Category Archives: Entrepreneurism & Innovation

Upload Collective

What is the Upload Collective?

The Upload Collective is a co-working space for those working in the rapidly growing, exciting, immersive field of Virtual Reality (VR) and located in San Francisco. It offers access to like-minded people, mentorship from some of the industry’s leading thinkers and successful entrepreneurs and financiers, in addition to the ability to use shared resources, such as VR headsets, to help minimise the costs associated with launching a start-up in the space. It is also just good fun! A cool place to hang out, with interesting, exciting people all with a common passion and interest.

Why Did I Visit?

Upload Collective, San Francisco, entrance
Where the magic happens….

I am deeply fascinated by VR, and indeed spatial computing in all of it’s forms, seeing it as the next, logical step in our move towards ever more immersive digital interactions and intuitive computing that promises to change every facet of how we create and interact with content. From healthcare to learning to entertainment, spatial computing is, and will continue to do so at an ever greater rate, change how we work, learn and play. I was aware of Upload VR from my time at AWE (Augmented World Expo) in 2015, where I volunteered in a bid to connect with and learn more about both augmented and virtual reality. Hooked in an instant, I have continued to follow UploadVR as a source of industry news and decided that during my next trip to the Bay Area I wanted to visit and see first-hand what they were doing in the city. A LinkedIn email to Taylor Freeman, co-founder of UploadVR, later and a date was set for me to head on over and talk all things VR. In addition to being able to meet the people involved and see for myself what was going on at the collective I also really, really wanted to physically experience high-resolution VR myself. I had been able to try out a few VR experiences at AWE last year but since then both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive had been commercially released, along with a plethora of incredible experiences to accompany them. I was still trying to decide on which system to consider investing in and the only way to really know for sure is to try and garner the opinion on industry leaders, right?!

What Did I See & Who Did I Meet?

Upload Collective, San Francisco
Airy, light & very ‘tech’

After having to rearrange the meeting on account of the Memorial Day holiday in the US, I headed round the corner from where I was staying in San Francisco to the Upload Collective’s space on Mission for my early meeting with Taylor. Walking in to their first floor space the first thing that struck me was how light and airy the place felt, with all of the casual cool that one naturally associates with a technology start-up. Comprising a large central co-working space, with a well-equipped kitchen at one end and comfortable sofas and the obligatory bean bag, this area was fringed with a number of separate rooms, containing various computers, whiteboards and all the other stuff one might need to create the future of immersive technology. One room, much bigger than the rest, contained a whole load of studio equipment and green screens, used for creating VR showcases in which people not wearing a headset can still feel immersed in what it is the user is experiencing. This is still one of the biggest hurdles for VR to overcome: how can you get people truly excited about the technology and experience without, well, actually physically donning a headset. It is the biggest marketing issue that VR has and whilst efforts by Google, and third parties such as the New York Times who gave away millions of Google Cardboard headsets to readers, to introduce people to the wonder of VR, it remains so that in order to really “get VR” it is vital to “try VR,” especially the high-end devices and experiences. Work being conducted at Upload Collective is aiming to tackle this very challenge.

HTC Vive, VR headset
Tools of the trade

Other rooms, and the ones I instantly had my attention drawn towards, were the VR rooms themselves. Devoid of furniture, blacked out and foam-lined, with a powerful gaming PC and various pieces of VR equipment sitting on hooks at one end, these are where the magic happens, or rather where it is experienced.

Given the fact that it was a) early and b) the day after the holiday weekend, there were not very many people in when I visited and so I daresay that I didn’t quite get the full impression of the energy that would normally coarse through the space in a usual day.

Upload Collective, co-founder
Co-Founder of UploadVR, Taylor, and I. Oh, and the ‘office dog’

I met Taylor, who promptly offered me my first caffeine hit of the day courtesy of the shared espresso machine, and we sat down to talk about how UploadVR came about, Taylor’s own background and path into the space and plans for Upload Collective, including their collaboration with Make School, situated just next door, on a course for budding VR developers. You can read a little more about UploadVR here.

The second person I met was Avi Horowitz, Intern at Large at Upload, who was kind enough to get me set up on one of the Collective’s HTC Vive headsets and launched me into the first of several incredible VR experiences, Google’s amazing 3D art program, Tiltbrush.

What Did I Do?

Upload Collective, VR room with people in VRNeedless to say the time I spent in VR whilst visiting the Upload Collective was the most fun I have had in a very long time and was, without doubt, one of the highlights of my visit to San Francisco. Right off the bat I was hooked, with Google’s Tiltbrush proving the perfect introduction to the magic of high-resolution VR. I will do my best to describe what I experienced but as with trying to do VR justice in any other medium than actually trying it for yourself, it may not hit the mark.
VR experiences, Google Tiltbrush & WeVR theBlu
Two of the amazing VR experiences on the HTC Vive

As soon as I donned the headset I found myself standing in a blank, flat landscape, fringed with stars on the horizon and a beautiful night sky. Avi, with a simple selection from the menu, changed this setting such that I now found myself standing in the middle of space, surrounded on all sides by stars. Magical! However, this was nothing compared to what was to come next. Using the two controllers supplied with the Vive, I had all the tools of a master artist, with my left serving as a rotating smorgasbord of art options and my right as the main tool. With a simple ‘laser light’ tool selected I started drawing in the void in front of me. Yes! Drawing right there in space! This simple action may not have been that impressive on a 2D surface, such as a graphics tablet, but the fact that I was laying down graphics in 3D, such that I was able to walk towards, through, and around it made the entire experience a revelation. Much as I can imagine how Michelangelo would have felt at discovering the power and potential of sculpting clay as a medium for artistic expression, I felt the same thrill and joy at the potential for just what was now possible using this medium. A childish grin the size of the Cheshire Cat’s instantly spread across my face as I quickly learn’t how to select different tools, colours, effects and with all the enthusiastic urgency of a toddler at play set to creating my ‘masterpiece.’ The fact that what I was drawing/ building/ creating was nothing more than formless nonsense was immaterial. What was important was just how addictive, immersive and unique the experience was. I can not even imagine a child not becoming deeply fascinated in art and the process of design and creation using such a powerful yet intuitive tool as VR. As a medium for limitless artistic expression it is un-rivalled and for anyone professionally involved in design, from architects to product designers, being able to walk around, through and view your creations from any and all angles it surely renders the lowly drawing board redundant. It is testament to how incredibly fun this one VR experience is that I spent about an hour playfully immersed in it and the fact that I was then able to record what I had created and thus take it away with me provided the cherry on the big VR cake.

Upload Collective, VR room
Creating entire Universes in VR
(click to view video)

Other experiences were just as powerful, from Universe Sandbox that enables users to literally ‘play God’ by creating their own galaxies and the like, with celestial bodies even adhering to the laws of physics, to WeVR’s incredible experiences, theBlu that saw me standing on the bow of a sunken ship surrounded by incredible reef life and a whale that slowly swam out of the depths, passing me within touching distance, allowing me to look the beautifully rendered animal in the eye, and it into mine, the scope for becoming utterly and entirely lost in VR was limitless. This latter experience really helped solidify my view of VR as an incredibly powerful empathy generator, with evidence backing up the idea that immersion drives empathy and empathy really drives understanding and action. Can you think of a more powerful framework for effecting real educational outcomes? I can’t. VR enables users to experience, first-hand, albeit in a digitally-rendered simulation, the experiences of others and to put people in situations that they would otherwise not be able to experience either easily or at all. Want to understand what it is like to live in a Syrian refugee camp? Within’s ‘Clouds over Sidra’ achieved this very same thing. What about experiencing life on the streets? Upload created such a VR experience, ‘A Day in the Streets’, to help educate through empathy on the plight of San Francisco’s homeless population. I can imagine how the same approach could be applied to creating a similar experience to simulate the life of a stray dog or cat, or perhaps show what a journey from being owned to abandoned might ‘feel like’ in order to drive empathy and make people think twice about taking on a pet when they are not truly committed to providing a home for life. The potential is limitless and the effect of VR truly impactful. Just ask anyone who has donned a headset themselves.

Upload Collective from Chris Queen on Vimeo.

 Even though I spent just a few hours at the Upload Collective they were fascinating, fun and insightful. I could not help but feel as though I was at the epicenter of an exciting new movement in technology, all whilst standing in the undisputed center of the tech universe that is San Francisco. I look forward to getting more and more involved myself and to see where we’re all headed with spatial computing. As virtual as much of the content it, the effects are very real indeed.

City of Tech

I have recently returned from my latest trip to what rapidly feels like my second home: California, and specifically the Bay Area. Ever since my first visit to see some friends several years ago I have felt drawn to the area, in no small part due to the fact that it is ‘tech Disneyland’ to the small, nerdy kid that is nestled at my core. It was almost a no-brainer then that I chose Lake Tahoe as my first Ironman race, oblivious at the time to the fact that it was THE hardest race in North America and that it would end up being a two year odyssey! (read about the race here) With the tech theme in mind it was to Silicon Valley that I headed last year when I wanted to learn more about the exciting and rapidly developing fields of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, collectively termed Spatial Computing. I even visited and subsequently applied to the MBA program at the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley. All in all, I am a big fan of the state of California, San Francisco and the Bay.
Make School, San Francisco
Make School in action

This most recent trip was principally in order to attend the same conference on spatial computing that I both volunteered at and attended in 2015: AWE (Augmented World Expo), albeit with some additional time tacked on for some R&R and additional nerdy activity in San Francisco itself. This included checking out Make School, one of many ‘coding schools’ (although they do some hardware stuff as well) present in the city, and spent time with Adam Braus chatting about the school, coding, start-ups and virtual reality (VR).

Upload VR, Taylor Freeman
UploadVR co-founder, Taylor Freeman, and the office dog

Talking of VR I was fortunate enough to be able to also visit the Upload Collective and speak with Co-Founder, Taylor Freeman about the excitement surrounding a technology that does finally feel as though it is meeting previously un-met expectations. One of the real highlights of my visit was getting to experience VR myself – not my first, mind, but certainly the most extensive and impressive experience of the technology that I had had to date – jumping in to several incredible HTC Vive experiences, including Google’s Tiltbrush and WeVR’s theBlu, an absolute must for anyone wondering what all the fuss is about “this VR thing.” I look forward to elaborating on a number of these experiences in separate posts, including sharing what I actually created in Tiltbrush!

AirBNB logo_handdrawnOne of the great things about a visit to San Francisco, and the Bay Area in a wider context, is that you are struck immediately by the wealth of tech talent and innovation that there is. It is no accident that some of the true behemoths of tech have all originated there, from Google to Twitter, Uber to AirBNB and beyond. The sharing economy, it could be argued, also sprang to life here with the most famous examples of companies that have built their fortunes on serving this part of our lives being both Uber and AirBNB. These two companies made much of my trip both possible, simple and cost-effective. I used AirBNB for both places I stayed, initially in San Francisco where I had the pleasure of staying with two awesome guys, Michael and Jimmy, and their dog, Emit, in the Mission District and for a fraction of the cost of a hotel, and then in Sillicon Valley with Kirupa, an in-house attorney at another San Francisco legendary tech firm, Square. I have consistently been bowled over by the quality of the lodging that I have been fortunate enough to book through the service and the wonderful hosts who I have had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with. There is something about staying in someone’s actual home that really makes you feel a greater connection to the area being visited compared to the relative sterility and formality of hotel stays. Then there is simply the cost difference. Hotels are quite simply multiple times more expensive, money that I personally prefer to spend on unique experiences in the locales that I visit. Many times the experience I have had staying with an AirBNB host has actually been on-par with or even better than a hotel. Kirupa’s place, for example, was one of the most beautiful homes I have ever had the good fortune to stay in and being within a neighbourhood, versus the faceless industrial areas that the main hotels were to be found in, I had a fantastically rejuvenating stay, including the flexibility to be able to leave at a time that suited me versus the rigid ‘checkout time’ that many hotels (admittedly have to) enforce.
Uber logo_handdrawnUber was the other service that really contributed massively to the success of my visit, especially their ‘Uber Pool’ feature that enabled me to request a ride to be shared with another person, thus significantly lowering the cost to each of the journey. Thanks to Uber’s incredible logistics technology routes are automatically planned in the most efficient manner and I made use of the service multiple times during my stay. Why would I not when they make it that easy to order a ride, track it’s progress, receive timely notification of it’s arrival, have pleasant conversations with drivers who have interesting things to say and keep their cars immaculate, and spend significantly less for the same journey than I would in a regular cab. Oh, and not be expected to cough up a tip regardless of the quality of the service! Uber just make it all so darned easy, including the payment part.
A successful return to my second home and a trip that has provided a lot of material for future posts. Viva San Francisco!

Virtual Reality. Real Potential.

“Virtual Reality was made for education.” I have no idea who first said that – can I claim it? – but I am sure it has been uttered countless times since and I assure you that it will be said countless times in the future. From feeling as though virtual reality (VR) was nothing more than a sci-fi promise of things to come yet never quite delivered to the current situation in which VR feels as if it is undergoing a true renaissance.

VR AWE 2015
VR does need to be experienced to be truly believed. If you haven’t yet then do try it out.

With the arrival of devices, such as the Vive, Oculus Rift and Samsung GearVR, that are finally capable of delivering truly-immersive, high resolution and, most importantly, non-nausea-inducing experiences that captivate both young and old alike, VR has arrived and the exciting truth is that we are simply getting started!

There are already creative, innovative and fast-moving teams working on sating the appetite for immersive content, with gaming naturally leading the charge, and 360-degree video experiences also offering many their introduction to the world of VR. This, however, is not where VR ends and it continues to excite me to see the educational promise that this technology offers and that pioneers in the field are indeed delivering on. Unimersiv, one such team, refer to the idea that whilst 10% of knowledge that is read and 20% of that heard is retained two weeks later, a staggering 90% of what is experienced, or physically acted out, is recalled. If that is indeed the case then VR, with its power to immerse users in any environment that can be digitally rendered, offers a hugely powerful educational tool. The fact that the big players in the tech arena, such as Google, are now taking VR seriously speaks volumes for how impactful it is predicted to be, and that I believe it will be.

cat with virtual reality gogglesPotential medical, especially educational, applications abound, with veterinary no exception. Whilst my interests in the technology are NOT limited to veterinary, it is an area that I have direct experience of working in and so where perhaps I am most effectively able to postulate on the future applications of a technology that IS, I strongly believe,  going to shake things up for all of us. In terms of medical and science education, for example, work such as Labster’s simulated world-class laboratories, where students can learn cutting-edge science in a realistic environment and with access to digital versions of professional equipment. It may be digital and simulated but that does not diminish the educational power that such experiences delivers. I can see Labster’s technology inspiring a new generation of scientists to develop a fascination for the subject and ultimately help solve many of the world’s most pressing problems, such as the issue of antimicrobial resistance and the drive to develop new drugs.

So what about the potential uses for VR within veterinary? Well, perhaps some of the following….

  • Dissection – Anatomical training without the need for donor animals/ biological specimens. More efficient, with multiple ‘reuse’ of specimens in a digital environment, leading to revision of key concepts and better learning outcomes, translating into better trained, more confident practitioners.
  • Physiology – take immersive ‘journeys’ through biological systems, such as the circulatory system, learning about how these systems work, both in health and disease. Simulation of the effects of drugs, parasites, disease processes can be achieved, with significant learning outcomes compared to traditional learning modalities.
  • Pharmacology – model the effects of drugs on various biological systems and see these effects up close in an immersive, truly memorable manner, thus deeply enhancing the educational experience.
  • Surgical training – simulate surgical procedures thus enabling ‘walk-throughs’ of procedures in advance of actually physically starting. With advances in haptic technologies, tactile feedback can further augment the experience, providing rich, immersive, powerful learning environments. Surgeons, both qualified and training, could learn in a solo capacity or with team members in the digital environment – great for refreshing essential skills and scenario role-playing with essential team members. For example, emergency situation modelling to train team members to carry out their individual roles automatically, efficiently and effectively.
  • Client education – at home and in-clinic demonstrations of important healthcare messages, helping drive healthcare messages home and driving clinic sales, revenue and profitability, and leading to more favorable healthcare outcomes and client satisfaction.
  • Communications training – many of the issues faced in medical practice stem from breakdowns or difficulties in communication with clients or between colleagues. Communications training is now an integral part of both medical and veterinary training and should be extended to all members of a clinic’s team, from receptionists to nurses and veterinary surgeons. With the immersive power of VR and the ability to create truly empathetic experiences, it offers the perfect tool for communications training.
  • Pre Vet School education/ Careers counseling – think you know what it means to go into veterinary practice? Can’t arrange a farm placement but still believe you have what it takes to pursue a veterinary career? Imagine being able to experience a range of VR simulations that guide you through a host of realistic scenarios faced by veterinary professionals, enabling you to make informed career decisions based on ‘real’ experience. It has been demonstrated that those who experience high-quality VR feel genuine empathy for those situations into which they digitally stepped. The power of this for making informed choices about future plans and for challenging preconceived notions about what it means to be or do something is compelling.
  • Commercial demonstrations/ trade show experiences – custom-made VR experiences for showcasing new products and services to prospective customers, creating truly memorable and impactful campaigns. I for one look forward to VR becoming a mainstream component of company presentations at trade shows.

These are simply a snapshot of some of the potential applications for VR with most easily being applied in other, non-veterinary contexts. I look forward to continuing to grow my knowledge and expertise in this exciting area and welcome anyone who shares the same sense of wonder and optimism at the possibilities to get in touch.

Live Freshr – reigniting a passion for food

Food, as far as I am concerned, is one of life’s true pleasures and I personally find the act of cooking and consuming interesting and varied fare to be a very invigorating and inspiring process. I have always been of the opinion that if you want to have balance in your wider life and continue to feel fit and healthy, both physically and mentally, then a carefully considered and, above all, interesting diet is a must. Although I generally feel that I ate well at university I did make a conscious deal with myself when I started working full time that given I was now earning I could therefore afford to buy good ingredients and learn to prepare food of a much higher quality than perhaps I was used to during my student days. I soon rediscovered how preparing simple yet interesting meals does not demand a professional kitchen set-up and similarly does not enslave you to the stove for hours on end. In fact, some of the best dishes are really quick and easy to knock up.
“Food is one of life’s great pleasures.”
Recently I had lapsed back into the classic trap of many young, busy professionals by feeling that I simply didn’t have the time to devote to coming up with new and interesting recipes and so I found myself living on the same few simple meal ideas that I was super comfortable preparing and that took very little time to do so. Although these meals were nutritious, balanced and tasty, the lack of variety that had established itself in my diet did see me start to eat out more in order to re-introduce some of the variety that I obviously subconsciously craved, an expensive and not necessarily healthy option. A friend then told me about her experiences of using a new service in Dubai that one signed up to online, choosing between one of four options – meat eater, vegetarian, paleo, and ‘premium,’ which basically just describes itself as being an ‘organic’ option, for what that is truly worth – and that then delivered, once per week, the ingredients to prepare five meals. Hearing my friend describe the tantalising variety of incredibly tasty dishes that she had already been preparing – a different one each day – peaked my interest and literally had me salivating like Pavlov’s pooch. A quick survey of the simple yet elegant website (www.livefreshr.com) convinced me that the idea sounded like a winner and I duly took advantage of the referral code the same friend forwarded to me, and eagerly awaited my first week’s delivery.
The order process was simple and with only four options to choose from it actually took a lot of the anxiety of ‘choosing what to eat’ out of the equation. At less than 200 AED (£40 / $55) per week for the equivalent of five meals per week I considered the price to be fair, being aware as I was of hardly ever spending less than that per trip to the store and returning home with what seemed to be far less in the way of food. I guess I am not alone in also finding trudging to the supermarket, especially several times per week, to be incredibly tedious and I know that I fall into the trap of opportunity buying whilst in store – not exactly the most cost-efficient approach to grocery shopping. The fact that I was able to specify that I was a single person and so would be cooking per day for just one person, with the ingredients for each recipe arriving in pre-portioned quantities, seemed like a revelation. So simple but yet so brilliant! It is almost impossible to buy base ingredients in the store for a recipe to satisfy the needs for just a single meal for one person, meaning invariably that one either overeats, wastes food (the classic “lets watch veggies rot in the fridge” game that I am sure I am not the only one who has been a regular participant in), or ends up eating the same meal for several days. The promise of a different recipe each day, prepared with fresh ingredients reinvigorated my interest in food, something that I believe is important for wider mental well-being.
Perfect for those singletons among us who also want to cook & eat great food.
The fact that I am able to specify a delivery day and time-window, with the food duly being delivered within the requested time, is another win for the service, and the presentation is excellent. The fresh, refrigerated, ingredients come in an insulated box, complete with ice packs to keep them fresh during transit whilst the dry ingredients and small per-meal ‘ingredient’ tick-lists come in a branded cardboard box, meaning that it can be easily recycled. A simple yet impactful presentation and way less intrusive on my overall day than having to trudge to the grocery store after work.
I have been using the service now for a week and just taken delivery of my second week’s set of ingredients and have to say that the first week has been flawless, so much so that I did feel compelled to produce a simple review video, not an act that I am quick to spend time performing in usual cases. With each meal’s ingredients clearly labelled, getting everything out and in front of me before starting to cook just appealed immediately to the organised process-fan in me that likes the order that it represented. The recipes themselves are found on the website, and can also be viewed as PDFs, and are clear, simple to follow and take, on average, about 45 minutes to prepare, long enough to know that you are, in fact, preparing good food from scratch, whilst not tipping over into tedium that can come with spending more than an hour in the kitchen – after all, who these days really has the time to do that?! I find the entire process of cooking to be quite meditative and enjoy getting lost in podcasts, audiobooks or music whilst I cook. It is, actually, this aspect of cooking that I particularly enjoy as it is a great opportunity to mentally relax before sitting down to enjoy some really decent food and the feeling of immense satisfaction that comes with knowing you are responsible for it turning out great. I can also envisage the service being a great way to get friends and couples cooking together, an activity that I know can be thoroughly enjoyable and a real bonding experience.
“Cooking is actually quite meditative.”
The variety is one of the main perks I have enjoyed with the service. So far I have enjoyed recipes as varied as fresh salmon with citrus risotto, chilli-ginger chicken and pumpkin and gorgonzola cannelloni, to name but a few, with each day being a new culinary adventure. Once again I actually look forward to my main meal of the day and feel the general sense of inspiration that comes with a varied diet, a sense that I feel extends into other parts of my day.
Live Freshr Food Delivery
Live Freshr Dishes
If you fancy trying the service out for yourself, then feel free to take advantage of the following referral link – money off for you and money off for me, so everyone’s a winner!

LiveFreshr.com Review from Chris Queen on Vimeo.

Capital of, well, so much!

Royal Albert Hall, LondonToday has been another fascinating one here in London with a somewhat foggy start, on account of some fantastic food and the odd cocktail in Soho the night before, quickly giving rise to a cool yet revitalising jog around Battersea Park, with its incredible views of the power station and the rest of London further down the river.

Hyde Park, London
One of the many open green spaces in London’s Hyde Park

The number of spacious, beautifully green and tranquil parks here in the middle of the city is one of the perpetually redeeming qualities of London, and coupled with the centuries of history and rich culture really does make the city feel like a truly wonderful place to live and work. This view was reinforced for me during the day as I found myself with time free to simply stroll – a word and indeed action that rarely finds itself in use in my hectic life –  through Kensington, taking in the striking architectural presence of the Science and Natural History Museums, followed by a leisurely amble through Hyde Park, past the awe-inspiring Royal Albert Hall, and along the banks of the Serpentine, before jumping on the tube at Hyde Park Corner.

Imperial College, LondonThis morning’s first stop was Imperial College London for a lecture on Design Management as part of the MBA programme run at the school. I had contacted the school to see if it would be possible to visit whilst I was in town, as I had heard excellent things about their programme and was very pleased that it was going to be possible to actually sit in on one of the sessions. I was met by one of the Student Ambassadors, Masha, who came to the MBA course from a healthcare background, and found the session engaging, even feeling inspired enough to contribute on a couple of occasions myself.

Do Nation, London
Founder, Hermione and myself at Do Nation’s London offices

Next on the agenda was a visit to the offices of social, green sponsorship site The Do Nation, founded and run by my friend Hermione, over on Tottenham Court Road. One of the options visitors to my Iron Vet page have for supporting the challenge is to pledge positive actions through The Do Nation, rather than cash, thus helping to change the world one small positive action at a time. The Do Nation currently runs out of a pleasant, naturally well lit corner of the Wayra accelerator, a two storey space which is home to a plethora of innovative young businesses operating in the digital sphere, and the first impression upon entering is one of ‘Googliness,’ which apparently is what the people behind the accelerator (Telefonica, who own the mobile telephone network O2) were aiming for.

WayraI spent a couple of hours learning a little more about the running of a digital start-up and even had the honour of helping with some beta testing of a new website. One funny thing was that on account of me wearing a suit in what was otherwise a typically ‘starty-uppy’ office space (ie all jeans and casual wear), I suspect many of the people working there assumed that I was either an investor or official from Wayra, especially as they were due to receive a visit from a number of them that very day.

The view from the small tea shop near Carnaby Street.
The view from the small tea shop near Carnaby Street.

With a very business-centric day under my belt it was then time for a bit of simple R&R, and so I headed off to Picadilly to meet up with a friend, grabbed some tea in a super cute little tea shop just off Carnaby Street before hot footing up the Northern Line to get to an off-the-beaten-track Japanese Restaurant that literally served the best sashimi I have ever had, followed up by an amazing selection of Japanese ice creams. Truly incredible and yet another fantastic day, with London continuing to serve up treat after treat.

Vet is much like working in a Startup

This week has made me realise something that I had long suspected: being a vet is very much like being a start-up entrepreneur, or certainly an employee of one. This idea crystallized in my mind after watching the fascinating and very motivating documentary “The Startup Kids,” which takes a look at a number of tech start-ups and their founders, a subject that I have always been utterly fascinated by.

What characteristics or features of working as a vet do I consider to be in parallel to being involved in a start-up? I reckon the following merit mention….

  1. Multiple Simultaneous Roles – I have oft advised potential new vets that a career as a veterinarian is not simply a matter of wearing the “fixer of sick and maintainer of healthy animals” hat. The truth is that most days involve us having to swap our various hats more often than a lady at Ladies Day at Royal Ascot. In any given day we could act as doctor, negotiator, team-leader, social worker, financial planner, debt collector, psychologist, gymnast, electrician/ mechanic, inventor, problem-solver extraordinaire, confidante, sprinter, weight-lifter, endurance athlete, receptionist, diplomat, surgeon, clairvoyant, magician and, at times we are also expected to be both super heroes and miracle workers! Only the other day I found myself spending a good hour taking on the unexpected role of financial problem solver, empathetic negotiator and fiscal planner whilst carefully navigating the options for a possible payment plan structure for a client who clearly could not afford the required treatment for their pet but didn’t wish to consider euthanasia of said injured animal. I am no financial planner but found myself having to assume the role, liasing between various members of the clinic team and the client in the process. Fixing the animals, it seems, tends to be the easiest bit of being a vet.
  2. Small Dynamic Team Players – Most vets work in relatively small clinics as members of small, focused teams, with de-lineated roles such as vets, nurses and reception team. Working so closely with so few people in what is often a high pressure and rapidly changing environment is very akin to that seen in most start-ups and whilst highly stressful at times can lead to superb examples of team-work and extraordinary results. I think back to the example I had when a rabbit we were anaesthetising suddenly went into cardiac arrest (ie died!) and as a direct result of superb teamwork involving skilled, focused and motivated professionals we were able to resurrect said bunny!
  3. Cope with Caos & Rapid Growth – Think that your vet spends their day floating along from one kitten consult to the next puppy on a cloud of serene tranquility? Think again. In many busy clinics the hectic schedule kicks off the second you arrive (usually early) to the minute you finally exit the building (usually late), with the spectre of the unexpected always lurking around the corner and with every phone call. This level of (organised?) chaos is amplified if you happen to be in a rapidly growing clinic, with new clients and their new and newer animals rolling in. Embrace the chaos! We do.
  4. Work to Tough Deadlines & Multi-task like a Juggler – Can you spay a cat quicker than it takes to spell cat? No? Well you’ll quickly learn. Especially when you cop a look at the ops list for the day as it spills off the board and starts streaming down the wall. But no worries as you can just keep going as there are no consults in the afternoo….. oh, wait… yes, there are. Vets work to deadlines all day long and swap out roles as mentioned above like a juggler on a Red Bull infusion.
  5. Lunch? What lunch?! – One really cool feature of most tech start-ups that I frequently read about is that many place real value on taking breaks, especially lunch, to catch their collective breath and hang out with colleagues, with many of their best ideas often coming out of this time. I make no secret of the fact that I value my lunch highly and can become a tad grumpy if and when I am denied it. The most productive people I know are those who are actively encouraged to tune out and re-fuel, even if it’s not for very long. Ironman races see athletes encouraged to re-fuel – in fact, not refueling would quickly lead to poor performance and probably failure. So I don’t see why it should be any different in our industry which has unfortunately seemed to collectively hold on to this “lunch/ breaks are optional” mentality. Start-ups know that rested, fueled team members usually perform awesomely and I am convinced that vets, nurses and the rest of the team are no different. When it does happen then I have seen how awesome team spirit and performance can be.
  6. Super Flexible – Part of the excitement of being involved in a start-up is that it’s never always possible to predict exactly what is going to happen. Vet clinics are the same, as previously mentioned, with a new emergency or challenge literally a phone call or walk-in away. We have all been in situations where our manageable consult or surgical list has suddenly been thrown into disarray by an unexpected event and the ability to be super-adaptable and flexible to a dynamic work environment is key to being a successful vet, as it is to being a start-up team member.

I daresay that there are many other examples and feel free to add any you can think of. In the meantime I am off to grab some lunch.

Just Do It

Do, DoneSometimes there are things you see, hear or read that just chime with you and make you think “yeah, right on!” I saw such a simple thing whilst at The Gadget Show Live when I passed by one computer company’s stand and one of their banners caught my eye.

The message – “Do is two letters away from Done” – just spoke volumes and makes me feel really quite motivated every time I read it. Why? Well, it’s just a simple truth and one that is important and useful to remember.

There are so many things that each of us would like to do, either today, tomorrow, or generally at some point in our lives, yet I daresay that many of us end up feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of certain tasks and the mountain that we may have to face in order to achieve the goals and do the things that we ultimately want to. As such, it is often easier not to start something than it is to “do it” and risk failing in the process. I know as I have been there and done – or rather, not done – that. This is something I have been continuously endeavouring to change by remembering the truth that this slogan conveys.

So, is there something that you really want to do but haven’t gotten round to it yet, for whatever reason? Could the HUGE task or challenge be broken down into more manageable, achieveable little tasks and thus be something you can start to do NOW? I am sure it could so go on, give it a go, surprise yourself and add those last two letters 🙂

Does your practice website ROCK?

Slash rock god guitaristPractice websites – does yours rock?!

The internet is more and more vital to the success of any practice, with the primary role being to gain new clients & help retain existing ones. However, simply having a website is not good enough anymore – it has to rock!

I recently attended an Entrepreneurs Circle event on websites and it really got me thinking a lot about what it is that vet practices can and should be doing to really ensure that their websites are as epic as they can be. I would like to share some of the thoughts that came out of this thinking and offer my take on how practices should be applying the lessons to their own practices. If you are serious about really growing your clinic then I do recommend considering joining the Entrepreneurs Circle.

1. Why have a website?

There are 3 main reasons: 1. to sell things online; 2. to get clients to call you; 3. to get clients to give you their contact details. Most clinics are interested in getting clients into the hospital so getting them to call you, and FIND you is key. Is it clear how they go about doing that on your site? If it is then the second question has to be is there a clear reason why they should bother calling you?

2. Two-second rule

These days we all have the attention span of a hyperactive kid with attention deficit disorder and expect websites to speak to us immediately. Does yours? Is it clear from the first fold (the first view of the homepage) what you do and who you are for? How does your site look on different devices, including mobile, which is becoming more and more important?

woorank.com is a great free resource for checking your site for a number of relevant parameters and will tell you where you can improve things.

Navigation is also an important point here as it must be clear and intuitive how users move through your site. Is it obvious how to contact you? Can users easily switch back to the main homepage by clicking the practice logo in the header, or do they have to follow a long, winding bit of digital string back to the entrance? If so then they’re just as likely to exit the site altogether and find a local competitor. Get as many different people (ideally those representing your clients) to play with your site and feedback on what they thought of the navigation and ease of use.

3. Google Analytics

Do you know how many visitors are coming to your site? Where they are entering and leaving? How many visitors compared to the number of enquiries or bookings made? What about the keywords that people are using to find your site? Information is power and Google Analytics provides information in bucket-loads to enable you to really drill down in to how your website is working and, most importantly, how it can be improved to bring more clients to your door. It is easy to set up for your site and your web developer has probably already installed it for you – ask them.

4. Reviews (What our customers say)

We all love to see that a product or service has been proven and word of mouth (reviews by another name) is still one of the most reliable ways to gain new business. I would sooner use a professional that another person, independent of the business, has had a good experience with than take a punt on an unknown – most of us don’t like being pioneers, especially when it comes to both the health of our animals and that of our wallets. Your current clients love you – if they didn’t they’d go elsewhere. Ask them for reviews, including photos if they’re happy for them to go on the website (most people are), and get them on your website in various, prominent positions.

5. Personal Touches

Veterinary is more of a people business than it is anything else and pet owners invest as much in the vets and staff they like and trust than they do in any other aspect of the practice’s offering, including price. You could be the cheapest vet in the entire country but if you’re as personable as Jack The Ripper then no (sane) client is going to stay with you. Show your existing and potential new clients just how awesome, friendly and personable you and your team are. Have photos of the team (nice, professional, smiley photos as opposed to dour, happy-snap ‘passport style’ mugshots) and include great photos of your clinic, including some scenes from both outside and inside, preferably showing what you do well.

6. Phone numbers

It is still the case that the phone is the most valuable piece of equipment in veterinary practice today – without it we’d be sunk! Is your phone number clearly visible on each and every page of your website? It is best placed up in the top right corner where it is most visible. Also, ensure that it is entered on your site as text so that it is automatically available to copy, call etc from a smartphone. One thing that might be worth considering as well is the use of call tracking numbers. These divert to your normal phone line but can be a great way of actively keeping track of where calls are originating from. Are clients calling you because they saw a flyer? Or have they searched for you online and found your website? Having a different call tracking number in each place provides a simple method for seeing which media/ marketing efforts are yielding the most calls. www.citynumbers.co.uk is a good place to get them, and they cost a few £ per month, so very affordable.

7. Language

Does your site read like you would actually speak with pet owners or is it more akin to something straight out of a stuffy office in Whitehall? If you’re aiming to project a fun, friendly, caring image then surely the language you use on your website should reflect the same. Have a go now by reading out sections of text from your website aloud. If you feel like you’re addressing the House of Lords when you speak then maybe the language needs revision.

8. Images

A picture does indeed paint a thousand words and the use of professionally taken, crisp, clear, fun photos of you and your team all working harmoniously together in your superbly clean and well equipped practice, surrounded by happy, content animals will do more to make your practice shine in the eyes of new and existing clients than any amount of well-written prose. A professional photographer needn’t break the bank and could well be a very savvy investment.

9. Video

A lot of websites make video available now and it can be a really smart way to offer an insight into what it is your practice offers. I find myself clicking to watch introductory videos on businesses’ homepages far more than I ever used to, and probably make the decision to stay on the site based on what I see more so than on what I read, if I am honest. A short, well filmed and edited video introduction to the practice, especially if presented by someone clients can identify with and relate to, will really help to bond people to your site and to the practice, encouraging them to pick up the phone and give you a call. One question that does arise is that of “to autoplay, or not to autoplay?” I personally have no issue with videos that autoplay as long as the sound is not on and I don’t run the risk of inadvertently blasting the quiet cafe or library that I might be in with noise. If it is appropriate then I can always choose to activate the sound and listen to the video commentary. Whether you choose to autoplay or not is up to you but it is worth considering whether some people might be inclined to navigate off the page rapidly if they are not prepared for a video with sound to suddenly kick into life. Short video is good, with no more than a couple of minutes generally being advised before people get bored.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to really making your practice’s website rock but with the application of some of the principles above then there is no reason why it shouldn’t be performing brilliantly and taking your clinic to epic heights.

Oxford Entrepreneurs Shine Yet Again

Idea Idol 2012I love entrepreneurism and there is one society that really seems to embody all that is exciting and fun about seeking new ideas and opportunities, and that is the Oxford Entrepreneurs. Each year they hold their famous TATA Idea Idol competition for new business ideas and each year the entries simply get better and better and better. This year was no exception.

The format is basically the following:

  • Stage 1: Hopeful future business tycoons submit a short description of their business idea for initial consideration by the board.
  • Stage 2: Those fortunate enough to be selected are taken through to the semi-final, of which there were 40 this year, whittled down from over 200 initial entries. I am proud to say that the apps (Mucky Pup & Purrfect Paws) were among the semi-finalists this year, something I am personally hugely proud of. Following an afternoon training session on writing a great Executive Summary (1-2 page summary of the business plan), we had one week to complete and submit our summary.
  • Stage 3: Just six business ideas make it through to the final, with the lucky six receiving further training in pitching their business ideas before the big night of the final itself.
  • The Final: Each team, or rather one individual from the team, has just 2 minutes to present their business idea to the packed lecture theatre in the Said Business School (Oxford) and then 5 minutes of grilling by seasoned business experts and entrepreneurs who make up the judging panel. This year’s judges were Melody Hossaini (CEO of InspirEngage International and The Apprentice fame), Gary Frank (CEO of The Fabulous Bakin’ Boys), Will Chadwick (VP of Tata Interactive Systems), and Leo Johnson (Co-founder of Sustainable Finance Ltd).

The pitches were amazing and the business ideas presented exceptional. The six companies vying for the grand prize were, in no particular order:

  1. Rehabox – a personalised service to manage prescribed movement rehabilitation exercises for many conditions, including back pain, osteoporosis, injuries and following strokes.
  2. Oxford NanoSystems – a novel re-design of heat exchange systems found in boilers.
  3. BaNaPads – a social enterprise, initially focused in Uganda, providing locally manufactured female sanitary pads made from banana pseudo stems, an abundant organic waste, and a significantly more cost-effective material for pad manufacture.
  4. InVision – software that recognises hidden emotions by detecting facial micro-expressions with video technology.
  5. Medopad – a mobile health start-up providing hospital doctors with secure real-time access to patient data, images and lab results via iPads.
  6. FoetoH – provides home-based monitoring for babies before birth.

FoetoH winn Tata Idea Idol 2012The ultimate winner was judged to be FoetoH and the team, led by Dr Michelle Fernandes, won the grand prize of £10,000.