My first £10 million

Hitting those double digits is no easy task, as three entrepreneurs can testify

Hitting those double digits is no easy task, as three entrepreneurs can testify

Hitting those double digits is no easy task, as three entrepreneurs can testify

David Breith, founder and CEO of telecommunications business O-bit Telecom
At the age of 24 I got into mobile phones. My friend was a company director at a Slough-based mobile distributor. He bought handsets at a cheap price and sold airtime for a profit. I thought that sounded easy, so I started my own company. The work picked up dramatically and I was soon selling 40,000 handsets and pre-paid phones a month.

It was going well until 2001, when there was a mini recession, and that affected telecoms badly. We had grown a lot, then we came under real cash problems and the business went into administration.

By that stage I had a certain lifestyle and I lost everything. The banks collected the car, the house – the lot. It was a very stressful period and I even split up with my partner. I moved into a rented house and I picked myself up.

This was when my current company, O-bit, was formed. I managed to retain some contacts, I knocked on doors and I worked hard. I set up the company with a friend. However, I’m more entrepreneurial, more of a risk-taker, whereas he was a cautious type, a ‘Steady Eddie’ you could say. It wasn’t working – so I bought his shares.

Unlike most products, where prices go up every year, in telecoms prices are always going down. Although the sector is growing, customers expect more for their money. So you need more revenue to maintain the same profit.

We started growing again. I employed more people and we moved into a bigger office. Now I employ 40 staff. We funded the growth internally. Apart from a standard overdraft facility and a bit of asset finance, it has all come out of our pockets.

Eldar Tuvey, CEO of internet security company ScanSafe
Back in 1999, my brother Roy was working in private equity and I had finished an MBA. Neither of us had a technical background, but we both had commercial experience.

ScanSafe was the first online security company to use software-as-a-service (SaaS), so instead of delivering software to put on your hard drive, we deliver service ‘in the cloud’, i.e. online.

We raised finance from venture capitalists Balderton Capital and we’ve stayed with them ever since. From eight guys in a cramped office in Farringdon, we started growing.

Initially it was not a problem managing the growth, until we were employing 25 staff. After 25 people, managers and processes need to be put in place. Back then, all the orders went through our fax machine. That’s OK if you’re receiving one or two orders a day, but when it starts growing you need accounting and administration.

When the dot-com crash came, we were in good shape. We weren’t profligate with our spending and we didn’t succumb to the craziness.

However, it did have an effect on our business. The technology market went through a nuclear winter and people were announcing the death of the internet. We considered different business opportunities and we started selling to companies, rather than individuals. We’ve been very successful as a result.

The business expanded and we set up an office in the US. The environment has changed recently but the market is still growing very quickly. SaaS is the way people think software will be delivered in the future. We don’t need to make any acquisitions; we’re growing at over 100 per cent a year.

Ross Williams, founder of online dating business Global Personals

I set up the company with a couple of others and we started very small. We couldn’t get a bank loan, so I had to juggle half a dozen credit cards. After we started making money, we could start paying it back.

One of the best things about our business model is that we didn’t have to worry about the marketing of our sites. It’s a partnership, so we run other people’s websites. They do the marketing and sell the brand. We manage the site, provide the software and take care of the payments.

As we grew, we came to the problem – do we hire internally or look outside? No matter how good you are at your job, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll make a good manager. Sometimes it is better to bring in outside management to develop processes and put systems in place. Beforehand, we promoted people because they had been there the longest. That’s not the best way of doing things. We ended up giving people enough rope to hang themselves.

In a recession, people go back to basics. You can go out to a club and blow £50, or you can pay £15 a month for online dating and have as many dates as you like. I met my girlfriend online and we’ve been together for two and a half years. There is no way I would have met her otherwise.

We started making £1,000 a month, now we’re getting revenue of £1.5 million a month. We’re flourishing.

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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