Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Darling, You Are One In 107 Billion

Congratulations! You are the 107,000,000,000th human born on Earth!

Click here to redeem your prize*

* Your prize is the BBC article from which I got this estimate.

The Secret World of Taxi Drivers

I learnt a lot on a late-night taxi ride last week.

The UCG – United Cabbies Group – has a protected Twitter feed through which they share tips on hot-spots for good fares in London.

When a big venue turns out, the words goes out: ‘Albert Hall on the burst’ = lots of fares suddenly available.

There is also a taxi driver dialect derived from Cockney rhyming slang:

  • Septics – Yanks – Americans (septic tanks)
  • Sweaties – Jocks – Scots (jock straps)
  • Leatherarses – cabbies who do a huge number of hours
  • Butterboys – newbies who work all hours when they realise the more they work, the more they earn

Taxi drivers are not required by law to wear  a seatbelt. They may urinate in the street if shielded by the cape of a member of the Metropolitan police force. And until 2005, there was a theoretical 6-mile limit on all journeys – the distance that could be expected of a horse after eating one bale of hay.

I read something by Caitlin Moran in which she wrote this to her daughter:

Even if you’re [sat] next to a man who collects pre-Seventies screws and bolts, you will probably never have another opportunity to find out so much about pre-Seventies screws and bolts.

Everyone is an expert in something. 

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I only deal in post-Seventies screws and bolts. To find out more, follow @toddmgreen on Twitter or sign up for emails.

Cheers ~ Todd

The Strangeness of Silicon Valley

From a conversation between John Naughton and Judy Wajcman:

The technology industry is actually rather small. And dysfunctional. And solves its own problems. But Silicon Valley has convinced us that the problems of a small set of socially-unusual people (who sleep at their desks and have no social life) are actually our own problems too, and that we need products and services that help to solve them.

In case proof of this were needed – here’s Elon Musk (PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla founder) on relationships:

I would like to allocate more time to dating. I need to find a girlfriend. That’s why I need to carve out just a little more time. I think maybe even another five to ten — how much time does a woman want a week? Maybe 10 hours? That’s kind of the minimum? I don’t know.

Clearly a genius, but a rather strange one. The other side of the Valley.

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Links: Naughton/Wajcman, Musk.

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Roll the dice

(Russell Westbrook slams it)

 

My girlfriend Emma told me that sports photographers use cameras that take 11 photos per second.

 

(Carmen Basilio beats Tony DeMarco 1955)

 

That’s because everything happens in a split-second, and they don’t know exactly which will be right shot.

 

(Wladimir Klitschko – BOSH!)

 

So instead of taking one shot and hoping it works, they press the button and spread their bets. It’s a focused scattergun approach – you’re taking many shots, but you still need to be in the right place, press the button at the right time, and nail a really great shot.

 

(Bob Beamon breaks the long jump world record in 1968)

 

It’s hard to make something great. But if you roll the dice over and over again, you are loading them in your favour.

 

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How to be a failure

It’s very hard to think that I might have given everything, and it might not be enough

— Nathan Fagan-Gayle, X Factor UK contestant 2012

It’s pretty clear to me now that I won’t ever play football for Liverpool, but I never really tried that hard to make it happen.

What hurts more is when you really go for it, and it’s one of your real strengths, but you still fail – like when I wanted to study at Cambridge for my MA but didn’t get the grades.

I revised really hard for three months solid but only scored 63% overall – the exact average for my year, but below the 65% I needed to get into Cambridge.

It hurt because I’d always been good at academic stuff, and now I had failed.

Nathan failed too. He was knocked out before the live show stage and I only remember his name because I wrote down the quote. Hopefully he’ll bounce back.

The hardest thing when failure happens is to prevent it from defining you. You are not ‘a failure’ even if you fail. The phrase ‘I’m a failure’ = defining your entire self as such. In fact you only failed at that one thing. Not at life as a whole!

It’s hard to think like that. A few years later I applied for a PhD at Cambridge – deep down, one of the reasons was probably because I wanted to have another shot at being accepted.

This time I was – but I turned them down. Perhaps it felt like revenge, I don’t remember. There were other reasons too. But the lizard part of you always prefers it when you’re in control. Yeah, it was definitely me that broke up with her.

Here’s what I learnt from that whole experience about how to fail:

A) It happens

Even after a long run of good results, and a megaload of revision, I still couldn’t reach a high enough mark.

B) It’s ok to feel sad about it

Failure hurts, but that’s ok so long as it doesn’t swallow up your whole definition of yourself.

C) Your brain adjusts fast

If you don’t let the failure consume you, it will be forgotten or assimilated soon enough. I hadn’t thought about not failing to get into Cambridge for a long time before starting this post. Brains are good at adapting if given time.

D) Always consider quitting

There’s no shame in moving on to something else. Most people say ‘Just keep trying and you can achieve anything!’. That’s bad advice: (1) it’s not true and (2) it assumes that what you want now won’t change in future. Bad bad bad. Moving on should always be an option.

E) There’s always another way of doing it

I did my MA anyway, and was very fortunate to do it at Nottingham. I was grateful they accepted me at short notice and tried to repay them by working hard. I made some great friends there too. And I was still able to get a PhD offer from Cambridge a few years later, even though I never planned to apply again after the MA rejection.

Each failure is specific to the circumstances at the time. Tick-tock, times change.

A million tiny things happen every day that mix everything up. It’s like a kaleidoscope that never stops. Every night there’s a little shift round to the left or right. So everything changes a little every day. Failure is either temporary or irrelevant.

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So I applied to be an astronaut

My life’s ambition is to go into space, so a few years ago I applied to be an astronaut.

At the time anyone could apply to ESA (the European Space Agency), so I went to the doc and to the hospital, had a bunch of tests done, filled out the application form and sent it off.

There was little chance I would succeed. But it made perfect logical sense to try.

There are two ways of getting into space: (1) become a billionaire, or (2) get hired as a professional astronaut. Maybe one day I’ll be a billionaire but I don’t want to count on it. So I just applied.

Actually, all my best decisions are made when I ignore the chances of failure and just do it.

  • Want to learn how to code? Ok, build a website.
  • Want to try building a business? Ok, start one now.
  • Want to find out if teaching would be a good career move? Ok, do it part-time and see whether it’s fun.
  • Like that girl a lot? Ok, ask her out.

These simple decisions are the best.

A) You can’t regret them

If it doesn’t work out, no big deal. You did the logical thing and tried. Your mind is at rest. Ssshh now little brain.

B) You know exactly why you made them

It’s a simple formula. You won’t get confused about your motives. Want something? Ok, have a go.

C) You always gain something unexpected

Building a website taught me how the internet works. Starting a business taught me a million things that I put into a recent post (How I lost £1,500 when I was 23). Teaching part-time right now is making me 10x better at explaining stuff and speaking in public. And the last girl I asked out is going to become my wife next summer, so that one worked out pretty well too.

Worrying about failure kills good decisions. Whenever I worry I lose the magic power to make simple logical decisions and I waste my life fretting. I’m glad that didn’t happen with applying to be an astronaut.

The physical tests and most of the application form were ok, though I couldn’t really disguise my lack of a PhD in astrophysics or biology. The weakest bit though was when I had to describe my experience in radio communications:

I did hospital radio for two years when I was at school. I was a presenter and had my own weekly show.

But since I haven’t actually heard back from ESA, I assume they’ve got me on the reserve list.

Hopefully someone will drop out soon.

 

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One year on – 10 things I learnt from Me In TV

One year ago today, I was extremely bloody nervous. It was day 1 of a project called Me In TV.

Here’s a short video about the project:

The aim was to give young people from tough backgrounds access to the TV industry. Over five days the participants created a TV show idea, filmed and edited a trailer for it, and then pitched their idea to a panel of TV experts. The young people were from Community Links, and the event was held at FremantleMedia.

It was so much work that it nearly killed me and Josephine, who ran the project with me. At one point I was waking up at 5.15am and I stopped trusting pencils.

But it worked out really well. Everything came together, there was a great atmosphere throughout, and the feedback was amazing: it averaged 96% positive on every single thing we measured.

Last week I was asked to offer some advice to a lady working on a similar project. So, on the anniversary of the project launch, here are 10 things I learnt from Me In TV.

1. Record everything

I had made a huge mistake on my previous project, and I didn’t want to repeat it.

I did nothing to record the event, so afterwards it was hard for those involved to tell people about what they’d done. “So I attended these workshops, and we were working some kind of social enterprise, er…”.

For Me In TV I did the opposite. meintv.org was built to record everything. In a project like this, it’s important that everyone involved has something to point to afterwards – a link for their CVs, a reminder of what the project entailed, and something they can be proud to show other people.

2. Get a partner in crime

There’s no way the project could have been such a success without Josephine Serieux. About two months before launch, I realised I had way too much to do and was struggling to prioritise. Getting a partner in crime means you get more capacity, but also more ideas – Josie changed loads of stuff for the better.

3. Give everyone else a clear vision (even if it’s still in flux)

It took me about six months to set the project up. The plan was changing constantly throughout. But I realised early on that I should keep that a secret. That way anyone I was trying to sign up would feel confident that I knew what I was doing, even if everything was still in flux.

4. Find a leader the young people trust

You’re dealing with a lot of nervousness and uncertainty in projects like this. So you need a Jason Forde. He’s a youth leader from Community Links, and because he had the trust of the students before the project began, he could ally their fears and (almost) always get them to turn up on time even when they’d been working late the night before.

5. The non-charity people will be the most nervous

The biggest single mistake I made in the planning was misjudging what one of the tutors needed from me. She didn’t need ideas, or structure – she needed reassurance! It hadn’t occurred to me that my colleagues would be more nervous than the students.

But for them, this project was an unknown – even though they would only be teaching the stuff they get paid to do every day, none had never taught before, and none had ever worked with young people from tough backgrounds (not that there was any difference in practice from any other youth group, but pre-launch it’s all about perception). It took me ages to figure all this out, and it nearly lost me a tutor.

6. Have a single, clear end goal 

Me In TV built towards a grand finale: the pitch. Having this single, clear end goal was exceedingly useful. It meant that the students were highly motivated to pay attention. They knew they had to do the pitch, so they were grateful for anything that would help them prepare for it.

7. Clearly define and explain what happens afterwards

I got these questions a lot: would there be jobs for the students at the end? Or at least job opportunities that they could apply for? Would there be more training, or mentorships, or follow-up workshops on CV-writing and interview skills?

No no no. Me In TV was meant to be self-contained. It was supposed to give the students skills, experience, and contacts. But it took me a while to define that list, and to make it clear to everyone – hence the repeat questioning. Know what happens afterwards before you even start.

8. Look for spin-off opportunities

We had a problem: 6 spaces in the project, but 7 people desperate to do it. At first I said no to Emmanuel – everything had been set up for a group of six and it was too late to change it.

Thankfully, one night I realised that I could just invent a role for him, without changing anything else. So Emmanuel became the Content Producer, tasked with recording the experiences and reactions of the students, and posting them on the student blog. He did a great job – 40 posts during the week of the project! – and still got to learn a lot alongside the other students.

9. Make it measurable

All this good stuff is harder to communicate without numbers. You have to be able to put numbers on your project, because numbers make things tangible. Here are some key numbers from Me In TV:

Website: >3k views in the week of the project, 1k visits, ~500 uniques

Feedback stats: 96% positive overall; 100% of tutors described as Excellent or Very good, 95% of students said they learnt useful future skills on every single day

Cost: £800 (kindly funded by FremantleMedia’s HR department)

Cost per hour – students: £2.96 per hour of training delivered to the students

With these numbers I could create a solid project report to send to everyone involved, and to all the people elsewhere who had heard about the project and wanted to know more. If you want to read it yourself, the full project report is now online.

10. Reward everyone

I gave all the tutors a hand-written note.

And I added every single person who made a contribution, however small, to the list on the Who’s involved? page.

No-one expected it. And it took ages. But in many ways it was the most enjoyable bit.

So what happened in the end?

I wrote to all the students last week. Two have found work in TV production; four have not; one didn’t reply (perhaps he’s busy on a production somewhere? I don’t know). All of them were very happy to have been involved, and very grateful to my colleagues for their help during Me In TV.

So if you’re thinking of doing a project like this, I hope the ten things I learnt are useful.

I’m very proud of this project, but if I wish I’d known all this before it began!

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I quit 200 hours too late

One day I woke up and realised I had wasted 200 hours of my life.

200 hours!

I’d spent two years trying to brighten up nearby high streets by getting local artists to redecorate the shutters of closed shops.

Total number of shutters decorated: 0.

I thought I’d lined everything up: the local council, the planning authorities, nearby schools, a bunch of excellent artists and arts groups. I made a little website, wrote a manifesto, and got some local press coverage (the photo above was in the local paper).

But I just could not get any shop owners to sign up. Even the one guy who said yes quickly disappeared off the face of the planet (that might be an exaggeration, but I hope not. Bastard.).

I figured that persistence was the answer.

I spent weekends and evenings on the project, took days off work, spent money tracking down landlords, changed the way I described the project to people over and over again, and so on – all to no avail.

But when I woke up that morning, it hit me: executing the project well wasn’t just difficult – it was impossible.

Persistence wouldn’t help. I just wasn’t set up right.

I couldn’t convince the shop owners to trust me, because I had no track record.

And I couldn’t persuade the shop owners to take a risk, because I worked in another part of town all the hours they were open, so I couldn’t sell them on it in person. I wasn’t able to build trust.

Without that trust, and without the time or the proximity to build it, extra hours and extra money weren’t going to add much.

So I changed it.

I threw the whole project out, and fixed the problems of time and trust.

I had got close to a lady who ran one of the kids’ art groups, and had an intro to a guy who ran a local charity. So I figured out a way to put those two together, and got the hell out of the way.

Instead of a street art project, I proposed an art exhibition: we would put the kids’ artwork from the summer term into an exhibition, and the exhibition would be in an empty shop unit that had been taken over by the charity.

Auriol from Kite Studios would teach the kids how to produce art, and Shaylesh from Healthy Planet would get the shop set up and look after the exhibition. Luckily enough, the council agreed to fund the project too.

And so, one day in June 2010, we got all the kids and their parents and teachers down to the shop unit, and opened up the exhibition for everyone to see. It was so great! The place looked amazing, the kids were so proud of themselves, and everyone had a blast.

So clearly, time and trust are important.

But doing something that you personally are well-placed to do is essential.

Without that, you’re in for an uphill struggle.

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Arts group: Kite Studios

Charity: Healthy Planet

Photo credits: Justin Thomas and Brian Jersky (thanks guys)

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How I lost £1,500 when I was 23

I lost £1,500 when I was 23.

I spent it on a website called whatsitliketo.com – a Wikipedia for experiences.

I did everything: I made a limited company (I started putting ‘Todd Green, Director’ at the bottom of my emails, that felt good), got a registered address, set up a business bank account, got an IP lawyer to advise me how to draw up the contract with the developer, even got a qualification in Small Business Financial Management.

I had no idea what I was doing – all my time and money was spent on the company stuff, but I had almost zero users or retention or revenue or marketing ideas.

(Actually, I can blame my friends for having no marketing ideas because I cooked them a three-course curry dinner in order to get their ideas, and none of them were feasible or worked.)

I thought I would make money from putting Google Ads on the site, because if someone is reading what it’s like to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge they should be interested in ads for flights to Sydney, tours of Sydney, hotels in Sydney etc.

I earned $1.10 from those ads, but since Google won’t pay out until you earn $100 I never actually got it.

So in the end I killed the site and felt like a complete goon. £1,500 is still a lot to me now; when I was 23 it was everything I had saved by living cheaply at home with my parents when I first started working. I could have saved that money for a mortgage or a car or a shirt with no stains on for work or something. And now it was all gone.

But I’m glad about it now. Yesterday I showed a colleague how to use Google Ads. Today I’m going to add a new page to a little site I built to solve a problem at work. And between now and Christmas I’m teaching 15 classes on how to get people to come and look at your website.

All that began when I was 23, and I realised I didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to create something on the web.

Turns out I made a good investment completely by accident.

 

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The hard yards

The hard yards are actually the easiest to cover.

But in order to cover them, you have to stay put.

You do the hard yards by sticking at it, by staying focused – when you want to get up from the desk, open Facebook or Twitter or email, put the TV on, do the washing up – anything to avoid what you know you should be doing.

Those are the hard yards.

Few people can stare down the hard yards. Often I can’t.

But I’m pretty sure they’re the ones that make a difference.

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