Tag Archives for UK

Uccello gets the bird

:en:Crofton Pumping Station, viewed from the c...Image via Wikipedia

Walking along the Kennet & Avon canal, I met the friendly Mr and Mrs Bird, owners of Uccello.  Apparently they had first wanted to retire to Italy but decided to travel on the canals of the UK and named their boat, Uccello – Italian for bird.

Whilst Mrs Bird enjoyed a book on the towpath, husband was painting up the foredeck or whatever the bit of boat was called.  They were stuck as the Crofton Engine Steam pump and modern electric back-up were being thwarted in their attempt to fill the top pound because of a leak and none of the boats could use the locks.

So running out of food, they found the postal code for the Crofton Pumping Station from the Royal Mail website.  They ordered provisions from Tesco.com with the warning that they were to be delivered to the narrow boat across the canal.  Important – make sure your mobile phone is working so that you can be alerted that the delivery is on the way and you can stand by the gate.  Easy and yes, Every little helps!

Mr and Mrs Bird need a business plan to make sure the pension stretches but there is no danger of them needing a business plan resource!

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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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Learning from the Romans

London during Credit CrunchImage by Francisco Antunes via FlickrBanker Philip Kay has given a lecture at his Oxford on the credit crunch that hit the Romans.

“The essential similarity between what happened 21 centuries ago and what is happening in today’s UK economy is that a massive increase in monetary liquidity culminated with problems in another country causing a credit crisis at home. In both cases distance and over-optimism obscured the risk,” said Kay, a supernumerary fellow at Wolfson College.”

But unfortunately he has not found out the medecine which they had to take but there is a lot of talk about wars.

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Crisp potatoes from Saudia Arabia to Kuala Lumpur and then to China

Potato ChipsImage via WikipediaYou do not expect to learn something surprising at the breakfast table of a Bed & Breakfast, but there is always a business story.  The couple we talk to had met at Southampton University; she from the UK and he from Kuala Lumpur.  Having lived in the UK for many years, they have decided to try KL and he then talked about his business.  There are many different types of potatoes; for example, some good for chipping, some for mashing and some for turning into crisps.  Saudia Arabia produces excellent potatoes for making crisps.  A website has some figures for the 90s showing the large growth in cultivation of potatoes in Saudia Arabia.  There was little production prior to the 80s but intensive methods have resulted in a large crops and now there is sufficient for export.

But the next step is to look for good potatoe growing areas in China.  Rice and potatoes require very different land and so the search is on to start growing potatoes for crisps in China.  It certainly meant we had an interesting breakfast!

Crisp potatoes; Zemanta I want a picture of potatoes please! Thank you.

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Bill Gates : How a geek changed the world; but what about The Cloud?

Bill GatesImage by bsktcase via FlickrWatched the Fiona Bruce led Money Programme on Gill Gates three times and want to watch it again before it expires on from my BBC iPlayer.  It is great to be reminded of all the opportunities we all let pass by and Bill grabbed with both hands.  In the early 80s, I remember seeing e-mail and hypertext for the same time – all we needed was a little bit of software to build a business but who thought that a browser or a URL would ever have any value?

Fiona Bruce makes the comment that on meeting Bill Gates, you get no sign of great wealth, great power or a strong personality but in the end you feel how his personality pervades Microsoft with his relentless determination to win.  The successful entrepreneurs in Cambridge are similar, well most of them.  The only UK entrepreneur to feature on the programme is Sir Alan Sugar– what does that say about the geek world of the UK?

So much to find interesting but how did Bill Gates pick up on an internal memo that college kids in America where incorporating the web into their daily lives from e-mails to ordering pizzas.  The Internet was not just for the geek students.  He wrote the famous memo The Internet Tidal Wave and tens of thousands of Microsoft employees changed step.  Is that leadership?

Now The Cloud looms all around us with everything on line.

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Broadband flows faster than water

viewImage by Yersinia via Flickr BT’s director for Scotland, Brendan Dick, said ……… that more homes in Britain now had access to broadband than to running water.

“The UK has been at the forefront of the broadband revolution,” he said. “It’s been an amazing journey from less than 150,000 broadband connections in 2002 to around 13 million now.”

It is an amazing social change and probably as fast a change as when mobile phones were first introduced. But I am not sure about access; presumably more homes are connected to running water than have broadband.

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When a Cobra strikes

The papers are full of Lord Karim Bilimora of Chelsea, founder of Cobra Beer, about his plans to raise £13million to fund expansion in India. LKB gives one of the most inspiring talk on entrepreneurship and the crowd always leaves with a buzz. He talks about the importance of teams but we never hear any names.

Cobra is like Innocent Drinks but without the margins although they are both run by Cambridge graduates. Cobra is in the very competitive beer market whilst Innocent has carved out a new market and able to charge a premium. Both operate as marketing companies with production sub-contracted and the product probably sent direct to the customers. Innocent also talk about teams but in recent accounts there is no sign of any options for the team they rate so highly.

As LKB says, he has managed to retain a controlling interest in the company which has been funded by angels who seem to have no exit in sight; it is always in the next couple of years. LKB’s major pre-occupation must be how to raise the £13million without losing control. If he does he might find that his long suffering investors to sell out. To quote from the article “Cobra has previously outlined exit plans to shareholders. A flotation was pencilled in for 2006 but was mothballed after Cobra raised £27.5m from Och-Ziff Capital Management, the US hedge fund. It raised further funds from Och-Ziff in 2007 and at the start of this year.”

In his talks, he is always quoting his sales after adding in a quick aside, retail, which roughly doubles his turnover. The newspaper reports give the proper figures. His accounts are interesting as the first accounts show a large revaluation for the value of the Cobra brand which is not allowed in audited accounts. So at the back of the accounts, you find the proper audited accounts which show the problem of building a business on fine margins.

Cobra is currently brewed in the UK by independent Charles Wells brewery.

And as for the so important team at Cobra, if the business is sold, Bilimoria, who retains a controlling stake in Cobra, said “this did not necessarily mean staff would lose their jobs. “I would do my best to protect all the people,” he said”. Perhaps they would prefer some options for their years of service, 20%.

I hope that this is not another example of someone saying the team is so important but not so important to share in the value they have created.

That is why it is so much better to be in the Cambridge Cluster and Silicon Valley where companies include options in their Equity Fingerprint, the business plan resource. Teams want to share in the glory and in the value – we all do! It is a pity that neither Cobra nor Innocent Drink will benefit the Cambridge Cluster directly.

Come on Cobra – shares for all!

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Head of Whole Foods does not fall

Whole Foods MarketImage via WikipediaJohn Mackay is founder, ceo and chair of Whole Foods which employs 54,000 people in the USA and UK. He had an anonymous blog with 1,400 posts over 8 years pushing the Whole Foods business. He has just been cleared of any wrong doing and blames it all on being highly competitive. However that trait also explains his success so he claims and, of course, it was the way he was brought up.

Mr Mackey admits to having spent much of the last year doing a “tremendous amount of personal growth work” including meditation, counselling and integrated breath work. I wonder how he treated he angel investors, if he had any.

It is always nice to be able to blame the family for your nasty traits – I am sure he wont pass them down to the next generation. I wonder if they all sit round together for an integrated breath session at meal times.

Now a public company, Whole Foods would be most unusual in the UK to have someone in the combined role of chair and ceo of a public company. I guess Sir Alan Sugar combines all three titles (including founder). Whole Foods would make a great Equity Fingerprint. It would be interesting to hear the views of his early investors, if he needed any.

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Who looks after angels?

Wang Yangming (1472 1529), considered the most influential Confucian thinker since Zhu Xi.Image via WikipediaBill Mann writing in The Motley Fool says that China is the greatest opportunity of our lifetime if you missed the boom in the USA from 1980. He is pushing China after the recent 50% drop in the Shanghai stock market. This is because of the tremendous rate of growth and the free enterprise economy.

However he cautions that China “has an unbelievable entrepreneurial culture, but does not yet have a fully formed culture of protecting minority shareholders.” And we do? Having been trodden into the ground by some founders, options intended for new staff “stolen” by founders and offered a cap of 4x by other founders, I am not sure that the Chinese have much to learn from the unpleasant antics of founders in the USA and UK. I am forgetting the dishonest and those who pay themselves top money whilst driving the business into the ground. It is why experienced angels work in packs, get the legal people on side and then go for a strong board appointment with veto clauses. Sad but true. It is all part of the Equity Fingerprint, the business plan resource, fun ride. But then who wants to stay away from clusters and go on holidays?

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Three different types of silence

CAMBRIDGE, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 25:  Lemar performs on stage at The Corn Exchange as part of his UK 'Truth About Love Tour' on March 25, 2007 in Cambridge, England.  He is set to play the Hammersmith Apollo on April 9 and 10, 2007 in London. (Photo by Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** LemarImage by Getty Images via DaylifeIn the last few days I have experienced three different types of silence: walking on my own in the hills; a thirty six hour silent retreat and visiting an old lady in a nursing home.

Walking on the hills can be a solitary affair but you are always busy watching your step, thinking of your route and there is always the sound of the wind. On the top of the hill you have the reward of the view and the feeling of achievement. However no picture can “bottle” the experience and help you share it with your friends. Walking with John Morrell of WalkingWays was different -someone to talk to, someone to guide you on the way but so difficult to stay silent when you are walking with such a knowledgeable person.

St Francis House at Hemingford Grey offers retreats to groups of people from various churches. I went with 14 people from St Bene’t’s Church in Cambridge, UK for a thirty six hour silent retreat. We arrived on Friday afternoon and stayed until after lunch on the Sunday. The time is organised and the retreat was led by the Rev’d Dr James Gardom of Pembroke College, Cambridge. It is a very special experience sitting either in the house or in the wonderful garden with people you know and being silent. A very special type of silence and different from sitting in silence in a church with other people.

The third type of silence is the type that falls on us as we age; moved from our homes with most of our friends and family no longer alive into a home for old people. Sitting in a room alone, just sitting. Here I go to break the silence of a very special person but all she really wants is to be back with her friends. Perhaps the first two silences will help me when my time comes to experience the third – I can only hope so.

So reach out and visit someone on their own and break their silence if only for a short time. I suppose the Internet helps as people can communicate. I know someone who is ill and the Internet has given them a new role in their community so technology and the products of the Cambridge Cluster can and do help.

Or play Bingo!

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