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Post #1084

Week 232

Let me get the business plate-spinning out of the way. Yesterday we completed the year-end accounts, which I first mentioned here in week 218. On the face of it, 2008/09 wasn’t much better than 2007/08 — revenue was up, but margins were down. But look closer: July to December 2008 was flat. Even stevens. January through June 2009 made up for it, and at the same time the company reconfigured for growth (Tom and Matt J both started; Shownar launched and with it came our focus on media design), the beginning of the Great Leap Forward. You can see a shift from high-burn short consultancy by principals to multiple, simultaneous longer projects with teams, and our wage bill shoots up too. The decreased margins have paid for increased available attention, which has been parlayed into the building of internal expertise, cash-flow, and room to experiment and invest. We’ll need that.

Also recently and this week: Accounts for Ashdown set up and first VAT return submitted (it’s a separate company for funding purposes), and I’m enjoying Xero which is just as quirky as MYOB but more modern; two office manager interviews, and very hopeful about one of those; some consultancy with the BBC on the Shownar transition on Thursday; couple of contracts to chase (Kendrick will start Monday); talking with the architects about options and clarifications with builders.

Matt Jones is out the office for the rest of the week, at the RCA for the Design Interactions brief, in Stockholm with Bonnier, and speaking at CAT London. Jack Schulze is out of the office all week, in Oslo with AHO for workshops and with Touch, and in Stockholm with Bonnier.

Ashdown will be announced imminently. Matt Brown has been designing for the alpha last week and this, prettiness and thoughtfulness are coming through. Tom is breathing code into some of the designs, and beginning to answer some deep questions about the nature of the data. The data Ashdown deals with is not easily modelled or poured into structured databases. It’s messy and must be interrogated with code that starts broken and gradually gets more sophisticated. We’ve taken to calling this kaizen, the discipline of continuous small improvements. What we’re doing isn’t hard in that we need genius insights, it’s hard in the sense it will take 3 months of baby steps to get there. Kaizen. At the moment everything is broken. Next month it won’t be broken quite so much. Let’s go.

Meanwhile: Georgina Voss has begun her research into UK education, and Benjamin Manktelow is swimming in cybernetics.

I think I should spend some time this week visualising company activity and team capacity.

2 Comments and Trackbacks

  • 1. jamesb said on 21 November 2009...

    I love reading about how you’re progressing, not only because it’s so open and honest (and interesting) but also because the approach you’re taking is one we’ve tried to do, namely, doing client work to build up sufficient “elbow room” to develop your own products. This is *so* hard (developing the ideas, producing a viable business case, juggling the work) but you make it all sound so do-able which I find quite inspiring.

    It might be nice to have a conference / ‘do’ where the focus is actually on developing businesses and products; on business ‘processes’ and how you make stuff happen. Much of this stuff is invisible or super-dry textbook rote but it needn’t be.

  • 2. Simon Roberts said on 23 November 2009...

    I too really enjoy these updates as read (vicariously) from inside the belly of a large company but familiar with many of the issues from my somewhat less successful, but highly enjoyable days running ethnographic boutique Ideas Bazaar. One thing that interests me is the relationship between the very large number of speakerships that you guys do and new business (v. doing the business). The one thing that we all know about travel is that it makes it pretty hard to do more than keep abreast of the comings and goings of the mothership and whilst it cearly creates buzz and interest in your work to what extent does it bring in new business or prevent you from doing what you have….? Is that a tension you feel or is the distinction I draw between getting it and doing it over-stated?

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