snagsta & Silicon Valley go to Oxford

26 November 2007


Last week Alex M and I went to the Said Business School for the ‘Silicon Valley comes to Oxford’ event. The huge panel of entrepreneurs, VCs and tech glitterati included the likes of Reid Hoffman (sold PayPal to eBay, co-founded LinkedIn), Biz Stone (twitter founder) and Chris Sacca (head of special initiatives at Google).

There were some insightful and amusing moments:

Paul Graham (who has invested in 80 start-ups) said entrepreneurs should “Look for things that are evil or broken or stupid.” That’s where you can make your greatest impact.

The delegates also quickly dismissed suggestions that their industry will be affected by the credit crunch facing the banking industry. “The venture capital funds are swollen right now.” Mr Malone says, the real problem is “not a lack of money, it’s a lack of ideas.”

Jerry Saunders (Silicon Valley veteran) announced, “I was asked to leave every single job I had. That’s when I realized I was an entrepreneur.”)

[Just so that we’re clear – Alex and I weren’t asked to leave every single job we had. Sometimes the companies went out of business.]

I also attended Biz Stone’s masterclass. The press appeared to be using the session to interview him, so I cheekily jumped in suggesting that since this was a masterclass perhaps Biz could focus less on himself and more on how his experiences could help start-ups like snagsta. He provided us with some brilliant advice on viral marketing. I guess I can’t whinge too much – we got a little lucky as my rather ‘eager’ questioning aroused the interest of a Washington Post journalist, John Kelly, who dedicated a few paragraphs to snagsta on his blog: – thanks John!

Til next time…

Signing off with a brilliant list from James Philpott which includes some great suggestions on how to spend a summer in Oxford…

The Oxford Summer Experience

disclaimers: James originally wrote this list for our MBA class so it has a slight bias. I have also abbreviated it as he can be slightly, shall we say, long-winded. i.e. British. He tends to get a little carried away as he enjoys the subtle sounds his turn of phrase and mixed metaphors make as they turn cartwheels across his pallet… mmm… sounding a little British myself!)

  1. Punting along the Cherwell – either from Magdalen Bridge downstream to the Isis or from the Cherwell boathouse (Bardwell Road) upstream to the Victoria pub
  2. Cycle for lunch or an evening at any or all of the following pubs:
    The Trout, Godstow (v. busy and touristy – arrive early – but great location)
    The Perch, Binsey (less busy – but not that much – thatched pub in quiet hamlet)
    The White Hart, Wytham (further away out beyond the ring road but in quintessential English village)
    The Fishes, North Hinksey (make sure you play Aunt Sally in the garden – wierd rustic pub game)
  3. Attend any open air production of a play or concert in a college garden (Worcester is among the prettiest)
  4. Spend Saturday of Eight’s Week on the river bank by the boathouses (this is usually Saturday of 5th Week).
  5. Spend at least some time working in the Old Bodleian library and/or the Radcliffe Camera. Your Bodleian passes allow you into both of these and they’re amazing buildings on the inside.
  6. Attend the May Day celebrations which mark the start of Spring. A choir usually sings in the dawn at the top of Magdalen College tower so you’ll need to be up early (or going to bed late) to get there (ie 5ish in the morning)!
  7. Watch the university cricket team in the University Parks. This is about as English as it gets in Oxford and even if you don’t know what cricket is you should go and have a laugh at the mad Englishmen running around in their “whites”.
  8. Walk around Christ Church meadow (self explanatory but not everyone has done it)
  9. Walk home at dawn after one of the Oxford Balls. The most prestigious of these posh black tie affairs are the Commemoration Balls held at either Magdalen, Trinity or New They literally last all night and there is usually a “survivors photo” around dawn time.
  10. Visit the gardens of some of the larger colleges – Merton, Christ Church and New College spring to mind.

Part 1 – The Early Days

18 November 2007

It all started with a SMS.

“G, it’s time 2 start our own dotcom. Let’s do for ourselves what we have been doing for others for the past 10 years.”

Seems Alex M had had an idea brewing in the back of his mind for the last couple of years. A moment of clarity on a recent holiday brought it crashing to the front where he could no longer ignore it. Since work for both of us was “Tim Canterbury” bad, the time seemed ripe. And, it appears, so was the idea (you want to know more right? Watch this space…).

Once he filled me in, things quickly snowballed. We needed to flesh out the idea. Phil was between roles so we talked him flying out to Bangkok (actually we didn’t really have to talk him into this) to meet me. Alex M whipped together the business plan and soon we had a story that developer Paul simply couldn’t resist. Suddenly things started to get pretty serious.

And serious times called for serious money. So Alex M and Phil entered the dark world of venture capital to attempt the dark art of securing investment. I’ll let the two of them take over the story from here…

Yes, fortunately we had at our sides some old hands. Not ours but those of Jack Edmondson (actually he has lovely smooth hands) and Rich Robinson (him, not so much). These chaps have been amazing throughout the last few months. And sometimes they helped us as well (we learnt that a cap table wasn’t a hat-stand by another name!). Thank you guys.

Seeking funding was a fascinating learning experience. At first we went for the big bucks and a high valuation. Fortunately, we failed at this. Enter our first lesson in raising capital: If you want to ultimately hang on to more equity then only raise as much as you need to get proof of concept. You might give away equity at a lower valuation at first but once you’ve proved your idea works the next time you raise money you’ll get a lot more bucks for your bang (thanks Monu!).

We’re probably getting a bit ahead of ourselves here. We raised enough to keep us going for 6-8 months and are working like crazy to prove ourselves right! But enough with the lessons, on a less serious note, to finish this post we’ll leave you with our first list.

8 great reasons to quit the cubicle and set up on your own:

1. You can sign your own leave requests.
2. You can expense EVERYTHING.
3. You get to choose your dress. I’m wearing a lovely two-toned scalloped gown with a matching satin wrap.
4. Flexible working hours. You can work as late as you want!
5. Variety of work. You get to test out new skills. Like filing the annual tax returns.
6. Its offers you an opportunity to fully experience the rich service Companies House offers. The only website we know of that keeps official office hours online.
7. You are no longer making someone else rich. Disclaimer: the corollary isn’t necessarily true!
8. You get to make up imaginary titles for yourself like Chief Imagineer.

Til next week!