By David Lester, founder and MD of Crimson
In February 1999, I launched Crimson, a magazine and website publishing business.
Previously I had set up a successful computer games company, Impressions, where we produced and published some games that you may (or may not) have heard of: Kenny Dalglish Football Manager (1988), Air Bucks (1992?), Air Force Commander (1992) and Caesar 1, 2 and 3, to name a few.
Back in 1995 the computer games industry was growing at a phenomenal rate so I moved to the USA to improve the worldwide distribution of our games. It was in a meeting with the CEO of Sierra Online (the largest company making PC games back then) that I was offered a life-changing sum to sell Impressions.
With the proceeds of the sale I returned to England in 1996.
I carried on working for Sierra in London, though on a part-time basis. I wanted a break from the intensity of the computer games world, and ideally to find a more balanced life. I designed Caesar 3, which came out in 1998 and also went on to sell millions of copies, and then stopped working with computer games altogether. Next, I invested in a few small private companies as a business angel. I couldn’t find very many companies I wanted to invest in, and became frustrated with some of the investments I did make when the business managers made bad mistakes, and in 1998 decided to set up a new company.
This was the beginning of the internet ‘revolution’, and I thought that I could use my knowledge of what was happening in the USA, together with my technical experience of creating computer games, to make a successful internet business. I researched a number of ideas, and in the end decided on publishing. I loved small, fast-growing businesses, and had seen magazines and books in USA which were substantially better than anything that existed then in the UK: my plan was to bring the US quality of information to the UK small businesses, using the internet. I liked the idea of growing a business rapidly this time, having grown Impressions initially very slowly, constrained by lack of cash.
We launched What Laptop magazine in August 1999, which was a huge success, and eBusiness magazine in the November, which was successful for a while, but died in the dotcom crash. In January 2000, we launched www.startups.co.uk, now the UK’s biggest and most popular website for small business by quite a large margin. Crimson has launched over a dozen publications in total; some have been tremendously successful, but we’ve also made a number of mistakes, the biggest being an absolutely disastrous acquisition of a wedding magazine.
Crimson is now a successful publisher of books, magazines, websites and organiser of events for small businesses, and has acquired two other book publishing businesses specialising in travel and education/careers. I’ve also invested heavily in two other businesses – a children’s shoe retailer, and a book distributor, as well as smaller sums in another half a dozen private businesses ranging from a restaurant to a telecoms company. I also invested in Watford FC, the football club I support, and spent six eventful years on the board there.
Now I work for enjoyment; I love what I do, and am determined to create products I’m proud of. I continue to make many mistakes, and continue to learn. I’m enormously lucky now to meet many other successful entrepreneurs as part of what I do. Running a small business is far from easy; starting one is significantly tougher still; but if you’re the right sort of person for it, then it is an absolutely fantastic way to work.