Sprouting out of California’s Silicon Valley, global giants Apple, Google and Facebook fight for world domination, thousands of start-ups and disruptors relentlessly jostle for relevance and over three-quarters of a million information technology workers compete to one day become the next worldwide influence.
Away from that melting pot of world-leading technology, entrepreneurship and innovation, where the competition is less fierce, the names less recognised and the jostling less intense, other tech-focussed businesses and individuals compete to stand out and thrive in their own ecosystems.
“I was at a networking event, and you had to stand up and say what you do. Everyone was saying they were an CEO or managing director, but I wanted to sound cool and stand out. So, I called myself a technical innovator.” Those are the words of Liam Charmer, a freelance web developer with big ideas and broad horizons.
“For my whole life I’ve been innovative. I’m really good at developing, but what makes me special is that I’m a developer that can innovate and not many people can do that. I do anything technology-wise, from web and mobile, to apps and design. I’ve always tried to come up with new ideas, but I also like to collaborate with people and come up with a better idea or improve their idea.”
At 23, you’d be forgiven for thinking Liam is a fresh face on the block; instead, he’s been freelancing in and around Southampton since he was 12-years-old, and he is now an established and sought-after figure in the Solent area. His crosshairs, however, are focussed on a more global influence.
He operates under two different – and very independent – guises which reflect the variety of his professional services. Remiam is an innovation business in which he designs and creates his own products or “inventions” – as he enthusiastically refers to them. Meanwhile, operating as Liam Charmer, he works as a web developer delivering client briefs.
Liam worked in an employed position as a developer alongside his studies, but upon graduating with a first-class honours degree from Southampton Solent earlier this year, he found the role stifled his creativity and innovation.
Therefore, he set up Remiam with a university colleague. But when his colleague later left the company, Liam continued it as a solo venture. If Liam Charmer is a source of regular web development work, Remiam is a platform he utilises to bring his big ideas and visions to life.
Currently, he’s working on an application that aims to revolutionise the way people use the high street and a Brexit-related website, wherepeople can upload images and reaction to when the UK finally leaves the EU. The results will then be projected onto Southampton Bargate.
“I actually really didn’t like working for people because I didn’t like taking orders from the wrong people,” he continues. “I’m not a control freak, but I like to be in control of things. It may sound arrogant, but I feel like my decision making is perhaps a little better than others, so I decided to jump into freelancing.
“There are no limitations with freelancing – it allows you to have greater freedom. If you work at a company you can be innovative, but it has to be confirmed by a manager. Whereas, if you’re a freelancer or self-employed, you can be innovative and say: ‘actually that’s a really good idea. I’m going to pursue it’.
“My innovation comes from that, I guess. It allows me to be creative and free to do what I want to do. If you think of all the big innovations, like the mobile phone, Apple computers, they didn’t start with a company, they started with someone having creative freedom, coming up with an idea and then turning it into a company. Freelancers have that luxury.”
Liam’s passion for tech started from an early age. By 12, he was already building websites for people for £50 each – just enough for him to buy that year’s FIFA computer game. Before that, at school, he’d finish his own IT homework, then would do his classmate’s work too because he enjoyed it so much.
While he clearly has a wise and balanced head on young shoulders, there’s also an exuberance about Liam; a confidence in his abilities and a readiness to challenge his clients in their mutual pursuit of better results. In his competitive industry, he sees that as his niche.
“What hopefully makes me different, and how I market myself, is the fact that I have the confidence to talk and challenge you as my client. I say: ‘okay you’ve got this idea of what you want but I’m actually going to challenge that idea and make it better for you’.”
Away from Southampton, the tech industry is omnipresent, but much of the discussion surrounds its apparent lack of accountability, it’s wayward moral compass. Did Facebook influence the US Presidential Elections? Why are trillion-dollar corporations paying so little tax? Why is more care and deliberation not being made in the rapid and seismic shift towards a workforce where robots are replacing humans?
For Liam, though, positive cause is central to everything he does, and his business model is predicated on developing products which not only serve a purpose but change the world for the better. It’s a lofty goal, but Liam certainly doesn’t lack purpose, enterprise or motivation.
“I want to help the world,” he adds. “Ever since I was young, I’ve always just wanted to make technical products that help people. I haven’t done anything that is so innovative that it has changed the world yet, but the products I make are helping clients on a smaller scale and that’s my real drive now. I just want to keep pushing myself and my end goal is to help the world.”
Despite his tender years, Liam has spent over half his life working in one capacity or another. But not content to rest on his laurels, he is constantly striving to better himself and expand his influence. His clients are no longer limited to Southampton, but current and upcoming projects are as far afield as America and Scotland.
“I’m really big on effectuation, which is when, as an entrepreneur, you always want to improve yourself to get where you want to get to,” he continues.
“I’m always going to be pushing myself and striving for greater things. I don’t ever want to be comfortable with what I’ve got. For some people, that’s fine. For me it’s not. I’m not going to help the world if it’s just going to be me being comfortable.
“If I was to try and look back and see how I’ve improved, the projects I’m working on now are huge, whereas the projects I was working on when I was 12 weren’t quite so big! Even last year the projects I was working on were for small organisations, whereas now I’m literally creating products that will hopefully go across the world. A year ago I worked in the UK, now I work across the world.”
Back in Silicon Valley, the jostling continues as tomorrow’s Steve Jobs and Elon Musk position themselves for global relevance. Liam speaks of Jobs and Musk with a sparkle in his eye. It’s not just an admiration, however, but a challenge to himself: watch this space.