Riding the wave of online events with Krystian Jones

11 min read
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Krystian Jones, Founder of Splinter Faction, is an online event consultant with years of experience delivering support for online learning, entertainment and communications. When the coronavirus hit and lockdown commenced in March of 2020, interest in his business soared - and he knew just how to adapt and grab hold of this newfound market. 

This year, Splinter Faction has worked with both corporations and individuals to produce everything from interactive online theatre and virtual parties to educational webinars and training sessions. 

Splinter Faction has been nominated as one of the Most Adaptive Small Businesses of 2020 by QuickBooks UK. In this interview, we learn more about Krystian Jones’s journey into entrepreneurship and how he has navigated the often murky waters of owning a business over the past few months.

Hi Krystian. Congratulations on being nominated one of the Most Adaptive Small Businesses of 2020! In a few sentences, what does your company do?

Thank you, it’s an honour! Splinter Faction is an online events production company. We help global businesses develop, evolve and deliver virtual events of any kind. We tend to host corporate events centred around training, communications and webinars, but this year we’ve also facilitated social events like parties, workshops, weddings and even interactive theatre.

“Our core work has typically been B2B, but this year we’ve branched out to P2P and B2C events.”

Can you share your journey into entrepreneurship?

Splinter Faction began as a video production company when I was just 16! After film school I worked as a sole trader for a while and produced some live TV, but it wasn’t enough for me to make a living so I took a job at an online learning company run by a friend.

In 2015, he suddenly (and dramatically!) decided to close the business down just after I got married and my wife was taking a sabbatical to study. It was a very scary time, but I decided to turn it into an opportunity. I asked my friend to remove the non-compete clause from my contract and registered Splinter Faction as a limited company. I was very fortunate to be able to start my business with a major client ready to work with me, and I owe my friend a huge debt of gratitude for that opportunity.

My wife and I had plans to move to New York for her studies, and being made redundant weeks before put this in serious jeopardy. Through luck and hard work, we were able to make it work. We flew to New York on a Friday and by Sunday I’d set up a new home office. I started work the following day with new adventure ahead of me!

“I went from being a sole trader producer to a business owner overnight.”

So many things have changed over the past five years. In 2015, I only had one client. The following year I won my second and third clients while working with support from a contractor I’d worked with before. By 2018 I worked hard to diversify my client profile and contract more people to expand capacity, allowing my business to grow to six clients and then up to 10 in 2019. Our work managed to challenge people’s expectations of how good online events could be. As word got out, we grew by word of mouth - the more exposure we had, the more people started recommending us to others.

2020 is the year that Splinter Faction has really taken off - we’ve hired 15 people this year and have more than doubled our turnover. My small business now has between 40 and 50 clients spread across the world and 22 contractors on the books, three of whom I plan to make full-time staff members in 2021.

“We’re proud to say we’ve never turned any work down.”

I was very aware I was working in an area - online events production - that was only going to get bigger over time. I’d been in this field for eight years, but a lot of the world still didn’t ‘need’ it, as physical events are often the default, even if it requires people to fly around the world and book expensive facilities - needless to say, that has all changed in 2020! Suddenly my experience and business went from being something niche to something everybody needed, and not just our core corporate work too - social and creative opportunities opened up to us in a big way.

2020 has been a challenging year. What have you done to adapt your product offerings to this year’s changing circumstances?

When lockdown hit, I volunteered some time to a Facebook group called I’m stuck at home but still want to have fun. The group got coverage on BBC News for three events that we were running. My general, corporate workload was reducing as businesses were facing uncertainty, but the social side was booming.

“I already knew we had a strong corporate offering but I did not predict the social growth.”

We got to be a pioneer for these online social solutions. Within two weeks we had a really engaging format, and we hosted events such as online dance parties and raves. A wonderful DJ I worked with put me in touch with Secret Cinema, and I facilitated a series of interactive theatre events through spring for them called Secret Sofa. This collaboration won a Time-In award for best online film club.

Other events companies knew they needed to do something but they couldn’t make it happen. When they see me facilitating a complex online event it can look easy, so they often try to do it themselves - but frequently things don’t go to plan, they realise it’s not as easy as it looks and come back to me for help.

Since March, we’ve facilitated online art fairs, parties, online theatre, weddings, workshops and more, all on top of our growing corporate learning workload. Our expertise has become very visible to and necessary for a wide variety of people.

What’s helped you to facilitate the sudden growth that Splinter Faction has seen?

I am very fortunate to have a wonderful team of people who I started collaborating with in the early days of lockdown through the Stuck at Home Facebook group. As time has gone on and demand for my work has increased, it’s been an honour to be able to hire them to work with me and share out the workload. Some of these people had lost their income this year so to be able to give them a lifeline is a double honour to me.

My early experience in online learning was mostly working on soft skills development for senior leaders and middle managers - along the way I picked up a lot of exposure to best practices and coaching in these areas that I’m now able to apply in my everyday work life. Growing so rapidly is difficult and I can’t do it without these people. I work really hard to support my team and enable them to act independently within a structure of experience I provide. I try to make myself available to them whenever they need me to help guide and support their work and continue to create satisfied customers. So far the team seems to be really happy which is great, but I’m always looking to improve in this area for my own development.

2020 has been a true learning experience. I had to expand capacity and maintain quality quite rapidly, this has required me to transition the focus from me, the person, to Splinter Faction, the brand.

That’s a big change indeed. How have you managed your changing business finances in 2020?

Using smart, simple accounting software.

We’ve been growing so quickly I haven’t had time to sort out the legal issues of hiring my staff full time, but recent updates to the QuickBooks payroll software have made it less intimidating for me to hire people in the new year. QuickBooks is great for workplace pensions integration and, overall, the whole payroll process has become much easier. You can quickly access reports and pay slips from previous pay periods, and even go back and make changes if you need to.

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“Over the course of my career, I’ve moved from being a sole trader to being responsible for people’s holiday and sick leave. I want to do things properly.”

My wife and I also just bought a house and I needed information swiftly from my accountant for the mortgage application. With QuickBooks, my accountant can access things really quickly and easily - within a day they were able to pull out all the information I needed.

Having QuickBooks there to automate expenses, recognise regular expenses, match them automatically and sort out VAT makes my life so much more simple. This year especially, I was uncertain about managing cash flow, but QuickBooks has made it easier to see where we’re at and what the next months will look like. 

“With QuickBooks, finance is a much smaller burden and I can focus on managing my business and employees.”

Would you like to give a shout-out to anyone who has helped you cope with the uncertainty this year?

My biggest thanks has to go to my team, who are absolutely amazing. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to hire friends who I can teach the technical skills to do this kind of work. It brings income to them and I can share my success and help people in difficult times. They’ve stepped up brilliantly and I’m so proud and honoured to be working with them.

“I’ve always onboarded and worked with people remotely, even across time zones, so that wasn’t much of a transition.”

I also want to give a huge shout-out to my wife who is a constant inspiration and has adapted to being in my office space - I’ve always worked from home, but she’s recently started doing so as well. It’s been difficult at times but we’ve adjusted surprisingly smoothly.

Of course, it goes without saying that I’m incredibly grateful for the clients who trust us with their important events in this difficult time and have stuck with us this year.

What tips would you give to your fellow entrepreneurs?

1. Be agile. The key to being successful in any business or role is agility. We think we know where we’re going, but sticking to what we know we’re good at can hold us back from growing. Otherwise uninteresting new challenges can sometimes turn out to be surprisingly rewarding and open up further opportunities for us. By taking unexpected opportunities that were available to me and committing to them, I found new adventures, challenges, an income and enjoyment.

“Managing your time can be difficult but managing your energy is far more important.”

2. Adopt an outcome-based approach. Working from home full time brings a lot of challenges. When I first started working this way 15 years ago I tried to enforce a strict 9-5 work schedule to protect my valuable non-work time, but what has worked better for me is adopting a give and take attitude. Sometimes I’m most productive between 10pm and 3am. Sometimes I’m not able to focus so I go on a two-hour dog walk, do the laundry or take a day off to see friends and family. I’m lucky that I run a business and can give myself that flexibility, but in general taking a more outcome-based approach to work rather than thinking of fixed hours would be a positive change for everyone.

3. Take some time to make sure you’re properly set up at home. I used to have a bad relationship with my desk - at times I’ve spent 14 hours a day at it and felt chained to it. This year, I decided to spend some money on a nice height-adjustable desk, a new monitor and keyboard, a better chair and, most importantly, a headset - it’s crucial for good online calls! This little bit of thought made my work space much more comfortable for me and helped overcome any reluctance I was feeling about being in that place. I often see people working from kitchens and I can’t stress enough that it’s really worth dedicating time, effort and money to improve this.

4. Make time to socialise with your team. If you maintain good relationships with them, you can communicate better and understand what’s going on in their personal lives. Getting people together for social time is crucial!

Small business owners like Krystian need accounting software that works for them - and that’s where we come in. We’re here to help you save time and money so you can focus your energy on the things that really matter: your business and your employees. For more inspiring stories from small business owners like Krystian, discover the Quickbooks blog.

This interview has been edited for clarity.


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