The Flying Start-Up competition offers winners much more than cash

The Flying Start-Up competition isn't for everyone, but for entrepreneurs with a dream of starting an agency there is much more than cash on the table.

The Flying Start-Up: a launch pad for those dreaming of starting their own agency
The Flying Start-Up: a launch pad for those dreaming of starting their own agency

There are two cardinal sins in the communications business. The first is the failure to articulate. The second is the failure to listen. I freely put my hand up to the former transgression, but wonder if James Hurley, who penned such a damning blog on my new venture the Flying Start-Up competition, would confess to the second sin.

I am all for free speech and James is entitled to his opinion, but everyone involved in the Flying Start-Up initiative was left feeling somewhat depressed after reading his vitriolic attack.

But the purpose of this blog is not to fight fire with fire, but to make amends for my failure to explain what the competition is all about. Here goes. Pay attention James.

The thinking behind the behind Flying Start-Up can be found in the name. We want to give the winning team a flying start in the race for success by offering a whole package of benefits which many start-ups won’t have access to.

First, let’s talk about the cash: £100,000 may seem excessive to the Starbucks start-up generation, but when you are thinking big you need to support your vision with hard cash. Failure to do this will result in missed opportunities, a cash flow crisis and senior talent doing work they shouldn’t be doing. Besides, £100,000 will last but a few months if the revenue is not forthcoming to offset the hefty salaries and high rents typical in a London agency.

Second, I want to focus on the non-fiscal elements of the prize. The winners will get as much investor input needed to make this new agency rock. If that means moving in as a full-time director, then my bags are already packed.

I can’t put it in a box, but I will also be handing over the learnings from two decades at the helm of Band & Brown and more recently Brando, which Gill Brown (now Third City) and I built into a £7m turnover agency with 90 staff. Mark Borkowski is donating his wisdom too. Over the past 25 years he has built one of the most significant PR brands in the business and has, more recently, reinvented the agency model with 

There will also be a flow of new business referrals as both our current set-ups farm out executional work which will be diverted to the winning team.

We completely understand that this competition is not attractive to everyone. It’s certainly not right for ready-to-launch agencies that have done all the legwork and just need a bit of cash. We want to catch entrepreneurs much earlier in the process – somewhere between dream time and pen-to-paper time.

So what’s the deal on equity? I will be writing a cheque for £100,000 to the winning team and issuing them with shareholdings of up to 70 per cent of the business. But nothing is set in stone. Like any investment deal, negotiation is part of the process.

Obviously, the stronger the businesses case the more equity the team will get. If they need a lot of hand-holding, the shareholding will reflect the increased input from the investors, but it will never be less than 49 per cent.

Finally, I need to answer the question "why I am doing this?"

It’s a combination of factors. First, and most importantly, I want to be part of something special again. I miss the glory days of Band & Brown and have to get my fix vicariously through the agency’s famous offspring such as Unity and Third City. Second, I believe in the cycle of renewal that keeps our industry alive. Anything I can do to stimulate the PR ecosystem has got to be worthwhile.

And it would be churlish not to admit that the lure of making money is, as always, an attractive prospect.

Nick Band is founder of Berlin and former Band & Brown Group CEO

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