Welcome to Diary of a Wantrepreneur

Aged 26, I left my job in the City and with it an £80K pay packet. Why? For too long I’ve been a wantrepreneur. Someone who is constantly dreaming up the next big thing. Someone who wants the adventure of “doing their own thing”, but is yet to take any meaningful action, waiting for the right time to start.

In the past, I dipped my toe in the water. When I was 17, I ordered a small number of Nepalese-style hats from Alibaba to sell to friends. After finishing university I set up a comparison website for recruitment agencies. Even though I achieved moderate success with both ventures – selling all of the hats within a few weeks, signing-up 15 recruitment agencies and receiving some press coverage – neither lasted more than a few months. I did not truly commit to making either venture work.

Now, I’ve decided I will take action. Make sacrifices. Start my own business. And commit to making it work.

I’d like for you to share my journey so you may learn from my mistakes, the tools I’ve found useful and sources of inspiration that have kept me going.

Good luck on your own journey from wantrepreneur to entrepreneur. Please share your experiences and successes along the way!

I spent almost a full year preparing to take the leap, including getting my finances in order. You can read about how I prepared financially here.

Day 199: When it’s a good idea to change direction (part 1)

“Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.” – Anon

Sometimes in life, it pays to be receptive to feedback and be willing to change direction, even if it means swallowing your pride. That’s exactly what I decided to do with Tinkerdash.

It all started about a month ago…

Upon receiving a free copy of Simon Coulson’s “Interpreneur” book (get a free copy here) at the London business show, my eyes were opened up to the world of internet marketing. This kicked-off a mammoth session of research about inbound and outbound marketing, from search engine optimisation (SEO) to Facebook ads and sales funnels.

Firstly, I unwittingly focussed on “inbound” digital marketing, an approach largely centred around creating helpful content and search engine optimisation. This lead me to Moz’s Beginner Guide to SEO and SECockpit’s keyword planning webinar. Both useful, culminating in me signing up for a 30-day trial of Moz Pro, predominantly for their expansive keyword research tool.

Within days of using the tool, it was obvious why previous Google Adwords campaigns I had run had flopped. The keywords I had previously tried to target were highly competitive, meaning lots of other people with a lot more money were also bidding to have their advert shown. I didn’t stand a chance.

Using the keyword explorer tool plus the techniques I’d learnt, however, I was now able to build a list of 30-40 keywords that were relatively uncompetitive AND had a reasonable number of people searching for them (1-2k+ each month). The keywords in that list ranged from more general terms to very specific niches, such as gluten-free meal planning. And I got to work testing them out via Google Adwords immediately.

The results were rather surprising…

From the nine Google ads that I ran, across the 30-40 search terms, it was the highly-specific terms proved to be the most fruitful. No surprise there. What was surprising was that “meal plan bodybuilding” had at least four times more impressions (how many times it was shown to people) than any other keyword, as well as an above-average click-through rate of nearly four percent. This suggested that the combination of competition and popularity was potentially four times more favourable than the other keywords.

That was something that I couldn’t ignore.

Diary of a wantrepreneur - Google adwords extract
An extract from the Google Adwords campaign manager tool

Furthermore, despite having virtually no content on the Tinkerdash landing page and using ads that were cobbled together in a few minutes, around one in ten people signed up. That’s an above-average conversion rate of nearly ten percent!

Here was proof that getting your advert in front of the right people is way more important than the content of the advert or landing page itself.

Diary of a wantrepreneur - Tinkerdash home page
The Tinkerdash home page, as it was during the Adwords campaign.

So, with the seed planted in my mind that bodybuilding may be a niche that I should focus on, I continued my mammoth research session.

In part two of this article, I’ll explain what I learnt about online sales funnels and how it made me realise that I might have been focussing on the wrong stuff all this time. Stay tuned…

Day 195: Stop trying to scale too soon!

“In order to scale you have to do things that don’t scale.” – Brian Chesky

Like many new founders, I found myself a few months into my venture, Tinkerdash. I had a clunky, manual service and had completed some testing with users. It was now time to build something that could scale and take over the world, right?

Wrong. At least that’s Brian Chesky’s theory who, as co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, has earned the right to an opinion.

During his appearance on Reid Hoffman’s podcast, Masters of Scale, Brian Chesky refers to the “handcrafting” stage as the part before scaling and business expansion. He argues that this is actually the most creative, enjoyable part, even if it feels like a lot of work for little return at the time. And it’s during this stage that you’re able to serve people on an individual basis, helping you to understand what they REALLY need, not just what you think they want.

Simply, if you try to scale too soon then you risk missing the mark, wasting precious resources and potentially even spelling disaster for your company.

So when is the right time to scale?

It is difficult to know when to scale and perhaps remains an art rather than a science. Fortunately, however, Brian Chesky provides a useful yardstick against which to measure. Scale if you can answer yes to at least one of these two questions:

  1. Is it a problem today?
  2. Are customers asking for it?

If the answer is “no” to both of these questions then it’s too soon. But if the answer is yes to one of these two questions AND the effort required to scale is the best use of your resources at that point in time then you should go ahead. Simple (in theory).

What did this mean for my venture?

Well, it meant I was bonkers for thinking that I needed to develop a fancy bot (what’s a bot? check out this article) and a back-end application. Neither of these things would solve an immediate problem nor were they things customers were asking for. So with immediate effect, I put a stop work to any work to scale Tinkerdash.

Instead, I decided to enjoy this time working closely with users, more aware that these next few months will be key to any potential future success. Here’s to hoping.

Why not try if for yourself?

Next time you’re thinking of automating or scaling something, ask yourself, could you or your customers live without this <insert new feature> tomorrow?

If the answer if yes then perhaps you need to suck it up and endure the hard, manual work for a little while longer. And enjoy the creativity that ensues because one-day things will be a little harder play around with and change!

Best coworking spaces in London? Try these five gems

“Every successful individual knows that his or her achievement depends on a community of persons working together.” – Paul Ryan

So, you’ve just started a new venture but can’t yet afford to rent a funky new office. Or maybe you’re a freelancer sick of working from home, longing for human interaction. Fortunately, there’s an answer: coworking space.

From offering desk space, super-fast wi-fi, well-stocked cafes and opportunities to meet like-minded people, coworking spaces have many benefits. But with more and more coworking spaces popping up in London, how do you choose? To help, here are five tried and tested places that you should definitely check-out.

1. Caya Club, Brixton

Coworking space london Caya Club Brixton

Caya Club is a pay as you go coworking space in Brixton, with a relaxed vibe and a tasty little cafe (try the brownies!). Prices start from £2/hour or £180/month inc. tea, coffee and water. Whilst some coworking spaces can become overcrowded, Caya Club seems to do a good job of ensuring people have plenty of space to work, think and chat.

http://www.cayaclub.com/workspace

2. National Theatre, Southbank

Coworking space london National Theatre

Next to the kitchen cafe on the ground floor of the National Theatre are a bunch desks, ideal for a few hours work if you’re in the Southbank area. It’s free to use and peaceful. The only downside is that power plugs are limited so make sure your laptop is charged.

https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/

3. The British Library, Kings Cross

Coworking space london British Library.jpg

The British Library features hundreds of desks over multiple levels in its main building. Again, it’s free to use but can get very busy. It is arguably better for working solo than in large groups given the number people studying, it is a library after all.

http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/inrrooms/stp/planvisit/planvisit.html

4. Campus London, Old Street

Coworking space london Google Campus London.jpg

Ran by Google, Campus London is a personal favourite coworking space. It’s free to join and once you’re a member, you’ll also have access to their network of campuses around the world (five at the time of writing). It ticks all the usual boxes but what sets it apart are the community events that are run out of the building, from startup demo days, free mentoring and MeetUps. It can get busy in the afternoons so it’s recommended you arrive early to mid morning if you’re planning to stay more than a few hours.

https://www.campus.co/

5. Ace Hotel, Shoreditch

Coworking space london ACE Cafe Shoredich.jpg

The “neighbourhood” cafe, part of the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, offers both a delightful place to grab a cup of coffee and to set up a micro-office for the day. Again, it’s free, minus the cup of a few cups of tea or coffee and there’s plenty of desk space and breakout areas. You’ll even be treated to table service, how posh!

https://www.acehotel.com/london

None of these tickling your fancy?

Check out Coworking Spaces London, which has over 150 free and paid-for places for you to try in London, as well as a list of accelerators and incubators in London.

Day 170: Rejection shouldn’t mean dejection: the benefits of being knocked back

“We all learn lessons in life. Some stick, some don’t. I have always learned more from rejection and failure than from acceptance and success.” – Henry Rollins

Whether it’s in a bar or at the business table, rejection sucks. It’s a tough pill to swallow, though it’s one that we’re often encouraged to eat up in the hope that we might extract some form of positivity – even if it’s just a glimmer. After all, doesn’t every cloud boast a silver lining?

Last week, I’d applied to pitch Tinkerdash at Virgin Media Business’ Voom event, part of the London Business Show 2017. The winner would find themselves enjoying brunch with Sir Richard Branson and going home £5,000 richer – what did I have to lose?

On the morning of the business show, whilst waiting for a free seminar to start, I received a generic email from the VMB Voom organisers politely declining my application. I instantly felt dejected. I genuinely believed that the application was worthy of a place in the “Start-up” category. It outlined a clear problem and how Tinkerdash helped to solve it. I’d even included feedback from early users of Tinkerdash to help validate the idea.

Despite being in an environment that was brimming with inspirational speakers, countless networking opportunities and unmediated advice from people who had once been in my position, I felt deflated and was ready to go home.

Fortunately, the arrival of my business partner coupled with my stubbornness meant that I was willing to give the event another go. Instead of going home, I spent the next few hours listening to a number of free seminars and talks, which offered a welcome dose of motivation. I also met a UK-based virtual assistant company and a low-cost provider of desk space in London, both of which I may want to use in future.

After lunch, I decided to check out the VMB Voom stall (a big red bus) where I happened to get talking with Phill, who manages the Voom tour. He divulged how they select candidates to pitch, revealing that it’s part-based on “gut feel”. It was useful information, and learning that there was an element of subjectivity involved made me feel better about not being selected. Phill then gave us his email address, saying that he’d try to get us pitching at a future Voom tour event and that we should apply. Great.

Below, the Virgin Media Business Voom big red bus. I wonder who gets to drive it…

The most unexpected outcome, however, came from receiving a free copy of a book titled Interpreneur by Simon Coulson, who’s something of an internet marketing guru. Over the course of the next two days, I studied the book. What I learned was simply that there’s a lot I don’t know about internet marketing, for example, how to choose keywords that actually convert online. In hindsight, this may be why a couple of tests I ran last year on potential business ideas flopped.

Tinkerdash may never be invited to pitch at a VMB Voom tour event but there is at least a greater chance than if I had given up that morning and gone home. And by staying, I was able to make some useful contacts and learn an important lesson or two, which may just prove to be the difference between success and failure for Tinkerdash.

Only you can determine how you handle rejection, but if you ever stand the chance of succeeding it’s imperative that knockbacks aren’t seen as failing. It’s true that nothing worth having is ever easy. So, next time you face rejection, be kind to yourself, don’t over analyse the situation but do try to learn from it.

And never let it stop it you from pursuing your goals. As Jia Jiang demonstrates in his TED talk about being rejected every day for 100 days, it really isn’t a big a deal!


P.S. If you’re interested in pitching at the Virgin Media Business Voom tour, you can check out the full list of tour locations and submit your application here.

Day 167: Here’s why a young, beach-bound retirement isn’t the answer

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” – Pablo Picasso

How does the idea of amassing a fortune to retire aged 30 and sit on a beach for the rest of your years sound?

This is an idea Chris Guillebeau poses in his book The Art Of Non-Conformity, which I’ve been reading over the past week or so. He reasons that whilst we may dream about retiring at 30 and sitting on a beach, there are only so many days we’d enjoy sunbathing and drinking margaritas before asking “is this all there is?”. We would soon come to realise that there’s more to life.

And personally, I agree. My younger years were spent reading about titans of business, people who by western standards many would consider the most “successful” in modern history. And I found a rather curious thing: the most wealthy people in the world often decide to give it all away.

If you don’t believe me then check out The Giving Pledge. Founded by two of the wealthiest people in recent history, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the pledge encourages wealthy people to donate some or all of their wealth to philanthropic causes, either in their lifetime or upon their death. As of 2016, the pledge reportedly had 139 signatories, pledging $365 Billion dollars.

Looking a bit further back, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, who are said to have influenced Bill Gates’ philanthropy, and are said to be the two wealthiest people in modern history, both donated their fortunes to philanthropic foundations within their lifetimes.

Now, it’s not all about money, however, when many of us start out in business we are at least partially driven by it. What I hoped to show with these examples is that yes, money may be important but it does not lead to contentment.

So why is this the case?

Maslow’s theory of human motivation, amongst others, postulated that us humans are driven by a hierarchy of needs. Once we meet our basic needs for survival such as food and water, and safety, we strive for higher needs such as intimacy, friendship and esteem. Much of which may be satisfied from holding a position of authority or amassing a fortune.

In the end, however, the theory states that we cannot be content until we reach “self-transcendence”, which is to work towards something that is bigger than ourselves, hence the number of billionaires giving away their personal fortunes to charitable causes.

Unfortunately for some, this realisation comes on their death bed. As the saying goes, nobody spends their final moments wishing they had earned more money or worked more hours. People do however regret being selfish and choosing not to bring happiness to others when they had the chance. Think of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Fortunately, you have a choice.

You can choose to be motivated by fame and fortune but you might just find yourself reaching the top of the mountain only to find it’s an empty place. Or you can choose to prioritise helping others and you might just find yourself deeply content, whether you end up a multi-millionaire or not.

So, what are you going to work towards that is bigger than yourself?


P.S. On the topic of modern billionaire philanthropy, I’d recommend reading Titan: The Life Of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie. I’d also recommend this book about Chuck Feeney, who, within his lifetime he amassed a fortune and then gave it away without hardly anyone knowing about it.

P.P.S. When it comes to the uber rich and philanthropy, the words “tax avoidance” are often not far behind. It’s hard to argue that there’s something fishy about being able to donate your assets to a foundation, which you’d also control, and reap tax benefits. It does, however, seem to be a model that sees private fortunes of the few being channelled back into society to help the many. For that reason, I propose we need not concern ourselves too much with this matter.

Day 161: I built my first chatbot in just 48 hours, here’s how it looked…

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late” – Reid Hoffman

True to my word, today marked the day that Tinkerdash‘s first chatbot was released. And true to Reid Hoffman, it was basic. Very basic in fact.

I’ll first explain what the chatbot does and why, and conclude with my thoughts on using Chatfuel to build it. So, without further ado, here is how the chatbot looked.

And you can check it out for yourself by clicking this link, which opens in Facebook Messenger. Try it for yourself and let me know what you think!

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In a nutshell, the first version of the chatbot was a “lite”, semi-automated version of the full Tinkerdash service, which was provided to the bloggers during their review. It would serve to help users with their meal planning and shopping by providing meal plans catering for up to four people, eating three or five meals per week, based on a specific dietary need.

It would not allow users to customise what’s in their meal plan or assist with the ordering of their ingredients, though both of these things were planned for the future. And it would cater only for veganism, due to the time required to create the meal plans, with a view to expanding to the other special diets.

We opted to narrow the focus as described above because, based on what we learnt during the blogger review, this appeared to be a customer problem that we were able to solve with the resources at hand and thus get the next version of Tinkerdash to market quickly. As user feedback came in, the chatbot could be improved accordingly.

Here’s the general flow and a list of the screens:

  1. A welcome and introductory message, as well as an opt-in message to receive notifications of new meal plans and features (not shown).
  2. A basic navigation from where the user could select to “See meal plans”, “Share” and provide “Send feedback”. This was used as the central reference point.
  3. A menu to select a dietary preference. The only option in the first version was veganism, however, the user could register their interest in another special diet.
  4. A couple of questions to collect user preferences regarding the number of meals and servings they desired. This informed the meal plan and shopping list that they would see and help to segment the users in future.
  5. The ability to see the actual meal plan and shopping list for that week, opening as a PDF within the Messenger app. The PDFs were stored on Google Drive.
  6. A “Buy ingredients” button, leading to a message stating that this functionality is not available but is being worked on. This was to gauge interest for this feature.
  7. A “Share” option, allowing users to easily share Tinkerdash with their Facebook friends.
  8. A “Send feedback” option, allowing users to provide written feedback about their experience (or send smiley poo emojis, thanks everyone!).

I acknowledged that there was still a heck of a lot to do to make this into a kick-ass service, however, for something that was knocked up in a couple of days, I was pleased with the result. Which brings me nicely on to my thoughts on using Chatfuel to build it.

Chatfuel had been nothing short of amazing. I’ve not a bad word to say about it. It was functionally rich, easy to use even for a non-techy like myself and free (forever apparently!). And for more advanced chatbots, there was a whole host of integrations to connect APIs and other platforms.

I’d highly recommend it for people thinking about building a chatbot. Even if you’re not, you might just have some fun, instead of looking at cats or whatever.

On to the chatbot version deux…!

Have you built a chatbot or are you thinking about it? Share your experiences, how you built it/plan to build it, what problem it solved and how it worked.

P.S. I’d love to hear your feedback on Tinkerdash’s first chat bot. Check it out by clicking this link, which opens in Facebook Messenger, and providing feedback in the app.

Day 157: Never send an app to do Messenger’s job

“Besides black art, there is only automation and mechanization.” – Federico Garcia Lorca

Last week I attended TechHub’s monthly demo event for the first time, hosted at Campus London. With just two demos left I was starting to think my experience would materialise to nothing more than a “nice time”, which would have been fine, however, I was still wrestling with the question of how to serve meal plans and shopping lists to the users of Tinkerdash. In truth, I was hoping for some much-needed inspiration.

Then, lo and behold, the last demo of the night was by Sure, a Facebook bot that provides its users with cafe and restaurant recommendations based on their location. Both their concept and solution were simple and clever. Moreover, it reignited my desire to use Facebook’s Messenger platform as the medium to engage with Tinkerdash’s users.

Let me explain why.

1) It’s easier than getting people to use an app. I’ve learnt first hand how difficult it is to get people to download new mobile apps. Even if you can stand out from the hundreds of new apps being released every day AND get people to visit an app store, download the app and log in, you’d still face the challenge of getting people to use it. As Forrester Research have found, people typically spend 80% of their time using just five apps. Is your app really going to be more useful than Facebook, Google Maps, Snapchat, Instagram and Spotify? Really?

Messenger provides a solution. Over one billion people already use Messenger according to Facebook – it’s already on their phones! Therefore, you no longer need to claim real estate on someone’s phone to be able to engage with them. Granted, you still need to incentivize a user to engage with your business via Messenger but if you can, it’s super-simple. Here’s an example. If I wanted to find inspiration for a new recipe from WholeFoods, instead of navigating a website or downloading an app, I’d simply search “Whole” in my Messenger search bar and click “Get Started”. Simple.

Whole

2) It already works across platforms. Messenger already works nicely on popular devices and operating systems meaning you will automatically inherit this. No more worrying about testing 90 different variations across mobile, tablet and desktop!

3) The interface is suited to a service like Tinkerdash. By nature, Messenger is a conversational chat platform. Whilst I think many people are still trying to figure out how best to use it to engage with customers, it’s fair to say that it’s suitable for creating a personable, assistant-like service, which Tinkerdash aims to be.

The feedback from Tinkerdash’s one-month blogger review, which used Messenger to engage with users, is proof of this. Some people thought that their “lovely” and “personable” assistant was a girl, others a boy, one person even asked for their name. People started to develop a connection with their Messenger chat – how many apps or websites give you that? Note, the Messenger chat used in the Tinkerdash blogger review was human-powered, rather than automated.

4) It’s super easy to automate. Messenger bots are no longer the new kid on the block. More and more business are using them to improve efficiency and customer experience. There are even stores for bots, much like the app stores, such as Botlist. At first glance, these “bots” sound like they might be hard to build. Well, they aren’t. There are free platforms, such as Chatfuel, which allow you to literally create a basic Messenger bot and attach it to your Facebook page in less than 15 minutes, for free!

As with any interaction between a business and its customers, however, the quality of the experience will ultimately depend on the person who is present at that point in time, or in the case of a chat bot, the person who programs the rules and automated responses. Something to bear in mind.

So, with the decision made to use Messenger, it was time to start cracking on with creating Tinkerdash’s first chat bot.

Next, see how the bot turned out, as well as my initial thoughts on using Chatfuel here.