I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur even after I started my first business, though obviously I am an entrepreneur otherwise I wouldn’t be doing what I do for a living.
Was thinking back on my life and it’s surprising how long it took to start my first real business (~28 years old), but I had that entrepreneurial mindset even as a child.
Here’s my entrepreneurs story…
My older brother at school age worked on a milk round and sold scratch lottery type tickets door to door. At around the age of 13-14 I also sold the scratch lottery tickets door to door and would make a few quid a week, that was my first experience of earning money.
Interesting fact: I realized the winning lottery tickets had print errors (the winners had all been printed on the same machines :-)) and I could pick out all the £1 and £5 winners out of the packs I sold! So I’d get the packs of lottery tickets delivered by the distributor and take all the winners out for myself.
My elder brother on the other hand didn’t have a problem with out right fraud (what I did was ethically grey), there was a little silver coated void box on the tickets and he made a small scratch through all his tickets to see if they were winners: behind the void box it indicated if the ticket had won. That little bit of fraudulent activity had to be fixed with silver paint so the lottery tickets could still be sold!
Yep, came from a family with dubious business ethics to say the least.
I didn’t do well at school, wasn’t that I couldn’t do well, for example in the exams I took at around age 13 in areas like maths and science I scored in the top 5% for the entire year (ex grammar school as well), but I came from a background where education wasn’t considered important: I went to an art exam with just one blue pencil and refused to complete the music and metal work exams!
At 16 I mentioned to my Mother I was thinking of staying on at school to do A-Levels (by then I was realizing my mistakes) and she said “well I’m not paying for it!”, today the family I came from would be labeled as Chavs, I certainly was a Chav up until I was around 19 years of age.
By 15 I’d already had a 24 hour attendance center order (like the Cadets for young criminals, not much of a punishment really) and spent 2 months in a detention center (prison for young offenders, was hard going) for a string of burglaries and by 16 years of age I was looking at a life of crime or unskilled factory type work as I had two low level CSEs (grade 2 in maths and grade 4 in physics)!
I’m not blaming anyone for my early life mistakes, there were kids in terrible families who didn’t resort to crime and did well at school. If anything I have less of an excuse because I’m not an idiot and should have made the best of what was available: I could have worked hard and got good O Levels for example.
At 16 1/2 I’d realized my mistakes and wanted a career, I tried to join the army, but because of the detention center time I couldn’t join until I was 17: couldn’t join within a year of a detention center order.
Got a job working on a road as a civil engineers assistant (carry the equipment mostly) for very low pay (£1 an hour). At the same time started a Maths GCSE at night at a local school, though didn’t complete it. Did a few other unskilled jobs as well including packing boxes into boxes!
MENSA Level High IQ
At 17 sat an unsupervised MENSA IQ test and scored high, IQ 149: top 2% in the country and high enough to join MENSA if I had sat the supervised IQ test.
You would not believe the boost in confidence that gave me, mathematically it meant if I were in a room with 100 people I’m more intelligent than 99 of them. Don’t see it that way now (I’m more intelligent than all of them :-)), in hindsight IQ’s not that important, high IQ means you are good at doing IQ tests created by flawed humans.
Still, it gave me the confidence to go back into full-time education (GCSEs, A-Levels and Open University courses) and eventually study a degree in genetics at University: went to Uni at 21 by which time I had a pregnant partner and a toddler to consider.
I went to University to study genetics because I had an idea for a potential treatment for HIV/AIDs and would need a degree to put me in a position to test my ideas. In my mind I saw I’d get a degree in genetics, do some research with a biotech company and eventually start my own biotech business so I could follow through on my HIV/AIDS idea.
Saw myself in the US, not sure why.
Everything went wrong mind you because of my health, but I was more than capable of studying at University level, actually I was very surprised how dumb some of the people at University with me were, some of the 18 year olds didn’t even know how to use a library, it was embarrassing!
Had to leave University at 24 because of my health with just the final exams to sit to get a degree in genetics (I literally could not sit exams)!
Spent a year or two waiting for a cure that never materialized (still have the back problems now). If my back had held out I’d be a research geneticist now, not making money online.
By ~26 I’d realized I wasn’t going to be able to finish my genetics degree, but I also couldn’t work in a traditional 9-5 capacity: I literally couldn’t sit in a chair beyond 30 minutes!
The Internet was taking off in a big way and saw the Internet as my route to earning money, it was pretty much make money online or claim disability benefits for life. Even now I could not work for an employer, my days activity would be covered getting to and from work, I couldn’t handle say a 20 minute journey to work and even an hour working at a desk.
Started an Illegal Business!
At around 26/27 years of age I stumbled into an illegal business selling pirated CDs online! I had three children who we home educated, but had no money to buy them educational software (was on Income Support on medical grounds). Bought some cheap pirated educational CDs (compilation warez CDs) and started trading pirated educational CDs (bought a cheap CD writer) with like minded people to get my kids educational software.
In no time at all I had one of the best pirated educational/children’s software collections on the warez scene (no one else offered educational CDs) and people started offering to buy the CDs :-) Within a year trading standards knocked on the door, took my CD copying equipment and about 5,000 pirated CDs and I was in court for trademark infringements etc… In the local papers they were talking about my illegal business making hundreds of thousands of pounds, I was selling CDs for £2.50 each from a bedroom on a PC!
I didn’t make a great deal of money (it was worthwhile), to some degree I was happy I was doing something productive even though it was illegal, really does suck to feel useless when you can’t work!
I was very lucky, the magistrates court I first went to didn’t think the maximum 2 year prison sentence they could give was harsh enough so referred the case to the the crown court!!! The crown court saw things differently, before trading standards stopped my little illegal business I’d already been looking to close it down and move into a legal business and before the case came to court I’d started a new business, I received a suspended sentence and a fine (could have got 10 years!). I think it helped that it was educational CDs I was pirating and why I got into it: “Think of the Children”.
I can’t regret the illegal pirated CDs business as it helped with my children’s education (educational software was expensive) and I realized I was bloody brilliant at dealing with customer support and the experience taught me some valuable business lessons I still use today. I’ll add, warez might be illegal, but the people I dealt with as customers and traders (other pirate CD sellers traded freely: a one for one CD swap trade) were really friendly.
Started an Adult Business
At around 28/29 years of age I had my first legal business, I started an online ecommerce store selling adult sex toys and sexy lingerie. I had NO interest in products like those, but the mark up is AWESOME: 50p vibrator sells for £5!
Learnt search engine optimization on the ecommerce site (the ecommerce software I used was almost anti-SEO, so I had to learn fast) and my first full years trading was ~£80,000.
Really enjoyed search engine optimization, but didn’t enjoy dealing with adult products. The SEO for an adult website means gaining links from adult sites, so you tend to spend a lot of time on porn sites etc… which is not me. Add to that dealing with soiled returns and it’s not a business I’d choose to do if I had alternatives.
Moved into offering SEO services and have never looked back.
Update for 2014 have now moved on from offering SEO services, over the past decade or so I’ve built quite an impressive network of sites that makes me a nice amount of money from advertising revenue etc… since I have long term health problems it’s easier on my health to work on my network of sites than work for SEO clients.
Basically there’s no real pressure to improve my network of sites, if I need to take a year off from working I can. Can’t have that level of control when dealing with the livelihood of business owners who are paying for SEO advice. As I built up my network and made more money I took on less SEO clients and as SEO clients stopped using my SEO service I didn’t take new clients on.
My point of posting this is to highlight how long it took me to realize I could even start a business let alone run one and I’m sure just reading the above will inspire some to realize there’s nothing special about starting a business.
How Hard is it to Start a Business?
When I was young I had a view people like me (poor people) do not do well in life and they certainly don’t start their own businesses, I’d never even considered University until I was 17!
If you’d have asked me when I was a teenager what you have to do to start a business I’d have guessed it required going to University, having a LOT of money and registering as some sort of company. Knowing the right sort of people would also be helpful.
When I was looking into starting my adult toys/lingerie business I contacted Companies House (place for registering businesses) for information on how to register a business. Yes, at 28 I thought to own a business I had to register it with a place like Companies House and I’d have to have solicitors etc… to form some sort of limited company or something (I expected to have to pay a lot of money as well). I even went as far as to get information on forming an offshore company! Basically I didn’t have a CLUE how easy it is to start a business in Britain!
It’s really funny now, but it meant I wasted a lot of time believing it was difficult to start a business.
Truth is to start a business without forming a limited company etc… (you can form a LTD, but you don’t have to), you register as self-employed, fill out one form that you are now self-employed and that’s it, you are now in business.
Took me months to work that little bit of useful information out (seemed too easy :-)).
If at 17 years of age I knew what I know now I think I’d have started a business at 17 rather than only go to University (might have still gone to Uni, but I wouldn’t have relied on it as I did).
I never saw a window cleaning round, cleaning cars, digging gardens…. as a business when I was younger, but they are.
Before going to University I was making ends meet by going to auctions, buying damaged TVs and videos and repairing them: I’d buy old portable TVs at auction that worked, add a cheap TV aerial and sell them to a local second hand shop for ~£5 profit. I didn’t make a lot of money, but it was my first steps as a young entrepreneur, so I’ve always had that entrepreneur mindset. When you are studying full time an extra £10-£20 a week makes a big difference.
Inspirational Business Stories
Do you have an entrepreneur within just waiting to get out?
Or maybe you’ve already made the leap into starting a business, if so why not post your story in the comments below.