4 min read

Startups and Gangsters: Refresh Edinburgh

When Kiwis talk about travelling, we use the term “overseas”, since for us, every trip out of our homeland involves a minimum three hour plane flight over seas. So, here in England, I still find it a buzz that I can jump on a train and be in another country. Last week I headed up to Edinburgh for their take on UX Bookclub (more on that later), and found out that there was another evening event going on that I could see before heading back home across the Scottish border home!

Refresh Edinburgh is a tech meetup community that has get togethers every month, and talks every three. Set in the very jazzy Voodoo Rooms (I mean jazzy in a cool underground kinda way) the theme of the night was learnings from local startups, with candid and entertaining talks from Colin Hewitt and Philip Roberts of cashflow forecasting app Float, and Sam Collins and John Sutherland of Bloop and Eventasaurus .

Float: Communication and Being Clicky

Float started from the Hewitt’s personal need to manage their finances. While he loved the “this is amazing” (and Toon-based) Free Agent, he still needed spreadsheets for projecting, so began Float.

Colin Hewitt at Refresh Edinburgh

He gave a number of tips of things to check when in a startup:

  • Validating assumptions — make sure your solution eases the pain. Float got a head start as Freeagent directed customers to them, but they still needed to make sure that people actually did what they needed.
  • These barriers are staggered do people like it, then will people pay for it? Float just got to the second stage (paying customers) in August
  • … And people can fail to get over the barriers for a number of reasons: they don’t get it (not getting enough out of their visit), don’t trust the site(perception of being secure etc), price, forget to return back, they’re too busy, confused by the features …
  • However, when you have limited resources, you have to prioritize while barriers you deal with.Hewitt raves about analytics tool Clicky (“the click is like someone going into a shop!”) — it uses sounds and visuals to make statistics meaningful. (Come to think of it, this might be one of the most practical examples of ambient interfaces I’ve heard).
  • Use various methods for constant communication, and find ways to be proactive, not just reactive. Yes, it is huge for one person to do, but there are ways to do it, again by prioritising.

Developer Phil talked about his perspective on being in the company. He considers himself a typical introverted developer but has loved doing customer support. And learned the following things:

  1. Customer support: helping people, has been fun. Some have bought since CS is so good!
  2. Asking for money: feels hard to do but people will usually pay when asked!
Phil Roberts from Float

He suggests the key things to know when getting involved with a startup are:

  • It’s key (but hard!) to stay on course,
  • it truly is a rollercoaster (sometimes scary, sometimes awesome).

Bloop/Eventasaurus: Lean UX and Being a Gangster

The Eventasaurus team talked about some of the tensions that you deal with as digital craftspeople working in a Lean UX space. It is hard to deal with having to just get things out there when you want them to be perfect.

They also talked about failure: while Europe (more so than Europe) is critical of failure, and projects that don’t work can seem like an utter blow to one’s confidence, once you get a successful product, all the previous failures are just written off as practice. So don’t despair!

My favourite idea was that you have to be a gangster to work in the startup world I.e. Don’t follow the rules because there are none.

For example: press. The adage that “build a better mousetrap and they will come” is still false, even in the web age: while we’d like to think that journalists write about work based on its quality alone, they’re likely to focus on people they know and like. (One of my favourite social network bloggers Laura Roeder has talked about this, and this was one of the stinks being kicked up by the recent TechCrunch/Crunchfund story). Sutherland told us that (I’ll admit I did spy a lot of dry humour here) that he got press coverage for Eventasaurus by sneakily getting to know a prominent journo and then later dropping the information about the product that he was working on.

Similarly, when it comes to the somewhat unsavoury prospect of spamming your users to encourage them to share, not only do you have to do it (once they started doing it they — surprise! — Got more users), you also need to tip the scales in your favour to make it as easy as possible for people to share information about your site, with tweet buttons, liking, and so on. (There was also a fascinating study of calls to action on this).

As with Float, tracking came out as being important (they use Mixpanel) as well as tracking errors.

We also know that being in a startup is a journey, but anyone who points out that it is a truly excellent (or bogus?) one deserves kudos.

Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey
It's Neo, but not as we know it

I sadly wasn’t able to catch the Q&A that happened after the talks, but hear that it was equally enlightening.