Events

Lessons from 20 years of product ownership

Pete Deemer needs no introduction among the Agile software community. A key member of the Scrum Alliance who served as its chairperson in 2017, Pete has over 25 years of experience in guiding product development teams. He is the lead author of ‘The Distributed Scrum Primer’, a guide to multi-location Scrum and ‘The Scrum Primer’, one of the most widely read introductions to Agile development. Pete shared some insights and lessons from 20 years of product ownership with us recently, and here are some key takeaways:

How to speed up a development team

Asking a development team to simply work harder and faster, while giving them words of encouragement does not have a lasting impact. As the pressure increases and the team works longer hours, although output may increase for a while, burnout sets in soon after. Recovering from this is extremely difficult – quality reduces drastically while output rarely goes back to the same level it was.

When a programmer rushes, they make more mistakes. When a tester rushes, they find fewer mistakes.

Smart product owners therefore should identify ways in which to increase output without the risk of burnout. They can do this using the Agile methodology ‘Lean’: improve efficiency by eliminating waste. A key part of this is to reduce impediments. Pete defines an impediment as ‘anything that gets in our way, interrupts us, distracts us, causes mistakes, creates rework, causes waste, hurts our motivation or stops us from being as good as we can be’.

Identifying any and all impediments that the team has or foresees as early as possible, and figuring out how to navigate them or reduce them is greatly beneficial to the overall productivity of the team. It allows output to increase and stay at a high level for longer periods. Teams work the same hours but at a more sustainable pace, and are therefore less exhausted as they encounter fewer hurdles. Additionally, the work the team produces is often of high quality in this situation. It’s important that product owners create an environment of openness for the team to express themselves and be honest about all impediments they have – even if certain impediments are caused by the product owners themselves!

How to handle new requirements or – half of what you think you want, you don’t need, and a lot of what you actually need, you haven’t thought of yet!

A fundamental reality of product ownership is not knowing exactly which direction a product is heading. It is therefore vital to be able to adjust and change the sails and change course without causing disruption or panic.

During a Scrum Kickoff, the product owner identifies the product goal and creates a product backlog that consists of features or stories – things of direct value to customers or users. These are known as product backlog items (PBIs). PBIs are then broken down to smaller features, and organized into sprints to work towards the final release. However, a product owner may think of a brilliant idea for a new feature that will greatly enhance the product halfway through product development. Simply adding this new feature in without making any adjustments to the existing PBIs will cause a delay and disrupt the process as the overall product backlog increases.

There are four key factors that come into play when thinking about products – scope, schedule, cost and quality. These are interlinked, and a change in one aspect often results in a change in one or more of the others. Eg: If the product owner tries to increase the scope but not adjust the schedule and cost, the quality may see a drop.
It is important to note that, if the product owner and team do not willingly change each factor to reflect changes in the others, the changes may occur in unplanned and unexpected ways. This will often have a negative impact on the overall progress of the product.

Therefore, to make allowances for new PBIs, the best option is to find PBIs or features that are of lower value and replace those with the new features. The overall scope stays the same as it is being balanced, and the value of the product increases (as your new addition is likely of higher value than the PBIs that were removed).

Flexibility is key in good product ownership and Pete reiterates that ‘we have not had our best ideas yet. Our best ideas are still to come. And we need to be prepared to respond to that.’

You don’t pick when your good ideas come. They come when they’re ready to come.

How to structure a product backlog

To be able to remove and replace PBIs, it is important to realistically evaluate the true value of each. Sorting PBIs by priority and value allows room for any adjustments to be made – such as if the team finds they need more time to fix a high value feature, or the product owner needs to add a new feature halfway through. This also allows the team to make any adjustments based on user feedback from beta testing. Similarly, if due to some reason the release date has been reached but some PBIs are incomplete, it will have only a minor effect on the overall value of the product as the items left out are of relatively low-value.

Pete recommends having a ‘Scope Buffer’– PBIs that can be dropped, or postponed to a later release. This way, even if they remain incomplete by the release, a high-value product can still be delivered without delay. The ‘MoSCoW prioritization’ can help product owners prioritize their PBIs. It groups PBIs into the following categories – ‘Must have’, ‘Should have’, ‘Could have’ and
‘Won’t have’. ‘Must have’ items should be placed high on the PBI list, followed by ‘Should have’, ‘Could have’ and finally, ‘Won’t have’ items. This method ensures that no matter what, a minimum viable product can be created within the planned time frame.

One certain thing product owners should know – things won’t go as planned!

How to work effectively with remote teams

Establishing connections with people you haven’t met, and who are in a geographically separate location is not easy. However, with remote work becoming the norm, there are ways to navigate some of the oft-encountered barriers. Pete believes that trust is what enables a product owner to get the most out of a team.

Trust is a force multiplier

In a low-trust environment, developers don’t ask questions, hide mistakes, ignore concerns, cover up problems, and pretend all is well until it is too late. However, in a high trust environment, developers are open and honest – questions are asked, thus fewer mistakes are made, and concerns are brought up, ensuring that problems get tackled early. An environment that promotes trust and values honesty (even if that honesty brings up things the product owner doesn’t like to hear!) is vital when working with remote teams.

Some ways through which trust can be built:

  • Establishing real, human relationships at the start: Pete encourages any product owner to take the extra time, spend the money and meet the development team at least once at the beginning of a partnership. This helps the team see the product owner as a real person, and helps establish a connection between all parties. If it is not possible to physically visit the team, engaging in online icebreakers and team activities that encourage people to share information about themselves, their interests outside of work etc. help to promote the relationship between product owners and their teams.

  • Understand the inherent power differential: There will always be a difference in power dynamics between the team and the product owner, and it is important for product owners to be aware of this when working with the team.
  • Show respect, and reward honesty
  • Be mindful of language and communication barriers and biases: Establishing a common language for communication is important but it is equally important to be aware of the biases that come through the use of a language – such as English- that may not be the first language of either the team or the product owner. A key fact to remember is that proficiency of language is not an indicator of professional capability.
  • Agree on the ‘rules of the game’ and play by the rules: Eg. A product owner should not ask developers to be honest and then penalize them for their honesty.
  • Scale the communication and be aware of signal-to-noise: One of the main problems encountered by product owners and teams is miscommunication. Depending on how sensitive the matter is, the most suitable method of communication should be utilized. Eg: A text is alright for a quick clarification but an email would provide greater detail, while an audio call or video call would be the most preferable for a longer back and forth discussion. In-person meetings are the best choice for any high priority communication, as richness and fidelity is highest in this instance. It is up to the team and the product owner to determine the best method of communication for the circumstance.

Successful products don’t teach you anything, it’s the failures that do!

Building an exceptional and valuable product is no easy feat—both product owners and development teams have a responsibility to each other. Pete hopes that by sharing lessons learnt and knowledge acquired, he may help others avoid pitfalls while incorporating practices that benefit the team and product owners alike.

Also, if you want to learn more about how to build great software and digital products using a remote team, go check out our Remote Team Playbook. A complete recording of Pete’s webinar is available here.

EventsStartups

How Is IoT Driving Sustainable Change?

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

IoT expert Pilgrim Beart shares his insight on how IoT is supporting sustainability, from electric cars to food waste.

Think of IoT and for the many it’s bleeping fridges and irritating smart speakers that literally have a ‘mind’ of their own.

Speak to an expert and you get the real world of IoT: exciting technology concerned with sustainability, that’s helping solve some of humanity’s biggest woes.

I caught up with Pilgrim Beart, IoT engineer and Co-founder of DevicePilot, to find out why we should be optimistic about the second generation of IoT.

Hey Pilgrim, please kick us off: what is DevicePilot?

You know when that smart thing in your house stops working?

Well, the folks who made it need to know how they should fix it. DevicePilot enables companies to do that with a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform for millions of smart things in homes, businesses and city-streets.

We’re a bit like Google Analytics, but for IoT.

So without you guys, the world would be full of malfunctioning devices turning on each other, and us?!

Haha something like that. Machine to Machine (M2M) communications have come a long way from the early 2000s when production was in-house: when devices were expensive, slow to build and completely incompatible with anything external.

Now we’re seeing this avalanche of IoT because anyone can easily build functionality — hardware modules, network connectivity, cloud components — which are multi dextrous and can pollinate across multiple applications.

This dynamic has fast tracked IoT to become the next most important ecosystem in tech. And it’s essential that remote monitoring and servicing happens so the ecosystem does not breakdown.

So, yes, we’re kind of an integral cog in the machine.

How is IoT driving sustainability?

It really is. Many of our customers are aiming to change the world for the better: to them, IoT is just a means to an important end.

For example Pod Point are an electric vehicle (EV) charging company. The CEO, Erik Fairbairn, started the company before there was even a murmur of a mass EV market in the UK.

Now that it has become clear that the internal combustion engine is doomed, EV charging is a massive growth industry. As the market matures, it has quickly become insufficient to simply deploy charging points: Pod Point has to make sure they are working and available 24/7! And that’s where we come in with our ability to remote monitor and analyse.

Pod Point’s transition from selling hardware to selling a service is representative of how a lot of successful IoT plays out.

Great example, Pilgrim. Where else is IoT doing good?

Food waste instantly springs to mind.

Our client Winnow uses IoT to help commercial kitchens around the world halve their food waste. It’s amazing! Their “connected scale” goes underneath the waste bin in a commercial kitchen, and when the porter chucks something into it, a tablet lights up to ask what it is.

It’s a bit like how we buy food in supermarkets, but in reverse.

The data is then fed back into the menu-planning and the chefs can reduce future waste with the clearer insight on how many portions to make on a given day. The tech is remarkably effective and has been picked up by many of the big players in the food industry. The fact is, it also saves the kitchen money so it makes business sense too.

What I love about Winnow’s proposition is that no-one — no IoT analyst and certainly not me — would have imagined it three years ago.

Yet, like many great ideas, it’s obvious in retrospect.

I mean, what vertical is it in? Smart Waste? Is that a thing? Well, it is now.

Winnow are a perfect example of new breed of what we call the “born connected” companies that DevicePilot serves: businesses who intrinsically assume that everythingshould be connected by default.

Sounds like DevicePilot have a seriously cool customer group!

We do!

We’ve built a product that solves the “seeing and managing your devices” problem. And there’s so much incredible stuff happening with IoT it’s just a case a of scaling it now. And how hard can that be? [laughs].

We also have an incredibly cool team.

 

OK go on then, tell us about them…

We’ve intentionally built a small team of exceptional multi-talented people who don’t conform to stereotypes. Our engineers are great communicators. Our lead developer thomas michael wallace has an amazing blog. So does our Chairman Rob Dobson who’s just made an AI-driven anti-cat water-pistol! Our Lead UI developer George and our Head of Marketing Yasemin work together to keep the look-and-feel of our product aligned with our marketing. They call themselves the “Duke and Duchess of Brand”.

Just don’t call us “Device Pilot” WITH a space!

 

I’m glad you got that last bit in, because I was bound to spell it “Device Pilot”.

I know. That’s why I said it!

LOL!


EventsInterviews

Startup Stories: Fresh Fitness Food

FoodTech is bringing the healthy eating revolution to the UK, says chef and startup CEO Caspar Rose.

The UK’s relationship with healthy food is a little sketchy to say the least. Growing up for many it was the local chippy as staple, a curry house for a night out, and a Chinese takeaways for a night in. Then, in the last ten years, Pret’s, Wasabi’s and whatever-else grab-n-go chain popped up and never seemed to go away.

Fortunately, there is a FoodTech revolution coming.

In the healthy delivery department Fresh Fitness Food are helping change the home-eating habits of the nation. In the last two months they have made the tricky leap from serving only London to twelve other cities nationwide.

We caught up with CEO Caspar Rose over a live email conversation to find out about their journey…

Hey Caspar, thanks for joining us… To kick us off, what is Fresh Fitness Food?

Fresh Fitness Food is bespoke nutrition delivered daily to your door.

Our nutritional team create bespoke meal plans depending on your lifestyle (and workout) needs. Our expert chefs create a fresh menu daily and our dedicated drivers deliver to our customer’s homes or workplace between midnight and 6am every day.

Who came up with the concept?

Jared Williams is the founder. He was inspired to make a difference after seeing how London was forcing people to eat the way London wanted them to — fast, easy and cheap ingredients. The concept was to make city workers the best version of themselves, through bespoke nutrition and ultra-convenience.

You wouldn’t believe it but in the beginning we were taking orders over the phone and hand delivering packages via the tube. Once we started to grow we took on a bike courier service and, following that, our own drivers.

We found that what we’re doing is adding a lot of value to busy people’s lives.

How about you tell us about you…

Well I grew up in Byron Bay in Australia. It’s a beautiful part of the world where time moves slowly. And people are very health conscious.

Back in Aus I was cheffing at Pier (#64 in the 100 top restaurants in the world) and Aria, a two star Michelin. I then came to London to work at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze. From cheffing, I learnt how to create a high standard product but, unfortunately, very little about staff management.

And presumably how to swear at staff?!

Haha, yeah kitchen life can tough. It’s a brutal environment, full of hierarchy and bullshit.

Luckily, I have been incredibly fortunate to be able to build the team I have today.

I used to have a rigid interview process following guidance from online sources — but that didn’t really work. For me it’s more about if you’re a team player and can add a valuable contribution to the team; personality goes a long way in the office!

Now I try asking someone what their personal values are or how they feel about certain topics that I may also have an opinion on. Other than that, I look for people with real drive and initiative. Working in a start-up environment is often intense, unstructured and, dare I say, lonely. People need to be prepared for that.

Interesting. It sounds like your doing the startup thing the right way: learning on the job and being ready to change your direction when needed.

Yes, definitely. I am a planner and strategic thinker. I have always had a five year plan and over time I have refined this to having personal, business and learning goals set for each year (which all point towards a long term goal). Each year I take some time by myself — ideally aboard — to refresh this plan.

Nice. So apart from solo “holidays”, what’s the best thing about running a fast-growing startup?

I imagine many CEO’s would say something about a big sale or an amazing customer.

But for me, I felt like we achieved some notion of success when I realised our business — the mini economy we had created — was helping our staff pay their mortgages, weddings, and kid’s school fees etc.

When we saw success financially it felt important to reward those early starters who had really grafted to get us where we are today.

What about challenges? What’s tough about starting up?

Juggling cash flow and the right tech has been an ongoing issue.

To allow us to fund multiple business verticals, we could only build a website that could meet our short term needs. It wasn’t until later that we could deliver the customer centric systems in terms of UX, customer logins or quicker check out’s — all revenue drivers — that we needed. But we got there in the end!

My advice for anyone struggling with long team or high level thinking is to surround yourself with experienced individuals and get advice off as many different people as possible.

How have you funded the business?

We had some very small seed investment to begin with and we benefited from several exceptionally good tax relief programmes. I would highly recommend looking into these when considering seed funding or even series A/B.

We have since secured larger scale investment and created a strong advisory board. Again I would recommend this — getting the right people onboard — if you are a young, fast moving business owner.

What is next for you and FFF? Do you have a 5 year plan? An exit? Or another project in the pipeline?

When I was 18 my plan was to run a business, in food industry, by the time I was 25. Amazingly, this is happened and I’m excited to commit to the next five years.

Now, we have just launched across the UK. And the next step is going international.

Finally, any advice for the entrepreneurs and startups out there?

Get to know your customer — your product will 100% change after your fifth conversation.

That’s good advice! Anything else?

And hire a good accountant.

Lol. Brilliant. Thanks so much Caspar.

Absolute pleasure.

EventsStartups

Pre Seed Startups Looking For Love

Ever heard of data furnace technology? This, plus three other startups, are pitching for love and support in London.

It’s a full house downstairs at London’s Farrington tech hotspot, TBWC.

Judging by the show of hands, there’s the ubiquitous pockets of software developers, looking for sight of something juicy to get involved in.

In the main, however, it’s pack of budding entrepreneurs who are not quite ready to pitch themselves into the scene yet, but are keen to weigh up the competition and how these New Ideas nights unfold.

Good news for the later: Richard Cristian at the Founder Institute, the World’s Premier Pre Seed Startup Accelerator is here to announce the launch of a new program in London. Originating in Silicon Valley, this mentorship program has operated across 175 cities worldwide in 60 countries. That said, the training is seriously tough: only 35% of students graduate, meaning you have got to be on it.

These four pitchers tonight might not need an accelerator program, but they do need a little bit of love…


GREEN PROCESSING

“Hello everyone, I’m here to enthrall you all with the interesting world of heating systems!” might sound like the most tongue-in-cheek of opening gambits, but Adam Pulley’s technological innovation really is exciting!

GREEN PROCESSING are the worldwide inventors of data furnace technology.

That means, they are harnessing the excess heat released by the data centers that power the worlds’ computers — currently 3% of the world’s electricity — into green energy. Their final product is a micro data center for your home or business that provides green heating.

Despite developing the original patent almost 10 years ago, they have been wrestling with hardware and software that requires initial large scale investment to even develop a MVP.

In that time, however, they sketched out a road-map, produced a shiny new website and developed a watertight white paper.

“Now,” says Founder and CTO, Pulley, “we are credible enough to be attractive to large investors and turn this into a $44 billion industry”.

Go GREEN!


Cloud Flow

Despite the cloud being arguably one of the most critical developments in the recent history of computing, everyone experiences cloud-rage of some sort.

Standard SaaS (software as a service) packages from the main players (AMW, Azure and Google) might take care of some idle holiday snaps, but can any business worth its salt trust it’s entire operational infrastructure into a public cloud offering?

Maltese, infrastructure engineer, Dhiraj Narwani, is at the prototype stage of his bespoke cloud solution and makes a convincing argument for Cloud Flow.


Stansa

The World’s Leading Software Development Tool, or GITHUB as it’s more commonly known, is under attack here despite pitcher Matthew Salamonn being a huge fan:

“GITHUB is amazing and I use it all the time!”

The problem, he continues, is that 99.9% of people [that’s everyone in the world without a degree in computer science] can’t use ‘command line’.

Stansa’s value proposition, on the other hand, is that they can bring the non-tech people of an organisation into the software build.

They are still early stage: they have around 1,000 beta users and are looking for more people to sign up.

Go help ’em here.


Gold Model

Ask CEO and founder, Ron Lev, what is the Gold Model and he would say:

“It’s an innovative task productivity tool which helps to achieve your short and long terms goals in the quickest possible time.”

So is it a piece of tech?

No it’s a method: a philosophy.

Skeptical?

You shouldn’t be.

Lev’s presentation is packed with testimonials from a impressive host of Startups founders, scale-ups leaders and individuals freelancers expounding on the outstanding power of the model.


Looking For Love

Pre-seed startups are on the rise as the gap widens between what founders are seeking and what the market is offering. However, it is not only about money.

Entrepreneurs should demand support in a market increasingly open to cannibalization. Startups require product validation in the shape of genuine beta testers and tech support from engineers who know how to turn baseline products into applications that people actually need.

Reach out to them if you can help…

EventsStartups

AI & Healthcare: The Prescription Algorithm

AI in the medical sphere has been progressing nicely in Scandinavia and Asia, but digital health is curiously stunted in the UK.

Unless you believe the click-bait —i.e. “Google is using Machine Learning to predict a patient’s death with 95% accuracy!” — AI’s progress into the medical system has been a slow, meandering slog.

Why?

The Wire summed up the reason only last week:

“AI has no place in the NHS if patient privacy isn’t assured,” reported .

In the next five years, however, AI’s assimilation into the health system is set to advance. An expert panel at London’s recent Connected World Summit discussed the inherent pitfalls and rampant potential of this impending clash of tech and ethics.

Digital Medical Records

Despite the ubiquitous digitization of data (notably our friendships and finances), the most important information out there — our health — hasn’t made the leap to digitization.

The obvious push-back is personal data being abused and sold for commercial gain.

Nonetheless, The Guardian, reported in 2017 that our medical data is, effectively, already out there:

“Although information is anonymised, data miners and brokers can build up detailed dossiers on individual patients by cross-referencing with other sources.”

 

And yet we are not experiencing the potential benefit this can offer. An individual’s medical history, linked to their blood-kin for predictive analysis of hereditary and later-in-life illness, is a profound value-proposition.

So what’s taking so long?

“Well…” laughs Steven Dodsworth, CEO of D Health, “We have a habit of only relying on people in white coats”.

Indeed, accessible digital medical records would require citizens to take more responsibility for their own health.

Daily input on one’s actual health—what you eat, when you exercise, how you actually feel—would enable AI to revel in a constant stream of new data and provide precision prognoses on you and wider society.

So the development of AI in healthcare isn’t a tech issue at all. Rather, it’s a cultural one?

“There is a maturing of patient’s mindsets who are happy to not only deal with doctors face-to-face”, steps in Elina Naydenova, Founder and CEO of Feebris.

In fact, she continues, emerging countries could lead the way as they may not have such outdated preferential systems that make technological innovation difficult to implement.

Remote Diagnosis

Optimists belief that once medical records become digitized, accessible and readily updated, then AI will be able to perform to a much higher level.

Rather than “cool” photos we could use our smart phones to document our health on a day to day basis. Photo by Björn Grochla on Unsplash

Panel guest Dodsworth’s D-Health is a pan-European consultancy. They are expert advisers in the commercial aspects of digital health, health tech and the life sciences.

Dodsworth points to Sweden where AI in healthcare is progressing fast. Min Doktor is a Malmö-based app that provides doctor-patient communications through voice, video, and text messaging. They already have a 100,000 users and a €22 million investment to grow the technology across borders. They even have a rival medical-consultation app, KRY.

The discerning benefit of these apps — and they are already prevalent in Asia (see ODOC in India and Sri Lanka) — is that once the AI processes the user’s medical data, the information is sent to an uber-like pool of doctors; some of whom will be specialists in fields that are unreachable at the consultation level of a GP meeting.

“40% of cases [on Min Doktor] are dealt with without 1–2–1 contact. It’s a superb example of AI working in healthcare: users benefit from the around the clock convenience, while the medical system has it’s workload eased”, affirms Dodsworth.

What About The NHS?

The third and final panelist is Declan Hadley, Digital Health Lead at Lancashire and Cumbria Change Program (NHS). The health of 1.7 million people in the north of England is under his remit, but he is late to the discussion as his train had been delayed after someone had a heart attack on-board.

“Truly, honestly”, says Hadley, “we’re not really using AI in healthcare. We have pioneers across the system, and there are interesting projects with plenty of promise, but there has not been any real transformation”.

Is that set to change in the next 5 years?

“For our region, our challenge is not around funding, it’s about resources i.e. people.”

He continues:

“Brexit will affect this further. We [therefore] need tech [AI] to take mundanities out of the process”.

Anyone for ayurveda? Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash

Towards an AI Of Global Medical Knowledge

This short panel discussion reflects the fragmented political picture and the need for a more unified approach to tech.

For certain, there are huge developments that need to happen around data and regulation before AI can securely support healthcare. But, to my mind, the limitlessness of AI’s potential in healthcare hasn’t been truly realized either.

What if a bonafide AI of healthcare could think outside the box of Western Biomedicine?

What if 10,000 years of medicine — Ayurvedic, Chinese, Folk and Shamanic — could instantly be accessed by AI to create a digital diagnosis that incorporates myriad medical systems?

Surely only then would we be embarking on new era of healthcare: a holistic health experience that is globally aware, culturally sensitive, but intelligently artificial.

EventsStartups

Five AI Startups You Need To Know About

Featuring an algorithm that fights fake news, autonomous vehicles, and hands free, voice activated tech for disabled people, ML, AI and NLP are starting to make a real difference.

Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP): the tech world’s current equivalent of starter, mains and dessert.

In this feast of five, new startups the crowd are treated to pitches on the most advanced autonomous vehicles on (and off) the planet, a voice activated communication tool for people with disabilities, and a NLP algorithm that could save us from fake news.

Time, then, to eat…


Oxbotica

Fresh from a £14 million cash injection in their first funding round, Oxbotica are pitching for hearts and minds: they are in need of engineers of all kinds.

Originating from Oxford University’s Information Engineering Department, Oxbotica are leading the way in the deployment of automated vehicles around the world.

That said, Oxbotica are not a driverless car company.

Rather, their main product, Selemium, is the robotic “brain” that operates their autonomous vehicles: allowing vehicles to share experiences and advance through their observations.

The vehicles learn,” says professor of Engineering Science at Oxford and Oxbotica Co-Founder, Ingmar Posner. “That is what differentiates our technology from almost all the other technology out there.”

Whilst their tech can happily navigate the roads of London or an enormous warehouse in Singapore, the team’s actual focus is in unstructured environments: mines and other un-roaded worlds, including alien ecosystems. This, according to the impressive presenter, is where the big opportunities are for autonomous vehicles.

“We’re ambitious: this is a trillion dollar market”.


BreakR

Despite 1 in 5 people in the UK having a disability, “Very few apps on app store actually cater for disabled people”, says software developer and BreakR founder, Alexey Kryazhev.

As a result, many people with disabilities find it hard to use smart devices, and their marginalization from community is actually exacerbated by tech, not alleviated by it.

Good to know, then, that BreakR are, er, breaking the mold.

Their in-house built algorithm uses AI-powered voice detection to record and send perfectly packaged voice or text messages, that are accessible without the click of a button!

Kryazhev continues, “We believe that voice control communication is the future of mobile messaging.”

And given an increasingly aging public and the sheer volume of our online use, voice messaging surely won’t only be appealing to people with disabilities.

The London-based startup have a methodically-planned road-map in action. They soft-launched on App Store in May this year, released a major redesign following user feedback in August 2018, and the Android version should land in January 2019.

Expect an official launch shortly after.


Deary

Deary’s pitch kicks off with two mind boggling stats:

  1. the average millennial will send close to half million text messages by the time they are 24 years old
  2. CEO and Co-FounderFederico Allegro, sent and received approximately 100,000 text messages during a transatlantic three year relationship with his now wife

Therefore convincing everyone that he knows a thing or two about the power of text messages and the ubiquity of chat apps in our lives.

Funny then, Ghirardelli argues, that all our messages eventually disappear into the ether and are forgotten forever.

That’s why he created Deary. An “Emotional AI” chat service that understands our messages, and saves and curates timelines of our most joyous interchanges.

Ghirardelli believes they face no competition from Whatsapp, Telegram and the smorgasbord of other messaging services, because Deary is designed exclusively for your nearest and dearest. So, no need to fear having to accept your boss onto another platform!

The pitch is a call to arms: “we are at the beta testing stage and we want your feedback.”

Help them out here.


NextQuestion

Monetizing and mobilizing an algorithm so it can operated by a third party could be one of the brightest developments in the tech marketplace this year. That’s why it’s generated it’s own sassy acronym: AaaS, or Algorithm as a Service.

New ML startup, NextQuestion, is looking to breach this market with a B2B algorithm that helps retailers improve their stock planning, reduce waste and replenish their shelves more efficiently.

According to CTO, Gedas Stanzys, current planning mechanisms in use throughout the retail industry are antiquated and haemorrhage profits. And with their first high-profile client case study — Portuguese retail behemoth, Sonae — Next Question’s tech delivered impressive results.

“By shaving small percentages of their stock transactions we made quite the impact for the multi-billion euro company,” said Stanzys.

NextQuestion were founded in 2017 and they are looking for £250k investment to complete the product validation.


Evolution AI

In the fake news era, startup Evolution AI are hoping their NLP algorithm can help fix a very broken media system. Their tech can analyse colossal and complex online data sets and classify the information in more coherent and consistent ways than current platforms. Indeed, their work had already had quite astounding results…

One week before the Brexit referendum back in June 2016, the press reported en masse of the 50,000 tweets celebrating the murder of MP Jo Cox. The latent message was that hate speech was being normalized in the UK.

Then Evolution’s NLP disproved “the facts”: showing that there was only 70 tweets in total supporting the terrible crime. Since, The Economist covered the revelation. And reputable publications, The Guardian, Independent and Telegraph retracted their articles because of Evolution’s groundbreaking new findings.

Despite the potential gravitas of their product, Chief Scientist and CEO Martin Goodson plays down the drama with a tech-focused pitch.


Starter, Mains and Dessert

Five outstanding pitches from a bounty of high quality founders, these startups offer a small insight into the inspirational innovation happening in London today.

There is no doubt that the ML, AI and NLP scene is serving up some truly outstanding products. But, then again, these are only the hors d’oeuvre of what is to come…

Catch you at the next Silicon Roundtable Meet Up

EventsStartups

Could You Name Five Famous Women In Tech?

Naming five famous women in tech isn’t a conundrum pub quiz question that’s actually simpler than you think. Nor is one of the answers “Alexa”. It’s a bonafide head-scratcher. And having pondered this for some time, and then searched on Google, I found the answer: I could name none.

This comes a full year after a Google engineer suggested that the male domination of Silicon Valley is due to irreversible biological causes. His medieval views may have earned him the sack and global notoriety, but they also put the gender gap debate onto the table.

Today (18/09/2018) a Women in DevOps meetup in London continues the conversation.

“Females populate only 17% of the UK tech industry,” says panel host Emily McDonald, of Refinery29, a digital media platform for women.

Furthermore, she continues, “Only 5% of senior leadership positions are women”.

Despite the stark statistics, the evening’s message is one of genuine positivity.

Panel guest and Senior DevOps Engineer at CBRE, Laura Herrera, says “things are changing… the culture is changing”.

Have You Experienced A Gender Bias?

In an age where conspicuous gender bias is rightly met with disciplinary action, the gender bias that persists is more “unconscious”. Or, as the only male on the panel, Simon Martin, Manager of Production Engineering at Facebook, calls it, “micro-biases”.

Martin talks of Facebook’s research that shows women [in the workplace] are likely to be interrupted ten times more than men. To overcome this, Facebook introduced the ‘Be An Ally’ programme which trains people (see these slightly creepy, but well intentioned videos) to notice micro-bias such as interpreting people, and, crucially, to call them out.

Panel host McDonald enthusiastically buts in at this point:

“A male boss did that for me once [highlighted when another man was being gender bias] and it was the best thing!”

Despite the panel agreeing that gender micro bias exist throughout their workplaces and careers, Amanda Colpoys, Head of Agile Coaching at Moonpighas had an supportive and positive gender experience since moving into the tech space five years ago:

“Before I was in the media [industry] and it was very different. I’m more valued here. I’m lucky to work with companies that have a progressive, healthy culture that encourages inclusive behaviour”.

Closing The Gap

To build on the current 17% of women making up the tech workforce, one pivotal area that is being developed is the process of keeping and attracting talented female professionals between the ages of 35–50. Fourth panelist, Annelies Valk, Global Brand Strategy Manager at Vodafone, speaks of the ReConnect programme: the world’s largest recruitment programme for women on career breaks, operating across 26 countries. Now, she says, Vodafone are very successful in recruiting and retaining women in that age bracket.

The biggest challenge, therefore, in closing the gap is to change young girls’ perception of working in tech, says host McDonald:

“According to a recent PWC [PricewaterhouseCoopers] study of 2,000 A-level female students, only 20% would consider a job in tech, whilst a mere 3% had it as their first choice.”

For Moonpig’s Amanda Colpoys, this can partly be attributed to tech’s nerdy reputation:

“Outside of the actual tech space, people think that tech is full of geeks! When really it’s full of incredibly passionate, interesting and creative people. That message needs to get out there more.”

The Famous Five?

If promising initiatives like ReConnect are helping women aged 35+ back into tech, then a reputation upgrade is needed to inspire more school girls into the wider STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) community.

Host Emily McDonald succinctly sums up the quandary when she says:

“Kids can only aspire to what they see…”

And therein lies a root problem — and potential solution — of the gender gap issue in tech. More females in senior positions are needed and their success needs to celebrated in the media. Only then can they become household names, hold water alongside the (male) “greats” of digital era, and inspire women of all ages into one of the highest earning — and exciting — industries in the world.

For the record, my Google search for ‘five famous women in tech’ threw up curious results:

The first page was Five top women in tech history. This featured history-makers such as the first female computer science PhD, Sister Mary Kenneth Keller (1913–1985), and, “the queen of software”, Grace Hopper (1906–1992). But no one from after the 1960s…

The second search result thankfully provided me with more contemporary answers. According to this Most powerful women in tech 2017 article the “top five” are:

#1 Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook)

#2 Susan Wojcicki (CEO, YouTube)

#3 Ginni Rometty (President, IBM)

#4 Meg Whitman (ex-CEO, HP)

#5 Angela Ahrendts (Vice President, Apple).

Did you know these women in tech?

I’ll let you do your own research and find out more.

EventsStartups

Three Startups And An Early Exit

Three exciting startups with big futures present their groundbreaking tech, whilst another describes a £1 million investment and it’s fall into the abyss.

Hmmmm… September’s Tech Startups and New Ideas pitch event was not the startup tour-du-force of August, but the crowd were introduced to a couple of new players in the startup scene with probable big futures.

That said, the big message of the night was an anonymous guest speaker who was discouraging anyone thinking of “starting up”. His story was an embarrassing early exit: how he self-funded his way to a £1 million investment and then hired a bunch of unruly cowboy engineers and spunked the rest of the cash.

The founder opted for a plush Rivington Street address (seriously, who does that?!) and showered his staff with fridges’ full of food (he showed photo evidence on his slide show!). The “one platform to rule them all” never made it to market and he folded the business. Honestly, it was one of the most bizarre presentations ANYONE has ever seen!

Regardless, these three startups stood out on the night and deserve your attention.

mojeek

So you know how google has been tracking every infinitesimal detail of your sordid life for the past 15 years? And you know how they are harvesting a profile of you for marketing-potential, political-ends, and, as per their current Privacy Policy, “to do things like recommend a YouTube video you might like”?!Well, there’s an alternative: wholesome, awesome, mojeek.

mojeek is an ethical search engine.

In fact, it’s the first search engine to have a no tracking privacy policy, says pitcher and PR-man, Finn Brownbill. They also believe that “we cannot provide truly unbiased and fair search results whilst aggressively promoting your own competing products as other search engine providers do”. So, they don’t.

mojeek was build from scratch at the Sussex University’s Innovation Centre by a young tech team. They have recently passed the 2 billion page milestone, which puts them in the top 5 English search engines in the world.

Brownbill says, “Get your phone out and give it a go. We want feedback.”

Just don’t access mojeek via google chrome. It kind of defeats the object.

CognitoChain

The race to financial inclusion of the world’s 2 billion unbanked people involves a whole raft of fintech startups going to battle with the traditional banking system equipped with new and invigorating code.

CogintoChain is the latest startup to enter the fray.

Founded by two software engineers, both CEO Srinivas Anala and CTO Carolo Pascoli aren’t the most charismatic of speakers, but they let their blockchain technology do the talking.

In short, they believe it is unfair that the average interest rate that people pay on loans is 25%, rising to 40%, worldwide. With CognitoChain’s AI powered micro-credit scoring, when a borrower pays back their debt in a timely fashion, their credit rating improves and they pay back less.

According to their roadmap, the MVP is out, they are hosting an ICO at the end of the year, and the main web launch is planned for early 2019.

Go Pin Leads

There’s another nod to Sussex University as alumnus Raj Anand (Computer Systems Engineer and AI Researcher) takes the stage. He’s introducing Go Pin Leads, a B2B sales leads generator, that wins the award on the night for best crowd interaction.

Anand asks the crowd for any business type and a city name.

“Electric Bikes Shops!” and “London!” is the (random) order of the day.

And—as advertised—Go Pin Leads, produces a showreel of all the electric bike stores in London in under 35 seconds.

So far, so Google.

Then comes the kicker. Go Pin Leads lists all the contacts details and known-employers of the electric bike shops in London and with one click sends a spreadsheet of data to your email. There is no doubt that this is for anyone who has worked in sales and actually trawled the internet — or telephone directory — for contacts details. It seems like its worth the $9 a month subscription, and 4,000 other paying customers seem to think so too.


Sometimes events like these throw up unintended consequences. And while the crowd were there to hear about new ideas and exciting startups, the takeaway was a stinky story about bad luck and even worst decisions. Still, I doubt anyone was discouraged-enough from starting up.

Instead, they now know not to rent office space in Shoreditch.

Or hire local tech…

EventsStartups

Five Blockchain Startups To Watch

London’s blockchain scene is burgeoning as the technology ventures into diverse sectors: Big Pharma, philanthropy, smart homes and, of course, FinTech.

If Blockchain is analogous to the internet’s rapid development, we are currently in the mid nineties, around the halcyon days of early-Amazon and Hotmail. At present, it’s unimaginable as to which brands and businesses will become the cultural cornerstones of this era. But that’s what makes Silicon Roundtable’s blockchain startup pitch event all the more exciting.

These are the brave new worlders effectively converting blockchain’s abstract potential into real world solutions. Of the five pitchers, an altruistic algorithm, really-smart real estate, and transparent Big Pharma supply chains are using blockchain to develop products driven by sound-ethics. While two new ICO’s continue to position City of London as the home of fintech.

Give Bytes

#GiveALittleByteOfLove is definitely the cutest hashtag of the night.

It’s also the philanthropic message behind one of the most profound platforms pitching. GiveBytes.com harnesses the same process as mining bitcoin to exchange crypto rewards in return for your computer’s processing power. Except, explained co-founder Jacob Piotrowski, with Give Byte, instead of harvesting coin for your own wallet, you are donating your rewards to crowdfunding campaigns of your choice.

And Piotrowski has a compelling case for 99.99% of the population on-boarding:

“Unless you use your computer for heavy computing operations like 3D rendering, you probably only utilize 10–30% of your Central Processing Unit (CPU)”.

Give Bytes’ platform goes live at 00.00 on Saturday 1st September 2018. No download is required: just visit the website, find a campaign you are interested in supporting, and click ‘SMART MINING’.

What are you waiting for?

ehab

In London, we have an empty home epidemic with 20,000 unlived properties, while house prices continue to rise exponentially.

Go to any city in the world and housing is a key issue, says twenty-something CEO Josh Graham. His startup ehab is aiming to disrupt this flailing market with affordable, smart housing solutions.

Their MVP is an interactive instrument for the beginning of any conversation about sustainable development: allowing for fundraising, community-consultancy collaboration, and smart contracts. ehab’s flagship pilot project in the Cambridge-to-Norwich corridor has the potential to build 26,000 new homes in the next ten years. And with a projected £78–231 million in revenue the future looks, well, sustainable.

Given the negative press on the imminent arrival of smart cities — especially around Big Data and Big Brother— ehab certainly buck the trend and appear to be a values-driven organization.

Very refreshing, indeed.

Veratrak

Veratrak position Big Pharma as the next global industry that is about to be revolutionized by blockchain.

Led by two Oxford University alumni, co-founder and tonight’s pitcher, Matthew Wilson, is confident “there aren’t many pharmaceutical supply chain experts in the room” and proceeds to give the crowd a quick crash course…

Essentially, in the global medical-system legal regulatory documentation needs to accompany all biomedical products as they travel from manufacturer-to-supplier-to-administrator-to-patient. However, there is no auditable track for these products so when things get lost as they invariably do, certain agents get into a lot trouble. Veratrak brings together the disparate pharmaceutical players onto one customisable workflow communications platform.

Veratrak also operate a think tank, EPOCH (or The European Platform on Changing Healthcare: a forum where supply chain experts and blockchain leaders can examine the future of the pharmaceutical supply chain, and “begin to disseminate the hype from the reality”.

DIGAX

If 2018 is the Year of the Security Token, then a digital asset exchange platform like DIGAX, is one of the calendars that records this important moment in the history of finance.

Founded only eighteen months ago and originally bootstrapped, CEO, Ben Morley’s background in bitcoin broking and asset trading has helped them achieve quick growth, with a two seed rounds behind them and a team of ten in place already.

They are currently at private beta level and looking to roll out to the public soon. According to Morley, “anecdotal evidence suggests the world trusts the UK for FinTech.”

It’s innovative startups like DIGAX that keep that faith alive!

Capexmove

The Debt Securities industry topped more than $100 trillion in 2017: 36% larger than the market capitalisation of all listed companies globally. But, questions, Capexmove CEO, Dario Scarcella, why has it become so expensive to borrow?

The answer is in the inefficiencies of the manual intermediaries in the dealing of bonds. And it is these inefficiencies — read, middle men — that Capexmove’s can supplant by leveraging the Ethereum blockchain and smart contracts. This disruption will reduce the cost of borrowing, and may, in time, provide a massive headache for the traditional bond market.

Situated in Level 39— Canary Wharf’s new fast growing tech community in cybersecurity and fintech — Capexmove are in the right place to launch their funding round.


If it really is the mid-nineties of the blockchain life-cycle, let’s hope we are a long way away from the inevitable bubble burst.

Let’s see if these five — among hundreds of other blockchain startups — can deliver with the revolutionary new tech at their fingertips. And witness if decentralization will make for a better new world.

 

EventsStartups

Why London’s Old Street is the hub of new ideas

The government might be off on their summer holidays but the London tech startup scene continues apace. Indeed, the August edition of the evergreen Tech Startups and New Ideas Night features six incredibly diverse and ambitious startups. Covering anything from short films to pollution to robotics, the entrepreneurs seen here reflect the rich variety of innovation happening around London’s Old Street today.

So without further ado, here’s a quick summary of those sixes pitches…


Qualis Flow

Qualis Flow is the B2B startup we should be grateful that they are in existence. QFlow use IoT technology to help the construction industry better manage their environmental impact. Sound boring? Not when they’re saving precious newts from extinction in major railway builds.

And given the amount of construction the average Londoner has to duck and cover on any given day, it’s not just the UK’s dwindling amphibian pollution that is at stake. Civil engineer and CEO/Co-Founder Brittany Harris explains that air quality and noise pollution, while currently monitored on construction site, is reported via a PDF, at the end each of month! Meaning the damage is already done before someone can react. QFlow, on the other hand, offer real time analytics.

Brittney is a seriously impressive young CEO, and is currently a fellow at the Royal Academy of Engineering. Hat’s off to her important work.

Minuteapp

Paid Spotify and Netflix subscriptions aren’t so much a choice, they’re a necessity. Minuteapp is hoping to rival these cultural movements in the short doc space. Sounds ambitious, but founder and documentary filmmaker, Janvier Wete, is definitely onto something. That was evident from the volley of audience questions that followed his casual pitch: What’s your subscription model? Have you raised funds? Who’s accessing the quality of what’s uploaded? Why don’t we just use you tube instead?

And herein lies the crux. Every filmmaker starts out in short films, and every one of us has a silent ambition to watch better quality content (someone save us from the sneezing baby panda!). Minute app, or the “cinema in your pocket”, vows to only stream high quality short films — anything from 1 min long — to make make even your next wait for a cuppa-tea-to-brew, a novel, enlightening experience. It will probably improve our commutes too!

It’s super early days for the crew at Minuteapp. They launched a beta version only two weeks and received 250 downloads without any promotion. “At the moment”, Janvier said, “we’re hungry for information”.

friendrequest

The truth hurts, but London can be a lonely place. That’s what Italian Marco Gentili, experienced when he moved to the city. And that’s what makes friendrequest a potentially vital development in the social networking space.

For starters, Marco reminds us, this is not a dating app. And friendrequest are also acutely aware that meeting people online/offline can be dangerous. However, they believe that by deploying smart algorithms to make every user’s profile smart, their platform will help people meet other like minded people, safely, so they can enjoy the best the city has to offer, together. The smart profile means a user’s profile is in a constant state of flux–much like a real person — and appears slightly different to every user who views it.

friendrequest already has 2,000 users and hundreds activities and experiences. Proof of concept — check.

GIGSTR

GIGSTR is a startup’s dream: they fix up young startups with young upstarts, and take all the risk out of hiring by actually employing the young person on their own payroll, guaranteeing a workers’ minimum wage. They also handle the tax, insurance and leave entitlement that startups can’t always manage.

Pitcher, Head of Partnerships, Emma Blackmore, told the crowd, that GIGSTER is an ethical business model that boomed in its native Sweden, and moved to London nine months ago. Taking its name from the gig economy, GIGSTR allows young companies to not over-commit precious investment, and for young employees to see if there’s a good culture fit with their ambitions, before long term engagement.

Why wasn’t GIGSTR around when I graduated?

Metier Digital

Led by Ghanaian Londoner, Metier Digital is run by Nana Parry who previously raised over £150,000 in seed funding from angel investors for his music and social media analytics platform, Dubzoo. Metier Digital help entrepreneurs build their most viable product (MVP) and bring their ideas to market.

Perceptual Robots

Dr. Rupert Young from Perceptual Robots is on a mission to build “psychologically advanced robots”. Although this sounds rather, chilling, apparently, it’s not like Blade Runner at all. Instead, Rupert’s pitch is full of video clips, graphs and diagrams of how a human catches a baseball based on “the optimum velocity of the ball to the human retina”.

The ball, like robotics, goes way over my head.

All the same, best of luck, doc!


Clearly, it’s an incredibly potent mix of startups and London’s Old Street continues to be the hub of new ideas.

A special thanks should go to Irfan Khalil at Heptagon Events for organizing such a well drilled bunch.

I’m looking forward to next time already.