I’m a busy, busy Beetil

October 18, 2008


When we first set up YouDo (vote for us here as a top 10 startup), our long term goal was building successful products, as opposed to just focussing solely upon services.  

Having managed some pretty critical IT systems in my previous life, I could never find an effective tool that helped me manage across the whole IT service management lifecycle.   We had evaluated numerous products out there, but they were either too simple, too complex, too expensive, too unusable, or just downright rubbish.   A lot of other people I know find this.   And a lot of people end up building their own – but that just gets too expensive and unmaintainable in the long term.

We were unsatisfied.

So we did something about it.

So I’m pleased to announce that we’re not too far away off of opening up a beta of our first product:

Beetil – service management without the pain.

We’ve got quite a few alpha users on the site at the moment, and pretty much “they can’t live without it”.  We’re using it to manage our own services.  And we love it.   If you’re interested in taking part in the alpha programme please feel free to give us a yell.

It’s a fun time.

One Year On…

April 8, 2008

Phew!  It’s been one year on since a couple of colleagues and I set up YouDo.

Here’s some thoughts:

  • I’ve never enjoyed work so much in my life
  • I’ve never worked as hard in my life
  • I’ve never found balancing work and life harder in my life
  • Everything you do in your first year of business matters.  You cannot afford to have a bad day
  • You never realise how safe you are as an “employee” until you take a peek from the outside
  • Running a business takes time and effort.  It’s not just all about “doing work for customers”
  • It’s hard to balance product development vs chargeable time.  Be realistic about your goals.
  • SaaS apps are your friend: Basecamp, Campfire, PlanHQ, Xero are but a few…

We must be doing something right!  Our customer base is growing, our profits are healthy, we’ve almost secured some awesome premises, and we’re even hiring!!

Here’s to another successful year!

Time: My Precious

March 31, 2008

I’ve mentioned a few times now how hard you have to work when you set up a new business.  So it stands to reason that you really have to plan your day and prioritise effectively.

I used to hate the daily commute to and from work, but now I have grown to love it.   It’s pure “me” time – without disruption, in my iPod cocoon on the number 23 bus!

In the mornings I use this time to plan what’s ahead for the day, prepare my first five or so emails for the day, and also to get a download from Roger, our now UK based developer.   The Blackberry Curve is an awesome gadget and with Google Talk, I can choose to be connected anytime I want.

In the evenings, I use the bustime to quickly check-in with everybody and get an update as to where they are all at.   That helps me have a good think on it overnight, ready for planning the next morning.  The evening commute is also a great time to tidy up that inbox.  I’m still trying to maintain Inbox Zero!

Since I’ve gotten into the habit of spending 30 minutes at the start and end of each day I’ve noticed that my days really do seem to be more structured, organised and productive.

Make the investment in yourself and your time.  It’s well worth it.

Phew! It’s been quite a while since my last post and I’ve been busy busy busy.

The IT market is really tight at the moment if you are looking for worker bees, so when you find good people you need to accommodate their needs. Also, as a founder of a startup business, I’m always keen on keeping costs down. So I thought we’d give remote development a shot. Six developers, one of them the other side of the world. The bulk of them working in their “comfortable” development pits they call home.

It’s working!

There’s certainly no substitute for face-to-face interaction, but distance and space away from others certainly has its perks. It gives headspace to get stuff done. But the communication is incessant:

  • we use continuous integration techniques to not only ensure ongoing code quality and confidence, but also to see what progress we are all making
  • we make gratuitous use of instant messaging
  • it’s mandatory we gather round our group IM, Campfire
  • we document things as we discuss them on our Wiki
  • we like the telephone
  • we meet up every week, or when we need to

Depending upon where we are at in the project, sometimes these constraints actually help build better software. It forces you to write certain things down you might haven’t otherwise. You have a good audit trail. It enforces a little more rigour.

But at other times it can be tough. Particularly with the knarly requirements that only a good old whiteboard session can solve. But that’s when we meet up face-to-face.

It’s certainly not for everyone, and you need a certain breed of developer for this to succeed, but remote development can work.

We truly are a global marketplace.

After Webstock 2008

February 16, 2008


Webstock 2008 is now over.   The brainwaves have subsided and the hangover ended.   A massive thanks should go to the Webstock team for organising what can only be described as world class event.
Whilst many would have seen some of these talks or content before (especially the podcast nuts) – there’s simply no substitute for taking two days out to talk face-to-face with some of the most respected dudes in the business.  You get two days to let it all soak in – and you get to see many angles over the course of the conference.   It was a great investment of my time.
Here’s some of the stuff I got out of Webstock 2008.
  • Tags and Taxonomy.   Free tags are like leaves.  A gazillion of them, but eventually they all fall off the tree, rot, and end up feeding the tree’s structure (the taxonomy).   Tags are for quick learning.  Taxonomy is long term.    A great session from Peter Morville.
  • Continuous Integration, Release and Ops Management at Flickr.   It was great to hear from Cal about how the Flickr team run their shop.   Talking to him post conference, I found out Flickr has about 2,500 servers!!  Yikes!  In short, they do everything to make their lives easier, make them more agile, and to reduce risk.  You know, things like continuous integration, continuous deployment to “pre-production” servers, release flags (i.e. flags in the app to turn functionality on/off – to reduce branching), running tests on their software every hour, and building a whole plethora of “one-click” tools to manage all this stuff.
  • Achieving Flow.   There was one diagram that Kelly Goto put up, which really hit the nail on the head as to why people get in the flow.  See my (keynote) scribbling below:
  • Primal Software Development and Managing Design.   I really enjoyed Michael Lopp’s presentations. Fascinating to hear that at Apple, they start their product process with 10 pixel perfect mockups, which they then reduce to 3, then to 1.   Also – a key take away I got from his sessions was that you can build software many times, but you only build culture once.  Go check out his blog, particularly this post – which captures nicely his first presentation.   
  • How good design helps tell the story.    Jason Santa Maria showed a great example as to how design helps to augment the story, and how the transition from print to web often loses this.  In short, give your site some “context” sensitive design.  If that kinda makes sense?
  • Blending the real world with network data.  Tom Coates gave a great presentation which really opened up my thought processes.  In short, the web is not so much of a collection of web pages, but more a massive collection of data that manifests themselves as web pages (of which is only one form)!   Your product is not your site! (it’s the platform).  And once your size of data gets too large, forget hierarchies – they will collapse under the weight.
  • Eloi vs Morlocks.   Remember that our users are Morlocks and that we, the Eloi, must make their lives as miserable as possible.   Seriously, though, this was a great presentation by Damian Conway, who rightly advocates that we must remember that most internet users are just like Grandma.  So design for them, not us.
  • Feel their Pain.   The brilliant Kathy Sierra says that we need to actually experience the pain our users feel so that we can “mind read” them.   Seriously.  There’s  theory that it will more effectively trigger our “mirror neurons”.   When you’re usability testing, look at peoples faces.  It’s the feelings that you’re after!  Another great tip when building your help.  Document exactly the questions your users ask in the usability sessions. Exactly how they ask them.
All in all, a brilliant conference.   
Thanks Webstock Dudes! 


Now that we have our corporate blog (I wouldn’t call ourselves corporate), I’m constantly faced with the dilemma as to where to post.

This blog is about technology, YouDo is about technology.

Hmmm.I’m sure many others face this issue, but here’s how I’m gonna divvy up and differentiate where to post:

  • Topics very specific to YouDo will be posted on the YouDo blog. i.e. Rails, Ruby, Oracle, Agile, Life as a Startup. But we’re keen to avoid the corporate cheese element.
  • More personal things such as opinions, tech observations, commentary, bad taste jokes, postings from the bus, etc, will be posted here. I might post up the odd non tech thing as well (i.e recommendations from my bad taste in music).  

Because my work is so entwined with my day to day life (is it ever anything other for us entrepreneurs) I’m sure there’ll be some crossover or semi-duplication, but if this blog just changes tack slightly then that’s the reason why.

BTW – Barcamp Agile today. Looking forward to it.

Balls. Line. On.

October 22, 2007

I’d previously posted about my experiences in starting up our new business, which is going terrifically well.

I’d mentioned that flexibility kicks ass, and it really does.  But the last few weeks I’ve been experiencing another side.  And it’s one you rarely experience as a corporate “employee”.

We’ve got a couple of important project deadlines in the pipeline, and when you have a vested interest in them (i.e. it IS your business) you kinda treat things a bit differently.   You simply cannot afford to drop the ball.  As a startup business, your balls are well and truly on the line.  So we’ve been working a few ‘late ones’ to make sure everything goes real smooth.  That’s why I’ve been “dark” for the last couple of weeks.  It’s all progressing really well though, so we’re very confident all will go very well.

Startup businesses are great fun, and immensely rewarding, but remember that they need a lot of bloody hard work and commitment.   But it’s de facto.  Whilst I’m working real hard, I’ve never enjoyed it more.

I’ve had a fantastic Labour weekend with my family – my weekends and public holidays are sacred (and you should never sacrifice your family time),  but first thing tomorrow morning it’s straight back into it.

The coffee shop will be happy to see me.