Prologue

100 Days of Techstars

It seems fitting that I write this after only two hours sleep. Hopefully the writing style will match the slightly manic and incoherent style of the rest of this book. It’s contents were, after all, usually written around midnight, after a 16 hour day, when I was exhausted.

You see, I was lucky enough to go to Techstars. Our company, Rainbird, was one of ten that went through the London 2014 Winter Techstars programme. Techstars is a thirteen week, mentor driven tech accelerator that takes early stage startups and attempts to cram two years growth, development and learning into three months. Think of it as a cross between startup boot camp, and The Masons for tech.

There’s actually very little information out there on what it’s like to be part of a Techstars programme. I mean what it’s really like. Not the broad strokes of a write-up after the fact, or a weekly blog. I know what happens to a company when it goes through an accelerator. What happens to the people?

Inspired by a comment made by John Bradford, the Managing Director of Techstars London, I decided to record my experience on a near daily basis. I omitted Saturdays, partly because there usually wasn’t a whole load to write about, but mainly so I wouldn’t feel obliged to write when I was with my family. I also appear to have missed one Sunday.

What follows is a blow by blow account of being at Techstars in diary format, warts and all. The only constraints were that what was written should not negatively affect Rainbird, Techstars or anyone involved in the programme. It is, after all, a very public record.

Some entries are tame because nothing much new happened during the day. Some are innocuous because I really couldn’t publish what I wanted to publish. And some posts are vague, because Techstars is a safe place. What goes on in Techstars stays in Techstars, and I need to respect that. Feel free to read between the lines.

This book is, by and large, unedited from it’s original form on the blog. I’ve made some minor typographical corrections, fixed some inaccuracies, and removed or edited some content that doesn’t work well in this format. I’ve also added extra footnotes where further comment would be useful. Otherwise it’s a near stream of consciousness account of what Techstars was like for me.

Despite later events I am not the Dom Davis. He is, I believe, an American football player. It amuses me that during my more active periods online I have more Google juice than him. I am CTO and, by some definitions, co-founder, of a software startup and I am a Techstars Alumni. I believe I hold the distinction of being the first person to blog near daily during a Techstars programme, the result of which you’ll find in this book. I describe myself as a geek, pedant and sarcastic git. I’m also a rabid mac fanboy.

Oh, and I’m British, and attended Techstars in London. I’m aware some of my turns of phrase may not translate so well for readers from other countries. Just read it in an English accent and smile and nod at the bits you don’t understand.

Dramatis Personae

My Family

• Zo - My wife, who was pregnant and due a few weeks after Techstars finished
• Willow - Our daughter, who had just turned 3 when Techstars started

Rainbird

• Ben Taylor - CEO
• James Duez - Chairman
• Chris Wilkinson - Head of Professional Services, also my flatmate for the duration of our time in London
• Nathan Roberts - Senior Software Engineer

Techstars

• Jon Bradford - MD, Techstars London

Dates and Times

Each entry contains the date and time it was originally published. Quite often the date will be in the early hours of the following day so it sometimes seems there are two entries on some days and none on others.

My typical pattern was to write an entry and post it just before going to sleep. Since I woke up at 6am every week day (except where noted) you can actually track how much sleep I was getting during the week.

Entries for Friday and Sunday were typically written on the train, from home, or from the flat while watching TV. They were generally posted much earlier in the day.

Day 0: Next Stop London

 Sunday, 9th November 2014 16:32

I’ve done enough research over the past few weeks to know there is a metric crapton of information on what Techstars is. Illegitimate child of YCombinator, huge international tech accelerator. Blah. Blah. Blah.

And yet there’s very little information on what it actually is - as in what does it really mean to be going on a three month boot camp with some of the best startups in the world? There are a couple of very interesting blogs which help give an idea, but I’m really not sure what to expect. I guess we’ll find out…

So yeah, I joined a startup and in, what… less than five months I’ve managed to hitch a ride to Techstars. I do know one thing: it’s going to be mental!

Last week we mothballed the Norwich office, sent our kit down to our new office space and prepared to say goodbye to our families. For the next three to four months we’re going to be living and working (and working, and working) London.

So what do we know at the moment? Well going to London isn’t a huge issue - we’re living and working in my old stomping ground. I can get the “essential”1 parts of my life into a large suitcase, a gym bag and a rucksack (and I could have done away with the gym bag if I really had to) - really doesn’t seem enough. I know I’ve forgotten something, I just don’t know what yet. Oh, and explaining to a three year old that she won’t see me until next weekend isn’t easy2… especially since there are going to be much longer periods where she doesn’t see me.

Sad that I am to leave my family for so long I need to be pragmatic. I’ve done the Cromer-to-London weekend commute before and it’s punishing. Chuck in weekend engineering works, long work hours and the mountain of work that I know is coming my way and I can see me burnt out before Christmas - I am, after all, rapidly approaching 40.

So, next stop London… Well, technically the next stop is Salhouse, I’m just not getting off there; and I’ll be changing at Norwich - there’s a reason why I describe myself as a pedant.

Everything I need for three months… and some stuff I don’t. Doesn’t seem enough

1. Not entirely sure it’s all essential. I’ve got gym kit, clubbing kit, about 100 glow sticks, a few kitchen gadgets, double the number of t-shirts I can wear in a week, and who knows what else in there. It’s scary how small you can pack your life down to if you need to.
2. “Daddy, it’s nap time, not work time. We say ‘goodnight’ not ‘goodbye’!”

Week 1

Day 1: Treasure Hunt

 Monday, 10th November 2014 22:15

Arrive early. Watch as one of our team manages to bugger up the entry system (albeit not too badly). Get settled. Start introducing ourselves. Sit through a long (but interesting) introductory presentation. Get introduced to everyone. Instantly forget everyone’s name.

Lunch.

Head out for a treasure hunt. Decide not to take umbrella because, hey, what’s the worst that could happen? Get wet. Meet some really cool new people. Rescue team member who gets separated from their group1. Have a few beers. Meet more people. Have a curry. Meet more people. Head back to the office. Grab stuff, go back to the flat2. Check email. Check Twitter. Check chat. Blog. Die.

And in the background, relentlessly ticking down, is this thing.

The Techstars Clock of Doom

Day 2: Daddy needs a new pair of shoes

 Wednesday, 12th November 2014 00:20

I need a new pair of shoes, quite desperately. The whys and the wherefores are unimportant. I simply need to go to a shop, try on shoes, find a pair that actually fit and purchase them.

Given day 2 of Techstars is ostensibly a “day off” - that is no activities or meetings are planned - I figured I could pop out over lunch some time. I was wrong.

Cue one fifteen and a half hour day focusing on our “homework” (the real reason we had the day off from other activities), actually getting some work done, waiting for photographs to be taken3, having working lunches, having a working dinner4, and finally finishing our homework5.

Maybe “day off” was a poor choice of words.

Tomorrow morning is rammed with meetings, but the afternoon is looking promising to steal some time and sort the footwear problem. I could probably do with going to a supermarket too. And sleep. Sleep would be nice. So with that, I bid you goodnight6

Burning the midnight oil

Day 3: The first rule of CTO club…

 Thursday, 13th November 2014 00:19

I think it’s safe to say I didn’t get enough sleep last night. I suspect this is going to be a common theme given it’s 23:50 already and I’m still not quite ready to hit the sack. That said, I think we barely managed a 13 hour working day before buggering off to get some food. Chuck in the fact that I had to run to Oxford Street7 during lunch and it was practically a half day.

Today was a bit different for me as I had CTO club. The first rule of CTO club is that you don’t talk about CTO club. The second rule of CTO club is that if you don’t get stuck into the chocolate croissants near the beginning of the meeting I’m going to have eaten them all8.

The CTO meetings are likely to be invaluable to me as, while I bring a fair amount of experience to the table, most of that experience is as a developer. OK, so I’ve been a team lead, development head and even a Head of IT before, but all that’s crammed into the very last portion of my career. Part of me still views myself as a naive 22 year old who’s just starting out in a support team.

We also had our first Deep Dive with Jon Bradford9 and his team. It was nowhere near as brutal as I was expecting - in fact it was practically pleasant. Yes, there are issues that we need to address, some quite large, but then that’s why we’re here; to get help and guidance on some of these larger issues. There’d be no point in doing the programme if we had it all worked out.

We topped the day off with dinner and a team discussion over the outcome of both the Deep Dive, and last nights homework (which was very much an exercise to get us thinking about the kinds of issues that would be bought up in the Deep Dive). I also have some of my own ideas, but I’m reserving judgement until after the first week of mentor meetings.

I then utterly failed to get to the supermarket to buy the growing list of things I could really do with buying. The likelihood is that I will completely fail to get to the shops tomorrow today too as we’ve got a 6pm meeting, followed by a Techstars Alumni panel, followed by drinks… also, how the hell is it Thursday already?

Psychologically there is a big difference between 100 days left and 99 days left

Day 4: Screw the diet

 Thursday, 13th November 2014 23:57

Before we came to London there was a very real understanding that we were going to have to look after ourselves, insofar as making sure we ate reasonable well, exercised, and all that malarkey. The gym has been sadly absent this week, purely down to the lack of gym passes (which should be sorted tomorrow), but I have been making a point of doing some exercises in my room every morning and I use the stairs rather than the lifts.

On the food front it’s been a mixed bag. Dinners have, on the whole, not been great. Breakfasts have been healthy, and lunches haven’t been all that bad. Treats and snacks have been pretty much non-existent - I know, how pious am I?

Except I’m getting 6 hours sleep a night, with pretty much 17 hours a day dedicated to working and networking and the final hour left for me to do mundane things like shower and walk to and from work. Annoyingly I’d like to be able to spend more time working each day, it’s just physically impossible.

You need to consider that I’m basically a highly evolved machine designed to turn sugar into code. It’s what I do. And today I hit the wall. So I did the only thing I knew: headed to the supermarket and bough £15 worth of sugary and chocolatey crap. That did the job.

Obviously a large bar of chocolate, half a box of Ferrero Rocher, a chocolate doughnut and half a large bag of sweets isn’t a sustainable diet, but I do think it represented the bursting of the dam… actually, the chocolate croissant and hot chocolate I had this morning, followed by a fairly large tube of Smarties was the bursting of the dam, this was more like the flooding of the lowlands and the destruction of everything downstream, but I digress.

The choices seem to be scale back the hours, sleep more, eat properly, exercise and generally be sensible; or accept that the diet may need to involve more sugar if I’m going to be able to maintain the pace I’ve set. My personal preference? Given how hard it is to get into Techstars your options are either go large, or go home10, so screw the diet!

I should probably point out that the other 5 are all eating nothing but organic health foods and drinking pure spring water. It’s just me eating the crap, and I’m not just saying that for the benefit of other peoples wives…

Day 5: Week 1 Summary

 Friday, 14th November 2014 20:21

So you’ll recall that I came to London with a suitcase, bag and rucksack. Look - there’s even a photo to remind you.

Everything I need for three months… and some stuff I don’t. Doesn’t seem enough

I’ve returned to Norfolk for the weekend with just the bag and the rucksack (no photo, it’s dark - use your imagination and remove the suitcase from the scene). I wouldn’t have bought the bag, but I’ve quite literally not had time to do any washing during the week11. I’ve not really had time to do anything other than work, talk about work and network.

It’s a really bizarre feeling to be heading home. In some respects it feels like I’ve barely been away. It’s not even been 5 minutes since we first stepped into the Techstars office and time is just running away from me. In other respects it feels like it’s been 5 months since I left home and we’ve achieved an awesome amount of stuff. Time is becoming malleable, and my recollection of when events happened unreliable. We were warned this would happen12, I just thought it would take a few weeks to kick in.

Weirdly enough my view on a few things around the Rainbird, Techstars, and the cohort seem to also suffer from many diametrically opposed but simultaneously held theories13. You could describe them as quantum states waiting to collapse, although that’s probably me just talking out of my arse due to extreme fatigue. Who knows.

So, what have we achieved? Well, we’re taken the company to bits and we’re starting to put it back together. We’re likely to find a few washers left over when we’re done (“So where does this bit go?”), but that’s a way away. At the moment we’ve got past the list of bits we should have and are now at the little pictograms of the guy telling us the tools we’ll need, how many people are needed to lift the company during building, and what to do if bits are needed14.

We’ve not killed each other, fallen out with each other, sniped at each other or had an argument15. This is a good thing and will become a bigger and bigger achievement as time goes on.

We’ve written some code. OK, Nathan has written some code and Ben and I have pissed about with a few simple changes, but hey, you know, teamwork and all that. We’ve even released Beta 0.2.0 which really just means that I finally remembered to increment the version number.

And we’ve met some really cool, and scarily intelligent people which is more than a bit daunting. We’re still getting to know each other, but I can already see that we’re forming bonds that will last well beyond this process. Oh, and since I know that this is read by the wives and girlfriends of Team Rainbird I feel morally obliged to state that we’ve managed to achieve the perfect mix of eating well, exercising properly and looking after ourselves. We’ve also put aside time each day to tell each other how wonderful our families and loved ones are, and quietly reflect each night on how lucky we are while all the time counting the milliseconds until we are reunited16.

Day 7: Week 2 Prologue

 Sunday, 16th November 2014 21:43

So I had a big long debate with myself over whether I should do weekend updates or not - and also how to deal with the day numberings. Techstars is a 13 week, or 90 day programme. The astute among you will notice that 13 x 7 = 91. Demo Day is on the last Friday so we shouldn’t include the last weekend, and I’m pretty sure that would make it an 89 day programme17.

It gets worse though. Thanks to Christmas we also get a 2 week break with the programme being split into one 7 week and one 6 week session.

So, our Clock of Doom counted down from 10318 days which is 14 full weeks and one 5 day week. All of which begs the question: “How the hell do I number these?”

The solution I’m going to go for is to count weeks as 7 days long, and then ignore the two week break. This means that anyone doing any research on what it’s like to be at Techstars London will be able to correlate entries with the actual programme rather than time elapsed for me. Make sense? No? Tough, I’m just killing time on the train.

Which leads me to the reason why I decided I would do an update this weekend: I’ve got a 3 hour commute most weekends and it’s going to get old fast. I know this because I’m only on the 3rd journey19 for Techstars and it’s already got old. I’ve also previously spent a few months doing the Cromer to London run at weekends when I first started seeing my wife. It wasn’t fun then either.

As to my weekend, it was great to see my family again. When I went into my daughters room on Saturday morning20 I was greeted by an emphatic “Daddy, I knew you’d come back!” followed by her launching herself at me for a hug. This, of course, makes the leaving again all the harder.

Oh, and I got some sleep, although not quite as much as I needed. I’ve noticed, looking back on last week, that the entries were getting more and more manic as my tired brain decided to filter less and less21. I suspect this will be a recurring pattern with Fridays post’s being the most flippant.

1. Yup, same team member that had the issue with the entry system…
2. I’m in two minds as to call the flat ‘home’, or Techstars ‘home’. I suspect it’ll end up being the latter.
3. This was when the work actually got done as we were all at our desks waiting to be called for a couple of hours
4. OK, so the intention was to have a working dinner. Space considerations and a need to take a break put paid to that though.
5. For a given definition of “finish”. It was late, brains were fried and we may have been a bit less diligent with the last few bits.
6. It is quite literally 00:15 and I have a meeting at 08:30 so you’ll forgive me if I don’t refine the wording of this entry, polish the prose, and make it my normal eloquent drivel - I suspect quite a lot of the entries are going to be rawer due to the lack of time and lack of sleep.
7. I now have shoes!
8. Although to be fair there were only 2 or 3 of them and I did offer them about before stuffing my face.
9. The MD of Techstars London
10. Or, as it turned out, get large, then go home - I put on a stone during the programme. And to think I was kidding myself about just a couple of bits of chocolate a day just to keep the brain fuelled.
11. There’s also the whole not liking tumble dried clothes thing, and don’t worry, I’ll not be dumping the washing on my wife.
12. Hence this journal. It’s more so I can remember exactly what happened than anything else.
13. I hesitate to say beliefs because they’re too transient and intangible. I’ve already completely flipped on one theory in the space of a day.
14. Which seems to involve building your stuff in the Ikea car park and having a phone on a really long extension cable that reaches into the store if you have problems. I’m guessing they have customer phones in the lobby that reach into the car park for exactly this purpose.
15. Yet… I’ve been tetchy a few times but have worked hard not to show it.
16. And next week we mean to solve P vs NP (If it means nothing to you Google it, or ignore it and move on. Actually, that’s probably best, I’ve started to ramble).
17. That said I got Demo Day on the wrong day on my original post so there is no guarantee that any of my logic is correct.
18. Which actually makes a mockery of the title of this book, but I felt “100 Days of Techstars” sounded punchier. It’s roughly correct for a given margin of error.
19. Out, home and now back out again. That’s almost 60 hours on the train if I was to do the journey every weekend, and with the inevitable delays it’s pretty much guaranteed to be over 60 hours.
20. She was asleep when I got home on Friday night.
21. Although a fair amount still hit the cutting room floor.

Week 2

 Monday, 17th November 2014 23:53

Do any research on Techstars and you quickly come across the term Mentor Madness. In the space of 3 weeks1 you have around 80 twenty minute meetings with potential mentors. It’s not a pitch - that much has been drummed into us - it’s presenting your team and your business and seeing if there is a match with the mentor. Think of it a bit like speed dating.

Sit through that many meetings with that many people and you’re bound to get differing advice. This even has a name: Mentor Whiplash. Sounds painful. So far, it’s not as bad as it seems. While we’re seeing polar opposite advice from some mentors, we’re viewing this as A Good Thing™.

The mentor whiplash we’re seeing is on parts of the business we’re not sure about yet. If everyone turned round and said “oh, you just want to do X” then you really need to just go do X - and possibly ask yourself why you didn’t spot that in the first place. If half the mentors are saying “do X”, with the other half saying “do Y”, or even “wow, that’s a really hard problem, I don’t know!” then you can at least take solace in the fact it probably is a really hard problem - and maybe one with no right answer.

You’ve also got to bear in mind that these guys are getting a 20 minute window onto a company which may not have been explained in the best of terms2 and are then having to think on their feet. It’s only really the easy questions that can get answered in these session. All you can hope for the hard questions is confirmation of the fact they’re hard and a selection of viewpoints on how best to tackle the issue.

So, day 1. We’re feeling positive. We’ve identified some great people who we’d be thrilled to have as mentors. We spent the evening debriefing and prepping for tomorrow, and then it’s just same again. Sadly I probably won’t get to go to all 80 odd meetings - although we’re early doors yet and that could end up being a blessing in disguise.

Day 9: Marathon, not a sprint

 Tuesday, 18th November 2014 23:54

So my schedule for the week (Monday to Thursday) seems to be get up at 06:00, get ready for work, eat breakfast, FaceTime the family, leave the flat at 07:30, get into work for 08:00, do an 11 or 12 hour day with a small break for lunch, head back to our flats in the evening with the team, work on the business plan over dinner, debrief, blog, bed for midnight. Friday mornings are the same, but we [Rainbird] bugger off back to Norwich in the afternoon so the plan is leave the office at 15:303 and debrief/blog on the train home.

Now that would be great if I was one of these people who only needed 4 hours sleep a night, or if I could go home and die at weekends; but I’m not and I can’t. I suffer if I don’t get my full 8 hours, and my weekends feature disturbed sleep thanks to my heavily pregnant wife who needs to get up several times in the night, plus early mornings courtesy of my young daughter who doesn’t understand the concept of a lie in.

The net result is that I’m pretty tired already and my body is starting to tell me that if I don’t slow down that it’s going to put me down. Yes, I could just knuckle under, quit my moaning and get on with it but I suspect eventually there is a big brick wall that I’d hit and I’d end up being useless to everyone.

So, day off. Sort of.

Mentor meetings in the morning, [extremely] long lunch with a very good friend of mine and colleague who was able to offer some very interesting advice and some possible introductions, back to the office to do a couple of hours work, out by 19:00 with the intention of going home and going pretty much straight to bed.

Didn’t quite manage that as Chris and I started talking about some issues that had been uncovered during the day and then started throwing around some ideas to fix these issues. Next thing you know the notepads are out and diagrams are being drawn. OK, so it’s not exactly high intensity work - and we did range over a number of topics while also cooking and eating dinner - but we still utterly failed in the task of go home, switch off, go to sleep4.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the mentality of working every available hour and pushing yourself as hard as you can. That’s great, but you also have to remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. There are no prizes for being the first to collapse in a crumpled heap before the finish line is even in sight.

I’m not the only one in the team who decided that a little R&R wouldn’t go amiss - the table tennis table was broken out at the end of the day for a few games

Day 10: If I had a hammer…

 Wednesday, 19th November 2014 21:43

Today’s plan was work 08:00-19:00, head home, gym for 20:00, cook dinner at 21:00, bed by 22:00. Didn’t quite pan out as I didn’t leave the office until 20:00, which was too late for the gym. This could be a blessing in disguise as I’m in bed for 21:20 and I will be unconscious5 by 22:00.

It seems that, between the mentor meetings, sponsor meetings and feedback meetings6, it was a head down, headphones on, get on with it type of day. Rest assured that I didn’t have my head in my hands due to despair, I was just looking at something on my iPad7.

I find it ironic that Apple is known for their iconic white headphones, yet the white headphones here are non Apple ones plugged into Android devices while I, the rabid fanboi, have black, non Apple ones plugged into my iPad.

The headphone tactic seems to have worked though. I’ve taken a bunch of open source modules that sort of vaguely do what I want them to do and hit them with a big virtual hammer. The resulting monstrosity should find it’s way back into the open source community in the next few days and we’ll finally have a way of doing releases that force me to update the version number and release notes rather than arbitrarily changing the version number and putting in the first few changes I can remember.

I also spent some time speccing out some new features for Rainbird which look awesome on paper. Absolutely no clue how I’m going to implement them, but hopefully the impending 8+ hours of delicious sleep8 will see me bright eyed and bushy tailed tomorrow and provide inspiration and insight for the challenge. Failing that I’ll just bludgeon some more modules together with my big hammer until it resembles something like what I want.

Day 11: Putting the Tech into Techstars

 Thursday, 20th November 2014 23:33

We had our second Deep Dive with Jon and his team today. The Deep Dives are where we make sure that we, as a team, are heading in the right direction, review our performance for the week and set challenges for the week ahead. The feedback from this weeks meeting was overwhelmingly positive. Which you’d think would be a good thing.

Rainbird the company, as an idea, as a business plan, is accelerating. We’ve made a huge amount of progress on that front over the past two weeks. You could describe it as completely taking the company to bits and rebuilding it from scratch. Twice. You could argue that this is why they’re called accelerator programs.

Rainbird the platform, the underlying tech, is not keeping up. And that is my issue. As CTO it’s my job to ensure that the tech supports the business; after all, selling shiny awesomeness is easy.

We are not at the shiny awesomeness stage yet and there is a metric crapton9 of work to be done to get there. Thankfully Ben, the CEO, is a techie himself and understands this isn’t happening overnight. Sadly, however, I’m not quite so forgiving and am likely to begin birching myself for non-delivery fairly soon. And sitting there, at the back of my mind, is the little niggle of doubt that all developers seem to get. What if I’m not up to the task? What if I can’t make it do what we need?

So my perverse logic goes that if we’d started the Deep Dives with us having our backsides handed to us on a plate then we could knuckle under, show improvement week on week, and gain credit for that.

By starting well we’ve set the bar high and now need to consistently exceed that standard. And to help us do that I need to ensure that the tech is doing what the business needs - so no pressure then.

Day 12: The Team

 Friday, 21st November 2014 19:26

Barry, Dom, Chris, Ben and Nathan (James photographing)

So who are we? Who is Team Rainbird? Well this is us, or at least most of us. James is the one taking the photo so he’s not in the picture sadly.

James is the adult of the bunch, the sensible one. He’s also the one with taste, enjoying the finer things in life. James dresses well - the whole t-shirt and hoodie look doesn’t sit well with him, a fact that amuses the rest of us greatly.

On the left it’s Brand Barry, or Bazminda to his mates. Bazminda is smooth. Very smooth. Something that works well when he’s negotiating. Freebies, discounts and upgrades just seem to find him. Another snappy dresser (or a flagrant copier of James) it can be hard to tell Bazminda apart from James if you just go by the clothes, although there is a clear hight difference.

Next up there’s me. You can tell I’m at home in a hoodie, I live in them. You can make your own mind up about the other aspects of me from the rest of this book.

In the middle, that’s Stumpy10 - unsurprising really as even in the foreground he’s shorter than all of us. A lover of tweed, and sensible cardigans, we’ve tried to beat the “old codger” out of him and remind him that he’s part of a cool and hip startup. I think that explains the pose.

Then there’s Ben. He’s the gaffer, and the brains behind the outfit. Rainbird is his baby and his labour of love. A connoisseur of proper beers and the consummate geek, Ben makes an excellent counterpoint for James. The two make a good team.

Lastly there’s Nathan - the one who got lost on the first day. Nothing fazes Nathan, not even getting lost in the middle of London. I’m not saying it happens a lot, but I do find myself having to point him in the right direction and saying “Run, Forrest, Run!”. I may start calling him Forrest.

Day 14: N’arch - A city in sync

 Sunday, 23rd November 2014 21:16

I’m pretty sure Jon Bradford never thought he’d find himself in Norwich talking to a potential Techstars company. After all, it’s Norwich. We do mustard, turkeys and insurance and that’s it.

Wrong.

Norwich is home to a burgeoning tech scene which surprises many people. A bunch of us have been making a load of noise about this for a while - hell, we even have an annual tech - so it was little surprise to me when SyncNorwich said there were putting on a 54 hour hackathon called SyncTheCity.

Rainbird were, of course, all over this and we had hoped to send the entire company for the entire event. Techstars rather threw a spanner in the works there, especially since Ben and I were mentors and James was judging (along with Jon Bradford, who was going to find himself in Norwich for a second time this year11). We settled for sponsoring the event and providing the coffee. Rainbird is all about the coffee.

As it was I was only able to make the Saturday. I wasn’t actually sure how much help I’d be given I’d not been involved with the teams from hour 1, but it turns out I needn’t have worried. By Saturday the teams had a good idea of what it was they were pitching, and what their product/company was doing so the mentors helped with pitch practice. After a week of mentor madness the ability to sit on the other side of the fence and give advice as other people pitched was a breath of fresh air. I may have looked unimpressed, but that’s just severe tiredness; I was in fact seriously impressed with the quality of what the 11 teams had produced. I’m looking forward to the 2015 event and hope to make all 3 days for that one.

Watching the teams pitch at Sync The City (Photo courtesy of Tim Stephenson - http://www.timstephensonphotography.co.uk/)

With SyncTheCity done it’s now back to London for a 3 week stint12 where I can hopefully get stuck into some of the development that needs doing on Rainbird and start pushing out some funky new features.

1. Well, 2 technically as week 2 is “time off” to regroup ready for the full on onslaught of week 3.
2. This is only the first day of these after all.
3. Actually ended up being 16:00 last week, but close enough.
4. And it’s going to be midnight before I’m asleep again - tomorrow I really am going to have to make a concerted effort to get to sleep before 22:00.
5. Sleep is far too soft a word.
6. For a company that prides itself on not having meetings we suddenly have a lot of meetings. My calendar is just insane at the moment.
7. Probably Facebook actually, which doesn’t really help the* “working hard” *thing we’re trying to portray but my wife puts lots of photos of my daughter on there so I like to check from time to time during the day just to see what they’re up to while I’m away.
8. And I do sleep very well here, there’s just not enough of it going on.
9. 1.10231 Imperial craptons.
10. Or Chris, if you insist on given names.
11. Although Jon did ask if there was anything we wanted him to say about Rainbird while he was there as he wasn’t going to go to Norwich three times in a year…
12. I’m staying in London for the next 2 weekends

Week 3

Day 15: The 19 day working week

 Tuesday, 25th November 2014 00:01

I used to be fairly Garfield-esque in my views on Mondays. I hated Mondays, and they hated me. Mondays were out to get me; you could feel it in the air. I suspect much of this was associated with the fact that Monday marked the start of the working week and required me dragging my sorry backside into the office to face whatever the week was going to throw at me. Some jobs were more bearable than others, but they were that: jobs.

I often look forward to Mondays now. In fact I sometimes dislike Friday as is means the working week is basically over and I will have to wait until next week to get anything else done, unless I can squeeze some work into the weekend. Being invested in what you do has a tendency to do that to you.

Today is Monday, and it’s been a good day. I’ve made some excellent inroads into some development work, and I believe the rest of the team have also made headway on the stuff their working on. Tomorrow starts a run of 17 Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays on the trot as weekends blur into weekdays and I basically do a 3 week stint. That’s not to say I won’t be taking some time off over the weekends (I may try cramming a mythical 4 hour work week into each of the weekend days), but it does mean that I won’t be constrained by artificial definitions of when I should and shouldn’t be working. Long-term that’s a really unsustainable way of working, but short term I’m hoping to bash out some really good changes to Rainbird and capitalise on the time I have available.

That said, given the extreme highs and lows of being in a startup that’s in an accelerator I fully expect to declare the 19 day working week a monumentally stupid idea that would only be attempted by an utter moron by about Wednesday afternoon. We’ll see.

Day 16: Half day!

 Tueday, 25th November 2014 23:50

After all the rhetoric of a 19 day working week yesterday I went and did a half day today - or at least that’s how it felt. In at 7ish, out at just after 5:30. Yup, I didn’t even manage an 11 hour day1. Not only that, but on the surface of things I made negative progress insofar as the code I’m writing now does less than it did yesterday. Look a little deeper, however, and you’ll notice I’ve completely rewritten most of it to be nice and maintainable rather than the 100 or so lines of crap that I’d barfed into existence on Monday in order to prove a concept. This is most definitely considered A Good Thing™ and To Be Encouraged®.

I left as Ben and James were refactoring the business model and, on the surface of things, making as much progress as I appeared to have done. I’m pretty sure they’ve got as far as “Rainbird is…” (and, to be honest, if you want to guarantee that nothing is going to change you might want to narrow that down even further to ”…is…“). Still, I’m almost certain that, like the code refactoring, under the covers it’s all being rearranged to be neat, tidy and elegant. It’s also likely that if I actually stuck around until the end of the working day I’d know what goes on the right hand side of the sentence. I’ve no doubt I’ll find out tomorrow morning, in the mean time lets put in the placeholder ”…seriously cool stuff”.

The reason for my foreshortened day was a meal and drinks with some old colleagues of mine. I know we’re supposed to put our social lives on hold in case it interferes with the work/work balance, but it would seem churlish to spend this much time in London and not catch up with some friends. I could pretend it was business related and that I might be able to interest them in Rainbird, but if we’re honest most of them were, like me, first up against the wall when the revolution came2 and not really in any of the target markets that we may or may not be interested in chasing. It was an evening off, pure and simple. And a good fun one at that.

Day 17: Techstars is like bodyboarding

 Wednesday, 26th November 2014 22:31

Bathsheba, Barbados. An excellent bodyboarding spot

No, I haven’t completely lost the plot - bear with me on this one.

For those who don’t know, bodyboarding3 is a bit like surfing, except you lie down on a small, rigid foam board that’s about a meter in length. It’s also huge fun. Bodyboarding is often done much closer to shore than surfing, sometimes only riding small waves for a few meters until they break.

If you’re good/lucky you get to ride all the way back into shore before grabbing your board and running back out to get the next wave. If you’re unlucky you get pile-driven into the sea by the breaking wave and then tossed about violently. For larger waves the best advice is to just relax when this happens as it lessens the chance of breaking something.

So, Techstars. You get there, you charge out to sea, grab the first wave in and it’s awesome. You do it again, and again, and again, and it’s huge fun. It’s tiring, but you want to get back out there and ride another wave in. And then a big wave comes out of nowhere, slams you into seabed and threatens to drown you4. So you pick yourself up and you go find another wave because hopefully that’ll be fun and you want something to take your mind of the rather crap experience you just had.

Today was big wave, huge high, massive wipeout as the wave broke and crappy surf for the rest of the day. Hopefully tomorrows surf is better.

Day 18: Blood, sweat and tears

 Friday, 28th November 2014 00:45

So Rainbird is a bit odd in terms of its founders. The company was founded by two people, Ben and James. I was employee number one, although I am considered to be, and treated like a founder. Whether you consider that to be legitimate or not is irrelevant - Rainbird is as much my company as it is theirs5, or indeed any one of the team.

We have built this company with our bare hands. Quite literally in some cases, since much of the furniture in our Norwich office had to be assembled by us. I hadn’t even finished month one of my journey with Rainbird before both blood and sweat had been put into the job6. I was fairly sure the tears would come at some point to complete the trifecta, I just wasn’t prepared for how.

Thursday afternoons at Techstars in London is the All Hands meeting where all the companies get together for various activities; be it pitching what you do, pitching what the other companies do or finding out what went well and what didn’t last week. This is followed by guest speakers and topped off by sponsored drinks and networking. The drinks start around 8ish, going on until late.

While food is laid on its finger food and there isn’t a huge amount of it. Couple that with a tough week, long hours and a need to blow off some steam and you end up with some members of Rainbird being fairly well lubricated.

Over dinner we then managed to polish off two bottles of wine7 and conversation turned to the wide ranging and philosophical subjects that tend to get raised when a few jars have been imbibed.

Chris, who was pretty well gone by this point, gave an impassioned speech on his outlook on life and how he saw Rainbird as a force for good. What he was trying to say was that we could reach out and make a positive impact on peoples lives. What he actually said was “I think we should touch people”. Now, I’m sorry, but I was tired, stone cold sober and not quite feeling the gravitas of the situation that comes with being in a slightly addled state, so my mind instantly decided to make light of the situation and completely misinterpret the phrase.

Couple that with the earnest way in which the line was delivered and I was just in fits of laughter. The juxtaposition of Chris in his mildly inebriated state delivering a heartfelt desire to do good in the world compared to my sober and yet utterly puerile interpretation of what was said sent tears rolling down my cheeks. I can now say, hand on heart, that I have put blood, sweat and tears into Rainbird - oh, and that I’m a complete child.

Day 19: Spent…

 Friday, 28th November 2014 17:30

Early post today as I really don’t know if I’ll have time to write anything when I get back to the flat. My plan is to just get there and die, although I can’t do that for another couple of hours. That said, the brisk walk in the cold may wake me up. Not sure.

It’s been a long week, and I think the whole cohort is feeling it. Last night’s all hands lacked some of the bravado the first two weeks saw and people openly admitted that it’s getting tough.

I’ve got absolutely sod all done on the tech side today. I’ve basically stared at the screen and failed to construct any meaningful code. The day hasn’t been a total write-off though. I’ve had a few meetings which could be viewed as wildly unsuccessful or hugely beneficial, depending how you view them.

If I’m honest, the meetings that go really well, while great for the ego, aren’t always massively useful in working out if we’re going in the right direction. Perhaps if people were throwing fistfuls of cash at us they would be, but while we’re in the “hey, it’s free, come check it out” phase it’s reasonably easy to get a positive reaction. Where you learn is from the constructive feedback. The “This sucks for the following reasons” which help bring the points that need to be addressed into stark focus. Thankfully those points aren’t insurmountable, we just need to work hard and be smart about how we tackle them.

Tonight, however, I think the smart thing to do is switch off, get some sleep and come back to the problems refreshed and raring to go.

Day 21: Manflu

 Sunday, 30th November 2014 22:37

This weekend has not been a good one. The set of things I wanted to achieve bears little resemblance to the set of things I actually achieved due, in no small part, to me quite literally crashing on Friday night.

I got home feeling dreadful, skipped dinner, went to bed early and got 10 hours sleep and another 2+ hours of lying in a bit of a daze on Saturday morning. I then had another 4 hour sleep in the afternoon, before settling in for another long sleep, waking up late this morning. I’ve felt dreadful for most of that time and done very little.

You may recall I said on day 9 that ”…my body is starting to tell me that if I don’t slow down that it’s going to put me down.” Well it did. Hard. Hopefully another decent night’s sleep will see me feeling better, but I suspect I may need to take it a bit easier this week.

1. I know, I’m such a slacker!
2. We were all at a large investment bank together when the financial crisis struck.
3. Or Boogieboarding if you prefer
4. This is also a good description of a holiday I had at Bathsheba in Barbados. Nearly drowned on a few occasions. Huge fun.
5. Yes, I know legally that’s not true, but let’s not let that get in the way here.
6. Building flatpack is hot work, and catching your hand on the door when carrying large boxes containing flatpack results in minor bleeding.
7. Since I don’t really drink I wasn’t having any, so that’s a little under half a bottle each for the other 5.

Week 4

Day 22: Rise and Fall

 Monday, 1st December 2014 22:10

I achieved more today in 2 hours worth of productive coding that I’ve managed to do in the past 3 days combined. OK, so two of those days were the weekend, but I had fully intended to work on both of those days instead of languishing while recovering from The Plague.

My achievements today were welcome ones as I think I’ve just lined up a load more work for me to do courtesy of a meeting at Facebook where a few ideas were forthcoming. The details of that meeting are unimportant as far as today’s blog post goes (although it was a very productive meeting). What I’d like to concentrate on is the Facebook offices and, more importantly, the walk I took afterwards.

So Facebook is getting on to be nearly 11 years old and, in that time, their UK operation has become big enough to command a number of floors in a very nice office block in central London. The offices boast free food and refreshments, a games room, climbing walls and all the other cool accoutrements you associate with modern tech companies. It’s all very impressive.

The building itself is located near one end of Tottenham Court Road, which used to be a Mecca for geeks like me wanting to buy the latest computer hardware. It’s been a number of years since I last walked along Tottenham Court Road (in fact it’s probably been about 11 years) so I thought I’d take a walk down memory lane. What I found was depressing, but unsurprising.

The technology houses that have survived the fall of Tottenham Court Road are now little better than consumer electronic stores selling cut price laptops, tablets and mobile phones. The shops are tired looking and run down; more bargain basement than cutting edge.

The sad fact is that the internet and Apple have killed Tottenham Court Road. If I want to buy cutting edge hardware I either go online, or I walk into the consumerist temple that is the Apple Store, itself located on Regent Street along with all the other big, high worth names. The Tottenham Court Road I knew is a relic of last millennium.

It’s kind of weird that from the 8th floor windows of the Facebook office you can see the crumbling remains of the old tech world, and that all this has happened in a little over a decade.

Day 23: Wheel 2.0

 Wednesday, 3rd December 2014 00:49

The Techstars Clock of Doom

The Techstars Clock Of Doom rolled over to the 70’s today, which is just terrifying. We’re in week 4. We’ve been here 23 days and it just seems that we’re going to get catapulted out the other side of this process way too fast because in some respects it still only feels like we’ve been there a few days.

Of course, there are things you can do to help yourself here and to make your lives easier. Chucking ideas around at random I could think of, say… not replacing large chunks of your technology stack as an example.

So, anyway, we’re looking at replacing chunks of our technology stack.

Yes, I’m being flippant, but it’s actually quite an interesting situation. What we have works, but will eventually start running into some hard limits and is going to present some problems one day. We could potentially work around those problems but that could lead to bigger problems further down the line - in fact I uncovered one of these little doozies today which is an edge case, but an annoying one nonetheless.

So, at some point some work needs to be done and the sooner that work is done, the quicker it can be finished, and the more far reaching and conclusive the changes can be; but the longer we can put it off the more we can concentrate on the million and one other pressing issues that need to be dealt with including, but not limited to, actually getting some paying customers (or even adding the ability to pay us into the product). It’s a balance. And potentially one with no correct answer.

The fact that we’re even asking the question puts us in a better place than most places I’ve worked. The typical response to this kind of problem is “what we have works for now so lets ignore it and hope it goes away”. I think the problem is that many people see it as simply reinventing the wheel. The issue with that kind of thinking is that if you didn’t constantly reinvent the wheel we’d all have cars driving about on 4 solid bits of wood.

Day 24: ?- happy(yolanda)

 Thursday, 4th December 2014 02:12

The parting comment from James as I left the Management Suite1 was “I look forward to reading your blog tonight2”. The implication was, of course, that any sensible person would simply head straight to bed. Clearly I’m not sensible as I then got back to our flat and spent a further hour talking to Chris. So bearing in mind it’s 01:46 you’ll forgive me if I’m a bit brief.

Today can be summed up as:

1 ?- happy(yolanda).
2 true.


This makes absolutely no sense to anyone unless they’ve read the Learn Prolog Now book, and even then has a certain “you had to be there” quality about it.

“This! This thing here. It means we can do the thing with the thing.” - Tiredness makes me look unimpressed

The above possibly sums it up better, but is somewhat lacking thanks to the vagaries of Twitter.

What actually happened was that Rainbird learned something. It remembered. And that is monumental for a whole bunch of reasons I’m not even going to go into - mainly because I’m too bloody tired. Suffice to say that today3 was the day that Rainbird entered a whole new dimension of awesome; awesome squared if you will!

Day 25: Manic

 Thursday, 4th December 2014 22:42

I get manic when extremely tired, which is never a good thing. I had tried to translate that “manic” into a [slightly watered down] stream of consciousness blog post which was really just a random barrage of words that said nothing over a huge number of paragraphs - a bit like this, but in a much wordier form.

I think instead I’m going to concede defeat and just get some much needed sleep.

Day 26: Late!

 Friday, 5th December 2014 18:20

I usually get into the office just after 7am. This morning I was still in bed at 7am. I overslept. Quite conclusively. I have no recollection of my alarm going off at all. Clearly I was tired. I finally rocked up to the office sometime just before 8:30.

To give you an idea of how tired I was last night I shall recap what happened last night.

At some point before 6pm (possibly about 5pm, although I honestly can’t remember) I popped out to Sainsbury’s to stock up on [lots of] sugar and caffeine. I still had some of my Dr Pepper left when we headed to the “All Hands” meeting at 6pm.

I got picked on to do the “Highs, lows, ask”[^day-26-1] for Rainbird. Highs were, I thought, easy: Rainbird now learns. Jon was after something more though. Something to do with Ben. It took my brain some fairly solid shoving in the right direction by Jon to make the leap that another high was replacing Ben with about 150 lines of Javascript. To be fair, he’s not quite been replaced with that - it’s just the prototype. He’ll likely be replaced by a few thousands lines of Javascript shortly though. Obviously we’ll keep him on to do the CEO stuff he needs to do until we’ve worked out how to get Rainbird to do that bit too.

The discussion over the highs meant the ask got delegated to Ben, who was able to chuck out “we’d like to know about data sources we can connect to”. This was good because I was drawing a blank over what to ask for. The ‘low’ incidentally was also easy so handled by me - the team were all tired and frazzled this week.

All Hands meeting done we moved on to Founder Stories where we got to hear about Duedil by CEO Damian Kimmelman. I’ve got to admit that by this point the sugar was wearing off and I was starting to see spots. Come the end of the talk Damian asked if there was anything he could do for us. I was cheerfully thinking in the back of my mind that it sounded like they had some cool stuff going on at Duedil and there could be some funky things we could do with their API and Rainbird when I saw James indicating that I should just ask. So I did. I have vague recollections of what I asked for being classed as ballsy after the event, but hey, don’t ask, don’t get.

Now it’s traditional at these things to let guest speakers know who you are, who you work for and what you do. No differences last night so I launched into “Hi, I’m Dom, I work at Rainbird. Rainbird is…” and then my brain shut down. Completely.

A few noises came out of my mouth and I distinctly remember my inner monologue suggesting that maybe I should make with the words and say something… anything instead of looking dumbly at the assembled group of 30 or so people in our cohort.

I looked to Ben for help, but he was also staring blankly into space - he’d just had the good sense not to be midway through a sentence before his brain disengaged. By this point my brain had managed to fashion some form of excuse around extreme tiredness which I found myself saying with the full knowledge that that particular bit of mental gymnastics was going to leave me incapable of anything more until I’d had a moment to recover.

Thankfully Jon noticed the train wreck unfolding and handed responsibility for coherent speaking to James, whose ability to form an argument that he was also tired clearly proved that he was better qualified to be talking than I was at that moment in time.

The great thing is with Techstars is you’re among friends who are also all absolutely knackered so they understand. There was no feeling of wanting the world to open up and swallow me. There was just an acceptance that I had ceased to function for a bit and could everyone just bear with me for a few moments. Which they did.

[^day-26-1] What where the highs of the week? What where the lows? What do you want to ask of the cohort?

Day 28: I missed a day!

 Sunday, 7th December 2014 No entry posted

So looking at my original blog entries I can’t find the entry for Sunday the 7th. I was in London, but what I did that weekend I can’t tell you - it may have involved clubbing, it certainly involved sleeping.

I suspect what happened was that I planned to blog, but then spent the evening talking to Chris when he returned to the flat, followed by just going to bed.

It’s around this point that the numbering for the original entries starts really going to pot which probably didn’t help. I noticed something was amiss on day 31 where I prefixed the original post with:

So it appears I lost count with the day count on the blog posts, which correlates quite well with the tail end of last week where I was knackered. Basically I have a text file where I draft the posts and each day I delete the previous days text, update the title and crack on. This process went wrong on day 26 where I forgot to update the day count from 25. I’ve now updated the blog titles for the previous days, but for some people it may look like I’ve skipped a day. All I can say is I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to cock up the numbering, and doubly surprised I spotted it so fast.

I clearly didn’t spot the missing entry.

1. A grandiose name I’ve given to the flat that Ben and James are staying in - for comparison, Chris and I refer to our flat as the “Frat Flat”
2. Actually, technically “this morning” as it was half past midnight
3. Or yesterday, or whenever the hell it was depending on actual dates, or narrative, or however you want to measure it

Week 5

Day 29: Panic!

 Monday, 8th December 2014 23:07

If you’ll recall the Christmas break makes numbering the days at Techstars a little difficult. Until now the Techstars Clock of Doom has been counting down from 103 days. This morning it said there was a little over 74 days left to go.

The clock, adjusted for the Christmas break, with the expected 74 days remaining

Two hours later and it was a completely different story.

The clock, no longer adjusted for the Christmas break, and now showing substantially less time left

That’s right. They’ve adjusted the clock to remove the Christmas break. The 60’s lasted a little over 10 minutes, which is slightly shy of the more normal 14,400 minutes they should have lasted for.

The rationale for the change was because we weren’t at the correct level of panic for the amount of time actually left, as the 2 week Christmas break was artificially inflating that figure. It’s a valid argument, but one that would have rectified itself in two weeks anyway as the break started.

Worse than the panic, however, is the knowledge that we’re now really over one third of the way through the process and that’s quite sad. I’m really enjoying my time at Techstars and it seems to be passing too quickly.

Day 30: Dom likes cheese

 Tuesday, 9th December 2014 23:15

So, how do you write an inference engine over a graph database? Not a trivial question, although it would appear the answer may be quite simple. The approach taken to get said answer was a fairly typical one for most developers1:

Day 1: Pick suitably cool looking technology. Charge in. Get stuck.

Day 2: Replace cool and shiny technology with something a little more robust. Charge in. Get stuck.

Day 3: Decide that code isn’t the best place to start. Revert to pen and paper. Disappear up own backside. Pair up with second developer2. Approach whiteboard armed with whiteboard pens. Attack! Some hours later come out with a really nifty (and simple) algorithm that does what you set out to achieve.

Day 4 will hopefully be a question of coding algorithm, plus sharing it with some very intelligent people who know huge amounts about graph databases in case we are setting ourselves up for a fall3. Meanwhile, anyone who cares to look at the whiteboard will find that we have asserted, with a very high degree of confidence, that Dom speaks English, despite liking Cheese4. Those reading this may care to argue with the assertion my being able to speak English.

Day 31: Clueless

 Wednesday, 10th December 2014 23:51

One of the challenges we have with Rainbird is that the core of it is written in Prolog. Mentioning Prolog generally gets one of two responses. The first, and most predictable, is a blank look. Prolog is not exactly mainstream. The second response comes from those with a Computer Science degree and goes “Prolog… wow! I’ve not used that since university”.

So we’re replacing Prolog with a graph database. This still gets us blank looks from the first group of people, but that doesn’t matter, they don’t need to know how it works under the covers. What it does change is the number of people in the second group who understand the technology we’re using. This can be used to our advantage.

So I understand about using graph databases and writing programs to interrogate them. That’s not hard. What I don’t understand is how these databases behave under different conditions and what difficulties we may be setting ourselves up for later as we scale. This is where being at Techstars comes in useful.

Techstars set up a number of what they call “Office Hours”. Basically a period of time where useful people will be in the office and you can book a quick meeting with them. One of these was with Tony Blank from context.io. I mentioned to Tony that I could do with speaking to someone who knew more about graph databases than I did. Tony pointed me at the CEO of orchestrate.io because they know about databases. The CEO introduced me to their CTO and lead technical guy, and before I know it I’ve got them coming to visit to talk to me.

In the space of a week I’ve gone from clueless to having access to a huge wealth of information on how our approach is going to work, even at scale. This kind of useful introduction, and willingness to help and provide information goes on all the time which is one of the key things that makes this programme so useful for me. My next challenge for them is to arrange a meeting with the technical guys from the company who actually write the database we’ve settled on using. I don’t doubt they’ll deliver.

Day 32: Patient 0

 Friday, 12th December 2014 00:08

Today’s All Hands meeting was a modified version of spin the bottle. The cohort sat in a circle while Jon spun a bottle in the middle. Whoever was pointed at by the bottle then had to pick someone from their company and say something positive about them, or something negative. The kicker was that positive or negative was determined by coin toss after you’d nominated who you were going to talk about, which leads to an interesting dynamic.

At this point it helps to know that Techstars London is basically a plague ship currently with some nasty virus thing that’s been doing the rounds. Come the end of the Founder Stories meeting tonight Rainbird was down to 50% capacity with Nathan, Chris and Ben all out for the count. We’re not the only team affected - in fact there was a designated sick zone in the All Hands circle.

So the bottle lands on James who picks me as his victim target nominee. The coin toss comes up negative, because of course it does. Now there’s many ways this can go down and it’s interesting to try and second guess which of a long list of negatives is going to get aired. I guessed wrong.

James went for two negatives, one of which was that I was patient zero5. Which is an interesting thought. I think I was the first to go down with the death on day 19, although I’d been feeling ropey for a while which could quite literally mean that I’ve taken down quite a few people with me… erm… whoops?

The good news is that if they do have what I had then it’s only really bad for two or three days, with maybe a week of feeling knackered and then a cough that still hasn’t gone away… I’m really not helping myself here am I? The point is, if I suddenly disappear, it’s because I’ve been lynched by the other teams6

Day 33: It’s a family affair

 Friday, 12th December 2014 20:38

Today marks the end of what will probably be my longest continuous stint in London for the whole Techstars process. Three weeks between visits home is possibly pushing it a bit far, although my wife has been fantastic throughout the whole thing.

Do any kind of background research on previous cohorts and the common theme is that your family have to make a big sacrifice while you’re attending. They’re not wrong. I have a heavily pregnant wife who, for 3 weeks now, has been making house and looking after our 3 year old daughter with no help. I know it has not been easy. Nor does she get a break this weekend, she’s working while I play daddy daycare. She then dives right back in to picking up the slack single handedly again.

I deliberately set expectations low before I left for London. I knew that, for three months, I was going to have to excuse myself from normal day to day life and eat, sleep and breath Techstars. Not going home on a weekend gives me 15-20 hours extra solid working time and time to seriously catch up on my sleep for the next week - but it also means no break for my wife, and my daughter only seeing me via video calls once a day. I’m not sure there are many spouses out there who would put up with that deal with very little complaint.

It’s also not been easy for us on the programme. I know everyone in the team finds it hard to say goodbye each time they leave their families. My FaceTime calls in the morning often leave me feeling quite low because they are no substitute for actually being there. I also know it’s going to be hard to leave come the end of the weekend. At least next week is just a one week stretch, followed by me living at home for two weeks over the Christmas break.

Day 35: Weekend off

 Sunday, 14th December 2014 21:40

This weekend has, in some respects, gone slower that the previous week. It’s caps off the end of a 19 day period where I was either working or dead and has been a complete change of gear. My wife has been at work for most of the weekend so I’ve been looking after our 3 year old daughter, Willow. It’s knackering.

Not that this is anything new. I’ve been looking after Willow every other weekend for ages now and, at three, she doesn’t realise that I don’t have the boundless energy that she does; that I can’t get up and sit down every 30 seconds as we bounce between playing different games; and that my desire to play yet another round of hide and seek waned 5 minutes ago. I seriously don’t know how my wife does it the other 12 days every fortnight when I’m not in charge.

Despite having work that I really need to be doing, I’m using the journey back to London to relax and recharge a little. The train doesn’t get me in until gone midnight, so it’s straight to bed and ready to launch into the last week before we break for Christmas. Thankfully we’re in build mode now so I can spend most of the week completely checked out of real life and knee deep in code - I’m going to be too tired to do anything else.

It’s quite funny to think that, as the 5th week draws to a close, the prospect of a 70+ hour week coding between now and Friday seems almost restful and relaxing… and that the prospect of spending 7+ days away from the office over the 2 weeks of Christmas is almost scary.

1. I should point out that I was not the developer in question at this point. It’s probably also fair to say that I’d have taken a similar approach… and possibly taken longer.
2. Me.
3. In which case I guess we attack the whiteboard again.
4. The knowledge map and rules over it had become beyond tenuous at this point, simply so we could exercise some thornier questions relating to the algorithm.
5. The other being that I broke the internet in a previous job. To be fair it was already broken, I just helped them break it faster and, in my defence, they paid me a lot of money.
6. And not just over being a plague bearer. My predilection towards heavy IM usage and the notification methods of the IM platforms we’re using in Techstars has also been noted. At least they’ll remember me.

Week 6

 Monday, 15th December 2014 20:39

One of the downsides of long hours, little sleep and a job that involves a lot of concentration is the headaches I’ve started getting. I suspect it’s also related to the amount of sugar I’m eating to keep going (I don’t really do caffeine, although I’m also drinking the odd cup of tea now too). Given the lack of sleep I got last night1 I decided to skip my usual remedy of just necking pain killers and call it a day at 7pm. There’s a company meeting at 9pm which left me a couple of hours to cook and just kick back and relax. Ultimately the only cure is getting more sleep so I’m hoping we can get everything done and dusted by 11pm so I can at least get 7 hours sleep. I somehow suspect this is wishful thinking.

Day 37: Foundations

 Tuesday, 16th December 2014 22:38

I’m in a bit of a lucky position with Rainbird at the moment insofar as we’ve recently gutted the core tech and are replacing it with something slightly more durable. While aware we’re under very tight time constraints, I’m also aware that this needs to be done properly.

Ordinarily I would be stuck with the fact that the code base was legacy and unwieldy, or that management didn’t buy into the changes, or that The Business would rather invest in new features than reworking existing stuff that works… for a given definition of works. In Rainbird the code base is small enough that we can make these changes, I am management and The Business instigated the change. Win!

While I’m a great believer in agile methodologies, including constant refactoring of code, I’m also a realist. With the best will in the world the foundations we lay here are never really getting touched again. The TODO’s will remain just that, and any technical debt will simply be baked into the system. We’re not talking about a huge amount of code here; but it’s critically important. Everything we build is being built on top of this.

So we’ve made a conscious decision. We’ve spent a bit longer than perhaps we might have done with other parts of the code base. We’ve spent time on deliberate discovery. We’ve had the hard discussions about the language of the domain and the semantics we should be using. And the whole thing is wrapped up in a little bow made from automated tests and static analysis reports. It’s cost us about 4 days. Maybe 5. It’s going to save us weeks, if not months in the future.

Day 38: CTO Club

 Wednesday, 17th December 2014 22:54

Wednesday Mornings is the CTO meeting for our cohort. It’s a time for the CTOs, or equivalent, of each of the companies to get together and talk about stuff. Chatham House Rules2 apply so what goes on CTO Club stays on CTO Club, which leads to some interesting and quite useful discussions.

Much of what is talked about is cathartic. The person detailing their issues gets to air their problems, talk about them and, hopefully, receive advice from a different perspective - or from someone with experience of dealing with the issue. For everyone else it’s a chance to realise that we’re all dealing with problems at various levels and that none of us are alone in this.

While this may come across as it being a giant whinging session (it was billed by Jon as a chance for the CTOs to bitch about their CEOs), it’s far from it. The discussions are largely constructive in terms of how we can move forwards and address the challenges we face. It’s actually a meeting a look forward to each week, and one I will miss when the process is over.

Day 39: Fringe Benefits

 Thursday, 18th December 2014 22:54

So, given Ben has a back that will occasionally spasm and put him out of action, and that James has a back that’s basically made from chicken wire and duct tape I can’t really claim that I have a bad back. What I have is mild discomfort and some tightness.

Normally I solve my slightly misbehaved back problem with a massage every other week, decent chair at work, and a well setup desk. With Techstars I’ve had to ditch that plan. While I have a good chair, the desk is 2” too low. Massages in London are sodding expensive and I also don’t really have time. So it’s like it or lump it. On the plus side I seem to have a good mattress at the flat which is helping.

Today Jon booked Tak (the Director at Techstars) a massage in the office. Since there weren’t really any meeting rooms spare, and given they’re all glass anyway, Tak elected to have his massage outside the meeting room that Jon was in all day. It seemed only appropriate since, as far as we can tell, the session was booked so Jon could see if the service was any good. Tak also wasn’t up for an hour long massage so he decided to split it into two half hour sessions and give the second one to anyone who wanted it. My hand was up before he’d even formed the question. It was a half hour of bliss.

Sadly I have to wait until Rainbird is making sufficient revenue to pay for in office massages when we get back. I suspect the word ‘sufficient’ has been chosen as being suitably vague enough to mean ‘never’, or at least ‘not any time soon’. In the interim I’ve booked a session with my usual guy in Norwich for Monday. I may try and squeeze in a few more sessions before we come back from the Christmas break and subject my back to 7 weeks of torture.

Day 40: The Story So Far

 Friday, 19th December 2014 19:06

As the final week before Christmas draws to a close I thought it would be fun to look back over the past 6 weeks and see what the Techstars experience has been like so far.

• Week 1 - So this is Techstars. Awesome! Eat well, exercise hard, work hard, win as a team!
• Week 2 - So this is Mentor Madness. Wow! Eat less well, exercise on the days when you actually get back in time to do so, divide and conquer3.
• Week 3 - Recover from Mentor Madness while still having a buttload of meetings with people who may or may not be mentors. Screw the diet. Screw the gym. Try to make sure the team doesn’t become divided over where we’re going.
• Week 4 - More mentor madness. 4pm snack runs for vast amounts of sugar, chocolate and caffeine are now a thing. Walking fast to the shop to get said snacks is considered exercise. Divide the sugar between the team.
• Weak 5[sic] - Pick a direction. Attempt to charge in said direction, amble rapidly instead as most of the team are dead or dying from plague. Snack runs are now more frequent and also include Lemsip, painkillers and concentrated vitamin C. The team is divided into the walking wounded and the walking dead.
• Week 6 - The walking dead. I’m so tired the week is just a blur. Trying to remember how many snack runs we did is more mental exercise than I can handle now. The team have headed in different directions for Christmas.

We’ve now got two weeks “off” over Christmas. Of the 14 days, only 7 are working days which, after 6 weeks of mental hours, seems somewhat wasteful. I’ll spend most, if not all of the working days working from home - albeit slightly more normal hours.

1. Finally got to bed after 1am thanks, in part, to “slippery rails” which delayed the train by 20+ minutes
2. From Wikipedia: When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.
3. I’m well aware that technically that term means divide your enemies and conquer them, but in this case it’s split the team and attack multiple things at once.

Christmas

 There was a two week break over Christmas where we all went home. With the exception of one day I was either off, or working from home (albeit only 8 or 9 hour days). The following seven weeks may have been a bit more tense and fraught if we hadn’t have had the break both from Techstars and each other.

Day 42: Reboot

 Sunday, 4th January 2015 18:07

It’s odd, but the prospect of a 4 day break from work over Christmas was something that made me a little twitchy. When I get focused on something, I get really focused. Taking time off from it, for whatever reason, doesn’t sit well. There’s also the worry that I may lose interest in what I was focused on and start focusing on something else; something which makes getting back in the groove seriously hard.

By the 2nd of January I’d fallen back into “normal” life. I was also finding it hard to concentrate on work with the call of my gaming rig (which sits next to me if I’m working from home) ringing loud in my ears.

In some respects the two week break has been great. I got to spend time with my family, and I got to spend far too much time messing about with Elite: Dangerous1. In other respects I worry about lost momentum. This could be in part down to the fact that I had an aggressive list of things I wanted to achieve over the two weeks and I’ve failed to achieve all of them. Turns out working from home with a family that’s missed you for 6 weeks with frequent bank holidays breaking up the weeks is not as productive as 18 hour days in a work only environment. Who knew.

1. A computer game I was rather addicted to before Techstars.

Week 7

Day 43: We’re back!

 Monday, 5th January 2015 22:27

So, we’re back, although not without a false start. Turns out they’ve changed the opening hours for the office on Mondays so when Ben and I rocked up at just gone 7am we couldn’t get in. This wasn’t an insurmountable problem, we just went Shoreditch and sat in a Pret. I’m aware that you’re probably supposed to sit in a cafe that produces artisanal coffee, but we didn’t want to go full Shoreditch. You never go full Shoreditch.

The Techstars Clock Of Doom

The ever present clock was also waiting for us, albeit showing the wrong time. It had been left ticking down over Christmas so was showing 30 something days left which wasn’t want you wanted to be greeted with. It’s since been reset to show the proper time remaining. This now really is the time remaining. A little over 45 days until Demo day.

Working backwards this basically leaves us 3 weeks of the ‘build’ phase, then we start really getting sucked into putting together the demo day pitch. That in turn leaves us with far too much work to do in far too little time. Nothing new there then.

Given that, I’m now trying a slightly different routine for work. Up at 06:00, office for 7ish, work until 19:30, home, gym for an hour, eat, then an hour or two doing things like reading up on stuff, writing this blog and all the other non-development things that I need to do. Then bed, ideally for before midnight, but that generally never happens, followed by doing it all again the next day. Thursdays I’ll skip the gym due to the all hands and the drinks. Fridays are a shorter day as we tend to travel home. So that’s the plan. How it survives contact with reality is yet to be seen.

Day 44: The best laid plans…

 Tuesday, 6th January 2015 23:19

As we all know “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/gang aft agley”, which is Scottish for “If you tell the world what you plan to do it’s going to go wrong”.

This morning started with that lovely, unexpected feeling that I’d had quite a lot of sleep, followed by a realisation that the alarm going off wasn’t mine and wasn’t in my room, quickly followed by the deduction that I’d overslept. An expletive escaped my lips, I checked the time (7am, an hour late), and managed to set a personal best for getting up and leaving the flat (15 minutes).

As is always the way a bunch of unexpected problems with the code I was working on then conspired to keep me in the office a bit later than hoped meaning I got back too late to realistically go to the gym. I made up for this by working from the flat with the TV on in the background.

Given the amount of time we’ve been back it’s remarkable how quickly it’s all gone to pot. If past performance is a guide to the future I suspect we’ll be back on the chocolate croissants for breakfast and sugar runs in just a few days. Actually, thinking about it, it’s the CTO meeting tomorrow morning, and they provide chocolate croissants at that…

Day 45: Variety is the spice of life

 Thursday, 8th January 2015 00:43

One of the advantages of being CTO is I get to see the “big picture”, which is a crappy management way of saying “I understand why it is we’re all going to charge in this direction for half a day when previously we’d all been charging over there”. Sadly knowing why we’re doing it doesn’t make it any less disruptive, which is why we generally try to avoid it.

Of course, trying to avoid it is pretty much mutually exclusive to being a startup where you’re, almost by definition, trying to do too much with too few resource.

Depending on how you measure it today was a resounding success, with updates to all our open source projects, a funky Zendesk plugin submitted to their app store for review, and a shiny new company blog post written and up. Oh, and this mornings CTO meeting was a good laugh too, just for good measure. On top of that I’d also done some research into how well Rainbird would scale, specifically in the context of running as an appliance in the enterprise. Sadly this threw up a few questions that pointed to some problems in our new object model. The fixes for this, which didn’t take too long to work out, required changing some of the code I’d been knee deep in for the past week or so. We discovered all this right around the time I had to take my head out of that space and go concentrate on some of the other things I needed to do today. Not great timing.

So yes, by some measures, today was an abject failure with me finally leaving the office near midnight with the shattered remains of my code lying in pieces all over the place. Hopefully later today (because it’s now the wee hours of the morning) I can get my head back into that space for an undisturbed few hours and put everything back together again, but right this time. If I manage that I’ll be where I wanted to be Monday evening. I can’t even remember what it was I wanted to achieve Tuesday…

Day 46: The brutal truth

 Friday, 9th January 2015 00:15

It’s Thursday, so All Hands day. Turns out yesterday was the half way mark, so it’s the downhill run now until demo day. All Hands will now be dedicated towards rehearsing and polishing our presentations. Hopefully we’ll continue to have the founder stories afterwards as I find these to be really useful.

The founder stories can be very open and honest, so I’m not going to mention names for tonight’s session or recount any of the amusing stories that were told. The talk was a hysterical look at how you can royally cock things up with team and culture without even realising you’re doing it. At points it could nearly be entitled “how to kill a startup”.

Given most people hear “startup” and think the multi-billion dollar success stories it can be easy to forget that for every Facebook there are hundreds, if not thousands of companies that have failed for some reason. Creating a startup is hard and hearing others say “you know what, we found it really hard too, but we’re doing OK now” reminds you that you’re not alone - everyone finds it hard because it is hard.

Day 47: Making progress

 Friday, 9th January 2015 19:53

Week 7 draws to a close with my code being no further along, in terms of functionality, than it was when I started. In terms of how it’s structured and what it can support, however, it’s progressed in leaps and bounds. I’m now at a stage where I no longer feel like I’m faking it when it comes to the core of Rainbird. I know how it works, how it thinks and I know what we can make it do - both what it’s currently capable of, and what we could do with more people, money and time.

Now you may ask why a CTO has only just got to this point, but you’ve got to understand that we’re taking something that’s been over a decade in the making, written in a language I barely understand by someone who has a huge amount of knowledge in the problem domain. It’s not just a question of joining a startup, getting the code handed over to you and then getting up to speed with NodeJS. That was the easy bit. We completed that by about week 1. The rest was learning all the disparate fields and disciplines needed to understand how everything works. And even that I’ve only done to a basic level. I could spend years learning the idiosyncrasies.

If Rainbird were easy to create everyone would be doing it. Building this type of tech well is hard; it’s why, historically, it’s been so expensive to do. It’s why we fervently believe that Rainbird will succeed. Companies can use Rainbird to avoid precisely what I’ve been through in order to help write it, and what’s really cool is we’re now starting to see companies do exactly that.

Day 49: Breaking point

 Sunday, 11th January 2015 20:19

For those not paying attention (or for those who haven’t been reading the entire story) my family live in North Norfolk and consist of my heavily pregnant wife, 3 year old daughter, 3 mice and some fish. The journey home is 3.5 hours and entails about 30 minutes of walking and two trains. On a bad day it’s around 5 hours and involves buses as well. Today is a bad day.

Before going to Techstars I researched the hell out of it. One thing that is made abundantly clear is that if you have a family or partner, they are going to suffer. With that in mind I set expectations with my wife to be low. Very low. Like 5 minute video call once a day and back home every other weekend at best low. Unsurprisingly this caused an argument, but not a major one. I was the first to admit I was being horribly selfish, and the hoped for outcome benefits the entire family hugely. We both understand that.

So my heavily pregnant wife (due on the 18th of March) is effectively a single mum for 3 months with flying visits from me for 48 hours at a time every two weeks or so. Not insurmountable, many wives have endured that, but not exactly easy either. It seems this departure was the breaking point.

I don’t know if it’s the fact I’ve recently been home for 2 weeks, so she’s got used to me being home again, or if it’s the fact that I’m away for 4 weeks this time and we’re not seeing each other until my wife and daughter visit me in London in 2 weeks time, or if it’s the constant goodbye’s and the fleeting visits, or if it’s all of the above, but today’s goodbye was tearful.

I now get to throw myself into work with no time to think about anything else. My wife has to keep the house and family together for my return. All I can say is that if your partner bears up as well as mine you’re onto a keeper there.

Week 8

Day 50: Stuff has been achieved

 Monday, 12th January 2015 22:47

So after a week of farting about with the core of Rainbird I’ve finally got to a point where I’m happy with how it works and hangs together. The process hasn’t been futile, for starters I think we’ve drawn out better ways of explaining some of the fundamentals of Knowledge Mapping. The code itself is also now much more elegant and robust.

That’s not to say what we’ve got is perfect - no code ever is. Ben and I remain convinced that there is an even more refined way of solving questions asked of Rainbird, but we lack the resource to have an R&D team go investigate the problem. That said, chasing ‘perfect’ instead of accepting ‘good enough’ is a great way to kill a startup. I’d wager that most companies barely have ‘good enough’ so we’re off to a good start.

Of course, every silver lining has a cloud, and I’m still not where I wanted to be at the end of the Christmas break. Or, to put it another way, I’m 8 days behind. There’s still plenty of scope for that number to grow.

Day 51: Mentor Sanity

 Tuesday, 13th January 2015 22:05

So after the insanity that was Mentor Madness we’ve had 80 potential mentors whittled down to just a handful. With the selection process done we can now sit down with these mentors and get beyond the 20 minute “hi, this is us and this is what we do”1 and into more meaty discussions. Today Ben and I saw two of our mentors and went over a few subjects with them.

One of these was the small issue of the rather large rewrite of the core of Rainbird. There is always a temptation with things like this to keep adding new features and to make it absolutely perfect. I like to think we’re big enough and ugly enough to avoid this kind of problem, but it’s good to be explicitly reminded of it. Having to explain to a mentor why the delivery date has slipped again is a good way of keeping you honest.

Day 52: All green!

 Wednesday, 14th January 2015 23:37

All green

For the non-technical among you the above picture probably doesn’t mean much. The fact that the text is green and its got “100%” dotted about the place probably indicates that it’s likely to be A Good Thing™, and it is.

This is the output from rainbird-yolanda2, specifically the report telling me how much of the code I’ve spent the past few weeks writing is tested. The 100% means all of it is tested, which is nice.

This becomes important because Ben also hit a milestone today and we’re close to joining the logic he’s written to the infrastructure I’ve written. I may need to tweak a few thinks in order to get everything to fit, and when I do the tests will tell me if I’ve inadvertently broken anything. This gives us a high level of confidence and means we don’t run into unforeseen problems days down the line.

I may be 8 days behind where I wanted to be, but I’m pretty happy with what I’ve produced, and chuffed with the report output.

Day 53: Not playing any more

 Thursday, 15th January 2015 21:29

So a huge part of writing this blog was about documenting the authentic Techstars experience - which is a lofty goal, and one I failed at by Day 3. There’s a reason for this.

Despite not bothering a huge amount about Corporate Image this is a public facing journal, and I know how the internet works. You can’t unsay things. So, some stuff needs to be toned down, or omitted entirely. Actually, a lot of stuff needs to be toned down or omitted entirely. There isn’t even a subtext in my day 3 post of the issue that cropped up then.

Then there is the fact I’m trying to keep this PG13. OK, so some things lack the forcefulness that a good sprinkling of expletives brings, but again, public facing and on the internet - so we avoid going there.

In some respect’s it’s a tad annoying that I can’t be completely open here. I’d have loved to have the unedited version to look back on. Realistically there isn’t enough time to do that as well as these entries, plus a lot of the issues probably looked a lot larger at the time than they really were. Perhaps it’s a good thing it’s only this version that exists.

Anyway, with that in mind, if you take something like Day 17 you can kind of work out that, although the highs can be very high, the lows can be very low indeed.

In fact the analogy I used in that post is a good one. Yesterday was a high. This morning, mainly due to being in quite a lot of pain thanks to gout3, I woke up early in a miserable mood. The timing couldn’t have been worse either as we had people visiting us, and Thursdays are the social day. Today would have been greatly improved without people. Any people.

So you can get a sense of what it’s like for me at the moment, imagine your feet in a vice, while at the same time bits of metal being shoved between each joint in your foot so it feels like nothing fits. It gets distracting, and it dampens your mood. It also makes walking problematic.

So come 20:30, or whenever it was, with all of us standing in a crowded pub about to start with the small talk I just decided I wasn’t playing any more. At that point I hated everyone and really didn’t want to have to talk to anyone. So I walked out without even saying goodbye and hobbled home to sulk in bed and get an early night. That’s the public facing version. The reality involves a lot more swearing, or at least it does in my head.

Day 54: Haircut One Hundred

 Friday, 16th January 2015 19:35

It’s amazing what 8+ hours sleep and a new day can do. My feet still hurt, but that’s getting better, and I woke up in a much more positive frame of mind. There’s also the fact that Friday/Saturday/Sunday are not crazy days. I left the office about 18:15 today, got a haircut, went shopping, forgot the limes I needed for dinner, and got home for just past 19:00.

Given the lack of limes the light snack I was going to prepare for dinner isn’t going to happen and I can’t be bothered to go back out. Instead I’ll watch a film, eat some nibbles, edit some stuff I need to write and get another early night. It’s practically a day off!

Tomorrow I plan to mess about with the API for Kimono, one of the other Techstars companies, and produce a chat bot. The ultimate plan is to then get it hooked up to the Rainbird API and do something funky via IM4, which could be cool.

Day 56: Noise and bouncing

 Sunday, 18th January 2015 20:10

This weekend has been a bit of a play weekend for me. I stayed in London, partly so I could get on with a few things I wanted to do, partly5 so I could catch up on my sleep and partly because I wanted to go out.

Kimono, one of the companies in this cohort, have given me access to their API, so I spent Saturday writing a NodeJS client for it. I then used that to throw together a chat bot loosely based on the classic IRC infobot. It’s a bit of a toy, but it does prove the client I wrote works. This paves the way for other, more sensible things, like GitHub integration. The eventual aim for us is to get a Rainbird client written for it.

During the evening I finally made it out to Slimelight, my favourite night club of all time. Age, family, and distance means that attending club nights are difficult when I’m at home. It takes up most of the weekend, it’s a long way, expensive and I never really get to catch up on the lost sleep. Being in London and on my own gets rid of some of those problems. Age is still a factor though, and I had to bail at 4:30am, but not before spending 4 hours on the dance floor having a whale of a time6.

Today has been spent doing quite a large rewrite of the Rainbird Neo4j wrapper which we use with the new core of Rainbird. I’ve added a whole bunch of new features which need to be tested before I can release it but I’m pretty proud of the result.

A nap also featured thanks to the time I got in this morning. Add to that two awesome home made dinners tonight and last night and it’s shaped up to be not a bad weekend, all things considered. I miss my wife and Willow like crazy, but they’ll be down here on Friday. Given the speed at which the weeks are passing at now, that will be in no time at all.

1. or, more accurately, “hi, this is us and this is how we’re currently describing what it is we think we do”.
2. Yolanda is what we’ve called the rewrite of the internals of Rainbird, because Prolog (?- happy(yolanda). - it’s a geek thing, I wouldn’t worry about it).
3. I’m badly put together. I get gout in my feet. It hurts. A lot.
4. Instant Messaging. Kimono is an enterprise messaging product.
5. Mostly
6. The title of this entry is taken from one of the tracks that was played: Noise and Bouncing by Noisuf-X. Google it, listen to it… and then wish you hadn’t - my choice of music isn’t exactly mainstream.

Week 9

Day 57: Strategy

 Monday, 19th January 2015 22:03

You’d think it would be easy to get the team together for an ‘all hands’ Rainbird meeting, but the rather hectic schedule of Techstars meant that our planned breakfast meeting tomorrow morning wasn’t going to happen. In fact the only time we had left this week where we were all free was tonight. This realisation was made at about 5:30pm.

30 minutes later and we were all ensconced in the ‘management suite’ solidifying our current thinking. Since the onslaught of conflicting advice that was Mentor Madness finished we’ve been a lot more focused in our thinking. It seems that thinking may have been a little off. This in itself isn’t an issue. Techstars isn’t about magically determining the correct strategy on day one, it’s about testing hypothesis and iterating. We had a hypothesis, we tested it, it didn’t quite hold up. So we’re modifying it, although not drastically.

I have to admit that this area isn’t my forte, so I’m happy to take more of a back seat and follow the lead of others who know more about it than I do. I am taking the opportunity to ask dumb questions and make notes though as it’s a fantastic learning experience. In the meantime the rather abrupt and early end to the day at the office has meant some time to kick back a bit at the flat, something we’re taking advantage of.

Day 58: 1 Month Left!

 Tuesday, 20th January 2015 19:41

Only 1 month left on the Clock Of Doom

OK, that’s a scary thought. 1 month left until Demo Day. That’s 30 days and change given sleep is going to erode that time by a few more hours.

While Demo Day isn’t the be all and end all for us, it’s still a milestone. It marks the end of being at Techstars (although, importantly, not the end of being a part of Techstars), and the start of returning to normal life.

Despite the odd off day I’m hugely enjoying my time down in London. I’d liken the countdown to the end of a holiday. You know, once the time is up, it’s all over and you’re back in the real world. I suspect that it’s precisely because there is an end point that I’m happy to endure the long hours and the hard work. I’m not sure I’d be so happy if it was an indefinite situation.

The shine is also beginning to wear off a little, and while I will always be a little saddened to leave I do suspect I will start feeling like I’ve had enough come the end. I miss my family, I miss my gaming rig, and my bank account can’t really support too much more of me being here without me becoming really careful about what I spending - something I’d like to avoid.

Meanwhile we’re embracing the build phase of the process and knocking out tons of new code. I’ve got something like five and a half thousand lines of code, tests and documentation waiting for final review which represents the last 6 weeks of my life. That’s a rate I’ll probably never match again.

Day 59: Big Knowledge

 Wednesday, 21st January 2015 22:56

The Techstars Clock of Doom

The ever present Clock Of Doom did the inevitable today and clicked over to 29 days left. That’s a big psychological thing because the number now starts with a 2. It’s not going to a huge amount of time before it starts with a 1, and then we’re down to days before demo day.

We’re still working out how to pitch Rainbird, but made big progress today courtesy of David Cohen1. David was able to understand what it was we were doing and come up with the basis of a great elevator pitch, all over a video chat while he was feeling under the weather. He’s clearly done this before.

Ben is now fleshing out a rough outline that some of us helped put together tonight so that we’ll have a workable version 2 of the deck for tomorrow. We think it’s a big improvement on last weeks deck. It has still got flaws, but if we can keep the rate of improvement up it’ll be outstanding come demo day.

In the meantime Nathan has termed a new phrase: “Big Knowledge”. This has come off the back of us joking about exa-scale knowledge. It’s an utterly meaningless term, but it sounds great.

Day 60: I pledge allegiance…

 Thursday, 22nd January 2015 22:43

Today we had an afternoon off-site at Fried Frank2 regarding expansion into the US. This was a bit of an eye opener for me. I was always aware that the whole tax law thing was a bit convoluted over there, but once you chuck in visas, employment law, and the litigious nature of doing business it just becomes a complete nightmare. In fact I spent most of the session thinking that it would be an ideal problem for Rainbird to solve since there is a lot of complex knowledge that you need to unlock if you’re thinking of expanding to America.

The key takeaway for me was that, as a SaaS business based out of the UK, we won’t be facing US tax implications. Apparently if we have American customers using our platform that’s running from The Cloud with the servers based in the US we’re golden, just as long as we don’t open an office out there. This is good because the changes to the tax laws in Europe are hard enough to understand without having to worry about a different continent on top of that.

Ben also did his second attempt at a demo day pitch at tonight’s All Hands meeting. It was definitely an improvement on last weeks and we’re pleased we’re moving in the right direction, even if there is still a way to go. I’m filming these so Ben can review his performance, but also so that we can track the progress over the weeks towards the final pitch. I also have a rather fun idea for a quick video once we’re done that just highlights the progress being made.

Day 61: It’s Friday - release!

 Friday, 23rd January 2015 19:00

So in theory we don’t release on a Friday. To be fair, I should have done the release yesterday, but basically forgot. Instead I punted the new version out this morning while getting ready to go to work… and then rolled back to a previous version when it all seemed to go a bit pear shaped.

Now, I know the rationale for not releasing on a Friday, however, I’m reasonably happy doing them as long as it’s early. Our infrastructure, while far from perfect, gives me a high level of confidence that I can roll back successfully. The combination of Docker and Git means I can get back to the exact configuration I was running before the release. Worst case scenario is you need to roll back and try again Monday.

Actually, technically the worst case scenario is that it breaks and never ever works again. But even then I can just hook up our staging environment to our production database and be up and running again in a fairly short time. Hell, I can rebuild the entire thing from backups in under 20 minutes if really pushed. Basically the questions you need to ask yourself are:

• Do you have time to fully test the release to be sure it’s good?
• Do you have time to rollback the release if the tests show problems?
• Do you mind having to log in tomorrow to perform a rollback when something you’ve overlooked is found?

If you can answer Yes to all three you’re good to go. It also helps to have a Beta tag you can hide behind.

Ironically enough the more worrying Friday release was my technical blog post for Rainbird which, thanks to some rather deliberate hashtags, garnered a fair amount of attention.

Day 63: The Model Commuter

 Sunday, 25th January 2015 19:26

I’ve enjoyed being back in London. It turns out the reason I was getting fed up with London when I lived and worked there was the commute. Commuting in London is hideous unless you can walk.

I’ve had my family down this weekend. My wife is heavily pregnant meaning she can’t walk far, so we’ve been relying on public transport. Turns out that the only thing worse than commuting on the tube at rush hour is using the tube with a push chair, a three year old, and a very pregnant lady.

The London travelling public are animals, to the point where my wife was having to offer to help another mother with her pushchair because no one else would. Unsurprisingly enough the instant this happened a plethora of offers suddenly appeared from the throng of people pushing past us. Seems shame is a useful tool.

When I used to work in London the bile, vitriol and hatred that commuting caused grew to such extends that I ended up writing a regular (read near daily) blog about it entitled The Model Commuter. I was really quite angry back then and it provided a forum to vent. My more usual commute (when I’m not living in central London at the company’s expense while doing stupidly long hours and 12 day weeks) involves seats, and tables, and trains that are usually on time. Living and working outside London has its benefits.

1. Co-founder and Managing Partner of Techstars.
2. Pronounced ‘Freed’ not ‘Fryed’

Week 10

Day 64: Cluster

 Monday, 26th January 2015 20:41

While at Techstars we’re in a shared space with more than just the companies from the current cohort. In the interest of fostering better collaboration and communication between the companies based there we’ve had a number of breakfast events set up for various business functions. I’ve already been to the developers breakfast, and there is a CTO breakfast in a couple of weeks1.

Part of the discussion over the developers breakfast was the possible use of the open space we have at the office. As one of the organisers of nor(DEV):, a tech group based in Norfolk, I look at the space as the perfect venue to host speakers. This is exactly what happens each Thursday with the Techstars Founder Stories, so why not open it beyond that?

To test the theory we needed a guinea pig who’s willing to risk no one turning up in order to gauge interest in such an event. Not being shy when it comes to speaking opportunities I threw my hat into the ring. The net result is I should be running a 20 minute variant on my Ariane 501 talk2 in the next week or two.

Keeping active on the speaking circuit has rather fallen by the wayside with everything else we need to do at Techstars. It will be nice to get some practice in before my sessions at nor(DEV):con, and events I have lined up at SyncNorwich and SyncIpswich.

Day 65: 15 seconds of fame

 Tuesday, 27th January 2015 23:16

After blogging about our new NodeJS driver for Neo4j and receiving some traction I decided today it was time to offer it up to Hacker News and see what they made of it. For the briefest of moments (probably only seconds), I made it to position 21 on the front page, before sinking like a stone to languish on page 2 and 3. Not that I’m overly concerned, it was a “Show HN” post and I spent a good 5 hours in the top 5 of that page. The driver has had a number of visits and people seem to be playing with it and liking it. I’m attending a Neo4j meetup tomorrow where I’ll pimp the library some more and drum up more interest.

To actually be able to genuinely contribute to open source software, rather than just making a token effort, is one of the great things about working at Rainbird. I’ve no idea if the library will take off or not, but it’s there for people to use and it’s good to be able to give stuff back to the community.

Day 66: Connections

 Wednesday, 29th January 2015 22:25

While the Techstars network is big, it’s not all encompassing. Sometimes you’ve actually got to go out there and make the connections yourself. That is exactly what tonight was about. After publishing our Node.js driver for Neo4j and making a bit of a splash about it, it only seemed sensible to follow up by attending this month’s London Neo4j meetup - which conveniently happened to be tonight.

This was an absolutely fantastic opportunity to introduce myself to the guys at Neo Technology, and talk to them about getting involved in the community, as well as get some answers to some of the questions we still had outstanding about Neo4j.

I was actually triple booked for tonight as we had company dinner that I wanted to go to, and there was a London Node.js User Group meeting tonight that I wanted to attend, partly because Codeship3 were going to be in attendance. Thankfully I was able to use the Techstars network to get Codeship to come to me tomorrow, meaning I’ll get to speak to them one on one.

Day 67: Flow

 Friday, 30th January 2015 00:07

So things of late have been a bit flat. I’m tired. I’m swamped. I’ve been stuck since Monday trying to get a bit of code finished.

Today, on the other hand, has been brilliant. I’m not sure if it was the change of scenery with last nights Neo4j meetup, or just that I managed to get enough sleep to edge me to the correct side of exhaustion, but today just flowed.

Some code I had wrestled with for hours last night was rewritten and working within 10 minutes of getting in this morning. That put the finish line in sight and set off a cascade of little milestones and the completion of this chunk of work. This then freed me up to think about other things, and just plough through a bunch of really bitty, but important tasks. My To Do list is a little bit saner now and I’m itching to attack it further tomorrow.

The highlight of the day though was spending time with Florian from Codeship. We’ve been using Codeship at Rainbird since before I joined and I’ve really warmed to the platform. Getting to spend time with Florian meant I was able to understand how we could utilise Codeship to its absolute fullest. This has me very excited in a very nerdy way, and should also make some of the DevOps tasks I need to do easier.

More than that though, I was able to spend a good chunk of time with an experienced startup CTO and pick his brains about all kinds of stuff.

To cap it all, our demo day pitch is coming along nicely. Ben is doing a much better job of articulating Rainbird and I know we’re going to have an awesome presentation come the 20th. Things just seem to be falling into place. It’s days like today that leave me wondering how I managed to land such a fantastic job. Cue the Lego Movie theme tune

~/o Everything is awesome! o/~

Day 68: 3 Weeks Left!

 Friday, 30th January 2015 16:03

Less than three weeks left!

The Techstars Clock of Doom ticked over to 20 days and 23 hours left today, which means it’s less than three weeks to demo day. Given how fast the weeks are going at the moment that’s going to be over in no time, which is quite sad in some respects as I’m still enjoying myself.

Tonight, however, I’m not thinking about demo day, Techstars, or work. Tonight I’m going out with Ben, our CEO. This is part of the reason I’m posting early today. I may drink. It may get messy.

Ben and I get on fantastically well, which is helpful given how closely we need to work. Despite that it has occurred to me that we have never actually socialised in a non work capacity. Probably the closest we got was the Rainbird summer party where everyone and their families piled round to my house for a BBQ; but it was still a work do.

So tonight we’re going to have a non work night out where the discussion won’t be planning our next raise, or discussing development strategy, or indeed anything to do with work. Tonight we will go out, have fun and do whatever it is people do when they’re not working.

Day 70: Ex Machina

 Sunday, 1st February 2015 18:13

I took a little break today to go watch Ex Machina at the cinema. It’s actually a very good film that makes it easy to look past the slightly implausible future tech and concentrate on the underlying themes that the film is exploring. I won’t give the plot away since it’s highly worth watching, however, it did leave me in a very philosophical mood.

Sadly this is the internet, and publishing my views on AI, machine learning, sentience, and the singularity - regardless of what they are - is just asking for trouble. It’s more a topic that is best debated in person, over a drink; something I’d be happy to do if you are ever in a position to do so.

1. Breakfast seems to be the thing for CTOs. There is a Techstars CEO dinner this week, while CTOs are being treated to a breakfast Wednesday and Friday.
2. As a case study, the destruction of the Ariane 501 launch vehicle due to a single line of code is a gem that just keeps giving.
3. https://codeship.com/ - If you do any development go there and sign up now.

Week 11

Day 71: Chef

 Monday, 2nd February 2015 23:11

Today Ben and I got some coaching on presentation skills. This was mainly for Ben’s benefit given he’s delivering our demo day pitch, but is also hugely beneficial for me. I’ve got a number of talks lined up over the next couple of months, including one tomorrow.

Ben is now spending a huge amount of time writing and rewriting the script for demo day, which is why he ended up round at our flat tonight. I cooked (Pad Thai with cashews, and a side of spicy prawns for the carnivores), Ben pitched, and we all agonised over wording, order, and structure.

Given the way the coaching works we - and by we, I mean Ben - need something that is as close to the final script as possible by next week. I can see every night being pitch practice. I may be doing a fair bit of cooking.

Day 72: Drive

 Tuesday, 3rd February 2015 23:06

So this morning started badly when I was woken by Chris’ alarm. This can only mean one thing: I’ve overslept. By 75 minutes. My waking thought was a slightly stronger version of “oh crap!”

Interestingly, however, “overslept” is a subjective term. The only person saying I must get up at 6am is me. Part of that is to do with the fact that when I go home 6am is part of my daily routine. Part of it is to do with the fact that I want to nail as much of the day as early as possible.

The key thing is that no-one is telling me I need to be in the office at 7. Not Ben, not Techstars, not our investors. I am driven to be there at that time. Driven to give my best. And I’m not alone. Techstars is full of driven people. It’s why we’re there.

So yes, I overslept. But there is a positive. I got 7 hours sleep instead of 6, so I’m slightly less tired than perhaps I might otherwise have been. Hopefully that equates to more output in the reduced time.

Day 73: Circling the drain

 Wednesday, 4th February 2015 18:46

I have the plague. And by plague I mean death. And by death I mean a slight cold. To be honest, it’s not even man-flu. But it’s there and it’s getting worse. Crap diet, no sleep and long days is going to turn it into full blown man-flu if I’m not careful. If I was by myself this weekend I’d not worry, push through it for the next two days and then spend the weekend in bed.

But I’m going home for the first time in nearly a month and I’d like to spend some time with my family. So I’ve left work early - because these days 07.15-17:15 is a half day that I started 15 minutes late…

I may well be in bed by 20:00 which should give me 9+ hours of sleep and see me raring to go tomorrow.

Day 74: Awesome

 Thursday, 5th February 2015 22:03

So Nathan has been working on the build pipeline for our front end systems over the past couple of days. Not the most gripping of subjects I’ll admit, especially given the back end build is, to put it mildly, boring as hell (even if you’re into that kind of thing). That said, what he’s put together is bloody amazing. Make a change, bam, it’s there in the browser which is, to my mind, just plain old voodoo.

It’s this kind of thing that makes working in startups so awesome. You get to work with some seriously bright people who are given the chance to try out new things, and they often end up blowing you away. It does make you wonder how much creativity and innovation is stifled at larger organisations as it’s buried under process and rigid standard.

Day 75: Normal For Norfolk

 Friday, 6th February 2015 17:39

Norfolk has a hideous reputation as a backward county. Even the largest employer in the area, Aviva, plays on this trope with it’s advertising campaigns. The problem is one of both of location, and transport links. You don’t pass through Norfolk to get to anywhere - other than perhaps the North Norfolk coast for a holiday. If you’re going to Norfolk it’s likely a deliberate journey, and one that’s made difficult due to decisions made in previous centuries regarding road and rail links.

While problematic in the past, location is no longer as much of a concern when it comes to modern, digital business. It’s partly because of this that Norwich finds itself nurturing its very own tech cluster. I know. It’s true! There’s even a report done by TechCity that proves it. While you’re reading that, check out the red bird logo on some of the pages. That’s us. Great, isn’t it?

With groups like nor(DEV): and SyncNorwich, and events like nor(DEV):con and SyncTheCity you also get to realise that it’s a very active tech scene too. Either that, or we get very bored on a night and need to make up things to do. Either way, we’ve managed to attract some top notch speakers over the years.

So for those who have expressed surprised that Rainbird made it into Techstars because they are Norwich based you may want to look again. It’s not really all that surprising at all. To me it was never a question of if a Norfolk company could get it, it was just a question of when.

Incidentally, and this is purely here for anyone who has any sway over these types of things, but a really, really good way to help a burgeoning tech sector, like that found in Norfolk, is to have good, fast, reliable broadband. Hell, some of us would be happy with just band, broad or otherwise. So if you know someone, who could talk to someone, who could put in a good word for us, that would be super. Or, you know, a proper rail link. One that doesn’t involve me going via Billericay on a bus on a weekend when I’m going to London to get a mobile signal. Just a thought.

Day 77: Final Leg

 Sunday, 8th February 2015 16:49

So this is it. The final leg until demo day. In 12 days time it will all be pretty much over bar the shouting. We pack up on the 21st and head home just in time for me to turn 40 on the 22nd.

It was a little odd coming home this time. I’ve not been there for over a month, and the fact I stayed for less than 48 hours made it more like I was visiting somewhere rather than returning home. This has a lot to do with my being very much in a Techstars mind frame, and the impending deadline that is demo day.

I now face a four hour journey back to London that is conspiring to stop me from doing anything productive. The train to Norwich is a single carriage affair with no free tables and narrow seat pitch (I’m writing this on my iPad while sitting at a very odd angle in my seat). The train to Norwich is actually something like two trains and a bus. I can’t even read on buses without getting motion sickness. As a result I’ve elected to go via Cambridge. It still takes forever, but I’m rather hoping there will be tables, data connections (even if it is just hopping onto the station wifi at each stop) and the ability to get some work done.

Week 12

Day 78: Acting classes

 Monday, 9th February 2015 22:25

As part of the whole Techstars experience we get access to acting coaches who are on hand to help the CEO’s give their pitches. I’ve been tagging along to these as the lessons learned will be useful for the various bits of public speaking I do.

Today we did a warm-up session that involved some improv. There were 5 people in the group, with the other 4 being CEO’s. We initially sat in a circle and took it in turns to tell a collaborative story, which each person continuing from the last. The story needed to include a person, object and place.

The story, such that it was, centred around a woman called Willow, who was in a boat on a river in Cochabamba, Bolivia, making notes in her moleskin notebook about the local wildlife [the person, place and object]. Suddenly, the notebook was snatched out of her hands by an alligator and promptly eaten. Kit, who may, or may not have been Willow’s lover, but who certainly had romantic designs on her, then dived into the river, dispatched the alligator and wrestled it onto the boat. However, before they could retrieve the notebook a local drug cartel hove into view. The leader is Willow’s evil stepfather, and he was there to bring her home after she ran away. Before they catch up with Willow’s boat, however, Queen Ophelia and her tribe come to the rescue, dispatching the drug lord, and allowing Willow and Kit and the driver of the boat to escape. On their journey to Queen Ophelia’s village the group are set upon by monkeys, but scare them off with the carcass of the alligator, which they still have. Once they make it to the village they butcher and eat the alligator and retrieve the notebook. In the back of the notebook is a map showing the village they’re in, with the outcome of the tale being they were destined to go there all along.

With our story, such that it was, in hand we then turned it into a 3 minute bit of improv. This was then cut down to a 2 minute piece, a 1 minute piece, and finally a hectic 30 second skit. Each of these iterations was done with no time to converse or agree changes. It was, as you can probably imagine, quite silly. It was also huge fun and helped up realise that you can actually achieve quite a lot when under pressure if you just react rather than agonising over what you’re going to say.

Incidentally, we hold the copyright to the above tale so you’ll need to come and speak to the 5 of us if you want to buy the movie rights from us. I’m sure we can come to some amicable agreement that makes us all very rich.

Day 79: Vertigo

 Tuesday, 10th February 2015 23:58

We had a meeting with some of our investors today at the ME London Radio rooftop bar. This exclusive, not to mention expensive bar affords stunning views over London from its vantage point on the 10th floor. Which is great. Unless you suffer from vertigo.

It’s an interesting balancing act trying to sit as far away from the wall as possible, whilst trying not to look anti-social - something that was made easier by the large group. I think, however, that the game was pretty much up when people started leaning up against the edge to take photos. For some reason even other people getting close to large drops makes me cringe. Just watching it on TV is enough to make my legs go weak.

Thankfully dinner was had on the ground floor in a very nice restaurant nearby. And the view from the bar really is quite good, even if it is terrifying.

Day 80: Hypothetical question

 Wednesday, 11th February 2015 23:02

This afternoon I attended a talk on the current investment environment. Given the past 7 or so years have been in the shadow of 2008 there was a fair amount of history covering the events leading up to the financial meltdown.

The fact I am working for Rainbird is a direct result of that meltdown. Until 2008 I was working for a large investment bank in London. I actually did quite well out of the crisis, but I was one of the lucky few. Many people suffered, including those in the industry. And it wasn’t just financially. I know people who are still broken after the banking system chewed them up and spat them out.

Which got me thinking. Techstars is an incredibly intense, incredibly stressful period. Teams and individuals are put under immense pressure. I look around the cohort and see the cracks. People are digging deep within themselves - deeper perhaps than they ever have before. And the pressure is just going to increase while the clock continually ticks down to Demo Day.

What happens if someone breaks? Hopefully no-one will, and it will remain a hypothetical question, but it does make you think.

And since I’ve just put a massive downer on things, here’s a picture of a rabbit with a pancake on its head.

Day 81: Tonight Matthew…

 Thursday, 12th February 2015 21:31

…I’m going to be drunk1.

Day 82: I think we’re ready

 Friday, 13th February 2015 18:47

I’m in bed already2. This is the third time today I’ve been to bed. I got to bed at gone two this morning and managed to get about 5 hours sleep3. By 1pm I’d hit a wall and needed to head home for a nap. I’ll be surprised if I make it past 8pm tonight. Oh, and I had fried chicken for lunch. It was the Best. Thing. Ever.

All of which gives an idea of the state I was in today. Regardless, I had a go at pitching at pitch practice today. We had some tweaks to the wording that we’d worked on last night and Ben was out at a meeting, so unable to try them out. I figured I may as well give it a go.

So, a tired, hungover, unprepared me presented an unfinished keynote deck, reading the script to the assembled audience. And it didn’t suck. Which is cool, because it sure as hell wasn’t my presentation skills that held it together. An eager, well prepared, well rehearsed Ben is going to knock this pitch out of the park.

Day 84: (Bonding)

 Sunday, 15th February 2015 22:11

Techstars talks about family. You have the Techstars family, which is all the alumni, mentors, hacksociates4, basically everyone who is involved with Techstars in some way. But then you also hear about the feeling of family you get with your fellow founders in your cohort. You bond through a shared experience.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t really feeling that bonding. We get along. We talk. We help each other out. But no really special connection. I was beginning to think that perhaps that was a more US centric thing and that we, being based in London would have the very British attitude of “Over the past 102 days, I’ve come to think of you all as ‘people I’ve shared an office with’“.

As demo day draws ever closer, and the stress levels start to rise I’m beginning to see those tight bonds forming. Just being here over the weekend and going into the office to work, pitch and help out has seen me learn a lot more about my fellow founders. I suspect this last week will be truly transformative.

1. I’m not sure how drunk, but it’s the last Thursday night drinks, we’ve been working on the pitch in infinite details and I really don’t want to have to worry about writing later if I’ve had too much.
2. If that weirds you out then I’m sorry to say that the vast majority of entries have been written from bed, just before going to sleep. Sorry. Deal with it.
3. For a given definition of ‘sleep’. Redbull is an evil, evil drink.
4. Techstars employs Hackstars (developers, designers and techies), and Associates (business, marketing and sales experts) who can help the companies in the cohort. They generally get referred to collectively as hacksociates.

Week 13

Day 85: ZOMG! Number 10!

 Tuesday, 17th February 2015 00:16

So stuff what I was going to say. We’re included in Pitch101 along with two other companies in our cohort which is just bloody amazing! This is the same day as Demo Day so Ben now has a second pitch to learn for that day - no pressure then.

Day 86: The Urban Geek Pack

 Tuesday, 17th February 2015 21:57

I’m known as a bit of a fixer at Techstars2. Need a cable? Speak to Dom. Camera? Dom has one. Tripod for pitch videos? Torch? Portable charging? All covered. It seems I come covered for nearly every eventuality - although I do come up short on some occasions.

So how do I achieve this? Well the secret is the Urban Geek Pack™. This is my backpack, which contains:

• A 13” Retina Display MacBook Pro
• Adapters from mini DisplayPort to VGA, DVI and HDMI
• A pair of Apple earbuds (these are actually backups, I normally have my Shure’s for music)
• A Power adapter for the MacBook Pro
• 30 Pin and lightning connector cables
• A charging plug for the above cables
• USB to micro USB cable
• A portable battery pack with USB output
• Various USB sticks ranging from 8-64Gb in capacity
• Assorted coloured Sharpies in varying thicknesses
• A Gorillapod tripod
• A remote presentation remote
• A microfibre cleaning cloth
• Assorted torches
• Assorted pain killers and cold remedies
• Sunglasses
• An umbrella

There is space for more things, which is good, because today I was asked for a CF card reader (which I can relocate from my camera bag) and a Female to Female HDMI extender. I think the last request was possibly beginning to border on the ridiculous.

I can whole heartedly recommend that at least one person in any given Techstars cohort is armed with an equivalent bag. It can save the day on many, many occasions.

Sadly, with Demo Day fast approaching I’ve had to give notice to everyone in our cohort that tech support and access to the Urban Geek Pack will be suspended at 18:00 on Thursday. From then on I need to concentrate on Rainbird and our pitch. Of course, if anyone desperately needs help I’m sure we can accommodate them for a token percentage of their company. Say… 25%?

Addendum I should also include (because I’ve actually been asked for them):

• Elastic bands
• Tissues

Day 87: Speakers Corner

 Wednesday, 18th February 2015 23:30

Tonight the CEOs were all taken to Speakers Corner3, along with anyone who wanted to come and watch the show. We actually ended up near speakers corner, by a bus stop ready to inflict 10 pitches on the unsuspecting queue.

I’m really impressed with how everyone did, especially Sohrab, who went first and lead the charge with a commanding pitch for Bidvine. For me, getting up there first would have been terrifying.

Since I am driving the deck during Demo Day I felt it was only right that I should be right up there with Ben running the presentation… albeit from my phone, so no-one can actually see it.

Apologies for the image quality - phones aren’t great in low light

Day 88: Calm before the storm

 Thursday, 19th February 2015 15:36

Early post today, mainly because for the first time in over 100 days I’ve got time to sit in the office and just… do nothing. Ben has the pitch sorted. The deck looks awesome. I’ve got my timings worked out for all the transitions. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be.

I’ve spent some of today wandering the office grabbing photos of people because this is really the last chance I’m going to get. Tomorrow is going to be a blur and then we’ll be done. Which is going to be… odd.

I’ve become institutionalised to 14+ hour days, 6 hours of sleep a night, and snippets of a personal life snatched in between catching up on sleep at the weekend. I’m actually going to miss it. I’m not even sure I can imagine getting anything meaningful done in anything as short as a ‘normal’ 8 or 9 hour day.

There’s an energy in the office, but a slightly nervous one. People are making the final preparations for tomorrow. We all know it’s going to be a big day.

And by big, I mean huge. This is the biggest demo day, quite possibly in the entire world. Over 1000 people have signed up to come. The venue is The Genesis Cinema on Mile End Road, and you can’t fit everyone into a single screen. So Techstars have hired a second screen and we’re going to pitch twice. Yup, you heard that right. We’re going to pitch to one room of people, and then do it all over again to a second room. And by “we”, I mean Ben. I just need to press a button at the indicated points in the printed script I have. He’s the one who needs to do the entire pitch from memory. Twice. Before then having to learn a 3 minute version and do it at Number 10… you know, the place where the PM lives. No pressure then.

While he’s doing that, we’re going to be speaking to the demo day guests, making introductions and generally schmoozing. Then it’s a party at the office, topped off with the massive Techstars demo day party at a secret location.

And then… home. Where I need to reintegrate myself with my family, get used to living in the real world again, and deal with the fact that I have a newborn coming in less than a month.

It’s odd. The ever present Techstars Clock of Doom which has, until now, been instilling a sense of urgency before demo day is now tinged with sadness. Every second it ticks is another second closer to the end. And that sucks. Royally.

Zero days and hours left. Photo credit @mrkrsl

Day 89: Demo Day! Crash…

 Friday, 20th February 2015 16:51

So lets deal in absolutes. Fact’s we know.

I need a shower. I’ve walked several miles and been quite stressed today. Some sweating has occurred. This is OK because…

I’m sitting on my bed at the flat, so I’m close to a shower and a change of clothes. I should be back at the office where I understand there is a party for us, but I needed somewhere to recharge, because…

Techstars is over.

This sucks.

Intensely.

I woke up this morning, a little pensive, but not too bad. Got ready for the day, and left with what I thought was plenty of time to spare. It appears I missed the memo that said we were meeting at the cinema at 07:30, not 08:00. Not a huge deal, but I would have built in more contingency time rather than walking the speed we did.

Got there, said “hi”, went through the warmup. Car crash. Ben was bloody fantastic. The cinema screen wasn’t on and I was driving from the now and next views on Keynote. They don’t show animations and transitions. That makes life hard.

Got ready for the big show. Watching the clock count down to less than an hour. Took my place, pacing notes in hand. These were now the most important thing in my life. Tweet nervously. Speak when spoken too, but trying to just sit and keep myself calm.

They play a track by Elbow. My wife walked down the aisle to that when we got married. All getting a bit much. Try not to become overwhelmed.

Music stops, Jon takes the stage. Welcomes are done. I go up, ready drive the slide deck. It’s dark. I can’t see my notes. Ben is being introduced. Music starts… I pull my phone out and use the home screen to see.

Pitch starts. click. Read. click. Read. I’m hitting my marks. It’s going to be OK… phone buzzes. Some %\$is calling me! The phone is on silent, but not on airplane mode because it was supposed to be in my pocket. The call screen is dimmer than the home screen. I can’t see properly. Cancel the call, miss a transition by half a second. No one noticed. Get back into the flow. Run out of pages… presentation has ended. Applause. Congratulations. Sit down. Other teams. Tweet about each as they pitch. Clap at the right places. Fist bumps as they come off. Interval. People. Networking. Congratulations. Fist bumps. Back into the cinema. More teams. Tweet. Clap. Tweet. Clap. Knyttan close the show. Curtains. Get my stuff. Can’t find my laptop…

People. Fist bumps. Congratulations. Still no laptop. People. Find laptop. It was being used for the presentation4. Head to the networking event. People. Rainbird. People. Rainbird. Cards. People. Congratulations. People, fist bumps, people, Rainbird, cards, people, Rainbird, people, Rainbird, people, fist bumps, people, empty hall…

…and that’s it. I find myself standing with the other teams and Techstars guys, packing away our stand, with them discussing if we should go to the pub for a quick drink before taking our kit back to the office.

To which I opted out.

I needed to crash. Quite literally. To just sit, clear my head, regroup, and gather the energy needed for the party.

So, yeah… I need a shower, so I should probably go do that… There’s a party in an hour, but before that I may just sit here and fall to pieces for a while, because Techstars is over. And that sucks. Intensely.

Day 90: Fin!

 Saturday, 21st February 2015 04:10

So I was never really going to have a huge amount of luck with the music at the Techstars after party because my musical tastes diverge rather significantly from… well, pretty much everyone really. That said, anything with a good thumping beat can be danced to. The easiest way to ensure a good thumping beat is to distribute 40 glowsticks across the dance floor and make the DJ face the fact that people are now going to want to wave these about. That seemed to work. All that was left was to go nuts on the dance floor. I certainly had fun. It looked like everyone else was too.

The London Techstars 2014 Winter cohort have now graduated, and done so in style. As I suspected, we’ve bonded into a family through a truly unique experience. Later this morning (given it’s 03:40) I need to get up, pack, get to the office, pack that up, get in a taxi back to Norfolk and resume my normal life - if that’s even possible.

The past 103 days have been truly life changing. I hope I have captured some of that experience in this book. I know people have been reading it. I still have Jon Bradford’s voice in my head going “Where’s my blog post?”, something that has a truly special ring to it if you say it in Jon’s accent. Plus it turns out that I am now The Dom Davis, as in “Are you The Dom Davis who writes the blog?” - yes, yes I am!

So what now? I think I’m right in saying that I am the only person to have blogged every single day of a Techstars cohort (with the exception of Saturdays5). Much of it is drivel because it was written at gone midnight when I was exhausted, but there is an awful lot of material there. Enough to compile this book. I may try to write a proper book about the whole thing - one that conforms to the rules of grammar and punctuation and utilises far fewer footnotes.

And I will still blog, just possibly not quite as often. My life at home is pretty sedate and doesn’t make for such an interesting read.

All that remains is for me to thank Jon for picking Rainbird and giving us the opportunity to take part in this experience; Tak for just being awesome - it really is “Takstars”; Mark for herding the errant cats that a Techstars cohort is made of; and everyone else that made Techstars London what it was. I really can’t thank you guys enough.

And now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to sleep, pack, and then go home to my family.

1. Pitch10 has a handful of startups head to Number 10 Downing Street to pitch to investors, press and members of the government. If nothing else it means we can say we’ve pitched at Number 10.
2. This actually became a running joke throughout the programme and culminated with Demo Day actually being run from my laptop (a story for another book).
3. Speakers Corner is the northeast corner of Hyde Park in London and is an area where open-air public speaking, debate and discussion are allowed.
4. So in some respects, Techstars Demo Day was powered by Rainbird
5. And, it appears, one Sunday.