Why Snapchat's the coolest kid on the social media block

9:12AM | Friday, 25 September

Is there a social media platform that can make your existing customers more loyal to your brand?   Jane Lu, founder of online fashion retailer Showpo, says there is and that platform is Snapchat.   One of the new kids on the social media block, Snapchat allows users to send photos or short video clips to each other that disappear as soon as the user as seen it.   Snapchat was launched in September 2011 and although it does not have the same reach as its more established social media counterparts, this is starting to change.   As of May this year, Snapchat reportedly had 100 million daily active users and at the time was valued at more than $US15 billion ($20.9 billion).   According to the 2015 Sensis Social Media Report, 15% of Australian consumers are using Snapchat, which is not far behind the likes of Twitter and Pinterest (both 17%), Google+ (23%), Instagram (26%) and LinkedIn (28%).   Facebook still dominates, however, with 93% of the population using the social network.   Snapchat users are most likely to be aged between 18-29 years, with 38% of those in that age bracket surveyed by Sensis reporting having a Snapchat account. Less than 10% of those aged between 30-39 years (7%) and those between the ages of 40 and 49 (9%) use Snapchat.   Brands have begun to take notice of the rapidly growing social platform, with the likes of US brands Taco Bill and McDonald’s creating a Snapchat presence and global fashion retailer ASOS using the platform to offer immediate discounts to followers.   A bit closer to home, KFC Australia used Snapchat to launch its Double Soft Shell Zinger Taco in June, Cricket Australia took the plunge in July to tie in with the latest Ashes series and Commonwealth Bank established its Snapchat account at the start of August.   Also in August, fashion lovers were able to see Myer’s Spring Fashion Week parade via Snapchat.   Making customers more loyal   For Showpo’s Jane Lu, using Snapchat is not about generating more traffic to her $7.5 million online retail store, but about making her “existing followers more sticky”.   “If they like the content, they will be more loyal,” Lu told SmartCompany.   “It gives them a more candid look at the business; it shows it is more than just a website.”   Lu created her personal/business Snapchat account – TheLazyCEO – only a few months ago after she was introduced to the platform by her partner’s younger sister.   There is no way of tracking how many followers Lu has on Snapchat but to date, each of the videos she has snapped have notched up to 10,000 views.   Lu readily admits Snapchat is not as effective as the likes of Instagram and Facebook for attracting new followers to her brand or even converting followers to paying customers, she says the platform’s ease of use makes it appealing as a business owner.   “People spend a lot of time and thought on Instagram but Snapchat is quite easy,” Lu says.   “Snapchat is about capturing the moment; you can’t redo the moment.”   But the ease of use can also be a pitfall, Lu says, warning other business owners to be careful about what they post, especially if it is later at night and they may have had a few drinks.   Using the Stories feature of Snapchat, which allows videos to stay accessible for longer than normal photo ‘snaps’, Lu offers her followers behind-the scenes clips of her day as chief executive of Showpo – from shots of the Sydney Harbour Bridge as she travels to a meeting or her dancing with some of Showpo’s models at a fashion shoot.   “It targets a younger market,” she says.   “Millenials and people in the 20s are really on it.”   “A whole new ball game”   Bree Johnson, co-founder of Frank Body, describes Snapchat as “a whole new ball game” for the cult coffee scrub that has achieved success on other social media platforms, including Instagram.   Johnson told SmartCompany Frank Body started trialling Snapchat in April and developed a strategy for using the platform in July from its account frankbod.   “Everything we do is driven by our customers and quite simply, a lot of our customers are using it as a platform so it made sense for us to be playing in the same space as them,” Johnson says.   Like Showpo, Frank Body’s target market is young women, aged between 16 and 24 years, and Johnson says this group “really responds” to the more natural, related and “less polished” content that Snapchat is made for.   “Each [social] platform is made for a different type of content or serves a different purpose,” Johnson says when comparing Snapchat to Instagram or Facebook.   “We try to offer unique content or raw footage that we wouldn’t necessarily put on the other platforms.”   Frank Body’s Snapchat account is made up of “Stories” or longer videos that go behind the scenes or feature social media “influencers”. Last week, the brand offered fitness tips from Sam Wood, star of this year’s season of Channel Ten’s The Bachelor.   Frank Body has a lucrative business model – the business turned over $14 million last financial year and is on track to more than double that figure to approximately $30 million this financial year – but Johnson says Snapchat is “not sales driven”.   “It’s about offering our loyal followers a bit extra,” she says.   Despite the less commercial focus, or perhaps because of it, it seems Frank Body’s fans like what they see: the brand’s Snapchat videos are attracting more than 10,000 views each.   As marketers, Johnson says it has been challenging for the Frank Body team to get their heads around posting “everything in real-time”.   “You can’t edit it so we are learning to let go a little bit,” she says.   “And when we get influencers to post for us, there is a large element of trust.”   “But that is part of what attracts people to Snapchat … it’s a lot more organic.”   “The Holy Grail for marketers”   According to Steve Vallas, social media expert and co-founder of social commerce agency Chunky Media, Snapchat has become “the Holy Grail for marketers” because of demographic it attracts.   “Eighteen to 24-year-olds are living on it,” Vallas told SmartCompany.   “So the question becomes how can you get to them without putting them off?”   However, Vallas questions whether it is worth small businesses experimenting with the Snapchat, given it is an “immature platform” and one that large corporates are splashing huge amounts of cash at with little return.   “By and large, the experience with Snapchat has been overseas,” Vallas says.   “It’s the big brands chasing Snapchat.”   Vallas says the resources and effort being poured into the platform currently outweigh the returns brands are getting, especially as it is virtually impossible for brands to actively find new Snapchat followers.   “In terms of scale, we’re not talking about numbers in the tens of thousands, we talking about a few hundred voucher redemptions,” he says.   Vallas says brands in the sporting and entertainment sectors appear to be favouring Snapchat as its instantaneous marketing is ideally suited for live events such as sporting matches or music festivals.   Those brands that are getting some traction use social media influencers or celebrities or are capitalising on the fact that Snapchat is still an “uncluttered space” with fewer brands competing for users’ interest.   As Snapchat continues to grow, however, Vallas says it will be the brands that hold true to that age-old marketing practice of simply creating compelling content.   “It’s the coolest place to be but it will be difficult for some brands,” he says.   “They will stick out like a sore thumb if they can’t create content that is interesting.”   This article was first published on SmartCompany.

Facebook dominating as social media ad spend grows over $US25 billion

9:00PM | Thursday, 24 September

Social network ad spending is set to reach over $US25 billion this year and is only set to increase, according to new research.   Market reserach company eMarketer says this is largely down to the increased focus on this area by social networking giant Facebook, which accounts for more than 60% of total ad spending.   In positive news for our egos, this means that we’re becoming more valuable for Facebook, with each user estimated to be worth about $US12.76 in ad revenue for the site worldwide.   Facebook will reach over $US16 billion in ad revenue this year according to eMarketer, up more than 40% from last year. Facebook’s ad revenue expected to rise by more than 37% by 2017.   Instagram is also playing a large part in the increase, with the photo-sharing platform now accounting for 5% of the total revenue.   As Re/Code reports, user value can be increased by Facebook in two ways: increasing the amount of ads appearing on news feeds, or upping the price of these ads, and it appears both of these methods will be employed going into the future.   While Facebook seems to have found an effective way to monetise its extensive user base, eMarketer says rival Twitter’s ad revenue is slowing down slightly.   “Twitter has improved its ad targeting capabilities, and it still has a lock on real-time conversation,” eMarketer principal analyst Debra Williamson says.   “However, advertisers want to reach a mass audience and that’s harder to do on Twitter than Facebook.”   Want to grow your business with Instagram? StartupSmart School can help.

Thank an ageing audience for Facebook’s proposed ‘dislike’ button

9:19AM | Wednesday, 23 September

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that the company is finally working on a much-desired feature: a “dislike” button. According to Zuckerberg, this feature has long been one of those most-requested by the Facebook audience. Although his comments suggest that the new button more likely will express sympathy or empathy, rather than simple dislike, Facebook users have nevertheless greeted the announcement with enthusiasm.   But why is Facebook introducing the button now, after so many years of audience lobbying and corporate resistance? One explanation could be the changing profile of the site’s users. Facebook is increasingly a technology used by mature adults, not vulnerable teens.   A dislike button as too negative   While Facebook users have expressed a desire for a “dislike” button for many years, the company resisted its development because it did not want to, in Zuckerberg’s words, “turn Facebook into a forum where people are voting up or down on people’s posts.” As he explains:   You don’t want to go through the process of sharing some moment that’s important to you…and then have someone down-vote it. That isn’t what we’re here to build in the world.   In other words, Facebook tried to keep its community positive; it did not want to invite the type of engagement that sites like Reddit thrive on – up voting, down voting posts off the page, trolling and pointed criticism. By limiting users’ ability to express negative emotions with a single click, Facebook tried to create a space that was emotionally safe, an important consideration when many users were teenagers, whose parents were concerned with issues like cyberbullying.   This continues to be a concern of users who aren’t clear on the nuances of the emotion the new button will express.   Super idea. #dislikebutton will really help improve shy, awkward or anxious teenagers' levels of self esteem. Spectacularly unpleasant. — Muriel Gray (@ArtyBagger) September 16, 2015   Furthermore, by avoiding the “dislike” option, Facebook created an environment that is appealing to advertisers, who would not want to see their brands down voted.   And the “like” button plays an important role in the economics of Facebook. Users’ decision to “like” brands, products, artists and other items serves as a valuable piece of information that Facebook is able to sell to advertisers, and it’s unclear how the information generated by a “dislike” button will be used.   The ageing Facebook user   However, as Facebook’s users, and their activities, have changed, the calculation behind the “dislike” button has evolved.     When Facebook got its start in 2004 as a network for Harvard students, virtually all its users were in the 18- to 22-year-old range. After it expanded to high school students in 2005, the social media site’s demographics skewed even younger.   However, once Facebook opened up to everyone with an internet connection in 2006, older users began to move onto the platform. Today, large majorities of older online adults are on Facebook, and there is evidence that younger users are jumping ship.   Facebook reads the news   As demographic shifts among Facebook users have taken root, the company has begun to focus on areas that are of greater interest to more mature users – in particular: news.   Facebook has established itself as a key portal through which people access news. According to Pew, 30% of US adults got news from Facebook, far exceeding the 8% who got news from Twitter and the 3% who gt news from LinkedIn in 2014. (It’s still lower than the 87% of Americans who got their news from TV, and the 65% who got it from radio.)   We know from years of research by organizations like the American Press Institute that, across all news categories, older audiences are more interested in the news than younger ones. Facebook’s prominence as a news portal can be understood as a consequence of the growing number of older users.   Facebook users share what interests them. For older adults, that is often the news of the day, and Facebook has begun to embrace its role in the news business. The recently launched Instant Article function is an example of the company’s new focus on itself as a news source and portal.     So, why the ‘dislike’ button?   Facebook is not what it was a decade ago. Instead of vulnerable teens, its user base largely comprises adults. And with the increased tendency of these users to share news, the ability to express something other than “liking” has become more pronounced. As Zuckerberg notes:   Not every moment is a good moment, right? And if you are sharing something that is sad…like the refugee crisis that touches you…it might not feel comfortable to Like that post.   The development of a “dislike” button – in whatever empathetic format Facebook eventually releases – can thus be seen as an acknowledgment that the site has changed. It’s become, in part, a forum in which grown adults discuss adult issues. A new form of expression is necessary to support this changed reality.   This article was first published on The Conversation.

The war on online advertising is intensifying, and the ads are losing

9:34AM | Wednesday, 23 September

A new front in the war against online advertising has opened up with the official release of Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 9. The most contentious feature was the ability for the mobile version of Safari to allow extensions to block ads.   Not only was there ad blocking software ready for installation on the day of the launch, but one application, Peace, became the top downloaded paid app on the iTunes App Store. The developer, Marco Arment, justified the need for ad blocking because online ads were engaging in excessive tracking and taking up space, data allowance and generally making the mobile browser experience worse for everyone.   But then, barely a day later, Arment pulled the app from the App Store, declaring that he didn’t “feel right” profiting from blocking other peoples’ ability to make money from ads. On Twitter, Arment went from being “immensely proud” of his app hitting the number one spot on iTunes to announcing that he was pulling it from the store.   I’ve pulled Peace from the App Store. Why: — Marco Arment (@marcoarment) September 18, 2015 Although Arment hasn’t elaborated on the precise technical reasons for pulling the app, it seems that the people behind Ghostery, the ad blocking technology that underpinned the app, decided that his implementation was not how they imagined their software being used.   Ghostery advocated for users of ad blockers to be “empowered” to decide for themselves what ads and trackers to block rather than the preemptive blocking that had been implemented in the initial version of Peace.   The public makes its views crystal clear   Since Peace has capitulated, another ad blocker, Crystal has taken the vanguard as the most downloaded paid app on iTunes.   Setting aside the arguments for or against online advertising, one thing is absolutely clear: the public do not want advertising to be part of their web browsing experience. So it really doesn’t matter whether web sites see this as the only way that they can find to provide free content.   The argument that this is all about bad vs good ads is also clearly not an issue any more. Ad blockers could render all ads obsolete, regardless of their perceived quality. Nobody is going to spend any time worrying about whether they should unblock particular ads.   Ghostery may have had laudable ambitions for an honest dialogue about ad tracking and ad quality, but it isn’t a conversation that the general public is interested in having. They simply want a total victory over online advertising.   The fallacy of the implied contract of ads for content   In the debate about the role of advertising, advocates have argued that it enables the supply of free content. If not for advertising, people would have to pay for the content through subscriptions.   So, in essence, there is an “implied contract” between consumers of a site and those providing the free content: web site visitors get access to the content in exchange for being subjected to ads and providing private information through tracking their use of the site.   The problem with this argument is that visitors are never given the explicit choice to make that informed decision. The “contract” also conveniently leaves out the fact that, in addition to the loss of privacy and the visual experience of ads, their data allocation is going to be used, web pages will load slower, and overall, their experience of the site will be diminished.   The argument for the need for advertising is a weak one. There are plenty of businesses that have shown that people are willing to pay for content if it is packaged such that they can easily see value for money.   Netflix and Hulu are examples of services that people are prepared to pay for in exchange for both the content and it being advertising free. In fact, many companies see the annoyance that customers feel with ads as a way of driving them to pay for versions of their apps that get rid of them.   The ad wars will continue   The war on advertising is far from over. Google, Apple and others are still going to provide ads in the protected environments of their apps, and in Google’s case, its videos.   Advertisers will continue to sell ads to clients who will, in turn, hope that they can get their ads in front of the remaining people who don’t use ad blocking software.   What the enormous popularity of ad blocking software has shown is that, if there is an “implied contract” for access to content in return for viewing ads, the public clearly is not willing to agree to it.   This leaves content providers with a clear message that they will need to find alternative ways of supporting the provision of that content like many other businesses do, without the use of advertising.   This article was first published on The Conversation.

Instagram climbs to 400 million users

9:48PM | Tuesday, 22 September

There are now more than 400 million people using photo-sharing social network Instagram.   In a blog post, the company announced the figure, which is a 100 million jump from nine months ago. More than 75% of these users are from outside the US.   The startup also says that more than 40 billion pictures have been shared on the platform, and that’s a whole lot of photos of breakfasts and cute pets.   “When Instagram launched nearly five years ago, 400 million seemed like a distant dream,” the blog post says.   It’s a pretty impressive milestone for the Facebook-owned company, proving it’s still enjoying very consistent growth in its fifth year of existence.   It has a much higher user base than the likes of Twitter, which has about 316 million monthly active users, and Pinterest, which has 100 million, as Re/Code reports.   Instagram users have probably been seeing a lot more targeted sponsored posts in their feed as the company looks to capitalise on, and monetise, these 400 million people.   Want to grow your business with Instagram? StartupSmart School can help. 

Apple News could change the news business - will readers win?

9:11AM | Friday, 11 September

 In the early days of Web 2.0, the arrival of blogs and similar sites heralded an explosion in the number of news feeds we could follow. But such abundance also came at a price: it became increasingly difficult to keep up with all this content without having to browse at length from site to site every day.   In response, a friendly acronym briefly flourished: Rich Site Summary, better known as Really Simple Syndication or RSS. Coupled with a feed reader tool, RSS enables users to quickly scan the headlines and click through only to those stories that pique their interest.   Feed readers were never widely popular, though – they remain the domain of news junkies and other power users. Adding all those RSS feeds to track takes time, and often requires some technical skills. And internet user practices have changed. Reader loyalty to specific news sites has declined, and many now receive a constant stream of news from diverse sources through the social filtering activities of their Facebook and Twitter contacts instead.   As a result, feed readers have fallen out of fashion. Market leader Google Reader was discontinued in 2013 as a result of its declining user base, and while other tools (such as Feedly) have replaced it, they remain speciality products by comparison.   An advertising nightmare News publishers, incidentally, might have breathed a sigh of relief. Scanning the news headlines in a feed reader necessarily reduces revenues from online advertising. Feed reader users click through to the news site (and thus trigger ad impressions) only for a fraction of all headlines. But then, most modern browsers use some form of ad blocking, so even loyal website visitors no longer reliably generate ad impressions.   Publisher attempts to overcome the limited returns from online ads have also involved a number of other revenue-raising approaches. These include full or partial content paywalls, or subscription- or advertising-supported apps for smartphones and tablets. Neither of these options represent guaranteed success.   Unless the paid content is unique, paywalls tend to drive users to the competition (such as the news sites of public service media). News apps may look great, but often fail to offer the convenience and flexibility of reading news on the web. Plus, users may end up having to switch between half a dozen news apps from different sources.   Apple loves simplicity This messy state of affairs looks set to be disrupted by Apple News, a new default app to be provided with the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 9, on September 16.   Until Apple’s own Apple News Format standard becomes available, the new app will use RSS feeds to retrieve content from its publishing partners. It will serve, in essence, as a modern take on the feed reader, providing a standardised interface to the latest content from news and other online publishers.   But while users of RSS tools can add the feeds they want, Apple News will offer only the content of those publishers it has signed up to the service. This creates a walled garden of news sources, and eventually perhaps an opportunity for Apple to request a payment from publishers seeking to be included. Pre-release information indicates that joining Apple News as a publisher is free, but there is no guarantee it will remain so.   For ordinary users interested in mainstream news sources, this may not matter much, but it does position Apple as the ultimate gatekeeper of publishers. Apple will be able to censor content, as it also does in the App Store – and it remains to be seen how the company will exercise that role.   Power shift Down the track, the proprietary Apple News Format is set to offer more fully featured news experiences than RSS itself is able to do. In particular, while it remains possible to click through to an original article on a publisher’s site, users can also choose to read it, reformatted to fit their screen, within the app itself.   If the majority of users choose to remain within the app, this further reduces the publishers’ takings from on-site ads, of course, but in return also enables them to generate revenue from any in-app advertising they might choose to run. This, however, also means that Apple itself, through its iAd advertising service, positions itself as a quasi-monopolist advertising provider for news content delivered through Apple News – a position of considerable power if Apple News becomes widely popular.   Given the popularity of iOS devices, minor publishers might even be tempted to forego the web altogether. They could push their content exclusively to Apple News, in the same way many iOS (and Android) apps are no longer scaled-down versions of desktop software, but stand-alone products designed to utilise the native affordances of these portable hardware platforms. Such exclusive content could become a major drawcard for Apple News, but also makes these publishers entirely dependent on Apple’s platform.   Ultimately, Apple News constitutes a powerful play at the online news market, by a company with the resources to pull it off. At the same time, we would do well to remember that Apple’s own apps have at times failed to compete with third-party offerings. Many iOS users still haven’t forgiven the company for the disastrous shortcomings of the original Apple Maps app, for example, and are quickly replacing Apple’s own apps with more appealing alternatives as they upgrade from one iOS version to another.   If Apple News can escape that fate and become popular with iOS users, though, it could thoroughly upset the prevailing but unstable balance of relationships between publishers, readers, and advertisers.   Axel Bruns, Professor, Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology 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.

Why did Google's logo rollout go smoother than Yahoo's?

9:44AM | Monday, 7 September

  We’re uncomfortable with change. From a cynic’s perspective, the bevy of adages embracing it (flashback to high school yearbook opening page: “The only constant is change”) is evidence: it’s as if we’re trying too hard to convince ourselves.   Perhaps the most illustrative phenomenon of this aversion is the logo switcheroo. Remember Gap’s logo disaster in 2010? Oh wait, you probably don’t; they reverted back to their original logo only four days after the rollout. And more recently, after spending five months and more than US$125,000, Penn State’s new logo had disenchanted students and alumni taking to Twitter in droves.   So it’s no surprise at all that Google’s new logo has ruffled some feathers: an informal Ad Age poll shows a majority dislike it.   Google’s new logo: yay or nay? Wikimedia Commons   Yet, at least anecdotally, the Google logo unveiling has not solicited quite the vitriol that Yahoo did when it rolled out a logo redesign in 2013.   Why was this the case?   On the face of things, there are plenty of similarities: Both Google and Yahoo are tech behemoths that have been around since what seems like the beginning of the internet – long enough that each likely had its respective logo done by a developer experimenting with CorelDRAW in a nondescript Northern California garage.   But this is not really about design. Yahoo’s final product could have been the 21st century’s answer to the Mona Lisa, but I suspect reactions would have been the same.   When it comes to logo redesigns, it’s not what’s done so much as when it’s done and how it’s rolled out.   Tech years are like dog years Brand scholars posit that brands age much like humans: there’s birth, childhood, adolescence, marriage (mergers and acquisitions), parenthood (brand extensions), aging (market share decline) and death.   Yahoo, which launched in 1994, had four real years on Google, which appeared in 1998. In the tech world, that’s at least a generation. So while Google is arguably somewhere around marriage/parenthood, Yahoo was already well into the aging stage when Marissa Mayer (formerly of Google) became CEO in 2012.   Let’s face it: staging a late-life comeback is tricky (see: Arby’s and IHOP). On the other hand, making significant changes is baked into the marriage and parenting “life stages” of brands.   It’s all in the execution In 2013, crowdsourcing was a hot (kinda) new thing, so it’s no wonder Yahoo jumped on the train. The company pushed out 29 versions of its logo – the reason for which is still unclear to me. I do believe the public was under the impression that it had a say. But then Mayer announced she and a team had spent the past weekend hammering out the new logo. It’s like we got all riled up and then learned, post-hoc, that we didn’t score an invite to the slumber party.     Yahoo’s roll out video.   Google, on the other hand, incorporated its change in a way that felt organic. Google Doodles – those delightful animations that often stand in for the organization’s logo on the Google homepage – have been around nearly as long as the company itself.   So to introduce the new logo in a way that was consistent with previous Google Doodle animations was genius; I might be thicker than most, but I didn’t actually realize a logo rebrand was going on. I just thought it was kind of cute how the hand reached up and tilted the last “e” ever so slightly.     Google’s roll out video.   The aspirational unveiling Both companies announced the logo changes via blog and video channels, but that’s where the similarities stop. Mayer’s blog post gives a rational appeal, outlining a step-by-step explanation of the design choices in detail that only an engineer could appreciate. The video is equally mathematical (news flash: Americans are terrified of math), with music that, inexplicably, sounds like it should be blaring in a Gap store, circa 1999.   Meanwhile, the Google post, signed by the VP of product management and director of user experience, is emotional without being at all personal, and the video is simply a multimedia translation of this message (though it does feel a bit like a frenetic timeline of Dr Evil’s mounting world domination). It’s a rallying cry for where Google has been and where it’s going.   Yahoo, once the leading search engine, made a huge fanfare of its intent, and the rollout was an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink affair.   Google, on the other hand, has been evolving since nearly Day 1, so the new logo felt like just another iteration; its communique stayed consistent with this theme.   After all, for Google, the only constant is change. Kay Tappan, Lecturer of Public Relations, University of Florida This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to build a successful consumer mobile app

8:43AM | Wednesday, 12 August

Making a hugely successful app like Snapchat or Angry Birds has little to do with luck. There are some consistent patterns among these apps that make it possible to reach that kind of popularity. Even before you get on wireframing your idea, this is an area to study. Here are some of these patterns. They’re Simple Using Instagram requires 3-4 taps. And you’re just sharing and browsing photos. Playing Angry Birds also requires a couple of taps to get the full experience.   The list goes on, Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. they’re all built around one feature. Not five features or ten features, just one key feature.   The reason simple apps succeed is that to get people adopt something new, it must be easy. The more straightforward and easier it is, the more likely they are to keep using the app.   Fewer features also mean broader appeal. It’s harder to satisfy many users if you make your app complex.   They Nail The Onboarding The vast majority of users who download an app, only use it once, before they delete or abandon it. Only about 16% try out an app more than twice.   The reason behind these demoralizing numbers is that there’s a disconnect between what the user expects from the app and what they feel they’ll get based on their first impression.   In other words, they don’t get the app when they first use it. For example, Evernote promises to organize your work but if you fail to understand how you can do it with its app, you won’t feel motivated to use it.   So Evernote creates an onboarding experience that educates users on how to achieve their desired goal by using the app. It’s called reaching the AHA moment.   The AHA moment is when the user gets the app. Best apps are doing a great job in helping users to reach the AHA moment the first time they use the app.   They’re Addictive Have you ever heard someone referring to another person as Instagram addict, Snapchat addict or Facebook addict? As you can see in the chart below, for most apps the average weekly use is one to nine times.   Compare that to e.g. ten or twenty times a day for Facebook, SnapChat or AngryBirds. The difference is mind-blowing.   It’s not just about getting users to come back; it’s also about getting them back on a regular and frequent basis. For most apps, this never happens. As the chart below shows, most users who start using the app, abandon in less than 12 months.   But how do they do it? There’s a thing called the hooked model, first described by Nir Eyal which explains how these apps become addictive.   They’re basically designed as a trigger – reward loop, something that makes our brain form some behaviour into a habit if repeated enough times.   And how do they make us repeat the cycle? By turning our actions into the next trigger. For example, you post a photo on Instagram and close the app. Next thing that happens is that someone comments on it, you get a notification (trigger) and reopen the app to use it again.   They Make Their Users Promote the App While most business schools teach their students about writing marketing plans and setting budgets for advertising, the reality is that apps like WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram never really made any. They spent close to $0 on marketing. There’s no other way, in fact, can you imagine reaching one billion users by paying for them? No startups has that kind of money. Twitter onboarding   To scale most of these apps are designed to make users do the marketing for them. For example, Duolingo allows users to brag about their results on social media and invite friends to compete.   Instagram allows cross-posting to other social networks, and many gaming apps bribe users to invite their friends. E.g., asking the user to pay or invite friends to get an extra life.   They Focus on a Specific User While successful apps eventually reach the mainstream market, they never target it initially. A big part of growing virally comes from using the network effects of small communities.   For example, Uber launched in San Francisco and spread via the word of mouth. Facebook launched on Harvard. Instagram targeted hipsters and foodies initially. Crossing the Chasm theory by G. Moore   We can go on with more examples. The point is; mainstream customers are hard to impress by a novelty. The mainstream wants proven products and brands.   It’s easier to dominate completely a small community and use their excitement to impress the mainstream customers.   This article was originally published on Appster

Does Alphabet spell success for Google?

8:27AM | Wednesday, 12 August

Google has taken the idea of a company reorganisation to a new level with a restructure that sees the creation of a new overall parent company called Alphabet.   Founder Larry Page will be Alphabet’s CEO with his co-founder Sergey Brin, its President. Sundar Pinchai will become the new CEO of the existing Google company.   Google itself will be slimmed down and will become one of the subsidiary companies, along with: Calico – a biotech focused on life extension Sidewalk – smart cities or urban innovation Nest – home automation Fiber – internet provider Google Ventures and Google Capital – investment and venture capital Incubator projects – including Google X and others What’s in a name? Alphabet’s new url,, reflects the quirkiness of the new structure, although this may have been because the domain has already been claimed.   In fact, Alphabet’s creation has spurred a race to create domains, Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts that Google may want. An earlier Twitter account, @aIphabetinc (with a capital “i” instead of an “l”), was mistaken as Alphabet’s official account and has now been suspended. Another account, @GoogleAlphabet is likely to meet the same fate.   There are a range of business reasons why the restructure makes some sense. First and foremost, Google found it difficult to justify the diversity of its interests when its primary moneymaking business is online advertising.   So being a division rolling out high speed internet within a company that is focused on advertising proved a very tough sell. There is a difference in priorities, culture and, ultimately, moneymaking objectives. Being a separate company increases transparency and allows it to develop its technology and products in its own way.   Three other possibilities exist for what triggered the creation of the new structure. The first is that it is simply another way of reducing tax and the second that it is the imposition of financial discipline by Google’s CFO Ruth Porat.   The third reason is based on rumours that Twitter was desperate to hire Sundar Pinchai as its new CEO and that Google decided to clear the path so that he could be CEO of Google.   The last reason seems a little far fetched, given that being the CEO of Twitter wouldn’t be a particularly attractive proposition given its difficulties in turning a profit.     What does it spell? Google   Searching for a purpose Ever since search, where Google has dominated, it has had great difficulty in achieving anywhere near the same success with any other technology. This has led to an almost shotgun approach to its technological purchases which have been as diverse as home thermostats from Nest to weaponised robots from its acquisition of Boston Dynamics.   Buying into these areas, and others, seemed to have had more to do with the personal interests of Page and Brin than a meaningful business strategy or technological vision.   Splitting its diverse technological portfolio into separate companies makes each company responsible for a particular line of business, and more importantly, for their profit and loss.   However, as separate companies, they lose the opportunity to share skills and knowledge that they may have had when they were all under one corporate structure. Having everything separate makes that much harder. Worse, the companies could end up competing against each other.   Show me the money Another problem with this structure is the imbalance of where the money for the overall structure comes from. 90% of Google’s revenues are from advertising. All of the revenue will continue to be generated from Google.   The only way that any of the other companies will be able to get access to money to expand and invest would be from the parent company, and it is not clear how that will work.   Google may see itself as an advanced technology company with diverse interests, like cars, home automation and internet infrastructure, but ultimately, it is still an advertising company. All of its technology underpins that single fact.   Its mobile platform Android is a sophisticated electronic billboard for its ads. YouTube is all about delivering content in order to display yet more ads, and even its autonomous cars could be argued to be a precursor for advertising to passengers without the distraction of having to actually drive.   Google’s attempts in the past to branch out into new businesses have not fared particularly well. Its wearable spectacles, Google Glass, never lived up to expectations and its foray into producing mobile phones with the Motorola acquisition ended as badly for them as Microsoft’s failed attempt with Nokia.   Nothing about this restructure suggests any new coherent technological strategy on Google’s part. Rather, it provides a way for Google to experiment with “Moon shots” that can live, thrive and possibly die, in a sandbox without impacting the central business.   Splitting the companies and making them financially responsible for their futures could work out better for Google, but it replaces an existing set of known problems with new and perhaps even more challenging ones in their place.   David Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What If Google Bought Twitter?

8:33AM | Monday, 10 August

  Twitter has been in the news recently, for all the wrong reasons. Business media report that Twitter shareholders are disappointed with the company’s latest results; this follows recent turmoil in the company’s leadership which saw the departure of controversial CEO Dick Costolo and the (temporary) return of co-founder Jack Dorsey until a permanent replacement is found.   All this has served to feed rumours that Google, having recently called time on its own underperforming social network Google+, might be interested in acquiring Twitter. From one perspective, this would clearly make sense – social media are now a key driver of Web traffic and a potentially important advertising market, and Google will not want to remain disconnected from this space for long. On the other hand, though, given its chequered history with the now barely remembered Google Buzz as well as major effort Google+, Twitter users (and the third-party companies that serve this userbase) may well be concerned about what a Google acquisition of the platform may mean for them.   I had the opportunity to explore these questions in some detail in an extended interview with ABC Radio’s Tim Cox last week. In a wide-ranging discussion, we reviewed the issues troubling Google+ and Twitter, and the difficulties facing any player seeking to establish a new social media platform alongside global market leader Facebook. Here’s the audio: Let us take this conversation further: what if Google did buy Twitter? From my point of view, this could turn out a positive move, if Google treats the platform appropriately (as it did, arguably, with past acquisitions such as Blogger, YouTube, and Google Maps). It’s become very obvious over the past months that Twitter’s stock market listing has been a curse at least as much as a blessing: while it’s raised substantial new capital, of course, it’s also exposed the company to the expectations of shareholders who seem to fundamentally misunderstand what Twitter is or can be.   As a platform, Twitter is not and will never be a competitor to Facebook, whatever its shareholders seem to think. Both might be classed under the overall rubric of “social media”, but any direct comparisons constitute a category error: the appeal of a strong-ties, small-world networks platform like Facebook, where we tend to network predominantly with family and friends, is necessarily fundamentally different from that of a weak-ties, large-world space like Twitter, where we can follow – and attempt to strike up conversations with – celebrities, politicians, and other users outside of our immediate networks.   That’s a very different kind of social network, with its own unique uses, and it is futile to hope that Twitter will eventually attract the same number of users, or the same user activity patterns, as Facebook. Worse still, to try to reshape Twitter in Facebook’s image by force will almost inevitably kill off the platform.   If Google understands this, and treats Twitter appropriately (which probably includes accepting it as a loss leader for the time being), this could well turn the platform’s fortunes around. Twitter’s recognised strengths are as a flat, public, and open network that excels especially in live contexts; Twitter is the place where most recent breaking news stories first broke, and a space where users gather as a temporary public and community to collectively participate in shared experiences from the World Cup to Eurovision. Beyond any marketing hype, it genuinely serves as the pulse of the planet in a great many contexts.   This live insight into what news stories and other information are currently hot (and thus should be served as search results, too) may well be valuable enough for Google to fork out a few billion, even if there still doesn’t seem to be a workable model for generating significant direct advertising revenue from the platform.   But whoever takes on Twitter, one of the first things the new CEO will need to do is to fundamentally rebuild Twitter’s relationship with those on whom, historically, its successes have most depended: the flotilla of third-party developers and researchers that surrounds the Twitter mothership. As Jean Burgess and I have documented in our contribution to the forthcoming collection Digital Methods for Social Science, those developers – and the early adopters and lead users whom they have served – have made the platform what it is: they developed powerful Twitter clients and tools, and laid the groundwork for the social media analytics approaches that have become crucial for making sense of trends on Twitter and elsewhere.   Sadly, though, especially under Dick Costolo Twitter’s relationship with these crucial allies in the promotion of Twitter as a platform and a community soured significantly: abrupt and radical changes to the terms of service of the Twitter API (which govern what data companies and their tools could gain access to) in pursuit of more revenue undermined this crucial third-party ecosystem and stymied further innovation. And if anything, the handful of exceptions from this new, more restrictive régime – such as the Twitter Data Grants for researchers, which supported a total of only six out of 1,300 proposed projects – caused further offence rather than restoring goodwill.   Absent any major new investments, a Twitter relying mainly on the support of its shareholders seems unlikely to change tack in this way – it will continue to chase revenue by attempting to commercialise its data, and in the process also continue to alienate the crucial third-party developer community. This is a path of diminishing returns: the data are valuable only as long as there are popular and meaningful applications for Twitter as a platform, but those applications have historically been created by the third-party developers and the power users they support.   Freed from the short-term, unrealistic demands of the stock market through an acquisition by Google (or another cashed-up investor), on the other hand, Twitter could dial back its desperate efforts to commercialise its APIs and the data they provide, and return to its original, more permissive data access régime in order to nurture and support new efforts at research and development. Such a shift in policy could well be the shot in the arm Twitter needs to ensure its longer-term survival – but it depends on the intervention of a new benefactor. Is Google ready to play – or is it still too disheartened from its past attempts to enter the social media market?   Axel Bruns is Professor, Creative Industries at Queensland University of Technology. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Invoice2go cracks a million invoices per month following $35 million raise

6:48PM | Monday, 22 June

Entrepreneurs need to stop being distracted by “bright shiny objects” if they want their companies to scale successfully, according to the founder of Invoice2Go.   On Tuesday the company revealed it now processes around one million invoices every month. The milestone follows a $35 million raise last year in a bid to rapidly grow the platform’s customer base.   Founder Chris Strode told StartupSmart that since the raise, Invoice2go’s team has grown from around 35 staff to 100.   “We love seeing engineers and tech guys who are so passionate they’re spending their free time working on interesting projects,” he says.   As for how to scale rapidly without the wheels coming off, Strode says the trick is to not get distracted by “bright shiny objects”.   “Staying focused is the key and even within the organisation people have to keep me focused too,” he says.   “In this day and age in technology the focus should be on solving one problem really well. There’s a lot of people that need that solution, and invoicing definitely falls under that with 100 million small businesses worldwide… while we’ve been tempted to do other things, we’ve constantly focused on making sure our users are satisfied with our product and that it works and is optimised for every platform.”   Startups in regional areas less likely to be distracted   Strode founded the company in 2002 in regional New South Wales. He says while the majority of startup activity occurs in Sydney and Melbourne, entrepreneurs in regional Australia are actually at an advantage.   “I think there’s a lot of benefit to being out of the scene when you’re starting out as there’s so many distractions,” he says.   “You can get distracted just by going to meet-ups all the time when a lot of the time you can get the information just by being online. All these distractions go away when geographically they’re not as accessible. So I think that was a big advantage.”   Invoice2go has more than 200,000 customers worldwide and is available in languages ranging from Portuguese to Finnish.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

4000 screenshots later, shopping was a Clinch for Sharon Clark

6:20AM | Friday, 19 June

An avid online shopper, Sharon Clark was often comparing products she wanted to buy. But she grew frustrated there were no tools available to help her save and compare those items easily.   The best Clark could manage was taking screenshots on her smartphone. Not ideal. In fact she ended up with over 4000 screenshots of products she was considering buying.   So she and co-founder Charles Young created Clinch, a mobile web browser which is designed specifically for online shopping. Clinch allows users to store items they find online, organise them in a library to find and compare later. They can also create a canvas, grouping items that fit together for whatever reason, style, inspiration, or event planning.   “What it does is gives the user a better browser experience and increases the conversion rate for retailers. And the way we do that is by offering a really empowered engaging mobile browsing experience,” Clark says.   Clinch launched recently and is currently only available on iPad, however, there are plans to develop apps for all mobile devices. Young says Clinch is relying on an advertising revenue model, so success will require lots of users. The startup plans to grow its user base by leveraging the networks of its online retail partners.   “The way this thing will make money is by creating a large and active user base and affiliate revenues from brand partners. We have about 2000 and are steadily growing partners worldwide.   “Out of those 2000 affiliate brands around the world, we’ve found it’s a really valuable tool for increasing the conversion rates of those brands.   “We’ll also have the ability to really mine the data we’re collecting. We’ll be able to understand what people are considering buying. It’ll have the ability to have laser-focused opt-in advertising opportunities for these brands. And down the track, in-app purchases.”   The startup is currently being funded by Young and Clark but the duo are about to head to the Echelon Asia Summit 2015, after being selected as a Top 100 startup, where they’ll begin searching for seed investment.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Say shalom Australia: MP Wyatt Roy travelling to Israel to study Israel's startup miracle

6:01AM | Friday, 19 June

Federal Liberal MP Wyatt Roy will travel to Israel in October to find out what makes the Israeli startup ecosystem tick.   The trade mission, which will occur over the course of a week, will see the youngest member of Parliament accompanied by Marita Cheng – the founder of Robogirls and 2012 Young Australian of the Year.   Roy has spearheaded the Abbott government’s discussion of tech startups this year, urging Australia to look “beyond just the farm gate or the mine head” in a parliamentary speech supporting the changes to the taxation of employee share schemes.   Speaking to StartupSmart this morning, Roy said Australia’s future economic prosperity will rely on increasing the number of startups and making the nation as entrepreneurial as possible.   “Future jobs for Australians will depend on our ability to do that,” he says. As for why Israel was chosen for the trade mission, Roy says for quite a small country Israel produces more startups than Japan, India, Korea, Canada or the UK.   “They attract more per capita in venture capital than any other country on earth,” he says.   “They spend more per capita on R&D than any other country… and they have more companies on the NASDAQ than Korea, Japan, Singapore, China, India and all of Europe combined.”   Australia should adopt an innovation and entrepreneurial policy just as it does for industry and competition, according to Roy, with strong collaboration between multiple government departments, the private sector and higher education.   “In terms of growing the ecosystem, as a country there are three areas we need to focus on, like the changing of the [risk-averse] culture,” he says.   “The attraction of capital is a massive, massive thing and a big part of the Israel trip – and talent as well. And finally that cooperation between government, higher education and business which many countries do very well but obviously I think Israel does better than anyone else.”   Both sides of politics have shown a keen interest in startups this year, with Labor announcing it wants coding taught in every primary and secondary school by 2020.   “People are very cynical about politics but this is an area I’m optimistic about,” Roy says.   “I think we need to put the national interest above partisan interests and this is an area we have huge potential to work on. Of course there will be disagreements around the edges, but the goals, aspirations and the bulk of the policy aspiration is something that could be bipartisan.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

First CEO of StartupAUS wants to put startups and entrepreneurs on the national agenda

6:45AM | Friday, 19 June

Promoting the value of entrepreneurship to the Australian economy will be the focus of new StartupAUS chief executive officer Peter Bradd.   On Friday, StartupAUS announced Bradd, a foundation member of its board, would become the organisation's first ever CEO. Prior to joining StartupAUS, Bradd was a founding director of Sydney co-working space Fishburners and the founder of personalise postcard startup ScribblePics.   Bradd says he wants to work to change the perception of entrepreneurship in Australia.   “People say things like those entrepreneurs are good at selling the dream and putting their hands out, but what do they really contribute to economic growth?” he says.   “People in government ask things like why support technology entrepreneurs when nine out of 10 fail and those that don’t go overseas. I really want to change that conversation. It’s the wrong conversation to be having. PwC estimated tech could create 500,000 jobs by 2034.”   Bradd argues that narrative makes it sound like startup founders are segmented from the broader Australia community.   “Entrepreneurs are a group of people with similar needs. Innovators across every industry, be it financial services, mining, agriculture, aged care, health services, transport,” he says.   “You’ve got people creating apps and websites to aggregate or provide services through tech enablers. People creating high technology, like Wi-Fi, which was created in Australia. Then you’ve got a whole heap of different things.   “They need venture capital. A higher percentage of their staff need to have technology skills. They’re entrepreneurial, they need entrepreneurship skills and education. There’s a whole heap of things they all need, but they do work in industry.”   Bradd says Australia’s startup ecosystem is growing organically but could do with a push.   “Australia is quite far behind and the way that ecosystem’s grow is they need to grow the ball and push it down the hill and it will then pick up speed and size,” he says.   “That’s the PayPal effect, and before that the GE effect. The IPOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google created 4000 millionaires. And those 4000 went and created new businesses, they had money, they had knowledge. They knew how to work in a high growth startup and they knew each other. They knew how technology worked and they spawned some amazing companies.   “Australia’s ecosystem is growing organically, we just need a bit of support.”   StartupAUS also announced that Steve Baxter would retire his position on the board to become the organisation’s chief advocate. Andrew Larsen, investor, and founder of co-working space SyncLabs, joins the board.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Traction the standout factor for RiverPitch finalists

6:49AM | Friday, 12 June

The seven startups selected to pitch at RiverPitch next week all had one thing in common – traction.   The bi-yearly pitching event, supported by Morgans and organised by co-working space River City Labs, takes place next week and is one of the key investment events for startups in Brisbane.   The goal of the event is to provide investors with a batch of solid pre-vetted startups and in turn provide those startups with a real shot of landing investment.   River City Labs general manager Peta Ellis says while RiverPitch always receives plenty of applications, the latest batch was particularly strong.   “There were a lot of actual viable businesses to choose from. We always have plenty of applications, but a lot of them are nowhere near even close to being able to be judged because they’re just ideas. We can’t assess them because they’re concepts,” she says.   Ellis says the finalists all have strong ideas that have moved beyond just being concepts, which was what made them stand out.   “All of the teams that were chosen have traction, they’ve got existing customers and they’re looking to grow further.   “Some of them are in trial mode. They’ve got users and customers so they’ve validated their idea. Some are yet to monetize, others have actual paying customers, have been trading for quite some time and have reached a place in growth where they need investment to step it up to the next level.”   The seven RiverPitch finalists are:   1. StreetEats: Allows users to order and pay for street food using their smartphone, then track their order before being notified about when it’s ready.   2. Hire-Hive: A marketplace for film & video gear rentals.   3. Outbound: A social network for travellers.   4. Medical Medial: Connects doctors with doctors.   5. TrackActive Health technology: Builds innovative exercise prescription and monitoring solutions for the medical, health and fitness industry.   6. Men on the Moon: Delivers ‘engagement as a service’ for bricks-and-mortar retailers to their consumers via a smartphone app and a patented smart security tag with their products Pin and Point and Rocket Buy .   7. Obzervr: Next generation environment monitoring software.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Super funds opt-in clause could boost innovation: OneVentures

6:41AM | Friday, 12 June

All members of retail and industry superannuation funds should be given the opportunity to ‘opt-in’ to support Australian innovation, according to the managing director of OneVentures, Dr Paul Kelly.   The opt-in clause would operate in a similar way to the opt-in clauses some superannuation funds provide for sustainable investing, and divert a small amount of their superannuation assets to ‘sustainable funds’ like properly constituted Venture Capital Limited Partnerships. Kelly says such a change would go a long way towards strengthening the local venture capital market.   The solution was examined in OneVentures latest Thought Leadership paper, which examined the role that venture capital and private equity investment could play in helping Australia meet the goals set in the Intergenerational Report.   Read more: Tapping the super funds   “Even if just a small proportion of people allocated 1% of their superannuation to innovation, whether its private equity or venture capital, it would have a massive impact,” he says.   “There’s a relatively small amount of venture capital available in this country, in the hundreds of millions. You would transform the industry into one which is much more competitive and makes much more capital accessible.”   The One Ventures paper points out many of the largest superannuation funds are too big relative to Australia’s venture capital and private equity industry. Meaning it’s easier for those funds to invest in venture capital and private equity overseas.   Kelly believes that the vast majority of the public would be disappointed to learn that so few of their dollars support Australian innovation.   “I think there would be a very strong appetite for it. The average individual from our experience and anecdotally, we haven’t done a detailed market analysis yet, but there’s strong support for a transition to the innovation economy,” he says.   Much has been made recently of the federal governments change’s to the Significant Investor Visa and the impact those changes could have on the venture capital and private equity market in Australia. The changes require wealthy individuals wishing to gain permanent residency in Australia have to invest $500,000 in venture capital.   The hope is that the change will pour millions of dollars into venture capital and private equity. Between November 2012 and March 2015 751 Significant Investor Visas were granted. If the new rules applied that would have resulted in an additional $375.5 million to invest.   Kelly hopes that sort of impact will occur, but is less optimistic. He is waiting to see if the venture capital and private equity industry will have to bear the cost of complying with anti-money laundering laws. He’s also concerned about whether or not there’s a disconnect between the expectations of those investors and the time it takes to see returns in the venture capital industry.   “One of the challenges is they need to educate the Significant Investor Visa investors as to the various risks and benefits of that asset class,” he says.   “How this shapes up over the next two years is going to be interesting to watch. There’s potential for a large administrative burden, and misalignment of investor expectations and what those funds can deliver.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

You don’t have a traffic problem, you have a conversion problem

6:38AM | Friday, 12 June

I’m going to say something you might not like to hear. Why? Because it’s probably the easiest way to excuse all of your problems.   Not getting enough leads? Sales are sluggish? No people signing up to your newsletter? Haven’t acquired a new user in weeks?   Traffic isn’t high enough, we need more visitors.   Quick, spend more money on ads and the best SEO guy your limited amount of money can get and make sure MORE people come because that means MORE money, right?   Wrong.   The answer to your woes is not always the amount of traffic you are getting, rather the amount of conversions coming from this traffic.   Conversion rate is, quite simply, your conversions (sales, signups, downloads) divided by the amount of website visitors. So, yes you need a level of traffic you can convert on your website, BUT...   All traffic is not good traffic   What do we mean by this?   Well, let’s say you sell an awesome B2B CRM platform.   You’ve spent all this time, money and effort on driving traffic to your sleek, modernist, perfectly-designed landing page.   There are so many hits! So many new visitors! We are going to make so much money off this game-changing CRM, finally!   And yet only one person converts. Only one person hands over their credit card. One out of thousands. Why?   Because the traffic you had driven was not good traffic. It was not qualified.   It was not comprised of business owners looking to better manage their customer relations; it was comprised of teenage girls and uni students (NOT your target market).   Therefore, NOT helpful and most of all not qualified! And this is why a tonne of traffic is not always the best goal to have.   So, how do you become a magnet to your target market, then?   Step 1: Do your research. Talk to potential customers. Find out where they hang out, what they read, and what they think about goats grazing their overgrown lawns.   Do they google stuff or ask their Twitter and Facebook friends? What words do they use? There are tools for these, by the way. SEMRush and Social Mention is a good start.   Step 2: Use this information to your advantage. Hang out where they hang out.   If they’ve never heard of Twitter, no point hanging around there either. Be seen where they are. Speak their language.   Sooner or later they’ll want to talk to you about your products or services.   Also, it’s not enough to push raging rapids of people to your site when it’s like a bucket that has holes, is it?   Make sure your bucket doesn’t have holes   Buckets? Sorry, what?   Your bucket is your website. Imagine filling a bucket with water when it is riddled with 50 holes anyway. Why are you filling it with water? It is pointless. It’s all going to run out again.   This holey-bucket could be your website if all you are doing is focusing on traffic instead of optimizing it for your visitors. The water is your traffic in the form of lost leads. Plug those holes.   Here are the absolute basic conversion tactics every marketer needs to nail.   1. Make sure your website is super-fast because speed is a killer   Did you know that visitors expect your website to load in just 2 seconds? They also tend to abandon a site that isn’t loaded within 3 seconds! 79% of web shoppers who have trouble with website performance say they won’t return to the site to buy again and around 44% of them would tell a friend if they had a poor experience shopping online. And guess what? Kissmetrics says that once you lose a conversion from a visitor, they are almost CERTAIN to pass on the negative experience to their friends and colleagues too. That’s a lot of lead loss due to a simple sluggish load time. 2. Have a compelling value proposition   Why would customers use your new CRM platform over well-established brands? Answer that question.   3. Make it easy to find stuff   If anything is more than one click away, you’ve lost more than half of your web traffic.   Why? Because people are busy and want everything instantly, and they are easily annoyed if they have to work hard.   Do some usability testing to eliminate annoying experiences for your customers.   Don’t test it as you, test it as them. Their annoyance threshold is much lower than yours!   4. Look like someone that can be trusted   Show off your happy customers and what they have to say about your service.   An ecommerce site needs to have an SSL Certificate or trust badges that tell people you’re legit and that their information is safe and secure.   5. Do some A/B testing   If you change the colour of your “buy now” button to green, do you get more sales? Does a $1 offer work better than “free”?   Test it. Test everything.   So, which is more important then?   That is the question.   We say plug your bucket. Optimise your website so you know it will convert. Make sure you have done everything possible on your site to capture your leads.   Then focus on driving those few people who want your goats eating their lawn into your intact bucket.   And they will convert.   Optimise first, drive traffic second.   Gary Tramer is CEO at LeadChat – a Melbourne-based tech startup that helps businesses turn their web visitors into hot leads around the clock. For more info, visit or tweet @leadchat.  Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Sweet charity for crowdfunding platform Chuffed – a million dollars raised in less than four months

6:42AM | Friday, 5 June

Charity crowdfunding platform Chuffed has raised $3 million in donations, with one million of that being donated in the last three-and-a-half months.   Chuffed launched in October 2013, with almost $500,000 in funding from the Telstra Foundation, provides a place where non-profit and social enterprise projects can be funded. It doesn’t charge any fees; instead, donors decide how they would like to contribute to the platform when they give money to projects.   It took almost a year for Chuffed to see $1 million donations made on the platform, 16 months to crack the $2 million mark, and a little under 20 months to reach $3 million.   Chuffed co-founder Prashan Paramanathan says it’s the first sign of non-profits changing the way they raise money.   “Not-for-profits and social enterprises in Australia are embracing crowdfunding in record numbers,” he says.   “While we’re excited about the 750 plus organisations we’ve supported to date, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are at least 600,000, but probably a lot more, social cause organisations out there in Australia that could benefit from crowdfunding.”   Paramanathan says Chuffed is also seeing use cases the startup didn’t expect. Like a research initiative from the University of Western Australia, disaster relief for Cyclone Pam and the Nepal earthquake, as well as various projects at local schools.   International expansion has always been in Chuffed’s plans and Paramanathan is currently in London overseeing the startup’s international beta program, which launched in the United Kingdom, United States and Europe in April.   “Already, 15% of our campaigns are from international organisations,” he says.   “We think there’s a ripe opportunity for us to transform how people think of giving not just in Australia, but globally.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

OpenLearning inks deal with Australian government to bring MOOC to public servants

6:07AM | Friday, 5 June

Online learning platform OpenLearning has signed a deal to deliver the Australian government’s first ever massive open online course (MOOC).   The Office of Best Practice Regulation in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has commissioned OpenLearning to deliver a Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) MOOC that will train thousands of public servants over the next four years.   It follows OpenLearning signing an agreement with the Malaysian government to deliver 15% of the countries public university courses online. It’s all part of OpenLearning’s ambitious plan to offer MOOCs as a viable way for organisations, more than just universities, to deliver training to thousands of people.   In February the muru-D graduate raised $1.7 million in seed funding, $1 million of which came from entrepreneur Clive Mayhew. In the months since, it has grown the number of students using its platform from 125,000 to over 200,000 and grown its team from eight to 20. It has an ambitious goal of reaching a million students by the end of the year, which co-founder Adam Brimo says is possible as more users sign up as part of the Malaysian government deal.   “It’s really starting to ramp up and this is just the beginning, the second half of this year is going to be quite aggressive growth,” he says.   “We’re really ramping up what we’re doing in Malaysia, with a lot of traction we’re seeing there, we’re expecting hundreds of thousands of students to join OpenLearning later this year.”   Brimo says the deal with the Australian government is particularly important as it is an example of government taking MOOCs seriously as a training tool.   “At the moment people don’t think about using MOOCs for professional development; they think they’re just the domain of the university,” he says.   “What we’re seeing now is the government taking them seriously. They can see the potential of the MOOC to create an effective learning environment for policymakers, for the public, for employees worldwide.”   The startup is now beginning the process of drumming up interest in a Series A funding round.   “What we’re looking to do is raise a substantial amount of funding to really execute on all the opportunities we’re seeing in Australia, Malaysia and China. We’re hoping that funding comes from Australia, but we’re talking to investors in Singapore, Malaysia, and China and we’ll see where that comes from,” he says.   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.