Taking A Different TackCaroline Laurenson
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
2020 was a year of many changes and a year which has forever changed our business. When we originally started our business, the vision was to be like the plumbers of the smart home world. A service much like any other home trade to help people who maybe lack the know-how, tools or time to do it for themselves. Helping people to get the best out of their home environments and empowering people to be independent through technology. A perfectly valid business model, until you factor in a highly contagious virus and the fact that our main customer base are vulnerable adults.
I like to reflect on things that have happened. It’s important for me to do this to then navigate the way forward. As Steven Covey says “live your life by a compass, not a clock”. Taking time to make sure you are on the right direction of travel is very important, no matter how pressed for time you think you are.
I don’t dissect every detail, but instead try to put things into context. This allows me to move on. During this reflective exercise I also feel it’s essential to find the good, appreciate how far we’ve come and all the things we have to be grateful for. In doing so I’ve realised how pivotal the people that we have met on our journey have been and how amazing our support network is.
About Our Blog
We live in an ageing society. But what does that really mean?
In the next 20 years the balance of young and old will shift to the point where there will be one elderly person for every two people of working age. The challenge this presents is two-fold, a reduction in family members able to provide support and a smaller pool of professional carers.
TL Tech is a Smart Homes Solutions provider with a difference. We help people get the best out of smart home technologies and create unique home environments to meet their needs and budget. Our vision is to “create a home that cares for you as you age”.
Smart home technologies have the power to transform lives, especially for the vulnerable in our society. This blog series will be looking to showcase the opportunities, find out more about the people working in this field and how we can create a world where “smart meets kind” ®.
Weathering the 2020 Storm
I’ve titled this blog piece, “taking a different tack”, as Thomas is sailing fan, and I think that it is a really nice analogy for how 2020 went for us. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”.
In March 2020 the world changed, and we recognised that this change meant that how we deliver our business would need to change, and that now more than ever people needed our support to get through these difficult times.
So, what did we do? We moved our service online. We now offer online appointment booking, a free knowledge base, live chat service, Facebook support group with live tutorials and YouTube channel with helpful tips videos. We created our new Smart Meets Kind brand, including successfully getting this wording trademarked. We started a regular newsletter. We increased our social media presence, curating, creating and sharing useful content.
We took on our first staff member, Ecaterina Vidrascu. Thomas was a finalist in the Abilitynet Tech4Good Awards. We ran a really successful small crowdfunding campaign. We took on a part-time Media and Communications intern, Victoria Nechifor, to help with our videos and social media. And this all culminated in the creation of our own voice application called Kindspace for Alexa to support people to manage their self-care and know when to reach out for help. You can find out more about the story of Kindspace here.
Now this all sounds like a hugely positive set of achievements, but it’s only one side of the story. We also were thrown into home schooling our 11 and 7 year old. I still work part time in the oil industry and there was a lot of uncertainty about the work I was supporting offshore being able to progress. Thomas was put on furlough from the work he does with Albyn Housing. We applied for a lot of different funds to get our online support service launched and to build the voice application, but didn’t get any of them, it has been a horrible experience dealing with so much rejection. We got quotes for support to create the tutorial videos and promotional content, but these were all too expensive.
Rather than let these things act as barriers, we just had to get resourceful, do things ourselves and learn along the way. As Karen Salmansohn says “the most challenging times bring us the most empowering lessons”.
If you look at our first videos you will see how bad they were, as we struggled with slow internet, a slow computer, poor microphone and bad lighting, but we felt it was better to start and then hopefully learn and improve than try to polish and perfect. What mattered to us most was helping people and showing them how voice assistant technology could support them while isolating and shielding. I want to focus this review on the people who’ve helped us, rather than fill this post with all the things that we have learned (quite often the hard way), I’m planning on doing a separate post on tools for bootstrapping. When we talk about tech it’s never about the tech, it’s always about the people.
So, who has really helped in 2020? Too many to mention everyone individually, but I would say that there have been a few that have (perhaps unknowingly) strongly influenced our ability to weather the storm. Here’s a few examples of the power of connection and serendipity:
- My brother Ian was put on furlough and came to stay with us to help look after the kids until his work were able to make adjustments and reopen at the end of the first lockdown.
- Elevator and the Business Gateway service introduced us to Roddy McLean (Feral), Bob Gentle (Amplify) and Lara Moloney. Roddy helped with 1-2-1 support to teach me about digital content marketing and how to think like a media company, lots of his tips have been put into action. We’ve enjoyed listening to Bob’s regular podcasts and “meeting” his amazing guests, to hear their journeys and tips. Some favourites were Ash Boreland a personal branding expert and Col Gray from Pixels Inc who specialises in logo and brand design. More recently Lara has shared all her B2B sales wisdom which has really helped with the launch of Kindspace.
- We have an amazing network of friends through ONECodebase, including Barclays Eagle Labs, Kate McKay (Design Sprint Academy) and The Datalab.
Live Your Life by a Compass
2020 was a relentless year, we all dug deep into our reserves of hope and pulled together to get through. Our attitudes to wellbeing, loneliness and mental health are forever changed. These feelings are very real and we all now have a better appreciation for how it impacts our ability to function. When we decided to build Kindspace, I don’t think we entirely knew what we were getting ourselves into and to be honest I still don’t, but the experience has been quite magical and almost serendipitous in places, so I’m just going to hold onto that magic, and maybe on our next sailing adventure we’ll meet a mermaid (did I tell you that my favourite Disney Princess is Ariel from the Little Mermaid).
Before I go, I thought it might be nice to give you an insight into what we have planned for 2021. While I say this is the plan, it is a very loose plan and if last year taught us anything is that you have to embrace change, look for the positive and keep going, following the direction of the compass.
In many respects, the hard work is only just starting with Kindspace. We have an ocean to cross (maybe quite literally) to raise awareness about Kindspace and gain more feedback. We started our journey with the question “can a conversation with a voice assistant provide an insight into wellbeing, such that the individual can then action improvements?” Maintaining wellbeing requires well-timed nudges and continued motivational support. To personalise content, this needs data and opens ethical dilemmas about how the data is used. Taking the time to map out the data strategy is therefore really important so that we can honour people’s data and use it to meaningfully improve their lives.
My last gift to you is a little video I created with some extra motivational sea themed quotes:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”Mark Twain
“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”William A. Ward
“We can battle the sea, or we can embrace it. Sometimes she will be sweet and sometimes mean as a snake. We must embrace the experience and trust we will get through it.”Michelle Segrest
“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed to an uncharted land or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.”Helen Keller
If you liked this post, check out our other articles, we have some very exciting plans for 2021 with guest interviews, which I think you are going to love. You can also subscribe to our mailing list to be notified when we have new posts and support material available.
We love to hear your stories of how you have been using smart home technologies and voice assistants and what tips that you might have discovered to share with others, so please do get in touch also on our social media channels. We have a dedicated Facebook Group community that you are more than welcome to join, just click here.