In through the outfield blog

22 posts from February 2011

26 February 2011

Luxury foods in terribly bad taste

One of the key pieces of advice I give to aspiring entrepreneurs is to ensure they have a recognisable unique selling point (USP to use the jargon).

Often this involves finding a niche which has yet to be explored commercially. Sometimes this can be a niche within a niche. If the topic is truly unique and even better controversial, this will help to generate interest from potential customers and the press.

Wild_Kopi_Luwak An example would be the coffee my brother kindly bought me back from Indonesia. Wild Kopi Luwak is apparently the world’s most expensive and low-production coffee. It is made from the beans of coffee berries eaten by the Asian Palm Civet.

According to Wikipedia, in its stomach, proteolytic enzymes seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids. Passing through a civet’s intestines the beans are then defecated, keeping their shape. After gathering, thorough washing, sun drying, light roasting and brewing, these beans yield an aromatic coffee with much less bitterness.

Not every coffee drinker will aspire to drink something which has been source from animal excreta. However, I can confirm that this coffee is definitely not ‘shit’, and has one of the smoothest tastes I have ever sampled.

Peter Dominiczak tasting the £14 ice cream in Covent Garden

Peter Dominiczak from the Evening Standard tasting Baby Gaga

A more extreme example would be Baby Gaga ice cream at a mind-bending £14 a go.

The Icecreamists have been at it again (Sex sells – but call it Maturialism for now), and this time they have scored a hat-trick, with extreme high price, and combining amazing taste and amazingly bad taste in one product.

Their unique selling point? The ice cream is made from fresh human breast milk. The contributors of the milk are paid £15 for every 10 ounces they provide, and apparently are queuing up to meet the demand.

The Evening Standard sent intrepid reporter Peter Dominczak along to try out the controversial new ice cream.

‘I have never been less excited by the thought of ice cream on a sunny day. I am served by a woman imitating Lady Gaga who pours the breast milk into a metal top hat before pouring liquid nitrogen over it. I am provided with a shot of Calpol – apparently to assist with any brain freezes – and some Bonjela for any issues with sensitive teeth. Even with two biscuits, I’m not sure it warrants the £14 price tag. But it tastes fantastic. Light and creamy with just enough of a vanilla tinge. I am told breast milk tastes like overly-sweet skimmed milk, but this ice cream tastes better than almost any I’ve had before. Despite the issues I have with drinking the contents of a stranger’s breast this might catch on.’

The Daily Mail also got excited about the story, One from the chest freezer: Restaurant sells breast milk ice cream

Bizarre: Company founder Matt O'Connor, 44, and the Lady Gaga waitress in the central London store

Company founder Matt O'Connor, 44, and the Lady Gaga waitress in the central London store - Source - Daily Mail -

Update – 1 March 2011

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that this story is set to run and run. Today’s update in the Evening Standard was, Breast milk ice cream seized for safety tests. Westminster Council staff took the Baby Gaga flavour at and sent it away to test for viral infections, after complaints.

The original story in the Standard has attracted quite a few comments, some positive, some negative, and some just silly.

My favourite so far is from MS in London who says;
Not very good marketing for the company. Next time I go to Covent Garden, I’ll make sure I don’t buy any icecream from this business (breastmilk or not).

Review of who’s got your back

Whosgotyourback_cover Once again I am indebted to Pervin Shaikh for another generous donation to our Business Help book collection.

Last time it was the amazing What Would Google Do? This time I am reviewing who’s got your back (yes, it seems lower case titles are still trendy). Keith Ferrazzi, the ‘best selling author of NEVER EAT ALONE’, supplies ‘The Secret to Finding the 3 People Who Will Change Your Life’. I think I’m all case confused at this point.

By the way, what a great surname for an author, or in fact, anyone intent on becoming a personal brand.

If the title and pre-title (see cover shot) don’t get the message across, then how about the sur-title? ‘The breakthrough program to build deep, trusting relationships that create success – and won’t let you fail’.

It is at this point that I have to confess to breaking a long standing policy on this blog of avoiding negativity. I don’t really see the point of writing about something unless it has something positive to contribute.

However, I’m afraid this is going to be an exception, and this is really an appeal to you, to help me understand where I am going wrong with this very popular book.

Unfortunately the author gets my goat right from the first chapter, by using the example of Jean Nidetch, ‘a plus-sized housewife who enlisted her friends to help her stay on a diet’. This was the 1961 beginnings of what was to become Weight Watchers, a $4 billion turnover business by 2007.

The author explains that Nidetch, ‘just wanted to get skinny, but through an inner circle of friends offering expertise, wisdom, honesty and support she achieved far more than she ever imagined possible.’

However, to me Weight Watchers is an organisation that exploits people’s desire to lose weight by persuading them to adopt a calorie counting diet, when so much evidence indicates that no diets work in the long run.

Why diets don’t work and The Problem with Weight Watchers and other Calorie Counting Diets

To quote the book’s blurb; Keith Ferrazzi, the internationally renowned thought leader, consultant, and bestselling author of Never Eat Alone, shows us that becoming a winner in any field of endeavour requires a trusted team of advisors who can offer guidance and help to hold us accountable to achieving our goals. It is the reason Ph.D. candidates have advisor teams, top executives  have boards, world-class athletes have fitness coaches, and presidents have cabinets.

In conclusion, I am left wondering if this the management book equivalent of the Emperor’s New Clothes. So please let me know why I am wrong.

25 February 2011

Teenagers teaching Silver Surfers the web way

Glasses_by_Zsuzsanna_Kilian_1204276 Once again my local paper has its finger on the pulse of social and business change. Although, once again their headline writer hasn’t exactly hit the jackpot – ‘Youngsters take Infernal Trouble out of IT for mature students.’

According to the Middy ‘For many people IT stands only for Infernal Trouble and The Web is somewhere unsuspecting technophobes get trapped.’

I would be more inclined to say that for many older people, Windows are something they prefer to open in order to let in fresh air, and the Web is something they get tangled up in all to easily.

The article is actually about a group of teenagers at Oakmeeds Community College in Burgess Hill, who run a weekly class for that growing population over Silver Surfers (The growing grey market in the UK). Interestingly the club is funded by the local Business Enterprise, so it will be interesting to see how many of these mature students are aspiring Grey Entrepreneurs.

I love the way this story goes against the usual media stereotyping of teenagers as rude and lazy, by showing them in such a positive light, using their skills and knowledge by empowering older generations to take advantage of this revolutionary technology.

It’s not all one way traffic either. According to 15 year old Lloyd Passingham, ‘I really enjoy helping at the club. It feels really good to know that something I’ve learnt, I’m passing on to someone else’.

23 February 2011

Enterprising women entrepreneurs

I have to admit that I am not a big fan of the way our lovely language so often gets mangled to create handy marketing terms. The latest to come to my attention in the business start-up world is ‘mumpreneurs’.

However, putting those misgivings aside, these enterprising women are particularly impressive in the way they are able to combine the demands of looking after their  children, as well as what can be a much more demanding dependant – their business.

Just recently they have been getting a lot of attention in the media, with a whole week of coverage on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Mumsnet logo

Also we had Justine Roberts the co-founder of Mumsnet, speaking at our Power of Social Media evening.

Even my local paper The Mid-Susssex Times had a feature article with one of their traditionally feeble headlines – ‘After the school run we network!’

The article is about the one year old Brighton based Mumpreneurs Networking Club, founded by Nicky Chisholm and Sarah Guiel. According to Debbie Mann who now organises the Burgess Hill and Crawley areas, sharing the experience of being mums is important.

‘It doesn’t matter if little Jack is running around screaming for a biscuit because everyone is in the same situation.’

It was nice to read that the club is not exclusive and allows non-mums and ‘even the odd man’, to go along.

As Debbie points out, ‘networking is an important part of any small or medium enterprises, but especially to sole traders who are often the head of sales, PR, marketing, accounts, admin, IT, social media, manufacturing and so on.’

I’m not sure they have necessarily picked the best web address for the group if they are wanting to reverse some of the stereotypes of women networking. However, it certainly is memorable, which is important from a marketing perspective –

Mumpreneurs Club

PCT patent statistics for 2010

WIPO has published a press release on PCT patent statistics for 2010. PCT is what many call the World patent.

Nearly all large companies, and many medium-sized ones, use the PCT system, and it is a good indicator of willingness to patent. A published PCT document only means that the company asked for protection, and it is up to regional or national patent authorities to decide if they will grant a patent.

Total filings were up 4% in 2010 over 2009, to about 162,900. The number from China shot up by 56% to 12,337 (7.6% of the total, and in fourth place), while Korea rose by 20% and Japan by 7%. Germany, Canada and Spain also rose among the top fifteen countries. The US share dipped slightly by 1% to 44,855, still the top country, with Japan in second place. The UK was seventh, down 3%.

Panasonic was the leading company, with 2,054 filings. Six of the top ten companies are from the Far East. Unilever at no. 82 was given as the top UK company. There is also a table of the top university applicants, where only two of the top ten are from the Far East (the rest are American), showing how innovation is so heavily driven by companies and not academia in the Far East.

There is also a table showing the numbers in 35 broad technical fields. The four which showed double digit changes were digital communication, up 17%, while telecommunications fell by 15%, instrument control by 11% and textile and paper machines by 10%.

A final table shows the share by country. A breakdown by continent as well would have been useful. Out of interest I went through the table adding up those from African nations. There were just 401, with South Africa having 275 of this total. 573 filings were from "unknown" countries.

I posted last year on the 2009 figures.

22 February 2011

Product placement inventions

The UK is about to introduce product placement on its television programmes. The concept is about trade marked products being prominently seen in many programmes in return for payment.

It will be permitted from the 28 February as explained in a notice from Ofcom, the official regulator, which explains the restrictions on it. Here is the logo that will be displayed for three seconds at the start and end of programmes and after advertising breaks.

Product Placement Logo 
When product placement was proposed by the previous government it was pointed out that the UK and Denmark were the only EU countries where it was not permitted, or about to be permitted. The idea is to support television companies with revenue, though it has been suggested that it will only amount to about £150 million, or 5% of television advertising revenue.

The move is controversial to say the least. Simon Hoggart of the Guardian described it as "a form of corruption by which elements of our favourite shows are covertly sold off to the highest bidder without our being told". Here, though, I am looking at some published patent applications with deliciously cynical titles.

There's for example Product placement for the masses, by Accenture, and Implicit product placement leveraging identified user ambitions, by Microsoft.

There's also Philips with its Automatic generation of trailers containing product placements, which says that television is a great way to promote products but that "many people see the commercials as a break for making sandwiches or going to the bathroom". It is to do with trailers being forced on people watching TV programmes on computers.

Many inventions are for ensuring that the user's interests are reflected in the content, as watched on media other than a television set. A computer can monitor what sort of interests a viewer has, such as sports, so that sports-oriented merchandise appears as product placement.

This is a list of some inventions on the subject.

18 February 2011

Ron Hickman, inventor of the Black & Decker Workmate®

I was sorry to see a Daily Mail obituary of Ron Hickman, who created the great DIY tool: the Black & Decker Workmate® workbench.

He is often cited as an example of a great British inventor. Actually, he was South African, though he did move to Waltham Abbey, Essex, before retiring to the tax haven of Jersey. 

Hickman became Director of Engineering for Lotus, the racing car firm. One day in 1961 he was making a wardrobe and used a chair to support the wood he was sawing through. He ended up sawing through the chair instead. There hadn't been a suitable workbench. The eternal cry of inventors went up -- there has to be a better way.

He applied for some patents in 1968 with GB1267032, "Workbenches" being typical. The main drawing is shown below. The two strips at the top can make a V-shape to make a vice to grip items being worked on.

British patent 1267032 drawing 
This was improved by other patents, such as, by 1971, the considerably more complex US4291869, shown here.

US patent 4291869 drawing 
He now had a large portfolio of patents to protect the function and of registered designs to protect the look, taken out in a number of countries. There was also the valuable Workmate® trade mark, probably the most valuable asset he had.

The problem was initially that manufacturers didn't like it. Black & Decker rejected it, and Stanley famously said that potential sales were "in dozens rather than hundreds". A versatile, portable workbench that could be hung up on a hook wasn't a good idea, it seemed. Hickman began making them in his garden shed, and by the time 14,000 were sold Black & Decker said that they had changed their mind, and it became one of their products.

It has been estimated that over 30 million have been sold since then. Like most successful products, a patent infringement court case came about, which went to the Court of Appeal: Hickman v Andrews and another. It was said by the defendants that Hickman's invention was obvious because of a prior art bookpress. As his patent attorney, Michael Roos, had put the word "workbench" in every patent claim it was decreed that the defence failed. It was not obvious that features in the bookpress should migrate to a workbench.

Hickman was involved with other inventions, but none were as successful. One was the Child's toilet pot, illustrated below.

Child's toilet pot patent drawing 
Traditionally, the portable "potty" suffers from the problem of wet bottoms sticking to it as the child stands up, so that the potty and its contents topples over. Putting the child's feet on the bottom of the structure where shown meant that that the potty stayed stable as the child stood up. It was ingenious.

It didn't sell. The story I heard was that when Mothercare displayed the product they did not explain the point behind it, and prospective buyers saw no point in paying extra for a piece of fancy decoration.

Batman and design patents

There are six American design patents (registered designs) by DC Comics relating to the Batman movies, applied for between 1989 and 1995. I was interested to see that some are by Anton Furst of London, UK. DC Comics of course created the original character.

Here they are, with the front page shown from Google Patents, and links to the documents. Many do not realise what a rich source of data on toys the designs can be, though admittedly the titles rarely give away what they are based on.

USD311882, "Car or similar vehicle".

Car or similar vehicle design patent 

USD321732, "Aerial toy".

Aerial toy design patent 
USD329321, "Head dress".

Head dress design patent 
USD370884, "Boat".

 Boat design patent

USD375704, "Vehicle".

Vehicle design patent 
USD389111, "Set of rear fins for a vehicle".

Set of rear fins for a vehicle design patent 

There is of course the original Batmobile used in the Batman television series that premiered in 1966. The actual car was the subject of USD205998, by George Barris. He was asked to make a car for the series and bought a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car from Ford for one dollar. He then spent $30,000, and three weeks with his crew of mechanics, creating the car seen on television. Now that's nostalgia.

Batmobile design patent drawing