The story so far
Born in Hong Kong, Derek Handley moved to New Zealand as a teenager. After some youthful business ventures, including selling pirated video games, he survived a near-bankruptcy experience with sharemarket investing, took a short-lived job with Fletcher Challenge Forests and started the online-betting business Feverpitch.
Listed on the Stock Exchange's New Capital Market in late 2001, Feverpitch was "dead as a dodo" by late the next year, says Handley.
With his brother Geoffrey, Handley then worked on another business venture, Hyperfactory - helping clients use text messaging as a marketing tool.
Looking for a way to make the business grow, they decided the best strategy was to aim for the world's biggest advertising agencies, and get one of them on board.
Here's what happened next:
"So who do we think are the top three?"
We made a list of a few top agencies and the people who ran them, and how we might get to them. We ranked who we wanted to speak with.
"I'd say Ogilvy is up there; we can get in easily enough to see somebody. And TBWA would be up there; Hubert knows the chairman of A-Pac."
"OK, so let's say they're number two and number three, and let's go after them - but who is the most famous?"
"Saatchi & Saatchi."
"Kind of impossible."
"So let's try," we both agreed.
Saatchi & Saatchi is the world's most famous advertising agency and is arguably the only one that even the man in the street has heard of; it is one of the largest and has 8000 staff in over 100 offices around the world. We approached the other people and companies all over Asia and tried any route to get to big dogs - but our number-one target became Saatchi & Saatchi, and our highest priority was a sit-down with their global boss Kevin Roberts, who we did not know and had never met. We had done some work with their tiny office in New Zealand and they had a visionary and assertive creative director there, Tom Eslinger, who [brother] Geoffrey knew. After exploring a myriad of possible routes to get to Kevin, we discovered he had links to New Zealand; after a further four weeks I discovered that the best link to him so far was sitting right inside my Hong Kong apartment.
It was like knowing where the string was tied to at the end, and having to walk backwards to connect the dots to somewhere that you were already connected to. My flatmate in Hong Kong, Charlotte Glennie, was the inspirational Television New Zealand Asia correspondent at the time and it just so happened that her brother or mother, who I didn't know, knew Kevin's sons - or something. I can't quite remember the connection, but it was tenuous. I politely begged her to somehow get us in for the coveted 15 minutes. Somehow she made it happen and a few weeks before Christmas 2004 we had a slot on his schedule.
When you watch dramatic movies of the young guy or girl striving to climb the ladder of life, and the protagonist gets their break - their shot at a life-changing event - your heart races for them as the devastation you feel if they screw it up can only be rivalled by the elation if they nail it. Let me share something I have learned. These moments you see on television and in the movies, where the lead character needs to come through - these turning points - are in fact real. Often they come down to having one, five or 15 minutes to make an impression, to convince somebody to do something, and that you are the right person for them to take a gamble on. Steve Jobs spoke of leaving a dent in the universe. When you meet certain people, you want to do your unrelenting best to leave a dent in their memory. We were about to walk into one such meeting.
We had our 15 minutes with Kevin Roberts, head of the most famous advertising agency in the entire world. For that 15 minutes we had prepared for about four weeks. We'd distilled what we wanted to say into 10 large-format pages in a huge flip-book. We used a big font, crisply hand-drawn images, a handful of critical statistics and beautifully drawn charts; just 10 pages in all. Our story was designed to be told in five minutes. One image that I remember vividly: the back jeans pocket of a young girl, with what looked like an iPod sticking out, but on it clearly said 'iPhone'. The Apple star was just starting to rise again with the phenomenal success of the iPod - you could tell the brand was on a trajectory towards global cult status and they were not a client of Saatchi & Saatchi and yet were arguably the most coveted client in the industry. The flipbook was finished in the first weeks of December 2004; the iPhone would not be announced until January 2007.
We arrived. Just like the movies we were left to wait for what seemed like forever, but was probably only 40 minutes. All of a sudden we were led past the brick walls and wide timber stairs down to the basement office to be greeted by Kevin dressed in his customary streamlined black.
We sat. Fifteen seconds of pleasantries. And then straight out of a Hollywood script he opened.
"You have fifteen minutes."
We sat. We pulled out the flipbook and we walked him through it page by page, pausing only to check he was following. Weeks of work and thinking was being told in a story of no more than five minutes. A story that went something like this: "You are the greatest storytellers in the world for the greatest brands in the world; the future of stories and experiences is shifting from television and radio to online and the internet.
The future beyond this is telling stories and helping consumers live better lives through your brands, through their handsets. These devices that we think of as phones today will become the remote controls to our world tomorrow; brands need to know how to navigate this landscape, and nobody does - including you.
We are the best in the world.
Here are our world-first innovations, and our clients and our awards to show for it. We are local, you are global; we want to be global. We are small, you are large; we want to be large. You are slow, we are fast; you want to be fast. You have 8000 people; we have 10. Let us stand on your shoulders and be your global partners in these key cities around the world. All you do is open doors, give us a seat to sit in and let us walk in with you. You will look good, and we will both do well.
You will have the best experts within your family, at no cost to you, and we will have the chance to go global and get big.
What do you say?"
If they say life doesn't come down to moments, let me tell you they are lying. If they say that it's not what you know, it's who you know, let me tell you there's truth written left to right within those words. If they say that it's not the number of breaths you take but it's the number of moments that take your breath away, they're not off base. But when you get presented with these moments, and you are there ready to live them, let me suggest that what matters above all is that you put your undivided energy and consciousness into them with confidence and optimism, and that you expend every ounce of spiritual, mental and physical capacity you have, to come out the other side with the outcome you want.
At certain points life gets a big push from who you know, not what you know. At certain junctures life absolutely does come down to critical moments - but the secret to it all is to take them with both hands and a full heart, and make them happen. When you encounter or create these moments what you are facing are the forks in your path that will totally change the trajectory of an idea, a career, a company, a relationship, a life, a movement. What you do in those moments - at the fork - means everything.
The flipbook was shut.
The story told.
The 15 minutes up.
Kevin rose from the couch and ended our meeting. A black silhouette glided across the timber floors towards his desk. He spoke.
"What I do, boys, is open doors. What you do after that is up to you."
"Can I keep this?" he said, holding up our pitch.
"Meet Jim O'Mahoney in Sydney. You've passed my sniff test. Let's see what you can do."
That was it.
Geoffrey and I took this to mean that 15 minutes after we walked in that door it was up to us if we were to become Saatchi & Saatchi's global partner to show them and their clients the way of the future. Well if it was up to us, of course it was going to happen.
Some people think of this story as inspiring. It is. It still inspires me when I look back and think of it. It is inspiring that a man who runs the most famous advertising agency in the world trusts his gut and builds a case to make decisions quickly, on the spot, based on stories and people. Decisions he knows can change the course of a young kid's life. It's also inspiring to think that us two brothers trundled up there with our eight-person army behind us, gave it a shot and had the courage to suggest that we should be the global minnow partner of a giant, believing what we were saying with every fibre of our being.
As inspiring as these moments are to encounter or create, what can be truly inspiring is what you do with them. What are the lessons? Does this mean it's all who you know - just rock up and shake hands and off you go? Does this mean that whenever you get a big moment you just cut the line and make it happen?
Did I mention we spent weeks prepping for these 15 minutes? Weeks. We probably spent one day of prep per minute of meeting. Did I mention we agonised over every word, every drawing, every chart? It was one of the most well-prepared presentations my brother and I have ever done - but was that more important or was it the spirit we went in with? The spirit of what's in it for the other guy? What gift can we offer? We started from the opposite of what we wanted and from a place of what could we give - how can we build this in such a way that makes it very, very difficult for him to refuse?
Our small problems were on a path to disappearing because we had created newer, bigger ones. Now we had some heavyweight partners: Jim and Kevin. They saw the same problem as us: Saatchi & Saatchi had no ability to predict the future in mobile and look like they knew what they were doing. Having achieved the seemingly impossible, after seeing in the 2005 New Year, I left Auckland and returned to Hong Kong.
What happened next...
With Saatchi & Saatchi's support, the Hyperfactory won big-name clients such as Johnson & Johnson, Crest toothpaste and Motorola, and investment from the Business Bakery, a company associated with the founders of 42Below vodka.
In 2009 Handley was named Ernst & Young Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
By 2010 the Hyperfactory had been sold to a US media company, Meredith Corporation. Although the details were confidential, the sale is thought to have been worth tens of millions of dollars.
Handley has since moved on to another venture, Snakk Media, which helps companies get their advertising in front of smartphone and tablet users. In March Snakk made its debut on the Stock Exchange's NZAX market.
Handley has also been heavily involved with The B Team - Sir Richard Branson's venture that aims to harness business to solve social and environmental problems.
* Extract from heart to start , by Derek Handley
(Random House NZ, $39.99).