Hong Kong, China and Indonesia have arrived

After booking my tickets to arrive in Hong Kong the day before my girlfriend left for China, my botched surprise visit to see her meant that I went on their family trip to Guangzhou as well.

Hong Kong is immense. This was my second visit, which again revealled more of the layers which add to its standing of world truly great cities (along with London, Paris and Tokyo). I’ve love to travel and would have done a lot more if I didn’t get so utterly addicted to snowboarding for 10 years of my life. So far I’ve been to 35 countries but can’t wait to increase that list a lot. What I consider a “truly great city” is not exactly set in hard measurements, but things like: its place in history resonating through it, feeling the current status of global power, a unique sense of place and design influences, having so much to do you know you will have to return, and being safe and secure through sheer power of numbers.

Hong Kong is a city set on so many more levels than any other city. On the ground level you are among a market place of street traders selling anything you could ever imagine, the middle floors are bars and restaurants again filled with anything you could imagine, and at the top you get pools and bars and places to watch the world. It is a hot and sweaty place that at first seems dauntingly higgldypiggldy, but whose charm unravels as you begin to learn your way around. What initially seem like endless piles: containers, tower blocks, shop goods, become a manifestation of a human hive with intricate structures and cultures that simply cannot be held back. It fills you energy and a sense that you are free to make anything happen, as has happened time and time again. I’ve seen that there is at least one startup accelerator program in Hong Kong – I think looking at property tech. It’s an obvious starting point for entering the Asian market with western business incubation concepts. The way Asians do business is often different than the UK, they defer innovation for trends. If they see someone having success they move faster to follow that concept. When launching un-tested products, rather than taking the trendy lean or agile approaches of tech startups, they launch 8 or 9 products at once and if any of them take off, they plough their resources into that product.

The people of Hong Kong are friendly. Randomly, the twice I’ve been there, they’ve done an occupy march – once for the anniversary of Tianomon Square and the second time against the Chinese government handpicking the candidates they can vote for in the up-coming elections. Each time they fill up Victoria Park with hundreds of thousands of people showing solidarity. The Chinese government censored the media for the remembrance of Tianomon Square. Watching the world news a lot on tv, there was not much mention of the second protests either. How that situation will play out is interesting – will China risk another annex by arrogantly refusing democratic principals, or will it become more flexible with it due to its newly integrating position? With democracy seemingly at a low point due to its ineffectiveness for dealing with well balanced elections and prompt or well supported decision making, it is worth keeping an eye on Hong Kong and its struggle to re-integrate with mainland China.

I then went up to Guangzhou, China for a few days. We stayed in the Sofitel hotel which was a 5* plush (and relatively very cheap) hotel. When we arrived there was a Russian delegation inside the whole place was filled with huge men with ear pieces before we were ushered to the side and the main convoy went through. I don’t know who any of them were, but one of the women looked like she could of punched a hole through enforced steel.

Guangzhou is way more developed than I expected. It was modern. It had places of real architectural beauty. It’s huge! It has a population of about 20million people! But it is well organised and actually didn’t feel too crowded.  The jewel in the crown is a very new part of the city that contains a sports arena shaped like a yacht, a new opera house and a huge, beautiful tower that is 600m high – massive. We went to the top for a look and Guangzhou just went on and on into the smoggy distance.

I read a newspaper article when I was there, which outlined the 5 richest people of China. The new richest guy was Jack Ma, following the Alibaba floatation. 3 others on the top 5 list were from technology backgrounds: 1 from renewable power, 2 from web products. This new techno-elite are replacing the property tycoons who are falling down the list and often being arrested for corruption too. Obviously, you notice not being able to access google services when in China. And Soundcloud and Twitter and others (can’t even remember if I checked facebook so much it has declined to me). I found my own website, TimeMaps, on there, which was nice as it certainly pays reference to Chinese history . I was surprised to see Wikipedia available and also any Apple service. Most people think that blocking of these websites is due to censorship, and maybe it is as I didn’t dig deep in to Wikipedia. But I began to think that it was more for economic steering that some of these websites were being blocked. Almost any search on Baidu had Alibaba flooding the first page (to raise its value before going public?).

I really can’t comment too much, I am only basing this off my own limited experience rather than a lot of research, but surely if people really wanted to communicate, they could via VPN servers or using Whatsapp (facebooks way into China?). And with Google taking over the on-line world and making a lot of money as well as developing advanced technology and keeping massive datastores about people- for an inward looking country such as China, why would they want Google in there? I would of thought it was more for economic competition than for censorship that this was happening. I wonder what is our own media casting shadows over their censorship and what is the truth? Now that Snowdon has revealed the extent of Western governments spying on its citizens, and leaders, online activity, is there any difference between the 2 systems in their keeping the truth from their citizens?

On the train back to Hong Kong, through Shenzen (which is touted as being “the next Guangzhou”), a 2 hour fast-train journey, I was surprised to see that at no real point did we ever leave built up areas. It seemed like a constant suburb interspersed by the odd large city. I can understand where the 1.2 billion people of China are now.

And I am now writing this from Jakarta. Another huge city of around 11-12 million. Its hot here, and there is a lot of traffic. Too much traffic. This is due to decades of corrupt government lining their own pockets rather than helping their people. There is a barely started MTR (underground) line currently being built very slowly and a mono-rail supposedly in production too. These will turn Jakarta into a mega city – the powerhouse of South East Asia. I say this because already you can see the wealth and investment here: it is already growing at a faster rate than Beijing.

It has everything it needs to be a great city apart from transport links and green areas. There is also a massive gap between the haves and have nots. There needs to be a higher minimum wage and better transport. Once people can move more easily, and safely, both physically and up the social ladder, then it is ripe for growth on a huge scale. Currently, the working classes drive on motorbikes or the very poor public bus service. They rely on this to get to their £125 a month minimum wage jobs. They cannot afford to purchase the motorbikes outright, so they have to use credit. This makes them cost twice as much and ties them into their job. Most of the jobs are soul-sapping service jobs with limited room to progress up the ladder. I hate to think that the next Einstein is out there, working in a Seven Elven.

The difference between the working and middle classes is huge. The middle classes have money to burn and enjoy the abundant and cheap luxury that is available. Many (/most) middle classes have maids and drivers to support them, again offering a stable environment for their staff, but with little opportunity to invest heavily in their families future.

I would like to see cheaper credit or alternative finance schemes for the motorbikes. I would also love to see these be made electric with very cheap electricity provided by their employers. This would get rid of the need for the current subsidies on fuel which are only for the poor, but which is open to gaming of the system. The price of fuel could rise significantly for the affluent middle classes – the environment would also benefit.

The incoming President has a tough job to turn Indonesia’s promise of success into a reality. Not only must he overcome the legacy of a violent incumbent political elite, and a cabinet that is out of his favour currently, but he must win the confidence of the people with sound policy and reduction of corruption. I wish him all the best as he is a symbol of change in a great nation held back by the greed of its previous rulers.

In summary, my trip to the East has been amazing and would recommend any of these places to people. Anyone who was ever in doubt about the potential of the east to overtake the west needs to come and understand that, yes, it might take time (in the case of Indonesia), but often it has already happened.

Now to forget about all this people stuff and head to Bali to the beach 🙂


Land Wiki enters the Hub Westminster Launchpad Accelerator Scheme

My new venture is now fully embedded in the Hub Launchpad Accelerator Program!

This means we have taken a round of seed funding, have a super cool new office on Haymarket, just off Piccadilly Circus, and have undertaken our first week of an intensive 14 week program. land wiki logo

The name of the project is: Land Wiki ( subject to change). Land Wiki is trying to achieve two goals with one website:

  1. Make it easier for residents to discuss and change land in their local area that has the potential for better use.
  2. Provide a comprehensive database of available land for individuals, community groups and property developers that are searching for land.

Its been a fun but gruelling first week where we’ve been stretched and tested, repeatedly challenged our assumptions, we’ve pitched, been mentored, we’ve ‘got out the building’, we’ve designed products for people with disabilities, and we’ve met a lot of cool people.

Watch this space for an update and our first publicly available demo!

The Decoy Option

Adapted from Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

After years of wanting to go to both, you have been presented the option of either taking a city break in Rome or one in Paris for the first time in your life. Both have a romantic ambience, culture, history, art, fabulous restaurants, and great shopping. The options are very comparable: stay in a nice hotel with breakfast each morning.

So, assuming there were no other overriding factors in your decision, how would you chose which one to go to? Probably not an easy call.

Well, what if another option was thrown in. This option is a decoy. It is comparable in every way but it does not include the option of breakfast on the Rome trip.

Suddenly it appears that the option of taking breakfast on the Rome trip is a lot more special. If it is possible to directly compare Rome without breakfast to Paris with breakfast; Rome with breakfast seems like a very attractive option.

Using techniques like this is common by salesmen. It is used by websites to create pricing options. How offers in supermarkets are made.

The concept behind this is that, people struggle to know the value of something, but they are good at seeing the comparative advantage of one offer over another. When using decoys, you can artificially weight particular options more heavily than others. The author gave many examples of this and the evidence is very strong.

How to reach mass audiences

The more I think about the book “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore, the more I think it is an accurate and fundamental book to any software developer. It makes so much sense and I think surmises the position of my own company nicely. I’m not saying he brings anything new to the table but it was certainly the first time I had been introduced to the software product life cycle curve and how to traverse it to the point of reaching the majority groups of users – mostly where the real money is.

product life cycle curve

To summarise the product life cycle curve it is the introduction, growth, maturity and decline of a product in a market. It actually makes a good comparison between it and world views. If you lined everyone up in the world, you would find  that most people had a moderate political view and then at either end of the line the views would become more extreme. To draw this as a graph it would be a bell curve, bulging in the middle with moderate world views.

The same can be said about people’s adoption of new technology: you have some people loving to use a new product immediately and have the newest stuff (innovators); others may see its potential and so wish to gain competitive advantage quickly by using it (early adopters); but most people want to wait until it is fully complete, glitch free, robust product (early majority); or that it’s too hard to ignore because everyone else is using it (late majority). It’s easy to see this with popular products now such as Twitter. There were millions of people using Twitter – using it to form communities, share resources, self promoting- before it really became huge – and then its potential for communicating with existing and potential customers, creating a human side to a brand, following their favourite celebs. Now even my mum is on it- to follow anything at all she wants, as everyone is on it (@Jonnybritton BTW 🙂 ).

When a software product is being developed, it is usually far from the finished article until it had been thoroughly tested against the vast majority of use cases. It is almost impossible to market, sell and gain feedback about the product to everyone at once. Therefore a particular market must be targeted initially. This market place will have common features, be well connected with each other and ideally have a product they currently use that can be displaced by your superior product- you use the existing product in the market to position yourself against eg, brand x is like brand y but I’d better because x,y,z. It saves having to educate the market. Anyhow, by selling into this market place a product can be refined and made more complete before moving onto new markets.

So, within the initial market place chosen to launch a tech (is it only tech following this model?) product into you have to consider this graph of people. First of all the innovators and early adopters need to be reached out to, with messages that speak particularly to them. These users become your best friends and help you hone the product into a more complete thing to use by the masses.

There is a big difference between your early sets of users and your majority groups. It is the skill of a team to enhance the product, change the marketing messages, price points etc to attract in these different types of customer.

I think this tells the story of our product nicely. When we launched people were just buying it because it was new and cool. When we asked what they liked about it that’s what they said: it’s cool. Not that useful to us but nice to know (and also made an inelastic price which was nice). Our next set of customers would buy in bulk at big discount on behalf of institutions, seeing the early phase of the product and wanting to come on our journey as we improved it but having got in early with a good price. Then we started to reach more discerning audiences and they were not buying so much, they wanted more from it. This has been a very hard stage of our business- selling to a “standard customer” and enhancing our product so its more like they want. It seems we are in the “Chasm” talked about in the book- the gap between different types of customer. However, it does give us great hope that we will soon be reaching large audiences and with a better product.

I actually think that it is this part of a software development process that the government should help out more. In order to reach our larger market places, and build the teams we need to get there, we are almost expected to go for VC funding or get into huge amounts of debt. Crowdfunding is a more recent option. But more support could be offered. Understanding of the Product Life Cycle graph and the types of customers you will meet along the way could significantly help umbrella organisations to support entrepreneurs move faster or fail less. Teams are needed and well skilled or trained purple to help software companies properly add to the economy without just getting lucky.

The Crossing the Chasm book does an amazing job of guiding you through how to market and sell along the full product life cycle curve. I believe it is a must read for start up companies.

A Lean Experiment

The Lean Startup is a book, by Eric Ries, which highlights Japanese manufacturing rapid-prototyping methodology as great approach for software development. Rather than doing time consuming market research and then building a finished product that you hope people will like, the Lean approach advocates building an early stage iteration and releasing it immediately for users to comment on and guide it’s development, by quickly releasing updates and monitoring their effect.

Our business has recently launched a new product that is potentially going to be a really useful to it’s target audience. We’re taking a  “lean” approach to it’s production and have put up a very early stage BETA version on the site that people can register (with a wufoo form linked to a mailchimp account) for and download (using dropbox).

From the outset users are made aware that they are downloading a development product. Once they have downloaded it they enter into a chain of 9 mailchimp auto-responder emails ( 1 every 5 days) set up to incentive them to give us feedback. The emails are written very delicately and aim to be fun to read and warm people to us.

In return for giving us feedback, we offer them some very decent incentives: one of our other products completely free, the finished version of this product (they can only currently download the free version, the full version has not been built yet) at a massive discount, the option of buying all of products and getting this product free, and, of course, our eternal gratitude.

The aim of the feedback we receive is to guide our future shaping of the product, in terms of content (it is a learning resource), price (we can vary this to measure uptake), and delivery method.

We will know that the Lean experiment has been a success if we manage to tweak (based on user feedback) the above factors to the point where users are madly sharing the free product around, we have got great feedback that the product achieves its learning objectives, and that people are pre-ordering the full version before it is released.

Can we improve this experiment? Let me know..

Increase Sales On-line

People say don’t sell by price; sell by perceived value. How much does this product/ service improve the current situation? How much is that worth?

If you can get that right, you will have the basics of a sales pitch. What else is there? This is my non-exhaustive list based on my experience of being a non-salesperson trying to sell my products:

– Knowing your competition and your unique selling proposition compared to them;
– “…..” (Insert name there) is using the product eg. Add credibility;
– ‘pre-selling’, which is to make people like you or your company, or that you talking in the same tone, with same viewpoint as them. That you understand them. Put pictures up oc yourself and a non-selling About Us page;
– removing friction from a sale- eg. Spelling errors, bad use of language or anything that puts a doubt in peoples mind about the quality of the product. Another point here is one that works for us, but not sure how many others- we took down our free trial – of which we had a 1/20 conversion rate, and experimented with static pages, text and images. This not only increased revenue (curiosity? Less distraction from the selling process?) over time, but it also meant I had more time to get on with my other jobs. It is likely we will put a trial back up when we have more resources to properly follow up the leads;
– awareness of what stage your product is at in terms of its life cycle, eg. Beta, early stage, full product- this will help you speak the right language to the type of customer you are dealing with (innovator, early adopter, mass etc), who all have different requirements from the product.

Hopefully I will add more here as I learn them.

Please give me some more tips!

Asking for more from organisations that get too big to care

Have you ever wondered why there are seemingly obvious things that the government could fix but it doesn’t. Easy examples could be better recycling collection schemes or care for the elderly.

Why do these problems persist? Because they are not accounted for by supply and demand economics. There is no financial gain to look at an economically dependant group and improve their lives. This is also why there are very few, if any, start up companies taking on the challenge.

This apathy towards un-profit making activities happens everywhere without us noticing. Corporations like Microsoft and Google do not innovate in the ways they could because their is no financial incentive.

I read this article today which makes this point very clearly:

Among many good points, it looks at the Cloud. The race is on to make sharing easy, improving speed and making space accessible, but this bypasses years of Moore’s law hammering down prices and increasing the power of processors inside our devices. With this power we could run background semantic activities that improve our individual performance and output. By connecting up and contextualising our previous files and documents we could draw upon greater resources and easily find information. But why do that when the space is moving towards small devices and cloud storage?

I think the article is a must read for any one involved in digital. And the thinking around it can be taken down many routes. What are the opportunities for start ups doing good, not making money? What research has been done into the past offs for providing ancillary cool products? How can the government or big organisations work with businesses for good causes?