Archive for March, 2009

Contemporary retail store architecture

March 31, 2009

I continue to be fascinated by Contemporary building architecture. Retail store architecture has really caught my eye. Against much initial skepticism in 2001 Apple has been successful with their retail stores. Today Apple has 251 across the global.

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Apple has been innovating retail architecture with designs like the New York Fifth Ave store (above) by Ronnette Riley & Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, openned 2006. Other more traditional fashion retailers have now joined in with redesigning their store exterior’s:

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Swatch, Tokyo store by Japanese
Shigeru Ban, opened 2007

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Prada, Tokyo store by Herzog
& de Meuron
, opened 2003

Like Steve Jobs, Japanese architects (Tadeo AndoShigeru Ban) and developers are pushing the boundaries of convention by experimenting with new ideas.

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“You have to let it all go…fear…doubt & disbelief…Free your mind!”*

March 27, 2009

We live in uncertain times with our economies going into uncharted territory. You can feel the heightened sense of fear. Many are afraid of loosing the things they have. All of us can choose to embrace change or fight it. Change is inevitable. It is the only constant. We’ve always had the power to make change happen ourselves and fulfill our dreams. The one thing that holds us back is our own fear.

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The natural dualities of Fear & Unafraid

The red light of Fear

Fear stops us doing things. We fear loss, we fear failure and we even fear success. Fear is not a bad response. It stops us getting physically hurt. But it also stops us taking risks. And without taking some risks we remain stationary. I believe over coming fear is one of the most important things in life. That is, if you want to learn and grow before you die.

Fear slowed me down

In my last employment I spend six years looking out the window. Waiting for the pay check every month. Accepting their rules in return for the money. Don’t get me wrong it was a great job but in the end it was holding me back. Stopping my creative ideas. Fear stopped me changing. I overcame that fear and now I’m on a roller coast of a ride with my startup. Change is constant. Uncertainty is guaranteed. Unfortunately there is a price to pay for this thrill ride. My hard earned life savings are rapidly dwindling. Has it been worth it? Hell, yeah.

The stuff you own, owns you

Here is a great movie quote:“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your f*cking khakis.” Fight Club the movie is grotesquely violent but the point is not lost. Another has quoted on this: When we talk about fear, risk, mistakes, and losing it all, what are we really afraid of? Are we defined by the stuff we own, or would we prefer to be defined by what we accomplish and create for the world?’

Positive fear

In Pamela Slim’s short video on ‘The Upside of Fear‘ she believes fear is good for learning and growing. So when that storm cloud of fear gathers over you, don’t panic, embrace fear. This is the story of Jeffery Walker who is fighting Cancer for the 4th time. Cancer is bad… very, very bad. But Jeffery sees the good. The Cancer is changing him physically and mentally. It’s also changing many around him. When I interviewed Jeffery last year I saw a man who enjoyed every little experience and everything he saw.

Fear is self-fulfilling. The shrinks call this a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy‘. Whether we are in a recession or not, fear is a natural constant. In my experience don’t fight fear, get over it. Close your eyes. See your vision of the future and jump. Don’t hesitate or fear will have you in its grip. Good things will come, sooner or later.

Afterall, we only have one life, so live it 😉

*Matix 1999

Inside Dragons’ Den & Rachel Elnaugh startup lessons

March 24, 2009

Rachel Elnaugh of Red Letter Days and Dragon’s Den fame spoke last week of her Den and startup experiences. Rachel now mentors startup founders. Rachel said ‘99% of all Dragon’s Den footage ended up on the cutting room floor’ and only the “bitchy” comments make it to the final cut. Dragon’s Den is great entertainment but it does have its darker side.

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Rachel confirmed my long held view that Dragons’ Den is not how real business funding is done. The show producers deliberately put many unsuitable candidates in front of the investors to provoke and maximize emotional responses on both sides. This makes for exciting entertainment but is frequently at the expense of the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur’s often become the laughing stock. Some of the entrepreneurs are naive. Some are foolish. Many of them are unprepared but they’ve all taken a significant risk to start their own business. We now live in a time when our economy needs young fresh businesses the most. So lets celebrate entrepreneurship and give them a helping hand.

In the past I’ve heard negative comments questioning Rachel’s success. I even heard some of these after Rachel’s talk. From my experience of interviewing and working for entrepreneurs there is often more to learn from failure than success. Yes, Rachel did fail after having a big success, however she has not quit. More importantly she has continued to learn from her experiences. This has enabled her to change her focus. I think there is much to learn from Rachel’s 16 points on starting and running a startup:

  1. You need the ability to overcome constant knock backs – It can be an emotional roller coaster of a ride. You have to pick yourself up and keep running. Good things can come from bad situations. My startup was badly let down by a freelancer last week but in the end we found someone even better.
  2. Think BIG – Jim Connolly posted ‘6 words to transform your results!’ – “Start with the end in mind.”. This is not a new idea – Laurence J. Peter said: “If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”
  3. Have a killer idea – Hummm.. difficult one. Innovation is not easy. A great way to look at the Innovation challenge: Tyler Durden’s 8 rules of Innovation. We’ve taken a long route to come up with our product idea and that’s only the start.
  4. Your first/fast decision if often the best one – I agree but also some thought and analysis is always useful.
  5. You will go through a ‘Dark period’ (the ‘pit‘) – When the knock backs get too hard or they come too often you may loose all hope. Keep the faith and keep believing as this entrepreneur did.
  6. Yours sales will be half your forecast and costs will be double – I’ve heard variation on this from 2.5 to 4 times cost multipliers. Oh dear!
  7. Pay for marketing help – Good idea if you can afford it or you don’t have the skills.
  8. A good sales model should be effortless – Sounds like a dream. ‘Pinch me quick!
  9. PR & Word of mouth marketing is vital – Absolutely number one in the new open web world
  10. It’s dangerous when you win business awards. The ego rules. – I’ve also heard this before. Good advice.
  11. Keep the company lean – A lean mean fighting machine 🙂
  12. Get proper funding if your going to grow your company – Not aways the case. Atlassian is a good home grown example
  13. Believe in yourself – But don’t forget the people around you
  14. Know the numbers – A very important point which the Dragons’ always expect entrepreneurs to have
  15. Have absolute persistence and determination – For me its back to Jim’s point “Start with the end in mind“, then you have something to aim for
  16. Take responsibility (don’t blame others)A true leaders quality

I enjoyed Rachel’s talk. She showed openness, commitment to business ethics and reflective learning. Many of Rachel’s points are obvious but as I’ve said many times over the last three years the ‘obvious is all around us, but it’s hard to follow’. There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path’.

7 steps to the perfect Elevator pitch

March 19, 2009

We all need to quickly and concisely express our startup, company or job description when meeting new people. This week I got roped into giving an elevator pitch to a panel of judges :0. Although, as luck would have it two (Alex Tew of Million Dollar Homepage fame and Micheal Acton-Smith) of the three judges could be potential customers 🙂 You’ve heard the expression ‘elevator pitch’ but what is the perfect pitch in just 30-60 Seconds?

A perfect Speedy Pitch (Not to get the job)
from Spud in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting

The Wikipedia definition for elevator pitches recommends a 30 seconds pitch with between 100-150 words. In a short video this guy suggests a succinct, easy to understand, greed inducing and irrefutable pitch. Startup Nation has 205 word example written pitch. Based on the example structure the 7 steps to the perfect pitch is:

  1. Customer pain situation
  2. What your product/service does for the buyer
  3. Gap in the market (Niche)
  4. How are you going to market product
  5. Investment ask for and return
  6. Your credibility
  7. Your past relevant successes

My final Elevator Pitch went something like this:

“I’m Nick Barker and my company is Aware Monitoring. The global recession will dramatically increase leisure and business website traffic. This growth will push websites to their limits and cause capacity, performance and availability problems.

Our service helps prevent website downtime/slowdowns and the associated loss of revenues. The market currently has low cost basic products or expensive complex enterprise products. Our service focuses on a niche market using in-bound, word of mouth marketing with a ‘freemium’ model. The service is charged monthly.

We’ve been running and selling monitoring products for more than 10 years now. I’m the CEO with 20 years Tech experience and an MBA. My CTO co-founder has 15 years software Tech experience. In my last job I grew a monitoring startup into a global multi million $ service and we see the same high-growth potential for Aware Monitoring

(Word count: 140 & 60Sec pitch time – But will they buy it?)

Note: There is no Investment ask for and indication of return.

In the end my live pitch was not perfect as I kept looking at my notes. Oh, well until the next elevator ride. Here is a link to a video of 5 Elevator Pitches in a Texas Elevator as part of SXSW 2009 (tech festival).

Good luck with your pitch! 🙂

Reaching for the sky: Philosophical University Tower Sculpture’s

March 17, 2009

Why the heck would I be interested in Sculptured towers…? Well, we’ve got one at the Nottingham University Jubilee Campus! The biggest in the UK, no less. It’s 60 Meters high and it’s got it’s own website. It was paid for by an anonymous benefactor. I heard it cost $1m (at 2008 exchange rates).

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Nottingham University Aspire Tower Sculpture, built in 2008

‘Aspire’ symbolizes the ambition, knowledge, innovation of The University of Nottingham and optimism for the future. These seem to be many values we all hope for.

I’ve also found another University Tower Sculpture at Stony Brook University. It was part of a £25 million donation for a Center at the University from Charles Wang, founder of Computer Associates (CA).

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Sculpture tower atop the Charles B. Wang Asian American Center at Stony Brook University, built in 2002

The tower represents a Cross-cultural understanding between East and West and is based upon a pagoda. There are some very generous people around who want to make a long lasting philosophical gesture to the world. The Universities are more than happy to help.

Happy Birthday Dear Nickpoint..

March 12, 2009

I just realised it’s this blogs 1st Birthday today!! …Happy Birthday Dear Nickpoint…Happy Birthday toooo you!! 🙂

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A year older and a year wiser.. Time does fly when your having fun!! Related Post – Learning to blog: Nickpoint 2.0

Creative designs: gimmick or differentiator?

March 12, 2009

I’m not a designer but I like to think I know the difference between good and not so good design. You may disagree with my judgements but that’s the great thing about design, its an opinion. Design is like Art but on a practical level. Design is all around us – the chair you are sitting on, the keyboard you are touching and the building you find yourself in. Design is at the heart of everything. I believe what makes a good design is a holistic creation right through a product or service. A design should effectively connect the consumer with the product or service.

Ryan Carson Twitted this week linking to 36 imaginative business card designs. The card designs go from creative to surreal. Many of these cards are great ideas. However a good design is a tightly woven combination of an appealing visual form and an underlying practical purpose. Of course the purpose can vary a great deal.

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I’ve picked out my favorite three creative business cards from the 36 but find myself asking what is the purpose of these wonderful designs? These cards are produced by designers for designers. They are there to impress each other with their creative ability. For the vast majority of consumers  the message of these cards send out may be too strong or give the wrong impression. So before we pick a ‘nice’ looking design for anything we need to first understand the purpose of the design. Designs are a journey, they connect people. They connect the consumer with the producer through a product or service designer.

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Designs therefore should start from the inside of a product or service and work outwards. The external design form is the most important part but it is also not the most important.. A design should also be attractive from the inside as well as the outside. A good design should make a ‘thing’ more friendly, usable and appealing. Apple has done a wonderful job with the ipod and iphone. Apples devices are much more friendly, usable and appealing than many of the alternatives. That’s why they have been so successful. A good designer listens and understands their customers. They understand the purpose and the need.

I recently heard a fascinating talk from Design Award Winning Wayne Hemingway. Wayne referred to modern residential housing as “sh*t buildings” or “prisons”. So he designed houses around peoples needs. He understood the need for people to be social and part of a community. Wayne is not a building designer but he listens and empathises. In a way we are all designers. We create whenever we form or change a service or product.  A good design and redesign often come at a higher cost than a unthought out design. But why not spend more time getting a service or product right so that it is well used and loved rather than becoming unwanted.