Three reasons for Founding CEOs to go earlier than you think

I wrote earlier this year about how it was time to let go of Rewired and Young Rewired State, that I had reached the limits of my abilities as founding CEO, and that after five years it was time to look ahead, move to the board and let some people better than me come in and take us forward. That was at the end of April 2014, and I gave myself two years to let go.

Well… it’s done! I peaked early and my God it was so the right thing to do. I will tell you why in a minute, but for those who want the detail, here is who is doing what (skip the italics if you couldn’t care about that and just want the reasons why it is so great):

As of next week Dan Bowyer joins us to take over and head up as CEO of Rewired State, I will move to the Board alongside Derek Gannon, with Toby Moores as Chair. The central team in RS is lean with Julia Higginbottom, Kevin Lewis and Gideon Brett taking up the core roles, supported by a bevvy of freelance pools of technical people, hackers, events people, product people and project management. (And a new pa *whoop* inbox management huzzaaaaa….)

Young Rewired State is currently still being managed by me and a new exciting Board made up of Bill Liao, Annika Small and Ian Livingstone – and our brilliant Ambassador: Kathryn Parsons. We also now have project teams made up of Kait Dunning, Kate McDonald and Tanya Leary, with Ruth Nicholls leading on funding/partnership and Jessica Rose leading the community and all supported by two ex-YRSers who have been interning with us this year: Shad Jahingir  and Ben Hayman (both of whom want to work for us full time which I take to be a great endorsement of the stuff they are doing – so this makes me very happy!). In September, after the craziness of the Festival of Code has died down, I will move to YRS chair and the Board will announce the head of Young Rewired State.

Three reasons why it is absolutely right to do this now not in two years:

1. Once I had recognised that I was not the person to take either organisation any further forward, I had already subconsciously allowed myself to let go. From that moment on, nothing I could do was good enough for the business by my own measure(!) this is not good for anyone. I could see where I wanted it to be, I just couldn’t clearly see the steps to get there, so stumbling around became frustrating.

ONCE YOU KNOW YOU NEED TO LEAVE, IT’S TIME TO LEAVE IMMEDIATELY OR YOU WILL FRUSTRATE YOURSELF AND BRING DOWN YOUR TEAM

2. It was only once I had made the decision, and written it down and told everyone, that I really started at looking at what the two organisations needed. It then became so apparent that nothing less than this person was right and I started to look to see if I could see this person, and other people started to look to see if they could find this person. Until I had stepped away mentally, and made it something I was going to do publicly, only then could people become free to look at “my” organisation as if it was theirs.

GOOD PEOPLE WILL ONLY COME KNOCKING WHEN YOU STEP AWAY – AND YOU WILL ONLY BE ABLE TO RECOGNISE THAT PERSON AS YOUR IDEAL REPLACEMENT WHEN YOU HAVE GIVEN UP YOUR FOUNDER/CEO GRIP

3. It is amazing how much it frees up your team! I just did not see how my founder/CEO ethos of: MY WAY and MY WAY and MY WAY only (or if you can do a damn good persuasion job), was stifling the skills, ideas and brilliance of the people I had hired for their skills, ideas and brilliance. As soon as I told them that I was going to go and get someone better than me and that I would move to a more strategic role rather than ops, they were a bit stunned but then over the last few months each and every one has stepped forward and shone. (We have lost a few sadly, but this was less to do with their sadness at me moving away from their daily lives, and more about better offers more quickly <- there’s a lesson). The Rewired State organisation is barely recognisable now, and I am so excited and inspired by it once again, it is like rediscovering its potential all over again. Young Rewired State has developed its own character, shaped by the young (all female except for the interns) team – who in my newly-stepped-away role have taken their pieces of YRS and are loving and whipping them into shapes I had never imagined. Everyone gets what the idea is, I have spent the last six years ramming it down their ever-loving throats. Just now they get to break that better.

YOU NEED TO FREE YOUR TEAM OR YOU WILL LOSE YOUR TEAM

Final word of caution, you cannot do this without a small, engaged board of people who support your move and will help you. If you don’t have a board, choose the people you would most like to be involved to help shape, guide and steer your organisation, with skills that you do not have, and invite them. They too will surprise you with the ways they will help. I am so hugely grateful to the YRS and RS boards, and to the advice and guidance each of them give me.

I gave myself two years, it took three months.

(Thank you realitytvgifs.tumblr for Mariah)

Edit 27th July 2014

Quite a few of you are asking what I am going to be doing next; well: 1. spend more time with my family! (I sound like a politician caught with my pants down and my willy in someone else – not the case here) 2. The boards will also be very active and engaged, so I will still be involved with RS and YRS and 3. I am a Commissioner for the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy and we publish our report in January 2015; I am so unbelievably passionate about this that I am going to give most of the rest of this year up to focus on this. It is not a paid role, so I will have to work too, but yes – these are the three things I will be doing. xox0

Interactive film to be made by the attendees of the Festival of Code

Those people leading a centre at the Festival of Code this year are about to receive the following message:

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 15.12.59This excellent idea was born by Nat and Julia Higginbottom of Rebel Uncut, who have both been very closely involved with the Festival over the years, and are filming most of it this year. Last year we had Rewired Art in Birmingham, where art students in Birmingham Uni joined the Birmingham Uni centre for the week, to create digital art projects. This was great but we felt too focused on one centre. We wanted to find a way to break this Festival better by including the arts for everyone.

One of our VIP judges and speakers is Yoni Bloch and I am *so excited* that he is coming. (I asked him by scribbling on a napkin and slipping it to him just after he came off the stage in Cannes – he appreciated the analogue approach I believe!)

He has created this insanely brilliant platform called Interlude which is what we will be using. To give you an idea of how it works, here is Yoni’s own song video, put together using the Interlude technology: Pretend to be happy

I am really looking forward to this year’s Arts project, to how the film will turn out, also – inevitably – how the YRSers choose to use the Interlude platform themselves, outside of the scripted film!!

This Festival is just going to be huge amounts of fun, I am sure it will be technically challenged, but it wouldn’t be a Festival of Code if the wifi didn’t fall over and someone rewiring the AV so it doesn’t work on the day of the finale.

If this inspires you or your child to join in on the Festival week, then I know there are a few spaces left in a couple of centres, you can register here. And if you want to mentor, we always need people to swing by and help – all across the UK. Sign up as a mentor here.

Thank you everyone! AM so excited, do watch the action on the Eventifier machine

 

 

 

Five ways to support the Festival of Code

The 6th annual Festival of Code kicks off on the 28th July, with over 1000 young programmers, mostly self taught, building apps, games, websites and writing algorithms using open data and solving real world problems. It is always an insanely high standard of output and the winning entries can be relied upon to really blow the minds of the audience watching.(See the winners from last year here and watch the video of you programmers from 2012).

But that is just the coding activity.

After a week of programming in centres across the UK, these kids (some of whom are flying in from Europe and the US) all gather for a weekend of show and tell, culminating in the Finale on Sunday morning. At this weekend we will also have Bubble Football, a Skate Park, digital graffiti wall, a Photo booth and a night of chiptune artists playing live music – plus acres of food and ice cream.

There are challenges in putting something so fabulous on, not least of which is ensuring that every kid who would really benefit from taking part knows about it and can come. So we make it free to attend but rely on the social networks and physical posters to let every child know about it.]

If you would like to help out there are five practical ways you can do so:

1. Mentor in your local centre (sign up here): if you can do any of the following, you will be handy: code, assist with presentation preparation, ideation, design, research, open data, agile projects, hardware hacking

2. Download and print this poster(1), then put it up (legally!) in all communal areas near your home and work, if you have a notice board at work, please put it up there – parents are the key, if they have a child (aged 18 or under) who they know is glued to their computer and coding, they will love the Festival. (This blog post details where we still have spaces available.)

3. Share the existence of the Festival on your social media, with the hashtag #YRSFoC (Stephen Fry is going to be doing this on twitter tomorrow morning, so we are all set and prepared for the website to stand up to lots of attention – also… Stephen Fry! He is such a great supporter and does this every year – it’s great but we still need your networks too!)

4. We are currently running at a £25k deficit, but have raised enough to make sure we can put it on, we just need a final push and either one big sponsor or several little ones. If you work for an organisation, or own an organisation even(!) that you believe would be completely up for supporting this with cash, then please point them to ruth@rewiredstate.org, our Head of Partnerships and Sponsorships. There are many ways we can deliver ROI for our partners and sponsors and most of the times these are bespoke, so Ruth’s the girl. (see our list of sponsors already on board here)

5. Come and watch the finale on the Sunday. We have secured Plymouth Pavilions for the show and tell this year, so there is masses of room. You will meet the Young Rewired Staters, see the magic and just experience the next generation of creating/making/inventing – something we are so good at in this country. Bring hankies, you will laugh and cry, I guarantee.

That’s it! So exciting

 

Breaking things better at Young Rewired State

It is year six for Young Rewired State (YRS), and it is growing into a great, international community of young people who have taught themselves how to code. We remain relentlessly focused on fostering the peer to peer nature of learning, and solving real world problems through code and community. We like to call this “Breaking things better”.

Earlier this year YRS separated completely from Rewired State, enabling it to focus on community projects and the the local/everywhere programmes. I also announced my intention to step aside as CEO of YRS/RS.

Excitingly, things have moved very fast since then and Young Rewired State has moved naturally into being its own entity, we have hired some great people to manage the YRS community and projects, and soon we will be able to announce the new Head of YRS. I shall share all of this staffing news when everything is all in place. This is us in Buckingham Palace…

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But the headline news is that I have invited an extremely select and active group of people to join me on the Board, and am going to move to Chair of YRS at the beginning of July. The Board members are as follows:

Annika Small:

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Annika is the CEO of Nominet Trust, but I have asked her to join the Board in a personal capacity, as she has been great at monitoring the growth of Young Rewired State, and gently steering us in the right direction and keeping me focused on the right things – in a completely positive way of course! I trust her judgment and know that she understands this space completely, and is far more knowledgeable than I in growing global communities and projects. Annika is the absolute rock YRS needs.

Bill Liao:

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Bill is a successful entrepreneur, VC and is the founder of CoderDojo. He has been invaluable in guiding us through the restructuring of YRS and RS and it is hugely important to me that there is someone on each of our Boards who is experienced in taking social organisations to global communities, and who has serious creds in the Venture market. Not for YRS (that will remain a non-profit organisation) but for the members of the community. We want them to have the aerial cover from Bill. Needless to say, CoderDojo and YRS have much in common.

Ian Livingstone:

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The Legend, as he is known in my house! Ian has long been a great shoulder for me to collapse on over the years of growing YRS. He has either made me laugh, got me drunk, or told me off but he has always got me through whenever I have yelped for help. He is also a towering inspiration for young programmers and has fought a long battle to bring gaming into many peoples’ lives, and took on government in a very serious capacity – fighting for changes in education (and winning). Being a success himself, and also slightly baffled by some of the things that have happened to him, the board is complete by having him shoulder to shoulder with Annika and Bill.

And finally… we have our very own Angelina Jolie, our Ambassador and friend to the Board: Kathryn Parsons.

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Kathryn has been a pal of mine for a while, and she has been hugely successful with her own Decoded adventure. We kind of fell forward in this space together and she and I have learned a lot from each other. So Kathryn is our Ambassador, a very important female role model for the girl entrepreneurs in YRS – but also a successful entrepreneur and actively scaling, a great example for all YRSers. Kathryn is ace.

And that is it.

This is not a passive Board/Ambassador. I will be meeting with them all every month individually, and then we will have quarterly board meetings to make sure we are doing the best we can by this rapidly growing community.

It is exciting.

Calling all bedroom programmers – everywhere!

It is that time again, the beginning of the build up to the 6th Festival of Code!!

MainIt is an unbelievably exciting time for us, and we have really stepped up our game this year – just wait and see. But I can tell you that as well as code and community there will be poetry, art, skateboarding, laser graffiti and list of speakers so fine you will feel dizzy sharing the same space as them. On Saturday we will have heats, semi-finals and then an entire evening of music curated by Pixelh8 before the Grand Finale on Sunday – where the finalists will show and tell to a panel of judges I am just ITCHING to reveal, but we need a few more weeks before they will be completely nailed. You will be delighted, I promise.

For those of you who have never heard of the Festival of Code before, go and check out the site http://festivalofco.de It is a week of coding that takes place across the country where people aged 18 and under, at all levels of digital skill, work with open data and mentors to build websites, apps, games or write algorithms. On Friday 1st August they all come together in Plymouth for a weekend of talks, show and tells, music and festivities, celebrating their skills and encouraging them to learn more.

Here is the story from one of our centres from last year in Manchester Digital Laboratory

This year we have young people taking part from around the world: the US, Singapore and Europe and we are really looking forward to bringing you all together and seeing what you are up to.

As ever, we run this all through sponsorship and it is all totally free, thank you sponsors!! But I have one ask left…

It is notoriously difficult to reach some of the young people who would benefit most from coming along to this. Many of whom are teaching themselves how to code in their bedrooms, who might not know that this exists. So we have this wish:

Please could every reader of this blog post download this poster from the Festival of Code website and print at least ten copies out. Then put them up in your work, your school, your local library or community centre, anywhere really. Parents, friends and family members may see the poster and pass it on to their bedroom programmer and completely change their lives. Tell everyone, and they can change the world.

 

I have two years to let go

Many of you have become my friends and kept up with me throughout my journey in Rewired and Young Rewired State. Through me doing it in my spare time in 2009, through running it from The Guardian part-time to taking the leap into it being my full time job in 2011. Since then it has grown and we have slowly managed to hire staff members and find the right space for both Young and Rewired State.

This is our sixth year, and I have been blessed with the guidance and advice from Toby Moores and Derek Gannon as we look to the next few years, and how we might grow.

So I have three pieces of news for you all:

1. We have separated Rewired State and Young Rewired State structurally and financially.

2. Rewired State will grow commercially as a social enterprise, still with the same ethos and retaining regular open and social hacks, but also delivering more of the modding series: taking ideas and prototypes through to products that solve given challenges. We will also be developing and delivering a few products of our own.

Young Rewired State will continue is its mission to find and foster every child driven to teach themselves how to code, introduce them to each other and open data. It will extend the projects it works on, for example the Peer to Peer challenge, the Duke of York awards and YRS Google assemblies; as well as YRS Hyperlocal and Everywhere. It remains a not for profit.

3. In two years time I will step down as CEO. Founder CEOs can be lethal to an organisation as it grows up, and I am not so stupid to think that I alone can take RS and YRS forward and manage the direction they go in. I feel so passionately about what we do that if I can see that I will become the blocker to its growth and cause it to wither – I will remove myself. And this is what I will be doing by the end of 2016.

This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed  and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

Morpheus, The Matrix

I will still have a role to play from the Board, but what this is will be decided as we roll out the next stage and see how everything starts to shape around the revised split structure.

It will be hard, very hard indeed – but I have two years to talk myself down!

So, please do continue your wonderful support – this has helped so much over the last few years! I mean look how well it is doing now, largely thanks to all the community love and action from you lot. Please help me continue to take it through the next two years so that I can hand my babies over in robust health and ready for whatever a new CEO might choose to bring.

We will be advertising a few new roles over the next few weeks, starting with a Marketing Manager role and a Head of YRS Community position. If you think you might be interested in taking a look at either of these, dm me on twitter/FB or message me here (don’t bother with email) – we will be publishing the job descriptions soon. And of course, a CEO role in 2016 :)

Onwards

*Update July 2014 – since I wrote this blog post, it started a domino effect I could not and would not stop. The upshot is on this blog post here http://mulqueeny.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/three-reasons-for-founding-ceos-to-go-earlier-than-you-think/

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