Thursday, 24 December 2009
Thursday, 10 December 2009
I was lucky enough to finally make it to Le Web this year. It was in parts tedious, entertaining and inspiring.
Sponsors' speaking slots are inevitably best avoided. Microsoft and BT were both guilty of not having anything useful to say and should have kept out of the keynote room.
The platform discussion was equally dull. LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter all represented and none of them with anything particularly ground breaking or indeed enlightening to say.
What made it even more tedious was the underlying baiting of the man from MySpace for his tiny developer community. School playground stuff.
Hadn't seen Gary Vaynerchuk speak before and he certainly is a force. He took a while to get going but there was no stopping him at the end.
Paul Carr is an incorrigible smart-arse which was absolutely perfect for taming a panel of the 'best' of Europe. Some of his put-downs where first-rate.
'I've seen first-hand that Europeans can give birth to people' was a classic.
The start-up competition was probably the most interesting thing on day 1 and was some real insight into what the new breed of companies are working on. Especially relevant given some of the concepts and projects I'm forming at the moment.
I really liked Shutl as they seem to solve a problem, though not sure how well it will scale out of major metropolitan areas. Partly though I have a thing about the Internet being used to control and improve real things so this may have made me a little pre-disposed to liking it.
CloudSplit again solved a real problem in an elegant way though really represent a feature for the Amazon Web Services offering at the moment. Will be interesting to see how they expand out to help you manage other cloud providers.
RunKeeper I think has big potential but I'm not quite sure they quite see it yet.
We've just been working through defining our Vision, Mission and Values at Esendex and I felt we were not quite finished. After Tony's talk I think there is a lot further to go.
Also in the keynote room it was great to see France's Internet Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet demonstrating that the French, and indeed Spanish, governments are putting real money and infrastructure investment into supporting the development of a technology industry in Europe. Please take note UK government.
It was a great Le Web. Very professionally put together, great speakers, fantastic WiFi and great food.
If there is one recommendation I'd make it is that you make more of the Deep Dive, Startup Competition room content. There was some real value to be had in there and it worked well against the big keynote format.
When I look at my notes from the last couple of days, they're all about things I want to do, ideas to explore and books to read. So it can't have been too bad.
Hope to be back next year.
Monday, 30 November 2009
I put this video together from our Beeston Cycling Club trip to the Manchester Velodrome.
It was an absolute blast. Can't wait to go again. The banking is very steep, 42 degrees, but really not that scary once you get on to it.
It was also great value. We had dedicated use of the track with a coach for 2 hours. For 16 of us this came to £23.50 each including bike hire.
I just hope the indoor velodrome in Leicester gets the go ahead. Beeston CC may end up with a track team yet.
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Mrs B and I were lucky enough to go to the Eat Japan Sushi Awards over the weekend.
We had a great time, ate some amazing, truly world-class, food and made good use of the complimentary sake and beer.
There were seven chefs from seven different countries, all with a very different approach to the challenge.
The Czech entrant made a 'cute sexy hedgehog for pregnant ladies'. The US entrant had infused his with soil and the Italian entrant had used only Italian ingredients, even the rice.
The event was ultimately won by Tomoyuki Abe of Japan. This wasn't the foregone conclusion it may sound like. All entries where truly amazing but his salmon nigri was utterly sublime and he was a thoroughly deserving winner.
The great thing about the event was that we, the attendees, got to vote for the winner, which meant we had to taste all of their dishes. I actually plumped for the British entry as I felt his entry really worked well together but Mrs B, being Mrs B, voted for the eventual winner.
I guess I have to concede she has impeccable taste in many things ;)
Part of the evening involved a maki (sushi roll) making demonstration and then competition open to a couple of members of the audience.
I was one of those members and emerged victorious, though I had an awful lot of help from my appointed sushi-master. Video below.
Unfortunately, in my sake-fuelled joy I ended up hugging him, I then remembered the Japanese aren't big on the whole body contact thing.
Guess that career with the UN is on hold for a while.
Sunday, 15 November 2009
Currently in the midst of base-training which for cycling means lot's of long rides at a pace within yourself to lay the platform for the real improvements later on.
On these rides you're constantly monitoring your heart rate, power output or pace to make sure that you're operating at the correct level.
The problem is it can get rather dull.
I had a couple of hours this afternoon that started out as another Zone 2 'endurance' but I pushed it a little more into Zone 3 'tempo' as I was short of the normal 3-5 hours we normally cycle at this time of year.
By the end I'd ditched watching what I should have been doing and just rode as I felt.
It felt brilliant.
Still not up to the pace I was before my crash but it did show me that the base training is having an effect.
I'll return to it on the next ride with renewed motivation.
When you're wrapped up in training plans, it's easy to forget that the reason you ride in the first place is because you enjoy it.
Friday, 13 November 2009
Finally got round to getting this up on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKfaNX4e8tk). Unfortunately I ended up with the obvious use of ELO, Mr Blue Sky as Super Furry Animals, Hello Sunshine wasn't allowed because its WMG copyright.
Vimeo doesn't have that kind of restriction so here is the original Director's Cut.
Thursday, 12 November 2009
I've been wrestling with how to get some notion of backed-up source control for my Visual Studio projects that don't warrant going into the Esendex Team Foundation Server.
Didn't want them to be open source so code.google.com, codeplex.com, etc were all out and I didn't want to pay any money for a secure service.
Here's what I came up with.
Firstly I discovered that OSX ships with and SVN server, very handy. I followed this link to set it up: http://www.martellventures.com/blog/files/544f828ced9567b46fc92006af524d16-24.php.
With SVN running locally on the Mac, I could then rely Time Machine to make sure my source code was backed up.
Then downloaded the Ankh SVN plugin for Visual Studio so I could use and SVN repository.
So far so good, but then how to access the SVN repository. My virtual machine connects to the network independently so I had no consistent way of knowing the IP or hostname that I would need to browse to.
The answer: Bonjour for Windows. Installed that on the Windows Virtual Machine and bingo I can use the advertised machine name of my mac with the .local suffix to access the SVN, no matter what network I'm on.
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
I bought this book a while ago after a reference on a blog somewhere. I never got round to reading it but it was referred to during a course Julian and I were on at the University of Nottingham as part of the EMDA High Growth Program.
I steeled myself for the read and it was entertaining and thought provoking in pretty much equal measure but I had to push myself through to the end of Part One.
The key chapters for me came in the Part Two. 'Reconstruct Market Boundaries' and 'Get The Strategic Sequence Right' represented the meat of the book. They actually provided something to action.
Was it useful to me? The jury's out on that really. I was up for a good session building the Esendex strategy canvas and looking for where we should be going next. What happened was I ended up post-rationalising our strategic decisions into the various elements of the Blue Ocean Strategy.
Which leaves me with a question. Is this book just documenting the process entrepreneurs like me go through anyway or am I missing the point and using it to praise myself by validating the conclusions I've come to.
The notion of a strategy canvas is great but it's something that is easy to dress-up in hindsight. Emphasise the elements of the business that worked, gloss over the elements that ended up being ill-advised. The businesses that are featured in the examples are undoubtedly success stories but does the strategy canvas tell the whole story?
It would be wrong for me to say reading this book wasn't useful but it wasn't the seminal experience I think I was probably hoping for.
Thursday, 4 June 2009
As many of you will know, I've been pretty down on my experiences with Business Link. Well, this may be about to be consigned to history.
It was suggested we speak to Business Link as the gateway to a host of services and, in truth a little grudglingly, we did.
One meeting on and we're wiser to some relevant grants and services and action is being taken to help us.
I understand there's been a big shake up of Business Link in the East Midlands and if these recent experiences are anything to go by it seems to have done something approaching the trick.
Will keep you posted but if it is as it now appears, maybe the government has provide the help needed for us to trade our way out of this recession.
Friday, 29 May 2009
Running the web site for Beeston Cycling Club has been a real eye-opener as to the crap that stands in the way of legitimate use of the Internet.
We run the site with a Wordpress blog at it's heart. Allowing our members to post and comment on rides, events and anything that takes their fancy, sadly it was thigh diameter last night, is key part of what makes our club different.
Problem is the couple of us that administer the site have to deal with pages and pages of spam comments.
Link building detritus that I'm amazed if it serves any purpose other than to keep several thousand Internet Cafe users the world over meagrely employed.
I guess this is what it was like during the Victorian era in Britain. Rich people able to pay others to mask them from the abject poverty and open sewers running in the streets. Anyone trying to work their way up, beset on all sides by scum.
Ain't progress brilliant.
Monday, 18 May 2009
A healthy stats obsession is no bad thing when running a business. Measurement, metrics, feedback, refine is all part of the rhythm of improvement.
The great thing about our stats is that they also give us a view on the economy in each of our markets. Our focus on business messaging and the size of our customer base means we see, first-hand, how busy an economy is.
Our traffic reflects the pace of business. The number of grocery deliveries, new furniture purchases, broadband installations, car sales and a whole host of other business transactions.
So, what's the news?
Business is looking good. I'm no economist but based on what I'm seeing, maybe this is a V shaped recession afterall.
Wednesday, 13 May 2009
The start-up pitch competition was a new format for the evening and we had some great judges and great companies pitching but the audience wasn't the usual crowd.
As @alanodea said to me, he'd told Tadhg (a Nott Tuesday first timer) that this wasn't what it was usually like.
My vision for Nott Tuesday was that geeks and business could co-exist. Sharing ideas, discussing issues and seeing what opportunities materialise was what I hoped people would be doing.
The dirth of geeks at last night's event has made me wonder whether this is a) acheivable or even b) something that people want.
I feel Nott Tuesday is at a crossroads. I desperately don't want it to become just another business networking event for entrepreneurs to sniff each other's arses. I've no interest in committing my time to something like that.
So was last night just an aberration? Am I reading to much into it? Where do we take this thing?
Saturday, 25 April 2009
I travelled through Changi airport in Singapore at the weekend and naturally tweeted about it. Next thing I know I get an email from twitter telling me that the Singapore Democrats were following me.
What a load of mistargetted nonsense. I'm not a fan of auto-follows at the best of times but this has got to be up there as one of the worst.
Wednesday, 22 April 2009
The focus of Web 2.0 this year was the power of less. While there was definitely a feeling that nothing really new was happening in the industry, a couple of talks I attended focusing on optimisation of your business were probably the highlights of the event for me.
He espoused the virtues of measurement, feedback loops and iterative, agile development. All music to my ears and things we're doing and continue to improve on at Esendex.
What really got me thinking though was the notion of A/B testing of application features and measure how that translates into improving your businesses KPIs (key performance indicators).
To date I had considered A/B testing to be the domain of web sites, try different graphics, messages, calls to action, processes, etc and measure the goal completion percentages.
We're deep into building the new version of our new application at Esendex and we're making important decisions about the functionality and features we're going to make available.
The problem is those decisions are pretty much based on opinion rather than any objective measure. While we think they're a good idea, it remains to be seen whether our customers find them useful.
There is a certain amount of inspiration required and going with our gut instinct. Innovation generally involves a step change after all. As Henry Ford famously said:
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
But, if we take the leap and put the feature out there, wouldn't it be good to know if it gave the desired results. We need to be able to measure a) whether people use it and b) whether not it had the desired effect.
Outcomes in the web analytics world are generally fairly well defined. A site visitor bought something, registered on the site or, in our case, signed up for a trial.
The desired outcome of introducing a feature could be more grey. Outcomes are very likely not to contribute directly to one of our KPIs. The path to KPI improvement will probably be circuitous and require a degree of assumption but at each step we should be testing the hypothesis.
Often we'll be introducing a feature because we believe that it will improve on of our KPIs but that could just be by offering something other services don't, encouraging people to sign up with us rather than someone else.
In this case we will need to measure an indirect outcome until such time as we enough of a population to then measure more directly against our KPIs.
Very much more art than science.
I'm very much working this through at the moment. We're adding feature measurement into the beta product we're launching in May and I'm looking forward to using this process to improve the product in the direction our customers want.
I'll report back.
Sunday, 5 April 2009
Steve is an uber-geek. He has a passion for web-site performance like few others. He tirelessly investigates, tests, hypothesises, tests those hypotheses, and, importantly reports back to the rest of us.
His passion, and most importantly, the fact that he shares his results with all of us is something we should all be thankful for.
As developers we get adulation for building faster, more responsive and thus more usable web sites.
As web site users, we get a rich, responsive experience that does what we want quickly.
So all hail uber-geek and thank you to you all.
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
I've just been at an establishment trying to buy something, doesn't matter which one, and had dreadful service. My immediate thought:
I'll tweet about this, that'll show them
What a load of passive-aggressive nonsense.
Tweeting, blogging and the rest allow us to whinge about bad service without having to face up to the people we're whinging about. In fact they encourage it.
I find myself standing there, working myself up into a disgruntled fury, safe in the knowledge that I can explode onto twitter and receive reassuring affirmation that I'm justified in feeling so insulted.
If I'm having bad service I should challenge the person there and then. Politely, calmly, assertively but then, when it's happening to the person who is exacting this distress upon me.
A friend recently tweeted about losing a bit of his soul in Carphone Warehouse, within seconds someone had @ replied to him asking him what was wrong.
Excellent, my friend thought, he asked them for an email address he could send a more detailed description of his issue to, it would have stretched way past 140 characters, and...nothing.
He asked again...nothing.
So Carphone Warehouse engagement 10/10, follow though 0/10.
Actually, while I'm having a twitter rant, auto follow and tracking really annoy me as well. I actually find it quite intimidating. I'm find myself getting nervous about mentioning any company in case they start following (stalking) me.
I mentioned about taking my iPhone unto CPW for a repair, seconds later 'Hi I'm Justin and i work for CPW....blah, blah'.
I mentioned the Beastie Boys this morning in a tweet. Next thing I know the Beastie Boys are following me. Their account following 8,000, 1 update, a link to their web site. Nonsense.
Leave me alone!
I like a lot about twitter but a lot of the content is starting to devalue the core proposition for me.
It's crossroads time for twitter. It's in danger of becoming the domain of celebrities and 'engaging' companies and not a place I want to inhabit.
I had the pleasure last week of being invited to address the Nottingham University Student Venture Challenge awards.
My talk 'Being an Entrepreneur' took a fairly candid whizz through my story from graduating Nottingham University in 1997 to the success I now enjoy leading Esendex.
I included a few warts. My audience were just starting their entrepreneurlal journeys, hopefully some of my experiences and thoughts would be useful.
The evening was the culmination of many months of work by the student business teams, judges, mentors and the Nottingham University Business School team.
As I had arrived at the end of the process, I only got to hear the 3 minute elevator pitches from the 5 finalists. All sounded like promising propositions and I was left thinking that I wished I'd been involved in the judging, seen the full pitches and delved into the young entrepreneur's minds to learn more.
The winner was Andrew Webber with Sonix Media, his venture to provide a new software approach to learning a musical instrument. The other finalist that caught my eye was Alejandro Macedo with bGrantez a service to manage student placements in Spain.
What I liked about these in particular was not only were they both innovative, applying a new solution to an existing problem, but they were both obviously actually in progress.
Andrew had a working demo of his solution that demonstrated his unique approach. Alejandro was actually building the web site that was to be the hub of his service.
I've lost count of the number of people who I've met who have written a business plan about an idea and stopped their. Waiting for someone to confirm that it's a good idea by giving them the money they need to try it out.
So I wish Andrew, Alejandro and all the other finalists the best of luck with their ventures and thank Dan Edge and his team for the opportunity to speak.
I've included the slideshow below to give you a flavour of what I talked about.
I heard something rather worrying yesterday. It seems that some mobile network operators are taking SMS messages to virtual mobile numbers out of bundle.
This means that when someone sends an SMS to a virtual mobile number instead of being deducted from the SMS allowance that comes with their contract, the message is billed on top.
This is not the same as operators charging SMS messages to virtual mobile numbers that look like UK numbers but are actually hosted off-shore, like Tyn-Tec's Isle of Man number range. This is apparently happening to UK mainland numbers from Vodafone, Orange, etc.
This is crazy and very short-sighted, but unfortunately typical.
Over the years ay Esendex we have time and time again convinced our customers to use Virtual Mobile Numbers when communication with their customers via SMS.
Just broadcast to customers and you might as well be shouting at them. Give customers a reply path and you are interacting.
Where virtual mobile numbers differ from shortcodes is that as far as the recipient is concerned they are just like any other mobile number, and, importantly, SMS to them are billed liked any other mobile number.
This means there is very little resistance from the customers to interact. The messages are essentially free and more interaction occurs.
I don't understand why an operator would stand in the way of this.
Interaction = more engaged subscribers = more messages = plan upgrades = higher ARPU
Isn't that how it works?
I've had some brief interactions with operator interconnect teams and based on these experiences I suspect this is where this 'initiative' originated.
There is very much a sense of 'we're not doing it so we're going to do our damndest to spoil it for everyone else', like a petulant school child.
Am I wrong?
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Slightly more successful this week. Stayed with the leading bunch pretty much all the way.
Fast and furious at times. Cornering literally shoulder to shoulder with other riders at speed was a real buzz.
When I got to 10 laps to go I was confident that I would finish with the pack and really started to enjoy myself.
I experimented with different positions in the pack, different lines round corners and straights and was planning to be somewhere near the front when the final sprints kicked in. Not to join them, I hasten to add, just to get a view on what happened and how more experienced riders got themselves ready.
Unfortunately I was caught the wrong side of a crash on the final lap. Nasty one, we were travelling at around 35mph at the time. I ran out of road to navigate round it and my race was over.
Absolutely hooked, training hard now and maybe, just maybe I'll trouble the leaders in a few races time.
Found this picture of me in action http://www.veloriders.co.uk/gal/album60/IMG_0523
Sunday, 15 March 2009
I took a step into the unknown this weekend and competed in my first bike race. A 22 lap criterium at Darley Moor Motor Racing Circuit, near Ashbourne, Derbs.
Armed with my new British Cycling race licence I joined over a 100 other cyclists all gunning for the top ten positions where national ranking points were available.
I didn't trouble the leaders.
Wednesday, 25 February 2009
A link to this is on the front page of my iPhone. The weather for the next 24 hours in Nottingham from the BBC.
Being a cycle commuter, I'm probably a little obsessed by whether it looks like rain or not but this is dead useful.
Simple, clean access to the information I want when I'm on the move. That's what mobile services should be about.
We are at the dawn of a new technology era. Search is dead, arise the era of being found.
Twitter is big news at the moment, celebrities seem to be falling over themselves to establish a presence, national news agencies are running stories on the power of the medium, even my non-geek mates are signing up.
Much of the discussion centres around the usefulness or not of twitter. "Where's the ROI?" scream the business people and cynics, "it's just a fad", "it'll be dead by next year".
It's true that it can draw you in and you can suddenly find yourself one hour older and not necessarily wiser however the same can be said for the Internet in general.
I signed up for twitter in late 2007 but only really started actively using it in the summer of 2008. It took leaping in feet first to really understand the power of what I was tapping into.
I have been blown away by the useful connections that I and my colleagues at Esendex are making. For example:
Jonathan (@jbjon) and Darren (@darrenliddell) have been doing some R&D that led them to investigate some of the Google APIs. Jonathan tweeted about his experiences and was contacted by someone from Google pointing him in the direction of some new test APIs that would help.
The chances of Jonathan & Darren finding these APIs via searching were remote, not least because they didn't know they existed. The important difference with this new paradigm is that the information came and found them.
It's like walking into a library and the books knowing what you want to read about without your rummaging through the shelves.
Don't get me wrong, I like a good rummage and you still need to do the good old manual trawl through Google to find most things. What twitter brings is those serendipitous moments that enhance your life. Another example
I follow @charlesarthur, Technology Editor at the Guardian, as I'm interested in his take on the technology stories of the day. He tweeted about catching up on the The Wire, I'm doing the same and @ replied about a particular scene I thought was brilliant.
A small interchange ensued in which he suggested a book I should read by the writer David Simon. Now Charles actually got the title wrong, but no problem, Gary Marshall who also follows Charles saw this and tweeted me with the correct one.
Gary and I then had an exchange about David Peace books, he hadn't yet read The Damned Utd, so I was able to recommend it to him.
None of us are friends, despite what twitter says, but for the that moment we were able to share a common interest that enriched our lives.
This would not have happened otherwise.
Yes, technologically twitter is nothing new and since the early days of networks we've had ways to share snippets of information. Twitter however has captured the imaginations of enough people to make it useful.
How it's done this, through luck, celebrity endorsement, who knows. But whatever the magic sauce or confluence of factors it is enriching our lives and that should be applauded.
Monday, 16 February 2009
I like SpinVox, I think its core voice mail service is excellent and probably how excellent it is the reason why I find it so infuriating when I'm prevented from using it.
It seems to have developed this annoying habit of turning off conversion, ie just acting like a normal voice mail service. I didn't even know this was an option.
I've posted before about how infuriating I found their IVR interface, well it has improved but not enough for me to pay a monthly fee, as I do, to have my voice mails converted to text messages.
Today's tale of woe started with me forgetting my phone. Not a biggy as I was office based today so I could just wait for the messages to arrive as emails.
+44xxxxxxxxxx Just left you a voice message that you need to listen to and conversion is off.
So I go to the web site to see about turning it back on and am greeted with the most astonishing home page 'upgrade' I've ever scene. 6MB of marketing masturbation culminating with an impenetrable home page that took me ages to discover where I needed to sign in.
Finally get there and discover that Firefox hasn't remembered my PIN from last time. Bit of a pain that I haven't got my phone but no problem I called home and clicked the forgotten PIN link as the phone was ringing.
It didn't work.
Not only didn't work it didn't tell me it didn't work it just did nothing. No feedback, nothing. So I hang up the phone, count to 10 and fire off an email to email@example.com.
This was at 11:48, I've still not heard anything.
I was sharing my woes with the people of twitter and agreed with @whatelydude to be patient, but my patience has worn thin. Poor guy was earning his social media dollar today with the majority of twitterers coming out against the new SpinVox home page.
Finally I got home around half six to my phone and called the IVR service but apparently there were no new messages! Seems that the messages I'd been notified about had been marked as read and I would need to trawl through all my messages in order to get to the new ones.
I pay for this service.
It's just crazy that a company having raised $200M can have such an abysmal web interface to it's service. Let alone the random switching off of the functionality that makes it useful.
So SpinVox, the next time you get carried away with a funky new way to brand your service just syphon off a few of those dollars into the core service development team's budget.
Focus on making your service work and put the crayons away for a while.
Contact by a product manager instead of customer service who saw my twitter comments. Who arrange for customer service to call me.
Turns out that the switch off conversion is a billing issue. They're taking the money from my card but something's failing passing that to my account. They've given me a complimentary account for the moment until they can find what the problem is.
It's just a shame a Product Manager had to come to my aid rather than the customer service team who I emailed.
Are SpinVox drinking a bit too much social media kool-ade and not concentrating on the basics?
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
Wednesday, 7 January 2009
This year will mark 15 years in Nottingham for me, all of them working in technology in one capacity or another. I worked for local companies in the early days and the last 11 have been spent running technology businesses.
Like many people in tech I follow the exploits of the Silicon Valley and London tech scenes with a sense detached interest. Interesting to hear what's going on but with knowledge that I will never really be part of it. A 3.5 hour total train trip to London costing north of £100 makes it hard to justify 'popping' along to tonight's networking event.
In the last 15 years I've met very few people who work in the tech sector in Nottingham, mostly just the people I've employed. I know they're out there but there is no forum for us to meet, discuss and help each other, and Nottingham, be successful.
Yes there are networking events around but these are primarily generalist, allowing small business owners to connect and sell services to each other. Great, but not really a forum for discussing the specific challenges and opportunities facing the tech sector.
So I give you Nott Tuesday, my attempt at invigorating the Nottingham Tech Scene.
The plan is to meet on the second Tuesday of each month in a bar in central Nottingham. The invitation is open to anyone working in the technology sector in/around Nottingham. Developers, entrepreneurs, investors, web designers, online marketeers, all are welcome.
I'm going to have a go at organising sponsors, speakers, etc. First time I've done this so I'd welcome any support/advice. Not sure what I'll be able get for the first event, suspect we might need to demonstrate a few successful meet-ups first.