Eleven Startups Catch the Next Wave at Muru-D

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You could hear the noise in the lift on the way up. Over 150 people were packed into the open area of Muru-D, Telstra’s startup accelerator, awaiting the announcement of the ten teams who would participate in the second class of the Muru-D academy. For the teams that were selected, there was excitement. For those that didn’t make it, disappointment.

The Muru-D academy is a startup accelerator program supported by Telstra. It offers entrepreneurs $40,000 and six months of business mentoring and active development in exchange for six percent equity in the fledgling business. I joined the program as a mentor for the first class so was interested to get an early look at those involved in the second intake.

Around 20 or so new teams had been corralled at the Muru-D office in Sydney’s Paddington over a weekend. They were put through their paces in a “bootcamp” – an intensive round of meetings, instruction and pitching designed to help the Muru-D judges determine those most likely to succeed. Across the weekend, the startup teams were questioned, provoked, supported and challenged. It is certainly not a process for the faint hearted.

But talking to a number of the participants, it was clear that the bootcamp process was worthwhile – even more experienced teams learned a great deal.

All-in-all there were 11 teams selected to participate in the academy process. That was one more than expected – but clearly there was value to be found. This rounds teams include:

  • FanFuel – a sponsorship marketplace where brands search, measure and secure their sponsorship deal.
  • FreightExchange – a digital marketplace for freight transporters to sell their unused capacity to businesses that need to ship goods.
  • Wattblock – quick, customised, web-based energy-saving road maps for residential and commercial strata buildings.
  • Disrupt Surfing – custom surfboards made using 3D modelling.
  • You Chews – an online catering platform, making it easy to find great food for meetings and events.
  • TripALocal – an online platform that connects travellers with local hosts for authentic local experiences.
  • Peep Digital – an intelligent, phonetic English technology platform to help children, youths and adults struggling with English pronunciation and comprehension.
  • VClass – the first ever hybrid education platform that combines the power of internet, VoIP and traditional pen and paper to create an online teaching experience like face to face.
  • Instrument Works – developers of wireless, portable sensors and instruments to build the internet of things for research.
  • CroudSourceHire – a pre-hire assessments marketplace platform that crowdsources industry experts to assist with assessment of jobs for companies.
  • SoccerBrain – making it easy for anyone to coach a team, providing tailored, interactive training sessions week-by-week for coaches and players.

The teams kick off their acceleration program in the coming weeks. It will be interesting to see where this wave takes them. And indeed, where it takes Telstra and the Muru-D team.

Don’t Bore Your Audience: Use the Pixar Pitch

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When I studied literature, I was fascinated by form. By the words. Arrangement. Layout. And narrative. I loved the way that John Fowles would create untrustworthy narrators that led the story in new, unexpected directions. And I loved Antonin Artaud’s dangerous writings. Or Christopher Barnett’s language that was so revolutionary it broke the words. I was intrigued and excited by writing that would break the language and our expectations and then reconstruct things completely new. It was a disruption to thought and expectation and it blew my mind.

But the best of these writers were not rampant destroyers of meaning. They were articulate explorers pushing the limits of language and the implicit bargain that writers make with their readers. Sometimes it would work and take us – together – on new journeys. And sometimes I’d throw the book against the wall and leave it to make its own way back to the shelf. The thing is, that the best of these writers were masters of their craft – and they’d work very deliberately to take us as readers on a journey – it just so happened that the by-product of that journey would be some form of collision or catastrophe of language. And in that way, the product of the writing was not the book – but the experience. Of reading. Co-creating meaning. Disruption.

So when I attend a conference, view a video or see a presentation, I look for something that is going to set my heart ablaze and send my mind wheeling. I wonder where I will be taken or how I will be surprised. And more often than not, I am disappointed.

There is no narrative. No journey to follow and become involved with. It’s just facts. Numbers. And opportunities for micro-naps.

It’s a slow death being hammered by statistics.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Dan Pink’s book, To Sell is Human, explains the formula deployed to great success by Pixar. It goes something like this:

Once upon a time <something happened>.

Every day <life went on like this>.

One day <something changed>.

Because of that <the world was never the same again>.

Until finally <a new world became the next chapter>.

Now, I am not going to say that this formula will change your world. Nor that each presentation needs to be a masterpiece.

But if your job is communication (and if it’s not, why are you presenting?), then do your audience a favour and wheel out the Pixar Pitch. You might just be amazed at the impact it has.

Disrupting Graphics: Now Design’s at Your Fingertips with Canva for iPad

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Canva-ipad One of the great local startup success stories, Canva – the platform that lets us all create great graphic design in an amazingly simple way – has reached a milestone – 850,000 users. This is no mean feat – especially in a world where every startup, every mature business and hoards of consultants, freelancers and the like vie for our attention, loyalty and share of wallet. With a super-intuitive yet powerful interface, Canva have made it easy for anyone to produce quality graphic design, collateral and presentations.

And by “anyone”, I mean anyone. Including me, my brother and my mother (so yes, it passes the family test). And by “quality” I mean that the results don’t look like they were produced by me, my brother or mother. They look like they’ve been done by a designer. This is largely down to the great library of ready-to-go images, design elements, templates and fonts that come with a Canva account. But it’s also largely by the Canva co-founders keeping a close eye on their advocates, user base and fans.

Speaking with co-founder, Melanie Perkins, over a year ago, it was clear that the Canva team needed to walk a fine line between democratising design – making it available to the masses – while also maintaining the goodwill, support and efforts of the design community. After all, Melanie and co-founder, Cliff Obrecht had come from a design background themselves and were actively working with designers to build out libraries of assets that could be commercialised at scale.

In just over a year, more than 5.7 million designs have been created, Guy Kawasaki has come on-board as chief evangelist, and the team has grown beyond its cute digs in the funky Sydney suburb of Surry Hills.

But not content to rest on their laurels, Canva have now released a new a full function app for the iPad.

And for me, this takes Canva into a whole new market. It puts their powerful platform into the hands of its users. Literally. And that means small business owners. Those who work in shops, restaurants and cafes. It brings ease-of-use to a new level too – with access to your iPad’s camera and camera roll, there’s no more messy transferring of images across devices. It’s all in one place – ready to be edited, filtered and combined with illustrations and images from the Canva library.

Now, I won’t lie. Canva in the hands of a good designer will astound you. And my mum’s birthday card designs, while a big hit with the family, are unlikely to end up being featured in a Hallmark promotion. But Canva is a massive step up from the entry-level tools that still dominate small businesses the world over. So say goodbye to that old Paint program, and say hello to a new universe of creativity. Download Canva for iPad here.

Disrupting Failure – The Secret to Success

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In the world of startups we have been obsessed with failure. And learning. Or what Mick Liubinskas from muru-D calls “flearning”. You will, no doubt, have heard of the concept of “fail-fast” – a term borrowed from system design and applied to software engineering – where the focus is on fast, iterative design that irons out errors through the process of repetition and improvement. But failure comes with risk and with stigma. And no matter how bravely we celebrate our failures, as 99dresses founder, Nikki Durkin points out, “luck and timing are often huge factors in success and failure.”

So I was interested to see the way that this infographic by MaryEllen Tribby focuses not on the outcomes of success or failure – but on the attributes and behaviours of the individual. And I am wondering – if we are honest – could we find a way to disrupt failure on our way to being successful. Is there a way to observe and recognise some of our own behaviours and then work to move them from the right hand side (yellow/unsuccessful) to the left (green/successful)?

And beyond that, what if we moved beyond platitudes (and infographics), and ACTED ON some of these things. Or all of them? I am going to give it a try. I’m going to spend 30 minutes a day carrying out actions from the green side. And I will let you know how I go. Perhaps disrupting failure is the secret to success. Time will tell.

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Bye, Bye Buyosphere – A journey of disruption, disrupted

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Focusing on the customer journey is never easy. After all, customers are fickle, transitory, loyal and contradictory. I am somebody’s customer. You are. We are all somebody’s customer. And being a customer is an emotional experience. We buy on whim, impulse or trigger. We may plan, research and save as long as we like, but decisions can be swayed by friends, connections, a good salesperson. Or even a lingering smell.

But knowing this doesn’t make easy for businesses – even marketers don’t make it easy for marketers. With every click, interaction and purchase, with every review, tweet, blog post or call, connected consumers like us are shaving away the stubble of established brands. We are eroding the protective layers that brands have built up over time to insulate themselves from us.

We know this has been happening for some time. It is a shift of power in the buying process away from brands to consumers. It is digital disruption in its purest form – connected consumers tapping into the opportunities and power of the internet to out flank the efforts of brands. And helping us to chart this disruption – indeed helping us to move from idea to practice, has been Tara Hunt, author of (amongst other things) The Whuffie Factor, coworking pioneer and theorist (in a very accessible way). In many ways, Tara has been a harmonising voice in a technology dominated world – reminding us that its the people that matter most.

Tara’s 2009 presentation on vendor relationship management has influenced the thinking of many (or even found its way into the thinking of many surreptitiously), including myself. But never content to let ideas percolate in isolation, Tara  went beyond the theory into practice, bootstrapping and launching Buyosphere, a fashion suggestion and style matching website. I can remember signing up myself, wondering how it may work out here in Australia. It was an idea ahead of its time.

In late 2012, after growing and struggling to scale, Tara stepped out of Buyosphere, taking a role with Toronto based communications and engagement company, MSLGROUP. As she explained at the time, “If we were going down, let’s go down in a blaze of glory. Or at least with a product we could be proud of.”

Yesterday, in classic style, Tara shared the next stage of the journey – saying goodbye to Buyosphere:

Once upon a time there were three startup founders who had a dream. They were going to build something that solved fashion search. And they spent 3 years of their lives, their entire savings and pretty much all of their energy on it. Fortunately, they built something great and learned a whole bunch. Unfortunately, they ran out of money, time and energy and had to go back to work and once they abandoned the site, it never took off. xoxo Buyosphere. We love you.

Watch this video and you will hear the very personal, emotional and exciting journey that Tara and the team went through. It’s the journey that so many of us take – or wish we had taken. And while I too, feel sad, to see from a distance, that Buyosphere has ended, I also feel great hope. There have been lessons learned and friendships forged. This is a story of disruption, disrupted, not destroyed. And I for one can’t wait to know what’s next – not just from Tara but from all who build on her experiences.

Logos and the Psychology of Colour

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In the process of building new brands, there are three steps that I love:

  1. Naming: The naming of your new brand can be fraught – but should be fun. Coming up with a name that is descriptive enough for your customers but imaginative enough to draw them in can take far longer than you can imagine. Then once you have a name, securing and registering it can take time and more than a little money. There are some agencies dedicated to naming, and if you have a big budget it would be fabulous to work with them … but if you’re running a startup, chances are you’ll be doing the naming over a few beers with your mates. Be sure to think through the various combinations of the name and how it will be used. After all, you don’t want to follow the example of promo pen company Pen Island.
  2. Planning: No surprise here – but I get quite a kick out of the planning process. From building out the communications architecture through to building out the business case, planning is an important step for any startup. You’ll be amazed what you can learn in a couple of days – and the research and analysis (not to mention the discipline) will hold you in good stead as you start to seek funding and build your core team.
  3. Visual design: Most people think that branding is about logos. A logo is just part of the branding process … but it does need to be given time and attention. And budget always helps. Even if you have budget, it still helps greatly to provide a solid brief to your designer – which is where your planning will help. Make sure you share your research and thinking – explain the various use cases and audiences that your new business will impact. Provide a list of “attributes” that describe your brand. Be clear about the vision you have for the future of your brand. All this information should soak into the appearance of your logo and the visual design of your band.

Now that you have a name, some understanding of the potential of your business and some ideas for your logo, take that list of attributes and find them in the list in this infographic from MuseDesign. Pay special attention to other logos that you see and that you admire. Think about how they are using colour to engage you emotionally. What can you learn from great logos? Which designs make your heart jump?

After all, if you want your brand to be memorable, you’ll need all the branding help you can get.

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Five Must-Read Posts from Last Week

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It seems that we are accelerating towards the end of the year – not winding down. And while last week I focused on posts that kept away from trends and predictions, this week it’s been hard to avoid them. Here are some top quality reads to get your brain in gear:

  1. There is a reason that Seth Godin is one of the web’s most popular and oft-quoted bloggers. This post on the industrialists vs the rest of us really helped me this week. Hopefully it will help you too
  2. Neil Perkin has pulled together a fantastic presentation on digital content trends for 2013. Worth reading, absorbing and acting on
  3. Ever wondered why disruptive technology is so disruptive? R “Ray” Wang provides a great framework for understanding the organisational personas found across the enterprise landscape
  4. We all crave “engagement” … but what does that really mean? Valeria Maltoni explains that there are certain kinds of stories that drive engagement
  5. I loved this provocative rant from Dan Lyons on startups that can’t raise money. Let’s all shed some tears