The Australian - The Deal - - Kaplan -


there is al­ways the risk that some­thing could emerge out of left field and un­der­mine growth. The cloud has been one such dis­rup­tive force, forc­ing soft­ware mar­keters to hastily re­align their busi­ness mod­els. Rather than soft­ware be­ing sold as a one-off trans­ac­tion, it will now be pro­vided as an on­line ser­vice. Other forces at work in the sec­tor are “crowd sourc­ing” and “growth hack­ing”.

Two en­trepreneurs, one an es­tab­lished busi­ness op­er­a­tor and the other a so­cial en­tre­pre­neur, know th­ese chal­lenges well. The first is David Vitek, the founder of Vite­knolo­gies, which op­er­ates on­line di­rec­to­ries in Aus­tralia, New Zealand and Bri­tain, in­clud­ing Nat­u­ral Ther­apy Pages and Home Im­prove­ment Pages. He says the rate of change is in­creas­ing.

Vitek, who now has tens of thou­sands of sub­scribers across the build­ing trades and among health prac­ti­tion­ers, says on­line tech­nol­ogy has made it rel­a­tively easy to start a busi­ness. “Yet it’s also made things harder. The adap­tion of tech­nol­ogy is so rapid that be­ing the first mover is not nec­es­sar­ily a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage. Fol­low­ers can be more nim­ble, ac­cess cheaper tech­nol­ogy and thus op­er­ate from a lower cost base.”

He has had to adapt his di­rec­to­ries busi­ness model three times since he be­gan in 2004. Orig­i­nally a sub­scrip­tion­based model in which busi­nesses paid a fee to be listed with a “shopfront” dis­play, it has evolved to in­cor­po­rate a more fo­cused, cost-per-lead model.

“We had to re­spond to our cus­tomers, who were be­com­ing very pre­cise in track­ing the cost of a lead ac­quired through the directory,” Vitek says. “Also, rapid change­means you need a more en­gaged work­force. It’s about en­er­gis­ing your em­ploy­ees to be en­gaged in the growth. There’s a term for it – growth hack­ing.”

Once a busi­ness has a strong foun­da­tion, con­sis­tent growth rates and a cus­tomer base ob­tain­ing value from the prod­uct, growth hack­ing is an ob­ser­va­tional science. “We look at the way peo­ple use our prod­ucts, make a hy­poth­e­sis about how we can use that to growand then test if our hy­poth­e­sis is cor­rect.”

US-born, Melbourne-based Gary Cony­ers is the founder of on­line so­cial en­ter­prise SoapBoxx, a fo­rum­for all sorts of de­bates, and says his en­ter­prise utilises all his skills as a mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant and tech­nol­ogy de­vel­oper.

“Most peo­ple with a griev­ance shrug their shoul­ders and say: ‘No one will lis­ten to me.’ Last year, I made an on­line pur­chase from an Aus­tralian-based busi­ness and they didn’t de­liver the goods to me. I asked for my money back – to no avail. I walked into a po­lice sta­tion and was told it’s not a crime. You can buy some­thing, they don’t de­liver and there’s no law against it. Amaz­ing. I felt like the lit­tle guy and I thought: I can’t be the only one.”

Cony­ers looked to crowd sourc­ing for a way to give voice to such con­cerns. Crowd sourc­ing is dis­trib­uted prob­lem solv­ing. By farm­ing out tasks to a large group of peo­ple, you are able to mine col­lec­tive in­tel­li­gence and do process work in par­al­lel. “I thought this was a way to get a lot of peo­ple ag­i­tat­ing for change.”

The busi­ness was de­signed to ad­dress a wide­spread feel­ing of dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the main po­lit­i­cal par­ties and elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives. “While we can shop, chat, study and trans­fer money with the touch of a but­ton, lo­cal, state and fed­eral politi­cians seem stuck in the past, pre­fer­ring time­con­sum­ing, out- of- date and out- of-touch tools that can make it hard to talk to them.

“Whether it’s [about] how to restore un­walk­a­ble foot­paths, re­pair un­driv­able roads or get medicines to re­mote hos­pi­tals, politi­cians re­ally want to know what you think. And that ex­plains the need for SoapBoxx. Any­one can post an idea or vote for free. Through the plat­form we’re shar­ing peo­ple’s needs and con­cerns. And it’s so con­tem­po­rary, cre­at­ing an en­light­ened dig­i­tal cit­i­zenry.”

SoapBoxx will for­ward any de­bate that re­ceives enough re­sponses to the rel­e­vant politi­cian. The en­ter­prise is a de­par­ture from Cony­ers’ nor­mal en­tre­pre­neur­ial ven­tures.

“I’ve been in­volved in self-funded en­ter­prises since the 1990s. I’ve cut my teeth on tech­nol­ogy. I came up with and pro­duced a sim­ple iPhone app called Mazi, which con­nects ev­ery­day peo­ple with not-for-prof­its around Aus­tralia.”

Op­er­at­ing as a not-for-profit has the ob­vi­ous chal­lenge of rev­enue. The busi­ness model is to en­cour­age or­di­nary peo­ple to join as users. Ini­tially, they will be asked to fi­nance SoapBoxx through do­na­tions. Cony­ers aims to achieve crit­i­cal mass within 18 months.

“Once the user com­mu­nity is big enough, I may sell po­lit­i­cal pol­icy ad space. On­line cam­paign­ing sites that fo­cus on pe­ti­tions are big in the US andBri­tain. SoapBoxx is dif­fer­ent be­cause it’s about gain­ing pub­lic sup­port through de­bate fro­mall sides, not about find­ing like-minded peo­ple.”

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