.

Around that time I was starting to hear some crazy numbers being thrown around for site valuations, so I brought Deloittes in to provide me with some professional advice. I will never forget the feeling of complete disbelief when they told me, sitting round a boardroom table in their fancy offices, that, in their opinion, the site had a potential market valuation of “somewhere in the region of $1billion” and that I should consider an IPO route for the business after some restructuring.


> Your name, plus your original "web name/handle"

Hi, my name is Rick Palmer and my original web name was RICKROCK - which I later changed to mrRICKROCK when I discovered I was too late to grab the Twitter handle. You can find me now on Twitter @mrRICKROCK.

> Your first web encounter, year etc.

I first encountered the web when I was studying graphics at Central Saint Martins in the late nineties (I know, old dude)…

This was back in the very early days of the web, before the first “boom” and London was just starting to buzz with the excitement of this new “thing”.

I was happily enjoying my time as an art student, skipping class, drinking too much and coming up with crazy ways to make money, when I noticed one of my fellow classmates rocking up to campus with shiny new things - new laptops, portable hard-drives, crazy looking gadgets and expensive new clothes.

Turned out he’d taught himself how to make websites and had quickly become something of a go-to guy for the music biz, making him a tidy packet in the process! The minute I discovered this, I was hooked. Man, I wanted some of that action…

Back then, college computer departments were usually pretty awful and Saint Martins was no exception. A handful of low-spec old Macs and no internet to speak of. A world away from the hyper-connected world we live in today!

So, I used the money I was earning from my various extra-curricular activities (I’d managed to blag myself a gig as the Art Director for music impresario Malcolm McClaren of Sex Pistols fame, despite still being a fulltime student, and was working nights in a bar for good measure), and bought myself a shiny new Mac and a book on HyperText Markup Language.

It wasn’t until I made and published my first web page (a truly awful collection of coloured fonts, and blinking/flashing/spinning gifs if I remember rightly), that I truly understood the power of this thing. I had just published something that could be seen all over the world. From my kitchen in North London, I’d just made something that people in Australia could see.

It totally blew my mind.

Seems funny to say that now, but back then this really was an incredibly powerful - and entirely new - experience. I was hooked. And not just because of the potential to earn mad stacks. To my mind this truly was the biggest advancement mankind had seen since the printing press. No, bigger in fact. The biggest.

And I was now right at the forefront of this huge revolution, building websites and learning the tricks of the trade.

What a rush.

> What our readers might recognise you most for, when you first hit the web.

What they might recognise me most for? Or when I first hit the web? They’re probably different things in my case….

Most FWA readers are more likely to know me from my days as the founder of Bloc Media (link: http://www.thefwa.com/profile/bloc) aka BLOC, one of London’s first digital creative agencies and makers of things like Diesel Protokid, PlayStation ZWoK! (link: http://zwok-game.com/en_GB/), BBC Meta4orce (link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/switch/meta4orce/), Stackopolis (link: http://www.miniclip.com/games/stackopolis/en/), the BLOC Area 51 website and (going right back into the archives) our masochistic little web game character Bonkey Mole!

My first big hit online, however, wasn’t BLOC, but a film site called Reelscreen. My first business, started straight out of college, which went on to become the biggest B2C/B2B film site in the UK back in the late nineties…

Soon after building that first multi-coloured, gif-filled web page, I stumbled upon the fact that you could also stream video over the internet. Back then, no one seemed too fussed about this astonishing fact, I guess mostly because dial-up internet just wasn’t equipped to handle such large files, so demand was pretty non-existent (the guys that went on to build YouTube were still in short trousers, so there really wasn’t much video on the web at all!).

In fact, looking back to those days, video traffic was all but non-existent - a stark contrast from today’s 84%! (link: http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/service-provider/ip-ngn-ip-next-generation-network/white_paper_c11-481360.html)…

But for me, video was hands down the biggest and most exciting thing about the web. Without any barriers (other than a few hardware requirements), I could put a film online and broadcast it to more people than the national broadcasters.

So, that’s exactly what I did.

Being in art school, a few of my friends were already moving in to video and film-making, so I had a handful of original films I could use together with the know-how to broadcast them around the globe. Reelscreen was born.

From humble beginnings, working off the box my new Mac had come in, crammed into the corner of my kitchen in Crouch End, I started digitising my friends’ films and showing them on the web. There was little in the way of competition for video sites in those days, so a few choice Press Releases bagged me some early press and the traffic started rising pretty fast.

Skip forward a few months and I was being literally flooded with video tapes, sent in the post on Betamax and VHS, with Sky News and the BBC knocking on my door for interviews. God knows what the postman thought, but 5 days a week he’d bring me sackfulls of video tape sized parcels., often with a film crew setting up in my kitchen to interview me. Madness!

The dotcom boom was now in full swing and the Independent newspaper ran an article on me entitled “The Digerati”. I expanded the site to feature location scouting, actors’ showreels and unsigned musicians - all the things I could think of that filmmakers would need - and then built an editorial team to cover film shoots and on-location reports for movies shot in the UK. Things were getting pretty busy.

Around that time I was starting to hear some crazy numbers being thrown around for site valuations, so I brought Deloittes in to provide me with some professional advice. I will never forget the feeling of complete disbelief when they told me, sitting round a boardroom table in their fancy offices, that, in their opinion, the site had a potential market valuation of “somewhere in the region of $1billion” and that I should consider an IPO route for the business after some restructuring.

Turns out, I was right to feel disbelief, but I didn’t know it at the time….

Quickly thereafter, I grew the team to around 30 fulltime staff and moved into an old bank building in West Sussex, where rent was cheaper than London and I could afford room to grow. I expanded the operation to include more B2B services and fended off a few legal threats from eager competitors and disrupted old guard companies. It was a fun time. We partnered with the BBC and launched the BBC British Short Film Festival and the site grew from strength to strength.

There was just one thing wrong with all this growth, big money valuations and success… I’d forgotten to add any viable revenue streams. Hey, this was the Wild West! It was all about land grab in those days. Gain numbers and monetise later. I hadn’t made any provision for lean times, so when the inevitable bust came, I was left high and dry.

I’d raised money from investors to fund growth (I needed to take out a long lease on the new premises, hire staff, and buy expensive internet kit etc) and needed more money to keep things going, but when the bust came, they all ran for the hills.

The inevitable outcome of this event was the need for me to layoff the vast majority of my new team - the first time I’d be given that terrible honour - and start frantically looking for an acquirer.

I managed to maintain a core team to keep the site up and running and after a few hastily arranged chemistry meetings with potential suitors, including Sky and Pearson PLC, I successfully sold the business to Future PLC. Result! (* wasn’t quite the $1b I’d been promised, but still…).

A few months into my new life as part of Future Publishing, with new offices in Baker Street, London, their share price tanked and the new venture was canned. I was free to start again and BLOC (Bloc Media) was born…

> Your digital journey since. 

After the adventure of Reelscreen, and a few months trying to grapple with my new found “employee” status, I knew that when the opportunity arose to start again there was no way I could ever be employed by someone else again. I’d tasted the freedom of running my own business and there was no turning back.

The boom and bust of the first dotcom bubble had left plenty of casualties from all areas of business, but one thing was certain, the web was here to stay and big business knew it. If I was to make a success of this fact, I figured one way to do it would be to turn all my newly gained web-building and marketing experience to good use and offer it to others as a service business.

My partner Liz and I put a small team together - I think there were 3 or 4 of us at first - and started looking around for our first client.

Fortunately Liz had spent many years previously working in the music business, an industry now working hard to gain a foothold in this new channel, and so before long we’d bagged a gig from Sony Music and started building websites for their artist roster. Everyone from Charlotte Church to Michael Jackson got the BLOC treatment and thanks to the high profile nature of the clients, our profile grew pretty quickly.

Around 2003, our client list included pretty much all of the major labels and vanity labels and I was growing bored of the same old same old. The music industry was also starting to suffer big time thanks to the growing popularity of the MP3 and marketing budgets were getting hit pretty bad as a result. We shifted our focus away from the music biz and started courting a much faster growing and more lucrative target - the games industry!

It was thanks largely to Electronic Arts that BLOC grew the way it did, after we secured the AOR appointment for EA across Europe, bagging us a 7-figure client from which to grow the agency. We went on to pick up other gaming clients including Ubisoft and Sony PlayStation, and thanks to a raft of awards (the agency picked up over 100 awards and nominations in those days, including a few FWA SOTDs!) we started being approached by companies from other entertainment verticals, including publishing, fashion, TV and film companies.

In a similar twist of fate to Reelscreen, the company grew to around 30 fulltime staff, and I started getting approached by potential acquirers waving very large 7-figure cheques at me, but a combination of pride, arrogance and stupidity saw me turn them all down (and in one embarrassing case, fuck it up completely) before the unimaginable happened… The world saw the biggest economic crisis of the modern age and I ran head first into a nightmare.

Yup, 2008 came along and smacked me right in the chops. Client marketing budgets froze, the phones stopped ringing, outstanding invoices went unpaid, and the biggest deal of BLOC’s history, worth millions to the firm, collapsed mid-contract negotiation. Personally, I was looking at the very real possibility of complete financial ruin, just weeks after signing a mortgage on a huge 7-bed country pile in Norfolk, and the business was teetering on the edge…

How could this be?? After so many years of perspiration, success, growth and hard work?

Needless to say, it was a tough time.

I’d lived it up during the boom, having first moved into a four-storey townhouse in Chelsea, complete with Aston Martin on the drive, before picking up the country house for the weekends and another city pad for entertaining… I had an Amex Centurian card burning a hole in my wallet and bank statements featuring every one of the best restaurants and hotels from London to New York, yet I’d failed to save anything for a rainy day. Idiot. And now I was going to learn a valuable lesson, the hard way.

There was no other way round it. Like a bad rerun of the day I laid off my team at Reelscreen, I found myself once again making that terrible and unavoidable decision and all-but killed the thing I loved the most - my awesome creative agency. I laid off some 20-odd people from the team, not all of whom took too kindly to the metaphoric axe-wielding, and sat shell-shocked in my newly shrunk office (I gave two floors of the building back to the landlord) wondering what to do next.

Despite the near-death experience, but not without untold amounts of pain and sleepless nights, I managed to keep things going and BLOC went on to fight another day.

Now down to a tiny team of just 10 people or so, and with me commuting fulltime from Norfolk, we pushed ahead with a renewed vigor and went on to have one of the most profitable years of trading in the company’s history. It’s amazing what a difference you can make to the bottom line when you’re forced to ditch every luxury you’ve accumulated in the firm over the years… Really, this was such a valuable lesson. Seems so obvious now, but you have got to be ruthless about the bottom line. No exceptions. Every penny counts.

But, despite the effort, BLOC was never the same again. Like me, the team were never able to recapture the magic and sense of family that we’d built up before the crash. And deep down, rightly or wrongly, I don’t think any of them trusted me to keep the good ship on course after such a traumatic time. Slowly but surely they each started to go their separate ways and the old BLOC was no more. The once mighty creative team were all but gone and my heart was well and truly out of it. This was no longer any kind of fun.

Despite this, through a twisted sense of loyalty to the company and a good dose of shear bloody-mindedness on my part, I kept the company going for another 4 years, looking for a brief to re-spark my interest. During this time we built the hugely successful Yoobot (link: http://www.yoobot.co.uk/) with GREY London for the British Heart Foundation, as well as a few other stand-out projects, but 12 years of my life was enough and so at the end of 2012 I decided to cut my loses, shut the business and start a new chapter.

By now, Liz and I had been living and working in London for the some 20 years (with the exception of 1-year running Reelscreen in West Sussex) and married for some 10 years. With two beautiful children growing up far too quickly for either of our liking, we wanted to discover what else life could offer us. And so, just a few weeks after shutting up shop at BLOC, we packed up and moved, lock, stock and barrel to the French Alps in search of something new.

We spent the next couple of years in France, living the Gaelic life, swimming in Lake Annecy and skiing in the surrounding Alps, learning the language (badly), drinking rosé and generally soaking up the atmosphere, while searching for the next big thing.

I even worked for a period in Switzerland, commuting 2-3 times a week along the Alpine roads across the Swiss border to a digital agency in Carouge, where I worked with the team on new biz strategy. I’ll never forget the sunny days driving back into Annecy and jumping straight into the lake with the kids after a days work. Bliss!

It was a really magical time for us as a family and exactly the tonic we needed after 20+ years working (and choking) in the big city.


> What are you up to now?

During my time running various start-ups I’ve learned a lot about deal making (mergers, acquisitions and winning new business) and even more about what not to do (the pitfalls, the risks and the stupid mistakes)… It’s invaluable experience and not something you can learn any other way than the hard way.

I’m now putting all that hard-learned knowledge to good use, offering my experience to brands, start-ups and agencies, both from a commercial and marketing POV.

During the day, I divide my time between my role as the Head of Digital Business at Advertising M&A (link: http://advertisingmanda.com/), the mergers and acquisitions consultancy exclusively for the advertising, digital, media and marketing services sectors and my private consultancy work for brand clients through my company IZZOLI (named after my two children, Isobel “Izzy” and Olivia “Oli” – website coming soon), advising and helping to build and roll out digital and brand marketing strategy on a global stage.

I get to work with some amazing hand-picked companies and learn as much from them as they do from me. It is a truly rewarding experience which I wouldn’t trade for the world.

I also invest in, and have founded and/or co-founded a number of really exciting start-ups, including Alternative Movie Posters (link: http://www.alternativemovieposters.com/), the world’s largest repository of alternative film poster art and soon to be exclusive creative agents to the film business, as well as Loco.li (link: http://loco.li/), the world’s first video tourism website (I couldn’t stay away from video startups any longer!) and am also in the process of setting up the new industry blog Inside Marcoms (link: http://www.insidemarcoms.com/), featuring interviews with brilliant minds working in marcoms… admittedly my move to France (and back) saw the blog iced for a year, but it’s on the way back and I have some really amazing people getting involved. You can find out more about that here (link: http://blog.insidemarcoms.com/)

So all in all, I’m keeping pretty busy.

And when I’m not doing any of that, I hang out with my wife and kids in our new home in the Cotswolds, in the heart of the English countryside, soaking up the fresh air and generally being thankful for my many blessings. Life is too short to waste a moment of it chasing the wrong dreams. Find your passion and pursue it with vigor.

The Internet is just as exciting to me as it was back in my college years. 20 years in, I’m just getting started…



Links

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Rick Palmer, Then and now. (left: in BLOC’s first office in early 2000. Right: up a tree in France in 2014)
Rick Palmer, Then and now. (left: in BLOC’s first office in early 2000. Right: up a tree in France in 2014)

Rick’s Internet adventure began. The first Reelscreen office, in his kitchen in Crouch End. Check out the tape machines!
Rick’s Internet adventure began. The first Reelscreen office, in his kitchen in Crouch End. Check out the tape machines!

Even in 1997 websites started life as wireframes. Reelscreen.com website planning doc, pulled from the archives.
Even in 1997 websites started life as wireframes. Reelscreen.com website planning doc, pulled from the archives.

The article that propelled Rick (and his startup) into the stratosphere.
The article that propelled Rick (and his startup) into the stratosphere.

Diesel Protokid. Great memories from BLOC’s Italian adventure with fashion house Diesel.
Diesel Protokid. Great memories from BLOC’s Italian adventure with fashion house Diesel.

Collecting a Webby Award in New York in 2006 for Stackopolis. Rick’s 5-word acceptance speech? “I’ll be at the bar!”
Collecting a Webby Award in New York in 2006 for Stackopolis. Rick’s 5-word acceptance speech? “I’ll be at the bar!”

Hanging with Andrew Marr (and collecting something shiny for BLOC).
Hanging with Andrew Marr (and collecting something shiny for BLOC).

The now infamous BLOC 5th Birthday Party. A $30k bar bill with Rick’s name on it. Crazy (good) times.
The now infamous BLOC 5th Birthday Party. A $30k bar bill with Rick’s name on it. Crazy (good) times.

One of many features on BLOC as the company grew in profile. This one was in DIGIT Magazine, 2005.
One of many features on BLOC as the company grew in profile. This one was in DIGIT Magazine, 2005.

ZWoK! for PlayStation – The game that established BLOC as masters of the web game
ZWoK! for PlayStation – The game that established BLOC as masters of the web game

What became a very large collection of agency awards. Pride of place would become a collection of FWAs of course!
What became a very large collection of agency awards. Pride of place would become a collection of FWAs of course!

Yoobot for British Heart Foundation. The interactive mini-me game, developed with GREY London.
Yoobot for British Heart Foundation. The interactive mini-me game, developed with GREY London.

META4ORCE, Rick’s first foray into TV production, was created for BBC and aired on BBC 2 in 2008.
META4ORCE, Rick’s first foray into TV production, was created for BBC and aired on BBC 2 in 2008.

Rick today. Older & a little wiser, but no less curious about the possibilities of this great thing called the Internet.
Rick today. Older & a little wiser, but no less curious about the possibilities of this great thing called the Internet.

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