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29th December 2016

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

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

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.

6th March 2015

In Defence of the Pessimist

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.

20th February 2015

Surveillance and Internet Privacy

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.

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