Updated: Mar 9, 2021
Time, it seems, does actually fly. It's been over a year since Upstream was born, so a great opportunity to stop, reflect and share hows it's been, and dig a little deeper to see if it was different from what I'd hoped it would be.
I didn't share my hopes when I started out, so maybe that's a good place to start. I've always loved detailed technical work, the joy of seeing new results for the first time, and delivering solutions or insights to problems. I've worked in a variety of engineering industries, all roles with an element of math or computational modelling, some to a greater extent than others. Prior to starting Upstream, I was working in the Cambridge consulting sector. I liked the operational model, but disliked the business model. I was in a specialized role, the only one doing this type of work, so the business case for taking my skills to market on my own terms made a lot of sense. I wanted to work on my own terms - commercially being able to balance project cost against how much I would learn and the positive environmental or health impact of the outcome, and optimize when I work to maximize productivity. I also wanted to build something that could be a safety net for my children, in case school doesn't work out for them.
At the outset, the main criteria for success for year one was simply making the move work, and behind that, gaining experience to keep making it work. I'm sat here writing this, so obviously a tick on the first one. Of course, that wouldn't have been possible without clients, so I'd like to say a big thank you to the companies and people that I've delivered projects for over the last year, and also to everyone in my network who has been supportive and encouraging.
All of the work so far has come either directly or indirectly from my existing network, which has been great and taken the pressure off business development in the short term. That was the idea at the start. There was the coronavirus swerve ball that was thrown earlier this year, which resulted in a quiet couple of months in April and May. With client work quiet, I was able to work on internal projects (the blood pump computational fluid dynamics benchmark on Azure was really enjoyable) and take some time to focus on helping my children with their education while schools were closed. So the safety net card got played straight off the bat. It's not a card that I was looking to play, but I was very happy that I was able to. Now the kids are back in school and business is going well, my wife Jennie has switched up to work for Upstream full time (mental note: I need to say "we" when talking about Upstream now, not "I"). The drivers for this were to provide more focus to marketing and business development, to be better organized :-), and to give us both maximum flexibility should our children need it again.
Optimizing my working hours has worked really well. The balance of my time on work, family, fitness, learning, socializing etc has varied week to week, but on average I'm happy with the balance. I've learned to look at that balance over a longish time period - I've found it easy to feel guilty or worried when looking back over the past couple of weeks at times when the balance has been heavy on one area. There's still some room for improvement, but I'm happy with how it's worked so far. I was relatively well prepared for the amount of time I would need to spend on non-technical work. What I wasn't prepared for was the amount of time I would spend thinking about how to make those tasks more efficient. In hindsight, it comes with the territory of building efficient models and workflows, so maybe I should have seen it coming.
So, a good year all in all, and one which I'm grateful for - it could have been a tricker transition than it was. This next year I'm looking forward to working with my wife (some of that is simply a desire to spend less time working on my own, but don't tell her that), and in particular on the parts of the business that haven't been a focus in the past year. One area that I'm excited and hopeful for is finding more projects with a strong environmental or health outcome. Hopefully I'll be able to tell you all about that this time next year.