What might work: AR, VR, and cool stuff at the Washington Post

What I’m listening to as I type: LEMONADE

 

I’m sitting in Jeremy Gilbert’s Washington DC office, trying not to look like a girl – scratch that – a middle-aged academic, as I bounce clumsily, and a little queasily, around Mars.

Gilbert is letting me play with Mars: an interactive journey, the virtual reality (VR) project for Oculus that the Washington Post published in March this year. Developed by staffer Chris Davenport in a project team led by Gilbert, the VR ‘tour’ of Mars takes Nasa’s scans of the red planet’s terrain, extrudes them, adds satellite pix and a little magic sauce, and creates a pretty real experience of what going for a stroll on Mars might be like.

It’s impressive as a content-led project, with an extraordinary level of research and detail underpinning the result, but, like other VR projects produced by news publishers recently, it all feels a bit, well, worthy.

“We did do one thing with Mars which we didn’t end up publishing”, Gilbert tells me. “We allowed people to drive the Rover around, which people found incredibly compelling but we had a hard time making it story telling. People wanted to drive the Rover because they could drive the Rover, not because driving the Rover helped explain the conditions on the planet or why people are going there or any of those things.”

Journalists decided that the job of a journalist was not just to show the world but to explain it sometime round about the 1880s, not long after interviewing became part of our toolkit. Instead of only saying what we saw, or reporting what we were told, we started asking questions (Schudson, 2001) and journalism began to develop as a craft and a profession – and a responsibility.

Personally, I felt the Washington Post’s version of Mars lacked Pokémon.

Gilbert’s role at the Post is Director of Strategic Initiatives. Which means he gets to do all the cool stuff – once:

“I typically do things that either are good enough for someone else to run in the future, or are complete failures and we won’t do that again for a while.

“One third of what I do are things that the top editors tell me to do, the things that we need done – Marty Baron and my boss Emilio Garcia-Ruiz. One third are things that I think of that I find interesting and seem like they have potential, and one third of the things are things that the journalists around the room say: “You know, I have an idea, can we do something like this?”.

The next cool stuff thing he showed me was a 360-degree video package, shot in the Galapagos. Gilbert and a team of staff travel writers. editors, with specialist producers from UNC School of Media and Journalism, spent a week in the islands collecting the video and source material. The result was published on the Post’s website in May.

It’s beautiful.

I swam with the fishes.

washington-post-galapagos-screenshot

And yet, like the Mars VR, beautiful but not quite there yet. My eye couldn’t settle – on the sidebarred text; on the stills; on the embedded video (all seamlessly attached to data points in the text). As a travelogue making me want to try the real location, it worked. As a piece of storytelling, not sure.

But as Gilbert explains, the challenge for new journalism is to learn how to work with non-linear storytelling (and, perhaps, an audience that is itself learning how to ‘read’ and get value from a broken-up story).

“Our expectations as journalists really have to change”, he said. “That we often think about ourselves as the people who bring you the perspective on an event, live or otherwise, and we tell you what matters, and here we are basically saying we’re going to create a space, especially in a virtualised environment that is not 360-video.

We’re dropping you in a place that we made and letting you do whatever you want, and in whatever order you want, and that’s a very different way of storytelling.”

jeremy-gilbert-twitterThis is what drives Gilbert – the possibilities of new storytelling. His background – with kings of interactive National Geographic, and at Northwestern University with the team that went on to found Narrative Science, is rooted in experimentation with narrative forms.

And he, and the Post, is going deeper and deeper into testing and trying new forms: “We’ve started to talk about if this is spherical video scene, can we actually offer different paths out of the scene into different spherical videos?” He tells me about a project the Post is working on with the University of Texas, at Austin, to add code to video scenes which will respond to eye-tracking, i.e. where the viewer is looking.

“Right now we can annotate [a video scene] by in essence burning on say some text and we can position it exactly on a video.

“But what the University of Texas is helping us do is to say: if the user’s eye is here, their gaze is in this direction, we can fit something that’s within their gaze and not attached to the video. So not using After Effects to burn it in, but rather tracking as the mobile device or the headset moves.”

They’re also using automated storytelling to speed up reporting on the US elections, and have been looking at using Bluetooth beacons to geographically trigger extra information, extra reporting, to attendees at events such as the election conventions. But Gilbert works on tools to support the day-to-day news operation too; showing me a freelancers look-up site they created.

“I really do three kinds of things: I do projects that are about creating better tools for journalists I do projects about creating better forms for news consumers to get their information, and I do projects that are trying to better connect people with information about distribution. So creation, consumption, and distribution.”

Two projects in the news consumption and distribution categories showed what the Post’s writers are capable of, given the freedom (and resources) to marry their specialism with experimentation in delivering very complex stories.

The interactive Waypoints package creatively tackles the story of migrants arriving at the Greek island of Lesbos.

While the masses of material collected by court and crime reporters around the Freddie Gray trial, was translated into an app making use of augmented reality (AR), and released on the Post’s site on on app stores in May.

freddie-gray-app-washington-post

The arrival at the Post of Jeff Bezos in 2013, as new owner, has delivered a good chunk of that freedom to experiment. Pouring money into the newsroom has, Gilbert acknowledged, helped (“we’ve hired a bunch of new journalists, we’ve hired a ton of new technologists”) and delivered a “pervading sense of optimism” in the Post’s future which has encouraged experimentation.

But, as Gilbert reminds me, previous owner Don Graham was pretty on the ball too: “He was on the Board of Facebook, so it’s not like he didn’t get it.” (Indeed as Kirkpatrick recounts in his book, The Facebook Effect Graham almost “got” Facebook itself, coming within a phone call of buying a big chunk of it in 2005)

“Don Graham knew much, much, much more about how to do great day-to-day journalism because he had grown up in this newsroom than Jeff Bezos may, but Jeff Bezos knew a whole lot more about operational speed. And he really understood how the right kinds of algorithms and the right speed of the user experience could lead to a massive digital audience.

“So I think the combination of a newsroom that already had a pretty good sense of how to tell stories, with a person who really knew how to build a big digital audience, it helped. That definitely helped.”

The Post took on around 100 new people with Bezos’ backing. Being able to invest in journalists and technologists “at a time that the economy wasn’t so great” and there were lots of great people looking for jobs was also a boon, said Gilbert. That investment pushed the Post past arch rivals the New York Times, to hit record-breaking web traffic last Autumn.

“It’s tricky because what’s the lesson for other people? There aren’t that many Jeff Bezos’ out there who are willing to invest heavily, and be fairly removed in terms of the day-to-day storytelling; letting the journalists do the storytelling they’re capable of doing. 

“If everybody had one [a Bezos]  that would be good for everybody. But in the absence of that, I think it’s hard but crucial to do these kinds of experimentation. But for a lot of people it has to come at a higher cost than it does for us.”

 


 

I met with Gilbert, as part of research for the book I’m currently writing on Future Journalism. The book, commissioned by Routledge is due to be published early 2017. If you’re interested in taking part, please tweet me.

What works – STR Skill School and YouTubing

What I’m listening to as I type: Mojave

 

There’s a lot of guff and puff being written about YouTubers at the moment.

If you took in much of the stuff in the media this year you’d think top Youtubers arrive fully-formed, like baby seahorses, with their million subscribers and six-figure earnings. But, to borrow from JPG, the formula for YouTube success is rise early, work hard, strike oil.

Actually, the “rise early” bit might need to be swapped for “stay up late working”, but the work hard bit and the striking oil bit applies. YouTubers’ “oil” being find to the right niche, meme, trend or format and then have the talent, passion and personality to  sell it.

This way to YouTube Partner Programme

This way to YouTube Partner Programme, baby

Most of the top independent YouTubers have been slogging away at it for four plus years: Smosh eight years; SB.TV seven years; TomSka six years; Rooster Teeth five years; Dude Perfect four years.  PewDiePie, currently top of the lot, is a relative Tube baby with his three-year-old channel. These guys have had time to build an audience and to get better at entertaining it.

When Steve Roberts set up his YouTube channel  STRskillschool in 2010, he was running football coaching classes six days a week to earn a living. He thought he could use YouTube to post clips of the techniques he taught his students so they could carry on practising between lessons, but he struck oil when he realised there was a bigger audience out there for his videos:

“I was looking at YouTube and saw most of the [football] stuff was pretty poor, so my idea changed to ‘how can I reach the world with this?

“I thought: I’m just the average guy, I know what everyone wants. But then I thought, if I know what the masses want, how can I utilise that?

“There were no language barriers because I didn’t talk in the videos. So I started making videos once a week or more.

“That was 2010, World Cup year, and the site starting growing really fast. I stumbled across the right format and trends.”

One of his early successes was a video of him showing how to take a free kick like Ronaldo.

“The Ronaldo free kick was quite a trending topic at the time and still is now – four years later the video is still doing well.”

Four years later, Steve is doing well too. His channel is nudging the half-million subscribers mark and he is “living comfortably for sure” from running it fulltime.

stryoutube

His channel is the biggest independent UK sports channel on YouTube. In November 2011, he was the only UK winner in the YouTube Next Trainer programme (collecting £5k worth of production equipment); in April 2012, YouTube nominated Steve as one of their rising stars and, in August that year he was picked to produce his channel from the Olympics.

YouTube have been “really supportive” of him – when I interviewed Steve, he’d just got back from a YouTube-arranged sports event linking vloggers and sponsors and a few days later he announced a big tie-in with Vauxhall, the sponsors of the England football team.

“I’m pretty fortunate in getting a lot of offers from brands but I have to be selective. It has to be right – I have to cater for my audience. I could make all the money but if my audience think I’m a sellout then I’ll lose subscribers.

“Sports brands make sense but it has to be a natural, organic thing. It could be  something to do with food and drink, or the brand might have a player they’re sponsoring and that might be an opportunity for me to work with that player.”

Working with ‘name’ players is something he wants to do in the future:

“It’s time to bring the skills videos to the next level by including the footballer: how to learn to play like Neymar with Neymar, or Zidane with Zidane – that would be my ultimate aim.”

Also on the cards is to buy in some help. Like most YouTubers, his channel is just him – his ideas, his camerawork, his editing, his deal-making. Him replying to comments, tweeting, blogging, promoting…

“If you’re the [on screen] talent you have to have a passion for the subject and you have to be knowledgeable about it, Fundamentally you’ve got to love what you’re doing.”

Loving what you’re doing is what keeps the best YouTubers working during the early years. Steve remembers coaching during the day and staying up each night answering comments and working on his channel.

When I first started it was really hard. My children were very young and I was working late at night answering comments. I chose to answer every comment, and now it’s got a little bit more difficult to do that but you’ve got to be engaging, and you’ve got to use social media.”

strlogoThings were just getting going for him when, in July 2010, he tore his cruciate ligament in his knee:

“I thought my YouTube career was over. Even at that early stage it was growing so fast and I was shattered when I was injured, I thought: ‘it’s all over’. But the subscribers kept me going, and the support I got from them.”

For Steve, passion and expertise drive the best YouTube channels and, for him, one other thing: visual awareness.

“I’ve always been a visual teacher and learner – I was good as a coach at showing information and good as a kid in quickly picking up skills I saw. I found that works on YouTube.”

What also works on YouTube is picking the right subjects for videos and giving them the right title – not just in SEO terms but to get viewers to watch.

So, his “Insane” skills videos get double the views of his technique training videos, and his training videos with player names – Neymar, Ronaldo, Beckham, do 20/30 times better than the ones without names. More of his videos now feature other footballers, rather than just him.

“I always knew that if I could utilise other skills I could improve the channel.

“Before, when I filmed some of the [football] freestylers it was in the YouTube studio, but when I filmed Andrew [Henderson], I said ‘I can’t do this in the studio’ so we just walked around London and I would say: ‘can you do something here?’ and ‘can you do something here?’ and his talent was so good it worked.

“If someone told me to pre-plan a video I don’t think I could do it, but if I turn up at a location I can tell you exactly where to shoot something and come up with ideas when I’m there.

“Then I had to find the right song to pull it all together.”

The song – and the freestyler videos, were inspired by another YouTuber: devinsupertramp. Steve’s other YouTube heroes Dude Perfect (“the biggest channel for me”)  joined him at the Olympics YouTube fest.

It’s that understanding of how to engage his audience that works for Steve: “If I’m getting bored watching a video, I know that viewers will be so I just cut out all that extra stuff.”

In this, his second World Cup year with YouTube, he’s expecting a big bump in views and subscribers:

“The next target is half-a-million subscribers – then the key one is one million and I hope I can hit that this year.”

Nike and Adidas are “being supportive” and he’s hoping the World Cup will also help him take that next step in bringing international players to his YouTube channel. Will he be going to Rio too? “Oh, I’d love to go to Rio!”

Thanks, Steve!

Thanks, Steve!

 

What did (and didn’t) work in app launching – London Cyclist

What I’m listening to as I type: Days Are Gone

Way, way back when both me and the web were younger and altogether more excited about each other, I believed the internet would deliver The Dream Job. That one you do from your laptop sitting on a hot beach drinking something cold.

I was thinking about that when I spoke with Andreas Kambanis over Skype at the weekend. If anyone’s realised the promise of the web to deliver dream lifestyle plus dream job, it’s him.

AndreasKambanisAndreas started the successful London Cyclist blog straight out of uni back in 2010. That led him to launch a string of apps, starting with Bike Doctor, and all of that led to him building his business as he travels from Vancouver to Antartica, and back again.

When we spoke, he was in sunny Buenos Aires (“My favourite place so far – it feels like Paris, with cafes on every corner”) and I was in storm-battered Tutbury.  (Three cafes, doesn’t feel anything like Paris).

He told me running his business remotely has worked just fine:

“The biggest problem has been my laptop power failing in Buenos Aires. If I’d been back London I’d have just hopped on my bike to the nearest Apple store, buy a cable and then come back.

“Here I visited three different Apple stores and none of them had the cable,  so I had to get on a boat to Uruguay to buy one!”

Aside from power fails, finding a wi-fi connection can be an issue (“Now I just use Airbnb and rent an apartment with private wi-fi”) or he makes use of his 3G stick and phone (“crucial in Peru when we were launching the London Cyclist app“).

He launched the blog as a hobby first, while working in his first job after graduating. Launching his own business was “always in the back of my mind.”

“I wanted to do my own thing. I was working for a company for a year but it was a graduate job and I found it very frustrating.”

He picked cycling as the topic for his blog because he was cycling to work every day and saw there wasn’t much online about cycling in London.

Getting the domain – londoncyclist.co.uk, was important for search traffic then: “Back in the day it was very important what domain you had – it’s less important now.”

As the blog gathered views, he started contacting other cycling sites and blogs and monetized the site with affiliate product links.

It took me about six months to be earning about $3k a month. Then my first big breakthrough was round about the time Apple brought out the iPhone 3GS. Immediately it was clear that this was a real opportunity – with the iPhone I could have everything inside an app.”

His first foray into apps was Bike Doctor, which teaches cyclists to fix their bike.

“I contacted a developer with the idea for Bike Doctor. He did the coding and I did the marketing and brought the audience. It was a 50/50 partnership.

“The app went to the top of the category for sports apps in the UK – it did really well straight out the door.”

His next app – London Cyclist, was less successful with sluggish sales.

“I hired a developer this time and spent around £2.5k making it and got that back within a few days.

“But I quickly realised that London Cyclist could only grow to a certain stage. I made the assumption that other people would want what I wanted [in a bike app]. Secondly,  I assumed that iPhone was the right format.”

His market – his London Cyclist blog followers – just weren’t that interested in the app: “If the London cyclist doesn’t download the app, whatever I did I wouldn’t move sales very far foward.”

Andreas has written here about his decision not to invest more time and money in trying to push that app forward, but  said it was a valuable lesson:

“But with each failure you learn a lot, so now I know about creating an app that’s got location data in it and I can use that for other ideas I’ve got.”

He was already traveling by the time the London Cyclist app launched, having set off on his journey in February 2013. His next app, Caveman Feast, was also created and launched as Andreas crossed continents.

Via a contact of a contact he was introduced to Abel James, who runs the very successful Fat Burning Man blog, podcast and brand based around promoting the Paleo diet.

Andreas suggested the app idea to Abel and designed and launched it. On day one of launch it had had 8,000 paid-for downloads and got into the iPhone top ten:

Top 6 app in the Apple App Store

The key had been to partner with someone who brought his market with him. Abel’s Fat Burning Man podcast gets over 500k downloads a month.

Paleo expert George Bryant of civilisedcavemancooking.com, was also involved and recommended the app to his 90k followers. By the end of launch day, the app had made back its £7k developer cost.

“Partnering with other people that have followers is key. Making an app yourself is really hit and miss. In the past we’d have had to contact all the major media outlets and find out who to talk to and chase them.”

That pattern – of working with ‘names’ to build apps, is where Andreas plans to take his business this year.

“A lot of very successful people are very busy so that’s where I come in and I manage the whole process. I take their content and four to six weeks later I deliver the app and the launch strategy.

I never launch an app and hope for the best, I always have a plan for how to get it out there.

“A digital agency in London would charge you around £100k to produce an app but you could do it for £7-8k but you need the strategy. I really think through the app and the visual mapping of the content.”

His next app is due to launch early March. It’s a 14-day juicing challenge, again working with a ‘name’ partner. Like Caveman Feast, it’s about people  building new health habits into their normal routuine.

“I’m really interested in the intersection between psychology and healthy eating so I’m interested in how we can bring thoughtful design in an app to make healthy living easier.”

This year, he expects to take someone on to manage the London Cyclist blog fulltime while he concentrates on building his app business. But does he think about where the tech is going – what he does after apps?

“Yes. Especially in the tech world everything changes and its really tough to stay ahead. I think wearable tech is next and we’re already looking at that and looking at using Google Glass for the recipe market.”

Thanks for talking, Andreas!

Thanks, Andreas!

What did (and didn’t) work in ecommerce

What I’m listening to while I type: Born To Die

If the trick to web-tech entrepreneurial success is to keep trying and tweaking the same model until you get it right, then Boyd Carson is getting it right.

I spoke to him about his e-ventures and his thoughts on ecommerce ventures in particular.

As a partner at Sapphire Capital Partners, he launches bespoke investment funds for clients in property, renewables or anything else: “picking the right products for the clients to invest in.” As Founder of Sapphire Ventures, he runs his own start-ups, focusing on niche ecommerce products – most recently weselljewellery.com

It’s his fourth ecommerce-led venture. Two failed, one (Where Wise Men Fish) was a success and he sold it on. He launched We Sell Jewellery four months ago.

What I found particularly interesting in our conversation was the technique he’s developed out of this experience. Basically picking a niche product; focusing on getting to know that product and that market; and testing it first with just a couple of products and landing pages before committing.

It’s a low-cash, ultra-fast way of testing an idea on a market before you start building a beautiful website or weaving your business plan. I found myself wishing I’d spoken to him before I spent months building lovecocktails.co.uk (twice) and then finding our extensive product list was a logistical nightmare.

However, back to Boyd. He’s launched two jewellery sites and two fishing-related sites – isn’t that a bit of a bizarre mix, I asked him?

“It’s about trying to identify a niche market. Trying to identify somewhere where one can add value to the process. Everyone was rolling up hotels but no one had seriously looked at fishing lodges.”

When he replied to my Linked In appeal, he said he’d seen a lot of people getting ecommerce ventures wrong. I asked him what mistakes he thought they were making?

“Not doing enough research on the product to begin with, spending a lot of money upfront doing the website, spending all the money upfront without knowing the product.”

He added that was an issue for any retail business but was particularly the case in ecommerce:

“People assume ecommerce is easy but actually it can be harder because there’s so much competition on the web.
“It’s about knowing the product and the market – does the market want the product? And also the market may want the product, but can you get it to market with enough margin to make a profit via the internet, because the internet is so competitive?
“Someone may want to buy, for example, a gold necklace. We may assume there’s a market on the internet for gold necklaces but the competition is so fierce that the only one who survives is the one selling it the cheapest.”

Hence Boyd’s strategy of focusing on niche markets. His second jewellery site has focused on niche and custom-made jewellery.

However, the assumption would be that luxury goods, such as jewellery or exclusive fishing holidays need investment in a website and marketing – don’t customers expect a certain look and feel to the website? Boyd thinks not:

“You don’t need a big website to launch. You do test pages to test your product quite cheaply. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to test a product and get some feedback.
“For example, if I had a budget of £500 I could do an adwords campaign and spend that as a way of testing the market, rather than spending £5,000 and putting everything up there.”

Of his two ventures that failed, he felt going for a market that was too niche, too small (fishing flies?) was a reason for failure, along with not having enough cash to back the business up in the early stages, “and probably I didn’t know what I was doing”.

I asked him whether having had a business fail is a positive thing?

“Yes and no. It can be very dangerous, an entrepreneur with a small capital base can easily blow the lot and then its game over for them.”

So what advice would he give to someone planning an ecommerce startup?

“Research the product and don’t run out of cash. Have plenty of cash stashed away and don’t blow it on sales and marketing before you’ve tested your product.
“I’d also say that networking is very important because it’s a very lonely process starting a business and to talk to other people in a similar position can reassure you that you’re not failing, and they can offer you ideas and help”

And the most important thing?

“The overriding thing is focus wins. Keep focusing on what you’re doing otherwise you’ll never succeed.” 

 

Thank you, Boyd.

Thank you, Boyd.

 

What didn’t work – Geomium

What I’m listening to while I type: B.R.M.C.

Ben Dowling is one of those bright, young entrepreneur geeks that Cameron gets super-excited about  [er, that doesn’t sound quite right. Ed]

At 28, he already has one web-tech launch behind him and is currently working on at least two others. That first web-tech project, Geomium, was the one I spoke to him about – after he replied to my tweet call to tell me he’d definitely worn the t-shirt!

tweetWhat I found especially interesting talking with him was that the reasons he gave for why he felt Geomium had, ultimately, failed were ones I recognised from my own experience. In particular, the need to stay focused on your original concept, especially when you’re at that point where funders are biting. Anyway, background first.

Geomium was a social app focused on location. Developed by Ben and co-founder Michael Ferguson out of six months of conversation, prototyping and brainstorming that started in the summer of 2010. 

Mike (left) and Ben. Picture - The Guardian

The two hadn’t worked together before Geomium but had a shared interest in location and in the excitement being generated in 2010 around what location could add to social networking. Ben said:

“Initially, the  idea me and Mike had was very social, just around people and what they’re up to. But we thought, if we just have people then we need the critical mass of people and how can we get people to use it until we have that critical mass? So it was always location based – chatting but with people nearby, location was critical.”

Remember that Summer 2010 was when location was still pretty new. Foursquare had launched  at SXSW the year before – as did the rival it beat, Gowalla. But these were then US-centric and, while there was plenty of work and excitment around location, the space in mid-2010 was still pretty open.

Ben and Mike raised £33k of Angel investment, enough for them to give up their day jobs and concentrate on launching Geomium (as an iPhone app and website) and to start looking for the next stage funding that would make the difference between go and stop.

The product was getting good press and interest from VCs. But by Dec 2010, the Angel cash that had kept them working on it fulltime on had pretty much run out:

“We needed to raise more money around December 2010, Jan 2011. We were slightly unsure what to do with it [Geomium] at that point so originally decided to take on other projects and keep pushing this forward, but it’s really difficult to do it when you’re not fulltime because you get distracted and it’s not a priority.”

It wasn’t just the lack of funds that was impacting on the project at this point, but the pressures that come with the pitching process itself, particularly how the desire to reflect the VCs’ interests can add to that loss of focus.

I remember my own, increasingly desperate, pitching phase and how that hunger to get a funder on board would affect what I thought about my product, and I began reflecting what I thought the VCs wanted. Ben said this had been “a huge problem” for them too:

“We were pitching end November through December [2010] and in January we were part of Seedcamp pitching to five VCs at once. Before that you’re pitching to about one a week and getting feedback from that and so you change the pitch, and then the next week you do it again and get feedback and change it again.

“Then the next week at Seedcamp you meet different teams and they all give different feedback but there was always a common thread. By the end of it you end up with their personal passion, one will say one thing and the other the opposite – although it’s not relevant to us they just say it to everyone.

“But afterwards you realise a side point, not their main point, is a common thread that they all made and that’s the important bit.”

The “important bit” in Geomium’s case was to stay focused:

“They [the Seedcamp VCs] said by bolting more and more onto the product we might think we were making it more compelling but we were actually confusing users.”

For Ben and Mike, the space Geomium was competing in had filled up since they started 12 months earlier. Their response to that had been to add more features to their product:

“The initial idea was to focus on people but then it was “how to we do more? I know, let’s add events and deals.” There were lots of different apps coming onto the market that offered each of those parts but we decided to add them all: “Let’s add this, let’s add this. Oh, someone else is doing that; let’s add that too.” So you end up doing a mediocre job of lots of things rather than focusing on one thing and being the best at that.”

The pitches failed. The guys didn’t raise the extra funds they needed to progress Geomium. Ben summarised what they felt had gone wrong:

“When we first started it was obvious it [location] was going to be an interesting area but 12 months later, when we were looking to raise money, the space had really filled up. It had become increasingly competitive and a lot of the investors wanted to see some serious traction. We had good traction but not at the levels they liked to see and the reasons for that are because we did too many things.”

Ben started working on other projects as lead developer. Some apps, including BusMapper, but  mostly working for another promising start-up – Lightbox, an Android photo app  (has $1.2m VC investment and is currently in Series A fundraising round). Mike returned to the US and is now working on another location-based project – appthegame, with new partners.

Geomium is still running as an events listing website at www.geomium.com (the events route being one the guys had started to focus on towards the end), but Ben “pulled the plug” on the original website and mobile app at the start of December 2011.

But, as Ben explains himself on his blog coderholic: “Failure isn’t anywhere near as bad as you think it might be. Even when everything goes wrong, it’s actually OK.” (Incidentally, this BusinessWeek feature makes the point that ‘failing is actually OK’ in multi-million-dollar businesses too).

So, if Ben was mentoring newbie start-ups at Seedcamp 2012, what would advice would he give them?

“I’d say focus on one thing and do that really well instead of doing too many things. I think it’s a really, really common thing startups get wrong is to think the one thing we’ve found isn’t good enough, so let’s add more stuff. But really you need to focus on the one thing.”