Cheating on Della

27 June 2008

As many (many) people will tell you, I am (occasionally) a bit of a twat, no more so than when I have been sitting alone for too long in front of my computer, and it was after one of these prolonged periods of isolation that I decided to christen my faithful computer Della – an incredibly clever play on the fact that it (she) is a Dell machine.

It does feel sometimes that I am married to her, since we spend so much time together and she controls large aspects of my life. However, last week, I began to cheat on Della in the worst possible way.

I bought a MacBook.

I’m trying not to feel too guilty, but it is hard when I know I look so much better sitting with the MacBook than I ever would with poor old Della.

The fact of the matter is, I had to do it. Absolutely no choice in the matter because far too many of the kind of people we want Snagsta to attract are also using Macs, so we have to test very carefully on their behalf.

Now all I need to do is come up with an equally clever name for my second wife – Macy perhaps…

I leave you with a great list from Jeff Zweig, Web Guru extraordinaire:

Favorite ways to make Mac OS X suck less
Let’s face it. Windows really sucks and Mac OS X sucks, too, but not as much. This is my list of third party software add-ons that help make OS X suck even less!

1. Get Pathfinder
Significantly improves the lousy usability of Finder.

2. Get Google desktop
Much easier to use than Spotlight in its lame, native form plus it’s free.

3. Get Quicksilver
Outstanding and mega-powerful keyboard control, application launching and so much more for those of us who shun the mouse plus it’s free.

4. Get Parallels
Run Windows apps that can’t run in OS X

5. Get SuperDuper!
Best backup software ever!

6. Get WiFind
This tasty little app costs only 8 bucks and lets us know in advance whether available WiFi networks are secure or not and how strong their signals are.

7. Get Firefox
THE browser of the civilized on any platform. Better than Safari for its huge range of free plug-ins and better cross-browser support than Safari.

8. Get Office 2008 for Mac
Anything is better than the Rosetta converted Office 2004 dog that runs on Intel Macs. We can only hope that the promised Office 2008 universal version will run properly on Intel.

9. Get Spot Inside
Essential add-on to the lame, native form of Spotlight and it’s free.

10. Get Laserlight
Another essential add-on to the weak native form of Spotlight and it’s free, too.

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Are the best entrepreneurs pertinacious* pigs or flexible fools?

20 June 2008

Piggy wiggy

We have repeatedly been told that we have to be prepared to follow Snagsta wherever it takes us. Very often the dream founders start out with is totally different from the website they end up with. This can happen for a variety of reasons:

1. Along the wide and varied path that is web development better ideas turn up out of nowhere

2. The founders’ idea is slightly off target (I think the diplomatic wording for this is ‘ahead of their time’)

3. The investors ‘suggest’ a ‘new approach’ (as an aside: we’ve been given all the latitude we’ve wanted so far)

4. The users decide they have a much better idea for how the site should be used (this was certainly the case with Twitter (according to Biz Stone) and Bebo (as Michael Birch explains).

It appears flexibility is important.

And then you’ll walk into another meeting and someone will tell you what they look for in founders is an unwavering pig-headed determination to see their idea through against all odds.

But even the best ideas occasionally have to be abandoned. So the question is: how do you know when enough is enough?

And the answer is… predictably: you don’t.

The good news is you can’t be criticised because nobody knows. It’s luck (certainly if you take Taleb‘s word or the FT‘s)

The bad news is that this decision could either make you or lose you A LOT OF MONEY.

At Snagsta we’ve built our solution to this problem into the management team. Alex Moore is possibly one of the most stubborn people I know and I’m extremely flexible (some people call me indecisive… but I’m not so sure).

The point is that one should have some contingencies. And I am pleased to be able to demonstrate to our readers that we are ready. In the unlikely event that Snagsta needs to shift focus we have strategically also registered the domain

Have a great weekend!

* pertinacious – don’t be embarrassed, I had to look that up too.

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Time to Party!

13 June 2008

Keep on rocking in the free world

We launched our private alpha (geek-speak for test site) yesterday so the mood under the arches is buoyant to say the least! Well, it was buoyant until we reviewed our bug register… 170 and growing! But all the major functionality is working well so we’re pretty amped!

I need to get back to squishing those pests so will hand you over to someone a lot smarter than me (not easy to find that sort of person I hear you say). Today’s list comes from the tail end of a recent interview with Nassim Nicholas Taleb in the Sunday Times. And I can proudly say I have permission from Taleb to publish his words of wisdom. To give things a slightly different spin this week I have tried to add a comment beneath each of his tips that reflects its relevance to entrepreneurs and start-ups. When I couldn’t think of any, I have done something completely different and made sarcastic comments at the expense of myself and those around me.

1. Scepticism is effortful and costly. It is better to be sceptical about matters of large consequences, and be imperfect, foolish and human in the small and the aesthetic.

I think scepticism is one of driving motivations behind many entrepreneurs: a healthy scepticism for existing products and people’s predictions invokes the ‘challenger’ mindset. I have honed my scepticism on the small & aesthetic for long enough now…

2. Go to parties. You can’t even start to know what you may find on the envelope of serendipity. If you suffer from agoraphobia, send colleagues.

HOW can you possibly fault a man who holds amongst his top 10 tips: ‘GO TO PARTIES’

3. It’s not a good idea to take a forecast from someone wearing a tie. If possible, tease people who take themselves and their knowledge too seriously.

There is ONE exception to this rule. Never tease a Venture Capitalist. Regardless of the size of his tie. Buy him a drink, complement his colour-co-ordinated cufflinks, but never tease him.

4. Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behaviour. You will always have the last word.

Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) once said: ‘If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” And so it is with Snagsta. When the time comes we’ll be wearing our best but at first ‘site’ it may appear as if we got dressed in a bit of a hurry… tucking in our shirt on the way out the door. Kind of my ‘style’ I suppose, given I was once described as looking like an ‘unmade bed’…

5. Don’t disturb complicated systems that have been around for a very long time. We don’t understand their logic. Don’t pollute the planet. Leave it the way we found it, regardless of scientific ‘evidence’.

I didn’t understand that but I am sure it’s deep.

6. Learn to fail with pride — and do so fast and cleanly. Maximise trial and error — by mastering the error part.

There is an interesting debate on the correlation between success and past failure. In my industry the US is very pro-failure, whereas Europe is far more risk-adverse. Statistics suggest there is no correlation but I have hedged my bets by establishing a long track record of failure…

7. Avoid losers. If you hear someone use the words ‘impossible’, ‘never’, ‘too difficult’ too often, drop him or her from your social network. Never take ‘no’ for an answer (conversely, take most ‘yeses’ as ‘most probably’).

Bit late for this advice given I am now inextricably linked to Alex M… he’s not really a loser but has exceptionally dodgy taste in music.

8. Don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip and, of course, profiles of authors). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants… or (again) parties.

I’ve talked about this before. Ironically this list came from the business section of The Times… a Black Swan perhaps?

9. Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet.

The central theme in Taleb’s book (Black Swan): success has a lot to do with luck. Do whatever you can to put yourself in its way. Luck is less likely to visit you in your bedroom while you’re watching dvds…

10. Answer e-mails from junior people before more senior ones. Junior people have further to go and tend to remember who slighted them.

Given his instantaneous reply to my mail I know exactly how junior Taleb thinks I am. To those of you that I haven’t written back to recently… it’s because you’re so important.

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Keepin’ it real

6 June 2008

Last night was the grand finale of the excellent gateway2investment (g2i) programme I have been attending over the past few weeks.

Snagsta was invited to pitch to a group of 50 or so investors at a very swanky venue on the banks of the river Thames called the Deck. (Thanks to Kirsten for the link to such an excellent Funky Venues site).

I used to love presenting to live audiences but developed a weird phobia a couple of years back which really dented my confidence. Coming to terms with that was tough for me; it wasn’t something I ever had to deal with before. After some soul searching I did eventually get myself back on track by experimenting with different presentation styles.

I tried writing everything out in long hand and reading it but that proved too stiff and uncomfortable. Based on the advice of a friend (that reprobate Marcus Spurrell) I then tried memorising it instead. This kind of worked but it still felt a bit too scripted.

I needed to find a style that suited me but I just wasn’t getting it. Phil showed me an amazing clip of Steve Ballmer of Microsoft fame going mental on stage. Bizarrely that really helped.

It seems to me that presenting isn’t really about what you say. It has far more to do with delivering your message in a natural style that fits your personality. Running around the stage screaming al la Steve Ballmer wouldn’t have worked for me but it strangely suited him!

Yesterday I went back to using cards with a few trigger words to help me keep things structured but natural. Although far from word perfect, I was really happy with how it went. If you’d like to check it out you can see the presentation here:

The lesson for me was: be yourself. People are much more likely to connect with someone who is genuine; and it’s also a lot easier than trying to be something you’re not!

Lastly, as always, I will finish with a list. This one comes from the Snagsta site and is entitled “9 Ways to Stand Out As A Conference or Tradeshow Speaker” from marketing guru Rohit Bhargava:

1. Have a simple theme

Speaking is not that much different from messaging a product or brand. You need to go in having a theme for what you will be talking about and a central message you want to leave people with. Focusing on what this message should be to best help you get value out of your appearance (without overtly pitching or being too “salesy”) is a necessity.

2. Fly solo

You can be part of a panel, moderate a panel, or have your own session. If you can pull it off, I highly recommend trying to get your own session. If you can create something memorable and engaging, the value of that appearance can go straight to you without being shared. In perception also, speakers who have their own sessions tend to be looked at by other attendees as the biggest experts.

3. Ditch the bullets, go visual

Before my presentation at SNC, I reread Garr Reynolds great book on presentations called Presentation Zen. I highly recommend picking it up as it has many wonderful lessons on how to create a stronger presentation. Chief among them is to use strong visuals and as little text as possible. And definitely ditch the bullet points.

4. Make your point quickly

Whether you have your own session or are part of a panel, this point is important to remember. Much of the “conversation” on these panels consists of repetition. The less you fall into this trap, the more people will respect and listen to you when you do speak.

5. Ask and take questions

Taking questions while you talk is a great way to involve the audience, and even better is to ask questions to help tailor your presentation. When I started my presentation about talkability at SNC, I asked who already had a social network and who was considering starting one to get a sense of the room. It helped me to tailor my examples and discussion to what would be more useful for the audience.

6. Talk last

Timing is another important element in standing out as a speaker, particularly when you are in a session with others. Speaking last about a point gives you the chance to offer a unique and considered point of view, and also gives you the benefit of hearing other’s points of view first. This is not about having the last word, but about having a chance to distill other’s voices and your own into a short point of view people will remember.

7. Offer to connect

Adding a URL to the end of your presentation or mentioning one in a presentation is one way of offering to connect, but it is self serving. Instead of doing that, I mentioned during my presentation that I love to try out new social networks and would be willing to try any new ones from people in the audience if they sent me an invite. That alone resulted in more than a few follow up emails from people, invites to Linked In, followers on Twitter and several Facebook friend requests.

8. Stick around

The biggest mistake many speakers make is to run out of an event right after they present. We are all busy, and it’s tough to afford to take an entire day out to speak and attend an event. If you need to skip the event, my advice is to skip the part before you speak. Sticking around after you speak is invaluable to give people a chance to connect with you. And if you don’t do it, what’s the point of being at the event anyway?

9. Stay real

The last point on my list of tips for standing out as a speaker has to do with ego. I’ve got one just like most bloggers and speakers out there. The challenge is not to let it get in the way of dealing authentically with people. Everyone has something to offer and whether they are trying to sell you something or are in a position to help you, staying real will pay off in the long term. By the way, related to point #8, nothing helps you stay more real than actually staying to watch another session beside the one you spoke at.

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