Snagsta receives 150 from Atomico

28 February 2008

Okay – maybe they didn’t invest 150 million in Snagsta but I did convince one of the members of the Atomico team (European VC Group) to buy me a mineral water for 150 pence at last week’s Second Chance Tuesday event. We joked that it might not be the last time they put their hands in their pockets for us. The Early Stage Funding Workshop we attended was fantastic. One of the messages that came back from Simon Murdoch (and echoed by the rest of the panel) was: “Don’t raise money!”. For most of us unfortunately that’s not possible (despite the fact that according to Paul Graham setting up a start-up is cheaper and easier than ever before). So as we give away equity in exchange for cash we have to think very carefully about our partners – choosing people (if you have the luxury of choice) whose involvement will add value but not muzzle your creativity. We’ve been very lucky so far (thank you seed investors!). This extends to board members and advisors too. Finding wizened, battle-scarred advisors can really help you avoid mistakes, see things you may have missed, and keep your eye on the ball. Mentors that won’t provide you with all answers, but rather challenge you in ways that’ll help you find them on your own.

There’s a joke my dad likes to tell about board members. It goes something like this: What’s the difference between a non-executive board member and a supermarket trolley? A trolley has a mind of its own and you can get more food and drink into a non-executive.

But it’s a serious subject so I’d like to wind up with a great post on this topic from one of my favourite blogs – “Musings of a VC in NYC” by Fred Wilson.

Thoughts On Choosing Board Members

I am a professional board member. I’ve been sitting on boards for almost 20 years and I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen some of the best board members in action and have tried to copy them. I’ve seen some of the worst board members in action and have tried hard to forget them.

Here are some thoughts on choosing board members. This advice is for everyone, but it’s of particular use when you are a bigger company, maybe public, and need to fill your board with good people.

1. Avoid “big names” For the most part, they are useless.
2. Select people who will attend each and every meeting, who will pay close attention to the business
3. Select people who have an affinity for your business, who understand your challenges and your opportunities
4. Avoid putting someone you can control on your board. In tough situations they will have a fiduciary duty to do what’s right and you won’t be able to control them when it matters most to you.
5. Don’t let conflicts get in the way of selecting the ideal board member. Conflicts will be disclosed and can be managed. Many times the people who will understand your business best are conflicted in some way. There are ways to deal with this problem.
6. Make sure to have an experienced accountant/auditor on your board and have them run the audit committee. That is no place for amateurs.
7. Make sure to have at least two or three CEOs of comparable companies on your board. Make sure they are on the comp committee. Compensation issues are best handled by people who understand the talent market.
8. Select people who have the time to do the job right. Being a board member is a job. It’s not a retirement perk. If someone cannot commit to attend each and every meeting and to spend at least several hours a week on your company, they are not the right choice.
9. Select people who will get along with each other. The very best boards I am on are friendly social active groups. Serious business doesn’t have to be stilted and formal. It can and should be fun.
10. Above all else, look for great judgment and ethics.

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New ideas – are there any?

22 February 2008

I was chatting to Phil the other day underneath the railway arches here in Battersea over a nice cuppa tea. He was spinning a yarn about books, plays and films and was trying to convince me that there are only 13 storylines / plots that they all follow (or a very low number thereabouts). I read something similar in a marketing book once saying there is no such thing as a new idea in advertising as new ideas are just reincarnations of old ones.

What a load of old tosh!

If you want to see something truly new then you should read this article by Iain Tate of crackunit fame about a great new Facebook App called the Add to Friend Shirt application that allows you to print unique QR codes on tee shirts.

If you’re not sure what QR codes are then you’re not alone. They are strange looking bar-code type images that can be read via your camera’s mobile phones (providing you have some clever software installed).

The Facebook App allows you to print your own QR code on the back of a selection of trendy tee shirts. The QR code points to a mobile-friendly version of your profile page on Facebook where people can chose to add you as a friend – assuming they have a Facebook account that is. I don’t think this is an idea that will go mainstream anytime soon but I think it will do well out of novelty factor and creative brilliance alone.

Good to see that perhaps new ideas aren’t dead after all eh Phil?


Are We There Yet?

15 February 2008

They say time flies when you are having fun.

Considering how fast the days seem to be flying by at the moment, Team Snagsta must be having just about as much fun as is humanly possible without taking our clothes off.

Development of the system continues (have we made this a cliché now?), with ongoing debates about what looks right and what looks nothing like we thought it would, together with a hefty dose of change requests, a sprinkling of bugs and the odd overlooked issue or two.

It is at this time that you get a lot of “what were we thinking when we came up with that idea”, but the truth is, you can’t always tell how something is going to work out until you can see it.

But wait… Is that light at the end of the tunnel? Or have I just been staring at my monitor for too long?

To close, here’s a great list from Iain Tait (crackunit.com) highlighting a bunch of things that people who are just getting into digital always seem to propose at some point or another but really should best be ignored:

The 7 Deadly Sins of Digital

1. Tamagotchis

They say: “A game where you have to feed this little character to keep them alive, and you give them stuff, and they do stuff”

You say: “You want to create something based on an obsolete early 90s toy that wasn’t actually any fun? And you’re expecting people who don’t give a toss about your brand of fake-cheese-based snacks to go though a bunch of meaningless interactions for no real reward why?”

2. Screensavers

They say: “Let’s make a screensaver”

You say: “When was the last time you installed a screensaver? When was the last time you saw a screensaver on someone’s screen?”

3. Interfaces that look like the tops of desks or tables

They say: “We could make it look like the character’s desk, you can click on a file to read it, if you click on the answering machine you can hear a message… And so on…”

You say: “Oh FFS we can bend space and time and create things that redefine the way that the world works, but you want to use a clumsy metaphor that people are going to have to decompile in order to figure out how to get to a bit of information that in some rare case they might actually want. And it’s not extensible. And besides how many people watch youtube videos of their own adverts in the residue at the bottom of a coffee cup? And it’s not accessible… And so on…”

4. Desktop assistants / characters

They say: “You know the Microsoft paperclip, can we…”

You say: “Stop right there sonny, don’t say another word! Nobody likes the paperclip. The only good thing that ever happened to the paperclip was death. Even Bill Gates hates the paperclip.”

5. A virus

They say: “Could we create an actual virus that spreads our message”

You say: “Why not do it in the real world instead – why not just make a branded version of HIV, there’s more people in the offline world that you can infect”

6. A ‘viral’

They say: “We’ve made this film, can you make it a viral”

You say: “I’m just going outside to suck on an exhaust pipe for 30 minutes – if I make it back I’ll stick it on YouTube for you”

7. Starting a list of seven things and not counting how many you’ve got.


The Short Tale: an oversimplified, factually-challenged internet fairy story by Phillip Hofmeyr

8 February 2008

A long, long time ago bookshops had tiny little shelves with about 5 books on them (Waterstones). The shop assistant either told you what to buy (marketing) or what everyone else was buying (crowd psychology). Some bestsellers became bigger bestsellers simply on the basis of ‘herd mentality’. Along came the digital marketplace (internet) and stuffed another 500 books onto the shelf (Amazon). All of a sudden we had unlimited choice (the Long Tail) and choosing a book started to take forever (especially if you’re me!). ‘Marketing’ & ‘crowd psychology’ became decidedly average selection tools. Fortunately in wandered Web 2.0 with Wikinomics (user generated content & mass collaboration) closely followed by social networking. And suddenly we had the perfect platform to leverage the Wisdom of Crowds. But not the herd-type crowd of days gone by. Rather, a diverse collection of independently-deciding individuals (Facebook friends!?).

Snagsta [enter stage left] wants to use this platform and your networks to help you find things and make decisions without having to trouble people directly with questions. If we can make Snagsta remarkable (Purple Cow) you are more likely to tell your friends about it (The Tipping Point). But just in case the Tipping Point is toast we’ve got a couple of other tricks up our sleeves because you never quite know where your luck is going to come from (The Black Swan).

Now… about choosing that book…

The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More – Chris Anderson
The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few – James Surowiecki
Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion – N. Goldstein, S. Martin & R. Cialdini
Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything – Don Tapscott & Anthony D. Williams
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference – Malcolm Gladwell
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking – Malcolm Gladwell
Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable – Seth Godin

Too much of this stuff can make you start to take yourself a little too seriously, so to remind you that we’re really just children at heart, buy this book:

The Eye of the Moon – Dianne Hofmeyr
(how about that mom!)


Our first page hatches!

1 February 2008

This week was a special week for us over here at Snagsta. We got to see our very first database-integrated webpage.

It’s perhaps not the prettiest webpage we’ve ever seen but as it’s our baby we think she’s beautiful (Phil almost cried when he saw it).

All we need to do now is give birth to another several hundred of its brothers and sisters and we’ll be ready to launch our private beta website. Exciting times indeed.

Paul remains under the bonnet of the black box 22 hours a day but the sounds coming from it are promising – not quite a roar, more of a growl but encouraging nonetheless.

So despite all this doom and gloom about the world’s economy, we’re pretty happy over here in Snagstaville.

To celebrate this week’s new arrival, here’s a list Alex G just put together. It’s called “A few different things that I found useful to help prepare me for being a dad”.

1. What to expect when you are expecting: Can’t really live without this book in the run up to the birth.

2. babynames.com: Good as the standard site for looking for names, but there are lots of similar sites, so this is just a guide.

3. Secrets of the baby whisperer – Tracy Hogg: Easy to read and most of the advice seems to have gone down quite well. Good bit on how to undo bad behaviour that may have crept into your baby’s routine.

4. Baby fairs: Find out when you have a baby fair near you and go with a bunch of money. You’ll spend tonnes, but will save on everything and the big brands will usually be there giving stuff away too.

5. Contented little baby book – Gina Ford: Quite opinionated, but helps to give you some ideas on setting up routines.

6. allnewbabynames.com: Horrible site design, but great for sparking ideas on names that are a little different.

7. Second hand stuff: Check with everyone you know who has a baby, cos half the stuff you need, you will only need for about a month! Most families have therefore got tonnes of stuff that they hardly used and would probably be happy to see cleared out of their house.

8. What to expect the first year: Not bad, but not quite the “thank God for this book” you feel after reading the first one (see item 1).

9. babyfancy.com: This one is specifically for Thailand, cos it is in Thai, but we found loads of great advice on this site.

10. Your hospital: When you are scoping out hospitals, check for their free courses, etc on parenting. Most get sponsored by the baby brands, but are useful all the same.