Technology Archive

Varidesk Pro Review – Standing Desks Improve Productivity


This not my real desk. Far too tidy!

In my usual New Year resolution mode, I decided early in January to try and improve my workspace at home in an attempt to increase productivity. I’ve heard about treadmill desks from a number of articles (including this one by Danny Sullivan) and decided to delve a little deeper.

Much research later, I decided to stick with just the standing desk.


I live in Madrona, which is a very pretty part of Seattle, and felt I really should be getting out more. I now make a point of going for a 30 minute walk around the neighborhood pretty much every day.

I decided to buy the Varidesk, not just because of price (it’s just $300), but because all the reviews that I had read said that the design was a really solid and easy to operate.

The Pro version, which is really just a bigger version of the regular one, showed up as promised a few days after ordering. It took very little trouble to get it on my home desk, and it worked perfectly within about 10 minutes of arranging my monitor and various peripherals in a nice and tidy fashion.

You can download an app by Varidesk which pops up now and again telling you when to sit down and stand up based on your preferences, but I now find I don’t really use it because I’m pretty much standing most of the day.

Like others who have “seen the light”, I do find that I focus on completing tasks a lot better and I’m convinced standing for five-odd hours a day has contributed, along with a dry January and fitness regime, to me losing 10 pounds this year so far.

The good thing for Varidesk is now anyone who sees my work setup has said they’d want one! I really think they are well-placed to sell a hell of a lot of these things, especially given they are so much cheaper and easier to install than the competition.

So what are you waiting for? Ready to stand up for a living and reap the rewards? Sitting could be lethal!

TEDxSeattle Highlights: My Top Three TEDx Seattle Talks

One of the highlights of my career was to have been privy to the behind-the-scenes activity at a TED conference in Cannes a few years ago.

Sitting at the back of the room next to Emily MacManus (who was Tweeting for @TEDTalks) was such a treat, as was interviewing some of the speakers – Nicholas Christakis, Naveen Selvadurai and Stefana Broadbent – all who gave me some unique insight into what it was like to be there up on stage.

Fast forward a year or two and June Cohen appears in the book I’ve co-authored – Pioneers of Digital – telling her story about how she brought the talks into the online video arena and generated over one billion views of TED Talks on the web.

So when I was invited to attend TEDxSeattle I was pretty intrigued to see what an independently organized event would turn out like………and it was very good!


Aside from a hiccup at registration in the morning, the Seattle TEDx event was well executed by a merry band of enthusiastic volunteers and curators from the local area. The venue was The Children’s Theatre down by the Seattle Center and we were comfortable in our seats for the three “Acts” that were about to unfold before our inquiring minds.

Quite rightly, we were asked not to take photos (the above was taken just prior to starting) or live Tweet, so I furiously took down as many notes as I could.

My brother-in-law (Josh LaBelle from the Seattle Theatre Group) and I stayed  until the end of the second set of talks, so we didn’t see all of them.

Here were my three highlights:

Matt Chan

Creator of the reality show “Hoarders”, Matt’s talk caught my attention before he came on stage as it was called “What Great Storytellers Know” and he immediately had us hooked with his philosophy of tapping into shared experiences and trying to engage with an audience on a deeper level. The reason why “hoarders” is so successful is that we all hoard at different levels. We all have that drawer with knickknacks we can’t get rid of; objects that hold some emotional currency. What the program does is suck us in through that lens and then take us on a crazy journey through the eyes of someone who’s got the hoarding thing way worse than us.

“Start with what you and your audience knows to get them engaged and then you can take them anywhere.”

What I liked about Matt was he was self-deprecating, funny and obviously very wise. A great storyteller to learn from.

Kelly Bloom, PHD

This was thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking. Kelly came on stage to talk about “Lost and Found: Awakening the In-between”. A computer science drop out, Kelly’s second attempt at higher education found herself studying parks and leisure. Why, as she has said has happened in the past, some people find that kind of thing dull and boring I don’t know. I’m personally fascinated by what might seem an obscure study paths.

Kelly’s ethos was that parks are places where we can most be able to be ourselves. Where we’re one with nature, strolling, having fun and being able to rest our minds. In my talks about social media, I’m always banging on about authenticity in communications, so it was fascinating to hear Kelly giving us some tips on how to “make space” for being authentic and happy in our lives. She mentioned a story about playing basketball with a polar bear (yes it really happened) and how that day she’d decided to be open to more experiences.

She taught us a new word – liminality – and talked of the time while staring at a rock on the bottom of the Grand Canyon that was billions of years old, she realized she was temporary in the world and encouraged us to embrace our tiny time on this earth and attempt to be peaceful, joyous and generous.

Apparently her appearance at TEDxSeattle happened because she met one of the organizers on a plane. Hope and pray Kelly’s sitting next to you on your next flight. It’ll change your life.

Greg Gottesman

Previous to Greg’s talk on student debt, the hilarious data scientist Nick Berry had talked about all the data on the internet running to a zettabyte soon, which is (if one grain of sand is a byte) the equivalent to every grain of sand on every beach in the entire world.

So he set Greg up nicely for his rousing speech (visually enhanced by HaikuDeck) which talked about the ONE TRILLION DOLLARS students in the USA owe post-education.

Now, some TEDTalks inspire, some make you laugh, some make you cry, this just made me angry.

Angry that the rise in tuition fees is so disproportionate to the rise in anything else like wages or house prices.

Angry that student debt is the only debt that can’t be cancelled out by bankruptcy. Not that I think students should be able to take an easy way out, but that the law lets some businesses get away with taking risks, while the youth of today are lumbered for simply trying to make their way in the world and achieve the American Dream.

Greg, MD of VC firm Madrona Ventures Group, did a great job of spelling out the depth of the issue and pledging to do his bit to try and affect change. Here’s a link to his deck.

We were all fired up as we left his talk for the break and I’m already onto my financial advisor about starting to save for my 22 month old daughter’s education!

So there you have my three highlights. The other talks were good. I’d encourage the organizers to be be even more vigilant of thinly-veiled company sales pitches. Company names on some slides wasn’t cool. But the pace, balance and attention to detail of the event were all first class.

Can’t wait until next year!

Book Update, Happy New Year and Fitbit

We’re already four days into 2013, I’ve just done a five mile run on the shores of Lake Washington and I’m writing this before delving back into some fascinating client work.


The book is going well and we have started releasing excerpts from each of the Pioneers so you can get a flavour of what their chapter is about.

Here are the first four: Thomas Gensemer from Blue State Digital, June Cohen from TED, Denzyl Feigelson from AWAL and Avinash Kaushik from Google.

We’ll update you next week with another four and so on. We hope they spur you on to buy the book and share it with friends and family. Winking smile

I’ll be travelling with my family to the UK in a couple of weeks as we have our official “Pioneers of Digital” book launch at JWT’s offices in Knightsbridge, plus I have some client meetings.

The other thing is, I have bought a Fitbit pedometer and think it is simply awesome!


The idea is it tracks your steps and keeps you motivated once it’s synced with your computer or iPhone (which I don’t have ;-() It’s all part of my plan to lose 30lbs in the next 6 months. 30lbs sounds a lot but I want a big goal to aim for.

Pretty much my whole US family is travelling to Phoenix for the 1/2 marathon at the start of March so I’m using that as a goal for fitness and weightloss (and so I don’t have to drag quite so much weight around with me).

Check out the site and see all their different options. I’ve had it since Christmas and it literally doesn’t leave my side!

Happy New Year. Thanks for all the support in 2012. Here’s to a cracking 2013!

Book Reviews and Articles for Pioneers of Digital

It’s been quite a year! Getting laid off, starting my own business and publishing a book that has got great reviews!


The book has been going well according to our publishers and we’re very pleased with all the coverage we have got.

Check this lot out:

USA Today – “Pioneers of Digital makes for compelling reading about fascinating innovators. Their curiosity, passion, drive and enthusiasm for using technology in creative ways to help people connect and interact is both contagious and inspirational.” – 2012 The First Digital Election

The Huffington Post – Pioneers of Digital: June Cohen and How TED Talks Reached You via Online Video

Publishers Weekly – “If you embrace new media and the spell it has cast over advertising and the world in general, this may be your lucky day. Readers will feel like kids in a digital candy shop.”

ForeWord Reviews – “Springer and Carson have done a commendable job of collecting diverse examples representing a wide array of fascinating applications while drawing general conclusions about digital innovation. “Our aim with this book is to inspire,” write the authors. Most readers will find Pioneers of Digital does exactly that.

BlogBusinessWorld – “This book will guide you on a digital voyage around the world, across platforms, and many disciplines as you learn from the successes of the true pioneers of digital.”

TopRankBlog – Pioneers of Digital: How Vanessa Fox Helped Google and SEOs Realize They Were a Perfect Match

SmallBizTrends – “Readers interested in social media or seeking interesting business people for professional inspiration will be more that satisfied. Ultimately read Pioneers of Digital to know what it takes to truly stand out in your field.

Techipedia – Pioneers of Digital: How to be Part of the Next Generation of Internet Entrepreneurs

Contagious Magazine – “The book provides an interesting series of anecdotes focusing on excellent work and success stories along with the lessons that can be learned to have an impact on the digital industry and the wider world.”

If you have read our book, we’d love you to add your thoughts to the other reviews on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Thanks so much to everyone for your support this year.

Here’s to a fantastic 2013 for everyone!

My 5 Start Up Tips for Any Small Business or Consultancy After 3 Months of Going Solo

Yesterday marked exactly 3 months since I kicked off my foray as a start-up by setting up my small business as a consultancy specialising in social media, digital PR and personal branding.

In those 3 months I have learned many things, so thought I could give a little back by jotting down 5 tips based on my experience.


Long and Winding Road

1 – Believe in Yourself

Sounds obvious right? But you need to have the courage of your convictions during the first three months because it isn’t going to be smooth sailing. You have to get your head around a ton of new stuff from accounting, to invoicing, to marketing, to sitting in a café on your own, to the highs of getting a proposal accepted, to the lows of not having phone calls or emails returned.

You shouldn’t be going solo unless you really think you can do it, and really thinking you can do it means you have to have done lots of research and have psyched yourself up into a frenzy of self-belief.

 2 – It’s OK If You Fail

Really it is. I had a lot of self-belief when I left Microsoft, but what has also kept me going is that friends and family have admired my courage and helped me understand that if I gave it my best shot, if I was truly prepared and gave it everything I had and it didn’t work out, then at least I could say I tried.

How many people do you know have started their own business even though they have had a slew of lucrative job offers waiting in the wings? I bet it’s not many. So to branching out on your own is a pretty unique escapade in the grand scheme of things, so if you fail, you fail, but people will think more of you for having given it your best try, and you will think more of yourself.

3 – Know Your Value

When you start your own business a curious thing happens. People get a whiff that you’re just starting out and try and get your services for free or at radically reduced fees “because you need the experience right?”

My advice is to stick to your guns and know your value. If you truly trust your experience and worth then charge accordingly and don’t do free stuff as it sends you on a spiral you’ll find it difficult to get out of.

I don’t charge by the hour. I charge by the project or on a retainer basis because if you charge by the hour, there are only so many hours in the week that you can bill for. You’re restricting your potential and your value to time.

With 12 years experience in digital marketing, companies are paying for that experience and my connections. That doesn’t translate into an hourly rate. It translates into a fee that adds that experience and value into that client’s company and people.

Know what you’re worth and know that you’ll respect yourself better if you turn down work because it cheapens your value.

4 – Keep It Small

After I left Microsoft, I must have asked 50 people for their opinion on what I was about to do. Many had small businesses, agencies or consultancies themselves and most of them them asked if I had grand plans for Delightful. When I said I did, I was repeatedly warned to keep it small. It might sound awesome to be heading up an agency of 25 people with hundreds of clients being billed tens of thousands of dollars a month, but how much of that money is actually going to go into your pocket? How many of those clients are you actually going to interface with? How much of your experience and value will actually be used on real work?

Chances are you’ll be the CEO and buried in payroll, tax disputes, legal wranglings, HR issues and marketing conundrums, instead of actually doing any of the work you love to do. Chances also are that, unless you plan on selling the business, you could earn as much, if not more by being a one man band with a couple of contractors on hand for busy periods.

Keeping it small reduces headaches I’m told and I’ve not had to reach for the professional Advil once in the last 90 days.

5 – Know Your Niche

When setting up your business really try and research your market to find a niche. I knew setting out that if my business specialised in something I could potentially charge more. It would be crystal clear exactly what I did and (sometimes more importantly) what I didn’t do, and it created talking points with potential clients that built trust because I was demonstrating I understood their business problems and could really, REALLY help.

I’ve hung my consultancy on three specific pillars: Social Media Integration, Digital PR and Personal Branding. I tell the story that these were the three areas I had the most success with during my time at Microsoft and it’s true that businesses struggle very often with these channels. I’m not a catch-all marketing agency. I won’t set up your Twitter account or Facebook page. I won’t manage your social online reputation on an on-going basis, but I will set you up and teach you how to do that. I know my niche.

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P.S. Also, read “Million Dollar Consulting” by Alan Weiss. The book sounds ghastly but was recommended to me by Jun Young, so I thought I’d pick up a copy. It’s a remarkable read packed full of advice from how to market yourself, how to write a killer proposal so it gets accepted and how to navigate the minefield of fees and what to charge.

Nokia Lumia 920 Review – Solid Camera & Fab Business Phone

It’s been a little over a week since I picked up the new Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone from AT&T and I’ve been putting it through its paces. Whenever I get it out people ask me what I think, so I’ve consolidated those thoughts in this post that I hope you find useful when thinking about buying one.


The major selling point for the Lumia 920 is the camera. I was given the Lumia 900 when I worked at Microsoft so I could evangelise about it and I found the camera to be lacking.

18 months ago I’d  picked up the original Samsung Focus and the camera was faultless. It did me proud through the birth (not the ACTUAL birth) of my daughter and her first year on the planet. When I got the Lumia 900, it took so long to take the picture the adorable thing Maggie was doing was over and she’d invariably left the room!

I can happily report that the Lumia 920 has got its camera act together and it takes good photos. I have a Panasonic Lumix G2 with pancake lens that takes amazing photos. So it should, it’s an expensive camera. The 920 is a phone with a camera, so don’t expect Leica quality.

Let me take you through a few photos I’ve taken. The coffee cup above was the first photo I took and it’s not bad. Notice the slight blurring of the background. Nice!

Nothing to See Here!


I’ve been told my hosting service is doing some upgrade work tomorrow, so the site may be down for a bit.

Follow all the latest on Twitter…….

Seattle Interactive Conference–Speaking on Pioneers of Digital #sic2012

After nineteen months of living in this town I’ve finally bagged a speaking slot at a Seattle event next week…..


The Seattle Interactive Conference is a fabulous couple of days full of insight and cutting edge discussion and I’m thrilled to be talking about Pioneers of Digital on Tuesday 30th at 10.10am in Room 205.

Here’s the blurb:

Tales of the Unexpected from Pioneers of Digital

By 2016 there will be six billion mobile devices, two billion PCs and nearly a billion tablets in the world. As internet consumption keeps growing and the web becomes more crowded, brands will need to stand out and be brilliant like never before.

Taking us on a whirlwind journey showcasing campaigns and Pioneers of Digital from all over the globe, Mel Carson – founder of Delightful Communications & former Microsoft Digital Evangelist – will demonstrate how these examples have stood out and been successful by adapting quickly to new technology and consumer trends.

My talk on the book at the Online Marketing Summit earlier this week went very well. I was slightly disappointed at the lack of real-time tweets until someone pointed out that they were all actually listening to the stories I was telling, so that was nice to hear!

“Captivating” seems to be a word people are using most to describe the content and that’s exactly what Paul Springer and I set out to create!

I hope to see you in person next week at #sic2012, if not you can buy the book and leave a comment on the blog as to what you think and who we should include in the sequel!

Thanks to Morgan Bradley at BPR for helping me get the slot at the Seattle Interactive Conference too.

That Howie has some rock stars working for him you know!

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