I can honestly say I never thought I’d be in one job this long. So it’s pretty unreal to be sat here writing that this week marks the 10 year anniversary of when I first set up FutureGov. Ltd. (The name is FutureGov but I never got round to removing the rogue full stop on Companies House — it’s not some fancy design flourish disappointingly!).
I never really intended to start a company. For as long as I can remember, I always saw myself working inside government fighting the good fight and making things better from within. Having spent 5 years there, working on things from policy to organisational transformation through BIG tech, I sort of slid out of the sector (although not very far) and into giving it a go from the outside. I quickly found it to be a really great way to bring new ideas and approaches to help change my beloved local government.
At first there was one
I only called it FutureGov because I thought that Dominic Campbell Consulting Ltd sounded ridiculous (it does) and, well, I’m a militant optimist so you never know where things lead. I then spent a year looking daft as a company of one person, but hey whatever. It was cool enough to hook early allies Justin Kerr-Stevens and Michelle Lyons and get us together as a trio imagining how great it could be if we made this thing a reality.
A year in and together we reassured Carrie Bishop enough that we weren’t entirely awful at business and that we were on to something. And while Justin and Michelle ultimately went their own ways doing great things around the world, many of you will know how important our decision to bring in Carrie was to building the a company that has now lasted a decade.
FutureGov has had many incarnations over the years. It’s sometimes hard to remember that we pre-date things like Government Digital Service by 4 years. Some of you can no doubt imagine quite how hard things were back in the day, doing just about anything to drag ourselves into existence.
Starting as a small plucky change agency, we made our name by coming up with bright ideas for how digital and design could change government. This included the likes of Patchwork and Casserole Club, which we ultimately took on ourselves to see if we could get them off the ground. A tiny team of very patient government badasses like Lucy Watt worked their arses off on tricky early projects but also some truly great events like CityCamp London (still the best event we’ve ever done). Helping our influence grow far bigger than our meagre resources could allow, earning us a seat at tables we couldn’t believe we were at, and advising government on how digital was the future.
Building a team and going global
From there it was onwards and upwards, with moments like a large partnership contract with Surrey County Council (thanks David McNulty, Julie Fisher and Susie Kemp for believing in us) and taking investment to grow our tech products (thanks Joe Ludlow and Katie Mountain for seeing our potential).
It’s definitely fair to say that’s when everything changed. The last 4 years have seen us take things to the next level. Now a team touching 40 people, headquartered in London but with offices in Salford and Sydney as well as exploring life in Berlin and Milan. We’ve worked with over 50 councils in the UK, 3 state governments and 20 councils in Australia and national governments from UAE to Georgia thanks to partnerships with our pals at Nesta (biggup Brenton, Giulio and crew) and UNDP (one love Millie and colleagues).
As I say, writing this stuff still blows my mind. Those who know me well will know for all my bravado and salesman sheen, I can find it hard to reflect and say just how proud I am of what we’ve achieved. But I am proud. Unbelievably proud.
Proud of the role we’ve played in making the market and pointing the way forward.
Proud of the jobs and great team culture we’ve created. And above all proud of the changes we’ve supported to make public services better for the people we’re all in the business to serve.
To making a real difference. At scale.
In many ways I look back at the last 10 years as practice. We’ve introduced the sector to a range of new ideas and approaches to making change happen. We’ve learned so much about what works and what doesn’t, why and when. But these past couple of years we’ve really felt like things have started to click. FutureGov has grown together as a family, and our approaches and offer has grown with us. We’re no longer (just) the plucky smart arse underdog. We’re the partner the sector needs to make the kinds of change happen at scale that will bring about better and cheaper public services.
We’re making 2018 a year to celebrate how far we’ve all come together as a team and as a sector. We’ll be running events around the UK to celebrate the work of public service partners. Alongside that I’ll be writing more here about where next for us as we push for even bigger and better things over the next decade as the notion of digital transformation continues to mature and take its rightful place at the top of all organisations serious about 21st Century change. And we’ll be right there with them ready to support their mission with our scaled transformation offer.
We’ve done this together
But first to end where I started. The thank yous I didn’t get to above. And please, please forgive me if I don’t directly name you below. I’m sorry. Ten years is a long time and I’ve had the pleasure of working with well over 100 people in FutureGov and met even more clients and partners. Rest assured I know who you are and how much you have contributed to me personally and FutureGov’s mission. We’re standing on your shoulders.
Love, hugs and big thanks all of you x
To my friends and family
How could I not start with this one. When you run a company work is no longer just work. It’s your life. It’s with you 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The huge highs, the deep lows. The phone calls on holiday, the working weekends. It’s a lot to cope with.
But through it all I couldn’t have hoped for a better partner than my wife, Merici. She’s supported me in every way possible. It’s hard to put down in words what she’s done for me while I’ve worked to get the company off the ground. Her patience, love, generosity, kindness, hugs, tears and laughter have got me through the toughest of tough times, but also given me the most fun times in celebrating the amazing successes we’ve had too. Without her I would have no doubt given up at different points when times got tough, but with her I’m ten times as strong as I am alone. FutureGov is built as much on her love as it is on the team’s hard work and I thank her deeply for that.
And alongside Merici come my mum and dad. If you don’t know them yet you should. They’re total geezas. They have endlessly believed in me for as long as I can remember, and sure while my mum might have wanted me to become an accountant, I reckon she’s pretty proud of how things have turned out. I’m guided by the values they’ve instilled in me and their overwhelming love of people. And the fact that I always knew that if things had gone pear-shaped they’d have been there for me no matter what. It’s amazing the strength that gives you and I hope I can do the same for my children. Anyway enough. Here’s me gushing about them in a talk I did if you need more of the soppy stuff.
After a shaky start back when we first met, Carrie and I become best of friends designing diversity monitoring forms and HR process almost 15 years ago in our formative professional years in Barnet Council (I kid you not). And since then we’ve never looked back. I don’t see myself as a creative by nature (more a strategy-and-get-shit-done kind of a bloke) but together Carrie and I filled in each other’s blanks and taught each other a lot. When she left FutureGov for pastures new (although fortunately she’s still on our board so she’s not gone gone!) I think people worried for us and the company. But we knew we’d learned enough from each other to take our own paths from here (for now), to grow into each other’s spaces and be better for it, safe in the knowledge that we’re both FutureGov for life and will always have each other’s backs. And that’s exactly how it’s playing out. Carrie remains FutureGov’s guiding star and will always leave her mark on everything we do.
To our clients
I’d love to list you all. And I probably will in another post soon. But for now I just want to say a big big thank you to all of you.
In the UK I’m so grateful for the faith shown in me by Gavin and the team in Essex, Gill, Ali and Anne-Louise in Bexley, Rob and Matthew in Hackney, Marius and the SEN team in West Sussex, Rob and the North-East Lincolnshire team, Chris and Meena in Barking and Dagenham, Ashley, Catherine and Stephanie in Medway, Paul from your Brighton Council days, Claire, Rachel, Melissa, Dave, Amy and everyone involved in Children’s Services work in tri-borough, Roy and York Council, Patrick in Dorset, Jenny (now of Camden) and Lewes Council, Steven and Debbie in Salford, Louise and the GDS family, Jason and Barnardos, Tony, Jenny and the team in Newcastle and Angela and her team in Aberdeen. The list goes on and on.
Further afield, a big thank you to the Municipal Association of Victoria for bringing us to Australia as well as Greg and Lisa for your faith with Family and Community Services in New South Wales allowing us to support your amazing vision with Childstory. And to people like Brenton, Giulio and the Nesta gang plus Millie at UNDP for broadening our horizons into the UAE, Indonesia, Armenia, Moldova, Georgia and places we have been hugely honoured to experience working in.
And above all, the people in all these places and more who are great allies in making change happen. Without you we would still be a small bunch disruptive rebels not allowed to have grown into the partners for change we are now.
An extra special big thank you to two of the people who fought to make Patchwork a reality. Without Jon Kingsbury’s tenacious persuasive skills during his time at Nesta there would have been no money or mandate and without Nina Dawes at Lichfield Council and Sander Kristel at Staffordshire Council there would have been no-one willing to take the chance on our back of a napkin idea that we came to them with. My eternal thanks.
To my team
As Carrie said in her leaving blog post, I am so proud of making great jobs for great people. And above all I’m so proud of our culture. Clients now talk about wanting to feel like they’ve been “FutureGovd”. That’s an amazing feeling. Especially as it is build on values I really care about — honesty, frankness, challenge, always pushing excellence. And doing it all together as a team, a family where we have each other’s backs.
People used to laugh at me when I said I wanted to make local government cool. To show how meaningful it is as a career. How we have to start using the best of Silicon Valley digital to solve important problems not just trivial rubbish. I feel like when you look at the quality of people coming to FutureGov or going into government as well as seeing the best of the people already in the sector getting on board with this agenda, I’m beginning to feel that might just be starting to happen.
Again it’s hard to list out everyone who has given me everything working at FutureGov. You don’t join us for an easy ride but you do if you care, if you have a special something, a spirit and a passion to make the world better for those people who depend on government.
So a special big thanks to long timers and people who have played vital roles over the past 10 years in making us who we are today — above all my right hand man Matt Skinner, I owe you more than I can say. But also big love and hugs to Simone, Adam, Alex, Kiran, Lucy, Murtz, Roberta, Mark, Jrae, Gaz, Joe, Ian, Eliot, Joe, Harriet, Matt, Isabella, James, Laurence, Elle, Tom Tobia, Ed Davey, Claire Sidebottom, Kirsty, Emma Gasson, Ingrid, Culainn, Katherine, everyone in the team right now who is taking us to the next level. Thank you for everything.
To our investors
There’s no doubting how big a deal it is when you take investment. Having built a company on our own for 6 years and then allowing others to buy a piece of that pie is emotional. It comes with a lot of pressures and process, but also it brings a focus and professionalism that has benefited us hugely over the past 4 years and made us who we are today.
I’ve not always been the model board member, it can be hard having critical friends holding you to account (yes, I see the irony given my role in local government!). But I have grown so much through it all and hugely value the support of our investors who continue to have our backs.
I’ve already mentioned Joe and Katie, but also special mention goes to Susan Smyth, Manish Miglani and Nathan Elstub as well as first Chairman Alistair Crawford and present day Chairman Peter Martin. Thanks for your patient support!
Thanks to Denise Stephens for inspiring me every day we’ve worked together on our side project Enabled by Design. While it never quite made it to where we wanted it to, you have won hearts and minds, reset expectations, raised the bar for what people should see as good enough for support to disabled people. And most of all you should be endlessly proud of the community you have built. You’ve brought a sense of hope, change and togetherness in a world that desperately needs it more than ever. Respect.
Thanks to mentors and advocates in and around local government — especially possibly two of the nicest men I know, Jonathan Flowers in the UK and Martin Stewart-Weeks in Australia. Both have helped me personally for years now and your friendship and support means a lot to me.
Thanks to the first boss Carrie and I ever had in local government, Nick Walkley. He showed us change is possible in government. That energy and ideas can move the dial, a lead we’ve taken ever since.
Thanks to early believers in FutureGov Joe Simpson, Emer Coleman, Matthew Taylor and a host of others. Without your willingness to let me practice some of my ideas we’d have got nowhere. Hopefully I’ve repaid your faith!
Thanks to my hero accountant Kelvin. Sadly no longer with us, he had my back from the very beginning, coaching, supporting, berating me into being a better businessman. I’d hope he’d be proud of where things have got to today. Thanks Chris for the intro — the man was a legend!
Thanks to partner organisations like Harry Harold and crew at Neon Tribe as well as a host of others who have partnered with us on our vision of changing the world.
Thanks to people who have funded our wild ideas — Nominet Trust, Big Lottery, Nesta, Design Council, InnovateUK. Money isn’t everything but it is bloody hard to get things done without it!
And last but not least, big thanks to James Governor. He certainly doesn’t fit into any of my thank you boxes but he was instrumental in everything we are today. Without going along to a random breakfast and seeing him wow the room in full flow we would never have met up in the corner of a dark and dingy Hackney pub where he introduced Carrie and I to this thing called Twitter. “It’s going to be big one day trust me”. No shit mate. Much love.