All posts by rob

  • A case of bad customer experience, and how it made me feel

    I wanted to write this post yesterday, in the thick of this bad customer experience, but I’m aware that penning something in the heat of the moment usually leads to an emotional tirade of half truths. I’m no longer angry, I’m just left surprised. Most of all, I’m surprised at how angry I became.

    Angry is something I very rarely am. I’ve worked in customer service before, I know anger seldom gets you anywhere, at least it shouldn’t get you anywhere. Getting angry at the person on the other side of customer support is almost always misplaced. It’s the processes and systems behind them that are to blame, the organisational attitude towards its customers, its culture and its staff training.

    After over 6 hours yesterday of troubleshooting, chatting and calling Apple in various ways, the only emotions I had left were anger, despair, powerlessness, confused and feeling cheated. And perhaps slightly concerned for the last representative I spoke to who clearly had been working a very long shift and was pretty much out of it.

    Let me get some things straight here. For those who don’t know me, I run an app translation service. I’m a registered iOS app developer and have been testing iOS devices almost every day of my working life since 2009. I’ve bought and interacted with Apple since my first Mac in 1998. I run my own business, I know mistakes happen, I understand that out of the millions of devices that shipped yesterday, there would be a few unlucky people who receive a dud device. Sadly this time it was me.

    But let me also tell you that I’m a business customer, this device was bought on a business account. I spend several thousand a year on Apple products and services, I am also one of those people others go to when they want advice on which Apple product to buy. My business needs an iPhone X to test user interfaces of the latest apps our clients send us; what’s more I had promised the device to my friend, Amy, a very prominent camera reviewer, who had racked up over £600 in commissions to get reviews on several very popular review sites in the UK on release day. Not having an iPhone X on release day wasn’t really an option. And yet that’s what has happened.

    So what exactly went down?

    Friday 3rd November 2017:

    1pm

    • iPhone X arrives as promised
    • Amy unboxes, turns on, opens Camera app (she’s going to review it remember)
    • Black screen
    • Amy downloads VSCO, Camera+, Instagram, etc, these apps don’t even detect there is a back camera. Some default the the telephoto lens which appears to be working.

    2.20pm

    • Amy gets in touch with me, tells me camera is not working
    • Amy and I trouble shoot together over WhatsApp
    • Update iOS – no
    • Restore from iTunes – no, still broken, now FaceID doesn’t work and an error about overheating.

    3.30pm

    • After an hour of troubleshooting, I check twitter, a few others have this problem.

    4pm

    • I go to Apple Support forums, search for ‘camera not working’, an article says it should be ‘Sent in for Repair’.
    • As this is release day, I am aware this may be a general FAQ so I click Online Chat
    • I chat with Apple Support Rep I who runs a diagnostic
    • Confirms back camera is faulty
    • Sends me to call Apple Store in Cardiff for a device swap

    4.30pm

    • Apple Store Cardiff redirects me to centralised support centre
    • Rep doesn’t understand me
    • Eventually passes me on to Cardiff Store
    • Cardiff Store rings dead
    • I call again
    • Rep runs through process again
    • I forcefully tell rep to put me through to Cardiff
    • Cardiff eventually answers, tells me Online Support Rep is wrong, you have to contact Online Store team

    5pm

    • I call Support again
    • Call takes 55 minutes
    • Senior support isn’t available
    • Junior support tells me to call back later

    5.55pm (call above ends)

    7.20pm

    • I call Support again
    • Support goes through process
    • Support transfers me to Senior
    • I get angry at Senior support. I’m just exhausted now.
    • Senior support sends me to Junior sales.
    • Junior sales is… well… words can’t describe
    • I get angry
    • Junior transfers me to Senior
    • Seniors have gone home for the day…
    • Junior tells me they’ll call me tomorrow (Saturday)
    • Call ends, 8.10pm.

    At this point, we’ve been diagnosing and trying to get the phone swapped for 6.5 hours.

    Who I spoke to in total

    1. Apple Support Rep I (Chat)
    2. Apple Support Rep II
    3. Apple Support Rep III
    4. Cardiff Store Rep I
    5. Apple Support Rep IV
    6. Senior Support Rep I > Not available
    7. Apple Support Rep V
    8. Senior Support Rep II > Annoying / I get angry
    9. Apple Sales Rep I > Rep is exhausted, also clueless
    10. Senior Sales Rep I > Not available, gone home for the day

    What is fundamentally wrong here?

    It’s release day
    Everyone who got an iPhone X on release day did so consciously and in full anticipation. No one just turned up to an Apple Store and bought a phone. No one received one from Apple Online, such as myself, serendipitously. We logged on at 8am on Friday 27th October and we refreshed that page repeatedly. We had to be within the very first few minutes to secure a release day shipment.

    Therefore, it is highly unlikely that anyone who calls Apple on release day is completely technically inept. It’s also highly likely anyone who calls Apple will be highly strung – they’ve waiting weeks for this, they’ve queued hours, or they’ve stayed up late/got up early to buy the product. While some of us may just be fan boys, others actually need these devices to do their job.

    I think the last straw for me was when Senior Support Rep II said, “Oh, so you’ve had this device a week and now the camera is broken?”. Face Palm.

    No one knew what the process was
    The Online Chat Rep I spoke to at first told me to call the Apple Store in Cardiff to do a quick swap. I asked about stock, he said ask them.

    The Apple store in Cardiff redirected to technical support who asked me all the same questions again and took me down the path of restoring and resetting my iPhone, completely ignoring what I was saying. I forcefully said no, I want to be connected to the Apple Store in Cardiff.

    Cardiff didn’t answer. The line went dead. I went through process again. Got through to Cardiff who told me the Online Chat guy was wrong. They can’t do Online Store swaps.

    I phoned again, whole process again, put me through to Senior Tech support who wasn’t available. Told me to call back later.

    Called back later, whole process again. Tech passed me to Senior Tech. I finally blew my top. Senior Tech passed me to Sales. Sales didn’t even know this was a new phone. Sales literally couldn’t do anything. She passed me to Senior Sales, who weren’t there. They’d gone home.

    No one had a clue. No one was listen to me.

    Apple support was over stretched
    Calls were on hold before and mid conversations several times. Junior support and sales staff sounded tired, frustrated, powerless. Most didn’t know the process and only one really recognised that I wasn’t a clueless customer, unfortunately who he passed me on to was not available.

    Support on a released day like yesterday needs to operate longer than it’s standard 8pm cut off. Most people got home from work yesterday to find their iPhone X at home, by the time they’re calling Support, it’s too late. I was able to start my process at 4pm, after 4 hours of talking, I was turned away as ‘they’d gone home’. At the time of writing this, I am still waiting for a call back. I have a £1149 brick on my desk.

    How this made me feel

    Ironically yesterday I had been volunteering at a Business School talking with students about Post Purchase Dissonance. Little did I know that later that same day, I would become foul of an extremely negative post purchase situation.

    When I got the notification of the device arriving at mid day, I was obviously very excited. I told Amy she could go pick it up, excited for her to start her reviews, make some money, and spread the word about the iPhone X’s supposedly superior cameras.

    When I got the message saying the camera didn’t work, I was concerned, but not overly. Usually these things are software and can be fixed. Amy is obviously tech savvy herself and had gone through quite a few steps, trying different apps, so I told her to update and restore, neither of which helped, instead they made matters worse (broke FaceID, overheating error).

    At this point I started to panic. I know how these things work, it’s release day, phones will be sold out. I’m starting to worry I’m not going to get to use my phone. When Apple Support Rep I on Chat told me I can swap in Cardiff I thought, great, ok, I’ll go in store this evening.

    The next 4 hours were the worst. I went from hopeful to relieved, to confusion, disbelief, frustration, indignation, anger, helplessness, astonishment, despair to exhaustion.

    The final straw came when Apple Sales Rep I tried to pass me off to a Senior Sales Rep who ‘hand gone home for the day’. I’d wasted 4 hours of my day, hours on the phone and hours of my friend’s time.

    You may think all this stress over a smart phone is extreme, but when £600+ of your friend’s money is on the line, clients apps that need testing, and the feeling of being cheated that you’d woken up early to pre-order and that effort was wasted, I couldn’t help feel like that.

    What’s more, we wouldn’t choose to pay £1149 to experience those emotions.

    How could this process be improved

    In my time working with customers and clients in the tech sector, I can identify several types of people who call customer support:

    1. Those who are not tech savvy. They need to be hand held through the process.
    2. Those who believe they are tech savvy, but often miss steps. You need to be kind, but forceful here. They think they know what they’re doing but they sometimes miss a step.
    3. Those who are tech savvy. They’ve done most of the steps, they just need you to confirm.
    4. Those who do your job for you. They’ve done all the steps, they’re certain of the problem and they can prove it.

    Any of these customers may be:

    • i. Eternally grateful for your help and support
    • ii. Time constrained and frustrated
    • iii. Automatically on the defensive
    • iv. Automatically on the offensive

    On top of this, customers may be:

    • New
    • Existing
    • Brand loyal
    • Big spenders
    • Influential

    I started the process and a 3.ii. I am tech savvy, I’ve done the steps, I need you to confirm, then we need to get on with it as I’m time constrained.

    Mid way through the process, I was 4.ii. I knew for certain what the problem was, it had been confirmed by Apple running a diagnostic, but I was still time constrained and now increasingly frustrated.

    Three hours in I became 4.iv I knew what the problem was, no one was listening to me, I became offensive. Like a big dog stuck in a corner, I felt like the only way out was to start growling. A position I find myself rarely in.

    Apple – all companies – should be identify who is talking to them on the phone. They have data: they see my purchase history, they see how often I call, they see I have a developer account. When you start a call with the processes you’ve already gone through, an intelligent person should be able to recognise in which category the customer fits. In my case, they should have identified me as a 3 or a 4 straight away.

    They should also see I am a business customer, I spend several thousand with them each year, I am brand loyal. I have influence over friend’s purchases, though tracking this may understandably be difficult (however arguably the case for most with a developer account).

    Categorising customers should help get them through the process quickly. But this will only work if the process works, which, yesterday, it did not.

    Apple Support and Sales staff were unable to effectively communicate to one another and unable to see that I’d been on phone several times, each up to an hour long. Junior staff could not identify me as a customer and each time had to go through their process sheet. When I had already done the steps they required on a previous call and told them so, they had to put me on hold to ask someone else for help. Enough senior support and sales staff were not available. Junior support and sales staff were unable to action anything of value.

    This could have been made better if:

    1. All staff knew the process for defect release day devices
    2. I was categorised quickly
    3. More actionable staff were available on a big release day

    The end result

    At time of writing, there is no result yet. I am still waiting for a call from Apple Sales, highly likely waiting weeks for delivery. I feel disheartened and a little bit like loyal customers who attempt to get release day devices are second rate customers.

    I realise that I’m just a single customer and this is just a phone, but quite frankly I’m left wondering what my own clients would do if I took £1149 of their hard earned money and told them I would deliver my project weeks, or months, after they were expecting it? Sadly this is a case of David and Goliath, but this time, I’m sure, Goliath will win.

  • Why bigger fools look on when it comes to Welsh

    At 16 I took my obligatory Welsh GCSE like all the others in my year group. Lessons were often disrupted, few teenagers like to be told they have to do something, and we often questioned the validity and originality of Welsh as a modern language.

    Helô – Hello
    Dw’n hoffi siocled a coffi – I like chocolate and coffee
    Dim parcio – No parking
    Ble mae’r toiled? – Where’s the toilet?

    It’s not difficult to see what many of us latched onto in our criticism as so many words seemed like a rehash of their English counterparts. You can see why we rolled our eyes when confronted with something that only supported our ill-informed idea that Welsh was a pointless language, not worthy of our time.

    Sadly this idea is no longer limited to moody teenagers trying to score a free lesson. In recent years, especially in the last year, I have noticed an increasing amount of negativity around the adaptation of certain ‘English’ words into Welsh and not just from those living in Wales. When reputable media outlets and even the state broadcaster start calling the utility of Welsh into question, then we really have a problem.

    The belief that Welsh is alone in copying, borrowing or using words from other languages shows just how ignorant society has become of the very words we all speak.

    Let’s take English as an example. It should come as no surprise to anyone that English didn’t just fall from the sky. Most of us can recognise its French and German roots and anyone who has read any Chaucer and Shakespeare will have seen how English has evolved over the centuries. But English isn’t just the child of our Saxon settlements and the Norman invasion. Thanks to its maritime history, vast empire, and modern day ubiquity, English contains words from almost every corner of the world.

    If you are au fait with your au pair having an aperitif and canapé in a local cafe before picking up your infant at the local crèche, then you have to accept English has been copying French nouns almost verbatim for centuries.

    You (de) don’t (de) even (de) have (de) to (de) try (fr) so (de) hard (de) to (de) find (de) French (de – surprisingly) or other (de) languages (Latin) in English. Not all (de) of us can afford an au pair (fr), for example (Latin). In (de) this (de) paragraph (Greek) alone you (de) will (de) find (de) words (de) from (de) all (de) over (de) the (de) world (look this one up!). And that’s a fairly simplified etymology. Many of these words can be expanded to distinct groups of people and then further to what we are all essentially speaking in Europe, Proto-Indo-European (and if you’re really interested in that, go research Lithuanian!).

    The point, I hope, is clear. To make fun of Welsh for copying words from its dominant compatriot, especially words that have only entered common vocabulary in the last 100 years, would be to poke fun at your own language, whatever that may be. We all share vocabulary and we (mostly) all share a common root. Languages, just as humans, are mongrels, a mix of everything beautiful that has come before.

  • 2017: Choosing my metrics

    Before writing this, I penned a long, lamenting post on the seemingly pointless year 2016 seemed to be. It’s so rare for me to concentrate on the negative, I felt guilty proofreading it and, in the end, couldn’t bring myself to publish. Surely something good came out of 2016?

    Select all. Delete. Start again.

    2016 wasn’t at all uneventful. In January I found what would become my second home; from April to July I was hard at work renovating; in November I turned 30 and finally got the dog I always dreamed of; and in December my business turned six. It was therefore strange to me that as the New Year approached, I felt empty inside.

    I decided to dedicate the first week of 2017 to discovering why I felt the way I did about the last year, a year, on paper at least, that contained some fairly major milestones. And that’s when it hit me. On paper, the year was fairly successful. But who decides what is deemed successful or not? I certainly have never measured someone’s success on their ability to get a mortgage, so there is little wonder why 2016 seems void of any great achievement to me.

    To avoid a repeat of the same, I think it’s important to ask what a good year actually looks like. What is the end-game? Most importantly, what will I be like, how will I have grown, what will have made me happy? The metrics by which we judge ourselves are important, not the metrics society inflicts on us unwittingly.

    I sat down with a piece of paper to work out what a good day looks like, in the hope that a series of good days would eventually add up to a good year. It quickly became clear what motivates me the most, with just a few common themes among all my favourite or most-desired activities.

    With these themes now written, it became easy to see what I deem a successful year. And hopefully end the year feeling like I’ve achieved something, rather than feeling flat.

    Here are my key metrics:

    • Time spent Learning
      Be it inside a classroom or from the people and environment around me. At the end of 2017, I want to be able to ask myself, what did I learn this year?.
    • Time spent Being Present
      Screen-free time, time in nature, quality time with friends and family, but also rest time, down time, relax time. How often did I do something without distraction?
    • Number of new Experiences
      There’s nothing to be gained from staying in your comfort zone all the time. What new experiences did I have this year?
    • My Impact
      If I’m not of any benefit to the world around me, why bother. Whose life did I improve or make easier?, Which communities did I contribute to and help grow?.

    Over a year ago I decided I would return to the UK after years of travelling and do the normal thing of settling down, getting an office and buying a new place to live. So much effort went into these things that, without realising, I suddenly stopped doing what I love. If 2016 taught me anything, it’s that if I don’t keep track of what’s important to me, another year will go by feeling unfulfilled.

    I’m yet to choose my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017, but at least now I have a framework on which to base them.

  • Taking time out

    Iceland Horses

    There aren’t many times in my life I can remember not having a computer nearby. Even on the very few holidays where I’ve decided not to work, I’ve taken my MacBook with me just in case.

    I recently discovered a decline in my motivation and ability to concentrate for any length of time. The usual procrastinations became my daily affairs, rather than my momentary flings. Any form of work, even a simple email, became a monumental effort. Tasks would remain half finished in windows dotted around my screen and clients started wondering why the delay.

    This was strange to me. I have always loved my job, the clients and the translators I work with. The process that forms the majority of my daily activities isn’t particularly difficult and it’s accessible any time of the day, from anywhere in the world.

    I had never experienced burnout in this way before. Usually my burnout is accompanied by a desire to do even more and a vacuous, demoralising feeling that everything I’ve accomplished so far is totally worthless. This time it was different. This time it was preventing me from doing any more work. It was as if my brain was demanding the time off, analogous to my own computer that needs time to process before moving on to the next task.

    The feeling had been growing over a long period of time, but I kept ignoring it. Eventually I found myself getting less and less sleep, trying to fit in everything I wanted to do, every single day. My friends started to notice how badly bitten my nails were and how tired I was looking. When I couldn’t spend a weekend at a friend’s house without looking at my computer for a couple of hours, it was clear something had to change.

    “When was the last time you went a week without a computer?” my friend asked. I couldn’t remember. “It’s time we went away together”.

    Several weeks later we had booked our February trip off-the-grid in Iceland. She demanded I left my computer at home, at whatever cost to my company, and turned off my iPhone, only to be used in cases of emergency (the death kind, not the Google Maps kind). I was happy to oblige.

    Iceland was everything I had hoped for. Without any strict schedule, my appearance changed in days. My nails grew, the black rings around my eyes disappeared, I stood up taller than usual. My mind raced through the last year, processing, categorising and filing everything it needed to. My dreams became more and more vivid as my sleep increased from my usual six to eight full hours.

    I went swimming four times, walked ten, fifteen, twenty kilometres a day. Lost weight and felt more flexible. My eyes were no longer straining and the aches in my back had gone. I found time to read four books, infinitely more than I had read in the last six months, and watched mindless TV without my normal feeling of frustration that I could, should, be doing something ‘better’.

    Above all, I found time to coherently think about my plans. I made a mental list of everything that was making me both happy and unhappy and how I would solve them. I realistically prioritised what I can achieve in the near future, including time set aside to just do nothing.

    While my flexibility at work has always been fantastic, I have been spurred on to create some kind of boundaries. Not just for myself, but also my friends and family who want, nay, deserve my full attention when I am with them.

    In daily life, I often find my mind racing towards several futures that may or may not ever exist. I try and achieve everything I want in what limited time I have and I punish myself when I don’t meet those expectations. I don’t appreciate the free time I do get and I’m rarely mindful of the things I already have.

    If you feel this way too, I recommend taking a week away from it all. Turn off 3G, no social networks, no messaging, close your computer and get away from your normal surroundings. Your friends and family won’t miss you for a week or two. Try and discover who you are right now, work out what really makes you happy, not what you think will make other people happy. Make a list of your goals, prioritise them and understand you can’t do everything. But most of all, give your head space. Space to work out what it needs, without interruption.

  • 2015: MyIntent to learn

    MyIntent

    My first company, Applingua Ltd, is now over four years old. When I quit my previous job and started my first company I looked at it as a training programme. I told my friends and family that I couldn’t afford to study for a masters and instead would start and run my own business for a year. I hoped that I would learn by doing all the legal, accounting, finance and management myself; and by researching and overcoming all the stumbling blocks that many first time business owners are confronted with.

    It’s impossible to quantify how much I learned in that first year. Not just the hard facts, but also the emotional roller coaster of getting clients, invoicing, setting pricing. Non payers and managing subcontractors. It wasn’t overly difficult, but it did take a lot of brain power and that was tiring.

    As the years have gone by, running the business has become almost second nature. The process has stayed more or less the same and I’ve found myself having to read up on certain topics much less than I once had to. In some respects, my need to learn at work has diminished.

    In November I found myself at a Startup Mixer in San Francisco, where one guy, Chris Pan, took to the stage to tell the room about his project, MyIntent. He described the MyIntent bracelet as ‘wearable technology’ and gave what the British might call a ‘sugary-sweet, love-peace-and-harmony’ speech about what is essentially a wearable imprinted metal drain pipe washer. I rolled my eyes, tutted and wondered if I could exit the auditorium without being seen. For all intents and purposes I was not willing to learn what he had to say.

    Later in the evening I came across the MyIntent stall and scratched my head as to why anyone in their right mind would be impressed by this low-grade metal ring. Through sheer curiosity and the much more open-mindedness of my friend, Xenia Menzies, we approached the stall where one of their reps asked us out straight, “What’s your word?”. I looked at her perplexed, what on Earth was she asking me? “What’s your word?,” she repeated, “You know, what one word defines or describes your purpose in life? Why are you here? What is your intent?”.

    I would have thought this was a question that required weeks of introverted thought and consideration, but in that single moment only one thing kept coming to the front of my mind, something I had consistently told friends over the years, “all I ever want to do is learn”.

    “Sorry?”, the rep replied.

    “To learn! Learn. Learn, is my word”.

    For two months now I have worn this little metal washer with pride. On more than one occasion, when I’ve felt like avoiding going out of my comfort zone, or felt too lazy to read an article, I’ve noticed this little imprinted word shining back at me, reminding me to learn. Its neurolinguistic properties remind me of Mauricio Estrella’s Medium story about how changing his password, changed his life. It may sound kitsch, but the power of one word, repeated over and over again is immense.

    This simple, throw-away washer has had a big impact on my enthusiasm for 2015 and the possibilities of what I can achieve not only in my private, but also my in professional life and Applingua’s own success. I’ve decided that it’s time to learn at work again full time. To grow my business and to take it to new levels. In some ways to reinvent it and to learn from the process, whether it succeeds or fails. MyIntent is to learn this year, and that’s what makes 2015 so exciting. I was wrong, Chris Pan, and you were most definitely right.

    So, what’s your word?

  • Visiting Buckingham Palace

    Me and The Queen

    A few weeks ago I received an email from The Duke of York’s Personal Secretary, inviting me to a Technology Reception at Buckingham Palace. I couldn’t refuse such an offer, so booked flights back home, ironed my suit (thanks Mum!), bought a new tie and polished my shoes. Before I knew it, I was lining up at the gates of Buckingham Palace along with 200 other influential people in UK tech.

    Of all the amazing opportunities I’ve had since starting this blog, I would probably put this near the top. It’s not something I ever imagined would or could even happen, but it was an honour to be in a room not only with our Head of State, but also many other CEOs whose companies I admire, respect and often look to learn from.

    My thanks go to Neil Cocker, for putting my name forward and for organising our transport to London; to the Duke of York, for hosting this event; and, of course, the Royal Household for recognising how important our industry is quickly becoming to the UK’s economy. Fantastic day – will never be forgotten!

  • Working nomadically: the tools I use

    IMG_4910

    I’m often asked how I can keep on top of work while travelling around so much. I have to admit, when I took my first location independent leap it was a major concern for me. Nowadays it almost seems like second nature.

    In recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of employees working remotely. It makes sense to me – companies don’t have to provide the overheads associated with physical desk space, they can retain good employees who require flexibility (working mothers and fathers, for example) and, in my experience, it empowers employees to manage their own tasks and time more efficiently. I really don’t see this trend declining any time soon.

    There are two of us in-house at Applingua and a further 30+ freelancers. On the one hand, it’s obviously important that communication and access to information runs efficiently in any company, in case someone is ill or away on vacation. But it’s very important if you want towork remotely from one another. So how do Applingua and I do it?

    Internet access

    Even before arriving in a new place, I check out potential internet access. At the very least, you need a strong connection where you are sleeping, be that a hotel or sublet. Make sure WiFi is available in your room, so you don’t have to go hunting for it elsewhere in your building (hotel lobbies suck).

    Don’t rely too much on coffee shop WiFi access. In many countries it conveniently doesn’t work ‘today’ so they can get more customers through their doors (fair enough, really). While in others, quite considerable charges are normal.

    In the next few years, the EU should move to remove roaming charges, but in the meantime the first thing you should think about is getting a SIM card. In my experience, it’s cheaper to buy a SIM even when you’re on holiday for a week. Check which sim card would be the best before you arrive then head right to their store. Data on your smartphone is essential for so many different tasks, from quick email checking to finding your way around a new city (and finding WiFi hotspots!).

    File sharing & storage

    Most companies have work they need to save and documents they need to share. I’ve been using Dropbox for what seems years now, but it wasn’t until I started working with others professionally that I saw just how great Dropbox really is.

    The idea of file servers have plagued small businesses for years. I remember pulling my hair out trying to work out how to set up a file share between five computers at my father’s company when I was still a teenager. Nowadays Dropbox lets you create a folder, right-click and share with friends and colleagues. As it is backed up automatically both off-site and locally, it completely negates the need for cumbersome and un-travel-friendly external hard drives. What’s more, the files can be accessed from any device, iPod touch to Desktop.

    (I should enter a quick note here that if you’re keeping company data on Dropbox, it’s probably good practice to keep it in an encrypted image, which can be mounted at the start of each work day. No idea what I’m talking about? Here’s a handy guide.)

    Communication & project management

    We all know the most important aspect of any business is good communication. It’s important for everyone in a team (remote or otherwise) to know where they stand at any given moment. It’s also important that when communication fails, or when communication is not possible, there is a list of tasks that can be done without the rest of your team.

    Over the years I have tried so many different project management tools, shared to do lists, instant messaging apps, but in the end only two have prevailed. Skype and Trello.

    Skype lets me check in with my colleague Sarah once a week on video or whenever there’s something more complex than possibly by email to discuss. I also have a fixed Skype line phone number, which means my calls can be routed wherever I am in the world. This is especially useful when my mobile number changes when changing countries.

    Trello is an extremely useful online todo list and project management tool. We’ve used it for almost two years now and it’s never failed. I’ll admit at some times I’ve been a bit lazy updating it, but I know that should I ever be stuck for something to do, there is a great backlog of admin and potential marketing duties listed there.

    Trello really is a great tool for collaborating on projects – I couldn’t recommend it more strongly.

    Business admin

    No one particularly likes admin tasks. When I started Applingua I decided I wanted to be completely paperless. Aside from the environmental and cost aspect of running a paper-based office, keeping physical records of everything is a sure fire way to prevent you from remote working or becoming location independent.

    I was lucky to find an easy solution early on, meaning all my company’s documents can be accessed anywhere in the world and at any time: Canon P150 Scanner + Evernote.

    The canon scanner is a very portable, high speed scanning device that breezes through multiple letters and receipts in no time at all. You can then choose to automatically upload to an application of your choice, mine being Evernote. While I am away from the UK, a friend or relative picks up my limited, usually SPAM, mail approximately once a month, places it on the scanner and clicks go!

    The documents then get uploaded to Evernote, which automatically files and indexes them so they can be searched instantly. It’s extremely convenient to be able to search through years of paper letters and documents in just seconds to find exactly what you’re looking for.

    There are alternatives to both the Canon and Evernote. I believe Doxie is one of the most popular scanners and many use Google Drive for storage (it also does OCR now). Personally I’m happy with Evernote’s iOS, Mac and Web apps for the time being.

    Finance & accounting

    There’s nothing more off-putting when starting your own business than Finance & Accounting. It’s scary and the idea of Excel spreadsheets makes me want to run away and hide under my bed covers with my first teddy bear, Growler.

    I’ve mentioned it a hundred times before, but I believe FreeAgent is the very first service new businesses should invest in. Whether Freelance or Limited, accounting has literally never been so easy (I realise I sound like I’m on their payroll…). It automatically interacts with my bank accounts, giving me a daily overview of all goings on. I invoice from there, manage clients, time, payroll and salary. It even lets me run a trial balance sheet and profit & loss. It really is out of this world.

    What I’ve not mentioned before perhaps is the next vital aspect of running your business smoothly, making it even easier to work nomadically or be location independent: a good accountant.

    I use Maslins Accountants. Chris and his team are based in Kent, we’ve never met, I don’t think we’ve even spoken on the telephone. His team’s communication is so good and responsive, I’ve never needed to. They work directly in FreeAgent too, which, compared to some companies I know who deliver kilograms of paper to their accountant at the end of every year, is incredibly convenient. Everything is done electronically – even to the point of signing off my accounts at the end of the year.

    It is not possible to overemphasise how essential a good accountant is. I know no matter where I am I can send a quick email and get a reply nearly always the same day.

    Some might say this is all too easy, but I just think of it as an extra day off a month which would normally be spent trawling spreadsheets.

    The answer is in the cloud

    You’ll notice that all of the above exist in the cloud. They all store my data on remote servers that can be accessed anywhere in the world. If my computer gets stolen, if my colleague Sarah needs to get hold of something or if I’m away from the desk and someone needs something urgently, I can access the information from any device, any where.

    I’ve even gone so far as getting an accountant that forces me to think remotely, even when I’m working from Applingua’s HQ in Cardiff. It’s these things which cut all ties when I decide to just up and leave from one day to the next.

    I started writing this post sprawled out in my own night-train compartment watching the sun rise over the snow-capped mountains surrounding Lake Garda in Northern Italy. For me, at least, working nomadically doesn’t get much better.

  • Goodbye USA! This is what I learned

    blog

    After 18 months back in the UK, I decided my motivation batteries needed a bit of recharging. It didn’t take me long to decide on the USA, the home of enthusiasm and tech startups.

    I’ve just spent a month living in Boston, MA. During the last four weeks I was lucky enough to attend some incredible lectures at Harvard and MIT, got to listen to world-leading thinkers on business and politics and chewed over hours of strategy with my good friend, and fellow startup founder, Xenia Menzies (keep an eye out, she’s a rising star!).

    I also took the opportunity to visit San Francisco for the first time, where I worked on-site at a client’s office on their release day, and I jumped on the train to New York, where I met another client at their amazing office for vegetarian meatballs (the mind boggles).

    I want to share with you my biggest take aways from the month and hope they serve as a reminder to me in future.

    Celebrate those who try

    Of all the people I met, whether at a startup or just in general conversation, they were all enthusiastic about those who try, even if they fail. They applaud those who take risks and they never lament or patronise when someone fails.

    Don’t be afraid to ask

    People don’t mind calling in favours. Us Brits always feel like we’re intruding or don’t want to bother others with our requests. I almost see a correlation with the Germans here, if an American wants something, they’ll ask for it. And why not? There will almost always be a time when it will be repaid.

    Simplicity is always best

    Bureaucracy almost doesn’t exist in the US (though I’m sure they’d disagree). Every service had ‘an easy option’. Getting a sim card, there were contracts but there were also simple all-inclusive, one-time-only pre-paid sims.

    My gym too. Alongside the annual memberships were hey-you’re-only-in-town-for-one-month memberships too. No ‘sign up and cancel later’, no ’30 day notice period’ like i had on my monthly gym membership in the UK. Sure, it was slightly more expensive, but convenience has a value. In fact, everything in the US has a value.

    Everything has a value

    That’s right. Perhaps this is the biggest difference between the US and Europe. Everything has a value. You want sides with that main course? Pay for them. You want your luggage taken to your room? Give me a few dollars.

    Nothing is bundled. I always feel like we’re taken for a ride in the UK. “Free PlayStation with your mobile phone contract!” Break down your monthly costs, that PlayStation is not free. The American way lets those who use a service, pay for it and the rest of us get the cheapest deal.

    Big up your position

    Finally, stay humble but do not allow modesty to become confusing. I’ve met many small business owners in the UK who shy away from even the official term “Managing Director”. In fact, I myslef find it difficult to say anything other than “I kinda work for myself”. Americans assume this means you’re unemployed or freelance. If you are director of a Ltd company, especially if you are an employer, then you are CEO or, at the very least, a Founder.

    In the past I’ve lambasted those who use the term CEO when they only manage a handful of people, but now I realise that’s due to a cultural difference in the use of the term.

    CEO is the word for Managing Director in the UK. So if you’re looking for investment from Americans, or dealing with other American companies, they will probably want to deal with the CEO.

  • Inquiry into Young Entrepreneurs

    I was recently asked to take part in a Wales-wide inquiry into youth entrepreneurship. Although I am now slightly out of the age range to be classed as ‘youth’, I was when I started my business, Applingua Ltd, on my 24th Birthday.

    The video speaks to several young entrepreneurs who give their opinion on a wide range of issues around starting your own business in Wales and was shown to the Enterprise and Business Committee at the National Assembly for Wales on Thursday 12th June 2013. You can read the agenda and minutes of the meeting here.

    I promote youth entrepreneurship at any given chance and have always maintained that our education system should promote starting a business as a viable form of post-education employment. All too often schools boast about their ‘successful’ pupils who gone on to work for big-city companies across the bridge, when they should also celebrate the 16 year olds who leave school early, train as a hair dresser, and now run their own salon employing 10 people.

    Wales is in an ideal position to encourage entrepreneurship through local grants. I would most like to see this being supported by Welsh Government through the expansion of the Enterprise Zone trials in England, whereby individuals starting a business can claim Job Seekers Allowance for the first nine months. I strongly believe this will encourage people without a job to take the leap.

    New companies make new jobs and push our economy forward. The more startups we have here in Wales, selling products and services around the world, the more attractive our country becomes to outside investment and high-net worth individuals who can feed back into our economy. Let’s make it even easier for people, young and old, to start a business and promote Wales as a great place to do business.

  • Cardiff Start Launch

    10 months ago I wrote a post on the start of a new community of entrepreneurs in Cardiff. After months of meet-ups, socials and not-so-great delivery pizza, we finally launched Cardiff Start.

    On 11th April, over 200 people landed in City Hall for the grand opening of Cardiff Start. People from all walks of life came, from those interested in running their own businesses to those Cardiff’s creative movement. The video above is a short clip detailing what we’re all about.

    Check out the Cardiff Start website if you’re interested.