Tuesday evening saw the great and the good of UK planning come together for the fourth Google Firestarters event, themed loosely around entrepreneurship. I used a quote from Howard Stevenson of Harvard Business School in the preamble to the event:"Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled". This, as Simon said in his write up of the event, might be considered to be a somewhat aspirational definition and yet it was one that was captured exceptionally well by all the speakers.
Someone said to me just before the event that I was quite brave getting three such eclectic speakers on the same bill, but it worked brilliantly well (phew) with several common strands weaving their way through the talks, the most notable of which, as John has written about in his excellent write up, was (perhaps surprisingly) the theme of Love.
So first up was David Hieatt, founder of Howies, The Do Lectures, and an ex-adman who worked under the legendary Paul Arden. David told the very personal story of the origination of the company he is literally on the cusp of launching - Hiut Denim - and began by talking about luck. Despite being something of a serial entrepreneur, it took two years from selling Howies before he was ready to begin Hiut. What had been missing in that time was one thing: the 'why' ("you need the wind in your sail. 'Why', is the wind in your sail"). The luck, in David's case was the discovery that his town used to have Britain's biggest jeans factory before it shut down some years ago. When it goes away, manufacturing rarely comes back. Malcolm Gladwell talks about how it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something - the people who worked in that factory had 50,000 hours behind them. He used the story of how Steve Jobs insisted that the original Macintosh engineers each sign the inside of the first Macs even though no-one would ever see it. He recognised that those engineers were artists. So David had his mission - to start a jeans company for the town and get 400 people their jobs back. We don't plan for luck, he said (which is an interest thought in itself), but we need to recognise when we have it, and act on it.
In speaking about the development of this idea, David then talked about how objects can tell stories too, and how jeans are one of the few products that get better with age. The internet hasn't yet been used that well to tell stories for products, so David's idea is to create the world's first jeans brand where every pair has a History Tag (like a barcode but updateable from a website or app), that tells the indvidual story of that product. Imagine photos and updates being associated with a favourite product, building up over time into the story of that object. It's a rather fascinating idea.
Toby Barnes followed David with a talk about the changing nature of hobbies. How the internet has brought an active audience to the practice of hobbies. How the partcipation and feedback of that audience changes that practice (he used John's ongoing Arduino diary as an example). How hobbies can start fires, create new projects, lead to new ideas. That led to an interesting thought about designing products for one person (using the example of the rather cool Arrivals app, which he created originally just for his son) and scaling from there, as a way to ensure we stay true to a simple vision. Just as David had talked about how you've got to love your product and love your customers, Toby asked the question about how we can best support products that are built with love.
Adil Abrar picked up nicely on the theme opening with the mantra that sits at the heart of his social innovation business Sidekick Studios: "Do something you love with the people you love". He talked about the story behind the amazing Buddy project, a digital tool that enables mental health workers to help their clients by using simple text messaging to reinforce positive behaviours. The process of creating the app involved risk and failure but it was only by "heading for the ditch" as he put it that they were able to get truly honest feedback about what really mattered and create a product that made a real difference. Key to that was a realisation around "just enough tech" (or Minimum Viable Technology as Antony calls it in his write up of Adil's talk) - keeping the technology simple was the breakthrough to delivering a better product. Along the way, he talked about how vision changes, but values do not and about the importance of solving problems that really matter.
When curating this event I was keen to try and bring a different, and personal aspect to our loose theme of entrepreneurialism, and I think we really acheived that. The speakers were wonderfully honest and inspiring. So my thanks to them, and of-course as usual to Google for hosting. And thanks to everyone who came and was a part of it.
I have Storified the event, there are some more snaps of it here and as usual, the event and talks were brought to life through the rather wonderful work of Scriberia (below). You can view a larger version of the visual here.
*Update* Adil has an excellent write up of his talk up on the Sidekick blog.