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Hey, guys! So this is a bit of a special one, because a lot of people have been asking me to share more about my co-founders at Fanbytes. I had a Q&A with one of them—Ambrose Cook, COO of Fanbytes—where we’ve answered your most burning questions and shared anecdotes on what we had to go through to make this partnership a successful one. The following is the full transcript of our conversation:
On to the interview
Tim Armoo: So Ambrose, tell us who you are, who are you?
Ambrose Cooke: Who am I? My name is Ambrose. I am, as Tim said, co-founder and COO at Fanbytes, which means that I handle the operational side of business.
Tim Armoo: How old are you?
Ambrose Cooke: I am currently 24. I went to Imperial College, London. I studied engineering there. However, I did my dissertation on something called measuring social influencers machine learning. And this was my interest at the time—exploring marketing. Then we ended up using that in our business to actually create an algorithm, which helps us to rank influencers. Pretty cool, did that whilst I was also studying engineering—so a very different course.
Tim Armoo: We can go into questions.
1. WHAT MAKES A GOOD CO-FOUNDER?
Ambrose Cooke: So for this question, Tim is the best person to answer it, because he came to me when I was at Uni and said, “Hey, do you want to be my co-founder?” And I said, “Hell yeah.” So what is it that you saw in me that you thought it would make me a good co-founder, bearing in mind like what you were looking for, in terms of complementary skills?
Tim Armoo: I think the first thing is obviously the complementary skills that you have with a co- founder. Because I think for so many, just for a very long time, what people do is they basically pick people who are like them, because their thesis is, “If I have basically two of me, I’ll be able to do things twice as quick,” which doesn’t make sense, right? So the thing that I saw in you was primarily because I’m the rah-rah guy looking at the big picture—everyone goes crazy and stuff. And then, what I realized was that you had the ability to take something from like 10,000 feet and then bring it down to, “Right, this is what we actually do.” And I think that type of thing is very, very useful to have. And there was that. There was also the fact that you are very detailed; to have a mechanical engineering degree from Imperial is key to data processing and getting into the finer details. I think that is something which I definitely needed, to complement me. And I think, actually, the overarching thing was that we pretty much got on instantly.
Ambrose Cooke: Yeah.
Tim Armoo: I think that going to someone and saying, “Be my co-founder only because you have the skills to complement me…” is just a recipe for disaster because it basically says, “…for as long as your skillset is particularly useful,” or, “I haven’t found someone else who has either a better skillset than you,” as if that is the limit of our relationship. And it needs to be underpinned by you genuinely getting on with the person. We pretty much have the same life experiences, etc. And I think that creates, at the base, a pretty strong bond. And then, on top of that, complementary skillsets.
Ambrose Cooke: Tim and I really have completely different styles of working. So many differences. But actually, that brings us on to our second question.
2. WHAT MAKES THE RELATIONSHIP STRONG, GOING FORWARD?
Ambrose Cooke: There’s a couple of things; I think, probably in the second half of our relationship, we kind of hit it off. This will be sort of a confession, but essentially, there was a point where I really started to understand my position in the company and focus on my strengths and started to let go of the ego behind it. Because initially, when you start a business, you kind of have the mindset of, “We want to be in the limelight, we want to be seen as our thing.” But really, where Tim’s strengths lie are in sales and marketing; more like getting people into the business sort of thing, whereas I’m more like detail-driven. I’m naturally an introvert, so I can sit down and work on a problem and put systems in place to scale a business. That’s where my expertise is. So really understanding that, and not trying to do Tim’s role just because it’ll be interesting, but actually focusing on what my strengths are. Is there anything you would add to that?
Tim Armoo: You pretty much hit the nail on the head. Even now, as we’re talking about scaling up our sales process, right? About two days ago, you sat me down saying, “Oh, we don’t have this, this, and this.” And I was like, “F**k! S**t! Yeah, we don’t!” “But we do have this other thing.”
Ambrose Cooke: All these discussions about a system which would massively attract and help scale our sales. Tim’s not going to really sit down and look at an Excel spreadsheet and make sure that things are intact, whereas I probably will.
Tim Armoo: So yeah, pretty much. And I think there’s also that big thing about just understanding the roles that you play in the business, which doesn’t mean there is a role which is better, because there’s this whole idea that if I bring the customers, and you’re not there to keep them, then you don’t have a business. And then, if you’re just keeping the customers, and then there’s no new customers coming in, then you’re not expanding. In both cases, there is no role for the business, so you need the both of them to win.
Ambrose Cooke: Yeah, exactly. The way we differentiate our roles is, Tim’s more focused on bringing customers in, and I’m focused on the actual products and on the campaigns’ flow, so that we can actually keep them and deliver the value we promise. Two clear divisions there. Then adding on to that, the second thing that Tim mentioned was actually getting on with each other. I think someone said once that your co-founder is almost like your wife. You almost have to treat it like that. Literally, I think the first year that we were working together, Tim called me every single day.
Tim Armoo: “Babe!”
Ambrose Cooke: And then sometimes he would randomly turn up at my door in the evening, saying, “Hey, let’s do some campaigns.”
Tim Armoo: Yeah, exactly. That actually is one of the more important things. This is the reason why it’s so weird when you actually meet someone who goes to co-founder events, especially if you go there thinking you are going to meet someone to be your co-founder for this business. It’s very hard to know if you will gel with someone in an hour or two. It’s not as easy as going, “Well, we’ve met; let’s start a business together.” That’s really different.
3. WHEN DO YOU THINK YOU SHOULD GET A CO-FOUNDER?
Tim Armoo: The third question is a question which a lot of people might be thinking about, because if you read a lot of blogs and magazines and stuff, they offer a lot of investors, for example. They say, “Get a co-founder, blah, blah, blah.” And you read about all this stuff. But when do you think people should get co-founders and when do you think people should not get co-founders? Do you think it’s mandatory that if you’re starting a business, you should get a co- founder?
Ambrose Cooke: Actually, my housemate runs his own business. He used to be a sole founder for a while in some of his previous businesses. And I think it does just depend on two things—one, your personality style. Are you the sort of person who can and likes to work on something on their own? And do you think you have the skillset in what you’re doing, to hit the entire range of things? My housemate is very versatile; he can do coding, he can do sales and marketing, customer support—he can do all these things. But I think one thing which you do need, and a big reason why you might need to get a co-founder after you have some sort of a prototype, is that it just helps to get a second perspective and to keep you motivated. There may be times when you may feel demotivated, and things are not working, and then your buddy—your co-founder—is actually saying, “Let’s give it one more shot.” I’m pretty sure I was that one who brought you up that time.
Tim Armoo: That’s pretty much it. I have a fun story to end this with, which is literally based on the thing that Ambrose is saying. Before we really hit stride with Fanbytes, we were working on a different idea, which was called Bandzie. So Banzie was a crappy idea, as it was basically a website where you could win competitions to hang out with your favourite artist, by basically buying merchandise which then got you raffle tickets.
Ambrose Cooke: Essentially like, “Would you like to win a day jet skiing with Adele?” for example. “Then all you need to do is to buy one of her limited-edition t-shirts.”
Tim Armoo: Yeah, and then those t-shirts got you an entry into the competition. So our whole idea was based on an American company doing this for celebrities; shout-out to Prizeo and Dan Rosenberg for giving us the inspiration for a flopped idea. You guys made it successful, well done. Basically, what we were doing was, we were trying to get a lot of artists and celebrities. And in our naivety—being 18, 19 at the time—we were cold emailing people, like Adele. Sending emails to [email protected], going, “Hey, Adele, do you want to be part of this startup?” And we just kept trying to get cut through, but no one replied. Until, one night, after trying for a long time, I just called up Ambrose.
Ambrose Cooke: So at that moment, that night, Tim was like, “It’s just not working.” I remember he used this phrase which made my heart sink. He said, “Ambrose, I think we need to pull the plug.”
Tim Armoo: Yeah, because I was just like, “Oh man, this isn’t working.” And then what happened was, basically, Ambrose was on the phone, saying, “One more night! One more night. And then, if it just doesn’t work, that’s fine. We’ll call it a day.” And then Ambrose can tell you what he did that night.
Ambrose Cooke: What I did was, on that night, I actually said, “Let’s just give it one more night and see if anyone gets back to us.” And I remember I sent a specific email blast to hundreds of different artists’ management labels, just to see who would respond. We got literally one response. And I thought that one response was, honestly, our saving grace and might get us through to the next few months, because this guy came back to us, and he said, “Actually, I like what you’re doing. I’d like to see your landing page—I like it. I manage 20 different artists.” We went from zero to 20 different artists who could potentially work with us. And he said, “Why don’t you come to my office on Wednesday?” And every Wednesday for the next month or something, we were actually going up to see him, showing lots of products, refining it. It turned out that he was a fraud; he wasn’t quite the most legit person. However, he did allow us to keep trying for another three months or so, so that we could then eventually pivot to what we were kind of doing more recently after that.
Tim Armoo: Yeah. In that moment, I was ready throw in the towel. I was like, “You know what? I’ve got Uni to do and stuff as well.” And then Ambrose asking for one more night—you have someone persistent, sending a ton of emails and getting one reply. That one reply doesn’t even lead to anything, but then you still get some working on the product; pivoting, pivoting, doing something. And then, eventually coming to what we have with Fanbytes here. That just highlights this insane importance of—as Ambrose was saying—having co-founders for the emotional side of things. I think this is hugely valuable. So I think that’s pretty much it.
Ambrose Cooke: And to wrap this up, the last thought to leave you with is, that essentially, I kind of have this philosophy. I’d like to know your thoughts on this. I believe the only time that your business fails is actually when you decide to quit. It’s never before that, because ultimately, you could always take your previous learnings and just apply them to the next thing. And as long as you keep pivoting, your business is going to grow in revenue, unless you do go the wrong way. But I think for us, our yearly revenue has always increased, even with different business models. I think the only people failing are those who decide that working in a more secure job that probably pays a fixed salary—which is not their business—is more suitable to their personality than being this risky up-and-down entrepreneur.