Manoj Ranaweera

The journey of SkilledUp Life started on 1st of April when a conversation between Manoj Ranaweera (me) of Techcelerate and Anthony Chisnall of Driver Net gave me an idea. I invited a number of Techcelerate Tech Founders and Partners to a virtual meeting on 2nd to discuss the concept which led to launching Furloughed Life on 7th April, with Ram Raghavan of Compaira and RiddleBox and Chris McCarthy of Focus 5 Recruitment.

In case you are reading this in the future and have already forgotten about the outbreak of Covid 19, let me just say a few words to remind you of what happened. As Covid 19 spread across the world many governments including ours in the UK, implemented a lockdown forcing people to stay at home. To support the people and companies during this period, the UK Government introduced a furlough scheme, which is known officially as Coronavirus Opportunity Retention Scheme. Under the scheme, furloughed were not allowed to undertake their official work. Their salary was partially paid by the UK Government. The UK suddenly had a workforce with nothing to do.

The Launch of Furloughed Life

On 7th April, when we launched Furloughed Life, I wrote the following.

Whilst allowing companies to furlough staff for up to 3 months gives a lifeline to many businesses, we fear, this will result in many of the furloughed personnel being made redundant after the end of the 3 month period. At this point, the level of unemployment in the UK will skyrocket. Some of the furloughed staff may find it harder to find a job with their current skills. What if these staff could volunteer during the period and gain new skills? Would this not increase their chances of finding future employment?

At the same time, my (and Techcelerate’s) focus for 2020 has shifted to saving our tech companies and finding ways for them to increase their value propositions, so when the good times return, they are in a stronger position to grow and scale. Plus keeping furloughed personnel busy during this period will improve their mental health. If the volunteers can help to increase value propositions, then that would be a great use of their time during the furloughed period.

Furloughed Life was founded to bring volunteers (the furloughed) and the tech companies who could benefit from them together.

The initial meeting I mentioned earlier was attended by:

  • Chris McCarthy – Focus 5 Recruitment (Techcelerate’s Recruitment Partner)
  • Ram Raghavan – RecruTech Founder (Techcelerate Tech Company)
  • Ant Chisnall – LogisticTech Founder (Techcelerate Tech Company)
  • Thomas Porteus – HealthTech Founder and WordPress Specialist (Techcelerate Tech Company)
  • Stuart Scott-Goldstone – Legal Partner (Techcelerate’s Legal Partner)
  • Amila Palahepitiya – RedLabs/WireStaff (Techcelerate’s Software Development Partner)

Growing Team

Furloughed Life founding team

I built the website with the help from Thomas Porteus and launched it on 8th April. To start with and to prove the concept, we restricted the publishing of Opportunities to Techcelerate Member companies initially but slowly started to open up to other tech companies. At the same time, we took on some of the volunteers ourselves with the idea of growing Furloughed Life.

Chris McCarthy wrote Frequency Asked Questions (FAQs) responding to various questions thrown at us. Ram Raghavan undertook initial research into the opportunity. Both Chris and Ram improved initial messaging. Chris then went on to improve the Volunteer and Tech Company dialogue.

Eventually our team of volunteers grew to 9 personnel, starting with when Yogeeta Chirekani joined us on the 20th April.

Furloughed Life Volunteers

At this stage, the team included in addition to the original 4:

  • Yogeeta Chirekani – digital asset creation and social media postings
  • Bethan Weston – managing dialogue via MailChimp
  • Keith Merriman – Surveying volunteers and companies
  • Michael Donaldson – Press coverage
  • Nicolas Clarke – Engaging on behalf of Furloughed Life

Weekly Volunteer Catch Ups

We held weekly catchups on every Friday for a long time, which allowed those furloughed to engage with our team and others in the same situation. I believe it helped all of us to keep our morale high and mental health in check.

The Press

On the back of a story run by BBC on Furlonteer, we got featured. This brought significant traffic to Furloughed Life, which attracted more volunteers. Prior to this, Business Cloud ran a story on us. And subsequently thanks to an introduction by Anthony Rose of SeedLegals and subsequently pursued by Chris McCarthy, Sunday Times ran a story on us with Furlonteer. Business Leader featured us twice.

Later Michael Donaldson joined us to help with media. As a result, we were featured on:


On 14th April, Russell Groves of Training Sensei offered free access to e-learning for volunteers and commented,

Training Sensei are delighted to have teamed up with Furloughed Life to help furloughed employees stay on their game. To help them in these challenging times we are providing complimentary access to the Training Sensei learning lounge ABSOLUTELY FREE for the duration of the Government’s Coronavirus Opportunity Retention Scheme. They will receive access to our entire Learning Lounge where the best personal development and learning opportunities are available. We truly hope that we can help furloughed employees turn this time into a period of growth — to learn and develop skills that will have a long-lasting benefit. You can learn how to use the latest software tools, develop your influence and persuasion skills, look after your mental wellbeing or simply satisfy your curiosity with something new.

The world will look very different when all this is over and we want you to feel equipped and empowered to take on the new challenges this will bring. It’s our way of saying thanks to all those who are still trying to make it happen.

Chris McCarthy of Focus 5 Recruitment offered free review of CVs and commented,

Focus 5 is proud to not only be involved in this project but also partnering with it to offer complimentary advice and guidance to any volunteers. We want to both help people with their mental health and wellbeing whilst also enhancing skills and experience ready for a different employment market post-Covid-19.

Therefore, to help furloughed employees in these challenging times we are providing complimentary CV reviews and video interviewing tips for any registered volunteers who want that – all with no strings attached and ABSOLUTELY FREE for the duration of the Government’s Coronavirus Opportunity Retention Scheme. You will receive a 1 to 1 consultation and review along with an online session which coming from a recruiter with over 20 years’ experience we are sure you will find of value. 

We truly hope that we can help furloughed employees turn this time into a period of growth — to learn and develop skills that will have a long-lasting benefit. With a huge shift coming in the recruitment and employment sector, any edge we can help provide will doubtless assist in growing your career.

The world will look very different when all this is over and we want you to feel equipped and empowered to take on the new challenges this will bring.

The NHS Pledge

At the very beginning, we pledged to run Furloughed Life until the end of September and donate any profits to a NHS charity. We later upgraded this to donate 50% of revenues or all profits, which ever was higher. I then decided to absorb all costs and donate whatever we make less cost of payment fees.

Unfortunately, as Furloughed Life is coming to an end, we are having to bring forward the end from September to July. From the 8 subscribers, we generated about £425 from April and once the payment fees are removed, I would donate the balance as promised. We still have a job of finding the right charity.


The first to subscribe was Ram Raghavan with RiddleBox. Other subscribers included:

  • Guestcheckin – Adam Brierley
  • Engage Your People – Kate Wood
  • Survivor Life – Laurence Cardwell
  • Octopus – Thomas John Behe
  • Oneder – Nancy Duncan
  • Hexocene – Jonathan Cauwood
  • Lokoli – Carley Morrow

At the time of writing this, we have lost 5 subscribers. I would be cancelling 3 more and taking only RiddleBox into SkilledUp Life.

On behalf of the team, I am very grateful to their custom. They help us to generate a donation to charity and also prove the model to some extent.

The Results

Together we achieved the following results by 24th July 2020.

  • 108 Volunteer signups
  • 23 tech company signups
  • 70 Opportunity postings
  • 105 Volunteer Applications
  • 35 Opportunity placements
  • 8 Paying subscribers
  • Revenue generated for Charity £425 less costs.


Data does not lie

When I first conceived the idea and decided to work on this, my target was to reach 100 volunteers by the end of April. It took us 3 months to reach this initial target. My second target was to reach 1000 volunteers by the end of September. As you can see from the web analytics below, we were never gonna hit those numbers. I knew in May, that we were in trouble.

Unfortunately, I let down the team. My decision making was not there. We grew too quickly as a team. By the time I realised I have not been decisive, it was too late. The end of Furloughed Life was very much in cards by the end of May. By then, my mind was on the development of SkilledUp Life, as I began to experiment. It became impossible to motivate myself to turn Furloughed Life around. It was time to end it. And the time is now.

Closure of Furloughed Life

As the majority of the volunteers were called back from their furloughed, a decision was taken to follow a different approach for the development of the next phase. Going forward, I will work with a selection of specialists in their fields of expertise to build a cluster-based volunteer market place for tech startups.

Keith Merriman commented on his experience,

“Finding has really helped me through a pretty difficult time – it’s kept me sane, given me a focus and sometimes just having some friendly faces to talk to each week has been invaluable – I’ll always be grateful for that, so thank you!”

The birth of SkilledUp Life

With SkilledUp Life, I am starting on my own. Instead of going after all disciplines, I would like to take a cluster based approach. To do this, I would like to work with specialists in specific disciplines. As I head towards launching on 1st of August, I will share my initial approach through a separate post.

Just as a conclusion to Furloughed Life, I wish everyone who was part of it, the best for their futures. I hope some of them will rejoin SkilledUp Life as volunteers helping tech companies. Stay tuned!

1 Comment

  1. […] is Day 1 of SkilledUp Life. We are live and kicking without any fanfare. As explained in our inaugural blog post, the concept is now exactly 4 months old. What we achieved during this time was covered in the blog […]

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