Scaling & exiting my second business by 27, and what I’ve learned along the way: Fanbytes co-founder & CEO Timothy Armoo
Scaling & exiting my second business by 27, and what I’ve learned along the way: Fanbytes co-founder & CEO Timothy Armoo
Words Timothy Armoo
May 4th 2022 / 8 min read
Timothy Armoo is the co-founder and CEO of Fanbytes, a social media and influencer marketing agency helping brands to engage Gen Z audiences in interactive ways. They were recently acquired by Brain Labs, a global digital marketing agency.
As a kid, I really wanted to be a magician. Fundamentally, I was obsessed with this idea of, one second something not existing, and the next second, it’s right there in front of your eyes.
For me, there’s a natural line from here to launching your own business. As a founder, you’ve almost got this magical ability to bring something into existence from nothing, that people will engage with and are willing to pay for.
Even as a teenager, this was my approach to launching businesses: identifying a problem that people had and conjuring up a solution. At 14, my first business was a tutoring business at my school. Then, at 17, came EntrepreneurExpress—an online business publication interviewing the likes of Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, and James Caan. In just 11 months, this business grew from nothing to being acquired by a large US media agency.
A decade on, I’ve now scaled and sold my second business—Fanbytes, the social media and influencer marketing agency that I co-founded with Ambrose Cooke and Mitchell Fasanya. Building a business that has uniquely captured the attention of brands looking to reach the next generation of consumers has been quite the journey through which I’ve learned a great deal about what it takes to be a founder.
Founding early ventures as a teenager
My first business, Alpha Tutoring, actually came out of a bet I had with a friend of mine. He bet me that I’d never be able to afford our dream black Mercedes, which we’d humbly valued at £500 at the time. I was determined to prove him wrong.
I knew very little about entrepreneurship at the time, but I essentially realised I could leverage what I knew and the skills I already had. I was good at maths, and was earning a bit of money from tutoring. So I hatched this idea to set up a tutoring agency with other kids at my school, handpicking the best at each subject and connecting them to tutees. Just as quickly as the business started taking off, I saw my own revenue starting to diminish. It turns out that 1) you can’t rely on 15 year olds to pay you your ‘middle man’ fee, and 2) as soon as parents had found a good tutor, there was no reason to keep paying me.
Learning number one: own as much as your infrastructure as possible. Otherwise you’re just a middle man. At Fanbytes, we own our communities, but also the payments, the technology, etc, to give our clients a reason to keep coming back.
Then came EntrepreneurExpress, the publication I set up, scaled, and sold in just over 11 months. I did everything here, from content creation to sales to marketing. Most importantly, this was my crash course in the world of advertising. When I sold the business, I thought they were buying it for the quality of the blogs I was writing. In retrospect, I realised they were buying our captive audience, and the Facebook groups we’d built to grow and engage that audience. Learning number two: identify where the true value is in your business, and leverage that.
Building Fanbytes and joining Founders Factory
My experience with EntrepreneurExpress paved the way for Fanbytes, as I saw how it was essential to capture an audience on social to realise their value. In 2017, Generation Z were starting to come online in droves: as soon as a new audience comes online, there’s a need for brands to advertise and target them, but also a shepherd who helps them do so. For Gen-Z, this was through social short form video, and through listening to the Zoellas and PewDiePies of this world.
We felt that we could be that shepherd: a Gen-Z focused digital marketing agency, run by GenZers. And that’s how Fanbytes was born.
Learning number three: your product doesn’t need to be for everyone. Fanbytes’ story is really targeted to the audience and the platforms it uses to communicate. We wanted to help fill a gap that brands needed, and to help create something that’s really valuable to them. Ultimately, it’s not for everyone, and that’s fine! As the saying goes—riches are in the niches.
Ambrose and I started Fanbytes when we were still at university. We knew what we were good at—selling and acquiring customers—so we spent our first few months cold-emailing a ton of brands. A few responded, most didn’t. To make it work, we needed to surround ourselves with people who had done it all before, people who knew what it takes to build a successful startup. That’s why, eight months into the journey, we joined Founders Factory.
It may sound obvious, but you don’t know what you don’t know. There are so many aspects of running a business that would have never occurred to us, whether that’s customer acquisition, building a fundraising journey, or having the right product vision. Founders Factory helped us methodically and effectively think through all of these.
One big appeal of Founders Factory is their network. They have partnered with global household brands, and through that, enabled us to tap into an enormous network of brands that seemed out-of-reach. We got our first few customers through Founders Factory, including Charlotte Tilbury and Universal. The Founders Factory team played a big part in helping us bring in those clients, even coming to some of those meetings to help us close.
More than just providing the connections, Founders Factory really helped us to understand brands. This helped both from a client perspective, aiding our understanding of how these brands worked and what they were looking for, but also for our own Fanbytes brand. Our PR has no doubt been key to our success—and we really have Founders Factory’s PR team to thank for that.
Learning number four: your visibility as a founder is a superpower. When we were trying to pitch to brands in the early days, we really had nothing to prove ourselves with, so we were having to persuade them to buy into us as founders. This meant doing a lot of PR and a lot of writing and speaking - things that would build my personal brand. I’m pretty confident at speaking and writing, and that’s not something that every founder has. This ‘superpower’ is something I lean into to gain a competitive advantage.
My visibility is also about being a positive influence to other founders/potential founders from the same background as me. I want to be able to show other young, working class founders, who may not know how a business works or how to lead, that you can achieve what I have.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Founders Factory were instrumental in helping us fundraise. The fundraising team really transformed our pitch, advising us on what to lean into when speaking to investors (instrumental to this process was David Hickson - you can read his No Bullshit Guide to Fundraising). The team also introduced us to some of our early key investors, like Nigel Morris (angel & formerly Dentsu's Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer) and John Taysom. Receiving that first investment was a huge moment for us—they invested in us not just because they liked us, but because they believed in our product and our ability to give them a return.
Key milestones for Fanbytes
1. Taking the business out of university
Launching a business while at university feels fairly low risk. You’re always doing it with the knowledge that, if it fails, you’ll just end up getting an ordinary job once you graduate anyway. Pressing on with the business even after we’d graduated felt like a huge step for Ambrose and I. It showed that we were really serious about Fanbytes, and that we truly believed it would work.
Learning number five: choose a co-founder who can support you emotionally. Many people say that you should pick co-founders with complimentary skills. This is obviously important, but I actually believe that you should find someone who is able to support you mentally and emotionally through the journey. It’s a taxing experience being a founder, and there were certainly times when I felt like giving up (particularly when you’ve sent hundreds of emails that no one is replying to). One of the most important things Ambrose has done for me is being there to support me through those times.
2. Landing our first major customers
Much like raising your first investment, bringing in your first customers feels like a strong vouch of confidence for the business. For me, one of the biggest clients has been the UK government, who we’ve been working with since 2019. During COVID, we helped deliver NHS England’s messaging and safety guidelines on social media.
3. Launching the Bytehouse
The Bytehouse was the first TikTok influencer house in the UK, bringing together six of the most popular TikTok influencers under one roof. This was another example of an initiative that grew out of a simple idea, and we just ‘magicked’ it into existence. This made a major statement in the industry—an agency that was building out its own IP in a really creative way, showing that Fanbytes had innovation in its DNA.
4. Setting up the Fanbytes Impact Fund
During the Black Lives Matter movement and the George Floyd protests in Summer 2020, it seemed every business and founder was rushing to make a statement. But I couldn’t help feeling a lot of these were insincere or inauthentic: I didn’t want to just be another founder who appeared on a panel, etc.
I acknowledged Fanbytes’ power to drive attention and influence people’s decisions (often to buy things). So what if we went out to Black-owned businesses, and tangibly helped them to grow by funding an influencer campaign run by Black influencers?
I started by committing £10k myself, before writing to all of our investors to ask for their contributions. The response blew me away, eventually raising £100k that would help support Black entrepreneurs and elevate Black influencers.
5. Our acquisition by Brainlabs
It’s been ten years since EntrepreneurExpress was acquired—so what’s different this time around? Well, for one, there’s a few more zeros on the valuation this time.
The whole process has been different though. I never built my first businesses with the vision of getting acquired: I kind of kept growing and kept making money. But with Fanbytes, as soon as I started taking on external investment, you have to have a liquidity event in mind, so the process is much more thought out.
We had a lot of interest from a number of different angles, so we really had the power to choose who we felt would positively contribute to supercharging the business. Joining Brainlabs feels like having that end goal in front of mind.
Final (perhaps most important) learning: It’s not about money, it’s about winning. So much of what you do as a founder is about optimising for winning. Obviously, the amount of money you’re making is important, but I believe that a better way to think about it is optimising to win.
In our second year, we made our first million in revenue: but as soon as we hit that, we were already thinking about the next million, the next win. Even thinking back to founding my first business, it was really just to win a bet and prove my friend wrong.
At each major milestone you pass, you always just think about the next goal and the next win. Realising this made me realise why I’m doing this—not just to make money, but to win, and to build something of significance that can impact people’s lives.
Timothy Armoo is the CEO and co-founder of Fanbytes. He previously founded EntrepreneurExpress, which he sold to Horizon Media at the age of 17.
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