Saturday, October 6, 2012

Rolling on to Ireland

I’ve wrapped up business in the UK (and Germany) for now, and am embarking on a 10-day business trip through Ireland and the US.  It’s a busy convergence of commitments made months ago, payable in October.

‘Fitting that it starts with a new piece of Random Road Art, spotted in a roundabout near the airport.

My route will be a long C-shaped route from Belfast to Galway to Dublin, with stops along the northwest Irish coast.   Our clinical director found a long-lost experimental device cached in a closet in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, so I’ve agreed to pick up the unit (perhaps the only one remaining) and convey it to the US in carry-on baggage.  Then on to Galway for the Medtec Ireland conference to give a presentation on improving clinical trial strategy.  Finally, out through Dublin and on to Washington DC for the Anesthesia Society of America meeting and business discussions with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

I’m actually looking forward to the week in Ireland, and there are opportunities to solve a lot of issues during group meetings in Washington.  Back home, I’m accelerating my Dutch practice and working at getting my Q3 VAT / Invoicing done on time (i.e.: the third week of the month rather than the fourth).

‘and not taking on even one thing more.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ik voel benadrukt

The sun was setting over the motorway south of Stuttgart; I was powering north toward a 10 pm flight out of Frankfurt HHN.  Wednesday evening:  a day trip to consult for friends in Rottweil, a quick thousand euro into Stone Bridge.

I don’t mind the time on the highway, a chance to disconnect and follow a few thoughts after a day of engagement with the Germans, Dutch and Americans.

Arriving through Frankfurt, I smiled at how the  German customs agents glanced and stamped, a couple of quick questions; how the German auto rental and hotel clerks glanced and stamped, a couple of quick questions.  Through the airport in ten minutes, into a hotel room in five.  Different from the snaking queues and indifferent service elsewhere.  ‘nice to just ‘get on with it’ passing through the gatekeepers.

But the motorway is dotted with construction zones, narrow and filled with lurching trucks. Family vans and black station wagons drill up my tail incessantly, forcing frequent lane changes.  This is the flip side of fat efficiency: when I’m the one who is in the way, the populace just flows over and past me.   ‘just getting on with it.

I was reading an article from the Modesto Bee this morning, about how to deal with overextended work lives. Business owners, busy enough during the normal course of their work, can become overextended by simultaneous, competing demands and end up feeling out of control: “snapping with people at home, being a little more impatient or not getting things done there you normally do.”   Solutions?  Business school professor Robert Preziosi recommends

Keep working while restoring your energy using a “pull-back” method. When you’re feeling absolutely overwhelmed, identify the three most important actions my business needs me to take right now.    Then follow through and bring tasks to a firm and timely conclusion.

Top four things?  Sorting out lab results in Brighton, writing this trip report, preparing a talk that I have to present next week, preparing for meetings in the US afterwards.  ‘and VAT reporting, ta submission, pay the rent, and do daily Dutch lessons and exercise.

Still too many.  The obvious solutions are to cut back, delegate, delay, don’t add anything else until these are done.   We’re hiring help and I’m not adding to the list: there’s daily Dutch practice with workbooks.  At least I’m largely staying within the top eight.

Yet, I concede,  here I am driving up a motorway in Germany for my friends and 1000 euros.

Another construction zone: I get shunted left, my exit whizzes by on the other side of the barriers, right.  TomTom squawks and adds 15 minutes to my travel time.  I sigh.

Clearly further reforms are still needed.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Growing (up) the business

This is a huge week for CamStent, the UK business that I founded with classmates back in 2006.We got our legs under us with our first funding in 2009, bringing Clare on as CFO and putting the whole thing on a firm forward track.  In 2010 we proved our basic market concept; in 2011 our basic technology concept and reconstituted the Board.  In 2012 we’ve closed our second round of funding (raising almost 1m gbp total) and are on the road to commercialization in 2013.


Throughout it all, the constants have been Clare and I running a largely virtual company, supported by centers in Sheffield, Bristol, Brighton, and London.  As the work progresses, we’ve decided to hire some help, employees and, finally, an office.

Employees and An Office.  That is a huge step forward.  It changes how we operate the business, where we operate it from, how we delegate and organize the work.  We have brought in Raman already, a business development expert, and are in the process of interviewing a Head, Microbiology and Head, Chemistry.  With the addition of an administrative assistant, we will shortly be six people.


Recruitment has gone very well: we had outstanding applicants from our operating network, and three top candidates have been invited to face-to-face conversations.  The key attributes we’re looking for are 1)  Is this someone you can share a table and run a business with every day,  2)  Do they have the knowledge and experience to do the job, 3)  Can they work independently and aggressively as a project manager, planning work, gathering resources, and driving completion, and 4) Can they communicate and discuss ideas and results comfortably with a wide variety of colleagues and audiences.  Two of the three interviewee’s were outstanding on all four.

We looked at office space at several local incubators before deciding on St. John's Innovation Centre.  We plan to operate with flex time: there will be core hours when all or some off the group will need to be on-hand, but we’ll flexibly expect 32 hours work each week from each person (40++ for me).  That means an office space with four desks, a work table, and a small conversation / kitchen area.  Room 27, 420 sq-ft, fits the bill; we signed the rental for occupancy next week.


We made a furniture inventory and headed to Silverman’s to see what second- and first-hand furniture might be available.  It’s a bit like visiting the island of lost toys:  all manner of furniture left behind as companies outgrew them or failed.  We tried to envision a crescent desk or a rectangle, a round table or an oval one for meetings, chairs, facing the window or side-on to it. 



We passed, regretfully, on the lip-sofa.

I want an open, inclusive arrangement with a welcoming ambience, avoiding folks back-to-back or back-to-windows.  In the end, I think Larry helped us to sort through the options and get consistent pieces and colors: it delivers on Monday.

Employees and An Office.  It’s an echo of when the kids first arrived: I suddenly feel much more responsible for creating an environment and for supporting others, with commitments to workplace, well-being, and salary.

It’s growing up.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Naar de toets

examen2After a week of debate with the college, I’ve given in and agreed to schedule a NT2 language exam.  I’m very concerned about the overall implications of this move, coming right in the middle of my annual visa renewal with IND.

I want to (and plan) to take the exam: the only issue is timing.  The college cut me off their resources over the summer and I had to craft an alternative program with a private teacher, exam prep workbooks, and online / streaming resources.   That has all made a big difference in my vocabulary, grammar, comprehension, and confidence, but I’m no way yet prepared for a real NT2 exam.

So the questions come down to requirements and risks.  From the college’s standpoint, they want to get paid so they want me to take the test, regardless of outcome.  From the government’s standpoint, they want to see that I’m willing, if not able to learn the language.  From the IND standpoint, there is no alternative to passing a language exam to get permanent residence (except that is waived for over-65’s).

The literal requirement is that I pass the A2 Europese Referentiekader voor Moderne Vreemde Talen.  The key is “A2”, a level of proficiency that I am probably pretty close to now (contrasted with B2, the requirement for University attendance.  The risks of not passing seem to be that I would have to take the exam again (although it’s not clear if I get credit for the sections I am able to pass), while the risks of not attending could be much more severe.


So, I’ve sent in my passport and bank number and have been scheduled for Nov 12-13 in Eindhoven.  Six weeks: a lot of lezen en luisteren lies ahead.