It started with a tweet… #artcups

20140501.1 LC artcupEver since a random tweet led to CubeSocial’s first breakthrough, I have encouraged start-ups and professionals to embrace the serendipity of social media.

What do I mean by this? Having just translated the Russian headline “Работник лондонского Starbucks стал знаменитостью благодаря рисункам на стаканчиках” into English (London Starbucks employee becomes a celebrity thanks to cup drawings), let me explain by reference to Gabriel Nkweti Lafitte’s amazing #artcups

A couple of weeks ago, a friend that I’ve been encouraging to tweet more often let me know that that she was back on the case:image

… then shared her first photo on Twitter:image

A couple of tweets later, I was being introduced to the artist:image

When I clicked through to Gabriel’s Twitter account, I couldn’t see a bio:image

… but did notice this older tweet on his timeline, which led to a conversation about how social media could help: image

As we chatted I learned that Gabriel had “been doing this for years. Can’t help myself. I NEED to draw or write” and that his intricate cups could “take around 12 to 40 hours”…
I HAD to let others know:image   image

Seconds later, I received a number of replies in rapid succession, including:imageimageimage

Richard kept that promise Smile 

Over the next couple of days, Richard widened the conversation to include Simon Redfern, Director of Communications at Starbucks (some tweets, mostly offline).

Less than two weeks after those first tweets, Gabriel’s first piece of press:image

… which trended above Banksy on the day (and is currently at 3.4k shares):20140508 Metro

Gabriel’s #artcups have since caught the attention of BuzzFeed, the Ellen Degeneres Show, Epicurious, GizmoDiva, Starbucks Newsroom… the list just keeps on growing…

Of course, none of this would be possible without Gabriel’s talent – but it’s nonetheless amazing to think that all this coverage can be traced back to a single tweet!

#joiningthedots: you can tweet with Gabriel @_nkweti and via #artcup and #artcups. To see more of Gabriel’s work take a peek at his Facebook page 
… and I’ve just received a tweet about his new website going live today Smile

Now go, and embrace the serendipity of social media for yourself!


In the last few days, #artcups have appeared on the Huffington Post, in Canada, Malaysia, Peru, MexicoFrench, Italian, Spanish, Dutch… but still no news about Gabriel’s work appearing on ceramics. If you would like see ceramic #artcups, please add your support below. If we can get all your comments in one place, hopefully powers that be will recognise and respond to the demand soon!image

#startup your social media

2012-12-28 23.54.10In one of my first interviews about my start-up journey, I mentioned how much I have to thank social media for. After an intense and inspiring day mentoring dotforge start-ups this week, here are my top tips for increasing your profile and serendipity on social media – whether you’re building a start-up or advancing your corporate career.

1. Social media is just another way to talk: I often hear people refer to social media as “marketing”, “something that brands use”, “irrelevant”… but at its heart, business is about relationships, and relationships are built on conversations. Conversations first became virtual via letters, then telephones and faxes, then emails. Social media is fast becoming a hygiene factor in business. Can you imagine telling an important contact that you don’t have email? Can you visualise their reaction? Many will now look at you in the same way if you don’t have a Twitter account!

2. Speak where your contacts want to listen and engage: You don’t need to be everywhere. Discover where your contacts hang out on social media and prioritise those platforms. As a social CRM and social media consultancy, some think it is unusual that we don’t have much of a Facebook presence – but many of our contacts, who are predominately from professional services firms, simply don’t want to talk about work there.

3. Think – old rules, new tools: Traditional best practices still apply, but you can reach a larger, yet more targeted, audience. Social media accelerates the know-like-trust-buy-advocate cycle. The real-time and searchable nature of social media means that you can find contacts and conversations of interest. By demonstrating your expertise and personality, you can become the host of the virtual parties that matter to you – with prospects/investors/employers approaching you, rather than you needing to find and pitch to them Smile

4. LinkedIn is your virtual shop front, Twitter the virtual cocktail party, and Facebook the virtual house party: Dress/speak appropriately! Make sure that your virtual shop front has a great address and would encourage your ideal client/employer to walk through the door. Twitter is incredibly powerful for building your profile and network because who you follow is not connected to who follows you… as with real-life networking events, you can join any conversation uninvited, as long as you have something interesting, insightful and/or amusing to add. Many of our professional services contacts demonstrate their expertise by hosting events. Twitter is a great way to build interest, conversation and engagement before an event, which in turn increases attendance, and social sharing during and after; whereas the same contacts/firms may use Facebook for charity events, summer parties, etc. once relationships have been firmly established.

5. Be social via and on social media: Social media is a wonderful research resource. I now routinely read the websites, blogs and profiles of contacts before speaking with them for the first time – whether in person, or online. Time can be saved and conversations made more relevant when you already know someone’s areas of interest and mutual connections. Relationships that might have taken years to build can now be formed in a matter of months, sometimes even weeks. Don’t join conversations and meetings without this easily available intelligence. And whenever possible, help to #jointhedots / in #joiningthedots – if you take a peek now, you’ll find all the fantastic entrepreneurs and start-ups I met this week Smile

Seedcamp – One Survivor’s Story


What’s that saying… What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?

Seedcamp is frequently described as “the original and best UK boot camp for start-ups”, and it certainly enforces a strict disciplinary regime.

It started last Wednesday afternoon, when London Seedcamp’s Top 20 start-ups met to practice their pitches. The feedback was insightful, helpful… and brutal. As new boot camp recruits we needed to be taught acceptable social behaviours!

I was told that the start of my presentation was amusing and engaging, but didn’t tie to anything else. Another start-up was told that his content was great but his delivery was so boring that “I stopped listening after the first slide”, while a modest, softly-spoken individual was told to “sit by the door tomorrow, and run up and down the stairs three times before you present – we need to see your blood pumping”. We were all told to rewrite and to practice, practice, practice. There was no doubt how seriously Seedcamp took their boot camp reputation.

Harsh though the feedback was, it worked. Every presentation was much better the next morning. I was thoroughly impressed by all the smart start-ups that were keeping a packed room captivated (that’s Mark in the bottom left hand corner). Having survived the practice run together there was a great sense of camaraderie amongst us – we’d all learnt a lot together in a very short time, and there was a strong shared sense of knowing that we’d all taken a step up.

Pitches over, we got to kick back briefly while the Seedcamp panel (@ahansjee @christianhern @tomall @glyndot chaired by @ceduardo) discussed “From Business Development to M&A”.

Then it was onto what I’d been really looking forward to – mentoring – five 45 minute sessions with groups of entrepreneurs, product experts, VCs, and angel investors. Traditionally boot camp requires hard physical exercise. At Seedcamp, physical exercise is replaced with mental exercise. We had been warned to expect challenging conversations, and the mentors didn’t disappoint.

As I write, the winners haven’t been announced, but I think all 20 of us won.

The process and people are amazing. A week on I’m still digesting the huge amount of fantastic advice we received. Mentors have been incredibly proactive at getting in touch since – making introductions and removing barriers. New meetings and opportunities are going in the diary.

And there are worse things than being referred to as a “top idea” in the Guardian Smile

Seedcamp – I’d thoroughly recommend applying, participating and surviving!

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?

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”.

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)


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?