💎 Inspiration

The past, present, and future of Gadgette

As origin stories go, it's a doozy

By Holly Brockwell August 13, 2017

Well, it’s about time I wrote this article. I founded this site all the way back in May 2015 after being made redundant from my beloved job as Editor of female-oriented tech site ShinyShiny, and running Gadgette was my full-time job for over a year.

Now, more than two years after I pressed Publish on Gadgette 1.0, it’s time to make some changes. But first, I’m going to tell the full story of Gadgette for the first time, and how I got to where I am.

Gadgette: the origin story

I was made redundant from ShinyShiny, along with all the other staff, because of the sad death of our patron from cancer. As with many digital media properties, it was struggling, and without him to support it out of his own pocket, couldn’t continue to pay our salaries. To the credit of Ashley and Chris, the site still exists all this time later.

The original plan was for me to buy the Shiny brand and continue it my own way, with support from a patron of my own (who I found via Twitter because, well, it’s me). However, after running it for more than a decade, Shiny’s founders understandably didn’t want to sell, and so having all this passion and nowhere to put it, I decided to found my own female-focused tech site. I still strongly felt we needed one, and being a headstrong sort of person, I had my own ideas about what might have worked for Shiny (spoilers: I was wrong), so I created Gadgette to embody all the things I thought geeky women like me needed.

Originally, Gadgette was part of a media company that my patron had also invested in. The company was launching another online publication at the same time, which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best timing for them. I bowled in like the hurricane I am and brought a whole bunch of new problems with me. The CEO and I disagreed on many aspects of what the site should be, and while I was 100% convinced I was right about it being for women, in hindsight I should have listened to his commercial suggestions because he had far more knowledge of that side than I did, and his site, The Memo, is doing well to this day.

The birth of Gadgette Ltd

Due to the aforementioned creative differences, I split Gadgette off from the parent company, becoming Gadgette Ltd, run by me. At the time, I was very happy about this, because my Dad had always wanted his own business but never got to do it before he died – I thought he’d be super proud of me if he knew I did.

Unfortunately, “my dead dad would be proud of me” isn’t the best motivation for running a startup, and I was far, far too emotional about the whole thing – a step in the direction of disaster. I’d been running the site for a best part of a year at this point and had faced a depressing amount of trolling, plus a sprinkling of family and health problems. Did I mention this was around the time I accidentally got pregnant (yes, me, Mrs Never-Having-Babies) and then had a miscarriage? Oh what larks. (It wasn’t. I cried for weeks. Miscarriages suck even if you didn’t want the baby). I was also doing battle with the NHS to get my tubes tied, amid lots of internet nastiness – if they’d just listened the first ten times, I wouldn’t have had to go through the miscarriage, but hey.

Splitting Gadgette into its own company involved a whole load of costs, and I felt pulled in a hundred different directions as I tried to make the company work, keep on top of my health, do freelance writing to bring some money in, and participate in panels/events/conferences etc to try and raise the profile of the brand. Oh, and I was also now responsible for the commercial side of the business – which is probably why it crashed and burned like a Micro Machine in a flaming loop-de-loop. I fucked it up. Badly.

Holly goes crazy

I managed a couple of months of running the business as a startup before the toll started to show. At this point I had two employees and an office, a rapidly shrinking runway, and basically absolutely no idea what I was doing. I don’t want to go into this period in too much detail because it’s still incredibly painful for me to think about, but suffice to say it nearly killed me. It really did. I started working from home a lot during this time because I didn’t want my staff to know that I’d been crying hysterically until 5am.

My hair also went white at the temples, which was an added bonus.

Eventually, I put the company on the market and got a flattering amount of interest (plus some troll enquiries and lots of excited speculation from anti-feminist types that we were going to fail). My patron and I negotiated a buyout offer with a big media company, who were going to take on me and my staff and the brand. On May 1st 2016, the May Day bank holiday, I was informed the deal had fallen through (due to no fault of anyone’s, and good intent on both sides). It was the last month I had money to pay my staff, so I had to make the immensely talented Emma and Jen redundant through no fault of theirs, and basically admit I’d failed at this startup thing.

It sucked.

I fell into a hole. I basically went to bed for several months. It helped that I had my sterilisation two weeks later, which meant I could legitimately stay at home and rest, but getting to the point of having the operation had involved so much stress that even that felt like a battle.

“Um. Halp.”

After lots of love from friends, family and my brilliant partner, I got back on the horse. I started updating Gadgette again when I could. I started freelancing again. And though Gadgette felt for a while like a big albatross (I struggle not to associate the name with mind-bending stress), I recognise that the phoenix needs the fire.

Now, over a year after the failed buyout, I’m in a much better place. I’ve had therapy, I’ve had medication, I’ve addressed my need to feel like I wasn’t failing my very-dead father. And I’ve started a proper job, working three days a week at the amazing Jimmy-Wales-the-Wikipedia-dude’s new media startup, WikiTribune.

When I’m not freelancing, I’ve been spending my free time (health permitting, which is always a crapshoot with me and my faulty genes) working on Gadgette with my incredible partner Zack. He’s held me up these last 18 months, and while he may not be a woman, I hope you’ll agree he really gets the ethos of Gadgette and is totally one of us.

The future

So. That’s the past and the present. What next? Well, since I haven’t deleted the site the many times I’ve wanted to, I want to make it into everything it should be. It still has a three-year-old legacy custom theme that is now quite broken (my ETERNAL thanks to Ben Roberts – hire him – for his help patching up the labyrinthine back end code), I want to get rid of the pink and the hearts, and start doing video again. And a lot more.

I’ve resisted crowdfunding from day 1, mainly because I have a lot of weird guilt about it, but I recognise that lots of you want to support the site, and it’s daft of me to fight that. So, we’ll shortly be launching a Gadgette Patreon, and if that goes well then I’ll be able to put some proper time into the site and give it the relaunch it deserves.

It won’t be exactly the same, but I hope you’ll agree what I have planned is even better. Here’s to Gadgette 2.0.

Acknowledgements

I don’t want to get all Gwyneth on you but I need to say thanks to some people for getting me this far. Mark H, Alan P, Alex W, Zack F, the awesome team at Guru, James Gill at Gosquared, the Virtual Umbrella team, the guys at The Drum who gave me Woman of the Year (and especially Stephen L), Emma B, Jen H, Kitty K, Rachel B, Jessica R, Ben S, Rishi D, Beth E, Lindsay A, Becca C, Kate B, Sami M, Fabio V, Evan B, Bruce D, Andy P, Gareth B, Hugh L, JJ M, Marc C, Dan F, Dean B, Chris S, Toby F, Ian B, Suw C, Wilkin L and James P, Dan C, Holly N, Paul C, Mike L, Aaron JJ, Tanya D, Mic W, Kathryn O, mum and the rest of my wonderful family, and every single person who’s read, written for, shared or encouraged Gadgette since its birth. And basically all of Twitter.

There are some really brilliant people in this world, and they’re the reason I haven’t gone to live in a cave with my cats. Thank you. And sorry if I forgot you, it’s 1.30am.

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