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More on my move to San Francisco

Thank you all for the emails of support and best wishes – it’s all very much appreciated. A lot of people have been asking why we’re moving and also what we’re planning on doing with the Citizen Agency.

Why move from London?

I’ve wanted to move to San Francisco/The Valley for sometime. Probably since I started working on, and really started to plan where my career was heading.

Despite what people may claim or assert, I still believe The Bay area is still the epicentre for technical development, innovation and all things cutting-edge in this industry (and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon either). If you want to be part of that, then for my mind that’s where you’ve got to be physically based (Don Dodge agrees too).

If you can’t be there then actually London is probably a very good second. I certainly think London is shaping up to be hub for mobile innovation – but mobile technology doesn’t interest me (yet. – it just frustrates me at the moment).

I do think there’s a small but lucrative consultation circuit in London – with the possibility of making more money than one can in San Francisco. But from my forages into this area so far, it feels more like companies want a regurgitation of existing knowledge and best practice (on blogs, wikis, etc etc) rather than to work on pioneering stuff and push the envelope.

Those of you who follow my blog or Flickr stream will know that I’ve made a number of trips to the West Coast in the past few months. I’ve been lucky enough to use the time to hang out with people I regard highly – helping me to work out what I want to do and where the opportunities lie.

I’ve also had a number of meetings/lunches/job interviews with big companies – which in many ways helped me realise that I wanted to work in a small company start-up-like environment rather than yet-another BBC-like corporate.

I have a wide range of skills, and like a growing number of people I meet, I’m difficult to fit into a corporate structure or pigeon-hole into an existing job title. I was lucky that my credibility in the BBC was such that I was given an unparalleled freedom with what I wanted to do + felt needed to be done. That’s hard to find when you are joining a new company – even if your reputation procedes you. I certainly can’t play to all my strengths just doing one aspect of my skills set.

Another reason for moving was to take a risk (and hopefully get a reward). At some point in my career I would like to be part of the next Technorati, MySpace or maybe even Google. I think this involves taking a risk (probably several) – and one certainly won’t find an opportunity to work on – and have some ownership of – the next big exciting thing by simply ascending the corporate ladder. I have found myself on several occasions asking the simple question “When will I take a risk?”. If not now – when?

I turn 25 this month (oh my God, I’m having a pre-mid-life-crisis!!! I was this young whipper snapper once that wanted to take on the world… Where did it all go? 🙂 ).

Statistically speaking the Larry Pages, Sergey Brins and Bill Gates of this world establish themselves in their 20’s and so in some respects I’m already on the decline. I feel it’s now or never.

The final thing that continued to give me a kick up the arse was my Canadian citizenship. The fact that I am extraordinarily lucky to have essentially a fast-track route to obtaining a US work visa. The number of friends and former-BBC colleagues who I know are going through the dreaded and protracted H-1B process reinforces my view that I should seize the opportunity that I have gained from having a Canadian father (thanks Dad!).

I love London and I’ll miss London – it’s my home town after all. But I also feel it is important to spend sometime in a different country and gain some different perspective on life.

Citizen Agency

Citizen Agency logo

So what is Citizen Agency, and what are we going to do? I don’t think Tara, Chris myself or Sofia (who will also have some involvement with the direction of business even though she won’t be employed by it) quite know where it might all lead.

But here’s what we do know:

There is a common strand that unites all three of us in a unique way. We’ve all made a name for ourselves and pioneered our respective niches by helping companies harness the power of their userbase communities. That’s Tara with her Pinko Marketing at Riya (and elsewhere), Chris with his pioneering stuff with the SpreadFirefox campaign and at Flock, and myself with for the BBC.

We also each have complimentary skills that nicely overlap at the edges. Tara: marketing, Chris: product development and design, myself: product development and technical development. Together we form quite a nice agency – with a fairly comprehensive range of skills that work nicely as an end-to-end solution.

Essentially we want to help empower companies to better utilize their userbase communities for product design, development and marketing. We believe that knowledge exists in communities, not individuals.

We see our client-base as being both startups and also established players. We also don’t necessarily see that being just Internet companies either. Traditional software vendors, hardware vendors and maybe even non-technical companies could all be potential clients.

I think we’ll start with Internet based companies because that’s what we know best. But it was heartening to have an interesting and positive discussion with a VP of a medium sized traditional desktop-based software company about some of their on-going frustrations and how a company like Citizen Agency could work with them to resolve many of their current issues.

So we’re still working through the business model with a fine toothcomb, but the bullet points of services we want to offer include:

  • Marketing your products and services pinko-style
  • The creation and execution of developer networks and expert-user groups for the purpose of marketing, product development and innovation/R&D.
  • Steering product/service design and development processes towards user-centric models that foster on-going win/win relationships between consumer and provider
  • Better implementation of blogs, wikis and other tools to create dialogues with consumers
  • + more…

There are also a number of very interesting ideas in the melting pot that I don’t want to reveal our hand over just yet. And potentially this is where the risk/reward comes into play.

With such an emphasis on the community, Citizen Agency also aspires to put back into the ecosystem by sponsoring grassroots movements like BarCamp and providing its services Pro Bono to socially beneficial projects and open source projects. We want to be social entrepreneurs.

Well, that’s a little more about what I am looking forward to working on for the foreseeable future. We’ll have to see whether the risk of the job security of the BBC was worth the benefit.

Published in Citizen Agency News


  1. Ben, Congratulations on the move to San Francisco Bay Area. It is a great place. I lived there for 7 years and loved it. It has an energy you will not find anywhere else.

    I did my first startup at 35, and went on to do 5 of them, so you are certainly not starting too late. I didn’t plan any of it…it just happened. It happened because I was in the area where startup people live and work. I got to know them, and they got to know me, and we decided to work together. That can’t happen long distance.

    You have joined a good team. You each have unique talents. Good luck to you.

    Don Dodge

  2. Ben Ben

    Hey Don,

    Thanks for your kind words.

    I enjoy reading your blog, so v much appreciate you leaving a comment.

  3. interesting

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