Finding your elusive passion

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we are joined by Ryan Taylor from No Divide. He joins us to share his journey of finding a job that made him truly passionate.

Skip to the discussion or this week’s links.

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Paul: Hello and welcome to Boagworld.com the podcast for all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis. My name is Paul Boag and joining us is Ryan Taylor. Hello Ryan!

Ryan: Hello!

Paul: Ryan Taylor of No Divide. I like that name. I don’t know why. Where did it come from?

Ryan: Is a play on a few things, but because Dan is down south and I’m North so there is no North/South divide but mainly because of United we Stand, Divided we Fall. And there was a whole adage to where that line came from, the story about the line and the oxen.

Paul: Hence your logo with the oxen.

Ryan: Hence the logo with the oxen. That’s why I like it because if you name something that has a personal meaning to you, you like it for longer. If you make up some random name

Paul: Like Headscape.

Marcus: Headscape has an amazing meaning behind it.

Paul: What Leigh had the domain name and so we went with that?

Marcus: Yes it sounded alright. And we’ve been mis-recognised as headdresses ever since.

Paul: Yes, we’ve paid the price. And of course now there is Headspace as well, the meditation app.

Ryan: Have you used that?

Paul: I did briefly. I’m not really a meditation person, am I really, let’s be honest.

Ryan: I can’t imagine you sitting still for that long.

Paul: No. It doesn’t happen naturally.

Marcus: A meditation app? Hmm.

Paul: You want to check it out. There are hundreds of meditation apps.

Marcus: Let’s not go there. Talk to Ryan.

Paul: You could find your inner peace, Marcus.

Marcus: Right, okay.

Paul: There are, there are loads. And sleep apps and all that kind of stuff.

Marcus: I can understand asleep at because that measures whether you’re getting good quality sleep or how long you sleep for and that’s quite interesting. But meditation is surely about not worrying about apps and things.

Paul: No you listen to it, and it goes ‘Clear your mind. Concentrate on your breathing. Feel your buttocks pressing against the seat.’

Ryan: It does, honestly it does.

Paul: It does. I’m not making it up. So there you go.

It’s so good to have you on the show. Long-time listeners will recognise your dulcet tones because you and Paul Stanton used to fill in for us for want of a better word.

Ryan: Yes, that was back when you had numbers for podcasts instead of series and seasons.

Paul: Yes that was before the dark times, before the break when we stopped for a while.

Ryan: Because we met at 100th podcast, in London. That was when we first met.

Marcus: That was in the pub, wasn’t it? I remember.

Ryan: Yes it was. Ye Olde Cocks Oven.

Paul: Wow you’ve got a good memory.

Marcus: Anna made us a cake and a T-shirt.

Ryan: So that was when we first met Anna and whenever I tell the embarrassing story of when I met Anna she cringes.

Paul: This is Anna Debenham – web celeb, writer, speaker, entrepreneur, so now embarrass her.

Ryan: This is years and years ago, so she was only a baby back then. What was she, 16 or something like that?

Paul: Yes because she couldn’t legally be drinking in the pub.

Ryan: Yes so she was sneaking in. But it was dead funny because she was sneaking in with a rucksack on and this box under her arm and she walks from the front of the pub all the way to the back of the pub and all the way to the front of the pub again, obviously really nervous as nobody had arrived, and it was just me and Paul set the table eating a burger. And she came tumbling over to us and she said ‘Are you here for Boagworld?’

And we said, ‘Yes’. And she said ‘Oh thanks God for that’.

And then I remember Marcus came in before you Paul, and me and Marcus were ordering at the bar, and obviously we’d only really heard you and didn’t know what you looked like. And I remember nudging Paul, ‘That sounds like Marcus Lillington’. And all three of us were listening going ‘Yeah, yea that’s him’.

Paul: Well it was easy to be a celebrity back then because there was only us. There were no other web design podcasts.

Ryan: That was a long time ago, that was about 2004?

Paul: No 2005 we went to @Media and it was a couple of years after that.

Marcus: 2007 I reckon, maybe even 2008.

Paul: We ought to do another meet up.

Marcus: We did another one in London in a pub which was an even nicer pub if I can remember it. It had a balcony going all the way around upstairs and you could overlook the bar. It was fab.

Paul: I’ve got no memory of that one at all.

Marcus: They you go.

Paul: I’ve reached that age.

Marcus: The 200th podcast was probably the high point though wasn’t it? When we did the 12 hour pod cast?

Paul: That was a ridiculous idea. Transcriber edit: Thank goodness you didn’t require my services back then!

Marcus: It was good fun though. Looking back on it. Not so much at the time. You’d sort of runaway and have half an hour off. I can’t be this interesting and witty for that long. I can’t do that for two minutes let alone 12 hours.

Ryan: And you streamed video as well.

Paul: Yes we did stream video, I forgot that.

Ryan: People were counting how often I reached for snacks in the middle of the table. How may bottles of beer that Paul had drunk.

‘He’s on his eighth, he’s going to be hammered. Get them to ask a question!’

Paul: This is the other Paul, it wasn’t me just to be clear.

And it went on from there didn’t it? So where were you working back then, when you came to the 100th?

Ryan: I was working at Leeds College of Art.

Paul: Yes that was it. And then for a while you came to join us at Headscape. And then he went freelancing for a bit and now you are doing No Divide. You and Dan Edwards, originally. But there is now more view isn’t there?

Ryan: Yes. So I left Leeds College of Art and then I went to another company, a private company for about nine months. Then I went freelance, and then I came and worked for you and then I went freelance again.

Paul: Right.

Ryan: And then I started No Divide.

Paul: In No Divide then, do you do pretty much everything that Headscape did or does? Is it a full stack thing or are you front-end? What do you guys do?

Ryan: Our focus now is doing new websites, releasing new websites. We build web apps and web services, so full stack. The most recent project we launched that isn’t on the website yet is a website called phmuseum.com. And it’s a massive social network for photographers. It nearly finished us off. There was about nine months work in the entire team were working on it, loads of moving parts and transactions and direct messaging and loads of features with loads more to come because of the whole development roadmap in place. We launched that at the beginning of December last year and we’ve not had chance to update the website yet.

Paul: You’ve been lying down ever since. Breathing into a bag.

Ryan: Giving some attention to our clients as well have all been clamouring. But yes, we are expanding. It started off as me and Dan and we got a new developer last April and another developer the following May because we had another project coming, so there were four of us. Now we’ve got a project manager that started at the beginning of January, another one who is starting at the beginning of February and we’ve been advertising for a designer and a developer so we’re just reviewing the applications.

Paul: Wow. You’re like proper grown-ups now.

Ryan: I know, it’s scary as shit.

[Laughs]

Paul: It is isn’t it, welcome to our world.

Ryan: Because I used to be the youngest person at everything but now I am the oldest and I’ve become dad and I worry about everybody.

Paul: That’s what happens as you age I’m afraid to say.

Marcus: You are putting food in their children’s mouths.

Ryan: Exactly.

Paul: If you fail to bring in the work, Ryan. Their children may die.

Ryan: Are very aware. It keeps me up at night.

Paul: Are they all over the place?

Ryan: Yes. We’ve got a lad in Middlesbrough, a lad in Cambridge. Dan is in Chichester and I am near Leeds. The first project manager we hired doesn’t have to travel far she lives with me. And the second one is in Halifax which again isn’t very far from me. So she’s going to be working from here a couple of days a week. So the command hub is going to be my house.

Paul: I am presuming that the project manager that lives with you is your wife and you haven’t bought another woman into the house?

Marcus: No, my wife has decided to leave midwifery which she was doing.

Paul: There is no money in that is there, whatsoever.

Ryan: None whatsoever. We won’t get into a big debate about the NHS not treating nurses and midwives very well, so we needed a project manager and she’s got excellent experience looking after people far more intelligent than us. Her background is in admin and things like that so I said just jack it in and come and work for us.

Paul: How is that working? What is your role these days?

Ryan: This is the reason we’ve gone down this road to get to project managers. Because basically we going to be at a point when we got two teams working on things at any given time. So that’s why it’s to project managers but also I’m the organised one out of me and Dan.

Paul: That doesn’t surprise me to be honest after meeting Dan.

Ryan: You’ve talked to me about this before, you and Marcus and Chris. You team up with people who are strong in areas that you’re not strong in. So Dan is very good at speaking and marketing side of the business when it comes to design and the promotional side, he’s really strong at that. I’m more organised and analytical and business -led. This is just how it’s fallen. So I handle all the accounts and day-to-day running of the business. Dan does as well, it’s not like I’m making arbitrary decisions. Because we’ve had three developers in one design and lifted a lot of the pressure off of him as he’s had to design. It’s not like we have a fall back. So are managing all the projects and handling the business side of stuff and is just shedding some of that so that I can get back to actually coding. And the way it’s fallen is that I am doing more and more back-end work at the minute as well. So I am needed for that.

It’s been really good actually, Michelle coming to work for me as I get away with a lot more now when I’m not working because she understands why have been so stressed for the last how many years.

Paul: How does she feel about working for you. That was the word you used there. My wife would rile me one.

[Laughs]

Ryan: I don’t think of ever said working for

Marcus: You just did is there!

Ryan: And on a podcast too. I’ve always said working with prior to this interview.

Paul: That’s it I’m going to record this now and send it to her. The other thing is, I’m imagining if you go back to doing development stuff and she does project management stuff, you’ll be working for her.

Ryan: Well. We’ll see. To be fair she’s sat next to me. I going to be ganged up on because she sat behind me. I’ve gone from working in a broom cupboard to going into the biggest bedroom on the top floor I had two desks which was great so that when Dan came up he had one, to now we’ve converted our garage so the old living room is now my office. There is so thin here as well and were getting another desk and this going to be Lou to my right and Michelle behind me, so I’m going to be ganged up on.

Paul: You’re in trouble mate.

Ryan: I am.

Paul: I presume that the reason you decided to bring Michelle in was because you didn’t enjoy the project management stuff is much and want to spend more time doing the development? Is that fair to say?

Ryan: Yes and also I think when you get to our kind of size, when you are a freelancer you don’t really understand what project managers do. They are these people that nag you all the time. When you try and run a business you realise how important project managers are. They are keeping everything ticking over and letting you focus on the things that you need to focus on, rather than you getting bogged down with emails and client disputes and chasing invoices and requests and all that sort of thing that don’t necessarily require the technical director of a company to deal with because they are just discuss, plan, schedule, task management, add to the project management software and assigned to the appropriate people. All that stuff just take so much time, taking so much of my time that I was being booked out as a full-time front-end/backend developer, whatever was needed for a project, but 50 to 60% of my time is taken up with managing everybody else. So you are finding time from other places like weekends or evenings which is no good for anybody.

And so I’ve always wanted to get away from that. I’m not scared of grafting but I would like a nice work life balance.

Paul: Well absolutely. Which brings us very nicely on to what we’re going to be talking about today which is finding your place. I put finding your elusive passion but that sounds like such bollocks. The whole season is about passion but we’ve decided we don’t like the word passion so, finding your place, finding your role.

But before we get into that just want to talk quickly about our first sponsor which is Dev Bootcamp, and we’re really excited to have them. I really excited? Let’s be honest, I’m pleased. They are good. They produce great stuff, I can be proud to have them on the show. To say I’m really excited that might be exaggerating. I don’t know them that well, we don’t personally spend a lot of time together. Anyway stop it.

So I’m proud to have them on the show. Basically these guys offer this program where it’s not any of this remote programming stuff, but you go and your embedded in their lessons and the course they run and it will take you from being a beginner starting out all the way to being a full stack web developer. An intensive hands-on, interactive, immersive program that happens. I got places all across states including downtown New York but there are other places as well. So if you’re thinking about becoming a software developer then check out DevBootCamp/Boagworld, for a short-term, immersive software development programme that will transfer you from being a brand-new coder into a job ready, full stack developer. See don’t just learn about the backend web development skills, but the other kind of skills you need to be part of a team and to get a job. Things like teamwork, things like leadership. It’s a very rigourous environment. It’s a Boot Camp. It’s what it says on the tin. They got several locations around the country to check out them at DevBootCamp/Boagworld and see where the nearest one to you is. I really wish we had something like this over here in the UK as it sounds really good.

Discussion on finding your perfect job

Paul: Well, here’s the thing. I’ve known Ryan as you have gathered for quite a long time. I’ve seen you go through all those different jobs Ryan over the years and I have to say until you hit No Divide, you seemed like a bit of a grumpy Northern Bastard when it came to work. No job fitted right as far as my outside perspective went. Am I being massively unfair saying that? Saying you weren’t happy at the college particularly, I think you found the freelancing a bit intensive and didn’t quite fly for you. Headscape, you weren’t entirely settled and it wasn’t quite the right fit for you. Am I right in saying that?

Ryan: My main issue—apart from Headscape obviously— were the people I worked for. I think what I learned from Headscape was that Headscape was the point where I was inspired to just take the push and do what I really want to do because I’m surrounded by people who had done that. It was the first time when I got a Headscape that are surrounded by talented people who pursued the things they wanted to do. And that inspired me to take the plunge and go freelance. I did that for 2 to 3 years and then met Dan and we teamed up and did No Divide. But prior to that I just worked for a bunch of arseholes.

Paul: I’m really glad you said prior to that, thank you. We are very flattered. Even at Headscape— let’s be entirely honest here— what I saw in you was a man that wanted to do it himself. I mean you are a bit of a pain in the arse at times, to be honest because you had all these ideas of ways that you want to do things, and your ideas. It felt like you were always destined to set up on your own. I’m being mean to you aren’t I?

Ryan: Well you are not but for the first time at Headscape I had somebody I could mention those things to who actually cared. So me and you had a lot of talks about stuff like that. The job I had before working at Headscape, they had bought me into do a specific job and I was working there for about eight months and I wasn’t doing any of the things that we had discussed but I was going to be doing. Set in in a meeting and told them I was very happy and these are the things I want to be doing and I’m paraphrasing slightly but they basically said, ‘Sorry you’re not doing the things that you want to be doing but I don’t really care because I need you to do the things I’ve given you to do’. So I left.

I’ve always prescribed to the idea that if you’re not happy you have the power to change what you’re doing. And don’t be scared of doing that. My wife is a great example of that. She spent four years studying to be a midwife and did the job for a year. She enjoyed the job but they are treated so poorly and there are so many midwives out there that are so unhappy. And she was unhappy with time away from the kids and nights and weekends and everything else that goes with being a midwife, there was all the stress of the job but none of the reward from it because they just took every bit of your passion, it ate away at it.

So I just said, well stop. Why did you look at doing health visiting in a year or two, which is a progression on from midwifery. Don’t feel bad about leaving it, you don’t have to do that job if you’re not happy. And I’ve given the device lots of people because at the end of the day, is really cheesy to say this but there was a speech that Jim Carey was giving at a university and he said you can fail doing something you hate so you might as well take a chance at doing something you love. And I thought that’s really cool, it was only a year or two ago, I’ve always thought like that before.

I remember ringing you up, I remember exactly where I was when I rang you up and said I want to leave Headscape to go freelance. I had one client lined up, a month’s wage in the bank, Michelle was pregnant with Jack and I had two mortgages, and most of the advice from my family was that I’ve got a job, and income, a baby on the way. But I wanted to do it. And I believed that I could do it and I have done for the last few years. There have been some hard patches, it’s not easy but I’ve been more fulfilled.

Paul: That’s the key isn’t it, doing something that fulfils you.

Ryan: I run an agency and a need people to work for me now and work on the projects that I’m getting in. So occasionally there’s going to be things that they are not that keen working on. That’s the work that I brought in as an agency. But when you work for somebody to do what you’re told, and I’m never been good at doing what I’m told.

Paul: We noticed.

Ryan: I would do it, I always did why need to do.

Paul: I’m just teasing you Ryan.

Ryan: I just know where I want to be.

Paul: I totally agree with this mantra of, if you are not happy, change it. Change your circumstances. Because you can do. Not everybody in every situation everywhere, but in our industry there is no reason why you have to stay in a job you don’t like. There are other alternatives to you.

I have a re-occurring reminder in my getting things done obsessional compulsive system that says every six months, are you happy doing your job? It used to say, do you still want to stay at Headscape? But I’ve changed it now. I imagine that the fact that I had that in my task list probably really would have worried them, I don’t know? Marcus did I ever tell you I had that?

Marcus: Yes you did.

Paul: And the 13 years the answer every six months was yes, I am happy. Well happy-ish. But Marcus you faced a similar kind of decision when I left Headscape didn’t you? You faced a similar question – is this something I want to carry on doing?

Marcus: Yes, it didn’t take long. It took about five minutes really for me to think.

Paul: Yes I remember, I was quite insulted really.

Marcus: We said years and years ago that if one of us was going to leave, we’d jack it in.

Paul: I was very disappointed you didn’t honour that.

Marcus: Paul said, for various reasons at the time but one of the main reasons why I didn’t feel like I was insulting you with that decision Paul, was because you had been doing your own thing for a long time anyway. That’s not to say you didn’t work on Headscape, you of course you did, but you had made a channel for yourself and the logical conclusion of that was to go and do it on your own. So that shouldn’t then therefore mean that Headscape should stop. We’ve got a great bunch of people whose children we were feeding, to go back to the earlier point. I just felt that the bad year we had had in 2014, and the sounds really crass but a lot of it was down to bad luck and I wanted to prove that.

Paul: Which you have.

Marcus: Which we have and now we’re in the situation at the moment now where it’s kind of like, its mad panic at the moment. We’ve gone complete full-circle background to how on earth are we going to get all this work done?

Ryan: It’s never steady is it? It’s never steady work, it’s always peaks and troughs.

Marcus: It isn’t. I had a quick chat with Chris the other day where we seriously talked about should we be advertising for new people. We don’t know. That’s the answer to that is we don’t want to get into another situation where we were before. So we will be very, very careful about making those decisions again. It was the right decision to carry on doing it and I’m sure I could find another job but using what you just said Paul about that if you’re in this industry there are plenty of other people you can go and work for, yes okay if you’ve got coding skills or whatever but I am a bit long in the tooth and I have for want of a better term, managerial skills I suppose so that’s not so easy to walk in something else. So for me it was a case of what would I do? I really enjoy working with Chris, I really enjoy working with the guys in the team so it made sense to give it another bash.

Paul: I would disagree with you mind, I think you could easily walk into another job Marcus but I think the problem is as Ryan said earlier, you’d be working for someone else. I think it would be quite hard to do that now.

Marcus: It would. But I’m not as unemployable as you are Paul.

Paul: Oh no, I’m hopeless. No one would ever employ me ever.

Ryan: I think with me is that now that I’ve started No Divide, I’m not at the end of the road but at the point where I am no longer reliant on anybody else to make me happy. When you work for other people if you’re not getting the right projects we don’t really like your boss, you are unhappy. But now that I am the boss and I’m now getting the projects and there’s no one else to answer to no one else to blame but myself, when you’re at that point if you are unhappy you need to look at what you are doing wrong. It’s almost like looking in at yourselves and ask yourself if you are unhappy and you getting the work in no one else is making you unhappy is just you. So it’s just been better for me.

Obviously there is Dan is not just me running the company, there is Dan as well which is nice because he’s my safety net.

Paul: And that brings me nicely onto your experience because obviously before No Divide, you are working freelance by yourself. So in a sense you were in exactly the position you described then as you are now but you weren’t happy or you didn’t come across as happy then as you are coming across now with No Divide. Why was that do you think? What was it about freelancing that didn’t suit you as well?

Ryan: It was a culmination of things. It wasn’t just the freelancing, it was some personal things as well. Michelle was a university for a long time so she wasn’t working so I was the single breadwinner for the family so that was a lot of pressure. It’s the same thing that agencies face. You get a spike of so much work that it’s killing you, to dips where you are quiet for a couple of months new get scared because you are the only income coming in. It was 2014, the last six months of 2014. Dan and I were pretty much exclusively working together as freelancers and he was going through a rough patch and not feeling particularly creative or inspired about anything and is just going through the motions. And I was feeling the same way. And there was dribs and drabs of work coming in, big projects would run over and you know what that’s like when it runs over and you’re stuck in this, you’ve got to get it done you need to take on more work on. And all of this was happening to both of us. We were just propping each other up, trying to motivate each other to get through. And it got to August 2014 and I was on holiday with the family, that’s what I needed, I need the break and spend time with my family. I think I inspired my dad as he had been working in the same job in IT for a long time. I’d started my business and I think he thought that he’d had enough, working for the people and he started his own business and they are doing well, so I am really happy for him. So it was interesting talking to him about things I was unhappy about.

We were on holiday, in Center Parcs that I sent Dan a motivating text ‘Come on lad, we can get through this. United we stand, divided we fall.’ Twenty minutes later I said we should sack all this off and start an agency and call it No Divide.

And he went, ‘I like that. We’ll talk about it when you get back.’

And that’s where it started. By November we’d started the company and at that time it was not much different from what we were doing freelancing. We just didn’t have to invoice each other, but it felt different because…

Paul: Because. Go on what is the because there? That’s what I want to get at. Why did that work so much better than the freelancing did?

Ryan: You know when you’ve been in a relationship for a long time and then you get married, it’s no different, you’ve signed a bit of paper and you’re wearing a wedding ring but technically it’s no different. You still live in the same house you are living in but it feels different. The post starts coming through and it says Mr and Mrs Boag or Mr and Mrs Taylor. It’s just feels different, you’ve got that unity and commitment. You back each other up, you’re a partnership. I can’t really put my finger on it but it does feel different and it felt like that when we teamed up. I had that backup, there was someone else involved.

Paul: It is United we stand, divided we fall.

Ryan: Exactly and we just felt strongly that we were in this together. If we were going down, we were going down together. And if we were going up we are going up together. It’s 50–50. I think the hardest thing to be honest is finding someone you trust that much. That’s the hard thing because I think so many businesses must fail because they are partnered with the wrong people. I trust Dan to make decisions on my behalf. I trust Dan to make decisions for my family’s behalf. If I go on holiday for a month I know when I get back he would have made the right decisions for me. The decisions that might affect what I’m doing for the next six months. And vice versa.

Paul: It’s a huge thing. It is like getting married in many ways.

Ryan: Yes it is. And as I say he fills a lot of skill gaps that I have and vice versa, so the pressure and business side of stuff, I always joke that is not allowed anywhere near our Freeagent as I saw his accounts when we were freelancing and asked ‘How much money have you got?’ And he had no idea. Subtlety to stay away from No Divide’s Freeagent. Not even letting him login. I handle all that stuff.

Marcus: Sounds familiar to me.

Ryan: He just trusts me to do all that stuff. And vice versa, I trust him to do the stuff that I’m not very good at. That’s a big relief because when you are on your own you’ve got to do all of that yourself regardless whether you are any good at it.

Paul: Yes. Because I’ve gone the other way of course. Of having 13 years of that safety net of those two people that I trusted implicitly to prop me up and fill in the gaps in my knowledge and all the rest of it and I can totally associate with what you are saying. There are obviously flipside to it for me, because one of the things I am loving about freelance is not having all those mouths to feed. And not having to worry about being responsible for my partners in the business. But at the same time it is a much lonelier experience isn’t it?

Ryan: Yes.

Marcus: Don’t know, and comment.

Paul: No, because you’ve always worked with someone else haven’t you?

Marcus: Always. I’m not sure I’d like it. I worry about you Paul.

Paul: Do you?

Marcus: Yes.

Paul: Aww. You don’t need to. I’m having a whale of a time, Marcus. I’ll come grovelling back if I need to, on my hands and knees and say can I work for you please sir? And you can say no.

Marcus: I’d just say you are unemployable Paul.

Paul: This is a very good point.

Ryan: Can we see examples of your work?

Paul: I tried to apply for one of your jobs didn’t I, in Slack. It didn’t go very well.

Ryan: You couldn’t even send me a portfolio, to be fair you couldn’t even tell me what you actually did.

Paul: No I couldn’t do that.

Ryan: We’ve got to developers now as well and they are really good, talented guys. Of course I am going to say that but it’s been just such a nice thing, having people to bounce ideas off. Problems that we would have spent a couple of hours trying to figure out on your own you can ask if others have seen this before. And you resolve it in a fifth of the time. That’s been something that I’ve never felt like have had before.

When I worked at Headscape I was working on the Get Sign off stuff and then I did a bit of design and dev work just before leaving. I wasn’t with you very long really. I never got in trench in the team of seven people on a big project with you guys. I always worked on my own, even when I worked with other people prior to Headscape, I worked on my own. So last year has been the first time that I’ve really used Git to its full potential. The collaboration stuff on GitHub, I’ve never really needed in the past. It’s usually just me. But now we are actually collaborating properly and doing it all the way. Last year’s winner first time I’ve had this opportunity, to see how other people work and collaborate on coding and things like that. I’ve learnt a lot in the last year really.

Paul: Outside of Dev stuff, what have you learnt from running an agency? What have you realised?

Ryan: You can’t run an agency on your own. It’s not a one-man job. Not if you’ve got any kind of scale. You just drive yourself crazy. We’ve got nine different clients pinging us on a weekly basis and you just need people, you need a team. You know when that says too many managers and not enough employees…

Paul: Everybody says that until you become a manager and you realise.

Ryan: I think you got to learn that from experience. I think the other thing as well is that you respect what the management layer does, when you’ve tried to do it all on your own. I think when I was freelance even when Dan and I were talking about seven months ago, we were talking about it and because I was doing everything Dan was more like ‘But what would they do?’ And my answer was, all the stuff you don’t see me doing.

But even then when it came to writing it down it was, what are they going to do? It was stuff that I done automatically because I’d always been doing it. But as we grew and the volume of administrative stuff and project management stuff that I was doing was growing with it, I was just doing less and less development. Even though I need to be doing development. I just had no time and was getting even more stressed. So we changed it and we hired project managers.

Paul: There are aspects of No Divide that have taken away things that I always very much associated with you. So for example, you are saying how Dan does a lot of the promotional stuff now. There was a time when you were writing for .NET magazine and you out every conference interacting with the community. And it feels like Dan is doing all that stuff now. Do you feel you’ve lost something there or a you okay about that?

Ryan: I miss the stuff we used to do on Boagworld. I do miss that. Writing is something I’ve always found hard, I’ve always been more of a talker. I’ve spoken one event not really done any conference speaking or anything like that. I don’t really know how I feel about that, I think be more at home doing workshops, teaching. And particular tutorials on teaching and mentoring and those kinds of things. I don’t been good standing in front of a load of people and saying, this is what I think and I don’t care about your opinion because you’re the audience and you can’t speak.

Paul: Well I find that very natural.

Ryan: Well I’m not like that, everything’s been more like ‘I think this, so let’s have a discussion about it’. And you can’t do that on stage. But Dan is very good at that. Is more been out of necessity that he’s taken the role because speaking and showing stuff is harder for developers to do that I think.

Paul: It is harder yes.

Ryan: The designers go and show, this is what I think and this is all my design work. Developers go, here is what I think and here is my code. Oh are you bored? It doesn’t work as easily for developers although there are some developers do it really well. But it’s an easier thing to get into as a designer. And Dan’s doing what’s you did for Headscape. I would like to do more of it. We were doing a little video podcast thing that was on a while back and Dan was doing a ‘Lets talk Design’ thing got a little bit busier now and not had time to put more energy into that. But we’re hoping to get back into that as well as we expand and get the extra people in and we can free up more about time to do those things.

It’s a weird thing think every agency would struggle with it. How’d you find that time and balancing act between paid and nonpaid work. I class that as marketing, marketing investment and that should give you a return on investment to give you leads. Whereas it’s hard to invest your time and money into that at the expense of turning away more work that is currently knocking on your door.

Paul: In my mind that’s where it comes down to your charge out rate. If you’ve got so much work where you’re in a situation are going to have to start turning away then you need to increase your rate. And that increase in the rate also frees up potential profit margins that you can then spend back in your marketing. For me, that’s what I did when I started off just by myself. I just took the rate that I had been charging at Headscape and then essentially I kept pushing that up until the amount of work levelled off. Because that’s the alternative isn’t it. You’ve got two ways you can run an agency. Either you can go, we’ve got really busy so we are going to hire more people to enable us to do more work or alternatively push your rate up to the point where you’re not so busy any more.

Ryan: And freeze out an entire layer of potential clients.

Paul: Yes, which it does but maybe that’s okay? There is no right or wrong answer is there, it’s just personal preference to how you want to work.

Do you think that this is it now? I thought when I started Headscape, that that was it now. This would be me until retirement. I thought that for the vast majority of time. Can you imagine life post No Divide?

Ryan: Not at the minute no. I can’t think what else I could pursue what else I would want to do that I can’t currently do from No Divide. I am co-captain of my ownership at the moment, he’s quiet as I keep him in the hold.

Paul: He does what you tell him I imagine.

Ryan: Yes exactly. We are branching out a little bit this year because were developing our own app so we’ve got some funding to actually build our own app. So we are planning that at the minute and development is going to start in February.

Paul: Can I ask how you funded that?

Ryan: Ourselves. We got a business loan. We had put a business plan together and do market research and all that sort of stuff which was again a new learning curve, going through that process. But yes we are hoping to get more into doing our own applications as well.

Paul: That would be an interesting direction. You’re not going to turn into 37 signals are you and just give up client work?

Ryan: It would be nice wouldn’t it.

Paul: Would you like to do that?

Ryan: Nothing beats working on your own stuff does it, but we get some really interesting client work as well through that. Things that we want to build. The applications we built for our clients, has built us really good relationships with the client and so have had ongoing work and so we feel invested in those apps as well. Because that opens up doors into areas that you won’t have explored yourself, you wouldn’t build an app for something that you have no involvement in. One of our clients is basically an e-commerce site but it’s got a full spoke app and it’s a serviced site that you subscribe to and you download products. The area that they work in his all after-effects templates and stop motion graphics. That’s not an area or industry that we’re really involved with if we weren’t working with them. That’s really interesting, the challenges that they are facing and you learn a lot from client work. You learn about areas that you wouldn’t normally have explored if you weren’t working with that client.

But yes it’s going to be an interesting one. We might end up with an internal app division within the company and a client’s division.

Paul: Because I much prefer doing client work you see.

Marcus: So do I.

Paul: Everybody is different.

Marcus: I am bored rigid doing internal stuff. It would just be the same thing every day. That’s my imagination of it. I am never happier than in a workshop environment. Love that.

Ryan: See I do like meeting new people as well and when you got a blank canvas for starting a new project is really exciting. I think the things that really frustrate us is the compromises that come with the client work due to budget or client preference. It’s always hopefully good work but not necessarily as good as it could be if you had been given free rein in some ways. Whereas if it’s your own stuff you can make it as good as you want it to be. You can invest time into areas that maybe clients won’t.

It’s that old thing as well where you’ve got this launch. How much are you going to invest into taking to the next level? Is it a feature? Or are they underlying system improvements that would improve performance and reduce number of queries to the database? All that boring stuff that techies love. You can do that kind of thing when its internal.

Paul: No I understand from a development point of view.

Ryan: So at this minute at the crossroads where there are aspects of client work that I really enjoy and I don’t want to give up and there are others of internal development that I want to do. And it’s like can we do both at the same time? Or is one going to outgrow the other? It will be interesting to see.

Paul: There is one more question I want to ask as we need to wrap up soon, which is that you’ve been on quite a journey to get to where you are with No Divide. You’ve gone through pretty much every different employment option there is, within our industry. You’ve worked in-house in a large organisation, you’ve worked for a couple of agencies, you freelanced, and when you worked for Headscape you worked on a product and now you are running an agency. My question is do you think that you could have shortcut it that process to get to No Divide, would you have enjoyed No Divide as much if you had started it years back? Or do you think you need to go through those other less desirable jobs to really appreciate what you’ve got now?

Ryan: This may be an obvious answer but I think you need to go through the journey to appreciate anything you’ve currently got. I could of at 19 thought I would start an agency and call it No Divide, but would it have been a successful agency? Would I value what I have without having that agency?

I was freelancing as Havoc Inspired and I’ve incorporated that into a company and I could have hired people, in fact did hire someone for a little bit, but I didn’t really value it. If that like something I had slapped on whereas No Divide feels like an agency. Probably because I’ve got people, I’ve got minions.

Paul: Oh absolutely. There is something special about having minions.

Marcus: They love being called minions as well.

Paul: They do, yes.

Ryan: I call the minions all the time. I think I am quite protective of the people working for me and making sure they are okay and everything else, but I think I am more that way because of the cost of the journey I went through. Because I have had some rubbish bosses and I have done some shit work for clients and worked on crap projects. I will ask ‘We’ve got this potential client, I think it would be quite interesting, this is something you would be interested in, it is something you would like to work on for the next six months?’ Because if they are dead against it something else would come along and rather do that instead. I’d rather have happy employees than just saying, ‘Oh that’s a 20 grand project, you’re doing it, get on with it, lump it. Are you happy? I don’t care.’ I don’t want to be that person.

Paul: And to be honest I don’t think that’s good business sense anyway. Because you haemorrhage good people that way and you end up becoming a factory which is not only not fun for your employees, is not fun for you either. It’s not satisfying to be a factory either just churning out websites. Nobody really wants to do that.

Ryan: So I’d rather have a small group of happy people who might come and go but would stick with us because the work is interesting and the pay is competitive and the opportunities are good, and have that is my focus than taking projects on a monetary basis. It makes everybody miserable, that is not my drive. It’s making sure that everybody is enjoying what they are doing and getting the best out of everybody, and getting the best out of me as well.

Paul: Yes, making it a lifestyle business again. It comes back to what we’ve always tried to do with Headscape.

Ryan: It’s challenging. It’s hard but I think the question is would I ever have had this attitude if I hadn’t have gone through that journey, and I don’t think I would have done.

Paul: I have to say, you talk about having a series of bad bosses and my experience is very much the same. I had one boss that was arrested for having child porn on his computer, had another one that was done for VAT and went to prison for that, I had another one who was nice and so died of a heart attack because of the stress of the job, add another one who is basically a public school bully and so I just had this endless stream of bosses. I have to say the entire way that I’ve managed Headscape, and most of those bosses Chris and Marcus have endured as well, I think those bad experiences have informed how we ran Headscape.

Ryan: As much as I wasn’t settled at Headscape, you guys were the best bosses I had ever had.

Paul: Well on that, we shall end.

Ryan: I’ve actually got a story of me quitting a job because I worked at Boagworld if you want to hear it.

Paul: Oh go on.

Ryan: I worked at the college— I don’t mind telling the story because it years ago and he’s probably dead now anyway— there was me and this other guy, my boss and we had two desks facing each other. The podcast used to get released on a schedule. It would launch in the middle of the afternoon or something like that. If it was launched in the middle of an afternoon he was keeping an eye on it and he said ‘You’ve just launched Boagworld podcast.’

And I said ‘No I haven’t.’

And he went ‘You have. It’s launched now – it’s just been released’.

I explained ‘It’s automated’.

And then he started monitoring me more, if I wrote a blog post, if I wrote a tweet, all of this top to the point where I went on holiday for two weeks and he was on holiday for two weeks straight after mine so it was like a month of not seeing each other. When I got back from my holiday he had turned the desk around so it was facing the wall so he could sit behind me and look over my shoulder and see what I’m doing. So by the time he got back after two weeks my notice was on his desk. So at the cost of Boagworld, I packed that job in.

Paul: Good man.

Ryan: So that’s the kind of crappy bosses I’ve had.

Paul: I tell you, we could do a whole episode just on sharing crappy boss stories. Marcus and I have got some great ones from the Town Pages days. Haven’t we Marcus?

Marcus: Yes, but I’m not sure half of that stuff could ever be broadcast.

Paul: No we would probably leave ourselves way open for prosecution.

So we will leave it… Well you ruined it really.

Ryan: No, you were the two best bosses I had ever had.

Marcus: And again.

[Music]

Paul: Let’s talk about our second sponsor which has already been mentioned in the show by Ryan. This is the product that Dan is not allowed to touch. Our next sponsor is Freeagent.

Freeagent are amazing. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today without Freeagent. The hardest part of dealing with freelancing or running an agency or whatever is dealing with your finances. I’m sorry Marcus but I probably wouldn’t have left Headscape if it wasn’t for Freeagent. I was just so intimidated by the financial side of things.

Marcus: I still am. I don’t know anything about it. What is it? I don’t know.

Paul: Exactly and Chris uses his Excel spreadsheets and all of these complicated diagrams or charts that I don’t understand. Well, Freeagent gives me a nice little interface I could work with. So I am a huge fan. They make it so easy and in fact I am so big a fan I have just written a chapter in their e-book they’ve just released called ‘The Field Guide to Freelancing’. And I share in that, five numbers that I track on my business in order to make sure it’s healthy and I am not screwing it up. So there were five numbers that give me peace of mind because I am a real worrier about money. I bet you’re a worry about money as well aren’t you Ryan?

Ryan: Yes. Do you want to get into it? That’s a whole other new podcast.

Marcus: We probably shouldn’t.

Paul: No we won’t. I don’t know how Ryan feels but I certainly feel that Freeagent makes you feel in control of it, like you know what’s going on which is great. So we could be talking a lot more about freelancing over the coming weeks as they are going to be doing a lot of slots on the show but for now I’d just recommend that you get a copy of the Field Guide that I just mentioned, the one that I’ve just written a chapter for. It’s absolutely free and whether you use Freeagent or not, it’s irrelevant. There’s loads of useful stuff, for example my chapter really applies to whatever software you use. Is got some other really great chapters in there including one from Anna Debenham that we talked about earlier at the 100th Boagworld.

Marcus: It’s a small world.

Paul: I think she’s written to chapters actually. So go to Boagworld.com/fieldguide and get your free copy of that absolutely worth reading.

Right, joke time. Ryan, do you remember this? Good old jokes. Still doing them.

Ryan: Surely you’ve run out of jokes now, there’s been so many podcasts.

Marcus: I am going back to old shows Ryan and digging out old ones.

This one is very short and sweet.

‘Statistically, 6 out of 7 dwarves are not happy.’

[Laughs]

Paul: That’s actually quite good, I like that. So Ryan, thank you so much for coming in and joining us on the show. Wonderful as always and it’s been good to catch up.

Ryan: I don’t know how much value there is it just felt like we were having a catch up publicly.

Paul: Well yes but there’s been some good stuff in there as well. The whole thing about don’t stay in a job in not enjoying and the pros and cons of running an agency rather than being freelance and you can’t shortcut the process of finding your bliss. I think there’s some good stuff in there.

Anyway next week we are being joined by Jon Hicks and we going to compare the experience of working in-house with working on your own and what really does it for him. He is currently in-house, or is he? I don’t know, he ping-pongs between the two. It is hard to keep up. We’ll find out next week so join us then and until then thanks for listening.

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