Happy birthday to you

Happy Birthday to You!

Happy Birthday to You! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you saw a sign above the door of a shop announcing that the proprietor established the business in 1993, you would probably shrug your shoulders and say so what? After all, 20 years is not a long time for a shop in the scheme of things.

In technology terms though, 2 decades is an eternity. Although Apple and Microsoft can trace their roots back nearly 40 years, there are not many tech firms that can. Amazon, eBay, Google & Facebook were just a twinkle in someone’s eye 20 years ago.

This year, my employer celebrates their 20th birthday and after working for them for 13 years, I can’t help but feel a certain pride in the achievement. It hasn’t always been plain sailing. The world collectively held its breath after 9/11 which meant that sales of banking software (among other things) fell off a cliff. The latest banking crisis (followed by the sovereign debt crisis) also meant that banks were a bit preoccupied. Still, we have emerged from these crises and the future looks bright for Temenos.

When any tech company first sets out, they’re going to need some IT. Assuming they went for the state of the art, then their machines  would have been powered by Pentiums – probably with a 60 MHz clock speed. Windows NT came out in 1993 so perhaps that would be the operating system of choice. If they waited until the end of the year, Windows 3.11 (or Windows for Workgroups) might be an option.

If they wanted to do some research on the internet, they would have found it fairly barren with only 50 World Wide Web servers. Just about every page would have a cute “Under Construction” graphic and their browser of choice would probably have been Mosaic (the Granddaddy of Netscape Navigator).

If they wanted to stay in touch with each other whilst out on the road, they would need some mobile phones. They would be fairly chunky, have terrible battery life and be analogue in nature. The mobile operators were still building their networks so the chances of holding a complete conversation free of interference were fairly slim.

No-0ne had heard of Big Data – after all – we transmit more data round the internet in a single second than we did in the whole of 1993. If people talked about clouds, they were the white, fluffy sort that float around in the sky. The words “Service Oriented Architecture” had yet to be uttered by overpaid consultants.

Today – a startup company has unbelievable resources at their fingertips. The internet is chock full of useful information. Social media makes it easy to build a network and get your message out. Cloud means a startup can commission a sophisticated network of IT for no capital outlay. It has never been so easy to start a company. Unfortunately, your competition also have all these resources at their disposal.

Temenos had none of these resources at their disposal and yet they have grown from nothing to a half a billion dollar company. They employ 4,000 people of which I am one. Happy birthday Temenos. Here’s to many more.

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Cash or cheque?

Money Queen

Money Queen (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I looked at my first full-time payslip in disbelief. More money in one month than it would take me all year to earn on my paper round. At that precise moment, I felt rich. What am I going to do with all that money?

It’s a shame that every payslip doesn’t come with that feeling. Unfortunately, as time goes on, we get mortgages and cars and other such commitments to mop up all that disposable income. Money felt very different to me back then.

It was more difficult to get at for starters. To make a withdrawal, you had to actually go to the branch. I can’t remember the last time I went to a bank branch. Once in the branch, you had to queue up to see a teller. Once you reached the front of the queue, you wrote out a cheque to yourself, handed it over and in return, they gave you some cash. You could only get cash during your bank’s extremely limited opening hours which meant that almost everyone went at lunchtime. That meant the queues were enormous.

Along came the ATM. Suddenly with your plastic card and a PIN number, you could get your cash when you liked. At first, you were limited to your bank’s own branches still, but it was progress. Mine had a weekly limit of £50 which was just too low to eliminate the tedious trips to the branch.

If you wanted to pay someone else some money, you would write them a cheque. For it to be worth the paper it was written on, it needed to be backed by a cheque guarantee card. I can’t remember the last cheque I wrote out but for some strange reason, my cheque book still lives in the back pocket of whichever trousers I happen to have on. Old habits die-hard.

I remember applying for my first loan. It was for the princely sum of £2,000 to buy a new car. I had to go down to the branch for an interview with the bank manager. I remember dressing up smartly and turning up early, eager to make a good impression. That was over 20 years ago and was probably one of the last times I ever saw a bank manager.

Today, I can pay for my tube ticket with a swipe of my card. I can lend money out to other people without ever leaving my armchair. From that same armchair, I can place bets or invest in the stock market. Some would say that they are one and the same thing. I can also launch a project and ask strangers to invest in it. I can find almost anything I want on the Internet and pay for it there and then. I could probably list off half a dozen different ways to pay someone some money. I bought my last house without seeing a soul (apart from the estate agent).

And yet, despite all that, our financial system seems very antiquated. I still have a pocketful of change and a wallet full of paper money. If I go to a different country, I need to change those coins and notes for different ones. I have a number of plastic cards, each with their own provider, credit limit and statements. I probably have accounts with dozens of institutions, from Amazon and eBay, through to utility companies and banks.

If I want to work out exactly where I am with everything, it’s up to me to collate all the information and do so. I can’t wait for the day when all I carry is my phone and I’m able to see everything about my finances in one place without breaking sweat. Maybe one day.

Where’s the technology I want at CES?

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Veg...

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Nevada in January 2010 (cc) David Berkowitz http://www.marketersstudio.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My technology needs are simple. I want my phone to check the weather half an hour before I get up. If there’s likely to be frost, it will communicate with a gizmo in my car that will not only defrost the windows, but it will warm up the seats and the steering wheel for me. My heating should also be given a little boost so that downstairs is nice and toasty. Five minutes before I get up, I want it to switch the kettle on downstairs. I want it to gradually bring the lights up in the room so that I wake up gently.

My tablet should automatically download today’s copy of the Times rather than dumbly waiting for me to fire it up and press the button. My phone should check my diary to see whether I have any appointments in London. If so, it should check that the trains and tubes are running OK. If for any reason I need to deviate from my normal route it should be ready for me by the time I look at my phone. I want my phone to check the balance on my Oyster card, If it’s running low, it should automatically top it up. The TV should switch on and automatically turn to my favourite news channel.

If it’s dark and I walk into a room, the lights should automatically come on. If a room is empty for any length of time, the lights should switch off. If any bulbs are blown, and we are running low on replacements, something will magically buy some best value ones from eBay. I should be able to watch or read any media on any visual device in the house. My wife and I should be able to start watching something on the TV and half way through independently watch the remainder on our mobile phones.

The fridge should have a touchscreen that shows the contents in order of sell by dates together with suggestions for recipes. There will be buttons next door to everything so that we can add them to the next order from the supermarket. The cooker will be told what temperature to warm the oven up to and how long the dish needs. The microwave should be clever enough to work out what’s inside it and set the timer accordingly.

The car should go and fill itself up with fuel. As it sits there most of the time not doing anything, it should also automatically check all those annoying comparison sites and renew my insurance and my tax disc. The car should also book itself in for a service, preferably on a day I’m taking the train into London.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Everything connected up intelligently. The frustrating thing is that much of this technology is here today. The reason I can’t do all these things is because consumer technology is so disjointed. You might be able to get some of these things individually, but making then all work together is either ridiculously expensive, difficult or both.

So what do I think we’ll see at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas? Higher resolution TVs, flexible phones and a sea of tablets.

Going, going, gone!

Image representing eBay as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

To anyone with an interest in the eclectic, eBay is a dream come true. You can find just about anything you want for a price. It brings together buyers and sellers in a way that no other eCommerce site does. I’ve bought and sold everything from cars to complete tat. eBay is particularly good for commodity goods such as razor blades, batteries and light bulbs.

Since the acquisition of PayPal, the whole process of buying or selling is simplicity itself. Now that postage labels can be bought and printed, the despatch of items is easy too. It’s no wonder that so many home based businesses use eBay as their main sales medium.

Your item will live or die based on the description and photos you post. A key part of the description is laying down the rules of your particular auction. Will you end the auction early or do you want to allow overseas buyers for example. There are also rules that eBay lay down and it is amazing how many people are happy to break all these rules.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve stated no overseas bidders, mainly because of the palaver of working out the postage. On items like these, I’ve had winning bidders from all over the world. Nowadays, there’s no need because of the ability to print labels for every country.

I’ve had phone calls from people desperately trying to get me to end auctions early. I’ve had buyers and sellers who want to carry out the deal outside of eBay to avoid the commission (despite availing themselves of eBay’s facilities). I always specify payment by PayPal only, but loads of people try it on to avoid the fees. I always stand my ground and insist on PayPal because it’s the only way to be reasonably sure you’ve got your money.

The rating system means there is transparency about the track record of whoever you’re dealing with and the whole experience is super-slick. Like Amazon, eBay has been honed to be a razor-sharp eCommerce site and despite the niggles about buyers and sellers that break the rules, it is a near perfect website.

Sometimes when I’m bored, I find myself browsing the eBay motors section which is a very dangerous activity. Every so often, you spot something shiny that has no place in your life and is far too expensive for a toy, but it’s nice to dream none the less.

The wisdom of crowds

NXNEi - Day 2 - Kickstarter.com

NXNEi – Day 2 – Kickstarter.com (Photo credit: Jason Hargrove)

The idea of a collection of people chipping in to raise enough money to make something happen is not a new one. Charities have relied on the concept for years, as have mutuals or building societies. The earliest documented such endeavour is Ketley’s Building Society which grew out of the inns, taverns and coffeehouses of 18th century Birmingham.

The funds in that case were for building houses, but similar societies cropped up to pay out money in the case of misfortune such as bereavement or loss of limbs at sea. The members paid a small subscription hoping against hope that they would never need of the society’s services. Many famous modern insurance companies can trace their roots back to such humble origins.

Mention crowd funding to most people and they will not think of charities, building societies or insurance companies. They will immediately think of crowd funding websites. Just as Amazon and eBay have revolutionised selling over the internet, so have kickstarter.com and indiegogo.com have taken crowd funding to a whole new level.

By combining the reach of the internet with the viral effect of social media, crowd funding websites are ruthlessly efficient funding models. If your target audience likes your pitch, you will probably get funded. If your target audience looks at your pitch and gives a collective “meh!” then your funding deadline will pass with nary a whimper. Successful projects tend to snowball as stretch goals are reached adding more and more swag to the booty on offer.

I recently took part in funding this kick-starter project which went on to become the third most successful ever. It is fast becoming a poster child for the kind of innovation that crowd funding can unlock for successful pitchers. In this particular case, the pitch was for plastic miniatures (used for war-games or table top games). The original funding target for this project was $30k. They went on to raise about $3.5m

The upfront costs in making tooling for plastic miniatures is ruinously expensive. The ongoing unit costs per miniature are very low. Funded traditionally, it makes for a risky business because you never know how many units you will sell and whether you will cover your initial outlay. Crowd funding is perfect because if there is no interest for your product, you find out without spending a fortune. If you are lucky, you will end up with a runaway success.

I believe that crowd funding could offer a much more efficient mechanism for companies to build the right products. Using the same kind of mechanism, product managers could design pitches for new products. Salesmen (or maybe even customers) could commit to delivering a certain sales target. If the project reaches the profitability target, it gets funded.

There is even scope for the project to work in reverse with the consumers designing the pitch and when enough people say “I’d like one too” – a company takes up the mission of delivering the product.