2017: A year of change for ClearScore

Reflections on the biggest achievements and challenges of the year and looks to what’s in store for 2018.

2017 is officially drawing to a close and there’s certainly that end of year feeling in the ClearScore office. “Santa Baby” is gently playing in the background this morning, our Engage team are being noisy and André is wearing his Christmas tree hat. I’m hearing bottle tops being removed, not from beer but from soda water – clearly an attempt to feel better after the night before. Most of the team are away on their well-deserved Christmas break, and as I look at the banks of empty seats and screens all I feel is love for what we have created, the team we are becoming and the mission we are on.

At ClearScore we are good at living the highs and lows of life. Encouraged by my example, we are an emotional lot and are very aware that we need to live the journey by celebrating our successes and learning from our failures – all of which we’ve done in plentitude over 2017.

We’ve had a lot to celebrate this year from moving into a new office in Vauxhall, expanding our team, moving our infrastructure to AWS, and signing up our 5 millionth user – all big milestones for us. We’ve also put ClearScore in front of a whole new set of people, creating an experience for those in the UK without credit files, and also serving nearly 250,000 South Africans after we launched ClearScore in South Africa back in June.

It’s been great to see how the team has pulled together to deliver some really demanding projects. We relaunched our mobile apps, have moved towards creating more personalised customer communications, and in the last quarter of the year made some big strides in really building our commercial pace. Speaking of the team, we’ve also had some classic ClearScore parties, most notably our 2nd anniversary conference in July. New relationships have started, we’ve had marriages and births to celebrate, and we were blessed to have our first female team member head off on maternity leave (go Hannah). We have all learnt a lot this year and have managed to have a lot of fun along the way.

But as ever, the fun has also been intertwined with personal challenges and sadness. Team members have left, projects have gone wrong, some users have got frustrated, and we’ve had our fair share of arguments. Members of the team have lost loved ones, relationships have failed, and many of us have battled physical and mental health challenges. But these trials are easier to bear knowing that the environment here at ClearScore is one of support and love towards each other. This, above all, is the aspect of the company I am most proud of.

Looking to the future

If there is one thing that is certain for the year ahead, it’s that 2018 will be another year of mammoth change at ClearScore and in the industry as a whole.

What we have done in the UK and now in South Africa too, is catalyse this change. Our business has forced larger companies than ours to change their strategy, but more important than that, it has delivered value, to millions, for free, forever. In doing we’ve helped to push personal financial services to become healthier and to work harder for you, the consumer.

Whatever the future holds, each one of us at ClearScore is also a catalyst for this change. Whether that’s through focusing on serving our users with passion and dedication, creating our next feature, embracing open banking, giving our colleagues feedback, or pulling together to answer a business challenge, we are each an agent of change within the company and beyond. Our whole team has always used their smarts, their ability, and their energy to create great work and to try to change the market. Next year, we hope to do this on a bigger, global stage.

Thank you

Lastly, as the final chorus of Santa Baby fades, I have some thank you’s to say. To the ClearScore team – you are amazing and wonderful people and being part of your life journey is a privilege and an honour. I’d also like to thank your families – we are a demanding place to work and I know that sacrifices have to be made. To our board – thank you for all your support and advice through the year. And finally thank you to our users – the most important thing in this whole ClearScore operation. Please keep using ClearScore and sending us your feedback and ideas. Helping you work towards better financial well-being is our ultimate mission and your faith in us keeps us going everyday.

I hope you all have a peaceful and restful Christmas holiday and a wonderful 2018.

Justin Basini,

CEO and Co-founder, ClearScore

Speech from the Financial Services Forum Annual Dinner 2017

I was honoured to be asked to give the keynote speech at the Financial Services Forum Annual Dinner at the Guildhall in November.

My theme was innovation, disruption and trust building.

You can find the text of the speech following:

Thank you David, for your kind introduction and to the Forum for inviting me to speak here tonight.

The Financial Services Forum has always held a place in my heart since I remember joining in the early years of my career whilst at Deutsche Bank and, of course, I was humbled to win the Marketer of the Year Award in 2008.

I remember being very nervous that night and thinking that I would never win. The chat on my table was excited especially when one of the team came back from a loo break and said that they had overheard someone saying that they had voted for me! Then another person came back from a quick ciggie and she said that she too had found people who had voted for me. So my advice is if you are up for an award tonight, and want to know your chances then I’d hangout in the loo or go for a fag!

Anyone nominated for an award tonight – I wish you the very best of luck.

Tonight I earn my dinner by taking a few minutes of your time to talk about technology and financial services. Finance has been an early adopter of new technology – from the abacus to the mainframe computer and as an industry it has always been critical to our economy. We are blessed that the UK consumer is very open to trying new things. ClearScore, my company, has taken an approach to empowering people with their credit data and we have seen fast adoption, now our product is used by nearly 5.4m users in the UK and 250,000 in South Africa. We have delivered our fair share of disruption. But as I have built my career and operated in our industry I ask myself the question:

What are financial services really for?

Obviously at some level it’s about capital. Looking after money and assets, growing them, making them flow, managing risk. But I also think that at a very deep level, especially in the capitalist democracies in which we live and that are so under fire at the moment, finance is about managing and growing a very different form of capital and that’s social capital or to put it another way trust. In the delicate eco-system that is our economy and our industry, especially in the UK and Europe, trust is in danger of continuing to diminish.

This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer survey showed that still less than half of people trusted our industry. Financial services are the least trusted of all the business sectors and that is as true today as it was in 2007 before the financial crisis. You’ll be pleased to hear that in another survey from 2015 58% of people said all of us working in financial services were at best unprofessional and at worst dishonest.

The good news is it’s not just us. Almost every profession from politician, to journalist, to doctor, have seen decreases in trust over the past 20 years. The media is no longer respected, replaced with news of the royal wedding and Trump’s constant tweeting.

This collapse in trust is very significantly problematic for our economy. Every economy that has thrived has had embedded within it a complex mesh of bonds of trust that help to lower transaction costs. Whether it is the stock markets in the UK or US, or chaebol based families in South Korea, or the local SME business groups that are prevalent across Germany, all of these myriad structures help to make capital flow by creating trust between people.

Almost all change in financial services requires our system to work together at very many levels. We need to operate in an environment where the consumer, the regulator and the industry trusts each other. Now, of course, this mustn’t be blind trust but it also must assume a baseline of trustworthiness otherwise the barriers that we put up to working together, and winning the trust of the consumer, will become insurmountable.

Technology can help build both financial and social capital and it can do it fast. Look no further than Bitcoin. Just this week this new currency broke the $10,000 mark for the first time. The learnings from Bitcoin are numerous. The technology is opensource and transparent. The currency solves several major transaction issues for users in major industries. The system relies on multiple entities working together, competing to create coins but collaborating to innovate around use cases. I’m sure there will be lots of debate over your main course about the outlook for cryptocurrencies but what opensource distributed ledger technology has been able to do is build significant amounts of trust in a very short amount of time and captured increasing amounts of financial capital.

In the UK, for many reasons from Brexit to increasing inequality, I believe we are at a turning point for our economy. Historically we have enjoyed a particularly strong base of trust. From social norms, to our class structure and enduring entities from the Bank of England, to our courts, to the local pub, that have served us very well. And banking has contributed significantly to this system.

The profession of banker was always traditionally seen as solid and dependable. Banks were full of people who were part of our communities, working from buildings on every high street, who were known and were trustworthy and trusted. Products and decisions were simpler, and more transparent.

This reputation for trust across financial services didn’t happen by accident – it was hard won over centuries. We gather here today in the Guildhall at the heart of the City of London Corporation. The corporation is the oldest continuous democratic commune in the world – having existed for over 2000 years. From the Roman’s, to William the Conqueror, to the Stuart’s, the City has survived as a bulwark for the advantages of democracy and free trade, thriving through the rule of law and lots of social ties fostered through Freemen, and Councils, Courts, Halls and organisations like the Financial Services Forum, and of course, the very many bars and pubs that we enjoy to this very day.

But despite this history, our reputation has severely compromised. However, I strongly believe that we can use our collective will, our capital, our ingenuity and technology to redress the balance.

Today the Prime Minister, the Newspaper editor, the CEO are rarely very trusted. Much of the collapse in our reputation is connected with this lack of trust in authority. These authority figures have been replaced by “people like me”. Witness the power of TrustPilot or Glassdoor.

Technology can help bridge the divide between all of us and our customers. The social web, chatbots, artificial intelligence and machine learning fused with real conversations facilitated through video for example allow cost-efficient interactions with a more human feel. Experiences like Cleo which uses AI to chats to me on Facebook about my money every morning, or ClearScore’s financial education chatbots used by more than a million people – these interactions are involving, warm and funny. This can help bring back the human whilst leveraging the efficiency and convenience of a technology enabled bank in your pocket which has often removed human warmth and connection from financial services.

There is no doubt that much of our mind space whether we work for established institutions or small start-ups is dominated by the idea of disruption and disrupters. At one level this is a good thing. The regulator wants more competition, there are still very many under-served consumers, large institutions struggle with new technology, data is opening up all the time, and in many cases markets needs to be made more efficient.

But at another level disruption seem oppositional and aggressive – it creates tension – thoughts of the winners and the losers – it creates sides. And whilst we need to compete fiercely in the market for the good of the customer, dedicating ourselves to delivering better services, at lower cost, more efficiently. We also, if we are to re-establish trust in our industry and rebuild our collective reputation, need to actively support each other and collaborate more.

When I see disrupters attacking banks for over-charging on a foreign exchange transaction, or scandal after scandal from the investment banks, or the government using the regulator through PPI to redistribute money back into an ailing economy, or major financial institutions being reluctant to embrace open banking I wonder whether we are not putting short term commercial gain above longer-term maintenance of the trust that is fundamental to our success. We may win the individual battles, but lose the collective war.

What we create when we attack each other, either through our messaging or our business models, is a confused and untrusting consumer. That consumer is increasingly frustrated with the services with which they are being provided without any real understanding of why they feel this way. All they are left with is a vague sense that they are being ripped off by a system that they don’t understand and is full of bad people doing bad things.

Now whilst there are those in our industry who do the wrong things, most people I know who work for financial services companies are talented, committed people, like you and me, trying to do good things for our customers whilst operating in this sea of mistrust and confusion. Certainly the 160 people who work for ClearScore are some of the most committed and trustworthy people I have the pleasure to know – your teams will be the same.

So, we must continue to execute the obvious functions of our industry well – manage capital, be prudent with risk, help our customers make good financial decisions, create fair and balanced products. But our mission must be to work together to build back the social capital in our industry and our economy.

Tomorrow when we are back at our desks, as we think about our business and brand strategies, or develop our propositions, talk with colleagues and customers, or invent our next new innovation; whether we work for the largest of banks, or the smallest of start-ups, whether we are the disrupted or the disrupters we should take a moment to think back to this evening, to this wonderful room, and the history it represents.  We should dream big about the application of technology to solve real customer problems. But above all everyone of us should dedicate ourselves to continuing to win back the trust of our nation through hard work and our ingenuity collaborating to build a better, more trusted, more trustworthy financial services industry. To achieve this would be a true contribution of which we all can be rightly proud.

Thank you.

The case for connectedness and influence – our view on the European referendum

First published on the ClearScore blog on 1st June 2016

I’ve thought long and hard about whether to publish this blog. It represents my personal view of the upcoming EU Referendum. However, and this is the aspect that gave me pause for thought, it also represents the view of the corporate body that is ClearScore.

I think it is incredibly important that employees and users understand both sides of the argument and have clarity on the views of the people and businesses that they rely on. To this end, the ClearScore position on the EU referendum is that on balance, an exit vote would cause significant cost increases and risk to our business and its future. This mirrors my own personal view.

Free movement of talent

The ClearScore business and team is a great reflection of the advantages of being in Europe with the free movement of talent, lowering of barriers to entry and harmonising of regulation.

Klaus Thorup our CTO is half Danish, Frank Sedivy who works with me to create our product is Czech. Matt our lead designer is a Pole. One of our front end developers is from the south of France. Our marketing executive is Polish, but grew up in Wales. We have a Hungarian tester, and a Spanish devops engineer. We even have a member of the team from Luxembourg.

These Europeans are combined with many talented Brits plus representation from India and New Zealand. And these are just people who weren’t born in Britain. I was born in London but my Mum is from Poland and my Dad was Welsh-Italian. In fact most of the team have some European connection.

The point here is that Britain has always had, and massively benefited from, an attitude that welcomed people from all over the world to contribute to our nation both economically and culturally. I am English, British and European. This connected attitude has created the 4th biggest economy in the world and a place where people of all backgrounds can use their talent and hard work to get on and build a good life. If barriers were established to this free movement of talent then the ClearScore business, our economy and our nation would be damaged.

Access to European markets

We want ClearScore to be a global company and we are looking at how we can serve users across Europe and the world. As we look at the global opportunities the fact that regulation is largely harmonised across Europe results in a significant lowering in the barriers to entry and this means that moving into Europe is cheaper and easier. Out of Europe we would lose these advantages.

That’s not to say that more doesn’t need to be done to improve access to other European markets – it does. The massive advantage US tech companies have is the size of their home market. Technology ideas from start ups across Europe should have easy and free access to the whole of the European Union -and its 500m consumers -as easily as the US.

The fact that this doesn’t exist is a major reason why companies like Facebook or Google did not come out of Europe. However does anyone really think that enabling the next major technology goliath to come out of the UK is better achieved by leaving the European Union?

A global signal

I don’t believe a vote to leave would result in the sky falling in on our heads. We are a resilient nation and resourceful people, immigrants to our country as much as anyone. We would survive but something would die. And that would be the perception of Britain as a nation that is proud of our long and glorious history, of taking our values, people and products into the world and welcoming people from around the world to our country.

Leaving the EU would be a signal, in a troubled and dangerous world, that we are less willing to engage, influence and connect with other nations. Once done this can’t be undone – it will irretrievably damage our global reputation, our economy and our ability to be a significant player in a globally connected world.

Everything going on in the world at the moment, from climate change to conflict and terrorism, to technological developments, require interconnected and multi-country systemic change. This is not a time, despite frustrations and difficulties, to become a nation who signals that unity is the wrong course for the world.

Therefore I will be voting, and I would urge anyone connected to ClearScore, employee or user, to vote on the 23rd June to stay in the European Union.

Google to Alphabet: smart move but not radical at all

First published in Marketing Magazine 11th August 2015

The move from Google to Alphabet is far from radical; it’s well trodden as a business model by FMCG giants like P&G and Unilever, argues Justin Basini, co-founder and CEO at ClearScore.

With the creation of a holding company called Alphabet they are starting to look more like a Procter & Gamble or Unilever

The blog post announcing the rebranding of the Google into Alphabet this morning has taken everyone a bit by surprise. The markets have generally reacted positively with a 5% rise in the stock with the normal commentary both good and bad. We should admire Larry, Sergey and Eric that for once, in our world of obsessive management of investor expectations they have actually managed to steal a march on the millions of eyes watching Google.

Tradtional and well proven model

Many commentators have hailed this as a “radical” restructure adopting a model akin to Berkshire Hathaway. However, from a brand management perspective the move is treading a traditional and well proven model. With the creation of a holding company called Alphabet they are starting to look more like a Procter & Gamble or Unilever: that is a holding company with a wide portfolio of businesses and brand assets. The manifest benefits of this approach that has served the packaged good behemoths for over 100 years will deliver undoubted benefit to Google going forward.

Nobody likes companies that are too powerful, witness the fall of Tesco as it sought to become ubiquitous and got out of control

There are consumer benefits. Nobody likes companies that are too powerful. Witness the fall of Tesco as it sought to become ubiquitous and got out of control. Imagine if the brands we buy from P&G were not Ariel, Fairy, Pantene, Pampers, Gilette, Max Factor, Oral-B, Duracell, Lenor, Clearblue, Vicks but all of them called Procter & Gamble? We would start to freak out that one company could be so pervasive and dominant in our lives. As Google has broadened their offerings from search to email, to office apps, to mobile phones, to laptops, to household control, to cars; all of these being linked very clearly to the Google name creates the same concerns and worries. Moving to a house of brands under Alphabet will help manage some of these risks and drive growth.

Privacy concerns will manifest at Alphabet

The establishment of lots of different brands potentially may make it considerably harder for us to all understand where our data and information is going

Next, whilst taking the brand benefit, the establishment of a central infrastructure for Alphabet with central management and resources will allow assets to be shared across the different businesses. It is in this sharing that I think the most concerns may arise. Collection and manipulation of data, often playing close to privacy concerns, is hard-wired into Google and will therefore manifest itself at Alphabet. The establishment of lots of different brands potentially may make it considerably harder for us to all understand where our data and information is going. If I use Google search is this going to be shared with my separately branded self-driving car or my central home control unit?

Google has struggled with transparency

I’d also bet that Twitter will be an Alphabet company in the next 12 months

Brand trust is built through transparency and openness. Google has struggled with this in the past and many people don’t trust the brand. This potentially becomes much more complex in a holding company structure. For perspective, the consumer packaged goods companies have wrestled with this as well. They know a huge amount about their consumers across different brands and have experimented with cross promotion by using this understanding at a holding brand level, exploring whether consumers want a direct relationship with the P&G or Unilever brand. Results have been very patchy – people tend to be more suspicious and wary, rather than welcoming. In our hearts we like products and brands that do one thing well, rather than interacting with huge mega-corporations that know rather too much about our habits for comfort.

Alphabet is an engineering company, not an ad business

The last reason why this strategic change shouldn’t surprise is that it is a natural fulfilment of the vision that Sergey Brin and Larry Page outlined 11 years ago when they founded the Google. They have always wanted Google to be an engineering company in the broadest sense. Google is now an information and advertising business. The move to establishing Alphabet allows them to build different competencies and leverage different structures to solve a broader set of problems. Given the astonishing rise of Google and the undoubted benefit that it has brought to the world and all of us in such a short space of time this could be really exciting.

I predict that the move to Alphabet will be successful and create value for shareholders, and hopefully the world. I’d also bet that Twitter will be an Alphabet company in the next 12 months!

The fight for the future of the Labour Party is obsessed with the past

For nearly two decades I was a card carrying member of the Labour Party. I was attracted by the values and intent of a political party that could challenge the status quo and seek to balance benefit for all sides of society. A party with a caring, empowering and not paternalistic attitude to those less able and more vulnerable in society. I was inspired by the humble, kind and strong vision of John Smith and found Tony Blair’s New Labour electability seducing.

“What’s happening in the Labour Party at the moment is a disgrace and disastrous for our country.” 
What’s happening in the Labour Party at the moment is a disgrace and disastrous for our country. The over characterisation, the lack of debate, the absence of any real clarity of thinking or new ideas and so little belief being displayed is – all playing out on embarrassing public display. The choice between the different candidates is presented, even by themselves, in the most puerile of ways: back to a pre-free market economy with Jeremy Corbyn or back to “Blair-lite”. Why is there no forward just back?
“The Labour Party has over decades delivered a huge contribution to our nation. Much of what is best in our nation has been achieved by The Labour Party and its leadership over the years.” 
The Labour Party has over decades delivered a huge contribution to our nation. Much of what is best in our nation has been achieved by The Labour Party and its leadership over the years.  They achieved it by doing something which almost no current politician, and none of the current Labour leadership candidates do, which is lead us on a truly new path. Pensions, mass house building, the NHS, minimum wages, better working conditions, first female cabinet minister, creating the conditions for female MPs to succeed, gender equality, greater rights for gay couples, greater regulation, and free public schooling are all significant achievements of the Labour Party. When at its best the Labour Party brings new ideas and concepts to the table and wins the national argument. For example the concept of an “ethical commonwealth” powered the progress of the socially radical post war Attlee government and gave hope to the nation.
“What is needed now, desperately, both for the survival of the Labour Party and the good of our democracy, is a compelling vision of how both sides of our society can be reconciled and enjoy growth equally and together.”
What is needed now, desperately, both for the survival of the Labour Party and the good of our democracy, is a compelling vision of how both sides of our society can be reconciled and enjoy growth equally and together. The British people are inherently fair and they want a government that balances outcomes for all. The only route to this is radical leadership.
Those supporting Jeremy Corbyn are on a mission to reclaim what they see as their party. They are being successful because their position comes, not from a compelling new vision, but from guilt and fear: guilt because they feel they sold out to Blair’s electability in a desperate grab for power, and fear because they don’t have the experience or insight to understand and work with a radically changed world order and disrupted working world. At least Corbyn has a deep passion, although misguided, for his proposed policies. The fact that they are out of date and won’t work in today’s interconnected and market driven world is tragic, but at least he is going for it.

The others – Kendall, Burnham, Cooper – are again seemingly devoid of new ideas and the ability to argue for anything. Their lack of ability and passion are a major reason Corbyn is doing so well. They can’t even argue against a set of policies which would take our economy back 30 years. Perhaps, despite their many years in politics, they haven’t thought about the arguments for and against ideas like nationalisation or uncontrolled public sector investment through printing money. If that’s true its rather disappointing given that none, yes none, of them have any ‘real world’ experience having been in politics almost all their working lives.

“How ironic and shameful that the only brake on austerity at the moment is George Osborne?”
Finally the lack of leadership and belief in the Labour Party goes deeper than just these four candidates and is profoundly disappointing and disheartening. Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis who perhaps could have provided the required leadership are surely positioning – cynically betting that this next leader will be a “transition” guy with no chance of election success. They conclude therefore better to stand back and let party division play out using failure to drive necessary cohesiveness rather than radical ideas and passionate argument. This leaves the country, and the millions who are desperately struggling with austerity and inequality, alone and without an effective voice representing them. How ironic and shameful that the only brake on austerity at the moment is George Osborne?

It’s been said that The Labour Party is facing an existential crisis. But that’s not true: no one is fighting for the future just the past.

Why the Ashley Madison hack has done amazing things for the brand

First published in Marketing Magazine 21st July 2015

The Ashley Madison hack is fascinating, says Justin Basini, co-founder and CEO at ClearScore, as it raises interesting questions about morality, marketing and privacy.

The Ashley Madison attack is the juiciest of all hacks so far perpetrated. This is not millions of dry boring credit card details only interesting to fraudsters. No, this is the details of 37m people who have, or want to have, affairs. Their details, including names, photos and even sexual fantasies could soon be up for public consumption.The group responsible for the hacking, the so-called ‘ImpactTeam’, have pitched this as a moral battle with them in the role of hero and Ashley Madison as the villains. The next few weeks will be fascinating to watch as the moral battle ebbs and flows.

Following the boost in brand awareness, the next test will be whether the consumer proposition is powerful enough to overcome brand distrust

As the morality play progresses, there is also a marketing war going on and it is being fought over three main fields of battle: brand awareness, consumer proposition and trust.

Every cheating cloud

The hack has done amazing things for the Ashley Madison brand. Previously a slightly illicit brand, now millions more people have heard of it and even better understand its offer.

If the hacked data is exposed to all there will also be millions of current users, lapsed users and suspicious spouses desperate to find out whether they or their partner has been exposed as a cheater. The publicity means Ashley Madison the brand gets an awareness boost and first interaction for “free”.

Following the boost in brand awareness, the next test will be whether the consumer proposition is powerful enough to overcome brand distrust.

What’s clear, whether you approve or not, is a platform which makes cheating more accessible is an attractive consumer proposition for some. But can it overcome the fact that any right-minded individual will now distrust the brand to keep their secrets?

Acceptable risk

In our world now of ubiquitous Tweeting, Facebooking and data in the cloud, I reckon for many the hack won’t make a jot of difference. They will continue to sign up in their millions and take their chances.

Once the acute coverage has died down, consumer irrationality will take over and they will conclude that Ashley Madison must have learnt its lesson and now be more secure and less hack prone. For lots of people, the power of the proposition will trump any brand distrust.

Of course, there is also the possibility that this could tank the brand

Of course, there is also the possibility that this could tank the brand. So I bet in the back rooms of Avid Media, the owners of Ashley Madison, they are already hatching a plan to rebrand and use the power of increased awareness of the proposition to launch afresh. Surely this contingency planning would only be sensible?

Criminal conscience

And finally what of the hackers? If you believe in their moral cause, then you should hope that they are pausing and thinking again about breaching the privacy of millions of not-so-innocent consumers. They may have the data but they don’t need to expose it.

You might hope if you want to see the end of a platform for cheating that they should be planning a denial of service attack to stop the Ashley Madison service from actually working.

This would be a much better way to achieve their aims but I suspect that really they don’t give a crap and just want to prove, yet again, that almost no IT system is hack-proof even those with the most salacious of personal information on them.

Whatever side you take, moral or marketing, and I hope you’ll share them here, there is no doubt that how you handle the worst of disaster situations, both looking for threat and opportunity, is in our hyper-connected world a must-do rather than a should-do activity for all marketers.

Unicorns and wizards: #LDNTechWeek

This week has been #LDNTechWeek and London has been buzzing with conferences, talks, events and exhibitions.

The week started with the announcement that London has produced 13 tech unicorns which are Tech companies that have reached a >£1bn valuation. They include Farfetch (clothing marketplace), JustEat (online food ordering), Skrill (payments) and Zoopla (property search). These companies prove that finally we are creating a sustainable and world class technology sector in the UK. These companies also prove that we are creating an environment in the UK where finally entrepreneurial ventures aren’t something the mad or American do but it’s a mainstream choice in the UK. The media has a lot to do with this: Dragons Den, The Apprentice and more generalised positive coverage of entrepreneurs for over a decade now means being an entrepreneur is cool. If I look at my kids they are always talking and thinking about setting up new businesses.

I shared the stage with a wizard of tech in Dan Cobley, CEO of BrightBridge Ventures one of my investors at ClearScore  at the LDNTechWeek conference on Tuesday. Dan was talking about his venture building approach which has really helped to turbo charge the speed to market of ClearScore and is a model of investment which is certainly worth considering if you are looking for investment that also comes with added value.

On Wednesday I took part in a fascinating session at @TechUK with the newly established National College for Digital Skills. This college is launching next September and hopes to bridge the digital skills gap in the UK. They are now in business outreach mode and wanted the views of startup/scale up community as they put together their curriculum and engagement strategy. The most shocking stat shared was the collapse in sixth form students taking ICT / Computing since 2001 to 2013 the numbers have halved. This at a time over which computers and technology have become entirely ubiquitous and all consuming for the same age group. This is a problem.

IMG_0782
It was great to see so many companies attend and share their views. It was also interesting that many of the companies around the table had successfully used apprenticeship schemes. At ClearScore we have a Level 4 apprentice on the team and it’s proving a valuable programme both to her and our company.

Finally yesterday afternoon I took part in a webinar (recording here) organised by Fospha on creating personalised digital experiences. The Fospha technology allows site owners to tailor content and experiences to a specific users mindset in real time. For example if someone is in wish-listing mode then showing them lots of options is great, if someone has take the time to choose items and are about to check out offering that pair of shoes in green could give them a moment to reconsider and you might lose the sale. I was talking about trust and how important it is to create trust and rapport if you are to drive conversion based on my book “Why should anyone buy from you?” which is available on Why Should Anyone Buy From You? on Amazon.

The key point was that technologies exist today that allow you to “de-average” the digital customer experience and the process of de-averaging almost always creates value but I’m going to blog about that next week.

Thanks for reading, leave comments if you liked this blog.

Justin

Apple Rumors: The iPhone 6, the iWatch and the Apple innovation engine

What and when will the next iPhone appear and will it be the iPhone 6? I blogged back in October 2011 at the disappointing launch of the iPhone 4S which was Apple's first major product launch post Steve Jobs that I thought that there were signs that the world's greatest industrial innovation engine was slowing. This has undoubtedly turned out to be true and Apple are now under serious pressure with their stock falling consistently. I am an avid watcher of Apple rumors mostly because I think they are a fascinating organisation that is going through huge change right now.

What is going on at Apple (I think)…

The press and markets are in a frenzy at the moment as hedge funds and investors drop Apple. They say that Apple are losing the war against Samsung in the high end mobile phone market, have no cheap iPhone option for developing markets and haven't released a breakthrough innovation in years. Here is what I think is going on……

The truth is that Apple have only started to come to grips with the loss of Steve Jobs in the past few months and what's more we shouldn't be surprised.

Steve Jobs was the tech-genius of his generation – a unique and irreplaceable leader. His loss will be felt in Apple and the world for many, many years. From the many people who I have talked to who have worked at Apple – it is an egotistical, difficult and political place to work. Remove the king pin from this type of corporate culture and a power vacuum results. This creates in-fighting and a land grab. Tim Cook has only recently started to come to terms with this with his sacking of Scott Forstall in October after the maps debacle and the appointment of Jonny Ive as a Steve Jobs replacement responsible for both hardware and software.

I think the top team at Apple are only now coming to terms with the absence of Jobs and in a place where they can get back to the tough process of innovation. They have some key challenges which they need to overcome in order to deliver a series of launches and products which will either underline Apple's dominance as an innovator or start the Microsoft style slow steady decline to mediocrity. With the up and coming changes to the iPhone franchise, the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 or iWatch Apple need to prove their innovation capability in a post Jobs world. 

The most pressing problem for i-devices is software not hardware

iOS which spans iPhone, iPad is increasingly becoming THE operating system for Apple but it is not just looking old and tired but is behind on key usability features. The core strengths of iOS were always its functionality, usability, ease, consistency and reliability. It is still easy to use, consistent and reliable but it is now lagging in core features to make life and communications more functional. Android and Blackberry 10, even Windows 8 Phone, now have a significant advantage in really useful features that bring information, communication and organisation to my day. For example Blackberry with it's Personal and Office modes, or Windows 8 Phone with live tiles that tell me the weather, or Android with it's more integrated message centre. All these developments have left iOS lagging. Witness the wild success of the Evasion Jailbreak on iOS devices: 8,000,000 downloads so far to see how much demand there is for more functionality and flexibility. 

Here I am hopeful that the integration of software under Jonny Ive will deliver major benefit and improvements in functionality.

I think iOS 7 is going to be a big deal and it needs to be.

It needs to take the elegance and robustness of iOS and combine it with a more integrated and seamless communication feature set. Email needs to be overhauled, messaging needs to become integrated, communications from contacts integrated across channels, there are many improvements that can be made. It will also have a facelift I think. All this needs to be delivered in the next iPhone device which leads me onto my next thought on Apple rumors….

iPhone 5S will be next around April 2013, then the iPhone 6 in late November

Apple iphone 6 iphone 5SWhen is the next iPhone due? There is no doubt in my mind that Apple are convinced that the iPhone 5 is a good product and a worthy competitor to the Samsung SIII – Apple still believes in high end design principles based on consumer usability rather than fancy feature packing. And shipments back them up! The iPhone 5 continues to sell in huge numbers it was the No. 1 selling smartphone in Q4 2012. Yes the momentum in the market is for bigger smart phones. Samsung will reportedly launch their SiV in March and are manufacturing 100 million units. However I think that the next iPhone release that Apple will launch is a iPhone 5S with better specs, new iOS 7, a better camera, fingerprint reader (based on their acquisition of Authentec) and possibly NFC in April 2013. This next-generation iPhone would constitute a really good package that would sell on a par with the Samsung SiV. Pundits need to remember that there are millions of people locked into iOS, apps and music that can't easily change to Android or another system. This lock in keeps them loyal – with new hardware they stop being frustrated. 

However I do think that Apple will launch a larger screened (up to 5 inches) iPhone by late in the year. I think it will be longer not wider but will contain an IGZO screen that are stunning, thinner and better on battery life. This would represent a very strong new iPhone 6. It could be thinner, higher resolution, with longer battery life and with continued improvements in iOS 7 would again represent or be on parity with the best hardware in the market.

I also think that the cutting edge latest iPhones will continue to be premium priced. I cannot see any logic in Apple starting to launch cheaper products made out of worse materials. The only substantive difference between Apple hardware and others is it's feel, durability and premium quality. A Google Nexus 4 or a Samsung SIII just feel cheap compared to an iPhone. That's not to say that Apple won't refresh the iPhone 3 or 4 with updated specs and possibly cheaper, easier to manufacture changes that would mean the price point can drop to suit Chinese and developing market consumers.

The big test of the Apple innovation engine is coming 

With Google Glass, various start ups pushing wearable technology and the continued copying of Apple ideas and design ethos – Apple face a stern test. The strength of Apple as a company is that they take ideas which are breaking through and design them brilliantly so that they stand the test of time, and are so far ahead of the market that they retain a price premium for years. That's what the iPhone and MacBook Air have done. 

Let's be clear Google Glass is still a concept – they cost $1500 for goodness sake – hardly a mass consumer price point. What Apple are working on, from what I hear are technologies that create new mass markets. Wearable technologies are undoubtedly the next big battle ground. Whether it is an iWatch or an arm based iPad or indeed glasses Apple need to deliver a product which is truly functional, useful, elegant and able to capture the imagination and wallet of the mass consumer market. My personal take is that Apple will launch an iWatch either towards the end of this year or in Q1 2014. I doubt it will be before then because they will need to overcome the significant manufacturing, durability and functionality issues that will come with wearing the hardware on the wrist so close to the skin.

But let me underline that Apple needs to do something big.

They are a secretive company, they don't show off early stage products like Google have done with Glass. Jonny Ive says that the iPhone took nearly a decade of pushing and development to get to launch. Apple don't have a decade but given they are still the only fully integrated hardware and software company in the world they have some time to get their next big innovation ready – but, as they know, the clock is ticking not just on them creating an innovation but underlining that they have finally moved into a post-Steve Jobs innovation engine. 

What's your view on Apple rumors, the iPhone 6, the iWatch and Apple's innovation capability – why not leave a commnent?

Experiential marketing from British Airways

British Airways – engagement and media coming together for a great example of experiential marketing

Last week I came across this great experiential marketing example from British Airways in Victoria Station, London, UK. British Airways had created an installation where people could play a flight simulator game and win tickets to a destination. It was very popular with long queues (probably not what they intended!).  From a marketing perspective it was magnified by the clever use of the digital media across the station from the main digital display boards to the smaller digital boards which were all part of the brand experience.

It would be interesting to see the ROI on this activity but it was very engaging and opportunities to view must have been high in the experiential marketing case study. It was in partnership with Orlando so I would imagine that some of the costs were shared which would have improved it's cost effectiveness. 

Why not sign up to my blog? Click here.