Big Shots Group
June 2016| Sofia Simeonidou
Guido is behind Big Shots. And this great story of how a fun adventure became his business. And he’s talking business. No big fears, just self-motivation, ideas, and a certainty that either way it will always work out. Guido is one of the Big Shots Group founders.
How did it all start?
We started as a television programme. Actually not even that. We started as four friends looking to go on holiday together, 13 years ago. We were studying Media and Entertainment Management in Haarlem and we had this idea of going on holidays together and pretend we are a video production team, pretend we were making a television programme about the international jet set lifestyle. We wanted to use the camera in order to get free entrance to hotels, clubs, and hip places. We said, ‘Well, you let us in and we’ll advertise your place in our pilot television programme.’ That was our unique business proposition. We suggested this to different rich and famous “big shots” (which later became the name of our company) and everyone was willing to let us register and stay in their hotel or dine in their restaurant for free. It was an amazingly fun deal for us. It was 2003, South of France, and everyone was willing to work with us, everyone wanted to appear in the programme.
Sounds fun and easy but I guess there was work involved before your first client?
Yes, we did a lot of research; we had to look credible so we prepared each detail: nice clothes, steel suitcase for our work gear, an arrogant looking host, and a busy producer talking constantly on his phone. Anyway, when you have the camera in your hand you have power, and people are vain, it’s a human trait. We were 23 years old but indeed we had a plan. We worked hard to put everything together before leaving for France. The background story was all worked out, business cards, website, office phone number. We had a list of places we wanted to go to, and people we wanted to hang out with and register. If you don’t know what you want to do then there’s not much to achieve.
How fast did the idea expand?
We did the same in 2004 in Dubai. That was even crazier, opened up all doors for us. We had fancy dinners, helicopters, on a boat with sheiks, really crazy things. After that, we got some media attention, a cover interview in a magazine, and that’s when we thought this was becoming something more than a fun adventure. We decided to sell the programme. We contacted different broadcasters who were very interested. MTV said, ‘All right guys next week there’s a new thing coming out, called YouTube, it’s in the US and it’s about users creating content, which is exactly what you’re doing. You guys are amateurs but we want to buy 9 episodes of your Big Shots programme.’ And we did sell 9 episodes to MTV. After that, we went to Hong Kong with another concept. This time we weren’t pretending to have a pilot television programme; we were promoting a star artist. We wanted to see the reactions and how easy was to sell someone–anyone in that case as a big star. 210 hours of video showing the funny side of things and the media world. We sold this series to MTV (it was broadcasted in 2005) and then we decided to work for ourselves. Me and another friend from our group we set up what is today the Big Shots Group. We made our own productions, starting mainly with videos for corporate clients.
If you don’t know what you want to do then there’s not much to achieve.
How easy was it to book your first clients?
We had some network but not many corporate contacts. One of our first clients was PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). It has to do with people giving you the opportunity if they see you are passionate about it. You need to work hard, harder than what the client expects. You always need to give more to clients if you want them to come back, which will allow you to have a solid business. We worked super hard and we didn’t earn much the first years. The company started to grow within 2-3 years.
So Storylane came later?
After the corporate clients we started to focus on advertising and advertising agencies, more commercial work, and at a later stage, we started Storylane. It’s about continuity, a web series offering targeted content for clients for all online channels. The umbrella company is always Big Shots Group; with Storylane we work more on a long-term relationship product.
How do you select the people you work with?
People need to fit in our family. The core of our company is about the family feeling and looking out for each other. Then you need people who have talents and capabilities you don’t, people who think different. When you build a team you don’t want everyone to think like you or agree with you. You need different people with different ideas. This makes the team stronger. So surround yourself with people who don’t think like you. I guess it’s not only about the versatility of opinions but because you need to constantly change, you can’t afford to be one-dimensional in this business.
How do you see the video culture at the moment, everyone doing video, live broadcasting with the press of a button?
The online video business is constantly changing. The last 10-11 years it’s going crazy, too much competition. Only here in Amsterdam, there are like 200 companies at least. And even more freelancers. But our market segment and our business proposition are different. We give our clients a partnership rather than just a cheap video product. We are not a company that sells videos or films. We are a company that helps companies to solve communication issues, reinforcing their identity and branding. The process of creating a video is much more than having a camera and record. For us it’s a good thing that online video is rapidly growing, 50% of all traffic now is online video. There’s a very big difference between amateur users making content and specialised companies that really know how to pass a difficult communication message with a video.
Do you ever think of giving up?
If you are an entrepreneur there’s no guarantee for many things, it’s going up and down and the only thing you have is your own confidence and belief that there’s potential and will work out at the end. There were tough moments, especially during the crisis, but even in those moments, the only thing you have as an entrepreneur is the faith you have in yourself. When you have that you know you are going to come back no matter what.
What did you study?
I studied Media and Entertainment Management. I’m very proud I actually work with what I studied.
What qualities do you need to have as an entrepreneur in order to be relevant in this business?
You need to have ideas and be relevant. If you wake up one day and you don’t have ideas then maybe it’s over. You need to be restless. All the entrepreneurs I know, who are good at what they do, are restless.
What do you do when under stress?
When I’m stressed I get energy from my family, wife and 3 kids. It’s like living in two worlds. One world is about my company, and all the goals I try to achieve there, and the other one is about enjoying life with my family. I don’t know how I’d decompress if I didn’t have my family. They do absorb all the stress well most of the time (laughing).
If you wake up one day and you don’t have ideas then maybe it’s over.
How many hours do you work on average?
I work about 50 to 60 hours a week. I’m focused on sales and business opportunities and overseeing the general reproduction part. And there are always things that need to be done anyway, new opportunities I don’t want to miss.
And your biggest success with Big Shots?
It was a video we produced together with an advertising agency for KLM lost and found with a little dog, KLM Sherlock. It’s one of the biggest viral hits and really proud of the work done.
How is it to live in Amsterdam?
Awesome. Amsterdam has an amazing atmosphere and it's getting better and better. The vibe is great and from what I hear it’s one of the best cities to live in the world. You have many different cultures, which is good for entrepreneurship. We just started working with our first international client.
Having a family and being an entrepreneur, does it stay unpredictable?
You need to have a partner who understands teamwork is everything. Sometimes I need to focus more on my business, I have to travel, or work in the evenings so it’s very important to have a partner who understands. Otherwise it wouldn’t be possible.
When do you stop?
You need to invest in your employees’ development; it’s your responsibility as an employer. But if you have a business that is enough only to pay bills and your employees’ salaries then you should stop. Easy. The company needs to facilitate your dream; the concept needs to work for you.