This week’s Business Focus is with Alex Myers, from Ripponden, who runs award-winning PR firm Manifest London.
Why did you start your business in the first place?
I think it was a mixture of frustration with the creativity (or lack of it) in the industry, and the naivety of a 28-year-old with no prior experience around how hard it is to start a business from scratch. Really it was a point in time when the world was looking for creativity, digital knowledge and transparency, and I was stuck in an industry that didn’t understand any of it. So to work for my dream agency, my only real option was to build it myself.
What is your business motto?
Work hard and be nice to people.
What advice would you give to anyone starting their own business?
Have a purpose - what’s your mission? If you’re simply looking to make money, the business isn’t likely to be a lasting success. People don’t by what you do, they buy why you do it; and although anyone can copy what you do and even how you do it, nobody can ever replicate why you’re doing it. That will always be unique to you.
What was the biggest challenge you faced starting your business?
Finding the right people. It’s hard asking the best people to take a leap and join a small startup doing things very differently to everyone else. We had very few applicants for our early positions, we had to work hard to find candidates, and we had to be patient to ensure they were the best. However, it became a strength over time, as the team was built on brave and curious minds, willing to question the status quo.
What do you enjoy most about being self-employed?
I never knew how creative you can be running a business. From appraisal structures to recruitment ads, there’s a host of things you get to be inventive with - which is the part I enjoy the most. We have introduced lots of creative policies - like unlimited paid holiday - that most people think are crazy before they realise it totally makes sense.
What do you enjoy least about being self-employed?
The admin. There’s a ton of paperwork - especially with our international expansion - that I’d gladly do without.
Which business figure do you most admire and why?
Right now, Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla. He is a genius at zooming out of a problem and thinking strategically. He didn’t develop an electric vehicle that replicated a petrol one, he developed an electric vehicle that was a better driving experience. That’s how you change things. His solar panel roof tiles are the result of being able to think outside of the confines of assumed wisdom.
What achievement in your career are you most proud of?
That’s a hard one. As a business, we were the fastest growing PR Agency in the UK last year, which was pretty cool. And we were have been named Best Integrated Agency for two years running now. On a campaign level, I think the impact we have made with BrewDog has been awesome - we’ve helped them transform from being an unknown brewery to the fastest growing drinks brand in the world.
Where do you see your business going in the next five years?
In five years, we’ll have offices on five continents - we already have London, New York and Stockholm but we’re planning teams in Cape Town, Melbourne and Hong Kong by 2020.
If you could invent one new product, what would it be?
I’m really interested in sustainability, and I think our next generation of innovation will come from evolving waste to become the DNA of new materials. If I could invent a material similar in potential and flexibility to plastic but made from air pollution or greenhouse gases collected above cities, I think I’d be onto something.
If you could work for one company, who would it be and why?
It’s not a company, but I’d love to be able to help governments improve public policy through communications. I believe that most of the time, it’s the bad guys telling the good stories - but communications has the potential to unlock the empathy and good nature of society to drive genuine positive change. I think it would be fascinating to end the era of spin in British politics, and build a new structure where politicians could be trusted to again represent the greater good.