Tag Archives: techstars

Pink Bandana – UCL Lecture – Breach Your Comfort Zone for Your Startup

A couple of weeks back I was really lucky to have the opportunity to speak at UCL on the topic of “How to Start a Startup” to an audience of a few hundred. The night before my lecture, I met up with a close friend who challenges me regularly, who wanted to challenge me on a simple point that we talk about often:

Never be embarrassed

Apparently I was getting too ‘comfortable’. I had a pink bandana (a long and different story) and she challenged me to wear it for my lecture and to incorporate it to make a serious point. I did (see below – the picture was shared quite widely after my talk…).

Me lecturing in a pink bandana

Me lecturing in a pink bandana

But, besides embarrassing myself, what was the point? In startups, you end up doing a whole bunch of things you didn’t expect to when you started out. Last year whilst acting as CTO of pingWHEN, I was surprised by the number of roles I had to fill. Sure, developing the product (a backend application, database architecture, REST API and various mobile app frontends) was a big part, but it probably wasn’t more than 50% of my working hours. The remainder included conversations with our investors and mentors, customer development and administration stuff. But that wasn’t it: as part of the construction of our company, I had to:

  • Do two Karate take-downs on video
  • Make terrible visual effects in a product video
  • Act in a product video
  • Take photos out in York at 1am in the freezing cold trying to get rid of light from a street bollard with a coat.
  • Pitch to senior executives at Disney
  • Attempt to sing (terribly).

The point is, if you hold yourself back, restricting yourself to things you feel comfortable with, you might not fulfil your potential or achieve what you ned to achieve. If you want your startup to succeed, you’ll need to do a few things that make you uncomfortable.

TalkTalk Digital Heroes – My Nomination

This is a re-post from the pingWHEN blog, kept during our participation in Techstars London 2015.

Sam TalkTalk is currently running their annual Digital Heroes awards, and one of our co-founders, Sam Heather, has been nominated.

The awards seek to recognise technologists who have not only harnessed the power of technology, but are using it to help others, whether in their community or through the environment. Sam has been nominated for the Next Generation award, which seeks to recognise young people who have used technology to for social good through a variety of projects.

Sam’s nomination comes as a result of his work over the last six years to use technology for social good. He’s currently working on pingWHEN, a personal safety app motivated by the statistic that 1 in 4 women on college campus in the United States will be sexually assaulted during her years there. pingWHEN is going through the prestigious mentor-led TechStars accelerator programme in London, having received $120k investment from them.

Sam’s previous projects include working on Shy with Julie Markham, a service aiming to provide crucial knowledge about personal and sexual health to those either to shy to ask their family / friends (possibly because of cultural taboos), a common trait of those born since ~2000, or those living in developing countries without access to the raw information. Shy is both a mobile app and an SMS service, to fulfil both of these use cases. Sam also built the first Anonymous Web Browser on the iOS platform called Branon, with the intention of providing free and unrestricted access to information to those living in countries with restricted internet access.

You can vote for Sam in the TalkTalk awards here or by visiting http://digitalheroes.talktalk.co.uk/next-generation-digital-hero/. Voting takes just a minute.

Techstars Week 2: Finally…we’re getting out of the weeds

This is a blog post in a series written during the first fortnight of our participation in Techstars London 2015.

Count down to demo day - 87 days to go!

Count down to demo day – 87 days to go!

What did you do today?

The CEOs had a meeting at 7:30am following, which was surprisingly well attended bearing in mind last nights party went on until 3am. After that, we met with 6 mentors and were able to present the more refined pingWHEN that came from the “<app X> for Safety is <a product or feature idea>” exercise from last night. The sessions seemed to go better than those over the last three days, which the summarising feedback this evening confirmed. A few key ideas came up in the mentoring, including using a call centre to reach out to you in case of possible emergency rather than an automated SMS system, putting the user more in control of what constitutes and emergency.

After following up with the mentors we each went our own separate ways to do a bit of a ‘clean up’, and between us applied for three competitions for pingWHEN to boost publicity.

Ping Pong in the Kitchen

Ping Pong in the Kitchen

The clock is counting down worryingly fast – it’s now only 87 days until demo day! Although there’s still time for a casual game of ping pong!

Sam: After working through a few emails and writing two applications to the TalkTalk Digital Heroes competition, I spent time doing market research on personal automation services such as IFTTT and experimenting with what already exists and what works.

Techstars Day 4: Preparing for the Slaughterhouse

This is a blog post in a series written during the first fortnight of our participation in Techstars London 2015.

What did you do today?

We signed a deposit document!

We signed a deposit document!

Our big achievement today was making progress on our offer for the place we found to live – we’ve going through due diligence now, having signed an initial agreement and handed over a holding fee! Exciting times!

In the morning, we met with a TechStars mentor to talk about our product. One of the key pieces of feedback has been the negative impact of false positives (sending messages indicating someone may be in danger, unnecessarily) on both the mental state of those receiving them (especially if the user is out of power) and consequentially the reputation of the product after a few embarrassing press stories.

Tomorrow we have our first 2-hour deep dive with the TechStars directors (Jon Bradford, Max Kelly) and the Entrepreneur in Residence, Benjamin Southworth. In that, we’re really going to deep dive in the company, the product and the business model. Definitely expecting it to be hard-hitting and for the focus on the business to change a lot – but we’ll see!

iMac's are perfectly designed to hold 8 pink stickies - a spec not mentioned by Apple

iMac’s are perfectly designed to hold 8 pink stickies – a spec not mentioned by Apple

Sam: Today I started to invest significant time in the Analysis / Artificial Intelligence system that monitors journeys to detect incidents.

What did you learn?

Sam: I really learnt the impact the press could have on the general perception of our product, and how much of an impact a single mistake made by the analysis system could have on the business. I also learnt that the bottom of an iMac can hold approximately 8 sticky notes 🙂