mobile phones

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Are credit cards a good way to fund my business?

4:37AM | Tuesday, 15 April

We hear of many stories from Silicon Valley of start-ups getting millions in venture capital, but the reality for most start-ups is you are going to have to fund your early days with your own money.   Credit cards can be a risky way to finance your business, but if managed correctly, they could also be a great help.   They can help you bridge the gap from raising capital through to achieving positive cashflow.   Despite the risks involved, many entrepreneurs have no other choice but to fund their start-up with a credit card.   There are so many options available, it can be confusing as to which is the right credit card for you. The biggest thing you need to realise is this: If you are sure you’re not going to repay your balance every month, get a low interest credit card.   Why is a credit card a good idea?   Even bearing in mind the risks, credit cards can be an ideal way to get your start-up running. Here’s why:   The application process is much simpler with fewer requirements to commercial finance options. A credit card can help you buy the things you need from day one. Getting the right tools and equipment to help improve productivity and assist in earning revenue, will help give your business a better chance of success. If you have an existing credit card, you can look into getting a credit limit increase to help get the initial funds you need for your start-up. Credit cards allow you to redraw funds after you’ve made repayments. This is a good thing, and a bad thing. It can help with cashflow, but if you’re not careful you could end up in a bad cycle where you don’t repay your balance each month. Key factors in choosing a credit card for your start-up   You don’t need a dedicated business credit card.A personal credit card is fine so long as you separate your personal purchases from business purchases. More often than not, a personal credit card is actually going to be much more cost-effective for you with a lower purchase rate and annual fee. Take advantage of 0% purchase offers.For many start-ups, the majority of your initial purchases are going to be for asset acquisition – buying things like computers, printers, mobile phones or any other office equipment your business might need to be up and running. There are a number of credit cards available that allow you to make a purchase and pay 0% interest. This can be helpful, so long as you make sure you have repaid your purchases within the “honeymoon” period. Do an online credit card comparison first.You don’t need to show any loyalty to your current bank. In most cases, it won’t give you any benefit applying with your existing bank, so I strongly encourage doing an online credit card comparison before making the decision to do that. If you compare credit cards, you might find that a competing bank has a much more competitive offer.    Managing your credit card   “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest” – Albert Einstein.Fifty dollars can be extremely powerful. On a credit card balance of $3,000 with an interest rate of 18%, you’d be looking at taking up to eight years to repay that balance if you had just made the 2% minimum repayment each month. If you pay an extra $50 each month, you could repay that debt within three years, shaving five years off, and saving around $1,800 in interest repayments. Treat it as a short term solution for funding.Using credit cards to fund your daily operations should only be treated as a short-term solution. It should be your priority to organise a more suitable financing arrangement for your business, once you have a track-record for your business. Consider balance transfer offers.If you’ve racked up a debt on your card, and you are struggling to make more than the minimum repayment, a balance transfer offer could be for you. Essentially, a balance transfer allows you to transfer your existing balance to a new credit card, with a special rate applied for a certain period of time. There are a number of balance transfer options including 0% p.a. for six month offers and 2.9% p.a. for 12 months.When it comes to choosing your balance transfer option, you have to be realistic and ask yourself if you’ll be able to pay your balance off in the introductory period, otherwise you could be stuck paying a much higher interest rate. Some cards revert to the purchase rate, and others to the cash advance rate so you’ll need to check the terms and conditions when applying. It’s also important to cancel the other credit card as soon as the balance transfer is done.    With some financial diligence you can make a credit card work for you, instead of you working for your credit card. Picking a great low interest offer, and following a repayment plan will help keep your credit card under control.

Wallets could be obsolete by 2021 as mobile payments take over

3:11AM | Tuesday, 25 March

Mobile payment technology could swipe out the use of traditional wallets in eight years, a Commonwealth Bank survey finds.   After surveying 1024 Australians the bank forecasts that paying with cash or cards could give way to mobile phones by 2021, according to a report in the Australian Financial Review.   Commonwealth Bank executive general manager of cards, payments, analytics and retail strategy, Angus Sullivan, told the AFR he thinks a digital or e-wallet will become an important part in people’s lives.   “We’re reaching almost to the point of ubiquity around smartphones so I think that’s one big driver,” he said.   “You’re also seeing more convergence around technology solutions – the wide scale rollout of contactless terminals in Australia has been a really big tipping point.”   The AFR reports that mobile phone payments are growing by around 58.5% a year.   Kounta founder and chief executive Nick Cloete says he thinks the prediction of 2021 is too cautious and that change will likely happen much sooner.   “I most definitely agree with the findings but I’d bring that date forward,” he told SmartCompany. “Most countries like Australia now have such a high mobile phone penetration… Because the future of technology is moving so fast, consumers are demanding that they want to do everything on their phone.”   Cloete says with the payment technology his business creates, many businesses are already using it to offer mobile phone payment to customers, but a challenge is building customer awareness in order to increase uptake.   He explains that a typical mobile payment works with a customer logging into a payment App on their phone, choosing the business they are in, and allowing it to connect to the retailer’s computer system. “The future of retail online and the future of online is mobile,” he says.   However, while Cloete and the Commonwealth Bank are confident about consumer uptake, late last year Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens told an Australian Payments Clearing Association conference that elements of Australia’s payments infrastructure are “a bit dated”.   “It is very clear that both individuals and businesses are demanding greater immediacy and greater accessibility in all facets of their day-to-day activities,” Stevens said.   “This includes payments.”   The results of Accenture’s Consumer Mobile Payments survey from 2013 found that many consumers know that mobile payments are an option, but still do not make them.   Once consumers had made a mobile payments, they were much more likely to become converts.   Incentives from retailers or businesses also helped take-up rates. Accenture found 60% of consumers who already make mobile payments said they would probably do so more often if they received instant coupons as a result.   It also found that 36% said they would hand over personal information in exchange for such rewards, while 46% of users indicated that they would increase payments if offered short-term location-based coupons.   Security concerns were found to hold back consumers from taking up mobile phone payments more rapidly.   “While the industry is pre-occupied with the technology roll out, consumers are much more concerned about the security, privacy, convenience and value of using their phones to make payments,” Accenture reported.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

Not all new phones are thinner and sleeker: Meet the start-up heading in the opposite direction

3:32AM | Tuesday, 18 March

Dmitry Levin’s newly designed phone doesn’t have a touchscreen. In fact, it doesn’t even have a screen.   It’s a couple of buttons but it’s designed for a big and growing market: the elderly or people whose disabilities limit their access to smartphones.   Kisa has been developing the product for just under two years, after the three co-founders realised their elderly grandparents owned phones they will probably never use.   “We all tried explaining how to use smartphones to our grandparents, but I know my wife’s grandfather still looks for a payphone when he’s out. We realised we needed to create a phone design from scratch that would actually be used,” Levin says.   While images of the phone aren’t available yet, Levin can reveal it doesn’t have a screen and includes one to 10 buttons.   Using the same technology as speed dials (pre-programmed numbers assigned to buttons) each button bares a word or image such as a photograph or picture of a house or doctor.   After spending months trying to find a way to manufacture the phone in Australia, Kisa has had to develop the phone overseas.   “It just turned out to be impossible to make mobile phones in Australia,” Levin says, citing inexperience with phone creation as the major issue.   “High-tech manufacturing does not happen here often, so there aren’t cheap manufacturers to work with.”   They’re working with functional prototypes and developing their partnerships with Vision Australia and the Seeing Eye Dog association in Victoria.   But beyond the vision impaired, they’re also focusing on people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.   “Every stat shows the majority of people over 65 mostly use a landline. We wanted to create a way for those who may need care to get in touch when they’re out that’s even easier than using a landline,” Levin says.   “If we can achieve just a fraction of the change we’re hoping for, we’ll improve so many lives and it’ll have quite a significant commercial return for us.”   The biggest challenge for the Kisa team has been surviving the past 18 months without the full-time wages they commanded prior to putting their all into the business.   They’ve bootstrapped the business so far and intend to have the product in the market within six months.   More information: http://kisaphone.com.au/

Buy a vowel – and make your name stand out!

3:05AM | Wednesday, 12 March

Are you trying to pick a name for your business? Looking for something really unique? Old Taskmaster has a radical idea that will make you stand out from the start-up crowd.   But first, I need you to imagine a strange land. A land before time. A land before mobile phones and the internet had been invented.   Now, for some of you young whippersnappers, I’ll admit it might be tough to imagine, but bear with me.   In this strange land, product and company names generally communicated information about the company.   Sometimes, a business would be named after its founder. For example, Myer’s department store was founded by Sidney Myer, while Grace Brothers was founded by Albert Edward and Joseph Neal Grace.   An alternative was to name products based on where it was from. No prizes for guessing where the cannery for SPC, the Shepparton Preserving Co-operative, was (and yes, it was a farmers’ ‘co-op’ before it was a ‘company’).   Others opted for names that describe what the company did. As shocking as it sounds, International Business Machines was an international company that sold business machines.   Sure, there were products with misspellings and poor grammar – Old Taskmaster is looking at you, Weet Bix – but those products stood out from the crowd by virtue of their unique name.   Even in the early days of the computer revolution, brands like Digital, Commodore, Apple, Radio Shack, Acorn or Atari at least chose sensible names.   Of course, times change.   Like goth kids in high school playground, everyone decided to be unique – by doing the exact same thing as everyone else.   It might have been the influence of rock and roll bands, from the Beatles to Motörhead. It could have been the camel case commands in various programming languages (as if anyone who ever typed ‘WriteLn’ needed another reason to hate Pascal). It was, possibly in large part, due to the success of the iMac and web squatters claiming every word in the dictionary.   These days, it seems a start-up name isn’t complete until it’s grammatically incorrect. CamelCase everywhere. Companies insisting the first letter in their company name should be lower case. Needless exclamation marks! Vowels missing. Letters replaced by numb3rs.   Then there’s the letters replaced with an upper case X, sort of like the “X Games”. After all, it might not be immediately clear to the casual observer that optimising a database query in PHP is really an extreme sport, like a skydiving contest.   That’s before you get the PR reps who insist that a Welsh-looking company name that would not look too out of place near the town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyll must be spelled in a particular Pantone shade of red, lower-case italics.   With that type of pressure, it can be tough to stand out.   Well, Old Taskmaster says this: If you’re choosing a business name, it’s time to do something really radical. Something to make you really stand out against all the other tech start-ups out there.   That’s right, it’s time to buy a vowel! No italics, no unnecessary ‘i’ or ‘e’ at the start of your company name. It’s time to really stand out from your competitors – by choosing an old-fashioned, grammatically correct business name!   Get it done – today!

The eight biggest announcements from the 2014 Mobile World Congress

2:47AM | Friday, 28 February

This week in Barcelona, the GSMA – the peak global standards body for the mobile phone industry – is hosting its annual industry trade event, the Mobile World Congress.   The MWC is arguably the largest annual event in the telecommunications industry. It brings together carriers with mobile phone makers, equipment makers and app developers.   It’s where handset manufacturers make the big pitch to mobile carriers for the year ahead. A strong presentation can bring your products to the attention of mobile carriers the world over.   Perhaps more than the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the MWC is the big event where mobile phone makers unveil their new smartphones and other products for the year ahead.   This year’s event certainly hasn’t underwhelmed, with major announcements from some of the industry’s biggest players.   It’s time to take a look at eight of the biggest announcements from this year’s show:   1. Samsung Galaxy S5   Samsung is now easily the biggest handset maker in the industry. According to IDC, for the full year of 2013, it shipped a massive 313.9 million smartphones worldwide – that’s three out of every 10 smartphones shipped anywhere in the world.   Forget about Apple versus Samsung, it’s not even a race anymore at this point. Apple shipped 153.4 million units in 2013, meaning that for every handset Apple shipped, Samsung shipped more than two.   In fact, with the exception of the US and Japan, Apple is not even really competitive with Samsung anymore. That race was lost two years ago.   In addition to manufacturing smartphones, it also supplies itself with almost every component, from batteries and processors to cameras, memory chips and displays.   It is both the world’s second biggest chip builder, and the world’s second biggest ship builder.   So when Samsung unveils its main, flagship smartphone for the year, you better believe that everyone in the industry – from carriers to competitors – is watching very closely.   This year’s flagship, the Galaxy S5, was largely an incremental improvement on its predecessor, with the South Korean tech giant confirming speculation the new device is both dust-proof and waterproof.   Needless to say, both Telstra and Optus have already announced they’re carrying the new smartphone.   Aside from the Galaxy S5, Samsung shocked the industry when it snubbed Google for the latest version of its Galaxy Gear smartwatches. Instead of Android, the new devices will be powered by its own operating system, known as Tizen.   2. Microsoft’s Nokia X smartphones – powered by Android   For nearly two decades, Microsoft’s Windows operating system had battled an open source rival, known as Linux. While Linux has struggled to make inroads in the desktop PC market, it has emerged as the dominant operating system for servers.   Linux also forms the basis of Google Android, which competes head-to-head with Microsoft Windows Phone.   Meanwhile, in September last year, Microsoft bought the mobile assets of Nokia, along with a licence to use its patents, for $US7.2 billion.   In light of this, there was some scepticism when rumours first surfaced that Nokia was gearing up to release a series of smartphones powered by Android.   At MWC, Nokia confirmed the rumours by unveiling a new smartphone product line powered by Android called the Nokia X series. The new devices will come with Microsoft’s cloud-based apps and services pre-installed and won’t come with the Google Play app store.   Nonetheless, when Microsoft takes control of Nokia in April, it will be selling a consumer product based on Linux. Who would have thought it? 3. Facebook buys WhatsApp for $US16 billion   A week before the MWC, Facebook announced it is taking over mobile messaging service WhatsApp for an incredible sum – $US16 billion.   With both WhatsApp co-founder and chief executive Jan Koum and Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg delivering keynote speeches at MWC, the tech world was certainly going to pay attention.   During the keynote, Koum did not disappoint, announcing WhatsApp was launching free voice calls through its app during the second quarter, once the takeover by Facebook has been completed.   No doubt some of the mobile carriers were a little edgy about the prospect of Facebook launching an all-out assault on their lucrative voice call and text message businesses.   4. Mozilla unveils a $25 smartphone   This year’s Mobile World Congress marked the one year anniversary of the debut of Mozilla’s smartphone platform, Firefox OS.   For those unfamiliar with the platform, Mozilla is best known for its Firefox web browser. Last year, it announced it was creating a mobile operating system based on Firefox that would compete head-to-head with Google Android, Apple iOS, Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10.   In Firefox OS, all apps basically work like interactive websites and are coded in web standards, including HTML5 and CSS. Since this is less demanding than running a “full” operating system with apps, the theory went that Firefox OS would perform well on low-end devices aimed for emerging markets.   In practice, some of the first Firefox OS smartphones, including the ZTE Open, have left a lot to be desired.   As I explained in Control Shift last week, Mozilla’s expansion drive has left it in a precarious position in the marketplace:   As if the situation weren’t already urgent enough already, Mozilla’s lucrative deal with Google expires in November of this year. In a sense, it’s fitting that [Mozilla founder Mitchell] Baker has taken up trapeze as a hobby, because Mozilla’s in the middle of a high-wire act. It might be that, over the coming months, one of Mozilla’s growing number of Firefox OS-driven side-projects gains traction in the market place. However, it could also backfire spectacularly, endangering its main source of revenue in the process.   Aside from the seven new smartphones on display, Mozilla also announced that a smartphone costing just $25 would hit the market this year.   Given that, up until the fourth quarter of last year, more than half of all mobile phones sold worldwide were still featurephones, mostly in emerging markets, the $25 phone might just be the big hit Mozilla’s looking for.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 5. Major updates for BlackBerry enterprise customers   BlackBerry chief executive John Chen’s bid to turn around the fortunes of the smartphone pioneer were filled out in a series of major product announcements at MWC.   Up until now, enterprises using BlackBerry Secure Work Spaces on BYOD (bring your own device) smartphones needed to use different versions of BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) depending on whether staff used newer BlackBerry 10/Android/iOS devices, or older BlackBerrys.   That has been cleared away with the release of BES 12, in the process clearing away many headaches for IT administrators. As an added bonus, it supports Windows Phone devices too.   The company also unveiled a new flagship phone with a full keyboard called the Q20 and an enterprise version of its BlackBerry Messenger service called eBBM Suite.   6. At least Sony’s new products are water-tight   Earlier this month, Sony announced it is selling its VAIO PC business to investment firm Japan Industrial Partners, spinning off its Bravia TV business into a separate subsidiary and slashing its global headcount by 5000 as part of a major restructure.   At the time, the Japanese tech giant announced it’s setting its sights on the smartphone, tablet and wearables markets for its future growth. Suffice to say, the company is hoping it delivered a hit with the products it unveiled at MWC.   The company unveiled a new flagship smartphone called the Xperia Z2, a 4G Android 4.4 KitKat smartphone powered by a 2.3 GHz quad-core Qualcomm processor. The company is proclaiming its 20.7-megapixel camera capable is the most ever used in a waterproof smartphone.   Which I’m sure is fantastic news for scuba-diving photographers.   The company also unveiled a 10.1-inch tablet called, imaginatively enough, the Z2 Tablet. The tablet is being marketed as the lightest ever used in a waterproof tablet.   Finally, the company unveiled a smart wristband called the SmartBand.   7. Opportunity knocks for LG?   The highlight for LG was an update of the KnockON security system called “Knock Code”, which uses a series of knocks rather than a password to secure a device. The new feature will appear on the LG G Pro 2 phablet, a new six-inch phablet set to go head-to-head with Samsung’s popular Galaxy Note devices.   The company also unveiled its “L Series 3” range of low- to mid-range smartphones at the show.   That said, most of LG’s big announcements came at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, including its LG Lifeband Touch activity tracking bracelet, LG Heart Rate headphones, and webOS-powered smart TVs.   8. Tickets please!   With the rapid growth of mobile ticketing, it’s no surprise the world’s largest telecommunications show would embrace NFC tickets.   Telstra was one of a range of carriers to trial NFC badge technology for tickets to this year’s event.   The badges use information stored by a mobile carrier, including name and telephone number, to help verify an attendee’s identity. The validation process also includes a photo ID check.   This year’s show also features an NFC Experience demonstrating NFC-based mobile commerce systems for payment, retail, transport, mobile identity and ticketing/access.   In addition, there are 61 NFC-enabled Tap-n-Go Points providing event news, schedules, documents, presentations, videos and other information.   According to figures published by ABI research, in the next five years, 34 billion tickets to be sent to mobile devices,. In terms of technology used to authenticate tickets, the figures show 48% will rely on QR codes, near-field communications (NFC) will be used on 30%, while SMS or other technologies will be used on 22%.   If the forecast is accurate, it suggests using our smartphones to touch on for events, public transport or entry into secure areas could soon be a part of everyday life.

A decade of Facebook: 10 interesting things you don’t know about the social network

2:37AM | Tuesday, 4 February

Facebook is 10 years old today. It’s time for birthday celebrations for the social network with 12,800,000 Australian users and 1.19 billion users worldwide. But it’s also time to reflect on 10 interesting things you don’t know about the social network.   1. The social network makes more money now from mobiles than PCs   Facebook is worth around $US135 billion and has successfully made the shift to focusing on mobiles. In Facebook’s fourth quarter earning report filed on January 29 this year the social network disclosed that for the first time sales from ads on mobile phones and tablets exceeded revenue from traditional PCs.   In an interview marking Facebook’s 10th birthday, founder Mark Zuckerberg told Bloomberg the shift to mobile was “not as quick as it should have been”, but “one of the things that characterizes our company is that we are pretty strong-willed”.   2. Facebook tried to buy Snapchat   In 2012 Facebook bought Instagram for $US1 billion even though the photo sharing app had no revenue source. Zuckerberg described the deal as a milestone, saying "we don't plan on doing many more of these, if any at all"; but last year, Facebook reportedly offered $3 billion to buy Snapchat. On two occasions. Snapchat refused the offer.   3. Paper has just launched   Facebook’s latest creation is a newspaper-style app called Paper. Paper includes photos, friend updates, and shared articles in an image-heavy, uncluttered way. The stories are picked and ordered based largely on how much they are shared and “liked” on Facebook, with a team of human editors ensuring that the content comes from the right sources.   “Paper makes storytelling more beautiful with an immersive design and full-screen, distraction-free layouts,” Facebook states.   4. Zuckerberg and Facebook are all about goals   Zuckerberg told Bloomberg he has lots of goals for Facebook and for himself personally. Facebook’s founder has in previous years vowed to learn Mandarin (2010), to eat only animals he slaughtered himself (2011), and to meet someone new each day (2013). For 2014 he intends to write at least one well-considered thank-you note every day, via email or handwritten letter.   “It’s important for me, because I’m a really critical person,” he says. “I always kind of see how I want things to be better, and I’m generally not happy with how things are, or the level of service that we’re providing for people, or the quality of the teams that we built. But if you look at this objectively, we’re doing so well on so many of these things. I think it’s important to have gratitude for that.”   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 5. Voting is the most talked about topic on Facebook   The 10 most talked about topics on Facebook in 2013 by Australian users were ‘vote’, Kate Middleton, cricket, Kevin Rudd, Grand Final, Election, GST, Lions, Tony Abbott and Big Brother.   6. It’s set to compete with Google   Over the next five years, Zuckerberg wants Facebook to become more intuitive and to solve problems that in some cases users don’t even know they have.   He wants to target the 5% and 10% of posts on Facebook where users pose questions to their friends, such as requests for the names for a good local dentist, or the best Indian restaurant.   Zuckerberg told Bloomberg the social network should do better at harvesting all that data to provide answers. A domain which is traditionally the preserve of search giant Google.   7. Users are a devoted bunch   Facebook users generally log in to the social network regularly and stay for long periods of time. The percentage of Facebook users that log in once a day is now 76% while the average time spent on Facebook per user per month is 8.3 hours.   8. Facebook is targeting developing countries   Facebook is targeting developing countries through the formation of a group called Internet.org with six other technology companies, including Samsung, Qualcomm and Ericsson.   The group is looking at simplifying their services so they can be delivered more economically over primitive wireless networks and tapped into using cheaper phones.   Zuckerberg says more users in undeveloped countries will subscribe to mobile services for the opportunity to use Facebook, which in turn makes it more economical for mobile operators to improve their wireless networks to support higher-bandwidth services such as online education and banking.   He has described early tests as “promising”.   9. Doomsayers warn Facebook could go into rapid decline   Researchers from Princeton University published a paper earlier this year suggesting Facebook might lose 80% of its users by 2017 entering a period of “rapid decline”.   “The application of disease-like dynamics to [online social network] adoption follows intuitively, since users typically join OSNs because their friends have already joined,” says the study, which is awaiting peer review.   Facebook has hit back at the work as “incredibly speculative” and used its own data engineers to use the same methods of "scholarly scholarliness" to prove that Princeton itself was on the brink of extinction.   10. It’s king of social referred traffic   Facebook is still the king for social referred traffic, according to Adobe’s most recent social intelligence report.   But Facebook is slowly losing ground to other social media, in particular Twitter and Pinterest.

Ninja Blocks smashes Kickstarter campaign target for Sphere device

1:43AM | Thursday, 16 January

Australian technology start-up Ninja Blocks set out to raise $115,000 for their new Sphere device through crowdfunding.   By the end of the campaign they’d smashed their target more than six-fold and raised $702,937 on Kickstarter.   “It was just a demonstration of people wanting this kind of product and looking quite sexy,” says Ninja Blocks chief executive Daniel Friedman, adding that the campaign video also included compelling case studies of how it can be used.   Ninja Blocks are small, cloud-enabled computers that can sense their environment by receiving input from a variety of sensors and can alter their surroundings by controlling appliances like lights, heaters and air conditioners.   “We didn’t want to build something we thought the market might have wanted and it to be a flop,” Friedman says.   The new Sphere device offers gesture control, in-home location for items like mobile phones or pets and can connect to almost any device.   “This doesn’t really exist anywhere in the market,” Friedman, who was one of StartupSmart’s Future Makers for 2013, says.   “People see the benefit and are excited by it,” he says of the Kickstarter campaign reaction.   The next step for Ninja Blocks is to start gearing up for production and building the Sphere.   “We’re still a relatively small company and it’s quite a lot of work to spin out a hardware product and do next day shipping,” Friedman says.   He urged other hardware makers considering crowdfunding campaigns to do their research before launching “so they don’t overpromise”.   Ninja Blocks also had the benefit of conducting a successful crowdfunding campaign prior to the Sphere campaign.

Bitcoin to become increasingly mainstream in 2014: Online games, parking and everyday bills

1:29AM | Tuesday, 7 January

The new year has opened with some significant breakthroughs for those preparing for bitcoin to hit the mainstream, with major international game developer Zynga announcing a partnership with BitPay that will enable people to use bitcoins while playing games such as the phenomenally successful Farmville series.   The trial has been heralded as a breakthrough for BitPay, but also bitcoin more generally.   Closer to home, two Australian start-ups are exploring the potential of bitcoin payments for smaller and more common payments such as parking and bills.   Parkhound, a start-up that enables the leasing and sharing of parking permits and spaces took its first payment in bitcoin last month. Co-founder Robert Crocitti says the innovative step was an unanticipated step forward for his team.   “The first bitcoin payment wasn’t actually our decision. We’re just a start-up so we’re happy to try and accommodate any customer that comes our way. Many are more innovative than us, so we took our first payment in bitcoin when one of them asked us if we could,” Crocitti says.   He adds it was lucky they were using the Shopify payment system, which already had the built-in capacity to take digital currency payments.   As part of the growing group of companies beginning to translate bitcoin from the first adopters to more mainstream consumers, Crocitti says 2014 is likely to be the breakthrough year.   “Bitcoin has gained a lot of prominence in the last two years, but I think the big clincher will be when it’s available for people to pay using their mobile phones through NFC or some other kind of chip technology so you can use bitcoin via your phone at bricks-and-mortar store. This is likely to happen this year with a range of apps,” Crocitti says.   One Melbourne-based start-up is already bridging the gap directly, enabling Australians to pay their electricity and water bills with bitcoin.   BitBillPay.com.au has processed over $7,000 worth of bills already. The payments are made via CoinJar, an exchange and payment system that recently received $500,000 in investment funding from Blackbird Ventures.   Ryan Zhou, co-founder of CoinJar and founder of BitBillPay.com.au explains on the latter’s website he isn’t making any money from the service, and outlines the potential he sees for Bitcoin.   “I deeply believe that the true potential of Bitcoin lies on its intrinsic ability to provide a solid digital-native financial foundation to incrementally improve how people use money. It has never been easier to positively change the status quo of payments today with the power of a widely accepted decentralised currency,” Zhou says.   Bitcoin is set to be one of the biggest start-up stories of 2014, with over 140 bitcoin start-ups listed on investment information aggregator AngelList and several local start-ups beginning to gather momentum.   A range of Australian start-ups are working out ways to ride the bitcoin wave, including booming BTC.sx which announced in November it had processed over $14 million in transactions in six months, and Slingshot accelerator graduate World BX.   Bitcoin exchange World BX founder Nick Trkulja told StartupSmart in October that the digital currency’s growing respectability boded well for its future uptake.   “This is an exciting space to be in right now. Over the next year in particular, there will be a big shift in the ecosystem as it moves beyond the early adopters,” Trkulja said.   “The Bitcoin revolution was started online, and online retailers will increasingly accept it. This has helped to fuel its growth and spike the price, and we’re beginning to see bricks and mortar retailers follow.”   Evan Lucas, a market strategist at IG Markets, an investment and trading company that trades in a variety of assets including bitcoin, told StartupSmart in August that regulation will be essential for the digital currency to become mainstream.   “If it wants to become mainstream, it is going to have to subject itself to regulation. That will be a very interesting situation for those involved to subject themselves to that kind of scrutiny,” Lucas says.   “It’ll certainly be growing in its reach more and more as people start to look at it, but it’s still a very infant currency and the concern that a lot of analysts have about bitcoin is its regulation.”

Five technology trends small businesses need to consider in 2014

1:50PM | Monday, 13 January

With technology always and rapidly evolving, it can be tough for small businesses to keep up.   While nearly all small and medium-sized businesses in Australia have a computer, according to Sensis’s 2013 e-Business Report, more are acquiring laptops and tablet devices, how effectively they use that technology can influence how successful they’ll be.   As Australians increasingly access the internet on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, businesses should factor that into their digital planning for 2014, says Sensis’s advertiser insights manager Christena Singh.   “When people come in (to a business website) on a mobile device they need to get a mobile experience,” Singh says, warning that if a customer doesn’t get a mobile experience they will probably go to another business that does.   Australians using the internet on their mobile phones continued to grow over the past year at 68%, up from 58% last year, and half of Australians accessed the internet on a tablet, the Sensis report says.   Here, Singh shares the top five technology trends small businesses should prepare for in 2014:   1. Making sure websites are optimised for mobile   With more and more people using mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones to access the internet, it’s become essential for businesses to ensure their web presence appears and functions well on those screens.   It’s called “mobile optimisation”. “The proportion of small to medium enterprises with a website that’s optimised for mobile has gone from 5% two years ago to 17% this year,” Singh says.   She says start-ups and small businesses should make ensuring their websites are optimised for mobile devices number one on their list of things to do in 2014.   Singh says optimised sites could include buttons that use a smartphone’s maps function to locate the business or a button to dial its phone number.   2. Consider the devices that customers use to access a business’s website   Singh says if a business is targeting a population demographic that uses tablet devices then they should consider putting in place features that cater to that audience.   She says businesses may look at having apps created that work on particular devices, adding that 5% of businesses have an app and 13% are looking at having one next year.   3. Cloud   Software and data storage in the cloud is becoming increasingly accessible and attractive for small businesses that don’t want to pay the costs of expensive hardware or computer program tools.   “It (the cloud) can save you costs and give businesses access to any number of utilities without purchasing them outright,” Singh says.   She says businesses could use the cloud to access software such as word processing and store files which can be accessed from almost any location.   4. Considering innovative technology such as apps, wearable technology   Singh suggests businesses should consider what technology is gaining traction with consumers and investigate ways it can be applied in their own business.   She says wearable technology is an area that’s emerging as popular with consumers, noting that Google Glass, Google’s wearable computer, is a device that’s eagerly anticipated.   “Look at technologies and how they might be able to draw people into your business,” Singh says.   She says a tourism-based business may look at using wearable technology in some way to enhance a customer’s experience.   Location-based technology is also innovative and could be used in stock handling, Singh says.   “Taking a leaf out of the consumer book and seeing how some of the new technology can give you benefits and how you can flexibly do business,” she says.   5. Strategy   Singh says one of the most important things start-ups and small businesses need to have when adopting new technologies is to have a strategy to back up what they’re doing with it.   “Small businesses are spending on average $15,800 on technology. That’s quite a lot of money for business to be spending,” she says, noting that only about 19% of businesses had a digital strategy.   Singh says a business may spend money and time on social media but without a strategy behind it, that money and time could be wasted.   “There should be strategies in terms of website presence, social media and how they work and develop leads,” she says.

10 events and trends that shaped the tech industry in 2013

12:02AM | Friday, 6 December

The tech sector has always been hyper-competitive, and never has this been truer than in 2013.   For the likes of Twitter, Samsung and Google, the harvest of 2013 was bountiful.   However, from the perspective of Nokia, Microsoft, BlackBerry or the PC industry, it was a year to forget.   Here’s a look back at 10 of the big events and trends that shaped the tech sector in 2013.   1. One billion smartphones sold this year – and counting   The most important tech story of 2013 didn’t take place with a major product announcement or a Steve Jobs-style keynote speech.   Instead, it took place without fanfare at an ordinary mobile phone retailer somewhere deep in suburbia.   It was there that a consumer decided to purchase the one billionth smartphone to be sold during 2013.   To put that number in perspective, it is projected that 227.3 million tablets shipped worldwide during 2013, 158 million television sets, 180.9 million portable PCs and 134.4 million desktop PCs.   Meanwhile, figures from market analysts IDC show smartphones also outsold featurephones worldwide for the first time in history during the first quarter of 2013.   What this means is that while smartphones now account for more than half of the 418.6 million mobile phones shipped worldwide each quarter, there are still millions of old-fashioned featurephones being sold each year.   Especially in the low-end of the market and in emerging economies, that means there’s plenty of extra room for growth in the future – especially at the low-end of the market.   Make no mistake about it. The smartphone industry is big – far bigger than the PC or TV business. And it’s only going to get bigger in 2014.   2. Google Android and Samsung: The juggernaut rolls on The biggest winners from the spectacular, ongoing growth of the smartphone market have been Samsung and Google.   Last year, smartphones running Google Android outsold Apple. In 2013, that trend morphed into total industry domination.   For example, of the 261.1 million smartphones shipped worldwide during the third quarter of 2013, 211.6 million or over 80% ran Google’s Android operating system.   That compares to just 33.8 million iPhones, representing around 12.9% of the market, and a measly 3.6% for Windows Phone.   Samsung managed to ship 72.4 million smartphones during the second quarter of 2013 alone, representing around 30.4% of the market – more than double Apple’s sales during the same period.   Those device sales also mean increased component orders flowing through the various divisions of the South Korean tech conglomerate, which manufactures everything from semiconductors to batteries and smartphone displays.   The growing strength of the South Korean electronics behemoth is demonstrated by its advertising and marketing budget, which has been estimated at around $US14 billion worldwide.   To put that figure into perspective, as of 2011, North Korea’s entire national economy was estimated to stand at $US12.385 billion.   3. The PC industry bloodbath   While Google and Samsung have had a stellar year in 2013, the same certainly can’t be said for the PC industry.   The September quarter was the sixth consecutive quarter of falls, according to Gartner, with shipments falling to 80.2 million units for the quarter from 87.8 million a year earlier.   Figures released by IDC forecast PC shipments for the full year to fall 9.7% in 2013.   More alarmingly, it appears the emerging middle class in China, India and Brazil aren’t keen on buying computers, with total PC shipments in emerging markets expected to drop from 205.2 million to 185 million this year.   Australia and New Zealand led the trend, with a massive 21% year-on-year fall in shipments for first quarter in Australia, along with a more astounding 27% fall in New Zealand.   The implosion of the PC market was disastrous for a number of PC makers, including Dell, HP and Acer.   In August, HP announced a major shake-up of its senior management team after announcing a large 15% year-on-year drop in net earnings and a 22% drop in revenue from consumer devices during its quarterly results.   That same month, Dell reported a massive 72% year-on-year collapse in quarterly earnings, while a consortium including founder Michael Dell, Silver Lake Capital and Microsoft successfully fought off high-profile investor Carl Icahn’s bid for control of the company.   And at Acer, founder Stan Shih made a surprise return as interim chairman and president, following the resignation of former chief executive JT Wang and president Jim Wong after the company recorded a record third-quarter loss.   The resignations came after Acer announced its consolidated revenues for the third-quarter of 2013 fell 11.8% year-on-year to $US3.11 billion, resulting in an operating loss of $US86.6 million.   4. Surface falls flat   On top of falling PC sales and 3.6% Windows Phone market share, the news was dire for Microsoft on another front in 2013.   Late last year, Microsoft launched its Surface series of tablets as a first step towards making devices, with the company believed to have manufactured around six million units.   The release of the Surface instantly made Microsoft a direct competitor to many of its already struggling PC partners, straining relations in the process.   Fast forward to July of this year when Microsoft announced a massive $US900 million writedown on its inventory of unsold tablets. The writedown came less than a week after Microsoft announced a large price cut of $US150 for the struggling product line.   Adding insult to injury, Microsoft also revealed it has spent $US898 million advertising the tablets, while only generating $US853 million in sales.   According to many leading analysts, the company was believed to have sold just 1.7 million of the six million tablets it had built.   To put those numbers in perspective, Apple sells around 14.6 million iPads each quarter, while Samsung sells around 8.8 million.   5. Steve Ballmer resigns   During the 1990s, Microsoft was undeniably the 800-pound gorilla of the tech industry.   Then, in January 2000, founder Bill Gates stood aside as chief executive, in favour of Steve Ballmer, in order to focus on his philanthropic efforts.   Since then, the company has lost much of its former dynamism, and has failed to become the dominant player in a range of new technologies that have emerged since then, including search, tablets, smartphones or social media.   In August last year, Vanity Fair magazine journalist Kurt Eichenwald ran a feature exploring why Microsoft fell behind its rivals. A management technique called stack ranking was almost universally blamed.   “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review,” a former software developer told Eichenwald. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”   Add the low market share for Windows Phone, poor sales of the Surface and the PC industry bloodbath, and it became clear something had to give at Microsoft.   In July, the company announced a major management restructure, with the company’s strategy shifting to focus on “devices and services”.   Then, just one month later, Ballmer resigned as chief executive, with stack ranking dumped as a management technique soon after.   The Redmond, Washington-based tech giant is currently searching for his replacement.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 6. Nokia sold for a song   Soon after Ballmer’s resignation, the news was overshadowed by an even bigger story.   In September, Microsoft announced it was buying Nokia’s smartphone and devices businesses for $US7.2 billion, with the Finnish telecommunications company retaining its Nokia-Siemens services network equipment business and the Nokia brand name.   The deal came after Nokia announced its smartphone sales had slumped 27% year-on-year during the second quarter of 2013, with an overall loss of €115 million ($A190 million) for the quarter.   The sales plunge was led by the company’s Windows Phone-based Lumia smartphone unit, where shipments fell 27% from 10.2 million units during the second quarter of 2012 to just 7.4 million for the same quarter in 2013.   To put that number into perspective, it was a little over one-tenth the number of smartphones sold by Samsung during the same quarter.   It was an inglorious end to a company that absolutely dominated the mobile industry through the 1990s and 2000s. As recently as 2010, when Apple sold 47 million smartphones, Nokia managed to sell 104 million.   According to prominent industry analysts, such as former Nokia executive Tomi Ahonen, the fateful moment came in February 2011, when then chief executive Stephen Elop made the decision to switch its smartphones to the Windows Phone operating system.   Soon after, a leaked internal letter from Elop known as the “burning platform” memo likened the company’s situation in the mobile phone market to a person standing on a burning oil platform.   After the takeover was announced, Elop was named as one of the top contenders for the position of Microsoft chief executive.   7. BlackBerry’s failed comeback and takeover attempt   It wasn’t just Nokia that had a tough time in the smartphone market at the hands of Samsung and Google.   In January, BlackBerry launched its new, all-touch BlackBerry 10 smartphone operating system. The platform, originally scheduled for late 2011, had been delayed by a year, preventing the company launching a flagship phone in 2012.   The Australian launch for the first smartphone to run the new platform, the Z10, came in March at a gala event in Sydney hosted by Adam Spencer. A second device using a traditional BlackBerry keyboard, called the Q10, came soon after.   While the reviews were generally positive, the new devices failed to be the big comeback success the company’s then-chief executive, Thorsten Heins, had hoped for.   By August, the company formed a special five-member panel to examine takeover options after director and Canadian investment guru Prem Watsa quit the board.   In its September quarter results, the full carnage was laid bare. The Canadian smartphone maker reported just $US1.6 billion in revenues for the quarter, down 45% year-on-year and 49% quarter-on-quarter.   The company also revealed it sold just 3.7 million smartphones for the quarter – and less than half of those ran BlackBerry 10.   Total losses came in at $US965 million, including a massive $US934 million inventory writedown against unsold stock of the company’s Z10 smartphone.   The company announced more than 4500 staff layoffs, representing nearly 40% of its global workforce, while Heins bought a new private jet.   Meanwhile, the company’s rollout of its Messenger app for Android and iOS was frozen due to technical issues with its release.   In early November, with banks uncertain of the company’s long-term future, Watsa failed to raise the requisite $4.7 billion for a buyout, instead lending the company $US1 billion.   As part of the deal, Heins stood aside as chief executive, replaced by former Sybase chief executive John Chen, with Watsa rejoining the board.   Heins received a $US22 million golden parachute for his efforts, significantly less than the $US55.6 million he would have received had the sale gone through.   8. The Twitter IPO   Last year, Facebook’s disastrous IPO ended in tears – followed by lawsuits.   Thankfully, the outcome was not repeated when its social media rival, Twitter, listed on the New York Stock Exchange in November.   After opening at $US26 per share, the company’s share price surged 72.69% in its first trading session.   It closed at $US44.90 per share, before dropping slightly to $US44.44 in after-hours trading.   Making the result even more amazing was the state of its balance sheet.   While the tech giant has revenues of $US534.46 million and around 230 million users worldwide, it has never posted a profit.   Despite this, the company now has a market capitalisation north of $US20 billion, with chief executive Dick Costolo claiming the company’s long-term investment strategy has prevented it from chasing profits in the short term.   9. iOS7, iPhones and iPads   For Apple, 2013 was a solid if somewhat unspectacular year.   In June, the company released a redesigned version of its smartphone and mobile operating system, iOS7, alongside a new version of its Mac OS X desktop operating system, known as Mavericks.   It was the year that Apple finally unveiled a low-cost version of its iPhone, known as the iPhone 5c, alongside a new 64-bit flagship smartphone called the iPhone 5s, complete with a 64-bit processor and a fingerprint sensor.   Then, in October, the company unveiled a lighter version of its iPad, known as the iPad Air.   None of the products had the industry-shaking impact of the unveiling of the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone or iPad.   That said, with billions in profits each quarter, a solid second place in the smartphone market and the world’s biggest selling tablet, solid and unspectacular for Apple is better than most companies could dream of.   10. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launch   Last, but certainly not least for gamers, 2013 marked the introduction of next generation games consoles from both Sony and Microsoft.   Coming a year after Nintendo launched its Wii U system, Sony announced one million first-day sales of its PlayStation 4 system, but the launch was marred by a number of angry consumers taking to social media to complain about non-functional systems.   Sony’s first-day sales were soon matched by the first-day sales of Microsoft’s new Xbox One system.   So how will the two new devices perform over the long term? We’ll have to wait until next year to find out!   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

The big smartphone trends mobile app developers need to be aware of: Part Two

10:16AM | Tuesday, 8 October

Yesterday, your humble correspondent looked at four key trends in the smartphone industry that every mobile app developer should be aware of.   While the figures can be dry, the information is critical, whether you’re planning your start-up or looking for big numbers when you are strategising your future direction.   Likewise, coming up with a few hard numbers can be useful if you’re pitching for capital.   So, without further ado, here are four more essential trends emerging from the mobile sector:   1. Android dominates over Apple in most other major markets – except Japan   Okay, so Android is strong in the US and Australia, but what about the rest of the world?   In terms of market share the most competitive major market against Android is Japan. In Japan, Apple claims 47.4% of the market, compared to Android only a notch higher at 48.6%.   Across Europe, the story is very different, with Apple claiming 27.5% market share in the UK, compared to Android’s 56.3%. The situation is worse elsewhere in Europe, with Apple trailing 17.5% to 63.3% in France, 14.4% to 71.6% in Italy, 9.5% to 78.7% in Germany and claiming just 2.2% to 90.8% in Spain.   As for China, Android’s market share is now at 72.4%, compared to a respectable 20.8% for Apple. And there are a few very good reasons why you should pay attention to China when it comes to mobiles.   2. The world’s biggest smartphone market is China – and it’s huge!   Australia’s population stands somewhere around 23 million. The total population of the US is around 310 million.   This year, IDC anticipates China’s smartphone market will hit 360 million people. And that’s not including all the people still using older feature phones.   Next year, it is projected to hit around 450 million, including around 120 million users on 4G.   Now here’s an astounding statistic. The worldwide smartphone market reached 216.2 million units during the first quarter of 2013 according to IDC figures, while China’s shipments stood at 75.28 million. That means China accounted for around one-third (34.8%) of the worldwide market for smartphones.   And there’s still a lot more room for growth. The largest carrier in China – China Mobile – is estimated to have around 700 million mobile phone subscribers, including both smartphones and older phones.   Kinda makes Australia and New Zealand’s 2.6 million mobile phones per quarter look pathetic in comparison, doesn’t it?   3. Mobile apps are now a multi-billion dollar industry – and growing   If you thought China’s mobile market had some big numbers, take a look at the size of the worldwide app industry.   According to Gartner, last year there were 63 billion apps downloaded worldwide, including 57.3 billion free apps and 6.6 billion paid apps. Total revenue from apps hit a massive $US18 billion.   If you keep in mind that the total population of the Earth is estimated as being somewhere between 6 billion and 7 billion, a number like 6.6 billion paid app downloads starts sounding quite astounding – let alone 63 billion total downloads.   This year is on track to be even bigger. Worldwide, we’re on track for a total of 102 billion app downloads, with 92.8 billion free apps downloaded and 9.9 billion paid apps.   Gartner predicts those numbers are only going to get bigger.   In the year 2017, they anticipate a total of 268 billion apps will be downloaded. That’s right, two hundred and sixty-eight billion apps. Of those, 253 billion will be free and 14 billion will be paid.   4. Most Android users now use a recent version   One of the issues when it comes to developing for Android is how much you support legacy versions. Well, the answer is increasingly clear: Don’t bother!   According to Google, 48.6% of all devices running Android are now powered by JellyBean (that’s Android 4.1/4.2/4.3).   A further 20.6% run the previous version, 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, with 69.2% in total running a recent version of Android.   Meanwhile 0.1% of the Android user base is hanging on to 1.6 Donut, 2.1 Eclair or 3.0 Honeycomb. The only old versions to have significant user bases anymore are 2.2 Froyo with 2.2%, and 2.3 Gingerbread on 28.5%.   So sure, as far as Android fragmentation exists, much of it is over obsolete versions no-one uses anymore.   Time to cash in!   The global appetite for apps is huge – and growing. And contrary to popular myth, most of it isn’t in countries where English is the first language.   Now, are you going to let this opportunity pass you by? Or are you going to cash in?   Get it done – on mobile!   Click here to read part one.

Top four tips to get the most out of Google AdWords

10:51AM | Tuesday, 1 October

Debbie O’Sullivan, senior industry manager at Google, shared her top tips for start-ups and a range of useful extensions at a Google for Entrepreneurs event this week.   Rich Flanagan, head of small and medium business marketing at Google Australia, spoke to StartupSmart about how start-ups with limited budgets can make the most of their AdWords spend.   Flanagan cautions users that while AdWords is a popular tool, it’s not a get rich quick marketing solution.   “It’s true you can launch the account in a few minutes, but it does take a bit of time to see how users are responding to your ads, Flanagan says. “It does take nurturing over time, you won’t turn one dollar into thousands overnight.”   Experimentation is key   O’Sullivan said testing is key to making the most of Google AdWords. Flanagan added start-ups should always have at least two different versions of an ad running, so they can see what works and retire the underperforming option.   “Test different creative in real time and move towards the one that is performing best,” O’Sullivan said, adding it was essential to link AdWords and analytics accounts otherwise AdWords traffic would appear as part of the much broader “organic traffic”.   Flanagan says his top tip is to think of AdWords as something that can be iterated quickly over time.   “You can start small, to boost one product or service in one city and start to build your confidence,” Flanagan says.   Your ad’s ranking is not just about spend, it’s also about quality   Start-ups should create different ad groups or campaigns for each product or service so the content can be targeted and closely match your site, said O’Sullivan.   “Make sure your campaign mirrors your site, and have one campaign per product and landing page,” she said, adding that the closer your ad matches your site, the higher your quality score will be.   Where ads are displayed on the page is calculated based on quality score and the amount the entrepreneur is willing pay in the algorithm-driven ad options.   The quality score is managed by an algorithm which factors in site load time, malware and dangerous softwares, and the similarity of the content in the ad and page.   Flanagan says the quality score is important.   “Some people believe giving us as much money as you can means we’ll put you at the top, but that’s not true. We believe ads are information, and it needs to be relevant. Once you click through there should be no surprises,” he says.   Make the ad as engaging as you can   The quality score also assesses how engaging the ad is, and Flanagan says there are several best practice solutions.   “You definitely want to have a strong call to action. It could be some sort of special offer. Are you mentioning something around price or is seasonal? You want to not be too far away from your competitors’ offerings, but you want your ad to stand out as there will be 10 to 12 ads on the page,” he says.   Having a strong call to action that is timely or a significant saving can be boosted by how you write the content as well, right down to the punctuation and capitalising.   “Typically we see, depending on the industry and product, that if the first letter of every word is capitalised, it does grab people’s attention. But you can’t have it all caps as that’s screaming on the internet,” Flanagan says.   He adds users need to check how their ad appears on multiple devices as the use of mobile phones and tablets increases.   Explore extensions to offer more options to users   O’Sullivan talked the crowd through a range of extensions to the core AdWords copy, such as the “click to call” button on ads which enables users to get in touch immediately, and social media extensions so users can follow you without even visiting your site.   Flanagan adds that the extensions provide sub-links, so there’s deeper richer information in the ad which gives a better experience for users.

We’re in the middle of a major shift: Google VP declares the “age of start-ups”

3:09AM | Tuesday, 11 March

Australian entrepreneurs have been urged by Google’s global vice president of engineering to tap into a major shift taking place if they want going to propel their careers and Australia’s start-up sector forward.   “We’re in the age of the start-up. There has never been a better time in the history of the planet to launch a company,” Venkat Panchapakesan told hundreds of entrepreneurs in Sydney at the Startup Spring Festival.   According to Panchapakesan, technology, data and culture were converging in three key ways.   “Entrepreneurs need to look for fundamental shifts like this, where as nimble businesses they can move in and capture the business of the entire world,” he said.   “This is not a pipe dream. This is happening and there are companies trying to use these new problems.”   The global trend of computing transcending digital systems and linking to real-life objects used by everyone offered rich opportunities and new sets of problems for start-ups to explore and exploit.   “The everywhere, anywhere, everyone trend means the data is going to explode,” he said.   ‘The problems we’re focused on have become much bigger than what Google thought when we launched in 1998.”   Panchapakesan outlined these three key changes for StartupSmart in the video below.   He added these converging trends were complimented by the rise of crowdfunding and companies such as Google offering their infrastructure, which made launching a start-up cheaper and more manageable than ever.   Citing the increasing uptake of mobile internet access, with 6.8 billion mobile phones in operation and 2.1 billion of those using mobile broadband, he said there was an increasingly massive opportunity for entrepreneurs focusing on this development and being ahead of the curve.   “It’s also about wearable computing. Wearable computing is arriving, and it’s arriving very fast,” Panchapakesan said, adding that the opportunity in Australia alone was massive, as 80% of Australians are connected to the internet and the country has the fourth highest mobile and second highest tablet penetration rate in the world.   He added that while globally scaling a business is never easy, entrepreneurs who are thinking ahead of the curve and paying attention to these emerging trends could launch major companies.   “I run Gmail, so I know how many messages we process each day, and I know growth isn’t easy,” Panchapakesan said. “The last 10 years has been the biggest ramp up of start-ups to billion dollar valuations. You could be doing that too.”

Use the right promotional tool to reach your target market

8:31AM | Tuesday, 13 August

Recently, Old Taskmaster travelled from the sleepy hollow known as Parts Unknown into the great sprawl southeast of Melbourne.   For those of you who are reading this interstate, the suburb of Pakenham is further southeast of Melbourne’s CBD (56 kilometres) than Penrith is west of Sydney (50 kilometres). To those Sydneysiders complaining about the M4 during peak hour, just be thankful you don’t have to drive down the Monash!   Anyway, the reason for the trip was to take a look at the latest mobile phones. While in store, your humble correspondent noticed a rather peculiar promotion.   Now, before going any further, here’s a question anyone with a little common sense should have no difficulty answering.   Which of these consumers are more likely to sign up for a brand new smartphone? Is it someone who’s lugging around an old, out-of- contract brick in their handbag? Or the one who recently upgraded their mobile phone to one with shiny new features like NFC and is almost certainly still under contract?   (For the non-mobile phone geeks, NFC or near field communications is a feature that allows Samsung Galaxy S4 owners to exchange files by being placed back-to-back and other smartphones to be used on services like Visa PayWave.)   Well, if you’re BlackBerry, the answer is obvious.   They set up a little cardboard display inviting users to touch their NFC-enabled smartphone to find out about a promotion the company’s currently running.   Sure, using NFC on a marketing display has some novelty value.   But there’s just one tiny little problem. Those with older mobile phones – the people most likely to be looking to upgrade – won’t get the promotion details, because their phones don’t have NFC.   Using NFC might be slick, but if your potential customers use old mobile phones, it’s utterly useless.   As for the promotion itself? It’s a cashback offer for anyone trading up their smartphone. What this means is someone who bought their phone last week gets a bigger inducement to upgrade than the consumer with the ancient phone.   So in effect, there’s a cash incentive for someone who isn’t likely to buy, while those who are likely to buy can’t access all the marketing marital at all. Seriously, who came up with this strategy?!   If this is what BlackBerry’s marketing looks like, perhaps their earlier non-marketing strategy should be viewed as wise cash-saving move. Oh, and did I mention the company is now officially up for sale? I wonder why.   The lesson for your business is simple. Think about who your potential consumer is likely to be. Then focus on the promotional tools and platforms that are the most likely to reach your target demographic. And don’t use a novel technique if it’s not likely to be effective.   Get it done – today!

Mobile sales on-trend for retailers: eBay

7:45AM | Tuesday, 16 July

Start-up operators who sell online need to switch gears and start customising their sales strategy for mobile purchases to take best advantage of the booming online retail trend.   The spokesperson for eBay, Megan English, told StartupSmart that the mobile trend was booming and Australian start-ups need to be focused on mobile.   “You need to understand how enormous the market opportunity is for mobile sales,” English says.   “It’s critical in Australia to think mobile first as that’s the way the trend is going.”   Mobile sales through the five-year-old eBay mobile app have grown by 33 times since the first year of the app. In 2012, over $13 billion worth of products were bought via the mobile app, doubling the total in 2011. The company expects to process $20-22 billion worth of transactions through the app in 2013.   “From what we can see, the mobile trend doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon,” English says, adding that while eBay hasn’t worked out when mobile sales will outpace desktop browser sales, they expect it to be within five years.   English says, while every category has been penetrated by mobile, fashion, car parts and electronic devices are the fastest growing categories.   “No matter what you’re selling in whatever category, retailers need to be focused on mobile,” English says.   “You need to ask yourself how the image of your product looks on multiple screens, because we know Australians are shopping on multiple devices and they need a consistent experience to feel comfortable and confident to buy.”   English says Australians have been the fastest market to buy on their mobile phones, spending more as a percentage of sales on their mobile than any other market.     “Australians are in general very tech-savvy and they’re fast adopters,” English says. “It’s important to note people are prepared to spend serious amounts of money on their mobile now too.”   She says start-ups who are looking to move their product via mobile apps such as eBay’s need to experiment with the content they upload, but there are a few basic rules.   “The image is king on mobile, but a brief description with as much information you can fit in a concise way is the best option, because people are consuming on the go and reading quickly,” English says.   “It’s always best to shoot (photograph) on a white background. The image has more clarity and you get the best idea of what the product looks like. Lots of people like to put logos and writing across the image, but we see on eBay that those are not the most successful.”   English says eBay will be investing in developing the social media functionality of the app to match the desktop experience. She says there is a growing trend of social sharing as part of the sales process, especially among Gen Y users.

Incoming! $1.1 million funding boost for mobile video start-up

5:25AM | Monday, 6 May

Mobile video start-up Incoming has highlighted the demand for mobile video content after securing $1.1 million from OneVentures, NICTA and the US-based Citrix Startup Accelerator.   Incoming, led by chief executive David McKeague, specialises in mobile content delivery for mobile platforms, delivering high-definition video to mobile devices based on user preferences.   It pre-loads content using available WiFi networks, eliminating the need for streaming or buffering, while reducing the cost.   Incoming TV is available as a mobile app. Some 600,000 users have already downloaded the beta version and three million videos have been played.   Last year, Incoming was selected as one of 23 start-ups for Tech23 2012. Now it has secured $1.1 million in seed financing from a number of investors.   The round was led by One Ventures, an Australian venture capital firm that invests in innovative companies in the information technology, life sciences and clean technology sectors.   Funding also came from NICTA – Australia’s Information and Communications Technology Research Centre of Excellence – and Citrix Startup Accelerator, based in Silicon Valley.   Incoming, based at Australian Technology Park in Sydney, is NICTA’s 11th spinout company.   Incoming TV has been developed specifically for mobile phones and tablets. Its predictive support for the service draws from information on the user’s device, including contextual data such as time of day, location, usage patterns and interests, and social and physical behaviour.   It then applies NICTA’s machine learning techniques to pre-fetch a suitable selection of video material. NICTA research leader Dr Max Ott joins Incoming as its first chief technology officer.   Paul Hoff, NICTA's director of technology transfer, told StartupSmart NICTA has invested a total of $400,000 in Incoming.   Citrix Startup Accelerator, meanwhile, invests in start-ups creating the next generation of cloud infrastructure services, mobile enterprise solutions and collaboration technologies.   In addition to a $250,000 convertible note investment, start-ups have access to an advisory panel and office space in Silicon Valley.   According to McKeague, who is currently overseas, Incoming allows mobile networks to be used more proficiently in off-peak periods.   “The mobile industry estimates that over 20% of subscribers watch mobile videos on any given day, accounting for over 50% of global mobile data traffic on wireless networks,” he said in a statement.   “This is costly for users, carriers and content providers. The Incoming TV service addresses this by pre-loading content using Wi-Fi networks.”   Dr Michelle Deaker, managing director of OneVentures and a NICTA board member, said in a statement Incoming has a “significant opportunity” to capture and support video mobile delivery in global markets.   “[This means] effectively unlocking 30 to 40% of untapped mobile network capacity, which is likely to be worth up to $20 billion by 2016,” Deaker said in a statement.   Michael Harries, chief technology officer of Citrix Startup Accelerator, said in a statement Incoming’s technology is “compelling and complementary” to Citrix offerings.   “Citrix Startup Accelerator invests in only the best entrepreneurs and new businesses creating new solutions for today’s problems in cloud infrastructure and mobile,” he said.   “We look forward to working with Incoming as they build a world-class business.”   According to NICTA chief executive Hugh Durrant-Whyte, Incoming is an “impressive example of NICTA’s research and entrepreneurial capabilities”.

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