Scooters UK: Dominic McVey
The entrepreneurial whizz-kid talks to Startups.co.uk about his amazing rise to success.
At the age of just 13, Dominic McVey exploded into the public's consciousness when he started importing collapsible scooters from the USA, making him a reported £5 million.
Now 19, McVey has sought to find other lucrative niches in the market, with varying success. Here the outspoken entrepreneur talks exclusively to Startups.co.uk about his astonishing rise, his views on UK business and his plans for the future.
How did you first come up with the idea for importing the scooters?
I had been looking round the internet and was looking for the credit card website Visa, but I spelt it wrong – Viza, and I came across this website which was manufacturing scooters and I really wanted one. But I couldn't afford one, and neither could my parents, so I emailed them and said “I think you should send me a scooter, I would sell loads over here.”
They said no, but if you buy five, we'll give you one free. So as I really wanted one for free, I saved up to buy five, which I did by organising under-18s discos, buying stocks and shares and selling mini disc players in Japan.
So I got five over, and got one for free, which I was really happy with, but then I thought I should sell the other five, which I did within a week, to family and friends. The next week I sold 10, and it just went on from there.
I never really saw the potential until the product landed on my doorstep, and I guess I had to move on it. A lot of people say it was luck, but if you look at football teams they can score a goal one week, but they are not going to score goals every week if they're bottom of the Premier League.
I looked at in a very childish and naïve way, which is probably the best way to do so at the time because you weren't bombarded with stress and issues and problems.
I was very, very competitive. I guess I was very mouthy about other products out there, but all the others out there were crap and expensive. The press really liked me and everyone liked the product, so that really helped.
You're quoted as saying you weren't very keen on the scooters, but you saw the business potential in selling them, which must be quite unusual for someone quite young?
After a week, I guess I was bored of the product. What really shone to me was that I could see everyone in London going to work on one, everyone needs one in the boot of the car if they got stuck in traffic, I really drove that message home.
I used to go up to Liverpool Street station and get chased around by the security for handing out flyers, I'd shoot of on my scooter in my lunch break from school. I sold to a lot of city executives as toys, but people began to commute on them, which caused a bit of a fuss with road safety people.
Did you find your age was a problem in terms of being taken seriously?
I blagged it a lot – a lot of the business I did was over the phone or on the internet. I was very good with computers at the time and had friends who were great with IT, so I had great presentations.
Whenever I did meet companies, even if I thought I couldn't get any business out of them, I asked them a million and one questions about how they did business. They loved telling me because they felt like the other brother telling the kid what to do.
The added advantage is that the money you make is in a sense all yours, because you don't have a mortgage or bills, all I was paying for was the internet and my mobile phone.
So you overcame the age gap with technology?
Yes, everything was done from my bed!
You didn't go on to university – do you feel there is too much to pressure for young people to do that rather than start up a business?
It's all wrong. The only reason that the government are pressuring people to go to university is because of the banks. Banks make more money from student loans and overdraft than anything else.
The banks tell the government they will not employ anyone without a degree, the banks being the biggest employers in the UK, the government reacts to this.
A lot more people should be encouraged to take their own steps in life and encouraged to go into apprenticeships and traded skills. There is a huge skills shortage, especially women.
Do you think there's enough support for young people who want to start up their own business?
I think there's a huge lack of support. What I've noticed about young people trying to get into business is that they aren't really my cup of tea.
There are very few young people who are trying to start up a business and there doesn't seem to be enough of the right sort of people. Back in the 40s, 50s, 60s, they would've been working on market stalls, that to me is the tight kind of entrepreneur, ducking and diving, trying to make his money to get into the bigger picture.
But a lot of the new breed of young entrepreneurs they don't have to seem to have this streak in them, they seem very middle to upper class, parent may have a lot of money and not much to do with it.
What more could the government do to help young entrepreneurs?
There's far too much red tape, there's nowhere for people to go. I went down Walthamstow High Road the other day and I went into a local frame store, which is opposite Waltham Forest Town Hall.
I said to him, “you've only been here six months, how's it going? Are the council helping a lot?” He said, “What? I only hear from the council when they want their fees paid.”
I said, “is there no forums, no networking groups, no grants, helping you out?” He said he wouldn't even know where to call and they probably don't know he exists. It's the same for everything in this whole street, which is a nice street and is beginning to buzz a bit.
So what you think of support groups like Business Link, Shell LiveWIRE or the Prince's Trust? Have you been in contact with them?
Prince's Trust, I have no respect for, none whatsoever. I tried to get a grant from them and because of my circumstance I got put through to someone quite senior. Their comment was that they did not believe that anyone under the age of 21 is capable of running their own business, although they will provide knives if you want to be a chef or decks if you want to be a DJ.
Prince's Trust do these huge events and you see three or four success stories coming out of it. For me, it's disgusting. They are making millions of pounds, where is it going? It's going on their Mayfair offices, it's going on their swanky parties, it's going on their swanky concerts and it's pleasing these multi-millionaire Sirs and Lords that are at the top of the charity. It's crap.
What about Shell LiveWIRE – did you go to them?
They wanted me to be a judge, but I think they are very understaffed. I gave up with them. I don't see so much as a role model, but I see myself as someone who has done it, so why can't you?
Once you achieved success, did you think “what now?” or did you have lots of ideas lined up?
I made the mistake of thinking I could do anything, and I lost a lost a lot of money. I had about 30 goals, which was the problem. You really need to consolidate your interests, I guess take time out to work out where you're going next.
I didn't do that, I rushed in to everything, I wanted this and that and wanted to do it all and ended up losing a lot of money.
It was depressing because I didn't expect it, but I will say that I've taken a route in life in which I will experience serious highs, but I will also experience serious lows. But if I wanted to be a teacher, I would experience those lows, but I also wouldn't experience those highs.
When I hit 17, I pulled back and did a lot of work for the government and managed a band. It burnt a hole in my pocket but it was worth it.
Can you explain what you are doing now?
I'm the business careers adviser for Hachette Filipacchi (a publishing company) and I do careers supplements for Elle Girl and other titles they have.
I'm writing a book, it's not a biography, and it's not about myself, but it refers to my experiences in life about me as a businessman.
I'm very involved in the pharmaceutical industry now, manufacturing products for some very high-end retailers and brands, which I can't mention because they like to pretend they manufacture them.
I'm involved with customer service telephone lines. We have these huge call centres where you can call in to say “my Johnny has reacted badly to this cream.” Customer service in the UK is crap, it's all being shifted out Bombay. We're going to manage the infrastructure of restaurants, hair salons, whatever it is, you will not need a receptionist any more, we take all the bookings, all the credit card details.
We'll do all this for free, unless you sell products, in which case we will charge you a very small fee.
So what you your advice be to a young entrepreneur who has a great idea but doesn't know what to do next?
Well, when someone's telling you that you are doing wrong, turn that into positive energy and prove them wrong. Have enough drive in you that you do not see those brick walls and no-one stops you, whatever happens you have got to get there.
You have to look upon yourself as someone that is a failure, because you have to fear not succeeding. Because if you don't, you have no drive pushing you in the right direction.
You've just got to get on with it, you've got to focus on one thing and go for it. Stop talking about it, don't talk about it with your family and friends, get on with it. Because if you don't, in a year's time you will see someone else doing it.
The press really liked me and everyone liked the product, so that really helped.