I was very lucky to have grow-up in the historic town of Arundel in West Sussex. From an early age I had the freedom to explore, and the encouragement to apply my energy to learning how things work – perhaps because I had to rebuild the toys I took apart because they weren’t going to be replaced.
My first job was a paper round, I was 12 but tall enough to pass for the minimum age to work of 13. I used my first month’s wages to buy a skateboard to get around it quicker – perhaps my first business investment. I then persuaded my mother to pay for half of a new BMX if I could save enough for the other half – my first pitch for venture capital!
Once I had the new BMX I found I could do 2 paper rounds in the same time, and was well on my way to a new mountain bike, with 18 gears – so by 14 I’d already discovered leverage and compound growth – but in reality I was just impatient, and wanted to ride with the big kids on the country trails.
With transport, independence and a sense of adventure, quickly I found I could go further and do more and, more importantly, get to the nearby bigger towns with amusement arcades and video games.
Hooked on all things thrilling and new, next I had my eye on a TV and Atari ST for my bedroom – a summer job washing up and serving ice-creams in Arundel Castle Cafe provided that.
Then came along came the Amstrad CPC464 – I could afford many more games and even ‘hack’ them for infinite powers and lives – so a second washing up job was required with the added bonus of making sandwiches and getting free food, to the relief of my mother, who said I had hollow legs.
Arundel Primary School had just 1 Sinclair ZX-Spectrum. I quickly worked out how to program to draw ‘creative’ patterns and shapes, and realised the teachers weren’t totally sure what it was for so I needed to be inventive.
From there I worked my way through the original 8-bit Nintendo, Sega MegaDrive, 16-bit Nintendo, 32-bit SNES, Amiga 500, BBC Micro, Acorn 3000, Windows 3.0, N64, Playstation, and the coming of age – an Apple Mac G4-400Mhz with OS8 paid for by my first student loan.
All of these boys toys were paid-for from taking a washing up job in the local Italian restaurant, Pappardelle and working my way through making starters and pizzas to becoming the head chef, and one of ‘the family’. This kept me out of most trouble, and well fed through my GSCEs and A-Levels.
This job then funded for driving lessons and my very first car at 17 – a 12-year old VW Golf convertible – but with the smaller engine because the GTi insurance was just too much. It didn’t take me long to learn how to fix things on it, by getting all the bits from the breakers yard, and make it look like the cooler GTi model, I even re-sprayed it twice to get the right metallic midnight-blue.
Uni was going to be expensive and, having moved out of home at 17 to further assert my independence, I decided to take a year out to work and save. I took a job as a Kitchen Designer for a local firm which then paid for the long-admired GTi, and the move to Salford University to play with some really cool techie toys on the course I’m still not 100% sure of the name of. It definitely contained the words Electronic, Engineering, Sound, Video, Production & Technology but it was such a mouthful we formed a breakaway group dubbed ourselves The Music Makers – concentrating mainly on making soundtracks, music videos, radio shows and getting involved in live gigs for the really loud toys!
Perhaps more by luck than design my first proper CV, sent to an agency in London, got me a real job with Monitor Media in Surrey as a Web Designer and Developer. Using mainly Macromedia Flash, Photoshop and Illustrator, and concentrating on the agency’s fun clients, Hasbro and Coca-Cola, I designed online games for Subbuteo, Cindy, Harry Potter, Coca-Cola and created the first version of the website MyMonopoly.com where you can create your own custom-board online. Other clients I worked for included Toshiba, Ericsson, Airport Shopping, BF Goodrich and various other more corporate brands but often getting to work on the more creative projects thanks to the passion I had for the work.
After a few years, there was the sad day of September 11th, precluding the 2002 dot-com bust when America withdraw huge amounts of foreign investment, probably wisely given how many crazy budgets were being spent on things like boo.com, and my employer was forced to make reluctant redundancies. I decided that my colleagues probably needed the job more than I did, and that it might be a good time to follow my freelance ambitions, so I moved on see who else I could work with in London.
Then, on a holiday to see friends that had moved to the island of Jersey, I found a place full of businesses that didn’t yet have websites and hadn’t even heard of a content management system. The beaches looked great, everyone seemed to enjoy a nice lifestyle, and I felt I could take my London connections and experience, and do well to offer my services to local companies with bigger ideas.
Plus, I managed to use some of my sound and video experience to help out with a local video production company – editing travel programmes, designing graphics, corporate videos and even producing a couple of TV pilots – they never got commissioned but I’m still proud of them. I still think one of them has a lot of potential so may re-visit that little ambition one day.
In Jersey I designed and built websites for dozens of the local estate agents, car dealers, recruitment companies, tourism attractions and local finance companies. By then the e-commerce revolution was taking off, Amazon was starting to sell more than just books, local company Play.com was growing exponentially and everything online seemed to be flying – so I stuck around. Right place, right time and all that.
After a couple of years in Jersey, with a business partner, we built a local classifieds portal, local events and photography portal, and some e-commerce websites for clients. We then decided to make our own e-commerce websites, starting with a trial run selling genuine Jersey Produce like the local dairy products and souvenirs, then we launched a web business to sell health products, and another one to sell DVDs, CDs and Games.
We grew the company from 1 to over 30 staff, started a local weekly magazine and stopped taking on website clients to concentrate on our own. The business peaked in size, with the economy, around 2007 but from then on the local advertising business declined and the aggressive price-competition in the media market eroded all the profits for smaller players in that sector. So we consolidated the team, reduced our commitments to all the projects were were doing as much for fun as we were for profit, and focused on our most successful venture. Health Monthly is online resource for health information and buying discounted health and beauty products that has now served over 250,000 customers and enabled us to become the exclusive UK distributor for many international brands.
And that’s me, 10 years later, I still live in Jersey. I’ve learnt to surf, sail, wakeboard, snowboard, hire, fire, manage accounts, money, a relatively large team and now a core team of specialist designers, developers, customer service and logistics staff. I serve the function of Managing Director but I just call myself a Director – and Internet geek, because I still like to get involved in a bit of everything.
What next? Well, we have a successful business, and growing that is still very enjoyable. But I’m never short on ideas, and 15 years of web development has helped me build up a lot of systems, knowledge, contacts and experience.
The great thing about the work I do, and industries I have been lucky enough to work in, is that the possibilities are often only as limited as the imagination. And because in my first-job I was the go-to person when it came to things like strap-lines and (for want of a better phrase) out-of-the-box concepts, I’d like to think my slightly ambitious tendencies, and ongoing sense of adventure, lend me to projects where I can push creativity, technology, systems and communications to do new things and, perhaps romantically, make the world a little bit better whilst doing my bit.
OK, that is a lot about me but hey, you’re reading it so I guess wanted to know something – and I can be a little verbose.
Just pop me an email if you want, being online most days I’m pretty good at replying, and always interested to hear from friends old and new.