The age of drones has arrived quicker than the laws that govern them

9:59AM | Monday, 14 September

 Just because you may not have seen a drone overhead doesn’t mean it hasn’t seen you. And, as was demonstrated by the killing of two British jihadis in Syria recently, these unmanned aerial vehicles are increasingly deployed by the West as frontline weapons of war.   Drones are set to become a defining feature of this century. Thousands are already in operation in most developed countries worldwide – and that is likely to grow to hundreds of thousands as drones of different shapes and sizes are deployed by the media, emergency services, scientists, farmers, sports enthusiasts, hobbyists, photographers, the armed forces and government agencies.   Eventually commercial uses will dwarf all others. Amazon promises to deliver purchases within 30 minutes via delivery drones. Domino’s Pizza has staged hot pizza drone delivery. More than 20 industries are approved to fly commercial drones in the US alone, and developing countries are following suit.   The question is, is this boom in drones moving faster than the law? How to fit such a proliferation of drones into the current regulations? The answers will need to be written into national and international laws quickly in order to govern an increasingly busy airspace. Many existing laws may need to be tweaked, including those governing cyber-security, stalking, privacy and human rights legislation, insurance, contract and commercial law, even the laws of war.   There have after all been numerous suspect or dangerous uses of drones already. For example, illegal flights over seven nuclear plants across France, disruption to US forest fire-fighting, and seven near-misses at airports in the UK. In the US several landowners have shot them down, leading to court cases that pit claims of trespass and the right to privacy against criminal damage.   Piecemeal legal changes not enough French legislators responded swiftly with a police order to the first balloon flights by the Montgolfier Brothers in 1784 by prohibiting all flights over Paris without prior authorisation. In the same way sovereign states ought to define precisely how and when they will permit drone flights over their territory. So far legal development to govern drone use has been very piecemeal; most countries have done nothing yet.   Again, it was France that was first to introduce dedicated legislation governing drones through a decree in 2012 bringing drones within its civil aviation regulations. Drones are allowed to fly between 50-150 metres from the ground and there are penalties up to five years in prison and fines of 75,000 euros for unlawful use of a drone.   Also in 2012, the US congress passed the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) Modernisation and Reform Act which required the integration of civil drones into national airspace by the end of September 2015.   The Italian Civil Aviation Authority issued commercial drone regulations in April 2014. The law vaguely requires the operators to comply with data-protection laws and hold insurance. In the meantime, controversial Italian surveillance firm Hacking Team is already developing drones capable of delivering spyware to computers and smartphones, infecting them via Wi-Fi.   However, the UK has struggled with fitting drones into its legal framework as neither the Civil Aviation Act nor the Air Navigation Order provide a good fit. The Department for Transport recently announced plans to introduce fines of up to £2,500 for flying drones in built-up areas. Some clarity is provided by the CAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in UK Airspace Guidance, which requires drone pilots to maintain direct line of sight with drones and limits their altitude to a maximum 120 metres. Small drones must avoid and give way to manned aircraft at all times.     Delivery by drone is already a happening in Switzerland. Jean-Christophe Bott/EPA   Flying in the face of the law The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) plans to introduce policies to regulate civilian drone flight by 2028 worldwide. The EU and US have signed a formal agreement to cooperate on integrating drones into civil air traffic management. But consensus is notoriously difficult in international regulation – it could take decades to achieve a global agreement.   The last international civil air treaty of note is the 1944 Chicago convention. This impressive treaty created the standards for the common use of airspace between nations. For example, that every nation has sovereignty over its airspace and that no aircraft operated by the state (such as military or police) will fly over other states without authorisation. It also required nations air regulations to be obeyed and required aircraft to be registered and display their registration marks.   For drones, however, it’s not clear what types and sizes of drones are required to be registered and display their nationality. There are drones the size of small birds or even coins that can fly across national borders in near-invisibility, upsetting these egalitarian rules. It’s vital these issues are comprehensively dealt with quickly in a new treaty, in the same spirit of egalitarianism as at Chicago in 1944.   Dronefare versus Lawfare For many, drones are typified by their use for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US is reported to have up to 7,000 drones in Afghanistan, with the main source of funding for developing modern drone technology coming from the military.   Successive US governments’ policies of conducting drone assassinations will perhaps go down as one of the most egregious use of air power in human history, with thousands of lives lost in an amorphous conflict against vaguely-defined al-Qaeda and ISIS “affiliates”. The only legitimisation in most cases appears to be White House’s early morning bureaucratic meetings.   The American Civil Liberties Union has correctly addressed this, stating: “The targeted killing program itself is not just unlawful but dangerous … it is dangerous to characterise the entire planet as a battlefield.” A recent RAF strike was the first targeted UK drone attack on a British citizen. However, UK armed Reaper drones have accounted for up to a third of the 100 airstrikes) in Iraq alone as at January 2015.   Lethal drone technology is going to be available to nearly all countries in a very short time. The possibility that even a few dozen states might follow the path beaten by the US is really a scary proposition – as what goes around may fly around. Gbenga Oduntan, Senior Lecturer in International Commercial Law, University of Kent This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The web has become a hall of mirrors, filled only with reflections of our data

9:32AM | Thursday, 10 September

 The “digital assistant” is proliferating, able to combine intelligent natural language processing, voice-operated control over a smartphone’s functions and access to web services. It can set calendar appointments, launch apps, and run requests. But if that sounds very clever – a computerised talking assistant, like HAL9000 from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey – it’s mostly just running search engine queries and processing the results.   Facebook has now joined Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon with the launch of its digital assistant M, part of its Messaging smartphone app. It’s special sauce is that M is powered not just by algorithms but by data serfs: human Facebook employees who are there to ensure that every request that it cannot parse is still fulfilled, and in doing so training M by example. That training works because every interaction with M is recorded – that’s the point, according to David Marcus, Facebook’s vice-president of messaging: We start capturing all of your intent for the things you want to do. Intent often leads to buying something, or to a transaction, and that’s an opportunity for us to [make money] over time.   Facebook, through M, will capture and facilitate that “intent to buy” and take its cut directly from the subsequent purchase rather than as an ad middleman. It does this by leveraging messaging, which was turned into a separate app of its own so that Facebook could integrate PayPal-style peer-to-peer payments between users. This means Facebook has a log not only of your conversations but also your financial dealings. In an interview with Fortune magazine at the time, Facebook product manager, Steve Davies, said: People talk about money all the time in Messenger but end up going somewhere else to do the transaction. With this, people can finish the conversation the same place started it.   In a somewhat creepy way, by reading your chats and knowing that you’re “talking about money all the time” – what you’re talking about buying – Facebook can build up a pretty compelling profile of interests and potential purchases. If M can capture our intent it will not be by tracking what sites we visit and targeting relevant ads, as per advert brokers such as Google and Doubleclick. Nor by targeting ads based on the links we share, as Twitter does. Instead it simply reads our messages.       ‘Hello Dave. Would you like to go shopping?’ summer1978/MGM/SKP, CC BY-ND   Talking about money, money talks M is built to carry out tasks such as booking flights or restaurants or making purchases from online stores, and rather than forcing the user to leave the app in order to visit a web store to complete a purchase, M will bring the store – more specifically, the transaction – to the app.   Suddenly the 64% of smartphone purchases that happen at websites and mobile transactions outside of Facebook, are brought into Facebook. With the opportunity to make suggestions through eavesdropping on conversations, in the not too distant future our talking intelligent assistant might say: I’m sorry Dave, I heard you talking about buying this camera. I wouldn’t do if I were you Dave: I found a much better deal elsewhere. And I know you’ve been talking about having that tattoo removed. I can recommend someone – she has an offer on right now, and three of your friends have recommended her service. Shall I book you in?   Buying a book from a known supplier may be a low risk purchase, but other services require more discernment. What kind of research about cosmetic surgery has M investigated? Did those three friends use that service, or were they paid to recommend it? Perhaps you’d rather know the follow-up statistics than have a friend’s recommendation.   Still, because of its current position as the dominant social network, Facebook knows more about us, by name, history, social circle, political interests, than any other single internet service. And it’s for this reason that Facebook wants to ensure M is more accurate and versatile than the competition, and why it’s using humans to help the AI interpret interactions and learn. The better digital assistants like M appear to us, the more trust we have in them. Simple tasks performed well builds a willingness to use that service elsewhere – say, recommending financial services, or that cosmetic treatment, which stand to offer Facebook a cut of much more costly purchase.   No such thing as a free lunch So for Facebook, that’s more users spending more of their time using its services and generating more cash. Where’s the benefit for us?   We’ve been trained to see such services as “free”, but as the saying goes, if you don’t pay for it, then it’s you that’s the product. We’ve seen repeatedly in our Meaningful Consent Project that it’s difficult to evaluate the cost to us when we don’t know what happens to our data.   People were once nervous about how much the state knew of them, with whom they associated and what they do, for fear that if their interests and actions were not aligned with those of the state they might find ourselves detained, disappeared, or disenfranchised. Yet we give exactly this information to corporations without hesitation, because we find ourselves amplified in the exchange: that for each book, film, record or hotel we like there are others who “like” it too.   The web holds a mirror up to us, reflecting back our precise interests and behaviour. Take search, for instance. In the physical world of libraries or bookshops we glance through materials from other topics and different ideas as we hunt down our own query. Indeed we are at our creative best when we absorb the rich variety in our peripheral vision. But online, a search engine shows us only things narrowly related to what we seek. Even the edges of a web page will be filled with targeted ads related to something known to interest us. This narrowing self-reflection has grown ubiquitous online: on social networks we see ourselves relative to our self-selected peers or idols. We create reflections.   The workings of Google, Doubleclick or Facebook reveal these to be two-way mirrors: we are observed through the mirror but see only our reflection, with no way to see the machines observing us. This “free” model is so seductive – it’s all about us – yet it leads us to become absorbed in our phones-as-mirrors rather than the harder challenge of engaging with the world and those around us.   It’s said not to look too closely at how a sausage is made for fear it may put you off. If we saw behind the mirror, would we be put off by the internet? At least most menus carry the choice of more than one dish; the rise of services like M suggests that, despite the apparent wonder of less effortful interactions, the internet menu we’re offered is shrinking. mc schraefel, Professor of Computer Science and Human Performance, University of Southampton This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Labor 2.0: why we shouldn't fear the 'sharing economy' and the reinvention of work

9:48AM | Monday, 7 September

Uber suffered a legal blow this week when a California judge granted class action status to a lawsuit claiming the car-hailing service treats its drivers like employees, without providing the necessary benefits.   Up to 160,000 Uber chauffeurs are now eligible to join the case of three drivers demanding the company pay for health insurance and expenses such as mileage. Some say a ruling against the company could doom the business model of the on-demand or “sharing” economy that Uber, Upwork and TaskRabbit represent.   Whatever the outcome, it’s unlikely to reverse the most radical reinvention of work since the rise of industrialization – a massive shift toward self-employment typified by on-demand service apps and enabled by technology. That’s because it’s not a trend driven solely by these tech companies.   Workers themselves, especially millennials, are increasingly unwilling to accept traditional roles as cogs in the corporate machinery being told what to do. Today, 34% of the US workforce freelances, a figure that is estimated to reach 50% by 2020. That’s up from the 31% estimated by the Government Accountability Office in a 2006 study.     Many aren’t ready for the on-demand economy that Uber represents, such as these taxi drivers in Brazil. Reuters   Rise of the gig-based economy In place of the traditional notion of long-term employment and the benefits that came with it, app-based platforms have given birth to the gig-based economy, in which workers create a living through a patchwork of contract jobs.   Uber and Lyft connect drivers to riders. TaskRabbit helps someone who wants to remodel a kitchen or fix a broken pipe find a nearby worker with the right skills. Airbnb turns everyone into hotel proprietors, offering their rooms and flats to strangers from anywhere.   Thus far, the industries where this transformation has occurred have been fairly low-skilled, but that’s changing. Start-ups Medicast, Axiom and Eden McCallum are now targeting doctors, legal workers and consultants for short-term contract-based work.   A 2013 study estimated that almost half of US jobs are at risk of being replaced by a computer within 15 years, signaling most of us may not have a choice but to accept a more tenuous future.     Robot suit via   The economic term referring to this transformation of how goods and services are produced is “platform capitalism,” in which an app and the engineering behind it bring together customers in neat novel economic ecosystems, cutting out traditional companies.   But is the rise of the gig economy a bad thing, as Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton suggested in July when she promised to “crack down on bosses misclassifying workers as contractors”?   While some contend this sweeping change augurs a future of job insecurity, impermanence and inequality, others see it as the culmination of a utopia in which machines will do most of the labor and our workweeks will be short, giving us all more time for leisure and creativity.   My recent research into self-organized work practices suggests the truth lies somewhere in between. Traditional hierarchies provide a certain security, but they also curb creativity. A new economy in which we are increasingly masters of our jobs as well as our lives provides opportunities to work for things that matter to us and invent new forms of collaboration with fluid hierarchies.   Sharing into the abyss? Critics such as essayist Evgeny Morozov or the philosopher Byung-Chul Han highlight the dark side of this “sharing economy.”   Instead of a collaborative commons, they envision the commercialization of intimate life. In this view, the likes of Uber and Airbnb are perverting the initial collaborative nature of their business models – car-sharing and couch-surfing – adding a price and transforming them from shared goods into commercial products. The unspoken assumption is that you have the choice between renting and owning, but “renting” will be the default option for the majority.   Idealists take another tack. Part of the on-demand promise is that technology makes it easier to share not only cultural products but also cars, houses, tools or even renewable energy. Add increasing automation to the picture and it invokes a society in which work is no longer the focus. Instead, people spend more of their time in creative and leisurely activities. Less drudge, more time to think.   The “New Work movement,” formed by philosopher Frithjof Bergmann in the late 1980s, envisioned such a future, while economist and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin imagines consumers and producers becoming one and the same: prosumers.   From self-employment to self-organization Both of these extremes seem to miss the mark. In my view, the most decisive development underlying this discussion is the need for worker self-organization as the artificial wall between work and life dissolves.   My recent work has involved studying how the relationship between managers and workers has evolved, from traditional structures that are top-down, with employees doing what they’re told, to newer ones that boast self-managing teams with managers counseling them or even the complete abolition of formal hierarchies of rank.   While hierarchy guarantees a certain security and offers a lot of stability, its absence frees us to work more creatively and collaboratively. When we’re our own boss we bear more responsibility, but also more reward.   And as we increasingly self-organize alongside others, people start to experiment in various ways, from peer to peer and open source projects to social entrepreneurship initiatives, bartering circles and new forms of lending.   The toughest tension for workers will be how best to balance private and work-related demands as they are increasingly interwoven.   Avoiding the pitfalls of platform capitalism Another risk is that we will become walled in by the platform capitalism being built by Uber and TaskRabbit but also Google, Amazon and Apple, in which companies control their respective ecosystems. Thus, our livelihoods remain dependent on them, like in the old model, just without the benefits workers have fought for many decades.   In his recent book “Postcapitalism,” Paul Mason eloquently puts it like this: “the main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information; and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial.”   To avoid this fate, it’s essential to create sharing and on-demand platforms that follow a non-market rationale, such as through open source technologies and nonprofit foundations, to avoid profit overriding all other considerations. The development of the operating system Linux and web browser Firefox are examples of the possibility and merits of these models.   Between hell and heaven Millennials grew up in the midst of the birth of a new human age, with all the world’s knowledge at their fingertips. As they take over the workforce, the traditional hierarchies that have long dictated work will continue to crumble.   Socialized into the participatory world of the web, millennials prefer to self-organize in a networked way using readily available communication technology, without bosses dictating goals and deadlines.   But this doesn’t mean we’ll all be contractors. Frederic Laloux and Gary Hamel have shown in their impressive research that a surprisingly broad range of companies have already acknowledged these realities. Amazon-owned online shoe retailer Zappos, computer game designer Valve and tomato-processor Morning Star, for example, have all abolished permanent managers and handed their responsibilities over to self-managing teams. Without job titles, team members flexibly adapt their roles as needed.   Mastering this new way of working takes us through different networks and identities and requires the capacity to organize oneself and others as well as to adapt to fluid hierarchies.   As such, it may be the the fulfillment of Peter Drucker’s organizational vision: … in which every man sees himself as a “manager” and accepts for himself the full burden of what is basically managerial responsibility: responsibility for his own job and work group, for his contribution to the performance and results of the entire organization, and for the social tasks of the work community. Bernhard Resch, Researcher in Organizational Politics, University of St.Gallen This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Give me location data, and I shall move the world

9:37AM | Thursday, 3 September

  Behind the success of the new wave of location based mobile apps taking hold around the world is digital mapping. Location data is core to popular ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, but also to companies such as Amazon or Domino’s Pizza, which are testing drones for faster deliveries.   Last year, German delivery firm DHL launched its first “parcelcopter” to send medication to the island of Juist in the Northern Sea. In the humanitarian domain, drones are also being tested for disaster relief operations.   Better maps can help app-led companies gain a competitive edge, but it’s hard to produce them at a global scale. A few select players have engaged in a fierce mapping competition. Google leads the race so far, but others are trying to catch up fast. Apple has enlarged its mapping team and renewed its licensing agreement with TomTom. TomTom has plans to 3D map European and North American freeways by next year.     DHL’s prototype ‘parcelcopter’ is a modified microdrone that costs US$54,900 and can carry packages up to 1.2kg. Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters   In Europe, German carmakers Audi, BMW and Mercedes agreed to buy Here, Nokia’s mapping business. The company had been coveted by Uber, which has gained mapping skills by acquiring deCarta and part of Microsoft Bing.   Further signs of the fever for maps are startups such as Mapbox, Mapsense, CartoDB, Mapillary, or Mapzen. The new mapping services are cloud-based, mobile-friendly and, in most cases, community-driven.   A flagship base map for the past ten years has been OpenStreetMap (OSM), also known as the “Wikipedia of mapping”. With more than two million registered users, OpenStreetMap aims to create a free map of the world. OSM volunteers have been particularly active in mapping disaster-affected areas such as Haiti, the Philippines or Nepal. A recent study reports how humanitarian response has been a driver of OSM’s evolution, “in part because open data and participatory ideals align with humanitarian work, but also because disasters are catalysts for organizational innovation”.   A map for the commons? While global coverage remains uneven, companies such as Foursquare, Flickr, or Apple, among others, rely on OSM free data. The commercial uses of OSM primary data, though, do not come without ongoing debate among the community about license-related issues.     The steering wheel is seen resting in the middle of the dashboard inside a Rinspeed Budii self-driving electric city car in Geneva. Ard Wiegmann/Reuters   Intense competition for digital maps also flags the start of the self-driving car race. Google is already testing its prototypes outside Silicon Valley and Apple has been rumoured to work on a secret car project code named Titan.   Uber has partnered with Carnegie Mellon and Arizona Universities to work on vehicle safety and cheaper laser mapping systems. Tesla is also planning to make its electric cars self-driving.   The ultimate goal Are we humans ready for this brave new world? Research suggests young people in North America, Australia and much of Europe are increasingly becoming less likely to hold a driver’s license (or, if they do, to drive less).   But even if a new generation of consumers were ready to jump in, challenges remain huge. Navigation systems will need to flawlessly process, in real time, position data streams of buildings, road signs, traffic lights, lane markings, or potholes. And all this seamlessly combined with ongoing sensing of traffic, pedestrians and cyclists, road works, or weather conditions. Smart mapping at its best.       Legal and ethical challenges are not to be underestimated either. Most countries impose strict limits on testing self-driving cars on public roads. Similar limitations apply to the use of civilian drones. And the ethics of fully autonomous cars is still in its infancy. Autonomous cars probably won’t be caught texting, but they will still be confronted with tough decisions when trying to avoid potential accidents. Current research engages engineers and philosophers to work on how to assist cars when making split-second decisions that can raise ethical dilemmas.   But the future of digital maps is not just on the go. Location-based service revenues are forecast to grow to €34.8 billion in 2020. The position data deluge of the upcoming geomobile revolution gives maps a new frontier: big data analytics. As Mapsense CEO Erez Cohen notes: “the industry is much larger than the traditional GIS industry. It’s actually growing at a massive rate, and there are a massive number of new companies that need the services of mapping analytics because they’re generating all this location data.”   Digital mapping technology promises to unveil our routines, preferences, and consumer behaviour in an unprecedented scale. Staggering amounts of location data will populate our digital traces and identities. The impact on our lives, organisations, and businesses is yet to be fully understood, but one thing is sure: the geomobile revolution will be mapped.   Marta Poblet is VC's Principal Research Fellow, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Business and Law at RMIT University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Just how big has eSports become?

8:41PM | Wednesday, 26 August

113 million hardcore fans worldwide 147 million occasional viewers US$252 million in global revenues a predicted total prize pool of $71 million for all tournaments and competitions.   No, these numbers don’t refer to a traditional mainstream sport like football or basketball. Rather, they come from a sport that saw its major surge begin a mere 10 years ago, a sport whose global revenue has already surpassed the revenue of the entire music industry by $20 million in 2014, a sport that giant brands like Coca-Cola, Red Bull, American Express, Intel and Samsung are vying to sponsor.   I’m talking about eSports – also known as competitive gaming, electronic sports or professional gaming – a type of video game competition where professional players battle for the highest rank and the top prize.   With an rapidly expanding global fan base and an increasingly organized industry business model, eSports has now become a real deal – so real that participants now qualify for the application of US P-1 Visa, a type of visa that’s long been reserved for professional athletes.   But how did eSports become so big, so fast? And what factors have contributed to its growth?   The rise of eSports Fun fact on the earliest known video game competition: on October 19 1972, a group of students at Stanford University competed in an “intergalactic spacewar olympics.”   The prize? A one-year subscription to Rolling Stone.   But the winners of today’s eSports tournaments can expect a bit more: the International 2015 Dota 2 Championship – which took place earlier this month – had a prize pool of over $18 million, making it the largest ever for a single tournament.   Just a decade ago, the first-ever professional video gamer, Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel, appeared on the cover of BusinessWeek, with an eight-page feature detailing the rise of the industry.   Back then, the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) was just starting to eke into the nation’s consciousness. In the five years leading up to the feature, “Fatal1ty” had won more tournaments and pulled in more prize money than any other gamer: more than $350,000. In 2005, he won the big prize of $500,000 at the CPL finals, which were partially broadcast on MTV. Intel was the primary sponsor for the CPL 11-event world tour, with other backers such as Samsung, AMD and Tylenol.       Members of Evil Geniuses compete in The International DOTA 2 Championships, where they came away with the grand prize of $6,616,014. Jason Redmond/Reuters   Both CPL and the Electronic Sports League (ESL) started in 1997. According to an infographic from ESL, its number of registered gamers grew to one million in its first eight years. By 2013, that number had grown to over four million. ESL communities could be found in 46 countries, with over 883,000 registered teams and more than 30,000 new gamers joining the league every month.   Meanwhile, the League of Legends 2014 World Championships had more than 32 million viewers online – which was more than 2014 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 7 of the 2014 World Series and Game 7 of the 2014 NBA finals.   Forces behind the growth The major factors behind the growth of eSports include the popularity of new platforms for viewing video games, new business models and a surge in “Geek Pride.”   The core reasons, though, center around the creation and growth of new platforms – especially streaming platforms like Twitch, where audiences can see live streaming of professional players competing with each other almost every day. They might tune into see teams of the best players battle head-to-head across multiple battlefields, in both small skirmishes and intense 5v5 competitions.   These new platforms have broken down walls that previously limited the gaming experience to just the players in the game. They’ve attracted more people to the community, while allowing for two-way interaction within the space.   For example, streaming platforms like Twitch (which Amazon acquired last year for $970 million) have provided incentives for both professional players and audiences to gather and interact. For professional players, they can gain income through a combination of advertisements, subscription fees for streaming their games and donations from viewers, which has made making a living by playing video games an attainable goal.   For audiences, streaming makes eSports extremely accessible. Fans don’t even need to be especially skilled at playing video games to participate; they can simply sit back and enjoy the games.   According to Newzoo Global eSports Audience Model, about 40% of eSports viewers don’t play the games themselves. What’s more, audiences can actually engage with players via Twitch, sending real-time comments or questions to players as the competitions stream. Some players will respond, while others will even invite viewers to join in on the game.   The win-win model of streaming platforms has triggered great interests in eSports. According to a 2014 report from Twitch, there were 16 million minutes watched, 100 million unique viewers and 1.5 million unique broadcasters every month on Twitch. What’s more, the number of peak concurrent viewers hit one million in 2014.   The prosperity of platforms like Twitch has greatly increased awareness of eSports and generated huge revenues for the industry. These revenues behind eSports, meanwhile, have attracted big name brands, such as Nvidia, Intel and Samsung, to make more investments.   Money from these investments is then used to innovate new streaming platforms such as Hitbox, Mobcrush and Kamcord, which further increase awareness and create large gaming communities, while leading to more revenue opportunities for gamers and brands alike. This healthy innovation cycle in eSports business is a major support behind the surge of professional gaming.   Another factor could be attributed to the fact that the term “geek” has seen a resurgence. “Geek” and “nerd” are no longer derogatory terms. In a way, they’ve become mainstream – an identity popularized by a number of new outlets, including Nerdist Industries and the community Geek and Sundry.   Today, with the popularity of the expression “Geek Pride,” people who are intelligent and have prowess in the virtual space are eager to find a way to unleash and publicly promote their passions. eSports have simply become a new way to demonstrate Geek Pride.   With our culture now taking eSports seriously – and as someone who studies gamers and gaming data – I see immense possibility and potential for eSports and greater spectator interaction in this brave new world. Dmitri Williams is Associate Professor of Communication at University of Southern California This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Understanding the Amazonian workplace – it's the law of the jungle

8:22AM | Monday, 24 August

 In virtually every science fiction novel or film, there is an evil corporation which dominates the world – from LexCorp in the Superman franchise to Weyland-Yutani in Alien. Their masterminds tend to hide their ambitions behind stretched smiles and a language of care. That is, until the story’s protagonist exposes their plans and saves the world by exposing the evil afoot.   Compare this to the real world. We have corporations with huge influence which do bad things, we are well aware of it and yet we continue to let it happen. Why?   The recent New York Times exposé of life working for Amazon used old-fashioned investigative journalism to reveal the harsh reality of working in the company’s head office in Seattle. It documents a culture of relentless criticism, with a reliance on continual measuring of performance and long working hours. Unsurprisingly, this results in high labour turnover, as those who refuse to become “Amabots” (a term used to describe someone who has become part of the system) get spat out like returned parcels.   Nothing new to see here There has been predictable criticism of Amazon following these revelations – rightly so. But consider what we already know about the company. We have known for some time that it has a tax structure which ensures that it minimises its responsibilities in paying for the roads which allows it to transport its goods and the education that allows its employees to be able to read and write (Amazon’s British business paid just £4.2m in tax in 2014, despite selling goods worth £4.3 billion).   We know, following the work done by Spencer Soper in the US and Carole Cadwalladr in the UK that the conditions in its warehouses are punishing. Long hours, low wages and continual monitoring by technology result in high labour turnover. Oh, and (surprise surprise) Amazon doesn’t like trade unions.     Amazon factory workers in Germany striking last year for better pay and conditions. EPA/Roland Weihrauch   What else do we already know? That Amazon is a company which seeks to dominate markets through cost efficiencies, putting competitors out of business, or ensuring that they have to do their business through Amazon. There are well-documented accounts of its attempts to ensure that publishers offer the same discounts that it does, or that all print on demand has to go through its own company.   And, if that fails, it simply buys the competition with the huge piles of cash it has built from doing what it does, as it did with AbeBooks, LoveFilm, Goodreads, Internet Movie Database, The Book Depository, BookFinder, to name a few. And this isn’t even to mention its domination of the e-reader market through Kindle. Even if it doesn’t say so on the website, you might well be doing business through an Amazon subsidiary. If this isn’t a strategy for world domination, what is it?   In 21 years, Amazon has grown to become a company with almost US$89 billion in turnover every year. To put this in context, that’s greater than the GDP of countries such as Cuba, Oman and Belarus. And it has made Jeff Bezos, its driven founder, a personal fortune of around US$47 billion, which is about the same as the GDP of Costa Rica or Slovenia.   As one of his many plaudits, he was named “World’s Worst Boss” by the International Trade Union Confederation at their World Congress in May 2014. He also now owns the Washington Post.   All this, and much much more, is known about Amazon, but it continues to grow, recently suggesting a move into delivery by drones and beginning a food delivery service in a few US cities.   In his recent novel, The Circle, Dave Eggers describes a US internet company (a cipher for Google) that gradually moves towards world domination, using relentless monitoring of its employees and a continual rhetoric about exceeding customer needs. In the novel, when the customers or employees are confronted by criticisms of what the company does, they don’t see it, instead pointing to all the ways in which the company is making their lives easier. Criticism is seen as negative, practised by people who want to turn the clock back.     Results driven: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. EPA/Michael Nelson   Talk to most people about why Amazon is a problem and you will get similar responses. “But it makes things so easy.” “They are cheaper than anyone else.” “What’s wrong with efficiency?”   The law of the jungle But this isn’t just a debate about Amazon, as if it is a bad company surrounded by lots of good ones. It raises much broader questions about what corporations do. Essentially, they are machines which are designed to grow, to externalise their costs and privatise their profits. The fact that this produces a management culture of extreme bullying, or anti-union practices in its workplaces, or anti-competitive strategies in its marketplaces shouldn’t really amaze us.   It’s the law of the jungle, right? What should amaze us is the extent to which we know that this happens and yet – unlike the heroes in the sci-fi films – we continue to do nothing about it.   Behind the reflective surfaces of its buildings and website, Amazon is selling us something else. It’s a vision of a different world of work and consumption. This is a privatised, measured and monetised world, in which every social value is for sale. You can even buy books which tell you what’s wrong with corporations through the website, because the content doesn’t really matter that much.   All that matters is that the company makes money, dominates markets, keeps customers happy. That is what Amazon sells, and we continue to keep buying it.   Martin Parker is Professor of Organisation and Culture at University of Leicester This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Protecting the rights of the digital workforce in the 'gig' economy

8:15AM | Tuesday, 18 August

Spurred by advances in digital technology, an on-demand workforce has been growing steadily for well over a decade, creating a new “gig” economy. This is an economy in which more and more people either choose to, or are forced to, earn their livelihood working on lots of small “gigs” rather than being employed full- or part-time.   While the gig economy can offer greater flexibility and economic efficiencies, it also spells the rise of an anxious, disenfranchised workforce glued to their smartphones or laptops, waiting for the next gig to materialise.   First there were service marketplaces such as Elance, oDesk (now Upwork), Freelancer, and 99Designs- through which computer professionals and designers competed for one-off or short-term assignments. Then came the current wave of digital platforms such as Uber, airbnb, and Australian start-up, Whizz, which offers on-demand cleaning services.   Human intelligence for sale An even bigger global on-demand workforce has been nurtured by crowd-based platforms such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk AMT and CrowdFlower on which millions of workers perform what are known in the trade as micro-tasks.   These are tasks such as tagging images, extracting keywords, gathering or checking address data, translating small fragments of texts and so on. AMT refers to these as human intelligence tasks (HIT). One HIT can be completed in a few seconds or a few minutes (for which workers may be offered a few cents) and they come in HIT groups of hundreds of HITs.     The Turk market place. Screengrab   At the time of writing, there were about 300,000 HITs on offer at AMT. An average Turker (as they are referred to by AMT) can expect to earn US$2 to US$5 per hour on a good day, but there’s no guarantee in terms of regular work availability.   Platform providers play the role of middlemen who attract the service requesters on one side and the providers or workers on the other. The number of workers registered on these platforms continues to grow. Despite the low wages and the absence of any meaningful rights, an estimated four million people regularly turn to such platforms seeking work.   Many platform owners and innovation gurus have tried to dress up the gig economy as ushering in a new era of flexible, egalitarian, liberating work. But it’s hard to disagree with the observation made by the American employment and civil rights attorney Moshe Marvit, writing in the Nation magazine, that at its core, it has reinvented piecework for the digital age.   Race to the bottom Systematic data on on-demand workers is scarce, as we read on The Conversation last week. Available Turker demographics from 2010 indicate that a vast majority of the Turkers were from the United States (47%) or India (34%). About 63% have college degrees, 30% are female, and the median age is 30.   The workers have very little bargaining power in what is perhaps one of the world’s largest, unregulated marketplace. They are invariably classified as independent contractors and not as employees.   There is nothing novel about workers performing piecemeal work in their own time. But the internet-based platforms supported by technological developments such as cloud, mobile, and service-oriented computing have enabled these markets to scale in space and time to a point where the size of the reserve army of unemployed and marginally employed is forcing a race to the bottom on wage levels.   Data-driven algorithms for continuous monitoring of worker performance and reputation enable requesters to pick and choose the workers. They also have the unilateral right to reject all or part of the work completed by a worker without payment, which adds to the pressure on workers.   Gig-based platform owners are also beginning to come under the scrutiny of regulators and tax authorities. Recently, the Australian Tax Office issued a ruling that all ride-sharing Uber drivers must register for and pay GST by classifying the work as “taxi travel service”.   The drivers already pay 20% to Uber. Uber has indicated that it will increase the fares across Australia by approximately 10% to compensate for the GST. Despite this, the relatively low fares fixed by Uber is likely to lead to driver attrition. The company’s response has been to contest the ruling and it is expected to take the matter to the Federal Court.   New labour The larger debate about the need to regulate fast-growing platform companies and the accelerating on-demand economy is beginning to rage in many countries. The Federal Trade Commission in the United States put out a call for public comment on the “sharing economy” and the response from business groups, consumers and unions was overwhelming.   The agency received more than 2,000 comments, which reflects the conflicting perspectives and demands from a diverse range of stakeholders. Yet the framing of the debate in terms of “issues facing platforms, participants, and regulators in the sharing economy” led to a crowding out of the voices of the most affected: the workers.   Nevertheless, basic issues such as worker classification as employee or independent contractor; workers’ rights to bargain collectively for a decent minimum wage and conditions; and the need for balanced service level agreements, must be dealt with fairly.   The spectre of an underclass of digital proletariat will not go away until that happens. Joseph G. Davis is Professor of Information Systems and Services at University of Sydney This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

'Windows 10 on everything' is Microsoft's gambit to profit from its competitors

7:46AM | Friday, 31 July

Microsoft’s aim to make Windows 10 run on anything is key to its strategy of reasserting its dominance. Seemingly unassailable in the 1990s, Microsoft’s position has in many markets been eaten away by the explosive growth of phones and tablets, devices in which the firm has made little impact.   To run Windows 10 on everything, Microsoft is opening up.   Rather than requiring Office users to run Windows, now Office365 is available for Android and Apple iOS mobile devices. A version of Visual Studio, Microsoft’s key application for programmers writing Windows software, now runs on Mac OS or Linux operating systems.   Likewise, with tools released by Microsoft developers can tweak their Android and iOS apps so that they run on Windows. The aim is to allow developers to create, with ease, the holy grail of a universal app that runs on anything. For a firm that has been unflinching in taking every opportunity to lock users into its platform, just as with Apple and many other tech firms, this is a major change of tack.   From direct to indirect revenue So why is Microsoft trying to become a general purpose, broadly compatible platform? Windows' share of the operating system market has fallen steadily from 90% to 70% to 40%, depending on which survey you believe. This reflects customers moving to mobile, where the Windows Phone holds a mere 3% market share. In comparison Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure platform Azure, Office 365 and its Xbox games console have all experienced rising fortunes.       Lumbered with a heritage of Windows PCs in a falling market, Microsoft’s strategy is to move its services – and so its users – inexorably toward the cloud. This divides into two necessary steps.   First, for software developed for Microsoft products to run on all of them – write once, run on everything. As it is there are several different Microsoft platforms (Win32, WinRT, WinCE, Windows Phone) with various incompatibilities. This makes sense, for a uniform user experience and also to maximise revenue potential from reaching as many possible devices.   Second, to implement a universal approach so that code runs on other operating systems other than Windows. This has historically been fraught, with differences in approach to communicating, with hardware and processor architecture making it difficult. In recent years, however, improving virtualisation has made it much easier to run code across platforms.   It will be interesting to see whether competitors such as Google and Apple will follow suit, or further enshrine their products into tightly coupled, closed ecosystems. Platform exclusivity is no longer the way to attract and hold customers; instead the appeal is the applications and services that run on them. For Microsoft, it lies in subscriptions to Office365 and Xbox Gold, in-app and in-game purchases, downloadable video, books and other revenue streams – so it makes sense for Microsoft to ensure these largely cloud-based services are accessible from operating systems other than just their own.     The Windows family tree … it’s complicated. Kristiyan Bogdanov, CC BY-SA   Platform vs services Is there any longer any value in buying into a single service provider? Consider smartphones from Samsung, Google, Apple and Microsoft: prices may differ, but the functionality is much the same. The element of difference is the value of wearables and internet of things devices (for example, Apple Watch), the devices they connect with (for example, an iPhone), the size of their user communities, and the network effect.   From watches to fitness bands to internet fridges, the benefits lie in how devices are interconnected and work together. This is a truly radical concept that demonstrates digital technology is driving a new economic model, with value associated with “in-the-moment” services when walking about, in the car, or at work. It’s this direction that Microsoft is aiming for with Windows 10, focusing on the next big thing that will drive the digital economy.   The revolution will be multi-platform I predict that we will see tech firms try to grow ecosystems of sensors and services running on mobile devices, either tied to a specific platform or by driving traffic directly to their cloud infrastructure.   Apple has already moved into the mobile health app market and connected home market. Google is moving in alongside manufacturers such as Intel, ARM and others. An interesting illustration of this effect is the growth of digital payments – with Apple, Facebook and others seeking ways to create revenue from the traffic passing through their ecosystems.   However, the problem is that no single supplier like Google, Apple, Microsoft or internet services such as Facebook or Amazon can hope to cover all the requirements of the internet of things, which is predicted to scale to over 50 billion devices worth US$7 trillion in five years. As we become more enmeshed with our devices, wearables and sensors, demand will rise for services driven by the personal data they create. Through “Windows 10 on everything”, Microsoft hopes to leverage not just the users of its own ecosystem, but those of its competitors too.   Mark Skilton is Professor of Practice at University of Warwick. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Lessons from the Apple e-book case

7:37AM | Tuesday, 21 July

The Court of Appeals in the US has ratified Apple’s guilt in the e-book case. It was a two-to-one decision by the three judges on the Court. And it provides two lessons for Australia.   First, when industries are being disrupted, incumbents may collude with entrants to prevent competition.   Second, those who are calling for changes to our competition laws need to read the dissenting judgement. It shows how easy it is to confuse protecting competition and protecting competitors.   The background Before 2010, Amazon dominated e-books. It set the price at US$9.99 per book, which was less than the wholesale price that Amazon paid to the publishers. The reason was simple. Amazon was loss leading on the e-books in order to encourage consumers to purchase its Kindle reader.   Amazon had achieved a significant market share, selling around 90% of all e-books in the US. But the publishers hated the Amazon model. Cheap e-books meant that the publishers sold fewer (highly profitable) hard and soft backs. The publishers also feared that Amazon could evolve as a peer-to-peer platform that would “allow authors to publish directly with Amazon, cutting out the publishers entirely” (Court of Appeal at 14).   When Apple entered, it offered a different business model. The publishers controlled the retail price of each e-book on the ibookstore, with Apple taking a 30% cut. This is not unusual. Apple uses a similar model for Apps. And by itself, Apple’s agency model was not illegal.   However Apple and the publishers also agreed to a ‘most favoured customer’ clause. Under this clause, the publishers had to ensure that the price they set on the ibookstore was no more than the price for the same e-book on any other site – such as Amazon. Effectively this meant the publishers had to go to Amazon and require that Amazon raise its prices. And the data shows that prices went up.   The agreement between Apple and the publishers breached the anti-collusion laws in Section 1 of the US Sherman Antitrust Act.   The incumbents fight back When industries are disrupted, whether by Amazon, Uber or Airbnb, the incumbents will fight back.   In the case of Uber, this has been through existing taxi laws, labour laws and government assistance.   In June 2015 the California Labor Commission ruled that an Uber driver should be treated as an employee. Uber is appealing. But fear of both labour and taxation laws have led a number of peer-to-peer providers, such as Shyp (a packing and shipping service) and Instacart (a grocery delivery company) to shift informal contract workers to full time employees.   On May 1, 2015, the Uber offices in Guangzhou, China, were raided and closed down. The municipal government then announced plans to launch its own online taxi App which would cover incumbent taxi services.   For Airbnb, the incumbents have fought back through zoning laws and takeovers. Hyatt hotels revealed in May 2015 that it is investing in Onefinestay, a competitor to Airbnb. Similarly, Wyndham hotels has invested in Love Home Swap, a UK home swapping site.   The Apple case illustrates how incumbents can fight back by using dirty competitive tactics. Fortunately, in the Apple case, the competition regulators were ready to act. But we can expect incumbents in other sectors to similarly push the legal boundaries to protect their profits.   Protecting competitors or protecting competition? The Apple case also highlights the problem of leaving the interpretation of abuse of market power laws to the Courts.   The US Sherman Act provides little guidance to the Courts. However, the US has a long history of sorting out ‘good’ behaviour from ‘bad’ behaviour. The ‘rule of reason’ approach adopted by the US Courts is similar to the approach under Australia’s current abuse of market power laws. In Australia, a firm with market power only breaks the law if it ‘takes advantage’ of that power. The US Courts similarly ask whether or not the impugned conduct is really pro-competitive, not anti-competitive, behaviour. Both approaches try and ensure the law fosters competition rather than protecting individual, potentially inefficient, competitors.   Unfortunately, the recent Competition Policy Review recommended changing our laws. The new laws will take out the ‘take advantage’ test and leave it to the Courts to sort out the behaviour. But even in the US, with more than 100 years of legal cases, the Courts can get this wrong.   The dissenting judgement in the Apple decision illustrates the confusion. The dissenting judge concluded that Apple’s behaviour, that raised prices for e-books, was unambiguously and overwhelmingly pro-competitive. By raising prices, the cartel made it easier for new businesses to enter the market!   On this basis, all cartels would be good. If you raise prices and profits then the businesses benefit. This encourages new entry, but harms consumers. It is the classic confusion between competition (which benefits consumers) and collusion (which benefits businesses but hurts consumers).   Fortunately, two judges in the Apple case avoided this confusion. But protecting competitors can be tempting for a court – particularly when the industry is rapidly changing through innovation and disruption. In the Apple case it was tempting enough to have one judge dissent. And in Australia, we risk throwing the courts in at the deep end, if the legal changes recommended by the Competition Policy Review go ahead. Stephen King is Professor, Department of Economics at Monash University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian web design startup Elto acquired by GoDaddy

4:41AM | Tuesday, 14 April

Aussie web design marketplace Elto has been snapped up by domain registration company GoDaddy for an undisclosed amount.   GoDaddy – which has 12 million customers worldwide – raised $605 million earlier this month after listing on the New York Stock Exchange.   The acquisition comes as the company expands its customer offerings and aggressively targets small businesses and startups.   Elto was founded in 2012 as way for small businesses to make simple changes to their website for a set fee.   Originally called Tweaky, the startup later rebranded, moved to San Francisco and closed an investment deal with Blackbird Ventures.   More than 60% of Elto’s customers are based in the United States, along with all of the company’s major partners such as WordPress.   Chief executive of Elto, Ned Dwyer, told StartupSmart he and his co-founder PJ Murray decided to be acquired by GoDaddy because of their “huge customer base” of small business owners.   “It’s also about the team, the people who are running GoDaddy these days,” he says.   “In the last couple of years GoDaddy have been making big bets on top talent through acquisitions and hiring from companies like eBay, Intuit and Amazon – I get to work with some incredibly smart people every day.”   Dwyer says he and PJ will be joining the team at GoDaddy, and while he is excited to start working on building “the biggest marketplace we can” it is still bittersweet to sell something they have been working on for so long.   “We would have liked to stay as an independent company but we also couldn’t turn down this opportunity,” he says.   “It’s also nice to be able to focus 100% on building a great product experience with no distractions from things like balancing the books, managing payroll and the million other things you have to do as a founder that keep you from delivering value for customers.”   The deal has been in the works for some time, with Elto putting a halt on accepting new projects at the start of this year.     General manager of hosting at GoDaddy, Jeff King, said in a statement the company was excited to announce its latest acquisition.   “Ned and PJ have built something people truly want at Elto — and something that GoDaddy’s small- to medium-sized business customers need,” he said.   “We’re thrilled to welcome them into the GoDaddy family.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Buy tickets to the 2015 StartupSmart Awards.

What we learnt from Startmate and our Shark Tank experience

4:52AM | Monday, 13 April

Like all co-founders, Richard Hordern-Gibbings and I are working hard to make our startup Nexus Notes a success. Late last year we did two things to help us on our way: we pitched to be a part of the tech accelerator, Startmate, and the television series, Shark Tank.   We were fortunate to be selected for both. This post explains a bit about both experiences. Startmate Sydney-based Startmate is a network of founders offering mentorship and seed financing to technical teams creating global internet startups from Australia. They invest $50,000 in seed capital for 7.5% of company equity.   Some of the mentors include co-founders of tech giants like Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar and SEEK’s Paul Bassat. In addition to the capital and mentorship, they also provide office space in an incubator for three months, access to key partners like Amazon and PayPal and introductions to US investors in Silicon Valley over a two-month period.   The Startmate selection process is competitive. For the 2015 intake, over 200 startups applied, 25 teams were shortlisted for interviews and eight made it through. We were excited to be one of the eight companies chosen. We found this out in the middle of October last year and began to make plans to begin work in the program from January 5 this year.   It’s worth mentioning that the Economist listed Startmate as one of the top accelerators in the world based on follow-on funding for alumni. Now in its fifth intake, half of the 29 companies who have gone through the program have raised seed capital. The average deal has been a $US1 million raise at a $US4 million valuation from a combination of Australian and American investors within six months of participating. Shark Tank  Soon after being accepted into Startmate, we heard that Shark Tank were keen for us to pitch on their show. We hadn’t begun the Startmate program yet, so Richard and I sensed that the timing might not be ideal for the Sharks. After consulting our new mentors, the consensus was that we had nothing to lose in making the ask and so in December we did.   The pitch to the Sharks was simple, “Nexus Notes has huge potential, invest now and pour fuel on the fire.” We asked for $300,000 for 7.5% of the company.   One of the five Sharks, Steve Baxter, made an offer which we declined and the other four chose not to invest. Their view was that while they could see the potential in the business, our valuation was too high. Combine this with the fact that Startmate had already come on board and it was ‘no deal’.   Richard and I want to grow a sustainable, global tech business that realises our vision of giving the best students the tools to teach. Our first product allows high-achieving students to publish their notes and we’re looking forward to launching our next products. We’re super excited to be a part of Startmate and have some fantastic mentors on-side.   We were really proud to announce our advisory board last month with some tech all-stars behind us and it was awesome to pitch at the demo day in Sydney last week.     If you’d like to be a part of our story as a user, then start by contributing or purchasing your first set of notes – we’d be pumped to have you a part of our community. If you’d like to invest, then email me [email protected] and I can talk to you about our current seed round.   Hugh Minson is the co-founder and CEO of Nexus Notes.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Rich Lister Zhenya Tsvetnenko attempts backdoor listing on ASX for Mpire Media

3:59AM | Thursday, 26 March

Mpire Media, the online marketing business founded by Western Australia-based technology entrepreneur Zhenya Tsvetnenko, will spring on to the Australian Securities Exchange by June through a backdoor listing with shell company Fortunis Resources.   Tsvetnenko, who debuted on the BRW Rich List with wealth of $107 million in 2009, first announced plans to take Mpire public in mid-2014. The deal with Fortunis is worth approximately $10 million.   The software engineer listed his bitcoin company Digital CC Limited via a reverse takeover of energy investment firm Macro Energy in early 2014 and was revealed as an investor in now-collapsed tech startup Alphatise.   But his first business success came in the early 2000s when he worked from home to pioneer SMS gateway technology and Google AdWords.   Speaking to SmartCompany this morning, Tsvetnenko says the deal will give Mpire Media “immediate access” to the cash reserves of Fortunis and he expects to raise between $2 million and $4 million from the market.   But Tsvetnenko says another key reason for floating the company is an ASX listing “gives us the credibility of a listed company, which goes a long way in this industry”.   Mpire Media is a performance-based marketing firm. The company acts as an intermediary between advertisers and clients and only receive payments once a sale is achieved. It has worked with clients including Amazon-owned Audible and Samsung.   Tsvetnenko says he originally founded Mpire Media as a “vehicle” for his previous mobile content business but re-focused the company at the start of last year to better capitalise on Mpire’s proprietary software.   In July last year Mpire recorded monthly revenue of $55,000. By February this year, the company’s monthly revenue had hit $1.1 million, with a gross profit margin of between 16-20%.   Tsvetnenko says total revenue since July last year is approximately $5.3 million.   Mpire has 12 employees in Toronto and another 10 in Perth. Tsvetnenko says the company will need to expand its team later this year as it ramps up plans to commercialise its software and offer it as a service to other firms.   “That’s the blue sky plan that we work on every day,” he says.   “We’re putting the plans in motion and I think it will be the next phase for the company.”   But Tsvetnenko’s focus also remains on continuing to grow Mpire’s revenue base, admitting the Mpireteam has already revised its budget this year having “blown away” its initial revenue targets.   “We want to keep hitting and exceeding our targets, increasing revenue and gross profit,” he says.   But while Tsvetnenko has chosen to pursue backdoor listings on the ASX for his companies, his advice to other entrepreneurs considering taking their company public is to first look at the market you operate in.   “It really all depends on the market, you have got to get it right,” he says.   “If you are generating revenue, it is a good consideration if you just need a little bit more money. But if you are making a profit and are cash flow positive, you might also consider taking on private equity.”   “Money is often easier to raise in a public market because it is liquid, but there is a trade-off because if you do an IPO, you are giving a lot of your company away.”   This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.

THE NEWS WRAP: Amazon to re-launch its on-demand services marketplace next week

3:41PM | Wednesday, 25 March

Amazon will launch its new on-demand services marketplace on Monday in order to compete with US-based crowdsourcing startups such as Angie’s List.   TechCrunch reports the platform, which has been rebranded from ‘Amazon Local Services’ to ‘Amazon Home Services’, has recently expanded its service categories as well as the cities it will be available in.   The new platform will offer services including lawn mowing, gardening, automotive services and one-on-one lessons. IoT startup raises $US38 million in Series B funding August, a startup which produces smart door locks, has raised $US38 million ($A48m) in Series B funding in order to launch new products and expand its San Francisco-based team.   The round was led by Bessemer Venture Partners and brings the startup’s total funding to date to $US50 million.   Co-founder Jason Johnson said in a statement the latest capital injection will allow for a runway much larger than he ever anticipated.   “With this new financing, our team will define a new product category in the smart home, aiming to solve what we call the ‘last five foot problem’,” he says.   “With our smart lock, mobile apps, and cloud-based access control, we offer homeowners, property managers, and guests a sophisticated and trusted way to control home access, bridging the gap between service providers and homeowners.” Facebook launches new service for marketers Facebook has announced a new tool that will allow marketers to analyse how successful their campaigns are based on aggregated social data.   The service – called Analytics for Apps – will allow users to see how their marketing campaigns performed across different demographics such as age groups or gender, according to TechCrunch.   Previously, marketers using Facebook to analyse their marketing efforts could only view who clicked on an ad instead of being able to see which demographics they could best target. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 292.60 points, falling 1.62% overnight to 17,718.54. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 78.4 US cents.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The four reasons this is a magical time for entrepreneurs: Matt Barrie

3:15AM | Wednesday, 25 March

We are living in a “magical time” for entrepreneurs according to Matt Barrie, founder of, and SmartCompany advisory board member.   Speaking at yesterday’s Creative Innovation Conference in Melbourne, Barrie said we are living in a period of “unprecedented growth” powered by the internet. He outlined four global macro trends that he says have led to “a remarkable period of disruption”. 1.  Software is eating the world   Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, famously said software is eating the world. “Every business is waking up to realise it’s a software business,” Barrie said.   He says the world’s biggest book company, Amazon, is a software company, the world’s biggest video service, Netflix, is a software company.   2.  Most of the world’s population are yet to use the internet   Barrie says there are tremendous opportunities for growth as more and more of the world’s population gets online.   “There are 4 billion people not yet online,” Barrie said. “There as twice as many people on the internet in China as the entire population of the United States.”   Facebook and Google are working hard to enable more and more people to access the internet while simultaneously, Barrie says, every industry is now being digitised.   For digital businesses like Freelancer, this means increasing numbers of clients. “We are in the early stages of replicating a country in software,” he said. “We have a population the size of Belgium”.   3.  Distribution is unprecedented   Technology adoption speed is increasing as distribution gets faster and faster, according to Barrie.   Facebook went from zero to a billion users in eight years, the Apple iPhone got to 40 million units in two years, and the iPad ramped even faster.   “Consumers are adopting faster and faster but distribution is also occurring faster and faster,” Barrie said.   Technology enables “distribution fire hoses” to reach the potential clients more and more quickly.   4.  Stuff is free, stuff is cheap   Barrie says it’s cheaper than ever to build a business.   “The great thing about this is everything you need to build a business is free …  if it’s not free it’s virtually free,” Barrie said.   He cites tools such as Google docs, MailChimp and Canva as all providing free or close-to-free business services.   “You can start a business off the back of a credit card,” Barrie said.   For example, RetailMeNot was built with $30 in one weekend, bootstrapped to $30 million in revenue and then sold to WhaleShark for $90 million five years later. Now, RetailMeNot is listed in the United States and has a market capitalisation of several billion dollars. The original founders were clever enough to retain shares.   All these factors mean that businesses can succeed at a quicker pace than ever before, Barrie says.   “It took Apple eight years to reach $1 billion in revenue, Google five years, companies are doing this faster and faster,” he says.         This article originally appeared at SmartCompany.

Sydney startup partners with Amazon to capitalise on businesses switching to the cloud

3:23AM | Tuesday, 17 March

A New South Wales startup is looking to help companies migrate to the cloud and reduce the costs associated with storing data online by more than 50%.   StorReduce, based in Sydney, has announced a partnership with Amazon in order to offer storage and duplication software, which it says is more cost-effective than onsite backup solutions.   Co-founder and chief executive Vanessa Wilson told StartupSmart more and more businesses are adopting cloud storage technology. However, the process isn’t necessarily easy.   “As you move to the cloud it can become more expensive,” she says.   “We also have a few other things on our development paths to enable companies to not just cut costs but to make copies of their data more quickly, which you can do with on-premise offerings but you can’t do on the cloud.”   Earlier this month the startup announced it had partnered with Amazon Simple Storage Service and Amazon Glacier to assist companies in cutting their cloud costs.   Wilson says her advice for startups looking to partner with large tech giants is simple: have the right product, do it well and be available to promote it.   “We were lucky in that we solved a problem,” she says.   “If you’re looking to do a partnership, do something that solves that partner’s problem. You also need to double check you match with their business motivations as well.”   Late last year the startup closed a $400,000 angel round, led by investors including Ben Kepes – one of the top experts on cloud technology.   “He also knows a lot of the right people in the US, so it’s been really helpful for us to research enterprise sales in the US ahead of time as that’s a big risk for us moving from Australia to there,” Wilson says.   “Two of the three founders will be heading to the US soon and we have more developers and sales that we’re keen to get onboard. Sell, market, test are the things going forward.”   Wilson says as more businesses store data online, another problem that needs to be tackled is how to access that data once it is in the cloud.   “It’s the actual managing the data as well, not just the cost, that is the critical thing for these enterprises,” she says.   “Anything that reduces the cost and makes the data more valuable to manage is going to be very valuable for these enterprises moving forward.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

China changes from world's factory to innovator and Australia needs to keep pace

3:55AM | Tuesday, 17 March

Australia’s economic future can be bright.   The 2015 Intergenerational Report (IGR) says that in 2055 our pay packets will on average, be able to buy nearly 80% more goods and services than now.   But, as the IGR concedes, whether these happy days come true really depends on what happens to productivity between now and then. Government policy settings that foster a culture of innovation will be crucial.   And there’s the problem.   As it currently stands, the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranks the strength of Australia’s innovation environment in the bottom half of the OECD.   If we are benchmarking ourselves against the likes of Germany, then that may not seem so bad. But how about China, a country that made a name for itself as the factory of the world on the back of millions of workers paid next to nothing? China rises up the innovation rankings That’s the reality that Australia now faces: out of the 144 countries ranked by the WEF, the strength of China’s innovation environment now lies just seven places behind ours. And don’t forget: per-capita incomes in China are only around one-quarter of those in Australia.   To be sure, it’s not so much that Australia has gone backwards. It’s that China has caught up. The days of cheap labour in China ended more than a decade ago.   Nowadays when utilities and other costs are added to sharply rising wages, Boston Consulting Group says that manufacturing costs in China are only 4% less than in the US.   That’s put enormous pressure on Chinese companies to innovate and produce higher value-added goods and services rather than try to compete on the lowest price.   It’s hard to argue with the results. According to the World Trade Organization, China’s share of world manufactured goods trade leapt from 4.7% in 2000 to 17.5% in 2013.   Some quip that China hasn’t yet discovered its own Apple. That’s true. But it does have Lenovo and Huawei, the world’s largest manufacturers of PCs and telecommunications equipment, respectively. Then there’s smart phone maker, Xiaomi, a company we’ll be hearing a lot more about in the next few years. And what’s unfolding in the digital space is nothing short of revolutionary. The world’s fasting growing e-commerce market Last month the Harvard Business Review said that over the past five years the digital evolution in China has been more rapid than in any of the other 49 countries they studied.   China doesn’t need to find its own eBay or Amazon.   By 2012, China’s largest online retailer, Alibaba, already had sales exceeding that of the American giants combined.   Industry researcher, eMarketer, says that the value of retail e-commerce sales in China in 2014 was 40% higher than in the US. By 2018, it will be more than double. Runs on the board in e-commerce are now being leveraged in other areas.   Alibaba just set up its own bank. To decide who to lend to it will tap its own treasure trove of data: the payments histories of more than 300 million individual users and 37 million small businesses that trade of its online platforms.   In searching for the secrets of Chinese success, don’t look for hordes of state-owned enterprises pumped full of government subsidies. Alibaba and co are privately-owned and profit hungry.   But what the Chinese government has done well is to recognise the high cost challenge and respond with a narrative about how it can be overcome. Innovation as the buzzword We heard this loud and clear when Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, delivered his work report at the National People’s Congress earlier this month. “Innovation-driven development” is now the national economic strategy.   When addressing the World Economic Forum at Davos in January, Premier Li spoke of innovation and entrepreneurship no less than 20 times. He said that in Chinese eyes they are a “gold mine”. It’s not just words. It was reforms by China’s banking regulator last year that cleared the way for Alibaba to act on its entrepreneurial instincts and branch into finance.   Yet far from the Chinese sense of urgency and mission, Australian governments have appeared content squandering the proceeds of the mining boom - a once in a generation opportunity to reposition the economy for sustainable, innovation-led growth. So what about Australia? Innovation policy in Australia is now focused on establishing five industry “Growth Centres”, which will be designed to encourage business-university collaboration. But these have only been allocated around $190 million, compared with almost $3 billion for the UK Catapult Centres, on which they are based.   Australia doesn’t need to unleash its own Apple or Alibaba, however enticing such a prospect might be. The reality is we account for only 2% of the world’s R&D, and even less of its markets.   But we do need more knowledge intensive “micro-multinationals” that engage in niche production and feed into global networks and value chains.   Already in 2012, before the IGR, the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper noted: “Using creativity and design-based thinking to solve complex problems is a distinctive Australian strength that can help to meet the emerging challenges of this century”.   Countries like Germany, Switzerland, and more recently the UK, have shown that being a high cost economy doesn’t mean that manufacturing needs to be abandoned. Nor does it mean that international competitiveness needs to be lost.   But when a country like China starts teaching the same lessons, it really is time to sit up and start paying attention.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Apple releases its watch and makes a surprise move into the area of medical research

3:52AM | Tuesday, 10 March

Apple’s event at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center was widely expected to focus on the release of the Apple Watch. ResearchKit In a move that took everyone by surprise however, Apple also released a new software platform called ResearchKit. Like HealthKit, the platform enables medical researchers to create applications that specifically support the enrolment of subjects in medical trials and the continuous collection of data for research projects. Five sample applications supporting research into Parkinson’s Disease, Cardiovascular Disease and Breast Cancer, were built with partner universities in the US, UK and China for the launch of the kit. Unusually for Apple, the platform will be Open Sourced which means that others can contribute to the core platform.   Apple has made it clear that none of the data collected through ResearchKit will be seen by Apple.   The benefit of using a software framework of this type is that it standardises the collection and sharing of research data, potentially in real time from research subjects. Data collected in multiple studies could potentially be linked and shared.   Apple is not the first company to throw resources into helping researchers use technology in their research. Google and Amazon have both built computing infrastructure to support research involving large amounts of data and high performance computers. With ResearchKit, Apple is facilitating one of the more challenging aspects of research, interfacing with test subjects. HBO Now In more traditional form, Apple also used the event to announce a lowering of price of the Apple TV box by 30% to US $69. It will also be the exclusive platform for the release of a service called HBO Now, that will provide all of HBO’s content via the device. This means that the new episodes of Game of Thrones can be subscribed to directly from HBO for $14.99 rather than through a cable subscription. Disappointingly to the rest of the world, the service will be available only in the US when it launches. 12 inch MacBook Apple has released a new 12 inch MacBook which is not in the “Air” range but is actually thinner and lighter than any of the MacBook Airs and boasts a retina display. Technologically, the laptop will be the first Apple device to support the new USB C cable configuration which resembles Apple’s Lightning cables but replaces the display, charging and data transfer ports.   The MacBook Air and MacBook pros get refreshes with faster components across the range. Apple Watch Although the Apple Watch had previously been announced, the final launch of the watch was expected to fill in many of the questions about what would be actually released, and at what price. Most of the introduction by Apple CEO Tim Cook however was a re-run of the previous event.   What was new were especially created apps that were available for the release of the watch including apps from Instragram, Uber, Twitter, SPG (hotel check-in and room key functionality), Shazam, and Apple’s own Apple Pay, Passbook and on-watch Notifications. Apple Watch apps will have their own section in the iTunes store.   Although the presentation was not completely new, it highlighted how innovative the interface on the watch was. Time will tell whether this overcomes some of the limitations of this type of interface highlighted by Android Wear and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear.   The Apple Watch Sport in anodised aluminium will come in two sizes (38 mm and 42 mm) and will cost US $349 and $399 for the two sizes. The stainless steel Apple Watch will also come in the same two sizes and cost between US $549 and $1,049 depending on the band. The gold Apple Watch Edition will be released in limited outlets and cost $10,000.   The watches will be available for pre-order on April 10th and shipping on April 24th in 9 countries including Australia and the UK.   Questions still remain about how the watch will do, how often it will need to be recharged and whether sufficient numbers of Apple customers actually buy the watch. However, as with all Apple events, the speculation is now over and the debate based on experience can begin.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Stone and Chalk opens with hopes to accelerate fintech growth in Australia

3:12AM | Tuesday, 3 March

Stone and Chalk, a new fintech hub that promises to help accelerate the development of Australian fintech startups, was unveiled in Sydney on Tuesday.   The independent not-for-profit will be located on level 26, 45 Clarence Street in the Sydney business district. It will include 1230 square metres of office space with the potential to grow to 3000 square metres.   Stone and Chalk’s co-working space will open in May and can fit up to 150 entrepreneurs, as well as offering space for seminars, industry meetings and conferences. Corporates will also be able to rent space in order to collaborate with the startups working there.   New South Wales Premier Mike Baird, who spoke at the hub’s launch yesterday, says it will encourage innovation and creativity in fintech.   “Stone and Chalk will provide fintech startups with subsidised office space to collaborate, network and investigate venture capital opportunities,” he says.   “The fast-growing fintech sector will further strengthen Sydney’s position as Australia’s business capital and a globally recognised and competitive finance sector.”   Stone and Chalk chair Craig Dunn says the hub will become the heart of fintech in Australia and hopefully Asia.   “Digital disruption is transforming the financial services industry and there is much to be gained through greater collaboration between stakeholders in the fintech ecosystem. We are focused on brining to life our vision for Sydney’s fintech hub to support startups compete, thrive and lead on a world stage.”   Toby Heap, managing director of the AWI Ventures fintech accelerator program, says the new hub will provide a physical focus for the growing fintech ecosystem.   “Our aim is to provide an ecosystem of advice and support that empowers the brightest up and coming financial services executives to leave their often comfortable nests and start a new generation of world leading financial services organisations.”   The hub was made possible due to professional and financial contributions worth more than $2 million from Allens, Amazon, American Express, AMP, Capital Markets CRC, CIFR, FINSIA, Finzosft, HSBC, IAG, Intel, KPMG, Macquarie Group, Oracle, Suncorp Bank, Veda, Westpac and Woolworths.   Co-founder and chief operating officer of Pocketbook, Bosco Tan, praised the commitment shown by the government and private organisations in coming to “collaborate and elevate innovation”. “Being surrounded and supported by the who’s who of the sector is a critical step to shortening the process of ideation and execution,” he says.   Posse co-founder Rebekah Campbell says the there’s a huge opportunity for innovation in financial services.   “The fintech hub is a great initiative to drive focus and collaboration in the sector. I’m sure we’ll see some giant disrupters emerge as a result in years to come,” she says.   Fintech start-ups that would like to express interest in moving to Stone and Chalk, visit for more information. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Entrepreneurial ecosystems and the role of government policy

1:13AM | Thursday, 22 January

The final communique of the 2014 G20 Leaders’ Summit called for enhanced economic growth that could be achieved by the “promotion of competition, entrepreneurship and innovation”. There was also a call for strategies to reduce unemployment, particularly amongst youth, through the “encouragement of entrepreneurship”.   This desire to stimulate economic and job growth via the application of entrepreneurship and innovation has been a common theme in government policy since at least the 1970s. The origins of this interest can be traced back to the report produced by Professor David Birch of MIT “The Job Generation Process” that was published in 1979.   A key finding from this work was that job creation in the United States was not coming from large companies, but small independently owned businesses. It recommended that government policy should target indirect rather than direct strategies with a greater focus on the role of small firms. Fostering the growth of entrepreneurial ecosystems Over the past 35 years the level of government interest in entrepreneurship and small business development as potential solutions to flagging economic growth and rising unemployment has increased. It helped to spawn a new field of academic study and research.   This trend was boosted by the success the iconic “technopreneurs”. Technology entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs of Apple, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, or Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google have become the “poster children” of the entrepreneurship movement.   One of the best known centres of high-tech entrepreneurial activity has been California’s Silicon Valley. Although it is not the only place in which innovation and enterprise have flourished, it has served as a role model for many governments seeking to stimulate economic growth.   Today “science” or “technology” parks can be found scattered around the world. They usually follow a similar format, with universities and R&D centres co-located with the park, and venture financiers hovering nearby looking for deals. Most have been supported by government policy.   What governments want is to replicate Silicon Valley and the formation and growth of what have been described as “entrepreneurial ecosystems”. However, despite significant investments by governments into such initiatives, their overall success rate is mixed.   So what are “entrepreneurial ecosystems” and what role can government policy play in their formation and growth? This was a question addressed by the first White Paper in a series produced by the Small Enterprise Association of Australia and New Zealand (SEAANZ). The purpose of these papers is to help enhance understanding of what entrepreneurial ecosystems are, and to generate a more informed debate about their role in the stimulation economic growth and job creation. What is an entrepreneurial ecosystem? The concept of the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” can be traced back to the study of industry clustering and the development of National Innovation Systems that took place in the 1990s. However, the term was being used by management writers during the mid-2000s to describe the conditions that helped to bring people together and foster economic prosperity and wealth creation.   In 2010 Professor Daniel Isenberg from Babson College published an article in the Harvard Business Review that helped to boost the awareness of the concept. The diagram below shows the nine major elements that are considered important to the generation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. The focus of this first SEAANZ White Paper is on the role of government policy. Future White Papers will deal with the other eight elements.   Isenberg outlined several “prescriptions” for the creation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem.   The first prescription was to stop emulating Silicon Valley. Despite its success the Valley was formed by a unique set of circumstances and any attempt to replicate it in other places were unlikely to succeed. This led to a second prescription, which was to build the ecosystem on local conditions. Grow existing industries and build on their foundations, skills and capabilities rather than attempting to launch high-tech industries from scratch.   The third prescription was the importance of engaging the private sector from the start. Here the role of government is indirect and one of a facilitator not a manager. In trying to shape the growth of such ecosystems attention should be given to the support of firms with high growth potential that can help to generate a “big win” early on. This is the opportunity for local success stories to become role models for others.   However, care must be taken by governments not to try to pick winners or over engineer the system. High growth firms by nature are inherently risky and highly innovative firms are typically unique. As such there is no magic formula for their success. Helping such firms to succeed is more about removing obstacles to their growth such as anti-competitive cultures, unfair taxation on small firms, unnecessary “red tape” or lack of access to markets, skilled employees or investment capital.   In seeking to help stimulate entrepreneurial high growth firms it is important, according to Isenberg, to avoid flooding the system with too much “easy money”. This can take the form of government grants and venture capital funds that are too easily obtained.   What is important is to grow firms with strong root systems that can sustain their own growth as much as possible before seeking additional funding. Such firms should be financially sound; profitable and well managed, or their likely success rates will be low.   The focus should be on encouraging sustainable, growth oriented and innovative firms not simply fostering more start-ups. Starting a new business is the easy part, successfully growing it is the challenge. What can government do to stimulate entrepreneurial ecosystems? The challenge for government policy is to develop policies that work, but avoid the temptation to try to effect change via direct intervention. A 2014 study of entrepreneurial ecosystems undertaken by Colin Mason from the University of Glasgow and Ross Brown from the University of St Andrews for the OECD, developed a set of general principles for government policy in the relation to these ecosystems.   They contrast “traditional” versus “growth-oriented” policy approaches to enterprise development. The first of these approaches tends to focus on trying to grow the total number of firms via business start-up programs, venture capital financing and investment in R&D or technology transfer.   This is a “pick the winner model” and can also include business or technology incubators, grants, tax incentives and support programs. Such programs are essentially transactional in nature. It is not that they are of no value, but they cannot guarantee success via such direct intervention.   A “growth oriented” approach is more relational in nature. This focuses on the entrepreneurial leadership of these growth firms. It seeks to understand their networks and how to foster the expansion of such networks at the local, national and international level.   The most important thing is the strategic intent of the team running the business. Firms seeking to grow need to be given help in linking up with customers, suppliers and other “actors” within the ecosystem who can provide resources.   Government ministers can play a critical role in fostering enterprise and innovation. Their role is to direct the government departments and agencies to focus on the problem and develop effective policies.   A minister who has a good understanding of what entrepreneurial ecosystems are, how they form and the role and limitations of government policy is well-placed to generate more effective outcomes. Key recommendations for government policy In summary, key recommendations for government policy in the fostering of entrepreneurial ecosystems are: Make the formation of entrepreneurial activity a government priority - The formulation of effective policy for entrepreneurial ecosystems requires the active involvement of Government Ministers working with senior public servants who act as ‘institutional entrepreneurs’ to shape and empower policies and programs. Ensure that government policy is broadly focused - Policy should be developed that is holistic and encompasses all components of the ecosystem rather than seeking to ‘cherry pick’ areas of special interest. Allow for natural growth not top-down solutions - Build from existing industries that have formed naturally within the region or country rather than seeking to generate new industries from green field sites. Ensure all industry sectors are considered not just high-tech - Encourage growth across all industry sectors including low, mid and high-tech firms. Provide leadership but delegate responsibility and ownership - Adopt a ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ approach devolving responsibility to local and regional authorities. Develop policy that addresses the needs of both the business and its management team - Recognise that small business policy is ‘transactional’ while entrepreneurship policy is ‘relational’ in nature.   For more reading see:   Mazzarol, T. (2014) Growing and sustaining entrepreneurial ecosystems: What they are and the role of government policy, White Paper WP01-2014, Small Enterprise Association of Australia and New Zealand (SEAANZ).   Note: Tim Mazzarol is President of the Small Enterprise Association of Australia and New Zealand Ltd (SEAANZ). SEAANZ Ltd. is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1987. It is dedicated to the advancement of research, education, policy and practice in small to medium enterprises. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

THE NEWS WRAP: Amazon to make films for the big screen

1:40PM | Monday, 19 January

Amazon Studios has announced it is going to produce full-length feature films for the big screen before making them available for streaming online.   The Verge reports Amazon plans to make up to 12 movies a year beginning in 2016.   The films will be available to its Prime subscribers in the US four to eight weeks after they are released in cinemas.   The news follows a number of streaming services jostling for market share in the US and Australia.   On-demand video service Netflix will launch in Australia and New Zealand in March this year – set to compete with already locally established streaming services Quickflix and EzyFlix. Rubikloud raises $7 million to help retailers tap into big data Canadian startup Rubikloud has raised $7 million in Series A funding to help retailers leverage big data in order to boost sales.   The round was led by TOM Group and Ule, along with Access Industries and a number of private investors.   Rubikloud allows customers to analyse data in real time, and says the funding will be used to expand its workforce and customer reach in America and China.   Co-founder and chief executive Kerry Liu said in a statement retailers are “waking up” to the fact that the future of retail will be data-driven.   “If they don’t understand their customer across all their channels, they will become obsolete or lose their brand recognition and loyalty,” she says. Venture capitalists gave $48.3 billion to US startups in 2014 Venture capital has reached its highest point in the US since the peak of the dot-com boom in 2000, according to Bloomberg.   American startups received $48.3 billion in venture capital in 2014, an increase of 61% from the previous year. Last year saw startups receive more than double the $20.4 billion invested in US tech companies in 2009.   Last year saw the most funding pumped into US startups since 2000, when venture capitalists poured $105 billion into the tech industry just before the dot-com bust. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 190.86%, rising 1.10 points to 17,511.57. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at $US82 cents.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.