The Fetch Blog

The best events and reads for professionals

Interview: GovHack Perth Organiser Zane Prickett — May 28, 2013

Interview: GovHack Perth Organiser Zane Prickett

This week, The Fetch Perth’s Curator, Justin Strharsky spoke with Zane Prickett, one of the organisers of GovHack Perth.

ZanePrickett_web

What is GovHack?

GovHack is an event where Developers can make awesomeness in a weekend of hacking and Government can come to see the potential of open data and allowing access to their data. Oh and did we mention there is over $3.5k local prizes and $40k national prizes?

We fill a room with as many web and application developers, open data & visualisation gurus, user experience folk, accessibility peeps, augmented reality-ists, mobile maesters, user experience fanatics and anyone interested in open government as we can find and set them loose on government data sets to create new mashups, data visualisations and apps. Everything needed is provided to hack to your hearts content, for glory, or money, or both!

On hand will be:

  • Data “owners” and mentors from a range of technology backgrounds
  • Facilitators to help teams focus, and move forward throughout the event
  • Copious amounts of power, wifi, food and caffeine
  • A range of developer tools and support throughout the 48 hours

Governments collect and publish enormous amounts of data, but have limited resources to get it into the hands of their citizens in engaging ways. GovHack is an event to draw together people from government, industry, academia and of course, the general public to mashup, reuse, and remix government data. GovHack is about finding new ways to do great things and encouraging open government and open data.

GovHack runs over 48 hours starting with drinks and the competition announcements on the night of Friday 31st of May. On Saturday you will need to register your team by midday and you can attend technical workshops to help with your project. Mentors in a range of areas will be on hand to help out. Teams work through the weekend and then on Sunday afternoon you’ll have 5 minutes to present your prototype to everyone, including the judges.

This years’ event takes place at Spacecubed on the 31st of May to the 2nd of Jun. We are excited have Lyn Beazley, WA’s chief scientist, as the key note speaker. And the event is free to developers. Currently there are over 70 participants and 20 observers. There are a few more participant tickets available if any developers would like to join.

GovHack_final-final

What kinds of data is the government making available?

Currently there are over 2500 sets of data that will be available for the event. Most of these are already freely available via web services such as data.gov.au. A great resource to see what data is available and to come up with ideas for the event is http://www.govpond.org.

In addition to the 2500 freely available data sets there will be some additional data made available just for this event. This includes WA Public Transport and WA Treasury digital data. These are exciting data sets and should make for some interesting outcomes.

Can people really make anything useful in a weekend?

With the right team and the right focus, Yes, developers can make awesome outcomes in one weekend. Last year one of the winning teams,www.theopenbudget.org, had a fully interactive and live web application to dive into and explore the federal government. Excellent visual outcome for only one weekends work.

In addition this year at a national level there is a push to make sure the best ideas and applications do get finished. First Amazon has jumped on as an event sponsor to host any of the winners applications for up to one year free of charge. Second at a federal prize level there are additional funds available for projects that need a bit more work to finalize. This should allow another week or two of work for the teams to finish their applications.

What is the coolest hack or product that’s come out of a GovHack?

Last year there were lots of excellent applications to come out of GovHack with http://www.theopenbudget.org being a great example. With that said my personnel favorite was “A Day in the Life”. In this web application someone types a date in the past and it searches the national archives to show interesting information such as photos, weather, government, price of a loaf of bread,…

What does government get out of the event?

The government gets to see the outcomes of open data and the potential it holds. Currently government is collecting tons and tons of data from a range of sources. In general the government understands there is lots of potential in the data but they dont have all the resources to make it happen. Govhack is a way for government to see the potential and reasons for open data and to continue to move in that direction.

In addition government gets to see the talent of the developers working in Perth throughout Australia and the potential of new technology.

Did you face any challenges in bringing this event together?

Interesting question. From the developers side it has not been too challenging getting the event up and running, basically they have been on board from the word GO. But the government side was a bit more challenging. In the beginning we faced such questions as “Why are you hosting an event to HACK the Government?”. But once all the initial questions were cleared up the government has really jumped on board and is fully behind the event

As well thanks a ton to Spacecubed. They have made the organizers life much easier with their well run and well recognized space, cheers!

Any advice for participants?

Enjoy yourselves. This event is a great chance for developers to come together for a weekend, enjoy some coding, networking, show case some awesome applications to government, and potentially win some money!

Some links:

Interview: Perth Local, Matt Sapsworth — April 19, 2013

Interview: Perth Local, Matt Sapsworth

This week, The Fetch Perth’s Curator, Justin Strharsky spoke with Matt Sapsworth, founder of Perth startup VisionBall.

Matt Sapsworth

Photo taken from VisionBall

Why VisionBall? What motivated you to build a business around capturing sports video from the ball’s perspective?

It was probably one of those typically cliched light-bulb moments, sitting watching a Wildcats basketball game I think, and I might have also just seen a motorsports broadcast where a camera was located in the car, and
put two and two together and thought well why can’t a video camera be located inside the action of this basketball game. The same opportunity to capture a different perspective of the game will then be available.

And then of course I realise lots of sports embed cameras in the action, stump cam in cricket is an example, but it is most common in sports and adventure activities where cameras are located on helmets, such as
skydiving, base jumping, mountain bike riding etc. And then there is Spidercam which is the cable suspended camera system you often see at large sporting events, or goal cameras in soccer matches and Aussie Rules
games. Last year the AFL even put camera embedded sunglasses on their goal umpires.

So I realise that broadcasters and their viewers want to get as close to the action as possible. So why not apply this same principle to the most popular sports on the planet, Aussie Rules footy, soccer, American football, basketball, netball and rugby and put the camera right in the middle of the action and inside the ball.

You’ve found a documented attempt to put a camera into an American football in 1938, what’s the story there? Did it work?

Yes, the 1938 Popular Mechanics article. What looks like a rather large film camera sitting in the middle of a wooden ball, which itself looks more like a round soccer ball than an oblong American football. Imagine trying to throw or kick that?

But you have to admire their attempt. And unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any further information on it but I know that even with the modern technology available to me and the technical hurdles I face I can appreciate that capturing any worthwhile footage would have been very difficult at that time.

How do you envision people using VisionBall? What are some creative uses for the footage people will collect?

I’ve had a lot of fun so far with the development of some basic prototypes across all the sports I am targeting and believe that VisionBall has enormous potential to capture sporting action from a unique perspective.
Whether it be from a basketball as it is falling through the hoop, or from a soccer ball as it is fired at a goalkeeper, or from the rugby ball as it is being passed through a scrum, or from an footy as it is kicked through for a goal, the possibilities are endless.

And personally I like that you will be able to see the faces of the athletes as they are playing the sport. See them grimace, sweat, curse, smile… all up close and personal. I am also impressed by the opportunities to display still images as well. It’s being able to capture a sporting moment from an angle that gives the viewer a unique and exciting view of the sporting action.

I am also enthusiastic about the interactive nature of VisionBall. Being able to choose whether to view the sport from the traditional external camera angle, or from the perspective of the ball. See
http://www.visionball.com/20121028bcyv2.php for an example of an interactive basketball VisionBal experience. This puts the viewer in control of how they want to view the sport.

Where the true potential of VisionBall lies is that it embeds the audience inside these sports and gives the viewer an up close and personal view of the action. It puts the viewer inside the action and allows the viewer to experience the game from the focal point of the game, the ball itself. It makes the viewer the focal point of the game. Which is why the VisionBall motto is “Be the Ball”.

How will they be used in professional games?

I see that VisionBall will be used in the same way embedded motorsports cameras are used, or stump cams, or goal cams, or Spidercams, in that VisionBall will compliment the traditional broadcast of the sport. VisionBall will add that embedded camera perspective into the broadcast of the most popular sports on the planet and give their viewers the same exciting visual opportunities that a lot of other sports and activities have long enjoyed.

With current technology I will be aiming to record an entire game using VisionBall onto storage inside the ball then this video footage is extracted for processing and used for replays or highlights of the game.

And with future improvements in the technology I use I envisage that VisionBall footage will be able to b broadcast in real time along with the normal broadcast of the game. And with future high speed internet access viewers will be able to change their view of the game in real time from the traditional camera view to VisionBall.

It seems like there must be a few technical challenges to embedding cameras in balls. Basketballs are bounced on hard surfaces, for example. How do you overcome these?

Oh yes, many technical challenges. The good thing is they are obvious and able to be overcome. And in the long run very much worth the effort.

Typically an Aussie Rules football weighs 400g, and the cameras I add to the ball weigh 100g. So my challenge is to reduce the weight of the combined ball/camera package to 400g. Very achievable.

And of course I also need to ensure the look and feel of a VisionBall ball is exactly the same as a normal sporting ball as well as ensure that cameras are concealed and protected. This is a big challenge as the simple
design of these sporting balls also makes their modification quite difficult. At the moment it’s a process of testing, learning, modifying and testing again. And so far I have learned how I need to not only redesign the ball for my requirements but also the best specifications for the cameras so that they capture the sporting action at an optimal quality.

So hopefully with some future investment and using what I have learned I will be able to develop a VisionBall that feels and performs exactly as a normal ball, only that it has video cameras embedded in it. The possibilities once VisionBall is ready and able to be used will be quite exciting.

You’te running a crowdfunding campaign on Pozible – what will the funds be used for?

Yes. I have completed versions one and two of VisionBall and have been very pleased with the results. I would like to develop versionthree which is a more robust version of VisionBall and test it with a wide range of enthusiastic supporters. I have specific camera requirements and plan to use the bulk of any funds raised to purchase thes cameras, as well as balls and various other equipment requirements.

The crowdfunding campaign is also an opportunity to get VisionBall out in the public and have it tested thoroughly as well as gather feedback on whether embedding cameras in a sporting ball is something that people want to see. And I am hoping that is the case.

Check out some of Matt’s VisionBall videos here:
http://www.visionball.com/#Be_the_Ball

Interview: TEDxPerth Organisers Joel Miller and Linh Le — March 29, 2013

Interview: TEDxPerth Organisers Joel Miller and Linh Le

This week, The Fetch Perth’s Curator, Justin Strharsky spoke with Joel Miller and Linh Le, the Director and Producer behind TEDxPerth.

Joel Miller (Left) and Linh Le, organisers of TEDxPerth
Joel Miller (Left) and Linh Le, organisers of TEDxPerth

First off, congratulations on putting together a very successful TEDx Perth event. The event in December sold out early and was very well received.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in coordinating the event?

LL: In short, managing a lot of uncertainty over the support for we wanted to do. 2012 saw a complete reboot of TEDxPerth, with a brand new creative team. Before this, TEDxPerth was a free, monthly, small-scale, 3-hour evening event at Scitech that attracted a heavy uni-student demographic.

We shifted the event to a more typical TED/TEDx format: a large-scale annual event with full-day programme of live speakers (with some TEDTalk videos shown). An event in this format on this scale was a first for Perth and necessitated a number of other ‘firsts’: including the first time we would be seeking some serious sponsorship and the first time people would be charged for tickets to attend TEDx event in Perth.

While it might seem silly in hindsight (we sold out the Octagon Theatre, with a capacity of over 600 in less than a week with little information on our speakers released), we weren’t sure how much interest and support there would be – we would have been ecstatic to get 250 people along. It was also hard going at first to attract the interest of prospective partners and speakers, starting from a clean sheet – but the interest of partners and speakers really snowballed late into the organisation of the event as we brought on some high profile partners (including iiNet and 720 ABC Perth) and speakers, which gave confidence to people that this was going to be a credible, well-polished and amazing experience.

How much of the content was from WA?

JM: All the live talks were homegrown! There are great stories coming out of Perth – and our job at TEDxPerth is to find them and to provide a platform, a megaphone and a space to discuss some of these great ideas and initiatives. All the speakers at TEDxPerth 2012, bar one, were Perth-based. The exception was Andrew Jaspan of The Conversation, but he grew up in Perth anyway.

TEDxPerth declares boldly that great things are happening here in Perth – and that living in Perth is not an excuse for not doing great things. It’s a powerful message, and we think this is an important function of TEDxPerth. The most powerful way to state this message is through example: with local speakers telling great stories and sharing great ideas.

And as a side benefit, having local speakers allows us to work more closely with them and hone the presentations.

Will you continue to have a local focus in future events?

LL: I think TEDxPerth will continue to be heavily focussed on the amazing and interesting people, projects and ideas that are coming out of the Perth community and, more broadly, WA. A shared belief that Joel and I and the rest of our team hold, is that there are a lot of interesting people and communities in Perth working on amazing projects and ideas that are having or will have an impact on the world – and that it’s possible to do amazing and interesting things here in Perth. All of this, in spite of what I call the ‘inferiority complex’ that Perth can tend to have about itself from time to time. We think that TEDxPerth 2012 helped towards challenging this belief and we think we’ve really only scratched the surface of all of the interesting people, projects and ideas in Perth.

Having said that, this local focus would not be to the exclusion of those that are outside of Perth or WA. Connectedness to the world-at-large as part of the global TED movement is important to us and, after all, Perth and WA doesn’t operate in a bubble unto itself. We’re an actor in myriad of regional and global issues that we affect and that affect us. With this in mind, I think an aspiration for us would be to be amongst the preeminent TEDx events in this region.

Did you notice any recurring themes in the presentations?

JM: Part of what makes a TEDx event really worth going to is that many topics are brought together in one time and place. With all these seemingly discrete ideas swirling around, you can’t help but find new connections between them. It leads to new respect, new understandings and new collaborations that would not have been possible without getting a diversity of ideas and people together for the day. So, unlike most conferences, it’s best if the talks do not all fit a single and narrow theme.

This is not to say that certain topics can’t receive special attention. At TEDxPerth 2012, mental health, media and public art were particular highlights. I hope this focus encouraged people to think carefully about the media we consume and about mental health – and consider both the importance of monitoring one’s own mental health and of responding appropriately to the needs of others. The focus on public art might seem trivial by comparison, but I hope there is benefit in helping people discovering an appreciation of what is too often disregarded, unnoticed or reflexively disliked – maybe somebody smiled the next time they saw Ascalon or got their curiosity spiked by the Perth Pineapple.

Something else worth noting about what it’s like to go to a TED-style event: the talks do not stand alone as they do in the TEDtalks videos. Each talk exists in the context of the talks that were on earlier. So recurring themes, cross-referencing and the order of talks are all critical to the audience’s experience. One small, but powerful – and totally unexpected – parallel between talks was that both Steven Tingay and Carmen Lawrence referred to a feature in Indigenous Australian astronomical mythology – the “emu in the sky”. Away from the city and in the dark of night, the dark patches of the Milky Way galaxy appear to be an emu. It really does! Both speakers drew upon this and it formed a beautiful “full circle” moment.

What role do you think TEDx plays in the Perth community? What’s its purpose?

LL: I think a key part is simply being a beacon for all that is amazing, remarkable and interesting in Perth and to be able to share this with the broader community.

We think there’s a real void that’s being filled by TEDxPerth in this regard: there are few opportunities or avenues for the interesting ideas and people to reach the public-at-large, at least in a relatively accessible manner and format. And, in doing so, we think we’re inspiring and educating the people that come to a TEDx event around a range of thought-provoking issues that are both localised to Perth (e.g. the role of public art in WA) and globally relevant (e.g. the future of journalism. (87% that came to TEDxPerth last year said they came “to be inspired”, 80% came “to learn”).

The TEDx/TED format (we abide to a set of rules and guidelines as part of getting a licence to run TEDxPerth from “Big TED” in the US) has its strengths and weaknesses. I think TEDx does an exceptional job in accessibly connecting the public with some important and inspiring ideas and energising its audience around these ideas. On the other hand, action and deeper debate/discussion around these ideas is left to other individuals, groups and institutions after a TEDx event has come and gone – TED/TEDx doesn’t (nor should it) try and “do it all”.

JM: TEDxPerth is one part catalyst and one part celebration. We think TEDxPerth has an important role to play in encouraging a culture of innovation, collaboration and positive change here in Perth.

The TEDxPerth community shares the view that ideas have the power to change attitudes and lives. It also understands that ideas are more powerful when they are shared. So the primary function of TEDxPerth is to be a mechanism for sharing ideas. However, as Linh suggests, we are keen to stress that TEDxPerth is not the end – rather it is a beginning, an entry point for many to engage with new ideas and to share with others. We want people to take the ideas shared at TEDxPerth and to build upon them.

TEDxPerth is also a forum for imaginative and curious people to find each other. We are really excited to see the increasing popularity of initiatives that bring people together in Perth, including co-working spaces and publications like The Fetch. In 2013, we will be looking to enhance the community aspect of TEDxPerth so it is not a singular discrete event, but rather it encourages an ongoing dialogue and provides further opportunities for collaboration.

TEDx has received some bad press because of unscientific presentations from some of its speakers. TED has even taken the step of removing one from its YouTube channel. Do you have a process for vetting the speakers at your events?

JM: There are thousands of TEDx events worldwide, but what is often misunderstood is that none of them are run by TED. TED simply donates elements of the brand and social media assets to independent licenced organisers and provides guidelines and rules. These organisers choose speakers and organise the TEDx event independently of TED. For the most part however, the quality of TEDx events and TEDxTalks is excellent.

Of course, when a poor quality talk, particularly one containing misleading information or pseudoscience, is presented it damages the TED and TEDx brands. What it comes down to is this: it’s not the job of the audience to decide whether or not a talk is misleading or contains pseudoscience. It’s the job of the TEDx curators to make sure that this type of content never makes it to the red carpet circle. To help prevent bad TEDx talks from occurring, there are very strong TED guidelines on topics to help weed out anything that looks like science, but isn’t. With regard to the Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake’s TEDxWhitechapel talks that you mention, TED is currently deliberating on whether these should be included as TEDxTalks on their social media platforms. It’s contentious and it will be interesting to see what guidance TED provides.

For TEDxPerth 2012, we tended to favour well-established speakers – which made the vetting process less hazardous. But we have – and we don’t apologise for it – been fairly tough on cutting talks that we didn’t think were up to standard. Our primary obligation is to the TEDxPerth audience, and we take that responsibility seriously. When we don’t have the expertise within our group to judge the merits of a proposed talk or the standing of a speaker, we venture outward to seek advice from trusted sources. Universities are great places for this.

When is the next event?

LL: The next big TEDxPerth event will most likely be in early fourth quarter 2013. Once we’ve locked in the venue and the date, we’ll be letting everyone know through Facebook and Twitter.

In the interim, we are eyeing off hosting another “TEDxPerthLive”, where we will be hosting a simulcast of one day from the four-day TEDGlobal 2013 conference in Edinburgh on June 12. It’ll be in similar fashion to what we did at the Northbridge Piazza at the end of February, where we hosted a (time-shifted) simulcast of the second day of TED2013 from Long Beach, California, and we were rapt to see over 500 people drop into the Piazza to check it out.

TEDxPerth is completely run by volunteers. Do you need any assistance with the next event? How can people help?

LL: The organising crew is a team of young (or young at heart!) professionals with each person contributing their specific set of skills for a couple of hours a week to help pull the event together. We’re currently mobilising the crew together for TEDxPerth 2013 and assessing our needs for the 2013 but, at first blush, we could use some help from people with skills and experience in business development, stage production, web & mobile app development and community development & management.

In addition, we also rely on a small army of enthusiastic volunteers on the day of the event itself to help set up and pack down the event – we typically reach out for volunteers in the weeks leading up to the event.

To help pull off a great TEDxPerth 2013, we’ll also need some help from sponsors and our curation team always welcomes suggestions for interesting thinkers and doers with an ‘idea worth spreading’ that would make a great speaker (or performer).

Generally speaking, we’ll be letting people know of any specific help that’s needed as it arises through @TEDxPerth, TEDxPerth.com and TEDxPerth on Facebook.

Interview: Startup Weekend Perth Winners iConnect — March 16, 2013

Interview: Startup Weekend Perth Winners iConnect

This week, The Fetch Perth’s Curator, Justin Strharsky spoke with the iConnect Catering team, winners of Startup Weekend Perth 2.

The iConnect Catering Team: Naomi Henn, Jay Whiting, Evan Nunn, Brendan Glynn, David Daws, Mike Weaver, John Kelly, Peck Kong
The iConnect Catering Team: Naomi Henn, Jay Whiting, Evan Nunn, Brendan Glynn, David Daws, Mike Weaver, John Kelly, Peck Kong (not pictured)

Photo: Dion Photography

Congratulations on your achievements at Startup Weekend Perth. Tell us a little about the business you built.

Naomi:  iConnect Catering helps spectators enjoy the game with a cold one and a bite to eat in their hands, without even moving from their seat. The app that I designed allows you to have your beer and not miss crucial parts of the game in long queues. Very simply via two options, you can either order your meal and pay an additional fee for the meal to be delivered to you, or order your meal and you get a notification when your meal is ready and go grab it. From the weekend the team and I found out there is a huge market for this service. It will be a free app for spectators. The revenue model will be to charge the venue itself either as a percentage of sales generated through the app or at a flat rate.

How many people were on your team?

On the weekend for the competition we had a team of 8. 

With so little time available, how did you manage to get so many people to stay focused on the same objectives?

Naomi:  To be honest, getting people to stay on task, with the pressure of the competition over our heads was really a challenge in itself. One that was much more interesting and rewarding than originally anticipated. There were 5 key things that made the outcome possible; the lean canvas, judging criteria, realistic goals given the time, breaking into smaller groups, and the mentors. I found myself consonantly saying, “lets refer to the lean canvas, where does that fit into the judging criteria? Is that realistic in 54 hours?” Basically I saw how the group could be split quite quickly with smaller groups focusing on certain tasks. Making the process more efficient. Only with the invaluable help of the mentors was the final product and pitch even possible.

Brendan: Yes, the mentors provided the team guidance, direction, and tips on what to focus on. Working through the lean canvas helped provide focus on the required tasks.

The world of the weekend was “flearn” (fail+learn). Did you have any significant flearnings?

Naomi: Apps need to be a simple as possible. We flearnt that extravagant design is not necessary or cost effective. Reduce your product down to MVP. We flearnt that presumptions are bullshit in business. Do not merely presume what your customer wants. Go out, now, and if you are already developing stop, and go validate what your customer actually wants.

Jay: #Validated: If you know you’re good at something, take control of your domain.

What was the biggest lesson you left with?

Naomi: Lessons are better learnt straight up, rather than later, $20k deep in coding, design and marketing with no one wanting to use your app. Market validation. Market validation. Market validation. Don’t spend time, money and resources, pouring your heart out into an idea you think is going to succeed until you have validated the market for it. Simplicity is key, test the market with your MVP. This may save you heartache and learn vital lessons you need in order to pivot or alter your idea.

Jay: If you know you’re good at something, take control of your domain! (Take control of your own area, specialties/skills set.)

Have you made any progress in the week since Startup Weekend?

Naomi: We have followed up on a few companies that were interested in our services that we agreed to chat with this week. The main focus of this week was to quickly sort out what will happen internally to discuss a clear path ahead. We are in the process of delegating roles so the process is much more efficient. Once this is done moving forward will be a lot quicker and more focused.

What’s next for team iConnect Catering?

Evan: We are forming an organisation to follow through with the strategy whilst maintaining the momentum and focusing on ways that will design and develop the business model. We are creating and continuing to develop strong business relationships to support our customers and their customers. Have strong integrity, communication and trust with the venues and their desires.

Interview: Perth Local, Geoff Hibble — March 4, 2013

Interview: Perth Local, Geoff Hibble

This week, The Fetch Perth’s Curator, Justin Strharsky spoke with Geoff Hibble, entrepreneur recently returned to Perth from the Boulder start-up scene.

geoff_hibble

Geoff is originally from Perth,  but moved to the USA after graduating from Curtin University of Technology with a Computer Systems Engineering degree.  Whilst in the USA, Geoff founded two companies and has been involved in many start-ups.  For the past 9 years Geoff has lived in Boulder, Colorado where he has been supporting the local start-up community. Geoff has recently returned to Perth and is looking to help companies grow and fortify their business through the use of technology.

What’s the most significant change you’ve noticed in Perth since your return?

Perth is no longer the slow and sleepy city I remember. The most obvious and visual change is the huge Brookfield Place skyscraper, in downtown Perth, predominantly occupied by BHP Billiton and completed in 2012. There is other notable construction including the new underground railways, automotive tunnels, the extension of the train lines to neighbouring towns, the new entertainment center, the new conference center, the number of high-rise apartments throughout the city and surrounding suburbs. I see a significant increase in the use technology around town, including the new transportation “Tag On, Tag Off” card-based passenger metering system. It is obvious that the population has risen significantly and Perth has a new energy about it. The increase in the cost of living and inflation is also a big surprise and a common subject amongst the locals here.

You spent many years working with start-ups in the US. Which ones? What did you learn?

Great question and I could talk for hours on what I have seen and learned. I have worked and consulted to a number of start-ups in the USA, including Application Devices (tablet computing), Netraverse (remote desktop computing and private cloud), CNS Vital Signs (computerized neurocognitive assessment), Collective Intellect (social media insights), LinkSmart (electronic publishing), SoundsTrue (spiritual media retail and broadcasting), Surgiview (medical broadcasting), Birdbox (photo exchange through social media), and WellTok (Healthcare). I have been fortunate that my place of residence, Boulder, has also become a mecca for technology entrepreurialism and has a thriving start-up community. Just being part of the Boulder community puts you in touch with hundreds of start-ups and progressive local companies. Notable to me are Sketch-Up (now Google’s CAD product), Rally Software (software management tools), GNIP (social media aggregator), Crocs (revolutionary shoes), RoundPegg (corporate culture management), GreenGarage (green automotive care), PivotDesk (property management), Bloomin (seeded greeting cards), EcoProducts (Green Products), Celestial Seasoning (Tea company) and hundreds of other great companies. Not to exclude all of the great new start-up Restaurants and Microbreweries that are doing extremely well.

One of my biggest observations is that it’s not just money that enables a start-up to be successful. Of course there is an initial amount of capital that is required to ignite a project but millions in the bank is no guarantee of a win. The companies that have thought through their product, market, and execution strategies can often succeed faster and with less resources. Being an IT Infrastructure specialist I see the value of well timed acquisition and use of the technology. Using too little, too much, or the wrong technology all together can make or break a company.

You mentioned that some were successes, and some were failures. What was the most spectacular failure you were involved with? What do you think went wrong?

I’ll keep this one personal. In 1998 I enhanced one of the first WiFi access point devices to hit the market and added the ability to meter “hot-spot” usage. I imagined that airports, libraries, coffee shops, and other public places would want compensation for the privilege of accessing the internet at their location. A great idea I thought, nothing was on the market like that, but only very few people had wireless devices and so the investment community shut it down, wanting more. So I designed and built some of the first “Kiosk” computers for use at these “hot-spot” locations. The investment community shut it down, wanting more. So I developed software to enable people to access their home desktop from these “kiosks” computers. The investment community shut it down, wanting more. I finally raised over 10 million dollars, with a business partner, to effectively implement “remote desktop computing experience” from our inhouse-built “private cloud” environment. The venture began. Two years later, after all of the brain power (60+ people), all the investment money, and a slew of great ideas, the company was effectively shut down.

There were lots of issues inherent in this start-up but there were two fundamental issues. One was that we were too far ahead of the market. The second issue, that I have seen several times, is that there was a lack of focus and “listening” within the company. Instead there was too much talking, too many people bring their own realities and ideas to the table, too much comfort with a full bank account. Slowly the core original plan was replaced with bigger and better plans – so it would seem at the time. These plans lead to bigger scope, bigger expense, and as it turns out just a bigger failure.

In hindsight, each of those original ideas were worth millions of dollars. Timing is everything. Knowing what I know now I could have given the investors back most of the original investment and still created a huge win for everyone. This is a missed opportunity I chalk up as “tuition fees” – where you receive an incredible education but unfortunately at an incredible expense!

What was one of the notable successes?

Most recently, I was one of the early employees (10th employee) of Collective Intellect, just missing out on that significant equity stage. But I was delighted to be able to contribute to another start-up. My primary role was to cover everything IT, whilst development built the product and the business side covered the financial, administration, marketing, and support responsibilities. My first IT budget for the company was $300 for a server and toward the end I was buying $12,000 dollar servers, two or three at a time. Over the course of five years I grew Collective Intellect’s IT Infrastructure commensurate with the requirements of the developing product and business. The end result was a multi-million dollar scalable, real-time, data storage and processing engine; consuming and processing millions of message per day from over 200 million data sources, including Facebook and Twitter. Collective Intellect was acquired by Oracle in early 2012. Though I did not receive a payout from the sale, my contribution to Collective Intellect undoubtedly contributed to the success of the venture and a win to the stakeholders!

You mentioned that while you were at Collective Intellect, the company made a serious pivot. Tell us a bit about that. What was it like having to change direction dramatically?

I wouldn’t say that Collective Intellect had to change direction dramatically, but they did change their business plan as they developed a better understanding of the industry they were pursuing. Collective Intellect started out looking for key indicators in social media data that might effect publicly traded company’s stock value. Instead of “insider trading” I’d call it “outsider trading”. There are still some companies in the market pursuing this today. Over time Collective Intellect realized the full potential of the technology they had created and rather than look for unknown quantities of “needles in the haystack” they could provide social media insights for corporations. In one case a national TV network was able to gather “show” social media feedback and use it to feed the writers months in advance. Many customers were using the tool to monitor their marketing campaigns. Collective Intellect’s technology aligned perfectly for this task. What is important in Collective Intellects case is that that market and technology drove the direction of the product. Well done Collective Intellect.

Do you see any key differences between our start-up community here and that in Boulder?

It is still early days for me here in Perth and I am yet to comprehend the full scope of the Perth start-up community. The immediate difference appears to be that support for the “start-up” community here in Perth is relatively new. The city, press, legal, financial, property, citizens, and start-up participants of Boulder have been fostering supporting the “start-up” community for many years. Boulder currently supports a tremendous number of start-up companies and consequent ongoing businesses. I am confident Perth will achieve a similar status and hope one day start-up communities will be aspiring to “Perth” as today we aspire to “Boulder.”

What kind of opportunity are you looking for here in Perth?

I’d love to consult and work with early stage companies. Contributing my experience and knowledge to help grow the company efficiently and effectively. And gain a return on investment for all of the “tuition fees” I have paid.

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