Lee JacobsonHi, my name is Lee.
I'm a developer from the UK who loves technology and business. Here you'll find articles and tutorials about things that interest me. If you want to hire me or know more about me head over to my about me page

Recent Posts

29th December 2016 · By Lee Jacobson

An interview with Saf from Helpfulpeeps

Over the coming year I'm planning to conduct a series of interviews with local startups around the Bristol and Bath area. This week I was very happy to speak with Saf from the Bristol based startup, Helpfulpeeps.

For those not already aware of Helpfulpeeps, who are you and what are your company goals?

Helpfulpeeps is a new social network built on the principles of 'paying it forward' where people share their time, skills and knowledge to help each other for free. Each time you help, you earn karma which acts as your social capital on the platform. We call it the Karma Economy! We are on a mission to bring back community spirit in an increasingly disconnected world.

How did the idea for Helpfulpeeps come about?

The idea came about as I looked to address some of the challenges we were facing as a society. The first was that it's becoming increasingly apparent that there's a lack of a sense of community in most cities these days. Secondly, I also felt that as a society we were becoming too focused on money, to the extent that that we were starting to measure value purely in terms of financial currency. I wanted to highlight the value of 'human capital', our time and energy because every individual has something to offer to each other and society at large based on their skills and passions. So this led to the initial idea for Helpfulpeeps as a website where members can ask for help and repay to the whole rather than the individual and can trust that when they need help the community will provide it.

A problem many founders face when building a social startup like Helpfulpeeps is an initial lack of users - often referred to as the chicken and egg problem. Has this been a challenge you've faced at Helpfulpeeps? Especially as you expand into new cities?

I think that is always going to be a challenge but we found that the early users who joined Helpfulpeeps were doing so because they believed in the concept and our mission and they actually helped us spread the word by inviting people to join through word of mouth. Where we lacked a critical mass of users in the beginning we more than made up for in enthusiasm of early users as we got daily emails from members asking how much they loved the concept and if there was anything they could do to help us grow the community. In terms of cities we've been primarily focused on Bristol as we recognised that in order for Helpfulpeeps to be truly useful we needed to build up some kind of critical mass in a given location. However we recently launched into Bath and the uptake has been fantastic.

Do you have any interesting examples of ways Helpfulpeep's members have helped others in the community?

In terms of recent examples that come to mind the Helpfulpeeps community got together and donated over 100 gifts for disadvantaged kids in times for Christmas and this was off the back of one post from one lady who proposed the idea as she had worked in social services and knew how to get the gifts to the right people.

Having said that we've had over 1200 requests posted, which have been met by over 900 offers of help so there's been many interesting ways in which people have helped each other in the community. Some recent examples include help with changing a car battery, teaching guitar, help building a wordpress site, volunteering for a mock interview day at a school just to name a few.

What lessons have you've learnt while working on Helpfulpeeps? And do you have any advice for entrepreneurs starting their own companies?

I've learnt many lessons in the last couple of years but the biggest one for me so far has been patience and persistence. I've never been great at being patient so that's been particularly challenging but I'm starting to realise that it takes time to build anything meaningful and that the reward is directly linked to the amount of challenges you've overcome.

The only advice that I can give is to make sure you start a company for the right reasons - i.e. you're passionate about solving the problem. Ask yourself would you work on this if there was no financial incentive? Because if you're just in it for the money chances are you'll give up when the going gets tough (and it's definitely going to get tough both psychologically and financially). The statistical likelihood is that your startup is going to fail. So to paraphrase Elon Musk - is it important enough for you to try - even if the most likely outcome is failure? If you answer yes then you are on the right track.

What's next for Helpfulpeeps? Have you set any goals for 2017?

We have huge ambitions for 2017 where we hope to take Helpfulpeeps from 10k to 100k+ members and to launch in multiple cities across the UK. We want to be part of the narrative when it comes to removing the stigma around asking for help. We also want to encourage more people to volunteer and get involved in their communities.


1st December 2016 · By Lee Jacobson

December 2016 Updates

Well, I should have made this post about a month ago. But I suppose better late than never, right?

I guess I'll start with saying I'm 26 now, which is... Strange. But it becomes less eventful every year. I was thinking earlier it's been 10 years since I left school, and how some of my friends who didn't go to college or university have been working for almost 10 years now. On the other hand, others I know have only recently left education, so it's quite interesting to reflect on how well people are doing in comparison.

As a general observation I think we probably put too much importance on the benefits of university in the UK. It seems a lot of people go into university with a hope that after 3 years things will just fall into place somehow. For a lot of people it only sinks in when they leave with £40,000 of debt and begin to realise how few jobs there are for someone with a Communications and Media Studies degree. Thinking about it now, this might be a good topic to write about at some point. I know quite a few people have issues with the education system in the UK, but I think it really all stems from a poor attitude and understanding of education in general.

With that being said, I have a huge list of topics I want to talk about here over the next few months.

Firstly, I have a number of things I want to get of personal stuff to get off my chest. I'm not sure I've openly spoken about it here, but I have a few personality traits (or disorders) which have always caused problems in my life. And while I'm not interested in complaining, I would like to make a case for not over looking the unique strengths and perspectives of certain individuals. Similar to what I attempted to do previously in my post, "In Defence of the Pessimist".

The second set of topics I want to write about are more casual startup-related type posts. I have a few different tips and tricks I've learnt over the last 10 years for people interested in startups. A lot of these things are really simple like how to set up up a basic eCommerce website with limited technical skill and money, or tricks to grow a site's traffic. With the lack of quality content out there on some quite popular topics I think it could be something worth doing. It's something I never felt comfortable writing about previously because I was worried I wasn't being unique enough or adding enough value, but as I mentioned in my last post I don't want to always be so critical of the content I post here.

Finally, I want continue these monthly updates with some more focus to each. Next month I'm planning to talk a bit about my experience working on eCommerce startups, and a little about one I'm working on currently. Hopefully I can give some pointers to where I've went wrong previously and some tips going forward.

But before that I'm planning to make a non-ramble post sometime this month. Until then, thanks for reading.


27th October 2016 · By Lee Jacobson

The Project Spot

I started the The Project Spot during my second year of university as a place where I could write about the projects I was working on, things on my mind, and my personal development. However, over the last few years I've felt unable to write here unless I it was something completely original - and more to the point, something that's of use to others. I've told myself for a while now that if I write for myself then whatever I put out will have no real value, and if anything, I'll just be adding to the pile of useless content on the web.

But now I find myself in a position where I haven't updated this site for over a year, and while I've had things to say during that time I've felt like it wasn't useful enough to publish. I decided recently that I don't want to think like that anymore. I want to start writing more openly here without worrying so much about the standard of the content.

As the name implies this was meant to be primarily a place where I could talk about my projects, so from now on that's exactly what I'll be focusing on. I want to set myself the target of writing monthly updates about what I'm working on, and also what I've learnt during the month. And while these posts won't be written for anyone but myself, I'll try to find some moral and keep them as interesting as I can.

I think it would be good to have a place where I can set public targets and have public expectations of myself. If I say I'll be doing X over the next month but don't, I feel I need to publicly justify my choices will help me avoid making the wrong ones.

While I'll be focusing on writing about my projects, I also want to write about personal development and other topics that interest me from time to time too.

I plan to write my first update over the next few days with content going up at least monthly from then on.


Recent Tutorials

7th May 2015 · By Lee Jacobson

Ant Colony Optimization For Hackers

Originally proposed in 1992 by Marco Dorigo, ant colony optimization (ACO) is an optimization technique inspired by the path finding behaviour of ants searching for food. ACO is also a subset of swarm intelligence - a problem solving technique using decentralized, collective behaviour, to derive artificial intelligence.


24th March 2015 · By Lee Jacobson

Solving the Traveling Salesman Problem Using Google Maps and Genetic Algorithms

An ideal way to explore the potential of genetic algorithms is by applying them to real world data. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to do this is by using the Google Maps API to implement a solution to the traveling salesman problem.