Monday, August 31, 2009

Anthill VC Panel Discussion

Went along to Venture Capital Design, a panel discussion hosted by Anthill. It was OK, although the lack of microphones and chairs was a little wearing. I found a couple of interesting things :-

1) Convertable notes are a good way of raising finance as debt and then converting it into equity. Not sure of the details, but it sounds like a good way of getting investment without being tied to interest rates and repayments for ever. For a startup the chance of getting debt investment is looking close to zero, but for second round it could be interesting.

2) It's easier (apparently) or as easy to raise big money - ie AU$108M for redbubble as it is to raise small money. I guess there's some kind of clue there about how much a first time entrepreneur is trusted.

Overall though the evening fell between two (non existent) stools. When it comes down to it, there really isn't much common ground between VC and Design. Yes designers need VC, and startups need good design - but they're not part of the same continuum.

Monday, August 10, 2009

DataMovie a finalist in $100K business competition

Enterprize is a $100K competition for businesses run by the University of Queensland. We found out last week that we've got through to the finals, and the press release made it public today - amazing.

The DataMovie team - Jerry Shea, Colin Cooper and myself created a focussed 8 page summary of the DataMovie idea and UQ clearly liked it. Seeing the competition for the prize it's awe inspiring. We're up against carbon nanotubes, cancer drugs and other great ideas - of course our ideas are hot too, it's just an incredible vote of confidence to be selected. It's upto us now to create the best business plan, pitch and presentation to put ourselves in with a fighting chance of the main prize.

In the meantime thanks to University of Queenlands business school for putting on the competition and giving us the chance to pitch our ideas to so many people - we couldn't wish for a better start.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Replay the Day goes live

Announcing the very first DataMovie release for the general public. It show's a real time excerpt from the ASX of the top 10 shares (ANZ, BHP, Commonwealth, NAB, QBE, Telstra, Westfield, Westpac, Woodside and Woolworths) traded early on 6th August 2009.



The technology used to create this is still in ongoing development, but we have been running real time analysis of the entire ASX100 for many months - the techniques work really well, we're now at the stage where IP protection and commercialisation are concentrating the mind. The P of POC has been well and truly proven.

Being able to animate many many dimensions of data for any stock we want gives us so much capability it can be overwhelming. For instance the YouTube video shows realtime calculuation and diplsay of of Relative Volume. As far as we are aware this is a world first, the first time that relative volume has been shown live in an animated trading chart. And that really is the tip of ice berg, 20 seconds of YouTube goodness isn't big enough to show what we're capable of, so keep watching.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

James Lovelock turns 90

I've been reading James Lovelock's (originator of the Gaia theory) biography and it highlights some fascinating background from one of our greatest scientists. The bottom line is that it doesn't matter how good the science is, without a good address, job title and backing from your peers you have no credibility - the reward for ability, talent and thinking outside the box is somewhere between score and indifference. That wouldn't be a problem apart from the impact that 30 years delay has caused.

Back to lovelock, first off I had assumed he was in his prime, maybe touching 70, but no he's just turned 90 (July 26 to be precise), he was doing his undergraduate degree during the war (WW2), his ideas really do define the phrase 'ahead of his time'. He's also a real hard core scientist, along the way to Gaia - which I'd previously thought was strong on circumstance but weak on science, he invented the ECD, the core device that allows miniscule concentrations of compounds within other gases. He used that to identify the levels of CFCs in the atmosphere and the ozone threat that caused.

As it says in the biography he's published papers from A-Z, anthropology to zoology, he's a genuine scientist/polymath, yet without the validation of a university or research address his papers wouldn't have been published at all. The whole Gaia idea has been circulating for more than 30 years, and even now we're bickering about the best approach to reduce carbon. Brilliance and ability is just not enough to persuade your average man in the street/politician to do something.

My core takeaway from Gaia is that everything is connected, even those little things that don't appear to matter, yep they do, there's a connection there somewhere. Six degrees of seperation isn't just a film or a wish fulfilment idea it's reality.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why do traders ignore so much data?

Stock market trading is driven by data, however most systems and the traders that use them, simply ignore huge swathes of data - it's been written off as just too hard. For instance BHP, Australia's most traded share is bought and sold 15-20,000 times a day - and that's just in Australia. Let's think about that for a moment, some of those trades are institutions, some are Mum and Dad investors, some are professionals, some are automated computer (aka algo) trades. So what do systems do to analyse those trading patterns, who is buying in? who is selling? etc, basically the systems do nothing - those 15,000 trades are reduced to 5 figures - Open, High, Low, Close and Volume.

Reducing all the trading data down to 5 figures made it easy (at least easier) to analyse, that was especially relevant when you had to hand draw your charts, and work with paper and pencil. The thing is we don't do it that way any more, my laptop has enough power to store and analyse the ASX100 live so why do my trading tools ignore that power and only allow me to look at history as OHLC? I reckon the answer is cultural, even though trading is meant to be the biggest user of the most advanced technology, at it's heart most traders are still using techniques that have been around for a century. They simply use them on really fast hardware.

As a little taster of what's possible, once you use the raw data you can split out the big institutional trades, identify certain types of algo trading - orders for 11, 12, 11, 12, 13, 12 ,11 etc shares. See if there's a stampede by the bit players into (or out of) a share all kinds of real world knowledge is there for the asking. Of course what you do with it, is upto you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Trading it's not rocket science

Buying and selling shares for profit is the dream of many, fortunes can be made, and as a 'business' it's completely scalable. If you can trade $1000 into $2000, then you can trade that $2000 to $4k and so on you'll be a millionaire in no time. However, doubling your money is unusual to say the least, doing it consistently is the stuff of dreams and not reality. Most successful traders are happy with a consistent set of small(ish) gains, balanced by smaller losses.

To minimise losses, you have to be prepared to sell and take a loss, psychologically that's the hardest part of the whole game. When you lose you lose face, confidence and are humbled by the market, it's a tough lesson. The pain can be managed by trading to your plan, and setting a stop loss, an automated sell, when the share reaches a low threshold. If you don't do that you'll hold on to a losing trade, and your losses will just grow. Buy and hold might work in the long term, but buy low sell high and protect the downside with a stop loss is the real way to make money in the market.

My trading golden rules :-

1) Know when to buy - important, but don't worry about buying at the bottom
2) Know when to sell - crucial, set lower and upper limits and sell, take that loss or profit and plan for it before you buy
3) Manage your money - it's all about risk management, only risk a small proportion of your stake at a time

Treat trading as an education process and expect to pay for that education. If you do that then you'll have the right mind set. Don't expect to make money from the get go, and don't expect consistency early on, but do track what worked and what didn't, Learn from that.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Smart meters but dumb houses

The Victorian Government is supporting project to roll out smart meters. The cost benefit justification for this is around cheaper meter reading, much better accuracy and the ability to spot distribution issues. However, althiugh the meters could be used to give feedback to consumers, that part of the project has been ruled out of scope - I'm really not sure why.

We know that giving people an idea of how much power they use is a really effective way to get them to use less. So it's a massive disapointment that the costly roll out, doesn't address that, even a tweak to the build regs for new buildings would make sense. If electricity meters were in the kitchen and visible, then power use would go down, while they stay out in the cold in a hidden box, consumers just don't know where their power is going.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Energy Monitors really work

As a purveyor of systems to highlight where the power is going, and ideally change consumer's behaviour we had a dose of our medicine over the last week. I installed an energy meter on Friday. It 'only' shows the total power drawn for our house, installed in 5 minutes, and it's done more for our immediate power awareness than a lifetime of reading. For instance, it immediately found our treatment works pump is drawing 500-1000 watts and it's on for far too long. That's around 25% of our power that we can not monitor more closely and fix. Similarly we're using low power lights in the house, but we have a couple of spots on movement dectors - really useful when unloading the car in the dark - but they're pulling 300-500watts - we need some high light/low power spots.

Like the previous post said - feedback is everything. Get yourself a power meter you will love the results.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Feedback is everything

A short post about a huge subject. Understanding cause and effect is so basic to most of our existance that we just take it for granted, if we touch something hot we get burnt - instant feedback leads to quick learning. If the feedback is absent, or the distance between the event and its affect is too long we just don't respond. For instance the link between smoking and illness is very well established. Smokers know that smoking harms them, but the feedback can take decades to manifest - just too long for most people to react to. It's taken social pressure to reduce smoking rates. The same is seen with climate change, we getting to understand the problems, but the gap between cause and effect is too long and difuse for most of us to link the basic act of turning on the lights, or driving to the shops to the real manifestation of weird weather, food production issues and so on.

If we can make feedback more obvious, make the link between cause and effect clear, then we can make our decisions and actions better. The trick is to develop tools to enhance that link, to make it clearer. The possibilities if we make that feedback loop really clear will be amazing.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Google beats us to the punch

I've been working with a friend of a proposal to put power monitors into peoples houses and make their power usage figures available in (close to) real time. Guess what Google has beaten us to the punch, their development is so un-cannily similar to what we were thinking about that it's scary. Their going green initiative links smart meters to a google charting solution that shows domestic consumers exactly what power they've been using.

This is interesting in a number of ways

1) Smart meters are being rolled out across Australia. Energy providers will be able to monitor and bill usage based on 30 minute blocks, but we're not sure what technology will be available to consumers to see their usage.

2) Google's initiative would/could/should work here, but are they planning to do it?

3) The core of our idea was very similar to Google's but we wanted to go beyond the smart meter, and look and individual device usage. That option is still wide open.

The core of our study was how households would change their usage when they could see where the power was going. That option is still wide open, we just need to find the right partner, and it looks as though that partner could be google.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sustainable Energy

Yesterday I attended the Innovation in Renewable Energies Expert Panel, put on as part of the Innovation in Ballarat festival. The panel discussion included specialists in wind, solar, and geothermal power generation, and introduced me to Breaze a local initiative around climate change.

I took away a number of key points

1) The cheapest way to get a more sustainable energy system is to reduce power use
2) Customers like to buy things (solar panels etc), but they don't buy into the idea of being more efficient - you can't show that to your friends and neighbours.

Taking these points together, there is a clear market for in-house power usage monitoring equipment, and we need to link that equipment to attractive outputs so the householder can 'show off' their savings and educate themselves and others about power use.

In Australia this education process would be easier as we're already pushing serious water restrictions. There's a big campaign around using 155L of water/person/day. We need a similar process for power usage.

One really simple approach would be making an in-home monitor mandatory for new homes and subsidising their retro fitting in existing homes. It would come with a visible monitor in the kitchen - preferable a nice big display (low power of course!). As soon as you turn something on, especially the big power users like clothes dryers, stoves etc you'd get a clear indication how much you're using. The meter needs to be visible, not hidden outside in a box on the wall. With that simple change, which would cost a deal less than pink batts, we'd get an easy reduction in our power requirements and a similar reduction in emissions.

The trick is to align that simple plan, with the big players political and commercial in order to get them to push it. We need an emissions trading scheme, so there's a strong financial incentive to reduce power use. Without that we're fighting an uphill battle. However, it's clear that will come, in time, it will come.

The figures
Australian homes use 28% of the generated power. It's relatively easy to reduce power needs by 20-30%. Therefore with some simple changes we could reduce our national power usage by 10% - that's the equivalent of 2-3 power stations that we just don't need any more.

It's very hard to store power, so we also need to look at the way in which balance our base and peak loads. The base load in Australia is around 5GWH (Gigawatt Hours), our peak usage is up at 10.5GWH - which we hit last summer when everyone's air con was running hard. To provide 10.5GWH of power, we need 10.5GW of power stations and that's double the normal day to day load. If we could smooth consumer's power usage again we could drastically reduce our need for new power stations, as well as reduce emissions.

Origin energy were also there and their green credentials look quite impressive. For instance they're already running a pilot in SA with 700 houses where they're selling power at a premium during high usage times of day.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

IP, Patents and investment

I've been heavily restricted in what I can write about as we don't have good IP protection in place yet, and without that any prior publication will prevent us getting patents in place, we didn't think that was an issue but for investors it's a show stopper. I've had a chance to speak to a few professionals about this and we now have a plan.

The most useful part of the exercise is a strong identification of where our IP value is - yes what we're doing is unique/novel etc, but a great deal of our technology is already out there. So we can make public those parts of what we're doing without risk. The trick is to identify exactly what is our unique technology - and that process has now been done, we have a clear idea of what we need to protect today.

Initially we were happy to go forward without getting patents. That was true for a number of reasons - the main one being how hard they are to enforce, also the need for others to build on our foundations - we don't want to scare off partners and developers. Realistically not having a patent will not affect our bottom line 1c in the short term. However, without patents in progress our likelihood of investment is much reduced, so we're going to have to go round the loop again.

Based on professional advice, our current thinking is as followss :-

1) Use www.google.com/patents for our searching, why pay for a professional to do that for us?
2) Base our patent submission format from 'good' patents on google. By submitting ourselves the cost is trivial, but of course there's a good chance that our application will be less than perfect. By basing our format on an existing patent from a top notch company, say Apple we should at least have a reasonable patent application.
3) Accepting that our patents may be less than perfect, any investor willing to take the risk, will then have to do due diligence on our submissions. We (they) have 12 months in which to tweak the submission to make it work.

The upshot of this is we can go public with some stuff, get the patent application under way without a large cash outlay, and sell the approach to potential investors. The cost for a professional Australia patent submission is $5-15K, going with this approach will cost us <$1k.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Future of Newspapers

Rupert Murdoch, who knows a great deal about making money and publishing is hoping that the 'Internet is malfunctioning' and he'll be able to charge for access to his online news websites. Hmmm the smart money would be with Murdoch, but I can't help thinking he's just plain wrong, deluded by his own disbelief that old media going to change so fundamentally.

The logic goes like this, running a website is expensive and drains money from the 'parent' news organisation. Media companies are currently taking the loss, but this will self correct as it is unsustainable, and then naturally the net will bow to market forces and start to charge for news. That logic is just so flawed, it works for Rupert becuase without his organisation will slowly have to move away from the print he loves, and that's exactly what will happen.

A major reason why newspapers have been so influential is that the barriers to entry were so high, having an opinion, access to contacts and the ability to write was useless unless you had deep pockets to run the presses. As the presses are now irrelevant the way in which we receive news is radically changing, and when everyone can be their own news organisation, even if only for their street, why do we need to pay for content? Especially as big players will continue to provide that content for free in return for our patronage.

My gut feeling is that the majority of internet news will remain free, if The Wall Street Journal does go to a pay model, it will only suceed in the short term. Over time its natural (read older) reader base will diminish, this is a great opportunity for others to jump in - maybe The Guardian which has already shown that it understands new media really well.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Say everything or hold back?

I've been working on the Animated Data Engine over the weekend and it's starting to shape up really well. Once it's properly hooked in Excel I should be ready to show a few people what I've been upto. The question I ask myself at the moment is how much do I share?

For those I know the answer is easy - I trust most people therefore we share everything. However, on my public forums, the blog, website etc should I hold back - I think yes, but I'm really not sure. Is it better to deliver something small and then talk more openly - probably.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Top 50 Internet Milestones

Like it says on the tin, I found this little nugget of internet goodness from ZDNet

Monday, April 20, 2009

QRCodes on the desktop

QMCodes are commercialising QRCodes to link print media straight to rich web content. The idea is that you photograph the little code square, it looks like an empty crossword, with your mobile and it links you straight to more interesting stuff. This is a great idea, URLs especially on mobiles are just a pain, but I can't help thinking these links would more useful for desktops as well as mobiles. Maybe the mobile reader could auto-generate an email that goes to your email account - anything to reduce typing. Linking print and web is in it's infancy but it will be huge.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

RooChooks

Max and jaq have built the chook shed, we've fox proofed our fence, we've bought the feed, all we need now is the chooks. I like to think that all associated with RooCube will have good free range eggs to eat whenever they want. Does it get any better than that - all we need now is the bacon.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wholesale Investor

Last week I was in Melbourne and went to a WholeSale Investor briefing, presented by Steve Torsoand it was very useful, but a little dis-heartening at the same time. There were many gems of information from the evening, the important ones for RooCube were

1) It's normal to work with advisors to raise finance, these advisors take between 5% and 10% of the money raised, the less you raise the more they want. The advisors also work on a monthly retainer. The upshot of that is raising $500K, can cost >$50K.

2) When raising money as well as a strong business plan you also need an Information Memorandum, this pitches your company strongly to investors and outlines the exact nature of the offer. As such it contains a lot of legals and that means there are further professional expenses - ideally from a big end of town law firm.

3) Software is different, not in terms of the preparation we have to put in, but in the amount of money/risk investors are prepared to take.

4) The IM is a marketing/selling document, investors love a video, press coverage, and existing customers. We can deliver all three, but getting customers at this stage will take time. Our approach will be a closed beta with some industry players involved early.

Wholesale Investor will get our IM infront of 4000 potential investors and help out with getting the IM looking good. It's an incredibly useful service and a great idea. They're approach could be described as good value, especially in comparison with raising funds any other way, but it does come with a serious price tag.

The upshot of this situation is we need yet more professional input to get the submission we need to raise the cash that we need and so on. I'd like to be asking for money as soon as we can demo the software, but that's now unlikely. OTOH the extra time will give us space to get a good beta team together and more coverage in the press.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Aussie government builds the fibre network

Before I rant on too much, I'd just like to point out that Telstra, Australia's incumbent telco, are a badly managed monopoly who don't play nicely with anyone - customers, governments Telstra don't care they're rude to all of us.

Now Telstra, for reasons only they really understand, had decided to not pitch for the contract to build Australia's broadband network. That left 3 others in the running, until today. The government has pulled the entire contract and decided to go for a Public Private Partnership, now that just reeks of problems.

1) What does the government know about building a good internet service in Australia - remember this is the same government that's trying to impose mandatory web filtering - they really don't get the whole web thing.

2) By ditching the responses from the other telcos they've let Telstra back in, and pissed off all the other players. Telstra seems to have the most to gain from this decision.

3) If Telstra are involved, that means great tech hampered by one of the most belligerent corporations in Australia - and that's a hard thing to win, we know all about dodgy governance and shady dealings - AWB anyone.

Bottom line is this could be really good, but smacks off long term problems.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wordel rocks my world


I've seen word clouds and tag lists in various places and I've really like what they can do. It's an almost magical distillation of a complex document into a word picture. Today, in a moment of serendipidity, I'd finished the draft business plan and found a cool online version called wordle. Combining the two gave me what you see above.

I'm immediately drawn to Product, Community, DataMovie, Market, Tools, Users, Data - how does a piece of software do that? Clever, very clever, shame it's not open source. Does anyone know of something which works like this for .Net?

Origins of the internet

Courtesy of Australian Anthill I found this brilliant animation.


History of the Internet from PICOL on Vimeo.

Here is a complicated subject, dissected and delivered in a 10 minute film that is memorable and entertaing. Just think what you could do, if only you could create presentations this good? As a software person I'm thinking 'what would a tool have to do, to make that easy for everyone?' We all have ideas we want to share, we often don't have the skills to do it.

We need tools that make it possible for us all to share our knowledge and ideas this well.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hmm Facebook

I've been on Facebook for a while now and initially it was a bit of fun, then my use declined to once/month glance. I now find, a lot of my contacts are using it a lot, and of course, our target market - The XBox Generation, live there all the time. I love(d) the idea of Facebook, I just don't want to have any more vampire bites, sheep, etc etc. Is there a way to keep Facebook semi-serious without missing the point entirely?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Juding the size of a market

If you're releasing a new product, by definition your customers won't have seen it before. Trying to calculate a solid figure for users/buyers and conversion rate is always going to be a work of guesstemation. The learned tomes, agree on this and then say it's the working used to arrive at the figures that's important. We all know the figures are fiction, but at least if it's logical fiction that shows a bit of business acumen we'll politely ignore that particular elephant in the room.

However, I was wondering if anyone has actually followed up the figures from the Business Plans of the common startups and done some research on how correct they turned out to be. The core figures normally show $50m turnover in year 5, and a big jump in profit in year 3. Other than that are all the BP figures lost, how many customer did Hotmail get in it's first few years? What was the take up of blogger - does anyone know the answer? Does anyone know where to ask the question?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Contact Me

The Money Clock

I'm pretty active on StackOverflow, and answered a question recently about useful software tools you've created. My answer was the money clock, it shows money rather than time, and I used it to keep focussed at work, I wanted to create a meeting version, where all people in the meeting would know how much it was costing. As the pounds/dollars mounted up it would have been a great way of keeping things focussed. Of course there's a massive privacy issue, and it never got off the ground.

The idea has garnered a fair amount of support on SO, and I was wondering if anyone could code it up on the IPhone. Would it be possible to share the total cost without identifying exactly how much each person was earning, could it be linked to SMS, can multiple IPhones share the same application and communicate with each other - please let me know.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The team thickens

An interesting couple of days, the tech has been coming together well but the business side of things was looking a little lean. Ah ha, not any more we have a couple of key people on side to work on the business plan and budget - brilliant. Who would have thought Bacchus Marsh was the place to find international finance?

A question that I'm currently trying to answer - how many people use windows world wide, and how many of them are office/excel users. I'm trying to find this out via MS themselves, as google seems to have failed me. I guess Gartner would have this, but I don't have much access to their reports, and their site is awful to navigate, couldn't find the search option - huh? Surely it can be that bad?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Starting RooCube

Implementation and delivery are everything - it's just too easy to think about an idea without getting down to doing it, planning is important, but planning isn't getting it done. With that in mind I've started the RooCube blog, what we do, how our product is developing, the ups, downs, learnings and ideas will all be featured here.

Todays tasks inlcude getting to grips with the graphic design of the website, and integrating excel into the Animated Data Engine.