The Story of Founding Eudemo 🌱
And Why I Think It Matters.
‘The biggest mistake smart people make is optimising something that shouldn't be done in the first place’ - Elon Musk, SpaceX & Telsa
The Origins of Eudemo & The Big F*@king Problems.
The main ideas for Eudemo, alongside the desire to create my own business, have been bubbling away in my head for quite some time. Until now, without knowing quite how to bring the threads together, or the time and space to make it happen.
I've been aware for a while of a number of large, connected and major issues that we’ll soon collectively be forced to get a grip of, if we’re to keep progressing - and indeed keep living stable and prosperous lives. What have been described by some as the 'Big F*@king Problems', or the ‘BFPs’. As I see it, the core of these issues lie around energy production and usage, decarbonisation, sustainable food production, returning land to nature and developing a truly circular economy. These are no longer future problems or someone else’s problems, they’re right now and they’re ours.
These are the essential building blocks of an economic system that intelligently uses sustainable energy, to cycle resources & materials, to build long-term prosperity. And one that does so without undermining the natural systems we all rely on. To achieve this, whilst also empowering the 'bottom billion' to escape poverty, as billions more across the world continue to climb the economic ladder, will be no mean feat. And I suspect our societies could look quite different by the time we're done. Don't get me wrong, these aren’t the only issues or opportunities at play - certainly not. But they're ones that I see as most major, systemic, and fundamental to our chances of solving the others. And indeed, of having the chance to solve the others.
My growing concern over the ‘BFPs’ goes back to at least the time of the 2008 Financial Crisis and the subsequent failure of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit. Since then, I’ve spent considerable time reading, learning, and doing my best to understand the impediments to a sustainable yet prosperous path, and to understand how I might act upon it. A number of experiences - some positive, some rather difficult and unexpected - have crystallised the approach I am now taking. And the approach I have chosen is Eudemo.
The Goal & The Meaning.
The goal of Eudemo is to help raise the tide of innovation around these BFPs, by significantly lowering the barriers to entry for promising but inexperienced or time-poor entrepreneurs. That is, by reducing the time, cost, complexity, uncertainty and stress of getting to ‘product-market fit’: the point at which the market really starts to pull the product out of the company, and the company is ready to start scaling.
We’ll do this by developing a consultancy that gives expert early-stage guidance, hands-on design and build support, alongside access to world-class subject matter expertise: whatever is needed to clear the path forwards. Beyond our own expertise, Eudemo is developing a curated network of intellectual and company-building talent across the full suite of disciplines, to help entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.
We recognise that the needs of different founders vary, and that starting a company is a very personal business. So Eudemo aims to provide a flexible and on-demand service, being involved only to the extent that best suits the founding team. We’re not a programme you need to ‘commit to’, and from the beginning we intend to start small and test the value together, scaling up as we see the opportunity unfold.
Whilst innovation & experimentation inevitably require degrees of failure and creative waste, we'll aim to ensure that unpromising ideas and costly dead-ends are skilfully navigated wherever possible, and that resources are carefully used to accelerate learning. We are vehemently against doing the wrong thing well, and aim to get our founders onto the right path with the right foundations from the very start.
That said, we also know that every startup risks complete failure. Indeed, it’s the default option: it requires something quite unusual, in both luck and judgement, to see breakout success. So we aim to create an environment where entrepreneurs can fail safely - from a legal, financial and reputational perspective - and where risks are well sign-posted and where possible well mitigated. And nor will we flinch from saying if we think an idea no longer has legs. We’re not here to waste anyones time and money, we simply can’t afford it.
And as for the name? Well, Eudemo is short for ‘Eudemonia’ - a term from Ancient Greek philosophy, which broadly translates to finding ‘happiness or flourishing through purposeful action’. We hope that this name comes to perfectly capture the spirit of our organisation: to help both individuals and wider society flourish, by empowering people to tackle the challenges that matter head on. And of course, to do work that they truly take pride in.
Original Aims & Formative Experiences.
My original, and admittedly implicit, goal had been to contribute to this movement through a tech-based product company of my own. After finishing my Economics degree at Cambridge, followed by a Maths & Stats MSc at Edinburgh, I joined JMAN Group - a boutique data & analytics-focused consultancy in London - as the 3rd/4th team member. I was immediately attracted to the entrepreneurial environment, and the opportunity to learn the ropes of company building from the ground up. I felt pretty strongly that the growing world of data & analytics offered something new to commercial environments, and wanted to help JMAN clearly differentiate itself and find its fit, in what I thought would be an expanding niche.
As it turned out, we were doing several things at JMAN that were not-at-all common at the time within management consultancy. Firstly, working with software engineers & moving them into data engineering (before there was a term for it), coupling this closely with consultancy problem-solving to remove data-processing constraints. Secondly, making the most of lower-cost technical ability with a remote development team in Chennai. And thirdly, building software-based analytical tools for ongoing decision support, instead of just one-off reports & slide decks. Make no mistake, this experience at JMAN was not without its significant stresses, struggles, and missteps. But being in that sort of environment, learning from its victories and challenges, also proved a highly informative experience.
Outside of our more bread-and-butter analytical work at JMAN, we also embarked on several collaborations to provide early-stage tech development for a number of different ventures. I personally was involved with the development of a first-version platform for a start-up called Limber - a shift-working marketplace for the hospitality industry. Being involved at the core of its design and delivery was a big learning curve: of scoping requirements, working out the logic & information flow, designing & prototyping the 'job matching engine' (the algorithm that lay at its core), and later building the financial model for Seed Funding. All within a relatively limited timeframe and budget. It enabled Chris and Rich, the co-founders, to get a working version off the ground at significantly lower cost, albeit with some challenges along the way. But for me, it clearly sowed the seeds in my mind for a true ‘venture consultancy’ that could smooth the path for new entrepreneurs.
The final work-related formative experience was my time at Count: a data software company, working to make the insights from analytics more collaborative, shareable, and easily integrated into organisational decision making. I joined as the Head of User Research to be part of the design team, along with the CTO and interim Head of Design. By the time I arrived, they’d already done the hard yards of developing a high-performance back end, and moving the previously desktop version onto web. But the big question remained: how exactly to build on top of this a product that analysts and wider organisations would love, that addressed key pain points in the analytical workflow, and brought people together around data-informed decisions?
So this was the focus of my work: endless interviews to understand potential customers, their data workflows, and the decision making they informed. Iterating ideas & designs of Count. Introducing & developing frameworks to understand the analytical workflow and the data maturity of customers. What resulted was the understanding needed to build their first proper and successful product: the SQL notebook.
The Dark Before The Dawn.
Amidst the whirl of personal and professional life in London, at the beginning of January 2018, something went horribly wrong. I started experiencing bizarre neurological sensations throughout my body, particularly in my legs and arms. Tingling and vibrating, the feeling of millions of insects crawling over my skin, episodes of racing heart rate and extreme fatigue, severe reactions to any physical & social exertion, and totally unprovoked panic attacks were just a sample. It felt like the wiring in my body had gone suddenly and seriously awry.
I was forced to stop work for a period, and over the following 6-12 months saw countless doctors. But to my increasing disbelief, no diagnosis or treatment of any kind was forthcoming. Without a diagnosis it was basically impossible to explain to work and friends what was wrong (and that there really was something wrong). And, what was significantly worse: there was apparently no way of fixing it. With very careful management, I was able to rebuild my activity levels to look somewhat normal. However, the reality was that without any treatment, I was in a losing battle: a horrible game of snakes and ladders, minus the ladders. There were too many things that could knock me down, and when they did, there was no real way back. It was just a matter of when each fall would come.
In the end, I was forced to move back to my family home in Norwich, so that my mother (aka my hero) could help look after me. What followed was a bleak three years, as my untreated condition (finally diagnosed as ME/CFS) worsened to the point of almost complete mental & physical paralysis. My world was my bedroom, and I could only tolerate speaking to my mother for 30 seconds each morning, if that. Other than that, I was alone.
What changed, almost at the point of absolute despair for my prospects, was a lucky break with one new medication (actually intended as a sleeping pill), and strongly encouraging my GP to start experimenting with anything that might dampen errant nervous system activity. In the end, we landed on a 3-part drug combination which has had a truly remarkable effect. Since then, the climb back up has often been gruelling - however, I’m increasingly confident that the long-awaited dawn is arriving, and with it I can pick a new path forwards.
The most likely explanation, having spoken with various doctors and others suffering similar conditions, that all this was set off by a combination of chronic stress and strain on my body, and some sort of viral trigger. I believe there were other background factors that made me more susceptible to this sort of problem, but that post is for another day when the wounds are less fresh. But now, for the future.
A New Balance & A New Path.
My primary goal now is unquestionably ongoing recovery and health. As I have found out the hard way, without that there is nothing else. So I’ve started my own company, first and foremost to allow me to control my own hours and workload, as I gradually move back into the world of collective endeavour.
However, I also see it as a remarkable opportunity to do something different. To use my multi-skilled nature and interests to their full potential (whatever that may be), to help empower people to address the big challenges, and to show that startup building doesn’t have to be frenetic, stressful and utterly draining. Here at Eudemo, we focus on moving steadily and fixing things, not moving fast and breaking things. We intend to learn our lessons carefully and thoroughly, so that you the entrepreneur can build in confidence.
If this sounds like your cup of tea, then let us know. We’d love to hear from you.