Month: October 2010

Kitten love is good love…introducing Jellytot

In the midst of today’s miserable CSR10 announcements & in view of the bad press there’s been recently about people putting cats in bins etc I thought I’d give you Jellytot’s story today – I know it’s a bit different from my usual blog but I figure everyone could do with cheering up & with a different type of news today.  Some of you already know the story – but you’ll still enjoy the pictures!

Just over 2 weeks ago, I was driving home after dropping my goddaughter off.  I was taking the back country roads as a major new bypass is under construction between Dungannon & Ballygawley – so I was way off my usual well-trodden route.  Driving along I spotted a small black kitten crouching on the road – he had enormous big luminescent eyes & seemed to be in a catatonic trance.  I pulled over next to him in the Fig & looked at him out of my window, wondering what I should do.  However, there were a few houses back from the road & I thought – maybe he does this all the time.  50 yards further on around the next bend, I saw what I believe to be his mother lying dead on the road – she’d been hit by a car probably moments before.

You can guess the rest – I turned the Fig around in short order & went back.  I knew if I didn’t pick him up the next car along would take him as the next victim and I wasn’t prepared to have that as the outcome.  I scooped him up & he sat next to me on the passenger seat – looking up at me with those big eyes.  He was a tiny scrap (vet said he was prob 4 or 5 weeks old) as you can see from the pic of Olivia holding him.

I just photographed him again now – relaxing on his blanket – belly full of treats & kitten milk – still staring straight at me.  The bond is strong already & he ain’t going anywhere – tiny menace that he is – this is one kitten who’s landed on his feet.


Entrepreneurs are story tellers…so says Doug Richard

I’m so glad that I took yesterday out to attend Doug Richard’s excellent “Starting & Growing a Successful Business” lecture in Letterkenny.  Learning Pool’s now an established business (when do you stop being a startup I wonder?) but most entrepreneurs have one eye on the next opportunity – it’s part of our condition…

Doug’s a man I could listen to all day.  He sounds exactly like the wonderful architect Frank Gehry (a Toronto man who’s also lived in LA for a long time) and he doesn’t mince his words.  I knew a bit about Doug already & I expected him to be like his reputation – ferocious, blunt to the point of rudeness & flashes of vitriol.  Instead – he’s a caring pussycat trying to impart his vast experience of being an entrepreneur to those folks that are just starting out.  Impressively, as part of his School for Startups social enterprise, he’s spoken to 7,600 entrepreneurs or would-be entrepreneurs in the last 2 ½ years.  He says he does it to show it can be done & to prove the government wrong – he thinks the way UK government supports & starts new business stinks.  I think most startup businesses we network with (and there are an awful lot of those) would wholeheartedly agree with him.  So – he’s a sort of energetic entrepreneurial avenging angel.

What impressed me most was his ability over the course of the day to really add value & give advice completely on the spur of the moment to people in the audience with businesses as varied as stainless steel catering equipment, online bridal directories, health clubs, micro-breweries, logistic businesses & distributors of artwork – so it must be true – business really is just business and entrepreneurialism can be learned – you don’t have to be born to it.

Doug’s written plenty of stuff & there are loads of good & free resources on his School for Startups website including his excellent blog – so I’m not going to regurgitate all that stuff again here in my blog,  Instead – I’m going to give you the quotes from Doug that I liked enough yesterday to write down – just to give you a flavour of the day and a flavour of Doug Richard.  Here we go:

Entrepreneurs are not born; babies are born

Some businesses can simply not succeed; entire industries exist that do not make any money (example he gave was the airline industry with the exception of our friends at Ryanair)

Some industries are harder to make money in; you need to know what industry you are in

A brand is a residue of what’s left; it’s a promise – you need to have a promise that you’re offering

Simple businesses are the ones that are most likely to succeed; but everyone does too much in their business – it’s human nature

You should make your promise accurate & narrow – how narrow can you get?

The story you tell as a young business is the most important thing – often you have nothing else

Entrepreneurs are defined by the story they tell

Risk & reward walk up together in a perfect continuum

Look elsewhere for tomorrow’s today (advice to go & check out other countries when looking for a business idea)

Government makes the measurable important instead of the other way around

You must delight your customers & exceed expectations – even by just a little – this will create word of mouth

If you’re building product, think about how you can include whimsy (he used the example of Apple’s “bounce” when you scroll to the end of the menu – utterly unnecessary but Steve Jobs felt it should exist)

Your family & friends are there to support you when you’re wrong so don’t ask them to appraise your new business idea

There is no conversation with a prospective customer that is too long, they are all too short

Every company should write a short profile of who their customer is – write it as a story – give them names

Most business expenditure is not driven by need but by ego (e.g. company cars)

Adults should only be rewarded for accomplishments, not for trying hard

Entrepreneurs are on a journey of discovery not invention – all the answers are already out there

Don’t stop at Page 1 of Google when you’re doing market research – there’s value in the long tail

You make more money from having an innovative business model than you do from having a great product or service

Business models matter & you should think about yours

Don’t overlook affiliate marketing (if this is your bag, Doug runs an 8 hour class on this alone)

Take the first offer – it might be the last offer!

Product doesn’t have to be better, it just has to be different (example used was skype – although of course it is also free!)

Just ask your minority customers why they don’t buy more from you (what a blindingly obvious idea – thanks Doug – we’re doing it)

A patent is not protection, it’s a hunting licence to protect (talking about the costs of defending patent breach)

No-one has ever started a company in Silicon Valley & ended up with what they thought they would – they are all Plan B companies

In an entrepreneur, resilience is so important (as an aside – in the very first conversation I ever had with Paul McElvaney many years ago, I asked him how resilient he was.  It’s something we as business partners return to from time to time to make sure we’re still resilient as – yes – you really need to be)

It’s a very, very rare business that succeeds with just one person – there needs to be a team

You have to be optimistic to be an entrepreneur

There were a few “funnies” as well that I noted – please be warned that there’s a small bit of bad language coming up:

I don’t speak “local” – when he couldn’t understand a few of the strong accents in our Donegal audience

I’ll take better, I’m good!

We don’t use the phrase “poison chalice” in the USA (talking about being Chairman of the Tory task force to review SME support in the UK)

I’m saving you an entire MBA today

Thanks for the validation…I was a bit concerned.  I know I’m obnoxious (to a member of the audience that told him he believed he was right about something)

On software development – Imagine selling a fridge where in v1 it just holds stuff

On Google rankings for your company – Do you know what we call the second page? – Siberia

On competitors – It’s not that you’re paranoid, they’re after you; they want to rip off your head & piss down the hole

On being an entrepreneur – Resilience, overcoming adversity, survival – they all pale into insignificance if you’re an asshole

In conclusion, a fab day where we learned a lot and Doug even made up a word – perfical (a perfect vertical).  Don’t miss him – he’s brilliant, warm & very well informed – and he’s running one of these again in Dublin on 16 Feb & a Belfast date is to be announced.  Come along with your questions & expect him to challenge you – he isn’t your mum & surely you’d rather know if your baby’s ugly.  I guess you want to know what I asked him don’t you?  I asked him how he decides on the one investment he chooses each year from the 3,000 business plans he receives.  He was candid & admitted that there isn’t a “one” from  the 3,000 – he decides what the next big thing is & goes hunting for a company to invest in.  All I can say is I hope he has an urge to invest in a public sector online learning community – come talk to me if you do Doug!


A night with James Ellroy, demon dog & foul owl – are you scared yet?

Last night Dave Briggs & I went to the Bloomsbury Theatre to see famous American author & self proclaimed genius James Ellroy – check us all out on the photo below.  I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this blog entry you’re already familiar with Ellroy (LA Confidential, American Tabloid, etc) and I’m therefore not going to go back over all the much hyped information that exists about him.  This blog is about some of what James Ellroy had to say last night.

A confession first – I’ve seen James Ellroy at a book reading event in London before and am a fan – I like him because he’s unusual as well as incredibly talented.  I think it was in 1996 when he was promoting “My Dark Places” – another book about his mother, speaking more or less completely in jive talk and very much in love with his pet bull terrier.  14 years on he was less “daddio” and even more off the wall than I remembered him to be.

There’s no doubt he’s an entertaining & engaging public speaker – he stands legs wide apart like a wild man rock guitarist playing at a lectern & he uses his distinctive low & booming voice like a musical instrument – he’s an easy man to listen to and he doesn’t disappoint in terms of the shock factor – ever.   He even told us last night – “laugh with greater fervour – it’s funny MFs” and he uttered the immortal deVito line from LA Confidential – Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush – in “that” voice.

Also before we start – I was touched that Ellroy said he’d like more women to read his books.  He’s sometimes painted to be a pervert and a woman-hater.  I tend to think he’s a bit maligned on this score and instead read him to be a hopeless romantic caught up in a never ending loop of seeking THE ONE, finding her, discovering he was wrong and moving on to looking for the next ONE.  He rather weirdly claims to be able to remember with clarity features of women’s faces that he met or saw 50 years ago.  Dave & I weren’t sure that was credible – and he did then go on to freely admit that he “makes up shit convincingly & makes sure all the people he’s writing about are dead” – with one exception – Don Crutchfield, real life PI that Ellroy claims he paid $40k & promised not to depict as a “fag or a ponce” in “Blood’s a Rover”.

It was fascinating to hear from the author about the methodology he uses to write.  He starts with a detailed outline which he keeps beside him & this framework enables him to then control his story whilst permitting improvisation on scenes he is writing.  He spends a lot of time in the dark thinking about & planning his story and then writes in longhand at his desk, working in silence and with no music or distractions.  He reads his work out aloud to himself as he writes and rewrites.  If he ever gets fed up with writing crime fiction, I’ll offer him a job as a project manager any day (although I might worry about the effect that would have on his colleagues).

These are the soundbites from last night that we liked a lot:

·         LA is where I go when women divorce me; I can earn money there to pay my alimony and I know where stuff is

·         She had eyes of no shit non hazel green

·         My riposte to book critics worldwide has been “fuck you all”

·         Says he has a “benign form of megalomania rewriting history to his own specification”

·         I am a genius and George W Bush is not

·         Whatever I can conceive I can execute (I like that – a lot)

·         England = the moors, thatched cottages & baying hounds

·         Movies you want to see like LA Confidential; movies you want to flee like the Black Dahlia

I’ll be back to post more on this when I’ve had more chance to think & digest.  He’s in Belfast tonight & tomorrow night & folks – James Ellroy is unmissable – take your chance to go & see him whilst he’s over here.  Comments & questions welcome.


10 fabulous things that have happened in the last 4 years


#teamlovely has been celebrating Learning Pool’s 4th birthday for the past week or so – just look at that cake in the photo.  There’ve been many times in the last 4 years that the achievement of this milestone seemed like a tall order – but resilience has always been the order of the day round here so we’ve just kept our heads down and carried on plugging away.  A rather frightening statistic is that 75% of new start ups have crashed & burned by the end of Year 3 – so it’s good to be in a successful minority, especially during the current global economic recession.  As we reach the end of our celebrations, this has got me thinking about the highlights of the last 4 years for Paul & me (this blog is a bit selfish for which I apologise now).  Here they are in no particular order:

1.       Getting to see Bill Clinton in Derry this week – that was cool & so was he (disappointed you didn’t mention “digital” Bill – ah well)

2.       In the early days, making a snap decision to go ahead & build Modern Councillor whilst crossing the West End of London in a taxi – it’s been a roaring success ever since

3.       Also in the early days, receiving a Letter of Offer from one of the Belfast VCs and turning it down – twice!

4.       Blagging our way in to spending 45 minutes with a Director of Education in Capitol Hill & listening to his sage advice

5.       Reaching the final of the 2008 All Ireland Seedcorn competition and having a great night out with our team

6.       Following on from No 5, our team meeting Jerry Kennelly (founder of Stockbyte that was sold to Getty Images in 2006 for $135m) at the Seedcorn awards party and having him tell us we have a great company, to keep doing what we’re doing & not to take any investment (thanks Jerry!)

7.       Holding a launch party in Johannesburg in Nov 2009 at the UK Trade Commissioner’s residence and having lovely Baroness Glenys Kinnock, Minister for Africa, as our keynote speaker

8.       Being overjoyed when Donald Clark approached us and subsequently offered to join our board as a non exec director (great to have you on board Donald – #teamlovely loves you to bits)

9.       Welcoming 200 people to our annual conference at London’s Royal Mint on 12 May 2010 and receiving their fabulous feedback

10.   Being one of Deloitte’s Rising Stars at the end of 2009

11.   Knowing that we’re well on our way to building the biggest & best public sector online learning community in the world

OK – so there were 11…here’s to the next batch!