WHEN the Admiral on his ship told him he wouldn’t succeed outside the Royal Navy, Scott Weir knew he would make something of himself.

“My childhood shaped me to always want to do better for myself,” he said. “I love a challenge, I love building things and I love making a difference to other people’s lives.”

After leaving school and the Navy with no qualifications, Mr Weir is certainly doing all of the above. His company, Ayrshire-based Pillow Property Partners, expects to grow turnover from £1.1 million to £7.2m this year.

The business, which manages serviced accommodation and holiday homes, is launching 40 franchises across the UK, with a focus on four key areas: Manchester, Liverpool, Aberdeen and Leeds.

Mr Weir has also set his sights on overseas expansion, and plans to launch Pillow in five European countries this year – Spain, France, Croatia, Netherlands, Portugal. Openings across the Pond in California, Massachusetts and New Hampshire are also planned.

“One of our core values is stronger together,” Mr Weir said. “One person with one property has a very limited marketing budget and they’re competing with businesses like ours, so they’re struggling because they don’t have the resources. My business vision is that people come together to share resources, creating a classic network effect. The more properties you have, the more efficiently you can run the business. And the larger we grow, the higher the occupancy we can provide for our customers.”

Mr Weir had joined the Navy to escape a chaotic upbringing in Cumnock, with many of his friends getting embroiled in drugs and crime. When he left the Navy after five years, he ended up doing cleaning jobs in nursing homes for the NHS. Realising he could make more money working for himself, he set up his own carpet cleaning business earning £50 an hour.

He ploughed the money back into his education, completing a Higher National Certificate, a Higher National Diploma, a Bachelor of Arts in management and finally a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

“I was determined to be better educated than the teacher that said I’d never achieve anything in my life,” Mr Weir said.

The idea for Pillow followed in 2015.

“We saw a gap in the market,” Mr Weir said. “There wasn’t a UK-wide company doing what we do. There were lots of businesses just doing property marketing or working in isolated areas like Devon and Cornwall. But we wanted to offer a full management service to owners all over UK. It was perfect timing, with the rise of Airbnb and technology. We couldn’t have done it five years earlier, and five years later would have been too late.”

Scottish Government plans to introduce new licensing schemes for Airbnb-style short-term lets from spring next year will change the market, but Mr Weir says Pillow is prepared.

“Some properties will need to get planning permission, but local authorities will have the power to say ‘no’ in certain areas,” Mr Weir said. “It will affect city centre operators a lot more, especially management companies. But we’ve always diversified our portfolio to include contractors and corporates – for example long-term lets to film companies and banks – and classic holiday lets in the country that will always be in demand.”

Pillow has won multiple start-up awards and in 2018, Mr Weir, a former Entrepreneur of the Year, became one of a group of entrepreneurs selected for the Scottish Government’s Unlocking Ambition programme, a £4m development fund created to support high-potential entrepreneurs.

"The Unlocking Ambition programme gave me fantastic support in Scotland, with numerous training sessions, masterclasses, access to support and the opportunity to be part of an inspiring cohort of 20 entrepreneurs,” Mr Weir said. “I really believe Scotland has the best support ecosystem for entrepreneurs in the world at the moment."

The programme has included visiting Silicon Valley and studying at Babson College in Boston.

"Babson College has been the world’s most entrepreneurial college for the last 22 years, so the fact I got to go twice last year is pretty amazing,” he said. “Last year, we won £100,000 of TV advertising and a trip to Silicon Valley to pitch our business to venture capitalists. We visited Facebook and saw how Silicon Valley and the US do things differently to us.

“In the US, they think a lot bigger. I went over with big, massive plans and they just laughed and said ‘stick another zero on the end.’ What we believe is massive in Scotland is probably tiny in the US.”

His experience on the Unlocking Ambition programme and in America has undoubtedly fuelled his confidence.

“In the US, they aren’t afraid of failure,” Mr Weir continued. “They see failure as a good thing. In Scotland, if we fail, it’s bad and damages our reputation. In the US, people are more likely to invest in you if you’ve failed previously. They see failure as a process rather than a bad thing.

“In Scotland, we downplay ourselves and are very self-deprecating. That doesn’t work in the US. You’ve got to have confidence and self-esteem. You need to change your personality to go out there, especially if you’re pitching to VCs.”

Pillow’s aim is to be the largest and best quality property management company across the UK.

“I want to make a difference and help other entrepreneurs – to give them a chance and make them into superstars,” Mr Weir said.


What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

Definitely Boston in the US. Always a perfect mixture of both business and pleasure. I've studied at Babson College twice, met new friends and made amazing business connections. There is a strong link between Scotland and Boston and the people are all very friendly.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

The special forces. It was all about an individual’s dedication to become one of the most elite operators in the world, at the top of their field. Being able to handle physical and mental feats that would break 99.9% of the population.

What was your biggest break in business?

Definitely every time someone said: "You'll never do that.” Every one of these in life fuelled me to push harder and harder. Without this, I'd never had achieved what I have (so thank you everyone!)

What was your worst moment in business?

Back in 2009 when my accountant said: "Close your business, it's going to be bankrupt next week." I didn't have the money to pay the staff at the end of the month. Thankfully I did manage to save the business with a lot of hard work, but it was a horrible few weeks.

Who do you most admire and why?

I don't really do the whole guru following trend that is so popular, but I’d need to say Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not a lot of people realise that he has mastered four different sectors (business, politics, acting, and bodybuilding). So it’s hard not to be inspired by that.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?

I have a target to read a minimum of 50 business books a year, so too many to list at the moment. Rather than music, I love self-development podcasts and audiobooks, so try to consume one hour a day at least.