Just about twenty and a half years ago, I arranged to meet a few geeky journalists, photographers and motorsports enthusiasts in a room at the Labour Club in Selly Oak, Birmingham. Our idea was to form a digital publishing company that would initially cover key motorsports events. The web was still very youthful, but we felt there was a fantastic opportunity. Within a short period, Speed Publications Ltd was later launched on the 28th of October, 1996.
It didn’t go well.
I had no idea how to run a magazine – digital or otherwise. And I had no money. Neither did anyone else in the group. We did produce some good content, which is still online today. The remarkable thing is that the long tail works – today the website receives more traffic than it did when we were actively working on it!
But no idea plus no money plus no spare time… it doesn’t work. You can’t run a company like that.
The ERP years
Within a year I came to the conclusion that with traffic growth the way it was, we’d never be profitable. Another mistake, really, because it turned out that digital companies didn’t need to be profitable to make their owners a fortune. The dotcom boom proved that. Anyway, I was no business expert, and I was now working as an ERP consultant, using the same company.
I shut down the digital publishing project as I couldn’t give it the time and investment it really needed. It saddened me a little, but one chap who wrote for us, Chris Richardson, did move on to f1.com, which eventually became the official Formula 1 website. He didn’t stay, in the end, but it was pleasing to see new opportunities being made.
The years passed.
I made a very decent income in ERP, and I set some aside. I did my stuff and learned more about how companies work. Eventually, when I felt that my particular ERP specialism had peaked and was in terminal decline I decided that I would… go travelling around South America.
I’d like to say that whilst standing overlooking Machu Picchu I had an epiphany and realised what I wanted to do next.
But nope. No idea. Carried on travelling.
Came home. Still no idea. So I started renovating my house. That was a mess, but it’s now the area’s house with the most network cabling in it. Guaranteed. And whilst I was doing all this, my friend James helped.
I told him about my conundrum. He felt the same about his work in IT infrastructure and wanted to try something new, ideally involving the internet.
And eventually we did it. We decided to rename my shell company as Interconnect IT Ltd and do… stuff. We weren’t too sure yet, but it was definitely going to be interesting.
First we decided we needed to build a website.
And it all went from there, really. Because we built a site and people we knew said “Oh, that’s nice. Can you build one for my business?” And we did. And another. And many more.
It didn’t pay especially well, but it was quite pleasant work, really, and easier than wrestling with PeopleSoft. But I did fancy making a living, and it wasn’t quite going where I felt it should. So we decided to specialise in WordPress and market on that.
Then it really got going! We were the first company in the UK specialising in WordPress that had more than one employee, and that gave us leads at The Telegraph and Informa, which then established our market credentials. It was, of course, a case of being in the right place at the right time. But as I’ve always said, a key thing about business is about knowing where to place yourself in anticipation of opportunities. They may come, they may not, but you have to try.
From there it just sort of snowballed. And came full circle. We don’t publish much of our own content but we primarily design and code solutions for publishers. Our roster of clients has grown hugely, and we’ve developed a name for building large, sophisticated websites that Just Work. Our clients are happy, and we’re doing interesting work with interesting people.
So on our forthcoming twenty year anniversary since incorporation, I’d like to stop for a moment and thank our clients. We’ve had lots. In the years we’ve built sites for Metro Newspapers, The Spectator, The Telegraph, The Catholic Herald, Telecoms.com, Apollo Magazine, Worktech, CGIAR, and many more. We also got to build sites for dentists and tyre fitters which, especially in our early days, were critical to getting us going with the skills we needed to tackle the bigger stuff.
I’d also like to thank James Whitehead – his determined single mindedness when approaching a problem meant we never hit a problem we couldn’t handle – even if it meant him staying up all night. And then all the people we’ve employed since who have contributed to the growth.
We can celebrate this. It’s been great. That we’ve also made lots of friends in the publishing and web development world has also been a huge thing for us. We’d be nowhere without the contributions, openness and friendliness of firms like Automattic, 10Up, Human Made and a galaxy of other peers.
Three cheers, please!
And now, to look forwards. We have some plans. I can’t tell you about much them just yet, but the first fruits will be available soon. These solutions are aimed principally at our current client base – making their sites faster, more rewarding and yet cheaper to run. What’s not to like about that?
And after that? Who knows? In 1996 I could never have predicted what would have happened. Where will we be in 2036? I’m hoping we’ll be working on software for holodecks and jetpacks, but not sure entirely how we’ll shoehorn that into the publishing world!