Into the great unknown. Consulting and starting a business.

Rowley

That my friends is the charming Richard Rowley, previously of Mindshare fame and now four weeks into being the boss of his own company, Fold. I had come to ask him why he decided to start a business, what on earth has happened to digital innovation and why he hates blogs.

Firstly, what’s the big idea?

It’s about putting a value on content. It was born out of the fact that lots of people build websites out of necessity rather than need. It is something that has always frustrated me. Someone spends a huge amount of money on a website, the website goes up, they’ll leave it for 18-24 months and then pull it down and rebuild it. In the meantime there is nothing you can do to that website because no one has got any budget.

I thought if someone can put a value on what that website brings to them, they can start to invest and optimise. People understand that optimising and improving websites is a good thing. It’s very difficult to actually prove the ROI off the back of doing that. So we built a software platform called Origami, which places a monetary value on all of the pages.

What is the least valuable page?

Anything outside of the product funnel. The stuff about the business naturally doesn’t add a great deal of value, but it is typically the blog. The blog often doesn’t have a clear focus. It is more, this is what we want to say, rather than, this is what someone wants to read.

Moving swiftly on! Did you have one client that made the leap from an agency more comfortable?

Yes, so that’s what gave me the confidence. However, that didn’t really work out. When I started I had zero clients again. That’s just that the nature of it. I did a six month notice period at Mindshare and you can’t really do both. So yes, it initially gave me the confidence and then it didn’t really transpire so it made things a bit more ‘exciting’.

Have you seen a trend of people leaving to set up on their own?

Not really. I think it is quite difficult. A restrictive six month notice period is a long time. Typically most agencies will have evolved out of poaching clients, and that doesn’t happen anymore.

How are you dealing with the uncertainty of consulting and starting your own business?

I knew it was going to be tricky but I like that the only person responsible for success or failure is you and how motivated you are to get yourself through it. It is definitely liberating. I’ve really enjoyed the freedom. I don’t think I have ever liked having a boss, I don’t like being told what to do.

Are you taking advantage of it?

Part of you is so engrained in the 9 to 5. Some of the week I am in the office and I find myself racing along to get there for 8am as I don’t like to be seen walking in late but then I am like “what am I doing?” Other times it is nice, you can go out for a walk and grab a coffee, clear your head. You get better at being able to work in any environment.

Did you consider just being freelance or consulting?

No, at the moment it feels more like freelance consulting but my ambition is for it to be a business, because I liked managing a team, I liked having people around me and everyone pulling together.

What do you see Fold becoming?

I don’t see it being that massive. Maybe I am not ambitious enough! I like the idea of having values and ethics to the business. I like the idea of having something a little bit more sustainable and helping people get a good work-life balance and things like that.

Is this a reaction to working in an agency?

Perhaps. Sometimes you get the impression that people are just seen as a utility. It is a bit of a shame, especially as agencies are just their people. Of course these people are the biggest cost as well, and they naturally have to drive down those costs.

Was part of your departure a desire to innovate?

Yes, it’s particularly difficult in media because it’s a race to the bottom in terms of commission and fees. People are operating on such small percentages which has crushed any room for innovation or any desire to innovate because the salaries have to fall to match that commission rate. You have the clients, the publishers and the agencies, and the clients and publishers seem to have the power, with the agencies being squeezed in the middle. I’m sure it will change but at the moment it just seems a bit bleak.

Is Fold an agency?

Initially I called Fold an agency because I like the romance of it being an agency, but realistically it is more of a consultancy.

Are you passionate about digital media?

Yes, I enjoy my job and I enjoy what I do because it is interesting, it is new and people haven’t done it before. The fact that there isn’t a book you can read about content and understanding the evolving role that it plays in the marketing mix is really exciting. It probably goes back to not being told what to do!

Do you have a second string career lined up?

Nope, I’m all in. There is no going back to an agency.

Why not?

It was great experience but you don’t want to be making someone else rich!

Epilogue

Our time was up. Richard is part of a refreshing new breed of digital experts that believe in enterprise, innovation and improved ethics and transparency. Much like they do in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, after we had finished chatting, we departed the coffee shop. It had been a classic episode, and as long he keeps his opinion on the value of blogs to himself we’ll be back next week with another cracker!