Tech Startups: a cowboy’s playground

This morning I read an article (thanks for ruining my day, Financial Times) that made my heart sink. The piece reported cases of a multitude of so-called tech startups gone bust – mainly because their owners were sleazy car salesmen. Let’s be real, being an opportunist is synonymous with being an entrepreneur. That’s why the big guys (and women, let’s not exclude) are where they are today. But I think what makes this story personal, is that it’s one that hits close to home.

Around August of 2016, I was offered a Social Media Manager role with a home shopping channel. I had just moved back to London from Berlin a few months before, and I was brimming with all kinds of inspiration. I spent four months working for Zalando, Europe’s biggest pure play retailers (sans UK) and I hated it. But it did trigger my penchant for being innovative. I was interviewing for a couple of companies, and when I spoke about 360 videos and Facebook canvas ads, the prospective employers didn’t know shit, a bit too forward for their capacity. But The Craft Channel’s team liked what I was about and gave me the job. The job, as it turns out, consisted of going around the TV studio doing Facebook live sessions and occasional FB contests. Also consisted of a bit of Instagram posts, it was creative, but not innovative, in term of what  that means to me.

Anyway, the company fell by the wayside because the owner, a Northerner with very white veneers, and very blue eyes, he kinda looked like a C-list Game show host, was living it up on the investment he received from who the office referred to as ‘The Germans’. He spent the money on frivolous shit, me included, because he could not afford someone with my brain and skills. Close to the end, he had made a big announcement that the company was at risk of going under. They had limited time to find investors or else no one would get paid, not even him (hint: offshore accounts). Guess what happened….

I had got the phone call from the company’s rescue team of the redundancy. They didn’t quite know for sure, but they hoped everyone would get a portion of our salaries. I have to thank the angels for helping me to land another gig as quickly as I did, but the fact my final minuscule salary, whatever was left of it, was paid by me filing a government redundancy claim, knowing that two months prior, there was a lavish party for The Craft Channel’s one year anniversary, put a damper on things for me. (Since then, The Craft Channel did get a new investor who tried to swindle 20K from the company’s accounts and sold the business for a pound – 1).

It was a blessing. I had grown board and frustrated with working with seniors who didn’t understand my job. I wanted to leave. And I believe the angles ejected me from the situation and made the decision for me. But since then I’ve been working jobs, that while they are super cool, are designed under a organisational structure and way of working that I could do without. The case of Neo from the Matrix.

I don’t really want to call myself an entrepreneur. But I know that I don’t take directions well, I’ll even go so far as to say it makes me angry. I like to figure out problems on my own. I’m very hands on. And I really can’t stand top-down delegation.  So, the blue pill is on the table, and I want to take, but then there’s this idea of cushion funds because you can’t just leave your job and dive into the unknown, right?
Well, these slimy startup guys did and they banked hard. Even if there was the concept of work involved, it’s couldn’t have been valuable enough for them to appreciate what it was that they had. How do you burn through 200m in eight months?

Taxi company Karhoo’s chief executive threw parties in Las Vegas, inscribed cigars with its logo and rented three apartments in Manhattan for personal use of senior management.

So basically, these guys pitched being the next Uber to investors who were eager for a share in the market, only to see the company shut down after six months. I get that they probably spent a bit of time building a prototype but no way.

The lesson to be learned from all this, is that there’s a rat race at the bottom of the tech world, but as long as you can nail the art of persuasion, the actual end result doesn’t really even matter. You don’t even need to have an original idea, just say you want to create the next YouTube platform and voila.

People say money doesn’t grow on trees. Are you sure about that?

Taking VR seriously 

I work in VR. I work for a huge company that’s invested in VR. But based on the stats, paired with people’s perception, virtual reality has yet to truly be taken seriously.

According to an article in UK’s The Times, over 16 million virtual reality headsets will be used in the UK by 2021, and the sector would be the ‘fastes growing in entertainment and media, and would be worth 801 million in four years.’ The article talks about its mark in games, but what about its impact on healthcare, education and everyday consumer lives? Is a 75 year old interested in a headset for gaming purposes? What about a newly pregnant single mother or under represented people. Quite frankly, the dollar (or pound) amount mentioned doesn’t really justify the costs to create the actual content, which is very expensive, unless it becomes an industry where quantity is more important. 

On the other hand, I came across what looks like a blog post, by someone named Kostas Pantremenos about the ‘role of virtual reality in improving motor performance as revealed by EEG’. In this case, virtual reality is being used for research and development. The lingo throughout the article made it hard to understand, unless science is your thing. Again, another reason that it’s hard to take VR ‘serious’: you’re speaking in terms people don’t understand.

And that’s where this wonderful industry seems to sit. It’s not understood by the people not into games and gaming, nor is it understood by people who aren’t scienctists or engineers. Until there’s a bridge that connects both worlds to everyday people, it’s going to continue to be a limited, niche market. 

A journey to E2

Wow. Its been a while. The thing with blogging, at least for me nowadays, is that you need to be inspired to write about something. I’ve been inspired, and I’ve been doing the whole positive reinforcement thing to give me a push, but you need an actual catalyst. And now I think I’ve found one.

For the past few months I’ve had to figure out what exactly is my purpose. I started Tech and Kicks from the perspective of being an ’80s baby with a fascination with hip hop, sneakers and technology. I stopped blogging because life got in the way. But now I’m blogging again, because, well, I’ve been able to finally find the time (and reason) to do it. 

Some things have changed since my last post. I’m still in the technology sector, more so now than ever, but now I have a concrete goal. One that at first seems pretty damn ridiculous. But I’m going to make it achievable. And while this blog is still going to be dedicated to all things technology, lifestyle and sneakers, part of the lifestyle aspect is personal development and building a brand. 

I’ve wanted to live in America – specifically the Big Apple – since I was a teen if not younger. For me, life was about being a writer at some glossy NYC magazine, loving everything that came with the big city life. I came pretty frickin close. Shoot. I did it, but in London, as a complete alternative. I wanted out of Toronto, and by being inherently British, I got it. Now, while I won’t ever say I want out of London, it’s apparent I need to grow. For the past six years, the UK has offered me tremendous opportunities for both growth and stagnation. But that said, I’ve had to take personal responsibility for my stagnation and realise that the UK  took me in. And every time I have wanted to leave this place, it always took me back.

My dream was to have my own Selectism, with a combination of Supreme and the UK-based sneaker store, Size? Now, while I still want that, I’ve had to pay attention to the market and realise that there are sneaker stores all over the UK for while JD Sports (the entity that owns Size?) and Footasylum pretty much dominate, and there are zillions of street wear online magazines out there (RIP Selectism) and of course, there will only ever be one Supreme. I did notice though, again by chance, a small little Video game Internet Cafe/Gaming store hidden in Soho called, Games. Which helped me to solidify my purpose a little bit more.

Everything I am going to accomplish will be done, but there is a portion of it that just can’t be done in the UK. The foundation will start here, and I’ll never truly leave the UK, not ever, but part of this growth stems from realising that the hub for technology is back across the pond. And I’ve got to be there. 

I work within the virtual reality space here in London. I have one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever had. I love my job. I’m not always a fan of the politics of where I work, or even the dynamics of how I work, but I love what I do. I’ve had to start my own company, not because I wanted to, but because it was positioned in such a way, that in order me to do the job I love so much, I need to start one (I’m sure the recruiter would say otherwise, but if it wasn’t an issue then this wouldn’t have been a topic of discussion). 

As it turns out, having my own company has been a blessing. Now, I’m setting goals and looking at how I can really make an impact and shape my future for the better. I’ve found my niche, which is within the virtual reality space. And its been solidified by the fact that through my LinkedIn profile, I’ve been contacted by Cambridge students needing an ‘expert’ voice for their research papers, and everyday people looking to get into the industry. 

As the title suggests, this series is about how I’m going to get the E2 visa, which is a Treaty Investor Visa for the US. I know, it’s crazy! Donald Trump is in power, racism is at its peak in America, it’s all going to shit. Which is why I need to do what I’ve always wanted to do now. I’m 35, don’t have kids, no debt in the UK (thank god) and no attachments. My business is an investment, so if I grow, it grows. And it’s no secret that the real growth is where the true mass market is. And no, I don’t mean India, or China, though they are mass markets as well.

I need to be strategic about this, and I’ve got to really think about why I’m doing this, but I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna make a mark, and I’ve found my route to make it happen.

So let’s see how it goes…

An office is not the digital way

Before I moved to London back in 2011, I was freelancing as a Social Media Consultant in Toronto for a fashion recruiter. He paid me about $500 (CAD) per week to post on his social media. I had a LinkedIn strategy. I created a Tumblr blog. I Tweeted. This gig helped me to stay focused, and ultimately move to London. All I had to do was go to his home office once per week for a catch up, and then I was on my way. When I made my way back to the UK, we both decided to wrap it up because it’s harder being virtual across the pond as opposed to another province or state.

I got my first ‘big brand’ social gig with Red Bull Music. The role was exclusively remote. I did the job whilst working in another office job. That was probably one of my most productive moments since being in the UK. There was a team of four of us, and none of us were within vicinity of each other. Actually, we hadn’t even met for a coffee. But we communicated on Google Chat, SKYPE, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, WeChat, LINE, Facebook audio and video calling, and we managed to make the campaign a success.

Most of my careers in London have been online based. Actually, they’ve been exclusively digital: online product copywriter, social media manager, etc. Yet, for some strange reason, the employer has been adamant about the team being in an office, and working under a particular regime. That’s pretty ironic, and backwards. If you want to be a digital first company, you need to think digitally. It’s understandable if the person needs to be in the country, or be able to commute to the office occasionally, but looking at it now, as a professional doing what I do, it’s hard to take company that wants to be ‘digital first’ seriously, but expect their employees to clock in and be ‘chained’ to a desk. And there’s no excuse that can justify this.

Recently I was told that remote working doesn’t work for a company because they have an ‘integrated way of working across all channels.’ Bull shit. Being digital in itself is an integration across all channels. Being digital is seamless. People live on their phones. Getting on the tube (or subway/metro) two years ago in London meant a chance to catch up on a good book. Two years later, it’s about checking your emails, or playing some type of game in the form of app. When I go to Westfield after 7pm, you can clearly hear people talking to colleagues about work. People are talking about work anytime of day. Which means that the 9 to 5 is dead. People are working away from work. So, the idea that people working for a digital first company or department need to commute into real estate is bogus.

I don’t even think it’s necessary to list off the benefits of working remotely but here it goes:

Less distractions: need I say more?

Cost effective: It’s cheaper to work virtually because you’re saving on real estate

Convenience: In your element, thus more focused

Productivity: Someone who works from their laptop is more likely to work longer and harder than someone who has consider getting up, getting ready, commuting and everything else in between

And those are just a few of the reasons working remotely is the better option. Now, bear in mind that I have done jobs where I felt compelled to work in an office. This leads me to believe that culture also needs to be taken into consideration. If you love the job and the people, then it’s likely you’ll love getting up for work everyday. But even if you do, digital first companies should still have a digital way of working.

Having a so-called laptop lifestyle isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It takes discipline. But take me for example. I have this blog. I’m going back to school to complete an online degree. As a digital native, having a virtual job is a missing piece to the puzzle.

I’m also thinking that this virtual mentality is more of an American thing. Here in the UK they’re behind, which is funny, because the UK is ahead in terms of the rest of Europe. But I won’t be surprised if this country finally takes the hint once they realise the benefits.

In the meantime, it may make more sense for me to go where the real game-changers are.

Do Community Forums Matter?

There was a time when community forums were the shit. I was on them going back 2005 – earlier still. if I had known back then that chatting on message boards could become a full-time job – let’s just say I’d be a that chick right now. I was on hip hop forums, primarily. I was also on a few other forums that I can’t remember now, but forums really were the heart of social media, just like cyber chat rooms.

Now we’ve got Reddit, which is massive, if you’re a tech geek. I will say I appreciate the sneaker-focused threads on the platform catering to true sneaker lovers like myself, but only in theory. Do they really have the impact as commenting under a post on Hypebeast.com?

Right now, sneaker forums  are fluttered with discussions almost exclusively dedicated to the Yeezy Boot. That’s the problem. There is no real discussion, just adoration over a celebrity-endorsed drop for the sake of it. But that’s the problem in the industry as a whole: it’s filled with groupies or straight up trolls. No one wants to add value.

During my career as a Social Media Expert, I had lost interest in the forum aspect and focused solely on content creation. It wasn’t until recently that I started getting into community engagement again. And one of the communities that are thriving, particularly in the UK, is the crafting industry.

During my time working as a Social Media Manager for a home shopping channel (that shan’t be named), I had to take on Community Manager duties because, well, that’s what we had to do. Through this experience, I learned from the TV presenters that online community forums were actually a PR disaster. Shoot they were a mental disaster. Instead, they chose to have page-moderated Facebook Pages, and/or Facebook Groups. Actually, a majority of of the crafting community took to engaging in multiple conversations in Facebook Groups. It makes sense. In my world, I’m constantly being added to Facebook groups. My thing is, rather than having to search for a forum, sign up to it, wait for approval and then search through endless threads, I can just download the Facebook group app, and launch it from your phone. Or, turn on notifications from that group when I log onto my account from my desktop.

The key to social media, is about accessibility. Even more so now that social media is this rapid beast. Now, it’s all about thinking mobile first. If there are community forums in the form of an app, then yeah, sure, why not. But until then, it’s extra leg work for no real reason.

How are online community forums competing with the likes of Facebook where the purpose of connecting communities is clear.

My friend was saying Mumsnet is one of the biggest online communities in the UK. But hip hop and streetwear focused sites like the aforementioned Hypebeast or Complex dominated that mutli-faceted online community space back in the early 2000s (It’s no wonder that Hybeast’s slogan is ‘Driving Culture Forward’). To the point that their engagement has decreased because of the saturation of sneaker/streetwear sites. Now, give me HGTV, where the focus is not only parenting but providing solutions, in this case,  championing the whole DIY approach to anything from seasonal decorations to cooking and everything else in between, then that’s adding value and creating an experience. Therein lies my point.

The reason Facebook Groups for crafting communities are so hot right now is because people can post their own albums, show off their latest makes,  gossip on what’s happening at a particularly craft channel, and build the community in real-time. Whereas  online community forums are a bit old school in the sense of social media as we know it right now.

Now, there are brands building exclusive VIP Facebook groups for ‘special’ members. And that’s a good idea. You may love the content posted on the page, but imagine being a part of an elite group of members? That’s the direction a lot of brands are taking in a way to steer the direction of online engagement where their brands are concerned.

What brands need to do is focus on creating an experience that ads value to people’s lives. So creating a space, in this case, a Facebook group to curate discussion around their products and services. Now, there are Whatsapp Groups, but that’s actually a bit of a nightmare where it comes to taking up data on your phone and receiving extremely annoying notifications when you’re trying to sleep (if you don’t know how to mute your settings). But that’s another blog post 🙂

 

 

Chance The Rapper’s cultural innovation

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Image source: People.com

Chance the Rapper is the culture.

It’s been a few days since the Grammy’s took place, and the trending topic on the blogs – as well as on my IG feed – is non other than the Chicago-born entertainer. Who would’ve imagined that in 2017, an award-winning global music artist would not have a record deal or even a studio-length album to their credit? The artist whose real name is Chancelor Bennett (kinda sounds like an ancient merchant of sorts), has broke through a glass ceiling many artists can barely crack. Heck, even Queen Bey is still struggling to get the Grammy recognition she deserves. But the difference in this scenario, is that Chance owes almost all (maybe 99.9%) of his success exclusively to technology.

 

The 23-year-old rapper dropped his first two mixtapes as free digital downloads way back when (let’s be real, anything past yesterday is old school). His third release, Coloring Book, was streamed on Apple (on my b-day), as well as other sites like Google Play, Tidal, Spotify and the free streaming service, Soundcloud. The most powerful though, and underestimated of the lot, is YouTube. The platform was a key player during the early stages of the rapper’s career (as it tends to be for a lot of young Chicago rappers from Chief Keef to Lil’ Mouse), and demonstrated that high visibility, even if positioned in a lowbrow way, is attributed to massive success. 

It doesn’t really matter that the Grammy panel loosened up on their strict nomination criterion. Their already dwindling credibility would be shot dead if they hadn’t got with the times, quick-fast. Artists like Chance break the mould (which at this point is a rarity, as his predecessors Mac Miller and Macklemore are suburban, middle to upper class white males) proving the “if you build it, they will come” mantra to be a #fact. Not to say that there’s no excuse. Chance seems to have his own gimmicks to play off of, such associations with former US-president Barack Obama, and heavy support from Kanye West as well as a relatively clean, positive image in contrast to the negative stereotypes in hip hop. But if the shoe fits… In this case, a fresh pair of Air Jordans (HA! Another indirect Chicago connection).
I think this also demonstrates that there is no formula to making it big. The only thing that’ll get you anywhere is to adapt – Doe or Die, as AZ famously said. As long as Chance continues to be an early adopter, he’ll probably never need to drop an album. He probably won’t be signing his soul over to the dark side anytime soon, either. But he will be laughing his way to the bank, world tours, and a shelf full of gold statues. 

 

The Tech Game’s MVP: Gary Vee

Gary Vee the Yeezus of tech?

When the people at Hot97 aren’t busy  taking shots at their rival The Breakfast Club, or stepping on TMZ territory, they produce really good – and useful –  content. When I first came across their Hot In Tech series, it gave me some perspective in terms of where I see myself in the tech world.

Every single time I check out Gary’s interviews, the first thing I notice is his energy. He’s the epitome of a motivational speaker but what sets him apart, is that he has tangible product, he’s a Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). While the Tony Robbins’ of the world go around selling thin air (‘You can do it! Change your life’) type of stuff, Gary found and maintained success through the tech revolution. People like him show you that tech is a way of  life, and is synonymous with popular culture, mainly hip hop. Even more specifically, black culture.

Appropriation and ruthless capitalisation is a problem where black culture is confirmed.  Let’s be honest, though, it’s been happening long before Elvis, and it’s part of a common marketing strategy now. While everyone needs to make ends at the end of the day, someone like Gary demonstrates anyone can be a trendsetter. You design your roadmap, and tools such as social media, and all things tech, are keys to your success. Quit talking for talk sake and do something. All you need is your mobile phone.

There’s a bunch of tech expos on my bucket list. If Gary manages to be a keynote speaker at any of them that’s motivation to make sure the box gets ticked.

Check out this interesting interview: