My Latest Chapter

Photo by Paul Clarke Photography

A personal update – please do let me know if anything strikes a chord or sparks an idea…

1) Just over a year ago, I stepped back from Cospa (which we founded in 2010). I remain a shareholder, incredibly close to the team, and wouldn’t hesitate to collaborate and refer opportunities in future (especially for cross-sector projects with potential to scale). I’m proud of the work which the agency continues to do (and wins awards for) and hugely grateful for the experience.

2) Stepping back has enabled me to take on some special projects, and work more closely with some organisations I have long admired, including the Careers and Enterprise Company, who I’ve been advising over the past year.

3) For some time, I’d spoken with colleagues about the need for someone to set up a Connector Unit (which spots and makes valuable connections between people and ideas). So I set one up, as a company, last year, and am still in the foothills of exploring how such an idea might evolve. Already we have had some fantastic testimonials about (in their words) “life changing introductions”.

4) With Freeformers and Business in the Community, I’m chairing a Reverse Mentoring programme, in which CEOs are paired up with a mentor in their 20s.

5) I continue to MC and chair numerous events across sectors. Recent examples include Tech London AdvocatesMTV’s Staying Alive auction in Dallas and HM Treasury’s International FinTech Conference. Upcoming events include Like Minds in Exeter in September and The Great British Entrepreneur Awards (in five cities) in October and November.

6) With Business in the Community and Fujitsu, I’m hosting and executive producing my first podcast, connecting CEOs and younger employees to explore the future of work and responsible business. We are planning our first 12 episodes.

7) For several years, I have been a fan and supporter of The Marketing Academy. I have joined the team of this brilliant voluntary organisation (turning the marketing talent of today into the leaders of tomorrow) to help it fulfil its potential internationally.

8) Later this year, I’m starting a new and what I hope will be exciting new venture. Part social network, part club, part ideas accelerator. Online and event based, it will celebrate variety in ideas, backgrounds and opportunities, bringing people together to make things happen.

9) Tenner is now in its 10th year, the Clean and Cool Missions continue, as does StartUp BritainVolunteer It Yourself is now an independent social enterprise. I remain on the advisory boards of Founders 4 SchoolsTech London AdvocatesThe Centre for EntrepreneursThe Inspire Movement and One Million Mentors.

10) Aside from the new network (see above), I am working on a new live entertainment format which I hope to be able to share more of soon. Hopefully it will excite anyone who dreams of getting a project off the ground, and loves the buzz of helping others.

Home is Berkshire, and although often traveling in and outside the UK, I am frequently in Paddington and Covent Garden.

Hopefully interesting! Please let’s keep in touch.


Sending “Long Shot” emails

Divine Dandelion

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

If I think back to the start of some of the companies and ventures I’ve helped to launch, more often than not, they have started with a single email, or phone call.

An approach to the Global Marketing Director of Saatchi and Saatchi, shortly after starting my first business, led to a meeting, an office, and some investment.

A call to Simon “Yo Sushi” Woodroffe led to him introducing me to my next business partner, Ben Way. Together, Ben and I founded The Rainmakers (still going), and in turn started several businesses together.

An email to Charlie Mullins (founder of Pimlico Plumbers) led to the start of Volunteer It Yourself (VIY) which has now helped over 2,000 young people to fix their own youth clubs, with the help of DIY chain Wickes and a brilliant team.

StartUp Britain (including several national bus tours, over 20 pop-up shops, and dozens of free events for founders), all started from an email to Lord Young, suggesting that a group of us meet for coffee. We became, within a month, the accidental co-founders of StartUp Britain, funded by business, launched by the Prime Minister.

Tenner (started 10 years ago) received terrific coverage (on BBC Breakfast, news and Newsround) because of a cold email to the then editor of Newsnight, Peter Barron.

So what?

We often hear that “cold calling”, or “cold emailing” is a waste of time. Something to be avoided at all costs. I disagree.

Here are the 10 things I’ve learned which make it massively more likely that your email will lead to something amazing, rather than ending up in the trash;

1. Timing: As in comedy – in business, timing is everything. This is a personal thing, however I have often had the most success when emailing between 7-8am, and 11-12pm. Consider avoiding the main “rush hours” of email, and you may have more luck.

2. Personalisation: I don’t mean using someone’s name. Hopefully that goes without saying. I mean signalling early on in the email that you know exactly who you’re talking to. Perhaps old fashioned, a sincere compliment often works well. Congratulations on a recent deal, or announcement. A voice of support for something that have recently written, or said. One practical tip here is to do a very recent (last week or month) Google search, to find the freshest content.

3. Trust: You have to move from (often) a complete random, to someone the recipient feels that they can trust. A tried and tested technique for this is to use names of organisations or people which they already know, like and trust. Perhaps you’ve been featured on the BBC. You have just taken part in a well respected accelerator programme. You may have recently attended the same event. This part of your email doesn’t have to be hugely long, however it does work wonders in building trust.

4. Credibility: Again, this might involve careful use of names and people which the recipient may relate to. If you have a degree in the subject you’re writing about – mention it. You may already have influential people onboard or as supporters – don’t forget to say so. Don’t forget that, however polite the person reading your email, they are secretly thinking “Who IS this person, and are they serious?”.

5. Brevity: We all know the curse of the long email. It’s the special message which is so long that it cannot be replied to briefly, without seeming rude. And so it sits, unanswered in our inbox, for too long. Do not be the sender of that cursed email. Be brief. If you want to make a long email seem like a shorter email, include more information after your signature. You will find that more people reply.

6. Patience: Unless they are in a Channel 4 show, very few people propose on the first date. They build rapport, they develop a relationship. Your instinct may be to cut to the chase, and sometimes this may well be correct. From time to time it is worth, at least in that first email, holding your line, paying a sincere compliment to start with, and waiting before showing your hand.

7. Persistence: People are busy. You are writing to someone who has often never heard of you, regardless of whether they are interested in what you have to say. Some of the most important (to me) emails I have sent have not received a reply the first time. So I sent them again. And, sometimes, again. Often, that persistence pays off. There is, of course, a fine line between hustle and hassle – use your instinct.

8. Channels: Knowing how busy everyone is (or seems to be), not everyone will have time to meet. Knowing that your recipient may be too busy to meet in person, suggesting a brief phone call, or exchanging a few emails, often proves more fruitful.

9. Location (Location Location): You will increase your chances of a meeting significantly if (as Dale Carnegie suggested) you offer to go and see the person you are writing to, at a place and time of their choosing. My most successful suggested time slot happens to be for 20 minutes. It doesn’t sound like much, and often turns out to be longer. Sometimes a little bit of homework (into their office location for example) can make all of the difference.

10. Triggers: The most successful approaches often coincide with something else, in the life of the recipient, their organisation or the wider world. To connect successfully, you need to have your finger on the pulse and one way to ensure this is to set up (free) Google Alerts. This may sound a little odd, however if you know that your target has just written to the Telegraph, won an award or written a blog post, that could be just the things which makes them agree to meet.

In conclusion…

I knew that Charlie Mullins had recently written about an idea in which pupils could fix their own schools. I knew that Lord Young had recently resigned (not that we mentioned it in our email).

Most progress in business, depends on coincidence. To increase the chances of spotting coincidences, it pays to be better informed, and to ask better questions.

Nothing may beat a warm, trusted introduction from one person to another. That said, and especially if you’re just starting out, you will have wait a long time to be introduced to everyone you want to meet.

So, as Mark Twain said, why not “sail away from the safe harbour”?

Make that call. Write that email. Using the tips above, I wish you every success. Good Luck!

Remembering the Magic

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Everything, they say, is bigger in America. Tori Amos knew this when she penned her 1997 hit, Professional Widow, which was topping the charts in the January of that year. Yes, in the US of A, it’s got to be big. This may have been on my mind as I stood in that same month, suitcase packed, on the first step of a brand new adventure.

There, on the stair, I saw a mouse. Mickey Mouse to be precise. I was in Disney World, Florida. For millions of people, a place to spend the holiday of a lifetime. For me, a new place of work, and a place to call home. Work was to be Epcot Centre, by the shores of a man-made lagoon, at the Rose and Crown Pub. Alongside my fellow “cast members”, I would be welcoming and serving guests from around the world, serving warm beer and fish and chips and explaining that, thank you for asking, but I didn’t know the Queen. To our left around the lagoon, Canada. To our right, France. Don’t ask why they weren’t next to each other – this is a world in which cricket is a talking insect. Eleven countries in total, including Japan, Norway, France, Italy, China and Mexico. French cast members in France, Italians in Italy. “Authentic”, and yet surreal.

And just like in the fairytale, we all lived together. I’m not sure if you remember the fairytale in which fifteen hundred people from eleven countries, mostly in their late teens and early twenties, live alongside fifteen hundred American college students? It’s a good one. Sadly this isn’t the place to tell of the nightly parties, the pools, the gyms and jacuzzis, or the real sense of international camaraderie. That will have to wait for another story on another day.

For now, two memories. The first is of a company which to this day I hold in the highest esteem. Disney believes that if you look after your people, they will look after your guests. It works. We didn’t battle through the Florida heat to work. We boarded an air-conditioned minibus. We didn’t spend the morning washing and ironing our “costume”. We received a clean one every day. We spent just half a day learning about the first simple jobs we were to perform. By contrast, we spent two whole days learning about the company, its history and its traditions. We were left in no doubt that we were part of a rich history of guest experiences which stretched back long before we were born, and would continue long after we headed for home.

The abiding memory though, is of my fellow Disney cast members. On day one, there was a knock at my apartment door. Peter, from Hull, asking if I fancied joining him and some other new arrivals for a burger and a kirk… That early evening, as we surveyed our plates (everything is bigger in America) and pondered the months ahead, we spoke of our excitement, our nervousness, our anticipation. The people around that table, and many more, became what I now know are friends for life. We speak often, meet regularly, spend time with each other’s families. Of course we’ve changed. And yet we haven’t. We talk of  our latest news, our plans for the future. From time to time, of course, the conversation rewinds and we’re back in Florida. We’re in the Castle Tavern or driving to Spring Break. We’re laughing backstage or singing in the early hours. We’re walking through the dimly lit theme park, after work, the music still piping through the trees, the fireworks fading. Pinching ourselves. Did we really spend that time in the happiest place on earth, having the time or our lives? Yes, we did.

I’m hugely grateful to the Walt Disney World Cultural Representative Program (still going strong if you know someone looking for an experience). It stirred in me the love of meeting people I don’t know from around the world and of playing a part in a professional, fun production. Most of all I’m grateful for the people it brought into my life.

In twenty years time, I’ll be looking forward, I hope, to my sixtieth birthday. Just imagine if, today, you were on the threshold of meeting a whole new group of people who would change your life. That idea makes people want to start new things, to plot new adventures. The six months I spent at Walt Disney World were unforgettably special and could never be repeated. As the Beatles recalled, it was twenty years ago today. The best thing, I suppose, about life-changing experiences, is that they stay with you forever.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

 

 

Ideas for London

Tower Bridge & City Hall, London

I return, inspired, from a day at City Hall, where Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has been hosting a one-day conference on the theme of social inclusion.

As a fan of Sadiq, as soon as I heard about the event, I offered my services, as a budding facilitator. Perhaps wisely, the social inclusion of the organisers didn’t extend to me. So, enthusiasm undimmed, I make my way to the side of the Thames, and join the throng of guests from all over Europe, including the Mayors of Oslo, Athens, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Lisbon.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, by the first coffee break, (and partly thanks to the extra shot of guests like Jon Yates from the Challenge and David Robinson from Community Links and Michael Lynas of the National Citizen Service), my brain is buzzing with ideas.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Ideas are easy. And I know what you mean. That said, all of the things I’ve helped to start (from Tenner to StartUp Britain, VIY to Speednetwork the Globe) started with an idea. So thank you in advance for humouring me…

Here are the seeds of seven ideas for London (and perhaps other cities). Some are deliberately playful. At least one is thrown in as a joke. A question for you;

Which can you see coming to life? Which might be useful? Which solves a problem that you’ve seen? Which, if any, catches your imagination?

1. Born Together. A “human twinning” project in which pairs of citizens are connected with each other for a six month peer-mentoring experience. The only thing they have in common? They share the same birthday.

2. A mobile conflict resolution centre, based on a narrow-boat on one of London’s great canals. It’s called the Argey Bargey.

3. A new, permanent organisation, set up by the Mayor of London, to act as a lighting rod and red-carpet for visiting social innovators from around the world. Like London and Partners serves international companies and investors, this new team would make visiting innovators from all sectors feel welcome, whether their trip was fleeting or permanent.

4. A network of 270 social action groups across London. Social, proactive, fun. All based around tube stations. It’s name would be Action Stations. Partnerships with City Hall, Transport for London, Time Out and the Evening Standard would help to get it going. Volunteers would offer to lead their “station”, and year-round activities might include a litter-pick, a coat-collection or a food-drop.

5.  A new collaborative blog, updated by teams working with Mayors from around Europe. The Mayor Necessities (OK not that) is a way for civic innovators to share what works, and what doesn’t. The site becomes a useful place to discover fresh ideas and latest thinking.

6. A scheme in which older, often house-bound residents offer their home as a Parcel Hub. Neighbours realise that one way of saying thank you is to ask them if they need help with anything.

7. London Lifts. A partnership with Uber or BlaBlaCar (mentioned by Matthew Taylor). Londoners can hitch a ride with a fellow passenger, whose sole job is to cheer them up. By listening, by asking questions, by sharing a perspective. London Lifts. Picking people up since 2016.

What do you think? If we were going to encourage someone to adopt or adapt one of these ideas, which would it be, and who would you choose? All answers appreciated. Yes, an idea may be the easy part, however sometimes with the right connections, it is the start of something special.

I believe that London has all of the ingredients required to bring these, and many more ideas to life. Thank you in advance for helping them to spread.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mental Fitness

I went sifting through old letters (Crescent Lake, Disney's Boardwalk)

On World Mental Health Day, I thought I’d ask a few friends what techniques they use to keep mentally healthy. 

Their answers (from singing to sculling, meditation to cycling) inspired me, so I wanted to share my own. Here, for what they are worth, are a dozen things I do;

1. Factor in some sleep – either an early night or a lie in.

2. Put on my trainers and go running by the river.

3. Make a conscious effort to speak to certain people (Verity, Tom, Tris are the ones who first come to mind).

4. Avoid spending a whole day “on my own” without at least one meeting or at least two energising calls.

5. Breathe and be aware of breathing.

6. Try not to check my phone first thing in the morning, and instead to call to mind five or six things I’m grateful for.

7. Hug someone.

8. Play the piano.

9. Get a date in the diary with my sister for us to see some of our favourite people, which then becomes another thing to look forward to.

10. Read The Week (in its print version) – for a sense of perspective, a smile and some food for thought.

11. Call home and speak to my parents.

12. Cheer someone up – usually by writing to them and remembering something that they are up to. Hopefully good for both of us!

How do you try to stay mentally healthy? I’d love to hear your tips and techniques.