From Public to Private: Relections on 30 days at Spigit

Some of you have asked me what the transition from public sector to a startup has been like. Others of you have been interested in what working at Spigit is like. So I thought I’d answer both questions today – the anniversary of my first month with the company.

For me, the biggest difference between the two organisations is this: no matter what we all say about budget cuts, and departmental spending squeeze and all the rest, when you are in Government, you’re pretty far away from a personal connection with the money you’re spending on any real level.

Are you horrified to hear me say that? I’m sorry. But the fact is the scale of government spending is so vast that even relatively large amounts – in the millions sometimes – are just numbers to people. Everyone wants to make a difference and deliver value to the taxpayer, but at the end of the day, there are very few consequences if you don’t.

I mean, it’s not as if you can get fired. In fact, as one colleague said to me once: “really, the only way you’re going to get fired here is if you fiddle your expenses or break the security rules”.

There are most certainly consequences to every financial decision you make in a startup. They aren’t – most of the time – million pound decisions, but they are much more material to reality.

As we’ve been starting Spigit Europe over the last 30 days, I’ve agonised over every salary decision, because it is just that much more revenue that has to be found this year. Future office space as we grow? How to balance the cost of London real estate with commute times of the talent? Do we need desk phones or can we do with mobiles?

The immediacy of the money is the defining thing that’s shaped my experience thus far, and we’re a very well funded start-up. I can imagine how some of my colleagues in smaller firms feel. Actually I know how they feel, because Spigit is presently sitting next to them at TechHub, the new startup space in East London.

I also know that if I fail to make my numbers this year, I’ll be fired to make way for someone who can. That is a great motivator, though I suspect it is not one that many comfortable people in big organisations are willing to accept.

I’d say if Government wants to get a handle on its spending, it should really find a way to connect its workers to the money in a real and immediate way. Find some consequences that matter to individual decision makers and stick to them.

The transition from government to a startup is different in another way too. In Government, there’s rules and procedures for everything. There are teams whose whole role is to create rules and procedures. Startups, obviously, have nothing like that. Every decision is likely to be a first-of. For example, now that we’re in Europe we have all this trans-national stuff to work out. I don’t mean product stuff, because Spigit has been sold outside the US for years now. But having international subsidiaries is a company architecture change. Reporting lines are blurring, financial structures have to be put in place, and, oh yes, how exactly is that expense process going to work?

There’s an urgency here that I never felt in Government. We’re making decisions at speed, because our investors demand we deliver results. Spigit has enjoyed stunning success in the market, and now that we’re expanding internationally in a big way, we’re on the hook to prove we can do it again at this next level.

I’ve already had the email from our CFO asking for my forecast so he can judge “the shape of the business”. It came on day 29. Can you even imagine something like that happening in the public sector?

So what’s it like working at Spigit?

The first thing you notice is everyone is excited. There’s an energy here, one that comes from knowing we’re on the verge of something huge. Innovation management is going to be the next big thing : we’re the ERP for future creation of value. It’s a massive opportunity.

Its also amazing to be in a company growing this fast. I was at our head office two weeks ago, and there were people sitting on floors using laptops because there weren’t enough desks to go around. Neither was there enough office space to put more desks.

Excited people just put up with it till we opened our new building on the campus last week. My guess is we’ll have people on floors on laptops again within three months even so.

What else is interesting about working here?

Well, people outside are interested in what we’re doing. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people over the last few weeks who said “Innovation management? I didn’t even know such a thing existed. Mind blowing”. That’s the kind of buzz you really want to hear when you’ve made the leap, I can tell you.

Also, there’s much less IT friction. Although I stared my career in small companies, I’ve spent most of it in large corporates. I’d forgotten how easy it is to get your personal work done when you don’t have a big IT shop hanging over you. My workflow is my workflow because I chose the tools that suit me.

So I’m pleased with the change I’ve made. I’m even more pleased that so many people who I’ve worked with over the past years are wanting to come and join Spigit too. I feel as though I’m surrounded by talent here.

On a closing note, I’m still hiring. I need a tech support analyst, 2 direct sales guys, 2 indirect sales guys, and a break-fix developer who knows Java and the Web. Are you interested? Would love to hear from you at jgardner@spigit.com

5 Responses to“From Public to Private: Relections on 30 days at Spigit”

  1. February 18, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    Congrats on the role at Spigit; a genius move and great acquisition for them. Would love to see a post on your what your current workflow tools / hardware looks like now you have no IT minions pushing Lenovo with XP on you 🙂

  2. Steve
    February 19, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    I run the Government Secure Intranet (GSi). I have the network, security, hardware, service wrap, security and procurement vehicle. All I need are applications government would exploit as a cloud service. I need a idea/service – one with legs – how fast can you run? Steve

  3. March 19, 2011 at 10:41 pm #

    @ James, thanks for the candid account of your time in the public sector, and glad to hear you’ve jumped ship to do something that sounds a lot more worthwhile. Congrats on the new role.

    @Steve, I love the fact the Government has built “the Government Secure Intranet” but has no “idea/service – one with legs” to exploit it. Reminds me of an aircraft carrier without planes 😉

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