Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Northern Startups October '08

Wow, where has the past month gone!!!?? Last month I attended an excellent Northern Startups Event and so although this is belated I felt it was worth sharing my notes on the event, just in time for this month’s event, which will be held this evening at eOffice in Manchester ( 

The Northern Startups event ( is organised and hosted by local businessman and entrepreneur Manoj Ranaweera, the format of these events differ from month to month, but regularly feature guest speakers from outside the region. The events are well attended and provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs, early-stage and startup businesses to meet each other, present, discuss and test their business propositions and theories. The events also join businesses with potential investors and service providers, including representatives from the financial, legal, sales and marketing industries.

The theme of the October event was 'De-Mystifying Investment' and delivered a unique insight into the investment process from 3 very different perspectives. The panellists were, Roy Sheldon an investor, Stuart Scott-Goldstone a lawyer and Robert Wakeling an entrepreneur, each presented and then took questions from the floor. 

The Investor - Roy Shelton - DropJawVentures

20+ years experience building international technology and telecoms businesses. Roy has gained a reputation as an early evangelist of the emerging technologies that evolve to lead their field. DropJaw Ventures Ltd founded by Roy focuses on early stage investment into emerging and aspiring technology companies. DropJaw Ventures; formed in 2007 and based in Nottingham, have made 3 investments to date. Roy has seen his investment into Next2Friends rise 10 fold over the last 12 months, when the latest investor valued the company at $25 million. He is at lengths to explain that the money they invest is all there own money and he sees the role of DropJaw Ventures as an investment vehicle rather than venture capital. Their investments are typically between £50K and £100K, the focus is on startups and the early adopter market. This is an area where Roy can afford to invest, but also where he feels he can add significant value based on experience and expertise. Roy is looking to make one or two more investments in 2009 and is seeking opportunities where he can support, progress and scale an early stage business in readiness for securing future and potentially large rounds of venture capital.

To be in the running for DropJaw investment businesses must meet the following criteria:

  • Is the product/service disruptive?
  • Will the product appeal to the mass market?
  • Do the business owners have at least as much 'skin' or money invested in the proposition as Drop Jaw Ventures?
  • Does Roy like the people enough to 'go for a beer' and socialise with them? (This is a good indication of whether you will be able to work with them!)

 Other questions that will need to be answered in order to secure funding include:

  • What are you going to use the money for? (Roy is looking for lean businesses!)
  • Can you demonstrate traction, a user curve and early stage feedback from betas?
  • What is a realistic exit?
  • What is in it for DropJaw Ventures?

What Roy and DropJaw Ventures can offer you, is the opportunity to scale your business more quickly and effectively than would otherwise be possible, by benefiting from not only a cash investment but also the chance to leverage Roy's contacts, skills, experience and business acumen.

Corporate Lawyer - Stuart Scott-Goldstone - Aaron & Partners

Head of the Corporate Team; specialising in corporate finance transactions at Aaron & Partners LLP, a commercial law firm with offices in Manchester and Chester. Stuart and has advised both investors and companies on a large number of early stage and start up investments in the North West, particularly those involving regional venture capital funds.

The focus of Stuarts presentation was the paperwork and process surrounding Venture Capital investment, including the legal obligations upon the company as they enter into:

  • Confidentiality contracts
  • Term sheets
  • Lock outs
  • Due diligence

Next Stuart covered some aspects of how the different types of investment might be structured, including but not limited to, equity share, dividends, loans, deeds or a combination of these.

Finally Stuart gave a high level summary of key documents that any business taking investment might come across and gave some great insights into what you should expect. The presentation covered:

  • Investment agreements
  • Influence, rights and veto clauses
  • Board representation
  • Warranties
  • Disclosure agreements
  • Restrictive covenants
  • Key man insurance – in case of death
  • Articles of association

Entrepreneur - Robert Wakeling - Wadaro

20+ years of hands-on industrial experience in senior management positions, Robert continues to be a strong analyst of future trends in wireless technologies. Robert, Managing Director of Wadaro; founded 2 years ago, raised seedcorn funding from regional venture capital market and is currently negotiating the next round investment.

Robert talked about how as a serial entrepreneur he decides which of his ideas to take forward as his next venture, he outlines his thought process as follows:

  • Have an idea
  • How to market
  • How to deliver
  • How to make money
  • What are the risks
  • What is the impact on friends family and colleagues
Robert was at lengths to explain the amount of hard work and courage it takes to startup on your own and he stressed that in order for it to be worth it, and for your venture to be successful, you really must love what you do.

Roberts top tips for early stage businesses strapped for cash included:
  • At the beginning try and secure grants rather than VC investment, the people controlling grants can be tedious but they are better than VC’s!
  • Small business loans and banks are hard work, better to focus on securing grants and angel funding.
  • Use some of your own money to seed the business, then take VC investment; you will receive a much larger proportion of money for the equity you surrender.
  • Regional investors are a great place to start looking for funding and early stage investment

Robert then went on to talk about how to find Venture Capital investment when your business is ready for a larger cash injection. But as a word of warning to us all suggested we should be very careful to ‘Get into bed with the right person’, implying that choosing the wrong investor could mark the beginning of the end for your startup. In order to successfully secure VC funding you need to confidently sell yourself, your team and your opportunity. When you meet a VC who is interested in your company, be honest and communicative, start the relationship as you mean to go on. Remember VCs wants to make money, so give them a significant percentage of equity in the business.
Finally in summary Robert’s top tips were:

  • Seed your business with grants and your own money
  • Get investment
  • Work hard, no holidays, no weekends, late nights!
  • Monitor and manage the pressure
  • Get out there and network
  • Remain focused and disciplined
  • At this stage the job is your lifestyle, but hopefully in the end it will pay for the lifestyle!!

Entrepreneur - Georgia Brown -

At this event I also did a quick 60 second appeal for, which covered the following:

  • Deliver verbal communications for Web users and online communities
  • Active in tech and startup communities
  • Winners of big chip international innovation award

PFH self funded

  • Looking for investment to enable growth
  • Looked like we had secured funding
  • Disappointed to hear the fund had run dry

Typical example of why we are looking for funding

  • Internet World Innovation Pavilion
  • Ideal for promotion of PFH on global stage
  • Now appealing for Sponsor or a partner
  • Or suggestions of who and how raise money

You can also see my blog post on the Northern Startups website for more detail regarding our appeal for sponsorship:, or check out the press coverage we received on The Business Desk:


Monday, 24 November 2008

Customer Services... Hell – Part 2 (The Sequel)!!!

Following up from my previous post, Customer Services... Hell!! (Part 1); I feel compelled to share my experiences of another well known organisation's Customer Services department. Unfortunately for me this was going on during the same time frame as I was coping with my Orange Customer Service episode... all truly exhausting!

Part 2: Customer Services Virgin Media

I have an eee PC, a great device, very portable and I take it with me practically everywhere I go, in fact it's the tool I use to write most of my blogs. So the one thing that would make this device even more useful is an Internet connection and I have been thinking for some time about getting a mobile broadband dongle. However, many of the deals currently on the market are either too expensive for my budget, tied to a lengthy contract, or with a provider who has limited network coverage.

Recently a colleague of mine saw an article in the press ( stating that Virgin Media were launching an offer that would allow existing cable customers with Broadband in their home, to get a dongle for just £5 per month plus the cost of the dongle and a contact of just 12 months. Perfect!!

I was on the phone to Virgin Media on the day the offer launched, but the first guy I spoke to knew nothing about the offer and asked if he could call me back when he had the details. No call back was received, so I called again, this time I spoke to someone who knew about the offer and it appeared that I would need to upgrade my home broadband package in order to qualify! After doing some sums I decided to go ahead with the deal. Payment of £25 was taken there and then from my debit card for the Broadband device, only it turned out later that they also took payment for post and packing a further £5! I was annoyed that I hadn't been informed of this charge, but decided to accept it as reasonable and looked forward to receiving my dongle.

The courier service attempted to deliver the parcel the next working day, but obviously I was at work, so just a notice through the door on this occasion. I tried to ring the number to rearrange delivery only to be told that calls are charged at a premium rate and that I would need to hold, after 5 mins I hung up. I tried again later to be told that they were closed for the evening and that I would need to call back in the morning. I called back the next day, to be told that I couldn't rearrange delivery to an alternative address because all mobiles had to be delivered to the billing address. I said that I would pick the parcel up from the depo and asked for directions, apparently this was not possible either because the parcel was already out for delivery. I mentioned that the package was not a mobile phone but a broadband device and they said as this was the case I could in fact rearrange delivery to a different address!!!????

In the meantime I receive a number of voice mail messages and emails from Virgin Media explaining that the direct debit for my mobile broadband had not been set up correctly and therefore my dongle would not work even when I did receive it! Sigh! I made a few more calls to Virgin and eventually managed to set up the direct debit. Although, this involved speaking to 3 departments and having a battle over a password, which appeared to be correct on one occasion but strangely incorrect on the second occasion... Very odd!

2 days later the dongle turned up and I was VERY excited!! I rushed to plug it in to my eee PC whilst I was still at work, nothing happened... I plugged it into my office Mac and it was working within seconds, odd! I asked to borrow my colleagues Vodafone dongle, which I knew worked, but it didn't work anymore. Grrrrrr!!!

Some of my techie colleagues kindly had a go at trying to make either of the dongles work and eventually after a system update the Vodafone one just started working again, but alas the Virgin Media one, would not.

So, I went home and tried to get the dongle working on my old XP laptop, it was up and running in seconds. I then went back to the packaging to see if there was any instructions for trouble shooting, only to discover that Linux was not supported by the Virgin device. Doom!

I rang customer services, nobody was available to help!! I wrote an email to the person that had been provided as my contact, no response. I rang customer services again, this time I spoke to someone who tried to be helpful, but the official Virgin Media line is that they don't support Linux. However, Virgin Media tech support did have some unofficial hints and tips which could be read out to me, but not emailed because that would be classed as official support. I tried the suggested tips, but they were way too technical for me, I sent the info to my techie colleagues, but still no luck in getting the device to work with my eee PC. Sigh!

Next I scoured the eee PC user forums and found nothing, I posted my own comment and received a couple of suggestions (, but we couldn't get any of these to work either. Sigh, sigh!

Finally, tired and frustrated I decide to return the device, I call Virgin Media customer services, go through the security check and I am then told that the Mobile Broadband department is closed for the evening and that Virgin Media Cable cannot help me! I call back in the morning, I get through but the operator cannot hear me. I try again and the operator still cannot hear me. I hang up and test my phone, which appears to be working fine and call again. Finally this time the operator can hear me. I am pretty annoyed at this point, so much so that the Virgin Customer Services agent tells me to 'calm down!', this acts like a red rag to a bull! Anyway in the end I request a returns bag and end the call. 4 days later this has still not arrived, so I call Virgin Customer Services again, this time I am told that I need to wait 5 days and that the returns bag is on the way, I wait 8 days, still no returns bag. So, I call back and I re-order the returns bag, explaining that I am worried that very soon my 28 days return period will have expired, meaning I will be tied into their contract. I am reassured that my request for the returns bag has been logged even if it hasn't been received and therefore there will be no problem getting released from the contract. A new returns bag is requested for dispatch...

I have now been waiting a further 5 days, still no sign of a returns bag and to add insult to injury they have now started billing me for the service!! I am exhausted!

As 'Globus' commented on the first part of my rant (in this blog post:, why is it that all of these service providers appear to deliver such poor standards and low levels of customer service, it is quite simply unbelievable and unacceptable!!

So, any thoughts guys? Am I the only one to experience this type of Customer Services Hell?? What should the providers be doing to improve things? What level of service would be considered 'enough'? I look forward to hearing from you all :-)

As a side note; I am also extremely annoyed with my Linux based eee PC, it seems that absolutely nothing is compatible with it, my blackberry won't sink with it, neither will my camera, iTunes doesn't work with it, neither does 4OD, I have had problems with Star Office and now the Virgin Media dongle doesn't work. I think this is the last straw and I am seriously considering installing XP over the Christmas break!!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Customer Services... Hell!!

Some of you may have noticed that I didn't get around to posting a blog last week, to be honest I have at least two entries part written, but for the majority of last week I spent every spare second on the phone to one customer services department or another and therefore had no time left to blog, or almost anything else for that matter!!

Part 1: Customer Services, Orange

As you may remember I have a Blackberry Bold, which I was very excited to receive a few months ago ( However, for all the good looks of this device it has in fact turned out to be somewhat unreliable. The phone regularly crashes and takes several long minutes to reboot, displaying only a white screen and an egg timer, which does nothing for me except raise my blood pressure. It struggles to find reception even when there is good signal coverage, which means it is really only usable in a big city such as Manchester, where it stays within a high strength mobile network cell at all times. Having said that, the device was also virtually useless in London as it couldn't cope with picking up and loosing the signal everytime I went in and out of the Underground and as a result I missed two important calls. Last weekend I was in the Lakes, where admittedly the signal is very poor, but to my dismay the Blackberry had drained itself of battery power in just a couple of hours, my guess is that this was probably due to it's constant searching for a network that wasn't there!

So finally I decided it was time to find out what was causing these issues, I did a bit of searching on Google and came up with this: Yikes!! It seemed that I wasn't the only one experiencing these issues, but annoyingly here I am a month on from the date that this article was written and yet Orange still hadn't contacted me...

I called Orange customer services and politely explained the problem, they provided me with a link to the Blackberry website to download and install new software to my device, stating that all of the issues referred to in the press had now been resolved. I tried the URL provided, but the message which came up read, “I'm sorry, this page had been removed”. I called Orange again, waited 20 mins on the line, was transferred through 2 departments and was then hung up on. Next I wrote an email, to which I received a call back the following morning whilst I was at work, I was transferred into a queue for 10 mins and then asked if I was still happy to hold... I exploded!

Anyway the Orange representative I spoke to seemed to think that the Blackberry website was still the best bet, this guy claimed that there were no issues with the handsets as far as Orange were concerned??!! I lost my temper and told him he would have to call me back after 5pm when I had finished work. 7.30 pm still no call back, I called Orange customer services again, this time I found a very helpful lady who, called me back on my home phone, ran a diagnostic test on my handset and promptly confirmed it was faulty, shipping a new handset to me the following morning.

The handset arrived, the courier was on time and charming, all good so far, but apparently the courier only brings the device itself so I keep the existing sim, memory stick, battery and back plate. Obviously this is hassle as I now have to sink my device with the data backed up on my home PC and as a result my emails won't work and I have no address book for the remainder of the day, but hey no big deal we are making progress at least!!

So, on Saturday morning I sink the device with the backup, that all works fine except that I now lose Blackberry Maps from the menu!!! Argggggghhh. I search the internet and find this:, it says that Orange are not including Blackberry Maps on the device, Grrrrrrrr! The maps better be included, they were there before I did the sink with my backup... I call Orange customer services again, this time the frustration in my voice must have been very clear, I only had to wait on hold for 5 mins and was only transferred once, but the representative in the technical support department did manage to get the maps back onto the device. Unfortunately, the only way this could be achieved was to wipe my email and Facebook config!!?? So, after I finished the call with Orange I then had to set these up manually, but eventually I had a device that resembled my old one, hopefully minus the issues!

That evening I set off to the cinema in Didsbury, 3 or 4 miles from my home and guess what... the stooopid thing couldn't find a signal!!!! We came home and it wouldn't sink with the broadband and then crashed, taking 8 mins to reboot!!

Today the device has behaved much better, although the back plate doesn't seem to fit the new device properly, however I have decided to give the Blackberry Bold a week or two and see if things have improved, before I do anything more... mainly, however because I can't cope with the thought of calling customer services again!!!

Why is it that we have to get so cross and angry with customer services agents before our problems are taken seriously, 'Sigh'

Part 2 of Customer Services Hell!! Coming Soon...

Friday, 7 November 2008

How To Make An Eee PC 901 Sleeve, Cover or Case

Some months ago some 'orrible little S.O.D.'s slashed open the soft top roof of my beloved convertible MX5!!! Anyway with time the anger and the pain has subsided and Cybil (the car) now has a fabulous new hood. So what is the relevance of this I hear you cry...

...well in addition to Cybil's swanky new hood I also had in my hands the remnants of her old one and for some time I had been contemplating chucking it out, but somehow I didn't quite have the heart. Around this time I also started to loose patience with the felt/fabric sleeve that ASUS send out as standard with the Eee PC. Somehow this case manages to attract every single bit of dirt and to be honest It was less than stylish even when it was new, but now a few months on it is filthy and just plain VILE!!

So, I decided to make a new case for my beautiful Eee PC, from the old vinyl car roof!!! Whooo a worthy cause for this emotionally charged piece of scrap material. Plus the fabric is strong, durable and waterproof – perfect protection!

I started by checking out a few ''how-to-make” sites for ideas and maybe even a pattern or template, things like and are normally a great source for inspiration and help. However, on this occasion I couldn't really find anything that fitted the bill, I wanted something that was smart, stylish, funky and practical. In the end I decided to base the design on the one Blacberry supplied with my Blackberry Bold phone (but bigger of course!). When I first saw the case for my phone I wasn't too sure, it looked a bit dull to me, but to be honest it fits the device well and looks smart even with constant use. For the Eee however I felt I would want the sleeve to have a flap (like an envelope) in order to fully enclose the computer, therefore protecting it completely.

I began by making a template out of newspaper, being careful to leave a generous seam allowance, which would give me a little flexibility, just in case I had misjudged the sizes in any way. I made templates for both sides of the sleeve, the piece for the back included the flap.

Next I laid the template on my material and cut out the pieces, it was then that I realised that the inside of the flap would also be seen so I added a third piece of material and stitched them inside faces together. This means that when the flap of my case is open the inside of the flap shows the same vinyl finish as the outside.

I decided to do the rest of the stitching red, to make a feature of it, but a little word of warning as this certainly made things harder because every mistake, wobbly line or corner is very obvious. However after a couple of attempts and quite a bit of unpicking I was satisfied with the results.

My Eee PC fits very snugly in the pocket of the new case, so I now need to secure the flap. I decided upon a funky square red button and cut a horizontal button hole. I edged the button hole with running stitch to make it look good aesthetically and double stitched the ends of the slit to stop it splitting further as a result of continual use. I didn't need to zig-zag stitch the edges of the button hole in the traditional way as this fabric doesn't run or fray.

I then stitched the button to the case in the right position for the button hole and finally I finished of the edges by gently warming them with a lighter. The fabric from the car hood is plasticised and so this melts the edges slightly giving a neat professional looking finish.

My completed Eee PC case or sleeve!

I hope you like it!! Let me know if you have any cool home-made bags or cases for your gadgets, or even if you have found some good ones for sale. I would probably have bought something if I had found something even remotely suitable!!

Looking forward to hearing from you all...