18
Apr 16

What if we reused grocery RFID to increase recycling

A huge amount of products we buy in our weekly grocery shop contain RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips, these are small radio chips that can be detected should they pass the exit without first being de-activated. Many large supermarket chains now also use these for stock management with auto replenish systems in place to manage stock on the shop floor. This means the use of these chips on product packaging is growing. Contained within these tags is the information of the product its attached to.

What if we re-used the RFID information contained in these products to monitor and analyse our household waste and consumption and aid us in our behaviour and choices.

Imagine a recycle unit together with a general waste unit in each home that detected the actual product being deposed of, this data could provide feedback to the household on its carbon footprint and offer areas of improvement. Tie this together with an opt-in replenishment opportunity for supermarkets and/or local small business alternatives and it could possibly fund itself while helping the environment.

Smart fridges and freezers are in development to allow this to happen, but what if we don’t need this and instead just need to monitor what we throw away.


14
Jan 16

Sorry we can’t do that

Many businesses today are very quick to declare “we can’t do that for you miss”, “its not an option on the menu sir”, and the latest “the computer won’t let me do that”. When a fast food worker says “we can’t do that” I often wonder what the owner would say to a request for extra chicken in that bun. I think the owner would do as much as possible to ensure their customers are happy so they would enjoy their experience and come back.


25
Jul 15

Internet of Things City Demonstrator: A vision for a smarter Sheffield City Region

IoTimage

A new call has came from The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) via Innovate UK for a single collaboration to demonstrate the use of the Internet of Things (IoT) across a city region totalling up to £10 Million. From the Innovate UK site:

The aim of this demonstrator is to show how the large-scale deployment of
IoT – where everyday objects are connected to a network in order to share their data – can benefit citizens by offering environmental improvements, economic opportunities, and more efficient and effective delivery of services such as transport, healthcare and energy.

Anyone who knows me or has dealt with my company Linktagger will no doubt know my vision for the region (maybe the world), to create a giant tech city consisting of an open multi-layer sensor network that connects all spaces and things. I firmly believe that if this network exists then it will drive innovation as new and existing app developers, businesses, government and makers can create new services without the worry/need of implementing the network required, it will in a nutshell enable the futuristic types of tech we see only in the movies.

As a small example, Linktagger are rolling out an iBeacon network across Sheffield’s parks using our Linktagger Beacons to deliver a project called The Hunt in association with Activity Sheffield & Move More, The Hunt lets parents and kids take part in a digital treasure hunt, complete with real-time radar. Imagine running around a park with your smart phone going “Beep Beep Beep” and a message saying you’re getting hotter while looking at your radar screen (pretty cool)! But it doesn’t stop there, this network could be used by anyone that wishes to use proximity sensors across the parks. Way finding, treasure hunts, team games, mapping and 3rd party integration with existing app providers bringing huge economic potential for the region.

We’re currently working with the NHS looking at making patient interaction smarter, hopefully saving countless people from stresses that needn’t be there and making their lives better along the way, as well as assisting our NHS workers deliver better care. The bigger vision for this is to give all of our public servants access to information where and when they need it to make life better for everyone. So again, one network enabling a multitude of different services to an endless number of end users.

Linktagger’s part is just a small piece of the puzzle, the ideal network would be a network of sensor hubs allowing for additions as technology evolves, but from day one we can certainly include proximity, temperature, movement/visual etc. This will allow the identification of end customers to utilise the service for the period of the project and beyond, such as smarter transport services (think real-time personalised time saving sat-nav and ticketless travel), smarter health services as detailed above, smarter tourism, retail, events, activities and public services delivery.

The IoT City Demonstrator calls for a major collaborative effort between local authority and local businesses. A point made in the brief is that it needs to include an incubator, or group of incubators to allow participation from the smaller side of SME. This indicates that multiple businesses should be involved.

So we need:

  • Local Authority(s) / LEP
  • Multiple businesses
  • Educational institution(s)
  • An incubator(s)
  • Customers (Local government, transport agencies, NHS etc)

Linktagger is currently involved in a number of smart city and smart health initiatives in collaboration with some of the above, so we hope to at least take part in some way with the IoT demonstrator.

So if you are part of any of the above, or have some ideas and want to get involved please get in touch! liam at linktagger.com @liamwinder @linktagger

TLDR; £10 million call for local authority to realise an Internet of Things city demonstrator. I have a vision, a few connections and some experience. Please get in touch if interested!


16
Mar 15

Solving the right problems

As bootstrapping entrepreneurs we have ideas every day, lots of them. I write them all down in my journal, usually that’s as far as they go, but often I can get distracted by them for a few hours, or even days.

If you are in the tech industry, then like me you probably see problems all around you, that given the chance you can solve with your creativity and vision. It’s highly likely that what lead you in to founding your first business, you saw a problem, and thought hey I can fix that. Or wouldn’t that be so much better if it worked like this.

I am often told that I am solving problems that just don’t exist. I reply, “yet”. And that for me is the reason I do what I do, not to make money (although we have to pay the bills too) but to innovate, that is what it’s all about. To innovate we have to imagine tomorrows problems and build solutions that solve them today, even if it’s not a major problem now. My business Linktagger is a mobile interaction platform. We provide hardware such as NFC iBeacon and printed QR, and then a software layer to bring it all together in to a unique user interaction experience in shops, gyms and even industrial environments. I don’t kid myself that we will still be doing QR and NFC in 5 years time, I know that the tech will move on, likely to 2D and 3D object recognition as well as point and gesture interaction. But if we didn’t have QR Codes, NFC and iBeacon apps today trying to innovate and bring the physical world online, and the virtual world offline, then we lose the bridge between now and then, the trying and doing that creates our new world tomorrow.

The fact that you can’t tap a tin of Tesco spaghetti to reorder more isn’t really a huge problem yet, but as our dependence on digital devices and interaction grow, we come to expect that we can interact with objects around us in the physical space as we do in the virtual. This for me is a problem worth solving now.


31
Jan 15

Don’t believe your own hype

Hyping up your business as a bootstrapper is necessary, but even though it’s currently cool to be a ‘startup’, it’s not going to instil confidence in your prospective customers that you have no history (at least in the B2B world). So we need to hype up our business and our products, we have to build up a picture of a budding company with customers clambering to get on board to create a buzz around us.

Most business founders do this, if not intentionally, then just because we are so passionate about what we’re doing. The danger though, is that we start to believe our own hype. Once we’re on the road to believing we’re a rock star CEO, it can be hard to pull back and take stock. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aspire to be rock star CEO’s, and act like one, but if you truly believe you are one, then your business could be in trouble.

When founding my first business, I came from a series of startups that had mostly been successful and sold to large corporates, so I had some experience of small startups and large corporates. I applied the same strategy that I had seemed to work for the startups I had worked in, “fake it till you make it”. It worked, we were perceived as being a cash rich company with a cool brand and unique culture. We had customers that started their own support forums, and evangelised our company and products to their friends and colleagues. We even had customers creating forum signatures that told the world that they were with the fastest ISP in the UK, us. It would have been easy in this situation to turn rock star, but being a startup and a founder wasn’t particularly cool then, at least I wasn’t aware of it, so I was plainly the Managing Director of a small business.

In the current hyped up, geeked up startup world, I imagine it can be very difficult not to believe your own hype. For the sake of your business and yourself though, try to stay grounded, and have gratitude for the amazing opportunity you have to create something.

 


19
Jan 15

Execution in a bootstrappers world

Execution in the startup world, is in a nutshell, putting your plan in to action. Within a bootstrapped startup, we have to begin to execute our plan from day one, not once we get funded.

I often come across entrepreneurs that enjoy the starting, but struggle once the new shiny thing becomes less so. So they may enjoy product design, and maybe a bit of high level strategy, but once it comes time to put their heads down and do the hard things, they quickly lose interest and move on to the next ‘big thing’. Now there is nothing wrong with this, if it’s what you’re passionate about, and that’s where it stops for you and you can make this work, that’s great.

After working in my first startup I got the bug, I always had something I was building outside of my day job, I built social sites before it really existed outside of MSN chat rooms, I built a comparison site when there was only one big player, and a host of other online and offline ventures. I enjoyed the process of creating and building. I wasn’t a coder, so I learnt HTML, CSS and then PHP and MySQL. I would code through the night, then go to my day job, come home and spend time with my Wife and new son, then start again. But once the thing was launched, and it wasn’t an overnight success, I would get distracted and start on something else. One of my sites was building an audience, the founder at my startup/day job saw an opportunity to combine my two concepts, to create a service that gave cash back to my customers on my comparison site, I already had the code from my gift site, but I was bored by then and moved on, now cash back sites are big hits. Strangely enough in my last startup which I sold in 2012, one of the shareholders said to me, I had the ability to finish what I had started, and that was a very hard thing to find in people.

Love what you do. Before we execute our plan, we need to ensure we are passionate about what we are about to do. Bootstrapping a business is very hard with some monumental lows, if you’re doing it for the money, rather than the love of creating something and sharing it with the world, you may struggle to get through these lows. Its not necessary to do something we particularly love, but it is necessary to love what we do and be passionate about what we’re brining to the world. You could be producing widgets that you have no interest in, but you should be passionate about the wrap around, the customer support, the brand, the service, the experience and all that goes with it.

Set goals. We have to set goals if only to know where we’re going. Without goals we float around in a dream state. Its an age old story, but it is always relevant. When a passenger jet takes off, it has a destination. There are many ways to get to the destination, but by knowing where they are going, the pilot can make decisions based on that end goal.

Make a plan. Just as goals are important, so too is a plan for how we are going to get there. A business plan should be our guide, something to reference to clarify our vision and goals. It does not mean a concrete plan, it needs to be flexible enough to be changed, but strong enough to help us focus.

Be an evangelist. We must be evangelists of our product/business/service rather than simply sales guys. We need to believe that what we offer is of great value and will improve the lives of the people we are evangelising to. Once we are simply selling to our prospects, I believe we have already lost. In all my sales jobs before becoming an entrepreneur, whenever I felt like I was simply selling to hit my commission target, I knew it was time to move on. I once accepted a job with a huge sign on bonus, I drove to the other end of the country for my first day, as I put my hand on the door to their corporate offices, I knew it was a mistake. I got back in my car, drove home and paid them back their sign on bonus. We were newly married and really needed the cash, but I could not bring myself to sell services I didn’t believe in for a company that was known in the industry for being crooked. I then went on to take a much lower paid job for my first startup, which to this day was my most enjoyable job as an employee.

Do the work. You must do the work. There are no overnight successes that didn’t have years of daylight before it. It takes hard hard work to build a business. The easy work rarely has an impact on our success. I’ve seen founders literally handed amazing products and even customers that want their product, only to fail because they either couldn’t, or wouldn’t put in the work. I’ve also seen founders start a business, and still ask me after 2 years why they have no customers, and these weren’t product companies that first had to build the product, these were service companies that had a service to offer from day one. They worked long hours in the office, but they didn’t do the work that matters. To define work that matters I usually ask myself if it scares me, is it risky, could I fail. If the answer is yes, then I’m good.

Believe. This is something I’ve learnt recently, we have to truly believe in what we are doing. This is not passion or faith or focus. This is truly believing, that what we have created, is the best in the world and that it deserves to be in the world. If we don’t believe in our own business, then how can we ask others to.

 

 


15
Jan 15

Persistance in business and making it happen

Persisting in business may be the number one differentiator between those that succeed, and those that fail. Succeeding then, may look on the face of it as for only those that can hang on long enough. But persistence is more than just hanging on hoping to make it, its defined as continuing in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.

Don’t just hang on, push on and make it happen.


14
Jan 15

Barriers to product launch and breaking through them

I have been invited to attend a few pitches by budding entrepreneurs over the last few years, sitting on a panel of judges, or dragons as they have now become known, following the popular tv show Dragons Den. Some are to simply judge the best pitch for a prize, and others have been to actually consider investing in these early start-ups.

One common theme seems to run through each pitch, and its need for money; to build a prototype. No offers are usually made, but many dragons offer to discuss their needs at the after party and express their interest. It’s at this point that I usually offer my advice, which is this:

Prototyping is not building a finished product, it’s about showing that your product can work, or can’t, is functional, or not, and helps demonstrate that to lead you to the next stage.

Prototyping used to cost typically upwards of 10k, now with the advent of 3D Printing and additive manufacturing it can cost as little as £30, or even free. Not only are there places where you can go and actually manufacture your own products for free, such as the FabLab in Manchester UK, with more opening across the country, and more universities around the world also offer funded product prototyping in various metals to assist local, new and small businesses. There are also websites devoted to helping you 3D print your own products such as 3DHubs. I’ve used 3D hubs myself, not only did I find someone to rapid prototype a case for me, but I also became friends with them, found another community, and attend their regular meet-ups.

That’s physical products taken care of, so what about software and apps. In a bootstrappers world, software development can be a real barrier if you have no coding skills. Not only that, but software can require knowledge in languages and frameworks you may not know. HTML and CSS can be relatively easy to pick up, but PHP, Ruby, Objective C and other languages are harder to learn. Here you have only a few options, either learn to code, or save up and pay someone to do it for you. There are pro’s and con’s in doing both. You need to outsource as much as you can so you can focus on building your business (selling!). Yet you don’t want to become too dependant on outside parties, in doing so, you may then find you are locked in to a particular development company and are hindered by lack of funds to continue development of your product. If you are launching a mobile app, then using services such as oDesk or Elance is a good way to go, write-up your project in to two phases, design and development. Then put these out and choose the best response. These services can also be used for traditional software development, but the management process can be a little trickier. There are plenty of posts around the web detailing how to do this effectively.

So prototyping, and even launching actual products can easily be achieved with minimal barriers. It’s the persistence that’s hard, the actual focus and dedication it takes to get it done that is the real barrier. But as the saying goes, as I am often reminded by a friend of mine whenever I complain it’s too hard, “If it was easy, everybody would be dong it”.


01
Jan 15

Waiting for talent: 10,000 hours

The neurologist Daniel Levitin said it takes 10,000 hours of practice in order to become a master of something. I think by this he meant things like computer programming, brain surgery, medicine and law etc. It suggests that what we identify as top talent really comes from the privilege of being able to practice the ‘thing’ you’re talented at for a long time rather than being naturally gifted in a specific talent.

Modern society grows inpatient in a world of relentless innovation and technological growth, it looks for immediate talent coming out of university dorm rooms and talent show competitions, turning kids in to instant real world overnight stars. Often left behind are the older applicants that seem almost arrogant in their talent, or are they just confident in their abilities as they’ve already put in their 10,000 hours, but don’t have the same marketing appeal as younger stars.

As bootstrapper’s, in our business its important we don’t get carried away in the same impatience. Building our businesses takes time, we have to constantly get better at what we do each day, always striving to improve our businesses and ourselves. Just for reference Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers equates 10,000 hours on average to 10 years!


31
Dec 14

Bootstrapping and goals

When running a boostrapped business, setting goals both business and personal is important to our success or failure. Without goals how do we know where we are going, and how do we measure our progress. Lately there has been a trend in guru’s advising not to have or follow goals.

In the first year of Linktagger which was essentially the first development phase, I had very well-defined technical development goals which we achieved, but lacked any business development goals, this meant that when we pressed the go button and opened up the platform we had no one waiting to sign up, no one knew that we existed. It’s not that I didn’t want customers, but I took a relaxed approach to it, and as I had nothing to measure, I wasn’t accountable, so I just did the things that were most easy, and least scary. Cold calling or tweak the design of the login box, attend a networking/pitch event or stay in the office and work on the FAQ. Tweaking the design is easy, cold calling is hard and scary, even for people with 10+ years in sales like myself. The fear of rejection is always there, especially so when its your own product.

Without goals we can easily come home on an evening and look our partner/children/family/selves in they eye and say “I’ve worked hard today”. But if we don’t know where we’re going, and we’re not checking ourselves by measuring our progress, are we working hard, or are we working easy.