In The Loop

In this guest posting, former MTV marketer Pip Jamieson reveals how she bet her life savings on becoming a media proprietor.

When my business partner Matt Fayle and I resigned from our dream jobs at MTV in the middle of the GFC to launch The Loop – a networking website for media, advertising and creative professionals – our friends and colleagues thought we were mad. And, at times, so did we. This is our story.

Matt_Fayle_Pip_Jamieson_The_Loop MumbrellaIt started five or so years ago. Matt and I started work on the same day in the newly formed MTV Digital and Strategy Department. With a shared love of business, digital media, music and Sauv Blancs, we quickly became great friends. As time went by our careers went in different directions. I was sent to Auckland to help launch MTV NZ, while Matt took the Director of Digital reins.

I’d always dreamed of escaping the rat race and becoming my own boss. It was more a flight of fancy than a dream. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d have the guts to do it.

However, in late 2008 Matt approached me with an idea. Being the “digital guy”, he was constantly being asked by friends & colleagues for advice on the best way to build their own websites to showcase their work online and promote themselves to potential employers and clients. On the flip side, I was finding it increasingly frustrating finding fresh creative talent, being overly dependent on word of mouth. Incredible people were slipping through the net – that is how the idea for The Loop was born.

What followed were numerous evenings down the pub, brainstorming ideas, business models and really trying to work out if our flight of fancy could become a viable business. The more we researched, the more we realized the concept had legs.

There was an appetite for creative professionals to promote their work online and connect with employers. They were already using platforms like Seek, LinkedIn, Facebook, Behance and Vimeo, but each of these had their various limitations for creative professionals. Advertising on Seek was frustrating for creative employers because they were inundated with irrelevant applications. LinkedIn was genius at connecting, but very corporate, and didn’t include multi-media profiles. The intrinsic need to keep one’s personal and professional life separate meant promoting yourself on Facebook is not the best career move. And while sites like Behance & Vimeo were great for showcasing work, they had no local industry connectivity.

Our vision for The Loop therefore became an Australian-tailored alternative to existing international networking and employment sites for people in creative industries. The site would provide a platform for people to post their work online and get it in front of other creatives in the industry. At the heart of The Loop was the eventual aim of bagging that dream collaborator, job or client.

In February 2009 we took the plunge, resigned from our jobs and sunk our entire life savings into making The Loop a reality. What followed was the hardest nine months of our lives. Originally we thought it would take four months to build and launch the site, but everything took much longer and cost a lot more than we expected.

Then the GFC hit and our advertising-dependant business model collapsed. However, we predicted that since the site would take a while to design and build, we’d launch around the time recruitment was picking up. The expected bottleneck of candidates worried about being the “last in, first out” would start looking for new employment. Interestingly, it became clear that the economic downturn would also lead companies to revisit their recruitment strategies, and explore more cost-effective means of hiring quality staff.

Our first task was to hire a website development company. We hired a company that we had respected and trusted over the years. Rookie mistake! Using a developer accustomed to the big budget and big brand associations was not right for a start-up, and after four months the relationship fell apart. There were failings on both sides. We had negotiated down the price too heavily and they had over-committed in lieu to our past relationship. They never charged us for the work, but it did set us back five months. And with no sign of any revenue coming in the door, it was tough.

In hindsight, this delay was a blessing in disguise. The economy started to improve, which enabled Matt and I to take a more hands-on approach to designing the site and making it exactly how we had envisaged. At one point Matt had the entire site wireframes mapped out on his lounge-room wall and we’d sit there for hours making tweaks and changes. It also bought us time to meet more companies and develop relationships prior to launch.

Building a base of partners and clients wasn’t easy. We were out selling the dream for a product that didn’t exist. Cold-calling someone when I worked at MTV was easy. I used to pick up the phone and say “Hi, I’m Pip from MTV”, which provided instant attention and credibility. “Hi, I’m Pip from The Loop” went down like a lead balloon. However, as time went by and more people heard about the concept behind The Loop, brands rallied round us.

The team at Moon Communications (www.theloop.com.au/moon) loved the vision of the site from the start, and donated their time and energy to building the brand, look and feel. We found the most incredible web developers in Visiontech Digital (www.theloop.com.au/VisiontechDigital), who’ve worked tirelessly, and at times all night, to make the site a reality. Even before we had a functioning product more than thirty brands agreed to be profiled and advertise jobs from launch. My husband, friends, family & past co-workers also supported us and helped test the site.

Then, on December 1st 2009 we launched the site at 3 in the morning and The Loop has enjoyed a series of highs ever since. Within a week we had 600 people sign up; we now have over 4000 active users. Amazingly the site has grown organically, and our marketing budget currently sits at $0.

About three weeks after launch, a graphic designer on the site emailed us to say they had just been headhunted by an amazing agency through The Loop. I can’t tell you what a buzz it was to know that not only was the site up and running, but it was working.

Every week brings a new high. Like the day we overtook Seek in the organic search results for “Creative Jobs”. Or the day a high profile media investor said our business plan and model was one of the best he’d seen.

But craziest of all was the day we realised we were making revenue. Matt had originally registered our PayPal account under his Hotmail address. As we’d been so busy, he had not checked it for ages. We’d been making money for over a month and hadn’t even known.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. To be candid, it was harder than we thought. If you also dream of one day starting out on your own, then the best advice I can give you is partner-up. Having a partner is amazing for motivation. They’ll make you get up in the morning, deliver on targets, help you brain storm ideas, make educated decisions and share the highs and the lows. Start-ups have a greater chance of success if there are two founders. And with 4 in 5 small businesses failing in the first five years, you need all the help you can get.

Pip Jamieson is a co-founder of The Loop


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