I’m writing this on the Victoria line, on the way home from Decoded HQ after an evening like no other, courtesy of House of Genius. I should add an important disclaimer: I was not a participant in the evening’s activities per se. Rather, I was charged with the task of scribe, noting down all the comments, ideas and questions as they were spoken aloud for future reference. As an aside, I was introduced to mural.ly as an interesting way to do this. I’ll talk more about how I got on with that later on.
House of Genius
So what was so special about this evening? House of Genius were responsible for bringing together the people from across many sectors of business. They’re website describes far better than I can who they are and what the do:
House of Genius brings together entrepreneurs and a diverse mix of business leaders from the community for an evening each month of disruptive thinking, supportive input, and creative new ideas. You’ll find Houses in many cities in the United States and Asia. House of Genius is continually growing based on grassroots demand. Together, we create Genius.
The ‘genius’ arises from the slight anonymity and collective brainstorming of the crowd present. As attendees arrive, they are encouraged to introduce themselves by first name only and to reveal absolutely no information regrading their professional experience. This affords great freedom and equal weight to all of the ideas aired. Nobody takes more notice of one idea over another because they know they it came from a CEO as opposed to a marketing guy, for instance. A proper meritocracy then.
With the context established (and with everybody suitably fed by the amazing Tomas it was onto our first problem.
— SwedishChef (@SwedishChef_Co) April 23, 2013
I’d heard a little about Table Crowd before today (here’s their site). Their goal is to become the first physical social network. They provide a service whereby a group of people who do not know eachother but share a common interest can come together around a dinner table; one example being “Swedes new to London” or “Cycling fans in town for the race”. You get the picture.
Kate (from Table Crowd) shared with the group that the business were beginning to gain some traction, and asked whether it would be wise to pivot to a business to business model.
I won’t retell the full discussion here; partly because I can’t remember it all and partly because it would be tedious. The main themes that came up were the lack of real vision or mission statement from the company. This was something that most people agreed needed cementing before it could really know how best to scale. Alongside this, there was a large number of people asking the question “if the current model is showing signs of viability, why consider pivoting away from it?’.
Overall, the split between yes & no on ‘prop B2B’ so to speak was fairly even. There were a lot of ideas banded about regarding how best to utilise the B2B space to grow a large (and potentially more loyal) client base, with the example of business Christmas parties and corporate dinners coming up often. It was widely agreed that a mechanism to make these easier to organise would be lapped up.
That said, there is a great deal of value in a global network of individuals. The Airbnb analogy was used; creating a world recognised brand which people trusted would be ideal for those who travel alone, often on business. This customer base would (it was hypothesised I hasten to add) love to tap into a trusted source of likeminded company if only they knew there was a service that had the expertise to bring them together.
You can view the Mural from this discussion here. Alas I couldn’t get it to embed properly.
Will presented on behalf of Platter (here’s their site). Platter has a bold vision. Founded upon the idea that the future of food media is in our hands (in a literal sense, eluding to our ability to instantly tweet, post and Instagram our food experiences) Platter aims to become a platform upon which to easily share the food you’ve just created. These ‘posts’ take the form of a picture, a tip (not a fully fledged recipe) and ingredients tags, suggesting how the dish could be recreated.
The problem Will put to the group was the challenge of maintaining credibility among food lovers who already used the app while expanding and partnering with more established players to scale the business and become attractive to the everyday user, not just an extremely food conscious audience.
The big theme that came up here was the difference in British and US investors. A lot of people advocated a move to NY to find investors who’d be happy to put up money without the immediate promise of a drive to monetise the service. This would allow Platter to focus on building an attractive platform and larger userbase (the obvious examples of Facebook and Twitter were raised here). While it was pretty unanimously agreed understanding angel investors are easier to find in the states, some were quick to point out that monetisation and scaling the business were not mutually exclusive.
Regarding the worries that surrounded ‘selling out’ to big corporations in partnering up to integrate with Tesco, Ocado etc. the point that stuck with me most was that provided those partnerships create value for the majority of users, foodies will either come round to the value they offer, or leave in numbers insignificant to those who are attracted to the service for the benefits those partnerships avoid.
I’m very excited to see where Platter is in a year’s time. It’s the start of something very cool. I can really see it taking off.
You can view the Mural from this discussion here.
Dattch is a dating app for lesbians (and here’s their site). The whole room was surprised to find that when it launched in private beta last November it was the only dating service for lesbians out there. The business comes with its own unique challenges, namely men ‘sneaking’ on to the platform in an attempt to hook up with lesbians (I know right!)
Robin was pretty much running the business solo. The small userbase was mostly down to the stringent vetting process which used Facebook and personal messages to ensure the user was female. As the service switched to Facebook connect, vetting will no longer become possible in the same way. Robin asked how to expand the business beyond London (into cities she didn’t know nearly as well) and whether worrying about user grown was a legitimate concern.
Everyone agreed it was a very exciting position to be in. To find a surprisingly ignored niche in the saturated market of online dating was impressive. The room agreed that viral growth was highly likely once the bottleneck of a slow and laborious vetting process was removed. The problems this introduces is the credibility of the process; the best way to overcome that particular problem was to ask users to link in more of their social network profiles to legitimise their identity on Dattch.
Regarding expansion, while many good ideas were floated about how to achieve this (celebrity/high profile ‘ambassadors’, PR stunts, nightlife events) something I hadn’t thought of myself, but seemed obvious, was that “if you aren’t achieving viral growth in London, you aren’t ready to expand yet”. The main takeaways were that the product is good (although there’s no solid evidence to suggest there exists a large enough userbase of interest people to make the business viable) and will likely spread, but how to control and dictate that expansion so that the user experience isn’t diluted is a key point to consider.
You can view the Mural from this discussion here.
A Genius Idea
Observing a House of Genius session, it was clear to see that the idea works. Stripping away preconceptions and letting ideas live and die by their value did lead to a collection of people who didn’t know each other yet collectively acted as a ‘genius’ to creatively solve some challenging problems for fledgling tech startups here in the UK.
A note on Mural.ly
I love Mural.ly. While it certainly has its limitations in a quick fire, note-taking environment, it’s important to understand that’s not the situation it was designed for. It worked for House of Genius because I knew the format of the discussion in advance and had prepared a blank mural ready to fill in before each session began.
That said, the next time I’m looking to collaboratively brainstorm an idea, it’s certainly something I’ll use. What I didn’t get an opportunity to fully test was Mural.ly’s ability to include images, links and frames (used for presentations rather akin to Prezi.com) as well as tweets (I think they’re somehow embeddable). This was only because I had very little time to familiarise myself with the product before I had to begin taking notes.
I’ll be sure to blog or tweet any cool creations that I build with mural.ly in the future.
So in a day that started with a fascinating Decoded Lunch ‘n’ Learn (like the Arduino one I gave a while back – see here) given by Pete ‘real time’ Goodman, I left the office with an incredible insight into how the tech scene creatively solves problems and networks as well as a neat new tool to brainstorm (and it’s totally web based – look ma, no flash!)
And all thanks to the wonderful people at House of Genius!