TDC = Togetherness + Development + Community

One of the things I’m most proud of from my time at Sage is securing sponsorship of the Thinking Digital Conference in Gateshead for 3 years in a row.

In 2013 we sponsored the Thinking Digital Startup Competition which I also helped judge and will be hosting for the first time on 10th May 2016 (see ‘The 5th Annual Thinking Digital Start Up Competition‘). In 2014 we hosted the opening party and delegate dinner and introduced the ‘Sage One Street Team‘ as a way of giving budding bloggers, vloggers and podcasters the chance to attend who otherwise couldn’t, and in 2015 we were headline sponsors with another awesome Sage One Street Team along for the ride.

Although the reasons for sponsoring and supporting such a fantastic conference were obvious to me, I’ll admit it wasn’t easy to persuade the budget holders at Sage to release the money at first. However, after summoning up all my powers of persuasion, Geoff Phillips (Head of Marketing at Sage) deserves special thanks for appreciating the value of being associated with TDC and for underwriting the sponsorship each time.

Thinking Differently

I’ve been fortunate to attend many great events over the years but in my opinion, Thinking Digital is the very best. Not only are the speakers consistently outstanding but the feeling of community and ‘togetherness’ you experience with your fellow delegates is something I’ve not experienced anywhere else. I also always feel slightly changed after each event through the talks I hear, the people I meet, the conversations I have and the ideas they spark off in my brain!

2015 threw up another pleasant surprise for me when Herb Kim (conference organiser, curator and host) name checked me from the stage for my support of TDC (thank you Herb!) which was followed immediately after by Stephen Kelly (CEO, Sage Group plc) mentioning me in his video message to the delegates (see video below). Wow!

TDC2015

If you’ve not been to Thinking Digital before, please consider attending the Newcastle / Gateshead event on 10-11 May 2016 (see http://www.tdcncl.com). I guarantee you’ll love it and will be changed for the better :o)

Why tech start-ups (and giants) should leave London (and move to Newcastle)

I think tech start-ups (and giants) should leave London and move to other parts of the UK. I also think the UK Government should stop putting all their eggs in one basket (i.e. Tech City / Silicon Roundabout) and give greater support (media attention, funding and financial incentives) to other tech clusters around the country to help spread the economic and social benefits more evenly.

Geographical location really shouldn’t matter if you’re a UK tech start-up. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that you are greatly reducing your chances of survival as a start-up if you base yourself in London. Yes, I know that’s where all the money and investors are, but the rents and living expenses down there are too high, competition for resources, attention and talent is intense (not to mention expensive) and you’ll burn through what little money you do have much faster than if you run your operation from elsewhere.

Living and working in Gateshead and Newcastle upon Tyne (in the North East of England for those that don’t know) for Shell LiveWIRE (one of the UK’s biggest and longest running youth enterprise schemes), means I can speak with some authority when I say that you don’t need to be based in London to run a successful national operation. Our overheads and staff salaries are much lower than if we were based in London so the money goes much further – providing better value for money to our sponsor (Shell) and allowing us to give away more start-up funding to the young entrepreneurs that we serve (48 x £1,000 start-up awards throughout the year and a further £10,000 in November). Furthermore, with a wife who once worked in London and many other friends who are still down there (or who have ‘escaped’ back home) I can tell you that unless you are making a ton of money in London, the quality of life up here is much higher with shorter commutes into work, bigger houses than you could afford in the capital, all the shops, bars, restaurants and cultural activities you need, plus all the beautiful beaches and countryside on our doorstep.

Running a national enterprise scheme means we do need to be in London a lot as that’s where many of the key decision-makers, events and meetings are but we are primarily an online service with clients/website users/award winners from across the UK which means we could really be based anywhere in the country. However, an office in the North East means that we’re well-placed to attend regional events across the UK and are able to understand and empathise with start-ups, wherever they are based and aren’t at all biased towards London. Many of our partner organisations also seem to like the fact that we’re not based in London too. If you’re a tech start-up founder, I see no reason why your office, developers and core team can’t be based somewhere like Newcastle (or anywhere other than London really), with you spending time in London only when you really need to be there for meetings and networking.

Transport infrastructure

When it comes to transport, Newcastle has great bus, Metro and train networks. London is just a 3hr train ride away so you can feasibly be there and back in a day (I can be sat working at TechHub, Google Campus or Central in around 31/2hrs door to door) although I tend to make an overnight stay and plan my meetings across the two days when I’m there. Living on a small island like Britain means people often have a distorted sense of distance (especially Londoners) which is silly really when you talk to people from the US who regularly commute 5-6hrs from one side of the county to the other.

Being on the East Coast Mainline means that it’s easy to get to large parts of the country (main destinations include London, Peterborough, Doncaster, Leeds, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow with various stops in-between. Meanwhile, the Transpennine Express has regular departures to the West of the country calling at major cities Manchester and Liverpool. Road links in all directions are pretty good too (although could the main roads into Scotland could still be improved), Newcastle International Airport has direct routes throughout Europe, Egypt and Tunisia and connecting flights to London Heathrow and Gatwick. The nearby, award-winning Port of Tyne is also one of the UK’s busiest handling a huge amount of imports and exports not to mention regular cruises and ferries to Scandinavia, Netherlands, Germany and France.

City living

Ok, but what’s it actually like to live in Newcastle? Well, I’d describe it as a ‘big, small city’. Large enough to keep you interested and discovering new things all the time but small enough that you can walk around it and feel like it’s somewhere you can really belong and make a difference. There’s something to suit most tastes and interests with all the major high street brands, high-end fashion outlets and local independent fashion retailers. There’s also a vibrant nightlife of pubs, bars and clubs, great arts and culture scene and some of the British Isles’ most beautiful wildlife, countryside and beaches just a short drive away, not to mention the abundance of castles and cathedrals and Roman-built Hadrian’s Wall (a World Heritage Site don’t you know)! The Geordies (and nearby Mackems of Sunderland) are renowned for their friendly, hospitable nature and if you’re into your football you won’t find anywhere more passionate than the North East which is home to 3 hugely supported clubs Newcastle United, Sunderland AFC and Middlebrough FC.

Local tech community

There’s a thriving grass-roots community of tech start-up founders, developers and designers all working together to support each other and build great things in the region. It’s very easy to get involved through weekly, after-work get togethers like the PHPNE, Ruby North East, Design Interest and Javascript North East events that occur at the PostOffice (opposite Central Station) every Tuesday night and numerous others in Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough. In fact, the block of buildings on Pink Lane in which the PostOffice is housed is owned by local enterprise agency PNE Group (formerly known as Project North East) who have won European awards for their low-cost incubator workspace for start-ups since the early 80s, and was one of the first places in the country that offered high-speed internet access, earning it the nickname ‘Silicon Alley’.

Over the years, this part of town and PNE has attracted and supported 100s of first-class digital and creative start-ups, precisely because of these lower rents, higher internet speeds and clustering effect of similar like-minded businesses. Current tenants include innovative m-commerce app MobiCart and exciting new private sharing app Cupple. Just around the corner, on the other side of the block is PNE’s Adamson House where ignite100, ‘Europe’s first £1m tech accelerator programme’ is based (current crop of fantastic cohorts = Blooie, Usable, Odimax, Blink Collective, Givey, CrowdIPR, RentMama, ArtSpotter and PinorPeg) and whose loft space office also currently houses online artisan food market Loveyourlarder.com and Little Riot (makers of ‘Pillow Talk’) amongst others.

Indeed this ‘Tech Quarter’ is positively buzzing with tech start-up activity right now, and the nearby pubs The Town Wall, The Forth and BrewDog Bar are where many of the local movers and shakers can be found, alongside great little coffee shops like Pink Lane Coffee, Flat Caps Coffee and 9 Bar. In the East of the city, Hoults Yard, Ouseburn Valley and The Toffee Factory provide fantastic facilities for a wide range of digital, creative and media companies with Screenreach (on the verge of global greatness) being the most notable start-up of recent years.

On the Gateshead side of the River Tyne, we have the Sage Gateshead music and conference centre and Baltic centre for contemporary art which are the venues for the internationally renowned Thinking Digital Conference (my personal highlight event of the year), which is organised by digital events and membership organisation Codeworks. The awesome new Northern Design Centre is situated just around the corner and is home to leading local digital businesses like Ayo Media and New York-based mobile design and development agency Fueled. There’s a wide range of affordable workspace available there and throughout the city for businesses to move into right now which offer much, much more than you could dream of in London for far less money.

But it’s not just Newcastle. Organisations like Sunderland Software City and pioneering companies like The Leighton Group and SaleCycle are showing that the city is one of the best places in the country for a digital business to be based, whilst Spotify music resource Sharemyplaylists.com are rocking it with 2 million users of their website and app per month! Furthermore, the great work of organisations like Digital City at Boho One, plus grassroots events from Refresh Teesside and North East New Tech are all adding to the mix of what gives the North East such a vibrant tech community.

Sage

Then of course there is the awesome Sage. Founded in 1981, Sage has grown to be a world-renowned, FTSE100 company, providing desktop and cloud-based software for over 800,000 businesses in the UK, 6.3 million businesses worldwide and employing more than 13,000 people. Their headquarters are proudly still in Newcastle, on the outskirts of the city in a custom-built office which is arguably one of the best and most impressive in the world and as a former Sage employee (my first job after University between 1998-2000), I can vouch for them as being a fantastic place to work with founders who remain loyal and passionate about the North East.

Investors

There’s serious money available up here too. We have a range of proactive, Newcastle-based investors and angels like Northstar Ventures, Rivers Capital Partners, IP Group and more all looking to fund exciting and innovative businesses that create growth and jobs in the region. Newcastle City Council and Gateshead are also two of the most forward-thinking in the county and the local Universities, hospitals and science community are world-renowned for the pioneering work that they do.

Talent, opportunity and ambition

There is no shortage of talent, opportunity and ambition in Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough and the North East right now, with the region exporting more than any other in the UK and an exciting new renewable energy sector growing by the day.

As a region, we just need a little bit more belief in our abilities to compete on a global scale (although there’s no shortage of that amongst the tech start-up founders), and collective cooperation from everyone in the area to do their bit to push things forward. Personally, I’d like to invite more outside investment from London, European and US-based VCs into the area and see the local and national Government doing more to encourage large tech companies to open offices up here (British Airways have some of their core developer teams in Newcastle) to help create jobs, reduce unemployment and provide stimulus to the local economy.

The ambition of North East industrial pioneers like George Stephenson, Joseph Swan, William Armstrong and George Burton Hunter are what made Tyneside and in turn Britain great and we now need a new breed of ‘Tyneside Tech Titans’ to follow in their footsteps!

If you’re a tech start-up or tech giant and would like to know more about the opportunities for you and your business in Newcastle and the surrounding area, please email me at plandigital@live.co.uk or give me a call on +44(0)7734 722716 so I can put you in touch with the relevant people or help coordinate a visit.

Scanme demo video

Watch this short video (below) for a live demo of how my unique, personal Scanme barcode (containing all my social media contact details) can be used on a t-shirt and business card to connect with others in both the online and offline world.

Thinking Digital Conference 2011 – Summary of Gerd Leonhard Presentation

“Everything is moving online into ‘The Cloud’ but we still need to work out how to monetise products and services that can’t be replicated digitally.”

Read below for my summary (and personal comments) of the fantastic presentation delivered by Gerd Leonhard (www.mediafuturist.com) on Day 1 of the Thinking Digital Conference @ Sage Gateshead on 25th May 2011.

‘The People of the Cloud’ / ‘People of the Screen’ expect things to be digital first, physical next.

You can no longer ‘force’ people to buy – you now need to ‘attract’ people to buy/upgrade from the free version once they’ve used and grown to love/need it (a classic Freemium model like LinkedIn).

“When copies are free, you need to sell things that can’t be copied”, Kewing Kelly (Better Than Free).

If people expect digital copies to be free (or very low cost), it’s down to you the ‘content creator’ to work out how to sell things that can’t be replicated or copied digitally. For example, although video footage can be streamed live or broadcast after an event, you can’t digitally recreate the actual physical experience (sights, sounds, smell and touch) of being at a live music gig, conference or training session and all the feelings of excitement and interactions before, during and after which take place.

‘360o Deals’ in the Music Industry

As physical record sales continue to fall, they are increasingly seen as merely a ‘calling card’ or marketing tool for artists and bands. At the same time, live music gigs and festivals are on the up. Therefore, record labels now seek to sign new artists and bands up to ‘360o Deals’ which means that they make money on live performance fees, merchandise, advertising endorsements, mobile ringtones, tv and movie deals , not just physical and digital download record sales. People can now even pay for a recording of a live gig immediately after a gig has ended.

Authors like Seth Godin understand this. They realise that some people want exclusive, advance copies of the latest titles sent directly to their Kindle or other eReader device (either for free in return for writing reviews, helping to spread the word and creating a buzz, or for a fee which ensures they get it quicker than all ‘normal people’ (see my earlier post about ‘The Domino Project’ and ‘Rise of the Information Jockey (IJ)‘.

Meanwhile, others will still prefer the look and feel of a physical book (hardcover or paperback which both have a different cost and speed at which they can be obtained/delivered. Further still, ‘superfans’ will happily pay much higher prices for limited editions which offer something unique and special. It’s all about offering choice and giving the user/consumer what they want.

Can you divide your products or services into digital, hardcover, paperback or limited edition-type versions?

Locking stuff behind a paywall or asking them to pay upfront is a deathwish online. It doesn’t work or make any money (or as much as you want). Sharing is the default mindset of the digital generation and if you don’t share you will be toast! Spotify rocks but their latest move (limiting the number of times people can listen to music for free) could signal the end.

“Data is the New Oil”

“Data is the new Oil” says Gerd  – a more succinct version of the original quote by Meglena Kuneva (EU Consumer Affairs Commissioner) in Brussels on 31st March 2009 in which she said “Personal data is the new oil of the Internet and the new currency of the digital world”

Both are great quotes which perfectly sum up the way things are heading (or have already headed) in the digital world. However, just like oil, the true value (and money) only comes from the myriad of products and services that can be derived from the raw material!

Social networks are broadcasters spreading news and information faster than traditional media channels. For example, “It takes roughly 41 seconds for ‘old media’ (i.e. tv) to report a breaking news story but just 28 seconds on Twitter!” New media then has the added bonus of being instantly ‘shareable’ – passing along far wider and more random patterns around the world.

We are moving away from providing digital copies which people can download and keep (MP3s, PDFs) to content they can stream so long as they continue to use the service (like the aforementioned Spotify).

The Future?

The future is all about;

• Bundling (content provided pre-loaded onto hardware devices like mobile phones)
• Freemium
• Up-selling
• Streaming

3 ways for creatives (or creators) to get paid;

• I pay (as a creator, you can get others to write a blog entry about you in return for payment)
• They pay (consumers are forced to watch adverts before accessing the content, i.e. at the beginning of a music video or computer game)
• You pay (consumers pay a subscription to access premium content & unlock additional features – classic Freemium model)

Find Out More / Discuss Further

If you’d like to read more from Gerd Leonhard (@gleonhard), visit www.mediafuturist.com where you can download free ebooks (the hope being that you will appreciate his work so much that you will go on to pay for a physical copy).

Pre-Thinking Digital 2011

The Thinking Digital Conference 2011 is just about to get underway and there’s magic in the air!

People from all over the UK, Europe and indeed the rest of the world are either on their way or have already arrived in Newcastle/Gateshead for this major ‘Event’ on the tech world calendar, of which the local hotels, bars & restaurants, taxi, train and airline companies should be eternally grateful for.

Being a native Geordie, born and bred in the West of Gateshead, I’m proud to have such a prestigious event in my home town which serves to bring some of the world’s most original and creative thinkers together in a single location and I can’t wait to see what the next few days will bring.

What Happened Last Year (25-27 May 2010)

Last year (2010) was my very first Thinking Digital Conference, and although I didn’t really know what to expect the lineup of speakers looked impressive and I’d heard plenty of good things from previous years.

Right from the outset it was clear that TDC was no ordinary conference and that the organisers had really pulled out all the stops to deliver something that far surpassed my (already high) expectations. Not only is the Sage Gateshead a wonderful venue, but the quality and range of speakers was truly breathtaking with many of the world’s leading experts from the world of tech & creative thinking all coming together as one.

Unlike other conferences I’ve been to (and I’ve been to a lot), I can honestly say that each and every speaker at 2010 was first-rate, but some of the most memorable/impressive for me were;

  • Brian Solis (Author of Engage! and Principal at Altimeter Group) – changed the way I think about social media (again) and made me go and buy his book the very next day!
  • Tom Wujec (Autodesk) – one of the most impressive presenters / public speakers out there. You think you’re good at presentations? You’ll want to burn your slides after seeing this guy speak. Seriously slick!
  • Mary Ann de Lares Norris (Oblong) – one of the most breathtaking videos demonstrations I’ve ever seen! The future is already here!
  • Rory Sutherland (Ogilvy Group Ltd) – seriously intelligent and extremely funny. Book him as a speaker NOW!
  • Louis von Ahn (Inventor of CAPTCHA & reCAPTCHA / Carnegie Mellon University) – after hearing Louis speak I added reCAPTCHA to the Shell LiveWIRE registration form which resulted in a huge reduction in spam on our site. ;o)
  • Christian Payne (Our Man Inside@Documentally) – demonstrated that with a little bit of technology and a lot of creativity you can do some truly amazing things whilst having plenty of fun at the same time
  • Jer Thorp (blprnt) – the beauty and art of ‘data visualisation’
  • Ken Banks (Kiwanja / FrontlineSMS) – how mobile phones are truly changing lives (for the better) in the developing world
  • Joi Ito (Chairman, Creative Commons) – imprssive and articulate speaker. Made me want to publish all my work under CC license

Major props go to Herb Kim (Founder of Thinking Digital & CEO of Codeworks) for his vision and ambition to ‘gift’ the region with such a wonderful event, plus of course his fantastic team for their hard work, dedication and organisation in bringing all the plans to fruition!

The Next Few Days (24-26 May 2011)

I wonder what the next few days will bring? To be honest, although I’ve read through the list of speakers I’ve deliberately not paid too close attention to the who, what, where and when. I’m just going along with an open mind and willingness to learn, be inspired and make new connections with my fellow delegates who are going for the very same reasons.

Thinking Digital is a very special event, where thoughts and ideas come together, germinate and spread back out into the wider world. Who knows what fantastic new things will result from this meeting of minds and what impact they will have on the rest of the world? All I can say is that for the next few days something magical will happen on the shores of the Tyne and I feel very lucky to be there in the thick of it!

If you’d like to contact me during or after the Thinking Digital Conference, please feel free to contact me on 07734 722 716 or plandigital@live.co.uk. You can also Follow me on Twitter @lordlancaster and @plandigitaluk or via LinkedIn at: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/lordlancaster

Paul Lancaster (Plan Digital) Interviews Herb Kim (Thinking Digital), Feb 2011

Paul Lancaster Interviews Herb Kim (Thinking Digital / Codeworks)

In this video, Plan Digital’s Paul Lancaster interviews Herb Kim, founder of the excellent Thinking Digital Conference taking place @ Sage Gateshead on 24-26 May 2011.

In it, Herb talks about the benefits to young entrepreneurs in attending the event and the pros and cons of being a tech start-up in the UK as opposed to the US, particularly Silicon Valley.

Topics include:

  • Thinking Digital, Codeworks and GameHorizon.
  • The pros and cons of being a tech start up in the UK as opposed to the US, particularly Silicon Valley.
  • The ingredients that make a successful tech start up, and why do some succeed when others fail?
  • Seeking investment for new tech businesses.
  • Herb’s advice to someone thinking of starting their own business and the support available.
  • Facebook, Google, YouTube, MySpace, Gowalla, Wired Magazine, Silicon Roundabout, London Tech City, Quora, Sage , Autonomy, Basecamp, 37signals and more.

Get Interviewed!

If you’d like us to come and interview you please email Paul at plandigital@live.co.uk or call 07734 722 716.