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Thursday, 12 April 2012

Instagram: snap, crackle, and pop-shots

Only a few weeks ago I was waxing lyrical about Pinterest, the new kid on the social media block. And it was – for five minutes. Its popularity hasn't waned, far from it, but there is a new kid in town, and he’s already playing with the big boys…

The company is 551 days old, comprises 13 employees, doesn’t make a profit, and has just been snapped up by Facebook for the sum of $1billion and it's called Instagram.  Even if you don’t have a head for figures, you can appreciate quite how impressive that is… The app is pretty simple as well – you take a photo with your camera phone, add a filter to it, and then post it online. It’s a sort of image based twitter which, I suppose, works on the basis that a picture is worth about a $1bn more than 140 characters.

Not surprisingly, the business and technology airwaves and blogospheres have been crackling with comment and opinion pertaining to the deal and posting their conclusions all over the web – but not everyone is being complimentary about the deal.

The simplicity of the app seems to be riling those in the app development field – the reaction is redolent of that which many people have towards modern art, “Yeah, but I could have done that”. Others have been claiming that the Instagram proprietors, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, have ‘sold-out’ too early on and that in the long run they’ll be left with nothing (a difficult argument to swallow when they’re divvying up a huge pile of Mark Zuckerberg’s cash).  So why is the web community being quite so scathing about the phenomenal achievement of this young, entrepreneurial company?

The obvious answer (and one which is at least partially correct) is simple: jealousy. Times (as we are constantly reminded) are tough and, much as we would like to see the success of others as inspirational and worthy of praise, sometimes it’s a bitter pill to swallow. The Instagram gang had the bravery to sell when the price was right and be openly proud of their achievement. Two years of hard graft, developing and adjusting the app have paid off, and they are reaping the rewards. It should be inspiring to see evidence that hard work, an entrepreneurial spirit, and some good old-fashion gumption can get you somewhere these days.

If these catty bloggers aren’t jealous of the success, then perhaps they simply resent that the new kid is getting all the attention. We live in an age of start-ups and small acorns – the opportunities which modern technology, innovation and development present a young business with are numerous and varied and the path to success isn’t as long as it was previously.  That said, it’s no less difficult to traverse. The public nature of the success or failure of start-ups means that certain ‘old hands’ think that they’re fair game and have a tendency to take pop-shots at them.

Whether it’s for the purposes of self-aggrandizement, or playground-bully satisfaction, the level of back-biting and sniping at which some business analysts operate is sickening. There is enough negativity eddying around at the moment, and frankly there should be far less.

Instead of listening to the nay-sayers, the declarations of “it’ll never work” and the constant hum of “oooh, you don’t want to do that…”, how about supporting each other?   Business is a highly competitive world, particularly the realm of small business, but there’s no need for it to be juvenile or mean. You never know, the one you decide to ‘poo-poo’ might be of great use to you in the future – the people you trample on what you believe is your way to the top may well ignore you at a later date should you cross their path.

Aim for the sky – absolutely - but remember that a can-do, supportive attitude will get you a long way as well.   It might gall you, but take the time to acknowledge your competitors’ success and, instead of being bitter, use that success to inspire and light a fire under your own projects.

Soon enough, you could be the ones worthy of applause…

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Prattling Politicians and Pasty Palava? Please…


There was a time when sensational headlines were the arena of the rich and bizarre – playboys spending millions on yachts and then sinking them, nutty pop-stars turning up to awards ceremonies wearing half the meat counter from the local shop – but these days they have serious competition. 

The political fallout post-budget was phenomenal - but it all started before then. The fact that George Osborne swanned off to America with Cameron just days before the budget was announced was cause for concern for journalists everywhere. Shouldn’t he have been finalising policy decisions and ensuring that he presented a water-tight budget, rather than piggy-backing on Cameron’s love-in with Obama?

Once the budget came out, it was clear that it was just a little leaky – the press fell upon it like an expert plumber on a dodgy U-bend.  In particular, the pasty tax caused outrage – although the idea that pasties are the sole foodstuff of ‘the working class’ was an inflammatory and condescending insinuation on the part of the press.   Osborne’s decision to up the VAT on one of Britain’s favourite foods was bizarre and to add fuel to the fire (to use what is either an apt, or inappropriate turn of phrase) the planned petrol strikes threatened to bring the UK to a standstill. In some forecourts, it very much did. Whether you were worrying about your lunchtime treat, or fretting about filling up the car in Hampshire or some other non London county, the men and women running the country did little of substance to try and reassure voters. 

In fact, it seemed that politicians were more interested in playing a game of juvenile one-up-manship and headline grabbing than actually governing or trying to get their message across clearly to the people who matter – you and me. And surely the message they should be trying to get across is that as a nation we are STILL having to borrow £180 billion a year to pay for excessive government spending - if the UK was a private company, the liquidators would have been called in long ago! We have to close the gap between spending and tax receipts - because it's you and me that's paying for the spending frenzy that the previous government went on.

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to experience a management style which is all bluster and buzz words, all mouth and no trouser, then you’ll know what this feels like first-hand. It’s easy to dress up ignorance with fancy words and spin – but it’s a veneer that doesn’t stick, and won’t fool anyone for long. Clarity is underrated.

The same applies to when you start looking for a job - whether it's your first job or a new job.  Employers expect clean, clear, CVs from candidates – hyperbole and sensationalism don’t cut it, and often enough they’ll be covering up short-comings in other areas.  Instead of papering over the cracks, draw attention to your strengths. Likewise, trying to amaze or blind colleagues with superannuated jargon when you’re presenting them with what may be a difficult decision is lunacy. If it’s the right decision, then be bold, clear and confident when presenting it – even if it’s difficult to stomach, your colleagues will have far more respect for you than if you’d tried to disguise it as something else. 

Don’t fall into the same trap as politicians – engaging in a shouting match and playing to the gallery (which seems to be the order of the day for every PMQs at the moment) is the stuff of school boys and it doesn’t impress anyone in the long-run.

Politicians love the sound of their own voices - the fact that we can't hear what they think they are saying says a lot for the lack of respect they have for the people that elected them.  Don't fall into the same trap - apply the KISS principle - Keep It Simple Stupid!  Remember though that in this case the stupid is not the person you are talking to, it's to remind you not to be stupid and make things complicated - anyone listening out there in Westminster?