It's a Wednesday morning and there is a tube strike on.
During a tube strike, London life gets messy. Lots of bikes get dusted off, high-heels are swapped for comfortable walking shoes, husbands and wives are drafted in to provide human courier services to get bodies to offices promptly. It's the travel apocalypse, an event that brings out the best and worst in Londoners. Hipsters with gritted teeth behind pencil mustaches stuck in a parade of unsteady Boris bikes trundling down the westbound cycle lanes out of Hackney; generally leisurely walking routes into the city crammed with power walkers and pavement rage!
And it all feels incredibly normal. We have matured into a stable and effective team with roles and responsibilities. Tasks are assigned, things get done, feedback is provided, clients are happy, the team is happy. It feels great! If we get no further than this then we have at least achieved what expensive MBA books on organisational theory would describe as a functional organisational unit. It's also a good time to reflect on what's happened in the months since my last update.
The weeks since the turn of the year were punctuated with a few interesting milestones. This little project made it through its first birthday without killing anybody or running out of cash (which is nice); we closed our first licensing deal for our data visualisation library; we added our first employee, the aforementioned graphic design champion, Hugh; and James and I both turned 35, which I can confirm is as scary as it sounds.
The primary focus of 2013 was software product design. Taking the software we had written and the ideas we had, looking at them through an objective a lens as possible, speaking to our customers and potential customers to understand their needs. From there we researched the existing data visualisation market to form a view of the landscape and where we fit into it. Taking lessons from companies (37Signals, Absinthe Films, Balsamiq, Stripe, to name a few) and individuals (@patio11, @spolsky, @msuster, @zedshaw, @mbostock, @fivethirtyeight, again to name just a few) whose success has inspired us along the way. All of that went into the mental blender, got spun around a few times, teased out over many conversations and discussions.
So where are we?
Picking up the thread of the story from my last update and the tale of my trip to Brazil, October found the Coolgarif Tech team working hard to deliver a significant project for one of our Irish clients. It was an intense month but the project was a success and the client was pleased with the outcome. Hopefully we'll be able to write a case-study on it soon as it was an excellent example of a successful implementation our design process.
Rolling into November we turned down all client work and got stuck into building our data visualisation library. This was a conscious decision to sacrifice income from agency work to get closer to a product model. It was an intense time with James running the development show, while I focused on getting out in front of existing and potential clients to test our hypothesis.
So where does that leave us? Well we have successfully completed the transition from selling time to being a product and services company. We have a base data visualisation framework for building dashboards, which is available to developer teams to license and is easily extensible for custom components. In addition we have a battle hardened design process, which is dynamic, involving at least one customer workshop and several design iterations where a pod of at least one developer, designer and project manager works together with the customer to get to the heart of the project.
Plans for the year ahead
The big push this year is to work with more customers on crafting data visualisation solutions that take advantage of our custom library. We also are working hard on a website update, which is due later this month, to tell our story better and to provide more information about the new library.
My role will be away from writing code and focus on building more process into the company, process around the mundane stuff such as accounting, expenses, financial reporting and forecasting, cashflow management, accounts receivable, etc. All the stuff that helps us to focus on the real goal, working with customers to tell stories with their data. I'm also due to speak at a few events in the coming months, so keep an eye on my twitter profile for information on these.
Beyond that there are some intangible elements that I want to work on: helping to cement our company culture and how we want to approach the world. To this end we are looking to work on at least one pro-bono data visualisation project for the development sector. We strongly feel that we should use our skills with data, design and technology to help educate and tell stories that are bigger. More on this soon as we are already in discussions with a very interesting global organisation on this project.
Living and learning
'Keep the doors open, keep moving forward, keep writing code, increase your luck surface area, do good things, be smart, watch what every one else is doing, forget what everyone else is doing....', and on and on. But those phrases kept me sane throughout the past months, helping me to focus on what was important and not get bogged down in the details. A good friend, also with a startup, described this life as a vocation. It certainly feels like that sometimes and finding a balance can be hard. Managing the all consuming nature of this project has been one of the hardest things to deal with during the past year.
When I left HSBC more than 2 years ago one of the last things I did from my old email account was to send myself a short letter with a list of the reasons why I was taking the plunge and laying it all on the line. Memories get fuzzy over time and reasons get muddled. Having these reasons committed to email was there as a fall-back position when things started to get really tough. A set of principles and ideas to hold onto. However I also promised myself that I wouldn't open it until things got really really bad. You know, the 'what the hell am I doing here' questions that pop up in life from time to time? Well I haven't had to open it yet but I guess it's comforting to know that it's there.
Right thanks for tuning in! Time to get back to it. Let's see what the next six months have in store! You know where we are if you need us!