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Bean bags and office dogs.

May 12th, 2017


I’m getting really bored of media coverage of start ups that focuses more on the bean bags, ping pong tables, coffee machines and obligatory office dog than it does on the business. Why is it such a big deal?

Is it because the people doing the reporting are jealous (“wish I worked somewhere like this”)? Or is because they can’t get their heads around what these businesses do, so it’s easier to focus on what they look like?

The workspaces we create for ourselves reflect the way we want to work and the hierarchies that exist within the workplace. Think back to the times of wood panelled offices for the bosses, while the clerical staff sat outside at rows of identical desks. Or the vast floors of cubicles, with plush corner offices with windows for the execs.

Today, businesses are trying to operate in collaborative, loosely organised teams with minimal hierarchy. They want work to be somewhere where people can also be playful, where creativity is encouraged and where the individual is valued. Those wacky spaces with big tables, glass walled meeting rooms, places to socialise and relax are simply a reflection of this new approach. Stop getting excited about the slide and start understanding the work that’s happening.

Mythical beasts

May 12th, 2017


Not every horse is a unicorn – but a strong, healthy, energetic horse is still an excellent animal. I think the endless quest for unicorns (who, let’s remember, are a mythical beast) does a disservice to all the businesses and start-ups and ideas out there that will never be a unicorn but have the makings of being bloody good horses. The focus on unicorns (“high growth companies”) is a greedy way of doing things. It says that the only things worth investing support, effort and money in are the things that are going to pay back big time to those investing. But what’s wrong with investing in ideas and businesses that have a solid idea, will create some jobs, will generate decent incomes for some people and will eventually provide a reasonable (but not astronomical) pay off?

It’s the difference between, “Look at me – I caught a unicorn!!” and “Yeah, nice unicorn – check out my stable full of rugged ponies”. In the long run, I think the ponies will be more useful.

Which is why I was pleased and pleasantly surprised to read this announcement from Ignite. Seems I’m not alone in thinking that we’d be wiser to look after our ponies.

Farewell to the Thin White Duke

January 11th, 2016


I suspect that I am among the many people who have spent the day listening to David Bowie and following links to video and interview clips. You may find it strange that I’ve chosen to post about his passing on my business blog. But if ever anyone epitomised creativity, longevity, the power of reinvention, artistry, professionalism and a passion for doing the best possible work, then I think it is him.

Despite all the big things that are happening in the world right now, it seems only right to me that he is the lead story on the news and the key trend in my social media feeds. Bowie has been part of our cultural landscape for a long time. And, man, did he know how to communicate!

Insert your favourite Bowie lyric here.

Times flies . . .

December 30th, 2015


Well, I must have been having fun in 2015 because I’ve no idea where that year went! I certainly didn’t spend it blogging on this website (hangs head in shame).

Actually, 2015 has been very interesting and extremely rewarding. I had the pleasure of working with some amazing businesses, including award-winning Rocket, rising star Razor Jam and design geniuses Field.

I gave my first ever University lecture (nerve-wracking), expanded my brain at Thinking Digital (inspiring) and learned more than I ever thought I’d need to know about information assurance, project management methodologies and testing (copy writing).

I also achieved something I’ve been talking about since before I set up TigerNash and, working with some great people, set up Sheffield Digital. I’m enormously excited about this and looking forward to building it into a successful and sustainable organisation during 2016.

I’m convinced that 2016 is going to a break-through year for the digital industries in our city. We have challenges to face, especially around meeting an ever-growing need for talent. But I’m encouraged by conversations I’ve had recently with both businesses and education organisations – it will be interesting to see if we can collaborate to come up with some clever ways of addressing the issues.

Other things I’ll be keeping an eye on include our growing start-up ecosystem, the Sheffield Smart Lab programme, various projects to get people of all ages coding, the role of digital in health care, and more and more cross-over between digital and culture.

I expect to drink many more cups of coffee (decaf is my friend), meet many more smart and dedicated people and attend events large and small, serious and social. See you in 2016.

More on co-working

August 10th, 2014


There have been some exciting developments on the co-working scene in Sheffield since my last post.

Union St. has opened and is attracting an interesting variety of tenants. I visited the space before it opened but need to go back and see how things are shaping up. Visit the Union St website here.

Meanwhile, The RoCo on Glossop Road is going to be “Sheffield’s first dedicated co-operative development built exclusively for the next wave of creators, artists, designers and makers”. They are transforming 7 Grade II listed buildings into a 17,000 sqft site including art and design retail spaces, studios and co-working, galleries, a make house and maker shed, a cafe bar and deli and a range of meeting and event spaces. They have already secured over £650k of investment and have now launched a community share offer to raise the final slice of funding. The website is being updated and should be live again on 18th August.


Co-working space in Sheffield

April 25th, 2014


Co-working space is an important ingredient for a thriving Creative & Digital scene. Suitable spaces have been in short supply in Sheffield, but now I’m starting to see more being created.

I recently visited Studio 505 at The Workstation which is my idea of an almost perfect space. It’s a big, bright room with a mixture of desks, tables and sofas, great WiFi and the added bonus of Macs complete with a variety of useful software.

Studio 505

Studio 505 operates on a membership basis (£36 a month including VAT) and that gives you 24/7 access. You’ve got the Site Gallery cafe and the Showroom cafe on your doorsteps – although, granted, you have to carry your coffee back up to the 5th floor ;-)

I also heard recently about plans for a space on Unity Street, to be run by the same people who run the CADS centre in Shalesmoor. And I believe there’s a space run by G Media in their Bells Square office, although I think that is rent-a-desk rather than co-working.

I’m compiling a list of co-working spaces in Sheffield so please let me know if you run one or use one that you’d recommend.

Lessons learned from Internet Icons

March 3rd, 2014


Last week, I went along to the Internet Icons event at Electric Works. It featured Sheffield’s own Andy Mayer from Yoomee, followed up by a panel of digital entrepreneurs live streamed from the British Library in London.

Let’s start with Andy – he had four lovely tips for people starting up their own digital businesses:

  1. Make sure what you do is what you love. Would you do it without pay? It’s this passion that will keep you going through the hard times and Andy believes you can turn any passion into a business.
  2. You need to be transparent to succeed in the digital world. Share your plans and what makes you tick – this attracts like minded people. And beware of vanity metrics – what’s important is people who care.
  3. Give it lots of time. To break the rules you must first master them. Stick at what you’re doing for at least six years.
  4. Make space to be creative. Work doesn’t happen at work. You need to give your mind time to quiet down and be playful and give yourself room to make decisions.

Then it was time to listen to the panel, which was made up of Nick Robertson of ASOS, Kathryn Parsons of Decoded and Nick Jenkins from

All three were interesting and entertaining speakers. I won’t try and summarise their talks but here are a few key points that I took away:

From Nick Robertson:

  • Keep it tight, be focused. And stay flexible.
  • Be prepared to kiss a few frogs and don’t sell out too soon – grow it and build it instead.
  • You are your business – you are the one who motivates people.

From Kathryn Parsons:

  • If you’re not sure what your passion is, have a look at your bookshelf. And don’t get put off – it can be fun to do the impossible.

From Nick Jenkins:

  • Make sure you understand the value of your customers versus the cost of customer acquisition.
  • Watch what your competitors are doing – they can show you the way.
  • Be decisive – hire good people and then let them get on with it.
  • Look after your people – money shouldn’t be the reason for them to stay or go.

And finally, a theme that ran throughout the event was around marketing and what to do when you don’t have a large budget for executing marketing tactics. All three panelists talked about how their customers do their marketing for them – something which doesn’t just apply to online businesses.

It was also interesting to watch the tweeting during the event. Have a look at #BLicons – the stream captured lots of other highlights as well as questions from the audience in London and at live stream venues around the country.

Get out of your head!

March 13th, 2013


So, let me begin by saying I’m not advocating that we all “Tune in, turn on and drop out”*. It’s just that I’ve had a number of conversations recently that have all boiled down to the same basic principle:

If you want to make your marketing / communication successful, you need to get out of your own head and into the heads of your customers / audience.

Whether you’re trying to put together a basic flyer to take to an event, or thinking about how to structure a website, or planning a presentation, or wanting to develop new product or service offerings – the same principle applies.

Now, I’m the first to admit that this is often easier said than done. It’s natural for your perspective to be focused on your business when you’re working in it every day. But making the effort to change that perspective often provides powerful insight.

For example, you may discover that what you thought you were selling is actually not what your customers think they are buying from you (yes, really!). Or you may realise that the level of information you are providing is out of sync with the problems or needs that your customers have, so it doesn’t encourage them to buy. Or you may trigger a line of thinking that opens up a new market for your services. I could go on . . .

. . . but in the meantime, why not give it a try? And if you’d like some help, well, you know where I am.


PS – if you don’t get the “Tune in, turn on, drop out” reference, it’s me showing my age: it’s a phrase popularised by uber-hippy Timothy Leary back in the 60s. And I hasten to add that I wasn’t there!


Untargeted in a targeted world

February 1st, 2013


Today I received a piece of direct mail that left me in a state of disbelief (I shan’t name the guilty party). It was addressed to the Managing Director of TigerNash Ltd at our address in Electric Works.

  • It was addressed to Dear Sirs
  • It was offering information about a large amount of office space somewhere else in Sheffield.
  • It was from a large, well established, company.

What did this tell me about this company? Well, it told me they can’t be bothered to do even the tiniest bit of research apart from trawling through websites for company names. It told me they hadn’t even looked at the TigerNash website to find out if my company would find their offer of interest. It told me that they didn’t even care about me enough as a potential customer to find out my name (which is easy to find). It told me that they are an untargeted company in a targeted world.

Now, how do you think I feel about their brand and their company? Do you think I’m likely to want to do business with them?

How to find the perfect creative partner

January 30th, 2013


This blog was originally posted as part of our Christmas countdown, but we thought it was worth a repeat as it’s something we get asked about quite a lot.

Whether it’s for a website, advertising, graphic design, printed materials or even video, selecting an agency to work with your business is a big investment and you want to make sure you get the best return. We hear a lot of horror stories about agencies not performing and quite often, it’s because they just weren’t the right people for the job. Don’t leave it to chance, or to “the boss’ partner’s friend” – try our Top Tips.

Take some time to really think about what you want to achieve. Can you explain your objectives clearly? What will success look like? How will you measure it? Are you being realistic about the timescales?

Know what you can afford. If you leave it to the agencies to suggest a budget, you run the risk of getting proposals that are either wildly out of line with your resources or full of unrealistic ideas. Be prepared to talk budget upfront – a good agency will take that on board and come back with a proposal of how to use that to maximum effect.

Do your research. Don’t just pick the first companies that pop up in a web search. If you want to work with someone local, ask around for recommendations. If you’ve seen some work you admire, find out who did it. If you’ve got some very specific requirements, be clear about the skills and experience an agency will need in order to meet them.

Write a brief. Trust us – time spent getting this right will save you time, energy and pain later. We’ll be posting some detail on how to do this soon but, in the meantime, set out your objectives, your requirements as you see them, your timescales and your budget. Make sure you include information about who to contact with questions.

Be open to questions. In my experience, a good agency always gets in touch for a chat or to ask some questions before preparing a response to a brief. Are they asking good questions? Do they sound genuinely interested in your business?

Spread the net wide and then shortlist. Set criteria for shortlisting so that you can be objective – it’s easy to get swayed by fancy pictures. But make it a short shortlist: 3 is good, 5 is the max. Beyond that, you’re holding a beauty parade and wasting your valuable time.

Meet your shortlisted agencies. By all means ask for a presentation, but don’t expect them to do lots of free work. Ask about what they’ve achieved for other clients, why they’re interested in working with you. Make it a conversation.

Lastly, look for chemistry – you’re inviting these people to become an extension of your team and to do important work for your business. You need to be able to trust and respect them. Start the relationship off as you mean to go on.