Victoria Real: Richard Daws and Rob Love
Victoria Real is run by a couple of guys who just want to do what they’re interested in – and so far they’re doing rather well at it.
Name: Richard Daws and Rob Love Company: Victoria Real Sector: Cutting edge TV production Founded: 1990 Annual Turnover: £6.7 million
Victoria Real is run by a couple of guys who just want to do what they're interested in – and so far they're doing rather well at it. Richard Daws and his partner Rob Love started up the digital communications company as a traditional television production company in 1990.
The unusual name has two sources: ‘Real' to reflect the nature of the programmes they set out to create and ‘Victoria' to give it an English feel. Although Daws laughs that it is a point of dispute between himself and Love that Victoria was actually the name of a girlfriend of the time.
Wherever the name came from, however, the achievements of Victoria Real over the last 12 years can't be questioned. The pair met as students at Leeds and started by making sports documentaries for ITV. But their big break came in 1994:
“The first turning point for the company was with the 1994 World Cup,” explains Daws. This was the point where we moved into interactive media, allowing viewers to pick the camera or even which player to follow during the matches.”
Among the first to provide this kind of service, Daws and Love put themselves at the head of the digital TV experimentation at a time when most people didn't understand the concept.
The company continued to grow successfully and organically over the next few years also building a reputation for website design and a variety of interactive media projects. Famous clients include Pepsi, Channel 4, BBC, BT, UEFA, The Guardian and the Scottish Parliament.
One of several awards was a British E-commerce award for its work with Iceland, which increased the value of its average customer basket by a significant amount. And all this in turn led to another defining moment for the founders:
“In 1997 we started to think: ‘do we want this company to continue to grow as it is or do we need an extra stimuli?' It was a big decision to take on board a partnership but after a long process of thought we decided the deal with Endemol was the right move.”
Dutch entertainment company Endemol took a 50% stake in the company in 2000, an alternative route to floating the company on the stock market.
At the same time came Victoria Real's best known – although not its biggest – website contract, for the first series of Big Brother in 2000. Over the 64 days of the show, it streamed 26 million live video feeds through the website giving fans constant access to the latest developments in the house.
The road to success hasn't been all smooth going, though, as Daws says,
“Very early on we felt close to failure. After just years of really hard work we then decided we needed to knuckle down even further or give up. We chose the former but still didn't earn a salary until year four.
“Without backing, we needed £200-£300,000 cash flow to pay the salaries to make the company grow – and therefore generate more money. The trouble is that getting funding for a middle market company like ours is difficult. It took a lot of hard work to get round this.”
Part of the problem in the early days was that they were over ambitious thinking the company could be built in a shorter time that it could. “We took six years longer than our original estimate to achieve our goals.”
But Victoria Real has always found looking to those who've been there and done that to be of great value. The company has 11 directors with a fair share of ‘grey hair' including the famed Peter Bazalgette of Endemol. Daws maintains it is this help and support that has been a main source of inspiration and key to their success. This is therefore one of his top tips for small businesses hoping to follow in the footsteps of Victoria Real. “Speak to people with the best knowledge in your field, this will ultimately get you the best advice.” As well as, “Be creative and don't be afraid of mistakes – mistakes are great just so long as you learn from them and don't make them twice.”
And the future for Victoria Real? To be at the forefront of the move towards digital. “We have a great lead in a marketplace that's leading the world, just so long as we keep being creative and doing what we're doing.”