Managing Customers

As a Global Scot, I get occasional requests from Scottish Enterprise to help with their mission to help grow companies in Scotland. As part of a 'learning journey' this week there was a Connect event, where several of us worked with the Scottish visitors. it was held in DLA Piper's SF offices, which happen to have an excellent view of the construction project for the new Transbay Transit Center.


Managing Customers was the content request to me. The time limit was 5 minutes, so I didn't talk about even half of the material.
Two big areas of necessary focus are Lean Startup (think small data around validating experiments, moving quickly to improve the offer to prospects based on the measured data); and Big Data, as applied to analyzing customer sentiment, to retail trends, to genetic assay and to anything else where there is a large volume of data and for which the business may be able to identify patterns.

My earlier post 'Moving to Silicon Valley' has more useful background.



Cunning Systems evaluates product and service ideas in computing and communications. If you would like to discuss an idea, contact us at

Remote mentoring TechStars London

Last Friday was Demo Day for the first batch of companies to go through TechStars London.



As a previous mentor for TechStars, located in California, having UK investments in other small companies, I volunteered to mentor for the London batch. This led to useful interaction with OP3NVoice, who aced the demo - they took lessons from, who graduated from TechStars Cloud in 2012.

Editing (September 2014) - op3nvoice changed their name to , and moved to Austin, TX.


Cunning Systems evaluates product and service ideas in computing and communications, and makes occasional angel investments.

IBM Smartcamp US final - Computer History Museum, Mountain View

IBM arranged a nicely balanced afternoon and early evening event for the 'demo day' for the US finalists in their Smartcamp competition. This is a worldwide event, held in many locations over a year, for small companies interested in partnering with IBM - it's one way in which IBM gets visibility into the universe of new technologies and ideas which would otherwise be beneath the radar for their business groups.

Coriell Life Sciences was judged the best of the batch; they had much the best blend of technology and business case for how the genomics data processing ecosystem they are building is going to make money. " .. healthcare providers, patients and payors can take advantage of the available sequencing technology while carving out and interpreting only that data needed for immediate use and securely storing the data in the GeneVault for future interpretation."

The Computer History Museum is a fine venue for this kind of event - the auditorium upstairs had plenty of space for the investors and invited members of the public attending in the afternoon; after the museum closed the downstairs foyer makes a fine space for drinks, hors d'oeuvres and conversation.

Brenda Magid from IBM (who had put together the judging panel) and I may have been the only two people attending who had also been at the previously blogged event, EIE13 in Edinburgh.


Cunning Systems evaluates product and service ideas in computing and communications, and makes occasional angel investments.

EIE 13 notes

EIE 13 took place on May 9th in the Assembly Rooms.

Companies exhibiting

DestiNA Genomics
Medicen Devise
ProFactor Pharma
NeurocentRX Pharma
Rathlin Medical
VueKar Cardiovasclar

Information Technology
Insight Arcade
Peekabu Studios
Clear Returns
Quorate Technology
Relicarte Digital
Social Artisan
Speech Graphics
Recovery Analytics
UWI Technology

Airborne Energy
Codbod Technologies
Daima Energy Solutions
Global Surface Intelligence
IRT Surveys
iPower Energy
Swift TG Energy (Scotland)
Trident Energy
Celtic Renewables

More details

Cunning Systems evaluates product and service ideas in computing and communications, and makes occasional angel investments.

Whisky from EIE 11

There's a backlog of blog posts ..

During the week of EIE13, unfinished business from EIE11 resolved. As part of the 'thankyou for speaking' I'd been given a bottle of whisky; which created a dilemma - when I travel I don't check bags, and I was leaving Edinburgh to go back to California. Colin Adams was kind enough to say "We'll keep it for you"


Accordingly, when I coincided with Colin going up in the elevator in the Appleton Tower, I reminded him about the neglected whisky. He was able to say "come over later in the week and we will find it for you". The bottle found a good home as a house warming present for my brother, I tasted the whisky, and Informatics Ventures kept its promise. All excellent things.

Scotch Malt Whisky society single cask 3.198
Smoker's tooth powder and dentists' chairs (sherry cask)

Nose suggests coal, slate and gravel, driftwood bonfires, barbecued ribs, perfumed smoke, toffee and sherry ; smoker's tooth powder and dentist's chairs later. The palate has big toffee, decent smoke, honeyed chicken wings, balsamic, hot leather, ash and various minty notes.


Talking at Techmeetup

On Wednesday evening I was one of the presenters at the monthly Techmeetup event in Edinburgh.
At least 65 people came (though at least some of them came for the free beer and pizza). It's a good networking event, and has turned into one of the better ways to announce that you are hiring or looking for a technology job.

My slides


Edinburgh, early May 2013

Am in Edinburgh for a week. Have been enjoying the dry spring weather - the locals tell me this is the best weather they've seen for months. Traffic wardens are going about with their sleeves rolled up.

I'm giving a techtalk on Wednesday evening, at the Appleton Tower. Start time 18.30, 8th floor, as part of the Tech Meetup talk series.
Title 'Behind the Cloud - pointers to the future' - reviewing the current state of Cloud Services as infrastructure, the opportunities made possible by those services, and some of the interesting companies with which I'm involved which are building technology to use and improve the Cloud.

Will be at the EIE13 investor conference on Thursday, at the Assembly Rooms - send email to if you want to meet up.


Have just completed mentoring for TechStars Cloud, and will mentor for the upcoming TechStars London program. Cunning Systems evaluates product and service ideas in computing and communications.

meeting The Saltire Foundation


Last week there was a dinner meeting for the Saltire Foundation. SF is a long term project to improve the capability of people in Scotland; Scots generate lots of good ideas, but haven't been able to turn them into profitable businesses at a comparable rate to the rest of the UK, Europe, and the US.

This is being done by two programs, one for Scholars, one for Fellows. Applicants for both are competitive and awarded on merit. Scholars are undergraduates who get intern positions in companies outside Scotland before returning to complete their degrees. Fellows are graduates who go through a entrepreneurial leadership course at Babson College, Boston, then deliver projects both outside and inside Scotland. Both of these programs build self confidence and capability, giving the participants a global perspective in a short period of time.

The Foundation is a registered charity, in the US and the UK. It operates with a small number of staff and lots of volunteer support. I've donated some money to it for operating expenses, and would encourage you to do likewise.

An even better way to support the cause would be to employ an intern. Greg Sim, a 2012 Fellow, is working for my brother's company, Ecosse Subsea, which is pioneering new methods for subsea pipe and cable laying.

Greg Sim

Other ways of funding young people
Crowd funding cost of working for TechStars

I'm currently mentoring for TechStars Cloud, and will mentor for the upcoming TechStars London program. Cunning Systems evaluates product and service ideas in computing and communications. If you would like to discuss an idea, contact us at

Nanog 57 notes

NANOG 57 was held 4-6 Feb 2013, in Orlando FL. I missed it, and have been behind hand in catching up.
For future reference, some notes on the most interesting sessions.

Review of physical effects of Hurricane Sandy - the fuel shortage, for generators and vehicles, was extreme - hospitals get to pre-empt fuel trucks from their previously comitted contracts to supply communications facilities. Datapipes bought their own truck, had it driven from Texas to NY.

Tim Stronge, TeleGeography on international submarine cable developments - Africa could use a lot more cable, but has no funded projects. There are 4 projects funded for Latin America. No more than 25 - 30 % of existing cable capacity is lit.

Nicolas Guilbaud and Ross Cartlidge, Google on topology aware network testing - current network uses current best path only, need to identify back up paths and potential problems on those. Source route test packets.
With source routing, we can target what gets monitored and ensure full layer3 coverage.
Framing the problem as an optimisation .."Find the best list of links that explains each faulty path"

Agenda, with links to pdf, and to the video of each session

Meeting notes, close to verbatim, courtesy of Matthew Petach
Collected at

Next meeting in New Orleans, June 3 - June 5, 2013

Business Studios

Having watched John Borthwick's Betaworks develop over several years, seeing other groups using the same operating model is interesting. It seems to address the biggest difficulty I see with accelerators, which is the short duration. Because they are typically only 13 weeks long, they have to catch the startups at just the right point in their lifecycle; and there are a lot of worthwhile ideas which have a much longer development and sales cycle, especially if they are a new idea, rather than an incremental improvement on something which people already understand.

Quotes from the TechCrunch article 'The rise of the company builders'

"Studios .. using entrepreneurial expertise and in-house resources to help generate ideas and build companies at scale"

" In Lightbank’s case, the firm has built and scaled sales teams across a number of industries and companies and can help startups quickly manage this area.

Borthwick echoes Lee’s thoughts on the value of a shared platform of data, analytics and monetization tools. Betaworks has a layer of tools that its companies, which include Chartbeat, Bitly and others, all use. He compares this to the movie studio model, where companies like Disney and Universal create individual movies but have a layer of services in-house that promote films, and provide other functions across these various content plays."

Andreesen Horowitz is being a company builder, too, using as its models the Creative Artists Agency a boutique investment bank, and the original JP Morgan.

They have "45 operating professionals in the firm who aren't general partners...across five disciplines: executive recruiting; engineering recruiting, so two different what we call talent functions; a function we call market development, which helps companies meet the big companies that matter in their industry. We'll do on the order of 1200 briefings in our executive briefing center downstairs with Fortune 500 management teams, connecting them to the best and brightest new startups. And then fourth, marketing and PR, which is fundamental: How do you get your message out, how do you break through all the noise. And then fifth is corporate development: How do you raise money, how do you go public, how do you -- you know, if it comes to it, how do you sell yourself, and how do you deal with all the issues around corporate finance."

Does Scotland have businesses which support developing companies this way ? It seems there ought to be room for several different studios, addressing different vertical markets, since the selling and company building process is different for things which aren't dominated by software.
The other question for non US markets is whether the venture model is intrinsic; if so, this won't be easy to apply elsewhere. If not, and raising money from the local and US market is one of the disciplines, then this model could have broad implications.

Notice the absence in these articles of any government or academic involvement.


I'm currently mentoring for TechStars Cloud. Cunning Systems evaluates product and service ideas in computing and communications. If you would like to discuss an idea, contact us at