The downside of testing Snagsta

30 May 2008

Damn you Eddie Izzard!

On Sunday, I got shouted at by my wife.

This happens occasionally, and just between you and me, it is usually my fault, though of course I would never admit to that within her hearing.

This time though, I place the blame firmly upon Snagsta.

You see, I had told my wife that I needed to spend a bit of time in the outhouse to do some testing on the site, but unfortunately when she came out five minutes later to see if I needed anything, I was watching an Eddie Izzard video clip. She was a bit miffed, but was slightly appeased when I managed to explain that I had followed a link from one of Alex M’s lists that had cropped up as part of my testing.

About fifteen minutes after that, she kindly brought out a snack, only to find me chuckling to myself whilst reading a page of Mitch Hedberg quotes. Again, I tried to explain that I had been checking the friends functionality and seen this list of Paul’s on the site and it was all part of the testing process. Even to my own ears, this sounded weak.

The final straw though, was when she came out about an hour later and found me on Now, I had literally just seen the site mentioned on a list of Nikki Davies’ and had clicked through to have a very quick look, but it was exactly the wrong moment and of course because of this, it looked like my morning’s “work” was watching videos, reading jokes and ogling celebrities.

I tried manfully to make her see that it was Alex, Paul and Nikki, and in a wider sense Snagsta, who were to blame, but she was having none of it.

Our nanny could only laugh as she saw me getting dragged into the house by my ear to spend some time with my son.

I’ll leave you with Nikki’s list of Best Celebrity Gossip Blogs, but remember this is not for work hours:

    Trashy, flashy and crass
    Personal and engaging
    At the cutting edge with breaking news and video clips
    New York focussed gossip site
    The original, but no longer the best
    Video-based blog
    Blog featuring the hottest female celebrities
    LA focussed gossip site

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Jaw-dropping Innovation?

23 May 2008

I attended NESTA’s Innovation Edge conference this week. Despite the title apparently the only thing jaw-dropping about it was Gordon Brown (who was doing that thing with his chin so quickly even Rory Bremner would have been impressed).

As with all such events it’s a bit hit & miss and one has to make a cost-benefit call. Can an entrepreneur trying to launch his site afford to spend the day nodding sagely in agreement with keynote speakers, nancying around making small talk and drinking lukewarm coffee? Well, the answer is ‘sort of’. At my decisive best I elected to attend the more targeted afternoon sessions and so unfortunately missed Gordon Brown, Bob Geldof & Tim Berners-Lee. But I have it on good authority from the effervescent Meriem Aissaoui from Smarta that they were in fine form.

By the way, Smarta is a fantastic business resource and social networking site for entrepreneurs and small businesses that launches officially in November.

The first seminar I attended was called ‘Are online social networks the new cities?’ Unfortunately the topic was too high level to get the crux of matters the same way blog conversations do but at least it was fairly entertaining. Here’s an extract of the dialogue between the facilitator and Michael Birch (founder of Bebo):

Facilitator: So Michael – why did you move to San Francisco? Was it Silicon Valley?
Michael Birch: Because of my wife – she’s from San Francisco. There just happened to be a small thriving internet community there too.
Facilitator: Lucky she wasn’t in Utah. That would have been interesting.
Michael Birch: Probably not that interesting.

The second seminar, ‘Entrepreneurs v Investors: Can the relationship ever really work?’, was better. Saul Klein (The Accelerator Group) highlighted honesty, self-awareness and the ability to face issues sooner rather than later as critical ingredients for an effective relationship and Jon Moulton (Alchemy) provided a list of habits that help you spot Bad Managers & Entrepreneurs that I have paraphrased below:

  1. They don’t know the numbers, don’t care about them
  2. They don’t have any customer interaction
  3. They are often arrogant and dismiss questions from their staff
  4. They are little too focused on the material things (talk about pay & bonus schemes in the first meeting)
  5. They don’t have a TO DO list – no signs of structured organisational skills
  6. They don’t visit their businesses
  7. They make stupid acquisitions (double or quits)
  8. They isolate themselves
  9. They work 9 to 5 – lacking passion for their business

Investors – if you’re reading this – it’s midnight and I’m still in the office testing the site. This post only took a few minutes. PS: did you get my email about a payrise?

Another interesting point from Jon was that good presenters aren’t necessarily good managers, but people always make this assumption. But on the contrary: good managers are very often good presenters.

The lesson I draw from this is: if you know you’re a crap manager take a course in presentation skills.

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Life on the investment trail

16 May 2008


If you are a regular reader of our blog you will know we usually quote other people’s genius and experiences in order to make us appear knowledgeable and adventurous: this week however, we thought we might throw caution to the wind and talk about something we did instead.

On Wednesday I completed an investment readiness programme named gateway2investment (g2i). g2i is put together by the London Development Agency and is delivered by a consortium of private sector companies. It offers participants advice and support to help make companies “investor ready”.

I found the course really helpful as it made me take another look at how we present Snagsta to investors.

I also got to meet lots of great entrepreneurs who are busy setting up all sorts of interesting businesses. Links to a few ideas I found particularly inspiring follow: Charlotte Vere at Big White Wall, Jason Devenney at Siondo, David Crane at debatewise and lastly blogger-to-be Ricky Doyle at Practice-IT.

I would thoroughly recommend the course to any London based startups.

Lastly, here’s a related list from the founder of Seesmic: Loic Le Meur’s advice to internet startups.

1. Think global as you create the business
It is very difficult because our natural tendency is to think local, to eat lunch and dinner with people around where we live and think in our own language. I lived in Paris most of my life and I was naturally addressing the French market first. Moving yourself and your family to a very international city like London, NY or San Francisco helps.

2. Create an original product: new and different
Digg or Twitter have created new social relationships and even though they have hundreds of copycats, they will remain the originals. The best way to succeed is definitely an original and great product.

3. Do not create a copycat, unless your goal is only to get acquired
Do not do copycats, even if you are in a remote market and even if it is tempting, unless you are just here to create a company and sell it quickly to the leader, which is a business model that some entrepreneurs have become masters about. Why not partner with the mothership and launch them where you are instead of copying ? Innovate, do not copy, life is too short for that.

4. Try to raise funds from world-class VCs
They will help you become world-class, but if you are not based in Silicon Valley you have a lower chance that they invest in your company. If you go for local VCs, always take the most international ones.

5. Hire people from all nationalities as much as possible
Americans hire Americans. French hire French. Spanish tend to hire Spanish people. Even if it is easier, you should hire as much as possible a team with as many cultures and languages as possible. Cultural cross pollination is a wonderful way to stoke creativity.

6. Register your domain names in the key countries you are interested in (and the large ones you are not interested in)
A common mistake made by most startups. Very difficult given how rare good domain names have become but you would absolutely try.

7. Protect your brand worldwide
Do not wait to sort out trademark in the key regions.

8. Make a site that is language ready day one, even if you launch in English
More non-English content is posted every day on the web than in English. It is ok if you localize when you have built the product, but at least make it very easy to do by separating the language text files of the interface. Obvious? Yes. Do not forget that many languages have words much longer than english words and they tend to break the interface, take Finnish or German and you will see what I mean.

9. Gather an international community since day 1
International starts the first day you launch the company. Having members from all around the World will give you different perspective and different uses of your own product. We have not even launched Seesmic yet but we have users from more than 20 countries who came and used it. We learnt each time.

10. Talk to the most active members of the community to help you understand their market and become evangelists there
These active members can be very powerful evangelists in the different countries, they can also help you get introductions to potential partners

11. Create an application that lets your community translate the site by themselves
The way Facebook translated its site in many languages using an application where members could do inline translation and then vote when there was a discussion on the best term to use. This was a brilliant way to come back with high quality and fast translation. It also helps you have languages you would have not even thought of launching. Do not forget what it takes to maintain them though.

12. Languages are not the same in all the countries they are spoken
French in France is different than French in Quebec so is Spanish different in Mexico and in Madrid. Words may not even be understood the same. email for example is “email” in French (it’s just as often the english word) and “courriel” in French canadian. Use “courriel” or “pourriel” (for spam) in France and some people will laugh at you. Same for “chat” which is “clavardage” in quebecois and just “chat” in France…

13. Do not think that Europe is the U.K.
Most US companies launch from the U.K. thinking they are launching in Europe. There are more than 20 languages in Europe, and the cultural differences between a Danish, an Italian and a Portuguese are huge. Succeeding in the U.K. does not mean you will succeed in the Netherlands.

14. Manage costs properly
Going international by creating your own office or dealing with a partner is expensive. Think about incorporating the company in a country you do not know, respecting social and work local laws, accounting, reporting… In some countries work is not flexible, if you had to close the office and fire your team it could cost you up to a year of payroll…

15. Never do a 50/50 deal with anyone
The famous “golden share” is very important. If you do 50/50 deal nobody has control and it leads to a mess most of the time. The best is of course to be in control of your own business.

16. Do key partnerships with large local players
A great way to go international is what LinkedIn has just done in France by partnering with the largest human resource organization, APEC. APEC’s established position on the market will guarantee LinkedIn initial volume and branding.

17. Never trust that if the partner is large your service will be a success
Partnering the the largest ISP or portal in a Country does not mean they will heavily promote you. You are likely to end up as the service #867 promoted on a page nobody watches. They would never do that to you? I experienced this many times… You would better partner with a small site in your space which will really feature your service than a large one where it will be lost like in a Christmas tree.

18. Create an international reseller program
Sharing a nice % of the business with your partners or resellers is a good way to get them motivated. Web hosting companies have been good at establishing worldwide presence by offering reseller programs, partner conferences, joint marketing, etc.

19. Kill your local copycats
Despite all your efforts, you will have copycats in many markets if your product is successful. Try to kill them first, if you are the leader you should have more traction and means

20. Buy your local copycats if you can’t kill them
Can’t kill them Buy the best ones to grow, if they are copycats they do not have that many exits possible, most of the time they were created for you to buy them. Think about making sure the team will stay in place and not only the founders…

21. Be very pragmatic
In some markets it could be a joint venture, in others it could be a partnership with a large player, and other places just creating your own team works

22. Do not apply any of this to Asia
I do not know the Asian market enough to judge what is happening there but it seems that most large US sites that launched in China pulled back or were not successful. The Japanese market has its own leaders, but I wont’ risk an opinion on an area I do not know enough, I would just be very cautious there.

23. Do not apply any of this to Russia
Everybody forgets the Russian Internet market, it is huge and growing fast, the leaders there are local and operated by russians. They even buy American startups – LiveJournal was bought from Six Apart by Sup.

24. This advice only applies to Internet startups
My experience extends only to Internet startups. Other young companies may find that much of this advice does not apply to them.

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The River of Twitter

9 May 2008

Alex Moore’s post 2 weeks ago resonated with me for a few reasons. One of which is the fact that I think he copied my idea – I am convinced I talked to him about this concept a little while ago 😉

But more importantly, back to the river. There is no bigger river than the river of Twitter. Thanks to my Facebook status updates several people have asked me recently what Twitter is. In a way it’s a bit like micro-blogging – here’s a commoncraft clip that explains it a lot better than I can. And here’s another good link.

It’s great if you’ve mastered continuous partial attention but you have to pick who you follow carefully as you can be inundated with the most trivial facts about people’s lives (Sorry Chris, couldn’t resist… my dad also loves Indiana Jones).

The Twitter signal-to-noise ratio is terrible though. The highly regarded Nassim Nicholas Taleb has strong views on this. He doesn’t read newspapers for this very reason.

On the flipside, Nic Brisbourne reminded me that ‘when you are in the business of trying to predict where the hype will be in 12-24 months then [you] don’t have the luxury of ignoring the breaking news.’ And I have to admit, amongst the froth, Twitter certainly has delivered some timely nuggets that have really helped us as we strive to stay ahead of the curve. Or, in Alex’s case, just behind.

Here’s a useful list by Paul Walsh that includes some tips for new users.

Most people will only spend a few seconds reviewing your Twitter page before deciding whether to follow you or not. The more followers they have, the less time they’re likely to spend. So, these tips should help increase the chances of people following you.

1. Fill in the bio. Include a few words that describe you. Try to make it punchy.

2. Link to a Web page that’s relevant, preferably a blog or biog.

3. Don’t follow everyone you find interesting at once. Wait for some to reciprocate or you’ll look like ‘billy no mates’.

4. Using a company name as your screen name is ok for some people. Loren Feldman and Mike Arrington are amongst the ‘exception to the rule’ category. I personally prefer to follow people, not companies.

5. Be honest, open and above all, be yourself.

6. Be patient. You won’t build relationships or feel the community spirit over night. It takes a little getting used to. Use twitter to have conversations with people for at least a few weeks before forming an opinion.

7. If you’re unsure whether to publish a comment, publish it. Ok, that’s probably not the best tip, but it’s what I do all the time. Sometimes it doesn’t work in my favour but mostly it does as people know that what they see is the real me.

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The Devil is in the Details

2 May 2008

I remember reading something a while back about how God had a huge project and he got it done in 7 days. For us though, we have not had much luck with His approach. No matter how many times Phil, Alex, Paul or myself proclaim “Let There Be Snagsta”, that only seems to work for deities.

We are at that stage now when it seems like every issue resolved sprouts 3 new issues to deal with. Not that these are big issues necessarily, but even the small issues can stack up.

It is also now that we start to see just how many tiny details there are to address in order to get Snagsta to the point where we can let you loose on the site (and don’t think we can’t see you there salivating all over your keyboard at the prospect!).

As with a lot of things, it is all about finding the right balance. Good enough to keep you interested, complete enough to keep us happy.

To close, I’m going to leave you with a bit of a cop-out list – some project management one-liners that have tickled my fancy over the years:

1. To estimate a project timeframe, work out how long it would take one person to do it then multiply that by the number of people on the project.

2. If an IT project works the first time, it is wrong.

3. A user is somebody who tells you what they want the day you give them what they asked for.

4. Good project management is not so much knowing what to do and when, as knowing what excuses to give and when.

5. The first 90% of a project takes 90% of the time, the last 10% takes the other 90%.

6. Warning: Dates in a calendar are closer than they appear to be.

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