Andrew began his first company, Fasthosts, an online domain service, from his parents’ house aged just 17 and went on to sell this multi-million-turnover business for £61.5 million in 2006. He has since founded and built four online companies.
His latest venture is Bark.com an online tool that links consumers to local professionals across a range of services, from personal trainers to wedding photographers.
We spoke to him about what makes draws him to online companies and what lessons he has leant over the course of his journey from a room at his parents’ house to a successful Internet entrepreneur.
Could you tell us more about Bark.com?
Andrew: Bark.com is an online lead generation platform which helps connect customers to local service professionals. We operate across a wide-range of sectors, from gardeners and caterers to more obscure categories including a dove releaser. We make it as fast and easy as possible for customers to find local, reliable service professionals by doing all the legwork and providing multiple quotes for customers. We firmly believe that there is not another service that offers the breadth and quality of professionals that we do and because of that, we are very excited about the next steps.
How did your experience running Fasthosts prepare you for setting up Bark.com?
Andrew: The experience of growing a business from scratch put me in great stead for building Bark.com. I also love the fast paced environment of working online which I first experienced running Fasthosts, I learned that it is always changing and evolving, and you have to be able to adapt constantly. But it is so rewarding to see your original idea build, grow and manifest itself into a multi-million pound business.
Having a great team is essential in any venture. I am extremely appreciative of the work that goes in to launching a startup and maintaining its success, which is why I put a considerable emphasis on effective recruitment. You need to select talented people with the right ethos and then let them get on with what they do best, that’s when you see the most positive results.
What drives you to keep founding new companies?
Andrew: I think it’s just what I am passionate about; taking something small and growing it into something big. When it is your baby, so to speak, there is definitely an added motivation to make it a success and I am fortunate to have people around me who share that drive. Founding companies is what I have done since I left school and it is a challenge that I enjoy immensely.
What do you believe is the biggest indicator of a business’s success, besides financial gain?
Andrew: For me, a business is only as good as its customers. If they’re growing and giving you good feedback then you’re doing well, if not then you’ve got problems. We value feedback extremely highly and make sure we listen to both the buyers and sellers using our site, as their opinions are critical. If they don’t like the site then they won’t come back and repeat customers are much cheaper to service than new ones, so it makes sound financial sense too.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to set up their own business?
Andrew: A big thing for me is that you have to be prepared to take risks. Never be afraid to make the wrong call, as the worst decision you can make is doing nothing at all. While you should listen to others around you, it’s important that you ultimately trust your gut instinct. You have to be confident that you’ve got to a certain position because of your decision-making skills. Never give up if you fail the first hurdle, plan A may not work but do not be afraid of plan B, C and D – many of the most successful business and individuals have had to endure their fair share of rejection so you’ll be in good company! You also have to be extremely nimble and be able to adapt as things progress. Of course, you will lay a strategy and plan in place but this has to be flexible and open for negotiation.
How do you think the Internet has impacted on the business marketplace?
Andrew: The rise of ecommerce has dramatically changed the way people shop for both products and services. Customers no longer visit a photo studio to chat to a photographer, their first port of call is to view the website. Looking for local professionals now starts on Google, as opposed to the Yellow Pages and these businesses and individuals need to adapt to ensure they remain front of mind.
Bark is very much designed with this in mind and is aiming to bridge the gap between Google and local professionals to make it easy for Buyers and Sellers alike to find one another. The move from physical to online to mobile is ever growing and ultimately, the businesses that succeed are going to be those that can service customer needs whenever and wherever they want.
And finally tell us how you stay ahead in the business market?
Andrew: It is crucial to try and stay ahead of the curve in everything that you do to ensure that you’re offering your customers the best, and in our case most easily accessible, service possible – running a business without reviewing what else is happening in your sector is like trying to drive with one eye shut. I regularly review competitors to see how the wider industry is attempting to take things forward. I also make sure that I heed advice of those closest to me; not just my colleagues but my friends and family as they are the people who know me best and will be looking for services in the market.