I persue the only path I know and understand – building businesses from the ground up and doing it my way.
Ever since I can remember I’ve been hustling in one way or another. Whether it was selling sweets at school or selling the fishing rights to my parents pond without them knowing (sorry!), I had business in my veins.
Then, in 1998, I discovered the internet.
One evening, after school, I had cycled through the beautiful rolling Dorset countryside to my best friend Will’s house. I found Will huddled over his computer in the corner of a room in his parent’s idyllic cottage busy chatting to someone in Chicago. I’d never seen anything like it. I was amazed that it was possible for two people, on different sides of the world, to chat like they were in the same room.
I said “I’ve got to do something with this.”
About a year after discovering the internet, whilst I was still at school, I started SupaNames, a website hosting company.
Web hosting was so expensive that lots of consumers and small businesses were put off starting their own website. I thought “If it was cheaper, people would set up websites without even thinking about it” .
So I started out selling affordable low-cost hosting. SupaNames powered more than 24,000 of the UK’s websites and was well loved by it’s loyal customers. I built a small team and we went on to win multiple awards, fighting off competitors with deep pockets.
If anyone ever tells you: “You can’t grow a business without investment or VC money”, close your ears. It cost me £150 ($240) to start SupaNames and I sold it after 6 years for £2.1 million ($4.31 million) in cash.
Faced with a windfall and time on my hands I thought “What can I do next?”
The answer came quickly. When I was running SupaNames there were plenty of times when I needed an extra pair of hands to help me get things done but didn’t have the budget (or desire) to employ an assistant full time.
“What if you could have an assistant on-hand all the time but only pay when you used their help?” The answer to this question excited me enough to launch a service that did exactly that – and Time etc – a Virtual Assistant service – was born.
The first six years of Time etc’s life were an uphill struggle and a huge learning experience for me. In stark contrast to SupaNames I poured £275,000 ($336,000) into the business but we had a very tough time finding sales. It was a real challenge to persuade British business owners that hiring a Virtual Assistant was the way to go. Perhaps we were a few years too early.
Eventually, things started to take off and we quickly grew to 35 employees. As with many entrepreneurs, I got caught up in fire-fighting and keeping the wheels on and distracted from growing the company and we got stuck at a $1M revenue ceiling for a few years. It was like banging my head on a brick wall.
It all changed one day in 2013 when I realised “There is a better way!”. I’d drifted away from my technical, internet roots and had been running Time etc as a traditional business, by the book.
Having realised this, I set about changing the business. People say “Slow and steady wins the race” but I halved our prices, ripped up our client contracts and went global all within a couple of months.
Ripping up the rule book and getting back to my roots helped Time etc to thrive. Fast forward a few years and Time etc is well into multi-million dollar revenues, hitting 275% year-on-year growth last year. As a team, we have handled more than 1.3Million Virtual Assistant assignments so far.
We’re working towards achieving a lofty goal of $100M revenue – and we’re doing it with no VC backing – just persistence, energy, a strong understanding of customer psychology and a love of automation.
I’ve learned so much from reading about other people’s entrepreneurial journeys that I’m starting to document a little more of my successes and failures here in the hope that it’ll help you on yours too.