Guest blog on “Academic collaboration – a startup point of view”

I was asked to write a guest blog to University College London Centre for Behaviour Change‘s Digi-Hub. My brief was to talk about collaboration between businesses and academia, in particular from the point of view of a small startup company like Club Soda.

My post, which is part of a longer series of guest blogs, deals with evidence, evaluation, and the tension that working across organisational boundaries can create.

You can read the post here.

Breaking into the NHS

No, not burglary. Digital Catapult had a half-day event on “NHS: The Procurement Minefield” last Monday. The first speaker was Mahiben Maruthappu from NHS England, who listed six big challenges for the NHS, or things that are needed more of: prevention, innovation, self-care, breaking silos and scaling, IT interoperability, and making the financial case. (Most of these sound like they would fit any major organisation really…)

He then listed three focus areas: organisational change to handle new kinds of services and local innovations (no surprise there!), combining innovations to achieve synergies, and achieving national scale. In terms of medical issues, diabetes, cancer and mental health are the three big priorities for the next ten years.

The other speakers weren’t as interesting to my ears, but the panel discussion towards the end had some good nuggets. For example, in answer to a question about how best to get into the NHS as a new service provider, the answers included having inside knowledge, “talking clinical” (i.e. not just business and tech), having a global view, and being adaptable and having perseverance (expect that anything will take years…). Someone even called the NHS “the hardest market to crack”, and recommended going direct to consumers, even if you then have to go to the US and Australia.

Some food for thought there, though mostly confirming the impression I’ve already got from other health and medical startups about the difficulties involved in working (or trying to work, to be more precise?) with the UK national health care system.

An events event

Eventbrite did a survey of event organisers recently. I like surveys, so filled it in out of curiousity mainly. Ok, we do organise quite a few events with Club Soda so I did have genuine responses to offer to the survey.

The survey results are now out, there was also a big event at the Methodist Central Hall one morning last week to announce them. The report findings aren’t that relevant to me or Club Soda, as the responses and focus is more on much bigger things than what I’m involved in organising. But the panel discussion at the event had some interesting nuggets. Such as that not many people think SEO is among the most important event marketing tools for them, when it really should be, at least according to Eventbrite. Apparently they pay a lot of attention to the way their event pages look like to search engines.

Some other points that we’ve also come across were confirmed. For example that email is still the most important method of communication, and that 50% is a good rule of thumb when you try to estimate the drop-out rate between people signing up for events and those actually turning up (for free events at least, paid-for are not quite that bad of course).

And buzzwords that got mentioned enough times for me to wrote them down were: Content! Experiences! Storytelling! Community! User experience! Similarly, “learning from selfies” is a thing: according to one panelist a good aim for an event organiser is to “create selfie opportunities”.

From fan clubs to supporting refugees

The November Building Online Communities MeetUp guest speaker was Shelley Taylor, who has been doing exciting things in tech for 20 years. In her own words an earlier venture of hers, a digital entertainment platform, was “both a huge success but also a failure” (the success part was 300,000 users). Very Silicon Valley!

A few years ago Shelley started thinking about old-fashioned fan clubs, which have of course been around for ages. Originally using magazines and letters in the post to communicate, it would be easy to think that Facebook and Twitter had completely destroyed the idea of fan clubs. But as is becoming more and more obvious, social media has fallen prey to its own success: artists, record labels, athletes, brands, can’t actually reach their audience on social media any more. This is largely due to the changing business models of the platforms – they rely on advertising for their revenue, so anyone wanting to reach people on them will now have to pay for the privilege (you can read articles with titles such as “What I learned spending $2 Million on Facebook Ads”). In plain terms, the Facebook algorithm will not show your update on your followers’ feed for free. And there are other pitfalls too. There are in the region of 60 Rihanna apps available. Sadly, they all fall under the umbrella of “unauthorized” – the artist has nothing to do with them.

rihanna

So it might not be an exaggeration to conclude that social media marketing is mostly a waste of time and money. What is needed instead is direct contact and communication with your audience. Face to face, phone, email, can still reach people. Apps may also work better (if you get people to download them first!), as push notifications do get noticed. More old-fashioned, and more hard work, but probably also deeper and better quality communication as well?

This is where Shelley’s Digital Fan Clubs idea comes in. An artist can set up their own branded app, provide content through it, and actually reach their fans who can download the app for free. And it’s not just pop stars that can use the template. Anyone who needs to communicate with specific groups of people can use the same idea. And other organisations have seen the potential benefits, especially those with local information to share (such as a student housing provider).

intro_screenAn interesting and timely application of the idea is Shelley’s prototype refugee support app. Any organisation providing help and support for refugees can app information about their services to the app database, and refugees can then easily find local sources of support, whether legal support or information, food, shelter, or medical help (see image). By the way, it sounded like the biggest issue with this app was collating the data from all the aid agencies into a usable format. That does not surprise me at all…

 

How many financial districts does one city need?

We talk about “The City” in London like we do about “The Wall Street” in New York when we mean the financial districts of each place. But it’s a bit more complicated than that in London.

Yes, the City is the old and traditional centre of banking and insurance in the UK. And it’s still a major location for financial firms (interestingly, even within “the square mile” there are clear subdivisions: banks on this side, insurers on that side). Canary Wharf in the old docklands, since the 1980’s, has lots of banks too, especially American investment banks.

But if you want to find hedge funds and other boutique outfits, you best head west: Mayfair and other posh bits of the West End is where they have been congregating since the noughties or so. And finally, there’s the “Silicon Roundabout”, just north of the city, where the latest breed of “fintech” start-ups live.

So – all in all we have four separate financial. districts in one city. It could be considered just a bit excessive, couldn’t it?