So what can you do when a key supplier or customer decides to compete against you? Apple survived by marketing premium, value-added products. Premium products command premium prices, and are less susceptible to a price war. After all, you might build your own computer, but it won’t be an Apple. In the long run, Jobs also built his own vertical integration. That’s why you can buy Apple’s Final Cut Pro for your Apple Mac from an Apple store. Perhaps the best response is to avoid getting locked into a single supplier in the first place. Look for products where you can get a second source – that is, a second company that can competitively supply you a similar product. Likewise, avoid getting yourself in a position where your entire business is locked into supplying a single customer or outlet. After all, there’s no use crying over spilled, non-generic milk. Finally, the next time you revise your long-term strategy, evaluate what would happen if your largest supplier, business partner or customer decided to compete with you. Is there a risk? If so, what would you do? Old Taskmaster says it’s time to evaluate the risks facing your business from potential rivals – and reduce them! Get it done – today!
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 start-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.
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.
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