Episode #12 - Beyond building apps

Behind the Screens #6: CookiesHQ and the Community

This week Nic and Nathalie sit down to talk about getting involved in and giving back to the community as entrepreneurs. They look back at everything they’ve done, successfully or otherwise, over the last decade to cement their place in the Bristol ecosystem.

We have a long history of running events here at CookiesHQ. When you’re sat in front of a laptop all day, nothing can beat being in a room with and actually speaking to like minded, passionate people. We started out running the Bristol Ruby User Group, and then on after stumbling upon something similar in Belgium, Nic had an idea: to bring people that usually moan about each other, into a room with each other. Or, as they’re now known, the Smart Cookie events.

Nic and Nathalie have both offered themselves up as mentors for various different schemes. They talk about how their approaches differ – in fact, Nic has come to the conclusion mentoring isn’t his greatest strength (he feels more at home under a centre stage spotlight), while Nathalie achieves great results for her mentees. She shares her top tips on ensuring these relationships are constructive and successful.

Nic, the extrovert, feels at home on stage speaking. He thrives on the adrenaline rush and admits that he enjoys being the centre of attention. Nathalie is more introverted, and finds mentoring suits her well. She enjoys supporting or guiding someone behind the scenes, and then sharing their success – which is not dissimilar to the work we do for clients at CookiesHQ.
Finding ways to contribute to the Bristol community both on and offline has been a driving value for us at CookiesHQ. While Covid-19 has disrupted the extent to which we can do this, we’re looking forward to the day we can throw our next Smart Cookies event safely. We’re not sure when this will be, but you can follow our Meetup page to stay in the loop.
This is the sixth in a series of Behind the Screens episodes in which Nic and Nathalie will reflect on everything going on at CookiesHQ and look ahead to what’s on the horizon

Join the conversation on the CookiesHQ Twitter. Head over to LinkedIn to find out more on Nic and Nat.

Read the transcript

Nic:
Hello, and welcome to the Tough Cookies broadcast. Another episode of our behind the screen series where Nat and I talk about what’s going on behind the screens in CookiesHQ. How are you Nat?…

Nic:
I’m good. I forgot to put your mic on. There you go. That should be good.

Nathalie:
I’m okay. How are you?

Nic:
I’m good. How was your week?

Nathalie:
It was good. A bit tired this week. We’ve got big deadlines coming up for a large project, mid August. So, yeah, all hands on deck for this one. And the summer holidays are starting, so school’s out. Well, the little bit of school that was on is now not on anymore. So that’s another factor as you … When you run a business and you’re a parent, it’s things that, yeah, you have to take into account is school holidays and what you do with the children when they’re not at school. So …

Nic:
Yeah.

Nathalie:
We’ll need to organise that.

Nic:
Somehow it feels like we had that in the past few months, but because they had the structure of the school things they were doing on a computer and all that, it kind of like help bringing the day to day structure. I don’t know how this summer is going to be with them.

Nathalie:
I don’t know. Yeah. The schoolwork kept them busy for at least …

Nic:
Yeah.

Nathalie:
Even if it’s just two or three hours a day, but now they’ve got nothing. But you know, we’ll see.

Nic:
Cool. I listened to our previous podcast and I find myself extremely … I think boring is the word. Not boring, but the … I don’t know, it feels like I’m normally quite a joyful person and I speak fast, speak loud and all that. In the previous episode, I could hear my voice very monotonous and very, very boring. So I’m going to try to be a bit more lively now. And starting from now.

Nathalie:
Maybe you’re just tired, or it is very different to talking to, you know, to a microphone, to a podcast than it would be to actually have a conversation with someone, like a real conversation.

Nic:
It is very different. Even if we are in our lounge talking together, which we do quite a lot, but still very different than a normal conversation. You know, I don’t know, it’s the whole thing, imposter syndrome, you know it’s recorded and all that, it is extremely strange. But no, this week I was … So I’ve been cycling a bit more. So I’ve been managing to do the Portishead to Bristol cycle a few times in the past two weeks, which was really good. The weather has been good. And that kind of like helps me during the day to keep focus and to keep a bit more productive. So that was good. Also, I’ve talked quite a lot with Emily. So Emily is our new marketing manager. So she’s handling all the marketing’s and trying to understand the place of Cookies in the Bristol ecosystem and wider ecosystem.

Nic:
So we talked quite a bit about what we’ve done in the past nine years in Bristol to be part of the community. And it was quite interesting, quite an interesting conversation looking back at those nine years, looking back at everything we did, failed or successfully, that was quite interesting. And I think that the thing that stuck the most was probably obviously a pre-COVID were our events.

Nathalie:
Yeah.

Nic:
So we used to run, a long time ago, we used to run the Bristol Ruby User Group, which has now been, which is now handled by Cookpad. So we’re not running that one anymore, but it was interesting one to run. It was really dedicated to the Ruby community in Bristol and we were the forefront of it. So that was great.

Nic:
And I think the other big one was the, what we call now, the Smart Cookies and started as design build market.

Nathalie:
Yeah.

Nic:
So that was our baby together. I think at some point we even wanted to do a mini conference with it, but that one was probably our most successful event or series of events. So yeah, it was about retracing the history of Cookies’ presence and community in Bristol. Do you remember the first time we talked about the design build market, or Smart Cookies as it is known now?

Nathalie:
It was a long time ago, wasn’t it? It was, I don’t know, four or five years, at least I would say.

Nic:
I will always remember the conversation because we were going on holiday in the car and I said, “Hey, it would be great if …” And I think I saw something, it was some town in Belgium, I can’t remember which town, but they were having these startup event, which was not just about coding, not just about sales, not just about marketing, not just about design, but it was a mix of everything. And I said, “I really like it.” I do find those … I mean, I like the coding events, but sometimes it’s a bit too much, same for the design, same for the sales or the marketing, it’s like sometimes it’s a bit boring to go to the same coding stuff every month. But what we tried to do was this idea of putting multiple people from different disciplines in the same room. And I think we used the sentence to explain it where we were trying to put all the people that usually moan about each other to be in the same room and learn about each other. And that was this idea, everything that makes a project successful being in the same room and learning from each other and doing talks.

Nathalie:
Yeah. Because even if we’re a very technical agency and I think we’ll always be a very technical agency, we’re still … We can’t do our work and we can’t bring a project to life if we don’t have designers, UX designers, marketeers, there’s a whole range of skills involved in the product, and we’re only a little part of it. And it’s very important to obviously do the build, but it’s not everything.

Nic:
No. No.

Nathalie:
And the idea was to bring all of these people together because we’re all, ultimately we’re all trying to solve the same problem, which is how do you build great digital products and how do you make them successful? And that doesn’t take just a coder or just a designer. It takes everyone together. And that’s why you need to bring the whole team together to do the work and understand each other, and I think that’s why sometimes you about the others is because you don’t fully understand how they work or you don’t fully understand the limitations. Or, I don’t know, a designer might have a limited knowledge of the tech and therefore designs things that actually don’t really make sense from a technical point of view, or the tech has a limited understanding of marketing and therefore doesn’t see the point of doing this and that. And what’s the point? It doesn’t make sense. Well, yeah, maybe it does from a marketing point of view.

Nathalie:
And I think we tried to bring everyone together to discuss these issues and to discuss specific topics. So we would have a topic per quarter, because it was a quarterly event, and it, yeah, it was good actually to have these discussions. And then we, towards the end, we did panels as well, where it was interesting to have, and at that point client side and agency side from different agencies and see how everyone was reacting. And actually it led to really interesting conversations.

Nic:
I think … Yeah. I think we really, if I say so myself, we really nailed this event in the past, like in this about six, seven events, so in the past two years, basically, because they were small fee paid events, which for Bristol is not that common. We still managed to bring anything between like 60 to a hundred people, depending on the …

Nathalie:
Yeah.

Nic:
Depending on the subject. So that was really good to see the Bristol wider community coming together and learn together. They were quite a long events as well, they were about … They were starting around half six and finishing easy around half nine …

Nathalie:
Yeah.

Nic:
And then following on discussions in a pub. So they were quite long, long events, so almost like mini conference each, but we had loads of regulars. We had a strong community.

Nathalie:
Yeah.

Nic:
I never, ever dreamt or thought about doing them online. I don’t know why, but …

Nathalie:
It’s, I think it, for us, because we’re online so much and we build digital stuff, so that’s what we do. We do things for people to do online, but there’s something that we miss, I think, from the physical aspect, whether it’s relationship or whether it’s actually all physical product, it’s wanting to do something different.

Nathalie:
I mean, we’re on our laptops every minute of the day. So sometimes it’s just nice to not be on your laptop and actually meet people face to face without a screen in front of you and actually be able to have these discussions. For me, it’s very different and you don’t act the same and you don’t meet the same people and it’s more of a mix. It’s also easier to go around the room and talk to someone who you mightn’t have talked to because, I don’t know, because you don’t know them or it’s, yeah, it’s the whole mingling and getting to know people and discussing, and it’s just being there randomly, which makes things different when you can actually meet face to face.

Nic:
Yeah. So hopefully when we, when everything reopens, we would bring those events back, probably try to do a big one, like a big thing, but when everything is safe and reopens, so if you want to search those, there’s a Meetup page, you just have to search for Smart Cookies on meetup.com and you can find us. But when I was talking to Emily, there was also like what’s going on in Bristol? What are all the different actors in the Bristol ecosystem and what do they bring? Because everybody brings something different. So you have the accelerators/incubator’s, like the SETsquared or Nation, sorry, NatWest. Those are incubators where founders would go to accelerate their growth or start their journey. They do bring fantastic events as well.

Nathalie:
Yeah.

Nic:
And then you have, I don’t know, they’re not really events, they’re more like group of entrepreneurs that are coming together to either learn or get mentors. So I think your part of Back Her Business, which is a … Am I right in thinking that this is a SETsquared, kind of …

Nathalie:
It’s SETsquared and NatWest.

Nic:
SETsquared and NatWest together.

Nathalie:
It’s SETsquared, organized by SETsquared, but supported by NatWest.

Nic:
Okay.

Nathalie:
So yeah, it’s a group of female entrepreneurs at the very, very early stages and they’re trying to … So they’ve matched each entrepreneur with a mentor, and I’m one of those mentors, to help with a specific aspect of their business and to, yeah, to try and get them going because they’re all pre sales. So they’ve got an idea, sometimes a bit more than that, sometimes a prototype, but it’s very early stages. So we’re trying to launch them basically.

Nic:
There’s also the UWE scholar mentorship.

Nathalie:
Yeah.

Nic:
So that’s for UWE students, which we’ve started over the summer together, we’re both mentors over there. There’s the loop program, which is for specifically, for early stage startup founders …

Nathalie:
Tech startups. Yeah.

Nic:
So the loop program is taking you through a 12 weeks starter program where you would meet every month and hear talks from different industries, from tech to prelaunch to design to PR to marketing and recruitment.

Nathalie:
Accounting, funding, the whole, yeah, all of the topics that you could think of around the startups.

Nic:
So you have, and obviously I’m missing a lot of others, but there is a plethora of opportunities for every single type of funders to find their peers and their group and the group they feel comfortable and safe in basically.

Nathalie:
Yeah.

Nic:
And over the years I’ve been trying to be a good mentor and I’ve realised, I think only now, but I kind of like knew internally. It was one of those things, I always thought I was like an okay mentor. I never thought I was a good mentor, but I thought I was okay. And I saw you and I saw the results you have because you mentor a few people from Back Her Business, you also mentor a few people individually …

Nathalie:
Yeah.

Nic:
Which are not through any program. And you also mentor students and you’re part of the loop program, and I saw the results and I saw your dedication with it and have no where near patience that you have, I have no … I don’t know. I now realize I’m not a good mentor and I know what a good mentor looks like, and how do I become like you? How do I become a better mentor?

Nathalie:
I’m very flattered. I don’t know. It’s something you need to enjoy and it’s not for everyone. And if you don’t enjoy it, then I don’t know, maybe need to find something else. It’s not, it’s very different. I think the main difference between … I think you’re more comfortable giving talks and actually …

Nic:
Yeah.

Nathalie:
Teaching more than mentoring. And it’s two … You’re basically still trying to teach someone something, but the main difference is when you were teaching or giving a talk, you’re talking to a big room of people and you’re passing on your knowledge that way. But when you’re mentoring, I think you need to put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re mentoring. You need to have empathy. You need to be able to listen a lot. And I think a lot of the mentoring is actually listening and understanding what they’re going through and then trying to get them on the right path and giving them advice if you have the advice, but maybe it’s the listening where you’re lacking.

Nic:
Probably.

Nathalie:
So yeah, it’s, I mean, but in both cases, it’s all about passing on your knowledge. I think I don’t like giving talks and I don’t like having a room of people looking at me because I’m an introvert and doesn’t work really well for me. However, what I can do is sit one-on-one with someone and look through their numbers, look through their set up and understand what they’re going through and understand what they’re trying to achieve. And then, from there, working with them to find the right way of doing it.

Nathalie:
It’s also understanding personal circumstances. I mean, there’s two ladies that I’m mentoring at the moment, they’re moms with young children and it’s something I can empathize with. And it also … It means, and they both have a job on the side. So that means they’re trying to balance a startup, children, young children, and a job. And there’s so much time you have, and I think it’s also being realistic with what you can achieve with what you have. You can’t do everything but you need to be kind to yourself because otherwise you’re never going to get there, because if you’re burning yourself out in the first six months of your startup, then that’s it. So it’s just being realistic, having the right objectives and still keeping in mind your objective for next year or the next couple of years.

Nic:
So how did you, because I’ve been one of those mentors and I’m doing air quotes when I do mentors now, but I’ve been one of those mentors that just, as you said, come in, do a talk, maybe do a little bit of one-to-one, but I never felt I was that helpful. But at the same time, I think I was always doing it because I thought I should be doing it, because it’s a good thing to do for the community and for people, or because I was asked to do it and I was paired with someone and say, “Hey, can you help this person?” kind of thing. You came to it on your own, like the first time you did some mentoring, it was literally somebody that you’ve met at an event or something like that.

Nathalie:
Yeah. I was sitting next to Ruth at an event and she’d had … She got really excited by the product and she got awards and everything in the very early stage of her startup. She’s a very, very talented designer and she’s got great ideas and you could see her getting so excited with her products, and she had loads and loads of ideas of what to do with her products. And so physical products as well, which is different from what I’m normally used to. So I knew there were limitations into what I could do with her because I … There’s things that I don’t understand about selling physical products, and that was fine, but she, one of the first thing she told me when we were started chatting was that she was lacking the kind of the base, not, it’s going to sound bad, not the basics of the businesses, as you know, obviously she knew about her profit margins and she knew all of that, but she didn’t know how to take it further.

Nathalie:
So she had the very basic, but then she was missing that step between, I know what my profit margin is, but I don’t know how to grow the profit and where to go next. And most of the time it’s brainstorming, it’s also have someone to talk to someone who understands what you’re doing, understand your passion, understand what you’re trying to achieve and just, yeah, chatting sometimes through your ideas and actually coming up with new ideas, you know, what about you try this, what about trying that.

Nic:
So you’ve met this person in events and I think you’ve met after that for a coffee or something like that.

Nathalie:
Yeah.

Nic:
And then you’re like, “Okay, maybe we can work together. Maybe I can help you mentor.” I don’t know if you always like … Did you …

Nathalie:
It wasn’t mentoring. It was, she did mention that she kind of needed help on a side of the business, which is what I could do because I’ve done it with Cookies before, and therefore I was sort of a few years ahead of her in terms of coring a team and growing the business and the figures and the profit and turnover. So I knew I could help her with that. And then she recognized herself that she needed help. And I said, “You know what?” And I sort of suggested that we could … I could give her a bit of my time if it was going to help her and if she was happy with it, and then you kind of, it’s … You’re building a relationship, and we get on, but that obviously sort of comes with time, but we get on well and yeah, we have a great time. We just go for a … We basically just go for a coffee every six to eight weeks, chat through stuff and that’s it. And then part, and then she goes, and does some more work for six to eight weeks, and we come again and, yeah, she comes to me with questions and shows me her figures. And, yeah, she put a lot of stuff in place which worked because she had a great 12 months, which is really rewarding for her as well as for me.

Nic:
So, and that’s not the only person now you do mentoring with or for, or however you say, but I think I have two questions. The first one is when it was your … Because Ruth was your first mentee and the first time you were doing mentoring, when you, before you started to mentor with her, did you read any books? Did you listen to any podcasts? Did you find any, did you research any resources online to help you being a good mentor kind of thing?

Nathalie:
No, but I did after. No, it’s something you need … But it’s something you sort of learn as you go. Like a lot of things that I’ve done, I mean, I’d never run an agency before we started, I had never … There’s a lot of stuff I had never done. I’d never hired anyone. I’d never paid VAT. I never … I mean, it’s stuff that you can learn and read as you go along. So when I started, I read quite a few things. You do your research, but then it was really interesting and exciting for me. So it’s just stuff that you do on the side, get excited by and apply it and then see where it goes.

Nathalie:
So maybe I wasn’t the most effective mentor to start with, but I was fine with that, because I’m, and I’m still learning. And then it depends on the person on the other side, you know, how do they work and how are they more receptive to certain ideas and how do they like working? You know, it goes both ways, I think.

Nic:
But I think for me then, the second question is, and I think that is my problem, actually, when I tried to do some mentoring is … And you’re totally right. I like giving talks. I can give a talk to any kind of rooms. I like the adrenaline that comes with it. I think I need this adrenaline in rush. I may like, as well, the fact that all the spotlight is on me. Yeah, I do that. But I do like this way of sharing my wisdom or knowledge through giving talks to different people. And also it’s a good, effective use of my time. I think when I do mentoring, I do get bored, and I’ve tried, I’ve done mentoring, like code mentoring, I’ve done business mentoring, I’ve done these kind of things, and I think I do get bored very quickly. I’ve … Yeah.

Nathalie:
It’s because it’s not your own. And I think that’s one thing with mentoring is you’re not the one doing the work. It’s their business, it’s their baby, it’s their startup. You’re just there to guide them and you can get excited for them, but it’s not yours. And I think that’s probably why you don’t react that way, it’s like I’m absolutely fine with it not being mine and absolutely fine just being there on the side, sharing the success, but not being at the front of it, because it’s not my success. I haven’t done any of the work. I’ve just guided them. And to some extent, we’ve done the same with Cookies where you were the forefront for many, many years. And I was just in the background, just doing the work. And I was absolutely fine with it. I didn’t need any of the spotlight. I was just happy to share the success, but it was … You were the main face of Cookies. And I guess I’m just fine being on the side and just helping.

Nic:
But really this is how Cookies operates with our clients. With our clients, we are in the background and we do …

Nathalie:
Yeah.

Nic:
The work for them and they reap the success of it. Yes. I don’t know. I don’t know why, but I do get bored very quickly or I do get a bit like …

Nathalie:
Because you’re not in control, because they’re doing the work, maybe.

Nic:
Maybe.

Nathalie:
I don’t know.

Nic:
Maybe that’s that.

Nathalie:
The thing is you, because you’re not doing any of the work, it’s not actually that time consuming, because all you have to do is just take an hour or two here and there to talk to them. And obviously then you sort of need to think … It’s always, there’s a few things in my head turning when we’ve had a chat and therefore I’ll then put ideas on paper, but it’s not like you have … You don’t do anything.

Nic:
I think to be honest, after our last, I mean, I’ve done … And I try to do well. I mean, I’m going to put a lot of efforts on this one, which is the one with UWE, because their students, because they’re young and they will need that kind of guidance. So will try to put the correct amount of efforts for that one. But I think it is realistic and safer to say that from now on, I’m not going to be putting myself forward to be a mentor, I genuinely think I’m not a good mentor and I think I should be at peace with it. It’s like, don’t try to be why you’re not. And …

Nathalie:
Absolutely. And maybe you just need to find more events to talk to, and actually …

Nic:
Yeah.

Nathalie:
Do that. Prepare a few talks and actually share your knowledge that way. For me, it’s not as enjoyable and I would struggle a lot more. Maybe I’ll try, maybe I’ll push myself to do it, but it’s not something I’d be comfortable with, whereas you quite enjoy it, so go for that. It’s as you said, we don’t, we can’t do everything. And I think for us, the most important is actually the sharing of knowledge and be part of the community and be part of it. No matter how you do it, it’s always valuable, I think.

Nic:
Yeah. I hope, I don’t know, there’s something … When I see the results, and I think Ruth posted a really lovely message the other day on LinkedIn, on how you helped and all that, I would like to have that, but at the same time, clearly I’m not the right person for it. But I think that’s whole … It is the whole … I mean, whether that’s through talks or mentoring or being the silent partner for clients is really what we’ve tried to do with Cookies is … Whatever is going to happen to Cookies nobody knows, but we want to leave a mark, whether that’s through the sales or through the company, we want to leave something else that is not just like, “Hey, we build apps.” Or, “Yes, they’re great.” but we’ve lived something else. We’ve touched people from a personal level.

Nathalie:
Yeah.

Nic:
And I hope that, yeah, I hope some of my talks will touch people on an emotional level, but certainly your mentoring has.

Nathalie:
Well, we’ll see. But, yeah, I mean, there’s always a grander objective, there’s always a name that is not just about making money or writing code or do what we do, is there’s something a bit more, it’s a bit more fulfilling as well as, sort of personal objective of, yeah, I’ve helped someone. And obviously it’s a bit selfish because it makes you feel good, but you’ve helped someone, so …

Nic:
So talking about objectives, what’s in for you for this week then?

Nathalie:
Oh, what is it? I’m going back to the office this week for the first time since mid-March.

Nic:
It hasn’t changed much.

Nathalie:
No.

Nic:
I was there, and yeah, it’s still the same stale, undecorated big office that we haven’t had the time to decorate just before moving in, but it feels good.

Nathalie:
But, yeah, I’m looking forward to getting out of the house and maybe I’ll actually be able to be more productive, because I felt this last few weeks, it was hard to always be in the same four walls, to be motivated for work and actually be productive all the time. It’s sometimes long hours and it’s, yeah, it’s not easy. So I’m hoping that having bit of fresh air and this change of scenery will help with that.

Nic:
Are you going to visit Pinkmans?

Nathalie:
Well, I might have to. I haven’t been since mid March, so …

Nic:
So the other day, I … It was on Friday. I went to the office and I thought I’m going to surprise whoever is there. I thought there’s going to be, there would be like at least four people in the office and I bought this big bag in Pinkmans of pain au chocolat, croissants and almond croissants, and it was a massive bag and it just turned out which it was just the two of us. It was a lot of treats to go for two people.

Nathalie:
Yeah. Friday’s not the right day to … Yeah, because people don’t go to the office on Friday.

Nic:
I think I kind of knew that internally and I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to … Yeah, I think I knew.

Nathalie:
I’m not going to complain because you brought them home.

Nic:
Yeah. Some made it home, so that was good. Yeah. For me, this week I’m planning my first video, which was meant to happen, was meant to be filming this week, but last week went slightly crazy. So I’m pushing my goal from, from one week. I also have a ton of, well, people to reply, there seems to be a lot of activities going on and it looks like the scene is waking up again.

Nic:
So, yeah, this week is getting to be rather busy and hopefully we will fall back into our normal Sunday broadcast routine. It kind of feels like on Sunday nights sometimes we’re like, “Oh, I’m a bit tired. Maybe, maybe tomorrow.” And then the next day is like, “Oh, yeah, I haven’t prepared. Oh, maybe the day after.” So I think we should make a call to record again every Sunday.

Nathalie:
Yeah, I agree. Let’s try.

Nic:
Let’s do that. All right. Well, you can find the show notes of this episode on our website, www.cookiesHQ.co.UK. Like always, if you want to leave us a review on Apple or Spotify, please do so. It really helps reaching more people and please do share away. Have a nice week. See you.

Nathalie:
Bye.

Nic:
Bye.

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