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Sideways Looks #17: I'm Rebranding, also Berlin

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

Hello,

Somewhat quicker newsletter this week. Am writing this on a flight to Berlin, where I will spend the next two weeks learning German and exploring. Recommendations welcome. The short version of this week’s big news: I am doing a preliminary launch of a new venture called The Data Skills Consultancy. I’ve published an exciting new website, and started accompanying LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok accounts. Please do give them a follow as:

  • More followers will make them more effective as social media pages, and also

  • Over the next few weeks and months I plan to create a portfolio of creative data projects and training courses, and those pages are where you’ll get to see all that.


As always, input and ideas welcome via email or this form. Auf wiedersehen, Oliver

 

Thought for the Week: What to call a company

 

I went freelance mostly as an experiment. Or rather, a series of experiments, exploring ways of working I’ve not experienced before. I didn’t have one clear thing I wanted to do. I’ve got various disparate interests and (I hope) skills, and wanted to see how I could combine them. Most of my interests are digital/data related, but I want to keep doors open to other opportunities, such as public speaking coaching, or project management, or the Future of Work. So what to call my new company? Having an overly specific name, I felt, risked closing off some avenues. I also didn’t want to go down the route of a generic or made-up word (like Apple, Amazon, or Microsoft); I found it really hard to judge how a single word would land with audiences, and it just felt like trying to ape Silicon Valley. It is often said that companies don’t sell products, they create experiences. Or as I heard it expressed on the absolutely bizarre CNN show Quest Means Business, ‘Papa John’s doesn’t sell pizza it sells the experience of convenience.’ That all sounds a marketing mumbo-jumbo; but it does help focus the mind on how to present oneself. For me, the experience I wanted to convey was confidence, calmness, and bespoke support. I didn’t want to sound like some high-tech high-spec innovation firm; I wanted a sense that customers could expect patient help from a human, to deal with confidence issues around data, or public speaking, or whatever. As I was expecting to aim mostly for the public sector, I also wanted to convey a sense of reliability rather than risk-taking. So I settled on Marsh Martin Research & Consultancy (Marsh is my dad’s surname, Martin is my mum’s). When I tested it on people they generally responded along the lines of ‘sounds like you’ve been around since the 1950s’ or ‘got a bit of a tailor vibe to it’ – which was, basically, the sort of gut reaction I was hoping for. So that’s the name I have registered on Companies House, and my parents and grandmother bought me a lovely engraved pen and holder with that name on. I still like that name, and still use it for applications. However for the next step in the experiment, I want to branch out beyond searching for contracts and into proactively convincing people they need my services. As I was trying to build social media pages and adverts and suchlike, I kept hitting a problem – I needed to use (limited) space to introduce the basics of what Marsh Martin Research & Consultancy actually does. The name, by design, doesn’t contain that information. Years ago I used to regularly get a train – I think it may have been to Manchester – which passed a warehouse of (if I remember correctly) ‘The Box Company’. Its tagline, blazoned above its warehouse, was “we sell boxes”. But to be honest, even that tagline was possibly redundant. If I got an email from some@TheBoxCompany, I’d have a pretty good idea what they did just from the address. I wanted a name like that. Coming up with something out of thin air can be hard; but sometimes ideas are waiting to be found. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS), my former employer, recently released a report called ‘Quantifying the Data Skills Gap’. It outlines the problem facing current and future businesses in the UK, if we don’t improve access to basic skills of data collection, analysis, and communication. A lot of what drives me is a passion for helping people get better and confident at useful skills, so this report really appealed to me. As did the simple term ‘Data Skills’, and the potential that maybe this will become more of a buzzword in the future. And so I started The Data Skills Consultancy. Practically speaking, I’m greatly helped by UK law allowing you to run one company but trade under multiple different names. That means I don’t have to keep setting up new limited companies. (It does mean someone else could register the name; but then again, I already have the web domain names, site, and social media pages). So Marsh Martin Research & Consultancy can stay as the broad, reassuring, umbrella; but for now I'm focussing on getting the more focussed Data Skills Consultancy out into the world. To finish with a nice coda to this latest stage of freelancing. The last week or so – making the website, learning some design principles, researching ways to get Google hits, making business cards – has been the kind of experience I hoped for from freelancing. It’s the chance to create a whole system, however small, rather than be one cog in a much bigger machine. Sure, everything takes so much longer; but it’s interesting. And fun. Now let’s see if it gets any business.


 

Fun Fact about: Japanese Email

 

When Dominic Cummings put himself in charge of all UK government political advisors (‘Spads’) he apparently insisted they read two books. The first – Superforecasting – has been referenced in these newsletters multiple times already (it’s good). I’ve just started the other, High Output Management by Andrew Groves the former CEO of Intel. I have mixed feelings about Cummings, but I will say his recommendations seem pretty good. This is a particularly interesting book for ‘middle managers’, rather than CEOs – less about how to run a whole company, more about how to get the most from a more limited domain. I may write more about High Output Management another time. For now I just wanted to share this little fun claim by Grove about the invention of email (bearing in mind it was written in 1983). He takes up the story shortly after Japanese companies have crowded Intel out of computer memory storage devices: One explanation advanced for [Japanese companies’] ability to act quickly and decisively was the way Japanese offices were set up. In a Japanese office, a manager and his subordinates all sit around a big long table ... So information is exchanged in minutes and everybody can be reached with the same effort. As a result, because of the ease with which Japanese office workers communicate, they have, in fact, been slow to embrace electronic mail … As businesses become more widely spread out around the globe and as time becomes the key competitive weapon, American organizations are often better positioned than their Japanese counterparts. Why? Because the same ease of communication that prevailed by natural means in the Japanese office now effectively travels around the world through electronic means.

 

Recommendations

 

This podcast – about a clothes rental startup called Hurr - was very interesting about both sustainable business and the potential future of fashion. This blog about freelancing in tech-related work really spoke to me, particularly how long it can feel like things are taking. Hopefully also of interest to those of you not freelancing in tech-related work. Finally, as I have now arrived in Berlin, here is a piece about the Berlin tech scene and its fights with government. And, as I prep myself for two weeks of German lessons, here is a collection of extremely long German words.

 

Thanks for reading. Please do let me know your thoughts via this short poll.

 

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