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Australia’s 2015 Imagine Cup finalists hope to follow in Eyenaemia’s footsteps

5:15AM | Friday, 22 May

Two Australian health tech teams, one tackling Alzheimer’s and the other looking at student mental health, are hoping to follow in the footsteps of Eyenaemia after being named as finalists in the Imagine Cup global tournament.   The global competition aims to encourage students aged 16 or over to take up coding by demonstrating how technology can be used to create solutions to social problems. It attracts over 100,000 participants worldwide, including the brightest university students from the US, UK, Russia, China, India and Europe.   Last year Eyenaemia, created by two medical students from Melbourne’s Monash University, were crowned Microsoft Imagine Cup world champions by developing an app that allows users to take photos of their eye in order to calculate their risk of anaemia.   The prize included a face-to-face meeting with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in Seattle, who praised their app saying their concept had “real promise” and could make a big difference in developing countries, where anaemia contributes to nearly 20% of deaths during pregnancy.   The team has found ongoing success since then, presenting at Microsoft’s Global Impact Forum, the UN Entrepreneurship event, and in the past week, taking out the top prize in STC’s Medtech’s Got Talent health tech pitching competition.   Another Australian team focused on agriculture, Team SOAK, took out the prize in 2008, while food-focused social startup Foodbank Local came third in 2013.   Hoping to follow in their footsteps are this year’s finalists, Team Opaque Multimedia and Team Speakerboxx.   Team Opaque Multimedia is working with Alzheimer’s Australia to develop a virtual reality experience for carers and family members that allows them to experience first-hand what life is like for a dementia sufferer.   Team Speakerboxx has developed an app that allows students to record a private diary, send anonymous messages to a teacher or school counsellor, or chat with friends. The app integrates cloud-based analysis of user recordings that looks for key phrases and can provide immediate support through links to mental health support services.   Microsoft Developer platform evangelist Lawrence Crumpton told StatupSmart Australian teams tend to punch above their weight – with Australia’s spirit of mateship a key factor – and this year’s teams are no exception.   “Right now, even if you study dementia, there’s a gap where you can never really understand what goes on for a sufferer,” Crumpton says.   Crumpton cites the example of a dementia sufferer who used to keep her lights off and blinds closed because she was sensitive to bright light, but had difficulty communicating this – a common situation for dementia sufferers. But her carer, who visited weekly, didn’t realise this and used to open the blinds and switch on all the lights.   The sufferer eventually refused to allow the carer to visit, and eventually had to be hospitalised – a bad outcome both in terms of cost and the patient.   “Now imagine you could take that carer, and put them in the mind of a dementia sufferer. Instead of them needing to remember what they read in a book, you could ask them to do a simple task like opening a door while experiencing the auditory and visual symptoms a dementia patient experiences. They would then know why patients react in the way they do – because they’ve experienced the same symptoms.”     The other team, Speakerboxx, demonstrates how technologies such as machine learning and smartphones can be used to achieve a social or health outcome.   “Azure ML [Machine Learning] is an environment where you can invite others to collaborate and access huge clusters of computing power at a mouse click,” Crumpton says.   “And just look at smartphone use globally. There are more people globally with access to smartphones than any other platform and that growth rate has happened at exponential speed… Medicine is a field where the costs are super-high, because of traditional practices. You combine smartphones and medicine, and the effect is like a match on dry kindling.   “[The Imagine Cup] might have started out as a competition, but it’s evolved to where students in dorm rooms and garages – much like the ones Bill Gates and Steve Jobs started out in – have moved beyond competition into building commercially viable solutions.”   Image credit: Microsoft Australia   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The Aussie iPhone app distorting the wireless microphone market

5:09AM | Friday, 22 May

A Sydney-based startup has developed a smartphone-based audio recording system its founders say will do away with expensive or underpowered wireless microphones.   AirLinc chief executive Ben Thorn told StartupSmart most people already carry a very sophisticated wireless communication device in their pocket, and using it to record audio makes a lot of sense.   “AirLinc is an app for videographers that uses two iPhones in a setup similar to a wireless microphone. You pair two iPhones over Wi-Fi, using one phone to record your audio and the other to remotely control your audio and check levels,” Thorn says.   “I had the idea when working as a videographer, and I was on a shoot where a wireless mic would have come in handy. But most decent wireless gear is above budget. I thought I could create a similar setup using two iPhones.   “I had the idea two years ago, and got together a team of four a year-and-a-half ago. It’s partly self-funded, but we also got some support through the St George Bank ‘Kick Start Your Startup’ program, as well as a NSW Trade and Investment innovation grant.”   According to Thorn, audio quality produced through the app is comparable to what you would get from a wireless setup.   “The audio quality is quite good on an iPhone. It records at 48 KHz in a raw wave file, which is the industry standard for recording to video. It has a great feature that allows you to record to your transmitter, so you don’t have the lag you can get when you’re recording on the mic on your camcorder,” he says.   As part of the analogue TV shut down, from January 1 this year it became illegal to use old wireless microphones, in-ear monitoring systems, speakers and PA systems that transmit on the 694-820 MHz frequency range in Australia.   According to Thorn, a similar switchover that’s coming up in the US represents a big opportunity for his company.   “There’s a frequency switchover coming up in the US, and a lot of wireless mics and equipment that TV stations use will be made redundant. Because it transmits over Wi-Fi, our product is the solution to that issue,” he says.   The app currently works with Apple iPhone and iPod Touch devices running OS 8.0 and above. However, Thorn hopes to create a version of the app for Android in the not-too-distant future, with the potential for desktop or video applications further down the track.   “We’re definitely keen to create a version for Android, and we’ve had a lot of requests for one. But first, we’ll tackle the iOS market and add a few new features, including having multiple microphones to one receiver.   “We’ve launched the first version, and we’re hoping to get the multi-channel version out within six months.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Two steps to better customer service: why measuring customer experience is so important

5:07AM | Friday, 22 May

Most of the startups I talk to understand that delivering a great customer experience is an important factor in driving business success. Equally, most also believe they are delivering a great experience and that they know what their customers want and need.   Unfortunately, when asked, most of these companies base this view on customer anecdotes and “market knowledge” rather than on a robust customer experience measurement framework. That is, they think they know what their customers want, but they haven’t actually asked them in a systematic and insightful manner.   This oversight can cause major issues. Numerous studies have shown that, in general, companies have a much more positive view of the customer experience they provide than the views of the experience actually expressed by customers themselves. This internal bias can blind key decision-makers to what their customers are really experiencing, and can result in loss of sales, market share and revenue.   So how do you overcome this? The first step is to actually go out and ask your customers about their experience of your company (i.e. measure), and the second step (often forgotten) is take these insights and actually do something with them (i.e. improve).   Step 1: Measuring customer experience   Although to some people it sounds daunting, with the proliferation of tools and online services now available in the market, measuring your customer’s experience is actually pretty simple.   There are two primary approaches to customer experience measurement, with each having its pros and cons:   1. A survey-based approach   Customer surveys are generally cheaper to implement than interviews and can be more suited to high-volume, lower value customer transactions primarily in the B2C space (e.g. online retail). However, the insights the surveys provide into what drives a great experience can sometimes be limited and may require further investigation before an improvement plan can be developed.   2. Customer interviews   Customer interviews generally cost more to implement and can be more suited to lower-volume, higher value transactions either in B2C or B2B (e.g. website development). In spite of the increased cost, on the plus side, interviews generally provide deep insights into customer motivations and needs, and can be used to directly drive experience improvements.   Whichever approach you choose, it is important to consider the key points in the customer journey that you need to understand to determine when best to survey or interview customers, which measures to use, and which questions to ask. One key point to keep in mind throughout, if you are ever asking for a rating or a score from a customer (e.g. if you ask for an NPS rating), make sure you ask the customer “Why?” they have given that rating, as their feedback will provide you with the insights you need to drive improvements in customer outcomes.   Step 2: Improving the experience   Whilst more and more startups are starting to measure their customer’s experience, too many of the ones that do are not taking the next step and actually doing something useful with the feedback the customer provides.   There are two ways you will need to take action based on customer feedback, one on an individual level, and one on a systemic level.   1. Individual feedback   At an individual level, if a customer’s feedback in the survey or interview indicates that they are experiencing an issue or need information or some other form of personal assistance, it is important you have an appropriate mechanism in place to address their concern. Not having this type of customer resolution mechanism in place can produce even worse customer outcomes than not asking about their experience at all. If a customer (especially one experiencing an issue) feels like they have asked for help and nothing has been done, they can get even more frustrated than they might have been already.   2. Systemic improvements   The (arguably) more important use of the customer feedback obtained from the surveys and/or interviews is to combine the feedback from multiple customers and identify the key underlying themes or drivers which are driving either a great or not so fulfilling customer experience. Your task is then to build on and enhance the drivers of great outcomes and address or improve the drivers of negative outcomes across the entire customer experience. This will often result in a medium to long-term program of work being put in place to improve the overall experience for your customers   If your company still relies on anecdotes or internal knowledge to drive customer experience, it may be time to consider a more scientific approach to understanding your customers. By first of all measuring, and then taking the insights and improving the overall experience of your business for your customers, you should be well on the way to ensuring your competitive success in the market (all else being equal).   Shane Goldberg is principal and founder of CustCore Consulting, a company that helps businesses grow through a focus on improving end-to-end customer experience, sales effectiveness and go-to-market.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

This Australian company is making zombies a (virtual) reality

5:11AM | Friday, 22 May

Australian virtual reality production company Jumpgate Virtual Reality has released a 90-second trailer for the upcoming Cyan Films horror film Scare Campaign, which will be the first Australian movie to be accompanied by a virtual reality experience.   Jumpgate Virtual Reality’s head of production, Piers Mussared, told StartupSmart the pioneering effort is designed to help uncover the value proposition for the new technology.   “We started a company called Convergen about eight years ago. That’s an animation company that designs visuals for infrastructure projects,” Mussared says.   “I first became aware of Oculus Rift DK1 [development kit] a few years ago, and began talking to architects and builders to see if it was relevant. They loved it and thought it was novel, and we began searching for a value proposition. The problem was the first headset was very low resolution, but it was indicative of what the technology could do.   “In the past year, you’ve had a number of big developments, including Facebook buying Oculus, the DK2 has been announced, and Samsung has released its own headset.   “We decided to start another company, called Jumpgate VR, that’s a production company specialising in virtual reality. We pulled across a few people from Convergen and began working on entertainment, events, AFL clubs and symphony orchestras to try to find the value proposition of virtual reality.”   Jumpgate Virtual Reality’s latest VR production is titled Scare Campaign: The VR Experience, and includes an elaborate set (the decommissioned Beechworth Lunatic Asylum in north-eastern Victoria) and a storyline. A 90-second trailer, free for anyone with a compatible headset, is now available on the company’s website.   “The main story is a conventional feature film by the two directors who did [2012 film] 100 Bloody Acres – Colin Cairnes and Cameron Cairnes – and stars Olivia DeJonge,” Mussared says.   While not disclosing at this stage what the AFL project involves, Mussared says Jumpgate VR is working on interactive virtual reality projects for a major toll road operator and an induction training project. The company has also created virtual reality films of live concerts and events.   “One of our early pieces was a concert by [chamber music ensemble] Seraphim Trio… We shot them at the Melbourne Recital Centre in full 3D, and we’ve also recorded a few earlier proof-of-concept concerts,” Mussared says.   Mussared says the technology is moving very fast. The aim of the projects is not to just “do a piece here and there”, but to explore the technology and help Australia remain at the cutting edge of the virtual reality industry.   “The way we look at it is this: look at smartphones. At first, people wanted one because of the novelty. After seven or eight years on the scene, it’s only now that something like Uber has emerged, and that’s a massively disruptive development.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

“I’d love to see an Atlassian mafia”: Why this entrepreneur left Atlassian to launch her own startup

5:55AM | Thursday, 21 May

Software startup Atlassian has consistently been ranked as one of the best places to work in Australia. However, just a few months ago one of its product managers decided it was time to pull the plug and launch her own venture.   Natasha Prasad is the co-founder of FitSessions, a platform similar to ClassPass in the US but playing to Sydney’s strengths by specialising in outdoor fitness classes and bootcamps.   The startup is on track to launch in June, with customers paying a subscription fee of $100 a month to access any of the classes or boutique studios the company has partnered with.   While a number of subscription fitness startups have launched in Australia following the success of ClassPass, Prasad says her almost two years of experience at Atlassian will help her develop the right product.   “Atlassian has obviously been around for more than a decade, but it is a company that is very good at innovating and staying on top of new product developments, thought leadership and where the market is going,” she says.   “So one of the things I’ve definitely learnt is how to genuinely innovate and not just follow. And the way you do that at Atlassian is through a lot of testing – so using a lot of data and putting products out there and taking every piece of feedback you get and iterating rapidly and going through that cycle of learning and building.” Prasad says Atlassian also teaches people how to work in a collaborative environment, which will be another leg-up in a competitive environment.   “Atlassian is all about teams and teamwork, so building a high-functioning team and stepping up to the market and product challenges is another thing I really learnt,” she says.   “Product management is being like a founder or CEO; you’re doing a bit of everything… so the whole philosophy of product management is really valuable. To be perfectly honest, we don’t know what the uptake of this model will be – we’ll have to iterate and pivot quite a bit.”   Prasad moved to Australia from New York two years ago, and says the local startup ecosystem here has come a long way in a short amount of time.   “It’s just been really great to see it grow and more startups take risks and people take risks by quitting their job to do this,” she says.   “That certainly wasn’t the case 18 years ago. I’m sure we’ll see a lot more people leave to start their own thing – I’d love to see an ‘Atlassian mafia’ that comes out in the next 12 months that really executes and builds the next Australian tech success stories.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Qwilr’s quest to create smarter document software gets a $500,000 boost

5:02AM | Thursday, 21 May

Sydney startup Qwilr has raised $500,000 from the Sydney Seed Fund and Macdoch Ventures to reinvent document software.   Co-founder Mark Tanner says documents haven’t changed in a very long time, whether it be Microsoft Office or Google Docs, or PDFs.   “They’re still just A4 pieces of paper that are very static and quite deliberately unintelligent,” he says.   “Qwilr wants to be halfway between word documents and PDFs, and tools like Squarespace and Weebly.”   Tanner says Qwilr will unlock the “full power of the web” for documents. That includes everything from embeddable video and audio, and importantly, analytics.   “Everyone just expects basic analytics (online), but documents today, you have no idea what’s happening to them,” Tanner says.   “You could send out three quotes this week, or an invite to a party, and see it has been viewed this many times, this particular client didn’t even open the document. It would change the way you write to them, how you view the client and your interactions with them.”   Tanner returned to Australia after working in New York for Google to start work on Qwilr with co-founder Dylan Baskind.   Baskind came up with the idea while working as a freelance artist, designer and engineer. When freelancing he was competing against larger firms, and built Qwilr as a means to help his proposals stand out from the pack.   “Often a freelancer or agency will spend hours and hours on a proposal, only to dump it into a text-heavy, long, ugly document,” Tanner says.   “With Qwilr, that same proposal can look stunning, be done dramatically faster and include all kinds of images including pictures, photos, gifs and videos. In addition Qwilr pages have analytics running in the background so you can track how many times your proposal was opened (if at all!) and which sections your clients cared about the most.”   Users can sign up and create Qwilr documents for free, and can upgrade to a $29, or $89 monthly subscriptions for access to features like advanced analytics and password or time limited security.   Tanner wouldn’t say exactly how many users have signed up, or how many are paying for the premium products, but says it has “thousands of users” in over 30 countries.   “The big thing for us is it has been global from day one. We’ve had to deal with right to left writing styles, things you don’t think about initially. And the real metric is there are tens of thousands od documents that have been made on Qwilr,” he says.   “At the moment, a reasonable amount of people, freelancers and digital agencies, they’re converting really quickly, because they’re seeing the value. At the moment we’re very happy rate, and while it’s a starting number, we are very happy.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Muru-D to host startup workshops for indigenous Australians, says that’s just the start

5:22AM | Thursday, 21 May

Sydney-based startup accelerator muru-D is looking to give indigenous Australians a leg-up when it comes to turning their business idea into a fully-fledged technology company.   The national accelerator, which is backed by Telstra, will hold a free two-day workshop in July at the Coder Factory in Redfern.   The aim of the Path to Digital workshop is to help people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent explore entrepreneurship and see launching a startup as a viable career path.   Annie Parker, co-founder of muru-D, told StartupSmart the accelerator’s name comes from an indigenous word, muru, for ‘road’ or ‘path’ – however, to date no one of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent has come through the program.   “I wanted to fix that or understand why it isn’t happening,” she says.   “We’ve been doing lean startup training all across the country for 18 months now with the help of Pollenizer and there isn’t a huge amount of training for people who do want to be entrepreneurs – whether they’re from indigenous communities or not. So we decided instead of going out there and finding a specific startup, how about we invest in the indigenous community by investing in some pre-training.”   Parker says the sessions will be free and it doesn’t matter what level of experience participants have.   “It could just be a germ of an idea,” she says.   “We just want to harness that excitement and enthusiasm and give them some of the training, skills and experience they’ll need to build that idea out to be a fully-formed business, a fully-formed startup concept. And ideally we’d like to welcome those entrepreneurs into the next class of muru-D, class three… I think it will just be the start of what we can do. We’re here to stay anyway, so the more we can do to help indigenous communities the better.”   The chief executive of the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, Jason Glanville, previously told StartupSmart technology and culture go hand-in-hand.   “Culture matters and it matters in all things,” he said.   “We need to get past this fear that digital spaces are against culture. It’s unavoidable that we all need to get better with how we engage with the digital space.”   Glanville says it is important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to get involved in startups and software because digital technologies create genuine economic opportunities.   “I’d encourage all blackfellas – but in particularly young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders – to not lose the opportunity that’s presented by the digital space and not to be driven by digital opportunities, but to drive digital opportunities that suit them, their communities and culture.”   The free workshop will run from July 25-26. Tickets can be booked here.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Media companies: don’t give in to the Facebook temptation

5:17AM | Thursday, 21 May

Like all digital media startups, The House of Media and our first publication, Sinoway, is working hard to build up readership and viewers on a daily basis. Moreover, like all new media companies, we understand that the value of our publications increases with readership and accessibility.   Obtaining readership across the world wide web takes time because a publication needs to build up quality and relevant content that presents a point of difference. To succeed, digital publications require a combination of breaking stories and quality analysis on issues of the day. For a process that usually takes years and decades to achieve, Facebook has the power to do it in months.   With over 1.4 billion users, Facebook has become the most popular go-to place for news, updates and stories across all technological platforms. In order to get more users to stay on its site, developing partnerships to host media articles is an innovative way to go. For media organisations, getting more eyeballs to their stories and content is an attractive option. To make this option more appealing to news publishers, Facebook has outlined initiatives for publishers to make more money from advertising that would run alongside its content on its site.   A few months ago, sources revealed that Facebook was in talks with a number of news organisations about hosting their content inside the social media site rather than making users tap a link to visit an external site. The initial news organisation partners interested in Facebook’s proposal are the National Geographic, Buzzfeed and The New York Times.   Facebook has announced publicly its intention to enhance the streaming experience of news content. Currently, news articles on Facebook link to the media publication’s own website normally taking an average of eight seconds to load. Facebook has claimed it can reduce the load time to quicken the delivery of articles to readers.   As a new digital publication fresh on the scene, it is difficult to break into a competitive market, a market dominated by only a few main media players in the Australian market. For a company like The House of Media, Facebook’s proposal is very attractive to build more readership and catch up to our more established competitors.   Facebook’s proposal does carry a number of risks for media organisations. The first and most obvious one is the loss of consumer data. When readers click on an article, analytics and tracking tools allows the website to obtain information on who they are, how long they stayed on the website, the topic they are reading, what device they are reading it from and how often they visited. For media organisations, consumer data is a valuable source of information to attract investors, sponsorships and advertisements. If news publications take up Facebook’s proposal, this valuable information will most likely go to Facebook leaving publications with the loss of a critical revenue stream.   Speaking at the 2015 International News Media Association (INMA) World Congress in New York, Australian futurist Ross Dawson warned publishers to be cautious in handing over their content to Facebook. By doing this, he warned publishers may well be “giving them your future.”   Dawson is right. While media publications may get a boost in readership and accessibility, they are giving away the two most important aspects that make them valuable and profitable: consumer data and content. For Facebook, it sees the long-term potential and benefit to increase visitation time by providing news content and stories. Unfortunately, it is unable to achieve this in the short run because Facebook does not possess the journalistic and media expertise within its operations to generate quality news and content. While faster online accessibility is a plus, established writers and journalists working in publications do have a strong following from readers. This is something that Facebook simply does not have.   Therefore, my advice to established and startup digital new media organisations is do not give in to the Facebook temptation. You should focus on developing your own strategic online platforms to involve readers, advertisers and investors. We have the expertise to develop independent quality content to keep readers and society informed on what’s happening around us. We do not need help from external platforms to do this, even if it does boast a membership of 1.4 billion users.   Jieh-Yung Lo is a new media entrepreneur and founder of The House of Media. Follow him on twitter at @jiehyunglo   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Sorry, Sydney: Square joins Eventbrite, Etsy and Stripe and chooses Melbourne as its Australian headquarters

5:09AM | Thursday, 21 May

Payments platform Square is the latest big-name international startup to launch an Australian headquarters in Melbourne thanks to the city’s reputation as a technology and cultural hub.   Launched by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey in 2010, Square closed a funding round of more than $150 million last year – bringing the startup’s valuation to around $US6 billion.   Australia will be the third country the startup has expanded to, following Canada and Japan.   The Melbourne headquarters will be based in the CBD and led by country manager Ben Pfisterer, who has a background in startups as well as Visa and National Australia Bank.   Pfisterer said in a statement Melbourne was the right home for the company’s Australian operations thanks to its small business community and growing tech scene.   “We are thrilled to open our local office in Australia, which continues to grow as a country renowned for a strong and diverse entrepreneurial small business community,” he said.   “Leveraging our knowledge of the local market, and the growth of Square around the world, we are looking forward to deploying an exciting product roadmap in the future that will help to make commerce easier for Australian small business owners.”   Large US startups like Stripe, Etsy and Eventbrite have all chosen Melbourne as the location for their Australian headquarters.   Scott Handsaker, co-founder of Startup Victoria, told StartupSmart when companies expand into Australia they want to make sure their staff will work well in the city they are sending them to, and Melbourne has a lot of drawcards.   In addition, he says the Melbourne startup scene is growing and therefore provides attractive hiring opportunities for US companies once they set up shop.   “A lot of people choose Melbourne and I think it’s because of the culture,” he says.   “It also has a density in terms of the ecosystem of startups that other cities don’t have. There’s also an ecosystem which is growing, I think, at a faster pace than other Australian cities… so that makes recruiting easier, tapping into existing networks easier and just makes it easier to do business.”   Handsaker adds that it doesn’t hurt that Melbourne is consistently ranked as one of the world’s most liveable cities.   “It’s got so much diversity in things going on such as sport, art and culture,” he says.   “A lot of these US companies, when they’re looking for expansion options, are thinking about how easy it’s going to be to get existing staff to move over there and get the culture right. So I think Melbourne comes up pretty well for that as well.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Design marketplace Redbubble raises $15.5 million, with European expansion in its sights

5:15AM | Wednesday, 20 May

Design marketplace Redbubble has raised $15.5 million to fund its European expansion and further product development.   The funding round was led by Melbourne-based Acorn Capital, and London-based specialist marketplace investor Piton Capital. They join existing high net worth investors Simon Baker, Michael Birch, Stan Chudnovsky, Su-Ming Wong and Simon Yencken. The valuation was not disclosed.   Greg Lockwood, a partner at Piton Capital, intends to join the company’s board of directors.   Redbubble founder and chief executive officer Martin Hosking says in addition to supporting the startup’s geographic and product expansions, it will also be used to continue to develop its relationship with designers.   Hosking says Redbubble’s pitch to investors was it’s catering to a fundamental change in the types of products that appeal to consumers.   “Consumers are looking for things more relevant, more personal, more creative. That trend is across so many of the things consumers are buying,” he says.   “It’s something you see with beer companies. They’re struggling to grow strong brands because they no longer have weight with consumers. It’s a bit of a truism, but millennials are more likely to have a tattoo than they are to drink VB beer.   “The trend is towards much more personalised products, and that means the market is simply enormous. When Coca-Cola is releasing cans with people’s names on it, you know people are trying to adapt to that trend. It’s transforming industries.”   Redbubble currently hosts 14 million unique images that can be printed on a number of lifestyle products, including apparel, homewares, fashion and technology accessories, and wall art. It’s on track for over $100 million in sales for 2015. Last year more than 1.2 million customers shopped on RedBubble and over 60,000 artists made sales. Since launching in 2007, artists have been paid $30 million through its marketplace.   It’s been a big year for Australian design marketplaces. Earlier this month Canva raised $US6 million from Matrix Partners, Shasta Ventures, Blackbird Ventures and AirTree Ventures. In April, 99designs closed a $US10 million Series B round led by Recruit Strategic Partners. In February, DesignCrowd raised $US6 million in Series B funding from AirTree Ventures and Starfish Ventures.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen blasts government for squandering “massive opportunity” due to delay in equity crowdfunding scheme

5:09AM | Wednesday, 20 May

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen has accused the federal government of missing out on a “massive opportunity” by not already having an equity crowdfunding framework in place.   Earlier this week Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said bureaucratic hurdles within Treasury were to blame for Australia not having legislation in place to govern equity crowdfunding, unlike countries such as New Zealand and the US.   The federal budget, which was handed down last week, suggested an equity crowdfunding framework would be put in place before the end of the 2015-16 financial year.   More than $7 million has been set aside over four years so the Australian Securities and Investments Commission can implement and monitor the new framework, which will include simplified reporting and disclosure requirements.   However, specific details, such as whether there will be an investment cap, are still unknown.   Labor will support equity crowdfunding legislation   In an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Bowen said this was not good enough.   “Who’s running the show?” he asked.   “Stop blaming Treasury and start fixing it. We’re again, happy to facilitate, happy to support anything sensible in crowdsourced funding because the sector needs certainty. If it can be done in a bipartisan way we’re all for it, but in the absence of that we’ve put out our own ideas about how to deal with crowdsource funding.”   Crowdsourced equity funding is legal in Australia. However, there are significant regulatory hurdles, and a legislative framework is expected to streamline the process and allow startups to raise capital by offering equity to small-scale retail investors.   When grilled about whether Labor should be focusing so much of its economic policy on high-risk tech companies, Bowen said the benefits outweigh the potential risks.   “Most startups will fail,” he said.   “That’s how the system operates. Those who succeed, succeed very well. A good thing for the country is generating lots of jobs, lots of wealth for entrepreneurs and lots of jobs for people working for them and the multiplier effect here is the highest of any economic activity. Five jobs for one, that’s an impressive multiplier. That’s why it’s central to our economic agenda.”   Startups have long been asking for a crowdsourced equity funding scheme, with Freelancer chief executive Matt Barrie previously telling StartupSmart that it was outrageous that anyone can blow their life savings at the casino but not everyone could make a considered investment in a tech company with potentially very high returns.   “You can go into any casino in this country and bet your entire life savings, but for some reason we think there should be a cap in what people should be investing in what will have a huge impact on wealth in this country,” he said.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

TripAdvisor acquire restaurant booking startup Dimmi: why it’s important to find “a bunch of guys that give a shit”

5:42AM | Wednesday, 20 May

After resisting months of inquiries from “large international players”, Australian restaurant booking startup Dimmi agreed to be acquired by TripAdvisor because they believed they found “a bunch of guys that give a shit” about the Dimmi brand.   It’s the latest in a number of acquisitions TripAdvisor has made in markets around the world to help strengthen its restaurant division. TripAdvisor generates over 200 million monthly page views from its restaurant traffic. One such startup was LaFourchette, an online restaurant reservation service that operates in France, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy. Sources told TechCrunch that deal was worth $US100 million.   Dimmi, which began as some ideas scribbled on a napkin in a London restaurant, has grown to become a network of over 2500 bookable restaurants across Australia that has seated 12 million diners and published over 500,000 verified diner reviews. Co-founder and chief executive officer Stevan Premutico says Dimmi’s position as market leader in Australia had led to a number of approaches from “large international players” over the past 18 months.   “To be totally frank we just weren’t looking (to be acquired), we were growing quickly, having a lot of fun. I think the team and certainly myself were a bit nervous about an international player suffocating our growth. So we kept running hard and running as fast as we could,” he says.   “The international markets have hotted up in this space over the past six to 12 months. They kept approaching us. And about three months ago we entered formal discussions with TripAdvisor.”   Premutico says the deal was concluded pretty quickly over two 60 minute Skype chats with TripAdvisor co-founder and chief executive officer Stephen Kaufer.   “We weren’t looking to sell but we engaged with TripAdvisor, we liked the way they saw us being part of their story,” Premutico says.   “At the end of the day the most important thing for me as the founder of Dimmi was I wanted the Dimmi brand to live on. And be part of a family that is as passionate about restaurants as I am. We found a bunch of guys that give a shit.   “I think what they love about Dimmi is, one, we’re the clear market leader in Australia; two, very strong respective brands; and, three, we are growing revenues strongly, profitable and growing aggressively. The Dimmi website alone is growing 160% year-on-year.   “And I think more than anything else they fell in love with the team. I’ve always said I think I’ve got 30 of the most talented people in the country working at Dimmi.”   The team, including Premutico, will continue to work on the product, with TripAdvisor’s restaurant division.   “Australia is an important market for us. Combining Dimmi’s national restaurant network with TripAdvisor’s local and global community of travellers will allow us to deliver more seated diners to Australian restaurateurs, and help more TripAdvisor users book a great dining experience in Australia,” Kaufer says.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Wanted: UKTI on the hunt for nine Aussie fintech startups to take to London

5:34AM | Wednesday, 20 May

The UK Trade and Investment Department (UKTI) will take nine Australian fintech startups on a mission to London in September.   The mission is designed to help Australian startups understand the British and European markets, with an eye to encouraging those startups to consider London as a base when they’re ready to enter those two markets.   UKTI inward investment adviser Katie Heathcote says the program is leveraging an increased interest in fintech over the past year or so.   “I’d been speaking with AWI Ventures and Kim Heras (of 25fifteen) and the guys from Tyro for the last eight months, and I was getting a sense from the meetups in Sydney that fintech was not only an emerging industry in Sydney, but it was really taking off,” Heathcote says.   “The opening of Stone and Chalk and Tyro in Sydney was (the) turning point for us doing the mission as we realised the immense potential in this sector for entrepreneurs and startups.   “A lot of people were looking to London, taking what they’re doing there, and bringing it back to Sydney. So we’re leveraging off that excitement.”   Australian fintech startups can apply to be one of the nine startups that head to London. UKTI is looking for companies that have been operating for at least six months and have a “willingness or commitment” to the UK as part of their long-term business plan. The successful startups will receive return economy airfares (minus taxes) with British Airways, tickets to London Fintech Week and the opportunity to partake in UKTI events.   “Understanding other markets is beneficial for any company. It’s about giving startups the opportunity to expand to the UK at a later stage, when they’re ripe and ready,” Heathcote says.   “There’s 60 million UK people, and it’s a gateway to the rest of Europe.”   The application process should take about 20 minutes. Applications close on Friday, May 22. You can find more details here.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

This Melbourne startup thinks men need help to become better boyfriends

5:11AM | Thursday, 21 May

Above: HeroBoyfriend's logo.   A Melbourne startup is launching with the aim of encouraging men to become better boyfriends.   HeroBoyfriend, currently a prototype in private beta, delivers reminders to users before important dates as well as a selection of gifts their partners might enjoy.   Michael Carr told StartupSmart he and his co-founder Daniel Groch decided to come up with the app after realising that their own actions were often failing to meet their girlfriends’ expectations.   “The idea came from a pain point for us personally where we’re both guys in relationships and identified there’s a bit of a gap between what our partners expect of us and what we deliver,” he says.   “So there’s a little bit of lack of thoughtfulness on our side and we thought there needs to be a service that sets aside reminders and curated content. We’re trying to turn guys from the other half to the better half and dramatically lift their game when it comes to their relationship.” Carr says while there are a bunch of apps focused on helping “guys get the girl”, there aren’t that many out there for people in relationships.   “Obviously dating apps are successful as it’s a huge pain point for people trying to find a date or the right person, but once guys get over the hump and are past the honeymoon stage they hit another pain point and that’s hitting their partner’s expectations,” he says.   “We are part of that market and understand the challenge for men and have done a bit of research through friends and networks.”   When asked whether people would like to know that their partners need an app to remind them to buy them gifts, Carr says the idea isn’t to take emotion out of the equation.   “We’re not doing everything for guys, we’re just presenting really relevant and useful information in a timely manner,” he says.   “It’s not about us doing everything for them, it’s about taking out a lot of the legwork. We think the biggest issue with men is they’re not as thoughtful as women and they don’t have this sort of thing at the forefront of their mind. The other side of it is we think there’s a little bit of laziness on the guy’s side.”   The startup plans to roll out a publicly available app on Android and iOS in the coming months. However, at the moment it is taking expressions of interest to ensure there is enough demand.   “That’s something that I didn’t do in my previous app which was built and then I went to find a market,” Carr says.   “We’re doing the opposite approach this time – find the market and then build the product they want. We have a prototype but want to test assumptions before we go out there publicly.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Meet the eight startups that landed a spot in Perth’s new tech accelerator

5:08AM | Wednesday, 20 May

Perth’s startup ecosystem is set for a boost thanks to eight startups snapping up a place in the first Amcom Upstart program.   The accelerator offers each startup $40,000 in funding along with a three month professional mentoring program.   Each of the chosen founders will work from co-working space Spacecubed, with the accelerator commencing on June 2.   The eight startups are:   Australian Geotomography, a startup focused on lowering the costs associated with exploration drilling Birds Eye View, a platform to help managers be more efficient and keep track of their staff Circadyn, a wearable designed to curb fatigue in the transport industry and save lives GeoMoby, software which allows businesses to take advantage of geo-targeted messaging Homecamp, an online platform connecting campers with landowners around Australia Hydralert, an automated self-testing device for minimising and controlling heat stress Offpeak Games, a startup developing one of the first online multiplayer virtual reality combat games for Oculus Rift and other VR platforms Snaptch, a mobile portfolio app for models   Amcom Upstart’s co-founder and managing director Robert Nathan told StartupSmart he was pleasantly surprised by the wide range of companies that ended up applying for the accelerator.   “The requirement of the program was startups simply had to have software, so from the very beginning we set out with a broad mandate,” he says.   “But what we rounded up was an incredibly diverse set of startups in terms of the verticals they’re focusing on – mining, gaming, the modelling industry and mobile targeting.”   “In the current market generally there’s a lot of people focusing their accelerator programs on a particular market, but I think there’s strength in having a diverse range of entrepreneurs and a diverse range of markets. On one hand it’ll be a challenge, but at the same time I think the cross pollination of ideas is really, really exciting for the program.”   Perth startup scene “going gangbusters” with no sign of slowing down   Nathan says the Perth startup scene has a bright future due to the recent downturn in the local mining industry.   “It’s absolutely going gangbusters not just in terms of interest generally, but other programs like The Founders Institute which is kicking off in Perth now,” he says.   “So it’s the same across Australia, but certainly in Perth everyone is thinking about doing a startup, which is great.”   As for his advice for founders wanting to get themselves into an accelerator, Nathan says the key is to find an industry you love and want to disrupt.   “When you look at all the startups we accepted into the program, they’re all individuals or teams that are working on a problem in a marketplace in which they’re passionate,” he says.   “And that comes through in their presentations. So my advice to any startup would be to pursue something that you’re passionate about.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Sydney startup plans to carve out a social network for lovers of snowboarding and skiing

5:42AM | Tuesday, 19 May

A Sydney-based startup is looking to help people all over the world who are interested in skiing and snowboarding connect online and plan trips together.   GoSnow is a social media app set to launch on iOS and Android devices for those with a passion for snow sports.   Founder Sean Bellerby told StartupSmart he started working on the social networking platform because he wanted to combine his love of skiing with his software skills.   “I’ve done a lot of snowboarding in my time, and my mum used to run a skiing school, for example,” he says.   “And through all of these trips I’ve done I’ve realised people end up skiing or snowboarding on their own for whatever reason. And the reality is that skiing or snowboarding is so much more fun with friends, which is a huge driver for what I’m doing. There’s been trips I haven’t done because I couldn’t find people to go with – they were tied up due to work, family or finances.”   Bellerby says he believes there is strong demand for his app, with the startup already snapping up more than 20,000 likes on Facebook without a publicly available product.   “We’ve got full integration with Facebook so you can see if you’ve got shared friends and interests and we look at if you have skied in the same place in the past,” he says.   “The people you are going to connect with are either going to be in the same ski town as you or you’re going to be planning the same trip with them. I believe the timing is right for it – if you can potentially go and meet a life partner from an app, why not go and meet a potential new friend who you can go skiing or snowboarding with?”   The GoSnow app is set to launch on iOS devices this week and an Android version will be rolled out shortly after.   Bellerby says he’ll be teaching snowboarding in Queenstown during this year’s snow season, which will be an opportunity to validate user demand and gain feedback to improve the user experience.   “We’ve done a small amount of advertising with Facebook which has worked really, really well for us in terms of validating that there is a market out there for what we’re doing,” he says.   “I’ve already got attention from investors, but we’re just waiting to prove the business model over the next three months.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Aussie VCs to standardise their legal documents to make it easier and cheaper for startups to access seed capital

5:47AM | Tuesday, 19 May

Several Australian venture capital funds have come together to standardise their legal documents and make them publicly available in order to make it easier and cheaper for startups to access early-stage funding.   The agreement is expected to allow Australian startups to complete their funding documents in less than an hour and save them thousands of dollars in legal fees.   AirTree Ventures investment manager Paul Bennetts, Niki Scevak from Blackbird Ventures and Sparke Helmore partner Dan Atkin have been working on the open source initiative for the past few months.   The Australian Private Equity & Venture Capital Association Limited will host the documents, which will be for rounds worth between $250,000 and $1 million.   Bennetts told StartupSmart the standardised documents will improve transparency and efficiency for Australian startups and investors consistent with the majority of angel rounds in the US.   “The biggest cost when launching a startup is legal,” he says.   “This can cost up to $25,000 to $30,000 regardless of the size of the investment. It makes no sense that five to 10% of a startup’s capital raising is going to legal fees when every startup is getting a very similar set of documents.”   Bennetts says any startup looking to complete a seed round will be able to access the documents.   “This means that angels can become familiar with the same set of docs across multiple deals rather than having to review from scratch 100 pages of documents each and every time they invest in a startup,” he says.   “This removes friction and costs for angels, which will result in more seed deals being done and faster capital raising processes for startups – getting them back to running their business quicker. For VC funds, we can know that the shareholder structure setup before we invest is sound.”   Atkin said in a statement the standardised documents are aimed at removing the “heavy lifting” from the financial process.   “Think of them as a great starting point that will save startups time and money,” he said.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Global Kinetics Corporation raises $1.5 million in equity crowdfunding to fuel US expansion

5:36AM | Tuesday, 19 May

Australian health tech company Global Kinetics Corporation has raised $1.5 million on equity crowdfunding platform OurCrowd to kick-start its US expansion.   The capital injection is the largest equity funding round in Australia to date, and comes as local investors prepare for the federal government to introduce a crowdsourced equity funding scheme.   Under current regulations startups can only offer equity to sophisticated wholesale investors with more than $2.5 million in assets or earnings of around $250,000.   However, the new framework is expected to allow startups to raise capital from small-scale retail investors.   Australian managing director of OurCrowd, Dan Bennett, says he would like the new framework – which is expected to come into effect at the end of the 2015-16 financial year – to include an investment cap like other countries such as New Zealand.   “I just hope there are sensible protections for retail investors, that there is potentially some sort of cap around maximum investment,” he says.   “There’s also interesting approaches taken in Europe. One of the jurisdictions requires any retail crowdfunding campaign have a component that requires sophisticated investors, which ensures there’s almost a policing of very low quality deals.”   At the moment OurCrowd is a platform for sophisticated investors, and Bennett says the Australian crowdfunding legislation would not change that.   “At this point we don’t have any retail aspirations globally,” he says.   “In terms of whether or not every platform should be like ours, you’d have to speak to investors about what motivates them and is important for them.”   Bennett says equity crowdfunding is kicking off around the world because it allows companies to easily access local and international investors.   “We think innovation is a global phenomenon,” he says.   “And all startups are doing is solving issues and problems in their local country. And what we’re keen to do is help those innovators in tech – those startups – in whatever domicile they are ready to succeed in.”   Global Kinetics Corporation specialises in wearable technology to help with the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.   Andrew Maxwell, managing director of GKC, says the raise will allow the company to continue its overseas growth because the amount of investment capital in Australia is “restricted in terms of its size”.   “The problem for people with Parkinson’s and the people who are treating them is during the course of a year a clinician or someone might see someone for 15-20 minutes during a visit,” he says.   “But the rest of the time a person’s symptoms are changing from day to day, during the course of the day and of course between visits.”   Maxwell says GKC decided to raise funds via equity crowdfunding because, like OurCrowd, it relies on the cloud.   “I think we were attracted to the ease of access,” he says.   “CEOs and managing directors such as myself do hundreds and hundreds of hours pitching to investors and the outcomes are often very variable. But with this platform, once we had gone through the due diligence process and had our pitch put up on the platform, investors could make their decision quickly and efficiently which was a productivity boost for me. One pitch, many investors.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Time to hit the Townske: User-curated city guides aim to open travellers’ eyes

5:56PM | Tuesday, 19 May

The inspiration for Townske, a social city guide startup, came to co-founders Daniel Clark and Joe Vuong when, on a business trip in New York, they were recognised in Times Square by a barista from Starbucks.   “We were travelling a lot for business, were really time poor, and couldn’t spend a great deal of time researching where to get coffee, or find a great café. So we were just going to Starbucks all of the time, it wasn’t good for us,” Clark says with a laugh.   So they decided to found Townske, a social media publishing platform that allows users to curate their own city guides. Examples include Manhattan Eateries, or Sydney’s Rock Pools. Users can browse anonymously, or sign up so as to keep track of their favourite guides.   Currently content is being produced by over 2000 community members (bloggers, instagrammers and the like), hand-picked by the Townske team, who have created over 1300 city guides,  for more than 150 cities in 75 countries. From June 10 it will be open for anyone to create content on the platform.    “There’s blogs or websites for lots of cities that are great, but it’s finding those blogs before you travel that’s the hard part,” Clark says.   “We thought there needed to be a platform where everyone would know that’s where to go, whatever city I’m going to. With information always displayed in the same clear way, it would make it a lot easier for a lot of people.”   Townske is experimenting with a number of ways to make money, although Clark is unwilling to say exactly what these might entail, in addition to the obvious one – advertising.   “But not ads that get in your way, ads that help you out with your journey. Discovering your own city or travelling. Ads that people will enjoy seeing,” he says.   A Townske app is in development that will allow users to easily find new guides, or ones they’ve liked, while on the move. In addition to serving as bookmarks, the like button will also help Townske suggest content that its users might like.   “The mission for Townske is to make people experience cities better and have a better holiday. So they don’t have to spend heaps of time sourcing information,” Clark says.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Redu.us' journey from AngelCube to Chile, to the top of the App Store

5:42AM | Monday, 18 May

After graduating AngelCube Melbourne-founded educational app, startup Redu.us has taken founder David Truong on a journey from Chile to San Francisco, from San Francisco to Berlin, and from Berlin to the top of the App Store in the Games/Educational category.   Redu.us’ app Newton, an educational app designed to help children with addition and subtraction, landed on the number one spot last month in the Games/Educational category on Apple’s Australian, German, Danish and Russian App Stores.   After leaving AngelCube in 2012, the startup – then known as known as Broccol-e-games – had over 30,000 downloads of its educational apps. That number has since grown to over a million, with its users having played Redu.us games over 10 million times.   The startup received $20,000 in funding from AngelCube in exchange for 10% equity, and a further $40,000 in funding, with no equity attached, from the Startup Chile program. Successful applicants to that program simply need to be based in Chile for at least six months.   Truong says that funding was welcome given the startup received little interest from investors during AngelCube’s visit to the United States.   “After we had visited New York and San Francisco with AngelCube, we found the response from investors, especially in the education sector, was quite lukewarm,” he says.   “It was either due to a lack of understanding at the time, or lack of big educational exits.   “So Chile was a good time for us to regroup, refine our products and refine the company as well. We’re selling games and apps on the App Store. So essentially it’s all digital, digital distribution, digital marketing, everything’s digital so we weren’t tied to a particular location.”   Shortly after that, Truong began work for another AngelCube graduate App.io, while working on Redu.us part-time. During this period he continued to wrestle with the big question for all app developers – monetisation.   “We’ve done a ton of experiments. We probably have more than 20 to 30 products on the App Stores, depending on the language, currency, things like that. Some of the apps are freemium, others are straight paid.   “For us, freemium worked really well. And it’s probably the most reliable income stream over the years. We’re still making sales and money, from the first product we released all these years later. The conversation rate is very high – it’s probably 18 to 19%.”   Truong believes education apps are the exception to the rule when it comes to freemium app conversion rates. The customers for those apps are generally parents and teachers are customers and if they believe an app is valuable, Truong says they’re happy to pay to get the most out of it.   Now-based in Berlin Truong is hoping to get back to working full-time on Redu.us. Strategy has shifted away from the freemium, to upfront paid app purchases, a reaction to some pushback from customers and industry about the ethics of such models.   “We’re finding that works, but you have to spend a lot more on marketing, a lot more to get it into people’s hands. And it also doesn’t have the longevity of the product as well,” he says.   With some big competition, like Disney and Australian startup Half-Brick Studios starting to enter the educational game industry, Truong says he’s keen to keep pushing out more products over the next six to 12 months.   “In the children’s education market it’s hard to see them as competitors, we’re all working towards the same goal. I think we’re competing with games companies like Zynga or (Supercell),” he says.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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