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.

Saturday, April 19

End of BBC Innovation Labs

The North East and Yorkshire BBC’s Innovation Labs is sadly now over, and what a great experience it was. The last day involved some great pitches from the companies, all of which were very impressive and posed some tough decisions from the six commissioners from the BBC. It was enjoyable to work with the nine other teams at the Labs, all of which were brimming with ideas and exciting developments. Meeting and working with other teams was one of the best bits of the Labs and I’m definitely going to be following closely how their companies progress and maybe even work with some of the teams at some point.

In the end a number of great projects were picked for further development and funding from the BBC, and although our IPTV entrance wasn’t one of them it was still a great event. The mentors deserve special thanks for their hard work and patience throughout the week. It was great to work with Matt Marsh (First Hand Experience), Nick Durrant (Plotsite), Frank Boyd (Unexpected Media), Rachel Jones and Matthew Cashmore (BBC) during the week. They were extremely easy to work with, and it was interesting to get their perspectives and utilise their tools for developing ideas throughout the labs. I hope that our paths cross again and we get to work together with them in the future.

Overall spending a week at Swinton Park and having the time and space to utilise some of the great tools that the mentors cultured within the groups was invaluable. Actually getting to put the theories into practice around user based experiences, 6 thinking hats, and scenario based thinking was invaluable. There was a lot to take in during the week, but I hope that the experience and lessons that I learnt will be invaluable in the future.

Bring on Innovation Labs 2009!

Thursday, April 17

BBC Innovation Labs

I’m half way through the BBC innovation Labs experience, and it’s been an exhilarating ride so far. Based in the picturesque Swinton Park Hotel, North Yorkshire we have been put through our paces and so far just about surviving the ordeal.
The week started with some loosening exercises which allowed everyone to meet with the other ten teams ranging from one person shops through to large London based design agencies.
After pitching our ideas to each other, and presenting each other’s ideas back to the group. The following few days consisted of IDEO style brainstorming and included a lot of rapid brainstorming using a number of techniques that encouraged idea generation and diverging away from the original idea to see how it could be developed further. After the first three days we had pitched the idea at least 5 times, each focused on a different area or viewpoint on the idea. We were encouraged to create detailed personas to develop the idea around and concentrate on the user experience throughout the process.
Due to the location of the labs, you can’t help feel relaxed and tranquil whist you are here, even though the activities and challenges presented to you means everyone is a little sleep deprived, mainly because the breakfast is so good that no-body wants to miss it.
With the big pitch to the commissioners on Friday, this week is really building up to be a great trip.

Tuesday, April 8

Why Don't Entrepreneurs Scale?

I think the question on whether the entrepreneur is the one to take the company forward to an IPO or large scale venture is a complex one. It firstly has to start with what the individual’s aspirations are and whether they will feel comfortable taking on this role. This is not so much how capable they are, but how dedicated they are, and how much their values and long term goals fit with this role. This is separate to the needs of the business, as it might be in the best interest for the business if the inventor is the public face of the company, if these two sides are opposing, this could cause a conflict with the business.

A lot of the time the choice as to whether the entrepreneur runs the business isn’t up to the entrepreneur at all. If the venture succeeds in getting investment, or has the possibility to go to an IPO then the choice will be out of the entrepreneurs hands and be up to the board of directors, and usually ultimately the investors.

John Hamm has some interesting views on entrepreneurs and how they have difficulty transitioning from a start-up to a large organization. His main point is that the qualities entrepreneurs have to enable their ventures to succeed initially are the exact qualities that cause them to fail during the later stages of a business. These four tendencies are:
• Loyalty to comrades
• Task Orientation
• Single Mindedness
• Working in Isolation

Each has its benefits when working on a startup and can allow the startup to thrive
in its early stage. However as the business grows and the pressure from all areas increases, the entrepreneur will fail unless they are will to learn and adapt to their new situation and change their behavior. This is probably difficult to do from within, as the entrepreneur has to give up doing something that has been successful, but if they are willing to listen to their advisors and strive to understand the best way to behave there is no reason why they shouldn’t succeed.

Facebook has had to go through many of these issues, but has overcome everything that have currently been thrown at it, and Mark Zuckerberg has successfully navigated the company into new markets and successfully created a very lucrative revenue model for the site. I think it’s been successful by staying true to its core market and focusing efforts on rapid development and the user experience on the website. Areas such as photo sharing have proved far more popular than they could imagine, but the experience has been tweaked to make this the best they could make it. The user created applications have also been a huge help with its success, although it’s teetering on the edge of going too far with these applications.

There doesn’t appear to be a magic formula that will predict whether an entrepreneur will succeed into the future, it doesn’t matter what education, or even experience they have. The important factors, as echoed by John Hamm are they have to be open to learning and rise to the challenge.

Sunday, April 6

Free Flash Lite wallpapers and screensavers

Fluid Pixel has just released some of its top selling Flash Lite wallpapers and screensavers for free on its website. This is something that I have been considering initiating for a while, but wasn’t sure if it was the right way to go. The initial idea came about from studying mobile phone markets in other areas, and finding that in areas such as Japan and Korea companies offer a large number of their content for free, to attract a larger audience to their site. By doing this they get a huge number of hits to their sites, where they offer further content for direct sale or on a subscription basis. My observation of the structure of the eastern market is that it’s about 5 years ahead of the western market in the way they sell and market the content to consumers, who are much more in tune with the availability of content, and download a lot more of it.

I’ve also noticed recently that Fluid Pixel's site has been attracting more hits for people looking for “free flash lite wallpapers” through google and other search engines so this is providing a landing page for them to find, and hopefully will encourage more traffic through the site.

The wallapers and screensavers on the site currently has the Fluid Pixel brand on it, but not in a way that the content isn't useable, but I will probably experiment with a variety of options for this, including having an ident before the content plays, and maybe even looking for sponsors in the future depending on the success of this experiment.

I will be keeping a close eye on how successful the free flash lite content is to see how the model could be rolled out to other ventures.

Tuesday, March 18

Games Developers Conference - San Francisco

A little late, but here are my thoughts on the GDC conference I attended back in February.

One of the first things I noticed was the lack of Flash Lite content at the event. Adobe had a small stand during the mobile conference, which gained some attention from delegates, but I was disappointed that none of the speakers were from Adobe, nor that there was any key figures from the Flash Lite world speaking at the event. There were plenty of people talking about Flash Lite, and whenever it was mentioned; at least people had heard of it, which is contrary to events I’d been to over the last few years. However although it was on people’s radars, no-one talked about using it on current projects, or had any immediate plans to do so either.

There weren’t any really exciting revelations, or new thinking that I heard. There is certainly lots of scope for improvements in the mobile industry, but progress appears to be slow and difficult for all those involved. The industry in Korea is a lot more mature that the US and Europe, and this was made even more apparent with a speaker from ... who joyfully spoke about a number of projects they have worked on. I realised how far we have yet to go, when models that are only pipe dreams in the US are already second nature to the industry in Korea such as complex social multiplayer gaming and micro transactions.

Distribution and porting were the two most discussed topics over the course of the event, unfortunately with little being said on what the solutions might be for developers. Porting is an ever increasing issue, with more and more devices available, and the insistence of carriers to support all devices. The estimated costs of porting pretty much double the initial development costs for a game, and it doesn’t look like improving any time soon. Everyone is fed up with this situation, and yet as an industry we continue to follow this route blindly where there is clearly an opportunity for a disruptive change in this field. Obviously Flash has an advantage here, and as we reach a milestone of ½ billion Flash Lite devices shipped, and with Microsoft signing to ship Flash Lite on Windows Mobile devices, this advantage is always increasing.

Advertising was probably the third topic of choice, with the general consensus not being very positive to the money making potential for a sustainable business model. The large cost of development for current games has a negative impact on the ability to offset this with advertising alone. However this may be different in the casual space, it will have to been seen.

One thing that concerned me was that the mobile industry appears to be heading for a very hard core gaming audience, looking at advanced graphics, and complex 3D game play. Coming from the console industry I have seen what this means for an industry, and it isn’t necessarily a good thing. It worries me a little that we haven’t learnt anything from the success of the Wii, and the casual games, especially as the mobile platform has the potential to reach a much wider audience than consoles due to its penetration. However with download statistics at measly figures like 6% of mobile owners downloading a game it is worrying that as an industry we are targeting even a small percentage of this market with future technologies.

I believe that there is still a strong case for disruptive technologies in the mobile space, that either revolutionise the gaming experience or the distribution and from what I’ve seen Flash Lite has this potential. In the mean time, there is definitely the opportunity for companies to do conversions from current Java based games into Flash, whilst the Java development studios haven’t got the capabilities to do this in house.

Another point of mention is the undeveloped area of position aware and social games that are being developed. This seems like a very under tapped market and has huge opportunities for developers. This area has been talked about for years, and yet the most interesting games I have come across are Geotracking, with a bit of storytelling behind them, not exactly revolutionary.

Overall the Conference didn’t have much of a buzz about it, which was probably due to there not being many major announcements and the consoles being mid cycle. The two major areas of the main conference that were receiving a lot of interest were input devices and motion capture. Input was a hot topic on a number of fronts, including the Wii Fit, numerous different controller systems and even a mind reading controller. Mobile had its revelation, the Zeemote. This is a Bluetooth analogue controller for mobiles, which has great potential, but again it’s positioned to the hard core games, not the casual market. Other interesting mobile development lie in the areas of using the camera, accelerometers and touch screens for better input solutions, and as long as they are used in the right kind of applications, they offer plenty of opportunities. There were plenty of stands promoting motion capture all competing on ease of setup and cost, with some very cost effective solutions now available.

It was a really interesting conference, and I got to meet some great people. There is a lot of hope for the mobile industry, and I hope over the coming years we will see some fantastic developments and advances that really open the space up for more universal and disruptive mobile games and applications.

Saturday, March 8

Home to Kansas

Travelled back to Kansas for my three month internship at SoftVu LLC with the brilliant Tim Donnelly, founder and president.

I'm really looking forward to the experience and hoping to absorb as much from Tim as I can over the next few months.

Thursday, March 6

IDEO - Redesigning the World

IDEO, based in Cambridge are a world renowned design agency with a reputation for their approach and working environment. We heard from their team about their approach and got a deeper understanding on their design principles and why there have been so successful.

The whole structure of IDEO is built to let ideas flow and create an environment for innovation and new concepts to flourish. It appeared to be a combination of employing the right people (one employee had around 8 interviews), the space and the resources they have available.
The Cambridge office was chosen specifically because it of its situation between Harvard and MIT, and it was interesting to hear the wide variety of people they have employed from areas as diverse as anthropologists to accountants. All work in a very flat structure, with teams changing on a per project bases, with team leads picked for their skills, not their experience at the company.
I am very interesting in learning more about the IDEO approach, and have already ordered two of their renowned design books, with the hope of learning about how to create a similar working environment for my ventures.

It was a fascinating afternoon at the IDEO offices, and it was a shame we couldn’t spend more time there.

MIT 100K Competition

I had the chance to attend the Semi-Final ceremony for the MIT 100K Business Plan Contest, which has outgrown its name and actually has prizes in the 100's of thousands across the various tracks.

This huge event in on of the large halls on the MIT campus featured a keynote speach from Johnathan Seelig the co-founder of Akamai and now managing director of Globespan. Interestingly he's also on the board of Zipcar, the founder Robin we met earlier in the week.

It was a great event from a number of perspectives. Firstly it was huge, with a good few hundred in attendance, showing the calibre of the competition and how popular the hard working volanteer students who run the event have made it.

Also Johnathan was a great speaker, and interestingly he re-presented his original pitch for Akamai from 10 years previous when he had entered the then 10K competition. Although a finalist, he didn't win the competition, and was the first to admit the flaws in his presenation. It was interesting to see how the business model has evolved, and how their original plans changed over time.

Unfortunately it will be a while until competitions such as Blueprint reach this size and stature, but at least they are heading in the right direction.

Wednesday, March 5


Today we had a workshop from Melissa Manwaring from Harvard Business School on negotiation and how to prepare for a negotiation situation. It was interesting to hear a detailed discussion on negotiation as it’s not something that I’d spent much time on previously, and certainly was surprised about how different a negotiation can be depending on how it is approached.

We were given seven key areas in a negotiation that you should have information on, and know where you stand on each area, but importantly also try and understand where your negotiation partner also stands. These areas are Interests, Options, Legitimacy, Alternatives, Communication, Relationship and Commitment. Depending on the negotiation, different areas can have more importance. It is often good to be aware when you are in a negotiation, which of the areas the discussion currently sits in, and that way you can make a better decision on how to steer the negotiation in a better way.

The seven elements are a way to analyze a negotiation situation with more strategy than just looking at it as a bartering, back and forth argument. By opening yourself up to new ideas in a negotiation, you can often forge a better outcome for all involved, or rescue a negotiation that looks lost.

The reading was really interesting, but also rather large and covered exactly the same topics as were discussed in the workshop. This made the workshop a little tedious, as it was clear we had a good understanding of the topic and found the day a little repetitive at times.

The workshop was great experience and has already proved useful in practical terms, and will hopefully serve to improve future negotiations that I will inevitably have.

Tuesday, March 4

FIRST Robotics

After the DEKA visit, we visited the FIRST Robotics building, and saw firsthand the exciting ways in which they are using robotic challenges to introduce school children to engineering, teamwork and involve them in a worldwide competition.
The work that’s been carried out is amazing, and it’s a great initiative started by Dean Kaman and supported by various companies, including the Kauffman Foundation. It was great to see such dedication on the part of FIRST to improving the opportunities for hundreds of thousands of children. I was glad to hear so many companies have got involved and invest not only money, but time with the children.

I am intrigued by the way the FISRT Robotics events involve schools and children and am going to look into how to spread the reach of the completion to more schools in the UK. It is also interesting to hear that they are looking to make the event software based in the future so it would be great to get involved with that aspect as well.


It was great to visit DEKA and have the chance to meet with Dean Kaman, the Founder. Dean gave us a large amount of his time to talk to us about DEKA, and his experiences in various projects.

The experience of hearing first hand from Dean, and learning about his passion for design, and pushing the boundaries of innovation and technologies was motivating. Although Dean went to university, he didn’t graduate, but not because he didn’t use the time wisely. In fact, instead of attending lectures and seminars, he simply made use of the faculty staff for the 5 years he was there and used them on a one to one basis to learn directly from them, understanding that this was a lot more valuable than regular classes.
I respect Dean’s approach to business, with the attitude of succeeding by raising the bar rather than pushing others under it, which is one of the reasons DEKA has been so successful in inventing new technologies that disrupt markets.
It was also interesting to hear about the projects they are working on, such as the iBot, the electric wheelchair with the balancing technology better known being used in the Segway. Amusingly Dean described the Segway as the iBot with all the complex technology taken out. Also seeing the work they are doing on a lightweight arm that is revolutionizing prosthetic limbs.

It was fantastic to visit DEKA and see the facilities they have, and the way the organization is structured. They are doing some fantastic things there and continue to push the boundaries on what’s technically possible.

Monday, March 3


We were welcomed by the MIT crowd, and it was good to hear from current students about their experiences at Sloan. They certainly work hard, and I was staggered to find out how much they get involved with activities in and outside of the school. It was a great atmosphere at MIT, and the social activities were great.

The 100K was a huge event and I’m glad that I attended the ceremony. The scale of the venture was a big shock and it was great to hear how involved the students are in the organization. To hear Jonathan Seelig, the founder of Akamai, one of the biggest internet services speak was a great opportunity. Especially to hear how far he had come since he had entered the then 10K competition 10 years ago. For Jonathan to give the same presentation that he gave at the beginning of his company was very interesting because it was obvious how much has changed since then, although he always has aspirations to be a large company, I’m just not sure he thought quite so large.

It was a shame that the evening pizza event wasn’t more organized and hosted at a better venue with more of the students available to meet with us. It seemed that the event clashed with two very high profile events for Sloan students, which limited its attendance greatly.

Tabula Digita

Ntiedo Etuk (Nt), CEO of Tabula Digita, spent an afternoon with us, openly discussing his experience in starting up a successful educational gaming company. He was extremely honest about his journey, and it was refreshing to hear from him. I was impressed with his dedication and drive to succeed, which was very inspirational.

Nt had a number of important lessons to share relating to his story, but it was his overall ambition and dedication that was most apparent to me. On a number of occasions Nt was in a position that I think a lot of people would have given up and thrown in the towel. However Nt pushed through these tough times, believing in himself and his company and has proved to have been a wise choice. He’s proved successful at raising capital, and also breaking into the very difficult educational system with his fantastic mathematics based educational multiplayer games.

I really enjoyed hearing from Nt and wish him all the luck in the future. I hope that I have the opportunity to work together on some interesting projects in the future.

Friday, February 29


Rick Harriman from Synectics provided us with a seminar on how to think about the creative process, and different approaches to idea generation and problem solving. It was interesting to hear the Synectics approach, as it went a lot further than simply brainstorming and focused more on different ways of looking at the situation, and triggering ideas from alternative areas to the problem.

It was great to learn new techniques regarding idea generation and there were a number that will be useful for the future, such as the principle that just by thinking harder about a problem, won’t necessarily get you much further down the innovation route, there are other levels that you must build on such as analogies, diversity and absurdity are useful tools to utilize.

The interactive nature of the session was useful, and it was good to work through the tools in a real situation to see how they could be used to rethink a problem within the teams we had.

Rick provided a useful session and it was good to hear the alternative strategies to brain storming.

Changing the world with Robin Chase - GoLoCo

It was great to hear from Robin Chase as she spoke so passionately about her past and future projects. She had a lot of useful insights into her ventures and ways in which we could apply some of her knowledge in our own entrepreneurial activities. I was amazed to hear about how bold and forward thinking Robin is in the way she looks to negotiate areas and fields that she doesn’t necessarily have a background in, but wishes to revolutionize those industries with disruptive thinking. I would definitely describe Robin as a serial entrepreneur, as not only has she started successful ventures such as ZipCar and GoLoCo but also hitting out into Mesh Networking and congestion charging.

Robin talked openly about different aspects of entrepreneurship and touched on a number of areas. She mentioned that you need to know how to satisfy the small amount of new users in a beta test when working with networks of people. Her approach is to satisfy the small, before organically growing to the large. This approach has been proved a success from the monster his such as Google and Facebook, so she can’t be too far wrong.

She also made it clear that if you are working at the intersection of two industries, then you can quickly become an “industry expert”, which is where Robin has often found herself, working with hi-tech, automotive, environmental and networking solutions.

Her opinion on making sure mesh networking devices become successful and well accepted is to integrate them into other technologies that are well maintained and required. That way the mesh network will be kept running because it is necessary by another solution, such as within cities for use in congestion charging.

A sound piece of advice is to try and hire people who have an “I can do that attitude”, this generally means a team of entrepreneurs. I can see issues with this, if there isn’t a common focus of the company, and everyone is working towards the same goals. Along with this attitude another thing that you usually can group entrepreneurs under is the thinking of, “It’s always looking up”, a great way to think about things, obviously as long as it’s actually looking up!

When asked how to go about asking people for advice, and to be on your board as a new entrepreneur, Robin suggested that successful people generally come from a place where they feel people have helped them, so are will to help others be successful too. A great way of thinking about things, and from my experience this is commonly true.

Robin was a great speaker, and we had an interesting discussion with her. It was also good to be able to debate some of the issues that she arose, and hear how she defended her position. I think Robin is doing a great job, and wish her all the success in the future. She really is changing the way people think about transportation and the environment at both the highest and lowest levels in the world.

Law, law, law

Our first talk of the day was from John Akula from MIT on the topics of law issues with employment, with focus on trade secrets, loyalty, non-competitive agreements through an interactive case study. John went through some of the issues that surround employment from a US perspective, which was interesting to hear. I was surprised most by the at-will contracts that are common in the US, where an employee can leave at any time, or can be let go at any time, without notice, or reason. Although there are many courteous reasons to give notice, this doesn’t have to be the case. This obviously has many implications for job security, and therefore affects areas such as loyalty and trade secrets.

There are many differences between both the laws and the cultures between the US and UK regarding employment law and areas such as non-competitive agreements. Having come from the games industry, where there is a lot of anxiety surrounding these areas, it was fascinating to hear another perspective on this. I was glad to hear that there are States, such as California that ban non-competitive agreements, and it seems to be a factor in the success of Silicon Valley.

The interactive workshop worked really well in this situation, on what could have been a very dry topic. However the interested case studies, along with the insights from the fellows, who all have a variety of backgrounds that they were able to bring to this area made it an enjoyable session.

Thursday, February 28

MIT Entrepreneurship Center

It was interesting to visit the MIT Entrepreneurship center as I could see how much weight MIT has put behind its entrepreneur focus. It’s not surprising they are considered one the best colleges for entrepreneurs, especially regarding their 100K competition when they have a center and dedicated staff at the university, even if it is only run by 5 strong full time team. The center being outside the remit of the other schools seemed to be an important aspect of the success, along with the strong alumni network MIT has.

We had an interesting discussion with Bill Aulet regarding business plans and how they could be successfully implemented as a PowerPoint presentation. If you are able to create a 10 slide version of your plan, that acts as a plan of execution for your business.

He also went through the areas that a 100k plan would be marked on, in the areas of opportunity and risk. These are:
• Market
• Execution
• Team
• Plan
• Competitive Advantage (tech)
• Financial
• Other i.e. Green energy, political implications (where appropriate)

Further details on this were that the market needs to be broken down into manageable steps, rather than looking at the market as a whole. The example was you can’t just say you’re going to sell cars to 1% of the market, need to look at it on a much smaller scale.

Gross margin is an important consideration, and something that hasn’t been touched on yet. Bill said that you need to be careful when presenting the margin, near to 10% is what a distributor has, and 90% is Microsoft, which is very difficult to achieve and would be hard to convince a panel, or VC that you could work with this percentage.

Competitive advantage is usually thought of as tech, but can also be critical mass of customers, or even having customers locked into your system. Having the best technology is not always necessary, and often overrated by the entrepreneur. Speaking of VC’s he warned that all they care about is Internal Rate of Return (IRR), it’s what they are rated on and the most important figure to them.

Once you have a plan, it should be signed by all management so that they are all in agreement with its contents, and are all dedicated to its success. The plan needs to convince a number of people that it will be successful. Intially this is you, then your team and also your customers. Finally your mother, meaning it should be easy to understand. At all times it should stir up passion and excitement, only then will it be ready for others to look at.

An invention on its own is like counterfeit money, it’s not worth anything until it’s commercialized!

Innovation = invention + commercialization

Even if there is no competition in the market, then you need to explain why. If there is no competition, this will flag warning messages in anyone’s head looking at the plan. It’s best to frame it as, even though there is no competition right now, you recognize there will be in the future. It’s also a bad idea to compare your new product with a product a competitor already has on the market, they will often have new products with your functionality in the works that you don’t know about. A better way to look at them is to find out what they are competing on, and differentiate yourself that way.

One thing I was disappointed with regarding the center is their concentration on graduate and PhD students for the programs and not undergraduates. One thing I have learnt since being on this fellowship is that you can never start too young in teaching entrepreneurial practices and if you are introducing the practices to school children, then the opportunities should also be there for all students. It was also interesting to hear that they haven’t achieved any increase in students that wish to pursue entrepreneurship who finish at MIT compared to when they start.

I don’t want to sound negative, but have a few other observations about the center. They rely on donations from local businesses and past students for funding, which account for 70% of the income. This doesn’t seem like a sustainable business model to me, and could suffer in the future. It also appeared that the classes were generally given by lecturers at the university, and they rarely used active businessmen.

It was great to hear from Bill again, he really is an inspiration and has so much knowledge and insights into the process we are all going through its scary. I would jump at the opportunity to spend more time with Bill and his team.

Wednesday, February 27

Y Combinator

I attended a Harvard School dinner this evening that discussed a start up incubator, Y Combinator started by Paul Graham that offers seed funding and mentoring for very early stage start ups.

It was great to hear from former participants in the incubator and hear first hand their stories and insights. It sounds like a fantastic opportunity for a business, and strangely for the US, the draw isn't really about the money (attendees get $5000 for each member of the team, and the business gets $5000 for a small percentage of the company) it's about the contacts and mentoring that are available through the programme.

There have been some hugely successful companies come out of this experience already, including Reddit and Justin.TV and more here.

Monday, February 25

Visit to Adobe

My last day in San Francisco and managed to organise a meeting at the Adobe Office in the centre of town. Their offices are very impressive, and looked like a pleasure to work in.
I met with Josh and Ryan from the mobile and design teams, and they were both extremely nice guys, and very open to a chat. We discussed various aspects of Flash Lite development; all agreed that the lack of Flash Lite at the GDC conference was very disappointing and the opportunities going forward for Flash on the mobile platform is really exciting.
I hope that Fluid Pixel can develop a working relationship with Adobe, as I believe it would be a pleasure to work for them, and it would be great to be an integral part of the Flash Lite, Flash Home and Flash Cast platforms going forward.
Obviously I can’t talk about some of the more interesting that we spoke about but let’s just say mobile Flash isn’t going away anytime soon!

Sunday, February 24

Brunch, Palo Alto Style

Today’s event was breakfast with the effervescent Peter Davies, along with his friend David Perry. David is a remarkable man, having been the CEO of the record braking company Chemdex. Chemdex was a company David started during the height of the internet bubble, and is a true example of how companies rose and fell so quickly. Started after leaving Harvard University, David single handily raised large sums of VC and took the company from nothing to worth $10 billion in less than 4 years, and then back to little over $100 million when he eventually sold it. I was in awe of the casual manner that David spoke about his experience as the youngest CEO to take a company to such a valuation and in one of the shortest periods in America’s history, only to lose nearly everything by the end.

He had a few insights into what his insights into how to be a successful entrepreneur that resonated with my experiences and beliefs. The first is to not worry so much about what it is you are doing as long as you fulfil 2 criteria. They are that you are always learning and you are enjoying what you are doing. This mantra is true whether or not you are perusing entrepreneurial activities, or working for a company. Whatever choices you make in this regard will work themselves out eventually, and there’s no reason you can’t move on in the future.

Secondly he outlined a perspective when raising capital that I hadn’t heard before, but was particularly interesting. His idea when making a pitch is not to skirt around potential barriers and risks, but rather spell them out and make the investor aware of everything you are aware of. His reasoning is that they will look for risks anyway, and if you leave them to their own devices they will probably come to the wrong conclusions. However the ingenious part is once you have outlined the obviously fantastic opportunity, then prepared them with the risks, instead of asking money to pursue the opportunity, you ask for the money to eliminate the risks. So if you identify the risks in order of priority, and necessity, and ask for X amount to overcome the top Y risks, you can show how strong the company will be at that stage, what the risks will then be (presumably a lot less) and therefore show how much investment will be required at that stage to continue to overcome the further risk. If done properly, you will organise the risks into stages, and at each stage it will become easier and easier to raise the capital required to overcome the risks (if necessary of course).

Finally he also warned about a situation that currently seems a long way off, and that is raising too much money! Apparently he has encountered the situation, and Peter also, where VC’s wish to invest a much larger amount of capital. This usually occurs when investor groups work together and all want a piece of the pie. In this situation, to support the higher valuation this causes, it is too easy to spread the company too thinly and work on products that aren’t core to your business, and therefore you can lose focus on the key areas. Not something that is immediately relevant perhaps, but something to think about nonetheless.

I really enjoyed the breakfast and it sounds like David is onto something equally impressive for his next venture, this time with the experience behind him, and having learnt a number of hard lessons. He has found a technology that could potentially revolutionise the way in which molecular treatments work, with the associated rewards, so it will be interesting to see how this venture fairs. I have no reason to believe that he won’t be a success.

Friday, February 22

Stanford Tech Licensing Office

Today we visited Stanford Tech Licensing Office for a discussion at one of the most successful technology transfer universities in the world.

It was interesting to see how Stanford, a model university for licensing manages its assets and handles IP. We were able to ask some touch questions and gain invaluable insights into how UK universities compare to Stanford.

We were told about the Stanford way, and that often the inventor isn’t the best person to take on the technology, if you look at the technology from a viewpoint of what’s best for it. This approach from Stanford is something I hadn’t heard mentioned previous to this, and a thought provoking statement. I will continue to see how other universities approach their IP and see if anyone approaches the experience and insight that Stanford has achieved. I will also try and work with Teesside to improve their Licensing model.

It was a very interesting session, and we could have been left debating the pros and cons of Stanford’s approach all day long!

Thursday, February 21


In the afternoon we a meeting with Uday Kumar from iRhythm, who have a revolutionary cardiac-rhythm monitoring device. Uday was very enthusiastic, and showed that even with no knowledge of the business world, it is possible to form a great team, and start up a successful company. His dedication showed, and it was an inspiring talk, especially as he is coming from a similar position to myself, with lots of specialist skills, but little business background.

I have learnt from Uday's first hand expereince that dedication, hard work and enthusiasm for your idea are a great place to base a business from. Along with a lot more hard work it is possible to start a business in a short space of time, and raise significant funding, and also build a team.

Uday was very inspiring and a businessman who is less than a year down the line from where I am now, so he had lots of relevant knowledge, albeit in another field. Overall he had the right mix of technology speak, with business insights and really inspired enthusism from me and the group.

Microsoft - San Jose

Visit to the Microsoft Offices in San Jose. It was very interesting to hear from inside Microsoft as to how they approach entrepreneurship and innovation from such a large company. It was new information to me, as I don’t feel Microsoft is particularly good about showing it’s innovation, compared to companies such as Google, even though in some respects they act in similar ways.

We have heard a lot recently about how difficult it is for large companies to continue to innovate and keep market share when there are new companies able to come in with disruptive technologies. Microsoft appears initially to be too large for this to occur, but it was clear from this talk that they are fully aware of the fragility of their market, and need to keep on innovating, either internally or externally through other companies, which they ultimately may or may not buy.

All in all it was a great session, it was just unfortunate that we didn’t have more time for the discussions to continue, and even more unfortunate that we didn’t have time for a full tour of the building.

Sunday, February 10

Monster Jam

We jumped at the chance to see the trucks at Monster Jam at the Sprint Center here in Kansas City.

It was a fantastic event, not only with huge monster trucks but also quad bikes and motorbikes.

It certainly wasn't for the feint hearted, these things are VERY noisy, adrenaline pumping machines.

Well worth the visit, and a great day out!

Friday, February 8

Zoller Returns

Ted spent a couple of days with us this week, and covered a huge range of topics in a crunch style MBA program. The most valuable insights were the discussions of our Value Propositions that he had asked us to do for this week, and looking into the market and management of the business.

The number of lessons learnt from Ted was incredible, he consistently challenged me to look at things in new ways which was an great experience. He stressed the importance for a new venture to aim to be the primary player in the market, not to aim for number two or three. There was a lot of emphasis, quite rightly put on the customer, and he suggested to seek out the customer that cares about your venture, and hold hands with them to learn as much as you can about how you can solve their pain. Also he suggested that if you have done the work in the key areas of management, advantage and market, then the money will follow. This is different to where many entrepreneurs start, with seeking capital. The value proposition is a vital element in the business, and everything should flow from this original key idea.

In your network, you can generally only properly manage about 20 people, and only really work with 2-5 at any one time.
Regarding the pricing model, he made the point that you shouldn’t be selling you time, as time is a finite resource. Really you should be exploiting your value that you add to the customer through your product or service.
He covered a number of key areas in market strategy, including how to divide up a market, and which markets segmentation you should attack first to exploit the best opportunity. The customer will have certain preferences, and you should aim to exploit these, but also be aware that their preferences change, so you will have to consistently adapt to their needs. If you don’t then your competitors will exploit the gap you leave in the market. As a first mover, especially will a disruptive technology, this is very important, as you will be offering the market something that is beyond their preferences.
You shouldn’t rely on the physical characteristics of your product to differentiate it from the market, as this can easily be exploited by competitors, but try and fight on multiple fronts such as not just being faster, but also more efficient, or cost effective. Customers can pay less attention to the physical characteristics than the company.
Ted suggests the following as a model pitch outline when seeking investment in the company:
1. Audience connection
2. Opportunity and Value Proposition
3. Business model
4. Market and penetration strategy
5. Implementation and rollout
6. Management and personal
7. Financials
8. Financial opportunity/outcomes
9. Closer and exit

He also warns, not to extend beyond your own capabilities, if you stretch to meet areas such as marketing/business, they will see right through you. State that that's not your strong point, and reassure that the appropriate team will be brought on board.
He also provided some good insights into management and team. As a leader it is the bigger vision you have is what people invest in when they work for you. This is important because the team is the number one factor in investment ideas so much so that an idea without a team has no value. Market experience will trump education every day, apart from in an R&D situation and so either hire the best A team players, or beg and borrow them!

The amount of material Ted talked about was staggering, and it was tough to keep up with everything. However he was able to cover many key areas, and the combination with his slides, my notes and further research it will be a great resource.

I was truly inspired by Ted’s presentation, he is able to take familiar topics, and present them in such a way that I gained new insights into them, and expanded my understanding of the areas.

Thursday, February 7

Tribulations of a Founder

Noam Wasserman dropped by from Harvard to discuss a case study of his, relating to the relationships of a team when building a venture, and how team members were rightly or wrongly selected. It was a lively discussion and covered many areas that were really useful when considering team makeup, such as skills, knowledge, network and passion. Each area is a key factor when trying to decide who to bring on board at the critical stages of a new business.
The second stage of the talk looked into Noam’s research into the life cycle of a founder of a business, and how his studies have shown the usually finite life as a CEO of the company.

It was interesting to hear the different opinions from the fellows during this talk, and how each of them viewed the various attributes of the founding partners. Each having their own viewpoint on the key attributes for who to bring on board for the business. During the talk on his research Noam made some really interesting observations that are great to know at this stage of business. The salient point was that as the founder and CEO of the company, you are likely to be removed from this position, whether you are successful or a failure. Obviously if you the company is failing with you at the helm, then you will be replaced by the board, but also, if you are very successful, then the board (usually pushed by the investors) will replace you with someone that they feel will be in a better position to take the company into this new era.
Another interesting area was how to split equity amongst the founding team members the key elements being; past contributions, future contributions, opportunity cost and willingness to fight over equity. Even though the majority of partners split the equity equally, this can have implications for team stability and growth potential. Serious consideration should be made for a vetting strategy for equity, and increase the teams equity based on their achievements and time at the company.
Noam has a blog,, that he is updating alongside his research, so I will be following this closely to gain a better insight into the role of the founder and CEO.

Noam made the discussion of the case study really easy, and encouraged involvement and for us to offer differing viewpoints. It was a good split for the talk to follow first the case study, before looking more in depth into Noam’s research. Overall Noam was a great speaker and I’m looking forward to following his research further, and hopefully seeing him again when we make a trip to Harvard.

Wednesday, February 6

MIT Seniority

Bill Aulet gave a great talk on how to approach a new market as an entrepreneur, with practical examples through a case study and insights into what problems a new venture faces with new opportunities. It was interesting to see how even a great new business can fail if they don’t approach new markets in the right way, keep up with market transitions and come to market at the right time.

Like all the talks so far, there was a huge amount gained from the session with Bill. Some of the main lessons were the importance to focus on particular markets, rather than trying for a conquer all strategy. The most successful companies are able to deselect markets, and dominate a good place in the market they are in. The DNA (vision) of a company is set by the founders and it can't be changing all the time if the company is to be successful. An interesting thing to note is a market pull company will move towards a tech company over time, and a tech company will move towards a marketing company. This should be realized and decisions based on this such as hiring staff.
There are three main areas that a company can compete on, price, innovation and intimacy (customer service) and you shouldn’t try to compete on all three areas. It’s also not a fun experience to only compete on price.
You should be aware in your marketing strategy what customers you are selling to at a particular time, such as early adopters compared to late majority. There are different kinds of sales and support that need to be provided for each customer.
The company should be built from the customer out, not the technology out and it’s not all about the effort, it’s about being at the right market at the right time.

The case study was an interesting read, but as the first Harvard case study I had approached, I was taken by surprise how much I was expected to know from the case study, and the depth of that knowledge. It was certainly a great learning experience to follow through in detail how the company unfolded.

Bill's session was very interesting, and he was able to articulate how important other aspects to a new venture are such as market positioning and sales are for a new business. This was a great expansion on other talks we’ve had so far. The learning experince just keeps on getting better and better.

Tuesday, February 5

A taste of Harvard

Professor Nanda, a lecturer at Harvard University, gave us a talk today and explained some of the different areas that are faced at a negotiation between an entrepreneur and a venture capitalist. It was interesting to walk through a case study that covered both sides of the term sheet, and see how the two sides saw the same situation and related to each other. It made me aware of the difficulties faced by both sides in this situation.

Ramada talked through a lot of the key negotiation areas of the term sheet, focusing on the various stock options that are available and how that relates depending on how well the company does. It was interesting to see how a seemingly minor word in the term sheet, can make the difference of many millions when it comes to paying back the investor. Looking at the backgrounds of both the VC and the entrepreneur and seeing how each can view the same situation was interesting, such as the make-up of the board and the valuation of the company.
A main portion of the talk was invested in how each side can come up with widely different evaluations for the same company based on the same data, and how key figures such as price to earnings ratios and discount rates can widely affect the value of a company. It was also interesting to hear how much of the valuation is “fudged” to match the figures that either the VC or the entrepreneur wants to see, rather than what is actually the case.

The talk from Ramada was extremely interesting, and has given me a basic understanding of many of the concepts found in a relationship with a venture capitalist. He was extremely good at explaining the information so that it made sense to me. It was a strange situation because many people in the group, including myself, hadn’t discussed a case study in this setting before, and I though Ramada adapted really well, to what was obviously a lot quieter session than he is used to at Harvard.

I'm really looking forward to visting Harvard!

Monday, February 4

Carnage after the meal

The results of a visit to Jack Stacks BBQ wtih Carl Schramm. Ribs included lamb, beef pork and dinosaur! The food was fantastic, and it was great to spend some time with Carl and the rest of the fellows to chat about entrepreneurship.

However, I'm not sure I will be able to face another rib for a while...

Sunday, February 3


A day of work, followed by Superbowl, kindly hosted at Wendy's house. The game was rather drab until the last quarter, by which time I'd figured out the rules, and was brilliant.

Saturday, February 2

Monet in Kansas?!

A visit to Kemper Gallery and Nelson Atkins Museum of Contemporary Art. A fantastic gallery, right next to our appartments that has a truely great collection of art.

Friday, February 1

Profit from Non Profits

Meeting with Dan from NonProfit Technologies and also inspirational lunch with Harold from the Kauffman Foundation.

Thursday, January 31

Management of Innovation

A Melissa Schilling talk on business strategy and the anaylsis of both technological innovation and market adoption.

It opened my eyes up to various areas of business that I was aware of, but didn’t have an understanding of the reasons why things happen as they do. Melissa has armed me with some tools to further understand markets in terms of technological advances and consumer adoption. It’s always interesting to take a step back from the direct results of business and try and look at the deeper reasons for why things happen, and understand the direct consequences of changes in technology and the markets.

Melissa covered many exciting topics during her presentation. I was particularly intrigued with the topics on cycles of technology, deployment strategy and market adoption. There were so many aspects that I wasn’t aware of, and many of the underlying principles that she spoke of made complete sense to me as to why things happen in business the way they do.
I will be reading the book Melissa has written on the subject, and then reading further into the interesting topics of the limits and curves involved in technological advances and consumer adoption.

The presentation including a huge amount of extremely useful and insightful information that related directly to my business and the market that I am pursuing.

Wednesday, January 30

Angels Vs Venture Capitalists

A talk from Marianne Hudson on Angel investment and then a talk from Niall O'Donnell on Venture Capital.

The evening was spent watching "Mr K" at the Foundation with huge pizzas.

Marianne's talk proved to be a great insight into the world of an angel and how they fit into the game of investments in businesses. I wasn’t aware of the huge scale of Angel investors and how much they contribute to businesses, especially compared to VC’s.
Angel investors are an overlooked, but highly valuable group for young businesses without enough value for VC’s to want to invest, but offer a good opportunity for an individual, or group of Angels to be interested.
Angels can bring money to the table, but maybe more importantly they can bring credibility and therefore might be the catalyst to securing larger funds from VC’s.
There are a lot more Angel groups around the world than I realized, and many who specialize in specific types of businesses such those owned by ethnic minorities, or who are from a certain area.
Overall it was a good overview of the Angel investment area, and clarified some areas that were unknown before regarding investment below the VC route.

Naill concentrated on the world of venture capital during his session. It made me more aware of the huge complexities of signing a VC deal, and the importance of the words written on the term sheet. Although I wouldn’t have attempted a deal without a good lawyer, I’m not even more aware that the quality of the lawyer has an impact on the deal, and I certainly won’t skimp on hiring someone that is both skilled and experienced.

Venture Capital firms vary greatly on how they will treat a company when they invest, so it’s not just about attracting a VC, but it’s about attracting the right VC. There are a lot of questions that should be asked before signing your company away, more than the obvious how much, and what percentage of the company. There are other factors, such as how long the VC firm wants to invest for, what’s their track record on both how many companies they have seen to exit, and how long this takes. You need to approach venture capital firms at the right time. If they are out trying to raise their funds, then they are less likely to want to invest in you, and if they do invest, they will potentially be distracting with raising their own money, rather than paying attention to you. Also you need to look at what stage the company is with their fund pool, as if they are towards the end of the funding cycle, they will want a much quicker return than if they are at the beginning. This might mean they force you to exit at an earlier stage than you want.

The environment of your business area will depend on what types of VC companies will invest in you. If you are in a hot area, then you need to show why you are better than anyone else. If you're out on your own, then why isn't anyone else doing it?

An ideal Angel is a retired expert from your field. The opposite is the local business man that isn't going to add any value to what you’re doing. If the Angel doesn't understand the sales strategy or the timeframes involved, then they're not good investors.

It was a good, solid presentation and has given me a platform of understanding that I can build on in the future.

Tuesday, January 29

IP: A game of attack and defense

Talk by Peter McDermott followed by a game simulating the Patent system by Andrew Torrence.

After these sessions by Peter and Andrew I feel that I am now in a much better position to understanding the use of IP and how it can be utilized to gain an advantage. The systems involved in IP are more complex than I was aware of before this talk, and the systems throughout the world are also completely different. It is important to seek professional help, from someone who understands the unique nature of the country you are looking to protect your IP in. It’s also very important to understand how acting on your IP in a particular country can affect the ability to protect your idea in others.

The key lessons were that IP is incredibly important, more so than I had an awareness of. Its value to a business is huge, especially at this time in history, because information is so valuable. There has to be a strategy to utilizing IP, and it’s not just about a patent, there is an offensive and defensive attitude towards IP.
Businesses need protocols for collecting and evaluation IP that is generated within the company, as proper records could be crucial if IP is disputed. Also be careful when disclosing patent applications, only show what you need to, no more and keep the claims well protected until the last minute. Sometimes patents can be a useful marketing tool, even if they aren’t that useful for business purposes.
There is a lot of effort in bringing together the different laws regarding IP throughout the world, but there aren’t systems that let you protect yourself worldwide, so always be aware of specific laws in different countries, and act accordingly.

Peters presenation was very informative presentation, with a lot of good material and useful insights into the laws involved in IP protection.

During Andrews session we were able to play a simulation that looked to model the complex nature of Patents. It was an interesting take on the way in which patents work, and instantly made the complex ideas behind the system a lot clearer. The patent system is clearly difficult to model, which was something that I wasn’t aware of, yet it the software gave a unique approach to providing understanding to a system that I haven’t had any involvement in up until now.

I learnt that the patent system isn’t as abstract as I had thought. There are rules to the system, that if you know how to use the system to your advantage, it is possible to benefit greatly. However it also seems that because of the nature of the system, no matter how well you know it, there are nuances and problems that you can’t always be aware of and so you won’t always come out on top.

Overall it was a great experience, and a worthwhile session. It would have been brilliant to spend more time working on various strategies using the system, to see how they affect the outcome.