Monthly Archives: August 2014

Growth at Silicon Roundabout rivals Silicon Valley. How can we sustain it?

silicon-roundabout bannerHow can the UK tech scene overtake its rivals from across the pond?

It’s undeniable that London remains one of the most creative and diverse cities in the globe. This is evident in London’s Silicon Roundabout/Tech City which is arguably beating Berlin to be Europe’s number one, and ranked number three – against Network in New York and Silicon Valley in San Francisco – as the global ‘Tech Centre’.

This is certainly impressive and an achievement to be proud of. But then why, of the 30 $1bn tech companies created in Europe in the past 13 years, were only 11 of these companies were founded in the UK?

In comparison the US produced 39 such companies in the same period, according to research done by GP Bullhound.

European culture may make us more cautious when seeking expansion – but is this the reason why so many UK tech start-ups sell up too early to large US tech companies?

By doing so, they are making it easier for the US to lead the way, albeit only on paper.

It’s often argued that in the UK we have the best minds in the globe but we fail to incubate those great ideas, inventions and innovations.

Is this therefore the reason why there are only two UK registered tech firms listed on the FTSE 100?

Silicon Valley is well known as a haven for tech start-ups, and equally as the home of some of the world’s largest tech corporations. However, in recent years London has begun to outpace Silicon Valley and is now growing faster in terms of employee numbers.

This growth has allowed London to directly rival Silicon Valley by attracting global investment away from California.

Yet Silicon Valley start-ups on average still raise two to three times more capital in the early stages of their development in comparison to London.

Could this all change with Google’s venture capital arm and the opening of its Campus space in Shoreditch supplying office space and networking opportunities to UK start-ups?

It’s a great piece of US investment in the UK, rather unfortunately opened by George Osborne who hailed it as a centre for the European tech scene. This year it has already created 576 jobs with an average of £75,000 raised via formal sources by each start-up involved in the Campus.

It’s not a government initiative and certainly not a coup for the disastrous coalition. But whilst brilliant in every way, the Campus serves to drive London’s tech scene via a US company that cultivates start-ups before then relocating them to Silicon Valley to focus on the US market.

Instead, we should be cultivating and fostering that talent to make London and the UK the globe’s tech capital. We should be enticing US start-ups from across the pond to come here, rather than vice versa.


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Smart homes lack consumer connection

connect home bannerDespite the hype around new tech concepts such as the ‘connected home’ and the ‘internet of things’, consumers are sceptical about the cost of the technology and the role it will play in their lives, new research suggests.

The study, seen exclusively by Marketing Week , reveals that over a quarter of respondents are not interested in having digitally connected smart appliances in their home. The survey of 2,000 UK-based adults, conducted by field marketing agency Gekko, also shows that most people are unwilling to pay more for connected devices.

Among the appliances available, the smart thermostat is the most popular with 44 per cent of people saying they would consider installing one in their home. Smart lighting comes second (40 per cent) followed by smart TV (36 per cent).
But 27 per cent would not consider installing a connected appliance, with 45 per cent citing cost as their top concern. When asked to specify an additional amount they would be willing to spend on such an appliance, the majority select zero.

Thirty per cent of people are willing to spend an extra £100 on a smart fridge that enables users to keep track of their food stocks via a mobile device. The majority (55 per cent), however, are unwilling to pay a premium for such an appliance.

Daniel Todaro, group managing director of Gekko, believes the concept of the connected home “has moved beyond the early adopter stage and started to trickle into the mainstream”. But given that many people remain unsure about smart appliances, brands must educate the public about the benefits of the technology, he says, adding: “Once people recognise the opportunities to save money, it will become more accessible.”

Todaro suggests that as the weather turns colder in the coming months and energy bills rise again, utility brands will devote more resources to marketing smart meters that enable people to control their heating remotely. In January, for example, British Gas ran a nationwide advertising campaign to promote its smartphone-controlled central heating system Hive .

According to the research, 50 per cent of people regard the impact on their quality of life as a key reason for buying a connected appliance, compared with just 28 per cent who care about the brand behind the product. Word of mouth matters to 30 per cent of respondents while 9 per cent regard in-store advice as an important factor.

Electronics retailers Currys and PC World are rolling out ‘smart technology areas’ across their stores to help educate consumers and enable them to interact with connected appliances. The companies are owned by parent group Dixons Carphone, which this month completed a £3.8bn merger that aims to put it at the forefront of the internet of things .

“We’re also investing in training our store colleagues on smart technology and launching online microsites for customers, which are dedicated to smart technologies such as connected home devices to help educate and inspire,” says Dave Ward, head of new technology and innovation at Currys and PC World. While the cost of installing smart appliances is relatively high, Ward claims prices are beginning to come down as the technology matures.

“We also think many of these technologies have the ability to save real money,” he adds. “Early adopters may pay a little more to be at the forefront but they will soon save money [on energy consumption] through devices such as smart thermostats and lights.”

In addition to the cost issue, 21 per cent of survey respondents express concern about how brands use personal data gathered from smart appliances. Eighteen per cent say the technology is ‘too intrusive’ while 23 per cent are concerned about the complexity of setting up the appliances.

Technology companies such as US firm Revolv have sought to simplify the connected home by creating a single hub through which all smart appliances are controlled. Revolv provides a router that receives signals from other companies’ appliances and a single app that allows users to co-ordinate all their home technology from their smartphone or tablet.

Last month the company launched an Android app to sit alongside its existing iOS offer and announced its integration with Google’s Nest thermostat. “Our brand promise is to unify off-the-shelf devices made by many manufacturers regardless of the protocol within those devices,” says Suttida Yang, director of marketing at Revolv.

With regard to the data issue the company is keen to ensure a strong value exchange with users. “We believe consumer data and privacy are owned by the consumer; there’s always a trade-off and convenience that we can provide when the consumer allows us to access that data,” says Yang. “To that end, we take privacy and security very seriously such that the communications between our app, hub and cloud are all encrypted and anonymised.”

The entrance of the world’s biggest tech companies into the smart home market is likely to reassure consumers and accelerate adoption. In June, for example, Apple unveiled HomeKit , a suite of tools for controlling home appliances. Apple is working with brands such as Honeywell, Philips and Broadcom to develop the platform.

The $3.2bn (£1.9bn) acquisition of Nest in January demonstrates Google’s determination to be a dominant presence in the connected home too. Nest intuitively adjusts its settings according to people’s usage patterns, such as reducing the thermostat temperature setting when it senses nobody is home.

But despite excitement around these products, the role of connected devices depends also on government policy towards super-fast broadband. Last week, the UK Government said its plan to provide super-fast broadband to 95 per cent of homes and businesses by 2017 was “firmly on track” after announcing that one million homes and businesses have access already.

However, business lobbyists and commentators have criticised the Government for a lack of ambition, claiming that its definition of ‘super-fast’ lags behind many other nations. Gekko’s Todaro agrees with this assessment and believes stronger Government action is needed to support the growth of the internet of things across the UK.

“The Government is woefully behind on super-fast broadband,” he says. “Most homes in the UK don’t yet have the necessary speed of broadband to have a connected home.

“We’re way behind the Nordics, for example, and a lot of other places in Europe. It needs to become part of our psyche as a nation if we want to continue moving forward.”


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The growing chasm between the number of new supermarkets and new employees


With most of the of country suffering through the recession, the big supermarkets continued their relentless growth, says Dan Todaro, managing director at Gekko. He writes:

All too often in this country it feels like every time a shop closes, every time a building is demolished and with every new urban development a new Tesco Metro or Sainsbury’s Local springs up. It can be good news for locals, bringing jobs to the area as well as the convenience of having a nearby supermarket. Yet there is a downside. In the race to not fall behind their competitors, the big five supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons and The Co-Op – are at risk of overlooking what should be the most important facet of their business. The customer.

Research we recently put together at Gekko highlights that the average number of stores amongst the big five supermarkets has increased by 11% in the last three years, yet the average number of staff has fallen by over 9%.


Tesco, with the largest market share of the big five, had 431 more stores in 2013 than they had in 2011, yet the number of employees didn’t rise proportionately. This might be, in part, owing to more effective streamlining of the customer journey and the implementation of efficient technologies to save supermarkets time and money. Yet the overall picture is one of massive expansion with modest increases in staff numbers and there’s a real risk that customers are being abandoned between walking in the door and leaving with their purchases.

The big supermarkets are playing a dangerous game by drawing an increasingly fine line between maximising profits with persistent expansion and ensuring the consumer experience is positive.


It was recently announced that this expansion is slowing a little, with the amount of new supermarket space proposed for the UK falling to the lowest level since the financial crisis. However that’s still 15.22m square feet being proposed, with 2.47m square feet under construction.

It’s mind-boggling that in a country already filled with supermarkets, a space over forty times the size of St Paul’s Cathedral is currently being converted to this purpose. Nonetheless, the slowing growth of space gives the big grocery chains an opportunity to make sure their recruitment levels catch up with the number of stores recently opened.

Human touch

If you’re looking for a certain product in a supermarket or need to know which products are included in a deal, you still need a member of staff rather than Google or an app. The human touch still plays a huge role in-store.

It isn’t just that supermarkets need to hire more staff, they also need to invest in providing them with the appropriate training to be a real selling point for the company. Great staff can make the difference between a consumer buying or not buying a product; between a consumer buying one item or five items. Most importantly, they can make the difference between whether they choose to come back to the store again and again, or go elsewhere.

The best-loved brands ensure their stores are filled with highly trained, helpful staff. And big supermarkets need to learn from this approach.

Customer service

The big chains also need to recognise that consumers respond to great customer service and that often requires having sufficient staff to deal with enquiries and help with any problems. We’ve all stood around waiting for help to arrive when the self-service checkout is having an off day. It can take an age for someone to be free to come and help. It’s enough to turn consumers off.

Given the competition that exists between the big supermarkets, they can’t afford for consumers to start voting with their feet after yet another delay to buy their shopping. Major grocery chains have to ensure that they maintain standards in-store by matching their investment in expansion with a proportionate investment in staff. Otherwise they risk driving consumers elsewhere.

Indeed, one of the reasons some people prefer to shop with independent retailers is for the personal touch and knowledge of products that you can often struggle to find in many major retailers.

Staff investment

Tesco might have the biggest market share, but in a Which? consumer survey last year it was voted the least popular supermarket. By contrast, Waitrose – which operates with investment in staff seemingly at the centre of what they do – came top.

Given Tesco’s recent fall in profits, maybe it’s time to invest in more well-trained staff, instead of seemingly infinite store expansion. In what is arguably one of the most dynamic industries which is constantly reinventing itself to meet the needs of consumers, staff is a critical factor to success.

The big supermarkets must invest properly in staff or risk losing customers.

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Wearable tech would benefit from an haute couture approach

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Figures from CCS Insight suggest that sales of smart wearable devices are going to rocket from 9.7m last year to 135m in 2018. This is predicted to include 68m smart watches and 50m smart bands. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the figures will prove accurate, though the claims don’t seem especially well-supported as there’s a lot that has to change between now and then if this massive boost in smart wearables is going to happen.

Primarily, the creators of smart wearable tech need to ensure they’re actively catering to a key market when it comes to setting trends, the fashion industry.

Consumers who are not only willing but able to spend £2k, £5k or £10k on a watch or an item of jewellery are the trendsetting future of wearable tech. If the fashion industry, and women in particular, are offered a wide range of high-end wearable tech in a variety of styles to choose from, the trend might really take off with all and not just those interested in tech. Yet at present many of these devices are for some aesthetically unappealing. If a consumer is offered a beautiful smart watch from an established luxury brand like Tag Heaur, Omega, Rolex etc, which has the desirability of a traditional high-end watch but with the extra functionality of a smart device, then perhaps wearable tech has a chance of really catching on as indicated.

It’s not unimaginable that eventually these high-end brands and fashion groups like LVMH will start having greater involvement in hardware, and not just the casing and accessories of smart tech. A Tiffany smart bracelet isn’t as far-fetched an idea as it might first seem. Once we reach a point where there’s a range of quality smart products to wear and match with what we’re wearing, how we’re feeling, or what we’re doing that day, then consumers will really get behind the idea. One day in the not too distant future it might be that someone going for a run puts on their hardy GPS smart wristband, before changing to go to a gig and putting on their more stylish smart watch. The possibilities of wearable tech are endless, but until the technology is more widely adopted by consumers, the tech giants and brands aren’t going to feel confident enough to invest in it.

Ultimately it may well take a greater push by Google with its Google Glass or a brand leader like Fitbit to get us to the tipping point where wearable tech is the norm. There are voices in the industry saying it’ll never take off because of privacy concerns; we must remember similar arguments were made when the internet was opened to mass consumer use. This is no time to be technologically impotent. The fact remains that with the phenomenal potential of wearable tech, demonstrated by Google Glass, to make our day-to-day lives more efficient and enjoyable, it is the future. It might take two or three years to truly establish itself, but the moment when mainstream and luxury brands fashion brands get on board with it, we’ll know the age of wearable tech has truly arrived.


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The do’s and don’ts of a second interview

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Second interviews are not always essential – I have made successful hires from first interviews, having identified and assessed the key traits and experience I wanted the candidate to demonstrate at the first stage.

However this is often not the case; despite utilising experienced interviewers who probe in all the right places, second interviews are an ideal opportunity to ensure you are hiring the right candidate to fulfil your role by assessing them further. There is also the added advantage of being able to set tasks to challenge the candidate, such as presentations or case studies if appropriate.

The opportunity of a second interview is one most candidates are delighted to have. At this stage, you believe you have a selection of the highest calibre of candidates in the market to choose from. Do not then make the mistake of forgetting you are there to impress too.

Ensure you are fully prepared by taking note of the following do’s and don’ts of a second-stage interview:

  • Do set expectations. Candidates should be made aware that they are not the only individual selected to attend this stage (if this is indeed the case). Some candidates wrongly assume they have made a sufficient impression and that they are a shoe in for the job. They need to be aware that there is competition, and will then try even harder to impress rather than acting overly confident.
  • Don’t have the second interview at the same time of day as the first. On occasions this may not be possible if a candidate is meeting you on their lunch break. However it is an ideal way of assessing the candidate’s behaviour at different times of the day.  If your second interview is at 9am, is the candidate as prepared as they were if the first interview was at 2pm?  Were they on time or stressed by the traffic or their commute? In addition, holding interviews at this time as well as a 4.30pm interview will allow the candidate to see what the commute will be like to and from work on a daily basis – is it as they thought it would be?
  • Do invite different interviewers to attend. These different people do not have to be a manager or a senior appointment, but colleagues in a similar role as you are interviewing for as they can give great insight, views and opinions. They can sometimes offer more accurate answer to questions the candidate may ask about the day-to-day duties of the role. It will also give the candidate the opportunity to see who they will be working with as part of the wider team.
  • Don’t forget it’s your turn to shine. Do not leave all the impressing to the candidate. At this stage, candidates are making their decision too, such as  ‘will I get on with this person as my line manager?’ and ‘is this role and this company where I see my next career move?’. You must pre-empt questions that the candidate may not address with you. Make sure you have discussed every necessary detail of the role as well as promoting yourself and the company.
  • Do repeat some questions. You don’t want to be sitting in front of the same candidate repeating yourself, yet if you ask the question at the beginning of the first interview, ‘why are you leaving your current role?’, and then ask the same question more casually at the end of the second interview, chances are there will be a different answer. At this stage you will have built a relationship with the candidate; they are more at ease and willing to share more with you than they did when you first met as strangers.
  • Don’t leave any stone unturned. Some of the most valuable time spent in a second interview is addressing any concerns you had after the first stage. Have your questions prepared to address these; if you are not in attendance yourself, share these reservations with colleagues who are. Each interviewer must have their own personal opinion of the candidate, however it is essential that they are aware of your feedback – be honest. If you don’t highlight a concern now at interview stage, three months later you may be re-recruiting.
  • Do show the candidate around the office if possible. Introducing them to the team is not always appropriate, but allowing them to see any facilities in the building that may be attractive or particularly beneficial to them (e.g. parking, canteen, games room) and a brief tour of the office they may be working in will help them feel more comfortable about deciding whether your company is right for them.

It’s decision time – don’t get to this point without being able to make one. Preparation, effective questioning, along with self and company promotion are key to a successful second interview and an accepted offer of employment.


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How to write a great job advert

Real-Business copy

A job advertisement, unless it’s for a well-known brand, is the first impression that candidates will get of your business. It is therefore crucial that your company’s advert makes a good impression at the start of the candidate journey.

The advert must attract quality talent and to do so it must paint an accurate picture of the role, specify the experience and traits you require from your future employee and entice the reader to apply by highlighting what sets your role apart from similar roles at other companies, in order to encourage candidates to make the next step.

The headline

When advertising a job online, consider the job title or simple headline that your intended candidate is likely to search for. This will maximise the chance of candidates finding your advert and attract higher levels of traffic.

The job title being used internally in your business might differ from how candidates would refer to it, or not commonly used in the wider industry. Without a relevant job title, your position might not be found by prospective candidates, or in the event that it is found, confused candidates may click away from the page. Ensure your advert can be found and will attract attention from the people you want.

Don’t recycle

If your recruitment campaign is based on an existing role the easy option is to re-use the last advert which may well have proven successful. Although tempting, the chances are the job and the industry will have evolved considerably. Instead, start from scratch to create a brand new job advertisement that is fresh and contemporary.

Who is writing the job advert?

Do not fully rely on your HR/Recruitment department to create a job advert. Although they can offer valuable guidance on what content will attract candidates, if they are not working in the role you are recruiting for they are only basing the core content on what they believe the role involves.

The prospective line manager should be involved in the creation of the advert, and any input from an employee currently in a similar role will be extremely valuable. This added input will ensure that the advert accurately describes what the role involves.

Build interest

Before you finalise your job advert, consider the reader experience. Your advert should not be an exhaustive list of tasks the role involves; instead, make it an overview of the role itself. It is important to avoid listing too many requirements as candidates who may not tick everything on that list may not apply, meaning you may lose an otherwise perfect candidate.

The advert must engage and excite candidates whilst reflecting company and brand values – ask a number of different people in the business to read it and gather opinions and feedback.

Detail the salary and package

Include a salary bracket in order to attract the right level of candidate for your business. By not specifying salary, you are potentially wasting time reviewing applications from candidates of all levels. Save your time – and theirs – by setting the expectation at this stage.

Don’t forget to detail added benefits that may entice candidates to apply: is there a bonus, car allowance, gym membership, or free parking? Let the reader know by detailing added extras – each candidate is motivated by different benefits.

This is the start of the recruitment lifecycle; getting the initial job advert wrong will prevent a successful and smooth running recruitment process. Follow these steps to create the best possible job advertisement to represent the role and your business.


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