Bad lecturers drove this entrepreneur to launch his own online learning business

4:47AM | Tuesday, 8 April

Dan Brand graduated from uni 12 weeks ago, but not before the poor quality of some of his lecturers drove him to launch a rapidly growing business for which he has just locked in an angel investor.   Frustrated with a couple of his lecturers’ inability to clearly communicate the technical details of his engineering studies, Brand often found himself searching for YouTube videos of young people explaining the same issues.   As he progressed further in his studies, explainer videos of niche content became harder to find. So he rigged a webcam up in his bedroom, made over 200 explainer videos and SpoonFeedMe was born.   The offering now includes over 2500 videos on technical topics in 35 courses at the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales, including engineering, maths, science, commerce and psychology subjects.   Brand told StartupSmart almost 2000 people were using the service, with about 60% as subscription members. Students receive ten free videos for each course, with between 30 to 50 available for paying clients.   “We created lots of simple, five to 10 minute videos with everything you need to know and no bullshit. It’s peer to peer, so you understand exactly what’s being said,” he says.   Brand uses a series of freelance designers, developers and marketing people, as well as video presenters to grow the business.   He’s recently brought on his first angel investor, signing the investment agreement the day after filing his civil engineering thesis at the University of Sydney.   While Brand wouldn’t disclose the investment amount, the funds have gone towards building a better website and expanding the course offering as SpoonFeedMe begins to scale across the country.   “Marketing is the most difficult part of this. I’m quite passionate about it, but convincing others and getting the word out there is hard. There’s good early traction but scaling that is hard,” Brand says.   The focus for the coming months will be scaling the offering across Australia and then the wider world. He adds they intend to leverage user generated content as many courses are similar.

How one Aussie startup is bringing augmented reality to the web

4:58AM | Thursday, 3 April

Augmented reality (AR) is often understood in terms of wearable technology and device-driven capabilities, but an Australian technology company, buildAR, has built technology to enable it in your browser.   Often thought of as a futuristic play, the augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) markets are expected to grow 15.18% from 2013 to 2018, reaching $US1.06 Billion in 2018, and that’s excluding mobile based AR and non-immersive VR.   It puts some perspective into Facebook’s recent $US2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift – a VR play in that it creates a virtual world, where AR lets you see the world with more information overlaid on what you’re looking at.   According to TechCrunch, Microsoft is also reported to have bought the augmented reality-related intellectual property of wearable tech company Osterhout Design Group for between $US100 and $US150 million.   What makes buildAR unique is that they are “augmenting the web” and bringing the experience into your browser.   BuildAR founder Alex Young says there was a lot of fragmentation in the app world when it comes to augmented reality, but using it in a browser got around this problem and democratised the technology for everyone.   It has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign that makes it possible for anyone to deliver AR using standard Web browsers, but their focus is on utility based applications, particularly in education.   The Kickstarter campaign will allow anyone to “create a project and embed it directly in their webpage as easily as you do with a YouTube video.”   The campaign highlights some of the uses of the technology:   “If you back us as an educator, we'll give you the tools to create experiences such as an AR treasure hunt or historical exploration that'll have your students running around your school or campus having fun while they learn.   “If you back us as a curator, we'll give you the tools to enable your visitors to point their phone at items in your exhibition to unlock extra information that extends your collection beyond what's physically on show.”   The buildAR platform enables anyone to create digital content into the physical world around you by linking it to images, locations and more. When it comes to education this could mean using the technology to bring learning objectives to life.   The technology will work on smartphones and tablets, as well as wearable devices such as Google Glass and Oculus Rift.   There are limitations in the use of the technology on Apple devices though, something the buildAR team wants to draw attention to, claiming that “commercial decisions made by Apple have put the [iTunes] App Store ahead of their customers”. As Young points out, Apple have consciously decided not to support the latest open web standards.   buildAR have created a demo for their technology to show that how you can run augmented reality within your standard web browser, presenting the "Projects We Love" newsletter as AR images, floating in the real world.   If you open this on a modern Android device using the latest version of Chrome, Firefox or Opera you'll see a rich combination of augmented reality and the web, which is called the augmented web.   However, if you open the exact same page using an iPhone or iPad, you'll find that it works but that you can only see a very limited user experience.   Young says the company has a much higher profile overseas, than locally, but were committed to staying in Australia if it can. They have also launched some local meetups for those interested in Wearable tech, in both Sydney and Canberra.

Plans for Silicon Beach TV in the works

3:39AM | Friday, 28 March

Silicon Beach Melbourne, a community for entrepreneurs and startup founders, is hoping to branch into TV.   The ambitious project is the brainchild of organiser Athula Bogoda, who was inspired while browsing TV channels one night and stumbling across infomercial channel 4Me TV.   While Bogoda was less interested in the ads for Roomba, a short section called App Central, produced in Canada caught his eye. It features short segments on the growing culture and business of apps for Smartphones and tablets.   It occurred to Bogoda that he could develop something similar in the Melbourne startup community, and put a call out to the Melbourne Silicon Beach. So far he’s recruited a motion graphics producer and editor, a videographer, assistant organiser, a marketer, a sponsorship deal wrangler and a sound person (who is based in Munich and plans to record interviews via Skype).   While they don’t have a set format as yet, the idea is to produce 2 to 3 minute segments focusing on the Melbourne startup scene to begin with. All videos will initially be placed on YouTube, but Bogoda is hoping they’ll catch the attention of a TV channel.   “If we can run a show from Canada, surely we’d prefer a local effort,” Bogoda says. “We might land up on 4Me TV, we might not, it’s just an experiment and we want to see what the interest is.”   Bogoda says depending on the success there is no reason they won’t take it to other cities, noting that the Melbourne Silicon Beach community is the only one thriving in Australia.   “Adelaide and Sydney barely get anyone along to their events these days,” he says.   It’s hoped the videos will be useful to the founders they feature, building their profile.   “It might be something they can use when they pitch to investors,” Bogoda says.   While still in the planning phase, Bogoda is calling for more volunteers.   “As the project progresses we will be expanding the team,” he says.” If you have skills, new ideas and a few hours a week to spare towards this project (it will be great for your profile), get in touch with us please.”   Most of the work will be done after hours as most of those involved in the project have day jobs.   It’s hoped the project will deliver its first few videos by the end of April.

Startup Games launches: Why only 28 of 80 aspiring entrepreneurs made it through the selection process

3:51AM | Monday, 10 March

Only 28 applicants to the University of New South Wales’s New South Innovations Startup Games started the program this week, after a rigorous application process.   The program, facilitated by entrepreneur Bart Jellema, involves four weekend workshops covering the fundamentals of starting a business. It concludes in a demo day.   Coordinator Josh Flannery told StartupSmart they had designed the application process to pluck out the students who were willing to do the work.   Of the 80 applicants, 43 were invited to undertake a series of tasks such as setting up social media and Angel Co profiles, and submit a 30 second pitch video on YouTube.   The Startup Games team selected 33 students to apply but 15 didn’t complete the tasks on time.   “We were quite aggressive with the deadlines so we could weed out those who weren’t serious,” Flannery says. “The important thing is they’re doers who follow through and get stuff done. The next thing we wanted was diversity.”   The program began on Saturday with 28 students who have formed nine teams.   The students come from faculties including business, design, science, computer science and the College of Fine Arts.   Flannery says the 80 applicants were an almost equal split of male and female students. The final 28 includes nine female entrepreneurs.   “It just happened that a lot of the women dropped out. We’ve made a point this year of trying to diversify both the applicants and the guest speakers. We have an equal number of male and female speakers in the program.”   The teams will now go onto develop their ideas and start building businesses. Flannery says it’s going to be an intense few weeks for the students.   “We’re not going to kick people out of the program if it turns out to not be a good idea. But we will kick them out if they don’t do the work to validate it.”   He adds this is the easiest time for people to try their first start-up, as they have fewer responsibilities and are under less pressure than they will be in the future.

Telstra confirms talks with Google over Australian Chromecast launch: What app developers need to know

2:16PM | Tuesday, 11 February

Telstra has confirmed it has entered into early stage talks about a potential Australian launch of Google’s Chromecast digital media player, which retails in the US for $US35.   Introduced in the US alongside Android 4.3 JellyBean in July of last year, although yet to see an official Australian release, the Chromecast is a digital media device that plugs into the back of a TV and resembles a USB stick in its form factor.   It allows users to view music and videos from selected online services, including YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV and Google Play Music, through their TV set.   The Chromecast can be controlled from a compatible Android smartphone and tablet, and was originally introduced as a replacement for the company’s ill-fated Nexus Q set-top-box.   A Telstra spokesperson told StartupSmart the telecommunications giant is looking at the device, while cautioning talks are still at an early stage.   “We are always looking at ways we can bring brilliant and innovative entertainment experiences to our customers and so will always explore and consider new technology that can deliver that,” the spokesperson said in a statement.   “There are no ‘secret talks’ with Google – we speak to Google all the time about all sorts of things.   “As we have said we are taking a look at it – but very early stages – if it’s a product/device that we will stock we will let customers know.”   The news comes just days after Google opened Chromecast up to developers, releasing an SDK (software development kit) for the device, which is available for download through the Google Cast website.   In a post on Google's official developers' blog, Google engineering manager John Affaki explains some of the device's functionality for developers, in creating apps that play back audio or video, as well as for other potential purposes.   "You have many options for displaying content on Chromecast. For simple media applications, you can use the default media player that can play back HTML5 media content. You can also customise it with your own branding and style using CSS.   "For non-media applications, or for more flexibility and design options, you can build your own custom receiver application using standard web technologies. With a custom receiver you can build virtually any application while including support for many [video] streaming protocols, including MPEG-DASH, HLS, and Microsoft Smooth Streaming, all of which are available in the Media Player Library."   Affaki is also keen to explain the developer kit contains a range of pre-written libraries, making it easy to stream content from pre-written apps to the device.   “To make it easier for you to provide an optimized user experience on the TV screen, we have created sample apps for Android, iOS and Chrome. For Android, you’ll find a Cast Companion library to make your integration of Google Cast even easier.   "The Google Cast SDK is simple to integrate because there’s no need to write a new app. Just incorporate the SDK into your existing mobile and web apps to bring your content to the TV. You are in control of how and when you develop and publish your cast-ready apps through the Google Cast developer console. The SDK is available on Android and iOS as well as on Chrome through the Google Cast browser extension.”

Why increasing your marketing budget is lousy advice

2:48AM | Friday, 7 February

If you’re like many entrepreneurs I know, you are sick to death of hearing: “You just need to increase your marketing budget!”   Unfortunately the default response to declining results is to spend more. What rot.   The simple answer is don't spend money on marketing that depreciates in the first place.   If you need to reach into your pocket next week to get the same “hit”, you are on a slippery slope.  It will be increasingly hard to get the same results, which means you will be forking over more and more money, but spinning your wheels and getting no traction.   The litmus test is: Will your marketing be around next month?   If it won’t be around, don't do it.  Your Google Ads, Facebook ads and banner ads won’t be around once you put your credit card away.   In fact, anything where you are renting attention will vanish as soon as the money runs dry.   Invest in enduring marketing   In contrast, invest in marketing that will be around tomorrow, next week and next year. For example, write an article and post that on your blog because that blog post will still be there next month. Create a YouTube video or release an e-book because these will still exist in six months’ time.   Good marketing investments appreciate in value   The blog article that you posted last month is likely to be more valuable today than it was when you published it. If people have tweeted it, it will have more social proof than it did the day it went live.   It someone’s linked to it, it will have more authority than it did the day it went live and it someone has left a comment, then it will enrich the content and add value to the reader’s experience.   All these factors increase the value of that blog post and you can see how it compounds over time. The more you publish sustainable content the more you’ll be creating a marketing asset that appreciates in value.   If you pour money into marketing that depreciates, you will be chasing your tail until your money runs out.   Be the owner not the renter   Many marketers are hooked on the quick-fix of renting attention, but then struggle because there is nothing left to show for it at the end of the day. My experience suggests that focusing on being the publisher (owner) is infinitely better approach than being the advertiser (renter).   Publish your own content, be generous, help people and your audience will grow.  Then you can communicate with them for free anytime you like.  This is what building a marketing asset is all about.   The Web Strategy Planning Template helps you visualise and plan your marketing asset.

Getting attention to find the perfect technology co-founder: Meet the founder singing for her CTO

1:37PM | Wednesday, 15 January

When Liz Kaelin was told by an accelerator program she needed to find a tech co-founder, she knew it wouldn’t be easy. But after posting a song to YouTube, she’s received 12 applications in a couple of days.   Kaelin, Sarah Maloof and Phil Doran were told by the team at the new muru-D accelerator program if they wanted to grow their catering curation start-up You Chews, they’d need to find a tech co-founder quickly.   “We’re going well but we’re still processing all of the accounts and enquiries manually. We want to operate at 10 times our current capacity and use technology to facilitate that,” Kaelin says, adding they’ve fed 3000 people at 70 events in Sydney and Melbourne in the last six months.   “But everyone talks about how hard it was to find that elusive CTO, so I used my entrepreneurial spirit and thought outside the box to get some attention.”   Several hundred people have already watched Kaelin’s video, where she sings about how the six-month-old start-up is going and what they’re looking for.   Kaelin says so far they’ve been amazed by the quality of the applicants, and they’re confident they’ll find a good CTO shortly.   You can watch the video below, even if just to admire Kaelin’s ability to sing lines such as:   “Automation, outsourcing and systems integration, we can go back to doing what we love to do, finding food for all of you …. Everything’s gonna be alright because of the awesome code you’ll write.”  

Social media news and views in 2013 and advice to take into 2014

12:03AM | Tuesday, 31 December

No matter what your opinion of social media, it’s become a ubiquitous feature of our lives.   It’s also rapidly evolving, with new platforms and features being developed to capture people’s attention and possibly become the next Facebook.   Businesses are also catching on with their own presence on platforms as they need to be where their customers are.   There was plenty of news and advice for readers this year on the latest developments and ways to get the most out of tweets and hashtags and posts and pins.   Quixomatic consolidates social media pages   The story of Sydney-based start-up launching its platform that consolidates a company’s social media pages generated plenty of interest for readers.   Co-founder and managing director Brett Poole, who previously worked for Yahoo, told StartupSmart the idea emerged from the trend of start-ups and small businesses being active on social media first to build traction before investing in creating a website.   Quixomatic uses the information already on a company’s Facebook page to generate a mobile-friendly website. It also plugs into other social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube.   Who owns what on social media?   When you post content on social media, who do you think owns it? Many people will say the person who posts the content. That may be true, but the content maker may not be the only owner.   Mentor Vanessa Emilio looked into the issue here and warned readers to be aware of what could happen to their content.   Time-saving tools for Twitter   A tweet has become more than what a bird does. It’s now a message to the world that can whip up outrage, embarrass or entertain. It’s also a powerful tool for business engaging with their customers through the Twitter platform.   But for the busy businessperson, managing their Twitter account can be time consuming.   Lauren Ridgway offers here some time-saving tools when using Twitter, including using Tweetdeck and various analytical tools.   Facebook accelerator program for small business   Many small businesses have a Facebook page. For those who don’t want to create their own websites, it’s a relatively simple option for them.   The news that Facebook was offering places in an accelerator program to help small businesses get the most out of Facebook was widely shared.   “Many small businesses are doing great things on Facebook and we are committed in helping them continue to unlock the opportunities open to them,” Nick Bowditch, Facebook’s manager of small business in Australia and New Zealand, said.   What’s better – advertising a business or using social media?   Advertising and social media provide different paths for promoting your business, as mentor Dean Ramler writes. But in today’s business world, it’s no longer a question of one or the other.   In this post he outlines how social media can be great for engaging with customers while online and traditional advertising also play a role.   “Any good marketing program should combine both advertising and social media for maximum impact,” he says.   Some more articles worth reading: How to build social media hype for a crowdfunding campaign; Twitter announces a partnership with a young Sydney start-up; and Why social media is a must when you want to sell your business.

A spectacular inspiration for a productivity boost

12:51AM | Monday, 9 December

Over the weekend, there was a traffic jam near the local oval in a sleepy hollow known as Parts Unknown.   Flatlanders passing through to the hills must have been dismayed to see traffic through town slow to a crawl. Cars were parked on nature strips for several blocks around the local footy oval. Heaven help anyone who wanted to quickly stop by the neighbouring supermarket to pick up a bottle of milk!   A sign on the oval’s fence reads: “Parts Unknown Football Club. We are the mighty fightin’ Eagles. Under 12s wanted for the 2012 season – join now!” Apparently, they’ve concocted an ingenious plan of sending a DeLorean carrying a carload of decent juniors back in time to 2012 in a bid to actually win a couple of matches for once!   Every year, the local shire throws its annual carols by candlelight on the footy club’s oval. Choirs from local churches, senior citizens clubs and schools take turns with the bands from the local pub belting out a rendition of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.   Of course, the real reason for the crowd comes after the carols: The fireworks.   The fireworks display at the end of the carols is, basically, how the local shire (literally) blows whatever budget it has left at the end of the year in one spectacular display of pyrotechnic fiscal flagrancy.   After all, if they didn’t send the cash sky high, they might be forced to either cut local rates or spend the money on something useful. And we can’t have that, now can we!   Well, they must have had a really lean budget this year, because the sky flowers were especially epic. And – Land of the Dead style – there’s nothing quite like a few firecrackers to really draw out the locals, before their zombie-like march back to the hills from whence they came.   Anyway, while sitting on a hill under the scoreboard with a couple of friends with a brandy old-fashioned in-hand, your humble correspondent couldn’t help but notice the number of smartphones in the air, recording the whole show.   Because if there's one thing that’s more spectacular than a live fireworks display against a night sky, it’s watching a blocky, poorly shot video clip of a fireworks display on a five-inch smartphone screen – right?!   No doubt, if you’ve been to a concert or any public event the past couple of years, you’ve seen the iPhones being thrown up in the air, or being waved like they just don’t care. Who wants to enjoy the moment when you can upload a poorly captured clip of it onto YouTube?   To Old Taskmaster, it seems like extra unnecessary effort for little reward. Why not sit back and enjoy the show? It’s a waste of resources! It’s inefficient!   Now, it might be easy to snicker at the kid who’s more worried about getting a good mobile clip than having a good time. But are there ways you waste resources within your business?   You don’t run a local shire council, so don’t treat your business like one.   Instead, you should aim to create a culture which encourages staff to find creative ways to boost your productivity by doing more with fewer resources.   If there’s a piece of software or equipment that can do away with a mundane task, you want to hear about it.   In established companies, eliminating unnecessary tasks is a great way to make yourself redundant, which is why employees aren’t in the habit of mentioning them.   So it’s important that your staff understand that, especially in a growing start-up, freeing up time by eliminating unnecessary tasks means they get more opportunities to spend time on interesting new projects.   So Old Taskmaster says this: Make it clear to your staff that you’re open to suggestions on how to work smarter rather than harder. In a growing business, saving time or labour isn’t being lazy – it’s being efficient!   Get it done – after the fireworks!

Make your tech attack ads interesting

11:35AM | Tuesday, 5 November

Earlier today, old Taskmaster read about an ad by Microsoft that has been criticised for attacking Apple. Apparently the folks up in Seattle think putting the latest iPhone in a range of different coloured plastics isn’t particularly innovative.   And they’d be right – Apple first offered a selection of different coloured plastics for the original iMac, back in 1998.   However, what some of you young’uns might not realise is that there’s nothing new about one tech company directly naming, attacking and mocking its rivals. In fact, attack ads have been a feature of the tech sector for almost as long as they have been used in politics.   Back in the 1980s, Commodore founder Jack Tramiel made it a regular feature of his advertising. From William Shatner having a dig at Atari while selling the VIC-20 to a Commodore 64 advert literally chewing out Apple, competitors were regularly named and shamed:     During the late 1980s, then videogame giant Sega took Commodore’s attack ads and added ‘blast processing’. Now, whether or not blast processing exists outside a counter-terror squad investigation remains dubious. Nonetheless, Sega claimed to have it and Nintendo didn’t (or should that be Nintendon’t?).     Apple is certainly no stranger to this form of advertising either. The first and best known example was the company’s now infamous 1984 ad. That said, even during their weak late 80s and early 90s period, the attacks continued:     And then there’s the company’s Mac and PC ads:     Like most things, Samsung has taken this concept off Apple and then begun churning out variations like sausages. Here’s one recent example:     So, like many things in the computer industry, the attack ad was first developed by a company like Commodore, was quickly followed by Apple, was mass-produced by Samsung, and then Microsoft eventually had a go.   And the big problem with their ad? Compared to the other examples, it’s a bit boring:     The moral of the story is simple. If you want to make an ad (or YouTube clip) attacking your rivals, go for it. Just make it interesting. Even if you have to make up a phrase like ‘blast processing’ to do it!   Get it done – today!

Why the tech revolution could soon be televised: If you develop mobile apps, you must tune in to this

10:49AM | Friday, 25 October

Earlier today, your humble correspondent read a really rather interesting news piece. If you’re in the mobile app business or even a software developer in general, this is one article you must read.   But first, a little background.   If you’re a loyal reader, you might recall back in July your dear Uncle Taskmaster wrote a little article looking at the growing tensions simmering between Google and Samsung. (If you’re a new reader, click here to read it.)   To refresh you memory, the two companies have made a small fortune selling Samsung Galaxy smartphones running Google’s Android operating system and apps. However, now Google (through its wholly owned Motorola Mobility subsidiary) builds its own smartphones. Meanwhile, Samsung has started working on its own smartphone platform in competition to Android, known as Tizen.   At the time, you’ll recall Old Taskmaster wrote the following:   “If you’re already coding mobile apps, and you find yourself with some spare time on your hands, it could be worth playing around with the Tizen development kit. If it flops, you’ll be the coder with the best chess app in a sparsely filled app store.   “Meanwhile, if these two giants of the smartphone world file for divorce, you’ll be well positioned to cash in.”   Then, at the start of August, Old Taskmaster wrote a column about why YouTube video clips matter for small business. Again, click here if you missed it.   Now, dear reader and start-up entrepreneur, here’s where it all starts to get interesting.   According to an article your humble correspondent read earlier today, it appears that smart television will be one of the key focuses of the next version of Google’s Android smartphone platform (Android 4.4 KitKat).   If this proves to be true, it could make “how my app looks on TV” as big a consideration as “how well it works on a smartphone” or “how well it works on a tablet”.   But, loyal reader, here’s something even more interesting:   “Google is set to collide with Samsung over the future of smart TV, with the Korean electronics giant set to use its own operating system – Tizen – to power its future smart TV products from next year.”   That’s right, the likes of Sony and LG will ship TVs next year running Android, while Samsung will ship them with its own Tizen platform installed instead.   Now, my dear app developer, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a golden opportunity right there.   If I were in your shoes right now, here’s what I would do.   First, download the Tizen development kit and have a play with it if you haven’t already.   Secondly, keep an ear to the ground about any more news that comes out about Android 4.4 KitKat.   Someone could potentially make a lot of money selling apps for smart TVs. As a start-up, you need to be nimble and ready enough to grab that first mover advantage.   Get it done – on TV!

Local start-up community unites on quest to bring a car made of Lego that runs on air to Australia

9:49AM | Friday, 13 September

The Melbourne and Sydney start-up communities have united to fund the creation of a full-size car made entirely of Lego by a Romanian teenage hardware hacker.   The “super awesome micro project” was launched in April last year, after the Romanian entrepreneur Raul Oaida reached out to Melbourne-based serial entrepreneur Steve Sammartino, who raised tens of thousands of dollars from 40 entrepreneurs via Twitter to support the project.   Sammartino told StartupSmart the project was to show the world what was possible in the era of digital entrepreneurialism.   “This project is so we show the world the Australian start-up industry can match it with anyone,” Sammartino says. “We can go beyond the keyboard, we can make real things via the internet and opportunities that didn’t exist before.”   They’re currently seeking a “Silk Road Patron” to chip in $25,000 to fly Oaida and the vehicle from Deva, a small town in Romania, to Australia for its international launch via YouTube.   “Then we’ll adopt Raul and never let him go back, because we need him in our start-up culture. He’s a hardware hacker, and that’s where innovation is headed, hardware via software,” Sammartino says.   The car, which Oaida and Sammartino estimates weighs just over 500kg, can carry two people at between 40km/h and 70km/h. The engine is apparently air-powered.   Sammartino and Oaida have worked together on earlier projects, including sending a toy Lego space shuttle high into the atmosphere using a helium balloon.   “He found me. He’s a social media stalker, and he was reading my blog and we connected that way,” Sammartino says, explaining Oaida wanted to be connected to an investor in Sammartino’s network. “He’d built a rocket, and wanted someone to fund his space scientific project. But I explained I can’t just connect some kid from the internet if I didn’t know he could actually do it.”   The super awesome micro project was conceived by Sammartino and Oaida.   “He wanted to a build a normal car from his village, but I said he could do better than that to show off his skills, so we hatched this idea,” Sammartino says.   Describing the project as running late and over budget, Sammartino says he’s spent 50 times more than he planned to, and didn’t want to crowdsource the final transit amount from the community.   “I can’t keep asking people for favours as this has been longer and more expensive than we’d planned,” Sammartino says. “We need a Silk Road Patron to pay to get him here. Historically, bringing things from lands afar has taken humans to the next level. It’s about sharing information and learnings. It was spices and tea, but now it’s technology.”   Describing the patron as a modern-day Medici, Sammartino says it’s likely this person will come from the start-up community.   “This is a gift to the start-up community. When people all over the world can see the car, and the kid, and get amazed by the video, everyone can know the Australian scene is amazing.”

A lesson on taste from Steve Jobs

9:14AM | Monday, 2 September

Over the weekend, your humble correspondent watched the Steve Jobs biopic Jobs.   Switching off an Android smartphone before a movie about Steve Jobs is an awkward, almost covert operation. You almost imagine being chased out of the local Cineplex by a bunch of single mouse button aficionados in black turtle necks baying for heathen blood – while brandishing minimalist white tablets and smartphones instead of pitchforks.   So is Old Taskmaster’s task of the day to order you to the cinema to watch this film?   Certainly, if you’re a hardcore Apple fan, this is a flick you should probably see – but then again you probably already have seen it five times already and are in the middle of torrenting it onto your second MacBook.   Since a lot of the film focuses on the start-up phase of one of the world’s largest companies, there’s probably a lot here you will relate to even if you aren’t in the tech sector.   And there are some interesting background details hidden in the film – the Radio Shack TRS-80s and Commodore PETs in the background of a scene on the West Coast Computer Faire were a nice touch, for example.   But beyond that? It’s not an awful film, and certainly Ashton Kutcher plays Jobs better than you imagine he would. But it could have been far better.   The film itself follows the standard, generic Hollywood three-act structure. It attempts to cram in too many historical details in too few minutes of running time, at the expense of character development, depth or context.   For example, in one scene Jobs has a conversation with the legendary Atari engineer Al Alcorn. But we’re not told Al Alcorn is the guy who designed Pong and was the lead designer on the world’s first successful home games console, the Atari 2600.   In order to really appreciate the significance of the scene, you need to read a biography about Jobs. Which then raises the question – why not just read a good biography instead of seeing the film?   With that being said, here’s a YouTube clip with a key business lesson from the (real-life) Steve Jobs:       Especially if you’re marketing a premium product, questions of taste matter. That means taking the time to get key elements such as design, ease of use and layout right. Cultural elements, including choices as simple as the typeface and colour you use, can have a big impact on how potential customers will perceive your product.   And there’s no better place to start your cultural education than by reading a good biography about Steve Jobs – because TV and movies rot your brain, Sonny Jim Crockett!   Get it done – tastefully.

Electric skateboard punt pays off for business founders who sold their house

8:46PM | Thursday, 1 August

Jeff and Fleur Anning weren’t planning on launching an international business when they designed their motorised skateboard.   But after fielding hundreds of questions from friends, major brands and interested parties overseas, they decided to go for it.   Evolve Skateboards was launched by the Annings in early 2012. The couple, based on the Gold Coast, released their first run of skateboards in July 2012, and have signed up nine international distributors.   “I’m not really into skateboarding so much, this is more about snowboarding or surfing,” Jeff says. “But I saw an electric board go past and thought to myself this was the best idea ever. I want to carve without pushing, and this is the perfect way to get that.”   Jeff, who was a landscaper at the time, bought a board, but was disappointed at what he saw as the unnecessarily heavy and low quality of the options.   “I set out to improve the way these boards ride. It became a challenge and obsession,” Jeff says. “My intention was never to launch an international company, I wanted to make a cool product and challenge myself and it turns out it was a winner.”   Jeff and Fleur, a graphic designer by trade, spent a few months creating and testing prototypes, sourcing parts from all over the world and assembling the boards themselves.   They created a couple of YouTube videos and launched a website; pre-orders and email inquiries rolled in from all over the world.   Shortly after they launched, they were approached by a major skateboard company keen to license the product.   “We worked on that idea and partnership for about a year,” Fleur says. “We got to the point where it wasn’t moving along. It was all about bottom dollar. They wanted cheaper parts and we decided that wasn’t how we wanted to go.”   When Jeff and Fleur chose to walk away from the deal, they realised their commitment to quality was going to cost them. They needed capital to sell the boards on their own, so they decided to sell their home.   “It was a big risk. To get this to market, we needed investment we didn’t have. We only had money tied up in our house, so we decided ‘stuff it, life’s short let’s take a risk’ and sold our place,” Jeff says. “But walking away from the deal was the best thing that happened to us.”   While bootstrapping meant they had to produce and sell small runs, Fleur says this helped them develop the best possible model as they could make improvements every 50 or 100 boards.   “We started the company by the skin of our teeth, so we had to do it slowly but it’s been the best way to get the product right,” Fleur says.   They’re now selling thousands of boards a year and are distributing to nine countries. Jeff says the model is they sell the parts and prototype to the international sellers, who then assemble the boards themselves and sell them as their own business.   “We’ve done it this way to ensure quality and ownership,” Jeff says, adding while demand is growing, they’re sticking with their current system. “We’re not going to go into retail. At this stage, we’re not going to change anything.”   Fleur says their target customer was different to what they anticipated, with their main demographic being 28-to-55-year-old professionals looking for a fast and fun way to commute to work.

Rapping Peter Strong: Keepin’ it real against red tape

7:18AM | Wednesday, 31 July

Since Old Taskmaster was knee-high to a grasshopper, the clowns in Canberra have been stifling small business owners with red tape and regulation.   While many business regulations are created with multinationals like BHP Billiton and Wesfarmers in mind, the same compliance hoops and taxes are also forced onto sole traders, small businesses and start-ups with far fewer resources.   Unfortunately, despite the fact small businesses are the backbone of the Australian economy, the message just doesn’t seem to be getting through. Until now, that is.   Thanks to Council of Small Business of Australia executive director Peter Strong – with a little help from YouTube – that message is now going viral. In fact, earlier this morning, the clip was doing the rounds here at Taskmaster Towers.   Strong recorded a rap music video on behalf of small business owners and entrepreneurs across the nation, telling Kevin Rudd to start keeping it real on red tape. It’s a battle rap against bureaucracy.   While it probably won’t force the likes of Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre or Kanye West to update their CVs just yet, the clip turned out better than you might imagine.   If it hasn’t shown up in your email or on your Twitter feed yet, here’s the video everyone’s talking about:     Now, you might think it’s a little silly. But it’s novelty value that causes videos to go viral on social media sites, including YouTube.   So Old Taskmaster says it’s time to take a leaf out of Peter Strong’s book. If you use YouTube as one of your social media channels, don’t just upload a boring old ad. Instead, create a video with some novelty value to it and have some fun with it!   Get it done – and bust a funky lyric!

Six ways time-poor entrepreneurs can get more mileage from content marketing

7:31PM | Sunday, 14 July

Content marketing is being hailed as the holy grail for marketers and start-ups everywhere.   But what we often overlook is that it’s hard work and time-consuming, so it’s easy to see why time-poor entrepreneurs simply don’t get around to it.   That’s why there’s an easier way to reap the benefits of content marketing without needing to do all the grunt work yourself. Here are six tips:   1. YouTube interview   Too busy to dream up your own content? One of the oldest tricks in the book, and still one of the best, is to interview someone. Some people use this technique to build entire careers and they never have to create their own content!   If you’re in person, use your smartphone to record it – there’s no technology excuses anymore. If you’re not in the same location, you can use Skype for free and Skype Call Recorder for $20 to record it. Then use a low-cost online service like Elance or Fiverr and get someone to convert it to a YouTube video. Or use iMovie if you want to do it yourself.   2. Use the audio version as a podcast   You can also just take an audio version of your interview and embed it on your website as a podcast for people to listen to.   3. Get a transcription for your blog   Take the YouTube URL of the interview and use a tool called Speechpad to transcribe it for you.   From $1 per minute of audio, this sure beats hitting play and rewind and typing it all up yourself. You can spend that time running your business or lining up the next interview.   4. Take a handful of transcriptions and turn it into an eBook   You’ve already got all the content you need to release an eBook and you don’t need to pick up a pen (or open your laptop). Compile four or so video interview transcripts and shoot it off to your designer on Elance or Odesk to whip it into a PDF eBook.   Some of the bestselling books of all time are just interviews. This format means you’re the author, but your guests have provided all the content – perfect for us time-poor entrepreneurs!   5. Email the top five insights to your subscribers   You wouldn’t usually send 40 pages of content via an email but why not send the ‘eBook highlights’ via email and attach the entire eBook for people who want to read the whole thing?   6. Do the final 1% of sharing it around   My final tip is to remember that the “easy wins” occur after you hit publish (which is when most people think their job is done). It takes minimal extra effort to post your content on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram once it’s live.   And the biggest goldmine of all is LinkedIn groups. Share your valuable content in the appropriate LinkedIn groups you’re a member of and interact with the readers who are kind enough to leave a comment.   It’s no secret that it’s hard work running a business and hard to do good content marketing, but leverage your time and use these tips and it gets easier. Feel free to download this free editorial calendar template to help keep yourself on track too!

Three key steps to creating in-house inbound marketing

5:29PM | Sunday, 19 May

As your organisation ‘grows up’ from a start-up to a more mature company, you have a tremendous opportunity to build an in-house inbound marketing function.   Imagine running a team where everybody is ‘in marketing’ because the smarts of all your people are being shared.   As your entire team helps create more useful and helpful content to educate customers you will begin to attract more leads, customers and revenue.   The goal is to build an in-house inbound marketing function where your whole team is social media enabled and everyone is contributing to the content marketing efforts of the organisation.  This is known as a ‘social business’.   To get this stage, there are three major paradigms that must adjust.   1. Management must empower   It’s much easier building a ‘social business’ from the ground up than it is to implement widespread change later. Fortunately for you, as a start-up entrepreneur, this plays to your strengths because you have the ability to handpick your team and mould your culture.   When you trust your team to do their best, it means you can start to realise the potential of their collective brain power and personal networks.  And this obviously compounds as your team grows.   2. Marketing must make it easy   The marketing team’s job is to extract the content from the organisation’s in-house subject matter expert, and use it to help educate prospective customers.   Education is definitely the way to drive sales and business growth.  As I’ve said before, informed people buy, not confused or ignorant people.  And your role as marketer is to unleash the knowledge that is sitting the heads and computers of the people within your organisation.   Your existing team, or future team if you are just one person right now, have all the marketing ideas, content and tools that you could ever need.  Your responsibility is to identify it, extract it and then harness the power of your team’s collective personal networks to share it.   3. Subject matter experts are the ‘new marketing heroes’!   Turn your technical boffins and in-house experts into the stars of your marketing efforts.   Whilst they may not necessarily be natural writers, content creators or marketers, you can simply interview these experts and then use your skills to turn that interview into a YouTube video, an audio file, a blog post, e-book or template.   You can then hand it back to the subject matter expert for final approval and share it out via your social networks!   In my opinion, this is the future of web marketing and the direction you should be leading your organisation.   If you’re interested in building your marketing function from the ground up, this free Inbound Marketing Flight Plan provides a step by step process for building a permanent web asset for your organisation.

Can you have a decent marketing strategy without an advertising budget?

4:47AM | Thursday, 18 April

Is it worth writing a marketing plan/strategy even though I have little to no money to spend on big ads or marketing agencies?   Asking a marketer whether you really need a marketing plan is like asking a personal trainer whether a training routine will really make any difference.   A (good) marketing strategy is not something your small business hopes to have one day when it grows up. It’s something you need now.   It’s a misconception that only big firms need marketing plans and a further misconception that a plan is full of costly activity that you cannot afford. That’s an advertising strategy and you may not need one of those for a long time, if at all.   In fact, many small businesses and start-ups seem to coast along hoping for some lucky break instead of following a plan that makes success look like it came about with a bit of luck.   Sure there’s an element of luck in the rise of many businesses. There’s always going to be someone better connected and better funded than you, but those people will also fail if their idea or execution of that idea is – to put it bluntly – crap.   A well-thought-out brand and marketing strategy says precisely and uniquely what your business stands for; what you offer customers; exactly who those customers are; and how you’re going to reach them.   Of course, it aligns completely with your business strategy. (You mean I need one of those too?)   One of my favourite recent start-ups is the Dollar Shave Club. Founder Michael Dubin seems to have hit the jackpot and found the magic formula all at once. Certainly it ticks every checklist for success:   A great idea: Unbranded, good quality razors from only $1 per month. A clear target segment: Young cool guys who like to be seen trying new things and are ‘beyond brands’ (though this is actually the cool no-brand brand. I’m sure part of the plan.) An easy call to action: Buy now for only $1. Cancel any time. A marketing campaign executed exactly to its target market: Funny, goofy video a ‘la Old Spice man. Customer loyalty: $1 a month per person rolling credit card payments. Viral: YouTube video bonanza (almost 10 million views to date).   This whole business concept looks so simple that it’s easy to think it came about with no strategy. But I’m putting money on Michael Dubin having a great plan behind it with a timeline of milestones to hit and exactly how the business responds at each point.   Firstly, his brand and launch strategy to prove the validity of the idea and score serious funding to grow (over $10 million in seed and Series A funding was secured).   Secondly, a plan to build the business by moving into new markets (Australia came very fast, women’s blades are coming) and also expanding into new products such as shaving creams.   And thirdly, pure speculation but I’m sure it’s on the cards, a succession plan that may involve selling the business. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the big brands, Gillette for instance, had made an offer already.   The lesson I keep learning when I see success stories like this one is to train yourself to operate like a big business from day one and that means have a great plan.   So a quick recap:   Yes, you do need a marketing plan. It needs to support the goals of your business plan. It’s not the same as an advertising plan. It needs to be well thought out. It’s worth spending a few thousand dollars and going over it with an expert. The tactical outputs don’t need to be costly. Follow the plan and review it all the time. Use the plan to tell you what NOT to do as much as what to do. Think how your business may look to make it saleable and work back from that goal. Good luck!

The Proposal Expert has a nice (wedding) ring to it

4:31AM | Thursday, 18 April

It’s a truly questionable enterprise. A Welsh woman’s start-up is offering lessons on how to propose after turning down her boyfriend’s proposal because it was like “being asked out for pizza”.   Sam Shepherd’s company – The Proposal Expert – can cater for any budget, from $10 to $10,000.   “A good proposal can be a lasting talking point, but a bad one can end up on YouTube,” says Shepherd.   Her boyfriend, Ryan Galeozzi, is planning to have another crack at popping the question.   Another entrepreneur in New York has come up with a similar concept, suggesting there’s well and truly a market for it. Perhaps you could launch a proposal planning business in Australia?

Five steps to humanise your business

3:07AM | Friday, 22 March

The web represents huge opportunities for start-up entrepreneurs to humanise their organisations.   This makes us much more likable and trustworthy than the bigger corporates we may face as competitors.   International speaker Jay Baer was the social media keynote at the recent National Growth Summit and he introduced a brilliant concept called the ‘humanisation highway’.   It is simply a five-step journey that we go on where we gradually humanise our businesses:   1. Ignoring   This what most companies are doing right now. Nearly everyone has heard of social media but most simply don’t use it yet. It may be fear, anxiety, lack of time, lack of resources or simply lack of interest.   Or perhaps you have set yourself up with social media accounts but they are lying dormant and neglected.   2. Listening   All this involves is setting up Google Alerts and logging into your accounts on a regular basis to see what is going on. If you’re at this stage of the journey you are likely to be following a handful of people you like of Twitter, Facebook and you may follow certain blogs.   If you simply listen, you’re putting yourself ahead of most of your competition because at least you know what is going on. This stage can be very exciting because you can see the power of the community and you’re possibly thinking about taking the next step.   3. Responding   This is where you stop lurking and you get involved. It’s often the scariest step mentally because you’re no longer anonymous and you’re putting yourself out there for all the world to see.   It’s also the shortest stop because you realise there was nothing to worry about. It’s actually quite fun and the business benefits are enormous. Tools like Google Alerts and Twitter Search make it really easy to keep track of what people are talking about, so you are in the position to respond to conversations, which normally means replying to tweets or leaving comments on a blog.   4. Participating   If you have a blog and you use all the usual social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn on a regular basis, then you’re a rock solid participant. The key difference with this phase is that you are ‘contributing content’.   The rule of thumb online is that 90% lurk, 9% respond and 1% contribute. Congrats on being in the top 1%.   5. Story Telling   The final and ultimate stop on the ‘humanisation highway’, and it is where you are actively contributing and sharing compelling stories. Stories that take the shape of blog posts, YouTube videos, e-books, podcasts, emails, infographics and webinars that people simply ‘have to’ share with their friends and colleagues.   This is how you earn your true fans, and the reward is that they start spreading the word for you via tweets, Facebook likes, email forwards and blogging. When you become a master storyteller, then you’ve well and truly humanised your organisation!   For more information to guide you on this humanisation journey, you may like my free e-book Web Strategy Secrets.