Phil Gyford


Tuesday 20 May 2003

PreviousIndexNext Fly away UpMyStreet, be free!

So, yes, I am “provisionally” redundant, which is all well and good and a welcome relief. It’s an end to watching the UpMyStreet management perform endless reorganisations that make no difference to the “ground troops.” An end to the months of “we’re still looking for investors and can pay you for the next x weeks,” that began late last summer. An end to the recent weeks of occupation by humourless administrators as yet more deadlines are extended and the office gradually runs out of supplies (hand towels, printer paper, etc.) like a place under siege. So far the buyers, uSwitch, have shown a remarkably clear-headed determination to get things on track, making half the staff (post-the administrator-lead cull) redundant and packing the remainder off to the company’s cheaper, “cosy” offices in the less salubrious Victoria. So this is how profitable companies are run!

The rapid trimming of UpMyStreet into something that might, horrors, make a profit does make me wonder what a company actually is, particularly when reading the Guardian articles. They’ve described the company as being rescued or saved. The reports make it sound like it’s business as usual, but what is it that’s been saved? There are now only 14 or so members of the once 50+ strong staff. The management and founder have all gone. No doubt uSwitch will dump any products that are unlikely to turn profits. The office, with its wall-sized aerial photo, pavement-effect carpet tiles, pool table, ever-whirring toaster and stultifying keyboard-tapping silence, will soon be no more. No doubt much of the company “culture” will disappear or merge with that of the parents’: the weekly caption competition, the email lists, the bizarre political differences informing company structure, etc. So, while uSwitch appears to be doing the right thing, it doesn’t seem right to call the company, as an entity, saved. There’s not much of “the company” left.

The other event I found interesting about this whole process was Tom breaking the news of the uSwitch sale. While that whole “webloggers are the new journalists” thing is obviously utter nonsense, there’s something in webloggers being primary sources of news. To such an extent that most companies are probably way behind the times in handling it. They’re perfectly happy sending out press releases and talking to recognised journalists, but realising there are people within your company who can break a news story is something else (although Tom was, unfortunately, no longer in the company by the time the sale went through). I’m not entirely sure whether there’s anything companies can or should do, other than be aware of the changing structure of newsmaking and make it more explicit to employees what is and isn’t public.

Anyway, while there were many, many flaws with UpMyStreet, and I’m enormously pleased to be free, I’ll miss spending five days a week with some wonderful people.

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Gone Fishing
Of course the rest of the world has been moving forward while I've been away.
At 'Listen to Musak' on Wednesday 21 May 2003, 11:40 AM