Lingopal is big in Japan

Lingopal translates between 42 languages – and can be operated in any of those languages as well. That means it is of use to people shopping on all of the Apple iTunes stores.

So it was always going to be interesting which countries picked us up first. Would backpackers from Australia and UK find us more useful, or would we be big in the USA?

Turns out we are biggest in Japan. We have done no marketing there – it is all organic growth as our google ad writing and PR ability is not so good in Japanese.

To see how different this is versus the normal distribution of sales by country, here are out sales compared to Flight Control sales figures:

I guess it isn’t surprising that we are not big in the USA, as the average person travels there a bit less, and it really is early days for every country. I’d expect us to be bigger in the UK and Germany though – but this is just a matter of when.

At least the Japan numbers are telling us that Lingopal is useful and that when it gets popular it stays popular.

You can skew these numbers if you like – go ahead and buy Lingopal on iTunes!

Posted in NZ Business | Tagged ,

Importing MYOB data into Xero – opportunity?

I’m trying to convince my mother to switch to Xero from MYOB. The unfortunate problem is that all of her history is stored in MYOB, and so switching requires re-keying of invoices and the like.

The solution to this is to commence using Xero at the start of a financial year, which leads to a spike in Xero sales at the end of each year, but means a discontinuity in systems. Moreover the end/start of the year is a particularly busy time for bean counting, and is therefore the worst time to try to change your modus operendi.

To me this is a pretty simple “just do it” for Xero, and there are three powerful reasons for doing so:

  1. Encourage switching throughout the year, increasing speed of adoption and word of mouth sales through the year
  2. Increases sales by letting customers have test drives using live data – customers can upload their MYOB data to Xero and just start playing. It’s pretty hard not to notice the difference in usability when your own numbers are displayed.
  3. Provide a better product to customers by importing history and thus being able to report comparative results versus previous financial periods

How about it Xero? Sure this is a non-trivial task, but surely it is possible?

If not, then let us know, as there is a market gap here and a new company (let’s call it NewXco) could help.

NewXco would simply provide a (semi-)automatic MYOB upload to Xero service, charging a fee or taking a commission on Xero sales. The repetitious work could be done out of a cheaper location, such as India or rural New Zealand, and the cunning code provided by some smart locals. Anyone in?

Posted in Australia Business, Internet Business, NZ Business | Tagged | 9 Comments

How Baupost’s goresight let them weather the storm

Notes from Seth Klarman’s speech at Columbia Business School is, interestingly, the most popular clicked-on link from here, coming from The Baupost Story post. So let’s do a round up of coverage, find some more reading on the Baupost story and see what we can learn about how Baupost’s approach pays off for investors during tough times.

First here’s an excerpt from Seth Klarman’s wildly expensive “Margin of Safety” book – talking about liquidation value. I’m not so sure that it is entirely obeying copyright rules, so read it while you can.

Next have a read of some early Baupost Group letters (recently uploaded by Noise Free Investing and found through  Valueplays) to great insight to how Baupost operates. The letters refer to a smaller fund that is run alongside the main fund for friends and family of the main fund investors. It is remarkable to see the foresight in the commentary leading up to and through the dot com boom and bust and to see the letter series end in mid 2001 with the fund holding 48.6% cash. That no doubt set them up well for the post September 11 crash, and so I guess they continued to do well. I would dearly like to see the rest of the series of letters – in particular the returns over the last two years would be fascinating.

As it happens another letter has leaked out from the main fund from September last year. The comments are pretty telling, again showing Baupost’s foresight* and providing vindication for their cautious approach to investing. (I first miss-typed that as “goresight” which I thought was appropriate)

Market Folly has a good summary of Baupost’s recent behaviour – mentioning that Baupost has $14 billion in assets, which was mostly 50% cash in recent years and that over 25 years the compound annual return was 20%. It seems that Baupost is starting to spend that cash now as they see bargains that meet their rigourous requirements. It takes real discipline to sit on a hoard of cash and not invest it, and while you may miss out on the next dot com or housing boom by doing so, you’ll also miss out on the potential to lose everything when those bubbles burst.

A more recent interview with HBS on Market Folly and via Valueplays again lets us know that Klarman started with just $27m in the fund in 1982, and was paid a salary of a princely $35,000. The new news is that the writer also mentions that Baupost had cut their cash hoard in half – to about 25% – by December last year.

Compare that 25% cash figure to April 20  last year when  Baupost had 45% cash, 20% equities, 17% distressed debt, 11% real estate and an amazing 6% in South Korean equities.

45% cash in April 2008 was an astonishingly smart move – and Seth Klarman even mentioned that they would have gone to 100% cash if it made sense. That let them go on the gradually accelerating shopping spree.

The Korean move was interesting, as the market there hasn’t fared too well since then in USD terms – down 44%. However the Korean Won is also down 25%, so overall the market was down only 18% in Korean Won terms, and I imagine there was a currency hedge. That’s much better than the S&P500’s 35% loss in the same period, but still tough given Baupost’s “Rule 1: don’t lose money” philosophy. Baupost would have picked decent securities in the Korean market and probably had some interesting hedges against the high volatility events that happened.

The Korean market in US Dollar terms
The Korean Won versus the USD
The Korean Market in Korean Won terms
Trading Economics

On the other hand Baupost may have simply closed out their Korean positions early.

Posted in Investing

Praise, yes praise, for Telecom

This really is a stunning piece of work – even made this cynic think twice. Well done Telecom.

It’s important because it shows that Telecom increasingly gets it – they are getting that it is about delivering the right service to New Zealanders (fiber to the home rated a mention), they get that it is about the people that work there, and they get that Youtube (and twitter) are great mediums for spreading the news.They manage to say this while taking little digs at themselves and being very human.

It was uploaded yesterday Youtube time, and  had just 392 views when I saw it. It will be interesting to observe how far and fast the views go.

The cast list was telling – the boss is the eighth listed, which means he was the eighth person to appear in the piece. That’s leadership.

It’s so nice to be able to write something good about Telecom. Roll on the days when we can write a whole lot more.

Posted in Broadband, media, telecom | 3 Comments

Global warming and you

Here’s  excellent graphic from FiveThirtyEight via Treehugger and via New Zealand’s The visible hand showing data from a report from the the Yale Forestry and Environmental Studies School Climate Change project. It needs no explanation.

The project’s survey: “Climate Change on the the American Mind” is a lengthy and ponderous read, and is so queued in my reading list. It contained this graphic, which has the same (and a bit more) information as the inverted triangle above – It’s a chart that any consultant would love, and it is difficult to read and, well, boring.

The learning here is that each chart should deliver one message, and to focus the chart on that message alone. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in presenting everything sometimes, when taking out the key facts has much higher impact.

This chart is has great information  – however it really could have been drawn better. It says that 69% of Americans believe in Global Warming now, but more importantly that only 10% deny (to one extent or another) that it is happening and only 3% are extremely sure it is not happening.

(*Incidentally the FES school was until pretty recently called just the Forestry school. Also I did one course there so anything I say about them will clearly be biased. )

Posted in Global Macro Trends, media | 2 Comments

Wear your safety equipment – black Gloves are cool

Following on from an earlier post on dorky safety Glasses – the next easiest piece of safety protection to wear is a decent pair of gloves.

They can even make your live easier when working. Indeed it is this that has led me to wear gloves a lot recently, and while the gloves can make fiddly things a bit tougher the benefits outweigh those costs:

  • Better grip: The right work gloves grip well – so you can apply more force where it is needed. The gloves’ extra grip mean that your will hands slip less often, reducing the amount of times your hands get hit.
  • Protection: When you do hit your hands then the gloves dull the hit and importantly they will save you from getting cut.
  • Cleanliness: When you are done your hands are clean – it’s a remarkable feeling. You can wash the gloves by leaving them on and washing your hands in the normal way.

To be fair you do need to get the right gloves, making sure they match the task at hand. I’ve been astonished at the variety of gloves available these days, and they are at very good prices. (check out your local handyman store.) There are tight fitting ones that actually make gripping fiddly things easier and heavy ones that keep you warm while working outside.

One friend lost the tip of his finger in a sawing accident – he could have been wearing gloves that could tolerate a brief encounter with a whirring blade and saved a finger. These ones are essentially a modern form of chain mail, and are bound to impress small children as well:


Another person I recently met lost a finger tip after getting pricked by a rose – I kid you not. It became infected quite some time after the incident and he

was lucky not to have died. These days there are gardening gloves specifically designed for handling thorns – and you can even get gauntlets and chest protectors for those in the thick of it. Imagine being able to prune roses and the like knowing that your hands will not be hurt – not that pruning roses is any particular love of mine. The gentleman I met said he was still pruning roses without gloves, as was the surgeon that removed his finger-tip. Both could save themselves some pain.

Posted in NZ Business | 1 Comment

Wear your safety equipment – dorky glasses are cool

This chap ended up with a grinder blade in his head and is lucky to be alive.

What the article does not say is whether he was wearing a face shield, and it also makes no comment on the safety of the tool itself, whether he was wearing other safety equipment such as a face mask and so forth. It certainly doesn’t sound good.

@hellonearthis commented on twitter “I think its more the need of a guard on the 9″ grinder than a face mask. A 9″ grinder would flick a face mask of the head if hit.

I absolutely agree about the grinder guard, but I would question whether an face shield is not available and also ask why such a big grinder was required. A decent sized face shield attached to a helmet should divert the blade away from the face. Here’s one for sale in the USA – $10.50 each or $8.50 in bulk. The visor flicks up when you don’t need it and has a cam to lock it in place. Price isn’t the issue with safety equipment – usage is.

I dare say this example from looks a little short for the task, while the open shirt is inviting trouble and he is wearing glasses but not goggles and it appears he has no hearing protection.

Minimum standard equipment on a safety oriented site for grinding is normally a face shield (to protect against face injuries and big chunks), safety goggles (to protect against smaller pieces in the air and a second line of protection), helmet, earmuffs, gloves and so forth.

Indeed @hellonearthis “9″ grinder only cuts 4.5″ A better mask, a full face helmet design. For the grinder to kick back, he was using it upside down.”, agreeing with the helmet/face shield approach. He also points out a very important fact – this accident happened because the tool was not used appropriately – reinforcing that the operator didn’t take the time to make sure the job was safe.

I cringe every time I see people doing tasks without any sort of protection. Indeed the risk of hurting yourself at home is probably higher than at work – because at home people take safety shortcuts, thinking that wearing safety gear is something that work imposes rather than something that is just plain dumb not to do.

It can creep up on you as well – just the other day I saw a woman escape possible eye injury from an angry exploding barbecued chestnut because she was wearing normal glasses. That’s not the sort of accident you can plan for, but kudos must go to the BBQer for making sure that the BBQing process was otherwise conducted safely, and for cordoning off the offending nuts when the incident happened.

So start by wearing safety glasses when there is risk – it’s easy to do, and is the  thing that will save you from most harm most easily. These days you can get cool glasses from the likes of Oakley, but a dorky $10 pair will work just as well.

The two dorky options below are cheap and cheerful – the first is $4 odd and the second $10. The third pair is one of a bunch on – another US site, and they sell for $5.75 each or $4.25 in bulk. So there is not a lot of difference between cool and uncool – though I daresay not wearing them at all is the least cool option.

I wear a set of glasses when I am working on stuff and even (and/or a visor) sometimes when I am motorcycling off road*.

I went the full hog and purchased a pair of compliant prescription glasses that change shade with the sun. It means that they are comfortable to wear for long periods of time (while they do look very dorky) and that I can keep them on indoors and outside when working in an industrial setting. While motorcycling I actually found that they are better when in the sun than my prescription sunglasses, and when the sun is low they are substantially better as they adjust to the changing conditions.

Glasses are a few bucks at Placemakers and the like – pick some up next time you are shopping and hopefully we won’t have to read about a nasty lawnmower or workshop accident.

*I could wear a motor cross helmet and goggles when riding off road, but I find that the advantages off road are lost on road – they are noisy, less aerodynamic and much more tiring. I should really wear goggles in very dusty conditions – goggles seal against dust whole glasses are open to the air. In reality I just drop back or take a break if there is a vehicle going at my speed just ahead (which is rare as I wouldn’t have caught them if that was the case) or if a vehicle is producing angry clouds of impenetrable dust.

Posted in media | 4 Comments