And the winner is…

19 May 2009

tagline

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!

minibar

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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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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Watching the river go by

25 April 2008

If you’re a regular reader of our humble blog, you may have noticed that we like rivers here at Snagsta. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Alex G’s theory about project management being a bit like white water rafting.

This week we’re picking up comments from recent blog posts from both Nic Brisbourne and Stowe Boyd about slower flowing rivers.

One of the reasons we set up Snagsta was to cut out clutter and help people deal with the perils of information overload. This is why Stowe’s concept of dealing with information such as feeds, news and status updates struck a cord with us here at Snagstaville.

Stowe likens this flow of data to a river of information. Instead of trying to intercept and process it all, he suggests only looking at it when you can and sample what is passing at any given moment.

He goes on to say that you shouldn’t waste time worrying about missing things because if anything’s really important it will be written about later and will therefore flow by again shortly.

Makes a lot of sense to me.

As always, we will sign off with a list. As this week’s topic is a peaceful one, I thought it appropriate that we showcase a complementary list about contentment from the wonderfully content Leo Babauta from Zen Habits.

Peaceful Simplicity: How to Live a Life of Contentment

1. What’s important. First, take a step back and think about what’s important to you. What do you really want to be doing, who do you want to spend your time with, what do you want to accomplish with your work? Make a short list of 4-5 things for your life, 4-5 people you want to spend time with, 4-5 things you’d like to accomplish at work.

2. Examine your commitments. A big part of the problem is that our lives are way too full. We can’t possibly do everything we have committed to doing, and we certainly can’t enjoy it if we’re trying to do everything. Accept that you can’t do everything, know that you want to do what’s important to you, and try to eliminate the commitments that aren’t as important.

3. Do less each day. Don’t fill your day up with things to do. You will end up rushing to do them all. If you normally try (and fail) to do 7-10 things, do 3 important ones instead (with 3 more smaller items to do if you get those three done). This will give you time to do what you need to do, and not rush.

4. Leave space between tasks or appointments. Another mistake is trying to schedule things back-to-back. This leaves no cushion in case things take longer than we planned (which they always do), and it also gives us a feeling of being rushed and stressed throughout the day. Instead, leave a good-sized gap between your appointments or tasks, allowing you to focus more on each one, and have a transition time between them.

5. Eliminate as much as possible from your to-do list. You can’t do everything on your to-do list. Even if you could, more things will come up. As much as you can, simplify your to-do list down to the essentials. This allows you to rush less and focus more on what’s important.

6. Now, slow down and enjoy every task. This is the most important tip in this article. Read it twice. Whatever you’re doing, whether it’s a work task or taking a shower or brushing your teeth or cooking dinner or driving to work, slow down. Try to enjoy whatever you’re doing. Try to pay attention, instead of thinking about other things. Be in the moment. This isn’t easy, as you will often forget. But find a way to remind yourself. Unless the task involves actual pain, there isn’t anything that can’t be enjoyable if you give it the proper attention.

7. Single-task. This is kind of a mantra of mine, as I talk about how to single-task all the time. But it’s an important point for me, and for this article. Do one thing at a time, and do it well.

8. Eat slower. This is just a more specific application of Tip #6, but it’s something we do every day, so it deserves special attention.

9. Drive slower. Another application of the same principle, driving is something we do that’s often mindless and rushed. Instead, slow down and enjoy the journey.

10. Eliminate stress. Find the stressors in your life, and find ways to eliminate them.

11. How and why to slow down. This is such an important point, that I’m going to point you to two other articles on this.

12. Create time for solitude. In addition to slowing down and enjoying the tasks we do, and doing less of them, it’s also important to just have some time to yourself.

13. Do nothing. Sometimes, it’s good to forget about doing things, and do nothing.

14. Sprinkle simple pleasures throughout your day. Knowing what your simple pleasures are, and putting a few of them in each day, can go a long way to making life more enjoyable.

15. Practice being present. You can practice being in the moment at any time during the day.

16. Find inspirations. Learn from the best.

17. Make frugality an enjoyable thing too. Instead of delayed gratification, try enjoying life now while saving for later.

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White water rafting

14 March 2008

Alex G made us laugh during one of our frequent Skype conference calls earlier today. We were catching up on the progress of our technical build and G who is acting at the build’s project manager was reflecting on the joys of his role. He told us that trying to lead the technical team through to launch was akin to trying to steer a raft down an enormous set of white water rapids.

As we now enter calmer waters and edge ever closer to our alpha launch we thought it might be a good time to share some of our key learnings of the project so far – in the form of a list (of course):

1. Work with people you have worked with before and like

2. Play to their strengths – people perform much better when they focus on the tasks they like doing

3. For key requirements hire full-time contractors

4. Reward your team on a deliverables basis

5. Factor in a contingency for production times. Then triple it

6. Let the team set specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound objectives

7. If you run in to problems, focus on solutions as a team – finger pointing and shouting achieves very little

8. Manage expectations – yes, it’s an old cliché but it’s also so important

9. Get the right balance of realism and optimism – this is never easy to do as an entrepreneur but vitally important

10. Exercise regularly – even if you’re busy and working hard to meet a deadline – there is no better way to get rid of stress

11. Lastly, take time out to laugh, even when things seem really, really bad

Not sure this is anything like a definitive list but it is perhaps a start of one I will later publish on Snagsta. If you’d like me to add anything I would appreciate suggestions – while you’re at it, a couple of tips for Mr. G on white water rafting would be welcome too!

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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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