On the up · 23 January 2017

Samphire Festival: Starting a music festival meant two trips to court

New music festival
Samphire Festival takes place in Exmoor National Park

When Flora Blathwayt and her boyfriend Josh Beauchamp decided to set up a new music festival in Somerset, the two could never have predicted it would result in a court dispute and a licence granted only four days before their maiden event.

The music festival market is a competitive place, dominated by incumbents such as the mighty Glastonbury, Scotland’s T in the Park and others such as Latitude, Wilderness and V Festival.

Once seen as a safe haven for hippies, there are now offerings for all walks of life – from rock at Download to dance at Creamfields. Any new music festival offering will need to have a clear identity and reason for being.

Partners 1
Flora Blathwayt and Josh Beauchamp

Blathwayt and Beauchamp came from two different backgrounds, but both worthwhile when it comes to producing a good fesival offering. While Blathwayt had cut her teeth in radio journalism and had good contacts with up-and-coming artists, Beauchamp was first a trained engineer and then chef – so could look after the all-important food side of a festival.

They had a vision for an eclectic festival, one which combined everything from reggae ska to acrobat and disco – with “great vibes and loads of dancing”. The result was Samphire Festival.

“We had no exposure to entrepreneurship though, that has been the scariest thing,” Blathwayt told Business Advice. “I’m the youngest of four, and my two eldest brothers have their own business and I don’t know what we’d have done without them.

“When setting up a business, if you have a product that is what you focus on. But, actually, that is such a tiny proportion of it – you then have registering for VAT, getting your accounts together, marketing and the whole branding element of the company.”

For two people without any prior experience of setting up a business, getting a new music festival off the ground ended up being very reliant on sourcing the advice of a seasoned professional. In being able to secure a meeting with festival creator Ed Dolman, who has Wilderness and Secret Garden Party on his CV, Blathwayt and Beauchamp were able to secure that vital mentor.

“We only wanted 1,000 people in our first year, but one of the authorities didn’t want that size,” she explained. “Ed helped us get that licence, but admitted it was the hardest thing he’d done.

“We went to court twice, with Ed supporting us and emphasising we’d get the right team and take no shortcuts. Despite them not being happy, we got the licence four days before the festival was due to take place.”

Another crucial part of the Samphire Festival success story was its innovative use of crowdfunding, the rewards-based option being its preferred route.

“We spoke to loads of organisers, who were all very ‘hands up’ and ready to help, who all said be careful with money,” Blathwayt added. “So we did a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdfunder, which got us some great publicity and we ended up breaking the record for fastest raise in securing £43,000.”

The festival makes the most of the Somerset countryside

Although the two have secured some useful advice from Dolman and other organisers, Blathwayt admitted it’s impossible to ever truly know your numbers for a new music festival. With nobody able to say “you’ll need ‘X’ amount of money for that”, the two quickly realised their record-breaking crowdfunding campaign was not going to be enough and they’ve had to be careful with every penny of spend.

Crowdfunding was also pretty helpful in securing acts for a new music festival. “People could look at it and know it was credible, with a mark of professionalism,” she emphasised.

“My background was also helpful with approaching artists, as I knew up-and-coming artists – especially DJs and funk artists. They knew we couldn’t shed out loads, but there were times when we didn’t have to go through an agent.”

Part of the reason Blathwayt and Beauchamp made a success of year one, and are on track to repeat and grow in year two, is down to their complementary skill sets. While Blathwayt naturally gravitates towards the branding, communications and marketing side of things, Beauchamp has taken the reigns on accounts, logistics and licences. They then both come together on the music front.

The challenge of doing it all again in year two has been made harder by not having the momentum of the crowdfunding campaign. Through the fundraising, they were able to sell 600 tickets for their new music festival. In 2017, Samphire Festival is doing it the conventional way.

The decision was made to make it child friendly

“Now all the attention is on video, but we can’t spend lots of money on marketing,” Blathwayt said. “Facebook doesn’t prioritise photos of statuses, so it has to be good video to get that community and sell tickets.”

She has signed herself up for a free online Google marketing course and is currently constantly immersed in online blogs that “could take over a whole business week”.

However, the festival creator was firm about one thing. “We are not going to run before we can walk,” she said – annoyed about dolling out a cliche, but unsure of how else to put it. From 1,000 guests last year, Samphire Festival is hoping to be 1,500 in 2017 – keeping its “boutiquey” feel.

The two may still be early on in their entrepreneurial journey, but Blathwayt had some useful advice for fellow young business builders – particularly those doing it with a significant other.

“It’s been really tough on Josh and I. We’re going strong, but there has been a big strain. It’s 24/7 when you have a new business, so that is what we’re learning. You’ve got to know you’ve got your areas where one of you will focus and the other won’t, and it’s key to make sure you have time together away from the business.

“The other thing is that we’ve had such great support from our families. It hasn’t been financial, but my brother is a lawyer, so we lean on him for legals. It’s important to have a good support network.”

What’s clear, however, is how much of business crash course the two have been on since deciding to focus full time on making Samphire Festival a reality. They’ve learnt how to make their financing stretch and navigate through the reams of red tape that bog down so many other young companies. Theirs is a festival now firmly on the map.

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Hunter Ruthven was previously editor of Business Advice. He was also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs.

Business development