Friday, October 08, 2021

Marc De Jeresey, ABC News reporter, Memorial Dinner

Dominic Sutherland spoke movingly about Marc at this fifty-person event in Chelsea's 50 Cheyne. This was celebrating Marc de Jersey's life on what would have been his 49th birthday.  For the full twelve-minute speech, click here.

Some of the highlights of Marc's life:

> Promoted to News Editor at ABC News in London

> Promoted to work on the news team at ABC News at their global HQ in New York City.

> Winning an 'Emmy' for his work at ABC News covering the 9/11 attacks

> Setting up Russia Today in Moscow, in 2005

> Covering abuses by major oil companies in the Amazon rain forest, for The Guardian Newspaper

Sadly Marc never did get around to taking his planned Ph.D. in Journalism or writing the thesis he had designed, which would have made a brilliant book. 

He did teach journalism for several years at the University of Cardiff and Lancaster, however. Here are some extracts from his Ph.D. thesis plan:

      The Rise and Fall of Russian Journalism 1990 to 2010 

Ph.D. Thesis, University of Cardiff School of Journalism, Marc De Jersey

When the journalist Anna Politkovskaya was found dead in the lift of her block of flats in central Moscow on October 7th 7th 2006 it made headlines worldwide. People were shocked and yet the intimidation and murder of journalists have been widespread in Russia since Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000. She just happened to be the most high-profile journalist with an international reputation. Her assassination was effective. It ended reporting from Chechnya. But what of the 13 Russian journalists who have also been murdered in contract killings[1]? The scores beaten up and intimidated? The hundreds of professional journalists who have been fired?

When I was in Russia I was taken out for dinner by a very senior Russian journalist who was trying to protect me from falling out with the Kremlin and the FSB. This was in 2006, four months before the death of Anna Politkovskaya. He failed but he sat me down and said to me: 'Let me tell you about the state of Russian Media at the moment: We. Don't. Care.'

I want to ask the questions what happened to Russian journalism? When? And most importantly why? When I eventually was deported from Russia I had a chance to look at some of those questions and interview a lot of journalists, both western and Russian, on the topic.

What firstly surprised me in my research is that there has been no substantive account or academic study on the subject. Yes, articles have been written or commissioned by the Index of Censorship, IWPR, CPJ, the Guardian and others, but none of them, though commendable, could be classed as academic. [2]

Next what struck me was what a complicated, rich and layered story this is in terms of subject matter. At the heart of the story is Russian journalism and its relationship to the government, but also behind this is a story of the Russian oligarchs entering Russian media in the Yeltsin years and then Vladimir Putin clamping down and closing TV stations that were critical of him via giant multinational Russian companies such as Gazprom. It is argued that the current state of affairs has led to an acute lack of pluralism in Russia. Also, Russian Television news is now 100% state-controlled and it is almost impossible to know what is happening in Chechnya at the moment.[3]

There are two reasons I think this project is important. The first is that it hasn't been done in depth at an academic level. The second is from an academic perspective: to the best of my knowledge Russia is unique in the sense that we have three very different political ideologies impacting freedom of the press in one country over a period of 20 years.

This is not an easy project. Getting Russian's to talk is often hard and sometimes dangerous. We'd be looking to interview Russian journalists, oligarchs and enemies of Putin, some now exiled, as well as leading academics in Russian affairs, NGO's and professional western journalists who have worked in Russia.

[1] NB: 'There is no evidence that the Russian authorities were involved in these killings, but they did stand accused of not having investigated these murders with adequate vigour and of having tolerated the conditions that allowed these murders to happen.' Professor Richard Sakwa, University of Kent, 2007.

[2] The Guardian's Luke Harding, himself deported from Russia, has written a book called 'Mafia State: Inside Putin's Russia.' This is not an academic work but more his story at the way he was treated by the FSB when in Moscow.

[3] Andrei Soldatov, a Russian investigative journalist, Frontline Club talk, October 24th, 2011..

Marc De Jersey-Lowney, Broadcast News Journalist

September 27th 1972 - May 23rd 2021

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Why aren’t millennials and gen z’s watching your TV commercials anymore?


Have you ever wondered why the viewership on your TV ads is declining? You may want to consider updating your advertising strategy. Here are five reasons why millennials and generation z aren’t watching your tv ads.

1. Change of media interests.

According to the Deloitte Digital Media Trends, 26% of generation Z illustrate their lack of interest in watching TV, or any other media habit for that matter… stating that they would rather play video games. If this trend continues to upscale, now may be an excellent time to diversify your advertising approach, starting with gaming.

2. Watching TV, or maybe not.

Here’s the thing, your audience may say they’re watching TV but are they actually watching TV? Or have they got your ads playing in the background while scrolling endlessly on social media? If your idea is to draw in tech-savvy millennials and keep them engaged, you may want to advertise in places where your audience is bound to be looking - on their mobile screens!

3. They are streaming content

Quite frankly, Gen Z hates conventional television but is more in love with video content than ever. According to Visual Capitalist, “In 2011, the average 18 to 24-year-old millennial watched around 25 hours of traditional television per week. Today, they watch closer to 14 hours per week.”

4. Your commercials aren’t niche enough

- Stuff that gen z likes (Nike ad) as opposed to regular tv ads (Go compare ad).

Millennials are not only watching less TV, but they are skipping ads too. More than 70% of millennials skip TV ads altogether, according to OpenX’s survey. So creating ads with compelling, relevant content is crucial if you want to win the eyes of this particular generation. 

A regular TV ad video clip 'Go compare'

A gen Z 'niche' ad video clip - Nike 'Believe in something'

Spot the difference? the Gen Z clip, usually shown on Youtube, is edgy and cool. The other ad, shown on regular TV, is plain cheesy! But beware - the terrible Gocompare ad created no controversy, whilst the Colin Kaepernick Nike one generated a lot.

5. They are playing video games instead - or during your commercials.

Or they now just have your TV ads in the background. Check out 18-24s and 25-34s. Over 30% sometimes watch TV whilst playing video games, 20% often do that and 12% of Gen Z's always do it!

Read the full report here.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

The office after Covid: Expectations v reality

Most of my colleagues and friends have been avidly reading and speculating about what the world of work will look like in 2021 and beyond. Covid has come and (not yet) gone. But many say that with the rollout of the vaccination programmes, we will soon be back to normal. 

Ok, ok, I know what you're thinking. We will never get back to normal! Indian and South African Coronavirus strains threaten the tranquillity, not to mention armies of anti-vaxxers who could be a source of new variants that are immune to the vaccine.

But let's err on the side of optimism and say, yes, we cracked this pandemic. Do we even want to go back to normal? A recent Ernst and Young report surveying over 16,000 professionals like you and me showed that they believed company culture had actually IMPROVED during the pandemic! 

54% of us also said that we would consider looking for a new job if our company did not provide us with post-pandemic workplace flexibility. 

A February 2021 Mckinsey report showed that e-commerce and digital technology has grown five times faster than normal during this pandemic. It's well known that digital tech generally does not require any face to face engagements. 

A digital marketer, software developer, webmaster or network engineer do not need to work from an office, ever. So how will these changes and new information affect the 'war for talent', company culture, and the future of the workplace?

With that in mind, I decided to survey knowledge workers like myself to find out what you think. I wanted to see if what you thought matched what I did and if what we are thinking matches the reality of what is beginning to happen in the workplace as we return (or don't return) to the office.

First off, almost all of my responses came from the USA and UK, where I have spent all of my career. Here are the departments you come from:

As you can see, it's pretty evenly balanced between departments - but no 'Legal'?

Here's a selection of your more recent comments, responding to the question: 'What's one change your company could make to improve your working life?'

Continue being flexible and recognizing that people have changed a lot over the past year. Incorporating what we’ve learned will go a long way with employee satisfaction

5/28/2021 4:17 PM

Child care

5/28/2021 4:07 PM

Approachable leadership - the hierarchy and too many levels generate a lack of trust, confidence and much rework.

5/28/2021 3:24 PM

More mental health resources

5/28/2021 3:06 PM

You can see the rest of the survey results here.

Or why not take the survey.  

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Which CRM & Marketing Automation for your startup?

Our Company had serious Marketing. Automation problems. I had just started as Marketing Operations Manager at a startup that was expanding rapidly towards a hoped-for IPO (called an IPO but actually it was a private placement for ten billion euros on the Euronext exchange). But there was no effective, integrated Marketing system to operate.

How could I fix it? Well, first off, I needed to examine the different CRM and Marketing Automation systems available. I needed to decide which one was the best for the company. I also needed to bring key stakeholders - in Sales, Operations, Account Management, and Services- along with me in this decision.

Then I needed to execute the strategy and roll out the system so that we maximized our ROI and that the team was confident that we had a fine-tuned Sales-integrated Demand Generation Marketing engine. I joked that we needed to turn a bicycle into a sports car over Xmas!

First off, we needed to decide whether to keep Pipedrive, our current CRM. Hot or not? We decided not - we needed Hubspot CRM or Salesforce. Second, Mailchimp Marketing Automation. Hot or not? Definitely Not, especially for those highly integrated, professional-looking campaigns we needed for the B-2-B business.

In the end, it all came down to Salesforce with Pardot or Hubspot Sales Hub with the Marketing Hub.

We broke it down like this:

The sales team really liked Hubspot CRM and it was cheaper. I love Pardot and Hubspot for marketing. But I have a soft spot for Hubspot, because I lived right by their HQ in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for seven years, up to 2015. 

Also, they have brilliant explainer articles, videos, and templates I’ve been using for many years. I also read Brian Halligan’s book ‘Inbound Marketing’ back in 2010, and immediately I was a convert!

Here were a few of the pricing options once we narrowed it down to Hubspot:

And here’s a few examples of how we weighed up the options in a more Qualitative way.

Negotiating all the different parties and teams within the company and Hubspot was quite a challenge. Luckily, the negotiations workshop I attended whilst an MBA student at Northeastern University Business School, run by Professor Wertheim, kicked in.

The agreement went down the wire, and we signed the last thing at the end of the quarter. We secured an excellent 20% discount. £42,000 for a two-year contract, which Italy followed shortly afterwards. I worked closely assisting with the Italian team's roll-out, too, just a month later. 

The next step was actually rolling it all out and migrating all our data from Pipedrive. I took Six Hubspot certificates over Christmas, so I’d be on top of it, including; Marketing Automation, Reporting, Inbound Marketing, Sales Hub admin and so on. 

I managed to hook it up to our WordPress site, Migrated all our data from Pipedrive, integrate it with all our social media and Digital Ads Campaigns and create subdomains and branded landing pages, a blog site and email templates.

- How long should it have taken, according to Hubspot? 3 months.

- How long did we take? Six weeks - one of my direct reports was out for three of those weeks with COVID-19

It would have been a month had not one of my team contracted Covid.

So how does this Startup Marketing Automation Engine work today? We’ve been ‘Live’ for two weeks. Here's my latest Marketing Operations company-wide report;

  1. We started off promoting our new Retail X Sustainability report (Top 50 retailers on eco-friendly commerce) when our site went live a few weeks ago. 
  2. InPost has yielded 125 leads and counting since going live two weeks ago, through contacts downloading the Report through our promotions. Seventy-seven of those are Marketing Qualified Leads: We have brought the cost per lead down from £25/Lead to £6.25.
  3. We have put together a comprehensive plan to promote, market and generate leads for our new contactless returns, ‘Instant Drop.’ campaign.
  4. I have set up automation flows for our Sales team, which has already created five good Opportunities with decision-makers at our target accounts (Account-based Marketing Campaigns).
Marketing Automation & CRM IT Consulting Project - Key Takeaways
  • Yes, it was stressful and hard work (I only took three days off over the Christmas period & worked many long days and almost every weekend), but we rolled this out in record time.
  • Make sure you are completely on top of the software before you complete the setup - in my case, I took Hubspot Certifications. But you may have other ways to accomplish this and be confident in your mastery of Hubspot.
  • Utilise the Hubspot team. Our Account Executive, Andy Boland, with whom I negotiated our package, and our Senior Customer Onboarding Specialist, Giada Tedesco, were both outstanding.
  • Work with evangelists in your own company. One salesperson helped me every step of the way. Our IT lead and web manager also pitched in nobly. 
  • Don't lose heart. I now have a delighted sales and marketing team and the warm fuzzy feeling of having done a great job. It was well worth all our hard work - nothing beats that feeling!
Find out more about Marketing for startups here. Or CRM and Marketing Automation Solutions for your company here.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

How are you doing working from home?

Anyone who's read my blog will know I'm a data nerd. I'm extremely grateful to all the business professionals in my network who answered this survey for me earlier this week and who are continuing to answer the survey. 

If there are any major shifts in insight, I will update this blog based on your new responses. I hope you find the results as fascinating as I do. Please click on the charts, and they will enlarge. This should help you to see them properly, particularly on mobile devices.

Companies seem to be doing a good job of enabling their employees to work from home effectively. You can see some of the challenges that they face, including social isolation. Some of your other responses that stood out for me included:

  • Seeing people live, interacting with them. Feeling the vibe in the team.
  • Not being able to have face to face meetings with clients and in some cases colleagues too.
  • I prefer working from home so no issues
  • People and mental breaks with others.
  • Co-worker engagement. Time and space to separate work from home.
  • Nice to work face to face particularly at the start of new assignments
  • Physical stand up desk, appropriate chair, internet reliability and performance.
  • Direct contact with coworkers- ability to meet in person to go over drawings.
  • Frequent and informal communication.
  • Contact with others, commute, Coffee breaks with friends

Everyone seems pretty happy about their WFH arrangements and not any more pessimistic about the future than they were back in March. 

The top challenges you are struggling with include Social Isolation and Internet connectivity. I get the struggles of wifi, for sure!

As before, under 'other' you've put given us some wonderful insights into how you're coping with working from home during this pandemic. I found some of your responses funny and others, a bit ominous.

  • Efficiency of others - this is a bit scary!
  • Difficulty staying focused because I am at home all the time
  • Missing the face to face communication, which can mean better communication overall.
  • Too much meetings  - Love this one!
  • Informal communication is harder,
  • Creating a good work life balance
  • Sensing other actual demeanour and appetite for the work is more difficult when not face to face.
  • I work more, with less breaks so the burn out is around the corner...
  • Difficulty repairing staff computer when either of us are not in the office.
  • printing - Who doesn't get frustrated with printers? Luckily my home HP printer is working fine right now!

I've also been running this same poll on Twitter. So far 1,285 people have answered. Here are the results:

In the charts above, I was first pleasantly surprised at how open everyone was about talking about their mental health. I was expecting to see this result that your mental health has suffered through the pandemic. There's been a lot of discussion in the media this year. However, poor mental health did not look nearly as much of a problem as you'd imagine by looking at all the media reports on this.

What I thought was great news, was that your physical health and wellbeing seemed to be actually improving whilst working from home. Perhaps you have more time to exercise and you do not have to spend so much time sitting, stuck in cars or trains, commuting to work?

It was interesting how your work patterns have adjusted to a purely work from home situation.  I imagine some of you who are almost entirely not working to a regular 9-5 schedule has the type of work that supports that 

- Perhaps architects or software programmers? - I know from working with them, that they (software programmers) often love to work late at night, for example.

You can take the survey here.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Want to invest in High-tech & Cybersecurity?


Start trading on eToro now. Make thousands of pounds a month on a small investment, just like I have. No long hours. No Boss. I can trade whenever & wherever I want.
Check out my Cybersecurity investment webinar below 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Dummies Guide to Office 365, Cybersecurity investment guide, Gartner report on cool cybervendors, & more

You will find my June 2020 investment guide below. It outlines my investment philosophy: Investing only in businesses that I have worked in or worked with, that I have researched thoroughly. 

The reason for that is that my analytics skills developed whilst taking an MBA and working as a Financial analyst, together with real-world experience of working with these companies, give me a unique investing edge. 

That's why I have concentrated on the US High-Tech sector, and primarily companies that have recently been listed on the Nasdaq. I was paid handsomely for this work by a US investor. But you can get it for free, here. 

....along with some other guides that I think will help you understand the cybersecurity and cloud-computing sectors. 

Find out how I accomplished 'a four-hour workweek' investing in Cyber Security Stocks. Top Cybersecurity companies. For more information go to my website.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Sir Ronald Cohen, founder of UK's largest Venture Capital Company, at Oxford University.

Apax Venture Capital, $51 Billion in assets.

I was lucky to get an invite to this exclusive video call from Exeter College, Oxford University, where Sir Ronald Cohen was an undergraduate.

After graduating with an MBA from Harvard Business School, Cohen worked as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company in the UK and Italy. 

In 1972, along with two former business school colleagues as partners, he founded Apax Partners, one of Britain's first venture capital firms. 

The company grew slowly at first, but expanded rapidly in the 1990s, becoming Britain's largest venture capital firm, and "one of three truly global venture capital firms". 

Apax provided startup capital for over 500 companies and provided money for many others, including AOL, Virgin, Waterstone's, and PPL Therapeutics, the company that cloned Dolly the sheep. 

My favourite part of the discussion was when Sir Ronald Cohen was talking about his career progression. Ronald said that Oxford was the more intellectually challenging of the two institutions he attended. He said that Harvard Business School was more 'like a trade school'. 

Sir Ronald made the world's most prestigious business school sound like a place you go to learn how to become an electrician or a plumber. 

Actually, Harvard Business School has the most famous MBA programme in the world where titans of industry, like Steve Schwartzman, founder of The Blackstone Group, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, all studied.

To be fair, Ronald said later that he wouldn't have achieved the success he did if he hadn't attended Harvard Business School. If you are eighteen or nineteen at Oxford, studying a subject like PPE, you would have had such a variety of intellectual stimulations. But getting an MBA is a much more focused endeavour. 

Below: Steve Schwartzman, Founder of Blackstone Group. Steve set up scholarships with LSE, and Tsinghua University, in China, creating a Master's degree in Global Affairs.

This webinar suffered somewhat from the same malaise as the Steve Schwartzman of The Blackstone Group interview that I attended at the LSE a few years ago. 

Just like the LSE student who interviewed the founder of Blackstone two years ago, Sir Ronald Cohen's interviewer was a little too deferential for my liking.

- Don't you find that these types of talks are more entertaining when the interviewer throws in a few hardball questions along with the softball ones? 

Also, these interviews with the Super-rich talking about how awful inequality is, have been done to death. Many would argue that the wealthy are part of the problem, not the solution.

I would have loved to hear more about his career and the birth of the VC industry in the UK, which he described in his excellent book 'Second bounce of the ball: Turning risk into Opportunity'

I'm sceptical of how much millionaires and billionaires can do to alleviate inequality. I think government can do more to 'level the playing field'.

On a macro-level, I wonder how effective will these initiatives be? But I'm still open-minded, and Sir Ronald did make some excellent points, worth considering, on how social investing can benefit society. 

Investors are increasingly considering all aspects of the businesses they back - not just how much money it makes, but also how much the industry contributes to society. 

Is the company a significant polluter, like BP or Shell? Or does it have a vision for a greener future, like Tesla, which has seen its share price grow 300% this year? 

Here's Sir Ronald Cohen's new book: Impact: Reshaping Capitalism to drive real change.

and his previous one, which I enjoyed reading: The Second Bounce of the Ball: Turning Risk into Opportunity.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Video spikes during sporting events - Velocix can help your network

Video traffic peaks during sports events

Viewing spikes during big sports games like the NFL and The World cup can reduce video quality. Hybrid-cloud architectures provide the solution combining the quality and efficiency of dedicated infrastructure with the flexibility of cloud-based services. Find out more in our newest blog post.

Velocix will be making a major splash at Mobile World Congress this year. Click on the image above to find out more about the event.

Velocix was recently sold by Nokia to Constellation Software, a $30 Billion Canadian company that makes brilliant bets on new technology.

The Video Streaming business is set to increase exponentially in the next ten years. Why not come and meet the team and me there early next year? Let me know if you're interested by clicking here.

Learn how you can strengthen your revenues using highly targeted ads that can command a 50% price premium. Download the report.

Friday, June 12, 2020



It was in November last year that I got the opportunity to go to a Q&A screening of Parasite, the forensic dissection of class conflicts that went on to be the first foreign-language film in history to win the Oscar for Best Picture. The invitation was the result of a no-show so I had no expectations beyond a vague impression that the film had been critically well-received. The Oscar nominations hadn’t been announced so when the movie started I thought it might be fairly decent, at the very least interesting.

That idea was immediately blown out of the water by this razor-sharp and constantly inventive satire on the divisions between rich and poor. The film was brilliant. When looking back at past Best Picture winners it is rarer than one might imagine finding a film with such universal critical praise, often there’s a feeling that some other movie should have won. In the case of Parasite, even in a strong year, there was no doubting its worthiness.

Not only had I been privileged to see the best film I’d seen in a fair few years but following it was a Q&A with the Director Bong Joon-ho and two of the film’s stars, Song Kang-ho (who plays Ki-taek, the father of the struggling Kim family who inveigles themselves into the lives of the ultra-wealthy Parks) and Lee Jung-eun who plays the Parks’ family housekeeper.

The Q&A got off to a shaky start when the film journalist leading the session mistook the actress playing the housekeeper for the one who played the mother of the Kim family. The actress, Lee Jung-eun brushed this off with a joke about how “I am clearly such a talented actress that I have transformed before your very eyes from the mother into the housekeeper.”

Having seen the sly humour in Parasite, it came as no surprise that both actors demonstrated a willingness to send themselves up. The actor playing the Kim patriarch acknowledged his own looks which lean more towards “interesting” rather than handsome, perfect for continual use as a character actor in Bong Joon-ho’s films. As the actor joked, “I don’t want you to think we are all as strange-looking in Korea. I assure you the rest of the country are beautiful Brad Pitts compared to me.”

When the questions came round to the Director himself, Bong Joon-ho gave every answer an admirable amount of thought, also displaying the same playfulness as his cast. When asked where his inspiration for the story had come from, it turned out that this idea had been percolating for some considerable time.

“When I was in college,” explained Bong Joon-ho, “I worked as a tutor for the middle school-aged son of a strict, rich family, getting a glimpse into a luxurious world far beyond my own. I imagined what would happen if I just brought in my friends one by one.” Bong joked that he didn’t last very long as a tutor.
“I got fired after just two days because I talked to that boy a lot!” he said, bursting into laughter. “Great conversation with the boy!”

Bong name-checked Alfred Hitchcock as a huge influence on all his films but Parasite in particular, “Hitchcock always gives me very strange inspiration. I rewatched Psycho because the Bates house, not the motel, it had a very interesting structure. That house is an incredibly important character in itself just like the Parks’ house is in Parasite.”

The Director was also at pains to remind us that there are no true antagonists in his film but rather shades of grey, something which came across very clearly. As he said, “In this film, it’s very difficult to separate the good ones from the bad ones. Even the rich characters are not your conventional, typical, greedy villains that you see onscreen. I was sympathetic to everyone. I identified with every character, to some degree, but at the same time I also maintained a sense of distance from all of them as well.”

When asked if he had always had the fantastic lead actor, Song Kang-ho, in mind for the lead role, Bong answered, “I did give it a lot of thought, but because this film starts with a story of average neighbours and builds to something extreme, to cover that wide range, I thought Song Kang-ho would be the best to handle it. Especially in the climax, his character doesn’t have any lines, it’s the subtle changes in his muscles, the subtle tremors, that have to convince the audience of the entire film. Song has that strength as an actor.”

“He’s just used to working with me,” the actor laughed it off modestly, “I’m a comfortable fit like a worn-out old shoe.”

Of course, the truth is Song Kang-ho was the only actor who could play this role just as Bong Joon-ho was the only auteur who could dream up this creation.

In the same way, the film, like all great films, left me hungering for more, so the Q&A session ended far too soon. The whole audience headed back out into the night invigorated and inspired by the plethora of ideas bubbling up in this incredible movie. Along with this ever-expanding legion of new converts, I await Bong Joon-ho’s next project with growing anticipation.

By David Parker 

Saturday, June 06, 2020

10 Stock Picks in the Covid-19 Crisis

My first experience of investing in the stock market was terrible. Back when I was young and naive, I got a lump sum after my brother decided He wanted to sell a property we owned together. I did not know what to do with my half of the proceeds of that sale.

So, on the advice of an old family friend, who I trusted at the time and who was well versed in business and finance, I invested the money with a broker at a well-known Bank.

Unfortunately, the fund did poorly, and it lost most of the money. Besides, I had to go through an elaborate ritual (sending faxes, etc.) to extract my own money from this Bank. Not only was my broker charging a significant fee, but he was also arrogant and uncooperative whenever I asked him why he was losing my money. 

Has your fund manager lost most of your money?

I learnt one fact then that has stayed with me and now has been absolutely confirmed by one of my own investment gurus, Nassim Nicholas Taleb (of 'Fooled by randomness' and 'Black swan' fame): Be wary trusting people's advice when they have no 'skin in the game'. 

It's easy giving people advice on other people's money. It's even easier managing someone's money when they don't have a lot. A bigwig might ruin your reputation. But if you lose a small-time investors money, 99 times out of a 100, you'll have zero repercussions. 

In the twenty years since that broker lost my money, I put myself through business school, took an internship at a US investment bank in New York City, graduated with an MBA in Finance and worked for several years as a financial analyst.

I trade stocks myself now with my own account. My portfolio is up 50% since the Pandemic, while the S&P is down 10%. The UK FTSE 100 is in even worse shape, down about 16% over the year. Most fund managers have lost money this last year. The UK property market is also underwater, maybe even by as much as 20%, no one knows the exact figures for that yet.

I have used my experience in Cyber Security to select some reasonably safe, but high returning Cyber stocks. I have invested in Gold as a hedge against currency devaluation due to massive government economic interventions.

Please also sign up for my Cyber Security Investments Webinar on Saturday, July 18th at 4pm UK/ 11am EST/ 8am PST talking specifically about my own investment strategies, mainly in the Cyber Security sector. 

This is not a 'snake oil' pitch. I am not claiming that my strategies are a foolproof way to make money. All I am saying is - here's what I'm investing my own money in and here's why I'm doing that, and up until now, it's been successful. 

This webinar is simply my attempt to stimulate a discussion on investments. Maybe, like me, you'll start making some good money from it. I'm keen to hear your views as well as your questions too. Perhaps I will learn more from you than you will learn from me?

Of course, you need to practice discretion and wisdom when investing your own money. You are the best judge of that decision. But why let some broker who doesn't value your money trade with it, especially when most fund managers can't even beat the S&P or FTSE 100 index? Why give them a fat commission for that? 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Five things to think of when you're moving country for work or study

MBA Class of 2008 dinner
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
(that's me second from left).

The first big move I made for my career was in 2005 when I decided to take two years out, to study for a full-time MBA in the USA. I hoped to work in the USA for a few years afterwards and get some good experience there.

If you gain a Master's degree in the US, you can work there for one year afterwards. Often foreign graduates are then 'sponsored' by their employer company to continue working in the USA with an H1B work visa.

I got a scholarship and a part-time job in the Marketing Department at Northeastern University - Office of Corporate Programs. So that also helped financially.

Returning from Boston to move back to London, 10 years later (2015), was a far bigger and more complicated affair. I was now married, with a 6-year-old son, with disabilities (ADHD and Dyspraxia) and a 9-year-old daughter.

My wife, Catherine, born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, had always wanted to live in the UK. She was running College recruiting at her company, Akamai, in 2015, when she was offered the chance to go to London, to run EMEA recruiting there, managing a team of twenty-five recruiters.

I found a great job too, setting up Lead generation in the UK and Europe, for a little-known Cybersecurity start-up called Zscaler, founded in 2008. It has since had an IPO and is now valued at twenty-three billion US dollars on The NASDAQ

This brings me to my next point:

1Paperwork: Other than the usual challenges of getting an MBA; Taking The GMAT, making the applications, writing the application essays, interviewing for the schools, finding the money to go; I'd say getting the Visa sorted out was the hardest part.

It required me completing a lot of complicated paperwork. Further down the road, when I finally got my US Permanent resident card ('Green Card'), it was even more problematic. There were so many hoops to jump through that I eventually had to hire an Immigration lawyer at considerable expense to expedite it.

Equally important, though not as hard; after two years of living in the country, I had to pass my US driving license - many years after passing my British driving test. Ironically I passed my UK Drivers license the first time. But my US one, I had to take twice!

Help, Where's my car? I need to get to work!

2The Weather; My second shock was rather more prosaic; I was just not prepared for Boston's weather. In the winter, it gets down to -25 C. You also have big snowstorms.

For example, during the last winter, I was in Boston, in 2015, over 14 feet (4 meters) of snow fell in the city. In the summer, you need air conditioning in your apartment. It gets up to 40 degrees centigrade.

3Get help: Make sure you employ all the service you can. For this, we used a corporate relocation company to manage our move. Moreover, we used an army of staff, from childcare professionals to cleaners.

Corporate relocations have experienced a paradigm shift in the last fifty years. In the twentieth century, the husband usually worked, and the wife, who did not, would manage a lot of the move.

Today, more often than not, you are dealing with 2 parents, who both have to manage demanding jobs. Consequently, anything that will save you time is an absolute necessity.

My son, Jack, in our dining room in Boston, Massachusetts, USA 

4.  Make sure you employ technology to your advantage. We live in a digital world for a reason. It's fast and efficient. Everything from using DocuSign to sign all our documents (including the sale of our house in Boston) to Skype or teams for all those international calls, to using video surveying tools to track where all our furniture was.

5. The importance of having flexible work. There is no way We would have managed this move so effectively without remote working.

I had two weeks of training in Austen, Texas, and I travelled back to Europe several times to run conferences there. Just after the move, I had to go from England to a Sales kick-off in Las Vegas.

During this time, I was partially renovating and selling our house. We were unhappy with our real estate agent, so we had to switch agents mid-way.

Throughout this, Zscaler allowed me to work remotely for the UK office, from Boston, USA, for almost four months. Zscaler's and Akamai's flexibility made a big difference to Catherine and me.

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Friday, April 10, 2020

Black Swans and the post-coronavirus Economy

"The problem with experts is that they do not know what they do not know."
― Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

The phrase "black swan" derives from a Latin expression from the 2nd-century Roman poet Juvenal's characterization of something being "rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno" ("a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan.").

When Juvenal wrote this, the black swan was presumed not to exist. The importance of the metaphor lies in its analogy to the fragility of any system of thought.  You can undo a set of conclusions once you can disprove any of its fundamental postulates. 

In 1697, Dutch explorers led by Willem de Vlamingh became the first Europeans to see black swans, in Western Australia. The term subsequently metamorphosed to connote the idea that a perceived impossibility might later be disproven.

A few days ago, I was reading the Estate agents Knight Frank's Economic prediction about Coronavirus's impact on the housing market. Knight Frank confidently predict that ‘House sales in the UK will collapse this year as the coronavirus pandemic puts the property market into a deep freeze. But prices will fall by only 3% and will rebound next year.’

My immediate thought was, how can they be this certain? Plus, isn't it a bit like going to a casino and asking the croupier whether playing roulette is a good idea’.

I am as wise as Socrates in only one way, and that is 'that I know that I know nothing'. However, at this juncture, I trust the Economist Nassim Taleb more than I do a bunch of estate agents. Just to get their new evaluation in perspective, this is what Knight Frank predicted in December 2019.

In 2000 Nassim wrote that the problem with the financial markets was that they treated their data and models like it was science. But their financial models always miss vital information that means that their analysis will always lack scientific rigour. Nassim Taleb speculated how the markets would handle a random, entirely unpredictable event and less than a year later we had 9/11. 

Then in 2007 in his classic book Nassim Nicholas Taleb talked about how the financial system was vulnerable to black swan events:

“Consider a turkey that is fed every day. Every single feeding will firm up the bird’s belief that it is the general rule of life to be fed every day by friendly members of the human race “looking out for its best interests,” as a politician would say. On the afternoon of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, something unexpected will happen to the turkey. It will incur a revision of belief.” (extract from the book).

Initially, when he wrote 'Black Swan', he was booed off stage by eminent economists and ostracized by the financial community.
Then in 2008, the entire global financial system collapsed and had to be bailed out to the tune of thirteen trillion US dollars.

Nassim Taleb argued recently in the New Yorker that this current pandemic is not actually a black swan since to use Donald Rumsfeld's terminology this was a 'known unknown' not an 'unknown unknown'. Nevertheless, it's still a risk factor that was hard to predict, and certainly, no mainstream analysts were predicting this pandemic or factoring it into their Financial modeling, prior to December 2019.

Therefore, I would be skeptical of any financial analyst writing with confidence about the future. His salary is paid by those who benefit from them putting one view across to us.

Where the price level will settle after the pandemic, and when it might pick up, is anyone's guess. The real pain will be felt by those going into negative equity, not able through reduced income to pay down the mortgage, and unable to sell without triggering bankruptcy - perhaps this will apply most to owners of commercial property, due to the shift to work from home?

This would apply to heavily geared buy-to-let landlords, facing falling rental income but with fixed debt repayments. Those who have taken on mortgages at large multiples of income or landlords who have relied on substantial capital gains to protect against insolvency will, or ought to be, very worried at the moment.