Interview with Andy McKay - Founder of Ibiza Rocks

In this interview on The Logros Show – in association with The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce – Lee Dinsdale talks to Andy McKay – founder of Ibiza Rocks and owner of Pikes as part of the Making Ibiza series talking about moving to the island and promoting a “youth brand”.

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Interview with Andy McKay – Founder of Ibiza Rocks – The Real Sound of the City.

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Lee: Good afternoon this is Unity Radio the Real Sound of the City and we are talking to the real entrepreneurs of Ibiza live from Pikes. I’m absolutely delighted to be joined by the owner of Pikes and also the founder of Ibiza Rocks, Andy Mckay. He set up Manumission from Manchester many years ago and then travelled to Ibiza. For those who are new to Ibiza Rocks Andy, what is Ibiza Rocks Group? What are the companies that it holds?

Andy: Well these days Ibiza Rocks Group is relatively simple. We used to do Mallorca Rocks but now we have the Rocks Hotel and the products that sit around. We have the Pikes Hotel and it’s very different. It’s a different age group it’s like an older boutique hotel. We have an agency in London and that’s the set up now.

Ibiza Rocks & Pikes Hotel – Dealing with Covid-19

Lee: I think it’s probably fair that we get into what has been the impact of Covid 19 on the seasonal draw and more importantly, you are still standing so congratulations! What have you put in place to overcome what’s happened so far?

Andy: Wow, if we’d have known what it was going to be like! We took the decision very early on that we decided that we would open our businesses and we also took a decision not to wait for things to change because I think there is two schools of thought. One is lock down and wait for normality to come back and the one that we have followed was more – normality is never coming back, the past is the past and we have just got to adapt to what works now. So we just shaped our models differently. With Ibiza Rocks we created a socially distanced day event venue so we could do five hundred people in a venue in Pikes with socially distanced tables. That was very successful and was going remarkably well. We got up to ninety per cent occupancy in August and then late July quarantine came and obviously then it’s been a real struggle battling to keep things going. So we got through and we’ve only just recently opened Ibiza Rocks which closes this Sunday I think but it’s been a financially challenging year for sure.

Lee: What is the 20/21 outlook? As we come into the season is there pent up demand now for next year? Is everybody revving up ready to come back?

I think there is two schools of thought. One is lock down and wait for normality to come back and the one that we have followed was more – normality is never coming back, the past is the past and we have just got to adapt to what works now.

Andy: Look I don’t want to hype people too much but obviously we are in the best sales position we’ve ever been as many people are. When a lot of people move their booking from one year to the next that is to be expected so I still believe that Ibiza and us have to do a job sooner rather than later without saying what next year is going to look like. So I don’t want complacently to say yes, we are so wazzed off lets just go home and have a sleep. I believe Ibiza is being given a very good chance to deliver next year but I think we have to decide what that product is and not just us but government need to issue some assurances.

Starting up Manumission and the move to Ibiza.

Lee: Let’s take you back because I know you’ve got a very fascinating story. You went to university in Leeds. How did you end up in Manchester and with Manumission?

Andy: Yes I went to university in Leeds, finished and I got a job for a company called Kratos Analytical. I’ve no idea if they still exist but they were in Trafford Park and I think they had been bought by a Japanese firm. They made mass spectrometers and I was doing artificial intelligence in the field of mass spectrometry and I was trying to make these really complicated machines easier to use with expert systems. So I ran away from a tech background, so this was pre mobile phones or anything, it was in 1993 or whatever so I ran away and joined the circus and set up Manumission. I don’t know I might have been one of the world leading AI specialists by now if I’d stayed in that field. I actually got a job in a pub and I was working in a pub in the centre of Manchester and really enjoying it and looked up this idea of maybe launching a club night whilst I was on the two salaries and had lots of time on my hands. It was a great bar and they used to do the Hacienda Flesh and the amazing party called “Ride a Cockhorse”. The guy that ran it, Mark Kay sadly died a few years ago. He was an inspirational guy and he taught me one of the lessons when I got into this. He used to run this extravagant party and he said to me Andy the first thing that you have got to learn in this business is how to lose money with style. He’s absolutely right because when you are running something and you are losing money the only thing you can get out of it is your reputation and building up a product for the future. If you get all miserable about it and you lose money badly then you’ve absolutely lost everything, so I learnt that the more we were losing the happier we would have to be so; it was a great lesson.

Lee: How did you go from setting up Manumission to Ibiza? What happened then?

Andy: Well that would be because I got doused in petrol! We ran Manumission for sixteen weeks. It was a very short period in Equinox in the gay village in Manchester. After a little bit of hype, twelve weeks we were closing down it was all based around the biblical crucifixion, resurrection. We reopened the club three days later. This was the gunchester, the more violent time of Manchester and at the stage the gangs ran all the doors in Manchester of the gay village. The popularity of Manumission which has gone to the number one club in the DJ magazine attracted an element into a small dingy gay club and one day I tried to negotiate with a man carrying a petrol can and got doused in petrol and thrown down the stairs I kind of realised that the Manumission as we knew it was pretty much over in Manchester because after that sort of event it was just not as we knew it. The gay village back then was a really friendly happy place so we knew it was over. I went on holiday with my brother to Ibiza because it was cheap with what was left of on the door takings and we arrived here on a cheap package holiday. That was it, no time to go to the pubs at all, on the second week we wanted to do the clubs but didn’t have the money to pay to get in. So we basically blagged our way into these clubs and didn’t realise that it was easy to get into a club back then. Then we fell in love; we were desperate to be Pacha; it was like everything you wanted in Manchester ever to be but were afraid to ask and without any intimidation or violence. That was it, and then it was we’ve got to find a way to stay here all summer!

when you are running something and you are losing money the only thing you can get out of it is your reputation and building up a product for the future

Lee: What was the journey like when you were younger in terms of getting to where you are today? Do any particular things stand out?

Andy: Things that stand out are the moment, the big moments of change and I guess we are in one now. The moment of starting Manumission in Manchester and that pivotal moment of getting doused in petrol in hindsight was one of the best moments of my life and so much good came out of that like moving to Ibiza. Getting closed down with Ibiza Rocks. Losing Manumission and it going wrong pushed us further towards Ibiza Rocks. I remember Pete Doherty booking the first year of Ibiza Rocks. We couldn’t get the closing part; the only band we could get was Babyshambles Pete Doherty. We’d only had him once so statistically it was a near impossibility that Babyshambles would turn up for two gigs so our sponsor at the time Sony Ericsson said put your money on him. Our sponsor was desperate to do this final show. I said okay, we are going to do it outdoors, in our bar on the beach because Pete’s not going to turn up so I don’t want to charge for tickets. We did the show and he did turn up and it was the day after cocaine Kate broke. He came over and suddenly it was a media circus and I just remember being in this relatively uncool period just after 2005 and dance music wasn’t in a good place; Ibiza wasn’t in a great place. The kids particularly in the UK had moved on and suddenly the whole audience was in skinny jeans; we had Babyshambles on stage doing a three hour gig and it was amazing, it just totally changed.

Lee: So you mentioned Pete Doherty, do you get to meet all the bands that come through when you are here? Who have been the most interesting people that you have met and why?

Andy: Not so much the bands now but in the early days I met loads of the bands whether it be Calvin Harris when he was singing – and when I used to like him, no he’s good ! Kaizer Chiefs were on one of our very first shows, who else did I meet – Ronson, lovely guy, Paulo Nutini was fantastic, some of the New Order specials. People here tend to be a little bit more relaxed, a little bit more accessible and friendly. That’s been the nice side, going to dinner and having normality with very ordinary famous people.

Running the Pikes Hotel and the key to it’s success.

Lee: Now let’s talk about the business of hotels and running one of the strongest youth brands in terms of tourism there is in Europe. But first you started off and still are an entrepreneur. How would you say that you stay motivated; what is your secret?

Andy: Really boredom threshold I think. I can get into anything for a short period of time but once I’ve started doing it for a while, I kind of want to move on. So I think the entrepreneurial side is you build a team, you delegate and advocate responsibility downwards and then I move onto something that I find new and shiny and get onto the next project. That naturally develops entrepreneurial talent and it just kind of works or it doesn’t.

Lee: So the skill is having a good team around you who can carry out the operational side when you are coming up with the ideas?

Andy: Yes, I guess that was the thing that, if I go back twenty odd years, not being able to put anything down and keeping picking up new and shiny objects nearly creates breakdown. Once you realise that if you want to keep the ability to do the new things you have to either drop or delegate other things and that’s been what has worked for me.

What makes a successful Entrepreneur?

Lee: What would you say are the key attributes to be a successful entrepreneur? When I say successful that could mean many things to many people, but for you what would you say are the attributes?

Andy: I would say definitely determination because so often many people have the same idea as the person that is successful with it. The biggest difference is they didn’t get off their arse and do it! I think that would be the biggest single difference to make. I’m dyslexic and I think that helps because I look at the world differently. I often find in an educational world that there is a different path for me that works better than the standard path. In this business I’m very used to looking for the alternative path or opportunities based on the ingredients that are on the table and I think when you find those and you run with them that’s the key.

In this business I’m very used to looking for the alternative path or opportunities based on the ingredients that are on the table and I think when you find those and you run with them that’s the key.

Lee: So you mentioned the challenges that you may have had when you were younger in terms of learning. What would you say to a young person who may be feeling the same?

Andy: I’m interested in education in general but I think we have to zoom out and not think education is everything. Education is not just school, or books or learning or IQ. There is the education of life and sadly some of the educational aspects are more difficult at the moment because of covid but you have to zoom out and realise that everyone can be well educated but not everybody can be educated in exactly the same way. It’s finding the education that works for you rather than just fitting into the education that the establishment thinks is what you needed when you were in the industrial revolution and they were making cogs for a machine basically.

Lee: What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur who maybe leaving university or leaving college and decide to set up their first business like you did?

Andy: Follow your passion because if you don’t feel passionate about it will be difficult to make the sell when the going gets tough and then it’s easier to give up. Just find the most exciting thing you can do that is relevant at the time because there are times for everything. If you can hit the passion with the moment and get into Blockchain or Bitcoin or whatever it is at the right moment then that’s a recipe for fast success.

Ibiza Rocks and the success of a “youth brand”.

Lee: So fifteen years ago you set up Ibiza Rocks Group and it has been very successful. I know you have won awards in terms of tourism. What in your opinion do you think makes a good youth brand?

Andy: Youth brands are quite interesting. One of the important things in having a youth brand is actually wanting to be one because you say youth brands; there are brands that appeal to children, young kids whatever and many of them. Most youth brands may start off as a youth brand but they actually very quickly aspire to go a little bit older and a little bit wealthier because there is more money if you go for the twenty or thirty something. So most people tactically try and elevate their brand to a slightly older money carrying generation. So when you say what makes a good youth brand, ultimately the reason I think we are such a powerful and good youth brand is we want to remain young. I feed off young energy. I surround myself by young people and everything around me is as young as it can be within reason. Youth is incredibly important because the energy of a forty or a fifty year old is half that of a twenty year old. They might double the money they spend but you have to get that balance and to me we’ve always chased the energy so the idea of taking Ibiza Rocks older and trading money for reduced energy wasn’t really that appealing. Also to be honest on a commercial level when you move into that more money market there is a huge amount of competition.

Marketing a Youth Brand and Customer Engagement

Lee: If you are looking at engaging a youth audience and doing it very well, what are some of the key things that have been successful terms of engaging a youth audience?

Andy: For me it’s about being about keeping in touch with your audience. It’s the people that do the day to day work, the managers, and we have a team that started off as reps who now run the company. They were all significantly younger than me probably late twenties early thirties, that sort of age group that are running the business. What I find my talents are is the act of moving direction I’m actively involved in but the moment we move tact and change direction, they are so much better than me in communicating with a an audience ; I’m fort y nine, its recognising your strengths and me not doing it is probably one of the key things!

Lee: Great advice. In terms of the audience for those that haven’t been to Ibiza Rocks, or Ibiza or Pikes what kind of experience do you want the customer to come away with?

Andy: Well non covid before is very easy you want people to come and have an amazing experience and immerse themselves either in the bubble of Ibiza Rocks or there is that much bigger broader side of the Island that people can see. They are both equally valid but at the moment it’s a very different. I think I got my flight here for £9.99 so if people did want to come to Ibiza at the moment it’s a fantastic time to visit. There’s not so much open – to me the Island is easy as it is now as long as you are not trying to run a business.

Lee: Can you just describe where we are in relation to the hotel?

Andy: Down below is the famous swimming pool that George Michael jumped into in the Club Tropicana video. We are on the roof of the restaurant effectively just looking down with panoramic views of San Antonio and the hills of Ibiza.

Lee: What is the history of Pikes? It’s a famous hotel here in Ibiza.

Andy: Tony Pike was its inspiration and he set up this hotel as a house and built rooms as he went along. It was luxury but not five star. It was like staying with a rich friend and it just built a reputation and all the rock stars and famous people stayed in the eighties and the nineties. Freddie Mercury had his forty first birthday party here. Everybody that you can think of has stayed here. What I like about Pikes is it’s authentically rock and roll and when we set up Ibiza Rocks it was an authentically working rock and roll venue. It lives and breathes rock and roll; it’s not a theme hotel it is rock and roll. It’s got decadence and everything has a story; it’s a rare hotel for that.

Lee: How did the opportunity come up to buy it? Are you allowed to tell us?

Andy: We were putting the bands in villas for Ibiza Rocks and as the bands got bigger some of them maybe didn’t like each other or just wanted the comforts that you can get from a hotel room. There was this divide between a hotel room and a villa and I thought the perfect thing would be something that was a bit like a villa so we said Pikes would be perfect. If you put the bands back in Pikes and create all the things we did around Pikes it was like bringing Pikes back to its glory days again. I thought well if we are going to do that maybe we should rent it and we did and bought it later on, so that was kind of the play.

Lee: Over the last twenty years what would you say has been one of your proudest moments?

Andy: It changes all the time. I was very proud with the launch of Ibiza Rocks because obviously Manumission was a great party and we had eight thousand people but, to be able to change the musical direction of the Island and bring the guitar bands when we first did it was such a counter intuitive move. There were very few people that thought we would be able to pull it off and that was a proud moment when we actually achieved that.

to be able to change the musical direction of the Island and bring the guitar bands when we first did it was such a counter intuitive move.

Making a Change and moving to Ibiza

Lee: You were in Manchester, you were promoting Manumission and then you decided to leave Manchester. What would you say to people who may be thinking about leaving wherever they are at the moment and maybe going to a different country and setting up there or travelling, working?

Andy: Fortune favours the brave doesn’t it and its determination. Even if you look at the period we are in now where there are a lot of doors closed, you get a situation where less people will take these opportunities so whilst the road may be a little bit more difficult there will be less people travelling on it. I would just say get a plan – if you want to make peasant wine in Italy and that’s your thing just get on that plane and do it. There will never be a perfect time. If you wait for the perfect time you may well find that somebody else is going to do it better. Just get on with things, let your life flow. I don’t believe in waiting for the perfect moment. Just do it.

Lee: Just one final question. This is the Logros Show and this is the Making Ibiza Series in association with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and Void Matter. What would you say makes Ibiza for you?

Andy: For me you feel it when you touch down. A lot of people say this; there is energy about Ibiza. There is an energy flow that you feel here that you feel nowhere else. When people get introduced to Ibiza in the right way and I’m not saying it hits everyone but it’s a very difficult thing to leave once you have experienced the magic of what Ibiza can be.

Lee: Thank you very much for joining us and letting us broadcast from Pikes and good luck for 20/21.

Andy: Thank you very much

Article Transcription by Terry Capostagno 

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