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”.

Looking back on 2010

imageAt this time of year it’s traditional to look back, so we thought we’d share our most popular content from the past year, just in case you missed it.

  1. The Best Law Firm Website is… – We name the best law firm websites and explain what makes them stand out from the crowd.
  2. Top 100 Law Firm Websites in Pictures – PowerPoint slide deck of all the top 100 law firm websites. Feel free to go download it and give it to the partners in your firm and ask them to pick what they think is the best
  3. Communicator 14 to Integrate with SharePoint Activity Feed – We were a little surprised this one came in at #3. News piece about how Communicator (now Lync) and SharePoint combine to create a Facebook-like status feed for the intranet.
  4. How UK Lawyers are using Social Media – Thoughts from early adopters on the use of (primarily) Twitter in the legal sector, what works and the ROI.
  5. SharePoint Explained – Our 101 introduction to SharePoint.
  6. Shoosmiths Access Legal – A brave new world of law firm marketing – A look at the marketing approach of Shoosmiths consumer arm, AccessLegal.
  7. Cloud Computing Explained – Our 101 introduction to cloud computing
  8. Legal Services 2020 – Our view of what the legal services market will look like in 10 years time… oops that’s nine years now.
  9. What Will Be the Business Model of the 21st Century Law Firm – A look at the similarities between the publishing and legal industries and what we can learn from their current malaise.
  10. Office Communicator 14 to Become Microsoft Lync – News about the name change in Microsoft’s real time communication and collaboration product in 2010.

If you like the stuff we write, remember you can sign-up for updates in your RSS reader, or subscribe for email updates.

And with that we’d like to wish you a happy new year, and we’ll see you all again in 2011.

Why Websites Suck

imageClassic stuff from web usability expert Gerry McGovern

“There is one word to describe great web design: useful”

Gerry continues to explain what this actually means:
“There are always top tasks. Every website has a “book a flight”—it’s just that many have not discovered it yet. I have been doing this since 1994. The conversation with clients always begins this way: “We’re different, very complex, We don’t have top tasks. We have so many audiences.”

Classic organization-centric thinking. I have done hundreds of task identification projects the top tasks are always there. They are audience independent, geographic independent. For example, what’s the top task of a health website regardless of age, sex, income, professional, geography?”

We wrote about this topic when we reviewed the top 100 law firm websites, and Browne Jacobson nailed it with five top tasks taking pride of place in the centre of their home page. Gerry goes into lots more detail and the full article is well worth five minutes of your time to read.

The Best Law Firm Website is…

Did you take a look at the Top 100 Law Firm Websites? What did you think? Did any stand out to you as class-leadings sites?

For me there was one that did… and I’ll tell you which one in a moment… But first, those that have it wrong, the honourable mentions, and why.

So you say you’re client focussed, huh?

The problem with most of the websites we looked at, probably as much as 95% of them, is that they are just not client focussed. The majority start with a pitch about themselves. They typically say they are innovative, experts in their field, and client focussed. But if they are client focussed, why doesn’t the website illustrate that?

Solicitors tell me all the time that their job is to solve client’s problems. So assuming I am a client coming to your website for the first time, how can I easily map my problem onto the services you offer?  Most websites we looked at structured their content based on the practice areas of the firm. But guess what? Clients don’t care about the internal organisation of law firms, and it’s no good hoping they will learn. Instead think about how you can present your business in the way that clients think. Make easy access to answers your top priority.

Honourable mentions

Mischon de Reya has a minimalist home page with a Google-style search box front and centre.

MIschon de Reya

Client focussed? Yes. Helping me map my problems to solutions? Not a bad start… We tried a few search terms and came up trumps two thirds of the time.

Russell Jones & Walker have gone for a best of both worlds approach – a similar search box takes priority, with practice areas on the right.

Russell Jones & Walker website

Sadly the search didn’t quite hit the spot when we tried it. It seemed to prioritise news stories over explaining how Russell Jones & Walker could help solve my problem. Nevertheless, they deserve an honourable mention for avoiding all the usual home page trumpet blowing, focussing on the client and providing the Expert Guide PDF downloads shown on the right of the screenshot.

And the winner is…

The CubeSocial Law Firm Website of 2010 award goes to Browne Jacobson for putting clients right at the heart of the website, providing simple clear navigation based on the client’s need and using the client’s language rather than internal law firm boundaries to structure content. Go on, click through to the Browne Jacobson website and have a look. Not only is it very functional, it’s also beautifully designed and interactive. Congratulations to all involved.

Browne Jacobson website

Don’t agree with us? Think your firm’s website is better? Leave a comment below and let us know why.

Top 100 Law Firm Websites In Pictures

When Craig Holt of Quality Solicitors was recently quoted saying all Law Firm websites were the same, we thought we would put his thesis to the test. We decided to take a look at the websites of the Top 100 UK law firms and see who stood out from the crowd. 

So here they are…

Just looking at the homepages, for me, there is one website that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Can you spot the one I am thinking of? Are there any that you would commend or decry?

I’ll post up my thoughts on the stand-out sites and my reasons tomorrow. Meanwhile leave a comment below…

Update: See our verdict on the top Top Law Firm Websites

Startup Tips from BizSpark Summit 2010

We were at the Microsoft London office yesterday for the 2010 BizSpark summit – BizSpark being Microsoft’s startup accelerator programme.

Keynote speakers were Loic Le Meur, founder of Seesmic, and Alistair Mitchell, CEO of Huddle. (Loic was there with his camera, and if you look carefully at the pictures, you can find both Linda and I on this picture from his blog)

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Startup Tips

There were some key themes in the keynotes from those who had been there and done that…

  • Explain your idea succinctly. If you can’t explain the problem you are trying to solve and the solution in a couple of sentences, it’s too complicated. Go back to Start and try again.
  • Focus on execution. If you have a good idea it’s probably already been built, or already being built. Everyone is potentially your competitor. Just execute better than anyone else.
  • Get something out there early and iterate. Get a user base of 50 or so users, ask them how to improve.
  • Get user feedback (use GetSatisfaction or UserVoice) and keep improving.
  • Be Agile: If your business model isn’t working be prepared to change on the fly to one that is. Loic explained how Seesmic bought the Twhirl Twitter client in an attempt to drive traffic to the Seesmic video sharing website. When Seesmic usage stalled at about 100,000 users, but Twhirl usage continued to grow, they decided to do an about face and refocus the business on social media apps.
  • Don’t take Angel investment: at least not from professional angel investors. They want too much of your business and place too many constraints on an early stage startup. Instead self-fund as much as you can and if you need more cash look to friends and family.
  • Company valuation: Your company valuation is about 8x the funding you think you require! We’re talking VC funding here, not Angel. Reasoning: Work out the funding you want, then double it to account for unknowns and give you a buffer. VC will typically want about 25% of the equity, so multiply by 4 to get company valuation Winking smile

Did I miss anything? Any other key tips to share?

Office Communicator 14 to become Microsoft Lync?

imageInteresting gossip from Mary Jo Foley overnight… It would seem that with the Wave 14 release of Office Communications Server and Office Communicator will bring some name and product changes. Mary Jo deduces that Live Meeting and Office Communicator are merging into a new product called Microsoft Lync that will provide a unified IM, VOIP, desktop sharing and web conferencing interface. For web conference attendees there seems to be a free-to-download Lync Attendee 2010 application already available on the Mirosoft download center.

It certainly seems some announcements are imminent as activity on the Communications Server blog has picked up recently. I look forward to hearing the details…

The Fastest, Cheapest Way to Increase the Productivity of Everyone in Your Firm

When I was a SharePoint consultant at Microsoft my clients would often ask me about the best way to improve employee productivity and company efficiency. What I told them shocked them. You see, I didn’t plug the latest Microsoft product or sing the praises of the latest version of MS Office. Instead I let them into a secret that the financial sector have known for years, but the rest of the world is still catching up with. And it’s this simple: Add a second monitor to everyone’s PC.

image

And by everyone, I mean everyone, because the people who can most benefit from this are often the ones in support roles. In law firms that means back office staff, legal secretaries, paralegals etc. who are busy researching, cutting and pasting and comparing drafts of documents.

Dual Monitor ROI

The Costs

In an ideal world everyone would have a dual head video card, but an external USB Video Adapter like this one works great as an alternative.

USB video adapter

Add to that a second monitor for each person and capital outlay is around £300 per head.

The Return

Studies show that depending on what you are doing, dual monitors increase productivity by between 9% and 50% with an average 20% productivity boost.

The Payback

So for someone on an average salary the capital investment would pay itself back in under a month. What other IT investment could possibly give you the same ROI?

Web Favourites Aug 18 2010

imageThis post is part of an occasional roundup of things that I read and found interesting. There won’t be a lot of comment from me, but hopefully you will find the links useful. Enjoy!

Interesting stuff I came across recently:

Could the Freemium model work in legal services? – I suspect most readers of this blog have already read this article. If you haven’t, I insist you go read it now. If you have read this article before, you should perhaps go back because there’s a really good discussion in the comments now.

Optimal Workloads for the Cloud – Bit of a geek post this one, but it captures beautifully in four simple graphics the kind of server demand profiles that are best suited to cloud computing. If you work in IT, this is a link worth saving.

Darwin’s Finches, 20th Century Business and APIs – An awesome slide deck drawing parallels between evolution theory, successful 20th Century business models and how you can apply those rules in a 21st Century, Web 2.0, Cloud Computing world.

Browser-based version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint Go Live

Officially joining the browser-based productivity game, Microsoft late Monday released the browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.

The Office Web Apps, as the programs are dubbed, are slimmed down versions of the desktop counterparts, allowing for document viewing, sharing, and lightweight editing. Consumers get free access to the tools, along with 25GB of storage as part of Windows Live, while businesses can also host their own version of the Web Apps using the latest version of Sharepoint. The main catch is that using the browser-based versions require an active Internet connection.

Find the full story over at CNET News.

One of the most interesting this from a Corporate IT perspective, is that now millions of Hotmail users will have access to more modern word processing tools than they do in their work environment. What will that mean for corporate IT?