Why I created StartupMill?

Building ventures and learning all at the same time

Toby Allen
Nov 8, 2019 · 5 min read

I’m writing this article to get this off my chest — To explain to others why I have a drive in my to create products and why I love to do this. I hope this might inspire others with the same ambitions as me to build their dream. This is for you.

I’ve been producing & product managing software pretty much all my life.

I started early, way early. When I was 14, I was working on helping out some projects like PakRat (which to my amazement is actually still downloadable.) It was a tool to view the content of .pak files for the Quake engine. At the time when Quake 3 was coming out. Yes, before you ask, I was the odd one out at school for doing something like this. Thought I don’t think people really knew I did this, they did know I used to be on Belgian national TV as TV co-host, which is a story for another day.

What was most likely my first ReadMe file

Just writing this article took me down memory lane — 18 years ago, I was writing release notes for that project. Its most likely the first of my career. (If Tom is reading this — Hey Tom! 👋) Anyways, this is nuts!

So what happened since?

Let me give you the short version.

Well I continued my career and built a number of awesome video games. The biggest one was handling the preproduction for Mafia III in Prague for 3 years with a team of 160 devs. That was intense. I took a little break to do an MBA at Hult, at which point I got involved in startups quite significantly.

This is where I think I got my first taste of really wanting to build my own projects. London being the great startup hub that it is, it’s not hard to find people or problems to solve. I soaked it all up. Ever MeetUp, pitch event, investor dinner, and loved it all.

With this I started helping startups like Dibbz (failed, of course — but the founders are now working at a VC and GetTaxi, so that’s awesome!) This was a fun time for sure and certainly a very cool time. We tried tried a raise through CrowdCube. I’ve got to say, I was nervous, it was one of my first live pitches. I’ve gotten better since then!

After this, I joined Preloaded to build some awesome games with purpose and products. While this was a good time, this also was a difficult time as we had some good tech but internally could never get it out. This was limiting and restrictive. I fought the board (never fun!) because of this and after a while left to join Microsoft to build HoloLens projects. I needed a break. Convincing a board to green light projects based on potential tech as a full product is very challenging, but a good learning curve.

So why StartupMill?

The idea behind StartupMill is to act as a conduit for my ideas or concepts.

A mill take in raw material, processes that and produces a product to sell. I wanted to follow this concept with my venture ideas.

I wanted a repeatable process to incubate test ideas, create an MVP and get it out so that it can get traction and grow. If the project grows enough, then it would get some funding and I would actively work on getting it invested in or push it harder.

I guess some of this came from a TED talk which really changed the way I learn entirely. Matt Cutts’ talk covers how he explored a new project every 30 days. This made him touch on new concepts and grow in a multitude of different ways. I loved this concept!

I tried it out for a year — It was amazing!

I tried new sports, new languages, new business concepts, reading as many books as I could in a month for example. This was one of the most interesting times I’ve had. I met a lot of new people and grew my network extensively. Still one of the best things I did. So every Christmas, when I’m home with the family, I take some time to reflect and build out the next 12 months of projects. These would target specifically areas of growth that I wanted to work on.

In exploring new concepts, sports, industries and skills, I got exposed to a lot of new problems, which gave rise to new solutions and ideas.

I saw new opportunities to try and test my ideas.

No more fear

By really pushing myself to try new things every month, I learnt to remove any fear of the unknown. Sure I was going to mess up. I was going to fail.

Yet what this led me to do is basically remove any fear in learning new concepts as I allowed myself to fail and learn through that process.

Starting slowly

I didn’t jump into this with all my ideas. What I did was take a look at all my ideas, which I keep in my notes in Evernote and looked at which could be achieved and which had the biggest potential to become a revenue generating idea.

The Model

What I aimed to do is to setup a process that suited my lifestyle and how I work. Yet I wanted to be highly effective in what I output so that I can bring my ideas to life.

The idea was to come up with a framework that would enable me to rapidly build, deploy and test the idea. In many ways standardising my approach to this meant that A) I knew the amount of effort needed to build a new idea, B) I could rapidly switch between projects and find things easily in each project. I’ll discuss more about the framework I built in another article.

Branding

I wanted StartupMill to have a very simple branding as not to overshadow the other ventures. I took inspiration from Tiny.website which is rather nicely done. Yet I also liked the simplicity of Soho House’s logos and their overall branding. So mixing these two together was how I designed StartupMill’s logo and branding.

So what next?

It was time to turn those ideas into micro ventures and see what stuck.

This is what I did. The first set of projects have been posted, and many more are to come.

startupmill

Updates on StartupMill’s ventures

Toby Allen

Written by

Technologist with a passion for producing products and technology. Mostly Product Dev, Mobility, Immersive Tech, Games, Web, No Code, Management and Startups :)

startupmill

Updates on StartupMill’s ventures

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