The Future of The Coal Exchange

16 Sep
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Image by Richard Szwejkowski – https://www.flickr.com/photos/68112440@N07/

Anyone who’s spent any time in Cardiff Bay over the last decade or so will be well aware of the ongoing saga of the Coal Exchange. My history in the city is inextricably entangled with it, from working in there, playing in there, and trying to avoid parking wardens around there. Recently the owners of the building have gone into administration, leaving its beautiful, slumping, scaffolding-clad features to rot even further. However, MP Stephen Doughty has expressed an interest in putting together a group of people to consider ways in which it can be saved.

In light of this, after volunteering my services to Stephen, I canvassed my friends on Twitter and Facebook to see what they would do with the building if there were no financial constraints.

You can read their brilliant, insightful, and often funny, responses here. Do any of these sound like something you’d be interested in?

How to spot a Facebook spam account

9 Sep

0_0_0_0_250_391_csupload_57721405I run the Facebook group for Cardiff Start. We now have 900+ group members, which means we attract quite a few spammers looking to use our, erm, “social reach” for their own dirty needs.

I’ve got pretty good at spotting the spam accounts now, and quickly dispatch them into the Ignore pile. Although, in fairness, it’s usually not that difficult. They are almost always automatically created accounts that tend to follow a few basic rules, so it doesn’t take a huge brain to weed them out. But here’s my handy guide anyway:

  • First of all, they’re most likely to have assigned themselves a different gender to the one that their profile pic may suggest. This isn’t a case of them being a legitimate member of the transgender community. This is a case of them uploading a picture of a (usually hot) girl, but not actually changing the default male gender on a new FB account.
  • On that note – are they devastatingly attractive, with an apparent ability to take studio quality photos of themselves? Yeah, in which case they’re a bot.
  • Do they have an astonishingly small amount of friends (less than 100, usually) for someone that young and attractive? I assume they’re trying not to accrue too many friends too quickly, so as not to trigger Facebook’s spam police. Or maybe they just have a small circle of other co-operative bots that they mutual friend up. Either way – OUT.
  • The have a vaguely ridiculous name. “Parkington Fortitude”? Do one.
  • Do they like a lot of stuff. Like a LOT. Are they in hundreds of groups? Especially ones that start with “Buy and Sell”. Yep, they’re a spammer.
  • Are the groups oddly alphabetical? (e.g. Cardiff Start, Carlisle Buy and Sell, Cartons of Milk…). Surefire spambot.
  • They have only been on Facebook a few months – then they’re either your auntie Irene, or they’re a spammer.
  • They look like someone has just uploaded a stock photo of the most generic businessman/woman they could find. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anyone with hair quite that glossy.

Each of these eight points on their own isn’t enough to be 100% sure that you’re dealing with some spam farm somewhere.

Secular Retreat

30 May

A while back I wrote on a different blog about my belief that there should be more secular retreats. The entrepreneur in me almost said there was a gap in the market for them.

What I’m talking about is a weekend, or maybe longer, where people could come together for relaxation, reflection, and decompression. The point would be to have an environment that was free of religion and woo, which most retreats seem to be built upon. But I think some things that are often associated with woo (e.g. meditation, yoga) can be valuable if presented in a non-woo way. So this would be a weekend in an environment where your chakras don’t get realigned, and anyone mentioning homeopathy is only doing so in the punchline to a joke. I’ve no problem with spiritualism, religion, or alternative lifestyles that encompass such things, but they often seem to have the monopoly on self-awareness, reflection, and taking stock.

Edit: To clarify – this is not about anti-religion. Anyone of any faith or belief system would be more than welcome to attend, and even discuss their beliefs. It’s more that the activities and focus of the weekend (if there are any) would not be focused or founded in any religious or spiritual belief.

Over the last couple of years (3.5 since I originally wrote that blog post) I’ve been kicking the idea around in my head, mainly because it’s something I’d value. And it occurred to me that I might organise something.

It might be in a big cottage, or a village hall. It might have loads of structured activity, or it might have none. It might be full of technology, or I may confiscate all electronic kit at the door. Whatever it is, I’d be interested to know what others think. And to that end, I’ve created this very quick and simple survey, which I’d be grateful if you could fill in. It’s completely anonymous (unless you provide your email address, of course).

Oh, and yes, I am slightly regretting the theme of the form I chose below. Was going for something upbeat. But it just looks like a two year old’s birthday party…..

 

A life of simplicity

8 May

ImageI’m always thinking about ways to simplify my life (although seldom achieving it). I’m sure if you went back through this blog you’d find more than a few posts on the topic. Anyway, today I stumbled across this quote from one of my favourite books, Three Men In A Boat, by Jerome K Jerome. It sums up in a beautiful way the importance of a simple life.

“You know we are on a wrong track altogether. We must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the things that we can’t do without.”

George comes out really quite sensible at times. You’d be surprised. I call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our trip up the river of life, generally. How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.

How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha’pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with – oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all! – the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the criminal’s iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!

It is lumber, man – all lumber! Throw it overboard. It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars. It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment’s freedom from anxiety and care, never gain a moment’s rest for dreamy laziness – no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o’er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the sombre- waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchis, or the blue forget-me-nots.

Throw the lumber over, man! Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

You will find the boat easier to pull then, and it will not be so liable to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does upset; good, plain merchandise will stand water. You will have time to think as well as to work.

I must have read the book three or four times (I can’t recommend it highly enough – brilliant and hilarious), but I don’t ever remember this passage.

I’ll look out for it next time.

Mapping happiness in Cardiff

23 Feb

*Update – there’s a rough map prototype running here, or click on “Happiness Map” at the top*

Update 2 – listen in from 50 mins here to hear me talk about the map on BBC Radio Wales, and read about it and watch a short video on WalesOnline.co.uk

I’ve recently thinking about which areas of Cardiff and its surroundings that I would like to live in. I have lots of friends all over the city, and they all have varying experiences. I wondered how easy it would be to map this stuff, and also what questions to ask. And that’s where I need your help…

It got me thinking about the process of finding out where people enjoy living, and the possible automation of it all. As anyone who knows me knows, I’m not a coder, but have enough technical knowledge that I can just about operate WordPress… ;-)

So, what would be the easiest/cheapest way of mapping people’s satisfaction with where they live in Cardiff, or any other city?

It would arguably be possible to analyse social media, based on location and keywords, but that would take huge amounts of time and coding/analysis. Or you could generate an online survey to ask people about their satisfaction with where they live, and then map the results. The second option seems more logical to me, but could that be automated easily (with no little/no coding knowledge)?

I’m not really too worried about the broad socio-economic factors that contribute to a lot of this stuff. I think they’re too deep and complex. You’d expect the quality of life, and therefore broad life satisfaction, of people who live in prosperous Radyr to be better than those who live in Tremorfa. And there’s too many factors involved that I’m not qualified to evaluate. I’m effectively trying to establish how happy people are with where they live, rather than their lives in general. It’s not about happy they are, but how happy they are with where they live.

If you were to do a survey, values taken (e.g. scored 1-10) could include “How much do you like your neighbours?”, “How convenient is it to live where you do?”, “Are you happy with your house/flat?”, along with a postcode. I’m happy to do this manually if necessary, as I’m only looking for a broad overview. I suppose more than anything I’m looking for a way to automate the plotting of that data to the map without any heavy tech knowledge required.

I envisage the resulting map of the city to have some visual representation of the aggregate “scores” that everyone gave, plotted against the postcodes. One example of how it might look….

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So, my questions are:

  • What platforms, if any, could I use to automate this?
  • What would be the best data to collect, and in what format?
  • What simple questions (to which their could be a numerical response?) would you ask to ascertain how happy someone is with their street/neighbourhood?
  • What would make this map useful or interesting to you?

Any thoughts very gratefully received in the comments below!

Seedcamp, Tech City, and why Cardiff isn’t so far behind

6 Feb

I’m sat on a train, steaming through the dark, wet English countryside back to Cardiff. We’ve just left the outskirts of London, where I’ve spent the day mentoring at the accelerator, Seedcamp. About 20 startup teams had been subjected to a week of intense development, criticism, coding, praise, and very little sleep. The 4th day of mentoring from entrepreneurs, experts, and innovators was the penultimate session before they were presented with their final challenge: a day of pitching to potential investors.

After listening to a speed pitch from each startup, us mentors were split into small teams, and circulated around as many startups as we could fit into a frenetic five hour period. We spent time with new companies doing everything from the super technical (bitcoin payment systems and video compression software), to more recognisable problems (web checkout form analytics and cashless payment in nightclubs).

The organisation by Seedcamp was fantastic, and they’d brought together some amazing startups. The critical mass of great people (both startup founders and mentors) with fantastic ideas all in one room was incredibly energising, and made me think about our own scene in Cardiff. And I ended up dwelling upon a few key differences that stood out between London and our own small capital.

Confidence
First and foremost, all the startup founders I met believed they should be there. Even the very small number that arguably shouldn’t have been. I think too many of us, myself included, have fallen into the trap of believing that what we’re doing isn’t as good as the stuff being churned out in the bright lights of London. We assume that they’re more technically literate, have better ideas, and come up with ideas before we could. And that’s just not true in the vast majority of cases.

Skills
While it’s true that the general level of startup building skill (in business development terms) is higher in London, most of the basic theories and concepts they’re applying are things that can be taught in a day or so. With a mixture of these skills, the confidence to go for it, and the belief that they are the right person/team to bring that product to market, we’d very soon be seeing a lot more high growth tech startups coming out of South Wales. In conjunction with Cardiff Start, I’m personally making it a priority for the next 12 months to help startups in Cardiff gain these skills.

There are plenty of things other than skills and confidence that separate us, of course. Access to finance, and the opportunity and network effects that come with being in a huge cluster, for a start. But the upshot of this blog post is that there was nobody there with more talent, skill, ideas or heart than we have in Cardiff. In fact, there were one or two startups there that had great ideas, but weak execution and route to market. I can think of at least five Cardiff startups off the top of my head that would have more than held their own amongst the Seedcamp cohort and would be in with a great shout of attracting investment via such an accelerator, and therefore scaling quickly and helping put Cardiff on the map.

The previous day I’d had my quarterly meeting with the Tech City team, along with representatives of 10 or so other regional clusters, discussing how we can all contribute to the future of the UK as a global centre of excellence and economic strength in the world of tech. Most of the other regions are suffering the same pains as us, and we’re all going to have to find ways to compete in this hugely dynamic global market. And in so doing, we may have to accept that we’ll have to send some startups off to accelerators like Seedcamp and investment opportunities in other cities, where they will gain confidence and be exposed to greater opportunity. And then hopefully bring those skills and confidence back, and reinvest their time and money into the next generation of Cardiffian startups.

But the encouraging fact is that despite being much, much smaller than a super-cluster like London, Cardiff is really not that far behind at all.

p.s. My personal favourite startups on the day. Formisimo and Wodd. Both run by lovely guys with a clear vision, and great energy. Definitely ones to watch.

The coolest small businesses in Wales

18 Dec

Earlier this week Dylan Jones Evans tweeted an article that listed The Coolest Small Businesses in America.

Without wanting to get into a big semantic ramble about the definition of “cool” (do they have to be creative and consumer-focused to get the required cool-factor?), it’s clear that some of the businesses listed in that article are big hipster nonsense that probably won’t be around by the time the next Arcade Fire album is released. But it did make me wonder what our coolest businesses are in Wales.

So here’s a couple off the top of my head – it’s going to be south Wales heavy, ill thought out, and just a handful. It’s by no means meant to be comprehensive. Just a starting point. I’d love to hear your thoughts of who I’ve missed in the comments below. It would be nice to have a list of Wales’s finest and coolest!

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Milgi

Arguably the coolest place in Cardiff to eat, drink and be merry. Responsible for a whole host of arty happenings and general fun times. And they’ve got a yurt!

Spillers
Famously the world’s oldest record store, and run with astonishing enthusiasm and knowledge by its owners and staff, Spillers is pure proof that you don’t have to be new to be cool.

Porters
An increasingly popular hangout in the capital, which hosts everything from cool networking events to themed cinema nights.

Tiny Rebel
Gorgeous beers are the staple of Newport’s only micro-brewery. They’ve branched out to taking over a venue in Cardiff (Urban Tap House).

Dizzyjam
Over 5,000 bands, DJs, record labels and venues worldwide use Dizzyjam to easily and freely sell their merchandise. Disclaimer – I founded it.

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From WaterlooTea.com

Waterloo Tea
A genuinely world-class tea house, with three venues across the city/Penarth. Gorgeous teas, coffees, cakes and sandwiches. What these guys don’t know about tea isn’t worth knowing.

Yello Brick
Yello Brick are an ultra-cool creative agency that creates immersive experiences, pervasive games, and multiplatform marketing for developing audiences. Worth checking out also are Make And See, who are responsible for similar stuff, and some of the coolest augmented reality I’ve ever seen. Until you’ve run alongside a virtual world-class sprinter (just so you understand just how fast those guys really are) then you haven’t lived!

Chapter
Almost as much of an institution as Spillers, this arts centre and cafe is the home of Cardiff’s media and creative set. Catch an arty movie, mooch around the gallery, then have a cup of coffee next to someone designing a website or writing a BBC drama.

Dr Zigs
Providers of giant bubbles (and bubble mixture) to some of the biggest events in the world. Really!

logo-webAnd finally, after giving hipsters a ribbing, I should include at least one Welsh business that appeals squarely to people with beards who only ride fixies. So here’s Captain Cat’s Beard Oil!

 

UPDATE

A few more that have come to mind, or that have been recommended:

Hiut Denim

Brought to us by the founders of Howies and the Do Lectures, these jeans come with a real story. Beautifully hand-made in west Wales.

Toast

Gorgeous clothes and homeware from Swansea. Thanks for the tip, Gill!

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