An Entrepreneur's Perspective - Biodiesel from non-edible oils

Vishal Monday, March 31, 2008 , , , , , , 1 comments

As part of our expanding coverage in IT, Telecom, Mobile, Green Tech, Media, Games, today we are showcasing a story of an entrepreneur who has recently migrated to Melbourne from India.

Sreenivas Ghatty, the founder and CEO of Tree Oils India, engaged in manufacture of Biodiesel from Non-Edible Tree Oils such as Jatropha and Pongamia. He was interviewed last week by Suhit Anantula who covers and writes on sustainability, economics, technology and development.

Let us explore bit further how Sreenivas is settling in Australia and his future plans with his venture. This is what Sreenivas has to say in his chat with Suhit.

• Please tell us about yourself, your background and interests?
Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I have a Masters in Agriculture and was a corporate banker in India and Dubai for 18 years until I entered the Biodiesel industry in 2003. I live in Melbourne with my wife and two daughters and keep travelling to India and other countries regularly.

Please tell us about your company/ventutre?
Tree Oils India Limited was established in 2003 to produce Biodiesel from non-edible oils. Please visit our web site Tree Oils , to learn more about this company. Bear with me if some of the information is obsolete as the contents have not been updated during the last five years. As non-edible feedstocks were not available in sufficient quantities and at reasonable prices at the time, we started with plantation activity. As there were no tested varieties of these tree species and knowledge of agronomy was limited, we started an R&D farm to begin with. So, as of now, we are a technical-know-how company, trying to develop non-edible oil-bearing trees such as Pongamia, Jatropha etc.

Why BioFuels?
With peak oil approaching faster, alternative energy sources need to be developed. Biofuels are the cheapest and the most sustainable alternative and they can be produced and consumed locally by many people in small quantities. Alongside, there are also benefits to economy and environment.

What has been your personal experience in this area?
I have been involved in this activity for more than five years. The industry is nascent, the technology is evolving and there are issues in pricing, incentives, feedstocks and marketing. If one has right perspective, is flexible and has holding capacity, the long term prospects are good. My personal experience has been the transformation from a prospective Biodiesel producer to a Biodiesel plantation technical know-how consultant. I hope to realise my dream of producing Biodiesel in the near future.

What are the current projects in Australia, India and rest of the world?
Biodiesel manufacturing units are being established all over the world, including Australia and India. Some of them are being closed mainly due to high cost of feedstocks. Biodiesel plantations with species like Jatropha and Pongamia are being established by the present and future Biodiesel Manufacturing and Feedstock Management companies on their own and through contract farming. All these projects are still in their initial stages. It may take another five years for sizable commercial plantations to appear on the horizon thus increasing supply of feedstock and reducing the price thereon.

What are the types of bio fuels and what are you concentrating on? What is the process of making Biodiesel?
Biofuels are predominantly Ethanol (blended with Petrol) and Biodiesel (blended with Diesel.) My focus has been on Biodiesel. The process of making Biodiesel is evolving and there are new developments in the process as well as the technology. Predominantly, it is the transesterification of fatty acids with methanol in the presence of a catalyst to produce methyl ester (Biodiesel) and glycerol.

What are the major sources (feed stocks) for creating biodiesel?
The existing sources are palm, canola, soybean and coconut oils, used cooking oil and tallow, along with the sources that are being developed are non-edible oils from trees such as Jatropha, Pongamia, Moringa etc. Also, a decent amount of work is being done on Algae.
A brief look at the economics of biofuels.
Economic production of Biodiesel with the existing feedstocks is not possible without tax incentives, subsidies by the government and carbon credits. This activity can be independently viable only after the feedstock prices substantially come down and the crude oil price remains above USD100 per barrel.

What could be the price of fuel using these feed stocks?
Under the circumstances, it cannot be less than $2 per litre.
What are the challenges facing you in starting something in Australia?
The risk appetite of investors is low and government support is meagre. To put it simply, we are yet get out of investing in suburban properties supported by negative gearing in this country. However, with the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, there could be several positive developments.
What are the areas where we can concentrate these plantations in?
The marginal areas other than forests with lower rainfall and poor soils could be used so that there is no competition with agriculture and food production. Such areas are available in all the states.

Why are the top biofuels companies in Australia not doing well?

  • They are suffering from higher cost of feedstocks coupled with the lack of support from oil companies and inadequate incentives on the government’s part.
  • Bio fuels has been suggested to have increase the cost of food around the world. There are other issues regarding forest clearing in South East Asia. Will your solution work against the food stocks and the rise in prices of food?
  • My approach of using non-edible oils produced by hard trees that are grown in non-agricultural non-forest lands offers a solution to the issues related to competition with food production and deforestation.
  • There have been reports in the last few months on the life cycle emissions of bio fuels. What is your opinion on that and how does it compare with fossil fuels?
  • There have been subsequent reports that have established that the life-cycle emissions of biofuels are less than those of fossil fuels. However, if feedstocks from perennial trees are used, the life-cycle emissions are definitely low.
Lets take an example to make it easier to understand. How can we start a viable bio diesel plant in South Australia? For example, what are the areas for plantation? What kind of expertise is required? The gestation periods?
In the northern parts of South Australia, farmers can form a co-operative society that would set up a small plant to produce biodiesel to meet their requirements. If each farmer plants oil-bearing trees in about 20% of their holding, that would take care of the feedstock requirements of the plant. These plants would also provide supplementary income to the farmers, especially during times of drought. Depending upon the species, the gestation period could vary - between 6 and 10 years.

What are the funding options available? If farmers can grow these areas North of the Goyder line, wouldn’t this provide a new potential similar to the wheat boom in the Flinder Ranges in the 19th century?
The funding for such ventures could come from farmers’ equity, grants by the government, investment by superannuation funds, and loans from banks.

Is Community based funding a good model to look at?
Community based funding is not only desirable, but also sustainable.
If an investor is ready, what is the ROI that you can guarantee and what is the project life?
In the absence of tested data, it would be difficult to guarantee returns. However, the ROI on such projects is estimated to be between 20 - 35% over a period of 30 years.

Where do you see this going in the medium term?
The existing problems would continue for a few more years, but the industry would stabilize in the next 5 years.

• What are the challenges you have faced till now?

Till now, I have faced two challenges
  • procurement of land
  • funding
If our readers want more information regarding this, what are the avenues available? How can you be contacted?
Interested readers can Google Biodiesel, Pongamia and Jatropha. However, most of the information available on the Internet is hypothetical and unreliable. I can be contacted at gs@treeoilsindia.com.

Thanks Sreenivas for sharing your thoughts. We look forward to hearing from you in future on the progress of Treeoils. All the best for future.

Our special thanks to Suhit who allowded us to reproduce this interview from his blog here. We look forward to more coverage and particiapation by Suhit on this portal.

For coverage on other Australian startups, innovation, tech trends check this out and our coverage on interviews can be found here and here

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Docoloco - Local Recommendation Engine

Vishal Friday, March 28, 2008 , , , , , , 1 comments

Today we are showcasing another venture from Melbourne, Australia, Docoloco

Co-Founded by Melbourne boys, Chris Mander and Johnny Cussen, Docoloco - is a community powered online recommendation engine that helps locals find, share and follow the best local businesses. In laymen terms, people can use Docoloco to

  • find recommended local businesses and services,
  • recommend the places they love (or love to hate)
  • and ask friends and other locals to share their recommendations.
Chris Mander, describes:
Today local businesses use Docoloco to:
  • list their business, features and products online free of charge,
  • appear in the top web results on Google,
  • use their loyal customer base to generate new business
  • and attract new customers.
Tomorrow businesses will use Docoloco to:
  • find out a whole lot more about who their customers and competitors really are
  • and deliver highly targeted ads to a local audience.

Let us explore bit more about Docoloco and Chris's journey as an entrepreneur and what his thoughts are on the changing landscape of innovation in Australia. This is what he has to say:

• Please tell us how it started
We both felt that online advertising is too complex and time consuming for small businesses and that small business websites are expensive and usually stagnant which means they gather very little distribution.
As consumers, we're sad that in 2008 consumer reviews are almost entirely absent from the Australian online landscape. That has to change.
So we decided to grease up our elbows and throw our hat in the ring.

• How long it took before it was up and running?
The concept was hatched early on in 2006 with a fury of sketches, diagrams and wireframes. Software development commenced during August 2006 and a 'friends & family' beta version of the site was launched in May 2007.

• What stage of your start-up is, stealth mode, beta mode or fully functional?
The recommendation engine is fully functional and the business marketing tools are still stealthy.

• What is the main objective/mission behind your venture?
To give Australians a better place to go for local business recommendations than the tired old Yellow Pages concept.

• What is unique about your venture?
Docoloco is a collective intelligence platform with an infinitely expandable taxonomy. The structure of the collected intelligence is very effective at matching local search queries in general search engines.

• What market segment verticals you are targeting for?
We are targeting the small business advertising and competitive intelligence markets.

• What type of customers you are targeting ?
Small businesses.

• How many users are using your services?
We currently have more than 500 contributors and ~20,000 unique visitors per month.

• What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
To date we have been focused on product development. We have done no real external communications to date.

• How are you measuring the success of your venture?
The two key metrics we're watching at the moment are recommendations per contributor and search referrals per recommendation. Over time the focus will shift to business account numbers and our ad product sell through for those accounts.

• Are their any special mechanisms/tools are in place to monitor the progress?
We spend a lot of time crunching our standard web usage data with a particular focus on how effective our SEO is. We also monitor key performance metrics through our custom reporting interface.

We are constantly measuring traffic, SEO performance and user behavior to decide on which features to keep, ditch or re-visit.

• What is the monetizing/revenue model? Is their any new model, which is being tried?
We will be offering small business marketing and analytics products.

• Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
Yellowpages.com.au and truelocal are the current leaders in the space.

• What has been the most easy to use, out of box and helpful technology?
OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner and good old fashioned butchers paper. We're product guys - wire-framing, concept mapping and task lists are critical. Ruby and specifically Ruby on Rails fits well with our Agile workflow.

• Are you using lot of open source tool sets for this? What is your operating environment (operating system) and what type of database you are using?
100% open source. The application is developed using Ruby-on-Rails, running on Mongrel clusters, Apache and Ubuntu, our data lives in a MySQL database and search is powered by Ferret which is a ruby port of Lucene. We use a stack of other smaller open source pieces but I think you get the picture.

• How often do you catch up with others trying similar things and where do you catch up. Do you have dedicated communities in your city?
We are constantly in touch with friends and colleagues in the industry and try to attend organised meetups when we can.

We've worked in online and search for a long time so an awful lot of the people we know here and overseas work in the space.

• How much money is needed upfront to start a venture?
The wonderful thing about building web products in an open source economy using commodity hardware is that the bulk of operating costs goes into man-power. Docoloco has been developed entirely by Johnny and I so has required very little cash investment.

We think time is perhaps a bigger factor than money - sometimes one can be independent of the other but it takes a lot of juggling.

• What are the main barriers in general for people start their venture in Australia?
We think the whole ecosystem is underdeveloped in Australia. It's harder to raise capital, there are fewer like minded souls to hang with, and even when we look for bread and butter consulting work our entrepreneurial activities are largely undervalued. Our experience in the US and to a lesser extent the UK is of a different environment. A move to the US is a constant question for us but we think the opportunity in Australia is real and ready so we're determined to push as far as we can here.

• What are your thoughts on the future trends of your service and market segment you are in?
We expect the Australian small business online advertising market to approach $1 billion by 2011 and that small business online advertising spend will follow consumers who are shifting from category based searches on yellowpages to keyword based search on general search engines.

We think that it's unlikely the large search engines will develop a significant and ongoing relationship with consumers in the local recommendations space and that there will be one or two key local players in each market.

• Do you have any advice for people who want to start their venture?
Read this book
Follow Venture Hacks on Twitter
Love what you're doing.

Thanks Chris for sharing your thoughts. We look forward to hearing from you in future on the progress of Docoloco. All the best for future.

For coverage on other Australian startups, innovation, tech trends check this out and our coverage on interviews can be found here and here

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Story of an Aussie Entrepreneur - Mother of 4 and Owns 3 Ventures

Vishal Thursday, March 27, 2008 , , , , , , , , , 4 comments

Today we showcase a story of a woman entrepreneur, mum of 4 and 3 successful ventures under her belt, Meg Tsiamis, founder of dLook, Obits, Aussie Bloggers from Sydney, Australia.

In a candid interview with us, she explained how as a mum and an entrepreneur she is managing and juggling. This is what she has to say in her interview with us :
• Please tell us about yourself, your background and interests?
I guess I’m a bit of a late bloomer. I married at twenty and had my first child at 23. My studies were haphazard, and I finally graduated from Uni when I was 31 and launched straight into graduate studies. A glutton for punishment.

My earlier working life consisted of a range of accounting and administrative type roles. In 2000 I set up a finance brokerage which I grew until I started with the internet ventures.

Interests? Blogging I guess!

• How did you become an entrepreneur, tell us your thought process and how it began?
Quite by accident really! One night my husband was looking for a restaurant so he searched online. He accidentally misspelled the word “restaurant” and got no results. He mentioned it and I thought that was pretty crazy. So it planted the seed to build an Aussie focused directory that would cater for everyone – not just the ones who know how to spell “ophthalmologist”!

You are invloved with 3 ventures ,please tell us how did they start?
There’s dLook – that’s the main focus, Obits, Aussie Bloggers and, of course, my own blog.

During the development process for dLook, a friend of mine died. His family was not from Sydney and I wasn’t sure where to look for the funeral notice or even whether the funeral would be held in Sydney. I tried searching online and was amazed to find that a website that displayed notices from across Australia did not exist. The major daily newspapers do display funeral notices, but these only stay online for a short period of time. It ended up being over three weeks between the death and the funeral which, unfortunately, I missed. That’s when I decided that I should build a website (Obits) that would ideally help people to announce and find funerals easily.

At the beginning of 2007 I became interested in blogs and blogging. The more I wondered around the blogosphere, the more I became interested in discovering new Aussie blogs.

Late last year I approached two bloggers – Snoskred and Andrew Boyd – about the possibility of a community project for Australian bloggers which would involve a group blog and forum. Both of them were really excited about the project and it grew quickly from there.

Tell us bit more about each of them.

dLook


dLook® is an innovative Australian business directory which provides a cost effective and value packed online advertising solution. dLook accepts both free and premium listings and offers functionality rarely found together on other directories.

For advertisers dLook offers a more information page, mapping, generous keyword allowances, multiple category inclusion, up to national coverage and the ability to display discount coupons for their products and services. Additional exposure is also provided by a special purpose mobile search website (dlook.mobi) and display on Vodafone’s Compass search as well as popular search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN.

For consumers dLook boasts useful business reviews, a sophisticated keyword search, the ability to refine searches to postcode only and a unique QuoteMe!® feature allowing consumers to request quotes for products and services from multiple suppliers.

It’s kind of flattering to watch other, more established directories, rolling out our features.

Obits

Obits, as mentioned, displays funeral notices and obituaries. It also encompasses a directory for funeral directors and other businesses involved in the funeral industry. We’ve recently introduced a feature so that visitors can easily (and at no cost) add messages of condolence to each notice. Of course, these messages are strictly moderated.

Aussie Bloggers

Aussie Bloggers encompasses a blog and a forum that helps connect bloggers. It provides a unique space where we can chat with other bloggers, and seek and provide support. Our aim is to “empower, encourage, support and promote Aussie Bloggers and the Australian blogosphere in general”.

In three months it’s grown to over 437 members and around 19,000 messages posted.

How long did it take before each venture was up and running?
dLook took the longest – around a year. Obits took around three months, and Aussie Bloggers - from the first email to the forum launch was just over three weeks.

What market segment verticals you are targeting for?

  • dLook is targeting small to medium businesses.
  • Obits predominantly markets to funeral homes.
  • Aussie Bloggers is relevant for bloggers of any nationality.
What type of customers you are targeting?
  • dLook - any business that is looking to increase online exposure.
  • Obits – anybody looking to announce a death or funeral online, as well as those involved in the industry.
How many people are using your services?
Visitors to the websites really depend on the marketing we are doing. dLook processes up to 2.5 million searches a month, Obits has up to 55,000 visits a month and Aussie Bloggers has had over 30,000 visits this month (to 26th March).

What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
  • dLook advertises on radio, television, print as well as email and fax marketing. Additionally we have had continual online advertising through the major search engines (such as Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing) various affiliate programs and display advertising.
  • Obits has advertised on radio, in print and direct marketing, as well as online through search engine marketing.
  • Aussie Bloggers hasn’t undertaken any paid advertising, but uses social networking and services such as Entrecard.
How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are their any special mechanisms/tools are in place to monitor the progress?
With both dLook and Obits we measure the success by the number of visitors each site is attracting, and the growth in the number of paid advertisers (or notices). We don’t use any special tools – Google Analytics, standard accounting programs and spreadsheets help us monitor the progress.

What is the monetizing/revenue model? Is there any new model, which is being tried?
  • dLook derives the bulk of its income from premium listings. This is supplemented with contextual advertising (Google AdSense) and display (banner) advertising.
  • Obits derives the bulk of its income from funeral notices which are placed directly on the system by the funeral homes. It also has a premium listing service for advertisers and a small amount of (relevant) banner advertising.
  • Aussie Bloggers does not yet have a revenue model. It’s likely we may introduce a premium membership, sell merchandise or advertising or look for sponsorship at some stage this year. The site was not formed with the intention of making a profit, but we will eventually need to look at moving to a dedicated server. Funds raised will go towards covering these costs.
Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
  • dLook sees its main competitors as being Yellow Pages and TrueLocal, although there are a plethora of minor players in the market.
  • Obits does not have a significant competitor providing the same service.
What has been the most easy to use, out of box and helpful technology?
Google Analytics rocks! It provides so much information.
In terms of Aussie Bloggers – WordPress and Simple Machines Forum software.

What are the main technologies used? Are you using a lot of open source tool sets for this?
  • dLook – PHP, Red Hat Linux and postgreSQL (all open source)
  • Obits – PHP, Red Hat Linux and MySQL (all open source)
  • The rest is Top Secret ;)

How often do you catch up with others trying similar things and where do you catch up? Do you have dedicated communities in your city? How have you sought funding?
Not often. I went to a Sydney Stirr last year, and met (among others) Mark Rimmer and Tim Griffin from Rave About It. It was a very useful meeting because we saw a synergy between our two ventures and Rave About It went on to power our business reviews. This was a really handy alliance to make – one that’s been mutually beneficial.

You have 4 children (from 4 to 16) and a few ventures, how do you manage all this?
A lot of support – both family and paid. Now that the youngest is at school it’s a lot easier. It seems to get easier with each child, so by the time I had my youngest I was back at work in just three days. Working predominantly from home also allows a lot more flexibility.

What are your thoughts on being a women entrepreneur? How tough it is to start a venture in Australia especially if you are a woman?
I don’t think my experience has been much different to a man’s. Probably the biggest challenge I’ve faced has been in the funeral industry, which is to a certain extent “closed shop” and more traditional in its values.

What extra challenges are there in Australia?
Well, to start with it’s a much smaller market so the more specific your niche, the smaller the potential customer base. Without expanding overseas there is an obvious ceiling to the growth of the venture. That can be counteracted by releasing local versions abroad, and we are currently assessing those opportunities.

I’ve also heard it’s a lot harder to raise capital in Australia than overseas.

What do you think of new ventures and innovation coming out of Australia?
There is a wealth of local talent, but it’s a shame that we don’t have more local backers. Consequently, I think we lose a lot of talent overseas.

Do you think we can create a new Google in Australia?
I think we could have viable (perhaps even superior) alternatives, but it would be a huge battle for any business wanting to go head to head with Google. I think it’s fairly entrenched in most people’s
daily lives, and the more they innovate and diversify, the tighter the stranglehold.

What Government resources have you used to help your business? And have they made an impact?
We haven't utilised any Government resources.

What do you think government (federal and state) should do to improve the culture of innovation?
State & Federal governments have made it their business to stifle the creativity of innovative Australians. In the end it is left up to the likes of "The New Inventors" (ABC), and high risk investors (aka venture capitalists or sharks) to foster innovation in this country. Government should have a Minister for Innovation with the express mandate of encouraging innovation within VERY wide guidelines. Sure, a large percentage of what is presented ends up in the "didn't work that well" basket but the remainder is what will establish Australia as the SMART Lucky Country. Why do so many talented Aussies end up overseas, and our innovation being fostered there?


Definitely, tax incentives would help as well.

At the 2020 conference, PM Kevin Rudd is meeting with top 1000 people from different background to discuss and collaborate on the issues facing the nation. What issues would you like to raise if you are given a opportunity to attend?
Well, I actually have to wonder whether anything will be achieved at the the 2020 summit.

Do you have any advice/message for people, especially women, who want to start their venture?

Make sure that you’ve got solid financial backing – perhaps your own savings, o
r other support. The last thing you need is the distraction of financial concerns. Learn your market inside out, and then keep learning. Watch what your competitors are doing, and not doing. Adding value to your product or service and differentiating it in some way can be the make or break of your business idea.

Thanks Meg for sharing your thoughts. We look forward to hearing
from you in future on the progress of dLook,Obits, Aussie Bloggers. All the best for future.

For coverage on other Australian startups, innovation, tech trends check this out and our coverage on interviews can be found here

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Kahuna Bay - A Story of a Young Woman Entrepreneur

Vishal Tuesday, March 25, 2008 , , , , , 0 comments

Today we showcase a story of a young woman entrepreneur, Susie Hambleton, founder of Kahuna Bay, from Gold Coast, Australia.

Kahuna Bay - is a brand of tropical styled homewares and accessories. The Kahuna Bay products are sold in boutiques and homewares stores in Australia as well as online in the web boutique. The products are made from natural materials such as sea shell, mango wood, sandstone, mother of pearl, freshwater pearls and silk.

We explored bit further about Susie and her journey as a woman entrepreneur. This is what she has to say in her interview with us:

• Please tell us about yourself, your background and interests?
I live on the Gold Coast. I am Australian but grew up in California. I have an MBA from California State University and a Bachelors in Management and Marketing. When I’m not consumed with my business…you’ll usually find me at the beach, in yoga class or hanging out with friends. I’m learning to surf and always surround myself with people.

The first decade of my business career I worked in financial sales, then I was a business studies lecturer, and moved into corporate communication and marketing. In my late twenties I quit my job and started a homewares and café boutique in Brisbane. After three years, I sold the business. I always knew the boutique was going to be a launching pad for something bigger…I called it my retail uni.

It was there that I gained knowledge of the retail and wholesale homewares industry and decided to start the Kahuna Bay brand.

Tell us how it started?
I went over to Asia and spent seven weeks looking for factories that could manufacture my products.

What is the main objective/mission behind your venture?
My main objective is to create a great brand that means style and quality with inspiration from the tropics while at the same time having fun in the venture.

How long it took before it was up and running?
I started Kahuna Bay in March 2007. It took about seven months to set up the manufacturing, develop the website content, organise international shipping, and create a sales system.

What services it provides it for consumer or customers?
Kahuna Bay provides gorgeous products for the home such as vases, photo frames, candle holders and accessories like jewellery and silk scarves.

What market segment verticals are you targeting?

  • I am targeting boutique homewares and giftware shops that are independently owned in Australia.
  • The secondary target is individual customers shopping online for tropical and coastal style décor.
What type of customers you are targeting?
The end user of my products are usually affluent women between the ages of 30-50. Many love tropical style or beach style decorating and enjoy products made from natural materials. They are very into style and decorating their home is important to them.

How many people are using your services?
  • There are about 30 stores stocking the Kahuna Bay brand in Australia with numerous end users.
  • People shop online, but this is not my primary focus. I have recently deleted over ½ the products online in order to streamline the business.
  • I would like to see the number of stores stocking the brand triple in the next year.

What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
The most effective marketing as been a personal approach and that means setting up meetings and showing the product range. I have two sales reps as well as myself who represent the brand to prospective clients and service existing customers.
I have also used:
  • Google Adwords
  • National advertising in House & Garden magazine and Real Living magazine
  • Shopping Centre counter to generate customer interest as well as test the market reaction to the products and set realistic prices
  • Direct Mail
  • E-mail campaign
  • Decorating website community Coastal Living- by participating there I had more success than Google Adwords results.
  • The brand will be launched to a wider market at a buying trade show in Melbourne in July/August 2008.
How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are their any special mechanisms/tools are in place to monitor the progress?
I am measuring success by repeat store orders and qualitative feedback from store clients as well as end user feedback. I am using a customer database that tracks store orders as well as look at trends and room for growth.

What is the monetizing/revenue model? Is their any new model, which is being tried?
Product sales. Nope…just an old fashioned model of buying and selling.

Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
There are many brand competitors. But I have chosen a product niche that was different in the Australian market and entered the market with competitive prices. I approach the market from the retailers perspective, harnessing my experience owning a boutique.

What are the main technologies used behind this start-up?
The website is based on CubeCart, its pretty easy to get going but its not perfect.

What has been the most easy to use, out of box and helpful technology?
For sure CubeCart and my customer database by Simply Contacts.

How often do you catch up with others trying similar things and where do you catch up? Do you have dedicated communities in your city?
No formal networking…just informal. There is a local bloggers group and I have used Twitter to link in with other entrepreneurs. I tend to meet other entrepreneurs when I travel to international trade shows.

What’s your thought on being a women entrepreneur?
How tough it is to start a venture in Australia esp if you are a woman?
  • The homewares industry is a natural for a woman to be involved in. In my opinion I haven’t faced any harder challenges than a man would face in Australia.
  • I think some people are surprised by what I do… because I’m a female, but it could be that its unusual. They are more surprised that I travel on my own and have set up my Asian networks alone.
  • I probably have encountered more obstacles in Asia being a female…but I have been able to work through each issue as they come along. I just try and take it one step at a time.
Which city in Australia is more vibrant and can be regarded as Silicon Valley of Australia?

It seems there is a lot of activity in Sydney.

What do you think of new ventures and innovation coming out of Australia?
I think some Australians are very innovative. I get excited by new ventures and love meeting other entrepreneurs.

What do you think of our TAFE/Universities and their curriculum in terms of promoting and encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation?
I wasn’t educated in Australia, so I don’t know if I should comment. Although university helped, nothing could really prepare me for having a business like having a business does. Having your own business can be an obstacle course of extreme highs and lows. You have to be a risk taker as well as a good juggler. You have to learn to cope with anxiety and be better than others. Most importantly you must believe in your business ideas more than anyone else, even when other people are doubting you. I think real entrepreneurs should be the ones teaching innovation and business. You can only teach it if you’ve experienced it.

Have you sought any funding?
No, Self-funded


What do you think government (federal and state) should do to improve the culture of innovation?
Besides grant matching programs or reduced rate loans, I would love to see the government put in place useful initiatives at the local State Development offices…more than just business planning. Wouldn’t it be great if they did free seminars, networking and share space. What if there was a share space for entrepreneurs added to local libraries?

At the 2020 conference, PM Kevin Rudd is meeting with top 1000 people from different background to discuss and collaborate on the issues facing the
nation. What issues would you like to raise if you are given a opportunity to attend?
I think issues of drugs, domestic violence, depression, high cost of living and troubled kids are all really important issues.

Do you have any advice/message for people, esp; women, who want to start their venture?

If you are thinking about a business, but don’t know where to begin, start a journal. Before I started both businesses I had a journal where I sketched out what I wanted until it became very clear. Documenting my thoughts really helped me create a clear path of what I wanted and what the business concept was. Using word concepts or drawing pictures is great.

When you do decide to start the business you must realise it is going to be hard w
ork. You will be working all the time and much harder than in a 9 to 5 job. Its not an early retirement and people will doubt you. Stay clear on your focused goal and just go for it. Once you start you have to know your in it for the long term. Keep visualising how you will feel once you achieve your goal and reward yourself for progress.

Thanks Susie for sharing your thoughts. We look forward to hearing from you in future on the progress of Kahuna Bay. All the best for Kahuna Bay.

For coverage on other Australian startups/innovation/tech trends check this.

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BeamMe.Info

Vishal Sunday, March 23, 2008 , , , , , , 0 comments

VS Consulting Group, Business Development, Strategic Planning, Technology TrendsToday we are covering a new startup in mobile and advertising space - BeamMe.Info

Co founded by, Alex Macpherson, Brad Down, Tim Murray, in 2007, BeamMe.Info is a web platform that allows website owners to add a Send to Mobile button alongside relevant and valuable content their visitors/users might be looking for. Perfect for desktop web users looking for promotional codes, address listings, event times and places, transport confo's, product info, etc. Rather than printing it out or writing it down, its a simple click and send function that sends the required info to your phone via SMS. Also perfect for the delivery of mobile urls to drive traffic to mobile web assets, while users are on the go. There is also a powerful ad-supported model that allows website owners to turn the SMS expense into a revenue opportunity by allowing targeting and relevant advertising messages on the bottom of their Beams. This is a compelling new channel for advertisers to open up a conversation with potential customers direct into their mobile handset alongside valued content requested moments before.
Let us explore bit more about Alex, his journey as being an entrepreneur and changing landscape of innovation in Australia.

• Stage:VS Consulting Group, Business Development, Strategic Planning, Technology Trends
Public Beta

• Objectives
:
To allow web users to get information to their phone, when and where they want it.

• Unique point:
First free to user, free to set up button of its type in Australia

• Business Model :
BeamMe.Info takes a small clip on the cost of each SMS sent via the system.

  • For Users the service is free, and no registration is required.
  • For Website Owners, there are no set up or account fees, they only pay for the actual SMS usage in any given month. Or if electing for the ad-supported model, the expense is negated by the advertising proceeds.
  • For Advertisers, a competitive bidding process takes place. The proceeds cover the SMS expense and any proceeds above transmission costs are split between website owners, affiliates and BeamMe.Info
Customer Type:
No specific set, just people on-line looking for information

• Major Customers:

• Age Benefit:
Predominantly a younger age set, but anyone who can use basic web and SMS is fine.

• Users:
100 clients, 10,000 users to date.

• Marketing:
All PR based, and the button advertises itself on client sitesVS Consulting Group, Business Development, Strategic Planning, Technology Trends

• Funding Stage:
Angel, raised $0.5million AUD in Sep 0.7, Passively seeking next stage funding.

• Technology:
PHP, MySQL, Ajax, JavaScript.

• Hosting:
Media Temple CA, USA

• Catch up with others doing similar thing: Not often, there are not that many players. Perhaps only Campaign Mobile and Share This

• What's your thought on being an entrepreneur? How tough it is to start a venture in Australia?
In short, I love it. I don't think starting a venture here is any more or less difficult than anywhere else in the world. You are met with more or less the same risks and challenges. However Australian investors tend to be more risk averse by nature and tend not to see as much blue sky as their US counterparts. As such funding rounds and growth profiles tend to be less aggressive.

• Which city in Australia is more vibrant and can be regarded as Silicon Valley of Australia?
I don't think we really have a central hub of tech here in Oz. I am seeing all sorts of tech ventures coming from all our centres.

• What do you think of new ventures and innovation coming out of Australia?
Not to bad given we are a relatively small marketplace in a global context. However still some room to move and improve.

• What do you think of our TAFE/Universities and their curriculum in terms of promoting and encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation?
Its been a while since I studied, and although the material back then was reasonable, there was never really much of that get up and do it yourself entrepreneurial spirit. I don't think you really get inspired by the nature or quality of material in a given curriculum, moreso the person delivering the information to you, and I was not fortunate enough to encounter any of those rare lecturers or teachers that inspired me that way.

• What do you think government (federal and state) should do to improve the culture of innovation?
First and fore-mostly, sort out the construction of a high speed broadband network as soon as possible.

• At the 2020 conference, PM Kevin Rudd is meeting with top 1000 people from different background to discuss and collaborate on the issues facing the nation. What issues would you like to raise if you are given a opportunity to attend?
The single biggest issue in my mind is our approach to Global Warming and the environment. We and our leaders need to rapidly move past our 'self interest prevails' mindset and gain some traction with emissions reduction. The cost of doing nothing will be far greater than any cost we will endure now, and we need some robust, flexible and lasting leadership on making the required changes as a matter of top priority.

• Advice for people starting up:
Fasten your seatbelt! Its quite a ride. Be sure to get revenue in the door as soon as possible.

Thanks Alex for sharing your thoughts. We look forward to hear from you in future on the progress of BeamMe.Info. All the best for BeamMe.Info.

For coverage on other Australian startups/innovation/tech trends check this.

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MomentVille

Vishal Sunday, March 23, 2008 , , , , , , , 0 comments

Today we cover a new startup MomentVille. If you are planning for a wedding then you might want to look at this site.

Founded by Geoff Evason, MomentVille is a free, stylish, and easy to use personal wedding website builder. It's main aim is to help people share, plan, and remember life’s special moments.

Geoff describes:
I was looking to build a wedding website. I was unable to find one that was free, fun, and easy to use. I also disliked the fact that most wedding websites charge excessive prices simply because there is a wedding!. So the core team built MomentVille from the ground up making sure it was free, easy and fun!

Let us learn bit more about Geoff, his journey as being an entrepreneur and changing landscape of innovation in Australia.

• Please tell us about yourself, your background and interests?
Geoff has experience in a range of companies including startups, and medium and large companies. Geoff’s major interest is in using technology to help make life better. He believes that technology should just work, should be easy to use, should save you time, should make things easier, and should help you enjoy your life more.

• How long it took before it was up and running?
From concept to launch took 8 months.

• What services it provides it for consumer or customers?
Users can quickly and easily build their own wedding website on MomentVille.com. A website can be created in under 1 minute. Personalizing a website is a breeze. Users can edit text in place just by clicking on it, drag and drop elements around the page, and change themes instantly. MomentVille is the easiest to use personal website builder.

• What market segment verticals you are targeting for?
Recently engaged or married couples are the target market at present.

• What type of customers you are targeting and many people are using your services?
In just over 6 months MomentVille has over 7000 registered users and websites.

• What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
The primary marketing is through google adwords and facebook ads.

• How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are their any special mechanisms/tools are in place to monitor the progress?
Our backend system keeps track of a range of performance indicators. Some of the key ones are:

  • Number of websites
  • Visits per website by website owner, and by guests
• What is the monetizing/revenue model? Is their any new model, which is being tried?
MomentVille.com offers both premium and free wedding websites.
  • Free websites are ad supported.
  • Premium websites have extra features and are available for a 1 time cost.
• Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
There are several existing online wedding website builders.
  • The biggest of these is ewedding.com.
  • Other popular wedding website builders include weddingwindow.com and wedorama.com.
• What is unique about your venture?
MomentVille is the best wedding website builder around. There are 4 key distinctions that make it stronger than any existing competitors.
  • It’s Free: MomentVille offers a free website
  • It Never Expires: Your memories will last forever, so should your website.
  • It’s Green: MomentVille embraces the view that the world should be left healthy for future generations and hence operates carbon neutral websites.
  • It’s the Easiest To Use: There is no comparison to other wedding websites. MomentVille is the only wedding website to embrace web 2.0 principles, AJAX, and 3rd party widgets. There is virtually no limit to what users can do on MomentVille.
• What are the main technologies used behind this start-up?
The website was built using Ruby On Rails and uses a lot of AJAX.

• What has been the most easy to use, out of box and helpful technology?
The web platform Ruby On Rails sped up development drastically.

• Are you using lot of open source tool sets for this?
Open source tools are used almost exclusively. These include Linux, MySQL, and Ruby on Rails.

• What is your operating environment (operating system) and what type of database you are using?
MomentVille.com runs on linux and uses Ruby On Rails and MySQL.

• How often do you catch up with others trying similar things and where do you catch up? Do you have dedicated communities in your city?
There is a regular (monthly) Ruby On Rails meet up in Sydney. We are constantly on the lookout for a similar meet up for entrepreneurs.

• What’s your thought on being an entrepreneur? How tough it is to start a venture in Australia?
Having lived in various countries I don’t believe that starting a venture in Australia is any harder than other western countries. It takes vision, determination and hard work.

• Which city in Australia is more vibrant and can be regarded as Silicon Valley of Australia?
All cities in Australia are vibrant, but I highly regard Sydney’s resources, hi tech community, and excellent work-life balance.

• What do you think of new ventures and innovation coming out of Australia?
I think the geographic isolation is continually becoming less of a roadblock as online technology makes starting a business from anywhere easier.

• What do you think of our TAFE/Universities and their curriculum in terms of promoting and encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation?
I cannot comment on this as I was schooled in North America.

• What do you think government (federal and state) should do to improve the culture of innovation?
More grants and tax incentives and an easier to navigate grant system would further improve innovation.

• At the 2020 conference, PM Kevin Rudd is meeting with top 1000 people from different background to discuss and collaborate on the issues facing the nation. What issues would you like to raise if you are given a opportunity to attend?
I think the 3 main issues that ought to be discussed are climate, education, and infrastructure.
  • Climate is important for obvious reasons.
  • Australians both young and old need to continue learn and adapt to a fast-paced economy; learning how to pass tests is insufficient.
  • Finally, Australia must embrace and drive innovation, especially in technology infrastructure, to establish itself as a leader in the world.
Do you have any advice for people who want to start their venture?
Work hard. Work smart. Don’t give up. Seek help and advice. Use the product/service you are offering. Release early and constantly try to improve your product and your processes.

Thanks Geoff for sharing your thoughts. We look forward to hear from you in future on the progress of Momentville. All the best for Momentville.

For coverage on other Australian startups/innovation/tech trends check this.


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Summary - Australian Startups Carnival 2008

Vishal Saturday, March 22, 2008 , , , , 0 comments

startups, carnival australia, strategic planning, business development, ventures Australian Startups Carnival 2008 is over now. Our coverage is continuing and expanding. This post is all about summarizing and providing all necessary links for people who want to read about the carnival. The necessary links are:

I hope this helps everyone

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Clickfind

Vishal Friday, March 21, 2008 , , , , 2 comments

As part of our ongoing efforts of providing more exposure to startups coming out of Australia and help them today were are going to showcase Clickfind™.

Founded by Carolyn King and Taco Fleur, Clickfind™, is an online business directory that charges a monthly fee to businesses who list their products and services. Established for the Australian marketplace, its intellectual property is owned by clickfind Pty Ltd which means the clickfind™ technology and brand can also be licensed to international markets.

Taco one of the co-founders describes:

The idea of clickfind came about when we wanted to list our own businesses in business directories, one of them being the Yellow Pages. We had an experience that left a bad taste in our mouth, an empty wallet and no results. Thats when we decided to create a business directory/search engine for Australia that is different and excels in the areas others don't.

Let us explore bit more about Clickfind and how they are progressing:

• How long it took to get up and running?
The business was set up in mid 2007. Business scoping, brand design and web development took approximately six months and clickfind™ was launched as a fully funct
ional website in December 2007. It is Australian owned, run and managed by an experienced, enthusiastic team based in Brisbane. Clickfind’s aim is to become the best business search engine in Australia and become the definitive source for all of Australia’s over 2 million registered businesses.


• What is unique about clickfind?
  • Comprehensive listings: Unlike other directories or search engines, clickfind™ allows a business to add individual listings for each of their products and services (up to 500 of them), as well as basic business info. This allows a business to create a complete online product catalogue which can be shared and syndicated in several ways. A clickfind listing can also act as a mini-website for small or start-up businesses, and a business can have its own unique URL.
  • SEO performance: As well as being a self-contained directory, clickfind™ has been built to optimize performance in external search engines (such as Google) and drive traffic to clickfind™ customers’ websites. Other directories don’t utilise search engine optimization (SEO) techniques in this valuable way.
  • No advertising: clickfind™ does not display any paid advertising (banners). Other sites often display ads of competitors next to business listings, reducing the effectiveness of the listing. They also offer premium listings, which means the most relevant results are often not shown first. Instead, clickfind™ focuses on making the users’ search as useful and relevant as possible.
  • Genuine Aussie businesses: only businesses with a valid ABN are listed on clickfind. This means users will know they’re dealing with a local business (unlike those often found via search engines).
  • Additional unique services: clickfind™ includes a number of additional features not found in other directories, including a wiki-like article sharing feature, free email service, postcode finder, and maps with driving directions. These features are either already available or under development, and other features are in the pipeline. The aim of these services is to increase clickfind’s overall value and usefulness, driving more traffic and thus more revenue.
• What is your target market?
There are two main target markets, which overlap to some extent:
  • Owners/managers of Australian registered businesses: mostly small/medium businesses, but can include marketing/IT managers of larger corporations
  • The general public: anyone looking for products or services in Australia. Could include international audiences, but primarily targeted at people living in Australia
Another target market is people involved in internet marketing. This can include SEO experts, web designers, copywriters, bloggers and marketing professionals. These people are in a position to influence business owners and recommend clickfind listings as part of a cohesive marketing strategy.
To address the overlap in these audiences, clickfind’s marketing strategy is multi-pronged:
  • get the general public to use the website and realise how useful it is, so that they will then advertise their own business (whether they own one, or work for one)
  • get business owners on board, stressing the competitive advantage they will gain, and encourage them to use the website to find products/services for their own use establish the clickfind brand in Australia and raise awareness of what it is.
Australia, Startup, VS Consulting Group,Tehnology Trends, Strategic Planning, Business Development  What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
Clickfind™ is in the process of reviewing its marketing strategy, bearing in mind the two main target audiences and both current and long term business priorities. So far all the marketing has been online: Google ads, email campaigns, blogs, press releases and the website itself. Following recent PR, interest in clickfind™ is growing, but direct approaches to businesses have yet to pay off in listing sales.
Marketing channels under consideration (or in progress) include:
  • Advertisements in publications read by small-medium business owners
  • Regional radio advertising
  • Viral email campaign
  • TV advertising to promote the brand to the general public
  • Ongoing SEO optimization of the clickfind™ website and blogs
  • Press releases through several channels, including AAP
  • Referral campaigns
These are the some of staistics available at mid-March 2008, with no investment in online advertising.


Statistics

Todate

No. of unique website visitors (in 1 month)

10,696

% of returning visitors

10%

No. of page views (in 1 month)

30,322

No. of businesses listed

4,105

No. of products listed

12,694

No. of services listed

2,035

No. of listings viewed (from launch)

273,000

No. of clickfind pages indexed on Google

26,300

No. of visitors who come to clickfind from Google

6,233

Visitors from Google as a percentage of pages indexed

23.7%

%. of visitors who come to clickfind from Google

66.03%


How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are their any special mechanisms/tools are in place to monitor the progress?
We are using Google Analytics to measure site stats and conversion rate. We also have created our in-house stats to measure success. One of the things main things we're keeping track of is the number of enquiries businesses receive, which is something we see increasing every week. In the end its all about businesses getting enquiries, enquiries turning into sales. Our customers will be happy and stay with us. In short, if business enquiries keep rising, we will be successful.

• Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
Clickfind’s main competitors are local directories:
  • Truelocal (owned by News Limited)
  • Mylocal (owned by Microsoft, has business association with Yellow Pages)
  • Yellow Pages (owned by Sensis / Telstra)
  • Google Business Center

What are your thoughts on the future trends of your service and market segment you are in?
With more and more businesses moving to online advertising, our market will only grow and we'll be offering more services like; affiliate marketing, permission marketing etc.

• What are the main technologies used behind this start-up?

  • ColdFusion
  • MS SQL Server
  • Windows OS
ColdFusion allowed us to rapidly develop the application within 6 months.

What has been the most easy to use, out of box and helpful technology?
ColdFusion has been the most helpful to us in regards to development of the site. Its a rapid application development tool with lots of extra features, like fancy flash graphs on the fly and PDF creation to mention just a few.

• How much money is needed for the start-up?
We are actively looking for investment to take the business to the next level.

What are the main barriers in general for people start their venture in Australia.
I believe the main barrier is raising capital and getting media exposure. We've been trying to break through with paid wire services that distribute our Press Releases, but nothing major has been picked up or used.

Thanks Taco for sharing your thoughts. We look forward to hear from you in future on the progress of Clickfind. All the best for Clickfind.

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Thanks

Vishal Wednesday, March 19, 2008 , , , , 0 comments

Australia, Startup, Technology Consulting, VS Consulting Group First of all, we would like to thank all who particiapted in this carnival, participants, our elite panel of Judges , our sponsors, CeBIT Australia, which is our major sponsor, SmartPath, Cagora, and BuiltWith and our readers. This has been a great exercise for all of us involved. Our efforts has been received well everywhere whom we have contacted and or those who have contacted us or given a feedback.

As we have said we want to expand our coverage in areas like IT (Enterprise, Product, Opensource, SAAS, eCommerce,)/Telecom (Mobile, OSS/BSS), Media (News, Social Networking), Marketing/Branding, Green Tech (Sustainability, Carbon trading), R&D. So continuing that commitment we are expanding and making some head ways in that direction.

As part of our ongoing efforts of providing more exposure to startups coming out of Australia and help them, CeBIT Australia is interested in talking to all of you and would like to contact you in regards to upcoming Transaction2.0 conference being organized, solely aimed at new startups.

On our front what we are doing, well:

  • We are going to keep this portal as it is and will further expand on this covergae. Soon 3 more profiles will be published in coming days.
  • We are also conducting interviews with people who started their startup but now have a matured business, CEO's, Media Personalities, Philanthropists, VC's in coming weeks and will be pubslished here and shared with all of you.
  • We are in the process of compiling a report on the feedback/data gathered/other sources to present whats happening in IT/Telecom/Innovation/Ventures/VC's in Australia and will be posted on the portal in commng weeks.
  • From VS Consulting Group's behalf Vishal has been invited to CeBIT Australia and he hope's to see and meet you all in person, if you are going there and meet new people.
We are trying our best to learn/share/help about new ventures and if you have any feedback, suggestions or tips please feel free to contact us.

Also we do advise please keep this portals feed and Vishal's blog feed subscribed to know what's happening.

Image credit: Above Image is used from Stampit

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