I'm meeting a ton of interesting startups in the course of outreach for this new Internet of Things accelerator in London. What's working best is turning up at events and talking about it -- because what we're doing isn't typical, I guess, and it needs a bit of an intro. More about that further down this post...
I'm off to Berlin this week. Spending a few days because the Internet of Things scene is well developed, and there are a ton of connected hardware startups.
So, here's where I'll be. Please sign up to any and all!
I travelled to the states a couple of weeks back to meet alumni from R/GA's previous programs. I wanted to get how it works from the horse's mouth, if you know what I mean.
My conclusion is this... it's an investment package (£75k in the case of the new London program) plus 12 weeks to take the 10 startups in the cohort through a traction step-change.
How that works is via carefully selected mentors, and a lightweight curriculum of workshops (say, on performance marketing, depending on what folks need), but MAINLY
At the end of 12 weeks, there's the usual demo event, and that's usually also firing a starting pistol for an investment round. There's a ton of help with creating the pitch and pitch deck too.
Imagine coming out of the program and having one or two new big names on the traction slide.
Because R/GA has a stake, interests are aligned on long-term success -- I met a startup in NYC who went through the connected devices program there 2 years ago. They're now 30 people, still in the R/GA NYC office, and keen to stay there because of the access to people and new connections.
So I think of this more like a growth-focused program. I'm moving away from using the word "accelerator." The investment terms are friendly to slightly later stage startups (i.e. the hardware is at least at prototype stage) and perhaps that's where the R/GA approach works best.
I say "stage," that's not what I mean. Some startups are great at hardware but - because attention and people budgets are limited - a bit too lean on the sales, marketing, and partnerships side. Some are brilliant at the business side but need help developing the hardware.
There's a lot of support in the London ecosystem for early hardware development (let me know if you need pointers), but in our ground floor space, we don't have a machine shop. We'll be making room for physical work, but that's not the focus.
The gap I'm wanting to fill is, ok, you've got the hardware, but the service around it: How to sell that. Or you're between Kickstarter and shipping, ok how to get all the ducks in a row so this becomes a serious business.
I talk a lot about connected hardware, even when I'm talking about the Internet of Things. And with IoT, surely I could be talking about platforms that are software-only? Big data analytics, device provisioning, security, etc. There's a lot. And yes, I love that.
But I'm especially interested in hardware. For me, hardware is a signal that all the power of software and the web is being applied to the real world. The hardware doesn't need to be complex or involve a massive breakthrough -- in fact maybe the simpler the better.
Once you apply hardware, you start being able to tackle problems like food waste, retail, soil, gestural interfaces, and power. In short, where we live.
There's more info about the program on the website.
We're having an open house event in London the evening of 27 October. Sign up here.
Applications close 14 November. The program runs February to May 2017.
Happy to chat on Skype about whether there's a good fit. Book some time in my calendar here.
So I'm heading up this startup accelerator for IoT and connected hardware. Applications close 14 November. I've just been in the states seeing how previous programs have run. It's all pretty excellent. More on that later.
Right now I'm in outreach mode. I'm meeting as many startups as possible in order to spread the word, and to get a better sense of what the current challenges and opportunities are.
In return, I'm happy to share my take on the business and product, make connections to potential partners and investors where I can, and answer questions about how this particular accelerator works.
All of this is usually quite ad hoc, but there are a few convenient times coming up:
Of course I'm always up for meeting over coffee. Drop me a line if you want to set something up: matt at interconnected dot org
I am BACK FROM MY SUMMER HOLS, it's raining outside, and I am in the mood to hang out with hardware folks. Let's have a hardware-ish coffee morning?
Thursday 15 September, 9.30am for a couple of hours, at the Book Club, 100 Leonard St.
(Timed to follow the Internet of Things conference ThingMonk, so if you're in town for that, do come and hang out for coffee too.)
Usual drill... there's no standing up and doing intros, or anything super formal. We just meet in a convenient cafe and hang out. Folks are often involved in the hardware scene somehow, whether it's making stuff for a hobby, figuring out how to do manufacturing, or in the middle of their Kickstarter campaign. All pretty chilled. Bring prototypes if you got em.
tbh it might just be me and thee. But that's fine, we'll have a cuppa and have a chat.
I have a secret agenda -- I'm heading up R/GA's newest startup accelerator and we're focusing on hardware and Internet of Things startups. Announcement was just the other day. So I'm thinking about what kind of support startups really need, and I'm talking to as many people as possible about that.
See you on the 15th!
ps. for email updates about hardware-ish coffee mornings, subscribe to the mailing list.
I think the LinkedIn euphemism for it is a "portfolio career," but really what that means is I have a bunch of stuff on the go simultaneously.
So for the past three months I've been working with Google, directing a small team on an invention project. I have my vending machine bookshop; I advise a couple of hardware startups; I've been doing a bit of teaching, etc, etc. I am trying to avoid building another agency.
Working for myself: I love the independence.
Working for myself: Holy shit I hate thinking about cashflow. It destroys any kind of creativity I have, and stops me being casual.
There's a time for hustling, and there's a time for being casual. I find the most interesting opportunities emerge from coffees and talking widely. And interesting opportunities breed interesting opportunities -- as Jack says, you get what you do. So, doubly important to hold off accepting anything until the great stuff appears.
And if I haven't got much money in the bank? That's when I make bad decisions. I mean, this is a question of BATNA: If my
Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement is that I can't pay my mortgage, then I have to take whatever gig is going, at whatever terms.
I follow two rules to keep myself sane as an independent. This goes for freelancers, contractors, sole traders, and whatever other forms of "self-employed" there are out there.
It occurred to me that other people might be interested, so I thought I'd share them here.
Business money is not my money. To smooth out peaks and troughs, all gigs pay into a separate account and I pay myself monthly.
My salary is the same amount every month, and paid on the same day of every month.
(Business) taxes also come out of this float.
Once I take into account business expenses and my salary, I can calculate how many months I can survive without work. That's my runway.
If my runway is six months, I can sleep at night. If it's six months minus one day, that's a psychic shitstorm right there.
The reason being that it typically takes me three months to go from asking around to starting a gig (longer for the most unusual ones). Then let's say I get to invoice after a month's work, then it takes a month to get paid, then add a month as a buffer... that's six months right there.
When I started as an independent again, I kept my salary super low until I built up my six months runway.
There's a flip side: If the runway is too long, I stop being hungry. Being hungry is good.
Two tips. Not rocket science. I imagine most people have something similar. For me, this is what gives me room to be exploratory, and how I sleep easier at night.
Hey, shall we do a July hardware-ish coffee morning? And, just for kicks, shall we try a different location?
Thursday 21 July, 9.30am for a couple of hours, at Machines Rooms, 45 Vyner St.
There's equipment there, and coffee, and events. So next week is going to be a busy one of us doing stuff together! On Tuesday night, I'm taking part in an event about hardware startups and business models. Sign up here. On Wednesday, my bookshop vending machine Machine Supply will be moving there for its latest residency. And on Thursday morning, this hardware-ish coffee morning!
Usual drill... there's no standing up and doing intros, or anything super formal. The coffee morning is simply a friendly space to hang out, chat, get caffeinated, and compare notes on everything hardware related, whether that's making stuff as a hobby, figuring out how to do manufacturing, swapping interesting new Kickstarters, or just spending time with like-minded people.
Hope to see you at Machines Room next Thursday!
I figured it might be fun to get together for coffee this week? Usual game -- nothing formal, just hanging out in a cafe with a bunch of folks in the same game. Hardware startups, electronics, physical installations for work, hobby Internet of Things stuff at home, or simply following along by backing tons of Kickstarter projects...
I'll be at the Book Club (100 Leonard St) from 9.30am on Thursday 16 June.
Come join me! Would be great to catch up. I'll make sure I have some Machine Supply badges with me.
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Ben Brown noticed that my bot @5point9billion made him a personalised animated GIF when it tweeted him yesterday (on the occasion of light that left Earth as he was born, right at that moment passing the star Iota Pegasi, a little over 38 light years away). And he was curious about how it did that. So:
There's a previous write-up about @5point9billion here. From that post:
My new bot is called @5point9billion which is the number of miles that light travels in a year. The idea is that you follow it, tweet it the date of your birth (e.g. here's my starter tweet), and then it lets you know whenever you reach Aldebaran or wherever.
You get tweets monthly, and then weekly, and for the last couple of days... and then you pass the star. It feels neat, don't ask me why.
Since that write-up, I've also added a website to the bot. In addition to getting the realtime notifications on Twitter, you can sign in on the site and see what stars you've already reached.
Check this out: There's also a public view, with an animation. This is a 3D animated map of all the star systems we can see from Earth, within 100 light years. It sits there and rotated. You can type in your date of birth, and it'll show you what stars you've already reached.
I made this public view as a "kiosk" mode when @5point9billion was exhibiting at the Art of Bots show earlier this month. The stars were laid out on the floor, fanning out from the Sun which was right by the kiosk. Here's a photo. It was good fun to walk out from the Sun till you find the star you've just passed. And then to walk out to about 80 light years and think, hey, most people die around this point, and look at the stars falling just further from you and think, hey, I probably won't reach those. Huh.
And doesn't it look kinda the same as the personalised star map that the bot made for Ben? Yup.
I knew I wanted to tweet out personalised, animated star maps, whenever a bot follower passed a star (there are over 500 followers, and between 2 and 5 of them pass a star each day).
Routes I considered but discarded pretty fast:
This is the rendering pipeline I settled on:
In summary, this is a rendering pipeline which:
I prototyped this rendering pipeline with another Twitter bot, @tiny_gravity which just does a tiny particle simulation once every 4 hours. Sometimes it's pretty.
This animation doesn't use three.js for drawing, it uses processing.js, but the principle is the same. Again, the animation is just a webpage, so I can tweak the animated GIFs in the same way I tweak the rest of my website and bot behaviour. Here's that animation as a tweet.
One of the things I'm most enjoying about having multiple projects is how they cross-pollinate.
My main side project right now is my bookshop-in-a-vending-machine called Machine Supply. Here it is at Campus, Google's space for entrepreneurs in Shoreditch, London.
It tweets when it sells a book. Because of course it does.
The selection is changed over every Monday, and you'll notice that each of the books has a card on the front (here's a photo) because every book is recommended by a real human made of meat.
These cards and the shelf talkers (the label which says the item code and the price) are beautifully designed by my new friends at Common Works. But they're a pain to produce: For layout, the templates are in InDesign (which I don't have), then I have to send an Excel spreadsheet of the new stock over to Sam at Common Works, which he then puts into the template, and prints.
My new process comes straight out of the @5point9billion code. The browser is my layout tool.
So Sam moved from InDesign to the web, and here are this week's shelf talkers as HTML. This is part of my admin site, I've temporarily turned off permission checking to this page so you can see. The template is automatically populated with details from the weekly planogram. (A planogram is the merchandising layout for a set of shelves or a store.)
And here's the exact same page as a PDF. The pipeline is taken from @5point9billion: Phantom is used to grab the webpage, and this time render it to a PDF, complete with vector fonts and graphics. Because it's a PDF, it's super exact -- which it needs to be to print right and fit neatly on the shelf edge.
It's much quicker this way.
My rule for Machine Supply, as a side project, is that it should take the minimum of my time, never feel like an obligation, and I should be able to manage it on the hoof. As a hobby, it should be Default Alive.
So automation is helpful. I like that this mode of generating PDFs can be done without my laptop: I can do everything from my phone, and print wirelessly.
Anyway. You should follow @5point9billion! It's fun, and you get a personalised animated GIF every time you pass a star, generated with the most ludicrous rendering pipeline ever.
[Short version: Coffee morning on Thurs 14 April in Old St! I sent this out to the coffee morning newsletter last week. Subscribe to the newsletter here.]
My Dearest Droogs,
We haven't had a hardware-ish coffee morning at all this year. I've had no Thursdays because I've been avec job for a few months earning coins. I know, I know, but it happens to all of us sometimes. Still, done with that now, and fingers crossed I can avoid gainful employment for a little while longer.
Let's hang out and drink too much coffee and talk about hardware! Same bat-time, same bat-channel:
Thursday 14 April, 9.30am for a couple of hours, at the Book Club (100 Leonard St).
Same old format... If you're curious about, or working in... designing physical things, paper or weird sensors, installations, knitting, manufacturing, internet-connected doodads, retail for hardware startups, sculpture, investment, or whatever, please come along.
There's no formal intros so it's easy to sneak off if everyone is horrendous. (They're mostly not.) Come say hi to me when you turn up, and we'll make sure you chat with interesting folks. (Most everyone is interesting.) Everyone loves prototypes, so bring em along if you have em. There are usually one or two.
If you're a woman, or don't present or identify as a dude, please do feel welcome. It's a concern to me that this tech industry, while very human and egalitarian in its early days (this goes for mainstream tech and hardware startups too) appears to heavily skew to Mainly Dudes as time goes on. That's something I can push against, a tiny bit, by trying to ensure these coffee mornings don't go the same way.
(On which serious note: If you don't feel you would be welcome - obviously or in hidden ways - at a hardware-ish coffee morning, and you'd be willing to share your feedback privately with ideas of how I could improve the format, I'd like to hear. My personal email is matt AT interconnected DOT org. Thank you!)
See you on the 14th!
ps. I've got a new hobby and it's a robot bookshop that tweets. You can visit it! Here it is. It's called Machine Supply.
Live hairy crabs, cupcakes, acne medication, a real live person who hands out sweets.
See also this ticket machine in Japan, where pressing the "help" button leads to an attendant appearing from a tiny hidden door. I can't figure out whether this video is real or not.
Beautiful vending machines that sell fresh salads. (Made for office lobbies.)
The Auto Store...
Versatile and modular, ASC provides a retail platform that can be easily adapted to any retail environment, integrating sales and smart locker compartments.
Smart lockers are smart. See Doddle which now has concessions at train stations, allowing for e-commerce click and collect -- and also returns.
See also: The short story vending machine in Paris. Uses a receipt printer.
And not forgetting that the modern paperback was popularised by Penguin, together with a new form of distribution and the ability to sell books outside traditional bookshops.
More than a hundred and eighty million books were printed in the United States in 1939, the year de Graff introduced Pocket Books, but there were only twenty-eight hundred bookstores to sell them in. There were, however, more than seven thousand newsstands, eighteen thousand cigar stores, fifty-eight thousand drugstores, and sixty-two thousand lunch counters—not to mention train and bus stations.
The mass-market paperback was therefore designed to be displayed in wire racks that could be conveniently placed in virtually any retail space.
I like this:
You can’t tell a book by its cover, but you can certainly sell one that way.
An old vending machine is reprogrammed to release free snacks only when search terms relating to the recession make the headlines on the BBC News RSS feed.
Related: Tim Hunkin's Novelty Automation:
A new London arcade of satirical home-made machines -- and if you haven't visited already (it's near Holborn) you must, you must.