Gadgets I’ve had for a while: Aeropress

I struggle to function in the mornings without a cup of coffee. To be honest, it also has to be a good cup of coffee. Instant just doesn’t cut it. A few years ago my little stovetop espresso pot gave up and I had to find an alternative. I think I stumbled upon the Aeropress by seeing it in a posh coffee shop (maybe Prufrock) but had also seen lots of friends mention it online. It cost about £25 and comes with a nice case and various attachments, all of which are pretty useful. The basic idea is to mix hot water and ground coffee in the barrel, and then force the coffee through a small paper filter using the pressure created when you push down on the piston of the Aeropress. Very simple and very effective.

Aeropress is made by Aerobie, Inc which started life in Palo Alto, California as a vehicle to sell engineer Alan Adler’s inventions. Before the Aeropress came the Aerobie flying disk which I remember as a kid — I think high sales were mainly down to it being so easy to lose because it flew so far. But in the mid 2000s Adler solved his own problem which was that he didn’t like that he had to make 6–8 cups in a drip coffee machine when he only wanted one. The design came pretty quickly to him, they started churning them out, coffee lovers thought it was great and the company is doing better than ever.

The full kit for coffee making for me these days is actually a Pact subscription, a deLonghi burr grinder as well as the aeropress. I also introduced them to the BGV office and have probably sold quite a few as I make coffee for visitors and they ask ‘what’s that?’. I now sound like a proper salesman but the best bit is that is that it’s so easy to clean. The ‘puck’ of coffee grounds just pops out when you’re done and you only need to give it a quick rinse.

So there you go — a great piece of kit I use every day at a fraction of the cost of expensive machines — a wonderfully designed gadget.
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The yeast in the local economy

I’m up in Derbyshire this week and having a bit of an explore. While I don’t think you could say the economy is booming, there are some really interesting things going on. Yesterday I popped into the excellent Thornbridge Brewery which is on an industrial estate just outside Bakewell.

The estate is a ramshackle collection of buildings some of which date back to 1777 and Arkwright’s time but you can tell that it had its heyday in the mid twentieth century. There are the tell-tale corrugated metal half cylinders of a wartime battery factory — now being used to make bespoke log cabins of all things.

Amongst the tatty sheds is a shiny new industry — beer. Thornbridge started at Thornbridge Hall up the road in 2005 but moved here for more space. They needed that because in their first year they had a golden moment — creating a beer that won a number of competitions and they simply couldn’t make enough of — Jaipur.

Nine years later and they still can’t make enough so they’re still expanding. According to my guide, success is down to continuously inventing new beers — my favourite is Sequoia — and keeping quality super high. They’re also working on some very odd sounding collaborations with the Brooklyn Brewery and Anchor Steam. Add to that some real branding nouse, modern distribution and logistics and a healthy tax break in their early days and you have a rapidly growing and successful business.

Productivity hacks: Sanebox

I’ve written before about email and how in the grand scheme of things it’s not so bad. But a few months ago I noticed it was getting on top of me a bit and stopping me from being quite so proactive so I did what every productivity geek does and shopped around for something to solve the problem. I decided to give Sanebox a go again — I tried it once a few years back but for some reason never stuck with it.

This time it’s definitely helped. I can’t quite explain why but there’s something about the way it works that lessens the amount of time I worry about email. You give it api access to your mailboxes and then let it work its magic. Messages it deems non-urgent get put into a folder called @Sanelater rather than appearing in your inbox leaving you with just the important stuff. It then sends you a daily email with the unimportant stuff that you can have a quick look through — training anything it’s got wrong and reading anything that’s just ‘fyi’.

They also have an excellent list of 100 email hacks. To be honest I don’t mind paying $99 a year for the service (for 2 email accounts) — if you sign up here you’ll get $5 off (yay!). I’m sure it’s not for everyone but well worth a try if you’re drowning.

Comedy as commentary

I watch and listen to a lot of comedy and it’s struck me for a while how at its best it can be better than any expert social commentary or analysis.

I think it was an interview with Graham Linehan where he talked about how characters need to be trapped in a sit com — otherwise why would they be there? This gives you the comedy staples like families (Outnumbered), schools (Bad Education), hospitals (Green Wing), prisons (Porridge) but with hindsight the best comedies tend to be about people trapped in things in decline.

Fawlty Towers was about the breakdown of class, Dad’s Army about the fading of the war time generation, Father Ted about the waning influence of the Catholic church. They’re all things that people can laugh about because the institutions they portrayed no longer have the power they once did.

More recently a lot of comedy has been about organisations and the working life they create — things like The Office, The IT Crowd or more recently W1A — which comes as no surprise. Most of the population works in organisations that are pretty hilarious.

But the other theme is politics, and particularly political parties — with the Thick of It the most high profile. It tells us that the power has gone from them. While those shows are very funny to watch, it’s a sad state of affairs. Good for the comedy writers but worrying for the rest of us.

Tricky business: negotiating a seed investment deal

When that first person says ‘yes’ things start to get really interesting. I remember the first time somebody said ‘I’d like to invest’ to me it actually came as something of a shock. I’d been pitching for so long and getting nowhere that I didn’t think it would ever happen — but it did.

When they say they’re interested the next few questions are very important. It’s worth being prepared and getting your head around all the investment language and jargon before you find yourself in a position where you might have to answer them. Here we’re assuming that you’re raising an equity round rather than debt or grants (we’ll talk about those another week). The basic questions are:

  • How much are you raising?
  • What’s the valuation?
  • What are the terms?

The reason these questions are important is that ultimately they shape who will be involved in your venture and how. They also tend to dictate what happens if and when things go wrong. This is written and said many times but rarely internalised by founders: choose your investors and terms carefully — you’re going to be working with these people for 5–10 years.

Let’s take the questions in turn:

How much are you raising? Fred Wilson says that seed investment should be for, “…building a product, getting it into the market, and finding product market fit.” So the question is how much do you need to spend to do that. Don’t raise too little because you’ll end up having to ask for more but don’t aim for too much because you might struggle to close the round. Seed financing typically pays for a team of 4–7 people to work for 9–12 months on proving the venture could work.

At what valuation? The truth is that early stage companies can’t be properly valued in accounting terms so how much your venture is worth is a negotiation between what price the investor is willing to pay and at what price you’re willing to sell. Startups we’ve seen in London have raised £150,000 to £350,000 at pre-money valuations between £850,000 and £3 million (AngelList says the average for London is around £1.5 million). Generally seed investors are looking to collectively have 10–20% of the company after the deal.

On what terms? Once you’ve agreed to the amount to be invested and the valuation there’s still lots to agree on and this tends to be done by going through a term sheet. You can make your life a lot easier by using a standard term sheet such as the Seed Summit documents but still make sure you know what you’re agreeing to.

  • The type of shares — for a seed deal you’d expect ordinary or ‘vanilla preferred’ shares rather than ‘participating preferred’ or anything too exotic.
  • Board seats — who gets one? It’s normal for seed investors to expect one board seat between them.
  • Option pool — usually this is the point when you set up a share option scheme (often 10% of the shares) for future employees.
  • Vesting — most seed investors will insist that founders’ shares vest over 3–4 years, perhaps with some vesting straight away to acknowledge the time you’ve already spent on the venture.
  • Legal fees — some investors pay their own fees, others insist it comes out of the money they invest (the startup pays).

There’s a trade-off between getting this done quickly or getting it done properly and finding a deal that everybody understands and is comfortable with. A good investor will educate before they negotiate — making sure you understand everything that might be in the paperwork before asking you for your opinion. Besides understanding all the terminology, you should also talk it through with someone who’s done it before and you’ll find that most founders are happy to help if you ask.

Next week we’ll look at how you go from one investor and a term sheet to closing the round, having the money in the bank and getting on with building an amazing venture.

Tricky Business: What should be in a deck for impact investors?

We got a few emails off the back of last week’s Tricky Business asking what we thought should be in the simple deck for investors — especially if you’re trying to do something with a social impact or if you’re approaching impact investors. So you’ll have to wait for ‘negotiating terms’ until next week (I know, you’re devastated).

The link we highlighted last week was to Fred Wilson’s plea to keep a deck to six slides. You’ll find plenty of other fomulae including Guy Kawasaki’s 10:20:30 and Brad Feld’s 15 slides. They’re all fine (and a great source of inspiration) but we’d urge you to keep things really simple.

It’s also worth stating that we’re thinking here of the kind of deck you need to send by email when an investor asks for a bit more information. We’re not imagining the kind you might use at a Demo Day or in a presentation to a room of people.

You have to think of the context that it will be read and the questions investors will be asking themselves as they flick through.

  • Is it a problem area we’re interested in?
  • Does it have the capacity for scale we’re looking for?
  • Is it at the right stage for us?
  • Is it run by people we will really want to work with?

Then there are a couple of other things that most investors think pretty quickly after that:

  • Does it stand out from everything else I’ve seen recently?
  • Does this deck tally up with other things I know or can find out online about the company?

With that in mind — we think this is a pretty good running order for a deck.

  • Slide 1 — the problem you’re trying to solve. Be specific but also show how important and big the problem is.
  • Slide 2 — your solution including a very straightforward description of what it is and what it does.
  • Slide 3 — how it works and what makes your product special. Include how you’re going to know what social impact you’re having and how you’re going to sell or grow it.
  • Slide 4 — who you are and why you’re the best people to do this.
  • Slide 5 — what you’ve done so far and next steps. A well presented timeline can help.
  • Slide 6 — your ask and what you’re looking for from investors. If you already have any commitments, include them here. Angel investors in particular love a deal that somebody else has said yes to.

Tricky business: approaching investors


(I’ve started posting these over on the Bethnal Green Ventures blog too.)

We’ve now worked with over 30 very early stage ventures and many of them have raised investment but only in a very few cases has it been a painless process. Over the next few weeks we’re going to be writing some pieces describing the fundraising journey with a few tips. We’ll cover approaching investors, negotiating terms and closing deals.

First things first. You’ll need a short deck that explains really simply what your venture does backed up by good information about what you’re up to online (even if you’re in private beta, it’s worth making sure your information on your holding page, AngelList or F6S is up to date).

It’s then usually pretty easy to get a few meetings with potential investors, or at least the people they employ to filter ideas and teams for them. You can approach them directly but make sure you keep the email short and punchy — less than three lines is best, don’t send them all the info at once, maybe don’t bother even sending them the deck to start with. Just make it as easy and enticing as possible for them to say yes to meeting up. If you can get an introduction or follow up on meeting somebody at an event, that’s even better.

It’s here you have to lower your expectations. Unfortunately most people you meet probably won’t be brilliant or even particularly engaged. They may well be late for the meeting and constantly check their phone while you’re speaking. They’ll probably tell you all the reasons why your startup won’t work and ask obvious questions that show they haven’t taken any time to understand what you’re trying to do.

Statistically speaking it’s very unlikely if you’re an early stage startup that you’ll raise money from the big firms but they might put you in touch with angel investors they know. Angels in London have a very mixed reputation. Again, while there are some brilliant ones, most are not great — so be very careful. Look at their background to see whether they have relevant professional experience — have they run a startup themselves or worked for one? Have they made a number of investments before? How long have they been investing? A bad angel can cause you a lot of problems down the line and unfortunately the SEIS tax break has drawn in a few unsavoury characters.

How you handle a ‘no’ is very important. Don’t try to persuade them — that’s not going to work. Thank them for their time and say you hope they’ll stay in touch. The good ones will give you feedback or at least a reason why they’re not investing but it’s probably not worth labouring the point. What they’re looking for in new companies is a compelling reason to invest. In a lot of cases investors don’t have a specific reason for not investing.

These days you’ll also be able to get meetings with crowdfunding platforms, eager to get your business — Seedrs, Crowdcube and others. You’ll be invited to pitch at an angel network event and you might be contacted by an ‘advisory’ firm if you get a bit of profile promising to help you raise your next round. It’s not to say that these things aren’t worth it but they’ll all ask you to provide information in a different way. They’ll all mess you around a bit when it comes to calls or meetings. They’ll all ask you to sign documents without properly explaining them if you take it any further. Again, just be prepared for the hassle.

But after the drudgery of repeated rejection and people messing you around, someone will restore your faith in humanity. They’ll be on time. They’ll be friendly. They’ll listen. They’ll ask a good question that shows they understand the issues you face. They’ll make you realise something you’ve overlooked, or give you an idea for a different direction you could take. You’ll realise they’re taking a genuine interest in you and your venture and they’ll ask how they can help.

When somebody does say yes, that’s just the beginning. We’ll talk about what to do then next week.

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Gadgets I’ve had for a while — Seiko Kinetic watch


I love a gadget. Perhaps not on the scale of people like Richard Ayaode or Jonathan Margolis but I do like good kit. So I thought once a week maybe I’d post about some gizmo — but to prevent me from just writing about new and shiny things though I thought I’d sticky to gadgets I’ve had for a while.

One of my favourite things is my Seiko Kinetic watch. I’ve had it for 15 years and probably worn it almost every day during that time. If I remember rightly it was £110 although I can’t remember where I bought it.

Seiko are an interesting company — certainly not as old as some of the Swiss watch companies but no spring chicken either. The company was formed in 1888 in what is now part of Tokyo but wasn’t really a watch company until the 1920s, they created the first Quartz watch in 1968 and their watches were worn on the first moon landing. The company is still to some extent family owned and run and actually has some products that are still vertically integrated — ie they make all the materials and components themselves.

The point of Kinetic watches was that they never need to be wound or have new batteries. They use the movement of day-to-day use to charge a capacitor which then powers the watch. My one has been hit, soaked but never given up or even lost any time to my knowledge. I’m told that I should really get it serviced and I probably will but overall it’s been a great bit of kit — a well-made, clever gadget that has lasted a good while.