Sorry about that, we went quiet for a while. We haven’t posted on the blog for weeks, we are not ignoring you, we have certainly not been on holidays, we have just been really busy seeking insights and doing SydStart and other events and reconfiguring our business.
A fair bit of progress being made, some changes and a lot of insight in recent weeks.
The key insights we have had were triggered by Startup Weekend and Lean Startup Machine weekend, both of which were hosted in our building by Fishburners and both draw a lot of material and key concepts from the amazing Lean Startup movement started by Eric Ries. We have been following Eric’s work since the outset (along with other spin off initiatives of substance like Startup Compass and Startup Genome) and really enjoyed seeing him in person in Sydney recently thanks to Verner Vogels and Simone Brunozzi and team from Amazon Web Services (AWS) which we use and often recommend.
We are not newbies to Lean. On the contrary we mentor people in it. But the appealing aspect is the more you learn the more you gain and hence want to learn more. The Lean movement to me is about accelerating business building by testing assumptions, validating your decisions faster and hence cheaper which lowers risk and speeds time to market of meaningful products.
We have been watching our competitors closely for over a year now while we quietly built some foundations but even though we have been (highly in my view) productive there has been a nagging concern about speed to market.
Lets put this in context, the market needs I am talking about (information management, customer engagement, financial management) are long term issues for small and medium businesses. Generations of people have come and gone through small business without substantial progress in many industries.
Sure you can grab an ecommerce site and basic payments easily but anything mildly distinctive requires a much more material investment of time and money using integration platforms like zapier, iftt and onesaas or custom database tools and enterprise resource management (ERP) or enterprise information management tools like salesforce.com, force.com, quickbase from intuit and similar. Sometimes you need all of the above plus of course the accounting system like xero or saasu or quickbooks or SAP or netsuite.
Needless to say your average small business owner is time poor and if they are lucky enough to grown into a medium size business they are often even more time poor.
To compound the issue, investing in applications is not an obvious move since the landscape is constantly moving and the risk of picking the wrong thing is clearly going to be much larger than continuing to cut down the tree with a less-than-sharp axe.
The good part is our brand continues to be suitable and appealing to the segment and people trust it and draw some (surprisingly accurate) expected positioning statements from the visual identity even though we have done little to communicate or refine it. Words that keep getting used are simple, finance, financial management, stores, customers, payments. All of which are in the zone. So hopefully once the platform is more developed the education burden will be lower than most startups.
Another great part is our segment is still under served. Despite more innovation than SMEs have ever seen in mobile technology, native apps and web apps the space is still wide open. One slide from SydStart (reproduced above with credit to Matt Barrie CEO from Freelancer.com) shows the cross border flows we how to also leverage from as small businesses realise that technology can not just serve them in isolation but enable their seamless participation in markets and in fact over time this will be critical to survival. Further the number of social networks continues to grow (Pinterest and Instagram are remarkable examples) and businesses large and small continue to struggle to use channels customers prefer.
Insights Lead To Reconfiguring
So we haven’t really pivoted in the classic tech startup sense of the word but the above insights (and a lot more industry specific vertical ones I can’t discuss for competitive reasons) have lead to a reconfiguration. It has meant a bit of soul searching but the outcomes have been worthwhile. I hope we can keep that rate of learning up.
So our main insights were seemingly obvious, focus and simplify.
We have cut the modules from 50+ to under 20 (with more to go) and the use cases from 500+ to under 200 and falling.
More importantly we have made the user paradigms less abstract and much more real world using terms that relate to physical things and non-physical but plain language things all from the real world. This might sound obvious but when you are dealing with horizontal services (we want to be the next yammer + salesforce + paypal) then you have to avoid getting bogged down in narrow use cases but still stay close to ‘the problem’.
The result has been a dramatic simplification of the user interface and hopefully also the user experience. It has resulted in some additional implementation complexity but the underlying themes, data structures and operating principles are now much more elegant and robust from design to implementation so we are all pretty happy with the results.
- Coinr Cards (Unique identifiers and profiles for real things like – Offers/Deals, People, Businesses, Payment authorities, Services, Products, Tickets, Touch Points)
- Coinr Boxes (Smart and Simple collections of Coinr Cards)
- Links (Relationships between cards)
- Channels (apps and web apps and physical enablers such as RFID or QR codes of the above)
I won’t let the cat out of the bag by talking in too much detail here but sufficient to say we will be doing more user feedback and testing workshops soon.
The events have largely been ones that just happen at this time of the year, we stay involved because it keeps us close the community. They are a distraction strictly speaking but a worthwhile one in the long term, it is amazing how many business opportunities get generated for us from these events.
I mentioned SydStart earlier, this is something that is now officially amazing, 1,000 tech startup entrepreneurs in one place listening to some of the best in the world and then those vying to be the next winners. Forty speakers and amazing networking. Pitches. An expo with dozens of companies. It was huge.
We also ran the internal visioning sessions for Fishburners and similar ones for the major stakeholders (Google, Optus, City of Sydney, UTS) and are also working on refining the brand before the next phase of growth. Fishburners recently became the largest in Australia and is well on the way to regional and global significance in the tech startup scene.
I attended the inauguraal engagement session with City of Sydney reaching out to tech startups as one of only twenty leaders in the space. It is early days but the focus is worthwhile, learning is being shared and a lot more to come here.
I attended the NSW Govt ICT Ministerial forum with briefings from the Deputy Premier, Andrew Stoner and Finance & Services Minister Greg Pearce with panel sessions from the industry leaders helping them. Their breadth is remarkable and encouraging and it is great to see NSW as a leader in the local industry but we still have a great deal more to do with tech startups a the state level and the federal level including getting our Prime Minister Julia Gillard to realise we already own the (now nearly five years old) brand Silicon Beach Australia so calling for it to be started is demonstrating lack of awareness at best. The good part is we grabbed it before the cities of LA and Rio who are recent ambit claimers of Silicon Beach.
I also hosted (master of ceremonies) at SydStart and TiE Conference Sydney, attended various investor briefings (tech startups and incubators only) and conducted the usual extensive mentoring and coaching sessions for startups and corporates alone, as part of Cooper & Co (rebranding from Cooper Sydney) and within the accelerators I am involved with in the ecosystem. Plus of course the usual guest speaking and lecturing gigs. This is *all* now being trimmed back and having gatekeepers applied so we can all focus more on the delivery phase of coinr.
On Insights – We hope to continue these, especially better customer problem assumption validation. We recommend you try Lean Startup using the links above.
On Reconfiguring – We are confident we are on an even better more direct track even though it is probably not a big pivot.
On Events – The key message is over 50 events last quarter will become about 5 this quarter as the focus strategy gets implemented.
Back to the grind stone. Cheers, Pete.