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    Bathtub 2 Boardroom


    In the context of starting a business, clearly, the Eureka moment is a myth. Everything has been done before. People have licked every frog. In Gogol's Dead Souls, the anti-hero collects the names of perished serfs and sells them – a crooked 19thC version of selling lists. As Simon Woodroffe quoted Felix Dennis:


    'Ideas? We've had 'em, since Eve met Adam, but take it from me Execution's the key' 

    So what advice from our speakers on how to clamber out of the tub and make it happen? 

    Rob Symington, the co-founder of Escape the City, (whose eloquent appearance won him dozens of female admirers) formulated 'Five made-up rules for starting a business with little money and no relevant experience' (see

    The two most pertinent for me were to define success and to 'make meaning'. As to the former, it is easy to muck around doing things which are enjoyable or seem relevant, but do not contribute to long-term value. So, with ToMax Talks, for example, popularity is not success, however tempting a notion that might be. And, on the flip side, you can drown in a sea of urgent and important-seeming tasks - you can be swallowed up by chaos - if you haven't set out your goals properly. If you know your goals then you recognise your small victories. As Woodroffe put it, if you assimilate 1% each day, then by day 100 you have grasped 100%. But you have to know of what. 

    Rob's other tip, to 'make meaning', is something Escape the City have done very effectively. They have a manifesto  (in short, they want people unfulfilled by their jobs to take back their lives) and Rob joked that his dad once asked if he was starting a cult. His point is that if your business is the sort people might bring up in a pub, then growing the brand is that much easier. 

    Sarah Hilleary, who abandoned ship at Merill Lynch and started b-tempted, a Gluten-free cake company, perhaps gave the most nitty-gritty advice. She had clearly struggled at times, but come through it flyingly: the cakes are now sold in Fortnums and Masons and Harrods; those who managed to grab one of the brownies dotted around the room could taste why. She stressed the importance of seeking the advice of an expert in your field, and urged caution. Get the legal stuff right and identify how the business can be scaled at the outset. She also recommended having a contingency plan for when things go wrong: 'Last year...I fell off a wall!' she offered tentatively. 'I couldn't bake for months'.

    Despite her sometimes shy manner, she has pulled some pretty bold and clever moves. She walked into Harrods with a tray of her cakes, and half an hour later she was upstairs feeding them to the regional buyer like a modern-day Circe. At one stage, she cunningly persuaded a patisserie to lend her kitchen-space by letting them sell her cakes. So don't be afraid to ask.

    Simon Woodroffe, the founder of YO!Sushi, stood before us and expounded, extremely amusingly and with artful clownish touches, an unlikely mixture of stark ambition and Eastern philosophy. 

    On the one hand, he explained, he had dreamt as a child of becoming a millionaire. His story was extraordinary (footage up on our site within the week); it involved him forgetting that childhood ambition for a couple of decades, during which he worked as a set designer for various rockstars, and ended with him concluding the deal to sell YO!Sushi. On his way home from that meeting, as he contemplated how life had changed, it dawned on him that this money would actually be in the cash machine. So he queued up to check (and got verification from the bloke behind him 'Take a cop at that mate!'). Brilliant.

    Who wants to hear a modest entrepreneur!

    On the other hand, his speech focused on the psychological aspects of setting out to start a business. How do you stay positive, how do you keep that 'impostor syndrome' away, the voice which says 'this could never work, you're a rookie'? Leave your comfort zone bit by bit, he recommended, and you will begin to have confidence. Your comfort-zone expands with each uncomfortable action, like the ripples in a pond. 

    And once you are wholly focused and obsessed by your project, then things tend come right. 'At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you' he quoted from Goethe. In his case, during a visit to Japan, he serendipitously came into possession of a manual entitled 'Everything you need to know about starting your own conveyor-belt sushi restaurant'. In my eyes, Simon Woodroffe's most notable quality was his fecundity of ideas and the earnesty with which he treated even the most bizarre ones. He once gave serious thought to a YO! Funeral Company aimed at jazzing up that tired business. Unfortunately, the YO! Bars had already been christened 'YO!Below'. Perhaps the main thing is an enduring sense of fun. When a woman in the audience confessed to visiting YO!Below, he chastised her: 'you naughty girl!' 



    Climate Change.... What the Hell

    Our Second ToMAx talk @The Oxford Pub, Kentish Town

    Speakers were Lord Melchett (ex head of Greenpeace), Niel Bowerman (Scientist at Oxford), Richard Ritchie (BP, director of government relations)

    The ToMax talks on climate change really got me thinking about global warming policy. I had a spate of queries. Is the threat of a warmer world so bad and so real that governments must intervene heavy-handedly to prevent it? 'Yes' is the received wisdom. Or is there enough uncertainty about the science and its ramifications that the human cost of climate-change prevention cannot be justified? Are green government measures authoritarian and to be overriden by considerations for the free market? Instead of prevention, should we, as Nigel Lawson recommends in his lucid book, adapt to climate change?

    And how trememndous is the cost of prevention likely be? If we did manage to introduce a unilateral cap on fossil fuel consumption, would people really go hungry in a world with enough food in the wrong places, would the developing world not progress past the quality of life of pre-industrialised Britain? 

    Lord Melchett and 'the climate kid' Niel Bowerman were both uplifted by the possibility that people can make choices beneficial to themselves, the environment and the prevention of global warming. Niel Bowerman suggested some simple things we can do on a personal level to instigate change: write disgruntled one-liners to our MPs about the carbon-heavy tarr-sands in Alberta, go for a renewable energy provider, which (with the help of subsidies) doesn't cost more than firms generating power from oil and gas. Lord Melchett talked about farming and how we have a personal vote on agricultural methods three times a day - ordinary people can influence policy here. He cited the ban on GM in Britain:

     'It wasn't up to the government; Bush and Blair were deeply in love with each other and with GM, all sorts of huge companies wanted GM, but actually, ordinary people decided what we're going to eat.'

    However, Lord Melchett conceded that this people-power is probably limited to farming policy:

     'We can't decide whether we're going to build a nuclear power station or not, we can't decide whether we're going to have nuclear submarines floating around the world or not. All sorts of other things we can't decide. But food issues you can.'

    So it is likely that turning off chargers and economising on plastic bags are feel-good measures which don't matter much. Therefore, it was great to have before us an example of a young person attempting to influence policy on a macro-level: Niel talked of how he advises the Prime Minister of the Maldives on how to prepare for the likely turbulent times ahead. How turbulent?

    For the non-scientific among us, Niel gave a memorable demonstration using 5 pint glasses. His best-case prediction was 2 degrees by 2100. That is one pint glass of greenhouse gases, which burning the rest of the world's oil would produce. Five pint glasses takes us to six degrees, and that is if we burn the whole lot - gas, coal & oil. Gloomy predictions of what that would mean are pretty familiar.

    Richard Ritchie spoke about Britain's policy in light of the political realities - what people want, and the realities of India and China. Britain's emissions he pointed out are 2% of world emissions, and the whole contribution of the UK to emissions is the same as the increase in China's emissions per year. He was very convincing. Britain could be handcuffing itself unnecessarily with austere measures, merely resulting in carbon leakage to the developing world (outsourcing of manufacturing and therefore emissions). Maybe Britain cannot make a difference, cannot lead the way. 

    A good argument against this is that Britain can lead in research & development. Nothing is developed to workable efficiency behind closed doors. In order to progress the technology we need to start using it. And that is what Britain is doing. After the talk, Richard Ritchie conceded to me that he sees a case for a carbon tax to help R&D. So not free market to the end.

    Despite this, however, my conclusion is that if you can look at the problem in a consequentialist way, then Richard Ritchie's arguments are persuasive and conclusive. But, on principle, to continue to just burn fuel, to consume while being part of a threatening problem is slovenly. Britain should lead by example. Richard Ritchie said that 'we have to keep the lights on'. But there are many aspects of modern life which do not actually make us happier, which are sludge. Big shopping complexes, dirt cheap flights, everyone with a car (sitting in stultifying British grid-lock). We could do without some of it without reverting to some unrealistic bucolic state.

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