Article on Lessons Learned from Growing a Team – FinTech Capital Fifth Edition

I was recently approached by one of our recruiters, Harrington Starr, to ask if I’d like to contribute to a regular publication that they have called FinTech Capital.  I decided to contribute an article titled “7 Lessons we learned growing a team”, for the latest (Fifth) edition.  If you’d like to read the article, you can download the publication here with my article on page 83.

Growing a team is a never ending task, but we’ve been doing this for the last 4 years now and I believe we’ve learned a lot along the way.  I wanted to share some of our insights and see if others agree or disagree with these.

Our team also manages to get a small mention in the article on page 86 about how we are working to change our culture and understand what is expected by employees now that the Google culture has become the ‘norm’.

As always, it would be great to hear any thoughts or questions you have.

Trust – Are People Generally Good or Bad?

Trust is an emotive word, but one that I find myself using more and more in discussions both inside and outside my team.  I think one of the reasons its so emotive is that trust is often viewed as black and white – either I trust someone or I don’t – there are very few discussions where we tell people we trust them 50%.

In a particular discussion I was starting to think why people may or may not trust others and started to consider how a persons experiences may lead them to deal with people in a certain way.  Which of the following two statements do you most identify with?

  • I believe that in general people can be trusted, they generally try to do the right thing and are not out to harm each other deliberately
  • I believe in general that people cannot be trusted to do the right thing. I would even go as far to say that people generally go out of their way to make things more difficult for others

Continue reading Trust – Are People Generally Good or Bad?

Complaint: Next Made to Measure

I’d like to share with everyone a recent complaint I had with ‘Next Made to Measure’ after placing an order for some curtains in December 2014.

I first had to complain as our curtains were made, but failed QA due to a defect in the material.  ‘Next’ didn’t then have enough material left to complete another pair, and told me we would have to wait until February for some more material to come in stock.  This in itself wasn’t great, but they also told me they were holding onto the money I had paid for 2 months and generally made this all appear like it was my fault.

Continue reading Complaint: Next Made to Measure

What makes a successful technology project?

Sorry, if you’ve started reading this post because you thought I’d be giving you a simple answer to what makes a successful technology project, then you can probably stop now!  I got onto this topic after a conversation between two senior people within our company, one within technology, the other outside.  The non-technologist made a comment about one of our recent projects not being successful (just in case anyone is in any doubt comments like this made incorrectly, can feel the explosion pictured above).  This led to a longer conversation about what makes a successful project.

Continue reading What makes a successful technology project?

Kyoto City Review – Top Sights

We recently visited Hong Kong – a regular occurrence to visit my parents-in-law – and while there we often take a short haul trip.  This time we decided to visit Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan.  We’ve visited Japan before, but went to Tokyo, and while we were very impressed with Japanese culture and food, it was in many ways, just another large city.  Everything we had read about Kyoto before we visited suggested it would be a much different (and more beautiful) place – especially during the spring cherry blossom season when we would be visiting.

Overall we had a great time, spending 5 nights in Kyoto, and walking close to 90Km over our 6 days – a few highlights and top sights are shown below.

Continue reading Kyoto City Review – Top Sights

Welcome to my new blog

One of my goals this year is to write and maintain a blog.  I’ve spent enough years reading other people’s and now it’s time to start my own and give something back to others.  I’ve created this new site – based on WordPress – to start my journey into regular blogging.

I hope to create posts on:

  • Work related topics – new technologies / team organisation / industry comment
  • Book reviews
  • Personal travels and food

I’d really love to hear any feedback or anything else you’d love me to write about.

Thanks for visiting!

What makes a “Great place to work”?

I was recently approached by one of our recruitment agents, Harrington Starr, about taking part in a white paper they were creating, The Secrets of the Greatest Places to work in Financial Technology.

While I don’t necessarily always think of our company being heavily into the financial technology domain – we rarely hire from other FinTech companies.  I was interested to share what I’ve learned from hiring over the past 4 years and see how this compared to others.

It was a really interesting process talking with Nadia from Harrington Starr and hearing about some of the ideas other companies were putting into practice.  The things I think we do well that are further backed up by this paper are:

  • Create a vision with the team.  This vision has to be ‘real’ i.e. not the corporate ‘values’ we have been used to in the past, that bear no resemblance to reality!  Ensure that the team buy into the vision by creating it with them.  Understand that you can’t please everyone!
  • Focus on technical quality and “doing the right thing”.  My team will tell you that they are probably a little bored of my using this statement.  It isn’t meant to be quite as black and white as it sounds – but it underpins every decision I make and is something I have deliberately decided to focus on this year.
  • Pay people what they are worth – not what you can get away with.  I’ve always been passionate about paying a fair wage, and this is heavily backed up by this paper.  I am slightly sceptical that “a fair wage” can be deliberately misconstrued by some people who have a more pie in the sky view of their worth in the market though!

I would love to hear any comments you may have on my comments or this article in general.

Hong Kong Trip – Day 18 – Everything catches up

Last night I slept very badly and spent most of the time in the toilet.  I think the amount of different food has finally caught me and I’ve got a little food poisoning.  This morning we decided to cancel all our activities and have a restful day so I would feel better for the flight.

We went out to the pharmacy to buy some tablets to help if my stomach still stays bad on the flight, I also bought a newspaper to read and some very boring bread to eat.  By lunch time I was feeling a little better and the pharmacist just advised me to drink lots of water before the flight.

By mid-afternoon I was feeling a little better and after eating some bread (how exciting!) and taking the medication I was feeling well enough to fly.  After finishing packing Clara and her parents had their last meal together and I rested watching TV.  I took a shower and prepared for the long journey home, I was hoping it would be boring and uneventful!

We set off for the airport at 8pm by taxi from Clara’s parents house.  The taxi managed to cram both bags into the boot and held the boot closed with an elastic band – this was better than when we arrived and I had much more faith our bags would actually still be there when we got to the station!  The taxi took us to the Hong Kong Airport Express Station which is just under the IFC2 building we had been to the night before.  The airport in Hong Kong works a little differently to other airports – being Hong Kong this has to be expected!  When we got to the MTR station we had to buy tickets for the Airport Express.  One of the perks of travelling by Airport Express is that you can actually do what is called ‘City Check’ and check in for your flight at the MTR station.  We went to the Virgin desk where there was no queue and checked in – our bags were a little heavier than when we came but we still managed to just about be under the limit!  It also seemed that the hand baggage regulations did not count on the return flight – more on this later!

After the quick check in we had our boarding cards and the desk was able to tell us which gate the plane would board from and at what time.  We went back through the turnstiles and walked down to the platform for the Airport Express train.  We now had to say our goodbyes to Polly and Andrew who were not coming to the airport.  This was quite upsetting for Clara and it was sad to leave them as they had looked after me so well!

We boarded the next Airport Express train and set off for the journey to the airport.  Of course the benefit of City Check is that we did not have our heavy luggage with us – however it was probably on the back of the train travelling with us to the airport!  The journey took the usual 23 minutes and was as punctual as ever.  The train wasn’t too busy, which was strange as once we got to the airport there seemed to be plenty of people around.

At the airport we went straight through immigration and the security check and then took a look round a few of the shops in the airport.  There were about 2 hours until the plane left and we needed to board in just over an hour.  The airport in Hong Kong is very different to many other airports.  As it was newly built it feels much better and the sense of space is massive!  The roof of the airport is around 10 meters above where we were walking and you could see across large areas making the terminal seem massive!  This is definitely something more terminal designers should learn from as its a pleasure to walk around the terminal and I think it makes you feel much calmer.

After the shops we took a walk down to the boarding gate.  The layout of the gates in the terminal is a big Y shape.  When we landed we were at one of the gates on the two arms of the Y and so we had to take a train back to the arrivals lounge.  This time our gate was on the join of the three prongs and we decided to walk as we had plenty of time.  The walk is fairly long and while we were walking I wondered how much it had cost to carpet the whole terminal!  We sat at the gate for a while and looked out of the window at the plane.  It was now obvious that the hand baggage regulations were not in place as many of the Hong Kong people travelling back to the UK had about 3 pieces of hand luggage – some people take way too much!

We boarded the plane about 11pm and were sat in the same seats as when we came (we choose these through the Virgin website on booking).  As we sat waiting for the plane to set off it was obvious this flight was much fuller than when we were coming and it seemed every seat was taken.  The captain made an announcement that a passenger had not turned up so they had to take the luggage out again and take out their bags – this is a very annoying situation as we sat waiting on the tarmac – how can someone not turn up at the plane after checkin?!  We eventually set off about 11.45pm (20 minutes late) for the 12.5 hour flight to the UK – an hour longer than going due to the wind direction.

The flight went much as the outward journey with an evening meal served – Clara had mashed potatoes and beef but said it wasn’t as good as the outgoing meal, I had plain bread and crackers to be on the safe side!  After the meal the lights went out and we settled down to sleep.  We both slept quite well although we woke up many times we managed to get a few hours sleep.  We were both still sleeping when the lights came on about 10 hours into the flight at 3.30am BST.  We were then served breakfast – unfortunately they ran out of English breakfast – so I had an omelette and clara dim-sum.  I was feeling better now and decided it was probably time to try and eat a proper meal.  Once breakfast had finished and we watched a little TV it was just about time to land, the approach to London was quite good in the dark and we could see a number of the sights including London Eye, Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf all lit up.

The landing was a good one and as we landed the rain was pouring down – looks like the British weather had come to welcome us!  We got off the plane and passed through immigration – this was the easiest one I’d done and no more forms to fill in – yippee!  Our bags arrived about 5 minutes later and we moved through customs and walked to the London Underground.  We boarded a train in the station and set off on our 24 station journey to Kings Cross.  The time was now 7.30am and the trains were starting to fill up with some commuters, it seemed they were mostly migrant workers from Eastern Europe and Africa and a couple of Businessmen.  As we approached Piccadilly station the driver came over the tannoy that a train had broken down ahead and there might be some slight delays – typical we though, we never had one delay on the MTR in Hong Kong!  As it happened the delay was about 10 minutes and we were in no rush!

We arrived at Kings Cross in the middle of rush hour and managed to fight our way up the stairs with our heavy bags to the station concourse.  We found the new GNER waiting room – worse than the old one and in a strange place outside the station – and sat down to wait.  We both got some breakfast from Upper Crust and a paper to catch up on the news – the most shocking of which was the news about Richard Hammond, looks like its been a bad time for celebrities after Steve Irwin!

We were booked on the 10.30am train and as our tickets were cheap we had no way of going earlier.  Karen, Clara’s sister came into Kings Cross about 9am and met up with Clara for a quick chat in the station.  At 10.15am we were allowed to board the train, which seemed very busy, this seemed odd at 10am in a morning.  The journey was pretty uneventful and the train was quite fast so we arrived in York about 12.30pm.  We took a taxi back from the station to our house and finally ended the mammoth journey!

So that’s where the holiday ends.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and hopefully learned a little along the way.  If you find anything useful or enjoyed what you read please let me know by emailing me at ben@ben-brown.co.uk.  Let’s hope I can go somewhere just as interesting soon!