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“Only the willingness and passion from the founder or from the man or the woman behind an idea that is small at the beginning will make a difference.” – Jean-Charles Decaux
And so to my first Blog of 2019, brought to you I am proud to say in association with Victorinox, a generous sponsorship that has just been renewed throughout 2019. It’s nice to be associated with a product that I actually use – my Victorinox wheeled briefcase is, in fact, my mobile office, my interim Moodie Davitt Report bureau, my indispensable companion.
I don’t say that as a token plug. Such sponsorship matters. We remain the only international travel retail media to have a subscription-free model across all our communications platforms. That was my chosen model when I set out on my journey in September 2002 and it has remained so ever since. No passwords, no padlocks, no pages marked ‘for subscribers only’.
Way back then I placed the largest bet I could (i.e. my house, my future) on that model. I believed that if I combined the best product (i.e. content) with the best fulfilment method (i.e. digital delivery), then I had a decent chance at success. Most publishers at the time didn’t want to believe it, but the internet would always beat the postman. The content I could take care of. The groundwork was there for The Moodie Report, as it was then known, to be travel retail’s first digital disrupter, long before the term came into popular use.
Onto that combination I would overlay an unrelenting focus on building and maintaining relationships; on a ferocious work ethic; on seeing things with my own eyes rather than passively reporting on them from my desk; on proactively contributing to the industry not just benefiting from it in terms of stories and revenue. And all that had to be underpinned by a corporate social responsibility platform that involved not only championing the efforts of others but also giving more than was comfortable ourselves.
To all that, of course, you must add people, and I’m proud to say that along these past 16-plus years, I’ve been joined by some amazing colleagues, led by my long-time associate and, since 2015, business partner Dermot Davitt.
Like any entrepreneurial company, The Moodie Davitt Report as it is now called, has had its ups and downs, including a difficult period under external control in the years after I was diagnosed with stomach cancer in mid-2010. Buying back the business in 2015 was fraught with both difficulty and risk (another heavy debt burden, my house once again on the line) but we came through that period triumphantly, paying down the debt early and emerging unburdened to invest in growth and innovation.
Which is where I and we find ourselves today. Like most entrepreneurs I am kept awake at night by the sniff of opportunity, the thrill of ideas, and the fear of failure. JCDecaux Co-Chairman Jean-Charles Decaux once described to me the overriding sense of paranoia that drives him and many family owners. But it drove him (and still does) in the right way. Listen to these words from that interview back in 2012. “Few people understand that when an entrepreneur starts a business it’s not about money. Being an entrepreneur is about the freedom to create new things.
“Everybody says, ‘No, no, it won’t work…’, but the entrepreneur says, ‘It will work!’ ”
“This is why you will continue to see entrepreneurs in countries and industries around the world: it is simply about being free to develop new ideas that at the beginning no one else believes in. And that was exactly my father’s definition. He saw that street furniture for advertising at bus stops was not only a product but also a positive business model for municipalities or transport companies to avoid having to pay for it. He also said, ‘I want to be free to have my own business. Whether it is small, medium-sized or large, we will see, but I want to be free and create this product that does not exist in the market.’
“So that’s how he started, and for many years everybody said, ‘He will fail.’ But he didn’t fail. If you look at many new businesses in any industry, it’s the same story. Everybody says, ‘No, no, it won’t work…’, but the entrepreneur says, ‘It will work!’ It’s all about the energy, intelligence and hard work you put into it to transform your vision into a business opportunity.”
That, in a nigh semantically perfect nutshell, is also our story. When I launched The Moodie Report on 16 September 2002 as a rudimentary seven-page pdf, subscription-free and without any advertising, the concept was openly derided by my old company. The message, none too subtly conveyed to me, was, “He will fail.” But he, and it, didn’t. Because, like Jean-Charles’ father, Jean-Claude Decaux, back in 1964 with his wholly unlikely concept of ‘Street Furniture’, failure could not be countenanced.
Creating a success is one thing. Sustaining it is devilishly difficult. As you grow, how do you permeate throughout a team the values that spawned your success? How do you convince new employees who have only seen the company in its market-leading garb that it once wore far more modest clothes and could easily have to return to them if obsession with quality and innovation is not maintained? How do you see off the challenge from the inevitable ‘me-toos’ that follow in the wake of all innovators?
The answer is simple, the execution complex. You retain your glorious obsession; you constantly strive to be better, more innovative, more influential. You set yourself up as your sternest of judges. Let me return to Jean-Charles Decaux for a moment, the head of a business that has faced profound disruption via the arrival of digital media in recent years, but which seized on that communication revolution as opportunity rather than nemesis. “Because we are a company that started from scratch, the people in this company are very keen to really grow the business, find new products and innovations, and to discover new ways of doing things,” he said. “This is something that, despite the size of the company, we have been able to keep alive over the years.”
As The Moodie Davitt Report marches forth into the bright light of a new year, so too must we constantly reinvent ourselves, be the positive disruptor, not the disruptee. You will see new things from us this year but just as importantly you will see us become better at what we already do. We are, above all, an information service. But we are one with a voice. Those factors collectively bestow responsibility on us. Our information must be timely, reliable, accurate. Our voice must be responsible, ethical and selective.
Thank you for your support along the way since 16 September 2002. That journey does not simply continue in 2019 but takes on a new dimension. Failure is not an option.