After finishing his degree at Bristol University, Ashley got his first taste of starting a business in a tiny company called Entertainment Marketing after being persuaded by a colleague at TMD Carat. That tiny company eventually went on to become ASOS and everything after then is history. He recalls "I was 24 when I followed a thrusting colleague at TMD Carat in to a start-up he was doing with another chap. It was called Entertainment Marketing, I had 10% of the company but it didn’t really work out so I sold my stock back to them for £10,000. They worked hard at that business and evolved it over the next 8yrs or so in to ASOS.com."
Ashley is now the founder and CEO of Base79, previously known as MyVideoRights. The company helps content owners create audiences around the videos, protecting their videos from unauthorized use and monetizing the content on a multi-platform, multi-territory basis.
In my interview with him, Ashley shares his entrepreneurial story.
Hi Ashley, How are you doing, great to have you on YHP?
Thanks for asking me in Joseph.
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself? Tell me about yourself growing up?
I went to a nice middle-class private school in Kent, I went to a nice middle-class university in Bristol and generally had a nice, middle class up-bringing playing lots of cricket and hockey. Nothing interesting sadly – I did not have to eat coal for my tea to make ends meet.
How did you get into business? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child?
My father was a very successful media executive but worked for someone else, in particular, Rupert Murdoch. So, no, not as a kid really. He first lept in to the unknown relatively late in life doing MBI’s.
I had my first opportunity to start a business when I was 24 when I followed a thrusting colleague at TMD Carat in to a start-up he was doing with another chap. It was called Entertainment Marketing, I had 10% of the company but it didn’t really work out so I sold my stock back to them for £10,000. They worked hard at that business and evolved it over the next 8yrs or so in to ASOS.com. Nick, James, Quentin are all now very successful and very, very rich!
I got the taste then for the autonomy and rewards that come from the risks and joined my Father at Talk Radio, an MBI he ran. After that, I got the bug for small companies and the excitement, results and rewards, both personal and financial, you can potentially get.
Who was your inspiration growing up and why?
I don’t know whether I’d put it that way, but clearly my Dad’s been a big influence. We’ve actually been working together for over 15 years now in various forms and I have learnt a great deal from him about leadership and inspiring people.
What was the inspiration behind Base79? How did the idea come about?
I have always been an overly confident, sometime over-opinionated, goby sort and I thought I had it in me to run a company and really prove my ideas were valuable. All I needed was the chance and starting your own company is probably the best way to leap in to the CEO’s chair quickly!
At about the time I was thinking this, YouTube was sold to Google for $1.65bn, I thought it looked like a media company but unlike all media value chains I know the content owner was not seeing any of that value. I thought you could create a company to solve the problems that content-owners face in optimizing the value of their content online …. And that is where we started. My background is media, advertising (buying and selling) and content distribution so I was well equipped to launch a company that required these competencies.
So Ashley, what is Base79? What are you guys are trying to solve?
We help optimize the value of a content-owners’ rights online by creating audiences around the videos, protecting the videos from unauthorized use and monetizing the content on a multi-platform, multi-territory basis.
The truth is that you cannot just upload a video to YouTube and wait for the dollars to start flowing in. It is not that simple. I believe content owners have been asking the wrong question as they look online - the questions most content-owners ask are “how can I monetize my rights?” or “what is my distribution strategy?”. The question they should be asking is “how do I build audiences around my content?” because the other parts of the equation will take care of themselves at the moment.
What were you doing before you founded Base79?
I was running DTH and digital cable distribution for a company called Music Choice. We were trying to get satellite companies to pay carriage fees for our linear, audio music stations on their TV platforms. It was a good company but in the end technology and the consumer moved and the product didn’t.
What was your biggest challenge during the starting up phase?
Too many to name just one … I think a key part of the solution is not really whether your way is right or wrong but the effort, time and determination you are willing to put behind your idea. Sadly, most of us aren’t as gifted as the Page’s, Thiel’s and Zuckerberg’s of this world and it is hard graft that makes the difference.
With your Dad already an household name in British publishing, did that put pressure on you that more to go into media and be successful?
Nope, it didn’t put any pressure on me to go in to media though it is worth noting that my mother, grandparents, brother, sister, cousins, uncle’s and aunts are also in media! Quite the opposite – it gave me opportunities in a really fun industry.
I do think that having a successful father, for me, has been a big motivator. He worked extremely hard to provide the best for his kids and I think it is my job to build on that foundation. My mother and father did not come from a cosy middle-class setting in Kent!
Sadly, however, I also did not realize when making my career decisions that in the near future you could earn £500,000 a year in the City and still be home to put the kids to bed.
How have you been able to fund the business?
I invested a significant amount of my own money and worked for almost 18months for nothing. My Father invested a lot at the same time and we raised more from Friends and Family. We then closed a Series A round in March 2010 from MMC Ventures, an early-stage VC based in London.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Work very hard, build relationships and try and recruit people that know more than you do and fill in your weaknesses. It is the exception rather than the rule for one individual to make it work, it is too hard.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea expect from changing your name?
Aboslutely, I would say we are heading in the same direction but going at it very differently. Most good start-ups evolve with the landscape around them and we have to. I think this is one of the things we have done very well – you need to know where you’re heading but be informed by the market conditions on how you might get there. In fact. we even changed the name of the company 8 months ago!
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Lots and lots, but profitability has to be up there. Sustainability is a big target for me personally.
What can we be expecting from your company in 2012?
We hope to follow the growth of the online video industry globally and partner with some of the best content producers in the world.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Found your company with a partner who is good at things you are not. I founded the company with a friend (Richard Mansell) and our character’s balance each other well, he is smarter than me and he is process orientated which I am not. More important than this though, at the end of the day, you need someone to celebrate and commiserate with in equal measure as you go on your journey.
2. Change and evolve with the market around you but have a good sense of the things you instinctively believe in and stay true to them. It’s partly for this reason that deep domain knowledge is valuable as it is easier to innovate and execute in a space that you understand intimately.
3. Work very hard, there is a very close correlation between application and success – “the more I train, the luckier I get”.