While most of you will know us for www.pedestrian.tv and our 24/7 pop culture news and creative jobs, Pedestrian was actually born 10 years ago with the launch of the world’s first ‘plastizine.’ In the lead up to Pedestrian’s 10th birthday celebrations, presented by Contiki & STUDIOCANAL‘s ‘We Are Your Friends’ we tapped Pedestrian co-founder Chris Wirasinha for an insight into the history of the site you’re reading right now.
“Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid.”
I met Oscar Martin, the co-founder of Pedestrian, when I was 21 and he was 22. We were just a handful of months into our careers, both working as media assistants at Universal McCann, the media agency arm of McCann Erikson, the global advertising giant of Mad Men fame.
Despite coming from very different backgrounds (Oscar was more likely to be found in the surf, while I was playing in fledgling bands) we found ourselves talking about whether it would be possible to launch our own media company.
We started to explore the idea of a magazine-style TV show that would feature content about emerging bands, festivals, fashion brands and sub-cultures. This was back in 2004, before the launch of YouTube, when the only source for video content was the TV.
The only thing standing in our way was the fact that neither of us knew how to operate a camera, edit footage or even how to pitch a show.
Upon looking into the TV model more closely, we didn’t like the prospect of our fate being decided by a handful of decision makers in programming departments.
We started to explore other avenues to distribute our show and became fascinated with a world-first advertiser funded street press model that utilised DVDs instead of print. We would film content, edit it together, print and press discs and then distribute them through retail chains, universities, cafes, bars and wherever young Australians were hanging out. The entire operation would be funded through brands paying to reach the audience through ads on the packaging of the DVDs, short unskippable TV style ad-breaks and through brand funded segments.
A few months into Pedestrian we may have set a record at the time as the lowest paid people to ever grace the centrefold of the Australian Financial Review’s Boss Magazine.
We worked through ideas, strategy and budgets over lunch breaks and met up at Bondi’s The Beach Rd Hotel on the weekend to work through what the company would look like.
It was during one of these Saturday catch ups over beer and bolognese that we christened the company ‘Pedestrian’. We wanted something that was inclusive and could address anyone. On top of it all, we loved the other meaning of the word – ‘mediocre’ – as we knew that with no experience ever filming anything, our efforts could very well live up to their name (some would argue they still do!)
In November 2004 we pooled together $10,000 worth of savings (the grand total of our combined funds) that most people at our age would have spent on an overseas trip. We purchased a Sony PD-170 digital video camera that was becoming popular for documentary filmmakers, a copy of Final Cut Pro, and a 17” iMac.
We started to film segments at night and would spend our weekends learning how to edit them. We had a couple of friends that were making films and knew how to use the equipment, who lent us their experience and time to guide us through issues that, much of the time, could be solved with something as simple as “hit the spacebar.”
Our Tsubi Break
One of our breakthrough moments happened in early 2005, when Oscar hit up Angus Gruzman (DJ ‘Gus da hood rat’) & stylist Pip Edwards, friends of his who were working at the fashion label Tsubi (before the ‘K’ replaced the ‘T’) and managed to convince them to allow us to film an interview with Dan Single, one of the brand’s founders. As a start-up with no product or any track record, it was a massive coup. Tsubi were at the peak of their powers as a fashion and youth culture powerhouse with a valuation of $30m. Despite being masters of grabbing headlines with rats on the catwalk and models being thrown overboard boats, they rarely gave interviews and their only previous video feature had been an appearance on Nine’s 60 Minutes.
Dan gave us a freewheeling, hour-long interview along with a tour of the Tsubi offices that embodied the unofficial “work, together, play together, sleep together” mantra that Dan proclaimed in his interview. We owe a lot to Dan for being so generous with his time and giving us one of the first of many breaks that Pedestrian would receive over the years.
With the Tsubi interview finalised, we began work on the task of editing the footage and creating the first segment that would make an appearance on issue one of the Pedestrian DVD.
Cutting The Safety Net & Going Full-time
If we were going to make Pedestrian a reality, we knew we’d have to leave our full-time jobs – we didn’t have any outside funding or investment and our only option to fund the DVD was to raise advertising revenue. Not exactly a task that could be undertaken in the late nights and weekends window that, by now, we were well and truly tapping out.
We set ourselves the goal of building a prototype DVD that featured sample packaging as well as an intro video reel that explained the concept of Pedestrian along with a functioning DVD menu that linked to the completed interview with Tsubi.
With the prototype a few weeks from being finalised, Oscar and I put in our notice at Universal McCann on the same day.
An AdNews article outlining our grand vision.
In late February 2005 we left our jobs and, with no cashflow, we had two months to survive and launch a product. We created a list of advertisers and agencies to approach and began calling. We also booked a trip down to Melbourne during March to film at the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival, meet with advertisers and source our Melbourne distributors.
While in Melbourne we interviewed model Nicole Trunfio for the first issue and also managed to randomly ‘buy’ a drink for a dapper English couple who turned out to be the founders of Agent Provocateur who we linked up with in London a few months later. (These chance encounters highlight the value of random alcohol fuelled ‘networking’ in the early days of the business.)
Hungover And Asking For Money
While in Melbourne we managed to secure BMW Mini as our first advertiser. We scrambled to meet with the client and their agency in Southbank while still recovering from the hangover from the night before. They instantly understood our idea and the opportunity to bring to life their sponsorships in a unique way through video. Literally hours later, we found ourselves zipping around Melbourne filming content in a stretch Mini with our inaugural Pedestrian host and presenter: the chiselled and supremely confident Bucky Palmer, who was a childhood friend of Oscar’s and had joined us on our trip.
With a trial sponsorship from MINI, along with a handful of other brands, we returned to Sydney with enough money to fund the first production run of our DVD and last us the few weeks required to finalise editing. We worked around the clock and would often go days with only a few hours of sleep. (During the early days of Pedestrian 100 hour weeks were very much the norm.)
It was still just Oscar and me and to save money we’d both moved back to our parents’ houses. Our first office was on Oscar’s mum’s dining room table. The early days often saw some pretty huge disagreements between Oscar and me, as a lack of sleep and monetary pressures started to take their toll. However our shared vision and trust always kept us on track.
Filming Steve Aoki at an early show.
Launching Pedestrian To The World
On the 12th of May 2005 we released issue one of Pedestrian to the world. Capitalising on having Tsubi onboard we took hundreds of DVDs to Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Sydney and handed them out to the crowds waiting to attend the Tsubi show. This hands-on approach continued as Oscar and I personally delivered the first issue of the DVDs to every stockist we’d negotiated across Sydney and Melbourne.
We’d succeeded in our goal of releasing a product, but now had to follow through with what we’d started. However now with a product in the market, we started to receive countless offers of help and support.
Stylist Mark Vassallo and the team at the now-defunct Follow Magazine reached out to offer us one of their art directors to redesign the Pedestrian masthead with a design that stuck for the entire history of our DVDs. We also discovered new friends in the likes of Daimon Downey (ex-Sneaky Sound System) who reached out to us to take over voiceover duties from myself and Oscar.
Still one of the most ridiculous photos I’ve ever been a part of (c/o Follow Magazine). It’s not hard to work out why Buck Palmer (front) is now happily married to a Hart sister.
Can’t Knock The Hustle
During this period it was still just Oscar and myself fulfilling every role in the business. This ‘hustle-or-die’ approach led us to launch a series of Pedestrian branded club nights to keep the money flowing and to ensure that we had cashflow to keep doing Pedestrian full-time.
Our determination was vital in the early days of the business and still remains key to what we do today. It saw us get access to some of the world’s most exciting talent at the time, such as Bloc Party and Karen Walker, for what was still a relatively unknown product. It also saw us convince Virgin Atlantic to fly us to the UK for a week to create a London edition of the Pedestrian DVD for our third issue in late 2005.
This is just a brief snapshot of what went down in the first formative year of Pedestrian and we’ll be exploring the other periods of the company and our transition to the website in coming posts, as we countdown to our 10th birthday celebration.
Early picture from one of our Pedestrian club nights. That’s a young Oscar in the back.
10 years is a huge achievement and we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for everyone that’s shared the journey with us. We’ve received amazing support from our friends and family who’ve always lent us their wisdom. We’ve been consistently impressed and floored by all of the amazingly talented staff that we work alongside today or who have ever graced the Pedestrian offices with their energy, smarts and good looks. We also feel eternally #blessed that we’ve managed to find kindred spirits in every one of you, our readers, who’ve let us become a part of your lives as we strive to entertain you, make you slightly more knowledgeable and hopefully smile and/or laugh.