Looking back, I do seem to blog a lot about the software & open source technology!
I do have wider interests though, I read widely & ponder about space technology, graph theory & network science, open data, math, economics, history, politics, or anything really. I find that taking the time to learn about new and unrelated topics, just like taking the time to meet new people with different interests, tends to increase the chance of serendipitous opportunities, or provide “outside the square” insights into problems I am currently working on.
Everyone has Jargon
Along with last months foray into music & content, I have been studying the tech startup economy. I find it fascinating learning how to decode the jargon, and I guess I experienced a bit of what other people probably get when relating to IT / software developer people :-) One thing I discovered is the extent to which the startup scene itself has spawned an industry built on servicing the startups and the venture capital firms that provide funding. Whether this is an indication of a maturing market since the days of the DotCom boom, time will tell.
The startup industry has a cross-over into open source. Many new businesses are founded using open source: nearly every web app that is not a pure Microsoft build would be using some combination of open source tools (and the Microsoft Azure service supports Linux); many provide premium services related to an open source product which helps spur further development in that product. I think this is a good thing for open technology generally as it benefits the entire community, not just that business, as would be the case with a purely closed product. By contributing to open source, the business can concentrate on value adding around its core “thing” whilst leveraging the community in a two-way effort to improve the overall software ecosystem. Paraphrasing Bob Young from one of the Linux.conf.au keynotes, open source is a long term form of barter benefiting everyone.
Another cross-over is the Lean Startup methodology. A friend dragged me along to a workshop the other week, and it was really interesting to see some of the parallels with agile software development.
In Adelaide there is a growing niche / tech startup community which I think is refreshing and important to the future of this city, for so long heavily reliant on either the vanishing manufacturing sector, the illusory and fading mining boom, or the defence sector so often cut at the whim of a government. High technology must form a core of our economy into the future if we are to remain a vibrant state! I have become more aware of this since participating in the hackathons, which although a fun activity for myself, often cross-over into the startup community.
Sharing the Load
One discovery I made is AngelList Syndicates, a way of letting small investors pool funds and invest small amounts (say, in the order of $1000-$5000) into high tech startups. This is probably not for the novice investor, but I would not be averse to investing a percentage of my superannuation into this area. I will be doing quite a bit more research first however, to try and get a better handle on the investment risk, and the impact of Australian superannuation law! I found available information about the many small and non-listed technology companies, largely US based, but also in Australia, opaque to say the least.
As part my research I am subscribed to a few startup sector mailing lists, interestingly this has led me to discover quite a few new websites or technology services I would not otherwise have found about. I try out a lot of free web apps, but usually skip the paid services because I cant justify the cost at this point. Sometimes there are trial offers for various services though, and I came across one interesting site, Mattermark, that claimed to track private and startup companies, many of the kind found on AngelList. I asked some questions about whether it was relevant to my interests in Australia and along the way ended up having email conversation with one of the developers which was actually really pretty cool, so I figured I’d give it a go.
After I accessed the web app, obviously the first thing I did was find the Location menu and switch to Australia :-) This produced a spreadsheet-like display with companies in rows, and various metrics across the columns. I was quite surprised to recognise several businesses I knew, such as CoinJar, muru-D and other companies I didn’t even realise were Australian, such as Canva. Oddly the NSW Greens were reported as a company despite being a political party. It seems Mattermark uses in machine learning to aggregate data from multiple feeds, and there were not too many other oddities, so having only one or two out of place entries in such a large database is pretty good.
Companies are initially ranked by ‘Growth Score’ a term I had to research, and it seems to be a metric combining funding and employee count with social media and downloads, all things I presume are important to measuring a business growth in a period where it might not be producing much revenue as yet.
Another search I tried was ‘Space Travel’, which was provided as one of many possible categories. This was very interesting to me because I keep coming across new space commercialisation ventures on twitter, but seeing a whole pile of them listed in one place was rather exciting. (As in, the future is finally nearly here!)
In fact there are rather a lot of categories!
I have some screenshots but until I get around to posting them there is a video showing how it might be used by its primary customer base on Youtube.
I regularly canvass LinkedIn for interesting & local technology businesses, for networking opportunities and community event promotion, but that can be hit and miss. I think Mattermark could be a helpful complement to that, although the subscription is too pricey for me in my situation as a hobbyist / small investor. This would likely be a useful tool for anyone working in the startup services industry or dealing with managing investments but if thats your thing you should probably do your own research and take the trial for a spin rather than relying on my opinion as an amateur.
Now, hopefully I’ll find something to blog about in space technology soon!
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