Company Founder Interview – Ben Thompson: I sat down with Ben Thompson, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Hoot Entertainment, to find out about his journey into the world of comedy and production. Having come from a TV & film background, Ben and his fellow founders started out well before social media and web video were big business. How did they do? Read the interview to find out.

I first met Ben in 2013 and while his business model firmly stuck in my mind, I wasn’t sure how it would apply to business. Clearly, his vision was much stronger than mine and based on his solid background in this subject matter created a thriving and innovative business working with brand names many companies would give their right arm for.

Hoot is a hybrid media company with three verticals: Commercials, TV & Film and Short form content. Their writers have penned everything from Top Gear to Mock the Week. From Skins to Murder in Successville. Their commercials division serves both brands and agencies delivering comedy content and campaigns for clients such as: UKTV, DAVE, ASDA, First Direct, Giff Gaff, History Channel and many more. The short form section creates unique ‘nose bleed’ comedy for the web. Original short form that ignites social media. Last year our team delivered 1.2 billion views.

Here’s the interview in full:

Founder Interview - Ben Thompson

Welcome Ben, it’s good to see you again. Let’s get straight to it: Have you always wanted to start your own business? What inspired you?

My first company was an App development company back in 2005 when Apple first launched its app store. I was licensing content for games apps, as that was easy work and it went very well for a while. It was easy to get into at the time, because it was new and had a lot of hype. Despite a decent SDK, one of the issues as that iOS wasn’t really ready for more sophisticated apps or in-app micro payments that are prevalent today.

Around about the same time I realised I wanted to be the licensor instead of the licensee of the content I was using and creating. I didn’t really want to license other people’s stuff. The real money is in your own intellectual property, not in someone else’s, so I could license it out instead.

I had done some work with Brightcove and ITV and felt TV was the way forward. I think deep down it was about two things – vision and control. I always wanted to be in the film and TV game from an early age – and the end game of this is IP.

Founder Interview - Ben Thompson

So how did Hoot come about?

An old, and very good, friend of mine Ben Bond had been doing a lot of script writing for the TV series Skins and other comedy programmes and I was a script editor for TV comedy. We had been working with an agency who needed content for a variety of brands. We did a webisode for Philips, which ended up taking off and getting some great coverage and commentary from the market. We had all come from a TV and film background, but by this point the web was becoming more prevalent. Hoot provided a great opportunity to make money, so we shot 200 sketches with some well-known talent like Ben Willbond (Horrible Histories, Will Smith & Roger Drew (VEEP) and Alex McQueen (The inbetweeners)

Back then, one of our friends was a gentleman called Tom Bazeley who ran an agency called Lean Mean Fighting Machine. We came to an agreement they would become an investor in year one with a view to help us open doors to the world of advertising, as none of us had any experience in advertising. We shared offices and together reached many new customers and brands with our offering. Unfortunately, over time the relationship deteriorated and eventually Lean Mean Fighting Machine were acquired by M&C Saatchi.

Since then we’ve been working with a lot of brands to create quality comedy content and started to position ourselves somewhere between a production company and an agency, without being either. I suppose, really, over time we became a content company.

What is more difficult: winning your first 5 paying customers or the next 20? And why?

Lean Mean Fighting Machine was an angel in the early days, but the portfolio we possessed was from our previous roles and wasn’t really our’s per se. In terms of a portfolio under the Hoot banner we had to start from scratch. The relationship we had with Lean Mean Fighting Machine helped us a lot with that.

The hardest thing when you go it alone is finding people to back your ideas – building that early portfolio is tough as the budgets are invariably low, as you are perceived as a test. But the work started to come in and you quickly have learnings and discussion items that are truly your own – rather than borrowed from earlier jobs and employment.

Unlike today, nobody had a content department and social media wasn’t very big either during our early years. So it was tough to gain exposure and traction. We also found that occasionally we were perceived as a threat to creative agencies, which in reality we weren’t. We were much more geared up for the very specific skill of comedy. Nobody else offered that and we became “specialist technicians”.

Today our work is split 50/50 between working either directly with brands and indirectly via agencies. By its nature, our work isn’t usually retained, but quite often an initial one-off project will lead to repeat business. From a business perspective, one-off work can make it difficult to forecast, which invariably leads to spinning a lot of plates with a view to winning new business. Churn becomes a big thing, but that’s the nature of production work.

What enabled you to grow your business?

Cash flow is the killer – and some of the largest organisations have the worst terms – so cracking this and ensuring good payment terms is key. Beyond that, really knowing your pipeline is the next thing. You need to understand your win rate / loss rate – and know how many plates you need to spin! I’d be a great circus performer!

Which is more important for sustainable revenue growth: marketing or sales?

Marketing’s essential but can be a luxury in darker times. The key is closing! It’s all good and well getting people excited. But how can you keep them true to your vision, things are always on the move – so it’s learning how to adapt to a changing landscape and discussion in your industry.

What is the best business advice you have ever been given?

Don’t get sucked into the jargon rat race – be yourself. This is more often than not the biggest seller

What is your favourite business book, and why?

I’m a bad reader when it comes to books beyond the poolside thriller. But I do have a diverse RSS feed with everything from tech trends to Hollywood gossip and conspiracies. We are very touchy feely with the business and no one book has the answers.

What is next for Hoot Entertainment?

The production company seems to be morphing into a mini creative agency and is on a good path. TV & film is the next big push as we all came from this sector originally. Whilst comedy will be at the core we are actively exploring drama and kids programming with a recent deal with Usain Bolt to develop an animated kids’ series and a major landmark drama with a UK broadcaster.

Commercials have been blessing, as we are in production and making work every day – challenging our own ideas continually. To broaden this to broadcast now with a great group of writers, which has taken 3 years to assemble, is hugely exciting for us as a business,

Thanks for sharing your journey with us Ben, it’s certainly not a run-of-the-mill business. All the best for you and the team!

It was great talking to you, thanks!

For more information about Hoot Entertainment, go to If you’d like to connect with Ben, you can find him on Linkedin (


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