Thank you for the music, HACKSAW™
Thank you for the music, HACKSAW™
Thirteen years ago, on a cold winters afternoon, my Grandad Reuben walked into PC World with me and pulled off the scarf and gloves that I had to almost force him to wear.
“Right, where do we need to be?” he asked, a little hesitant around the ‘new' technology that he was so unfamiliar with.
“Honestly, I don't know,” I replied, warily and little excited.
This was the first time that either of us had been in a place like this and we both felt a little out of our depth, neither of us sure if we should take the lead.
An hour or so later and with some deliberation on my part, he'd parted with £1,000 and I had my first “real” computer – a Compaq Presario laptop.
You see, my Grandad encouraged me to do exactly what I wanted to do with my life.
“Bugger 'em”, he'd say when I told him about the bosses that I'd had at my old jobs – the jobs that I hated.
When I doubted whether or not I could learn something brand new and eventually whether or not I could sell that thing, he was one of the first people to say “You can do whatever you want”, the same advice that I give to family & friends; the advice that I'll give to my nephews and nieces, probably to the annoyance of my brothers and sister when the kids are defiantly not doing their homework and are instead goofing around on a guitar or kicking a ball around the streets because Uncle Mark said it was ok.
In fact, it was the same advice that prompted the conversation about the journey to PC World that day.
Around that time, I was playing bass in a band and well, we needed a website.
So, being an “IT guy” (read: a guy who worked in an office on a computer), I told the band that I'd “sort it”.
Of course, that was easier said than done.
You see, I have a friend who built websites for a living at that time and well, he wanted me to pay him £800.00 to build a site for the band.
Given that we were all strapped almost-adults and me being me, I thought “fuck it, it can't be that hard”.
And as it turns out, it wasn't.
With a subscription to CartoonSmart (thanks, Justin!), Dreamweaver on my beat up old tower PC and the world's worst band logo, I set about building the website for Steeplejack, my band.
It. Was. Shit.
But it was a working website!
And it ended up online!
It was still shit, but it had rollovers & glass effect buttons (thanks “Web 2.0”) and I remember building it like it was yesterday.
More than that, though.
The process opened up a brand new world to me.
At this point, I had JUST quit my job for a corporate finance firm in Sheffield after just a single day and had yet to embark upon my few years as a freelance digital trainer.
And so, because of this I locked myself in a room for almost a year and learned how to code websites.
I quite literally did nothing else but learn how to build these things by mastering Flash (we laugh now, oh ActionScript, you tinker), HTML and a really new coding option called “CSS”.
Me being me, again, somewhere along the way I figured that hey, maybe I could sell websites to people; maybe I could sell them to people who had yet to understand why they needed a website (2004, yo) and maybe, just maybe I could charge enough to actually get paid.
But there was a problem.
I had no money to buy a computer that didn't crash every 15 minutes causing me to lose all of my work.
I had a credit rating so low that I couldn't finance one at that time and I didn't have the fight in me to step off the blocks into entrepreneurship because really, I was a 22-year-old living in a shitty flat with a £75 suit for work (that came with a free shirt), a self-esteem issue and a Ford Fiesta with a smashed up door.
Who would listen to me?
Everyone, according to my Grandad.
And so, after being forced to put his scarf and gloves on, he pulled shut the smashed up Ford Fiesta door that day and we drove to PC World so that he could make sure that I had the best possible chance that he could give me.
Ten years later, HACKSAW™ was in its heydey.
It was early 2014 and having gone through the trials and tribulations; the successes and the failures of building a small, local web development business myself I'd also gone through the merging of that business with Don Gent and Marc Wilmot in order to form DMSQUARED, later DMSQD, and we'd also decided in 2012 to bring on two other directors, Kyle Wilkinson and Daniel Maw to bring about the HACKSAW™ name.
With a team of 8, HACKSAW™ was working on a range of projects from local web builds to international branding projects reaching as far as the West Coast of the United States.
All was well, but looking back it was during that time in agency life when I began to have doubts about my place in the industry; doubts about the overall business model and doubts about my role within the business.
You see, I've always been an inquisitive person and I've always had the ability to execute quickly on things that I'm passionate about
During this time we were coming off years of developing the same type of projects, day-in-day-out and I was for the most part responsible for the winning and the project management of those jobs within that time period.
It was my job.
It was a job. I'd become my own employee.
And without realising it, I'd burnt out on the industry.
I'd burnt out on the game, the chase and the endless pitches to people who had no more an idea of who we were than they did about why they were told that they must have “CSS 3” in their web brief.
To try to counter this and to keep myself creating and not stagnating, I created the very website that you're reading this at now.
Excellence Expected was born on September 30th, 2014, and shortly after that, had a big brother called Podcast Websites.
In an effort to expand my mind & to explore other business models that suited my personality more and in an effort to give myself the chance to work at a speed that was dictated only by me, I found myself fired up again.
The fuel that had been burnt away by years of working the agency scene was being refilled every night that I stayed up until 2 am working on the products I'd envisioned, or recording the first interviews for Excellence Expected's inaugural podcast episodes.
Amongst all of that, something else happened too.
I realised that I enjoyed communicating and learning and I also realised that I was moving just one degree away from each one of my co-directors and friends at HACSKAW™.
I was pursuing a path different to the niche photography of Marc, the powerful design of Kyle, the physical print side of Don and the project work of Dan – and it caused challenges, there's little doubt.
During this time, too, each of my co-directors was facing his own challenges and personal developments.
Perhaps none of these was quite as pronounced the journey that the exceptionally talented Kyle is taking himself on, which I believe began at around the same time.
Kyle and I are very similar people: driven, motivated, willing to bleed, sweat and cry in the pursuit of our own versions of success.
And with two wonderfully strong personalities and the talents of the team, we achieved some great things – things that I don't believe that we ever truly stopped to appreciate during the “mad years”.
As Kyle and I developed our own broadening interests, we both felt the same urge to step away from “bread and butter” website work.
We were simply bored of it.
I was enjoying Excellence Expected and creating Podcast Websites, and Kyle was broadening his talents to include furniture design and bigger, further reaching brand projects.
As agency owners, all five us had challenges with the business model: the constant “request for quote” forms, the never ending battle to prove you had something “unique” in a web industry that I believe, at many levels, is becoming commoditised by platforms like Squarespace and heck, even Podcast Websites.
So we had a choice: refactor the business into something that had us fired up again, or each pursue our own interests and let HACKSAW™ go – allowing the salary machine that it had become to be jettisoned in pursuit of something more fulfilling.
The decision wasn't easy, and it took much longer than any of us would like to admit but after much consideration and much hesitation, we collectively decided to close the agency doors.
Since then, each one of us has moved into our “new place”, with me focussing entirely on Podcast Websites and of course, Excellence Expected.
Thinking back to only a few months ago when we made the decision, I'm filled with a sense of fondness for what we had but also relief that once we'd cut the cord, I felt like I could breathe again – I hadn't quite realised the weight of concern around what to “do” with the business had gotten so heavy until it was removed.
Am I sad that we closed the doors?
In a way, but really I think it's more mourning the routine and stability that I'd enjoyed for so long.
The more overpowering emotions are those of excitement and eagerness to open the door on a new chapter because now I DO believe that people value what I have to say and value what I build, just as I believe the very same about what my co-directors will bring to the world as individuals.
It's my job to keep doing the very best for YOU, the reader of this piece and to do the very best for everyone with whom I do business – in fact, I make it my personal mission to pleasantly surprise you at every turn.
I'm not the same timid, unsure twenty-something who drove my Grandad and me to PC World all of those years ago.
I understand now that change is a good thing when the time is right and no longer do I doubt that it's ok.
I now know that it is the right thing to do: to pursue your own dreams and to encourage others to pursue theirs, in their own way.
And so, when I found that old Compaq Presario laptop in the basement of HACKSAW™ as I prepared to close the doors for the last time there, it was with fondness and pride that I'm sure my old Grandad would have shared.
And it was the long standing friendships forged in the fires of the studio that stuck with me, and will for a long, long time to come.
Don, Marc, Ky, Dan – love you guys.
Thank you for the music.
Don't forget, the more you expect from yourself, the more you WILL excel.