After 15 years growing Clearleft, today is my last day at this wonderful company. I’ve spent the past few years working on my succession plan. First by putting a new leadership team in place, and then by transitioning the company to employee ownership. As such, I’m leaving Clearleft on an excellent footing, and with a bright future ahead.
I’ve always been motivated by growing the impact of design. It’s why I started my blog; became a speaker; wrote a book; founded my own agency; curated a bunch of conferences; and launched a couple of products along the way. Up until now, Clearleft has been the perfect vehicle for this, but it’s time to spread my wings in the hope of making an even bigger impact. I’m not exactly sure what comes next, but I'll keep you all posted.
In the meantime I’ll be taking the start of the year off as a serendipity break —with a brief return to host Leading Design Festival in March. I’m seeing this as an opportunity to have interesting conversations, explore opportunities, reconnect with people and have some valuable thinking time. Under normal circumstances this would have involved a fair amount of travel, and a lot of in-person chats. However we live in strange times, so I suspect I’ll keep the travel closer to home and the conversations online. Reach out if you fancy a natter.
To stay active I’ll continue with my start-up advisory work, as well as the coaching practice I’ve slowly been building (mostly design leaders and other agency founders). I’m working on a few new talks, as well as chatting to folks about event curation. I’m also toying with the idea of starting a design leadership newsletter, to share the more human side of leadership. So if you have any interesting stories, please let me know.
Leaving Clearleft is a bittersweet moment for me, as it's a company I love. However things were starting to get a little too comfortable, so it was time for a shake-up. I have a huge amount of faith in the teams ability to keep the dream alive, as you can see from this transcript of my leaving announcement at the start of the year.
All the best for now.
Welcome back everybody. I hope you had a lovely break over Christmas and New Year. I wanted to start the year by saying how proud I am of everybody at Clearleft. It’s been a really tough year, and I suspect we have a few more challenges ahead. However I’ve been really impressed by how quickly everybody adapted to working remotely; how everybody came together and supported each other as a team; and how we managed to navigate our way through the trickiest time in our recent history. So you all have my admiration, my thanks and my deepest respect for coming together the way you have.
I also want to say how proud I am of everything we’ve achieved together over the past 15 years. From setting up conferences like dConstruct, Leading Design and UX London, to industry-defining products like Silverback and Fontdeck, we’ve always been at the cutting edge of our industry; one of the reasons why amazing brands like The BBC, Channel 4, Mozilla, Spotify, Virgin Atlantic, Burberry and John Lewis have partnered with us.
I sometimes think that we take these things for granted, but we really shouldn’t. Clearleft has had an outsized impact on our industry, and has gathered supporters from around the world. Thanks to the dedication we’ve shown to our craft, and our willingness to share what we’ve learned with others, we’ve garnered numerous accolades along the way, including being named agency of the year on two occasions.
Clearleft has shown a lot of resilience over the years, outlasting many of our peers; Amazing companies like Adaptive Path, Happy Cog and Teehan Lax. In fact Jeffrey Zeldman himself once described us as “The Last Agency Standing”. The Original Gangsters of the UX world.
It’s been an exciting 15 years, and we’ve had some amazing experiences along the way. A few standout memories include doing tequila shots on the back deck of the Shakespeare Pub in Austin as part of the Great British Booze-up at SXSW; filling bathtubs full of beer at the secret dConstruct after after parties; organising our very first hack farm event in a beautiful country house hotel in the north of England, moving in to our wonderful new home in Middle Street; commandeering the old Hanbury Ballroom for 10th Birthday party (so gutted we weren’t able to recreate this for our 15th); and more recently, heading over to Brooklyn on mass for our first ever Leading Design New York event.
It’s easy to get hung up on the past, but I’m more excited about our future. Clearleft has always been in the talent business, and has built one of the best teams in the industry. This, combined with our global reputation, is all we need to take the company to the next level—attracting more clients, growing our business, and having an even bigger impact on our industry. And as a newly employee-owned company, everybody here will be able to benefit from this bright new future.
From a personal perspective, I’ve experienced a lot of changes over the past couple years. A few years ago I stepped down as MD, in order to make space for a brand new leadership team. And then at the start of the year I handed over the lion’s share of my stake in the company to you wonderful people. It’s a plan I’ve been working on for some time, and there’s one last piece of the puzzle left.
After 13 years running Clearleft, and two and a half years working on my succession plan, it’s finally time for me to step away from the business. I have no specific plans as yet, but I suspect a little break is due. However I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit—and a desire to make an impact— so I’m sure there will be some exciting projects ahead for me. I’ll do my best to keep you all posted.
While I’ll no longer be a full time member of the Clearleft team, I’ll continue to be a minority shareholder, a non-executive director and a trustee. More importantly I’ll continue to be a supporter and fan. Clearleft has a bright future ahead, so I’m excited to see where this company will go under its own steam; and I’ll continue to cheer from the sidelines, like the proud founder I am.
So thanks to everybody for their hard work over the years, and here’s to the next 15 years of Clearleft.