With the launch of the new TFE website, I think this is a great time to provide a potted history of The Furious Engineer to date. The reasons for this will hopefully become clear.
This new website doesn’t herald a re-birth, nor re-invention per se, as The Furious Engineer (the company) has been constantly growing, changing, and evolving over the last decade. Instead, I see the new website as an opportunity to present an open, honest appraisal of this past decade, and the new website’s launch coincides with many reasons to look positively to the future.
Before we look at the company history, let’s make one thing crystal clear…The Furious Engineer is me, Matt Osborne. But why a ‘furious’ engineer I hear you ask?
Well, let’s start with that story.
Waaaaay back in my undergraduate days, I was (and remain) a huge fan of Douglas Adams, and specifically The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. At the time, the internet was quite niche and novel, and no one complained about the seconds (minutes) it took for each web page to load. There wasn’t a decent search engine at the time, and you almost had to know precisely what you were looking for (and often the web address as well) to ‘find’ anything. Yet, find the Hitchhikers fan club website I did! Back then, you didn’t choose a username, you were allocated one. A nice feature of the fan club website was that you answered questions on your studies, interests, and hobbies – from which the (very basic) algorithm generated a username to use for both the website and the fan club. My generated username? You guessed it, The Furious Engineer. I loved it.
Once the time had come for me to leave the Forces, I knew I wanted to start up my own business, and there was only going to be one name for it. No other name would do. I remember vividly my leaving chat with the Career Counsellor at the mandatory Career Transition Workshop everyone has when leaving the Armed Forces. Having provided a synopsis of the company aims and business plan the previous day, he remarked that he was impressed with the plan, but had reservations on the name.
HIM: “I’ve been discussing the company name at length with many of my colleagues, and we feel that the name isn’t right. I just don’t like it.”
ME: “Which is why I’m keeping the name.”
HIM: “What, you’re going to keep the name because I DON’T like it?”
ME: “No, I’m keeping it because you’ve already been discussing it with many of your colleagues, and I haven’t even set it up yet!!”
And so, The Furious Engineer was born, registered with Companies House, and started trading in June 2012.
Naturally, the feelings of imposter syndrome didn’t recede for perhaps two years, but that isn’t exclusive to me, nor perhaps interesting to you, dear reader. Rather I want to describe the plans and events which have shaped The Furious Engineer into what it has become today, and what the trajectory to the future looks like.
Companies were hiring me, they welcomed by advice, my guidance, and my furious (*frenetic) work rate. Just not enough to significantly increase my margins on price. The answer to generating increased revenue was clear – provide further specialist, niche consultants like me on a freelance basis. Clients liked what I did, so this would just be an extension of my service offerings, right? Wrong.
To me, the business offering was a no-brainer, the only issue I could foresee was how to find enough people good enough to service my client base. Ah, the arrogance of youth(ful businesses)…As I scrambled for CVs into an ever-growing list of engineering sub-specialisms, I also embarked on a growth accelerator programme and invested heavily in digital and analogue marketing campaigns.
The accelerator programme was backed by local government, topped up by the company at a cost of around £3k (from memory), and I was allocated my own coach and mentor – Phil. Phil was incredible, and along with the benefit of his advice and guidance, he also gave me the encouragement to ‘pick up the ‘phone’ and talk to business leaders.
More than the access to a personal coach with a track record in business success (and all the lessons and hints and tips that fall out from such experience), I received one of my most significant business lessons to date…people buy people. The business leaders and hiring managers I talked to were all consistent in their responses. They loved what I did, could see the clear advantage of my pricing schemes, the clear advantage of the flexibility, and seemingly had no lack of confidence in my ability to fulfil their needs and match the skills I could bring to their organisation. But…
…they were happy with ‘Company X’, who had never let them down, and they had no motivation to move away from the status quo.
Not yet defeated I turned to examples of companies and individuals who had disrupted similar fields – ‘Dragons’ such as James Caan. Caan established a hugely successful temp agency, so not too dissimilar to what I was hoping to achieve with my niche consultancy. How did he do it? He succeeded by offering to provide already-selected members of staff whom he promised would be a perfect fit in all respects – guaranteed by a trial of one month. Sadly (for me), the guarantee was backed up by a promise to fully pay the month’s salary if the organisation was in anyway unhappy with the member of staff provided. At the scale of consultancy day rates, this was a non-starter for me.
Back to the drawing board.
Although, with hindsight I was fresh out of ideas. There is a reason I have a frame of Albert Einstein staring at me in my office, replete with one of his famous quotes:
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results”
But surely that big break was just around the next (very long and winding) corner)? I persisted, drumming the same message repeatedly. My existing clients remained loyal, and some new ones came and went. Some defaulted on payment, but I persevered. Excitement built as the government announced a new scheme to promote access to government procurement by SMEs and micro-companies.
Sadly, this scheme was implemented so poorly it resulted in the ‘big four’ companies hoovering up contracts from governmental floorplates before us minnows event got a sniff. Indeed, this hare-brained plan was later formalised by an ill-thought-out commercial scheme designed to allow the big boys to ‘share’ contracts, but resulted only in them sharing the scraps and morsels after the better (lucrative) contracts were shared amongst themselves.
I almost fell out of love with engineering, but did enjoy the therapeutic act of writing (which I hope at least some of you have enjoyed from reading the blogs as they have grown over the years). Hang on a minute! Could I monetise my writing? Yes, I could, and I did. I successfully integrated Google Adsense and Amazon Associate Ads onto my website; writing more and more frequently, with guest writers too, just waiting for this influx of advertising revenue to come flooding in and pay for that villa in Marbella.
I am living proof that you can earn money from writing. In fact, I can proudly share that I earned almost £60 from Google every 2-years! Amazon decided that my returns were so poor (not a single purchase in 3 years), they cancelled my account. To make any serious money from web advertising, you need to be either the broker (Google, Facebook etc.), or spam your readership with drivel and ruin the accessibility of the content with too many annoying pop-up advertisements.
Fortune is kind (so far), and I have persisted in my independent safety consultancy over many years – working in niche areas of functional safety in complex socio-technical systems, solving problems that require the latest safety science and critical thinking. Indeed, I found myself working on quite an intractable problem, and decided I should probably earn some academic credit concurrently whilst solving it.
And so my research journey and PhD studies began in 2017. Despite the best efforts of HMRC to ruin micro-consultancies with their now retracted (and now ‘tracted’ once more), preposterous IR35 sledgehammer, I have retained my consultancy along with my new safety science career within the Assuring Autonomy International Programme.
Now I truly have the best of both worlds – as Research Fellow for an organisation that promotes reality-based safety science, and which positively encourages consultancy and industry engagement, and an independent consultancy that allows me to bring the latest research to the benefit of my clients.
I have accepted that The Furious Engineer will never grow in terms of employee numbers, but will continue to grow in reputation, demand, and with luck, price! I am extremely privileged to work with two dear friends whom I have known and worked with for many years, and with whom we often scale up for larger tasks. But I must be clear…The Furious Engineer is me, Matt Osborne. Safety Scientist, Independent Safety Consultant, Author.
This is The Furious Engineer; I am The Furious Engineer.
This is The Furious Engineer website, and it will continue to deliver updates on safety science research; safety engineering advice, training, and guidance; and blogs, papers, conference proceedings; and links to future books (watch this space).
Finally, I want to say that I’m not an angry person (STOP that guffawing!), I like to think that ‘furious’ describes the frenetic pace of my work…
Do keep coming back, friend.