All companies have to start from somewhere, and the journey from idea to execution can be an exciting one in which a vision is made reality, and tech entrepreneurs in particular arguably have the most valuable skills to launch a company from a standing start.
Antony Chesworth, owner and founder of e-commerce firm EKM started his business at 22 years of age and was a keen web developer and programmer beforehand.
Before starting EKM he was a student studying computer science at Lancaster University, and once he graduated he got a job at an Internet Service Provider in Lancaster and noticed that people were paying thousands for web services.
‘It was at the time when the internet had only just emerged and selling online was a new concept, I could see the benefit of building something once and everyone using it, I always loved making things that other people enjoyed, and building a system that allowed people to do what they love, selling the things that they love and being in business doing what they loved was at the core of why I started the business,’ he says.
Everyone told him EKM would never work but, like many tech entrepreneurs, he persevered. ‘I remember the days of cold calling customers and having to sell the idea of selling online, as no one realised that this was even possible or that without it their business would not exist in another ten years’ time.’
Setting up the company, Chesworth sought advice from friends and family. ‘I had seen first hand that there was a demand for online services having worked at an Internet Service Provider, so I quit my job and started building EKM,’ he says.
It wasn’t long until he ran out of money, however, and had to move back home with his parents in Burnley. ‘I got the business going through sheer hard work and on a minimal budget. I didn’t pay myself a wage for four years and ran up credit card debt of over £30,000.
The first four years were hard and my parents even started to ask when I was going to get a job but after four years we had 100 customers paying £24.99 per month and things just snowballed from there,’ he remembers.
A seasoned professional background
Whereas Chesworth started a company early in his professional life, other businesses are born out of a rich history in work.
Dave Legion, founder of accounting tool TAXO’D has worked for the past 14 years for himself as a designer, animator, illustrator, compositor, UI & UX designer and creative director. He says that turning his idea into a business has been an organic process.
‘I didn’t wake up one morning with the burning desire to start an accountancy firm. It was through sheer frustration, lack of support, and using over-complicated software that drove me to create TAXO’D. I hated everything about the tax process,’ he says.
‘I just wanted an easy way to stay in control of my finances, but there was no software that catered for me as a freelancer; they were all tailored to big businesses paying corporation tax.’
Legion had tried every accountancy tool and piece of software that existed at the time, and saved any tax related articles or links he came across.
He says he has spent around £50,000 developing the app so far. ‘This has all been self-funded or raised from family and friends,’ he explains. The company is now looking to raise its first seed round.
‘We were fortunate to be part of Virgin’s Pitch to Rich competition last year, missing out on the final by a whisker, which really helped get the TAXO’D name out there.
Other than that we haven’t done any formal marketing, it’s all been through social media and word of mouth. We hope to step this up now the app is ready to launch,’ he adds.
The power of a joint vision for tech entrepreneurs
Joint owners who share a dream can be a powerful basis for a business. Florian Färber, co-founder of drycleaning service ZipJet, says that both himself and his co-founder have backgrounds in consulting.
‘Before founding the company, I worked as head of business development for an international e-commerce shop in the automotive market. Before that, I gained more than five years of consulting experience at accountancy firms. I hold a Diploma in Economics as well as a Masters in Law,’ he says.
Given the pair’s experience working for multinationals, they were familiar with the difficulty of finding time to do laundry/visit dry cleaners during the working week.
‘We therefore identified untapped potential in the laundry and drycleaning market, where we realised that, by introducing an on-demand solution, this would alleviate consumer tedium and revolutionise how we go about doing our dirty laundry and dry cleaning,’ he says.
The company partnered with an experienced start-up incubator from day one, benefitting from their expertise.
This incubator had an extended network of investors and founders from whom advice and knowledge was sought.
Given its diverse portfolio across industries and geographies, the duo were able to access its database and knowledge to conduct research.
James Blackman, founder of digital marketing company Cocoonfxmedia (JB), had been working as a supply chain analyst building KPI reports for a large logistics company before he began his present company. ‘I have alway been interested in design and interested in how the web worked,’ he says.
‘I actually started to teach myself how to code with one hand after an operation on my right hand which lead me out of boredom and curiosity on how to build and design websites.
This was back in 1999.’ Blackman used the company he worked for to train him in various elements which he thought he would need. He started in marketing, then sales, key accounts, and supply chain analysis.
It goes to show that, while many tech entrepreneurs start early and from a basis in a specific discipline, there are others who are able to adapt and learn all components in a successful business.
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