In through the outfield blog

6 posts from April 2010

19 April 2010

Yoodoo video guides to building your business

I’ve just signed up with the free Yoodoo website and on initial impressions it is pretty good.

They have broken down the business startup process into a series of short videos which are mainly ‘Coffee time’ in length, with a couple rated as ‘Lunch break’ and ‘Evening in’.

The design of the site is clean and modern, and the system allows you to record your progress, and make notes.

Needless to say the founders Tony and Nick have included social media tools to enable you to contact other members of the Yoodoo ‘tribe’.

I would be interested to hear how you get on with it, if you decide to give it a whirl.

About Us
Over two years in the making, Yoodoo is brought to you by a great team of dedicated and expert businesspeople; in fact the same people behind the bestselling “Beermat” series of business books, famous for explaining business in plain English. Everyone on the management team has run their own successful businesses.

Inside, you’ll find a wealth of knowledge from over 80 business experts – each of them specialists in their fields.

Our 50 staff include some of Britain’s best writers, video producers and internet specialists. We’ve got a world-class investment board too, and big brands like eOffice, & Moo behind us.

By the way, we’re a British company born-and-bred, staffed by real people here in London. We take your security and privacy seriously, and we operate subject to UK law.

How does it work?
If you’ve got a big idea or an unstoppable dream, we’ll help you turn it into a reality. If you just want bite-sized stepping stones to a new career, that’s just fine, too.

There’s no pressure: we’ll take you from basic business skills through to a personalised plan at your own pace. You’ll meet great people along the way, and then gain accreditation – which unlocks a host of exclusive benefits.

Whether you dip in and out, or go for gold, you’ll get a fun experience exclusively tailored to help you reach your goals.

What can Yoodoo do for me?
Yoodoo will help you find out whether you could start your own business – and then give you everything you need to get started.

Even if you’ve got no idea what to try, Yoodoo builds you a personal journey to develop both your skills and a blueprint for your new business. It’s inspiring, it’s fun and it’s nothing like being back at school.

And you’re not alone: you can share your journey with other Yoodooers who are looking to make that big leap, too!

15 April 2010

Where there’s muck there’s brass – or Binifresh

I couldn’t resist this old Yorkshire expression to introduce the latest in wheelie bin technologies.

Thanks to the latest issue of Real Business Magazine for highlighting another interesting aspect of the rubbish industry to add to my previous post back in November 2008 (Wheelie cleaning up in business).

Rather than employ expensive wheelie bin cleaners, Daniel Woolman (at the impressively young age of 27) has created Binifresh, which emits a neutralising spray into the bin every four hours.

The device has already been taken up by ASDA, John Lewis, and the gurus of household gadgets Lakeland (formerly Lakeland Plastics).

Dispute over nutritional supplement for Third World

A dispute has erupted in the USA over French firm Nutriset and their food supplement for the Third World.

In 1997 Nutriset applied for a patent for its Food or nutritional supplement, preparation method and uses, which became a US patent in 2002. It has also been patented in the African regional OAPI system as OA12530 (which covers, basically, former French colonies) and in the ARIPO system as AP1647 (not available on the Web), which covers many former British colonies. These systems are normally used by Western companies for protecting pharmaceuticals. 

The product is marketed as Plumpy’nut®. It is, basically, peanut butter paste fortified with vitamins and minerals, added to sugar, vegetable oils and powdered milk. An article in The Guardian states that it costs about £12.50 for 56 fist-sized foil pouches, each with 500 calories, enough for four weeks to enable someone to live on that food alone. This is cheaper than milk. It keeps for two years (no need for refrigeration) and does not need any added water. This is vital in places where power is scarce, and any available water is often infected. It is also easy to digest. Dr André Briend, a paediatric nutritionist, had been inspired by a tub of Nutella® (a chocolate and nut paste) on his kitchen table, and worked for years on the right formula.

It is manufactured in Le Havre under contract to Unicef (the ingredients are also provided to partners in Africa). It has been widely used for famine relief in Africa by relief organisations, where it has been called a miracle food.

In December 2009 a case was brought against Nutriset in the Washington, D.C. district court by the Mama Cares Foundation together with Breedlove Foods. They claim that patent protection is preventing them from providing a cheaper version.

"Nutriset are preventing malnourished children from getting what they need to survive. It is as simple as that," says Mike Mellace, of the Mama Cares Foundation. Nutriset deny this. Their general manager, Adeline Lescanne, says "No child in the world has even been denied access to the product as a result of the patent issue. If they had - how would any of us be able to go to work in the morning?"

A detailed account from the BBC gives more details. The patents covering much of Africa are crucial as many products designed for the Third World do not have protection there. The district court, of course, can only decide on the American patent.

09 April 2010

Ten top tips for presenting from Jacqui Harper MBE

I was going through some old notes today and came across these top ten tips for presenting. Although many are familiar suggestions, numbers four and eight are less so, and worthy of attention.

They come from a Top Tips for Presenting workshop delivered by Jacqui Harper MBE, M.D. of Crystal Business Training, way back in November 2006, but are just as relevant now.

1. Start by identifying the purpose of the presentation for your audience.
The key thing to ask yourself is ‘what’s in it for the audience?’ Once you know the answer to this you’re on your way to creating a great presentation.

2. Use key messages and a simple structure to convey your points.
The best presenters communicate clearly and concisely with key messages that are easy to follow.

3. Make your material relevant and interesting for your audience.
Keeping an audience’s attention is quite straightforward if your material is adapted to their specific needs and interests. Audiences like to know you’ve done a bit of homework for them.

4. Rehearse your presentation at least twice.
It’s even better if you can tape your rehearsals with a camcorder. This speeds up familiarity with your material and dramatically improves your fluency.

5. Make sure your presentation has a strong impact at the beginning.
Your audiences are most attentive at the beginning of a presentation – if you engage them at the start you’re most likely to keep them.

6. Show the audience you care about your material and them.
Showing passion for your subject and a genuine interest in your audience always goes down well.

7. Use light touches of humour when you can to build rapport.
It doesn’t need to be a stand up routine. Occasional humorous comments instantly build rapport.

8. Only use PowerPoint when you absolutely have to!
PowerPoint will generally send audiences to sleep unless it’s really well used. It’s far better to ditch the slides and speak directly to the audience.

9. Dress in an outfit that makes you feel good and is appropriate.
A smart, well-groomed appearance will boost your confidence and impress your audience.

10. Get training!
All good speakers have had training. The cheapest way to train yourself is to buy a self-help guide like ‘Voices of Experience: The Expert’s to Making Great Presentations’. The quickest way to learn is to do a public speaking course with specialist companies like Crystal Business Training.

I also remember her advice to practice vocal exercises before every presentation.

08 April 2010

Unusual aircraft

I read in today's Metro about Bertrand Piccard and his solar-powered aircraft, Solar Impulse. There does not seem (yet ?) to be a published patent specification.

I've already posted about the Zephyr variant on the concept, and here are some patent specifications for other unusual aircraft.

In 1932 Ernst Gretscher of Berlin applied for a British patent for a Helicopter. It involved reciprocating propellers and its advantages were that it could stand still or move forwards or backwards, though it's pilot's position may be thought a little precarious. Here is its main drawing.


In 1988 a patent by the Grumman Aerospace Corporation was published as the Nuclear powered drone. Here is its main drawing.

Nuclear powered drone patent
In 1995 a German private inventor, Dr Gilbert Duong, had his Human powered flight device patent application published (in German). Here is its main drawing.

Human powered flight device patent

In 2002 an American patent was granted for a Passenger vehicle employing a circumferentially disposed rotatable thrust assembly, the applicant being Aero Copter, Inc. It is a VTOL. Here is its main drawing.

Aero Copter patent

Also in 2002, Wilfred Hannon of Kendal, Cumbria received a granted patent for his Pedal powered vehicle with flying capability. Here is its main drawing.

Pedal powered vehicle with flying capability

And as recently as 2008, Lawrence Livermore National Security LLC published its Rankine-Brayton engine powered solar thermal aircraft. Here is its main drawing.

Rankine-Brayton engine powered solar thermal aircraft

07 April 2010

A radical Reworking of business

front coverI know I refer quite a bit to items I hear on Leo Laport’s Net@Night podcast.  However episode 142 of the show with Sarah Lane guesting for Amber Macarthur was all about business.

They interviewed Jason Fried and David Hansson who created Ruby on Rails and co-authored Getting Real, amongst a range of notable achievements.

In their new book Reworking they attempt to debunk many business clichés, based on ten years of experience of running 37 Signals an internet based business.

They looked back over their first ten years of starting and growing their business to see what lessons they had learned, and how they could present the best of those ideas as succinctly as possible.

I tend to agree with them when they say that so many business books don’t really need to be more than 50 or 60 pages long, as their authors aren’t really saying very much. To generate enough content for 150 or 200 pages takes many years of experience.

Get more sleep
The first idea covered in the interview, Get More Sleep, may sound obvious, but working extreme hours has become something of a obsession especially with workaholics, and especially in the United States. But as they point out, the practical result is that you just end up with people being tired the whole time, and sooner or later it usually leads to burnout. Also, you can’t make up for the loss with an occasional one nights good sleep. You have to be consistent about your sleep. I like their quote, ‘you have to sleep in order to do good work.’

Ignore your competition
The second is about not copying, or even bothering to find out what your competitors are doing.

As they rightly point out, running a business takes a lot of time and you have to prioritise what you are going to spend that time on. Given that fact, they feel you are better off  spending it on your customers and your own products, rather than what other people are doing.

You can’t pay complete attention to your competitors, and your customers, and your products, and your employees, and your vision. You have to make some decisions and prioritise. So David and Jason would rather spend their time making the people who use their products very happy, instead of worrying about customers they don’t have yet, who might be being approached by their competitors.

They quote Henry Ford; ‘The competitors you should be worrying about are the ones that don’t care about you. They are the ones who are focussed on building their own business.’

According to David and Jason there is a business cold war going on, especially in the software industry, where everyone is spending their time trying to get one-up on everyone else. ‘We have to add two more features to counteract the one new feature from our competitor’. There are very few winners in this world where companies try and outspend their competitors, and everyone ends up looking the same.

Business is like software
They feel that businesses should be malleable, as we aren’t building bridges or skyscrapers. A company can change, it can try new things, it can iterate. ‘We try new stuff all the time, some works and some doesn’t. Our business itself has ‘bugs’, and we fix them as we go.’

‘When people think of a business as a monolith that has to have a lot of structure and policies, then they are sort of screwing themselves.’

‘There are few phrases I hate more than ‘this is how we do things around here’’. It is such a wrong and circular argument, but you hear it all the time.

The book has a simple structure with one idea every page or so. ‘The whole point of the book is that it is short, it is a quick read, because… aren’t you supposed to be doing something? These business books that take you a week or two to read, just seem like a waste of time.’

Learning from mistakes is overrated
‘There is a weird obsession, especially in the tech world, where everyone is telling you to fail early and fail often. What is that advice, fail often?’

‘Our take is that there is certainly some thing to be learnt from failure, but you are better off learning lessons from things that work well. Focus on the things that have gone right for you and try and do those things again. If you think that failure is so natural it will happen to you, you will start making really bad business decisions, and not looking at the odds.’

The obsession with growth

‘What is the point of everyone trying to build a billion dollar company? What is wrong with a million dollars? When did a million dollars become a small amount of money? When did running a business that generates $10 million a year become not a good and cool thing to do?’

‘Typically what happens is that people aren’t very happy working at these big big companies, and they are very slow at innovation. They have to acquire innovation by buying the small guys. The small guys are where the innovation and excitement happens.’

‘Why not build a great little company that is doing incredibly well, you can generate millions of dollars a year in profit. Who is going to be ashamed of that? And you can enjoy it, and you can get to sleep. That to me is really what it is all about.’

Entrepreneurs have a bad name
‘That word has so many bad connotations, it means risking everything, including your family, because you have to go all-in, right away. It’s just not true. The way we build our software company was by doing work on the side. You don’t need to throw away all your safety nets on day one and charge after this thing with a everything you have.’

‘In many ways I think the American dream has been perverted. I think before, it was simply financial independence, and somehow it has become this thing where you have to build a billion dollar company. It should get back to the way it was.’

I will leave my favourite quote from their interview to the end. ‘Starting a business does not have to be rocket surgery’. I’m not sure if this was a deliberate play on rocket science and brain surgery but I would like to adopt it as a business start-up slogan.