What does the Jonny Cadden story teach us?
Last week I devoted my blog to the rise and fall of NCC's former CEO Rob Cotton.
This week I’m looking at the demise of the Jonny Cadden-inspired Business Rocks.
I get no satisfaction writing about other people’s travails but they’re both important stories and worthy of analysis.
Business Rocks was the brainchild of livewire 37-year-old entrepreneur Jonny Cadden, from Ramsbottom – or “Silicon-Rammy” as he likes to call it.
To understand the story we need to go back to the beginning. I first met Cadden two-and-a-half years ago over a coffee at Philpotts sandwich shop at the bottom of Manchester’s City Tower.
Cadden with 2016 headliner Steve Wozniak, centre, and investor Scott Fletcher
Meeting him was like being caught up in a tsunami of enthusiasm. I said at the time that if the National Grid could tap into his energy levels then the lights would never go out!
He said his plan was to create a global technology and investment conference in Manchester with a big name speaker that would attract thousands of attendees. He wanted to do something incredible for Manchester.
I was very suspicious and I wasn’t on my own on this one. How could one person with no experience of running events deliver a two-day festival on the scale that he was proposing?
“I’m putting everything on the line for this,” was the gist of what he said – and that’s exactly what he did.
He booked Manchester Central for April 21/22, 2016 and secured a loan against his house to pay for headline speaker Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple.
Standing room only as Wozniak speaks
Cadden visited countess entrepreneurs in Manchester in search of investment, without success. Although many admired his tenacity they were worried he could saddle himself with a lifetime of debt and were unwilling to invest.
Questions were raised about whether the event would happen at all, but then Manchester businessman Scott Fletcher stepped in at the 11th hour and pumped in around £250,000.
The founder and chairman of ANS launched his own business at the age of 22 from his back bedroom so probably saw a bit of himself in the young Cadden.
By hook or by crook Business Rocks happened. Figures vary but nearly 3,000 people attended the festival. It was standing room only for Wozniak’s hour-long interview but the room emptied pretty quickly when he left the stage. The footfall in some parts of the exhibition space was especially low.
Cadden told me at the time that Business Rocks had left him more than £100,000 in personal debt but he was unfazed.
“We are now negotiating to create the global brand that we always dreamed of,” he said. “We are looking to do a UK event next year then are exploring the idea of Hong Kong later in 2017 so we can build on our strong links with the Asian tech corridor.”
Cadden had hoped delivering the 2016 event would have been the catalyst for getting new investment into the event but it didn’t pan out like that.
On February 17, 2017, I hosted a breakfast event and roundtable at KPMG entitled ‘Focus in the tech scene in Manchester’ and invited Cadden to take part. His passion, enthusiasm and sense of humour remained undimmed.
Afterwards we spoke about BusinessCloud becoming a media partner for Business Rocks 2017 and me hosting some events. We followed it up a week later with a proper meeting with my team but this is where things started to unravel.
Cadden reeled off all the potential speakers he’d approached but the devil was in the detail. With less than nine weeks to go there were still 3,500 tickets unsold and it was unclear if his mentor Scott Fletcher was willing to invest any more of his money. He wasn’t.
On March 6 BusinessCloud broke the story that Business Rocks 2017 had been cancelled and the company was being put into liquidation.
Cadden said too few key sponsors and keynote speakers had confirmed for this year’s event on May 3/4, making it “unsustainable”.
“I have put my everything into this vision for the last three years but regrettably have had to accept that my everything is not going to be enough, on this occasion,” he said in a statement.
Fletcher told me he never wanted to get into the events business and got involved as a one-off to bring Wozniak to the city. “It’s a real shame other people were not able to support the event,” he said.
So where does this leave us and what lessons have we learned?
In terms of Cadden, he’s changed his profile on Twitter to include some lovely family shots along with the message “starting a new chapter....”
Speaking personally, I wish him all the best for the future. It’s easy to criticise but he brought Steve Wozniak to Manchester and I admire him hugely for that. You learn more out of failure than success and I’m positive we’ll see Jonny Cadden again.
If Cadden could do it all again I’m sure he would do some things differently. At times it felt like Cadden versus the world and they’re not good odds.
However there’s something amazing going on around tech in Manchester and the demise of Business Rocks won’t derail the tech juggernaut.