In 2012/13 my original business partner Gillian and I were contracting and consulting when we noticed a problem. Businesses were being driven by hierarchies and technology rather than by the needs of their customers and the people who worked for them. We decided to do something about it and the idea for This is Milk was born.
Our mission was to create a better business consultancy. One that had human-centric design principles running throughout the whole organisation. One that didn’t have siloed understanding and hierarchies but worked from a place of being there for people.
The idea was put on ice, then whilst on maternity leave with my son Grayson, I decided to start the business. It was the wrong time for Gillian, so I took over as MD.
This is Milk soon became my other baby, and just like tiny humans, the first couple of years were really hard. Then as we started to get busy and I tried to build my team, I faced another problem. I couldn’t find people with the creative skills and the breadth of skills that I needed to deliver end-to-end human-centred transformational change.
I discovered that this was inherently a skills issue, so in a brave and admittedly scary move, I decided to change the business. I downed tools on consultancy, took out a Funding Circle loan, got a Scottish Enterprise Grant and researched and designed what is now known as The Digital Transformation Programme. A programme that upskills and reskills people to cover the breadth of non-technical, holistic, t-shaped skills that you need to deliver a digital project. Shortly after that, I launched Training by This is Milk.
Pivoting was tough. We didn’t anticipate the length of time it would take to get traction and the money was running out. From June through to December, it was literally hand to mouth. It was incredibly stressful, I very nearly gave up. But then we won the BIMA Award for the Digital Transformation Programme, which felt like a sign saying “keep going. Just keep going. You’ve got this”. Then we won a couple of big contracts, and everyone was paid. We’ve never been in that situation again. Cash flow can be the killer of small businesses. Thankfully it was followed by a really successful year for training and consultancy.
Ever since then, I’ve become deeply passionate about looking at skills differently and upskilling the world to face into the future. So much so, that whilst on maternity leave last year, the team and I came up with an idea for an innovative new learning platform. The idea went on to win a CivTech challenge and it is now being developed with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Digital Academy.
So now we have consultancy, training and a tech arm, and have grown from a core team of just 3 people to a full-time team of 11 people in under 12 months. It’s been a year of massive change, and that’s not to mention the birth of my second child Neve or the pandemic.
I think part of this ability to change, adapt and try new things comes from being okay with making mistakes. Being a start-up is rarely a straight road. That’s important to remember. You don’t always get it right the first time, and that’s okay. You have to fail, fail fast, be prepared to make mistakes, learn from them and move on. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.
My biggest challenge was
Learning to trust my gut instinct and to be confident to walk away from something that isn’t sitting right. In the early days, I often believed that nothing bad can come from a cup of coffee with someone. Yes, it can. And I also thought I had to pursue every opportunity, even when my gut told me it wasn't the right one. I should’ve trusted my gut in all of those situations because I did know that something wasn't right, even if I couldn't entirely articulate what it was.