Bin Clean, Inkfish and Powwownow: Andrew Pearce

The founder of Powwownow reveals how transforming his school tuck shop ignited his entrepreneurial flame

I set up my first business at the age of nine. I used to go round and collect shoes from my parents’ neighbours, then take them back to the house, where my brother would clean them. I was always looking at different ways of subsidising my pocket money.

My father was a big influence on the early part of my career and always taught me that nothing was for free. He was a great believer that you had to work hard and do things a bit differently.

At school, I joined the Young Enterprise scheme. At first, we went down the standard route of calendars and posters, but I was already a bit of a rebel and the tuck shop was being very badly run by the teachers. I convinced them to let us run it as a Young Enterprise for a year. We bought a microwave and expanded into burgers and chips. We ended up quadrupling the turnover, and the tuck shop made more profit in a month than any of the other projects that year.

When I left school, I went to a college of higher education to study business and finance, specialising in marketing. After six months of drinking copious amounts of beer, I knew I wasn’t getting anything out of it.

I was running some events at the time, getting people from different schools together for black-tie balls and charging them £15 a ticket. We made £5,000 profit on our first event. Making them a success made studying for two hours a day seem a bit pointless. I was bored and I decided it was time to go and do something else. After two years spent setting up a telesales team for a bank, I decided that working for someone else really wasn’t for me. So I left. I’d come up with this idea that people’s wheelie bins should be clean.

It was one of those moments when you wake up one day and go: “Eureka…but not really,” because cleaning someone else’s wheelie bin isn’t the most pleasant of jobs. But I bought myself a van, got myself some high-pressure washers, and on the day the bins were emptied I’d go round and clean them for people. It was very successful. We were cleaning 200 bins a day, charging £2.50 a pop, and it was just me and whoever I could con into coming in the van with me.

There was a massive market there, but it was a challenge. I needed to scale up, but in the typical way of British banks, they didn’t want to back a 19-year-old who has got a good business idea and is making some money.

I was banging my head against the wall, and in the end I sold the business for £40,000 to someone who then franchised it. He’s still running it today – and it’s made him a small fortune.                                                        

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Andrew Pearce went on to set up telemarketing business MDS, which grew into £26m-turnover firm Inkfish in the seven years under his ownership. After selling the business in 2001 to a FTSE 400 company, he co-founded conference call business Powwownow with Paul Lees in 2004. The business has set itself apart through its low-cost proposition and guerrilla marketing. It now turns over more than £5m a year.

Andrew Pearce was speaking to Carys Matthews.


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