Entrepreneur bio: Fergus Dyer-Smith
Fergus Dyer-Smith, CEO at Wooshii
Inspiration can strike at the strangest of times – even when you’re riding the crest of a wave off the coast of Portugal. It’s a fitting metaphor for Fergus Dyer-Smith, whose success in video marketing came when he rode the wave of the nascent Internet.
Some eight years ago, the founder of video marketing agency Wooshii set off for Portugal and never looked back. Having tried his hand at multiple career options, Mr Dyer-Smith was in no way travelling for work.
“I just wanted to move to Portugal and live out my days surfing,” he says. Unfortunately for Mr Dyer-Smith, it soon became apparent that surfing was only possible in Portugal for three hours a day. Instead of returning to Blighty, he spotted a gap in the market for corporate video production, and Wooshii was born.
A sense of adventure
Wooshii was a homecoming of sorts for the entrepreneur, whose nomadic childhood was far from traditional. Surrounded by generations of filmmakers and editors, he was inspired by his family’s creative talents from a young age. It was only natural that he would harness the power of the Internet to start his own entrepreneurial journey.
“One of the biggest things I value is freedom,” says Mr Dyer-Smith. “It comes across in the way I run my business – I want to give people the freedom to do what they want.” For this reason, he never followed a conventional career path, and instead it was his sense of adventure that inspired his entrepreneurship.
This comes right down to how he shaped his studies. Aged 18, he was teaching agricultural science in Botswana, which soon developed into biochemistry. (There’s not much agriculture in Botswana, he laments.) All the while, a little-known phenomenon was bubbling in the background: the Internet.
“I became fascinated with the idea of the Internet. As it began to grow, I discovered the Human Genome Project. I recall people saying at the time that it would take £10 billion and 10 years to get there. Now you can get a human genome for less than 100 bucks.”
It seems the timing was right for Mr Dyer-Smith, who then focused his inquisitive mind on learning all there was to know about the World Wide Web. This presented him with myriad opportunities, including the chance to build a website for the NFL. “Back then, with the advent of the Internet, you could charge an obscene amount of money for what was actually very little work! This soon developed into a full-service web agency,” he says.
A colourful CV
Not content with the confines of a web development agency, Mr Dyer-Smith continued to grow professionally. After graduating, he began to illuminate his CV with all sorts of adventure-based projects, including founding a European travel company for students, as well as Snowbombing – Europe’s largest winter festival.
One of Mr Dyer-Smith’s proudest projects was an enterprise facilitator role from 2006 to 2008. Working for New East Manchester Ltd, he would develop online and offline strategies for some of the most ambitious start-up projects in the North West. “I was helping some of the most deprived people in the country get into business,” he says. He adds that he created one of the region’s leading entrepreneurial start-up contests.
Today, Mr Dyer-Smith continues to work on many other passions alongside Wooshii. He maintains his surfer lifestyle, and also runs a brewery. “That one came out of nowhere – I’ve no idea why I did that!” he says. “Thankfully, I work with some incredible people who keep it going day to day.”
With so many ideas brewing all the time, how does Mr Dyer-Smith find focus? Simple – he doesn’t. “Focus is not my forte,” he says. “I am always coming up with a new product or a business idea, so I’m very fortunate to work with good people.
“I can do extreme high intensity focus, but only for short periods. I’ll never be able to train my way out of that, but I can hire people.” One method for finding focus, he notes, is the Warren Buffet method.
“He advises to make a list of the top things you want to do in life, then cross off two and never go back. Things will always get in the way of your real passion.”
Of course, Mr Dyer-Smith also acknowledges that we need to have some allowance for evolution. Having always taken a flexible approach, it is this adaptability that has seen Wooshii transform into the company it is today.
“When Wooshii started off, it was a platform for a community of film and videomakers. Clients would add their brief to the platform, and we would match them up.
“As this model started to grow, we identified multiple issues – the key issue being that smaller companies would only ever need one or two videos in their lifetime. This put their lifetime value at relatively low, while the cost per acquisition was high. We moved our value proposition towards larger companies, whose main concerns were about capacity rather than budgets. We soon discovered that the best thing for us was to operate a hybrid model.”
It has certainly paid off, and today the company has attracted the attention of multiple investors. It also boasts staff members in Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester, as well as further afield in Spain, Portugal and Lithuania.
An office working policy is just one of the conventions Mr Dyer-Smith wants to challenge. “We actually use our remote working as a selling point to investors. We’re not bound by offices. Of course, it’s not a model that works for every industry, but we believe in output rather than input.”
Could this be a sign of the times for the modern workplace? Mr Dyer-Smith certainly thinks so. “Many company owners are in their 40s and 50s, so they’ve never known remote working. They’re coming around to the idea, and it will be a generational norm in years to come.
“The old model focused on trivial measures like what time you arrived and how many hours you worked. These things are so easy to fake – it’s far better to measure output. If you spent three hours watching telly at home, but you got the job done, that’s what matters.”
He’s also keen to push a fearless approach to business, which he credits to J.K. Rowling. “She says the best thing that ever happened to her was when she lost everything. We need to learn how to cope in terms of adversity and remember what’s really important to us.”
For Mr Dyer-Smith, what’s important is very simple. It’s not about cash – it’s about family, waxing up a surfboard and enjoying his freedom. Challenging the status quo has worked well for him so far, and he has no intention of stopping.
“I don’t believe in the phrase ‘work/life balance’. That implies that we’re working towards the end, and we all know what happens at the end of life! You wouldn’t go on a bike ride just for the joy of getting home again.
“At the end of the day, if what I’m doing every day isn’t fulfilling, then it isn’t worth it.”
3rd January 2021
Date: 28th February 2022