Founderoo caught up with Dan about his business 'More Space for Light.' This story is a frank look at how tough it is to set up a business and how crucial the founder's vision is to be successful.
Dan, what's your backstory?
I was brought up in London. I went to university in Plymouth to study digital design. After graduating, I moved back to London and started running a studio out of Camden. We specialised in web and interactive design. Evenings and weekends, I was involved with some pals in a record company we started at university called Rocket Kid Records.
Our goal was to build a scene in the South West of England; my pals were really into the punk scene. For me, it was an opportunity to take advantage of the rock n' roll lifestyle that I was denied by my obvious lack of musical talent!
In 2004 inspired by my Dad, I set off to travel the world. After a period of hopping around Asia, I landed in Australia. Here I quickly decided that I wanted to stay. This decision was enthusiastically endorsed by my parents.
It was tough trying to figure that all out. I had this constant tension as a traveller, i.e. living week to week in different hostels fuelled by cheap booze and meals from the strip on Kings Cross with people constantly coming into my life and leaving. Then by day, I worked, determined to make a life for myself and figure out how to become a 'regular person' in a new country without any support.
Early on, while in Sydney, my Mum suddenly passed. It was probably the toughest and bravest decision I've ever had to make to stay here. I was lucky and had lots of support from family and friends back home and my now wife and family.
In 2012, I moved back to England with my wife. Our goal was to travel Europe, work in London, and spend time reconnecting with my family and friends. When we returned, we settled in Adelaide, my wife's hometown. In Adelaide, I shifted my focus to experience design and strategy. In 2016, when my second son was born, I finally had the courage and belief to take the 'leap'. It was then that I started More Space for Light.
Tell us what your company does?
More Space for Light is a corporate Innovation and Strategy Consultancy. We specialise in Human-Centered Design. We help our clients overcome problems related to strategy, product, process, and service. This is achieved through design-led consultation, facilitation or realisation, prototyping, and other aspects of experience design.
Our focus is often on creating new futures or experiences that are outside of BAU and are regarded as 'unknowns'. To do this, we work 'outside the lines', typically with SME's from across the business, to facilitate conversations to gain alignment and focus for action. Action being rapid prototyping and pilot programs. We're mainly known for our Transformation Programs, which include Design Sprints.
How did you come up with the idea and the name?
I want to say I had a Eureka moment. But the real hero of the story is my son Max. One evening I was putting my son to bed, and he said, "Mummy, I want more space for light!"
I asked my wife to explain what he meant. She described it as he wanted more time to play, read, and do all the things he likes doing during the day.
What my wife said stopped me in my tracks, and I really connected with this sentiment. I wasn't happy in my current role. I wasn't happy with where my career was going and didn't feel fulfilled. I also wanted "more space for light", so I adopted my then 3-year old son's nightly wish as my mantra. 'More space for light' is our mission for our clients and the people we get to work with in terms of how we provide value.
How did you go about building the business?
Brick by brick, decision by decision! The company's evolved as it has matured over the last few years. Like any typical startup, we've learnt and refined our approach. We initially thought it would be mainly User Experience and Service Design. However, we found that we were helping a lot with strategy. I leaned into the tools of human-centred Design and Design Thinking to work with teams. It was around then that I discovered the Design Sprint program.
We started using Design Sprints as a gateway to help organisations understand the impact and value of using Human-Centered Design. Slowly over time, we've refined and evolved our process into what we like to refer to as the More Space Method.
What did you need to do for the launch?
I needed a client, and I needed to make sure I had income. I then spent all my money that I'd saved up on branding. This wasn't the most sensible thing, but I didn't really understand business priorities at that time!
Initially, when we started, it was pretty easy. I went straight into working for one client, and that seemed to seem to be really good. However, I was very naive as a new business owner and made lots of mistakes. We now have a lot more of a sense of who we are. So, as a result, we feel a lot more confident in how we add value.
How have you grown the business?
The people we've brought into the business believe in our mission, the name of the company. We have a mix of full-time staff and a distributed team we bring on for specific requirements. We also have support from more established and experienced business owners and leaders.
I also have a mentor. I believe in having a mentor or having somebody that you can talk to. It is very lonely, running a company, and you need somebody just from an outside perspective to bounce ideas off. Someone to push you and motivate you because it can be easy to drift. As a business owner, you need to feel like you're moving and making momentum.
What have been some of your biggest failures along the way?
We put all our eggs in one basket with one client. That wasn't easy once that project ended. Also, bringing on the wrong people resulted from us not defining what we needed from the roles.
All of these things have been essential learnings for us on how we've grown and matured. I don't think I would have done anything differently because I wouldn't have learned. I believe you learn from experience.
What’s your biggest selling product?
Our Design Sprints. I'm hopelessly biased and believe they're the best on the market! Our brand is associated with blue-sky thinking to help people create a future vision.
People bring us in to help them act differently, shake things up, get people to collaborate, recalibrate and connect. Our superpower is helping to bring the best out in people, so they have the creative capacity and confidence to work together.
What day to day digital tools do you use?
We've designed our own work methodology called 'The More Space Method'. This methodology is in beta at the moment and is being tested with clients. Our goal is to share our tools and methods to help people identify, explore, and solve challenges.
What are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to other founders?
"Listen to your gut; it's usually right. Also be patient. So be patient and listen to your gut, except at lunch!
What keeps you up at night regarding your business?
Fulfilling our potential and serving the people who work for and with us to do their best work.
What's the biggest surprise you've had as a founder
The biggest surprise I've had being a founder is how happy I am in what I do. I see people moving on, I see people changing roles, and I feel as passionate if not more so, and motivated in what I'm doing, more so today than I did five years ago. I love what I do.
Have you ever felt like quitting, if so why?
A lot more often than you think. As a founder, you are constantly battling self-doubt. You feel everything x100 more than anybody that works with you or for you.
Suppose I'm not achieving my best and not making progress. In that case, I feel like I'm wasting my time and my family's time because I invest so much of my life in this that I owe it to myself and to my family that we're constantly making progress and doing the right thing. I want to give them more space for light.
What quotes do you live by?
“Just say yes until you have to say no, because that's where the light key is, and that's where the magic happens."
In a few words what does it mean to be the founder of a business?
“It's like being Icarus. Every day, you try to fly a little bit closer to the sun."
What book has been a great inspiration to you as a founder?
Marketing school is great.
2 Bob's is another great one.
The Futur with Chris Do.
That Will Never Work with Marc Randolph.
The Steve Austen Show (for nostalgia, I used to be a wrestling nut growing up).
At The Table with Patrick Lencioni.
A Little bit of Optimism by SImon SInek.
How I built this with Guy Raz.
Creative Confidence with IDEO.
Finding Mastery with Michael Gervais.