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Friday, 19 December 2014

Conor’s at home in cyberspace

AH, to be 20... lounging around in tracksuit bottoms watching Jeremy Kyle, occasionally flicking through a book or two to justify your time at university.

hxconor
Young entrepreneur: Conor Ferris is pictured in his office at Stop, Drop, Rock!

That, at least, was my experience. Conor Ferris’s is somewhat different though as, despite his relative youth, he has established a growing internet business, selling clothing for fans of the underground music scene and organising tours for bands.

“I never use the word ‘entrepreneur’,” he says when I ask him if he defines himself as such. “But now I come to think about it... yeah, that would be about right.”

Certainly Conor, who lives in Prudhoe, couldn’t be faulted when it comes to self-motivation.

We meet at his tiny but attractive office at Newcastle’s Quayside, which he’s taken on solely because it provides a more productive environment for Stop, Drop, Rock! than working from home would.

He also talks with maturity on the need for cooperation, good contacts and “brand awareness”.

“I love what I do,” he explains. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do it – I’d just get a regular job I hated!”

Indeed Conor, who was born in Newcastle but has lived at various places throughout Tynedale, has been passionate about music since his childhood, having been “brainwashed” as he puts it, by his father, Paul.

Luckily, his interest reached a peak just as social media was beginning to flourish and websites such as Myspace became the place to look for the next big thing.

“I was into small, underground acts and I’d go on there and look for new music people hadn’t heard before,” he says. “They were small bands, but I was finding little gems.”

Most 14 or 15-year-olds may have been content to listen from afar online, but for Conor that wasn’t enough.

Instead, he wanted to see the bands live and the only way that was possible was to bring them to play in Newcastle.

He therefore did the logical thing and asked those in the know how to make this happen.

The answer proved to be simple but effective – contact the desired band, ask how much money they’d need, including travel expenses, and contact small, affordable venues to see if they’d be prepared to host a gig.

Did he feel self-conscious playing businessman at such a young age?

“Lots of the bands were probably only about 16 or 17 themselves,” he says.

“And when it comes to the venues, if you’re going to give them £200, they’re happy to take that money.

“Some of my friends did think it was unusual, but I’d put friends’ bands in the shows as well, and people who were into that scene thought it was cool.”

At that stage, the venture wasn’t a money spinner – Conor was lucky to break even – but clearly it gave him both the buzz and the confidence to carry on in a similar vein.

Soon, he was not only organising gigs but producing posters, CD covers and t-shirts.

“Art was never a big interest of mine – I was never any good at it at school,” he says.

“If you asked my teachers, they’d probably say I was the worst; I never saw the point.

“But when I had a computer in front of me, I found I could make something interesting and different.

“I did the designs and sent them off to a print company. I did try to do some myself with a screen print machine my friend had but that didn’t go well.”

Business-wise, the t-shirt element brought its own risks and challenges as the products had to be purchased in bulk orders of 50 or 100 at a time.

Still, Stop, Rock, Drop! continued to gather momentum as Conor headed off to Liverpool to study business management at Edge Hill University.

“I went for a year and I hated it,” he says.

“It seemed to be all about how car factories operate and I didn’t understand how a lot of it was relevant.

“I thought, ‘this isn’t benefiting me.’”

Conor quit and returned home.

His parents, he says, were supportive of the move, recognising the course just wasn’t for him.

Others, though, still refer to his “dropping out” and he admits it’s odd most of his mates are still students.

Does he think that schools don’t emphasise alternatives to university as much as they should?

“My school did have some kind of careers’ week in sixth form, but I don’t remember it, so it can’t have been that exciting,” he says.

“I remember people at school asking what I was doing today, or what I was doing next, but the emphasis was on UCAS and university, as that was what everybody did.”

Clearly though, going his own way has done no harm for Conor, who was last year chosen as one of only 25 young people from around the UK to attend the Youth Conference on Cyberspace in London.

The event gauged young people’s views protecting the social and economic benefits of the internet, while tackling problems like cybercrime. And, after meeting everyone from William Hague to representatives from Facebook, Conor got to share his insights with other young people via various forms of social media.

His focus for the time being is on the tour side of things, the idea being to establish a firm reputation for Stop, Drop, Rock! before giving the clothing line a fresh boost.

I ask him if, in the long term, he thinks he could make a fortune.

“Somebody’s got to do it,” he laughs. “Having enough to get by is good for now. But it would be nice to be very, very comfortable.”

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