In all honesty, when I first wrote ‘Jonny Cooper, Championship Manager’ all those years ago I didn’t think I’d be here today. Or even where I was this time last year.
This time last year, April 5th 2018, I was on a plane from Malaga to Brussels.
The reason for the trip was to sign the paperwork and officially incorporate Ronnie Dog Media Comm. V. as a Belgian company.
Why Belgium? Decent football team, great chocolate and two guys willing to invest in my belief that we could make a sustainable small company out of gabbing on about football every day.
We should rewind the clock a little to explain why this was even happening.
The company I was freelancing for at the time, managing their portfolio of football sites, had decided that they were ‘getting out of football’ and were selling up. Why? The main reason was that they hadn’t worked out a way to make any money out of them and they wanted to cut their losses.
They suggested that if I could come up with an agreeable sum of money (more than I had down the back of the sun lounger, shall we say) that I could buy them at a fire-sale price.
That felt somewhat unlikely and I was faced with having to go back into the real world and get an actual job. Yikes.
However, later that same day I had coffee with a good friend and was telling him about the situation.
Something I said must have landed for him as he asked me to put together a proposal for him as he was interested in putting in the money needed – interesting.
Proposal done, virtual handshakes and another investor on board, we flew to Belgium to do the paperwork and get the ball rolling on transferring the funds over to my former employers.
We’d be buying the existing portfolio and the pressure would be on immediately to monetise it as, you know, I was keen to have some food on the table at the end of the month.
The paperwork was signed a year ago today and Ronnie Dog Media Comm. V. was born.
Don’t you love a twist in the tale? Trust me, easier to love them in hindsight.
Having used Transferwise successfully over the years, I pressed send on the funds to send them to Blighty and waited patiently for the notification that the money had safely arrived and that the websites were ours.
A few days went by and nothing.
The seller seemed relaxed about it but I felt the need to investigate – for the first time ever, there had been an error from Transferwise and the money hadn’t been accepted at the seller’s end. It was being sent back but, and here’s a lovely thing to hear when you are working to an agreed deadline, nobody knew where it actually was right now.
Of course, it was going to turn up – but as the numbers were hiding in the internet black hole, nobody could guarantee when it would reappear in our bank account and then we’d have to send it over all again.
The seller was still sounding OK, ‘these things happen’.
Yeah, that attitude didn’t last much longer. The next communication I received was that if the funds were not in their account within 24 hours, the deal was off.
Time for Plan B.
You see, we knew the money was going to reappear but we didn’t know exactly when. Therefore, we knew this deal wasn’t going to happen now and so did they.
Luckily, we were pretty quick and agile in our thinking.
What if we took the investment we had raised and used on creating our own network of sites instead of buying someone elses?
It’s amazing how quickly you can do something when everyone is on board and up for it – it’s fair to say I suspect the seller didn’t expect such unwavering loyalty from my group and we all got our heads down. The aim was to launch 20 new football sites in five days. Five days! And have content ready to go on them so we hit the ground running.
Did we hit that goal? Well, actually, yes. Yes, we did.
Five days later the first set of Ronnie Dog Media websites went live.
And we’ve not really looked back since.
In our first year, we’ve had some incredible highs (and a few lows).
These are some of the highlights;
️⚽️30 websites launched
️⚽️Over 300 contributors
️⚽️Over 15,000 pieces of quality written content produced
️⚽️Over 5m page views
️⚽️25 people promoted into more senior positions
⚽️Our first full-time editor recruited
️⚽️World Cup in a Car!
️⚽️Every single World Cup 2018 match analysed on totalfootballanalysis.com
️⚽️The launch of Total Football Analysis Magazine which goes to every single professional club in the UK, USA and many more household names worldwide as well as being bought every single month by some wonderful people in the real world
️⚽️Commissioned analysis for one of the leading sports clothing brands in the world
️⚽️Testimonials, “well dones” and “can I join your mailing list” from contacts at some of the biggest football clubs in world football
️⚽️Seeing several of our team go on and get writing gigs at household names like Sky, Squawka and Snack Media as well as seeing some of our analysts get work with professional clubs
Has it all been highlights?
You see, having an investment at the start is great but, at some point, you need to start making some money and demonstrating to the people who backed you that there is a chance they might actually get their money back (yes, of course we all tell them that they will but the reality doesn’t always match that lovely presentation you did).
We had a plan of how we would start bringing in revenue – and some of that plan was accurate, thankfully.
But, a major chunk of it wasn’t.
In very late October last year, having just turned 40, I could not see us being in business come the end of January 2019 unless something drastic happened.
An ad-revenue approach had failed and we needed a way of making reliable income each month to keep us going.
Depression hit me (again) very, very hard. I was ill and it has taken me quite a long time to admit it. The toll of a new start-up had hit me and my family and there was a real chance I could have lost everything.
But, I talked to people who get that. I kept trying to put one foot in front of the other. And, I had/have an exceptional array of talent working on Ronnie Dog with me and when you have that happening it means you can focus on the important stuff (in this case, mental health + how the hell are we going to make some money – not an ideal mix).
Randomly, I watched ‘The Greatest Showman’, a wonderful film if you are a bit of a dreamer.
The song shown above landed for me in a massive, massive way. It doesn’t matter if you are a little bit crazy. We do live in a world we design and it was possible to redesign the one I was living in.
I remembered the idea we’d had months and months ago about taking our football analysis site and making it a monthly magazine. Something we could actually sell to people.
It was time to fast-track that idea. As I’ve mentioned before – if you have the right team around you anything is possible and I have the right team around me.
By the 18th November (I think) we had launched our first ever digital magazine. We didn’t just launch it, people bought it. For which, we are very grateful (and please, keep buying it).
Since then, we’ve moved the analysis website behind a paywall as we believe our content is of a good enough quality that it is OK to ask people to pay for reading it. After all, if it is good enough for some of those doom-mongering newspapers…
These two wins mean we’ve completed the first lap. Right now, I have some visibility on us completing at least a second lap – assuming, of course, nothing changes in a drastically bad way and we continue to have momentum.
The biggest learning in all of this (which is something I already knew but it’s great to keep seeing continued physical proof) is that when something looks like it is going absolutely belly-up (the original deal being called off, ad-revenue not happening to even a fraction of what was predicted, the realisation that I might lose everything) it is quite often leading you to something far, far better if you can just step away from the yuck long enough to allow it come through.
We’ve had a hell of a first year and I suspect we might have an even better second one.
I look at the team we have now. Yes, people have come and gone and that is the nature of the beast. Some I wish had stayed, some not so much. And there’s a few that have been with me on this daft adventure since day one – the likes of Lee Scott, David Black, Jim Salveson were doing things with me back in the Tales from the Top Flight/Higher Tempo Press days when I was still very much just messing about for sh*ts and giggles without knowing what I really wanted to do next. And, for some odd reason, they are still with me now.
It’s not just those three, there are many more who have joined early or joined late and have made Ronnie Dog what it is right now.
I hope it’s something we are all proud of, I know I am. And I know some of our content is actually having an impact which is all you can ask when you consistently hit “publish” and send something out into that black hole called the internet.
Long may it continue.
Oh, and I read this a few weeks ago which sums a few things up very nicely indeed.
Quickie Happiness Workshop for Increasing Profits at Times of Seeming Peril:
Think as much, if not more, about growing your income as you do of trimming your expenses.
And for extra credit, focus on customers more than vendors; smiles more than frowns; possibilities more than risks; options more than commitments; vacations more than overtime; detours more than setbacks; opportunities more than obstacles; and Goldilocks more than the bears.
End of Workshop –
Thank you to everyone who has played a part however big or small. Ronnie would be proud.