Monday, February 1

Emperor's New Clothes?

Loved this post about people not actually clicking on links. Especially this quote:

Are we going to reach a point where we actually have to make anything anymore? Or can we just create a sense that it exists, and a feeling that it’s good, and ultimately manipulate people via social media to believe that they’ve seen it. Oh yeah it’s like that emperor chap and his new clothes.

Made me think... Aren't we already there?

Friday, January 29

Thoughts on the iPad

So the internet and twitter is going a bit mad about the iPad, mostly positive and rightly so, it's an impressive device. However there's also plenty of negativity too. It seems it hasn't sparked people's imagination like many Apple announcements.

Here's my thoughts on the device.

The screen is a great size, a high resolution and generally the device looks really impressive. I'm a little worried about how it's going to look in bright light, one of the problems with the iPhone. Also the aspect ratio is a step back from wide screen devices. I'm not a fan of on-screen keyboards compared to tactile one's, although it's not a major issue for me. The fact that it takes up half the screen is an issue, especially when it comes to writing full documents. Also I don't like the docking keyboard that forces a portrait orientation. Lack of camera is also a big omission, a front facing camera would have some great possibilities.

Usability looks great as usual for an Apple product but the lack of Flash is a MAJOR problem. I can't see how Apple can repeatedly state it's the "best browsing experience" with this really major addition. Big flaw and something that will have to change for the device to become a real success. Why Apple don't open up the Safari to plugins I don't know, that way users can decide to install Flash, which I'm sure they will. I'm not sure how they will make such a big splash in the market without Flash.

There's lots of potential for interesting mash-up Apps between the iPad and the iPhone, I've already got some interesting ideas in this space, so look out for them soon.

It'll make a great device for the project we're working on bringing See Fish's amazing photo browsing application to the iPhone. On the iPad it'll be even more impressive than Apple's current photo solution. I also can't wait to see Graphicly on the iPad, it's going to be something special.

I'll be getting one of these, mainly to develop on. I'll see once I use it whether it becomes a must-have item. My gut feeling is it won't. It'll look great whopping it out in a meeting to whoo a client with a flashy interactive presentation (although without Flash of course) It'll also be useful for short trips on the train when I don't need to do any proper work.

A major issue for the WiFi model in the UK is the lack of open WiFi hotspots. I currently carry around a Touch, which when I was in the US was a great device. However its usefulness in the UK is hugely effected by the lack of WiFi. WiFi on the train, forget it, it's not reliable and really slow. With the 3G versions being about £100 more expensive, along with additional monthly connection fees, this will quickly become too much on top of existing mobile contracts.

Apps are obviously going to be really important, but I can't see them being as prolific as on the iPhone. The larger screen is going to mean a longer design and development process to really make use of it. So this will lead to higher prices and therefore mean the average person simply won't by as many. I think people will have a much smaller core group of Apps they use, without multitasking of course rather than downloading tons as is common on the iPhone. It'll be interesting to see how many developers create HD versions of their current games and Apps rather than just leaving them as is. One thing I think will quickly become apparent is the higher resolution apps designed for the device will look spectacular compared to the iPhone versions, however I'm not sure the iPad is powerful enough to really exploit this higher resolution. I'm not sure it will sell at the same rate as the iPhone and therefore the proliferation could make it a non starter for Apps designed specifically for that device.

One thing's for sure Fluid Pixel are looking forward to developing on this device and you'll see some really cool stuff soon.

Friday, November 6

Brussels Trip

I recently went on a trip to Brussels thanks to Karen Stone from Design Event and Stuart Jackson and his team in the North East England Brussels office.

Here are my thoughts on the experience and what I learnt:

Privacy is an important issue at the moment around the EU, and one that as a company we’ll have to keep a careful eye on to see how the current pressures and movements will play out. The two main privacy concerns are: what exactly does “private data” entail (scope) and what can you actually do with it once you have it. Another area is what happens when private data is compromised, who can be blamed, what actions need to be taken and is any compensation due as there doesn’t seem to be any current laws that address this issue.

“Open” software is a key point currently, especially after the Microsoft case. It’s now becoming a requirement during the public procurement process for development, so something that as a company we need to ensure we’re making the most of.

A main gripe was the access to market and common law system that is present in the large economies like the US and China, who were almost viewed enviously. There is a lot of talk about how to open up the European market and enable the selling of services across European borders with a single law system. One such system is the “Digital Single Market” although there seemed to be mixed feelings about the significance of this push. For our purposes we are currently using larger distributors such as Nokia and Apple for our digital content, however if it becomes easier to handle these types of distribution ourselves or it opens up the market for competitive services then it sounds like a good thing to me. Although law is only one part of the “issue” of an open European market that has language and cultural boundaries however open distribution becomes, so I’m not sure how necessary this drive will ultimately be.

A final area of interest was the vast amounts of funding available through the EU pots, that if correctly identified and the lengthy application processes negotiated could benefit companies greatly, although may not be appropriate for us just at this stage.

Thursday, August 6

What I'm up to...

I was asked by the Kauffman Foundation for an update about what I'm currently up to which I'll re-post here:

Fluid Pixel is coming to the end of its second year, which has been great for us. Our turnover has increased by 400% on last year and we now have three full time employees on the development team. We're working on a few larger projects across mobile platforms and the web and have worked with Oxford University, Adobe, Nokia, IGT and NFP Technologies. Our latest iPhone game Cleopatra that came about from the trip to Tahoe last year has just been released onto the App Store.

ImobiGo, the mobile marketing company in conjunction with Tony Solon has also now received funding from NStar to enable it to get through the proof of concept stage and we're looking to secure some additional funding to take it to market. Development on this will start in earnest this month and we expect to have the system up and running for Christmas.

I was also asked about what my top three business needs are currently:

> Bringing on executive board members for both ImobiGo and Fluid Pixel
> Readying Fluid Pixel for growth through developing processes and
> business management policies Securing additional funding

Interesting times, I'm looking forward to the year ahead.

Wednesday, July 29

It's grim up north (or is it??)

There's been a lot of aggro recently about an article written about the North East in the Telegraph by Milo Yiannopoulos. He's now writing a series of follow up articles and I finally felt obliged to chip in, especially as I've had some really good support during my time up here.

This is the comment in full from this request.

Here’s my initial take on all this...

Quick intro, I moved up to the North East to study and stayed up here to start a company, Fluid Pixel almost exactly 2 years ago. It’s been a great successfully and during that time I have experienced most of what the NE has to offer support wise.
I've used, not relied on, the various bodies at different points during the business development.

Early stage: IDI (Institute of Digital Innovation then Digital City) for business training, Teesside University for Incubation and training, UKTI & Digital City Business for Trade Missions.
More recently: Business Link for training, Codeworks for placements and events, NFM for networking, NStar for funding to name a few.

IDI are doing some great stuff and have some really exciting projects coming out of their support system. Having come out of their mentoring during its infancy, I’m now on the mentoring team seeing some great prospects that they’re giving opportunities to.

Codeworks have provided a great help, have a great placement scheme and hold the best networking events (parties) that are always worth attending. They’re also trying to raise the bar through their conferences, which have both been great this year.

Teesside Uni are helping to support new companies through incubation space and free workshops in all areas of business. They’ve got a great team and helped me out a lot along the way.

I’ve had a mixed experience with Business Link as initially they didn’t seem to provide much assistance, but it ultimately comes down to the advisor so now that I've found someone who understands the business and can guide me through the red tape I’m getting a great service from them; I’ll be clinging onto her!

Another body, Northern Film and Media are also emerging as a useful asset with project funding, events and networking opportunities, so one to look out for.

Thanks to assistance from NStar I have just started a 2nd company, ImobiGo. It took a while to get their support and they pushed us hard (I’m glad they did) to improve our offering and delve further into the technology and our implementation of it before agreeing the investment. Are they funding the right businesses, who knows – let’s hope so!

Would I be where I am, further ahead or even given up by now if I were somewhere else? Who knows? All I know is I’m here, I’m glad I started a company here and I’m making the most of the opportunities and support available and trying to give back to the community along the way. Will I be here indefinitely? I don’t know. I’ll do whatever is best for the company at the time, and right now that’s certainly here.

I’d be happy to chat with you further; this is only scratching the surface of my experience of funding and support in the area.

I hope I can add more to the story as it continues to play out.

Tuesday, July 21

Advice for Students

I've just replied to an email from an enthusiastic chap wanting advice on whether the course he was about to embark on would secure him a job in the industry. I thought my reply would be useful for others:

We don’t pay too much attention to the course that someone has done, more what they have achieved whilst on the course that is in and out of course time. If you have only completed the minimum to pass the course and have shown no desire to extend your skills or specialities beyond that then you won’t tend to stand out from the large crowd. For development roles if someone can show dedication and enthusiasm on top of some great portfolio work then that has a much greater influence on their chances of employment than a top qualification. Most courses are rigidly structured and tend to focus on technologies that aren’t necessarily used within the studio, so having the impetus to learn yourself is very desirable.

Wednesday, June 24

Game Horizon Twitter Links

At the fantastic Game Horizon conference and thought I'd post a list of the speakers and people talking at the conference, if I've missed anyone then please let me know and I'll update it!

Paul Wedgwood - splashdamage
Martyn Brown - team17
Mark Morris - IVSoftware
Paul Farley - taggames
David Jones - realtimeworlds
Charles Cecil - CharlesCecil
Simon Seefeldt - OfficialJagex
Jamil Moledina - jmoledina
Chris Bergstresser - VectorCityRacer
Richard St. John - RichardStJohn
Steve Clayton - stevecla
Mark Rein - MarkRein

Helen Harrop - iamhelenharrop
Justin Souter - justingsouter
Michael Chitty - mikechitty
Nicholas Lovell - nicholaslovell
Steve Lee - essell2

And don't forget the live blogging by Jusin can be found on his blog.

Monday, November 24

Future of Mobile: General Observations

Part three of my FOM blog, here I’ll sum up some of the general points that came from the conference.
Tom Hume from Future Platforms was keen to point out that fragmentation is here to stay and went as far as saying its this that separates mobile from the web. He also had good things to say about one of the winners from the event, the iPhone which he reiterated that iPhone users use 30x more data than other network users. Also Tom mentioned one of the highlights of the iPhone platform, that the App Store is fully international, which on the eve of Fluid Pixel’s first release onto the platform, KamiCrazy is a real bonus for us.

During a 6x6 panel, where each got 6 minutes the audience were bombarded with views on the mobile industry, mostly negative, but also valid points. Helen Keegan’s main concern is that developers are designing for fellow mobile users, rather than the public, who won’t have any use for most of the features we implement. Jemima Kiss was particularly aggressive against the industry and wants mobile to become a primary platform, rather than being an afterthought as it more than often is. I think this is show clearly with many companies “needing” iPhone apps, mostly just for the sake of it, rather than because their offering benefits from having one.

Rich Miner from Google was the proponent of Android at the conference and gave an interesting talk. Obviously he’s pro open source, but interestingly stressed that now the open source movement has started in the mobile industry, it will be really hard to stop so feels it will only pick up momentum as time goes on; we can’t go back now! During questioning he was put on the spot about the possible fragmentation of Android and although this is obviously an area that resources have been allocated to, with tools such as a test suite for OEM’s, reference builds to compare implementations to and standard apps to try and ensure compatibility, my pessimistic side doesn’t fully agree with the plan. It will be hard to police the industry as a whole, whilst bringing competitors together and expecting them to agree on the best way to take the implementation of the open platform going forward will be a difficult task.

Tomi Ahonen gave the most animated talk over the day and concentrated on the contents of his book, Mobile as the 7th Mass Media, quoting various sections. He was quick to point out that mobile is the fastest growing market, with the total market being over 33 billion, games making up 3.3 billion of this worldwide. He was also resolute that mobile is as different to the web as TV is as different to the radio, which was the main take-away from the talk. An interesting statement and certainly got me thinking about the platform’s potential. I guess the main drawback of this statement, is that mobile has for a long time tried to emulate the web, rather than differentiating itself from it. What we are seeing now is the new concepts that work on mobile, wouldn’t work on the web and although the two platforms can complement each other, they should be utilised as separate media. The seven main differentiators from Tom’s point of view are as follows:
• Personal Mass media
• Permanently connected
• Always carried
• Built in payment
• Present at the creative impulse
• Most accurate measurement medium
• Captures social context

Another interesting point is that mobile usage has been “proven” to be as addictive as smoking, although I don’t have the source for this, but it’s something that might explain the twitter popularity, an area that I’m still struggling to decipher.
Tom also gave some great case studies, including Tohato, Carbon Diem, Hoshi-ichi-maniac and Yang Chengang’s Mice Love Rice as projects in the mobile space that have gained significant traction and offer examples of the power of the medium, making it clear that the services that appear to work like magic to the end user are the ones that will be the most successful.

Jonathan MacDonald, or JMac, was a great speaker and had some brilliant words of wisdom to enlighten the audience with. For what turned out to be the third and final time in the day, he quoted a comic panel with the statement “if you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face”, the most used slide at the conference. JMac spoke about advertising on the mobile platform, and utilising influencers to promote your brand for you, stating that businesses that spread like an “idea virus” are the ones that will succeed. I liked the trends he spoke about that followed in the order of, as content gets more personal, it also must get more relevant, as it gets more relevant you will gain more user trust, and as the trust builds up there will be less need to filter the content. This trending follows how mobile content is gaining traction of its web cousin, fuelled by location and linking data. Another major point JMac had to make was on the four rules of engagement for mobile offerings:
• Transparency of offering
• Relevance of communication
• Value of incentive
• Ease of interaction

All of which I fully agree with, and although can be dismissed as common sense, it’s unbelievable how many offerings currently violate, one, two or even all of these that are on the market. All of this will certainly be useful going forward with some of the larger projects I’m currently involved with, BluGo and ZiiMo.

So that summarises my main takeaways from the conference, I’d love to hear what other’s thoughts are on these points.

Saturday, November 22

Future of Mobile: Location, Location, Location

Part two of the blog on the Carsonified conference is about location and how it’s finally coming of age... or is it?

Andrew Grill gave an interesting talk and had a few great things to say on the subject. The main areas that he identified as being required for a successful location based service are; Targeting, measurability, location, relevance. From his experience users will be happy to give information about themselves as long as you can offer them something useful in return. One of Andrews gripes is the relevancy of ads, and said that we haven’t cracked it on the mobile platforms yet, as Google have done in their search.

The just-in-time Andrew Scott from Rummble had some great insights into the location world from his experience on the front line. One of the disappointing facts was that users are only in GPS signal for 4½, really which isn’t enough to make it a reliable service. Something with more interest was that on PlayTxt only 5% of the users actually use the privacy settings available to them, even though they are very powerful. What this means is that people just aren’t fussed about letting others see where they are. Now whether statistic would stand up if people are surveyed about this subject is something that intrigues me and I suspect it’s more down to people not understanding the implications of the platform, or just not having the knowledge about how to change the situation.
Andrew was adamant that simply knowing “who’s nearby” doesn’t constitute a business as his cases studies of Loopt proved. Another common mistake is to limit the reach of your service, something that West Coast US companies have a habit of doing. He had more positive things to say about the context of the presence, location in vertical markets and services that filter noise, telling users exactly what they want to know. The main points from his summary were;
• build privacy, but few people will use it
• don’t build commoditiy items (cell db’s) these are available elsewhere
• people travel with their mobile, everywhere!
• Data analysis is key
• Use open standards where necessary
• People are more impatient whilst mobile, more eager to engage

A next area Andrew discussed was that location data will become a commodity, and the fact people will opt in their current location (as they are already doing) will be a commodity. Whilst he didn’t mention any time frames, I can imagine the availability of location data will come sooner than expected, however I think we have a long way to go to earn the trust of users, especially with the negativity, and general anger surrounding location data. (BNP, Bath, Shopping Centers)
His final point he made was intelligent data crunching is the future of location systems, quoting web 3.0 and natural language systems as key to new services.

All in all some interesting discussions all round and very relevant to what we're working on at Fluid Pixel

Thursday, November 20

Future of Mobile: Flash Lite

I was in London for the fantastic Future of Mobile event earlier this week organised by Carsonified and Dominic Travers.

Due to the amount covered I will split up posts, so the first will concentrate on Flash Lite.

One of the interesting talks, especially from my perspective was from Matt Millar from Adobe as he spoke about the Flash Lite distributable and the Open Screen Project. Although he mentioned a few new things, he was quite restrained compared to the details that were being announced co-currently at the Adobe MAX conference in San Francisco. There word was finally spread about Adobe's plans to enable to spread of Flash Lite enabled devices through the distributable version of the FL3.1 version as well as the App Zone. Matt did talk briefly about their plans to release the full Flash Player 10 for mobile devices in the near future, which will bring the two versions into sync for the first time, which will probably mean future releases will be distributed simultaneously. Along with the released news of an Android version that means market potential will probably dwarf the earlier prediction of 1 billion Flash Lite devices by 2010. The Flash Lite content didn’t stop there, as yours truly gave a workshop on the subject on the second day of the event and gave a half day guide to the delegates, which I hope they found useful.

More to come shortly...

Friday, October 10

Busy Networking

Something I've been keen to do recently is to build on my networking time and make more time to visit Newcastle and London more often.

The start of this was a Guardian event a couple of weeks ago where Jemima Kiss paid a visit to the area to find out about all things digital. I had a chance to chat with her and the team, the result of which is a clip on her weekly podcast.

You can listen to it here, and my little portion is right at the end 19:50 in.

In addition to this I've also been busy in London, with visits to both Orange and the BBC. I was asked to visit the BBC to talk about all things Flash Lite with Jason DaPonte and his team there. It was a great chance to meet the great team there and hear about the developments within the BBC.

At Orange I had positive meetings with their aggregators, Player X and AMS so hope to see some of Fluid Pixel's Flash Lite content on a network near you soon.

With a visit back down to London for the Symbian Smartphone Show and the largest ever Adobe UK Flash Lite User Group meeting and at least 2 more visits to Newcastle planned in the next two weeks - rather than slowing things down the recession is having the opposite effect!

Monday, August 11

Business Plan Template

Following on from a post a while back about Bill Aulet's business plan template, I thought I would share the 8 slide PowerPoint template that I have been using for a few plans that I have been putting together forImobigo.

I found the template really useful in answering the basic questions that are required for a business. In addition to the presentation and the full business plan, I also prepare an overview of the plan in brochure format that can easily be understood by investors or others with interest in the business, without having to wade through a whole plan.

The business plan presentation template can be found here:

Busines plan template

Please feel free to utilise it how you wish, and let me know what you think, what you feel is missing, or what you feel is unnecessary.

Tuesday, July 22

Entrepreneurship in the UK

I've been back in the UK for a few weeks after my whirlwind trip of the US and it's certainly strange to be back.

Its interesting to see some of the culture differences regarding entrepreneurship coming up already, such as the speed that things happen here in comparison to the States and the cautious attitude to everything remotely risky by all those involved.

I am so far fighting the ability to fall back into this attitude, which is helped by being surrounded with some great people here in Middlesbrough who have the ability to rise above and beyond the expectations people have on them.

I'm slowly coming to terms with things here, but I think it will be a while before getting fully back into the business. The good thing is there are still plenty of opportunities around and I've already had some interesting discussions about moving some of the exciting project that are in development moving forward (ZiiMo and BluGo)

Tuesday, June 24

Almost Over - return on the 6th

My adventure to the US is almost over, but before I return to the UK I'm doing a bit of travelling on the West Coast with some of the other Fellows.

Starting in Vegas with 5 people, we flew to San Diego and have driven up the coastal path taking in as many sights as time would allow in a two week period. Including Huntington, Hollywood, Malibu, Morro Bay, Paso Robles, Monterey, Carmel, Santa Cruz, Yosemite, Palo Alto and San Francisco.

At this point the group slip up leaving just two of us to take on Seattle, Vancouver, Whistler and Chicago before returning to the last possible oppertunity on the Visa, 5th July, arriving in London on the 6th July.

This blog will still be home to my thoughts and lessons on entrepreneurship so keep checking for updates.

Thursday, May 29

Lake Tahoe - Mike Milken

I had the opportunity to visit Lake Tahoe which was an extremely cool place with absolutely breathtaking scenery. The reason I was there was to spend some time with the renowned Mike Milken with the other Kauffman Foundation Fellows. During my three days there I was lucky enough to not only hear from Mike himself, but also a number of other inspiring entrepreneurs. I wanted to share some of the fantastic information that I acquired from this experience.

We spent a day at the Sierra Nevada College ( at Tahoe with students, faculty members and esteemed visitors. We toured the facilities there, one of the only buildings in the US to have been awarded a Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (

Milken spoke to us on a number of occasions about a variety of topics, focusing on the strength of human capital in today’s economy, growth areas of the world and general facts from his wealth of knowledge. Mike is a strong believer in research and knowing all the information about a topic. His belief is that if you know all the information, then you can envisage what’s going to happen in the future, as long as you utilize that data appropriately of course.

For instance, it’s a fact that there are 50% more children being born in India than in China, therefore if that trend continues, India will house the largest population. Also the amount of children from Asia and Latin American origins is increasing in the US; therefore education will inevitably change to adapt to these different cultures in terms what’s taught in history lessons for example.

Another topic that resonated with me is the evidence of the costs of various technologies. The costs of communications is approaching zero, storage costs are approaching zero, and computational speed is rapidly increasing. These points have implications in a number of areas such as telecommunications for instance in globalization, through to the ability for developing countries to equip all residents with communications devices.

Other interesting information that I gleamed from Mike was that Qatar will have the highest capital per person within two years (and coincidentally is where the next Futurallia Conference is being held). Also Asian nations will represent 60% of the world’s economy. Some general business advice that hit on some of the topics I’m dealing with at the moment are its important to build your business where people want to live, and the bigger your competition, the more capital you will require so that you can show you’re not going anywhere when pressured about your ability to survive.

Some other people that were kind enough to give up their time to speak to us were Rob Loughan from Dexterra, the self confessed dreamer and highly successful entrepreneur from previous ventures including Octane Software. He’s taking the mobile business world by storm with his new platform, and I’ve got no reason to suspect that it’s not going to continue to grow at an exciting rate. Also John Osborne of Tarsin, his 4th company that is extremely well versed in the entrepreneurial space having raised seven rounds of venture capital in his previous ventures and has two great beliefs. One is that most ideas occur too early for them to be successful from the outset, giving a great opportunity for late adopters and innovators in the space. Secondly to always ask yourself “what are you going to do differently tomorrow?” A simple yet interesting exercise.

Another aspect of the trip was the gaming theme, with a visit to IGT with TJ Matthews and also hearing form Ian Finnimore from Bally Gaming. It was interesting to hear their differing perspectives on the gaming market, especially as the monopoly share of gaming in the US has switched from Bally to IGT over recent years, yet are both still highly profitable. My worry was that IGT is too large a beast to successfully be able to adapt to what I believe will be a big swing of the casino floor from traditional gambling machines to new networked, highly interactive machines that will appeal to a new generation of gamblers who have grown up with Xbox and PlayStation games. It will be interesting to see over the coming years who reigns supreme, but my gut feeling is new entrant might end up swooping in and stealing the prize.

One of the resounding themes of the week was the fact that the successful entrepreneurs I met were all in it for the journey, not the end result. Some had been successful in the past and had retired to Lake Tahoe, only to miss the journey and have since ventured back into entrepreneurial activities, not for the financial gains, but for the activity itself. The ones that embraced this philosophy, which most of the people I met that week did, were the happiest in what they were doing and were truly enjoying the life they were living.

Mike Milken’s home on the edge of the Lake was simply breath taking and it was an honor to spend time there. I hope I’m lucky enough to visit Lake Tahoe again someday and explore more of the mountain walks and surrounding area, in the meantime I have some great memories of the week there.

Sunday, May 4

US vs UK Entrepreneurial Culture

There seems to be a number of reasons why the culture in the US is better established to harbor entrepreneurs than the UK. The three key points that keep coming up is the access to money, the reaction to failure and the established communities.

I have discussed the failure aspect previously, so won’t go into detail here, but the general perception of failure is dealt with in much more positive way in the US than in the UK. That isn’t to say that if you fail with a business venture in the UK, it’s the end of it, but it is a lot harder to win the confidence of future partners and investors in new ventures than it is in the US.

Funding is another big issue, where there is a lot more capital available and it’s generally easier to access in the states. Financing institutions such as venture capitalists and angel investors are also more established which helps more new businesses get off the ground quickly and with a greater starting capital than in the UK. This is changing however, and there are more angel groups created all the time in the UK, but they aren’t mature, and without the experience of similar groups in the US. The willingness to take chances in potentially riskier ventures is also more prevalent in the US, which broadens the opportunities for entrepreneurs to get their foot in the door.

Another aspect which I feel is different is the large scale and scope that people think about in the US. Where it’s rare to find new entrepreneurs in the UK with international ambitions, and large scale plans for the business, this is almost thought as a given with ventures, especially in areas such as Silicon Valley. Clearly there are plans in effect to try and change this situation with schemes such as the Kauffman Fellowship, and the prevalence of international trade advisors around the world. I just feel that more has to be done at the earlier stages in business, rather than the tendency to focus on larger established businesses.

Of course the UK isn’t by any means the worst place to start a business, with lots of support and guidance available both nationally through government initiatives through to local councils and universities starting to realize the importance of encouraging entrepreneurship. A lot is being done in various hubs around the country to foster some the same buzz that surround Silicon Valley, but it will take many years to reach a similar culture that can be found there, and in the US in general. The mix of thriving businesses, access to talented and willing workers and the business support network that are all key for such an area to succeed don’t happen overnight, and it will take a lot of effort, and patience to try and re-create the elements that are all so important elsewhere.

There are definitely opportunities to succeed, especially in the North East region in the UK where they are willing to put the necessary effort and investment in the area to make it a thriving place for companies to be. With institutions like the University of Teesside investing heavily in entrepreneurship, and trying to educate students and the local community about the value of new business to the area and the economy it is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur. I just feel it will take time and a lot of mistakes before they crack the right mix of elements necessary to create the right environment that will foster willing and successful entrepreneurs. I hope by putting to good use the lessons learnt over the last 5 months from some of the top thinkers and entrepreneurs in the US I will be able to take advantage of the situation emerging in the UK and even impart some of this knowledge to help making it the best place in the world to run a business.

Friday, May 2

Company Culture

A lot of what has made IDEO a success can also be applied to Google. They have a similar work environment, very flat organizational structures and a similar thirst for only the highest quality staff. They have introduced a few new concepts to the mix such as 20% time, that lets the staff work on personal projects, using the company’s resources. Although this sounds counterproductive, it has interestingly led to 50% of the companies released projects including grand releases such as Google News. Marissa Mayer introduced nine lessons about creativity at Google, a lot of which can equally be applied to other successful enterprises:

• Ideas come from everywhere
• Share everything you can + (not) taking credit
• Working with smart people
• License to pursue dreams
• Innovation, not instant perfection (Macs and Madonna)
• Data is apolitical
• Creativity loves constraint
• Users, not money
• Don’t kill products, morph them

Most of the lessons can be taken straight into any business, some more easily than others, but all very appropriate. The two, working with smart people, and sharing everything you can come from creating a culture of trust and respect at the company, along with only employing people that fit with the culture you are trying to create. Others are more policy based, such as the 20% to pursue dreams, and concentrating on creating great products, rather than focusing on the business model, which Mellissa argues will come as a natural progression, once the user need has been satisfied. Others go back to failure, and the way to deal with it, such as consistently iterating product releases, and refocusing projects that aren’t as successful as they should be to find the area in which they will work.

Some don’t quite transfer over to a small business quite as easily, such as using data to justify decisions, taking out any politics involved, which is a great concept, but for a small company can be expensive and time consuming.

Tuesday, April 29

Creativity and Innovation

Since visiting the IDEO office, I have been inspired by their way of working and have sort look at ways of implementing their innovation techniques into Fluid Pixel. What I have come to realize, is that nothing they are doing is particularly revolutionary, or even necessarily difficult to implement. So why then are they consistently able to succeed where others haven’t? I think one of the reasons goes back to my last post about failure, and the culture that has been nurtured at IDEO is very much failure friendly, even encouraged, but the failures are short lived, and it’s not long before success is born from the disappointments.

The attention to detail and the concentration on the customer experience is ingrained within the walls in the IDEO offices, whether it’s the end customer using the product they are designing, or the client, IDEO knows how to look after people. This goes hand in hand with their project and team management which are chosen based on skills and interest, rather than experience. Teams are flexible and dynamic, and the company structure flat, enabling people to concentrate on the job at hand, rather than office politics.

They are also masters at taking inspiration from all corners of the world, including their Tech Box, chocked full of interesting shapes, materials and solutions that act to inspire the “technology brokering” effect by sharing ideas between industries. Something like this could easily be implemented in a software studio, instead of physical objects, it could be a collection of images, code and websites that inspire and provoke new ideas for new product development, assisting in the design process.
I was lucky enough learn firsthand about the techniques used during IDEO style brainstorming and project development at the recent BBC Innovation Labs event and seen how, if executed correctly can be a great asset to any company. I’ve also never seen so many Post It notes used in one week!

However, I don’t believe any of these things are the main reason for IDEO’s success, but they are all the result of this one thing; the employees. Each team member at IDEO goes through a very rigorous recruitment procedure, and they are vetted by a large number of the employees in the office. Handpicked from all over the world, for their abilities in their field, as well as their ability to gel with the team already in place are both vital aspects for new employees.

Sunday, April 27

Risk and Failure

The ability for a company or an entrepreneur to try out new ideas quickly can be key to their success. Even more of a factor is their ability to see at the earliest possible stage when their ideas are not going to succeed and abandon them with the minimal loss of time and money. This could be through analysis of the situation, or simply because the venture failed dramatically.

One of the advantages young companies have is the speed in which they can act, and bring new ideas to market, without the need for lengthy corporate analysis and countless review boards. Ideas can be generated in a morning, and testing by the afternoon to see whether they should move forward with a plan of action. It’s this quick turnaround that can be the difference between success and failure in today’s fast moving markets.

However the challenge comes when deciding which ideas to pursue, and how far to take them before either more resources are allocated, or the project is sidelined before it eats up too much money, or just looks like it’s not going to be as successful as necessary to make it worthwhile. The techniques that can be implemented in doing this, include bootstrapping the venture, outsourcing development work, small scale – holistic testing and keeping flexible in the face of changes; so generally everything that successful entrepreneurial companies do anyway.

What these policies encourage within a company is to try many new things, and test how well they work, or in many cases don’t work. By learning from failures the company is in a better position to go forward, learning from these lessons. If the company is able to do this using minimal time, money and other resources then even if the venture is a failure then they have been successful. This can give them huge advantage over large companies that don’t have the ability to do this, and must produce piles of extensive and expensive market validation, and consumer feedback before even contemplating going to market with a new product.

As Randy Komisar puts it, “Innovation is about taking risks to do things that haven’t been done before” and goes on to rightly describe that if you could understand which ventures were going to succeed before you did them, then there would be no need for innovative companies, as the giants of the world would simply be able to pick them first. As long as the business models (and share holders) of large companies aren’t able to put up with the amount of failure required for innovation then there is space for entrepreneurs to take the risks necessary for success.

How entrepreneurs deal with failure can go as deep as the cultural level, with areas such as US and China having a much more positive outlook on failure than other areas such as Western Europe and India. The ability to fail in business, even go as far as to plan to fail, is a key discerning factor for success in the fast moving business world of today. You only need to look at companies such as Google, Facebook to see how many times they stumbled to get to where they are today, whilst searching for the killer business models that has got them to where they are and it shows how important failure can be, but more importantly is the ability to adapt and learn from failure.

Wednesday, April 23

To business plan, or not to business plan

Having not come from a business, or particularly academic background, I have always been negative towards lengthy and overly pretentious business plans. My views, which have been verified by my experiences with the Kauffman Foundation are that plans should be crafted to serve a distinct purpose. There’s definitely a different view on plans in America than in the UK, where they are commonly taught as the solution to starting a new business. Having been introduced to the 7 slide business plan concept by Bill Aulet, and seen the reliance on business plans attacked by figures such as Carl Schramm and Ted Zoller which backed up my gut feelings on the matter.

I’m not saying that you don’t need to create a business plan, because I think that the process is a necessary step in the journey of starting a business. However, my belief is that the process is the important part, and not the outcome of the plan. By having a framework to work on, it’s easy to spot what the areas of weakness are in your research and be able to tackle them.

A lot of plans that I have seen are more of a research paper, than a plan for business and I this is a mistake. By all means do the research and have all the in depth information that is necessary, but don’t then just transfer this blindly into a “business plan”. My view is the plan should be succinct and to the point, it should contain only the information necessary to get your point across and should draw your audience into the story of the business, not be a bible to every last unnecessary detail.

The same is also true for the financials, in that they are a necessary step in thinking through a business, but this is where their usefulness ends. Of course completing a projected forecast for the next 3, or even worse 5 years is purely academic, what it does do is to force you to think through the different aspects of the business in detail, and it will soon become clear when you have forgotten an important aspect of running the business when you are unable to complete the forecast adequately.

I am convinced that investors are also indifferent to the business plans themselves, and what they are really looking for is the competence and awareness of the founders to create a plan that not only makes sense, but shows a good understanding of business acumen and a grasp of the financials.