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Tuesday
Jul102012

Startup Culture: Why Culture is Key to your Growth

It’s always an extra-special pleasure when a Club Workspace member brings a great event into the space. Last week, in an event hosted by Dreamstake, our old friend Duncan McTavish (left) shared his expertise about building a healthy startup culture.

What is Culture?

The first question to get thrown out at our Leathermarket venue was this: what is a startup culture? Duncan defined culture as, ‘how we maximise our potential by living and working together, how we use speech and actions.” Therefore, if you transfer this into a startup environment, it how an entrepreneur can cultivate an atmosphere in their office that is most conducive to the success of their startup.

Who is Duncan McTavish?

Before Duncan began to explain how the startups in the room could nurture a healthy cutlure, he explained his background. Duncan stated that he would draw largely from his time at Creo. During Duncan’s tenure, Creo grew from a turnover of $200k per-annum to $1 billion. This was, in no small part, down to their culture. 

Why bother?

Another question that Duncan answered early was the big ‘why?’ Why should I, as a startup, bother to instill a healthy culture at my startup? Duncan’s simple answer was: if your staff are happy and content, their relationships with your customers will be better. Therefore, if customers are happy, not only might they spend more with you, but they are more likely to recommend and endorse you.

In this modern age, where the perception of brands can live or die on social media, stories of good (or bad!) customer experiences spread like wildfire. Improved customer experience is only one of a host of reasons for why cultivating a healthy startup culture is a good idea.

How? Unit Presidency

After answering the Whats and Whos and Whys, we came to the meaty bit: the How!

The first concept that Duncan introduced was ‘Unit Presidency.’ Unit Presidency is an idea that startups can instill in each of their employees. The idea is this: that you are the president of your job. Noone else in the company, nor nobody else in the world, is as good as you at your job. If a team-member believes that they are the best person at their job in the company, then they do not feel subordinate to, or patronised by, any of their fellows.

This feeling is empowering, and it goes some way to levelling the playing-field that traditionally lies between ‘employees’ and ‘employers’. 

How? Stakeholders

Stakeholders, as you will know, is a term that refers to everyone who is effect by a decision. To cultivate a healthy startup culture, one must involve every single stakeholder in the decision making process. Doing so will give every member of the team a huge feeling of ownership. They will feel like part of the decision making machine, rather than pawns that are moved by it. 

How? Consensus

Duncan explained that consensus is the most important idea to a startup. This is because in small startup teams, if there is one blatant ‘opposer’ and four ‘proposers’, for example, the whole business could fail. 

The idea is to avoid there ever being a ‘blatant opposer’. If a 100% consensus cannot be reached by all of the stakeholders, then the 20%, for example, have to openly agree to ‘not oppose’ an idea. 

How? Leadership

In perfect-startup-land, leadership pyramids would be drawn upside-down. The role of a leader - the founder of a startup - is to create a clear and common vision that every team members can work by. If an entire team is bound by this vision, they can better achieve their unit presidency. 

How? Recruitment

One golden rule handed out by Duncan: do not use recruiters. They will charge you a huge amount to find you a team member who may not have suit your startup culture. 

Consider this instead: If your startup is growing at a rate fast enough to require a new recruit, you’re obviously doing something amazing and interesting. Use the natural je ne sais quoi of your startup to create a buzz. If there is notable hype, especially on social media, people will start coming to you.

When you have a queue of recruits standing at your door, select the person who best suits your startup culture. If a person is going to fit seamlessly and happily into your culture, then stump up for their training! It is better to hire a person with the right attitude than to employ a qualified problem-child.

Of course, decisions on hiring should be made by consensus. Each stakeholder who will be effected by the new member of staff should be able to interview the prospective new team-member. If any stakeholder wants to veto the appointment, they have full right to do so. A full consensus much be reached.

Thank You

A huge thank you to Duncan, for sharing his unique and beneficial experiences. Thanks to Dreamstake, too, for putting the event together. The biggest thank you goes to everyone who came long to our Leathermarket venue. It was a truly eye-opening event. 

Friday
Jul062012

Enterprise Nation Launch SnapMeUp App at Club Workspace

On Thursday 5th July, our Clerkenwell Club Workspace location played host the launch night for SnapMeUp, Enterprise Nation’s new smartphone application.

SnapMeUp is a QR code-based app that celebrates entrepreneurship and small-business. The app enables smartphone users to dive into expert small-business advice from selected enterprise hotspots. Club Workspace is delighted to be one of the first host locations for the trailblazing SnapMeUp service. 

To get the skinny on how SnapMeUp works, have a watch of Enterprise Nation’s video. The vid was shot on location at Club Workspace, the Clerkenwell Workshops, and the Clerkenwell Kitchen

The launch night was a great success, and we’re very pleased to have been a part of it. After an hour or so of mingling and munching, the guests took to their seats and the launch proper got underway.

Emma Jones, the Founder of Enterprise Nation, was joined on stage by Clare Rayner and Jess Butcher who represented The Retail Champion and Blippar respectively.

Emma, Clare and Jess drove home one key point, that the digital world is not the enemy of the High Street. In fact, they believed the contrary: e-commerce can be the High Street’s greatest ally. 

If you are to believe everything you read about the High Street, it would seem that it’s all doom and gloom. However, the ever-expanding digital arena has the ability to drive footfall back to your local shopping strip. The three experts agreed that there is one theory that needs to be debunked: the online space is not the enemy of small shops.

The beauty of the smartphone is that it lives in a user’s pocket, and it gets used at least once an hour. If your local shops could utilise the personal and regular relationship that you, as a user, have with your device, then they’re onto a winner.

A thank you from everyone at Club Workspace to Enterprise Nation for bringing their fantastic Launch Night into our venue. It was a pleasure to host you. Thanks from everyone in attendance to the Clerkenwell Kitchen for laying on such a terrific spread. Finally, to all of the new faces and old friends who came to our little corner of Clerkenwell, thank you for coming, and pop back soon.


Thursday
Jul052012

How to Pitch for Investment

Winning Investment can be the defining moment in an entrepreneur’s life. If you secure that huge deal that enables you to spread your wings, it can really ramp your business up a level. On the other hand, If you don’t get the investme

nt you need, you go back to square one. Therefore, you want to get your pitch for investment right, right?

That’s exactly why Gary Weinstein came into our Leathermarket Club Workspace venue. Gary has previously hosted a workshop about writing business plans. This week he was back, laying down the law about investment pitching. Gary came to Club as part of the Dreamstake Academy.

Are You Ready to Pitch?

Before Gary gave shared the secrets of Investment Pitching, he threw this question out to the audience: are you ready to pitch for investment? The answer to this question depends, of course, on what level of investment you’re hoping to raise. If you’re doing the ‘friends and family’ rounds, then as long as you’ve got an idea and passion, you should be prepared enough. 

If you’re looking to secure Angel or VC money, you need to ask yourself some questions:

Where is my product? If you’re a product-based business, your product needs to be at a late prototyping stage, in beta, or launched. If it’s 'just' an idea, it will be very difficult to secure big funding.

Am I a Ltd. Co? Limited companies will find it a lot easier to secure funding. Ltd. Companies are easier to portion off in shares, easier to value, and easier to exit than other models. Also, using a different model will make you ineligible for SEIS and EIS funding. 

Part One: What Problem Are You Solving

Gary then began to break down the perfect investment pitch into manageable sections. The first section deals with conceptualising your business idea as the solution to a problem. 

The first thing you have to do is describe the problem. Don’t go into huge technical detail, just use simple language such as, ‘too many people lose mobile signal in London.’ Next, explain why that problem is a problem. Even though the ‘problem’ is obvious to you, remember that it may not be so crystal clear to an angel. 

After you’ve made your problem as clear as can be, quote a figure. Tell your prospective investors how many people are affected by this problem. The higher number the better! Though, of course, don't massage the stats. 

Part Two: Your Solution to the Problem

Explain your business idea - your solution! - and relate it back to the problem posed. When you’re explaining your idea, use broad terminology. You want the investors to understand your offering, not to be bamboozled by it.

Explain why your product is a ‘unique proposition’. That does not mean that you should say that your idea is unique - far from it! If you claim to have a trailblazing, never-before-seen concept, investors are likely to run a mile. They would rather hear how you combine non-unique factors into a great, new, original package.

Part Three: Business Model 

After you’ve discussed the nuts and bolts of your idea, you can move on to the business model. Discuss how your business is monetised, run through all of the different revenue streams. Quote some figures, however keep them realistic. Although investors are, of course, looking for a big investment, they’d rather see a ‘genuine’ projection. A hockey-stick on a graph will look suspicious if you can’t back it up. 

If your business model is free - like Facebook or Twitter! - then you’ll need to be able to prove huge volume. Investors like to hear big numbers, and if you can’t give them big numbers with a pound sign, give them volume! Volume is genuinely impressive. 

Part Four: Your Competitors

Your competitors are hugely important to the success of your pitch. Your prospective investors know that everyone has competitors, even investors have them! If you don’t mention your competition, VCs and Angels will start to question why you have avoided the issue.

When you mention your competition, mention their core-offering, and explain how you do it better. If a ‘competitor’ has gone bust whilst providing a service similar to yours, be sure to mention them! If you analyse why they have failed, and explain how you will avoid their mistakes, your bravery and conidence in your idea will charm the investors. 

Part Five: Why are You Credible? 

Time to look straight into the mirror. Why are you running this business? Do you have years of experience in the industry? If not, why are you the best person for the task at hand?

Mention your team members, too. Why are they the best in the business? Why does each person have their job? Extraneous members of staff won’t go down well!

Also, if you’re involved with any mentors, coaches or accelerators, now is the time to mention them. 

Part Six: Funding!

It’s why you’re there! Mention all of the obvious things: How much money do you need? What is that money going to be spent on? Do you want all of the money in one lump sum, or is it better for the cash to come in tranches? When are you likely to turn a profit? When are your investors going to be able to exit? Always bear in mind: A lucrative exit is what they’re looking for, of course. 

In this section, throw in a realistic P/E (Price to Earnings) Ratio. They’re the kind of numbers that your investor will want to see.

Part Seven: Pitching Advice

Gary wound the night up by running through some pitching advice. One simple thing to remember is: less is more. This goes for what you say, and your slides. Don’t use several words when two will do. Or, to put it briefly: avoid pleonasm.

Be mindful of your tone of voice. Don’t be monotone, don’t be too quiet. If you’ve lost their interest, it’s very difficult to get them back. Another vocalisation-must: Don’tspeaktooquickly! It’s amazing how hard it is to unravel a garbled sentence.

Part Eight: Have Some Graphs to Hand

Gary recommended that you don’t include a burn rate prediction or financial projections in your presentation, as it’s difficult to give adequate time to these documents in an investment pitch. However, have all of these documents to hand. If your potential investors want to see them, it would be most impressive to be able to whip them out after several clicks of your mouse. 

Of course, if you are asked for a burn rate prediction, include several methods by which you would arrest burn. They downward trajectory isn’t nice to look at!

Thank You

A massive thank you to Gary Weinstein for providing another night of first class advice, and thanks, of course, to Dreamstake for inviting Gary back for his second event! We hope that all of the attendees found the event most useful, and best of luck to them with their pitches!

Tuesday
Jul032012

The Big Data Debate

ThinkingBob brought ‘The Big Data Debate’ to Club Workspace and in so doing, made their first ever appearance at our Clerkenwell venue. The Big Data Debate brought a flood of techies into Club Workspace, all of whom were eager to learn more about big data. 

Before we get into the nitty gritty, Big Data deserves an explanation. Big Data is a term used to refer to data-sets that have grown so large that ‘normal’ software finds it awkward or impossible to process them. ‘Big Data’ is, by definition, data that is too big for normal procedure.

James from LexisNexis

James, the Head of Strategic Analysis at LexisNexis, explained that he is someone who uses a system that deals with big data exceptionally well.

LexisNexis curate and license authoritative content, and disperse it to those who need it. For example, they collate a whole heap of data, package up all of the data on a certain subject - ‘startups in London’, perhaps! - and send it out to those who need that information.

LexisNexis cast a wide net, and pick up data over 4000 sources, some of which are quite niche. Over 25 million documents are filed by LexisNexis every day, and they sort them into four different taxonomies. 

Therefore, if LexisNexis didn’t have a ‘big system’ to sort their ‘big data’, they couldn’t provide their service.

Adam from Mongo DB

Adam from Mongo DB explained the technical wizardry that goes on when you’re creating a system that deals with big data. 

He first explained that vertical scaling gets very expensive, very quickly. Horizontal scaling is the way to go, it’s the Mondo way! Adam dispelled the myth that all developers think they need is a shema and an index, it won’t scale up!

What Adam recommends is to have one active node, and two subsequent nodes that replicate data. Those three nodes equal a shard. The process of adding more shards, that is horizontal scaling. 

Adam warned developers that shards can ‘compete’ if they’re not properly built. He’s seen situations in the past where the second shard has deleted all of Shard One’s data! To avoid this, it’s best to build all of the shard that you’ll need in one installment. Rolling out subsequent shards when 3 are already build, for example, can cause problems. 

Thank You 

Thank you to the team from ThinkingBob who put on a great event, and filled the Club with new faces! Thank you, of course, to Adam and James for sharing their expertise.

Monday
Jul022012

Nice aaS: Computers as a service - the revolution

Nice Aas. Perhaps no other event title has provoked more double-takes in Club Workspace history! But 'aaS' is, of course, an acronym for 'as a service', the term applied to computer services that are sold as a such, rather than as products.

ToMax Talks and Dreamstake brought this cheekily titled event to the Clerkenwell Club Workspace venue. The event explored how computers as a service make life easier for the consumer. Another topic discussed were tech startups who want to sell their software, infrastructure or platform as a service.

There were three speakers on the night. The first wise words came from Dreamstake’s CTO, Ralph Stenzel. The technical whizz behind Dreamstake’s new platform gave a very brief introduction to 'aaS' before the two keynote speakers took to the stage.

Ralph Stenzel’s Introduction to Aas

Ralph kicked us off by explaining different kinds of 'aaS'. He started with SaaS: Software As A Service. Ralph’s example of SaaS was Google Mail. Their mail-delivery system is their software, and end-users use it as a service.

Infrastructure as as service, IaaS, was the second kind of service that Ralph introduced. A current and relevant example of IaaS is Cloud based storage, such as Dropbox. The final type of service was PaaS, platforms as a service. An example of a PaaS is AppEngine from Google. End-users treat Google’s library-like platform as as service.

Charlie Pool of HitMeUp

After Ralph had cleared up some definitional problems, Charlie Pool of HitMeUp took to the stage. HitMeUp, Charlie explained, is a competitor to Groupon that wants to make 'the whole group-buying thing less annoying.' HitMeUp makes group-buying relevant to location. Therefore, instead of getting spammed about offers that are nowhere near you, a HitMeUp user only receives info about deals that are a reasonable distance away.

Also, you’ve guessed it, HitMeUp is a PaaS model. As an entrepreneur in the PaaS field, Charlie found himself in a unique position to chat to the audience about what works and what doesn’t.

Charlie declared that the time is right for startups who want to launch a PaaS, or any kind of aaS, service. Charlie explained that a combination of the banking crisis and the rise of social media have paved the way for aaS services to take off.

The banking crisis has undermined the reservoirs of trust that consumers once had in banks. A knock-on effect of this is that many longstanding brands have seen their brand-equity slide too. This is due to a widespread change in mindset. Without even realising, consumers are asking themselves: if huge banks can fail, what’s stopping huge brands from failing too? Social media is invited to this party as it enables small startups to achieve massive exposure. As big brands drop the ball, small startups can pick it up! And as they’re picking it up, their skillful catches can be monitored and praise by the masses over on social media.

Therefore, if your platform, software or infrastructure (as a service!) does something that these old, slow-moving mega-brands do - and does it better! - then now is the time to push it hard! Charlie’s example: the death of bookshops and DVD outlets, caused by online sharing platforms.

Paul Joyce of GeckoBoard

Paul Joyce was the second keynote speaker to take to the stage. Mr Joyce is the cofounder of GeckoBoard, a SaaS solution that allows users to pull disparate data from a volley of different sources. An interesting point to note is that many of the sources that GeckoBoard collates data from are aaS services! Without the rise of aaS, Paul’s SaaS wouldn’t even exist!

But instead of talking about GeckoBoard, Paul spoke with great insight and intelligence about the upsides and downsides of running a SaaS business.

Paul warned SaaS entrepreneurs that they will have cashflow problems! The reason for these monitory misdemeanours is this: if your software is packaged as a one-off buy that the end-user receives as a CD, then you get a pile of cash up-front that you can use to grow your business. However, as SaaS businesses are usually subscription models, you will receive a smaller amount of money each month. Unless you attract massive volume very quickly, you will encounter slow growth.

After this bad news, Paul threw out another problem! SaaS businesses have to spend their CAC (Cost to Acquire Customer) before they know the customer’s LTV (LifeTime Value). This means that startups take the risk of spending £500 on advertising, for example, only to attract ten customers who end their lifetime-engagement after spending £30 each. If your platform really is the bees knees then this problem won’t arise, but it is a risk that SaaS models take.

After all of this doom and gloom, Paul turned to the positives of being in the Saas scene. The industry is growing, and as the supporting tech grows alongside it, it’s only going to get stronger. Computers aaS is becoming the norm. Is it easier to buy your tunes from iTunes or a CD shop? The easy answer to that question demonstrates the success of aaS, an it’s here to stay.

Thank you

Thank you to Charlie, Paul and Ralph for delivering some expert advice, and thank you to Dreamstake and ToMax Talks for brining the guys into Club Workspace. Thanks also to everyone who came along for the event.