My brother, seventeen years my senior, leaves home just as I arrive. However, he left behind computers and his old hand-me-down equipment, so technology was readily available to me. As a digital native, I was using the BBC Micro and Atari ST from an early age.
These were, in a word, unsuccessful. I was regularly bored and didn’t enjoy any classes other than Art, Design and Tech, which I adored. Like many innovators before me, I much preferred to teach myself and the four walls of a classroom were wholly unappealing. I was, however, fixated on drawing and being an artist, something that would play an important part in my later career. I spent a lot of my time creating simple comic strips for my friends and making the school newsletter, something that would prove to be my earliest foray into publishing.
My childhood years were all about honing my solution-finding skills – which at that age involved a lot of simulation gaming and Lego. I was a big fan of construction and management simulation type games such as SimCity (although not such a big fan of the instructions), and through this I developed my creative and problem-solving skills.
Pocket money wasn’t really a thing in my family, but as a 10 year old, the lack of it became of increasing concern. Keen to make some cash to buy yet more games, I tried my hand at what would be my first entrepreneurial venture. My friend and I approached an antique shop and kindly offered to rid them of any they wanted throwing away. The owner agreed, and so we picked the ones in best nick – and then promptly approached another antique bookshop to sell them on. The result? A tidy £10 profit.
In the coming years, I heavily focused on getting to grips with both the software and hardware in computers. I’d break down my brother’s old computers and began to figure out how to put them back together again. At the time, digital design was a relatively new concept, but early versions of things like Photoshop began to arrive on the market. I was instantly hooked, and loved how my passion for drawing with pen and paper could now be moved into the digital space as the technology became available. Word quickly spread that I could fix computers too, and as I became the village’s go-to fix it kid, I began to realise that my passion could equate to sales and money.
At Christmas, my brother gifted the family our first modem, and I began to learn basic code to develop my first simple website. As an early adopter of the technology, I was keen to find out as much as possible – and how to leverage it to sell. Rather than code from a simple maths standpoint, I knew I wanted to build and use it as a sales platform.
I met Rae Lambert, an experienced author, illustrator and graphic designer. Together we worked on building an online kids comic and an interactive CD-ROM, based on his existing comics and children's stories. It was through Rae I learnt about the animation industry and furthered my design skills, at the same time as gaining a huge amount of experience from someone who was at the forefront of this technology.
While Google AdSense is fairly commonplace now, at the time, this advertising network was only just starting to take off. I built a directory of animation companies and media websites, and placed relevant Google adverts on each page of the directory. This quickly began to generate revenue – over a period of a year to eighteen months, I made around £23,000 - for doing around 50 hours of work. This taught me a huge amount about Internet marketing and was the first time I started to dip into the world of e-commerce and marketing, which complemented the skills I already had in tech and design. Off the back of this success and my (continued) disinterest in school, I left college to continue pursuing self-employment.
Based on the directory I'd build, I began an online animation magazine called Skwigly. The advertising revenue began to roll in, and soon industry journalists and animation enthusiasts were stepping forward to write original content for the magazine. We started attending animation festivals, we created a forum and an online chat space, and built a community through contributors and readers. A business mentor then suggested we try a print run of the magazine, which turned out to be an ill-fated choice given that print media was starting to fade in popularity compared with online content. However, we did learn lots in the process about publishing, building products and successfully filling a gap in a niche market.
During these years, my passion for print work, website design and entrepreneurship was officially ignited. I began selling on eBay through an initiative known as Tintafia, alongside my friend Andy Francis. This experience enabled me to learn how to market lots of different products to a variety of target markets. I also worked on projects such as the TicTacTacTic game, KindyCo, and selling gazebos to schools across the UK. All of this saw me develop a number of skills such as managing supply and demand, distribution levels, working with international distributors (the gazebos were imported from Chinese manufacturers), filming and branding, and much, much more. Throughout all of this, web and design was always at the heart, and I was constantly developing new ways to sell a product – whatever it may be, in whatever volume, to whichever target market the client required.
Having made huge leaps in my skillset, pushing myself to the next level in things like UX, brand design and frontend development, I decided I wanted to use all of this along with my self-starter attitude to form my own company. I founded Made Responsively as a web service to convert client websites into mobile-ready products to provide a better user experience.
I had been freelancing for Jon Waring for a number of years, a man who mentored me in business, design and thinking. Together we and three others entered a digital hack competition and created an app, which saw us win a £50,000 prize.
Having learnt lots about how to create and sell physical products on-line as well as develop digital experiences, this year has been about collaboration, development, and entrepreneurship. I’ve taken something from each experience and have launched a number of new projects that will better the lives of users.