Monthly Archives: February 2015

Techstars: Day 80 (Hypothetical question)

This afternoon I attended a talk on the current investment environment. Given the past 7 or so years have been in the shadow of 2008 there was a fair amount of history covering the events leading up to the financial meltdown.

The fact I am working for Rainbird is a direct result of that meltdown. Until 2008 I was working for a large investment bank in London. I actually did quite well out of the crisis, but I was one of the lucky few. Many people suffered, including those in the industry. And it wasn’t just financially. I know people who are still broken after the banking system chewed them up and spat them out.

Which got me thinking. Techstars is an incredibly intense, incredibly stressful period. Teams and individuals are put under immense pressure. I look around the cohort and see the cracks. People are digging deep within themselves – deeper perhaps than they ever had before. And the pressure is just going to increase while the clock continually ticks down to Demo Day.

What happens if someone breaks? Hopefully no-one will, and it will remain a hypothetical question, but it does make you think.

And since I’ve just put a massive downer on things, here’s a picture of a rabbit with a pancake on its head.

Rabbit with a pancake on its head

Techstars: Day 79 (Vertigo)

We had a meeting with some of our investors today at the ME London Radio rooftop bar. This exclusive, not to mention expensive bar affords stunning views over London from its vantage point on the 10th floor. Which is great. Unless you suffer from vertigo.

It’s an interesting balancing act trying to sit as far away from the wall as possible, whilst trying not to look anti-social – something that was made easier by the large group. I think, however, that the game was pretty much up when people started leaning up against the edge to take photos. For some reason even other people getting close to large drops makes me cringe. Just watching it on TV is enough to make my legs go weak.

Thankfully dinner was had on the ground floor in a very nice restaurant nearby. And the view from the bar really is quite good, even if it is terrifying.

Techstars: Day 78 (Acting classes)

As part of the whole Techstars experience we get access to acting coaches who are on hand to help the CEOs give their pitches. I’ve been tagging along to these as the lessons learned will be useful for the various bits of public speaking I do.

Today we did a warmup session that involved some improv. There were 5 people in the group, with the other 4 being CEOs. We initially sat in a circle and took it in turns to tell a collaborative story, which each person continuing from the last. The story needed to include a person, object and place.

The story, such that it was, centred around a woman called Willow, who was in a boat on a river in Cochabamba, Bolivia, making notes in her moleskin notebook about the local wildlife [the person, place and object]. Suddenly, the notebook was snatched out of her hands by an alligator and promptly eaten. Kit, who may, or may not have been Willow’s lover, but who certainly had romantic designs on her, then dove into the river, dispatched the alligator and wrestled it onto the boat. However, before they could retrieve the notebook a local drug cartel hove into view. The leader is Willow’s evil stepfather, and he was there to bring her home after she ran away. Before they catch up with Willow’s boat, however, Queen Ophelia and her tribe come to the rescue, dispatching the drug lord, and allowing Willow and Kit and the driver of the boat to escape. On their journey to Queen Ophelia’s village the group are set upon by monkeys, but scare them off with the carcass of the alligator, which they still have. Once they make it to the village they butcher and eat the alligator and retrieve the notebook. In the back of the notebook is a map showing the village they’re in, with the outcome of the tale being they were destined to go there all along.

With our story, such that it was, in hand we then turned it into a 3 minute bit of improv. This was then cut down to a 2 minute piece, a 1 minute piece, and finally a hectic 30 second skit. Each of these iterations was done with no time to converse or agree changes. It was, as you can probably imagine, quite silly. It was also huge fun and helped up realise that you can actually achieve quite a lot when under pressure if you just react rather than agonising over what you’re going to say.

Incidentally, we hold the copyright the above tale so you’ll need to come and speak to the 5 of us if you want to buy the movie rights from us 😉

Techstars: Day 77 (Final Leg)

So this is it. The final leg until demo day. In 12 days time it will all be pretty much over bar the shouting. We pack up on the 21st and head home just in time for me to turn 40 on the 22nd.

It was a little odd coming home this time. I’ve not been there for over a month, and the fact I stayed for less than 48 hours made it more like I was visiting somewhere rather than returning home. This has a lot to do with my being very much in a Techstars mind frame, and the impending deadline that is demo day.

I now face a four hour journey back to London that is conspiring to stop me from doing anything productive. The train to Norwich is a single carriage affair with no free tables and narrow seat pitch (I’m writing this on my iPad while sat at a very odd angle in my seat). The train to Norwich is actually something like two trains and a bus. I can’t even read on busses without getting motion sickness. As a result I’ve elected to go via Cambridge. It still takes forever, but I’m rather hoping there will be tables, data connections (even if it is just hopping onto the station wifi at each stop) and the ability to get some work done.

Techstars: Day 75 (Normal For Norfolk)

Norfolk has a hideous reputation as a backward county. Even the largest employer in the area, Aviva, plays on this trope with it’s advertising campaigns. The problem is one of both of location, and transport links. You don’t pass through Norfolk to get to anywhere – other than perhaps the North Norfolk coast for a holiday. If you’re going to Norfolk it’s likely a deliberate journey, and one that’s made difficult due to decisions made in previous centuries regarding road and rail links.

While problematic in the past, location is no longer as much of a concern when it comes to modern, digital business. It’s partly because of this that Norwich finds itself nurturing its very own tech cluster. I know. It’s true! There’s even a report done by TechCity that proves it. While you’re reading that, check out the red bird logo on some of the pages. That’s us. Great, isn’t it?

With groups like nor(DEV): and SyncNorwich, and events like nor(DEV):con and SyncTheCity you also get to realise that it’s a very active tech scene too. Either that, or we get very bored on a night and need to make up things to do. Either way, we’ve managed to attract some top notch speakers over the years.

So for those who have expressed surprised that Rainbird made it into Techstars because they are Norwich based you may want to look again. It’s not really all that surprising at all. To me it was never a question of if a Norfolk company could get it, it was just a question of when.

Incidentally, and this is purely here for anyone who has any sway over these types of things, but a really, really good way to help a burgeoning tech sector, like that found in Norfolk, is to have good, fast, reliable broadband. Hell, some of us would be happy with just band, broad or otherwise. So if you know someone, who could talk to someone, who could put in a good word for us, that would be super. Or, you know, a proper rail link. One that doesn’t involve me going via Billericay on a bus on a weekend when I’m going to London to get a mobile signal. Just a thought.

Techstars: Day 74 (Awesome)

So Nathan has been working on the build pipeline for our front end systems over the past couple of days. Not the most gripping of subjects I’ll admit, especially given the backend build is, to put it mildly, boring as hell (even if you’re into that kind of thing). That said, what he’s put together is bloody amazing. Make a change, bam, it’s there in the browser which is, to my mind, just plain old voodoo.

It’s this kind of thing that makes working in startups so awesome. You get to work with some seriously bright people who are given the chance to try out new things, and they often end up blowing you away. It does make you wonder how much creativity and innovation is stifled at larger organisations as it’s buried under process and rigid standard.

Techstars: Day 73 (Circling the drain)

I have the plague. And by plague I mean death. And by death I mean a slight cold. To be honest, it’s not even man-flu. But it’s there and it’s getting worse. Crap diet, no sleep and long days is going to turn it into full blown man-flu if I’m not careful. If I was by myself this weekend I’d not worry, push through it for the next two days and then spend the weekend in bed.

But I’m going home for the first time in nearly a month and I’d like to spend some time with my family. So I’ve left work early – because 07.15-17:15 is a half day that I started 15 minutes late :S I may well be in bed by 20:00 which should give me 9+ hours of sleep and see me raring to go tomorrow.

Techstars: Day 72 (Drive)

So this morning started badly when I was woken by Chris’ alarm. This can only mean one thing: I’ve overslept. By 75 minutes. My waking thought was a slightly stronger version of “oh crap!”

Interestingly, however, “overslept” is a subjective term. The only person saying I must get up at 6am is me. Part of that is to do with the fact that when I go home 6am is part of my daily routine. Part of it is to do with the fact that I want to nail as much of the day as early as possible.

The key thing is that no-one is telling me I need to be in the office at 7. Not Ben, not Techstars, not our investors. I am driven to be there at that time. Driven to give my best. And I’m not alone. Techstars is full of driven people. It’s why we’re there.

So yes, I overslept. But there is a positive. I got 7 hours sleep instead of 6, so I’m slightly less tired than perhaps I might otherwise have been. Hopefully that equates to more output in the reduced time.

Techstars: Day 71 (Chef)

Today Ben and I got some coaching on presentation skills. This was mainly for Ben’s benefit given he’s delivering our demo day pitch, but is also hugely beneficial for me. I’ve got a number of talks lined up over the next couple of months, including one tomorrow.

Ben is now spending a huge amount of time writing and rewriting the script for demo day, which is why he ended up round our flat tonight. I cooked (Pad Thai with cashews, and a side of spicy prawns for the carnivores), Ben pitched, and we all agonised over wording, order, and structure.

Given the way the coaching works we – and by we I mean Ben – need something that is close to the final script as possible by next week. I can see every night being pitch practice. I may be doing a fair bit of cooking.