The in crowd

Before I ventured into tech I used to be a photographer. Struggling to get editorials published and fighting for commercial work.

I did all right; shooting for some great brands and some decent magazines. With  the arrival of my second kid and the reality of mortgage payments I diverted when I was offered a full-time job from one of my clients. It seemed the only way to make it as a photographer in London was to party with the right people. I had the school run and nappies to change; not quite the kind of conversation fashion stylists wanted to hear in between lines of coke.

Then came dubble and a dive into the tech scene. I thought this would be a more real environment, less about who you know and more about what you do.  To be fair dubble is still early stage and not a great product yet but thanks to an awesome contact in PR and a community that like to grow with us we have done well. But if I were able to go to every event and network around the London roundabout we would be so much further down the line.

It seems that for everyone the holy grail is Tech Crunch. We’ve been lucky as they’ve featured us a couple of times and the journalist who has written about us is always the first to reply to a press release and very thorough and honest. Then along came this article about “The Worst App In The World” and there is was again. It’s not about what you do it’s about who you know even in tech. The best quote from the article:

“Zarick, a friend with whom I occasionally consume alcoholic beverages, should have known better.”

It’s disappointing to know that so many apps are being released every day and this one gets a mention because the developer drinks with the journalist.  Guess i should train my co founders to go and suck some cock (I’m not going to do it [yet])

The only metric that matters

When I started the  dubble adventure I had no idea about anything. I was desperate to build dubble as I thought it was a cool idea and some people would love it. I knew it wouldn’t be a product for everyone but it was different and I was excited by it.

After launch the questions of how many downloads, active users, conversions and what our retention was like came flooding in. The reality was I didn’t even know what retention was and my main concern was if the product was even working.

The learning has started and that is also the purpose of this blog. Recount my experiences and share interesting info about start-ups, tech as well as more personal posts about photography. With that in mind here is an fantastic presentation by Josh Elman that is packed with awesome advice for anyone who is about to launch or already has a product in market. The slides are here and you can watch the presentation on youtube:

 

News feed blinders

download (1)

Working from home sucks. People who say “I would love to work from home” are just in shitty jobs or have a bad office environment.

The reality of “being able to work in your PJs” is that it’s ten times harder to get anything done. Unless you’re a painter, a writer or anyone who just needs space or no distractions then being able to focus on one thing is tough.

Aside from household chores, kids, too many windows to look out of, the fridge, no real desk set up, the fridge again or the couch and a magazine; other distractions can come right from the industry you’re working in. The internet!

Addicted to scrolling

One of the biggest killers to my productivity is browsing all the bullshit that is on-line. I have no idea where all this content was ten years ago but thanks to the internet we can now check the “ten most…” of anything you can think of. We can stalk friends form school we had no interest in staying in touch with in the first place.  Scrolling news feeds or photo streams is the biggest waste of time since channel surfing on TV.

Recently I needed to find old footage of people taking photos on YouTube. I found a decent clip almost instantly but one hour later I was lost in a whirlpool of YouTube videos. I found myself watching terrible footage of people standing up to bullies. This is time I will never get back.

Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr are even worse when it comes to time-wasting and endless scrolling. I don’t think I have left a news-feed with a single decent lesson learned. I’m not addicted though; I just wish I had a life-manager ready to slap me every time my thumb started the scrolling action. For me it’s just a bad and ugly habit like picking my nose. I don’t need to do it but it just feels nice.

It’s just a matter of time before we will be checking ourselves into rehab for Social Media addiction

But it’s not just social media is it? It’s checking all the news sites, clicking away on devices, editing photos, zombie shopping or watching looping GIFs.

This addiction, or habit, is a real tough one to manage when you work from home. At least in an office there is a small amount of guilt but as home it’s easy to get lost.

Is there a cure?

No, and it’s going to get worse as devices and internet speeds get faster. The amount of nonsense content goes up by the second and 10s of 1000s of apps are released every month.

The best way is to manage the scrolling. Just as I try to limit my coffee intake or not to pick my nose in public I now try to only browse crap when I’m on the toilet. The two go hand in hand. You can pretty much assume that if I post something on facebook I’m taking a dump at that very moment. Or I’m waiting for my kids to come out of school. In fact you can keep up-to-date with my bowel movements and my parenting duties by following me on all my social media profiles.

In terms of working from home and managing the habit of scrolling it’s quite simple. Make your list of things to do and do them. Then just open your social profiles during break time; just like you would in an office!

 

 

 

Americans do it better

Americans do it better
photo by Dan Hatfield

It’s amazing how British engineers are credited for the first demonstration of a television, the invention of a computer and the world wide web. But where are we now on the tech map?

When I was a kid growing up in Italy it was all about how cool America was. LA Lakers, New York Yankees, Skaters, Teen Films and McDonald’s. There was nothing cool about Milan or London (that I knew of then). As a teenager, having moved back to London there was a weird anti-America period. Suddenly Americans were fat fast-food eating ignorant morons that had no history and therefore culture. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Americans are awesome.

Let’s ignore their weird paranoia and the fact they love bombing the shit out of countries miles away from them. Most countries do this. The French have screwed with Africa for years and us Brits aren’t exactly angels. We probably sold the missile to the Russians that shot down the Malaysian flight recently. if not the missile itself at least the communication the rebels are using to make sure it happened.

Putting all that nastiness to one side we have to accept that when it comes to putting on a show Americans do it better and this includes tech. Going back to the invention of the TV, Computer and World Wide Web what happened to the UK?

This is what (i think) happened; after the demo of the first television in Soho, above Bar Italia, they sat around and said: “jolly good chaps, we could use this device to share the news via the BBC and tell people what to do”. I wonder what they said in the US. Probably this; “woooooow that’s frigging AWESOME let’s entertain everyone with cool programs and show a ton of shit live and take risks!!”

Computer invention probably went something like this in the UK: “very interesting my dear fellow, we can use this wondrous device to make complex calculations about stuff that 99.9% of the world’s population simply will not give a jolly old crap about”.

An American sees a computer for the first time and says: “everyone will need a thing like this in their home at some point in the future so lets start messing around now and see what happens!”

World Wide Web is invented. British guy: “This is incredibly interesting. Oxford University will finally be able to send big boring documents to Cambridge University in a matter of seconds!”

An American gets told about the web: ” OH MY FUCKING GOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME??! We can make websites, people can buy stuff and have it sent to their homes! We can share photos, videos, make porn sites and anyone can search for anything!”

Now the UK is playing catch up. Silicon Valley started between the 1940s and 1950s around Stanford University. The dean of engineering  Frederick Terman pushed new graduates to start their own companies around the university campus. Silicon Roundabout in East London is a name coined a few years ago. Some start-ups were located nearby a roundabout which has the 3rd highest amount of cycling accidents in London.

So the Americans that have no history pre 1492 now have a vibrant tech scene that approaches 100 years of age. We have already over-marketed a dreary roundabout and made it unaffordable for early stage start-ups. YAY!

The main reason why Americans do it better is their positivity.  Recently I was talking to a businessman who specialises in moving start-ups over to the US from Europe. He mentioned that if he tells ten people an idea they give him ten reasons why it will not work in Europe. In my experience when I discuss ideas with Americans they say “Awesome, I love it! it’s going to ROCK and if it doesn’t we would have had a hell of a lot of fun trying!”

This is quite important as a foundation. To have a sense of positivity, a willingness to take a risk, maybe to be stupid and irresponsible in the process and to just see what happens. This is what drives experimentation and suddenly creating things that either work or fail in a big sinking boat party with people having fun.

We all know this; I’m not saying anything new. Everyone is talking about the benefits of taking risks and how good it is to fail but in the UK do people really believe this?

The crushing reality of a big feature

In our search for success we all think that the big App Store or Play Store feature will be enough; that a mention in Tech Crunch will propel us to viral heaven.

You get a feature and go out and celebrate your success (and it is a success) but it isn’t enough.

As the hangover kicks in you open your analytic tool and the reality will hit you.

Your graph will look something like this:

 

As you will learn over time, as I did with dubble, the reality is data can be the most depressing thing ever. You need to face the data-fear, get over the shock of what is really happening, tackle the metrics that are important to you and improve them.

The good news is you still have a day job. I mean, who wants their product to be a huge success in month 1 and sell for millions in month 2? You need to sweat blood, cry, laugh hysterically (then cry again), lose weight and hair before you reach success (apparently).

So why does my graph look like a giant bell?

Because unless you have a unicorn product the likelihood is it will be near impossible to retain all the users you get via a big feature.  I call them “browsing users”, they go to the App Store because they are bored and download apps. If they are not entertained in the next millisecond they will give up. Don’t get me wrong many of our users discovered dubble in the App Store or from a blog but you will get a lot of churners as well.

This is fine, churners are fine and bell curve graphs are OK. The point I’m trying to make is when you see the line go down after a feature don’t despair. Find out why they churned and how you can improve your product. Or if your product is specific perhaps don’t aim for the big feature and target the users you are after.

I will discuss more data-drama over time. For now check @andrewchen’s piece “life through the sorrow”

The real office

When I dived into the tech scene I really hoped I would have an office like this:

office

The reality however is my working space looks more like this:

my office

Actually it’s only like this when my youngest wakes up in the middle of the night but I can’t see any  foosball tables or slides leading to different departments.

My ego has accepted that the chances of landing millions of investment are pretty low so now all I want in a workspace is a table, a chair and maybe some decent people to talk to. Cooking meals, changing nappies and breaking up siblings fights between emails is getting distracting.

My new goal is a shared working space like Betahaus. Beer on tap, table tennis and sleeping areas will have to wait it seems.

Good investors will suss you out

money-tree-tbijpg

When we started dubble we raised a small seed round through family and friends taking advantage of SEIS. We had already started testing the dubbling process and working on the iOS app. We had a decent presentation packed with our dreams and explaining what dubble was.

After launch we needed to look for a larger round of investment and the plot thickened.

I personally had no clue how any of this worked. No connections in the investment scene and  I was not involved in the London tech start-up networking events. The reality was that we were either working on other projects at the same time, had family commitments or weren’t based in London.

Even when we were working remotely and google hangouts was our office it didn’t effect the success of dubble. We launched 5 versions in our first 7 months. Were nominated for awards and received awesome press. However it did, as I was about to discover, effect our chances of receiving a new round of investment.

Although introductions are the best way to meet VCs some will respond to a cold-emails if the project looks interesting. Once you’re in you need to listen to what they say as they will figure out your pros and cons faster then you. A good VC (in fact every VC i met) will know if your team, product, or both, will work or have the chance of succeeding.

With dubble we were so focused on our day-to-day missions that we didn’t really plan our overall goal. It wasn’t until we had been live for a few months that we had out first group discussion about “where will dubble be in five years”. This was the first thing that became obvious after a few meetings with investors.

We all know VCs see 1000s of pitches a year and make a handful of investments. Because of this they have the best experience and the most knowledge of successes and failures. They know more than you it’s as simple as that. I learned this the hard way by showing up to meetings thinking i knew our direction. I do now but I didn’t then.

After deciding if the team is strong, the concept or product is proven the next analysis will be if the goal is exciting to them. Don’t lie to VCs and tell them you want to be the next Snapchat if your messaging app is only for users who are in Lichtenstein and are 48 years old. Don’t tell them you want your B-to-B product to be used by every business in the world if your goal is just to have five big accounts. Because they will know even if you don’t. When a VC starts tearing your product apart don’t defend it. Listen to what they say because the questions they raise are the correct ones. The ones your friends didn’t raise when you test-pitched because they though the pitch was great!

We learned so much from speaking to investment analysts at some of the biggest VC firms in London. People we are in touch with now and who get in touch when they see us in press and provide advice when we ask for it. Even though dubble is not ready for a VC round yet VCs will stay in touch either because they think you might become big one day or they genuinely like your product and want to help.

My general advice is know your goal whether it’s niche or mainstream, understand your team weakness and strengths and make sure you are all on the same page. Open the conversations with investors if you are ready. Be prepared for the door slamming in your face or to take harsh criticisms. Searching for investment is full-time work and you should be looking for the next round before having closed the current one. Try to get introductions if you already know people that have raised money.

If you’re wondering whether you need a VC round or want some pitching tips there’s an interesting article here

[photo taken from Business Insider]

 

Guys it’s 2014

It’s great to hear that Stuff magazine is dropping ‘cover models’ from their mag. If you’re into tech and gadgets then Stuff is a great mag and they really didn’t need (incredibly sexy) girls on the cover. Screenshot 2014-07-02 at 15 It’s all a bit embarrassing isn’t it? At Mobile World Congress I was suprised (naively) to see half naked women standing by smart cars and plasma TVs. OK it was my first tech mega show but I couldn’t believe this crap still went on?

I grew up in Italy in the 80s and early 90s and I used to hate watching television with my parents. Half naked women in the background and even the presenters had their tits hanging out. sara-varone I had the same awkward feeling walking around MWC or when picking tech mags off the middle shelf. Ironically most of the journalist i know in tech are either girls or gay men.

Good to see the tech image is slowly catching up with it’s own gadgets that are very much part of 2014. Well done Stuff magazine and thanks for short-listing dubble for creative app of the year 2013 by the way

I have an idea

idea

It all starts with an idea. The problem is how do you differentiate between an amazing idea, a cool idea, and one that is completely rubbish?

This will be your first step before deciding to spend the next few years of your life suffering to make your idea come to life.

For the sake of this discussion I’m excluding amazing ideas. For me these are ones that save lives or make life 1000 times better. Like the invention of the wheel, anaesthetic, how to make beer or hamburgers.

Cool ideas are easier to come by and we all have them somewhere in our brain. Some will suit you, your network of friends or your style. Others might be for larger populations such as people that cycle daily or parents that need a solution for smelly nappies.

So how do you get the ideas out and once they are shining away how do you decide if they are worth pursuing?

Chances are you will not get an idea by sitting on the loo scrolling through your facebook feed or while you’re out drinking with your mates. In fact you might not get an idea at all during your day-to-day life.

I wake up, get the kids ready, take them to school, spend the day trying to focus on my work, pick them up from school, make dinner, put them to bed and then try to get some more work done in the evening before crashing out. Quite depressing now that I list it like this.

I find the best time for thinking is when I walk. Long walks really help to unwind my thoughts and think about new things at the same time. Everyone however has different ways to focus or get inspired.

I really like this video on where ideas come from:

I’m not sure if it’s possible to decide: ‘now i need to have an idea’. The eureka moment could arrive whenever but it does help if you’re mentally ready.

So put your phone down, shut your laptop and go out for a walk, a coffee or a run and think about the things you do and the things you love. Maybe write a few ideas down every day or focus on the one you like the most.

You have an idea, now what?

You have to decide if you can make the idea happen. Do you know the people that can help you build it or are you able to find them? Do you know enough about the tech or science to develop the idea yourself or to know exactly what you need? I have 100s of ideas but if I can’t realise them they get shelved (basically all of them).

OK so you’ve had an idea, you’ve thought about it and you could make it happen. Now you have to decide if it’s any good.

The first rule is do not tell your mum or dad. Or your incredibly supportive best friend who always loves your ideas. They will tell you it’s great even if it isn’t. This is the most important time to hear the truth.

Tell people and see if they understand it quickly. Check their initial reaction and don’t force people to like it. If they don’t like it listen to their reasons. Discuss it with people that are not your intended audience and others who might be involved in the scene your idea is part of.

If it’s a new concept and hasn’t been done before be careful but at the same time do not be too precious. This is the first step of a huge mountain. Be as realistic as possible and tear the idea apart or tell someone who will do that for you. If the reaction is positive prepare a quick presentation of the idea to illustrate it better and show more people.

I had the idea for dubble when i was walking home from work (a 45 minute walk i used to do nearly every day). I got home and told my partner that i had a cool idea for a photo app. She didn’t like it at all. That was my first set back. I didn’t try to convince her but it was the first hint that dubble is not a product for everyone. Over the next months I told many people from all angles of life and the general feedback was that it was an awesome concept. Finally I made a quick presentation and showed people in the industry for “real” feedback and it was still very positive. This is when I decided to bring the idea to life and the battle began!

The only idea sharing platform I know of is Open Future by Telefonica. If you know any please let me know