Gather round (thoughtfully puffs on pipe) and hear the story of how I got here!
I have been a designer for nearly 20 years. Before that I worked in IT, mainly support, and I quickly discovered that constantly telling someone to “try turning it off and on again” or tell them how to build a Windows 95 Rescue Disk was not exactly good for the soul. Neither really was working in the middle of nowhere until 11 o’clock at night and then having to walk home. A few years after I started, the company was bought out because the chairman was looking to retire and I left shortly afterwards. A year later, the Managing Director and Sales Director for the assimilated company, for whom I had worked, also left. Foul deeds had transpired, apparently. Tales only talked of in hushed whispers due to various NDAs. MD and SD had decided to start up a business in Leeds City Centre and asked if I wanted to join them. The idea was for there to be ‘walk-in’ Internet shop where punters could buy the latest web-ready mobile phones, portable music players (this was long before the iPod) and spend hours in our internet café. I was working for a mortgage administration company (part of Skipton Building Society) at the time, testing code, and I disliked working for a big company. There was no guarantee that the new Internet business would extend beyond six months, however, but I leapt at the opportunity without hesitation.
It was a fun six months. Okay, so we weren’t technically in Leeds City Centre, rubbing shoulders with Harvey Nicholls and the like (good job really; I fear I would have asphyxiated from heady cloud of noxious chemicals wafting over from the perfume counter): we were on the edge of Kirkgate Market, a nevertheless thriving business centre but in a ‘different’ way. I really miss those olde worlde markets, but that might the subject for another blog. Anyway, our internet hub was right bang next to the place where the more ‘bohemian’ Leeds residents would gather for their 11am cider and scavenged pavement roll-ups. One day, one their number wandered into the internet café. The bosses were out at a meeting, and I, possibly the most unthreatening male on the planet, had to ever so diplomatically escort him from the premises. Strange how about a dozen people using the PCs to download stuff from Napster (yes, this was when Napster was a thing) were suddenly completely unaware of my presence…
Oh, and people who used the internet café mostly had very niche and weird tastes…
Anyway, I digress. I do that a lot.
They were good times. It was very rare then, back in 2000, for businesses to have their own website, slightly rarer for people to design them, unless you used GeoCities or CompuServe. I had a GeoCities site and it was utterly utterly awful (why did I think that Hot Tamale was a great headline typeface??). I was buried in the cellar for six months beavering away on Dreamweaver, UltraDev, Fireworks and Photoshop to create actually quite good sites. They only needed to be developed for Desktop – the suggestion for websites to be viewed on mobile phones would have had you taken away dressed in a jacket where the sleeves tie up at the back – and customers were generally happy with them. I did a site for a young lad who played golf and had set himself up as a trainer. I also did a site for a bloody awfully cracking nice bloke from Beeston called Raj who repaired Rolexes. He was about 7 feet tall without the turban. He demonstrated the resistance of a Rolex glass facia by scratching it with a diamond ring.
One day, two women rolled in and confessed that they had got drunk one night and decided to set up a training business. They were both really nice but really didn’t have a clue what they were doing. One of the bosses, a flip-hot marketeer went into the ins and outs of the kind of services they could offer and they stared at him blankly, not aware that they had just been given about £500 worth of free marketing consultancy. I made a start on their website and asked for some corporate imagery. They supplied me with about two dozen photos of them getting steadily more inebriated on a Leeds a wine bar. They never came back.
But the idea of the business was that we would look for capital investment to roll out similar stores across Yorkshire and then go on to conquer the world (like, Derbyshire or something). It could have been great but the investment capitalists weren’t interested. After six months we shut up shop and went our separate ways. I still feel guilty about the student who came in that last morning and asked what time we closed because she wanted to come back to do something on her dissertation. She would have come back in the afternoon and found an empty shop, closed forever. It became a shoe shop after we left. It was a little sad that things didn’t work out but I did get an ex-demo phone out of it and a Creative Labs Jukebox media player, which was too massive for any reasonably sized pocket but kinda cool, even if the battery life was only about 4 minutes…
For a couple of years after that I worked freelance, honing my web design and development skills but I quickly found that people really didn’t want to pay for having a website done. One client informally asked me to put a basic CRM together and when I presented it to him he refused to pay for it. I believe he appeared on Dragon’s Den a number of years later as one of the Dragons. Sometimes Karma doesn’t do what you want it to.
The only way I managed to eat was through earning a retainer from the two guys I had worked with before, who had now set up a Sales and Marketing agency, called 4P (yes, after the 4 Ps of Marketing…). After six months they offered me a full-time job and the rest, as they say is history.
This entry has gone on for far too long and I really need to write some proper web copy. So… to be continued!