Yellowcog is now five years old. When I founded yellowcog I had no idea what might happen. I knew that I needed to take control of my future; I knew that I wanted to run a company but I didn’t, in hindsight, know why. I wouldn’t say that it has taken five years to realise but it also wasn’t instant.
So, why run a company? And why would I recommend it? I think that it is simple for people (politicians?) to say that we should all aspire to such a thing but I don’t agree. Not everyone enjoys having to manage innovation and accounts. I could only start yellowcog because I had got to a point where I had enough experience and I could afford the risk. It is great if a fresher has the knowledge and drive to start a company – some of the biggest today have been started like that – but I think that it is important for engineers to work within a real company delivering real products to learn how things operate. My great privilege was to leave university and go into a solid engineering environment with young and seasoned engineers alike providing the right mix of mad cap and sensible. Once you know how people are doing things then you can, if you think you know better, throw out the rules and innovate. I like innovation, I like invention; but I also like procedure and quality.
Can I call myself an “entrepreneur”? Only after it’s been spell checked. I think that it is a loaded word and it is often a synonym for “inexperienced” or “risk taker”. I strongly believe that the mantra that to be one you have to fail a few times is wrong. Every failed business has repercussions. Every business takes risks but those must be taken in the context of believing success is realisable. I suspect that many younger people have been given the impression that if you have a good idea you should go and beg a rich investor. This is the opposite of what I believe to be the case; investors are plentiful and we should have the confidence to say that we have something good or important and that we are seeking a suitable investor. A generation is growing up thinking that some Lord will sit as judge and jury on their idea – but ideas are valuable and it is always a sellers’ market.
So what’s been good? I have met and worked with amazing people. People I have respected for decades: racing drivers, mathematicians, managers, artists, doctors, designers and engineers. We have collaborated with many organisations on many innovative projects and seen solid results. Standing on the grid of the Indy500 looking up at hundreds of thousands of people was an awesome moment; then hearing that the live broadcast using our kit had aired was as good as it gets. To be on the grid working was a hundred times better than being a visitor. It is highly motivating!
So what have we got wrong? We’ve missed a lot of opportunities, sure. But we have only one unsatisfied customer on our books. We did everything we could, we delivered on time and on budget and to spec but still they were unhappy. Every approach went unanswered. It was not a great experience. It was frustrating to be trying so hard, for our good and theirs, but to be repudiated.
We live in an age where social media dominates not just our lives but also marketing strategies. We always try to let people know what we are up to but a lot of companies need to keep their projects confidential. Sometimes it’s frustrating but it makes us happy that we are doing things that are worth hiding.
So, here’s to yellowcog, to the founders, to the friends, the projects, the customers, the hardware, the software and the business of building and enjoying business.