Panel with Ashley Friedlein Guild Founder

The story of an entrepreneur. Google lawsuits, music empire building and Jeff Bezos' regret model.

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A video panel discussion with Ashley Friedlein. CEO and cofounder of Guild and Econsultancy.


Charles Thiede:     Hi everybody. It's Charles Thiede, CEO and Co-Founder of Zapnito. I'm here with Ashley Freidlein, who is the Guild founder and former Econsultancy founder. Hi Ashley.

Ashely:             Hi Charles.

Charles Thiede:     Hi, so tell us a little about you, and where are you right now?

Ashely:             I'm at home. You mean in my career?

Charles Thiede:     No, just where are you in the world?

Ashely:             Where in the world. I'm at home in Hertfordshire at the moment and it's very nice sunny day of the year I think, but yes.

Charles Thiede:     Yes pretty powerfully rare day in London. Ashley tell us, tell me a little about, tell everybody a little about kind of you and your background, and maybe what you are up to?

Ashely:             Yes, so don't know how far I want to go back. But, I did languages at university. Left. Couldn't find a job. Having studied languages doesn't qualify you for anything. Decided, tried to get a career in TV. Failed at that, but then saw the internet coming in the late 90s and thought "Aha, this is the ways forwards because there's no broadcaster, there's no one controlling the gateway to the audience.” So, I found that kind of exciting, and luckily it turned out to be a good decision to get into the internet, rather than TV.

Ashely:             That was the late 90s. Worked for a digital agency which is now digitized LVI, but went through various incarnations. So, I did a whole kind of dot com boom, and subsequent bust thing, and wrote two books.

Charles Thiede:     I was there. I remember that

Ashely:             Yes. When it's two books doing, that's time about essentially about how to launch a large scale commercial website, and then how to market it, and web analytics, Sierra, and content management systems, and things based on my experiences.

Ashely:             Then I set up Econsultancy in 1999. It was called Econsultancy, not because it was a consultancy, it's just a domain name I bought back in 1996 when everything was either Etoys, Ebay, and I managed to get, and thought I'd just sit on it, and then sell it, you know, to KPMG or Ecentric at some point.

Ashely:             Anyway, ended up using it to go with the companion website to my book initially, then that started to build a community of people. It was free, but you had to register to get access to some of the content. Then I basically turned that into a business. So it launched in 1999, but in 2002, I'd come back from a sabbatical and writing a second book. Got some agent investment and turned it into a business, and grew it from there over the next 10 years, and focused on teaching marketing people about how to do digital marketing and eCommerce.

Ashely:             We had some free content, some paid and subscription member rights services, and then added events and training over the years, and opened up offices in New York, Singapore, and we did have offices in Dubai and Sydney as well at one stage. So, I grew the business, sold it in 2012 to Centaur Media PLC, which owns Marketing Week, and New Media Age which got folded into Econsultancy, and I'm still there. But, only a day a week now. So, I've sort of gradually wound down the amount of time I spend at Econsultancy or Centaur. But, I'm still there as the founder. But, now involved in other things.

Charles Thiede:     Cool, thanks. Let's go even further back to when you were a young boy. Well, so I kind of think entrepreneurs, there's sort of three types. This sort of my take on it. But, there's sort of entrepreneurs that almost are forced into entrepreneurship from adversity, you know, and really have to overcome a lot of odds. There's a second type which is they're kind of, they sort of, exhibit entrepreneurial mind sets from early childhood. They have the lemonade stand empire, or you know, selling Pokemon maybe. Maybe that's before your time?

Ashely:             I'm old enough for that.

Charles Thiede:     And then there's a third type which is kind of the one that, sort of, creates or decides that's something that they want to do. And maybe there's a fourth type in your case which is, sort of, it's by accident. So, I guess I was wondering what, you know, as a kid, did you kind of display that spirit, or is it something that came on later?

Ashely:             Yes, I think I'd be your second type. I always had...I mean my father had his own business. He was an entrepreneur. So I think that was always normal, you know. So, I think that you're in a family where you see entrepreneurship happening that's just normal. So, it's not weird, unusual, or strangely risky thing to do, to have your own business. My two brothers, my middle brother, also has his own business. I think probably rubbed off a bit. But, yes, I always had schemes, you know, money making schemes, or various things, you know, at school and at university.

Charles Thiede:     Perfect.

Ashely:             So, not really, to be honest, there's never necessarily about the money per se. It was just about the opportunity and the idea, and then there comes a point where you feel compelled to actually do something about it because you think you can do something better or differently from what is being done.

Charles Thiede:     Yes, okay. So you sort of grafting early on, and trying stuff out and getting your friends to pay you money, basically?

Ashely:             Yes, I don't know whether it was on the whole, friends or possible friends. But, yes, I had various...I mean at university I ran a band and at university I suppose one of the themes in life I think for me. I was definitely the worst musician in that band. But, I was good at finding the talent and putting it together and marketing it, and turning it into something. I kind of did it because I wanted to be in band. I probably wouldn't of gotten in a band otherwise.

Ashely:             But, then I also created a directory which I sort of sold to people. People had to pay. I think it was £2 or £3 to be in this directory? It was a listing of musicians. So, if you paid your money, you ought to get a directory, and then you can see and find out who the other musicians are. So, if you are a guitarist and you're looking for bass player, a drummer, or a singer, whatever, this is a way to do it. It was sort of an early publishing business really. A directory.

Ashely:             But, the real reason I did it, apart from making some money, because, you know, it was easily profitable, you had a few hundred people signing up, was because I wanted to get and find out who the best people were before anyone else did to form my own band. So, there was actually an ulterior motive.

Charles Thiede:     Love you. Nice, I like that. I'm going to stop actually on that piece. I'm going to come back to maybe the next part around the journey, and then will get into Guild. So, I'm going to stop there.

Ashely:             Okay.

Charles Thiede

CEO & Co-Founder, Zapnito Ltd.

My background is in technology, professional services and digital media. I co-founded Zapnito due to a number of related observations from my time in these sectors: 1) the social web is creating a huge amount of noise 2) expertise that brands have built up over decades is being drowned out and hidden from those that need it 3) these brands are therefore losing their audience to often undeserving and unhelpful sources, and 4) people are finding it harder to access the expertise that they truly value. I therefore decided to create Zapnito, a white-label platform to help trusted brands reclaim their audiences via expert-driven knowledge networks.