Startups

Code Noob? Read This.

In order to found a tech-driven startup, one doesn’t necessarily have to be an expert in all things tech. However, if you are a non-technical founder, it is absolutely important to know the basic concepts because many tech decisions are business decisions.

But first, let us examine the three most common scenarios a non-technical founder is likely to find themselves in.

Scenario A: As a non-technical founder, you outright admit that you don’t understand the first thing about tech. This could put you in a weak and disadvantaged position and risks making you look unprofessional. 

Scenario B: You pretend to understand because you think your developer is a genius and accept whatever they say because you don’t want to look…well, stupid. This risks you giving them full power and losing control. 

Scenario C: You decide to learn the basics so that you are able to a) follow a discussion with the tech stakeholders, and b) make educated tech-related business decisions.

Out of the three scenarios above, Scenario C is the most desirable. Scenarios A and B may work under certain circumstances, but they can also spectacularly backfire and lead to expensive rebuilding, which is something a young startup could really do without.

Let us now move on to a few basic concepts which you need to be aware of, in order to at least commence a discussion with a technical stakeholder.

Native App vs Web App

Web Apps have evolved so much in recent times that sometimes, it can be hard to choose between web apps and native apps. In reality, there is very little difference between the two unless you are building something resource intensive such as a game or a VR app. The differences will largely become apparent only when it comes to the User Experience (UX).

Note: Do not confuse User Interface (UI) with UX. UI refers to the look and feel i.e. the outward design of an app, while UX focuses on gaining a deep understanding of users, what they need, what they value, their abilities, and also their limitations.  It also takes into account the business goals and objectives of the group managing the project. UX best practices promote improving the quality of the user’s interaction with and perceptions of your product and any other related services.

A native mobile app will have to be downloaded via a platform such as the App Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android), and is generally built to take full advantage of all capabilities on the end user’s device. A web app in contrast, is essentially a mini-version of a website itself.

As a non-technical entrepreneur, keep in mind that deciding between web development and mobile development is not just a tech decision but also a critical business decision. While it is possible to use native mobile apps and web apps to accomplish the same thing, your choice needs to take into account the current functionality of your app, the feature roadmap, and the user’s needs. You can learn more about choosing the right tech stack for your app here

Frontend vs Backend

Perhaps the most frequently used words in a developer’s vocabulary, the frontend refers to the code of the app running on your device, and it is responsible for:

  • Requesting information from servers
  • Showing the information in a User Interface (UI)
  • Obtaining user interactions

But this is only half of the story. There’s a whole universe underneath the surface — which is what we are referring to when we say ‘the backend’. The backend consists of all the code running on the servers. The backend is responsible for:

  • Talking with other computers
  • Storing data
  • Serving data when requested

The backend of an app communicates with the gazillion other devices connected to the internet through elements such as HTTP (which is a protocol, or set of rules, which determine how computers communicate), IP addresses (which is like a phone number used to identify a server where information is stored), URLs (web addresses such as google.com), and DNS (a service which matches IP addresses with URLs).

Database and Storage

Though these terms are often used interchangeably, they are in fact, two completely different objects.

The database is the know-it-all, the memory behind everything. It holds data in some predefined format. Storage on the other hand, is a place used to store a variety of data which may not even be related to each other (think code, images, videos etc.)

A good way to understand a database is to think of it as a group of connected spreadsheets, it is composed of a number of tables and they can all be connected. A classic relational data model looks like this:

This is what a database looks like / Credits: hackernoon.com

NoSQL

NoSQL is a type of non-relational database which became popular with startups due to its high scalability. Though it is referred to as a non-relational database, that doesn’t mean that NoSQL is incapable of creating relationships between different data.

If you are building an app which handles information you will be dealing with databases a lot. But here’s what you need to remember:

  • Relational databases tend to be faster, in some cases, but are much more rigid structures. This means that whenever you want to change the structure you might break the data consistency.
  • Non-relational databases, on the other hand, are a lot more flexible. You can change the relations every day and the structure will remain intact. It is for this reason that they are widely adopted by early-stage startups because in an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) the database structure will potentially be changing every day.

Unless you are 100% sure about the Database structure from day one you should have a structure that allows you to iterate with ease.

APIs

Recall the distinctions we made between the frontend and the backend much earlier in the article. Now, how do you get these two sections talking to each other? That’s where an API comes in.

An API is a common language which allows the backend and the frontend to communicate with each other, thus opening up the opportunity for you to connect your app to a vast variety of third party services.

An API or microservice based architecture, should you use it, will allow you to build different parts of your app in different languages, thus giving you the freedom to choose the best tools for each individual module. For instance, consider how LinkedIn is built. LinkedIn may have only one backend but several frontends such as a web app, and iOS app, and an android app. All these individual modules can easily communicate with the backend with the use of a common API.


That largely covers basics of what you need to know about tech as a non-technical founder, and we hope this information helps you make informed business decisions which can be critical for the growth of your business. By now, you should also be able to understand your technical stakeholders better.

If you can’t, the problem may very well lie with your technical partner(s) and could mean that they don’t know how to adapt their communication to suit their audience. In that case, you would probably be better off looking for a different technical partner to avoid running into bigger, much costlier problems down the line. 

Startups

The best of time or worst of times

A lockdown and a recession brought about by a pandemic sounds like the worst time to start working on a startup. Think again.

Cover image credits: Mind Cafe/Medium.com

He who has no dog, hunts like a cat” – Old Portugese Proverb

As we write this, the world is under lockdown. Large businesses are furloughing workers, and small businesses are shutting down. By all measures, it may seem unwise to contemplate or begin work on that MVP you have been thinking about for a long time now.

Or is it?
Baron Rothschild, an 18th-century British nobleman and member of the Rothschild banking family, is credited with saying that “the time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.” He should know. Rothschild made a fortune buying in the panic that followed the Battle of Waterloo against Napoleon.

Similar sentiments seem to prevail in Silicon Valley too. Here’s a recent tweet by Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator.

https://twitter.com/paulg/status/1245292019318210560

At Calcey, we are also inclined to agree with these views. Here’s our reasoning.

Downturns create problems that entrepreneurs can solve

Recessions create a variety of new problems, and entrepreneurs are problem-solvers at heart. Technology-based businesses typically go through a period of product development and finding product-market fit while in their pre-revenue phase. An economic downturn makes it easier to find this elusive product-market fit, since customers tighten their purse strings, thus forcing actual pain points to make themselves visible.

Easier to put together a good founding team (while big companies shed workers)

A downturn can make it easier to put together a good founding team. It is a well documented fact that the most successful founding teams usually consist of mid-career professionals who walked away from their regular jobs, either by choice or by circumstance. Going by this logic, the typical mid-career professional tends to be paid handsomely while being employed at a  bigger, low-risk company during boom times. However, their handsome remuneration packages make them very vulnerable to layoffs during lean times,  when large companies look to trim their fat.

And the lean times will come as they have now, and you will find many hyper-talented, experienced individuals joining the ranks of the newly unemployed. At this point, they may be willing to consider co-founding a startup, something they would have never thought about otherwise. However, do remember that for talented individuals with enviable track records, unemployement is a very brief experience. As soon as the economy shows first signs of a recovery, they will be snapped up by larger companies. You have a small window to make use of this opportunity, but don’t ever try to offer them a bad deal. Instead, talk to them and see if they are interested. See if they will make for a good co-founder, and go ahead with the hire. 

You get to hone your business model in the harshest of conditions

Startups which succeed in finding product-market fit during a bear market often get there using a mix of ingenuity and a relentless focus on the product. The lack of VC funding and limited finances will force them to remain lean and agile, avoiding bloat and distractions.

Once the recession gives way to a recovery, these battle tested startups will find it easier to attract VC money. After all, it is hard to ignore the very convincing business case of a startup that convinced customers to part with their money during a time where they’d rather not.

Discipline and focus will become part of your startup’s culture

Frugality is one of Amazon’s 14 leadership principles. The company actively embraces frugality, claiming that “Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.”

This is very true. The most creative and innovative solutions are born when you have to make do with less. Just ask Brian Chesky and the AirBnB team, who ended up founding the lodging marketplace behemoth simply out of a need to make some extra money during the financial crisis of 2008. 

The AirBnB co-founders resorted to selling Obama themed breakfast cereal at one point, in a bid to make AirBnB work / Credits: Google

You bootstrap for longer, and end up with more equity

Startups founded during a recession are more likely to have been bootstrapped, and as a result, have no choice but to focus on achieving their revenue targets. Bootstrapped startups that make it out of a recession can afford to give away less equity to any potential venture capitalists, since the underlying business model is already generating cash.

Besides, with no immediate need for cash, you can take your time to carefully vet any potential investors, so that they end up being a good fit for your startup. 

You can build better, at a lower cost

During a recession, prices tend to come down and smart entrepreneurs know to take advantage of this. If you are building a technology startup, the costs of hiring external services providers is also likely to be lower, compared to what it would be during an economic boom. External developers and enterprise service providers would be happy to offer you discounts and better terms. What all this means is that you get to build your product for much cheaper.

It’s easier to gain someone’s attention

There has never been a moment in recent history where the entire world is at home, free from the many distractions which compete for our attention everyday. As a result, people will be in a better state of mind to listen to new ideas, ruminate on them, and actually respond. So, if you are thinking of pitching a new idea to a customer or a potential co-founder, this is the time to go for it. 

Isn’t that great?

If you are working on an MVP, a full blown app or something similar while on lockdown, why not give us a call? We are working remotely too, and would be happy to see how we could help!

StartupsTrends

Navigating The Maze Of Tech Stacks

What You Need To Know Before Choosing A Tech Stack For Your App

Image Credits: mindinventory.com

When building an app, deciding on what tech stack to use is perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to overcome. The right tech stack can help provide the user with a great experience, thus helping drive adoption and growth in the early stages of an app’s lifecycle. But if the wrong choice were to be made in selecting a tech stack, the consequences are dire. There is often no going back, and development teams will have no choice but to scrap everything, move to a new stack, and restart development efforts all over again.

There are a few important factors to consider when choosing a tech stack. They are:

  • Current requirements and feature roadmap
  • Budget (especially in the case of startups)
  • Competency of the development team

However, care must be taken to not let the capabilities of the development team override or constrain the feature roadmap.

Next, it is important to pay attention to the proposed architecture of the app. For instance, one can choose to build a native app, cross-platform app, or a hybrid app. Today, ‘Progressive Web Apps’ are also popular, but we don’t think it is apt to consider them as a distinct application architecture, primarily because they are essentially repackaged web apps.

Let’s now compare the pros and cons of each architecture.

Native Apps

Native apps are specially made and coded for a specific mobile platform in its native programming language, and as such are extremely suitable for processor intensive and GPU intensive apps. Native apps make full use of technologies provided by the platform itself, and hence there is minimal chance of running into issues. Development of native apps is also relatively straightforward. Components are provided out of the box, and connecting them to an app is quite simple. 

The most obvious drawback with opting for a native tech stack is that if you decide to build apps for multiple platforms, you also have to build separate versions of the app. Native apps do not allow for code sharing between platforms and as a result, development times are longer and require a higher investment. By virtue of also having two separate codebases, maintenance can also be challenging. Even if a new feature is to be rolled out, your development will have to build the feature into two different codebases.

  • Technologies available:  Swift (iOS), Kotlin (Android), Objective-C, Java
  • Native apps: Uber, Pinterest, WhatsApp (These apps all make use of extensive functionalities available on the device, hence the need to go with a native tech stack)

Cross Platform

Cross platform apps can be deployed or published on multiple platforms using a single codebase, instead of having to deploy multiple native apps, one for each platform.

A cross platform tech stack will allow you to potentially use upto 80% of code used within an app, across multiple platforms. This is perhaps the biggest advantage of opting for a cross platform stack. Apart from this, there is also the benefit of being able to quickly render UI elements using native controls, very much similar to how a native app would.

However, the very characteristics which make cross platform tech stacks attractive can also be their downfall, depending on the envisaged use case. The fact that not all code can be shared necessitates extra, and a rather tedious amount of development. Further, a cross platform stack may not be as fast as a native stack, and the level to which it can interact with the device is largely dependent on the framework.

  • Technologies available:  React Native, Flutter, Xamarin, NativeScript
  • Cross platform apps: Uber Eats, FB, CitiBank, Instagram

Hybrid Apps

A hybrid app is created as a single app, but for use on multiple platforms such as Android, iPhone and Windows. From a technical standpoint, hybrid apps are actually a combination of native apps and web apps. As a result, a single hybrid app will work seamlessly on any operating system such as iOS, Android, Windows etc.

Hybrid tech stacks allow for a significant degree of code sharing between different platforms. In a boon for developers, hybrid stacks also allow for the core part of an app to be built using web technologies, paving the way for shorter development times. The web app underpinnings of hybrid tech stacks also mean that the core codebase of a hybrid web app can always be updated via a ‘hot code push’, bypassing the formal App Store and Play Store channels.

Apart from lower performance compared to native or cross platform tech stacks, hybrid tech stacks also suffer from a design flaw whereby not all code can be shared between different platforms, therefore a certain degree of native code development becomes mandatory. Further, performance too can take a hit, since all in-app interaction is routed through an embedded web browser control. A good example for how this can go wrong comes from Facebook, which in 2012, disastrously bet on an HTML5 stack for its apps. Today though, all of Facebook’s apps are built on React Native, which is a cross platform tech stack. When a hybrid tech stack is used, UI elements will also be rendered as HTML components, instead of native elements, thus leading to slower performance.

  • Technologies available: Ionic, Mobile Angular UI, Bootstrap
  • Hybrid apps: Diesel, MarketWatch, McDonalds, Sworkit

So Which Tech Stack Is The Best?

There’s no definitive answer to this question, and the decision would always depend on factors such as current requirements, the feature roadmap, budget etc. as we mentioned earlier. But, what is important is to choose the right stack for the job. A mis-step here can often be the difference between success and failure for your app.

StartupsTrends

Open Banking For Dummies

Everything you need to know about the newest buzzword everyone in the banking industry is talking about.

Banks by nature, are extremely protective of the information they hold within their ageing filing cabinets, for obvious reasons. Money is a touchy subject, and people prefer to keep details about their finances private. However, with the rise of the data economy, everyone from banks to central banks are realising that given how practically every bank has the exact same business model, there is a huge duplication of data which unwittingly takes place. If banks simply commenced sharing such data with each other, wouldn’t that make banking services much less cumbersome? With easier banking, wouldn’t life be much better?

What Is Open Banking?

In layman’s terms, open banking is all about enabling the sharing of information securely, in a standardised format, so that it makes it easier for companies to deliver services more efficiently. Under current banking practices, customers or merchants maintain separate relationships with different financial institutions in order to achieve their financial goals. This is often done by employing the practice of screen scraping, where a third party company creates a mirrored login page, which looks and feels similar to a bank’s or credit card issuer’s online login page. The customer enters their login details, passwords and additional security details such as their pet’s name, which the third party can use to log in as the customer. Once logged into the account as the customer, screen scraping tools copy available data to an external database and can be used outside of the financial institution. This is obviously dangerous, and renders the system extremely vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. Instead, Open banking introduces a more consolidated experience to the customer by allowing banks to expose their functionality via APIs, but subject to the customer’s explicit consent and in compliance with strict information security requirements imposed by the Financial Conduct Authority of the UK.

The concept of Open Banking has its roots in the United Kingdom. In 2016, the Competition and Markets Authority ordered the nine biggest UK banks to allow licensed startups direct access to their data, right down to the level of current account transactions. Again, account holders must approve any exchange.

When talking about Open Banking, you will often hear ‘PSD2’ being referred to. PSD2 is the European version of Open Banking, and refers to the second Payments Services Directive which modernises European payment regulations, thereby enabling consumers and small businesses to have greater control over their data. There is just one small difference between Open Banking and PSD2. Whilst PSD2 requires banks to open up their data to third parties, Open Banking dictates that they do so in a standard format.

Open Banking is now being spoken about everywhere / Credits: Business Insider

How Will Open Banking benefit customers?

The various ways in which open banking will be used to create new services is anyone’s guess, but there are three distinct areas in which Open Banking is starting to make waves.

Money management

At the moment, customers who maintain accounts with two different banks, have no choice but to look at them separately, because the banks’ systems are resolutely incompatible. Open Banking will allow customers to manage their money from within a single app, which should make things much easier.

Banks and startups are already sensing an opportunity in this space. Dutch bank ING has an app called Yolt, while third party app Money Dashboard provides a similar service in the UK.

The Yolt app / Credits: ING Bank

Lending

When a customer takes out a loan, they are sometimes required to provide details of their finances to ensure that they are ‘credit-worthy’. Open Banking will allow customers to provide such information online – for instance, by giving an investor one-off access to 12 months income and spending history.

There are services which already do this, but in order to use them, it becomes necessary to hand over your login details – which is not as secure or seamless. It will also be more accurate, which should help people with what are known as “thin files”. (For instance, if the customer hasn’t worked or been in the country long.)

Payments

The current banking payment infrastructure used around the globe is very much a multi-layered one. For instance, when a purchase is made on Amazon, the retailer contacts an “acquirer”’, such as WorldPay or Global Payments, which gets in touch with Visa or MasterCard to deduct the payment from the customer’s account. Cue much fumbling around with cards and passwords.

By opening up banks’ data, Open Banking makes it possible to pay directly from a bank account – which should be both quicker and (since the various middlemen each charge for their service) cheaper. The bank authenticates the purchase without involving other organisations.

Open Banking will give rise to Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS) / Credits: Bankable

Is it safe?

From a technical point of view, Open Banking is at least as safe as online banking. APIs – the technology used to move the data – are trusted and the law requires account providers to use strong customer authentication, a procedure which allows the payment service provider to verify the identity of both the user and the service.

The key thing to remember is that anyone using an Open Banking service will not need to share their banking login or password with anyone but the bank. This is actually an improvement on existing services, which sometimes require this as a workaround for existing incompatibility.

All in all, Open Banking has the potential to upend the way we bank, disrupting the sector in the same way as media or retail. It could, for instance, enable digital-only banks that manage money automatically via intelligent software. Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS) too, will go mainstream, bringing to life a whole ecosystem of services running on top of an Open Banking layer. Personal finance, now an arcane subject, will become transparent and easy for everyone. Whether this is a dystopian or utopian future depends on one’s perspective – either way, it just appears to be more likely now.

StartupsTrends

What Is Spooking Casper?

Credits: Travel Wire News

Casper, the Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) mattress company which bills itself as ‘The Sleep Company’, has filed to go public. Founded in 2014, Casper sells mattresses of a relatively good quality online. Thanks to savvy marketing and a 100-day risk free return policy, Casper thrived in its market, going on to become the most well known DTC mattress company in the US. At first glance, this is good. And it is on the back of this success that Casper is trying to raise funds from the public markets.

So What’s The Problem?

While things may look rosy on the surface, underneath Casper’s hood is a can of worms. This has prompted a slew of commentators, including Forbes magazine, to publish scathing criticisms of Casper’s business model. What are these criticisms, and most importantly, what can other startups learn from Casper’s mistakes? These are the questions we will try to find answers to in this blog post.

Casper has a poor competitive advantage

One of the most often repeated truths in business circles is that a business needs a competitive advantage. In simple terms, a competitive advantage is what allows a firm to perform at a higher level compared to its competitors in the same industry or market. That is why maintaining a competitive advantage becomes important if a firm intends to become profitable and reward its investors.

But for a firm operating in the DTC sector, it becomes very hard to own a competitive advantage.  Your competitors can copy your marketing advantage, your physical product distribution is mostly outsourced, and for existing categories like mattresses, price comparison is easy.

Casper’s initial success spawned hundreds of competitors (literally), who swiftly started copying Casper without much trouble. Fast Company estimates that there are nearly 178 bed-in-a-box companies, who have followed Casper’s path.

Some of Casper’s competitors /Credits: CNBC

“The products that you’re buying — there are many similarities and only some minor differences,” said Seth Basham, an analyst at Wedbush Securities who covers the mattress industry. Profit is hard to come by because the ease of forming an online mattress company makes the market competitive, according to Basham. “Barriers to entry are low, but barriers to profitability are high,” he said. “It doesn’t take that much to design a mattress, a marketing campaign, put up a website, and have one of these big companies like Carpenter do the fulfillment for you,” he said, referring to one of the key mattress manufacturing companies.

Casper has bad unit economics

If someone were to pore through Casper’s S-1 which was filed with the SEC, there is one thing that becomes absolutely clear–Casper has dominated marketing. It has spent a significant amount of capital on promotions such as ‘napmobiles’, a cruise around Manhattan, and a hotline that helped people fall asleep.

All this spending would be okay…if it made sense.

Prof. Scott Galloway of NYU writes about how for every mattress Casper sells, it spends USD 480 on marketing, going on to make a loss of USD 349 per mattress, according to his calculations. And if Casper chooses to grow bigger (which it will have to, in order to satisfy investors), it will have to continue to lose money on every mattress. Basically, Casper’s unit economics don’t look great. Worse yet, it’s hard to imagine they will get better.

Instead of spending money on marketing, Casper can send every customer $300 and still be profitable /Credits: Scott Galloway/No Mercy No Malice

Why?

Selling a durable product tied to housing makes you vulnerable to the economic cycle, and the long replacement cycle of mattresses makes it hard to build brand loyalty. Since mattress replacement cycles stretch into years, Casper has to bombard each customer with marketing for 5 or 10 years till the customer decides to buy a new mattress. This is expensive, and it is not sensible to assume that one can just blast consumers with marketing emails and hope they click “buy” before they click “unsubscribe.”

This is not just a hypothesis. Casper mentions this in its S-1, but a sharp eye is needed to decode this hidden message. Something which Byrne Smith of MAKER clearly has.

From Casper’s S-1:
“From Casper’s beginning through September 30, 2019, we have seen more than 16% of customers who have purchased at least once through our direct-to-consumer channel return to purchase another product. Importantly, 14% of our customers returned within a year of their original purchase.”

Byrne opines that a 16% repurchase rate and a 14% first-year repurchase rate imply that only about 2% of customers buy something new after a year. What this means is that since mattresses have about a 10-year replacement cycle, Casper loses the vast majority of its ongoing customer relationships before the next mattress purchase.

Economics, one. Casper, zero.

Growth Hacks can become poison too (if you are not careful)

When it launched, Casper’s claim to fame was that it offered a 100-day risk-free return option. But returning mattresses is not like returning shoes and dresses. Casper provides information about its return rates in its S-1, but the trend is far from inspiring. Returns were 15.4% of gross sales in 2017, 18.4% in 2018, and 20.4% in the first three quarters of 2019. When you’re shipping a 90-pound package to the customer, and they’re shipping it back, the costs add up quickly. 

Casper’s return policy is a drain on working capital /Credits: Casper

Also, under U.S. law, companies aren’t allowed to sell used mattresses as new. But Casper donates these mattresses to charities instead of shipping them halfway across the country to be refurbished. Again, this might look like a smart business decision at the outset. But think about this. Casper’s free return policy has been replicated by everyone. If all 178 bed-in-a-box companies resort to donating mattresses, the capacity to absorb donated mattresses is going to dry up pretty quickly. While a donation may get you a small tax benefit under the U.S. tax code, the costs associated with manufacturing it will still continue to eat into profits. And therein lies the fault in Casper’s key growth hack– the very thing which got Casper noticed, has now become a ticking financial time bomb.

To reiterate, Casper is not a bad company. It’s just a good company stuck in a bad business, as a result of which it’s entire business model is standing on shaky ground. While it remains to be seen how Casper will claw itself out of this predicament, startup founders everywhere will do well to learn from Casper’s missteps.

Startups

6 Highlights From Calcey’s Deep Dive Into London

In June 2018, we started our first deep dive into London’s startup ecosystem. Our goal was to keep up on the latest trends, meet some of the main players and, of course, introduce Calcey to the crazy amount of new startups literally exploding in London right now. And we’ve seven UK startups confirmed as clients, we are delighted with the progress so far.
Here’s our six highlights from six epic months.

#1 Staying Ahead Of The Curve
Unsurprisingly, AI was the most consistently dazzling trend happening in London. The sheer breath of industry that the most exciting technology in human history is disrupting is astounding. We caught up with the Five AI Startups You Need To Know About, including autonomous vehicles that can drive on other planets, a NLP algorithm that could save us from fake news, and a voice activated communication tool for people with disabilities.
Voice Activation promises to be a monumental leap forward for our ability to communicate with AI in 2019. We heard from Bret Kinsella, one the world’s foremost figures in the voice industry, who suggested Smart Speakers Are The Gateway Drugs to more meaningful conversations with machines.

#2 Gender and Tech
We believe increasing gender parity gap is a crucial next step for the progress of the global tech industry. In the UK, only 17% of the tech industry is populated by women, with only 5% in senior management in positions. That’s why we featured Head of Analytics, Maria Koukou’s 5 Strategies for Success speech at Facebook’s new London HQ.
We also published this thought-provoking piece, Can you name five famous women in tech?
But we were sure to provide the answers, because, unfortunately, it’s a very tricky question.

#3 CEO Stories
1-2-1 Interviews with CEOs really get under the skin of what it means to run a startup. We love learning about what makes a strong leader tick and what makes young startups become fully fledged successful businesses. One of current client’s, Alex Crockford from CrockfitApp, revealed all in his How to Get 150,000+ Instagram Followers interview, while chef-turned-CEO, Caspar Rose of Fresh Fitness Food, told us how he is helping change the home-eating habits of the UK. The CEO of Doordeck—the world’s first keyless security platform—told us Why the transformation from IoT to SaaS is the pivot that matters.

#4 Green Tech
After Green Tech gathering great momentum last year last year, we’d love to see this really push-on in 2019. We interviewed IoT expert, Pilgrim Beart, who explained How IoT Is Driving Sustainable Change. We were also super impressed with mojeek, an ethical search engine, and the inspiring food waste co-operative, OLIO. They already have 700,000 users and a whopping 22,000 volunteers so they have clearly captured the UK’s public’s imagination in a big way.

#5 Pitch, Pitch, Pitch
Pitch events where boxfresh startups pitch for the hearts, minds and financial support of The Crowd are happening every week in London. They are free, fun and the best way to learn about what startups to watch out for… At the The Future Fin-Tech we heard from 11 eleven startups who have Unicorn-potential. We loved seeing  4 Startups Finally Delivering On IoT’s Promise, including a solution for single use plastic usage in the cosmetics industry. And as UK’s broken house market becomes ripe for disruption, PropTech revealed itself to one of the most competitive industries (and surprising biggest trends) in 2018.

#6 Blockchain – In or Out
We began in London in June and Blockchain was everywhere. The City was still super excited about ICO’s and in our video interview with blockchain evangelist Arfia Khan, she explained why 2018 is The Year of the Security Tokens. But since, blockchain seems to fallen off the map a little bit. Is it a conspiracy? Let’s find out in 2019.
It’s Been Epic

There’s our six highlights from six epic months. And honestly there’s so much we didn’t include. Here’s to another six…

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!


InterviewsStartups

Part I: How Metier Digital was born. Ahead of schedule

In this five part series we feature London-based CEO Nana Parry’s incredible story, beginning being held by Moroccan immigration.

Not many CEO stories begin with a tale of being held in custody by Moroccan immigration. But then Nana Parry’s journey doesn’t follow the standard narrative of a double tech startup founder. His story traverses a senior role working alongside the CEO of Fujitsu (Japan’s leading ICT company), raising £150,000 angel investment for his first startup (the music marketing platform, Dubzoo), business school, house parties in South London, with visits to Accra, Copenhagen and Casablanca thrown in.

“I was visiting an old university friend,” smiles Nana, as he starts to realize how unbelievable the origins-story of his latest company, Metier Digital, is.

It was to be five days of winter sun when the Moroccan immigration detained Nana on arrival.

“I don’t know why: maybe they see an African name on an British passport and they get confused.”

Alongside Nana, there was one sole other detainee: a guy from Yemen.

Nana and his cellmate bonded. The former spoke about his next business idea, a “launch studio” to turn entrepreneurs’ ideas into Minimum Viable Products (MVPs). Later, the Yemeni made a few calls and spoke to an investment banker friend who was coincidentally visiting Egypt. The banker was all too familiar with Northern African bureaucracy and had a few “connections”. In no time, the two men are released.

“We shook hands, said ‘bye’, and that was it…”

This was November 2016.

Then three months later, Nana received a call in London from the anonymous banker who bailed him out. Apparently, he had heard about Nana’s launch studio.

He asked, “Do you have a team?

Nana embellished a little and said, “yes”.

The banker then asked, “Can we meet on Monday to discuss turning my idea into a business model?”.

Nana told the truth this time, but also said, “yes”.

After the weekend, at the Hotel Eccleston in London’s plush Pimlico district, Nana’s new core team of six were meeting each other for the first time, in front of their first client.

Metier Digital was born. Ahead of schedule.

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.