Monday, 7 January 2008

Jeremy Clarkson vs My Son

First proper day back at work after the Xmas break and it's been a typical day in the life of a tech entrepreneur.

We spent the whole day with our VCs discussing strategy and funding for 2008 and beyond. In true "early stage" style one minute we are discussing micro detail on budgets and the next minute planning which major countries to launch in later this year.

I had to get back home sharpish as it was my son's birthday today and we had the whole family over this afternoon to have tea and birthday cake. At about 6pm, halfway through the party, I got a call from BBC News 24 asking if I could come in straight away to do a live interview about the Jeremy Clarkson story.

What is the Jeremy Clarkson story? Well, the TV presenter was making light of the loss of 25m people's data by HMRC effectively saying "so what? Why all the fuss - what's the worst that could happen if someone gets your bank details?". To prove his point he published his bank details daring these so called ID fraudsters to have a go. To prove their point a fraudster immediately set up a direct debit and extracted £500 from his account. It's true. Don't laugh.

So, I get a call halfway through my son's birthday party asking if I will rush in to do a live piece and provide an expert comment on this story. Jeremy Clarkson vs My son? BBC prime time interview with an audience of milions vs Family Birthday Party? Just how commited am I to building Garlik into a $Bn sucess by seizing every single opportunity that presents itself?? Hmmm, clearly not THAT committed. Sorry BBC, no can do.

I told them that I could do an interview after 9pm but not before, so they rang off.

Ten minutes later they rang back saying okay, can you make 9.45pm? That works. So now I move in to a routine that has become familiar over the past 18 months. It's interesting, a couple of years ago I hadn't done any broadcast interviews but now I must have done 50 radio and TV interviews. That's one of the great advantages of being a "start up guy". You get to try things and challenge yourself in ways that just don't arise in corporate life.

So what's the routine?

Step 1 - background research: what's the story exactly and what's our view on it, always looking from a consumer perspective?

Step 2 - think through the 6 to 10 questions the interviewer may ask. Write out your answers and commit them to memory.

Step 3 - turn up 15 minutes early and ready to go. Always 15 minutes early.

This type of interview, a brief segment as part of a rolling news agenda, will always be 3 or 4 questions. It will always take 2 minutes max.

The first question will set it up. The interviewer outlines the story in a couple of sentences, introduces the guest (in this case me) withe words like "to discuss this we are joined by ....." and then says "So, Tom, what do you think about...?". You've got to have your first sentence burnt in to your brain. You know exactly what you are going to say and whatever you say must not last more than 30 seconds. Snappy and direct.

The second question opens it up a bit. It tends to be a "how serious an issue is this?" type of question. The third and final will be a "so what should people do?" question and for that you need to be able to list the 2 or 3 practical steps that people can take.

When I started doing broadcast interviews I was quite nervous and I still get butterflies every time I do them, but now that I understand the formular it makes it that bit easier. I got great media training before I started and I would strongly recommend getting properly trained. As the founder or CEO of a start up you need to be able to talk to the press professionally about your area of expertise and your company.

So, off I go to BBC Television Centre. Arrive at 9.30pm for the 9.45 interview. Wait in an empty reception (me and two chauffeurs waiting to take guests home. It's not nearly as glamorous as you might think). Nice researcher chap takes me up to the studio and leaves me on a sofa. No make up this evening (it's too late I guess - anyway that beats the embarrasement of having a make up lady put brown colouring on the top of my head to cut out the glare - again!). Sit about for 15 mins rehearsing the answers over and over in my mind as the guy from Virgin Atlantic does his 2 minutes followed by the film makers from Iraq. Studio manager calls me over, plonks me in a chair and sticks a mike on my lapel. Interviewer shakes hands, flashes a smile, asks how to pronounce my name (again), looks away and starts reading the autocue. 3-2-1 bang, you're on air to several million viewers...."to discuss this we are joined by Tom Ilube of online identity company Garlik...". Then before you can blink it's over. Studio manager guides you back to the sofa. Chap takes you down to the exit and eases you gently out into the cold night air. It's done.

Back home just in time to help tidy up after the party and say goodnight. Read and deal with a ton of emails. Phew. It's 1am and I'm just about finished. Working Day Number One of 2008. It's going to be quite a year!

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