Friday, August 27, 2004

Spamming for Daddy – what "the future of this country is all about"

The news is breaking on PM’s son Tim Howard and his company Net Harbour being employed to spam voters in Daddy’s seat of Bennelong.

Spamming for electoral purposes in not – unfortunately – illegal, despite recently beefed-up anti-spamming laws.

This aside, the revelations still allow plenty to play with:

"I'm very proud of the fact that my son has started a small business in his 20s and I get a real buzz out of the fact that he's prepared to have a go in small business," Mr Howard said.

The commercial marketplace in which Tim Howard’s company operates is set out here (PDF) (an AFR clipping conveniently provided on Net Harbour’s own website, in apparent breach of AFR copyright). In brief, the marketplace is solely comprised of software (more technically, ASP) “dealerships” – none of the sold product is Australian intellectual property. With most of the software/ASP multinationals also having their own, direct retail channels, it is also a highly-competitive industry.

At best, Net Harbour possesses some kind of local sub-license – the exclusive Australian license is held by Net Return (an apparently unrelated company) – to on-sell some American software (not that Tim even intimates on his own website that his company is not the developer of that which it sells).

PM Howard is thus not being an overly-gruff and pessimistic dad when he calls Tim’s company a small business. Non-exclusively selling just one product, which comes entirely from a (foreign) company many times one’s own size, is not a recipe for founding a business dynasty.

For this reason, despite spamming (unsolicited bulk email) being quite a way removed from Net Harbour’s advertised suite of software services for business**, Tim can perhaps be admired as a prototypical MBA casebook study in lateral business diversification.

As Dad says, at least he’s “[having] a go” – and, in contrast to Tim’s competitor, as well as necessary middle-man, Net Return – Tim’s company has not been on the Australian taxpayer teat, AFAIK. (Net Return has so far received $125k (PDF) from publicly-funded venture capital house ADI, and is said to be looking for more – despite its only intellectual property seemingly being the license it has purchased).

On a related note, if an October federal election is called this weekend, my sentimental preference is for it to be held on 2 October. This is the night of Sleaze Ball, which is an annual poofter party of equal size to Sydney’s better-known Mardi Gras dance party; only without the parade component. Poofs with long and vengeful memories – a grouping which surely can’t consist of just me (?) – will recall that PM Howard came into power on Mardi Gras night, in March 1996. While personally, I’m too poor and too Melbourne to be able to appreciate this possible symmetry on the ground/dance-floor (assuming that Howard will go down on the night), even its vicarious enjoyment would be enough to warm the cockles of my little (and, just like PM-as-Dad, I’m genuinely not underestimating my own organ here) heart.


* Re-reading the AFR clipping, I realise that I was incorrect to state that Net Harbour and Net Return were unrelated companies. In fact, Net Return founders Phil Kiely and Stuart McLean are co-funders (along with Brad Lancken) of Tim Howard’s Net Harbour, and Phil Kiely is also Net Harbour’s chairman.

Because of this funding link, I was also incorrect to assume that Net Harbour, and so Tim Howard, have not been on the taxpayer teat. It is a fair assumption that some of Net Return’s $125k from ADI has trickled down to Net Harbour. In any case, I emphasise my astonishment that Australian taxpayers are funding outfits whose core business is simply re-selling foreign-owned and developed intellectual property.

** At the time of writing, Net Harbour’s website has been expunged of all references to its "ePolitics" operation.

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