Monday, July 30, 2007

Let's do the dotcom again

Oh lord. The Guardian's technology section has come up with a list of top 10 British dotcoms to watch:
The boom is back. In Britain, the internet doldrums took a long time to disappear – but in recent years the startup buzz is back in the air and fresh ideas are starting to blossom.
Driven by the surge of Web 2.0 sites and the widespread penetration of broadband, Britain's dot economy is growing fast and – for now at least – there are no real signs of a bust on the horizon.

And the ten are, apparently in order:
1. Dopplr - Social networking for frequent travellers.
2. Extate - Intelligent search of property websites.
3. Garlik - Online identity management.
4. MindCandy - Alternate reality gaming.
5. Moo - Print on demand: cards, notes and stickers.
6. OnOneMap - Map-based property search.
7. Touch Local - Local directory services.
8. Trusted Places - User-created local information.
9. Zopa - Peer to peer lending.
10. Zubka - Recruitment 2.0.

Should I be concerned that, as far as I can recall, I've only really heard of one of those before? (And that was Zopa, which has been around for quite a few years now.) I'll have to have a poke around them when I've got a mo - as it is, some of them hardly sound ground-breaking (Local directory services, user-created info? Like no one's lost money on them before), while others just sound, well, a bit naff. Still, so long as no one's raising millions to sell online dogfood again...


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Touched by an angel

New research on business angel investment from Stephanie Macht of Newcastle Business School seems to confirm what the angels themselves always say - the biggest benefit isn't so much the money itself as the post-investment strategic assistance.

According to the school's press release, the survey of active angel investors found that:
activities such as formulating strategies impact most positively upon investees' success. The study also concluded that becoming an employee or a member of the company's management team had the least positive effect.
Despite the widely acknowledged importance of business angels to UK small firms, little was previously known about their involvement and impact after they have invested. Miss Macht said she hoped her study would shed light on how growing companies can best work with their angels.

The release doesn't make clear whether the findings are based on the actual performance of the investee companies or the angels' perceptions of their performance - obviously the former would make more rigourous findings.

For a feature I wrote for Real Business last year on how to work with business angels, see here.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Where there's a will

A magnificently inarguable headline from the Yorkshire Post:
Man who left Tories £8m in his will was 'deluded and insane'

Actually, it turns out to be quite a sad story, and the Tories probably aren't doing themselves many favours by fighting the family for the money.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bad Business

Sad news for tech journalism - the New York Times reports that the venerable Business 2.0 magazine is likely to be shut down by its owners at Time Inc ('venerable' here means that it survived the post-dotcom tech crash and more or less thrived since). The readership's been pretty stable in recent years, but ad revenue has plummeted, apparently following a particular piece of management stupidity -
Current and former Time Inc. employees point to what appears to have been an ill-advised move this year to combine the advertising sales teams of Time Inc.’s finance and business publications, which include Fortune, Money,, Fortune Small Business and Business 2.0.
Consolidated under a single banner, Time Inc.’s Business and Finance Network (or Tibfin, as it is known inside the company), Time sales representatives stopped pitching the distinct appeal and audience of Business 2.0 to focus on the larger titles like Fortune.
That often turned Business 2.0 into an afterthought; big advertisers like Microsoft and Intel were offered discounts on other Time Inc. business titles if they would also buy pages in Business 2.0.

Sharing ad teams over disparate titles is a pretty common tactic (though far from ubiquitous) at smaller publishers, but I'm quite surprised to see it at this level. Still, it'll hardly be the first time that bad management decisions have scuppered a good title. My sympathies are with all the journos affected.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Fopp flops, and other pop shop ops

Following the collapse of the Fopp chain, the Guardian reports on the prospects for the good old high street music store. It's a pretty bleak view, for all the usual reasons of internet shopping, downloads and supermarket discounting. However, as reporter Adam Webb notes:
it is beyond the mainstream that things get really interesting. A few hundred yards into Soho are a score of different worlds: the specialist retailers. Take the dance and electronic music specialist Phonica. Tastefully decked out in wood and with a Perspex bubble chair in the window, it is defiantly leftfield, with 90% of its sales coming from vinyl.
These days, a small independent store dabbling in anything remotely mainstream would be commercial suicide[...]
a Central Line trip to Brick Lane in east London finds the most optimistic view of the independent record store. This is where Rough Trade will open its ambitious superstore later this month, after closing its minuscule Covent Garden branch. The 5,000 sq ft space will incorporate a coffee shop, a "snug" (in other words a lounging area, with free wi-fi) and a performance space. The aim, says store director Stephen Godfroy, is to "rediscover the joy of browsing" - connecting retail with the overall music experience, and attracting en masse the sort of fans who will pay a premium for this kind of service and recommendation.

A worthy aim, and probably the best bet for keeping record shops alive (I write here as someone who's previously been accused of keeping Manchester's Piccadilly Records afloat through my vinyl habit). The irony is that one of my all-time favourite friendly independent record shops was, some ten years ago or more, Fopp in Edinburgh.

OK, so Fopp accelerated its growth by changing its emphasis from having a real quality and depth of product to a pile-em-high/sell-em-cheap philosophy, but it lost something of its soul in the process. They did remain probably the best of the chains, and I was certainly no stranger to their Sheffield store (preferred it when it was the Warp shop, of course), but they did seem to bite off more than they could chew when they bought the Music Zone chain out of administration earlier this year. The two chains always made for an interesting comparison - while their basic model was very similar, Fopps were usually pretty pleasant, vaguely cool places to shop, while Music Zones were simply awful, with the fly-by-night air of a permanent closing-down sale.

The Sheff Fopp had even started stocking vinyl again. I reckon this is probably a necessary feature to attract the serious music shopper - its superior sound quality aside, flicking through racks of CDs (click click click click) just isn't the same.


A change in the wind

Are two middling-sized wind turbines less intrusive than one large one? Apparently so. The new 'Factory of the Future' development at the Advanced Manufacturing Park on the Sheffield/Rotherham border, has secured planning permission for two 56 metre turbines. That should help the development achieve its aim of being the UK's first totally carbon neutral factory building.

As previously noted, the original plan was for a single turbine of around 90 metre. Peel Airports, part-owners of the former Sheffield City Airport nearby, objected to this on the grounds that it could potentially endanger aircraft (extremely low-flying aircraft, that is) heading towards the airport - a curious objection, given that Peel has been busy closing the airport down to redevelop as a business park. Other objections were scarecely less ludicrous - another AMP tenant apparently complained that the turbines would be distracting to its own staff when they ate their butties outside.

The AMP happily avoided serious damage during the recent floods in South Yorkshire (despite Catcliffe, the nearest village, being swamped), thanks to being on the slightly higher ground of the former Orgreave colliery. As climate change is likely to make such extreme weather events more common, one hopes that even Peel Airports can begin to see the point of carbon-neutral development.

Meanwhile, here's a CNN report on the Factory of the Future and the work of the Advanced Manufacturing Reseach Centre, focusing on their work with Boeing. The commentary seems a bit Sesame Street to local ears ("On the site of this nasty coal strike..."), but it's a decent overview of what's going on.

Labels: ,