On the up · 11 June 2018

From shed startup to red carpet parties: Clownfish Events founder relives his road to success

Clownfish Events founder Matt Turner
Clownfish Events founder Matt Turner
Inspired by Robbie Williams famous Knebworth concerts to launch an events startup, school-leaver Matt Turner raised enough money for a van and some driving lessons and soon counted Google, Bafta and Sky among his clients.

Turner gave Business Advice a brief history of Clownfish Events, describing how it felt to choose the path of entrepreneurship and revealing how his company went from shed-based startup to serious event producer overnight.

Whoare you and what is your business?

Matt Turner, MD of Clownfish Events. I started the company nine years ago (originally as a party-hire company specialising in outdoor events, technical sound and lighting) after leaving school at 18.

Clownfish is now a full-service events production specialist. Although the party hire business was financially lucrative and we had been doubling revenues year-on-year since launch, I felt we were just a glorified delivery company. The real opportunity was organising events from concept to clear-up and that is exactly what we do today.

Our client list includes some of the UK’s best-known brands, like Virgin, Google, British Airways, Microsoft, Bafta, John Lewis, Amazon, Lloyds, Channel 4 and Sky.

Clownfish Events
Turner’s client list includes brands such as Virgin, Google and British Airways
Weve done everything from office summer parties and shop re-launches to weddings, winter wonderland experiences, employee branding events, birthdays and bar mitzvahs, Buddhist festivals and most recently, the UK launch of Bosh! in Borough Market.

Where did the concept come from?

Ive always been interested in the events and entertainment business and started my first company aged 13 with a school friend. We saved 15 a week from paper rounds to get enough for a set of decks and speakers and launched M&J Productions, DJ-ing at youth clubs and local community events.

It was pretty awful, but we were only young and it was much better than having a regular Saturday job. The business saw us both through to the end of sixth form and then I decided to start a dedicated party-hire company instead of going to uni. That was the start of Clownfish.

Whatwas key in terms of getting started?

One of the big things for me, given that I was very young when I started Clownfish, was having the vision to pursue entrepreneurship as a career choice. I wasnt particularly academic and when I left school after A-Levels I wasnt sure what to do next. My friends were off studying medicine or law and enjoying university social life. It was difficult to be the odd one out? starting a business and working when all my friends were pursuing a very different life path.

Whatmakes the business unique?

it’s very hard to be unique as an events producer but I think that, given our size compared to larger operators, we are more naturally versatile. Our team can produce unusual events and deliver a large range of concepts in-house without having to rely on associates.

Our twelve employees and their commitment to the business set us apart. We don’t use freelancers for the events that we produce; everyone works for Clownfish directly. We believe in giving people a chance and hiring based on gut instinct rather than just a dazzling CV.

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Our origins in party equipment hire mean we can keep costs down. We have in-house access to the widest range of party paraphernalia imaginable anything from a pop-up ice-skating rink to a rodeo reindeer. We don’t need to hire in items and add margins on top, which can raise event costs significantly.

Whatwere some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?

Finance was a big issue. I couldnt get a bank loan and my family were unable to help. It was hard going and there was no crowdfunding available at the time. I just needed some basic equipment to get started and eventually secured funding from external investors.

I raised 20, 000 and used the money to buy a van, driving lessons, more audio equipment, a rodeo bull and listings on Yell. I naively gave away 55% of my company equity in return and have only just managed to recoup it. Although it was a difficult lesson to learn, I wouldnt be where I am today without that funding.

What’syour biggest achievement to date?

Events companies come and go, but weve proved our longevity as a brand. The company celebrated its 9th year birthday in April 2018 and weve seen our revenues double year-on-year as weve continued to grow organically. Hundreds of thousands of people across the UK and Europe have had an amazing time at one of our events.

My biggest challenge became my biggest growth opportunity when I was forced to move locations because of a landlord issue. I ended up getting a mortgage to buy warehouse space and we went from being a startup in a shed to a serious event producer overnight.


 
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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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