A Day in the Life of a Tech Startup Founder

It was over 6 years ago that I started EveryCity with my cousin Duncan, and whilst a great deal has changed with my daily routine, it’s surprising what also hasn’t changed! In this blog post I’ll go over some hopefully interesting differences between a day in my life of then vs now…

Location

Office in 2007

EveryCity initially started out in the front room at my mothers house in Greenwich, where Duncan and I brainstormed the concept, designed the initial product offering, put together the sales literature and won our first few clients. With the concept validated, we immediately moved into spacious offices at Studio 18 Bluelion Place at London Bridge, taking the 1st floor with space for 8 desks.

Amazingly, we’re still here 6 years later, having expanded to take the 2nd and 3rd floors. This office has served us well – it’s conveniently located given most of us live in the South East, and has allowed us to grow to fill the building. But times have changed, and it’s impossible to ignore the draw of Tech City, the area between Silicon Roundabout and Shoreditch. So in the not too distant future, we may ultimately end up moving there too! Watch this space.

Personal Computer

Old Computers

I’ve always been fairly technology agnostic. My journey begins with the Commodore 64, followed by the Amiga 1200, then my trusty Apple Mac IIcx.

Then one summer my father came across Championship Manager, a football management game, and immediately insisted we get a PC. So began the dark age of Windows 95 on a Packard Bell bought from PC World on a whim. A PC?! Oh the shame!

Packard Bell P120

However it was hard to ignore its versatility. We quickly upgraded it with a 33.6kbps Modem, and knowledge of the outside world poured in. I discovered Linux, and a Slackware CD arrived in the post soon after. So began a fleeting romance with the world of UNIX systems. But with just a 1GB harddrive it was a struggle, and with my keen interest in games, I spent most of my time in Windows, staying there right up to the birth of EveryCity.

My first work PC consisted of a homebuild Windows XP box with a Dell 30" monitor. Amazingly, I’m writing this blog post on that same monitor all these years later, and it still looks every bit as good as it did back then.

Why not Linux, Solaris, or some other UNIX-y operating system? Office. Being Managing Director, I had to spend a significant proportion of my time working spreadsheets and building presentations. Mac OS X had Office, but Mac Pro desktops and laptops were overpriced and underpowered. My focus was on the business, and I didn’t have time for evangelical sacrifices in productivity. If I needed a UNIX/Linux box, I’d connect remotely via SSH to one.

Then in 2010, my Windows days were up – with the launch of OpenIndiana, the OpenSolaris UNIX-like operating system I helped create, I had to switch. I had to eat my own dog food. I gave VirtualBox a spin, and after a RAM upgrade, I found Microsoft Office surprisingly usable from my trusty Windows 7 Virtual Machine.

MacBook Pro Retina

Ultimately though, with Apple’s transition to Intel CPUs, and laptops getting ever more powerful, it wasn’t long until I could no longer resist the temptation of the glowing white Apple. After resigning from the OpenIndiana project due to a lack of time, I gave up my desktop PC for my trusty MacBook Pro, plugging it in to my massive monitor each day.

Desk 2013

I do love Mac OS X. It just works. It has UNIX under the hood. The hardware is slick. Yes, it’s expensive, but I’m very happy with it, and it’s great having a single system I use at work and at home.

Working Hours

Stopclock

When starting a business, you have to put in a lot of hours. I mean a LOT of hours. Duncan and I would wake up, get into work, and be there until late at night. With so much to do, and so many distractions during the day, I found I often got the most productive work completed between the hours of 10pm and 4am – ideal hours for coding and hacking. This would lead to me often getting into work at 10:30am or worse.

As a small business with a close knit team, getting in late was no problem, and my night time creations were greeted with enthusiasm. However my role has changed significantly as the company has grown, and most of my time now is spent managing rather than executing. Gone are my night time hackfests, replaced with early morning management meetings. Today I got in to the office at 8am, and my bedtime these days is 10:30pm. Quite a shift!

Silicon Drinkabout

Do I still work long hours? Not so many, but my days are definitely more focused. Late night hackfests have been replaced with after-work networking events, such as Silicon Drinkabout.

Work-Life balance is important, and I’m glad to have reached what I consider a very happy and productive equilibrium… I’m certain my girlfriend wouldn’t have stayed around long on the old schedule.

Work Tasks

In the early days, Duncan focused on the sales & marketing side, and I focused on the implementation and technical side. We had a product and a platform to build. Much of my time was spent in terminal windows and at the datacenter, evaluating products and writing code, helping with sales pitches, and doing customer support. I was also 24x7x365 out of hours on-call support, tending to our farm of screaming babies, waking up every few hours to solve some problem or another. Yikes!

But with the growth of the business, and taking on staff, it wasn’t long until my role started to shift. With additional support and development staff, my time began to move away from those areas, towards platform & business development. I switched from being the only on-call engineer to being part of a rota. Whilst I was still very hands on, more of my time started to be spent in meetings.

Pointy-Haired Boss

However now the company has grown even larger, I’ve finally graduated into that dreaded role: The Pointy-Haired-Boss. Most of my time is now taken up with management and strategy meetings, client meetings, sales meetings, marketing meetings. Meetings meetings meetings. I’m no longer in the on-call rota, and platform work is largely handled by our senior engineering team.

How do I feel about this? Actually, I love it! Instead of being limited in what I can do by the hours in the day, I now have an excellent team working with me who love what they do. Things happen faster than ever, and it’s rewarding seeing the business grow so quickly.

Things I can’t let go of

Tidy Rack

There are however some things I can’t let go of. Despite the fact we have a solid engineering team, my OCD won’t let me give up the design, layout and cabling of our Racks in the datacenter. I can’t bear the thought of an untidy mess underpinning our infrastructure. Perhaps if we hire someone with worse OCD than me I’ll finally let this one go :-)

Concluding Remarks

It’s been quite a journey getting here, and I’ve sprouted plenty of grey hairs along the way. But it has been worth it. I love my job, and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What are the biggest differences in your daily routine over the past 6 years?

“You don’t look anything like your average sales director … which I mean as a compliment”

Trusted partnership

I attended the ecommerce expo at Olympia last year, where I was introduced to the marketing director of one of the UK’s larger hosting providers, who made this remark to me. It got me thinking. I took him at face value – so what exactly did he mean?

On one level it was obvious: I imagine for most people the idea of a sales director is someone smart, clean cut, in a suit and tie with a massive watch; I am bearded and at the time was wearing a flat cap, t-shirt and jeans. But it was the fact that he was complimenting me on looking nothing like my work role which was intriguing. He was clearly suggesting it’s better not to look like a sales director. Even if you are one. Or, perhaps, more importantly – because you are one.

It makes sense of course – sales people don’t have the greatest of reputations. Not in the UK anyway. Perhaps in the US they’re more highly regarded? But here, they’re basically often seen as shiny-suited, kipper-tied spivs. Wide boys who can’t really be trusted. Which – as a sales person – I find sad: growing businesses and economies is quite a noble pursuit isn’t it? And therein lies the paradox. Because people buy from people they like and trust. But your sales person – well, no matter how nice they seem, they’ll tell you anything won’t they, just to get you to part with your money.

This does certainly chime with my own experience. These days people are very ‘sales aware’ and are sophisticated buyers, whether in the consumer or the business world. There’s more information out there than ever before, helping them to make informed decisions, and the faintest suspicion that ‘I am being sold to’, far from persuading them, is likely to send them scuttling in the opposite direction faster than you can say “If I can do that for you today, will you sign a purchase order?” So I’ve put together my top seven tips on how to be an effective ‘un-sales’ person. Here they are.

1. Actively try to disrupt the seller/buyer dynamic.

Sales people often cite Glengarry Glen Ross as an influence: ‘ABC – Always Be Closing’ and ‘coffee is for closers’ and all that. However, I sometimes think they’re missing the point. All the characters in the film are recognisable sales types, ranging from the ‘pumped up’ to the ‘desperate’. However, in the end, no-one sells anything. This is basically because the buyers in the piece don’t really want what is on offer – the salesmen are therefore trying to ‘push’ their wares via various dubious techniques. The buyers hold the power. So disrupt this – don’t cede your power, certainly never seem desperate in any way (think of Old Gill in the Simpsons). Stop kidding yourself you can sell coals to Newcastle or whatever. Fact is – no one really ever sells anything. People buy things they want. So, instead, concentrate on trying to facilitate the buying process so people can access your fantastic products more easily (of course, you have to believe you actually have some fantastic products for this to work …)

2. Be yourself.

You have to have a knack for sales; it has to be quite instinctive. There are lots of books out there claiming to have found the magic bullet for sales success. However, as soon as you rigidly start following any kind of method, you are being ‘salesy’ – in which case, please refer to point 1 above. Also, you’re not being yourself – so inevitably you will come across as being slightly disingenuous and therefore not quite trustworthy. Yes, people can be coached to be better salespeople, just as footballers can be coached to be better players. But ultimately, like the best footballers, it comes down to a natural aptitude for adaptation. What works for one person won’t work for another. Even techniques like mirroring: if you’re doing it consciously, it will seem unnatural. Customers aren’t stupid – they will see through that. There’s a time to go into a lot of detail; a time to be brief; a time to be technical; a time to be business-focused; a time to be formal, a time to be informal. As the great football manager Bill Shankly said: “it’s not about the short ball or the long ball, it’s about the right ball”. And it’s about confidence and practice – working your way from being ‘unconsciously incompetent’ to ‘consciously incompetent’, then to ‘consciously competent’ and, finally, to the holy grail of ‘unconsciously competent’.

3. But you’ve also got to be tenacious.

If you’re not a little bit thick-skinned, you’ll give up all too easily. People typically won’t bite after just one interaction. However, there’s a thin line between following up in the right way and being a nuisance. A prospect recently responded to one of my emails saying “as marketing goes, yours is very polite, so congratulations on getting that right.” That was pleasing. It’s tricky getting the balance right, but aim to be politely persistent and persistently polite.

4. Be an expert.

All too often, the salesperson, due to the pressures of being in a target driven environment, doesn’t have the time (or at least has that perception) to gather an all-round knowledge of his or her domain. Often the modus operandi is to garner just enough re-usable information to do the job. And often talented salespeople who are good at either opening or closing are encouraged to do nothing else, to the detriment of their own development. Resist this. Aim to get to the point where you are not overly reliant on pre-sales or your technical colleagues. This way you will become a more valuable asset to your company and your own personal currency will also rise. Customers will see you not as a sales person (refer to point 1 again) but as a trusted adviser – which can only be a good thing.

5. Break the role down.

Often non-sales people talk about sales as if it were just one simple activity. But there are at least four different roles involved, favouring different personality types: outbound lead generation, dealing with inbound leads, new business closing and also account management. Some people are hunters, some are farmers. If you’re recruiting, it makes sense to think about it in this way so people can focus on what they’re good at and what is most productive for the business.

6. Personalise.

Even if you are sending an email to a group for instance, try to make it appear as if it’s come from you personally, and specifically to each individual, not from the marketing department to anyone at all. Modern email clients such as ToutApp support this kind of thing, allowing you to merge in personal information. The view/click rates we’ve seen from simple plain text emails via ToutApp certainly bear this out.

7. Don’t focus on the sale.

Instead focus on the stages in the pipeline. What are these? Well, at the cold end, someone becomes a contact. That’s easy. And it’s straightforward at the ‘hot’ end too – somebody has a requirement. That’s a ‘lead’. You talk to them – it becomes a ‘qualified lead’. You send them a proposal and they seem to think it’s in the right ballpark – that’s a ‘prospect’. They buy – they’re a customer. Easy. But what about those woolly stages in the hinterland between ‘contact’ and ‘lead’ (which is where most people drop out of the pipeline, incidentally)? Have a stab at defining these. What do you need to provide to future customers to move them along? Where might things get stuck? Have they got the right perception of you and your products? Are they missing any information and are they making any erroneous assumptions which might rule you out prematurely?

To conclude, if you get all this right, then sales will start rolling effortlessly off the production line – well, relatively effortlessly anyway. Happy hunting (or farming)!

3 Apps That Will Boost Your Productivity

DeathtoStock_Wired7

We’ve all had those mornings.

You know, the ones where you walk into the office and sit down to start but then…you just don’t know where to begin.

Or the days when you get so caught up with the small tasks like finding a hotel, or compiling a list, or making a reservation… that you don’t actually get down to what’s important.

Let’s be honest – there are so many productivity killers, it would be impossible to list them all.

Instead, in this blog post I’m going to reveal the three apps that have boosted my productivity, and that I recommend to help boost yours, too.

1. Asana

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 12.14.23

Image from the Asana website.

Asana helps me stay on top of what I have to work on and when my deadlines are.

First off, let me begin by saying that I love my moleskine daily planner. I couldn’t live without it and it’s hands-down the love of my life when it comes to stationery.

Having said that, there are just some things that a moleskine can’t do.

Enter Asana.

Asana has been a productivity lifesaver.

Whenever I get a new project, I put it into Asana with an assigned deadline.

From there, I add ‘tasks’ which essentially outline the baby steps I have to take to complete the project. I then set deadlines for each task so that I know what I need to do and by when in order to meet each project deadline.

Once that’s all set up, I log in every morning and am able to view my tasks for the day. It clarifies exactly what I need to be working on, and what I need to complete to meet all of my deadlines.

In addition to helping me stay on track, Asana lets me assign or tag tasks and projects to people I work with. So, for example, if I’m going to need to work with our in-house designer on something, I can tag him on a task so that he knows what we have to do and when we have to do it.

I’ve used tools like Asana before (most notably Basecamp), but Asana has been working extremely well for me and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking to get clarity from their to-do list.

2. Fancy Hands

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 12.20.20

Image from the Fancy Hands website.

Fancy Hands provides virtual personal assistants to help me with the menial tasks that don’t require me personally to complete them.

Originally, I was skeptical about Fancy Hands.

What could I possibly need a virtual personal assistant for?

The truth is, these guys are great. For $45 (around £27) a month, I get to make 15 requests.

These requests can be anything that takes up to 15 minutes, and that can be done from a computer.

Not sure if it’s worth it? I wasn’t either.

A great example of how they’ve helped me, though, was when my headphones broke.

Normally, I’d spend 10-15 minutes researching the best headphones on Amazon, thus taking my attention away from more important activities. Instead, I wrote to Fancy Hands asking them to search Amazon UK for the highest rated headphones in my price range.

Within half an hour, they’d gotten back to me with a link. It was great – instead of wasting 10-15 minutes, I was able to keep focused on what was important and productive and delegate my short, low priority task to someone else.

Fancy Hands are based in the US so I haven’t tried using them for anything that involves a phone, although their FAQ says that they can call most countries. Also, it’s worth mentioning that they’re compatible with a lot of apps like Asana (mentioned above), Evernote, and Basecamp.

Fancy Hands may not be for everyone but I’d recommend giving them a go. Here are some examples of requests they take (which include making reservations, confirming appointments, research tasks, etc.).

According to my dashboard, I’ve saved 66 minutes from my last two requests.

Thanks, Fancy Hands!

3. BufferApp

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 14.38.37

BufferApp helps me pre-schedule EveryCity’s social media posts. It’s a massive time saver when it comes to social media posting.

It lets me choose when I want to post to social media, and on which days. Then, it lets me fill in the allocated slots with content.

This means that instead of having to think about what’s being shared on Twitter every hour, I can login in the morning, fill the allocated slots, and then focus on other things.

If you handle social media at all, I highly recommend you try out BufferApp.

All in all these apps have saved me hours of time and have kept me extremely organised – two things I think we all could do with more of!

So…will you be trying any of these apps out? Which apps would you recommend to boost productivity?

Windows XP is Dead

Windows XP is Dead

Artist credit Harvey Finch.

Windows XP is dead.

Or is it? Microsoft may want to pull the plug on its now 12 year old operating system (eons in computing terms), but it seems the world’s once most popular desktop system still has a little fight left in it; perhaps hanging on by a carbon fibre rod rather than just a thread.

[Read more...]

12 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Launched my Tech Startup

Tech Founder

Starting a business is fun, challenging and rewarding, and ultimately you hope it will lead to a sustainable and profitable endeavour for all involved. However, there are always things you learn along the way that you wish you’d known at the beginning.

So, here are 12 things that I wish I had known when starting EveryCity, which by sharing, I hope will help you reach that success point even sooner.

I’d love to hear your learnings too, so don’t forget to post them in the comments.

[Read more...]

6 Takeaways from TechHub’s Branding Event

IMG_1125_1

On Tuesday night I had the pleasure of attending TechHub’s “Stop Chasing! Harness Your Brand to Find Your Customers” event.

A bit of a mouthful? Yes. Worth going to? Definitely.

The event consisted of five speakers: Rosa Glover from TechHub, Jane Cunningham from Pretty Little Head, Simon London from KidRated, and Cat Totty and Jamie Le Grice from moo.com.

There was wine, there was beer, and there was an abundance of tech startups – the EveryCity team and I were in heaven! The only thing missing was pizza, but I guess nothing can be perfect.

These were my six takeaways from the event.

[Read more...]

Everything you ever wanted to know about RAID (Part 4 of 4)

Part 4: Performance Benchmarks

  1. An overview of RAID
  2. RAID Levels
  3. RAID Hardware & Software (including ZFS)
  4. Performance Benchmarks

Welcome to Part 4 of our series of blog posts on RAID – Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks. In this post, we’ll be going through the performance benchmarks we’ve performed using both Hardware RAID and ZFS Software RAID.

Since our entire platform uses SAS Host Bus Adapters and ZFS RAID, rather than using Hardware RAID cards, we’ve split the tests into two sections. The first section covers a fair comparison between HW RAID 5 and 10 plus ZFS RAID 5 and 10 on a Dell Perc H310 HW RAID card. The second tests covers a range of ZFS RAID tests on an LSI 9207-8i SAS HBA, and includes some additional ZFS RAID types (such as RAIDZ2 (RAID6) and Hybrid SSD accelerated pools). [Read more...]

Everything you ever wanted to know about RAID (Part 3 of 4) – RAID Hardware & Software (including ZFS)

Part 3: RAID Hardware & Software (including ZFS)

  1. An overview of RAID
  2. RAID Levels
  3. RAID Hardware & Software (including ZFS)
  4. Performance Benchmarks

Welcome to Part 3 of our series of blog posts on RAID – Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks. In this post, we’ll be talking about Hardware RAID cards, as well as Host Bus Adapters, and finally Software RAID such as via ZFS.

[Read more...]

Everything you ever wanted to know about RAID (Part 2 of 4) – RAID Levels

Part 2: RAID Levels

  1. An overview of RAID
  2. RAID Levels
  3. RAID Hardware & Software (including ZFS)
  4. Performance Benchmarks

Welcome to Part 2 of our series of blog posts on RAID – Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks. In this post, we’ll be talking about the different RAID levels available, which are basically the different ways RAID can lay out your data on disk to improve performance and/or reliability.

There are a bafflingly large number of RAID levels available, and we won’t cover all of them. You can get a full breakdown on Wikipedia. Here are the main ones:

[Read more...]

Everything you ever wanted to know about RAID (Part 1 of 4) – Overview

Part 1: An Overview of RAID

Back in 2008 we wrote a tiny blog article about RAID 1 vs RAID 5 performance. This turned out, rather bizarrely, to be one of our most popular blog articles. We’ve been doing a lot with storage over the past few years, so we decided to write a series of blog posts on RAID.

In this series we’ll cover:

  1. An overview of RAID
  2. RAID Levels
  3. RAID Hardware & Software (including ZFS)
  4. Performance Benchmarks
array

RAID: Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks

RAID is a method of providing data security and/or improving performance by distributing data across multiple disks. There are different methods of doing this, aka "RAID levels", the most common of which are mirroring (RAID 1) and striping with parity (RAID 5), although there are others too – we’ll cover the common ones below.

RAID is typically performed by a PCIe RAID controller card, to which the disks will be directly attached. However it’s possible to do RAID in software, and most operating systems support this. Indeed, some modern filesystems such as ZFS actually prefer to do the RAID themselves, as it affords greater control over the data, and this is how we do RAID at EveryCity.

RAID should at least protect you against a single drive failure, and other RAID levels (Such as RAID 6 or RAID 10) can protect against multiple drive failures. When a failed disk is replaced, the array should automatically rebuild, although during this operation performance may be reduced.

[Read more...]
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