Early next week I turn 21, in turn this week has been one of reflection for me, a chance to look back over my short years in business and what i’ve achieved and what I wish I had knew before.
Business is all about having the drive to take those chances, looking the ‘what ifs’ straight in the eye and aiming to achieve them. I think it’s fair to say I still have so much more to learn, but on the other hand I’ve had some of the best lessons from the best teachers along the way.
To say I started my journey when I was 15 wouldn’t quite be the right thing to say. To begin a journey, I think you have to know where you’re going, have a destination, but when I first sat down at my desk and created PPLparty.com, all I was trying to achieve was a way of being able to talk to my school friends without it getting blocked by the school’s security system. Little did I know (or even comprehend at this point) was that I was about to create a product that would be used by hundreds of thousands of people.
PPLparty.com grew way further just the 30 or so people in my classroom, soon people were telling their friends in different cities and different countries. I began running Google adsense when I read about it on a blog, the minute I placed my first advert code I was earning more than most people do when they are 25.
I started to feel like a businessman, in 2005 this was the year of dragons den. Everyone was glued to the TV in my household watching businesses pitch their ideas to the dragons. I quickly began reading articles on the internet of people making millions of pounds from online businesses, how the dot com bubble exploded and tales of this place called ‘Silicon Valley’.
I set about trying to expand my social network. I started created pitches where our website could partner with other companies. My first port of call was changing advertising network from Google to one that represented the ‘big’ websites. I remember dropping an e-mail to Monetise. A polite man called Joel called me back and asked me to come in and see them. Here I was, a spotty teenager sitting in an office on Poland Street with a huge online advertising agency – talking to them about a website that I had created in my bedroom. I was about 1/100 of the size of most of their clients, but with a smile Joel and Jon agreed to take on my inventory. I felt great! Later last year Monetise was sold to Glam Media, one of the biggest online advertising agencies in the world!
After setting up an office in Nuneaton, where I was currently attending college the next thing I went about looking into was how I could add value for my members, and equally add value back to a partner’s customers.
I found Hotxt in an article (I can’t quite remember where, maybe the Guardian). I loved the idea, it was free text messaging phone to phone using the phone’s data connection. I created a flashy proposal in powerpoint after researching what one looked like. I sent this off to Hotxt and eagerly awaited a response! I’ve include a page from the proposal to the right.
A week or so later David Whitewood got in touch from Hotxt, he was the founder. He invited me to Cambridge to pitch my ideas to his CTO. Little did I know, and quickly found out, the co-founder of his company was Doug Richard. The same Doug Richard who I had been watching eagerly on BBC 2’s Dragon’s Den. I think it’s safe to say they loved my ideas – as a few more days later I was invited to London and offered a job as a product manager. I was the 2nd team member hired into the London office. The firs team member was the CTO: Carl Uminski (ex-director of search at Yahoo) and who founded Overture in the UK (later sold to Yahoo). My experience here set me up for the rest of my life!
I worked along side some of the greatest minds in web, such as product managers, developers and marketing people from Yahoo, eBay, shopping.com, T-mobile, Orange, Microsoft and more! Whilst all this was happening and I was being mentored by the best, PPLparty.com needed a little push as things wern’t growing at the same rate. This is where MySpace was quickly becoming a hot topic in the UK. So with the advise from the guys at Hotxt (which had just been rebranded to Trutap) on my 18th birthday I parted company with those guys and raised £10,000 investment to grow PPLparty into Youmeo. I worked with a very bright guy in the city to put together a team. This deal and my previous history attracted the attention of pretty much every major newspaper in the country. I achieved full pages in the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, Observer as well as being mentioned as a Trailblazer by Revolution magazine and awarded the youngest ever Director of the Month Award by the British Institute of Directors.
Next to come: Taking the plunge, my experience with ‘investors’ and starting fresh!