We arrived in the early afternoon and, rather than brave the local transportation system, we hailed a cab and joined the inward-bound stream toward the capital. This having been my first time to London, my eyes were glued to the glass as the city flew by and condensed into a network of windy streets and low-cropped buildings.
My most recent impression of this city before landing had been through streaming the hashtag “London” on Instacube the second day the Alpha prototype was in my possession. A few quick looks at my weather app had shown me there was snow in London, but I had wanted to see it from the eyes of its inhabitants. What were Instagramers photographing? What were they wearing? Should I bring a scarf and gloves, and perhaps a second set of more versatile shoes?
I was surprised to see that by the time we had arrived, the snow had completely melted with only a scant trace from time-to-time in a meadow on our way in, but absolutely no sign of it in the city itself.
We checked in to our hotel and I immediately made myself at home, pulling out drawers and stuffing them with my essentials. Wooden coat hangers were now draped with my dressier shirts, hoping that gravity would do its part to remove some of the packing creases.
Once unpacked, I immediately headed out in search of a micro-SIM for my newly-unlocked iPhone 4s. (Interestingly, I was able to unlock my iPhone on the AT&T website despite still being in a contract. Go figure.)
My quest took me a few blocks north to the corner of Oxford Street and Waldour, where a young woman with the hint of a slavic accent assisted me in popping the 15 pound card out and setting it up. Yes — 15 pounds — for truly unlimited data, 300 minutes and 1,000 text messages. 15 pounds! This versus the roaming plan I was so graciously offered by the service reps at AT&T, at what had topped out well over $100 for a comparable package.
At the clerk’s recommendation, I threw another 10 pounds on the card to receive international calls and texts from Andy. Not bad.
I breezed out of the shop as quickly as I had entered, and as I turned the corner, slowed my pace to finally start taking in the city from a pedestrian point-of-view. It was beautiful. Modern store fronts filled with pastries, clothing and patrons, with ornate brick-and-stone bulk above the shops that maintained their historical glory. We had come here for meetings, but I was going to enjoy the rest of the afternoon exploring.
The plane had brought me little to no sleep, but I wasn’t tired. The energy of the city, densely packed with shoppers, tourists and locals, drew me in and energized me, and my eyes were wide.
The weekend was ahead, and I immediately made plans with a great friend of mine from Tokyo. We had shared a tiny apartment together for about a year just off of boutiquey Omotesando Street. I hadn’t seen Misa in years and was excited to meet up.
By the time Monday rolled around I was feeling quite comfortable traversing the city within the general vicinity of Soho. Andy and I had a meeting scheduled with the Daily Mail, but not until 4:30. We had decided to meet up at 4:00 in front of the hotel, so I had the entire morning to see a few things at a slightly less congested pace now that the weekend had passed.
Our meeting with Daily Mail went extremely well. We did a design review and the client was able to lock in on a concept unanimously, with a few suggested changes. But before we adjourned the meeting, I pulled Instacube out from under the table. I had been powering it up discretely and letting it cycle through its routine crash before getting the error message, ‘Instacube has stopped working.’ Pressing ‘Okay’ allowed me to relaunch the app and, once it was up and running, I presented it on the table and began demo-ing it to oohs and ahhs all around. They absolutely loved it and, as evidenced in nearly every demo to date, immediately picked up on the concept and started throwing out ideas across the table from every angle. The meeting picked up a whirlwind of energy very different from the design review half of the meeting, and led us into talks of distribution and ways to partner up on the venture.
The Daily Mail team took us out to the Covent Gardens rooftop restaurant just across the street. To our dismay, the gardens themselves — the prized possession of the restaurant — were swallowed up in pitch black outside the floor-to-celing window adjacent to our table. We all asked ourselves why they don’t light the gardens for everyone to enjoy when the weather doesn’t permit outdoor dining.
After many cheers and gracious thank-yous, we all went our own ways, the locals set to begin their commutes home and Andy and I to head back to the hotel. It was Monday night and the fatigue was catching up to me. But the meeting was a success and we both felt great.
I can’t say I slept well the entire trip, but that almost didn’t matter. And of course this night was no exception. I awoke at 2:30 in the morning and was eating a club sandwich at a 24-hour diner called “Balans Cafe” by 3:00 am, joined by other jet-lagged patrons and bar hoppers winding down from their nights out.
As our final full day in London started creeping through my window, I popped out of bed and began prepping my devices to ensure that they were all indeed still charged and that Instacube was still going to power on. (You never know.) With all apparently functional and juiced, I gathered my things and met Andy in the lobby. We hailed a cab and sped off to Jamie Oliver’s corporate offices in Islington.
Our meeting began with a lunch at Fifteen with our host Louisa. She unfolded Jamie’s story for us, from being a young entrepreneur and chef to becoming the socially driven do-gooder that’s set out to change people’s lives through accessible cooking. We waited to reveal Instacube until we were seated with Jamie in the office. After taking the long way back through the Jamie Oliver test kitchen (Jamie had phoned saying he was running a little late) we found ourselves in a second-story kitchen-themed design studio with Jamie at the helm of a planning meeting, flanked by his stylish young staff of creatives. Upon entering the room he immediately acknowledged us with a casual “Hi guys!” and assured us he wouldn’t be a moment. This was the charming, genuine human being I had remembered from the Skype session a few weeks ago.
Once their meeting adjourned Jamie came over to the leather sofas we were seated in and offered us tea, water, coffee. I suggested we move over to the oversized wooden table that was in the process of being cleared. (It’s always best to demo Instacube at eye-level given the current state of our display. The viewing angle is not yet ideal, but we’re working on it.)
Of course, the display was one of the things that Jamie picked up on immediately, and asked for confirmation that we were indeed going to improve it. We reassured him we were, knowing all the while that this was a problem whose solution was still yet to be found (but we’ll find one.)
As expected, there was an amazing amount of enthusiasm as we brought Instacube to life, entering hashtags like “cheesecake” and “puppies” to demonstrate the nature of a live feed. One of our main objectives from this meeting was to secure an endorsement in some form from Jamie, and the best, most natural way of initiating that was through photographing him with Instacube.
He offered that up without us asking, so I quickly grabbed the device and turned it toward me, pulling up the ‘Carousel’ by clicking the square button atop Instacube. I flicked over to the “User Follow” tile, typed in ‘jamieoliver’ and launched the tile. I turned Instacube back toward Jamie as his most recent photo popped up in vibrant shades of yellow and red, showing him that the photos were currently caching. I initiated a pinch gesture, and we watched for a brief moment as the 4×4 grid began populating with his collection of prized Instagrams.
He immediately grabbed Instacube with what seemed to be a newfound connection with the device (now that he was seeing his own photos on the display for the first time.) Flipping it around, he posed with his mug in one hand and a happy grin on his face, offering us an unspoken ‘Cheers’ as I snapped a photo of him.
“I always run my photos through Camera+ before uploading to Instagram,” I said as my focus switched to my iPhone.
“You’re a pro,” he quipped back. “You clearly know what you’re doing.”
It doesn’t get better than that.
But somehow it did. Jamie started to get proactive on us, sliding his chair back and leaping up to clear fruit, measuring cups, knives and chopping blocks from a countertop just behind him. He drew the shades, which were patterned in bold crosshatches of white and electric blue and handed his phone to one of his staff as he immediately started posing in his characteristically Jamie Oliver way — cheeky with a dash of cool.
I took the opportunity to snap a few shots of my own from Jamie’s right-hand side as he contorted new poses. At that moment Jamie grabbed his phone back and crossed the kitchen to another table and set Instacube down. He repositioned the professional camera lights and started an impromptu photo shoot of just Instacube.
It was as if we had just given him his new favorite toy, and it was fun to watch.
Unfortunately, we told him, we’d have to take the prototype back with us to Mountain View given that it’s one of only two that we’ve got right now, but we reassured him that his own set of 40 Instacubes were on their way sometime in April and that they’d be worth the wait.
I swapped contacts with his design team as Jamie started to say his goodbyes and thank-you’s. Andy and I graciously shook his hand and Louisa saw us out.
That meeting was off-the-charts awesome.
We headed out to see a few last bits of London before making our way to dinner at Jamie’s Italian to close out the night. We’d be leaving in the morning and were happy to wrap things up with a sampling of some of the food that’s made Jamie famous. Risottos and pasta, fish and Prosecco. Delicious.
I’m sad to be leaving such a wonderful city, but am invigorated and inspired. Now that production is in full swing and tooling’s been released, things are moving at an incredibly rapid pace with Instacube. Before you know it we’ll be inspecting T1 units.
Instacube is coming to life before our eyes, which has been an amazing thing to witness and be a part of. Our team is working hard to ensure that when we deliver to our backers, it will be nothing short of incredible. If this trip is any indication of how the Instacube will be received by our community of backers, we’re in good standing.