Tech for Good Meetup


Lily hosted a great Tech for Good Meetup yesterday evening at Google Campus.

Oh and of course if you have an idea for using tech for good – come and talk to us because applications are open.

Bitcoin and me

Bitcoin is in the news again thanks to another scare. I think the obsession stems from the fact that it is a currency so people intrinsically understand it over other types of digital technology with less analogies in everyday life.

I haven’t bought any Bitcoin or similar. My take is that individual digital crypto-currencies will come and go over the next few years while the legacy technologies (pounds, dollars, euros etc) persist. Eventually though, and it will take a while, there will be a single global currency outside the control of Governments or individual institutions. The technology is out of the box – but I wouldn’t want to bet yet on which of the many thousands that will be created will win out.

Switching to Android

Since my Fairphone arrived I’ve had an enforced switch from iOS to Android. First impressions were good and now a few weeks into the experience I have to say that I think I prefer Android. It’s actually not a big shift – all of the apps that I was using on the iPhone are available as Android apps and then there are a few things that are better such as Google Now. I also prefer the calendar app on Android having never found one that really worked for me on iPhone.

The only downside has been the BBC apps which just aren’t quite as good. The iPlayer radio app is very glitchy and it feels like they just haven’t put much effort into it which is a shame. My conclusion so far is that Android is definitely going to continue to grow and from what the teams tell me at BGV they now find it easier to develop for Android than for iOS. The stores are also less idiosyncratic and there’s more freedom to do what you want.

The FLII Circus

I don’t do many talks because I find most conferences a bit boring but every now and then I get invitations that are too good to refuse. This week I’ve been in beautiful Mexico at the FLII conference for impact investors in Merida, Yucatan.

It’s my first time in Mexico and I’ve found it really interesting to learn what’s going on here. The economy is beginning to bloom partly as a result of manufacturing becoming more expensive in China but also because a generation of young Mexicans educated around the world have begun to return (this Time article from last week goes into some of the political changes).

FLII was interesting just for the contrast with the impact investing community in Europe. There are similarities of course but I’ve never been to any events in Europe with quite the same energy or warmth. It was also great to meet people from Smart Impact in Mexico and Pipa in Brasil. Both do similar things to BGV but with important local differences. In my main presentation I talked about some of the ventures we’ve supported and then 10 principles for early stage impact investing which we try to hold ourselves to. The slides are here and if the talk video gets posted I’ll link to it.  

My heartfelt thanks to the teams at CO_, New Ventures and Picnic for inviting me. It’s been an amazing week.



Voice recognition is getting there

The other thing that got me thinking in ‘Her’ was the way that voice is the main interface with technology. It got me thinking about how far speech recognition and using the voice to manipulate technology had come on and wondering how close to reality the way that Theodore uses it in the film is today.

So for the last couple of days I’ve been trying out the ‘enhanced dictation’ in OS X Mavericks. It’s so much better than I expected and although you do feel a bit stupid talking to your computer, I wonder whether it could start to change things. Writing is such a big part of what I do and while I’m pretty good at typing, I think speech recognition could change the way I write. I’m already finding that I think differently when I have to speak out loud and I wonder whether it will make my writing feel more natural over time.

At the moment though, you always have to go back and edit any copy that you’ve dictated to the computer – I’m certainly doing that with this piece. But reading around the topic a little it seems that the voice recognition gets better over time as it learns from your habits. I think it would also have to change the way that offices are designed if everybody is going to be talking out loud. Theodore’s office in the film didn’t seem very realistic to me acoustically.

Also interestingly, there isn’t a ‘delete’ function in voice recognition on Mavericks yet which is pretty important in the film. That and the fact that all the computers seem to be made of wood – which I think is pretty cool.

Cautionary tales about tech

There seem to be a lot of cautionary tales about technology around at the moment. I saw ‘Her’ last weekend and like all good sci-fi, it’s not really about technology, but it does raise some interesting questions.

Over Christmas I also read The Circle by Dave Eggers which takes a while to get going but is a great read. It’s the being forced to live your life under surveillance – the tyranny of openness – that I find most troubling.

I also caught Disconnect a few weeks ago which in some ways was the scariest of them all showing three stories of the internet multiplying crime and malicious behaviour very quickly – all of them very believable. A bit like Hollywood does Tom Scott.

Technology isn’t good or evil but it does have values baked into it. It’s up to you what you do with it but it’s also up to us as the founders, engineers, designers and marketeers to make it as positive as we can.

Growing the BGV team

We’ve just put a job advert up on the Bethnal Green Ventures site for a General Manager to come and work with us. It will be a very fun time to join the team as things are just starting to get interesting. You’ll be working very closely with Glen, Lily, Melanie and me and will most likely come in part way through our current programme working with the teams we’ve just selected. Everybody on the team has a role in choosing the startups we work with as well as developing our long term strategy and how we work together. Just drop me a line if you have any questions and please do spread the word to people who might be interested.

Tricky business – intro

I’ve played a role in the development of a few startups now. We’re up to 31 through BGV and I’ve seen about 20 others at very close quarters. After a while you start to gain some pattern recognition – most situations that come up I’ve seen a variant of before. It’s never quite the same but I can usually think of an example or somebody that it would be useful for a founder to talk to so they can get an insight about what they’re thinking about or doing.

I thought some of that might be worth sharing so, in the spirit of New Years’ Resolutions, each week (on Thursdays) I’ll try to blog about something that’s tricky about starting a social venture. I’ll try to keep it specific and while I’ll base my thoughts on real experience, I’ll anonymise the startups and people concerned. I’ll try not to say “do this or do that” because every situation is different and you’ll need to think it through for yourself.

If there’s something you’d like me to cover but you don’t want to ask publicly, just drop me an email – I’m pretty easy to find. I promise to keep any information confidential.

Tips for pitching at a Social Innovation Camp

Although we haven’t organised a Social Innovation Camp in the UK for a little while (we’ve been a bit busy with Bethnal Green Ventures), we do help people in other countries run them. The most recent was in Kosovo last weekend and Dan asked me for a few tips for the teams about what they should include in their pitch. Here’s what I suggested for five slides:

  1. Tell a story to get people emotionally engaged with the problem you’re trying to solve and show how important it is.
  2. Explain your solution in words as simply as you can – show people a demo if you have one
  3. Explain how people will find out about your solution
  4. Say a little bit about how it will make money – show proof that people want to pay for it if you have some
  5. Tell them why you’re the best team to make it happen and what help you need.

Of course this won’t work if you’re pitching at an AngelHack Hackathon for McDonalds (oh good grief)- but that’s probably for another post.

I for one welcome our new owlish overlords

You’ve got to love the difference between the US and UK every now and then. Amazon and Waterstones go for pre-Christmas PR in very different ways.