2016: My Year in Review

I’m writing this on a rainy Boxing Day in Scotland, having just enjoyed a wonderful Christmas Day.

I see this as an opportunity to reflect on the last twelve months, and to get ready for the next twelve. I hope you’ll learn something new, discover some new music and find the next book for your 2017 reading list along the way.

Read on to find out about:

  • the books I read
  • the places I visited
  • the awesome new music I discovered
  • the concerts I went to
  • the exercise I did (and didn’t) do
  • Encore’s growth during 2016
  • my plans for 2017


Back in January, I optimistically set myself the challenge of reading 25 books in 2016, and I’m thrilled to announce that this year I finished…five books.

On the whole, I enjoyed all the following titles, and I’ll be aiming (more realistically) to finish 12 books in 2017.

Zero to One, by Peter Thiel

This was a book that I had suggested to me various times since joining Entrepreneur First, and I’m glad I finally got
round to reading it this year.

To be honest, I wasn’t blown away. I think this book has been overhyped, and though it may be an “international bestseller”, I was disappointed not to have my mindset challenged or my perspective radically altered. Perhaps I’ve already been successfully indoctrinated into the startup way of life…

The exposition on monopolies is good, and I like Thiel’s idea of “company secrets”. I’d recommend borrowing it from a friend or library rather than investing in your own copy.

Quiet, by Susan Cain

In contrast to ‘Zero to One’, ‘Quiet’ definitely did expand my horizons, and I would recommend it to everyone, regardless of whether you regard yourself as an introvert or not.

I’ve always considered myself an introvert, and it’s something I’ve fought hard to change since high school. Though it may come as a surprise to those who know me now, I was painfully shy and afraid of small talk when I was younger. Though I’m now more outgoing, I still need alone time to recharge, and I much prefer small gatherings to huge parties.

Susan’s writing helped me reframe my introversion (I am an “ambivert”, apparently) and gave me lots to think about when designing our work environment at Encore.

If you’re introverted, this book will resonate with you. If you’re not, read this book to gain a deeper understanding of the quieter people in your life. The second half gets a little slow, but it’s worth persevering to the end.

Rework, by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried

If I remember correctly, I finished this book in roughly three days.
DHH and Jason Fried
have built a unique work culture at Basecamp, and I’m glad they spent the time publishing their thoughts in a book for the masses.

Refreshing, but not revolutionary, this is the sort of book I plan to read at the beginning of each year to avoid falling into bad habits.

Without Their Permission: The Story of Reddit and a Blueprint for How to Change the World, by Alexis Ohanian

I’ve always had a lot of respect for Alexis Ohanian. Though he’s best-known for Reddit, he is also a great writer and has produced a fantastic “Small Empires” documentary series for The Verge. He’s passionate about helping other startups and their founders, and this comes across in “Without their Permission”.

Maybe I have a bad attention span, but this is another book that seemed to lose momentum at the halfway point. The founding stories behind Reddit and Hipmunk are inspiring, and his ideas on changing the world are solid, but the political section is where it waned for me.

Regardless — thanks for writing this, Alexis.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

I’ve saved the best for last. This is a book I’m recommending to absolutely everyone.

“Ready Player One” is set in a dystopian 2044. Cline introduces us to Wade — a boy whose body is stuck on a dying Earth, but who spends every waking hour living in virtual reality — as he is thrown head-first into a quest for ownership of the Oasis (essentially the Matrix).

We’re still decades away from achieving virtual reality as advanced as the systems described by Cline, but this book depicts a future that I believe we will eventually experience ourselves. As if that wasn’t enough, the plot is so good that Steven Spielberg is making a Hollywood adaptation set for release in 2018!

Cline’s writing style sometimes makes you wonder if this book was designed for young teenagers, but do not be fooled. This is an awesome read, and probably one of the most exciting novels I’ve read in recent years.


I love travelling, and this year I visited some gorgeous places.


The perfect weekend getaway, Brighton serves as a lush antidote to the hustle and bustle of a chaotic life in London. We stayed in a lovely AirBnb that was a ten-minute walk from the pier, and our hosts could not have been more welcoming. Thank you, Bill and Ben.

The Peak District

I’ve never been much of an outdoors person, but this trek up Kinder Scout rekindled my love of nature. A fantastic birthday weekend with Tom Gough and co. Hoping to visit again next year!

Oslo, Norway

I’ve wanted to visit Norway for a long time, and this year, I finally did. The people are kind, the city is packed full of things to do, and as expected, everything is painfully expensive. Definitely worth saving up before you head over. I’d recommend:

  • Holmenkollen
  • The Resistance Museum
  • Freddy Fuego’s Burrito Bar
  • Taking the Ferry over to Bygdøy
  • Oslo Opera House
  • Vigeland Park

New York & New Jersey

Before this year, I had been to America twice, and both visits had been to San Francisco. I’ve dreamed of visiting New York since I was a boy, and 2016 was the year I got to taste the Big Apple.

Naturally, we did all the touristy things:

  • The Top of the Rock
  • Central Park
  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • Frowning as we walked past Trump Tower

We spent two days in NY and the rest of the week in New Jersey, which was lovely. American Diners all seem to serve the best Iced Tea I’ve ever tasted, and I ate like a king without spending like one.

Music Discoveries

Since the beginning of 2015, I’ve been curating Spotify playlists full of new music I find throughout each year. Friends often contribute to the playlist, but the majority of the music is surfaced by me.

This year, I unearthed some wonderful tracks.

Here are my five favourites:

“Make Me Smile” never fails to turn my frown upside down. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s great.

The rhythms and short pockets of silence in “Sun Spat” are fantastic, and I love the way the drummer sits right at the back of the beat. That’s not a very technical description, but I hope you know what I mean.

The rhythm is slightly questionable during the intro of the video above, so I’d recommend listening to the studio recording after you watch it.

“Molasses” by Hiatus Koyote is nice and funky, and I love the unconventional song structure. The studio recording is slightly punchier than the video above, but I still enjoy how good they sound live.


I can’t believe this track hasn’t had more plays on YouTube. The fun rapport with the audience really makes this recording.

The energy of this track is infectious. Again, sounds punchier and tighter in the studio, but this is a great performance.

I originally set out to include five tracks in this list, but here’s another two I need to include:

I defy you to listen to “Break Out” without bobbing your head.

If I was to describe Fat-Suit in crude terms, I’d say they’re Scotland’s answer to Snarky Puppy. Like Snarky, part of their appeal is in their nicely shot music
videos, and this one is no exception. I also love the driving pulse of this track from their latest album, Atlas, released earlier this year. Check them


Unless I’ve forgotten any, I believe I went to 22 concerts this year! Possibly a new record. I tend to take photos of every performance I go to, so here’s a visual account of my year in gigs:

This first one wasn’t quite a gig, but I wanted to include it: a live screening
of Snarky Puppy’s “Family Dinner Volume II” album.

Postmodern Jukebox are one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen, and I’d see
them again in a heartbeat. SO. MUCH. ENERGY.

Terrible photo, fantastic evening.

Seeing fellow cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason crowned as BBC Young Musician was
extremely special

Live looping at Sofar Sounds with the Ayoubs! (Booked through Encore 😁)

Not exactly a gig…

A classical jam in a pub that I took part in. I hope to attend again next year.

Supporting bass-playing flatmate, Arvin, at his 606 debut

I’ve seen musicals with better scores, but I’ve never seen one quite as

KNOWER are weird and I love them.


2016 was not a good year for exercise.

This year, I:

  • ran 355km
  • cycled 347km

In 2015, I:

  • ran 515km
  • cycled 907km

In 2014, I cycled 2265km!

I did, however, complete my second London Duathlon on the day of my 23rd birthday, which was one of the best moments of my year. I missed my PB by roughly ten minutes. Maybe I’ll beat it in 2017…


I think I’m often guilty of putting my work before my own wellbeing – sleep and exercise tend to be the first to suffer.

I’ll be publishing a detailed post on the Encore blog soon, but in summary:

  • the Encore network grew from 5,000 to 20,000 musicians!
  • we released Android and iPhone apps
  • we successfully closed a £560k seed round
  • we grew from a team of four to nine
  • we released a cinematic explainer video that went slightly viral on Facebook


On reflection, 2016 was a fantastic year. I may have failed to achieve some of my goals, but I immersed myself in new places, good music and the company of great friends, and for that I am so thankful.

Next year, I’m hoping to:

Become a Morning Person

I say this every year, and it never quite happens the way I would like it to. My ability to wake up at the same time every morning has definitely improved, so now I need to push that time back by roughly 90 minutes (6.30am is my ideal time). I think the solution lies in the time I go to bed the night before…

Read 12 Books

I’m toying with the idea of reviewing each book I read, but I don’t think I’ll have time to do it properly. To finish one book per month, I’ll be switching off electronic devices 30 mins before I go to sleep and reading instead of scrolling through Facebook/Twitter/Medium. Wish me luck!

Run 600km (372mi)

If Mark Zuckerberg can run 365mi in a year, then so can I.

My yearly best is 505km, and 600km only works out as 11km per week. How hard can that be?

I’ll be immensely surprised if anyone makes it to the end of this post, but if you did, give me a shout on Twitter (@thejamesmcaulay) or in the responses below. Have a great 2017!

Startups Uncategorised

How to increase your chances of getting hired as a developer

How to increase your chances of getting hired as a developer

Encore is growing fast, which means I’ve been in the process of hiring developers for nearly four months straight.

In that time, I’ve seen a lot of candidates on a variety of different platforms (we really like Hackajob, Hired, and Angellist) and I’ve gradually become more and more frustrated by the lack of individuality in developer profiles.

Here are the five things I wish more developers would do when looking for their next role:

1 / Show me your personal side

What makes you unique? What gets you out of bed in the morning? How do you spend your evenings and weekends? I’m specifically looking for people who love music, so some mention of music in your biography will do wonders for anyone wanting to work at Encore.

If you want to work at a sports company, talk about your sporting side. If health is your thing, talk about what it means to you. You get the picture.

2/ Build your own personal website

This is one of the best things you can do to make yourself stand out from the crowd. A fantastic personal website earns a lot of brownie points, and differentiates you from the other twenty people I’ve seen in a given day.
Your site doesn’t need to be flashy or extensive, just make sure it:

  • Does justice to your front-end abilities
  • Behaves nicely across all screen sizes
  • Doesn’t comprise of a completely uncustomised Bootstrap theme 😉

3/ Showcase your projects

I love to see the projects you have worked on, regardless of whether they were labours of weekend love or projects from previous jobs. This gives me an insight into your ability to craft a user-friendly product and present information in a clear way, and good projects stay with me long after I’ve looked at your profile.
“So, who are we interviewing today?”
“The girl who built that really nice one-page React app for doing X”
It’s a talking point, and we really enjoy going through previous work in interviews.

4/ If you can’t show me a live demo, show me screenshots

I go through the following thought process on a daily basis:

“Ooh, they’ve linked to a GitHub repo. I wonder what they built…”

“Okay, haven’t been able to find a URL so far. Maybe there are screenshots…”

“Oh, they want me to follow a 10-step process in order to run a server locally on my machine. And still no screenshots.”

I don’t really have time to install every project I see, so it’s really really helpful if you can provide live demos of your work. I don’t care if your URL still contains or, as long as I can play with the code you’ve built.

If, for some reason, you’re not able to host it online, or if it’s unfinished, then at least include some screenshots in the of your GitHub repo or in the Portfolio section of your website.

5/ Be specific with your ambitions for your next role

If you’re looking to work on hard machine learning problems in your next job, then please say so in your profile. It’s quite common to read through someone’s profile, talk to them on the phone and only discover after 30 minutes of talking that they’re not looking for the work you’re offering.

I really like when people mention the following:

  • Do you prefer front-end, back-end or both?
  • What size of team do you want to join?
  • Do you want to (are you ready to) lead a team in the near future?
  • Are there particular types of business that appeal to you i.e. marketplace, e-commerce, deep tech?

I hope this has been helpful, and if you have suggestions for how I could improve this guide, please fire them in my direction: [email protected]

And just to demonstrate that I practice what I preach: the last developer we hired had a fantastic personal website with a Labs section showcasing 41 different projects he had built, all with live working demos. He mentioned music in his biography, and was specific with the type of company he wanted to join next. Perfect. 👌