As a youngster growing up on the edge of the New Forest, Mike Cotty was a talented footballer, honing his skills with several local teams and looking at a future in the beautiful game. That was until his older brother introduced him to cycling – beginning a passion which would set Cotty on the road to a whole new worldwide career. In 2012, Mike Cotty founded cycling media consultancy Media-24 and he is also a global brand ambassador for some of cycling’s best known names, including Cannondale and Mavic. He was recently listed in the 2014 BikeBiz Brit List as one of the most influential people in the British cycle industry.
Right from his schooldays, Cotty knew he wanted to get out into the ’real world’ so at 16, instead of taking the traditional university route, he followed in his brother’s footsteps and signed up for an engineering apprenticeship. Two years in he wanted to focus more on using his creative and problem-solving skills so started working for BAE Systems Infrared, managing projects and developing processes and solutions for infrared military and space applications, while studying at Southampton Institute one day a week. Having achieved his degree and still fanatical about his cycling – both he and his brother raced and he had visions of having a career as a professional racer – he realised that aged 21 he had some serious decisions to make. After spotting a vacancy for a marketing co-ordinator with Cannondale Bicycles, he applied for the role and two months later was on a plane to Switzerland. Fast forward through several promotions and a fair proportion of global travel, he relocated the role back to the UK, began writing articles for a host of specialist cycling publications and it was from there Media-24 was born. He lives with his partner Deborah, who is operations manager and photographer for the consultancy.
What was so exciting about cycling?
It was the freedom. At 15 I would be riding 100 miles and coming back exhausted. My brother and I would go exploring at weekends, we’d take part in races, travel to training camps here and in Europe, and our parents always supported us. My brother still races now.
How did you make a career out of your passion?
Cycling then wasn’t the mainstream sport that it is today, there were no training academies or major sponsors and you had to be super talented to make a success as a racer. I was so passionate about cycling that I would spend hours every day just thinking about bikes, so I decided I had to get a job in the bike world. Leaving home and moving to another country was a really big decision, but when I got the opportunity I was following my dream.
Tell us about the role
I spent an incredible five years in Basel, it was a real fast track into business and into life in a different country. Cannondale were very open to ideas and I loved it because I was able to share my passion. By 2005 I was running the marketing team, I could see cycling was becoming more mainstream in the UK and I felt we could do things more efficiently if I was based here, rather than 700 miles away.
I based myself in Southampton and after Cannondale was bought by the Canadian company Dorel Industries in 2009, Cycling Sports Group (CSG) was established. Fortunately Dorel also bought the UK cycle distributor Hotwheels, based in Poole, so the CSGUK office was close by.
What prompted you to start your own business?
Over the three years with CSG I got to meet and work with a lot of great people, including brothers Russell and Neil Merry who had owned Hotwheels and were now managing CSGUK. I really liked their approach to business, they made it simple to get the job done and always gave the support needed to do my job to the best of my ability which, at the end of the day, was to get the brands noticed and encourage more people to get into cycling.
I’d been writing various articles for cycling magazines. One stage of the Tour de France (L’Etape du Tour) is open to amateur riders, so I went out there, rode the route and reported on it from a rider’s point of view. It meant that thousands of people who were going to do it had an insight into what they could expect, where they could recover, where they could push harder and the like.
It was all about trying to help support and inspire cyclists, I wrote about all sorts of topics, everything from nutrition to training, to the necessary kit and equipment, giving them advice based on my own experience. Of course, at the same time, the brands I represented were getting good exposure, but in a very authentic way.
During the same period I was making videos to help cyclists and I had got the point where I wanted to share everything more widely, which today’s technology allows me to do. I could have stayed where I was and gone up the corporate ladder, but I wanted to use my skills and experience to do something different.
I always saw myself working as a specialist in one particular niche or activity and it had to be cycling. Attention to detail has always been my thing and this was my big opportunity. I put all my articles and videos etc into one big portfolio and sent it to Cannondale in the US to show them how I could really add value by representing them as a brand ambassador.
After 12 years of working for them they knew me inside out and agreed, but also asked me to produce videos for their professional team, which then opened up another avenue for me and Media-24. It is a great partnership and one which has evolved from there.
What was one of your career highlights?
I had only been with Cannondale for a couple of years when my boss went on sabbatical, I was effectively in charge and we had a major global press launch for a new bike. I project managed the event; it had never been done before on a global scale, we had magazines and journalists from all over the world – there was no template to show me how it was done and it gave me a real buzz.
Tell me about some of the business lessons you’ve learnt?
It’s about building really good relationships – not just with the brands I represent but also at a personal level with the people who read your articles, watch your videos or follow your Twitter feed. Before now, when people have contacted me with questions, sometimes it’s easier to just phone them up and talk to them and they will be amazed I’ve taken the trouble to do that. One person I called was dumbstruck, but he then wrote a nice piece about it on his blog. To me, that’s what business and being a brand ambassador is all about. You have to be open, honest and accessible.
How would you describe yourself?
I am super driven and focused but I don’t have a five or 10-year plan. I like to take things more organically; if you do good work, then opportunities will open up. I love what I do and if I can do it and build a business up from nothing, then anyone can. You have to have the passion for it in your heart and really believe in what you do.
What’s been your greatest personal achievement so far?
My toughest challenge was a 1,000km ride across the Dolomites, Eastern Alps and Swiss Alps, taking in 21 mountains without stopping in just over two days. I made a 13-minute video of the ride and now, looking back, I can’t believe I did it. For me it was about questioning the status quo and never setting myself boundaries. It will be difficult to beat that.
How does it feel to be called one of the most influential people in the British cycle industry?
It’s definitely great to get the recognition, but that was never my goal.
What are you working on at the moment?
The pinnacle to date is The Col Collective (thecolcollective.com), I love the whole essence of the mountains and find them so inspiring. It’s a series of videos available online – the first 10 have just gone live – and they provide expert advice, support and education to help cyclists reach the top of some of the greatest mountain passes in the world. I think we’ve created something really remarkable. The footage is incredible and it’s already generated a fantastic response from cyclists all over the world – including one message of appreciation thanking us for our work and saying that they watch the videos with the family and use them to plan their holidays. That’s just amazing and truly fulfilling.
What does the future hold?
For years I was focused on pushing racing, but that’s a tiny proportion of the cycling market. For me now it’s about encouraging more people to take up cycling. Media-24 is still in its early days but my dream is to build our business, work with more strong brands and create a really good community.
I want us to be seen as a global resource that people can tap into and want to be associated with and for The Col Collective to be seen as a trusted, authentic resource that people know and want to use. Ultimately it would be great to develop that around the world, having a region by region analysis of the best climbs.
What do you do on your time off?
I haven’t taken a holiday for four years. For me, time off is being out on my bike; it’s when I have so many ideas because my brain is whirring away. I tell Deborah, keep believing, we will have some downtime.