Digital

Startup CEO – a perfect job for the jack-of-all-trades who’s also able to focus

This interview of me by my friend Barry Adams (@badams) appeared in the December 2016 issue of the NI Digital Expert interview on the Polemic blog.  I realise it’s a bit weird to feature it on my own blog but I know a lot of my readers are thinking about a change of career or thinking about starting a business & I thought it might be a useful long read; especially for anyone who is perhaps having doubts and needs reassurance from another person about how they’ve done these things without the world subsequently ending.

Barry Adams

Barry Adams in his usual mega cheerful & positive mode

If you don’t know Barry already then I recommend you check him out.  He’s a Dutchman living in Northern Ireland who is well known for his digital expertise and strong opinions that he isn’t afraid to voice.  Barry’s been building and ranking websites since 1998 and he’s the most awesome SEO expert I know. As the founder of Polemic Digital he delivers world-class digital strategy services to clients worldwide and you can find out more about Polemic’s services here.

Here’s Barry’s interview with me – if you have any other questions you’d like to ask me about my career journey or about my own experiences founding & growing a tech startup then just post them up in the comments section & I’ll answer them if I can:

Tell us about yourself and your journey into digital: how did you discover tech and become so involved in it?

Like many people I didn’t have a traditional route into digital. I suppose my first “tech” job was working as part of the then very small British Telecom Mobile Communications team within BT back in 1987 where I was the proud owner of one of the first car phones (the battery filled the entire boot of the car and pretty much every phone conversation I had started with “You’ll never guess where I’m ringing you from…”). That team eventually went on to become Cellnet and then O2 of course.

After that I spent the next 12 years in London, clambering my way up the greasy corporate career pole & by the year 2000 I was a reasonably successful Finance Director. By the age of 39 I had itchy feet so when the headhunter called, I was more than ready to leave the safe, comfortable job that I could do in my sleep to move to Belfast to join a high tech startup which was a spin-out from Queens University Belfast. That company was Amphion Semiconductor and we created semiconductor IP – the code that makes chips in just about everything work. At the time Amphion’s engineering team was immersed in the JPEG & MPEG technology around enabling text & photo messaging on mobile phones for a Japanese client. We used to chuckle daily in our Belfast office at the idea that anyone would ever use their phones to send photos to their friends. 3 weeks after joining I found myself catapulted into the heart of Silicon Valley and all the madness of the Valley in the early 2000s. The learning curve (both about what we did & what my part in that was) was nearly vertical but luckily I learned quickly and I was bitten by the technology bug.

I guess my point here is that you don’t have to be a coder to work in the tech industry. Understanding the value and business benefits of tech and being able to explain that to others is a very useful skill to have.

Bryan Keating was Amphion’s chairman and I was very lucky to spend the best part of 3 years learning a lot from him. He’s one of Northern Ireland’s most inspirational and wise business leaders and of course he’s Learning Pool’s chairman today.

You’ve got a degree in Business Economics, which doesn’t have much to do with technology. If you could go back, would you choose to study the same at university, pick a different topic, or skip university altogether?

I like the quote from Alexander Graham Bell that goes “When one door closes another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” 

Because I’m an open door looker the past isn’t somewhere I visit too often so this question has really made me think. I’ve sometimes joked that if I had my time over again, I’d be a tax accountant and by this point would be a long time retired.

I believe that nothing you ever learn is wasted. I temped for 2 years in my mid 20s and did some terrible jobs (complaints desk for a large US oil company, processing industrial injury claims for a trade union) but it’s remarkable how many times I use something I learned back then today. University at best formalised my natural curiosity tendencies and it set me on the path for lifelong learning.

When I was 17 I turned down a place at the London School of Economics choosing instead to study at a regional university in NW England. I was the first person in my family to attend university and the day I went to the LSE for my interview was the first time I’d ever been to London. At 17 I couldn’t figure out how to move to and get established in London and there was no-one who could help me so I chose the easier option. If I’m honest, I partied more at university than I attended lectures and that is something that I did used to regret when I was starting out in the world of work at the age of 21 with a 3rdclass degree. These days I can see that all those parties I went to was the start of collecting people and building my network and in truth, my network is what’s been useful to me over the years. I’ve only ever applied for a job formally once in my life. As everybody knows, everything in life and business is about people.

In the course of what I do today I encounter a large number of young people who skipped university choosing instead to go straight into a startup. They’ve missed university and the solid foundation that goes along with working for a few years in a more traditional organisation. They’re now onto failing startup No 3 and at the age of 22 or 23 find themselves more or less unemployable and their lack of a wider education is very evident when they get up to speak. I’m generalising of course but for most people university gets you off to a good start if you use your time there wisely. I didn’t but university opened my eyes to a lot of possibilities.

With the benefit of hindsight I guess the right thing to have done would be to have been braver and take the place at the LSE but it’s too tricky to call. I’ve always loved those time travel sci-fi stories where someone goes back in time and changes one tiny event and this leads to far flung never imagined consequences. I’m pretty happy with my life and my career so far so I suppose I wouldn’t change a thing.

My advice to young people starting out today though is pay attention to the changes in work that are coming fast down the pipe and choose something that’s going to be useful in the new world of work. If you do decide to go to university and can afford it, choose a course that encourages problem solving and fosters a questioning outlook. It’s about more than just getting a degree. Keep your options open. A lot of today’s steady and well paid jobs will be gone sooner than we think. I saw a recent statistic that said 65% of children starting primary school now will leave school to do jobs that don’t even exist today. I’m not sure if I believe that (it could be 90%!) but there’s no doubt that the world is changing fast.

You’re most well-known in Northern Ireland as the co-founder of Learning Pool and a startup investor and mentor. What are some of the most valuable lessons you learned from your Learning Pool experience?

This is something that I’ve thought about a lot and written about from time to time on my blog. It’s hard to distill it down into something that’s easy to read so I’m going to focus on what I believe are my own key learnings.

My first point isn’t really a lesson. It’s more of a statement of fact and it’s about the importance and value of prior experience. Learning Pool was the 5th startup I’d been part of. The first 2 startups I worked in were founded by other people and both were successful in their own way. Both were acquired by much bigger fish, one after I’d left and one when I was working there as CFO. The next two were businesses that I started. The first was a business turnaround service and the second was a boutique management consultancy business, Agility Consulting, with Paul McElvaney who went on to be my Learning Pool co-founder. I made plenty of money in both of those companies but they were lifestyle businesses and not in any way scaleable. Paul & I used to talk a lot in 2005 & 2006 about generating revenue in a business while you sleep and Learning Pool was our solution.  Having plenty and varied prior experience makes it so much easier because a startup CEO needs to know quite a lot on a wide number of topics in order to scale a business fast. It’s a perfect occupation for a jack-of-all-trades who’s also able to focus! My advice is that it’s a lot cheaper to acquire that knowledge and experience on someone else’s time and money so if you want to start a business, go and work in a few startups first. A number of our early days Learning Pool employees eventually left us to start up on their own & I was always happy to see people do that. It’s how the ecosystem works. As long as you’ve had decent value from them in the time they’ve been with you wish them luck & let them go in a positive way and with good grace.

I was 47 with a solid background in finance, four startups behind me and a wide network when we started Learning Pool. You’ll find that successful startups with young or inexperienced entrepreneurs as founders usually have someone like me lurking very close by in the background.

We bought Learning Pool as a failing business. It started life as an expensive project carried out badly by one of my government clients when I was running my business turnaround service. A lot of people obsess about having an idea but really that isn’t important at all. It’s never about the idea. It’s always about having a clear plan and you and your team’s ability to execute against it. It’s also about being able to recognise an opportunity when it presents itself – the best opportunities don’t usually carry a big sign saying “Back Me!”.

My next point is the biggest lesson I learned. I completely underestimated the incredible

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My sister Trish & me at Buckingham Palace

toll that starting and growing a successful business takes upon the founder or founding team and their close family, especially in those first 3 years you are trading. For the founder there’s a mental, physical and probably spiritual toll to pay that’s very real and shouldn’t be underestimated.

It’s all encompassing. Once you’ve thrown the dice & got started there’s no easy or good way to turn back. That pressure lasts until you are stable and profitable and the company has moved through all those early pivots and found its purpose. It will take much longer than you think it will. I’m lucky to have a very supportive other half and I have to mention my sister here too. She did a lot of heavy lifting for me in the early days when I was working 7 days a week. My mum used to say that in the first 2 years of Learning Pool she saw less of me than she’d done when I lived in London – and Learning Pool was 10 miles away from her home in Donegal.

I had a conversation with one of my mentees about this very thing the other day. She asked me if it was normal to be thinking about her startup when she takes her teenager to his sports matches on a Saturday. I just laughed and said – Oh yeah – that’s completely normal. That facade of going through the social motions on the outside whilst on the inside you’re planning your next marketing campaign or going through your sales pipeline.

I know in my heart I was a nicer person on 1 August 2006 when we started Learning Pool than I was 7 years later when I decided to exit. In the 3 years that have passed since then I’ve worked hard to repair a lot of that damage and I’m a happier person today as a result.

My last key set of lessons is around building your team. Building a team and creating the right sort of culture for your organisation is the hardest bit about starting any business and it’s one of the most important jobs of the startup CEO; it should never be abdicated to someone else. I’ve interviewed thousands of people and I can still get appointments wrong because recruitment is a dark art. Be clear at the outset what sort of company culture you are going to create and as founders really live that yourselves and show a good example.

In the early days it’s easiest to go fast with people you already know and have worked with before. As your company grows and that intense startup pressure lessens, seek to diversify your team as that will take you further.

When recruiting, satisfy yourself in the first 5 minutes that the candidate really wants to work in your organisation for the right reasons and has a clear view of where and how they can add value. Reject all show-offs, clowns and mavericks, no matter how interesting or compelling they seem. Believe me – all they will bring to you is a huge time sink and disharmony in your team. Occasionally take a flyer on a wildcard. My best recruits over the years have always been those people that I’ve been a little uncertain about but have taken a chance with.

Having said all of that there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to recruit decent tech talent into a small business or startup and this was something we really struggled with in the early days.

As well as all the negatives I’ve mentioned there are lots and lots of positive takeaways too. Building a startup allows you to understand the limits of what is possible for you and it was a pleasant surprise for me to discover I am far more resilient and was able to achieve more than I thought I was capable of beforehand. For some people pushing yourself to the absolute limit is a challenge but I enjoyed it in some weird sort of way. Providing 80 other people with a challenging and satisfying career is very personally rewarding and at the end of the day, being master of your own destiny is very liberating after years of working for other people.

I could talk on this topic all day but I’ll finish by saying surround yourself with people who are better than you; learn from them and listen to their advice. Have a co-founder. If you’re serious about scaling there’s far too much for one person to do. Keep your ego in check, be nice and pay it forward whenever you can – karma is an amazing thing and people will do a lot for someone that they genuinely like.

Do you feel Northern Ireland has the right environment for technology startups? What can we do better here to encourage technology entrepreneurship?

If you want to start a tech business in a place where free money is easily and readily available and where an established friendly and helpful tech community already exists then Northern Ireland offers a great environment. There’s a lot of help available to get you started; maybe too much and that leads to a large number of unsuitable people having a go – although perhaps that’s okay too in the overall scheme of things. A quick fix would be to restructure the grants available away from startups and more towards scale-ups. The best startups of course don’t wait for grants…instead they get to revenue at lightning speed.

I think plenty of encouragement exists and I salute the work done by Young Enterprise NI, Catalyst Inc (especially through Generation Innovation and Springboard) and Invest NI (especially through supporting initiatives like Propel & Start Planet NI run by the amazing Diane Roberts).

Northern Ireland is still very Belfast-centric however and let’s face it, Belfast is still a long way (geographically and metaphorically) from the Bay Area, London or even Dublin. It’s hard to start a tech startup in a quiet backwater. I know that because Learning Pool was started in Derry; far away from our early customer base and impossible to recruit any job-ready talent. So it’s possible to do, but it’s much harder. You weigh up the pros & cons and you make your choice.

Northern Ireland is a long way behind our nearest neighbour in terms of the effort put into nurturing startups but the Republic of Ireland faces the same challenges of being Dublin or Cork-centric (try starting a tech business in rural Donegal and see what help you’ll get!) and they’re finding it tricky to scale the majority of their High Potential Start Ups beyond the magic 1m euro turnover figure.

I suppose nowhere is ideal outside of the top 3 tech startup ecosystems (IMHO Silicon Valley, London & Tel Aviv dependent on what you’re doing) for all the reasons we all know but Northern Ireland is as good a place as any to get started – just as long as the founder appreciates that the day will come a couple of years down the line when he or she is more than likely going to have to relocate to get the next growth phase moving.

It’s so important that we focus on the generations following us and from an education perspective Northern Ireland could be so much better than it is. Our schools and colleges continue to churn out young people better suited to a world that’s gone or fast disappearing and our Administration seems to be woefully incapable of turning this situation around quickly enough.

As an investor and mentor you see a lot of new startup ideas. Is there any new startup here in NI that really excites you at the moment?

I was lucky to be matched in 2016 as a mentor for new startup Elemental Software through Propel. Started by co-founders Leeann Monk-Ozgul & Jennifer Neff (both from Derry), Elemental provides an innovative digital signposting tool to make it easy for GPs and other healthcare professionals to implement social prescribing. I liked the founding team and product so much that I angel invested & joined the Elemental team as a NED in January 2017.

Tell us a bit about your hobbies outside of work; what do you enjoy in your life outside of the office?

Ha! I’m a great believer in the theory that if you love what you do you’ll never work another day in your life. My work hasn’t felt like work for the past 20 years. I’m a trustee of several charities and one of those is the Millennium Forum theatre in Derry. That’s been a great source of enjoyment to me over the years. I swim a mile most days. Swimming is like meditation and it’s impossible to make phone calls from the pool. I read a lot and I’m interested in art. I’d like to write a book. I’m toying with the idea of another startup.

It’s maybe a bit corny to say this but I’ve been happy recently to spend a bit of time travelling and hanging out with my husband, making up for lost time.

I still go to a lot of parties! These days I go home a bit earlier…

Lastly, give us one website or app that you feel is vastly underrated and deserves a wider audience

Rather than a website or an app I’d like to recommend to any UK readers with an interest in charity or not for profits an incredibly useful community that I’m involved with. It’s the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology (CAST). CAST is running the UK’s first charity accelerator (called FUSE) & also the CAST Fellowship for charity CEOs & leaders. An invaluable set of resources exists within CAST for any charities, social enterprises or not for profits who want to get more comfortable with digital and understand better what it can do for them.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog & are based in or around Limerick, I’m going to be joining Pat Carroll of Startup Grind Limerick for a fireside chat on the evening of 25 May 2017.  More details here & hope to see you there!

 

25 Takeaways from Northern Ireland’s GovCampConnect

govcamp-timetableThis weekend I’ve been participating in Ireland’s very first Govcamp.  For the uninitiated, govcamps are unconferences for people who work in & (most importantly) around all levels of government.  The govcamp movement in the UK was started in 2008 by Jeremy Gould.  If you’re interested in knowing more about the history, there’s an interesting blog from Stefan Czerniawski here with a lot of relevant links.  Don’t be put off by the title!

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L-R Dave Briggs, Jeremy Gould & Steph Gray – yep – you can tell who the sensible one is!

Regrettably I wasn’t at Jeremy’s first ukgovcamp but I’ve been to many of those that have taken place from 2009 onwards, the year the baton was passed to Steph Gray & Dave Briggs.  I love the informal & interactive format of unconferences – a polar opposite of the somewhat antiseptic TED talks where an “expert” or “personality” lectures us & then disappears without any challenge or interaction.  Yesterday was an inspiring and positive experience from start to finish and a great way to spend part of a weekend.  These are my key observations and positive/negative takeaways in no particular order.

  1. Surely this is the first ever govcamp to take place in a genuine castle; the beautiful and slightly decaying mock gothic Narrow Water Castle near Warrenpoint.
  2. We joined up with our colleagues at Govcamp Cymru via a Skype link for “randomised coffee trials” – a phrase coined by our colleague Esko Reinikainen who is a true one-off in every sense.

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    Dave McKenna on the live videolink with Govcamp Cymru

  3. Govcamp (and any unconference) remains a great opportunity to catch up & interact with a lot of interesting people in a single day and to add a few new people to your network.
  4. It’s an easy way to get up to speed with anything of note that’s happening in government in your own locality; it was especially useful for me as I’ve been away from Northern Ireland for the past 4 years.
  5. All govcamps fall into two main factions as the day progresses – the data geeks and everyone else.

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    The enthusiastic Open Data Institute NI gang – infecting us with their crazy data love – L-R Andrea Thornbury, Bob Harper, Lisa McElherron, Stephen Gray

  6. As usual there was scant senior civil service and local government representation and a complete absence of local politicians or ministers. Why is that?  They all say they want to embrace digital and they even make grandiose statements about using technology to close the divide between the haves & the have nots – but not enough it seems to come to Warrenpoint on a Saturday and engage with a grass roots community keen to help them achieve the practicalities of this.  Frustrating and disappointing.
  7. I learned a new phrase from Bill McCluggage – Steal with pride – I’ll be stealing that one Bill!rules
  8. A reminder of The Rules – surely not just for Govcamp but for all of life itself…see the pic.
  9. The phrase “this is just for within these four walls and is not for Twitter/not to be repeated” preceded a lot of interesting & juicy tales about government shenanigans – I wish we could change this environment in government & in Northern Ireland especially. We’ve come a long way but more honesty & transparency would be very welcome by a lot of citizens.
  10. I am personally bringing some of Northern Ireland’s (sensible) digital disruptors along to the next govcamp – top of my list is Matt Johnston, Roger Warnock & Barry Adams. I would’ve loved to have heard their take on some of what we discussed yesterday.  I’ll transport you all in the Fig if necessary J  That alone will be worth filming.
  11. Yesterday convinced me that the public sector should be forced to stay away from everything to do with smart cities until they have grasped the joined-up nature of what they are trying to achieve. Sad to hear about scores of expensive, over-engineered solutions being pitched to councils and the inevitable reinvention of the wheel that is occurring.  Another attendee whispered to me that in his view the Smart City initiative seems to be an elaborate money laundering scheme.    It isn’t sufficient for the public sector to be “engaged & willing”.  They need to make it their business to be properly informed and able to play their role effectively.
  12. I heard some great stories & attended a couple of really good sessions including Eoin McFadden’s on why failure matters & the difference between good & bad failure.
  13. Refreshing to attend a large event outside of the cities and it was so much fun to visit Warrenpoint.
  14. Despite the spotlight of recent years, public sector procurement is still a complete & utter mess, especially in Northern Ireland with the continuing usage & dominance of Central Procurement Directorate. Why is this allowed?
  15. Dave Briggs once said the day after govcamp is the most depressing day of the year. His rationale was that it’s the day all the changemakers have to go back to real life & face up to the daily frustrations of their job.  The challenge of doing something with all the “stuff” that’s discussed on the day remains.  LinkedIn, Slack etc are all woefully inadequate for continuing conversations.
  16. Money exists, at least right now in Northern Ireland, for small R & D pilots & innovation projects. See SBRI & #ODNI4EDU for starters.
  17. I enjoyed re-hearing some of Northern Ireland’s familiar government war stories – Eoin McFadden’s triumph with the chicken poo challenge is a particular favourite. You can read more here if you’re intrigued.
  18. I was reminded that there’s always a way if you have a network you can go to & discuss things if you’re stuck or struggling or failing – and that’s good to know as a lot of people battle away with projects on their own.
  19. Civil servants should be encouraged to be more open and transparent because the rest of us benefit enormously when they are.
  20. I learned a new word – pretotyping. Fake it before you make it.  More here
  21. The ones on the bus started imbibing at 2pm and that made them happy – well it was Saturday after all.
  22. Northern Ireland needs more people like the very articulate & totally on it Andrew Bolster. I award him my “Person of the Day” prize for his contributions to #gcc16 – thanks Andrew and thanks also for introducing me to Club-Mate … now all I need to know is where I can get more …
  23. Government to the innovator – “Sorry but your idea doesn’t match my programme”. Honestly – and excuse my language here but isn’t it about time we thought about how to change the f***ing programme.  How can this still be acceptable/happening?
  24. I have a lovely warm feeling today after spending 2 evenings and a day with the NI govcamp gang and I wish it could’ve been longer. This weekend has restored my love of the UK & Irish public sector and the people who work in it and yes I did use that phrase “if you cut me open I’d bleed public sector” in my own session.  Why?  Because it’s true & because I care.minecraft-kids
  25. The kids who pitched the last session of the day (a fabulous business case built in Minecraft for a new park in Newry) quite rightly owned the day. We are that awkward generation who aren’t true digital natives and all of this discomfort in government will soon pass.
  26. A bonus point – there are always some moments of complete hilarity on the day. Yesterday’s belly laugh was provided for us courtesy of Bill McCluggage.  It began with an audience member chipping in “As the author of that report…”  Hahaha – you probably had to be there for it!

What else do I have to say on this topic.  The format & rules are key & not to be tinkered with.  I remember one excruciating event at a past UK govcamp when a certain much loved & admired civil servant announced to the organisers that he would be appearing to give a keynote speech at a certain point in the afternoon & it was permitted.  Why I don’t know.  I was saddened that the ecosystem that existed at the time meant they didn’t tell him he’d need to turn up at 9am & queue up with the rest of the pitchers.

I’d like to thank the organisers Brian McCleland, Stephen Barry & Jonny McCullagh and we’re all very grateful for the generosity of the sponsors for funding a great day.  You’ve proved once again that a small number of enthusiastic and committed people can make pretty much anything happen.

Special thanks to the people who travelled a long way to be with us yesterday.  Suraj Kika of Jadu, freelance agile coach Mark Dalgarno, Rebekah Menzies of the Carnegie Trust, Deirdre Lee of Derilinx, Vanessa Liston of CiviQ and Brian Marrinan of Journey Partners.  Apologies if I’ve missed anyone.  I hope you made a lasting connection to Northern Ireland and we very much look forward to seeing you all again soon.

How Networking & Collaboration can ease your Key Startup Challenges

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L-R Mary McKenna, Clare McGee, Connor Doherty, Gemma Milne

This week I’ve spent a couple of days in Northern Ireland with Clare McGee of NORIBIC, Connor Doherty of CultureTech & Gemma Milne of Ogilvy Labs (@ClareNORIBIC @Culturetechfest @GKMilne1).  We’ve hosted a couple of events in Belfast & Derry & invited all our creative & digital industry colleagues to join us in order to discuss whether there’s any appetite in NI to create an industry led independent body to represent our sector & as part of that facilitate networking & collaboration.  The hashtag in case you want to look back at the Twitter conversation is #CACHE

In this blog I’m going to outline some ideas around how networking & collaboration can help especially digital & creative industry startups get around the key challenges identified in the recent Tech Nation 2016 report (collated & produced by Tech City & NESTA).  NI respondents identified 2 key and common challenges to scaling up their startups here in Northern Ireland & those are access to finance/investment and working within a limited talent pool (in my experience of growing a tech business in Northern Ireland, tech & sales people are especially difficult to recruit when you’re in startup mode).

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Our Belfast guests at The MAC

Let’s start with networking.  I was quite pleased when I asked the room last night “who enjoys networking?” and quite a few hands went up.  Usually people pull faces & shuffle a bit when they think about entering a room full of 200 strangers & starting conversations with them.  Then again, we Northern Irish folk are famed for our friendliness.  The other common barrier is that startups think they are far too busy to network.  I know that because that’s how I used to think too when I was working 7 days a week early doors in my own startup.  But here’s the thing.  It’s nigh on impossible as a startup to persuade good people to leave their comfortable, steady, well-paid jobs & join you if they don’t know you and they’ve never heard of your company.  As for raising finance, don’t even bother trying to do this cold.  You are wasting your time.

Cache2As an aside, in the 2 weeks following the publication of this year’s Maserati 100 List in the Sunday Times newspaper last month, my inbox & LinkedIn quickly filled up with messages from entrepreneurs and startups cold pitching me.  After some consideration I’ve sent them back a version of the following note.  “If you don’t have enough of a network to get introduced to me, then I’m not going to read your cold pitch because you aren’t going to make it.  One of the key elements of startup success is an ability to nicely hustle”.  Harsh?  Maybe.  More about this later.

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Derry guests in the Playhouse

Remember that all opportunities in business are attached to a person or people – and if you aren’t on that person or team’s radar, your chances of accessing or winning that opportunity are lessened.  Even in the strictest public sector procurement exercise you have a better chance of success if you are known to the procurer.

So – having accepted that networking is a good idea – how is it best to get started?  Here’s my quick primer:

  1. Think about who you already know, especially if you are raising early stage finance. Most of that comes from friends & family (& if you really want to finish the sentence – fools!).
  2. Join some networking organisations – formal & informal. There are loads & loads of these.  Ask around to find out which will be best for you.
  3. Use LinkedIn & Twitter effectively & if you don’t know how, then learn.
  4. Maybe consider joining an accelerator – access to networks is by far the greatest benefit. There are 3 in Belfast & a brand new one within the Northern Ireland Science Park in Derry called Growing Startups.  Hundreds more in London & many specialist ones emerging across Europe & the US that more & more Irish startups are accessing.
  5. Research industry notables local to you & work out how you can have a useful interaction with them. No stalking please.  Try & see what’s in it for them as well as you – not everyone in this life is pure & good although many are.
  6. Recruit already networked people into your small team. I’d take connections over experience any day of the week.  Remember the famous Sun Microsystems quote – “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else” – let’s face it – especially true if you only have 3 people in your team!
  7. Build out your own personal brand. This will help your startup when it’s small.  You can figure out later on how to shift the spotlight away from yourself & that’s a nice problem to have.  There are loads of ways to do this.  Publishing content on your own blog or LinkedIn & accepting all public speaking opportunities are a good start.
  8. Simplest of all – do a bit of homework before you bowl up to conferences & events. Find out who else is going.  Contact people beforehand & arrange to meet for a focused chat about something mutually beneficial.  Ask one of the speakers if you can interview them for your blog.
  9. If you’re in NI or Ireland, don’t forget there’s another island next door & less than an hour on the plane that has 10x the population of the island of Ireland & it’s a lot less hassle to operate in than trying to do business in the US.

You all know the rules of networking but briefly:

Be brave and approach strangers – what’s the worst that can happen; be friendly and pleasant; have a 30 second elevator pitch and be ready to trot it out; related to the last point recognise the part played by serendipity & always be watchful for connection opportunities without being overly pushy, be ambitious in who you reach out to – especially online – hardly anyone ever says No (I can only think of one single person who’s refused to help me with something in the last 10 years – DM me if you want to know who it is!); remember this is a two-way street & karma plays a part – pay it forward & pay it back – no matter how little you have there’s always someone else who is worse off.

Onto collaboration.  This is nothing new.  Members of the City of London guilds have been collaborating for over a thousand years.  I found a great Bill Gates quote on this:

“Creativity is less of an individual characteristic than it is an emergent property that surfaces when people convene around a problem”.

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Me with the totally bonkers Gibson Girls of Red Earth Designs – fresh, innovative, fun!

I love that.  Our events this week attracted film makers, artists, actors, publishers and journalists, software & game creators, photographers, ceramicists, artisan food producers, musicians, digital generalists, chocolate makers, people from the fashion industry, STEMettes, all sorts of fabulous creative & digital companies & entrepreneurs.  Jim Murray of Troll games summed up creative collaboration beautifully last night in Derry as he described people with different skill sets & end games working together in a shared space, brainstorming ideas & dipping in & out of different projects in different parts of the industry.  We’d simply like to facilitate this happening for our creatives & digital people on a much bigger scale.

Competition is old hat.  It makes me think of gung ho alpha salesmen in shiny suits driving Ford Mondeos.  Ugh.

Going back to a startup’s ability to recruit for a moment, by 2020 Millennials will make up 50% of the workforce & 88% of them say they prefer to work in a collaborative environment not a competitive one – and you have to make your workplaces Millennial friendly if you’re going to attract the best of the best.

Northern Ireland is populated by thousands of micro businesses.  Collaborating with each other helps you go further & bid bigger – if that’s what you want.  So – if you like the sound of this, complete the NORIBIC survey here and have your say.

We’re launching the Northern Ireland branch of London’s Irish International Business Network at the Digital DNA conference in Belfast on 7 & 8 June.  I’m going to be driving this in Northern Ireland when I return home mid May.  But the good news is you don’t have to wait until then to join IIBN, you can join now & get your international networking kicked off pronto.

Last word – if you’re cold pitching to the people who accept cold pitches, Gemma Milne’s excellent advice is to keep your cover note to the length of two tweets max, don’t include pitch decks and business plans, maybe include a really short explainer video, don’t send generic – think about how what you have is of interest to who you’re sending it to.  Oh & whatever you do, don’t send them to me 😉

I’d love to know everyone’s thoughts around this topic so please do include them in the comments section.

10 Reasons why DellWorld 2015 was Awesome!!

Dell senior team on stage during the press conference, answering questions from the audience

Dell senior team on stage during the press conference, answering questions from the audience

On the last morning of DellWorld 2015, Mona Charif, Dell’s VP of Marketing & Communications, asked me during the Influencers’ breakfast what was the one thing that had surprised me most over the course of my couple of days at DellWorld. It was such an easy question to answer. Without any hesitation I answered that it was the quality of the Dell team & the way that their CEO, Michael Dell, is adored by everyone inside & outside of their organisation.

All the other bloggers have written plenty about the technology they saw at DellWorld 2015 and the EMC deal so I’m going to take a slightly different tack & tell you instead my 10 reasons for why being there this year was so awesome:

  1. Meeting lots of other geeks (about 8,500 of them – but in friendly Austin, Texas (home of SXSW) instead of more impersonal Las Vegas which is where many of the other big US conferences take place). Austin is where the Dell mothership is based & it’s great to see the company putting so much back into the local economy.
    In a De Lorean on Back to the Future Day with a hover board - awesome!

    In a De Lorean on Back to the Future Day with a hover board – awesome!

    I also got to sit in & be photographed in a De Lorean car (made by an American in Belfast I might add!) on Back to the Future Day, with a hover board – how could anything be better than that! Awesome.

  2. Meeting Dell CEO Michael Dell, telling him a story & getting to take a selfie with him as a result. What was the story? It was the one about how my friend & former colleague Tim Ramsdale persuaded our mutual employer to buy a Dell server in London in 1989, which wasn’t as easy at the time as you might think.   What did Michael Dell say? – He said in that case you were one of my very first London customers… Sorta makes the rest of it worthwhile doesn’t it…Michael Dell doesn’t really do selfies but after that story it was quite easy – & who can blame him. In my humble opinion & as a person who has started a number of companies in my time I was humbled to meet a man who started his business at the age of 19 & who is still heading it up at 50 – and not just heading it up but is clearly everything from commander in chief to best joker on the block.
    Selfie with Dell CEO Michael Dell

    Selfie with Dell CEO Michael Dell

    Michael Dell is on message across all parts of his business, completely engaging whatever he’s discussing, confident in Dell’s future (just listen to him talk about why he bought Dell back out of public ownership in 2013) & making a massive statement of intent re Dell’s recent purchase of EMC;

  3. Finding out how many members of the Dell senior and middle management team are Irish – that made me very happy & indeed is awesome;
  4. Getting a glimpse early doors of some of the innovations that Dell has in the pipeline via the Whisper Suite demonstration – but sadly I’m under an NDA so I can’t say too much about that. Suffice to say that I loved what Dell is planning on Internet of Things…;
  5. Meeting Dell’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Elizabeth Gore, & finding out we have a lot in common – although Elizabeth is both far more glamorous & far more diplomatic than I am.
    Entrepreneur in Residence x 2

    Entrepreneur in Residence x 2

    We decided that both of us have a “licence to meddle” which is really quite nice. Here’s the link to Elizabeth’s Huffington Post piece about what an Entrepreneur in Residence actually is, in case you’re interested – and yes – she is awesome.  In a strange turn of fate I’m looking forward to meeting Elizabeth’s Dell predecessor Ingrid Vanderveldt at Digital Week Ireland in West Cork next week – it really is a small geek world.

  6. Being at Pitchslam & experiencing Michael Dell turning up last minute as one of the judging panel as a nice surprise for the 5 startup entrants. Honestly, it was lovely of him to do that but if I’d been pitching I’d have died – right there on the spot. Well done to the winners, Goal Control – proof that with a good pitch in the right place you can still win despite pitching soccer to an American audience & having the worst Twitter account on the planet. Must be some lessons in there for all of us;
  7. Observing Americans at play at the John Mayer concert & jamboree on Night 1 of the conference – that was so much fun.
    Cupcake lorry at the John Mayer concert

    Cupcake lorry at the John Mayer concert

    Thank goodness I ignored my long suffering mother in law & didn’t bother packing a dress… Last year’s entertainment was Duran Duran – I’m saying nothing.

  8. Getting up close & personal with the Dell team – universally & consistently fabulous & what a great way to showcase them – put them in front of 8,500 members of your community, customers & partners for 3 days. Here’s a pic of two of my favourites – Gloria Cedeno & Ana Coreas, both are from Panama & both work in the marketing & comms team at Dell, Ana in Austin & Gloria back in Panama as part of the LATAM team.

    Gloria & Ana

    Gloria & Ana

  9. Finding out about all the stuff that Dell does around the outside of core business – I signed up for the entrepreneurship, women in tech & edtech streams at DellWorld but when there I heard about so much more that the CEO & company does from Michael Dell’s work as the United Nation Foundation’s first Global Advocate for Entrepreneurship to the work being done with SMEs. Some of it could be called CSR but again there’s so much more. Also – I stayed in Austin for 3 days after DellWorld & everyone I talked to in town from taxi drivers to bar owners (you can immediately see how I roll!) was full of praise for their local big employer.
  10. Attending the Women in IT lunch with 240 other women and hearing from Carey Lohrenz about her experience as a woman in a traditionally male world – she’s a former fighter pilot in the US Navy.  It was really special to spend time with so many other women in IT & the air was buzzing with conversations, and quite a lot of whooping in response to some of Carey’s very amusing comments.  Check her out – she’s awesome.
  11. Receiving confirmation that all the customer facing things we ever did at Learning Pool in the early days were right – from holding an annual conference that was all about connecting customers & showcasing our own team to listening to Michael Dell ask a Pitchslam pitcher this week – But has this ever been done in another industry? & wanting to shout out from the front row – Yes – Learning Pool did that for the online learning space back in 2006…Reinforcement from an industry giant sure feels good! Ok – DellWorld 2015 had a few more delegates than Learning Pool Live but I’m still certain they copied a few of our ideas…

I’ve been a Dell customer for the last 26 years so I really enjoyed being at DellWorld 2015 & learning more about how Dell develops products and partnerships.  The 3 days were informative, interesting & fun.  If you get a chance to attend DellWorld 2016 my advice is Go – you won’t regret it.

Disclaimer: I attended DellWorld 2015 as a guest of Dell & Dell paid for my travel & accommodation.  All of the above views, however, are my own.

Future e-learning trends – my top 3 predictions – or Learning the Norwegian Way

Our fully engaged REN Norge Showday audience

Our fully engaged REN Norge Showday audience

Yesterday I joined the Research & Educational Network Norge e-learning Showday in Oslo to deliver a 30 minute talk on e-learning trends. The event was organised by Innovasjon Norge and hosted by DNB bank. Yes – a bank. But a bank unlike any other I’ve ever been in. It’s in the centre of Oslo and it’s a new banking headquarter housing over 4,000 employees who’ve been brought together under a single roof from 17 previous locations.

Even the crockery is cool in this Bank

Even the crockery is cool in this Bank

But wait – there’s more. In Norway citizens embrace their banks and they also seem to like their banking colleagues. Banks are seen as a positive part of the economy and they do useful things. The DNB HQ in Oslo feels more like a high end accelerator. One that’s been thoughtfully designed & then kitted out with gorgeous furniture and sculptures and artworks. A big bright café in the centre where employees and visitors congregate to chat and have coffee or lunch. Cool Scandinavian egg chairs, acres of blond wood and even hip but matter of fact Figgjo Flint crockery.

Millions of electric candles in a tiny dark mirrored room

Millions of electric candles in a tiny dark mirrored room

Some whimsy is provided in the form of a small mirrored room containing an installation from a Japanese artist. Our host, Trond Markussen, kindly closed Ollie Gardener & I in there & waited for us patiently outside. We stood in hushed anticipation in the darkness and oohed and aahed as thousands of electric candles lit up.

The conference was affordable to attend (about £100). It started at 8am and finished about 2.30pm (Norway has an early start culture with many people beginning their working day at 7am). The programme was a mix of keynotes from the sector, including mine, and 5 minute pitches from the 20 or so companies with exhibition stands in the room. Everything was completely relevant to the theme of the day and we finished up with a quick telephone vote from everyone in the room for their favourite pitch – no judges or elaborate application processes required. Our hosts announced the 3 winning companies and presented them each with a bottle of wine (a valued prize in Norway given the cost of alcohol!) The day managed to be both educational and commercial and the 180 attendees stayed in the same lecture theatre all day. No comings & goings. No-one left early or rushed off after they’d spoken. The exhibition stands were around the perimeter of the lecture theatre and we had lots and lots of short networking breaks. Everyone was chatting to each other and it was hard to tell who was buying and who was selling. People clearly enjoyed catching up and chatting with colleagues they don’t often see in real life – Norway’s a big and sparsely populated country (it’s roughly the same size as Italy but with a population smaller than Scotland). The big corporates (IKT Norway, Statoil, Evry) stopped by with the startups and SMEs and it all felt collaborative rather than competitive.

Passionate presenting from Ollie

Passionate presenting from Ollie

I was there with Ollie Gardener of Noddlepod, a social learning platform that I recently angel invested in. It’s like a Slack for learning communities. Another member of the Noddlepod team, Charles Jennings, was also in town. Charles was addressing a group of senior HR Managers about 70/20/10 in a different event two buildings away.

The loft in Oslo where we're holding Noddlepod's 3 Sept event

The loft in Oslo where we’re holding Noddlepod’s 3 Sept event

All of us will be back in Oslo in September because we’re hosting a free networking event that Charles will be speaking at on 3 September. You can register to attend via the link here

I talked about where I think e-learning is going next and my slides are shared below. I finished up with my top 3 predictions for learning over the near term – 24 months – any further out than that is too hard to predict in the EdTech space with the speed technology is moving at. Here they are for anyone that’s interested:

  1. A move from MOOCs to SPOOCs with some new and interesting business models emerging and learning & development teams shifting to become profit centres instead of cost centres;
  2. A dramatic increase in the use of wearables and the Internet of Things (smart watches, smart helmets, iBeacons to be everywhere – send away for your developer kits now!);
  3. Much more usage of mobile and social plus the rise of niche Communities of Practice (check out Learning Pool’s new open source authoring tool Adapt to create beautiful mobile ready content, take a look at Noddlepod if you’re a corporate university or business school, have another go with Knowledge Hub if you work in or around the UK public sector).
With the wonderful women who translated my rambling first from English to Norwegian and then to sign language - wow!

With the wonderful women who translated my rambling first from English to Norwegian and then to sign language – wow!

I nearly didn’t go on stage at all because the two very lovely women who were doing sign language interpretation of all the presentations on the day warned me that I’d better have prepared a well structured and clear talk…I kept them each in view in the corner of my right eye and as long as I could see their hands moving I knew I was doing ok.

Well earned pints for Ollie and Charles at the end of a productive day

Well earned pints for Ollie and Charles at the end of a productive day

So what else did I learn in my 2 days in Norway? Citizens truly have a real say in what happens in their country & democracy can actually work, breakfast is the finest and most lavish meal of the day, big Norwegian corporates do seem to genuinely care about corporate social responsibility and many of them see EdTech as a way to bring about real and fast change in the 3rd world by educating and upskilling children and young people, a pint will set you back about a tenner, public transport can work smoothly, airlines can provide free on board wifi if they choose to, Oslo is guarding its green belt fiercely by creating satellite towns linked to the capital by underground trains, being next to water breathing fresh air and seeing lots of trees is good for the soul, oh – and Ollie Gardener is lucky enough to have very cool parents …

Thanks to Trond Markussen of DNB and Lisbeth Smestad of Innovasjon Norge for inviting me to speak & for bringing together such a great bunch of people & projects for a day. Thanks also to those lovely people who responded to my Twitter call re their favourite future learning trends – Andrew Jacobs, Denise Hudson-Lawson, Megan Peppin, Mark Smitham, Julie Dodd, Matt Walton, Mary Loftus, Joyce Seitzinger and last but not least, Steve Wheeler. Thank you all.

If anyone has any comments to make about near term future predictions on learning trends or indeed about Norway then I’d be delighted to receive them so please do comment below.

Digital Future Gazing – 10 predictions for 2013

Breakfast with bright young things in the Soho Hotel

Yesterday I attended the 4th annual Digital Trends forecast presentation from digital PR agencies 33 Digital & Hotwire in the achingly trendy Soho Hotel.  It’s a world I don’t often stray into – marketeers, PR people, social media agencies, brands, influencing – inhabited by bright young things and beautiful people.  So what was I doing there?  I went because Peter Sigrist, MD at 33 Digital is part of my Twittergang & I wanted to see him present and also because who isn’t interested in future gazing & horizon scanning – especially when someone else is putting up the skittles & inviting everyone else to knock them down.

As it turns out, the bright young things were also well informed, fun and sincere & the event was very enjoyable.  I considered what impact the 10 predictions may have on my own public sector world – and my musings on this are below.  You can access the report in it’s entirety here www.digitaltrendsreport.com – it also contains some very cool b & w photographs.

Peter wants to encourage lively debate about the forecasts so feel free to join in on Twitter.  Use #hw33trends

  1. Internal Social Networks – yep – I like this one.  We’ve been using Yammer for years at Learning Pool & we know many of our public sector customers are trying to get started with something similar.  Our experience has been that it helps our dispersed team keep track of each other & it savagely reduces internal email.  In bigger organisations it allows everyone to communicate with each other on a more level playing field and it lets senior teams understand their own organisations better.  The challenge next will be to see if internal social networks will foster new ways to achieve business objectives and even sales.  We’ll see.  For anyone starting out with an internal social network, make it easy for your team to use & be patient.  There’s bound to be a few mistakes along the way but everyone learns and your organisation becomes more resilient as a result.
  2. Data Porn – the age of the data geek is finally here, Big Data has arrived.  The PR agencies are excited about the release of the 2011 Census data in early 2013.  This time around the data will be there in a format where everyone can access it & slice & dice until the cows come home.  What does this mean for the UK public sector?  A recent Policy Exchange report estimates that fully capturing the big data opportunity to drive up efficiency and cut out waste in the UK public sector could be worth a total of between £16 billion and £33 billion
    a year.  What’s keeping you folks?  For anyone out there who’d like to know more about what Big Data is, there’s a new e-learning course in the Learning Pool catalogue that we developed with the Cabinet Office & explains Big Data for public sector beginners.
  3. Digital Health – in 2011 global healthcare costs totalled £3.8 trillion according to McKinsey & in the US costs were 20% of GDP.  This prediction is about government encouraging people to measure & monitor their own health data to ultimately help them to help themselves to become more healthy.  I think whether we like it or not this is definitely on the cards.  I heard Nick Seddon of think tank Reform talk about this idea at length at July’s CIPFA conference and given that he was previously at Circle Healthcare he probably has a good idea about the way things are moving.  On a more positive note, people these days want to take charge of their own health.  We’ve seen that in our own team during 2012 with a number of people finally kicking the cigarette habit & the proliferation of bicycle purchases.

    Peter Sigrist, MD of 33 Digital, revealing the first 5 predictions

  4. When businesses learned to be good – I like this one too & definitely agree that this is on an upward & escalating trajectory.  This topic even formed part of the CBI’s recent annual conference which included an entire panel session titled “Growing with Society – the need for new Business Models” led by Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman.  Modern businesses are becoming more transparent, more connected (and in a way where serendipity starts to play more of a role) and more community focused – both internally & externally.  For the public sector, I predict that the coming years will see a complete blurring between government, the private sector and the not for profit space as a new type of organisation emerges to deliver services to citizens.
  5. Smaller can be better – the rise of the niche social network and a move away from Facebook & Twitter.  This one is all about creating communities of interest where the measure is not the size of the community but the degree of engagement.  It’s what we’ve been doing for a few years at Learning Pool with our own specialist Learning & Development community and this is a fairly well developed idea within the public sector with many niche Communities of Practice available in recognised places like the LGA’s Knowledge Hub.  Peter talked about examples of “sub compact publishing” such as Bobbie Johnson’s “Matter” project – very interesting and described as – basically the opposite of all the received wisdom about online publishing — they only publish long pieces, they don’t publish very often, and they expect people to pay for content.
  6. Sentient World – this is where it starts to get a bit scary.  Social media gave interested parties the ability to listen to what we say; the sentient world will give them the ability to see what we’re doing.  Foursquare has launched a service for business this past week and one of their original co-founders is apparently working on a version of tweetdeck for Foursquare.  One for the public sector to sit back & think about I believe as we watch the early adopters.  Sometimes called the Internet of Things, to the layman it’s sensors & transmitters within inanimate objects connected via the internet – fridges that order more milk, shoes that can tell you how to get home, a lamp that when you switch it on in London lights your sister’s lamp in Co Tyrone so that she knows you’re at home, mirrors in shops that tell you more about the coat you’re trying on, thermostats that learn which rooms you don’t go into so they leave them colder.  I loved the story about the Fitbit & the leaderboard & this is something we will definitely be trying out in Learning Pool as the New Year kicks off.  Who can walk 1,000 miles first?  My bet is on Eddie Ryce.
  7. The Rise of Storytelling – every FTSE100 company now has a community management team.  Two years ago none of them did.  This is about using compelling stories with a beginning, a middle and an end to bring audiences to you, get them to stick around & ultimately to buy more stuff from you.  I see lots of examples of public sector organisations pushing out stories about the places they are in & the people they serve.
  8. The Un-Boxing of TV – yep – agree with this.  I can’t watch tv any more without Twitter banter running in parallel & everyone I know is the same.  Can’t think of a public sector application of this one as all that is televised is council meetings & I don’t think anyone watches them anyway.  Maybe use this medium & idea to push out campaigns about public health or to encourage more engagement in local democracy?  I have a horrific metric for you however – 70% of trending topics on Twitter are TV related 😦
  9. Selling’s from Mars, engaging’s from Venus – remember that you can only manage what you measure.  It’s easy to measure sales.  Engagement isn’t as easy to measure.  We had a good laugh about Twitter campaigns that have backfired & one that we discussed was the Waitrose campaign that asked people why they shop at Waitrose – cue hilarious results (Harrods is too far to go midweek, because I was once in the Holloway Rd branch & heard a dad say “put down that papaya Orlando”, Asda doesn’t stock peacock/unicorn feed, if you buy a full tank of helicopter fuel you get 10% off champagne and so on).  Rather than backfiring I think that campaign was a resounding success.  I think the public sector understands that if you want citizens to engage, you have to hold conversations on topics they are interested in but perhaps we don’t see enough of this happening.
  10. The User Experience of Social – this one is about thinking through the entire user experience that people have when they interact with us in more than one place.  In my opinion no-one does this right.  I’ve recently been accessing estate agent websites on my smartphone when I’m out & about & they are a curse – every last one of them.  This is about waking up to the fact that channels do not contain siloed audiences – the same people are using multi channels.  Everyone including the public sector needs to think a lot harder about UX from multiple devices & including more”helping hand services” that align service offerings & save time & energy for the user.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog as much as I enjoyed yesterday’s event, even if I can’t extend the Soho Hotel breakfast to you.  I saw Jon Foster of Futuregov yesterday & we were debating whether or not local authorities really should start thinking more like brands.  We concluded that they probably should.  It’s certainly time for everyone to take better control of their conversations and interactions in a more holistic way.

As always, I look forward to your comments & your own predictions for Digital for 2013.

10 things crowdfunding investors want most from digital media investments

Tim Brundle presenting at Culturetech

There was a lot to like about last week’s CultureTECH festival held in Learning Pool’s hometown of Derry.  So typical of Derry that our city’s event managed to combine both culture + technology.  Many attendees agreed it was the culture element that elevated the festival way above the millions of other web summits that every man, woman & dog hosts.  A lovely taster of some of the magic we expect to see for 12 months during 2013 when Derry becomes the first ever UK City of Culture.

I enjoyed listening to many of the speakers on Friday (especially Andrew Dubber (who advised us to invent the future rather than trying to predict it), Fiona McAnena, Sir Nicholas Kenyon and of course lovely Ben Hammersley) but the speaker who gave me the most insight into one of the topics I’m most interested in was Tim Brundle.  Tim is Director of Innovation at the University of Ulster where over the past few years he’s made investments of between £5k & £328m in over 60 tech companies & seen returns on investment of 0.8x to 42x.  I suppose what I’m trying to say is that he knows what he’s talking about.

It’s a well known fact that everyone suddenly wants to be in digital.  According to this presentation, by the end of 2011 87% of the top 100 VC firms had digital media funds or portfolio investments.

For the purpose of this blog I’m going to share with you the 10 things Tim believes people investing through crowdfunding schemes are looking for in digital media investments.  While Tim was talking I thought about our own company and how attractive we would have been starting out if we’d been scored against these criteria.

  1. Business Model is first up and most important – people want to believe that they’re going to get money back.  Giving thought to your business model & revisiting it from time to time is something every business should do & I’ve written on this topic before.  For new businesses and teams seeking investment it’s incredibly important to spend time getting it right as a small change in your business model can make big differences in the shape of and priorities within your eventual company.
  2. Location – most people seeking a project to invest in via crowdfunding look for something that’s local to them.  With the internet I’m not sure why that would be.  Even if you’re close by you won’t be able to influence what they do – but I guess it’s something to do with local knowledge & familiarity.
  3. What Tim calls True Grit in a team.  I heard him say a few times during the course of the day that early start up success does not necessarily guarantee success in subsequent ventures and because of this crowd fund investors want to try out with newbies.
  4. Goes without saying investors look for a Smart Idea.
  5. More interesting is that they look for an idea that will generate a Big Splash.  This means something that people think can be rolled out quickly, catch on fast & generate rapid user adoption.
  6. Investors look for a product that is Beautiful – doesn’t everyone?
  7. Kentucky Windage – a term which originated in rifle shooting & is about compensating for your shot when using a hinky shotgun by trying to second guess where the bullet is going to go.  In this instance it’s about how people try to second guess what the route to market of a new product is going to be.
  8. Personalisation – people base attractiveness of the investment around what the product or idea means to them, how it appeals to them & how they imagine use of it would enrichen their lives.
  9. The product itself is quite low down in the list of considerations but crowd funding investors are interested in whether or not it appears to be Authentic and Real.
  10. The last one I like.  Does the idea or product have a Future & Enduring appeal.  Tim told us the well known story about Zhou Enlai’s take when asked about outcomes of the French Revolution 200 years earlier – of course he believed it was “too soon to tell”. 

I’ll leave you with this pic of Tim & me taken on Friday night after a fabulous day at CultureTECH.  We’re very lucky to have someone like this in and around the Northern Ireland investment scene and so accessible to companies starting out.  I know Tim has been a great help to many fledgling startup tech businesses and like me, he love, love, loves to see teams pitching.

I’ll finish by expressing my thanks to Mark Nagurski and the entire Digital Derry Action Team for giving us such a great event last week and for sealing the exciting twinning deal with London’s Tech City.