Monthly Archives: September 2012

No More Parties. Part 2

Written for and first published here: http://www.letsbebrief.co.uk/no-parties-pt-2/.

In two short years, public opinion has shifted from #Iagreewithnick, to the creation of a pretty terrible remix of our deputy PM’s belated apology for making a promise that he almost certainly wouldn’t have kept. 

The contempt with which people now hold MPs – bait for any computer literate human – is clear. But what has also shone through this week, is how the public is viewed by some of our leaders.

Cue GateGate, or that time the guy who makes all the Conservatives do as they’re told, Andrew Mitchell, probably used the word pleb, picked up at public school, in an altercation with a member of the public service. Despite overwhelming evidence, he has denied saying it, and his party is particularly annoyed because of all the work that has gone in to trying to make everyone think that they aren’t just a party for the rich. But did he say it? Public trust in the police isn’t great either, following high profile errors, corruption and a shooting that sparked last year’s riots. Yes, this system is pretty much junk.

We still have the Labour and Conservative party conferences to go and I challenge them to say anything that they haven’t just made up because they think it’s what we want to hear. The reality is that there will be cuts, cuts, cuts and the Labour party has no interest in there being anything otherwise – as they can come and ‘save the day’ in two and a half years’ time. And we’ll all no doubt be incredibly indifferent – or as scornful as we were when the last lot was in.

You might wonder where these Nicks, Andrews and Daves spring from anyway. Politics actually has a relatively sweet application process. You get selected by people who agree with you, if they are even allowed to make a real choice, from a list of people who all broadly agree anyway.

People are chosen for their job by a small group who qualify to be consulted because they are barmy enough to have joined the minority of people who still identify with frankly unfashionable concepts.

And when it comes to ministerial appointments, it seems no one will really look at your expertise. Win! Only great managers who don’t get bogged down in the detail need apply. Crazy, really, because we wouldn’t let a newsreader wander off and be a doctor without some pretty extensive training. And surely it is prior industry experience, that qualifies you to manage in a given field? Any graduate looking for their first job knows – no experience, no job. And many of our leaders can’t even seem to manage their expenses.

Crazy glitter artwork by Steven Barrett’s Glam Glitter Trash prints and greeting cards. Very far from trashy.

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Women in WirelessLondon -on startups at the Wayra Academy #WiWstartups


Telefonica’s Wayra startup hub couldn’t have been a better choice for Women in Wireless London’s first panel discussion. Wayra was started in South America, and is so-called because the word means a change of breeze, or a change of direction. There has been a great deal of attention of late around the question of women in the boardroom. Promoted onto the agenda by the publishing of a government review, the Evening Standard and then the BBChave both taken a stab at answering one of modern life’s most pressing questions: ‘why aren’t there more women in top jobs?’

This panel went some way to offering an alternative. Voted for by the audience at the Women in Wireless launch back in April, it appears many women want to be their own boss. Chaired by Olivia Solon, Associate Editor of Wired.co.uk and one of TechCrunch’s 100 Tech Women in Europe, but with her magazine confined to the ‘men’s interest’ section of WHSmith, she knows only too well what it’s like to be a woman in a bloke’s world.
She was joined by:
Michelle Gallen – co-founder and CEO of Shhmoozethe people discovery app for professionals- and TalkIrish.com an Irish language learning platform
Michelle likes straight talking, dark chocolate and Irish whiskey. She had delivered a project for the BBC ahead of schedule and under budget,  “it rocked”. Would she get a bonus? No. “I hadn’t a thing to go to and I walked”.
Claudia Dreier-Poepperl – founder and CEO Addafix – a caller ID service
Claudia wasn’t happy for a long time. The startup she had been a member of since day five had been acquired and acquired again. She was in the UK. Its HQ was in the US. “If I can put all that energy in to make somebody else rich – I can try for myself”.
Muriel Devillers – LUMU Invest – a provider of seed funding and mentoring
Muriel Devillers “married had children and then had a divorce… I thought I had to do something”.  She went on an adventure and started four pirate radio stations. She is now a business angel, advising and supporting startup projects.
Yael Rozencwajg – founder and CEO YOPPs Digital Media
Yael had a ‘typical life’ and was well-known among Paris nightclub scene. After two years, she decided to earn money from it.
Sabrina McEwen – communications executive for Hiyalife – a platform to co-create your life story using memories, a Wayra startup
Sabrina went from a corporate to… a funkier business, but still corporate… and had a difficult boss. She wasn’t intending to join a startup but hasn’t regretted it one bit. At Hiyalife, she is surrounded by “passionate people who want to succeed… interesting and full of ideas”.
Olivia: So you’ve got your idea on the back of a napkin… what do you do next?
Muriel: It’s not an easy one – I was travelling the world for over five years looking for the disruptive ideas. I listen. When I say ‘wow’ I’ve fallen in love with the idea. I get into the team to push, open my network, make you work.
Michelle: There was a gap in the market. There were 59 million people with an Irish passport and I was leaning Irish from 40 year-old books… Perhaps I wouldn’t sell my house… But today you can test your assumption. If you’ve got 50 people signed up… go for it.
Claudia: I had to find techies, to test whether the task was a yes, no, or a possibility. They have to be on the same wavelength, can you trust them? Perhaps find them from a previous job. Can you build something, a prototype without any funding? You don’t need a big amount of funding to get you through that. The further you get, the more impressed any business angel will be.
Olivia: Once you had launched – what was the biggest misconception about having a start-up?
Yael: Don’t be afraid of failing. Don’t worry about the money. The idea, the project has to be the main thing at every step. I strongly advise you to make mistakes – we learn after making mistake, misunderstanding the marketplace and failing.
Claudia:  Everything takes about 10 times longer than you think – time, energy, money, contingency is never enough. Over the years you become more relaxed about that – four weeks waiting on a contract from a big corporate is like four years for you.
Muriel: Invest your own money – this is showing in your guts that you believe in it. Use crowd funding – especially when you start. Friends and family support will show you are right and boost you to go further.
Michelle: No one tells you about maternity leave when you’re starting out on your own.
Sabrina: But there is actually lot of support.
Olivia: So what about the pitch process? What’s the worst pitch you’ve seen?
Muriel: 27 slides, loads of numbers. The best way to pitch? Please show me your guts. I don’t care about slideshares. I need to feel the love in three, four, five slides – don’t ever put your speech on it.
Olivia: How do you get a work/life balance?
Claudia: You don’t. You have to force yourself to stop – travelling all the time is bad for your health.
Michelle: 9am-11pm and then drinks gives me five hours in the week to see my baby. I want my friends to call me out on it.
Yael: You need time management – take distance from your project and see your friends.
Olivia: Studies show that men are better at multi-tasking. No?
Muriel: We are multitasking!! Pregnant, working… To risk and invest, I think we do it better.
A lot of VCs are male but business angels are mostly women. When you believe in it you go for it. We know how to push it to minimise the risk.
Olivia: Woman in tech – more men than women – advantages/disadvantages?
Yael: In tech, there is a big opportunity for women to reach the men’s table. Keep in mind – women have the power to connect and support each other. We trust in ourselves, focus and bring our self-confidence.
Muriel: I am a woman in a man’s world. The financial world. And I disrupt that. I shout. I put my fist on the table. What I want to see is teams build projects together – men and women together – we have qualities and men have qualities. We can approach it from 360 degrees.
Why do we get married and have children? Because we are complimentary – in your children, you integrate your qualities together.
Claudia: It depends on the situations. There are always so many men at tech conferences. If you are trying to sell something, I love it!
Muriel: There are now more than 60 per cent women studying tech in universities.
Michelle: There are no queues for the toilet when you’re a girl in tech! You can start doing the ‘I’m the only girl in the village’ bit. Try not to analyse – just be. Support everyone and call them out on things. When guys say ‘you have to have balls’, I say ‘talk to me about guts and I’ll show you them’.
To the audience.
My start-up isn’t working…
Michelle: I spent my 20s having really crap relationships. I was late to the party when it came to settling down. Be slutty as a startup – split up, lose it. You say it’s your baby, but it’s not. You wouldn’t be so precious about it.
Muriel: Branding is 60 per cent of your budget. There are co-working spaces all over the world – be together as much as possible, all you need is a place with a table, wifi, people to talk with and that’s all.
Do women think big enough?
Michelle: If you’re going to put the hours in, you have to care about it. If you’re ironing, you go for it, same if you want to be the next Facebook.
Claudia: The business has to be scaleable.
Muriel: Dream global before dreaming local and you will succeed. Make us believe in your dreams.
Yael: The world is not open to you; you have to open the world.
Olivia: One tip for the future?
Michelle: Always do your pelvic floor exercises and never fake an orgasm
Claudia: If the others can do it you can do it
Muriel: Believe in your dreams
Yael: Live them
Sabrina: Don’t bother convincing the non-believers

No More Parties?! Part 1

A year ago, I asked my wise friends of Facebook the question: ‘What do you think of politics today?’ I gave the options ‘like’, ‘don’t like’, ‘don’t know enough about it’ and ‘don’t care’ but left it open for others to add their own categories. The reason I asked is because I love politics. It is important to me because it has an effect on my life. 37 replied.

Results were: 13 – ‘don’t like’, 10 – ‘no major distinction between major parties anymore – vote grabbing whores all’, 4 – ‘occasionally interested’, 3 – ‘that’s a deeply vague question’, 3 – ‘I like turtles’, 1 – ‘I’d rather not vote than vote for Rupert Murdoch’, 1 – ‘don’t know enough about it’, 1 – ‘don’t care’, 0 – like.

So this was a pretty rubbish sample of vaguely young people. Both boys and girls answered and many were happy to add alternatives. It appears that most people consider themselves to have enough understanding to know that they don’t approve. Not one said ‘like’.

The political parties are back in the Commons after their summer break. The only profession, aside from teachers and children, that gets such a long period off. And certainly the only one that doesn’t get any stick for it. I’m not saying that it doesn’t make sense to rest people in high-pressure roles where they often work long hours. But the same gesture isn’t afforded to everyone else doing such jobs.

While they are papped by the media allegedly relaxing on their staycation, many can actually be found surrounded by SPADs (Special Advisers, roles populated by Oxbridgers in the ministers’ own image) preparing for the new term. No sooner have they got their well-cut suit jackets off (except for the ones who got bollocked by a female Conservative MP the other day for looking scruffy), there’s been a re-shuffle in the Cabinet. And party conference season is just around the corner – more on that later.

A ‘reshuffle’ sounds alarmingly casual. Like the first line-up was an initial, random shuffle and this subsequent one is similarly haphazard. Commentators are wondering how Big D has managed to miss the fact that George Osbourne is the most hated man in England (booed in the stadium when he was presenting medals to Paralympic winners, when even Gordon ‘End of Boom and Bust’ Brown got a cheer), his new Minister for Equality has been absent or abstained in all major LGBT rights votes and his new Health Minister (the one who ballsed up a huge media deal with Rupert Murdoch by being… too good friends with him) is sometimes referred to accidentally on the BBC as Jeremy Cunt. And he has no health expertise. And he has been reprimanded on both expenses and tax avoidance.

Oh and not to mention Lib Dem David Laws making his big comeback, painted as being just about the only competent one, despite leaving his ministerial post in 2010 after it was revealed he claimed money from the taxpayer for a room in his partner’s flat; which doesn’t give you much confidence in the rest of them. Overall, it reveals a healthily bizarre pattern to making high power appointments.

So, with that bit of hocus pocus out of the way, the parties can all continue with preparations for their big annual shindigs, starting with the Green’s last weekend. Party conference season is a bit like summer for teenage festival-goers. Get wasted. See people you know. Potentially hook up. Perhaps learn something. If you wondered where political parties decide their policy – it’s not here. They don’t really recruit members either… So, why then you ask, do they exist? I went to a debate last week for the launch of Policy Review TV with @PollyToynbee from the Guardian arguing for them to be abolished, and @TimMontgomerie, editor of Conservative Home, saying they should remain.

I’ll spare you the details and just give you a couple of tit-bits. Polly called them an “extraordinarily artificial event where delegates are irrelevant.” Tim said they are a ‘Disneyland vacation’ for politics lovers. He said there are actually three conferences:

1. TV conference – for the cameras. Main aim – DO NOT MAKE A GAFF ON TELLY
2. Fringe conference – events outside the main hall where charities and thinktanks can be found
3. Late night bar conference – the only socialising lots of politicos ever get to do

Many limitations were identified with the help of the crowd. People suggested the length was prohibitive to those who have… er… jobs. Conservative Home actually worked out that its conference now costs more than £700 to attend. Much more than a festival and not in the summer holidays… Hmm.

Political parties are in massive decline. This is happening for many reasons, here’s a few: they don’t represent the views of modern people, they have bad internal organisation so they find it difficult to get people and biscuits in the same room, they don’t want too many people coming with their individual ideas and views, the situation in government has stayed stable whether they have members or not, they aren’t cool, they don’t seem to do what they say they are going to do, they don’t tell the truth… I could clearly go on.

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Illustration by my lovely friend Hannah Wallace.

Written for and first published here: http://www.letsbebrief.co.uk/no-more-parties/