// Deploying Rails Book

2012 in Review

At the start of 2012, my goal was fairly simple, remain solvent for a full year relying only on consulting income while leaving enough time to bootstrap ShopOfMe and InGuide. No-one has yet repossessed the computer I’m writing this on so it’s fair to say I got at least half way there.

Consulting

My bonus goal as well as making enough money to live was to rebalance the work I was doing to align with the skills I find most interesting. In particular this meant moving away from the primarily PHP work I’d done in the past in favour of Rails and Javascript frameworks.

This worked out pretty well, I’d estimate 90% of my consultancy work in the past has been PHP, this year the breakdown by revenue was:

  • 56% Rails, Python and Javascript
  • 19% Management consultancy
  • 14% PHP
  • 10% General IT
  • 1% Product revenue

The first six months of the year were slower than I’d like, mainly due to the lead time building my client base back up and taking on a couple of short term assignments which suffered from significant scope creep and so weren’t as profitable as expected. The second six months were much better and I’ve settled into a smaller number of ongoing assignments for a small but reasonably diverse group of clients which hugely reduces the amount of none chargeable sales work required.

Problem Areas

Scope creep and poor cash-flow management were the biggest problems I encountered. Generally the former was due to a blurred line between fixed price and time and materials leading to odd extra bits being done which significantly pushed down the effective day rate. This has been largely dealt with as I’ve minimised the amount of fixed price work and – where a fixed price is unavoidable – got back into the swing of writing good specs and most importantly, properly renegotiating subsequent amendments.

The latter came down to a combination of bad invoicing – it’s easy to push it to the bottom of the list until the money is needed – and the ramp up months after I left my job at the end of 2011 eating further into reserves than planned. Invoicing is gradually improving having renegotiated to invoice almost all ongoing contracts on the same day each month on similar payment terms. I also experimented with offering discounts for early payment but didn’t notice much of a difference.

Product Income

Consulting has worked well, but the attraction of product based revenue and the scalability it entails always seems preferable. The need to bring in money straight away prevented me from doing much work on a revenue share basis but some earlier pieces are starting to grow rapidly meaning that if all goes well, this should rise substantially in 2013 from its current 1% contribution to overall revenue.

Startup(s)

The year started with two companies, ArtWorm (now rebranded to InGuide) and StyleGauge. InGuide was in the very early stages of evaluating market fit and StyleGauge was in the midst of testing our website add-on for crowdsourcing consumer preference data relating to new lines of clothing.

StyleGauge (ShopOfMe)

Because we can’t help tinkering, we built a “fun” product called ShopOfMe – mainly to experiment with some interesting technologies while we were waiting to see the outcome of the trials of our main product. The fun product was a browser extension and attached website which learns a users style from their browsing habits and builds them a personalised shop with items from retailers across the web based on this.

Having sent it around to a few people, we found the reaction was overwhelmingly positive to the point – and using this phrase physically hurts me – we decided to pivot and focus all of our attention on developing it further. Since then we’ve grown to indexing over 30,000 products from more than a 100 retailers and were picked by Index Ventures to pitch at the renowned Decoded Fashion event in London. With a big overhaul based on a raft of feedback from our wonderful users due for release in the next few weeks, 2013′s going to be an exciting year.

InGuide

Unfortunately I can’t say much about InGuide here but some of the highlights of the year were securing a trial of the App with a National Trust property, having it used by the National Geographic Society for one of their conferences and by Digital Sizzle at their Art Hackathon in the Whitechapel Gallery.

Goals for 2013

Consulting

Reserves is the main one, when I left my job towards the end of 2011 I expected to dip into reserves a bit but not quite as much as I ended up doing. Both for the sake of my blood pressure and my accountants (oh wait that’s me as well) I’d like to get these back up to around the two to three month mark by the end of the year. I’m pretty happy with the balance of work as it stands, it’s focussed enough that I don’t feel like I’m losing productivity switching between disciplines and varied enough that I don’t get bored. My tweak for 2013 will be trying to minimise times when I’m working less than a full day on a single project. Product income should have a greater long term value than up front consulting so I’ll continue to maintain existing revenue share arrangements with the intention they should account for around 25% of revenue by the end of 2013 but – to maximise time spent developing ShopOfMe – I won’t be looking for any additional ones.

ShopOfMe

In line with consulting, I want to devote more entire days to ShopOfMe rather than tending to split days with client work. Technically we’re fairly comfortable with our current stack, the biggest change of 2013 looks like it will be migrating away from backbone.js to Angular.js ShopOfMe feels like it’s near to the tipping point so as a team the main focus of the year will be to try and push the growth to the next level. (‘Pivot’ and ‘to the next level’ in one post… ouch..)

Writing and Speaking

With the exception of technical documentation I’ve written very little since I left my job, writing a Seedcamp application reminded me just how important it is not to get rusty. I’d like to try and get at least one post a week written, probably a mixture of technical posts on specific Rails/ JS topics, write ups of side projects and general musings on startups in London. In December I was pleased to be asked to be part of a panel for an Elance event on Bootstrapping a startup held at Google Campus. I haven’t really done any speaking to an audience since leaving PwC and forgot how much fun it was, it’s also a skill I don’t want to lose so will be looking for similar opportunities throughout the year.

Health, Personal Dev and all that Jazz

It’s been a pretty healthy year with about a third of my journeys to work being replaced by cycling (averaging around 60 miles a week). I’d like to get that up to half once I’m done overhauling the bike (seven years of no maintenance led the gentleman in the bike shop to describe it as ‘a liability’ ) and get back into indoor climbing as a less soul destroying alternative to the gym.

There’s several side projects and small libraries I’ve put together over the last year which have never quite made it public or to being open sourced due to rough edges. In particular a recent project in Techhub/ Google Campus to make christmas lights flash whenever a given event happened on a companies website proved very popular so in the first quarter of this year I hope to polish that (e.g. make a version held together with more than tape) and publish a write up on how to replicate it.

While I’ve done a fair bit of mobile development (particularly for InGuide but also for clients) it’s been entirely Javascript – using Titanium Mobile or Phonegap – so I’d like to replicate one or two of those projects in either Objective C or using RubyMotion so I’m in a better position to choose between native/ not.

Travel

Apart from a couple of brief trips to Holland and France, I didn’t get much time to travel this year, mainly because it didn’t fit well with the process of building up my client base again. Now that’s better established there’s no reason not to do some longer trips – probably to South East Asia and San Francisco – since almost all of my work can be done remotely and my lease is up at the end of February.