GeeknRolla: Rock star or one-hit wonder?

By Linda Cheung


Billed as “The awesome annual conference for tech startups in Europe” GeeknRolla was launched just two years ago in 2009. In 2010, over 500 attended despite the travel chaos caused by the volcanic ash cloud. People in the know told me I HAD to go…

On the day, the energy and passion of the entrepreneurs overcame the logistical teething troubles (being an hour and a half behind schedule by 11:00 is quite an achievement!).

Conference organiser Mike Butcher brushed off these issues with “we’re a start-up too”, and most seemed good spirited about it. The fast-paced nature of GeeknRolla (all sessions, whether a keynote or a panel, are less than 20 minutes) meant that everyone kept to the point. I was impressed by the calibre of speakers, panellists and moderators, the content and the networking.

My personal highlights (in order of appearance)…

Dave McClure

Having had 12 hours to adjust to Dave’s expletive level after the Telegraph’s “Audience With”, I could 100% tune-into his excellent tips. Software start-ups must focus on MVP: Minimum Viable Product. We’re working hard to deliver a product that addresses our clients’ lack of time and overload of information. Perfection would be great, but it would mean we’d never get anything to them! I also loved Dave’s “metrics for pirates”: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral and Revenue – AARRR!!


My favourite of the start-up competition launch pitches – when I tweeted that I wanted to hear more when their time ran out, they promptly tweeted back “come by our table to try it out”. The name comes from “due diligence” and they want to help people find information about the reputation and stability of any UK company. Having won £50,000 from DFJ Esprit yesterday, they’re one to watch. Well done chaps Smile

Wendy Tan-White

Wendy’s presentation was titled “Money makes you lazy” but I can’t imagine for a minute that Wendy’s not constantly on the move! It was incredibly inspiring to hear Wendy describe how she lost $8M and had to sack 58 people out of 60 (including her future husband and mother-in-law), before achieving her current success by experimenting and taking risks.

Max Niederhofer


Max spoke as a GeeknRolla Grad (he took part in the start-up launch pitch competition last year). In less than three minutes, Max explained qwerly’s big idea, how they’d handled the downs and how they’re emerging triumphant. The self-deprecating tone and simplicity of the messages were brilliant. The various tweets I subsequently saw by individuals who had signed up to qwerly “just because” of Max’s presentation were well deserved.

Morten Lund

Last but certainly not least. Morten believes that strategy can be expressed to VCs in 5 to 10 seconds and that start-ups should sing and dance for investment… Of course he didn’t say the latter until after he’d got all the investors on their feet. There was a wonderful moment of realisation as Morten loaded the words of “Fly me to the moon”… and the entrepreneurs in the room were instructed to literally serenade the investors!

I’m not yet convinced that GeeknRolla deserves rock star billing. That said, the quote that seems to have achieved the highest number of ReTweets is: “Marketing in the future is like sex. Only losers will have to pay for it” – Morten Lund. Sex, Geeks and RocknRoll?

Could Twitter replace email?

By Linda Cheung

Without wishing to highlight my age, I remember email being something new and exciting when I was at university. We had time limits on our usage and emails could only be sent internally.

When I started work there were seniors who thought email would never take off. Mark remembers email conferences continuing to run until 2005. But I still struggle to think of life before email. As with speaking in person, or on the phone, I think of email as a way to talk.

Could email be replaced by Twitter? An influential speaker and writer recently told me that he was thinking of dropping email to force people to reach him through Twitter. Said influential speaker (SIS) is constantly bombarded with sycophantic emails, to encourage his attendance at events and endorsement of products and services. SIS likes that the 140 character restriction of Twitter "gets rid of the fluff" and if someone pesters him too much he can simply block them.

Discussing SIS’ comments with a group of marketers last week resulted in a déjà vu moment – I was back with those email cynics from my first job…

  • What about keeping messages private?
    Well, you can use Twitter’s direct messages.
  • What about attachments?
    You can upload the content then include a shortened, say, link in your tweet.
  • What about emails where you need to copy in a large group?
    You can ask everyone involved to label their tweets with a specific hashtag.
  • How about corporate use?
    Take a look at Yammer or other similar tools as an example.

I wonder how long it will take before Twitter (or similar) is just one more way for us to talk.

Lex2011tweetup: All the leading tweeting lawyers in a bar. How could it not be fun?

I don’t have a voice this morning and memories are hazy, but this is what I do remember…

Matching faces to avatars

imageWhen I first started work, networking events were about putting faces to the voices that I’d heard on the telephone. Last night was about putting voices to avatars.

With social media for lawyers really taking off, we had nearly 80 RSVPs for the event. I’d thought about making name badges for everyone with Twitter names and avatars on them. As @ljanstis tweeted: “Time to find out who else is using an avatar photo that is five years out of date.”

I was worried that I might miss @colmmu, @clarinette02, @JohnAFlood et al who have cryptic avatars, but I needen’t have worried. It was fun watching reactions during introductions: “Catrin, this is Chris”, or “Steve, this Neil” generated puzzled looks, but “@lawyercatrin, this is @London_Law_Firm” and “@MotoringLawyer, this is @Legalfutures” would led to warm recognition and immediate chatter!

How far people had travelled

It was lovely to see the effort people had made to join #Lex2011tweetup – after all, there were no speakers, no agenda, just informal drinks.

image@GavWard travelled from Glasgow and @jonathanlea from Truro, and they both decided to make a London break out of it. @IkenCEO came specifically for the event, proudly tweeting “Now that I have a senior citizens railcard I shall travel 1st class by train to #Lex2011tweetup”.

But a special mention has to go to @valentilaw who changed his flight from Chicago to arrive in time!

Expectations versus reality

imageOne of the best things about the night was how up for it everyone was! People commented on not knowing what to expect and how odd it was not to have the formality of a date and venue months in advance. But as @jeanyvesgilg said “what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not in fee-earning time!” There was an amazing atmosphere with lots of laughter and banter – as if it was a reunion of people that had known each other for years, when at best, most would have only met a handful of the people in the room before.

The Venue

imageThe venue was a little crowded, but in defence of @BrianInkster and I, we had no idea so many would come along! @ChrisOxfordDale tweeted “Good turnout at #lex2011tweetup but too noisy to hear. Thought of sitting outside and tweeting to them but went home instead”. Other complaints were from those who were unable to join. @TMT_Lawyer tweeted “Was gonna say “Hi” to all tweeps at #Lex2011Tweetup, but bastards are all TALKING to each other. FFS, what’s wrong with tweets? RL, pah!” and @lancegodard felt he’d “missed event of the year”. My ‘bah humbug’ with the night is that @BrianInkster and I didn’t get to have our long planned chat!


imageAccording to @HeatherTowns there are five levels of engagement, with the fifth being powerful and effective relationships. From what I understand most of us would have been around level 2 at the beginning of last night. We must all be at least at level 3 now Heather?

I know that a couple of individuals won new work last night and many are planning follow-up meetings.

From conversations and subsequent tweets it seems everyone had a great night Smile with @BrianInkster and I receiving numerous requests to host another soon. I’ve not had a chance to check in with Brian yet, but my slight hesitation is that I do have the small matter of trying to launch a social CRM startup!

It was really great to meet everyone last night – thanks for making it such a good ‘un.

Please do add comments if I’ve missed anything. As I said, my memories are hazy…

Tweet as if your Grandmother was reading

Following on from yesterday’s post on how not to market your brand on Twitter, I see Chrysler also made a massive goof at the end of last week.


Mistakes happen, and one of the things we have noticed is how easy it is to Tweet from the wrong account using most of the social media tools available today. Its one of the scariest things about social media and is one of the risks we are looking at handling in our upcoming product.

In the meantime the best advice I can give you is this: whatever account you tweet from, keep a level of professionalism and only Tweet messages you’d be happy for your Grandmother to read. That way, even if you Tweet from the wrong account, you’ll simply lose a little face, not your job.


How not to use Twitter to market your brand

Over the weekend Bing became the latest brand to get stung trying to build a marketing effort around human disaster.


Oh Bing, how could you be so naive?

What happened next is a wave of anti-Bing blog posts and Tweets, followed 7 hours later (yes, it really took them 7 hours) – an official apology.

What is even more incredible, is that this came just a couple of weeks after Kenneth Cole got similarly slammed for trying to cash-in on the troubles in Egypt.


So, I hereby pronounce:

Twitter marketing commandment #1

Don’t try to market your brand off the back of human tragedy. Nothing good will come of it. Ever.

Twitter Clinic: #FF, DM and RT explained

By Linda Cheung

In the last Twitter Clinic I explained what hashtags are and how they can increase the reach of conversations. Some readers then asked me about the “mystifying acronyms” that often litter tweets: #FF, DM and RT were the top three…

#FF: Follow Friday

Follow Friday is a way to recommend interesting people to your followers. If Twitter is a global cocktail party, think about which people you “must introduce” to each other and why. While many people use all 140 characters of a tweet to fit in as many usernames as possible, including a reason helps the conversation to flow, e.g. “#FF @RedStarKim for her marketing wisdom, London food reviews and wry views” is much better than “#FF @JoannaMG22 @aligeary @chrisdaleoxford @janeslaws @social_sardine @dcd_barrister @AjeetMinhasGTB @GavWard @jillney @KeepingBizLocal” (All excellent tweeps that I’ve been chatting to this week by the way).

DM: Direct Message

Direct Messages are private messages sent to people who follow you (you cannot send DMs to people who do not follow you). To DM someone, start your message with the letter “d”, e.g. to send me a private message, you would start your tweet “d LindaCheungUK”.

Be careful not to exceed 140 characters – when tweets are longer, if Twitter receives it intact they will send your DM in two parts, but if your phone service provider (say) sends the message in two parts before sending to Twitter, the first part will be sent privately and the second part will post onto your public timeline.

RT: ReTweet

RT is an abbreviation of ReTweet, which some people think of as Repeat. If you see something in your stream that you’d like to share with your followers, you can RT it for them to see. One of the best things about Twitter is how quickly information can be shared – because Twitter is a one-to-many communications platform and because it allows content to be easily repeated.

When you send a ReTweet the text RT @<username> is added to the start of the tweet, so, if you want your tweets to be ReTweeted try to keep them below 120 characters. This minimises the rewording of your tweet that others will have to do and allows room for your username and a brief comment. For example,
Original tweet: “@BrettTechLawyer Soon… need to make sure quality is right. Folk on the Beta list will be first know. Signup at
RT by @connectegrity: “Re timing: RT @markbower: Need to make sure quality is right. Folk on #beta list will be first know. Signup at

Go on… give it a go… Happy #FF’ing, DM’ing and RT’ing!

Building for the Valley – Bootstrapping tips from Tweetmeme

by Mark Bower

Nick Halstead

Yesterday Linda and I were guests at an excellent Thames Valley Innovation and Growth (TVIG) event “Building for the Valley”.

The session was delivered by Nick Halstead, CEO and founder of TweetMeme.

As a TVIG-sponsored start-up ourselves, we were fascinated to hear the story of Tweetmeme’s growth from being one of the first TVIG start-ups “when it was just Nick and his heavily pregnant wife in a cupboard” (!!) to a globally known brand, with 15 staff, handling more web hits than the BBC.

It was a story of rapid growth on a bootstrapping budget, and an inspiration for all budding entrepreneurs. Here are some of the takeaways:

On Networking

Don’t go to a networking event unless you can get a list of attendees beforehand. When you get the list, run it through LinkedIn and choose your ‘targets’ deliberately. Time is too valuable. Don’t leave networking to chance meetings. Have a maximum of one beer all evening: this is about business not partying.

On Marketing and PR

Become a reference point for your industry. Bootstrap your PR.

When Nick started Tweetmeme he blogged every night, then nagged friends and other bloggers to read his posts: “we have never paid a PR agency”. Nick explained that it helps to have a consumer focussed element to your portfolio because these tend to get more press.

Blogging means that you get to lead the conversation; the traffic you get translates into customers; you become a reference for news stories; and you get asked to speak at events.

On Public Speaking

Public speaking = free PR, but don’t be tempted you use it to advertise your product. Instead give useful information. (Don’t sell, educate). Build your reputation and integrity, and the (interested) attendees will become customers over time. A side benefit of public speaking is that you are more prepared and confident when you have to pitch to investors.

On Recruitment

Avoid recruitment agencies. Hire straight from university; only “bedroom coders”; pay them in options – “they must believe in the dream”.

On Investment

Getting investment has the biggest learning curve. It takes up 90% of your time. Keep the deal simple – complex terms tend to drive the wrong behaviours in leadership team: “with hindsight we would have given more away for simpler terms”.