Lessons from a start-up veteran from Hotwire’s Andy West
18th December 2014
“It’s better to have tried and failed than to live life wondering what would’ve happened if I had tried”, so said Alfred Lord Tennyson. This has been a quote that I’ve remembered and repeated since embarking on two dot-com ventures between 2006 and 2008. It’s true to say that those two years have left me richer in experience, but poorer in pocket.
Having gained my PR wings in the entrepreneurial environment of Text 100 through the nineties, the opportunity to dive into the world of dot com was a natural next step. And what an eye opener it was. My first venture was to join a self-made millionaire from the Midlands who had an idea to build and launch a social network for friends and family to share their special moments on. Think pre-Facebook.
While a great idea, this enterprise was actually short lived because the vision certainly did not match up to reality as poor development and a consequent lack of progress caused me to walk away. In hindsight, the absence of relevant experience in the development team and the “keep it in the family” mentality of the founder should have set off alarm bells. It taught me to trust gut feel, focus on what you are good at and build a team of experts with proven capabilities around you. Something that is as true in the PR world as it is in the world of dot-com start-ups.
Through the first venture however, I was fortunate to meet a fellow entrepreneur and to be invited to become a founder in an altogether different enterprise. Friction.tv was a ground-breaking site that promised to provide a video platform for the chattering classes to debate on any issue. As The Times described it, “YouTube for grown-ups”. In early 2007, the site launched to some acclaim and grew in popularity, attracting the attention of content providers, industry figures and investors on both sides of the Atlantic.
So why did it fail? Primarily because when new investment was needed in mid-2008, the world’s financial markets were in meltdown and the VC community danced to a very different tune. They wanted to see cash flow and profit whereas 12-months earlier it was all about brand, content and traffic. We fell foul of timing and of perhaps being slightly ahead of our time. The technology to upload user-generated video via smartphones was very much in its infancy and so true video-oriented debate was quite limited. How different it is now, just six years later.
So for me, Friction.tv was the equivalent of taking an MBA in the real world, not the classroom. It brought me into conversations and situations I’d not experienced during my time in agency, both positive and negative. It left me with a sharp appreciation of the many and varied challenges entrepreneurs face day-to-day; knowledge that I’ve taken with me into my current agency role. It’s true to say that, while of course I’d have loved to join the elite ranks of dot com squillionaires that made it, I’m proud to have tried. I feel fortunate to have that business experience in my back pocket as I advise clients across the Hotwire network.
Andy West, chief development officer at Hotwire