SSSHHH! (The Best-Read Office in the World) – featuring PomeGreat

16 October 2012

Last night on Radio 4 Robin Hunt – Reader 170890 gave his very personal take on his ‘office’ The British Library. It was a lovely little programme which gave a real insight into how our readers, or customers as I prefer to call them, feel about my place of work.

Needless to say the producers of the show couldn’t resist using the oldest and lamest library cliché in the world in their title SSSHHH! (The Best-Read Office in the World).

PomeGreat_PurePlus_logo_MINII was pleased to hear that Robin managed to make it across the (academic) divide from Humanities to Sciences and included an interview with one our earliest Success Stories in the Business & IP Centre. Adam Pritchard spent six months researching his PomeGreat business which  first made an appearance on the shelves in 2003, and since then has expanded rapidly.

“Foremost in the minds of its creators was the obsession with creating a great tasting drink, which sounds obvious now, but so many others have made the mistake of assuming people will drink anything if they believe it’s doing them good!

In order to get the taste we wanted, we had to become experts in pomegranates, where to find and harvest them at their best, how to press them to preserve all the goodness in the juice, and how to blend them to create the PomeGreat drinks that so many buy today!

Being able to include PurePlus across our range is just another step in bringing the very finest products to you.”

As always happens in business, success breeds competition, in this case from the supermarket own brands. So Adam has recently re-branded PomeGreat moving it up market and using some creative television advertising.

Adam Pritchard


Soul Trader – Putting the heart back into your business

2 October 2012

Rasheed_OgunlaruRasheed Ogunlaru, life and business coach has been a Business & IP Centre partner since our earliest days. In addition to running the Your life, your business workshop once a month in the Centre and mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs with TieUK, he singlehandedly converted me to the benefits of life coaching.

I have to admit that perhaps due to a scientific background, or perhaps just plain old cynicism, I had always been wary of life coaching. I decided the only way to address this prejudice was to attend Rasheed’s workshop five years ago. After three hours I was entirely convinced by his eminently practical approach, to putting your heart and soul into your business.
So it is great to see his practical philosophy translated from workshop to published book in the form of Soul Trader published by Kogan Page. And having read it through this week,  I would put it at the top of my list of recommended reading for everyone starting (or growing) a business. I am still a big fan of Starting Your Own Business: The Good, The Bad and The Unexpected by David Lester, but Rasheed has addressed the key issue of what you really want to get from starting a business, and to make sure you end up running it, instead of it running you and your life.

Soul_Trader_coverHis introduction sums it up nicely:

Most people do not go into business solely to make money. They want to make a living, make an impact, make a contribution, make a statement, make something of real worth and value. They want to enjoy what they do, and make themselves happy and their families secure and proud. They want to make a break from the humdrum, and express their skill and abilities. But sooner or later many business owners fall into the same old trap, lose sight of what’s important and struggle with life balance.

The book consists of eight C’s made up of seven chapters and a ‘plus’ which focusses on insights to help anticipate and embrace Change.

  1. Clarity: Know your mission, talents and values.
  2. Customers: See life through customers’ eyes to win their custom and loyalty.
  3. Courage:  Unleash your inspiration / wisdom and adopt an athlete’s attitude.
  4. Co-operation: Punch over your weight; collaborate. Use / build your network.
  5. Conversations: Learn the art to connect, converse, create and convert leads.
  6. Creativity: Know when to work, rest and be at your best, (re)gain life balance.
  7. Compassion: Connect from the heart – be transformational not transactional.

Early on Rasheed gets the you to conduct a personal SWOT analysis. Which is an excellent way of discovering what you do well, and what you need to work on or get help with.

heart_and_chairThe book is peppered with examples from his hundreds of clients over the years, and covers a problem I have encountered many times, which he calls the ‘blindness of the visionary’. People become so (understandably) obsessed by their business idea or invention, they completely forget about their customers. This leads to a very expensive and risky approach to market research, where you bring your product or service to the market and then find out if anyone will buy it. Much better to find out as you develop your idea and tailor it to what you customers say they want.

Once again Rasheed gives a practical solution to this problem by showing how to map out your customers. He also explains how to develop a set of customer ‘scenarios’, to help understand the psychology of your customers. He doesn’t shy away from the realities of doing business in the real world as a soul trader. Without sufficient income (and avoiding the number one cause of failure – cash-flow) your business will not survive. Even social enterprises have to generate enough money to pay their staff and to invest in growth if they are to succeed. These are the hard questions that so many avoid tackling in their business plans:

  1. How much money to you need to live on, and to break even in business?
  2. How much money do you seek to make this year, next year and the year after in turnover – before costs and tax – and in your personal profit after cost and tax?
  3. On average how many sales or customer does that equate to per month and year?
  4. What specific action are needed to reach those goals, and what are the challenges?
  5. What evidence, research and assumptions are those figures based on?
  6. Looking again at those figures, what are a) realistic, b) optimistic and c) pessimistic sales figures for the next 12 months, and what would they mean to you and your business?
  7. What are your main products and services? How are they priced? What are all the costs involved? Which are the most lucrative? Which incur the most costs? Which involve the most hard work? Which are most dear to your heart and to your customers?

I have been talking to lots of makers recently such as jewellers, and many haven’t properly come to terms with the issue of wanting to make everything by hand themselves, but also selling enough items to make a living.

Rachel_ElnaughCourage is term one doesn’t  come across often in business books, but Rasheed rightly recognises that this is an essential ingredient in business, and gives practical tips on how you can develop it. I am constantly in awe of the people I meet who are at the beginning of a journey that would terrify me. The book contains an example from ex-Dragon and Business & IP Centre supporter Rachel Elnaugh. Rasheed asked one simple question during an advice session, and at a stroke gave her an insight which revolutionised her life. “I can honestly say that session with Rasheed was like walking through a doorway that has led me into a completely new and completely fulfilling life where success, money and love are all now flowering.”

Cooperation is an undervalued aspect of business, with many people I meet worrying about their competition before they have even started trading. The book talks about the importance of developing business partnerships through cooperation. And again Rasheed gives practical advice on how to grow and then utilize your support networks.

Conversations, which convert contacts into customers replace the ‘hard sell’ for soul traders. After all, no-one wants to be sold to, but everyone wants their opinion to be listened to. This chapter also includes how conversations work via social media channels and what precautions you need to take them online. There a lots of practical examples here, including how to deal with complaints by using, Acknowledge – Reflect back – Say what you can do.

Towards the end of the book Rasheed introduces his two-page business plan. As he says, ‘Business plans are written for two purposes and for two audiences: 1) for you to identify who and where you are, where you’re going and how you’ll get there; and 2) for investors or funders for the same purpose. If you’re seeking funding from others then you’ll need a longer, more detailed business plan…”

To sum up, I found Soul Trader to be clear and simple, friendly and supportive, passionate and soulful – just like Rasheed himself.


Our YouTube channel is now up to 341 thousand hits

22 August 2012

youtube-logo

Back in October 2011 I wrote Our YouTube channel gets 250 thousand hits.

This has proved to be a very popular topic on my blog recently, so I feel obliged to point out that the number is increasing rapidly, and today stands at 341,492.

Our BIPCTV channel has been going since the Centre opened in 2006, when we began posting recordings of our Inspiring Entrepreneurs events, and our success stories.

The most recent upload was From Battlefield to Business, and run in partnership with Heropreneurs, Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity and ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, British Legion, Franchising Works and Help for Heroes.

The wonderful Levi Roots and his Reggae Reggae Sauce still tops the charts with 25,541 views, but he has stiff competition from Success Stories Guy Jeremiah of Aquatina Ltd, and William de Lucy from  Amplify Trading.

However my favourite remains Sam Roddick, founder of the ‘erotic emporium’ Coco De Mer, and daughter of Body Shop legend Dame Anita Roddick. She describes herself as an activist first and accidental entrepreneur second.

http://www.youtube.com/bipctv

Levi Roots


Arganic Oil a niche Success Story

6 August 2012

Arganic_Argan_OilDespite being a ‘jack of all-trades and master of none‘ librarian, I have to admit to not having heard of Argan Oil before. But thanks to Dana Elemara the founder of Arganic I now know much more than I did.

According to Wikipedia Argan oil is a plant oil produced from the kernels of the Argan tree. It is found in Morocco, and is valued for its nutritive, cosmetic and numerous medicinal properties.

The Arganic Oil website expresses it more evocatively:

Argan oil is one of the healthiest and rarest oils in the world coming from the UNESCO protected argan tree. Often nicknamed ‘liquid gold’ this oil was the Berber people’s secret for centuries

It takes approximately 15 hours and 30kg of fruit to produce just 1 litre of argan oil. This lengthy process involves skilled handwork that has been passed down from generations.

In late summer the argan fruit ripens and falls to the ground where it is gathered. It is then laid out in the sun to dry. To make the oil, the dried outer fruit is first removed, then, using traditional artisanal techniques involving stones, the seeds are extracted from the hard inner shell.

Argan TreeUp to this point everything is done by hand, furthermore it is only women involved and this employment provides not only a good source of income in a poor region but an opportunity for them to gain independence. The process is governed by cooperatives who also give these women access to free education, and use some of the profits of the argan oil trade to benefit the local tribes and communities.

The seeds are then cold pressed to extract the oil. Nothing is wasted in the process, the fruit pulp is fed to cattle and the leftover seed pulp is used as fuel. At Arganic we have strict controls at every stage of production.

Dana had attended a couple of events and courses at the Business & IP Centre, but is still relatively new to the library. But it sounds like we have already been of help.

‘I trademarked my name only after being aware of it through the free IP seminar at the British Library and it was one of the best things I could have done at the start of my business as I have come across and won IP issues since.’

Here is her story:

Dana had heard about argan oil through relatives that were raving about it but found it difficult to get hold of in the UK. It was then that she decided to leave her mathematical and corporate background behind and the idea for Arganic came about. Luckily Dana had friends living in Morocco who put her through to the right people and the more she learned about this oil the more she fell in love with it and the important social impact it plays for women in Morocco.

Update

I’ve just received this exciting update from Dana:

What a lovely post, thank you so much. There have been so many things happen since we last met, details on my last newsletter here, including TV appearances. Also last week my argan oil won a gold award from The Guild of Fine Foods, and today I found out that I won a Shell Livewire Grand Ideas award which gives me £1000 and free PR. They said I achieved the highest points in my category, and am now in the run for Young Entrepreneur of the Year which is announced in November. So I am extremely pleased right now.

I am still visiting the library and recommending the business centre constantly.

All the best, Dana

Arganic founder Dana Elemara

Arganic founder Dana Elemara


Calling all dyslexic entrepreneurs

12 July 2012

The Business & IP Centre is hosting a research placement for Sally Ann Clarke, an MA student from the University of Brighton. She is looking to find entrepreneurs and business people who are dyslexic. Below is her blog post about the project:

Sally Ann ClarkeMany thanks to the British Library for agreeing to host my research project.

First of all, something about me. I started my career as a qualified librarian in Manchester Public Libraries, and since then I have had a variety of roles including managing an independent bookshop. This gave me retail and business experience but also an interest in business information. I decided to return to the library profession and I am now studying for an MA in Information Studies at the University of Brighton.

For my dissertation I am researching dyslexic entrepreneurs and business information. My choice of research topic came from bringing various ideas together. I read the Cass Business School’s research by Dr Logan that entrepreneurs have a significantly higher incidence of dyslexia than in corporate management and the general population. I also visited the Business and IP Centre and noticed that many of their services are aimed at entrepreneurs. I then wondered if dyslexic entrepreneurs had specific business information needs.

I also have an insight into some of the issues dyslexic entrepreneurs have, as I am dyslexic myself. I understand that many people do not realize they are dyslexic although they may have an inkling that they are ‘different’. I didn’t find out myself until I studied for a part-time University Certificate in Creative Writing eight years ago. I am now aware of the difficulties I have, and have learnt some strategies to try and overcome them, but now I am becoming aware of some of the ‘advantages’ such as good verbal communication, lateral thinking and creativity. These ‘advantages’ are perhaps why someone with dyslexia becomes an entrepreneur in the first place.

Richard_Branson

And there are many examples of successful dyslexic entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, Kelly Hoppen,  Duncan Bannatyne from Dragon’s Den and Tom Pellereau, winner of last year’s The Apprentice.

However, I need your help! If you are dyslexic and have used the Business and IP Centre, if you think you may be dyslexic or if you know a dyslexic entrepreneur please do get in touch. I would love to hear from you. My email is SallyAnne.Clarke@bl.uk


Playback Rewards, a success story in the making

29 June 2012

playbackrewards-logoMost of the inventors and entrepreneurs we help in the Business & IP Centre realise that it takes hard work and patience (and some luck) to become successful.

For Alistair Kelman the man behind Playback Rewards it has taken three years of seven day weeks with no holidays.

I have often seen him working in the Centre, and for the past couple of years he has been giving me regular progress reports on his patented invention. These updates have been an alternating mix of positive and negative news, as hurdles appear and then are overcome. Or amazing opportunities arrive, but then disappear again.

Alistair_KelmanThroughout this roller-coaster of events, Alistair has remained positive, and bounced back from setbacks (an essential ingredient for an entrepreneur). He has also taken a flexible and pragmatic approach to commercialising his invention (another necessary requirement – but sadly rather too rare for inventors).

For the last few months I have been waiting for permission from Alistair to talk about his invention on my blog, and now he has given me the green light. I am excited because Playback Rewards has the potential to be our biggest success story so far, by far.

Alistair started working on his ideas for revolutionising television advertising at the Centre at the beginning of 2009. He filed his first patent later that year, which was granted in February 2011. He then worked for months, almost on a daily basis at the Centre, developing, researching and refining the commercialisation of his invention.

In late 2010 Alistair ran out of money for his patent. But managed to persuade Stephen Fry to put in a little to keep the project on the road. As you can see from the video Stephen recorded ???, he liked Alistairs’ ideas and wanted to help. Then on Christmas Day 2011 his company was mentioned in an article in the Sunday Times.

Five months later Playback Holdings Ltd won a place in the semi-finals of the CISCO BIG awards, where it stands the chance of winning $100,000 for the business. Alistair feels that which everyone should know about this amazing programme.

As part of his entry for the CISCO i-prize competition Alistair has made a video Magic in your pocket which explains how the service would work.

On 6 July Playback Holdings Limited starts its Series A  fund-raising via an Financial Services Authority (FSA) approved crowdsourcing  platform called Seedrs. This innovative investment method allows ordinary people to invest between £10 to £100,000 in any of the start-ups on its platform.

The full story behind Playback Rewards, and where they are going is on their website www.playbackrewards.com.


Going for gold with our Inspiring Entrepreneurs – preview

16 May 2012

Stephen_FearIn keeping with our exciting new Innovating for Growth Programme, our next Inspiring Entrepreneurs event next Wednesday is Going for Gold.

It’s for people who want to take their business to the next level but aren’t sure how. Come along and hear from serial entrepreneur Stephen Fear, Mandy Haberman, inventor of the Anywayup Cup and Cate Trotter, Head of Trends at Insider Trends.

Stephen is an experienced and skilled entrepreneur, his first business was for a cleaning formula made in a garage at the age of 16. He opened his first ‘office’ in a red phone box and has gone on to work on 64 different ventures across the globe.

The evening will also give you the opportunity to learn more about our exciting new business support programme, Innovating for Growth. If you are a London-based small business looking to grow, but aren’t sure how to take the next steps, we can help provide expert advice and support on business strategy and sustainability, branding, intellectual property, developing your product and getting it to the right markets.

Stephen Fear
Stephen is an experienced and skilled entrepreneur, his first business being a cleaning formula made in a garage at the age of 16. He opened his first ‘office’ in a red phone box when he heard on the news that new laws would force food manufacturers to change the way they clean ovens. The Bristol-born businessman hung up an ‘Out of Order’ sign outside the phone box, charmed an operator into pretending to be his secretary, persuaded a US firm to sell its oven-cleaner product to him, and was soon dealing with the world’s biggest food brands.

He an his son, Leon Fear, now run a multinational trading juggernaut incorporating 64 companies with interests in everything from hotels to manufacturing.

Mandy_HabermanMandy Haberman
Starting out with no experience in product design or business, Mandy Haberman came up with the revolutionary design of the ‘no spills’ Anywayup® cup for babies, which has gained turnover of £10m per year since launching in 1995. Mandy can also give invaluable insight into more practical entrepreneurial skills such as dealing with the legalities and patenting of an invention, having fought through a court battle with a major corporation, who used her patented technology for their own range of non-drip cups.

Cate TrotterCate Trotter
Cate is the Founder and Head of Trends at Insider Trends, a London-based trendspotting consultancy. Since graduating in Design from Goldsmiths, she has worked as a marketing consultant for brands such as Lloyds TSB, Tesco and Unilever. She set up Insider Trends in 2008, specialising in demonstrating how trends are coming to life in the world around us. Clients such as Philips, Nokia, Marks & Spencer, Absolut Vodka and American Express have used its trend tours, presentations, reports and workshops to gain a tangible understanding of otherwise abstract trend theories.

Cate regularly runs workshops at the Centre and is one of our success stories.


Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands – I’ve pinned my tale on the map

15 May 2012

writing-britainOur great new exhibition which opened last Friday is called Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, and features some wonderful exhibits which have never been seen in public before.

These include loans coming directly from writers such as Hanif Kureishi, Jonathan Coe, Ian McEwan, and Posy Simmonds. You can read regular updates on the exhibition on the English and Drama blog.

The exhibition is all about exploring how the landscapes and places of Britain permeate our great literary works. And on the exhibition website is the chance to participate by adding your own literary geographic reference.

Just choose a literary work from any period and any form (e.g. a novel, a poem, song lyric or a play) that relates to a specific location in Britain or Ireland. Then say a little about your chosen item, and how the author has captured the spirit of the place, and what it means to you.

Pooh_Shepard1928

Image from Wikipedia

I couldn’t resist revisiting my youthful playground of the Ashdown Forest. I grew up in Forest Row in the heart of Sussex, and spent many a happy hour exploring 500 Acre Wood. This was the basis for A. A. Milne’s fictional Hundred Acre Wood, the landscape for the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

I have a strong memory of a 10th birthday party egg-hunt under the tall Scots pines at Camel’s Clump and amongst the ferns and bracken. Thanks to the Conservators of Ashdown Forest the place is pretty much the same as it was back in Winnie-the-Pooh’s days.

Russell_Brand_Arthur_Premier_mike

Image from Wikipedia

I also put in an entry for Grays in Essex as the stamping ground for the young Russell Brand, which features heavily in the first of his two (so far) rather childishly titled autobiographies, (unless you believe his claim to be inspired by the fictional Nadsat language from A Clockwork Orange).

In My Booky Wook, Brand talks at length about growing up in this rather miserable town. He believes that part of his determination to become famous was as an escape route from this grey and mundane environment.

Early on in his career he revealed a passion for Jack Kerouac, and his classic novel On the Road. Together with his writing partner Matt Morgan, he travelled across the United States from coast to coast.

I met the notorious comedian briefly in 2007, when his book signing tour came to Brighton. And, in between seducing the young woman in the queue in front of me, and insulting my 14 year old son, he expressed a great interest in visiting The British Library. Although I suspect he has been rather too occupied with his burgeoning Hollywood film career since then to find the time.


Could you be our new Jewellery Designer in Residence?

11 May 2012

artquest-on-whiteWe have had our wonderful Inventor in Residence Mark Sheahan pretty much since we opened in 2006, and he has personally helped over 400 inventors.

More recently we have had our Entrepreneur in Residence Stephen Fear.

And now we are looking for a Jewellery Designer in Residence.

TattyDevine_Crystal_Crown_Necklace

Tatty Devine Crystal Crown Necklace

Together with Artquest we have just announced a new research residency for a mid-career London-based jeweller with at least five years’ practice.

This paid opportunity will help a designer take their work in a new direction, be inspired by the Library’s collections and gain business support.

The successful applicant will receive:

  • A bursary of £3,000 to develop (and potentially commercialise) a new body of work using material from the British Library collections.
  • Access to British Library collections and curators.
  • Access to business and intellectual property advice in the Library’s Business & IP Centre, which helps people to set up, run and grow their own business.
  • Marketing support in relation to their activity undertaken on the residency.

The deadline for applications is Monday 9 July 2012.

Maybe you could be the next Tatty Devine?

You can also contact Frances Taylor if you want to be involved in this, or our other projects targeting the library’s creative audiences.


Could you be the next Business & IP Centre Success Story?

3 May 2012

I love hearing and writing about our Success Stories, so it is great to hear that we have created a web page to find even more.

Like all good marketing, becoming a Success Story is a win-win. We get to show how our customers have benefited from our services, and they get great publicity for their business.

To apply, you just need to visit our Success Stories web page. And don’t forget to visit our BIPC YouTube channel to check out the rest.

.

Success Story: Sheila Holdsworth, Know Knockers

Benefits of being a Business & IP Centre success story

  • Extra promotion for your business and product or service to a wide network
  • Increased exposure for your brand
  • Increased web traffic to your site
  • Opportunity to use promotional images or video for your own advertising purposes
  • Invitations to networking events to meet other like-minded entrepreneurs and key stakeholders
  • Regular contact and updates with Business & IP Centre staff and business partners
  • Highlighted internally at the British Library through internal communications channels such as the staff Intranet or newsletter

Success story guidelines:

  • You must be a registered user of the Centre
  • You should be able to demonstrate that the Centre has played a significant role in the development of your innovation, product or service. Ie. illustrate specific practical advantages from using the Centre and its services.
  • You should have attended at least one workshop (run by either British Library or one of our external partners).
  • Your innovation, product, service must have been launched successfully and your company trading for a minimum of 12 months.
  • You must be able provide evidence of ownership of the IP (e.g. a patent) in the case of a new product or process.
  • The story of your innovation, product or service is likely to be attractive to the press/media in the opinion of the British Library press office.
  • Your product or service displays the best of UK entrepreneurship and innovation in the opinion of the British Library
  • The case studies cover a wide range of different business sectors.
  • The case studies are representative of all entrepreneurs, including women and BAMEs.

Let our Industry Guides show you the way

23 April 2012

industry guides

I was rather surprised to discover this morning that I have failed to blog about our wonderful Industry Guides. This is even more of a crime when I consider how my colleagues have toiled over them every six-months to hand-pick the best information for researching key industries.

Although by no means comprehensive (not really possible in the British Library due to our vast range of content), these guides highlight useful databases, publications and websites, hopefully in an industry or topic you want to research.

Below is a list of our current guides:

 


Totseat – our Scottish Success Story

4 April 2012

totseat logoIt was great to hear from Rachel Jones the inventor and founder of Totseat who are based in Edinburgh.

She told me how the first Totseat was created from her wedding dress (with an understanding husband watching while she chopped it up). This followed on from a disastrous meal out with a small child – and various filthy high-chairs being proffered from the downstairs loo.

Totseat-DenimThe purpose was to create a safe haven from any adult chair for a small child – i.e. replacing a traditional high-chair when none was available, or they are too filthy to use. Rachel created a cotton Totseat from the original silk version, and enlisted the help of a friend to make it child safe. Soon lots of her friends wanted one too.

Being somewhat neurotic, Rachel took safety to heart and enlisted help of BSI test house, paediatricians, physiotherapists and the Child Accident Prevention Trust. With the safety attributes firmly embedded, she made 20 prototypes, with slight variables, (all by hand) and lent them to 20 families – along with a disposable camera – requesting as many testing experiences as possible.

Rachel then visited the British Library Business & IP Centre to see what other brands were ‘out there’ on international basis. As well as looking at trademarks, names, patent and design rights.

Several months and 900 testing experiences later Rachel had a ‘final prototype’, and managed to secure an appointment with John Lewis for a ‘reality check’. But it turned out that John Lewis loved it. Her reaction was, ‘yikes’!

She continued to use the Business & IP Centre for Mintel and Keynote research papers on state of ‘the nation’ (Childcare industry, nursery industry, accessories etc). She found this invaluable, as access to these reports are otherwise totally out of financial reach – and this sort of information remains a key part of their business planning and strategy.

Since going into production four years ago UK growth has been strong in high street stores, and now export growth is surging ahead with 40 plus countries. Totseat is now the leading product in its class, with multiple award wins, recognising its design, and safety attributes.

And now Totseat has been joined by Oobicoo, which was short-listed for Best Soft Toy 2012. The adorable, cuddly, soft toy tot Oobicoo is made from gorgeous soft plush and, at 60cm tall, is the perfect size to be an instant baby brother, sister or best friend.

Rachel describes the British Library as a ‘magnificent mind-space’ whether exploring, befriending or nurturing information for both day to day and strategic business.


Archiving video games – the search for the impossible

30 March 2012

gameCity_logoOn Monday we had a presentation from James Newman and Iain Simons, co-authors of 100 Video Games, co-founders of Game City, and co-founders of the UK National Videogame Archive. And what an entertaining pair they made, switching seamlessly from slide to slide and from one to the other. They handled the great many enthusiastic interruptions from the very knowledgeable audience with patience and politeness.

They were at the British Library to talk about why the archive was created in 2008 and progress it has made since then. In practice much of the talk was explaining why it is impossible to archive vidoe games, due to their very temporary nature. Even the plastic of the early consoles is starting to degrade, ending eventually in a pile of fine grey dust.

With my background in computer science, I was expecting to hear about all the clever ways programmers are preserving the games so that they are playable on current hardware. They did talk about emulators and the good work fan programmers are doing, but ultimately their efforts are doomed to failure.

It will never be possible to exactly replicate the way the games played back on cathode ray tube (CRT) screens and 16 bit processors. And even if you could, the cultural context will have been lost. Consequently they are concentrating on preserving the experience of game-playing rather than the games themselves.

They do this by capturing live game playing at events like GameCity, and preserving written material relating to games such as Walkthroughs, also known as cheats.

They ended their fascinating and stimulating presentation with a wonderfully rude example of the challenges of completing a Super Mario Brothers level. This has had an amazing 20 million views on YouTube, but comes with a health warning as it is fully of swearing in response to the frustrations of playing the game.

As something of a failed gamer, it certainly make me laugh.


Another great Inspiring Entrepreneurs with Mothers of Invention

19 March 2012

Another fantastic event this evening with a range of inspiring women entrepreneurs and their stories.

Jones_EmmaThe event was chaired with great warmth, energy and humour by Emma Jones  who launched her first business at age 27, and successfully sold it two years later. In 2006 she launched Enterprise Nation as a website to help anyone start and grow a business from home. The company has since expanded to offer online services, publications, events and finance to small businesses across the UK. Emma is also co-founder of StartUp Britain, and currently acting as the campaign’s chief executive.

Sophie_CornishAs co-founder of shopping website notonthehighstreet.com, Sophie Cornish has won many prestigious awards including the ECMOD Direct Commerce Award for the last three consecutive years and the Online Retail Award Prix D’or 2010. They now host over 2,500 businesses on notonthehighstreet selling 40,000 different products.

They came to the British Library Business & IP Centre early on to look at trends in Internet retailing. And worked hard on their business plan to the extent that they new their numbers inside out. Sohpie emphasised that creating a brand is the key challenge for any business.

Her tips were:

  • Own your mistakes
  • There is no silver bullet
  • Hard work is your unique selling point
  • Cash is king

Kamal_BasranFrom helping her parents prepare samosas for the English pub they ran, to setting up her own food business The Authentic Food Company in 1985, Kamal Basran indulged her passion for cooking authentic Indian food and opened a small business supplying local catering establishments with hand-made samosas and other Indian snack food.

Today, the company has over 240 employees and has a turnover of over £31 million. The company are supplying many of the UK’s top hotels, pub chains, restaurants and retail outlets with the range of quality international cuisine.

When Kamal started out in business, she was a full-time teacher, settled in a comfortable lifestyle, married with two children. While out shopping she saw some ready made samosas, but once home discovered they tasted horrible and threw them into the dustbin. This was the trigger for starting her own business. She had no idea how to start, but wonders in retrospect if this is perhaps the best way.

She began making 600 samosas a week, and grew the business to over a million meals a week.

Her tips were:

Number one priority was to organise her children.
Then, learn how to do everything yourself (nothing is too menial).
Finally, don’t listen to other people (especially your parents!)

Her reasons for success were:

  1. Target your market
  2. Grow gradually
  3. People – 25 nationalities
  4. Products – are the best quality
  5. Customers – we love our customers

Rosie_WolfendenRosie Wolfenden and Harriet Vine are the founders of Tatty Devine whose distinctive fashion designs have made them brand leaders. In 2011 they had a boom year, with a £1 million turnover and kick started 2012 with opening a Selfridges pop up shop which launched their new silver label. The two London Tatty Devine boutiques are located in Brick Lane and Covent Garden.

Harriet_VineThey are independently run and design every piece, 99% of the jewellery is made by hand in their workshops (based in London and Kent). Their custom-made jewellery has been worn by everyone from Claudia Schiffer to Jessie J.

They are very proud of producing their own book on How to Make Jewellery.

In the last two years they have started letting others in to their business, such as developing a new website, to enable them to concentrate on the jewellery.

Christina_RichardsonChristina Richardson is founder of The Nurture Network the UK’s first on-demand marketing department for start-ups and entrepreneurial growth businesses. Christina has spent much of her career managing and growing FMCG brands worth in excess of £100 million.

Now she and her blue-chip trained team, work flexibly across multiple businesses – being their marketing expertise, part time or for specific projects – calling in creative specialists from their network as and when they are needed.

Her tips for new businesses:

  1. You need to give yourself the strongest foundations you can. Be distinctly different by playing a different game.
  2. Define your brand by being clear on your ‘onlyness’. Think about who your brand would be if it were a person.
  3. Test your brand out with real people.
  4. Have a vision, but with numbers. Know the future you want to create.

And for existing businesses:

  1. Marketing is everything that touches your consumer.
  2. Always think consumer first. Choose which group will be your most valuable customers. This will inform your marketing chooses.
  3. Plan with the end in mind and be objectives driven.
  4. Use everything you can do to spread your brand
  5. Bootstrap and collaborate

The evening closed with a lively question and answer session followed by some serious networking until closing time.


Our Spring Festival has sprung

7 March 2012

British_Library_Spring_Festival_creativeIn January I blogged about our Spring Market competition for designers and makers. From the 80+ applicants, the 12 lucky winners got the chance to set up shop in the British Library Piazza last Thursday.

This was all part of our Spring Festival week of events which ran from 1 to 5 March, as a five day celebration of fashion, design and creativity. Highlights included the Spring Market, ‘Make it, Sell it’ speed mentoring sessions, talks from Quentin Blake and Jamie Hewlett (Gorillaz), a pop-up exhibition, Vintage Knitting and a pecha-lecture with Neville Brody.

I have to admit I was a bit worried about the Spring Market as we have had some very mixed weather recently (it is cold and wet as I write this), so we were very fortunate to have a warm sunny day for the market. I popped down to have a look and say hello, and ended up buying some of the wonderful items on display.

history_mugsThe first stall I visited was Cole of London founded by Sarah Cole. Sarah designs colourful mugs that are a contemporary take on age old themes. Featuring figures from history and illustrations. Her mugs feature English monarchs, great writers and the wives of Henry VIII. She has used the Business & IP Centre to learn about copyright and research the ceramics market.

Next was SquidLondon, who I have mentioned before (SquidLondon brighten up a rainy autumn day). Rather than go for one of their best-selling line of colour changing umbrellas, I plumped for a ‘Miss Squidolette’ Shower Curtain which comes to colourful life each time the shower is turned on. It makes a great gift for anyone with young children who might be reluctant to ‘get wet’.

Miss_Squidolette-Shower_Curtain

BathSoak-200x200Next came Ruby Red Cosmetics founded by Martine Burford who is passionate about ethical cosmetics, and her skincare range contains no synthetic chemicals, fragrances or dyes, and has not been tested on animals. She makes all her products locally in London and they are beautifully packaged .

The idea for Ruby Red grew and grew during the 18 months sabbatical Mike and Martine took in 2005. We had given up our high flying jobs to travel around South East Asia and spent a lot of that time with the locals, discovering effective natural apothecary remedies for keeping skin looking healthy and glowing.

The happy ‘punters’ at the fair, seemed to be a mix of British Library staff (showing what good taste they have for innovative products), and visitors to the library who got a nice surprise on their way in to do their research.

All the stall holders I spoke to said they were getting a lot of interest, and sales, so I am hoping this might be first of many such events at the Library. Congratulations to Fran Taylor our Marketing Manager for Creative industries, for masterminding the Spring Festival.

We were also lucky to have Buzz Films present during the week and posting several excellent short clips onto Vimeo.

Fran_Taylor

Fran Taylor Marketing Manager for Creative Industries


Blogging for fun and profit

21 February 2012

wordpressSorry for starting with such a cliché headline, but I am conducting a scientific blogging experiment, more of which later on.

This post (my 509th to be precise) is about why I blog, and why any start-up or small business should seriously consider blogging.

This evening I am giving a talk as part of our Web in Feb series of events. The title is Business Blog – Live, and I am looking forward to some lively debate about the whys and wherefores of blogging for business.

I have already posted up my slides on Slideshare and am happy to share some of my key points below:

typepad

Why do I blog?

  • By accident… the idea was to show a colleague how to blog
  • Because it works – 25% of traffic to the Business & IP Centre website – 200,000 hits in 4 years – comments and feedback
  • Because I enjoy it – writing about interest business ideas
  • It is easy… and free – well not quite, now I am paying $20 a year for an advert free WordPress
  • It is my memory of events and ideas – I want to be able to look back in a few years time
  • I believe it helps the reputation of the Centre… and hopefully mine too – only my readers can be the judge of that!

Blogger

Why you should blog

  • To build trust – ‘real’ people vs anonymous business – this is an increasing desire from customers
  • To build an audience – you can start before you business goes live – you might even attract some pre-launch orders
  • Increase SEO without the risk – Google loves blogs-hates cheaters so keep away from search engine optimisers with ‘magical’ properties
  • Drive traffic to your website – see Google above
  • Be seen as an expert in your field – requires insightful, quality content – but hopefully you will have this if you are starting a business
  • Reach a wider market – word of mouth referrals – one post might go viral

posterous-logo

  • With passion… and patience – wait at least six months for the numbers to come through
  • For your audience – you do know your potential customers likes and needs… don’t you?
  • Mainly about things related to your business – don’t stray too far off base
  • Headings must be ‘Ronsealed’ –
  • Regularly – a minimum of once a week
  • Content must be engaging / surprising / controversial / intriguing
  • Length must be ‘just right’ – somewhere between Stephen Fry’s blessays and Euan Semple’s The Obvious.
  • Leveraging your other social media channels – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, +Google
  • Using your web domain if possible – to maximise traffic to your website
  • Promote using contacts and ‘Blogroll’
  • Measure using built in tools or Google Analytics
  • Handling comments and spam – to moderate or tolerate comment trolls

Ah yes, back to my scientific experiment. I want to prove that even by picking a popular title for this blog post, it will still soar up the Google rankings the minute it is published. Time to find out!


The UK Web Archive: an important resource for business

21 February 2012

ukwa_logoOur Web in Feb month has got me thinking about the impermanence of so much internet content.

Companies put a great deal of useful information online, but rarely have a strategy for maintaining or persevering it. This is where the British Library comes in. Preserving the UK web is a natural extension of our traditional role of preserving UK printed material.

So if you are researching business that no longer exist, or blogs which have ceased to be updated, have a look at the UK Web Archive

Collecting since 2004, the UK Web Archive contains websites of cultural and research relevance relating to the UK. Its purpose is to collect, preserve and give permanent access to key UK websites for future generations. It is a selective and unique archive, built on nominations from subject specialists in and outside of the Library, alongside public nominations. With over 10,000 different websites, the archive is one of the library’s largest ‘born-digital’ collections.

The archive team have made searching easier by adding indexing terms (meta-tags) and added research tools such as Ngram visualisations.

You can read more about developments in the archive on their blog


CMI Management Book of the Year 2012

6 February 2012

Last night I attended the CMI Management Book of the Year for 2012 held in association with the British Library.

brainwaveThis competition aims to celebrate the best of management books published or distributed in the UK, from the most inspiring to the most useful.

This year Cass Business School joined as sponsor for the Innovation and Entrepreneurship category.

I was pleased to see that Celia Gates’ book From Brainwave to Business, How to turn your brilliant idea into a successful start-up, was one of the short-listed titles.

The overall winner on the night was The Cult of the Leader, A Manifesto for More Authentic Business by  Christopher Bones.

cult_leadershipThis is a very timely topic with the media attention firmly on the causes of our economic plight, and railing against excessive executive pay.

The book is a critical look at the way business leadership has gone so badly wrong, and what can be done to fix it. Christopher explained that this was his first book for 15 years, so was particularly pleased to have won the award.

The Cult of the Leader, A Manifesto for More Authentic Business
Modern business is obsessed with leaders.  We talk about leadership all the time, but its real meaning is becoming more and more obscure.  Recent corporate crises have shown that all too often, our leaders are missing in action when we need them most. 

In this groundbreaking and provocative new book, Chris Bones shows how we need to:
    Restore trust and confidence
    Be more realistic about what leaders can and can’t do
    Redefine talent
    Revalue experience
    Reconsider remuneration


Take part in our ‘Seven Up Census’ and win £100 worth of Amazon vouchers

3 February 2012

866529_feedback_form_excellent by Dominik Gwarek - kilashiAs we approach our seventh birthday, we are trying to conduct a census of all our customers – past and present.

We need your help if you are one of the 50,000 people who have used our services, we would like to hear from you about the difference we have made to you and your business.

Your participation is crucial in helping to secure future funding and ensuring that we continue to meet your future needs.

I would be grateful if you would spend five to seven minutes to complete this questionnaire.

The information you supply will be kept strictly confidential and will only be used for this purpose.

As an incentive, and to celebrate our seventh birthday, your name will be entered into a prize draw and you could be one of three people to win £100 worth of Amazon vouchers.

Please complete the survey before Wednesday 29 February 2012

 


Summly founder Nick D’Aloisio @British Library

27 January 2012

Summly_logoI couldn’t see how my colleagues could top the speakers at our first Digital Library Conversations @British Library. Internet pioneers Vint Cerf (known as one of the fathers of the internet) and Ted Nelson who founded Project Xanadu, the first hypertext project in 1960. There is a video of the meeting if you are interested.

However, I was wrong. As a result of Stella Wisdom (one of our Digital Curators) reading an article in the Metro newspaper, we were privileged to hear from 16-year-old ‘internet genius’ Nick D’Aloisio, the founder of Summly.

This iPhone app has made international headlines and attracted backing of an investment company controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing..

Summly is an iPhone app which summarises and simplifies the content of web pages and search results. Currently it can condense reference pages, news articles and reviews but according to Nick,  has the potential to go a lot further.

Nick_D'AloisioNick has been profiled in Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Wired and FastCompany for his entrepreneurial success and interest in Artificial Intelligence. Before founding Summly, Nick created Facemood, a service which used sentiment analysis to determine the mood of Facebook users, and SongStumblr, a geosocial music discovery service.

Did I mention he was 16 years old?

According to an interview with the BBC, Summly came from his frustration in researching for his exams.

“I was revising for a history exam and using Google, clicking in and out of search results, and it seemed quite inefficient. If I found myself on a site that was interesting I was reading it and that was wasting time,” he said.

“I thought that what I needed was a way of simplifying and summarising these web searches. Google has Instant Preview but that is just an image of the page. What I wanted was a content preview,” he says.

What impressed me most from our meeting with Nick at the British Library (which you can get a glimpse of here thanks to Reuters), was his intelligence and modesty.

I’m sure he has had plenty of practice, but his ‘elevator pitch’  (which is something of an obsession with me), was superb.

And when I asked him if he was planning to pursue an entrepreneurial path or go on to university, he talked enthusiastically about studying philosophy after his A levels. This is from someone just back from a series of meetings with high powered investors and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.

I came away with the impression that he was quite possibly the most confident and mature person in the meeting.

Addition 28 March 2012:

The video of this event has now been posted onto YouTube, and the interview with Nick starts 34 minutes in.