Talking with family about what we were doing, why and how
So tell me more.
From an early age I have loved art and technology and have been obsessed with integrating the two. I have been painting since I could hold a brush and working with computers since I got one in 1990. This led to building and selling computers in my early teens, programming in my late teens. All while studying Art & Design, selling paintings in my early 20’s and getting a degree in Graphic Design.
I started a 3D studio in my late 20’s allowing me to marry my passion for art and technology, this has lasted nearly 15 years I loved the way art and technology came ever closer together, watching 3D graphics and engines become more and more life-like, enabling me to create ever more realistic and interesting projects for clients.
In my private life, I enjoy playing with technology at home and seeing how it could save me money, entertain me and help my family. I wrote my dissertation on Home Automation whilst studying as a Graphic designer in 2005 and when I bought my house in 2009 I was excited to be able to automate it and to fit my family needs. Right up until I realised it would cost over £15,000, not be truly customisable and wouldn’t always work. But like my 3D business, I watched and experimented with the technology as it evolved and I can now build a more powerful, secure and fun system for less than 15% of that old cost.
What was it like running your own business and what did you learn?
I have been running a 3D business for over 15 years, growing from a freelancer into a business with 10 people and as the recession bit downsizing to one and multiple freelance partners. I think the hard learnings are the easiest to quantify.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
- Outsource to partners where you can and focus on what you do best
- Do not over hire as the business grows, letting people go is hard
- Hire people for the skills you need now and going forward, not just because you like them
- Above all, that you are there to solve the client’s actual problem not to sell them what you have
- If you don’t like doing something, outsource it, don’t do it badly just to get it done
The good parts are more long winded.
- I loved meeting new clients and growing our business with them and so watch their business grow.
- To limit the amount we produced so that what we did produce was a quality product rather than mass produced
- Watching clients realise we had solved their problem in a new and better way than they though possible
- Growing the business with colleagues who became friends, standing together in the good and the bad times
As for running the business it was and still is fun and frustrating at the same time. Starting as a freelancer meant it was stressful being on my own but I had the freedom to work when I wanted and for whom. As I got busier and brought people into the business I learned how to manage people, juggle payroll and the admin side, skills I did enjoy but it took me further from my original freelance work. It was hard finding the right balance between the internal facing roles and the client facing roles I grew up working on.
The recession hit and we were forced to downsize, letting people go was not an easy experience even though I helped most of my team get replacement jobs and the rest became freelancers that I continue to work with. The recession has done one thing, it let me focus on my home automation work and it has brought me Nifty. I still work on the 3D side of things but only for select clients.
So what’s it like starting your new business with a family?
Hard but handy. I now have a phenomenally demanding test bed to try products out on. I have a young family, so the house needs to work for three generations; my wife, my parents and my little ones. And then there are guests, who need to be able to enjoy their visit without being handed an instruction manual just to turn on a light and the heating.
All of this has meant that rather than diving in and opening up for business, we have spent the last 18 months experimenting and fine tuning what we do. Buying and integrating lots of technology and making it all work together, be that blinds, lights, locks, camera’s or a fridge. We have tried and made it work.
Technology should either be obvious, so people don’t have to learn how to use it or hidden in the background so people don’t even know about it or ideally a combination of both. It should not make life harder.
For example if your phone ran out of battery and you had no internet you should still be able to switch your lights and alarm on and off.
It’s about knowing what technology to use, when to use it and where. I’ve learned that the sexiest and most expensive is not always the best, that much like my 3D business, I need to focus on what my client actually want’s not what the technology can do. That’s a lot harder when you are dealing with children, my wife and my parents.
To give you an idea of my home environment.
My wife – want’s it all to work without having to change her habits or learning too many new things. She loves the new skills it has brought her but doesn’t want to have to relearn how to turn on a light or the heating.
My children – One is too short to turn on a light switch so some lights turn on when someone enters and turn off when no movement has been detected for a number of minutes, mainly to solve the problem of him peeing on the seat (is that solvable :D). Whereas my eldest does not know how to switch lights off so they are programmed to turn off when no one is in a room.
Parents – Happy to learn in their own time but everything should work as they expect and really not require them to unlearn the habits of a lifetime.
Guests – Need to know they will not embarrass themselves, when they hit a switch it will work as expected
Best case – No matter what type of family, a house should just work. My goal is to not take my phone out, talk to Alexa, to lock or set my alarm or heating. All this should be done automatically but any other family member should be able to live comfortably in the house.
Technology enables a house to be automatically looked after, whether it be for security your lifestyle or the environment. A beautifully installed automated home should save you money, enliven your life and make you feel more secure.
And the result?
Lots of learnings about hardware, software and integration but perhaps more importantly about how we use the technology and that often what we say we want is not what we want. That over time and as we use the technology our thoughts and habits change and evolve, often in surprising ways, that mean the system has to update and evolve with us.