But it wasn’t all about the ladies. Nick Agha was also doing a business degree on the side and undertaking market research for a new promotions company. “Big companies were looking for a less traditional way to reach young people,” he says. “I had an idea for a lifestyle magazine with a poster as the central theme.”
In 2000, Agha launched Don’t Panic. It wasn’t easy: the young entrepreneur started out with no funding and no clients: “Nothing but a phone in my bedroom and an idea,” he says. “It was very difficult in the beginning,” he admits. “I was going to meetings with stuffy old men in suits, pitching this idea of a poster that we would distribute with the flyers. They didn’t understand it. I was ahead of my time.”
The Don’t Panic pack works like a free magazine. It features the core poster, flyers for club nights and gallery openings as well as stickers for brands and artists. Agha designed dispensers to go in bars, boutiques, cinemas and galleries and printed 80,000 every two weeks. He convinced up-and-coming artists to contribute their work for free – this is still how Don’t Panic sources its designs today. Big names like Jamie Reed and Neville Brody have all graced the Don’t Panic poster archives.
The Don’t Panic packs soon became ubiquitous on the club scene. Companies like Columbia, Sony, Warner, Playstation and Nike were clamouring for a slice of the action. “The big-ticket item was corporate sponsorship of the poster,” says Agha. “It cost £3,000 to £6,000.”
Even the government has caught on to the Don’t Panic craze. “We distribute a lot of government messaging about drinking, teenage pregnancies and such,” says Agha. “You can’t really go out any more without seeing the packs so we’re often the first port of call for companies looking to home in on 18-25 year olds.”
Turnover at Don’t Panic will hit £1m this year. The firm has also gone international with the launch of Don’t Panic packs in Berlin and Agha has ambitious plans to break the US.
And Nick Agha still loves the perks of his job. “I haven’t had to pay entry to a club or buy a drink in years,” he says. “And it’s still a great way to meet girls.”