A newbie’s guide to start-ups

29/12/2018 // by admin

What to do? … starting a business can be confusing.Illustration: Louie DouvisIt’s sexy. It’s seductive. And it could make you a billion dollars. I’m talking about the world of tech start-ups. Let’s face it. Ever since Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg proved that you can become a billionaire (and be the subject of an Oscar-winning movie) by wearing sandals and a hoodie, the tech start-up world has evolved from being the domain of geeks to a space where every entrepreneur wants a piece of the action.
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OK, I’ll admit, there were several sweeping generalisations in that last paragraph. But the reality is that the start-up space is hot. While the start-up space may seem sexy to some, the reality is that it’s also full of long hours, high stress, and a lot of money at stake. Kind of like high-stakes poker. Except you’re not just playing on your own, you often have a whole team behind you who rise and fall depending on your start-up’s success.

Thinking of taking the plunge?

Whether you’re a recent university student or a midlife corporate type who is being seduced by the lure of start-up life, the key to remember is that life isn’t like the movies. You don’t just feed a bunch of people beer and pizza to write some code then screw your business partner out of the deal, then brace yourself for a lawsuit and end up the world’s youngest billionaire.

So how DOES it work?

Riley Batchelor, 33, is a serial start-up entrepreneur who has recognised the need for “start-up education” in Australia. As regional director for Australia of General Assembly, he’s passionate about demystifying the world of start-ups through courses. Batchelor describes General Assembly as “an education company committed to teaching students different skills that are relevant to technology businesses in three different areas: tech, design and entrepreneurship.”

General Assembly opened its doors in Sydney in May and is based on a concept that started in New York 18 months ago. Batchelor also plans to open in Melbourne and will be soft-launching there with a few trial courses in September.

For those who want to dip their toes in the often confusing waters of start-ups, he offers courses such as “Introduction to the start-up community” and “Fundamentals of entrepreneurial finance” to more technical courses such as “Programming using Ruby on Rails”.

For newbies in the start-up space, Batchelor says there are various options to consider. However, he is quick to point out that these options are by no means exhaustive.

1. Going solo

This is possibly the hardest route of all. And there are few people who have the skills to successfully market their business, raise finance, project-manage developers, be creative, get customers and garner publicity. Even if you think this is possible, you’ll probably kill yourself from stress and overwork if everything rests on your shoulders.

2. Co-founder or team

Batchelor suggests that many hands make light work. “My preference would be to build a team of co-founders around you with clear complementary skills. Start-ups aren’t easy, try to spread the load around.”

3. Incubators

If you have an idea but have no clue how to turn it into reality, then an incubator may be an option. “They are typically for people who haven’t started building their product,” says Batchelor. “They are more suited to non-technical founders who can’t build the product themselves.”

He adds that they may take less then 50 per cent equity but you may be required to contribute funds to build the technology. These incubators usually have connections to Silicon Valley and experience in raising capital both in Australia and overseas. An example of a successful incubator is Pollenizer, which is headquartered in Sydney but which has just opened an office in Singapore.

4. Accelerator

As the name suggests, these organisations help “accelerate” your business growth. Batchelor says these organisations provide advice, access to funding and connections. They typically take less than 10 per cent equity and provide less than $30,000 funding. However, they also provide mentors, education and, in some cases, co-working environments.

“Accelerators are more suited to early stage start-ups that have been going for a little while – perhaps three to 12 months,” he says. Examples include leading Melbourne-based accelerator AngelCube; or the Sydney-based Startmate.

4. Going to the US

If the idea of having meetings in Starbucks with venture capitalists from Silicon Valley appeals, then you might simply pack your bags and go to the US. The reality is that you’ll be closer to the action and networking suddenly becomes a whole lot easier when you are in people’s faces and you don’t have to factor in a time difference or a smooth Skype connection in order to talk to someone. Of course, this option isn’t available to everyone especially if you have an entire family to relocate. Nevertheless, it’s one being taken by some keen Aussies who want to make it big.

5. Raising money

Unless you have a hefty inheritance you’re happy to spend, chances are you’re going to need money at some point. After all, the costs of building innovative technology can add up. After dipping into your life savings or mortgaging your home to the hilt, you might hit up family and friends.

Once you’ve exhausted your immediate network, it may be time to consider an angel investor(s). “These people typically invest anything from $50,000 to $500,000. These are funds used to help the business in it’s first stage of growth,” says Batchelor.

When you’re looking at bigger bucks, that’s when you start pitching to venture capitalists (VCs) and investment funds. “The funds may invest around $500,000 to $2 million, while VCs may invest $2 million to $10 million.” Batchelor points out that this is just a guideline and that every situation is different.

“The challenge is purely getting access to that capital and getting in front of the right people to present your ideas.”

6. Other options

There are also government grants and corporate programs designed to help start-ups. In addition, Batchelor encourages start-ups to consider becoming involved in co-working spaces, such as Fishburners in Sydney.

As the name suggests, this is where a number of start-ups work together in the same physical space, so they can not only share resources but also foster a spirit of collaboration. “Being in a room with other people who are doing the same thing as you is a great way to meet people who might help you with the business,” says Batchelor, who operates General Assembly out of the same space as Fishburners in Sydney. “They might end up being mentors or advisers. Or you might simply find yourself sitting next to a graphic designer who ends up building your website.”

Batchelor believes that the start-up community in Australia is set to boom. Hence, his involvement with General Assembly. He believes that demand for start-up education will continue to grow. “I think the hardest thing for people is just getting started on their start-up,” he says. “Then you have to raise money, grow your business – and so on. Every business has its challenges and if it was easy then everyone would be doing it.”

Follow Valerie Khoo on Twitter @valeriekhoo

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Peak condition: climbing Cape Town’s Table Mountain

29/12/2018 // by admin

Imposing … Table Mountain looms over downtown Cape Town. Spectacular spot … the Twelve Apostles hotel in Cape Town’s Table Mountain nature reserve.
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Craig Platt finds that climbing Cape Town’s iconic landmark is no walk in the park.

Drenched in sweat, swarmed by mosquitoes and gasping for breath – this is not the easy morning hike I was expecting.

It’s my last day in South Africa and I’m in Cape Town, halfway up the city’s iconic Table Mountain.

Although it’s possible to take a cable car to the top of the mountain, I felt that I couldn’t really say I’d “done” Table Mountain if I hadn’t climbed it myself. But at the moment I’m wondering if this was such a good idea.

The most popular track leading up the mountain, the Platteklip Gorge trail, begins just near the cable car station on the north western side and, I’d been told, only took about 90 minutes to climb from base to top. Although I’m not as fit as I should be, I figured it couldn’t be too hard, given its short duration.

Turns out Table Mountain has a reputation for surprising travellers with how difficult and unpredictable it can be. Perhaps it’s the mountain’s proximity to central Cape Town, a city of 3.5 million, that makes people think climbing it is like a stroll through a botanic garden. Despite cutting an imposing figure, Table Mountain feels like part of the city, dominating the skyline.

But sitting as it does, close to where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet, puts Table Mountain at the centre of a highly unpredictable (and occasionally treacherous) weather system.

Indeed, those visiting Cape Town for only a day or two can find they never get the chance to reach the mountain’s summit, by cable car or foot. Bad weather will see the mountain and the cable car closed to the public, whether it’s from low cloud forming around the mountain peaks or high winds sweeping in off the ocean.

I’ve been fortunate. When I awoke this morning the sun was shining brightly and there was little wind or cloud, making it a near-perfect day for walking up to the peak.

I’m staying at the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa, which is set in spectacular surroundings inside Table Mountain National Park. It sits on the edge of the Atlantic ocean, while behind it lies the mountain range for which the hotel is named. The result is terrific views from both the front and rear of the building.

The hotel is also isolated, sitting alone amid the rugged beauty, but only a short taxi or bus ride from Cape Town’s beachside resort suburb Camps Bay or to the highlight of the range — Table Mountain itself.

I take a taxi to the base of the walk. The driver knows exactly where to go, given the popularity of the activity. As we pass a large queue of people waiting for the cable car, he points to the opposite side of the road. There are a second set of railings set up for peak times when the cable car queue will stretch across both sides of the road.

My driver also offers a word of warning — only a couple of days ago, he says, a couple of British tourists wandered off the trails on top of the mountain as low cloud rolled in. Soon they were lost and were forced to spend the night up there.

Then there are the human dangers. For a time, muggings were quite common on the hiking trails. Ranger patrols have been stepped up in an effort to clamp down on the crimes and I’m told by locals that this has been effective — particularly if you stick to the most popular trails.

As I set off up the track — which mainly consists of well-maintained stone steps, I see a middle-aged woman coming down ahead of me. It’s still early, so I’m curious as to whether she’s already been to the peak and back and I ask her.

“No,” she says in an English accent, “I got about 15 minutes in and decided I had to turn back.”

Although it’s only mid-morning, the temperature rises rapidly and I am quickly drenched in sweat. In addition, while I feel reasonably well-prepared with water, food and suitable clothing, I realise I haven’t brought any insect repellent and have discovered the mountain is popular with some form of daylight-loving mosquito I’ve never come across before.

I persevere and find that even after completing only a short part of the climb the views are becoming quite spectacular.

Although I’ve breached one of the guidelines for climbing Table Mountain by doing it alone (a sign warns against this at the start of the trail), I find regular company on the climb as others come down or (most of the time) overtake me on the way up.

Eventually I reach a height where the insects cease bothering me, but I find my rest breaks becoming more frequent. They started at 20-minute intervals, now I’m barely climbing for five minutes before I need another break.

Still, there’s no real rush to reach the peak. The surroundings are incredible, as the views stretch out over the city, including the bowl-shaped Cape Town Stadium built for the FIFA World Cup, and to the ocean. Behind me the trail leads up into a fissure between the rocks.

I reach the top and discover that while Table Mountain isn’t quite as flat as it seems from a distance, it is still pretty damn flat. It has only taken the about the 90 minutes advised but it has been a tough, draining hour and a half.

With the weather so fine, I’m not surprised to find the top of the mountain swarming with tourists who have come up via cable car. Fortunately, most of them stay close to the cable car station, leaving the trails on top of the mountain quiet and peaceful.

I take a seat on a rock, drink some more water and soak up the incredible vista. Cape Town stretches below to the north and east, the Lion’s Head peak lies to the west, while to the south are the spectacular Twelve Apostles and Camps Bay.

After a wander around the top of the mountain and a meal in the cable station’s cafe, I opt to head back down the easy way after an hour or two. As the packed cable descends, I feel like I’m the only one on board who is really a king of the mountain.

The writer travelled as a guest of South African Tourism, South African Airways and Red Carnation Hotels.

Fast facts

Getting there

South African Airways flies daily from Sydney and six times a week from Perth to Cape Town via Johannesburg. Return air fares from the east coast (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane) start from about $2236 and from Perth about $2117. See www.flysaa南京夜网

Staying there

The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa is a beautiful white building located on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Table Mountain National Park, flanked by the Twelve Apostles mountain range. It features a terrific restaurant, spectacular views and luxurious rooms. There’s also two pools and an award-winning health and beauty spa. There are several hiking trails behind the hotel offering excellent views of the surrounding landscape and mountains. Rooms start from $448 and suites from $952 per night for two adults. See www.12apostleshotel南京夜网 for details or book via Creative Holidays on www.creativeholidays南京夜网 or 13 12 22.

Hiking there

The Platteklip Gorge trail can be reached by taxi, about a 15-minute ride from the city centre. A hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus also stops at the cable station, with one-day tickets starting from R110 (A$12.60). See www.citysightseeing.co.za for route and timetable details.

For more information on the mountain and its hiking trails, visit the South Africa National Parks website http://www.sanparks南京夜网 and click here for a map of the mountain.

The weather can be unpredictable — check the forecast before setting out. If hiking in warmer weather, ensure you take a hat, sunscreen, insect repellent and plenty of water.

For a good report of weather on the mountain and to check whether the cable car is open visit http://tablemountain南京夜网

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IAG delays British review as profit falls 17%

29/12/2018 // by admin

Insurance Australia Group will not release the results of a review of its troubled British car insurer until the end of the year, amid speculation that it could be eyeing an exit from the market.
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The decision came as IAG announced its full-year net profit fell 17.2 per cent to $207 million after the write-down of the remaining asset value and goodwill of its British business.

Troubles in Europe overshadowed a rebound in earnings for IAG’s Australian and New Zealand businesses.

After stripping out the $297 million British write-down, IAG’s cash profit for the year to end-June matched market expectations, coming in 17.5 per cent higher at $583 million.

The IAG chief executive, Mike Wilkins, said the results highlighted the strategic and operational focus that was being brought to bear.

“We’ve had a tough few years, mainly driven by external market factors, particularly perils and higher reinsurance costs, but we’ve started to come through the back end of that as reinsurance costs have now stabilised,” Mr Wilkins told BusinessDay.

The result was helped by rate increases and a relatively benign environment for major catastrophes over the past year.

Earnings from IAG’s commercial insurance business, CGU, nearly doubled to $258 million.

But insurance earnings for the flagship Australian direct business, which sells insurance under the NRMA and RACV brands, fell 22.5 per cent to $544 million. This result was weighed down by higher reinsurance costs and an increase in natural disaster payouts following a hailstorm that hit Melbourne on Christmas Day.

The results round out the profit reports of the nation’s biggest insurers. Yesterday Suncorp Group reported a 60 per cent lift in full-year net profit to $724 million, underpinned by insurance earnings. QBE Insurance, which generates a fraction of earnings from Australia, last week posted a 13 per cent increase in first-half profit to $US760 million.

At IAG, the Australian businesses were able to lift insurance revenue by pushing through higher costs and growing market share.

The insurer delivered stronger-than-expected growth of 12 per cent in premium income, particularly across home and motor insurance. Group-wide the insurance margin of 10.6 per cent was up from 9.1 per cent last year.

Mr Wilkins said premium revenue should increase between 9 and 11 per cent over the next year. At the same time IAG lifted its insurance margin guidance to a range of 11 to 13 per cent.

This helped support IAG shares. At 1.15pm AEST shares in IAG were trading 12¢ higher at $3.96.

In May IAG detailed plans to push ahead with a formal review of its loss-making British business Equity Red Star, in a move that could lead to an exit from the troubled market.

At the time Mr Wilkins said the outcome of the review could include a sale or a refinement of its business strategy to focus more on motor insurance.

IAG had been planning to update the market on progress of the review with the release of today’s full year results, although Mr Wilkins now said review was now likely to be finalised toward the end of the calendar year.

“We are close to restoring profitability in the UK,” he said. The British business posted an insurance loss of $13 million for the fiscal year. This was a sharp turnaround from the $181 million loss a year earlier. It should deliver a modest profit in fiscal 2013, Mr Wilkins said.

While Equity Red Star remains a headache, IAG continues its push into the faster-growing Asian region, investing in businesses in Malaysia, Vietnam and India.

IAG declared a fully-franked final dividend of 12¢ a share, up from 7¢ for the same period in the previous year.

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Fortescue’s Power rejects ‘boom over’ talk

29/12/2018 // by admin

Fortescue’s profit jumps 53 per centMichael Pascoe: Still some boom to go
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Fortescue Metals Group boss Nev Power has rejected suggestions the mining boom is over, and declared that his company’s future expansion options look “very very attractive” despite recent a slump in the iron ore price.

Mr Power spoke after Fortescue announced a 53 per cent rise in net profit to $US1.56 billion for the year to June 30.

Net profit for the six months to June rose to $US758 million from $US705 million a year earlier, as calculated by Reuters off full-year figures. Analysts had expected a second-half profit of $US716 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Fortescue shares rose strongly in early trading, gaining as much as 2.5 per cent to $4.27 before giving up most of the gain after weak Chinese factory numbers hit mining stocks.

Mr Power countered comments by federal resources minister Martin Ferguson earlier today that the mining boom is over, saying that there is still significant growth in export volumes to come.

As underscore the point, Mr Power said Fortescue’s expansion to 155 million tonnes of exports per year remains only 60 per cent complete and would continue to ramp up over the next year.

“I don’t see the mining boom is over by any show of imagination,” he said. “This is the boom, it’s continuing and those volumes will continue into the future and that continues to bring enormous benefit to the whole of the Australian economy.”

Expected drop

Mr Power said many people were focusing too much on commodity prices.

“The very high all-time record prices we saw a year or so ago have declined to more sustainable levels but that was always expected,” he said.

Earlier this morning, Fortescue chairman Andrew Forrest told Perth radio that the easy days of the mining boom are the past, but stressed there is still money to be made if Australians were willing to work hard.

“Now we have to work hard to stay competitive in the world and I believe we will and we will be successful but the hard yakka is in front of us- the challenge is in front of us,” he said.

Fortescue shares Port Hedland with BHP Billiton and smaller iron ore exporters like Atlas Iron, making the company an interested onlooker when BHP yesterday mothballed plans to build a $20 billion outer harbour at the major iron ore export site.

Despite BHP’s caution, Mr Power was upbeat on Fortescue’s expansion plans beyond the current growth phase to 155 million tonnes per year.

Fortescue has vowed to pause its expansion and pay down debt once it reaches the 155 million-tonne annual target, but Mr Power hinted that halt may not be a lengthy one.

“How quickly we go into the next expansion phase will depend on the iron ore market that we see available, and from where we sit at the moment it looks very, very attractive so we would look to move into further expansions as soon as we have consolidated our balance sheet,” he said.

“So I would see that as pretty much following straight on from (reaching) 155 (million tonnes per year) and once we’ve paid down debt to sustainable levels.”

‘Push-button’ ready

Mr Power said the company would work on multiple expansion options so they were “push-button ready” for approval when market forces and debt levels allowed the company to expand.

Mr Power’s upbeat view is at odds with BHP boss Marius Kloppers’ glum forecast for iron ore prices, which he said were unlikely to rise significantly in the near future. The price hit $US104 per tonne this morning, which is more than 40 per cent below last year’s highs.

But Mr Power said Fortescue’s expansion options were typically low-cost projects.

“The most important thing is that our new expansion at Solomon is coming on at a lower operating cost than our existing production, so therefore we have a structural reduction in our costs which improves our margins,” he said.

The future expansions that we talked about, we will be looking to be do those at lower capital intensity than our existing operations, so as we move forward we’ll have greater capital efficiency.”

Cost pressure eases

Mr Power said there was plenty of extra capacity that could be found by fine-tuning the inner harbour at Port Hedland, and he said BHP’s decision to shelve the outer harbour expansion would help ease cost pressures around labour and equipment in the mining sector.

“The number of expansion projects that were being mooted in the Pilbara and in the LNG industry was starting to put pressure on a number of supply points around Western Australia … with those projects being pushed out it will take the heat out of the current market and we will see a more rational and reasonable approach to pricing,” he said.

Several major Australian mining companies – including Rio Tinto, OZ Minerals and Newcrest Mining – have indicated in recent weeks they believe the cost crisis in the local resources sector peaked sometime in the 2012 financial year that ended June 30.

Debt pile

Fortescue’s debt pile remains one of its biggest concerns, with some critics suggesting it could struggle to meet its debt obligations if iron ore prices continue to slump.

Chief Financial Officer Steve Pearce said the company did have room for more debt, but didn’t expect to have to raise more loans to complete its expansion projects.

“We do have capacity but I’d have to say it’s my preference not to take on additional debt if we don’t have to,” he said.

The $US1.56 billion net profit announced by Fortescue today was 53 per cent better than the year before, reflecting an increase in the amount of iron ore shipped.

A 4 cent final dividend – when combined with February’s 4 cent interim dividend – means shareholders will take home 8 cents in total from the 2012 financial year.

That was an improvement on the 7 cent total shareholders took home in the 2011 financial year, which was the first year Fortescue paid a dividend.

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Music’s over for Allans Billy Hyde

29/12/2018 // by admin

Another storied retail chain has fallen victim to the downturn in spending and rising competition from overseas, after its largest shareholder pulled the plug on the operation.
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Australian Music Group Holdings, owner of the 30-store Allans Billy Hyde chain, has been placed in voluntary administration today, chartered accountancy Taylor Woodings confirmed. London-based majority shareholder Revere Capital has decided to call time on the musical instrument retailer.

‘‘The majority shareholder has surprisingly decided it doesn’t want to support the business through the build up through Christmas, so it’s taken this fairly shock position to withdraw funds,’’ said joint managing director Tim Mason.

Taylor Woodings has been appointed administrators. Ferrier Hodgson partners James Stewart and Brendan Richards have been appointed receivers and managers.

“We are immediately calling for expressions of interest for a sale of the business as a going concern,” said Mr Stewart.

Employees will continue to be paid by the receivers and entitlements would be be covered under the Federal Government’s General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme if the business can’t be sold.

However, outstanding gift vouchers won’t be honoured nor will deposits be refunded, Ferrier Hodgson said. The affected customers will instead become unsecured creditors of the group.

The Melbourned-based group with roots going back to the 1850s had more than 500 employees in 2011.

Accounts filed with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission showed that the company breached a $40 million debt covenant with National Australia Bank in 2011, although Mr Mason said that had been resolved.

News of the collapse follows similar failures of confectionary Darryl Lea, electronics chain Retravision, clothing store Colorado Group, and book chain in 2011.

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