Its been an incredibly busy start to 2014 with my website being shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards and the forging of exciting new partnerships. It's been less than 24 hours since winning #SBS and one or two exciting new opportunities have already surfaced! My Twitter timeline has gone into overdrive!
The long version!....
Wildlife and the natural world has always been an important part of my life. In fact, many of my earliest memories involve wildlife in some way. When anyone asks me ‘When did your wildlife obsession start?’ one particular memory always springs to mind. I distinctly remember warm sunny days, standing on the edge of the pond in my local park, mud up to my knees, giant grin on my face and being in total awe at the content of my pond dipping net! Full of magical mini monsters that fuelled my imagination and ignited a passion that lasts to this day. I loved to draw the many creatures I would find and then, in bed, spend hours under the covers with a torch searching through various books trying to identify my latest discoveries.
My passion for gadgets started at a very early age too, although back in the mid to late 1970s the ‘gadgets’ weren’t quite as sophisticated as they are today! My father had renal failure in his early twenties (I think I was about 2 at the time) and used to have to dialyse (being hooked up to a kidney machine) for 15 hours at a time, three times a week. I remember being totally fascinated by all the dials and lights on the kidney machine, which at that time was the size of a large upright fridge-freezer, and very soon learnt the function of every button, dial and display. A maintenance chap visited once a month and I would bombard him with questions like ‘What’s that for?’, ‘How does that work?’ etc. Looking back I can see how this could have been quite irritating but I don’t think he was too bothered as he would often bring me a box full of old printed circuit boards and components for me to explore and dissect!
Wildlife took a bit of a backseat in my teenage years if I’m honest and the term ‘bird watching’ took on a slightly different meaning. As the lure of girls, beer and music took over wildlife didn’t seem ‘cool’ enough anymore! The interest still lingered but if there was a choice between going into town with my mates or popping to a local reserve to do a spot of bird watching then mates and town usually won.
My obsession with electronics and design grew though and at the age of 16 I enrolled in an HND Industrial Design course at a local college. I absolutely loved it, the first few weeks anyway. Unfortunately my father’s health deteriorated rapidly during those same weeks. I wanted to spend more time at home to help my mother look after him so dropped out of the course and found a full time job. My father died a few months later.
With boundless ideas and ambition raging through me I continued to develop my career in electronics and product design and development. I studied HND Electronics and Communications, trained as a PCB design engineer and eventually found myself working as an R&D engineer for one of the world’s most renowned photographic flash manufacturers. I remained at the company for over ten years, developing new skills and changing role from time to time. I moved from R&D to become Production Manager looking after up to 100+ staff and also took on the role of Quality Manager qualifying as an ISO 9001 Lead Auditor.
Getting back to wildlife…by accident! Or was it?
Everything in my life was almost perfect. I had a wonderful wife, a gorgeous 5 year old son and a new house but for some reason there was this niggling twinge of unhappiness lingering in the background. Same old story, as many of you have experienced I expect, I realised the problem was my job. It was time for a change!
I decided to take the leap and set up my own business. My youngest brother was a qualified carpenter so we decided to set up our own property maintenance company. Everything was going great. Plenty of interesting work and I was spending much more time out in the fresh air…Magic! Three months into the business disaster struck! After one particularly strenuous days work we decided to go for a game of badminton with friends. Unfortunately I didn’t warm up properly and 10 minutes into the game there was an almighty bang and I fell to the ground. I thought my doubles partner had hit me on the back of the leg with his racket but when I turned around he was on the opposite side of the court. I looked at my foot and could see that the back of my ankle had disappeared….I’d snapped my Achilles tendon!
In plaster for 10 weeks and on crutches for about 12 it was during this time that I had one of those magical ‘light bulb moments’. From an early age my son had developed the same passion for wildlife that I had. My wife and I were spending increasing amounts of time with him in the garden and further afield introducing him to the wonders of the natural world. I remember watching the very first Springwatch (or something similar) with Sam and seeing how fascinated he was by the nest boxes with cameras inside. I decided to buy him one for Christmas but after researching for a while discovered that all of the commercially available systems at that time were either horrendously expensive or, being brutally honest, not very good.
That’s when I decided to design and manufacture my own range of wildlife camera systems and created a company called Gardenature. The innovative designs I developed proved to be hugely popular and helped shape the wildlife camera market as it stands today. The designs continue to be sold all over the world and are used by many well known organisations such as the BBC (used on Springwatch), the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB. In fact, the RSPB still sells my design as their preferred choice of nest box and feeder camera systems. A number of my designs have won ‘Best Buy’ awards in Which magazine and have regularly featured on TV and in print.
In 2010 I decided to sell my share of Gardenature to pursue a slightly different course. I’m very proud of what I achieved with Gardenature and continue to be thrilled by its on-going success. Simon and Ange, the current owners, do a fantastic job and offer outstanding service.They too have been recognised by Theo and are fellow #SBS winners! I left my baby in safe hands!
It was during my time at Gardenature that I became friends with world renowned wildlife cameraman, TV presenter and author Simon King. After many discussions we discovered that we shared a common vision and in 2010 we decided to go into partnership and create a unique online wildlife community for anyone interested in wildlife. Wildlife Whisperer was born!
In two short years Wildlife Whisperer developed into a hugely popular brand and community attracting over 6000 members and regularly attracted over half a million hits a month on its website. Again, I feel immensely proud of what Simon and I (and the rest of the team of course!) achieved in such a short space of time and will forever be grateful to have been part of such an amazing team.
This brings brings me up to date and my new passion - Wildlife Gadgetman. The wildlife Gadgetman website showcases the numerous unique services and products I offer along with a growing collection of free resources designed to help make wildlife watching easy and fun!
I have numerous new and exciting products, partnerships and projects to share over the coming months.
The first of the new partnerships is with a fantastic company called Bug Storeys. Bug Storeys is a brilliant new outdoor study centre. An interactive habitat that provides a year-round, cross-curricular learning experience designed to educate and inspire children of all ages.
The unique design allows daily interaction and monitoring of the inhabitants, their breeding grounds and food stores within and is accompanied by a suite og Bug Storeys teaching resources for KS1&2 across all subjects. A qualified Bug Ranger will install the habitat in school grounds, give children the opportunity to take part and lead a bug hunt to find its very first residents.
It's a living, breathing biology lesson. It's a fun and fabulous food chain. It's a buggy brilliant way to get outdoors, get busy and get inspired by nature in all its glory.
You may have heard them before, but they work!...
Be honest with yourself - You may feel that you've come up with the best business idea in the world but learn to step back, continually reassess your business plan and learn to let go if its not working.
Build upon your successes and learn from your mistakes.
Customer service is central to success. Always go that extra mile. Exceed your customers expectations and always deliver on your promises.