Monday, December 22, 2014

A Christmas gift to entrepreneurs

I like to think that among my strengths are creativity, an understanding of people (and customers) and a passion for delivering outstanding service where possible.

In business, I am also a believer in remaining focused and true to a vision, so among many ideas  I have, one of the reasons I can't pursue them is a lack of capacity. That could be time or technical resource or access to the right markets, but often the commercial viability of an idea may not work out … or certainly may not prove to be scalable or sustainable.

But there has been one idea I’ve had that I am convinced has a market, is sustainable and scalable and currently lacks any serious direct competition. Unfortunately, I don't have the technical know how or the time to execute it, but like many great ideas and businesses, it is born from my personal needs as a consumer … and so many people like me.

So in a now time honoured tradition of some great men before me, I plan to put my idea out in the open for free. To see if it is grabbed and exploited to create a new industry that can serve consumers in need and see the development of some very successful businesses.

My only request, if anyone takes it, acknowledge where the idea came from and provide me a lifetime supply of the end product!

So here is the story …

We all know it is customary behaviour in hotels to pack the cute packaged toiletries provided. On the last day of a trip I was on recently with my wife, she over zealously packed all the shampoo a little too early. I found myself in the shower on our last morning with soap, shower gel, conditioner and creams … but no shampoo. When I asked my wife if she had packed all the shampoo, her casual answer was “yes, why do you need it?”. For those of you who have seen me in real life, my exposed scalp may cause you to wonder the same, but I do in fact, despite my minimal hair, shampoo every day.

Stolen hotel toiletries!

Maybe it has no impact or maybe it is force of habit, but I do not feel a shower is complete if I haven't shampooed. So this sparked an interesting debate at home and to prove my point we asked some friends, who share my hairstyle, if they shampoo or not. It was a unanimous yes ...on a daily basis!

In this metro-sexual age where the "men's grooming" industry has exploded, there are different creams and potions specifically designed for each and every different part of your body, this got me thinking about the scalp. That day, in the absence of shampoo, why didn't I just grab the shower gel and wash my head with that? I’ll tell you why... Because shower gel is for the body and shampoo is for the head.

Metro-Sexual retailing
So this led me to think about this further. We have hand creams and face creams and body creams. There are foot creams and eye creams and I am sure many other sorts of creams … but nothing for the male scalp!

Whether men wear no hair by nature or by design, there is a large exposed surface area of skin that needs to be looked after, and why should we men be forced to use non specific cream on our scalps? That is indeed my solution today, and I am sure it is not doing any harm (in fact I am sure it is still a much better option than not putting anything at all), but in a day and age where more and more men are becoming aware and caring about their appearance and well-being and where more and more men are choosing “bald” as an option, it has struck me as a gaping hole in the market that this has not been addressed.

My bald brethren
I’ve looked across skin care brands across the world and have not yet seen one specifically designed scalp cream. I profess that there is a market for this along with a range of complimentary products and accessories as well. If anyone agrees and has the know how, time and desire to run with this, please do. I wish you good luck and good fortune, it's going to be the next "big thing"

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A trek in Tibet

One of my great passions is writing (hence this blog) and one morning a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a idyllic location sitting at a desk in a “writers room”.

All set up at the writers desk

I owed it to myself and my gracious host to compose something whilst there and not squander an amazing opportunity.

Surrounded by so much beauty, this should have been an easy task, but I had to first tackle the exhaustion from my journey. It was proving a challenge to make the altitude adjustment. As I sat at the desk, I found myself panting after climbing just one short flight of steps!

I am in one of the many research centers of CERS (the China Exploration and Research Society), and my host is How Man Wong, the extraordinary founder and President of this incredible organisation.

How Man in the central building on the CERS site

It was a Wednesday morning when I ventured out of Dubai with my son, and 36 hours later, late on Thursday evening, we arrived ... to Shangri-La. 3,200 meters above sea level near the Tibetan Plateau!

It was dark upon our arrival and we were exhausted. We were provided with a wholesome meal (Yak meat spaghetti bolognese as I recall) before going straight to bed.

We were warned that headaches and shortness of breath were normal on the first day and night and should be expected. I consider myself to be reasonably fit, so dismissed this as a warning for the weak, but sure enough I had restless night. I woke up a number of times gasping for breath,  totally dehydrated and with a splitting headache! 

My reason for this trip was to drop off my son who was going to be doing a 2 week internship with CERS, but I also relished the opportunity to come out and visit a place so far off the beaten track.

As morning arrived, I opened my curtains to catch my first glimpse of our surroundings. I was not disappointed. By and large, a totally unspoilt landscape of an ancient village. The only mar on this impressive vista ... a massive new highway under construction. Chinese infrastructure development stretches even as far as this remotest locations.

I was accommodated in a simple but comfortable 2 storey cottage with a bedroom and bathroom downstairs and a desk and sitting area upstairs. The floor to ceiling windows looking out onto the trees, streams, pastures and wetlands below. Admiring the view and layout of this top floor, It was clear why this room was naming this “the writers room”. It was truly inspiring.

The living room of the Writers Room - inspiring!

Following breakfast that first day, I spent my time wandering aimlessly. Enjoying the nature and clean fresh air, but it was also an opportunity to clear my head and tackle some long pending projects. Free thinking time that I never seem to get in "the real world".


In this lightning fast paced life we all live, it can be certainly be sensible, even necessary, to stop, pause and look around once in a while.

As I left my son at CERS to get on with their professional exploring, I ventured out for the next 2 days on my own. Armed just with my camera, I wanted to try and capture just some of the wondrous surroundings I was witnessing. Perhaps a chance to capture it now, before it has a chance to develop too far. 


It was a thoroughly enjoyable, and productive, experience.

Thank you CERS and How Man.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Microsoft Surface 3 ... All things to all people ?

Microsoft has a knack of getting things right on their 3rd iteration.

Windows 3, Pocket PC and now the Surface 3!


I was a fan of the original Surface when it was launched. An excellent and innovative form factor with superb build quality, but the poor battery life and my fear of Windows 8 (at the time) kept me away from buying one (and many millions of others as well it appears, as Microsoft had to discount them heavily to clear their stocks).

I was braver when they launched the Surface 2. I opted for the Surface 2 RT as the battery life was improved to 10 hours and it was a significantly lighter machine than the “Pro”. I could mostly manage with the limitations of RT, but Microsoft dropped pen support on this model, and that was a frustration for me.

But fast forward less than 12 months and the announcement of the 3rd iteration of Surface a few weeks ago got me all excited. From the announced spec, they seemed to have nailed it!

Improving the already excellent form factor by making the kick stand more flexible, the full Windows version shed significant weight, gained the 10 hour battery and pen support was back … all this and an increased screen size to 12” made this a must have for me.


So the timing of my trip to Boston was perfect as it coincided with the launch date and I put myself on the waiting list.

3 weeks later and my impressions are all that I could have hoped for. This machine functions as a large tablet, a writing pad and a full size laptop all in one … as near as perfect as you can get.

The Holy Grail? People will knock this for 2 main reasons. First, because it is a Microsoft product, and its just “not cool” to have one of those, and the second will be the lack of apps.

As for the coolness of Microsoft … those sheep followers of Apple will ignore this at their own cost. Everything about this product beats the Macbook Air and the iPad, and this is ONE product. It’s also superior to the large Galaxy Note tablets, simply because of its sheer power and ability as a full fledged computer. Windows 8, with some practice is also an easy to use and versatile operating system (on a touch screen). While it is lacking in a number of entertainment apps that you will find on iOS and Android,  there are enough work and productivity solutions to do everything you need (and the fun stuff keeps coming online as well, albeit slowly).

The pen support on this device is a real treat. A well designed pen … something that looks and feels like a real world pen (Samsung, please note!) makes this device really usable as a writing pad in meetings. I hate taking notes on a keyboard. I find it somewhat impersonal when talking to someone and at the same time typing. Writing is, of course, so much more natural and in my previous life I would have pages and pages of my own handwritten notes, but no way to properly file them so I had them with me always (the best I managed was photographing them and putting them in Evernote, but this was a clunky solution).


Writing directly onto the screen (something the Galaxy Notes do very as well, albeit with a toothpick size pen) and having all your notes with you all the time, is a real boone! But that leads to my biggest criticism (and where the Samsung toothpick wins over). Microsoft has not figured out how to attach the pen to the Surface! There is a magnetic edge which can hold the pen, but its no way strong enough to manage even light travel. It’ll hold there neatly during a meeting, or within an office environment moving from room to room, but try throwing that in a bag and you will certainly lose the pen. And that’s linked to problem number 2, which is that there are no cases readily available for this lovely device. Credit where credit is due … no Apple device is launched today without a whole suite of accessories being available for it on day 1. A nice folio to hold my Surface 3 with a good pen holder would have been a treat, and without that, I am making do with a compromise solution and no secure place to put my pen (which means I have found myself in situations where I need to take notes, but cant!).


But I have to say, apart from this relatively minor (albeit frustrating) issues, this is an excellent product. I’m loving it my Surface 3. I’ve had the time to test it thoroughly in a wide host of situations and scenarios and It really does appear to be a single product that can be all things to all people.

Well done Microsoft!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Parents shouldn't need "apps" to parent

By my own admission, I am not the most disciplinarian of parents, but I do think I know where lines need to be drawn.

The phrase "today's kids" is one that is bandied about quite freely, almost as an excuse in some cases for misbehavior or ill discipline, and while the world has certainly changed since I was in shorts, certain home truths should remain constant (like listening to parents).

I started writing this blog entry when I came across a new iPhone app called "DinnerTime". I'm an avid tech follower and am game to learn about and try new apps, but this one really irked me .. in fact, it made me quite angry!

The function of the app? You program into your child's phone meal times and it prevents them using the phone at such times.

The app co-founder wrote: I’ve noticed that my children find technology to be addictive at times, playing games or watching videos on their tablets or phones, and are easily distracted by their devices at dinner time and bed time. This gave me the idea for DinnerTime, as I wanted to create something that could help my children focus on other activities, and we could enjoy quality time together.

Now I confess that my kids love their screens. I don't particularly have an issue with that, but like everything, they should be used in moderation and they should understand and respect parental rules that are set. For us, a certain amount of screen time is allowed on weekdays and a certain amount on weekends. Phones are charged at night time in the family room (not in the bedrooms) and they are not allowed to be used in the car on short journeys and absolutely never at the dinner table.

The way we implement these rules at home is the old fashioned way ... using words.

I find it simply abhorrent that any parent would need an app to forcefully shut down their child's phone at the dinner table because they cannot do it with words.

I think its "today's parents" that are different ... taking an easy route like this keeps a future generation on a downward societal trend with an inability to look up and engage with other people.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Coincidence?

I watched a great series last month ... The Men Who Built America.


Learning about a handful of American industrialists who revolutionised their country and the world was fascinating. A mixture of good fortune, timing and no shortage of courage and ability built the basis for an economy that would dominate the world for more than a century, but would also create some fortunes that are unmatched to this day.

While watching these programmes, one set of developments, or perhaps coincidences, was more striking than any other.
 
In the late 1800's, John D Rockefeller took control of the early railroads in America. This was necessitated by his need for a delivery system for the product his Standard Oil company produced. It was in an era before cross country pipelines existed.

With Standard Oil company,  Rockefeller controlled the nations source of artificial light, Kerosene, and this was put under severe threat by the invention of electricity. As Thomas Edison invented the light bulb and powered it by Direct Current (DC), his apprentice, Nicola Tesla was concerned about the safety of DC and went on to develop Alternating Current (AC) electricity generators and grids, which is what we still use today.


Nicola Tesla
Tesla's AC changed the world and posed a serious threat to Standard Oil's kerosene business. Never one to give up without a fight,  Rockefeller looked at ways to combat this threat. While not a direct solution, Rockefellers search within an industry he already controlled led him to find a practical use for gasoline, previously a discarded waste product from oil refining. He found that it's highly flammable and unstable constitution proved to be its forte, and with this fuel, the internal combustion engine was born.

Originally used in heavy machinery to power engines,  it's demand reached insatiable levels when applied to the horseless carriage,  or "car"!

A century or so later, we live in an age where the automobile has changed our world, but we are at a stage where the environmental damage being caused by internally combusted cars is demanding a "cleaner" solution. Queue Elon Musk,  founder of the most revolutionary electric car company on the planet (My Tesla review).

Rockefeller versus Tesla all over again!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Michael McIntyre: Not just a funny man!

I had a rather depressing morning!

As my continued love for audio books grows, I have taken to the genre of comedy. My latest download being the auto biography of Michael McIntyre, "Life and Laughing".


Certainly one of my favorite comedians today, I was delighted when I started listening to the book, that it was in fact also narrated by the funny man himself.

The opening chapters have been amusing and the story of Michael's life is tremendously well told and filled, as you would expect, with numerous and humorous anecdotes.

I have listened to this book while walking on the street (being conscious of literally laughing out loud and how that looks to passers by) and also while driving to work and back. My desire to hear more of this story each day has prolonged my commute as I have deliberately slowed down my driving.

I jumped in the car this morning and the wonders of Bluetooth, Samsung and Jaguar all worked together to start Michael talking automatically. "Chapter 13" were the first words I heard. "What tales would Michael have collected for this unlucky number" I thought to myself. Until now, the book had been tremendously successful in recounting a host of self deprecating stories of Michael's life to the age of 17. Each day I have left my car with a spring in my step and a broad smile on my face as I took pleasure at poor Michael's challenges as a youth.

As I set off on the road to work, I settled down in the slow lane and listened intently. The chapter focused on Michael's relationship with his father. They had lived apart for many years following a divorce and Michael's father was living far away in the USA. The tone of this chapter took a turn from the others. It was emotional and heartfelt and took on a seriousness the previous pages did not have. You could feel Michael's pain in being apart from his father for extended periods, and as the chapter moves on, it culminates in the sudden death of his father while in the United States and away from the children he adored. For me, listening, it became a struggle to concentrate on the road. The re-telling of these events from Michael was heart wrenching. There was a somber tone and as I held myself together, I was expecting Michael to break down while telling his story. He didn't! He remained composed and serious and conveyed an amazing amount of emotion and feeling.

I stepped out of the car feeling somber and quite shaken, but also tremendously moved by what I had just heard. It was the same as it would have been if a close friend had shared a very private story with me ... but then, after all, it was just me and Michael in the car.

The chapters' telling has affected my entire day ... which is why I feel compelled to write this blog entry this afternoon, as I have to get this heaviness off my shoulders.

I also mean this to be a testimony and compliment to Michael McIntyre. I have admired him as a stand up comedian. As I have been going through his book, I was beginning to admire him as an author and an excellent narrator, but he deserves astonishing credit for what he has achieved in chapter 13. He has stepped away from his comfort zone, dug deep, shared and given us readers (or listeners) a profound look into a very personal and private part of his life. He moved from being just a funny man to being an eloquent writer who can move peoples emotions with words on a page. A rare talent!

My congratulations to you Michael and my condolences to you on the loss of your father,. My thanks to you for making me laugh and cry and providing me with so much joy in whatever form you perform.


I can't wait to go home today and listen to chapter 14!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

#BringBackOurGirls

 
It has been quite a depressing few weeks on the news.
 
Flight MH370, the Korean ferry disaster, civil war in South Sudan and of course the ongoing troubles in Ukraine.
 
With all of this and a number of other tragic and depressing stories we are bombarded with every day, I am overwhelmed by the plight of several hundred innocent schoolgirls. A news story that overshadows all others.
 
 
Boko Haram has been terrorising Nigeria for a number of years now. There has been much talk and little visible action against them. hundreds have died in cowardly attacks on civilian targets and this information typically passes through the international news within about 24 hours.
 
But about 4 weeks ago, Boko Haram carried out their most unforgivable crime yet. A pathetic and unbelievably cowardly act of kidnapping 200 school girls in northern Nigeria.
 
Terrorism, in any form, is a low down despicable act in any case, but this action is unforgivable beyond compare. How does anyone consider this an act that carried any form of justification? The people involved have to be callous beyond belief and have no place to live within humane society.
 
The leader of Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for this heinous crime and made a feeble attempt to justify it by saying that women should not be educated ... so the answer? Kidnap innocent girls from loving families and sell them off as slaves! These sick animals (who don't deserve to be referenced as "human beings") themselves do not deserve a place among any society.
 
These criminals dress in military garb and try to portray themselves as a hard line organisation choose to pick on perhaps the weakest and most vulnerable target imaginable. This is nothing less than weak and cowardly.
 
Thank god the international press did not let this incident pass as easily as those in the past and the world has been forced to sit up and take notice. Stronger powers have decided not to sit back, but are now sending in assistance to Nigeria to help the country deal with the despicable Boko Haram and hopefully find and free these small girls.
 
One can only wonder and fear how these girls must be feeling in their forced captivity, and I dread to think how they are being treated all these past days (we just hope they are still alive).
 
I only hope that the unbelievably low depths to which Boko Haram has now sunk will prove to be their undoing. Their insanity driving them to a point which is too far for anyone to accept and now serious and permanent action will be taken.

While I fear the chance is remote, let's hope that their downfall can also see the schoolgirls recovered without any serious harm and a permanent end to terrorism in the country.
 
My thoughts go out to all those girls and their parents back at home. To give them the strength to get through this unimaginable ordeal.