0044 Ltd: Carl Austin
Carl Austin talks about his company, 00444 Ltd
Carl Austin started 0044 Ltd in 2003 after deciding he didn’t want to work long hours for relatively little reward, and now works with a business partner to make sure the company runs smoothly from day to day. He tells Startups.co.uk how he’s getting on.
Name: Carl Austin Age: 24 Business: 0044 Ltd Type of business: Telecommunications
When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business?
It is something I have always wanted to do. I have never been very good at taking orders and have always had an over-active imagination!
Tell us about your business 0044Ltd is the first business in the UK to provide an alternative solution to expensive mobile roaming charges via the website www.0044.co.uk By simply switching your SIM card (the small removable chip in your mobile handset) you can avoid all roaming charges. This is because when you switch the SIM card you instantly become a “local” mobile phone user rather than a roaming customer.
We also provide several added features to our SIM card packages:
1. Your new number before you leave (ideal for business people) 2. English Instructions and configuration 3. Access numbers so that your friends and family can contact you for less. 4. Free Nokia unlocking codes 5. Free post 6. Obtainable customer support! (a novelty for mobile telecoms)
Was it your first business idea and where did it come from?It definitely wasn’t my first business idea but it was definitely the most viable one. The idea came to me after I returned home from holiday to find a phone bill that cost more than my flight! Hence, I had a look around for an alternative solution and discovered the benefit of switching SIM cards.
Consequently when a few friends of mine decided to take a gap-year to Australia I sold them some SIM cards (for a profit). They were able to call home for just 13ppmin and best of all they did not have to pay to receive calls from their parents.
Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? If so, who? I suppose my decision was inspired by my father who throughout his 40 years in employment worked from 6 am-to 8pm for someone else! I do not think he was ever properly rewarded for his efforts although he held high positions within several large corporations.
What makes you think there’s a market for your business? OFTEL (The UK Telecom governing body) have reported that over 20 million people a year travel abroad with their mobile phone and that only 16% are happy to pay the inflated call costs. If 0044 could get 0.01% of that market I would be a very happy man!
Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? Struggle! Initially there are so many things to take on board and digest. However, I quickly realised that one of the most important things was to think of a suitable brand name. Then as soon as I came up with 0044 (international dialling code for the UK) I registered the company and acquired the domain name.
What research did you do? Obviously I went to the usual resources; National statistics, OFTEL, MINTEL and of course Startups.co.uk but I mainly relied on gut instinct and the opinions of people who’s view I valued.
What advice did you seek? Did you approach any of the government advice centres such as Business Link?
I did meet with the Business Link advisors in Staffordshire on several occasions and although they were unable to help me with financial assistance they were very knowledgeable and forthcoming with advice. If anyone is starting a business in Staffordshire they are certainly worth a call.
Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. How did you find it? Did you get any help? Did you use any specific software? As long as you are methodical the process of writing a business plan is quite simple. I had plenty of practice in writing business plans so sitting down to write one for 0044 was relatively easy.
How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow? The initial business plan was useful but when I look back at it I have to laugh. So many things did not go the way that I expected. I am actually in the process of writing a new business plan for 2005.
How much did it cost to start the business? Overall in terms of money and time invested I would estimate in excess of £100,000.
How did you fund this? From your own funds/savings or by raising finance? Probably in the worst possible way, through credit cards, personal loans and savings! I got sick of approaching banks who would offer me the money but at interest rates exceeding 10% and applying for loans through Business Link and the Princess Trust .
Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off?
Thankfully the business is now comfortably funding itself and has done so since the first quarter. It still requires careful management of the cash flow though.
Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? Please explain them.
Yes, get a job! Joking aside, I always ensure that there is sufficient funding to support the business.
Are you working from home or from premise
We all work at home. That is the beauty of the internet and a great degree of trust. At the moment it is working perfectly for us however I feel that offices might be just around the corner.
How many hours are you working at the moment? 10-12 hrs a day, 6 days a week but my brain is on 24/7!
How are you managing your day and what steps have you taken to ensure you’re able to get everything done without working around the clock?
I have lists everywhere; every hour of everyday is accountable, from recruiting affiliates and developing the marketing strategy to going for a run. Unfortunately sometimes you have to work around the clock but at least it is for yourself.
What about staff, is it just you?
Thankfully, I managed to find a business partner in June of this year. This has been the best thing that I have done for 0044. Since, I am a firm believer that it is better to have half of something than a whole of nothing! 0044 only has a small window of opportunity (2-3years) so it is important to maximise the potential for the company.
As for staff, the business has grown phenomenally but as it has, we have outsourced. Our order fulfilment and customer care is now carried out by an excellent consumer services company in Melton Mowbray.
What marketing and advertising have you done so far? Thankfully, because we offer an innovative service the press have provided us with some extremely favourable coverage. Long may it continue! We are always trying to evolve our service and catch the attention of journalists. Hence the introduction of a FREE Snow report service for Skiers – SKI-Txt and SMS travel warnings for our customers.
The only advertising we have done so far has been concentrated online; initially via SEO, then CCP (Google adwords etc) and now via our affiliate program. The affiliate program (www.0044.co.uk/affiliate) is a great way of recruiting and working with like minded business whilst cross promoting our products.
Where do you hope to be in 12 months time? In 12 months time I would love to see 0044 being recognised as the leading consumer faced travel telecommunications brand, providing customers with cost saving solutions through innovation.
What are the main obstacles to growth Creating awareness, fighting off competition and keeping customers happy.
How do you plan to overcome these? Innovative marketing ideas, establishing a market leading brand and great customer service.
Tell us about your website. How important is it to your business?
The look, feel and success of www.0044.co.uk is crucial to the business. After studying thousands of websites I realised that very few are both interesting and user friendly. Consequently, when we developed 0044.co.uk we started with an extremely simple framework and added some attractive graphics.
Initially I thought that I could just put the website up and that would be it. How I was wrong! We are constantly developing the site via user feedback so that we stay ahead of the competition.
Two pieces of advice that I would give are:
1. Make sure that you have a good web stats package. Every visitor is a potential customer you must be able to trace their every move in order to understand them and ultimately encourage them to buy.
2. Find a good SEO company. Most will promise a top placement on Google and deliver on HotBot. Who? Exactly! Find a company that can produce testimonials and guarantee results on the major search engines.
What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently?
Trust – I have discovered that you can only trust a few people. The rest will lie to you and then charge you for it. Make sure that you know who you are dealing with, never rely on first impressions and always do you research.
Bureaucracy – I have learnt how to deal with it, there is no choice. Do not put it to one side and double check everything.
Cash flow – I have begun to understand it. After all, cash flow is king.
There are a few things that I wish I had done differently but I have learnt from my mistakes and I now think 0044 is now in a stronger position because of them.
What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? Sometimes I think a little self believe and a lot of enthusiasm can go a long way. However, when that is running low you need the determination and innovation to succeed.
So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Do not think for too long, you may miss your chance! Fear is temporary, regret is permanent.
Thanks a lot and the very best of luck. Will you come back and tell us how you’re getting on in six months’ time? Absolutely!