Creative entrepreneurship: the Chris Darwen interview
One of the themes of Monographer from its inception has been creative entrepreneurship. This blog has published interviews — for example, with Mark McGuinness — articles — for example, on Anita Sarkeesian — and reviews, for example of Creative business.
Here we continue this theme with an interview with Chris Darwen. I came across Chris through his self-published Johnny Cooper books, based on a computer game that I enjoy playing, namely Football Manager. I then discovered more about Chris’s work through writing for one of his websites, namely Higher Tempo Press.
I was delighted to have the opportunity to conduct the following interview with Chris, whose answers are characteristically energetic and communicative.
Chris, I know you primarily through the books you’ve written and published and through one of the websites you manage – Higher Tempo Press. But I’m aware you do much else. Could you describe the scope of your creative entrepreneurial activities for us?
I like the sound of creative entrepreneurial activities! Well, I’m the editor-in-chief for www.falbrosmediagroup.com and we own around twelve different football websites currently, though that number may have increased by the time this gets published. In that portfolio we have something on Football Manager, something satirical, several club news/opinion sites and even one covering the Chinese Super League. Alongside the websites, we also have a few YouTube channels and podcasts kicking around.
What all this means is I basically muck around “being creative” and talking football with like-minded people seven days a week. We call it work, but I am not so sure.
What is your story? How did you become a creative entrepreneur?
A fine question, indeed. How does anyone? I just fell into it at some point in my journey. At school I was able to read and write before my first day in class which, believe it or not, was an advantage and a disadvantage. More was always expected of me, so my original childhood creative flair started to fall by the wayside when other kids saw me as a bit different. So I tried to fit in a bit, but it was tough. Anyway, any ideas of being a sports journalist were much further down the list than the far more realistic dream of playing for England at both cricket and football.
Come the college years and I found those English and/or Business Studies essays ever so boring so always tried to liven them up with my own style. I do believe likening Shakespeare’s Hamlet to Batman was one of my finer efforts of that era, as was linking Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to Only Fools and Horses.
Anyway, I digress. I stumbled through college and university and once I realised that neither the English cricket or footballing XI’s were massively bothered about giving me a shot I fell into sales. This paid the bills for around a decade, I managed to talk my way to the top without not actually selling very much myself (tip – always delegate where possible) before I completely fell out of love with it. I quit, and having dabbled in a clothing company with my partner Jess for six months or so I decided, over breakfast as you do, that I was going to write a book.
Said book, Johnny Cooper, Championship Manager, was written within the week, self-published within the fortnight and selling enough for me to be homeless within the quarter. At that point, living in a broken down camper-van in a car park in cold November, Jess and I came into some money which got us on the plane to Spain where, incredibly, my book royalties actually went somewhere to being able to live.
The follow-up book was written, the local paper took me on to write a Premier League column and the first thing I submitted to them came across incredibly sarcastically. Inadvertently, Tales from the Top Flight was born. At the end of the first season of writing, Jess, the real brains in this outfit, suggested compiling all of them into a book and I released my third book. At least three people asked me to turn it into a daily blog which I took as at least 75% of my readership being keen on the idea, so www.talesfromthetopflight.com came into existence.
None of this was making much money at all but hell, I was having a lot of fun with it. Then FANTV came knocking on the door asking me to do a twice-weekly slot on their show, where I was now being asked to verbally poke the finger of fun at the Premier League on live TV. That was another big step on the journey and I managed not to get sued.
From there, I said to Jess (again, possibly over breakfast where all the life changing conversations have to be had) that it would be very cool if a media company fancied offering me some money for Tales. Within two weeks I had sold out to www.falbrosmediagroup.com, who were very keen for me to head up their football portfolio. This commenced on January 1st 2017 with me, myself and I manning the ship.
Four and a half months later we have probably 15 websites now, after the length of this answer, over 125 writers, several YouTube channels and a few podcasts on the go and, I am delighted to say, are able to pay our way as much as most of the other websites in the marketplace can claim that. Oh, and the Football Manager website (www.thehighertempopress.com) continues to go from strength to strength.
What kind of satisfaction(s) does creative entrepreneurship give you?
I love that question. Am I ever satisfied? Over the years I believe I have learned to become so, at least a little bit. Put it this way. I spend all day, everyday in the company of my awesome partner Jess and my almost equally awesome dog, Ronnie. We live in the most beautiful Spanish national park at about 9,000 feet due to being near the top of a mountain range. Due to the way the modern world allows all to be connected no matter where we are, I am able to collaborate, mentor, motivate and genuinely enjoy the company of some incredibly talented people with a delightfully diverse range of skills. Yet I do it on my own doorstep with my own freedom and my own rules – to a point. Every day is a new challenge and it is so rare that it feels like “another day in the office” and even if it is one of those days, the commute ain’t half bad. Plus, I get to play a computer game at least a couple of hours a day and I get paid for the pleasure. As someone said to me the other day, “so where exactly did it go wrong?”
The main satisfaction is the freedom. I feel that I have looked at the system long enough and gone, “there must be a better way of playing this game” and have stumbled across a great solution without really trying.
What do you find are the most important skills or qualities for creative entrepreneurship?
Faith. Belief. Self-motivation. As thick a skin as any creative type can have. Passion. Communication. Talented people around you. The ability to spot talented people and convince them to be around you. Having a good investor that really believes in you. Above all that though, the self-discipline to keep doing whatever feels fun next. If you do that often enough, you won’t go far wrong.
What advice would you offer to someone contemplating a similar path?
In the hope that Nike don’t come knocking on the door wanting some kind of royalty – “just do it”. We can all come up with 1000 reasons why “that wouldn’t work for me, I’m different”. Reasons are normally excuses in not much of a disguise.
Trust me, if I can do this anybody can do this. I didn’t get a degree, I didn’t hang around with the right people, I wasn’t sitting on pots of cash. I just did it, had fun, and let go of the outcomes. And then miracles happened.
How do you see your work developing in the future?
You see, this is another key thing for me. I don’t see how it might develop in the future. I don’t need to know how. I know it will, but I don’t need to spend any time or energy really planning what 2018 might look like. If I get a creative urge and want to run with it, that’s different. Follow the energy and momentum. But business plans? No. Work plans? No.
I am quietly confident football will still exist by the time I die, and I am equally confident people might want know about what is going on in football by the time I am six-foot under. How, why or where? That’s a mystery, but it will be good fun trying to do something first, or at the very least different!