Start Up Advice from @jewl

Yesterday I returned for an afternoon of mentoring on the first day of the new FFWD London Pre-Accelerator cohort.

Here are six themes that recurred:

1). Where is it you personally are trying to go?
I asked a number of founders where they actually wanted to go with their product – what was their personal vision? Some were after an exit and others wanted to be the CEOs of their business seeing their roadmap through to highly profitable businesses.

The responses were interesting in that not many had considered this question and once we played out the various answers, the relevance of asking the question early on became apparent. For example, take a business offering software packages to automate accounting processes: If they were building to sell out to one of the big four, they are more likely to focus their product set and proposition to client and personnel within those large organisations. If they were to be a self-managed independent business, they might be more likely to adopt a licence fee business model that caters for smaller sized firms and even to consider targeting the end clients / companies who employ the accountants, with offers that could reduce their accounting fees.

2. The Gift of a Physical Offering in a Digital Space
If your offering has a physical element to it there are a whole range of opportunities open for you to engage with and market to your end customer. Example: a “find a flatmate” business – why not set up a Meet Up group that invites those looking for flatmates to get together and meet each other? What a great way to find out what questions they ask each other – informing the questions you are going to build in to your online / mobile form. You will also be able to spot trends that help you to identify your market segments – as an example, perhaps this is very attractive to females of a particular age and situation?

It is interesting to draw a parallel with, who started fully online and have now integrated physical meetups and events to bolster their offering. As an ongoing strategy, having a physical element to your offering helps people to engage more deeply with your brand as they meet you, feel the atmosphere that you create and at the same time, help you to develop your offering. Win Win!

3. Understanding all the People in your Universe: People Centred Innovation
As we try to identify our target user and customer, we also come across different people that are in our scene / our “universe”. I tried out a quick exercise where some of the founders listed out the different groups of people that are in their universe. These are not necessarily customers or users, but potential collaborators, influencers and people in the value chain. Understanding all of these different people is incredibly useful. Profiling who is in your scene is an important piece of research – it can challenge what category you have put them in to – perhaps you discover new distribution channels or new end customers. This really can only be carried out in person. Look in to the eyes of people; feel their emotion; see their response; understand their motivation; then you can talk from a position of knowledge rather than assumption. I guarantee you will always find out something that you didn’t know.

Example: A discussion around the accounting landscape identified that a group initially thought of as potential customers could actually be a distribution channel.

4. Start on your Doorstep
The start up London scene is immense – with so many accelerators, courses, incubators and so on. If you are lucky enough to have a proposition where your target user is in this scene already, then it is somewhat of a gift – you are already on the inside! For example, the people that run the FFWD London programme are linked with a lot of the other players on the scene and no doubt have ways to get to the various co-ordinators of the many programmes and their databases. So, use it!

Another variation on this theme of doorstep starting with a fashion duo working on a new idea to offer affordable but high end dresses. They suspect their prime segment to be working women in their early 30s – many of whom you will find in this scene – a great place to start. An interesting follow on question came from this fashion duo – they knew that it was not a great idea to carry out early concept testing with their friends – although they are target market. The advice in this case is to ask friends and colleagues to introduce you to someone that fits their particular profile, so you are quite rightly more removed from the respondent.

5. Opening the Kimono
Creating an MVP is critical to getting your product out of the door. As we all know, it enables you to gather early feedback, create an early adopter base who will help co-design your future product and it starts your brand journey. I found myself encouraging some of the founders to be bolder in their brand vision. I think that it is good to sell a vision as long as you are not making promises to deliver particular functionality in specific timeframes.

Example: An App that enables restaurant go-ers to find out more about the menu is part of a broader vision to bring smaller restaurateurs the kind of analytics that are available to larger establishments, without the accompanying price tag. The business model is that the restaurant will be paying to be on the system. So why not sell them the broader vision; they are an early adopter of the first feature set and the intention is that they are in for the long haul journey.

Open the kimono – give them a flash of what you have – there is a strong marketing message associated with being the first in. Often benefits (usually price related) will follow for them in the longer term. Again, these early adopters will be the ones that inform your future product. Stay close to them. There is no harm with labelling your MVP – “BETA” is a known and accepted label for example – it means that there may well be clunks and a limited product set as this is an early stage of the product.

6. Don’t hide your Light under a Bushel
I met three founders who were building products based on their own insider-industry experience. With so much digital innovation out there, it is really important to show credibility and not be afraid to shout about it!

Example: One of the founders is 25 and is building an online training offering for entrepreneurs of “lifestyle” businesses. It sounded initially clichéd, with concepts like “gamification”. I boldly asked his age and what experience he had that qualified him to be coaching others. He went on to tell me (in a very modest way) how he had built up three successful offerings all profit-generating. I suggested that part of his elevator pitch would be to start with a bio of his top three successes (I don’t apologise for always thinking in threes!). Instant credibility. Not just another online training platform: a business built around sharing his personal experience.

Julia is Product Doctor and Course Director at The Mobile Academy.

Our Tutors get more mobile & go over to teach at Digital Health Pitstop

@Priyascape and @jewl went down to CDEC to run the Design Day at the brand new Digital Health Pitstop in December 2014. No matter what the sector, the same principles apply.

Drop In Night Reflections

Some tweets from the night: Sitting in with pal @Smart_Dresser on a session with the awe inspiring @AnnZitterkopf was invaluable. @jewl you were right, she’s #awesome …thanks to Viji Pathy whose amazing wealth of knowledge for #Android & Tech helped reaffirm my plans…Marc Abraham was my first session, but his advice followed me through all the others. #awesomeness  I hope he sees this!…I see @sdevo as one of the most #awesome#tech minds I know. If I had to speak with someone last night @moblacad Steve was it….Last night @moblacad #amazing .If I could put a price on the advice from the I#awesome business people & their experience I’d be bankrupt!

Tutors in view: Tom Hewitson, Ann Zitterkopf,

Tutors in view: Tom Hewitson, Ann Zitterkopf, Michel Sabatier, Dave Slocombe, Karen Barber, Rick Chandler, Steve Devo…

Tutors in view:

… and Marc Abraham

Tutor Elliot Dell talks straight as per...

Tutor Elliot Dell talks straight as per… Jo Rabin and Niall in the background.

Drop in Night Tips

Drop InAt Drop In Night, 27th November, you will each be able to select 3 x 20 minute sessions. This will be on a first come first serve basis from 6.30pm – so best turn up on time to get your first choices.

As we go through the night, you will be able to grab additional sessions as you see tutors are available.

To make the most out of Drop In Night:

  • Take a look at the list of experts (check out the Who’s Who) and think through who you most want to get a session with
  • Practice your elevator pitch – with only 20 minutes, you want to get to your questions as quickly as you can
  • Consider teaming up – perhaps you have the same question as someone else and you can share sessions … more bang for your buck
  • If you do not want any advice on a specific product or business idea, you can ask others if you can sit in on their sessions or just have a general chat with the Experts

Here are the list of surgeries on offer (there may be some changes to this list)

Jo Rabin – Business Strategy & Tech
Ann Zitterkopf – Business Strategy
Karen Barber – Marketing & Business Development
Tom Hewitson – Developing Content for Mobile
Rick Chandler – Technology Strategy
Steve Devo – Technology Strategy
Sean Bedford – Tech Architecture, iOS, Hybrid Apps
Niall Roche – Android & iOS
Viji Pathy – Android & iOS
Dave Slocombe – Product
Julia Shalet – Product
Marc Abraham – User Insights
Elliot Dell – Career Management
Michel Sabatier – Angel Investor
Sam Harper – Legal

A slice of innovation pie from Appsworld Europe, London 2014 by Lawrence De’Ath

Lawrence De'Ath, Technical Programme Manager & Participant of our 5th Academy

Lawrence De’Ath, Technical Programme Manager & Participant of our 5th Academy

Now in its 5th year, Apps World claims to have “grown to be the leading global multi-platform event in the app industry”. So did it live up to the hype?

Here’s what I learnt in two days at Apps World Developer Conference & Exhibition.

Customers expect mobile to be beautiful and Product Managers are focused on responding
Mobile is personal technology – closer than any previous generation and intimate like only our wallets and jewellery has been in the past. So, the User Experience, UX, is critical to success since consumers are fed on a diet of beautiful looking products. You know all this, so what does it mean for innovation ?

This means Product Managers are centre stage calling for ‘user value’ – if people get something back from engagement with a App, they will keep on using it and not be part of the extra-ordinary high rate of App abandonment in the first month after installation.

Again, mobile is different with consumers not just consuming, but sat at the co-creation table influencing development decisions. This may not be the lengthy market research of old. Organisations able to gather critical feedback and respond will be winners. In a panel discussion centred on retail applications, Kate Cuthbertson, former Head of Mobile Innovation at Asda gave a nice case in point “If we couldn’t decide between options, we would just write directly to our most frequent users and say ‘we need your help’, we would always get a response”.

This rapid and focussed approach seems to have paid dividends with claims that the Asda App came to market in just 16 weeks. Pair-wise (or multi-choice) comparison can be a great tool.

Users at the centre is changing how organisations innovate
After the ‘users have spoken’, the response needs new ways to manage development and innovation. A free-for-all or trying to do everything is not a recipe for launch success. However, the democratisation around customers is encouraging organisations to gain traction for their ideas before a first release or look-and-feel choice by exposing their development plans and projects earlier and more than ever.

On the Enterprise stage, HMRC presented some ideas for exposing their API explaining how they would encourage developers to make the process of submitting our tax return easier. No surprises on the API idea, but the session got into some interesting issues.

Mark Dearnley, Chief Digital and Information officer at HMRC set the scene by explaining they had a “only 41 Million customers in the UK”. With this number of accounts, they can’t afford to get things wrong. Yet they are not technology laggards, having processed the UK’s first electronic money transfer more than four decades ago.

Questions from the audience got to the heart of the business and market opportunities that have opened up by virtue of the presence of the API. However they also revealed some of the confusion around how to build an API eco-system. Hinting at the old style planned economy of Government services one questioner asked “How will you marshal all the developers that want to use the API ?”. Mark Dearnley’s answer was simple “We won’t, they develop what their customers want”. He did explain that they had a responsibility to consider technology compliance to the API, but this was a separate issue. The HMRC stance is typical of progressive organisations looking to get the best benefits of ‘market-led’ innovation. Standards are needed, and are a great aid to fast-track innovation, but the standard setter should not see it as their role to determine the details of an implementation.

On a smaller scale Ashley George, Head of Innovation CoE, GSK lifted the lid on how the global pharmaceutical giant is asking their staff to bring their consumer technology experience to work. He explained how he and his team were bringing these strengths together with the full gamut of Lean and Agile to bring new products to the internal IT offering.Blog LD 1

His case study was rapid development and ‘user-led deployment” of a video messaging and sharing application – allowing staff from the CEO through team-leaders and regular desk staff to post their communications in video. What caught my innovation-eye was that this work was itself driving innovation at the firm – doubtlessly a shrewd choice from the Head of Innovation. Peak use of the service was hit at Christmas where now a cheery message in video can come not just from the CEO, but from your team leader in another country or time-zone. It not radical stuff, but if this can become a habit of effective management – why not post regular updates to your team?

Communication is a key ingredient of innovation and making that easy to produce, more informative and easy to access may help improve quantity and quality. As for concerns about postings of ‘cute cat videos’, Ashley George was frank “It was bound to happen and it does, you can’t stop people”.

Technology – it can be devilishly difficult to see where the best benefits sit, but bare with us

Seeing the potential of new technologies is always tricky, but you’d have to be a real naysayer to disregard the opportunities that HTML5 is addressing. With HTML4 dominant for around 15 years, now is beyond the time for 5 to take hold.

With recent reports of more teenagers today having access to a tablet than a radio, the pressure to connect all media in a “served” format is there. This is one of the drivers encouraging the BBC to use HTML5 as part of their drive to meet their commitment to universal access. So, HTML5 is gaining strength as a prime non native platform using the format’s potential for easier “any screen” applications. Though native iOS and Android applications continue to lead the field in prettiness and functionality, there are reasons why HTML5 is being supported to catch up. A substantial benefit for the BBC is that their “design for compatibility” is hugely simplified by using browser technology rather than having to maintain many different applications with differing code bases and levels of functionality in order to support hundreds of different set top boxes, smart TVs, mobile and desktop environments.

Two other key benefits land with HTML5 – both help mobile and tablet users as well as simplifying things for content providers:
1. HTML5 will bring to an end many of those annoying bolt on application environments like Flash and Java. Cutting the plug-in saves on CPU and therefore battery power – another challenge unique to mobile which is in dire need of a solution.
2. The capability to run HTML5 applications off-line but in standard (HTML5 compatible) browser is a second benefit particularly suited to addressing one of the weaknesses of Mobile – lost connectivity.

Payments – let innovation battle commence !
Payments are a vibrant area sector for innovation. It would be folly to attempt to summarise or find the highlights in the competing offers – or even try to categorise them. Tim Green of Mobile Money Revolution speaking at The Mobile Academy identified 38 mobile payment routes.

Why so complicated for such a fundamental thing you ask?

Most mobile money solutions add one or more additional layers in the “stack” that ends up with traditional banking – where most people’s money sits. Each has some nuance of added value.

More radical web/mobile money offers to trade in a new currency, without further involvement of your bank after you “invest”. Potentially radical benefits in low cost transactions and single “global currency”. It’s a big step however, so here’s one thought.: Banks tempt us with real cash to switch to their account – and standards try to make it risk and pain free, yet people don’t switch, more than every few decades even though it may save them money and hassle of actual bad service. Switching out of that system altogether needs a whole new level of trust.

How much Bitcoin would convince you to dive into an alternative currency ?


Thanks Lawrence, for this great blog post and for joining our trip to Apps World. Good on Mobile Monday London too for securing all those free stands for StartUps –

Nana, Gary & Cathleen from our current academy.

Nana, Gary & Cathleen from our current academy.

And the 5th Academy is up and running!

Back to our lovely Idea London venue with a brand new first night session. We tried out a new format where Steve & Sean lead the drawing of some technical architecture diagrams with input from the techies in the room and plenty of questions from the rest! We came away with some understanding of infrastructure and nomenclature. Ready to delve further as the course progresses.

Great to have Sean and Steve back as experts in their field and alumni of previous courses.

Steve Devo & Sean Bedford give us the Tech Overview on our first night.

Steve Devo & Sean Bedford give us the Tech Overview on our first night.

1st Night

Participants of our 5th Academy take in the technical definition of a “framework”

Great also to see alumni Chris Michael and Niall Roche as well as a lovely surprise visit from Viji, our Android Tutor. Looking forward to more alumni popping in as we progress.

#needtoknowmobile for Marketers by Alex Meisl

Alex-MeislWhat happened to the “Year of Mobile”?

I get a near uncontrollable urge to punch someone when I hear this question. Certainly, mobile has “made it” and yet curiously, even now, despite all the justifying signs, brands still underinvest dramatically.

Before I go any further and elicit grumbles from those who have nothing better to do, “Mobile” to my mind is any device which is not tied down to a fixed location and as well as smartphones also includes wearables, tablets, phablets and any other w*nky terminology coined by someone on the West Coast.

My chums at Ipsos MORI have come up with two compelling and light-hearted facts which demonstrate the significance of mobile:

  • One in three adults would rather give up sex than their smartphone
  • Two in three adults would rather give up alcohol (I suspect that their sample group did not include many people in the agency space).

Despite this, the painful truth is that most brands are out of their comfort zone and don’t devote the attention or necessary budgets to maximise their opportunities in this burgeoning space. A final stat which the industry rolls out on a depressingly frequent basis is the Mary Meeker Media Consumption versus Advertising spend graph. The annual launch of her research is greeted with the same level of anticipation by hardcore mobile fans as the new football season, the glorious 12th for grouse lovers or the next launch date of any “i” product for Apple fans. Mary’s chart shows the disconnect between time spent consuming different media-types and budgets devoted to them.The two biggest anomalies are print media which consumes 19% of budgets invested against only 5% of time spent consuming it, and mobile media where budgets barely reach 4% despite 20% of media consumption now being on a mobile device.

What to do?
At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, how about following tried and tested traditional business disciplines? By this, I mean go back to basics by working out what the customer wants and what you are trying to achieve. Then work out the channels and tools which are most appropriate for your audience.

Depending on your industry, you probably need to consider this non-exhaustive list:

  • How does your audience engage with you at present?
  • What percentage of visits to your website are from a mobile device?
  • Is your mobile offering location-aware? (if I am out and about and want to know my nearest store for a specific product, then mobile can be a great help. If I am standing in the store, then I want my device to recognise this and turn into a store guide.)
  • What are the key answers that a customer is looking for or problems they are trying to solve when they come to your site?

Without a doubt this will help you realise that mobile should be sitting at the heart of your marcomms strategy. You might even be one of the enlightened few (step forward and take a bow, Facebook, Google and House of Fraser amongst others) by adopting a “Mobile First” strategy.

Right, you’re getting there. However, do not, under any circumstances, fall for the evil seductress that is “sexy technology” or the “shiny new toy” unless there is both a compelling reason to do so (maybe winning awards is your only KPI?) and you have got your basic strategies and offerings in place. In the good old days (no more than two years ago!) mobile users were forgiving if they had a bad experience on their device. Not so anymore. Research shows consumers are more likely to go to a competitor brand if they are subjected to a rubbish time on their mobile.

Whilst an app, Bluetooth, QR code or Augmented Reality or iBeacons might be the right way for you to go – sort out the basics first and ensure that your core customers have a delightful experience, and remember that research shows that every pound spent on mobile, delivers a disproportionately higher bang for your buck than other channels.

Alex is co-founder and Chairman of Sponge and WiForia (the in-store engagement company) – and is former Chairman of the Mobile Marketing Association. Alex also tutors at The Mobile Academy. You can catch his and other expert tutor sessions on our next academy starting 30th September.


As our 5th academy approaches and we get ready for an all-alumni drinks on Friday, we look back to the Summer of 2012 – not because of the Olympics – oh no – but because it was our first academy!

Happily, we have continued to attract a diverse crowd; from freelance developers, to agencies – large and small, from marketers to those in between jobs, many with ideas that they want to kick around, some already working full time on their new ventures. As an example of the diversity, in this video, from the first programme, we see the large agencies represented: Sammi from M&C Saatchi and Clare from Atos; Brian, Andy and Chris who are all still working on their Start Ups and Dave who is working on eHealth Software Product Development at Imperial.

Alumni from The Mobile Academy on Vimeo.

Lots has happened with the participants of the first course, in the two years since attending. Many have brought new products to beta and some to full market launch; some have managed to get the jobs that they wanted focussing on mobile; others have won awards, got the top of app stores and raised funding.

Here is also a review of how the academy is contributing to London’s Mobile Ecosystem.

@tomhewitson shares great advice on creating mobile content

We loved this talk that our alumni Tom Hewitson gave during the last academy that we decided to share it with the world!

Thanks Tom for a great presentation.