A note from James:
Funny, when I was recently interviewed for the Misspent Summers episode of the Downtime Podcast, I was asked all about the start of the company.
I went directly to the beginnings of Hurly Burly, our downhill yearbook. I talked (from what I can remember — no way I’m listening to my own voice) about the saving up it took to fund the print. I talked about the good people like Chris, Sven, Boris and Seb who got involved in nothing much more than a promise. I mentioned how I knew the company was going to be a success when we had our first order minutes (possibly seconds) after the book went on sale.
To be honest, I probably glammed it up a bit, forgetting the immense pressure I and everyone involved was under to make it work, conveniently glossing over some of the sacrifices we had to make. But hey, that’s the boring stuff.
In any case, I totally forgot the very beginnings. Here’s how it really started.
I’d been thinking about a print company for a while, as mentioned in the podcast. What we’ll call a ‘life event’ in September 2015 (I worked myself into the ground, had a seizure, woke up in an Andorran hospital quite some time later with two dislocated shoulders and a spinning head that lasted eight months) led leaving my job at Dirt Magazine. I finished up officially on Dec 31, 2015, and cashed out with a small cheque reinstated from earlier in the year when the publisher laid-off most of the Dirt staff, before offering me a new role.
With the very modest sum (about £3k), I pondered what to do now, moved out of the UK and to a cabin in the mountains above Annecy with my girlfriend Morgane, then lived like the true cheapo that I am for the next few months. Luckily, in this time I started picking up freelance writing work and could sustain myself while I recovered and get my new life plans in shape.
After a bit, I still had most of that payout left and decided to do something positive with it. No, I didn’t put it into a savings account like anyone with a better brain would have. I eventually used the remainder to print 700 copies (I think, still have some left) of Cold Blue Thoughts, a travel story I’d written with photos by Victor Lucas and design by Chris Jones — both now staple fixtures at Misspent Summers.
Even by my standards, paying the costs to print a zine and then offering it for free (including postage) online seemed like quite a stupid idea, but I wanted to put an emphasis on doing it for the passion. This wasn’t an exercise in money-making, quite the opposite.
When I bumped into Will Ockelton, the then-head of marketing for Santa Cruz Bikes and a bit of a legend in his field, I handed him a copy and instantly felt like an idiot. I thought Will would think this was the most illogical dead-end way to start a company, that he might tell me I should probably go and get a job instead of spaffing money up the wall. Actually, his reaction was quite the opposite. Will beamed a massive smile, asked for some more copies for his mates and told me the company was going to go far. What an endorsement from someone I knew wouldn’t just say something he didn’t mean. Santa Cruz has now supported most of our downhill and enduro yearbooks, putting their money where Will’s mouth was (or something like that).
What is the moral of this story? Probably isn’t one. Except I forgot to mention the whole way the company got off the ground when I had my one chance. If there is anything to learn from it, it’s don’t chase money, never expect setting up a business to be easy (especially publishing, although I would say that) and always follow your passion. And start as you mean to go on.
You can listen to our Downtime episode here.
FOUNDER-DIRECTOR: James McKnight
CO-DIRECTOR: Ben Winder
CO-DIRECTOR: Mike Rose
CO-DIRECTOR: Victor Lucas
CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Chris Jones
Morgane Charre: Research
Harriet Jones: Management
Sven Martin: Photography
Boris Beyer: Photography
Sebastian Schieck: Photography
John Parkin: Legendary
Ric McLaughlin, Paul Aston, Lauren Jenkins, Tom Caldwell, Jon Gregory, Chris Kilmurray, Kerstin Kauffmann, Chris Jackson, Pedro Ballin, Alan