IN THIS week's SME Focus we hear from a young businessman who has been chosen to study entrepreneurship at an elite US college in spite of making an inauspicious start to his working career.
Name: Chris Moore.
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What is your business called? Trick Creative.
Where is it based?
What services does it offer?
Web design and digital marketing.
Whom does it sell to?
Our client portfolio ranges widely across Scottish commerce, from major businesses such as City Holdings and Sher Bros to small independent retailers. One good example of the latter was a little perfume retailer called Scensations of Troon which ended up selling to celebrities such as Bono as her online presence increased.
What is its turnover?
The company became limited in November 2013 and we are forecasting £500,000 for the year to November 2014. With recent contract wins, we are well on track.
How many employees?
When was it formed?
I have been involved in digital marketing since 2008, first with my business Miracle Creative and, since November last year, with Trick.
Why did you take the plunge?
I didn't so much decide to take the plunge as the plunge came to me, because I had been sacked from the job I had at the time.
I left school at 16 and went to Central College of Commerce in Glasgow to do marketing but I didn't stay the course. Then I started as a trainee auctioneer - and furniture shifter - at Hamilton Auction Marts. I reckoned that if I could value furniture I could value property, so I got a job with a letting agency. That ended ignominiously when I crashed their car one week and came into work the next week - how can I put this - slightly indisposed after too good a night out. They sacked me.
It was after that, when I was wondering what to do, that someone I met through a former girlfriend gave me the idea to sell websites.
I come from Hamilton originally and, in the beginning, I sourced clients by walking up and down Cadzow Street chapping the doors. Then I expanded to Glasgow and Edinburgh and built business through networking events and, as the ball started rolling, through word of mouth. It was gruelling and it took a lot of perseverance.
Until last year I was really a sole trader, slowly building up the business - with very few clients in the early stages. Part of the reason for the switch to Trick Creative was to impose a change in mindset on myself to become a business owner rather than just supporting myself. I was changing my lifestyle and putting all my energies into a new start.
How did you raise the start-up funding?
My start-up funding was the remains of my last wage - a princely £30. It was all I had in the world. I spent it on the domain names for Miraclecreative.co.uk and Miraclecreative.com. I have never had grant funding or any outside support from enterprise agencies. I just had to go out and sell websites.
What was your biggest break?
My first year was particularly hard. It was horrendous, in fact. But in the second year, a bit of money started coming through my hands and the realisation dawned on me that perhaps I could make this thing work.
What was your worst moment?
A couple of bad times. In 2012, I ended up in a touch-and-go situation with serious internal bleeding in intensive care. I was out of the game for months and it took a lot to fight my way back into active business.
Then, last year, I had problems with Miracle. I'd tried to grow too fast and had taken my eye off the ball a bit. I think I was trying to build an unwieldy business structure with a bad foundation. That's why Trick Creative means so much to me. This time I'm getting it right.
What do you enjoy about business?
I have a real affinity for the sales process. I like meeting people, I get on with them and I want to understand the needs of their businesses. I was offered a Saltire Foundation scholarship this year, which I think was a direct result of my enthusiasm for getting on with people. The Fellowship involves three months studying entrepreneurship at Babson College in Boston followed by a week in Silicon Valley then a week in China before returning to Scotland. The offer was quite flattering. I have no qualifications and I was being asked to join some of Scotland's rising business stars. Because of business commitments, I have deferred taking it up until next year.
The company will still run while I complete the fellowship. I hope by that point that I will be able to have the business set up that it won't be too much disruption if I am offsite for three months. However, I will still be contactable and working while I'm away and using what I learn and putting it in place immediately.
What could the Westminster/Scottish government do to help?
They could give small companies tax breaks up to a certain turnover and then stagger the tax increase at break points to help SMEs grow. Perhaps a tax deferral might be the answer, to make the earlier stages easier.
Enterprise agencies could be more supportive. The one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work - it needs to be customised. More widespread mentoring schemes would also be a great help.
What are your top priorities?
Building the company. I want to open a London office within the next 12 to 18 months, so my main priority is to make sure that we are in strong position in Glasgow beforehand. There is enormous opportunity - as well as more competition - in London.
What was the most valuable lesson you have learned?
My grandfather used to say you can do anything you put your mind to. I recall when Elon Musk, inventor of PayPal, who is now trying to put people on Mars, was asked: How did you learn rocket science? He replied: "I read about it."
How do you relax?
I just love going to the cinema. I can turn the phone off, zone out and forget about everything.