A Young Entrepreneur in London - by Ivan Mazour

This blog is collection of thoughts and memories about my life as a Russian living in London and trying to juggle working, studying, writing, and a number of entrepreneurial startups.

I often remember certain things I did as a child, seemingly signs of a young entrepreneur. By writing them down here, they will inspire new ideas, energy and confidence, for myself and, perhaps, for others too.

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'Delete' - How unexceptional people apply for jobs

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'Delete' - How unexceptional people apply for jobs

delete-buttonWe’re in the middle of another hiring phase at Ometria, doubling from a core team of 8 to 16 within just a few months, and that means I’m placing a lot of ads and looking at a lot of inbound applications. Every time I do this, I’m struck by quite how bad most people are at applying for a job, and quite how easy it is to avoid this.

One recent, important, role within our business is a paid internship for someone who will be assisting with research related to the product, data crunching related to our digital marketing, and customer interaction to handle any incoming requests. The role is junior, but it is broad, interesting and provides both a lot of valuable experience and the opportunity to work directly with almost every member of the team.

We’ve had a great response to the job ad on Enternships, with hundreds of people applying, from people who are only graduating next year, to people who have already been in work for a decade. The ad specifies a few things very clearly. First, an explanation that we require people who are ready to start immediately, and people who have ecommerce experience, with a request to provide a response related to these points in the application. Second, a simple question, which we ask all applicants, and which underlies our entire hiring culture. The question is “What makes you exceptional?”

Nine out of ten applicants copy and paste something generic into the answer to this last question. “I am well traveled.” ” I am proficient with tools such as Excel.” A 962 word answer where the word OMETRIA is spelled in capitals, like that, and very clearly ‘find and replaced’, and the word exceptional doesn’t appear at all. All of these are genuine answers that have been submitted for this question by various people – people who got the ‘delete’ button.

So 100 or so rejections later, we have a shortlist of people who have at least been willing to read the job advert, and respond to the things that matter. A favourite answer was from a girl who talked about resilience making her different, her exceptional time management skills, and specific relevant experience in ecommerce making her perfect for the role. An answer that it was a pleasure to read, and so clearly distinct from the others that there was no doubt about clicking ‘shortlist’.

Next comes the Cover Letter. Assuming the answer to the filter question is vaguely interesting, it is clear that I will go on to open both the CV and the Cover Letter. At this stage, it all starts going wrong again, since most cover letters will generically copy and paste the company name in, and will have no mention of the relevant skills or aspects of the job. A smart cover letter will be based on a generic one, but will weave in why the candidate is good for the role, and what exactly about it they are excited about it. “I have the right qualifications for this role… and have extensive experience in this field”, with no further relevant details, is just not going to cut it.

If the answer to the filter question is good, and the cover letter is relevant, then the CV gets some thorough analysis. They’ve taken the time to specifically focus on this application and it’s only fair to take time to specifically analyse it. People make one major mistake with the CV. They don’t put a photo. This is such an obvious opportunity to create an emotional connection with whoever is reading the CV, and most people miss it out. The right photo, demonstrating professionalism, will really ingrain you in the mind of the decision maker, and most people just don’t do this. Apart from that, CVs are what they are – if you’ve had some great previous roles, then they will be impressive. If not, then the other aspects of the application are going to need to be really strong, and they are more important in any case.

Our hiring process is long, even for an internship position. We’re a family that’s very hard to get into – no one gets to skip it. So the first stage is an interview. I personally write to the candidate to thank them for the application, tell them that they’ve stood out, and invite them to a first interview. I also lay out the next steps to ensure they are aware. Even at this very simple step, people get it wrong. One person, who was absolutely perfect in the application, responded with a single sentence “I am available for the interview on Wednesday, but am not available on Thursday for the next step you describe.” No followup. No question regarding whether it would be possible to reschedule. This one really stumped me. Clear effort put into making the application, and no effort put into trying to persuade us to move the interview times around. Is this someone who has issues with communicating, or someone who just doesn’t care about joining our company? Either way, such a shame..

Then comes the interview. One obvious point always jumps out at me – the good candidates will always have lots of questions. They have options, and that means they are the ones making a tough decision. They want to know absolutely everything about the role, absolutely everything about future opportunities. And on the other hand, so many people just have a generic question, because they know they need to ask one. A great candidate will carefully ask questions throughout the process, taking care not to take over the interview, but demonstrating that they really do care about taking the right role.

We had one candidate do something exceptional after the interview. He sent a hand-written thank you note. Absolutely perfect – no one else did it, and it really stood out. It took him a minute of time to do it, but the effect was significant. It set him apart, and he was immediately invited back for a test day.

At the test day, the second stage of our interview process, we screen for two things. The first is overall output, productivity, and attitude based on the APM Principle. The point of this principle isn’t how much you can do – most people totally misunderstand that blog post. The point of it is to reframe what you believe you can do, and realise that the bar should be set an order of magnitude higher. The second is cultural fit. The Sunday test. Is this someone that we would want to spend a Sunday in the office with. Do they understand the reality of being in a startup, and is that something they relish.

It’s amazing how many candidates come in for this day, and over eight hours produce a document that’s one and a half pages long. Our first hire was through the same channel, for a similar research intern position. His bar is set at what is literally a dissertation – a fifteen page document with data, charts, and a detailed analysis – all within one day. He now pretty much runs the company.. So people who spend time on getting past all of the earlier stages end up crashing out. It becomes clear that the effort didn’t come from something intrinsic. They aren’t genuine overachievers – they just put extra effort into the earlier steps because they were short and it was simple to do so. They wouldn’t hack three years’ worth of 14 hour days doing maths at Cambridge, and they definitely wouldn’t hack ten years’ worth of 16 hour days building a SaaS company.

All those people ended up not being exceptional. So that’s how not to do it. And so we are left with one candidate. She answered the question well. She added a relevant paragraph to the Cover Letter. She had a photo. She produced four times more than the other candidates during the test day, and it was well planned and well executed. Only one stage remains. The Gauntlet. Six individual interviews with the core founding team, one after another, no breaks, and anyone can veto. There’s no tricks for getting through that one. Either she’s an Ometrian, or we’ve got to start again.


No hustlers and no connectors - the psychology of tech email intros

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No hustlers and no connectors - the psychology of tech email intros

IntroductionA few days ago, I found myself with a familiar sense of annoyance that normally leads to the word “muppets”, followed by me writing posts like this one. This time the topic was the response to an email introduction.

Until about three years ago, I had no idea what an “email intro” was. My businesses at the time were in real-estate, an industry split entirely into two camps. One camp would try and charge a percentage on every single thing they came across. No introductions would ever take place without a contract in place for a 2% commission on whatever would come out of it. The hustlers. The other camp would introduce absolutely everyone to everyone, constantly, independent of whether there was a good reason to do it. The connectors.

It was, looking back at it from the outside, an interesting ecosystem. The connectors enjoyed the feeling of knowing everyone, and optimised for that. The hustlers wanted money, and so optimised for that. The symbiotic relationship allowed both groups to get what they wanted. And, of course, a third group was needed – the people worth connecting, the people who got things done. The connectors got to go to lots of parties, and say hi to lots of people. The hustlers got to get 2% of huge deals. And the people who got things done had this huge support infrastructure, improving market information and liquidity for them.

For several years, I would sign non-disclosure agreements, and consultancy agreements, before being able to speak with people, who then turned out to waste my time. Or I’d be introduced to someone “because you are both Russian”, since that seemed like a good enough reason. This absolute lack of process, or efficiency, made no sense to me, but that was the way the industry operated, and I didn’t see an alternative.

And then I discovered tech. Stepping foot into the world of technology (I mean professionally – I’d been a geek for decades..) was like a breath of fresh air. Everything was different. Values were different.

Firstly, no one valued making money out of the success of others. The few hustlers that tried to do that were not welcome, anywhere. Secondly, no one, except for Doug Scott, who we’ve grown to love, made introductions randomly just for the hell of it. There was a process. People took it seriously. Introductions were a currency, a gift. A well-placed introduction would deliver value to both individuals, without anything specific being asked by the introducer. If it went well, they would both be grateful, and that was sufficient. It would put an unspoken obligation on those people to help some other people in the same way. And as the whole community continued to do this, the whole group would rise up. It was self-perpetuating.

A bad introduction, however, would annoy everyone, and annoy them a lot. We are all so time-limited, and simply can’t afford to have meetings that don’t go anywhere. A random introduction places an obligation on the two people to get in contact, as otherwise there would be a risk of them coming across as rude and affecting their reputation. So bad introductions are not tolerated, and because of this, are simply not done. Every single introduction is carefully thought about, carefully worded, and carefully monitored.

So a few weeks ago, I was asked to meet with a company, and to put together a small group of angels to invest in their round. The meeting went well – it was a great team and an interesting product. I mentioned that I was interested, and that I’d make introductions to a few other angel investors who I knew. After the meeting, I did just that, copying in the CEO with a few individuals who invested in Ometria, clearly mentioning that they had done so.

The response came back. “Thanks for this. Just before I reply, are you referring James as a potential investor, or an interested 3rd party?”. The wave of annoyance started to swell, as I stared at the screen. For years, I had enjoyed the ability to connect with people in tech on a higher level, through a shared understanding that didn’t require words. This was the exact opposite. I quite literally took offense at the question. We’d clearly spent time talking about their sole priority – raising a funding round. I’d clearly told them that I would make introductions to investors. And I clearly said in my e-mail that this person was an investor. I’d both made, and received, introductions of this sort many times, and there is a very clear, polite, professional and friendly process to follow them up. There was no ambiguity here at all.

But then I realised that this person was probably new to tech. His use of the word “referred” probably meant that he was still used to the world of hustlers, and connectors. This may well have been one of the first times he was getting a proper “email intro”. The first time I got an email intro I was almost certainly totally confused as well.. It was a reminder of how the tech community lives in its own bubble, with its own rules that others outside probably consider ridiculous. But I couldn’t imagine going back. I love the fact that there are no hustlers, and no connectors. I love the fact that everyone succeeds through their own achievements. And I love the fact that when I get an email intro, I know it will be to someone extremely relevant to what I need right now.


The ultimate really simple guide to absolutely everything you need to know about Bitcoin

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The ultimate really simple guide to absolutely everything you need to know about Bitcoin

BitcoinsIn just this past week, about ten people have asked me to explain to them things related to Bitcoin. As an entrepreneur, I couldn’t help seeing this as some market demand, and responding with a blog post. The reason they’ve been asking me is that I’ve been a rather vocal early adopter of Bitcoin for a while now, so have been annoying people with my evangelism for a good year or so, and as the interest in cryptocurrencies has grown, I’ve ended up being the person to turn to for a crash course. I’m even on a panel about it at the Entrepreneur Country Forum in a few weeks.

Now what I really dislike about Bitcoin articles is that they always spend ages explaining what it is, in a way that is not interesting, or useful. So I’m not going to do any of that. Instead, I’m going to go through those few aspects of it that are really vital, in a really simple and quick way, with links to more information for those who want to do more research.

First of all, let’s start with my own Bitcoin story. I’d heard of Bitcoin since 2012, but early last year I decided to read up about it to understand more. I’d always been upset that I missed out on the in-game currency opportunity, and I suddenly realised that Bitcoin was almost like a time machine – an opportunity to get into something similar right at the beginning.

computerNow as a massive geek, for a couple of decades I’ve always kept a self-built gaming computer at home. These days I have little time to play properly, so it ends up being used for e-mails, but I still always upgrade it with the latest components, just in case. Since I had it anyway, and it had four of the latest GPUs, as soon as I learned about Bitcoin I started mining. The living room suddenly had this jet engine, powering away, raising the temperature of the room to 27C, but generating some Bitcoins. With a hashrate of about 1Mh/s, it took about a month to get my first Bitcoin.

Over this month, I learned more about it, and got more and more excited about the prospects. And then suddenly, in April 2013, we had a big bubble, with Bitcoin going up in price to around £200. I’ve written a number of blog posts about making a billion, and this seemed like the kind of world-changing opportunity where people were going to do just that. So as soon as the price dropped back down, to about £40, I made an investment. Since I’m an angel investor in early-stage tech companies, I’m used to making a very high risk investment of a certain amount, so I just considered this another one of those, and added it into my portfolio.

At this point it didn’t make sense to mine anymore – firstly I had bought many more coins, but secondly the technology required to mine had changed. More on this later. So instead I started looking around at other currencies, while waiting for Bitcoin to go up. I discovered Ripple – a privately owned company with an even more advanced protocol and cryptocurrency, who had been backed by the best VCs like Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, but who nobody had heard of. Here was the chance to get in even earlier than I did with Bitcoin. So I did, and I made an “angel investment” into Ripple as well.

bitcoinbubbleSo now I had two different cryptocurrency stashes, and the year continued, with prices slowly going up. Suddenly at the end of the year, everything changed. Bitcoin price shot up, over just a few weeks, to £700. Ripple followed closely. The two investments combined because worth more than all the other investments I’d ever made. A fund-returner, in VC terms. It was difficult to sleep or think about anything else. The Ometria team had to take over for a while, as I spent most of the time staring at Bitcoin charts online.

I cashed out at about £500. The whole stash, in one go, dropping the market by about 20% as I did it. I cashed out on Mt. Gox, of course, as it was the most obvious exchange to do it on. But then the prices kept going up, so I very quickly bought back in. The panic sell ended up costing me 20% of my total Bitcoins, which I was angry about at first. But re-buying ended up saving me 100% of them, as I withdrew the coins to my own wallet, instead of leaving anything on Mt. Gox and losing everything when they shut down.

After that, I realised that I am not a trader, and do not have the emotional guard in place to be able to make rational decision about such immense ups and downs, and that the best option for me was to simply sit on the coins, until I was ready to sell. The only thing I needed was to have a way out, so I’ve spent a bit of time now meeting all of the big players in Bitcoin, building relationships that would allow me to, at the right time, cash out of my whole stash in one go.

But sitting on a stash and watching charts is boring, so I’ve got back into mining. Now that Bitcoin mining is impossible for the typical individual, the only way to mine profitably is to do it for altcoins – alternative cryptocurrencies, which I will describe later. So I do that, and have a mid-sized mining farm operating out of my living room. The plan is to generate as much as possible in a profitable way, wait for at least one more bubble in cryptocurrencies, possibly two, and then to safely take out all of the capital, pay some capital gains tax, and split it by investing half into technology, and half into property. Leverage the once-in-a-lifetime chance for 1000x returns to create some safe capital. Hopefully my next blog post on the subject will be a happy one, and not one lamenting how I have lost everything..

The above was the story. Now for the crash course.. I want to cover the few aspects that I think are most important to understand, but without getting bogged down into too much boring detail.

1. Bitcoin, what it is, and why it’s interesting.

Bitcoin is just an accounting ledger and a protocol. That’s the only thing that needs to be understood. It is a giant document, currently about 10Gb in size, which contains the details of every single transaction ever made. Transactions are made between addresses, and the protocol is the technology that allows this. To own an address you need to know the password – the keys – to it. That’s it. If your address has coins in it, and you have the keys, you can send it to someone else. For ease of access, you can download a wallet, like this one which I use. This makes it easy to use the keys and to transfer the coins to other people.

The ledger is maintained by everyone who is mining coins, i.e. it is distributed across the whole world and is kept updated by everyone. This means no one controls it, although there are a few issues with this which I’ll cover later. Mining coins means using your computing power to solve a pointless cryptography problem. If you succeed in solving it, you have a small chance of getting some bitcoins. This adds no value to the world, but is a way of constraining the supply of bitcoins, and of creating a mechanism for distributing them. These days the chances of getting some coins is so small that people have created pools. Pools are technologies that combine the mining power of many different people, and then split the total proceeds fairly between everyone, based on computational power allocated by each one.

The reason all this is interesting, is because the world has been struggling, for years, to get rid of the concept of cash. We are quite happy with the banking system for long-term storage of money, and for large transfers, but for day-to-day payments the current systems are either too clunky, or too expensive. Bitcoin is electronic cash. You can have a wallet on your mobile, with however much cash you feel is safe, and then you can make easy payments anywhere you go. Or that’s the promise. In reality it is still a gimmick – those shops that accept Bitcoin do so for the PR value, not because it’s easier or because there is much demand to use it. But this demand is only growing, so although Bitcoin is currently still just a speculative investment, the fact is that a lot of money, and a lot of time, is being invested into the ecosystem, and this can only lead to increased adoption, and the shift from speculation to actual use. By the way, if you want to try it out, just go and order some food from www.takeaway.com – you can pay in Bitcoin!

2. Problems with Bitcoin.

It hasn’t been easy for Bitcoin. Over the years, many exchanges (places where you trade real world currencies for cryptocurrencies) have gone bust, been hacked, or actually just shut down and stolen people’s money. This is by far the biggest problem, and one that it’s vital to avoid by minimising the time you keep anything on an exchange. Money should be in your own bank account (although keep in mind this is also an exchange, so the same applies to a bank too), and Bitcoins should be kept in your own wallet.

Wallets can be hacked as well, usually by catching the password. Most Bitcoin wallets will have encryption built in, but in order to decrypt it, you will type a password into your computer, and that’s how they will catch it. So the key is to keep a computer, not connected to the internet, and used for nothing but the wallet. No downloads, no USB sticks – no viruses or keyloggers. Only use it to transfer coins in, and transfer coins out. Over the next few years, the most profitably way to be a hacker will be to steal wallets, so expect many distinct viruses coming out, for PC, Mac, Linux, mobile devices and everything else you can think of, to get access to all of these coins..

There are also some much broader problems, to do with the protocol itself – the aspect of Bitcoin that allows coins to be mined, stored, sent, and for all of this information to be distributed and sent. These problems include the 51% problem, which means that if you control more than half of the computing power of Bitcoin, you have total control over the ledger, and can actually change it forcing all of the other computers to follow the changes you’ve made. Another problem is the transaction malleability problem, which was the cause for the collapse of Mt. Gox (although this isn’t certain – they may have just stolen the money themselves) through attackers forcing exchanges to not correctly account for transfers, and send more coins for transfers that had already happened.

Finally there is the problem with regulation. Thailand has banned it. China has banned it, ish. Russia has banned it, ish. The UK tried to call it a voucher, which would have led to all sorts of tax problems, but has ended up sorting itself out. The USA has said that it can’t ban it. So it’s very difficult to know what exactly is going to happen, now that Bitcoin is big enough to have an impact on governments. We could end up with a highly-regulated ecosystem, which removes all of the new value and the excitement, leading to its final demise. We could end up with absolute total disruption to the world’s monetary system. This is all being played out, right now.

3. Altcoins. Or alternative coins.

Since the Bitcoin technology is completely open-source, people have started to create their own clones of it. Each one is slightly different, but the only thing that really matters is the marketing. Setting up your own cryptocurrency is really easy. What’s hard is to get people to mine it, to trade it, and to build the various aspects of the ecosystem that are required. There are currently 140 altcoins, which you can see here, but by the time you read this, this number will probably be out of date.

A few interesting things about altcoins. Most are actually based on Litecoin, not Bitcoin. Litecoin is the biggest of all the proper altcoins, and uses a different algorithm. Almost everything I described above in points 1 and 2 applies, although some aspects of the protocol have been improved. Litecoin is cheaper in price than Bitcoin, and tends to follow its movement in price – it’s the silver to Bitcoin’s gold.

So all these other altcoins, except for one, are mostly based on Litecoin, and exist because a few programmers wanted to try out replicating the code. As I mentioned, the hard part is to get people interested enough, so the key is to build up hype. Hype means lots of people mine, and others want to buy. This means prices go up, and you can sell it for a large profit – what’s known as the pump and dump. The most successful coin of the moment is Dogecoin, a coin based on an internet meme. Because it’s different, and amusing, it’s attracted the required attention, and has led to 400% gains in just one day. Of course there is now a clone, called Catcoin, and the whole cycle will continue. I spent a week mining Coinye West, until it was shut down. I’m tempted to go for some Kim Coindashian, but I get the feeling that’s not going to go very far either.

The only other altcoin worth mentioning is Ripple. This is completely different to all of the other altcoins. It is privately owned, rather than distributed, so the ledger is operated only by them. It is pre-mined, so there is no need to waste computing power. The owners will give away most of the coins, keeping some for themselves, hoping that their stash will keep them running through the initial years, and will end up being worth billions. The protocol itself is much more advanced than Bitcoin – it is faster, and it allows the trading of all sorts of currencies, not just Ripple. So you can use the Ripple protocol to actually trade Bitcoins, or dollars, or anything else you want. It is still in beta, and extremely risky, but they are well capitalised, backed by some very smart people, and have a chance of totally displacing Bitcoin as the global cryptocurrency and protocol.

4. Buying and selling cryptocurrencies.

If you’ve read this far, it’s a safe bet that you’re interested enough in cryptocurrencies to want to own some. So here are the important aspects of buying and selling them. Firstly, get accounts at as many exchanges as you can. The vital one is Bitstamp, it is the core exchange, at least for the next few years. It’s considered the safest, and has the largest volumes. But also get BTCe, Kraken and itBit. In America, add Coinbase into the mix. With all of these exchanges, get verified, which involves sending proof of identity, to the highest level possible, so that you can make larger transactions. And make sure that your passwords are as secure as possible, preferably using two-stage authentication.

Once you’ve done this, each exchange will have an account to which you can transfer money, usually in Euros, and usually requiring a specific reference. Keep in mind that these are all unregulated amateur operations. Customer support will be awful, and there will be no one to turn to if things go wrong. So mistakes aren’t allowed – if you don’t put a reference, it may take months to get the money back, and you may not get it at all. But if you follow the instructions, things tend to work out.

When the money is in the exchange, you have two options. You can trade it all in one go, or you can go a bit at a time. Depending on your free time, your interest, and your trading skills, one of these will be more suitable. It’s usually better, to buy a bit at a time, as you can ride any waves and average out your entry price. It also means, if you’re buying a lot, that you don’t move the market and get in at the best possible price. But, for the reason described above and below, you don’t want to keep anything on an exchange for very long, so it’s much safer to buy and sell quickly.

Once you have cryptocurrency, you need to transfer it to your local wallet immediately. Any one of these exchanges can fail, and there will be no warning if they do. So you don’t want anything sitting in an exchange. Transferring out Bitcoin is easy – you get your wallet address and type it into the exchange. Sometimes this can go wrong, as it has done for me, leading to weeks of trying to get in touch with customer service, but usually this part is hassle free.

So now you have cryptocurrency, on your own computer, which you are keeping as safe as possible. Encrypt the wallet, back it up somewhere, say Dropbox, but only ever open it on that one computer that you know is virus-free. If someone catches your password, that money is gone. All that’s left is to wait for the next big bubble, and then face the immense dilemma of whether to cash out, or ride it out for a bit longer. Believe me, unless you’ve already lived through that, it is an experience that you cannot imagine, and a psychological experiment on yourself that is so fascinating, it will take over your life.

5. Mining cryptocurrencies.

And now the last bit. Mining. If you’re not a complete nerd, then ignore this last part, as it requires some serious technical knowledge, and quite a bit of patience too. But if you’re into building computers and messing around with software, then this is the fun part!

A brief history. Mining involves combining computer hardware, computational power, and electricity, to create Bitcoins. The first three cost money, the last one has value. Hence it’s an equation, that people try to solve in a profitable way. The first people could use a basic computer to mine Bitcoins, and get tens of thousands of them very easily. As more people became interested, it became harder. The more people mine, the higher the “difficulty” gets, and as time goes by, the reward you get for successfully solving the cryptography problem gets smaller too – this is part of the protocol that ensures that supply is constrained, and that there can only ever be 21 million Bitcoins. Once thousands of people started mining, it because highly unlikely that you’d be the person that would solve the problem, and people started mining through pools, collectively, and sharing the rewards. At this point any aspect of chance was removed, and you could equate total computing power, or hashrate as it’s known, with total production of Bitcoins.

Bitcoin-Miner-asicBecause of this, people started looking for ways of increasing their hashrate, and created software that allowed you to mine Bitcoins using a GPU – a video processor usually used for gaming. This was many orders of magnitude more powerful than a processor. A top-end GPU can mine at almost 1 megahash a second, whereas a CPU tends to do just a few dozen kilohashes. But even that didn’t last long, because given the opportunities in Bitcoin, there were people constantly pushing to get an edge. Just like GPUs made CPU mining unprofitable, newer technologies like FPGA mining made GPU mining unprofitable. And finally, after years of research, specialist companies released ASIC technology – machines which can do nothing but mine bitcoin – which were so much more powerful than anything that came before, that it meant that anyone who didn’t have one could not possibly mine profitably. Current ASICs mine at terahashes a second, literally billions of times faster than a processor.

urlThe problem with ASICs is that there is an inbuilt moral hazard, and prisoners dilemma. The companies making each incremental one would make more money by mining than by selling them. But once another company also had them, then it would just turn into an arms race, and there wouldn’t be a competitive advantage anymore. So in a perfect world, everyone would have CPUs, and you’d be the only person with a terahash ASIC. But of course that’s impossible. So the companies sell the ASICs to miners instead. However they of course use them to mine their own coins when they come out, so by the time the consumer receives their ASIC, it is no longer a competitive advantage, and it becomes almost impossible to actually make money on them. So, these days, only if you’re the company that constantly manufactures better iterations is it possible to make significant profits from Bitcoin mining.

The solution is to move to altcoins, which all individual miners have now done. Litecoin, and the others, are based on a different algorithm to Bitcoin, which is not easily adapted to custom hardware. So mining Litecoin using an ASIC is no better than to do so with GPUs. I currently have an 8 MH/s mining farm operating out of my living room. It includes my gaming computer, that I’m typing this on, and an additional 6-GPU rig which was built just for mining. It takes just over two weeks to generate me a Bitcoin, but it does so by first mining the most profitable of all the altcoins, and then once a day exchanging that for Bitcoin and sending it to my wallet. I use a pool to automate that – Middlecoin - which takes a high fee, but also takes all of the hassle out of it. I just keep the computers running, and receive my Bitcoins.

Now onto the hardware. The point is to realise that profitability on mining should be measured in cryptocurrency, and not in fiat currency (Pounds / Dollars). When you buy a machine, you need to consider how many coins that hardware is worth, and then make sure you get that many coins back over its lifetime. Because otherwise, the huge fluctuations in Bitcoin / altcoin prices could make it seem like you’ve made or lost a lot of money, but in reality you may have been much better off just investing the cash in the coin, rather than purchasing mining equipment.

My 6 GPU rig cost me 5 Bitcoins. If all goes to plan I should make that back in under half a year, and everything after that will be profit. If difficulty increases too quickly then this will drop, but the current fluctuation in price is likely to prevent many new miners entering, so this should be a good period to get positive ROI on the operation. And most importantly, I want to be in a position to leverage any altcoins that arise – I have no doubt there will be more “Dogecoins” with huge short-term opportunities, and I want to have the hardware ready and available so I can point it in the right direction.

So here’s the really technical part. Having spent many weekends trying to get it all to work, here’s a guide to avoiding all of the pitfalls, and to really easily putting together a mining rig. Firstly, go for this very specific hardware. Any changes, and there will be additional small problems that you will definitely run into. Here’s the list:

MSI Z87-G55 Motherboard
Intel G1820 Celeron Processor
4GB Corsair DD3 Vengence Ram
1000W EVGA SuperNova PSU
1200W NZXT Hale PSU
6 Sapphire Radeon R9 280X Toxic OC GPUs
6 1x to 16x PCIE powered risers (ebay, don’t go too cheap)
Not-cheap 8GB USB stick
Netgear Powerline adapter
Belkin WeMo adapter
Generic electricity power monitor
4-way extension cable
Very thin wire for electronics
3 33L stackable milk crates
6 DVI to VGA adapters
Add2Psu adapter
Dremel tool for cutting

Mining RigAll of the above works perfectly. And this is what it looks like. Any changes and it probably won’t. If the above doesn’t work, then one of the components is broken – that’s the only reason.

Now once you have all of this, firstly build it. The PSUs go in the bottom crate, the motherboard and everything else in the top crate. The third one is just to raise both of them so you don’t have to keep bending down – I don’t actually use it now that everything is running. Use the dremel to cut some holes for the PSU cables to get through to the motherboard and GPUs. The DVI to VGA adapters aren’t actually used, but they extend the length of the graphics card so that you can rest it perfectly on the top crate, opening them up to air for cooling. Always start with one GPU just to make sure everything is working, and only then go up, one by one, until all 6 are running. This will not be easy. Many annoying things will go wrong. But you’ll get there in the end. Use the Addd2PSU adapter to make sure both power supplies start together. Connect the 1000W one to three GPUs, and the three relevant powered PCIE risers. Connect the 1200W one to the other three GPUs, the other three risers, and to all the other components such as the motherboard. The power cables should be plugged into the extension cable, so this way you have one single plug which powers both PSUs. When you first start it, which you’ll need to do by using a screwdriver to short the power switch pins on the motherboard (use the manual to find these) go into the BIOS and make sure that it’s set to automatically power on whenever power is restored. This way, all you need to do to turn it on is to unplug it, wait a few seconds and plug it back in.

Once the hardware is connected, here are the guides to follow. Firstly install BAMT onto a USB stick, by following the instructions here. This is a pre-set Linux distribution that has everything you need to mine. On the hardware above, it will just work. If it doesn’t you’re using something different, or your USB stick is dodgy. The instructions will show you how to change the cgminer.conf file – this is the most important, and hardest part. BAMT doesn’t require you to do anything – it should just start mining as soon as you boot up the computer, which you can tell because the graphics cards will make a lot of noise. If they don’t, then the config file is wrong. Here is the one I use – if you have the same hardware, then this should work perfectly. The only thing you have to change is your Bitcoin address, nothing else.

Once you’ve got it all set up and working with one GPU, then follow this guide here to go through each of your GPUs one at a time and flash their bios to undervolt them. This will decrease your electricity usage, decrease your heat generation, and improve your overall mining efficiency. This is for the specific GPUs above, so don’t do it for any others. Also, these GPUs have a BIOS switch, so use that switch to change to the 2nd BIOS, and flash that one – that way you can always just go back to the original BIOS by pressing the button on the card.

Once all the GPUs are ready, start adding them in, one by one. The first few will work, but sooner or later they will stop being recognised. When they do, follow this guide here for the slot that isn’t working. You need to use the wire to short two pins on the slot. Once you’ve done that properly, it will work. Note there are 7 slots but only 6 of them will work at once, even with the wire trick. One won’t. By the end you’ll work out which one that is.

So now you should have the machine hashing at 4.5Mh/s. Plug in the Homeplug adapter so you can put it anywhere you want in your home, plug in the WeMo adapter so that you can reset the actual power over the internet. If anything goes wrong, you can use this to disconnect the power, give it a few seconds, and reconnect it. The BIOS will catch it, turn on the computer, and then BAMT will automatically start the mining. Then plug in the electricity monitor – you want to see how much power you are drawing, and how much it is costing you, to be able to measure profitability.

And at this point you will have a box making lots of noise, making you lots of bitcoin, hopefully hassle-free. And you’ll immediately want to build another one, and then another one, and you’ll end up like this guy here..

So that’s it, that’s all I can think of that is absolutely vital to know about Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies, buying them or mining them. I’ll gladly answer any questions in the comments, so leave me one. And if you do build a mining farm, then drop me a line – it’s always good to compare notes. Now it’s your turn. Get involved, and spread the word!


Alarms are for wimps

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Alarms are for wimps

AlarmsAs with most things, it seems I have accidentally overanalysed another topic, and developed a very strong opinion about it. This time it is about alarms.

As a child I was most certainly not an early riser. I remember, at boarding school, staying up till 4am playing XCOM, which must be one of the most addictive games ever made. I would wake up at 8.32 which would give me exactly 8 minutes to get ready and run down to Chapel. If you missed Chapel, you were in serious trouble, so I never did. This rather limited sleep time, however, did mean that my body would try to use some of my least favourite classes to catch up. English was the worst. I remember clearly being awakened by a teacher, right in the middle of class, having put my head down on my book to “think”, as I quickly explained.

I would always be tired, I would always be ill, and things were simply not on track. This was not a reasonable way to live. At some point towards the end of my teenage years, I had an epiphany. The computer games, or the movie I was watching, would still be there the next day. Amazing how simple this epiphany is, but it changed everything. Suddenly, now, whenever I felt tired, I’d just go to sleep. That desire to keep doing what I was doing was deprioritised. Sleep was moved up.

There was one very clear change after this. When I would get a full eight hours of sleep, nothing in the day was hard. There was no need to push myself. Whatever tasks I had, whatever hard work I had to do, it all flowed easily. The overall effectiveness of a day on eight hours of sleep was so much greater than that of a day on four hours of sleep, that it was clear that stopping the late nights was vital to my future success.

As I got older, my circadian cycle became more entrenched. I would have a specific time that I would feel tired, and if I missed this it would be many hours till I would sleep. And I’d have a specific time that I would wake up, with no choice about it. It would take many weeks to move these times, even by an hour. And if I didn’t hit the “sleepy slot”, or if I woke up early, then that day, and possibly the day after, would be a write-off. This was even more vital during my time at Cambridge, when if I got this right, I’d get through a day of 11+ hours of solid mathematics without breaking a sweat, but if I got it wrong, I would spend the whole day procrastinating, or staring at a formula I simply wouldn’t understand.

So I made a clear decision. The most important thing about my day would be getting the full eight hours of sleep that I clearly needed, and I would arrange everything in such a way that I would minimise the chances of that not happening. I moved my wakeup slot to the precise time that I wanted it, 7am, which meant that my sleepy slot became 11pm. I analysed my body’s response to resting, and the time it would take to fall asleep, and realised that this meant that I needed to get into bed at 9pm to be absolutely certain of being able to calm my mind, and get into a state ready for sleep. And then I made sure that nothing would ever interrupt this.

Now I make sure that my dinner meetings are booked for 7pm, giving me an hour and a half to chat with whoever I’m with, and half an hour to get home and go to bed. I sometimes give myself and extra half hour or hour if it’s vital, but I make sure I’m in bed no later than 10pm, and more importantly, that there is nothing ever scheduled that can prevent that.

And most importantly, I never use an alarm clock. An alarm clock means that my day will be pointless, guaranteed. If I wake up at any time other than the time I’m supposed to, I will simply not be productive to the level I know I can be, and that’s unacceptable. Alarms are for wimps. They avoid the intense discipline that you need to organise your life to always wake up at the right time. They’re the easy option. So turn off that alarm on your phone, prioritise going to sleep at a specific time each night, and get ready to have an amazing day, every day.


The Tournament - how to hire an awesome sales team

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The Tournament - how to hire an awesome sales team

Wolf-of-Wall-Street-6For the past two weeks, I’ve been running an even more intense selection and hiring process than our usual one, with it all culminating last Saturday with the final stage – “The Tournament”. It went so well, that I wanted to share the details and learnings in a blog post.

The role I was hiring for was lead generation for Ometria. Having commercialised a few months ago, we are now pushing ahead with validating customer acquisition channels. We’re running PPC and other forms of digital advertising, we are working with partners, we are taking stands at conferences, and we will now be doing direct sales as well. I spent a few months getting input from the most knowledgeable people about the best approach to test the direct sales route, and had suggestions ranging from spending £20k on a search agency who would find us a superstar for £100k a year, to hiring a graduate with no skills to man the phones all day ever day.

In the end it was my friend James, who I’ve seen become a true superstar at sales at the largest London-based B2B SaaS business, who gave me the best advice and taught me a framework for getting the right people. Firstly, you need two. Salespeople are by their very nature competitive, and if they don’t have someone to compete against, they just won’t be as productive. But of course they need to gel, and work as a team as well, so you need to see how they work together too. Secondly, a senior person will be used to having a strong brand, and pre-existing contacts, and will not be useful at all for an early-stage company like ours. That’s a recipe for disaster, as you’d have to wait several months for them to give notice, and several more months to then discover that they aren’t delivering. One of the companies I’ve invested in learned that lesson very hard, and spent a substantial amount of time and money on a senior sales team that didn’t deliver.

So the plan was to get individuals who were fresh, new to sales, but had exactly the right characteristics to be successful in the role, and who were specifically motivated to build a career in software sales. This is the opportunity that Ometria could offer them – extremely quick progression to high remuneration packages, growing as the company itself grows. So we needed young, talented people, with the right character and the right cultural fit.

For two weeks after we made this decision, I had no social life. Having placed adverts in about 10 different places, from Gumtree to LinkedIn and WorkInStartups, I spent every evening digging through CVs, screening out people who either had too much experience (if they were so good at sales, why were they taking an £18k job?) or not the right attitude and character. On four separate occasions, we conducted an hour’s worth of telephone interviews, where we’d spend 10 minutes asking candidates some leading questions, and leaving them to just talk. Since telephone skills were vital to the role, this would be an excellent way of screening out people who weren’t likely to be successful.

Those who passed both the CV screen, and the telephone interview, would then get a long e-mail explaining the nature of the company culture, the direction that the company was going, and the specific details of the role – that we’d expect them to be the first ones in and the last ones out, to be on the phone for most of the day, to get to know our target market better than anyone else, and to be constantly closing. We wanted, and needed, them to be so successful, that their overall remuneration was higher than everyone else in the company, including the founders. This same e-mail then invited them to The Tournament – a sales training seminar and evaluation day, held on Saturday at our offices.

Saturday arrived, and we found ourselves with a diverse group of 8 fresh-faced candidates, from 8 different countries, sitting around a table, waiting to find out how the day was going to turn out. As a warmup, I spent a bit of time talking about Ometria and our product, the value of the product and what kind of customer we were targeting with it, the progress we’d had so far and the plans for the coming year. I then outlined the schedule for the day, and we kicked straight off.

I considered writing out the specific details of the day, but since we’ll be running these tournaments regularly from now on, I don’t want to give anyone an unfair advantage, in case they stumble onto this blog post. However I can tell you how the day was structured, without giving any details of the tasks. There were some introductions, and a test of listening skills. There were two team games – one that tested their ability to both collaborate and debate between them, and another that tested their presentation skills. We used these team games to pair people up and see whether they would work well together going forward. There was a test of direct sales ability, and there were one-on-one interviews, like the semi-final of The Apprentice.

At the end of all of this, we gave them the opportunity to ask us whatever questions they wanted, in a group environment. It was very easy to see those who were passionate about the role, and those who didn’t want to ask any questions at all. Combining all of our notes and thoughts, we gathered together and selected a shortlist of candidates to stay, and thanked the others for their time, informing them that they were not successful.

20140118_151406At this point, we took a short break, to give the candidates the opportunity to recover some energy. There was only one clear way to dissipate any tension and prepare them for the next step – to watch Alec Baldwin’s epic speech in Glengarry Glen Ross. This is not, of course, what working for Ometria is like. But it’s both entertaining, and motivational, and a great bonding experience for us to have with the candidates.

Once the short entertainment break was over, it was time for the usual final step in any recruitment process that we run. As I’ve described before, for anyone to join the team, they have to run The Gauntlet. There were five of us present on the day, and the three shortlisted candidates saw each of us, in turn, spending about twenty minutes with us one after another. It’s a solid hour and a half of non-stop questioning, with some of us being very harsh and testing, and others being softer and selling the opportunity.

At 6pm, we thanked the candidates, and told them that we would take two hours to consider our decision and would call each of them within that time to inform them of our decisions. The five of us then sat around a table, considering each shortlisted candidate in turn. We had seen the candidates perform both on their own, and in teams, and it was not easy to choose between them. All had different backgrounds, all had demonstrated impressive ability, and all had different reasons for having a high chance of succeeding in the role. In the end we looked at it in terms of fit for a sales role – who were the two most likely to enjoy the sales process, and to want to turn it into a career. We called the candidates, and ended the day with two new hires. All of the other candidates got personal e-mails from me, explaining our decision, and outlining the reasons why they were not chosen, and why the winning two candidates were. Out of the whole day, the nicest aspect for me was to receive feedback from those candidates who didn’t get the job. As a founder, these are the moments you live for.

“You have an extremely efficient hiring process going on, and I must say I’m impressed” – A.O.

“Thank you for taking time to provide me with a clear and very objective feedback. I want also to thank for the efforts and thoughts that you put in order to organise such wonderful day. Honestly, from my first steps into your premises, I really felt determination and a very positive energy coming from you all. I wish you all success an prosperity.” – O.D.

From deciding that we needed a sales team, to getting two great candidates in the office, calling up potential customers – all in just two weeks. It was an intense process, and an excellent one. Even our CFO Djalal, the ultimate cynic of my usual reality-distortion field, agreed that the reality matched the expectation that I had set ahead of the day. Next time we need to hire sales people, we will do it in exactly the same way. All that remains is for the two new members of the Ometria team to demonstrate that they really are exceptional, and that we were right to choose them. Watch this space.


Still sharpening those instincts - Key Decision Analysis Part 2

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Still sharpening those instincts - Key Decision Analysis Part 2

20131231_132143Christmas is my favourite time of the year, but for slightly unusual reasons. I love the fact that I get to spend time with family, but even more than that I love the absolute sense of calm that settles on London during this period. The streets are empty, few people are at work, no one replies to e-mails, and that rushed feeling subsides, leaving time for reflection and creativity.

I use this quiet time to catch up on some of the slightly longer projects that I’ve had to put off over the course of the year, such as the Ometria Culture Deck which I’ll post about soon, and also to complete my annual Key Decision Analysis process which I wrote about this time last year. The details are described in last year’s post, but the general gist is that goal and success-oriented people have to make more decisions than they have time to logically analyse, and so it becomes important to be able to make decisions based on instinct.

However to make sure that those instincts are actually taking you in the right direction, and to improve the accuracy of your judgement, a feedback process needs to be put in place, and this is what I call Key Decision Analysis. I have an actual notebook (pink, yes, I know, not sure how that happened..) in which I record every vital decision that I make. I then come back to it a year later, and write down the outcome and my learnings from it, and at the end of a full year, I summarise all of the learnings that I’ve written down. So in December 2013, I analysed the decisions that I made in December 2012, and today I went through all of those 2013 learnings and created the list of 10 takeaways below, based on the outcomes of all the instinctive decisions which I made over the course of 2012.

1. If you’re an entrepreneur, then stop making backup plans.

I am an entrepreneur. This is what make me excited to get up in the morning, to work for 16 hours, to be social and to get things done. There is no doubt about this, and any other path in life will just lead to unhappiness, so I should not be making any secondary backup plans, or considering other alternatives – doing this is a waste of time. Instead I should be optimising for success as a life-long entrepreneur.

2. Take large-scale, high-return calculated risks.

I’ve now spent time on both low-risk and high-risk strategies, and have had enough failures and successes to be able to make a rational judgement here. Investing £100k and making £110k back after a year does absolutely nothing to achieve the kind of life I want to have. If instead of buying the first iPod you bought Apple shares, you’d have $26k dollars right now. Opportunities like that exist all the time, and we just need to find them. Not all of them succeed, so you just choose the best one at each time, and keep going. Ometria is that opportunity for me right now.

3. Labels and awards are fake. Ignore them and focus on real success.

I’ve learned that I should be ignoring the various awards and labels that one can get – winning competitions, getting certificates or qualifications. Each of these can potentially be relevant to genuine success, but we are often trapped into a process of going through the motions just for the sake of getting them. If winning the competition gets you something you need to succeed, then great, but if it’s just an ego-boost, then down the line it ends up being just a waste of time.

4. Formal education is largely irrelevant in today’s world.

I can safely say that I acquired much more knowledge in the year since Cambridge than I did in the year I spent at Cambridge from 2011 to 2012. Even though I worked just as hard during both years, and the year at Cambridge was solely focused on acquiring knowledge. Until formal education can catch up and start actually teaching the skills required for success in today’s world, independent learning and actually going out there and doing things is a much better option.

5. A network and a purpose is more important than skills.

I had the option of spending time acquiring proficiency in a skill, say data science, or acquiring a large network. I’ve seen a number of people be “networkers” – where their role is simply knowing lots of people and putting them together – and never wanted to be one of these. The key, I’ve realised, is to be a networker with a purpose. If you are building something of value, then you have a purpose behind building the network, as well as an ability to truly leverage it. This combination is much more powerful than simply having a skill, and hence gaining it is a better use of time.

6. Your close personal circle must contain people who are going to change the world.

My approach to investment is very specific – I use it as a method of identifying the best founders here in London so that together we can build many businesses over the coming decades and turn London into a technology ecosystem that can directly rival Silicon Valley. I’ve had the chance to meet many founders over my years doing this, and have seen a number of them turn into genuine world-class leaders. These specific individuals are the people I want to be surrounded by, and from now on my investment decisions are based entirely on this.

7. Cut out people who lack character or integrity immediately.

This appeared on last year’s list, and I consider this my largest single failing and weakness. I have continued to give people too many chances to improve, or to change. People do not change. They may get better temporarily, but this just creates a false sense of security, which is always followed by an even bigger problem. This must not be allowed to happen again. If they demonstrate any kind of lack of character or integrity, they are out of my life or my organisation immediately.

8. Only hire people who are independent thinkers.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of hiring people who are good at the job they are supposed to do. In the initial period this seems great, because your time is freed up. However to build a genuinely scalable organisation, these people must be able to do more than just do their job – they must be able to improve it, to adapt it. They must be able to think about these things themselves, and not rely on you to come up with the suggestions for them. No more “doers” – in 2014 it’s “thinkers and doers”.

9. Push everyone around you to achieve greatness.

Not everyone has a relentless stream of energy and motivation to keep improving themselves. But if you do, then the best thing you can do is push people around you, whether friends or employees, to do better. Give them more responsibility, more pressure, and higher expectations. The right people will flourish in this environment. They will become happier and they will thank you for it. And if they don’t, then see point 7.

10. Don’t be too cheap.

Being cheap is a false economy. A major lesson of the year has been a positive ROI on expensive advisors – solicitors, accountants, etc. Hiring cheap ones would have led to far worse outcomes, and is simply not worth it. The same applies for employees, and just about anything else in life. Pay the maximum you can afford and get the best people that you can. It always works out better than the alternative.

So here we are again – another Christmas, another New Year’s Eve, another brand new year, and another list of Key Decision learnings to take into it. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and thanks for reading! On the 1st of January 2015, I will be doing this again, this time analysing the outcome of 2013′s most important decisions. It will be a good one – since it will include, as I’ve written it in the book, “the most important decision of my entire life“.

May 2014 be the year in which you achieve all of your goals, except for one – so you always have something to strive for!


How to build a B2B Unicorn

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How to build a B2B Unicorn

Unicorn-Dimensions-unicorns-17788267-1024-768Now that probably sounds like a ridiculous title, but bear with me. What I want to talk about is how to build that most elusive of companies – a $1bn B2B technology business. This is go big or go home, part 2.

The way I’ve always seen it, enterprise software companies are much more execution-focused and much less luck-based than others. There’s always an element of luck, and there’s always a huge element of execution, but the balance is slightly different compared to say a consumer tech startup. That was my main reason for starting Ometria – the market opportunity is clear, and what’s left is exceptional execution – basically, us not screwing it up.

It was interesting to read here that B2B unicorns deliver more value per dollar invested, a great opener to any future VC discussions. The fact that it takes 8 years on average to get to an exit, less so. And of course, neither is the fact that not a single unicorn has come from outside of the US (although that’s an issue with the sample, as well as the actual global distribution of unicorn sightings..)

What was most interesting to me is that although I’m heavily involved in the technology space, I had not heard of the majority of the B2B companies on that list. The next obvious step was to do some research on all of them to better understand their products, business models, and precisely what was so special about them. Learning from the best has always worked well for me, and this was a great opportunity to do more of it. And since I was doing it, I figured that I would draw some conclusions and hopefully my findings would make for an interesting blog post – so let me know what you think.

1. Workday

WorkdayThe largest of all the B2B unicorns, and yet one I had never heard of, Workday provides enterprise business management software – tools for huge companies to manage and analyse the performance of their workforce. It is the epitome of an enterprise SaaS company, signing multi-year contracts, booking the revenue upfront, and yet still not being profitable even after an exit and a $10bn+ valuation. Most interestingly, its first investors Greylock Partners have taken the company through most of the rounds, and alongside this they were able to pull in large strategic investors such as Jeff Bezos. The CEO and Founder had previously been the CEO of a giant ERP company, so understood exactly how a company in this space should be run, and what functionality was most needed by the market.

2. Service Now

urlAnother huge one that I’d never heard of – these guys provide SaaS based IT service management. Apparently that’s a thing. I wish I had it – people would stop asking me to fix their printer.. It was founded by an ex-CTO of a huge similar company, who had decided to build a PaaS tool and then left his previous role to commercialise this concept. It took a year and a team of his friends to turn this into a business. After 12 beta clients and $2.5m of investment they were ready to scale, and five years into the business they became the fastest enterprise IT company to get to $50m in revenues.

3. Splunk

splunk-logoBig Data analytics. Now we’re talking. This is a highly scalable real-time data aggregation and analysis tool, with reporting and visualisations layered over the top. Funded with $40m, the company became profitable 6 years after founding, and had an IPO 3 years later. There were three co-founders, including the CEO who was previously the CEO of a tech company which was acquired by Oracle, and the senior developer who was previously a senior developer at Sapient, and has now gone on to found his own new company.

4. Palantir

imagesOne of my favourite companies, mainly because of the nature of the product, but also because of the style of funding. Palantir integrates structured and unstructured data and allows secure collaboration to use this to search, discover and manage knowledge – it’s used by counter-terrorism forces, fraud investigators, and cyber analysts. Even more interestingly, it has five co-founders, one of which is Peter Thiel who invested a huge amount to get the company off the ground – a founder-led seed round 10x the usual amount. Since then the company has taken hundreds of millions in funding, is not yet profitable, but is close to a successful IPO.

5. FireEye

urlA global network security company – Fire Eye provides automated threat forensics and dynamic malware protection. It’s “The Neuromancer” personified. If you’re attacked by a botnet, you need these guys. They have raised money from the hottest VCs in the US – Sequoia, NW Venture Partners, etc. The founder was an engineer from Sun Microsystems, and got Sequoia investment right from the start, having invented the technologies behind the company’s main product line. Interestingly in 2012 FireEye announced a partnership with Splunk, showing that the world of large-scale B2B tech is a small one.

6. Tableau

it_photo_102724Another one that I’ve come across quite a few times, Tableau is a business intelligence and analytics company. Founder by a Professor and a Ph.D student at Stanford University, the company specialises in visualisation techniques for exploring and analysing databases. Taking in much less capital, with only a $5m Series A and a $10m Series B, the company successfully went public this year with the NYSE stock symbol “DATA”. Awesome.

7. Palo Alto Networks

urlFounded by the main developer of the first intrusion prevention system, Palo Alto Networks solves the problem of employees not being able to safely use modern applications without a granular firewall. He was one of the early employees at Check Point Software in the 1990s where he wrote the world’s first commercial firewall. Having felt that his best ideas were being blocked by incompetent management he decided to do it himself – and he did. Based on his reputation as the best guy in the industry, Greylock and Sequoia gave him $250k to come up with his next product. This was followed by tens of millions more, and a huge IPO.

8. Rocket Fuel

urlRocket Fuel does Big-Data driven programmatic advertising. One of the hottest sectors at the moment, driving somewhat ridiculous valuations. These guys have built a machine-learning, artificially intelligent, programmatic media-buying platform, and are currently the fastest growing technology company in the US. 208897% revenue growth in 4 years. What?! Their main investors, Mohr Davidow Ventures, followed on through each round, and others involved were Northgate, Summit Partners and Nokia. The founder had previously built ad-tech for large companies like Yahoo and IBM – and has a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in computer science from Stanford. He’s almost replaced Elon Musk as a role model. But not quite..

9. Nicira

nicira-featureA company doing network virtualisation technology and software-defined networking, Nicira had a billion-dollar exit within five years. The technology was developed by a Stanford student and his doctoral advisors, who then spun off the technology into a business. Initial funding from Andreessen and Lightspeed meant they were fully capitalised throughout their short journey to a trade sale to VNWare.

10. Marketo

Marketo-Logo-LargeA perfect example, given what we are doing at Ometria. Founded by three experts in CRM who had all worked at Epiphany, Marketo is a marketing automation company – a hot space delivering a number of IPOs at the moment. Taking $100m in funding to get to their billion dollar IPO. This is not the first IPO for the founder either. And, of course, he went to Stanford. Investors included Storm Ventures, InterWest Partners who followed on after the initial seed round, and Battery Ventures to take them over the line.

11. Yammer

yammerYammer is the enterprise social network. SNaaS as it were. Launched in 2008 and sold to Microsoft in 2012 for the obligatory billion, the company was founded by a former PayPal executive. Revenue then doubled every quarter, and 80% of Fortune 500 companies started to use it. The company took $150m to get to this point, from some serious angel investors like Ron Conway, and funds like Founders Fund, Goldcrest and Emergence Capital.

12. Meraki

logo-meraki-2color-800x400A different university for once, Meraki is a company selling products for large-scale wired and wireless networks, started by two PhD students from MIT. It was founded in Mountain View, and attracted funding from Google and Sequoia. As part of the growth of the company they released a free wifi project that allowed 100,000 people in San Francisco to gain access to the internet. The same technology was then used for paid-for infrastructures across the world, and the company was acquired for over a billion by Cisco Systems.

13. Box

Box_net_Gotta love the fact that they have the domain box.com. A few weeks ago at Dublin Web Summit, Aaron Levie, the founder, talked about how this generation of enterprise software companies measure the interface of their product by the same yardstick as consumer software companies, and add to that a sales team and professional services. This is the perfect formula for building a B2B SaaS company – an inspiration for us at Ometria. Top-notch UI/UX, but with a clear sales strategy and solid engagement due to ongoing professional services. Box was seed funded by Mark Cuban, then raised from Draper Fisher, U.S Ventures and then many others including Andreessen Horowitz, SAP and Salesforce. Aaron Levie never finished his degree at SoCal, leaving it to start Box. Wise man..

14. Climate Corp

urlThis almost self-explanatory San Francisco company examines weather data and provides insurance to farmers so they can remain profitable even if climatic events alter their crop yields. Raising $60m so far from pretty much everyone – Khoshla, Google, Index, First Round, Atomico, they have quickly expanded both in the US and internationally. The insurance product is entirely automated, and makes payments when specific weather conditions occur. Prior to starting Climate Corp, the two founders worked at Google.

15. Fusion.io

fusion-io_logoLast but definitely not least, Fusion.io is a flash memory product company which accelerates enterprise applications by overcoming the limitations of legacy architectures. Funded by VCs like Accel, Lightspeed, Andreessen and Samsung, and even Michael Dell personally, and with none other than Steve Wozniak as Chief Scientist, the company’s pedigree is as impressive as it comes. Most interestingly, a short time after the company had its $1bn+ IPO, the two original founders left and immediately raised $50m seed funding for their next company – Primary Data.

And that’s the list. So other than providing some rather immense inspiration for what can be achieved by going down this path, what else does it tell us?

Well firstly it tells us that you need a lot of money. There isn’t a single company in this list that had a few million in funding and made it big. So if you’re planning a B2B enterprise software company, plan for tens of millions in funding at the very least.

Secondly – that money needs to come from the right people. The same names keep propping up. Clearly that means that they are the best VCs out there, but having them involved is also a strong signal, and makes sure that you always have access to more capital as your growth continues.

And thirdly, it’s best to have gone to a pretty damn good university, researched a new technology, or run a similar-sized company in a similar space before. None of these founders were rookies with no idea, that lucked out. Either they invented something, or they’d done it before.

Now then. I wonder if that CEO role at Splunk is available..


Why using a PA to manage your calendar may make you look like a muppet

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Why using a PA to manage your calendar may make you look like a muppet

My CalendarI want to share something that I seem to spend a lot of time thinking about – my thoughts on the intersection of two topics: PAs and calendar management. People who know me well know that I have one major pet hate currently. And that pet hate is getting passed over to a PA when arranging to meet someone. Every time I see an e-mail being copied to “my PA”, “my EA”, or some newfound term to describe what used to be known as a secretary, my heart sinks. I take a few deep breaths, and silently hope that this will be the one time that goes smoothly. And then it inevitably doesn’t.

Now this all may seem like an exaggeration. In fact on a first read, it might seem absolutely ridiculous. But consider my post fully before judging.

First of all, what’s the point of a PA? The point of a PA is to simplify the life of their employer, allowing them to concentrate on more pressing matters. On occasion, their role will include dealing with external parties. And in some case’s that external party is me. Now the employer, when arranging a meeting, certainly does not want to cause additional hassle to this external party – or at least I hope so. Let’s assume that’s the case – let’s assume they are not just a narcissistic selfish tyrant. So now the PA’s role is to simplify matters for both people involved. A project manager, as it were. Life with her should be better than life without her.

I come at this with the same approach – I want to simplify things for everyone involved. I want to make it easy for the person I’m meeting, I want to make it easy for the PA (if I must..) and I’m pretty sure I have a process that’s extremely effective. I’ll write it out in detail at the end of this post, and I’d love to get everyone’s thoughts on whether there are any steps that can be improved.

Anyway – what I absolutely don’t want, is 20 e-mails going back and forward. Even worse, imagine if I passed their PA over to my PA and then the two of them would sit there bouncing e-mails and asking their principals until they finally found something that worked. Just thinking of the wasted (wo)man hours gets me riled up. So that’s never going to happen.

Instead, I send them a link to my online calendar, and a starting date from which I’m available to meet. “Please suggest several free slots that work for both me and Mr. Smith, starting from the 11th of November, leaving at least half an hour for travel time.” Now I cannot imagine anything that is easier. I’ve just saved this PA half an hour of replying to e-mails. All they have to do is locate the slots, send them to me, and I’ll choose one. If there is only one, then they can send that, and we’ll go for that. In the word of the wannabe Russian meerkat, simples.

And yet, nine times out of ten, this clearly efficient process breaks down. The PA never bothers to actually read the e-mail. She sends a message saying how about the 5th of November, even though this is a week before I suggested, and clearly marked as a date on which I am Istanbul (true story). So I have to respond and ask them to try again. These days my response just says “Please re-read my e-mail.”

Then they get back to me, and I confirm a slot, and then I ask them to send a calendar invite. The last, final, rather basic step. I then inevitably receive something along the lines of “Meeting with Ivan Mansour at the ARts Club” (true story again). Firstly that is of no help at all as it doesn’t have the name of the person I’m meeting, secondly my full calendar is shared with a large number of people so that is embarrassing for them to see both my misspelled name and the two capitals in a word, and thirdly I frankly can’t help letting the PA’s lack of professionalism rub off on the person who she works for. Now that person is almost certainly not like that – but the fact is that every member of your organisation represents you, and your PA more than most. They are a direct extension of that individual. So now any time I think of them, I can’t help but remember that.

So in this process, time has been wasted, the person they are arranging a meeting with has been disappointed and they have shown themselves, and hence their principal, to be unprofessional. And that’s just what happens regularly. Then you have the situation when the PA forgets to tell their boss, or doesn’t actually put it in their calendar, and I’m left sitting in a restaurant for half an hour on my own, before having to walk out. Twice. (true story).

Now I simply don’t see a way to avoid this, other than to not use a PA for managing a calendar. Or to get someone extremely diligent and professional who will deserve the salary of 4 PAs. So my solution is simple. Don’t use a PA to manage your calendar. I have many friends and colleagues all of whom could easily hire one, but who choose not to. They understand that technology has perfected this aspect of our lives, and that it is simply not worth outsourcing it. And they understand one more important point.

Every e-mail is an opportunity to build a relationship with the other person. It’s an opportunity to see how they write, how they think and how they operate. It’s also an opportunity to show them how you write, think and operate. To demonstrate professionalism and to build a rapport. If our business life is focused on achieving great things, then we are always trying to identify the people around us who share the same approach. If you are willing to dedicate an hour to meet with someone, then that relationship is surely worth an extra ten seconds to exchange e-mails to set up a meeting. I enjoy those e-mails. They give you an insight into the other person before you even get a chance to meet them. They set the meeting up so you are not two strangers, but you are two people following on an existing discussion. They give you the chance to frame the other person’s view of you in the way that you view yourself.

So as a core principle in life, I choose to organise my own calendar. Yes it adds workload and stress to every day of my life. But the benefits I’ve seen from doing it have been far far greater.


Note for PAs.

If I have directed you to this post, then it means you need to arrange a meeting with me and I would like you to follow this process. Please read the points below and kindly follow them.

1. Go to the link I have shared with you. You will find my schedule, online.
2. Locate several slots that work for both your principal and me, allowing at least 30 minutes for travel time, preferably 1 hour.
3. Note that a blue bar at the top saying Busy means the whole day is busy.
4. E-mail me back with details of those possible slots.
5. Once I confirm one of them, please send me a calendar invite with the following information filled in:
6. “Meeting Xxxxx Xxxxxxx and Ivan Mazour” as the title of the meeting, with the Xxxx being your principal’s name. Feel free to change the order of the names if that is easier for your principal, I just need to see his name in there.
7. The address of the meeting filled in as the address field. If it is at my office you will find the address at the bottom of my email signature. Please make sure this is filled in. If it is at your office or elsewhere, please make sure the address is filled in in full, including postcode.
8. I will confirm by accepting the calendar invite. Please consider this my final confirmation.
9. Thank you for organising the meeting.



How to give a great talk – and why that matters for everyday life

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How to give a great talk – and why that matters for everyday life

In the past few months, the number of speaking engagements I’ve been doing has increased rather sharply, and I’ve found myself spending a lot of time preparing talks. I’ve trained for, and enjoyed, public speaking ever since I was a kid, completing all of the grades in Speech and Drama when I was about ten years old. But since that was two decades ago, I decided that it was time to do a fast but effective personal crashcourse in how to give a great talk, and have come up with a set of personal principles for public speaking.

Take the audience on a journey. In one of the best metaphors I’ve come across in recent times, Nancy Duarte explains how when giving a great talk, the audience needs to be Luke Skywalker, and the speaker needs to be Yoda. It’s the audience that’s the focus, and the speaker is merely a guide, taking them from a beginning, through many exhilarating experiences, to a final conclusion that leaves them in a much better place than when they started. Before a single word comes out of your mouth, the structure of that journey needs to be clear in your head – otherwise those words are wasted.

Take time to consider what the audience know about your topic, and how much they care about it. A great talk still needs to be adapted to the people hearing it – most people forget to spend some time thinking about that before they actually go and deliver it. At the beginning of the talk, the key is to introduce the topic in a carefully crafted, concise, and effective way – you want to make sure they get to the right level of understanding, but you don’t want to lose them along the way. At this point you aren’t into the journey yet, so you don’t want them getting bored.

Don’t make it up as you go along, and don’t read. I have a personal aversion to people who do things to a “good enough” level – except for in specific aspects of software development where if you carry on trying to get to perfection you’ll never actually ship anything. Reading a talk is not good enough. Thinking of a topic and making it up as you go along is just about good enough. Neither is acceptable. To give a truly mesmerising talk, you need to prepare, you need to practice, and you need to iterate the talk throughout this process. The words you use, the intonations, the pauses and the movements – all of these have to come out naturally when you speak, and the only way to achieve that is practice.

Err on the side of self-deprecation, and not arrogance. Cocky arrogance works for only a handful of people – and for a very small subset of audiences. Self-deprecation, a tactic that has worked rather well for Hugh Grant, builds great rapport with your audience and gets them on your side. In any human communication, whether one on one or speaking to an audience, the goal is to first gain their attention, and then get them to believe in what you’re saying. Both of these are made much easier if the listener feels an emotional connection to you as an individual.

Be well-dressed, and talk in an animated and relatively fast way. Presentable people immediately get more attention – it’s just a fact of life. That doesn’t mean that someone in jeans and trainers can’t give a good talk, clearly Steve Jobs really disproves that. But if you’re not Steve Jobs, and let’s be honest most of us aren’t, then it’s a bonus to be well dressed and looking presentable. And then once you’re delivering your message, no one likes to listen to a monotonic droning sound. But what people love, is to go on a rollercoaster of emotions, so if they can feel you feeling these emotions, they will join you. As you get animated and excited about your topic – so will they. Instead of looking at their twitter feed on their phone..

So that’s the five key points that I’m keeping in my head as I write my next talk (“Ecommerce – a data-driven new frontier” at the Webit Congress in a few weeks time – I’ve got discount codes for free tickets if anyone wants to come!) But the more I kept thinking about these points, the more I started to realise how relevant they are to communication in everyday life in general. Every time we open our mouths to speak, there is a purpose behind it. We are looking to entertain, engage, or persuade the other person. Have a look at each of the points above, and place each of them in a context of a general conversation. They all make sense. Well – maybe not the “don’t make it up” one.. But the rest do. The most engaging people to talk to are those who can relate stories, those who know when you’re not interested, those who aren’t arrogant, and those who look presentable. Embrace this – a whole world of relationships and opportunities is waiting.


The 10 most instrumental lessons in shaping my life and success

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The 10 most instrumental lessons in shaping my life and success

SuccessI’m not usually into listicles. If done in the wrong way, you end up with a generic list of a few points which not only doesn’t provide any value to the reader, but even pushes them away. However – I have a number of lists that I always keep updated, and one of them is a list of top lessons that I feel have been instrumental in my life. These are lessons that come not from reading around, but straight from personal experience. I thought I’d share the current state of the list, together with some elaboration on the background for each point. Leave a comment – tell me if you do or don’t agree, or if you have any important lessons you want to share with the rest of us.

1. My mother used to say – “Every problem has at least three solutions. Keep looking until you find all of them.” That was her usual way of setting the bar an order of magnitude harder than normal people (see my post on the APM principle) and it taught me the fact that any problem was surmountable, that I should always keep looking for new options, and I should always set expectations way higher than is reasonable.

2. You should spend at least as long studying the concept of learning itself, as you do on any topic that you actually learn. I read some great books like The Art of Learning, and applied all of the principles when I went back to Cambridge. It showed me that you can genuinely learn anything, and quickly, as long as you are willing to have the dedication and apply yourself to the process in the right way. I’ve since seen others around me pick up that vibe, and learn some amazing skills in ridiculously short timeframes.

3. “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want” – Zig Ziglar. You can always trust an American motivational speaker to come up with something cheesy, but I have to say this is the one main principle I live my life by. The UK is a comfortable country to live in – most of us have the luxury of spare time outside of necessary work. If we spend that time helping people get what they want, it will always come back to us. I find it very difficult to connect with people who don’t share this attitude.

4. The people around you determine who you are. My life has had a lot of ups and downs.. In 30 years I’ve lived through enough for a lifetime. As I look back now, the fluctuations can so clearly be attributed to the people I was surrounding myself by. So choose role models, and see what they do. Then do the same. Go to those places, take up those activities, meet those kinds of people, and only ever surround yourself by people who you want to be like. Create your own environment and ecosystem – don’t just fall into whatever is there.

5. Never eat alone. That was my last blog post, so I won’t rehash the point in detail. In order to create that perfect ecosystem, you have to meet the right people. The day is for working, so the only time to do this is during meal times. Get into a routine of eating with 2 or 3 new people a day and watch your social circle flourish.

6. Jeff Bezos left a huge paycheck to start Amazon. His boss said – “that’s a great idea, but it’s for people who don’t already get paid a million a year”. And Bezos thought, how would I prefer to feel – that I’ve got a million a year but never tried this great venture, or that I’ve lost a million a year and failed having tried to build something amazing. Life is short, regrets are painful. Don’t get comfortable. Nike it out. Just do it.

7. Analyse what went well, not just what went wrong. It’s too easy to focus on problems, and sit there working out how they happened. This is useful, but only to a certain extent. It is even more valuable to stop and consider everything that has gone right – what factors led to that success and how to replicate them and make that success even greater. Set up a system to do this, a journal, and remember to focus on the wins.

8. “Think in the morning, act in the noon, read in the evening, and sleep at night.” William Blake. Smart guy. It’s 6am as I write this and – and this is me thinking. I love writing my blog, because it gives me an opportunity to truly think about a specific aspect of my life for a couple of hours. This time it’s about 10 aspects of my life – even better. And I always write in the mornings. The rest of the quote makes sense, too. You need to sleep at night to be able to think clearly in the mornings. You don’t miss out on anything by not staying up till midnight watching TV or sitting in a bar. There’s always another evening.

9. Create pull, don’t just keep pushing. Ever since I truly understood the meaning of this, life became easier. Consider a hypothetical decent successful person trying to pick up a girl. He walks up to her and is lucky to even be given some attention. He spends an hour trying to sell himself until she believes that he is a worthwhile partner, and then months wooing her. Then consider Ryan Gosling. Walks in. Done. Push vs. pull. The same applies in everything – in sales, in business and in life. Instead of trying to persuade people and change people’s minds, create pull. Create the look, create the attitude, create the reputation, create the history, create the experience. As people find out more about you, about your achievements, about your business, about how much you’ve helped people, you will find yourself in an environment where people, success, and whatever else you want, come straight to you.

10. Find what drives you, and then make that happen. Stop and think – is this really what I want to be doing. Am I doing this because it’s convenient, or because it is where my path has taken me? If I imagine a perfect world, is this what I would be doing? And if it isn’t, map out a way of getting there, and start taking steps right now. A couple of years ago I remember thinking that something was clearly wrong. I worked out a plan. It involved a lot of steps, big changes, huge discipline, and the support of everyone around me. Now I’m there. On a regular basis, I get this uncontrollable feeling go through me. It can only be described in one way – “this is what I was born to do.” It scares me that I could have gone through my whole life without experiencing it.