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:


The Peckham Peace Wall

If you read my blog from last summer which talked about the London riots titled ‘Peckham is a real community‘, you’ll remember the photos of the ‘peace wall’. The wall of post-it notes put up by the local community sharing their thoughts on the riots and how it had affected Peckham.
The post-it notes were preserved and had been moved to the area outside of Peckham library in Peckham Square for a while but now they’ve been turned into a permanent ‘Peace Wall’.

Peckham Peace Wall by Louise Wilson

Every post-it note (ok, clearly the best have been selected) has been scanned in and turned into an organised wall called the ‘Peckham Peace Wall’. It was such a great surprise to come across the wall and be able to read the messages properly.

You can read about the project here:
Peckham Peace Wall by Garudio Studiage celebrates the wall of post-it notes of love and respect for the area which grew on Rye Lane following the disorder of last year, and launched on the 8th August 2012 to mark this one year anniversary.

Peckham Peace Wall up close photo by Louise Wilson

It’s amazing how a basic movement of messages has been transformed into a fantastic piece of art that brings the centre of Peckham to life.  It was even featured in Creative Review back in August.

I highly recommend going to have a look for yourself.

Searching the hedge rows for food and info!

Would you know what to look for in a country hedge row if you were told there were edible and informative plants growing? I certainly wouldn’t have until I went on a foraging walk organised by Woodland Ways.

Kevan Palmer, an instructor at Woodland Ways, took a group of Adventure Travel Film Festivalers on a foraging walk around our camp site. It’s such a great skill to learn when going on adventure motorbiking trips or walks around the countryside.

Kevan started with a ‘health and safety’ talk which explained when, where and how to start foraging.  The main tips I picked up were: have a look around the surrounding areas and be careful picking and eating plants close to main roads where car fumes have been polluting the air. You don’t want to eat dirty plants… and that leads onto the second tip. Could animals or humans have used the hedge as a toilet? The hedgerow where we were was furthest from the campsite toilets and therefore was likely to have been used as a night time relief spot…!

Kevan Palmer on the foraging walk

We learnt a huge amount but here are my favourite learnings.

Rose petal jam

Rose petal jam (google images)
Roses are really pretty and smell lovely but they are also edible. The petals vary in taste; spicy, tart or sweet and although Kevan recommended making jam from them, you can also use them to garnish salads or flavour butter. Be warned though, roses bought from a florist are unlikely to be edible. Only eat roses found growing wild in the countryside.

Rose hip

Rose hips (google images)
Rose hips, vibrant red berry looking fruit are apparently are full of vitamins known for ‘offering a cheap and effective way of treating debilitating rheumatoid arthritis

You can dry them and eat like a dried cranberry or make rose hip tea and rose hip jam from them.

Scarlett Pimpernel

Scarlet Pimpernel (google images)
Scarlett Pimpernel consists of small, red flowers which open when it’s going to be sunny and closed when it is going to rain. Known as the ‘poor man’s weather glass‘ the plant is a great way to predict what the weather is going to be like. It may not be the best forecast tool but the open flowers are pretty and mean sunshine.

Note: this plant is not edible!


Sloes (google images)
Am I the only person who thinks of Sloe Gin when sloes are mentioned? Luckily I definitely wasn’t the only one on this foraging walk.

Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn tree and are a great fruit to pick in the autumn. One of the last fruits to remain on the trees before winter, they allow the forager plenty of opportunity to harvest.

Kevin explained the best way to pick sloes is to identify them in May when the flowers are out. The white flowers are very easy to spot, unlike the fruits which hide themselves amongst the thorny plant. Once they are picked, ‘after the first frost’ prick them with a toothpick to help bring out the flavours then bottle them with gin. If the ‘first frost’ is very late (which it tends to be these days) you can pick them and put them straight in the freezer. Here’s a recipe for sloe gin.


Dandelion (google images)

The word dandelion comes from the French meaning ‘lion tooth’ which relates to the shape of its leaf. I had always thought of it as a common weed and had no idea of it’s health benefits.

Dandelion leaves are a rich source of vitamins and good for digestion. Eat the leaves in a salad or put them in water and drink it as a tea.


Honeysuckle (google images)
I’m sure most children have spent some time sucking the nectar out of honeysuckle.  Not only do the flowers taste good, the leaves and can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Both the flower and leaves act as a good anti-bacterial.

Don’t use once it’s mature and tanines have developed though – then it becomes not good for you.

  • Enjoyed hearing my insights? Why not sign up on your own course here?

A Quiet Life – not your usual opera

Have you ever wondered how an opera may appear to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing? Considering an opera is ‘an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting‘ you would imagine that someone who cannot hear may choose a different activity or pass time.

Sarah Grange of Release the Hounds clearly wondered the same thing and after discovering the fascinating life of Annie Jump Cannon, the American Astronomer (1863-1941), decided to produce an opera for those that can hear, and those that cannot.

Annie was an astronomer who studied stars at Harvard University, USA. Sarah first read of Annie in a book called Big Bang, about astrophysics. Sarah’s ‘a closet astrophysics obsessive, and collects forgotten female heroes‘. This discovery matured into learning about sound art theory and Sarah started to really think about listening and what sound is. All of this came together to make an opera after bringing the idea to Stephen Bentley Klein who has a deaf daughter.

The opera ‘A Quiet Life‘ is about a crucial moment in Annie’s life when her mother dies and when she starts to lose her hearing. These moments are brought together as a multi-sensory opera set in America in 1894.

A Quiet Life opera

So, how do you put on an opera which people with hard of hearing can enjoy, you may ask?

The fantastically innovative team behind the opera had thought of everything. The opera was an experience. You were invited to move around, play, touch and be curious (but gentle!). There were no chairs to sit on.

photo by Louise

The cast were stood in a semi circle on chairs/boxes with a pianist, conductor and various other instrumental additions in the middle of the room and around the edges were experimental pieces to enjoy the music.

Placed around the room:

  • Was a large screen with the words projected onto it…
  • Were the singers used sign language in a beautifully choreographed manner to explain what they were singing…
  • Were buckets of water with speakers immersed in them produced ripple effects as the words were sung…
  • Was a plate with talcum powder sat on a speaker and shapes were formed through the vibrations…
  • Was a hanging speaker produced vibrations as you placed it against your chest to feel the music…
experimental pieces

water ripples, microphone, sign lanugage, talcum powder

People from the deaf community don’t get the opportunity to attend musical events and this is designed to include everyone.’ said one of the performers interviewed on the BBC.

It was such a unique piece to watch, listen to and take part in and incredibly thought provoking to think how someone with little hearing would experience it.  Sarah wanted to ‘make the piece accessible to people with hearing loss; captions in the piece, sign language and speakers set up in unusual ways‘ and she definitely achieved this. The words were wonderful, the music was beautiful, the singing fantastic – I highly recommend seeing the opera if you get a chance. I’m not sure if another date has been arranged so it may be a case of ‘watch this space’.

Riverside Studios

A Quiet Life was performed at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith on 11th and 12th August as part of the Tete-a-Tete Opera series. There’s a fantastic recording and interview on the Tete-a-Tete website.