May 26, 2014

Interesting Things on the Internet: May 26th Edition

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May 19, 2014

Interesting Things on the Internet: May 19th Edition

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May 12, 2014

Interesting Things on the Internet: May 12th Edition

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May 11, 2014

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: Makers

DoES Liverpool very generously received a copy of Chris Anderson's Makers as a Christmas present from Zarino. I borrowed it on my recent trip to Bahrain and it made enjoyable reading.

It was familiar territory for me, but good to have it all pulled together in one place. Here are my notes from reading it...

Page 7

The beauty of the Web is that it democratized the tools both of invention and of production. Anyone with an idea for a service can turn it into a product with some software code...

Page 16

Small business has always been the biggest source of new jobs in America. But too few of them are innovative and too many are strictly local - dry cleaners, pizza franchises, corner groceries, and the like, all of which are hard to grow. The great opportunity in the new Maker Movement is the ability to be both small and global. Both artisanal and innovative. Both high-tech and low-cost. Starting small but getting big. And, most of all, creating the sort of products that the world wants but doesn't know it yet, because those products don't fit neatly into the mass economics of the old model.

Page 23

A service economy is all well and good, but eliminate manufacturing and you're a nation of bankers, burger flippers, and tour guides.

Page 37

Our modern expectation of continual growth and improving quality of life is just a few hundred years old. Before that, things stayed more or less the same, which is to say pretty bad, for thousands of years.

Page 47

The machines are running again on the Mersey.

Page 69

Under somewhat different historical conditions [i.e. had the 20th C played out differently], firms using a combination of craft skill and flexible equipment might have played a central role in modern economic life - instead of giving way, in almost all sectors of manufacturing, to corporations based on mass production. Had this line of mechanized craft production prevailed, we might today think of manufacturing firms as linked to particular communities rather than as independent organizations that, through mass production, seem omnipresent.

Page 77

This [shift from mass, to personal manufacturing] is just like the shift from mainframes to personal computers. They weren't used for the same thing - personal computers are not there for inventory and payroll. Instead personal computers were used for personal things, from e-mail to video games. The same will be true for personal fabrication.

Page 106

What entrepreneurs quickly learn is that they need to price their product at least 2.3 times its cost to allow for at least one 50 percent margin for them and another 50 percent margin for their retailers (1.5 x 1.5 = 2.25). That first 50 percent margin for the entrepreneur is really mostly covering the hidden costs of doing business at a scale that they hadn't thought of when they first started, from the employees that they didn't think they'd have to hire to the insurance they didn't think they'd need to take out and the customer support and returns they never expected.

Page 110

Finally, the tricky matter of whether to pay volunteers: I'm in favor of offering key contributors to a product a royalty, but don't be surprised if they decline. The reasons can be many: they're not in it for the money; the absolute payment amounts are tiny compared to what they make in their day jobs; they feel it's wrong taking payments when others who contributed don't; and finally, when they realize that any royalty you pay will lead to higher prices for consumers, they decline simply because this conflicts with the real reason they contributed which is to create something that can reach the largest audience possible, and higher prices mean fewer users.

Page 119

But at the end of the day, the Maker Movement will be judged not just on how it can change product categories and entrepreneurial fortunes, but also on how much it can move the needle for an entire economy.

Page 134

Ford, for one, is already paying attention. In early 2012, it worked with TechShop to bring one of the shared Making facilities to its home city. The Detroit TechShop is huge, at 17,000 square feet, and is stocked with $750,000 worth of laser cutters, 3-D printers, and CNC machine tools. Ford employees are free to use the space day or night for projects related to their work or personal projects, and Ford intends to give out 2,000 memberships in the first year.

Wonder if Jaguar Land Rover want to give out some DoES Liverpool memberships? ;-)

Page 138, about Tesla Motors

So, too, for the supply chain. Musk is a zealot about bringing as much fabrication as possible in-house, and he's got the experience to know how to do it.

Page 156

The labor arbitrage view of global trade, a model that goes back to the dawn of the First Industrial Revolution, assumes that manufacturing will always flow to low-cost countries. But the new automation view suggests that the advantage of cheap labor are shrinking while other factors - closeness to the ultimate consumer, transportation costs (including possible carbon taxes), flexibility, quality, and reliability - are rising.

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May 07, 2014

Growing a Culture

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast"
- Peter Drucker

Even before I learnt of this quote, I was generally of the impression that the culture of a company, or organisation, was an important part of how it operated or what it could achieve. However, as that sentence shows, Peter Drucker did a much better job of summing it up.

Setting, or guiding, the culture and ethos of the space is something I've consciously tried to influence ever since we started DoES Liverpool back in 2011. Not (I hope) in a controlling or machiavellian way, but it's something I have an awareness of in choosing some of the ways I respond to events.

Culture is important because, as Scott Berkun says (and you should go read that link, it's very good. I'll wait...), it comes from what you do, not from what you say. The culture of somewhere is built from the actions of the people who inhabit that space.

The culture of a group also changes over time, as it grows and as different people join or leave the mix. This is both a good thing - as it means that there's scope to "fix" things that aren't helping the group - and a "bad" thing - as it means that looking after the culture is more akin to gardening than carving inscriptions into stone.

Which means that to have a lasting effect on a culture, you need to be in it for the long-term. This is why leaders of a startup community "must have a long-term commitment".

I think we've done a reasonable job at setting the right sort of culture at DoES Liverpool. We don't always get it right, but I think in general we've got a welcoming and inclusive vibe with an emphasis on doing rather than talking, and an appetite for trying new things and helping pick each other up and get us back on track if they fail.

The elusive insight in all this is how do you make it scale? Specifically, how can you scale it more quickly and effectively? There is much to do, and we are all impatient to have more impact, more quickly.

That said, I'm wary of growing the community too quickly. If you want to do things differently, which almost by definition we are if we want things to change, then you need to protect and nurture the culture as it grows. Adding too many new people will, if you're not careful, create a completely new culture which will swamp the existing one - and the chances are the "new" culture will be some strain of the local status quo.

I watched this happen at STNC when we doubled the size of the company in six months or so, and wasted a lot of time and effort reintegrating it into a single company. DoES' continual slow, steady growth means we aren't as well known in the city as we could, or possibly should, be, but it also means we've had time to find our feet.

Culture is all about the people. And that's why it's so difficult to influence with capital expenditure or money. Which is a shame, because that seems to be the standard approach taken by anyone charged with trying to encourage a more entrepreneurial culture. The country is littered with deserted office buildings full of expensive, underused machinery and equipment, because we keep creating the symptoms of successful places under the illusion that we're recreating the causes. Cambridge isn't full of startups and tech companies because it's got a science park; it has a science park because it's full of companies who'd rather be right in the city centre, but the colleges own all the land and property and don't want to ruin all the old buildings with office blocks.

Did I mention that culture is all about the people? That's also why you can't write a recipe to explain how to seed the rest of the city, or country, or planet, with DoES outposts. Or at least, if you did, it would be something along the lines of:

  1. Find the interesting people who live locally, and who'd be likely to commit to five or ten years working at it.
  2. Pay for them to live in Liverpool and have a desk at DoES Liverpool.
  3. Then give them their head to return home and start something of their own.

None of which is me trying to claim that we're particularly special, or different. Just that what makes DoES DoES is something that's nebulous and almost impossible to write down (just look at how much trouble I'm having...). It's something you get infected with through repeated exposure to other carriers, by observing what they do, how they interact, through a hundred different incidental conversations, accumulated over time.

This recent blog post about spread and scale, from the Mindlab blog, does an excellent job of explaining these challenges.

So, how to move forward?

Keep on doing. Success will be mostly down to hard work and persistence, as ever.

On top of that, we should endeavour to share more of what we're up to, and how that fares. Not sharing best practice, but trying to share as much practice as possible and reporting what has and hasn't worked for us. Hopefully that will encourage others to share their experiences, and between us we can spark copying and remixing our ideas and experiments.

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May 05, 2014

Interesting Things on the Internet: May 5th 2014 Edition

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May 04, 2014

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: Sales on a Beermat

I bought Sales on a Beermat by Mike Southon and Chris West mostly for one section, the bit about the sales process. Coming from a tech/product background, I'd heard mention of a "sales pipeline", but didn't really know what it was.

So it paid its way in just letting me know it's effectively just a spreadsheet of leads, which stage in the sale they're in, and the likelihood they'll succeed. However, the rest of the book was also of interest, and a pretty quick and easy read.

As ever, the sections I highlighted while reading through it...

Page 16

What the liked non-expert must understand is customer pain. The salesperson needs to convince the buyer that their product will solve this pain. This is much better done by citing other happy customers than by describing the technology in great detail.

Page 21

Experienced salespeople may well face a drop in income if they move from a steady job to a start-up. Expect this: your reward is twofold. One: it is more exciting and interesting work; two: you get the chance to make really serious money. If you do make the change and the first venture fails, don't forget that being a sales conrnerstone [one of the key roles Southon identifies for a start-up] is an art in itself, which you will learn as you go along.

Page 39

These are the two most important elements of selling in any and every business.

Qualifying is about finding prospects, and, more important, finding out about them, so you understand their overall situation, specific needs and, very important, ability to pay.

Closing is actually getting people to make a commitment, such as (but not just) signing on the dotted line.

Page 82

[...] for the vast majority of sapling start-ups and established one-person businesses, partnerships and SMEs, it is necessary to have a more structured model of lead generation running alongside the networking model [where you just attend events, talk to people, etc.].

Page 92

Though the end product looks deceptively simple, it can take time to craft the Beermat intro email. This is time well spent.

Page 93

When you have sent your [intro] email, wait a couple of weeks to see what happens. Then contact all non-repliers. Strange as it may seem, the best way to do this is simply to resend the original. This is because the most likely reason for the recipient's failing to reply is either that they read the email, made a note to do something about it, then got distracted by other things; or that they missed it altogether [...]

Page 94

A subset of first-time non-responders will reply to this second email. For those that don't, wait another few weeks then call them on the phone. Some will be unavailable and not return calls; others will talk with you but say they are not interested. But a proportion will have been aware of the emails and will have a real interest.

For those who vanish - let them go. Contact them again once you have something new to say.

Page 96

[when sending out the intro email] avoid August or Christmas. I find that the best times to send Beermat intro emails are about a week after major holidays, i.e. the second week in January, the second week after Easter and the second week in September.

Page 102

You must emerge from [a meeting with a potential customer] with concrete outcomes, not just interest and vague promises. If the prospect 'will get back to you', you must know when (and then you must hold him or her to that schedule). A real result is a promise of contact by a certain date plus the promise of another meeting with other, more senior people in the organisation.
Page 115

A useful website with information on this topic [of late payments] is

Page 118

The Beermat sales pipeline builds on the narrative of the last chapter. A sale is process, not a one-off event, and you monitor its progress by seeing whether it has passed certain markers or not. Passing each marker makes the eventual arrival of the cheque more likely, so you can attach numerical probabilities to each stage. Multiply these by the expected value of the cheque, and you have a 'pipeline value' for the deal. Add these up, and you have a 'total pipeline value'.

Page 121

[The sales pipeline] has three key uses: to stop sales getting bogged down, to estimate future revenue streams and to estimate future workloads.

Page 147

You do not have the option of doing nothing about sales.

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Non E Carbonara

As the title suggests, this recipe isn't for carbonara. However, it's pretty similar and makes a quick, easy, tasty pasta supper.

Serves 1

  • 1 clove garlic
  • a few mushrooms
  • some ham or bacon
  • 150ml creme fraiche
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • roughly a thumb-sized piece of grano padano or parmesan, grated
  • pasta (I tend to use tagliatelle or linguine but whatever you prefer)

Fry some garlic and mushrooms in a little oil while the pasta water comes to the boil. Throw in some ham or bacon as well, if you've got it to hand. Once the mushrooms and garlic have softened, add the creme fraiche. Add the pasta to the water

As the creme fraiche warms up, add the lemon juice and mix thoroughly. Once the sauce starts bubbling, mix in the cheese.

By now the pasta should have cooked, drain it and toss it in the sauce. Enjoy.

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