Episode #11 - Pete White, an entrepreneur from York shares his experience with making things and freelancing

Pete White tells us about his journey as an entrepreneur and maker of things, sharing his valuable wisdom along the way

In this Episode

For the very first episode in season 2, the inimitable Peter White, a developer, entrepreneur and maker based in York, talks all things entrepreneurship. We’ll find out how he found his way through being a freelancing, part-time developer, product owner and maker of digital things.

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Rob Kendal: [00:00:00] So joining us for the very first episode of season two, no less, we have got Peter White, Who is a developer, entrepreneur and maker based in York. His previous projects and products include a SaaS platform, JobBoard.io, which I always want to pronounce job boardio,

[00:00:16] Pete White: [00:00:16] Ah,

[00:00:18] Rob Kendal: [00:00:18] and we worked together at a hosting company in York called ByteMark. he’s worked with global firms like Thompson Routers and NHS England, is from some SMEs and charities. And he’s going to talk to us a little bit about entrepreneurship and, and minimize the amount of times I say that word and, and freelancing and all that kind of stuff.

[00:00:35] So, Pete, how’s it going?

[00:00:36] Pete White: [00:00:36] Yeah. Good. Thanks. Thanks for having me on. I didn’t realize I was for big introduction to season two, so I’m honoured.

[00:00:43] Rob Kendal: [00:00:43] You are, I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve never, you know, our audience may tell I’ve never done a podcast before. I’m not sure how many seasons you supposed to have, how many episodes per season, how long they should be.

[00:00:51]So yeah, you, you know, kicking things off, you’ve had quite the career thus far as an entrepreneur. how did you get into the tech scene?

[00:00:59] Pete White: [00:00:59] I’m totally winging it.

[00:01:02] Rob Kendal: [00:01:02] Nice. That’s good for people to hear because I think most people think you need a plan. And the amount of times I see that come up on Twitter where it’s like, what am I supposed to do? And you’re like, I’m not going to lie to you, mate, we’re all just kind of winging it. It’s just, we hope we just don’t get found out.

[00:01:15] I think that’s like the very, the very definition of imposter syndrome.

[00:01:19] Pete White: [00:01:19] I kind of hate like hearing or introducing myself, because I definitely don’t identify as an entrepreneur. I don’t identify as a developer. I ended up just going towards work that I find interesting and I find fulfilling. And so far that’s worked out pretty well. So I ended up getting involved in startups and all sorts of different things as a result.

[00:01:43] Rob Kendal: [00:01:43] Well, I liked your, so I was strapline, from your website, that’s kind of developer entrepreneur, and like maker, and I like the maker tag. I think some, some things can like, that can come off as a little bit cheesy sometimes, but I think it sums up quite well.

[00:01:55] What you do cause you’re you sort of not, you know, for someone who’s not a developer, some of the stuff you’ve done, it’s [00:02:00] pretty good. No, it was like in development, but you’ve also been like a product owner and you’re one of the best I’ve worked with and that’s not just blowing smoke. You know, I’ve worked with some terrible ones. and yeah, I think you make stuff happen, but then again, I think that’s what entrepreneurs do. Isn’t it? This kind of stir stuff up, get people going and then move onto the next thing. What was it that, that kind of attracted you to this? I suppose like ambling, meandering path of entrepreneurship.

[00:02:26] Pete White: [00:02:26] Yeah, it’s a good question. Like I say, I just tend to gravitate towards solving problems and doing interesting things. So, Yeah, it’s kind of difficult to pinpoint the moment that I actually started doing it. Cause it feels like I’ve just had that attitude almost my whole life. So like when I was 14 years old, I started repairing, laptops for a dance college or like a freelance basis.

[00:02:52] Cause they were paying too much for our repairs at PC world and stuff like that. And then I guess the attitude of just. Winging it and trying to solve problems for people just continued. And now, like every other week I’ve got an idea for a product or a project I want to get involved in,

[00:03:13] Rob Kendal: [00:03:13] I suppose that’s quite satisfying. If you’re able to kind of have those ideas and then, then go off and work on them. Cause I mean, I’m, I’m not someone who has a lot of ideas. I’m good at the code, but I’m not so much the idea person. but that, I think a lot of people also have the ideas, but then don’t have the means to kind of do it.

[00:03:30] So to, to marry those two together must be pretty satisfying. Right?

[00:03:33] Pete White: [00:03:33] Yeah, it’s pretty good. I came to feel like I’m a one man kind of agency type thing. I try and do it all from marketing. I’m a project management and I try and do dev and then I run out of time and end up working all night. So it’s definitely not a sustainable way, but I do like the entrepreneurship gives you lots of variety. If you want it, you can jump in and out of different things and learn a lot of skills. [00:04:00] And that’s very, counterintuitive to the type of career advice you hear on podcasts or from careers advisers, are you reading books? It’s all about this route, whereas it’s kind of like discovery and learning stuff for life which is very fulfilling

[00:04:17]Rob Kendal: [00:04:17] I think it’s a nice time to be alive though. Cause I mean, I grew up in that very, you know, you’ve got to have a plan and the job, and then it’s like this, this multistage plan, just like mill, that everyone goes through. And nowadays, you know, with, with the internet technology, you can kind of just about make anything into a passion.

[00:04:32] I mean, there’s people who have. successful YouTube channels. One of them is like a glorified welder. Really. He makes like crazy swords, and kind of metalworker on YouTube and he’s got millions of followers and he probably makes a tiny living from the ads off that. But it’s like crazy. Cause you know, outside of that, if you had said someone, I want to make fantasy sides for living, and then, then film it, you know, like even, even sort of.

[00:04:53] Five six, seven years ago, people would be like, nah, that’s not a thing. And yet that kind of thing has opened, opened it up these days.

[00:04:59] Did you have, did you start off with a, kind of a job path then? Almost like I started doing development, or was it literally just, I’ve just kind of always moved around and followed what, followed what I fancied?

[00:05:10] Pete White: [00:05:10] Yeah, that’s a good question. I have a psychology degree, which kind of surprises a lot of people, that what I wanted to do was I really loved computers, but I really loved watching people use computers. So how people interact with them? So I wanted to go into human computer interaction research, and that was what I thought I would do was my career path.

[00:05:34] But as I got older and started networking and meeting people, I kind of realized, well, I can just start fixing these problems. So the dev came in and then it’s like, well, why did these problems come around in the first place? And then you’ve got a bit of product management, bit of entrepreneurship coming in.

[00:05:52] Rob Kendal: [00:05:52] It’s not, it’s not as crazy as it sounds. I mean, when you, you know, cause fundamentally, you know, technology in the space we live in is about [00:06:00] bringing people together and solving problems. I know developers, especially like to get very hunkered down in the, in the kind of ‘um actuallies’ of ‘no, this div has to be like this’ and we can’t use this, this name for this thing’, but ultimately, you know, it’s about you facilitating data back and forth to the user and presenting it in a manner that’s appealing. And how learning more about how people interact with things is a core part, ultimately, of like a digital product that you build. So it is weirdly more useful than you think.

[00:06:27] Unlike say, Bethan and we were talking about earlier, who we also used to work with, but she was an earlier guest on on the show who had a medieval history degree, which she’ll admit herself, it’s just a mental degree to, to get like from there into, into sort of tech. So it is, it is more related than you think.

[00:06:42] I think it’s fair to say , that, that one of the biggest successes you’ve had is with the, the, the Job Board io, and it’s cause it got acquired by ZipRecruiter.

[00:06:51]so can you tell us a bit more about how you got involved with that? Cause I think I I’ve known you as like the core founder, but where were you? Was that something you and another idea that you had that you kind of started and run with? Or did you join the project? Or, yeah, tell us a bit about that.

[00:07:03] Pete White: [00:07:03] Yeah, it’s kind of a long story. I was kind of like a founding team member. but ultimately I was like a contractor for jobboard.io.

[00:07:11]It’s a weird occurrence actually I found their support for him on Facebook and me being just a weird stalker entrepreneur idea seeking guy I pretended to be a customer and I joined the support forum and then I’d started answering people’s questions that were just like how do we get my jobs on indeed.com What’s an XML feed So I kind of ended up doing this free customer support service For a couple of weeks So I was just trying to get my head around what is the job board and how does all this stuff work. And then the founder of jobboard.io he reached out to me and he said, well, you’re doing all this customer support stuff. Why, why don’t I just pay you to do it?

[00:07:52]And it’s like well I kind of already had a job

[00:07:55]So I just started doing it in my spare time. And I [00:08:00] relationship kind of. Developed from that to the point where I was basically running operations, for, jobboard.io, helping with QA, doing bits of dev work, helping with marketing, onboarding customers, and really became part of a founding team then.

[00:08:17]but like I say, the whole winging it approach just came there. I came in basically to just help people. And just kind of out of curiosity, then all of a sudden I’m in this Ruby on rails code base. I have absolutely no idea how any of it works and I’m figuring it out as I go. And the same with the sales and the same with the marketing.

[00:08:36]Rob Kendal: [00:08:36] So the takeaway is kids, stalk your heroes; get the job you want by stalking

[00:08:43] Pete White: [00:08:43] I kind of have this little bit of a thing that I tell myself is. If you kind of see a rocket ship of a company, you see something in your life, you love the mission, or you think that just about to make a lot of money with their idea. Don’t worry about what seat you get on the rocket ship. Just sit down it’s going somewhere good and then get it there to seat over time.

[00:09:06] But ultimately you’ve just got to get involved with things that you find interesting. And then everything else follows.

[00:09:13]Rob Kendal: [00:09:13] That is brill! I love I love a good analogy.

[00:09:16] And that is, that is one of the best I’ve heard. I like it, but I think it feeds into that attitude. I mentioned it a lot on here. It’s something that I fundamentally have that like, you need to keep your ear to the ground about opportunities. And then, you know, if you, if you. One that comes up that sounds interesting.

[00:09:31] You know, that, that’s how I’ve got to , I say it got to where I am, I can’t say I’m some kind of a mega developer, but I think I’ve always found the right place by just being open to opportunities. And that doesn’t mean, you know, I’ve just got a job and two weeks later, Oh, that looks quite interesting.

[00:09:45] But you know, it’s just sometimes, you don’t know whether it’s the right time or not, or whether you can do it or not, but it sounds like you said like a rocket ship you want to be on. So get on it as best you can.

[00:09:55] What projects are you working on at the moment?

[00:09:57]Pete White: [00:09:57] So when COVID hit [00:10:00] I started thinking about what I actually wanted to do. I had a bit of a gap after I’d been involved in a property management software, helping them build a MVP and get that to market. So I started thinking, well, what to don’t want to do.

[00:10:14] So I’ve ended up doing, helping some startups in the US with front end software development, doing Vue apps and WordPress and all sorts.

[00:10:26]So I’ve kind of slipped back into that dev role. And I’m trying to get back into good habits with code review and actually writing tests, not the whole entrepreneur hustle of an MVP.

[00:10:39]Rob Kendal: [00:10:39] That’s just describes most development. It’s like trying to get into good habits. That sounds to me the main key.

[00:10:46] Do you have, do you have a certain leaning towards particular types of projects or kind of areas of interest or it just, it could literally be anything it’s just whether it tickles your fancy on not?

[00:10:55] Pete White: [00:10:55] Yeah, I’d say really just if it sounds interesting, I’ll probably, reach out or just prospect towards doing that type of work. but yeah, a lot of front end stuff recently, which has been good, it scratches that kind of psychological itch to make stuff that’s easy for people to use and make sense.

[00:11:14]the, the companies that I’m involved with are all quite design led, which really helps.

[00:11:19] Rob Kendal: [00:11:19] they look nice. I saw the one you did for the, effectively the US version of the furlough scheme, like there calculate your, like the pair calculator thing. and that really, really impressive.

[00:11:28] Quite nice. Nice, sexy looking a bit of an app that was,

[00:11:31] Pete White: [00:11:31] Yeah, it’s nice. They have this kind of like, side project mentality where they’re trying to build tools that help, small businesses and help them acquire customers, which is a really novel approach. It means you can put a new dev on a small project for maybe three or four weeks. You can do it in a new technology because you’re not going to need to revisit all the time. So we did it in the Alpine which was fun.

[00:11:55]It helps bring customers to us, their product, and give some of variety [00:12:00] to the developers as well, you get to work in a little bit of a new code base for a new little side project, which is nice.

[00:12:06]Rob Kendal: [00:12:06] I know we kind of mentioned, I think I’ve blurred the lines a little bit between the two terms of like entrepreneur and freelancer, but I think there’s definitely a distinction between like the, the two, Do you, do you find that and do you think of yourself more as one than the other? Or like you said, it’s just the, there isn’t really a term for what, for what you are.

[00:12:28]Pete White: [00:12:28] With my partner. I refer to myself. And what I do is kind of the Peter White company, because I can’t think of it in terms of that distinction. And ultimately at the end of the day, it’s about what I’ve got bills to pay. I’ve got to make money. And the thing that keeps my lifestyle going is my little Peter White company.

[00:12:48] so whether I’m developing a product or I’m doing freelancing for someone, or I’m doing a bit of contract development, It all goes on the same cash flow.

[00:12:58]So to me the not particularly distinct but I do get your point that they require a different kind of thinking to do right.

[00:13:08] Rob Kendal: [00:13:08] But I mean, I think with, with freelancing and entrepreneurship, there is a bit of an overlap, I think in certainly in terms of, you know, the wearing of many hats, what do you find is the biggest challenge, with, with kind of your approach to work like that?

[00:13:22]Pete White: [00:13:22] Like there’s a, a full stack entrepreneur, freelance contract type of role where it’s a hybrid and you doing a bit of everything.

[00:13:32]Rob Kendal: [00:13:32] Going back to the challenge, what, what’s the biggest challenge you face with that?

[00:13:35] I suppose self-employment is basically what it boils down to.

[00:13:39] Pete White: [00:13:39] Yeah, I think, yeah, for any freelancer or any business, lead generation is always going to be a problem until you can systemize and make that predictable It’s going to be difficult to get the consistency of a salary from kind of ad hoc work.

[00:13:56] and that’s the thing that kills most freelance, or business [00:14:00] careers that you just can’t get consistent cashflow, coming out of what you’re doing.

[00:14:04] So, yeah, I think the biggest challenge is lead generation. Just full stop.

[00:14:07]Rob Kendal: [00:14:07] I would agree that you spend a disproportionate amount of time in the sales kind of pipeline.

[00:14:13] And the bigger you go, the more time you spend kind of just faffing about really trying to get people to decide, do they want your services? And do they want to pay for that? And not even things like negotiating just literally, getting that project over the line. you know, they’ll tell you they need it next week and then, you’re like right then or we need to get started and just nothing happens.

[00:14:32] What advice do you have for people looking to kind of start their own business or break away from their day job and kind of transition into freelancing other than get good at sales?

[00:14:42]Pete White: [00:14:42] Yeah, that’s a good question. for me, the key part of that question was for whole break away from your current job.

[00:14:49] and how you end up in a, in a situation where you can break away, but you can still have that kind of stability in your life. I think the easiest route is if you can start to do something like what you want to do.

[00:15:03] So if you want to make a product, or a software as a service company, or you want to be a freelancer, could you fit in eight hours a week? Alongside your main job, and importantly, are you legally able to, does your employer prohibit moonlighting? so that’s where I’d kind of start. Can you just check your employment contract and make sure you’re okay to do it if you’re not, negotiate so you are, and then start to figure out how you can move your working hours around to free up time, or if you can start your freelancing career or wherever on a, on those evenings and weekends alongside your main job.

[00:15:43] and then it’s just a case of like building on that over time. slowly reducing your main job and increasing your kind of entrepreneurial ambitions until, you’re freestanding.

[00:15:54]Rob Kendal: [00:15:54] I suppose I missed a question back there as with lead generation as well. How do you find, like, do you go [00:16:00] about, is it, is it now that you’ve done quite a few successful products and you know, like jobs and projects and things, do you find that you get quite a lot of word of mouth? Do you have to do a bit more chasing yourself as a kind of a mix of a bunch of things?

[00:16:12]Pete White: [00:16:12] Feast or famine sometimes. In, in feast mode, I get quite a lot of word of mouth just from previous projects I’ve done are people they want to do version two of what I’ve worked with them on because I’ve got that kind of project manager background, any project that I’ve done, it starts with a project plan and there’s always some scope removed.

[00:16:34] So they’ll want to come back in future to develop that I’ll go in and have a direction. And most of the time they’ll come directly to me for that.

[00:16:42] When things are a bit leaner, particularly, you know, with lockdown people, who’ve been, yeah, they’ve been canceling projects and they just don’t have that much to spend.

[00:16:50] And that’s fair enough. I’ve started to go online, and either find, like developer marketplaces. or just prospect myself. So send cold email out to companies that I know are hiring for particular skill sets. So if they’ve got a front end dev job open, or they’ve had one open in the past that says they need a Vue dev, and I decided I want to be a Vue dev that week.

[00:17:15]you send them an outreach email with a couple of portfolio projects, and see if they want someone for 15, 20 hours or a project. and just, just being proactive like that.

[00:17:26]Rob Kendal: [00:17:26] That’s pretty cool. I liked that ‘if I want to be a Vue dev this week. Do you have any, any client horror stories? We all have a bit of gossip and by way, I mean me,

[00:17:38] Pete White: [00:17:38] I’m not sure how many am I allowed to disclose?

[00:17:41] Rob Kendal: [00:17:41] to

[00:17:44] Pete White: [00:17:44] The names have been redacted to protect the innocent, but they’re not innocent. They’re horrible clients. I’ve been really lucky in that I have not really had any horrible client relationships, but that comes from my kind of project management background. [00:18:00] And that it’s really, really clear from day one, probably because generally they’ve paid for a project plan, what they can expect at the end of a project and when it’s going to be delivered and what the budget is going to be.

[00:18:15] Most horror stories come from when that scope like runs away. And the requirements that the customers assume that you were meeting, that you’ve not actually managed to, to fit in during the project time.

[00:18:29] So I think I’ve been like proactive and kind of avoiding that and just making expectations clear.

[00:18:35] Rob Kendal: [00:18:36] I must admit, I think back to the ones that has gone awry for me, it’s normally, because you’ve got a bit giddy at the fact that you’ve got a customer and that they’re like enthusiastic and you’re enthusiastic and you just start building the house without planning what you’re building, you know?

[00:18:48] And it’s, it’s like, you’re halfway through and you realize, Oh, we can’t put a bathroom in the loft or we can’t, you know, can’t put a kitchen in the garage kind of thing. And it’s just, it’s just, yeah, I’ve run off from my metaphor. But generally that I kind of, yeah, the planning has gone awry.

[00:19:01] On on a similar theme, what kind of red flags should people watch out for that kind of, freelancers in general, is there any kind of red flags and things that you kind of go, Ooh, that’s yeah, that’s, that’s not one for me. I’m going to pass!

[00:19:12] Pete White: [00:19:12] Yeah. I think I’ve obviously just said about billing for project planning. If they come back to you and they say they’re not willing to pay for project planning. Two things have happened. One you’ve not sufficiently sold them on the benefits of looking forward and making sure that their project is going to work in an orderly fashion rather than in an ad hoc way.

[00:19:37] Or two, the client is to budget conscious and they’re only wanting to pay for actual labor, building the product which shows kind of a lack of foresight from them. So that, that would be my red flag that they refuse to pay for discovery or research or your time in kind of specking out and making sure that you’re going to do a good job of a project,

[00:19:59] Other red [00:20:00] flags are less obvious. I think if somebody fundamentally misunderstands how, what you’re going to build is going to affect their business. That’s a red flag, cause they’re never going to make a return on the money that they’ve spent for your time and you’re never going to get follow on work.

[00:20:17]I think if you can get make sure that you’re delivering value for your client and that you’re doing proper due diligence before you start that avoids most red flags if they’re not willing to do that it’s not worth it.

[00:20:31] Rob Kendal: [00:20:31] And then lastly, I’ve, I’ve known you in the, in the largest capacity as a, as an excellent project manager, fiver’s in the post, slash product owner, which again, distinct roles, but similar things going on. And it seems it is a very developer heavy podcast. I’d love to get your thoughts on what makes kind of a good development team.

[00:20:51] How, how can they perform at their best? Do you have any kind of do’s or don’t’s?

[00:20:55] Pete White: [00:20:55] Yeah, that’s a great question for, for me, I’m like an agile practitioner. I’ve got the certificate, so I’m a wall, yada, yada yada. So I kind of come to a bit of a fluffy nontechnical argument. which is it’s all about alignment. If the whole team knows at the end of the day, what product are you going to make, what the project’s actually for, people in the team can work independently towards that goal.

[00:21:20]Say someone in the team is blocked because they need, some code merging. Oh, they’re just struggling on some work.

[00:21:28]If a team’s not aligned, that person will probably just be left to struggle because everybody’s so busy focusing on that other work. If everybody’s aligned and they know what’s going to happen six months, 12 months from now, and that’s something that excites them, they’ll deprioritize their own work to help other people.

[00:21:46] And ultimately the team will move quicker as a result. So I think just getting aligned behind a vision and. The whole team knowing where they’re going and that’s the key to a productive team because it [00:22:00] minimizes communication. You can just get on with it and know that you’re all going the same direction.

[00:22:05]Rob Kendal: [00:22:05] Absolutely. And that’s, I mean, that’s one of the core pillars of agile. I think isn’t it is that kind of visibility of what are we all doing? Is anyone stuck? Cause I think a lot of people, you know, I’m a bit more vocal about, yeah, this isn’t happening where I think a lot of people, they will just go quietly into a corner and die.

[00:22:21] I’m waiting on stuff to be merged or, or things like that. So yeah. No, that that’s that’s great advice.

[00:22:27] Do you have anything you want to want to talk about you wanna plug while we’re here?

[00:22:31] Pete White: [00:22:31] Yeah, I got a website. You can go have a look at that, peterwhite.dev a bit of a portfolio on there. If you want to try and figure out what the hell I’ve been doing recently. that’s my plug. No, album coming out anytime soon. I’m afraid.

[00:22:46] Rob Kendal: [00:22:46] Damn I was hoping for an album. Well, thank you very much for coming on. That’s been a great glimpse into the life of a maker slash entrepreneur slash freelancer. and, and yeah, I think we’ve got some good tips there for people.

[00:22:59] Weirdly the thing I’m about to go and do after this is, I’ve got like a live stream recording on YouTube and that’s the topic So it’s quite, a topical kind of thing we were going on here, but it is about freelancing and with a bunch of other successful freelancers and things, which I don’t include myself as, but I’m on there somehow

[00:23:13] Pete White: [00:23:13] Feel free to steal my rocket ship metaphor.

[00:23:16]Rob Kendal: [00:23:16] I’m going to try and weave that in , ‘so there’s this rocket ship ’,

[00:23:20]Brilliant, thanks so much for coming on sir

[00:23:22] Pete White: [00:23:22] Thanks for having me

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About The Front End

The Front End Podcast explores the in's and out's of life as a developer. Covering topics such as modern-day development, learning and professional growth, frameworks, tools, techniques, UX/UI, and careers.

Created by Rob Kendal, a UI developer from Yorkshire.