The Harpenden Collective is a community of creative, inspired, hard working and entrepreneurial individuals, following their passions in professional and personal life. They've made choices that have allowed them to follow the road less traveled, breaking away from the standard 9-5 and creating the style of work that suits their lives the best.
Next in our series of #FreeToBe is Dom Moriarty, the founder of Fantail Digital. He's a member of The Harpenden Collective and carries his office in his laptop, as a digital nomad travelling and working around Europe.
After working in London for 10 years and travelling the world, the time came to retreat from the metropolis back to somewhere a little quieter to start the next chapter of my life, to set up my own business.
In 2016, I sadly lost my father. He was a self-made man, starting his business at 34 and over a 50 year career, became prolific in his field receiving honors from different countries around the world for the work he did. And so throughout my life, whether it be on the golf course or at the pub he would say to me, “Dominic, you will never earn as much working for someone else, as you would doing your own thing, so do it!”
After he died, it became my mission to do exactly that. I had thought it so many times before but now the timing was right. I had done the London thing, I had seen the world, I was marrying the girl of my dreams, I had to seize the moment.
I remember I was in Sydney in December 2016, I had only just started a 5 month trip around the world but I thought I’d just check how I might be able to set myself up in 2017.
I searched for coworking spaces in Hertfordshire and there was The Harpenden Collective. The perfect location, I had grown up close to Harpenden, I had always loved it. The perfect fixed business address for when I am on the road! The perfect workspace, clearly these guys were creating a great environment to work in.
To top it all off, yellow is my favourite colour! Haha. So I kept this in mind, as I took in New Zealand and SE Asia.
As soon as we arrived back in February 2017, I got in touch with The Harpenden Collective, speaking to Sebia on the phone then being show round by Natalie. I couldn’t believe my luck, it was the perfect place for me to setup my business. And so I got to creating my agency brand – Fantail Digital – named after one of the symbols of New Zealand, a bird known for being friendly, agile and dynamic. “That’ll do!” I thought.
If there’s one lesson I’ve learnt in business, it’s if you get stuck in, more than likely, you’ll get something out.
And so within the first few weeks of starting at The Harpenden Collective, I offered to make a new Spotify playlist for their summer party. That seemed to go down well and it wasn’t long before I was going for drinks with members here and there, getting to know what people did, and becoming part of the fantastic community that exists there.
Then I found out about the events they put on. I couldn’t believe they were all free for members! So I got myself down to as many as I could, learning more about business management, copywriting, recruitment, finances, all really important for my business.
Over the course of 2017, working 1 day a week at The Harpenden Collective, my business went from nothing to 3 large retained clients and a number of projects. Then in December, Natalie told me about a event they had being run by a guy called Martin Munro.
It was all about helping business owners take their business to the next level, so I signed up. On the morning I was running late but they kindly waited for me, and I’m so grateful they did as that event ended up being a massive turning point for me and my business.
Martin provides strategic support and mentoring for business owners and it’s exactly what I had been looking for to really motivate me! With his experience at KPMG, he’s now become an important (and much needed) kick in the side to keep me on track! Invaluable to me and the results have been fantastic.
A few days after the first event with Martin, I received a message from one of the other members that had been in attendance.
“Dear Dom, I just wanted to thank you about that idea you gave me in the session, I’ve taken it further and it’s working brilliantly!”. When you get a message like that, it’s pretty special and shows the power of having a network of 70 businesses around you.
As the start of 2018 came round I knew I had to really invest in my business so I decided to take a desk full time at The Harpenden Collective and take on Martin as my mentor. If I was going to really cement this business in and keep it going, it’s what I had to do and it felt like I had the right people around me to do so.
By the end of January I had already won 2 new clients, one of them being The Harpenden Collective themselves, taking their online marketing to the next level in preparation for the biggest year they’ve had so far. The momentum for the year ahead was building. I was the most motivated to work I had ever been, I was in the flow.
Another thing I’ve learnt is that when you feel that one important part of your life is working well, you feel much more motivated in other areas too.
Outside of work, I started swimming 3 times a week, working on side-projects that had been on the shelf for years, having quality time with friends.
I’d wake up each morning excited to head in to The Harpenden Collective, that dread on Sunday evenings about work the next day didn’t exist anymore. I had a sense of direction and purpose.
Another turning point came at the start of February, when we thought it was the right time to settle down in a place of our own with my wife Lexy. We looked at places in Harpenden and Redbourn, only to be let down by estate agents. This took me back to another topic of discussion Lexy and I had while we were travelling - would it be possible to work on a freelance basis and see the world? Could I be a “digital nomad”?
We booked flights and one month’s accommodation in Valencia, a city we had heard was popular for digital nomads, primarily because of it’s lower living costs, but also the weather isn’t too bad either! So, armed with my laptop and suitcase, Lexy and I hit the road.
The apartment was perfect, the city full of culture, architecture and a vibrant lifestyle. We soon settled into a routine a morning “cafe con leche”, a full days work in our apartment, and then a spot of “tapas” in the evenings. Within 100 yards of our apartment, everything you could want was right there. We even held a coworking meetup in our apartment! Naturally, we had our The Harpenden Collective notebooks at hand.
Within a few days of arriving Natalie emailed me. Someone from Twist Teas had got in touch. They’re a Hertfordhire-based speciality tea brand who had a stall at The Harpenden Collective Christmas popup. I remembered I had chatted with Twist about maybe doing some work for them and left them a card. The email read:
Hi Natalie, at the Christmas Popup I spoke to a chap about digital marketing, don’t suppose you know who that was do you?
Natalie knew straight away it was me and forwarded the email on.
A few days and emails later, Lexy and I found ourselves having a video call from our Valencia apartment with the Twist team in their office in Harpenden. Proposal was sent and they were happy to move forward. It would seem that the benefits of The Harpenden Collective could be enjoyed internationally!
One month in Valencia and the business was thriving, it was working. I had got more clients on board and established myself as a digital nomad and the entrepreneur I always believed I could be. We’ve popped back to UK at the start of April and thanks to the flexible desk plan, I’ve had a desk at The Harpenden Collective waiting for me. Without a hiccup, I’ve picked up the business post delivered to my fixed business address and even made use of the in-house meeting room for the business meetings scheduled with the clients whilst I was on the road.
As I’m writing this now, I’m sat in another apartment, in another city, Bratislava, the capital of Lexy’s home country Slovakia. A different culture, different architecture, different lifestyle, but the routine is still the same. A “káva s mliekom” in the morning, a full day’s work in our apartment and a spot of “bryndza halusky” in the evening.
Where we’ll go next, who knows? We pop back home every month to meet with clients so Europe has become our playground. Barcelona? Berlin? Paris? We’ll see.
And for those thinking, “Wait until you have kids!”, haha, you’re right it won’t be possible when they come along, so we’ll cross that bridge if that happens. I’m sure we’ll eventually find our home in Harpenden, if the estate agents don’t mess us about again!
For the time being, I am #FreeToBe the digital nomad I always wanted to be. And I’m free to see more of the world I love, to meet new people, and to learn new languages. If I don’t learn Slovak soon, I think the in-laws will have something to say about it! Haha
The Harpenden Collective has certainly played a part in my journey from leaping off that cliff, to jumping on that plane! And may it continue for a very long time. It’s given me a huge boost, created valuable contacts and it provided the perfect springboard to create the life I wanted.
If you’re inspired by Dom and would like to know more about The Harpenden Collective, get in touch.
Standard membership is from £30 a month, you’ll get a creative coworking space, inspirational company, and a host of other benefits including:
Members directory of over 70 local businesses
Prestigious Harpenden business address
Free business events
Vibrant work social scene
Complimentary use of meeting room