Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Interrogating the CIA

Yesterday afternoon I joined a small group of men in grey suits in a nondescript building in central London to meet with and ask searching questions of the CIA. No, no, no! Not THAT CIA, you silly billy. I mean Kim Cameron, the jovial, highly respected Chief Identity Architect of Microsoft Corp. What a great job title. Or is it Chief Architect of Identity?

Kim spoke at this excellent meeting organised by the Enterprise Privacy Group. It was a very informative meeting and I'd like to be able to report on it fully but it was held under Chatham House Rules, or to be more accurate The Chatham House Rule (there is only one rule). The Chatham House Rule is, I believe, a uniquely British institution. It works something like this.

At the beginning of a meeting, the organiser says "this meeting will be held under the Chatham House Rule". Everyone nods, including me, even though half the room has no idea what he means but it sounds impressive and gives you the feeling that you are on the "inside" of something that is about to get really interesting. If the organiser knows what he is doing he will say "for those of you who don't know what it means..." (at this point we all smile in a superior fashion at each other, not letting on that we don't know...) "it means that you CAN report what has been said at this meeting but you CANNOT attribute it to any individual speaker". Ahhhh, that's what it means.

This is quite interesting really. A lot of people think that a meeting held under the Chatham House Rule (remember - there is only one rule) cannot be reported on at all. That it's completely "off the record" (by the way, don't fall for that one either if the journalist says that to you). Not quite the case. However it is odd to try to report on a meeting when you can't say who said what.

For example, I can say that someone drew a quite entertaining analogy between what we need from an national identity card and that blank piece of "psychic paper" that Doctor Who holds up to get in to places around the universe, but I can't tell you who. I can tell you that there was quite a heated exchange between two gents in a way that you don't often get at our Very British meetings which had me wanting to jump up, form a circle round them and start chanting "fight, fight, fight" (ahhh, school days, eh) but I can' t tell you who.

Mind you, I've attended quite a few meetings under the Chatham House Rule and I have never, ever seen or heard of the Rule being broken. We just accept it. It's self regulation at its best. I think we enjoy the fact that this completely voluntary rule is such a wonderfully British invention. After all if a chap can't rely on another chap to stick to the Chatham House Rule, where would a chap be?

So, I can't say much about the meeting except that it was quite thought provoking. And that the CIA in question was not the one you first thought. The nearest I've got to the real men in dark glasses is the time when the guys from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, popped up out of nowhere for a chat, wondering whether Garlik was looking for any extra funding. Gulp! But that's material for another day...

Sunday, 20 April 2008

The Art of Arm Waving

Last Thursday was our 15th wedding anniversary and so I did what any good husband would do. I arranged for my wife and I to go out together for the evening. However, being an entrepreneurial husband, I must confess that we actually went to a busness networking event where my wife had the thrilling experience of sitting in the audience and listening to me present for an hour to a group of businesspeople and entrepreneurs. The joys of being married to a entrepreneur, eh!

As CEO of Garlik, I do a fair amount of presenting (or arm-waving as it sometimes gets called), probably twice a month on average. Being able to stand on your hind legs and present to audiences of all shapes and sizes is an essential part of being a start-up guy and the more you practice the better you get. So I tend to seize most opportunities that come my way. For example, over the coming month or so I am talking at a large semantic web conference in San Jose, USA, a couple of identity related conference in the UK and a high level expert group meeting of a United Nations agency in Geneva.

Eacn one is different. Some are very "grown up", no jokes, all shirt and ties. Some are casual, relaxed, interactive. I tend to prefer the latter. However there are a few rules that I follow in all cases.

For example, my preparation time (and I always prepare - even my ad lib jokes!) tends to be inversely proportional to the length of the speech. It is really, really hard to give a good 5 minute pitch. The last time I did that to an audience of about 200 venture capital folk at Imax in London I practiced for about a day solid beforehand (actually all through the previous night). I just went over and over the pitch, timing it with a stop watch each time until it was drummed in to my head. It took 4 mins 32 seconds at home and it took 4 mins 32 seconds on the day. That forum was actually quite surreal. Take a look at this picture of the Imax theatre - imagine standing at the front with a 20 metre high image of your own head behind you. Very weird!

I have a pretty firm rule about powerpoint slides. One slide for every 4 minutes. People almost always have more slides than they need. If you lay out your story at a rate of 1 slide per 4 minutes, the pace will be about right. Then by all means slip in perhaps 1 extra slide, or 2 if it's a half hour slot, but that's it. 15 minute slot? That's 4 slides plus may be 1 extra. Half hour slot? 10 slides max. 5 minute pitch? Just put up a single background slide and leave it up there. Also you must know which slides you are going to drop if you are running short of time. I see people, when told that they are down to their last 5 minutes, flicking through the last 20 slides trying to figure out which ones to talk about. Make sure you know that up front. If the moderator says "Tom, 5 minutes left" I will always know which slide to flick to immediately.

Now to the tricky question of jokes. Did you here the one about the entrepreneur, the sheep and....no, no stop it. You've got to be so careful with jokes. Sometimes they work, break the ice and the audience is with you. Sometimes they fall flat and you suddenly find you are staring out at a hostile audience who think you are not taking them seriously. I tend to start serious, deliver some insights of value (if I can) and try to sense whether I have any permission with this audience to relax a bit. If not, I stay serious. If I do, I might try an "aside" and see whether I get any response, before launching in to the whole pie-in-the-face, crazy unicycle riding, whoops-there-go-my-trousers routine.

Speaking of relaxing a bit, I am ALWAYS nervous before speaking to an audience. Always. I don't really know why given that I have done it hundreds of times to thousands of people. It can be a small group of students or a huge hall of business executives but for some reason my stomach will always do that knotty thing that they do when you are nervous and just as I am being introduced I can feel my heart pounding. Odd. I tend to deal with it by taking the first couple of slides really slowly and carefully, then I'm in my stride and I'm away.

Probably the most challenging presentation I have done was a few years ago when I shared the stage with Bill Gates at a conference in London. There were about a thousand people in the audience, hanging off every word. The plan was that Bill would talk, introduce me and hand over, I would talk hand back to him and that was it. I was given 6 minutes. Not 5. Not 7. 6 minutes exactly. Boy, did I practice for that one!

The most emotional presentation was when I had to stand up in front of my team at my previous start up and announce that I was leaving after running it for about 6 years. I choked up half way through (only time it has ever happened) and couldn't speak. They all stared at me with a mixture of horror and fascination until my co-founder and brother came to the rescue. A couple of months later they invited me back to the team's Xmas lunch and I was asked to stand up and say a few words. As I stood up a voice at the back said "Oi, you're not going to blub again, are you?".

So doing presentations is an essential part of an entrepreneurs kitbag and you need to seize any opportunity you can to stand up in front of people and practice, practice, practice - at least that's what I told my wife last week on our anniversay!

(Oh, in case you are concerned about whether we will make it to our 16th, we did go out afterwards to a lovely restaurant in Chelsea where we had a very pleasant evening).

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

I want to be a Spice Girl

"I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want. I want a zig-a-zig ahhhh". Thus spake the Spice Girls in 1997 as they invaded the USA and dominated the Billboard Charts. Well, perhaps I too need a zig-a-zig ahhhh (whatever one of those is) because in 2008 we are going to take Garlik to the USA.

It's a huge challenge for UK technology start-ups to "take on" America. The phrase "coals to Newcastle" springs to mind, but taking the challenge on is all part of the game and if, like us, you are genuinely trying to build a global company then you have to go for it.

There are so many issues to think about and one particularly interesting one is whether to go East Coast or West Coast to start with. Some say it doesn't matter, that in this global internet age you can base yourself anywhere. I say rubbish. It matters. It will impact the culture and shape of your business in fundamental ways. Let's look into this in a bit more detail.

When we say West Coast we really mean Silicon Valley. Yes, I know people talk about LA or Seattle but frankly if you are going to shift your business halfway around the world, why on earth wouldn't you go straight to the heart of things. So what's it like as an outsider, from the UK, trying to establish your business in the Valley?

I go over to the Valley fairly frequently and I know quite a few guys there now. It's an interesting place. The first thing that strikes me is that Silicon Valley is a long, long way away. 9 hour time differences and sheer distance can't be over estimated. If you are a UK company and you are intent on basing yourself along Highway 101 San Francisco Bay Area then I think you either need to split the company in two and give the US arm its autonomy, or you need to shift the HQ over to the Valley. Any middle ground and you will end up in a mess. I've seen it happen several times.

The second thing is that the Valley can be surprisingly "closed" and it's difficult to break in. I don't know whether it can be done quickly. Perhaps over time, but in start-up timescales? A couple of months ago I was at a dinner with about 50 other folk to discuss social networking. In attendance were guys like Michael Arrington of Techcrunch, Robert Scoble, the A-list blogger, Reid Hoffman, founding CEO of Linkedin and various other Valley guys. The dynamics of the group was very interesting. Despite the fact that all the attendees were big boys and girls, the evening centered around the banter and in-jokes amongst these Valley insiders. If you are a UK start up trying to break in to the Valley scene, you will definitely need to hire someone who is known around the area, who grew up there and cut their teeth alongside these guys.

On the other hand, if you are not there, in the flow, then you are not going to get in to the right converstions. You can't just breeze in and out once a month and expect to become part of what's really going on. KPCB is not going to look at you. eBay is not going to turbo-charge your growth. Techcrunch is not going to cover you. But if you are in the flow, then your business can be transformed, it can be catapulted up to a whole new level overnight. That one key conversation, that chance meeting, that enthusiastic blog, can change everything.

The alternative is to go East Coast. Then you have a choice. Boston or New York? If the financial sector is important to you then it's an easy choice. New York. If you need to be visible to the East Coast media then it's an easy choice. New York. In fact unless there is a strong reason to base yourself in Boston (like your Boston based VC gives you free office space), then New York it is, on the East Coast.

The advantage of East Coast is that it is just about possible to manage the business fron the UK. You can put in place a business development team and a country manager, talk at sensible times of the day on the phone and fly back and forth fairly easily without killing yourself. But, bear in mind that to the Valley boys New York is a different planet, so don't kid yourself that you have broken in to the West Coast start up scene if your office is on Park Avenue.

East or West. Which is best? Hmmm, tricky. Perhaps I am being too conventional. Perhaps there is another way. Do I really have to make a choice? Let's see what the Spice Girls think.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

The Big Quiz: Answers

On the 4th April, the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assasination, I wrote a piece about my experiences in the City over the past couple of decades. I set it out in the form of a quiz and promised to share what I actually did in each situation. Here are "the answers".

Question 1: The nearest tree

Answer 1: c) just walk away and do nothing, shamefully, whilst Martin Luther King looks down on you in disgust.

Yes, I'm afraid I had no response and I am still ashamed to this day. I remember being completely taken aback at the blatant racism and to be honest I was scared. I didn't know what to do, a week in to the job. So I walked away, kept my mouth shut and got on with life. I steered clear of this unpleasant individual for the rest of my time at the London Stock Exchange.

Question 2: Japanese Diplomacy

Answer 2: a) Take it head on, pick a fight with one of the largest banks in the world and damn the consequences.

Gosh, this was a tough decision. But I felt it was just too "wrong" to let pass. I really felt I was ending my prospects of a City career by deciding to fight but I took it on whatever the consequences, and I'm proud of myself for doing that.

Here's how it played out.

After careful consideration, the CRE took up the case and filed a racial discrimination case against the bank. The bank responded by hiring a very powerful law firm who hit back swiftly. They claimed that the individual involved did not speak english well and had meant "we don't employ foreigners" (because of work permits) not "we don't employ black people". Also they said the CRE had filed case against the wrong legal entity as the employee in question did not work for the entity that was referenced in the case, so we were back to square one. Meanwhile the employee in question was quickly repatriated to head office in Tokyo.

However the CRE persisted with the case. Then things got interesting. I got a call from the recruitment lady in tears asking to see me. We met and she told me that her Director had had a meeting with her that morning. Her Director told her the facts of life. The Japanese bank had had a quiet word with the Director at the recruitment agency. If that agency didn't get their employee to drop the case then that agency would never do any business with any japanese bank in the City again. So, the Director told the lady if she didn't drop the case she in turn would never work in the recruitment industry in the City again.

The poor lady was distraught, but she felt that she could not say goodbye to her career for this case, so she had to retract everything. In fact they even made her write a personal letter of apology to the Japanese employee! So that's how it ended.

Almost. Except that last year (20 years later) I got a call from the same bank saying they were interested in my company, Garlik, and could they come and tell me about their services and their venture capital arm? It's a funny old world.

Question 3: The Little Drummer Boy

Answer 3: c) walk out of the room, but pretend to yourself that you are going to pick it up with him later.

I was quite embarrased by the chap's actions, but I knew he didn't mean anything by it, so I was puzzled as to what to do. I walked away, but the mistake I made was that I didn't go back to have a word with him about it later.

A few weeks later I walked into a pub after work to meet up with him and others for a drink. As I walked in, he swung round and shouted jovially across the pub "Hey, Ilube, you old black bastard. Come over here". A few people laughed, a few people looked embarrased for me, most kept their heads down.

I gasped, spun on my heel and stormed out. I heard him chase after me shouting "come back, I didn't mean it" but I left anyway and went home. The next day, he apologised sincerely and I have not heard another such remark out of him since.

My only regret there is that I should have said something first time round. By saying nothing, I had given him permission to carry on with that type of behaviour, both with me and with others. I should have nipped it in the bud and a simple word or two would have taken care of it. So, wrong call by me there.

Question 4: The Monkey Puzzle

Answer 4: well, not a) but then not really b) either.

I just couldn't bring myself to green light the exercise of having every single person questioned to find out the culprit. I think I had a pretty good idea who the culprits were and I had decided to speak to them myself.

However what actually happened was that the Big Boss sent out an email to all 250 staff that evening. It was a powerful piece and I still have a 12 year old print out of it. It described exactly what had happened, it stated that as Chief Executive he wanted to make it crystal clear that this is completely unacceptable and more fundamentally that this behaviour is completely out of line with the culture that he was creating. He invited the culprit, if he was bold enough, to approach me and apologise. Or if the individual didn't feel able to do that, he invited that individual to leave the organisation.

The effect of this note was extremely impactful. I felt 100% supported and the organisation got a clear message from the top. No-one ever apologised to me and I never did find out who the artist was but I think this is a textbook example of how a Chief Executive should behave in this situation. Brilliant.

Question 5: Who's in the woodpile?

Answer 5: b) keep you mouth shut. After all it's just a phrase. He's a man of his time. He didn't mean anything by it, probably doesn't even know he said it.

The "woodpile" incident is one that so many black professional people in the UK have had to deal with, and I wish someone had told me what to do before it happened to me. I made a complete mistake the first time this happened to me. I opted for option b) - let it slide. I should not have let it go.

In this case, what actually happened was that one of the other directors mentioned to the executive in question what he had done. He was shocked and surprised. He literally couldn't remember saying it and was very embarrased. Next time we were together he found a gruff, blokey sort of way to apologise and I am sure he eliminated that phrase from his vocabulary.

However a couple of years later I was in another executive meeting in the same organisation when a different executive used exactly the same phrase. Having thought long and hard about what I would do next time it happened, I was ready.

Tom (slowly, quizically and deliberately, as if seeking clarity but not threatenly) "Ah, excuse me, but did you just say Nigger...In...The...Woodpile?"

Executive (turning very red very quickly) "oh my goodness, did I? I'm so sorry. I really do apologise. Gosh. I don't know where that came from. Really sorry."

Tom (dismissive wave of the arm) "no problem, no problem, it's just a bit offensive you see. But let's carry on".

That's all that's needed really. The message is clear. The issue is dealt with on the spot in a powerful but non-threatening way and life moves on.

And in general, life moves on. These incidents come and go and they change over time. What I and my generation have faced has been difficult at times but is trivial compared to what my parents generation faced. My children, unfortunately, will have their own challenges. But as the song says "that that that that that don't kill me, can only make me stronger"

Friday, 4 April 2008

The Big Quiz: I have a dream

Forty years ago today Martin Luther King was assassinated for his dream. And what a dream it was. But forty years on, how are we doing in the journey towards realising this dream? For example, to bring it down to something that I personally have experience of, what has it been like being a black executive and entrepreneur in London over the past couple of decades? Well, it's been interesting, let me tell you.

Almost all of it has been so positive I can scarcely believe it. I started out working at one point in a McDonalds in Tooting (lasted two days before being got rid of for continuously saying "have a nice day, y'all" and "would Sir care to go large" in a bitterly sardonic voice) and have got as far as BBC News at One (today), trips to Silicon Valley, Davos and Number 10, whilst having a lot of fun, hopefully doing some good and making a little bit of money along the way.

But one of the interesting aspects of building a career as a black person in the UK is that from time to time you find yourself suddenly and unexpectedly facing tricky choices where the decision you make on the spot will have a fundamental impact on the rest of your career. Try these five real-life situations from my career and see how you would have reacted.

Question 1: The nearest tree

It's 1986. You are early 20's and have just started work at a major City of London institution. You are so proud to have got this job, going up to London in your suit and tie with your rolled up umbrella. It's the end of your very first week and you go out with your manager and team to a nearby City pub. It's a lively Friday evening, lots of City types laughing and chatting. One of the senior managers calls you over.

"Tom, come over here" says John

"Yes, John?" says a slightly timid 22 year old Tom politely in his first grown up job up in the big City of London.

"Tom" says John quietly below the noise "I don't think this of course, but I have to tell you if some of my friends were here, they'd have you swinging from the nearest tree. Anyway, have a good evening". He smiles softly and turns away, leaving you staring at his back.

So, first question. Do you

a) punch John on the nose and storm out of the pub and out of your City career?
b) raise the issue immediately with your manager and take John to a 1986 industrial tribunal, where John, the respected City gent of 30 years standing, will smile softly and deny he said anything to this ambitious young chap who is clearly playing "the race card"?
c) just walk away and do nothing, shamefully, whilst Martin Luther King looks down on you in disgust?

Question 2: Japanese Diplomacy

You are halfway through your MBA. All you eager beavers have started applying for jobs with investment banks. Amongst your 100 or so applications, you apply via a recruitment agency for a job with a Japanese investment bank. After a few days and to your surprise you get a phone call from the lady at the agency, almost in tears.

She tells you that when she spoke to her client about your CV, he was furious with her and told her hadn't she been told that they "don't employ black people".

She was phoning you to say she was appalled by this, had made notes of the conversation and had told her Director that she wanted to take this to the Commission for Racial Equality. She had done this and the CRE had told her that they wanted to take it on as a high profile case to send a messge to the City, but could only do so if you are willing to formally make the complaint.

Your friends on the MBA tell you that if you do it, you will be all over the media and you might win but you can kiss goodbye to a City career. As an MBA student, you have no job and a large MBA loan to pay.

So, question 2. Do you

a) Take it head on, pick a fight with one of the largest banks in the world and damn the consequences?
b) put it down to experience, keep your head down at this critical stage in your career and plot future revenge?

Question 3: The Little Drummer Boy

You are a professional management consultant working for a "Big 6" consulting firm at a client site. You get on really well with your client/boss. He's a laugh. A real salt of the earth geezer. Think straight-talking DCI Gene Hunt of Life on Mars in a suit and tie in the City.

One day you are talking to a team on one side of a large, open plan office with about 40 people in it. Your chap is calling you across the room but you don't hear. He tries a couple of times. Finally he says "this should get him" and starts banging out a loud beat with his hands on a desk.

The whole room goes quiet as your client/boss shouts with David Brent style laughter "the old jungle drums never fail, eh Tom". Everyone looks at you and back at him. Everyone waits to see what the next move is.

Question 3. Do you

a) launch a flying karate kick across the room whilst screaming at the top of your voice
b) say clearly but calmly "I'm sorry but I really feel that that was completely inappropriate"
c) walk out of the room, but pretend to yourself that you are going to pick it up with him later.

Question 4: The Monkey Puzzle

You are working on a big project and you are a key, senior project manager. Well respected by your peers and with a reputation for getting stuff done if perhaps a bit hard and direct at times.

One evening, after most people have gone you are walking around the building and you pop in to a meeting room. You are shocked to see a big drawing of a monkey left for all to see on a flip chat with your name written at the bottom. You wonder how the meeting went that produced that and how the lads must have sniggered as they filed out of the room. You take the flipchat, unsure what to do, and happen to mention it to a couple of people.

The next day to your surprise you are called in to see the Big Boss. The Big Boss has heard about the incident, as have most of the 200 people on the project by now. Big Boss is very angry. He says he wants to hire a heavyweight corporate security firm. He will stop the entire project for a few days and the security firm will interview every single person one by one until they find the culprit who will then be fired. But he will only do it if that's what you want.

So, Question 4. Do you

a) Press the button, bring the world grinding to a halt and get men with bright lights and sharp, pointy instruments in to do their job, knowing that you will be the centre of gossip and attention for months to come
b) let it slide, after all, its only the lads having a bit of fun. Let's not go over the top for goodness sake. You'll do more harm than good.

Question 5: Who's in the woodpile?

You are a grown up, senior executive. You have it all. Hundreds of staff. Secretary. Big office. Bigger budgets. You are a serious decision maker now.

You are in a regular executive meeting. A fast and heated conversation is going on and you are listening, ready to jump in and make your point. Suddenly one of your colleagues, in describing what the underlying problem is in part of the business say "ah yes, but you see the real nigger in the woodpile is this...." and keeps on talking at rapid fire pace.

You are momentarily stunned. Half the eyes in the room flicker in your direction but quickly turn away when you catch their gaze. The other half don't even notice. The HR Director is sitting opposite you, looking straight at you, waiting to see what you do.

Question 5. Do you

a) call the meeting to a halt and say "hold on a moment, I'm sorry but I really can't accept language like that. I demand an immediate apology", knowing that some of your executive colleagues will roll their eyes and mutter something about "political correctness gone mad"
b) keep you mouth shut. After all it's just a phrase. He's a man of his time. He didn't mean anything by it, probably doesn't even know he said it.

So there you go. A quick test for you. I've picked a few incidents that I found interesting and challenging but I had to leave out a lot. The High Street bank executive who told the consulting partner "make sure you don't bring any blacks along to the pitch" prompting my principled consulting partner to deliberately put me and a colleague of indian origin (who is now a very senior executive in the technology field) forward as the sole consulting team (whilst telling us in advance what the client we were pitching to had said). The more brazen recruitment executive who said on the phone merrily "Tom, can you tell me what colour you are. I can't tell from your name". And so they go on. Ah happy days!

However, the great news is that since I've become an entrepreneur building Garlik and my previous company, I have not had a single incident to compare to any of these. Perhaps it's because as an entrepreur the only thing that counts is whether you can build the business. No one cares if you play golf, if you fit in to the club, if you look the part. Can you raise the money? Can you create the ideas? Can you hire the team? Can you sell? If you can, great. Go for it. You could be green with pink hair for all they care and they'll still back you.

Have a go at the questions and let me know what you would have done. In a future post, I'll tell you honestly what I did in each case - right or wrong, for good or ill.

So, what do I think of The Dream? Well I do have a dream and most of the time the dream is just amazing. The distance we have come in my lifetime, since Martin Luther King was assassinated for daring to dream defies belief. But just once in a while something unexpected happens in the midst of the dream and I jolt upright, eyes wide open and remember the other thing MLK said "We've got some difficult days ahead".

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Breathing Fire in the Dragons Den

Yesterday I got to play at being a "dragon", judging a business plan competition organised by Simfonec and Queen Mary University of London. It's interesting being on the other side of the fence and having aspiring entrepreneurs pitching to you rather than the other way round. I must have pitched to more than 100 investors in my time with a record of something like 95 "NO's" and 5 "YES's" (mind you, the 5 Yes's have added up to about $40m raised!) so I felt a lot of empathy for the young folk pitching.

I say "young folk" because up until recently I thought I was a "Whizz Kid". However last time I spoke to a group of 1st year undergraduate business studies students at City University and mentioned I had done my MBA at their business school, it turned out that none of the 100 or so students in the room had been born when I was doing my MBA. So it appears I am actually a "Whizz Man", possibly even just a "Man".

Ten teams pitched their ideas to a panel of 5 judges. Five of the teams were business studies students and five teams came from the computer science side. You could tell who was who without asking. The business studies guys grab your hand, looked you in the eye, wore trendy suits and had developed great brands and idea but perhaps lacking a bit in substance behind the scenes. In fact two of the brand ideas I saw were not far off the level that one would normally pay a London design agency £50k to develop for you. The computer science guys didn't let me down (being a tech guy myself). The opening line in one case included reference to MAC Addresses and BIOS. They had sort of had a go at branding in the way that only tech guys armed with powerpoint can have a go at branding. But in several cases they had actually built the software that they were describing, rather than just talking about it. Now if we could just get the two groups together and mix them up a bit we might be on to something.

I don't think I'd make a very good dragon really though. I'm too much o nthe side of the entrepreneurs. I want all their ideas to suceed and I hate asking the nasty, cynical, crushing questions that you have to ask as an investor. When I see that spark of excitement in their eyes I want to fan it, not put it out with a clever "it will never work" put down. Oh well, I'll stick to building companies for now.

The two winners were really good. I could easily have invested in either of them. I'm not sure I am allowed to talk about the ideas themselves but just to say if they actually launch the services then on the one hand you will never have to worry about losing your PC again and on the othe hand if you are wandering around Sloane Square and wondering what to do with your child for a couple of hours - your problem is well and truely solved!

So, I reckon creative thinking and entrepreneurship is alive and well in the universities here. There is enthusiasm and talent. All we need now is an early stage venture capital industry to get behind them....