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Posts Tagged high tech

Do Kiwis have a certain je ne sais quoi with regard to Startup Weekends – or is that wishful thinking? Peter Kerr May 05

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Having been lucky enough to be around a couple of startup things in the past few weeks – I’ll take the opportunity to reflect.

The first occasion was a Skype interview at Wellington’s Creative HQ with George Smith, the founder of Glass Jar, an app that helps make group payments (such as in a flat) easier. Glass Jar was one of Lightning Lab’s accelerator graduates from last year.

They successfully pitched at LL’s Demo Day, and then relocated the USA.

George and his teammates spent three months doing the meet and greet with would-be investors in America, and then were accepted into Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley seed investment accelerator.

One of the interesting comments from George was that investors didn’t think much of the Glass Jar idea for the USA (flatmates over there have a completely different way of looking after shared bills).

But they did like the Kiwi team, and it was this that was backed at Y Combinator – which could be likened to being a Lightning Lab on steroids, where the participants are more worldly in a business-sense than some of the participants you see in New Zealand.

Nick Churchouse, the head of customer engagement at CreativeHQ made a passing comment that he quite often hears, and hears of this comment from USA investors. Mind you, given the courage it would take to relocate yourself to the States to pursue an unknown future, and given the can do attitude these coders, designers and entrepreneurs would display, it shouldn’t surprise us.

It is perhaps related to the apocryphal stories you sometimes hear of New Zealanders (often engineers), leading teams in overseas locations. For example, my brother leads the ground team of the International Space Station and helps look after oxygen, waste and water. (Like me, he’s a Southland farm boy by upbringing, with no engineering training as such, but with the ability to keep a team of brainiacs on task with a minimum of fuss).

Then again, all countries, all peoples are going to feel they’re special in this way.

However, as we continue the Startup Weekend business training exercises, our designers, developers and puller-togethers’ ability to work together could be viewed as a specific Kiwi trait, something that should be encouraged, a way to move beyond our sometimes too-self-effacing attitude.

Or perhaps that’s trying to put a gloss on something that can only happen by luck and circumstance.

What does anyone else think?


OS//OS = OS Peter Kerr Apr 13

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The OS//OS (Open Source//Open Society) conference has got itself a new definition – at least for the OS bit.

OVER SOLD!

What a great problem to have.

But maybe the organisers had a cunning plan up their sleeve, because they’ve collared some extra space at Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre on Thursday and Friday this week (16/17 April) and there’s an extra 50 tickets for sale, over and above the original 300.

At $199 each, for the quality of people speaking about all things Open (except maybe golf) and people attending, that’s a fair bit of bang for buck.

Undoubtedly, the geeks, nerds, developers, designers, IT people and interested others like me will be keen to hear what GitHub, the world’s largest respository of open source code to co-host its first ever event outside America is a pretty big feather in Wellington’s tech cap.

Mind you, we’re pretty spoiled for smart digital events in the capital; so just how many tickets co-organisers Loomio and Chalkle thought they might be able to sell would’ve been anyone’s guess.

Well guess no longer.

There’s a lot of interest – book your tickets pretty damn quickly (shortcut here) if you want to be among the lucky last.

As I post this, half of those 50 extra tickets have already been sold


Open for thinking, open for participation, open for collaboration Peter Kerr Apr 02

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The name of the two day Wellington conference on Thursday and Friday 16/17 April says it all.

Open Source//Open Society (OS//OS).

As a digital immigrant who has, without sometimes knowing why, gone down he android path for my devices, I’m inherently drawn to the open source philosophy.

In a sense, at a time when public participation in democracy is lessening, it is events such as this that continue to hold the flame for non-secrecy and more sharing in society.

It is the antidote to businesses that want us to purchase their own proprietary products – locking us in, holding us to metaphoric ransom.

And given that bits and bytes represent today’s key infrastructure, being open rather than closed around how computing’s coding source is used, by all, can be considered the epitome of democracy.

So I’ll be attending the very reasonably priced ($199) event, which is the first time the world’s largest repository of open source code, Github, has co-hosted a conference outside the United States.

This in itself is a real feather in the Wellington tech community’s collective hat – and for Enspiral and its fellow travellers Loomio and Chalkle who have helped to organise it.

OS//OS describes itself as a gathering of bright minds and communities from open technology, open government, open business and open education.

You can see this in some of its speaker’s topics, such as:

  • Is the Internet a tool for liberation or control?
  • What happens if we work together? What does a commons based future look like?
  • My Dream. “What if…”

At the same time, one of the major benefits of any event such as this is the ability to share, participate and collaborate.

It is an opportunity for peoples’ ideas to mate and spawn new ideas. Given OS//OS’s openness, I expect the “we could do this” discussions to be very savvy.

Finally, a note on the cute name the organisers have called the afternoon tea break on the first day.

As a message maker at Punchline.biz, it appeals as an encapsulating idea and ideal for OS//OS.

What is it called (and check it out in the event timetable here)?

Diversi-Tea!


A picture’s worth a thousand words…or not in our case Peter Kerr Dec 16

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I’m a sucker for a good diagram – a picture’s worth a thousand words and all that jazz.

So I thought I’d see what, if anything, came up in a search about New Zealand’s science and innovation system; diagram-wise.

The image below, taken as a screenshot, is what Google came up with when I searched under ‘science and innovation system, New Zealand’ (selecting the Google images icon as well)

S & I system NZ, Google images

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, New Zealand

To state the obvious – nothing terribly much here to explain what goes on in godzone, not a hint of a plan you’d have to say.

Well, what about a comparison with other countries?

So, I did the same for Denmark, a country that we like to compare ourselves to, frequently.

This is it here.

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, Denmark

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, Denmark

Again, to state the obvious – much more illustrative, many more models and examples of how Denmark’s ideas to products continuum hangs together.

What the heck, decided to do the same for Fiji (a near neighbour we’d possibly like to think we have a bit of a science and innovation lead over).

Here’s their Google search result.

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, Fiji

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, Fiji

Now, there may be some peculiarity in Google algorithm for my searches. (Though I had some of my non-sciencey colleagues search too, and they came up with something very similar).

And, it could be an unfair search term for NZ Inc

Or, it could be that there is no plan.

It could be that we’re doing lots of science, lots of innovation, lots of commercialisation – but it is all adhoc and uncoordinated, relying on luck and synchronicity and who the heck knows what.

I’m also hoping I’m wrong.

If anyone’s seen a plan, please point it out.

It would be a kind of relief to see one.


Bringing Biggs to the party an inspired move Peter Kerr Oct 29

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The appointment of Peter Biggs as inaugural chairman of the new Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency, is an inspired bargain.

I briefly dealt with ‘Biggsy’ as he is commonly known, in a former life.

My observation is that he’s great at doing deals and, even more importantly, making things happen.

That, in Wellington’s case as all and sundry circle but never get any traction around the idea that ‘we need to do something’, is why he will be great in this position.

As a colleague commented once, the job of a chairman is to get down and dirty and be fighting in the trenches.

Arguably, one of Biggs’ main attributes is this figurative hand-t0-hand combat skills that he possesses.

The former Wellingtonian of the Year (2003) is extremely well connected and networked at all levels across government and industry.

One of his mottos (according to one of his former colleagues), once a decision has been made is to “let’s pile into this guys”.

This is exactly what our city and wider province needs – essentially permission to execute something, and a bit of a blow-torch up everyones’ collective rears to make it happen.

As a motivator, a string-pullerer, loosener of wallets and most importantly of all, an enthusiast for a good idea that needs backing, having Peter Biggs onboard is fantastic.

So, welcome back from eight years in Melbourne Peter.

There’s plenty of things we could be doing here, plenty of ideas, some of them potentially big.

We look forward to you helping to kick them off in the new agency.

Collectively (adding to the WREDA’s four C’s – cohesion, confidence, conversion and communication) there’s a region that’s really behind you.

Note: WREDA’s so new, I couldn’t find an URL that directly relates to it. The closest is here.

Note: Feel free to also check out Punchline – Messages that Matter, my new business, based on a Secret SAUCE


Shanahan on a mission to destroy the notion of plucky NZ punching above its weight Peter Kerr Oct 24

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You have to give the effusive and self-effacing Greg Shanahan his due.

He kicked off the TIN 100 report in 2004, and now in its tenth year of production it reflects the healthy growth in New Zealand’s ICT, high-tech manufacturing and biotech sectors.

As Shanahan told a Wellington audience at MoBIE‘s new headquarters in Stout St, the combined revenue of these strongly value adding businesses is over $8.3 billion, with $6.1 billion of that from exports.

That’s more than our forestry industry, and provides pretty well-paying jobs for over 35,000 people.

And, as is fitting for a decade anniversary, Shanahan reflected on the growth in the TIN sector, the changes he’s observed and, more importantly, what he’d like to see in New Zealand’s attitude to our successful businesses.

“Part of the goal of the TIN 100 is to help us move past the idea of plucky New Zealand punching above its weight,” he says.

“That’s rubbish as an idea, a type of apology.”

“It’s a bit like saying, that Greg Shanahan, he’s not as bad as you thought.”

Greg Shanahan, TIN100, 22 Oct 2014

TIN 100 founder Greg Shanahan (“not as bad as you thought” [but see story for its context]}

A punching above your weight connotation is also rubbish since global competition demands that a company be a leader in its field. To maintain leadership, TIN 100 and TIN 100+ companies have been increasing R&D and sales and marketing effort as a proportion of their total revenue.

“By doing that, these companies are able to be price makers instead of price takers,” he says.

The summary of this year’s TIN 100 findings are:

  1. ICT growth remains strong
  2.  Recovery of the high-tech manufacturing sector
  3. Healthcare growth is strong
  4. The USA recovery continues

Shanahan says he continues to be bullish about the sector mainly because he feels New Zealand is the right size:

  • We’re small enough to be quick and large enough to be dangerous
  • We’re able to do things more quickly, more efficiently
  • Because we have poorer economies of scale [compared to other countries], we have to do things more efficiently

So, hats off to Shanahan and his team.

Without his sterling efforts we’d have no profile, no analysis and certainly very little celebration of these smart sectors.

(Note: if you’ve got this far, you also might like to check out my new site Punchline – messages that matter)


Of course nobody notices – there’s no photo opportunity! Peter Kerr Oct 07

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Naturally it has escaped the attention of mainstream media…

But, the fact is that two Kiwi IT companies are still in, and contributing to, the world’s largest IT project – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope. (See a press release here).

Thousands of radio telescopes to be built in Southern Africa and Australia between 2018 and 2024 will monitor and survey space, producing vast amounts of data.

It will require real-time analysis of 120 terabytes per second – the equivalent of streaming one million high definition movies at once.

This is a massive Big Data project, and will require new developments in both hardware and software.

A team led by Open Parallel including Catalyst IT engineers has devised and delivered the initial version of the Software Development Plan for how participants in the project will develop software and/or firmware to achieve design goals established for the SKA.

Now, Open Parallel’s director, Oamaru-based (yes, you’ve read that correctly) Nicolas Erdody has also been the inspiration and driver behind three Multicore World conferences (now in its fourth consecutive edition – Feb 2015, Wellington). These assemblies of global IT heavyweights are looking how to take advantage of massive computing power available through multicore computers (where there’s many many processors on one chip).

So far no one has effectively cracked how to write the parallel programs (coding) that takes advantage of this power.

But, by being part of the SKA project, Open Parallel and Catalyst have positioned themselves to both learn, along with others, and ride the inevitable wave of parallel programming, big data, cloud and green computing, and many more state-of-the-art technologies.

So what?

Well, if it comes to pass, there will be a huge opportunity for New Zealand to be at the forefront of what will be a whole new basket of knowledge and technologies around multicore and programming for them.

The opportunities for our IT sector(s) to be ride this parallel computing wave will be immense – way bigger than the movie industry, with much more potential to branch into different fields.

Naturally, Erdody and Catalyst IT managing director Don Christie aren’t part of SKA solely as their contribution to knowledge about our universe.

But they are taking a longterm view, positioning their own companies to be part of the knowledge creation for the project, and clearly identifying themselves as clever and competent operators in an ever-expanding field.

It is doubtful that either of them have any clear idea of where their involvement will lead.

However, their leadership and vision will in the near future be of immense benefit to our country. After all, what computer programmer wouldn’t want to live in New Zealand to be part of both SKA and ongoing developments in multicore and parallel programming.

Not that the government or media would have a clue.

It’s not something that has a photo opportunity.

It also requires the ability to think.


Should you bother with venture capital funding…the numbers suggest no? Peter Kerr Aug 20

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The scramble that many startups make to secure venture capital funding may be detrimental to the budding business’s health.

In fact John Mullins, writing in Havard Business Review’s blogs, makes the point that the vast majority of successful entrepreneurs never take any venture capital (his italics). Mullins is an associate professor at London Business School.

He gives examples from around the world, but the observations are almost undoubtedly true about New Zealand too.

He quotes venture capital investor Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures.

“The fact is that the amount of money startups raise in their seed and Series A rounds is inversely correlated with success. Yes, I mean that. Less money raised leads to more success. That is the data I stare at all the time.”

Wilson’s observation demonstrates there are a number of serious downsides in raising capital too early, and that these drawbacks have profound implications at all stages of the investment cycle. I’ve summarised the five drawbacks to VC funding made by Mullins, who also provides some interesting links supporting these arguments.

1. Pandering to VCs is a distraction.

Raising capital demands a lot of time and energy, when an entrepreneur is better off convincing prospective customers to buy – or perhaps learning why they won’t.

2. Terms sheets and shareholder agreements can burden you.

To protect their own downside risk, investors will require what are often seen by entrepreneurs as onerous terms.

3. The advice that VCs give isn’t always that good.

Unfortunately, entrepreneurs will be very likely obliged to follow the VC’s sage ‘advice’.

4. The stake you keep is small – and tends to get smaller

If money is raised later in the entrepreneurial journey, with customer traction in hand, the startup owner is in the driver’s seat, and is much more likely to find a queue of investors outside their door.

5. The odds are against you

In the VC game the very few winners pay for the losers, so most VCs are playing a high-stakes all-or-nothing game. Such odds make it extremely questionable whether entrepreneurs should put their own business into such a play.

Mullins’ take home point is that especially in the early stages, a startup business is much better off being funded and grown entirely by its customers’ cash.

Outside funding is not the be all and end all – though it can quite easily be the unintended end of the startup.

The article also has some excellent comments (as you’d expect for a HBR type article which add further insights to Mullins’ observations).


Local, thinks global and quickly gets asked if it is for sale Peter Kerr Jul 02

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Many Kiwis struggle to appreciate the size of the global internet market, and how to tap into it says John-Daniel Trask.

The co-founder of Wellington-based Mindscape (“We build fantastic tools for developers”) recently spoke at the NZ Entrepreneur Club.

As an aside, the messages/language on Mindscape’s web pages are a model of simplicity and appealing description. Check out the company’s ‘About’ page to get a flavour of how others should do it.

Business, and more particularly digitally-oriented business has been in John-Daniel’s blood since high school in Palmerston North, including selling a program on a disk that masked other schoolboy’s internet search history on their family’s computer!

Torn between doing a business degree or computer science degree at Massey University, J-D opted for a relatively open-ended computer course – and shoved in as business papers as he could.

He (easily) got a job at IT solutions company Intergen, and from day one was quizzing its bosses about revenues, sales, margins and the nuts and bolts of how it operated.

Not surprisingly he quickly rose through the company; and while he was doing it bought as many shares off other employees as he could.

Soon he was one of the largest non-founding shareholders, and the option of buying the fourth largest shareholder’s portion came up. This would’ve made him the largest non-founding shareholder of Intergen by a long margin. The deal fell through however.

J-D then quietly, and completing the deals all at once, sold his shares back to other employees within Intergen, pocketing a tidy return at the same time.

In 2007, along with Jeremy Boyd, Mindscape was brought into life, creating software development tools as its products, concentrating on Microsoft’s .NET environment.

Mindscape’s main product these days is ‘Raygun’, error reporting software which was launched in 2013.

This software has had exceptional growth – so much so that Mindscape received a number of inquiries whether it was up for purchase.

Instead, and boasting real growth and revenue, Mindscape recently went to the market and raised capital.

J-D and Jeremy Boyd still own 87% of the company – but given that Mindscape’s doubled revenues since April, investors are probably pretty happy.

He says that lessons learned along the way is not to become too scattergunned in its projects or offers.

“Put your energy into one thing,” he says.

He sees a new wave of potential in virtual reality, arguing that the present fixation on the visual component ignores the touch, sound and audio.

In the meantime Mindscape’s focused on its revenues, as this keeps its future options wide open.

“We could carry out an IPO, we could be attractive as an acquistion, or we could continue to make a lot of money,” he says.

This Entrepreneur Club talk was a great example of a well-executed business, firing on all cylinders.

Without doubt, the winner of the Hi-Tech Young Achiever Award in 2009 will do something else clever again – probably sooner rather than later.

Watch this space.

 


A buried treat in WordPress’s Terms of Service Peter Kerr Jun 26

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It’s in keeping with the spirit of WordPress that its Terms of Service are simple, freely available to be repurposed by others, and, the tiniest bit quirky.

WordPress co-founder, and part owner of its tech-tools parent Automattic, Matt Mullenweg, pointed out there’s a ‘here’s a treat’ buried in the ToS.

Speaking recently in Wellington, he reckons that so few people actually read these legal bits, putting in a hyperlink is a nice surprise for those who bother. Go have a look yourself.

The San Francisco based open source enthusiast was on a whistlestop tour around Japan, Indonesia, Australia and NZ, spreading the word and looking to add to the globally-spread development team.

The scarily young Matt seems pretty savvy and modest all at once. His photo and bio is buried, alphabetically on the Automattic page (though he did point out the pun on his own name in the parent brand).

Part of the savviness comes from a 1970’s computer science graduate dad who encouraged his then six year son to play with the home computer’s code in the late 1980s – with the proviso he fixed what he broke!

A fair bit of looking under the hood later in 2004, Matt was looking around for, and failing to find, simple blogging software or platforms.

So, along with Mike Little he built the open source, free, WordPress. They quickly realising they couldn’t do it alone, and encouraged others to come into development team.

As well, they set up Auttomatic.

He describes Jetpack as the site’s tool with the most promise. This allows plugins that are available on WordPress.com to be available on self-hosted WordPress installs, powered by the cloud.

More than 130 Wellingtonians attended the Shed 6 presentation, including a colleague Harry.

Harry can’t code, but he too was impressed with the open nature of what Matt’s helping create in the net, and dispersing it around the world.

With only 22% of the internet sites, there’s 78% to go says Matt.

His lofty goal is to democratise publishing.

He might just do it Harry reckons.

 P.S. – In case you can’t find the tasty treat, check out paragraph 16


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