Forget about spreadsheets and market analysis. If you want to hatch an incredibly successful idea, one of the best ways to do it is to scratch your musings on a paper napkin. The method might be unorthodox, but it's hard to argue with its effectiveness when you consider the list of businesses and ideas that got their start that way. The founders of Southwest Airlines, the professor who came up with trickle-down economics, and the duo who created the game Trivial Pursuit all used napkins as a springboard for their ideas. It's not a bad club, and it's one that Christian Darbyshire (BMgt '99) is happy to be a part of.
Darbyshire is the co-owner and operator of tinePublic Inc. (pronounced "tiny" Public) – an internationally renowned special-events company with a rather prophetic origin.
Inspiration for tinePublic struck late one night in Toronto at a restaurant in Chinatown. Darbyshire was sitting across the table from his good friend Andy McCreath, eating soup and talking the way old buddies do. The duo has known each other since the age of 12 and has a long history together. As fate would have it, Darbyshire and McCreath had professional interests in common, too.
After serving several years in the trenches of the television industry, Darbyshire had carved out a profitable niche as a freelance production manager and publicist. McCreath was doing publicity work for the National Hockey League. As the night wore on, the soup disappeared and the conversation between the friends got inventive. They started to wonder what was stopping them from joining forces and creating their own company. They had been planning events and doing publicity for others for years. Why not combine their expertise and strike out on their own? They envisioned putting together speaking engagements that featured big headline names, producing and promoting the events, and selling tickets for a tidy profit. Darbyshire used the proverbial paper napkin to jot down a business plan. Before the night was over, he and McCreath were partners in a new event-planning venture – tinePublic Inc.
"We wanted to create events for young business professionals," says Darbyshire. "Most of the speaking engagements at that time were big-ticket dinner events that priced a lot of people out of the market. We wanted to produce events that drew a wider audience."
tinePublic's top choice for a first speaker was former U.S. president Bill Clinton. Darbyshire sent a letter to Clinton's organization requesting a meeting to discuss his company's proposal. It wasn't a big surprise that there was no response.
"I knew it was a long shot trying to line up such a big name right off the bat, but there was nothing to lose in trying," says Darbyshire. "I sent at least half a dozen letters to Clinton's office over two years, and made several phone calls, but it didn't get us anywhere. In the meantime I kept looking for another opportunity."
The brass ring presented itself a couple of years later in the form of a reality TV star – one Bill Rancic, winner of the first season of Donald Trump's television show, The Apprentice.
"The Apprentice was a massive success and Bill Rancic was huge," recalls Darbyshire. "It was 2005, and business in Alberta was booming. It was the perfect time to bring the current icon of business success to the public."
Darbyshire and McCreath contacted Rancic's people, scheduled a meeting and flew to New York. There, in Rancic's Manhattan office, the partners laid out a plan for the first speaking engagement the pair would produce. It would take place in Calgary, the epicentre of new business in Canada, and Rancic would be the headliner.
"He jumped on board right there," says Darbyshire, describing Rancic's response. "We couldn't believe it. Suddenly we were in business. That was it. The ball was in motion."
The next 30 days were a whirlwind of big-time planning on a shoestring budget. Darbyshire and McCreath cleaned out their bank accounts to pull it off, and a month later Bill Rancic was in Calgary in front of a group of 1,800 eager businesspeople. The success of that first engagement led to five more shows at venues across North America. The Rancic tour was tremendously popular and profitable.
"That's when we knew we were really onto something," says Darbyshire.
tinePublic was enjoying its first taste of success. Darbyshire and McCreath were busy planning a stream of new engagements when one day, out of the blue, Darbyshire picked up a call from the office of the man he'd been waiting for since day one – Bill Clinton. Clinton's office had received all the letters Darbyshire had sent over the years and was impressed by the company's recent success. They offered tinePublic the opportunity to co-ordinate speaking engagements for the former president and Darbyshire accepted the job on the spot.
"It wasn't until I hung up the phone that it occurred to me that maybe we'd bitten off more than we could chew," says Darbyshire.
Putting his worries aside, plans for the Clinton engagement went full steam ahead. The event took place several months later at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ont., in front of a crowd of 6,500 riveted attendees. Darbyshire and his partner doubled their investment that day, and went on to produce 10 more events with Clinton over the next two years.
The rest, as they say, is history. tinePublic has gone on to organize touring events for Tony Blair, Alan Greenspan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Colin Powell, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani and Lance Armstrong among other cultural and political icons. The company has also expanded its business scope to include concert promotion (they've worked with performers like Elton John and Diana Ross). In addition to his work with McCreath, Darbyshire runs a public-relations firm that works with major finance, cosmetic, oil and gas, and mining companies across North America. In recognition of his hard work, Darbyshire was named to Canada's Top 40 Under 40™ in 2011.
Stories and anecdotes about the famous people Darbyshire has met are just under the surface of his speech, but he's far too professional to let any cats out of the bag. The most he'll tell you is that everyone he's worked with is quite candid, and the insights he's gained from high-profile people are extraordinary. When it comes to sharing the secret of his own success, however, Darbyshire is a lot more forthcoming.
"You can't let fear stop you, in life or in business," Darbyshire says. "I've been scared plenty of times, but I've always followed through. If you really work at something, it will most likely end up being OK, or really good, or even spectacular. You've got to use fear in a positive way. Never give up. And think big."
This story first appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of SAM magazine. For a look at a flipbook version of SAM, follow this link.