Monday, October 30, 2006

Something like reporting

Monday evening
Development spend: same
Emails sent today: 10
New cheeses tasted today: two

I remembered to buy a Guardian today. On my way to buy cheese I remembered it was Monday.
I've struggled with knowing what day of the week it is for years now. All my time in newspapers I only ever knew what day it was tomorrow. Now, since I moved to home working, I have to check my diary and count to make sure it's not the weekend. Hence my frequently forgetting to buy The Guardian for Monday's media section.
Which is a shame because I actually read a lot of the articles now rather than head straight for the jobs section.
Like today's story about government attempts to limit use of the Freedom of Information Act so even fewer people get to find out about mistakes, ineptitude and wastefulness of public bodies. Apparently too many journalists are using the Act to request information. If only.
I think the majority of journalists are sitting in courtrooms, or council meetings, or interviewing relatives of dead people or hanging around outside Kate Moss's house to have time to ask searching questions of government departments.
The article defended The Guardian, as second to the BBC for flooding officials with FOI requests, for having only submitted 250 requests last year - not the 500+ it was accused of.
If reporters at local newspapers had the time and were given the support to be equally as conscientious about using the FOI Act to get answers to those questions press officers avoid answering, we might have something like open government in the UK. And something more like reporting.


I spent much of today sending emails to bloggers I've never met in the hope that they'll point some of the people they come across in sweeble's direction.
There are some great blogs out there, thousands of people writing amazing stuff for a few hundred people to read.
Sweeble is a place on the web where individual stories can be told without setting up a blog to do it. But it will only really work if it also becomes the place where hundreds of thousands of people go to read those individual stories.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bad bosses building British business
(I so hate over-alliteration, don't you?)

Wednesday (D-day plus five)
Development spend: Same
Bank accounts successfully opened: None (still)
Number of office pigeons: Five

A friend just called to tell me about his nightmare (new) boss. This friend has spent weeks working on proposals and presentations his boss has asked him to produce in order to make the case for keeping IT inhouse rather than outsource it.

He's worked until midnight night after night, building the case to keep his job and his team's jobs and knowing that inhouse IT was the most cost-effective solution for the business in any case.

Today he found out that his boss had already made the decision to outsource before he even started this process - and that he's determined to outsource even though he knows it will be much more expensive for the company. My friend has wasted his time and will be out of a job no matter what he does. Hopefully, it will be the best thing that ever happened to him.

If it wasn't for a bad boss I might not have created sweeble. He wasn't the first one I'd worked for - this country is held back by a whole army of not-good-enough bosses. But he became the last one I was prepared to work for ever again.

Same thing with my bloke. His last bad boss tipped him over the edge to finally setting up his own business and going it alone. One year later and it's gone from zero to £half-a-million turnover and he's providing work for four other people.
Bad bosses are vicariously building Britain's enterprise culture.

In the meantime, I want people like my friend to tell the world through sweeble what it feels like when you're still battling with that bad boss. It's as horrible as it can be (I remember) and that needs to be set down for the record.

When we'd finished talking, I looked out the window of the shoffice (word coined to describe the shed office I work in). It is absolutely tipping it down. The rain is pouring off the roof and the wood pigeons are huddled on top of it. There used to be just two regular roof perchers, now there are five. They've discovered the amount of heat that escapes through the shoffice roof when I'm inside working.

I can't imagine now being back in a real office and slogging away every day for a bad boss, or any boss in fact. It would be nice to have that salary again but it's getting less and less important to me. Doing something you want to do and something you believe in is what's important. And there are more and more of us who are thinking like that nowadays.

Remember the Star Trek Next Generation episode where they discussed the madness of working just to make money rather than to improve yourself and your world? One day.


Hello. In true Star Trek style this is Sue from the future here. I wanted to check this posting to find out why it's appearing so high up on a Google search for sweeble. Worse, it appears with a line of text plucked from the middle of the post. The bit where I say 'if it wasn't for a bad boss I might not have created sweeble' - bit embarrassing now I'm in the middle of my first google ad campaign.

Don't understand it, why not go in at the start of the post, with the headline? Why jump in five paragraphs? Presumably it just picks up that line because it mentions sweeble. I may change that. I'll think about it.

Google really is rewriting web history, just not necessarly on its own.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Champagne opened, cheques written, here we come!

Saturday (D-day plus one!)
Development spend: £4890
Bottles of champagne opened: One
Number of stories written: 36

Yippee! Sweeble - the test version at least - went live yesterday afternoon.
It felt surprisingly underwhelming at the time, given the sweat and tears that have gone into getting sweeble going. Mostly because my ISP was storing the previous cached version (showing just the holding page) and it took until this morning for me to see it working on my own laptop.
In the meantime, I'd been desperately ringing people up to get them to check what they could see on their machines and keeping my fingers crossed everything looked as it should.
Next stage was to start emailing the group of friends who'll be the first to test sweeble and let me know what doesn't make sense and, once we've done a bit more tweaking, then I'll start to let strangers know about sweeble.
And then it's everything crossed until sweeble gets to the stage where there's enough material and enough users signed up for them to keep coming back and to want to tell their friends about it. And then the site will finally start to grow under its own steam.
In the meantime, me and my bloke celebrated by finally opening that bottle of champagne and I wrote cheques to the design company and the server seller.
Yippee and yippee again!


Sue from the future here. Ignore this picture. Had to shove it into a posting somewhere so I could add it to my blog profile at a point in the future but not as much in the future as I am now.
Anyway, re-read the post and thought: "Gosh, wasn't I excited! Good job I didn't know what was around the corner.. But am probably due another bottle of champagne."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Red tape and pinstripes strangling UK start-ups

Tuesday (D-Day minus three - hopefully)
Development spend: same (still haven't paid those invoices)
Number of stories written: 30
Number of rejections from banks: one

There was a story in yesterday's Guardian (,,1923181,00.html) asking whether the UK could produce a success like YouTube?

It broadly suggested that UK internet entrepreneurs were struggling in isolation, on shoestring budgets with limited access to the sort of people, technology and business support systems available to our US cousins.

I would agree with that. But I would also say the problem is at a much more basic level. It's not that you won't find venture capital and other funds (if you want them) once you've got a presence on the web, it's the day-to-day red tape that stops you even getting started in the UK.

Take me (this being my blog) as an example. It's now ten weeks since I gave up the day job in newspapers to concentrate on sweeble. Not only is the site still not live (although I'm currently pinning my hopes on getting it live this Friday), but every contact I've had with business advisers, bankers and agencies who are paid to help people like me get started in business has been torturous.

I spent three weeks pulling together the phenomenal wedge of forms the Alliance & Leicester needed in order to set up a business bank account, only to be turned down. The only reason being that Experian, the credit checking company A&L use, had seen that my company had previously been dormant and turned me down because that meant I didn't have a current trading record. Duh!

They suggested I start trading and get some cash going through my business account and reapply! I think the A&L are fine poaching existing business customers from other banks but don't have a clue how to work with start-up businesses. I'm seeing Lloyds this afternoon, they want me to take along my business plan and a stack of ID. All I want is to open a bank account so I can start invoicing - why is it such a biggy?

Having banks that can work outside a box-ticking process would be a start for helping entrepreneurs get legitimate businesses going in the UK.

And then there's that whole army of public sector staff paid to dole out business advice and piddling pockets of cash while drawing down double that in salaries and office costs.

Business Link - one day I will spit on your grave!

Advantage West Midlands have a pocket of seed funding especially for encouraging innovation and shiny new stuff. Trouble is they take so long making a decision that new ideas risk becoming old or lost before they manage to redirect any of our taxes. Again, a tonne of work for me putting the bid for £10k together, bringing in other companies, doing the research - and they are now over two weeks late on a decision that should, by their own target, have been made in three weeks max.

This is an innovation fund, six weeks delay in getting an innovation project underway can mean the difference between an idea succeeding or not.

Red tape and lack of commitment to what your clients actually need from you underpins seed support in the UK.


On the plus side, I've now bought my own server (when I pay the invoice) and I've moved sweeble's office base out of the living room and into the new garden shed.
Bit chilly and I need to boost the wi-fi signal on foggy days but, hey, this is the reality of UK internet entrepreneurs.
Take note banks and development agencies.

Friday, October 06, 2006

My kingdom to be able to code

Friday (D-day minus whatever)
Development spend: same until I pay the invoices piling up
Number of emails exchanged about servers: 17
Unopened bottles of champagne in fridge: one

Okay, today I'm fed up. No launch, no server for site to launch from yet, no working site design. And a list as long as my arm of things that still need 'tweaking.'

And still no answer on the development grant applied for three weeks ago. Barely a drop in the ocean of public money Advantage West Midlands hands out - but the difference between me being able to say 'yes' or 'no' to most of the decisions I'm taking right now on how sweeble will look and run.

However, the main thing is there was no sweeble launch this week. Hopefully next week but I'm too fed up right now to set another date and see it missed.

The main problem was hosting. Sweeble is running on non-Microsoft everything which seems to be an issue with most hosting resellers. The software mix we were looking for seemed to be okay at first, but gradually stopped being okay with the hosting companies. Now I'm trying to decide on whether to buy our own server and do it all ourselves, or pay double what I can afford to another company to host a server we have to set up and they would look after.

In the meantime, the page design has been carried across to the development site and my first look at a live sweeble with it's party frock on was underwhelming. There is a lot of tweaking going on right now.

I'm starting to wonder whether the only way to launch something new on the web, on a shoestring, is if the person with the dream is also the site developer. If I could code, like Craig Newmark or Michael Birch, sweeble would be live right now.

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