Apologies that this is long. It’s maybe indulgent too (no apologies for that). Like a the automaton I am I’ve added headings if you’d like to skip sections.

Wedding Tales

I started 2011 by seizing a huge opportunity.

I was approached by Oli, a techie looking for someone to partner with to try a business idea. We knew of each other from social circles but we’d never worked together. The idea was similar to a project I’d tried to launch a few years back (WedCommunity) but with a different focus; and it was accepted for The Difference Engine tech accelerator programme (TDE).

TDE hosted ten participating teams in a large office in Sunderland for three months. Each team exchanged a small percentage of their company for a little seed funding and was introduced to a series of mentors to help shape the idea and strategy.

We developed Wedding Tales – the online service that makes it very easy for a wedding couple to collect in the photos taken by their guests. We also built a non-wedding version for events and parties.

TDE was pretty intense – a get out what you put in affair – so there wasn’t much going on in my life outside.

We’re very happy with our baby. For most weddings, we collect in 300-400 photos, and our top performer has grossed close to a thousand. We’ve also had some great feedback and recognition (including Start Up of the Day). We’re sure there’s a useful and profitable service here but think our main challenge is catching couples at the right point (2-3 months before their wedding). We’ve met some good people in the local wedding industry and have built a foundation to resell through photographers and venues.

Will next year be when Wedding Tales hits mainstream? We hope so! Please consider it if you’ve getting hitched, or want to give an excellent modern wedding present- [chums discounts available on application!]

TDE itself has been amazing for my personal development. I met some smart people who I’m sure will be friends/co-conspirators for a long time, I have a much more honed attitude and understanding of what makes an online business tick (and rock), and Oli and I have cemented a friendship that we’ll continue to enjoy through our mutual love for building tech projects.

Health and Welfare

2011 is the year I became aware of, and interested in my health.

A couple of weeks into TDE, I was struck with a bad back. For ten days I suffered lumbar pains, and for five of them my posture was pulled to that of an octogenarian. It was an incredibly humbling experience- to be unable to get out of the bath, to be unable to walk more than a half-step at a time. I’m fortunate that a few days of strong pain-killers and rest allowed me to leave it behind.

Later in the year, I popped in to see my GP to ask about a few things that were concerning. Foremost, a small lump I found on my upper leg and associated pain lower down- which was diagnosed with near certainty as a (benign) lipoma. I was thoroughly pleased with both my GP and NHS hospital visit (aside from long wait times at the latter).

I also took part in an MRI scan for a psychology experiment somewhere within the Campus for Ageing and Vitality in Newcastle General. It’s both fascinating and disturbing to see a picture of the inside of your own head. Turns out there’s an organic fleshy thing inside.

My family and friends also remain more-or-less healthy with the exception of my Grandma, who passed away. She’d been taking blood transfusions for a few years and her condition deteriorated rapidly within a few weeks. I don’t feel upset- she had her family around her and outlived my Grandad by many years. Her last few days were made comfortable in a hospice. I’m pleased that I got the chance to spend a little time alone for a personal chat- something I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’ve never done before.

I know of two couples who’d like a family, but have had troubles in pregnancy. I hope 2012 gives them what they wish for.

Travel

I haven’t travelled much, save for a couple of trips down to Brighton- during which I’ve shared some rare, but enjoyable time with my cousins.

This year I’m looking forward to meeting my Dad and a couple of U.S. chums for a conference in Arizona. I hope that I’ll also get out to New Zealand again!

Finance

The first half of 2011 was pretty hard going. Oli and I decided to pay ourselves very lightly from the business while we developed it- and it was more than full-time work. Latterly, I’ve been fortunate with work connections, and have had a lot of stable freelance stuff to do. It means I’ve been able to pull my credit back, but really haven’t had much free time. I apologise to everyone who asked how I was to receive the answer ‘busy’; it’s a very boring answer.
Despite my love of shiny stuff, my needs are thankfully fairly meagre. I’m squeezing my iPhone 2G as far as it will go- it now decides not to ring on a whim and regularly scrambles outgoing messages- but I’m hoping that fashion goes full circle and the stylings become trendy again.

I’d like to balance my time a little better next year- when finance has properly righted then this may be possible, though it may well not… for an exciting reason to be mentioned shortly!

Tech Interests

I continue to be involved with the local tech social scene, and still consider us fortunate for it in Newcastle. I’ve attended PHPNE, NENT, Freelance Romance, TAAD, BarCampNE, and put together an evening about videogames for SuperMondays. I was pleased to have the chance to write a short note for the local newspaper, The Journal (and will release the original in its unedited gory glory at some point soon).

I attended a couple of conferences, GameHorizon and Thinking Digital which were, for the most part, excellent.

I’ve met with the other SuperMondays committee members for our quarterly meetings. I feel that we need to fight to shine. We’ve clearly established, which is great, but it’s easy for that to slip into a rut of regular meetings. There are now many (more) groups catering to domain specific discussion (some of which I’ve listed above) which we can complement. I’d like us to do this by (1) pulling bigger speakers into the region and (2) offering intellectual variety – each of our meetings should contain something to inspire or educate every regular SM attendee.

‘Office-share’ Rob and I had been talking about starting a group for a while- and in October we pinned the first meeting of Design Interest. We saw that there were a number of meetings catering for different programming languages, but a big hole for our talented design community. We’re aiming for it to be varied- with talks from areas of design, illustration, photography, etc. We’re also aiming for it to be practical- to foster a supportive environment for ‘bring your own for criticism’ session. We’ve been smart in putting together a sharp, lively advisory board- to whom I’m grateful. The first few meetings have far exceeded our expectations and been very warmly received. I look forward to seeing it develop this year, and maybe going national and global… really!

At the end of the year, Newcastle was host to Ignite100 (a spiritual successor to TDE). The buzz this created was brilliant, and I was pleased to get to know some of the projects and teams (particularly ArtSpotter, Blink Collective and Unmagnify). I hope that I’m able to stay in touch with the luminaries. It was a bit strange to feel ‘on the other side of the fence’ and, when I attended the pitches-in-progress, I was amused that the three of us who had been on TDE (myself, Oli and Tristan) were giving them the biggest Q&A battering- I think it’s an indication of how TDE has developed us (…or perhaps given us a misplaced sense of entitlement to question).

Work and Life

I continue to share an office with Rob within easy walking distance of where I live. It’s still a nice, cosy arrangement. We’ve worked together on a couple of projects and share leads. We also set up Design Interest together- it’s an interesting experience to collaborate on something amorphous, but I’m enjoying how it’s working out and am trying, for his sake, to reign back my inner control-freak.

I mentioned in the 2010 round-up that five of us were meeting regularly to discuss developing a tool (now ‘Usable HQ Ltd‘, developing ‘Requirements’). They decided to form a company while I was on TDE and submit it to Ignite100. I understand that I was involved in a comparatively short phase- but was disappointed not to be involved further for consultancy, nor to receive any recognition for some of the groundwork. Upon reflection, I don’t think I would have been happy in the team dynamic, and it looks like the product has diverged from the idea that originally held my interest, so I wish them good luck.

I continue to be surrounded by lovely, generous and inspirational friends, though, as mentioned, I’ve been neglectful of them due to workaholism. I’m particularly pleased that Gemma has relocated back to Newcastle with Chris, and that Gareth and Karen have tied the knot and moved to exciting prospects in New York.

I haven’t seen the Manchester crowd much this year, and that’s something that I’d like to change. Facebook is great for keeping drip-fed on people’s lives, but insidiously supplants the requirement for regular real contact.

I met Ashleigh in the middle of the year, and spent a lot of fun time with her. Some of you will have met her; for those that haven’t, she’s smart, generous (to the self-confessed point of being a mug), scientifically nerdy, attractive, sociable and CAT LOVING. She also tolerates my sense of humour. A potent combination.

2012

I’m very much looking forward to this year. I currently have engaging and rewarding regular work with some fast-moving companies, Diagonal View and Addiply, and occasional tidbits from third parties and with existing clients (including my chum Tim’s Toddle About). I’m refocusing from web-developer to a core component in start-up tech businesses- which feels a great natural progression.

In the meantime, Wedding Tales is stable and we have a little arsenal of interesting things we can do with it, so I’m interested to see whether it can raise some waves.

The really exciting bit: I hope I’ll pleasantly surprise some people in the early part of the year with a new project I’ve been intellectually incubating. I think I have a great idea for a new business and I’m grabbing odd moments to develop it. It’s based on an idea I had a few years ago, and I think it’s very appropriate now for my skill set and for the state of consumer tech, social networks and brand interest…. Watch this space!

So, to conclude, I wish you a very happy and successful 2012 and offer my thanks (and condolences) for ploughing through all this. Hi mum! :)