Striding Edge

#TimOnLoan: borrow me for a week for FREE (worth £3000)

Are you drowning in emails? Trying to get some things done whilst juggling a bunch of other things?

Perhaps I can help? I want to lend out my skills to organisations in Manchester for free:

Is this you?

  • You know decision makers need your product or service but it sometimes feels like they speak ‘different language’ to you?
  • You’ve built a thing, and whilst you’ve almost done the technical side of things, you’re aware that making enough people sign up to the product is something you’ve not thought much about?
  • You have an onboarding flow which could do with improvement?
  • You have a technology setup, but no-one has looked at it in several years – and you wonder if there are better ways of doing things today?
  • You have lots of customers that need talking to, and you wonder if you process for communicating could be more streamlined?

What can I help you with?

Tim Dobson

  • understanding customers / customer development
  • improving your customer support setup
  • how to market & sell to your customers
  • copywriting and email templates
  • linux systems architecture & systems administration
  • photography
Can you apply to this?
If:
  • You’re genuinely interested in what you do
  • You’re in a technology sector, or technology enables an important part of what you do
  • You’re a youngish or small & growing organisation probably with a relatively small headcount
Who are you?
You can see on my LinkedIn I’ve years of experience in technology & sales, I’ve tried building several startupy projects and landing pages.

 

How can I apply?


What people say:

He’s the friendly, approachable face of what can be quite a daunting world to folks like me from outside the natural world of Linux hosting and sysadminry.

I’ve always felt Tim was happy to chat to me and he’s always been full of good ideas both technically in terms of wider business/marketing.

Q & A

How much will this cost me? Nothing. Free. £0.00

My organisation doesn’t quite fit your bullet points? Is it worth me applying? Yes. If you don’t try, you don’t know. Be bold and try!

What if you turn out to not be a good fit? Then it’s great we both find out quickly without losing any money.

When can you start? The first week I want to do this is the week starting 20th of March.

When is the closing date for this? Soon. I’ve not decided yet, but if you’re considering applying, apply now, because sods laws says I’ll close it right before you wanted to sign up.

What if I want you to keep working for me? My standard rate is £600/day, with discounts for block booking & speedy payment (eg 10% 7, net 30). If things are going well, let’s chat.

What do you get out of this? Not being bored. Chance to work with different people. Opportunity to work on interesting real life interesting problems. Insight into how different organisations work. Chance to help customers. Chance to develop my skills.

Will everyone who applies be accepted? Almost certainly not.  Sadly I’m fairly sure practicalities of time make it impossible.

Will you sign <some kind of thing> with us? Probably. I like things in plain english that are easily understandable.

Does my organisation have to be based in Manchester? If you work from an office, then it’d be best if you were at least somewhat based in Manchester. If you work in a distributed manner – sure I’d be delighted for you to apply (I’m mostly in the UK timezone)

Are charities/projects/social enterprises/etc allowed? Sure.

What criteria will you use to choose? A simple one: I’ll choose the one I like the sound of most right now.

I’ve worked with you before, can I apply? Sure!

This isn’t how my organisation’s bureaucracy works. Can you contact us with a CV & cover letter please? Thanks – I suspect we’re not the best fit for right now.

Is this a deep commentary of our socio-capitalistic ritual of workplace subjugation? No.

A great example of big society in action? No.

Are you aware how lucky you are? Yes, I’m very aware that being able to offer this is a privilege I’m lucky to be able to exercise.

I have another question? Leave a comment or drop me an email? :-)



The [passenger side] window in question - right above the door handle!

What happened after my van was broken into (or how you can harness a customer’s negative experiences for good!)

My van was broken into the other night.

Someone removed the front front side window, from the outside, without breaking the pane. They took a dashcam and walkie-talkie but kindly left the window pane in the gutter unbroken!

The [passenger side] window in question - right above the door handle!
The [passenger side] window in question – right above the door handle!
I’m ok, all is well but I had a problem:

  • I had a van with no front, forward, drivers side window
  • I had a pane of glass, and empty hole in the seals where it should be

What were my options here?

1) Fix it myself – if it just ‘came out’, it must ‘just go back in’ – how hard can it be?

Result: Had a go. Turns out, quite hard.

2) I drove to my favourite garage to get them to fix it.

Result: They were busy until Friday and I got the sense they didn’t really want to look at it.

3) I drove to my second choice garage.

Context: This is the garage that my parents always used to use, but recently the long-time owners retired and some new mechanics took over. I had no experience of them at all.

Result: When I arrived, the lead mechanic was busy doing an MOT, but told me that when his colleague got in in 15 mins time, he’d put him straight on it. I was happy to wait!

20 minutes later, with creative use of string, dishwasher fluid and elbow grease, my window was back in the frame where it should be. And I was standing there in awe, very glad to have outsourced that to the experts – and convinced it’d have taken me several hours of blood, sweat and tears to give up – without the same techniques.

I went to pay – happy to be in one piece again and be able to move on with my life.

But they wouldn’t take any money off me. The lead mechanic said “you’ve had a shit night – it’s nothing – I won’t take any money off you”.

I was floored. I was insanely grateful. Almost uncomfortably grateful. For the next half hour I kept wondering – how do you repay something like that?

Analysis: If we look at what he did through a business lens: They’re in a situation where perhaps they are re-establishing and want more business. The customer (me!) has had a poor experience – and at no fault of garage. The garage does something expected – and offers timely fixing – then does something unexpected – and does it for free. The customer is very happy.

But perhaps they also know that the customer will talk about that poor experience (everyone talks about getting broken into) and that for a relatively small cost (perhaps time that wouldn’t have been used anyway) they could position themselves, in that customer’s story – as the one’s who came to the rescue when things went wrong.

No-one tells their friends about an MOT they just had, but a story of how “someone stole all these things, but then the garage were so lovely afterwards” – that’s a story people do tell!

And from a human angle, it’s win-win too. Everyone loves the feeling of doing something that someone is profoundly grateful for – so it feels good too.


The garage in question was Fairways Motors on Arundel street in Glossop.

If you visit them, feel free to mention this story. I don’t imagine they’ll do the same thing everytime, but for what they did yesterday morning, I’m truly grateful.

Will they become my first preference garage? Well, at least now I’ll consider them. ;-)


I wonder where else you’ve seen this used? Do you ever have sad customers coming your way you can help? I’d love to hear more examples of this kind of thing – tell me your stories in the comments!

Like the Discwold Anke Morpork board game: you sometimes don't realise you've lost until you do.

Why I failed at a Sales Conversation that looked like it went well

Back when I was a technical sales person trying to help customers find the right hosting solutions for their products, I had a sales memorable interaction.

A customer “Alice” get in touch, looking for an onsite meeting to discuss what they needed. Me and a less technical colleague, “Brendan”, went to visit.

At the meeting, we picked up the basics of the situation: Alice was a solo senior developer within a nontechnical organisation, working on a business-critical piece of software that the organisation used every day. The organisation was hoping they might spin the software out and get other organisations in their niche to use it – SaaS-style.

Like the Discwold Anke Morpork board game: you sometimes don't realise you've lost until you do.
Like the Discwold Anke Morpork board game: you sometimes don’t realise you’ve lost until you do.

Alice had complete technical control over the development, and whilst I didn’t know the technical realm too well, I asked LOTS of questions. “How were they handling this?”, “What libraries were they using?”, “How were they deploying?”, “Would they be comfortable working like this?”, “Who was looking after these kind of things?”, “When was the system in use?”.

Alice loved it. She took me through the technical architecture in great detail, with me treading along the edge of my conversant line of that technology, with my colleague Brendan well out of his depth.

After we left, Alice tweeted about how great it had been to chat to sales people who understood and took such an interest. I was elated. What better feedback could you get from a prospect?

One thing that’s better is an order. We didn’t get the deal.

During the entire conversation, we’d done a great job of winning Alice over, but failed to discover the key decision maker was Alice’s boss. This cost us the deal.

Ultimately, Alice’s Boss, a nontechnical decision maker within their organisation, made a decision to go with a household-name brand because of a sense of familiarity and legitimacy. Failing to discover and anticipate this caused us to sell to the technical person, but miss the opportunities to address the Boss’s concerns.

We could have asked “When are you looking to make a decision about this? Who’s involved in making this decision? How do things like this get decided in your organisation?”. I could have been presumptuous and just asked “Does your boss give you the freedom to decide suppliers like this on your own?”. It’s possible I’d have got some reply along the lines of “I’m not sure” – and even that would have better than being blindsided by it later.

If we’d found out that their Boss was involved in the decision, we might have been able to provide some extra context or collateral to Alice to take to the Boss – maybe organisations in their sector using us. Maybe a very tailored case study written from a nontechnical perspective of an organisation also trying to make a side business selling their line of business software. Maybe things mentioning the very precious business critical things we kept running and supported everyday. Crucially – none of this would be aimed at the highly technical person – Alice.

Classically trained sales people have used mnemonics for years to help them check (amongst other things) that the person they’re talking has the authority to make the purchase they’re discussing with you. This was a timely impetus for me to revise up on those things to check for – we shouldn’t have stumbled on such a basic hurdle.

Being such a great fit for the on-the ground users really rubbed salt in the wound – we could have done better!

Live & Learn!


Names have been changed.

Do you have a story of a sales conversation that didn’t go to plan? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Manchester from above

What no-one will tell you about rocking employment fairs! (specifically the Manchester Digital talent fest)

All you need to know:

  1. Get a ticket
  2. Turn up.
  3. Talk to as many tech companies as possible to try understand what they do and how they operate

All you need to know to rock it:

Do:

  • Ask people lots of questions – especially about the area you’re most interested in. People LOVE anyone who’s interested in learning about how they do things – and this is what is likely most interesting to you. You can ask things like:
    • What technology does you use? What sort of tooling do you use on your frontend projects? What’s your backend architecture?
    • What sort of software development methodology do you use? What’s your process for turning requirements into code?
    • Is there anyone here who I can talk to about networking / programming / how you do project management / marketing etc?
    • What are the skills or technologies you feel most new graduates are missing that I can start familiarising myself with?
    • There is a question people love answering but students never ask: “What’s your background? How did you get your first tech job?” Ask it!
    • What’s it like to be a junior employee in your organisation?
    • How many women do you have in your tech team? 
    • What does your company do to help support minorities entering the world of tech?
  • When you hear something mentioned you’ve not heard of, consider asking “sorry, what’s X?” (Eg. “Sorry, I don’t think I’ve heard of Cucumber?“). It’s ok and very normal not to have heard of things, and asking about them will impress who you’re talking to.
    • When they start explaining, make a note of the name of the thing, and say something like “Thanks for explaining, I’ll look this up more when I get home“.
    • “Do you know where I can learn more about X?”
  • Personally take a note of everyone’s email address whom you meet.
    • You can easily get this “Do you have an email address? Mind if I drop you an email later if I have anymore questions about FooCorp or X technology?”
    • “Sorry what’s your name? Do you mind if I grab your email address?”
    • If they want your email, give it them – but insist on taking their name & email too.
  • Follow up afterwards with everyone!
    • After the fair, on the same day, go home and email, tweet every single company or person you spoke to. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.
    • You can say “Thanks for explaining about XYZ at the event today.
    • You can say “@steve Great to meet you today Steve, reading up about cucumber and test driven development now – thanks for the pointers!“.
    • You can say if you don’t have a name of a person: “Just wanted to write and thank the Foocorp team for taking the time to explain about your project management process to me today – I’m reading up more about Scrum – do you know any good resources I could go look at?
    • You can ask “Great to learn a bit about Foocorp today, do you have any more info or links about that thing you mentioned?”
    • If you can find them on LinkedIn and you had a good chat, add them! (This is not an alternative to following up properly)
    • This is a general life pro tip. If you get good at sending a message after you meet people, you will be lucky much more often than you feel is statistically likely.

Don’t:

  • Whilst you’re there, you may see people “drive-by-CVing” where they’ll waltz past a stand, give their CV and run away. This is a time consuming method advanced method called “not getting a job”. Sure, perhaps someone has a story of it working, but a stopped clock is right twice a day.
  • bother asking about pay. Lots of people will tell you highs, lows, and averages – but they’re all pretty pointless. You’re most interested in learning what YOU will earn. No-one will tell you until they interview you and offer you a job.  And there’s so much more to your first job than pay – for example – whether you hate everyone you work with, or like everyone you work with. Tech salaries are good – there is a time to ask and think about whether what you’re being offered is fair – but don’t bother trying this part at the employment fair stage. :)
  • The employment fair isn’t about your porfolio, level of experience, CV, etc so I’d suggest not focusing on these things too much beforehand. It’s just not time well spent. If you want to help yourself, read the next section and/or consider making index cards of questions you could ask people.

All you need to know to rock it and be one of the wisest people at the event:

Do:

  • Before the day, Google each of the companies who are listed as coming. Make a note of those who you’re most interested in talking to, and least interested. Prioritise your time and chat to those you’re most interested in learning more about. The companies will be very happy if you know vaguely what they do already too.
  • Turn up early. I don’t mean on-time, I mean, be there 10-15mins early. There’s a lot of companies to talk to. Even if you’re not allowed in early, it’ll be worth it. If you are let in early, go talk to people who look mostly setup and ready.
  • Talk to the downtrodden, small, less grand, stands. They may be smaller, they may look the least organised – this may be indicative that they’ll more focused on doing the thing you’re interested in, rather than “professionally hiring people”. Be wary of flashy, well organised stands with lots of branded outgoing people. They may not be as representative of organisations that value all the things you value most. Give the small and large stands equal attention.
  • As well as real life, talk to everyone on twitter.
    • I get it – chatting to people is your worst nightmare – that was why I first started playing with computers too. Talking to people gives you a massive edge – even when you feel you’re pushing yourself to be the most social you can be. It’s not easy, and face-to-face is hard and scary. Fortunately there are tools that can can make it slightly less intimidating.
    • Ask other people on twitter who you can see who went to the event “@jane12345 I loved #eventhashtag too! Who were your favourite people to chat to?
    • [Before the event]: Companies who you want to chat to  “@foocorp Looking forward to chatting to you on Fooday! Will there be anyone at #eventhashtag who I can chat to about <specific area you’re interested in – eg front end, back end, java, project management, marketing, whatever>?
    • [After the event]: Companies who you
    • To the organisers: “@eventorganisers Thanks for organising #eventhashtag today – so great to chat to everyone – thanks for all the effort you put into making it happen”
    • Use the hashtag in all your tweets.
    • Keep a twitter search going for that hashtag.
    • Follow every who looks mostly relevant.
    • psst. I think the hashtag is #MDTalentDay ;)

Don’t

  • bother chatting to recruitment agents or recruitment agencies. They’ll be very good at talking. That’s their job. They’ll be very organised. This is their job. They’re also 100% less worth chatting to at this event than the companies who hire people directly. And if you get hired directly, you’ll probably work for a company where you’ll be happier, who’ll pay you more. And everyone will be happy about this. All recruitment agents will dispute this assertion, and suggest that they’re different from the majority in this regard.  My suggestion is only to talk to recruitment agents when you’ve spoken to every single other company at the event. If you find yourself in a conversation with one by accident, here’s some ways to escape:
    • Great to chat to you. I’m going to go mingle and make the most of the event.
    • I’m supposed to be meeting my friend now – catch you a bit later.
    • Sorry I’m not interested.
    • Thanks, I already gave you my info though!
    • “I’m not a student sorry!”
    • <speak in foreign language>
  • care about freebies. Freebies are dull. Competitions are rubbish. Get a job. Then buy yourself “freebies”. 10 minutes of your time at this fair is worth more than a mars bar.
  • go round in a group. Let your friends go round separate from you. You’ll be at an advantage on your own or in a pair.
  • Stop chatting to employers after you have one good conversation. Chat to as many people as you feel able to.
  • Pick up leaflets without talking to people. Find some kind of question to ask them. I’ve given you plenty – asking what technology they use is a good one. :)

What do you know about this? I got my first job through the precursor to this event and since then I’ve helped other friends meet their future employers at the event.

What other questions could be asked? What would you say?

Share your thoughts in the comments!


Used this article to get yourself something good? Consider dropping me an email or leaving a comment to say thanks!

DigiClimbMCR

Like climbing? In digital? Join us for #DigiClimbMCR

Are you a climber? Set a new years resolutions to be more active? Spend most of your day behind a computer because you work in technology or creative industries?

#DigiClimbMCR is an informal, weekly Wednesday evening climbing meetup in central Manchester for any friendly person linked to or interested in technology or digital & creative industries.

—– Q&A —–

When? About 6:30pm til people get tired or 10pm, on Wednesday evenings.

Where? How can I get there? Manchester Climbing Centre in Ardwick. The postcode is M12 5ND Map and there is lots of parking for cars and bikes (inside).

If you’re travelling by bus from Manchester city centre, get on the 205 or 206 buses from Piccadilly gardens to Bennett Street (you can check their Timetables here)

How much will it cost? No more than £15.25 (assuming you’ve never climbed there before, you’re not a student and you need to hire equipment). It could well be cheaper for you – their pricing page is fairly clear.

I’m not very good at climbing, is that ok? Yes! You should be able to belay and tie in, and pass MCC’s minimum skills thing – but in terms of grading or confidence – the wider variety the merrier! Climbing is about personal challenges and encouraging each other to push themselves.

I’ve never climbed before, is this for me? Probably not yet. :(

In the near future, it’d be awesome if there we knew we had enough competent climbers to invite beginners along. For this first one, it probably isn’t the right time to figure this part out. Stay tuned, perhaps give me a shout so I know you’re interested – and we’ll figure something out soon!

I’m not very good at digital, is that ok? Yes. It doesn’t matter what your background, level of technical expertise, job title – you’re reading this – so therefore you’re welcome. :)

How will I recognise people when I’m there? Look for the guy with the big white Mercedes cap sitting in the cafe area opposite reception. Or if you’re a bit late, come down and look for this guy

What, y’know, happens? We meet up. We climb together in pairs or small groups. We chat. We go home.

Is this bouldering or climbing? Mostly roped climbing, but some people do bits of bouldering to warm up and warm dow. I’d be up to for a bouldering-only #digiclimbmcr sometime! Let’s figure it out!

Is it definitely always, forever on Wednesday? No. Though this is what we’re going to try for the moment.

Is diversity important? Very. #DigiClimbMCR is a welcoming and inclusive space – we want you to be comfortable and feel welcome with us!

Isn’t this a tiny niche? I think it’s larger than some might imagine. At least two Manchester tech companies already have their own informal climbing meetups.

Why? Why do this? I like climbing, and I like chatting about technology with people from the same industries. How Might We combine the two?

Is there anything similar like this? Not for climbing. I would encourage you to check out Freshwalks, DigiHike, DigiCurry, Creative Cup, and the entire northwest tech calendar for similar sorts of events.

Who is behind all this? @tdobson

Is this on facebook? We have a group, with regular events.

Can I receive upcoming event announcements by email? Yes. Sign up here:


I have another question? Send me a tweet!

Plans on the horizon

Nearterm 2017 plans!

My plans for the next month or so, are fairly focused:

  • Setup the #DigiClimbMCR meetup
  • Research how people climb, and use fitness apps, by spending almost as much time at MCC as possible.
  • Launch #TimOnLoan and loan myself for ~2+ weeks to small/exciting companies in Manchester

I’m looking forward to sharing how I get on with you all as I go along.

Thanks for all your support this year you all!

Pen Y Fan

This one time I screwed up leadership and communication

When I was 18, I lead a team of young people into a 12 hour sailing race.
I was relying on the support of a bunch of their parents, but because we’d all done it before the previous year without a hitch, I assumed I didn’t need to communicate directly with these key team members. Primarily as a result of lack of communication, they pulled their support at last minute, leaving 50% of the team at the venue, with no boat or support team.
There’s a happy ending in a sense – that the remaining 50% of the team and I, were able to join with another struggling team, and gain the best race position in the club’s history [which was intensely pleasing].
However, it’s soured with the realisation that I failed to take any responsibility for the communication and organisational failures that lead to the key team members withdrawal.
I should have made sure to have conversations with them, to make sure it was still on their agenda and then, when it went pear-shaped, accepted more readily that [whilst I felt frustrated with the people] there was more I could and should have done.
Has there ever been times you’ve messed up and learnt from it? Let me know in the comments below.
Bytemark at LRL 09

How I came to work at Bytemark

At the end of September, I left my job at Bytemark where I’d worked for the previous 6 years.

I’ll be sharing more, about the future in due course, but I was reflecting on my path to Bytemark.


I first was introduced to technology by the #manlug IRC channel, where I quickly became affiliated with the local fundamentalist free software group (and not ‘open source’), launched by Matt Lee. Matthew gave the first talk of that group about – as I seem to remember – how lack of open source cpanel was a big issue.

Lots of members of that IRC channel were Bytemark customers, and one (later, briefly) even went on to become an employee.

I remember going to LugRadioLive 2008 – where Bytemark had installed LTSP on some servers and figured out some way to run Team Fortress on them via WINE or something. For their efforts mbloch and employees [at the time] ahowells & lupine were given some kind of miniprize of tshirts by the LugRadio crew.

Bytemark at LRL 09
Bytemark at LRL 08

Around that time I was helping one of the largest Manchester tech community events to date, and managed to persuade Matthew to sponsor it (eg I asked, and Matthew said “yes”).

One of my two first jobs was as a contract Xen sysadmin for BBC R&D, (relying heavily on Skemp‘s work on xen-tools !), and also for a VoIP provider. When we needed a virtual server, and the VoIP company’s existing hosting supplier couldn’t provide Ubuntu because their bought-in virtualisation platform didn’t support it, I emailed Matthew to go to York and have a chat. We were very nervous about hosting VoIP servers in a datacentre in those days.

We went on to buy several servers, and I spent several months annoying the support team with correct and incorrect diagnosises of networking issues that may or may not have related to Bytemark. (I was a bit like a monkey with a sword using mtr at that point – I knew it was powerful, but I couldn’t always point it with the right end).

Around the middle of 2010, I was subscribed to the dolphin emporium mailing list, and looking for something technical, with clearer troubleshooting possibilities available. VoIP call quality issues are surprising tough to do automated monitoring on, and it seemed like there must be more clear-cut types of technical problem to diagnose. My thought was that web hosting had to be easier – either the web server was there, or it was not – nobody could complain that only half the page was there, or that it sounded like it was underwater.

I tried to get into M247, Melbourne, (M247 said no, Melbourne said they wanted more Windows experience), considered approaching some others, and then I saw this Bytemark job posting on the debian-uk mailing list.

I remember feeling terribly underprepared for the job interview. I knew about ~1/3 of the technologies mentioned, and had used very few of them. This was my dream job, but I felt the chances of me getting it were.. “slim”. But y’know, you gotta try! The first time I read about Varnish and caching proxies was on the train to York for the interview!

My sense is that the interview didn’t go ‘well’. I didn’t complete the technical task within the timeframe given, and I was conscious of that and pitched myself right at the low end of the spectrum.

A few days later, my heart leapt when I got an email offering me a job. I accepted and celebrated with a curry.

And so with the start of November 2010, so began my time at Bytemark in the office in Turing house.

If you’d told me then, where I’d be in 6 years time, I never would have believed you. But that’s for the next blog post!


Feel free to check out my LinkedIn profile.

SleepyClean

What I learned from a landing page

Recently I’ve been working on canvas and landing page for a Muse business.

SleepyClean Lean Canvas
SleepyClean Lean Canvas

Let me explain where I started:

What I was aiming for

Dave suggested to me that I might want to look at Tim Ferris-style Muse-businesses – lifestyle businesses that might at some point generate passive income. Not startups. By listening through some of the examples, I figured that finding a niche that you could get someone else to do all the fulfilment for was the aim.

The problem

I saw some people chatting on twitter about how to get their down sleeping bags cleaned. They linked to a poorly written page on a cleaning company website that explained you could post them your sleeping bag, with a cheque and your contact details, and they’d send it back. It seemed that unless you knew about this page, there’d be no way you’d find it.

Down (feather) sleeping bags are quite delicate, and so cleaning them seems a faff, you have ~5 options:

  • Don’t clean
  • Hand wash in the bath
  • Machine wash (perhaps using a special product
  • Dry clean
  • Get professionally cleaned by specialists

Some people recommend different things. Most of the labels on the sleeping bags tell you not to do anything. I’ve washed mine in the washing machine before, but drying it was a pain. It’s not easy.

Synthetic sleeping bags are somewhat easier, more robust, often cheaper, and people seem more comfortable washing them as normal.

Minimum viable research

I posed this question to my twitter followers:

How much did you pay for your sleeping bag?

The results:

  • 30% paid over £100
  • whilst 21% paid over £150.

My guess was that the owners of the more costly sleeping bags (often down ones) would want to look after them better.

Minimum viable landing page

SleepyClean
SleepyClean

I used a template to put together a quick landing page, did some bootstrap+mailchimp hack to get a popup saying “we’re not quite ready” if anyone tried to order, hooked in the analytics, and at last minute, removed most of the references to me from the page.

You can take a look at either a full page screenshot, or the site itself if it’s still online.

Stealth testing

I posted the landing page to my facebook, probably breaking Tomer Sharon & Steve Blank’s rules, and without hinting that I had anything to do with the site, posted a link and:

How do you wash your sleeping bag? Anyone got experience using anything like this?

Sleepyclean - full page screenshot
Sleepyclean – full page screenshot

I was lucky to get an interesting stream of advice explaining how people currently did it:

  • suggesting I bought a down wash thing, and took it to a laundry
  • they always dry cleaned
  • they washing machine/laundry
  • “If the label says not to machine wash, you can probably ignore it”
  • many synthetic sleeping bag owners put their in the washing machine
  • “I wash my down bag on a cool, gentle wash with a down wash that I got from Cotswold. Then tumble dry it on a low heat for multiple hours with a couple of tennis balls to keep it fluffed up”
  • “How much do you lot piss and vom in your bags!? I’ve never washed mine. Just air it out in the sunshine.”
  • “I washed my down bag once. Never again – it took forever to wash, even longer to dry, then sat for hours teasing the down clumps apart. After the bottle of special down soap, long cycle on the machine, and hours of tumble drying down the laundry, fifty quid isn’t far off the cost of diy. Avoid having to do this too often by always using a bag liner.”
  • “I recommend I send our down bags to them every year to get professionally cleaned. It costs £35 I think per bag plus £10 postage. They are in and when I searched a few years ago for professional cleaners of outdoor stuff they were the only ones mentioned in the UK. They can also make repairs and add feathers. Wouldn’t dream of putting my £300 down bag through a normal washing machine!”

I did similar on twitter, and got a similar range of replies.


The last two replies give a kind of hope – there’s one person saying that they’d pay for it, and another person saying that they have in the past. These are reassuring responses.

In a sense, replies like this:

aren’t a problem at all – they demonstrate people who aren’t in the target segment, who struggle to imagine what it’d be like to be in the target segment. If you don’t have a £300 sleeping bag, it’s fairly difficult to imagine there are people who do.


The future

Having said all that, I think this may be the end of the road for this idea. I’m going to keep the site live, and I’ll keep an eye on the stats, but I have some worries about it that put me off investing further in it at this point:

  • The revenue/markup is too low
  • and the market is too small.

The revenue stream that I can imagine is very weak. The operating profit I can visualise, is quite meagre, and I can’t think of a way to streamline that without being a laundry.

The market seems smaller than I’d hoped for, and to need the product even less than I predicted. As in, even people who would use it, would seek to avoid using it as much as possible. It makes loads of sense, I just failed to predict that clearly.

Data

Not one person who has visited the site has clicked the buy buttons, or signed up to the mailing list.

  • 0% conversion.

Reflections

  • This is a good thing. I have learnt all this before investing greater time & energy
  • I perhaps could have got similar learning by posting a competitor website to facebook and asking the same question
  • testing in my facebook friends is probably not good enough
  • I’ve learnt a lot about building landing pages, and this is perhaps one of the best things. I’m going to use those skills for my next thing.

Stay tuned, I’ll share more thoughts and learnings soon!

Can motorists and cyclists ever be friends?

My friend Josh recently posted on twitter:

“The weird thing is there is literally nothing bad about more people cycling yet there is a cultural war against it.”

Cyclists often feel marginalised— like everything has been setup to favour those with four wheels and an engine.

And if you get into the vehicles, and talk to the people behind the wheel —  the drivers often feel marginalised — like everything is changing, and none of it is changing in their favour.

Whoever you feel has the strongest claim to being correct, understanding that both groups include some people who feel marginalised, is probably a good step to figuring out solutions.

I agree with Josh. I do think more people cycling would be a good thing. But without support from those who are driving, it will probably be difficult to make significant leaps of progress to better infrastructure. It is a chicken and egg problem.

So how can cyclists gain support from other road users? How can cyclists get motorists to say “well, y’know, I’m probably going to keep driving, but still, cycling is something we should see more of”?


In 2014, Harry Potter actress Emma Watson gave a 10 minute speech at to the UN. Perhaps take a moment to (re)watch it. I like the content, but instead of listening to the content, perhaps think about how she is presenting her issue.
In her speech, she’s representing a marginalised group who sometimes have had difficulty communicating their perspective to another group. One reason the second group sometimes struggle to be receptive, is that they feel marginalised and targeted. And usually vicious cycle ensues where no-one listens to each other.

This is how Emma gets around the vicious cycle:

“How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited to participate in the conversation? Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too.”

“I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society. I’ve seen young men suffering from illness, unable to ask for help for fear it will make them less of a man …. I’ve seen men fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either. We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are.”

Emma diffuses the situation by acknowledging the difficulties of those in the “other” group who feel marginalised, and brings the challenges they face together with the challenges the original group bring. She goes on to suggest by combining forces, they can work on all the challenges together.

She’s not appealing to lawbreakers or people who hold strongly held opposing views, she’s appealing to a silent majority apathetic and disempowered bystanders and is saying “together we can make this better”.

If you like feel-good movies, you may have seen Pride (2014) — a true story of how, in the midst of the mining strikes of the 1984/1985, a group of Lesbian & Gays formed a group to support the miners.

You see a similar thing that Emma does, repeated by the Lesbians & Gays in Pride:

  • When they go out of their way to support the mining communities, including those who ‘beat them up when they were young’.
  • When they realise they can win over the least tolerant people in the village by helping them with something that they want.

By supporting those communities who felt most marginalised, the marginalised Lesbian & Gays were able to build stronger allies — from Wikipedia:

Miners’ labour groups began to support, endorse and participate in various gay pride events throughout the UK, including leading London’s Lesbian and Gay Pride parade in 1985. Additionally, at the 1985 Labour Party conference in Bournemouth, a resolution committing the party to the support of LGBT rights passed, due to block voting support from the National Union of Mineworkers. The miners’ groups were also among the most outspoken allies of the LGBT community in the 1988 campaign against Section 28.


And when we think back to Josh’s tweet — the marginalised-feeling cyclists, and marginalised-feeling motorists makes me think…

Perhaps there’s more in common between these groups than either of them realise?

I wonder who will be the first to find a way to include both groups, and all their concerns, into a campaign that is for everyone?

What do you think? I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts in the comments or on twitter


 I cycle and drive a white van, which has let me gain some perspective from both sides of the wheels.