There are numerous software companies operating in the project management space, and Brisbane-based startup Grapple is hoping to offer a service that complements all of them. Grapple uses industry-standard best practice to guide users through the planning and ongoing management of their projects. It removes the need to manually update planning documents and spreadsheets, and allows users to upload those documents to project management software users of their choice. It’s one of eight Australian startups that have been invited to showcase their products at The Summit Dublin later this year, including: Pack and Jill: an e-commerce startup which designs, manufactures and sells premium travel goods direct to consumers. Mobilyser: describes itself as an easy to use app that segments your work and personal calls to claim expenses or prepare your tax return. Tactify: uses near field communication, beacon, QR and geo-fencing technology to create a dashboard allowing users to connect, design and build their own interactive mobile or print campaigns to communicate with consumers. School of Music Online: a web platform that teaches people how to play piano and violin. Trendii: an e-commerce interface that allows users to keep on top of trends and manipulate them to create and publish viral content. TalkLife: a peer-to-peer social network that aims to be a safe space for people with mental health issues where they can ask advice, make friends, and find understanding people with experience in promoting mental health. Blrt: a free app which helps improve the way people communicate with friends or colleagues when they can’t meet face to face by allowing them to express themselves verbally and visually. Co-founders Aaron Hudson and Chris O’Halloran, who have over 35 years combined experience in project management, say they were driven to create Grapple out of frustration. “There are a lot of project management tools, but we still have to use MS Word and Excel to do our project plans,” he says. “When a project goes into live mode, or delivery mode, you have to frantically keep these Word documents or Excel sheets updated, on top of what you’re doing with your project management tool of choice.” O’Halloran spoke to colleagues and found they had similar frustrations and decided to set out to build something that would take project planning to the crowd. While researching, O’Halloran found that the majority of people running projects weren’t qualified project managers. “What grapple does is take a non-professional project manager through the planning process, without them even knowing, and we create and automate it on the backend,” he says. “We create standard-compliant documents, then through our API we can send that data to any project management document tool you want to use.” According to the Project Management Institute’s 2014 Pulse of the Profession report, poor performance in project management results in organisations losing $109 million for every $1 billion invested in projects and programs. “Everyone is focusing on the project management side of it, and most of the big players have missed where the real problem is. The problem isn’t project management, it’s poor project planning and documentation,” O’Halloran says. “If you don’t have a plan, you don’t know what you’re doing.” Hudson and O’Halloran have funded the development of Grapple themselves, but are now currently speaking to investors they linked up with following River City Labs River Pitch event earlier this year. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Novelty nanosocial app Yo! has allegedly accused Australian-based push notification API Oi! of copyright infringement. Yo! is a social media app that allows friends to send each other messages that are restricted to the use of a single word: “Yo!” Launched on April 1, the app quickly raised $1 million in funding from high profile investors and inspired a number of clones. Since then, Adelaide-based entrepreneurs Steve Barrett and Chhai Thach have developed an API, called Oi!, which is aimed at the B2B market, allowing two devices to send a content-free push notification to each other. However, in an (app)arent twist to the novelty nanosocial app history, Thach told Private Media Yo! is accusing Oi! of infringing on its intellectual property. “The exact quote is ‘it’s a direct clone of the app’, but they didn’t invent push notification. We took a different approach to nanosocial, and added functionality,” Thach says. “We’ve built Oi! with a specific purpose – as a notification tool. So they probably see what we’re doing with Oi! and want to shut us down.” Thach stresses that no formal legal action has been taken at this point, and that at this stage Apple is handling the copyright infringement complaint. “We’re going through Apple at the moment, so we’ll see how it goes over the next day or so,” he says. @YoAppStatus accuses @oiapp of copyright infringement for direct cloning. The two couldn't be any more different! #startupAus #startup — Chhai Thach (@chhai) August 1, 2014 Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Travel search engine Rome2rio is one of the final batch of companies to receive a grant from the now defunct Commercialisation Australia. Rome2rio’s search engine offers air, train, ferry, mass transit and driving options door-to-door from any location. The startup received a grant for $385,000 from Commercialisation Australia at the beginning of 2013, and has now received an additional $788,000. The application was examined and approved by the Commercialisation Australia board in February and Rome2Rio was notified of its successful application late last month. A spokesperson for the Department of Industry says it is not yet able to provide details of the last round of Commercialisation Australian grant recipients because it is still finalising offers and contracts. Rome2rio CEO Rod Cuthbert says the funds from this latest grant will go towards technology development and hiring more engineers. He says its eight person team will grow to 10. “It will go towards continued development of our partnership platform, both API and white label programs available for partners to integrate into their own sites and inevitably most of that work also impacts the consumer cycle we operate as well,” he says. Cuthbert praised the Commercialisation Australia program, saying while it was quite a bureaucratic program, “if you took the time to understand it, it was a valuable process”. “Our case manager was experienced and added value to the process,” he says. “We’re sad to see it go, but we’re open to see what they replace it with.” Cuthbert says Rome2rio’s website had 2.7 million visitors in June and has been growing by 30% each month for the past six months. He attributes that growth to demand for Rome2rio’s product. “We’re the first people that have done a global transportation data base,” he says. “People have always been out there asking questions like ‘How can you get from A to B?’ but there hasn’t been a site that’s stood up to answering those questions, but we can. “We know how to get from A to B, anywhere in the world.” The latest round of funding, gives Rome2rio plenty of breathing room funding wise. “We’ve got probably a couple of years of runway at our current run-rate given we have revenues and we anticipate our revenues will grow on a monthly basis,” Cuthbert says. “The only thing that would drive us to do more funding is if we wanted to dramatically increase the amount of development we want to do.” That said, Cuthbert points out the online travel industry is a very inquisitive space, where anything can happen. “There’s a couple of deals every week in online travel,” he says. “Small companies that do interesting things get snapped up quickly. “As we pass through 5 million unique visitors a month on the way to 10 million, the industry notices that type of thing and opportunities surface.” He says rather than focus on what those opportunities might bring, the team is concentrating on continuing to grow the site’s traffic.
Catapult Sports, a Melbourne-based provider of tracking devices for elite athletes, has announced it has purchased Canberra-based counterpart GPSport. Both companies manufacture wearable devices that monitor the performance of elite athletes, where any movement data is fed into its analytics software on a computer in real time. Combined, the two companies count 450 elite teams worldwide as customers, with international clients including European football clubs AC Milan and Aston Villa, the New York Knicks NBA team, and almost half of the 32 teams in the NFL. Catapult Sports media and marketing manager Boden Westover told StartupSmart the combined company’s customers will include every AFL, NRL and Australian Super Rugby club. “In terms of AFL, Catapult had 17 clubs out of 18, while GPSport had one. We were split down the middle for both Super Rugby and NRL,” Westover says. “We were the number one player in this field and were the first to come up with the technology. GPSport was our biggest competitor. We had an exclusive deal with the Australian Institute of Sport for a while, while they were the first to market. Our companies are the two pioneers in this space.” Catapult Sports managed to raise $3.5 million in series A funding during the last quarter of 2013, taking total investment in the company to $6 million. Its backers include a number of high-profile investors, including as Dallas Mavericks owner and high-profile entrepreneur Mark Cuban. However, despite reports to the contrary, Westover told StartupSmart Catapult Sports has no plans for an IPO this year. “It’s one of those things where there was some uninformed speculation about an IPO in an article, and it quickly became accepted as fact. But we certainly don’t have any plans for an IPO in the next 12 months,” he says. In its official statement, Catapult Sports chief executive Shaun Holthouse says the two businesses will continue to operate as separate entities for at least the next 12 months. “Day one after the acquisition, we expect the only thing GPSports users will notice is an increased focus on customer service as we invest in this side of the operation,” Holthouse says. “We know a lot of GPSports clients are very loyal to the brand and technology. The last thing we want to do is disrupt a good thing. Over the longer term we will be looking for synergies that bring added value to our combined customer base.” Holthouse also says the deal was a response to consolidation in the athlete analytics industry, with his company’s focus shifting towards building global scale and distribution. Wearable devices have recently come into focus following high profile announcements in the consumer end of the market, with Google recently unveiling its Google Fit API and Apple announcing HealthKit. Despite the hype, Catapult Sports chairman Adir Shiffman told StartupSmart in May he remains a sceptic about the consumer end of the market, but sees little shortage in growth at the professional end of the market.
PayPal and Braintree will be hosting a 24-hour hackathon in Sydney on July 26 and 27, where developers compete for the chance to win a trip to Silicon Valley and $US100,000 ($A105,000). The hackathon is part of the global BattleHacks competition that visits 14 cities around the world before culminating at the World Finals event in November. During the Sydney Battle Hack, developers will be tasked with building a mobile application that solves a local problem of their choice and incorporates the PayPal API or Braintree SDK. Developers can compete as individuals, as a team or find people to collaborate with on the day, with a maximum of four people to a team. The winner of the Sydney Battle Hack will be flown to the finals at PayPal’s headquarters in Silicon Valley to battle it out for the $US100,000 prize and “battle axe” trophy. The Sydney judging panel for the Sydney Battle Hack will include John Lunn, global director of the PayPal Developer Network, and influencers within the Sydney tech scene to be announced in the coming weeks. John Lunn, global director, PayPal and Braintree Developer Network says they are excited to be able to bring Battle Hack to Australia. “Battle Hack is designed by developers for developers. We see it as a way to reward the best and brightest developers,” Lunn says. “Additionally, we hope to change the lives of the winning team through the prize money we offer, whether it’s helping a sick relative like one of our Moscow winners did or building their own business. “Unlike many other hackathons, we aren’t looking to take equity in their companies or influence their work in any way.” The first prize up for grabs at the 2014 Sydney Battle Hack includes flights and accommodation to the World Finals in Silicon Valley, and a chance to win the grand team prize of $100,000 USD. For more information and to register, visit https://2014.battlehack.org/.
LIFX, the innovations company behind the award-winning Wi-Fi enabled, multi-color LED light bulbs, today announced that it has partnered with Sequoia and raised $12M in Series A funding. The partnership will help LIFX, which is on the forefront of the Internet of Things (IoT), make homes smarter and improve the way we live. Angel investors Guy King and Bevan Clark also participated in the round. Sequoia partner Omar Hamoui has joined the company’s board of directors. “LIFX is one of the fastest growing and most promising smart home companies,” said Omar Hamoui, Sequoia Capital. “Phil and team have truly revolutionized the first consumer electronics device: The light bulb. As consumers adopt connected home technologies, the LIFX bulb will be a starting point because it’s easy to install and immediately useful on a daily basis. We couldn’t be happier to support them as they work to deliver the best home innovation experience.” This Series A funding round follows one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns to date, garnering over $1.3m in pledges in just six days. The company shipped its Kickstarter pledge pre-orders in Q1 this year. LIFX will use the capital to fund the next phase of its business. The company is also now hiring world-class engineering, sales and marketing teams to create best in class IoT products. LIFX has offices in Los Altos, CA and Melbourne, Australia and will continue to grow both operations. Interested candidates can apply to email@example.com. “We’re amazed at the level of response we’ve received since our initial launch on Kickstarter in 2012. In the short time since the launch, we’ve worked to perfect our hardware, build a beautiful app and increase manufacturing to meet demand.” said Phil Bosua, CEO and founder of LIFX. “This partnership will allow us to accelerate the growth of LIFX and produce some of the world’s best IoT products.” The investment brings LIFX’s total funding to $16.6m. The Light Bulb Reinvented - now available to everyone The LIFX smart bulbs can now be purchased online and shipped worldwide for free. To date, the bulbs were only available to Kickstarter backers and select customers as the company scaled to meet the overwhelming demand. The LIFX smart bulb works just like a normal light bulb. Simply screw in the LIFX bulb and download the free app and you’re good to go; set up takes less than two minutes. LIFX offers three bulb models that retail for $99.00 USD each: Edison Screw, Bayonet Cap and Downlight (pre-order). Experience a virtual LIFX bulb at: virtualbulb.lifx.co. LIFX has an open API platform so developers can freely develop apps and use cases to support the growing need for smart lighting throughout the world.
Revuudle wants to turn often mundane social media updates into meaningful reviews. Founder of the Adelaide-based startup Luke Larsen says Revuudle’s core premise centres around turning people’s opinions expressed on social media, into quantifiable data by letting them share reviews with a five-star rating system. “What would normally be meaningless sharing of experience becomes a data topic for review,” Larsen says. “Using the power of social networks you can scale that to people in your area, people with similar tastes to you. “It will allow you to review things that have never been possible before. You could review not just the movie, but the cinema, the restaurant you went to before the movie, literally the specific dish you ate at the restaurant.” Last week the startup won the Gold eNVIe at the Flinders University New Venture Institute’s Venture Dorm awards and Innovation Showcase. Larsen is developing an application programming interface (API) and apps for Revuudle across all platforms. “I call it the social reviewing network,” he says. “In the current ecosystem of user reviews there are many, many places for people to leave their reviews, but there’s not much incentive to do so.” Larsen says there’s the potential to integrate the review platform with commercial websites, and it will be linked with the Facebook and Twitter accounts of users. The silver eNVIe went to Kick it, an app to help smokers track their habit and quit smoking when they’re ready, while Floragram a service which delivers the best flowers from local markets, was the people’s choice winner. The judging panel included Vinomofo co-founder and chief executive officer Andre Eikmeier, Adelaide Football Club general manager commercial and community projects Darrin Johnson and Commonwealth Bank private banker Sarah Sullivan. “I was actually impressed with the quality of the pitches, given how early stage this program is,” Eikmeier says. “Four or five real standouts for me, and I shall be following their progress keenly. “The pitches themselves were polished, and most punched through even for the people or ideas I wasn’t as keen on. “They have honed in on the problem/solution succinctly, which sets a business off on the right path. “I’m also very impressed with Matt Salier, who is taking a very inclusive feeder approach with NVI, and I’ve got some confidence it will be a valuable contributor to this growing Adelaide startup ecosystem.”
According to SEEK co-founder and Square Peg chief executive Paul Bassat, payments are the “holy grail of innovation”. He made the comment at The Australian Financial Review and Macquarie Future Forum on Tuesday, where some of Australia’s leading entrepreneurs declared the industry ripe for disruption. Despite banks in Australia being protected by complicated regulations, entrepreneurs are placing the industry under increasing pressure. Adding to banking woes are the likes of Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook eyeing entry to the payments market. Here are the top four Australian disruptive financial services startups to watch: 1. Society One Society One is Australia's leading peer-to-peer lending platform, with a $5 million investment from Westpac’s Reinventure Group, a $50 million fund set up to back early stage startups. It’s rumored to be on the investment radar of both James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch. Borrowers list loan requirements and investors decide which loans they choose, how much to invest in each loan, and the rate at which you want to earn their interest. Its personal loan rate for a prime borrower is 9.80% pa, 5% lower than the average rate from the major banks. 2. Tyro Payments Tyro provides credit, debit and EFTPOS card acquiring services and does not take money on deposit. It was founded in 2003 by ex-Cisco employees Peter Haig, Andrew Rothwell and Paul Wood as MoneySwitch Ltd. Eleven-year-old Tyro is in its second year of profitable business operations. Disrupting the Australian banking industry was never going to be easy, and it took the team over $30 million in capital and a founder break-up to get there. At launch it was the first new entrant into the eftpos space in 15 years. 3. Pin Payments Pin Payments is an Australian-based startup operating from Melbourne and Perth that offers onsite payments and a developer API without the need for a merchant account. It received a grant from Commercialisation Australia and partnered with some of the Australian banks to make its offering possible. Both overseas-based Braintree and Stripe operate in the same space, but Pin has a solid local focus. Getting access to a payment system has previously been a juggle for companies, especially early stage ones. Pin Payments is aimed at developers who can easily integrate its service through their API. 4. CoinJar CoinJar, a Melbourne-based bitcoin exchange and payment system, which has raised $500,000 in seed funding from a range of individual investors and the Blackbird Ventures seed fund. Launched in February by Asher Tan and Ryan Zhou, CoinJar has over 10,000 active users in Australia. The company charges a low single-digit percentage fee for each transaction. CoinJar was the first company to get its Bitcoin app re-listed in the iPhone App Store, after Apple revised its app guidelines to include virtual currency apps that it previously excluded.
Time-lapse photography app Project Tripod has announced it has cracked the 30,000 download mark since going live on April 23, with founder Catherine Eibner looking to the construction industry to build the user base further. The Windows Phone app allows users to create time-lapse animations and other effects by taking a photo of a landmark (for example a bridge or a building), returning to the same location later, then taking a second shot that is perfectly digitally aligned to the first. The photos are stored through a cloud-based API which allows a number of users to contribute digitally aligned photos of the same landmark. The app has won a number of prizes, including €50,000 ($69,500) in seed funding from Nokia and Microsoft’s joint investment program, AppCampus, in June of last year, and the NSW Innovation MVP Grant. Eibner told StartupSmart the app takes time-lapse effects out of the hands of “high end videographers, documentary makers and scientific organisations” and places it in the hands of ordinary smartphone owners. “The Project Tripod team have spent a large portion of the last year building a Windows Phone exclusive app and enterprise scale cloud powered API that allows people to use their mobile device to make and contribute to long-term time lapses,” Eibner says. “Photos are taken on a smart phone with the app installed. What’s cool is that these can be taken one person, or 100 people, who may or may not know each other over a period of minutes or over 10 or more years. The images then get aligned by the cloud API. This is where the magic happens and where they become a perfectly aligned sequence of images. “Once you have the sequential images, the generation of outputs is now possible, such as traditional time lapse animations, multiple image blends that are only possible when images are perfectly aligned.” Developing a consumer app has allowed Project Tripod to also develop a scaleable, enterprise-ready back-end system that has already attracted the interest of an international infrastructure construction giant. “Construction firms require a quick and cost effective way to professionally and accurately record the historical progress of the projects they have underway globally,” Eibner says. “Project Tripod is garnering interest from global companies in this space because they are able to utilise their existing work force to gather the required imagery rather than go to the expense of locating and negotiating access for major camera infrastructure. “It is also of interest because we are able to make available the time lapse imagery of the constructions progress to stakeholders such as clients and senior management located around the world.” Image credit: Flickr/twicepix.
Sydney-based startup invitco has been purchased by online small business and accounting solution company Intuit Inc. Invitco was launched in 2011 and offers cloud-based data extraction technology with its product invitbox, a tool for bookkeepers and accountants which streamlines accounts payable processes. CEO and founder of invitco Roger Gregg says terms of the acquisition are not being disclosed. He says once the deal is finalised invitco will eventually start using the Intuit brand, but invitbox will continue to be sold as a standalone product. “The open API and the partner integration will not change – we’ll be able to talk more about the product roadmap once the transaction closes and as invitbox is integrated with Intuit,’’ he says. “Given both Intuit’s and invitco’s belief in open platforms, customers can continue to choose a solution that integrates into their existing environment. “invitco’s invitbox product will continue to be sold through the invitbox web site, with support from the existing invitco team, so that any small business, accountant, and bookkeeper can purchase and use the product. It will also be sold as an add-on to QuickBooks Online. “Initially, invitbox will only be available for customers in Australia and New Zealand. However, this acquisition allows Intuit and invitco to build a longer term integrated roadmap that will focus on making it easier for businesses to operate in the cloud using QuickBooks Online.” Gregg says he takes great pride in how far his business has come after beginning as a “little boot-strapped startup from Surry Hills” and believes the business can move forward with the support of Intuit. “We have great admiration for Intuit. From the moment we presented our vision to them, it was clear that we shared a visionary approach for the future of accounting software,” he says. “We’ve been on a charter to give our bookkeepers and accountant customers advanced technology that frees them from having to perform repetitive tasks so they can focus on more strategic value and services for their clients. “Sounds very much like Intuit’s focus of enabling accountants to save time and grow their practice. “So who better than Intuit to join us on our quest to make the future of accountants paper free and data entry free?”
GoStandby, an app for last-minute travel and tour opportunities, launched last week, roughly nine months after it won Startup Weekend Gold Coast. During that event the goStandby team estimated they would be able to go commercial within two weeks, but co-founder Nathan Challen said they quickly realised that wouldn’t be the case. “The first few weeks were chaotic,’’ he says. “Off the back of Startup Weekend, we kept the pace of the weekend going. “We had versions of goStandby that needed to be developed into a more sophisticated platform, whilst getting operators on board and listing offers and building up a user following.” Challen says it became increasingly obvious that goStandby was in for a significant move away from the original vision, a move which would take time, and required withdrawing from the market for a period of time. “Our core value proposition of listing an offer in the 24-hour window and that being consumed by travellers in the immediate area was not really clear in a website context, where a geo location enabled service in the hand of travellers is our offering,’’ he says. “There was a great risk of that proposition being lost on both tour operators and consumers alike. “A pivotal moment came after attending a two-day travel technology conference. “The content of the conference re-affirmed that the opportunity in the tours and activities space (was) ripe for a shakeup and the opportunity was as large or larger than we first thought. “We realised that much of the future success of our platform was dependent on the quality execution of our product. “This was the moment that persuaded us to focus on commercially building the WebService API and iOS app which took us from September to now to complete.’’ It was this period Challen says was the most difficult part of the journey. “The worst thing has been withdrawing from the market whilst building the product and the anxiety of viewing travel tech news daily, seeing if the first mover advantage has been lost,’’ he says. “But we are here and have survived.” Challen estimates the market goStandby seeks to win over includes over 10,000 tourism operators. “We are in the process of directly marketing to a large percentage of those operators,’’ he says. Moving forward Challen says goStandby is focusing on consumer adoption and awareness, while working on developments for the iOS app, and support for Android and other devices.
So much for not mixing business and pleasure, newly launched dating app LinkedUp! is using business networking site LinkedIn to hook up dates. LinkedUp! is like a mixture of LinkedIn and dating site Tinder and pulls information from LinkedIn user profiles, like their industry, schools and job. The app allows users to chat after they have a mutual match. Like Tinder, LinkedUp! users can swipe right or swipe left to allow users to like and dislike profiles. LinkedUp! allows users to connect with anyone on the LinkedUp! platform and similar to other Facebook-based mobile dating apps is not based on your immediate network or connections. LinkedUp! chief executive Max Fischer is based in Los Angeles in the United States but spent some time studying at University of New South Wales in Australia. He told SmartCompany he got the idea for LinkedUp! after noticing people, including himself, using the business networking site to find dates. “LinkedUp! users get a very true sense of who someone is, where they are from, where they went to school and what they do, giving users a sense of comfort and trust,” he says. “These are also the first questions people ask in terms of gaining rapport in first date interactions!” Fischer says there is no indication on a user’s LinkedIn profile that they are on LinkedUp! and the app never posts anything to LinkedIn. “What's great about our application is that a user has to opt-in and download our app to be part of our platform, which helps keep LinkedIn professional,” he says. “So only people who want to be a part of our LinkedUp! app are using it.” The app is in no way affiliated with LinkedIn but uses the networking sites API key. Fischer declined to reveal how LinkedUp! is making money and how many users it has so far. “The current traction and metrics are very encouraging since the app went live,” he says. This article first appeared on SmartCompany.
In a speech to the Australian Information Industry Association’s Navigating Analytics Summit last week Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull raised the possibility of opening up more government data to third party app developers. Turnbull pointed out despite governments at all levels being big data collectors of data, they lag behind the private sector when it comes to the effective use of data analytics. During the speech, Turnbull also cited a NSW transport app called TripView, which allows individuals to track the exact time of arrival of a bus or train from their nearest stop based on real time data from the state government. He went on to pledge to make more government data freely available to private app developers. Now, common sense says not all government databases should be available for third parties to access. For example, databases where the information can be used to identify the witness of a crime or a victim of domestic violence. Likewise, there are good reasons why databases belonging to defence, law enforcement or intelligence agencies should not be opened up. However, even granting these few common sense exceptions, there are potentially big benefits to the business community in the opening up of APIs (application programming interfaces) that allow third-party app developers to unlock information in government databases. Firstly, the ability to create new apps and services based on government information is a big business opportunity for entrepreneurial app developers. Secondly, if the government goes a step further and allows APIs to submit forms to government departments, the benefits to business grow even further. Consider this: Most businesses will run an accounting, payroll or ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, and already need to input a range of data on their staff – such as their name, address and hours worked – for their own records. At the same time, when hiring new employees, they’ve had to fill out paperwork that contains a lot of the same information. It would save a lot of duplication of effort if the ATO created APIs that allow this software to fill in submit forms and other information automatically, based on data already entered by a business. Another example might be allowing a business’ point of sales software or ecommerce systems to use an API to automatically send GST data to the tax office as transactions happen in real time, greatly reducing the nightmare that is tax time. And I’m sure there will be many other examples emerging from the minds of entrepreneurial app developers, if they’re given the opportunity. As a starting point, the federal government has created a website called www.data.gov.au that allows you to search a range of government databases, at all levels, in real time. For example, searching for “Melbourne” pulls up “Melbourne Water Use by Postcode”, “City of Melbourne Street Furniture Database” and “Metropolitan Fire Brigade Locations”. While these are early days as far as opening up government databases, given the potential of more open information, it’s a big step in the right direction. It’ll be interesting to see what app developers do next. This article first appeared on SmartCompany.
Hello Code is currently running what they’re calling a “backers campaign” to source the funds needed to keep running their private beta round for their quantified self app Exist. The campaign is hosted on their own website using the payment software Stripe API to handle the card transactions. Quantified self apps such as Exist attempt to record and collate data from an individual’s daily life to track things such as food intake and exercise. Co-founder Beth Belle Cooper told StartupSmart they had explored Kickstarter but realised they could create a better campaign to raise money that also identifies and engages their core users. “We had specific ideas about how we wanted to run the campaign, so we set it up ourselves instead of using a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter,” Cooper says. With 3000 people on the waitlist for the app and no funding, the custom campaign allows Cooper and co-founder Josh Sharp the ability to cap the number of users who can contribute to a cohort they can actually manage as a small team. The campaign is seeking $60 contributions from 1000 users. They’ve raised 20% of their goal so far. “The worst thing is probably the same as you'd find for any type of fundraising: our focus for the last few weeks has been primarily on pushing the campaign rather than improving the product,” Cooper says. If they successfully complete the raise, they plan to launch the app in the coming months. Crowdfunding has taken off in the last few years, with a local platform expanding to the US and several startups running successful campaigns including Ninjablocks, LIFX and Quadlock.
StartupSmart received over 100 entries to be part of its So You Think You Can Start-up pitching competition.
CoinJar, a Melbourne-based bitcoin exchange and payment system, has raised $500,000 in seed funding from a range of individual investors and the Blackbird Ventures seed fund. Launched in February by Asher Tan and Ryan Zhou, CoinJar currently has over 10,000 active users in Australia. The company charges a low single-digit percentage fee for each transaction. Tan told StartupSmart the funds would go towards enabling their global expansion. They’ll be investing in new hires, including support and technical talent such as Ruby on Rails developers. “A lot of people talk about a bitcoin bubble, but the case is too strong to ignore,” Tan says, adding the investors were compelled by the story behind bitcoin and the use cases. “One of the unique draws of bitcoin is totally people-powered. As long as people remain interested, bitcoin won’t die out.” Tan says while they’d welcome regulation around bitcoin to further legitimise the currency, it was important law makers take the time to understand the scene and potential. He adds creating the right infrastructure and increasing the ease of cashing in and out of the digital currency will boost usage in the coming year. Tan says the investment is a breakthrough for them as it brings credibility to the nascent technology. “It’s not just about the money. We’re very new to this, so the investors are bringing legitimacy to our business. A lot of people ask us how do they know we’re not a scam, so having such well-known and respected investors means people will trust us more,” Tan says. CoinJar received their first funding of $20,000 earlier this year when they took part in Melbourne accelerator program AngelCube. Blackbird Ventures co-founder and serial entrepreneur Niki Scevak led the investment round. He told StartupSmart it was exciting to see Australian entrepreneurs taking on the emerging bitcoin industry. “I love the ambition of the team. Asher and Ryan are remarkable people who are creating something special. They’re committed to being the best in the world rather than just the best here, which is very cool,” Scevak says. He adds while bitcoin is very young and there are significant risks, the founders and the progress they’ve made since launching earlier this year convinced investors. “This is very, very early on in the life of bitcoin. The majority chances are that bitcoin start-up investments will amount to nothing. A lot of bitcoin companies that have achieved success have been hacked, so that’s a big risk because once you’re hacked you’re dead because the trust is eroded,” Scevak says. He adds the investors were excited by how effectively Tan and Zhou had iterated on their offerings, and especially about their development of an API strategy. This technology would speed the uptake of bitcoin. While Tan says he expects bitcoin will become mainstream, but is wary to gaze into a crystal ball and set a date as there are so many variables, with regulation being a predominant one. “I do welcome regulation, provided it’s informed regulation. Governments will need to ask some hard questions, but we’re all doing this for the first time so it’s important we don’t jump into regulation. We all need to develop considered, well thought out plans about something that could be beneficial to the whole world,” Tan says. Pioneering a new technology comes with many challenges, with CoinJar battling the Commonwealth Bank earlier this year after their personal accounts were shut down without warning.
A rental car insurance start-up and a downloadable keyboard replacement app for smartphones have been accepted into international accelerator program Start-up Chile. The two Australian companies are part of the program’s eighth cohort of 85 start-ups that were selected from over 1,500 applications. Tripcover chief executive Desmond Sherlock, who co-founded the business with brother Steve, told StartupSmart that they must have been selected because they’re disruptive. “We are very unsexy, we’re just selling car industry excess,” Sherlock says. “But we’re disrupting the industry. The car insurance companies are very unhappy with what we’re doing because we’re undercutting them by heaps, and they’re really annoyed about that.” The funding will enable the Sherlocks to rapidly scale by launching an office in Chile to focus on the Latin American market and developing their API (code that integrates their offering within other businesses websites and offerings). “We’ve been doing it for nearly two years, and we haven’t got any funding and we don’t do much marketing. But we’re selling 400 policies a month, and it’s doubling every two months so it’s starting to take off,” Sherlock says. “I haven’t been paying myself much and haven’t really been pushing, but now we’ve got a grant behind us we can start really going for it.” Sherlock adds that their track record and previous start-up experiences have shaped their approach to their latest project. “We’re approaching this as low key and practical, whereas before we had a start-up and we tried sexy, and built a bit of buzz and got a lot of funding, but it burned out,” he says. Start-up Chile is a Chilean government initiative, with the 85 start-ups to receive access to mentoring networks, office space, a one-year visa to develop their project in the intensive accelerator process in Chile and US$40,000 of equity-free seed capital. John Lambie, founder of the downloadable keyboard start-up Dextr, told StartupSmart setting up an office in Chile was an obvious step for his start-up, which will be targeting the emerging middle class in the developing world. “I’m not sure if I’ll relocate permanently to Chile, but this is probably a business where I will need to relocate out of Australia,” he says. “This product is for the developing world, so Chile is a great spot because Latin America is a sweet spot for this kind of product.” Lambie says the alphabet interface was already receiving significant interest from telcos and tech manufacturers, as it overcomes the number one usability issue facing emerging tech users. “It’s a faster, simpler text phone entry system for the forgotten five billion. Very few people are as fortunate as us Australians to have grown up surrounded by luxury and devices. They’ve got one piece of tech kit if you go Nigeria, Brazil and Indonesia – it’s a hand phone,” Lambie says, adding the Qwerty keyboard has a learning curve of months or even years. Lambie says seed capital will improve his ability to start meeting and driving demand, as he’ll have a foothold in Latin America and easier access to over 500 million target customers on the South American continent. “I’ve been mostly bootstrapping with a little bit of funding, and milking the AusTrade rebates for all they’re worth. I’ll be looking to start building up a B2B (business to business) sales force team and an internal tech team,” he says.
A 20-year-old entrepreneur has launched an online sales app targeted at the new generation of online shoppers and integrated with social media. Stephen Chapman, founder of the social selling app Facebuy, told StartupSmart the way Gen Y was selling and buying online has changed. “This is a younger generation targeted tool because eBay has been around for a long time and my generation isn’t looking at eBay, that’s for our parents,” Chapman says. He says the app focuses on fashion, concert tickets and textbooks first, as these are the items young people are selling online via Twitter and Facebook. “We’ve created a centralised place to sell these items that feeds straight through Twitter and Facebook, so your friends can comment and promote it,” Chapman says. Launched two weeks ago, the app has been downloaded over 500 times, has 300 registered users and 150 items have been uploaded. “That conversion rate is pretty good. It’s definitely working and we can see potential,” Chapman says. “We’re focusing on a customer-reach model rather than revenue, while we’re still tweaking it.” The app is free to download and users can also list their items for free. For each sale, Facebuy takes a $2 fee and 1.5% of the price plus 30c goes to PayPal. Chapman says they’ll be focusing on recruiting eBay sellers in the next few weeks, especially those who have listed more than 400 items and have good customer feedback. “We’re going to show them it’s a cheaper, quicker, younger and trendier way to sell online, that doesn’t carve their bottom line up,” he says, adding the idea was sparked by his frustration having the pay listing fees on eBay. With a brand similar to Facebook and eBay as its main competitor, Chapman is staying focused on his point of difference. “Yeah, the big giants always want to sue anyone to stop them starting up. I looked into it and I’ve trademarked the word Facebuy in Australian markets, and there was no issue,” Chapman says, adding it’s using the Facebook API (application programming interface), so Facebook knows it exist. “But these big giants are faceless. They can’t have a personality or personal story attached to their brand like I can. We can be more agile and add new categories, and tweak as we go.” Chapman says his focus is on developing the customer base in Australia, and seeking funding and mentoring to expand internationally. “China and Hong Kong will be big for us. Maybe not them selling to each other, but a lot of power sellers on eBay of cheaper products come from there,” Chapman says. Facebuy is also one of 250 entrants in the Million Pound Startup competition, which is run by London-based start-up incubator Digital Shoreditch.
A new generation of entrepreneurs are seeking new online sales payment systems, the founder of an Australian start-up says, as Commonwealth Bank chief executive Ian Narev flagged that regulators may have to examine the move by tech giants into financial services. “There isn’t enough attention being paid to the new generation of merchants,” Grant Bissett, founder of Pin Payments told StartupSmart. “There is plenty of talk about different tools for consumers to buy with, such as mobile wallets and peer-to-peer options. I think these options are probably inevitable as technology continues to grow,” he says. “But it completely ignores new types of merchants. They could be new business models or new geographies, like an Australian selling online to a customer in Hong Kong, those guys are underserved and overdue for some attention.” Bissett says new sales systems and processing systems, known as application programming interfaces, or APIs, are needed. Pin Payment is the first Australian all-in-one API for processing sales, including multiple foreign currency sales. The system was designed specifically for start-ups and entrepreneurs by simplifying the multiple financial and user accounts required to sell online. It combines several functions including the payment gateway, fraud and cyber security systems, currency conversion and users don’t need a separate bank account for it. “Our vendors don’t need a merchant account, which is a big deal for small and start-up businesses,” Bissett says. “We wanted to create something that removed the need for multiple bank accounts and systems. Especially if you’re a start-up and need to sell in US dollars, you also need deep integration with your website backend, not heaps of accounts to manage.” Four months into their public beta, and the team at Pin Payments is getting ready to launch commercially. Partnering with existing financial institutions was the main objective for the team. “Betas are usually about breaking and fixing things. That wasn’t really the case for us. The purpose of our beta was to build confidence with the banks and optimise our processes,” Bissett says. “One thing we learned in beta was about adjusting to the pace of the financial services industry. You can imagine how a tech start-up works compared to a large financial service.” Through the beta, Pin Payment has successfully partnered with a range of large financial services. “This has involved a couple of unique agreements. We have a first-of-its-kind in Australia payment service provider with a major bank for example,” says Bissett. “Moving forward we’re looking to integrate with as many eCommerce products and packages that will make it easier for non-tech-skilled small business owners.” As the internet connects entrepreneurs to more customers than ever before, Bissett is confident that the rapid evolution of payment options will be a boon for start-up operators. “Current start-ups and small businesses are underserved with merchant services, especially those with international plans. That’s beginning to change.”
Australia will play host to its first THack in April, when developers will create and showcase new digital travel products and web or mobile-based tools over the course of just eight days.