So you failed. What now ...

Failure is an experience that no entrepreneur wants to encounter, yet one that pretty much everyone will. On Monocle 24 Radio's The Entrepreneurs show I was asked what happens when your luck runs out and the best ways to bounce back, and boy I should know ... 

I'm Mark Jennings, the founder of Shaken Cocktails, a cocktail-subscription start-up. Shaken, however, no longer exists, we shipped our final box back in June. Shaken had a growing customer base, secured promising deals with spirits brands and went through a number of successful funding rounds. So what made the company go under? And what did I learn from the experience?

Listen here to find out.

Lewisham is changing, and I feel fine.

I loved Lewisham as soon as I moved here.

Then, 6 years ago, this part of South East London looked like a bomb had hit it and torn the centre out, leaving in it’s wake a lazy copy of Brutalist architecture that was dated as soon as it was finished. I later found out that’s exactly what happened, many bombs in fact, as the Germans tried to hit Greenwich docks nearby.

I still loved it.

The everyday bustle, literally every day, not just during the weekend.  The market stalls, which mostly sold food I'd never seen before; and still to this day am scared to ask what they are. The Turkish cafes and barbers where the owners and friends stand and smoke rolled up cigarettes with course, noxious tobacco -  malevolence in the gathering, but you soon realise it's simply fraternity, of problems solved in the old way. The occasional Irish cafe or pub, staffed by someone who remembers when it was unpopular to be Irish. Especially the sturdy older Jamaican women on the way back from church, resplendent in colour and motherly decorum. This has been my home all the time I have been in London, and for the last 3 years that of my now wife. All of this is home. Yes the chicken shops too. The butchers who, of course, don’t stock pork, the mobile phone unlockers. The traffic, the noise, the occasional feeling of dread late at night.     

It's changing.

It's more mixed. Eastern European communities and those priced out of east London, or those spawning are all blending with the English, Turkish, Indian and and West Indian communities that represent this wonderful arrondissement.

Little by little it’s changing and I don't mind. Change happens; no one holds it back. But it is changing and I wanted to record some of it: my little spaces, memories, the nooks and crannies that will unlikely survive what's to come.

These are some photos of how it is.

NightRider 2014 - Gosh that was tough

A year ago I first heard about this thing called 'The NightRider' - a 100km cycle through London at night. It sounded daunting then, and no less daunting when I signed up 4 weeks ago. Last Saturday I set off from Crystal Palace proudly wearing my Cancer Research UK jersey with hundreds of other riders, and to my complete surprise finished second, in a time of 4 hours 15 minutes.

It was one of the toughest things I have ever done, both exhilarating but very emotional at the same time. I have raised almost £700 for Cancer Research UK through the generosity of a lot of donors - some I know well, others through social networks, but everyone combined to put my head in the right place to do this challenge.    THANK YOU.   

The experience is hard to describe, and to be honest I didn't stop to take photos. I raced the first section to Tower Bridge and it was only because the bridge was up that I pinched myself to remember to look up and enjoy the sights. The distant hills of Crystal Palace to Ally Pally, Greenwich and the docks, the City, Wapping, Canary Wharf, bustling Soho, Abbey Road and The Oval all passed by as I dug deeper and deeper to keep going. Then, in the final stretch it was almost to much: it's an odd experience to be cycling the last 15 miles at 3am with tears in your eyes, singing to keep going to a silent London.

Even though it was a blur, there are some things I'll never forget -

  • Seeing the friendly face of the Cancer Research volunteers at the start line - it's a small thing but riding alone it meant a lot to know there was a team behind me
  • Tower Bridge at night as the bridge was raised and lowered - cars stopped, people taking selfies and we cyclists forced to pause and take it all in for a moment
  • Losing my bearings and convincing myself I'd taken the wrong route, then seeing St Paul's appear out of nowhere, ghostly and pale but oh so welcoming to this 'lost' rider.
  • The Paris-Roubaix like cobbles on the way to Wapping, and sharing the pain with two other riders, bonded by the experience
  • The agony and ecstasy of reaching the highest point on Hampstead and knowing it was downhill for a while 
  • The look of surprise at the marshal when I arrived at the finish-line to say I was too early for breakfast   
  • The medal around my neck that convinced the canteen to serve me breakfast early

Two days later, as I look back weary but exhilarated my main feeling is one of pride, and of feeling privileged to have helped the work of such a good cause. Thank you Cancer Research UK for giving me a reason to ride, I hope that one day soon I won't have to ride for you but until then I know my donations will help.

Don't forget you can still sponsor me here   

Here is my Strava record for any bike geeks out there   

PS I wish I had slowed down a bit, check out what London looks like at sunrise!

Photo by Nick Reinis

Photo by Nick Reinis

Photo by Steph Joels

Photo by Steph Joels

The Glenlivet Guardians' Campaign in the news

39 countries; 1 million Facebook users; 12,000 tastebuds; 1 new Glenlivet whisky

I was delighted to see The Drum magazine featuring my work for The Glenlivet recently. Take a peek here

Mark Jennings, Aesop digital director, said: "This campaign bridges the gap, connecting fans to the taste even if they can’t get to a tasting event and moving the relationship with taste to a new level: educating, entertaining and proving plenty of opportunity to engage and be overheard in social networks. Fitting for a brand that prides itself in having started the modern whisky industry."


So, this happened today and I can't stop thinking about it

Chatted to a homeless guy today in Lewisham. Not intentionally, but he caught my eye and engaged me. He was asking for money and I declined: it's just my personal rule and I was busy. 

Then he said something I thought I misheard. "I'm a copywriter/art director".

I looked at him again, this seemed ridiculous. "What agencies" I asked, a little sceptical. He looked 50 years of age, but could be my age ... Long hair, wild eyes, if you were to define what a homeless person looked like, he looked like it. I've walked past hundreds of similar, and so have you. 

He then reeled off all the names of the agencies he had worked at ... DDB, AMV, Saatchi  etc etc - all the ad shops you'd look up to in the 80s and 90s. He'd done the Watford Course - a well known inroad to advertising. Then told me a ton of stories about shoots he was on all round the world. I was having a laugh with him, enjoying the banter when he said "What's the point of a Clio award if you haven't got food to eat?". That ended me. What is the point?

I've had my low times in this business but always had friends and family to help pick me back up. Matthew Smith wasn't so lucky. I've not stopped thinking about him all day. He bade me farewell as I needed to be somewhere, and he was concerned about a fly he'd seem crawl in his shoe earlier.

I opened my wallet and gave him a tenner, which looked ridiculously small as I had at least 50 quid in cash on me. He tried to give me something for the money "so it was fair", then to ask how he would repay me. "This isn't charity Matt, this is the least I could do for a fellow ad man who needs a leg up". A tenner, two measly five pound notes. I've never seen a chap so thankful. I was embarrassed at how rich I suddenly felt.

I don't feel guilty, and I am trying to stop feeling helpless.  What I do feel is THANKFUL to be in the place I am. 

Many of you have been around me at times of great lowness, and many of you helped me in small or big ways probably more than you'll ever know. I'm not sure I say it often enough.

Social Business - Using Social Media for Business in Africa

I was asked by an energy business to speak at their annual conference in Marrakesh, Morocco on Social Business - Using Social Media for Business in Africa.

Here is an updated version including my voice-over included as new slides: 

Campaign Review – The Glenlivet Guardians’ Chapter

In 2013 one of my favourite engagements was to work on The Glenlivet account for Aesop, and on their biggest campaign to date ... The Guardians' Chapter.

In the role of Digital Director I wrote the digital strategy, advised on social media strategy, content curation and measurements and built up the development team. It was a great example of fully integrated planning and delivery, mixing the best of on and offline engagement to create a true world first.   


What is it?

When a whisky brand usually creates a new whisky it is up to the master distiller to choose from the aged casks which spirit will make the perfect dram. He does this pretty much alone and the customers’ only interaction is to buy the whisky once it has been bottled. We set out to change that.    

The objective?

Instead of the whisky fans being at the end of the process, switch it around and put them at the start. Give The Glenlivet’s fans the chance to choose the whisky that would be bottled, rewarding their loyalty and creating a world first along the way: appropriate for “the whisky that started it all”.


First, The Glenlivet’s Master Distiller Alan Winchester created three expressions: 3 different whiskies, all with their own characteristics, flavours and tasting notes.

Now, the hard part, how to get over the barrier of “participation inequality”. There are hundreds of thousands of people who want to taste the whisky, but unless we gave it all away for free, precious little of it to go around. How can you vote on a whisky you haven’t tasted?

The solution 

We created a personality for each of the three whisky expressions, relevant to their taste and ingredients of The Glenlivet’s history and brand: Classic, Exotic, and Revival. Read more about the specifics of each whisky here.

As well as Global Tasting events in America, UK, Canada, India, South Africa, Japan and beyond, we also created a content space online called the Guardian’s Hub where each of these three expressions was brought to life, with articles including the likes of Classic Bars, Exotic tailoring or Revival architecture, were regularly served up, giving those who might not get to actually taste the whisky, a chance to define their own taste. They were then able to use this journey to help vote on the expression that most represented them.

The Glenlivet Guardian Chapter - Voting.png

Through voting apps at events, and on the Guardian’s Hub online, participants could vote for their favourite expression, or change their vote if they were so persuaded, and with your vote being made public, you had added incentive to share with your friends to help support the dram you most wanted to see bottled.                

The Glenlivet Guardian Chapter - Home.png

The results

The campaign ran for 4 months and had massive interaction on the Guardian’s Hub, at the events and through social media. People voted in 39 countries around the world and at the end, celebrated the final winner ... The Exotic, in shops in March 2014.  



A good brief and client is one thing, but you need a great team to pull it off. On this project I was involved from the very start and worked closely with a brilliant planner. We gelled immediately and in one room over just a few hours managed to shape and reshape then define the core of the idea in a way that would both look and feel right, but also be technically profound. This ensured that everyone else involved on the project had a clear focus. I have to say was a joy to work on.        

After the campaign finished I was given a set of the three very rare Chapter Whisky Expressions as a momento

After the campaign finished I was given a set of the three very rare Chapter Whisky Expressions as a momento

Nice feedback from Ian, The Glenlivet's Global Ambassador

Nice feedback from Ian, The Glenlivet's Global Ambassador

I even appear at 43 seconds into this video

The end of the long walk to freedom?

I've always been close to SA. My grandparents and aunt lived there and my Dad for a time too. I read Donald Wood's books as a teenager and felt a little of that world and more recently JM Coetzee's excellent writing. Each page giving a tiny, embarrassing peek into the foreignness of that system. 

I'll never truly understand South Africa before 1990 but what I do know is that it could have been a bloodbath after. People, disenfranchised for so long by a white minority, could have so easily (and you might say understandably) risen up and taken what they had been forced to go without ... But they didn't. Incredibly. Against the odds. All because of one man. 

Nelson Mandela ... a fighter, classified as a terrorist, hidden away for so long preached only of unity under a new flag, a new anthem and a new way. The nation held it's breath then and still holds it's breath. 

Though the ANC has not delivered all they promised, and there are of course many ills in SA that must be addressed, the fact that SA has moved on from it's harsh past in such a short period of time is a testament to the power of faith in someone not of god or money, but of true power. 

He was an old man, old men die. His legacy will either be to keep uniting people, or to be tarnished by infighting and widening inequality in his name. 

Time will tell but for now dear Madiba, rest in peace. 

Things to know before hiring an agency for your social media campaign

"You don’t hire the agency, you hire the people"

I did a radio show entitled "Things to know before hiring an agency for your social media campaign" earlier this year, it went down really well.

For those who prefer long form, they transcribed it here:

Part One: Things to know before hiring an agency for your social media campaign

Part Two: What a Social Media Agency Shouldn't Do

Or, listen to the radio show here.



Words come when you need them

I have been proud to work with The Glenlivet for the last 18 months. planning their global digital programme - but the time has come to hand over to another agency to take this forward.

It was a hard call and I needed a boost, something to remind me that whenever you hand on work it means something new is around the corner. Apt then that I found this on the first page of The Glenlivet's Moleskin notebook ...  

"You have to invent something. Do something no one has ever done before.
See the world differently. Describe the world differently.
You must stand firm.
Be popular one day. Be unpopular the next.
And stick to your guns regardless.
Be brave.
Forge ahead."    


I’ve joined the board of Room to Read

 Room to Read is a global organization seeking to transform the lives of millions of children in the developing world by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. and I have been asked to become the Head of Digital for Room to Read in London.  

My first encounter with the organisation was from a fair distance, raising money for them through TechBikers Paris to London cycle in 2012, but in 2013 as I became more involved in TechBikers (taking on the role of Head of Comms) I found myself working closely with Room to Read in London and Globally, especially connecting with founder John Wood (he’s an absolute dude). We did some good stuff this year - see the report.

John’s passion for what TechBikers were doing, combined with the interest from Room to Read London’s new team, has lifted TechBikers from a single annual ride to potentially many rides all around the world, wherever there is a tech cluster. I’m proud to have played a part in making this happen, from a few tweets to a world of opportunity.

I’m joining Room to Read for three reasons:

  1. Mairead King who leads the London Chapter is an excellent person to work with, she instils confidence and passion, and has chosen a great team in London while engaging Room to Read globally in a really short time. She asked me, it was hard to say no.
  2. Room to Read does amazing work. Sure, lots of charities do amazing work but I have never seen a third sector organisation that runs so much like a business – on measurable goals and clear results, so the money donated is invested more wisely in projects that deliver the greatest result.  
  3. John Wood. Did I mention he’s a dude? He left a secure job in Microsoft to build libraries, fill them with books, and help children get the chances that we almost take for granted. He has done this for 13 years, built a $40m charity that has benefited 7million children already and yet still keeps the air of an old friend every time we meet, even though we barely know each other. I know being part of an organisation he founded will be a very rewarding challenge.

Also, he wrote this in his book for me, and I am a sucker for heartfelt inscription.

Small details make big impact  

The role is pro bono and will sit along side my other commitments. Exciting times? You bet! 

A moustache for life not just Movember

The moustache of legend is a sign of strength and manliness but beyond the bravado, is the ritual of moustache cultivation more powerful than we realise?

Why through history has overt personal grooming been seen as effeminate, while the cultivation of a moustache is revered as the very symbol of masculinity? I posit that what is missing from men’s lives is the ceremony of grooming that a moustache brings.


Yes there has been resurgence in the moustache lately but where once the moustache was described as having a “wonderfully powerful effect upon a man’s whole expression” it now most usually adorns the ironic lip of hipsters of Dalston or Williamsberg.

Since before the oldest recorded moustaches of the Scythian horseman, in 300BC,  the moustache has been a symbol of strength, pride and individuality. Men like Panayot Hitov the Belgian hajduk and voivode opposing the Ottoman Empire to “farmer, teamster, sometime buffalo hunter, officer of the law, gambler, saloon-keeper, miner, and boxing referee” Wyatt Earp the moustache has symbolised people who have changed the culture around them, and been characterised for it, but what unites men like these, and Einstein, Dali, Freddie Mercury, Burt Reynolds, Hulk Hogan is the ritual of moustache cultivation. 



“You take longer to get ready than I do”, she said.
I have had a moustache for 6 months now, something I didn’t realise I’d take to but gave it a try and it stuck. I’ve enjoyed the comments from strangers (“Nice ‘tache!”), the banter from friends (“cockduster”) and the parental disapproval (“oh Mark, what have you done”) but it was my better half who articulated the importance of the ceremony of the moustache that I had missed. 


She was right. Each morning I shower with a special beard conditioner to soften the moustache, then once dry, trim extraneous hairs before applying wax with a specialist comb (its tiny, makes you feel like a giant). Sometimes I curl the ends up ludicrously, imagining Dali or a vaudeville villain, sometimes down - a mini Fu Manchu, and devious. Each morning I do this and you know what? I love it.

Owning a moustache allows you grooming the way only women have had an excuse to do, it gives a man special time each morning to focus only on a single personal satisfaction. There is nothing quite like staring at yourself in the mirror each morning doing something almost ludicrously frivolous as twisting the ends of a moustache to make you look at life in a different way each day.  

Is it any wonder then that great men of history (and women) have adorned themselves proudly with the moustache and given themselves the excuse, joy and time of moustache cultivation?

There are many great examples of the effects of moustache cultivation through the years but none so glorious than that of seven-time Olympic gold medal winner Mark Spitz.  While swimmers usually shave their body hair to reduce drag Spitz kept his for the 1972 Munich Olympics.  “I had some fun with a Russian coach who asked me if my moustache slowed me down. I said, 'No, as a matter of fact, it deflects water away from my mouth, allows my rear end to rise and make me bullet-shaped in the water, and that's what had allowed me to swim so great.' He's translating as fast as he can for the other coaches, and the following year every Russian male swimmer had a moustache.”

Mark Spitz

Mark Spitz

Moustaches are not just the "appurtenances of terror" as they were during the Napoleonic Wars they are a chance for men to start their day at peace.  We keep hearing that we are in crisis and surely what helps a crisis is “virility, spirit, and manliness” as Mrs. C. E. Humphrey put it. Will it change your life? There is only one way to find out.

It doesn’t matter if you started growing a mo for Movember, or just for a laugh: take it seriously and keep it long after Movember.  I implore you to reclaim the ‘tache from the hipsters – without irony or apology, for neither charity nor humour, not just for a month but for life.

Oh, and if you are in London, I can't recommend highly enough Murdock - the boutique chain of barbers: Ryan in Liberty has a mean moustache and can sort you out the perfect trim.  

About the writer

"When not standing on his soapbox about moustaches Mark Jennings loves cycling, though not on a fixie, and helping organisations make the internet better. He can be found on Twitter @markofrespect"


This article is a repost from an article I wrote for ThemePark in 2012, republished with kind permission


It's going to hurt, but it's a good kind of pain

In September, as the weather turns cold and wet, I will be on a bike, in shorts, cycling 70 miles a day for 3 days.

Why?  To raise money for a charity I believe in so strongly that it is worth the cuts, bruises, strains and drenching.

Last year we did this and built 2 schools and a library through Room To Read, with your support we can do even more - please donate to me to achieve this goal.

Please support me - I promise, I won't let you down

10 minutes on the essential ways to ignite a digital sector (or new company)

If you’ve started either, you’ll see yourself.  

Speaking recently in Margate at the GEEK conference to local businesses, academia, local councils and the government I had 10 minutes to cover the topic cultural and social conditions that create networks within the digital sector, how to enable growth and how to support it.

So I spoke about STORY, BELIEF, LUCK, NEED and ENCOURAGEMENT.  It’s something I’m really passionate about and hope many of you see yourselves in this.