Monthly Archives: September 2008

Living my life online since…just now actually

After four years of trusty service, my notebook computer is starting to look a bit dodgy. It’s getting slower, noisier and some of the accessories are broken. The battery now holds about 20 mins charge.

I tried to ring Fujitsu but found their customer service in Australia sucks. Nope I’m wrong. They advertise that they have customer service in Australia, because if they actually did they would have answered my web tickets or phone messages (“our service guarantee is that we will respond to you within 24 hours”). Therefore their customer service doesn’t suck, they’re just liars.

I did speak to a reseller though and it appears that I will need to spend around $300 to get the broken bits fixed.

Obviously this is the decision point where you say, “time to upgrade the laptop” or “you rotten stinking piece of s**t”. Either way it translates to at least $3,000 for a new machine and software.

Something else caught my eye though and made me stop and think. I was speaking to Con Zymaris the CEO of Cybersource who suggested he was going to upgrade to the new ACER Aspire One. This tiny little computer is called a Netbook [ pls link to. It has no hard disk (but 8gb of flash memory) and is light as a feather. The idea is that you use it to access internet based services such as the Web and email, rather than store them locally. The price? A little over $500.

The concept of thin client is old, however it is kind of new idea to use the internet as your server with a netbook as the thin client. Vendors obviously feel that its big area though as all major players are now releasing netbooks (Asus, Acer, HP, Lenovo, Dell etc) or announcing them.

The advantages of using a netbook appear to be:

1. Will make it easier to collaborate with others as it will force me to put most of my planning documentsbe online.

2. I can use any internet connected computer to access my resources, rather than being pissed off that I am in the wrong office.

3. I can have professionals managing my systems properly and backing them up regularly, rather than me.

4. Its total cost of ownership appears to be way cheaper at just $500. The operating system and almost all software I will use will be free.

5. If I don’t like it, it will be easy to change back.

So I have ordered an Acer Aspire One (a blue one) but have decided to challenge myself by ordering it with a Linux based operating system (free) rather than windows.

That next couple of weeks I intend to write on the issues I run into and how I solve them. I reckon if I give it a red hot go, and it works, there is no reason why corporates and schools shouldn’t look at them as a much more desirable alternative than managing a fleet of laptops.

Living more of my life online!

University of Melbourne’s Entrepreneurs Challenge

So the other week I sat in as a judge at The University of Melbourne Student Entrepreneurs Week.  Melbourne University doesn’t teach entrepreneurship per say, and some of the students are getting a bit antsy about it so have formed their own group called Agents of Change to make thinks happen.  I should note though that they are getting some support from the university.

The part I was judging at was the entrepreneurs challenge.  Each team of two to four students had to find value from an every day item and make a presentation on it at the end of the week.  The concept is based upon a similar challenge at Stanford university (this year was an elastic band).  The challenge for our 16 or so groups was to find value from a paper cup.  The winner’s presentation has been uploaded here.   You will also find some of them on Youtube .  The winners idea was to mark paper cups used in coffee shops with different messages.  Messages to other patrons such as:
In the mood for an interesting conversation!
Lets play scrabble
I’m open to dating………..

None of the ideas that they came up with were likely to be huge money spinners, however I did find the event fascinating.  I found I had four insights about the bright young things at Melbourne University.

1.    Almost all the entries were from international students.  Not any particular country, just “not born in Australia”.  The only overtly Australian team used the paper cups in a boat race much to my chagrin.  I am now wondering if there is a correlation between the energy and courage required to go to a different country to study and the energy and courage required to start your own business.  Actually thinking about it, a decent whack of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs have been immigrants.   Makes me think maybe I am looking in the wrong places for employees with energy……….

2.    My perception was that only one of the groups validated the idea with customers before committing to a course of action.  All other groups brainstormed and idea, built it and ran with it.  Very Rapid Development rather than a traditional approach.  No business plans for this lot, just let the market decide whether it’s a winner and change our operations to suit.

3.    All but 2 of the efforts were social ventures.  These students see Social Entrepreneurship (such as fund raising for breast cancer victims) as a major avenue for their entrepreneurial energies and equally as valid as making a buck for yourself.  Funnily enough, even the one of the two commercially focussed ideas was making money helping victims of natural disasters.   No risky business here!

4.    We had been briefed that we were not to judge the students on their presentation skills, just the content in their presentations.  The judging panel as a whole agreed that maybe this was a bad lesson for the students, but real life will soon fix that up.  My perception was also that that all the solutions and presentations were anchored by what Stanford had done before.  Each of the teams had looked at the Stanford University challenge entries on YouTube, and therefore had a preconceived idea of what they had to deliver.  Each of the presentations were pretty much a variation on a theme (great sound track, slides and occasional pieces to camera).

Walking back to my car afterwards. My major impression was that this focus on Social Entrepreneurship was a good thing for Australia.  I smiled.

Dark Clouds on the Horizon……

Last time we had a recession in Australia I was working as a branch manger with an electrical components wholesaler (and re-training to be an accountant).  Our customers were generally electricians and small manufacturers of electrical components.  Life was reasonably depressing and you were used to bandying about terms such as “Provision for doubtful debts”.  When I think back to those times (go misty and fade out) I remember what used to get me really agitated.

1.     Salespeople who have compensation based on what they sell only, do not  care whether the debt is actually collected or not.  (The might say they do but they lie!).  In a recession all customers are not created equal.  Unfortunately its really easy to sell to, and get a great price from, people whom don’t intend to pay you.

2.       Customers payment terms will start slipping and all of a sudden its no payment until you chase it.   You will start hearing things like “We pay all out suppliers at 60 days” and of course “the cheques in the mail”.  Expect to see credit control courses appearing in the mailbox.  My advice is to go on one early.

3.     Customer Credit limits become important again.  How much are you prepared to risk.  Are they worth $1,000?, $2,000, $10,000 (Remember that Creditors are the cheapest source of working Capital).

4.    Credit Applications and Credit checks become a worthwhile activity, not just a chore.  If you don’t know what a Romalpa Clause is  then you better look it up.  Have a look at your terms of trade.  If you haven’t got any, then its time to get some and have customers acknowledge the new terms

5.     Know exactly who your customer is .  Just because you think you are dealing with a customer listed on the NYSE, make sure you actually are and not just a subsidiary company.  I can personally tell you $127,000 worth of reasons why you may not get the money back from the parent when the subsidiary goes under.  If you haven’t heard the expression “Lift the Corporate veil”, time to look that up as well.

6.    Understand how liquidators rank creditors and where you sit.  Its not lonely at the bottom, but its unrewarding.

7.     A debt isn’t paid until the money is in the bank, and it has cleared.  The guy that comes in and hands you a cheque to clear his account before picking up more stock is likely to burn you twice.

8.    Remember that just because the funds have cleared, doesn’t mean a liquidator can’t come and claw the money back .

Unfortunately the above 8 lessons have all been learnt with pain.  The upside is that I am sharing them for free.