Jul 132014

One of the questions about the development of Big Data has been how small businesses can use all the information pouring into their operations.

The New York Times this weekend has a feature illustrating some small business applications for big data.

In one of the case studies Brian Janezic, a 27 year old owner of two car washes in Arizona, created his own application that automates his business and monitors consumable levels.

The story further highlights how businesses like The Serbian Lion that haven’t done the simple basics like online listings are being left far behind more nimbler operations like Janezic’s.

Contrasting the two operations illustrates the digital divide between businesses. The sad thing is that many of the baby boomer owned enterprises not embracing the new technologies are further compromising the assets their proprietors are depending upon for their retirement.

Jul 082014
Digital Day for Small Business September 2011showing how to use cloud computing and social media to grow your business

“My job is to spread good news,” says Guy Kawasaki of his role as Canva’s Chief Evangelist.

Kawasaki was speaking to Decoding the New Economy about his role in popularising the online design tool which he sees as democratising force in the same way that Apple was to computers and Google to search.

Democratisation is a theme consistently raised by startups and businesses disrupting existing industries and Kawasaki continues this theme.

“The world is becoming a meritocracy; it’s not about your pedigree, it’s about your competence,” states Kawasaki.

Falling barriers to entry

What excites Kawasaki about the present business climate are the falling barriers to starting a venture. “Things are getting cheaper and cheaper, in technology you had to buy a room full of servers, have IT staff in multiple cities. Today you call Amazon or Rackspace and host it in the sky.”

“Before you had to buy advertising for a concert, now if you’re adept at using social media – with Google Plus, Facebook,Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram – you have a marketing platform that fast, ubiquitous and cheap.”

“What excites me is there are going to be more technologies, more products and more services because the barriers are so low.”

Creating a valued and viable product

For those businesses starting into this new environment, Kawasaki believes the most important thing a startup should focus on is getting a prototype to market; “at that point you will know you’re truly onto something.”

“If you build a prototype that works you may never have to write a business plan,” says Kawasaki. “You’d never have to make a Powerpoint, you may never have to raise money as you could probably bootstrap.”

Kawasaki view is the MVP – Minimum Viable Product – model of lean product development should have another two ‘V’s added for ‘Valuable’ and “Validated’.

“You can create a product that’s viable, ie you could make money, but is it valuable in that it changes the world?”

“Is your first product going to validate your vision? If it’s not then why are doing it?”

The story Kawasaki tells is the tools to deliver valued and viable products are more accessible than ever before; that’s good news for entrepreneurs and consumers but bad for stodgy incumbents.

Jun 282014
newspapers are dying as the media business models move online

You know a product has problems when retailers start start moving it out of key retail positions. When the product was the retailers’ core business, you know the entire industry is in serious trouble.

Mark Fletcher describes in the Newsagency Blog how he’s moved his city’s number two selling paper off the main level of his newspaper display.

“Sales are not paying for the space,” Mark says bluntly.

Newsagents relegating newspaper fits nicely into Ross Dawson’s Newspaper Extinction Timeline, in the case of Mark Fletcher’s newsagency Dawson sees the Australian newspaper industry vanishing by 2022.

For newsagents the signals have been clear for some time that they have to adapt to a society where paper based products – newspapers, stationery and greeting cards – aren’t in demand.

The process of adapting isn’t easy or smooth – many experiments will fail and even the smartest business people will make expensive mistakes. That’s the nature of evolution.

Newsagents though are just one example of changing marketplaces, there’s few industries that aren’t being disrupted by the technology and economic changes of our times. All of us are going to have to adapt to a rapidly changing world.


Jun 242014

In opening Salesforce’s new London office yesterday, former BT CEO Lord Livingston described the city as “knocking at the door of Silicon Valley.”

Judging from the Computing UK article that description hasn’t impressed the rest of the British tech community as it confirms in their minds there is, as usual, too much focus on the capital and Livingston’s view also raises the question of whether London really wants to be another Silicon Valley.

Like all global industrial hubs Silicon Valley the result of a series of happy coincidences; massive defense spending, determined educators, clever inventors and savvy entrepreneurs all finding themselves in the same place at the same time.

Trying to replicate the factors that turned the region into the late Twentieth Century’s centre of technology is almost impossible – even the United States couldn’t afford the massive defense spending over the fifty years from 1941 that underpinned the Valley’s development.

Apart from the spending; the culture, economy, geography, markets and workforce of Silicon Valley are very different to that of London’s.

This not to say London doesn’t have advantages over Silicon Valley; access to Europe and relatively easy immigration policies make Britain a very attractive location for tech businesses. If the local startup community can tap The City’s banking resources then London could well be the next global hub.

If London is the next global tech centre – history will tell – it will almost certainly be very different to Silicon Valley.

Strangely, the event Lord Livingston was speaking at reflects how the Californian tech sector is evolving; Salesforce is a San Francisco company and represents a shift in the last five years from the suburbia of San Jose and Palo Alto to the quirky city life of SoMa and the Tenderloin.

At the same time Silicon Valley itself is evolving into something different, just as it did in the 1990s with the switch from microprocessor manufacturing to software development.

That shift illustrates the risks of trying to imitate one industrial hub; by the time you’ve build your replica, the original has moved on.

If you spent your life trying to knock on the door of heroes you want to imitate, it would be shame to finally make it only to find they’ve moved.

Jun 232014

James Temple writing in on tech website Re/Code has an excellent profile of Google Ventures founder Bill Maris and his quest to re-invent the venture capital industry.

Certainly the Silicon Valley venture capital industry is ripe for disruption; Maris is not alone in pointing out that most investors in the sector and focused on short term incremental gains like shopping apps and online stores.

Probably the biggest thing that Temple points out in the story is the importance of Big Data to the Google Ventures model, although Maris seems to be acutely conscious of the limitations of relying on algorithms to make decisions;

Because you can 100 percent use data and statistics in exactly the wrong way. That’s a trap some fall into, one that we really try hard to avoid. But I think it’s important to use that as a tool.

The data is a support. It’s just like having your other partners there.

Being skeptical about the infallibility of  Big Data and algorithms seems a very un-Google thing, but it may work well for Bill Maris and his team.

Whether Maris and Google Ventures can upend the Silicon Valley investment culture remains to be seen; the real message though is that the venture capital industry is just as vulnerable to disruption as any other.

Jun 082014

For a four year old business, hire car service Uber is certainly causing a lot of trouble.

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Brad Stone has an interview with the company’s founder and CEO Travis Kalanick on his plans after announcing a 1.2 billion dollar fundraising that values the venture at $17 billion.

Seventeen billion dollars is a hefty valuation for the business and many believe it marks the peak of the current tech bubble, although many of us though Facebook’s billion dollar purchase of Instagram two years ago was that marker.

Kalanick’s views are interesting in his take on that valuation – as he points out the San Francisco taxi market alone turns over $22 billion each year, so Uber’s valuation isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility.

Uber and Logistics

Also notable is Kalanick’s view on the logistics market, something that this blog has maintained is the real business of Uber. In that field, Fedex’s stock market value is $44 billion although Kalanick is discounting the company’s potential in that field.

Right now Uber is on a high, and regardless of any set backs they may get with their ride sharing services, it’s hard to see how the company isn’t going to grab a healthy slice of the global taxi industry and possibly disrupt the logistics industry as well.

Even should Uber end up being the poster child for today’s tech sector irrational exuberance, the company is a stunning example of how businesses we once thought were immune from global disruption are now being shaken up.

May 162014

Cloud helpdesk service provider Zendesk today debuted on the New York Stock Exchange with the stocks seeing a 49% surge on their IPO price, taking its value to just under a billion dollars.

Last year Decoding the New Economy had the opportunity to talk to Mikkel Svane, the founder of Zendesk about his company.

Svane is an enthusiastic, open guy and clearly passionate about customer service – a field that’s the ugly stepsister of modern business. As Svane himself says, “no-one ever gets the girls by working on the helpdesk.”

‘Beautiful and elegant’ is a phrase Svane uses to describe his software and it’s notable how many other founders of cloud services use those words about their products – Xero’s Rod Drury even uses it as the company’s slogan.

Like many cloud services, both Xero and Zendesk are still not making a profit and a big fat stage for a stockmarket listing is always a worrying sign that an IPO might have been undervalued.

At the moment though, the initial stockmarket success of Zendesk is a win for some nice guys.