Last night I was treated to dinner with the founder of RedBalloon, where I work, to celebrate five years as a RedBallooner.
My boss, his wife and my Very Important Person got to come too. It was incredibly special and for much of the evening I found myself lost for words, which as the sales guy, is unusual. I have been on the payroll for someone else for the last 18 years and never before have I experienced such acknowledgement and feeling of belonging. Never before have a been recognised by an employer like that. This afternoon I was daydreaming, thinking about why I felt such a belonging.
Technically my anniversary was back in June, but to get everyone’s diaries to work we had had to wait for a few weeks. There was a commitment to having us all there together for a start.
Secondly there has always been a real interest from the business I work for in who I am. I’ve had my job (in the trendy HR jargon) sculpted around my strengths and interests. I’ve been given the flexibility to pursue extra-curriculaur activities such as charity work and entrepreneurial endeavours. I’ve been managed in a way that keeps me honest and gives me the freedom to be myself, experiment and screw up from time to time without any fear.
Thirdly it is love and respect that I get to feel everyday being part of team of people committed a specific purpose all under one roof. It really does feel like home away from home every time I walk through the door or if working remotely when I log in a read the latest post on our internal blog. I am connected.
Feeling like I belong at work has had such an huge influence on my decision to stay in Australia. I moved here five and a bit years ago knowing about three-quarters of a person, walked into a new workplace and was living in a hotel for a month. For a long time there wasn’t a Very Important Person that gave me someone to stay for. For a long time I didn’t have a home to call my own that gave me a foundation. For a long time my social network had very little depth. Being made to feel like I belong and was valued at work gave me a reason to focus on developing the other areas of my life; a platform for growth and achievement, the impetus to buy a home, create a solid social network away from the UK, to look for something more in a date than the next fancy dinner and a bit of fun.
My feelings of cloud 9 over the last 24 hours got me to thinking about the responsibility that employers have, given we spend at least 25% of each week working, to create a foundation strong enough to hold us up when other things might not be working so well. We can’t always rely on home, friends or partners and family to be the most solid thing that we have in our lives.
Working in the employee engagement space I am often asked to quantify the value and return on investment of the programs I recommend and design. Sure we can correlate engagement to business performance, the achievement of KPIs, revenue and profit. The business case for the HRD, CFO and CEO is important and necessary to get stuff ‘over-the-line’ commercially. There is however a higher and perhaps unquantifiable outcome of having engaged employees and that is the impact on the wellbeing and greater happiness of the people that we employ. Being an employer comes with unwritten responsibilities that we can choose to step-up to and deliver or not. My reckoning is that the employers, the leaders that really get this and act on it will be the ones that attract the best people and achieve the best outcomes in the future.
We all have a choice about where we live, who we work for, who we are friends with and who we love. Who, where and what we chose depends on whether we feel at home and truly belong.
Last Friday I was in court, as the defendant. The matter related to an invoice for $1500 sent to me by a web developer whom I had got in to do some work during the final weeks of cookandkitchen. I had been refusing to pay the invoice since last November as the worked we had briefed had not been delivered.
The plaintiff cited the previous web development agency’s poor workmanship and technical complexity as the reason for non-delivery within the original estimated time.
I, as defendant, saw the issue as a straight we agreed X, you quoted Y and then failed to deliver X conversation.
The Assessor, or Judge, at the Civil Claims Court in Sydney used the fact that I closed down the business two days after sacking the developer as my having created a circumstance whereby it was impossible to deliver on the agreed outcomes and found me liable for 80% of the $1500 given that there was evidence of some work been done.
In this particular instance I will be contesting on the grounds that the Assessor openly admitted, when I challenged during, his closing remarks that he had failed to read all of the written evidence, submitted in the month prior to the hearing, before making his ruling. I learnt from a Barrister friend of mine about a decade ago that it’s all about procedure and detail – we’ll see whether I can get the ruling overturned in time.
The outcome of this particular case to one side (it’s $1200); I am alerted to bigger issue and a lesson learned (money well spent on life’s journey says the philospoher in me).
As far as I was concerned I was buying specific outcomes, regardless of the time required to deliver the job. Estimates for the time required had been agreed on by both sides and work commenced.
In my mind the service provider has a contractual obligation to deliver within a reasonable period of time agreed by both parties in order to get to paid. Unless interim payments are agreed upfront, payments is for the delivery of outcomes. The sacking took place after 23 days on a job estimate of 3-5 days. I figure I reasonable in my decision.
Many service providers are nervous about payment on delivery or by results as they are not sure whether what they deliver really works or they will deliver the goods. As such they are happy to bill by the hour for time spent – that spells of mediocre results at best to me.
My lesson as a client is to always agree timeframe, outcomes and penalty clauses – this will sort the wheat from the chaff. Excellent service providers will quickly rise to the top when going through any kind of selection or tender process. I want to work with achievers.
My lesson as a supplier, having recently moved into the consulting space for my day job, is to charge a fair fixed price for work to be done with clearly agreed outcomes for payment.
Any service professional can easily do a proper analysis of a brief and offer a price to satisfy and profit both parties. All will prosper in the end as clients will happily pay a premium for the security and confidence demonstrated and suppliers will win more referral based business rather than end up disputing exactly what was agreed and what there time is worth.
Rant over. Next blog will be wholly positive I promise.
My whirlwind visit to London couldn’t have been more English if it tried.
Friday lunch was in Hampstead village in the glorious spring sunshine and was closely followed by home cooked roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with plenty of gravy and my all time favourite roast parsnips. Perfect start.
The family wedding the following day was held at Addington Palace in Surry. With a colourful past that pre-dates the Domesday Book, the Palace is set in 163-acres of landscaped grounds – it was bloody cold so I didn’t venture past the back steps where the photographs were being taken.
King Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn and had a hunting lodge here before the Palace became the country retreat for six Archbishops of Canterbury; I’m not sure that you can get much English than that for a venue.
Sunday afternoon the day after the wedding finished up London with tea at The Landmark Hotel; pink champagne, crustless cucumber sandwiches, an array of delicious cakes, pastries, chocolate creme brûlée, macaroons, baby tiramisu and tartlets and finished off with a cup of the house blend tea, warm scones with clotted cram and jam.
All hail the 7th Duchess of Bedford whom in the early nineteenth century noted that she had a sinking feeling during the late afternoon (they generally only ate two meals a day then). The Duchess solved her sinking by taking tea a cakes in bedroom. The practice caught on as the Duchess invited friends to join her and moved into the drawing room. It became more and more extravagant as time went on and was taken up by the best hotels as ‘High Tea’, named after the fact it’s traditionally served at high dining tables.
Paris here we come.
Was at my cousin Jack’s wedding just outside London yesterday and the second reading went a little bit like this
Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog by Taylor Mali
First of all, it’s a big responsibility,
especially in a city like New York.
So think long and hard before deciding on love.
On the other hand, love gives you a sense of security:
when you’re walking down the street late at night
and you have a leash on love
ain’t no one going to mess with you.
Love doesn’t like being left alone for long.
But come home and love is always happy to see you.
It may break a few things accidentally in its passion for life,
but you can never be mad at love for long.
Is love good all the time?
No! No! Love can be bad. Bad, love, bad! Very bad love.
Sometimes love just wants to go for a nice long walk.
It runs you around the block and leaves you panting.
It pulls you in several different directions at once,
or winds around and around you
until you’re all wound up and can’t move.
But love makes you meet people wherever you go.
People who have nothing in common but love
stop and talk to each other on the street.
Throw things away and love will bring them back,
again, and again, and again.
But most of all, love needs love, lots of it.
And in return, love loves you and never stops.
WOW what a long time since I posted.
The wounds from the cookandkitchen experience are beginning to heal and I am now focused on the task in hand. My day job, throughout the cookandkitchen experience, is as the Engagement Consultant at RedBalloon for Corporate and I’ve decided that for the time being this is all I need to focus on along with rediscovering what it is to just cook for fun rather than with a sampling or selling hat on.
I write this blog from the lounge in Singapore airport, 12 hours in to the first holiday in two years that hasn’t involved my having a side project to the day job and I am so excited – it’s going to be a culinary whirlwind taking in London, Paris, Venice and Barcelona over the next two weeks. Watch out world eatwright is back!
But first I want to share the joy of having discovered my cocktail of choice. I have never been a fan of cocktails – always to sweet, too complicated or too expensive (for what they are) but recently I have been drinking Negronis and have seriously fallen in love.
The Negroni brings together my family history and my palette.
Family folklore has it that my mum got drunk on Gin as she went into labour with me waiting for my dad to get home from work.
My dad’s mum, Nonna Maria, is as you will have just guessed, Italian.
The combination of Gin, Campari and Martini Rosso that forms the traditional Negroni is just perfect in that it combines all both my histories in a sentimental kind of way with my preference for an in your face flavour; bitter and robust. This is in contrast to the judgement I make about most cocktails – a girlie, sugary medley that leaves you feeling more like you’ve been at a children’s birthday party that a cocktail bar.
What I have discovered in the last few months is that not everywhere stocks Martini Rosso, but that a splash of Burnt Orange Sugar Syrup (when stuck without at home), a dash of bitters or even a shot of orange juice if really strapped (Qantas lounge) works almost just as well.
I’m off to the bar – watch out for the first Paris blog next week. I’m back.
It’s been a long while since my last post. I haven’t felt like writing anything except a tirade of blame, which would have served no purpose at all, since the middle of November. Earlier this week I got a tweet from a fellow food blogger asking what had happened to cookandkitchen, so I guess it’s time to explain.
cookandkitchen.com.au has been closed since the 28th of November. I am devastated. Our team’s efforts to reengineer and rationalise the ecommerce offering that we launched in April last year have failed. The site simply wasn’t doing enough money transactions and the underlying costs were too high.
We were let down by a number of partners; deadlines were missed, creative and copy failed to deliver returns and ultimately promises were not kept, but none of that explains why the business model didn’t work.
Some six figures worth of investment has been written off and after an incredibly traumatic month of returning goods to suppliers, selling off abandoned stock and shutting down systems I feel ready to do some personal reflection.
It’s been more stressful shutting down a business and more difficult than it was setting one up. There is a part of me that wants to involve the lawyers and start going after logistics partners, web developers and marketing agencies for breach of contract, poor workmanship and lack of integrity. On reflection the emotional energy and cash flow I would need to find to make that happen versus the $30-40k that we might eventually be able to claw back simply isn’t worth it.
Over 100,000 unique visitors, 469 different products (at our peak), 13,000+ paid for clicks and seven interns later I am looking to understand why things didn’t work in the way that we expected them to.
Maybe we tried too much at once, too much too quickly, maybe the research was misplaced, was the website badly designed, the marketing missing the mark, or the product set the wrong mix? Or maybe Australian foodies just aren’t out there and ready to share and spend money online in the volumes that we needed to make our business model work.
This week I am back in Byron. Where I came over 18 months ago to write the business plan and design briefs. Walking through the farmers’ market stalls yesterday and sampling organic coffees, stuffed figs and locally produced sweet sausages I enjoyed myself around food again for the first time in months.
We will have another crack at a foodie business at some point in the future, but for the next wee while you’re just going to get me, going back to basics, where Eatwright started; recipes, reviews and ramblings about food.
The entrepreneur in me hasn’t died, he just needs a rest.
We have never been in a more interesting position at Eatwright and I am a little stuck as what to do next.
Having sacked our original development agency, web marketing agency and exhausted almost all the options on the table we a now in a very challenging position.
But as I said to Caitlin, our intern, today on the way back from an eye opening meeting with our warehouse partners; if it was easy to create a profitable business everyone would be doing it and heck we are having fun and learning a lot in the process.
The business model, systems and processes and market assumptions that we have attempted to realise are not working.
We are currently changing much of what we are doing and in the process we are uncovering cracks in systems and relationships that are unacceptable.
The question is whether there is enough money on the meter to have all the changes happen, bear fruit and get us back to somewhere we can grow from. I wouldn’t be continuing unless I thought we had at least 2:1 odds.
That is against a backdrop that over 30 percent of web development teams deliver projects late or over-budget, according to a survey commissioned by Ruby development in 2008. These findings are consistent with studies of larger IT initiatives showing failure rates of 30%-70%. WOW what a fantastic world we live in!
Sometimes selling up from Sydney, quitting the e-rat race and opening a sandwich and juice shop somewhere on the far north coast of Queensland looks seriously attractive.
Over the next 5 days we will have shrunk our warehouse footprint and product range by around 30%, completed a ‘new voice’ project and have 5 new offers out in the market place that talk to customers in a different way, reconfigured the website (both look and feel and technically), our product catalogue will be improved making it even easier for customers to find amazing and delicious products in time to serve up for the Christmas entertaining season and we will have made ourselves as lean as possible (in the last three months I have stripped out around 40% from our fixed costs and we really are running on vapour right now).
I don’t what what to do next.
The cookandkitchen website is currently down as the new men in white coats tinker under the hood, we are helpless. It’s like when you go to the dentist and they have a bright light in your eyes and a couple of steel instruments in your mouth – oooh Sir you should really get a root canal while we are polishing…. what are you meant to say to that?
There’s a team of people in India being managed by Skype by a team of people over here telling me that everything will be alright in the morning, well maybe Thursday or Friday morning….
We are almost ready with the new voice project and as of tomorrow evening everything will be ready to push live as soon as the website works again.
Australia, brace yourself we will be relentless – unsubscribe or buy. We have no choice but to play that game for the next ten weeks.
Right now I am going have a another $5 schooner and keep my fingers and toes crossed that there is an earthquake somewhere near Eastern Creek that sucks up the warehouse with no casualties and we get to the claim the whole thing on business insurance next week (joke – almost).
The one thing that I do know is that we have our integrity intact – all our supplier payments are up to date, we owe no one of our partners any cash and we have delivered our brand promise 100% for every customer we have served and have had some awesome reviews to prove it. We’ve done exactly what we said we were going to do.
I think I might buy a timer on the way home. Australia day is judgement day.