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

4:12AM | Tuesday, 22 April

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

Googlers, Beliebers, Magicians, Little Monsters, Droogies or Yahoos: Naming your employees or user base

3:44AM | 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!

Stanford start-up tutors share the top five myths about scaling tech start-ups

3:35PM | Tuesday, 11 March

By definition, every start-up plans to get global sooner or later. But scaling a business poorly is one of the fastest ways to kill it, according to two Stanford lecturers.   Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao have recently released Scaling up Excellence, which explores how companies from tech superstars to fast food chains have grown and gotten stronger.   “Start-ups need to start thinking about scaling a lot earlier than they do,” Sutton says, who adds you don’t need to a perfect organisation to scale well.   “A lot of times when people think of scaling up, they think they’re going to focus on the great stuff and spread it. But when you look at organisations that have nailed scaling, they’ve gone from bad to great.”   Sutton spoke to StartupSmart from San Francisco about the five biggest myths about scaling and how to overcome them.   Myth 1: Scaling is all rapid growth through fast decisions   While the scaling story of tech superstars Twitter, Google and Facebook can make it sound like every decision was instant and the implementation took only a tiny bit lower, Sutton says all scaling companies slow down to take the time they need to make the decisions where it matters.   “In every case we’ve looked at, including those three, this notion they rushed all the time is just not true. From Google to even Starbucks, all successful global companies go slow sometimes.”   A key time to focus on results rather than execution time is hiring staff.   “From the very beginning, Google was always very picky about hiring. They only hired very technically skilled who also had the leadership skills to grow with the company no matter how badly they needed a warm body in that chair,” Sutton says.   He adds founders shouldn’t shy away from the arrogance these decisions and the corresponding belief the company could become massive requires.   Myth 2: Conflict will kill a company   As companies grow, arguments are inevitable as teams choose what to focus on. Sutton says learning how to argue well is a critical skill for a scaling company.   “To make the best decisions, you need to be clear on how you argue and when you stop arguing. Good teams can have blazing arguments and then move on.”   Sutton says part of the success of many tech superpowers has come down to having founders, and later managers and executives, who are willing to model vigorous arguments followed by a resolution all commit too.   “Firefox’s John Lilly (chief executive 2008 to 2010) oversaw the company’s growth from 12 to 500,” Sutton says. “He told me he started realising at about 80 people that people had begun to act as though they were afraid of their boss. So he just started having arguments with his immediate team whenever he could. He’d be right or wrong but would always end respectfully and move on.”   Sutton says making sure everyone shares an understanding of what medium-term success looks like makes it easier to resolve disagreements and unites a team.   Myth 3: Scaling means building the team as quickly as possible   According to Sutton, one of the most dangerous myths about start-ups is the belief bigger is better when it comes to teams.   “The notion that scaling mandates adding more people is a myth. There is lots of evidence that when you bring on board the wrong people too quickly, it’s deadly.”   The pressure to build the team often comes from investors who are keen to see their money put to work.   “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a start-up still in the product development stage kill itself by hiring sales staff before they’re ready. These guys need to sell, so they sell a product that’s not ready and it’s over,” he says.   Sutton says actions such as Israeli start-up Waze’s hiring freeze after raising $20 million should remind start-ups about the virtues of staying lean, as the company went on to be acquired by Google.   Myth 4: Our culture will suffer and we need to stay small   While cultural death by growth was the fate of Yahoo! and eBay (who later turned it around), Sutton says rapid growth won’t kill a start-up if they’re smart about it.   The key to a culture thriving, as well as smarter working, is to keep teams small.   “One of the mantras at Amazon is you shouldn’t have a team that can’t be fed by two pizzas,” Sutton says. “The difference between a five person team and say an 11 person team is huge. From battlefields to big corporates, all the evidence shows the maximum is seven before it dissolves into interpersonal contests and missed communications.”   Small teams organised in pods is an emerging trend in start-ups. Australian start-up 99designs has used a pod approach for over a year. Sutton adds that scaling can make deeper cultural issues more significant as the organisation widens and effective communications requires more effort.   “When you’re trying to scale an organisation and you have destructive behaviour or people, the first order of business is to nip that in the bud because otherwise it’s impossible to grow well.”   Myth 5: Bureaucracy and hierarchies should be shunned as they stifle innovation and productivity   One of the joys of start-ups is team flexibility. But start-ups need to implement some structure and processes if they want to become global companies.   “Staying entrepreneurial and easy to get things done is admirable, but there is a lot of evidence that shows companies need managers, hierarchy and processes,” Sutton says.   “There is a fine art of adding just enough process or bureaucracy so you can actually get all the work done. I think it’s admirable that entrepreneurs resist adding that stuff, but if you don’t it’ll turn into an unruly, out of control organisation.”   For early stage ventures, Sutton adds it’s essential to work out the leadership structure early or risk confused strategy direction and in-fighting.

Tech Girl Movement launches to boost the number of women in tech

3:15AM | Tuesday, 4 March

An IT academic is calling for a coordinated strategy to boost the number of women in the technology industries, starting with girls in primary school.   Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen lectures in IT and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at Griffith University. In her current class, there are 13 men for every one woman.   “We all know it’s a problem. Tech now touches every aspect of our lives but we don’t have the diverse workforce we need to move it forward. There is no doubt we need more women,” Beekhuyzen told StartupSmart.   The lack of women in start-up accelerator programs has been noted for some years now. But there are a growing number of events targeted at women in tech.   “A lot of people are doing things but we need to launch a coordinated effort. We need to go big and bold and loud and make it clear it needs to be changed and we’re ready for it,” she says.   Two of the most frequently cited issues holding women back from tech careers are a lack of role models and confusion about what a tech career actually entails.     According to Beekhuyzen, the rise Yahoo! chief executive Marissa Meyer and Facebook chief of operations Sheryl Sandberg have been great for encouraging women, but Australia needs to do more to encourage girls of school age to explore tech.   The Tech Girl Movement will target girls aged between 10 and 16 with a series of in-school programs, workshops and resources.   It will also include a series of short chapter books to be launched this weekend. The Tech Girl Superheroes series was written to introduce technology and what it looks like to young female readers.   “I wanted to create archetypes about tech girls, such as the explorer, the daredevil, the sophisticate. It’s a bit like the Spice Girls of IT. Not everyone liked the Spice Girls but it works because you can relate to one,” Beekhuyzen says.   Beekhuyzen was today invited to meet with the Federal Minister for Education Christopher Pyne to discuss these issues and says she’s in this campaign for the long haul, even if it takes 20 years.   The government is aware of the lack of women in IT degrees and the broader IT skills shortage.   An ICT Workforce Study published in July 2013 by the Australian Workforce Productivity Agency noted the low numbers of women in ICT and recommended target support programs including a code of best practice and mentoring support.   While these strategies are targeted at retaining tech women, the report also notes programs such as these send the right message to prospective female employees.

Enable people’s laziness – and profit!

2:59AM | Friday, 14 February

Today, like so many other days, your humble correspondent arrived and sat down at a desk in Taskmaster Towers.   On the desk was a post-it note. Scribbled in the secretary’s handwriting, it appeared to say someone had called the office asking for the contact details of a well-known industry figure, who we’ll refer to as Jane Doe.   As it turns out, many, many moons ago, a blog post was uploaded on to the Taskmaster Enterprises blog mentioning Jane Doe.   If only someone invented some type of engine – a “search engine” if you will – that would allow you to type in a person’s name and receive a list of related links to websites. This magical, mystical website could be given a name like “Google”, “Yahoo!” or “Bing”.   To make it extra easy for people, you could place the search field in the menu bar of just about every popular browser, including Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome. Such a service could even be funded by placing paid advertisements based on the search words.   Then people could type in “Jane Doe” and find the official Jane Doe website, then click the link that says “Contact Jane Doe” where Jane Doe’s work number, email address and Twitter handle could all be conveniently listed.   Of course, even if such a magical, mystical service existed, some people would outsource the effort to someone else! And by somebody, I mean poor Old Taskmaster!   Blah! Humanoids! I swear, they annoy me some days!   Serenity now. Serenity now. Serenity now.   Still, the whole episode is a poignant reminder of a couple of key business lessons.   The first is the value of quality content as a marketing strategy. It really is the gift that keeps on giving! Seriously, if you haven’t updated your blog or your social media lately, do it now!   The second and more important lesson is that most humanoids are lazy. Exceedingly lazy. (Well, okay, often stupid as well, but mostly just lazy.)   The desire to do more with less effort has been one of the driving forces of human progress.   Why hunt or gather food when you can plant some seeds, enclose some animals and wait for them to be eaten? Why grow your own when you can go to the supermarket and buy it ready to cook? Why cook it when you can microwave it? Why microwave it when you can just get Maccas? Why get Maccas when the local pizza shop delivers? Why wait for a driver when a drone aircraft can deliver it quicker?   (Do you doubt that last one will happen within the next five years?)   If you’re looking for a business idea, you could do worse by thinking through the worthless chores that annoy you and devise products and services that can avoid them.   Because if your business plan enables your fellow human beings to that little more idle, you’ve got a potential consumer base.   Sloth is a vice, not a virtue. But it’s one you can exploit – for profit!   Get it done – today!

THE NEWS WRAP: Federal budget cuts could push unemployment rate higher

1:40PM | Thursday, 16 January

Federal government budget cuts could push Australia’s unemployment rate to a 10-year high, The Australian Financial Review reports economists warning.   Employment fell by 23,000 jobs in December while the unemployment rate remained at 5.8% as the participation rate fell.   “It certainly is a consideration about how aggressively the federal government can cut spending, given the softness we’re seeing in the labour market,” Macquarie Bank senior economist Brian Redican said.   Canadian dairy giant about to swallow up Warrnambool Cheese & Butter   Canadian diary giant Saputo is on the verge of taking over Australia’s Warrnambool Cheese & Butter after major shareholder and one-time bidder Bega Cheese accepted the company’s offer.   The Australian reports that it is widely anticipated that other major shareholders – Murray Goulburn and Lion – will also take Saputo’s offer.   Saputo’s Australian advisor, Rothschild managing director Sam Prentice said: “We’re obviously very pleased that Bega has announced it will sell into Saputo’s offer and expect many other shareholders will follow Bega’s lead.”   Yahoo! COO in surprise exit   Internet giant Yahoo! is parting ways with its chief operating officer in a sign its attempts to raise advertising sales may not be paying off.   The surprise departure of Henrique de Castro after just 15 months in the job is seen as a setback for CEO Marissa Mayer.   Yahoo! didn’t comment on the reasons for de Castro leaving, but speculation was strong that the company’s advertising revenues weren’t improving quickly enough.   A replacement for de Castro has not been named.   Markets   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 0.39% at 16,417.01 points and the Australian dollar is buying 88.2 US cents.

From Flickr to Findery: Tech entrepreneur Caterina Fake’s latest venture

10:08AM | Thursday, 24 October

Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake has launched her latest online venture in Australia, a social media platform which allows users to “annotate the world”.   Findery, Fake’s latest creation, is a free app (currently available through the Apple app store) which lets people leave digital notes anywhere in the world and then users are able to search for locations and find information and unexpected stories about the world around them.   Effectively a new way to document history (past and present), Findery is about annotating the globe “from Adelaide to Austin”, says Fake.   Fake told SmartCompany she came up with the idea on a camping trip with her daughter.   “We were camping in Northern California and she was three at the time, we fell asleep inside a circle of Redwood trees and I had the thought that I wanted to be able to preserve the memory forever,” she says.   “I started thinking about how I could do that, I wasn’t about to carve my initials into the bark of the tree, but being a tech entrepreneur the obvious answer was to create the technology to do it.”   Fake says she discussed the idea with Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield, who turned out to have had a similar idea in 2005, but at the time no technology existed to make the idea feasible.   Prior to launching the new social platform, Fake worked on making sure content was available around the world for users to engage with.   “We’re excited to see it being in the users’ hands for the first time. It’s exciting for us to see its adoption and help people discover things they didn’t know about the world around them and encourage them to contribute their own stories,” she says.   SmartCompany was given a preview of the new app and already users are able to read up on historically significant locations around them.   A picture of people dancing in the street in celebration of the end of World War II adorns 350 Bourke Street’s geographical mark, Sydney’s Circular Quay has a description attached of when a fleet of 16 United States ships arrived on August 20, 1908, and at Woody Point Jetty in Queensland there is a photo of two fisherman and their human-sized catch from 1913.   Fake hopes that users will start posting notes with information about what is going to happen in the future too.   “Say for example someone is walking through the streets of San Francisco and they see a big hole in the ground, I want them to be able to click on the site using Findery and read people’s notes about what’s going on there and if it’s going to be turned into an apartment block.”   Even when Fake created Flickr, she’d always had a desire to help build connections and communities of people.   “This is what I care most about. The internet is great for people to interact and everything I’ve built has some element of an investigatory nature,” she says.   “On Flickr people would have conversations about what they were experiencing, and Findery is very similar to that.”   Fake’s experiences starting Flickr and then Hunch (a platform which aims to personalise the internet), have influenced the way she’s approaching Findery.   “As entrepreneurs we all have the experience of some kind of catastrophic failure, it’s the nature of start-ups. One of the hardest things is raising capital and financing,” she says.   “A lot find their way by boot-strapping, although now it’s easier for tech entrepreneurs because the software and technology is cheaper, but there are always things you can do better.”   Fake says one of the biggest lessons she’s learnt is how to hire staff.   “The most important thing is building a great team, everyone has to be excellent at what they do. You need to have really high standards, but a lot of start-ups have difficulty taking the time to find the best people,” she says.   “Everybody can have a great idea, but fail to execute it because the team members can’t make it happen. The main thing is to start off with a standard of excellence and don’t ever compromise.”   Fake says with Flickr she was so desperate at times that she hired the wrong people, but now realises it was a mistake.   “Starting Findery was a very slow process, we’d get resumes and just say ‘not awesome, not awesome, not awesome’,” she says.   “Starting out you don’t necessarily have any idea what awesome looks like, but you need to have a really good idea of the benchmark.”   Flickr was acquired by Yahoo! in 2005 for a reported $35 million. Following the acquisition Fake started work at Yahoo! until she left in 2009.   “I tried to take as much as I could from a start-up with me in terms of our product development and agile nature and bring it into the environment at Yahoo! … I called it ‘Yahoo University’, I knew there were certain things I could learn there I couldn’t at other companies.”   Fake spent most of her time at Yahoo! in the search department and she took the lessons she learnt there with her when she started Hunch and now Findery.   “I really do think that when Findery becomes a rich environment you’ll be able to go to San Francisco and take a tour just of the Victorian age or the summer of love in the 1960s,” she says.   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

Evernote hack yet another warning of cloud danger for Australian SMEs

3:36AM | Friday, 15 March

Australian Evernote users received a shock this weekend when the company sent notifications indicating it had suffered a hacking attempt, and warned affected users should change their passwords straight away.

The three reasons to sell your start-up: Twitter co-founder tells

2:59AM | Friday, 22 February

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams has identified the three reasons to sell a start-up, hoping to “create clarity” for entrepreneurs who are unsure whether an acquisition is the right move.

Four things you can learn from the Yahoo! website redesign

3:44AM | Friday, 15 March

Yahoo! is redesigning the main entry into its website in a bid to create a “more modern experience” for users, suggesting start-ups can take inspiration from the embattled tech giant.

Yahoo! goes OnTheAir in latest app acquisition

3:59AM | Monday, 11 March

Yahoo! has acquired video chat broadcasting app OnTheAir in a bid to further expand its mobile offerings, less than two months after acquiring mobile recommendations app Stamped.

It’s time to drop the brick and adopt an Android

11:38AM | Wednesday, 28 November

Late last night, in the mean streets near Taskmaster Towers, I witnessed something truly shocking. A fellow entrepreneur reached into their bag and then proceeded to pull out a heavy, solid, blunt object and point in my general direction. It was dark, but at first glance, it appeared like they had just pulled out a brick.

Aussie app Budge launches with $1 million investment

3:56AM | Monday, 11 March

An app created in Melbourne that describes itself as a “micro-donation platform” has launched in Australia and the United States, having raised $1 million from investors including Seek co-founders Paul Bassat and Matt Rockman.

Yahoo! acquires celebrity-backed app start-up Stamped

3:26AM | Tuesday, 12 March

Yahoo! has made its first acquisition under the direction of chief executive Marissa Mayer, snapping up celebrity-backed mobile recommendations app Stamped for an undisclosed sum.

Sydney incubator Pollenizer expands to Singapore, excited by “vibrant start-up ecosystems”

8:47AM | Wednesday, 15 August

Sydney tech start-up incubator Pollenizer has branched out to Singapore, launching a new hub in the city state and launching its first start-up there.

THE NEWS WRAP: Yahoo! investigates security breach

7:19PM | Thursday, 12 July

Yahoo! is investigating reports of a security breach that may have exposed nearly half a million users’ email addresses and passwords.

Seven in ten SMEs would happily start up again: Survey

7:09AM | Monday, 2 July

It seems start-ups are the envy of their larger counterparts, with a new report revealing more than 70% of SMEs would be happy to start up a business again, partly for the sense of pride.

Spreets co-founder points to start-up passion after leaving Yahoo!7

6:01AM | Friday, 1 June

Spreets co-founder Dean McEvoy has declared himself a “start-up guy”, after it was confirmed he and fellow co-founder Justus Hammer are leaving Yahoo!7, which acquired Spreets last year.

Five business rebrands that got lost in translation

5:17PM | Thursday, 17 May

Gone are the days when you can choose your new business’ name and logo safe in the knowledge that it won’t immediately be picked apart by consumers across the world.

Yahoo!7 to stop Spreets performance payments as group buying market dries up

4:00AM | Monday, 16 April

Yahoo!7 may be starting to encounter the downside of the group buying industry as a new report indicates the media giant is no longer expected to make any more performance-related payments to its subsidiary Spreets.

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