The NAB SME Hackathon

The recent week-long Intersekt fintech festival kicked off with a 48-hour hackathon, sponsored by NAB, hosted by Stone & Chalk and York Butter Factory, and designed to meet the needs of NAB’s SME customers.

Using NAB’s own transaction data APIs, participants were asked to come up with a solution to one of the following challenges:

1. How to make the lives of SME owners easier
2. How to help SMEs generate more business

12 teams competed over the weekend, and each presented their ideas to a panel of industry experts. Clearly, these were not the usual startup pitches (and none have a public website), but it was interesting to see the results. Projects are listed here in the order they presented:

NABTax – “tax audit insurance”
Designed to encourage better/best practice tax governance among SMEs, it uses a combination of a tax risk rating linked to a reduced cost of premiums for tax audit insurance.
The solution would help SMEs to be better prepared for an ATO request for information, aid understanding of the ATO’s current small business benchmarks, and provide insights on the ATO’s data matching protocols.
Essentially it would generate a risk rating based on quantitative and qualitative analysis of supporting documents supplied by the SME.

EasyPay – “reconciling invoices and receipts”
Deploying an e-invoicing model, the platform would generate a unique reference number, linked to an ABN, and generate a QR code to be scanned by the payer.
At its heart, it would better match invoices and payments. The service would be sold under a freemium model, and would be compliant with the New Payment Platform (NPP).
The main challenge would be in reaching and gaining traction with consumers (the bill payers).

ORDR – “managing cash-flow, inventory ordering and sales”
Drawing on a dashboard showing SKUs of items in stock, it would use machine learning
to predict stock ordering requirements. Although this concept was based on actual SME experience, the panel felt that there would be integration issues with existing POS and supply chain systems. Also, how would it link to CRM data, and how would it be able to both accommodate new season stock, and accurately forecast demand?
Finally, what level of SKU data is actually available from NAB transaction data?

Just-In-Time MBA – “a financial/business coaching app for SME owners”
According to data presented by the team, 60% of SMEs fail within their first three years. And given there are something like two million micro-businesses in Australia, and 250,000 new ones established each year, if nothing else, there is a huge opportunity to reduce this failure rate.
Using the available APIs (plus data from the SMEs’ accounting systems), the platform would analyze payments data and issue alerts designed to prompt remedial action.
Based on the presentation, it seemed that the proposed analysis is only capturing cash-flow – clearly, the real value and insights would come from holistic health checks.

NAB SME Connect – “connecting small business to customers”
Using a number of data inputs, this service would push deals in real-time to your smart phone. The customer app shows only relevant offers – based on preferences, proximity, etc. The client SMEs can see the level of interest and demand, to generate “Smart Deals” based on transaction data. The panel wondered about the opt-in model, and also felt there were already similar competitor products, or that any competitive advantage would be difficult to defend.

Wait< – “wait less for elective surgery”
Aimed at time-poor SME owners, the team wanted us to think of this as an “eBay plus Afterpay for elective surgery”. Taking the approach of a two-sided marketplace, it would
support transactional loans to cover the cost of surgery, and match customers (patients) to suppliers (health care providers). Drawing on NAB’s current healthcare payment services, the solution would combine NAB’s transaction banking and health APIs, plus Medicare APIs (for patient and practitioner verification), to generate a pre-populated lending form. No doubt designed to appeal to NAB Health, this was a very niche project.

Tap & Go – “turning customer loyalty into rewards more easily and more cheaply”
This idea would enable SMEs to use transaction data to decide who gets a discount, and how much. Built on a merchant administration platform, it would capture transaction data from POS systems. It would be offered as a subscription service for merchants. The panel wondered how this solution compared to the competition, such as Rewardle.

TAP – “smarter marketing solutions”
Commenting that only 16% of SMEs are maximizing their online presence, this service is designed to increase merchants’ digital presence. It would use NAB APIs to manage and track campaigns – by comparing the data to past sales periods and previous campaigns. Campaigns would also be linked to social media accounts. The panel questioned how the solution would fare against competitors such as Hootsuite.

StopOne – “integrated hub for making data driven decisions and connect with a NAB banker”
Conceptually, this was a very ambitious project, designed to let SMEs use dashboards and forecasting from NAB transaction data (and other sources), to drill down into visualized data records. It would also integrate with social media insights, incorporate a messaging platform to allow SMEs to communicate with their bankers, and enable SMEs to share their dashboard with a business banker. The panel queried the cost of the data analytics for the SME, which presumably comes on top of their existing accounting software.
They also suggested the team take a look at what 9 Spokes is already doing in this space.

Spike – “accounts payable solution”
Currently, paying invoices can involve a 10 step process. The average SME has 90 suppliers. Accessed via a NAB accounts payable login, the solution incorporates the Google vision API to capture an image of the invoice and extract key data points. The SME then chooses the date and account for payment, the invoice is stored in the cloud, from where is posted to the Xero ledger, and the NAB payments portal. In addition, the client can share purchase order data with their supplier to pre-populate the invoice. It could
also optimize expenses, by recommending offers or product switches. When asked about the commercial model, the team suggested it could be offered free by NAB, who get access to extra data.

nablets – “focus on things that matter”
According to this team, 90% of SMEs are not taking full advantage of digital tools. Using NAB APIs and event-based triggers, clients would use their NAB Business Connect account login to create “if this then that” rules and tasks. It would also leverage open banking data APIs. The panel asked about the logic and the parameters to be embedded in the rules-based activities, as well as the proposed categories and range of functions to be automated. They also wondered how it would actually help SMEs to adopt digital tools – some of which are already integrated into the current banking portal.

NAB Hub – “Small Business Hub”
Designed to present banking data the way customer wants to see it (P&L, balance sheet, net asset position etc.), it would also help in generating leads for pre-approved loan products, and help with investments via optimized rates, and for insurance cover it would
assist with policy reviews, claims and risk analysis. The panel asked if this was intended to be a NAB add-on or a standalone product. They also suggested the team look at what Tyro is doing around lending analysis – but recognized that there was possibly a place for this type of tailored advice.

Based on the judging, the winners and runners-up were:

1. Just-in-time MBA
2. Spike
3. NABTax

Meanwhile, the crowd favourite was Just-in-time MBA, and the best innovative idea was TAP.

If I had to summarise the presentations, it would be as follows:

1. Most of the presentations were still talking about yesterday’s/today’s banking products, rather than products of the future
2. There was very little evidence of projects designed to help SMEs grow their business
3. Any effort to gain traction for these projects will revolve around changing customer (and bank) behaviours….

Next week: VCs battle it out in the reverse pitch night

 

 

Gigster is coming to town….

Melbourne’s Work Club recently hosted Gigster Senior Project Engineer, Catherine Waggoner, in conversation with Venture-Store’s George Tomeski. Part of Startup Victoria‘s Fireside Chats, it likely herald’s Gigster opening an office in Melbourne, to service local clients and to tap into the local developer community.

gigsterFor the uninitiated, Gigster describes itself as the “world’s engineering firm”, that helps clients scope, design and build software, apps and digital products. Using an established product development methodology, and drawing on the resources of a 1,000 strong network of freelance designers, developers and product managers, Gigster is taking much of the pain out of the costing and requirements process for new projects, as well as building a growing client base of enterprise customers.

Not mincing her words, Ms Waggoner opened her remarks by commenting, “The software development industry model is f*#$ed”, because:

  • Requirements are poorly defined
  • Scoping is laborious
  • Development costs blow out, and
  • The whole process is not very transparent and not very accessible.

As a case in point, she mentioned the significant cost disparity between what some digital design agencies or app studios might quote for building an iOS product compared to what Gigster would estimate. By: breaking projects down into the distinct stages of scoping, design and pre- and post-MVP; only engaging the “best of the best talent”; using proprietary tools both to estimate fixed rate costs (rather than billable hours) and to define and source solutions; and re-using content from a library of “Community Software” resources, Gigster is able to deliver quality projects in shorter time, and on more modest budgets. For example, based on the large number of projects that they have fulfilled, their “Gigulator” estimating tool incorporates 5,000 possible features.

From an investor perspective, Mr Tomeski mentioned that the “VC inflexion point is getting much earlier” in tech startups. Meaning, with lower development costs (and potentially, reduced valuation multiples), investors are looking to get in sooner, with lower exposure, but still generate reasonable returns on exit, thanks to cheaper establishment costs.

Of course, Gigster sits at the heart of the gig economy, a huge issue when it comes to discussing the Future of Work. Interestingly, many of Gigster’s contractors are themselves startup founders, who freelance while building their own businesses. But such is the strength of the network, something like 35%40% of their contractors work full-time for Gigster – they like the flexibility combined with the continuity. Many of the contractors are referrals from existing team members, and a number of teams (known at Gigster as “houses” – presumably a frat thing?) have bonded to such an extent that they get allocated specific projects to work on together, even though they themselves may be working in different locations, based on previous projects.

Working for Gigster is probably a career choice for some contractors, because there is a variety of projects to work on, and the opportunity to be involved from start to finish. Which may be the opposite if working in a more corporate or enterprise environment, where work may be routine, repetitive and reasonably narrow in scope.

If Gigster does decide to set up shop in Melbourne (with encouragement from
InvestVictoria) they will be joining the likes of Slack, Stripe and Square, tempted by financial and other incentives. Such a move may challenge a number of local digital agencies, who will face even more competition for talent and customers.

According to Ms Waggoner, enterprise clients represent 40% of the business, and should comprise 60%-80% very soon. Not only that, but the average deal was initially $15k, now it’s more like $100k. However, enterprise clients have a much longer sales cycle. Plus, many innovation teams within enterprises are more like loosely formed groups of niche experts, so they need training on how to think like a startup. When you consider the greater dependency on legacy software by corporate clients (where it may make financial sense to retire some assets and build afresh, but the emotional disruption can be huge…), combined with the greater emphasis placed on after-sales service, Gigster has had to adapt its business model accordingly.

But Gigster must be doing something right. They’ve stopped outbound marketing and prospecting, relying on in-bound leads, repeat business and client referrals. There has been a shift from a sales focus to a customer focus, complete with a dedicated customer success team.

A number of audience questions related to getting VCs interested in your idea: What do they look for? How do they assess opportunities? How far should you go in building a product before you can attract funding? What’s the best way to validate an idea? etc. Much of this is about product/market fit, building the right team, getting customer traction, and executing on your strategy (aka Product Development 101.) As part of her closing comments, Ms Waggoner noted that unlike some of the high-profile VC funds (e.g, Y-Combinator, Techstars and 500 Startups) many VCs are becoming more sector specific, because they prefer to invest in what they know and understand.

Next week: Building a Global/Local Platform with Etsy

The Maker Culture

London’s newly re-opened Design Museum welcomes visitors with a bold defining statement of intent. According to the curators, there are only designers, makers and users. To me, this speaks volumes about how the “makers” are now at the forefront of economic activity, and how they are challenging key post-industrial notions of mass-production, mass-consumption and even mass-employment. Above all, as users, we are becoming far more engaged with why, how and where something is designed, made and distributed. And as consumers we are being encouraged to think about and take some responsibility for our choices in terms of environmental impact and sustainability.

Design Museum, London (Photo: Rory Manchee)

Design Museum, London (Photo: Rory Manchee)

There are several social, economic, technological and environmental movements that have helped to define “maker culture”, so there isn’t really a single, neat theory sitting behind it all. Here is a (highly selective) list of the key elements that have directly or indirectly contributed to this trend:

Hacking – this is not about cracking network security systems, but about learning how to make fixes when things that don’t work the way that we want them to, or for creating new solutions to existing problems – see also “life hacks”, hackathons or something like BBC’s Big Life Fix. Sort of “necessity is the mother of invention”.

Open source – providing easier access to coding tools, software programs, computing components and data sources has helped to reduce setup costs for new businesses and tech startups, and deconstructed/demystified traditional development processes. Encompasses everything from Linux to Arduino; from Github to public APIs; from AI bots to widget libraries; from Touch Board to F.A.T. Lab; from SaaS to small-scale 3-D printers.

Getting Sh*t Done – from the Fitzroy Academy, to Andrea de Chirico’s SUPERLOCAL projects, maker culture can be characterised by those who want: to make things happen; to make a difference; to create (social) impact; to get their hands dirty; to connect with the materials, people, communities and cultures they work with; to disrupt the status quo; to embrace DIY solutions; to learn by doing.

The Etsy Effect – just part of the response to a widespread consumer demand for personalised, customised, hand-made, individual, artisan, crafted, unique and bespoke products. In turn, platforms like the Etsy and Craftsy market places have sparked a whole raft of self-help video guides and online tutorials, where people can not only learn new skills to make things, they can also learn how to patch, repair, re-use, recycle and re-purpose. Also loosely linked to the recent publishing phenomena for new magazines that combine lifestyle, new age culture, philosophy, sustainability, mindfulness, and entrepreneurism with a social conscience.

Startups, Meetups and Co-working Spaces – if the data is to be believed, more and more people want to start their own ventures rather than find employment with an existing organisation. (Under the gig economy, around 40% of the workforce will be self-employed, freelance or contractors within 5 years, so naturally people are having to consider their employment options more carefully.) While starting your own business is not for everyone, the expanding ecosystem of meetups and co-working spaces is enabling would-be entrepreneurs to experiment and explore what’s possible, and to network with like-minded people.

Maker Spaces – also known as fabrication labs (“FabLabs”), they offer direct access to tools and equipment, mostly for things like 3-D printing, laser-cutting and circuit-board assembly, but some commercial facilities have the capacity to support new product prototyping, test manufacturing processes or short-run production lines. (I see this  interface between “cottage industry” digital studios and full-blown production plants as being critical to the development of high-end, niche and specialist engineering and manufacturing services to replace the declining, traditional manufacturing sectors.) Some of the activity is formed around local communities of independent makers, some offer shared workshop spaces and resources. Elsewhere, they are also run as innovation hubs and learning labs.

Analogue Warmth – I’ve written before about my appreciation for all things analogue, and the increased sales of vinyl records and even music cassettes demonstrate that among audiophiles, digital is not always better, that there is something to be said for the tangible format. This preference for analogue, combined with a love of tactile objects and a spirit of DIY has probably reached its apotheosis (in photography at least) through Kelli Anderson’s “This Book Is A Camera”.

Finally, a positive knock-on effect of maker culture is the growing number of educational resources for learning coding, computing, maths and robotics: Raspberry PI, Kano and Tech Will Save Us; KidsLogic, Creative Coding HK and Machinam; Robogals, Techcamp and robokids. We can all understand the importance of learning these skills as part of a well-rounded education, because as Mark Pascall, founder of 3months.com, recently commented:

“I’m not going to advise my kids to embark on careers that have long expensive training programs (e.g. doctors/lawyer etc). AI is already starting to give better results.”

Better to learn how things work, how to design and make them, how to repair them etc., so that we have core skills that can adapt as technology changes.

Next week: Life Lessons from the Techstars founders

 

Design thinking is not just for hipsters….

In recent months, I have been exploring design thinking, a practice I first encountered nearly 20 years ago (when it was called user-centred design). Whether we are talking about UX/UI, CX, human-centred design, service design or even “boring” process improvement, it’s important to realise that this is not just the domain of hipsters – everyone can, and needs to understand how these design thinking techniques can build better product and service outcomes in multiple applications. Here are three real-world examples to consider:

Curved Space-Diamond Structure by Peter Pearce, Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan (Photo © Rory Manchee, all rights reserved)

Curved Space-Diamond Structure by Peter Pearce, Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan (Photo © Rory Manchee, all rights reserved)

1. Financial Services – a case of putting the cart before the horse?

A major bank was designing a new FX trading system, to replace a labour-intensive legacy system, and to streamline the customer experience. The goal was to have more of a self-service model, that was also far more timely in terms of order processing, clearing and settlement.

The design team went ahead and scoped the front end first, because they thought that this was most important from a customer perspective (and it was also a shiny and highly visible new toy!). However, when I heard about this focus on the front end, I was prompted to ask, “What will the customer experience be like?” By automating the process from a front end perspective, the proposed design would significantly diminish the need for customer interaction with relationship managers, and it meant they would have less direct contact with the bank. Whereas, part of the bank’s goal was to enhance the value of the customer relationship, especially their priority clients.

Also, by starting with the front-end first, the design did not take into account the actual mechanics and logistics of the middle and back office operations, so there were inevitable disconnects and gaps in the hand-off processes at each stage of the transaction. (This is a common mistake – a colleague who consults in the retail sector told me about the online storefront for a major retail chain that looked really pretty, but revealed no understanding of the established supply chain logistics and back-office order fulfilment processes.)

The bank team had a rethink of the storyboarding and workflow analysis, to make sure that the customer experience was streamlined, but that there were still adequate opportunities for customer touch points between client and relationship manager along the way.

2. Construction industry – inside and looking inwards

Another colleague told me of a specialist supplier in the construction industry, that was undertaking a review of their processes and service design model. From an internal perspective, everything looked fine. The customer orders came in, they went into production, and were then delivered according to the manufacturing schedule.

However, there were two stages in the process, that did not work so well from a customer perspective:

First, customers did not receive any confirmation or acknowledgment that the order had been submitted; so they might be worried that their order had not been received.

Second, once the order had gone into production, there was no further customer communication until it was ready to be delivered. Meanwhile, the client’s own schedule might have slipped, so they might not be ready to take delivery (we’ve all seen those moments on “Grand Designs”). Resulting in the supplier having to hold unpaid for work-in-progress in their warehouse.

For the supplier, it was a simple case of implementing a formal acknowledgment process, and a check in with the client prior to fabrication and a follow-up prior to delivery to make sure schedules were aligned.

3. Energy sector – gaining empathy in the field

A friend of mine ran a local distribution and installation business for an international supplier of energy switching gear. They specialised in remote operating systems, most notably used in indigenous communities. Head office was in Europe, and the clients were in outback Australia – so communications could be challenging. The overseas engineers would not always appreciate how time critical or simply inconvenient power outages or interruptions could be. “We’ll fix the software bugs in the next upgrade,” was usually the response.

Then the local business started inviting their European colleagues to come and work in the field, to get some downstream experience of how customers use their products. It was also a good opportunity to train technical staff on how to handle customers.

One time, a visiting engineer was in a remote community, trying to fix a power operating system. When Europe said they would take care of it in the next upgrade, the engineer pointed out that he was with the client there and then, and that without power, the community could not function properly, and that Head Office had to solve the problem immediately, even if it meant working overnight. The issue was sorted right away.

If nothing else, the visiting engineer, schooled in siloed processes and internal systems at Head Office, had managed to gain empathy from working directly in the field.*

While none of these examples seems to involve cutting edge design thinking, they do reveal some fundamental service design and product development concepts: the need for empathy, the value of prototyping and testing, the role of user scenario and workflow analysis, and the importance of challenging existing processes, even if they seem to be working fine on the inside.

*Footnote: This reminds me of a time many years ago when I was travelling around Beijing in the back of a cab, between client visits, calling my production team in the US, asking them to investigate a problem the local customers were having in accessing our subscriber website. “The Chinese government must be blocking the site”, I was told. Given that most of the clients were state-owned enterprises, or government departments, I thought this was unlikely. Turns out that the IT team in the States had “upgraded” the SSL without informing anyone and without doing multiple site testing first. Some clients had problems logging on from slower internet services, because the connections timed out. Being in the field, and speaking directly after witnessing the client experience for myself enabled me to convince my colleagues of what the cause actually was. Although we had to implement an interim workaround, going forward, every software upgrade or product modification was benchmarked against multiple test sites.

Next week: More on #FinTech, #Bitcoin and #Blockchain in Melbourne