team on slipway

Our 20 Year Anniversary!

On 4 September 2003, I incorporated Nuvola Ltd. That wasn’t when the company actually started trading (that happened 2 months later), but it still feels like an anniversary worth celebrating, and reflecting on what’s happened and how we’ve got here. So I make no apologies for writing quite a personal blog here.

In the summer of 2003, aged 28, I was working for a small consultancy on a large CRM project for BT. It was a weird project in that a large consultancy was running it and divvying up the work into chunks which were getting farmed out to small companies like us. This meant the politics were a nightmare. Weirdly, although, based in London I was working in Madrid, because my employer had won the contract on the basis they could ‘near-shore’ it to Spain where freelance rates were lower. The team was from the UK, Germany and Ireland so that worked well… Anyway, much as Madrid is one of my favourite cities, I had just moved in with my then-girlfriend and didn’t want to be doing an international commute. Also, I was entirely sick of the politics in big corporates like BT, so I was looking for a way to start my own business.

Now, for those who can remember 2003 (so not the young developers who work for me now!), the next big thing was wifi, and my idea was to set up a company supplying fast internet over wifi. Well, broadband and wireless routers quickly got faster and cheaper so I’m glad I never pursued that, but it did give me a cool name. Nuvola is Italian for ‘cloud’, which obviously meant wireless networks back then, but it turned out to be quite prescient.

So, what could I do? Well, I figured I could fix computers and build databases, and there had to be a business in that. Which there was. I started by building a Microsoft Access (remember that?) database for a small family business in Wandsworth, Richard Cullinan Joinery (who are still in business by the way) to manage their customers. And started fixing computers for people and small businesses.

Fast forward to 2006, and I had a growing business with three staff. We had already started turning our Access databases into web-based systems – the basis for what would become the framework that underpins much of our work. It was about this time that ‘Cloud Computing’ started to become a buzzword, but we’d already been building Cloud systems for a year. As I said, the name was prescient.

Then came the move West. There is a very long version of this which really requires a couple of beers, so here’s the quick version. My daughter was a baby and my son was on his way, and my wife and I had already decided we wanted to move to the North Somerset coast at some point. I was doing some consultancy with someone who wanted to set up a full blown cloud service, and wanted a CTO. I could build the tech team in Bristol. It was ideal. Except the guy turned out to be a fantasist, and I very nearly lost everything, having pretty much closed the business down and moved somewhere I knew no one, with a baby and a pregnant wife. Luckily though I had some understanding clients, and the business was able to carry on.

The next 10 or so years were a bit up and down, balancing trying to run the business with a young family. There were times where I had to go contracting, but I kept the development work going and also grew my consultancy business, helping organisations navigate the treacherous waters of software implementation. By the summer of 2016, it looked like this was going to be the way forward, then a bombshell happened – the UK voted narrowly to leave the EU. At that point, I was doing two days a week for a financial research company, and the bottom just fell out of their business because clients wouldn’t commit to anything. As a result, in October they were rapidly cutting costs, one of which was me.

I realised consultancy was too unpredictable and precarious, and I needed to build something with a client base that could be bigger than me and not just about selling my time. So it was time to build on the foundations that had been started earlier – cloud systems before anyone called them The Cloud.

And this, broadly, is still the direction of travel. I hired my first employee for the second time round at the start of 2020, and despite Covid, we been growing since. There are bumps in the road for sure (such as that employee, Penny, getting headhunted a few months ago), but we’re now a team of 4 permanent staff and one freelancer – not all full time but a solid team that is delivering some good stuff for our clients. Within a month or two we’ll have our second person (Frazer) successfully completing a software development apprenticeship. One of our team (Ben) is at uni doing computer science and after a great summer placement will be working for us remotely from Loughborough. We have Tae, who is stepping up brilliantly from building her own jewellery micro-business to the world of B2B marketing, and doing our internal project management. And then there’s Jo, our freelance PM, along with me providing that software implementation consultancy.

I do sometimes reflect that if I’d stayed in the corporate world and climbed the ladder, maybe I’d be really well off financially etc. But then I wouldn’t have had so much opportunity to walk my kids to school when they were little and generally be around for them (luckily, something being changed by work from home culture). I also sometimes think, after 20 years maybe the business should be much bigger and more successful. But as was pointed out to me recently, it has not only survived 20 years but has supported my family for that time, developed some people, helped various clients and is growing now and in a good place. 

So, it’s been a journey, one I’m pretty proud of on the whole. I’d like to thank all of those clients, employees and associates who’d helped me along the way. 20 more years from now, I’ll be 68 and will hopefully be retired, having passed Nuvola on to someone else. We’ve gone from being excited about wifi, through the mobile, cloud and social media revolutions. Who knows what technology will do over the next 20 years (that’s the subject for other blog posts!) but we’ll be helping our clients to navigate it.