Monthly Archives: November 2014

Techstars: Day 21 (Manflu)

This weekend has not been a good one. The set of things I wanted to achieve bears little resemblance to the set of things I actually achieved due, in no small part, to me quite literally crashing on Friday night.

I got home feeling dreadful, skipped dinner, went to bed early and got 10 hours sleep and another 2+ hours of lying in a bit of a daze on Saturday morning. I then had another 4 hour sleep in the afternoon, before settling in for another long sleep, waking up late this morning. I’ve felt dreadful for most of that time and done very little.

You may recall I said on day 9 that “…my body is starting to tell me that if I don’t slow down that it’s going to put me down.” Well it did. Hard. Hopefully another decent nights sleep will see me feeling better, but I suspect I may need to take it a bit easier this week.

Techstars: Day 19 (Spent…)

Early post today as I really don’t know if I’ll have time to write anything when I get back to the flat. My plan is to just get there and die, although I can’t do that for another couple of hours. That said, the brisk walk in the cold make wake me up. Not sure.

It’s been a long week, and I think the whole cohort are feeling it. Last night’s all hands lacked some of the bravado the first two weeks saw and people openly admitted that it’s getting tough.

I’ve got absolutely sod all done on the tech side today. I’ve basically stared at the screen and failed to construct any meaningful code. The day hasn’t been a total write-off though. I’ve had a few meetings which could be viewed as wildly unsuccessful or hugely beneficial, depending how you view them.

If I’m honest, the meetings that go really well, while great for the ego, aren’t always massively useful in working out if we’re going in the right direction. Perhaps if people were throwing fistfuls of cash at us they would be, but while we’re in the ”hey, it’s free, come check it out” phase it’s reasonably easy to get a positive reaction. Where you learn is from the constructive feedback. The ”This sucks for the following reasons” which help bring the points that need to be addressed into stark focus. Thankfully those points aren’t insurmountable, we just need to work hard and be smart about how we tackle them.

Tonight, however, I think the smart thing to do is switch off, get some sleep and come back to the problems refreshed and raring to go.

Techstars: Day 18 (Blood, sweat and tears)

So Rainbird is a bit odd in terms of its founders. The company was founded by two people, Ben and James. I was employee number one, although I am considered to be, and treated like a founder. Whether you consider that to be legitimate or not is irrelevant – Rainbird is as much my company as it is theirs1, or indeed any one of the team.

We have built this company with our bare hands. Quite literally in some cases, since much of the furniture in our Norwich office had to be assembled by us. I hadn’t even finished month one of my journey with Rainbird before both blood and sweat had been put into the job2. I was fairly sure the tears would come at some point to complete the trifecta, I just wasn’t prepared for how.

Thursday afternoons at Techstars in London is the ‘All Hands’ meeting where all the companies get together for various activities; be it pitching what you do, pitching what the other companies do or finding out what went well and what didn’t last week. This is followed by guest speakers3 and topped off by sponsored drinks and networking. The drinks start around 8ish, going on until late.

While food is laid on its finger food and there isn’t a huge amount of it. Couple that with a tough week, long hours and a need to blow off some steam and you end up with some members of Rainbird being fairly well lubricated.

Over dinner we then managed to polish off two bottles of wine4 and conversation turned to the wide ranging and philosophical subjects that tend to get raised when a few jars have been imbibed.

Chris, who was pretty well gone by this point, gave an impassioned speech on his outlook on life and how he saw Rainbird as a force for good. What he was trying to say was that we could reach out and make a positive impact on peoples lives. What he actually said was ”I think we should touch people”.

Now, I’m sorry, but I was tired, stone cold sober and not quite feeling the gravitas of the situation that comes with being in a slightly addled state, so my mind instantly decided to make light of the situation and completely misinterpret the phase ”I think we should touch people”. Couple that with the ernest way in which the line was delivered and I was just in fits of laughter. The juxtaposition of Chris in his mildly inebriated state delivering a heart felt desire to do good in the world compared to my sober and yet utterly puerile interpretation of what was said sent tears rolling down my cheeks.

I can now say, hand on heart, that I have put blood, sweat and tears into Rainbird – oh, and that I’m a complete child.

1 Yes, I know legally that’s not true, but let’s not let that get in the way here.

2 Building flatpack is hot work, and catching your hand on the door when carrying large boxes containing flatpack results in minor bleeding.

3 Today was Yonatan Raz-Fridman from Kano, who are just awesome.

4 Since I don’t really drink I wasn’t having any, so that’s a little under half a bottle each for the other 5.

Techstars: Day 17 (Techstars is like bodyboarding)

Road sign in Bathsheba

No, I haven’t completely lost the plot – bear with me on this one.

For those who don’t know, bodyboarding1 is a bit like surfing, except you lie down on a small, rigid foam board that’s about a meter in length. It’s also huge fun. Bodyboarding is often done much closer to shore than surfing, sometimes only riding small waves for a few meters until they break.

If you’re good/lucky you get to ride all the way back into shore before grabbing your board and running back out to get the next wave. If you’re unlucky you get pile-driven into the sea by the breaking wave and then tossed about violently. For larger waves the best advice is to just relax when this happens as it lessens the chance of breaking something.

So, Techstars. You get there, you charge out to sea, grab the first wave in and it’s awesome. You do it again, and again, and again, and it’s huge fun. It’s tiring, but you want to get back out there and ride another wave in. And then a big wave comes out of nowhere, slams you into seabed and threatens to drown you2. So you pick yourself up and you go find another wave because hopefully that’ll be fun and you want something to take your mind of the rather crap experience you just had.

Today was big wave, huge high, massive wipeout as the wave broke and crappy surf for the rest of the day. Hopefully tomorrows surf is better.

1 Or Boogieboarding if you prefer

2 This is also a good description of a holiday I had at Bathsheba in Barbados. Nearly drowned on a few occasions. Huge fun.

Techstars: Day 16 (Half day!)

After all the rhetoric of a 19 day working week yesterday I went and did a half day today – or at least that’s how it felt. In at 7ish, out at just after 5:30. Yup, I didn’t even manage an 11 hour day1. Not only that, but on the surface of things I made negative progress insofar as the code I’m writing now does less than it did yesterday. Look a little deeper, however, and you’ll notice I’ve completely rewritten most of it to be nice an maintainable rather than the 100 or so lines of crap that I’d barfed into existence on Monday in order to prove a concept. This is most definitely considered A Good Thing™ and To Be Encouraged®.

I left as Ben and James were refactoring the business model and, on the surface of things, making as much progress as I appeared to have done. I’m pretty sure they’ve got as far as ”Rainbird is…” (and, to be honest, if you want to guarantee that nothing is going to change you might want to narrow that down even further to ”…is…”). Still, I’m almost certain that, like the code refactoring, under the covers it’s all being rearranged to be neat, tidy and elegant. It’s also likely that if I actually stuck around until the end of the working day I’d know what goes on the right hand side of the sentence. I’ve no doubt I’ll find out tomorrow morning, in the mean time lets put in the placeholder “…seriously cool stuff”.

The reason for my foreshortened day was a meal and drinks with some old colleagues of mine. I know we’re supposed to put our social lives on hold in case it interferes with the work/work balance, but it would seem churlish to spend this much time in London and not catch up with some friends. I could pretend it was business related and that I might be able to interested them in Rainbird, but if we’re honest most of them were, like me, first up against the wall when the revolution came2 and not really in any of the target markets that we may or may not be interested in chasing.

It was an evening off, pure and simple. And a good fun one at that.

1 I know, I’m such a slacker!

2 We were all at a large investment bank together when the financial crisis struck.

Techstars: Day 15 (The 19 day working week)

I used to be fairly Garfield-esque in my views on Mondays. I hated Mondays, and they hated me. Mondays were out to get me; you could feel it in the air. I suspect much of this was associated with the fact that Monday marked the start of the working week and required me dragging my sorry backside into the office to face whatever the week was going to throw at me. Some jobs were more bearable than others, but they were that: jobs.

I often look forward to Mondays now. In fact I sometimes dislike Friday as is means the working week is basically over and I will have to wait until next week to get anything else done, unless I can squeeze some work into the weekend. Being invested in what you do has a tendency to do that to you.

Today is Monday, and it’s been a good day. I’ve made some excellent inroads into some development work, and I believe the rest of the team have also made headway on the stuff their working on. Tomorrow starts a run of 17 Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays on the trot as weekends blur into weekdays and I basically do a 3 week stint. That’s not to say I won’t be taking some time off over the weekends (I may try cramming a mythical 4 hour work week into each of the weekend days), but it does mean that I won’t be constrained by artificial definitions of when I should and shouldn’t be working. Long-term that’s a really unsustainable way of working, but short term I’m hoping to bash out some really good changes to Rainbird and capitalise on the time I have available.

That said, given the extreme highs and lows of being in a startup that’s in an accelerator I fully expect to declare the 19 day working week a monumentally stupid idea that would only be attempted by an utter moron by about Wednesday afternoon. We’ll see.

Techstars: Day 14 (N’arch – A city in sync)

I’m pretty sure Jon Bradford never thought he’d find himself in Norwich talking to a potential Techstars company. After all, it’s Norwich. We do mustard, turkeys and insurance and that’s it.


Norwich is home to a burgeoning tech scene which surprises many people. A bunch of us have been making a load of noise about this for a while – hell, we even have an annual tech conference1 – so it was little surprise to me when SyncNorwich said there were putting on a 54 hour hackathon called SyncTheCity.

Rainbird were, of course, all over this and we had hoped to send the entire company for the entire event. Techstars rather threw a spanner in the works there, especially since Ben and I were mentors and James was judging (along with Jon Bradford, who was going to find himself in Norwich for a second time this year2). We settled for sponsoring the event and providing the coffee. Rainbird is all about the coffee.

As it was I was only able to make the Saturday. I wasn’t actually sure how much help I’d be given I’d not been involved with the teams from hour 1, but it turns out I needn’t have been worried. By Saturday the teams had a good idea of what it was they were pitching, and what their product/company was doing so the mentors helped with pitch practice. After a week of mentor madness the ability to sit on the other side of the fence and give advice as other people pitched was a breath of fresh air. I may have looked unimpressed, but that’s just severe tiredness; I was in fact seriously impressed with the quality of what the 11 teams had produced.

Me watching the teams pitch at Sync The City

So let me tell you where I’m at… I’m sorry, I’m out (Photo courtesy of Tim Stephenson, along with loads of others of the event)

There are plenty of other sources covering the event (including the opening, day2, judging and winners coverage) which do it much more justice than I could so I encourage you to go read those if you want a more in depth review. Suffice to day that I’m looking forward to the 2015 event and hope to make all 3 days for that one.

With SyncTheCity done it’s now back to London for a 3 week stint3 where I can hopefully get stuck into some of the development that needs doing on Rainbird and start pushing out some funky new features.

1 Which I’ll be speaking at, so get your tickets soon 😉

2 Although Jon did ask if there was anything we wanted him to say about Rainbird while he was there as he wasn’t going to go to Norwich three times in a year…

3 I’m staying in London for the next 2 weekends

Techstars: Day 12 (The Team)

The Rainbird Team

Barry, Dom, Chris, Ben and Nathan (James photographing)

So who are we? Who is Team Rainbird? Well this is us, or at least most of us. James is the one taking the photo so he’s not in the picture sadly.

James is the adult of the bunch, the sensible one. He’s also the one with taste, enjoying the finer things in life. James dresses well – the whole t-shirt and hoodie look doesn’t sit well with him, a fact that amuses the rest of us greatly.

On the left, that there is Brand Barry, or Bazminda to his mates. Bazminda is smooth. Very smooth. Something that works well when he’s negotiating. Freebies, discounts and upgrades just seem to find him. Another snappy dresser (or a flagrant copier of James) it can be hard to tell Bazminda apart from James if you just go by the clothes, although there is a clear hight difference.

Next up there’s me. You can tell I’m at home in a hoodie, I live in them. You can make your own mind up about the other aspects of me from the rest of the posts here.

In the middle, that’s Stumpy1 – unsurprising really as even in the foreground he’s shorter than all of us. A lover of tweed, and sensible cardigans, we’ve tried to beat the “old codger” out of him and remind him that he’s part of a cool and hip startup. I think that explains the pose.

Then there’s Ben. He’s the gaffer, and the brains behind the outfit. Rainbird is his baby and his labour of love. A connoisseur of proper beers and the consummate geek, Ben makes an excellent counterpoint for James. The two make a good team.

Lastly there’s Nathan – the one who got lost on the first day. Nothing fazes Nathan, not even getting lost in the middle of London. I’m not saying it happens a lot, but I do find myself having to point him in the right direction and saying “Run, Forrest, Run!”. I may start calling him Forrest.

1 Or Chris, if you insist on given names.

Techstars: Day 11 (Putting the Tech into Techstars)

We had our second Deep Dive with Jon1 and his team today. The Deep Dives are where we make sure that we, as a team, are heading in the right direction, review our performance for the week and set challenges for the week ahead. The feedback from this weeks meeting was overwhelmingly positive. Which you’d think would be a good thing.

Rainbird the company, as an idea, as a business plan, is accelerating. We’ve made a huge amount of progress on that front over the past two weeks. You could describe it as completely taking the company to bits and rebuilding it from scratch. Twice. You could argue that this is why they’re called accelerator programs.

Rainbird the platform, the underlying tech, is not keeping up. And that is my issue. As CTO it’s my job to ensure that the tech supports the business; after all, selling shiny awesomeness is easy.

We are not at the shiny awesomeness stage yet and there is a metric crapton2 of work to be done to get there. Thankfully Ben, the CEO, is a techie himself and understands this isn’t happening overnight. Sadly, however, I’m not quite so forgiving and am likely to begin birching myself for non-delivery fairly soon. And sat there, at the back of my mind, is the little niggle of doubt that all developers seem to get. What if I’m not up to the task? What if I can’t make it do what we need?

So my perverse logic goes that if we’d started the Deep Dives with us having our backsides handed to us on a plate then we could knuckle under, show improvement week on week, and gain credit for that.

By starting well we’ve set the bar high and now need to consistently exceed that standard. And to help us do that I need to ensure that the tech is doing what the business needs – so no pressure then.

1 The Managing Director of Techstars London.

2 1.10231 Imperial craptons.

Techstars: Day 10 (If I had a hammer…)

Todays plan was work 08:00-19:00, head home, gym for 20:00, cook dinner at 21:00, bed by 22:00. Didn’t quite pan out as I didn’t leave the office until 20:00, which was too late for the gym. This could be a blessing in disguise as I’m in bed for 21:20 and I will be unconscious1 by 22:00.

It seems that, between the mentor meetings, sponsor meetings and feedback meetings2, it was a head down, headphones on, get on with it type of day. Rest assured that I didn’t have my head in my hands due to despair, I was just looking at something on my iPad3.

The Rainbird team working with headphones on

I find it ironic that Apple is known for their iconic white headphones, yet the white headphones here are non Apple ones plugged into Android devices while I, the rabid fanboi, have black, non Apple ones plugged into my iPad.

The headphone tactic seems to have worked though. I’ve taken a bunch of open source modules that sort of vaguely do what I want them to do and hit them with a big virtual hammer. The resulting monstrosity should find it’s way back into the open source community in the next few days and we’ll finally have a way of doing releases that force me to update the version number and release notes rather than arbitrarily changing the version number and putting in the first few changes I can remember.

I also spent some time speccing out some new features for Rainbird which look awesome on paper. Absolutely no clue how I’m going to implement them, but hopefully the impending 8+ hours of delicious sleep4 will see me bright eyed and bushy tailed tomorrow and provide inspiration and insight for the challenge. Failing that I’ll just bludgeon some more modules together with my big hammer until it resembles something like what I want.

1 Sleep is far too soft a word.

2 For a company that prides itself on not having meetings we suddenly have a lot of meetings. My calendar is just insane at the moment.

3 Probably Facebook actually, which doesn’t really help the “working hard” thing we’re trying to portray but my wife puts lots of photos of my daughter on there so I like to check from time to time during the day just to see what they’re up to while I’m away.

4 And I do sleep very well here, there’s just not enough of it going on.