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Internet entrepreneur builds up bedroom business to £40m sale in 10 years

Via The Argus : DIGITAL entrepreneur Arjo Ghosh caught on to the wonders of the internet earlier than most.

But his first encounter of it in the 1990s, courtesy of an anarchist who had got hold of a shaky connection, was by his own admission “useless, slow and boring”.

It was some time later having moved to Brighton that he began to appreciate its potential.

icrossing

“People didn’t know how to find things”, he told a Brighton Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Friday.

“We realised if we could crack how to get to the top of the searching rankings we were really getting somewhere.

“This was the most valuable real estate on the internet.”

Founded in 1997, Ghosh’s company Spannerworks became a trailblazer of what has now become a £1 billion digital cluster in Brighton.

Started in a tiny spare room of his flat in Sillwood Place, Brighton, a decade later, the company traded from a 7,000 square feet office in Palace Place off North Street.

It was able to boost the profile of big-name clients like Virgin and Best Western by driving customers to its websites via Google.

It also had the hallmarks of Silicon Valley, with stand-up desks and a free-wheeling attitude.

“It felt like a world without boundaries”, he said.

“It was an immature company and we had the chance to break the rules – and we did.”

This unorthodox approach had its roots in an unconventional hippy childhood.

Even as an 11 year old in sandals who resembled Mowgli he knew he wanted to work for himself.

“I knew I wasn’t going to work for anyone else. I thought I’m going to work for myself.

“It was the start of my journey as an entrepreneur.”

He went to independent Kirkdale School in London where the children had the run of the roost, teachers only there to “stop us killing ourselves”.

Spending most of his time building “the biggest tree house in South London”, the lack of rules at the school taught him important life lessons.

“It taught us that all our actions ha consequences”, he said

“It was like a small Glastonbury crossed with Lord of the Flies.”

He left school without any qualifications to study at Liverpool Polytechnic, later zoning in on Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden, were he started working in desktop publishing, and which were at “the beginnings of the Apple revolution”.

“I learned an awful lot about how technology could free of us as individuals”, he said.

Fast forward to the late noughties and the stock of the digital industry– and Spannerworks – was at all-time high.

Yet when talk of exit came – despite its connotations of ‘excitement’ – he admits he found the idea scary.

The team met several high profile suitors, including one who barely understood the concept of the internet.

But it was Jeff ‘The Zog’ Herzog, founder of US internet marketing company iCrossing who really impressed.

“Their first offer was good, but the second offer blew everyone out of the water”, Ghosh remembers.

“We were at our peak and it was the right time to go.”

It didn’t end there, and it a conversation in a taxi to the airport in earshot of an iCrossing staffer ended up adding millions to the eventual deal.

Yet despite the achieving the business deal of his dreams all was not well.

His second child was severely ill with a rare syndrome and died.

“What I felt was at the best moment of my life was also the worst moment of my life”, he said.

“I didn’t celebrate because I was grieving.”

As well as dealing with his loss, Ghosh also did what many ordinary people might, and reacted with almost disbelief – going to the cash point to check his balance to see if the money was really there, even taking a picture.

While he gave 20 per cent of shares to staff, there was a burden to the buy-out.

“When you take money from somewhere it has to come from somewhere”, he said.

“I had to interface with the board of Goldman Sachs. That was not fun.”

hearst_tower

In 2010 iCrossing was bought out by the Hearst Corporation, giving Ghosh another corporate boss to answer to.

“Did I want to sit in the Hearst Tower as VP of something or other, or did I want to step away?”

“I didn’t have a choice – the corporate world wasn’t for me.”

*Arjo Ghosh was speaking at the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce ‘risk taking’ breakfast, of which The Argus is an event sponsor.

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