Jason Njoku: The death of a startup – RIP Brash magazine (Part 3)

by Jason Njoku

Brash mags

 I was left with nothing. My ego was shattered, my life’s work amounted to £0, my reason for being didn’t exist anymore, I had spent the best part of 3 years evangelising to everyone how important Brash was going to be, how it was going to change the world. But it didn’t. It died.

The word is over-used in the internet startup world today, but I pivoted the life out of Brash trying to make it successful. Anything and everything to allow it to breath one more time. With hindsight it was always going to be doomed. I was caught in a paradigm shift and I was on a ride to hell and back. The question was merely how long I could hold on until I fell off and died. Because the nature of the death was the only debate left.

[READ: Jason Njoku: The story of Brash magazine, my most epic failure (1)]

par·a·digm

/ˈparəˌdīm/
Noun
  1. A typical example or pattern of something; a model.
  2. A worldview underlying the theories and methodology of a particular scientific subject.
Synonyms
example – model – sample – exemplar – instance – pattern

When the Paradigm Shifts

When I started Brash in early 2005, web 2.0 didn’t really exist like it does today. The social internet (or media) was conducted via email, IM platforms and torrent networks. Facebook hadn’t invaded the UK yet, the word ‘tweeting’ had connotations of sexual harassment, Myspace emerged later as the dominant place online and YouTube was a fledging video sharing site. The world was a different place. Free magazines reigned supreme. Vice, RWD and a clutch of others (I forget their names) captivated youth culture and owned the mindshare of the youth. Print was flying high. Straight into the side of a mountain.

[READ: Jason Njoku: The story of Brash magazine, my most epic failure (Part 2)]

Between 2005 and 2008 Web 2.0 and social media laid waste to swathes of media and industries and their structures before it. Like Attila the Hun (aka as ‘the Scourge of God’) it pillaged its way through previously common and accepted norms, up-ending entire industries and forever fundamentally changing the structure of media consumption. Advertising revenue moves where the people are. Always trying to find the young, exciting sexy thing. At first it usually moves slowly. In fact reluctantly. But once the momentum is set. The movement just accelerates. Into an unstoppable mountain. As a free physical magazine launched at a time when global advertising budgets were about to furiously migrate online, my little startup’s fate was sealed. The platform of choice had changed. I was left in the old world. If Brash was conceived online, with the popularity it had at the time and the emergence of online advertising networks, it could possibly have stood a chance. I personally spent 15months calling pretty much every agency in the UK trying to sell advertising space. When that failed, I focused on the fashion industry and attempted to fly to trade shows in Berlin and Barcelona to harass them face to face. There were small successes, but mere glasses of water in the inferno of hell.

Pivot, baby, pivot. Then mutate.

At this point Brash went mutant. I was the only founder left, had no staff so depended on a small army of student friends and freelancers. I went into mutant mode to survive.

* I extended the brand name into running weekly student clubs nights which swung from hugely successful with 500 people in attendance. To unmitigated disasters with like 20 people throwing shapes in a space meant for 600.

* I started ‘consulting’ for other small brands in Manchester (bars, clubs etc) and running fashion shows. I hate fashion btw.

* I attempted a Brash branded student money off deal site to try and monetize that way.

* I tried to use the name recognition to build Brash Media which designed flyers and marketing materials for imaginary clients.

* On two occasions I even got a full time job as a recruitment consultant over the university summer break to save up money so I can pour it into my hole which was Brash.

* I even printed one final issue and put a price on it, £1 per copy. The idea was it couldn’t be free, but being so awesome people would just buy it. Right? Wrong. I went to clubs and tried to sell copies of magazines to drunken young folk. Bad idea.

These things [below] helped me personally survive. Although one of my best friends at the time reminded me that I basically lived on what I dearly called Gangster Cookies, more commonly known as Custard Cream biscuits and orange juice. During that period 2/3 meals daily was store brand custard creams with orange juice. The biscuits were 32p a packet back then. The glory days…

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Game Over. RIP Brash 2005-2008

In the end, nothing mattered. I pivoted, mutated and resuscitated my way to a prolonged and brutally inevitable death. What should have under normal circumstances died in the first 6 months, I somehow managed to drag out for 3 years. I worked out around that time, the total revenue for those 3 gruelling years was around £31,000. Less than what was invested. During those times I spoke regularly to Bastian and even he voiced his concerns about my mental and physical health. Anyone who cared about me cautioned me to stop. It was madness. They were right. But I couldn’t. Brash was supposed to survive. It needed to. Except it didn’t. At least not in the bastardised mutated form I had made it into. As popular and culturally significant it was during that time in Manchester studentville, commercially it made zero economic sense. The truth is, I would have kept going. If someone would have lent me more money or invested for 98% of the company, I would have continued. Because I believed 10,000% that Brash was a million pound business opportunity. Even today I still believe that. But reality finally shut me down. I had literally burned every bridge. Pissed off so many people. I owed EVERY person I knew money. At that time I was living in an apartment which I had stopped paying rent for some months previous and the landlord, in an effort to force myself and my then flatmate, out had simply disconnected the electricity. We toughed it out for a few weeks before realising it was best to move on. The death was forced on me. I didn’t even have a bank account by then. My years of unpaid overdrafts had forced the banks to close them. In the UK, that is a massive rarity. Banks don’t force close accounts.

I was left with nothing. My ego was shattered, my life’s work amounted to £0, my reason for being didn’t exist anymore, I had spent the best part of 3 years evangelising to everyone how important Brash was going to be, how it was going to change the world. But it didn’t. It died. Publicly. I was a laughing stock. I was so embarrassed and depressed I just stayed in doors. I didn’t leave the house for 2 months. The girl I was seeing at the time couldn’t put up with the down, failed me and simply left. I ruminated on what went wrong. What could I have done better? Was it the paradigm shift or my execution. Before I lost my sister a few years ago it was the most painful experience I had ever gone through. It was literally like losing a loved one.

image

But I learned some important lessons about myself during that period. I understood myself like never before; I have an innate comfort in being myself as I have been there when most would have just quit. I felt I knew what I was capable of. I feel my Brash experience forged me in fire. Nothing I have done since has comes close to the emotional roller coaster of those 3 years. Building iROKO is a piece of cake compared to Brash. I worked less hard today than in those days. During Brash I was a work-demon. I literally never slept.

In the end, the experience shaped who I am today. I am brutally honest because I lack the patience for anything else. I am obsessed with revenue generating models because I lived in under-funded and revenue-light environments for 6 years. I still have no appetite for fashionable things and in generally look back at that experience through rose tinted glasses because, after-all, we are mere sum totals of our experiences. A little tomfoolery to finish off this here pensive postage.

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Article republished with the author’s permission. It can be read HERE

 

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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