We all live on the Snagsta Submarine

6 May 2010

It’s time we re-surfaced and explained ourselves…

Things have been a little quiet on the Snagsta front for some time now. Our anticipated rise to Facebook/Google challenger status hasn’t come to pass. Yet. Mostly, I like to blame Alex for this, but I guess the volcanic ash must shoulder some of the responsibility, and I’ve also started walking on the cracks in the pavement again which doesn”t help.

In truth it’s a combination of things:

1. The product has design flaws. The product does not match our idea the way it should. The site design has significant flaws – e.g. there’s no tagline explaining what it does!

2. We haven’t been good at iterating. By that I mean we haven’t converted all the really useful feedback into product design tweaks. There is a quote somewhere that mentions that all successful businesses have completely overhauled their business model or product at least 6 times before it worked. Contrary to popular belief, the iPod took forever to take off. You have to do this quickly and regularly. We haven’t. Eric Ries waxes lyrical on this stuff.

3. We’re working part-time. Living in London aint cheap. Alex got so hungry he started a restaurant chain – Rosa’s. Actually, his exceptionally talented wife is the brains and chef behind the Rosa’s (there is a very good chance Alex will bring you the bill though!).

I am sure there are more reasons – with start-ups there always are – but I just wanted to get in touch again to let you all know we’re still afloat, still tweaking things, quitely conspiring to find a way to turn periscope ripples into waves.

It’s not quite ‘Full Steam Ahead, Mr Barkley’ but at least our submarine hasn’t cost as much as Trident!


And the winner is…

19 May 2009


A little while ago we ran a tagline contest for Snagsta. Those of you that have popped by the site recently will have noticed (hopefully!) that our new tagline is ‘Your Favourite Things. Sorted.’

We’ve picked up a few valuable lessons getting there.

1. Say what you do

“Help’s you find the things Google can’t” didn’t really explain that Snagsta involved lists. It got us a lot of attention because it took on Google and because we put it out there with fun chalkboard presentation. What’s more important when you’re launching a new product is to get across what’s it’s about as quickly as possible.

2. Be careful of the big claim

Manage expections. Overpromising gets punished. Wikia’s crowdsourced search engine got a hammering when they first launched. They then admitted it would take years to fill in the gaps. But by then they’d lost the initiative. For the same reason we abandoned the search angle …and the challenge to Google. Google is our friend. The reality is that is how people find our stuff.

3. Be singleminded

We tried to be a list site and a recommendation engine at the same time. While you might think your business solves many problems simultaneously, as a marketing message this simply doesn’t work. In the milliseconds you have to make an impression… make exactly that. One impression. You can’t make three. Not when your audience has a twitter-esque attention span.

But enough pontificating, now the big moment, the winner is… Lesley, with her edgy play on words, or in this case, word: ‘Sorted’.

The finished article – ‘Your Favourite Things. Sorted.’ – is actually a combination of two of the suggestions in the comments: my brother Dave came up with ‘Your Favourite Things.’  But because Dave is helping us with other bits of the site and we don’t want red wine haze to affect his work we have decided to buy him a bottle of mineral water instead.

Lastly, thank you to all of you who suggested ideas. If we could buy you all bottles of wine we would!

Sticking it to them at MiniBar

29 August 2008

Last Friday Alex M and I demo-ed Snagsta at MiniBar (London’s pre-eminent monthly Internet networking event – is that what I was supposed to say Christian?).

It’s a tough place to present. Being a Friday night the audience tend to neck the free beer and will happily chat throughout your pitch (no, we weren’t being boring!). So we thought a little audience participation to demonstrate elements of the Snagsta algorithm might do the trick. We used a series of questions (and lots of coloured stickers) to establish people who had similar tastes. We then asked the folks with the same stickers to suggest books or restaurants to each other and see if they were of interest. I am not sure we quite pulled it off but from the photo I think you can tell we had a lot of fun doing it!


Here’s our interview afterwards with Hermione Way of Newspepper fame and her overview of the night.

Today’s list was inspired by Fabio De Bernardi, a good friend and the co-founder of Veedow, a social shopping site that recommends products in line with your own interests and taste. (Fabio is a surprisingly bad dresser for an Italian… I guess that’s why he started Veedow!)

London’s best Internet networking events according to my esteemed co-founder, Alex M:

1. DrinkTank

This one was set up fairly recently from the nice people at Huddle. Unlike other events they are fairly selective about the guest list. The last one I attended was very full, a lot of fun and good for business. No presentations or long speeches – just lots of beer and conversations.

2. MiniBar

One of the more informal gatherings on the circuit. Noisy and sometimes difficult to hear what the presenting companies are saying but still worth the trip to this wonderful part of East London. I have met some great people at this one.

3. Second Chance Tuesday

These happen infrequently but are excellent. The auditorium where it’s held (The Royal College of Physicians near Regent’s Park) is a great place to actually hear what the speakers are saying. The networking sessions both before and after the interviews in the library is also very well attended.

One of my favourite events – they should hold them more regularly.

4. Chinwag

The best name of any event by far and run by the amiable duo Sam Michel and Deirdre Molloy. This is another panel discussion event so most of the networking is at the end. The topics discussed are always well thought out but the event can be a little hit or miss depending on the quality of the panel members.

5. Mashup*Event

This is a more formal sit-down-and-listen-to-expert type event. I have only been once but learned a lot. The one minute pitches at the end of panel session are fun to watch.

6. Open Coffee

Inspired by Saul Klein and the insightful folks at Seedcamp. Takes place every Thursday in West London. I have been 4-5 times and have met a wide variety of people each time. It’s a good place for those who are thinking about taking a leap and becoming an entrepreneur as it’s a rich environment to test out your idea on other people.

7. Imperial entrepreneurs

I haven’t been to this one yet but my business partner Phil has been to a couple of these and has seen some excellent speakers present. Student run so takes a long summer break each year.

8. Facebook Developer Garage London

I went to one of these a few months ago. Not an event I would rush back to but useful if you’re a developer looking to network with potential clients looking to build applications.

9. Social Media Café

I haven’t been to this yet but I plan to get there soon – we’ve heard good things about it.

10. Bootlaw

AKA ‘the Danvers and Barry show’ in reverence to Danvers Baillieu and Barry Vitou of the law firm Winston & Strawn. Have yet to attend but it looks like it could be a very useful event for online startups to pick up some free legal advice and meet lots of other fellow entrepreneurs.

Have a great weekend.


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Chasing the Dragon

11 July 2008

TechCrunch Pitch

We chalked up a major milestone this week and replaced our blackboard pre-alpha site with the real thing. Chalk you can rub out but now we’re committed. We’ve only given access to a handful of people so far – we want to spend a week or two tarting ourselves up first. Because you’re worth it.

The other really exciting news is that we were selected ahead of several startups across Europe to present at Mike Butcher‘s inaugural TechCrunch Pitch event last night. The event was hosted in St Anne’s Church in Soho – a misleadingly peaceful venue considering the somewhat hostile audience that included the likes of Doug Richard (ex Dragon’s Den) cast in the Simon Cowell role, London’s top VC’s (DFJ Esprit, Atlas Ventures, Balderton Capital, etc) and some other interesting people like the co-founder of Bebo, Paul Birch (who has incidentally shared his list of favourite business books with Snagsta).

Alex M and I met some really cool entrepreneurs and investors. It was a great night despite the fact that we didn’t win Mr. Butcher’s contest. That honour went to Raphael Arbuz’s fun site: WhatZatSong.

Jan Andresen from weblin, who travelled all the way from Hamburg, stood his ground impressively despite the roasting Doug gave him.

Evgeny Shadchnev has started a great community site for scientists called Kappa Prime.

We met Jay Adair whose business connects his two great passions: photography and motorbikes.

And also Alfie Dennen from moblog, an awesome site that puts mobile video & photos on the web in one easy step, who managed to capture our presentation (be warned the phone video is a little jumpy – but then so was I!).

Today’s list comes from Mike. Concerned by the fact that some start-ups struggle to get their point across, he set up this event to strip things back to basics and get startups to answer the following fundamental questions in just 10 slides (and only 5 minutes!):

  1. Problem: what is the market pain, size and how are you measuring it?
  2. Your solution: You have opportunity to be “the Google/eBay/Skype/iPhone etc of what”?
  3. Business model (and potential for revenues)
  4. Underlying magic: Technology / What you are trying to build: how much and for how long?
  5. Marketing and sales: How will you get distribution?
  6. Market: Drivers & dynamics / Your positioning and sustainable advantages
  7. Competition
  8. Team
  9. Milestones so far and projections
  10. Funding requirement & potential exit routes

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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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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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