Poetic Lego: Ada Lovelace as a lego figure – vote!

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I always found it surprising that Lego didn’t produce more of their Research Institute set, featuring a female paleontologist, astronomer, and chemist, that was so hard to obtain because it always sold out so fast.

According to a blog post from the Scientific American a new hope is rising for feminist Lego enthusiast dads like myself: Lego is producing more sets with female scientists, aerospace engineers and astronauts.

The above post also highlights a few product suggestions on Lego Ideas, the site where people can submit their own ideas for new sets. My favourite? Lovelace and Babbage – Build the first computer. Ada Lovelace was a pioneer in developing the modern computer and between 1842 and 1843 she wrote what many consider to be the first computer program. Unlike her collaborator Charles Babbage, Lovelace had a vision for computers where they could do much more than just computing and number crunching. She called her approach “poetic science”.

A Lego set with steampunk, computers, math, and one of the coolest female scientist of all time, Ada Lovelace – what’s not to like? I’ve already voted for it on the Lego Ideas site, go ahead and lend it your vote as well.

Our MVP is one month away – same as it was a month ago

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Salvador Dalís The Persistence of Memory. Should be called the MVP time estimate.

One of the good things about Datasmoothie being part of Seedcamp is the entrepreneurs they drag in to share their experience with us Seedcamp founders. Last week John Collison, who founded Stripe with his brother Patrick, came over and told us his story. In five years they’ve built a company that is valued at over $3.5Bn with tens of thousands of clients, among them Kickstarter, Twitter and even Walmart.

The first part of the chat has been released as a podcast and the second half was off the record. It was even more interesting than the first half, but I obviously won’t quote it.

The part of the talk that resonated most with me was when he told us about trying to estimate when they could go from an invite-only beta to launching to the public:

We spent two years from writing the first line of code to actually being able to launch the product publicly. And if you’d have asked us at any point in those two years how far away we were from launching it was always a month. We were one month from launching for two years.

If you’d have asked me in December how long away the Datasmoothie MVP was, I probably would have said one month (although I did warn interested parties to multiply all estimates with Pi). The same goes for February, March and April. Luckily, we are now actually even less than one month from having an MVP to demo to prospective clients. But it feels like we’ve been at the cusp of this MVP for months.

So, when will you be able to try out Datasmoothie for yourself? Give us a month.

You will be able to see a demo video sooner that that though. It’s coming up.

Know your niche: Vegetarian shoes

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Brighton is one of my favourite cities here in the UK. It’s one of the most colourful and vibrant cities in the country. Brighton is big in all things creative, digital, hippie, leftie and alternative and it’s one of the most gay friendly cities in the country.

One of the many interesting things I came across during my last visit there this April was the Vegetarian Shoe shop. I’ve sometimes wondered how the veggies feel about wearing leather shoes and how they get around it. Well, here’s one answer.

Other types of popular shoes in town are high heels in men’s sizes for the drag-queen market. How can you not fall in love with a city like Brighton?

Groom them or broom them

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Entrepreneur and salesguy who isn’t meeting his targets. Image via Explosm.

The folks at Seedcamp recommended I listen to one of their podcast episodes the other day, Daniel King on the Startup Sales Process & Scaling. People sometimes scoff at sales and salespeople. Even startup founders. But if you’re running a startup, especially one that sells to businesses like I do, scoffing at sales is like appreciating oxygen but disliking red blood cells.

Sales can be brutal though. A salesperson’s success is measured in deals and cash and if you’re not closing deals, you’re not pulling your weight.

In the podcast, King explained what a well oiled sales machine looks like:

We knew exactly what the average selling price was, we knew exactly how many deals a salesman needed to hit in a month, we knew what the benchmark should be, we knew what the average sales cycle could be.

We called it groom them or broom them, you had to get rid of them quickly [if they weren’t performing]. It sounds quite cold but unfortunately sales guys live and die by their sales.

They knew what the benchmark for each salesperson should be and if someone didn’t hit his targets or didn’t close a deal in his first three months, they were let go. Groom or broom.

It’s a reminder of why running a startup can be challenging. Letting people go is not fun. Your team is climbing up a mountain and everyone is tied to the same rope. If someone isn’t pulling his weight you have to cut the rope and let him fall. Otherwise you won’t get to the peak.

So, next time you meet a salesperson in your organisation: instead of scoffing, pat them on the shoulder or even give them a hug. Because they have a hard job and yours depends on them performing it well.

A pie chart that makes me want to cry

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Datasmoothie allows users who have created reports to download them as PDF files. Sometimes the interactive web charts aren’t what the doctor ordered and a more sombre PDF is called for.

While Googling for different Python implementations of graphs I was unlucky enough to come across a Microsoft Excel help site. Don’t get me wrong, Excel is an awsome product. But it has long been an enabler for uglyness (remember the gray background?).

The help site I happened upton describes the above graph excitedly:

Using Microsoft office 2007, you can quickly turn your data into a pie chart, and then give that pie chart a spiffy professional look.

While I’m not in the “pie charts are evil” camp I do think they’re overused. Hint: Don’t use pie charts if you have more than three variables. But In 3d? Like a flying saucer? Only if you’re after the spiffy and professional look.

Women as panelists in tech events

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Representatives of 50% of the wearables market discusses its future. From Jemima Kiss’s instagram feed.

The Founders Forum is one of those clubs that annoys me to no end. Note that the club itself doesn’t annoy me, the fact that I’m not a member annoys me. Your company has to be valued at more than $500M to join. Next year, I’m sure. I get annoyed by most such clubs. Like Davos. Where’s my invite to Davos?

Anyway, Guardian tech journalist Jemima Kiss attended one of the Founder’s Forum events recently and started tweeting about how male dominated the panels were. The above shows an all male panel discussing wearables. Wearables. All male.

(In case you’re wondering, half of the wearables market is female).

“Wearables” is a funny MBA-type word by the way. It reminds me of how offended Radio Head’s Tom Yorke was when someone referred to his music as “content”. I can see myself representing, say, Yahoo at the HQ of some ancient Swiss watchmaker trying to convince them to play ball. Watches? You’re in the wearables business, buddy.

But filling tech panels with women is impossible, I hear you say. No it isn’t. Mike Butcher and the Europas folks managed a 40% ratio of women in their list of speakers and panelists. There’s tons of women in tech from VCs to founders. And wearables? Let me Google that for you. Aha, the first result leads me to three high powered women with an opinion of the wearables business: Laura Michelle Berman (Melon), Mari Kussman and Thiel Fellow Maddy Maxey (The Crated). The next few results reveal more women in wearables such as Christina Mercando (Ringly), Leslie Simmons Pierson  (Memi) and Liz Salcedo (Everpurse). Maybe they were busy.

So what’s the trick? Butcher explained in a Facebook comment: “Actually all I had to do was open my eyes…”

Let’s.

Today marks the 100 year anniversary of women’s right to vote in Iceland. Congratulations!

Iceland’s Pirate Party soars to the top of the polls leading the runner up by 10%

The only big change in Icelandic politics after the economic crash in 2008 was that voters in the capital, Reykjavík, decided that instead of going for fascism or extreme left-wingers, they’d vote in a Mayor who had only run for the office as a joke. After his resounding victory comedian Jón Gnarr stepped up to the plate and actually did a decent job. He decided not to run for re-election and retired with high approval ratings.

The country is stirring again. Since December last year a political party that barely managed to reach the minimum 5% needed to get a member of parliament elected has rocketed up in the polls. The percentage of people who say they’d vote for the Pirates has gone from under 10% in most of 2014 soaring up by 25% in the first half of 2015 to just under 35% putting them more than 10% ahead of the second most popular party, the conservative Independence party who are in a coalition government with the ironically named Progressive party.

The funny thing about the pirates is that they strike you as an honest group of internet savvy people who don’t even have much of a craving for any power. In that sense they’re like the outgoing mayor and that’s a big part of their appeal. Also, seen from here in London, they seem to be the only party in opposition that says what they actually think rather than what they think people want to hear. Like 35% of the country I will be very much tempted to vote for them when the election comes around. It’s just a shame that we still have two years to go.

 

A Chinese billionaire follows in Baugur Group’s footsteps

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The ownership of Hamley’s, everyone’s favourite toy store (and my own personal hell – don’t blow those bubbles in my direction!) is changing hands.

Yuan Yafei, the Chinese billionaire who bought House of Fraser last year, is understood to be in buy-out talks with the owners of the 255 year old toy store according to The Sunday Times.

Do you know who else bought House of Fraser and Hamleys? Iceland’s very own viking raider Baugur Group. Raise your hand if you know how that one ended.

Baugur bought Hamley’s in 2003, which meant that for the first time in the store’s history it fell into foreign ownership. It was part of the company’s shopping binge on the British high street which included splurging on Iceland (the store), Oasis, Karen Millen, Goldsmiths, Coast, Whistles and of course House of Fraser, which it bought in 2006.

Then came 2008. Iceland’s economic wings of wax melted and Baugur, along with most of the Icelandic economy, drowned in the stormy sea of the economic meltdown. In 2012 Hamley’s was acquired by its current owner, the French Groupe Ludendo, although it still has an Icelandic CEO, Guðjón Reynisson.

Which makes you wonder what Yuan Yafei’s next target will be. If he’s into frozen food, maybe he should check out Iceland.

Côte: How Excel ruined a great restaurant

coteI first discovered Côte back in 2010, three years after the first restaurant opened. My in-laws were in Brighton, and my wife and I met up with them and went out for a very successful meal which included rillettes, calamari and a perfect steak with bearnaise and chips. Delicious.

As soon as I was back in London I found the nearest Côte, which was in Soho, and tried it out. The experience was just as good as in Brighton. Quality French food at a reasonable price. I recommended it to anyone who would listen.

Then something changed. My wife and I visited the Soho outlet in 2014 and instead of quality we got dried, overcooked steaks and bad service. A few months later we returned and confirmed our research results: The quality had declined.

Our first thought was that they’d done the dreaded Excel spreadsheet analysis and seen an opportunity to optimise. I have a sneaking, albeit unfounded, suspicion this coincided with the business being acquired by a private equity fund around the same time. But even if it was a culinary failure the buyout was a financial success. The number or restaurants expanded from 40 to almost 70 and profits grew from £12.8m in 2013 to £16.2m last year.

I still go to Côte. They have a restaurant in Islington, close to where I now live, which has great ambiance and service and a decent brunch. But I haven’t risked buying their steak again. So I guess I’m still making them money.

Côte is again up for sale according to The Sunday Times. This time the price tag is £200 million. I hope whoever buys it knows how to appreciate both Excel and a rare minute steak. With bernaise.

Paris lags behind in coffee culture (notes from a Starbucks)

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The warm and fuzzy feeling that coursed through my pre-caffeinated veins when I stumbled across a Starbucks next to our hotel on Rue Rivoli in Paris was so intense it was almost embarrassing. Starbucks in Paris? The city that invented European café culture? Surely that’s not necessary?

Yes it is. Let me explain.

Firstly, Paris didn’t invent its café culture but imported it from Vienna with Marie Antoinette. At least that’s what our tour guide said. And secondly, as the BBC puts it, “the coffee culture in Paris lags about 10 years behind the scenes in Melbourne, San Francisco, London or Copenhagen”

Yet France is a country where the subtleties of cheese and the complex notes of wine are appreciated and analysed. So why are these advanced Gallic palates not being put to use for coffee?

Agreed. So yesterday, when I came across a Starbucks and croaked my request  for a “vente latte with an extra shot to go” and was met with a knowing smile, my morning was saved.

But it’s not Starbucks that’s giving France’s coffee culture a boost. The revolution that I’ve been admiring in Shoreditch and elsewhere in London, coffee that transcends the normal shot of a standard espresso, has also arrived in Paris. I’m talking about locally roasted beans, specially selected for the drinking occasion (latté, flat white, espresso) and served with a touch of coffee art on top.

Places like Coutume and La caféothèque are bringing 21st century gourmet coffee to the capital of café culture. And not a decade too soon. Hopefully this will mean that I won’t have to rely on Starbucks to get my kicks in Paris any more. And I won’t have to lose my head, Mary Antoinette style, on Facebook when I post about it.