Monday Dec 08, 2008

Slap a CEO with a fish


Web entrepreneur is either very brave or very stupid…

Jay Nguyen is CEO of, and in a blatant attempt to publicise his new auction website he has agreed to allow one lucky bidder the sheer satisfaction of slapping him around the face with a large wet fish. Jay said “Who hasn’t ever wanted to slap someone in the face with a fish? The irritating co-worker, the smug traffic warden. I am giving people the opportunity to take out some of life’s little injustices on me. If it helps publicise the site then I say fair dinkum!”

Sweemo gets its name from a shortening of "Sweet Moments", and allows users to auction unique real-life experiences to the highest bidder.  From Wet and Wild Zorbing with Models' to learning a few chords on the guitar Sweemo truly offers everyone something that they can cherish. Like the chance to slap a Chief Executive with a fish.

Today sees the opening of the live auction on, in which users will bid for the chance to swing a 7kg Organic Scottish Salmon at the brave entrepreneur. This selection of aquatic weaponry was not taken lightly however. Jay consulted the Marine Conservation Society (who will be receiving the proceeds of the auction as a donation) in order to ensure the species of fish chosen was sourced in a sustainable manner. Jay commented “Violence to my person is only acceptable if undertaken with a sustainable fish. I feel very strongly about that”.

Jay also carried out rigorous weighing and grip tests to ensure that the fish has the properties expected of a ‘slapping’ device.

So determined is Jay to be slapped by one of his life-loving Sweemo users, that he is willing to fly the auction winner to London in order to take part in the unique experience. So no matter whether the winner is in New York or Bolton Jay will be waiting at arrivals armed with a salmon and a smile.

The auction closes on Thurs 11th of December and the slapping will take place in central London on the Weds 17th. Video footage will be made available on the day. It is expected that a number of people will attend the public slapping including Jay’s ex-girlfriends and other adversaries.

Jay commented “Sweemo is so much more than just an online auction. We are motivating and inspiring people to recognise the incredible experiences within their own lives and making them available to others. And there is no better way of celebrating this lust for life than being slapped with a 7kg fish… is there?”

Check out the auction at Sweemo to see how high the expected bidding war has escalated

December bargains for you, and you and you........

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Guest Post - Jof Arnold - VCs will die MEME

VC will not die. There, I’ve said it. Again. This post addresses a number of points raised in a article which I feel are misleading.

[Edit 2: VC = Venture Capital or Venture Capitalist in this context.]

First though, let me open by mentioning a few things which are important background information to this post (and will help you decide if you want to read it further):

  • My degree was in mechanical engineering, not economics.
  • I’ve only been in the web industry since July 2007.
  • I’ve tried, and failed, to raise VC money for a startup.
  • I had a startup until recently.
  • 99% of all the people I know, and drink with, are in startups.

The only reason I think I’m qualified to write this post is that I count amongst my good friends a number of VCs who’ve taken time to explain the industry to me over numerous beers/breakfasts. [Eternally grateful, btw; you know who you are ;-)]

So, on to the opinions:

Successful web companies are expensive (features aren’t)

Bedroom successes like HotOrNOt - and for that matter - tend to give the impression that anyone with wordpress and EC2 can make a multi-million dollar web company in minutes. There are some occasions where this can happen, but as witnessed by the endless stream of tiny web companies that come and go, this is a rarity and not the norm. The key reason is that margins in web apps tend to be quite small (eg ads), so to start making serious cash you need scale.

Unfortunately, scaling isn’t just about having the latest elastic-cloud infrastructure; it’s much more about brand, design, advertising and marketing… and that is where things start to get seriously expensive. For example, Netflix is reputed to spend >$1m pcm on marketing alone!

A web app is not a company. It’s a feature. Don’t forget that.

“But I’ll grow it organically”. WRONG. WRONG WRONG!!!

Or rather “Perhaps, but unlikely”. But I understand where you got that notion from and I admit I was duped at first also; it’s all this talk about things “going viral” isn’t it? Well, sorry to disappoint but it just isn’t true for most people. Build it and they probably won’t come.

Let’s suppose you build a really awesome web service/app that could appeal to 1 in 100 people in the entire world - a huge potential market of 70m users. That means you need to speak to 100 people before you stand a chance of even one of them telling someone else about it. And they will have to tell another 100 and so on. The problem is, most people outside of the web community communicate with <50 people on a regular basis so the maths are against you.

All the while you are doing this slow ramp-up, someone else is going to borrow $Xm VC money, get a serious campaign together and obliterate you by seeding their brand in front of millions of individuals.  They’ll also have the money to hire the staff necessary to support such success.

And let’s not even consider the notion that by the time you’ve organically grown your startup to the point you can start making money, the world will have moved on.

Other fish

Sometimes I wonder if web tech people bury their heads in the sand a little too much when it comes to things outside their industry. If that’s you then I have a newsflash: early stage web tech is not - and hasn’t been for a long time - the pillar of many VC portfolios. I know the tech industry think it’s the be-all and end-all because they always seem surprised when big firms like 3i pull out of early-stage.

VC is all about investing large sums of money at high risk (which means new markets usually) for ridiculously high returns.  The fact that the technology side of web tech has been commoditised and ubiquitous means that in the most part the web is no long as hot as it was 5-10 years ago. What’s hot now is greentech - and there VCs are like pigs in shit; high startup costs, high risk, massive returns.  VCs haven’t died - they’ve just moved on to pastures new.

Ok, so I’ll build my startup without VCs

Most people (I can list the exceptions - there aren’t many) shouldn’t build a business on the assumption of funding ANYWAY - in any market conditions. I admit I’ve made this mistake and it was the reason why we closed our first startup this year; the business wasn’t predicted to breakeven for a long time and required two rounds of VC money to be interesting. And let’s face it, how many VCs in the UK were going to fund something that risky when they didn’t understand the business and we were a bunch of first-timers.

But never mind the scarcity of money - you all know you are going to be shafted if you get funding early-stage, right? Simple rule: don’t take money when you need it. If VCs are approaching YOU for a slice of the action, then it might be worth considering what they have to offer because you know you can refuse any bum deals.

Sour grapes

I lept from my previous job into the tech industry because I saw a lot of incredible startup exits and wanted a piece of the action. It helps to be honest about these things. I wanted to be rich. But right from the start I knew my experience, knowledge and plain odds were against me so I spent a long time getting to know the market and the people. I also joined/founded a startup fairly early in my web career so as to see what it was like on the frontline.

As I see it, the audiences of many tech blogs consist of a lot of people like me, but where I think many of them differ is in the sour grapes department. I get the impression that many people feel it’s some sort of RIGHT that they sell their niche app to Google for billions. By virtue of being denied success they have an in-built desire to dismiss the opportunies/success of others… and what better symbol of success in the web industry is there - second to an exit - than raising VC money.

By dissing VC’s, they are secretly saying “fuck you for not making me successful”. And probably a little bit of “but I’ll take your money if you have some, please”

Finally, it’s entrepreneurship!

Most of what’s above is my naive interpretation of the world around me. But there’s a powerful force behind all this which guarantees there will always be VC - and that, dear reader, is entrepreneurship… or perhaps it’s capitalism, to be more brutal about it.

If I’ve branded and targetted this blog well enough you are probably a founder of a startup - or at least involved in one. So you’ll know all about how you saw an opportunity and invested in it with your intellectual (and possibly financial) capital. When dissing the VC model, consider: Why didn’t anyone else do it? Why did you choose that particular thing? Would you choose something else if only you had more money or more skills?

The fact you are able to start a startup is because you have something that someone else doesn’t - and you are leveraging that gap. Angel investors work on a similar principle, only they also bring lots of money; they use the fact that they have money, when others don’t, to take opportunities that might not be available to them otherwise. They are, in effect, also entrepreneurs in the same way entrepreneurs are investors.

But what of people or organizations with vast amounts of money? Well, they have another layer of resource; people. These groups/individuals split their large sums of money amongst smaller groups who can invest it for them - which in a crude sense is how VCs work.

So as for VCs dying, I think that’s highly unlikely. Provided there are people with large sums of money to invest, there will also be experts who will step in and help them. What do you think? Comment me!

[Edit: in case you skipped to the end, I do indirectly make the point that I don't expect web startups to find raising VC easy. The writing has been on the wall for early-stage VC for a long time]

This is a guest post from Jof Arnold 

Wednesday Dec 03, 2008

Make IT Scale - scaling and more scaling......what a night.

So what a night was had at Make IT Scale.

We had Mike from discussing how to scale a large startup and some of the pitfalls to be wary of, power and good coding all help to grow the company and yes it did start with the guys sleeping in tents on the office roof, to make it happen.

Phil Harman from Sun microsystems explained about OpenSolaris, Dtrace, ZFS and all the lovely stuff available within the OS that can help reduce barriers and pain points, to make your apps scale quickly and fastly for very little time in looking at the code or making changes, and how to enable this now, not later.

Quick beer break, chat and networking then back on the podium for Mike from Proven Scaling talking about what he sees in the customers he consults with in scaling MySQL mostly, but also generally talking to them about saving time upfront to allow for scaling later on. Indepth presentation that left him being barraged by questions till late in the evening.

Then to wrap the evening up we had Nick from  a Startup Essential customer as well, who discussed how he used to write games in Assembler and thus it has to be an efficent scaling schema from the startup, and by building  based on those virtues he has a scaleable startup ready for traffic and volume, he doesnt have to worry when that volume hits him.

75 people attending, 30 Pizzas consumed, 200 bottles of beer and 10 cartons of orange, lots of positive feedback and the videos will all be online soon, in the meantime do you want to attend a Make IT scale session ?

Sign up for the meetup group to hear about the next one - Startup Essential Meetup

Want to see the presentations ? Make IT Scale Presentations

Want to see the lovely Nick from

Make IT Scale brought to you by Startup Essentials from stewart townsend on Vimeo.

Wednesday Oct 15, 2008

Future of Web Apps The week that was.- Setup and Day 1

Future of Web Apps - Exel Centre - Docklands - October 08

Setup day on Wednesday went smoothly, I arrived to find the stand setup and collateral ready, I just needed to make my presentations work for the sessions and get my voice ready to talk a lot. The evening was looming ahead and thus I decided to check in, get ready and prepare myself for a dinner with the stars.

Part of working with Carsonified is the personal effort they make for everyone involved and thus the evening before FOWA was a select dinner with the speakers over the next few days, the Big Hitters. Sitting down to dinner we all recived a personalised Journal, which was a fantastic touch and then I decided I would have a few beers or to, and thus preceeded to chat to Andrew Turner from Mapufacture   Elaine Wherry from Meebo, Stefan Fountain from Soocial and Anish from Yuuguu, lots to chat about, picnic, economy, the hoff and the competition between Andrew and Elaine around the number of slides they were going to present in 40 minutes.

Day one - Lift Off

Phew what a start, we had BookingBug, Worldeka and Snagsta on the Startup Essential Lounge to talk to startups about what its like to work with Sun, and how we can help them in various ways, then we also had the death ride, the Surf machine.

What continued throughout the day was lots of conversations around what Sun is doing with the Startup community in EMEA, how we are helping them, not just from a technology perspective but also from a networking, introductions, scaling or the other things that Sun is great at.

On the other side of the hall, we had the Sun Developer stand and the guys from MySQL and Zembly there talking about development, what that means, how we can resolve problems and help build quick scaleable platforms. Want to know more about Zembly ? Check out the interview with Todd CTO here now.

So lots of sessions, lots of pictures, lots of interaction and that is just day one......then we all went off to get changed, freshen up and attend the media temple party at FOX, which for me was a chance to become once again, the man in the shirt.

So there became an official after FOWA party committe, and we had to discuss what we were going to do next, as the hotel bar was closing and thus we decided to go to the Startup Essential bar, (supported by Every City) and discuss startups, UK Scene, the economy until the early hours of the morning and thus then we will have put the worlds to right. As you can see we had a great representation from the UK Startup Scene, Nic from,  Josh from theIplatform, Jake from TactileCRM, Andy from Rummble and Andys sister from Every City and of course the man in the shirt.

Day two to look forward to, breakfast with the speakers, and a buzzing Friday with Tim Bray speaking as well....also the famous Facebook party as well to prepare for, along side a day of telling everyone about Startup Essentials, wait till the next episode for more...

Tuesday Oct 14, 2008

The Man in the shirt he says Yes...Mashup Networking Events

mashup\* event - 23rd October - Networking & Demos - BT Center (St Pauls), London

Do you want to network with  a number of top business leaders ? Discuss the  future of our digital industry in challenging times and the significant opportunities available for digital executives, entrepreneurs and investors with the right strategy. Mashup Networking is the event for you then, there is no fee for this event, unlike regular events and is a great opportunity to sample the mixture of audience and discussion participation.

mashup\* started 30 months ago and now with over 2500 members and 34 events under there belt, its now an appropriate time to give something back and ask for your input to help us make mashup\* more useful for you; during what is expected to be a challenging new landscape.

This special mashup\* event will provide an extended time for you to meet other members and enjoy an evening of thought provoking talks & demos. During this time Tony, Simon and the mashup\* team would also appreciate the opportunity to get feedback from you as to your ideas on how we can improve mashup\* for you and your colleagues. 

So sign up now and get a place to be at the hippest networking event this year, but also do if you enjoy this, when check out as well the other events that mashup hold regularly.

Would you like to know more about attending these and becoming a member, then find out more about the personal packages and the showcase packages.

Do you want to join ? Do you want 25% off the membership fee ? Sign up for Startup Essentials and use ref code MASHUP and then email me stewart.townsend(at) for your personal discount code now.

MySQL London Conference Offer - Another SSE benefit

 Do you want to learn this ?

  • Learn best practices to deploy & manage MySQL applications across your organization
  • Understand how to take advantage of new technologies such as memcached and MySQL Proxy
  • Get detailed insight into new and upcoming MySQL features, products and services
  • Get expert advice on MySQL performance tuning
  • Develop your skills to build highly scalable, reliable, secure and highly available MySQL applications
  • Hear real world experiences of implementing MySQL applications
  • Learn how to build a multi-terabyte data warehouse with MySQL and Infobright
  • Ask all your questions directly to the experts, and get the chance to provide feedback and input
  • Build relationships and network with other MySQL users and Sun's MySQL team members
  • Find out how you can benefit from our partners' solutions

MySQL European Conference in London next Thursday 23rd October, how would you like 50% off the ticket price ?

Sign up for Startup Essentials the programme that helps support UK startups, use ref code MYSQL08 and then email me stewart.townsend(at) for the personal promo code.

The programme is aimed at helping support startups, the community and by working with partners offering out low cost offerings around hardware, hosting, events and FREE technical support and networking introductions.....


Connecting the Startup Essentials community with all the events, information and resources required for them to grow and scale.


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