Aug 242014
 
Webvan-home-delivery

At the peak of the dotcom mania in 1998 delivery services were all the go, those days are back reports Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times.

“We’re really well funded, so that is not something we’re as worried about,” Aditya Shah, Instacart’s general manager says. “Growth is the most important factor.”

This is the classic Silicon Valley Greater Fool model, where the aim is to get as many customers as possible to make the business attractive to a cashed up large corporation.

It might work, but the odds of being an Amazon or Salesforce – both companies have barely made a profit in the decade and a half they’ve been running – is unlikely.

One of the big problems is that delivery doesn’t scale, the ‘last mile’ problem of getting the goods to the customer remains the most complex and expensive part of the process.

Drones may solve the labour cost problem and sophisticated algorithms from companies like Uber may make the process more efficient but it’s unlikely an ad-hoc delivery service can ever scale to the degree these entrepreneurs project, unlike the post office and courier services where the system is built around predictable delivery routines.

Uber is the company that validated the model of today’s delivery startups, as Miller mentions;

“Meanwhile, venture capitalists joke that every other entrepreneur they meet pitches an “Uber for X,” bringing goods and services on demand: laundry (Washio), ice cream (Ice Cream Life), marijuana (Eaze) and so on.”

It’s hard to see how the current craze of delivery startups will end any better than the Webvans and dozens of other services that soared and crashed in the late 1990s, however business models are changing and it may be one of these will find the formula that works in the new economy.

Aug 182014
 
despair

That the Internet of Things is posed to fall into the depths of the trough of disillusionment according to Gartner’s latest Hype Cycle should come as no surprise to those following the industry.

For the industry, such a fall might not be a bad thing. During the upswing to the Peak of Heightened Expectations technologies attract the hot, dumb money along with the motley collection of shysters and opportunists a gold rush always lured in by the prospect of easy returns.

When a product, technology or industry falls into what Gartner calls the trough of disillusionment it’s usually the time when its real value is discovered. Without the distractions of hype or dumb money distorting the market, the industry finds a way of using a product that’s become somewhat passe.

For the Internet of Things, it won’t be a bad thing if the sector tumbles into the abyss. The sooner it happens, the faster industry will figure out where the real value and benefits lie.

The only damage might be to some of the more prominent boosters’ egos and the hip pockets of some of the more over eager investors.

Aug 142014
 
Enlighten electorates PH 2011

In mid 2003 I put an employment ad online for two computer technicians. I was expecting a healthy response as it was the depths of the computer industry’s depression following the tech wreck two years earlier.

A healthy response is what I got. Two thousand job applications came in; it took me a week to wade through them.

I was reminded of that story with the Federal government’s recent thought bubble requiring those on unemployment benefits to apply for forty jobs a months.

Like most of the business community I was appalled at the thought of being buried under hundreds of pointless job applications that served nothing but to fulfil a Liberal Party staffer’s ideological fantasies.

Within a week an Adelaide grandfather had come up with the idea of a jobseeker app that would automate the task which shows just how far out of touch both sides of politics have become with the modern world, particularly the digital economy.

The Australian political classes’ lack of understanding of technology has been on painful display over the last week with the Federal government’s fumbling over proposed data retention laws; one gets the impression George Brandis needs other people to use the toaster for him, let alone be trusted to use a computer without assistance.

This incomprehension of what’s driving the modern economy among our political leaders is no longer a joke – when the Prime Minister himself proudly states ‘I am not a geek’, it’s clear this nation is being led away from having any serious role in the 21st Century.

In fairness, this is not the fault of any single party or individual; it’s the result of Australians – particularly Australian businesses – voting like sheep for the blue team or the red team at every election.

As a consequence, Australian politics is now dominated by comfortable, arrogant and somewhat dim careerists who have little in skills beyond being able to float to the top of the shallow, fetid sewers that are the party political machines.

This is our fault and it is where Treasurer Joe Hockey is right in bemoaning how business won’t stand up and strongly lead the nation’s reform agenda.

Unfortunately for Joe, a true reform agenda is about making the nation more competitive in an era where the world’s economy is radically changing. The old ‘ship out resources and watch your property go up in price’ model that has sustained the Aussie economy is not a recipe for long term success.

If Australia is going to compete in the Twenty-First Century then we are going to have to invest in modern training, education and capital equipment while putting in the tax and social security systems that reward genuine entrepreneurs and job creators over property speculators and corporate ticket clippers.

Right now Joe, and his friends in both the Liberal and Labor parties, are doing exactly the opposite.

Joe’s right. We need to voice our concerns loudly. We also need to demand our politicians at least take the time to understand the basics of the technologies that are radically changing today’s world.

Next time you see a politician, of either colour, try to get five minutes of their time to explain how technology is changing your business. Hopefully it might make them pause before the next thought bubble.

Jul 132014
 
neutral-bay-radio-shop-frontage

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
 
Google-campus-london-courtyard-rocket

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.