Today my female founder is Pip Jamieson, CEO & Founder of The Dots. The Dots is an exciting new platform similar to LinkedIn but for the Creative Industries. It was a pleasure meeting Pip, she is dynamic, enthusiastic and you leave meeting her completely motivated! Having built a successful business in Australia then moving to the UK to start the Dots it was great to hear her journey.
Can we start by talking a bit about your background prior to starting your business?
I studied Economics at Edinburgh University and whilst I was there I interned at MTV. After MTV I joined the Civil Service Fast Stream and became a government economist, which was brilliant. I had these fantastic ideas of going into government and changing the world, but I realized civil service is not like that at all. So, I jumped ship and joined the BPI, which is the industry body that looks after the music industry and the labels in the UK. After that I moved to Australia and started working for MTV again. I became their Head of Business Strategy for Australia. I re-joined just at the time MTV were trying to grapple with the digital space so the majority of my role was working with the digital department and arranging digital partnership deals with people like iTunes.
During that time I developed a business model to launch MTV and Nickelodeon into New Zealand. I ended up applying for the Head of Marketing role in New Zealand, having never done marketing in my life, and fortunately they gave me the job. MTV is mad and brilliant at the same time. They take massive chances on juniors, I was only 25 when I became Head of Marketing. It was like working in a startup but with a massive brand name. We were completely bootstrapped, I had $10,000aus (~£5,000) yearly budget to market the brand. It was the most incredible experience building a whole channel from scratch up. I did that for two years and that’s where we came up with the idea for the platform.
The Journey so far
Where did the idea for platform come from?
At the time, I was finding it impossible to hire creative staff for the business in New Zealand. I could never put an MTV logo on a job board as I would get thousands of applicants, many of which weren’t relevant for the role. People were submitting resumes but I needed to see their portfolio of work. I would get those begging emails going, ‘I don’t know how to do graphic design but I can learn. I love MTV!’. I couldn’t use recruiters because we were only allowed to use recruitment agencies for executive levels or above. I didn’t have time to hang out on blogs and look for creative talent, we were just so time-poor.
Primarily, I ended up hiring all the creative staff through word of mouth. That’s absolutely fine for a while, but then we had this hilariously homogenous workforce. Everyone went to the same university, everyone was from the same background. We had no diversity of ethnicity, no diversity of skills, and especially as we were trying to get more and more into the digital space our networks weren’t good enough to get us that top talent.
What we realized is that there were lots of places to get work online, but there was nothing that was specifically designed to connect that work with real commercial opportunities. People were getting more savvy on how they’re spending their time; if you are going to build a portfolio site or you put your show reel somewhere, you want to see a return from that. Our vision was to create a platform that is really easy for all creatives, in all disciplines, to come and promote themselves online in a visual, multimedia way. More importantly, it needs to connect that talent to actual real world commercial outcomes. That was about four and a half years ago and then we sunk our life savings, quit our jobs at MTV and started the platform from scratch which was terrifying.
After you quit your jobs and started the platform what happened next?
Myself and my business partner built up the platform into a leading professional networking site for creatives in the region. Over 67% of all creatives in Australia actively use this site and we had over 11,000 clients looking for talent or promoting their brands on our site. What we are most proud of is that over that time we helped about 190,000+ people connect with a commercial opportunity.
We were so grateful that we had a commercial business model from the beginning but for us the vision was always to take it bigger. I was just preparing to move to the UK and I hit a classic startup challenge where my business partner wasn’t interested in expanding to the UK. He got married and had a baby, so working the crazy hours that we were was impractical; I can totally understand. So, I exited my business in Australia and acquired the technology rights to the platform and then from my exit I funded my seed round. We launched on September 25th 2014 here in the UK. It’s the same technology as before but starting to be very different products.
Tell me a bit about The Dots.
The Dots is best described as LinkedIn for the creative industries. When we arrived, we focussed on our “Top 100 list” which was about bringing on really amazing creative businesses to be part of the platform who were looking for talent from launch. We had around 82 of that top 100 on board for the launch and now around 98 of them are on board. Our clients include Channel 4, V&A, Wieden + Kennedy, Vice magazine and Facebook. What’s been amazing is I’m already on the same numbers here in the UK, that I was on after about two years in Australia. The scale is insane and our growth rate much stronger.
What roles are these companies typically hiring for?
We actually work with three separate departments within every organization. We work with the marketing team who use the platform as a promotion tool to promote themselves within the creative community. We work with the HR team to find talent. And, we work with the business development team who are potentially looking for their own clients from our community.
In terms of the roles it’s the creative industries; so graphic design, photography, illustration, web design, directing, producing. It’s a hub for creative commercial opportunities. The reason we always wanted to be multi-disciplinary creative is that everyone is missing talent from other pools.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge?
It is a new market so we’re seeing different nuances every day. I am a total data geek so I have the best dashboard in the world but, there are crazy nuances. There are some things that we did in Australia that were unbelievably effective but rubbish here and we had to drop. There are also things that we did in Australia that never worked, that are working unbelievably well. I think my challenge at the moment is that, knowing I have done it before, but it’s not a complete carbon copy.
Investors & Networking
How did you start getting involved with networks and meeting investors that you thought were relevant to you?
Just meeting people. I was going to events and chatting to people. I was always asking people ‘Do you think there is anyone else I should meet?’ and that would lead to more meeting, it just became a ripple effect. I was lucky when I first arrived, even though I had been away for nine years, some of my friends had ended up in great places. I had a great friend who is one of the launch team here for Spotify. He was brilliant in introducing me to people and it rippled from there.
A typical day
What does an average day look like for you?
My tech team is in Sri Lanka, my CFO and project manager is in Australia so my day tends to kick off at about 7o’clock in my pajamas; having conference calls with either the tech team or with Australia. I live on a houseboat so I’m usually hanging at the hatch. So far I’ve only dropped one phone in!
Then it’s straight into meetings. I like to fill my calendar and then you always get drop off. At the moment it’s business development meetings; a lot of client meetings, investor meetings and partner meetings. Then usually back to the office around 6 and I will either be at an event or catching up with my emails.
Advice & Final Thoughts
What advice would you give to someone who wants to startup a business?
You have to do something that you are passionate about and that you actually genuinely have an interest in. There are so many highs and lows that we’ve been through and the highs are one of the most incredible feelings in the world, and the lows can be just some of the worst times in the world. If you’re not genuinely passionate about the product you’re building, or the brand that you’re building, you can’t sell it. People will see straight through it.
I think my other advice is just working hard. You just have to say goodbye to your life. I know you’re meant to have a work-life balance, but for me, I would do this as a hobby if I wasn’t doing it commercially, so it is my work life balance.
Lastly, what is your vision for the future?
For me it is absolutely becoming the leading professional networking site for creatives in the world. 8% of the world’s population works in the creative industries and they are not being looked after by platforms like LinkedIn. When you’re a creative, it doesn’t matter where you work. Creative people are really transient, they want to work in New York or Berlin. We have people from Berlin signing up at the moment, because they want to work in London and that is where the magic happens. This round will be all about the UK but we are also bringing on investors that can help us take our next step – into the US, Berlin and Paris. It will probably be East Coast then West Coast and I’m not stopping until that is done.