James Mead by James Mead

Week 210

During the first half of the week we made a concerted effort to distill our combined thoughts into a set of goals for the company for the coming year. As with any task that requires us to reach a consensus, this process has been hard work; not because we all disagree with each other, but more because we’re all too nice to take too much of a lead for fear of trampling over the thoughts of others.

Kangchenjunga 8598m

It’s easy to be cynical about the ability of a leaderless, self-organising team to achieve great things, but recently I’ve been reading Peter Boardman’s account of climbing Kangchenjunga and it’s striking how this leaderless team of 4 experienced mountaineers have to continually reach consensus on what to do next; and how much they value critical discussion with their peers, despite very pressing timescales.

Anyway, without further ado, these are the goals for Go Free Range for 2013:

Operating profit target

This is mainly so we can keep paying ourselves at the same level without ending up with less money in the bank at the end of the year. We slightly took our eyes off the ball on this last year.

Total revenue target

We need a certain level of revenue in order to cover our fixed costs, salary, etc, and make the operating profit target. However, we’ve decided to target a higher level of revenue in order to encourage ourselves to bring extra money through the company, without necessarily making a profit on it. We hope to achieve this by exploring new avenues of work e.g. combining forces with a freelance designer, selling electronic kits, etc. But we also hope it will act as an incentive to spend money speculatively in order to make money e.g. spending on advertising or marketing of our own products.


We’d like to collaborate with people outside GFR, particularly in areas where we’re missing skills or knowledge (e.g. design, user-experience, marketing, project management). We’d like to do this on at least one client project and on one of our own internal projects.

Products and services

Get at least 3 of our own products out of the door. We’d consider a product to be anything we might want to produce and market, such as a training course, a service (e.g. code reviews, development boosts) or a traditional app. The only real constraint is that GFR has some form of ownership. Printer and Harmonia were examples of these from last year.

Company manual

We’re going to aim to document how we develop software and why we do it the way we do. The intention is to enhance our shared understanding to improve our effectiveness as a team and so that we can more clearly articulate this shared understanding to people outside GFR.

I should mention that Chris & Tom did some sterling work on building a spreadsheet to help us come up with suitable numbers for our two financial targets.

I’m happy that this set of goals will give us a decent framework which we can use to guide our smaller decisions and give us a clear sense of direction for the coming year. Along with agreeing these goals, we’ve also agreed that they should form the working agenda for our weekly company meetings. Last year we didn’t do a good job of maintaining focus on our more strategic goals, so the idea is that doing this will keep us on the straight and narrow.

Straight & Narrow

Remote working

James A completed a text-book Marylebone1 slingshot manoeuvre on his way from Austin to Aberdeen earlier in the week and so at least we were all back in the same time zone, if not the same office.

On this front, we’ve decided to make a conscious effort in the coming months to improve our ability to work remotely. Given my horrible commute into London from Oxford, this was already something close to my heart, but the fact that James A is planning on spending more time in the US this year makes improvement on this front a no-brainer.

We often use group Skype calls to stay in touch, but we’ve found the audio quality on these calls is often lacking when using the built-in MacBook Air microphones, so we thought we’d try out a good quality omni-directional microphone in the office to see if it improved matters. To this end this week we took delivery of a Snowball microphone. James A & I did some initial testing on Friday morning, but the real test will be when we’re in our usual positions at opposite ends of the sofa muttering into our beards.

We have other ideas on how we might improve our remote working, but it feels good to have made a start.

Ruby Manor 4.0

Ruby Manor

On Wednesday, the Ruby Manor 4 conference was announced and all the tickets sold out within 12 hours. Despite James A’s misgivings, I think this is a real credit to the organisers, James A, Murray Steele & Tom Stuart, and to the ethos behind the conference. I thought the bird-themed ticket types2 were a particularly nice touch. The idea of the Ruby community being able to shape its own conference is a powerful one and, especially now that proposers are anonymous, I hope a lot of unusual suspects will submit a talk proposal.

Collaborative tools

There’s been some discussion internally about whether we should try using something like Google Groups as Collaborative Inbox to help us ensure that all legitimate incoming emails addressed to the company are handled promptly.

In the past, we’ve tried using Highrise and Sauron to help solve this problem. Harmonia now has functionality to convert an email into a task and we have used that from time to time. Otherwise, we tend to just use our personal inboxes and a policy of CC-ing the team when replying, together with a bit of “hand-shaking” on Campfire to avoid duplication.

We’d be interested to hear whether anyone’s using the Google Groups Collaborative Inbox and what you think of it. Or does anyone have alternative suggestions?


This week we’ve also taken delivery of a projector and an Apple TV. We think these will be a useful facility to have in the office e.g. for prospective clients who want to present stuff, for us do demo software to clients, to watch videos of conference talks, maybe to run our own courses, and for Tom to watch the latest film releases.

We’ve had a steady stream of prospective clients visiting us at GFR HQ. It’s great that there’s so much interest in our services and interesting to hear about such a variety of projects and ideas, but it can get pretty time-consuming chatting to every possible lead. I suspect we may have to consider doing some pre-filtering of leads before agreeing to meet in person. Anyway, it’s a nice position to be in!

On Thursday, Berg announced that they are open-sourcing all their Little Printer “publications”. We think this is great news and look forward to seeing what other apps people come up with.

walk in the park

On Friday, Chris headed off to the Alps for a long weekend of skiing. As far as I can tell, conditions have been pretty good, so I hope he had a good time. I’m sure he’ll be back in the office bright-eyed and bushy tailed on Tuesday morning!

Until next time,

– James M.

  1. the well-known moon of London 

  2. a reference to Ticketgate 

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