Aged 21, Ed Hollands deliberately accepted a job from hell to fire his brain into coming up with a great business idea. A year later he’d built DrivenMedia from scratch, with practically no budget. Then he stepped into the Dragon’s Den… and nailed the deal of his life.
At primary school, Ed Hollands daydreamed about launching a pub company called The Happy Inn. It hasn’t happened yet. But don’t bet against it because this 24-year-old has already forged a media company from nothing – using only wits and determination. His business, Driven Media, which this year won £30,000 of backing from Dragon’s Den’s Jenny Campbell, puts adverts on lorries. If you love a glorious tale of entrepreneurial nous and grit, read on…
“I’ve wanted to run my own business ever since I was a young boy,” says Ed. “But I could never come up with the right idea. I finished school and hadn’t thought of anything, so I went to university. After finishing a business studies degree I’d still drawn a blank. So, I set myself a challenge: six months to think of a good business idea or forget it, move on and find a career.”
What Ed did next is brilliant. He deliberately took the most boring job he could find because he reckoned it would give him the headspace, time and motivation to dream up a strong business idea. He wanted dullness and he got it: he ended up counting the money collected by parking meters.
Ed takes up the story: “After two weeks of counting coins, it happened. One day, on the way back from dropping my partner at work, I spotted three trucks stopped at a red light. Behind them, was a queue of around 200 cars, which stretched into the distance. I thought: ‘If I owned a brand, I’d want to advertise on those trucks.’”
Eureka! Ed had found a business idea he loved: he would turn lorries into moving adverts. His research revealed that a couple of other companies were doing it already, but not as well as Ed thought he could.
Fast forward to July 2015. Location: a lay-by on the side of the A38. Ed – by now an ex-coin counter – sat in his car furiously writing down the names he saw flashing by on the sides of lorries. Next day, bit firmly between teeth, he cold-called as many hauliers as possible to find out if they were interested in his idea. “I had the names of about 200 lorry companies,” he says. “When I called them, some instantly said ‘no, it’ll never work’. Others told me they had their own branding on their trucks and didn’t want to replace it. But on my fourth call I spoke to a haulier in Chester-le-Street – still one of my suppliers today. They said they were interested. They had around 100 trailers and reasoned that if I could put ads on them, it would mean extra income for them for zero effort. DrivenMedia started from there.”
Ed continued to call hauliers and got more on board. His idea was working. But now he needed to sell some ad space. It took six months to secure his first client – his alma mater Derby University. Before this point most people would have given up – six months is a long time to wait when you’re trying to prove a business idea and self-doubt could have killed the dream. But Ed showed flinty determination.
“I stuck at it and eventually pitched to Derby University,” says Ed. “I suggested featuring graduates on trucks to inspire people to study at Derby. When they invited me in I felt excited, nervous and confident. Self-doubt can get in the way of lots of things, but I wasn’t going to let it block this opportunity. I’d done my research and I knew how successful truck advertising could be.”
His pitch succeeded – Derby University became Ed’s first client. The experience would stand him in good stead for a much bigger presentation later on – this time on Dragons’ Den.
Over the next 10 months, Ed bagged more clients and their lorry ad campaigns did well. This proved that the business model worked, but Ed realised his idea needed exposure – and investment – if it were to succeed quickly. So he applied to Dragons’ Den. “Advertisers get great results from advertising on trucks,” he explains, “but when people think of advertising, they think of TV, radio, billboards and online. They don’t think of trucks. I wanted to go on Dragons’ Den to boost awareness as well as secure some investment.”
To achieve this, he had to perform the pitch of his life in the most nerve-wracking of environments – national TV. “As I was led into the Green Room – the place where you wait before walking into the Den – I was confident but scared,” says Ed. “I knew my pitch inside out because I’d practised so hard.”
His hard work paid off. He walked away from the Den with Dragon Jenny Campbell on side: she would invest £30,000 for a 20% stake. But the deal was only part of the story. As Ed predicted, he won huge publicity through his appearance on the show. “My plan worked,” he says. “Since appearing, all sorts of people have approached me. Many had enquired before Dragons’ Den but the show lit the fuse.”
Less than a year after walking into the Den, Ed’s company has grown fourfold from a £30,000 business to one turning over more than £120,000. But it’s the future that’s most exciting for everyone at Driven Media. Ed is not only starting to stamp his authority on a dynamic new advertising medium – his sector also has the potential to explode.
“The next step is digital billboards on trucks,” says Ed. “When that happens we’ll be able run ads geographically and at certain times of the day – at the click of a button. For example, we’ll be able to stream one ad when a truck is in London and another when it’s in Birmingham. Or we can run one graphic at breakfast and another at lunchtime. There’s the potential for moving ads, too. The future is incredibly exciting for this industry.”
Ed Hollands is only 24. Already he’s come up with a great idea, launched a company under his own steam with no budget, sealed a deal on Dragons’ Den and is now working in partnership with legendary entrepreneur Jenny Campbell. His entrepreneurial advice is well worth absorbing: “Running your own business is 10 times tougher than you think it will be,” he warns. “But if that doesn’t put you off, my advice is to speak to your customers. Understand what they want – in detail. If you can deliver it for the price they want, fast enough and at the right quality, you’ll definitely get one customer. And if you can get one, you can get 10. Also, remember you can’t do everything yourself. You’ll probably start out doing everything singlehanded – because it’s cheap – but you realise that it eventually costs you more than it saves. That’s one of the key things I’ve picked up from Jenny – learn when and where to let go.
Ed also has some great tips for improving your pitching and cold calling: “Know your audience – know what they want to hear. The Dragons wanted to know about the future of the market – how I saw it developing. I told them and that was crucial to winning the deal. Also, listen carefully. Your audience will say lots of things and there will often be a hidden meaning. For example, some people will say no to your offer because they’ve misunderstood what you’ve said – listen hard and try to read the signs.
“With cold calling, the more you do it the better you get. If you’re chatting in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, the listener will pick up on that and will want to hang up. If you talk and behave in a manner that is genuine and so makes you feel comfortable, you’ll have more success. There’s no right way – only your way.”
Ed Hollands has done it his way and DrivenMedia is the result. This young entrepreneur is steaming down the road like a juggernaut. No one knows where he’ll end up but one thing’s for certain: he’s only just begun.