Things I wish I had known…

Alexandra posted an interesting list a while back on “Surviving Michaelmas Term” on the Cambridge MBA. I wanted to pick and choose what I thought were some great insights and pointers for future students. (I also grabbed a few from other people in the comments, too.) It’s really a list for surviving a one-year MBA!

1) Meet the class before classes starts. The first few pub outings were essential ice-breakers: even if you couldn’t remember anyone’s name afterwards…they remembered YOU!
3) Give up trying to remember the 5 different log-in names, 8 passwords and 29 websites you are supposed to check daily. Make friends with “responsible” people in class and have them inform you of all important notices.
4) Go to class. You don’t want to be that “person who doesn’t exist”.
5) Make sure you have an accountant in your study group. If you don’t, task someone besides yourself to become an accountant.
6) Bring a blanket to LT3 and iced-drinks to LT1, no matter what the temperature is outside
9) Accept every possible formal hall or fancy dinner party invitation. Otherwise you will forget how to use a fork and how to dress sensibly. The everyday jeans and sandwiches do not reflect the real world!
10) Do prepare a “plan of attack” for your career search. You will probably not follow it but it will make you feel better knowing you tried… when you realise you don’t have a job.
13) If you get a bicycle remember to get a helmet…and body armour to go with it.
14) Join rowing. Otherwise you will be envious of the people who wake up at 6:00am to go exercising in the freezing English mist and show up in class smelling like the Cam. (Really, that would make you more pathetic than them)
15) When playing Management Practice games remember that whatever you do and no matter how you excuse it, it IS personal!
16) There is only one Matriculation, one Halloween and one Christmas a year. Celebrate it at your college….and bribe colleagues to take you to theirs.
18) Go out after class and get drinks. Loads of drinks. Make Browns your second home!
Get a backpack. They are not exactly fashionable but unless you have a masseuse fund, you should use one. It will save you great pain.
Go to Enterprise Tuesday. These weekly lectures are basically a course in themselves, and celebrate the contagious entrepreneurial spirit of Cambridge.

I hope that this helps future Cambridge MBA’s! If I missed anything, please add it to the comments section below…

OpenCoffee Cambridge & thoughts and ideas on the startup scene

First of all, thank you to everyone that came out to the first OpenCoffee Cambridge today! I wasn’t sure what to expect, and thought the worst case would mean about 3–4 people would just chat in the coffee shop. I didn’t try to make an accurate count, but I would guess about 30 people or so turned up, which was fantastic! I had a great time meeting and talking to a lot of interesting people.

Here are some photos from the day (my apologies for the blurry ones):

You’re getting close when you see this… you can’t miss it

Here’s the venue, Caffe Nero on King’s Parade

This is the view from the front door of Caffe Nero

In this photo I managed to catch Laurence, Geoff, Peter, and a couple others. (Geoff also blogged about OpenCoffee here.)

Louise was one of the women to show up (a fellow MBA)

The group ended up taking up a good chunk of the back of the shop; this was taken after people had started leaving.

It was a fantastic day, and virtually everyone I met and talked to today was either an entrepreneur or an investor. I want to specifically thank Laurence John and Richard Brockbank from Amadeus and Alex van Someren from Cambridge CfEL for showing up and being so enthusiastic for the idea of OpenCoffee.

After a little bit of research, it seems the two best options for organising a group like OpenCoffee is a Meetup group and a LinkedIn group. Since LinkedIn groups are free, that’s what I’ve setup first. Please click here to sign up. (Currently moderated to prevent spammers.) I think it would be great to start a Meetup group, too, but would like to gauge opinion before the $144/year charge. UPDATE: Peter Clark/Broadersheet has sponsored the Meetup group: sign up here! Please sign up so that we can let everyone know if/when we change venues… if we have a few more weeks packing Caffe Nero like we did today we won’t be welcome there much longer!

On a completely different note, a number of people had some interesting conversations about Cambridge and entrepreneurs. Talking with people today, it seems there are a few different issues that currently exist in the Cambridge startup ecosystem.

  • Social events — OpenCoffee Cambridge is meant to address this. Entrepreneurs just need a place/time to meet each other, demo what they’re doing and network.
  • Demo nights — Cribbing off of the NY Tech Meetup, I think Cambridge needs a night where entrepreneurs can show off what they’ve been working on, get feedback, and have a broader networking event.
  • Judge Business School — Judge is a great business school that could really make a difference to startups, but not enough MBA’s, MPhils, etc get involved in the startup ecosystem.

Initial thoughts on furthering the Cambridge startup ecosystem

Cambridge is an incredible cluster of startups, but it’s not perfect. These are three things that I personally think would be useful in order to address the issues above.

OpenCoffee Cambridge

After today’s success, this is certainly going to become a regular event.

Based on the feedback I got from everyone today, I think this will be most valuable as a weekly, daytime event. It ensures more angels and VC’s can attend (since that’s their day job), and needs to be weekly to develop the kind of relationships that are necessary. That doesn’t mean people need to show up every week! Just that it happens every week for the people that want to meet up.

Full Moon Madness Demo nights

A monthly demo night for entrepreneurs looking to demo their software, products, services would address the second issue. It would take place at night, ensuring as many people as possible can attend. (Both current and aspirational entrepreneurs.) Let’s face it… all entrepreneurs are a little bit mad so let’s celebrate it by demo’ing during a full moon!

This would mean that the first demo night would be Wednesday, March 11th. Are there any conflicts with that night? I’ve got one volunteer to demo already… are there any others? If there’s interest I’ll look into setting something up.

Cambridge Entrepreneurial Speed-dating

I’m not sure how this would work, but there’s a real opportunity to connect science and engineering students working on new ideas with business school students that have the business background to help commercialize them. Sometimes this will be science/engineering ideas looking for business help, other times it will be business ideas looking for science/engineering help in building prototypes, etc. I think it’s critical to get some creative types involved with this, too, but I’m not sure how.

This would ideally happen very early in the school year, and perhaps be repeated after a few months. It may be too late to effectively do this year, but perhaps if it gets developed a bit it would be ready for the fall?


OpenCoffee Cambridge is ON. Please stay tuned in for more information, but the next one will happen next week at the same time & place. (Thursday, 26 Feb, 10am-12noon at Caffe Nero on King’s Parade)

What do you think of the other ideas? Useful, not useful, something else entirely? I’d be happy to chat in the comments below, off-blog or at the next OpenCoffee.

Innovation and process in companies

Quick definition of innovation

First of all, there are multiple definitions of innovation and I want to address this. Here’s a (longer) definition:

Innovation is the economically successful introduction of a new technology or new combination of existing technologies in order to create a stepwise improvement in the value (compared to the resources invested) created for the client.

The problem here is with one word: stepwise. Some people and companies think this must be a massive step; others believe that fairly small step changes can still be considered innovations. In my opinion, this difference in understanding is why the word “innovation” has become the buzzword it has.

Innovation and tools in modern corporations

I’m interested in the intersection between organisational groups and innovation. Specifically, how can new technology help?

In a previous post I discussed the various idea management software packages available to businesses and organisations to help them innovate. But what continues to bother me about all of the software packages I’ve seen is that they seem to pass on responsibility. New ideas and innovations have to go through a process of review, which raises them to increasingly higher levels of management for further review. Employees themselves don’t keep the responsibility for success. They can help forecast and vote for an idea, but that’s it.

Perhaps my military background is showing a bit, but I think much more responsibility can be pushed down to the employees themselves. When I was in the Navy, there were clear rules under which we had to operate. But within those rules, we were very free to experiment and find the best solution for our watchteam/boat/squadron. This extended down to each individual watchstation; even the most junior enlisted man on board had room in which to learn and innovate. (This doesn’t mean that the Navy is an all-innovating organisation; just that there wasn’t needless process and structure for it.)

I personally believe that each additional step of process and each additional rule limits the boundaries of innovation in an organisation. Companies must operate with rules: spending limits are musts, managers must approve formal product introductions, etc. But these are rules for the firm, not for innovation. If you start putting rules and structure around innovation, (such as each project must have a sponsor, projects must have certain approvals before they begin, etc.) a company starts down the slippery slope to irrelevance.

What matters with innovative ideas is that they get implemented. (Or at least implemented enough to “fail fast”.) Does it really matter how if they comply with the main rules in the firm? What matters is results.

Bob Sutton is a very well-known management thinker and professor at Stanford. He writes here:

innovation often happens despite rather than because of senior management, and oddly enough, the best leaders often realize that their very presence can sometimes stifle innovation.

and a fantastic story (confirmed to be true) from HP:

Some years ago, at an HP laboratory in Colorado Springs devoted to oscilloscope technology, one of our bright, energetic engineers, Chuck House, was advised to abandon a display monitor he was developing. Instead he embarked on a vacation to California — stopping along the way to show potential customers a prototype of the monitor. He wanted to find out what they thought, specifically what they wanted the product to do and what its limitations were. Their positive reaction spurred him to continue with the project, even though on his return to Colorado, he found that I, among others, had requested it be discontinued. He persuaded his R&D manager to rush the monitor into production, and as it turned out, HP sold more than 17,000 display monitors representing sales revenue of $35 million for the company.

What to do?

Fundamentally, there is a difference between coming up with the ideas and innovations and formally developing them. At what point do you make what’s really an entrepreneurial-type activity a big-company project management process? Do you do it while it’s still just an idea, or later in its life? I know where I personally come down on this question… what about you?

Future prediction markets news

I’ve been working with a media company in London to develop a public prediction market for their (industry vertical) network. It’s still softly launching, and I don’t want to steal any thunder until they’ve had a chance to fully promote it. But I look forward to discussing it in the future here.

One last note…

As I mentioned before, this blog recently achieved a Google PageRank of 6/10. Because of this I’ve been getting a LOT more spam in the comments, and have made the comments section completely moderated. But please comment below; I will approve it (hopefully) shortly thereafter.

Announcing OpenCoffee Club in Cambridge

Saul Klein started the OpenCoffee Club just about two years ago with an initial gathering in London. As I’ve mentioned before, Cambridge is one of the other hearts of entrepreneurial ventures in the UK and Europe. About 10% of venture capital across Europe is invested in Cambridge. (A city of just 80,000 people if you don’t include students.)

What Cambridge doesn’t have right now is a regular place to meet fellow entrepreneurs. While organisations like the Cambridge Network and the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning and Judge Business School all run events with some excellent networking afterwards, there are no regular events.

The OpenCoffee Club in Cambridge is meant to help change this. As Saul described in his first post on the idea:

This is an attempt to establish recognized, open and regular meeting places where entrepreneurs can meet with investors (and anyone else who fancies coming along) in a totally informal setting.

The key is a regular place and a regular time — it’s not important who comes along, some days it might be no one — just that people know if they want to meet, this is the time and this is the place.

We want to create some density for people — a few places where people know they can meet or bump into others.

Think of OpenCoffee Cambridge as office hours for entrepreneurs and investors. It’s simply a regular, weekly time to get together to demonstrate what you’re working on, discuss current challenges, and pitch your ideas.

When and Where?

The first OpenCoffee Cambridge will be held this Thursday, February 19th from 10am-noon at Caffe Nero on King’s Parade. (Directly across from King’s College Chapel.) Click here to see the Upcoming invite.,0.117953&sspn=0.007009,0.017016&g=CB2+1SP&ie=UTF8&ll=52.211446,0.122137&spn=0.006693,0.017016&z=14&iwloc=addr&output=embed&s=AARTsJo1lGYyeJBPyGeLxGKDcGb7HvKCcg

This day/time is far from set in stone… if attendees (or people that want to but can’t) have strong feelings for or against it, please feel free to comment here or contact me directly. Or better yet, come along to talk about it!

I really look forward to the very first OpenCoffee Cambridge this Thursday, and hope you can come along. If you’d like to hear about future OpenCoffee Cambridge events, please join the group on Upcoming. (I hope to shift this and make it a Meetup Group soon.)