So I’ve spent the past few days leafleting for one of my business ideas in various parts of London. I’m testing some basic assumptions about the concept – i.e. that anyone, however remotely, anywhere in the whole of London, gives a gnat’s toss about what I’m trying to set up.
Which is all about real friends and happy, safe neighbourhoods. And the flyers are nice, bright colours with pretty pictures of cute little houses. And I spent a lot of time designing them. So you’d think that someone would give a damn. You’d think that friendship and belonging were pretty basic tenets of civilisation and happiness. Apparently not.
Even the blatant bribery attempt (“fill in our 5 min survey at www.beneighbourly.com for a chance to win £50 Amazon voucher”) – which still stands, by the way, so get filling – hasn’t spurred many people on to bother.
Yesterday was a particular delight. I had trench foot by 3.30pm and not a single bloody response to my survey. People of Cricklewood, I two-finger salute you.
On the strength (um weakness) of feedback received so far, I think we’re going to have to pivot and start selling unicorns, ‘cos we’ve got about as much chance of making a go of it.
One of the pillars of wisdom in startupville (which I imagine is a place where people are really friendly and create nice neigbourhoods and use the website www.beneighbourly.com to enhance their sense of community), is that for your product or service to succeed, it needs to appeal to early adopters.
“Early adopters” is a fancy term for people who like new, cool stuff. They are the ones who actively get involved with new technology before the rest of us. They are like Umbrian truffle pigs, always snuffling around in the dark, dank woods to unearth little nuggets that go on to be worth gazillions. They are the lifeblood of start-up businesses.
Trouble is, most of these people live in California. Or, at a push, New York. The three that live in London are so exhausted by being the epicentre of all things new in business that they’ve barricaded themselves into a rec room at Google campus and are communicating only via an hourly twitter feed.
no thanks, we’re British
It’s tricky trying to start up a business in this country. Particularly an online, networky type business. Because we’re just not very networky type people. And we’re not very good at cheerleading. Or responding to surveys.
If you’ve ever worked with Americans, you’ll know that, on the whole, they’re incredibly perky, upbeat and enterprising. Sure, statistically there must be a few really grumpy ones in each state, who just spend all their time on the couch, mithering about how unbearably cheery everyone else is. But most that I know are optimistic and believe in that whole land-of-opportunity thing.
I think it could be because they have space. A lot of space. So they feel that there’s room for everyone to grow, and that one person’s growth isn’t going to leave less room for everyone else. So it creates a culture of encouragement. Whereas we Brits, on our very small island, are always worrying about someone encroaching on our personal space. So we don’t really like it if someone has ambition to outgrow their little patch. And we don’t go out of our way to boost one another.
You see it acted out daily, in a microcosm, on the tube. I was on the victoria line yesterday evening. I had my own space, next to the door, on that leany-ledge bit (which is the next best bit after an actual seat, as long as you’re on the opposite side to the opening doors – small wins, people). This 20-something girl got on at Oxford Circus. And stood into me – not next to me – into me.
And by that I mean that she pushed herself backwards so that her right shoulder was just touching the back of the leany-ledge and her left shoulder was in front of mine. So she was at a slight diagonal. But not for long. Because, keeping her eyes averted at all times, and maintaining the unflinching posture of the self-righteous, she then just jimmied her sharp little shoulders until she’d crow-barred me out of my space. At which point she became still. For 2 stops. And then she got off the tube. Inwardly triumphant, no doubt.
And I’d like to thank that deeply discourteous girl. Because I was starting to feel discouraged about beneighbourly.com. But now I’m even more convinced that we need something like it. So I think I’m going to build it and see what happens. And if that means skinning my knuckles on a few more letterboxes, then so be it…
I have included some incredibly subtle subliminal messaging in this week’s post. Don’t worry if you didn’t pick up on it – that’s means it’s working (and thanks for completing the survey!).