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I just read some good insights on the Aussie startup scene downunder, from Airtree VC partner John Henderson  :

http://www.businessinsider.com.au/a-top-executive-explains-whats-missing-from-australias-tech-startup-scene-2017-2

My own take on this is  –  RECYCLE talent, more.

We somehow need to reach a kind of critical mass of local success, so we have a sustainable “pyramid” of biz / tech / investment talent.

In Silicon Valley and even Berlin, as soon as startup X tanks [or exits], the people who worked there – devs, sysops, seo marketers, finance, bizdev, CXOs, managers, investors, scientists – move on to other startups and so are “recycled” back into the pyramid of special startup knowledge, experience and talent.

In startups, this is a vastly more important process than in normal business, because the tech and biz approach of early high-growth startups is fairly unique, and because its well known that all the economic benefit comes from the few successes – so there will be a lot of failures, and it would be really costly to waste all that experience / investment in time.   If people with startup experience move on to ‘normal’ business environments, instead of being able to move into another startup, its a massive loss.

One side effect of not having this self-replenishing Pyramid, is knowing both sides – techs who know biz, and entrepreneurs that know some code, founders who can wear both hats.   Aussie founders often have a view of tech as purely a cost center –  a pain point to outsource, a necessary evil – rather they should see it as core business, an area to innovate, to generate business ideas, a channel to the customer, a means to delight users, and a way to project power at scale.  I really think this is holding us back.

To get to this Pyramid, one thing we have to do is find more efficient ways to recycle talent – just get people to flow into the next thing, instead of a deep dive of depression and naval gazing about how we did the wrong thing and that’s why it tanked.  Do the painful postmortem blog post, learn and move on.. heal while your working on the next thing.  Recycle what you can – code as open source, your team into an acqui-hire or other startups via intros to people you know, even competitors.  Slava Akhmechet, founder of RethinkDB,  was totally classy in the way he did this.

There’s a scene in one of those bad Vin Diesel movies, where Vins getting stared down by some bigger punk and he says “500” … pause … punk asks “500 whadd ?” .. Diesel retorts “500 fights.. it takes 500 street fights to learn the craft”  .. or something to that effect.

Maybe we need to wear our failed startups as a sign of pride, a tattoo to show off .. because a failed startup is going to teach a developer or entrepreneur an incredible amount in a short space of time – its the perfect learning environment, where you are engaged, get to use cool stuff, change hats, have mutable roles, and are challenged beyond your comfort zone on a daily basis.

We could be getting close in Melbourne and Sydney to that magic number, be it 500 or otherwise, where we have enough of a pyramid of talent to fuel a viable startup ecosystem.  recycle, dammit.

collabapi_infographic_20141105.v2

Builders Invoice Mobile App

Lets say we want to create an app for a home Builder / Carpenter – they need to quickly make up an invoice on their mobile tablet, while onsite at a job.

The different things to keep track of are :

  • Customer
  • Job / Invoice
  • Invoice Line Item
  • Product

 

Step 1 : Define the ‘DataModel’

We define all the properties for each of these :

  • Customer : Name, Address, Phone
  • JobInvoice : Date, Description, link to a Customer, list of InvoiceLines
  • InvoiceLine : a Product, an Amount, a Cost Total
  • Product : Name, Description, CostPerUnit, Units, Photo

I’ve shown the relations in bold, where one item refers to another item.

 

Step 2 : Run the App

So you just click thru and define the ‘DataModel’ above, and then you can run the app and try it out immediately.

For this Builders Invoice datamodel, the app looks like this :

 

Screenshot from 2014-09-02 19:51:34

 

Screenshot from 2014-09-02 19:51:53

Screenshot from 2014-09-02 19:52:27

 

Quick and Iterative

The immediate feedback is really useful.  You can show a user, get them to try it and give feedback.  You can try out different models and see which fits their business better.

This iterative approach really helps to reduce risk and cost in developing an app.

 

Any Datamodel

We could have picked any domain and modeled it in the same way with CollabAPI.  Its not about Invoices .. its about making an app to fit your particular business : quickly and iteratively.

If your business finds it helpful to have a photo in each InvoiceLine, to give the customer more insight into the Job .. so be it.

When you business changes, you can change the datamodel to fit the new circumstance.

I hope you’ll agree, CollabAPI takes a pretty radical, and yet very practical approach.

gocanvas.com is great : you can create form apps for your business without programming.

Replacing paper with mobile touchscreen and having your data in the cloud is such a big win… BUT there are a couple of crucial missing pieces that are vital to business  :

  • more than one kind of thing !
  • relationships between things

 

The Problem

In real life and in business, there are a few different kinds of things, such as :

  • Customer
  • Address
  • Vehicle
  • Branch
  • Product
  • Invoice
  • Event
  • Group
  • Project
  • Property
  • Contract
  • Supplier
  • Shipment
  • Task

And these things have important relationships between them : A Customer may have several site Addresses.  A Job may have several different kinds of Checklist attached.  An Invoice will have several Products for each Job for a Customer .. and so it goes.

 

Relations

A good app [ mobile or otherwise ] will have a data-model that reflects the REALITY of your business, and it will be flexible enough to handle the relationships between the data items.

diagram_consult

This is the old-school database stuff they figured out in 1940, which has been the staple of business IT for the past 60 years – they call them ‘Relational’ databases for a reason.

These days we want more flexible data, there is the whole NoSQL movement, key-value stores, XML and JSON.  To model reality and business we need natural tree and graph structures, not everything is a table.  Just dont throw away the baby with the bathwater : we need relations.

If you don’t have Relations you cant do the fun stuff :

  • one to many [ Comment Wall can have many Posts ]
  • trees and heirarchies [ Deep Product Catalog, Organization chart ]
  • graphs and social networks [ facebook, linkedin, crm, sales ]
  • people interacting [ messaging ]

This lack of relationships is killer for IT departments – they cant run a retail business or a supply chain or a sales organisation or a manufacturing plant without this flexibility.  Its also killer for startups exploring new business models who need an app to manage their operations or customer needs accurately and in a flexible way.

 

The Solution : Relations

The solution is to have a tool that is great for making forms… but is also great for handling relations between different kinds of things.

We need some deeper engineering that allows you to link things together,  so you can build these kinds of real apps for business :

  • Product Catalog
  • Topic Wall with Comments
  • Invoices where you can select existing products, or add a new one
  • Jobs that can be assigned to different stakeholders
  • Flexible forms with multiple sub-clauses [ Property report with any number of rooms ]
  • Social Network features …

 

Its early days, but this part we got right from the start – CollabAPI does support relations.

This means we can create apps for real business scenarios :

  • a custom CRM
  • sales business social network
  • a manufacturing process workflow
  • a real-estate property management system

 CollabAPI Beta

If you’d like to be on the beta list to try CollabAPI App Builder tool for your business mobile app… get in touch.

The more Things and Relations your app has, the better !

gord

justgord at gmail dotcom

Havent posted for a good while.. been incredibly busy working on a side project which seems to have a life of its own.

Collabapi.com is not quite ready for release, but I’ve been using it to get real work done for a while.  Its basically a much quicker way to develop data centric apps.  This kind of app is useful for tracking all the information you need to run a business well – the stuff that goes on paper / word / excel forms.  It would be great if there was a quick way to make it mobile / web and have the data in electronic format from the get-go so you could search it more easily and so on.

Example App :  Gym Membership Sales Pipeline

We can start by making a form each for our Salespeople, and our potential Customers.  I configure up the data model in the App Designer for these, save those changes… then the app comes up on web and tablet straight away :

ca_quicksales_salesperson

ca_quicksales_customer_profile

I did this by configuring the fields, checkbox items etc, and the app reflects this ‘datamodel’  : 

ca_designer_quicksales_cust_profile

Apparently there’s a sales-cycle thing we want to keep track of –

  • initial contact
  • see if the customers interested
  • what are their goals
  • book a meeting
  • get them to signup
  • success! happiness! cash!

So here’s a go at modeling up a sales call…


ca_quicksales_sales_call

… hmm, promising and a good place to start, I can actually put that in front of the Gym Owner and her Chief Sales Maven, and they can try it out on the web or on their tablet device.

so.. collabapi.com

The point of this article is not to say ‘you can do apps real quick in Collabapi’ … which is kinda true.

The coolness is really just the way we can iterate and experiment : get something out there quickly and get the users to make suggestions.  

Its more of a GSD or MVP / lean-startup approach to making apps.  Its not just for business apps, but I think it will be really handy for business … putting the love back into the ‘small-data’ that’s important to most people.

I’ll talk a bit about the technology under the hood at some stage – and there is a lot of tech under the hood – but for now, that’s a good place to pause and have a cup of tea :]

cheers,  gord.

justgord at gmail dotcom

So I thought about how well Angel Investors and Startups mesh and ‘hook-up’ :

I think the whole space of Angel Investing is ripe for disruption.. I think we’re sitting in a local minimum, when there is a much more optimal way to do this.

From the Investor side : Paul Graham observes that YCombinator backs a group of good founders, knowing its high risk and that one or two in the group will succeed wildly and pay back the others who will grow modestly or fail..and there is no way to know which one that will be.

From the startups point of view : Crowd-funding via IndieGogo and KickStarter are probably a much more accessible way to get that initial funding to develop an MVP, do market validation and launch. The TIME overhead for a startup to find a good angel investor is likely not worth it in many cases.

Most investors want to invest at vastly larger amounts than early stage startups need. Its an impedance mismatch that prevents deal flow for both sides.

So I think we will move in the next one or two years to a crowd-sourced angel investment model that’s something like this :

– social website for startups to present, like Kickstarter
– first 30 investors fund at say $2000 per 1% equity
– standard terms : legal agreement, company setup
– platform takes admin costs of say 5% to 15%
– platform assists discussion for mentoring, progress, milestones, further rounds

AngelList is already doing something like this, but it needs to be even simpler and cheaper in time cost to participate.

As an entrepreneur I see just this huge mismatch between the investors on the Buy side and startups on the Sell side. But this problem is solvable : it has been addressed before in the case of farmers selling corn or hogs and buying barrels of oil. The solution is to make a market with standard terms and open it up so people can trade more efficiently.

Facts back up this assertion – there are so many startup hubs popping up everywhere to fill this gap and impedance match between money and startups … but I think we need to go further and standardize that into an open platform.

This is not just an idea for me.. I have skin in the game. I believe my own startup GridMaths.com has potential to be of great social good in helping students learn Math in a deeper more visual way, and I believe it can do this and make orders of magnitude more money back for investors.

I’d like to think some benevolent Aunt in Utah who has saved her pennies could back a company that helps her niece improve her Math : if she has 5$ to buy the app she can do that, if she has $5000 or $50000 and wants to take a stake in the company to make it great, there should be a way for her to do that too. But at the moment, she cant do that directly.. she would have to wait until everything is set in concrete 10 years down the track, when the innovation is all but over and the company has 500 staff and launches an IPO.

Capitalism needs to evolve, to become fine grained, and with that change our economies will become more stable and less brittle in the process.

This could be a way to disperse the large amounts of cash waiting to invest, and at the same time bring the Angels back to Angel Investing.

I get the feeling a lot of people are surprised when they find out you can _understand_ math.. it isn’t just a series of random facts and some Rube Goldberg machinery.

I think this problem must start quite early in school, and get enforced so often it becomes a belief system.   For example its rare that the distributive rule is related to areas of rectangles.. but that’s such a good visual explanation, it should be the default way of introducing the idea :

gridmaths_024

After a couple of these diagrams you can mention it works for any rectangle with sides of length a+b and c+d , namely :  (a+b)(c+d)=ac+ad+bc+bd.

Maybe with tablet computers we can make Math more intuitive,  when good visualizations can be seen by most students.

I wonder if teachers are so constrained to teach the points of the curriculum, handle admin tasks and control the class, that there is no time left for cultivating Math ‘understanding’ ?  But surely its faster to learn / teach by understanding?

If you never get that little rush of endorphin from understanding, I could see how Math would be very boring and random.. because its not really math then, its something else ( and that’s not good, is it Precious?   Not at all.. no it isn’t.. Precioussss… hmm… ghollum ! )

So GridMaths.com is in open beta, now works reasonably well on iPad and recent desktop browsers.  Android browser support coming sometime soon.

Heres a pic my 9yo created while testing things out on the iPad.. with the obligatory battle scene [ dad vs browser quirks ? ] :

gridmaths_017_paul_dwg

Here’s a couple of sheets on how I like to present long multiplication…

Firstly a concrete rectangle where you can actually count the squares to satisfy yourself its right…

gridmaths_018

Then move to a more compact form, which still shows the rectangle grid, but not to scale..

gridmaths_019

This shows that lots of digits should not induce panic.. the same systematic approach works [ which is why computers can do multiplication so well ].

I think having the box grid is a nice way to remember where all the pieces come from [ single digit products ].  Also I think it really helps to use the blank grid spaces, rather than fill in every 0.

The lattice method is slightly more compact, but I think this box approach reminds students of whats really going on.

Thanks for all the emails and encouragement so far as I build this.

Enjoy, and let me know how your using GridMaths.

My son is working on some LCM word problems on Khanacademy.  LCM is short for “Least Common Multiple”, this KA vid explains it pretty well.

Basically the idea is to take two different measuring rods of two different lengths, start at the same place and keep measuring out lengths of each until the ends match up exactly : the first time this happens is at the LCM.

Easier to see than explain, especially if you get kids to experiment by putting rulers end to end, its kind of a nice little discovery, and the kind of open exploration that gives you the cool math-buzz when you discover something yourself.

I had fun doing a couple of these in GridMaths…

gridmaths_015

One nice thing is you can go step by step and see the rulers being added as they chase each other, with the ends not matching.. each team trying to win the race, each one getting ahead for a while..until the grand finale when…  ahh, its a dead heat !  :]

I guess the potential with a software tool, rather than paper, is that you could potentially have Cuisenaire measuring rods of any length [ a set of the first 50 primes would be a nice grab bag of tricks ] … and you could get LCM for larger numbers by just laying down more grid and scrolling to the right.  Its early days, so GridMaths doesn’t have this feature yet.. but I really like the fact that its open to doing things like this.

Prime Cuisenaire Rods anyone ?

When I was a kid there was this class where each student prepared their very own ice-cream container full of counting items – marbles, colored buttons, hexagonal Meccano nuts, etc. Somehow the teacher sold us on ‘owning’ and preparing our own stash, and I was very proud of sneaking in two tiny model mini cars and a couple of cool shells I picked up from the beach.

I also remember those lengths of wood in various colors used for counting/measuring things. These “Cuisenaire Rods” are magic, you can pick up a set on eBay from $10 to $15, or improvise with flat Lego units of different lengths and colors if you have those.

It would be unconscionable of me to not include this staple of Western math diet, so I give you a peak at Cuisinaire Rods in GridMaths.  I hope you like the spicy Mexican color scheme :

Image

Simple things, but these can be a very tactile way of developing a feel for fractions and division.   They lead into strange discoveries, like the fact that some numbers can’t be made exactly from repeats of smaller lengths… prime numbers !

Image

A special note to those of you who have taken time to read my experiments, and egg me on with your comments and feedback – your support is so important to me and my son, we heart you !