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INTERVIEW: Staying in the Fast lane

Jackie Fast grew Slingshot Sponsorship from a laptop in her bedroom to a business she sold for millions of pounds. Now, she’s sharing the secrets of sponsorship success through a book – and preparing to launch her own ice wine brand, Rebel Pi, as Peter Ranscombe finds out.

“I need to get a job,” jokes Jackie Fast in between mouthfuls of salad at Browns Old Jewry, a brasserie in the former Commonwealth Bank of Australia building in the Square Mile.

“I need to channel all this nervous energy into something.

“I become crazy, I become excessive, which is really good when you have a business, but not so good when you don’t.”

That energy was previously funnelled into Slingshot Sponsorship, the agency Fast founded in 2010 when she was 25 years old from her bedroom and which she sold to The Marketing Group (TMG) in 2016 in a deal believed to be worth more than £2m.

Along the way, she worked with clients ranging from Prince, The Rolling Stones and Her Majesty The Queen through to Red Bull, What Car? magazine and Sir Richard Branson.

“I was once asked to sell sponsorship for a windmill that someone had in their back garden,” Fast remembers.

“Another time, it was a submarine – you name it, I’ve been asked to sell it.”

Business born of need

Like so many entrepreneurs, setting up her own business came out of necessity rather than design for Fast.

After missing out on promotion in her sponsorship role at the Direct Marketing Association, Fast left and began applying for jobs with sponsorship agencies.

But when no interviews were forthcoming, she launched her own sponsorship and marketing consultancy business from her bedroom, armed only with a laptop and a mobile phone.

“I’m from Vancouver in Canada and I’d arrived in London with the intention of backpacking around Europe, but I never left,” she explains.

“That meant I didn’t have the network and support system of friends and family living near me that would have helped me find a job.

“But I like pressure – I like that feeling that it’s down to me and I need to pay the bills.”

Thriving on such pressure drove Fast on to build a team of 20 people, with branches in Brazil, Norway and Singapore, as well as her head office in London.

While she loved working on fun accounts, some elements of being “the boss” didn’t sit as easily with her.

“I’m not a great manager,” admits Fast.

“Managers bring out the best in people, and unfortunately that’s not a skill I possess naturally.

“I get too close and over-share, then I turn round and can be incredibly cutting because of my bluntness and directness.

“Some of my staff have gone on to do amazing things and loved working for me, but others have left the office in tears.”

Her favourite clients range from ActTai, an organisation set up by a group of Silicon Valley billionaires to support start-ups through to Warranty Direct.

Choose the right exit

Yet, despite working with legendary musicians and powerful entrepreneurs, running her own business was taking its toll.

“By the time I sold to TMG, I’d been looking to get out for about a year,” she says.

“I was working so hard that I didn’t have time to do basic things that people take for granted, like going to the dentist or getting my hair cut, and I never got to see my friends.

“I felt like I worked as high as I could have gotten with Slingshot at the time I sold.

“I was consulting on sponsorship portfolios that were worth £300m a year and was spending three or four weeks a year on Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island – where do you go after that?”

Despite having no earn-out clause when she sold Slingshot to TMG, Fast stayed with the company for a further year to help her former staff to bed-in at the new owner, before leaving last November.

“When I left, I took advice from another entrepreneur who said not to make any decisions on what to do next for at least six months,” she says.

“I thought by now that I’d know what I’d be doing in January, but I don’t know still.”

A new direction

Fast hasn’t been sitting and twiddling her thumbs though, publishing a book – Pinpoint – to explain to other entrepreneurs and organisations why sponsorship can be such a powerful tool.

“It’s primarily aimed at companies that need to raise money, but I think it’s important for brands too, so they can understand how to get the most out of those deals,” she says.

“During my Slingshot days, we ran bootcamps and training courses to teach people about sponsorship.

“We found that it didn’t matter if you were a big global football club or a five-k fun run in Leeds – the problems were exactly the same and I found that fascinating.

“There’s nothing special about me – I just think about sponsorship differently and writing this book was the best way to share all the stuff that I learnt throughout my time working in sponsorship.”

She has also found time to get married, channelling that nervous energy into everything from scrapbooking ideas to researching the best wedding lighting companies and stealing Kim Kardashian’s photo booth along the way.

An icy resolution

All that drive and ambition is soon to be funnelled back into the world of business; Fast is preparing to launch her own ice-wine brand in October called Rebel Pi.

Ice wines are made from grapes that have been left on the vine to freeze during the winter, turning the water inside the berries into ice, which can then be removed, leaving behind super-sweet pulp that is made into very special dessert drinks.

“I used to sell thin air – now I want to sell something tangible that you can touch and feel,” Fast explains.

“I grew up in Okanagan, which is one of the parts of Canada that produces excellent wine, and so I’ll be selling something that’s from my home town and which is special to me.”

As well as financing her own business, Fast is running the rule over investing in two other projects.

Investing in other companies will not only give her fellow entrepreneurs a boost but Fast expects it will also have a knock-on effect for her too.

“If I don’t have money sitting in my account then it’ll give me that pressure to go out to work and make more,” she laughs.

“I’ve got a passion for food and drink and love going out, so wine feels like a good fit.

“It’s one of the few industries I’ve never worked with on sponsorship – so it’s something completely new for me and I know I am at my best when I am the most challenged.”

Peter Ranscombe
Article by Peter Ranscombe
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