Jun 162016
how much money can we save on cloud computing

With the global Zero Interest Rate Policy experiment failing, we’re now entering the era of negative interest rates with a quarter of the world’s central banks charging savers.

The world is flooded with money, but we also have surpluses in manufacturing, a surplus in most commodities, of energy and an increasing surplus of labor.

From Shanghai to Barcelona, the surplus of labor is beginning to be felt as industries become increasingly mechanised and the consequences of short sighted economic policies over the last thirty years begins to be felt.

That labor surplus is also driving the political shifts in Europe and North America as workforces are finding their living standards being pressured and their economic prospects dwindling. As a consequence, voters are looking for scapegoats – immigrants in Europe, the EU in Britain and Mexicans in the US.

Regardless of which scapegoat you choose to blame for the global economy’s uncertainty, the fact remains we are in a time where scarcity can’t be assumed.

This means business models that are based upon restricted supply are, in most sectors, under threat. The whole economics of scarcity becomes irrelevant when there are no shortage of suppliers around the globe.

In some fields, such as energy, technological change is seeing the dominant positions of oil companies, electricity generators and distributors being challenged in ways that wouldn’t have been thought possible a few years ago.

Even regulated industries where government licenses artificially controlled supply – like taxis, broadcasting and telecommunications – increasingly new distribution methods are changing the economics of those industries. No longer is buying a government license a sure fire way to big profits.

Right now, the imperative for businesses to find the areas where there is scarcity and supply constraints. For many industries that may be too difficult a transition.

Negative interest rates though take us into uncharted territory. How the global economy responds to virtually free and unlimited money is going to be an interesting experiment.

May 222016

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to interview Evan Goldberg, the founder of Netsuite at the company’s Suiteworld conference in San Jose.

While one of the topics we covered was Goldberg’s support of the BRAC Foundation, I was also keen to discuss the company’s complex senior management and board dynamics.

Along with being the CTO, Goldberg is also Chairman of the Board which means CEO Zac Nelson answers to him on board matters but the roles are reversed in their executive management roles.

To make matters even more complex, Chief Operating Officer Jim McGeever is also the board’s President so he also answers to Nelson in executive matters while presiding over both of the others as a director.

“We call it the circular firing squad,” laughed Goldberg when I asked him about it. “We are all incredibly committed to the company and we get along really well. We get our egos out of the way and we just want to do the right thing.”

“Humour is a very important part of it,” Goldberg observes. “Fundamentally it has to be the right people for that to work. Three is a good number as you get to vote on the matter.”

So Goldberg’s view is Netsuite’s arrangement works because the three are friends and leave their egos out of decision making.

Goldberg’s observation is true of any successful business relationship – like a succesful personal relationship a thriving business partnership relies on respect and the individuals being able to give a little, or a lot, without bruising their egos.

Ultimately though, it’s interesting to observe how tolerant investors are towards such arrangements. As an independent, outside investor having too many Executive Directors on the board dilutes the critical management supervisory role of the board and that can’t be encouraging for shareholders.

Tech companies though get some slack from investors given their relative youth and market dynamics so it’s not surprising Netsuite gets away with this. The bond between the senior executives must also count as well.

May 192016

Both the public cloud and a publicly listed company are good things for a business says Netsuite’s Zac Nelson.

“Managing a public company is a great discipline and in some ways gives us an advantage over non-public company who don’t have to have discipline and make good investments,” says Zac Nelson, the CEO of Netsuite.

Nelson was talking to Decoding the New Economy yesterday at the annual Suiteworld conference, Netsuite’s annual gathering in San Jose.

The CEO’s comments are in contrast to a common view that being publicly listed company distracts a company’s management from focusing on long term objectives, a sentiment Nelson rejects.

“In terms of managing a public company I think it’s an important discipline, I think a lot of people are opposed to these SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley) rules but when I look at these rules I think they are just common sense. Are you managing your business right? You want to have control of your business so you aren’t blindsided.”

Probably the biggest advocate of taking companies private is Michael Dell who took his eponymous business off the markets three years ago and is now looking at doing the same thing with EMC in what will be the biggest IT merger in history.

Dell going private

Nelson doesn’t think Dell going private was a mistake though, “I saw Larry Ellison say it was one of the greatest business moves in the history of man, I’ll agree with Larry – he’s usually right on that stuff,” he laughed.

“The thing I see Dell doing that I understand is they are giving their smaller division more autonomy. Dell Boomi is going back to being just Boomi and Secureworks just went public. Certainly from a structural standpoint and business model innovation that makes sense and it’s what I understand.”

As a public company, Netsuite does come under scrutiny and one of the criticisms is that it continues to post losses, something that Nelson puts down to the treatment of stock options. In the last earnings report, the company claimed capitalising stock options added $30 million in costs and not including them would see the company reporting an eight million dollar profit last quarter.

“We’re cash flow positive, we generate over $140 million in cash,” Nelson says. “People are happy with it, we’re still investing. What we’re investing in this year is different to the past, we’re investing in services to enable our customers to invest in product.”

Integrating the stack

One of the advantages Nelson sees that cloud based companies like his have are integrated systems, “the client server world created this perspective that dis-integrated systems actually work – you have Windows, you have third-party apps – but what really works well are integrated systems.” he says. “Look at the most common system you guys use, called Apple, it’s an integrated end-to-end system. Same with Amazon, that’s what we’ve built.”

“The detour we took in the client-server world is still being taken in the software world, a lot of software people believe you can compile this stuff and it will magically work. No, it doesn’t. Integrated systems work better.”

Securing the cloud

One area he specifically sees where cloud services have an advantage in being integrated is with security, “a problem that large enterprises have that we to some degree don’t have is we have one system, we have five data centers. You look at some of these large enterprises and some of them don’t even know where some of their data centres are. How on earth do you secure that environment? It’s not a product problem, it’s a process and IT management problem.”

Nelson’s comments on security are a swipe at competitors like SAP and Oracle who are often criticised for having disparate systems.

With Suiteworld moving to Las Vegas next year, it will be interesting to see who’s taking bets against cloud services like Netsuite. Certainly with salesmen like Zac Nelson, they’re able to tell a good story. The key though is to show some profits in the longer run.

Paul travelled to Suiteworld in San Jose as a guest of Netsuite.


May 182016

The success of Silicon Valley is partly based on the sharing of information. Can a closed group of business leaders replicate that success?

Currently I’m in the United States interviewing Australian startup founders who’ve moved to the Bay Area on why they’ve chosen to move their businesses in Silicon Valley.

Naturally there’s a whole range of reasons for relocating across the Pacific – for some most of their market was in the US, for others it was the accessibility of investors while for many the move was always part of their plan to go global.

A place you fall in love with

The almost unanimous comment though from the founders was one of the attractions of the Bay Area are the support networks, “It’s a place you fall in love with straight away – it’s the people and the attitude,” says Holly Cardew.  “People ask what can I help you with.”

Cardew, the founder of image management service PixC, sums up the consensus on the Bay Area business culture of ‘paying it forward’. Almost every entrepreneur who’d moved to San Francisco mentioned how the question “how can I help you?” was key to building a network and finding customers, staff and investors.

That openness to helping the ecosystem was greatly appreciated by Carl Hartmann, co-founder of logistics startup Temando. “I’m here today because people were kind enough to pay it forward,” he states.

Since then Harmann has become one of the ‘go-to guys’ for Australian entrepreneurs arriving in San Francisco and almost everyone we spoke to mentioned Carl as being a great help for them in obtaining initial introductions.

Building a community

Those introductions and helpful acts are essential in a community where the most valuable asset is the people, not just investors but the entire complex ecosystem of coders, lawyers, publicists, designers and various other disciplines essential for an industrial hub to thrive.

Which raises the question about yesterday’s announcement of the TechSydney initiative, a project claiming “to address the Sydney innovation ecosystem’s greatest challenge: collaboration.”

This is a good idea, and one this writer was involved in seven years ago with the failed Digital Sydney program in 2010 which aimed to bring together the disparate groups that make up Australia’s disparate tech and digital media sectors.

Government failures

Digital Sydney failed because the state government is poor executing at such initiatives so the fact TechSydney is being led by experienced startup founders, investors and advisors should give hope this attempt would be more successful.

However, TechSydney’s press release quickly dispels that hope with the opening line.

Australia’s most successful startups and global tech giants, including Atlassian, Airbnb and Airtree Ventures are backing a new not-for-profit aimed at turning Sydney into Australia’s Silicon Valley.

The “Australian Silicon Valley” line shows a focus on the current Bay Area tech startup model funded by venture capital and seed investors who are happy to forgoe profits in the hope of big capital gain when the business is acquired or goes public – the Silicon Valley Greater Fool model.

Silicon Valley itself is pivoting away from this model with businesses across the Bay Area now frantic to at least have the illusion of being profitable or on the path to making money. In narrowly promoting the tech startup model TechSydney seems to be trying to catch a wave that has already broken.

Slamming the door

The main worry from the TechSydney announcement though is that it seems to go against the open door policy that makes Silicon Valley so successful. Rather than encouraging questions and new entrants, TechSydney is slamming the door shut with only the successful and well connected invited.

The group will launch at an exclusive invitation-only Dinner on May 30 at the Powerhouse. Sydney’s top 200 technology companies will be in attendance. The first 100 have already been invited, and the group is now taking applications for the next 100 attendees at TechSydney.com.au, and is urging companies to register their interest today.

In some respects this is to be expected of the Sydney business community – the city’s industry is based upon the Rum Corps model of the colony’s early days where success is based upon connections and influence rather than being open and collaborative. This attitude underpins the ‘mates culture’ that is critical to acquiring power and wealth in New South Wales and across Australia.

With an attitude of having an ‘invite only’ group leading the push the hopes of creating an ‘Australian Silicon Valley’ are doomed. By locking out new entrants or dissenting thinkers, it’s impossible to create a vibrant hub.

Creating an open mindset

For Sydney, or any other Australian city, to succeed as a global hub in any industry that legacy of the Rum Corps, the mates network, needs to be suppressed and a more open, collaborative mindset put in place.

TechSydney can do that if its leaders choose to do so. Hopefully at their invite only meeting at the end of the month the wise men of Sydney’s tech elite will decide that an open initiative that welcomes newcomers and tolerates new ideas is the best opportunity to make the city a global leader.

May 172016
business return on assets is falling away

Equity crowdsourcing comes late to the Silicon Valley party but could it help the capital starved small business sector?

As of today, equity crowdfunding is now legal in the United States.

The interesting thing is it appears Silicon Valley is shifting away from the VC model that this initiative was intended to promote among smaller investors.

Whether equity crowdfunding can be applied to ventures outside the tech startup industry remains to be seen, it may be in a world where banks have stepped away from their traditional role of providing capital to business that this is the way for proprietors to raise essential funds.

May 122016
Suitcase of cash for funding a business

There are four factors that seem to be key to the success of startup business and one that doesn’t reports the Harvard Business Review.

A survey of six hundred investments over the past decade by First Round Capital found the best predictors for success were that at least one of the founding team was a woman, one had been to an elite university, some had worked at a top tech firm and the average age of the team was under 42.

Interestingly First Round’s successful investments weren’t dependent upon the businesses being based in the Bay Area or New York.

Those factors may have something to do with the focus of First Capital’s investment managers but the results are food for thought.

May 102016

“The sincerest form of flattery is that customers will pay,” says Alex Bard, the San Francisco based CEO of Campaign Monitor, an email marketing platform originally out of Australia.

Two years ago we spoke to Bard who at the time was Salesforce’s Vice President for Service Cloud and Desk.com. Since then he left the cloud CRM giant to run the global of expansion of Campaign Monitor. We caught up with him again today at the company’s San Francisco offices.

Campaign Monitor is an interesting company in that unlike most tech startups it has been cashflow positive from its early days and when it did take investor money, half the funds were raised from private equity rather than venture capital funds.

“Because the financing climate in Australia wasn’t as fertile here in the United States – and  San Francisco specifically – until recently, you have a whole crop of tech companies that have been built differently. From day one they’ve been focused on economics and business fundamentals.”

Bard sees this focus on bootstrapping and cashflow as being an advantage in the current funding climate where suddenly unlimited amounts of VC money can no longer be assumed.

It could turn out more conservative companies are better fixed to weather the coming investment drought than today’s unicorns.