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.                                                        


Building a website for your business idea is easier than you might think. Our online tool ranks the top website builders that offer free trials.
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.

Comments

(will not be published)