I recently got the chance of speaking to Suleman Sacranie, founder of 99pshopper.com, a really cool guy with an interesting idea and something that i will think will go far, it’s definitely going to be huge.
Rather than walking to your favourite shop, or maybe you forgot to do your weekly or monthly shopping, or you recently cut down the budget for your weekly shopping.
99pshopper.com offers you products for 99p with delivery, just think 99p store but online and delivery. Cool right? Now start ordering!
Now to the interview, hope you enjoy it!
Hi Suleman, how are you? Great of you to join us on YHP
I’m very well thanks, before we proceed I just wanted to say what YHP do is an inspiration to why today we have successful entrepreneurs that take the chance and start up their own business, it’s a pleasure speaking to you Joseph
Thanks man, i truly appreciate that, I’m so psyched about this interview, so let’s dive in.
Before we start talking about how you started your business, can you quickly give me some background information about yourself?
Well, my name is Suleman I was brought up in Leicester a city in the midlands, on the day my mum was giving birth to me my dad opened his first Supermarket in Leicester a former Co-Operative store which for the next 15 years of my life I grew up in, living above the shop meant when it got busy my mum had to bring me in the shop to keep an eye on me and as you can imagine a child never stays in one place so I had a box tied to the shelf so I couldn’t move, but this is where my entrepreneurial spirit all started, as I watched my dad develop the business from scratch into the backbone of the family .
(Laughter) this is probably the funniest, most random and favourite introduction I’ve had so far, i like it
Let’s first go back a bit, how did you get into business? What was your motive then? What inspired you?
Business has been going way back from my granddad and my father, and my father has always been the one that inspired me to go into business.
We talk nothing else but business between us and it really frustrates my mum and my younger brother as we are always looking at what we can do then realise it’s like 3 AM!
I can relate to that, time flies when you’re talking business
I always thought I would go down the academic route having completed my A- Levels in Chemistry, Biology & English Language. I started my degree course off at University Of Leicester in Chemistry when I realised that this was not for me whilst in lectures I would always be thinking about business, coming up with ideas that I wanted to pursue without any research.
My motive was financial freedom and to be self employed, when i was 17, I realised I couldn’t work for anyone whilst working at a bank call centre, I always used to say to myself, how could this people be in this position, I used to get in trouble for telling them how they could improve and later realised and told myself ,if this is the working world then It’s not for me as I need to voice my opinion and the only way I can do this is by developing my own business and being my own boss! However I realised it was easier said than done
So you sold your first company when you were 19, tell us about this company and why did you decide to sell it?
At 19, I applied for BBC Dragons Den Online, my video pitch appeared online and never did I think 8 hours later I would be planning a flight to the US, the concept was a software to teach children to keep away from guns and knives to be honest I didn’t have a clue where I could take the business, like I said I used to have the most crazy ideas but not know what to do with them and when the offer came up to cash in I knew it would be the best option as it would enable me to further myself and having some capital to embark upon something else
What were you doing before you started this company?
Before I started this I was doing my A-Levels at college. I am not academically the most able but I get by, and surprised myself by managing to get a place on a degree course at one of the best Universities in the UK.
So to 99pshopper, how did the idea come about? What is the story behind it?
Well, you are going to laugh Joseph when you hear the story behind it, me and my dad were just having a laugh about it earlier. It was about midnight a year ago and I was in the bathroom and something just hit me like a bolt of lightning.
I always knew internet was the way forward and then thought to myself people don’t have time to even do their weekly shopping, we are in a recession we all want things cheap.
I ran out of the bathroom and my parents were sleeping, i switched on the light and shouted 99p Shopper!
My mum thought we had a thief in the house and my dad half a sleep goes “what an amazing idea”, this is where it all started.
But going forward it was easier said than done, I thought I could develop a cheap website so i found a company in Bangladesh thinking within two weeks’ time I will be launching 99p Shopper, without a clue of what stock I was going to have on the site, the company doing the website had no clue about what they were doing, I was doing more of the web design than they were and lost £500.
I finally decided to tell them to stop the work and for a month I walked the streets of Leicester wondering how am I going to make 99p Shopper happen, I was getting lots of web quotes equivalent to prices of houses which was really shocking for me, but like they say “if you keep trying something will eventually come up”, I went to London, Glasgow, Bristol searching for a web company and i finally found one which was based in Nottingham less than 30 mins from me.
I met the most amazing web company Eventure Internet.
Mark Storey the Director at the company has been the man behind the success of 99p Shopper, he has put all his knowledge in making sure we launch the most exclusive food site on the internet, without him we would not have built 99p Shopper today. We used to meet up every week in Nottingham working on designs going through the development features and 4 weeks ago we launched 99pShopper.com.
I was just browsing through the website and let me get this straight; customers come on the website and order products and get them delivered to their doorstep?
Yes, it’s that simple Joseph, simply add the products to your basket, we have a Save With A Case option which enables bulk buyers to save more money on their shopping so you can buy an individual product or purchase a case, once you complete the checkout process we receive the order at our picking centre, the order is then picked and dispatched to the customer usually within 48 Hours.
So let me get this straight, you guys have a delivery centre, and this is where all the products are stocked, once a order is made, you go to your delivery centre and get the item delivery to the person, right?
Yes simple as that
How much items do i need to order for my stocks to be delivered?
There is no restriction like you have with many other supermarket sites you can spend what you want and order how much you want, the concept is to give flexibility to customers hence why we have no restrictions
You know what i know some of the YHP audience will be wondering how you’re making money, what is your business model?
The business model has always been to keep the company as an online brand; we buy stock in quantity enabling us to pass the savings onto our customers hence selling branded products at 99p & less. But over the last 4 weeks we have had 200 franchises enquires to open stores across the UK. With Supermarkets making huge percentage mark ups, we don’t work on the high profit scale yet working on quantity and keeping all our customers happy.
To be honest, i really like the idea, you know the idea of buying things online for 99p an then you have the delivery aspect of it, it’s pretty cool, i just saw crunchy nut on there for 99p, i guess i will start my weekly shopping as soon as this interview is done, you know by the time i spend £20, I’m sorted! And i do believe that this is something that is really going to go viral or crazy as soon as people start realising it exists? University student will love this
This is the concept joseph, by launching 99p Shopper we are enabling everyone to shop for big brands at low prices, with families having to make cut backs etc. food shopping has been made a lot harder this way for example Crunchy Nut retails for £2.39 in the Supermarkets by the time you add your weekly shopping to your supermarket bag and with our prices of 99p and under you can clearly see the huge savings customers will be making.
To be honest it has been viral crazy the media are picking up on this and writing about 99p Shopper, I am getting text messages from friends saying I have just seen you in the Mail on Sunday etc. not even being aware it is pretty cool.
But the growth of the company in this month has smashed all expectations I had and I am looking forward to developing the company and taking it as far as I can, I think the ex-pat market place is another that we didn’t think we would get any response from, Mark suggested lets have European option in doing so we are shipping customers weekly shopping to Paris, Munich, Madrid, Milan and many other places across Europe.
One problem that i think a lot of people have with the whole 99p issue, is about quality, how are you able to keep your prices low and still maintain quality and I’m sure making profit at the same time?
This is where the experience of my father has been so needed, as he has over 30 years of experience in t
his trade when it came to sourcing the big brands in doing so at the prices I wanted, he has the knowledge of where to go and the methods of doing so and since we have had suppliers contacting us and this has enabled us to go from 200 products to a range of over 2,000 products and this has continued to grow.
Have you started getting orders so far?
So we far we have had 12,000 orders from customers across the UK & Europe
How have you been advertising and generating awareness so far?
To be honest, this has been going on for a month now and with our fasting month I have not really had chance to focus on any kind of advertising, but clearly word of mouth is the biggest kind of advertising out in there as people are hearing about us from their friends and the word is going round
You secured a £100,000 sponsorship from eventure funding to set up the website right? How did that
happen? What do they get from the deal?
Well Joseph as i mentioned earlier, the way I wanted the website was not going to be cheap and I am a very hard person to please and having discussed this with Eventure, they are investors in people and they invested in me. All our internet marketing and campaigns that will be working will only be done by them.
I rate them as the UK’s best web company as they care about delivering the very best and I am already looking at developing new concepts with them
Have you got any plans in expanding the business up a bit? I read something about you looking to go into partnerships with Tesco? Is there anything concrete on that?
I’m not sure where the Tesco thing came from but we’ve had major Supermarkets contact us in going into partnership, but at this moment in time this is not something or direction i want to go in, I want to make 99p Shopper a household name and looking forward to developing a franchise model to open retail outlets across the UK.
Although the offer from a UK Supermarket was concrete it just seemed to be going away from what I wanted to do with 99p Shopper, it was the biggest decision of my life but I stand by not agreeing to it but there is no truth in the Tesco deal, we have not had any contact from Tesco.
So guys are actually not distributing, you have an agreement with a distribution firm to deliver the products right?
This was the initial agreement until they realised that it was not going to be 100 deliveries a week and this is where the biggest nightmare happened as the distributors could not cope with the number of orders, we had to make sure we held the stock and dispatched it to our customers so before customers were receiving their shopping in two different deliveries now all shopping is delivered to the door in one package.
I guess with business you start off in one way and things change as the business develops but if you are making changes like this within a week it is very difficult and we had to make these changes as well as
making sure all our customers’ orders were fulfilled and by working 24/7 we pulled it off.
This is crazy, but before we go forward, i want us to go back a bit; you were studying chemistry at Leicester university right? First of all, how did a sales man/business man end up studying chemistry?
To be honest Joseph I get asked that question every day and even I don’t have an answer to that question, all I can say is I had an amazing Chemistry teacher in Julie Russell and she made me a good student at Chemistry and really I was not going to do anything else but looking back Chemistry taught me many skills that i have used today such as problem solving, calculations and many other things that all link back to Chemistry
Why did you decide to drop out, i mean you have just a year left right? Why not finish it off and then concentrate on your business?
My parents said the same thing to me, but when you want to do something so badly, no matter how much you want to delay it you will constantly be reminded of it and I am one of those people that has to do something as soon as it is in my head I can’t hold it out for 2 years to carry it out.
I guess it’s good you din't wait for 2 years, I might be the one running 99pshopper now ..Laughter..
You could say i tried postponing 99p Shopper but couldn’t get it off my head, I tried the uni stuff out but my heart wasn’t in it, I just wanted to be my own boss and when I want something I have to work on it instantly and constantly this was no different, and looking back I don’t regret it, not one bit.
And when you read about 150,000 students not getting into University and here’s me saying the economy can only grow with new business coming into the market to enable jobs to be created, i guess you could say it is an amazing time to start your own business!
What has been the hardest part of building the business so far?
Where do I start, I told you about the website dilemma, at the moment Joseph it’s all really hard work but I would say raising that initial capital was the hardest part as they say there is support of start-ups out there I looked and couldn’t find anything I was fortunate to win an Enterprise completion at the University Of Leicester that gave me £5,000 funding to get going as well as the success I had later on with the sale of my first company
What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt so far?
Keep friends and business separate, starting up your business is very personal and when things are not going well I get very frustrated and angry and this sometimes can come across in the wrong way so I would always suggest build your team around yourself and don’t treat your business as a day with your mates.
Secondly never get your work outsourced, yes you will pay a lot less but if something goes wrong and you need to be able to have the matter resolved right way, you might end up waiting for two weeks just to get through to the company, I learnt one lesson, “pay monkeys expect peanuts” and that is what I realised when I initially outsourced 99p Shopper
If you could go back, what one thing would you do differently?
I wasted three months having the web site developed in Bangladesh and it drained me, I was left frustrated and didn’t know whether to turn left or right, I would have used a UK based company from the get-go but then again I believe everything happens for a reason and it was a lesson I learnt and it was hard at the time but looking back it was part of the journey to get to where we are today .
I know you’ve been so busy of late, i know you are fully booked during the week, i know how you had to squeeze me in for the interview, how do you keep the balance between work and rest? What do you do for fun at the moment, to take the edge off?
Balance between work and rest, well I actually have to think about that one, I am always on the go but I make sure I have a complete rest day on Friday, this is when I can catch up on TV, enjoy a day with the PS3 and do what every other 21 year old does. Saturday is my day to sleep I don’t get up till late afternoon but I need these two days just to take the edge off things.
Saying that I am 21 but my hair is nearly all white and my mum is chasing me with a hair dye every day so I know to take it easy but when you are so passionate about something it is very hard to relax and take your mind off things
What advices or tips could you give to aspiring young entrepreneurs looking to kick start their start-ups?
You will get days when you wish why am i doing this, we all do but remember this much just thinking about starting your own business is the biggest step forward, raising finance is difficult but look at what can you do to kick start things before 99p Shopper went live to raise funds I was running a pilot on eBay and raising funds from this.
Never let anyone tell you your idea is not going to be successful as with determination and hard work you can make anything work
If you are looking at using a web company, use a UK company so you have constant contact with your web company
Get a mentor in place from day one, someone you can go to and get advice not be told what to do, but get suggestions and then make your own decision.
Go to these free workshops to get you off the ground they are free and you will meet likeminded people and you never know the one person you may meet may just be the one to kick start your business
You get told by a lot of people focus on your business plan but my advice would be to work on making the idea happen, put all your effort in winning the hearts of your customers/clients and this will all come together
Look at funding around you, Enterprise Inc gives £5,000 to kick start your business dream, St Thomas White Charity give £12,000 interest free over 12 years.
Don’t give up I never thought 99p Shopper would ever go live looking back just 12 months ago, these were the hurdles I was going through and you have to fight though these things and come out stronger
So what should we be expecting from you next?
Over the next 12 months we are looking at making 99p Shopper a household name with meetings with Venture Capitalist coming up, I am looking at taking the company to the next level and fingers crossed we should be having 99p Shopper stores across the UK
Thanks suleman, hope to catch up with you soon.
It’s my pleasure speaking with you Joseph thanks for this opportunity