Companies House podcasts
Customer and Stakeholder Survey

Customer and Stakeholder Survey

August 20, 2020

We talk to James Downes, Head of Product for Companies House, about the importance of customer insight and transforming our customer facing digital products and services.

 

Transcript

Gary Townley: Hello and welcome to this podcast from Companies House. My name is Gary Townley. I am part of the communications team here at Companies House. Probably most of you know us, but for those who don't know who we are, Companies House are the government agency who register, dissolve and keep company records and make those records available to the public. Our sponsoring department is BEIS, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

 

We have four locations, Edinburgh, Belfast, London and here in Cardiff, where we are broadcasting from this morning, so thank you for joining us. I'm delighted to be joined by James Downes, Head of Product here at Companies House. So I’ll let James introduce himself.

 

James Downes: Hello. Yes, as you say I'm James. I'm head of the product team here at Companies House. We look after all digital products that are customer facing. So everything from the filing products where people can file the documents say, incorporate new companies, dissolve companies and so on, through to the other side of the product spectrum where people can view company information to our search and data products.

 

GT: All available from our website?

 

JD: All available from our website, yes.

 

GT: Okay, so products, as well as we got people filing, people inspecting, people providing information. So we've introduced a survey recently that's been going for about 6 weeks. So what's the purpose of the survey?

 

JD: So the survey is designed to help us improve basically. That means improve our products and services that we just mentioned, but also actually improve how we do surveys in the future. We've always you know, we've always wanted to get the insight from our customers and want to know what they think about us and how satisfied they are with us and we've done it in a number of different ways. What we're trying to do this time, is find a much more consistent way that we can regularly monitor, you know, feel the pulse of our customers and stakeholders.

 

GT: Okay, and who’re we looking to take part in this survey?

 

JD: So anybody who use our services. So we've already mentioned filers. So companies, directors, secretaries and accountants that file documents to Companies House and obviously then those that the consume company information. So they might be people doing it for their own personal reasons, looking at companies, but also what we call data consumers. People like credit reference agencies, transparency groups and things like that who are consuming our data in bulk. May be using our API, or using our bulk products to do more with that information.

 

But also stakeholders. So we've got lots of people who have a stake in what we do here at Companies House. They may be formation agents, big accountancy firms, the trade, press, even people from within government. They have an interest in what we do. I'd very much like to hear from them too.

 

GT: Okay, so everyone who has contact with us,

 

JD: Absolutely.

 

GT: And who’s been dealing with us, right?

 

JD: We decided to run it for 3 months. What we wanted to do is get the biggest sample possible so that we really covered all the different groups that I just mentioned.

 

GT: And the numbers so far are looking quite positive?

 

JD: Yeah, we've got a really good sample. So we’ve certainly got over 27,000 responses so far which is excellent. It gives us a really good sample on which we can we can do some analysis and really get a good understanding of people's opinions and levels of satisfaction.

 

GT: Okay, so lots of people taking part. Any specific areas that you know, we want more people from a particular area to come forward and take part?

 

JD: Yeah the stakeholders in particular. Having had a quick look at the data, we know that we've got a good representative sample, and we know that we don't have as many stakeholders as we do people that search or file, but we'd still like to hear more from stakeholders because what we do is important to them. It’s important that they have a say in any future direction that we might take.

 

GT: Yes it’s their chance to tell us what to do isn't it?

 

JD: Yeah.

 

GT: Okay, so it's going to end in about 3 weeks time. So 3 weeks for people to get on board and fill in that survey for us. So one of the next stages once it closes, what's going to happen with those results?

 

JD: So we will we will do some analysis and really sort of understand the data that we've got because as I said it's quite a large data set. We’ll will work with our colleagues in the analysis and corporate insight section. We've got some statisticians there that will make sure that our methodology and our analytical methodology is robust. Then what we'll do is, we'll obviously present that internally and then we'll look to publish that information to the outside world as well. Because we believe it's you know, in terms of transparency, it's good to share what we've learned.

 

GT: Yeah I was going to say that. Are the results going to be published. They’ll be available on our website, I take it?

 

JD: They will be available from our website. It won’t be immediately after the service ended because there does need to be some rigour in terms of the way that we publish that information, our statisticians are happy with the quality of the way we’ve sampled and analysed the data.

 

GT: Oh, and we keep mentioning our website, so I suppose I'd better give the website address. It’s www.gov.uk/companieshouse and indeed, if you want to take part in the survey go to that address. It's on our front page. It's a lovely sort of purply, bluey sort of logo. Click on there and it’ll take you straight through to the survey.

 

Now, I believe if you do take part, there’s a little incentive that we might be giving away.

 

JD: That's right. Yes, there is. We’re going to be doing a free draw for an iPad Pro. It's a lovely bit of kit, obviously brand new. And yes, that will be going to a lucky winner. There are some rules on that. So it does have to be based in Great Britain and unfortunately, it's not available to employees of Companies House or BEIS.

 

GT: That's sad that we can't take part in that. Okay, so the results will be published and obviously we’ll be acting on those results in some way, some shape or fashion.

 

JD: Absolutely. Yeah, so, you know, we're sort of heading into a new stage of Companies House where we're looking to transform. Much of the feedback and actually much of the reason for doing this in the first place is to help shape that transformation and really understand. One of our strands of transformation is brilliant services. So a lot of what we learn from the survey, will be used by Companies House as a whole but specifically the product team, the customer insight people and so on in order to be able to prioritise and really understand what matters to people.

 

GT: Ok brilliant and the survey has been promoted on all our social channels. So it's on Twitter. It's on Facebook. It's on LinkedIn. So you will see little logos little animations etc promoting the service, so do take part if you're listening in. If you do want to contact us, our telephone number is 0303 1234 500 and you can email us on enquiries@companieshouse.gov.uk if you need to get in touch with us.

 

Now. I’ve also noticed from our website, reading the other day, that we're looking for people to join the Companies House user panel.

 

JD: Yes.

 

GT: That's another feature, we're sort of trying to promote as well.

 

JD: Yes the user panel. It sounds a bit grand but ultimately it's about people giving us permission to contact them for future research. So that might mean surveys from time to time, we do individual surveys. But also when we're looking specifically at individual services, we like to do a lot more in-depth research with customers. So that could be anything from, again from a survey to a telephone interview to even some usability testing. We do usability testing remotely and we also do it from our usability lab here in Cardiff.

 

GT: Yeah. I've seen the usability suite that's quite a good bit of kit. We call people in to use that do we?

 

JD: Yeah, it's a great facility. It’s used almost every day. And what we do is, we ask people to come, so members of the public, customers from all different customer groups, and we will basically test our services with them. All the way through us designing one of our services right from when we've got, you know, sort of basic prototypes up through to finished versions. We’ll continually test how usable that is to make sure that people can get it right first time.

 

GT: Yeah, and as part of the survey process once we've got this information in, obviously we’ll tailor our tools and get people in to test these new tools as well.

 

JD: Absolutely. Yeah, it's about sort of expanding that pool of people that we can work with to make sure that we can deliver the best services possible.

 

GT: That's all right, isn't it? So, I think that's about it from the podcast. I'll just get you to take a card from this magic pack here, just to finish off

 

JD: Right.

 

GT: So any card, any chance, okay, read it out and give us your answer on that.

 

JD: It says ‘hypothetically speaking, if you could teleport anywhere right now, where would you go?’ That’s a difficult question. If I could teleport anywhere right now, where would I go. I think I would probably go, boring answer but, I'd probably go home to Pembrokeshire. In this weather, it's absolutely stunning right now.

 

GT: Brilliant. Okay. Thanks James. So James Downes is Head of Product here. My name's Gary Townley. I'm part of the comms team. So thank you very much for listening. Also join us on all our social channels, get to our website obviously www.gov.uk/companieshouse, 0303 1234 500 is our call line if you want to call us, and enquiries@companieshouse.gov.uk if you want to send us an email.  So thank you very much for listening and listen in again for the next one.

 

Case Study: Hard Lines

Case Study: Hard Lines

August 18, 2020

This podcast is part of a series of case studies in which we speak to small business owners. Find out about the challenges and advantages of owning your own business, and pick up some advice on how to get started.

Hard Lines is an independent coffee and vinyl shop based in Cardiff, south Wales. We interviewed directors Matt and Sophie and asked them about the challenges of setting up their business and their plans for the future.

Read more about them on our website - www.gov.uk/government/case-studies/hard-lines

 

Transcript

Companies House interviewer: Hi there. I'm here with Matthew and Sophie from Hard Lines an independent coffee shop based here in Cardiff, but a coffee shop with a twist. We'll just have a bit of a chat and find out a bit about you guys, so how did you meet and get things started with your business?
 
Matthew: University, I guess, we met at University when we were both 22, we both went to uni in Cardiff Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama just up the road. I think it's probably like maybe two, maybe three years after we left university, I think we were starting to get a bit fed up what we were doing with work and I think we particularly both had reasonably difficult Christmas’ around 2016, so then we took a holiday and then on that holiday, we sort of conceived the idea that we want to do something differently and leave what we were doing and maybe go in a different direction and then we came back and started that process. 
 
CH: Okay, coffee, why, how? Where did that idea come from?
 
Sophie: We were sat in a coffee shop and talking about how we were kind of disillusioned with the work we were doing and Matt was talking about, you know, “I would absolutely love to run a little coffee shop”, well, you know, “I would love to run a little Record Shop”. I really like coffee, Matt’s really into music and records. We were on the flight home and thought should we go for it? And then it just took off from there. I think we're really lucky we struck it at the right time. 
 
M: Yeah, I think so. I like being surrounded by people who are keen to have that time. I think we were just in a little bubble of people and like a community they were willing to offer advice and help us build or do different aspects of what might need to be done to make it happen. We were lucky enough to have that as well. I think that probably gave us a little kick on.
 
 CH: So what kind of advice were you given and where did it come from? 
 
S: We're lucky. Over the past five years there's a really strong independent scene, especially in food and drink in Cardiff. We kind of came through at the same time and we worked alongside luffkin, who are like a micro roastery and Early Bird who are bakery. They'd both started about six months or so before us so we'd been going there as customers and we would chat with them and they were really open and helpful with everything, so “you should speak to this person”, “you should do this” or “just go for it”.
 
CH: So from a limited company point of view, obviously, you're registered as a limited company. Where did the decision to go down that route come from, was that advice given to you or did you search out for that information?
 
S: Yeah, we're both already soletrades because we were self-employed. We were looking at  becoming a partnership, I think it was my based on knowledge from my GCSE business, I said “I think a limited company is the right thing to do” and so we looked it up and realised we ticked quite a lot of the boxes.
 
M: Yeah, thinking back from my perspective was the fact that we were starting with nothing. I think all we were starting with was a tiny amount of our own money. In the very beginning we didn't take any money from banks or anything like that. I don't know, my logic behind it was that maybe if things didn’t go with the plan and we packed it in a couple of months later or six months later or a year later then I know psychologically there's less risk for some reason as a limited company which to this day I don't know if it’s correct or incorrect, but that's definitely what my logic was, so that's why I went with it. 
 
CH: So how did you choose your company name Hard Lines? Where did it come from? What's the story behind your company name?
 
S: So we weren't called Hard Lines. We were called Out Post and I guess if we're talking about any mistakes or shortcomings, so when we were limited company, we thought that Out Post wasn’t already taken which meant we were fine. And that wasn’t the case. It's not a copyright. So we traded as Out Post and there's another company called Out Post who wrote us the letter and said, don’t do that anymore. And so we kind of had a stressful six months in between getting that letter and then also opening our second location and doing the rebrand. I think it came from our first kind of visual heavy firs brand. Our first brand was very DIY, hand drawn. It kind of went with the pop-up aspect and then our graphic designer Cuddy, who does all our at work; the second time we wanted something a bit clean-cut, a bit more kind of fresh look maybe.
 
M: Maybe more accessible or I think the idea behind the rebrand and the renaming of it was maybe that we were trying to build something that was more than a coffee shop, so Hard Lines isn't necessarily just that coffee shop. I think we were trying to build off of it. So maybe Hard Lines could have a line of merchandise or Hard Lines could be a club night or maybe Hard Lines could put a festival on or those sorts of things. Within that rebrand we were trying to pull what we’ve learnt from the year or the year and a half previous and for all of our education into this new look and try to look a little bit for the first time into the future and what might come in the next five years as opposed to what's about to happen or just happened. 
 
CH: So you mentioned that you've already opened up your second site. How soon after establishing this place did that happen? 
 
S: I think May 2016 we did our first pop-up and then we did a summer of doing festivals and things like that and then midway through October 2016 we opened in the castle emporium as our full-time shop then we got the go-ahead in the June 2017 for the market store and then we opened in October 2017.
 
CH: Is the plan to keep expanding now? You've mentioned things like merchandise and festivals and club nights. Is that the route you want to take?
 
M: Yes, the market thing was definitely something that even before we ended up here, we knew we wanted to do. I think we just really like that and it was really appealing to us. After the market opened and a couple of months later into Christmas and the other side and now, where we are now in 2018 is the first time we've had to sort of think about the next move maybe with a bit more clarity and try to work out where it is, so what the next thing is for us on a bigger scale really, whether there's another shop or some other plans that we've got in the pipeline and then alongside that we were running club nights and DJ’ing regularly and things like that. This is I think our time to think and really work out what the next five or ten years looks like and how to really grow, hopefully of what we've built over the last two years to make it into something bigger and more sort of suitable. 
 
CH: What do you think it is that has helped make your business such a success and what kind of promotion have you done to get yourself to this point?
 
M: Promotionally getting the word out. I've definitely found a social media is definitely the avenue that we will maximise and that will be our target for promotion and how we get the word out there. I think that's a big thing and shouldn't be overlooked in any business really. I think social media goes far beyond any online sort of direct marketing. Social media would definitely be my promotional avenue and something we all try to concentrate on massively. 
 
CH: So to anyone that’s out there and they're listening and thinking these guys have done it,   they’re living their dream! What advice would you give to anyone who's got an idea? And what top tips would you give them for going from an idea to a fully-fledged business?
 
S: I think it's very easy to say and I do think we were really lucky. I think we're definitely lucky that there’s two of us. Whenever I speak to people who run business by themselves. I just bow down to them because we find it really tough and there's two of us. When we first started we didn't even have espresso machine. It was just like filter coffee and vinyl records in suitcases that we turned into racks, you know, like there wasn't a lot. Don't be limited by things.
 
M: Yeah, ultimately your passion might carry it through as well. If you are passionate about that thing whether it’s records or coffee or beer or skating or whatever it is, usually your passion for that product or that thing will feed off of you on to your customers and they believe in you from that and they'll want to come and drink coffee with you or buy stuff from you, because you're trying to do something maybe a little bit different and you're trying to do something yourself.
 
CH: You mentioned at the start as well that the reason any of this came about was that you’d gone off on your holiday. You were both quite disillusioned with what you were doing in your lives at the time. What's the best thing about having your own business?
 
M: I guess being in control of it, so we can literally do what we want to an extent. That sort of freedom to express yourself and to be able to deliver something and offer something different. Doing what you want. If that doesn't sound too selfish.
CH: Doesn't sound selfish at all. That's fantastic. Yeah, is it kind of the same for you? 
 
S: Yeah, I think that's why we got into it. I guess that is probably what it is. It is hard work and it's long hours but we are getting to do what we want.
 
CH: So I'm going ask you a few questions about Companies House as well. Were you aware of Companies House before you became a limited company? Have you seen any of our guidance or familiarised yourself with any kind of formation process through our website? 
 
S: Yeah, I think probably I did something really rudimental like Googling : how do I start a business? And then I think again, that's really the reason why we went down the limited company route.
 
CH: You must have some pretty interesting stories that you've accumulated over the last few years, any that stand out that you'd like to share with anyone? 
 
S:  We both attended Green Man festival. I'm a big fan of that. One of the first things we did there was approach people. Some would ask ‘would you like to come and work with us?. So we got to run a little pop up record shop at Green Man last year and DJ for a set so we got to go there and then we went to the festival and then we went back again this year and got to do coffee as well. 
 
M: Yeah, and we've had some great support generally from people within Cardiff and you know people who were at festivals, people like Huw Stephens, real big supporters of us who maybe a year or two ago, you'd think oh, you know that we'll never get across with some of these guys who are really making a difference in Cardiff and in the music scene or even within the coffee scene, you know, some of the people we are lucky enough to come across it's good and it's really cool.
 
CH: So going forward is that kind of the plan to just sort of expand and get out across the festival's, moving outside of South Wales? 
 
M: Yeah, I think there's lots of different avenues. It seems like there's loads of things. I think something I'd like to explore more of is the market store. It seems like a really good avenue for this, as well as trying to create a really green, sustainable coffee shop that's really self-sufficient and it looks after itself and is doing all the correct things on that front. I think the idea of building something like that is really cool. I think definitely just from my perspective the coffee culture and education within coffee and Cardiff is a real big thing on my agenda. I think we can try to offer that in Cardiff and educate customers and people within the industry. That’s quite cool thing.
 
CH: It seems like you've got the passion and determination. So I don't doubt that you won't succeed at that. Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciated the opportunity to chat with you and to sample your wonderful juice. 
 
M: Thank you. 
 
CH: I just want to say for anyone out there listening that we will be running a series of podcasts. So do listen out for more of those coming through. Thank you very much for listening and goodbye.
 

 

Companies House interviewer: Hi there. I'm here with Matthew and Sophie from Hard Lines an independent coffee shop based here in Cardiff, but a coffee shop with a twist. We'll just have a bit of a chat and find out a bit about you guys, so how did you meet and get things started with your business?

 

Matthew: University, I guess we met at University when we were both 22, we both went to uni in Cardiff Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama just up the road and we met there and I think it's probably like maybe two, maybe three years after we left university, I think we're starting to get a bit fed up what we were doing with work and I think we particularly both had like reasonably difficult Christmas’ around 2016, so then we took a holiday and then on that holiday, we sort of conceived the idea that we want to do something differently and leave what we were doing and maybe go in a different direction and then we came back and started that process.

 

CH: Okay, coffee, why, how? Where did that idea come from?

 

Sophie: We were sat in a coffee shop and talking about how we were kind of disillusioned with the work we're doing and Matt was talking about, you know, I would absolutely love to run a little coffee shop, well, you know, I would love to run a little Record Shop. I really like coffee, Matt’s really into music and records and then we were on the flight home and thought should we have a go for it? And then it just took off from there. I think we're really lucky we struck it at the right time.

 

M: Yeah, I think so. I like being surrounded by people who are keen to have that time. I think we were just in a little bubble of people and like a community there were willing to offer advice or help us build or do different aspects of what might need to be done to make it happen. We were lucky enough to have that as well. I think that probably gave us a little kick on.

 

CH: So what kind of advice were you given and where did it come from?

 

S: We're lucky. Over the past five years there's a really strong independent scene, especially in food and drink in Cardiff. We kind of came through at the same time and we worked alongside Luffkin, who are like a micro roastery and Early Bird who are bakery.

They'd both started about six months or so before us so we'd been going there as customers and we would chat with them and they were really open and helpful with everything, so you should speak to this person, you should do this or just go for it.

 

CH: So from a limited company point of view, obviously, you're registered as a limited company. Where did the decision to go down that route come from, was that advice given to you or did you search out for that information?

 

S: Yeah, we're both already soletraders because we were self-employed. We were looking at  becoming a partnership, I think it was my base knowledge from GCSE business I said, I think a limited company is the right thing to do and so we looked it up and realised we ticked quite a lot of the boxes.

 

M: Yeah I think, thinking back from my perspective was the fact that we were starting with nothing. I think all we were starting with was we a tiny amount of our own money. The very beginning we didn't take any money from banks or anything like that. I don't know my logic behind it was that maybe if things didn’t go with the plan and we packed it in a couple of months later or six months later or a year later then, I know psychologically my head was there's less risk for some reason as a limited company which to this day I don't know if it’s  correct or incorrect, but that's definitely what my logic was, so that's why I went with it.

 

CH: So how did you choose your company name Hard Lines? Where did it come from? What's the story behind your company name?

 

S: So we weren't called Hard Lines. We were called Out Post and I guess if we're talking about any mistakes or shortcomings, so when we were limited company, I think that not lack of educational side is like ‘Out Post’ that's not taken. That means we're fine. And that's not the case. It's not a copyright. So we traded as Out Post and there's another company called Out Post who wrote us the letter and said, don’t do that anymore. And so we kind of had a quick stressful six months in between getting that letter and then also opening our second location and doing the rebrand. I think it came from our first kind of  visual heavy and our first brand was very DIY, hand drawn. It kind of went with the pop-up aspect and then our graphic designer Cuddy, who does all our at work; the second time we were like, we wanted something a bit clean-cut, a bit more kind of fresh looking maybe.

 

M: Maybe more accessible or I think the idea behind the rebrand and the renaming of it was maybe that we were trying to build something that was more than a coffee shop, so Hard Lines isn't necessarily just that coffee shop. I think we were trying to build off of it. So maybe Hard Lines could have a line of merchandise? or Hard Lines could be a club night or maybe Hard Lines could put a festival on or those sorts of things. Within that rebrand we were trying to pull what we’ve learnt from the year or the year and a half previous and for all of our education into this new sort of look and try to look a little bit for the first time into the future and what might come in the next five years as opposed to what's about to happen or just happened.

 

CH: So you mentioned that you've already opened up your second site. How soon after establishing this place did that happen?

 

S: I think May 2016 we did our first pop-up and then we did a summer of doing festivals and things like that and then midway through October 2016 we’ve opened in the castle emporium as our full-time shopThen we got the go-ahead in the June 2017 that we got in that market store and then we opened in October 2017.

 

CH: Is the plan to keep expanding now? You've mentioned things like merchandise and festivals and club nights. Is that the route you want to take?

 

M: Yes, the market things was definitely something that even before we ended up here. We definitely knew we wanted a little stand in the market. I think we just like that and it was really appealing to us. I think having like a little what we've got there basically and we tried for a little while before even coming here I think around the same time maybe to get into the market and I think we missed out on an occasion so the market was just a go and something we really wanted to hit and really wanted to get. After the market opened and a couple of months later into Christmas and the other side and now, where we are now in 2018 is the first time we've had to sort of think about the next move maybe with a bit more clarity and try to work out where it is, so what the next thing is for us on a bigger scale really, maybe whether there's another shop or some other plans that we've got in the pipeline and then alongside that we were running club nights and DJ’ing regularly and things like that. This is I think our time to think and really work out what the next five or ten years has and how to really grow, hopefully of what we've built over the last two years to make it into something bigger and more sort of suitable.

 

CH: What do you think it is that has helped make your business such a success and what kind of promotion have you done to get yourself to this point?

 

M: Promotionally getting the word out. I've definitely found a social media is definitely the avenue that we will maximise and that will be our target for promotion and how we get the word out there. I think that's a big thing and shouldn't be overlooked in any business really. I think social media goes far beyond any online sort of direct marketing like that or flypostering or anything. Social media would definitely be my promotional sort of avenue and something we all try to concentrate on massively.

 

CH: So to anyone that’s out there and they're listening and thinking these guys have done it,   they’re living their dream! What advice would you give to anyone who's got an idea? And what top tips would you give them for going from an idea to a fully-fledged business?

 

S: I think it's very easy to say and I do think we were really lucky. I think we're definitely looking at those two of us. Whenever I speak to people who run business by themselves. I just bow down to them because you know we find it really tough and there's two of us. That's great. But like just do it. Definitely when we first started we didn't even have espresso machine. It was just like filter coffee and vinyl records in suitcases that we turned into racks, you know, like there wasn't a lot.  I think don't be limited by things.

 

M: Yeah, ultimately your passion might carry it through as well. If you are passionate about that thing whether it’s records or coffee or beer or skating or whatever it is, usually your passion for that product or that thing will feed off of you on to your customers and they believe in you from that and they'll want to come and drink coffee with you or buy stuff from you or you know, cause you're trying to do something maybe a little bit different and you're trying to do something yourself.

 

CH: You mentioned at the start as well that the reason why it kind of came about you went off on your holiday . You were both quite disillusioned with what you were doing in your lives at the time. What's the best thing about having your own business?

 

M: I guess being in control of it, so we can literally do what we want to an extent. That sort of  freedom to express yourself and to be able to deliver something and offer something different. Doing what you want. If that doesn't sound too selfish.

.

CH: Doesn't sound selfish at all. That's fantastic. Yeah, is it kind of the same for you?

 

S: Yeah, I think that's all we got into it. I guess that is probably what it is. It is hard work and it's long  hours but we are getting to do what we want.

 

CH: So I'm going ask you a few questions about Companies House as well. Were you aware of Companies House before you became a limited company? Have you seen any of our guidance or familiarised yourself with any kind of formation process through our website?

 

S: Yeah, I think probably I did something really rudimental like Googling : how do I start a business? And then I think again, that's really the reason why we went down the limited company. It is the most legitimate kind of thing to be a limited business, but I remember I have been reading some PDFs and stuff on how to do it and things like that.

 

CH: You must have some pretty interesting stories that you've accumulated over the last few years, any that stand out that you'd like to share with anyone?

 

S: Go and get back here so like bang on doors and stuff. Like we both attended Green Man festival. I'm a big fan of that. One of the first things we did there was like, ‘Hey guys don't know if you care, but we're doing this and we really like you’ and they were like, that's awesome. Would you like to come and work with us? So we got to run a little pop of record shop at Green Man last year and DJ for like a settlement so we got to go there and then we go to the festival and then we go back again this year and do coffee as well.

 

M: Yeah, and we've had some  great support generally from people within Cardiff and you know people who were at festivals maybe or Huw Stephens, real big like supporters of us who maybe a year or two ago, you'd think oh, you know that we'll never get across with some of these guys who are really making a difference in Cardiff and in the music scene or even within the coffee scene, you know, some of the people we are lucky enough to come across it's good and it's really cool.

 

CH: So going forward is that kind of the plan to just sort of expand and get out across the festival's, moving outside of South Wales?

 

M: Yeah,I think there's lots of different Avenues. It seems like there's loads of things. I think something I'd like to explore more of is the market store. It seems like a really good Avenue for this, but trying to create a real green sustainable coffee shop basically, that's really self-sufficient and it looks after itself and is doing all the correct things on that front. I think the idea of building something like that is really cool. I think definitely just from my perspective the coffee culture and education within coffee and Cardiff is a real big thing on my agenda. I think we can try to offer that in Cardiff and educate customers and people within the industry. That’s quite cool thing. I think to build a culture in Cardiff.

 

CH: It seems like you've got the passion and determination. So I don't doubt that you won't succeed at that. Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciated the opportunity to chat with you and to sample your wonderful juice?.

 

M: Thank you.

 

CH: I just want to say for anyone out there listening that we will be running a series of podcasts. So do listen out for more of those coming through. Thank you very much for listening and goodbye.

Meet the Team: Toby, software development

Meet the Team: Toby, software development

February 26, 2020

Meg speaks to Toby about agile techniques, spitfire aeroplanes and being socially responsible.

Transcript

Megan Hayward: Hello and welcome to Meet the Team podcast. My name is Meg and I work in our External Communications department. And I'm the host of this series.

 

I'm here today with Toby. Toby was one of the first people that I met here at Companies House as he was on the panel for my interview. And who better to welcome me?

 

Thank you for agreeing to be on this podcast. I'm looking forward to learning more about Toby and his role. How are you today?

 

Toby Maxwell-Lyte: I'm very well. Thank you for inviting me.

 

MH: You’re very welcome. Firstly, can you just tell me your role title and how you fit into the wider team here at Companies House?

 

TML: Okay, so my role title is the Head of Software Development Profession and so my focus is on the community of people with that skillset within Companies House.

 

So how does that fit into the wider picture? Our purpose is to actually build the software that then meets users’ needs, so that we can then make sure that citizens that need to use our services, whether that's companies who’re filing information with us or whether that's members of the public who want to get access to that information, are able to do that via our web services.

 

MH:  Thank you so much. So I'm not sure if you listened to the previous podcast, but we're going to start with some jokey questions to get going. So, cats or dogs?

 

TML: Dogs

 

MH: Tea or coffee?

 

TML: Coffee

 

MH: Introvert or extrovert?

 

TML: Extrovert

 

MH: Night owl or early bird?

 

TML: Early bird

 

MH: Same! Moving on to the proper questions, the serious stuff. Which piece of work are you really proud of?

 

TML: I think one of the pieces of work I'm most proud of is what we’ve built over the last couple of years. It’s been a project called the Streamlined Company Registration Service. This was a joint project where we worked closely with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to make it easier for people who are setting up new companies.

So historically they would’ve had to tell Companies House that they wanted to incorporate their new company, and then they would independently have needed to register with HMRC for corporation tax and vat and PAYE.

 

So we've built a service with them that enables people who want to set up their own companies to be able to do that all in one go now, so they're not having to tell multiple different government departments the names and addresses of directors over and over again. It's made it streamlined.

 

MH: I think that's interesting because it's actually something that I've thought about. And thought, isn't it great how you just do one thing and then HMRC automatically know about it? It's all these things that have to get done but people don't realise. It's fixed before it’s broken almost?

 

TML: Absolutely and that wasn't always the case and I think it's important that we, as government, work across those sorts of organisational boundaries to make sure that we’re providing services for citizens that are user-friendly. You know, they're not customers. They can't choose, they're obliged to do it. So it's important that we make it as easy as possible and reduce the friction.

 

MH: Talking of making it as easy as possible, which brings us on really nicely to One Team Gov. I know you do a lot of work in that area. Could you tell me a little bit about it?

 

TML: Yeah, One Team Gov formed about 2 years ago. There were a couple of people who were together at a conference and they thought policy and digital were separate things. And wouldn't life be better if those were more joined up? So they formed One Team Gov which is a group of people who want to make things better across government. And it’s kind of as vague as that really, it's about doing things well.

 

So it's working across boundaries. Working across government boundaries or whether it's working across teams within organizations or you know, even globally. So there was a One Team Goes Global unconference event which I helped at, and we had people from over the world. About 40 countries represented.

 

I found it really interesting to learn from, say people in Canada, about the challenges they were facing. We have our Companies House register here, and in Canada because they have 11 states, they have 11 equivalents of Companies House. And it was interesting to hear the challenges.

 

There's often people who have solved the problem you're facing already and if you talk to other people you can get their input, and it's nice to be able to get that from other people and also to give back.

 

MH: Thank you Toby that’s great, can we go back to your role? What made you decide that it was the career for you?

 

TML: I always enjoyed playing around with computers. My dad was always quite keen on buying shiny new kit. So I got exposure to it and got to play with that. I didn't really know what I wanted to do with a career.

 

So ended up doing a degree in computer science and then naturally went into the world of software development. I quite like working with people. I enjoy the problem-solving side of things, you know, the extrovert question earlier comes into the sort of working with people and that sort of stuff.

 

I like working with software developers and helping join the gap in terms of making sure that we build software that meets users’ needs. I enjoy that sort of stuff, the human side of the role.

 

MH: You sound like you’re really rewarded by your job. Is that true?

 

TML: Yeah. I enjoy it and I'm always looking to improve. You know, I find it satisfying. There's nothing more satisfying than being able to build just enough software so that you can make peoples’ lives a bit better. And yeah, it's great.

 

MH: Talking about making peoples’ lives better, can you tell me a bit about the social responsibility work that you've been doing in digital?

 

TML: One of the benefits of being in Companies House is that we get a given number of volunteering days that we’re allowed to use each year to help with the wider community.

 

And something I've been involved with is working with a local organization called City Hospice. So that's a hospice in Cardiff. It's a “bedless” hospice, so people don't actually stay in beds, it's like a day centre for people who might be going through different cancer therapy or they might be experiencing other things which they're going through.

 

This provides a nice environment for people to get out of their house and go and socialise with other people. So what we do there is, once a month we get volunteers from the digital teams to go along and meet with these people and help them with their digital skills.

 

For example, I went and I met a really nice man. He said to me “I've heard that I can watch videos of Spitfire airplanes flying over Cardiff Bay. Apparently that happened in the 1980s and I'd really like to see a video of that. What can I do?” So I thought okay. So this must be YouTube, so introduced him to that and no doubt he's now gone down in the whole history of watching those videos.

 

MH: I know that we've done some equipment donations as well, is that to City Hospice?

 

TML: So that's to some of the local primary schools. Obviously the older our equipment gets, it comes to the point where it's no longer up to scratch for our software development needs and general user needs. Whereas local schools really value that kind of thing. So I know that we've also donated some of our equipment that we don't use anymore to local schools, which is making their lives a bit better.

 

MH: Can you tell me, are we using any new or creative processes or attitudes towards work and output?

 

TML: So the primary way that we do our software development is by using agile techniques. That's not particularly new in the software world, but we're doing more and more of that, which is breaking everything down into small chunks and delivering it as often as we possibly can to meet users’ needs. And then getting feedback on it so that we can iterate on those services.

 

We've recently created a platform team here who can help us with some of the more automation of the software release processes. We're moving towards a continuous integration mindset where all the developers code. They combine their code with each other as often as possible to make sure that it’s as straightforward as possible and easy for people to work together.

 

And then it’s breaking that stuff down. It's really small chunks so that it gets delivered really frequently because more often, the smaller the chunks the lower the risk and the better we can meet user’s needs.

 

MH: I know I'm repeating myself, but it's just one of those things that you fix before it’s broken. People take so much for granted and you get it to this stage, that you have no idea the work that's gone into it to get to there.

 

TML: Yeah, but I think it's about the smaller the chunks the lower the risks. Yeah, and that means if you release a small piece of software, there's not too much to fix if it's gone wrong. It’s really important that we make sure that we can do that.

 

MH: Can you tell me a little bit about Innovation time?

 

TML: So historically there's always been quite a strong focus on projects, which is rightly so. We’re ultimately spending public money. So that needs to go in the most efficient and effective ways possible.

 

What we've realized is, we've got a large group of bright and intelligent people and we need to harness the innovation and creativity side of their roles rather than just purely heads down to the grindstone.

 

We introduced Innovation time which gives people the opportunity to spend half a day a week on doing whatever they want, that they think will make things better.

 

So an example of one of the things that came out of that was, in our culture community, one of the things that people liked most was meeting people from other areas. People can register for ‘curious coffee’ and then you get randomly paired up with somebody from another directorate. And you can go and have a coffee with them and just get to meet.

 

MH: Being the head of the development software profession means…

 

TML: For me it's about enabling people to grow within their roles and develop themselves as a person, so that they can become an even better software developer.

 

It's getting people across the different teams. We’ve got 13 software development teams. It's getting them to share their great ideas with each other so that if one team over here is doing great stuff, the other teams are aware of that and can learn and gain from that.

 

How can we make sure that we're doing high-quality software, that's easy to maintain? Which then means that we can add new features to it easily and quickly without incurring technical debt and pain that is then difficult to iterate in the future. So it's about trying to simplify that whole process.

 

MH: You definitely strike me as a very people-focused worker and person generally, which is really lovely. I don't think from the outset on face value you'd think software developer as a people focused person. Rightly or wrongly?

 

TML: It’s critical. I mean everybody works in teams. We have to work together. You know, you've got that stereotype, but it's important that our people, are happy and engaged. You absolutely need that to have the most effective way of developing software and get the most out of it.

 

MH: Well, thank you so much that brings us to a nice end. Have you enjoyed?

 

TML: Yeah, it's been really good.

 

MH: So thank you everyone for listening to this podcast. In case you missed the last episode of our Meet the Team series, we spoke with Oceanne last month about her role as an Interaction Designer. You can find all of our podcasts on Soundcloud or wherever you listen to your podcast. Thank you again. Bye.

 

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