Who is Your Support Network? #startups #sanity

It’s a simple question…. to be honest the answer is simple as well.

telephone1

Startups are all consuming beasts that never leave you alone. Fine if there’s a team of 20 but a real challenge if it’s a team of one. If the service runs into trouble and customers are giving you a hard time then it’s the worst job in the world.

Yes this is where cofounders come in useful, you have a sound board. Some founders don’t want cofo’s, it makes life harder but it’s still not impossible to do. If that’s the route you want to go down though then you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got a support network in the industry as well as close family.

And a quick note, if you see a startup struggling, just a wee phone call to see if they’re okay makes all the difference. It’s not about being an entrepreneur or a mentor, it’s about being a human being.

 

Posted in Startups/Business

Ranum: My new #startup funding system.

The old adage runs true, you need money to make money. Now whether that’s someone else’s money or your own doesn’t really matter, it just alters how the communication and reporting is done.

continentalcongress-623x325

I have to admit my system is not exactly new among entrepreneurs but I believe that I’ve managed to remove all that writing business plans, doing pitches and so on. I don’t even have to attend things I can just wheel the system out on a regular basis and see what transpires, for a  minimum investment of £2 a week (I can obviously increase that) I could stand to make a 1.6mx return on my investment or there abouts. I mean there’s no guarantees but there isn’t in much else either.

Here’s my startup formula:

1,10,26,27,31,43

I’m not just limited to six numbers, I could add more but I’d need to up my initial investment by £2 for every set of six numbers I pick. There’s a UK board meeting on a Wednesday and a Saturday (I know the board meets on a Saturday) and sometimes the bring a band on and do a quiz. It’s crazy.

The downside to this startup is my return varies from 1 in 56 where I get a 5x per week invested return to the unicorn finding probability of 1 in 13,983,816. If more than one investor has the same startup formula as me then the return is split amongst us.

The great thing is that these startup investment pools are all over the world with varying probabilities but they all seem to have that board meeting. Here’s the European board meeting :)

Posted in Startups/Business

Entrepreneurship: The Belfast Goldrush #Startups

John_Sutter_and_the_California_Gold_Rush

Welcome To The Modern Goldrush

We have a modern gold rush on our hands folks, the Belfast startup scene is exploding! These things work in cycles and I can only compare it to the 2009/2010 explosion of barcamps, bizcamps and open coffees. People getting together and attempting to make stuff happen. There’s gold in them there hills and if you listen to the right people and read the right tech sites and books then you have as a good a chance as any of making it.

Let’s roll back a second though. There’s been a lot of pedalling of the startup way, “anyone with an idea can make it”, and to be fair there are those who have. So entrepreneurs are the new gold prospectors and there be the problem….

1848–1855 – Who Made The Money?

The question is this, in the California Gold Rush who made the money? The guy who sold the shovel. The prospectors themselves made less than the folk who were supplying the services to the prospectors. After expenses prospectors made a modest profit but the people who sold (among other things): retail, shipping, entertainment, lodging, transportation, boarding houses, food preparation, sewing, laundry, saloons, brothels and gambling – they made the money.

The prospectors fuelled an entire business ecosystem and they all did very well out of it, well everyone apart from the prospectors, only a few actually “made it”.

2014 – Who’s Making The Money?

Look at things today, for the startup just entering we’ve got the likes of mobile app development, web design houses, graphic designers, lawyers, accountants, consultants, public relations, marketing companies, social media gurus and the rest of it. The modern day prospector is fuelling a an entire business ecosystem. And you know what that’s fine.

We attend prospector events with more prospectors and we trade our war stories over free beer and food. The only thing it can be compared to is a wake, it’s the only other time when free alcohol and food seem to attract volumes of numbers. A tip for you, if you know over 25% of the people in the room then don’t bother going. We’ll be invited to pay for weekends where distilled knowledge is passed to us regardless of who’s telling us have actually made a prospectors payback or not (let’s be honest, they probably haven’t).

The Realisation

The reality is stark reader: While I concentrate on Belfast as that’s where I live (sort of) it could apply to anywhere in the world that pushing the gold rush as a way to keep the minds of good busy. For some who were there before over the last two cycles we’ve become weary and know that the game’s up. The same mantra reworded doesn’t wash anymore.

The old American Dream … was the dream of the Puritans, of Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard”… of men and women content to accumulate their modest fortunes a little at a time, year by year by year. The new dream was the dream of instant wealth, won in a twinkling by audacity and good luck.

Luck is where the balance of success and failure lies. You have to create your own luck.

 

 

Posted in Startups/Business

An AppStore for #Hadoop ?

It’s been staring me in the face for a while, all the training, advising and talking about this Hadoop thing. It needs an AppStore, a seamless platform for one click installing and running of Hadoop applications within the framework and cluster.

Up until now most MapReduce work has been hand coded by in house development teams working to a specific requirement. Hadoop2 and it’s Yarn component extends on that and makes applications easier to distribute across the cluster, like I said in yesterday’s post about deploying point of sale software across kiosks.

The issue is that Hadoop takes an amount of skill to get things running, thinking of getting data in and running scripts at so on. We’re a way off from a one touch solution for app and data deployment and processing.

It’s coming, I’m sure it is. The next two years will be very interesting.

MapR got the ball rolling with an application gallery, not an AppStore par se but a great start.

Posted in Hadoop, Java, Sentiment Analysis, Startups/Business

Could #Hadoop Aid The Point Of Sale Deployment Problem? #POS

Point Of Sale (POS) is one of the hotly contested areas of startups. While many feel that point of sale should shift from the desktop/kiosk based Windows machine to something a bit more funky (iOS and Android, think AirPOS) there is a legacy of hundreds of thousands of kiosks out there in the field.

One of the major headaches for POS vendors is updating the software on the kiosk. The majority is build on Windows, run locally and using local storage. Only recently the advent of broadband connectivity means that stock updates and deployments can happen as required.

Updates are tiresome especially when you have large numbers of kiosks deployed within a store.

With web based POS this isn’t really much of an issue as the software is essentially a SaaS implementation. iOS and Android update their own operating systems via their own ecosystems primarily but this then puts emphasis on the user to update their own and not the vendor to monitor measure deployments across the site. This can become an issue from a customer support point of view when there are multiple versions of the software in use across the retail field.

Hadoop 2 and YARN

Most people think of Hadoop as the BigData thing, crunching volumes of data and spitting out the answers. For Hadoop 1.x this was true, with the advent of Hadoop 2.x it’s not so much the case now.

The differences between Hadoop version 1 and version 2 is vast and it all boils down to the YARN element performing resource management control. This means that Hadoop is no longer about crunch data in the MapReduce paradigm but more a cluster control tool where the YARN element (Yet Another Resource Negotiator) can play a key role in deploying software across the whole cluster.

One Master, Many Slaves

The diagram below shows six POS kiosks in operation. Traditionally updates would happen manually or via some remote software like TeamViewer, remotely copying the files in and restarting the POS application on the kiosk. Introducing Hadoop 2.x into the mix changes the landscape slightly. The Hadoop master is on another server, this could be within the same data centre, or within the control of the POS company for example. The POS kiosks now become slaves to the Hadoop master.

posdeploy

 

 

In Hadoop terms every POS kiosk becomes a Node with a Container. With YARN we can make a deployment to all the kiosks at the same time. Ultimately YARN isn’t concerned about what it is running, just that it can be published to the required containers across the available nodes.  The software required for the POS would be stored on the master’s HDFS or a the master local filesystem. When the YARN client is run it’s then copied across to the addressable nodes.

This means the master deployment of the updated software only need happen once. Then it’s up to YARN to distribute the software to the other kiosks and get it started. The beauty of this means that the output and error logs are stored on the master server so they are all in one place.

Taking It Further

As YARN acts as our resource manager it’s also easier to carry data functions, heartbeat monitoring (no one likes a POS kiosk that’s down, you can’t sell) and end of day functions with the data stored on the master. From there it would be a fairly trivial task to perform some batch Hadoop jobs on the day’s trading data. Insight comes quick then the nodes are connected together.

 

 

Posted in Android Development, Data and Statistics, Hadoop, iOS Development, Retail and Loyalty, Startups/Business

Rethinking The Proof Of Concept Funds (NI)

Like it or loathe it the Northern Ireland funding situation is either lifeline or an unrequited flatline to companies. Not much seems to have changed in the last couple of years while the actual sector landscape has changed a lot with the advent of new sectors and ventures.

The Proof Of Concept (PoC) Fund

The £10K and £40K PoC funds have been the starting point for many-a-startup to actually get minimum product built. I personally think it needs a bit of an overhaul.

Tiering The Available 40K Amount

Depending on the type of project you are building. Enterprise projects cost a fortune to put together, consumer apps not so much. So iPhone development for example shouldn’t really be touching the 40K at all and only be eligible for the 10K.

Three Solid Quotes From Each Supplier

I’m not even sure this happens, if not then it should. Northern Ireland is blessed with a lot of mobile developers and hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of web design firms. The quality of these is pretty good across the board. So it makes sense before any funding is passed for each applicant to have three solid quotes. This should happen across both funding amounts.

A New 100K Fund

For larger scale companies who need specific needs development in the enterprise (think BigData/Hadoop/High Performance Computing etc) with a solid proven requirement. Building these components is complex and time consuming and the skills are not always sourced in the province. Consumer applications do not apply this is an enterprise (B2B) only category with a proven opportunity to build a product.

Why do I mention the BigData aspect? Well it’s not going to go away for one and while the suits love talking about it they don’t like the fact that average seed round is about $5M to make a small dent in the market. While it’s predominantly services/support-subscription based the returns can be huge. VC’s are happy to plough $17M in to an open source BigData that makes no money on downloads but generates huge revenue on support fees (the old Redhat model).

In Summary

The PoC funds have started many an idea but once the money leaves the account it’s really down to the applicant to see the delivery through. At this point it gets a bit hazy. A solid plan and specification is required for any software/hardware/business project and a concrete set of deliverables needs to be put in place.

Focus needs to be placed on the larger scale enterprise companies that need more of a boost in the initial stages. While the customer ratio may be lower they tend to yield longer lasting relationships in the long term and a larger long term value.

Consumer apps do not, on the whole, generate the returns that an overseas VC would be looking for (with rare exceptions). The days of making a fortune off apps is sort of over, the real revenue comes from the use data and in app sales around that.

Enterprise is designed with the long run in mind and not a quick exist. The idea of a £100K fund would be a better staring point instead of wasting time in hunting for small scraps under the table.

Posted in Data and Statistics, Northern Ireland, Startups/Business

All Hail The Single Core #Hadoop Cluster

The commonality with most data projects is that they start with this rather ambiguous, “well, we’ve got this data”, statement. And without a care in the world it’s spin up the Amazon EMR instances, yes instances, and whack all the data up there. The mainstream tech media will focus on the commodity hardware and Yahoo having 50,000 nodes in it’s cluster but the fact remains for most customers we’re talking small amounts of nodes.

Rplot

The peak number of clusters really only count for a small number of the companies using it (the Google’s, Facebook’s, Twitter’s and Yahoo’s of this world). For most people the single core may actually be fine when dealing with batch processing, especially when those runs are planned during quiet times where the data isn’t going to be changing fast.

Adding cores adds latency, regardless of whether within the local network or a wide area network. When you are combining a number of latency points such as network access, disk i/o and the actual processing the total time added can start to hurt.

Hadoop is usually copying blocks of 64Mb data to a node for processing, done with TCP and RPC. Why 64Mb? Well it’s a Goldilocks number, not too big, not too small but just right.

So the key to powering up any single core system is to find ways of reducing any latency you can. Whether that’s making HDFS a complete in-memory implementation making block read/writes faster or just adding a ton more machine RAM to make things faster will give big time differences (well as much as the JVM will let you add) machines using 48Gb will find other uses for disk caching and so on, it all adds to the performance.

Once you run out of options you are entering the realms of hardware acceleration and there are a few companies working on this now, notable NI company is Analytics Engines. At this point it doesn’t really become a Hadoop issue, just eeking the  juices out of the machine you are working on.

The Hadoop cluster count has become the ego point for Hadoop developers, without so much thinking about the cost considerations of running such a complex cluster of machines (devops won’t save you now). I’ve found that even the mid-tier racks will give you up to 6TB of storage and a enough RAM to sink a small startup, in the grand scheme of things SME’s don’t have much to worry about, perhaps we don’t need everything on the cloud after all…..

 

 

 

Posted in BigData, Data and Statistics, Hadoop, Java, Sentiment Analysis, Startups/Business
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