Founder and Managing Director of smallcarBIGCITY, CEO of Best London Tours. Intuit Inner Circle member, 100 Up Club member and Start-Up Britain Ambassador. Interested in new ventures, joint commercial partnerships and growing SME's. Want to assist/help other start-ups who have made the somewhat terrifying jump into entrepreneurship where ever possible!
Like every disillusioned graduate, I thought the City was the only way forward so set my stall out for a long and potentially uninspiring career in corporate finance. Fortunately, I graduated amidst the worst economic climate of the last sixty years and spotted a potential niche in the Tourist Industry. I started the only http://smallcarbigcity.com/" rel="nofollow">tour company in the world that take people around London in a fleet of classic Mini Coopers and now re-sell the best attractions and experience London has to offer.
I am a big believer in you grow, we grow. If you are launching a business in the tourist industry then I would love to hear from you. If I can help save you time or money, make fewer mistakes than I did, increase your revenue streams or improve your marketing strategy, you will become the strongest sales representative I have.
I run two companies. smallcarBIGCITY is a bespoke tour company that only use a fleet of vintage Mini Coopers to take tourists, Londoners, corporates, stags and hens round smoky London town. Guides dress in period 1960s attire, play a selection of swinging beats from the decade and know all the quirky little back streets that the buses can't get to. We show show people the Londoner's London.
With the contacts I made in the industry I set up a parallel company called Best London Tours, to re-sell the best of the best that the industry has to offer. Customers can choose how they want to see London; walk, bike, scooter, car, bus or boat.
My day usually starts the night before, when I email the tour schedules to the drivers so they all know exactly where they need to be for the following day. We have an office in Trafalgar Square and aim to get there about 9am. We usually have orders that have come in from America over night so start buy actioning them.
I allocate until midday to get my admin done, new enquiries, bookings, accounts, booking drivers in etc. Gym/lunch 12-1:30pm, then I spend the first half of the afternoon seeing how our existing marketing strategies are doing/how they can be improved and the final part of the afternoon sourcing new business - contacting re-sellers, exchanging our service for editorial in magazines and newspapers, contacting corporates, getting on internal intranets etc for staff parties and team building events, that sort of thing.
I was at Kingston University where I studied English Literature and Business. I never planned on running my own company; I wanted to work in the City, either in the financial markets or insurance. I graduated 24hrs after Lehman Brothers went under so the City was basically a no-go.
Throughout my time at University in London I used a classic 1974 Mini Cooper to get around town. People would constantly wave and take pictures of my little car. One day I was parked outside Harrods, next to millions of pounds worth of super cars and when I returned to my car, I found about 30 tourists crowding around it to take pictures, completely ignoring the super cars! I realised that the Mini is regarded as an iconic piece of British design around the world. I started researching to see if there were any businesses that took advantage of this connection and to my surprise could not find a single one.
After little luck in the City I ended up applying for jobs that I did not even want. It was at a mass graduate recruitment day for a job in IT sales that I met my prospective business partner, Oliver Knight. Oliver also had a classic Mini, lived in London and had also noticed the attention his car created. It was not long before we were feverishly conducting market research and began to formulate a business plan.
I had always dreamt of running my own company, I just never thought it would be the first thing I did post University.
Oliver and I spent the next seven months pitching to banks for investment and signing up to every free government-run business course available. We taught ourselves HTML coding and built a website, bought and restored two more Minis, licensed the cars and insured the cars. To make ends meet we worked part time at restaurants and events companies, saved as much as we could, and borrowed from friends and family.
Unable to secure investment from the banks due to restricted lending and low capital security, we needed outside investment. Alastair Bruton became the third http://smallcarbigcity.com/" rel="nofollow">smallcarBIGCITY Director in July 2009.
Best: It is the best feeling in the world when your first customer pays you and they are truly happy with the service you have provided. Our first customer bought us a bottle of champagne to celebrate!
There are too many things to list really – appearing on national TV, going to Paris with Heston Blumenthal to film his latest show FEAST, helping to turn the Christmas lights on at Carnaby Street while surrounded my go-go dancers and photographers, getting invited to ridiculous parties in five star hotels with free bars, meeting all of the Dragons from the Den and the Prime Minister... it has been truly fantastic so far!
Personally, the best moment for me was when we were listed as the No.1 Greatest Thing to do in London by Time Out Magazine. I really felt like we had achieved something and that all of the hard work had been worth it.
Worst: Getting legal. Filing as an employer and having to set up your own PAYE and TAX system is a labyrinth of forms and headaches. Get it done early and get a good accountant! Now there are so many apps and on-line services out there to help you make it easy. Well worth the money.
Getting the cars licensed was a real up-hill battle too. We are authorised and regulated by the Public Carriage Office, who initially said this idea could not be done. I had to write countless letters to everyone who worked there and eventually, to Boris Johnson, in an attempt to gain some political backing. Luckily my perseverance paid off.
Finally, getting insured was pretty hard work too. I basically went to every single insurer in the UK and they all said no. We were all under 25, living in London and starting a business that had never been done before. One broker quoted us £10k per car!
Don't talk about it – DO IT! Everyone will tell you that you're nuts - try to take it with a pinch of salt. If you want something badly enough, you will get it. Do your research and plan as much as possible before. Perseverance and tenacity is the order of the day.
Don't kid yourself. Present worst case costings for everything, whatever you are planning to turn over: halve it.
I have been lucky enough to meet some fabulously successful people and always ask them the same question. Richard Branson summed it up pretty well - "What ever you do, just do it better then your competitors.".
Peter Jones also told me that you need to have at least 100% margin in a product or service, as you will be amazed at how fast it is stripped away in order for you to make the sale.
I contacted my local business link and they were really helpful. They signed me up for courses and gave me the on-hand advice I needed on a weekly basis. I would also do an Excel course and an accounting course if you haven't already. I would also contact the Start Up Britain Team, they are all wonderful, self made, passionate people who genuinely want you to succeed. Finally, The Seven Hills Group; they are a PR company for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs. We would not be where we are today without them.