Sunday, 21 December 2008

Georgia and the Dragons!!

Dragon's Den – Northern Startups 2.0

OK guys this blog post is gonna be the quickest ever as I am rushing around madly preparing for the festivities and racing around at work trying to hit numerous end of year deadlines! I am sure many of you know exactly where I am coming from!!

However, I just couldn't let the opportunity pass without telling you all about my recent success!! December's Northern Startup 2.0 event took the form of a Dragon's Den style pitch, with eight startup companies each presenting a five minute pitch and fielding questions from a panel of three Dragons.

These early stage companies provided the Dragons with some great opportunities to invest and my favourites on the night included:

  • Locally Compared: a local listings directory with inbuilt functionality for businesses to upload and associate adverts and special offers with their website listing and the ability to build a contacts list and email potential consumers with latest news and offers.
  • Talent on View: a service aimed at the HR and recruitment industry, providing candidates with the opportunity to upload a virtual/video interview of themselves. The videos are designed to support the recruitment agency in providing the employer with the best possible candidates for the role, without the expense and resource of meeting every single person.
  • Instant Ticket Seller: a hosted system for small and medium sized visitor attractions to upload ticket allocations for sale on their own website or through affiliate websites.

For more information about these companies and the others pitching on the night visit

http://www.nwstartup20.co.uk/event/northern-dragons-den.

Of course, PhoneFromHere.com were one of the companies pitching on the night! I was second up and pretty nervous, but glad I didn't need to wait any longer. Presenting is not something I enjoy hugely and the nerves always get the better of me regardless of how thoroughly I have prepared. I have to admit that I basically read my pitch from prompt cards, which I know is not as effective as a more natural presentation, where you just talk around each slide in the pack. However, the one and only time I attempted that technique I was so nervous that when I finally got to the stage I found that I couldn't even remember my own name!!! So, my technique may not have been as charismatic as some of others, but it did have at least one advantage, my presentation was one of the few that ran pretty much to time, thus ensuring that I didn't miss or skip any important points due to running over on time.

So what makes a good pitch, well I think you have to be careful to consider your audience, i.e. who the presentation is aimed at and the amount of time you have to get your point across. In my pitch I identified the opportunity in the market, described the PhoneFromHere.com service focusing on the benefits to the Web user, Website owner and the resellers, rather than the features of the technology. I identified the competition and explained how the PhoneFromHere.com service is different and can add even more value than the competition. I discussed our proposed approach to market and how the revenue flows between all the parties involved. Lastly I detailed our aspirations for the business and explained to the Dragons what we needed from them.

At the moment we are not actually looking for financial investment, we feel that due to the current economic climate that now is not the right time to be look for investment. Therefore we have decided to 'bootstrap' the business and focus on developing a user/customer curve, in order to achieve this we will need as much help as possible and so we have joined the NWDA High Growth Programme, we have secured NWDA Innovation Vouchers and we are also part of the Knowledge 2 Innovate scheme. With this type of help and other support, specifically in the areas of sales and marketing we will be able to take the PhoneFromHere.com service to market. Once we have succeed in proving the business model and the market, we will then be in a stronger position to take a significant financial investment, if required, to grow the business more rapidly.

So, I ploughed through my pitch which I knew was pretty clear and concise even if it wasn't the most dynamically presented. Next came the Q&A! The Dragons on the night included:

  • Roy Shelton – Dropjaw Ventures
  • Paul Barraclough – Tech Mentor
  • Andrew Burton – Viking Fund

They asked some pretty tough questions, primarily they were interested to hear whether the PhoneFromHere.com service was really ready to be rolled out to the mass market. I explained that we had already carried out significant technology testing using the open APIs of the social media websites Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. These websites provided us with the opportunity to test our technology against larger volumes of users, unfortunately however the users of these sites generally expect web services to be free of charge, making it difficult to test our business model. Therefore the next stage was to obtain some early stage customers, these have tended to be startup companies like ourselves, young agile organisations in a position to be able to try new things. However, because these companies are themselves newly established they tend to have small volumes of users and therefore do not generate noticeable revenues. PhoneFromHere.com are now ready to launch to the market on a larger scale and because our business model relies on large numbers of users we intend to approach the market via reseller channels, this will enable us to grow more quickly than would be possible through direct selling alone.

The Dragons also wanted to know about the scalability of the business, I explained that we are able to scale the business as demand for the service increases. This is possible as the business model is not reliant on an increasing human resource, however we will need to rent servers, buy bandwidth and telephony minutes and since these are all commodities, we are in a position to buy them as and when we need them and at the best available price. This means that we do not need to invest in setting up expensive infrastructure prior to generating revenues, but simply buy in the resource we need to support the customers we have, when and where we have them.

Finally the Dragons seemed satisfied and the questioning was over... I was free to return to my seat!

At the end of the evening, after all eight of the companies had pitched, the audience and Dragons the voted (by a show of hands) for the best pitch of the night and ... I WON!!! I can hardly believe it but it is true and even better than the excitement of victory itself we won a FANTASTIC prize package that will really help me in getting the first reseller channel off the ground at the beginning of 2009! Brilliant!

Thanks so much to the following people and organizations for the fantastic prize package, in a future blog post I will talk about how we used the prize to develop the PhoneFromHere.com business.

  • ThinSpace – 5 thin clients
  • Roy Shelton – half a days consultancy + £1,000 worth of advertising on Next2Friends.com
  • Aaron Partners – half a days legal advice
  • The Lever – half a days consultancy on marketing and communications stratergy
  • eOffice - £1,000 worth of services and meeting space

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Northern Startups October '08

Wow, where has the past month gone!!!?? Last month I attended an excellent Northern Startups Event and so although this is belated I felt it was worth sharing my notes on the event, just in time for this month’s event, which will be held this evening at eOffice in Manchester (http://tinyurl.com/5ecw3h). 

The Northern Startups event (http://tinyurl.com/5rlg5h) is organised and hosted by local businessman and entrepreneur Manoj Ranaweera, the format of these events differ from month to month, but regularly feature guest speakers from outside the region. The events are well attended and provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs, early-stage and startup businesses to meet each other, present, discuss and test their business propositions and theories. The events also join businesses with potential investors and service providers, including representatives from the financial, legal, sales and marketing industries.

The theme of the October event was 'De-Mystifying Investment' and delivered a unique insight into the investment process from 3 very different perspectives. The panellists were, Roy Sheldon an investor, Stuart Scott-Goldstone a lawyer and Robert Wakeling an entrepreneur, each presented and then took questions from the floor. 

The Investor - Roy Shelton - DropJawVentures

20+ years experience building international technology and telecoms businesses. Roy has gained a reputation as an early evangelist of the emerging technologies that evolve to lead their field. DropJaw Ventures Ltd founded by Roy focuses on early stage investment into emerging and aspiring technology companies. DropJaw Ventures; formed in 2007 and based in Nottingham, have made 3 investments to date. Roy has seen his investment into Next2Friends rise 10 fold over the last 12 months, when the latest investor valued the company at $25 million. He is at lengths to explain that the money they invest is all there own money and he sees the role of DropJaw Ventures as an investment vehicle rather than venture capital. Their investments are typically between £50K and £100K, the focus is on startups and the early adopter market. This is an area where Roy can afford to invest, but also where he feels he can add significant value based on experience and expertise. Roy is looking to make one or two more investments in 2009 and is seeking opportunities where he can support, progress and scale an early stage business in readiness for securing future and potentially large rounds of venture capital.

To be in the running for DropJaw investment businesses must meet the following criteria:

  • Is the product/service disruptive?
  • Will the product appeal to the mass market?
  • Do the business owners have at least as much 'skin' or money invested in the proposition as Drop Jaw Ventures?
  • Does Roy like the people enough to 'go for a beer' and socialise with them? (This is a good indication of whether you will be able to work with them!)

 Other questions that will need to be answered in order to secure funding include:

  • What are you going to use the money for? (Roy is looking for lean businesses!)
  • Can you demonstrate traction, a user curve and early stage feedback from betas?
  • What is a realistic exit?
  • What is in it for DropJaw Ventures?

What Roy and DropJaw Ventures can offer you, is the opportunity to scale your business more quickly and effectively than would otherwise be possible, by benefiting from not only a cash investment but also the chance to leverage Roy's contacts, skills, experience and business acumen.

Corporate Lawyer - Stuart Scott-Goldstone - Aaron & Partners

Head of the Corporate Team; specialising in corporate finance transactions at Aaron & Partners LLP, a commercial law firm with offices in Manchester and Chester. Stuart and has advised both investors and companies on a large number of early stage and start up investments in the North West, particularly those involving regional venture capital funds.

The focus of Stuarts presentation was the paperwork and process surrounding Venture Capital investment, including the legal obligations upon the company as they enter into:

  • Confidentiality contracts
  • Term sheets
  • Lock outs
  • Due diligence

Next Stuart covered some aspects of how the different types of investment might be structured, including but not limited to, equity share, dividends, loans, deeds or a combination of these.

Finally Stuart gave a high level summary of key documents that any business taking investment might come across and gave some great insights into what you should expect. The presentation covered:

  • Investment agreements
  • Influence, rights and veto clauses
  • Board representation
  • Warranties
  • Disclosure agreements
  • Restrictive covenants
  • Key man insurance – in case of death
  • Articles of association

Entrepreneur - Robert Wakeling - Wadaro

20+ years of hands-on industrial experience in senior management positions, Robert continues to be a strong analyst of future trends in wireless technologies. Robert, Managing Director of Wadaro; founded 2 years ago, raised seedcorn funding from regional venture capital market and is currently negotiating the next round investment.

Robert talked about how as a serial entrepreneur he decides which of his ideas to take forward as his next venture, he outlines his thought process as follows:

  • Have an idea
  • How to market
  • How to deliver
  • How to make money
  • What are the risks
  • What is the impact on friends family and colleagues
Robert was at lengths to explain the amount of hard work and courage it takes to startup on your own and he stressed that in order for it to be worth it, and for your venture to be successful, you really must love what you do.

Roberts top tips for early stage businesses strapped for cash included:
  • At the beginning try and secure grants rather than VC investment, the people controlling grants can be tedious but they are better than VC’s!
  • Small business loans and banks are hard work, better to focus on securing grants and angel funding.
  • Use some of your own money to seed the business, then take VC investment; you will receive a much larger proportion of money for the equity you surrender.
  • Regional investors are a great place to start looking for funding and early stage investment

Robert then went on to talk about how to find Venture Capital investment when your business is ready for a larger cash injection. But as a word of warning to us all suggested we should be very careful to ‘Get into bed with the right person’, implying that choosing the wrong investor could mark the beginning of the end for your startup. In order to successfully secure VC funding you need to confidently sell yourself, your team and your opportunity. When you meet a VC who is interested in your company, be honest and communicative, start the relationship as you mean to go on. Remember VCs wants to make money, so give them a significant percentage of equity in the business.
 
Finally in summary Robert’s top tips were:

  • Seed your business with grants and your own money
  • Get investment
  • Work hard, no holidays, no weekends, late nights!
  • Monitor and manage the pressure
  • Get out there and network
  • Remain focused and disciplined
  • At this stage the job is your lifestyle, but hopefully in the end it will pay for the lifestyle!!


Entrepreneur - Georgia Brown - PhoneFromHere.com

At this event I also did a quick 60 second appeal for PhoneFromHere.com, which covered the following:

PhoneFromHere.com

  • Deliver verbal communications for Web users and online communities
  • Active in tech and startup communities
  • Winners of big chip international innovation award

PFH self funded

  • Looking for investment to enable growth
  • Looked like we had secured funding
  • Disappointed to hear the fund had run dry

Typical example of why we are looking for funding

  • Internet World Innovation Pavilion
  • Ideal for promotion of PFH on global stage
  • Now appealing for Sponsor or a partner
  • Or suggestions of who and how raise money

You can also see my blog post on the Northern Startups website for more detail regarding our appeal for sponsorship: http://tinyurl.com/6csqjx, or check out the press coverage we received on The Business Desk: http://tinyurl.com/5nw2kb.

 

Monday, 24 November 2008

Customer Services... Hell – Part 2 (The Sequel)!!!


Following up from my previous post, Customer Services... Hell!! (Part 1) http://tinyurl.com/69gnnu; I feel compelled to share my experiences of another well known organisation's Customer Services department. Unfortunately for me this was going on during the same time frame as I was coping with my Orange Customer Service episode... all truly exhausting!

Part 2: Customer Services Virgin Media

I have an eee PC, a great device, very portable and I take it with me practically everywhere I go, in fact it's the tool I use to write most of my blogs. So the one thing that would make this device even more useful is an Internet connection and I have been thinking for some time about getting a mobile broadband dongle. However, many of the deals currently on the market are either too expensive for my budget, tied to a lengthy contract, or with a provider who has limited network coverage.

Recently a colleague of mine saw an article in the press (http://tinyurl.com/6k5ppa) stating that Virgin Media were launching an offer that would allow existing cable customers with Broadband in their home, to get a dongle for just £5 per month plus the cost of the dongle and a contact of just 12 months. Perfect!!

I was on the phone to Virgin Media on the day the offer launched, but the first guy I spoke to knew nothing about the offer and asked if he could call me back when he had the details. No call back was received, so I called again, this time I spoke to someone who knew about the offer and it appeared that I would need to upgrade my home broadband package in order to qualify! After doing some sums I decided to go ahead with the deal. Payment of £25 was taken there and then from my debit card for the Broadband device, only it turned out later that they also took payment for post and packing a further £5! I was annoyed that I hadn't been informed of this charge, but decided to accept it as reasonable and looked forward to receiving my dongle.

The courier service attempted to deliver the parcel the next working day, but obviously I was at work, so just a notice through the door on this occasion. I tried to ring the number to rearrange delivery only to be told that calls are charged at a premium rate and that I would need to hold, after 5 mins I hung up. I tried again later to be told that they were closed for the evening and that I would need to call back in the morning. I called back the next day, to be told that I couldn't rearrange delivery to an alternative address because all mobiles had to be delivered to the billing address. I said that I would pick the parcel up from the depo and asked for directions, apparently this was not possible either because the parcel was already out for delivery. I mentioned that the package was not a mobile phone but a broadband device and they said as this was the case I could in fact rearrange delivery to a different address!!!????

In the meantime I receive a number of voice mail messages and emails from Virgin Media explaining that the direct debit for my mobile broadband had not been set up correctly and therefore my dongle would not work even when I did receive it! Sigh! I made a few more calls to Virgin and eventually managed to set up the direct debit. Although, this involved speaking to 3 departments and having a battle over a password, which appeared to be correct on one occasion but strangely incorrect on the second occasion... Very odd!

2 days later the dongle turned up and I was VERY excited!! I rushed to plug it in to my eee PC whilst I was still at work, nothing happened... I plugged it into my office Mac and it was working within seconds, odd! I asked to borrow my colleagues Vodafone dongle, which I knew worked, but it didn't work anymore. Grrrrrr!!!

Some of my techie colleagues kindly had a go at trying to make either of the dongles work and eventually after a system update the Vodafone one just started working again, but alas the Virgin Media one, would not.

So, I went home and tried to get the dongle working on my old XP laptop, it was up and running in seconds. I then went back to the packaging to see if there was any instructions for trouble shooting, only to discover that Linux was not supported by the Virgin device. Doom!

I rang customer services, nobody was available to help!! I wrote an email to the person that had been provided as my contact, no response. I rang customer services again, this time I spoke to someone who tried to be helpful, but the official Virgin Media line is that they don't support Linux. However, Virgin Media tech support did have some unofficial hints and tips which could be read out to me, but not emailed because that would be classed as official support. I tried the suggested tips, but they were way too technical for me, I sent the info to my techie colleagues, but still no luck in getting the device to work with my eee PC. Sigh!

Next I scoured the eee PC user forums and found nothing, I posted my own comment and received a couple of suggestions (http://tinyurl.com/6jcvj4), but we couldn't get any of these to work either. Sigh, sigh!

Finally, tired and frustrated I decide to return the device, I call Virgin Media customer services, go through the security check and I am then told that the Mobile Broadband department is closed for the evening and that Virgin Media Cable cannot help me! I call back in the morning, I get through but the operator cannot hear me. I try again and the operator still cannot hear me. I hang up and test my phone, which appears to be working fine and call again. Finally this time the operator can hear me. I am pretty annoyed at this point, so much so that the Virgin Customer Services agent tells me to 'calm down!', this acts like a red rag to a bull! Anyway in the end I request a returns bag and end the call. 4 days later this has still not arrived, so I call Virgin Customer Services again, this time I am told that I need to wait 5 days and that the returns bag is on the way, I wait 8 days, still no returns bag. So, I call back and I re-order the returns bag, explaining that I am worried that very soon my 28 days return period will have expired, meaning I will be tied into their contract. I am reassured that my request for the returns bag has been logged even if it hasn't been received and therefore there will be no problem getting released from the contract. A new returns bag is requested for dispatch...

I have now been waiting a further 5 days, still no sign of a returns bag and to add insult to injury they have now started billing me for the service!! I am exhausted!

As 'Globus' commented on the first part of my rant (in this blog post: http://tinyurl.com/69gnnu), why is it that all of these service providers appear to deliver such poor standards and low levels of customer service, it is quite simply unbelievable and unacceptable!!

So, any thoughts guys? Am I the only one to experience this type of Customer Services Hell?? What should the providers be doing to improve things? What level of service would be considered 'enough'? I look forward to hearing from you all :-)


As a side note; I am also extremely annoyed with my Linux based eee PC, it seems that absolutely nothing is compatible with it, my blackberry won't sink with it, neither will my camera, iTunes doesn't work with it, neither does 4OD, I have had problems with Star Office and now the Virgin Media dongle doesn't work. I think this is the last straw and I am seriously considering installing XP over the Christmas break!!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Customer Services... Hell!!

Some of you may have noticed that I didn't get around to posting a blog last week, to be honest I have at least two entries part written, but for the majority of last week I spent every spare second on the phone to one customer services department or another and therefore had no time left to blog, or almost anything else for that matter!!

Part 1: Customer Services, Orange

As you may remember I have a Blackberry Bold, which I was very excited to receive a few months ago (http://tinyurl.com/68w5g8). However, for all the good looks of this device it has in fact turned out to be somewhat unreliable. The phone regularly crashes and takes several long minutes to reboot, displaying only a white screen and an egg timer, which does nothing for me except raise my blood pressure. It struggles to find reception even when there is good signal coverage, which means it is really only usable in a big city such as Manchester, where it stays within a high strength mobile network cell at all times. Having said that, the device was also virtually useless in London as it couldn't cope with picking up and loosing the signal everytime I went in and out of the Underground and as a result I missed two important calls. Last weekend I was in the Lakes, where admittedly the signal is very poor, but to my dismay the Blackberry had drained itself of battery power in just a couple of hours, my guess is that this was probably due to it's constant searching for a network that wasn't there!

So finally I decided it was time to find out what was causing these issues, I did a bit of searching on Google and came up with this: http://tinyurl.com/6dgn89. Yikes!! It seemed that I wasn't the only one experiencing these issues, but annoyingly here I am a month on from the date that this article was written and yet Orange still hadn't contacted me...

I called Orange customer services and politely explained the problem, they provided me with a link to the Blackberry website to download and install new software to my device, stating that all of the issues referred to in the press had now been resolved. I tried the URL provided, but the message which came up read, “I'm sorry, this page had been removed”. I called Orange again, waited 20 mins on the line, was transferred through 2 departments and was then hung up on. Next I wrote an email, to which I received a call back the following morning whilst I was at work, I was transferred into a queue for 10 mins and then asked if I was still happy to hold... I exploded!

Anyway the Orange representative I spoke to seemed to think that the Blackberry website was still the best bet, this guy claimed that there were no issues with the handsets as far as Orange were concerned??!! I lost my temper and told him he would have to call me back after 5pm when I had finished work. 7.30 pm still no call back, I called Orange customer services again, this time I found a very helpful lady who, called me back on my home phone, ran a diagnostic test on my handset and promptly confirmed it was faulty, shipping a new handset to me the following morning.

The handset arrived, the courier was on time and charming, all good so far, but apparently the courier only brings the device itself so I keep the existing sim, memory stick, battery and back plate. Obviously this is hassle as I now have to sink my device with the data backed up on my home PC and as a result my emails won't work and I have no address book for the remainder of the day, but hey no big deal we are making progress at least!!

So, on Saturday morning I sink the device with the backup, that all works fine except that I now lose Blackberry Maps from the menu!!! Argggggghhh. I search the internet and find this: http://tinyurl.com/6dgac5, it says that Orange are not including Blackberry Maps on the device, Grrrrrrrr! The maps better be included, they were there before I did the sink with my backup... I call Orange customer services again, this time the frustration in my voice must have been very clear, I only had to wait on hold for 5 mins and was only transferred once, but the representative in the technical support department did manage to get the maps back onto the device. Unfortunately, the only way this could be achieved was to wipe my email and Facebook config!!?? So, after I finished the call with Orange I then had to set these up manually, but eventually I had a device that resembled my old one, hopefully minus the issues!


That evening I set off to the cinema in Didsbury, 3 or 4 miles from my home and guess what... the stooopid thing couldn't find a signal!!!! We came home and it wouldn't sink with the broadband and then crashed, taking 8 mins to reboot!!

Today the device has behaved much better, although the back plate doesn't seem to fit the new device properly, however I have decided to give the Blackberry Bold a week or two and see if things have improved, before I do anything more... mainly, however because I can't cope with the thought of calling customer services again!!!

Why is it that we have to get so cross and angry with customer services agents before our problems are taken seriously, 'Sigh'

Part 2 of Customer Services Hell!! Coming Soon...

Friday, 7 November 2008

How To Make An Eee PC 901 Sleeve, Cover or Case

Some months ago some 'orrible little S.O.D.'s slashed open the soft top roof of my beloved convertible MX5!!! Anyway with time the anger and the pain has subsided and Cybil (the car) now has a fabulous new hood. So what is the relevance of this I hear you cry...

...well in addition to Cybil's swanky new hood I also had in my hands the remnants of her old one and for some time I had been contemplating chucking it out, but somehow I didn't quite have the heart. Around this time I also started to loose patience with the felt/fabric sleeve that ASUS send out as standard with the Eee PC. Somehow this case manages to attract every single bit of dirt and to be honest It was less than stylish even when it was new, but now a few months on it is filthy and just plain VILE!!

So, I decided to make a new case for my beautiful Eee PC, from the old vinyl car roof!!! Whooo a worthy cause for this emotionally charged piece of scrap material. Plus the fabric is strong, durable and waterproof – perfect protection!

I started by checking out a few ''how-to-make” sites for ideas and maybe even a pattern or template, things like www.instructables.com and http://blog.magazine.com are normally a great source for inspiration and help. However, on this occasion I couldn't really find anything that fitted the bill, I wanted something that was smart, stylish, funky and practical. In the end I decided to base the design on the one Blacberry supplied with my Blackberry Bold phone (but bigger of course!). When I first saw the case for my phone I wasn't too sure, it looked a bit dull to me, but to be honest it fits the device well and looks smart even with constant use. For the Eee however I felt I would want the sleeve to have a flap (like an envelope) in order to fully enclose the computer, therefore protecting it completely.
















I began by making a template out of newspaper, being careful to leave a generous seam allowance, which would give me a little flexibility, just in case I had misjudged the sizes in any way. I made templates for both sides of the sleeve, the piece for the back included the flap.































Next I laid the template on my material and cut out the pieces, it was then that I realised that the inside of the flap would also be seen so I added a third piece of material and stitched them inside faces together. This means that when the flap of my case is open the inside of the flap shows the same vinyl finish as the outside.














































I decided to do the rest of the stitching red, to make a feature of it, but a little word of warning as this certainly made things harder because every mistake, wobbly line or corner is very obvious. However after a couple of attempts and quite a bit of unpicking I was satisfied with the results.
















My Eee PC fits very snugly in the pocket of the new case, so I now need to secure the flap. I decided upon a funky square red button and cut a horizontal button hole. I edged the button hole with running stitch to make it look good aesthetically and double stitched the ends of the slit to stop it splitting further as a result of continual use. I didn't need to zig-zag stitch the edges of the button hole in the traditional way as this fabric doesn't run or fray.















































I then stitched the button to the case in the right position for the button hole and finally I finished of the edges by gently warming them with a lighter. The fabric from the car hood is plasticised and so this melts the edges slightly giving a neat professional looking finish.


My completed Eee PC case or sleeve!
































I hope you like it!! Let me know if you have any cool home-made bags or cases for your gadgets, or even if you have found some good ones for sale. I would probably have bought something if I had found something even remotely suitable!!

Looking forward to hearing from you all...

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Some Cool Stuff at FOWA Expo Oct '08

So I couldn't resist just giving you a quick low down on the coolest or most memorable things I saw at The Future of Web Apps Expo at London's Excel. These are listed in no particular order and simply represent the things that made a lasting impression on me for one reason or another and I just thought you might like to share them...

The MySpace Bus


Loved this bus!!!

A striking statement parked right next to the PhoneFromHere.com stand and making a great visual statement! I have heard from marketeering friends of mine that by making a big visual statement at a show like FOWA you will obtain stacks of free exposure/coverage simply because people will photograph your 'statement' and post pictures all over the web on your behalf – Superb!! (if you have the budget??)

I don't think anyone from MySpace was actually at the bus and in reality it was generally used for storing beer bought cheaply at the local cash and carry and sneaked in past security. As a result this corner of the expo hall was invariably inhabited by some gregarious characters in the latter hours of the afternoon.

Impromptu Butchers Blog PITCH


Great to see Mike Butcher in full flow when he did an on location Butchers Blog podcast incorporating a TechCrunch PITCH! For 10 early stage businesses. Highlight for me was when the assembled crowd were asked to vote for the best pitch by standing behind the person of their choice. Mayhem ensued as 100 or more people scrambled to cast their vote.

I don't actually remember who won the pitch event but that lucky individual secured a write up in TechCrunch and the FOWA expo bag belonging to Mark Zuckerberg (of Facebook fame) – Wooooo!!! :-)

Human Rummble Tumble

Enormous purple letters inhabited by real people wandered the expo hall on the first day, spelling the word 'Rummble' and handing out info on their location based search tool, which recommends people, places and content.

The letters were appealing homemade to look at and many were held together with lashings of silver gaffa tape! Also amusingly the people inside to suits were strangely disinterested in the service they were promoting, one guy spent most of the morning trying to talk on his mobile phone despite the fact that due to the restrictions of the costume he couldn't comfortably get the phone next to his ear! - Brilliant fun to watch!

However the best bit was the total foam carnage that occurred when someone suggested that the Rummble letters try and cram themselves on the MySpace bus, needless to say, just a few minutes later a a large pile of unidentifiable foam pieces were left.

The letters were not seen on day two :-(

Google Beers – Beer Googles

Next to the PhoneFromHere.com expo stand was an empty booth, simply title 'Google Beers', this caused much speculation and many jokes at the expense of Google throughout the show. A lesson to us all that putting our precious business name to an empty exhibition stand isn't too sensible!!

However, in the end it turned out that the lovely guys at Google had sent a few thousand pounds worth of beer, which was escorted into the hall at the end of the last day just before the Diggnation show. The chaos caused by a few free beers was just amazing, kids running from all corners of the hall to grab as many bottles as possible, limited only by the amount they could carry. Check out my short video clip to get an idea of what it was like – Great fun to watch, obviously I had already secured my own beers :-)



I don't think Google were actually at FOWA and they clearly feel no requirement for brand presence, but I can't help but think they missed a trick with the name, Beer Googles clearly seems much more apt!?

Cheers Google!

Microsoft's GIANT iPhone!?!?

OK, so no startup company wants to think Microsoft is cool, but I was strangely drawn to what appeared to be a GIANT iPhone, yes I know, Mac on the Microsoft stand!!??? Odd!

Apparently this lovely looking and impressive piece of kit is called the 'Surface' and is used as in store installations for demoing new products and services or by museums and exhibitions for interactive learning and engagement.

Essentially it is an interactive coffee table which has a touch screen and operates much like an iPhone but on a much bigger scale. Including features that enable scaling and orientation of virtual objects with a a sweep of the hand. You can also place objects on the surface which it will recognises and react accordingly...

... I wonder what it would do if I put my cupper on it without a coaster!!!?? But seriously against my better judgement I just couldn't help loving this spectacular piece of eye candy.

(although I couldn't resist showing you this... credit sarcasticgamer)



The Zuckerberg Experience

FOWA is renowned as the expo where you can literally rub shoulders with the 'Rock Stars' of the Tech world and London FOWA 08 proved to be no different. I will admit that I was very excited to see Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook fame, talk to an intimate audience of around 1000 people, it was a real thrill!

To be honest the content of his interview contained no real surprises and was aimed specifically at the audience of software developers he was addressing. However, I was interested to see how this young, techie and very successful man would present himself in front of a relatively large and over excited audience. It was clear to me that he had been coached and groomed in the art of public speaking and therefore he came across as confident, if not actually relaxed.

Zuckerberg mentioned that he still likes to get his hands on the FaceBook code from time to time, particularly to fix bugs, I wonder when he feels he made the transition from geek coding away, to rock star performing to packed arenas....

Diggnation

Obviously I could not fail to mention Live Diggnation as part of my best bits, this was my first experience of the show, and whilst the guys themselves are obviously entertaining in a Wayne's World-esq kind of way. What struck me most was the hype and frenzy that was generated by the crowd, Kevin Rose and the other guy whose name I will look up in a moment (Alex Albrecht), have clearly escalated to the level of super stardom, at least within this circle of up and coming young geeks and geekets.

To be honest I am a little bewildered by the mass hysteria the show caused and I know that makes me sound old, but I will also admit that I enjoyed it immensely, check out my short video clip to get a flavour and check out that girls laugh!!!!



Aftershow Party

Finally, I could not end without quickly mentioning the aftershow parties at The Fox pub...

... what to say? The beer and wine flowed freely and often it was actually FREE, which was greatly appreciated after a long day in the exhibition hall, although it did mean that things tended to get a bit messy as a result! I met and spoke to dozens of great people and enjoyed watching the crowd react to the Diggnation boys guest appearance in the pub. I discovered this YouTube clip (credit alexmuller) which summed up my impression of the crowd reaction...

“I can't believe we said Kevin and he actually turned around, OMG, OMG, OMG!” Brilliant entertainment!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

PhoneFromHere.com at Future of Web Apps (FOWA) – Expo, Stand and Demo


PhoneFromHere.com recently took part in the Future of Web Apps (FOWA) Expo at London's Excel. This event has a superb reputation for showcasing innovative, cutting edge web apps, Internet technology and startup companies. Last year's event was heralded a runaway success by attendees and tech industry officianados alike.

This was my first FOWA and I will admit I was a little disappointed, I found the mix of startups and multi-national corporations a little strange, the stands of early stage businesses were somewhat dwarfed by the flashy installations and lighting rigs of the Microsoft and Salesforce big boys. Unfortunately for us the position of PhoneFromHere.com stand within the expo hall was a bit off the beaten track and although we met some very interesting people and enjoyed ourselves immensely, a large proportion of the attendees were students and junior developers looking for the latest buzz, but with no buying power, I suspect they were predominantly drawn to the event by the live Diggnation broadcast.

PhoneFromherre.com's main activity at FOWA focused around the exhibition stand, located in the main hall. Here we met people, pitched the PhoneFromHere.com service offering, demoed the application live and collected interested parties contact details to follow up at a later date.

If any of you have ever worked an expo or trade-show before you will know just how hard work this can be, just physically standing on your feet for around 10hrs a day is tough going for an office worker like me. But the really hard part is encouraging total strangers to talk to you (or at least listen), when there are plenty of other exciting and attractive things going on, all off which compete for their attention. Add to this is the fact that most people will shy away if they suspect you are going to 'sell' them something, when of course that is the sole objective from you perspective...

By all accounts it appears that the odds of generating any genuine interest, significant enough that it might ultimately turn into a sale are all heavily stacked against you. So I thought it would be interesting to outline my approach to working an exhibition stand and maybe get some feedback from you, hear of your experiences and gather some top tips on how to make the most of this type of sales and marketing opportunity. – Come on, chip in, I would love to hear your thoughts...

My Approach

Since people naturally tend to give the 'selling space' as wide a birth as possible (unless they think they will get something for nothing, i.e. why people give stuff away at events like this!) I decided to move a little bit away from the stand, and armed with a few stickers to embellish a select few ;-) I approached people directly, smiled and asked if it would be OK to tell them a bit about PhoneFromHere.com. I found that if I was direct enough (without being to manic or to threatening) most people agreed to talk to me.

I started by giving a quick elevator pitch of the service, focusing on the big picture whilst walking them back to the stand, in order to move seamlessly into the live demo. Check out the video clip to see me do a quick practice run for the camera! My aim was to tell people, What PhoneFromHere.com is, why they might want it and then show them how it works. The demo is important as it brings the whole story to life, it must be quick to do, look slick and simply/effectively show what can be achieved with the PhoneFromHere.com service.





After the demo, I found that there were normally a couple of questions, at which point I felt reassured that my audience had found something of interest in what I told them. I attempted to answer these questions in a way which was specific/relevant to that individual and their business, this sometimes meant asking some questions about the business and their role. Armed with this information I then tried to discover if they saw a use for the PhoneFromHere.com service within their own business, I found that most people could see a use for the service and talked openly about where it might fit with their current business model, infrastructure and customer base.

Finally, I ensured each person who visited the stand took with them a business card, some literature, or at the very least a sticker. Wherever possible I also tried to take a business card or a contact email address from each person (although I was not always successful). To the information collected I added some brief note about our conversation, enough to act as an aid memoir, ready for me to follow up when I returned to the office.

Since we returned from the show we have emailed the contacts we made and we are following these up with a phone calls over the next few days. It appears that we have succeeded in raising some awareness of the PhoneFromHere.com service as we have seen a significant upturn in incoming enquiries, we have started some interesting discussions with some of the contacts made at the event and look forward to turning these leads into sales in the very near future.


Thursday, 16 October 2008

mashup* Hyper-Local Event

On Friday 3rd October I attended the mashup* Hyper-Local event, held at Speechly Bircham in New Street Square, London. The venue (once I found it!) was excellent and the layout of the room, small groups of tables and chairs, perfect for the workshop format of this event. I arrived in time for the end of the morning sessions (travelling down from Manchester takes a couple of hours), which were being facilitated by Kevin Harris of Local Level and Simon Grice of mashup* and BeLocal.

The audience were being asked to brainstorm potential issues surrounding the publication of local content and hosting of local communities or services. Each table was allocated a different topic faced by those operating a 'media outlet' in a 'local space', these ranged from the definition of local, to usability/functionality of services and moderation of content.

After the breakout session for lunch, workshop participants were asked to join a table hosting a topic that interested them and discuss the relating issues for 30-40 minutes. The objective was to identify areas of concern relating to each topic. Key points were noted down on a flip chart in the centre of each table and the participants rotated around the room in order to join several groups during the course of the afternoon. In this way we were able to debate and build upon the notes of made by previous groups at each table.

I attended three sessions and these are my thoughts from those discussions:


Montetisation of Local Content

'Is building a sustainable business old fashioned and boring?'

Traditional directories like Yellow Pages and Thompson Directory have successfully taken their offline model and brought it online, e.g. Yell.com. The general consensus of our group was that these directories successfully generate revenue, by offering free one line entries and up-selling additional content and links to produce more elaborate and paid for listing entries.

In summary directories can be monetised because they are about service provision and service providers will always pay for a sales lead as it has a real monetary value to them. However, there is a concern that content of a directory nature, which is bought and paid for, is therefore considered less trustworthy. Consumers tend to favour user generated content, or personal recommendation when selecting a service provider.

Local online communities and services have content which is valued by their readers and participants, but find it more difficult to monetise their offering since there is effectively no service or commodity to sell. Advertising is the most common method of trying to generate revenue from community sites and online services, but the Web industry has seen limited success with online advertising models to date. In order for advertising in the local space to be successful it must be accurately targeted, a good example would be a local restaurant advertising on a forum discussing places to eat in that particular area. Unfortunately however, these are exactly the kind of businesses who lack the time, money, know how or online savvy to either identify these kinds of advertising opportunities or execute them effectively.

As a general rule people are starting to pay less for online advertising, however they will pay more for a qualified lead or referral. For example, employment agencies and recruiters take free space or Job advertisements but will pay a larger sum upon appointment of the right person. Here we see the advertising model starting to move back towards the the traditional model of the yellow pages, i.e. basic advertisements free, charges for enhanced listings and now payment based on results.

PhoneFromHere.com could offer a solution to the problems being faced by advertisers and those looking to pay based on results; if potential customers were able to place a call in order to buy or book directly from the advert, then the service provider would have a real and immediate indication of the success of that ad. Generally Web users expect online services to be free, but service providers will always pay for a sales lead or an appointment provided that the complexity of the transaction is appropriate for the value of that transaction. PhoneFromHere.com is free to the Web user and for the advertiser it is free to setup, and calls are charged on a per minute basis, i.e. they will only pay for the calls they receive.


Marketing and Launching

This session was chaired by Walid from www.TrustedPlaces.com, who talked in detail about his experiences marketing and launching their website and this in turn sparked ideas and discussion from the rest of the group.

Trusted Places like many Internet businesses was launched virally, initially to friends and then friends of friends. In some cases users were incentivized to spread the word and work was also done in conjunction with the press and bloggers to build up public awareness of the service offered. It was unanimously agreed by the group that word of mouth and personal recommendation are the most trusted form of advertising and best of all it is free of charge!

Other methods of raising awareness and marketing products/services that were discussed included, arranging and sponsoring events. This type of activity can help you to get video or Flicker coverage from attendees and enable you to piggyback on the existing audiences of bloggers who write about their experiences at the event.

Those creative and brave enough can piggyback on the launches of large, prominent and related products/brands. For example, Trusted Places managed to piggyback on the UK launch of the iPhone and EasyJet hijacked the launch of a competitor airline.

It is also important to make sure that once someone has heard about you that they can then find you, so Google Indexing and SEO remains important and works particularly well on longtail or detailed search terms.

Finally every business should consider how they will retain their users and keep the community once your launch and marketing has successfully built it. It was discussed how users appreciate rewards, even something as simple as giving away free coffee and muffins in turn for user feedback. But most importantly we need to retain a mix of real world and Web based activity, because online activity and content creation increases after an offline event. For example, adding photos on FaceBook, creating reviews on Trusted Places and making contacts on LinkedIn.


Engagement

The last group I joined discussed how to engage users, the group agreed that to become successfully engaged the user must either trust the person inviting them or the provider of the service/content. If the business is large or established enough the user may consider the brand to be trustworthy enough, but for smaller unknown content or service providers engagement is essentially achieved through communities with friendship systems. In these virtual environments users can build a personal profile, invite real world friends and make online friends with the sole objective of connecting and joining together to create, share and exchange content/services.

The group concluded that inviting friends is the key to user engagement, if you are invited to join by someone you know, then you are much more likely to sign up than if the invite was from a stranger or from an advertisement. However the question still remains, how do we motivate people to invite their friends? It is possible to insensitivize users to invite their friends, some methods tried by members of the group with varying degrees of success included; online points systems, real world rewards and competitions or prize draws.

Even if the user is successfully encouraged to invite their friends and their friends accept the invitation, then the challenge will be to keep all users active and engaged as part of the community. This is more likely to happen if the community member was originally invited by someone who genuinely thought that the site could offer their friend something they actually wanted. However, users will also be encourage to return to the site if it successfully delivers new, quality and up-to-date content or innovative and effective services. The key to ongoing engagement is providing the community with what they want and expect; just enough to ensure they want more and return to the site time and again in order to find it!

There are problems for businesses trying to engage with these communities, especially since advertising products/services is frowned upon. As a result businesses can be tempted to talk about their commercial offering in the third person, businesses should be encourage to participate within the community, but in a legitimate manner. It is important for the businesses to contribute whilst also being up front about who they are, particularly as forums tend to name and shame for bad behaviour!


My Conclusions

I found the Marketing and Engagement sessions of particular interest because PhoneFromHere.com are looking to gain users virally, specifically when we are working in community spaces. We currently have a FaceBook application in beta that allows users of this social network to verbally communicate or speak with their online friends, whilst remaining within the context of FaceBook. As the application moves into a full release we will be looking to implement some of the ideas raised in these sessions, incentivizing users to invite their friends and ensuring that the service/content of the PhoneFromHere.com app is enough to ensure our users return time and again.

Finally, I noticed recurring themes from each of the sessions I attended, predominantly these revolve around trust and engagement. I believe that PhoneFromHere.com has something of value to contribute in both these areas as it enables the Web users to connect directly with the service provider or community member allowing them to speak to each other instantly and without the need to surrender any personal information. Speech enables us to convey so much more than text based communication, including tone and inflection, making it the perfect medium for debate, negotiation, socialising and even learning. In order for any of these activities to be effective they require the users sustained interest and trust, which are potentially both by-products of talking to people.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Getting Paid!

The most important thing for any business is getting paid and getting paid in a timely fashion. Sensible payment schedules are absolutely key to the ultimate survival of the small and startup business. For the early stage business 90 day payment terms, clients who pay late, or worse don't pay at all, can spell total disaster. Startup companies run on notoriously small budgets with very tight margins leaving little room for unforeseen delays when receiving payments. Prompt payment is key to the ultimate survival and success of each and every startup business, of course it is also a crucial factor in meeting the payroll each month!

Large corporations and multi-national organisations, some of those that we have worked with include Honeywell, Orange France and Lucent, often have onerous and lengthy procedures to become approved suppliers. Even when or if your SME survives the paperwork ordeal the payment terms can still be crippling, sometimes in excess of 90 days. Things can then be complicated even further when trading overseas because of the fluctuating currency exchange rates that must also be considered.

PhoneFromHere.com received some excellent advise and support regarding these types of issues from the UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) programme. The scheme delivers an informative two day workshop for SMEs who are starting to trade overseas, followed by some funding to support initial sales activity in foreign markets. We also receive ongoing support from a UKTI advisor and we were referred to Fred Bassnett from the North West's International Trade Team, about trading in the USA.

We were advised that many large corporations provide their project managers with credit cards and the authority to make significant payments to suppliers when required. We enquired with one of our existing contractors whether they were prepared to pay in this way and when they agreed we installed a credit card payment machine in our office.

We have had the ability to take credit card payments for almost a year now and generally it enables us to bypass the paperwork trail and receive payment much more quickly. PhoneFromHere.com's payment terms are usually 14 days from invoice, which may seem unrealistic to many of you who have experienced the accounts department of any large organisation. However, I can honestly say that we normally receive payment from our customers in less than 20 days from invoice, usually made payable via BACS or Credit Card.

A couple of words of warning; when taking large credit card payments from customers overseas the transaction may not go through, this is normally when the credit card service provider is suspicious of a large charge being made against a card, particularly from someone overseas when the card holder is not present. A temporary block is added to the card by the service provider, your customer will need to call their provider/bank and have the block lifted and then you will need to process the payment again. In my experience this can take a couple of attempts, but in the end I have always managed to take the payment.

Secondly if your customer is in the USA, make sure his card is VISA or MasterCard as most UK card systems will not accept American Express (AMEX), if you need to take payments via AMEX you can arrange to set this up separately, but obviously this will incur further (potentially unnecessary) cost.

Finally, with regards to fluctuations in currency, these can be handled in a number of ways, here are a couple of suggestions. If you are quoting in a currency which is not your own, then you can track the exchange rates and calculate your sales price based on a worst case scenario, thus mitigating your risk. The downside of this method is that it can have the effect of over inflating your prices and you could risk losing business to cheaper competitors. Alternatively and possibly the most preferable in these uncertain economic times, you can quote in your own currency, however this does of course transfer the risk to your customer who may not accept this as an option!

I hope this is useful, good luck getting paid, after all that's what its all about :-)

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

What's In A Name?

One of the most difficult decisions facing every startup company and entrepreneur is what to call their new business and/or products and services.

Your name is the first thing that people notice, it is the entry point to your business, ideally your name should be snappy, original and instantly inform people of what your business/product offers. Your aim is to attract customers with a name that is appealing enough to stand out from the crowd, but also presents a relevant message and a trustworthy, professional image. Essentially you need to strike the right tone without getting too clever, which may result in loosing sight of what you are trying to portray.

By combing the right name with simple and effective branding you can form a recognisable mark that reflects your business. The way you present your name will help differentiate you from your competitors and form visual links with what your business offers. In turn this will support the development of brand recognition, which will constantly remind potential customers of your company's existence, your values and the product/service you offer, think about successful brands such as Boots and Kellogg's.

If the competition looks more attractive and is more memorable, then even if your product or service is the best available nobody will ever know!

Practical Words of Warning

Check the name is original, ensure nobody else is trading under the same name, you can find this information online at Companies House. However, sole traders do not need to register so you should also check phonebooks and run searches online.

Check that your proposed name isn't too similar to one that somebody else has registered as a trademark, you can do this online at the Patents Office and when your ready you can also register your own trademark here.

Secure your domain name(s), marketing is much easier if your web address is the same as your company name. It may be worth buying several domains depending upon the nature of your business, for example .com, .co.uk, .net, .biz, etc. this will prevent others from presenting competitive products on domain names that are similar to yours.

Word of Warning

Words or expressions deemed to be offensive are not permitted by Companies House.

Words deemed to be sensitive are not permitted by Companies House. For example words that imply your business is of national importance, or suggest that you're a charity, official authority, member of a professional body, government or royal family.

How We Did It

When we first started developing PhoneFromHere.com we spent quite a lot of time experimenting with where and how we might use the technology. As a temporary measure we purchased the domain name PhoneFromHere.com and here we built a very basic website to launch our demo's, betas and trials.

As time passed and we found our resource was stretched to the limit just keeping up with the various day-to-day demands of running a startup business, including ongoing development, raising investment, and networking with potential customers. Before we knew it we had organically developed a brand based on the name PhoneFromHere.com, tweaking and refining it over the months to meet the needs of a particular project, presentation, document or exhibition.

Lessons Learnt...

For us the choice of what was (at the time) intended to be a temporary domain was a process informed by previous experience. Both myself and my colleagues had experience naming previous startups, companies, products and services. We were concious that the name we decided upon would have a huge impact on the consumers perception of our offering.

Defining what you offer and too whom will help clarify your aims and objectives. Our service allows web users to place calls directly from a webpage, using their Internet connection and the computer's microphone and speakers. We felt that that PhoneFromHere described the service we offered very well. However, as PhoneFromHere evolved to become our companies name we discovered that if it was taken out of context, it no longer reflected that we were a web-based service and therefore we now use PhoneFromHere.com. To date this appears to be working well for us, but if you have any thoughts or feedback I would love to hear from you.

From past experience we have learnt that if a name is not memorable or if it is difficult to pronounce, then it will be hard for people to talk about you and mention your name. Word of mouth and personal recommendation is among one of the best forms of marketing/advertising and best of all it costs you nothing!

If your name is difficult to spell, then potential customers may find problems searching for you online or in the phonebook. As mentioned previously your domain name should, if at all possible be same as you company/product name. It may also be worth buying the domain names for some common mis-spellings of your companies name. This will ensure you can be found and will also prevent your competitors from registering these domains and potentially stealing your customers.

Best Practice

To summarise, ask yourself 'What does your name say about you?'. Try not to make it too clever or too abstract or there will be nothing for people to link the name to your business or to your offering. If people cannot understand what it is you offer from just your name they will not be instantly attracted your business, they probably won't remember you and therefore won't recommend you, etc, etc.


As one classic strapline reminds us, make sure it “Does exactly what it says on the tin!”.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

PhoneFromHere.com Demo

One of the bigger challenges of introducing an innovative new service to the marketplace is that nobody knows what it is you’re selling and even harder there is essentially nothing to compare it to either. In the office we have been thinking about this quite a lot recently, discussing numerous ways in which we might convey the concept and message both quickly and effectively to potential customers and investors… so far we remain undecided on the best solution!

Let me know if you have any thoughts or ideas, I would love to hear from you.

In the meanwhile, I thought I would make a quick video to demo the PhoneFromHere.com service just for you, so at least this way my readers might understand exactly what it is that I am talking about.

:-)


Thursday, 11 September 2008

A Journey with my Eee PC

As many of you will already know I recently took delivery of my fabulous new Eee PC Linux 901 in black, perhaps I should have done an un-boxing video for that!! Anyway, firstly I should just say how much I am truly loving this little gem of a computer, the portability is fantastic, I am rarely without it and it is so shiny and sexy, you should just see the looks I get when blogging on the bus on my way to work!!

This is my first Linux machine, chosen because of the obvious advantages it has over the equivalent Windows machine. FYI the deal clincher for me was the significantly larger memory. However, as time goes by I am slowly coming to terms with the differences, both the advantages and possible downsides of the Linux platform, specifically when placed in direct comparison with my home machine (Sony Vaio, Windows XP) and my work machine (G5 Mac, OS X).

To be honest, I'm fairly none-technical as geeks go, I have to rely very heavily on the help of my more hands-on and much more technical geek friends, who kindly provide me with much needed ongoing tech-support. (You know who you are, very many thanks!) So, I thought it might be worth sharing some of my thoughts on any particularly bother-some issues I encounter, as I learn to depend more and more on this lovely little machine.

I would like my blog posts to become more of a two way conversation with my readers, so where I come across a particular problem I need to resolve I will flag it here and if you have any thoughts or advice you can post it back to the blog. For my part, if I find a solution to the problem encountered I will also be sure to post that here too – Sound OK?

Problem 1 – I Can't Spell and Neither Can My Eee!

My Eee came pre-installed with StarOffice 8, the application seems to be up to the job I need it to do, although I admit I am probably not using some of the fancier functionality.

However, very irritatingly the spell check functionality, despite appearances, including a button and a popup window, just wouldn't work. After several painful weeks of trying to manage without spell check and transferring files to other machines to check the spelling, I decided enough was enough and set about trying to resolve the problem once and for all!

Once I started googling the problem I discovered that many, many people were also encountering the same or similar issues, one site in particular had a large number of complaints and suggestions; http://www.eeeuser.com/, but wait a moment...

... some of the suggestions for resolving the spellchecker problems were terrifying, and included re-installing the operating system, or un-installing the StarOffice software suite and then downloading and installing the OpenOffice suite, changing settings in the BIOS, whatever that might be, and the lists of suggestions just went on and on.

Knowing that my tech skills were not up to many, or even any of these solutions I sensibly decided against even trying, but eventually I found the following simple solution:

To Enable SpellChecker on StarOffice 8:
1. Get "DicOOo wizard" from http://ftp.services.openoffice.org/pub/
OpenOffice.org/contrib/dictionaries/dicooo/DicOOo.sxw

2. Enable macros in Tools -> Options -> StarOffice Security -> Macro Security...
3. Open .sxw file and download SpellCheckers (and Hyphenators and Thesauruses).
4. Restart StarOffice.
5. RESULT!!!

I hope it works well for you too :-)

The original post with this solution can be found here: http://forum.eeeuser.com/viewtopic.php?id=40100 – Many Thanks!

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

My BlackBerry Bold Geek Un-Boxing!

I know that many of you will have already seen this but for completeness I am adding it to my Blog! Watch out for future installments ...


To Blog or not to Blog, that is the question...

As a member of an Internet startup company I am constantly monitoring the ways of the World Wide Web. What is new? What is undergoing resurgence? How are people using technology? What new uses have they found for existing technologies... etc. etc. etc.

Generally speaking I want to know what people are doing, why, when and how!

Blogging has been around since the early 1990's and although I have often looked at peoples blogs, it has usually been specifically as a detailed resource to answer some all consuming question I have just Googled, however until recently I had not 'subscribed' to the concept of blogging, or any specific blog.

Reading someone else's diary has somehow never really appealed, I mean 'Adrian Mole' and 'Are You There God It's Me Margaret' might have been educational to that naive young girl I once was, but Bridget Jones' cringe-worthy self obsessed drivel (loved by the world over it seems) was enough to put me off reading other people's diaries’ for life. This, combined with the horrific thought of someone else reading my own personal dairy has been deterrent enough to keep me from the blogging world... at least, until now that is!

But why do people blog? Sharing opinions, exchange of ideas, social contribution, love of writing, thrill, exposure, personal growth and development, money, or maybe just because everyone else is doing it!

Having thought about this and examined the blogs of a number of people, all with wildly differing profiles, it appears that there is generally a Primary and Secondary motivation for blogging. Often this is boils down to, (a) what you want your blog to offer others and (b) what you hope to get out of it in return.

And why do people read blogs? I suspect there are two main reasons, firstly for entertainment purposes and secondly as an information resource. If the subject matter is of interest to the reader and the content is relevant, informative and entertaining then they will become a loyal and dedicated audience.

My Blog:

My primary motivation and my objective is to share, exchange and validate my ideas, processes and experiences of working with a web startup company. I envisage that my blog will become a conversation with my readers, where I can receive feedback and insights, that are often difficult to obtain when working in the close-knit environment of a small business.

My secondary motivation is more selfish, it is my hope that blogging will help to raise my profile within the technology industry and open up new opportunities for myself and the startup company I am currently working with. My blog will present a record of my experiences and I hope it will help to spread the word about the current activity of our organization.

I intend to be clear on what my blog can offer my readers, but since this is my first time blogging I expect to learn some lessons along the way, that may mean that I need to review and refine the direction of my blog in order to ensure I accomplish my objectives.

I would like to try and keep the focus of the blog relatively narrow as I am aware that too much information can be overwhelming, however I also intend to allow the more relevant aspects of my personality and lifestyle to come across in the content of the blog... so consider yourself warned!

This could be FUN :-)