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Week 230

Last week’s financial modelling resulted in a graph of the company’s invoices and cash receipts back to July 2007. I can read my feelings off it month by month: there’s an early year of maintaining one big consultancy gig per quarter coupled with a single long running project. Good. I can read a year ago, November 2008, the beginning of the time I called the Dayuejin – the Great Leap Forward – when we decided to begin to grow. The following six months are spiky: there’s a month of cash followed by a month of drought and hunting for work, and the pattern repeats. Looking at the chart I can remember the inclines and angles of the lines in my legs. It feels like hiking.

It’s satisfying to see this present epoch, the Escalante, made literal in grey and blue. In July 2009 the oscillations finish and we’re at base-camp of a steady climb. The climb won’t last forever, maybe until February next year: at that point I’m aiming for the company to be turning over nicely; cash, business development, work, R&D, exploitation, marketing, growth all running steadily, at comfortable capacity, and together, without stuttering or misfiring. It’s that operational foundation that enables products. New product development and client services live hand in hand: in expertise, ideas, attention and freedom. So I have my eye on what it will mean to achieve the Escalante – and what comes afterwards – and I’m working on building the right structures and bringing in the right projects to make that happen.

That’s the big picture. Weminuche is a big part of what happens post Escalante. And the new studio. And the people. And, and, and. But from here to there…

I guess we’re a product design company, whether it’s for Web, mobile, print, networks or consumer electronics. “Product” for us means something which you can attach marketing messages to, that has a business model in it, that has goals and success criteria, that you can rally a team behind, that is coherent to the consumer… services, content, community and experience are immaterials that we work with, intrinsically, but frankly: if you can’t say what it is in a sentence and you can’t sell it, why should we make it or why should anyone else pay us to make it? We like to make products designed to be part of social lives and part of society.

Now as part of the invention process there are weird and often gorgeous experiments and explorations. But I’m pleased to be able to say that the Here & There maps did well commercially, in addition to coming out of a long-running research project, and the collaborations with Touch succeeded in the marketplace of attention. You gotta get to market to know whether what you’re doing is any good.

I don’t know, maybe I’m being unnecessarily dogmatic, but the idea of “product” is a thread that runs through a lot of our work, and I’m trying to think through and unpack what we really mean by that.

Anyway. The projects we’re working on right now – primarily Ashdown and consulting with Bonnier – have to be considered as products (with service layers! Living in our social groups!), and executed with inventiveness and beauty and popularity.

And the two projects I mentioned at the end of week 229, they have to be about inventiveness and beauty and popularity too. A quick update on those: it was a great Friday last week. We have codenames for both now. I’ve commented on a draft of the contract for Walnut. And on Kendrick we’ve agreed budgets and the engagement fee, and we’re waiting to see the contract and PO. Massively exciting.

I should say what we’re up to this week…

Schulze and Matt are working with Bonnier at the beginning of this week. Schulze will move onto organising builders for the new studio, and planning how we invest in the development of two products of our own. He’s also working on pitching Weminuche, and helping with Ashdown.

Matt Jones will focus on Ashdown. It’s an Ashdown week in the studio: everyone has something to do. I’m going to rustle up some meetings, Tom is building scrapers for data and making more visualisations, and Matt is leading the design effort. Matt Brown, previously Lead Interaction Designer at, is joining us to work on this (and other things) for a few months, and he’s starting next Monday: it’s super exciting and a big moment for us, and we’re prepping the ground so he can get off to a flying start.

Three Matts. This is going to be confusing.

Tom’s also writing for the website this week. We need to keep an eye on general marketing because of how busy we’re going to be on projects for the next couple months. If the website’s not growing, that’ll bite us come February.

I’m on contracts, pitches, interviewing, and bedding down the new operations infrastructure we now need. For instance: we have an intranet. The long ascent of the Escalante always comes back to the moment by moment. If it’s true, that behind the mountains there are mountains, then you shouldn’t climb only for the view, but for the climb itself. Make every step satisfying.

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After this:

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