Eclectic

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.

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Startup Entrepreneurs Productivity Booster

Startup founders and co-founders have started adopting Coinr Box as part of their daily routine because it helps make them more organised with just one app not ‘hunting and pecking’ around dozens of apps.

It is as simple as sending a –

  • text message on your iPhone or Android a
  • status update on Facebook or a
  • tweet on twitter…

But ‘coin drops’ on coinr are so much more useful, they are automatically connected to popular services on the web like –

  • Github.com issues (track bugs or new feature ideas for apps or web sites, ideal for tech entrepreneurs) – use tag #bug
  • Dropbox.com for images and docs (your drop box not ours so you keep control) – use tag #file or drag-and-drop the document or image into your browser
  • your accounting system (now only Saasu.com but looking to add more) – use tag #expense
  • lots of built in coinr services (like dynamic lists to capture #ideas, #iou, things #tobuy, things #todo etc
You can even combine the above, for example –
  • add a screen shot with the bug or
  • add a receipt image with the expense
  • add a person’s name to a todo so you can remember to pull up the list for @patrick next time you are talking
With coinr you are not constrained by complex names like –

  • @petercooper2012red46 or @pc0 you can just use the natural names we all prefer like @pete
  • @lauramagic12345 you can just use the natural names like @laura or
  • if you know more than one girl named (say) Laura perhaps try adding their surname initial or something else to keep it simple @lauram and @bluelaura
and then tell coinr later if you want it to link to their facebook or twitter. You never have to remember funny twitter handles or online names ever again.
Best of all coinr is private so information is only see by others if you specifically tell it to make it visibile for example –
  • #public makes your coinr drop a public page, add an image to make it more interesting (useful for setting up a simple web page)
  • #share (coming soon) to share with a specific list of people
In fact you can create your own tags too, try #toread or #tobuy or #bars #nearby or even #fuel or #journal. And all your coin drops are saved with who, what, where information so you can track all the details around them to meet compliance needs or simply to prompt your memory later.
So you can see why the innovative (and busy) sweet tooth people like it –

Coinr is amazing! It will revolutionise the definition of being organised! I will definitely implement this for Leanik crepes.

– Nik from Leanik.com

If you would like to have your quote and your business featured here in our next blog post and reach thousands of coinr users give coinr a try and let us know what you think in the comments.

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.

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.

Why Bitcoin Will Not Last

A new ‘virtual currency’ seems to have taken the financial and technology worlds by storm in recent months.

Google the phrase ‘regulatory response to bitcoin’ and watch the hit counter climb over time, expect this trend to continue as the total traded value of the bitcoin ‘currency’ continues to grow and regulators around the world start to understand the significance of this new decentralised transnational virtual currency.

While bitcoin appears to have solved the double-spending risk problem of purely virtualised currencies it has more problems than positives.

  • Being decentralised it has no regulation other than that set initially, so if it is changed over time there is little control for current or future investors. Sure this is unlikely now but once momentum is gathered (as it rapidly is doing) then the temptation for those able to bias the system will grow.
  • Being devoid of a home nation (or nations) it is also not under-written, ie if the currency was challenged commercially or the infrastructure eliminated or merely damaged over night those who have purchased the currency will see their investment disappear or drastically reduce instantly. Even though nations with ‘real’ currencies (with economic challenges) abound in the world today, they have the ability to bet-the-country (and the people’s ability to pay taxes in future) to borrow to underwrite their government’s investments and hence their currency.
  • The ability to transfer currency cross-border and then exchange bitcoins for traditional currency opens a number of doors for unmonitored or less monitored transfer of funds internationally, while this is probably not illegal in itself in many regulatory environments, it may be illegal in some and it is almost certainly tempting for organised crime to consider using.
  • Bitcoin exchanges also do not operate in a regulated environment, there is nothing to say your orders are not subjected to market based manipulation events such as front running.
  • It is currently creating currency steadily (ie printing money) and even their own documentation says change is likely, with no regulator, monitoring or democratically empowered crowd how would any changes be sure of benefiting stakeholders fairly?
While it is possible to imagine a well intended ‘stakeholder crowd’ fix these problems with extreme transparency, it is unlikely.
  • Trans-border decentralised systems ‘powered by the crowd’ are capable of many wonderful things, just witness the crowd sourced wonders on many commercial and non-profits sites around the world today.
  • But currency is different, it is the foundation of commerce and much of modern life and any government worth their salt will see the risks to their sovereignty if they look even fleetingly at the bitcoin process. That said, a wake-up jolt could actually benefit many of these modern nations that have over borrowed, printed money or allowed capitalism to go a step too far with tiers of inter-dependent collateralised debt few if any people ever understood let alone regulated.
  • The difference this time is vested parties are not benefiting from bitcoin, so they will find a way to benefit (tax, fees) or shut bitcoin down (or ‘burden it’ out of any substantial existence).
Bleak future predicted for Bitcoin.
  • As a result of all or some of the above I expect a firm and negative regulatory response to the bitcoin mechanism that will either see burdens placed on the system or on the participants that will make it an unattractive back alley or a completely closed dead end in a fairly short period of time.
  • Once these burdens are added and a bleak future is visible the currency will most likely collapse or flat line and transaction costs tied to these burdens will stall growth and possibly outright usage.
  • If the above does not happen in the short term, there is a further risk that legitimate institutions accustomed to taking risks will jump on the band wagon and magnify the risks and awareness and need for an urgent regulatory response by individual nations. These include trading banks and merchants banks or investment banks depending on the term you prefer.
  • If this occurs the eventual (sad) result will be the same but the pain experienced by traditional mum and dad investors will be much greater and the corresponding reduction in trust by those hurt will impact traditional currency and capital markets even more materially.
Coinr on the other hand will always base our transactions on traditional nation based or physical asset backed currencies.