This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Jim Morrison had it about right, when he warbled the above with The Doors.
After deep consideration, and with a very heavy heart, I've decided that it's time for me to walk away from geegeez.co.uk.
I have every hope that the site will continue to exist, and most likely in a very similar format to the current setup. But that's assuming a buyer can be found who shares the vision and ethos you've come to expect from this little dot in the pointillist digital landscape of the internet.
There are two reasons I've reached this decision, and they're linked.
Firstly, I've subsidized geegeez to a significant degree from my other business interests over the past year, and that's not something I can justify any more. More on the paradox of this in a moment.
And secondly, I'm tired and I need a change. Frankly, I think geegeez probably does too. This has been my lifeblood for five and a half years now, and it's come a very long way since that first post in August 2008.
Focusing on the first of those reasons for a second, I decided about this time two years ago to really kick on with geegeez.co.uk. It was doing well, providing me with a good living from talking gubbins about racing, and about betting systems and services. And it would have continued to do just that, but for one thing. I was bored.
geegeez virtually ran without input from me at the time, especially as I had help - firstly from Paul and, since June 2011, Chris has been my invaluable right hand man. That support gave me the space that every entrepreneur needs to stop being tactical - i.e. living from day to day, doing the same thing - and to start being strategic, i.e. develop a 'grand plan' for the way forward.
The grand plan had a simple mission statement: to make geegeez.co.uk the best free independent UK racing site on the 'net. I like to think we came close.
Of course, a business plan involves making money. After all, the first rule of business is that if you're not selling anything, you're not in business. (It's amazing how many businesses actually don't get that!)
geegeez was selling quite a lot of systems and services which had been reviewed on the site and our brilliant independent reviewers (thank you, guys!!!) were happy to recommend. It was thanks in part to their hard work that we were able to offer so much for so little. Or for free, to be more precise.
My new strategy involved publishing the racecards each day, and results, and having all sorts of cool - and easy to use - form study tools and reports. It also involved more interaction, through competitions and a tipping league.
Plus, I wanted to showcase some of the hottest new writing talent I could find. I couldn't afford the 'name' writers and, in any case, they've generally got too much to lose to say anything of real interest.
Indeed, the biggest 'name' I've been lucky enough to host on geegeez is Tony Stafford, senior member of the Fleet Street racing mob for many a decade. The cost of his services? A cup of tea and a bacon roll every other month. This tip top man, an absolute encyclopedia of racing, rises early most Sundays to pen some thoughts on the sport's to's and fro's of the last week or so. Plus, he hurls in a spot of Arsenal bluster here and there, but I can't begrudge him that! He does it gratis, bless him.
The writers published on these virtual pages have been expert in their areas, and have had pithy observations to make. Very little fence-sitting, but plenty of ballast to support their arguments. Just how it should be, and - though I say it myself - just how I wanted it.
But, Mr Stafford aside, they cost. Not fortunes, but they cost. Collectively, it comes to a fair sum each month. And there has never been any charge for that quality insight.
I'm sorry to say that I've had to stand the entire writing team down, with effect from the end of the month. Mal Boyle, the daily stats man; Andy Newton, and his Saturday TV and trainer trends; Tony Keenan's Irish views; Martin Pennington's excellent point-to-point knowledge; and, of course, Ian Sutherland, my news writer, for whom this particular news came in the week of his 1000th post on geegeez.
There have been others down the years too, but it's never easy to let people go, especially when they've not actually done anything wrong. It's a tremendous testament that some of the above named have offered to continue to write for free, a) because they love writing for people who actually show their appreciation for what they're doing, and b) because they'd like to write for the new owner(s), whoever that might be.
Then there's the racecards. For someone who spent ten years managing major software projects, it was an eye-opening experience getting those into being. Bootstrapping has been the order of the day. Scrimping on development costs by calling in favours from friends, and friends of the site who have become friends. My massive and sincere thanks go to Nige and Dave, whose hard work for little financial return - certainly compared to the market rate - has produced those things of beauty that help you find your picks each day.
Johanne, my intern, has created perhaps the biggest business asset in his year with me. A raw rookie in work experience terms, he came to me with a first in creative computing for his degree, and he's learned more in one year sat in the office with me than he did in three years at university (by his admission). I want to record my thanks to him too.
Even employing an intern and 'mate's rates', the development exercise was expensive. Especially so after a failed outsource operation (mostly my fault rather than theirs, I should add). It was also time-consuming.
And who knew that when you have all this clever stuff happening on your website, and people are actually using it, that you might need more than £2 a month hosting?! 😉 Well, I do now...
Whilst doing all this, I dropped the ball a little on the system/service review side. In other words, at the same time as spending a ton of money on developing the site, I also reduced the incomings from the review side. Careless on my part.
In the end, it's been a hell of a year with staff and an office and data licensing costs and project management and and and.
Oh yes, and there was the small matter of being dad to a fantastic little lad, and wanting to spend as much time as I can with him.
I'll be honest. For the first time since geegeez.co.uk squinted its virtual eyes into the bright light of cyberspace, it has felt like having a J-O-B this year. But not just any old job. No, a job where you work doubly hard, are responsible for the livelihood of other people, and earn almost no money, because you're ploughing it all back into the business.
And that brings me onto my point two above: I'm tired.
As well as being dad I have had the business to run, a double life which millions of men carry off with staggering élan on a daily basis. Fair play to them, but it's taken me to the outer limits of my capacity and, if I wanted that I'd have carried on being an overpaid consultant to over-earning financial institutions. That's what I left back then to do this...
I've been marketing director, chief correspondent, managing editor, third line customer support (and first line too), chief operating officer, accountant, clerk, secretary, syndicate manager, and a bit more besides. Again, plenty of people do that. After all, it's what running a small business generally entails. And most of those poor bastards don't get to watch racing every day!
So, no sympathy required. Rather, I'm trying to articulate how we... I... came to be where we... I... are... am.
I always said I'd give this project until the end of the year to 'wash its face', but it hasn't, and I need to be a man and walk away. The weird thing - for me, not for any potential buyer - is that having gone through the nuts and bolts over the weekend, 2014 looks full of promise.
Most of the heavy lifting - development costs, data licensing, and the like - is now done. With the vast majority of the development work to produce cool reports and tools for those who want to bet on horse racing completed, for someone - most likely an existing racing publisher, I guess - this will make a great 'turnkey' investment.
I've given five and a half years of my professional life to it, and to you, geegeez' visitors and readers: its loyal and valued subscribers and, in many, many cases, friends. It's been the second best thing I've ever done, and to all who have supported me down the years, your part will sincerely never be forgotten, in the same way that it's never been taken for granted.
But I have to face harsh reality. I've never borrowed a penny in this business, and the fact that I never will is why I have to stop. I'm not commercially aggressive enough to make the investment of this year pay in the very short term, even as I can see the point where investment and return on investment pass each other.
My biggest 'mistake' has ultimately been to give too much away for nothing, when it was costing me something. Cumulatively, a pretty something. I've always believed in being inclusive and my lack of background in marketing has found me out in the end.
So when I recently invited you to trial the Gold service, most of you politely declined. That might have been because you were busy doing other things (apparently something quite significant happens in December each year - the King George on Boxing Day?). It might have been because you've got no money, or no desire to pay for an upgrade. Or it might have been because you get all you need from the free stuff on the site.
There is one other possibility: it might (very well) have been because I did a less than stellar job of 'selling' the free trial to you. For instance, you might not even know that Gold trialists currently have a hot-off-the-press Harry Fry stable tour, with a very dark horse expected to win first time out after a long layoff and a change of stable... 😉 Oh, and I probably ought to have said something about the 6/1 winner for the little system on the Gold subscribers' page too...
You see, whilst I have a very good model for selling products on a one off basis - as plenty of my now peers in the industry can attest - I've never really quite nailed the 'building an asset base' side of things in the way I'd probably have liked to. And that's because I keep giving high quality stuff away. It's hard to feel bad about that, and I don't, but I do feel it maybe should have worked out better than it did in the finish. Anyway...
The options as it stands then are:
1 - Sell up and walk away
2 - Find an investor and re-visit the current 'free line'
3 - Downsize back to a little blog site
Option 2 is not really an option for me. I don't especially want to 'co-habit' with an investor. I don't want to have to consider someone else's opinion in key decisions (notwithstanding that I recognize they might be far better placed to determine the right path).
And I really, really don't want to re-visit the current 'free line'. Put another way, I would find it nigh on impossible to justify charging for something like the Race Analysis Reports, which have been adored as a free facet of the site. That would feel a bit like a pusher offering crack for a few months before asking for money. I guess.
It's not something I can do, and I don't feel any compulsion to reconsider that stance. So Option 2 is a non-runner.
Option 1 - sell up and walk away - is my preferred option. It would, of course, be conditional, as I have a duty of care to those reading this to ensure that a prospective buyer shares at least the guts of my ethos for geegeez. It is also conditional on my valuation being met. Because of the first condition, I am prepared to take a hit on the second. What I'm not prepared to do is, excuse me, be bent over on this.
Which brings me to the third possibility...
Option 3 - downsize back to a little blog site - has some appeal if my valuation isn't met. But things would change markedly, and you and other readers may not derive the same value that you currently do from such a route forward.
Firstly, those brilliant writers would be scarcely affordable. Secondly, it's quite likely that I'd have to tear up the data licensing contract and, thus, the racecards and related reports would go too. The tipping league is driven off that data as well, so that would be out.
Like I say, it'd be back to me writing random thoughts on horse racing, a few tips from Chris and myself (Chris is now more indispensible to geegeez than me!), and some system and service reviews.
Moreover, because I'm completely 'cream crackered', I'd have to take a month out - at least - to recharge my flat batteries. So it'd be a quiet time for a while.
My preference, as I've said, is for Option 1. But I'll not sell you - or me - short on that, which does bring in Option 3. After a rest. (Bizarrely, if someone does step forward to buy the site, I'll likely end up working with them for a couple of months to handover, but will most certainly take my leave of absence thereafter!)
I do have a prospectus for interested parties - serious enquiries only please, and some demonstration of viability will be required before data is divulged - so if you might be interested in what is a brilliant opportunity for the right company, either to synergize with existing titles, or to take a first step into the racing niche, then please do contact me.
I must start to close by saying that this is very sad for me personally. Very sad. And it's desperately disappointing that it's come to this. It's also been really difficult telling people whose contributions I value so much that I can no longer showcase their talent. But that's where we are, I'm afraid.
So what happens next? Well, for the next few weeks, you're very unlikely to see any difference, except that there will be less content on the site after the end of the month. That likely means I'll be doing a bit more writing myself, so apologies for that in advance. 😉
Gold membership and the racecards will continue, at least until April, when the break clause in my license can be activated. So need to do anything just yet if you're a member of that esteemed community. (And if you're not, now might be a fine time to register...)
Thereafter, during January, things will be winding down on the editorial side unless/until a buyer is found. If you, or someone you know, might be interested, please get in touch. Serious enquiries only please.
We've had a great run since 22nd August 2008 - five and a half good years. And before that, since 23rd February 2007 when I wrote my first post on nag-nag-nag. That's nigh on seven years of blogging. As a consequence of my digital scribbles, I got to write a weekly column for The Irish Field, and a Cheltenham feature last year for attheraces.com, as well as having geegeez.co.uk featured in the Racing Post (though the assertion that the site had "a few serviceable posts" still rankles!)
This year, the site has had 786,454 visits from 220,189 unique visitors. They - you - have collectively viewed 3,913,990 pages. And over 73% of you are return visitors. There have been over 10,000 posts, and 17,645 comments (none of which are spam, and all of which have been manually moderated by myself or Chris).
More good news for a potential buyer is that those figures are a step up on 2012, and offer solid evidence that the site's popularity continues on an upward curve.
Since February 2007, I've personally written well over two MILLION words. In fact, with comment replies and the like, it's probably over three million!
Given that your average novel weighs in at somewhere between 80,000 and 120,000 words, that's close to thirty volumes in seven years. No wonder I've got RSI. (Did I mention I'm starting to get RSI?!)
So we've done a lot right. Unfortunately, I've done one thing wrong. I've not made enough money to pay the bills, and to keep my family in a way I'd want to. Bills which grew considerably in 2013, and a family which has also grown by 50%, as I've tried to take geegeez to the next level.
Although the bills will be a fair bit lower in 2014 with a number of one off costs now sunk, I remain knackered.
I don't regret trying, though I'm disappointed by my failure to achieve the business objectives I set out for geegeez. And it's perfectly fair to say that I under-estimated the enormity of the challenge, with all the management decisions - be they technical, marketing, strategic, or logistical - posted through one door: mine.
So, for now at least, many thanks for reading this post - and the likely large number of previous contributions you've perused at this virtual address - and please keep dropping by, as nothing will change in the short term. Plus, how else will I keep you updated of any developments on the future?!
In the meantime, if you'd like to encourage a potential buyer (or just help cheer me up!) by demonstrating the affection you have for the site, then please do leave a comment below. In any case, you have my heartfelt thanks for being a part of this adventure for so long, and I hope you understand my reasons for arriving at the crossroads I am now.