Why Malcolm Turnbull’s move to open up government data is a big step forward for business

4:34AM | Thursday, 17 April

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.

Why we skipped Kickstarter to run a crowdfunding campaign on our own site

3:09AM | Friday, 21 March

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.

Announcing the finalists for the So You Think You Can Start-up competition

2:38AM | Thursday, 6 February

StartupSmart received over 100 entries to be part of its So You Think You Can Start-up pitching competition.

Bitcoin here to stay and ready to grow: Australian investors back CoinJar with $500,000

12:38AM | Tuesday, 3 December

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.

Two Australian start-ups off to Chile as part of Start-up Chile program

8:43AM | Thursday, 29 August

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.

Australian social selling app for the younger generation ready to take on eBay

7:16PM | Sunday, 14 July

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.

Payment systems not keeping up with new generation of online start-ups

5:28PM | Wednesday, 29 May

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.”

US-founded THack to launch in Oz in April

2:37AM | Wednesday, 20 February

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.

Stufftopia wants to be your friend-in-the-know

3:14AM | Thursday, 14 March

A trip overseas was the original inspiration for Stufftopia, which helps people find things to do anywhere in the world.

Why eBay liked the look of a Melbourne start-up

2:28AM | Monday, 4 February

After picking up not one but two titles at the 2012 StartupSmart Awards, expectations were high for Melbourne-based business Ship2Anywhere, which was created in 2010.

Sensis brings out the big guns for third hackathon

3:41AM | Monday, 11 March

Sensis is to roll out a fresh ‘hackathon’ in Melbourne this weekend, including an impressive list of mentors such as Lonely Planet’s Gus Balbontin and Scott Rogers from Seek.

THE NEWS WRAP: Budget surplus key to Australia’s credit rating: S&P

3:50AM | Monday, 11 March

Australia could risk losing its coveted AAA rating if the federal budget does not return to surplus, a leading credit agency has warned.

Going agile

8:16AM | Friday, 17 August

It’s been a while since my last post and I feel like I should have written a few more times since then.

Facebook set for two further start-up acquisitions

5:44AM | Wednesday, 30 May

Facebook’s disappointing debut on the Nasdaq doesn’t appear to have dampened the company’s spirits, with reports circulating the social media giant is about to make two more acquisitions.


5:25PM | Wednesday, 2 May

While running their recruitment agency, Patrick Flaherty and Matthew Hughes realised that the hiring process could be enhanced with a healthy dose of video.

Sensis dangles $2,500 prize for app developers

4:12AM | Sunday, 29 April

Sensis has launched a series of challenges to inspire developers to create viable apps, offering a $2,500 “bounty” for the concept that best utilises its API content and functionality.

Making waves in mature Melbourne

4:39AM | Monday, 2 April

Melbourne   Population: 4.07 million   Start-up survival rate: 74.3% (2007 to 2009)

Melbourne students limber up for start-up hackathon

3:51AM | Saturday, 24 March

University students in Melbourne will have just 48 hours to launch web-based start-ups from scratch this weekend, as part of their participation in Startup Hackathon Melbourne.

Atlassian acquires US start-up HipChat

3:28AM | Thursday, 8 March

Australian software giant Atlassian has acquired US-based instant messaging network HipChat for an undisclosed sum, with plans to incorporate HipChat into its ever-increasing portfolio.

Sensis and Pollenizer launch $50k hackathon

3:11AM | Thursday, 1 March

Start-up incubator Pollenizer has teamed up with Sensis to host a two-day hackathon later this month, inviting entrepreneurs to vie for a share in more than $50,000 worth of prizes and perks.