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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A few days ago I was listening to The Art of Being Brilliant by Andy Cope and Andy Whittaker on Audible. As selfhelp books often do, The Art of Being Brilliant focuses considerably on positivity, and why being positive is so essential to success. Again, like a lot of selfhelp books, it was keen to provide the reader with numerous facts to support their case such as: positive people are more influential, they're promoted faster and they're 40% more confident than their pessimistic peers. So you might think it's settled then? Facts are facts, positive people are the best.
Maybe. But, I wonder if there could be more to it than that.
Interestingly, up until lately people believed similar things about extroverts. It was thought that because team work and effective communication is so essential to modern business, having an extroverted personally type would be a natural advantage. Over the last few years however, that belief seems to be shifting. Now a number of people are speaking out about the overlooked strengths of introverts, explaining that introverts are "thinkers", making them well suited for roles requiring a lot of individual thought. The current popular opinion, and possibly scientific opinion, is that neither extroverts or introverts are better, instead suggesting the lesser known "ambivert" personality type is the most successful of them all.
So what is an ambivert?
If you haven't already guessed it, ambiverts are people who have characteristics seen in both extroverts and introverts. Unlike introverts and extroverts, ambiverts are able to choose between introversion and extroversion depending on the situation they're in. Put simply, they can be social and influential when they need to be, but they're also comfortable with working independently. It's this plasticity that allows ambiverts to have the best of both worlds, and as a result, are likely to be more successful on average.
So what does any of this have to do with pessimists?
Maybe nothing, but I wonder if we're making the same mistake labeling optimists as more successful as we did previous with extroverts. Could there be a happy medium between an optimist and a pessimist? Personally, I think so.
But first off, lets look at some reasons why optimists are thought to be more successful than pessimists.
Optimists tend to be happier, and happy people are often more productive. They're also more influential, often making better salesman, this is probably because people prefer interactions with individuals who are happy and upbeat. Optimists also take more risks. This can be attributed to their instinctual belief in positive outcomes. Most people who are considered successful have probably taken a risk to get where they are. Whether it's remortgaging their house to start a business, or following a risky career path such as becoming a professional sportsman, these risks come easier to optimists.
So what's the catch?
Although some degree of optimism is clearly advantageous, too much optimism can become problematic. The consequence of too much optimism is an unrealistic view of the world, resulting in poor decision making. This over optimistic thinking might cause someone to believe that they don't need to attend college to get the job they want, or that they don't need to try because everything will just fall in place. Clearly, this type of optimism isn't rational and is very likely to be a disadvantage.
Interestingly, this "easy-going" attitude which occurs in extreme optimists is the exact opposite as what's seen in people with some level pessimism. Instead of ignoring them, pessimists naturally obsess over potential challenges, and their negative view on the possible outcome of these challenges may make them more likely to create an action plan.
Take the example of two people studying for an exam. The optimist might study for a few hours the day before and feel completely confident they'll pass. Yet the pessimist could study for days, and still truly believe the exam will go badly. Despite what these two may believe, in reality the pessimist is much more likely to pass the exam.
There is a limit however. Extreme pessimism, just like extreme optimism, isn't ideal. Being too pessimistic can result in a defeatist worldview, making it easy to reason that trying is pointless when success seems like an impossible outcome.
And now we're back to the same place we were with introverts and extroverts. Too little of either is bad, yet too much of either is also just as problematic. Perhaps the real advantage isn't simply being "this" or "that" type of person, but being able to balance and recognize the advantages of both. In some situations it may be best to be optimistic. For example, when making a sale, optimism that the customer will want what you're offering can help, but in other situations it could be helpful to have a more pessimistic, critical, attitude.
Being someone who would describe themselves as naturally more on the pessimistic side, I've never felt like it was a disadvantage to me. I've always believed my pessimism made me more critical of my choices, and that doubt gives me an opportunity to prepare for what I fear may go wrong.
As someone who believes that pessimists have a lot to offer the world, I think it's really unfortunate how negatively the word pessimist seems to be used. Maybe more unfortunate however, is how this view seems to be largely perpetuated by what feels like an optimistic majority who simply doesn't understand how pessimists think - often confusing pessimism with defeatism.
Perhaps, instead of focusing on being a certain type of person, it's more beneficial to simply play up to our own unique strengths. If there's something history has shown us, it's that it's the people who are able to see the world in a different light that are often the ones who make greatest discoveries.
A few weeks ago in the UK there was some concern over a last-minute proposed amendment to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill. This amendment, if passed, would have given the UK government back door access to encrypted messaging clients such as WhatsApp and Snapchat. As someone who lives in the UK these proposals concerned me too, not so much for the cost and security worries pointed out by others, but for the larger role increased surveillance and privacy intrusions play on the freedom of speech, and perhaps our democracy as a whole.
It's clear that freedom of speech is essential to any successful free democracy, and subsequently, it's almost always missing under any totalitarian rule. Could it be that if government surveillance continues to increase people may no longer feel free to openly discuss controversial topics or opposing political views in fear of being put on the "watch list"?
Over the last decade we have begun to understand the dangers of over sharing online - especially through social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Individuals now regularly come under fire for controversial posts or activity made sometimes years previously. This mainly affects those who are in the public eye, but more and more often employers and colleges have been looking at individuals' online activities to make decisions about their potential employees or prospective students. In fact, this has become such as issue over the last few years the EU has introduced a "right to be forgotten" to protect individuals from being stigmatized by their history and past activities online.
This worry that our internet history activity could affect our job security or personal reputation has caused many people to privatise their accounts online. Some have taken it a step further and have opted not to share content that could reflect negatively on them all together.
But what if you can't privatise who sees your activity? What if you can't decide what information you share and what you keep private?
This is the difference between sharing information publicly through websites such as Facebook, and the mass surveillance done by our governments. One is avoidable, the other isn't. It's because of this my concern is less with people sharing sensitive information online and more with the private, and sometimes secret, data collection by our governments and service providers.
When the Draft Communications Data Bill was originally proposed in 2012 by the UK government it was looking to force ISPs and phone providers to store all internet and phone history of their customers for at least two years. After this bill was proposed, a survey was conducted to gather the public's' opinion. This survey found that 71% of Brits didn't trust the government with the information, stating they were worried it wouldn't be kept secure. Thankfully, the Draft Communications Data Bill never passed, but if it did, it leaves us wondering if any of those 71% of people would change their phone or internet activities to protect themselves in the event of a data leak, or unlawful access of their information. What we do know is that when surveyed 41% of respondents said they would be less like to use websites and online services if the legislation passed. With online services being so critical to modern economic growth, if true, this would be a very undesirable outcome.
Maybe you are someone who believes that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear - that increase surveillance is only a problem for criminals and terrorists. But the problem is we all have something to hide. Who can honestly say there is nothing they wouldn't want their employer or colleagues knowing? Of course, that could be because it's illegal. But sometimes it might not be as clear cut, and other times it might be simply that the information is sensitive to us. Who wants the details of their messy divorce or sex life available to the public? We've all done bad things in the past, and even if what we've done isn't illegal, it's likely we still wouldn't want everyone to know.
So how likely would it be for this data to get out? Well, if you're someone in the public eye or an outspoken political opponent, would it be impossible that your data could be unlawfully accessed if you upset the wrong people? And what if the information is stolen or hacked? If it did happen it wouldn't be the first time, in 2007 the UK government lost two CDs containing 25 million child benefit records. So even if it's unlikely to happen, would you want to risk it?
Now what if we take it a step further? We know in the USA the NSA seems to have very vague requirements when it comes to adding people to their watch list. Since Edward Snowden's leak of NSA documents in 2013, reports have come out suggesting that individuals may be added to the NSA's watch list for simply researching services like TOR, which ironically help keep users internet use anonymous. But perhaps more worrying still is that they may also consider activity on Facebook and Twitter when adding people to their watch list. If that's happening would it be unthinkable that in the future Google searches or visiting certain websites could get you added to their watch list also?
Although I understand we are a long way off yet, I worry if governments keep pushing for more and more surveillance people may think twice before posting, or even viewing anything critical of their government. I accept some surveillance can be critical to prevent crime and terrorism, but surely we need to find a balance we can all be comfortable with? Criminal investigations are supposed to be difficult for a reason, and privacy intrusions should never happen lightly. At the end of the day, requiring everyone to carry a personal surveillance camera with them 24 hours a day would help reduce crime, but at what cost? With surveillance cameras and the monitoring of our internet and phone activities, technology can allow governments to come very close to doing just that.
Do you worry about who's reading your Facebook posts? And do you think we should ever expect privacy online?
If you want to read more on government surveillance feel free to take a look at the links below.
I suppose it's about time to dust this blog off with another annual update. So first off I'm now twenty four, which even after two months still scares the heck out of me. Where do I begin? This year has been a really strange one. I've frequently found myself questioning things that I was almost certain of a couple of years ago, and for the first time in a while I'm feeling increasing lost and confused about the direction I'm heading in. When I look back I guess I've always had quite clear goals for myself and I always thought I knew the path I needed to take to get there, but I'm not sure I really did anymore. I think another factor is simply that I'm really quite content with where I am right now, I've got a lot of the things that I wanted over the last few years and now I'm struggling with how to start a new chapter.
Another thing that's bothered me recently is how I react when I hear these 17 year old kids at tech meetups tell me how they're going to make the next big website or product. I no longer get excited, I just worry for them. It's been nearly 10 years since I started that journey and honestly, if there is one thing I've learnt, it's that 99% of the time it'll get you'll get no where. And the problem is sometimes it distracts you from the things that actually can get you somewhere, studying, work experience, etc. Perhaps more importantly though is how it can distract you from just living in general. It kills me to think about the amount of hours, days and weeks of my youth that I've pour into projects that go less than no where. Time is extremely important, maybe the most important skill we can ever learn is to manage it effectively. You don't need me to tell you that spending 5 hours a day watching reality TV isn't a good use of your time, but I promise if you're spending that 5 hours working on a project that goes nowhere and teaches you nothing it's almost just as wasteful. If you're putting a considerable amount of time into something each week, whether that be TV or reading, it's important to routinely consider how that activity is impacting your life. Does it make you happy, and would you be happier if you were spending that time in some other way? Does it help you open doors, or does it just keep you where you are? Ideally everything you do should be both enjoyable but also assist you in achieving the goals you're shooting for. To bring this concept on to startups I vow that this year I will not start a project and potentially waste my time unless it meets the following criteria:
- It's interesting and enjoyable to work on
- It won't take more than two months to reach MVP
- It requires me to learn something I know absolutely nothing about that I'm interested in learning
- There is a clear and identifiable market and revenue model
- I, or the people I am working with have all the tools necessary to build, market and sale the product
Something else I want to talk about is new starts. I don't really care much about the "new year, new start" mantra - the only thing that's really ever new is the label we use to describe it. But, this year it seems quite fitting for me at least. My house was robbed about a week before Christmas and with it, a bag with all the memories I had kept. Postcards, zoo tickets, recipes, notes. Just little things that I could keep to remind me of happy times I've had. I have no idea why they took what was, to anyone else, just a bag of paper. But, they did, and I just need to accept some of the memories I had attached to those silly bits of paper are now gone forever. So now I'm here. I'm twenty four. Caught somewhere between a past that I have no record of and a future I have no idea how to start. And I'm excited to see how this will play out.
Finally, I have a lot of topics I want to write about this year. For the past three years I've been keeping track of everything interesting I've learnt, condensing it down into little bites of information that I want to start publishing here. So with a bit of luck there will be some more content here over the next few months.
Today, February, 11th 2013 is the day we fight back. Today we will fight back against mass surveillance from our governments. No longer will we accept them surveilling us without reason. And what is our weapon of choice in this fight you ask? A list of names.
I'm all for this kinda stuff. Honestly, I'm glad people are annoyed about the NSA and want to do something. Hell, I added my name to the list of angry-internet people too - I even used my real name. But after I finished furiously typing my name into the online form presented to me at thedaywefightback.org I couldn't help but smile ironically and the big yellow button I was about to click reading, "TAKE ACTION". Because it was at that moment I thought, "what exactly am I doing here?", "Am I really making any difference?", "Is this list really going to change anything?".
I began to think a little more about the list I just added my name to and I wondered what were they planning to do with my name? I scrolled down the page for some more information and I found a heading that read, "what we can do". The first paragraph explained to me, "Governments worldwide need to know that mass surveillance, like that conducted by the NSA, is always a violation of our inalienable human rights." Huh? Yeah sure, but they already know right? Isn't the issue here that they just don't care. Well maybe they're doing something that will make them care!
I kept reading... "By signing the Principles, you will show that you're part of a movement that knows mass surveillance is a violation of international human rights law." Now I'm part of a movement? Hell yeah! That was easy, did people die in these kind of movements before? I only had to type my name into my computer from my air conditioned office chair and now I'm part of a worldwide movement for freedom and human rights!
And then I read the final paragraph, "We'll use your signature, with thousands of others, to pressure governments and international institutions to forbid mass surveillance anywhere in the world." then I realised something. I'm not really putting any pressure on our governments to stop their surveillance. Maybe these guys at thedaywefightback.org are, maybe they're posting their lists through politician's doors, maybe they're creating a fuss and trying to bring about change? But am I? Is my name and my tweet really going to do anything? Maybe, it's not the government who need to know that they're in violation of our human rights. Maybe instead they need to know that people are actually angry at what they've done. So angry that they're prepared to pressure our governments themselves. I wondered if I was really angry, would I just be posting a tweet or two? I think most people tweet more than that about the X Factor each year.
I'm not saying I know the answer, but I don't think it's this. Now I'm kind of hoping today wasn't the day we fought back, because I'm doubting if our opposition was even aware of our resistance.