Strange Days

The following entry is verbatim (unless stated otherwise), from the date given below.
Reading back over it all now, it seems so far away. Glad to finally put it to rest.

Cheers.

Wow.. Brick Lane is buzzin' this afternoon! :D

Moleskine entry: August 23rd, 2009

I haven’t written here for almost a fortnight. Instead I’ve been spending my time writing up my Moleskine notes to date and updating them to my blog – where hopefully you’re reading this entry now (albeit later than originally intended).

Sitting here on Brick Lane, sipping coffee and watching the world go by is allowing me time to reflect. The past few weeks since I came down from the Big Horns have been tumultuous at best and at worse, just plain upsetting. But here we are, just 24hrs before my departure from SpinVox is announced and I am full of glee; the future has never looked so bright and exciting. Opportunity really is everywhere.

Note to self: email Gary Vaynerchuk, say what you like about him. He’s an inspiration to us all.

Gary, if your Google alerts have just fired off and you’re reading this now, thanks for the reply – I know you’ll reply. That’s the kind of guy you are.

—— NON MOLESKINE NOTE ——

I wrote this entry on 23/8/09 and sent the following email when I got home later that day:

Hey Gary, not sure if you remember me, we met at the Blog World Expo last year*.
.

Your session was inspiring and when I asked you a question on scalability, you answered it well and then called me out on my girl back home πŸ˜‰
.
She and I are still together and we’re very, very happy. I wanted to mail to let you know that tomorrow I’m quitting my job as Head of Digital & Social Media at SpinVox**.
I’ve been there for two years now and I decided not soon after I saw your talk that 2009 would be the year I made the leap to go freelance.
.
So yeah, here’s to the great beyond!
.
And thank you, Sir. I’m getting ready to KILL IT.
.
Cheers,
.
James Whatley

.
*It was a good day! πŸ˜€
http://www.flickr.com/photos/whatleydude/2872601269/
**Obviously this isn’t public yet! I’m going to blog it tomorrow morning πŸ™‚

Gary always replies. Ten days later, he did just that:

“James, I wish you the best and luck πŸ™‚ and thank you. PS:Β I’ll be in the UK soon, let’s catch up.”

Sadly, I missed Gary when he was over in London last, but I did finally manage to catch up with him when I was in Texas recently. He remembered our brief exchange and asked how things were getting on with both the new job and of course, my sweet love. It’s having that kind of memory for names, faces, people and places that really makes a difference sometimes. Like I said, it’s inspiring.

—— NON MOLESKINE NOTE ENDS ——

So what next?

The original plan was to go freelance. Yes, that’s right… FREELANCE. Freelance what though? That was the burning question and one that I had time to work out with the helpful guidance of my peers and mentors.

But, as we now know, what was originally scripted never came to pass.

August 1st, upon return from the good ol’ US of A, was to be the first day of the rest of my life. I had handed in my notice at the end of June, prepped a blog post and, with Lucozade ahead of me and who knows what after that, I was ready.

But instead, August 1st passed without event. I was still an employee at SV and, even though I had a couple of consultancy gigs lined up, suddenly I had no time. SV respectfully asked that I didn’t leave just yet and in all honesty, as far as I knew, we – as a company – were under attack. I wasn’t about to turn away in their darkest hour.

Turned out it wasn’t even midnight yet and the Sun had only just begun to set. SV’s darkest hour was a long way off indeed.

Come July 27th when I (almost quite literally) rode back into town, a fair few were waiting for me to put things right. And put them right I did. The internet was full of rumour and misinformation. Respected journalists and bloggers had been led a merry tale about the innards of our business and they swallowed every word.

“Silly.” I thought “Real silly. Surely it must be obvious that these are just ex-employees out there trying to bring us down?”

Surely? I set about putting together the most robust of rebuttals I could and based on what I thought was ‘the truth’, I responded

“I was, alas, on holiday last week and all Hell seems to have broken loose and in that, a veritable maelstrom of accusations, mis-apprehensions and sometimes just plain lies have been circulating and permeating around this lovely world we call the internet. I am, to be honest, amazed at this – and would quite like to set the record straight…”

“Hoorah!” they exclaimed, “He’s back!” they cheered, “At last… this whole thing can be put to bed.” and, for a while, it was.

Naively, I had taken on the BBC and came away with a bloody nose. In the quiet moments that followed it slowly dawned on me the magnitude of everything that had happened.

The British Broadcasting Corporation James. Really? You didn’t think they might have actually researched their story somewhat?

But what of SV? My pride and joy?

Quiet. Nothing. Not a dicky bird. The silence was deafening.

We changed tact. A ‘tech demo’ was called for. What started out initially as (and I quote) “We’ll get that Rory chap in and show him the software, he can see we’re telling the damn truth!” slowly descended turned into a big blogger open day.

My trip to Africa [for Lucozade Challenge number three] had been delayed by a few days and by the looks of things, I was going to be around for this. Excellent.

Even before the first meeting, alarm bells were ringing. This really wasn’t going to work. Not this way. The company had effectively deceived their fans, betrayed the community I’d helped to build over the past two years and anyone they invited in was going to be out for blood. It was that simple.

Friday I told them it wouldn’t work.
Friday I told them what they were coming for.
Friday I explained that, if we were really going to do it, then this is how it should be done.

First we should address each and every accusation, tell the assembled guests what the accusations were and then completely blow them out of the water with the facts. Then – and only then – should we get on with any kind of demo.

I walked away. I remember it well. They ignored my pleas and carried on constructing their own death by Powerpoint. Good plan. Invite bloggers and journos all the way out to Marlow to show them a Powerpoint presentation. Yeah, that’ll work.

I went home, sad. Knowing that Monday would be the end.

That was until Sunday. About 22:07 to be precise, my Tweetdeck chirped with the following tweet:

I turned to my flatmate “Um….”

“What is it?”
“Apparently I’ve just quit.”
“What?!”

Well, yes. That was kind of my reaction too. First the tweets started flying in, then the blog posts followed and then, two hours later, an apology from TechCrunch Europe (a career highlight I promise you that).

As it turned out, one particular TC hack had written a pre-emptive story about my leaving and had accidentally hit publish. Thing is, and this is where things get muddy, as I explained earlier, I was all set to leave that summer anyway.

Step back with me for a moment back to Christmas ’08. I’m lying on the floor at my parents’ place, reflecting on the year gone by and contemplating on the year ahead. Things were good, great in fact. I’d just finished five months work on the SpinVox Wishing Well, Mobile Geeks of London was flying quietly and 2009 had the potential to be big.

Working in this industry you often find yourself surrounded by driven, entrepreneurial individuals who, by some personal endeavour, are out in the world to make a difference and hopefully a pretty penny or two along the way. Coming into contact with these types of individuals day in and day out, you’d be unsurprised to learn that eventually, some of it rubs off on you.

And so it was, on Boxing Day morning, I started laughing. Laughing and laughing and laughing. It was then I knew that 2009 would be the year that I left SpinVox and finally broke out on my own.

Fast forward to June 2009 and plans were in place. I’d spent sometime earlier in the year over in L.A. scheming with my good friend Matt Singley about the future and slowly getting my head around the next step forward.

However, the big SV also had change in mind. People started losing their jobs, friends of mine were made redundant and, although my role was safe, the team had changed considerably since I’d joined 18mths previous. My old boss who, due to some restructuring was now no longer my direct line manager (but still a trusted friend), he and I discussed the prospect of going freelance. There was potential for SV to help me through. My new boss was on board as well. It all sounded good enough, the company was happy to support me during the changeover period and didn’t actually want to lose me as an employee/advisor. So whatever they could do to help, they planned to.

While this was going on, I received an email from the guys running the Lucozade Energy Challenge:

As you probably know, I threw myself into that project and well, the rest is history.Β  It’s funny, the very day that SV and I agreed on the terms and conditions of my new job role/transition was the exact same day I landed the Lucozade gig. Like it was meant to be.

The following day I told the guys at SV that instead of aiming for a six month transition, it would be more like six weeks. I had enough holiday to cover off the first two Lucozade challenges and after that, I’d leave and be out on my own. Scheduled departure date; August 1st 2009.

Here I am, twenty-three days later and at last I’m leaving. When I was hired I made it my job to provide an open an honest voice for the company that I’d grown to care for so much. When this was no longer possible, I couldn’t do my job. Leaving the company has been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make and it hurts. But I have to admit that the company lied: to its staff, to its customers and to me.

Tomorrow I get to tell the world I’m out of here, the sun is shining and the world is a beautiful place.

Who’s hungry?

Moleskine entry: August 23rd, 2009 – ends

Exit stage right

Aug 31st will officially be my last day of employment with SpinVox.

As you may be aware, things have been quite tense and anxious of late (at least when I’ve been in the country anyway), and it’s become very clear to me that my predicted shelf-life for this chapter of my career was accurate. It’s time to move on.

The past two years have been, in the main, awesome. I’ve learnt a hell of a lot and have had the good fortune of working with some amazing people on some fantastic projects.

In fairness to SpinVox, I had every intention of leaving around about now so this timetable of events has always been on the cards. Trust me when I say: I will take much of what I’ve learnt in my time in Marlow long into my professional life.

What next? Well, I’m talking to some people about prospective new projects, but right now, I’m just looking forward to being back in London and taking a much needed break.

Although, on that note, if you think there’s a project we should be working together on either now, or in the future, then by all means get in touch.

You can reach me – as always – on james at whatleydude dot com

Thanks for reading.

When does Batman sleep? – Part 2

This has been a long time coming…

A few months ago I posted Part One to discuss this question and its relation to the ‘always on’ generation that we seem to live in today. If like many others who find themselves working in this field, you are expected to be on call at every hour of the day…

Well no, let’s stop right there. Is it actually expected?

Or is it the case that you simply feel obliged?
You assume that that the expectation in there, when in fact it isn’t.

See?

I have written at length about the importance of humanity being at the heart of everything you do. The onus being placed on the term ‘being human‘ throughout my work is on purpose people.
The question asked above is not about the duality of Batman’s psyche, moreover about his pig-headedness about asking for help and his lack of self-forgiveness when he gets it wrong.

He is after all only human.
As are we all.

When things got tough the Bat brought in Robin and then soon after that, the Justice League. His skills, unique and awesome on their own, work considerably better when placed into a team of similar, like minded people (sharing an equal goal).

The point is, that developer guy that I mentioned?
He who I quoted way back when:

Sometimes, I find myself stuck in front of the laptop at like 10pm on a Sunday night. The kids are in bed, the wife isn’t far behind and there I am answering customer care questions over Twitter with some guy in Geneva! This isn’t my day job. I’m a developer. My question to you is Sir; when does Batman sleep?

This man, he cared about his company’s brand and (online) reputation so much that he took it upon himself to make things better on his own.

Much like the Caped Crusader, he fixed it himself, working solo and acting independently from his own company’s PR team and, just as Batman did with the Gotham City Police Department (GPD), both sides became infuriated.

However, it is written than the Dark Knight works best when he works with his friend and ‘colleague’, Commissioner Gordon, coordinating strategies that incorporate traditional routes & methods (like the GPD) as well as the new found tools of our erstwhile hero.

More things get done.

When I first started in this job, within weeks I was at loggerheads with the Director of Communications. Our very own Jim Gordon if you will. He wanted to vet every single message and blog post that was to be written and sent out. A stand up argument ensued which ended with me simply saying:

Invent a box of words…
Put in everything I can use and take out everything I can’t.


Then leave the box with me.

It took some time, but we got there in the end.
There are laws and rules as well as traditional ways of enforcing or adhering to them.

However, these days there are ways to play, push up against and generally find new parameters to work within these rules.
Call it operating under the radar if you will.

Batman doesn’t kill.
Something which he is continually pushed on.
He doesn’t go looking for trouble (at least not in the traditional sense of the word), but instead works within rules.
First those he sets himself, then later within those set by others.

It is at this point where our super hero can pause, his allies know his work and can defend it in his absence.
Yes that’s right, his absence.

I started this post with the intention of highlighting the often over-looked ideal of humanity on both sides of the coin.

Corporations can be human but so can consumers.

Yes, it’s great to be on call 24hrs a day, seven days a week, but your customers are not robots. If you don’t get back to them on a Sunday night, they’ll understand.

It’s all well and good being human, but never forget everyone else is too.

Inspired by Spider Jerusalem

As most of you know, it was my birthday a couple of weeks ago and – amongst a whole host of other things – these arrived from my good friend Tarek

– The first two books of Transmetropolitan, Woo! –

I started book one yesterday morning and had finished book two by the afternoon… There’s ten books in total, (eleven if you count Vol. Zero), and I am a fan.

There’s more to come on this – just as there’s more to come about my birthday – but I just wanted to share something with you that I read a few pages into ‘Lust for Life’…
(Transmetropolitan: Vol. 2).

In the image to the right, Spider – the er… ‘hero’ of said work, is talking to his new assistant. The reason he’s making this request of her?

Well, she wants to be a Journalist. Spider’s response to the question asked is:

“If you’re going to be a real journalist, you’re going to need to learn how to look.”

Upon the assistant’s return, Spider elaborates on this further…

.

This exchange, as I mentioned, comes quite early into book two… but upon reading it, I closed the pages together and stopped reading.

“You need to learn how to look…”

“You need to learn how to look…”

“You need to learn how to look…”

Over and over these words reverberated around my head and, as I was scheduled to be leaving the house within the minutes that followed, I decided that I would try and capture and/or record whatever I could. Observing that around me that I’d normally idly pass by.

Thing is, I thoroughly enjoy taking in the world around me most of the time and yet I’ve never really felt the urge to try and capture it, live and as it happens…

I walked out of my house this afternoon and set off to the train station. As soon as I stepped outside I started walking and I started talking… and – thanks to the wonders of SpinVox Memo*…

(*I speak in one end and an email pops out the other… and Yeah, I know I work there Dudes, but the service is actually bloody handy and the Memo part is FREE!)

This what I said/saw:

Walking out of my front door. The light is blinding, the air is cold and the trees are dark. The Sun is setting and yet still so bright. The ground is muddy. I can hear hammering in the distance and yet there is not a soul in sight. Two cars sprinkle the road like forgotten toys while a plane soars through the sky leaving a trail like a scar across deep blue skin. No clouds, not a single one. A couple of people appear but nothing to report. Life in constant transit. This is what I do…

It must be noted at this point that it’s not that I ever didn’t know how to look… it was more, as I said, never having the urge to capture it in actual words. The words spoken above aren’t about to win me any awards, nor are they ever going to. The point is; just reading one snippet from a comic book that a friend bought me for my birthday has changed how I now look at the world… if only slightly.

I’m going to start capturing more of what I see around me… and no doubt use whatever I end up with in future blog posts.

In the mean time however, I need to locate Transmetropolitan: Book 3.

ASAP.

πŸ™‚

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Here we are, nearing the end of November and, what with yesterday being my birthday – WOO- HOO! – I’m now officially working towards getting Mobile Geeks of London V out of the way next week so I can pack myself off for a well-deserved three day break.

I told you before about all the stuff going on this month right? Well, as a result, I’ve now got SO much stuff to blog… it’s quite insane.
To the point where I may have to go back to posting daily again!

So where to start? Spain. That’s as good a place as any… πŸ˜€

As you may’ve noted from my last post, I recently had to travel to Madrid on some work related gubbins.

The schedule was a bit frantic:

Plane here, interview there, car here, interview over there, train to that place, flight to this place… and so on – but really ‘Non-Stop’ really doesn’t do it justice.

However, between all the frantic flying around I did manage to a fair bit of footage while I was travelling – most of it is just me fooling around and stuff… Y’know, the usual πŸ˜‰

Anyway – here’s the end result –

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/2257205[/vimeo]

(this one’s only a couple of mins long – much shorter than my last effort – feedback noted)

What do you think?

There always seems to be alot going on

And November is going to be very busy indeed…

I’m hoping to get as much in and done as humanly possible this month but, as it stands?
It’s not going too bad so far πŸ™‚

This week I finished work on another project with MTV’s HIV and AIDS awareness charity, the Staying-Alive Foundation.
This time building around and about their online activity for their latest campaign, (the full details of which you can read over on Big Talk), …and by way of a thank you for all the hard graft, the guys at Staying-Alive secured me a VIP ticket to the MTV European Music Awards!

– Yep. That’s right. V. I. P. –

The Killers, Kanye West, Take That… (no, really).
All. Brilliant.

No pics unfortunately, but I did take a bunch of video mind – like loads – so will have to get some up sharpish I guess.

In the meantime however, back to that busy November I was talking about;

What with today being Sunday, thus follows – tomorrow shall be Monday and tomorrow night is in fact, Mobile Monday (MoMo) London.

Not just any old MoMo event mind, oh no.

Tomorrow just so happens to be MoMo London’s 3rd Birthday Celebrations.

They’ve been going for THREE YEARS! Fair play to them.

Should be a giggle.

We, (as in ‘We, the team from Mobile Industry Review‘), have been asked along to film the show there throughout the night… and I just have to give you this quote that went out on the invitation:

…We will have the MIReview Show joining us too and in the spirit of the evening, they will be presenting and filming some of their show LIVE on stage. (If you don’t know them already, think Top Gear but about mobile technology instead of cars)…

Best. Compliment. Ever.
Love it.

So yeah, MoMo tomorrow… Then worky work work until Thursday, whereupon I’m off to Europe for a few days to meet up with Journalists and Bloggers alike, spreading the SpinVox gospel as it were…

(and I think… I THINK… that may well be my overseas travel for the year… Done!)

All being well, I should be home the following Sunday and the Monday after that, (November 17th), I’m straight into The Future of Mobile Conference, where I’m taking part in the ‘6×6 UK Bloggers Perspectives’ section speaking alongside five other [and I quote]

…of the UK’s most interesting technology and mobile bloggers present a short insight into a mobile topic. This session will provide truly independent points of view on some of the major topics of continuing discussion in the mobile industry.

Yeah. So no pressure then.

Not when I’m in with such fantastic ‘names’ as Helen Keegan, Jemima Kiss, Vero Pepperrell, Andrew Grill and my Editor-in-Chief over at Mobile Industry Review, Ewan Macleod.

There aren’t really any words to describe how flattered I am to be bundled in with such esteemed folk, all of which I have masses amount of personal and professional respect on many levels… and that’s before we even start on the way I’ve been pitched!

Yeah, no pressure whatsoever.  Heh. πŸ˜‰

Where was I?

That’s right. Monday 17th November. Future of Mobile. Check.

That same week, on the following Friday actually, November 21st, I celebrate my birthday.
Yep. My birthday falls on a Friday. Rock on.

I’ve no idea what I’m planning on doing yet but I’m sure I’ll talk about it eventually…

Moving swiftly onward to the evening of Wednesday Nov 26th I’m hosting Mobile Geeks of London V. Woo! πŸ™‚

MGoL has always been one of my most favourite things to do and this, the fifth event in London of its kind, is no exception. I’ve talked about my love for MGoL at length before and no doubt will again soon.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in attending, get yourself along to the MGoL V facebook event page, put your name down and MAYBE I’ll see you there! Wheeeeeeeeeee!

Bring it.

Hangover depending, November 27th sees the first everevent themed around ‘The Network of Networks’, notionally entitled ‘Amplified 08‘. I HONESTLY do not know enough about this event to do it justice.

All I know is that there’s some bloody interesting people pulling it together and that I will move hell and high water to be there.

I might nip over to their About Page once I’ve finished this post actually, do some reading… Hmm.

And finally, bringing November to a close I’ve actually gone and booked myself a well-deserved weekend relaxing holiday break to somewhere secret, secluded and so completely offline I’m midly concerned I’ll get withdrawal symptoms…

Heh.

Joking aside, this rest has been a long time coming… and I can’t wait.

Buckle up kids, November’s gonna get hectic!

πŸ˜€