Insights from a motorbike

On Wednesday 17th October I left on a motorbike for an adventure to The Gambia. We plan to ride 3,000 miles in five weeks; we caught a ferry to Santander, rode through Spain and are now in Morocco.

Ahead of us we have the disputed Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal and The Gambia where we fly home from Banjul.

Many people have asked why?

  • What makes you want to travel to The Gambia?
  • Why do you want to ride your motorbikes that far?
  • Isn’t it going to be dangerous?
  • And how will you carry all your luggage?
  • The main reason was to leave our London lives behind for 5 weeks and experience new cultures. Being on two wheels allows you to visit places most travelers don’t reach, having no set itinerary will allow us to get immersed in local cultures and completing the whole journey on motorbikes means we have a 180degree view the whole way.

    It has taken a few months of planning, mainly bike preparation and paper work organisation but now we are in Africa our adventures really start here.

    The work I do ‘back home’ is all about collecting insights, understanding people and finding ways to help communities. I love being immersed into different cultures and finding out how we can influence behaviours for good.

    So, another aim of this adventure is to document what we see, who we meet and what we experience. We have a Canon HF10 video camera and where possible intend to film as much as possible. This may, however prove hard at times, especially in Western Sahara and Mauritania where reporters and journalists are forbidden. Luckily though, David is a native French speaker which helps for negotiating….

    I’m interested in social innovation and sustainability, especially when focused on communities and making people happy. This is what we’ll be looking out for en route.

  • What brings communities together? and
    How do communities survive, especially in developing countries?
  • What we’ve experienced so far:

    Our stay in Spain was only a few days but while with friends in Madrid, we went to their friend’s house for a birthday dinner. The evening revolved around chatting while eating tortillas, cheese and olives and drinking Rioja. Exactly what comes to my mind when Spanish food is mentioned. When we arrived at our camp site outside of Granada, the owner said we’d just missed the paella! There was a large group of locals sitting around a table with an empty paella dish…

    When we arrived at the Moroccan border at Ceuta there were lots of men trying to ‘stamp our passport’ and ‘help us through customs’. We had been warned of this and knew not to accept their help but they were clearly being very innovative and even had ‘official’ looking name tags around their necks. Morocco came with animals all over the streets, men on scooters piled high with luggage, taxis with broken suspensions and far too many passengers in them and women selling branches on the side of the road.

    From now on we can start looking for local insights and discover what makes each community different and what cultural differences occur. Two things we quickly learnt in Chefchaouen were that ‘every street has a guardian’ and ‘however little you trust a Moroccan, he will trust a Moroccan half of that’. Let’s hope Abdul really is looking after our motorbikes while we stay in the Medina.

    Motorbike focused updates are being posted at and @twowheelexp on twitter if you want to follow our journey, otherwise we plan to have a film edited together in the new year.

    And to answer the questions asked of me previously, here are some quick replies:
    1. Heading south to The Gambia means things become cheaper, the weather gets better and the cultures become more interesting.
    2. We wanted to ride our bikes to Cape Town but political situations are insecure in parts at thr moment and it would take much longer to plan/save up for.
    3. We don’t plan to travel any where ‘dangerous’. We are looking for an adventure but will move on if we feel unsafe.
    4. We have three panniers each to carry our luggage. The saying ‘over packed is under prepared’ is very true and we have packed what we need without going over the top. Yes, we will need to wash our underwear frequently…!20121023-160327.jpg

    Sharing Failures in Paris: FailCon

    25th September marked the day of FailCon Paris when the fantastic FailCon team came over from California to help the French embrace failure!

    Cass introducing the FailCon Paris sponsors

    The conference hosted a full day of speakers, Q&As and excellent networking opportunities at Microsoft’s offices in Paris. I went along as I’m particularly interested in encouraging people to understand that any business, start up, venture or entrepreneurial idea will at some point, inevitably experience failure. That, however is not a negative occurance but a means of learning to succeed at what you want to achieve.

    The speakers were excellent. Some were fairly big names, others were less well known but the thing, for me, that made the event was the atmosphere in the room. Everyone that attended the conference was ready to accept failure, had failed at some point, wanted their business to succeed and/or understood the value of learning from other people’s mistakes.

    Prepare For and Avoid Common Startup Mistakes
    You aren’t a real entrepreneur until you’ve had to deal with failure, and recovering from it –
    financially emotionally and practically – can be challenging. Hear how entrepreneurial
    leaders have dealt with failure while keeping a positive and tenacious attitude.

    FailCon Paris

    Learnings from the morning’s speakers

    JB Rudelle CEO and cofounder of Critero talked about the differences between being a hare and a tortoise when it comes to business start ups. You may feel the need to run quickly and reach your goals quicker than planned but this can be a curse. ‘If it’s not quick and easy, it is a bad idea’ – WRONG! Success comes from hard work and persistance. Deals should be done when opportunities arise or ‘me-toos’ will creep in! All of this must, however take metrics into consideration. You must force yourself to measure your actions and outputs properly or it will become very difficult to know if you are being successful or not.

    Eric Mittelette from Microsoft told the story of Microsoft’s web servers being hit by a virus which gave them a bad name. The virus took 15 minutes to infect 75,000 servers! The flaw in their single product meant that customers had a negative opinion of the entire company. Their failure came from their product having too many features and they did not know enough about security. Their piece of advice for businesses is to always have someone look over your code and use fresh eyes when reviewing work. This not only finds flaws and irons out problems but creates fun,positive competition in the workplace.

    Jean-Christophe Capelli, CEO and cofounder of FriendsClear encountered regulation issues when starting his money lending via the internet business. His business was a small start-up trying to work with big businesses but both were on different time lines. Jean’s advice is to avoid working in regulated industries (!) but the overall learnings were to never give up, be prepared for hurdles and be aware of the pace of your partner companies. He had to stop working for 9 months and take a breather. Something that is not unheard of by a number of start-ups.

    Next came a panel session titled ‘Investment Pitfalls’

    On the panels was:

    Jean David entertained everyone with this opening remark. ‘the first pancake never looks good’ Very true and interestingly linked to the fact that VCs will hardly ever admit they failed after an investment! VCs need to trust the entrepreneurs more and trust what they are doing with their money. When someone is investing, they are buildling the company and know one knows what will happen to that company. ‘how do you make people row in the right direction? you can’t…’
    Sean went on to discuss the directions that failure can take. Often failure occurs because the technology has failed or because a me-too has entered and possibly saturated the market. There needs to be trust between the investor and shareholders. Breakdown in trust is when failure gets nasty. Know your numbers, show your enthusiams but don’t be afraid of having doubts.
    Philippe said it’s important to paint a vision but also be able to tackle situations and take control.

    Learning’s from the afternoon speakers

    Olivier Fecherolle, Viadeo realised that he was too early with his start-up but didn’t have the money to wait. He made an interesting point that the UK is an island and you need to think that way if you want to launch there. You must base yourself in the place that you want to launch in to be able to set yourself up commercially. You must be in the same place as your company for success and look at your business globally if you want to scale it.

    Thom Cummings, SoundCloud piece of advice from starting up his company was that it is easy to under recognise your achievement yet it’s also easy to over recognise milestones! It is common to have access to too much information and too many paths which makes focussing challenging. Start-ups must pick the right metric and be able to recognise when good enough is good enough. ‘Be a navigator, not a chauffeur’, ‘choose the right path, give support and let them drive’

    Thom Cummings at FailCon
    Next came the panel session Location: Can It Ruin You?

    This session discussed building trust with your brand and the necessity of having a website that your stakeholders like and can relate to. Good branding is essential for gaining this trust. Markus explained how he tried to scale the marketing too slowly. It is important to have big numbers and faith to spend money on your marketing!

    Gabriel was confident that you don’t necessarily want two years of runway to grow your start-up. It’s more important to spend what money you have wisely!

    Lara Rouyres and Tatiana Lara, LivingSocial had some very wise words to share as the last speakers of the day. The culture of a small start-up will change when it becomes a bigger business and people need to be ready for this. ‘Make sure you get management to write down their values each month, then choose who represents those values best’ was a technique they have adopted.

    Anticipate transition, don’t rush into hiring people and remember that communication amongst the team is crucial.

    What I learnt from the whole event

    Starting a business can be done by nearly anyone but understanding what is ahead of you needs confidence, management and planning. We can plan for inevitable hurdles but we never know when we will come across them and need to be ready to pivot. Every time we fail, those hurdles become more obvious and the time it takes to pivot reduces.

    You must believe in yourself but be mature enough to listen to others and know when to take their advice!

    The conference was incredibly valuable for anyone running a business and what I heard definitely rings true with the start-ups I am currently working with.

    Ignite Athens

    On 20th September 2012, a fantastic event happened in Athens, Greece. Entrepreneurs, business start ups, VCs, angel investors and mentors all gathered at the Onassis Cultural Centre to share their passion for innovation. I was honoured to be invited to speak about My Fail Tale, making failure positive.

    Ignite Athens place card

    Ignite Athens a fast-paced geek event started by Brady Forrest, Technology Evangelist for O’Reilly Media, and Bre Pettis of, formerly of MAKE Magazine‘ was organised for companies and leaders to share innovation. Based on a pecha kucha style presentation, each speaker was given 5 minutes (20 timed slides, each 15 seconds long) to talk.

    The morning session…

    The day opened with a message from Nellie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission who talked about the Digital Agenda for Europe and the importance of supporting entrepreneurs in Europe.

    Neelie Kroes video message

    The morning then heard a number of speakers all connected with entrepreneurship either as mentors, business support, interesting initatives or with successful companies.

    Here is a summary of the insights I picked up from the speakers:

    • Tolis Aivalis, (@aivalis) a business mentor and serial entrepreneur kicked off the event by talking about the important characteristics of an entrepreneur. Autonomy, strength and liberty were interesting key words.
    • Ryan from The Ink Factory (@the_ink_factory) demonstrated (via an animation) their amazing talent at graphic recording. ‘You talk, we draw, it’s that simple.’ Well, they make it look that simple but actually, they are fantastic at capturing the essence of your talk in a matter of minutes. Here is a photo of one of the boards they created throughout the morning.

    Graphic recording by The Ink Factory

    • endeavor(@endeavorGR) gave an interesting talk about growth and how to support entrepreneurs. Apparently only 15% of entrepreneurs in Greece are female whereas only 8% are female in the EU. Why is this? These numbers are both incredibly low.We need to be more realistic about where we are and what we can achieve: aim high, dream but make sure you can reach that dream!
      Explore the power of corporations; but don’t boycot and create issues and share you ideas.
      Have a strong commitment to your start-up: solutions are not handed to us!
    • Ydir Vissers from Monitor Group explained their view on the paths to becoming an entrepreneur.
      – You could set yourself up in Silicon Valley and immerse yourself in the entrepreneurial surroundings.
      – Spawn off others through an anchor model path.
      – Follow heros that represent entrepreneurship.
      – Be put into an event driven environment where you have to succeed!
    • I added to the conversation by presenting the My Fail Tale project (video below), working to create a movement of change people’s attitude towards failure. The great news it that the subject was warmly welcomed and people were happy to discuss their failures. Well, more their fear of failure as most people in the room were entrepreneurs about to fail! The Ink Factory created this great representation of my talk:My Fail Tale

    The afternoon session…

    The afternoon session introduced a huge list of budding entrepreneurs in Greece. There were so many of them that it’s best you look them up yourselves if you’re interested. Here are some of my favourite:

    Healthster ‘The smartphone app Hippocrates himself would endorse. Be CEO of your own well being. Taste health one bite at a time with Healthster’ @healthsternow

    Gnostix ‘Social Media Monitoring & Analytics tool for results driven Social Media Marketing’ @gnostix

    Weendy ‘Share the action, fun and conditions from any spot as it happens. Simple. Social.’ @weendyapp

    Suibee ‘Suibee collects inspiring posts from people like you’ @suibeeapp

    WOTgroup ‘helping women find mentoring in business’ @WOTgroup

    Buddy Traffic ‘Buddytraffic is a fun and exciting crowdsourced app that helps you and your buddies report and avoid traffic’ @buddytraffic

    Fashinating ‘Fashinating is online window shopping! Thousands of fashion products – apparel, shoes, bags, accessories, jewelry – from the best online stores worldwide are gathered in one place, to enable you to easily discover and buy the items you like.’ @fashinating

    To sum up…
    Ignite Athens did a great job at bringing entrepreneurs, innovators, business minded, inspiring people together in one place. The passion and excitement in the room created the foundations for business initiatives and forward thinking. I met people from all types of business with different skills and different dreams. I wish them all the best of luck and thank everyone for the insights and contacts I took away.

    The talks can all be found here on YouTube.

    You can watch Louise speak about My Fail Tale below: