For all the talks about how much entrepreneurs need to raise investments to become successful or grow their business, you should probably be aware that they are a lot of other companies that are doing well in growth, revenue and profitability without investment.
Hi Oli, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
It’s sunny, I’m in Scotland and in three days I’m heading to the women’s beach volleyball at the Olympics. I’m pretty happy.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I trained as a lawyer with a top legal firm in Scotland and lasted three months before packing it in and travelling to the Far East. I had been working there for over a year when I broke a Royal scandal to Piers Morgan which gave me the start-up funding for DADA when I returned to the UK.
I founded DADA in 2003 and it quickly became one of Scotland's most innovative and successful PR & events management companies. In September 2010 I launched itison.com which has this year been named officially Scotland’s #1 Daily Deals service.
Tell me about how you got into business?
My old man was an entrepreneur and had an amazing lifestyle travelling the world. He inspired me to be my own boss.
How did the idea for DADA and itison.com come about?
I thought there was a real gap for events for professionals tired of going to the same old bars and restaurants. There was no quality agency specialising in driving footfall to venues, so I launched DADA Events: a unique online invitations service for Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Combining our real local knowledge with our award-winning PR service, DADA helped launch some of the most successful & talked about businesses in Glasgow & Edinburgh.
itison.com was born out of DADA’s online to offline events service and we combined this with the ethos of matching up great businesses with quality professionals living in the city. We’re now operating across four cities in Scotland and have officially overtaken Groupon, Living Social and all of our local competitors to be named Scotland’s #1 and favourite deals site.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
Learning on-the-job how to be a boss to other people and getting through a mountain of paperwork and admin before I was able to employ a team of staff.
The pivot from DADA to itison, tell me about the transition and why you felt it was necessary?
We had a consumer and a B2B operating under DADA, it was natural for us to roll out a new brand with an awesome name, itison, that consumers could get to know.
What is itison and what are you trying to solve?
itison is the way that Daily Deal sites should be: a premium service delivering a product that has led us to be No 1 in Scotland, and now with a unique event service selling over 1000 tickets each week. We are trying to solve the issue of cowboy Daily Deal sites providing a dishonest service to consumers and businesses.
How were you able to fund it at that time?
We were able to fund it from retained profits within DADA and by taking the risk that cash flow would be positive from day one, which it was.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
The first few months were incredible. It was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, whirlwind of a journey. Growth for the first six months was often 200 to 400% month on month with around 1000 consumers joining us every day.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Have a vision and plan and stick to it. Mine was to focus on absolute quality, excellence in delivery and fearlessness in innovation.
How has your market changed in the past few years? How has your business changed to keep pace?
Our industry doesn’t have a watchdog and dozens of competitors have flooded the market. We’ve had to be our own watchdog and unlike our competitors we’re trailblazing with unique new products and aren’t just cloning what others are doing.
It seems you guys have managed to successfully bootstrap the business to a successful, profitable company, what are your advices for entrepreneurs looking to bootstrap rather than take investments?
Make sure you have a very clear plan that doesn’t impact on the ability of your original company to flourish and grow. If you can, resist investment, total ownership and control when you have a vision is one of the keys to how I’ve driven my businesses forward.
What are the revenues of the business?
What should we be expecting from yourself and itison for 2012?
Excelling in the marketplace, rolling out across the UK and launching some very unique new products.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Have something unique or don’t bother starting.
2. If you have competitors, always aim to be the best and benchmark your progress so that you can eventually come out and say you are.
3. Have a vision and focus on it. Don’t be distracted by opportunistic plays.