Nic Simmonds

Johannesburg - Clockwork Media founders Tom Manners and Nicholas Simmonds chat about what led them to form the company in this Q&A with IOL.

Manners is MD and founder, while Simmonds is COO and co-founder.

Q: Is Clockwork Media your first start-up?

A: Tom Manners: It’s my first real business. I’ve been spotting opportunities since I was a kid. I traded marbles for money on the playground, I had a production company when I was in a band. None were particularly serious but they taught me a lot.

Q: What gave you the idea?

A: Tom Manners: I was a freelance writer for many years before we started Clockwork so I was working with agencies every day. Eventually, I began to feel that we could do a better job at integrating social and digital media with content and PR – that’s where it all started.

Q: How is it doing?

A: Nic Simmonds: The growth has defied our early expectations in such a short timeframe– we’ve roughly tripled in size every year for the last three years running! Of course this sort of expansion comes with immense challenges, but we’ve instilled a strong culture of ambition and grit that has gotten us through difficult and sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Q: Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?

A: Tom Manners: No. I’ve wanted to be lots of things – a marine biologist, a lawyer, a musician, but not an entrepreneur. I come from an entrepreneurial family though and my dad had a big influence on me in that way.

A: Nic Simmonds: Not particularly – it always seemed incredibly stressful and risky. I was not a particular risk prone person when I was younger, but the last few years have taught me the joys of navigating uncertainty – I’ve come to love it.

Q: What made you choose this career path?

A: Tom Manners: I always enjoyed English at school and ended up opting for journalism in the hopes that I could cover sports or music and travel the world. Neither happened. Somehow, I ended up working as a technology journalist, which led me to freelance writing and ultimately to starting the business.

A: Nic Simmonds: I spent a few years in journalism and really enjoyed it. To be honest I made the decision to change course quite impulsively – I think I was driven by realising the limitations of the career path I was heading down.

Q: What's next on your list?

A: Tom Manners: London! We’re busy opening up a full-fledged office in the UK. I’m there at least one week a month at the moment. It’s a passion project of mine, but it also makes a lot of sense for the business.

Q: What would you say to someone who wants to be an entrepreneur?

A: Tom Manners: It’s hard work and you’re going to learn fast. I’ve never done anything as physically and mentally taxing as running a business – and I have a two-year-old boy to go home to. If you’re open to learning and growing, and to putting in the hours to make your idea a reality, then it’s for you.

Q: Would you say you need a degree to get started?

A: Nic Simmonds: I am a huge proponent of higher education, but it’s definitely not necessary for starting a business. When starting out it’s mostly important to have a precise and accurate understanding of the market you want to serve – this allows you to predict what products/services have business potential.

You also need to be able to create a good version of that product/service, and then access your market.