Week 456

Last week was good — our Cloudwash connected washing machine concept got some good press. The Guardian, Gigaom and PSFK all had great write-ups (thanks!). But the real warmth was on Twitter, and this was my favourite tweet:

The way we launched Cloudwash was a bit of an experiment for us. Low-key. No pre-briefings for journalists. Sober.

When you’re a consultancy, it’s all about launching fireworks. The work returns to the client after you’re done, so you need to make the loudest noise with the most perfect work possible. And with each project, you start from scratch (except with a bigger PR list). As a tech startup… it’s different. The work and the reputation sticks to us, and we can carry on working on (and learning from) the ideas once they’re out of the door.

So we have to learn a new habit: Learning how to build steadily, and build on previous work too.

That’s evident in how we’re rolling out the new website. Sections are being launched in the new design as they’re completed, rather than one big flash-bang of everything going up. An advantage of this is that we learn as we go. And certain things that feel intractable (e.g. what should our pricing be?) are easier to think about once you’re carrying less in your head and more decisions are made publicly.

Plus the new blog style launched. Looking smart!

Another new habit: We’re spelling the name as a word now, Berg. Not in caps like we have since we first adopted the name. And the company is the technology is the people, so Berg is what we’re calling the platform too.


A platform starts at ground level and gradually grows upwards.

Weirdly I’m reminder of a story I heard about the first city, Catalhoyuk in Turkey, founded in 7,500 BC, and characterised by not having any streets.

To give a bit of background, Catalhoyuk had a population of up to 10,000 people, and a few strange features like a religion that appears to have been based on fear (‘aren’t they all?’ said someone in the room). To me, the most interesting bit is that the houses were all squashed together. No streets!

To get to your house, you had to climb up on top of the city, walk along until you got to your chimney and climb down. You’d live in your couple of rooms, and bury your dead under the floor. Every so often, you’d knock the house down and build another on top of the rubble. And so the hive-mound rose up.

More here.

Not the most inspiring platform metaphor, but there you go.

Cloudwash is foundational. It shows where we stand, and we’ll deploy that work in every single conversation with every single potential partner, alongside Little Printer. That’s more important than a fireworks launch. This is work we can build on.

Still, we haven’t demarcated the whole territory yet.

Speaking of the platform: The APIs, our position in the consumer Internet of Things technology stack, and the public messaging all go hand in hand.

I wrote a list last week (shared on the studio@ mailing list) of what we need to do complete the new positioning… or at least get to the point where there are no loose ends and we can choose what happens next.

What I’d like to is convert this list into a collection of small, launchable mini projects. Self-contained “bricks” that

  • when they ship, we feel a sense of accomplishment
  • make sense to the public
  • we feel proud to add to the foundations

Too small or composed of too many parts, and these bricks don’t carry their own context in the public story, and we don’t feel like there’s anything been completed. Too big and the work is too heavy and complex for us or anyone else to digest.

At Amazon, the press release is written first.

For new initiatives a product manager typically starts by writing an internal press release announcing the finished product. The target audience for the press release is the new/updated product’s customers, which can be retail customers or internal users of a tool or technology. Internal press releases are centered around the customer problem, how current solutions (internal or external) fail, and how the new product will blow away existing solutions.

(That link has a press release template.) That’s one route.

I’m also reminded of what I’ve heard from a couple of startup founders: Have a weekly rhythm to announce news. It doesn’t need to be much (tweaks to the design, some stats) but it should be something. Every week.

Maybe we should adopt that.

In a way, what we’re doing now is the Oldco Mag+ project writ large. First there was the world building of the design concept and film. Next came the insane technical build in the project we called El Morro, the kick-off for which resulted in my favourite weeknote ever. El Morro wouldn’t have been possible without the direction being set by the film. But El Morro was the execution, the work that meant we were the actual first magazine on the iPad, rather than the design inspiration for a bunch of others.

Little Printer and Cloudwash, world building projects both. Now our work is to put the platform in the hands of everyone, to make it possible for anyone to build these things for themselves.

So this week I’m trying to think of our bricks, and what our steady rhythm of public work is. I’ll probably bounce some ideas around on studio@ later today or tomorrow.

This week we’re also planning on changing desks, to all sit closer together.

(One of the things about getting smaller is that some processes and habits need to be removed. So there are lines of communication that we used to need – meetings, teams, etc – that now we can more efficiently do without. For example, we can sit round the same tables inside the perimeter of a single conversation. I think a bunch about what else we can improve by simplifying.)

Lastly I’m thinking about partnerships. While we build the platform, I want to extend our runway in smart ways. We should be looking for grants to develop more projects like Cloudwash… only more in alignment with the new plan (I’m writing applications this week). We could be doing design services, to help manufacturers figure out the future of connected products with actual prototypes. That would be good. We closed some work, just last week, with a Swiss manufacturer, to do just this kind of very early prototyping. But it won’t be public, and my ideal case would be public work. So both Jack and I will continue with conversations to bring in that kind of project. We’d like to line some up.

There were some interesting conversations last week too – a brief that should come in this week for us to look at, another (small) contract nearing the end of negotiation stage, a potential partnership with a manufacturer for them to make some Berg-enabled devices – but nothing’s in till it’s in.

Any more time we can get out of the runway is time that can go into building value in the platform, and giving it time to find product-market fit and get traction.

Something from over the weekend.

I posted my first article on Medium, my recipe for chicken pilau. Great authoring experience. Medium feels like a very complex product under the hood that presents itself very, very simply. Even a detail like the search page on mobile is utter perfection.

Yet Medium is plainly incomplete: There’s no authoring experience on mobile. Etc. Medium has that balance between self-contained, foundational bricks… and a product which is not done yet and still growing. Good. That’s how to build.

Denise just posted a pixel Little Printer with a wobbly hat. Worth a look and a laugh. Lovely.