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BarCamp Manchester #BCMCR6

Posted: 29 Sep 2015

This weekend we sponsored BarCamp Manchester, one of Manchester's unconference. Anyone is allowed to attend BarCamp as much or as little as they like. The unconference was held over 2 days over the weekend fuelled by plenty of coffee, sweeties and rubix cubes!

It was our first BarCamp experience, so we didn't really know what to expect. We came supplied with plenty of Haribos, sticky notes, smiles and the traditional MRJ banner. 


This year, BarCamp Manchester was hosted at the AutoTrader Manchester offices, which were extremely impressive and accomodating for the weekend! The start of the weekend began with opening talks from organiser Claire Dodd, whom we must credit for her amaaaaazing organisation skills, infectious and positive attitude and her patience! The weekend consisted of talks, which were pathed out on the 'Grid Board.' Attendees would voluntarily speak for a 30 minute slots about anything and everything - That's the beauty of BarCamp Manchester. At first, we thought that our limited Java Script and HTML + CSS abilities would hold us back, but given the nature and freedom of BarCamp Manchester, we were more than comfortable. 

Over the weekend, there was a number of sessions which weren't really like talks, but more like group conversations. The speaker will generally start off with an introduction to themselves and their chosen topic, and then it would open up with a group discussions. It was refreshing to see the mutual level of respect attendees had for one another. We attended talks about Diversity (by Vimla Appadoo, Coding for Children by Lara Weston whom we must add is 9 years old, looking to become a Digital Leader!! We also heard from Ian Forrester on 'How to be Interesting' - This inspired our Brand Ambassador, Katrina, to start her own blog, although we already find her far too interesting! 

To conclude the weekend, there was Presentation Kareoke followed by an exciting raffle - we are extremely jealous of those who won prizes! In other news, jam-packed in our BarCamp swag bags, we played around with the Google Cardboard! Overall, we had a fantastic weekend as both attendees and sponsors for BarCamp Manchester this year and we are certainly excited for next year! 

A huge thank you to all the attendees, fellow sponsors and organisers for having us along at BarCamp Manchester. We met so many interesting people, heard some great talks and all in all had a lot of fun!

See you all next year BarCampers for BarCamp7!

MRJ Advice Centre: 2 Minutes with Al Mackin

Posted: 28 Sep 2015


This week we've spent 2 minutes with Al Mackin, Founder and CEO of Formisimo, the online form analytics startup based at the Greenhouse, Media City. Al is also Founder of growing Digital Agency, theEWord. Given his background we spoke with Al about all thing start-ups.

Formisimo is tackling the problem of web forms/online checkouts that go unfilled because of factors, such as confusingly worded questions, layout or formatting errors, and rogue auto-filling wreaking havoc with the user’s intentions. It offers cloud-based web analytics specifically targeted at improving the performance of forms so e-commerce companies can identify where their users are going wrong.

The company has just been awarded £30,000 package for business support at VentureFest 2015, which they will use to develop new and innovatives products to predict consumer's online purchases and whether they will complete their purchase - Congratulations guys!

Al says that there are 3 main challenges that start-ups face; firstly, funding and getting the business of the ground can be difficulty.
Secondly, start-ups may face hurdles when trying to hire the right people, and companies may have a limited runaway, but it is key to find like minded people to support the business throughout the journey.
The final challenge would be the questions of how do start-ups bring on new customers and monetise them, but also retain them. 

We asked Al how he has managed to grow the Formismo team. Al tells us the reason that he found it easy to hire because as a company, they offer something 'different' and without offering something particularly extravagant. Formisimo offer entity with exciting opportunities, which is what stands out. It's about the position that they hold in the market in Manchester. 

The final question we asked Al was his best piece of advice for start-ups. It's all about understand yourself and those in your company to maintain a stressful and succesful working life. It's important to create a strategy or plan to maintain happiness and motivation, which can fall accross a wide area. For some it's about exercise and physical activity to de-stress, and for others its about sticking to set hours and getting enough sleep. Al highlights the need to get the most out of yourself.

Check out Formismo's blog for the latest advice, tips and opinions from the Formisimo team. 

Essential Tips for Start Ups when Hiring

Posted: 24 Sep 2015

Be sure that is the right time

Don’t feel compelled to grow your team just because you wrote it in your business plan. When hiring someone into your team, it is a commitment both emotionally and financially. Before you invest in someone, you need to be sure that the time is right: Can you afford to give them your time and money? There is no point rushing into something until you can handle growing the business and adopting new people.

Identify what you need

Before you start looking for people and advertising your vacancies, you should identify the qualities and skill set your ideal candidate will have. Once you’ve listed the criteria, its much easier to match up candidates that will be suitable for the job. You might be charmed by personality, but if someone doesn’t have the skills you require, it might not work for what your business needs.

However, you must remember that this is a two-way thing. Whilst listing to candidates what you expect, you need to be clear what they can expect from you and what their role will entail and how it may change. If you are clear of the role, the candidates that do apply will be genuinely interested in the job.

Create a company culture

As with many start-ups, your company might not be able to offer ‘perks of the jobs’ or company benefits that larger and more established companies can offer, so you need to find something else to become a number one destination for candidates.

By creating a culture in your company that people feel comfortable in, will help them vision themselves working as part of the company. If you can’t appreciate or feel the culture within your office, then how will candidates appreciate it?

Benefits of working in a start-up is the power and influence the employees can have within a close-knit team,working with others with room for professional development, which you can sell to employees.

Not only will a strong company culture help attract candidates, it will help retain them.

Hire someone who ‘fits’ in the culture

When you’re short listing and considering your candidate, you need to consider if they will fit in with the culture, not just having the right skills and experience. Will they get along with the rest of the team? Would you trust them? Are they reliable? Are they planning to stay with the company? When interviewing the candidate, ask the right questions such as “What were the reasons for leaving your last job?” and “What are your goals for joining this company?” This will help you spot their goals and aspirations.

Be constantly on the lookout for talent, even if you’re not hiring…

By growing and constantly building relationships and networks within your community and industry, you may potentially connect with someone who could be interested in your business, when the time is right. If not them personally, they may know someone would be perfect. By attending events, staying active within online community and maintaining relationships, you’ll keep people up to date with your company.

MRJ Advice Centre: 2 Minutes with Damian Dommett

Posted: 21 Sep 2015

This week we've spent 2 minutes with Damian Dommett, IT Development Manager at Peninsula.Damian has worked with Peninsula for 3 years and has many years experience within the industry both developing and maintaining a team.

Peninsula Business Services, based in Manchester is part of the award winning Peninsula Group of Companies, the UK’s largest provider of Employment Law, HR and Health & Safety consultancy services. Peninsula was established in 1983, and the company advises over 30,000 UK small businesses and multi-national organisations with over 1,100,000 employees. 

The company offer a range of services including 24 Hour Employment Law Advice, Business Safe, Corporate Business Services, Early Conciliation, Small Business services, any many more. In recent news, Peter Done, Managing Director of Peninsula was shortlisted for the GBE Services Industry Award.

We met with Damian and talked all things Technology. First we asked Damian what he thought would hold companies back from a technology perspective over the next 5 years. Damian suggested that companies should be focusing on true user feedback rather than their own opinions. If companies aren't using micro-services and going 'up in the cloud,' they will begin to fall behind. The final point that Damian raises was companies embracing and investing in technology for 'technology's' sake!

The second question we asked was his advice for any junior Developers interested in getting into the Software Development Market. He focuses on the importance of applied knowledge, and whilst education and theory is extremely important, experience is key. He highly recommends that developers get as much experience as they can before applying for roles. 

Our third and final question was the strengths and weaknesses of Agile development. The strengths would be the ability for users to deliver value and impact on businesses and projects early.
The weaknesses of Agile development is the way that others percieve it. Despite it's strengths and potential, the companies using Agile requires the implementation and integration of a good structure and make the effort to communicate. If companies are not set up that way, they will not be able to implement effectively. 

Looking for some advice or support with your business? Why not check out Peninsula's extensive range of small business services, and keep up to date with their latest blogs and updates. 

A big thank you to Damian for giving up his time and advice!

A Morning Briefing with Tech North

Posted: 15 Sep 2015

Last week, I headed across the M62 for the ‘We Are Tech North’ Morning Briefing at the Electric Press, in Leeds City Centre, hosted by Tech North.

The morning briefing event was hosted to celebrate, announce and discuss the growth of digital businesses across the North.  The morning consisted of networking, coffee, Tech North speakers and panel discussions from cities including Hull, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Liverpool, and Sunderland.

The event was opened with an introduction and welcome talk from Herb Kim, Executive Chairman of Tech North.  Herb talked about the journey that Tech North had taken, and the future plans for the initiative, which was delivered through Tech City UK. Tech City UK aim to accelerate and support the development of the North’s digital economy by promoting and sustaining digital entrepreneurship. 

Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK discussed the national opportunities for tech sector. Gerard describes Tech North as a “critical mass creator” whom will strive to work with councils, universities and entrepreneurs to create the ‘right’ stories. By 2020, the vision of Tech North is to be both a national and international player. This being said, Gerard emphasises the need for the optimum conditions for businesses to grow. As a nation, we have the appetite for adopting new services, and high propensity to adopt digital behaviours and products. Initiatives such as the Digital Business Academy, created by the Tech City UK, delivers free business courses online, with mentorship from world-class business experts from UCL, Cambridge Judge Business school and Founder Centric.

Up next was Claire Braithwaite, Head of Tech North. Claire gave an overview of the purpose and vision of Tech North. From a family born and bred in the North, Claire shared her passion for the “cultural and creative renaissance” that is embedded in the North, and having travelled and visited the co-working spaces, Claire can still feel this.  “Entrepreneurs are a special breed; Creators of prosperity and opportunity; they are game changers and alchemists who can change the world."

Tech North is all about the people who sit at the heart of innovation; Claire highlighted two drivers: people and collaboration. As a nation, we're standing on the shoulders of giants, but when looking at the North, strengths lays in numbers. The vision for Tech North is to become the number one destination for talent pools and brands across the world. Increasing numbers of start ups are making 'waves' and Claire emphasises the importance of access to finance, and Manchester start-up, Wakelet are an example of a company very much deserving of their investment. 

Moving forward, the North need to define and establish investment pathways, our eco-system need to be making noise and we need to position ourself more competitively withinin the venture capital market. In answer to this, Tech North are working with partners to improve the transparency working around the pan Northern co-investment fund.
These relationship networks require the help of mentors and investors, which lead to Claire’s next announcement: Tech North is searching for Northern Stars, an ambassador programme which fosters the pool of tech talent and start-ups with the next generation.

Following on, was the first panel discussion; ‘Building Technology Businesses across the North’ with Eudie Thompson CEO of Bright Futures, Matt Grest Head of Technology at Sky, Andrew McFetrich from SAGE.

Eudie terms that we should be ‘North shore’ not ‘off-shore.’ Bright Future invests in high quality training and apprentices; over 100 apprentices are team leaders and managers within the company! The company have close links with universities and educational institutions and see the potential in the future generation of talent. I fully appreciated that the company invite employees into their meetings, should they be interested in a particular topic. Quoting Eudie, “Innovation is at the heart of young people who suffer from bad press, and there are pressures from these young people to help transform this.”

Matt Grest, Head of Technology for Sky announced the opening of the Sky Leeds HQ, which will add over 400 people to the family. What was their inspiration to move to Leeds? Matt explains the 12- 18 month process looked across the UK; there was there a 2-step process; firstly, knowledge transfer, and second was a press release. Like Bright Futures, Sky invests in graduates schemes. However, Matt highlights the tragedy that we may be running out of talent, and it is the North’s job to get everybody together, and mentioned that it’s not all about selling employment, but selling the North as a ‘lifestyle.’ The new Sky offices are designed to host technology meet ups and events. Their offices will be open plan, with plenty of space for break-outs and a 150 seat auditorium.

Andrew McFetrich, Senior recruitment specialist from SAGE suggested that attraction and retention are on the ‘same side of the coin.’ Andrew believes in brand consistency, and highlights that companies need to tie in what their employees are doing with their company mission and invest in those start ups. 

The second panel discussion: ‘Rebooting the Conversation’ seated Lou Cordwell CEO of Magnetic North, David Watson of Hull2017, Journalist Ian Wylie, Martin Bryant Editor-In-Chief of The Next Web.

When discussing the future generation of young talent, David Watson highlighted that the young talent gets a bad name and there is increasing pressures from these individuals for businesses to work with them and unleash their work and talents. 

An issue that was constantly raised throughout the discussion was that the North doesn’t really talk about their achievements, and there are so many hidden gems. For example, at the event I heard about the wonderful world hidden in Hull (One of the North's blossoming digital communities), the C4DI; a centre for innovation and partner for Google Cardboard. This is just one of the many wonders found in Hull.

Lou Cordwell wants people to be honest with their Northern pride! Lou recommends that we should break out of the little ‘non-self promoting style!’ Despite our modesty in the North, we’re not struggling for things to say, as we’re constantly uncovering new people, projects and how we do things properly. These developments and growths of the North give us that sense of identity. Her recommendation is to let the market dictate what specialism comes up…. The world will be astonished by the amount of digital output that can come out of the North.

Martin Bryant followed on from Lou by saying that “you can sell the North, but it needs to be interesting with projects. We in the North don’t make a fuss, but we need to shout about what we’re doing more! It’s a data point, a drip-drip scenario.” Martin suggests that we need to drip things down to London and the U.S, which starts to combine the story that isn’t being told.

The event was summarised with thanks, recommendations and closing comments by Claire Braithwaite, whom directed visitors to the auditorium for networking and coffee (with a brownie or two… which I was getting for a friend!!) It was great to meet some new faces to hear their thoughts and ideas for the future of the North and the next generation of talent.

We look forward to seeing the great work from Tech City UK and Tech North from Newcastle right through to Liverpool. With increasing numbers of start ups and co-working spaces emerging in Manchester, we’re excited to be involved in all the upcoming events. We hope to build more and more relationships and partnerships with start ups to help grow and support the North and all the greatness that is #MCRTop5.


MRJ Advice Centre: 2 Minutes with Joe Gosling

Posted: 14 Sep 2015

This week we've spent 2 minutes with Joe Gosling, Co- ounder of Bearded Fellows, a Manchester based video and animation company whom create, produce and strategise the delivery of content. In a nutshell, they produce videos that people want to watch! 

Bearded Fellows have developed an extensive and exciting portfolio of clients including Heart & Graft, IAS (Immigation Advisory Service), and David Luke (as partnered with Studio North).

The Bearded Fellows have partnered up and worked with Manchester Creative Studio, and now dedicate time to provide programmes and workshops to support student's learning and enhance their employability within the creative community. They strive to immerse students in the 'real' working world. Their workshops include video, photography, animation and theatre performance, and it gives these students a uniqiue opportunity to gain a full Art Award Accrediation. Here's a little bit about the work they did earlier this year.

Our 2 minutes with Joe took a focus on creative education, given their involvement and relationship with the Manchester Creative Studio from both the perspective of employers and potential employees. 

For the future talent pool interested in getting into the creative industry, Joe recommends building a portfolio and mapping out their future career goals to work towards. Along with this, he emphasises the need to build relationships with like minded individuals; it's never too early to start networking, especially at co-working spaces including Barclay's Escalator, SpacePortX, and MCS, where they have plenty of events and workshops with opportunities for mentorship and learning. 

For bridging the gap between industry and education, Joe suggests that those larger corporations and aspiring business leaders in Manchester need to reach out to the future generation and build those relationships. For a thirteen year old, a 20 story building in the city centre can be slightly... intimidating, so those at the top need to come down and break down those barriers. It's time for those businesses to reach out to schools, colleges, youth groups and universities and shout about these potential opportunities. Whether it be direct, or using their networks and connections with start ups, they need to nourish those relationships with students.

Finally, we asked Joe the benefits of relationships between companies and educational institutions; like the relationship the Bearded Fellows maintain with the Creative Studio; Joe tells us it's all about nuturing those relationships with students and potential superstars when they are young, and helping to draw their path with their skills and attitude. Joe touches on the CSR opportunities these relationships and partnerships bring, and the reputational benefits partnerships can bring. Let's look at the culture that Google has built, and let's bring that to Manchester.

Bearded Fellows have been recognised for their incredible commitment to the Manchester community, including a recent feature in Prolific North. Keep up with the exciting work that the fellows are doing with companies, schools and everybody in between!

(A big thank you to the fellows for helping stabalise the video camera and actually turning the microphone on for us!)


MRJ Recruitment

Queens Chambers, 5 John Dalton Street, Manchester, M2 6ET