Member Sign In

Guest Blog - A hidden Open Coffee Sussex success story

Four years ago two people at opposite ends of their careers decided to go to Open Coffee Sussex for the first time.

Alan and Jack had both been on the Open Coffee Sussex email list for a while and had kept putting off coming along to the meetup. On the rainy Thursday morning that they finally decided to show up they ordered their coffees and headed upstairs. Before they met each other they enjoyed conversations with an interesting mix of people.

Among them was an introverted programmer who took a while to get into the flow. They soon hit their stride talking about the stress and frustrations of working in an agency. Their project managers habitually over committed to their clients. Late nights and weekend-working to finish long lists of features on time had become the norm. Alan decided he didn't want to work in an agency like that. Jack decided he didn't want to get into the business of building a software development agency.

There was also a sales person who wouldn't stop talking about how bored they were since exiting from their startup. When asked about their next big idea they said it was going to making a killing but were vague about what exactly it was and who it was for. Jack decided he didn't ever want to sell the business he loved like that person had. Alan decided he didn't want to work for a startup with its sights set on a high value exit above all else.

So while it was a bit of a negative start to the day, it was at least insightful. But the morning wasn't over, fortunately both Alan and Jack met Steve, one of the organisers of the meetup.

After meeting each of them Steve wanted to make sure Jack met Alan. He managed to grab both of them just as they were starting to head to the door. He didn't realise it at the time but it turned out to be one of the most valuable introductions in the history of Open Coffee Sussex.

Rather than launching into talking about what they do, Alan and Jack found themselves talking about other parts of their lives. Jack talked of his dream to live in the mountains. Alan talked of his dream to ride a motor bike across Africa. Towards the end of their conversation it occurred to one of them to ask why the other had come to Open Coffee.

It turned out Jack had spent the last 10 years growing one of Brighton's best known agencies. As CEO of Propellernet he'd taken it to 50 people providing digital marketing and PR services to clients like M&S and Waitrose. He didn't want to grow the company much larger. He wanted to find a way to keep making life better for his employees while doing the same for more customers. Creating a digital product that could serve people around the world while his team slept seemed like a great way to do that. But none of Jack's staff were software developers.

Alan was in quite a different place. He was part way through a masters degree at the University of Sussex. He'd decided that he wanted to switch careers becoming a software developer after a decade in the music business. Alan had heard about Propellernet's commitment to employee wellbeing and democratic work practices. But he'd never imagined their might be a chance for him to work there.

Alan and Jack stayed in touch. It wasn't long before the inevitable happened. Jack hired Alan as Propellernet's first programmer.

Now, four years later, Propellernet's product development team has grown to seven. Profit from product sales is on track to match the profit generated by 45 members of the company's client services team. It's unlikely that the company will ever again fall below £100K revenue per person. They also both got to realize their dreams. Jack lives in the French Alps and Alan's taken that ride across Africa.

There's obviously much more to this story than two people meeting at Open Coffee Sussex. I've had the privilege of working with Propellernet's product development team for almost three years. I'm the only person on the team other than Alan that hadn't previously been involved in the company's client services. As you can imagine, it's been quite a journey with many lessons learned.

Over the next few weeks, in the run up to Brighton’s first digital product business conference (, I’m going to share my perspective on their story so far.

Jack and his team have agreed for me to share this story because they believe Brighton and Sussex will be better places to work if more companies follow Propellernet's path.

Jonathan Markwell

Life. Time. Value. Conference 2016
The Life. Time. Value team are offering all Wired Sussex members a discounted rate on tickets.

- £50 off the standard ticket price if they manage to grab one of the Early Bird tickets.
- £25 off the standard ticket price until sales end.

Just use this link:

About the author