Brexit: what went wrong and how we fix it

I am not a political creature. I have always shied away from politics and, more generally, economics. I always felt that both were very separate from me as an individual.

The System.

I understood that The System was there. I understood, sometimes in broad terms, sometimes in detail, how The System worked. I felt that The System was both too complex and horribly over-simplified; full of people that I didn’t care for. I didn’t bother engaging with The System. As long as The System mainly left me alone, then I left it alone too.

The past few weeks have made me want to smash The System into pieces too tiny ever to knit back together. I feel more than just anger. I feel an urgent and overwhelming need to fix it.

So I need your help. This post is TLDR, so feel free to skip to the end to find out how you can help. And please share this as widely as you can.

Thank you.

Caroline

———————

Let’s just be absolutely clear. The EU referendum, has, for many, many people who voted Leave, got fuck-all to do with the EU and everything to do with a more general sense of unfairness or resentment. They have, either unwittingly or two-fingeredly, set in motion the equivalent of a hunger strike. A protest, yes, but one which leaves you starving and withered.

We have opened the mother of all Pandora’s boxes. I’ve been through all the emotions in my range. So I’m going to channel my disbelief and anger and write down my take on what’s happened.

Here are the questions I’ve been asking myself and anyone else who will listen:

Question 1: How did UKIP get to set the agenda?

You have to hand it to UKIP and (its now former leader) Nigel Farage. Here is a party set up for a single purpose – to get Britain to leave the EU. A party that for the first 15 years of its existence was so far on the right-winged fringes that they had to draft in permatanned daytime smooth-talker Robert Kilroy-Silk to get any attention whatsoever. A party that appealed to the blue-rinse, bonkers brigade element of the Conservatives and to no-one else at all.

Because no-one actually cared very much about the EU. Sure, The Express or The Sun would sometimes fill a slow news day with a headline about the EU stopping us having curved bananas, but none of us cared. We just let the EU do its thing.

But when Farage took over the UKIP leadership for the second time in 2010, he changed tack. He wasn’t happy on the fringes. He needed mainstream. He’s an ambitious guy and was not content to be seen as a no-mark.

White Flight

So Farage reinvented UKIP as the party for the white working man. Never photographed without a pint of beer in his hand, Farage made UKIP into the straight-talking, no nonsense, “I’m not afraid to say what’s wrong with this country” party. And in hundreds of pubs, and working men’s clubs and Sun readers’ comments, the pissed off white working classes agreed with him in droves.

They didn’t care about Britain’s membership of the EU. Eh?? They cared about how shit they felt their lives were, how left behind they felt. How impotent. And UKIP harnessed their impotence and their anger at being ignored and it fed them on a heady mix of fear (the immigrants are taking what’s rightfully yours) and hope (here’s your chance to wrest back control).

Cameron’s faustian pact

The effect: the remaining hard-right within the Tory party (and there are many, many) turned the heat up on Cameron. They were terrified that UKIP support would cost them the 2015 General Election. Cameron was worried about losing his job, so he made a monumental miscalculation. You see, he didn’t realise that most of the new UKIP supporters didn’t care about the EU (not in any sense of sovereignty or economic trade terms). They just wanted some fucking respect.

So Cameron made his faustian pact: a referendum to appease the Eurosceptics in his party and save his own neck.

You can see why Cameron panicked. Easy to dismiss as frog-faced, spittle-foamed loons, but UKIP won 12.6% of the votes in the 2015 election (meaning 3.8 million people voted for them – for scale, that’s more than the combined population of Birmingham and Greater Manchester). No small thing when you consider that Labour got 9.3m votes and the Conservatives 11.3m.

So, a one-issue political party with only one parliamentary seat has forced a referendum on that single policy issue. How did they do it?

Farage: a willing gambler with other people’s money

Remember, Farage started life as a metal trader in the City. In his 2015 autobiography, he says:

“I love a gamble, I love stacking up the odds, and it has only been through taking enormous risks that the party and I have got to where we are today… Not only did trading in the City help whet my appetite for taking a gamble, it taught me how to get out when the trade started to go wrong, and to brush yourself off when the losses started mounting up.

One morning in the early 1990s – by then I’d been working in the City for a decade – I lost a seven-figure sum in the course of a morning on the zinc market. Not a good day, and it was only lunchtime. Contemplating the sobering loss I had just run up, I grabbed my jacket to head out into Broadgate, with the aim of being less sober while I considered just how much I was down.”

Ok great. Here is a man comfortable with taking extreme risks and losing other people’s money and very adept at running away if it all goes tits up. Here is a man who hated the opening up of the stock markets to foreign companies and investments and hated the increased regulation that the EU imposed.

Presumably to stop cavalier traders like Farage losing vast sums of other people’s cash and regulating themselves with a blow-out drunken lunch.

Farage had a personal agenda against the EU, because it stopped him and his City chums feeling like Billy Big-Bollocks.

Brilliant.

And now Farage has stepped down as leader of UKIP: “I now feel that I’ve done my bit”. Because what is UKIP for now? It’s achieved its single aim and Farage can be brought back in the Tory fold when the new cabinet is formed.

Question 2: Why was something so complex treated as binary?

The suggestion of putting Britain’s membership of the EU to a simple IN/OUT vote is an act of astonishing naivety and gross negligence.

I confess that, until I saw the levels of propaganda and bile that characterised the campaigns, I thought it might be a non-event. That our traditionally conservative (small “c”) country would either not bother to vote or would vote to stay in. Because, as I’ve said before: who actually cared that much about the EU? Who really gave it that much thought?

But apparently, it’s as easy as In or Out. Remain or Leave. It reduced a mind-bendingly complex analysis (constitutional, legal, economic, future-forecasting) to instinct.

And the campaigns, knowing that the nuance and complexity were overwhelming, boiled it down to rhetoric, slogans and over-simplified claims (or lies, as more commonly known).

All of which meant that at least 10% of people still didn’t know on polling day which way they were going to vote. It may as well have been decided on a coin toss.

Which is why countries which regularly use referendums (like Switzerland) insist on special rules, like making sure people know what they’re voting for and majority thresholds.

 What they don’t do is big up a “once in a lifetime chance to have YOUR say on the future of the country” and then hope for the best.

Amateurs.

Question 3: Where the hell were the facts?

“I think people in this country have had enough of experts.”

Well thank fuck for that, because I suspect a great number of those experts are EU citizens and they’ll probably have to go home now.

I lost my shit a few times during the campaigns. This was one of them. When I don’t know the answer to a very serious question, that will have a profound effect on my future (like, is that lump benign or should I have it removed?), I like to get an expert opinion, maybe even a second or third expert opinion. But Michael Gove of Vote Leave (now gunning for the PM job, having royally stabbed Boris Johnson in the back) thinks we “have had enough of experts” and should all just trust our gut.

“There is only one expert that matters,” said Labour MP Gisela Stuart, also of Vote Leave, “and that’s you, the voter.” 

FFS.

Here’s where it went wrong for Remain. They led with facts and stats and experts. They appealed to rationality and reason. That doesn’t stand a chance against propaganda and emotion.

Question 4: Where is the line between propaganda and hate crime?

The descent seemed to happen so quickly that I can’t remember how it started.

First there was that big red bus of lies about giving £350m/week to the NHS (it’s not £350m and it’s not going to the NHS – oh right then).

Then Nigel Farage proudly unveiled a poster showing a queue of refugees and the words “Breaking Point” which was almost identical to Nazi propaganda from the 1930s.

And a man (not a terrorist, the papers were quick to say, but mentally ill: i.e. white, non-muslim) stabbed and shot MP Jo Cox (a prominent supporter of Syrian refugees) in her constituency and stated his name in court as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

I mean, no words. And yet it was strangely, shockingly, almost understandable how things could have got so bad.

Because we have allowed free speech to blur into hate speech and our print media, in its fight for survival and in the hands of amoral puppeteers, plumbs lower and lower depths for the attention of its audience.

Malignant media

Did you know that The Daily Mail/Mail Online (23m/month) and The Sun (14m/month) are the most read papers in the UK? Even accounting for those who only visit the Mail’s Sidebar of Shame, that is an enormous reach. Even more so when you consider that 74% of Daily Mail readers do not read any other national newspaper.

The Daily Mail and The Sun, along with The Express, have spent years whipping up hysteria, fear and blame. Terrifying, screeching headlines ALL IN CAPS. Scant regard for facts – they get in the way of the story – scaremongering sells.

DM headlines

Let’s not forget the Katie Hopkins’ column in The Sun in April 2015 about 400 refugees who drowned when their boat capsized. Where she described migrants as “cockroaches”, recommended military force be used against them and said “NO, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.”

Now, you may dismiss this as standard shock and schlock tabloidism, but I don’t agree. It is deliberately, calculatedly designed to stir up hatred and fear amongst readers who get all of their news and opinion from a single source. It is (despite the CPS deciding ultimately not to prosecute Hopkins) my definition of incitement of racial hatred.

And freedom of the press should not mean freedom from prosecution, nor freedom to push an agenda of xenophobia and propaganda in the guise of journalism. Free speech should not trump hate speech, yet this is what we have allowed to happen.

Influencing the ill-informed

The average age of a Daily Mail reader is 59. Two-thirds of its readership are in the ABC1 demographic (characterised as those who have done very nicely for themselves, thank you very much – middle class with money to spend on nice food, they fuelled the buy-to-let market to top up their pensions).

In other words, they are the least likely to be directly impacted by a tanked economy, migrants, or any of those pesky potential fallouts from Brexit (except the catastrophic depletion of their pension schemes – oops).

Millions of Britons living in towns and villages, terrified of “the other”, terrified of life marching on, terrified of what lies beyond what they know. Cocooned and myopic and desperate for something or someone to blame for their terror.

Their personal experience of, and exposure to, the issues that The Mail, The Sun and The Express scream at them, is so limited that they believe it all as gospel; for they have no real-life counterweight. And difficult to muster much sympathy for their Bregret, when the papers finally told them some truths.

A generational experiment demonstrating the bloody tragic efficacy of propaganda + confirmation bias.

Question 5: Who let the racists out?

Seriously, I’m talking about all the racists who were apparently cryogenically frozen in the 80s and have all been thawed out as the result of the Leave campaign’s state-sponsored fascism.

I know it’s them, because they are using words like “paki”, which officially went into extinction in 1989.

I’m sickened, but not surprised. They were always lurking. It’s just that they’d been overtaken by multiculturalism, so they’d had to STFU.

But now they’re out and proud. Looking around them like it’s the fucking Rapture and all 17.4m Leavers are their aryan brethren. My sister stepped in to break up a fight on Friday night between a white British guy and a mediterranean-looking guy and heard the Brit say “I thought we’d sorted this – go home”.

If that is the Britain that people want to get back, then I vote for the people’s republic of London, and pressing the button that turns the M25 into a moat.

Just to put this into context: Austria is looking at a possible far right president (shivers of history) and Marine Le Pen’s popularity in France has been boosted by Brexit.

Truly odious times and we need to put a lid on it. Fast.

Challenge the racists, report them, mock them, spread kindness. Wear the #SafetyPin if that’s your thing (especially because Hatey Hopkins denounces it). Do whatever you have to do actively to show that you are not one of them and for fuck’s sake say something if you overhear racial abuse – do not stand by, do not stay quiet. This is our collective problem and we need to stamp on it hard.

Question 6: Where the hell are our politicians? 

In many ways, the least of my concerns. They are, as always, self-serving and diabolical. The collective noun is “fucktards”, so what did we expect?

I get why people in areas like Doncaster and Sunderland, who have been left to rot in the shift from industrialisation to service-centric globalisation, want to stick it to The Man. What the duplicitous, conniving, and frankly desperate manoeuvrings (on both sides) have shown is that they are right*. Westminster and all who sail in her could not give a toss about the people they serve.

 The media has been comparing it to Game of Thrones and House of Cards. People, please. This isn’t even up to the standards of The Thick of It.

Absent, cowardly, ruthless, pathetic, mealy-mouthed, brazen, belligerent and revolting. To a man and woman, left and right, no-one comes out of this clean.

And right there in the thick of it sit Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre, anointing their preferred candidates and keeping the propaganda machine churning.

No more. There is no excuse, with the technology available to us, for not insisting on transparent government, with evidence-based policy and data-driven accountability.

Enough of the froth and the spin and the game of politics. Enough of it attracting Machiavellian types or blind ideologues with no real-world experience.

Just do your fucking jobs.

*The grievances are real, but they are mainly the result of domestic policy and neglect. The referendum wasn’t the right forum, but I do understand why they took this opportunity to say fuck you to both main parties. The Tories who have cut them open and Labour who have failed to staunch the blood loss.

The saddest thing for me is that the referendum, result and fallout all mask the real issues that need to be openly discussed and resolved. There are legitimate concerns around immigration and its local impact in terms of integration and employment. There are legitimate concerns around the ability of the NHS to cope with an ageing population. There are legitimate concerns around the chronic under-investment of great swathes of Britain outside of major metropolitan areas.

 

Question 7: What does Leave even mean?

Because I sure as hell don’t think it means the same thing for everyone who ticked that box.

I don’t think that those who voted Leave because they’re concerned about the increasing federalisation of Europe, or because they believe we can do better trade deals outside the EU, want to be lumped in with the Britain First racists. But they are. And that’s what happens when you reduce the vote to an In (which exists already, so people know what it stands for) or an Out (which doesn’t exist, so it can be whatever you want it to be, however vile that prospect may be).

Take Control. Take control of what? Does anyone, anywhere, look like they have any ability to take control of anything?

Question 8: What do we do next?

I’m tired of this already, so I’m going to do something about it. This is bigger than party politics (which seems antiquated and coy now) and more than any of us can do as individuals.

We need your help.

Please, please get in touch if you can help, or you know someone who could (we want to hear from all of you), particularly:

  • Constitutional lawyers, media lawyers and criminal lawyers (specialists in racial crime, in particular)
  • Developers / UX designers
  • PR / Marketeers – digital and print press
  • Market/data analysts – we want to track the fallout from the referendum, from £GBP value, to GDP, unemployment, racial hate crime etc etc
  • Political lobbyists / civil servants – we need people with a good understanding of Westminster and contacts within the main political parties.
  • Influencers / people who can mobilise large groups of supporters

 Email me at caroline@lifetise.com if you can help. And please share this widely.

Thank you.

Advertisements

How to create a startup video for under £50

Here’s what normally happens when something needs to be done on our startup that I’ve never done before and don’t know how to do. (By the way, that’s usually everything, always).

I read the whole of the internet on the topic, hoping that it will somehow make me an expert by osmosis. I then get into a “too many tabs open” situation and have a mini meltdown.

I hunt down companies that could do it for me, then remember I can’t afford to pay them and feed myself. And that I’m quite partial to food. So I let that idea go.

I try to get out of doing the thing, cause a fight with Nick and buy myself a few more days of time whilst we get over our fight.

Then I accept defeat and cobble something together using a couple of toilet roll tubes and some sticky-backed plastic.

So, in true Blue Peter style, here is how to put together a startuup video for under £50.

  1. Create a video narrative (the story)

You need a narrative for your video. You really do. And you need to make this step 1. Do not pass go until you have a narrative. In fact, stop reading now and don’t come back till you’ve got one.

Basically, your choices are:

A. Standard explainer video

  • Present the problem –  “isn’t it awful how you can never remember how much milk you have left in the house?
  • Present the solution – “now with Milk Monitor, you need never worry about running out of milk again”
  • Demonstrate the product – “Milk Monitor is a tracking device that fits around your milk carton and accurately measures how much milk you have left.”
  • Talk about the features/benefits – “set the minimum amount of milk that you always want to have in the house and Milk Monitor will alert you if you get within 100 ml of this limit, so you can restock.”
  • Wrap up with your call-to-action – “to order your Milk Monitor today, visit http://www.milkmonitor.com”

B.  Something funny/more abstract

Sometimes you might just want to present the problem in a more general way, to get across a particular message, or to appeal to a particular audience.

Think of it as the difference between advertising and marketing. Marketing (like the above explainer video) tends to sell you on product features/benefits. Advertising sells you on concept.

This format is best if you’re trying to establish a brand voice or identity. Or if your product isn’t quite ready to demo!

There’s no standard blueprint for these types of videos, so take a look at some examples to help you come up with your own concepts.

Our concept was “Every Life has a Story…”

2. Create a storyboard

Get a whiteboard or some plain paper and write key phrases or draw stick pictures to show the story you’re telling.

Don’t skip this step, otherwise what you create will be a pile of crap. I  learnt this the hard way. Now, I draw scenes on a stack of paper and lay them all out in order. Then I get other people to see if they can follow the story.

This helps me figure out what type and quantity of images/ product demo clips and narration I’ll need. It also helps to weed out any unnecessary scenes.

Once you’re happy with the story, then you can move on to…

3. Create a script

Three words. Keep it tight. You basically want as few words as possible. So write out your script. Then time yourself saying it out loud.

If it’s longer than 60 seconds, you need to edit it. Look back at your storyboard and try to work out which sentences fit which scenes. Be ruthless in getting rid of unnecessary words. Viewers respond far more to images than words, so keep your script short, clear and simple. You don’t need to fill every second of time with narration, so build in some pauses and get the rhythm right.

Ok, so you’ve got your narrative, your storyboards and your script. Time to make your masterpiece.

5. Use free video editing software

I just about got away with using Windows Movie Maker for our video. It’s pretty basic, but it does the job. Things it can’t do are cropping, zooming in for close-ups (it can do basic zoom and pan, but that’s all), adding multiple captions (so creating any sort of text effects is a challenge).

It can also only cope with layering one audio track at a time. So, if you’re using music and narration, then you will need to save a version of the video with either music or narration, and then add the other file to that version.

Other free editing software is reviewed here.

6. Use free / cheap stock video footage

There are tons of sites for free/cheap video footage. My faves are pond5.com and dissolve.com. You can search clips by keyword and then filter by cost. Dissolve also has 3 free clips that it gives away every month and some of these are really great quality. VideoBlocks gives you a free 7 day trial of their website where you can download 20 clips a day for free (just don’t forget to cancel your subscription before the end of the trial period).

Put your video clips together first, before you add any narration or music. You need to get a sense of how the video flows and the timing you’ll need for audio.

Use the trim function on your video editor to cut your clips, so you get exactly the scenes you want. Spend time on screen transitions – fading through white or black is usually the most professional look.

7. Record your product demo

If you want to include clips where you demo your product, then the best free software I found is Apowersoft Screen Recorder. You can either use the online version (as I did) or download a desktop version. It captures your screen, so you can do a walk-through showing how to use your product.

If you’re using Windows 8, then be aware that you might need to download a Java applet in order to use the recorder, but that’s easily signposted from the website.

When you come to add your product demo to your video, you’ll probably want to speed it up by 1.5x or 2x.

8. Use free music

Vimeo has the best selection of free music clips. It has a great search function and you can then filter by commercial use to find those that are free to use on a creative commons licence for businesses. You will need to credit the author.

Choose your music once you’ve put the bare bones of your video together. You’ll roughly know the final length of your video, plus the sections where you want to add some audio impact.

9. Narrate it yourself or pay a professional

If you have a nice voice, then download RecForge II Pro (Android – £2.59) or Recorder Plus (iPhone – free) and use your phone as the recording device. You do not have to hold it really near your mouth! You’ll sound like Darth Vadar. Keep it about 30cm away and speak at a normal volume.

For the first few goes, record your narration whilst watching your video on playback. If you can match the narration to the scenes, it saves you editing it afterwards.

Get rid of background noise and make it sound more professional by using Audacity. Don’t freak out about how difficult it looks to use – it’s dead simple. Just do what this guy says and that should be enough to get your audio up to scratch.

If you have a horrible voice, then pay a professional. Fiverr has a big selection of voiceover artists. Red Horrocks is great, charges $5 for up to 125 words, can do both a British and an American accent and will usually deliver within 2 days.

10. (Optional) Add After Effects

If, after all that, you still feel that your video needs a little more pimpin’ (and you know how to use photoshop) then take a free 30 day trial of Adobe After Effects. There are tons of YouTube video tutorials that can show you how to create animations and animated typography, like the ones in this lovely video.

You can see our finished video for LIFETISE here. The total cost was $59 for the video clips and £2.59 for the voice recorder, so around £45.

Good luck with your creations and please feel free to share your videos in the comments section.

How to deliver a great pitch to angel investors

So last night,* Nick and I pitched our start-up, lifetise.com, to a group of angel investors.

Cue the montage

For those who last tuned in when we were working on Be Neighbourly, I feel that we need a montage to explain what’s happened in the past year. So here goes…

Being neighbourly didn’t work. People in London want to be neighbourly only conceptually. Not in real life. Not if that means talking to strangers. Especially strangers who know where you live.

Flash forward.

One idea to create an app for us normal people who don’t have assets, to help us figure out how to afford our lives. A retro eureka moment when we remembered the Game of Life (“be a winner with the game of life”). A decision to create a Sims-style game for your real life, that shows you how to manage your money and plan for the future.

Flash forward.

Find a games studio to build the game. Get excited that people are interested, then sad that we don’t have the cash to build. Apply for government funding (free money). Miss out by a score 2% lower than the qualifying standard. Re-apply with confidence, having totally nailed the responses to their feedback. Get rejected again because the government thinks it’s fine to get a whole different bunch of people to review the application, who give totally different scores. Fuckers. Lose the games studio to other, paying projects.

Flash forward.

Find another games studio. Try to pitch the concept to investors. Working on the assumption that raising £250k shouldn’t be too hard in London. Get investor interest but no moolah (no MVP no money).

Flash forward.

Find games industry legend who wants in and has a development partner who can build an MVP for £35k. Freak out about spending life savings on a punt. Do it anyway. Interview loads of 20 – 30 somethings about how shit their lives are. Hustle the hell out of anyone who’ll listen (and plenty who don’t) about how amazing our product is. Get on the radar of some angel investing groups. Go to more FinTech events than any one person should have to and network like a duracell bunny.

Flash forward.

Read too many blog posts on how to create the perfect pitch deck. Lose all cognitive function. Create pitch deck (many, many versions), business plan (many, many versions), grapple with a growth model and revenue forecasts, P&L and cash-flow projections for a business that does not exist and has no revenue. Do pop-quiz-style valuation calculations. Google everything to find somebody smarter who’s already thought these things through. Do that.

Flash forward.

Apply for angel pitch events. Create endless, awful, poorly-lit grainy videos introducing ourselves to the selection panel. Do 83 retakes before saying fuck-it, you can only see half my face, but that will have to do. Get through the selection process for FinTech Circle. Do celebratory chest bump. Then remember that we still don’t have a product to show on the night.

Flash forward.

Scream at developer team to please, please, please have something vaguely approaching a demo ready for the pitch event in 3 weeks’ time. Inwardly weep at the likelihood that they won’t. And you’ll be all fur-coat-no-knickers in the dragons’ den. Design a really bright pop-up banner and snazzy business cards to detract from the fact that you don’t have a demo.

Flash forward.

Finalise your pitch deck. Do a practice run to the FinTech Circle team. Get told you stand weirdly, so you need to sort that out. Practise ‘relaxed confidence boss-woman’ poses in the mirror.

…And finally, it’s pitch day. Nerves, adrenaline, focus, meditation, fixed smiles, power pose in the ladies loo. It all comes together.

So what did we learn about how to pitch to angels:

Go early in the billing:

We went first. Which we thought was brave / foolhardy of the organisers. Putting the “computer game to fix your finances” first on the bill in a room full of serious money people. I worried that we’d look lightweight compared to the blockchain and moneytransfer companies. I worried that the room was only half full so the angels who turned up late would miss our pitch. I worried about many things.

Turns out it’s better to open or go early in the list. You have people’s full attention. It was a hot room and people started to doze off in the second half. By the end I couldn’t remember half the pitches, so you have more chance of being remembered if you’re up early.

Prepare like a MoFo:

It goes without saying, but if you’re someone who’d sooner down a pint of fire ants with a chaser of rat poison than present to a room full of people, then (1) for gawd’s sake find someone else who can pitch for you, or if that’s not an option ‘cos you’ve got no friends, then (2) put in enough practice that you can forget about what you’re saying and just concentrate on not fainting.

I’m a confident little stand-up (some would replace ‘confident’ with ‘arrogant’ or ‘cocky’), but my legs still evaporate and my mouth freeze-dries when it comes to pitching. I got over it with a small glass of wine before we started and deep breathing from my belly (don’t do this if you’re holding a mic – you’ll sound like you’re giving birth).

Expect difficult AND stupid questions:

Just because you know your business inside out (you do, don’t you?), don’t expect anyone else in the room to have understood a single word of it. So when they ask questions that indicate they haven’t listened or haven’t understood, don’t look surprised. Just be grateful that it’s something you can answer.

Use it as an opportunity to add some interesting detail to particular points. We had a ‘hidden’ stack of 10 additional slides on our deck, just waiting for people to ask us the right question. It feels awesome to be able to point to stats to back up your answer. Especially if you can work the slide clicker.

Accept that there’ll always be at least one person in the room who feels it is their duty to ask a dickish question or to try to catch you out in some way. To those people, I say “thank you”. Because we’re ready for you and we’re going to use the tried and tested politician swerve.

So when the hand goes up from the twitchy-looking guy at the back who doesn’t appear to own any eyes, make sure you’re primed. Whatever he asks, you are going to answer the question you wish he’d asked. You’re going to take his mealy-mounthed question and you’re going to turn it into an answer about something you’re desperate to show-off. The positive energy from everyone else in the room will carry you through.

Hustle the hell out of it:

We missed most of the second half pitches. We were stood outside the auditorium talking to some angels. Remember why you’re there. Only one goal. Convince those with money to invest in your startup. This goes back to point 1. If you’re early in the billing, then people know who you are early. You can have many more focused conversations with investors than if they haven’t yet seen you pitch and they’re just making small-talk.

Out of all the angels in the room, we got interest from around 70%. We made sure we got their business cards, so we could make the next move. And we followed up with them the next day to set up meetings.

Giving your pitch is just the beginning. You have to be willing to network with everyone in the room. Don’t expect people to come to you. Get around everyone and find out who they are and why they’re there. We found that even those who weren’t interested in investing in Lifetise were happy to introduce us to someone who might be a better fit.

And finally, treat every pitch likes it’s THE pitch. Keep your energy and enthusiasm high – it’s the thing that investors have remarked on with our team – we are experienced (read: old) and incredibly enthusiastic. Investors want to work with people who are passionate about their business.

*Um, two months ago. I started this post the day after the pitch, but then got a bit busy with investor meetings. Sorry.

Are you part of Generation F*cked? Take our test to find out.

There is a three part test to find out if you are part of Generation Fucked. Try it now.

  1. Have you given yourself whiplash trying to catch a glimpse of the bottom rung of the property ladder as it’s being pulled up fast above your head?

  2. Have you put off having children for so long that you’re worried you’ll be mistaken for gramps when you drop them off at school?

  3. Have you given up on ever really having any money?

The results are in…

If you answered yes to any of the questions, then congratulations. You are part of Generation Fucked. And you are amongst friends.

It’s hard to know exactly where Generation Fucked begins and ends. It incorporates part of Generation X (my generation) and most of Generation Y (Millennials).

It includes everyone who marvels at the standard of living and accumulation of assets that their parents were able to achieve on ‘normal’ jobs.

It includes everyone who bought into the great university rip off and racked up tens of thousands in fees only to find that no-one gave a shit about their Ancient History degree.

It includes all of you who have turned interning into a three year job application (still hopeful…?!)

It includes everyone who is working on a start-up in the hope of creating a steady job. Unicorn rodeo rider?

The number of under-35s starting businesses has risen by more than 70pc since 2006

It definitely includes you if you spend more than 40% of your take home wage on rent. Or if you’re one of the 25% who still live at home (even just part-time to take the edge off).

What does it mean to be part of Generation Fucked?

In researching our new business, Lifetise, we’ve spoken to hundreds of people in their 20s and 30s about their lives, their hopes, their fears and their finances.

As you would expect, we heard many different stories, some good, some bad.  At times we felt like therapists – I’m sure we know things about people’s financial situations that they haven’t shared with their partners.

What was surprising was that there was a distinct lack of whinging. Everyone we spoke to seemed pretty accepting of their lot. Whilst the newspapers gleefully explain just how much worse Generation Fucked has it than previous generations, our survey showed that all of us poor little mites are just getting on with it.

We don’t need to be told that we are significantly less well off than the generation before us. We have eyes. We can see it. We perhaps hadn’t calculated that we were 21% less well off as at the same marker – but we definitely know we’re falling behind.

What’s clear from our research is that there’s no blueprint for how we should live our lives. The goalposts that we were brought up with have moved; or disappeared. We look at the difference between what we’ve got and what we expected to have and we don’t know if it’s ok.

So we delay a lot of the major life decisions and pretend that we don’t mind. We invest more time in our work because we feel we have more control that way and we convince ourselves that freelancing = freedom, whilst craving a stable monthly salary. Some of us try to save money, some of us can’t, some of us play the Euromillions and curse every time it’s won by someone over the age of 50.

There are 4.6 million freelancers in the UK – a 40 year high

We laugh at the quaintness of a job for life, as we build patchwork (portfolio) careers where hustle, following, and self-promotion count for more than ability. Us 30-somethings twitch at the seeming overwhelming confidence of the 20-somethings, forgetting that their role models are worth $200 million at age 25 and this is where they set their standards.

We over-rely on exclamation marks and emojis – keeping everything pepped up and positive. We generally believe in a sharing economy, but we can’t help but wonder whether it’s a race to the bottom for all but the paymasters. We denounce the 1%ers who made their money from flogging their countries’ natural resources, but some of us will find ourselves part of the new 1% that makes its money from flogging its peers.

We are the most liberal generations ever, but fewer of us drink, smoke, get knocked up early or take drugs. I guess for Millennials, when there’s so much uncertainty around what the future holds, it’s better to be sober and keep your wits about you.

Meanwhile, the over 65s are drinking themselves into a stupor

 

 

 

 

My so-called start-up life

Right guys, I’m going to need you to get up to speed quickly on the past 18 months.

Remember BeNeighbourly? That planned saviour of local communities, friend of the lonely, promoter of all things nearby.

Dead. I killed it.

Let’s be honest, the bees were the best bit. The bees were great. Everyone loved the bees.

Unfortunately, “everyone” was only a few hundred people. And they weren’t that bothered about the app itself. Which rather suggests that I should have saved the money on the app development and just sold bee stickers.

For those (sickos) who like to pick over the bones of a failed start-up, here’s the post-mortem:

It wasn’t a specific-enough problem: loneliness is a general feeling. It’s not a clearly defined problem. Nor is there a clear group of people for whom it’s a problem. We didn’t have great hordes of lonelies milling around, wistfully looking for a solution to their woes (if I had, I would’ve given them a hug).

We were caught between two types of people (1) those who felt a bit lonely, but not enough to make them want to do something about it and (2) genuinely lonely people who were too scared to go and mingle, so didn’t get beyond creating a profile.

Not enough going on in the ‘hood: turns out, there wasn’t a whole lot of anything going on in our neighbourhood. We (by which I mean my lovely, patient, sister Vicky) spent all our (her) time trudging around looking for events to put in our listings. And boy was it patchy.

If your listings only ever contain the same 3 things, you’re done. Especially if those are baby rhyme time, knitting circle at the library, and jazzercise.

Twitter and Facebook already had it covered: those who wanted to get involved in local stuff had generally already sniffed out local groups on Twitter and Facebook, so people just weren’t bothered about joining another social network. Oh and then there was Streetlife (the existing local social network that we found out about the day before we launched; the one that had Stephen Fry doing their video voiceover; an office in Covent Garden and which had started in exactly the same area, so it was a local hero…).

And we hadn’t anticipated just how wary people are of new things. We tried to advertise our site on local email chat groups, but it was the equivalent of getting hounded out of town by angry villagers with pitchforks. People were very mistrustful of our motives. They didn’t want to BeNeighbourly with just anyone: only with a very select group of people.

Great features don’t mean a thing: we actually built some great features – matching users’ interests to local events and groups, so users were notified every time something new came on the site that matched their interests; and event organisers had an incentive to upload new events, because they would be pushed out to users who would be interested. Really nifty, we thought.

Unless you can get enough of an audience to put these features to good use, they are worthless. Without the event organisers, there wasn’t enough content to push to users, so it became redundant. We called that feature “Snap”. I mean goddamit, we gave it a name.

It should have been a local discovery app – on mobile: we realised pretty early on that what we should have built was a mobile app that helped people discover what was going on around them, using the sort of geo-tagging that FourSquare was built on.

Problem was, there were already tons of other start-ups building something similar that had already been funded. So we were just too late. (http://www.locappy.com/; http://www.spottedbylocals.com/app/; https://findery.com/).

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Because we found a new calling. We’re going to help all of us who are part of Generation F***** to navigate our lives of (mainly) debt, possible unemployment due to robots, crazy house prices and pipe-dream retirement.

Stay tuned.

working girl

And so it has come to pass.

The realities of living in London (even the edge of what I would ever properly call London, given that I live hemmed in by retail parks, suburban semis, filth-food drive thrus and, fortunately for my sanity, a National Trust park) have made themselves felt.

I’ve had to get a job.

There was no getting away from it.  As you know, I’m a big fan of whiteboards. But their one downside (apart from the fact that we bought cheap ones, so now have to use an industrial scourer to get the words off), is that when you use them to work out your finances, the truth is writ large.  And virtually indelibly.  And it says “You are officially broke.  You have managed to burn through a frankly incredible amount of money in 18 months.  Unless you get a job, in one month’s time you won’t be able to pay your rent and you’ll have to move back in with your mum.”

The whiteboards can be quite stern at times.

But they seem to know what they’re talking about.  So The Mack and I considered our options. And we came to the conclusion that, since he’s pretty much unemployable (my sisters call him “Tribunal Spice” – they keep warning me that it’s only a matter of time before he sues me for ginger discrimination and that I should be keeping contemporaneous notes of all of our work meetings), the only real option was me going back to work.

I actually took it surprisingly well.  I’m pretty good in a crisis.  I’m also hugely uptight about money. So if you present my choices as being (1) rinse through your remaining savings like you’re a Lawson/Saatchi personal assistant or (2) get a job.  It’s no contest.

I is going to get me a J.O.B.

selling myself short

Anyone else who’s quit their job to try something new will know that the way that you sustain yourself through the standard 4am “oh shit, what the fuck was I thinking, why am I so stupid, how am I ever going to make any money, what an idiot, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid” routine, is to repeatedly tell yourself that it’s fine. That anytime it gets too much, you can walk back into a job.  No problemo.

And it’s pretty easy to believe that.  Because, like all great fairy tales, it doesn’t have any basis in reality. It’s just a nice story that you tell yourself to help you get to sleep.

But then there comes a time when you have to put it to the test.  And it’s stupidly nerve-shredding.  You convince yourself that no-one will hire you. That your 18 month “sabbatical” will most certainly be viewed as a breakdown. You realise that your eagerness to charity shop your entire work wardrobe was a little premature and it’s unlikely that your elasticated house trousers are interview suitable.

You also feel a bit resentful.  What do you mean I have to go to work?  What, like other people? I thought I gave that up?  You don’t want to have to explain your experience, or sell yourself.  You wish that interviewers could just absorb your competency, like osmosis or a big old recruitment sponge.  You’re not ready to be enthusiastic. Or smile. Or nod your head to show great depth of understanding.  Or rearrange your features so you don’t look completely horrified when they talk about clients and contracts.

I had to squash my mortification and get in touch with all my friends who could possible offer me a job.  I was very Britishly self-deprecating and called it my “work scrounge”. I felt embarrassed for asking. But everyone was great and quite a few genuinely tried to help.

Thanks guys. I’m touched.

But in the end I didn’t need it.  I met with one recruitment consultant, interviewed for one job, got it.  All in the space of a week.  It was either incredibly lucky, or showed of a distinct lack of discernment.  On both sides.

Either way, I’m back in the game. It’s a creative environment and the people are nice.  There’s a bar in the office and lots of toast and peanut butter.  Plus it’s only 2 days a week, so hardly even counts.  However, I loathe having to get up early.  The tube journey is hateful.  And I miss my spot on the sofa.  But it’s stopped me moping around the flat and it keeps the wolves from the door.

Knock knock

Who’s there?

Some wolves.

Go away. I’ve got a job.

5 Top Tips for Staying Happy and Healthy this Winter

This is the first Winter in many, many, many that I haven’t run away somewhere warm.  Truth be told, I am dreading it. I can be pretty glum at the best of times, so I can only imagine what a radiant bundle of joy I will be to work with at home when the daylight hours go below the recommended 5-a-day.

Fortunately, I have some fail-safe tactics to ward off the winter blues and keep my pecker up, so I can skip merrily into Spring.

Tip 1: Get lots of exercise  

Round 2 of neighbourhood flyering will begin in earnest next week for beneighbourly.com.  One of my best friends has bought me some insanely fluffy fingerless mittens for the task. I will wage war on those snappy, bitey, frozen letterboxes and my hands below the knuckles will be resplendently toasty in leopardprint and bunny-fluff. Apparently, exercise helps to stave off depression. It remains to be seen if it can stave off rabid anger as you repeatedly flay the skin off your fingertips, one letterbox at a time.  I’ll keep you posted.  Hahahaha.

Tip 2: Get a light box

If you are SAD (and you have to be very sad for it to reach capitals stage, not just a little bit lowercase sad), then you’re supposed to get a special light box that mimics the effects of natural sunlight. Well, in our flat, the circuitry is so bad that it’s nigh-on impossible to get more than one halogen spotlight to work at any one time. It’s like they play tag team. So you basically have to position yourself underneath the one that’s working. Which makes it tricky to put on your make-up if the only one that works is the one over the cooker.

I can’t afford a SAD light, but I do have an extra bright halogen floor-standing lamp. I plan to stare directly at this for several minutes at a time, each time I feel a bit down. I will know it’s worked when my depression is replaced by a searing pain in my retina.

Tip 3: Get lots of nutrients

You’ve got to look after your health in the cold months. Helpfully, the fact that I rarely leave the house and am seldom in the company of other folk means I’m far less likely to catch their manky germs. Social isolation and loneliness is another matter, but those relentless sniffles that plague the average commuter no longer touch me. Plus, we eat a lot of soup in our household. Nevermind my sister’s insistence that soup bears no resemblance to a proper meal. It’s cheap, filling and if you liberally sprinkle in some temazepam, it keeps The Mack nicely contained all day. Our current fave is chicken carcass and lentil. Delicious And Nutritious.

Tip 4: Have plenty to look forward to

Man this is so important. You need at least one thing a week to look forward to. And for me, it needs to involve getting dressed in something other than my house sweatpants and socialising with someone (anyone) other than The Mack. You can’t just rely on Christmas and New Year either. That sort of cheer will only really last until your New Year’s hangover wears off. So sometime around the 7th of Jan you’ll need another pick-me-up. And you basically need to fill February to the brim with fun stuff. It’s unfailingly grim. I’m sure they deliberately made it the short month because it’s intolerable.

Tip 5: Hide

If it really gets too much then just hide. Stockpile some tinned peaches (great for bellinis) and long-life milk and just don’t bother getting out from under the duvet until you’re absolutely sure it’s Spring. And even then I’d suggest waiting till May. April has a habit of throwing snowballs. Sod being stoical about the Great British weather.  If it’s shitting diagonal sleet out there, then what on earth is the ruddy point? For the sake of the three crisp, bright days you might get, I say screw it.  Hibernate. Burrow. Get a onesie if you like. I won’t judge you – whatever gets you through these dark days. If you time your reawakening right, you might just get hailed as the Messiah. Which could be a bonus.

Oh.  And whatever you do, stay away from people who are going abroad somewhere hot. They are the worst, most turgidly smugawful bores and should be avoided like the plague.  Take it from someone who was one.

Start ups: Hard work? Not so much

When you set up a business, everyone tells you that you’d better be prepared to work yourself into the ground.  That it’s all consuming.  You’ll barely have time to sleep, eat, or wash and you definitely won’t get to finish Breaking Bad.

Probably that’s true of successful start-ups.

Or bricks and mortar businesses where you need to worry about things like having a building, stock, overheads and staff. I can see how that could take up a bit of your time.  Thinking about where to position your desk in your office. Kettle or coffee machine? Whiteboard or wall planner?

And maybe it’s true if you’re one of those loathsome people who just froths with energy and productivity. Who wakes up with fully-formed world-beating ideas all wrapped up in a pretty SEO-optimised package. Those ones who are out the door at 5.15am in all weathers, clocking up their daily 10 miles, followed by a Gwynnie-approved wheatgrass shot and feeling totally ON IT. Smashing through deadlines. Raking in the money. Living the high life in Smugsville.

Weirdly, my experience so far has been nothing like this.

Eat, Sleep, Rinse, Repeat

I get a lot of sleep. Around 9 hours a night give or take. Proper coma sleep too.  Where I wake up suffocating and saliva-crusty in my pillow den and looking like I’ve slept in a Brian May wig.

I usually cook some scrambled eggs for brekkie. Sometimes with some kale (thanks for the tip, GP). Always with a side of peanut butter. I might watch a bit of Escape to the Country on Home+1 whilst I eat. I ‘m always a bit disappointed when the presenter is Nicki Chapman. She’s struggled to make her mark since the heady days of Pop Idol.

Unless there’s a good reason to do it earlier (i.e. I’ve got someone – non-family – coming round to the flat), I tend to schedule showering for the 3pm slot.  There’s usually a good amount of hot water available then and if I fancy switching to a bath, it verges on an early evening treat and I’ll use my Badedas and take a good book in with me.

Once a week we’ll do a Sainsbury’s run. It’s a 2 minute walk from the flat and we always buy the same stuff. But it’s a foray into the world and therefore a Significant Event. Sometimes, though, The Mack does the shopping alone. If he can sense that I need it too much and I’ll spend way too long, dallying in the bright lights and wide aisles.

In between all of this frenzied activity, I manage to cram in some work. But, you see, it’s nothing like the sort of work I used to do. It’s not time-pressured. There’s no-one chasing for anything. I maybe get a couple of emails a day. No phone calls. There’s no poring over documents. Or negotiation. There’s still the occasional conflict, but that’s what happens when you live and work together. Particularly when you’re both pig-headed, opinionated, entirely convinced of your superior intellect and unafraid to shout about it.

The work I do now is much less intense. Now that the site is up and running, it’s mainly fairly simple stuff: find some more local gigs, knitting groups and residents’ meetings to add to our listings. Create the weekly newsletter. Tweet all about it. Repeat.

All essential stuff, but not ground-breaking.

Very, very frightening me. Galileo.

This morning’s “May”.  Very, very frightening, me. Galileo.

Can’t find the goal

I think it’s a little different if you’re selling a product or service. I’ve been doing the rounds of local business networks and pretty much everyone there is selling something. Trades, services, beauty products. Even knitted Peruvian handicrafts. Then it’s more straightforward. A simple buy/sell transaction. Your goal as the seller is to sell your products or services. End of. Simple Simon.

When your business idea is a neighbourhood platform to encourage more local mingling, it’s a bit less obvious what your goal is. At first, your goal is getting people onto your site. Then your goal is getting them to register. Then your goal is getting them to use your site regularly. Then your goal is to get them to tell more people about your site, so they can all come and do the same. Then your goal is to make some money out of all of this.

In start-up lingo, this is called Pirate Metrics.  Why?  Because your goals are Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral and Revenue.  Or AARRR for short.  Geddit??  Such a good pun that they’ve even created a software tool to measure how well you’re doing it: www.piratemetrics.com.

I guess you’re wondering how the piracy’s going with Be Neighbourly…

Well, we had some good early success with Acquisition and Activation. So then we left that bit to look after itself whilst we focused on Retention. Which we’ve done pretty well at with the newsletter. But we need more user-generated content. So we’ve designed some new features to make the site more useful for people. And then we’ll test the Retention again with these new features. At the same time as doing some more flyering to encourage more Acquisition and Activation, because that dropped right off when we stopped focusing on it.  All the while hoping that the new Retention strategy will spur people to make Referrals. And then (and only then) can we start to think about introducing some Revenue generators.

You’d think that little lot would have me whirling dervishly 24-7. So many AAs and RRRs, so little time. But it’s just not like that. I want to push the business on. Make changes quickly. Get stuff done. Skip along to version 3 of the site when it truly is a platform, connecting people with local groups and businesses. Making a difference, man. Building a better world. For the children.

Of course I do.  I’m just lacking a few fundamentals that would make that happen. Like money. Or a team of in-house developers. Or money. Or a PR agency. Or money.  Or an ingenious way to generate loads more traffic to the site.

Basically, we’re lacking money.

And without money, we have to do things slower than I would like. We’re using a great team of freelancers to make the changes to the site, but they’re already behind schedule and we’ll be lucky if we get the first lot of improvements in before Christmas.  We need the new features to help boost our user numbers, so we’re in a holding pattern. It’s frustrating. So much so, that I’m tempted to get a job whilst I wait.  It depends how I get on with finishing Breaking Bad…