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

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.


Tagninju is an ergonomic tag-centric Time and Cost tracking tool.

Its very simple to use and extremely flexible :

  • use keyword tags to organise and group entries
  • rather than type a long description, keep it terse, with tags
  • tags suggest : topic, person, subject, code, urgency, project, specifics
  • inbuilt auto clock timer with pause and continue
  • set todos into the future quickly
  • provides rapid insight into costs and time


TagNinju app is handy for :

  • gain real insight into your time usage [ procrastination or productivity ]
  • keep yourself motivated with objective progress notes
  • track progress towards a goal like weight loss, fitness, savings
  • budgeting : shopping list and track expenses quickly
  • track hours worked on jobs for freelancers and contractors
  • HTML5 local storage means works on mobile tablet or web


I noticed a lot of time dissapeared on unimportant things, and my productivity and motivation was inconsistent. Some days I would feel motivated and get a lot done, other days Id languish and could not really recall what I spent time on or what goals had been achieved.

I looked for a good app, but the note takers were too general, and a spreadsheet was not easy to use on mobile, many time tracker systems were slow or overkill. Eventually I started working on a simple web app to do this. I added an automated timer clock, and this at least allowed me to note down tasks. I started off writing readable sentence notes, but migrated to a terse form with just keywords. I added a simple filter search and found that worked well : I could zoom into areas of interest by keyword, such as shopping or weight or fee or run or billable.

I gradually noticed a useful psychological side-effect of tracking my time : I wanted to get stuff done just so that I could note it down! Id catch myself thinking.. Hmm I havent put in any entries for exercise the last 2 days, I better do some situps or a run so I can put that in.
So actually noting things down had the effect of pushing me to get more good things done.
Theres a kind of objectivity, and also the effect of your motivated self observing your unmotivated self and kind of comparing the two.

I recently heard a talk by memory expert Josh Foer, about autopilot subconscious plateaus. This is where your activity matches your expectation set point at the OK level and so your conscious mind doesnt need to be engaged. We do this everyday for routine tasks, we perform them uncounsciously or rather subconsciously, on auto-pilot.

Autopilot is great for things we dont want to improve : washing dishes, shaving, driving to work.
For things we do want to improve, we need some way of making the activity stand out to our conscious minds so we can evaluate performance and goals and try a different strategy. Time tracking seems to help with this, it makes you review what youve just been doing.

Im not recommending tracking everything, in fact I think its good to decide to not track some areas, maybe the weekends or reading time in the evening. But it can give real insight and motivation for those areas we want to improve : lose weight, gain fitness, reduce cigarettes, study more effectively etc.


You might find these tips handy :

  • tap timer to pause the clock and restart it
  • tap and drag out from timer box to select a time period
  • use meaningful tags, use multiple tags
  • use quick filter search to zoom into that topic or area

Coming soon

These are some future features which might make Tagninju more useful :

  • sync between versions [ entries shared across devices : mobile, web and tablet ]
  • dropbox integration
  • csv import / export [ to and from spreadsheet ]
  • bar charts to show time and cost spent by tag
  • shared groups

Some of these features will be more useful to professionals, small business founders and freelancers and will be released as part of the upcoming paid version : TagNinju Pro.


Im interested to see how people use TagNinju for tracking time and cost, for achieving goals and personal growth.

Please do email me with your suggestions and feedback at

So 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 ? ] :


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…


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


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.

Just added a color palette to GridMaths, so it now has rectangles, lines, ellipses in few simple colors and weights.  The idea is to help make diagrams clearer, and help with Venn diagrams and other cases where you want to group things together.

Heres a grid sheet comparing fractions : 2/3 and 4/5 … then we show the product and sum using the same visual representation.


If you look carefully, you may notice that I ‘abuse’ the grid in that each grid square is 1/5 high and 1/6 wide – so a 1 unit x 1 unit square is actually 6×5 grid squares.  I think this is a legal abuse, in that we often graph things with different x and y axis scales.

The alternative is to have a resizeable non-square grid.. which I think creates too much complexity for not much gain.  The philosophy of GridMaths is “keep it simple”, so you can do the basics quickly and easily.   I used to think more features = more power = better, but after my son showed me the Minecraft game, and all the cool things people have built with it, I changed my mind about this.  I kept thinking.. why is Minecraft so popular, when you can do all that and more in Blender ?  Blender is a superb free 3D modelling package, which like all powerful modelling packages takes a while to become proficient at.  So, it dawned on me that Minecraft is so brilliant because it brings down the barrier to entry, and makes the 80% of things you need to do to make a world, really easy and quick for everyone.

So I’m adding the most useful things to GridMaths in a way that keeps it really simple.  Its not an algebra system, it most likely wont have handwriting recognition… but it should be a really fast way for math teachers to make Math diagrams and for students to do a wide range of worked Math problems, replacing grid paper for that 80% of tasks and adding some nice features.   Its kind of like an infinite supply of grid paper, that weights nothing and can be erased and replayed, and saved for later use  And.. you can step forward and back thru your edits and change stuff, and students can step thru a worked problem.  And you have counting beans and … :-]


Lokenote is a very simple way to share notes based at a particular location… a kind of geo PostIt note taker.

There are great apps out there such as Gowalla, FourSquare, Yelp but I felt the need for something ultra simple with low overhead where you dont need to register or signup – just drop a note where you are, and leave it for other people to find.

I still see notices pasted up on supermarkets and on lampposts for Missing Cat,  Part-time Work,  Flatmate Needed or Garage Sale.. so I think there is a need for this kind of utility belt app.  I specifically wanted a tool to jot down nice graffiti snippets from around St Kilda where I live, and mention handy places a non-local might not know about such as the well hidden laundry shop.  Id like to give a virtual nod to some of the superb out of the way food places that exist in my version of Melbourne.


In developing Lokenote I took the ‘Fire!… Ready? Aim‘ approach – I had a rough idea, started as simply as I could, implemented feverishly and only added things I thought were absolutely essential.

Not being able to entertain any extra features had the perverse effect of generating many more ideas.. but these had a more organic character growing out of reality.  Beware ideas that have clean academic edges, they tend to not fit the world.

The process of building Lokenote gives me a a furtive and voyeuristic sense of the kind of realtime app which I think is just around the next bend.

We can safely assume Next apps are :

  • mobile/web hybrids with touch UI
  • reactive in realtime, via flowing data feed
  • location aware, fulltext searchable
  • online/offline robust
  • built on graph style data models

But what might they actually do ?

  • live auction or product sales [ the last 15mins of an eBay auction without the 6 day lead-up ]
  • convergence of blog, web page and chatroom with live comment feeds
  • realtime automated sentiment, trend summary
  • flexible links between any kinds of data
  • scrolling realtime chat, tethered to a location, keyword/topic, group or event


Feedback is the best word I have to describe the qualitative difference of realtime apps.

An example – rather than go to a conference and wait for surveys to come in from attendees and adapt in time for the next event, the feedback loop is immediate enough to customise as it progresses.  This already happens, with some presenters saying ‘tweet me if you want more or less on this topic’ – a tweet is more anonymous and less impolite than interrupting the speaker, and feedback is current.

We might see more prices that are changing moment to moment, or other micro-optimisations –  the cost of a flight might be offered within a range, and be fixed only once the aircraft leaves the gate.

Realtime Dating?

Another example of a realtime next app is for dating.  I envision this as a kind of randomised, localised topic-chat :

  • nominate a topic and post a comment, or join an active topic that looks interesting
  • chat away anonymously for a while
  • notice someone interesting, share your profile
  • get a nudge back or an invite for a one-on-one chat
  • if things progress, decide to meetup at a cafe on neutral ground

Most dating apps use the profile photo as the initial filter.. but Im not so sure that is the initial filter in Life.. sometimes people with unremarkable looks win you over and in fact become more attractive over time as conversation unveils their personality.  So conversation as the initial filter might actually work.

The very same app could be a great way to generate ideas in business or science or political activism… it just seems the old chat room needs to be upgraded for the realtime web, so that it resides next to all the other things I do on the web.  I might want to attach a web page or doc or graphic or photo or video to my realtime comment.  Parties might agree to go private with some comments.  You might want to limit the audience to a group or post anonymously then go back on-record.

Lets Build

We have all the plumbing to do this feasibly – technologies such as nginx, node.js, Mongo, Couch, Riak, Redis, Web Sockets, JSON, HTML5 are really at the point of becoming the normal way to write dynamic data-driven responsive web/mobile apps.

Its about taking some risk to walk over the local maxima and build these things that will make life simpler, leaving more time for people to enjoy the roses.

Well, those are my thoughts for now… enjoy, gord.

[ This question came up from a post on, and its something I hear a lot, so here is my answer : ]

I think you face the most common problem in history –
“I have an idea, how do I make it real ?”

I think iPhone developers have heard this so many times, its easy to reply abruptly “Ideas are worth nothing!”… but maybe there’s more to this.

Ideas are at the heart of science, music, art, medicine, engineering, equality, democracy, the economy – so ideas clearly aren’t worthless.

But ideas are not enough on their own – you need to dial up the intensity to the point where your willing to do whatever-it-takes to get the job done, to do the work and see it through.

Reading an old but good classic “Think and Grow Rich” it really brings this home.

Back to the iPhone… how would you make your iPhone idea real?

Any competent developer who might help you out, would have a couple of great ideas themselves that they just haven’t had time to implement because they’ve been too busy.

Some options –
– learn to program, develop it yourself
– offer some cash along with equity, in exchange for development help
– take it further in the design stage and see what happens

One thing you absolutely should do is sit down with pen and paper and make ‘mockups’ – screen designs that show a storyboard of what your app does.

What do I see when I start the app? How does the first page look, what fonts, what images, what text instructions to display, what buttons where…
Then take that and do a life-sized drawing of the screen in color in photoshop or gimp. Do that for each page, including splash screen and settings. It will be a lot of’ll learn a lot.

The first version of your paper app will be bad… rework it and make it simpler for the user. After all of this, and it could take two weeks, you’ll have something an iPhone developer can actually turn into a product, and which they can look at and give you a reasonable estimate of cost to build.

Realise that this process is what separates those who make something from those who merely wish for something without the strength of desire needed to make it real.

I do wish you all the best for your project, and we welcome you to this wonderful endeavor of creating something from nothing with your bare hands – it can be frustrating.. and is also immensely rewarding.


iphone developer