Friday, 13 March 2015

Why Birmingham needs more Tech Co-working Hubs

Having spent a lot of time in London recently, one of the things that has struck me is the number of co-working spaces and hubs that exist and that got me wondering, does this have an impact on their startup community.

It is definitely the case that co-working spaces have been awesome for the startup community, both the network effect of putting together communities of highly skilled entrepreneurs, able to advise, share and collaborate on problems has led to some great success stories. It enables investors to easily communicate to groups of startups, gives opportunities for entrepreneurs to feel comfortable and safe in a community of like-minded people, places for training,meetups and very often mentors in the same space.

Having more than one community space for tech entrepreneurs generates a number of interesting effects, both collaborative and competitive for both investors and entrepreneurs. Finding the space that effectively meets your needs is a lot easier when there is more than one.

A truism is that work expands to fill the space available and I believe this to be true of coworking spaces, having more spaces leads to more startups, more chances of success which leads to greater reinvestment in the community itself.

More than one space means that different approaches can exist, both from an investment strategy and how startups are supported leading to a greater number of startups within the community overall.

Looking at Birmingham, while there are a lot of co-working spaces, from BOM, Impact hub, BizzInn,  there seems to be only e4f that seems to fit the definition of a tech working space rather than a general space and I think that while it does a fantastic job of both providing support and opportunities for tech startups that perhaps we also need some more spaces to achieve that which we see in London.

Manchester has at least 4 spaces, Leeds has a couple, is it not time for Birmingham to do better.

Having more spaces would give us more startups, meaning that Birmingham could capitalise on the recent publicity on its status as a top 10 city to work in by giving specific space to those that have the greatest opportunity to create high growth companies.

I look forward to the enterprising people that take the challenge up and help create the next tech co-working space.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Why Birmingham should be top of every founders list when considering location!

In January 2015 it was reported that Birmingham, UK, will be receiving a new incubator that would come in handy in support of start-ups in the city known as iCentrum and would be operational by March 2016. In the process, it would create over 400 jobs and give back to the Birmingham community about £25 million annually. While such great news might not be very unique to Birmingham only, it is already official that Birmingham is great for start-up tech companies, especially if iCentrum and other key tech developments in Birmingham are anything to go by.
In 2013 alone, the city of Birmingham was top of the new list of start-ups outside London with 16,281 companies having been launched in the city more than in any other city in the UK apart from London.
Birmingham is famous as the home of heavy metal and tennis but the most significant of all these is that of any 4,000 inventions taking place annually in the United Kingdom, over 2,800 come from this famous city in the UK and Europe. Here are a number of reasons why Birmingham is great for start-up tech companies today.
  Home of great talent
Birmingham back in the 18th century was heralded as the first world manufacturing town and led in the global advances in economic development, technology and science. As we speak, Birmingham is a major UK digital hub with over 38,000 people employed in about 6,000 technological firms. In the city are thousands of business and computer science students driven by the 5 universities here . Hiring top talent is very easy considering the cutthroat competition manifested in London by such corporations as Facebook and Google is not there.
Birmingham as a city with great talent is not a secret anymore. For example, BufferApp, which allows users to schedule Facebook posts and Tweets and post them later is a Birmingham creation with other immense start-ups having come out of the city already such as for crafters and hobbyists, Soshi Games, WHISK that allows users to purchase entire supermarket recipes, CrowdControl that appealed to the Leeds' City Council and others with dozens of social media accounts that need management. Others include Poikos, among others that are in the works currently. The Innovation Birmingham Campus is a flourishing technology community with open work spaces of 38,000 sq ft promoting mobile operations for start-ups.
Cost of living is low
The low cost of living in Birmingham improves the quality of life while making wages low in a very unique balance. For instance, while renting a flat with two bedrooms is about £1,500 in London, with just £670 you can get the same in Birmingham, if not better. This is why ASOS among others have opened new offices in the city after claiming that tech talent costs in Birmingham are 50 percent lower in contrast with the English Capital's.
Tech ecosystem
Without a doubt there is some tech event taking place in Birmingham almost everyday, making the city to have one of the most vibrant ecosystems in the world of tech. There are all kinds of investors, office spaces, large companies and diverse start-ups in the city at any given time with top companies claiming that Birmingham has the vision, talent and space every tech talent is looking for with the city's unique tech culture and its great potential to be a top e-commerce hub making it irresistible.
A good example is the Silicon Canal, a major tech community that seeks to create an international tech ecosystem right in Birmingham by helping tech companies, events and people find one another, communicate globally about the great tech stuff taking place in the city and attracting top talent from elsewhere, run events and projects where there are opportunities to lend a hand and events and projects to support and run. 
Location and transport
Birmingham is also in a central location while the High Speed Rail 2 project that will reduce the Birmingham-London train journey from 74 minutes to just 43 minutes would be operational by 2026.
Research and development
Investment in the region have made the city a top hub for research and development in tech and science, such as the biomedical hub worth £6.8m and opened in 2014, offering office and lab space to the science sector in the city and hundreds of jobs.
Liveable city

Birmingham is also a very liveable city with some of the most affordable food prices. Outside London the city has four restaurants that are Michelin starred and lots of farmers markets and independent restaurants particularly outside the city centre such as Moseley, Kings Heath and Harbourne. The property price average by July 2014 stood at £114, 713 with 69 crimes reported per a thousand people in the city and a stable average broadband speed of 20.7 mbps.   

Friday, 19 September 2014

Founders – The challenges of recruiting a CTO – why it pays to outsource!

One of the hardest things to do as a Non-Technical Co-founder is to recruit a CTO who can join the company later but still share in the passion that you have for the product. With the rise of accelerators, hands-on investors and easy options to build a MVP and launch, many CEO’s are finding that they have so much to run from the business and client end, that they are in difficulty when it comes time to find the CTO.

Launching through having your product built by a third party, or a friend is great and is a really cost effective way to get to MVP, however it creates a legacy of technical debt and potentially difficult code or technology stacks that might not be right to scale the product. This is where the CTO or Lead Developer is really key to taking you through to the next level.

At this point the CEO or COO will be heavily engaged in running teams, working with clients, mapping feature sets and reporting to the board and their main constraints are around time as well as funding the hiring of a new CTO. Using agencies can be costly, 25% of salary is not a small amount, doing it through friends, referrals and networking can take forever with the board increasing the pressure to hire every month.

I recently worked on a project for a client to do exactly this and though it might be useful to share our experience of this.

The total amount of time to hire was 55 hours, this included setting up job postings, reaching out through LinkedIn, searching job boards, tele screening candidates, organising technical screens and skype interviews with the CEO, COO, investors and finally closing the deal with the candidate. 
That’s probably the average week for a CEO but ask one you know if they could afford the time to do this.

We reached out to over 250 candidates directly, managed over 80 advertising responses, had over 10 direct referrals across multiple sources.
We posted across Europe, headhunted, networked and drove the process on, keeping our candidates in the process during August when everyone was on holiday, giving consistent feedback to candidates and managing communications.

What did the company gain, we hope that candidates got a better view of the company, had a better experience and due to implementing a workflow system called Workable are able to build a talent pool that will be receptive to them the next time they hire.

What were the learning points.

  • ·         Hiring from Europe can mean great candidates who are prepared to work for less, but the           advertising platforms are not great yet to attract them.
  • ·         Referrals are great especially from investors.
  • ·         You can spend a lot of money with little ROI on new platforms.
  • ·         Speed is of the essence, having a streamlined process is ultra-effective, longer than 2 weeks         to hire means you lose candidates
  • ·         Everybody needs to be bought into the process.
  • ·         Reaching out through Linkedin or other platforms is more effective than anything.

What was the end result?

For under 30% of the cost of an agency, a slick process and the opportunity to build an ATS, we hired a great CTO, did it in a reasonable time frame and the CEO spent less than 5 hours in actual interviewing. That’s a good result! are a inhouse recruitment service for startups and fastgrowth companies in the Technology, Bio and Mobile world. To find out more visit

Thursday, 3 July 2014

An Evening of Tech Beers at Silicon Canal


I attended my first meeting of Silicon Canal Tech Beers last night and thought it would be worth writing a post to capture my thoughts of the evening and what I learnt.

Firstly its impossible to remember everybody's name, but thankfully helps with that.

Google Glass is really cool, but you look like Robocop wearing it. Thanks to the guys from Love the Look to bringing it along for everyone to play with.

After some discussion of the best restaurants in Birmingham, Adams scores highly, we quickly moved to a more favourable topic, beers and economics, Pure Bar, Brewdog and the Wellington seemed popular!
On Economics:
I  learnt that vodka does taste different at different price points, watching the blind A/B test conducted by Stuart and Giles was entertaining. Next time I shall not put it on my tab( learning point)

On Behavioural Economics:
Being told something is more expensive makes it more enjoyable. 

At least 4 of the group wear pebble, and are into some form of fitness logging.

There are some awesome tech start-ups in Birmingham, and we need to shout about them more. 

Birmingham needs a decent profile blog page of how founders have done recruitment to share best practice, think I would be keen to do something around this.

All founders struggle with recruitment, some of the usual stuff around lack of talent but mainly around being able to commit the right amount of time to doing it properly.

A few companies are doing similar things and could share best practice around things like sales and hiring especially around using newer tools.

There is a scarcity of talent on Birmingham, and we lose it to London too much.

The Drop forge is a nice pub and serves great coffee.

Tech people are friendly even the ones that give Klingon welcome waves. 

All in a very pleasant night with some great, interesting people, looking forward to the next one.

I attended in my role as inhouse recruiter for a Birmingham tech Startup through my new company which can be found at

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Recruitment Tips for Small Business

After 16 years of working in recruitment, I typically hear the same comments from HR managers, Directors and hiring managers about recruitment and the biggest of these is generally cost and quality of service. Recruitment companies cost us too much and we get poor candidates from them so I thought I would outline a few helpful hints as too how you can save money.

Firstly understanding how recruitment agencies work can give a good insight into what drives some of the behaviours that can be found out there. Most recruiters work on a contingency basis, that is you pay them if you find a candidate. Its low risk but you pay a huge premium for this. Recruiters have little confidence in you as a client, own the candidate IP rather than you so can sell them to other clients and are interested in making a fee so will show little loyalty to you as a client if a better role  or bigger fee comes up.

1.       Do you need to hire?
Often hiring is a reactive process, somebody has left or been performance managed out or in the worst case been dismissed and the immediate response is quickly ‘find me a replacement’. Companies should spend time evaluating whether they need to hire someone that is exactly the same, what the role will cover before starting the recruitment process. Often the role may change, somebody else internally may fit(see point 9) or the role can be covered by the existing team.
2.       Promote somebody and hire an apprentice( succession planning)
Do you succession plan? If a key member left, is there somebody ready or wanting to take on the role, does this mean you can hire a less experienced or qualified person and motivate your existing staff through promotion or job challenge?
3.       Write a good job spec
The recruitment process starts with writing the right job spec, which includes company brief, person profile, skills, and competencies. This will help make sure you recruit the right person.
4.       Do it yourself
There are a plethora of options available for companies to recruit themselves for value. The issue for most companies is the time to do this, but companies like Babbage Lovelace can help.
5.       Referrals
In local markets like Cleobury, odds on, somebody in your company will know someone who could do the job, how do you approach them, how do you get them to recommend them, do you have a referral system in place?
6.       Careers Page
It amazed me how many companies still don’t have a careers page that is up to date or allows candidates to add their CV’s to a talent pool. Particularly in areas like Cleobury where there is a small pool of people, building up a talent pool of the local market that you can approach when you have a job is essential to reducing your recruitment fees.
7.       Negotiate your fees
Most agencies are willing to negotiate, it’s a competitive marketplace out there, there are even sites that will auction your job for you.
8.       Exclusivity
If you are going to work with an agency, offer exclusivity in return for specific returns, exclusive ownership of candidates, lower fees, free advertising or research.
9.       Contract management
Companies that use lots of contractors can often make savings through better contract management, either through an Recruit Process Outsourcer, standardisation of rates, volume rate negotiation. This all starts with an audit internally to capture the current start of what you have.

A good process to follow is 

Do we need the job?
Is there anybody internally who is planned or would be capable of the job
Do we have anybody in our talent pool that would be interested in the job
Does our workforce know anybody for the job?
Can we do it ourselves?
Go external to an agency? Negotiate, Exclusivity!

Babbage Lovelace In-House recruitment specialise in providing recruitment services by the hour in a fully transparent manner for SME companies. We offer a free one hour consultation to discuss key challenges you might be facing.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Flowers, Di Canio and Dymond - When will we ever learn

We used Psychometrics - Why did it go wrong?

As many will have seen this week, numerous articles have been published regarding the recruitment of Paul Flowers at Co-op, George Dymond at Morrisons and the hiring of numerous football managers who were completely wrong for the business or left extremely quickly with the use of psychometrics being quoted in a number of them as a key reason for the hire.

Recruiting a Chairman of a bank with no previous banking experience on the basis of his leadership and previous board credentials might be seen as foolish, especially following the numerous reports into the financial crisis which stated that one of the key drivers was leadership that did not understand the products or risks within the system.  One does feel that the job description was far more people and behaviours focused rather than domain experience.

Bringing people in who leave within 3-6 months because the job was not what was envisioned demonstrates a lack of desire by the organisation to  fully understand what their needs are at the outset by either failing to outline the role or environment in which candidates will work; of course being blinded by one of the many recruitment fallacies such as halo, mirror, PLU or their background can also be reasons why the wrong person is hired.

What this overlooks is the key reason for hiring a headhunter or recruitment specialist, to advise, design or oversee the process, challenging either the board or the leadership team that they hire the right person  for the role in a proper selection process. Given the recent scenario at Sunderland with Di Canio, one does wonder whether they assessed him at all in their selection process or just went with someone who they thought brought credibility?

This brings us onto the other crucial role of a headhunter, fully referencing candidates both through the formal side of their CV but also by talking to others who have worked with them to understand their work style and limitations, coming back to the Di Canio situation, one feels a couple of quick phone calls to Swindon might have influenced the decision to Sunderlands benefit.

How boards and leaders design the assessment of the hiring process is something where the recruiter can bring a great deal of experience both through their structured interview technique, arranging testing, role plays and case studies through to advising on the decisions that they take.

Having a panel involved in the interview and assessment process can overcome shortcomings associated with having the same person making hiring decisions, however the panel needs to be balanced and not subject to groupthink or influence by the most senior person.

While psychometrics will have a key role to play in hiring especially when the team fit and motivations are key to ensuring that a person will be able to lead a group of experienced leaders and personalities, the focus of a recruiter should be on making sure that both sides are aware of the opportunities and constraints around the job, assessment is accurate and competently carried out, and the expectations should be clear for all when decisions and offers are made.

Psychometrics and aptitude tests have long been used to set benchmarks and give boards, leaders and hiring managers a good reason to rule people out but they should never be used as the only reason to hire without all the other checks and balances of a proper assessment exercise.

If any football clubs or banks wish to employ me in the search for their next manager I would be happy to talk to them!
What are your thoughts?

Friday, 11 October 2013

Thoughts from the LEP conference 2

So a quick review of the LEP conference today at Worcester Sixways, some great thoughts and ideas on how to improve the structural positioning of Worcestershire and how we can be involved.

Awesome overview on employment and skills especially apprenticeships from Karl at Thermo Bosch Group, I am a huge fan of this and can see real value especially where companies have significant long term contractors in the business that they could add real value by training apprenticeships up.  Great target of 10,000 by Karl and his team and well on the way to achieving it. If you are a business in Worcestershire, you should sign up for this!

Lots on younger people and skilling them up,I thought the focus on linking schools with businesses up was a really strong innovation and added real value, especially as it would help drive our youth to make proper career choices rather than blindly following a education route. I wanted to question on what the strategy for older people who need to reskill especially given the demographic in Worcestershire.

For more information on the 'Connecting Schools and Business Programme' and Apprenticeships then email

A new service - Tweetups's, using twitter to organise meetings in the interval worked for me but not sure about others, but well done OGL computing Maybe put the WIFI password in the main room as well though as quite a few of us had to get it at the break.

Overall, I thought the LEP was going in right direction, I was shocked to hear about lack of inward investment capability,they have made a great start especially around the video and a brochure but needs significant work and ambition, I do think this is a key role for the LEP and needs to be in conjunction with the economic development arms of the various councils, but knowing how focused that Birmingham, Manchester and other cities are, while we will probably never punch at that level we should do more.

Finance - Not another one, how many more portals are there for SME's to find finance? I did have a great thought that we should look to follow the example of the Oxygen Accelerator model in Birmingham and start to attract innovative startups through new funding models though. If we focused this onto particular sectors such as food, green technology and cyber security we could really build some depth and strength there.

Brilliant examples of turnaround from Brintons and Holywell Malvern, especially the move to export internationally.

I did think that compared to what used to be the RDA, a little surprised at the lack of money they are being given!

Good strategy around clusters and sectors for the region and very true that while we need to work with our surrounding LEPs, they are really in competition with us for the same funds and workforces.

A good conference, and great to see Worcestershire finally uniting Business and government to drive the area forward, I look forward to next year and seeing what progress is made.