Features: If I Knew Then: John Courtney

Aphra Evans, August 3, 2017

John Courtney is the chairman of Stockwood Ventures, a business and marketing consultancy, and regional director for The Marketing Centre, which provides part-time senior marketing directors to growing small-to-medium enterprises. Previously, he was founder and executive chairman of agency Strategy Digital which grew to 50 staff before being bought by Fat Media.

Courtney was ranked 30th in a list of 100 top UK entrepreneurs by CityAM, the London business daily, appearing alongside Richard Branson and Lord Sugar. He was also voted 5th in top 100 UK digital agency influencers by Directors Centre in 2015. He is a regular conference speaker and was seen recently in Bristol at LikeMinds and The Scale-Up Phenomenon.

Courtney has founded 6 businesses in everything from fertilisers to management consultancy. He is now a non-executive director, consultant and mentor in digital and marketing. He gives time pro bono to scale up businesses as a mentor with Microsoft Accelerator, HRH Prince Andrew’s Pitch@Palace and Entrepreneurial Spark.

How did you start at Stockwood Ventures?

After my wife Kath Dawson and I exited from our 50-person digital marketing agency, Strategy Digital, nearly two years ago I wanted a vehicle for my consultancy, non-executive director roles and mentoring.

If you knew then what you know now, what mistakes might you have avoided?

At Strategy Digital (my previous marketing agency), I wouldn’t have taken on small clients with little money. For a marketing man, I got one marketing basic wrong: focusing on your target market.

What advice would you have given yourself when starting out?

Hire good people. If you can’t afford full-time, hire part-time – but hire the best. It’s one reason why I find my current work as regional director for The Marketing Centre rewarding. They provide part-time marketing directors – as I am helping others not make the same mistake I did.

If you knew then what you know now, would you still be sitting there?

Maybe. But I like my life now!

What do you know now that you didn’t know then?

Budgeting is important, as it allows you to plan for the future and, critically, it reduces stress for the entrepreneur as they feel more under control.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received so far?

Trust your gut feel and instinct. And plan.

What is your business highlight?

Hiring and training young people with potential and seeing them grow. At Strategy Digital, we had an academy, took interns and had placement students. We were proud to do our bit.

Being nominated for awards is always nice too, and I am particularly proud of being shortlisted for Best Mentor/Advisor in this years SPARKies after my work at Microsoft Accelerator, Entrepreneurial Spark and Pitch@Palace, as well as my son James’s company Lux Rewards.

What is your business low point?

Closing my cricket bat company in the 1990s. It lost money every year for seven years and I had sunk every pound I had made in previous businesses into it. But in the end, it was a choice between mortgaging the house or closing the company.

My wife (rightly) wouldn’t let me mortgage. I had turned down the offer of £1 million in investment in today’s money, thinking that I could do it with my own. But I couldn’t. The key lesson: you always need more money than you think.

What keeps you awake? (apart from pets and children)

Nothing these days, fortunately.

What’s changed from when you started out?

The climate for startup businesses is fantastic. Accelerators, incubators, angel networks – they’re all brilliant, and I am proud to be a part of it, and of helping young talent to come through.

What’s still on your to-do list?

I have founded 6 businesses, and I’m not sure there is a 7th in me. But as Bond said, “never say never”!

What’s next for Stockwood Ventures?

Hopefully continuing as a non-executive director and working in consultancy around digital, marketing, strategy and exits.

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