Monthly Archives: February 2011

Luxury foods in terribly bad taste

One of the key pieces of advice I give to aspiring entrepreneurs is to ensure they have a recognisable unique selling point (USP to use the jargon).

Often this involves finding a niche which has yet to be explored commercially. Sometimes this can be a niche within a niche. If the topic is truly unique and even better controversial, this will help to generate interest from potential customers and the press.

Wild_Kopi_LuwakAn example would be the coffee my brother kindly bought me back from Indonesia. Wild Kopi Luwak is apparently the world’s most expensive and low-production coffee. It is made from the beans of coffee berries eaten by the Asian Palm Civet.

According to Wikipedia, in its stomach, proteolytic enzymes seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids. Passing through a civet’s intestines the beans are then defecated, keeping their shape. After gathering, thorough washing, sun drying, light roasting and brewing, these beans yield an aromatic coffee with much less bitterness.

Not every coffee drinker will aspire to drink something which has been source from animal excreta. However, I can confirm that this coffee is definitely not ‘shit’, and has one of the smoothest tastes I have ever sampled.

Peter Dominiczak tasting the £14 ice cream in Covent Garden

Peter Dominiczak from the Evening Standard tasting Baby Gaga

A more extreme example would be Baby Gaga ice cream at a mind-bending £14 a go.

The Icecreamists have been at it again (Sex sells – but call it Maturialism for now), and this time they have scored a hat-trick, with extreme high price, and combining amazing taste and amazingly bad taste in one product.

Their unique selling point? The ice cream is made from fresh human breast milk. The contributors of the milk are paid £15 for every 10 ounces they provide, and apparently are queuing up to meet the demand.

The Evening Standard sent intrepid reporter Peter Dominczak along to try out the controversial new ice cream.

‘I have never been less excited by the thought of ice cream on a sunny day. I am served by a woman imitating Lady Gaga who pours the breast milk into a metal top hat before pouring liquid nitrogen over it. I am provided with a shot of Calpol – apparently to assist with any brain freezes – and some Bonjela for any issues with sensitive teeth. Even with two biscuits, I’m not sure it warrants the £14 price tag. But it tastes fantastic. Light and creamy with just enough of a vanilla tinge. I am told breast milk tastes like overly-sweet skimmed milk, but this ice cream tastes better than almost any I’ve had before. Despite the issues I have with drinking the contents of a stranger’s breast this might catch on.’

The Daily Mail also got excited about the story, One from the chest freezer: Restaurant sells breast milk ice cream

Bizarre: Company founder Matt O'Connor, 44, and the Lady Gaga waitress in the central London store

Company founder Matt O'Connor, 44, and the Lady Gaga waitress in the central London store - Source - Daily Mail - http://www.dailymail.co.uk

Update – 1 March 2011

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that this story is set to run and run. Today’s update in the Evening Standard was, Breast milk ice cream seized for safety tests. Westminster Council staff took the Baby Gaga flavour at and sent it away to test for viral infections, after complaints.

The original story in the Standard has attracted quite a few comments, some positive, some negative, and some just silly.

My favourite so far is from MS in London who says;
Not very good marketing for the company. Next time I go to Covent Garden, I’ll make sure I don’t buy any icecream from this business (breastmilk or not).

Review of who’s got your back

whosgotyourback_coverOnce again I am indebted to Pervin Shaikh for another generous donation to our Business Help book collection.

Last time it was the amazing What Would Google Do? This time I am reviewing who’s got your back (yes, it seems lower case titles are still trendy). Keith Ferrazzi, the ‘best selling author of NEVER EAT ALONE’, supplies ‘The Secret to Finding the 3 People Who Will Change Your Life’. I think I’m all case confused at this point.

By the way, what a great surname for an author, or in fact, anyone intent on becoming a personal brand.

If the title and pre-title (see cover shot) don’t get the message across, then how about the sur-title? ‘The breakthrough program to build deep, trusting relationships that create success – and won’t let you fail’.

It is at this point that I have to confess to breaking a long standing policy on this blog of avoiding negativity. I don’t really see the point of writing about something unless it has something positive to contribute.

However, I’m afraid this is going to be an exception, and this is really an appeal to you, to help me understand where I am going wrong with this very popular book.

Unfortunately the author gets my goat right from the first chapter, by using the example of Jean Nidetch, ‘a plus-sized housewife who enlisted her friends to help her stay on a diet’. This was the 1961 beginnings of what was to become Weight Watchers, a $4 billion turnover business by 2007.

The author explains that Nidetch, ‘just wanted to get skinny, but through an inner circle of friends offering expertise, wisdom, honesty and support she achieved far more than she ever imagined possible.’

However, to me Weight Watchers is an organisation that exploits people’s desire to lose weight by persuading them to adopt a calorie counting diet, when so much evidence indicates that no diets work in the long run.

Why diets don’t work and The Problem with Weight Watchers and other Calorie Counting Diets

To quote the book’s blurb; Keith Ferrazzi, the internationally renowned thought leader, consultant, and bestselling author of Never Eat Alone, shows us that becoming a winner in any field of endeavour requires a trusted team of advisors who can offer guidance and help to hold us accountable to achieving our goals. It is the reason Ph.D. candidates have advisor teams, top executives  have boards, world-class athletes have fitness coaches, and presidents have cabinets.

In conclusion, I am left wondering if this the management book equivalent of the Emperor’s New Clothes. So please let me know why I am wrong.

Teenagers teaching Silver Surfers the web way

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1204276Once again my local paper has its finger on the pulse of social and business change. Although, once again their headline writer hasn’t exactly hit the jackpot – ‘Youngsters take Infernal Trouble out of IT for mature students.’

According to the Middy ‘For many people IT stands only for Infernal Trouble and The Web is somewhere unsuspecting technophobes get trapped.’

I would be more inclined to say that for many older people, Windows are something they prefer to open in order to let in fresh air, and the Web is something they get tangled up in all to easily.

The article is actually about a group of teenagers at Oakmeeds Community College in Burgess Hill, who run a weekly class for that growing population over Silver Surfers (The growing grey market in the UK). Interestingly the club is funded by the local Business Enterprise, so it will be interesting to see how many of these mature students are aspiring Grey Entrepreneurs.

I love the way this story goes against the usual media stereotyping of teenagers as rude and lazy, by showing them in such a positive light, using their skills and knowledge by empowering older generations to take advantage of this revolutionary technology.

It’s not all one way traffic either. According to 15 year old Lloyd Passingham, ‘I really enjoy helping at the club. It feels really good to know that something I’ve learnt, I’m passing on to someone else’.

Enterprising women entrepreneurs

I have to admit that I am not a big fan of the way our lovely language so often gets mangled to create handy marketing terms. The latest to come to my attention in the business start-up world is ‘mumpreneurs’.

However, putting those misgivings aside, these enterprising women are particularly impressive in the way they are able to combine the demands of looking after their  children, as well as what can be a much more demanding dependant – their business.

Just recently they have been getting a lot of attention in the media, with a whole week of coverage on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

mumsnet logoAlso we had Justine Roberts the co-founder of Mumsnet, speaking at our Power of Social Media evening.

Even my local paper The Mid-Susssex Times had a feature article with one of their traditionally feeble headlines – ‘After the school run we network!’

The article is about the one year old Brighton based Mumpreneurs Networking Club, founded by Nicky Chisholm and Sarah Guiel. According to Debbie Mann who now organises the Burgess Hill and Crawley areas, sharing the experience of being mums is important.

‘It doesn’t matter if little Jack is running around screaming for a biscuit because everyone is in the same situation.’

It was nice to read that the club is not exclusive and allows non-mums and ‘even the odd man’, to go along.

As Debbie points out, ‘networking is an important part of any small or medium enterprises, but especially to sole traders who are often the head of sales, PR, marketing, accounts, admin, IT, social media, manufacturing and so on.’

I’m not sure they have necessarily picked the best web address for the group if they are wanting to reverse some of the stereotypes of women networking. However, it certainly is memorable, which is important from a marketing perspective – www.agoodgossip.co.uk

Mumpreneurs Club

The Power of Social Media – an Inspiring Entrepreneurs evening

The Power of Social Media – an Inspiring Entrepreneurs evening

Web in Feb logoAs part of the Inspiring Entrepreneurs series and in conjunction with Social Media Week, the British Library hosted The Power of Social Media last night, to show how small businesses can enhance social media to engage with their customers and reach new markets.

I am grateful to my colleague Michael Pattinson for writing this report on the evening:

The event was sold out and also streamed live at Southampton University and New York Public Library.  As befitting an event about social media, there was also a live blog at www.businesszone.co.uk as well as a live Twitter feed.

The guest speakers included Fraser Docherty, founder of Superjam, Ian Hogarth, CEO and co-founder of Songkick.com, Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC technology correspondent and Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet.

The event was hosted by Matthew Rock of Real Business magazine.  He began by telling the audience how useful social media has been for his own business, Caspian Publishing.

FraserFirst up was Fraser Docherty of Superjam.  Fraser proved to be a very engaging and funny speaker.  He told us how he started making jam, based on his grandmother’s recipes when he was fourteen, selling it door to door and at farmers markets before securing a deal with Waitrose.  Social media and blogging provided him with a cheap and easy way to publicise his brand and communicate with his customers.

According to Fraser, one of his proudest achievements has been setting up a charity which runs tea parties for the elderly.  So far, there have been tea parties so far but he believes social media can help him create thousands of similar events around the country.

IanThe next speaker was Ian Hogarth who set up the website Songkick.com, which allows members of the public to match their music interests to the site and then receive alerts when their favourite bands are playing.  The site uses a “robot” which scours the Internet for concert and gig information.

Ian made the point that everything on the web is media and everything good on the web is social.  He said: “Good ideas spread faster than ever before – that’s an amazing thing for entrepreneurs, how the barriers of entry are changing.”

Ian talked of the importance of motivating and exciting your audience by emphasising the value of your product or service.  He also talked about how the internet had blurred the lines between product and marketing and how his product manager is effectively his marketing manager thanks to social media.

Ian had recently returned from a trip to LA and recommended that any start-ups using social media needed to spend some time in Silicon Valley because their ideas about social media were so advanced.

RoryNext up was the BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.  Rory has witnessed first hand how social media, especially Twitter, has revolutionised news reporting.  He used an example of the earthquake in Qinghai province in China last year which was reported on Twitter before it appeared on any other news media.

Rory had some amusing anecdotes of the pitfalls of using social media – his advice:  don’t say anything on Twitter you wouldn’t say in normal conversation!  However, he brushed aside criticisms that social media is killing the art of conversation and social interaction saying that these same criticisms were made about the telephone and email.

Justine RobertsThe last speaker was Justine Roberts from Mumsnet, the massively popular website for mums (and the occasional dad) with a phenomenal 1.2 million visitors each month.

She emphasised how social media was so effective in providing a discussion forum which can be so much more effective in selling a product than traditional advertising.  She also talked of the potential dangers of going viral with silly publicity stunts which have a habit of backfiring but her main message was listen and engage, don’t stifle debate.  She also said that you should relinquish control and let yourself go!

A Q&A session followed and some interesting issues were raised by members of the audience such as online privacy and how do you protect your intellectual property.  The speakers all agreed that you can’t expect privacy as social media is a public space.  As far as Intellectual Property is concerned, you can’t stop people from copying your ideas, you just have to provide the best forum and the most recognisable brand.  As Justine Roberts said: “this is the internet, you can’t put up walls. We don’t stop our users recommending competitor websites.”

Other issues raised by questions included how social media can be used to help B2B companies and where social media is going in the future.  Rory Cellan-Jones felt that despite the dominance of Facebook, there was still room for vertical specialist social networks and that social media was blurring the lines between B2C and B2B.

You can read the live blog replay at http://www.businesszone.co.uk/topic/marketing-pr/live-blog-power-social-media/32776

The event was also filmed and highlights will be appearing on the BIPCTV YouTube channel shortly.

Real practical market research the MOMA way

moma1Despite having probably the largest collection of freely available market research reports in the UK, we always emphasise the importance of field research.

In fact I am part of an excellent workshop run by Victor Higgs on  Practical Market Research.

So I was fascinated to read the story of Tom Mercer, the founder of MOMA foods in yesterday’s Evening Standard.

To test his idea, Mercer spent a night in the kitchen of his Waterloo home pouring his fruit, yoghurt and oats concoction into Tesco water bottles, on which he had Pritt Sticked his own labels. After a long night that killed off several blenders, he set up a trestle table in Waterloo and handed out his shakes to commuters for free, in exchange for their email addresses.

Later that day, he sent out surveys asking for feedback. “The positive responses gave me the impetus to quit my job,” Mercer says. That decision led to four months experimenting with recipes, and biking around London train stations looking at sites. “I would stand there for hours, counting the number of people who walked by and the proportion who stopped in coffee shops. On one occasion I was chucked out by police for loitering.”

Mercer worked out that he needed a footfall of about 10,000 people between 6.30 and 10am to make the business viable. Eventually he secured a first site – at Waterloo station – and spent £10,000 of savings on a van, stall and cooking premises under a Deptford railway arch.

To the moon and back on a bike made for Londoners

Boris-BikeHaving tried My first ride on a ‘Boris Bike’ last October, I am now a confirmed fan of the Barclays Cycle Hire service from Transport for London, and have purchased an annual subscription.

According to yesterday’s Evening Standard, cyclists using the Mayor’s “Boris bikes” have travelled the equivalent of 13 times to the moon and back in the scheme’s first six months.

Apparently more than 2.5 million trips had been undertaken on the hire bikes since they were introduced on 30 July last year. Transport for London has calculated that cyclists would have ridden 6.2 million miles on the bikes – assuming they travelled at an average speed of 10mph. On the busiest day, the 4,800 bikes were used a total of 27,500 times.

It is good to hear that the scheme will be expanding to reach 6,000 bikes and 400 docking stations by the Spring of 2011.

However, it is still some way behind the Vélib scheme in Paris introduced in 2007,  which has grown to 17,000 bicycles and docking 1,202 stations.

My first ride on a ‘Boris Bike’