Opening Up The Banks

It was a FinTech-tastic week in Edinburgh last week as – hot on the heels of the Bitcoin Meetup with Colu and the FinTech Scotland Conference – the Hack/Make The Bank hackathon took place, run by the hugely friendly team at the Open Bank Project. Well over 120 hackers and enthusiasts piled into the RBS Technology Solutions Centre in the New Town to build innovative ideas on top of the Open Bank API.

Open Bank Project Hackathon Visualisation
Hack/Make The Bank Hackathon, Edinburgh (9th to 11th October 2015)

The concept of open bank data is pretty much a no-brainer once you start to think about the implications. Providing free, standardised access to the banks in real time liberates developers, entrepreneurs and – most importantly – consumers around the world who are otherwise hampered by legacy technology deployed by financial institutions.

The team from TESOBE did a sterling job over the weekend leaving no stone unturned in their quest to create the ideal environment for those burning the midnight oil, providing a selection of massages, whisky and bagpipe accompaniment (!) in addition to the obligatory Red Bull, food and support throughout.

Ismail Chaib introducing the Hackathon
Ismail Chaib (Open Bank Project) introducing the Hackathon Prizes

I was delighted to be asked to act as a mentor at the event. It’s something that I’ve done at a few times at a number of hackathons (in different capacities) and it’s always an honour. I’m always full of admiration for anyone who chooses to come together to work – hard – over a weekend out of choice out of a simple desire to create and build something new and worthwhile.

The final pitches were great. As usual, I’m not going to share the ideas here (it’s not clear yet who wants to go forwards with these). Needless to say I was happy to see the guys from miiCard bring home the prizes for most disruptive (believe it or not, I had no say in the judging!)

All together, big congratulations go to Ismail Chaib, Simon Redfern and the rest of the Open Bank Project team; Kirsten Bennie and the rest of the RBS team who are clearly engaging positively with the upcoming disruption that’s undeniably en route; and last, but not least, all the developers and disruptors who proved that Scotland is now starting to really build on a burgeoning FinTech reputation.

Can’t wait for the next one.

Hackathon Collage

 

Skyscanner Becomes A $1 Billion Business

It’s Friday so it’s as good a time as any to have some good news.

Scotland now has its first $1 billion internet business in the form of Skyscanner. I remember being at a startup drinks event in Edinburgh around five or so years ago and hearing Gareth talking about his vision to achieve exactly this goal. And now it’s reality. It’s been incredible (and hugely inspiring) to see the growth of the business in the intervening years and a real testament to both the leadership and the vision within the business.

OK, this comes with the obvious caveat in that I worked with Skyscanner for a while so I may be slightly biased. But the reality is that what Gareth – and so many more – of them have achieved collectively is absolutely phenomenal. I would be dishing out the same praise whether I knew the team or not. But having seen the inside of the business only reinforces my belief that there is something very special going on within the business away from public perception of ‘simply’ being a travel aggregation site (I’m not the only one to have seen this by any means). I look forward to watching them continuing to grow.

I’ve written before about why Scotland’s such a great place to build a technology company. Edinburgh in particular leads the way, with a rich ecosystem of startups, Codebase (the UK’s largest tech incubator), the next edition of Silicon Milkroundabout landing next weekend, the Startedin group….the list goes on.

Skyscanner might be the first $1 billion internet business, it’s true. But now it’s time to build a few more.

 

Respond to the Scottish Identity Database Consultation Today

tl;dr Go here, download the Respondent Information Form and submit this before Wednesday 25th February to say that the proposals require primary legislation and should only be put forward after full public debate has taken place around the issues given the fact that the proposals will fundamentally restructure the relationship of citizen to state.

It’s rare that I write something on my blog and ask people to act. But tonight is one of those exceptions.

A national identity card?

For many years, the concept of a national identity card has been put forward by various political parties around the UK. However, each time the topic has proved to be political suicide. Proposals have proved to be unpopular and consistently rejected by the electorate. Increasingly, as more people interact online, it’s become obvious that the risks of building up such a valuable store of information greatly exceed the potential benefits that any such scheme can deliver.

And yet, despite the general resistance to the concept of an identity scheme across the UK over the years, here in Scotland we face the very real risk that minor legislation that has been proposed to extend the functionality of NHS records will, in effect, have exactly the same effect by creating a national identity database.

I spent the evening tonight at an event organised by the Open Rights Group in Scotland who have taken on the important role of coordinating attempts to raise awareness and resistance to this legislation being enacted without appropriate levels of debate. The proposals come in the form of secondary legislation with a consultation period currently running under the slightly innocuous title of the Consultation on proposed amendments to the National Health Service Central Register (Scotland) Regulations 2006.

Legislation that has an impact way beyond your medical records

Before you go any further, I suggest you read ORG’s detailed response to the Consultation. The crux of the matter is this: if you live in Scotland, the chances are that the NHS already holds a record of the fact that you exist. But the problem is that this new legislation would enable the reference number that uniquely identifies you as an individual to be shared freely with another 100-plus Scottish agencies.

Why is this a big deal? The practical reality of the proposal as drafted is that it would create a Scottish identity database. We face a very real possibility that public bodies could then start to mine such data in order to build their intelligence about you in pursuit of ends that may directly conflict your own.

So, to use a simplistic example, seeing your choice of library books used against you when it comes to claiming unemployment benefit (too much fiction, not enough textbooks?) becomes a very real possibility. Or how about the fact that most people who undergo some form of addiction counselling would normally want that information to be restricted rather than being shared widely amongst thousands of employees across different organisations. And it’s not difficult to envisage a situation whereby a victim of domestic violence learns of the increased transparency about her personal details and therefore attempts to remain outside the health system with issues unreported in order to prevent an abusive ex-partner who works for a public body from tracking her down.

The proposed model does of course brings with it certain efficiencies. But the reality is that the risks of potential misuse arising from the collection of such information are huge. By creating a comprehensive list of personal identifiers, we create an environment within which the temptation to use such a treasure trove of information for irrelevant or minor uses will inevitably grow over time.

I’m not going to write more about the privacy debate here. There are plenty of well-rehearsed arguments from plenty of people who are far more eloquent than I can be who have written fantastic pieces detailing the risks of implementing similar systems over the years (I recommend reading Wendy Grossman’s excellent SCRIPT essay on identity cards from 2005). But I did want to point out the following:

The massive risk of centralisation

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time spent with decentralised systems around Bitcoin and the blockchain it’s this – design a system to protect value by putting everything within centralised locations and restricting access and you inevitably end up with a system that will always – always – act as a red flag to hackers.

The more valuable that data (whether it’s money or personal information), the greater the incentive to attack it once it’s stored in one location. We’re not there yet but blockchain technologies will solve this problem ultimately I’m convinced.

So we have a database – now what?

The question here isn’t necessarily whether or not we trust our public bodies to use such collected information for good. The question is whether we trust their defences to be 100% secure from any breaches (either internal or external). To save you the effort, I’ll answer that now. No, we can’t.

Whether we believe the future intentions of governments to be noble or not, the problem is that once such information has been handily compiled into a database, it cannot be somehow decompile so it will remain permanently at risk of being accessed by others. If you need an example, consider the fact that centralised security didn’t turn out so well for those world-leading experts in cyber-security the NSA did it?

Is the technology up to scratch?

The general consensus is that the technology systems utilised by the public sector in Scotland are lagging behind those in use down south. Not a good foundation to use for the storage of the crown jewels, as it were. If the NSA weren’t able to protect their own confidential data, I’m not convinced that the powers-that-be at Holyrood will be able to deliver a system that’s more successful in some way.

Have certain politicians changed their minds?

ID cards were rejected by many different politicians when the last serious attempt was made to introduce them a few years ago. That includes the SNP who are currently backing this legislation. Back in 2005, the Scottish Government actually published a paper on Identity Management and Privacy Principles (revised in October 2014) which explicitly stated that public bodies must avoid sharing persistent identifiers when it comes to identity. Yet that is exactly what is proposed in this model. Have certain politicians forgotten their previous position on this issue? Or are people simply not talking to each other?

Respond to the Consultation

This is in no way a comprehensive post that details all the key issues. It is, however, I hope a timely one in the fact that it is important for as many people as possible to both learn about the proposals and the fact that the Consultation itself closes in under a week. Regardless of your views – pro or anti – this is not by any stretch of the imagination legislation that should go through a democratic system without a wider public debate being held. It has the potential to fundamentally redraw the boundaries of citizenship within society and it needs more people to become engaged. This is not simply a Scottish debate. It’s inconceivable that if such a system is introduced in this country that it will somehow not be adopted south of the border at some point down the line.

Please do. You can respond to the consultation here.

Bitcoin: Women Wanted

I’m just back in from the first Scottish Bitcoin Meetup of 2015 where Marc Warne from Bittylicious gave a great talk on his experiences in running a UK Bitcoin business. With batteries now recharged and a timely catch up with a few folk in the scene, I’m now massively enthusiastic about the year ahead for Bitcoin in Scotland. We’ve already got plenty of talks and events in the pipeline and big plans to continue building out the community and ecosystem this year.

However, in the midst of all this planning, there’s one area in particular that has to be a key focus for me this year as an event organiser  – and that’s the gender disparity within the Bitcoin scene. Despite the fact that there are a few high-profile names, there can be no doubt that women are currently under-represented in Bitcoin, as Lui Smyth pointed out in presenting his research back at the Scottish Bitcoin Conference last year. To be clear, this is in no way exclusively a Scottish problem. But it is something that as a relatively small but fast-developing community, we have the opportunity – but more importantly also an obligation – to change.

In many ways, it’s little surprise that there’s an uneven gender mix when it comes to Bitcoiners, given the fact that the main feeder pools of interest (finance, technology, gamers, even arguably high-risk takers) tend to be dominated by males according to existing research. I’ll  go into my reasons behind this belief more fully in a future post but, as I mentioned in my talk at the Conference, I’m a strong supporter of the viewpoint that the involvement of women is crucial to Bitcoin’s success. We’re a long way from putting together a Women in Bitcoin group here at this stage in Scotland but personally I’d be delighted to see one take off.

So, for my part, I’ll do what I can to help. There are various female-focused tech groups within the Scottish startup and business scene and so far their response to suggested Bitcoin events for their members has been unanimously positive. Obviously if anyone reads this and would like to organise something along these lines also, please do get in touch as I’d be more than happy to help.

And I’m desperate to avoid putting on another conference with an all-male speaker list as I was forced to do last year.  That to me would represent failure on my part.

So – game on.

The First Scottish Bitcoin Conference 2014

 

Scottish Bitcoin Conference 2014 Poster
Scottish Bitcoin Conference 2014 Poster

Things have been a bit quiet around this blog in recent times as I’ve been involved full-on in a number of projects. Without doubt the most significant of these was the first Scottish Bitcoin Conference which took place in Edinburgh last weekend.

An Idea…

After returning from Bitcoin 2014 in Amsterdam a couple of months ago (blog post here), I was convinced that we needed a headline Bitcoin-specific event in Scotland for a couple of reasons:-

  • to act as a beacon to attract the community which seemed pretty disparate and more used to conversing behind a screen than in person.
  • to bring industry thought leaders to Scotland to inspire and network with people who didn’t have the time or budget to travel to conferences around the world.

I had no idea when I’d get a chance to pull this together in practice but the idea seemed clear (in my head at least). After a chance conversation with Jamie Coleman at CodeBase and organiser of the Turing Festival following a talk that I gave on Bitcoin to their startups in the incubator, it was clear that he shared my vision. And the wheels were set in motion…

Finding Support

Thanks to many people buying into this same vision, I managed to get a fantastic set of folk to Edinburgh to speak – including Jon Matonis (Bitcoin Foundation), Wouter Vonk (BitPay), Sveinn Valfells, Garrick Hileman (LSE), Lui Smyth (CoinJar), Daniel Masters (GABI), Mark Lamb (CoinFloor), Max Steele (Coinometrics), Nick Lambert (MaidSafe), Scott Maxwell….the list goes on.

The day might have been bootstrapped but it wasn’t cheap to put on. I’m immensely grateful to each of the sponsors who supported the day – partly because of the financial contributions, but also, crucially, because it showed that certain key organisations within Scotland are acknowledging that there is something of real significance starting to build in this sector. So hats go off to ScotlandIS, MBM Commercial, Johnston Carmichael, Signarama and CoinDesk.

And of course, in addition to the speakers, there are many other individuals who helped hugely. I hesitate to name anyone in person as I invariably then have to miss out others whose support was no less necessary. But huge thanks have to go to London CoinScrum organiser Paul Gordon, Pamir Gelenbe and Gulnar Hasnain of CoinSummitAndy Smith, Ryan Smith, Peter May, Matt Monach, Christopher de Beer, the Bitcoin Manchester guys…..the list goes on and on…

And….relax….

The Scottish Bitcoin Conference, Edinburgh, 23rd August 2014
The Scottish Bitcoin Conference, Edinburgh, 23rd August 2014

Now that a few days have passed after the Conference, I’ve had a chance to think about what we’ve discovered – from the obvious (we’re still way too male-dominated as a community) to the more complex. I’m proud to have been involved in pulling an event together which brought so many curious minds into the same room together. It’s striking that so many people share concerns about the viability of the financial system that we’ve collectively built whilst simultaneously being hugely positive and optimistic about what the future could bring.

And even more striking (putting aside the not insignificant issue of gender disparity for a second) was the fact that there was no stereotypical ‘Conference attendee’. Many people in that room held different, and often conflicting, political and ideological beliefs (left, right, middle, nationalist, unionist, crypto-anarchist, capitalist, whatever). The labels were irrelevant. The only defining belief that was shared by everyone in that room was that a very simple one – that technology could be used to destroy the one shared enemy of inefficiency.

My thoughts

I opened the day with a few thoughts of my own about the current position. With the Conference taking place under a month before the country goes to the polls to take arguably the most important decision in its modern political history, I believe that there’s actually another far more important narrative at play. And that’s the fact that more people within this country than ever before are questioning the relationship that they have as individuals with both the currency and the state – in many cases for the first time in their lives. My point? Given this background, the result is less important than the fact that the collective societal lethargy has lifted.

I believe that the emergence of technological solutions such as Bitcoin provide us with the opportunity to forge a future in which we can build more resilient, equitable and – yes – consequently, even more valuable systems. There’s a collective responsibility to go out and seek answers – and where those do not yet exist, to create them as part of this new paradigm shift towards an increasingly decentralised society.

With a uniquely Scottish perspective, it is of critical importance that we build awareness and understanding around an often misunderstood topic to give us a solid foundation before we can really start to develop things to the next stage. In the UK, and Scotland, we have a great opportunity to build on the progress today. As things stand, we have a (UK) government that is engaging with the Bitcoin community on various levels. We are not simply seeing the more reactionary, knee-jerk reactions to entrepreneurship in the field of digital currency that are so visible in many other countries across the world. We’re not in the worst place to take advantages of the opportunities that are arising. In fact I’d argue, in Scotland, and in Edinburgh, we are in fact in one of the best.

Bitcoin can’t be killed. But the more people that we can bring with us on this journey from an early stage, in which we explore all of the potential that blockchain technologies provide us with, then the greater the collective benefits will be for all. We’re still at an early stage in the development of the technology but make no mistake – things are moving – and fast. Here in Scotland we sometimes forget just how important the contributions to the world have been from individuals in this country in the past. We have a proud history of being a nation of innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs; a hostoric pedigree of financial leadership; and a growing entrepreneurial network that is necessarily global in outlook.

Thanks again to everyone who got involved. We’ve now drawn that line in the sand. Where will we all be when the second Scottish Bitcoin Conference rolls around?

Here’s a few speaker photos from the day:-

Dug Campbell addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Dug Campbell addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Jon Matonis, Executive Director, The Bitcoin Foundation, addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Jon Matonis, Exec. Director, The Bitcoin Foundation, addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Garrick Hileman, London School of Economics addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Garrick Hileman, London School of Economics addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Lui Smyth (CoinJar) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Lui Smyth (CoinJar) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Matt Monach (Standard Life Investments) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Matt Monach (Standard Life Investments) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Max Steele (Coinometrics) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Max Steele (Coinometrics) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Sveinn Valfells addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Sveinn Valfells addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Nick Lambert, COO MaidSafe addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Nick Lambert, COO MaidSafe addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Scott Maxwell addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Scott Maxwell addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014

 

Panel Session: Scott Maxwell, Lui Smyth (CoinJar), Mark Lamb (CoinFloor), Daniel Masters (Global Advisors Bitcoin Investment Fund) - Scottish Bitcoin Conference, Edinburgh, 23rd August 2014
Panel Session: Scott Maxwell, Lui Smyth (CoinJar), Mark Lamb (CoinFloor), Daniel Masters (Global Advisors Bitcoin Investment Fund) – Scottish Bitcoin Conference, Edinburgh, 23rd August 2014
Wouter Vonk (BitPay) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Wouter Vonk (BitPay) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014

Edinburgh’s First Bitcoin Meetup

Three weeks ago, I decided to arrange a meetup for people that were interested in Bitcoin. It’s no secret that I believe that the crypto-currency movement is going to have a huge year in 2014 as Bitcoin (in particular) accelerates from niche tech circles into the popular consciousness.

Unsurprisingly, most of the people that are into the subject tend to exist mainly online, whether in forums, podcasts or Reddit. But for me, that vital step into the mainstream will only come when people transact openly – and for that to happen, discussions need to take place face to face to let questions be asked, knowledge shared and – importantly – pique the interest of people who have only heard the often-sensationalised reporting in the press.

So I’m delighted to say that Edinburgh’s first Bitcoin Meetup at the Queens Arms last night was a huge success. Around thirty people turned up, all delighted to have the chance to speak about bitcoin and other alt-coins face-to-face. For me, it was confirmation of the fact that things are about to get really interesting, coming as it did on the day of the launch of a service to buy bitcoins directly around the UK from such trusted places as local newsagents, on top of the news that the UK’s first Bitcoin ATM has been installed.

Thanks to everyone who came along. Check out the Meetup page for details of the next one at the start of March. If you’re at all interested in coming along to hear more, I’ve no doubt that the group would make you welcome.

EIE’13: Sir Tom Hunter Keynote

 

Engage Invest Exploit Conference 2013
Engage Invest Exploit Conference, Edinburgh, 8th May 2013

Today the annual Engage Invest Exploit conference took place in Edinburgh. Described as “Scotland’s premier annual investor event, showcasing the best companies spinning out of Scotland’s world class universities and start-ups from our wider entrepreneurial eco-system”, the event was significantly larger than previous years.

There were two keynote talks during the event – Sir Tom Hunter (Scotland’s first home-grown billionaire businessman) and a later keynote from Sherry Coutu CBE (see post here).  I wrote a liveblog during the event on the MBM Commercial Startup Blog. I’ve reproduced the notes here as there are some valuable points made by both speakers – apologies for the length but I’ve not spent any time tidying this up yet. 

EIE’13 Keynote: Sir Tom Hunter

Tom started by stating that it was an honour to be at EIE13 today for one simple reason: the entrepreneurs who start, grow and build businesses are his heroes. Since he sold his Sports Division business back in 1998 he’s become an ‘entrepreneurial anorak’. He loves entrepreneurs and to work out what makes them tick – because quite simply we need them to succeed. If the entrepreneurs in the country succeed, Scotland succeeds

Back in 1998, Tom sold his first business but he’s more interested in talking about something different today. In that year, a beautiful G4 gulf stream airplane landed at Edinburgh. On board was one of the world’s best technology investors, Eric Schmidt (back in the pre-Google days). And the point is that he had travelled to Scotland to visit a Scottish tech company because he felt that it was worth it. The internet was a very different place back in those days. Remember, back at the time of that visit in 1998, there was no Google (which started on 4th Sept 1998); iTunes didn’t start until 2003; Facebook didn’t start until 2004.

Eric Schmidt was visiting Orbital Software which, when it listed, made its then CEO, Kevin Dorren, the youngest CEO to ever IPO. Orbital was of course subsequently swallowed by a technology giant. If you listen to many people, they will claim that this was a failure. Tom is adamant that this is not the case. The reason? After making the cash from the successful exit, both founders may have travelled to seek education but they then came back to Scotland and – importantly – brought their knowledge back to the country to help others build businesses and to create opportunities. Both along the way have created hundreds of sustainable jobs in Scotland.

Small to medium sized businesses are the lifeblood of our economy – and indeed of any economy. We need to foster and build as many successes as possible. The media will often tell us that selling out the business to a foreign acquirer is a ‘bad thing’. But this is so far from the truth because entrepreneurs have it in their blood to go again – to pay their taxes, to repeat it, and by doing so, to make the economy flourish.

If we look back at the example of Orbital, it proves a number of things. First, in Scotland, we can build globally acclaimed tech businesses. Second – we can attract the biggest and best investors. Thirdly, our entrepreneurs are serial in nature, and by virtue of their successes, they are delivering the much-needed tax.

Remember that back in 1998, some people at the time didn’t think the internet was going to continue. A sizeable proportion of of folk thought that it would collapse catastrophically – after all, who was ever going to buy goods over the internet, read news on the move etc. Yet on Tom’s last trip to Rwanda, Tom noticed fishermen using their web-enabled mobile phones to check the best prices and locations for them to sell their catches. The mobile phone is the single most powerful thing in the mobile world – it’s being used to increase trade, prevent civil unrest and getting people out of poverty.

Eric Schmidt’s predicts in his new book that the 2 billion users on the internet who grow – in the short term – to 7 billion. That is explosive growth and will allow a designer in Madagascar to compete with Edinburgh firm – or as Tom prefers to think of it, a designer in Edinburgh to compete with one in Madagascar.

The Head of Goldman Sachs has personally told him that he views SME’s as by far the most important sector for any economy. Similarly, the Chairman of a major music company has told him he now insists on spending 50% of his time in Silicon Valley as he is determined that he will never again be caught out again by an upstart grabbing control of music distribution. And then you have Sergey Brin telling everyone that is not the tech behemoths such as Microsoft that he worries about. It’s the guy in his bedroom. So why not someone in his bedroom in Scotland? If some of the brightest people in the world can identify this as a source of the next big disruptive business, why should we not?

Tom talked about his frustration when he hears entrepreneurs moaning. Don’t moan about the barriers (there’s just no funding, support organisations are useless etc). He just doesn’t accept that that is a valid reason. In Scotland, 4 of our universities are in the top 100 universities globally – for a 5 million country, we’re punching way above our weight. Another trend: look at some companies that are now choosing to leave the Valley to return to the UK to seek funding. Shazam, for example has returned to the UK precisely for that purpose).

Entrepreneurs have an incredible chance to succeed and they remain the lifeblood of our economy. Scotland’s history is unbelievably rich and our endeavour is almost unparalleled

We’re also on the cup of getting the support right for startups. There is a marked improvement in collaboration – look at the various organisations involved in today’s event which has grown significantly this year. The Scottish Government is, in his view, listening – something to do with the Referendum next year, perhaps, but make the most of it.

One of the key stipulations that Tom gave RBS when they went into Entrepreneurial Spark was that they had to commit to actually embedding their managers into the hatcheries for one simple reason – it would teach the bank managers to adopt a far more entrepreneurial mindset. Entrepreneurs can only depend on one thing though – themselves. If you’re going to worry about referendums, tax or a myriad of other external factors – forget it. Go and be a politician

As you continue or consider building a business, note that SME’s account for almost 50% of all UK’s economic output and 60% of employment. Yet startups only get about 6% of available finance! So we need to innovate in funding models. A great example is Brewdog in Fraserburgh. Founded in 2007 founded, it has now become Scotland’s largest independent brewer, with global exports. When they couldn’t get finance, they innovated – crowd funding raised £3 million. But even more importantly, it turned every investor into a loyal customer. They even had 2000 people turned up to their AGM in Aberdeen! Not to harangue the board (perhaps the free beer helped…) but because they loved the brand.

Another of his gripes is common: every business plan that he’s ever seen shows a line that goes straight up and to the right. None ever tells the truth – a tough year in Year 1, a catastrophe in Year 2, back to beg for more cash from the investors in Year 3! The only people that Tom is interested in investing in these days are the ones that come up to me and show me how they’ve dealt with adversity. Fail fast, fail cheap and do it again.

When Tom came into his wealth from the sale of Sports Division, he had to work out what to do, at the ripe old age of 37. So he knocked on the door at Carnegie Corporation to see the President

and received some fantastic advice. He was told that the great wealth that had come into your hands was not actually his and he was challenged by the question – what is your legacy going to be? Tom didn’t understand this at the time but now he’s worked it out and he hopes everyone else in the room today will do so as well.

So what is your legacy going to be for Scotland, for the Uk, for us all. If you are an entrepreneur, we simply need you to flourish. And if you do, we do.

Startups Central: TechCube Edinburgh Opens Its Doors

TechCube launch

As 2012 draws to a close, I’m convinced that we’re now witnessing the start of a period of unparalleled development in the startup scene within Edinburgh. And no single event highlights this development more accurately than the events of last Thursday night when pretty much the entire startup community from near and far descended on Summerhall for the launch of TechCube

The event had generated a fair amount of press interest, with publicity building from well before the visit of Alex Salmond last month and culminating in recent articles in the Wall Street JournalThe Next Web and Creative Boom, amongst others. Having been in the building a number of times over the past few months, I’ve also previously written about TechCube on this blog (such as here) and it’s been heartening to see move ahead in leaps and bounds between each visit.

As MD Jamie Coleman stepped on stage to declare “We’ve finally got there!”, there was a palpable sense of optimism and, undoubtedly, relief within a room packed with the great and the good of the local entrepreneurial tech community. The origins of the facility lie in the hard physical labour – literally – of local startup community members who donated weekends over a number of weeks to work together voluntarily in ripping down walls and ceilings in order to create something of lasting value to all. So – mission achieved. And, with that ethos in mind, the formalities of the evening were thankfully kept to a minimum but it’s worth mentioning a couple of points from the talks if you weren’t there.

Nigel Eccles from FanDuel, one of the launch sponsors and a significant new tenant of TechCube, with the company having chosen to use the building as its global HQ by basing its 28 UK staff there, started by giving the audience a potted history of the journey that he, and his co-founders had taken to arrive in TechCube.

His comments on the local startup ecosystem itself were the most telling, as he ran through how he and his five co-founders had spent a significant time around five years ago discussing the type of company that they wanted to work for and the culture that it would have within it. Looking around Edinburgh, it was clear that it didn’t already exist so they decided to create it. Too early for these discussions when your business has a grand total of zero employees? For many perhaps. Yet, the reality was that the founding team went through the complex process of reaching agreement on critical business issues before significant decisions actually arose, leaving them with a clear (albeit just as challenging) path forwards.

Nigel stressed the importance of creating a hugely successful business. Why? Success begets success. Instead of simply bemoaning the lack of available startup capital locally, success is crucial in helping other local companies attract investment and, even more importantly, talent. I particularly liked his definition of success as being framed by whether ex-employees subsequently go on to create successful businesses of their own – effectively a validation of business success by the recycling of talent amongst the local startup community. That’s the approach that is required, in my view, to build an effective and efficient entrepreneurial ecosystem. And, in keeping with this, it was great to hear that Nigel intends to set aside a regular time slot each month to meet with local entrepreneurs to share his experiences.

This is exactly why this event marked such a significant point in the development of the local tech startup system. The level of support and potential for cross-fertilisation between highly talented and motivated groups of people has just been increased exponentially by having a physical location for such serendipitous exchanges to take place and this should never be underestimated. Indeed, as Plan For Cloud – a TechCube business that was unusually acquired within only a few months of existence – was told by its US acquirer RightScale, Edinburgh currently has the feel of Berkeley some 20 years or so ago. “Why not Edinburgh?” indeed.

Finally, Robert McDowell, owner of the entire Summerhall Arts venue (of which TechCube is a part), took to the stage to explain a little more about the vision. Stressing the need to strive continuously for innovative and creative solutions when solving problems, the Summerhall venue as a whole is dedicated to Arts, Research and Education – with Entertainment coming in a distant fourth place in the list of priorities. Everyone is encouraged to think broad and deep in working towards building something really quite special. With Polly Purvis of the ICT trade body,ScotlandIS reminding everyone that the estimated 100,000 people who work in ‘tech’ in Scotland generate around £4 billion-worth of value to the Scottish economy annually, no-one should ever underestimate the power of collective action within a sector.

And so, onto the rest of the evening. After another tour of the building, the event neatly segued into the annual Edinburgh Startups 3rd Annual Christmas party, this year hosted in the old Dissection Rooms, with live bands, a trapeze artist, free beer and a seriously tasty selection of food, washed down by smoothies from the ever-reliable Hula Juice Bar.

In my experience, few events over the past few years have ever come close to bringing the numbers of people out to mingle from within the startup scene from such diverse backgrounds. There was a real surge of optimism at the event amongst everyone that I spoke to and a shared belief that something special is now getting going. The level of goodwill  is significant and there can be no doubt that everyone is desperate for the venture to succeed. By its nature, it will be an inclusive facility, attracting increasing levels of money, talent and support with each success – and who within the local community of entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, advisors, trade bodies and government organisations does not want to support that?

Massive thanks go to all involved in the organisation of the evening. I know for speaking to so many that there was a huge amount of hard graft put in to get to this stage – and it’s still only at the beginning. But the foundations are here. How the story develops, for Edinburgh, Scotland and beyond is now down to all of us.

Were you at the launch party? Or do you agree that TechCube will provide a much-needed level of support and enthusiasm for the local startup scene? I’d love to hear your comments below or let me know via Twitter.

Note: This blog post originally appeared on the MBM Commercial LLP Startup Blog.