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.


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.


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 😉
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.
James Whatley

*It was a good day! 😀
**Obviously this isn’t public yet! I’m going to blog it tomorrow morning 🙂

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

“James, I wish you the best and luck 🙂 and thank you. PS: 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.


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.”

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.  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

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Author: James Whatley

Chief Strategy Officer in adland. I got ❤️ for writing, gaming, and figuring stuff out. I'm @whatleydude pretty much everywhere that matters. Nice to meet you x

25 thoughts on “Strange Days”

  1. Wow. Reading these kind of accounts just makes me feel old and weary. Having been thru the dotcom crash in a relatively senior role, this is all farrrr too familiar.

    Will the tech industry ever learn? [punches the sky a la Charlton Heston/Planet of the Apes] You maniacs. You blew it up! Damn you! Damn you all to hell!!

  2. Great insight in to the shenanigans that occurred my friend. I’m glad things have turned out more positive for you and you’ve come out of it better than those responsible for this abysmal situation.

    Honesty. Integrity. Passion – three things I always abide by.

  3. Thank you for sharing this James! This really is a great window into what was going on in your head and world at what must have been a very confusing time in your career. Glad that things worked out for you man!

  4. As ever James, a damn powerful piece of writing. You’ve answered questions that I couldn’t even think to ask. I agree with ‘Adonis’, you’ve come out of this with your head high and without needlessly pointing fingers.


  5. Thanks for sharing James!

    I respect you for standing up when SV’s stance on open-ness changed. This is a good lesson for all community types.

  6. Been watching and wondering when/how/where Mr. Whatley would re-emerge. I find myself telling people about the transformative power of a shared Taxicab.

    Check out Seth Godin’s blog. Think you’ll like it. Best,
    Max O

  7. Interesting reading what was mentally going on from your side of things and seeing a familiar musings. Onward and upward, my friend. For you the skies have no limit.

  8. Sounds strangely familiar….

    Glad you are doing well dude and hope to have some good news to share with you soon 🙂

  9. I’ve read it twice but it still feels like there is a paragraph missing somehow……just saying.

    whatleydude Reply:

    Interesting comment AJ. Where from?

  10. The paragraph that begins “and so the penny totally finally drops…” seems to have gone AWOL…….perhaps this was covered in an earlier post or maybe I am just really useless at reading between the lines.

    For better or for worse, the perception now is that the people at the top were a bit mad and maybe a bit bad also. But you make it sound like an entire company went down because of poor powerpoint skills and one bad presentation.

    Not being judgemental or anything, I am just kind of intrigued.

  11. Hey AJ,

    Thanks for trying to clarify, although I must say – I’m still having difficulty trying to understand your point.

    What penny was supposed to drop? There isn’t any AWOL paragraph (that much I can tell you), and any extra background info needed is (or least should be) linked to.

    The company didn’t go down because of poor Powerpoint, the company went down because – like I said towards the end of the piece – the management *lied* (see the BBC articles).

    Hope that helps,


  12. Ah, you see that is exactly the point I am trying to make. In the context of a post you had written at the time this all blew up emphatically defending the technology and the company, your current view that the company lied is really interesting and could do with a little more clarification. What I am trying to understand is when and how you realised they lied. It can’t be the BBC articles you referred me to since you rebutted these point by point at the time. But then, according to this post, only a few weeks after the rebuttal you leave the company with a clear view that the company had lied. Something must have happened in between. Your post doesn’t provide any clarification on this process at all. You just skip from one stance to this new one without any intermediate step.

  13. I see your point now AJ. To be honest, I’m not sure I could put my finger on one exact day or moment when it actually *clicked*, it was more like a collection of instances that added up to the whole.

    To your point, I think the moment the BBC came back with their responses and I was the only one doing any kind of fire fighting did I then twig that something might not be right about the situation. Wading in with all guns blazing is one thing, doing it on your own (in a company of 300+) is entirely another.

    I guess from that point onwards I started having doubts. ‘A few weeks’ yes, but trust me – at the time – that was a *very* long ‘few weeks’ indeed.

    Hope that helps,


  14. Yes, that kind of makes sense. I was in a situation like that myself once albeit without the media interest, hence the curiosity. I thought there might have been a single moment when the truth unravelled itself but sometimes new information takes time to process. Best of luck.

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