Celebrating 25 years in business feels unreal. It's a long time and yet doesn't feel like it at all. But we would not have reached this milestone had it not been for the sacrifices and commitment of our team over the last 18 months.
Cascade started trading 'officially' from my back bedroom in north Manchester on 1st July 1996. There were two of us, my university friend Andy and myself. In fact we had been getting everything ready throughout June. We were in the 'office' on June 15th when we heard the Manchester bomb explode.
Euro 96 was in full swing, with the nation on a high, and I was lucky enough to be at the semi-final at Old Trafford to watch Czech defeat France on penalties, that was the 26th June.
We started with one old desktop PC, a printer and two desks made from old doors. We had no money. Both of us had always banked with NatWest but they wouldn’t give us a business bank account so we tried Barclays and have been with them ever since. My brother gave us a rusty old Astra van his business was about to scrap.
We tried to get a grant from a government scheme and I spent two days with window cleaners and hairdressers on a start-up course before they told us there was no money for another 12 months and we would have to wait before we started trading or we wouldn’t qualify. We didn’t wait.
Because we had no money, I did a deal with Blackbird Data Systems, the spirit of which lives on today as Dakota, and Keith agreed for me to work 2 days a week as their marketing manager. I did that for 6 months to keep the wolf from the door (a couple of weeks ago we delivered an expo for Dakota, our first event of 2021).
I had been running a company called i2i Productions for 5 years with two business partners. We had been thrown together after the collapse of our employer and there was always tension as we struggled to get enough work to survive. Sadly we all fell out in February 1996 and, after the row and solicitors visits, I managed to win enough work to be free to walk away. We reached a compromise where Cascade would provide content support for Iceland’s first national conference, in September 96, at the ICC.
We then picked up a video about new formats for Superdrug and we were on our way. That video was our first to feature ‘user-generated content’, we left a Hi-8 camera in the Newcastle Superdrug store for the team to use. We rented an Avid edit suite and it lived on my kitchen table, with the dog's bed underneath.
In the first year we turned over £146,000.
In year two, we moved into a real office in Carrington where we only had to commit to one month’s rent at a time. We stayed there (taking on more and more space) for 17 years.
After three modestly profitable years, in early 1999, at the suggestion of our accountant, we agreed to merge with one of our suppliers, Chapter 2. They brought more resources and much needed cash. Chapter 2 was owned by Jim and Gill.
Andy had joined me after accepting redundancy from the MoD but he didn’t really take to the corporate world and left in 2000. I couldn’t have started it without his help and humour.
Since then we have employed over 40 people directly and hundreds indirectly. Some of our freelancers have worked with us since the beginning, notably Dave Thompson and Bev Ashworth and others not far behind, including Adam Barlow. It has not always been easy, we lost Iceland in 2001 when Malcolm was thrown out. We lost Somerfield and Kwik Save when they were taken over by the Co-op and later Game when they took over Multiplay. At the time, each of these losses was huge. On the other hand, we keep a family tree which shows the connections all the way back to the beginning – so much of our work has come from referrals and people moving from business to business.
We have worked with many charities and given a lot of our time to causes including Raleigh International, Leukeumia Research, Cancer Research, Wish Upon a Star, Teenage Bone Marrow Trust, Homeless charities, Alzheimers, Alder Hey and many more - we have paid for a well to be installed in a Tanzanian village and have planted over 250,000 trees now and we will continue to plant more.
We set out to actively reduce our carbon footprint in 2008 and have been seeking to run plastic free events since 2018. We were one of the founder members of the Good Business Charter. We have paid millions in tax over the years and we are happy to continue to do so.
We would like to think that we contributed to the goals and aspirations of the organisations we have worked with, though we have outlasted many of them.
Above all, we have created lasting memories for the attendees and guests of our events and plenty of our own too. Our conferences, parties and videos have been viewed, and enjoyed, by millions of people.
The last 18 months have been extraordinary for us all and has left a very different Cascade as a consequence.
Our lasting success has been down to the loyalty and support of our customers (some for the whole 25 years), our suppliers, and our own team. Thank you to everyone who has supported us along the way.
One final thanks to our families. This is a stressful and, often, antisocial industry, they put up with a lot.
We are well into the planning and production of new projects for new and existing clients over the coming 12 months. Roll on the next 25 years!