Thursday, 30 October 2008

Some Cool Stuff at FOWA Expo Oct '08

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

The MySpace Bus

Loved this bus!!!

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

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

Impromptu Butchers Blog PITCH

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

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

Human Rummble Tumble

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

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

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

The letters were not seen on day two :-(

Google Beers – Beer Googles

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

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

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

Cheers Google!

Microsoft's GIANT iPhone!?!?

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

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

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

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

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

The Zuckerberg Experience

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

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

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


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

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

Aftershow Party

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

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

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

Thursday, 23 October 2008 at Future of Web Apps (FOWA) – Expo, Stand and Demo recently took part in the Future of Web Apps (FOWA) Expo at London's Excel. This event has a superb reputation for showcasing innovative, cutting edge web apps, Internet technology and startup companies. Last year's event was heralded a runaway success by attendees and tech industry officianados alike.

This was my first FOWA and I will admit I was a little disappointed, I found the mix of startups and multi-national corporations a little strange, the stands of early stage businesses were somewhat dwarfed by the flashy installations and lighting rigs of the Microsoft and Salesforce big boys. Unfortunately for us the position of stand within the expo hall was a bit off the beaten track and although we met some very interesting people and enjoyed ourselves immensely, a large proportion of the attendees were students and junior developers looking for the latest buzz, but with no buying power, I suspect they were predominantly drawn to the event by the live Diggnation broadcast.'s main activity at FOWA focused around the exhibition stand, located in the main hall. Here we met people, pitched the service offering, demoed the application live and collected interested parties contact details to follow up at a later date.

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

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

My Approach

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 16 October 2008

mashup* Hyper-Local Event

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

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

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

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

Montetisation of Local Content

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

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

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

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

As a general rule people are starting to pay less for online advertising, however they will pay more for a qualified lead or referral. For example, employment agencies and recruiters take free space or Job advertisements but will pay a larger sum upon appointment of the right person. Here we see the advertising model starting to move back towards the the traditional model of the yellow pages, i.e. basic advertisements free, charges for enhanced listings and now payment based on results. could offer a solution to the problems being faced by advertisers and those looking to pay based on results; if potential customers were able to place a call in order to buy or book directly from the advert, then the service provider would have a real and immediate indication of the success of that ad. Generally Web users expect online services to be free, but service providers will always pay for a sales lead or an appointment provided that the complexity of the transaction is appropriate for the value of that transaction. is free to the Web user and for the advertiser it is free to setup, and calls are charged on a per minute basis, i.e. they will only pay for the calls they receive.

Marketing and Launching

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

My Conclusions

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

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

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Getting Paid!

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

Large corporations and multi-national organisations, some of those that we have worked with include Honeywell, Orange France and Lucent, often have onerous and lengthy procedures to become approved suppliers. Even when or if your SME survives the paperwork ordeal the payment terms can still be crippling, sometimes in excess of 90 days. Things can then be complicated even further when trading overseas because of the fluctuating currency exchange rates that must also be considered. received some excellent advise and support regarding these types of issues from the UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) programme. The scheme delivers an informative two day workshop for SMEs who are starting to trade overseas, followed by some funding to support initial sales activity in foreign markets. We also receive ongoing support from a UKTI advisor and we were referred to Fred Bassnett from the North West's International Trade Team, about trading in the USA.

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

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

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

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

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

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