Digital entrepreneur Torie Chilcott is the latest recipient of an honorary doctorate from LBSU Business School. Following a successful TV career, she set up her first business, Rockabox Media, in 2008 and her most recent, Paddle Consulting, in 2017. She regularly visits schools to talk to girls about STEM subjects, and mentors young entrepreneurs via the Geek Girls network.
Fighting for education
"Getting into university was my first lesson in perseverance. I was the first person in my family to apply, and I really wanted to go to Southampton to study Politics. But I just couldn’t pass my maths O-level, and they wouldn’t let me in without it. So I wrote to the Vice Chancellor every day, telling him why he’d be crazy not to give me a place. Eventually he gave in and invited me down for a meeting. At the end he said, ‘All right, I’m going to give you a go. But in return I’m expecting you to be interested and interesting.’ I started the next day. I was sleeping on the kitchen floor, because I hadn’t had time to apply for halls. But I felt like the luckiest person in the world.
Getting into media
"There was never any doubt in my mind that I would go into TV. From a very young age, all I wanted to do was watch telly, much to my parents’ disappointment. In my second year at Southampton I managed to get an internship with a US TV station, working on Good Morning America. That was the start of my passion for US politics and, I’m slightly ashamed to say, really cheesy American soap operas.
"Back then, getting into the media was hard. It was all about where you’d studied, and who you knew. If you didn’t have those connections you had to make your own luck. I got my break in my final year, when I was working on my dissertation about Death Row. There happened to be a BBC film crew shooting at the prison where I was doing my research and I managed to wiggle my way in. Once I’d finished my dissertation, the producer offered me some work experience. That was it – I was in.
The nature of the industry
"To work in TV you have to be fearless. When I look back on those early years, I was blagging the whole time. My first proper job was as a secretary on a Channel 4 games show. I was appalling. I’m quite dyslexic and part of my job was to do the scripts. Really, it was a disaster. But I had energy, and ideas. I’ve always been the person that says ‘Why don’t we do this? Why can’t we try it this way instead?’
"A thick skin comes in very handy, too. It really is every bit as cut-throat as you think. Screaming rows are just part of everyday working life. I’ve seen someone pretend to faint in a meeting, they were so scared of what the boss was going to do to them.
Becoming an entrepreneur
"Being fired by Simon Fuller kickstarted my career as an entrepreneur. I’d been off work for a while caring for my son, who’d been dangerously ill with a brain virus, then I got tempted back into telly because I really needed to make some money. When you’re working with personalities that big, though, a bust-up is more or less inevitable. When Simon fired me – because of an argument over a documentary about Gareth Gates, if you really want to know – I realised the time had come to do something for myself.
"I’m not a techie, but I love solving problems. A lot of people think that to succeed in technology you need to be brilliant at engineering or maths or whatever. But that’s not the case – and I think that’s one of the barriers stopping people, particularly girls, from getting involved. You don’t need to be a coding genius yourself – but you do need a very clear vision of what you’re trying to achieve.
"My new business, Paddle Consulting, was born out of me asking another one of my annoying questions. I went to this really clever guy I know who does loads of research and said, ‘What I want to know is, why do people love the internet?’ He said, ‘Don’t waste your money – there’ll be tons of research on that already out there.’ But there wasn’t, so we did our own. We spoke to 5000 people and we learned that what they like tends to fall into four categories: Funny, Useful, Beautiful or Inspiring. Now we’re looking at how we can use that methodology – which we’ve called FUBI – to help brands engage effectively online.
"Being an entrepreneur isn’t a matter of choice. If it’s in you, it’s in you. When I look back at some of the things that have happened – like the week right back at the start when the mortgage company turned me down, my nanny left, my husband lost his job and my dad got hit by a bus all while I was trying to raise £100,000 by Friday – I question my sanity. It’s certainly not a way to make a fortune. With Paddle, if everything goes to plan we’ll be legends by Christmas. Of course the one thing that’s certain is that it won’t go to plan – but I know it won’t be boring, either.
Words of advice
"My advice to anyone graduating now would be the same as the advice I got when I started at Southampton.
Be interested in everything that’s going on around you. Throw yourself into things. Be fearless. And find an interesting way to tell your story.
- Torie Chilcott
"How do I recharge? By watching telly! Today I was up at 4 to practice for a presentation. I was knackered. Then I watched a bit of Poldark and a bit of Love Island and I was sorted."