In 1985, I was a 22-year-old press photographer in a well-paid and rewarding job at the Leicester Mercury. I had excellent colleagues – and a very comfortable life. However, it was not enough for me – and I wanted to work for National Newspapers and create my own business.
So I set out to create a photo agency in the East Midlands to provide pictures for National Newspapers. The business was called East Midlands Picture Services – and was based in Nottingham. In the next 20 years, the name would be shortened to EMPICS – and it would become the largest independently-owned sports photography agency in the world.
The business was to be a partnership with my best friend. Unfortunately, as we explored getting support from banks for our new venture the response was not particularly positive. My pal decided it was not for him, so we didn’t become business partners.
Eventually, I managed to get a £2,000 overdraft from Williams & Glyn Bank (now part of RBS). The business started in June 1985 – and 20 years later I left the business after a trade sale to the Press Association.
Looking back through some old papers, I found a copy of the original business plan. It’s linked to here as a PDF. Readers might find it amusing on many levels – the language, the fact it was individually typed (well before the time of wordprocessing) and that the cashflows are handwritten on graph paper (no Excel spreadsheets in those days!).
EMPICS was not a hi-tech startup – it ended up just being me on my own in an office in Nottingham. It was not a raiser of venture capital or seed funding (although as the business grew we did have 3i as a VC investor and a business angel). However, it was a leap into the unknown – and a roller coaster ride. To be recommended – to the brave…
At the end of the 1990s, sports rights holders were increasingly restricting the access of photography agencies and individual sports photographers into events. The story was not a new one – up until 1972, only one photographic agency was allowed in to a cricket ground to photograph test matches. Things were looking like turning full […]
The entry of Getty Images and Corbis (100% owned by Bill Gates) into the photography business in the mid-90s set us on a fairly inevitable course of a trade sale. Getting venture capital and angel finance on board at the end of the 1990s also dictated this route. It was a testing process. From 1997 […]
In 1992, I was approached by Peter Robinson, FIFA’s Official Photographer for many years – and a personal friend. He had been asked to find a photographer to work with UEFA and TEAM Marketing on their new concept of the UEFA Champions League. He felt as FIFA’s photographer, he could not get involved – and […]
In the late 1990s, there was pressure within the sports photo industry from sports rights holders (the likes of the FA Premier League, the IOC and individual football clubs). These rights holders could not see the value of photography agencies and individual photographers being given free and unrestricted access to sports events. Rights holders got […]
I first heard the term “funemployment” back in 2009. There was an article in the LA Times that summed up the “situation” I was in after selling my business, EMPICS. It had been a challenge to give an answer when, in your 40s, and people ask politely what you do – or forms arrive that […]