Tales from Tasmania

There’s a slightly misleading advertisement for Tasmania that greets arrivals at Melbourne’s international airport. “You got off one stop too soon” is the message. But there are no scheduled international flights to or from Tasmania, so overseas visitors must travel via the Australian mainland. Just one of many idiosyncrasies that occurred to me on a recent visit to the island state.

On this trip, I experienced the snowfalls on Kunanyi (Mount Wellington), sampled the local produce at the Farm Gate Market (a popular destination, no doubt helped by TV programmes such as “Gourmet Farmer”), enjoyed tasting the wine at Moorilla, the cheese and beer on Bruny Island, and the beer at the Cascade Brewery.

I also spent a very wet day in Richmond – but some attractions in this historic village are at risk of pricing themselves out of the market, especially outside the summer season. And despite being another popular destination, the shops and galleries along Hobart’s Salamanca Place seemed tired and lacklustre, especially when compared to what else Tasmania has to offer.

In particular – MONA. Its opening in 2011 has added to Tasmania’s growth in tourism, and no trip to Hobart would be complete without a visit. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but what David Walsh has managed to achieve here is nothing short of incredible. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is…. The current exhibition, ZERO, is a powerful survey of this post-war movement in German art.

Notwithstanding the cutting edge culture represented by MONA, you can’t help feeling that Tasmania represents a microcosm of the Australian psyche, and in particular the tension between traditional, conservative beliefs, and modern, progressive thinking. Tasmania was the last state to decriminalise male homosexuality (following Federal intervention), and abortion was only decriminalised as recently as 2013. The fact that access to publicly funded abortion is extremely limited may or may not be linked to the state’s high rate of teenage pregnancy – but it is certainly the background to a high-profile unfair dismissal case.

Tasmania has been the setting for other significant social and political battles (and ecological victories), especially those involving logging and damming. The state’s natural beauty and reputation for a clean environment makes it popular with overseas visitors (and probably some prospective survivalists in the wake of New Zealand’s new property ownership laws). However, the growth of short-term holiday lettings is seen as contributing to a local housing crisis.  And the significant contribution that tourism makes to the local economy cannot hide the fact that on the basis of total and per capita GSP, Tasmania’s economy looks comparatively insipid.

Next week: Sakamoto – Coda and Muzak

Richmond 3121

What makes a great suburb? Location? Infrastructure? Public transport? Affordable housing? Great coffee? Schools, shops, restaurants and amenities? Probably all these and more…. Although housing costs are comparatively high, Melbourne is frequently rated as one of the world’s most livable cities. I would argue that part of its success lies in the distinct personalities of many of its key suburbs, such as Richmond (postcode 3121).

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I have lived in this inner city suburb for the past 14 years, which is by far the longest time I lived in one place. I love the convenience (within walking distance to the CBD, close to the river and parks, and well served by trains and trams) and the diversity (it’s comfortable yet retains a somewhat grungy character). I must admit to feeling spoiled at times, because I don’t need a car, and often take for granted the proximity to Melbourne’s cultural and sporting precincts.

Although there have been some enormous changes in the past 10 years, mainly thanks to more apartment developments that have brought in high-end restaurants, hipster bars and cafes, and artisan food outlets, even I was surprised when a new branch of Avenue Bookstore opened on Swan Street a few months ago. Maybe this was the missing ingredient? It turns out that the most popular categories are cooking titles (inspired by all the new eateries?) and children’s books (a result of the recent influx of younger couples starting families?). In any event, this probably plays up Richmond’s aspirations to being a bit intellectual – after all, it is within the administrative boundaries of the People’s Republic of Yarra…

A while back, in a Saturday newspaper article on Melbourne’s trendier suburbs, Richmond was described as being like Switzerland: neutral territory between the hipster-filled Bo-Bo* land of Fitzroy and Collingwood to the north, and the fashionista playground of South Yarra and Toorak to the south. And although in the Corner Hotel, Richmond has one of the best live music venues in Australia, it no longer has any record stores (which are now clustered in Collingwood’s Johnson Street, and Fitzroy’s Brunswick Street).

In recent times, Richmond (along with the adjacent suburb of Cremorne) has also become an epicentre for Melbourne’s thriving startup community and co-working culture. Co-working spaces such as Inspire9, Lennox Street Exchange and Launchpad, along with a multitude of shared creative spaces, have helped to host, incubate or entice local and global startups like LIFX, Stripe, Culture Amp, Uber, Tablo, CareMonkey, RomeToRio, etaskr and CoinJar to set up in Melbourne. Much of this activity has grown to occupy the factories, warehouses and light-industrial spaces once home to the local textile industry – and along with the increased apartment living has been a spur to the area’s urban renewal. So, for an increasing number of people, Richmond is both home and workplace.

Finally, while Richmond’s median property prices have maintained pace with recent growth rates for Melbourne’s established suburbs, they are still more favourable than some of the leafier neighbouring suburbs. True, plots and properties here are generally smaller, and you would be hard placed to find any McMansions – but I think this just adds to the area’s appeal.

*Bo-Bo = Bourgeois-Bohemian

Next week: Summing up the FinTech summit

StartupVic’s #Pitch Night for October

The crowds are getting bigger, the list of sponsors is getting longer, there’s a new logo, and they’ve even managed to (sort of) fix the PA system. The Startup Victoria monthly pitch night is now a firm fixture on Melbourne’s Meetup calendar…

Image sourced from Startup Vic's Meetup page (Photo by Daniel)

Image sourced from Startup Vic’s Meetup page (Photo by Daniel)

As usual, there were 4 startup pitches, and I’ll comment on each in order of their presentations:

Next Address

This Ballarat-based startup has built a P2P website that offers “direct to market” property sales, removing the need for traditional estate agents. Recognising that the real estate sector is still ripe for some digital disruption, Next Address is challenging the commission-based fees and cost++ price markup on services that many estate agents charge their clients.

They have established an affiliate programme, and generated some positive media coverage, but have yet to complete any sales. Charging a fee of around $549 to vendors (there is a sliding scale), compared to similar competitors priced at between $800 and $2,000, Next Address is also offering a Facebook package.

I think it’s fair to say that this pitch did not come across as one of the strongest or most compelling presentations at these pitch nights (possibly due to some stage nerves?). There were also questions among people I spoke to about market traction, the customer acquisition model and the conversion process.

Given that there is a lot of competition within real estate listings and aggregation (often backed by major media companies), and given that many vendors still prefer to use the auction process, it was difficult to see how Next Address can cut through, unless they focus on a point of differentiation: geographic market, property type, price range, marketing support or add-on services.

However, the founders must be doing something right, as on the night they managed to attract the attention of a senior executive from a well-known real estate listings website.

DragonBill

DragonBill is an invoicing and remittance solution aimed at sole traders and micro businesses, which has featured in this blog before. The focus is on helping clients manage their cashflow and providing them with a level of financial literacy and education.

Since launching, DragonBill has found a substantial niche market among sporting clubs and associations, in large part because 50% of club members are also SME owners. They are continuing to build partnerships with accountants and are now starting to market themselves via co-working spaces.

Further ahead, there are plans to build some sort of superannuation offering, given that many SME owners and sole traders may not be making sufficient contributions to their personal funds. There are also regulatory changes in payroll administration following the roll out of SuperStream by the ATO.

The judges were interested to know what plans DragonBill has for international growth, and whether the platform can output financial and tax reporting for accounting purposes – both of which are under consideration. Meanwhile, DragonBill was recently shortlisted for an award by VISA.

Spee3d

In short, this business supports “3-D printing of metals at production speeds“. Using a proprietary “Lightspee3d” technology, the goal is to offer a low-cost, high-speed solution for full-scale production output, not just prototypes and medical devices. Primarily manufacturing in copper and aluminium 6061, current output is 100g/minute ( expecting to soon reach 250g/minute), and the maximum size is 300mm x 300mm x 300mm.

For the technically minded, the additive process is described as something like “bugs hitting a windshield”. It does not use any gasses, and deploys a “line of sight” process, meaning that some hollow objects are possible. The business has picked up a Bosch Venture Award.

Targeting products traditionally fabricated by sand casting, Spee3d is working with clients who have a preference for low-cost powders, initially within the university market, then the auto industry. They are also aiming at new products, and not parts manufactured from existing casts that have associated sunk costs. There was quite a lot of excitement around this pitch, judging by the number of questions it prompted.

Foddies

This startup is launching a fructose friendly food business, offering products, recipes and outlets (shops, cafes, catering) that can also appeal to people with other food allergies and dietary requirements. If, like me, you were unaware of the “Low FODMAP” diet,
it was researched and created in Melbourne (Monash Uni), and from my initial reading, it has some similarities with diets designed for people needing gluten-free, lactose free and low GI solutions.

Admittedly not the first to market, Foddies claims to be the first to develop a holistic solution, which includes a wholesale strategy for ready-made meals, a cafe franchise and an online store. Next, they plan to work with airlines and hospitals. Although building on their social media engagement, the biggest challenge, when asked by the judges, was the lack of public awareness or education on the Low FODMAP model.

From a personal perspective, I appreciate the importance of helping people with food allergies or intolerance to manage their condition through appropriate diet. But I can’t be alone in thinking that the higher reported incidence of these complaints may be due to multiple factors such as the increased use of chemicals in the environment (especially food production), the lower resistance in our immune systems caused by too many antibiotics, and our over-reliance on certain strains and varieties of crops. More research is called for.

So, after a very mixed bag of startup pitches, the winner was Spee3d, based on the audience and panel voting.

Next week: Richmond 3121