27 April 2010

What Unkie Dave did next

Another week, another rather poor showing on the whole blogging front. The more astute and/or cynically-minded amongst you might have assumed that this was because Unkie Dave was on another far flung fact-finding mission to see the world before it is inevitably destroyed by careless mendicants and other idlers jetting around intent on seeing the world before it is inevitable destroyed, and, as a result of being rather too clever by half, was waylaid by the somewhat unexpected recent volcano activity in a location or locations unknown.

Well, you would be wrong.

The simple fact of the matter is that I have been rather busy of late, working out my master plan for the coming year, or more specifically until the end of the year, 2011 just being too far in The Future(TM) for me to take seriously at this stage. This week sees the second anniversary of my departure from corporate life, and while you can take the manager out of the corporation sometimes it is hard to take the corporate out of the manager, and thus I find myself still somewhat overly fond of milestones, target dates and other key performance indicators, and just as equally prone to missing those milestones completely as I ever was in corporate life.

Sad, but true.

Thus with such a major anniversary looming I have spent the last three months imposing order upon the somewhat chaotic and haphazard approach I take to whatever approximates my professional life. For the last year or so I have been consulting, and at the end of this year I still am no closer to understanding what exactly a consultant is. Basically people seem to want to either a) ask me questions about stuff that I have a vague knowledge of, b) have me put them in touch with people much cooler than I, and/or c) take advantage of the fact that I have a rather nice collection of suits and look good standing beside them on a podium, adding a bit of gravitas to a presentation.

The fact of the matter is that none of these three present a long-term career path given that eventually my knowledge will become stale, my friendships with cool people will be strained, and my suits will slide inexorably towards the depths of Anti-Fashion (Like Anti-Matter, but in polyester), one elbow-pad away from teacher-wear. What was needed, I realised in January, is a long-term plan to stave off both the bailiffs and the fashion police, who now thanks to the recent Criminal Justice Bill can convict you solely on the word of a fashion police officer, serving or retired.

A pox on both your houses, Minister Ahern!

With that in mind the last three months have seen a veritable torrent of planning, scheming, conniving and deliberating, and now at the end of it all and as we approach the magical two year anniversary of my transformation from corporate duckling to terrified and aimless entrepreneurial swan, we now have something that approximates a plan. Roughly speaking what I am currently working on can be divided into four projects:

a) Internet Start-up A
For over a year now I have been advising an Irish internet start-up that has created an online B2B network. This has been an interesting project, from advising on the business model and construction of the web-platform itself, through to the sourcing and securing of seed capital to finance the project, and as a result of this involvement I have transitioned from being an external advisor to being an internal company Director. While this is the project that is currently the most fully formed, operational and commercially viable, ironically it is also the project that currently consumes the least of my time.

b) The Space

In January I was invited to join a group of entrepreneurs, environmentalists and educators working towards the creation of a physical space where small scale start-ups, social action groups, educators and artists could come together to work, collaborate and learn, all run along the principles of sustainable design. Part-incubator space, part-social/academic environment, the goal is to be operational by November, and the consultations and public events associated with this project have been an amazingly educational process, particularly those aspects of collaboration with the public sector and local government, areas that fascinate me but with which I had very little direct experience.

c) Knowledge Transfer
One of the unique aspects of The Space will be the provision of training programs designed to facilitate small-scale start up enterprises, individual social entrepreneurs, or anyone who is interested in the principles of sustainable design, change management, personal or professional development. The programs on offer are wide-ranging and cover a multitude of topics, and will be taught by professional educators currently involved in running Masters level programs. I've been working with these educators to create a business model around the provision of programs outside the environment of The Space, either to individuals, academic bodies or businesses, and the first of these external programs will go live in late May.

d) Internet Start-up B

I was contacted by a group of film makers who wanted to create a digital distribution platform for their body of work, and generate an ongoing source of revenue to finance future productions. As our planning sessions progressed I have become more involved with the off-line side of their business, and although it is unlikely that this will see any tangible results until the end of the year, this is actually the project that is exciting me the most at the moment, and the one about which I can currently say the least.

The ultimate goal behind all these projects is to end up with a varied portfolio of activities that each occupy a small amount of my time and individually generate a modest revenue stream, but collectively keep the metaphorical wolf from the allegorical door while leaving me with enough time on my hands to pursue other less-commercial activities, about which I will write at a later date.

The previous twenty-four months have left me with a reticence for anything that resembles full-time work, an allergy to fixed working hours, and a phobia of corporate monoculture. The next eight months will tell me whether it is possible to live a life free from such compromises, or if I need to start updating my wardrobe once again and embrace what I call 'Plan B', appearing in a series of stock photos illustrating exciting everyday business life, looking alert and attentive in energised meetings, jumping in the air high-fiving a diverse array of pretend colleagues, or simply smiling behind a laptop, giving you the confidence to hand over your credit card details to whatever organization could afford the discounted licence fee my image commands.

Seriously though, there is no Plan B.

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