Sep 242014
 
therese-tucker-blackline-ceo-founder

In 2005, Therese Tucker’s company was down to its last three staff when a customer suggested a new line of business. Today BlackLine is valued at over 200 million dollars and about to list on the stock market.

A few week ago Therese described her journey from a struggling software startup to a hundred million dollar business on the Decoding the New Economy YouTube channel.

BlacklLine’s business automates financial processes  as Tucker explains, “we have the interesting job of providing software that helps companies automate all the things around accounting and the financial close that they currently do on spreadsheets.”

At the time of Tucker’s pivot, the business was supplying a wealth management system when that prescient customer asked her to develop an application to manage the ten thousand spreadsheets they were struggling with for accounts reconciliation.

BlackLine wasn’t Tucker’s first business having been involved in a series of ventures after working as an electrical engineer designing automation systems before moving into the IT industry.

“There’s a reason for the term ‘serial entrepreneur.” Tucker says, ” it’s a bug that once you catch it you really don’t want to rest until you’ve been successful at it.”

For aspiring entrepreneurs Tucker’s advice is blunt — “The best advice is ‘don’t do it’. Because if you listen to that advice you’ll never make it.”

“It’s the people that are crazy and are determined to work themselves to death and to fail and fail and fail until they don’t fail. It takes that kind of grit and determination.”

“If I tell you not to do it, then that’s great advice for you.”

Sep 222014
 
Google-campus-london-cafe

We’re past the time where business owners can dismiss new technologies as toys says Profitable Hospitality’s Ken Burgin.

Ken’s Profitable Hospitality website is a must read for anybody in the industry and I was lucky enough to be the the guest of his 99th podcast where we discussed payment systems, marketing and the challenges facing restaurant and cafe operators in a changing marketplace.

In the podcast we discuss PayPal’s plans for the retail sector along with how startups like Stripe look to disrupt the sector and what Apple’s announcements last week will mean to the payments industry.

The key message from the podcast is the entire sector is facing massive changes both from technology and changing consumer behaviour.

Like many other industries, the successful restaurant and cafe businesses over the next decade will be those who have the flexibility to adapt to a very different world.

Sep 092014
 
visa-mobile-payments

Interviewing Stripe co-founder John Collison in the company’s crowded, noisy lunch room in San Francisco’s Mission District is a good place to appreciate how quickly the online payment service has grown since it was founded three years ago.

Stripe was founded after twenty-four year old Collison and his brother Patrick encountered problems with online payments in their previous businesses, “we came to Stripe because we had built apps and webservices before and it was phenomenally difficult to take a product you had built and turn it into a business.”

“At the time you had two options; you could turn your business over to PayPal, which was problematic for a whole bunch of reasons, or you’d build something from scratch.”

“It was clear to us that neither of the options were very good so we went about building something better.”

Silicon Valley’s strengths

Since its establishment Stripe has grown from ten employees to 150, something the founder believes shows the strength of California’s Bay Area over areas like Collison’s native Ireland.

“One of the things that I like about Silicon Valley is that people here tend to be relatively risk tolerant. Joining an unknown internet payments company three years ago, most people would say ‘you’re out of your mind’. But the psyche around here is that’s a reasonable thing to do.”

Another aspect that attracts Collison to San Francisco is that most of his employees at Stripe have run their own businesses or startups themselves. Having a workforce of risk tolerant, independent self starters makes it easier to manage a fast growth company.

Pitching for funding

The Bay Area’s appetite for risk is reflected in how investors look at businesses; “in the startup world, people like to maximize the opportunity rather than reduce the risk,” observes Collison.

Collison’s advice for startups seeking funding is to get have users on board that validates the idea, “when we pitched Peter Thiel we had production user for four or five months. What made us think there was something here was that those users were really passionate.”

The other attraction for Thiel and other members of the ‘PayPal mafia’ – Thiel’s fellow PayPal founders Elon Musk and Max Levchin are also investors in Stripe – was their first hand dealings with the problem of online payments.

“With the PayPal guys specifically, they really get this. Early on this was what they were trying to do with PayPal – make it easy for people to move money around the world.”

Entering the era of mobile commerce

The problem today that Collison sees with PayPal is that it is a product based on a desktop view of online commerce in a time where the industry is moving to mobile.

“One of the things that has held online commerce back for so long is the purchasing experience has such a high barrier to it.”

”We’ve replicated the mail order form on the internet. It feels to me that in five to ten years time we will not be in the same world with people like Google and Facebook improving the identity story. That’s exciting because that helps merchants sell more.”

“That whole model comes from a desktop era so if your building a lyft or a mobile site it doesn’t make much sense.”

Beating the 1980s business model

For the credit card and banking industry, the payments sector is even further behind. Collison believes that until recently the payments industry was based upon a 1980s business model where the costs of inefficiency were pushed onto merchants and small business.

“All the banks and companies that offered services at the time were operating in the 1980s,” says Collison. “The business model was based on the old way of your customers being people within a fifteen block radius, on the internet your customer base is the whole world.”

Building new industries

With Stripe Collison sees an opportunity for new industries to develop out of easier ways of collecting payments, particularly given much of the world’s population in areas like Africa and China doesn’t have credit cards.

“If we just building a business to take transactions from PayPal and get them onto Stripe, that’s not that interesting. What is interesting is if we can create new types of transactions that would not have existed otherwise.”

“By providing better infrastructure for anyone to build a global business. That will change the kind of things people will build.”

Jul 282014
 
Mikkel Svane and Michael Hansen of Zendesk

Two years ago we interviewed Mikkel Svane the founder of cloud service provider Zendesk about modern customer support.

Since we spoke to him Zendesk have had a successful IPO and is now worth over a billion dollars.

In the latest Decoding the New Economy video interview we catch up with Mikkel and discuss the journey from being a three person startup to a billion dollar listed company.

Jul 042014
 
Customers moving online presents challenges to hotels, cafes and restaurants.

Reservation Hop is a good example of many of the current breed of parasitic startups that want to create a new class of middleman.

The hospitality industry is tough work and something guaranteed to irritate restauranteurs are reservations that don’t show up.

One startup that seems almost certain to attract the ire of the restaurant industry is Reservation Hop – “We make reservations at the hottest restaurants in advance so you don’t have to.”

Reservation Hop makes table reservations at popular restaurants and then sells them through their website.

We book up restaurant reservations in advance. We only book prime-time restaurant reservations at the hottest local establishments, and we mostly list high-demand restaurants that are booked up on other platforms.

This is probably one of the worst examples of the middleman culture that dominates much of the current startup thinking.

Almost certainly there’s a market need for proxy queue jumpers – although one wonders how profitable it is when the transaction fees are under $10 – but this service will deeply irritate restaurant owners and diners who are crowded out by these ‘parasite’ services.

In many ways, Reservation Hop illustrates the problems with this phase of our current startup mania; the rise opportunistic businesses that are more akin to parasites than services that add value.

The Reservation Hop website assures patrons that there’s a 99% chance their booking will be honored by the restaurant on the night, we can expect establishments to start messing with that statistic as they wise up to the business.

Many in the startup sector speak about how new technology improves the world, services like Reservation hop illustrate that not every idea is a step forward.

May 222014
 
bank-entrance-institution

“We face a global capital crisis,” states Julia Hanna, the chair of crowdfunding platform Kiva.

In a story written with Kiva board member and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, Hanna discusses how crowdfunding platforms are replacing banks as the source for businesses around the world.

Throughout world  banks have effectively stepped out of the small business market, despite the world being flooded with cash to keep the global economy afloat over the last five years. Hanna writes about the US experience;

big banks currently reject more than 8 out of 10 loan applicants, and small banks reject 5 out of 10. Some estimates suggest that investment in small businesses has dropped as much as 44 percent since the Great Recession in 2008.

While the Great Recession had a lot to do with the collapse in small business lending in the US and Europe, the decline in bank support for main street dates back to the first Basel Accords established in 1988.

Basel judged banks’ risks on the classification on their assets – government bonds were the safest and domestic property was the preferred private sector asset with small business lending being a long way down the risk.

Following the cues from regulators, banks favoured mortgages which they could them securitize and onsell to investors; this gave rise to the sub-prime lending markets, Collateral Debt Obligations and eventually the Great Recession itself.

Six years after the great recession started and despite massive amounts of capital being injected into the banking system, the small business sector is still being capital starved.

As Hanna and Hoffmann state in their article, crowdfunding sites like Kiva and community initiatives are changing the banking system and it could well be that today’s trading banks.

Having neglected their core purpose of funding business and industry, are now as vulnerable to disruption as other industries as small businesses, entrepreneurs and communities look elsewhere for their capital needs.

Mar 072014
 
sugar-crm-convention

“Tell me something I didn’t know about my customer;” is what Clint Oram demands of his software.

“If you think about legacy of Customer Relationship Management tools it’s really been about entering something I already knew about by customer so my manager can keep track of me.”

Oram sees that changing with Sugar CRM, the open source Customer Relationship Management software company he co-founded in 2004 at a time when the software industry was coming out of the post dot com bust depression.

“There was a huge backlash by customers to the enterprise software market,” Oram remembers. “There were a lot of hopes and promises made of all this fantastic software that would change the world. The reality was a lot of it didn’t do anything.”

Foundations for the cloud

In Oram’s view, that disillusionment formed the basis of today’s cloud based software businesses with the market’s demand that software be delivered as a service, reducing up front commitments to any one product, commercial open source that gave customers a stake in development and annual subscription licensing.

That last factor – a radical change to the traditional software model that saw small businesses buy boxed programs and larger enterprises negotiate complex agreements with expensive implementation projects – is the biggest change to the modern software industry.

Oram sees that as challenging those established giants like SAP, Oracle and Microsoft; “in the past it was ‘here’s my software, goodbye and good luck. Maybe we’ll see you next year.”

“If you look at those names, the competitors we see on a day-to-day basis, several of them are very much challenged in making the shift from perpetual software licensing. It’s been a challenge that I don’t think all of them will work their way through, their business models are too entrenched.”

“Software companies really have to stay focused on continuous innovation to their customers.”

Freemium challenges

From his ten years in business, Oram learned the freemium model is a difficult way to run a business, “we learned that the freemium model is challenging and you gotta really focus on differentiation across your software editions and deliver clear value to each customer segment.”

While the Freemium business model remains a challenge, Oram sees mobile and the cloud as driving the CRM industry with the sector focusing on delivering more customer insights as software increasingly goes mobile and gets better at predicting behaviour.

“We’re taking these cloud, mobile based platforms that can be delivered anywhere and anytime,” says Clint “and now work on collecting that data about your customers and telling you what you should do next.”

“How do you help your customer to get the fullest value out of working with you.”

Delivering value to customers is a challenge not just for the software industry; in an era where business is far more competitive, it’s a question facing all industries.