Mar 252014
Cisco networking head office

The last two weeks have been pretty hectic with Cisco, Salesforce and Microsoft events in Melbourne, as a result there’s a huge backlog of posts to put up.

One of the interviews that has worked out is with Cisco’s Vice President for Globalisation, Wim Elfrink, which is up on the Decoding the New Economy YouTube channel.

In it Wim covers how the next wave of upcoming nations, the TIPSS – Turkey, Indonesia, Poland, Saudi Arabia and South Africa – threaten to leapfrog the developed world and the opportunities for businesses in a world where everything is connected.

Mar 072014

“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.

Feb 262014

The latest Decoding the New Economy clip is up with an interview with Daniel Friedman of Sydney startup Ninja Blocks.

Ninja Blocks focuses on controlling smarthomes with basic “if, then” rules where house holders can set basic instructions like “if the garage door opens after 5pm then turn on the kettle.”

It’s an interesting interview that covers Ninja Blocks’ vision along with the challenges of selling electronic devices globally and how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign for a hardware startup.

Dec 182013

Passion is the key to building a successful startup business believes Connect2Field‘s Steve Oronstein.

Running an IT support service is a tough game and it was the lessons Steve learned in running a PC service business during his teens gave him the passion to solve some of the industry’s problems and the idea to launch what’s become part of a global business.

“My very first business when I was nineteen was an IT support business,” Steve says. “During that business I saw it was an absolute nightmare being able to manage all those field workers, managing job sheets and invoicing customers.

“I did that for four or five years and then decided I didn’t want to do that all,” remembers Steve. “I started seeing some opportunities to do some work in job management. From the knowledge I had from the problems in the previous business, I could see there was an opportunity for a product.”

Finding international investors

Steve quickly realised there was an international market for that business and Connect To Field quickly caught the attention of global investors, “I would constantly receive emails from VCs about investing the business.”

One day Steve received a LinkedIn connection and the path to being acquired by a larger company started.

“At the time Fleetmatics came along there were two businesses that were looking to acquire the business. That happened through a LinkedIn connection.”

“A request one morning from someone from Fleetmatics wanting to connect with me and wanting to talk about a partnership. That happened very quickly and we were acquired.”

The importance of smart investors

Steve thinks investors have been a critical part of the business’ growth and not just for the capital they bring in, but also for their expertise.

“The key thing in the very beginning was to raise investment from people who could also be mentors,” says Steve.

“I formed a board with five of people with skills in different parts of the business – legal, marketing, sales, technology”

“When we went through the acquisition space it was invaluable having a board we could bounce ideas off and strategise with.”

For Steve, his advice to other entrepreneurs is to be find a problem and be passionate about solving it.

“I was very passionate about being able to provide a solution for my customers and I knew that what we were delivering would add real value to those business.”

“Finding something that you’re passionate is the number one thing and the rest of it will follow,” says Steve.

Dec 132013

Regular visitors to San Francisco would notice how the city has changed in the last few years.

Companies that were setting up in Silicon Valley are now basing themselves downtown, the business community is energised and the seedier parts of the town are looking substantially spruced up.

To understand the change I interviewed Laurel Barsotti from the City and County of San Francisco as part of the Decoding the New Economy series of video clips.

Laurel is the council’s Director of Business Development and we discussed how the local government has worked with the community and business leaders to drive San Francisco’s economic growth.

The shift from Silicon Valley

A striking change in the tech industry is how the startup focus has shifted from Silicon Valley fifty miles away to downtown San Francisco. Laurel puts it down to a shift in the priorities of the sector.

“I think we benefited from a shift in the tech industry, being much more focused on design and user experience,” says Laurel.

“The people who are investing in that are people who want in San Francisco and people who want to live and work in the same city.”

“A lot of the entrepreneurs creating those companies are concerned their employees see people using their products, they want them riding the bus to and from work and see people interacting with their products.”

Changing the tax code

Like Barcelona, the Global Financial Crisis shook the city up, “with the economic downturn our whole city made jobs a top priority.”

Part of that review focused on the disadvantages of basing a business in San Francisco.

“It was bought to our attention that we were the only city in California that taxed stock options.” Laura says, “companies that wanted to go public were having to leave San Francisco to afford it.”

“We did an entire revision to our tax code which showed to investors they could count on San Francisco to be business friendly.”

Regenerating communities

Along with the problem of city taxes, the city was facing the problem of regenerating blighted neighbourhoods and the administration decided to address both problems together by offering incentives for businesses to setup in the mid-market district – I’d been warned not to call it ‘The Tenderloin.’

“We had a neighbourhood that was facing a lot of blight and we had not been able to successfully increase business and we had companies like Twitter telling us that our payroll tax was causing them problems and making it hard for them to grow in San Francisco,” Laura tells.

“So we combined those two problems and made it so a San Francisco company was able to move into a neighbourhood that needed more investment and business and it would be able to save some money while helping us improve the neighbourhood.”

The future for San Francisco

A common point when talking to city leaders and economic development agencies around the world is the focus on building a diverse economy and Laura sees that as part of the future for San Francisco.

In that vision includes manufacturing, biotechnology and tourism along with the internet based industries that are today’s investment and media darlings.

The focus though is on the city’s residents and how life can be improved for everyone, not just the business community and high tech investors.

“We are really focused on creating an economy for all,” says Laura. “We want to remain as diverse as possible.”

“Every San Franciscan, from no matter what socio-economic background, has a place that they can be.”

Nov 252013

We need to think beyond technology to get value the real value from the internet of things says Alicia Asin, the CEO and co-founder of Spanish sensor company Libelium.

Libelium and its CEO Alicia Asin has been covered previously on this blog and we had the opportunity to record an interview with Alicia at the 2013 Dreamforce conference.

Alicia told us about her vision for how she sees cities and governments evolving in an era of real time accessible information, in many ways it’s similar to where the Deputy Lord Mayor of Barcelona sees his city being at the end of this decade.

“I would say the biggest legacy the internet of things can bring is transparency,” says Alicia. “In the smart cities movement the IoT gives an opportunity for have a dashboard for cities.”

“You can see the investment made for reducing traffic investment downtown, the carbon footprint reduced and the return on investment,” says Alicia. “You can have very objective facts to supply to the citizens and they can make better decisions.”

For this vision to become true, it means government data has to open to the community which is something that challenges many administrations, however Alicia also told the story of how her company supplied Geiger counters to volunteers monitoring the radiation fallout around the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan.

“We made a project in Fukushima when the nuclear accident happened where we sent some Geiger counters to the hacker space,” says Alicia. “Suddenly all the people with the Geiger counters started to publish the data onto the internet.”

“They were keeping a totally independent radiation map made by the activist citizens.”

Alicia raises an important point of how citizens can be using technology independently of governments. This was most notable in the Occupy movements across the United States that sprung up in late 2011 where hackers set up independent communications networks and recorded events outside the control of mainstream media and government agencies.

While citizens can use these tools to get around official restrictions, governments play an important role in developing new industries around these technologies, Alicia sees the smart city investments made by Spanish cities as creating the start of a Spanish Silicon Valley.

“Despite the economy, we are seeing a number of projects in Spain around smart cities,” Alicia observes. “In fact, I’m saying Spain is becoming the Silicon Valley for smart cities.”

“In terms of attracting big companies to look at what’s going on in Spain and to build a bigger brand around the Internet of Things, I think that really helps.”

With government and citizens working together, Alicia sees the Internet of Things delivering great changes to society as it enables citizens and makes governments more accountable.

“It’s the real thing, it’s beyond technology.”

Jul 222013
workers in a building site

Tim Fung, the co-founder of Airtasker, has been previously been interviewed on this blog about micro tasking service’s mission to change the workplace.

With the news that that Airtasker had gone into a partnership with employment site CareerOne it seemed Tim might be a good guest to kick off the first video for the Decoding the New Economy YouTube channel.

During the interview Tim describes the motivations behind starting Airtasker, how he sees the relationship with CareerOne evolving and the benefits of operating out of a co-working space.

The Tank Stream Labs working space is an interesting setup – based at the bottom of Pitt Street in the heart of Sydney’s financial centre, it’s not in the more edgy areas on the city fringes where the rest of the town’s workspace are located.

Being away from the hipsters and grunge doesn’t seem to have hurt Tank Stream Labs as the space has now expanded to a second floor of the ten storey office block. The roll call of tenants is quite impressive too.

For Tim being in the workspace has been a great benefit for Airtasker.

There’s always the thing about sharing knowledge and more obviously there’s a lot of great contacts that everyone shares.

Airtasker’s relationship with employment site CareerOne is an interesting development that sees the joint venture between News Limited and Monster move into the crowdsourcing field. It also gives job hunters an opportunity to find short term work while looking for a more permanent role.

People are looking for more hours of work but equally businesses were coming to CareerOne and saying ‘hey, all you do is full time work’ and that’s only one piece of the employment puzzle.’

For CareerOne it really allows them to build up the full spectrum – all the way from tasks to part time to full time and be a one stop shop for employment.

How that works for CareerOne remains to be seen, but for Airtasker and Tim it validates their business model along with exposing their service to a wider audience.

With the workforce evolving and the trend to informal, casualised employment; services like Airtasker and the US Task Rabbit will take a more prominent role in workers’ careers. While it’s debatable on how desirable or stable such employment is, it’s the reality of a process that started in the 1970s.

Tim takes a more sanguine view of the challenges facing workers in an informal employment market.

What I’m sharing on Airtasker is my free time. Currently we have this pool of literally tens of thousands of hours of people sitting around saying ‘I’d love to have a job’ and that’s an underutilised resource.

Airtasker in many ways is one of the new breed of middlemen creating markets where one didn’t exist before. The service is an example of how new ways to communicate create opportunities to connect buyers and sellers.

Services like Airtasker are part of the future that’s very different to the world we or our parents grew up. It’s going to be interesting to see how society and governments evolve around the realities of today’s workplace.