Category Archives: market research

My new Blazing Saddle ignited by my Burner light

Blaze logoI have been watching the Crowdfunding scene for quite a few years now. It has now grown into a important source of money for many start-ups. It is also a great way to test the market for new ideas. Following the Lean start-up approach we advocate in the Business & IP Centre.

I’ve seen lots of new exciting new products over the years, and I’ve been tempted in invest in quite a few. But it wasn’t until I saw the impressive Kickstarter campaign for the Blaze Burner rear bicycle light that I committed. The aim was to create the ultimate back light for cyclists. With 100 lumens of brightness to help make the rider visible to even the most distracted of London drivers.

blaze-bus-02-sAlso, it came from the Blaze company founded by Emily Brooke and Philip Ellisby. They had previously used crowdfunding to launch their revolutionary front safety light for cycles. The original Blaze light combines a very bright white light with a green laser, which projects a symbol of a bike onto the road several meters ahead. The idea is to make bikes more visible to cars and particularly large vehicles turning left at junctions. A high proportion of cycle accidents are caused by drivers being unaware of a rider coming-up on the inside.

The Blaze has been a spectacular success, and is about to be installed across the London Cycle Hire network – officially called Santander Cycles, but more popularly known as Boris Bikes, (despite being introduced by Ken Livingston the previous Mayor of London).

So when I saw the very professionally produced video announcing the Kickstarter campaign for the Burner, I signed up the next day. By then it was already fully funded (in just one day). And went on to raise £153,636 from 2,208 backers, instead of the initial goal of £35,000.

blaze-burner-rear-light-1Since the campaign closed, the team have been on something of a roller-coaster ride. With quite a few technical and supplier problems along the way. This meant the original production date of April slipped by several months. The team kept the backers updated with the issues and delays. So it was with great delight that I finally got to open the package above this week. Just in time for use during the dark evening rides home.

Hopefully you can see from my photos, the light is a very high quality product. Which is one of the reasons the company delayed distribution. It is innovative, in that it shows you the level of battery charge each time you turn it on. It also has a setting to turn the light on automatically when the ambient light level is low, such as in a tunnel or tree-lined route.

blaze-burner-rear-light-4It is early days in terms of usage, but so far I am very happy with the light and the quality of its components, such as the flexible mounting bracket and powerful magnetic attachment.

For me the brightest setting is actually too bright, so I am using it on the normal steady mode, which is claimed lasts 60 hours per charge via the handy USB cable.

So I am feeling triply happy with myself. I own an innovative high quality product. I got a discount for being an early backer. And I am supporting a fledgling UK company, making a great UK designed and assembled product.





On National Biscuit Day – to dunk or not to dunk – that is the question

Source Paul Bailey Flickr

Source Paul Bailey Flickr

I’m not generally a fan of National Days, for instance Trivia Day and National Dress Up Your Pet Day. But I am prepared to make an exception for National Biscuit Day which occurs this Sunday 29 May.

For me, biscuits will always be associated with drinking tea. Because, as that memorable slogan from 1978 for Rich Tea biscuits put it, “A drink’s too wet without one”.

And some might say that biscuits are too dry without tea. Although that didn’t stop my brother munching his way through whole packets at a time as a teenager.

If you want to explore tea, biscuits and cake in more detail, have a look at the quintessential British blog nicecupofteaandasitdown. Their mission statement reads; “Well I think we should all sit down and have a nice cup of tea, and some biscuits, nice ones mind you. Oh and some cake would be nice as well. Lovely.”

cup-339864_640Thanks to last year’s Daily Mirror quiz, we know that the UK’s favourite biscuit is the Chocolate digestive.

According to Amy Lloyd, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, “The ritualistic nature of eating biscuits with a hot drink appeals to consumers, demonstrating how ingrained this occasion is within British culture but emphasising the need for the biscuit category to expand beyond the tea-drinking audience.” Biscuit sales soar as recession drives people to ‘comfort food’. And this is certainly true for my regular visits to my elderly parents.

So that leads me nicely into the whole topic of dunking biscuits. To dunk or not to dunk, that is the question (to badly misquote Shakespeare).

This is a controversial topic that has seen many articles on either side of the the debate. One was triggered by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal announcing that scientifically, biscuits taste better dunked in tea.


Who can resist a chocolate finger?

For the pro-dunkers, expert advice can be found at Key advice includes avoiding dunking embarrassment by ensuring your biscuit will fit inside the diameter of your tea cup.

There are even more articles on the search of the perfect dunking biscuit. According to teadunking, the plain digestive biscuit is the favourite. Whereas TV chef Jamie Oliver’s top three are Hobnobs (plain and chocolate) and Ginger Nuts. But according to scientific research reported in the Daily Mirror, Rich Tea is the King of the dunkers.

Then again, a survey of 3,000 dunkers in the Daily Telegraph ‘proved’ that Chocolate digestive is nation’s favourite dunking biscuit.

As with so many things in life, you have to make up your own mind. And I’m going with the Ginger Nut for the perfect combination flavour and firmness after being dunked.


Chocolate cookies run Ginger Nuts a close second in my book

Photos from Flickr and Pixabay

Books are back up – and so are vinyl records

Books from PixabayI know librarians are supposed to be book fanatics, but I have to confess that I never have been. Maybe it’s my background in computers from an early age. Or perhaps a rebellion against parents who read Proust in the original French.

Despite my enthusiasm for technology, I did not welcome the arrival of digital books and their associated e-readers. I tried a few, but always found the experience ergonomically inferior to the traditional bound printed paper form.

So, I was pleased to hear on the radio today, a report from the Daily Telegraph newspaper that book sales have risen, in contrast to ebooks sales, which have declined. Books are back: Printed book sales rise for first time in four years as ebooks suffer decline

It will be interesting to see if hard-copy continues to make a come-back, or this is a temporary blip in the relentless march of new technology.

Purple Cow coverI am reminded of a conference speech many years ago by Seth Godin, marketing guru and author of the Purple Cow, He said that his biggest selling book was in fact the one he also gave away as a free PDF. He explained that after having read the electronic version, people wanted to have a ‘souvenir’ copy to put onto their shelves. Just imagine having friends round, and as the conversation turns to marketing – you say, “Have you seen Godin’s book?”.

Scenario one would be, “Ok, let’s just walk over to my computer, turn it on, and see if I can find the PDF file for you to look at”. The second would be, “Ok, let’s just have a look on my bookshelf and show you what I am talking about. You could even borrow it, if you promise to bring it back ;-)”.

I know which of these scenarios would be more appealing to me.

Crosley Cruiser BlackAnd it’s not just books that are enjoying a resurgence. Sales of vinyl records are up this year by more than 60%, and are set to reach levels not seen since the late 1980s, according to the BBC. But, although record players such as the Crosley Cruiser (currently available from the British Library shop as part of our Punk exhibition), are selling well. It turns out almost half the people who buy a vinyl record will never actually listen to it. Silent vinyl: Buying records without a record player

So, is this another case of the souvenir copy to impress friends and family? If so, it tells us that the digital world still has a lot to learn in terms of what gives human consumers retail satisfaction.

Lego gets into bed with Dr Who

300px-LEGO_logo.svgI have long been impressed at how Europe’s biggest toy company Lego (who’s name is derived from leg godt, Danish for “play well”), managed to pull themselves back from the brink of bankruptcy back in 2003.

One of the keys in returning to profitability was listening to what their customers wanted from the company, and so re-focusing on their core products. They also began to exploit the opportunities of licensing deals with famous brands. This explains why, when you enter a typical Lego store, your eyes are assaulted by models from Star Wars films, scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter characters, and good old-fashioned  superheroes such as Batman and Superman (in their various guises).

More recently Lego have cooperated with the internet phenomenon Minecraft to enable their customers to create ‘real-world’ creations. Surely this must be the ultimate expression of turning a virtual world competitor into a physical world partner.


Lego have continued to develop their approach of listening to their customers by introducing  a crowdsourcing community LEGO® Ideas. This an online place where Lego fans can submit their own ideas for new products, and vote for other members’ ideas. Those getting more than 10,000 votes have a chance of being selected to be made into real Lego products. To date, nine products have been released via the platform, with three more to launch in 2015.


One of those will be a “Doctor Who”-themed project. The Lego Review Board has chosen the “Doctor Who and Companions” project by Lego Ideas member AndrewClark2. Andy Clark is an artist at a gaming company by day, and a Lego builder by night.

Lego Doctor Who

Doctor Who began in 1963 on BBC Television, and it is the world’s longest running sci-fi drama. Since then the show has entertained generations of British children. But since its revival in 2005 this quintessentially British show has become something of a global phenomenon. So the new ‘Dr Who’ line will be sure to find a wide audience.


Retail Trends – Online and Offline by Cate Trotter

Cate TrotterThe latest in Cate Trotter’s series of Trends workshops (see my previous posts on Key Trends for 2012, The Future of Online Marketing, The growing grey market in the UK) concentrated on Retail. In it Cate covered the rapid online developments, but also changes in bricks and mortar shopping, known as offline retail. She also explained how the smarter retailers are merging these two elements together to enhance both the online and offline experience for their customers.

Here are my notes from this highly recommended workshop:

Omnichannel retailing

  • Although the value of online clothing and accessories sales are predicted to double over the next five years, offline will still dominate with three quarters of overall sales.
  • There is a trend for online retailers to add a high street presence. Examples are FunkyPigeon, and ETSY.
  • The new Burberry flagship store on Regent Street is a leading example. It has a large screen showing live fashion events from around the world. And live music events held in the store are streamed onto their website.
  • Cate suggested using If This Then That or Hootsuite (which I have been using for a couple of year and can personally recommend) to manage multiple social media channels from one screen.
  • She asked the audience to review all their customer contact points and maximise buying opportunities for interested customers.
Burberry flagship store on Regent Street

Burberry flagship store on Regent Street


  • Use of smart mobile devices is currently increasing at 35% a year, so all websites need to be made mobile friendly using tools such as

Retail is everywhere


  • Customers trust social media far more than advertising, for instance 90% trust recommendations from their peers.
  • Pinterest has now grown to 50 million users and is a great way to show products and designs.
  • This leads to an approach where products promote the brand which is a reversal of traditional marketing where the brand promotes the product.
  • Cate’s advice is to create remarkable products and services which your customers will want to promote through their social media networks.
  • An example is shops which offer free wi-fi enabling customer to take pictures of items and share them instantly online.

Speed and efficiency

  • The market is changing rapidly and social media trends show you where it is going. So monitor it using tools such as Google Trends or
  • Get your customers to choose what they want from you using funding sites such as
  • Customers are demanding instant gratification to match delivery digital goods, so use services such as to deliver within minutes instead of days.

Customer experience

  • You can’t compete on price with the likes of, so develop an enhanced customer experience instead.
  • Be remarkable – be unique to compete.
  • For example the record company Rough Trade opened a record store designed to be a browsable experience rather than focussed on sales.
  • Look Mum No Hands sells and repairs cycles, but is also a trendy café for two wheeled fans.

A tailored experience

A personalised experience

  • has increased sales by 40% through the use of its recommendations system.
  • uses customer driven fashion retailing to get the lowest return rate in the industry of just 10%.
  • Cate suggested trying out Facebook’s recommendations plugin


The future of motorbikes is electric

Kawasaki kr1-sI normally leave the coverage of all things patent related in the capable hands of my colleague Steve van Dulken and his Patent Search Blog.

However, Steve is not the keen biker I am (nor the owner of the best motorbike ever created). So he is unlikely to have come across this story in the latest issue of Bike Magazine.

It is about a patent for an electric motorbike from Honda in Japan. And I have to admit I struggled to read all 19 pages of the patent application. But my understanding of the innovation, is the use of smaller electric motors located near the rear axle. This avoids the need for a traditional chain to provide motive power from the engine to the rear wheel.

The point of this story is that you can use patents as a form of market research. It is unlikely Honda would go to the trouble of protecting this idea if they weren’t planning to launch an electric motorbike in the near future.

You can read more at the Espacenet website. US Patent: US8028785  (B2) ― 2011-10-04 ELECTRIC MOTORCYCLE or European Patent: EP2168858  (B1) ― 2012-06-06





Soul Trader – Putting the heart back into your business

Rasheed_OgunlaruRasheed Ogunlaru, life and business coach has been a Business & IP Centre partner since our earliest days. In addition to running the Your life, your business workshop once a month in the Centre and mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs with TieUK, he singlehandedly converted me to the benefits of life coaching.

I have to admit that perhaps due to a scientific background, or perhaps just plain old cynicism, I had always been wary of life coaching. I decided the only way to address this prejudice was to attend Rasheed’s workshop five years ago. After three hours I was entirely convinced by his eminently practical approach, to putting your heart and soul into your business.
So it is great to see his practical philosophy translated from workshop to published book in the form of Soul Trader published by Kogan Page. And having read it through this week,  I would put it at the top of my list of recommended reading for everyone starting (or growing) a business. I am still a big fan of Starting Your Own Business: The Good, The Bad and The Unexpected by David Lester, but Rasheed has addressed the key issue of what you really want to get from starting a business, and to make sure you end up running it, instead of it running you and your life.

Soul_Trader_coverHis introduction sums it up nicely:

Most people do not go into business solely to make money. They want to make a living, make an impact, make a contribution, make a statement, make something of real worth and value. They want to enjoy what they do, and make themselves happy and their families secure and proud. They want to make a break from the humdrum, and express their skill and abilities. But sooner or later many business owners fall into the same old trap, lose sight of what’s important and struggle with life balance.

The book consists of eight C’s made up of seven chapters and a ‘plus’ which focusses on insights to help anticipate and embrace Change.

  1. Clarity: Know your mission, talents and values.
  2. Customers: See life through customers’ eyes to win their custom and loyalty.
  3. Courage:  Unleash your inspiration / wisdom and adopt an athlete’s attitude.
  4. Co-operation: Punch over your weight; collaborate. Use / build your network.
  5. Conversations: Learn the art to connect, converse, create and convert leads.
  6. Creativity: Know when to work, rest and be at your best, (re)gain life balance.
  7. Compassion: Connect from the heart – be transformational not transactional.

Early on Rasheed gets the you to conduct a personal SWOT analysis. Which is an excellent way of discovering what you do well, and what you need to work on or get help with.

heart_and_chairThe book is peppered with examples from his hundreds of clients over the years, and covers a problem I have encountered many times, which he calls the ‘blindness of the visionary’. People become so (understandably) obsessed by their business idea or invention, they completely forget about their customers. This leads to a very expensive and risky approach to market research, where you bring your product or service to the market and then find out if anyone will buy it. Much better to find out as you develop your idea and tailor it to what you customers say they want.

Once again Rasheed gives a practical solution to this problem by showing how to map out your customers. He also explains how to develop a set of customer ‘scenarios’, to help understand the psychology of your customers. He doesn’t shy away from the realities of doing business in the real world as a soul trader. Without sufficient income (and avoiding the number one cause of failure – cash-flow) your business will not survive. Even social enterprises have to generate enough money to pay their staff and to invest in growth if they are to succeed. These are the hard questions that so many avoid tackling in their business plans:

  1. How much money to you need to live on, and to break even in business?
  2. How much money do you seek to make this year, next year and the year after in turnover – before costs and tax – and in your personal profit after cost and tax?
  3. On average how many sales or customer does that equate to per month and year?
  4. What specific action are needed to reach those goals, and what are the challenges?
  5. What evidence, research and assumptions are those figures based on?
  6. Looking again at those figures, what are a) realistic, b) optimistic and c) pessimistic sales figures for the next 12 months, and what would they mean to you and your business?
  7. What are your main products and services? How are they priced? What are all the costs involved? Which are the most lucrative? Which incur the most costs? Which involve the most hard work? Which are most dear to your heart and to your customers?

I have been talking to lots of makers recently such as jewellers, and many haven’t properly come to terms with the issue of wanting to make everything by hand themselves, but also selling enough items to make a living.

Rachel_ElnaughCourage is term one doesn’t  come across often in business books, but Rasheed rightly recognises that this is an essential ingredient in business, and gives practical tips on how you can develop it. I am constantly in awe of the people I meet who are at the beginning of a journey that would terrify me. The book contains an example from ex-Dragon and Business & IP Centre supporter Rachel Elnaugh. Rasheed asked one simple question during an advice session, and at a stroke gave her an insight which revolutionised her life. “I can honestly say that session with Rasheed was like walking through a doorway that has led me into a completely new and completely fulfilling life where success, money and love are all now flowering.”

Cooperation is an undervalued aspect of business, with many people I meet worrying about their competition before they have even started trading. The book talks about the importance of developing business partnerships through cooperation. And again Rasheed gives practical advice on how to grow and then utilize your support networks.

Conversations, which convert contacts into customers replace the ‘hard sell’ for soul traders. After all, no-one wants to be sold to, but everyone wants their opinion to be listened to. This chapter also includes how conversations work via social media channels and what precautions you need to take them online. There a lots of practical examples here, including how to deal with complaints by using, Acknowledge – Reflect back – Say what you can do.

Towards the end of the book Rasheed introduces his two-page business plan. As he says, ‘Business plans are written for two purposes and for two audiences: 1) for you to identify who and where you are, where you’re going and how you’ll get there; and 2) for investors or funders for the same purpose. If you’re seeking funding from others then you’ll need a longer, more detailed business plan…”

To sum up, I found Soul Trader to be clear and simple, friendly and supportive, passionate and soulful – just like Rasheed himself.

Fixies re-inventing the bicycle

I never cease to be amazed at the products and services being re-invented for the modern market. I’ve already mentioned the bare-foot running movement and it’s breathtakingly expensive equipment.

Adam rides a Tokyobike Classic © Horst Friedrichs

Image © Horst Friedrichs

However, since my bicycle was recently stolen (UK bike crime figures), I have been on the lookout for a replacement, and intrigued to discover the fixie bike phenomenon. I have to admit I was half-aware of a different and simpler kind of bicycle from my lunch-time wanderings around the Kings Cross area, particularly in the vicinity of the University of the Arts, inhabited by trend-setting students.

My eye was drawn to the almost Nietzschean purity and strong colours. One bike was all-white, even including the drive chain, another was mat black and gold with painted tyres. A recent article in the Evening Standard about Horst Friedrichs‘ new book London’s most stylish cyclists, seemed to only show examples of fixie bikes.

The point is that once you remove the complex Derailleur gears and forget about heavy suspension, bike designers can let the minimalism of the two wheels and frame come to the fore. The fact that these bikes tend to be hundreds of pounds cheaper than their more sophisticated siblings is another attraction.

However, there is just one fly in the ointment, and that is the hilly nature of the geography around my local area. Bicycles developed gears for a reason, and that was to get their riders up hills without having to get off and push every time the slope got steep.

I’ve been assured that in London they work just fine, but I certainly haven’t seen any up on the South Downs on my walks.

Then there is the question of true fixed wheel fixie, or the softy version with a free wheel bearing. I have to say the thought of being thrown over the handlebars because I forgot to keep pedalling when going downhill, does worry me somewhat.

So I have a dilemma, choose a beautiful two wheeled retro bike that harks back to the early days of cycling – and suffer, or go modern for an easy ride.


image from

The Apprentice hits the mark with gourmet street food

Lucky_ChipThis evening’s Apprentice shows the show’s researchers have their ears to the ground with regard to the latest trend in street food retailing.

Pop-up shops selling gourmet fast food is all the rage in the trendier parts of London these days.

Luckily the Kings Cross development area is just one such place, with its Eat Street, just up the road from the updated eponymous station, and literally across the road from the recently opened University of the Arts.

I have been lured over to this new venture on numerous occasions, despite the relatively high prices compared to traditional fast food outlets. But the food has always been worth it, with a notable spicy burger which had a real bite to it.

As was pointed out during this weeks Apprentice episode, branding is a key element of any enterprise, and some of the stalls in Eat Street certainly have memorable names. My favourites are Daddy Donkey, Well Kneaded Ltd, Yum Bun, Hardcore Prawn, and Eat my Pies.

tongue-n-cheekHowever, I think that Tongue ‘n Cheek needs to find a way make its delicious sounding underrated meat cuts and Italian inspired street food treats, such as Ox cheek with caramelized onions and polenta, a bit more accessible given the queue size I observed the other day.

These names certainly compare favourably to the Apprentice team’s choices of Gourmet Scot Pot and Utterly delicious Meatballs.

Update: August 2012: I’m now a regular at Eat Street as their days and stalls expand all the time. I’ve just had probably the best burger I’ve ever tasted from Tongue ‘n Cheek. It was their Heartbreacker Original burger, made from Ox heart and dry aged beef burger, spicy chimichurri sauce, water cress, cheddar and sour cream. And it tasted amazing.

Let our Industry Guides show you the way

industry guides

I was rather surprised to discover this morning that I have failed to blog about our wonderful Industry Guides. This is even more of a crime when I consider how my colleagues have toiled over them every six-months to hand-pick the best information for researching key industries.

Although by no means comprehensive (not really possible in the British Library due to our vast range of content), these guides highlight useful databases, publications and websites, hopefully in an industry or topic you want to research.

Below is a list of our current guides: