Sporting a mahogany tan, displayed to its best advantage in an open-necked shirt, Richard Cook looks more transatlantic playboy than overworked entrepreneur. But the 39 year-old (as of tomorrow) has spent the last two years building a fast-growing PR agency in the heart of London.
He founded Champion Communications with fellow agency veteran Faye Hawkins in 2008. "We always worked well together," says Cook. "We said that when the time was right, we'd start something of our own."
When an ex client approached the pair in 2008, both were working for different agencies. "They'd loved working with us before and asked if we'd like to pitch for a bit of business," recalls Cook. Hawkins and Cook went up against some big agency rivals, and won. Champion Communications was opened for business in January 2009.
It was a risky time to be starting a new venture. The UK was mired in recession and the big PR agencies were feeling the pinch. "Funnily enough, it was great for us," says Cook. "We had no overheads: we didn't even have premises. And while the incumbents were losing business, every contract we won was a huge step forward."
It was also a great time to pick up top-notch staff for bargain basement prices. "The quality of the applications we received when we first started recruiting went far beyond what we'd anticipated," says Cook. "We were able to get some great talent on board."
Two years on, the firm is turning over £600,000 and is already storming ahead of its business plan. "We were supposed to be recruiting our tenth person now, but we've already got 12 staff. It's time to revisit the plan and make a few changes," says Cook.
"I did have a look at the Smarta business plan templates though," he adds. "I got a few tips from those."
Cook is still involved with every aspect of the business. He spends 20 per cent of his time on pitches, 20 with his staff, a further 20 per cent on admin and the rest of his time hopping between accounts. "I see myself as smoothing out the wrinkles in the business," he says. "I make sure that whatever peaks and troughs we experience, the people working for the business never feel unstable."
Champion may be Cook's baby, but the young entrepreneur is nothing if not adaptable. When White Label Dating came on board as a client, Cook decided to test-drive the back end and create a couple of dating sites. "I have one heterosexual dating site and one for gay couples," he says. "It proved the service works. I do virtually nothing with the sites and I get a cheque for £100-200 every month."
If only Cook had the same luxury with Champion. "I have big plans for the business," he says. "I want to create more of a social media offering and keep growing the business organically." Cook also wants to bring a non executive director on board, and set up a share option scheme for his staff. "I couldn't find anything on the Smarta about these things," he says. "Don't suppose you can get something up on the site sometime soon?"
We'll get right on it, Richard.