The Loneliness of the Long Distance Entrepreneur

Here I am. Another country I have never been to, another city. Hoping I have the right clothes for whatever climate I am in. I guess I will find out tomorrow when I step outside for the first time since I got here.

Today I got up at 4am to get to the airport in time. I got coffee at the hotel in London, I had a sort of faux-camaraderie with the staff. They knew what kind of coffee to make me before I asked. I had been there for a week so I was kinda a local to them. They didn’t check my room number at breakfast anymore, they pretended to relax as if we knew each other. I played along with it as much as they did. It makes the days easier.

Not that the days are hard. I enjoy this way of working. Constantly moving, meeting new folks, jamming new collaborations, disarming people with my kookiness. I feel in my stride in this mode. It works, and I know how to work it.

Not that this life is without its challenges. I have plenty of friends but most of them don’t know each other. My closest friends are almost all on different continents. I check in on them when I am close by, but sometimes my schedule means I don’t know where I will be and when, and then they get mad when we couldn’t connect. And I don’t care, it means nothing to me because that’s just how it is. My stability is in passing through at unknown times. It becomes hard to empathise with those that need to know when to be home in case I turn up.

Sleep comes also like this. At odd times. I wonder if I should just jump out of bed at 3am and use my energy to do something, or if I should just lie there and try and make myself tired. Sometimes I simulate timezones, sometimes I fight them. I don’t know which strategy is best. The only thing I have worked out is that it doesn’t pay to stress about it. I listen to podcasts to keep me company.

And then there is the serial entrepreneur bit. The deliberately chosen hard road. I don’t just make things to sell, I make things that don’t make sense and then try to sell them. And then there is the ethical bit, the deliberate choice to make the hard road harder. So not only should you buy this thing that you aren’t really sure makes sense or even exists(!), but it comes with a whole load of caveats. 🙂 I find that kind of funny. …And then there is the normal entrepreneurial anxiety of mouths to feed and deals to make. Of wondering how to make it all work as one giant inter-connected system of ideas, people, money, value. How to make and sell crazy ideas with uncompromising attitudes. It’s harder than you think.

How to keep it all up in the air while also being, most of the time, up in the air. Learning to sleep sitting up. Finding solitude in headphones.

It’s sometimes all a little too much. But I can’t give up. I just don’t know any other way. And no matter how much I succeed it never feels like success. Except when I see what other people do with it. People I love and trust. Strangely, I find that very satisfying.

But generally I just keep wanting to make the road harder. I choose even harder routes, with bigger ideas, and even more uncompromising attitudes.

It’s just how I like it.


Oh man.. I’m having one of those days…sitting in the plane 30 mins ago eating a sandwich I got at the airport and trying not to disturb my sleeping neighbor….so I don’t turn on the reading light and I see there is a sachet of mayonnaise in the container, the sandwich is dry and so I think ‘awesomes!’… it’s a little squeezy thing, I slowly rip the top of it off in the dark but it’s not really letting any mayonnaise out and so I figure I just need to squeeze a little more… and viola! this long luminious stream of mayo floats in an arc in the air for an eternity before landing all inside my sleeping neighbor’s bag and the outside of their blanket… I was frozen-faced like The Scream….oh no!

what do ya do?

..I did see the aurora (flying from NZ to London via North America) which was kinda cool.

Look ma, I’m home…

Yep… an unexpectedly moving morning. I arrived in Auckland Airport last night after flying back from France. But this time it was different. I was flying back to NZ to live. I’ve been on the road, away from NZ, and living in many amazing cities including Berlin, Amsterdam, London, Adelaide, San Francisco, Helsinki, Riga, and some others I have probably forgotten. I have also spent a lot of time in Vienna, Zagreb and Dubrovnik, Skopje, New York and Capetown to be able to say I have in some real sense ‘lived there’. Mostly though I have literally lived out of a bag, including many years not so long ago when I had no fixed abode (another way of saying ‘no home’) and was a travelling artist. I even started a consultancy at one point called ‘The Streaming Suitcase’ because I consulted with museums (Tate Modern, Walker, London Science Museum, American Film Institute amongst others) and taught free software, streaming, and how to build your own radio transmitter out of a suitcase. I left NZ in 1996 to do this. 1998 I came to Europe in search of a job, making coffee with no return ticket, and carrying everything I owned – including a Apple Centris with no monitor (it was too big to carry).

22 years ago mate.

In the time of roaming there have been times I have also had multiple ‘homes’. Which also means no home. I had an apartment in San Francisco, one in Berlin and rented a house in NZ at one point. All at once. 3 homes, but no home. Then these last years I had my house on Cabbage Tree Bay Road which I bought 3 years ago and have managed to spend about 6 months total in. At the same time I had the place in San Francisco. 2 homes, but no home.

Today I land back in NZ because I am going to live here again. I am giving up my apartment in San Francisco, cool place it was. Moving out. The stuff still needs to be shipped but I won’t be back to 805 Valencia St to live. I now have one home. 20c Cabbage Tree Bay Rd. One home means having a home. Of course, I will still travel a lot for work and to see friends, but this is where I will come back to.

So last night I landed in NZ. It felt like the dozens and dozens of times I have landed back here. I went to the hotel as my connecting flight to the Hokianga isn’t until today. I got up, had some breakfast. Went outside. Except it felt different. Here I was walking around the rather drab Auckland Airport, but here I was … back. I knew the faces. The light. The sounds. The smell. The accents. I felt like I was back. I’ve never felt that before. I was overwhelmed by the feeling and couldn’t get enough of it.

And just because I’m a sentimental bastard and just because the universe is peculiar, on my way back to the hotel I came across this…


Its a memorial to Jean Batten. First person to fly solo from the UK to NZ in 1936. Can you imagine? Amazing. It reads:

I was destined to be a wanderer
I seemed born to travel
In flying I found speed and freedom
To roam the earth

Crazy kiwis. Glad to be one of them again. I’m crying as I write this.

Surfboard mak’n

In the South of France (Biarritz) making a surfboard by hand at Shaper House. It starts with a computer design. I designed a ‘fish’ (type of surfboard shape). The shape gets printed to paper and then taped together to get the curves for the front and back.

Then a ‘blank’ is chosen within which the design can be cut. You cut it out and then shape it using a variety of processes and tricks. All by hand. It has been great fun… 2 more days to go and I’ll have a finished board! photos below..warning, contains rare photos of Adam in the wild…



So… it’s been a bit of a year. I was pretty busy looking back. I think I spent about 9 months on the road. I did some surfing. Bought a fridge. Plus some other stuff… so…. looking back….

The year started with a yet-to-be formed PubSweet community. PubSweet is the underlying ‘open infrastructure’ piece of the puzzle that enables folks to build any kind of publishing workflow on top of it. It is used for books, micropubs, content aggregation, journals… a lot. But at the beginning of this year there was one org building on top of it – Coko. Now, we have 9 publishing organisations building on it and 13 or so platforms in play. All that in one year… can you imagine. It is phenomenal growth. The best thing is the feeling in the community is awesome. As Geoff Builder recently said at a Coko meet “I can’t say enough how amazing it is that you aren’t killing each other”… very true.

This kind of growth and goodwill didn’t happen over night. I’ve been involved in many open source projects where there is no noticeable growth at all over many years. In fact, it was by watching these projects and trying and failing myself a number of times that I learned how to make this work. I had a plan from the start and strategised this growth. There are a few key parts…  First… the proposition is transparent. It’s a no bullshit kinda thing. You can’t buy your way in, you can only be part of this community if you play nice. You must be upfront and work in good faith. If not, then we don’t want you. So it’s transparent, we require transparency, but it is required. If you aren’t transparent then see you later.

Another critical piece was to develop processes for consensus. We have a number of workgroups that have helped with this. We also have an RFC process and 3 meetings in person a year where more difficult stuff can be meted out. It works very well. It is all also, by design. You must intentionally design such stuff and I spent a lot of time working through these scenarios in my own head. It takes time because each community has its own character. You want to make sure you have the right resonance with your strategies and sometimes I need to ponder this stuff a lot, let it sit and then bring it about. Also necessary is to have leadership. I provide a lot of that but I also strategised very explicitly for Jure to be the central pin for the PubSweet community. He is an awesome leader of the PubSweet clan but also it must be noted that this doesn’t ‘just happen’. Jure and I spent a lot of time talking through these things, working out what sort of tone we needed, how to best enable people to feel they could be part of this while curating it so it’s not a free for all. Jure has really risen to the challenge and IMHO stands as a case study of good community leadership.

Andrew Smeall from Hindawi and Paul Shannon from eLife have been early leaders in this community. To have such goodwill and leadership from folks like Andrew and Paul is really amazing. They have been in boots ‘n all from the beginning and never blinked. They are heart n soul and mainstay keepers of the PubSweet community ‘way’. I feel very privileged to work with them.

Also at the beginning of the year, Editoria was alive but no books were being put through. We have since changed that with at least three scholarly publishers using it in production as well as Book Sprints using it (recently used in a World Wild Life Fund Book Sprint). We got there also by careful strategy. Alison McGonagle-O’Connell has been out there presenting, demo-ing, and explaining Editoria to all comers. Alison is a joy to work with and I admire her can-do immensely. She’s a tough cookie and now the wizard of Editoria. Alison has brought people closer to Editoria which peaked this year with a Editoria community event. We got about 35 people there and I facilitated the process (after designing the event loosely based on the PubSweet events). Critical was a newly designed Feature Proposal process. I had to design it so that publishers with no in house dev resources could ‘take ownership’ of the product and also so that publishers, rather than technicians, could write the proposals. We received 36 proposals in 2 weeks from 6 publishing orgs. Amazing. There is now a 3-month roadmap in play because of this.

xpub-collabra and perhaps micropubs will go through similar process transitions next year.

paged.js is also flourishing. I started the project with Shuttleworth funding in Feb and now it is integrated into Editoria and it has already been used for several books. It is also growing quite quickly as a community, some of this is ‘auto growth’ – growth that just occurs with no assist – and some of it is from the efforts of the paged.js crew – Fred Chasen, Julie Blanc and Julien Taquet. Julien in particular is proving to be a very good community leader in this area. They are an amazing crew doing amazing work. I don’t suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) but I really regretted not being able to go to the paged.js workshops in Paris and Brussels in November. They looked amazing.

Then there is Wax…. the editor is growing fast. We had to rebuild it because the libs we were using were not supported and slow growing. But Christos knuckled down and got it done.. amazing. It is currently a one person endeavor but watch this space as I have plans for community growth around it next year.

XSweet, the XSLT docx-to-HTML converter is also going great guns. V2.0 with math support out in the next weeks. This more or less completes all the things we need form it and the lib will flick into a maintenance mode.

Then there is Workflow Sprints. The process I designed for helping publishers work though their workflow woes. It takes 1 day per org/workflow and has proven to be extremely effective. I’m now training facilitators to do this as it is proving popular and I can’t do them all next year if it comes down to that. Coko is also able to generate revenue from it which is cool.

Then there are design sessions which I still facilitate for various products including Editoria, xpub-collabra, and micropubs. All interesting projects and the design sessions are fun and sooooo effective. Who said publishers couldn’t design their own solutions? Not me…

Also this year I have been peripheral to the Book Sprints team. I gave up direct involvement when I got my Shuttleworth Fellowship. Thankfully Barbara was there to take the helm and has done an amazing job. We have had a couple of meetings this year and it has been awesome. We broke 1m NZ this year for the first time…amazing. Many people still don’t think it’s a real thing 😉

Also from Book Sprints we get many requests from people who love what we do but want ‘not a Book Sprint’…ie they have some other format/media/context etc they want to think about. So this year I have also founded SprintLabs to act as a bucket to put these experiments in… more on this in the new year.

Also this year I finished my Shuttleworth Fellowship having reached the 3 year maximum and became an alum. That was quite a moment. Strange thing is, I feel more a Shuttleworth Fellow now than I ever have 🙂

Needless to say my journey is unconventional. All this stuff is stuff people told me wasn’t possible. All of it. Book in 5 days, impossible! You can’t use browsers to typeset books! Headless modular publishing CMS – impossible! Publishing platforms are an intractable problem! You guys will never be able to build community, it just won’t work!

Yeah yeah. Fuckem.

And there was a lot of other stuff this year too. But honestly, where do I get the time? Where do I get the time to surf? I have no idea. One of the tricks though that I have learned is to trust the people you delegate stuff to. Create an environment for them to succeed and let them go. For the most part I just need to talk things through with them and help keep them and everything on course. They also have to go with my rather counter-intuitive, emergent, way of problem solving and doing things. If they can’t then it doesn’t work out, if they can then we do great things. Which means, of course, lots of travel is needed and talking to people. I am a great believer in remote teams but I am not a believer in remote-ness. If that makes sense. You gotta be close to people so they can trust you and you trust them when you aren’t there. Its for this reason some of our meetings happen on beaches 🙂

It is what it is. It’s been a huge year.

Still, got to make a surfboard this week and 2 Workflow Sprints to go (in the US)… no matter, I’ll be here in no time…

Feet up mate, Koutu
Feet up mate, Koutu