Archive for the ‘Experiences’ Category

A day in the park

Friday, July 4th, 2008

Skimbit has changed a lot since I past posted. We are now a team of four, working in new offices in Shoreditch, London. We are working hard on our new visual design, on speed optimisation, on usability enhancements, and great new features. We have launched a really snazzy monetisation platform that is – we think – a world-first method for monetising user-generated content in a non-obtrusive way. You won’t even realise it is happening! We are really proud. We get to earn money and still be ethical, objective and non-salesy.

So, when I read that Visit London (a tourism board for London) was putting on an outdoor office, I thought my team utterly deserved a day in the park.

Four of us managed to extricate ourselves from our office, hopped on the tube, and travelled to the other (greener) side of London, to St James’s Park.

Alicia at her desk in the park

And there, to our joy and bemusement, was a fully designed and functional office – complete with paperclips, folders, desk lamps (not plugged into anything, of course!) and desk trinkets! We sat on office chairs, pulled out our laptops, and worked with glorious views of Buckingham Palace, the duck pond, and lush green trees all around us. It was a trifle difficult to read our screens in the bright sunlight, but we didn’t utter a complaint – if only every day could be so inspiring and liberating.

Joe, Ciaran and Matthieu at our office in the park

Unfortunately, nothing good lasts forever, or in our case, lasts more than an hour. Typically London clouds swept over our sunny sky, we started to shiver a little, but we obstinately stayed at our desks.

Alicia nervous about it starting to rain

We started to feel a trickle of rain, and undeterred, we opened the Visit London umbrellas and huddled underneath as we continued working.

Joe trying to stay dry

The rain started to get harder…. we persisted stubbornly for as long as we could, but it soon became a mute point. We had to pack our laptops away. But we really believed the rain would pass, so we stayed under our umbrellas for a while, and sure enough, the rain cleared, and the sun re-emerged!

With a quick wipe-down of the tables, we could continue our work in the now sparklingly beautiful afternoon.

It was again a shortlived pleasure. The rain clouds came back, and this time we were conquered. We returned to our indoors office, but with a smile on our faces. What a glorious experience to be out in such inventive playful surroundings!

Web Mission 08 – the middle

Friday, May 16th, 2008

And here is my mid-trip post from Web Mission 08:

It’s Day 2 of Web Mission 08, and I have not stopped yet. From the minute we landed in sunny San Francisco, we’ve been schmoozing, networking, visiting, exploring, learning, and, inevitably, drinking. The only thing I haven’t done enough of is sleeping… But what with unavoidable jetlag and a frantically buzzing mind unable to rest as I constantly think of what I should do next, I suppose sleeping can wait.

Our first night saw us welcomed to San Francisco with a cocktail party thrown in our honour by TechCrunch. It was a great opportunity to meet the other 19 start-ups on Web Mission, plus our fabulous sponsors like HSBC, Oracle and UKTI. However, a long and unglamorous flight that day meant we weren’t in top partying condition, so I went to bed early in anticipation of the next day’s revelry.

And revelrous it was indeed, with us all being invited for brunch and a barbecue at the house of Craigslist CEO, Jim Buckmaster. And I literally mean his home: for the first 10 minutes I stood in wonder in his living room perched on a hill in a trendy area of San Francisco, observing his family photos on the mantlepiece, his taste in twentieth century American poets, and his pet poodle.

Jim and his wife had hired caterers and invited the glitterati of the US entrepreneurial scene for a leisurely afternoon sipping Bloody Marys and nibbling prawn salad in his living room. Utterly surreal, and undeniably interesting.

I met YouNoodle’s founder Bob Goodson and heard about his interesting hypotheses; BlogTalkRadio’s John Havens, who interviewed a few of us using his cool interview-via-mobile-phone-to-voicemail technique, at one stage from the boot of a car in German (you had to be there I guess); and Michael Birch, the delightfully unassuming CEO of recently acquired Bebo.

We then scooted off to a party in the Valley at the home of Brian Solis where in the late afternoon dappled sunlight we ate corn on the cob and talked to the founders of Google-acquired Jaiku and Techmeme.com. I kept having moments of delighted shock as I realised I was in the company of so many people I admire.

By the end of that day, we are all exhausted. And it was only Sunday! The week hadn’t even begun yet!

Today started early, with a visit out to Oracle where representatives from Facebook, Amazon and LinkedIn talked about how to internationalise and scale, and Oracle talked about their incredible company history and interesting product strategies.

I feel so privileged to be part of a group that so many inspirational companies think is worthwhile meeting. After a gorgeous lunch in the Oracle executive dining room, I left the group, and went on my own to meet a company I hoped to partner with. The meeting went really well, so you will hear more about this partnership very soon!

Now I am on the way back to San Francisco to attend an evening with Jim Buckmaster and Michael Birch, followed by one of many parties during this week’s Web 2.0 conference.

You see what I mean then? I’ve been here for only 48 hours, and we’ve done all this already! I’m hoping my stamina stays strong as the week continues to unfold its thrilling and lucrative possibilities.

Web Mission 08 – the start

Friday, May 16th, 2008

It’s been a while since I posted, but before you thrust out the bayonets and skewer me, await and see how much we have been up to here at Skimbit, and they you may forgive me for my lack of editorial diligence.

 

As you may have read, Skimbit was selected for Web Mission 08, a networking, partnering and promotion journey to Silicon Valley with other UK based startups like Huddle, WAYN, Mydeo, Rummble, Trusted Places, and The Filter.

Startups.co.uk asked me to be a guest blogger for the Web Mission journey, so here are my blog posts covering before, during and after the event.

Before the event:

You would think considering I am going to meet the founders of Craigslist, Bebo, Friendster and the Guidewire Group in a few days, I would be panicking about what I was going to say… But no, it seems the only way one’s mind can deal with the enormity of what one is about to embark upon, is to focus on really insignificant things. Like: how am I going to get from Palo Alto to San Francisco on Monday… and, I wish I had prettier business clothes… and, I have no idea how to tip US-style!

Yes, that is right, I am off to Silicon Valley, which strangely makes me think more of breast implants than semi-conductors, but then, I’m a girl. Yes, I’m a girl, who runs a web start-up (which makes me a minority) , based in London (even further in the minority), and off to Silicon Valley for the first time. What’s more, I’m of Spanish heritage, and Australian nationality. So with this mix of cultures, demographics and experiential history, I wonder what adventures shall unfold over the next week!

I am the founder and CEO of Skimbit, a social decision-making tool that helps you research and make decisions online, with the help of others. I was chosen along with 19 other of “UK’s most promising” start-ups, to head over to the US as part of Web Mission 08. There we will network, pitch, schmooze, research, promote, and partner with as many people as possible in what I am increasingly nervous will be an exhausting, exhilarating non-stop week.

I shall document my daily trials, tribulations, triumphs and tirades via this blog, so come and join me on this journey of discovery!

The glory of helpful users

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Admittedly, Skimbit is still in beta phase. So it shouldn’t really be totally humiliating to have a bug.

But, in the last month, Skimbit’s traffic has tripled, so suddenly, bugs are a bigger deal, as they can potentially affect more of our users. And I LOVE my users, truly! I can’t describe it… but to have complete strangers want to use, and benefit from, something that I have worked on so crazily hard for so long, is the deepest compliment coupled with the deepest responsibility.

And so, when something goes a little wrong, I can’t abide that people who have put their faith in me and my product are experiencing any type of inconvenience. I am so prepared for them to rush off and never come back, or to be angry, or even worse, to just leave and never come back or think of Skimbit again.

Imagine, then, my joy this week to meet a user who not only has come to my site because he has a genuine need to use it (as opposed as a mild curiousity to see what my site is vaguely about!); but he also notified me of a bug, and helped me solve it. What a blessing!

Yes, there was a slight bug in the way we sent invitations to friends from the Address Book, and it took a while to find out the root cause of the bug. I kept expecting the user to get fed up and throw his hands up in disgust and frustration, which terrified me because he was a true advocate of the solution. But to my immense joy, he not only persisted, helped find the problem, tested it, and kept sending me updates, but he also – bless – apologised for hassling me! What an angel!

Thankfully, we have now corrected the bug, fixed a misunderstanding on the site, and somehow still have the attention of a user who invited 20 of his friends to use the site – what an amazing man. I can’t stop with the superlatives, it just completely blew me away how kind and helpful strangers can be.

It takes me back to those web 2.0 seminars, where all the speakers raved about “Your users will tell you when you are doing something wrong, they will be passionate advocates of your site!” and I kinda doubted it could happen. But, I just experienced the charity of users, and feel even more passionate about doing a good job for them!