What must we do now post-Brexit?

As one technology Founder of many in the UK, a vote to leave the EU was not what we wanted, yet as entrepreneurs our task now is to find opportunity from the situation. If you’re a British national, indeed it is your responsibility.

After a painful post-War slide into depression (both economic and psychological) we have spent most of our own lifetime dragging the country’s economy, from public transport to bad 1980’s restaurant food, back to prosperity. Along with that has come a new sense of pride in what we can achieve and a glimpse of the confidence our forebears had – the leaders of the world’s Industrial Revolution.

The Victorian era championed Great Britain – and British values – while taking an outward looking, global and free-trade approach, albeit one akin to the times of Empire and gunboat diplomacy.

The Opening of the Great Industrial Exhibition of All Nations (London, 1851)

The Opening of the Great Industrial Exhibition of All Nations (London, 1851)

Our obligation now as their modern contemporaries, the leaders of a digital revolution, is to embrace this new challenge. Great Britain must not spin its wheels and risk sliding back in to the woe is us national unconsciousness of before, licking our self-inflicted wounds. We must waste no time in getting on with the job and uniting behind making the best of a bad job, something the British are renowned at doing!

With one of the world’s largest GDPs, we must fight hard to maintain our own confidence, find the positive in a result that none of us asked for. If we don’t we risk leaving our immediate future in the hands of the small-minded few, the baton-up-the-hatches brigade. The older demographic who have voted for this situation, too young to remember the glory of Empire but all too familiar with a bankrupt post-Empire nation and repeated humiliation at the French blocking our entry to the EEC in 1963 and 1967 (a rather ungrateful act for a President we put in power!), they don’t understand the realities of a globally interconnected world in an age of information ubiquity.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 13.53.05

The Remain campaign failed miserably to acknowledge the failings of today’s EU, nor articulate a positive vision for the future. The Brexit campaign focused on the red herring of immigration, taking advantage of the failure of successive UK governments to lead a proper debate or make a proper case, leaving many paranoid and fearful.

We must all now focus our efforts on promoting this opportunity, to drown out the talk of local X with a positive dialogue of how to improve our international position. That means:

  1. Finally tackling immigration head on. We must not allow the xenophobes to dictate policy but coming up with a better process to enable those who can help build our economy in, including progressive Entrepreneur’s VISAs; to know who is coming in and who is not (something an island should find easy!) to give naysayers confidence we have control of our own borders; of embracing true political and war torn refugees.
  2. Be confident even though we don’t feel it. As business owners we know that smoke and mirrors play a part in selling a product or raising investment. Presenting an optimistic but realistic narrative about how we’re changing the future and why someone should invest in our startups. This country is no different. We must continue to attract investment, we must talk a better game than we did in the debate and win the confidence of the international economy.
  3. Think Big. The risk you take in business should be proportional to the reward. We must articulate a vision for Great Britain which is not just positive but worthy of attention. As a startup investor I’m not interested in investing time, emotionally energy and money in companies who are not attempting to transform a market, to dominate their space. We must do the same for this country, and elect leadership who can articulate a goal based upon which decisions can be made, trade deals negotiated and policy crafted. A vision is needed behind which the country can unite.

In short, as a smaller nation than the EU as a whole, and without the shackles of having to compromise to the lowest common denominator, learning to move more quickly on policy and procedure is a prerequisite for our success. Estonia is a country of 1.5m which, with it’s digital mobile voting, digital e-citizenship and disproportionate entrepreneurial impact on the European tech ecosystem, has prove that smaller can indeed mean faster, learner and more successful. Maybe the UK should vote in a Prime Minister who can code, like Toomas Hendrik Ilves?

Anything is possible; no one knows what a renegotiation or a recreation of Great Britain’s relationship with Europe will look like.

One thing is for sure though, as the Liberal majority we’ve failed to quell the misguided rhetoric of the Brexit charlatans. We must not now let them dictate policy going forward and instead we have to dominate the conversation and make it one of opportunity, a chance to do things better, and of open borders to the World.

 

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Does @O2 Hate It’s Customers?

I’ve had another awful few days as a customers of O2. And this experience is not unique to me. 

I am a customer of 15 years at O2 yet they are incapable of providing a consistent quality of service. I wrote a similar post about O2 in February 2008 yet here we are again – and inbetween I could have written many more.

My biggest gripe is that their incompetence costs me money, time and a deep amount of stress. Yet importantly, there is no policy of fair compensation when things go wrong.

Hypocrisy

Companies make mistakes, because people make mistakes. Computers make mistakes because people that program computers make mistakes. This is life. Yet if I make a mistake and don’t pay my bill on time, I am penalised. Credit card companies charge late fees, telecoms companies cut you off.

What happens when a company who has committed to you to provide a service, fails to deliver? The answer sadly is very little, if anything.

oh-nooooooo

Problems, Problems, more Problems

My general complaint about O2 is that most months last year I had to call them to have data charges credited back on to my account (I have a older Blackberry tariff, which includes international data roaming, unlimited. Despite this O2 regularly charges me for data).

Additionally, I spent weeks in the USA last year with no data, where O2 bounced me back to AT&T blaming them, and AT&T blamed O2 saying it was an issue of barring with O2.

O2 when questioned claimed “we cannot guarantee service when roaming” …So what am I paying my £70 a month tariff for exactly then?

And OK, that’s fine. You can’t guarantee it. But since I’m paying for it, are you going to credit me a portion of my bill when I cannot use the service I am paying for? This would be fair. But of course, O2 refuses to.

O2 Promise To Compensate Me

Ultimately, after investing literally hours of conversation and correspondence, I was promised 3 months credit.

O2 Go Back On Their Promise To Compensate Me

The credit never arrived. When I chased up the credit, O2 claimed they had no record of the call. I refused to pay my bill until it was fixed, because last time the promise of a credit was made, it didn’t materialise.

O2 then cut me off.

After a few months of using my iPhone (registered with 3) I missed using my Blackberry (I find the messaging, the physical keyboard and battery life, all far more efficient).

In another exhausting effort to get to the bottom of the problem, I re-engaged O2 to have it sorted out. O2 then claimed “we have no records of calls after 6 months” Is this true? I suspect it’s a lie. I am confident if ordered by a court to reveal conversations prior to 6 months, OR if they wanted to use evidence of a call to their benefit, O2 would find the recordings of the calls.

In frustration, I capitulated, paying my bill in full in order to get back my global data roaming.

O2 Promise To Look At A “Good Will” Credit

I was promised that O2 would then look into providing a credit.

O2 Break Their Promise Again

I’ve heard nothing. On calling back an enquiring, guess what? There is no record of the call or conversation.

AND Another Problem This Week

That was all last month. This month again I’ve been charged data roaming when I should not. On Tuesday 20th August at around 6pm I called (at my own cost, from Sweden) to enquire about the incorrect data charges.

After I went through the usual process (of explaining that my account was an older account on their “DICE” system and that I had bundled data … 10 minutes of my time, and cost for the call I’m never getting back) eventually it was concluded that the issue would escalate the problem to Credit Control who would text (SMS) me within 5 days to confirm the credit amount. At that time I could then pay my bill.

I also double checked with her both that I would NOT be barred or cut off and also that as I was travelling to the USA I would also not be barred. All seemed well.

O2 Breaks Their Commitment And Promise, Again

Wind forward 48 hours later. Thursday 8am, guess what? I wake up my phone is barred. I can’t get data. Or call.

I try to dial out – the phone says “Your calls are being automatically transferred, please hold”. Instead of transferring me -as promised- I then get another message saying “The speed dial you have called is no longer available. Please call your team manager for help <hangup>”.  In other words, their call system was broken and I was arriving at an internal automated message.

I had to borrow a phone to call O2. I then had the usual 10 minutes explaining I have global roaming, that I on the DICE system, and that I should not be charged. “If you’re using your phone abroad, you’ll be charged for data roaming” says the woman. “No, really, I won’t, and I have not been for 5 years. Check my tarrif” I exhaustively retort.

O2 Magically Loses All Call Records Again

I then also explained that I had a call only two days before, dealing with all of this. The lady said there was no record of my call “The person has not tagged your account” she said. Unbelievable.

“Didn’t you ask her name” said the O2 operator; “No” I replied, because even if you do, the operator will not give their last name, so you have the first name of someone who could be in any one of numerous call centres who is impossible to track.

The Incompetence Is Laughable

Not only that, but gallingly, O2 had sent me a text customer satisfaction survey to ask me my opinions of the call, which I had responded to. Yet, now, despite sending me texts from the number “24442” asking me about the success of the call, this very call was untraceable and did not exist!

So just to clarify: O2 say there was no call, or at least, there is no record of it. Yet they are sending me SMS texts asking me to complete a survey on the quality of the call they have no record of.

Eventually she passed me to her supervisor who explained that something on my Blackberry was doing something routing data the wrong way, that they couldn’t tell me what, but that if I carried on doing whatever it is I was doing, I would be charged.

I am not tethering (I appreciate this attracts charges) and I am only using the regular BB services I have always used.

I understand that Blackberry, having their own proprietary international network integrated with the telcos use their own APNs etc so that yous have to use Blackberry’s conduit to carry data. But I have not changed what I’m doing in 3 or 4 years. I still simply use email, the inbuilt browser, Twitter and my Facebook apps. And Google Maps. That’s pretty much it.

The Crux

None of these things should be my problem. O2 have now raised the bar, temporarily, while the credit team look at my account (which they were already looking at, allegedly). But I have no recourse if they don’t, or if they cut me off again.

O2 owes ME money

And meanwhile, as a consequence of the call (which I had to do as I needed my phone for meetings first thing so needed it unbarred) it has meant I missed a train, which meant I missed an appointment (£45), the attendance of which I’d lost half a day of consultancy (a few hundred pounds, which ironically is on an mobile app project for O2!), paid train fares to get to Cambridge from London the previous night, and back this morning (£35) for an appointment I missed. Not to mention the costs of calling from Sweden two days before, which O2 will no doubt bill me for (another £10?)

Who is going to pay for my time and expense, dealing with O2’s incompetence?

Yes I can take my business elsewhere, only to run in to the same problems across all the mobile networks.

Competitive Pricing, Awful Service

“Competition” for quality of service, is not working. Pricing, may be. But there is no recourse for the average customer.

I must be in the top 3-4% of O2’s customers in terms of expenditure. Over the years I’ve been called an “O2 Select” customer, or “O2 VIP”. My bills are frequently over £200, despite the bundled roaming data (even when O2 don’t charge me!). But I’m sick of being promised a reliable service and being delivered the contrary. I’m sick of the contract I enter in to with O2 and other corporate business not being a two-way street. I’m sick of being treated like I’m an idiot. You can’t track that there was a call? Balderdash. Your computers have a record of my incoming call two days ago, your computers are recording my survey answers which I’m STILL answering, and I’d be amazed if actually, you only keep call records for 6 months.

No engagement by people who will solve the problem.

Worst of all I’ll get no response from this complaint, even if I send it to the head of customer service, let alone the CEO.

Today were I running Fortune 500 company with 1000’s of staff, I’m so annoyed I’d switch telco. At least that business might impact O2’s bottom line. Instead, as a lone mobile subscriber, there is no recourse to taking my business elsewhere except to another telco that will care equally little and I won’t even have the retort that I’ve been a customer for over a decade.

All I can do is post here, to my Twitter feed and to Facebook, which is a combined reach of 12,000+ excluding reposts or RT’s. I’ll put it on LinkedIn too, and the MomoLondon list – a list of telco industry luminaries.

The Cost To Shareholders of Bad Customer Service

It’s a sad day that companies who spend so much money to convince customers to purchase or switch from another provider, have such a poor ethos to supporting their existing customers.

When was the last time a large company caused you to react “Wow, what amazing customer service?”

This is caused by many things, but includes a lack of ownership of problems by the staff at the coal-face, those dealing with customers directly. That in turn is because the leadership at O2 and other corporates favours ignorant process over staff who have real authority to make sensible decisions, who have been devolved responsibility, and thus would care more about what they do, when they do it, why they do it, and for who.

I discussed this corporate customer service problem years ago here and how it actually how problems provide an opportunity to create a more loyal customer.

Company Culture (and Customer Service) Comes From The Top

The biggest problem is that if you’re aiming to capture the mass market, giving bad customer service -even pro-actively rude and contemptuous service- often works. Just look at RyanAir (who I refuse to fly with on principle!) and the attitude of Michael O’Leary.

The culture of a company comes from the top. And not getting a response of any kind, or a true resolution, or the financial credit that I deserve as a consequence of the incompetence of O2, is atypical of corporate customer service today.

Long may the social media revolution grow – and power to the people in doing so. We pay your wages César Alierta (CEO, Telefonica ..who of course isn’t on Twitter himself). You should be doing everything in your power to make us feel good about doing so, not hating your brand; because THAT is the way to maximise your share price and shareholder return, not the equivalent of slash and burn.

Meanwhile, if you want strike a blow at corporate greed and incompetence, and champion the voice of consumers, why not re-post this blog CC-ing O2 ..and do me a favour in the process! 😉

The Great Startup Famine of 2015

Starting (if you’ll excuse the pun) with bad weather in the Spring of 1315, universal crop failures struck Europe creating what became know as The Great Famine. It lasted through 1316 and well into 1317 from Russia and Great Britain all the way down to Southern Italy.

Angels Bootcamp has just announced that it is to train over 1,000 new angel investors by 2015 starting this June in Berlin. We should all cheer the announcement of Angels Bootcamp, which aims to do what it says on the tin:

AngelsBootcamp is targeted at executives, entrepreneurs and finance professionals who have money in the bank to put into tech startups but who lack the knowledge about exactly what an angel investor should do.” (as TNW reports)

But Berlin, we have a problem.

While I heartily support anything which will accelerate Europe’s entrepreneurs (especially if it helps consolidate London’s position as Europe’s leading tech startup hub) where is the money going to come from so that all these newly invested startups can continue after their first $250,000 or $500,000 of investment?

It’s a metaphorical stretch, but there’s no point encouraging people to start a large family, if they won’t be able to feed themselves!

Europe and even London, Europe’s foremost tech cluster, already has a funding gap for adolescent startups. In actual fact, so does New York’s tech cluster.

“New York and London have more than 70 percent less risk capital available than Silicon Valley for Startups in the early, Pre-Product pre-Market Fit” Stages of the Startup Lifecycle.”  Startup Genome Report

And moreover even at the end of the rainbow, in the home of funding-food and plenty Silicon Valley, startups are experiencing an issue with follow on funding. Check out the graphs below, tracking the number of seed deals versus Series-A for U.S. startups: (courtesy Techcrunch, read the full article here)

 Capturegraph Capturevc2

“The “crunch” is perceived because of the boom in seed funding, which has brought a greater quantity of startups to the table looking for Series A funding…” (from the article Mining The Crunch)

Europe must find a way not to end up with a worse funding famine that of Silicon Valley now, which is that hundreds of startups funded by Xoogler’s and X-Facebooker’s are going bust -or becoming startup zombies– because they are either not worthy of further funding or because the market cannot sustain so many startups.

At a macro level, many of the much larger funds – the grandfathers of the tech VC in the U.S. and Europe – don’t perceive a problem. Possibly because they invest later stage and have extremely large funds (so are somewhat detached from the mass of earlier stage startups) or perhaps because those famous names get the very top pick of deals.

I was lucky enough to get Felda Hardymon from BVP on my panel at the recent Innotech Summit, along with Steve Schlenker from DN, plus others from Silicon Valley and L.A. to discuss this very topic (we even managed to co-opt Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London).

Boris gets to grips with a transatlantic Google Hangout

Boris gets to grips with a transatlantic Google Hangout

Perhaps not surprisingly (given that Felda has been at BVP since 1981 a full 16 years before I did my first startup) I agreed with almost every word Felda said. All of which was extremely insightful except that there isn’t a funding gap for startups in Europe.

There’s not a lack of capital for sure, but capital which people are prepared to risk at that critical, very high risk, very early stage of the startup life cycle? For sure there’s a dearth.

Perhaps the Series-A problem is that the whole approach to funding at that stage of a startups lifecycle needs to change, as one or two people I spoke to afterwards suggested.

After all, seed funding and angel funding has evolved immensely even in the last 5 years. But until that mid-stage funding environment does change, or until we teach our startups how to make a whole lot of revenue very very early on, it means that we need to educate our new European Angels not to make un-fundworthy investment decisions(!).

At the same time as a community we must find ways to open up the $1m to $4m investment bracket to more startups, by lobbying those with capital and the government for favourable incentives, alongside championing the value of technology startups both to society as a whole and as a vehicle for investment.

Venture investment (realistically, Series-A and above) create jobs. Fact. As crusades go, that's a good a reason as any. (Read Nic Brisbournes full post)

Venture investment (realistically, Series-A and above) create jobs. Fact. As crusades go, that’s a good a reason as any. (Read Nic Brisbournes full post on his excellent blog, which is where I stole this graph from)

In summary, Angel Bootcamp will go head and I wish it every success, but something needs to happen in the Series A world too, and there is much less chatter about solutions for this, or even talk of the problem, unless of course you’re a Founder trying to raise a Series-A round in Europe, and then you talk of nothing else..!

Europe did not fully recover until 1322 from the Great Famine of 1315, and while medieval starvation on a grotesque scale is more a human tragedy than any future mass deadpooling of startups, however severe, we should ask what can be done to ensure the tens of thousands of potential European jobs and startup Founder’s dreams, are not wasted away for lack of follow-on funding or Series A.

While supply and demand and market forces are one answer, I’m not sure a pure Friedman-esque approach to this growing problem is the only solution we should rely on.

The march of Windows Metro inspired design

A while back I wrote a blog post saying I thought the forthcoming release of Windows Phone and it’s metro interface (plus subsequent Windows 8 release) would probably trigger a change in fashion with regards digital design. This was partially demonstrated by the MySpace new design also.

Seems this prediction may have been salient, as I’ve started seeing a variety of designs popup both on software and websites which clearly owe a nod and sometimes more, to the Metro interface.

What designs have you seen which look like bastard children of the Metro UI ?

Capture

 

Note the menu design on the Port du Soleil website navigation and the new AVG anti-virus navigation.

Creating A Tech Start-up: Forty Point Checklist

This is my favourite quote by Winston Churchill:

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Unless you’re the absolute except to the rule (like the one-in-one-hundred-thousand such as Zuck) as an entrepreneur you can expect to fail repeatedly. And especially with technical innovation you have to fail day to day, to perfect your product or service.

The last thing you need, then, while surrounding yourself with the inevitable problems you will encounter while attempting something new and different, is for a known issue to be the one that becomes a major problem in your business.

With this in mind, while comment and opinion certainly has its place in this column, the key to any entrepreneurial venture is execution. So today I would like to offer a blueprint process to getting your start-up off the ground. This guide is inspired by a blog post by Basil Peters – indeed some of it is lifted verbatim, and I’m indebted to Basil for his original list.

Procrastination is just a worthy an adversary as poor planning, so let’s get started:

1. Build your start-up team.

2. If it’s still just you, repeat step one.

  • Statistically, start-ups with co-founders rather than single founders are over twice as likely to receive investment;
  • Some will work evening and weekends until you can raise capital, but do ensure they are definitely ready to leave their jobs if you do;

3. Agree that you want to start a company together. The next several dozen steps will test this.

4. Agree on an idea.

  • The idea is much less important than the team as the idea will likely change and evolve;

5. Agree on the time and money each of the founders will contribute.

6. Agree on areas of responsibility.

  • Choose a co-founder who complements your skills, not one which duplicates them;
  • Who will be on the board?

7. Agree on intellectual property ownership. This is essential.

  • The IP must reside in the company;
  • Create NDAs and employment contracts which you should ALL sign (even founders);
  • Create these even if you’re not paying yourselves anything;

8. Agree on how you will handle personal guarantees, credit cards and other personal liabilities.

  • Steer clear of personal credit card debt if you can;
  • If you rack up directors’ loans against your start-up as long term liabilities, bear in mind you may be pressured by future investors to convert these to equity;

9. Agree on founder compensation and equity allocation.

  • Allocate options to yourself and co-founder vesting (reverse vesting) over four years;
  • Include favourable terms for you the co-founders (eg six months’ redundancy pay, three months’ notice) and a three or six month probation period for staff – they may not work out;

10. Agree on the exit strategy now.

  • This does not necessarily mean running your company toward a quick sale – you should focus on creating a valuable, scalable business – and your aspirations may change, but being aligned monetarily and on life goals provides a foundation to build toward the same end game. Basil says “I know that’s not intuitive, but [not doing this] is one of the most common flaws”;

11. Agree on the capital structure at year three.

  • Create your own cap table now: a spreadsheet of how the capital structure/share register might look after two or three investment rounds. It also allows you to see what the investment will do to everyone’s equity;
  • Agree on the amount of equity for future employees and directors (create a share option pool – usually around 10 per cent but in the US it is often higher. I would recommend a minimum of 15 per cent);
  • Allocate your employees or founding team options over four years;
  • You can get away with a Options letter – include strike price, number of shares (not percentage), vesting schedule (when they have rights to each chunk of the shares);
  • If you are doing equity, not a convertible debt round, consider creating a class of non-voting shares and giving those to your angel round (if they will accept). This means that your voting rights will be different to the total ownership. Useful if, for example, your Series A is not at the stratospheric valuation you hoped and you want to avoid getting close to owning less than 51 per cent between you and your co-founder;

12. Think hard about whether the first dozen steps are fair and equitable. Try to imagine whether they will still seem fair and equitable in a year, or three years.

  • If everyone in the founding team is not absolutely in agreement, stop and try to work it out;
  • Write a letter of agreement outlining all these points. It will not be legally binding, but gets down in writing what has been agreed and makes people really think about what they are agreeing to;

13. Make sure your documents define the legal & corporate jurisdiction (choose which State if you are in the US).

14. Confirm the previous eight steps by signing:

  • Employment agreements;
  • IP assignment agreements;
  • Share options letters;
  • Non-disclosure agreements;

15. Agree on the company articles (the constitution of the business).

  • Change the standard articles so a 51 per cent vote is required to sell the company;
  • Provide for electronic communications for statutory shareholder requirements (one company I started had over 20 angel investors – chasing signed paperwork by post is a nightmare);

16. Check alignment among the founders for points 1-16.

  • If alignment is not perfect, it may now be time for the first offsite strategic planning retreat with an excellent facilitator (perhaps your mentor – see below);

17. Find a least one very experienced advisor, mentor and/or coach who can review and confirm the previous five steps and can help to be a sounding board.

  • If you are going to offer them equity, what remuneration, if any, they will have;
  • Choose someone who you both respect enough – and is strong enough – to challenge you both;
  • Sector expertise is useful as you don’t want to spend all your time explaining everything, but someone under the influence of the cool-aid can sometimes reinforce a bad decision, so get this balance right;

18. Incorporate the company.

19. Have the first board meeting to “hire” the officers and give them the authority to conduct business.

  • Have the first shareholders meeting and the first Annual General Meeting to elect the board;
  • If you do not do these things now by the book, expect a nightmare when it comes to due diligence on future funding. Admin is the last thing you want to do when you are starting a business – you want to build product! But this is not only good discipline, it is your legal responsibility as a company director;

20. Celebrate! You have have your own company!

21. Create a legal share register and issue share certificates.

  • Pay for your shares (in the UK you need to place money in the company bank for the nominal value of the shares. US Delaware companies don’t have nominal share values so check your jurisdiction on this process);
  • You must record the history of issuing shares in the company share register;

22. Have a board meeting to approve the capital structure and share register – another essential legal procedure.

23. Create an electronic minute book and an electronic Due Diligence folder.

  • Place copies of all the paperwork, agreements, NDAs etc in the DD folder (you’ll thank yourself later);
  • Have a folder for board meeting minutes AND record minutes for board meetings. These can initially summarise the main points, you don’t need to quote every word. This attention to process will give comfort to investors at DD time and help demonstrate you have some grip of how to run a business;

24. Create a 12 month budget and five year financial projections.

  • Many people just ask for three, but some ask for five. The worst thing in the world is having to add two years to projections you have already spent way too long on. Just do five from the start;
  • All the projections are complete rubbish. They will all be wrong. Give it your best shot anyway. It will help you understand short term capital requirements – and hopefully give your investors the big carrot of oodles of cash at the end of the rainbow;
  • Assume you will spend more than you will. Easy things to forget (for a UK start-up) include: directors indemnity insurance, employee AND employers’ National Insurance, VAT on sales and the accountant’s and legal bills;

25. Check that your projected capital structure still makes sense now that you have thought more about the numbers – update if necessary – at this stage you still can.

26. Check again that you still have team alignment on all the previous 25 points.

27. If you have not already, write a business plan.

  • A PowerPoint (or Keynote!) deck is fine. The list of slide headings on Sequoia’s web site is as good as any;
  • This is as much to clarify to you and your team plans and direction, as it is for investors;
  • No more than three points on each slide, it is a sales tool, not an exhaustive biography of your product or market analysis;

28. Appoint an accountant.

  • Early stage bootstrapping is all about saving money, but a rubbish accountant now will cost you money later;
  • Appoint an accountancy firm which is large enough to know what they are doing but small enough to care. If you’re in Shoreditch, London, http://www.dands.co.uk is a great example of experience combined with boutique size;

29. Open a bank account.

  • Agree on signing authorities for financial management;
  • If co-founders, allow single signatory but only up to a sensible cap (eg £5,000 or $10,000) with dual signatures required above that;
  • Make sure you have good online banking which ideally interfaces with your accountant’s software;

30. Check again the team is in alignment with last 29 items. Sometimes small disagreements can be a sign of a deeper disagreement.

  • Schedule an offsite strategic planning retreat to perfect alignment if necessary. (Choose an excellent, experienced facilitator to maximise chances of success – perhaps you mentor if he or she is capable);

31. Celebrate achieving the last 30 items!

  • It may not seem important, but it is for psychological reasons and bonding;

32. Get a simple subscription agreement for the founders’ investment.

  • Pay for your start-up equity by transferring the par value cash into the bank;

33. Learn about all of the taxes your company will have to pay.

  • Do not rely on your accountant to make the decisions; they cannot understand your business well enough to do this entirely themselves. You must understand taxes well enough to ensure you are paying all of the taxes the company owes and that you are not creating personal liability for your directors;
  • As directors, pay for anything you can get away with as expenses – all your travel (provided it doesn’t say on the ticket it’s to Disneyland). It is the most efficient way to get money out of the business. Don’t be fraudulent, just be tax efficient;
  • Use an electronic expenses tool (Xpenser, or Expensify) to collate your own and team accounts – all expenses are tax deductible;

34. Make sure none of your employees think they can be contractors outside of working on your start-up.

35. Understand the R&D tax credits program.

  • This allows you to claim back a large percentage of PAYE tax (this is an excellent R&D tax rebate available in the UK, others are available in Canada and other countries);

36. Get insurance (the insurance you really need, not what the broker wants to sell you).

37. Get an alarm system or check security before you move the computers into your office (unless you all have laptops). Two of the offices I had (including a shared one) were burgled.

38. Start planning you investment round and reaching out to investors. Make sure you adhere to EIS for angel investors – Google it – or in the US any legalities for private securities investing.

39. Agree on a fair valuation.

  • Get your external advisor to check and correct the capital structure and share register if necessary. (It’s still easy to fix this but that window is closing fast);
  • Don’t state your valuation in your first conversation with angel investors;
  • Consider convertible debt (offering a discount on the valuation at the next round);

40. Celebrate completing all of the absolutely necessary steps in building a successful start-up!

And then, as soon as the hangover clears, start working on the product, marketing, sales, recruiting, strategic relationships and exit strategy. Good luck…!

Note: This post was previously written by me for publication as an article in The Kernel magazine, an excellent deep-dive blog on the start-up scene. Think The Economist for technology. 

New MySpace Design Makes Facebook Look Old

Back in December 2010 I predicted that there would be a design shift the following year, toward cleaner lines, sharper less fussy – less “Web 2.0” – designs.

It’s taken longer than I thought but apparently we’re still moving in that direction!

The imminent Windows 8 is all about this, continuing the theme from it’s elegant (if a little Ux flawed) younger Windows Phone UI cousin. But also, MySpace is joining the fray, as my office neighbours at VentureBeat have just demonstrated publishing a video of the new MySpace UI.

As you can see it’s remarkably clean and utilises the vast screen real-estate which most desktop computers and many laptops now have. Why people are still designing for 1024 width is beyond me; or at least they should have sites which shrink gracefully and optimise for at least 1366+ and as an aside, there are some startling similarities to our new UI design for The Taploid (launching next week)… great minds think a like perhaps!

But I digress…

In terms of colours I’m unsure whether the darker shades may become tiresome after a while – certainly I find that the Adobe CS5 and CS6 suit which has switched to a dark style UI can be annoying. That said many Adobe Air products ended up like this, such as Tweetdeck and I was happy using them.

The whole MySpace UI video can be seen here.

I wonder what is next, a return to IBM PC Green?