It’s incredible how young entrepreneurs are constantly starting up companies, i mean it’s by the minutes these days, Oliver has started three companies so far and he’s not even out of the university, I can tell from the mood that he's in i don't think he is looking to stop anytime soon. He started his first company at 15.
He discusses the following in the Interview:
What Inspired him to start a business at age 15?
How he raised funds for his first business?
His Current Projects
Why he considers himself as a serial entrepreneur
What he thinks young entrepreneur should do before starting up a new business
How you doing Oliver, thanks for taking time to be with us on YHP
Can you quickly give us a quick background about yourself and what you do?
I’m 21 and am studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University. I’ll graduate in June 2010 and have accepted a job with a brand consultancy called Happen in London, where I worked over the summer – they do very interesting work in developing new products and services for all sorts of clients – including Cadbury’s and Tesco. When not at university, I live near Cambridge with my brother Thomas (who has just started at Edinburgh reading ecology) and with my Mum Lesley who works as a secretary for an architect.
That’s Great Oliver
You started your business when you were 15? How was that? What inspired to start up a business?
It was a daunting process but I was helped with the legal and official side of things by a friend of my mum’s – Paul, who joined the business as a director because I was too young at the time – being only 16. He gave me a hand with all the bank account opening and tax registration – he also took me to trade shows and to meet key suppliers – it wouldn’t have happened without him.
I mean it is always great to have someone who can help us especially someone with experience.
I was inspired to start the business by my mum, who when I was moaning about not being able to find size 13 shoes, suggested jokingly that I should start my own company. When I did a bit of internet research and found only weak competition, she was incredibly supportive and pushed me to go for it.
I’d always been interested in money and business – I had been giving my dad share tips since I was 11 and enjoyed reading about companies and that sort of thing in the newspaper. The idea of owning my own business excited me.
Let’s start from your first business? What made you go into the shoe industry?
It was really just because I had had the problem finding shoes for my own big feet – that’s what prompted the whole venture – it’s not like I had been looking to specifically start a business before the shoe issue arose! What sold me to the idea was a large trade show which we went to in Leicester which had a huge variety of different manufacturers and suppliers which convinced me that there was plenty of potential to turn this in to a tangible enterprise.
How did you raise funds for your business?
Since the age of 14, I had run a mobile disco along with a friend from school – we would do weddings, birthdays and that sort of thing. That is quite a lucrative little money spinner and it had given me plenty of cash which I used to fund Bigger Feet. It allowed me to purchase software to build a website, buy some initial stock, as well as pay company registration fees etc. When things got busy with lots of orders we did have some cash flow problems which led to me clearing every penny out of my bank account to pay bills, but luckily the cash all came back in and I didn’t lose out. If I had run the company for much more time I imagine that I would have needed more investment.
Why did you leave that business?
I was applying to Oxford at the time and doing a lot of extra work outside of my A level homework – reading whole piles of books in preparation for interview and all that sort of thing – I just didn’t have the time to keep the company going, and I also knew that whichever university I went to, it would be hard to run the company from home, and so the best idea might be to sell it early to allow for a smooth transition.
Tell us about your current business?
There are two projects that I am working on at the moment. The first is www.forge-properties.com – a French townhouse that my mum and I have renovated and which we are renting out to holidaygoers. That was a lot of effort in terms of DIY and a new learning curve being in a foreign country, but it seems to have paid off and we have had a fair few bookings.
The second enterprise which I have on the go is genderchecker.com – a site which tells users whether a name is male, female or unisex. Having got someone’s sex wrong on the phone after not recognising their name on paper, I thought that it might be an issue which other people might have. The site has had several thousand user visits since Easter, and has also generated a booking for the house in France – meaning that it has already broken even. Whilst this site won’t make millions of pounds, it has been an interesting learning process, and should hopefully show people what I’m about.
Would you call yourself a serial entrepreneur?
Yes. Though I don’t own a conglomerate of successful businesses, I can’t help but constantly think about new opportunities, and am actually working on a premium food product at the moment even though I’m supposed to revising for my final year exams. I think being a serial entrepreneur is as much about the mindset and hunger as it is about the actual success or visibility of one’s achievements.
If you were to start another business, what might it be?
I’m not choosy – as long as it can make money and not cause harm to a vulnerable group of people, I’m open to it. Ideally, I think it will be web based and involve products rather than a service, since this will allow it be up scaled very easily and cheaply – minimising risk and allowing for the biggest returns. I’ve got a couple of ideas up my sleeve, but am planning on working for a few years in branding and marketing with Happen before taking any of them to market.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
I think maintaining a close bond with consumers – and making them feel valued is key. It makes them want to come back to you and gives you a solid sales base which you can build on with confidence. If you can put yourself in the consumer’s shoes then you should not lose sales to rivals unavoidably, and should retain a loyal and profitable repeat group. For Forge, this means calling up guests after their stay and having a casual chat about their stay as well as sending Christmas cards and that sort of thing.
What plans do you have now to expand your business further?
For Forge, we already have another property in Turkey under development at the moment – and are hoping to cross sell the two properties to holidaymakers.
For Gender Checker, I’m looking into the corporate market – foreign call centres and that sort of thing – to see if we can rack up large scale database enquiries which we can charge for.
What do you do in your spare time?
What every other 21 year old does! A mixture of sport, going out to clubs and bars, travelling (I went to Thailand this summer) and catching up with friends. Sadly, nothing too exotic, but I wouldn’t change it!
Who do you model yourself around?
I don’t consciously try to model myself any particular one person – but like to cherry pick people’s best qualities and try to emulate that aspect of them. I like the tenacity and audacity of sports stars like David Beckham, but I also appreciate the cool and collected manner of my Grandpa and the charisma of someone like Bill Clinton for instance. Obviously, we are all our own person but I don’t think there is any harm in aspiring to develop your character.
In a business sense, I don’t really have an explicit idol – I of course admire the success and daring of people like Richard Branson, but at the moment, having not worked closely with any other entrepreneurs, I think I base my business decisions around what feels right to me rather than what I think someone else would do in my situation. I’ve clearly got lots to learn, but at the moment, it’s the best decision making process I’ve got!
Where do you see you and your business in the next 5 year?
To be quite honest I have no idea what I’ll be doing in five years. Hopefully the holiday properties will be generating enough regular income that we can sell them and effectively take out all the equity and earnings in advance and use that to do something else with.
I don’t think that genderchecker.com will be a multimillion pound company, but then again, it was only really pursued as a learning tool for future projects.
I see myself in five years with a much sharper idea of how consumers think and how to respond to that in a business sense – which Is why I have a taken a job in marketing/branding rather than jumping straight into my own business.
What advice would you like to give to young entrepreneurs looking to start up their business?
Think things through. People all too often rush in to decisions and end up ether regretting them or reversing them soon afterwards – branding is an obvious example of this – new companies rebrand all the time!
If you are confident about your chances of success, you will convince others that you will be successful, and then you will be successful.
Thanks Oliver, I mean this is great, You are constantly turning your ideas into action which i think is key in continuous learning as an entrepreneur, I would not be surprised to hear you making tons of money in the future.
Let me know what you guys think of the interview, Are you doing something similar to Oliver , or are you currently on the verge of starting up your own business, let me know, Let a comment.
Check out his different companies