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

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.

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

Things they don't tell you about living in London

Things they don't tell you about living in London

No one is here for their health, and London is a cruel mistress, showing you so many tantalising delights, but giving you precious little time to enjoy them. It is also a place of magic, energy, passion and creativity that you need time to discover for yourself ...

Here are a few things no one told me

Read More

The crassness of this Tory government is inexcusable by any argument.


It's the inconsistency.

Watching a group of people totally unfamiliar with the power they wield attempt to work it out with really big consequences if they get it wrong and no sense they are capable of grasping that en masse.

Individually I find many Tories well meaning, good people but they are cowed by the same forces that brought down Major. Dinosaurs. Those who represent the worst excesses of the past, and the worst kind of politics - the self serving.

I resign.

What did Techbikers achieve?


Well, more to the point, what did you acheive? If you sponsored me for the recent Techbikers Paris to London 200 mile cycle then you are of course awesome, but this is why ...

We will fund the following 2012 projects in Nepal:

  • One two room School Construction project at 22,000 USD (Brand new school built)
  • One constructed Library at 20,000 USD (brand new library built)
  • One School Library at 5,000 USD (re-purposing of an existing room in a school with no library, filled with books)

I could not be prouder today, and this extends to each of you who supported me - thank you with all my heart.

The plaque text will read: This school/library was established through the cooperation of the local community, Room to Read and TechBikers. TechBikers (40 entrepreneurs in East London) were inspired to support this space and hope that it similarly inspires the local community to dive into a world of creativity, initiative and curiosity that was opened up to us by books and learning.

To Twitter, my love

A love letter to Twitter, whom I once loved

It was three years ago. We'd flirted at a few parties but I just couldn't understand you: I followed you, but you didn't follow me back. I called out "Hello World" but not a chirp.  Ignoring the advice of others I gave you up.

Of course I thought of you. I tried to shut you out but I kept hearing your name on everyone’s lips. Even Philip Scofield was talking about you.

Then we bumped into each other at some work event I'd been pressed into.  It was electric, you followed me, then I followed you, and suddenly … we were surrounded with people: you and me at the heart of a thousand conversations.

Oh that night, and the many nights we shared. Of ignoring people we had long known in favour of the unknown, of staying up later and later to never miss a moment together...

That was three years ago now. I'm not saying we've changed. Oh, who am I kidding, of course we've changed. No don't look away, you know it's true. The passion has gone, well it has hasn't it? We shared everything with each other, not a moment wasn’t recorded and broadcast. Our very location drew comments or people checking in with us but now our relationship is more and more, well, normal. The honeymoon is over.

I still love you, of course. How could I not? We moved together, changed jobs - life before is a distant memory. Everything is different now but for the better. We still laugh, and sometimes not just in nostalgia. And we learn from each other, debate and banter. We'll not weary quite yet, are we?

I just wanted to ensure I recorded these words lest we forget ourselves, and what we once had and might not again.

I MADE IT #techbikers

I made it from Paris to London on a bike, almost 200 miles (minus a little when we got flooded off the Sussex hills) over 3 days with 40 others to raise money for Room to Read. Thank you to those who supported me with donations, tweets and Facebook messages, it made all the difference to what was the most gruelling thing I have ever done.

Be it the frosty mornings, the pea-soup fog at 40 miles an hour, the river that was once a road I cycled up or the 10 mile stretches all uphill each mile I cycled closer to home broke me but renewed me at the same time.

I know lots of you were waiting for payday to support me - this means a lot and each donation after the event has been an extra pat on the back: if you can, support me here

Some stats for the group:  

  • Collective miles cycled: 6,925
  • Collective calories burned: 68,634
  • Collective pedal revolutions: 3,985,200 (Four million!!)
  • Collective feet climbed: 197,702

To add some context, that means the team cycled from London to Mount Everest, and along the way ascended its height seven times over.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you,


Support here:

I'll be thinking of you each painful mile and smiling

Stop, take a moment. Think of me. Yes, me. Cycling. Not a commute across London, or a casual cycle in the New Forest. Think Paris, think London. Think cycling 200 miles from Paris to London. Now back to me. Yes me. Scared. Excited. Determined.

I need your help -

It’s been a long time since I was last asking for sponsorship (1992 Aberdeen to Crathie Comic Relief cycle to be exact), and now I ask again. I’m cycling with a bunch of fellow geeks to raise money for Room to Read.

Room to Read are a charity that believes that World Change Starts with Educated Children. They envision a world in which all children can pursue a quality education that enables them to reach their full potential and contribute to their community and the world.

Please, from the bottom of my heart, donate. I promise I won’t let you down.

Go to Virgin Giving now and donate, selecting my name from the donation screen.


More about Room to Read

Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organisations and governments, we develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond.

The power of community - the small, big things

This world is amazing.

I tweet that I want to play guitar again and someone I have never met gives me a guitar, won't take a penny for it. You have to stop sometimes and reflect on how amazing people can be when they feel part of a community.

For my part I have freely given start up advice, relationship stories and fostered partnerships that have blossomed but still I didn't expect a guitar. Humbling really. 


Another day, another dollar

Today is an important day for me; I have decided not to go back into agency-land but to strike out for myself, returning to the roots of my career.

My reasons for this are many but it really comes down to a belief that I achieve my best work when I am free from the inertia of a large agency, and especially free from the shackles of selling over creating.

Currently I am working on a number of lovely projects including Head of Digital at Nova Festival, but I do have capacity so please let people know I am available for hire





The Kleptones invite you to... "A Night At The Hip-Hopera"

Years ago a friend peered around his monitor and asked me an important question – do you like hip hop and Queen?

“Well, yes I do. Weird question” I said, but knowing where this was going.

“How about if you combined hip hop and Queen?”  he said smiling ...


I had since forgotten about the wondrous work A Night At The Hip-Hopera by mashup artists The Kleptones but was reminded last night and wanted to share with you. Listen to the Soundcloud below, or download the mp3s.

A Night At The Hip-Hopera by The Kleptones