Author Archives: Sean Gilligan

About Sean Gilligan

Sean Gilligan is an EdTech Entrepreneur based in the UK. Webanywhere are Official Moodle Partners in the USA, UK and Poland.

Silicon Valley Comes to the UK, St. James’s Palace, London, November 2018

Now in its 12th year Silicon Valley comes to the UK is an annual event organised by Sherry Coutu CBE and Janet Coyle. Traditionally, during the autumn a group of well-known, well respected venture capitalists and technologists from the Valley descend upon Cambridge, Oxford and London.

James Poulter and Will Harvey at VCCP Voice2 Meet Up

James Poulter and Will Harvey at VCCP Voice2 Meet Up

Whilst attending Tech Nation on tour in Leeds at the ODI I met Sherry Coutu and she kindly invited me down to London to the CEO Scale Up event at St James’s Palace the residence of the Duke of York.

Travelling south from Leeds I journey down to a few business meetings in Birmingham before arriving at London Euston. When I eventually checked into my hotel not too far away from St. James’s Park I suddenly realise that there was a Voice2 meet up being held by James Poulter at the brand agency VCCP in London’s Victoria. With 20 minutes to spare I walked across to the meet up which was thoroughly enjoyable including Gianfranco Chicco of the Webby awards the equivalent of the Oscars but for the Internet. The agency VCCP also showcased their recently launched NSPCC Alexa skill featuring Geri Halliwell and her daughter talking about e-safety issues. The Alexa skill is called “Parents versus Kids” and through gamification helps educate young people on the risks of the internet.

St. James's Palace, London SVC2UK 2018

St. James’s Palace, London SVC2UK 2018

The morning after the walk from the hotel to the palace was only 10 minutes so I navigated through the beautiful Saint James’s Park with the autumnal leaves. SVC2UK kicked off with a fireside chat between Cal Henderson the CTO of Slack and Sherry Coutu. Cal explained how their failed gaming business was shutting it’s door and making staff redundant. Whilst developing their Game Neverending they create an internal communication tool called Tiny Spec later to be know as Slack. Slack has gone on to be the fastest growing enterprise software of it’s type creating a whole new business software category.

Sean Gilligan St. James's Park London

Sean Gilligan St. James’s Park London

Cal spends a lot of his time hiring and Slack’s values are important in the hiring process. Slack like people who are smart, hard-working, humble and collaborative. Now with 8 million users and 3 million paying users clearly Slack have got something right.

75 scale up companies with an average growth rate of 418% were represented in the workshops at the palace. The first workshop was on internationalisation and was chaired on our table by Kate Dutton of GBX a British consultant who now lives in the Bay Area. GBX is the c-suite community for British entrepreneurs, investors and senior tech executives based in Silicon Valley. One entrepreneur suggested having a presence in a market by paying a representative on demand by the hour. This would ensure you kept costs to a minimum whilst portraying a local presence on the ground. Many tech startups these days start global because software on the internet is not constrained by international borders unless it’s the great wall of China!

In the second workshop mentor Mark Blair discussed issues around business funding and talent management. Mark had spend the last 20 years scaling up businesses in Asia Pacific and had just returned to the UK from Australia. Currently, Mark is an international Vice President at Brightcove a leading Video platform. Quite a lot of time was spent discussing the idea of advisory boards. In order to have an advisory board shadow shares can be paid for equity and a stake in a business. In return it’s important that entrepreneurs front load the expectations when appointing senior executives. Clarity for the accountabilities and cadence of advisory input needs to be agreed. Some of the most successful tech entrepreneurs simply don’t have the time to advise so it was suggested entrepreneurs might get coaching from tier two mentors.

On the issue of talent management Saul Klein Partner at VC LocalGlobe discussed that we should watch out for the small things. When interviewing a candidate do they open the door for people, do they say please and thank you. Keep an eye out for the small things that make all the difference. Susan Alzner of shift7 had a more brutal way of ensuring the company values are lived. Susan spent eight years at the United Nations building out teams and she had a rule for when staff crossed each other’s path‘s and didn’t play as a team. Susan would simply fire people at the first instance of this happening and would therefore set a very high standard on her expectations. A little extreme perhaps but I guess this is how important teamwork is if you’re going to build world-class organisations. Not everyone will agree with a zero tolerance policy like this but what all people were agreed on was the need for the living of company values to maintain a winning business culture.

All attendees where given a copy of Reid Hoffman’s scaling up booked called Blitzscaling which I have just finished reading and would recommend people listen to. Finally, I met author Jeetendr Sehdev who wrote the “The Kim Kardashian Principle” and is based in Los Angeles. Jeetendr is originally from the UK and was a student of both Oxford and Harvard. The Kim Kardashian Principle talks about the need to be authentic, when promoting yourself, a product or brand. Consumers prefer people who are imperfect and people who show themselves to be themselves connect better with their social media audiences. Kim Kardashian must be doing something right with 60 million followers on Twitter and a global following.

Silicon Valley comes to the UK again didn’t fail to disappoint. 8 years after my first visit to SVC2UK at Queens College Cambridge, St. James’s Palace London provided an opportunity for ambitious entrepreneurs to meet people who have made it. After all, Sherry and Janet want entrepreneurs to scale up their businesses and then become philamprothists hence giving back to society by mentoring the start ups of the future. We hope the connections gained and insights given will help Sound Branch on it’s journey to scale up.

 

Voice Summit 2018, Home House, London

Sean with Chris Jenkins and Darren Paskell of Thomas Pocklington Trust

Sean with Chris Jenkins and Darren Paskell of Thomas Pocklington Trust

Our first Voice Summit was held at Home House London. The history of Home House is fitting because Anthony Blunt a former Russian spy lived there between 1947 to 1974. Blunt was given immunity from prosecution in return for a full confession. After extensive restoration work Home House became a private members club in 1996.

Home House was a fitting venue for Voice Summit. Just as Anthony Blunt listened into conversations Amazon Alexa and Google Home are listening and waiting for their wake word. The issue of privacy was mentioned at Voice Summit but the majority of the speakers stated that this would become less of an issue when the massive gains in conveniences are realised. After all it’s a lot quicker to ask Alexa to pour you a coffee, play the news and heat the car than it is to do this manually.

Charles Cadbury Founder of Say it Now

Charles Cadbury Founder of Say it Now

Charles Cadbury the CEO of Say It Now demonstrated how he and his team had created a chat bot for SEAT for booking a test drive. Instead of the traditional web form or telephone booking appointment Charles took the audience through a series of questions with an Alexa Skill resulting in a SEAT car being delivered to a person’s home for a test drive.

In the telecoms panel including Dean Elwood, Dean Bubley and Chris Lewis, virtual assistants for managing unwanted calls was discussed. Perhaps for unknown numbers a virtual assistant could ask an inbound caller qualifying questions to determine whether the line should be connected. Another idea was when you are on a call with another person the ability in the call to talk to a voice assistant for help. For example on a call asking Siri in the call what is 1 dollar in pounds and getting the answer. The consensus from the telecom experts was that large telecoms providers have been slow to market with VoiceFirst products and services and need to catch up.

Home House London Voice Summit 2018

Home House London Voice Summit 2018

John Campbell, Head of SEO at We are Roast demonstrated there are still plenty of opportunities for Alexa Skills and Google Actions to drive leads and enquiries to your business or brand. The reality is voice technology is still in its infancy and every time you ask Alexa or OK Google a question it doesn’t know there is an opportunity to create a skill or action to service that need. Indeed voice search is predicted to be 50% of all internet searches by 2020. A traditional web search brings back many results whereas with voice there is only one result and this is position zero. Adopting a voice search SEO strategy can therefore get you to the top of Google and Amazon search results leading to lower customer acquisition costs.

James Poulter rounded off the day explaining there has never been a more interesting time to be in the workplace. You now have four generations at work all with different social norms and ways of working. This is a real challenge for managers and leaders to get it right as they think about culture in their organisations. Ironically a voice first approach to internal communications can be good for both the silver surfers and the millennials!

In a week where Google launched it’s Google Home Hub and Amazon it’s Echo Show 2 plus a range of devices such as the Echo Auto for enabling Alexa in your car, microphones are going to be everywhere. What remains to be seen is who will control the mic? Will it be Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant or perhaps even Samsung’s Bixby. Will we make our car purchasing decisions for example on the type of voice assistants built in? And finally will voice assistants talk to each other so we have fridges talking to toasters?

When a task is more natural, quicker and simpler with the voice, then a VoiceFirst approach should be adopted. This doesn’t mean a voice only approach as screens starts to become more prevalent in smart speakers and multi modal experiences become more commonplace. What is clear is that voice is here to stay and removing the friction of the keyboard or indeed the touch screen can lead to a more delightful experience for your customers. All of this leads to competitive advantage which will help you on your digital transformation journey.

Voice Summit 18, Newark, New Jersey

Voice 18, Newark, New Jersey

Voice 18, Newark, New Jersey

Sean Gilligan, Founder & CEO, Webanywhere at Voice 18

Sean Gilligan, Founder & CEO, Webanywhere at Voice 18

The competition is fierce. Why are the biggest tech companies in the world so focussed on the voice space? What is the motivation of companies? What are the voice assets? A battle for adoption, attention, authority and agency is in play.

Smart speakers are moving faster than the fastest previous growth technology, the smart phone. We have just passed 50 million people using smart speakers in the USA. The number is up 20% from the start of 2018. This is not just a USA phenomena but it’s a worldwide pattern.

It’s going into everything. Microphones will soon be everywhere. The question is what is behind the mic. The big tech companies want to be the voice behind the mic. Two thirds of users use smart speakers daily. Smart speakers are the gateway drugs to voice. People who buy smart speakers do not want to go back to life before. Smart speakers are sticky and have staying power. Once people are using smart speakers in the home people start thinking about using voice commands on their mobile phone. When you use smart speakers in a room with other people, what happens is the technology laggers learn from the adopters.

The founder of Modev and organiser of Voice Summit 18, opened the three day event. The keynote for the summit in Newark New Jersey was Dave Isbitski, the Chief Evangelist of Amazon Alexa. Dave himself had actually studied at New Jersey Institute of Technology in his formative years, so it was nice for him to return and address the audience of two and a half thousand people. The new building that was hosting the main arena for Voice 2018 was the Health and Wellbeing Centre of NJIT, which opened six months prior.

Alexa Games Panel at Voice 18

Alexa Games Panel at Voice 18

With voice controlled IT, after all, there is less friction involved and we can talk three times faster than we can type. Dave highlighted the explosion of the Amazon Alexa marketplace for skills reaching 45,000 skills to date. Skills are for smart speakers as apps are for mobile phones. The most popular skill on the Amazon Marketplace is a skill which plays sounds for getting people to sleep. There is also a skill for farting, which is quite popular obviously for humorous reasons.

In another talk, Doug Robinson the CEO and Founder of Fresh Digital Group talked about the value of voice data for brands. Voice data is worth three to four times more than ordinary data because it has a person’s intent. Speed becomes a driving factor for consumers in the purchasing of products. Voice is an on demand channel through which users can instantly receive information and complete tasks. This expectation of immediacy surpasses e-commerce across all industry verticals.

There is therefore a race against brand extinction. Instead, customers will move from trusted brands to trusted AI assistants. Brands need to ensure that they can guarantee they are part of your consideration when making purchasing decisions. Businesses need to train users to request your brand by voice in this new VoiceFirst world. Brands also need to think about how their brand sound. Big brands already have sonic jingle and we are familiar with these for brands such as McDonalds but all brands now need to be thinking in this way.

We are on the start of the Voice First adoption curve. With over 100M Amazon smart speakers in US homes, connected cars with wifi and ability for drivers to control technology handsfree there are many compelling reasons to adopt voice. Smart speakers which are used in living rooms and kitchens are controlled by super users who then teach more novice family members how to properly utilise Alexa. People using Alexa in their kitchens with smart speakers then start to use voice on their mobile phones. All of this is helping to drive adoption and educate the consumer. Kids who can’t read are now asking Alexa the time and to play music or even set an alarm and Alexa has had to adapt to this by teaching children to be polite with magic words such as please and thank you.

In the next five years we will be less dependent on the mobile phones in our pockets as we talk to voice controlled devices. We will be less glued to our screens and this will give us more time for each other in our jam packed busy days. Thank you for reading and perhaps you will attend Voice 2019 next year!

PPS If you are interested in conversation as a platform and VoiceFirst please sign up for your free Sound Branch account at soundbranch.com

 

Number 68 in Top 100 E-Learning Movers and Shakers Worldwide 2018

Webanywhere Team Celebrated Pano's British Citizenship

Webanywhere Team Celebrated Pano’s British Citizenship

This week it was great to see we have moved from position 87 last year to number 68 in the e-learning movers and shakers list worldwide. All this shows the dedication and commitment of the Webanywhere team to stretch beyond. Our Brandon Hall Gold Award for Unique Learning Technology with JetBlue Scholars probably helped propel us up the list.

I want to thank all my staff for their dedication and support over the years to make this happen. Long may it continue and who knows next year we might reach the top 50 of perhaps the top 10!

Top 100 E-Learning Movers and Shakers Worldwide 2018

 

Tech Crunch Disrupt Berlin 2017

Sean and Marcin

Sean and Marcin Tech Crunch Disrupt Berlin

To round off the year I traveled to Berlin for my first Tech Crunch Disrupt. Whilst two of us in the Ventures Anywhere team flew from Manchester two other colleagues drove 6 hours North from Katowice to Berlin.

I’ve been an avid reader of Tech Crunch over the years so to go to my first Disrupt event and learn what the rest of the startup industry was up to was always going to be insightful. From panels in the main stage to off the record workshops ranging from Blockchain to Artificial Intelligence seminars – Venture Capitalists, journalists and entrepreneurs descended on Berlin.

It was my first visit to Berlin in 10 years and the Arena Berlin in the Eastern part of the city hosted the event. The venue a former industrial factory also proved to be an appropriate setting for the unveiling of brand new bus for social movement provided by MOIA VW’s self driving vehicle and car sharing arm.

Other UK startups attended Disrupt with TechNorth one of the lead sponsors. It was good to catch up with Kane Fulton a journalist working for TechNorth who’s fear of flying lead him to travel all the way to Berlin on the train. UK startups Big Change, Synap and Tutora showcased their offerings. Big Change is a remote workforce app, Synap a quiz engine for student revision and Tutora a marketplace for tutors.

Doug and Sean

Doug and Sean

As Ventures Anywhere we were showcasing a series of innovations including Sound Branch a voice messenger, Watch and Learn a video sharing platform and Mums Anywhere the world’s first audio forum for mums which has been rising in the social networking ranks on the Apple App Store.

Mums Anywhere has a number of endorsements from the likes of celebrities Ferne McCann who presents on This Morning, Amy Childs formally of The Only Way is Essex and Cara de la Hoyde of Love Island who has just given birth. Mums Anywhere has recently been in the National Press including The Daily Mail and The Yorkshire Post. It was my wife Claire’s idea. With our first baby Joseph Claire suffered from gestational diabetes and would often worry about our baby endlessly searching forums and conducting Google searches. The problem was there were no emotional platforms for this very emotional issue.

Panel on Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence Panel

Mums Anywhere combines the empathy of the human voice with the wisdom of the crowd to give mums piece of mind. This can help reassure mothers and mothers to be with the comfort of advice from more experienced mums and other mums in a similar situation. When a mum is up in the middle of the night and there is no one to talk to listening to other mums and their pearls of wisdom can be very reassuring.

There are 2 billion mums in the world and we think Mums Anywhere can reach 200M users in the next few years. We will have to wait and see what happens, voice notes are on trend and mums have been joining from the UK, the Americas, Spain, Germany, Turkey and as far a field as Australia and Malaysia.

Kordian and Doug

Kordian and Doug

Josh Constine Editor-At-Large hosted an off the record panel on Artificial Intelligence. Guests on the panel included Suranga Chandratillake of Balderton Capital, William Tunstall-Pedoe of Creative Destruction Lab, Marie Outtier of Auden.ai and Darja Gutnick of Bunch.ai. Josh started by posing questions around the ethics of AI and bias created by computer programmers. For example what if an AI application for hiring through biased just hired white males? This clearly would not be acceptable in terms of employment diversity. The ethics moved on to a conversation around universal credit and AI’s impact on jobs. Suranga suggested that humans would have more free time and there would be more people playing games together. William mentioned the fact that AI can enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of jobs for example radiographer in hospitals and surgeons would people able to spot problems faster. I’ve got to admit having just been through passport control in Manchester digital scanning was much quicker than the traditional approach deployed in Berlin which resulted in massive queues. Being a passport control officer whilst being a very important task must be mind numbing. This is certainly one instance where AI wins. I am however worried about the net effect on jobs. What will happen to all the taxi drivers who loose their jobs to self driving cars and to the para legal profession which will be made redundant due to machine learning?

Suranga Chandratillake who advises the UK Prime Minister on technology matters explained what Venture Captitalists should look for when investing in AI firms. Suranga said “Not only does the computer scientist need to have a good understanding of artificial intelligence but they need specialist knowledge of the problem area they are tackling.” He went on to explain the VCs need to believe that the team they invest in can solve the problem.

Lia win Tech Crunch Disrupt Battlefield

Lia win Tech Crunch Disrupt Battlefield

In the Startup Battlefield competition the winner Lia launches degradable pregnancy test made out of paper not plastic and so being much more friendly to the environment. The runners up were Blik claimed they could reduce the need for barcodes in warehouses worldwide by up to 30%. Both ideas provided innovative ways of solving massive problems.

Bringing matters to a close the founder Robert Vis of MessageBird was interviewed by Editor-in-Chief Mike Butcher. Robert bootstrapped his business for 6 years before taking a series A round of invest of $60M this year. This $60M was the highest series A on record in Europe. MessageBird provide the SMS and virtual numbers for companies such as Uber and manage the infrastructure layer for mission critical messaging be it SMS, voice or text.

Mike Butcher interviews Robert Vis of MessageBird

Mike Butcher interviews Robert Vis of MessageBird

One of the questions Mike Butcher asked Robert Vis was “How come this is your first Tech Crunch Disrupt?” to which Robert Vis replied “I’ve been too busy building my companies.” In fact Robert had just taken a 3 week break in Thailand to learn kickboxing and only took a primitive phone to avoid disturbances for his first holiday in 6 years. A much deserved break I’d say!

I guess that statement shares resonance with me as I too have been too busy building Webanywhere over 14 years to make it to Tech Crunch Disrupt and have instead relied on watching YouTube videos of Disrupt. Having started my Ventures arm Ventures Anywhere Tech Crunch and such conferences are making their way into my diary. Perhaps San Francisco will be next?

A link to Mums Anywhere can be found below:

https://mumsanywhere.com

DevLearn 2017, Las Vegas

Webanywhere USA Team at DevLearn 2017, Las Vegas

Webanywhere USA Team at DevLearn 2017, Las Vegas

This week I attended DevLearn 2017 in Las Vegas. The last time I had visited DevLearn was 10 years ago so it was good to meet up with our USA team and see how the conference had evolved. The theme for the week was “The Future of Learning”.

Two speakers at the conference caught my eye. Julian Stodd of Sea Salt Learning and Jane McGonigal a Futurist from with a PHD from UC Berkley. Julian gave a talk on ‘Social Learning’ whilst Jane would give a speech on ‘How to Think Like a Futurist‘.

Julian who is from the UK was easily identifiable with his long beard and long hair. He talked about how he’d taken Nokia executives over a 14 week social learning journey.
One of the key points that Julian made is that you have to earn the right for peoples engagement in your social learning platforms. If you don’t and the right people take their engagement elsewhere because there are other things for them to be doing.
Below is an image describing 10 aspects of social learning.
10 aspects of Social Learning

10 aspects of Social Learning

The final keynote Speech in the main hall was by Jane McGonigal a futurist, game designer and best selling author.

Jane talked about how to imagine yourself in 10 years time. There are two ways of doing this.

Firstly having a fact-based approach to the future in 10 years time and secondly considering 10 years time in the first person.

Apparently it is much more affective to view your future in the first person.

Furthermore the more details you can put down on paper about 10 years into the future more creative you are.

Jane continued her tour by describing the possibility that companies might not have employees in the future but instead learners.

DevLearn 2017, Las Vegas

DevLearn 2017, Las Vegas

These learners would have learning credits and degrees with no longer exists. Instead there would be a constant trade between companies and individuals on learning credits and people would be hired on their learning credentials not their CVs.

Jane stated that the more absurd an idea is the more likely it might become a reality in the future.

One thing is for certain whether it is today or tomorrow the more we learn and educate ourselves the greater our competitive advantage will be in a new learning era.