SPEED Plus: supporting West Midlands start-ups

As soon as I graduated from the University of Warwick, I applied to the Enterprise Fellowship Scheme (EFS): a network for students & graduates of West Midlands universities, providing start-up support to anyone who wanted to be their own boss.

EFS provided me with free office space and access to meeting rooms in the University of Warwick Science Park, mentoring from experienced business people,  training in areas such as accounting & intellectual property, as well as access to funding to assist with essentials such as a company website, business cards and legal expenses.

Within three months I had set-up Smarter Housing Limited and began trading as a student letting agent. By the end of the year I had taken on my first set of tenants and generated revenue. EFS was the perfect incubator and I know there was no way I could have done so much in so little time had I been standing on my own two feet.

Adam Arnold meets Doug Richard at the 2005 New Venture Fest
Adam Arnold meets Doug Richard at the 2005 New Venture Fest

Perhaps my biggest mistake was failing to take Doug Richard seriously when he offered some advice for Smarter Housing at the 2005 New Venture Fest. As everything had gone so well thus far I was feeling pretty invincible and dismissed his suggestion that I should be focussing on a smaller ‘rip’, moving away from property management and solely offering a means for landlords and letting agents to promote their properties.

As I’ve mentioned before (see: RIP Smarter Housing) I took my eye off the ball during a messy divorce and the company continued to pay rent without actually collecting it. I can assure you that is an arrangement that can’t continue for long and the business came crashing down in 2010.

Had I listened to Doug’s advice I wouldn’t have been involved with the rent collection and there is a possibility that Smarter Housing would still be trading. Hindsight, as they say, is a wonderful thing!

“Out of darkness cometh light” – The City Of Wolverhampton

Soon after Smarter Housing’s failure I found myself back in my home town, just outside Wolverhampton.  After a couple of months getting my life back in order, I knew the time was right to get back into the business world.

I reached out to an old EFS contact, Dee Frankish, who informed me that the scheme was now known as SPEED WM and was still running at Birmingham City University, Coventry University, Keele University, Staffordshire University and The University of Wolverhampton.

Dee was kind enough to put in a good word with the SPEED team in Wolverhampton and it was clearly quite favourable as Sarah Taylor and Phil Law agreed to take me in on spite of everything that was going on around me. Words can’t really express how grateful I am for their support.

With the support of the SPEED network I soon found myself trading as Smarter SEO Limited. Twelve months on I now provide SEO training to a range of private clients, in addition to mentoring for SPEED participants. I am also proud to announce my role as “Entrepreneur in Residence” at the University of Wolverhampton.

SPEED WM is now SPEED Plus

If you are thinking of starting your own business and happen to be a current student or recent graduate of any of the Universities listed above, I would not hesitate to recommend SPEED.

Much like EFS, the SPEED programme provides office space, mentoring, training, networking opportunities and access to funding – all of which play a huge part in supporting young businesses.

You can apply directly on their new website at speed-plus.org.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 – another blockbuster?

The gaming industry shows no signs of being affected by the global economic downturn and is set to be worth in excess of £50 billion by the end of 2012, once the likes of FIFA 13, HALO 4, Assassins Creed III and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 have been accounted for.

Call of Duty: MW2, BO & MW3 – Back to back to back records

Last November, Modern Warfare 3 obliterated all entertainment records by selling 6.5 million copies on launch day, generating almost £300 million in revenues worldwide. To put that in perspective, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows smashed box office records with a modest £60 million.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this was a one off. MW3 marked the third consecutive sales record for Activision, the publishers behind the Call of Duty franchise. In 2010, Black Ops hit 5.6 million sales on day one, almost a million more than Modern Warfare 2 managed back in November 2009.

The question is, can Black Ops 2 carry on this trend? If the marketing hype is anything to go by, then it looks very likely.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 “Surprise” Trailer

Black Ops 2 trailer ft Robert Downey Jr., FPS Russia & iJustine
Black Ops 2 trailer ft Robert Downey Jr., FPS Russia & iJustine

Guess who’s bought a jet to a gunfight?

The latest Black Ops 2 trailer has been directed by Guy Ritchie, who says his motives lie closer to home than most might think. In an interview with Sky News Ritchie confessed that he was trying to win some “credibility points” with his son, who is a huge Call of Duty Fan.

Alongside the likes of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) you may also spot a couple YouTube stars, namely FPS Russia (Kyle Lamar) and iJustine (Justine Ezarik). Treyarch’s decision to throw in a couple of household names – amongst the gaming community – is a stroke of genius in my opinion.

Roll on 13th November, 2012.

The Bromsgrove School Crest / Coat of Arms

Since posting Momento Mori: I hope not, in which I talked about Bromsgrove School’s performance in the 2012 A Level Results tables, I have noticed a spike in blog traffic for people trying to locate the Bromsgrove School Coat of Arms.

I had a little look around Google Images and managed to find three variations:

The Bromsgrove School Crest - Deo Regi Vicino
The Bromsgrove School Crest – Deo Regi Vicino

The red on white and white on red versions have come out pretty well. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a better quality image for the black, white, red & yellow on brown version of the school crest. Update [19/11/12]: here’s a high resolution version of the black, white & red school crest….

Bromsgrove School crest (high quality)
Bromsgrove School crest (high quality)

If you were searching for the Bromsgrove School Coat of Arms I hope this post has been of some use.

For anyone who is wondering, the Bromsgrove School Motto (Deo Regi Vicino) roughly translates to “For God, For King or Queen, For Country”.

O2 customers: you have been warned

O2 has recently been forced to say sorry in the wake of another network problem which left some 10% of their 23 million customers without phone coverage.

Chief Executive Ronan Dunne said he was “embarrassed” by the glitch, which comes only months after a similar network failure, back in July of this year.

Personally I wasn’t effected by either problem, so I was surprised to see the following e-mail pop in in my inbox:

O2 phishing attempt - be warned
O2 phishing attempt – be warned (click to enlarge)

How to identify phishing

Whenever you receive an e-mail that asks you to log-in to a particular website, you need to ask yourself a few questions.

First of all, do you even have an account with this company? Until I migrated my e-mails to Google Apps I was forever receiving alerts related to accounts with companies (mostly banks) that I have never used. Whilst this may sound obvious I do know people who have tried to log-in anyway. You can guess what happens next: the people behind the phishing e-mail then try their username & password in related websites until they gain access.

Next up, is this e-mail going to the right address? Personally I use custom e-mail addresses for any service that I have to pay for, which adds an extra layer of security. All of my e-mails turn up in the same inbox so it isn’t as inconvenient as it may sound. In the case of O2, I use an e-mail address which reference mobile telephones (such as mymobilephone@smartergroup.biz) and this “message from O2” came to my main account so it was clearly a phishing attempt. You may not have the option to set custom e-mail addresses but still, consider whether or not the e-mail is coming into your work, personal or family inbox. Should it be there or somewhere else?

It’s worth looking at any addresses that are displayed in the e-mail, however you will probably find the “from” e-mail has been masked to look official. Similarly the web address you are being prompted to click on will be the same. However, if you hover your cursor over the link it’ll show the actual address.  In my case, and this applies to anyone using webmail, the actual link in the bottom left hand corner clearly has nothing to do with O2.

If you’re any any doubt, just go to the website directly and log-in manually. Still in doubt? Get in touch with customer services. It’s better to be on the safe side!

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 on Gaming-Headsets.co.uk

For the past two years I’ve posted details of upcoming Call of Duty titles to my blog. However I’ve decided to change things for the upcoming Black Ops 2, which is due to be released at midnight on Tuesday 13th November, 2012.

There are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, I need this website to be more “blog like”. Whilst I am an affiliate marketer some of the posts surrounding the original Black Ops and the more recent Modern Warfare 3 were blatant advertisements and don’t really fit what I’m trying to do here.

Secondly, the posts did pretty well in terms of hits and subsequent commissions but they could have done much better in a more appropriate surrounding. People buy games from games shops, right?

For some time now I’ve been sat on the domain gaming-headsets.co.uk and figured now would be an ideal time to put it to good use. The question is whether or not I can get it ranking really, really quickly.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

To start the ball rolling I’ve posted a couple of specific posts, How to get Black Ops 2 on release day along with Black Ops 2: standard vs hardened vs care package editions.

In an effort to improve the site’s ranking for Black Ops searches, I’ve thrown up a load of content covering a range of topics. An obvious starting point was some gameplay footage. No doubt people want to know whether or not they can quickscope in Black Ops 2, so I ‘ve thrown up some sniper footage.

Even though Black Ops 2 isn’t released for another month hardcore gamers will be trying to work out class set-ups, so I’ve included a complete list of perks as well as suggestions for the best weapons & killstreaks from people who have played the game early.

I’ve even tried to cover the more obscure questions like “can I have a gold riot shield?”. Well, you’ll be pleased to note, you can! Unlike previous Call of Duty titles, Black Ops 2 allows players to add custom camos to all weapons.

I’ll be adding Black Ops 2 content right up until the official launch, after which I will switch my focus to gaming headsets, both surround sound and stereo, for the PC, PS3 and XBOX. In addition, I’ll look at some technology specific to YouTubers, such as capture cards.

Finally, I’ve noticed that my conversions on image links are higher than their text equivalent, so I’ve cobbled  together a load of banners, like this one:

Pre order Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 on Amazon.co.uk Pre-order Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 on Amazon.com

How good is your memory?

A small disclaimer: I will probably edit this post at a later date when I’ve given more thought to the narrative. For now, I just wanted to get this posted before it ends up on an ever growing “to do” (won’t do) list.

Earlier today I watched “the problem with eyewitness testimony” by Scott Fraser:

Scott Fraser studies how humans remember crimes and talks about how this can have serious consequences when legal cases hinge on witness testimony. If I may attempt to summarise this excellent presentation in just a few words, problems arise because our brains have a tendency to make things up when key information is missing.

This is something that crops up in a seemingly unrelated TED Talk – “The Art of Creating Awe”, by Rob Legato:

Rob suggests his success is down to replicating what people remembered and not what they saw.

At this point I’d like to throw in some valuable insight but, as per my opening gambit, I’m just getting the ball rolling by pointing out the link between the two videos. Brownie points welcome!

Momento mori: I hope not! (A Level Results Tables)

Some 10 years ago I picked up my A-Level results. Opening the envelope was just a formality: I already knew I was going to see top marks in Maths, Physics and Economics. Whilst this may seem arrogant I can assure you this confidence was fully justified, thanks to the Bromsgrove School ‘experience’.

Given my son is now working his way through pre-prep, I still have a keen interest in the school, so it should come as no surprise I was delighted with the fact Bromsgrove School is sitting atop the 2012 A-Level results table:

Bromsgrove School: leading the way (A level results - Midland Schools)
Bromsgrove School: leading the way (A level results – Midland Schools)

These results are more impressive given the letter that accompanied them:

[extract]

Some people have suggested I should have made more marketing capital out of the stellar results. A level, GCSE and International Baccalaureate (we sent our first British IB pupils to Oxford and Cambridge this year) were the finest in our history, and this in a year when many other schools saw results fall due to harsher marking. All Oxbridge A level offers were also achieved. As one parent said:

“But Headmaster, you blew everybody out of the water.” Well fine, but I recall my Latin and Ancient History lessons at this point. As the victorious general celebrated his triumph in Rome by riding through the garland strewn streets, a slave stood beside him in the chariot and whispered in his ear: “Momento mori”, the least morbid translation of which is “The only way is down.” If you want to know how amazing the A level results were, do open the rank order attachment of the great independent Midland A level Schools, but hubris is not a pretty condition and I’m not going to go public by slapping any of these tables or self congratulations over the website and prospectus this year. We celebrate quietly and we move on. If parents are happy with Bromsgrove, they will tell other parents: that’s more important than pie charts. All I will say at this point is that we are an all round School with unashamedly high academic standards, and we ask that all pupils give their best. A hothouse we will never be – we are educating for life, not growing academic marrows – but pupils must hit academic targets if they are to progress through the School.

Chris Edwards – Headmaster – Bromsgrove School – September 2012

Obviously, I want my son to do well academically but I can only ask that he does his best. It is also essential that academic success does not come at the expense of poor social skills, so it is reassuring to see the school hasn’t forgotten the importance of balanced pupils.