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Back Again

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.

Seeking Insights

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.

Events

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.

Wrapping Up

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.

The world's easiest way to save.

The Private Business Platform

Coinr The Private Business Platform is coming.

Owners and other stakeholders in all small and medium businesses rejoice!

Our vision for coinr was always to provide hundreds (if not thousands!) of useful information services for you and your business in an easy integrated way so time-poor business owners can get on with innovating while we handle all your information systems needs with minimal or zero customisation.

Lots of people out there provide e-commerce software and basic accounting software but we are aiming for the stars, a simple to use yet comprehensive platform in one website that handles your specific needs with a simple ‘click-to-customise’ approach you can be up and running in minutes then gets better suited to your needs every day.

We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so coinr will integrate over time with your popular services.

Realistically such a huge range of services takes time to build and integrate smoothly, so we didn’t expect to be telling you about this for some time, probably not until mid 2013. But we are (a little) ahead of schedule.

Already we have twenty core services all with responsive design so they work on mobiles, tablets, laptops and desktops.

Some of the core services we have developed provide messaging, authentication, third party authentication, security layers, page publishing, analytics, short links with a/b testing, payments, anonymous social connection, notes, geo location, contacts, info snippets and a lot more.

We are just starting to pilot these services with wholesale customers. They are all medium size businesses or small businesses that aspire to be medium sized or even large one day. You can see our own internal pilot program using some of these services (which many people thought was a core product but really it is our first ‘retail demo app’ we call the coinr box web app.

A web app works on all devices and looks like an app, you can even easily add an icon to your phone’s home screen, but you don’t need to go to the app store or app market place to download it, just browse to the coinrbox.com site.

So small and medium businesses can soon rejoice, we expect to have some more services and apps out soon.

How It Works

Coinr is still in the very early stages of development but it is already very useful. It works similar to twitter or google search but with some smart differences.

Instead of making a tweet on twitter you add coin drops on coinr.com into what looks like a simple text box.

Just like in real life, you wouldn’t walk down the street dropping money as you go, so don’t drop your information, keep it safe in coinr.

Much of the information you have every day is valuable, so drop it into the coinr box and we will make it even more valuable for you by organising it and intelligently linking it to hundreds of the best services on the web.

Maybe that information is a little #idea you want to remember to explore further, or a task #todo sometime, or an #expense you need to claim for work or personal tax or maybe a startup business, or perhaps it is that #book you want to remember #tobuy online or at the shops or something you need to get @ikea next time. Maybe it is #feedback to @coinr about a new service you would like added or you are logging your #fuel consumption or a personal #journal or a #restaurant recommendation.

The list is endless.

Coinr is a simple little box but it uses advanced technologies to work offline and online on iphone, android, ipad, tablets, macs and PCs and it sync securely across all your devices.

If google is the easiest way to search, coinr is the easiest way to save. Save money, save time, save relationships and save your quality of life.

Instead of using one set of apps for your day job, another set of apps for your personal life and maybe another set of apps for your hobbies or startup businesses, coinr gives you one simple box that takes instructions from you and gives you useful and often very smart help in return. Perhaps it is a forecast on your restaurant expenses or a #map of all those cool little back alley pop-up bars. Maybe it is #feedback to the government about that pothole at the end of the street or a two for one promotional #deal from your business you want to offer to local students @university and #nearby.

You can travel without internet access and capture weeks worth of expenses, todos, meeting minutes, contacts, receipts, etc and sync when you get back online.

Coinr will push your transactions to your accounting systems, your files to drop box, and other things to the right place too.

Remember coinr is just like twitter or google, you just type in the box (or speak in some devices) except coinr is –

  • ultra private for example you can connect with suppliers, customers, tem members, prospects etc without disclosing personal information
  • ultra personal for example use the language you prefer such as @pete rather than @pete_on_twitter_46

We find new uses for coinr every day, we hope you do too. Coinr is getting connected to more web services every month so make sure you tell us what you would like to see.

Try coinr now or read more about how coinr works using hash tags (#tags) and at tags (@tags).

Track business & personal expenses

Tracks and stores in your choice of accounting system.

Just type #expense followed by the details of your purchase and it will be logged into coinr with a date time stamp, location and who incurred the expense automatically.

Add the name of the merchant e.g. @exchangecafe and the names of the people you were with to meet your personal and business record keeping requirements for tax purposes. Using a name adds it to your contacts list. You don’t need to use complex twitter handles, just use the language you prefer e.g. @pete @laura and coinr will learn who you mean over time and auto-enable smart connections.

Click ‘lists’ to see all your expenses in one place.

Click ‘Account’ then select ‘Cloud Settings’ from the menu to automatically push your expenses to your favourite personal, small business or enterprise accounting system.

Congratulations: Snake The Planet

One of the earliest coinr guys who has been a big contributor to our technology infrastructure is an amiable ex-Brooklyn ex-Intel dude now based most of the time in Sydney.

Nick has done a recent stint with a team of outdoor artists engaging public space with amazing tech wizardy combining interactive software (the classic game of snake) and light.

Basically it is a huge interactive projection on the side of buildings, with an important twist – it auto-detects the natural features around it and incorporates them into the game!

Media artists and computation designers like Nick and his mates are leading a new form of collaboration with a guerrilla street element that really change the street-scape.

They say they have an artisan’s relationship with their code. I say it is more fun than a side-alley pop-up!

Their latest work with MPU Labs is awesome, check out the Snake the Planet video.

Coinr is dropping support for IE

We have spent a bit of time looking at the Microsoft Internet Explorer support for HTML 5 and basically decided it is not worth it. We are dropping IE effective immediately.

After too many years of pandering to Microsoft’s proprietary ways we have had enough.

Google Chrome, Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox are all excellent browsers and we want to support the migration of the world to better browsers with the best support for open standards. We will also give the Opera browser some love.

Basically we are writing the app to support the standard and putting minimal effort into individual implementations.

End of rant. Commencement of joy.

Coinr is now multi lingual – 30 languages

Last week we rolled out support for multiple languages in coinr.com

It is early days so you will probably see mistakes and less than linguistic excellence but we are pretty excited to be able to reach the world’s top 30 languages (as judged by us based on what we could make work quickly :-).

The list of major languages supported by Coinr ordered by population is as follows –

English
Chinese Simplified and Traditional
Hindi
Spanish
Arabic

The long list of languages supported by coinr is –

Arabic
Chinese Simplified
Chinese Traditional
Czech
Danish
Dutch
English
Finnish
French
German
Hindi
Hebrew
Hungarian
Italian
Indonesian
Japanese
Korean
Norwegian
Portugese
Polish
Russian
Romanian
Slovak
Spanish
Swedish
Thai
Turkish
Ukranian
Vietnamese

To change your language just select it from the bottom of the screen.

Welcome to the wide world of coinr.com 🙂

Congratulations Sunswift

Two of the lead geeks at coinr – Dan and Nick – recently completed the amazing World Solar Challenge as part of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) team.

In 2009 their team set the world speed record (which is hanging in the back of the workshop with an old tire partially obscuring it).

This year two Australian teams including UNSW finished in the top seven in this amazing 3,000 kilometre race from Darwin to Adelaide.

To understand significance of this you have to realise there were 70+ teams many from top OECD countries with deep pockets and rich university alumni bodies providing financial and technological support.

Our guys led the project (Dan) and held key roles (Nick) in delivering a mobile WAN across the convoy and telemetry tracking data back to a website. Apologies if that bit is not doing you justice.

Regardless, this is an awesome result using cutting edge technology in some of the most harsh terrain on the planet.

Congratulations guys. Nice one.

RIP Steve Jobs – Wonderful Inspiration

Apple Inc is booming, that is well documented so we won’t discuss it here.

This post is to farewell a great man whose impact will be measured in millions of lives in the next generation

Steve Jobs died three days ago and twitter is still running at 100 per minute, more personally I have been trying to decide how I feel about his death. It is an unusual combination of certainty and uncertainty. Certain it is important, uncertain how.

Firstly, it is remorse, not like a family member or friend or even respected business technology colleague. I never met the man but it is a combination of the above in small part plus a heck of a lot more.

Steve faced uncertainty too, he didn’t always know precisely what the finished products he designed would look like, however he had a vision and smart people around him to execute. Like we are with coinr I suppose. He even disclaimed apps at the launch of the iphone and then embraced them less than six months later to create, lead and define the global mobile app marketplace.

He did know however, and was able to visualise in immense detail the product in many cases, like the early macs, his visualisation skills and demands for attention to pixel level detail were legendary. Some things he shared with his only kindred hero, the inventor of the Polaroid instant camera.

Probably most of all though, Steve Jobs was differentiated and valued because of his ability to distill, refine and communicate a useful vision then lead people who respected him to execute.

Read that last sentence again, the world needs more people who have those skills in one brain.

I started with an Apple IIe (Europlus) when I was 12 or so, as a user, then programmer and maybe fan. This was followed by a successful career in real-time trading technologies and echoes some of the skills and experience in the coinr team today. Probably interesting is we all like macs and use imacs but have deep windows and/or unix experience.

Personally the non-Apple path was (after that early start) nearly 35 years long before returning as an unlikely ‘Apple fanboy’ only a few years ago entirely except for some corporate and government client work.

This was a surprise to me personally but no surprise to millions of people globally because something new was in the water at Apple – Steve Jobs had returned and was getting traction. As a team here at coinr (and as individuals) there is no doubt we recongnised this more than most and chose to really convert, we have every product they have released in recent years, usually many. Coming from a very pure applied science degree, with that much experience, it was an informed decision.

Put simply Steve was finally getting it largely right.

One tribute said ‘he leaves behind his family and 49,000 employees’. I believe he started out with neither and also left behind hundreds of millions of fans.

I used the words unique (or differentiated) and valued to describe Steve. Those measures are also an important business modelling method I deeply respect and advocate. a business model Steve Jobs invented or at least popularized. Value on one axis and differentiation on the other, bozos are bottom left, success freaks are top right, the other two corners are bound to die in price wars or win a worthless segment.

Steve Jobs was an autodidact, lifetime self educator, like myself and so many people I respect, though I didn’t know what an auto-didact was when I first heard he use the term many years ago, it made me realise again the value of life time learning.

Steve was not just teach or learning, he was helping us learn how to learn.

Of course his contributions to education are well documented, but I suspect very strongly we won’t realize the lasting impact he has had for some generations.

He was a father, like myself, not sure if he was a good one but from his public communications like the amazing Stanford address (if you haven’t seen it then google it and watch it twice), it is likely he was innovative in all aspects of life including multi-dimensional caring for his family. I am speaking to the graduating class of my old university UTS tomorrow, it is not Stanford but it is right up there down under. I think long term (think half a life time or more supporting causes you care about in the ways you have available to you (not just money but time and meaningful thought) are a great measure of what made Steve Jobs a great human being.

He was an enigma.  I doubt anyone sets out to be an enigma unless advised by their PR agent and in that case they are likely to fail eventually due to lack of natural substance.  I don’t know if I am an enigma but I know some of the products and companies I have led certainly are or were. No doubt coinr will continue to be one until we really launch enough features for people to recognize the way we hope to redefine our chosen space. Lets hope we can grow and develop some natural substance.

I’d be ecstatic to have anything I am involved with develop even 1% of Steve Jobs’ gravitas.

Steve was an innovator, but often times his innovation was the refinement of the work of others and the ability to integrate that in a manner others had not. Siri is an example of this, his last probably. This iPhone voice activated virtual assistant may succeed where others haven’t but certainly there are dozens of early examples where the ultimate measure of success – usage – proves he has been unique in the history of the world.

Mobile web browsing combines some of the most amazing international technology standards, skills, markets, companies and technologies mankind has even seen. Microsoft beat Apple to the market by the better part of ten years but it was Steve’s invention that drove acceptance to 87 times more effective adoption levels than Microsoft  based on some Cooper Sydney research we did years ago about nine months after the iphone launch.

Adoption was his success. Advocacy was his hallmark. Yet he was adopted himself and his original advocates his parents failed him.

In a world where every Windows PC is bombarded with security risks and virus attacks, his creations enabled diversity and enable some greater sense of safety.

In a world of incessant incrementalism by well intended people without systems thinking skills, Steve led the way by refining and removing ‘noise’, integrating and simplifying. Saving time and improving quality of life.

His tough commercial approach is less well documented, but it is probably his focus on time over money on real usage over shipped product, and on execution over research that defines it better than budgets, forecasts or other droll accounting terms.

Farewell Steve, we hope the world can collect and retain some of your principles and that your main legacies (and those that steer them) will continue as effective, innovative role models for other companies, products and individuals.

RIP Steve Jobs 1955-2011.