The young ad man who conquered the Dragons

Legacy: Ed Hollands draws his business inspiration from serial entrepreneur Richard Branson.

What does it take to be an entrepreneur? Ed Hollands launched his truck advertising company after university, realising a childhood dream. Sales soared this year after victory on Dragons’ Den.

“I always wanted to run my own business, probably since primary school, but I just never had the right idea,” Ed Hollands muses. “I once did a taxi service with school bags — 50 pence and I’d take your bag back to form.”

School and university came and went, but that big idea remained illusive, until one day: “I was walking home and it just happened,” Hollands recalls. “It was morning rush hour, the motorway was rammed, and there just happened to be three big white trucks stuck at the lights. I said to myself, ‘If I had a business, that’s exactly where I’d be advertising’.”

The result is Driven Media, a company that sells advertising space on haulage lorries. “We want to push truck advertising as a mainstream media,” he explains, “so when you think of a media marketing plan you think TV, radio, taxi, truck.”

Earlier this year he attempted to sell this big vision to five investors on the notoriously hazardous TV show Dragons’ Den: “the first minute I was absolutely terrified, I couldn’t get any words out. You don’t have any notes, you’ve just got to get it right — there is no second take.”

But in the end, Hollands nailed the pitch and won investment from Jenny Campbell. “The reason I went on Dragons’ Den was to get the exposure, I wasn’t expecting to win a Dragon out the back of it,” he says.

The boost it has given his business is remarkable. “We’re just on the cusp of a quarter of a million in sales… the first year we turned over about £6,000, and last year we turned over about £50,000, so that shows you what the right mentor and a bit of funding can do.”

Despite this burgeoning success, his youth can sometimes be a barrier. “Peter Jones in Dragons’ Den was a good example, he couldn’t believe I was 22 — he thought I was 14,” he recalls. “It’s happened a few times with hauliers too. I walked into one meeting and was asked when my dad was coming — that meeting didn’t go very well.”

Still, Hollands says he cannot see himself doing anything else, pointing to the buzz of building your own business: “you can’t describe the feeling, it’s amazing.”

What does it take to be an entrepreneur?

Road to success

“You need to be prepared to get mucked in and just do it,” Hollands says. “Get stuck in and see what is working, see what’s not, and then evaluate where you are. You must ask yourself: ‘what can I improve and what can I not,’ and go from there. The best entrepreneurs have had multiple experiences and ventures of varying degrees of success, and you will learn a lot more from a failure than you ever will from succeeding.”

You Decide

  1. Does advertising have a positive influence on society?
  2. Can failure be more educational than success?

Activities

  1. Pick an object that you have with you in the classroom: it could be a book or something from your pencil case. Now write a 30 second advert for TV or radio designed to sell that object. Write a script and share it with the class. Which adverts were the most effective and why?
  2. Watch the clip of Ed Hollands pitching his business on Dragons’ Den. Now imagine that you were pitching a business there too — it can be for a product or a company that already exists, or you can make one up. Write a speech to convince investors to give your company money. Use as much persuasive language as possible.

Some People Say...

“The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.”

William Bernbach

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The UK is the fourth largest market for advertising in the world and the largest in Europe — British expenditure on advertising in 2016 amounted to over £21 billion. In 2010, digital advertising overtook television advertising as the biggest sector in the industry.
What do we not know?
How well Ed Hollands’s company, Driven Media, will do in the future. Figures show that up to 50% of new businesses fail within the first five years. Nevertheless, the number of start-ups has risen in recent years. In 2016, almost 660,000 new companies were established in the UK, up from 608,000 in 2015.

Word Watch

Illusive
One job that Hollands had before he started his business was counting the money in parking ticket machines. He described this job as “the most boring in the world.”
Haulage lorries
Vehicles which transport goods over long distances.
Dragons’ Den
First broadcast on BBC Two in 2005. The show allows budding entrepreneurs to pitch their fledgling businesses to a panel of investors, who are notorious for the intense grilling that they give the contestants.
Jenny Campbell
British entrepreneur and investor. She worked in banking before buying and running an independent ATM business.
Boost
The show has launched several successful businesses. See the BBC link in Become An Expert for more.
Burgeoning
Beginning to grow and flourish.
Peter Jones
British investor worth over £400 million with interests in mobile phones, television, media, leisure, retail and property.

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