Demystifying the blockchain

You’ve probably heard the terms bitcoin and blockchain but have no idea what they mean. Don’t worry, when I met up with Helen Disney, founder of Unblocked Events, I had to politely ask her explain it to me (really simply). In layman’s terms bitcoin is a digital currency and blockchain is a public ledger listing all bitcoin transactions. Helen is a female entrepreneur in an industry dominated by men, but she’s on a mission to make blockchain technology accessible for a non-technical business audience with her new company Unblocked Events, which is a hub for events, education and information.

Tell us about your career and how you became interested in blockchain technology

My career has been largely based around influencing ideas and generating public debates. I started off working for a think tank in Westminster, looking at how to reform public services like the NHS, education and welfare to try to make them more responsive to their users. I then used that experience to go into journalism as a leader writer for The Times and a contributor to other newspapers and magazines. I wrote about everything from pension reform to the MMR jab, drug courts and the ‘Metric Martyr‘. After leaving The Times I took the leap into launching my first business which was a pan-European hub connecting think tanks and policy institutes. But after I had my children I started to crave a change into something new so I took a break from being a full-time CEO to think about what I wanted to do next. Into this gap, fell an opportunity to work on content and fundraising for a major European conference about the digital currency, bitcoin. It was during that project that I first started learning about what blockchain was and becoming excited about its innovative potential.

Can you explain to the uninitiated what blockchain is and what it can do?

Blockchain is the technology that underlies digital currencies like bitcoin. But it’s also more than that. You can think of a blockchain as a bit like a gigantic secure, decentralised database – imagine a Google spreadsheet shared by multiple users all able to access an accurate, real-time shared version of the information. This is useful because it allows many different sorts of innovations and improvements in existing business operations, but also opens up the chance for completely new business models. Imagine, for example, that you could access a hotel room using a smart key and never need to check in at the front desk or that you could trade excess energy from your solar panels automatically with local neighbours who need it and earn money from doing so, or that charities could automate responses to humanitarian crises and get money or supplies directly into the hands of those who need it at the touch of a button. All of these applications will become possible thanks to blockchain in combination with other new technologies like smart devices and smart contracts.

What prompted you to setup Unblocked Events and what are your plans for the future?

Three years after first learning about bitcoin, I founded Unblocked Events to share my learning and connect with other professionals wanting to gain an accessible understanding of this technology and build the new business services of the future. I felt that I had experienced a steep learning curve, as someone who is neither a programmer nor a financier and that most events out there about blockchain were aimed at these two groups. I see blockchain as too important not to be talked about at a level that the so-called average person can understand. By creating Unblocked I am building a wider community of interest in blockchain outside of simply financial services and acting as a bridge between the technical and non-technical worlds. Blockchain has a variety of applications in different sectors from healthcare, to energy, to philanthropy, to provenance of goods and so on. To me, it makes more sense to bring in real world examples and help people to understand what this technology can do for them, rather than getting overly bogged down in jargon.

Which women in business inspire you?

I’m particularly inspired by women who are pioneering in traditionally male-dominated fields, especially those who are honest about the difficulties of managing a personal and professional life, and having an online presence in the era of trolling. I tend to prefer Twitter for technology and political news and Instagram more for the creative side of life.

In tech, I follow Meltem Demirors who is an expert in the digital currency and blockchain field.

In politics, I love the ever-ballsy Jess Phillips MP.

On Instagram l I follow Type Tasting which was founded by my friend Sarah Hyndman.


Helen’s work

unblockedevents.com
facebook.com/UnblockedEvents
twitter.com/unblockedevents

Healthcare Unblocked Event: 13 October in London. It will look at how blockchain is set to transform healthcare in a whole variety of ways from improving the integrity of clinical trials, to changing the way healthcare insurance operates and allowing us to take charge of our own medical data.

Top 10 Takeaways from Blogtacular

I attended Blogtacular last weekend (a blogging and online conference in London). Rather than write a blog post detailing my thoughts on the event I thought it would be fun (and a good way to test out new skills) to try my hand at recording a Podcast. I used the Opinion App on my phone, so bear with the quality. I think it sounds OK and it goes to show what you can do with mobile technology these days (record, edit, overlay music and share).

Stop dreaming, start doing

The Step Up Club is a fresh, new voice in the women’s career conversation. We are here to celebrate all women – whatever your job. The two of us sit at either ends of the creative/corporate spectrum: we know that it’s just as valid to aspire to career contentment, as it is to want to become your company’s next CEO. We are the authors of the newest women’s career manual: Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day. Through our stylish events, online content and newsletter, our aim is to make women feel empowered, boost their skill set and broaden their network to really love their work and life.

Phanella is a former lawyer and banker who retrained as an executive career coach, working (alongside The Step Up Club) on women’s leadership and diversity with all kind of big companies as well as individuals. Alice is a former fashion features editor at The Times, Marie Claire and Red, who alongside The Step Up Club continues to write freelance for many of the broadsheets and glossies. Between us we have five children and live in North West London.

How has digital technology and social media changed the way you work?

Getting our message out there has definitely been enabled by social media and digital technology. Our book, of course, exists offline and contains a huge body of content, career workouts and advice. But without our blog and social feeds, it would be that much more difficult to get the more personal element of support out to our community of women – many of whom can’t make it to our events in person. We are working on a full online programme to reach and connect these women, but in the meantime we rely on these other channels to have an impact.

It is hard, when Instagram and similar feeds are bursting with edited images of life perfection from all corners of the world. It takes a mind of steel to remain completely unmoved by this – but as we say at the start of our book, finding success (and when we talk about success, we do so with a view to all facets of life) is about celebrating our own uniqueness and not allowing ourselves to have the lives of others impressed upon us negatively. Sure, it’s brilliant if other women inspire us to reach our own goals, but it is also important that we stay true to our own beliefs and values, which is why we spend a lot of time helping readers (and attendees at our events) unearth theirs. We like to refer to values as the hashtags of our lives: we can’t get away from social media, but we can let it help us guide us towards our own success.

What are your confidence building tips for women in business?

We feel passionately that confidence is an integral part of career success, fulfilment and enjoyment. Confidence turns our thoughts into actions, it is the emotional driver that we hold within ourselves and women do tend to struggle more acutely with confidence levels. Why? Because our internal thoughts, the ones that make us empathetic, kind, unique and brilliant, also have the capacity to hold us down. Who hasn’t succumbed to the voice inside their heads that says we aren’t good enough, or that that other person is much more capable? Of course, everyone has these thoughts but when we allow them to feel comfortable within our heads – when we let the proverbial devil dwell for too long – it has a negative impact on how we feel, how we function and in turn, how others respond to us too.

Confidence is not innate, which means that we all have the capacity to change our internal rhetoric and in turn, build our confidence. Also, in our book, we explore fully the practical tips that you can employ to also improve your confidence levels from the outside in. Neither will happen overnight, but if you can break the negative belief cycles that dictate your thoughts, and implement some positive physical changes – standing bigger, speaking more slowly and taking the time to really listening, all of us can become a more confident, self-assured version of your current self.

Finally, we believe that each of us is uniquely brilliant. We each have our own unique definition of success and if we play to that – no one else’s – then we will feel more confident about our careers.


Alice and Phanella are following…

Style Me Sunday: We love Nat’s no bullshit message, incredible sense of style and massive smile. She is gorgeous inside and out. We are especially loving her Friday finger slot.

Cherry Healey: We’ve both been watching Cherry on TV for years and she brings the same sense of humour, openness and honesty to her social feed and in real life.


The Step Up Club

We send out a weekly newsletter with loads of career advice, our latest blog posts, first dibs on our event tickets – they often sell out here first – and (coming soon) discounts on our favourite work related brands. At the moment we’re giving away an exclusive excerpt from our book that WILL help readers define their personal success when they sign up. Just follow this link: bit.ly/SuccessGiveaway.

Let’s get digital

Meet Claire Greville, a Digital Mums graduate who has since set up her own social media consultancy Greville Social in Bristol. Claire studied Accounting and Finance at university and had a successful career working in higher education, before making the difficult decision to take redundancy after they were unable to accommodate her flexible working request (sound familiar?). So with no idea of what she was going to do, but with a bit of time to reflect on what kind of job would suit her and her family, Claire stumbled across a Digital Mums Facebook advert, and the rest (as they say) is history.

Why did you choose Digital Mums and what was it like doing the course?

Funnily enough, I found Digital Mums through Facebook (I understand now that it was a cleverly targeted advert!). I was scrolling through my feed one afternoon in October 2015, when I spotted the details. It seemed almost too good to be true as it was exactly what I had been looking for – flexible, rewarding work which I could do from home. I immediately checked out their website and the course sounded really interesting, so I emailed for more information. I did lots of research about Digital Mums in the meantime, but I was getting more and more excited as I thought about it. I loved social media, and the prospect of being able to work for a business as part of the training was very appealing. I decided to apply, and a few weeks later, I was offered a video interview for a place on the course. I was quite nervous but I really needn’t have been. Nikki (one of the co-founders, pictured on the left below) was lovely, and before I knew it, I’d been offered a place on the Social Media Marketing: Associate Programme starting in January 2016.

Digital Mums co-founders: Nikki Cochrane and Kathryn Tyler.

The course itself was a fantastic but very intense experience. It was 20 weeks long, but run over six months, in order to accommodate some of the school holidays. The ‘live learning’ aspect was brilliant. I was paired with a business from the very first week of the course, and I was able to apply everything I learned each week straightaway, which meant that I retained all of the information I was taking in (and there was a lot!). It was also a great way to learn about managing clients and their expectations.

Every student is put into a peer group with five other mums, and my group ‘The Katherine Ryans’, was such a fantastic support. We spoke every week of the course, through Google Hangouts and WhatsApp, and I’m still in touch with them now. The course finished at the end of June and there was a scary final report to hand in, but I passed with flying colours. I took a few weeks off over the summer before starting work for a small digital agency based in London. I did that for a couple of months, but quickly realised that I would prefer to work for my own clients, so I set up my own social media consultancy, Greville Social.

I currently have three clients, all of whom I work for remotely. I still provide social media consultancy to the lovely business that I trained with: Cambridge Academic Performance. I’m just about to start running a new Facebook campaign for Green Ginger Design, a fantastic web designer based in East London. And I’m currently managing Facebook and Instagram for Eye Heroes, a small charity who are campaigning to prevent avoidable blindness in the UK. I’ve also recently been selected as a mentor for Digital Mums, working 1:1 to support another mum through the course and beyond.

My work/life balance is now exactly what I could only dream of two years ago. Gone are the ridiculously early morning starts, and the stressful commute. I now have time to walk my sons to school every day, before I settle down to work in my home office. I do most of my work during school hours, and all of my clients are happy for me to work remotely, keeping in touch with them via phone, video calls, and email. As my work is so flexible, I even have time to do a little bit of volunteering in the local area, helping out at my sons’ school, and also running a local community group’s Facebook page.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing a Digital Mums course?

Make sure you’re absolutely committed to doing the course. It will take over your life for six months and you need to be prepared to put the hours in every single week. It’s not something that you can do half-heartedly as you need to keep up with each week’s tasks and assignments. There isn’t time to fall behind, and the deadlines are strict.

I was fortunate that both my children were at school when I started the course so I studied during the day, but there were plenty of mums on the course with younger children. Just think about how you’ll manage to find the time to study as well as look after the kids. And don’t worry if you haven’t studied anything new for a long time – all the other mums will be equally as nervous as you are. But the support you will receive from your peers and Digital Mums both during the course and afterwards will increase your confidence ten-fold.

The support from the #DMCollective (Digital Mums graduates) continues to astound me every day, and I feel genuinely honoured to be part of such a talented and inspirational group of women. If you’re a mum looking to change your work/life balance, then I highly recommend the Digital Mums course. 

What are your top social media tips for small businesses?

  • Be selective: you don’t have to be on every platform. It’s far better to do two platforms well, than five poorly. Work out where your target audience is hanging out, and focus your time and efforts there.
  • Be consistent: establish a tone of voice and stick to it. Turn up every day – post at the same frequency, preferably at the same times, so that your followers know what to expect from you.
  • Be social: it is called social media after all! Don’t just promote yourself. Take an interest in others, join in conversations, and you’ll start to build relationships, which will pay off in the long run.

Claire is following… 

Mother Pukka: such an awesome inspiring lady who champions the Digital Mums #workthatworks movement. I love watching her Instagram stories.

Jools Oliver: is effortlessly stylish, and the sneak peeks into her life with Jamie and her five gorgeous children are fascinating.

Talented Ladies Club: I love their mixture of motivational quotes and practical advice, as well as inspirational stories about working mothers.


Claire’s work

grevillesocial.co.uk
facebook.com/grevillesocial
instagram.com/clairegreville
twitter.com/clairegreville

Building a community for parents

Meet Jenny Raymond, founder of Mamazou, an online parenting community for ‘practically imperfect parents’. She has experienced the usual highs and lows of setting up a business, but receiving industry recognition and being able to work flexibly around her daughter makes it all worthwhile.

Tell us about yourself 

I have always been a Londoner and I’m the middle of three children. I live in north-west London and have been married for almost six years. We have a gorgeous 3.5 year old daughter and hope to have another one in the future.

I was never a fan of school and I left education after my A-Levels to try and earn money. At 17, I thought that was a much better deal than going off to University. I started off in the recruitment industry as a receptionist for a while and then moved up to a compliance officer in the medical recruitment sector.

After two years there I moved onto bigger and better things and landed a career in the private banking world – I worked my way up and was there for almost six years. From there I moved to a family run business and now work in the accounts team whilst running Mamazou and being a full-time mum. I’m fortunate enough to work from home.

For those who don’t know, Mamazou is a community dedicated to supporting #perfectlyimperfectparents around the world. It offers access to forums, blogs, giveaways, discount codes, a shop and much more. The idea was born when I was pregnant with my daughter and I was searching for some advice online. Some of the parenting forums I came across were bitchy and judgemental and left me feeling isolated. It was then when I had my light bulb moment and I’ve been preaching positive vibes and tolerance on Mamazou since.

Mamazou launched originally in December 2014 but went quiet after a few months because the IT company I invested in went into liquidation. I’d lost everything I had worked towards and it was heartbreaking. But thanks to support from my family and friends, I pushed myself to give it one more go and re-launched in spring last year. So I like to say it’s only really a year old!

How has digital technology and social media has changed the way you work?

Digital technology changes all the time but in some ways it has made life so much easier.  In other ways it has made it very difficult as it has impacted society hugely and not in a positive way. When it comes to social media, I under-estimated the amount of time you need to spend on social media when building up a company that relies on it! Whilst I love it, it can be exceptionally overwhelming and it’s important to take a break from to reset at times. I’m very grateful for social media though, because without it I don’t think the business would be as successful as it is now. It is great for getting content out there, networking with people, gaining friendships, developing relationship, marketing and being more visible.

What are you top tips for building a successful online community?

Connect. Get to know your audience, be authentic and let them see the ‘real’ you.  Engage with your community and be honest. I really believe that when you show who you are (vulnerability included) that your words will resonate with others and relationships will be built.


Jenny is following…

Oprah WinfreyShe’s just remarkable.

Meghan MarkleI was so upset when I found out she was shutting The Tig. Some of her posts were exceptionally inspiring and motivating, I love her quotes and I always loved reading about her humanitarian work.

J.K. RowlingHer story just inspires me.


Jenny’s work

mamazou.com
instagram.com/mamazou85
facebook.com/mamazou85
twitter.com/mamazouu

Jenny is nominated in Motherhood’s Top London Mummy Bloggers.