Tag Archives for Twitter

Tr.im goes dark without angels

This was written before Tr.im reversed the decision and decided to keep open.  However the issues discusses are still valid – no money, no business.

Tr.im announces that it is ceasing the service of trimming the size of a URL.  The blog post says that they have not been able to find a way of making money out of tr.im (I do not like the word monetise) and they are being hit by the cost of running and developing the system.  They have lost out in the race to provide the service to Twitter.

Duncan Bannatyne of Dragons’ Den fame says that the he has lost count of the times he has said “It’s not a business, so I’m out”.  He means that “any budding entrepreneur must have a robust business plan and clear profit-making projections for their enterprise to stand a chance of success”.

The Dragons only pick the easy companies in which to invest; ones with sales and profits.  The flaw normally being that the entrepreneur does not have what it takes to turn the initial success into a large company.  This gives the Dragons easy pickings after the really hard yards have been won.

It will be sometime, if ever, before the Dragons have the nerve to join the angels in Cambridge – you do not have to be a member of the Cambridge Angels – backing ideas a long way from the market and the with sketchy business plans.  It is a very high risk world investing in people and technologies ahead of the game.  It would be fun to present a Google, Flickr or Twitter type deal to the Dragons let alone ARM, CSR and ARTVPS.

But where we can agree with Bannatyne is his condemnation of smoking.  Seen as fun when I was young, the consequences are well known nowadays.  Bannatyne quotes figures of 20% of the population (presumably the UK and not his beloved Scotland) smoking with many more affected by passive smoking.

In the geek world in Cambridge, smoking is almost taboo so perhaps we do have something in common with those fearsome dragons after all even if we may have to tr.im their egos!

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The joys of Cambridge and farewell John

Image representing Robert Scoble as depicted i...Image via CrunchBase

On the day that this is published, I will be walking up Snowdon thinking of a very special person who we lost a few days ago, the Rev John Sweet of Selwyn College.  He helped my niece when she was undecided as to whether or not to take her studies seriously.  Gentle guidance was the key.  As I get older, I wonder whether to move from Cambridge but then I remember the special people in Cambridge like John.

Take last Friday;  I had an invitation to lunch with NW Brown, although finance is not always inspiring these days.  Just before I cycled into town, I read a Tweet saying that Robert Scoble, better known as the Scobleizer, was at a meeting of Travelling Geeks at the old CUP buildings.  Robert was here four years ago when he was Microsoft’s Technical Evangelist.  He now promotes new technology companies using social networks to spread the message.  As I cycled along Mill Lane, they were breaking for lunch, and I managed to talk my way past reception, fought my way through the crowd and shook his hand.  Amazingly he remembered me but his suggestion that I should join SecretScoble on Twitter by giving him a direct message from his FriendFeed account left me a little bemused.  I will try but it is better to press the flesh.

On to lunch; NW Brown operate from smart offices on Regent Street with a reception area once described as being like a dentist’s waiting reception – no flash and fish tanks.  It was like going back in time to be escorted up to the panelled dining room and to be greeted by the Deputy Chairman, Marcus Johnson.  NW Brown is a passive equity company operating from the one office.  I knew that the Cambridge Evening News had reported a recent change of control so I had done my homework, read the bios of those attending and looked at the latest accounts.  It is a very profitable and succeessful business employing nearly one hundred people.  The interesting comment in the Deputy Chairman’s report was that they had disposed of the non-core businesses investing in the Active Equity Companies which are at the centre of the Cambridge Cluster.  As I know to my own cost, investing in new cluster companies is a not an easy business.  The of each requires careful scrutiny.

Marcus is very different from the stereotype business people we see on the TV who star in Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice.  His short bio lists that he has spent “over 30 years in the investment industry” so I was a little confused as to how he had bought out Nigel Brown.  I waited until the third course to say rather pompously that no one else present, according to the bios, had started a business.  At this Finance Director Phil Burke smiled  and stated “Marcus has”.  I took out my list of bios and read them more carefully and then the penny dropped.  Mr Burke also had “over 30 years in the investment industry”.  It turned out that Messrs Johnson and Burke had worked together for many years and then had decided there was a little gem in Cambridge with a founder looking for a change.  As with the shaving company, they liked it so much they bought it!

I felt rather humble.  These quiet self-effacing people at the table (ably supported by the long serving, 33 years, Ron Dart and key Cambridge networker Hugh Parnell) were not dreamers of the type who start Active Equity Companies but highly experienced, very successful operators who know how to turn a profit out of a very focused business.  One might describe them as a breath of fresh air in the cluster; people used to selling and looking after customers face to face.  I gather that Marcus has another persona when he dons his Chief Executive hat but he was all smiles today!

As coffee was served I took a glance at the hardly touched bottles and wished I had a doggy bag with me. How different from the days when we had proper lunches.

The Deputy Chair (or was he wearing his Chief Executive hat?) allowed me to demonstrate DuoFertility (in which I am an angel investor) and all provided excellent advice which I passed on to the company.  A proud Sarah Squire, President of Hughes Hall, said that DuoFertility was founded by three of her student.  It is always a small world in Cambridge.  The meal finished by Marcus kindly offering the use of a downstairs office on Regent Street, which has busy footfall, to DuoFertility for a Saturday so it looks as though the company could be having an infertility day of talking to customers.

So with my mind in a whirl, I rushed off to DuoFertility to collect the sales brochures for my forthcoming presentation to the fertility clinic at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.  I am now a part-time drugs rep trying to be more than a passive angel investor.  Such fun to be going from an established business to a start-up in one afternoon; the joys of Cambridge.  At the weekend I heard that another angel investor in DuoFertility, social network guru Geoff Jones(just back from three months in South America) had arranged for the Scobleizer to video DuoFertility founder, Shamus Husheer.

Entrepreneurs now have another High Table to gather round and I urge you all to cultivate an invitation and listen and learn.  But we in the Cambridge Cluster must never forget that our opportunities are built on academics like John Sweet who give so readily of their time to encourage and guide the young and we, in our modest way, must always follow their example.  Let us banish those who glory in “Back to back meetings”.

PS For those who missed the article on my visit to Cornwall, please read and comment at www.cambridgecluster.com

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Twitter fills up whilst in control

Fred Wilson makes the point that Twitter raised funds:

“But there’s a saying that I heard early on in my tenure in the venture business that still rings true.

The best time to raise money is when you don’t need it”

Interesting that Fred says “I am thrilled that Twitter will be working with Todd Chafee and his partners at IVP and Peter Fenton and his partners at Benchmark. The list of investors in Twitter just keeps getting better and better.”

That is the way to build an Active Equity Company.

Of course, Twitter like CraigsList, seems to provide a platform on which so many others can build and keeps it’s own headcount down, way down with a very small team (some 30+ people I think).

So often I hear people say things like “Why do I need to raise money when I am doing so well”.  Look at Geneva Technology and the late, great Stephen Thomas.  Plan raising money using a business plan resource, not when your backs are against the wall.

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I am a beta man with Boxee

Fred Wilson has been pushing his latest investment in Boxee which is like a portal for all your music and entertainment sites.

So I downloaded the alpha release and found it hard work.  It filled up my screen and all I could think was that no one at Boxee has watched a non-geek download and open up and start clicking.

I am sure that it will be a great product as Fred Wilson is ahead of the game.  I told him that I was happy to be in his fan club but he was modest and demurred and said he was a fan of mine – some chance!  Go to www.avc.com to ask to join the alpha trial or else you join the bottom of the queue and have to wait for weeks.

Let me know when the beta trial starts and I will have another go!

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From TechCrunch50 to Crunch50!

Image representing TechCrunch as depicted in C...Image via CrunchBase, source unknown We have been chewing over the list of companies at TechCrunch50 and I picked up this comment:

“I had a look around, and I might have missed something here.  I’ve just looked through the first 8 companies profiled (evidently the rest will become available as the conference proceeds), and don’t see a single one solving what I consider to be a “real” problem.  They’re all targeting the leisure / chatter industry in one way or another (with the possible exception of Shryk, which seems to be teaching kids finance with the tenuous possibility of signing them up to one bank or another).

Looking through the session lists, I don’t think I can spot a single medical device, any sort of cleantech, no big industrial problem solvers, or a single pharmaco.  I appreciate that TechCrunch is all about “web technologies”, but all of these areas solve “real” problems, and increasingly do so by using the web as a critical aspect (comparing data to everyone else in a massive online database to infer health issues, or by intelligently load-switching in the cleantech sector, or by improving outsourcing capability between manufacturing partners over huge geographic and social distance, or dramatically lowering the costs of clinical trials by connecting first-world researchers to the third-world hospitals where the trials are done etc).  However, the web/mobile is not the _only_ aspect!

In case the TechCrunch50 haven’t noticed, we’re heading directly into a recession.  Pretty much the first thing to get cut by consumers will be anything that charges for leisure, idle chatter, and so on.  The first thing to get cut by companies will be discretionary adspend on unproven advertising platforms.  I predict the Crunch50 ;)”

Perhaps it is time for Silicon Valley to remember; “It’s the technology, stupid!”.

Ps. A pity that the webcast was not recorded as the quality of the speakers was high.  The panels and their comments were of the best – we could only dream of having so many people of such quality in Cambridge.  Of course, so much was VC driven – normal service in SV and we just needed to hear more about how they used Equity Fingerprint in their business plans.

Comment to save you clicking and thanks for the correction:

tom summit wrote
at 12:16 pm – 10th September 2008 Permalink Edit

I think you may be confusing Demo and TC50. Demo costs $ 18K. TC50 does not cost to present.

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Twitter gets serious

For those people still not sure of the value of Twitter and blogging, I suggest that they read this BBC article. Twitter was the first to spread the news of the quake and is now being used to help people support each other through this dreadful time.

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NESTA making new waves

The arch pattern.Image via WikipediaNESTA is making a break from the past and there is an excellent video at the FT Enterprise site. The FT site is “old fashioned” and just provides a URL and not an embedded video link as you would find on YouTube. There are other interviews by leading entrepreneurs, none from the Cambridge Cluster but all with a good story to tell.

Jonathen Kestenbaum was recruited as CEO of NESTA to shake it all up and get away from funding small start-ups which were not innovative. Now it is about funding larger deals where the NESTA funds make a difference. Kestenbaum sold the family silver (well, the family firm) so he has experience in building and selling a business and the inclination to make a difference.

NESTA are funding a research project with Equity Fingerprint to see if equity funding does make a difference.

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