Archive | March, 2011

Blogging from the Skoll World Forum

31 Mar

I’m here at the Saïd Business School in Oxford, where the Skoll World Forum is taking place. The Business School is the busiest I’ve ever seen it, and there is a real buzz about the place!

At least that is what I can hear from the library – buzzing from the noise in the reception area downstairs. That’s because I am not actually attending the Skoll World Forum. I am just sitting in the same building. The event is invite-only, and I’m pretty sure I was sent a VIP pass in the post but I never received it. I have, however, seen a chap who looks suspiciously like my postman wandering around the place…

So in lieu of actually being able to tell you anything insightful  about the event, I present for your enjoyment a picture of an orange:

"Orange" by Flickr user The Ewan

"Orange" by Flickr user The Ewan

Alternatively, check out Alanna Petroff’s FT Blog, as she’ll be posting something soon. She probably won’t have a nice picture of an orange in her post though…


At last – a reason to use Foursquare: Agora App

21 Mar

Hello, I am your Mayor.

As a social media geek and early-adopter I’ve been a long time user of Twitter. Nowadays Twitter is so mainstream that it doesn’t take too much explanation to justify to non-users why I bother.

I’ve also been using Foursquare for a while now, but that one is a little bit harder to justify – “yeah, so basically you check-in to places when you visit them and if you check in the most to a venue you are made the ‘Mayor‘”. In truth it does have potential to help you discover new places if you live in somewhere like London and have lots of friends using it. I don’t have many friends [using it] and I live in Oxford, so it’s not so much use.

Nevertheless, I continue to persevere, but I’m not really sure why. I do feel I should point out I am the Mayor of Said Business School. Welcome to my little fiefdom!

Tonight I experienced a real-world use for Foursquare thanks to an app called Agora on Twitter.

I was sitting in the library browsing Facebook, studying for tomorrow’s Operations Management exam, when an @reply tweet popped up on Echofon:!/AgoraApp/status/49881141813059584

Checking out @sitar‘s Twitter profile I found that she is a VC investing in Internet start-ups, so definitely the sort of person I’d like to meet, so I replied:

and she agreed to meet!

A moment later Agora suggested that I also meet @pmoehring, who works with Seedcamp – another very relevant organisation.

Anyway, it turns out there is an investor event on at the business school: Financing for Growth. I knew the event was on, but as I am in the middle of exams it would have been difficult for me to attend. However now I had specific people to meet so I popped down to the networking drinks and ended up having a couple of good conversations about my startup with @sitar and @pmoehring.

So what is Agora?

That’s what I said, and the Agora twitter account pointed me in the direction of this article. Basically, Agora uses the Foursquare API* to match you up to people when you check-in to locations, using the Twitter API to work out if you have similar interests. Considering it suggested I meet with two people involved in Internet start-up investing, I would say it’s doing quite a good job! Actually, Agora was suggesting that Sitar and PMoehring meet me rather than the other way around, so I have now signed up on their website so I get notifications too.

So now I have a real world example of something useful coming from using both Twitter** and Foursquare!

Now I should really get back to my Operations Management studying. Something about an American Connector Company. I wonder if it will involve lead times and cycle times? Hmmm…

*API = Application Programming Interface

** Recently I’ve had another VC arrange to meet me through Twitter and set-up an internship interview at a top London VC firm, so I’m not short of examples for Twitter on its own.

Do not f**k with the Proctors

20 Mar

Do not f**k with us.

At Oxford University the university rules are enforced by a shadowy organisation called “the Proctors“. The threat of a visit to the Proctors is used kind of “boogieman” -style to scare students: “if you break the rules you’ll be up in front of the Proctors”. They have the power to do anything from issuing fines to kicking you off your degree course.

Tomorrow marks the start of Hilary exam week and of course there are lots of strict rules associated with sitting exams. Within the exam hall these are generally enforced by invigilators. The rules are pretty obvious and at their most simple can be summarised as:

  • Do not talk to each other once in the exam hall.
  • Do not look at your exam papers before you are told.
  • When you are told to stop writing, you must stop writing immediately.

Also, you must not bring any electronic devices in to the exam hall – a point that is very amusingly reinforced in an email from a professor at another university: “do not *f**k with the electronics rule“.

I would hate for any of my classmates to inadvertently break any rules during an exam and find themselves in trouble, so in the spirit of pre-exam procrastination I offer the following examples of situations that should be avoided in case they result in you making an unwelcome visit to the Proctors:

But I was just arranging to meet up once the exam was finished…” Nope. Please visit the Proctors.

But I just wanted to take a quick look at the paper to see what the case was about…” Nope. Please visit the Proctors.

But I just wanted to write a few more sentences…” Nope. Please visit the Proctors.

But they hadn’t taken my paper away yet so I kept on writing…” Nope. Please visit the Proctors.

But we were just agreeing that this wasn’t in the lecture notes…” Nope. Please visit the Proctors.

But, but but…” Nope nope nope. Please visit the Proctors.

So please, please, please let’s all say it together one time:







That is all. 🙂

Doing battle with Felix Dennis

3 Mar

Felxi Dennis: He was wearing those glasses.

Tonight I went to see multi-millionaire publishing entrepreneur Felix Denis speak at the Oxford Union. I know Felix’s story well, having previously read his sardonically-titled book “How to Get Rich” (affiliate link). It really is a great, inspiring book and well worth the read for any aspiring entrepreneur. Knowing his background I was very keen to hear him speak.

Felix gave the small audience a quick run-down of his life in four chapters: his childhood growing up in poverty; his teenage years and twenties as the rebel magazine publisher, jailed for obscenity due to his “Oz” publication; his subsequent business success as a publisher, leading him to now be worth around £500 M (!); and his now life as a poet and “green” investor, paying to plant 20,000 acres of broad leaf woodland in South Warwickshire. It’s a real rags-to-riches story.

His talk itself was interesting, but he really came alive during the Q&A. His insight included how to plant a tree (don’t use the green tree protectors, dormice hibernate in them then eat the tree bark – use the spiral protectors), his opinions on those British millionaires who avoid paying UK tax (not a big fan), whether he would have had the same drive if he had been born in to a more comfortable life (“no”, but then he “would say that”). We were also treated to some of his poetry, which was actually quite good. He has published his poetry extensively and it apparently does quite well.

Not good for trees.

After his talk a small group surrounded him so we retired to the bar for a drink. After a while he came in to the bar with Ash, the current President of Oxford Entrepreneurs. Seeing as I’m one of the finalists in the OE Tata Idea Idol* I thought I might as well take the opportunity to go and speak with him about my start-up.

To my surprise he already knew about my start-up, as Ash had told him about it when describing the Idea Idol competition. Unfortunately Ash had gotten the company name wrong, and Felix preferred Ash’s version of the company name. When I told him the actual name he said it sounded like a Spanish TV channel and that I should adopt Ash’s version. I countered that perhaps I should keep the original name, ditch the business idea, and start a Spanish TV channel instead. Well… it sounded funny in my head…

Then he started grilling me on the start-up idea. My audience for this spectacle was Ash, the President of the Union, Felix’s PA and at least one enthusiastic onlooker. He really grilled me, and I kind of stood there like an awkward politician smiling diplomatically as I was being insulted by a foreign dignitary. It felt very awkward, and I realised I was being ripped a new one. I also realised he wasn’t challenging me on anything I hadn’t already considered – he was just being much more forceful/brash and I was slightly intimidated by him.

I was grilled medium-rare

So I changed tack, and started answering back quite forcefully. I started to raise my voice as I countered his points, almost shouting at him. He started to realise I could answer his questions and his objections seemed to subside. As he left the bar after about 10 minutes of chat he said I should “definitely keep at it – it’s not a bad idea“.

Not a bad idea!” One of the richest men in the country thinks my idea is “not bad“! (Please note that in British English that is quite a compliment!)

I was totally buzzing after speaking to him. What a rush! One problem with my start-up is that I have had nothing but positive feedback, so it was very refreshing to finally have someone challenge me quite forcefully. It also made me realise what I would be up against when I pitch it to VCs. I felt like I had just done battle with a champion gladiator, and whilst I did not beat him, not having been killed myself was in its own way somewhat of a victory!

*yeah, I’m in the final of this Tata Idea Idol competition with my current start-up idea that I am trying to launch through the MBA. The final is next Wednesday 9th March at the Said Business School. Please sign up here and come along to support me! I am one of 6 finalists and the top prize is £10k, which would really help with my start-up’s progress!