Thursday, March 29, 2012


It's said you should never go back to the scene of the crime. Last week I did just that.

I sold FriendsReunited in December 2005. ITV for some strange reason didn't want me around - no idea why - did they not trust my deep corporate ethic that I so clearly have. 

I've kept close contact with quite a few from those days, some very close friends fortunately. However, regarding the actual site itself, I am sad to admit I probably have only logged on a handful of times in 6 years. It felt like it lost its way - concentrating on earning revenue whilst Facebook concentrated on taking over the world before revenue.

I kept quiet too - mainly because although I had an opinion it didn't feel right to criticise the very hand that fed me. Plus I need a week off from swearing online - part of one of my blogs was lifted for the Independent last week, very much out of context (as always) and its embarressing for your daughter to count the number of f words and for your mum to feel equally proud and ashamed of her son at the same time. Don't worry I'll get back to swearing in a day or 2 when things have died down and I am back to writing boring tech crap.

ITV sold FR 2 years ago, and since then it has also been very quiet. I too had had no contact from the company who brought it - Bright Solid - although my friends moved over to them but I didn't really know what they were going to do with it.

Until last week.

By pure chance, they moved into a building in Shoreditch opposite where I do the odd bit of work. And on the day I found this out, I had lunch and a coffee with 2 old colleagues, and FR announced they were relaunching FR the following week. Plus I was contacted by the above mentioned Independent journalist wanting to do a feature.

It felt right to have a look and make a comment (although the Independent article in hindsight was probably a mistake) So I made contact and rudely invited myself over to have a nose.

I suppose I was expecting some dingy little setup (because thats how we ran it) trying to relaunch and take on Facebook - which lets face it would be suicide.

What I encountered was actually a breath of fresh air. 

Lets start with the company - the building they have refurbished was probably one of the best work environments Ive ever experienced. Beautiful building with lovely murals and even a Dennis The Menace drawn sneakily into the ceiling (they own The Beano too)

The people - ok I still have friends there but the welcome and general passion and enthusiasm of Chris and Matt at the helm was a fantastic change from some of the Shoreditch stereotypes I encounter (Don't worry I am not talking about you reader - honest)

And the site itself - to have a go and relaunch a failing brand in such a new niche product is risky but very brave. Whether it works for them or not I don't know, but I really feel FriendsReunited is in a good home and deserves a new lease of life that they are going for.  The amount of press it generated shows the brand itself is still valuable. I have nothing but praise so good luck and best wishes to them all.

So, this isn't a rant for once, and all you negative fuckers should just give it a chance for once. Damn, shit, bugger - I've sworn again.

Monday, March 26, 2012

NDA or Trust?

NDA's - I am sure everyone knows what they are but just in case, it stands for Non Disclosure Agreement - an agreement signed between 2 parties to protect information passed remaining confidential to third parties.

I will happily sign them with regards to deals being done or other such confidential legal matters regarding established businesses. However,  when people come to me with ideas sometimes I get asked to sign one before they will even tell me their idea or pitch. In this case I will never sign and if it is a problem I will walk away.

I have been badly caught out - early in the history of FriendsReunited I met with someone who wanted to pitch some ideas he thought would catapult FR's popularity and functionality. He was also interested in getting a job as commercial manager as we started to grow. So I met with him as part pitch/part interview. I was asked to sign an NDA and in my naivety I signed it. We had a good chat but unfortunately it became clear he wasn't either the sort of person we were looking for, and once hearing both his ideas, that his vision for FR was miles off ours and the ideas were of no interest to us.

We left on good terms. By the time I got home I had an email waiting that shocked me. He accused us of just meeting up to nick his ideas and that he would continue to monitor us to make sure we did not use them.  And over the next couple of years we continued to be reminded by this bitter person of our NDA with very unpleasant threatening emails. 

Well we never even considered his ideas and just for the record - its because they were fucking shit. There, Ive always wanted to get that out of my system (this blogging thing is good for empowerment)

No problem really. However, what if one of his ideas had been on our list of things for future development. Would that mean we could never do it.

Ideas are impossible to protect. The next big thing is currently being thought of by probably hundreds of people at the same time. Its who does it first quickest and best. I currently am involved in about 10 projects - all internet and nearly all in the social/app scene. It's highly likely there will be crossover some times. In fact one idea I am working on I have had for the past 5 years, and had it sort of pitched at me twice over the years. Both times I explained my spin on the idea and because the people were cool it never created a problem.

NDA's on idea pitches are crap. A meeting like that should be done on trust and if someone pitching an idea at me thinks there is a chance I will go off and nick his idea and do it myself then he obviously doesn't trust me and shouldn't be doing business with me.

One extreme case of this, was one of Julie's friends kept phoning her up ages ago wanting loads of advice on how to setup an internet site as she had an idea. When Julie asked what it was she said - "I can't tell you as you might go off and do it" - Nice. Needless to say she is no longer a friend.

I like to do things on trust and so far I don't think I've done too bad - the only occasions where things have got nasty and legal are where documentation was involved and things turned very ugly.

Therefore if you want to pitch an idea at me, don't expect me to sign anything.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I Am The Modern Day Dice Man -

One of my favourite books is The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart. He creates a new life by deciding everything he does on the throw of the dice. I've tried it on evenings out - one memorable mates 40th birthday drink up in London took us all over the place in different bars and clubs and deciding what we drank each time.

I got invited to his 50th birthday drink tomorrow night and it reminded me of what we did a decade ago. So I set out today on its anniversary with another mate - Terry - on a social experiment to use a modern version of the Dice Man - namely the opinion and voting social service which I've used it for some time and love it so here goes.

Vote 1 - Met at 10am in Laos Cafe in Highgate. Explained to Terry the idea and to be honest we had no real idea of what to do. First question then was easy 

Leaving cafe - shall we walk to highgate village (thumb up) or archway (thumb down)

Instantly getting votes we decided we would take the result after 30 votes (you usually get about 100 before it dries up)

We got the comment -

Highgate village yr less likely to get mugged there.

Amazingly on 29 votes it was exactly 50/50 (some people vote neutral) Wow - what a start, our whole day already depending on one random person somewhere in the world. Thankfully Highgate Village won it and off we trekked.

Vote 2 - Arrived in Highgate Village - yes a bit ponsy but the masses sent us there.

Should we go into betting shop (thumb up) or oxfam (thumb down)

Of course most users are American so don't know what Oxfam is but damn blast Oxfam won. So in we popped.

Vote 3 - Oxfam book shop - a lot of people around and we looked suspicious. We decided to choose one book each and do the vote.

In oxfam - which book to buy - abramovich (up) soft toys (down)

Surprise surprise a whopping 97% chose Soft Toys. Cost £2.50. Arrgghhh. 

Out into the street and realising we would have to carry the blasted book around all day Terry had a good idea and went and donated to the Cancer Research Charity Shop opposite.

Vote 4 - Needed to get away from Highgate - even the charity shops were posh.

Walk through park (up) or get a bus (down)

Nice and easy I thought although I wasn't impressed with one comment of the park said 

That place looks like rapists hang out there, you'll fit in fine ;)

Hmmmm. Do they not realise the seriousness of all this.

Anyway - we got lost. Thought we were in Tufnell Park and actually nearly at Kentish Town. Bit tired and saw a pub Id heard good things about - The Southampton Arms so in we popped. 

Vote 5  - Lots of real and cider so....

Which cider? Cider bus (up) burrow hill (down)

72% for Burrow Hill and very nice it was too.

Vote 6 - Quick walk to Kentish Town and hungry now.

Lunchtime pret (up) Indian curry (down)

Bloddy boring buggers - we really fancied a quick curry and 55% voted Pret.

One person I noticed commented "William Hill" which was next door and missed out on earlier so in we popped after lunch.

Vote 7 - Bookies - Sunderland dog race at 1:04

Betting shop. £10 on Ballymac the man (up) or two step blue (down)

94% of people voted for Two Step Blue. Useless dog came in 5th out of 6. This is getting expensive

Quick walk to Camden Market. 

Vote 8 - A lovely lady on a dutch mini pancake stall offered us some Dutch Dunkers. Which flavour though?

Dutch Dunkers - Ferrero rocher (up) rocky road (down)

Close thing but Rocky Road won with 53%.

However, time was running out and with our last vote being rejected by accusing us of spam we decided at 2pm to call it a day.

Our experiment was done - a very enjoyable success I felt - although with coffee, scrumpy, jalapeƱo wrap and very sweet pancakes I was starting to feel sick.

What it did also do was provided me and Terry with 4 very funny but potentially classic business ideas which you never know one day could provide the story of another blog.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Board Meetings or Bored Meetings

In the early 90's I worked for Bovis Contruction (don't ask how that happened) - they loved a meeting or five. Their workforce was made up of very loud aggressive builders turned construction managers who seemed to love their existence by having a meeting and saying a lot.

I used to play a game. Sometimes there would 5-10 people in the meeting and it would go on for ages. I didn't say a lot so would calculate the amount of industry man hours (or days) that these meetings would take. You are talking about 2 man days on average. And most meetings finished with a conclusion to have another meeting.

It was around that time I decided I didn't want to do this anymore - I went freelance and kept away from any sort of meaningless meetings as much as I could. Of course I had to go to some but I always try to make sure they have a point.

Fast forward to about 2006. I invested in a few startups and ended up going to a few "investor" meetings. Unfortunately I wasn't the only investor. They were full of people like me - however, where I sort of stay quiet in groups until I have something relevant to add, these "professional investors" seemed to take this as an opportunity to show their importance by saying as much as they could. It seems I had found myself back to my old Bovis days.

I had a real problem with these meetings - not only because 80% of the content was boring and I could have got the bit I wanted out in 15 minutes tops. But because they must have been a huge distraction to the founders - some of which had to put together massive Board like packs for us all. I would have much rather they were working making the business succeed.

I am not saying nuggets of help didn't appear in these meetings from time to time - although I can't say I heard any whilst I day dreamed. However, how does a founder take away so many opinions from a meeting and make sense of it all. I would rather they judged their own judgement that got them to create a startup in the first place and ask specific questions to relevant people as and when they need help. 

Unsurprisingly I opted out of all these meetings after a few months because I realised the founders were not getting anything from me and I was wasting my time. How many of these Investor/Board/Advisory/Mentor meetings must be going on.

I have been on both sides of this. Luckily as a founder our minority investors were not tech experienced so couldn't and didn't have to offer much to our at most bi annual catch ups. And really they were just happy to receive dividend cheques. But being on the investor side I feel sympathy with the founders and had a lot of chats with many of them who politely tell me stories of the above where everyone is giving advice, sometimes contradictory to each other.

On a personal front after realising what I want out of investments I have sort of got it down to a fine art. I avoid all meetings with groups of investors (apart from friends) if I can help it. Meetings with founders are either in Cafe/Adam Street/Pub/Bar, usually on a one to one basis, very informal and with minimal written updates on progress if required (one page). A few beers usually help the process along.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I Remember The iPhone....

I have been a lot of clearing out lately moving into a new office at home. I'm a hoarder so I have boxes and boxes of stuff.

I came across a box with my old Sinclair ZX Spectrum and all its games. OK so its showing my age - I think it came out about 1982, it was a fantastic gadget at the time and a marked improvement of the ZX81 (which I don't have anymore) 

The games were loaded from cassettes  - if they worked - and were genius and ground breaking at the time. I used to buy magazines and program in the code to make a few blocks drop pixels in letter U buckets. Is this where I picked up my coding skills - I doubt it as it should have put me off. The code had to be stored back onto cassette tapes and I remember with horror spending 2 hours typing in some code only for the builders in the house to switch off the electrics and it was lost. Happy times....

Next I came across across all my old laptops probably since mid 90's - all shapes and sizes.

Why I kept these I have no idea - probably full of lots of old data and emails that would make interesting reading now if I could be bothered to get them working - which I'm not.

Also another box of a mishmash of gameboy consoles, ipods, nano's and other game consoles that are antiques now.

Finally a box of old phones - again of all shapes and sizes 

Each laptop, phone, game console, gadget was brought lovingly with excitement (yes I am probably sad) and seen at its time as state of the art technology. OK, so the Spectrum was 30 years ago, but most of the others were within the last decade.

So, lets all take a few minutes to look longingly at out iPhone or Macbook Air or whatever yours is and imagine a decade in the future......for without a doubt they will soon be obsolete.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Own Public Resignation

Today, after reading 2 very public resignations, one from a google employee ( and one from a Goldman Sachs employee ( I have decided to publicly write about my own resignation.

After much soul searching I have decided it is finally time to leave Doing Fuck All. I won't name names or slag anyone off, but lets just say the culture of Doing Fuck All has changed dramatically over the past 6 years to the point where I have been forced to leave.

Initially it was such a cool place. The freedom of Doing Fuck All was the best environment to work in. The people around me, the wife, the kids and the cats were great - leaving me to dip into my creative side and fullfill my ambition of doing not a lot at all. 

There was no inner circle, no hierarchy, in fact absolutely Fuck All at all. Which meant the pressure to deliver was non existent. The projects were innovative and exciting though - such as School Run, Endless Lunches, Coastal Walks and Nights Out. The opportunity for trips abroad with projects that stretched the boundaries and night times were also legendary.

But that was then, and this is now.

I don't know exactly what changed but the culture and the weight of expectation on my Non Existent Workload and my stomach began to take its toll. Did Doing Fuck All become a bit corporate and lazy? I tried to exercise the body but maybe the brain just couldn't take it any more. Did it (or me) just get too big?

So therefore in the last couple of months I have decided to stop Doing Fuck All and leave the comfort of the sofa and start to get out and about seeking a new challenge. Doing Fuck All is still cool and I might return to it at any point but I am now seeking to join Something or the more progressive and exciting startup Something Else if the offer is right. All the projects I listed above including Endless Lunches are just as good and sometimes better (depending on the menu)

Doing Fuck All was great while it lasted and I look back with fondness but my new career as Something Fucking Else may be just as good.

Follow my adventures at @spankyhurst

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What a Kerfuffle

OK - this is isn't actually a real rant post - I just wanted to see how many people would click on a link that said the word Kerfuffle. Sorry. Sometimes I just get bored.

Anyway - heres a picture of McNulty as an apology.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Has Social Networking Taken Over My Life

After 2005 I sort of was burnt out and bored of anything social networking. Everytime I met anyone they wanted to tell me their reunion story, and with this and our own media exposure, it meant it was time to disappear.

I joined Facebook, got it and quite enjoyed it. I signed up on Twitter reasonably early (the iPad says I am member 6 million and something) but didn't get it. All other forms of social media passed me by - I just wasn't interested.

Something happened around November last year. I started tweeting again and suddenly I started to gorge on news, both general and tech. I suddenly got Twitter, enjoying it as both a news feed and to keep in touch with new and old friends (1,700 odd tweets in 3 months is a bit sad). As a result recently I have gone on a mad frenzy on all things social and app.

This brings me to tell the story of a lunch I had last week with a friend I hadn't seen for ages.

My iPhone beeped and SmartSynch informs me its Mark's birthday. A quick Facebook message later and we are meeting for lunch.

Lunch in Soho means a bus and tube ride. No waiting required at the bus stop with Bus Guru app that keeps me informed of when the bus will arrive at my stop - I leave the house with 2 minutes to spare.

I take a book but rarely open it as I use dead tube standing time to catch up with my unread stories and articles on Instapaper - skim reading and retweeting as I go.

I arrive at 'Le Reseau Social' in Soho first - Mark texts me to say he's lost so I use the Lost app that texts him my GPS location and he uses it on Google Maps to find the restaurant. Whilst waiting I use this time to check him out on LinkedIn to see where he has been working recently. I also check up banjo to see who is tweeting near me.

Fantastic to see him, drinks arrives and we get down to choosing food. I check out foodspotting to see which meals people rate in this place - its a choice between the chicken and the steak. I just can't decide so I ask Within 3 minutes 72 people have answered and its Steak with 65% vote.

I tweet about it.

The food arrives and before eating I immediately take a picture for foodspotting ready to write my review, and with Instagram, post a comment which instantly posts to Twitter and Facebook. I have already updated Twitter 5 times. Blimey - forgot to check in with Foursquare - I've been here before, maybe I can become Major - sadly not today.

That deserves a tweet.

So I show Mark my kids pictures on Flickr, my kids doing silly things on YouTube. I play him some music I uploaded that I recorded as a kid on SoundCloud, play him fav track at the moment on This Is My Jam. This reminds me to show him my recent pins of punk bands I put up on Pinterest. Oh, at the same time I show him my own bespoke online paper created using

I tweet again.

We say our goodbyes. Strangely for some reason Mark looks bored and reluctant to arrange another meet.

I tweet about it. (he doesn't use Twitter)

On my way back to the station my phone pings an alert. Highlight tells me another friend is just around the corner. No time now.

Hop on the tube to go home and its perfect time to update my Facebook status, add an entry to Google+, update Path, and write a blog about the meet in Blogger, which automatically updates Tumblr, which in turn updates Twitter, Facebook and Google+. 

I tweet about it. Nearly home, and quickly check my Klout score - great its gone up 0.17% since yesterday.

And home to read everyones tweets and start the process of again.

Of course this lunch didn't actually really happen - but I don't think its far off so if I contact you to meet up for lunch, think twice and I would try and make a polite excuse if I were you.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Google - Too Big For Their Boots

I used to think Google were so cool. They were the epitome of everything good on the internet. Clean, fast, innovative, simple.

However, over the years my love affair has been eroded. Like IBM in the 80's, Microsoft in the 90's (and probably Facebook in the next decade) they have become too large to the extent they are arrogant and faceless.

Two recent stories have pushed me over the edge.

The first regarded an alleged practise on OpenStreetMap - see

"...someone with a Google IP address was found to be vandalising the project, inputting false information in several cities, such as directing one-way street signs in the wrong direction."

The second was much worse.

Please take a few minutes to read

Its shocking and although over a month old I felt needs to be reported again. I know Google have apologised and sacked people because of it but that doesn't forgive what they have become.

Shame on you Google - what else are you up to.