A love for meeting passionate people, exploring new ideas and striving for a life full of adventure.
Philosophy and politics
It can surprise new friends to discover that I consider most of my ventures to be “creative endeavours”. Much like an artist who is compelled to paint a painting, it has been that process of creation – of taking ideas and making them real and affecting other people with them, which has been the most exciting part of being a founder.
However, now I have reached middle age, with all the grown up responsibilities that go with that – the desire for a better standard of living and greater financial security has begun to grow. This has meant a shift in the way I lead my ventures, now setting longer term goals and trying to create organisations that thrive for decades or more, not just for my own benefit but for everyone involved in them.
Whilst I believe that we all have a right to create wealth, security and well-being for our families – I also believe we should strive to do so in a way that lifts up and empowers other people. It’s an important feature of my current venture that we try and do this for everyone involved in it.
I also believe that people who have succeeded in creating some success and security have an obligation to support those on their own journey, because if you have resources, whether time, money or energy – at your disposal – and don’t use it to help others, it’s like watching someone fall in front of you and not lending them a hand to get up. Lend a hand!
I enjoy meeting passionate and positive people and could spend hours talking with them to learn about their interests and aspirations, especially over a coffee or on a walk. I particularly enjoy the company of people who will challenge the way I think and persuade me to change my mind about something, or help me learn something new.
Mountain hiking has always been a pleasure, and whilst I haven’t scaled anything much larger than the peaks of the United Kingdom, I love the parallels between it and the process of creating a new venture. At first a mountain can seem intimidating with the summit so far away. The secret, of course, is to break the walk down in to stages; by focusing only on the next ridge, or the next natural place for rest, with a little tenacity – you eventually arrive on the top with breath intact. Of course, sometimes when you arrive, you can’t see anything – are cold and hungry and wish to be at home. And, there is always the risk of getting lost, or becoming distracted on route and not leaving yourself with enough time. This is the experience of most founders too.
At 16 years old I watched a film called Dropzone at the cinema with my friend Ed, it was essentially about skydiving. The freedom and beauty of the skydiver in the closing credits, silhouetted against a sunset was breathtaking. A week later we had signed up for a parachuting course and had completed our first jumps. Although I did not become qualified at that time, later in life I returned with some passion to the sport, became qualified and completed many hundreds of skydives around the world. After a bad-landing in a Spanish field where a gas pipe hidden in the long grass shattered my leg and put me on crutches for 18 months – I got fat. That pushed what should have been a short holiday from the sport in to a multi-year sabbatical. However, I do intend to return to the skies in the near future, and resume my interest in the sport.
Visiting new places has always been a significant part of my life, and I’ve been lucky to travel to many of the European countries, many states within the USA, several Caribbean islands, China, Hong-Kong and Japan – also Africa. However, the United Kingdom is so rich with history and beauty, that a lot of exploration continues here – “at home”.
In 2019 an Oxford Professor friend introduced me to sailing on the ocean. After years of my Uncle John, a sailing fanatic who lives in the USA, talking to me of its magic – I may now finally be convinced. It turns out all I needed was a few days sailing round the Greek islands. I now intend to work towards my day skipper qualification. The combination of freedom, adventure, and the learning required to safely sail a boat over any distance is, it turns out, quite wonderful.
I have a wide range of musical tastes, and have seen many musical performances, my favourite being the London Symphony Orchestra play John Williams classics at the Royal Albert Hall in 2018. However, I now mostly listen to electronic music. As a young man I listened to Future Sound of London, Banco De Gaia, Underworld, Prodigy, Astralasia, Orbital, Global Communications, The Orb and ambient music from Kim Cascone’s Silent Records label. I now spend a lot of time discovering new electronic music on Spotify and Deezer playlists. Radio Paradise, a California based online radio station which broadcasts a more eclectic range of music, can also be heard in my home several hours a week.
Reading is also a pleasure, and I try to make time to do as much of it as possible, though perpetually feel I need to do more. My coffee table is nearly always adorned with several books waiting to be read, often gifts from friends, and the Kindle is never far away. Most of the books I read are about leadership, innovation, adventures, or the impacts of technology. However, I do also enjoy novels – which like all good fiction, free from the constraints of reality, can more precisely create narratives that powerfully move us or shift our thinking. The only magazine I’ve subscribed to for several years is New Scientist, it’s both entertaining and an excellent way to keep up to speed with breakthroughs.
Although a fussy-eater as a child, I have grown up to love fine dining and have eaten in many wonderful restaurants all over the world. I am often the first to suggest that a great restaurant would be an excellent place to meet and discuss a new idea. My favourite restaurant right now is The Forest Side at Grasmere in the Lake District.
There’s lots I need to improve about myself, as is the way for most of us, and I am trying to do so. I believe I am fairly self aware and actively try to work on those things that I know are making me less of a person than I could be. I’m therefore an advocate for personal coaching because sometimes when we are “tied up” we can neither see some of the knots ourselves or reach the first ones without help. I have always struggled with the idea of making time for my own fitness, and have also endured a complicated relationship with food, however, through years of work on myself – I am now making real progress with this.
Growing-up and education
I was brought up in a working class household, without social or financial privilege – in a small village in the Yorkshire Dales. Even though my parents had their own challenges to work through they succeeded in bestowing on to me three tremendous privileges, for which I am very grateful: (1) Showing me the importance of hard work – because both of my parents are perfect examples of “grafters” (2) they taught me to treat other people well – and the value of kindness (3) the most important privilege of all, that despite whatever they had to work through – I grew up knowing I was essentially wanted and loved. A few years ago I asked my uncle, who had been a headmaster for many years of a decent sized school – what was the most crucial factor in creating some certainty that a child would turn out okay? His response was certain and swift; “loving our children and making sure they know they’re wanted is the single most powerful thing you can do for a child.”
I was educated at a state school, and had a small circle of friends, many of whom were outsiders or geeks like me. Most lived many miles away and I discovered that hitch-hiking was a fun, free and sometimes adventure-packed way to travel to them. There was a thrill of not knowing how long it would take to be picked-up, who was going to pick you up and what conversations would emerge. I would go to hitch-hike hundreds of times and though they are an increasingly rare sight on our roads, I still routinely pick-up hitch-hikers by way of thanks. I also routinely hitch-hike myself, to collect a car parked somewhere or sometimes just for fun – to get that thrill of meeting a stranger, who is certain to be open to making new connections themselves.
As a teenager I worked at an indoor-market selling souvenirs to tourists, washed-dishes several times a week in a busy restaurant kitchen, worked as a waiter, was a commis chef, cleaned cars, cut-grass, walked dogs and most profitably provided computing support, and also desktop publishing services. These jobs gave me the cash I needed to buy the computers I craved to learn about as a teenager. Importantly, I developed an understanding of the value of money, the value of hard-work and how organisations can treat people good and bad.
At 15 years old I became unconvinced about how traditional education was going to help me get what I wanted in the real world and started to lose interest in it. I started to “skive” off school to spend time with older friends who had already left and to mess about on computers. Still, I somehow managed to get decent grades in exams the following year.
Although I did start “A-Levels”, I left soon after to explore full-time employment in the marketing department of a financial institution. When I succeeded in getting them to register a domain name, but was otherwise dismayed at the speed at which they wanted to build a web site in 1994/1995, I decided to leave and created my first full time venture with some guys I met through hitchhiking. I had zero financial support, with the exception of food parcels from the woman who would later go on to be my wife and who I met on Internet Relay Chat.
My education from that point has been largely self-acquired, I continue to read lots, play with and test out new ideas, and continue to push my knowledge by spending time with bright people. Every venture has also given me rich opportunities to learn something new.
I live in the Lake District, Cumbria – one of the most beautiful locations in the United Kingdom, blessed with forests, mountains, rivers and of course lakes. The area is easy on the eye, and has inspired many artists, poets and writers – it is also the outdoor activities centre of the UK. In summer, I often feel a palpable thrill, simply looking at the mountains, many of which I have climbed, and many of which I hope to do so.