My First Million

Sprouting business card

Kevin Mitnick's business card is a break-out lock picking kit


“Three or four years ago, when I spoke to people about LoveFilm.com, they’d look at me in a strange way and wonder what my night-time activities were on the internet!" Simon Calver, boss of DVD rental website LoveFilm.com, explains how he's shaken up the film industry and created a £70m business.

Brands were in the blood.

The moment you find an issue, fix it...issues in business are not like wine: they don't improve with age.

Do you really understand your customers and why they're using your product?

Grow your resources as your business grows.

If you're a small, nimble, light organization you can actually have a bit of fun!


When Hiro Harjani stepped off the plane from India, he had no contacts, no cash and zero business experience. So how on earth did he build a global fashion brand with 5,000 international trade accounts, sales of £25m and celebrity endorsements from Lisa Snowden and Helen Mirren?

There was a hunger and I think that hunger to do, to achieve something is very important.

If I'm going to sell it one store, I might as well sell it in 500 stores or 5,000 stores.

It's not about chasing the buck...everything has to be in balance.

Find a mentor: it'll save you a lot of headaches and mistakes.

Most entrepreneurs don't give up.

You must look after your health. Budding entrepreneurs must look after themselves.

(Re: The credit crisis) The government and bankers are to blame. Go to them (bankers) for a £5k loan and they’ll say, “No, we can’t help you”. But they’ll give billions to subprime people and lose everything in one shot.
And look at the brains of these guys. Instead of helping the individual in the country set up mortgages and businesses, they go and lose in one chunk the wealth of the nation.

The day you decide to stop growing is the time to go.


"We're recession proof. You need glasses – and we deliver them cheaper than anyone else. I'm bullish and so are our investors. We've just raised another £2.5m." James Murray Wells, the young entrepreneur behind Glasses Direct, explains why his start up caused chaos on the high street and how he's beating the downturn.

With the university ecosystem you have all the resources you need: marketing research materials, the computer hardware...

All we were doing was shuffling around data - we'd never even seen the glasses.

I kicked my sister out of her bedroom to make more room for office space.

We'd have a captive audience with our flyers on the train all the way to Bristol International Airport.

On the internet you can see in real time what is happening.

We did anything we could to make people talk about the business.

They (high street sellers) were shocked that we were exposing them...we even had hate mail from opticians.

The industry's beginning to realize that the internet's here to stay and you can't be ostrich-like about it.

Everyone loves giving advice...you can literally go to some big shot and they will support you. They will.

Don't get sentimental about the idea...if it's not good, or proven wrong don't be afraid to abort it.

Look at some of the best businesses out there: Amazon, YouTube, Facebook - these are businesses that came out of garages, university campuses.

The customer is the boss.

Be objective in terms of funding. Your business has a life of its own and you're there to support it as an entrepreneur. We can add to it, we can help it grow, but it will grow and you mustn't reign it back...don't hold back, let your business fly.

We eat credit crunch for breakfast.

Internet businesses can grow a lot more virally than offline ones.

Glasses Direct

"I didn’t have the £2,000 to bottle the first set of oils, so I spent two weeks hand-bottling 9,600. My girlfriend did 500, even her ironing lady did 100!” With sensitive skin and no money, Will King set about competing against Gillette. Hear how the “King of Shaves” took on the industry giants and how he plans to build a £200m-turnover business by 2012.

It was a question of persistence. Phone persistence. Picking up the phone and convincing the buyer.

It's always hard to see the faults in yourself.

You've just got to get on and do it.

Passion, persistence, working hard, timing and good luck's important.

(On how he got where he is today) 15 years of foundation building and getting unique, differentiated, patented, innovative, cool, funky products aligned and then massing them via a conventional piece of market growth: scaling it, advertising it etc.

You've got to be a bit different. You've got to zag where they zig.

King of Shaves

"I didn’t have a lot of money. I didn’t own a house. And I didn’t have any savings. So I went to the bank and tried to convince them to give me a loan. They turned me down."
He's a serial entrepreneur, a venture capitalist and the multi-millionaire star of Dragons' Den – but even the smooth-talking James Caan had trouble funding his first business. Here the CEO of private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw talks about start-ups, set-backs and success.

Instinctively I always knew I wanted to do my own thing.

Because the product - the service - was quite unique, it took off literally from the word "go".

It was all about having the ability to craft your own journey.

I could have gone to my parents (for money) and I didn't because they wouldn't have understood the business.

That word "unsecured" stuck in my mind...basically I got three credit cards and got £30,000.

As an entrepreneur, I think what drives you is fear, although that's the complete opposite of what you see because when you look at successful entrepreneurs, you think what drives them is their confidence, their optimism, etc., but actually deep down inside every entrepreneur I know is driven by the fear of failure.

In business you must never believe it will last forever, you must never get complacent because any business that becomes complacent and thinks it's arrived, is on its way down.

(Re: the economic downturn of '99) For the first time as an entrepreneur I could see the business collapsing, I could see it actually disappearing...1,500 quid (profit) in a year is not amusing.

Business is a very lonely life: sometimes you're faced with making decisions you've never made before.

Everybody you go to has an agenda.

I don't spot successful businesses, I spot successful people.

You only do things if it makes a difference.

Hamilton Bradshaw

"We went from earning a big, fat corporate salary to cycling everywhere and living off beans on toast." Motorbike fanatic Sarah McVittie and self-confessed “mobile phone tart” Thomas Roberts tell us why they quit their high-flying City jobs to set up question-and-answer SMS service Texperts – and why they still don't flash the cash.

His main advice (on starting a business) was just to do it earlier - the earlier the better, in terms of not having mortgages and dependents and children and very high-paying jobs which make it difficult to want to leave that security and that salary behind for something where you really can't tell what's going to happen 6 months down the line or sometimes even one month down the line.

I'm not scared of failing. I'm very passionate about doing something I believe in.

We only had one bowl in the office so we had to take turns using it to eat the salad.

The first person you see is probably the least likely to give you the money.

With the banks, we didn't really understand what their real criteria were - it wasn't about believing in the strength of the business, it was about ticking the right boxes on the forms they had to fill in internally to make it happen, and it was about what questions they needed to answer on the internal form that we never saw...understanding that internal process was key to getting that (funding) to happen in the end.

If anyone listening to this doesn't know what "trading" and "solvent" is go and look it up before you start a business.

"The only wrong decision is no decision" was very good advice.

Another skill is learning to switch off - if you don't do it ever it can really get you down.

They will invest in you because you have real belief and passion (about what you're doing).

You don't need to invent something that's never been done before or come up with a concept that's brand new - the key thing is to do something really well, or slightly differently or just be passionate about it and put more energy into it.

If you try and fail it's not failure, it's just the next step to how you get there.

You're not carrying anybody because everybody's pulling in the same direction.

If you don't enjoy being at work on a daily basis then it's really going to be difficult.

Textperts Chief Sarah McVittie Answers a Call
Forget your 3Gs, WiFis and what-nots for a minute, Textperts does exactly what its name suggests: text any question you can think of to McVittie's army of experts and they'll text you back with the answer, pronto. It will cost you a pound, charged to your mobile bill, and you'll need a mobile with a UK SIM card.

"One thing you learn very quickly is that the information is never worth a quid, but it's the information in the context of where you are that's worth a quid," says the officer's daughter, words quick-marching at the double. "People's information needs are very different when they are out shopping, say, to when they are at home online." [...]

How much nicer, thought McVittie and her colleague Thomas Roberts, if someone had done the grunt work for them. "Part of our jobs as analysts was to locate information, and we found it very frustrating that we would spend all of our time locating information when we could have been doing more interesting work. We couldn't find a service that could deliver it."

The duo secretly commissioned research from poll company NOP to discover whether there was demand for such a service, one that would provide bespoke information for people when they were out and about. And the survey said yes. [...]

Such is the demand to be a Textpert that, to save trawling through stacks of applications, McVittie has set up "The Text Factor" on the company website, a test that roots out the best candidates. Only 1.5pc of applicants pass.

"These are very, very bright, amazing, awesome people," beams McVittie. "And they are quick. We get lots of PhD students, lots of mums who are very well qualified and don't want to commute, want to work from home and have extra income and they can do from 15 minutes to as much as 15 hours a day. And it's incredibly environmentally friendly." [...]

With a user demographic of cash-rich, time-poor 19 to 35 year olds, McVittie says there are big opportunities for Textperts to evolve. She is coy about exactly how but admits one option could be to offer advertisers so-called sponsored links, displayed alongside Textperts' answers.

Well, it's a model that worked on the fixed-line internet. Ask Google.

Acquisition of Textperts to Accelerate 118118 Text Growth
London - Dec.17, 2008
The Number UK Ltd, subsidiary of kgb (www.thekgb.com), and operator of the nation's most contacted number, 118 118, today announced it will acquire Texperts, the UK text information business.