Archive for September, 2006

Increasing the productivity of a start up

Posted on September 30, 2006. Filed under: entrepreneurship |

If I had to sum up the past week at boso in one word it would definitely be “productivity”.  It’s a word that is used a lot but its importance has really only become truly apparent to me in the last week.  I always thought that one of the great things about being in a start up is the dynamic nature of the environment within which you are working, the flexbility that this provides to encourage creative thought and development has always been incredibly important to me.  I always thought that what differentiats a start up and a corporate are the processes each have in place – to me a start up was a group of people working hard towards a common goal whereas a corporate is a collection of different processes and workflows where everything is standardised.

I was completely wrong on this one.  Boso is only a team of four people, only two of whom are full time (well three now since we’ve brought Matt in on a trial as PHP Developer) and yet the benefits of having a workflow process in place are now apparent.  Ultimately I think that all employees, however smart, need some direction and this must come from the founders of the company.  However it is completely impractical for the founders to be checking that every specific task is done in the correct way and herein lies the benefit of establishing clear work flow processes.  By this I mean having a very simply strucure in place to ensure that standard tasks are done in the most efficient way possible.

To give an example – whenever we had a new idea for the website we would discuss it for an hour or so, jot it down somewhere and then address it later when we had more time to think it through.  What we do now is as soon as someone has an idea, it is put into Basecamp (a fantastic project management tool) and that person must schedule a brainstorm meeting.  The purpose of the brainstorm is to flow chart the user experience and create a brief tech spec.  This spec is prioritised and passed onto a developer, who assigns a time to get the first iteration up and running.  The next steps are implementation and execution.

This probably all sounds rather simple but I think having these types of processes in place (and even more importantly having them clearly defined) is something often overlooked by start ups.  This is probably quite natural, your day to day is taken up with issues as they arise and it requires a great deal of discipline to put everything on hold to develop a workflow process with no apparent immediate benefit.  However I really think it is quite crucial and can save a lot of long term inefficiency in a company.

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to think big, you need to think small…

Posted on September 30, 2006. Filed under: web 2.0 |

I’ve been thinking about the web 2.0 scene a lot recently, mainly because i’ve been talking to a lot of friends who aren’t in the web scene. the last few weeks have been incredibly hectic for boso, raising investment and now deciding what to do with it has been a tough challenge (but still one i’m loving!). as a result i’ve been somewhat caught up in my own bubble, especially since i’ve made much more of an effort to subscribe to as many web rss feeds as i can, so when you mention ajax or kiko to a group of friends who respond by staring at you blankly it is quite a wake up call.

when you’re in the web scene it is very easy to become completely wrapped up in it. you begin thinking that if a website isn’t hosted on ruby on rails it’s prob a waste of your time. you find yourself being instantly wowed when you see ajax on a site – regardless of whether it actually serves any point. whilst these things are very cool, i really do think they are indicative of another bubble forming. some of these web 2.0 companies attract huge valuations but i really do find myself wondering – who outside of the web 2.0 scene actually cares? for example Digg sounds fantastic in theory, but when you consider that there is still a large sector of the population who don’t understand the concept of an rss feed can you really justify its huge valuations?

what i’m really trying to say is that when all is stripped down, the internet is just another medium of communicating information. i know that sounds incredibly obvious but i think it is easy to lose sight of that fact. i see it in myself, i start looking at websites from the perspective of someone who is heavily involved in the web scene. ultimately though, the success of companies is not built upon the interest of a few but on the love of many. when you look at something like myspace, you really can understand why it justifies the huge price tage it was bought out for. recently when i was in san francisco, i saw graffiti on walls which ended with a myspace address. that really said it all to me – in order to be hugely successful you need to have all sectors of society interested in your product, otherwise you are only ever going to be attractive to the people working in the same bubble as you are. eventually when that bubble pops, you’re left with nothing.

i don’t want to come across as being overly negative, i do believe that the web 2.0 movement has an incredible amount of power to change things for the better. however from an entrepreneurs perspective, i think it is incredibly important to look at your product from the perspective of the average joe. before you build in something you think is very cool or innovative because it uses ajax, ask yourself whether joe bloggs on the street would actually find it useful? i think this provides a good explanation for kiko – it was ultimately a very cool tool for people who love online calendars and ajax but how many joe bloggs would have known that kiko existed? how many of them would even consider using an online calendar at all? i think there are some important lessons to be learnt as the web 2.0 movement gains some serious traction.

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the new facebook

Posted on September 30, 2006. Filed under: web 2.0 |

It has been less than a day but the new facebook interface already seems to have caused a pretty big stir. there is already an “official” facebook petition to get the feature removed (http://oxford.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2208288769) with over 8,000 people signed up already – there are several other spin off groups. i had a big debate with kul about this in the office today (if you’re looking for a different point of view then take a look at his blog but i have to say i think that facebook has gone a step too far this time.

i know facebook argue that the information is all available on facebook anyway i.e. they are not displaying any new info but just what is already there in a more efficient way. however i dont agree with that analysis – in my view there is an inbuilt barrier to entry in facebook. let’s say that i want to find out about someone, i need to do some digging e.g. reading wall posts and seeing new photos. to me that is what facebook is all about, it’s the ultimate procrastination tool because you can play detective and blissfully watch the hours roll by as you click all over the place. with the new interface however, as soon as you log on you instantly see a ton of information – which although useful info, is not something i think is best suited as being the first page you see when you log in.

with facebook i think it is necessary to distinguish the dual roles that each user plays – that of the stalker and that of the user. as a stalker i love the new interface as it makes my stalking more efficient. from a user perspective though, i will certainly be a lot more cautious in my behaviour. if i change my relationship status to single i don’t want all of my friends to see it! similarly if i happen to be incredibly bored and write on 10 walls in 5 minutes, i don’t want my page displaying to the world just how sad i am!

either way the one thing that can’t be debated is facebook’s willingness to innovate. ultimately if they decide they have gone too far this time around, they can just edit the service to give you better privacy control. i’m delighted that facebook never just sit on their huge market penetration and act all smug. they’re an inspiration to young internet companies around the world.

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dragons den

Posted on September 30, 2006. Filed under: entrepreneurship |

I watched this show for the first time recently and i have to say i thought it was pathetic. why on earth should we be hyping a television show that actively seeks to discourage people from taking a risk and exploring new ideas. the dragons are deliberately rude and intimidating and even before the entrepreneur has opened their mouth, it is as though the dragons are already convinced the idea is a waste of their time.

i think this represents a big problem with the mentality of the masses in general – they love to see people fail. look at all the shows on our televisions, the apprentice, the weakest link, dragons den, etc are all popular shows because it gives people the chance to see other people fail at something. especially with dragons den, it leaves people with this image of entrepreneurship as something to be laughed at or a hobby that needs to be supplemented by a “real” job.

people will inevitably argue that the masses will always remain the masses and as long as there are people prepared to take a risk, then things will be fine. however i really disagree with this, i think the mentality is far more damaging to the economy than people are prepared to admit. any environment that seeks to foster enterprise must also encourage and admit failure. it is only through failure that people will gain any experience and build up that “trackrecord” everyone is so obsessed with. however how on earth can we foster such an environment when the general mentality still seeks failure as something to be laughed at?

i truly believe that in order for the UK start-up scene to really explode, we need to take more of the masses and give them the support and encouragement to take a risk. i say this because i personally a couple of years ago would never have considered turning down a very well-paid job to run a web start up. it is only by giving it a go and seeing how much i enjoyed the start up dynamic that i decided to take a risk. but with every show of something like dragons den, another borderliner (like i was) goes to sleep dreaming of that lovely pay cheque waiting for them at the end of the month…

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a bad weekend

Posted on September 30, 2006. Filed under: personal |

The past weekend has been very interesting, lost my phone on the train and was then called by t-mobile to be told someone had found it and would hand it in at their local police station. Called the station and no one has handed any phones in so I am now blackberry-less.

I also terminated my ntl broadband package because they are useless and was about to switch to a new ISP only to be told that ntl were blocking the line. I called ntl and of course they claim they aren’t doing anything. I love the uk broadband system. I’m now on a 56k dial up at home – fantastic since i’m running a web start up!

Regardless of that i am still keeping spirits high and convincing myself that life is good. Spending all of the bank holiday weekend working might be a pain now but will all be worth it in the long run. Anyway now i am composed i can return to blogging about tech rather than my own self-pity!

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eBay facing problems

Posted on September 30, 2006. Filed under: web 2.0 |

I just read this pretty interesting article about ebay’s declining popularity. I don’t think eBay will be losing too much sleep just yet as i’m still sure they can afford pretty comfortable beds but it does make me wonder about online trading in general. I’ve been thinking for a while that auctioning is quite ineffective and lacks efficiency. will be interesting to see how this develops.

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A new beginning!

Posted on September 30, 2006. Filed under: mealticket |

Ok so I know the last blog wasn’t exactly around for long but I figured it was time to move on. I have to say wordpress beats blogspot hands down in terms of functionality, it’s far easier to use (not that blogspot was hard to use – it’s just that wordpress is a pretty fantastic user experience) and I’m looking forward to playing around with it! I’m just about to start adding my posts from the previous blog onto this one. Also expect to see plenty of changes to the interface – I’m currently teaching myself HTML and CSS so I’m using the blog as the perfect place to test out my skills as I learn them

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