Al Gosling's love of extreme sports was obvious long before his entrepreneurial skills became apparent. An old photo shows him on water skis at about the age of three or four. Unfortunately, he wasn't as passionate about school when he should have been studying, the old Gordonstounian was selling boardshorts off the back of his old Renault 5.
Some "pretty messy" A-Levels followed, and jobs in the music and telecoms industries convinced him he wasn't cut out for "suiting and booting it in the City". So he went travelling, spending time working in the Bahamas as a yacht pilot and dive master, before returning to Britain, aged 24, and "hunting round for an idea" of what to do.
He tracked down a friend, Tom Hussen, a fellow extreme-sports fan. Between them they came up with an idea for a TV distribution and production firm specialising in everything from paragliding to snowboarding. They did their research, examining sales figures from firms selling sports clothing and equipment. The figures showed clear growth in public interest in the sector and confirmed their "categorical belief that the sports themselves were going to grow", he says.
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After raising £18,000 in funding from his parents and their friends, and adding in his own savings, he bought a phone and computer and began operating out of a barn outside his parents' north Essex home in 1995. The aim was to convince production companies to let them act as distributors of their programming and for a 24-year-old with no experience, that "was probably the toughest thing".
But he soon realised that the promise of money would rapidly open even the most closed minds. "By just offering them cheques, they normally fell in line." Was there any cash in his bank account at that point? "No, not at all. But we were pre-selling," he explains. They would first secure a sale to a broadcaster, then find a production company from whom they could secure programming. "And they wouldn't get the deal unless they signed an exclusive distribution deal with us."
Their first deal was selling a 26-part extreme sports series to Thai channel BBTV for $25,000. They steadily built their sales team, buying in more and more programmes from around the world but it was by no means all plain sailing. "We nearly went bankrupt a number of times in the early years."
One major broadcaster took so long to pay up that they had no money for wages. "We were hanging on by a thread at the time." Sheer determination kept them going "we wanted to make it happen" and after about four years, the firm was turning over £4m a year.
"I said we can launch a TV channel," says Gosling, which they did in May 1999. The Extreme Sports channel now broadcasts to 38 million homes across 58 countries. His advice to budding entrepreneurs is simple "if you get that idea, go for it". It's certainly worked for him. The Extreme brand now has businesses ranging from a publishing arm to a chain of hotels, and is approaching a turnover of £25m a year.
Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.
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