My Big Idea: children's party franchise Captain Fantastic

Tommy Balaam, Founder and Director of Fun at Captain Fantastic, tells us about his remarkable business
BizAge Interview Team
Tommy the founder

Hi! What's your elevator pitch?

Captain Fantastic is a children’s party franchise, voted the UK’s number one children’s entertainment company by the trusted reviewing site FreeIndex. We work with trained actors and performers to create journeys of fun and safe adventure organising more than 3000 parties and events for 60,000 children across the country every year. From pirates to princesses, science to disco, each party theme has been designed to be full of fun, excitement and laughter. Our magical world extends beyond unforgettable parties and includes books, music, theatre shows, toys plus our Captain Fantastic YouTube channel which has been enjoyed by over 3.1 million viewers

We also organise entertainment at corporate events and are proud to say we are the go-to party company for incredible brands such as Nickelodeon, Bright Horizons, Heart radio, Pokémon and GOSH. We also have one or two celebrity clients too!

What does the market need it?

As a society we spend so much time every day chasing the pounds, we can forget to make a life. But when we take our final breath, we won’t be worried about how much money we have in the bank. It will be all about memories that really matter. At Captain Fantastic we are all about making those very special memories.

Where is the business today? 

Captain Fantastic was originally set up in London in 2010, and was franchised in 2017 with our first franchisee in Kent. We now have 11 franchised territories across the UK and one franchisee setting up in the USA. As you can imagine, Covid was a nightmare for us as an entertainment company. It totally halted our progress. However, the past two years we have seen phenomenal growth again. Our challenges now are all about finding the right franchisees and people to match our ambitions for expansion.

What made you think there was money in this?

I certainly didn’t dream of being a children’s entertainer! I was simply looking to set up a flexible business to support my acting career. I was astonished how quickly my diary filled up with events. Captain Fantastic grew rapidly and I suddenly realised I was making way more money than any of my acting friends, so the transition to running the business full time was natural and easy. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with being able to create work for other entertainers, enabling them to earn an income while supporting their own acting careers.

The competition don’t use professional performers like we do and that’s what sets us apart. Even a magician who can show off amazing magic tricks will be boring without the injection of personality professional actors bring to the party. Therefore, we ensure we invest and train the right people. Our sets also look lovely and the whole entertainment space is a cut above the rest.

What's your biggest strength?

I believe my strengths and weaknesses benefit me equally. I’m dyslexic and growing up I was great at maths but really struggled with English and reading, although I loved stories and songs, I didn’t really know why I found words so tricky. I was diagnosed at acting school, when I found it challenging to read scripts when the words jumped around. I think being dyslexic means I’m a more creative thinker. It also means I can connect with children who find somethings difficult, we have some common ground and we can still have fun! Therefore, being dyslexic is both my weakness and a strength. It’s taken 36 years, but it’s about knowing yourself, admitting what you are good at and delegating the tasks which are more challenging.

What is the secret to making the business work?

The secret to any business is working both hard and smart. However, it’s also about patience. If things are going well you can invest and grow but if you expand too fast then internal structures and process can fall behind and hold you back. Sometimes more time spent on getting the foundations right means you can push full steam ahead when the time is right and opportunities come your way.

How do you market the company?

Big Brother can attract 1 million viewers per episode. However, some of our Captain Fantastic Adventures on YouTube have been enjoyed by 2 million viewers. We perform at 3,000 children’s parties a year and this has created a massive network of kids where we can deliver add on content. If you grow a Karate business then open a pizza shop there is no cross over. However, we market each element of our offering – music, videos, books and parties to an audience who wants it anyway.

What funding do you have? Is it enough?

I’m a trained actor who loves playing the clown, I’ve only just started becoming a real business man too. When I started out I was, and still am, 100% self-funded. I didn’t want the stress of loans and I didn’t need to rush the expansion of the business. I’ve now got a five year plan in place to hit the accelerator and funding to achieve our goals could now be a more attractive proposition.

Tell us about the business model

As an entertainment business we make our income out of delivering unforgettable parties. We take 60% of our subcontractor’s party fee and in return they receive national marketing, materials and equipment, training and we manage all their bookings and admin. Our franchise model is slightly different and our franchisees pay a 12.5% licence fee which allows them to take advantage of our support with marketing, training, equipment and bookings but means they can grow their own businesses, hiring entertainers locally within their territories.

Our YouTube channel and books make a small income but they help with the journey, creating memories and supporting brand awareness with our targets.

What were you doing before?

I’ve been in BBC Doctors and was the lead in an Indie feature film which was a bit of a flop so the less said about that the better! I also spent time working in Harrods selling perfume but I talked too much and was moved to glassware!

With my background, I’ve had to learn about business processes and systems to support our administration. We now use Zoho CRM for our bookings and Calendly for meetings. Zoom was our saviour during Covid and we were the first children’s entertainment company to do online Zoom parties to keep kids connected.

What is the future vision?

My vision is 100 franchisees in the UK all working successfully. I’d also like to take the brand global so Captain Fantastic lands in many other countries around the world. A huge brand presence will open the doors to production houses and could even inspire a Captain Fantastic TV Programme.

Written by
BizAge Interview Team
June 17, 2024
Written by
June 17, 2024