In June of 2006 I moved back to London at the urging of two friends. One offered to help me raise money for a venture he believed I should start and the other said he would contribute his music know-how whenever I needed it. It was an exciting time. I’d been living in the South of France for 5 years and was longing to get back to London. A storm had washed me ashore on the Cap d’Antibes – 9/11 – when business everywhere slowed down. I’d just built a house there. Rented house in Silicon Valley or my own house 50 meters from the beach? It wasn’t difficult to decide where to ride out that economic storm. But I got a little stuck there and was happy for the encouragement of my friends and the opportunity to launch my own digital entertainment company.
Life never goes as planned. The first 2 years were great, albeit filled with all of the unexpected challenges any entrepreneur faces, especially in the crazy world of digital music and entertainment. I had a mission – to build a site with a clear revenue model that respected the rights of musicians and artists (not a very popular idea at the time). With the help of my friend, I raised nearly £4.5 million and built a company with strong values and a good chance of becoming a success and making a contribution. Then tragedy struck. My son and only child died accidentally one day. He was working for my company in business development at the time, an actor and chef turned digital entertainment evangelist, whose charisma attracted some of our most exciting business partnerships.
I barely survived, but kept going because I knew that the success of all dig down was his dream too. I needed something to keep me anchored while letting time do its thing; it is said that time heals all. I’m still not sure, but it is worth believing. The site went live 7 months after my son’s death but barely 2 months later, my little company died too – a victim of the recession and investors who were not willing to continue investing. Two deaths in 9 months, the first one incomprehensible; the second making it even harder to recover from the first. My little company drowned in this perfect storm. But I did not. I’m here doing what I’ve always done: surviving, overcoming, healing, looking for new opportunities and creating. Humans are resilient. And while I may remain a fraction of my former self, I am a little amazed and proud that I am so resilient.
I’ve included below the blog post I wrote on the 3rd of April 2009 (as a kind of homage) to announce that all dig down had come out of beta and was available to the world. In spite of all that had transpired before, I was hopeful. In spite of all that has transpired since that business closed its doors, I am still hopeful somehow. Even in the face of loss and failure, the alternative to hope is not worth contemplating.
3 April 2009
all dig down sets sail this week into a perfect storm, a little boat armed only with a compass and the wisdom of others who have navigated similar storms and survived. We’re not talking about a closed beta anymore, but we are opening the site to anyone – a vast open sea of users will be lapping against our hull.
In the wake of economic mayhem the closure of one of the most media-hyped “potential” competitors to the iTunes, Spiral Frog is likely to be overlooked but points to some of the obstacles that any upstart digital entertainment site will have to overcome. Spiral Frog forced users to listen to ads in order to download music for “free” in a format that was not iPod friendly. It tried to offer users “free” music and to give iTunes a bit of competition but was doomed to failure having agreed to pay monstrous advances to major record labels hoping to use venture funding given to wanna-be MySpaces like Spiral Frog (with flawed business models) to save them from themselves. Others like QTrax, iMeem and lala.com, may not dead yet but are surely drowning.
And against this backdrop all dig down emerges from nearly 3 years of planning, fund raising, and building to enter a world filled with fear and danger.
The current economic recession and the questionable survival of many Web 2.0 launched in the last couple of years, makes it a good time to wonder what is likely to work in the new “new economy.” The old new economy ended with the dot.com bomb of 2001 and those old economy dinosaurs are stumped at how we have a repeat performance another new economy with yet again no revenue models, what Reuters referred to this week as “profit free” business. It can’t be just the hubris of youth because many of the venture capitalists that have funded this second wave of no-revenue model websites were around last time, barely 10 years ago. But society has bred yet another new generation of young princes who, fueled by greed, failed to acknowledge or learn from the past.
Sadly the demise of hopeful upstarts in web 2.0 and digital entertainment sites is symptomatic of greed – too much easy money and not enough sense – the very same things has brought the entire world economy to where it is today. So what we can learn from this, apply, and hopefully teach the next generation of young princes? That fundamentals never change: a good business needs a good business model, attention to the voice of the consumer and integrity. Too much power tends to corrupt, but so too does too much money. The arrogant founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is said to have responded to criticism of Facebook’s new Twitter-like interface: “the most disruptive companies don’t listen to their customers.” Last fall he said, “Growth is primary, revenue is secondary.”
Chris Anderson wrote a great historical perspective of Free as the future of business in Wired published yesterday: “But a generation raised on the free Web is coming of age, and they will find entirely new ways to embrace waste, transforming the world in the process. Because free is what you want — and free, increasingly, is what you’re going to get.” Fortunately Chris is sufficiently old world to get the fact that “free” does not mean revenue or profit-free.
The new economy, where businesses lie battered and beaten on the shores, requires new business models or a return to the pre-dot.com business models of the past, where the customer is always right, where companies must generate revenue and where business and their shareholders can be trusted.