Posted in Interviews
Interview with Andrew Gregson – Founder of media140
Andrew Gregson wants to build a great brand and to create wealth, not only for himself but for others who he hopes will also take the brand forward. I interviewed Ande about his business and how he works. Ande is an impressive man with a hurricane of ideas bubbling up in his head at all times. Let’s hear his story behind media140.
What is media140?
media140 helps professionals understand future trends in digital and social technologies in their respective industries and could be described as a communications platform.
How did Media 140 get started?
About 3 years ago I decided to run the Marathon des Sables which is a 6-day footrace across the Sahara, often referred to as the toughest foot race on the planet. I needed to raise £7K for Mencap. At the time, I was employed by BSkyB and worked in their Innovation Lab. This provided me with a really good grounding and insight into new technologies.
How Did You Get Your Message Out?
Whilst at BSkyB, I wondered how I could raise the money using news as the theme for an event for Mencap” My contacts there helped me reach out to others in the industry via social media, speakers and organisers. This became the main way of contacting people and, before I knew it, I had a 1-day event on my hands, called media140, which attracted interest from The Guardian, The Times and TechCrunch. (The 140 part of the brand name came from the number of characters given on a Twitter message.) Within 3 days of announcing the event on Twitter, we had 500 followers, then 1000, then 2,000 and it has grown ever since. The way I used Twitter was particularly effective, contacting journalists directly. All the usual protocols went out of the window and I nearly always received a straight answer from them.
I approached people with a proposition to speak, giving them a theme whilst ensuring the whole thing hung together. It was important that the story about the event was understood, including how news is gathered, measured and how one finds stories. The old fashioned process of getting in touch with people is old hat now. If you have a great idea and can sell it through social media it’s so easy to reach out to people directly and, whenever I see an opportunity.
The first event we ran in Sydney, off the back of our London event in 2009, was prompted by a Tweet saying ”Let’s host it in Sydney”. Six months later, I was in ABC’s headquarters in Sydney talking to their Managing Director about Tweetdeck, two days after that, I was hosting a 2-day conference there. ABC really helped propel media140 into the limelight in Australia and no amount of money could cover that. I am eternally grateful to the people I met in ABC as they helped me to develop this brand all over Australia, with events in Perth, Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney.
What Is Involved in Organising An Event?
media140 is not just about me. There is a wider team who play a really important role.
When sourcing venues, telephone works well as we are in a 24-hour economy, taking into account all the time-zones. From my experience of organising events, I’d say the hard work is selling it and creating a programme with interesting content. The physical aspects are easy; you ask someone to do it for you. Great content and interesting people are the challenge, as is making oneself stand out from others in the industry.
We spoke to Julian Assange about an event in Italy last year. He didn’t ask for a fee, yet had a unique political message to give to the public about the veil of secrecy surrounding governments and organisations. Other groups, such as charities who wish to raise their profile or promote a project that we think is great, will be given a free platform to tell all.
At a 2-day event we might have up to 45 speakers ranging from local people who understand the culture, to presenters who bring an international flavour, adding a global perspective. Each brings a different view on trends, marketing or science. For example, Andrew Maynard, who works for the World Economic Forum, was Skyped into a conference about science communication in Brisbane last year.
My idea was to do ‘Around the World in 140 days’, so I registered the domain name and we tried to find as many places as possible to visit in 140 days, starting in London with our second London event. After that we travelled to Sydney, Perth and on to Italy before focussing on the UK, visiting Glasgow, Bristol, Oxford and London.
It started to take on a life of its own. In one year we had 12 events which proved to be too many. At the outset it was just me and a couple of others, working 18-hours a day. Having now mastered the art of events, I either do the logistics or the editorial, finding others for the sales, marketing and sponsorship.
media140 has grown quickly. It was never my intention to create a hugely cash rich or profitable organisation. I have built something uniquely interesting which is now morphing into something different. I’m considering other projects, working on other brands that are supported by media140, an example being the Science Rewired project, building on a science event we hosted in Brisbane in 2011. We are staging it again this year, changing the name and creating a standalone business about science communication in a digital age. The idea is that a team of people will develop it, not just in Australia but also in the UK, South America, and Papua New Guinea, learning from our mistakes.
I am currently in discussions about an aviation theme which would be all about airline travel, airports and travel. Pick any subject – we are horizontal across many sectors – everyone faces the same challenges.
What Are Your Biggest Challenges?
Self-discipline. I have a hurricane going on in my head with so many new ideas. I’d like to do them all but I can’t so I have to contain it, box it down. I can create a vast amount of work very quickly to the surprise of those working for me and then, sometimes, I can be slow. After a walk or a run the cobwebs clear and I am back to the hurricane again.
My biggest challenge is forcing myself to do things I don’t really want to do or that I haven’t done before, such as being an editor, or looking at an event theme and thinking “I know nothing about this subject”. It’s about changing my mindset to “How do I make it happen?”.
I like changing the way I work, leveraging the people around me to get me to where I need to go.
Another challenge is stepping up to being a leader. People invest a degree of responsibility in me to make the right decisions and I don’t want to be wrong.
What’s Next For media140
This year we are doing five things and two are already live on websites. We’re looking for multi-skilled individuals who can sell and entrepreneurs who can see opportunities, seize them and put them into action either themselves or by finding people to do it for them. If an event is successful, we put some of the money back into the company which then helps fund the next project.
I am looking for people who can help develop the brand and take a share of it, as I don’t want to hold all the cards.
Having done this for 3 years, I want to evolve beyond what it started out to do.
It’s all about finding the right opportunities and I sometimes chase too many. I end up trying too many things and some are sacrificed. I want to separate my personal life from my working life. It’s often difficult to switch off as I’m always trying to improve what I have developed.
I would like media140 to be successful, to create a great brand and to create wealth not only for me, but for others who take the brand forward, allowing me to sit back and think “What shall I do next”?
We are currently working on something that helps small businesses connect to customers which I hope will be successful and bring in revenue. I’d very much like to do some work for philanthropic organisations, helping others achieve their goals through mentoring, funding and public speaking.
I really believe that if you put your heart into any project, you can achieve success. I also believe the pathway to our destiny is pre-determined, no matter what we do.