Why does Simon Mansell decide to start a business during the dot-com crash?
Simon tells me about the early days of TBG, getting their first client onboard and some of the key things he's learnt from that experience and the future for TBG Digital
Below is the full interview.
Can you give us some background information on yourself? How did you get into business?
Having left school at 17 after a particularly rebellious phase, I went through a number of temp jobs before joining online business directory, Scoot.com and then MyPoints.
Although at the age of 22, I was earning one of the silly salaries synonymous with those times but I wanted to do more. I offered my employers the opportunity to pay me on a commission only basis on the sales I made rather than a salary. They accepted and I started working at full capacity and made £24,000 within the next month which was my seed money.
And so TBG London was born… in a room in my house with a couple of the mates that I trusted and that had an eagerness to start carving out a career in the industry.
Who was your inspiration growing up and why?
Liam Gallagher from Oasis. Because he did whatever he wanted to.
You started TBG in 2001, tell me about that period in your life and your experience running the business? It was during the dot-com bubble, things must have been crazy back then?
Having spent a few years floating around the internet, I realised the potential of advertising using this channel. No one had broadband, dot coms were crashing around the world and the more traditional advertising mediums were dominating. However, media owners themselves (such as MSN, Yahoo!, etc) were having difficulty in selling their online advertising space and advertisers were hesitant to invest in, what they believed, was an unproven route to market. Despite this, I was aware of one vital point that was being ignored by advertisers - that users were still using the Internet in their millions and the market was growing quickly.
We started building relationships with the big media owners of the time (Freeserve, MSN and Yahoo!) and negotiated deals whereby we would buy their inventory on a CPA (Cost per Acquisition) basis and offered advertisers a guaranteed Return on Investment as they only had to pay when a sale was made, an application was completed or a registration was submitted. Our first client was Britannia Music. They spent £1 million with us that year and it was the start of a whole raft of brands to come through our door. In the first 12 months, TBG London billed a total of £1.7 million and made profits of £340,000.
What would you say were some of the key things you learnt from that experience?
There’s so much that I’ve learnt in the 10 years since TBG began. Speed is one of those things. Being first to market provides great advantage. That together with really leveraging technology. Google and PPC marketing passed us by but I wasn’t going to let that happen again when Facebook became a valid advertising partner. We dived straight in and invested over a million dollars in ONE Media Manager, our Ads API tech platform. We’ve also found that building a business based on data has given us a foundation to provide an exceptional service to our clients whilst also really understanding our environment. It’s a real USP for us.
Looking back and comparing it to now, what are some of the things that have changed in running a business or in building a successful company?
Running a business with 10 employees in one office in a country you grew up in is one thing. Running a business with 140 employees in seven countries requires a different set of skills. In many ways I’ve had to let go of the day to day but the only way I’ve been able to do that is to surround myself with people I trust and that show excellence in their own right.
What is TBG? What do you guys do?
We are a Social Media company helping global brands to advertise and engage through Facebook and Twitter. We create custom social experiences that are amplified through targeted media. We invest in bespoke technology to help with stand out and our client activity is benchmarked against a data store of over one trillion events.
What is your business model?
We’re similar to an advertising agency but we also work with other agencies so we’re more of a Social Media specialist.
What makes TBG different from any service out there?
Our products. We are not just a services business – we use services to help companies use our products more effectively.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
The biggest opportunity for growth came out of Facebook. Other agencies just could not get it to work for them or their clients so we put our best analysts on it and didn’t give up until we were delivering strong ROI for our clients via the channel. Facebook stood up and took notice as our spends were increasing. They invited us on to their API program and we had built and released ONE Media Manager within six months. We released ONE in November 2009. Our first non-UK office was opened the following February in San Francisco with Paris, New York and Hamburg following close behind. It’s not all about technology though. People and relationships are a constant focus of ours.
Are you guys profitable?
Yes we are and have been since month one. We’ve had our ups and downs (70% of our client base was in the Finance sector when the Credit Crunch occurred) but we’re in a great place right now.
Have you raised any money to build or grow the business or has it been purely bootstrapped?
No, we’ve grown organically.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea?
The business has changed constantly. Rarely a year goes by where we haven’t added or changed our service offering. That’s because we work in digital and it is forever changing so we must adapt. No-one grows at the rate we have by standing still.
What has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Winning the biggest spending Advertiser on Facebook.
What can we be expecting from your company in 2012?
We’re looking at new territories and we’re also working very closely with Twitter.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Keep it simple