In through the outfield blog

27 posts from March 2011

31 March 2011

Toastabags® inventor Guy Unwin on Dragons' Den

Last night I saw a new Dragons' Den episode for me, with Guy Unwin offering equity in his household products inventions in return for funding. It dates from 2008.

I recognized the Toastabags® invention that he showed -- I think that I may even have used it years ago -- which is shown here.

Toastabag patent drawing 
A cheese sandwich, say, is inserted in the packet and then into the toaster. The granted British patent (it has American protection as well) is called the Container to hold food as it is heated. Also displayed in the show was his Mesh basket for cooking food, illustrated below.

Mesh basket for cooking food patent drawing 
A rotary clothes line cover, and a water tank for use in a wheelbarrow, are also among his inventions.

Below is an amusing video showing how someone realises that Toastabags® will solve his mealtime problem.  


Here is a list of patent publications by the versatile Mr Unwin, who is from Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. He and his partner Caroline Kavanagh (who also appeared on the show) founded Planit Products, based in Malvern, in 2006 to market his inventions.

The outcome from their appearance on the show ? James Caan offered £200,000 in return for 40% of the company. This was accepted but, according to an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph, it was never completed and they secured funding from a bank instead.

30 March 2011

Business planning workshop with Company Partners

My colleague Raika Wokoeck kindly agreed to write up this workshop for the blog:

As part of my Masters in Information and Library Studies I am completing a management course which requires me to write a business plan for a fictitious new service. If, however, you have only ever worked in Humanities based environment this can prove not only tricky but quite difficult. Yes, I’ve read the literature and I can write it in a Word document but putting theory into practice turned into a challenging task.

However, being an employee of The British Library does have its advantages, and I was able to attend one of the Business & IP Centre’s workshops on 16 March.

company-partners-logoLawrence Gilbert, the founder of Company Partners and Alan Gleeson of Palo Alto Software were presenting a comprehensive ‘how to do’ workshop on the do’s and don’ts of business plan writing. The attendees came from various backgrounds and were interested in start-up as well as continuing business plans, and contributed actively. This very interactive group made the workshop even more enjoyable.

After everyone introduced themselves, Lawrence started the half-day workshop by talking about the secrets of successful entrepreneurs. The part that I found the most helpful, however, was the following presentation on how to structure a business plan and what makes it a successful one. Lawrence provided a practical insight through case studies and examples helping us to understand the practicalities and purposes of a business plan.

At the end Alan took over and presented the Business Plan Pro software, how to use it and what it can do to help you writing your business plan… I so want this software now. There are two editions available, Premier (£129.99) and Standard (£79.99),

Sadly the workshop was the last one at Business & IP Centre for the time being due to funding issues, although I hope it will return soon. Keep an eye out for it on the Business & IP Centre website at or Palo Alto’s website.

Plumen gets award for energy saving lightbulb design

Plumen, a company based in London, has won the overall award of the Brit Insurance Designs of the Year 2011 competition. It's a "designer" energy-saving lightbulb: the Plumen 001.

Lightbulbs traditionally are dull things, but energy saving bulbs offer the potential to create new shapes. In May 2010 Plumen filed at OHIM for Community Design 001216634. One of the drawings for the registration is shown below.

Plumen light bulb design 
As you move around the room the bulb appears to change its shape.

Samuel Wilkinson was the designer, and the company who designed it is actually Hulger, a product design company. The design registration is in the name of Plumen itself. A design registration, and not a patent, was relevant because the innovation was in the looks rather than the function.

I liked the comment on the Brit Insurance Designs of the Year site that unlike standard lights it is "a beautiful light bulb designed to be seen." It also uses 80% less energy than incandescent bulbs.

28 March 2011

The Marketing Master Class – Social Media for Business

Kimberly_DavisOnce again I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the second of Kimberly Davis‘ Marketing Masters Series, this time the hot topic of Social Media for Business. See Apprentice Kim and her Marketing Masters Series for my notes from the first.

Kimberly promised us eleven ways to turn free resources into powerful marketing and sales tools, and she certainly delivered, with additional excellent contributions from Warren Cass and Stefan Thomas.

Here are my notes from the day:

Definition of Social Media – A conversation between you and your customers (or potential customers).

Why you should use it:

  • ­    Powerful
  • ­    International
  • ­    Instant
  • ­    Connects people
  • ­    No barriers
  • ­    Viral
  • ­    Easy (you don’t need to be tech savvy)
  • ­    Is the future of marketing

Pre-Social Media customer experience sharing:
Good experience – shared with 3 people, Bad customer experience – shared with 9 people

Social Media connects you to the world.

22% of online time in the US is spent on Social Networking activities.

40 million tweets per day

20% of Twitter updates mention a business or brand

The Big Four are – YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Linked In

Twitter – 190 users – more tech savvy and higher incomes
Facebook – 600 million – casual not business – B2C
Linked In – 90 million – more service based businesses.


  • ­    Half of UK population is now on Facebook
  • ­    Average user has 130 friends
  • ­    90 items of content per month on average
  • ­    Gets more visits than Google, people asking friends they trust for recommendations
  • ­    25 fans enables you to get your own facebook domain address
  • ­    Friends activities are recorded on stats page
  • ­    Only .04% of adverts work on Facebook – compared to 8% on Google
  • ­    Wall post conversions work better
  • ­    Point your adverts to your Facebook page, not out of Facebook
  • ­    Set your keyword campaign to run for two days, then go back an use same words at a lower price


  • ­    “The SMS of the Internet”
  • ­    58% of tweeps have +$60k income
  • ­    Mentions of you are visible
  • ­    Needs a better tech understanding
  • ­    Enables a direct link to people
  • ­    Search topics and see what people are saying
  • ­    You can brand your Twitter page
  • ­    Tools –, twitpic
  • ­    Hash tags – follow events and trending topics

Linked In

  • ­    Six degrees of Kevin Bacon
  • ­    Job searching
  • ­    Gatekeeper
  • ­    B2B
  • ­    Great SEO – at least put in your basic profile details
  • ­    Get recommendations for your business – much better than promoting yourself


  • ­    Owned by Google
  • ­    Increases your SEO
  • ­    For people who like to learn by watching than reading
  • ­    Can use Flip or iPhone – cheap and easy

Research – Use Social Media to find out what are people saying about you and your competitors?
Surveys – Test – Feedback

  • ­
  • ­
  • ­
  • ­
  • ­

Build a database

  • ­    Lists, groups
  • ­    Get people to register their data
  • ­    Offer something for free in order to get people to sign up
  • ­    Don’t do it the wrong way – quality is more important than quantity
  • ­

Building your Brand

  • ­    Establish yourself as an expert – answer questions
  • ­    Have an opinion
  • ­    Loyalty
  • ­    Write articles and promote
  • ­
  • ­
  • ­    What can you write about?
  • ­    What are you an expert on?

Trust is essential

  • ­    Your customers need to trust that you genuinely have their interest at heart.

The power of blogging

  • ­    Host guest bloggers who have lots of traffic
  • ­    Comment on popular blogs

Customer Service

  • ­    Monitor and respond to service issues
  • ­    Give support
  • ­    Answer questions
  • ­    Respond to people’s comments, good and bad
  • ­    People want to talk to people, not companies
  • ­    Tools
  • ­    CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
  • ­    Via

Events and promotions

  • ­    Invite
  • ­    Register
  • ­    Contests
  • ­    Direct people to your website, blog, etc
  • ­    Fundraising via sites like
  • ­    Increase awareness of who you are and what you do
  • ­    ReTweet and Follow to enter


  • ­    Keep up to date with what everyone is doing
  • ­    Who moved
  • ­    Build relationships
  • ­    The world is listening
  • ­    Reach a wider audience


  • ­    Introduce people to each other
  • ­    Pay it forward
  • ­    Recommendations – use in your marketing materials
  • ­    Like Amazon Book reviews

Recruitment and Refresh

  • ­    PR
  • ­    Create a buzz
  • ­    Viral Marketing
  • ­    What you say can go further than you think


  • ­    Promoting a sale. Launching a product
  • ­    Build rapport
  • ­    Today’s fans are tomorrow’s buyers
  • ­    Create a demand, teasers, new products etc
  • ­    Offer discounts

Create a Social Media Strategy

  • ­    What are you going to use social media for?
  • ­    Think long term
  • ­    Plan

Do you need a Social Media manager?

  • ­    Interns
  • ­    Assistance
  • ­    Virtual Assistants
  • ­    Outsourced Professionals
  • ­    Dual identities – business and personal


  • ­
  • ­
  • ­

Words of caution

  • ­    Facebook owns your photos – and changes the privacy rules regularly
  • ­    15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night
  • ­    Friends don’t equal love
  • ­    Beware of bots

26 March 2011

Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Mothers of Invention

Last week was a busy one for me with three events worth noting. The most memorable, for two reasons, was our Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Mothers of Invention evening.

One, because – sadly this is likely to be last of our Inspiring Entrepreneurs events for the foreseeable future, due to our funding running out. Secondly, because I got to show Natasha Kaplinsky around the Business & IP Centre. She got quite excited about our Success Stories, in particular the David versus Goliath saga of Mandy Haberman’s Any Way Up Cup.

Natasha had kindly agree to chair our session of four inspirational and pioneering female entrepreneurs.

Although businesses run by women contribute £130 billion a year to the UK economy, still only 15% are led by women. I am proud to say that 50% of the people we help in the Business & IP Centre are women, so we are doing our bit to help redress this inequality.

Mama-MioSian Sutherland the co-founder of Mama Mio skincare was our first speaker. Since starting five years ago Mama Mio is now distributed in 2500 stores and five spas in eight countries.

Their mission is very simple and straightforward – to be the most recommended skincare brand in the world.

Sian described the three key ingredients to competing – Business, Brand and  Product.

To her brand is the most important ingredient for long term business success. And that chimes with several of my recent blog posts on the subject of branding.

She explained how you need to gain brand loyalty using emotion, rather than price.

Sian’s vital ingredients for success:

  • ­        learn from the mistakes of others
  • ­        use the ‘why bother test’
  • ­        don’t follow trends or fads
  • ­        understand who your customer is
  • ­        know how to talk to your customers
  • ­        have a unique and own-able brand tone of voice
  • ­        deliver on every level to your customers
  • ­        make you customers feel special
  • ­        have a plan
  • ­        if it was easy, everyone would do it
  • ­        love what you do, and do what you love

Sara Murray is serial entrepreneur having founded the price comparison website, and more recently developed buddi, a miniaturised tracking device for vulnerable people..

She told us that success does not come overnight. It takes on average eight years for a business to become successful.

Buddi is Sara’s third business, and the initial idea was to give the product away and charge a rental. However this approach was rejected by her investors, so she went back with a revised plan which was accepted. So the lesson there, is be adaptable.

She said that luck favours the persistent, failure is good, and that you shouldn’t wait for the big idea to come along – just get on with it and see what happens.

Every product however good will eventually becomes obsolete, so you need to develop a range of products in order to have a successful business.

For funding, forget about the banks, use Angel investors, friends and family.

Vanessa Heywood created  Tiny Mites Music in 2004 to provide music and drama classes for pre-school children. By 2010, Tiny Mites Music was being performed in over 80 day-care nurseries and at holiday parks across the UK.

In November 2010, Vanessa was the recipient of the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs.

She told her heart-rending story of having to bring up two small children on her own while trying to cope with MS.

Shazia Awan is the founder and Director of Peachy Pink.  a ladies shaping and anti-cellulite underwear brand launched in 2009. In late 2010, Shazia introduced Max Core, shaping and posture-control garments for men.

Every bank she went to for funding said the business would fail, so Peachy Pink started with life based on her savings and credit card.

The great thing about starting your own business is that no one can tell you how to market your products.

PEACHY PINKPeach Pink was launched with fifty women walking down Oxford Street just wearing their underwear. This generated a great deal of press coverage for free.

Now Shazia has launched a search for the peachiest bottom in the UK

Last year she launched Max Core for men, a posture control clothing, purely from demand from customers. Her initial product line sold out within a week.

She feels that unique selling points are key for new products, for use in marketing and promotional activities.

Success comes from a great product, innovation and PR.

22 March 2011

Insider Trends – The Future of Online Marketing

logo_insider_trendsOnce again Insider Trends founder and all round marketing guru Cate Trotter raced through an enormous number of ideas and examples.

Tonight’s topic was the Future of Online Marketing, and she started with a shocking prediction. If Google was dominant internet power in the 2000’s, then in the 2010’s it will be Facebook. In fact Facebook already drives more traffic to some websites that Google.

An interesting example from a recent net@night with Amber and Leo is the launch of Internet legend Guy Kawasaki’s tenth book called Enchantment. Rather than building a website to promote the book, he simply created a Facebook fan page.

Here are my notes from the excellent workshop:

Online Marketing in Context

It is big and growing fast:

- UK online retail growth is predicted to grow by 20% a year.

- 30 million UK residents already access the internet every day.

- UK Broadband has grown from 40% in 2006 to 71% in 2010.

- People are prepared to spend more money online than in the past.

- Increase in use is right across the age spectrum, with 65+ the fastest growing demographic on both the internet and Facebook.

- By the end of 2011 the majority of phones in UK will be smartphones.

o        But the number of smartphone online sales are still only a tiny proportion of online retail.

Selling Online

The evolution of online retailing. The initial advantages over bricks and mortar were price and convenience.

More recently we have seen the development of rich media and additional functionality. e.g. Spotify, with online music and social media links.

The future of e-commerce will be experiential – informative – personalised – social – convenient and reliable.

Experiential – a richer, more immersive, more interactive retail experience.

- e.g. – a grocery services which allows you to layout your own allotment, which they plant for you, with a webcam to show how your veg is growing.

- – in 2010 they hosted 8,000 shoe videos on their website, and found that between 6% and 30% of viewers went on to buy a pair of shoes. So, for 2011 they plan to host 50,000 videos.

- Augmented reality

o        An IKEA app for the iPhone which places virtual furniture in you rooms.

More informative retail experiences with extra layers of information and advice.

- Amazon customer comments and recommendations system helps enhance customers buying decisions.

- have added similar approach and increased by sales  by10%

- When you are buying apples on the Tesco website, you will be asked if you want to see recipe suggestions using apples.

More personalised shopping

- – allows you to customise almost every aspect of your shirt.

- – recently bought by Google – allows you to create a personalised shopping experience.

- Tesco have released an API to open up their enormous database to developers. An example would be a recipe website which would enable you to buy all the necessary ingredients from with one click.

Social shopping

- iTunes recently went social, using Ping, enabling you to see what your friends are listening too and buy the same easily.

- Facebook Commerce (could it be the next big thing?)  - shops within Facebook which turn shopping into a social experience – evidence shows visitors are 2.5 times more likely to buy than on standard websites.

Confidence online has increased

- From marketing – to initial enquiry – to purchase – to delivery – and repair/upgrade.

- Facebook stores provide ease of access – reduced barrier to access – same familiar Facebook interface.

o        e.g. – a mini shop still inside your Facebook newsfeed. – a virtual reality changing room to preview online clothes.

- Dec 2010 Christmas online shopping experience – 45% had problems – 32% abandoned shop – 50% said they were unlikely to return.

o        One solution is 24 hour 365 days phone customer support. e.g.

o – will monitor tweets or online comments about you within the hour – currently free (positive or negative)

- Simplify payments to improve the experience

o        Amazon – one click shopping – a patented (in the US) idea.

o        PayPal can sit on any website.

o        Facebook credits – still quite new – But you can already buy them in Tesco supermarkets.


- Home delivery concerns deter 44% of online shoppers.

- Perhaps not surprising as 1 in 10 deliveries fail.

o – using local conveniences stores for collection or drop-off – already adopted by Littlewoods etc


Get the basics right first –Search Engine Optimisation is the number one thing to boost your online retailing.

The evolution of marketing

- Billboards, newspapers, TV etc.

-10 years since Internet marketing began in earnest.

- Now users have the same power and reach as companies.

- We are listening to each other, not companies – peer recommendations have value – advertising has the least impact.

o        e.g. Shoes of Prey – One teenage fan’s vlog increased their traffic by five times.

o        Facebook Facepile application – lets you see which of your friends have visited a website

o – shows what you have been buying on your credit card

How do you make your brand the thing people want to talk about and share with their friends?

Two approaches – organic and nudge:


- You need to create something special to catch people’s attention.

- Quality products and service will generate positive marketing – blogs – Facebook etc.

o – tell it the bands you like – it will send you when they are playing

- Think about putting an amazing deal on your website – people will comment on it.

o – rooms for £1, once a year

Nudge promotion – works on a sliding scale from blatant to elegant

- – a blatant form of nudging – 17 million members since 2009 – all around selling – you get points for activities – many for getting a friend to do them – if you get 20 friends, your points double.

- – less blatant – rewards for tweets and Facebook mentions

- – benefits for sharer and share.

- – service enhanced in reward for sharing with friends.

- – lets customers promote themselves.


- Facebook Connect Comment – natural sharing.

- – the value only comes when others use it – so at the elegant end of the spectrum.

Overall conclusion

The web is becoming more sophisticated, and more satisfying (much more product information) and more social.

Retailers will need to think how they are going to move from a marketing budget to satisfaction budget.

“If I had to guess, social commerce is the next area to really blow up”, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder)

21 March 2011

Green Metropolis – a million books to read again and again

GreenMetropolis Thanks once again to for this inspiring business start-up story, this time featuring books (a subject close to my heart).

They have interviewed Barry Crow the founder of Green Metropolis about  how he came to develop the site using his redundancy pay.

What’s your background and how did you come up with the idea for the site? I’m originally from Newcastle and worked for British Airways as an IT developer. I moved to London for my job and went from a 4 bedroom house to a one bedroom flat. I’m an avid reader and had loads of paperbacks. If people have space, their books go under the bed or on the shelf. I had no space and had to de-clutter everything. So I started giving them away to charity shops. 

I went through pretty much the same process; I would buy a new book every month, read it and then drop it off in a charity shop.  But I could never find books there I wanted to buy. If I had just finished a James Patterson, then I would want to read another one. But if the charity shop didn’t have it I would have to go to Waterstones and buy a new one.

After a while I just thought: this is crazy; there must be a better way to do this. That was the beginnings of the idea but I didn’t look at it properly until I lost my job.

How many people use the site?

We have about 100,000 members.

We started with 1,000 books in stock which were mostly mine, and a few of my friends. We have about a million second-hand books in stock now. Some members still buy books brand new, because they have to have it, but within a week they’ve read it and will post it on the site

What sets you aside from sites like Amazon or even eBay?

Our site is more like a book club; it’s a community doing it to benefit each other. It’s for people who want to share their books with each other and at the same time raise money for a good cause. It adds to the whole feel-good factor of the site.

When you join us, you get an online account and every time you sell, you can either have the money refunded to you or use it buy new books.

Everyone should benefit, whether buying or selling, and ideally, we want our sellers to have enough credit from sales to buy their next one on the site without ever needing to use a credit card.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

I think probably promoting the site. I have no experience with the marketing side of things. My background is computers and IT, so I didn’t have a problem with the technical side of the site. But I suppose I naively thought after 6 months that once we had a great website, people would naturally come to it.

Like I said, we’ve never advertised it, and it’s been a very slow process. I started off and it was just me and I massively underestimated the time it takes to do everything.

Where do you see the site in five years time?

I would like to be the main ethical alternative to Amazon for second hand and charity books. For myself, I would like to work a little less, so that I can read a little more.

North Wales patents library

A patents library, the first for Wales, has opened at Llandudno Junction as the North Wales centre in the Patlib UK network. My colleague Maria Lampert, Chair of Patlib UK, attended the opening ceremony and provided training.

This is a photo of the search room. It is part of a very "green" building constructed for the Welsh Assembly government. Free Internet access, an exhibition area and a cafeteria are part of the centre.

Photo of Llandudno Junction Patlib library 
The centre is open to anyone, including schools and local community groups. The centre is managed by Nia Roberts, a European patent attorney. Besides explanations of how to search databases, "one to one" meetings are available for inventors with the staff.

The next photo shows the staff. Nia is second from the right.

Photo of staff at Llandudno Junction Patlib library 
Business Link has a press release about the new centre. It is open during normal office hours, and can be contacted on 0300 062 5408 or .