Gerry Cottle

Founder of Rooftop Cinema Club

Gerry Cottle, son of the famous Circus owner of the same name, started his life as a juggler and clown before running away from the Circus to join the greatest show on earth…London. He joined PR doyen Mark Borkowski and over the next ten years worked across numerous entertainment events and PR launches for the likes of Cirque Du Soleil, Amnesty International, Madame Tussauds and Disney to name a few.

Gerry founded the Rooftop Film Club in 2011, combining his devotion to crafting unique events and his passion for film. Starting on one rooftop in the heart of Shoreditch, Rooftop Film Club has grown to become a leading outdoor cinema experience with venues across London and headline sponsorships with Grey Goose, British Airways, American Airlines, Nespresso, American Express, Samsung and Visa. In addition to Rooftop, Gerry co-founded London’s first commercial drive in cinema, Drive In Film Club, and the UK’s first donation led co-working space, The Office Club.

2015 saw the company rise to new heights with the Rooftop Film Club (known as Rooftop Cinema Club Stateside) opening to sellout crowds in both New York and Los Angeles. The success continued into 2016 with a further venue in Brooklyn, New York. A new and exciting venue was added in 2017 in Downtown Los Angeles and in London the Rooftop team are leading the way for London’s experience economy with the SFG Club in Stratford, which hosts many firsts including Sluggers batting cages, De La Bowl hip hop lawn bowls, and crazy golf brand Birdies.

2018 saw the arrival of a new venue at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, a brand-new Hollywood venue screening directly onto the historic CBS building at NeueHouse, and Houston opening towards the end of the year marked Rooftop Cinema Club’s fourth U.S. city to open as part of its international expansion.

Now going into its 10th season, Rooftop Cinema Club is looking to quadruple its presence in the U.S. with 20 new venues projected over the next 3 years.

From Big Top to Roof Top, Gerry is carrying on the Cottle tradition of world class entertainment with his open-air cinemas and social experiences.

Where did the idea for Rooftop Cinema Club come from?

Like most great ideas, it started on a wing and a prayer. A love of events, a passion for film, a loan from the bank and lots of hard work. I had seen some local pop-up cinemas in parks and thought wouldn’t it be great if it was more urban and right in the heart of a bustling City. After some searching, I found an intriguing and under-utilized roof space in Shoreditch, East London and we opened our first venue in June 2011.

There is evidence of open-air cinemas from the early 1900s so it’s a reminder that often no concept is completely new, it’s just a slight variation or adjustment on a previous idea.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I rise at 6:30am, check the news and then go for a run and listen to a podcast to get my mind focused. Then I set off for the office around 8:30am and usually make a call to the UK to check in and catch the UK team before the end of their day. My mornings are usually full of calls and then planning and execution in the afternoon. I am super organized, and set my agenda days before so that I can maximize my output and find time for all the different strands of the business.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We like to work closely as a team so a lot of ideas start in a brainstorm session or at our weekly catch-ups. From here, we cut it up into sections so the relevant person or team can start fleshing out their part of the creative. Then we regroup to check we are all on the same page and ready to take action. I like to remind my team that there is no such thing as a silly idea. I learnt from days of working in PR and brainstorming almost daily that a silly idea that gets a laugh will very often spark something in someone else and lead to an absolute beauty of creative.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Sustainability / The environment. Finally, we are starting to wake up to the needs of the Earth. I’m not even sure why it’s a trend, it should just be. From an operations side, we recycle onsite, but we are taking it a step further this year to see how many recyclables we can reduce. We, as a company, are doing our best to be as a green as we can and hope to one day power the whole Rooftop experience with solar power. However, it is worth noting that becoming green can be difficult for businesses, especially an independent one like ours, as the costs associated with this can be highly inflated. For example, to go from recyclable plastic cups to biodegradable can be several times more expensive. I would like, and hope, to one day see businesses and suppliers working closer together to reduce these costs so that being environmentally friendly is less of a financial burden, especially for small businesses.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Lists. Lots of them. I have individual lists for all our team and every part of the business. I believe in giving everyone autonomy, but supported autonomy, so that they always feel they have help if they need it. Setting a detailed agenda and having a list at the heart of your planning means you are more likely to succeed in bringing it to life.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Slow down. Very often my mind is running at a 100 miles an hour and I have only learnt to slow down the older I get. It’s important to take time to stop and think as sometimes you miss the point and often the answer is right in front of you. Sometimes, it’s only when you are forced to stop because something went wrong with your plans that you actually realize you could’ve executed them better. My best thoughts and processes come when I allow myself to switch off. This idea that working 24/7 gets you results is not true. It’s a mix of hard work but also reflective time so that you are functioning at your best.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I always ask my team to focus on the detail as that is what will separate us from the competition. However, I read time and time again that the devil is in the detail. This is not true, it’s the God that is in detail. Why would the devil be in the detail? It doesn’t make any sense.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Learn from the best. Know exactly what the competition is doing. Take inspiration from all the great companies and people in the world. Some have spent hundreds of thousands researching the best approaches and practices and that knowledge is all there for you to be inspired by. Keep learning and trying to master your art. There is an abundance of knowledge out there. Listen to podcasts both for personal and business development. Not one size fits all so find the person or persons who most resonate with you. An education is a fortune you’ll never spend and above all, I believe it’s our life journey to keep trying to improve.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Knowing your audience is obviously key as your customers, like your staff, are the lifeline of the company. And then from there its working how best to reach your customer and for this you always need to have one eye on promotion and marketing. My father said to me many years ago ‘You can have a great invention like a kettle that boils in a second, but if no one knows it’s there, it doesn’t matter.’

The point he is making is that just because you have a great idea, it doesn’t guarantee you that it will be successful. You have to find every way possible to tell people about what you do and most importantly why you do it. In a world full of noise, you need to find ways to build your community and tell them how great you are. Great ideas need even greater marketing. Shout it from the rooftops!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Growing too quickly. We had 5 venues in London and then moved to the US and opened in New York and LA. From here we started looking at venues everywhere like Austin and Miami in the US and then flying to Dubai and Barcelona, etc. We soon realized that the quality of our experiences would be badly affected as we didn’t have the proper team in place in all these regions and, although it looked great on paper, it wasn’t true to the brand and the excellence we were trying to create with each venue. We wasted a lot of time trying to be everything to everybody and it had a negative effect on our business and our energy levels as a team. The old Chinese proverb of going too far is as bad as falling short comes to mind.

We realized that it was all happening too quick and overnight we just stopped everything and decided to focus solely on the US market, building our team, and ultimately making sure that everything we did was at the best quality it could be. Because we slowed down and focused on the core business, we are now ready for expansion with an amazing team and are looking to open 20 venues over the next three years.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A kettle that boils in a second?! Just kidding. I like the idea of a VR bar where you change into a VR suit before you enter and then can drink from VR glasses in another world like an old-fashioned western bar or a bar under the sea. I like the social aspect of meeting people in this crazy world and you could also have some fun with the media commentary if you had date nights where you never actually meet the real person, just a person who is essentially a VR character. Like Netflix’s Love is Blind, but VR style! Controversial, but intriguing non the less.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I just bought my business partner a desk as he is working from home due to COVID-19 and he is way too frugal to buy one. Great partner to be looking after the purse strings of the business, but I couldn’t bear to look at him anymore bent over working from a small bedside table!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

It’s all about the Google. From our shared drive that enabled us to store everything cheaply when we were a small business, to Google maps that allow us to check out a rooftop venue, and most importantly the surrounding views before spending the time, money and energy to go and see it in person. Efficiency at its best. Thank you Googs!

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Business for Punks: Break All the Rules – the BrewDog Way by James Watt. A refreshing and maverick look at running your business. It’s an easy read with lots of great advice for small businesses. Basically, do what you love, trust your instincts and most importantly do it your way.

What is your favorite quote?

This is tough as I have lots of favorite quotes. Here’s one each for personal and business. For business, I am often asked how do I start a business and I say to people just begin. What you don’t know you will learn on the journey. For that reason, it has to be the man behind the House of Mouse!

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”- Walt Disney.

For personal motivation I turn to a fellow Brit: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” ― William Shakespeare

Key Learnings:

  • Ideas are very rarely new. They are just slight variations or adjustments on previous concepts.
  • Slow down. You may miss the answer that is often right in front of you.
  • Know your audience and then look for creative ways to market to them and build a community.
  • Be careful not to grow too quickly. Going too far is as bad as falling short.
  • Take time to learn from the best. There is a wealth of knowledge out there. Be inspired by great companies and great people.