Dave Fletcher: The Problem With Chasing Rainbows

by | Jul 15, 2020

Dave is the founder and advisor of multiple SME’s, for 16 years he ran White October, a digital product consultancy. In 2013 he co-founded White October Events, hosing conferences around the world.

In 2000, Dave had met someone who was writing a book on the topic of an inmate in a prison in Bolivia. He had invited Dave to go with him to meet the inmate. Whilst waiting to get the ID back from the prison, Dave had a conversation with someone who had just sold his business for a healthy sum. Here he was recommended Rich Dad, Poor Dad. This book advises that collecting assets, namely business was the way forward.

He started White October 2 years later at 24, with no clients and no network. During this time everyone seemed to be looking for a software developer, so it wasn’t too difficult to grow. In 2009, Dave became distracted by a meeting booking system for events called Meeting Mojo he created for a client but for which he owned 50% of the IP. The system still runs today and turns over around 150k annually.

In 2011, Dave attended a social hack weekend, where he came up with a plan for a platform called Flip. Flip was essentially a LinkedIn for children whose friends could provide them with testimonials on their skills before they had had any real employment. Dave explains how they continued to polish the product over and over before they ‘polished it to death’ and ran out of money.

2014, White October had grown to over 20 people, when Dave began working on another project called MyPace, funded by CocoCola foundation. ‘We had done more work on the market in which this product was entering’. The product was used in conjunction with professionals in the weight loss industry and was entering a gap in the market. ‘The problem was I had a significant responsibility with White October, and my partner had academic research projects to lead. We didn’t have the space or time to drive it forward, and over time the demand seemed to fizzle out.’

In 2016, Dave went into business with an old supplier in the used-car industry. His partner had an idea for the B2B car trade. ‘I invested around £200,000k, we ran early tests, we built the app the lean way. Toward the end, despite the app having some success, we discovered that we needed to pivot the model of the app, but it required more investment than we had injected to date and things were becoming tricky with White October, so I decided to cut it.’

By this time, ‘White October hadn’t been making enough profit and our reserves were mostly gone. We were in some cash difficulty, the problems kept coming. I didn’t have an FD, so I was dealing with the figures. I was diagnosing what I thought were the problems, telling the team and implementing strategies. But, later it would turn out that what I had thought wasn’t the case and so I was beginning to lose credibility with the team. I worked with advisors to niche down slightly and worked on my own leadership. We had to cut the number of staff we employed and gradually we became a company that felt good and that we were proud of.’

‘I was once told that when you run an agency you are only “three phone calls away from ending it all.” I laughed it off at the time, but then I got those three calls within the space of 2 weeks.’

‘We had about 1.5 in the order book, but we lost around that in three weeks as projects were paused in the space of 3 weeks. We decided at that point it was time to wrap it up.’

Having connected with a friend in events in 2012, Dave partnered with her to create a conference a number of years ago. ‘Ruth, my business partner, has worked on this business for the past 6 years and has dedicated her full attention toward growing it. In contrast for most of my past, I wasn’t really concentrating on the agency I had, I was hatching schemes for all of the businesses I didn’t have.’

One of the lessons I have learned is that ‘if you have a side project that has any potential, you have to have someone running it who is invested solely in making it a success.’

‘We are all by definition creative and want to build things, and it can be frustrating building for other people.’