STARTUP WEEKEND: Richard Fearn: Agencies and startups mistrust each other

Richard Fearn is the Director of The Friday Club London, a not-for-profit that brings marketers closer to the tech Start-up community. He is also a judge at Startup Weekend London, which is challenging teams to come up with new startup business in just 54 hours. It takes place at Google Campus from 12-14 July.


“When asked to comment on what problems the ad industry has that a Startup could solve, my gut reaction was to say “Stop worrying about what the ad industry needs and go invent me a flying skateboard.” Or at least a time-machine, so I could go back to last Wednesday morning and confirm once and for all that my wife DID NOT in fact tell me to pick up my son Wilson from school.

He’s fine.

But I get now that this was neither useful, nor in keeping with the spirit of Startup Weekend London.

So I’ll try again.

I think my perspective is somewhat unique. I spent 16 years in the ad industry and I now invest in and advise technology Startups. So I’ve danced with both devils and much enjoyed the gyrations.

What always surprises me the most is the lack of interaction between the two. It happens, but not enough and it’s partly driven by mistrust.

On the one side, the ad industry feels the exhausting pace of change that technology brings to their day jobs and with it a creeping suspicion that it might be to the detriment of creativity.

On the other, the startups see only ageing creative directors espousing the greatness of whatever creamy puffery they’ve just squirted over the product, in the misapprehension someone’s still listening.

And both, of course, are only partly true.

And it creates a challenge. If the two sides are only to see the differences in each other, then how are any genuine problems going to be solved, and ergo great startups created?

Perhaps the question of what ad industry problems startups should solve isn’t the first one we should be asking?

Instead, we should be asking what is it that unites the advertisers and technologists that might make them more comfortable and regular bed-fellows?

And here I think there are two very obvious areas of unity: a love of great ideas and an impatient thirst to make them happen before they slip away.

Because if there is one thing that a technologist and an industry creative can agree on, it is that few things in life bring as much genuine excitement as a great idea brought to life.

Put them in a room together, stir with coffee, eradicate social discomfort with a stimulating issue to solve and you’ll see. It’s like watching a solar eclipse for the first time.

And where can I witness this rare natural phenomena? This weekend’s event isn’t a bad place to start.”

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