Dynamic & Adaptable is the fourth of Dynamic4’s values – or guiding principles. Tomorrow is our 20th birthday. Being dynamic and adaptable is key to being around that long. For us it means “always be learning, identify and respond positively to change, lean business architecture and infrastructure, and partner smartly.
Settle in with a beverage as I reflect on 20 years of Dynamic4.
What’s it mean to be dynamic?
1. (of a process or system) characterised by constant change, activity, or progress.
2. (of a person) positive in attitude and full of energy and new ideas.
3. able to change and adapt.
A force that stimulates change or progress within a system or process.
Fluid: moving smoothly, or giving the impression of a liquid in motion… having or showing a smooth and easy style.
This is what Dynamic4 is all about.
Being adaptable is the ability to adjust to change and new situations – ideally relatively easily. As I talked about in my Perspective & Context post, contexts and perspectives are constantly changing – and we live within adaptive systems full of adaptive challenges. It’s easy to see how being adaptable is crucial to surviving… even more so to thrive.
I started Dynamic4 in 2001 when I was living in London – and continued in Sydney when I moved back home in 2008. That time has seen some dramatic events with global impact… including the dotcom crash, 9/11, the global financial crisis, and we’ve now been in the covid pandemic for 18 months. We’ve constantly adapted and evolved. Sometimes these shifts have happened organically, and other times I’ve strategically planned transitions. A few years ago, I spent some time reflecting on the different phases of Dynamic4 and versioned them – and I’ve kept track since.
Each shift has been a response to change or an emerging trend. Each has brought a refinement and narrowing of focus. Most people know us for part of what we do – depending on which Dynamic4 product or service they interact with. People are normally surprised when they see the breadth of what we do and have done – especially for a very small team (and sometimes just me). Time to share the origin story…
Dynamic4: The Abridged Origin Story
After a great 18 months back in Sydney working with AMP Banking, I honoured my promise to myself that I’d be at the 2001 Montreux Jazz Festival, and I’d be travelling from London… not Sydney. For my last six months, I started the transition from 70-80 hour work weeks to more sensible hours, and also got my personal training and scuba diving qualifications.
I had an awesome two-week farewell tour catching up with friends on my way to London with brief stops in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and LA… before landing in London on 1 July ready for my next adventure. I crashed on a friend’s floor for a few days and checked out London, shaved my head (and never grew it back), and then went to Switzerland for five weeks of music, travel, and meeting awesome people.
I got back to London mid-August and started the job hunt. There was nothing happening in the areas I normally worked in, so I had interviews for and got offered some pretty funny jobs, including being a car jockey at an architect firm, and a porter in a posh Kensington hotel that didn’t have an elevator. I decided that’s not how I wanted to spend my time and instead started as a bartender at Bar 38, a cocktail bar in Covent Garden. A week after that I also started as a gym and spin instructor at Vie Health Club. And I started thinking about how to start Dynamic4.
I’d been doing a lot of Pilates and yoga in Sydney and decided I’d get my Pilates instructor qualifications. The Pilates Institute was a few blocks from the gym I was working at in Hoxton, so I went and had a chat. I was told I needed two years’ experience as a fitness instructor to be eligible to do the course. I told them I recently got my fitness quals and only just started working in the industry but that I’d been training people since my teens and also had experience teaching people to snowboard (my first startup in 1994 was Gangster Snowboards). The natural follow up question was, so what have you been doing?
That’s when I mentioned my background in tech and design. They said they had a virus on their server and asked if I could sort it out. I did and Dynamic4 had its first client.
October 2001-October 2004: Dynamic4 v1.0-v1.2
Dynamic4 is born in London and gets started. The legal name was Dynamic Future Solutions. As I talked about in my Purpose & Happiness post, the idea was this would be a business adaptable enough to encompass my endless curiosity and be the dynamic solution for my future as it evolved over time… also for the team and our clients.
In 2002, we switched to trading as Dynamic4 because dynamicfuturesolutions.com is a really long domain name! Dynamic4 Technology and Dynamic4 Fitness were the product sub-brands – and the plan was to add Dynamic4 Snowboarding and Dynamic4 Scuba… I was mostly flying solo, and this is how I loved spending my time.
You might’ve spotted the “4” is actually “for”… and we bring the attributes of what it means to be dynamic to the areas we work in. That’s why it’s Dynamic4.
Dynamic4 Technology was focused on helping small business clients in the fitness and hospitality industries with digital transformation. Neither “digital” or “transformation” were the words of the time. It was when most words related to online still started with an “e”. I designed and built websites and online shops – including mobile commerce. Designed brands (some of which are still out in the wild!), advised on strategy, designed business process, and much more. I also did some work with other design and digital agencies.
There was also the tech infrastructure side of what I did. ADSL was just becoming mainstream, and I’d swap out old ISDN lines or modems with new connections, build servers, PCs, local networks, do office relocations, and provide support – often remotely through triple DES encrypted VPN tunnels I’d configured – and sometimes while travelling around Europe using my GPRS phone and laptop. You’re probably going to need to be of a certain age and have worked within tech to know what a lot of those acronyms mean – whereas today most people know how to tether and take their high-speed internet connections for granted. Back in the day, there was a lot more involved.
Part of this was also working on other tech and mobile startup ideas. One of these was a loose joint venture with LIFE UK, a celebrity and artist to fan social media startup – before social media was really a thing. This led to some interesting adventures and deals that didn’t quite happen with Yasmin Le Bon, Models 1, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and more. We were also shaping up an awesome project with Duran Duran when they didn’t have a label. They then signed a deal with Sony and our deal went away. They gave us VIP passes when they played Wembley Arena though and we sat with Simon Le Bon’s mum and hung out in the green room. We also worked with Skint Records (Fatboy Slim’s label) on mobile commerce in the days of ringtones and wallpapers. Plenty of fun times and partying.
Dynamic4 Fitness was a network of experienced health and fitness professionals. A collaborator model. My focus was to help our clients be fit for life with a strong emphasis on posture, strength, body awareness, breath control, and mental focus – to enhance both a sense of wellbeing and achievement.
I was lucky to study Pilates with Michael King from the Pilates Institute and became a member of the core team. I also worked with and learnt from other specialists in Yoga, Tai Chi, mindful meditation, physiotherapy, personal training, and sports therapy. My two specialties were Spin and Pilates (group matwork, one to one, equipment, and pregnancy & Pilates). I taught at a range of health clubs, studios, apartment blocks, and offices – including the Pilates Institute, Complete Health Care Centre, Bow Quarter, Holmes Place Clubs, Fitness First, LA Fitness, YMCA, Interbrand, Deutsche Bank, and others.
Dynamic4 Technology is how I spent a lot of my time during the day, but the fitness side meant teaching and coaching sessions every day at lunch times and evenings – I mostly avoided the early morning sessions. It was also cutting into my social life and my knee wasn’t loving it. I’d needed an ACL reconstruction for a few years, and I didn’t get that sorted until 2009 – 12 years after the rupture. A key reason it’s full of arthritis, I don’t have much meniscus left, and I’ve worn through parts of the articular cartilage of my femur… and live with a constant baseline pain. I need a total knee replacement but hopefully the tech will evolve more yet and last longer than 10 years. These were the key reasons Dynamic4 Fitness was the first part of the business I transitioned away from, and we moved into the next phase….
October 2004-February 2013: Dynamic4 v2.0 & v3.0
Without Dynamic4 Fitness in the mix, this made space to take on some bigger projects. The ratio of projects shifted toward spending time with financial services clients – including Fidelity Investments, RBC Capital Markets, Barclays Wealth, Lloyds TSB, and City Index… but still servicing most of our small business clients. I normally engaged as a managing consultant on IT service management programs – being both the program manager and service architect. My focus was to lead the service management strategy and then architect, build, and deliver the strategic service model and toolset. Designing and building datacentres was a key part of this time too.
After a small trade sale of Dynamic Future Solutions, I left London and landed back in Sydney on 1 March 2008. As part of the agreement, I kept the Dynamic4 brand and continued to take on some small business clients in Sydney.
During this 2004-2013 timeframe I also co-founded and explored a few other startup ideas, including a couple of fintechs focused on financial literacy and inclusion – and timeseight with Michael Lifson and Brian Handisides, a shared infrastructure and remote desktop startup. Most failed pretty quickly, cheaply, and painlessly during the business model and solution design stage – and before properly getting to market.
Another Westpac Interlude
I told myself it would take about five years of being back in Sydney to have the network to be able to work on Dynamic4 full time again, so I went and got a job at Westpac. This time I was hired to lead the $67m strategic transformation program to design and build the enterprise service management capability.
I then moved to the Customer Experience (CX) team and was the acting Head of CX for most of my time there. It was a fun time and I’m proud of the work we did to increase the maturity and adoption of human-centred design practices across the Westpac Group. In my first 24 months, we grew the team by 218% (to 35 people) while returning a 20% saving on financial targets. And there was demand from all over the organisation for the experiential learning programs we ran, and for our team’s design services.
I wrapped up this stint at Westpac leading mobility strategy and innovation for customers of Westpac, St George, Bank SA, Bank of Melbourne, and the general public.
In 2012 I started a little collective for positive impact called Design for Meaning with Anthony Quinn, Yummii Nguyen, and Stephen Cox – some of my good friends from Westpac. This led me to articulating with more clarity some of the change I want to see in the world – with what I saw as some key social and environmental problems I want to work on. This work also directly led to what became Dynamic4 Jetpack and through that Solve Problems That Matter. It was also the start of our B Corp journey.
My first day back to working full time on Dynamic4 was five years to the day of landing back in Sydney. 1 March 2013. If only I’d told myself it would take a couple of years to be able to do Dynamic4 full time again. I’d given Westpac another five years of my life over three roles – mirroring the three roles over five years at Westpac NZ from 1993-1998. I feel very lucky to have worked with so many awesome people during my Westpac years and made lifelong friends.
March 2013-September 2021: Dynamic4 v4.0-v7.0
This phase of Dynamic4 started by continuing to work with our small business clients – mostly providing digital solutions in the wellbeing industry. We also did some great strategic design and digital transformation projects with financial services clients. Actually, there are so many things we’ve done that I’m really proud of during this time. I’ve picked out a few highlights and some key decisions.
Social Enterprises & Startups
I co-founded my first startup in 1994 and they’ve been a constant over the past 27 years. The past eight years have been the most intensely focused time though. I’ve co-founded so many startups and social enterprises during this time it’s hard to keep count – but it’s somewhere around 20. Some are whole businesses – others are products and extensions of Dynamic4. Most of these ideas didn’t make it past the exploration and research stage, but some went for years, and some are still going.
No matter how long you’ve been working on a startup or social enterprise idea, and what you’ve invested, there’s always a grieving process to work through when you accept it’s not going to work and it’s time to stop. I’ve been through that cycle many times, but I don’t think it gets easier. It’s worth learning how to test your ideas quicker and with less investment though.
Some honourable mentions. Each has its own story and lessons, but I’ll keep it brief…
- Value Machine with Quinny. Streamlining philanthropic grantmaking
- Good Local. Making it easier for people to share and trade locally
- EventMojo with Sanjay Sundarjee. Marketplace to find and book everything for your event. It was sad to close it down after five years in 2018
- Better Goals with Tymon Kennedy. Helping people with intellectual disability, their families, and supports not miss out on things, build more independence, and achieve their goals. This is the freshest scar. It was really hard to call time on this one earlier this year after five years
Then there’s the hundreds of startups and social enterprises I’ve had the privilege of coaching and advising on our Jetpack program and all the other accelerators I’m involved in. I also get to work with a bunch of awesome social enterprises as their virtual CTO/CPO.
I count myself very lucky to be on the endless adventure that is startup life. The awesome co-founders I’ve started things with and the founders I work with now.
Ecosystem Building & Collaborations
We’ve always been about collaborating and over the years this has increasingly been focused on helping build ecosystems.
Here’s a few from over the years and many of these are still active:
- Co-chairing the Mobile Industry Group (MIG) of Australia
- Judge for the AIMIA Awards (peak body for the digital industry)
- Early Start.co member and co-GM at iCentral startup coworking space
- Advisory Board member for Women in Technology International B~STEM
- Guest speaker for 25 cohorts at General Assembly UX Design Immersive (UXDi) from 2015-2020
- Mentor, founder & alumni of Remarkable Disability Tech Accelerator
- Mentor & guest speaker at Founder Institute Sydney Accelerator, Catalysr Accelerator, and Sydney Hardware Incubator
- Teacher on Good Hustle, SHIFT, and Seafood for Good programs with StartSomeGood
- Teacher on Social Enterprise Series by ACU Co-Lab & StartSomeGood
Tech Infrastructure & Support
Tech infrastructure was the birth of Dynamic4. It’s the thing I did that put this whole sequence in motion. Of all the types of work we’ve done, this one relates most directly to my tradie roots growing up as a bricklayer. One of the few things I’ve done where there can be something tangible and truly physical to show for a hard day’s work… one where the lines then blur into the digital and virtual… and from there, endless possibilities. But it has a physical manifestation.
Over the years it became something we did very little of but transitioning out of providing these services completely in 2013 was a big deal and a tough decision to make. Leaving behind those years of doing anything from building a PC to building and fitting out a datacentre.
The world had changed though. Tech had become heavily commoditised and thankfully small business required much less support because we’d already moved their old physical onsite servers to the cloud. Email, data, and software didn’t need to be hosted and managed locally anymore. Devices and peripherals were much more reliable, and most people knew how to configure and troubleshoot the random issues that come up – which were never fun to deal with anyway.
It was no longer where we could add meaningful value. It was time to grieve it and move on.
In 2013, we formalised our Dynamic4 Good grant program – committing a pool of at least 10% of our annual revenue to invest in actively supporting early-stage social enterprise ideas and ecosystem building. We invest some of this investment pool in the form of grants through Dynamic4 Good, and some by taking an equity position through Dynamic4 Ventures. We’re proud to have invested over $1,300,000 since 2013.
Quinny and I started running our first Jetpack and custom Jetpack sessions in July 2014. The program has grown and iterated over the years. It started with some workshops. We then took it online as a chat based coaching program while still doing custom Jetpacks focused on one organisation at a time, and then brought back the workshops in a loose cohort format from 2017… and next month Solve Problems That Matter launches as the book format of a refined version of the program.
The design community in Sydney is awesome. There’s a strong purpose-driven alignment too. In May 2015 I co-founded Sydney Design Thinking. Our vision for the meetup is to build a community and ecosystem of people from a diverse range of design practices, industries, contexts and roles… to learn and share. To find their tribe. To get exposed to what others are doing and be inspired. We also have a strong focus on using design to have a positive impact on people, our planet, and business. We’ve grown to a community of 8,000+, and next month will be our 64th meetup.
I felt like my purpose-driven community grew exponentially at the December 2015 Purpose conference in Sydney. It was a relatively small and intimate audience that first year, but very engaged and connected.
We’d always had pretty sharp clarity and a negative screen on industries and types of projects we wouldn’t work with, but after this conference I resolved that we would rapidly transition to a positive screen – only working on things that directly aligned with our purpose and theory of change.
March 2016, we finally got our B Corp certification confirmed. I’d started the B Impact Assessment years earlier, but it wasn’t until I went to a masterclass in August 2015 where I could ask questions to check where we could claim points specific to our context, that I finally submitted our assessment. We then had to gather our evidence and get through the audit. For us, it was a case of formalising and evidencing what we already did. It might be for you too – check out the B Impact Assessment. Either way, it’s a great management tool. We were then part of the thriving B Corp community in Sydney and Australia. The 2017 B Corp Champions Retreat in Alice Springs was a very special highlight too.
In 2018 and 2019, I was also heavily involved in getting B Local Sydney setup to help the B Corp community in Sydney and surrounds get more connected.
Academia & Project-Based Experiential Learning
I’m not an academic, didn’t go to university, and don’t have a degree. It wasn’t until running some industry projects with UTS VisComm students during my Westpac days that I had any exposure to what that world is like.
It was an interesting invitation when I was asked to join the Centre for Social Impact/UNSW Business School in 2018 as a Social Entrepreneur-in-Residence on the Social Entrepreneurship Practicum (COMM5030), which is a capstone project in a Master of Commerce. This is a work integrated learning (WIL) course that helps the students learn through doing by working on a real project with a social enterprise client. I was involved in 2017 for the first term of the program as a client. Our little team of three rapidly grew and became a multi-award winning teaching team of awesome people.
I also do some work with the UTS Bachelor of Creative Intelligence & Innovation (BCII) degree. Hopefully campus life returns to some normality in 2022 and this will pick up again.
Like all the “teaching” I do and the programs I’ve designed and delivered over many years, these are project-based experiential learning programs. It’s all about learning through doing. My focus is on coaching using an action learning approach – rather than instructional teaching. More heutagogy than pedagogy. These university programs are based on that model, so is our Jetpack program. The workshops, innovation sprints, masterclasses, and other programs we run are focused on working on real problems that matter with coaching – and the learning primarily happens through doing – with just enough theory and skills training.
One of my favourite things is a few of the leadership programs we run with a global financial services client. Teams of senior leaders work on a real project with a social enterprise client to achieve the learning outcomes – and deliver meaningful value with the client at the same time. A massive thanks to Jess Williams for originally getting me involved. I get to collaborate with the awesome Hannah Miller from Sefa Partnerships on a couple of them too.
These workshops, programs, and coaching sit in my happy place at the intersect of design thinking, social innovation, and wellbeing.
I’m proud to be a founding board member and treasurer of the Social Enterprise Council of NSW & ACT (SECNA), which we started in 2019. We’re the member-led peak body representing social enterprise in NSW & ACT. It’s great to see the community growing with over 150 members. Many more exciting things to come, including Brisbane/Australia hosting the Social Enterprise World Forum in 2022.
In 2019, Dynamic4 was one of the 533 B Corps who publicly committed to net zero emissions by the year 2030 at COP25. Since 2010 we’ve consistently minimised our carbon impact and offset 20% more than our calculated emissions. We’re proud to have been climate positive since 2010 and will continue this commitment over the next decade and beyond.
Where Are We At?
As you can probably see, the past eight and a half years has been a time of exploring and experimenting… and of course, convergent cycles of narrowing and refining – including shutting down collaborations, products, and startups that aren’t working out. We’ve worked with so many awesome people… clients, team members, and collaborators over the years.
At different times during this time period, I’ve had the joy of Grace Young, Anthony Quinn, and Poppy Rouse join the team as a principal to explore new things. Over the past few years, I’ve been lucky to work with Diego Fernández Ruiz, Caroline Vendramin, and Shahzad Anwar on the digital side of what we do… or I should say “did”.
From what I’ve shared above, you might get bit of an idea of how I spend my time. Most of these things have been happening simultaneously. I love learning and feeding my curiosity, but I also want to be able to fully unplug from all work-related things occasionally. I love what I do and partly because of that, it’s been easy to let all of these things become both my day job and my hobby.
The past three years especially have really been about simplification and refocusing. This cycle started well before the pandemic and put us in a good position to handle the challenges that has brought.
Digital has been core to what we do since day one. What that means, the tech stacks, frameworks, and complexity have all evolved a lot over the past 20 years though. From the early days, we mostly focused on the more complex end of the digital design and build spectrum with web-based platforms, apps, and online shops – rather than marketing/brochure sites.
A few years ago, we made the transition to only work on designing and building MVPs – and then help transition to an in-house team when the clients were ready. The focus of this has been to design and build digital products that deliver and scale impact – and thrive in a connected world.
For the past few years, we’ve been working with some awesome clients as their digital partner. Truly purpose-driven and values aligned organisations, and some of my favourite people who I admire and respect. These include Collaboration for Impact and Young Change Agents. They and others had reached a point of internal digital maturity and capability – that I thought it was time for them to bring their platforms in-house. I’m stoked part of this transition has been for our digital team to work with them directly.
I’ll still be working with some of our clients as their virtual CTO/CPO or tech adviser.
So, on the eve of our 20th birthday, we’ve just transitioned to Dynamic4 version 8.0. What’s that mean? Tomorrow, I’ll share what that means we’re focusing on, what we’re stopping, how I made the decision, and why. This will be my way of wrapping up this blog series as we count down to turning 20 and embrace the next phase of Dynamic4!
Dynamic4: The 20th Year
It seems a good time to reflect on the journey so far and some key things I’ve learnt on the way. This is Part 7 in a blog series as we count down to our 20th birthday on 1 October 2021.