Derry

3 days in Dubai – jumping in at my new startup’s deep end!

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Day 1 on the stand, Leeann Monk-Ozgul, Mary McKenna, Jennifer Neff, Dr Ola Aldafrawy of Dubai Health Authority, Alastair Hamilton CEO Invest NI, Swathi Sri Invest NI

I announced a week ago today that I’ve begun the New Year with a bang by formally joining Northern Irish tech for good startup, Elemental Software.  I say “formally” because I’ve been the company’s mentor for the last 10 months via Northern Ireland’s excellent Propel programme.  For anyone else who’s old enough to remember the 1970s it’s been a bit like that old Remington ad with the smooth as silk American entrepreneur Victor Kiam… Joking aside I can thoroughly recommend working in a company as the best possible way to conduct due diligence prior to investment and would be interested to hear from any other angels who’ve done the same.

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The three of us at one of the parties – oops – I mean networking events

Elemental’s co-founders are Leeann Monk-Ozgul & Jennifer Neff & believe it or not they met through their mutual love of diagrams…which in my book is as good a way as any to identify a business partner. Both women have a strong track record in designing and managing community programmes and both have worked for many years in the tricky interface that exists between the private, public and third sectors. Even better, Jennifer and Leeann are both from Derry and it makes me very happy to continue supporting economic growth in the North West of Ireland by backing another local company that is without doubt destined for huge global success.  Indeed, the golden thread that links the three of us is no other than Sir Ken Robinson – yes – he of “schools kill creativity” TED fame.  Jennifer, Leeann and I were all at Sir Ken’s March 2011 talk in Derry but we didn’t know each other at the time.

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Sir Ken Robinson in Derry with his mug on a mug

They saw me taking photos and wondered who I was and they loved his talk so much that they eventually based their company name on Sir Ken’s book “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” – far more sensible than what I did as a result of meeting him which was put his face on a mug (or should I say a cult collectible!).

Elemental provides an early to market digital solution that eases and addresses an escalating set of health related social challenges. Social prescribing is described as a way of linking patients in primary care with sources of support within the community. It’s as simple as that and it gives, for example, GPs a non-medical referral option that will run alongside existing treatments to improve a patient’s health and well-being.

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Jennifer, Leeann & I with Ambassador Pat Hennessy, Irish Ambassador to UAE

This past week Jennifer, Leeann & I have been exhibiting at Arab Health in the World Trade Centre in Dubai.  Thank you to all those people who opened their black books for me and made introductions before our trip out there.  It was my first time visiting the Middle East on business and there was an awful lot to take in in a very short space of time.  Dubai itself is easily accessible from Ireland with 30 direct flights a week from Dublin and only a 4 hour time difference.  The city has the feel of a pioneer town and I can see why so many Irish and British people (young and old) are out there seeking their fortunes.

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Jennifer and Leeann presenting to Nicola Blackwood MP at our stand

Arab Health in itself was an experience and a half.  Vast doesn’t come close with 40 country pavilions and 20,000 visitors a day.  We were lucky in so many ways.  We’d been selected to participate in the Invest Northern Ireland stand and as one of our co-founders, Jennifer Neff, has already been working with potential UAE clients for a couple of years she was able to line up days and days worth of useful meetings in advance.  We weren’t so lucky on the accommodation front.  Booking.com let us down badly by cancelling our booking on the day of our arrival in Dubai and it was incredibly difficult to find somewhere to stay at such short notice.  However, in the spirit of making lemonade from lemons we embraced the opportunity to stay for a few days in a more authentic part of the old town and see some sights we’d have otherwise missed.

Elemental is about to roll out the first social prescribing programme in the United Arab Emirates region, connecting key stakeholders in diabetes prevention and supporting patients most at risk to make better lifestyle choices, enhancing their quality of life and reducing demand on health services.

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Three of us with Dr Mohammad

Being at Arab Health was an amazing chance for me as an investor and part time resource to meet some of our contacts face to face and to hear from them first hand how they love the simplicity of our platform and how they intend to use it.

We were also lucky to be selected as one of the UK companies that MP and Minister for Public Health and Innovation, Nicola Blackwood, requested to meet with when she was at Arab Health earlier this week. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to explain how our social prescribing platform will help improve people’s lives to someone who feels as passionately about social justice as Nicola does.

Around the edges of the conference we networked with our Irish business community friends and colleagues, attending a number of events including that hosted by His Excellency Ambassador Pat Hennessy, Irish Ambassador to UAE (and at which Irish Minister for Employment and Small Business Pat Breen TD and Dr Mohammad Abdulqader Al Redha of Dubai Health Authority spoke so well).

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With Minister Pat Breen TD at the Enterprise Ireland networking event

Dr Mohammad is an alumni of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland and having spent 8 years in Dublin is truly an honorary Irishman.  It was great to also squeeze in an early morning healthcare focused business breakfast with the Dubai Irish Business Network, to manage to see our good friend Eithne Treanor a number of times over the course of a few days and to meet our friend Barry Lee Cummings who works with his Northern Irish counterpart Wayne Denner on a worthy mission to help young people better manage their online reputations and combat cyberbullying.

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With Irish powerhouse Eithne Treanor at the Dubai IBN breakfast – if you only knew one person in Dubai but it was Eithne you’d be ok!

They say a week is a long time in politics but I can confirm it’s also a long time in a busy startup.  For anyone out there who’s seeking their own angel and wondering why I picked Elemental from all the hundreds of approaches I get these are the reasons I’d have given you if you’d asked me last Friday – awesome female founding team, growing social prescribing market, powerful product that’s also simple to use and understand and the fact that it’s tech for good.  A week later I would add – co-founders that are both great on their feet, deep customer and sector knowledge and a level of commitment and hard work I’ve never seen in another startup.  Keep your fingers crossed for us and watch our progress.  Life in a startup is never easy – even when everyone’s on message, working their butts off and the planets all seem to be aligned. Comments welcome as always.

Interested in learning more about the benefits of social prescribing? Read Dr Marcello Bertotti’s expert opinion piece here

Elemental participated during 2016 in the Propel programme funded by Invest Northern Ireland and driven by the magnificent Diane Roberts. Any startups wishing to join a current and excellent accelerator in Belfast should consider Diane’s new venture, Start Planet NI

Interested in having a conversation with Elemental Software, contact us via Jennifer at jennifer@elementalsoftware.co

10 Cardinal Rules of Business Networking for entrepreneurs (and others)

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Assembled crowd in Dublin Castle when I arrived

In my world it’s quite common for entrepreneurs who are a bit further ahead than the rest of us to put something back in terms of the people following in their trail.  This can happen via formal networks (Digital Circle, Irish International Business Network, Global Irish Network, Chambers of Commerce, CBI, etc – we all have plenty of groups we’re members of) or it can be more informal – people you already know or meet along the way or via events that provide access to the Great & the Good (Culturetech in Derry is a recent example of a fabulous event that was bunged full of tech world glitterati as was the EBN Congress event run by NORIBIC in May with illustrious keynote speakers such as Steve Wozniak and Tim Smit).

Being able to ask questions of the people further ahead is mission critical to an entrepreneur (and corporate world managers I guess).  Even better is using networking to find yourself a small number of mentors and advisors with whom you can start an ongoing relationship.  Having personal access to leaders with proven success is a well known piece of the entrepreneur puzzle and one which significantly improves a startup’s chances of making it to the end of that all important first year.

Yesterday I attended the 3rd Global Irish Economic Forum in Dublin Castle.  It was hosted by the Taoiseach & the Tanaiste and is a biannual gathering of 250 of Ireland’s most influential & successful people.  This year the Tanaiste decided to include some Northern Irish businesses amongst the 100 SME businesses that are invited & that’s how come I was there.  It was terrifying.  I only knew two people there out of two or three hundred when I arrived.

One of the most frequently used phrases I heard yesterday was “I will help you if I can” – but as an entrepreneur how do you respond to and action that offer in order to get most benefit out of it for your company.  I thought about this a lot on the way home last night & decided to write a quick blog.  As usual, the list below is not finished or complete so please do add your own tips in the comments section & we’ll all be pleased to read those later.

  1. Have an elevator pitch and be ready to trot it out anytime & anywhere.  Keep it brief or you’ll lose your important audience.  Be able to flex it so that you can give a different version dependent on what sort of person you are pitching to and what country they are from – are they a potential door opener, investor, mentor.  If you aren’t good on your feet you need to practice this to the point where it just rolls out effortlessly freeing you up to watch their body language & listen & respond to their points/questions.  If you can’t do this, don’t put yourself through the pain of going to this sort of event.  Instead find someone who can do it for you.
  2. Don’t be afraid to approach people and always ask for help – when you get to a place where you feel you are comfortable to ask for some support just go ahead and ask.  Hardly anyone ever says no.  I’ve only been turned down by one person – it’s someone you all know so DM me if you want me to spill the beans – I can’t do it on here!  But it was only one person and I’ve asked hundreds for help.
  3. Don’t be afraid to be ambitious – in my group yesterday someone asked if a couple of the US heavy hitters could help her secure Hillary Clinton as a keynote speaker for her conference next year.  Time will tell on that one!
  4. Before you ask, be very clear about what it is that you want them to do for you.  I have a couple of “open” offers right now where people have offered to help me with “something” – but I don’t yet know what I can best use that offer for.  Help could be making an intro to someone to joining your board or investing in your company – and anything on the spectrum in between.
  5. Never expect someone like this to do any heavy lifting or grunt work for you, that’s your job.  What I mean by that is you have to do the homework and present the information to them so that all they do is give you an opinion or a steer – don’t expect they will do your market research for you.  If for example you were looking for a channel partner in an overseas territory, research who the players are, what their characteristics and pros/cons for you are & then ask for some advice in which 3 out of the 10 in existence are best for your company to approach.
  6. Be 100% serious when you execute on whatever it is you’ve asked the person to do.  If someone opens a door for you at your request then do your homework & don’t screw up the sales pitch when you get there.  It’s not just your own chips you’re using – it’s the chips of everyone similar to you that’s following on behind you.  I heard one US mentor describe this yesterday as “political capital”.  I’ve also heard it called “reputational capital”.  What does that mean? – I make an intro for you, you show up half prepped or don’t turn up, I’m now in a much worse place with the contact I’ve sent you to.  No pressure but be careful what you wish for and only engage if you know you are ready.
  7. Some access is for a one-off offer & some might lead to an ongoing relationship – be careful to work out which it is early doors.
  8. Related to the above point, if it’s the start of an ongoing relationship you probably need to meet a few times before both parties are comfortable.  The first time you meet just establishes that you like each other & possibly have a common interest.  You now need to get to know each other a bit better.  As the “recipient”, you need to do the running to make sure the relationship develops.
  9. When you have a new advisor in your circle, don’t just use the red phone and ring them when you need a decision made or have a crisis.  You’ll get far more out of the relationship if you keep them up to speed with what you’re doing & how things are going as you go along.  Again, it’s up to you to find a way to do that & put the work in to make it happen.  These guys are never going to be chasing you.
  10. Finally – when you’re at this sort of event, be brave and approach strangers and start up a conversation.  Everyone is there because of one or more vested interests of their own and they want to talk to you.  Never forget that people prefer to do business with people they like so at initial brief meetings like these be pleasant, don’t argue and regard it as a way of “interviewing” and filtering those that you will follow up and keep in touch with.  I came away yesterday with a handbag stuffed full of business cards and today will be spent following up with the people I met.

A few weeks ago at Culturetech festival in Derry I was lucky enough to meet & chat with Wilson Kriegel (former COO of OMGPOP, creators of Draw Something) and he said something that has stayed with me.  You start forming relationships the day you are born; growing and nurturing those relationships is key to the success of an entrepreneur.  Yep – at the end of the day business is all about people – nothing else really matters.

If you’re just getting started with networking, here’s a link to an earlier blog I wrote a couple of years back https://kickingassets.co.uk/so-you-want-to-network/

 

Pure Irish Gold…London 2012 Paralympics Celebration

Last night I was lucky enough to be at the newly opened & absolutely elegant St Pancras Hotel to celebrate the achievements of our 49 Irish Paralympians.  Here’s the entire team – looking good.

Paralympics Ireland Team 2012

For a tiny little (bankrupt) country on the periphery of Europe our athletes seem to have done overwhelmingly well in the London 2012 Games (8 gold medals, 3 silver & 5 bronze) over the past couple of weeks.

I apologise right here & right now for being biased towards my own tiny corner of the island of Ireland but 5 of those 8 golds are from 3 Northern Irish athletes including our local Eglinton man Jason Smyth.  Here I am snapped with Jason and his two (very heavy) gold medals at last night’s party.

Jason Smyth with me

 

I think he couldn’t believe it when I mentioned to him about us being based in Clarendon Street in Derry.  I also told Jason about being in the Olympic Park last Saturday, watching him pick up his gold on the big screen as the Irish anthem blasted out in the evening sun & about how proud I was.  I didn’t tell him about hiding my eyes from the friends I was with so that they wouldn’t see my tears.

 

Great to see everyone plus their families and friends enjoying themselves last night; having a few drinks & dancing the night away.  It was also interesting to hear from Paralympics Ireland CEO Liam Harbinson about how sponsorship for the team had increased from a single sponsor in Beijing four years ago to 18 sponsors for London 2012.

The Irish dancers take the stage

 

Chatting to a few people over the course of the evening the Irish team are already thinking about Rio in four years time and as so many of them are very young indeed, we should be well placed to pick up more than our fair share of medals.

My sister Trish chatted to one of the coaches as we were leaving the party.  He had been coaching 10 athletes for London 2012 & all of his team had attained new personal best times in London.  He told Trish that was his equivalent of a gold – 100% success with his team.

Jason Smyth and Patricia McVeigh

 

Here’s Trish with Jason too.

 

Cherry on the top news at the party was that Michael McKillop (also from Northern Ireland) is to be the recipient of the prestigious Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award as the male athlete who best exemplified the spirit of the Paralympics at the Games in London.  McKillop was selected because of the work he does with schoolchildren in Ireland.  Two great guys, room mates & friends as well.  Lovely to see them both last night being so gracious and generous to all the people who wanted photographs with them & to have a bit of chat & craic & to examine their gold medals etc.

Gathering watches celebrity accordionist

 

Thanks Team Ireland for making us all so proud and for coming out for fun with us last night despite the fact that all of you must be exhausted after a month away from home and thanks to everyone who organised such a fabulous party (but especially Andy Rogers & Cat Casey).  Final special mention for Cat for being able to get up & do a bit of Irish dancing – no mean feat in the stratospheric heels she was wearing!

Rio – Bring It On.

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.

London Calling

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I’m getting ready to move to London in the New Year.  There, I’ve said it.  Learning Pool started life in London in a rented loft in Crawford’s Passage in Farringdon before shifting our HQ back to Derry.  We used to call our London base Crawford’s Pass amongst ourselves because it made it sound more Irish.  In our early days we were paranoid about customers knowing we were a Northern Ireland company in case it was a barrier to us doing business.  As the last 5 years have progressed, we became less coy about our origins as we cemented our customer relationships although we hung onto our London phone number.  These days, our customers love the fact that we’re an Irish company and some of them have even been to visit us at our office in Derry.  Others have even been brave enough to join our team.

Our fabulous Head of Content, Deborah Limb, joined us from another more famous e-learning company.  Deborah had never been to Northern Ireland before her first day at Learning Pool.  She arrived at our office on a cold, wet, Monday morning in November 2007, clutching the remnants of a sopping wet map in her hand.  She still claims she never saw daylight during that first winter.

Now it’s my turn to go back the other way and it’s a bittersweet feeling that I have.  I lived in London for 17 years before moving home to County Tyrone at the start of the new millennium.  I left the pushiness of the city behind & moved right into the middle of rural Ulster.  I’ll never forget waking up that first morning & hearing no sounds.  Nothing at all.  I remember the relief I felt & ever since that day, I’ve half felt as though I’m on holiday – a sort of working holiday where you work harder than you’ve ever worked before but your colleagues & neighbours are so friendly that it somehow compensates you.

I quickly learned to be less brusque & more chatty in my interactions.  More talk about the weather & people you know & less focus on the agenda is the Northern Irish way.  Gradually the sharp edges from all those years spent living in the city were worn down a little.  Of course I’ve been back in London pretty much every week since 2000 – sometimes twice a week – but always as a visitor, staying in a hotel room, running for a plane home as soon as the meetings are finished.  I’m wondering how I’ll slot back into the hurly-burly of London life after the deep, deep peace of country living (quoted with a nod to Mrs Patrick Campbell).

So why am I as a person and why are we as a business doing this?  I guess we’re fed up with fighting for what’s right (that it should be just as easy to do business from Northern Ireland as it is from any part of the UK or indeed Europe) & accepting what’s reality.  Like it or not, London is indeed where UK government’s beating heart lies.  It’s also where a large number of our customers, a huge number of potential customers and some of the people we’d like to work more closely with are based.  On top of that, our Northern Ireland location is stifling Learning Pool’s growth as there just aren’t the skills here that we need to recruit in to grow our business.  We’ve raised this point many times with Invest Northern Ireland.  We’re further hampered by having an ornament of an airport 5 miles from us in Derry that we never use as the flight times aren’t conducive to being anywhere on time to do business – and the government agencies and politicians seem more interested in in-fighting & scoring points off each other than looking outwards & making Northern Ireland an easier place from which to operate internationally.  In summary, we’ve concluded we’re missing out on opportunities and holding ourselves back by not having a London presence.  And I think that’s a very sad state of affairs.  Learning Pool was recently confirmed by Deloitte to be Northern Ireland’s fastest growing tech company & the 6th fastest growing on the island of Ireland, but we have to look to London in order to continue our expansion.

Of course there’s plenty of upside.  I’m looking forward to being back in the heart of the capital for a six month period and I’m intending throwing myself into the whole London work/social scene and spending plenty of time with friends & colleagues, old & new.  I’m looking for somewhere to base Learning Pool London right now so watch this space & all will be revealed.

I know this is an emotive topic, especially for other Northern Ireland businesses – so I’m looking forward to your views & a lively discussion in the comments below.  Keep ‘em coming!

 

Team Building’s great…but what happens next?

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On 1 August Learning Pool turned 5 years old.  5 years is a significant milestone for any company and certainly time to take stock and work out what happens next.  We decided to spend 3 days together as a team in order to celebrate, have some informal time together (although Learning Pool is far from formal at the best of times) but also to revisit our plans and discuss our options as a group.

This photo of Paul & me with our team was taken on Derry’s new Peace Bridge last week – just before we split into 6 teams and scrambled all over the City on a fun treasure hunt.  We’re very proud of our team.  I doubt it’s possible to grow a sizeable team any quicker than 5 years, no matter how many management books you read or how impatient you are.  It’s like growing a harmonious flower bed or baking good bread.  There’s a method & stages to go through but at the end of the day, it takes a certain amount of time.

People have to form relationships & become comfortable with each other before they can perform well at anything.  It’s difficult to do this when the organisation is growing fast as there are new people joining the team all the time & “upsetting” the dynamic.  Everyone knows the Tuckman model of team formation and the 4 stages – forming, storming, norming, performing.  It can be hard to get onto those later stages when there is a constant influx of new team members.

When I look at the photo, 18 people or about one third of our team have been with us less than 12 months; 16 have been with us for over 3 years and the remaining 23 have been at Learning Pool between one & three years.  I often think about the Belbin exercise our team completed at our first team building event on Lusty Beg island in December 2008 when the company was just over 2 years old.  We had no co-ordinators & no implementers.  We had 2 completer finishers (fortunately!), one team worker, 2 plants and a solitary monitor-evaluator.  The remaining 24 people were crammed onto the resource investigator & shaper spaces – 12 apiece.  Things have changed since then, although some days I miss that early chaos.

My question to you all in this blog is how do other companies build on the success of team building days & keep the momentum going once your dispersed teams have dispersed again.  How do you keep that energy & focus going once everyone has waved goodbye and gone back to their day jobs?

10 fabulous things that have happened in the last 4 years

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#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!