Launch48 Edinburgh: an inspiring start

November 1, 2010 | 4 comments

IMG_0358I was invited to attend Launch48 Edinburgh as both a speaker and a mentor, and can’t imagine a more inspiring way to spend a weekend. My talk – on creating a startup from scratch with no budget and a two-person team, and the lessons I’ve taken away from that experience – was recorded, and I’ll try and post it here when it appears online. However, what I really want to talk about is the event itself, and the incredible teams that participated.

Launch48 has a simple, if daunting, premise: build a technology business, including model, marketing plan and prototype, in two days. Four ideas were picked out of a set of quick-fire pitches; the resulting teams were kept lean by the sheer speed of the event, and an array of mentors kept them on their toes, often encouraging them point-blank to reassess their ideas.

I’m enormously impressed with the results. Even when the teams didn’t manage to create a viable prototype, the talent on display was unquestionable. These are motivated, smart people who deserve to go places.

Compare the Universities launched as a straight-up catalogue of British university courses, which you can filter by A-level results and location (with more to follow). I was disappointed that the business model was based on universities buying sanctioned profile pages; I think this kind of service comes into its own when the information is impartial and crowd-sourced. Nonetheless, the idea has legs – it was the only business at the event with a name that could double as an elevator pitch – and the existing players in the market are uninspiring.

Social Catalogue were trying to bite off more than they could probably chew in a weekend, but the idea was interesting: connect people with niche shopping experience who love to shop with people who need particular products. It was fascinating to see their idea change over the weekend; it started as Local Catague, a way to find local retailers. The crowdsourcing aspect developed organically, with input from all the mentors. I wish more thought had been put into the technical aspects, for example the search and metadata aspects of shopping discovery, but it’s a neat premise that deserves further thought.

I want to buy and use Zzzappa – if they’d only release it for my Android phone. Their automated personal assistant software will call your smartphone (or any other phone, for a per-call charge) and read out a set of information you dictate. Think of it as the alarm clock as a platform; be woken up, or alerted at any time (in the car, maybe?), with a set of calendar events, to-do items, messages and other data drawn in from their API. Most impressively, they built it and it works; the first 200 US users will receive free wake-up calls for five days.

Finally, run2see managed to build two mobile apps (for iPhone and Windows Phone 7) and gave an entertaining, fact-filled product demonstration. In some ways, theirs was the most polished pitch, and the application looks like the kind of thing I’d definitely want if I was a runner: a set of downloadable routes with points of interest included, assessed for safety and available on an a la carte basis. There was talk of expanding the app for cyclists, which is something I would definitely use.

Each team should be proud of themselves. In some ways, I wish I’d participated as a team-member rather than a mentor – the air at the University of Edinburgh Business School was thick with creativity. Maybe next time. Either way, it’s an exercise I’d encourage anyone with an entrepreneurial interest to think about: could you create a viable business – not just the technology, but the business model and execution plans – in 48 hours? It’s harder than you think, but definitely worth a try.

Image by Dan Monsieurle, released under a Creative Commons license.

The future we deserve

October 24, 2010 | 2 comments

Opening the floodgates:

[…] It would be easy to argue that this change is restricted to post-scarcity items: products that can be encapsulated digitally and copied an infinite number of times. However, this is not the case. In the summer of 2010, the New York State legislature – heavily sponsored by the hotel industry – cracked down on residents subletting rooms as unofficial hotel rooms and advertising them on open markets like If you visited a strange city and didn’t have a place to stay, hotels were once a handy gatekeeper: for a price, you could generally trust their safety, cleanliness and comfort. In the age of truly open markets with built-in metrics for trust and accountability, anyone can offer a room, and as a result, the days of the global hotel chain may be numbered. Whereas brands were once symbols you could judge products by, there are now more direct ways to determine quality. Once, you were limited to commercials you had seen or articles you had read. Now, you can ask everybody.

There is a revolution ahead of us. Music distribution models, the market for hotel rooms or where someone can publish an article are all part of a prelude to a far bigger change: a switch from political parties and the politics of aggregation to individual politics driven by the people. Imagine an open market for politics – both politicians and political ideas themselves – that incorporated similar trust metrics to those used to safely find independent hotel rooms, where individuals didn’t need the support of parties, unions or global businesses to have a chance of being elected or having their ideas incorporated into the democratic process.

This is my chapter for The Future We Deserve, a collaborative book about creating a future that we deserve. I plan on writing much more about gatekeepers and the effect of the Internet on established power structures in the future.

If you’re in Edinburgh on Friday, October 29th, I’ll be encouraging entrepreneurial hopefuls to smash gatekeepers and empower users as part of Launch48, where I’ll be both a speaker and a mentor. I hope to see some of you there.