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”

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 and 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,, 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. (;;

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.

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:

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…

Back in the land of the blog

Apologies to the 5 of you who take the trouble to read this stuff.  I know that it’s been a little while since I last posted anything.  It’s a funny thing: you start taking a project just a little bit seriously and KABOOM! All of a sudden you’re onto a second whiteboard.  One for daily tasks.  The other for strategising.

Yup.  I’m afraid to say that in the time that I’ve been away from this blog, I have become someone who not only strategises (and believes that this is an acceptable word), but someone who can fill an entire 600 x 900mm whiteboard with the results.

Not only that, but I find myself saying awful things and meaning them.  Terrible things, like:

– what is our “why message”?*

– how can we make the user journey more engaging?

Forgive me

There’s not a lot I can say in my defence. It’s a pretty clear cut case of me becoming a total cringemeister.

You see, working on a start-up is a bit like living in a parallel universe.  Given that something like 4 out of 5 start-ups fail, the only way to protect yourself from the cruel, cruel world of reality is to stay cocooned inside the cosy little bubble of your “vision”.

You have to be able to survive in a near-permanent state of suspended disbelief about the actual merits of what you’re doing. There’s no room for self-doubt.  If you let your guard drop for a second, you risk opening the floodgates to a tsunami of ridicule and utter snivelling contempt. From yourself. And that’s no good when you’re not much of a swimmer. Or climber.  So you have to saddle up your whiteboards, stick your fingers in your ears and, shouting la-la-la-la-la to ward off the spectre of imminent defeat, you ride into battle once more.

First world problems; young person’s game

In our bubble, quite often obstacles can seem Herculean. Overwhelming and insurmountable.  There’s only two of us, after all. Trying to start up a whole online community business on our own. Having never done this before. It’s really hard.  No-one really understands what it’s like…

Absolute hogwash.

We’ve (um, I’ve) totally bought in to how hard it is and it’s a pile of nonsense.  The stuff we’re doing (marketing, sales, talking to people, drawing bees) is not difficult.  The worst we can really say is that some of our tasks are a bit time-consuming and tedious.  Occasionally they require a bit of thinking, perhaps a whole hour’s worth at a stretch. Sometimes our computers don’t save stuff and then we get really mad.  And we have to rub really hard to get the red ink off the whiteboard or use a wet cloth.  That’s a bit annoying.

I can almost see you playing the world’s smallest violin as you read this…

Still, I can see why start-ups are a young person thing. By the time you hit your mid 30s you’re already starting to have that generally tired feeling. You know you’ve got it when you see other people’s pictures of full-on party times on Facebook and your instinct is to put the kettle on.  And also if you use the expression “full-on party times”.

Youngsters benefit from the confidence that comes from zero sum knowledge of the law which dictates that most stuff doesn’t work out.  They’ve got time to burn and plump, youthful skin, which deflects the death-rays of failure.

Good for them and their unwavering enthusiasm.  I may not have their energy, or drive, or untested belief in their own greatness. And I sure don’t have their carefree attitude to money or access to parental subsidies.  But I have the twin-turbo motivators of absolute bloody necessity and can’t possibly ever show my face around town if this thing fails.

Plus, my rubber-skin syndrome (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, if you’re interested, or want to wiki some quite freaky photos) is really starting to come into its own, as the years roll on and the collagen leeches from my skin. It won’t be long till I’m having to tuck folds of it into my pockets, or up my sleeves, like I do with hankies. And I’m sure there’ll be someone, somewhere, willing to pay me to demonstrate just how far I can stretch my jowls. So, my Plan B is sorted.

Judging progress

Inside the bubble, it’s difficult to judge progress. Obviously, we know that time is passing. But beyond that, it gets a bit fuzzy. We’re doing the stuff you’re supposed to do: checking Google Analytics for how many people register versus how many people visit the site; how frequently people visit the site and how long they spend on it.  We track how many people open our newsletters, how many click on the links we provide.  We test different subject lines and different content in our newsletters.  And we’ve been able to draw some conclusions:

– it doesn’t matter what the subject matter says

– it doesn’t matter what time we send the email (within daylight hours, I haven’t tried a 3am one)

– it doesn’t matter if I spend hours designing the template or if I just cobble something together

– it doesn’t matter which bits from the site I pick for the newsletter

In fact, nothing seems to radically influence people’s behaviour when it comes to the newsletters.  Except:

BIG BUTTONS.  People love to click on big buttons.  Particularly if they are a red/orange colour. If you have a whacking great big button that says “Click Here”, then it seems people just can’t resist hitting the big button. About 30% more people click on a big ol’ button than on a standard link.

So this week’s newsletter is just a selection of giant buttons. Make’s it a whole lot quicker to create. I doubt that it makes any difference what the buttons say. “Click here for unicorns”.  “Click here if you love Alabama”.  “Click here if you’re a Godfrey Bloom fan”.

If that goes well, I’ll probably move to just one huge button, filling the whole screen.  “Click here for everything”.

And then I can probably retire.

how to launch a successful start-up


Fanfare please.  We’ve launched, our neighbourhood community site.  Whoop whoop!  The good people of SW17 and SW19 do not know how lucky they are to be our pilot subjects.

It’s funny – with my corporate background, I’ve done my share of mega-ton deals.  I’ve met with a load of powerful people, controlling a lot of money.  Didn’t really faze me.  Just got on with it.

And yet, the time comes for me to send an email to a few dozen people (the ones that had filled out the Be Neighbourly survey back in March) to unveil the site, and anxiety has basically liquefied my insides.

What would they think of it?  Would it live up to their expectations?  Do they like the colour scheme?  The bee logo?

Turns out I needn’t have worried.  Most of them were on holiday…

what a difference two weeks makes

That was two weeks ago.  We’ve had over 70 people sign up since then and we’re starting to see a little bit of user-generated life on the site, which is really encouraging.  Although our numbers are modest, our conversion rates are high – a good chunk of people who visit the site register, so we’re doing something right.  I think it’s the bees…

Our whiteboard is now earning its keep.  We have a war map, charting our target areas for flyering (highlighter-boundaried and numbered “zones”; little crosses to denote sign-ups).  We have our daily tasks written in big letters to shame us into doing at least some of them.  And we have our weekly sign-up figures – which we update on a Friday in a scene reminiscent of the number round on Countdown, but with The Mack as Carol Vorderman.

The launch anxiety has been superseded by the reality of trying to get things off the ground.  I already feel very differently towards Be Neighbourly than I did just two weeks ago.  I’m less scared, more focused.  I’m now thinking about 3 versions ahead, whilst trying to build traction for version 1.  I’m much more comfortable talking about it as an actual business, now that there is something tangible I can point to.  I feel more gung-ho American about it, less mortified British.

And I’ve learned a heck of a lot about start-up life in these past two weeks.  So I’m going to share my new-found wisdom in the hope it helps others in a similar position.

things to remember when you’re launching a start-up

Right now, the only person who cares is you:  The fact that you’ve been living your start-up for several months and spending all of your spare time working on the concept, the workflow, the design of little bees and miniature hams etc., does not mean that anyone else has, or will, give it a second thought.  It is your business to care about your start-up.  And it is your business to make other people care about your start-up. “Their” job, generally, is to ignore it until it becomes commonplace.  For examples, see everything, ever.

This is just the beginning:  Launch is just the end of the idea phase and the beginning of the gruntwork phase.  It doesn’t matter how much audience testing you’ve done till now.  The fact is, you don’t know what people really want until you put it in front of them and see their reactions.  Now is the time to muster all your courage and your energy.  Because getting to the bottom of what people want takes time, patience and the hide of a rhino.  My friend Tes has a great web app helping school PTAs to spread the organisational burden amongst more parents and letting time-poor parents get involved in their child’s PTA without having to over-commit themselves (  It’s taken her a year of hard work, but she just secured her first sale and she’s much closer to knowing what her customers want.

Always be closing.  You may think that your start-up concept is a no brainer.  Local happiness?  Friendly neighbours?  A fulfilling life supported by a loving, sociable community?  I mean, it’s even written in the bible.  Surely everyone gets it?  Dream on, dreamer.  Truth is, you’re in sales now and the same rules apply to selling social connection as to selling widgets.  You’d better get comfortable hawking your product, because this is your only job now.  And don’t expect anyone to get it first time – we reckon that for most people, around 3 – 4 “touches” (i.e. the number of times they come into contact with us or is what it takes to convert a registration.

Get used to a million mini fails.  Like trying to hand out flyers outside Colliers Wood tube station on a Monday night.  Sure, it may be sunny.  You may be offering haribo and gingerbread men as sweeteners.  But this is still London.  And these people are still miserable.  You stand between them and home.  Your chances of survival are not good.  Move on (preferably at a run).


Don’t obsess over the data.  When you launch, the temptation is there to check your google analytic stats and user sign ups every 18 seconds.  STOP.  Take it from a master, it’s a monumentally distracting procrastination habit.  Pick a day of the week and make it stats day.  Buy some rosettes and streamers if you must and really go to town.  The only things I check on a daily basis are new registrations (because I send them a personal welcome email) and bounce rate (to check that there isn’t a major technical issue with the site).

Laser beam focus on the positives.  It doesn’t matter what they are. At Be Neighbourly HQ (aka our lounge), we daddy splash if we’re up and at ’em before 10am.  Forget your old measures of success.  These don’t have any place in start-up world.  In our world, the small, first wins are everything, because they are usually the hardest to get.  70 registrations in two weeks for us is phenomenal and surpasses our best expectations.  Now all we have to do is get them fully engaged…

Don’t be tempted to skip steps.  We’re have a strategy for each of our start-ups and we’re super-gluing ourselves to it.  Sure, we add to it as we go along, as we figure out what works (more cryptic marketing messages, evening flyering, contacting local organisations) and what doesn’t work (flyering outside of a tube, or a supermarket, or with The Mack handing out sweets to young children…).  But we don’t jump ahead of ourselves.  Our only job at this point in time is to get new users into the top of our funnel (ooh er), get ’em registered and get ’em interacting on the site.  This doesn’t mean I don’t have grand plans to take over the world with Be Neighbourly ***strokes large fluffy white cat.***  But I’m not an idiot.  We’re nowhere near anywhere yet.  So we’re sticking to the plan and absolutely no wandering off.

That’ll do pig.  Done is better than perfect.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Don’t overthink it.  Don’t anticipate problems.  Fuck it.  All of these are the right attitude towards building a start-up.  Mine (inherent perfectionism combined with a lawyer’s attention to detail) is not.  Last night I screeched that Be Neighbourly was an absolute sack of shit and it was utterly pointless continuing with it, because I realised that the way the developers had programmed the site doesn’t allow us to link to individual listings.  This morning I’ve taken a long, hard, look at myself and got over it.  For today at least.

Try to enjoy it.  Hahahahahahaha.  LOLZ.  ROFL.  etc.  Not really possible, but we’ll give it a go anyway.  I’ll admit it’s a very weird thing to be doing (and most people assume that it’s a hobby rather than a business – and in fairness, it is a hobby until it starts generating some revenue), but It still beats working for a living. See also: Positives; That’ll do Pig.

what every start-up business needs…

When you’re trying to start your own business (or in our case, trying to start four businesses pretty much simultaneously, on a shoestring and without physically coming to blows), it is very important that you surround yourselves with things that will increase your chance of success.

We’ve had the post-its for a long time now.  I now class those as essentials.  We’ve had a few recent issues with some dropping off the walls due to our desperate open balcony door – floor fan – open bedroom window breeze inducing triangulation.  But we’re taking it all in our stride.

I keep getting The Mack to put new bulbs in all of the ceiling spots.  As if, somehow, the extra wattage will illuminate my ideas and stop them being so bloody dim.  It mainly just shows up all the dust.  And gives The Mack eye strain.

I’ve bought some plants.  For that all-important 4pm oxygen hit.  And for the seed-nurture-growth symbolism.  And finally, for sustenance – if all the projects should fail, we will be able to live off two different types of basil.  The mint plant has contracted some sort of blight.  It’s essentially dead from the roots up.  I’m choosing not to see that as symbolic.

But now that the launch of Be Neighbourly is imminent, I felt we needed something more.  Something that would make us feel importantly business-like, but that wouldn’t break the bank.  Something that we could, quite literally, pin our dreams on.

So I invested twenty-five quid and bought us a whiteboard.  It was delivered yesterday.  And it is magnificent.

Already, I can see how it’s helping.  Just looking at it makes me think of all the graphs I could be plotting, the targets we can set (Q3 and Q4), the inspirational Steve Jobs or Katie Price quotes I can write every morning.

The pens were missing from the delivery, but that’s just a minor setback.

I feel certain that the whiteboard, in all its splendid 1200mm x 900mm oversized impracticality, will give us that competitive edge.  The reverse side is magnetic.  So we can multi-task – conceptual mind-maps on front, securely fastened important documents on the back.

The magnets were missing from the delivery, too, but, again, no biggie.

It is the size of our dining table.  We don’t really have anywhere to put it (maybe we could get rid of the dining table?), and it is so cheaply constructed that the whiteboard surface has a definite ripple effect when viewed from the side.  But I don’t care.  It has a flip out tray for the missing marker pens.  It has an eraser.  And it makes me feel so goddamn businesslike, I want to air punch every time I look at it.

behold its splendour

behold its splendour