Successes and failures count in equal measure
From sponsorship to ice wine to The Apprentice, Jackie Fast has packed a lot into her decade of entrepreneurship. She tells Smith & Williamson’s Hall of Fame the lessons she has learnt along the way.
As her name suggests, Jackie Fast is an entrepreneur in a hurry. She arrived in the UK from Canada in 2007, planning to backpack round Europe. Instead, using only her laptop and £2,000 seed capital, she launched Slingshot Sponsorship with a client roster that came to include Sir Richard Branson, the Rolling Stones, Shell, Red Bull and a range of other blue-chips. She sold it six ‘relentless’ years later for a deal reportedly worth £2.5m.
Slingshot was born of frustration. In spite of degrees in both Maths and Visual Arts and experience as part of the Direct Marketing Association, she was rejected by every sponsorship agency she applied to. She also saw key problems in the sponsorship industry. There was a failure of imagination, she says, with everyone approaching the same ‘big 5’ sponsors and little thought on how to get across a brand’s message more effectively. She wanted to occupy a middle ground, educating brands about the kind of sponsors they should be working with, and then making those deals happen.
She quickly proved this approach could work, bringing in nine sponsors for the What Car Awards, increasing revenue by over 1,000%. Others quickly followed, including sponsorship for the Rolling Stones World Tour and promoting the Office of the Mayor of London’s Ride London event. She says being a boss didn’t come naturally but she sought to lead by example: first in and last out of the office, as well as regular coffee runs.
While her eclectic career history has included time as a waitress and gym receptionist, the seeds of entrepreneurialism started early – selling bookmarks in her local neighbourhood. She says her parents had started to worry that she would never get a ‘real’ job. “There are always failures before success. No-one starts a business and gets off scot-free. In our first office, we were denied access. We had paid our landlord but they hadn’t passed the money on to the owner of the building. We lost laptops, documents and had to start again from scratch. My first speaking gig was awful. But everything I do within my professional life is a stepping stone. Successes and failures count in equal measure. We can learn as much from both.” Jackie remains driven, even with the success of Slingshot: “I’m constantly beating myself up for not working hard enough!”
She admits she is relentless and that has helped her succeed. “I am turned down all the time; people say no to me all the time. I was called ‘abrasive’ by the editor of Gardening World! It doesn’t change my attitude. We had three offers on the table for Slingshot and I worked really hard on all of them. We eventually sold to a venture capital fund. I know how to negotiate a deal.”
Jackie has recently appeared on BBC’s The Apprentice. She left in week nine, on the basis that her credentials were a little too established to merit investment from Lord Sugar. Nevertheless, it was a good boost for her most recent venture – REBEL Pi, a Canadian ice wine. ‘Ice wine’ is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. REBEL Pi is the only 100% single-vineyard Roussanne ice wine, originating in the Rhone Valley. REBEL Pi is designed to convert people to ice wine who may have overlooked it before.
It marks a completely new venture for Jackie: it is currently available in Michelin Star restaurant The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, 31 Dover Street, and Handford Wines, and online. There are just 1,600 bottles for the 2016 vintage, yet it has already won plaudits among wine journalists and, more recently, a Silver Medal in the prestigious International Wine Challenge. For Jackie, it was the first product that had really excited her since the sale of Slingshot. She had never previously enjoyed ice wine because it was so sweet, but this seemed to offer something new. She believes the wine offers something distinct in an otherwise crowded market.
She teamed up with boutique winery Pentage in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, close to her birthplace. Patrons Paul and Julie were the first people she met who were willing to see if creating a non-sweet ice wine was possible. Jackie is keen to bring the concept to the UK. The Times recently called it ‘the next big thing for the UK wine industry’. Jackie hopes so, even if Lord Sugar is passing this time.
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