By Dan Kieran
The CEO of Unbound spends a week in Cornwall building a wooden surfboard to try and work out how to evolve within his company.
Publication date: September 2018Buy
Audio & Dedicated
'Meet the Surfboard' Launch Party
Breakfast at the Wolseley
I started Unbound with John Mitchinson and Justin Pollard back in 2011 to find a new way to publish books. Six years on and I'm finally using it for a book of my own.
It's called The Surfboard, and it's about a week I spent with James Otter in Cornwall building a seven foot surfboard even though I have never surfed in my life. Interspersed with the story of making the board I tell the story of what the last six years of my life have been like starting and then running a company.
I went to Cornwall to build the board at a point in the businesses evolution when I felt I had reached the edge of what I was capable of achieving within it. I had to find a way to push beyond the preconception I had of what I could do. And find a way to do it that was consistent with my personality and values.
It's the shortest book I have ever written, and I sincerely believe it's the best. I'm certainly proudest of this one.
So now I need your help to tell my story. Please pledge if you can, and if money is tight and you still want to help spreading the word is incredibly helpful too.
Thanks for reading. Dan
Dan is co-founder and CEO of Unbound. Before that he was a Sunday Times Bestselling author, publishing twelve books including Crap Towns (the first viral internet phenomenon to turn into a bestselling book), The Idle Traveller (known as Slow Travel - Die Kunst des Reisens in Germany where it was a bestseller and called travel book of the year by Die Zeit ) and Three Men In A Float - the story of his journey across England in a 1957 electric milk float. He was Deputy Editor of the Idler for many years and still writes occasionally for The Guardian, Times, Telegraph and Die Zeit.
He has given talks and workshops on raising money, entrepreneurship and how to have ideas at UCL, UCA, the Do Lectures, Cambridge University, the Idler and the European Parliament.
'There is a beautiful flow to his writing' - Satish Kumar on The Idle Traveller
‘Dan is a true disruptor' - Richard Branson on Dan and Unbound
'Profound, original and beautifully crafted’ - Roman Krznaric on The Surfboard
The evening kindled at the end of a long, speechless day. I had settled into myself as the miles fell on leaving London. Seven hours to ponder the week ahead. The car was now connected to me. We urged each other along. Humming together.
He lived in Cornwall on the North coast by the sea. I had a map drawn from memory after a gin-soaked evening of garrulous optimism in the depths of Wales. “I live there because the first time I saw the landscape it spoke to me. It’s real. That idea you spoke about. It’s real.”
We’d met at the Do Lectures on the edge of Cardigan Bay. A weekend of talks and workshops attended by people at an inflection point in their lives. I was invited to give a talk about an idea that had ‘had’ me. It led indirectly to the founding of the business I now run. When I finished speaking he and I queued for dinner and then sat next to each other to eat. We hit it off the way you do with strangers only rarely. He was a master of my own land who drew on the same well as me.
It was almost a year later to the day. The middle of June. Rain came down so heavily the windscreen wipers made little difference as I skirted the New Forest, turning the A27 into a river as I squinted my way. The flickering break lights kaleidoscoped by the water battering my windscreen. The torrent soon became too thick to see the woodland a thousand years before William the Conqueror had declared his hunting domain. The line of cars became a spent dribble as I headed West. The rain helped somehow. The car felt safe. Cosy.
I saw the sign for West Compton, waved to a friend I didn’t have time to stop and see, and then passed Long Bredy where the land would unfurl away from sight towards the sea. I’d stopped in Long and Little Bredy many years before without realising the church we parked outside was full of graves marked with the names of my distant family. I had sensed a connection to that place then. I could make out the landscape murmuring to me. I juddered up a steep short hill. Shifted down a gear and drifted over the top.
It was the day after my forty-first birthday. I was coming to terms with who I had become, which was not someone I ever expected to be. For the first time in a long time I was looking back. The previous decade had been a process of continuous change. After the financial crash of 2008 I lost my livelihood overnight as a writer and, with no qualifications or University degree, had to go back to working daily contracts for minimum wage. On my lunch hour while clearing out the rat-infested basement of an accountants in Bognor Regis I had an idea for what had, over the next eight years, grown into a multi-million-pound, global publishing company. But my marriage had collapsed in the process. Taking me away from my two beloved children and I was now engaged with another baby on the way. I caught my eye in the car rear-view mirror. How had a description like that ever come to describe me?
- 21st May 2019 The Surfboard - Extra chapter
May 11th 2019
It was a cold day in early May. Overcast and threatening rain. I was back in Porthtowan for an Otter Surfboards event and had been invited to do a talk about my book. I had jokingly emailed James to suggest he could give me my first surfing lesson the morning before the talk, assuming he would be far too busy preparing for the evening, but he had grabbed the opportunity.
Driving…25th April 2019 ANOTHER EVENT!
Dear beloved supporters,
As well as the event on May 10th at Otter Surfboards HQ I'm also doing something in London the week after on May 18th at the impossibly groovy Second Home in Spitalfields. It's only a fiver. This is going to be a discussion with Soheb Panja (@Soheb) - co-founder of the awesome Courier Magazine as well as maker of happening things for Second Home - about men who are rejecting…24th April 2019 Event on May 10th
Dear beloved subscribers,
I'm thrilled to be heading back down to Otter Surfboards HQ in a few weeks to be part of their annual celebration of making things from wood, eating sausages and drinking beer.
Tickets are free and as well as me talking a bit about the book Sophie Hellyer will be speaking too. She is the real surfing deal. A former British champion surfer, writer, cold water swimmer…8th February 2018 The Good Life
After being up on the site for 72 days I'm finally at 100%. I don't have millions of Twitter followers and I'm not comfortable being friends on Facebook with people who are not actually my friends so I don't have thousands of followers there either. I focussed on email. Always individually addressed and never in a round robin. This took me a while, I did 5 a day but the conversion was worth it. I…5th December 2017 ‘Japanese pull saws cut on the pull, not the push like western saws. This allows the blade to be thinner because it tenses as you cut’
I started by cutting out the skeleton that would become the frame. This was the first of many cups of tea...4th December 2017 Building the board in pictures. I arrived at the workshop early, and found this.30th November 2017 Up and running
So it's coming up the end of the first 24 hours and we're closing in on 10%. Thanks to you. Don't doubt the difference your pledge has made. I've watched them all land and it's a great feeling. It's not just buying a book with Unbound. You are making something happen that wouldn't happen any other way. It's liberating as an author, but it's also an exercise in vulnerability too. I'm a big fan of vulnerability…
These people are helping to fund The Surfboard.
Sarah Nelson Smith
Michael Townsend Williams