Startup – one month in. How’s it going?

I’ve had discussions about things I never thought I’d discuss and lent a lot of thought to things I never thought I’d have to think about.

For those that don’t know yet, the startup is a subscription coffee service. We source the finest ‘single-estate’ coffees from around the world and deliver them to our subscribers each month. It’s for people that, when confronted by the rows of coffee on the supermarket shelves, always go for the same old stuff but want to branch out and don’t know where to go or what to look for.

We’ve got an initial sign up page capturing email addresses of interested parties to alert them when we go live. Using our joint networks, which has worked work out really well for us – thanks everyone, we’ve managed multiple hundreds of expressions of interest. The hard thing is to convert those people into paying subscribers.

The biggest headache in this first month has been packaging. There are certain things that we just cannot get way from but also things that we want to do to ensure we give our customers as ‘Gucci’ an experience as possible.

The things that are fixed:

  • We’re selling 250g of coffee
  • Coffee really does have to be packaged in foil. No getting away from it, it’s the only way to deliver it fresh.
  • The foil bag has to have a valve to let the carbon dioxide – that the beans give off after roasting – escape.
  • Because of our low volumes (hopefully only in the short term) we have to have a standard bag. Producing our own bespoke bag would be prohibitively expensive at this stage.
  • We need to be able to get this bag through a letterbox. We don’t want people having to trot off down their local Royal Mail sorting office to pick up coffee each month. Where’s the convenience in that?

The things that are variable:

  • What do we put this bag in to deliver it to the customer? Personally I hate jiffy bags. They’re perfectly functional and all that but they’re not very premium. Cardboard box? Yes, but can we get it thin enough to hold the coffee and go through a letter box?

This last point has been the most difficult thing to work out. I haven’t quite done a James ‘5000 prototypes’ Dyson job but I have been ordering all sorts of boxes from suppliers across the country. I even broke out the metal rule and scalpel yesterday to fashion, what I believe, is the right answer to the question. At least for now.

Other things on my mind?

  • Leaflet insert design
  • Label design
  • Copy writing
  • Designing the site
  • Launching an extreme beta version of the site to start gathering credit card details for our first delivery.

There’s probably more stuff, but that’ll do for now.

It has been, and continues to be, an incredible ride. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Oh yeah, one last thing. Did you know coffee is zero-rated for VAT? That’s going to make it a little cheaper for you all.

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The start of something new

I’m sat in Monmouth coffee on a lovely Monday morning waiting for my startup co-founder, Phil, to arrive.

You read so many stories about people giving it all up to follow their dream. Well, this isn’t really one of those stories.

It’s more by a strange twist of fate that I left my job at the agency Made by Many last Friday and am now sat here in the late summer London sun with no salary and no office.

I met my business partner two or three years ago whilst freelancing in a shared office space on Greek street in Soho. We did some small pieces of work together and stayed in touch after I joined Made by Many in June 2009.

18 months ago he asked if I would like to be part of his last startup but the timing wasn’t right. I was in the process of moving house, sorting mortgages and embedding myself in Made by Many. Fast forward to a couple of months ago and Phil asked me if I wanted to be a part of his latest idea. This time it felt right. The idea instantly made sense to me and I wanted to be a part of it. Also, after 12 years of agency life I felt it was time for a change; to (part) own my own ‘thing’ and witness the other side of the internet industry away from client services.

I’m excited and scared in equal measure with a renewed enthusiasm for the work I do.

The next few months are going to be interesting.

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Keep calm…

In response to the news that Sony’s PlayStation Network has been hacked and millions of card details compromised.

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When is a deadline not a deadline?

When it’s not drop-dead.

Let me explain.

I have a theory. If there is an important event that the piece of work needs to be completed for then the deadline will be hit. Take the printing of an annual report. It absolutely, definitely, no-questions-asked has to go out on time. All nighters are timesheeted. Everyone from the agency account junior to the receptionist is called in to proof-read. All the stops are pulled out to hit the deadline.

Then there are the other types of deadline. The arbitrary ones that are plucked out of thin air when someone makes a finger in the breeze estimation and sets a date with a pin in the calendar. These nearly always get missed. There’s no urgency. No reason why a manager can’t just push the launch date back a week or two. After all, no one has to make any compromises or sacrifices of features, functionality or ‘completeness’. There’s always more time to ‘make it a little bit better’. To keep tinkering.

What’s to loose? Nothing, apart from team morale, enthusiasm and work quality.

Beware the project with the arbitrary deadline.

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Work in progress

I’m in the process of moving this blog to its new home at Please excuse the mess while this happens.

I’m also going to use the move as an excuse to broaden the remit of this blog beyond simply design. You see, I’m not a very good writer. Blog posts are hard to do, let alone maintain the habit for any length of time. As I blog on my employer’s site about all things design and digital I’m a bit short of time / inspiration to keep this blog talking about design as well.

So, reset your bookmarks to and let’s see where it takes us.

Update: 6 December 2010

Change of plan. Over at you can find a blog about cycling. This blog will stay here for the foreseeable. I might get round to writing more stuff though.

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Is Gordon Brown still Prime Minster?

An idea that came out of nowhere in the office between Isaac and myself late yesterday evening, launched this morning and seems to have ‘gone viral‘ on Twitter in the space of a few hours. Now that’s agile!

Is Gordon Brown still Prime Minister?

A simple answer to a simple question. Is Gordon Brown still Prime Minister?

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When design becomes less about design and more about decorating

Eric Karjaluoto over at Ideas on Ideas has written a great post about how design as a skill and profrssion has become a great mimic-fest. How there’s a race to the bottom of faddy design whipped up by very talented people who are extremely adept at mimicry but very much lacking in methodology and discernible design skill.

I’ve found this many times when interviewing designers. Lots of style over substance and surface gloss. An impressive portfolio of expertly executed Photoshop effects but lacking when it comes to reasoning, process, rigorous thought or any of the other traits or skills that mark a true designer out from the stylists. Anyway, enough from me, I’ll leave it to Eric and his post – Drones at the karaoke lounge of design.

“The newest design blogs are particularly telling of this as they largely seem to concentrate on a steady-stream of eye-candy and visual masturbation. Seemingly, the past year has played host to the superseding of actual writing and reflection on design to vapid graphical lists like “25 Great Green Websites”. Easy to create, bookmark, and subsequently mimic, it’s as though we’ve collectively walked into the great karaoke lounge of design–all of it somehow comforting but unlikely to result in anything of substance.”

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