Want to Be an Entrepreneur? Here is How I Got Started

How I got Started as an entrepreneur

Richard-Santoro-circle

Age: 39 – at time of writing  😛

Passion: Finding creative solutions to solving problems with innovative results. Coming up with good entrepreneur ideas.

Quote I Live By: “If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done. Make at least one definite move daily toward your goal.” – Bruce Lee

Born in West London, U.K, I lived with my family in Ealing, growing up in my house if you ever wanted something you had to go and get it yourself; as a kid living with my younger siblings we occasionally got treats but certainly didn’t get lots of handouts and we were not spoiled.

I believe this is what helped me in my foundation to learning how to find solutions to problems and using entrepreneur ideas. Including how to earn money to buy something you really want when your parents won’t get it for you.

Not much of an  entrepreneur idea, but certainly helped with my pocket-money was my first ever job – washing cars at the age of 10 to earn some extra cash and save up for the summer. By the age of 11, I was a paper boy delivering newspapers at 7:00 am every morning before school.

During middle school and by the age of 12, I was writing my first ZX spectrum games for my personal computer, and showed the first early flame of creative thinking. Probably my first real  entrepreneur idea was to sell my own games. I would copy my games on cassette tapes and sell them at school for GBP 1.00 (those were the equivalent of today’s USB sticks or DVD discs for those of you too young to remember).

By the time I reached high school I was a regular kid who enjoyed computer class, business studies and art and design. I was outgoing and social, enjoying active sports such as Muay Thai Boxing, Wing Chun Gung Fu and Skateboarding.

I went on to college where I studied graphic design, 3D modelling and animation, I was convinced I was going to be the next top games designer with a head exploding full of  entrepreneur ideas.

The job that started it all

Whilst studying computer science and multimedia at the University of West London. I was fortunate enough through a friend to land a job with a small  California-based games distributor and developer in silicon valley, who had a contract with Microsoft, GT Interactive, Ocean Software and other big players of the time. Eventually I wound up doing games support and distribution for Microsoft, titles like flight simulator and others.

After University I had decided that I wanted to get into games development, so  I tried out for few interviews, Rareware who produced games for Nintendo, their most notable success with Goldeneye 007, Donkey Kong Country and others titles. Another I went for was Glasgow based Red Lemon Studios unfortunately I was too young and green but didn’t give up my dream. Luckily for me I was still full of entrepreneur ideas, so I set up my first company as a sole trader when I was 23 years old called Amaze Multimedia.

AM was really a creative outlet for my own release I conceptualised a game called LSA “Land Sea Air” which was the first concept of flying driving and shooting all in one game, and the USP (unique selling point) was that it was the first ever 4 player multiplayer offering invented at that time.

At this point I didn’t have any money after graduation and owed a heap of money back to my student loans. Whilst I had my day job I was only living from hand to mouth. Doing a bit more strategic thinking and planning, I placed a few ads in a national gaming and tech magazine called The Edge.

To keep costs down I made the ads myself and used cutting edge graphics (which I knew how to do) because I had worked in the games industry also knew how to market and write the material for the game to attract interested programmers, developers and 3D animators and modellers.

To my surprise I received hundreds of C.Vs and Resumes, and in another flash of creative thinking I later spun these off to recruiters and specialist job hunting agencies for a kickback on successful job placements another great  entrepreneur idea. Whilst selecting the best team for my project. Now the big kicker for me was that I had no money left, so I pitched the guys that we would all work for free to create a demo and then I would go out and pitch sell, we would all split the profit.

After drawing up some MOU agreements the gig was on and I was doing my rounds across Japan talking to the likes of Nintendo, Sony and Sega. Unfortunately in all my gung-ho enthusiasm, I had missed one important fact, that people in Japan speak English a little bit, but can’t, don’t or won’t converse.  English is neither official nor a 2nd language in Japan. This was a huge stumbling block for me as I soon found out when after signing a number of NDA’s and predeveloper agreements in Japanese.

Yes I did make some money for my “concept” in the end, which was split with my team, but it was not the big win we had all expected. Basically we got paid and put in the “think bank” – this is when a games publisher or developer pays for your Idea and puts it on ice or passes it off to another development house to build and launch.

A big lesson that I learned from this was that the gaming industry is one of the hardest gigs in Computer Science. People really do it for the love of it, not the love of millions, or they are very seriously misguided. Coincidentally I have no idea where David Jaffe or Scott Campbell got their game idea from, but what is interesting is that, it was published by Sony Computer Entertainment on the playstation. More  entrepreneur ideas I guess.


 

Fresh Start and welcome to the world-wide web

Back in London I canned the games business as it had not had the big yield I had expected and I hadn’t become the new Shigeru Miyamoto of London. What was I going to do now…

Well there was this little bit of emerging technology called the world-wide web, now the internet wasn’t exactly new to me, we had used email at work, college and university, names like AOL, CompuServe and The Microsoft Network might be familiar to some from my generation.

The thing I had going for me was that I knew how to use HTML to build web pages, create dynamic sites with general-purpose scripting languages like PHP and MySQL databases, and had been playing around with a ground breaking piece of tech kit called Macromedia flash.

I started my next venture which was Piranha Media. Piranha media was a web-based design boutique agency that I started from my living room. I built a really cool flash website to promote my services and creative portfolio, and then looked at a website called cool websites which had ranked the most creative and innovative of web designs.

I conducted more research online on the top 10, and find all the links and websites they were featured and reviewed on (in those days it was good old reciprocal linking). Then went out and emailed every website that had reciprocals on the Top 10, introducing my website and asking if we could exchange web links.

After four weeks of working 7am to 2am I had cracked it. Soon my website was featured on hundreds of solid PR websites and they all had links pointing to my website.


 

Entrepreneur Ideas keep on coming

I had successfully built up a massive upstream of traffic and was soon listed on most search engines placed number 1 for UK Web design and UK Graphic design. Another thing I did to improve my SEO was look at the top 10 and see what meta tags, descriptions etc and then optimised my own around those that were being successful.

I wasn’t really a salesman but I knew I had it in me, I brought in partner that I had done some project work with and he took up the role of sales director whilst I was able to do the creative execution and deliverables. I managed to build up a large portfolio of clients across several verticals, including Jewellery, Sports, Film & TV, Antiques and Private Health Care.

Besides ongoing web maintenance packages, I had also spun off a web hosting service by becoming a reseller. This was cream and cash in the bank every month, it became a numbers game to get critical mass hosted and then have a stable monetised business.

I hired 4 staff and moved into a leased office, things were going really well and the highlight of the business was when we won the Gillette men’s care contract out of New York, I still can remember the day 100 boxes of skin care products arrived at our tiny loft studio, the first thing we had to do was go out and buy a professional digital camera, as we had to take the pictures and create a web & print catalogue.

Another exciting time was when we won a contract to design and produce the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) awards guest book. But it wasn’t always easy, and I went through a number of ups and downs. Taken to court by a retail agency for a late delivery of a project, which of course was not our fault, and if your familiar with creative agency or development work it’s called scope creep, when the client keeps changing his or her mind after you have in fact completed the deliverable’s and they continue to add in changes or functionality that was not in the scope.

Other problems I encountered were staff issues, two of the employees were my best friends, and yes I know before you say it never work with your friends as it’s a sure-fire way to lose them. In this case it worked out ok after we had some long discussions. One of the key problems I faced was my number two and head of sales, had enough and was considering relocating to Australia.

We worked out a deal and he left the business but then this left a huge hole. Who was going to take up the sales? Oh yes your truly, I had to get on the road and start selling, I developed a number of telephone scripts and purchased some business directories that were in my verticals, this really helped to give the business a lift until I came to my first big business decision.

I realised my business was doing fine, ticking over nicely, but it was never going to be a huge corporation and were by no means specialist web platform developers, we were great web designers but were not going to be building the next PayPal or eBay. That’s when I knew I had to sell the business. I will follow this post up with a continuation of this in the coming weeks.

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  • Richard Santoro

    right lets test this comments bit out then….