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Interview: Marc Lehmann from Saasu.com

You may or may not have heard about a little conference we are putting on in a couple of weeks. We are particularly excited by the speakers that we have coming over. I was luckily enough to catch up with one of them: Marc Lehmann from Saasu.com for a quick chat about SaaS.

ME: Briefly explain what it is that your company does.

ML: Saasu provides secure and reliable online accounting software via the web so businesses can concentrate on financial success. In a practical sense you can create invoices, manage inventory, do the payroll and pay bills using a web browser in a synchronised way.

ME: You have been in SaaS, back when is was called ASP (Application Service Providers), how has the landscape changed?

ML: We used to call this a shared application back in 2000 before terms like Multi-Tennant and SaaS came along. The uptake was slow until eventually Salesforce.com educated the corporate market enough that they got traction in 2005. At the same time the consumer was falling more and more in love with having their stuff online. It was almost a barbelled acceptance by consumers and enterprises in 2006 and 2007. Small business and their advisers were probably the last to start the move and that was partly caused by the lack of applications targeting them. Now it mainstream with more than 20% of consumers who use computers using SaaS applications of one kind or another. I think 2010 will be the crossover year where software losses it’s grip.

ME: If you were back working for a corporation, how would you convince your manager to adopt SaaS systems?

ML: Getting people to accept they are already SaaS converts is the best way. They probably already use web based gmail, hotmail or online banking as examples. I’d then hammer it home by getting the P&L out and putting some big chunky black lines through the hardware, depreciation, software and servicing costs. Then add $20 to $200 per month for online accounting. Demonstrating the financial difference is very effective in larger companies.

ME: What are some of the challenges faced by SaaS providers, and how do you see companies like yours overcoming them?

ML: By far the biggest challenge is convincing people to kick their software habit. Fortunately they only have to try SaaS once before they realise it’s a much more powerful drug. They tend to flip the SaaS Utility switch on so they can have their business life online. Shifting their data to a high-end data centre with all it automated backups and high level of security becomes a whole new peace of mind addiction they didn’t know about. And at the same time it’s not ripping a hole in their pocket.

ME: Your background is in finance, so I’m sure you have an opinion on how SaaS will fair during this current climate – how do you see it affecting the uptake of SaaS services, and why?

ML: The low capital, fast implementation cycle for SaaS suits this financial crisis and economic slowdown very well. If you are looking to cut hardware, software and HR costs then invariably people keep coming back to SaaS as the answer. It is a user pays system that scales with business, saves capital expenditure and simplifies deployment and training.

ME: Thanks Marc!

If you want to hear more about SaaS, then head over to the Edge of the Web website and register your tickets!

Why freelancers should go to conferences

Let me take my Event coordinator hat off for just one moment, and replace it with my “Hey, I’m a freelancer – why should I fork our hundreds of dollars to go to a conference” hat (I have a lot of very specific hats). Miles Burke recently wrote about why you should attend two conferences every year, but what about you, my fellow freelancers, who have to watch the pennies? I personally think freelancers have the most to gain from attending conferences – think about it:

  1. Learning new stuff. As a freelancer, every minute you aren’t working on a client project is money you aren’t making. When do you get a chance to find out about new stuff? It’s usually squeezed in around lunch time or after hours, which is cool but how can you moot the benefits of a new tech? Although things like twitter or forums fill the gap a little, nothing beats old school, real word face-to-face talks. There are lots of people at conferences who’s minds are focused purely on new stuff.
  2. Meet famous people. Conferences are really just an excuse for the organisers to fly over people they admire. The thing is, because these people are only really famous on the internet, they are still usually really down to earth and approachable and are more than happy to chew-the-fat over a beer or three.
  3. Inspiration.  Smart people hang out at conferences. Smart people talk about smart stuff at conferences. Smart ideas are inspirational. Every time I come back from a conference I have a head full of crazy ideas that I wish I had more time to implement.
  4. Networking. I don’t care what anyone says – the MOST important skill a freelancer can have is the ability to network. 90% of my freelance work comes through people I’ve met (And I’d put money on the fact that most freelancers are the same). Freelancers by definition won’t have a dedicated marketing person, or a huge marketing budget, so networking is really a cheap and easy way to meet new clients (and more importantly new friends). Conferences have many people in a small area who could potentially want to talk to you. (Don’t forget your business cards).
  5. Tax Deduction. ‘Nuff Said

Ok, ok talk is cheap (thank god, otherwise I’d be bankrupt) but there really isn’t a way to describe the experience of a conference – the only way you’ll understand is to go to one. Now, you sandgropers are lucky because we have Edge of the Web on our doorstep. I had to fly to Sydney and sleep on a mates floor to get my first conference experience, and it still cost me nearly $2000 (but it was freaking awesome). You can get the same experience for $495 – I’m no Dr. Maths, but that sounds a truck load better.

Seriously, if you are umming and ahhing, just do it. I’ll see you in November :)

What I learnt at Web Directions South 08

First off, thank to WA government for having the foresight for ignoring the actual birthday of the Queen and making today a public holiday – my couch has been-a callin’. So what has been happening over the past couple of days?

Day 0

After getting in early morning on the Wednesday, I toddled along to Stories for one of their famous egg and bacon rolls with Simon, Lachlan and Nick.  Oh how I’ve waited for that. I could have gone home at this point a happy man, but then there was work to do! Spending the day tweaking my presentation, next it was up to the Kirk for memories of last year (Yes, they still only have five pint glasses) and then on to Port80 Sydney: Wednesday edition. We had a fantastic turnout, with over 80 people – most of which were new faces. Big ups to Clever starfish, radharc and Saasu.com for throwing dollars on the bar. I’m seeing a definate pattern here in regards to free beer.

Day 1

Waking up slightly hung over, I was off to the registration desk, and then the games began. Highlights for me was Dmitry Baranovskiy’s web vector graphics  talk. I’m about to go download raphael and build some stuff – not only if the guy a genius, but his talks are hilarious. Unfortunately, I missed the JavaScript workshop, where I hear Cameron Adams wowed the crowds with a JavaScript drum machine – with visualizations. The final keynote from August de los Reyes tied software and psycology together, something that I think is the crux of what we do. It was also a great talk, although the ads were a little too much to take.

What I learnt:

  • Seeing cool stuff is inspiring.
  • When giving a presentation, find out about the audience – it’s better to pitch a bit to high than to low.
  • Don’t try to squeeze in 2 hours of material into 55 minutes

Day 1.2

Next up was WebJam8. The one big disappointment of this trip is that I didn’t get something entered in WebJam, but having a Web Directions talk to do and a stupid amount of work took priority… Some really cool stuff was shown: Dmitry came third with a live code, that added reflections and animation to images on a web page, Diana came second with a crazy funny fast presentation about governments and bike helmets and the winners, Mr Speaker and Henry Tapia did a awesome YouTube remixer. In a moment of unlike-me-ness, I wentback to the hotel at a reasonable hour…

Day 2

…and for the first time EVER made it to the first session of the second day! So no one can joke that I missed the best talk of the conference (as happened the past couple of years) and I wasn’t dissapointed. Jeffrey Veen is a brilliant speaker, and I wanted to pull my laptop out right there and then and cut some code. This is the sort of stuff that makes these conferences. After lunch, I gave my presentation on OpenID, OAuth and webservices (Available on slideshare here), and I think it went pretty well. The backchannel was only positive, so I count that as a win. Next I headed over to Douglas Crockford for a good old fashioned Computer Science lecture, god that takes me back! Whilst a little dry, and technical (Who am I kidding – I wanted that) it generated some great discussion.

What I learnt:

  • Great talks bring in personal experience
  • You need to get the audience to think
  • Dual monitor Powerpoint never works properly when you need it to

Closing night

With all of the festivities over, it was time to let the hair down at the Shellbourne, for a quick shandy.  Had a debate about designers vs UX experts (We were actually arguing the same point, it turns out), and had many an indepth conversation, including one with Charles from Opera, about webservice brokering. So much so, my plans to build one may now be possible (Huzzah!).

What I learnt:

  • Finding random “locals” to go out with doesn’t mean they know where they are going
  • Peanuts 2u is actually a brand of salted almonds
  • There is a “No redheads” policy in NSW pubs
  • Bats are weird and scary

So that was my Web Directions experience in a nutshell! Roll on Edge of the Web – only five weeks until we get to do it all over again!

Speaker Program and Workshops are now available

We are now three months out from Perth’s first ever Edge of the Web Conference, so what better time is there is announce the speaker program and workshops! There is come awesome topics there, and I’m really excited about the whole thing! Get the skinny here.

There is also now only a week and a half before entries for the WA Web Awards close, so if you are thinking of entering, hurry the hell up!

Did I mention I’m excited? :)

The Original Social Network…

I just gave this presentation to the PRIA Young Guns –  a group for younf marketing and PR people, along with Justin Davies and Ronnie Duncan (from Meerkats – sorry, haven’t got a link).

As you all well know, I’m very much from the technical side of the web, and have been known to be a little critical of some of the more, let’s say, marketing focused people, so the focus of my talk was to show that social networking isn’t all about selling, it’s about interaction. At the end of the day, online social networks should be an extension (not a replacement) for real-life networks and should be treated as such. In real life, if you only call on friends when you want a favour, you aren’t going to have any friends left – and the same applied to online social networks.

I got asked a number of times “How many hours do you spend on social networks?”. It really is the wrong type of question to be asking, because I hang put on Twitter and the port 80 forums (Yes – forums are social networks too) because I have a genuine interest is what is going on with in these groups. It’s not about ROIs or won leads, it’s about conversation. If work comes out of that (and it does) – then fine.

So how was this relevant to a bunch of marketing kids? Well, the point I was trying to make was that interaction creates an association with your and your product, which encourages online “word of mouth” marketing. It’s less in your face and more targeting that whacking whopping great ads all over numerous sites. It’s probably a little harder to quantify, but it is still a solid methodology (says the man with the Computer Science degree).

It really enjoyed listening to Justin and Ronnie. Justin has a marketing degree, but is currently working heavily in the technical side of things, which acted as a great conduit between my talk and Ronnie’s. He made some really interesting points about the changing face of PR (So what would have happened if Apache Gas had a blog?). Ronnie comes from the old school of marketing and advertising (that is the creative, clever side), and although he admitted himself that he had a long way to go to fully grasp what can be done with Web 2.0, his attitude to what can be done was pretty refreshing.

My slides are here.

See me speak at Web Directions South ‘08!

I got asked to talk at Web Directions South 08 a couple of months ago, but it was one of those “I won’t believe it until I see it in HTML” kind of moments. Well, John and Maxine just announced the speaker list for this year, and guess what – I’m on it!

I’ll be speaking about web service APIs, OpenID and OAuth in a presentation imaginately entitled “Web APIs, Oauth and OpenID: A developer’s guide”.

Online web applications are big business, with many people relying on the cloud for data storage and workflow. These days, an API is an essential part of any online system, but this presents authentication and authorisation issues for the humble web developer. Learn how to create Web APIs, how OpenID and Oauth works and what you need to do to implement them.

I am REALLY excited by this. The line up this year is huge and it is a great privilege to be speaking on the same bill with people like Derek Featherstone and Jeffery Veen as well as some of the fantastic local talent, including fellow sandgroper – Kay Smoljak.

This years conference adds another stream (total 3: Design, development and business), has 10 international speakers and some a good number of local up-and-comers,who get their first chance to speak at an international conference (Yours truly included).

Web directions is always heaps of fun – this will be my third one. Not only do you get to hear really smart people talk about really cool stuff, you then get the chance to hang out with said really cool people and chat with them.

So, if you are thinking of going, let me sweeten the deal a little. If you use the discount code: WDS08-ME when you sign up, you’ll get $50 off the price of your ticket! It should be three types of awesome, so hurry up and ticket yourself up.

When: 23-26 September 2008

Where: Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Darling Harbour, Sydney

BarCamp Perth 2.0 – We came, we saw, we caught bird flu

Put 80-odd  geeks in a room and magic happens, which is what happened on Saturday at BarCamp 2.0, Perth. It was a fantastic turn out – we even got a couple of east coasters (Thanks @marclehmann and @liako) to enjoy the frivolities. Although, due to me running around like a blowfly with it’s head cut off, I still manged to get a couple of great presentations, which could lead to some seriously cool ideas which is all you can ask from a BarCamp.

But the biggest announcement for the day was WA’s very own Web conference – Edge of the Web.  After three awesome Web Awards over the last three years, it was a natural progression for us to push the envelope a little. Keep November 6 and 7 free – it’s going to be three types of awesome. We have international and national speakers, and we are fairly good at throwing parties over this side of the Nullabor. Oh, and we are running a poll, were you can put your 3c worth in picking our logo.

Having said that. I do have one gripe about our fair city. After the PTUB that followed BarCamp at the Royal, we moved on to @richardgiles‘ place for a cuppa tea and a scone. We realised we were out of Brandy, so we went out to find a friendly establishment to purchase a night-cap or two. It was 10pm in the evening AND EVERYTHING WAS CLOSED. I seriously caught a cab out to South Perth to go through a drive through. WTF. Anyway. Enough bitching – it was a top day and night and I’m not going to let our draconian liquor licensing laws spoil that.

Anyhoo, I’m off to nurse this cold that I and half of the Perth twitterati seem to have contracted.

And the results are in…

On Saturday I posted that 88 Miles was profiled on the Startups Carnival run by VS Consulting. Well, the results are out now, and 88 Miles came a extremely respectable 4th from 28 entries!

A big congratulations to Richard at Scouta for taking out the first prize and to GoodBarry and Suburb View for rounding out the top three.

Also hats off to OurWishingWell, who shared fourth place with 88 Miles.

88 Miles in the startup carnival

VS Consulting Group has been running an online startups carnival over the past two-weeks, profiling 28 up and coming Australian startups.

Today, 88 Miles is profiled.

It is well worth checking out some of the other entrants, including fellow West Australian Scouta.

A big thanks to Vishal for putting on such an “event” — it really goes to show that the SaaS-o-sphere is alive and well over here in Australia!

Ideas 4 – We pulled it off!

… and it rocked.

Just to test our sanity, AWIA decided to pull together Ideas4 in two weeks, (minus a couple of days because of public holidays) and not only did we do it, we managed to hit our attendance target and managed to have the show run smoothly!

We had 84 attendees (one all the way from America!), and two lovely presenters who did a terrific job.

A big, huge thanks to Rachel Cook, who despite being 8 months pregnant, told us about her time in Silicon Valley as an Angel Investor, and to Lisa Herrod who flew all the way from Sydney (on her birthday no less) to remind us that standards-based code and semantic markup aren’t enough to make a site accessible.

Jordan recorded both talks, and has uploaded them to Vimeo, and there is an Ideas 4 Flickr set. If you took photos, remember to tag them as ideas4.

Ideas 4 – Rachel Cook at Ideas4 on Vimeo.

Ideas 4 – Lisa Herrod at Ideas4 on Vimeo.

I was an awesome night – can’t wait for the next one!