Barbal was founded in November 2018, a little over four months ago. Our plan was to spin-out some software we had built with a public sector organisation, where we had been supporting a project to review over 12000 pages of design standards. We recognised that the way people develop technical standards is rife with inefficiencies and supported our client to develop and successfully implement tools and methodologies to accelerate production of higher quality standards.
Through this project, we saw that all public organisations struggle to balance productivity with maintaining an evidence trail for why they make certain decisions and identified an opportunity to help reduce waste and boost quality across UK government and infrastructure delivery. Our mission was clear: “Barbal makes it easier for enterprises to manage the production of technical documents”.
Not unsurprisingly, transferring a publicly funded innovation to a private spin out (even one whose objective is to remove inefficiencies from government departments) has not been straightforward and is currently going nowhere fast (incidentally, this is the subject of an HM Treasury project to understand how Government can make the most of its IP).
Given that the entire premise for our startup was to scale and support a piece of existing software to benefit government, that we do not have said software and that we have been accepted into the SetSquared incubator on the basis that we will grow quickly, it’s time to pivot.
Understanding our market
Being quite scientific minds, it was important to us that we follow a methodology for how we run our startup and there was no problem settling on the Lean Startup as our approach. It basically describes a cycle for rapid learning and adapting to build a sustainable, high growth business that meets customers’ needs and keeps pace with their expectations. This meant that we had to work out who our customers are and the advice is to target a specific segment. One of the core concepts of Lean Startup is when things aren’t going to plan, deciding whether to pivot or persevere, potentially throwing out months’ worth of work (our experience on this point will need a full blog post in its own right).
In the background, we’ve been looking at the different sectors that produce what we’re calling ”technical documents” (documents with structure, that go through formal review and approvals) and honed in on where we started: standards. We’ve spoken to all kinds of people who develop standards for different reasons and in different ways; from huge corporate standards institutions, membership led organisations, infrastructure clients and communities that self organise to produce something to meet their own needs. There are common themes emerging around collaboration, stakeholder engagement, project management, administration, publication and impact.
So we’ve started from scratch with a new product of our own, StandardsRepo, and a vision as follows:
StandardsRepo is where the world comes for standards.
It is a one-stop-shop for standards makers and the only platform that makes life easier for everyone in the end-to-end standards making process.
By providing a frictionless, transparent process for drafting, review, consensus, project management and publication in one place with an exceptional user experience for everyone, StandardsRepo will be the catalyst for the open source standards revolution.
We have moved quickly and a minimum viable product will be ready by the end of February so that we can start working with early adopters on our Alpha Programme — forward-thinking standards organisations and communities who are driven by stakeholder engagement and maximising the impact of their standards.
The Alpha Programme will run for approximately six months and we will work with a maximum of ten organisations who will have regular engagement with our development team to help shape the functionality and user experience of the core product to meet their needs. We plan to be completely open with our early adopters in sharing our objectives, project backlog and challenges and, in turn, we expect to learn and adapt quickly to make sure StandardsRepo gives them everything they need.
Full details of the alpha programme will be made available to our network in March, please contact me to express interest.
When we decided to give up our jobs to found Barbal, a pivot to StandardsRepo was not in the plan and we are still working through the full economics to make sure the numbers add up, balancing costs to ourselves and our customers, but we have been delighted by the positive response to what we’re trying to do and look forward to working with the whole gamut of people who work with standards. Look out world, here we come!