Adios 2012, thanks a million!

I’m looking forward to seeing how Sydney’s spectacular harbor transforms itself tonite with the #NYESYD festivities. I snapped this picture on the harbor recently.

As the year closes, I want to thank all those of you who have visited this blog: over 1 million visits — a huge month on month increase. I will endeavor to post more regularly during 2013 as there is clearly strong interest in the various topics I curate.

Sydney Harbor Bridge

Sydney Harbor Bridge

Using Artificial Intelligence To Prevent Mass Shootings

According to the New York Times, the NYPD met this week to delve into ways of identifying potential mass shooters through the web in advance of them pulling the trigger.

They intend to develop algorithms that will search online “for terms used by active shooters in the past that may be an indicator of future intentions.”

I imagine they would also be looking for online behaviors that fit the mass shooter profile, for example obsessive Google searches on certain terms.

Much has been written already about the mass shooter phenomenon – see this comprehensive list at  Inside Nova, but reducing this into a set of algorithms that can help prevent this ghastly activities would be welcomed.

In fact, a quick glance at this Wikipedia list of mass shootings, and you can see that this is not limited to the United States (contrary to the saturation of the media around the recent awful Sandy Hook shootings). I would hope that whatever is developed by the NYPD can be “open sourced” to other police forces around the world.

 

Top 5 Traits For Profiling A Serial Entrepreneur

Harvard Business Review has done an extensive study of 17,000 working adults to determine what the key traits of a serial entrepreneur are. For most of us, we could’ve simply told them, but it’s really useful to have this validated by a solid research study.

Persuasion tops the chart. Entrepreneurs have to be constantly in persuasive mode. Convincing others to join the crusade: getting talent to join the business, partners to align, investors to pony up with funding – all in a day’s work.

Leadership comes a close second. Setting and steering based on a solid vision, taking the helm and steering the ship through uncharted and often rough waters is what it takes.

Considering the triple-helix of entrepreneurial success, both persuasion and leadership align with focus.

The third trait is personal accountability and this align with the second of the triple-helix attributes – accountability.

The fourth and fifth traits, goal orientation and interpersonal skills somewhat align with the third triple-helix attribute of balance, but goal orientation can also fit into focus.

 

 

Shedding Light On Kickstarter, Open IP and Moore’sCloud

I’m a big fan of Kickstarter as it’s empowering entrepreneurs to come up with a whole range of interesting products that may not have seen the light of day through traditional funding mechanisms.

I’ve personally backed a Kickstarter project called Light by Moore’sCloud. The product is billed as:

Beautiful, intelligent, connected light. Open hardware, open software, endless possibilities for play and delight.

Not only are they developing a fun product, but they are pioneering the way intellectual property is distributed as well. As the team says in their latest update; they are an organization dedicated to sharing all of our intellectual property as freely and as widely as possible.

I caught up with Mark Pesce, the Sydney-based serial entrepreneur behind this project and asked him a few questions:

>What prompted you to build this?

It’s something I’ve attempted several times over the last decades, but only now have we gotten to high-performance (what used to be called ‘workstation class’) computing at an incredibly affordable price point – around $12 in components. It opens the door to entirely new design methodology. And it’s why we’re named Moore’sCloud.

> What is the biggest challenge you face in getting the product to market (not including fundraising)?

There are a lot of subtle UX issues involved in creating a device that has a lot of interiority; how do you present that depth in a way that is not confronting to people without deep technical skills?

> When can I expect my own Light – in the Xmas hamper?

We hope to have them rolling off the assembly line in May.

> Is this the first of a range of products you plan on releasing – what else do you have in mind?

Christmas lights, for one thing. And room lighting. But we see ourselves as getting a toe into the pond of the Internet of Things. We’ll learn a lot that can be applied to other possible forms and appliances.

Thanks Mark! I am certainly looking forward to playing with the product.

They’ve currently got 1,721 backers with $202k pledged towards their $700k goal. 13 days to go – sign on and make a pledge!

 

The Future of Financial Services Through An Entrepreneurial Lens

Last week I gave a talk at one of Australia’s leading banks on the future of financial services. I wanted to share the core of this talk:

I  dived into a number of comparative startup activities in the broader banking arena, but first set the context –

 

Bestselling author Brett King’s thesis is that banking today has shifted from being a noun, a place you go, to a verb, something you do.

The gap between customer and financial services players is rapidly growing, leaving massive opportunities for new, non-bank competitors to totally disrupt the industry.

 

So let’s look at what is happening in this area:-

 
Blueleaf:

Blueleaf is a start up based in the Bay Area.

They are focused on wealth management as a service platform and they are building a product that is designed to improve transparency and reduce costs for the current low return environment.

Their view is that wealth management infrastructure is broken. Client account data is as scattered as people’s money. Clients expect service across all their assets while the enterprise needs a uniform platform.

Blueleaf consolidates all client account and asset data delivering consolidated info to clients, simplified workflow and monitoring for advisors and comprehensive data access and analytics for the enterprise.
They’ve raised $2m in funding from Fred Destin, a partner at Altas Venture, Stewart Alsop, a partner at Alsop Louie Partners, Dave McClure at 500 Startups and others.

 

 

Wallaby Financial:

Wallaby Financial is another Bay Area start up.

Their slogan is “One card to rule them all”. The Wallaby Card brings together a cloud-based virtual wallet with an intelligent, connected physical credit card that can be used at any location where major credit cards are accepted.

They maximise credit card rewards earnings based on your cards, your preferences and where you are shopping with a real-time algorithm. They also connect you to marketing offers from merchants and banks with social mechanics.

They’ve raised $1.1m from Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

 

Lendfriend:

Not all the companies I’ll mention are based in Silicon Valley, but this one is.

Lendfriend is “Helping you lend to your social network”.

They are building an online platform for friends and family loans. They assist with the legal and tax docs, influence credit and repayment of the loan.

In their view friends and family have become the lender of last resort for many individuals. This is accelerated by the overall decline in lending by traditional financial institutions.

Their vision is to make friends and family the lender of first resort.

 

Crowdtilt:

Crowdtilt’s focus is on “Simple, Social, Pooling of funds…for anything”.

This San Francisco based startup lets people organise things like group vacations with their friends and ensures the organiser is not stiffed when it comes time to pay.

They take a 2.5% processing fee if the crowd tilts a project.

They have raised $2.1m in funding and they are a Y Combinator graduate.

 

TransferWise:

Jumping continents, TransferWise is based in London.

Their tagline is “Crowd sourced online money transfer”.

They aim to help people save money and time on foreign payments online.

Traditionally you lose 5% when making an overseas payment – they do it for a fraction of that price.

They’ve raised $1.3m from Index Ventures and they are a Seedcamp graduate.

 

 

TrustEgg:

Madison-based TrustEgg is bringing “simplicity to saving for a child’s future”.

They provide a way to save for a child’s future that’s ultra-simple, gets a market rate of return and is accessible to families of all income levels.

A parent can set up an account for each child in minutes and start contributing immediately.  They can share the account with grandparents, aunts and uncles, anyone.

Suddenly you’ve tapped into a vast savings network that was just waiting for a simple and meaningful way to contribute.

They have currently raised $167k and are now raising $2m.

 

Simple:

The cherry on top of this whistle stop financial services startup tour is Simple.

Their aim is to provide “A worry free alternative to traditional banking”.

They started out life in New York, but then moved to Portland, Oregon.

They have raised multiple funding rounds. Seed of $190k in November 2009, a Series A of $2.9m in September 2010, and a Series B of $10m in August 2011 from Shasta Ventures, IA Ventures and NEU VC.

They are a classic example of knowing your market before building your product. After all, it’s better to find out the problem first and then create the solution.

When Josh and Shamir started Simple they put up a single web page and asked – are you dissatisfied with your current bank. If so, let us know?

Things exploded. The founders had 10,000 email conversations with people who responded and asked them what they really wanted from a banking relationship.

This taught them about all the problems people are facing today. And this informed their product design. For example they learnt that Americans really really want photo cheque deposit.

Before 2008, big banks mean safety to people. People thought they’d be around for 10 years, but the safety in the US right now is in the FDIC insurance. Trust is another big area of shift – will your bank fee you to death, or pull a bait and switch.

Simple points to the fact that today what’s important to banking consumers is who gives them the best experiences and services.

The new demographic is looking at other options in banking.

Big banks seem to still be building systems for people who balance checkbooks.

Simple aims to replace your bank.  The founders were frustrated with how complicated their finances has become and decided to start their own retail bank.

The problem they saw was that it was really hard to get the data that the banks had and get it into a format that would be usable.  Mint and such sites had to rely on screenscraping and you just don’t get good usable data that way.

Simple has gone out of its way to redesign banking. They do this by focusing on the customer experience.

They are not a bank per se, but have partnered with an FDIC insured institution. The partner holds the money, while Simple deals with the customers.

It took them 2.5 years to build and launch. They have only been launched for a few months and have 15,000 customers with about 160k waiting for an invite.

Think about it. There are 25 data points per financial transaction. Gmail gives you 10,000 emails searchable and all for free.

The message is that Storage is cheap, data is valuable. We should have more visibility on our transactions, be able to search across them easily using natural language search and also be able to see how much it would be safe for us to spend on a daily basis, set goals and tag our transactions above standard geotagging. This is where Simple is headed.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all help people engage with specific social groups. People CARE about their friends, their business contacts etc.

People are OBSESSED with their money. Yet right now banks don’t give people any easy way of engaging with their finances.

Startup Motivation and the Triple-Helix of Entrepreneurial Success

Yesterday was ground zero for the eight teams selected to participate in the Summer 2012 intake of Incubate, the student incubator at The University of Sydney.

I will be Entrepreneur Coach to the teams for the duration of the program. I got to spend some time with them at lunch time and I shared with them my thoughts on the what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur and building a meaningful startup. My talk was predicated on my Triple-Helix of Entrepreneurial Success thesis.

I used the analogy of a space shuttle (a rocket doesn’t quite work because it breaks up into various parts and only the top module re-enters the atmosphere). The key motivators, the WHY, is represented by the engine of the shuttle and these are what drive the individuals and the team to take on the challenge of building a new business. When things go pear-shaped, when they are having those inevitable moments of doubt, that is when they should draw on their motivations, which will help them build resilience.

The shuttle’s fuel consist of the core ingredients needed for any startup to be a success – capability, team, market, need and finances. These are what keep the shuttle powering ahead and it is important to achieve the right mix of ingredients to ensure the engine works efficiently and effectively.

The real differentiator is the triple-helix – the operating system of the space shuttle. This is what can put a startup on the path to success. Having all three parts of the helix at work: FOCUS, ACCOUNTABILITY & BALANCE, will ensure the shuttle has an optimized journey and successfully achieves its mission.

Later on in the day I spent a few hours one on one with the teams and was excited to see them working through a range of the inevitable startup decision points already.

Congrats to the teams and I wish them all the best for the summer.

The teams are:

WeSit: A high-tech version of the Babysitters Club that connects a trusted networks of parents with babysitters.

TheBestDay: The Best Day is a social planning tool for the web and phone that makes it easy for a group to agree on a time and place for an activity.

VIC: We have designed a robotic kit that is controlled through common interfaces that we believe will revolutionise the toy market in Australia

Muro: Muro is a context-based photography platform that allows people at the same event to connect with each other through image sharing.

SnapDisco: We’ve built a visual search engine for shoes — shoppers find local stores selling their perfect shoe, businesses pay for analytics.

Don’t Panic Watch co: A watch that watches you. An automatic panic button built into a watch to detect medical emergencies such as falls and heart attacks.

Feedback: Our startup is a smartphone application that allows users to raise money for charity by completing market research surveys on the go

CloudHerd: CloudHerd will be a business that offers value for livestock sellers and producers by providing advanced inventorying systems and auctions that interface with current legal requirements, such as the NLIS in Australia. It will provide the in depth features necessary to move a lot of the inspections and other typical livestock transaction business tasks online.

Crane Fire in Sydney

I was sitting at my desk on Tuesday morning and as I like to do when on a call, looking out my office window. It was something of a dark sky and I noticed a spark of light on one of the cranes in the city. This caught my attention and the spark quickly turned into a growing flame.

At first I thought it looked odd, but as the flame engulfed the platform myself and a number of colleagues looked on in horror. We held our breath that no-one would get hurt. Looking across at the other building sites nearby I was amazed to see that work had all but stopped and on every floor of the buildings were construction workers in their bright orange and yellow vests dotted across the skyline. We were all fascinated by the fire.

The highlight was when the jib collapsed. It seemed to melt like a straw in a flame and smashed down onto one of the nearby buildings. Thankfully it didn’t land on the very busy roads below and no-one was hurt.

I managed to shoot this footage:

 


 

Further coverage of this incident can be found here:

CFMEU

ABC

Herald Sun

Sydney Morning Herald