Design Thinking, Music Listening & Photo Shooting

2014 Year In Review

Lessons learnt from the highs and lows of startup life and other adventures.

One of the pictures I shot at the Future of Retail event held by Space Lounges at the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in London

Introduction

2014 was a truly incredible year for me. Some things started, some things changed, some things ended. I've spent the past few weeks reflecting on the direction my life is going in, to understand how I should spend my time in the coming year. One way to do so is looking back and trying to make sense of the things that brought you where you are — that's exactly what I did.

There are many things I love exploring and practising, from photography to music, from graphic design to interactive art, from cars to tech. During the past year I've dedicated myself to finishing school (I graduated in July), photography (I completed the professional photography course at the London School of Photography in September) and Space Lounges, a startup that brings a digital retail experience to coffee lounges. Now I'm attending the Graphic Design & Art Direction BA course at NABA (Nuova Accademia Belle Arti), working as a photographer and taking the first steps in the world of musical production (I just got the lovely Korg Volca Keys!).

What’s up and what went down with Space Lounges

The transitions from school to university and from studying photography to working as a photographer weren’t effortless, but they were quite smooth compared to how things went down with Space Lounges. Leaving the startup was an incredibly hectic and stressful process. Back in September, during the early stages of the Microsoft Ventures accelerator program we had been accepted into, I spent two and a half weeks in London working with (Managing Director) James Anderson on how we could make Space Lounges a reality. When he couldn’t cope with the unarguable fact that our business model was flawed, I did my best to get together some fresh ideas that could get us going in better shape. While initially supporting my ideas, by the time I had left London James had decided upon returning to the original business model, not listening to the advice from some of the people at Microsoft Ventures or Jacopo (Backend Developer) and my own concerns. Since I was Director of Customer Experience, the business side of things wasn’t supposed to be my concern – in the end I made the personal decision to focus on what James wanted me to do and not what I would have wanted to do with the company.

When I got back to Milan I started university – while I do admit this did take some time away from my work for Space Lounges, James wouldn’t give me many specific tasks to tackle. He did however demand work to be done on a product we had came up with back in London. The task he gave me, to design the product and to find manufacturers for it, wasn’t suited for my skills, knowledge, or even my position at the company. Since it seemed like there wasn’t anything else I had to do for Space Lounges, I decided to accept the challenge and I started to do extensive research on the components that would have made up our product. James was not happy with what I was doing since I couldn’t produce any proof for my work – he wanted me to do a mockup, which would have been entirely useless since we had already spent a day sketching up the product and the store’s interior design in September.

In mid October James gave a TEDxTeen talk on saving the high street. This was prime advertising space for Space Lounges – after that moment I was positive that we would have kept working together to make our mark in the world of retail. I was wrong. By the end of October James had shut down work on Space Lounges, claiming that the business model in place wouldn’t have provided enough income for the company and that he wanted to work on a new idea (that had nothing to do with Space). The only Space employees that were left out of the new project were Jacopo and myself. We wanted to continue working on innovating in retail, and we truly understand the value of being in an accelerator like Microsoft Ventures – we asked James if he could leave the company we had already registered to us. Instead, he convinced us to let him keep the existing company and use it (after a change of name) for his new venture. I was very upset with James but in the end we had to accept his terms and agree upon leaving the company so we could all avoid paying the cost of demolishing Space Lounges Limited.

I spent a fantastic six days in London during the first week of December. I had the chance to see a bunch of old friends and make some new ones, to go see Sinkane and Owen Pallett’s concerts, and also to get a fair amount of DFA vinyl in record stores around town. Nevertheless, the main reason I was visiting was the accelerator – Microsoft Ventures held its Pitch event for the cohort in which Space Lounges was a part of on the 3rd. The pitches were absolutely fantastic. Of course I met-up with James, who was extremely vague on exactly what he was doing (and obviously didn’t pitch at the event). This made me slightly suspicious (he had previously told us he was going to do a Q&A for the new project), but I was more sorry for the end of Space Lounges than for the fact that he still hadn’t gotten his act together. I left London being re-assured that Space Lounges had come to an end. I was wrong again.

The week I got back to Milan from London, Jacopo and myself noticed some suspicious activity on James’ front – the app files were being updated (Jacopo still had access to the developers’ Dropbox) and Space Lounges tweeted they were going to launch in Q1 2015. We immediately contacted James, who replied only a few days later saying that he had decided upon going back to working on Space. Jacopo and myself were enraged – we had never left Space Lounges and we are still legally part of the company. After deceiving our questions about why he didn’t tell us anything by going on about how much progress himself and George (iOS Developer) had made, James finally told us that his decision was final – Jacopo and myself were no longer going to be involved with the project we had put our hearts and minds in for over 10 months. A few days before Christmas we finally got a formal letter from James that informed us our shares in the company were unearned and that he has the power to remove us from the company.

The bottom line

After what happened in the past three months, I no longer want to work with James – I strongly feel he mistreated Jacopo and myself. But that doesn’t really matter in the end, does it? The real shame is that Space Lounges will probably end up just like James’ previous project, Thinkspace – a non-profit that theoretically still exists to promote the creation of fancy computer rooms for students to learn code in schools (dubbed Thinkspaces), but for which James hasn’t done anything good since he came up with the idea for Space Lounges. The only thing James did in his time as an unopposed leader at Thinkspace was to remove all interaction between fellow Thinkspacers through “official” channels – soon after he got back to the non-profit (he had been sent away by his fellow co-founders little after the big launch) James got rid of the Thinkspace Pioneers project and the Thinkspace social network. I must admit that I was advising James as Deputy Leader at Thinkspace (the role he had given me) and that I could have pushed more on keeping the non-profit alive, but James didn’t really seem to have interest in doing so.

What’s in and what’s out with my music

Alongside photography, music has been a big part of my life for the past 3-or-so years. 2014 was a really important year in music for myself. Back in October 2013 I first listened to the album that started it all: Arcade Fire’s Reflektor. While I spent the first few months after listening to the brilliant double album catching up on the Canadian band’s discography (which I had somehow overlooked until then), I spent most of 2014 discovering and listening to more and more electronic music. How did I go from listening to bands like Muse, Coldplay, The Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys to becoming a DFA Records megafan? James Murphy, of course. He produced Reflektor and was credited with refining the backbone of electronic music that underlies the record. I was extremely attracted to the type of usage of synthesisers and drum machines on Reflektor – they’re the foundation on which other instruments (a lot in Arcade Fire’s case) are layered on top of. I soon found out of LCD Soundsystem. Daft Punk Is Playing At My House instantly became one of my favorite songs. I loved listening to each of their albums, and was truly moved by Shut Up And Play The Hits, a documentary about LCD’s final show at the Madison Square Garden back in 2011. Then I started to get more deep into the history of DFA Records, the record label James founded with Tim Goldsworthy and Jonathan Galkin. If you want to know a little bit more about DFA, I highly recommend watching this video. Soon I started to appreciate The Juan MacLean, The Rapture, Shit Robot and others. Then I completely fell in love with Holy Ghost! – I really do have a thing for good synthpop. Then came the new album from Museum Of Love, which I found extremely pleasant. Then I gave a listen to Sinkane’s Mean Love – simply fantastic. Along the road I also got into experimental electronic, particularly Kraftwerk and Jean Michel Jarre amongst the artists of the past, Aphex Twin and Caribou (aka Daphni) amongst the artists of the present. There are countless other artists haven't mentioned, including some that I really, really like. If you want to know even more about what music I enjoy listening to, feel free to leave a comment below! In the meanwhile, here's a list my favorite albums released in the past 12 months.

MY Top 10 Albums of 2014

Experimental

Caribou – Our Love

Owen Pallett – In Conflict

DFA Records

The Juan MacLean – In A Dream

Sinkane – Mean Love

Warp Records

Aphex Twin – Syro

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead

Rock / Alternative

The Black Keys – Turn Blue

Jack White – Lazaretto

Debut Albums

Royal Blood – S/T

Museum of Love – S/T

Notes

I really wanted to write more about what I’ve been up to in 2014 but I’ve been super busy organizing the party I’m throwing for New Year’s Eve. Oh well. Have fun wherever you’re spending NYE and have a fantastic 2015!