After one pint and a two hour loose presentation session in a local pub, presenting to a friend, Chris Byatte, Jonathan knew he was on to something.
He left everything else and focused on Pressglue. I spoke to Jonathan about how everything has unfolded, his entrepreneurial journey and his plans for Pressglue this year.
Hi Jonathan, great to have you on YHP, How are you doing?
Yeah I’m great thanks, late nights with Pressglue but the coffee is helping.
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself? Tell me about yourself growing up?
Sure…well home life was interesting, never really liked school, in fact I hated it I didn’t see the point in any of it, naturally this had a negative effect on me as my folks were results oriented.
I spent most of my time taking things apart, understanding how they worked and investigating what the components were. Most of the time leaving things in a state of disassembly… classic starter non finisher but obsessed with detail.
I was and still am very easily distracted by even the smallest of nothings. But drawing and lego were my main thing… in fact… Lots and lots of drawing, I suppose this really was the direction for me, I spent more time drawing that anything else. My father was always saying “you need to get into commerce…” but I had NO idea what that word actually meant. Oh yeah and my BMX, loved that, I still have the scars to prove it.
So how did you get into business initially?
My “uncle” imported goods from all over the place and had a fascinating warehouse in Manchester, my sister and I used to vanish into vastness of it, looking for something to convince my folks to buy for us.
One day I spotted a pile of folding Aviator sunglasses with their own leatherette cases. I had convinced my father to buy them, which reluctantly he did. I loved the way they were engineered folding bridge and arms but to a boy of 11, they were awesome..!
I took them to school, showed them off and before I knew it people wanted them, I called up my uncle to ask if I could buy some more but my father wasn’t interested in funding them. It was my uncle that told me about Olivetti and how they used to sell typewriters… so, I sold on the only model I had, began taking orders and taking money. It’s a shame it wasn’t nurtured but now can help children and teenagers understand the basics.
Who was your inspiration growing up and why?
You know, this is a hard one. I watch plenty of TV, so my inspiration really came from guys like Tony Hart, Mr Benn ( a fictional character who transports him self into different worlds by putting on an outfit – I still think it would make a great movie, Adam sandler would be my choice for the lead). I wasn’t into sport so I didn’t have any sporting heroes. My father was working most of the time and I guess my inspiration was my own imagination.
What was the inspiration behind Pressglue? How did the idea come about?
HA! Now we are talking, well I have been a part time photojourno for about 12 years whilst mixing design and tech under the banner of “Web design”. I got sick of the local paper churning out bile about my hometown (now changed thanks to a great editorial team) and thought I could do better online. So I did and I absolutely loved the fact that people read it, shared its content and it cost me around £3k for everything including custom coding, hosting etc..
So I thought.. Hmmm lets roll this out, build a little news network, sell ad space and connect communities with its own news… I found this pretty tough to do, I understood code, I know how to build the basics but still it took me an age to deploy more titles and collate content.
All the while I knew that communities could have their own online title rather than a town with zillions of blogs ( digital silos) or out of date portals.. The news was there it just needed a home and so began the idea phase….
In early November 2010 I mapped out the whole development cycle and system structure in two days and showed it to a long standing trusted friend of mine Chris Byatte. After a two hour, loose presentation session in a local pub, just 1 pint each I might add, he said “You need to drop everything else, drop it all now and just focus on this, This is ‘It’ Jonathan” I can still hear it echoing…
So Jonathan, what is Pressglue? What are you guys are trying to solve?
Instant-on, engaging, low-tech, content rich, monetisable news magazines for ANYONE
Why? In order for someone with passion and an idea about casting news on a simple subject, community or group with a news style site it needs funds what ever way you cut it. Programmers need paying, servers need renting and so on, for one individual to get a whiz bang online news rolling they need to stump up the cash. FACT
The issue here is that your cant see how its going to go and people loose money trying to get market before they see profit or even traffic, this breeds despondency and ultimately leads to failure. I want to change that culture.
I want to show how a school, a volunteer group, a charity, a blogger, a journalist or even a company can test out the market, get feedback , attract readers and grow a content rich online news magazine for free before powering up monetization tools and annual subscriptions…
What were you doing before you founded Pressglue?
Easy, photography and The Knutsford Times (my own online community news title) I was still fiddling with digital ideas, helping people understand tech issues and web apps, trying to get vanhire.com running and that’s the tip of the dilution iceberg.
What was your biggest challenge during the starting up phase?
Staying focused, killing off distractions but Chris’s echoey voice kept me on track along with a amazing mentor and investor co-founder
How have you been able to fund Pressglue?
John Haynes has been the funding angel behind it, he understands the mechanics of business and has helped me plan it out. I had a renewed respect for the difficulties that came with raising the money to invest in something new.
Getting investments is always such a hot topic, how were you able to get such great investors onboard?
That is a great question…. There are so many things that need to equinox for an investor to come to the table. For me it wasn’t easy, lots of people knew that I had interesting and potential ideas but were nervous about me remaining focused, that’s the real truth. “What is he up to this time” is the kind of feedback I would hear.
In Jan 2011 I needed some commercial advice on something and to see if a guy I knew could find a buyer for a business asset. At the end of the discussion he asked what else was I upto. So, I showed him the same plan I showed Chris in the Autumn of 2010. John asked if I had any numbers and my partner, now fiancé cranked out a spreadsheet with some basic figures and potential returns. He asked what do you think might be needed to get it rolling, £60k? I said “perhaps more if we need to move it into another gear..”
Some £200,000+ and 18 months later we are at a highly advanced stage ready to move into the next stage of funding and development.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Listen to feedback, look at where other tools have struggled to gain airspeed and stabilise the development team.
How were you able to get traction in the first few months of launch?
We gave and are still giving a lot of sites away for free, pulled in support help and advise on content collation for even the smallest of content builders. I have become more evangelical about what we want to achieve and what I believe in. It takes a lot of energy but we will make a difference. That has helped us gain traction.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea?
Totally, and that is part of the message, if you are going to get into business you need to have the flexibility to change and bend in the feedback wind. It is so important that startups recognize that change is inevitable and that in most cases funds are almost certainly required to commit to change and make it 100% effective
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
All of it, the whole thing. Everyday “IS” the journey, I see it with my eyes wide open and approach everything with a totally positive attitude no mater what.
What do you love most about your job?
The challenges, the new things that I have to learn commercially and electronically, listening to feedback and how we can interpret it into digital effectiveness.
What can we be expecting from Pressglue in 2012?
Mmm… LOTS! My CTO says I keep hitting him with “idea grenades..” but I really need to be careful here so I can tell you that we are going to major on social news casting and mobile dev ( in progress now) over the forthcoming months.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
If you have “the” idea, research it fully and check the marketplace, if there is an opening and your gut says YES it’s probably the killer idea. The research and back line will show due diligence to you and your investor.
Remain totally focused and believe in what you are doing become immersed, obsess about it if you have to but you must be ‘at one’ with the idea and the business.
Be flexible, be prepared to change, spend and embrace the release of stock to really grow your idea.